Miguel Maldonado


Los oficios Menores - Juan Villoro


A certain type of writer has concentrated on the small fleeting things that secretly define our lives. In his “Odas elementales”, Pablo Neruda celebrates the recondite virtues of the tomato, copper, the onion, air or conger chowder. The prose poet Francis Ponge deals with the intimate eloquence of objects and manages a physical summing-up of the world in “The Voice of Things”: a bar of soap or a door-handle are his protagonists. Chronicler of the wind in the Catalan Mediterranean, Josep Pla deciphers the mysteries of ham and printed paper in “Lo infinitamente pequeño” [The Infinitely Small]. Miguel Maldonado belongs to the group that prefers to deal with the minimal in order to understand the world differently. “El libro de los oficios tristes” deals with those ignored trades, lacking in prestige, which enable reality to function. In a country where a little piece of wire fixes everything, the novelist Ricardo Garibay came up with an expression to define the profesion of resolving an unlimited number of things without being an expert in any: “milusos” [a thousand uses]. Maldonado understands this; he is the poet of a world even lower than the informal economy and sings of those who sell their horses to make wigs, test medicines to confirm the efficacy of a pharmaceutical product, collect garbage or, simply, hope that luck and the skill of their hands will permit them to undertake a task or, if all else fails, to become an assistant's assistant. One of Juan Rulfo's characters finds himself in such a precarious situation that he can barely aspire to the shadow of a desire; he settles for being given “a bit of something”. Likewise Maldonado's laborers. Some of them could be among the craftsmen who ask for work outside the Cathedral, showing their tools by way of a curriculum vitae; most of them, however, lack even these credentials. We have before us the dishwasher in charge of the leftovers, the desserts that girls leave on the plate so as not to put on weight; the employee who applies stamps and dirties his hands without anyone noticing; the man who invisibly animates a mascot costume and becomes its soul until he stumbles and can only get up again with the help of passers-by. What would life be without these anonymous beings who deliver a decisive package and then disappear without our noting their name and facial features? A moral reflection on the significance of ignored efforts, “El libro de los oficios tristes” flows into a meditation on bosses. In the final verses, which are also an epitaph, the author promises not to deal with them. Close to the narrative poem, Maldonado frequently uses the octosyllable, the habitual rhythm of spoken Spanish, in order to portray personalities and to summarize their lives in a few lines. It's worth reviewing how he deals with “Los que se rentan para probar medicamentos” [Those who rent themselves out to test medicines]: Ignora si enfermó por los efectos secundarios o esa enfermedad es del todo suya Si fraguó su cuerpo su propia purulencia o fue una dosis de ponzoña Perdió derecho a saber si se pudre por sí solo La tremenda libertad de joderse a propia cuenta de chingarse uno la vida se ha vuelto ahora un defecto secundario [He doesn't know if he got sick because of the side-effects or if the sickness is all his If his body forged its own purulence or it was a dose of poison He lost the right to know if it rots by itself The tremendous freedom to screw yourself on your own account to fuck up your own life has now become a side-defect] This poem is a profound reflection on the body and its designs. We are hostages to our organism and our habits. Nevertheless, for those who test medicines, the malaise becomes something diffuse: they don't know if they got sick themselves or from something external. They lose the right, even, to know if the illness is truly theirs. Literature makes us see our surroundings as an extension of its pages and sometimes makes us intervene in them like in a field expanded by art. Those who fix things in Maldonado's book demonstrate that the world is badly made, or at least has broken down, and that some, without raising their voices, try to improve it. This leads to a search for other activities that have not been registered but deserve to be. I propose the meringue seller condemned to raffling his wares by flipping a coin, the anonymous blurb-writer, the tire-mechanic who preserves the prestige of fire, the quack hawking a cure-all, a rubber loaf, a box that bites on being opened and is used to play a trick on the mother-in-law. By a strange law of compensation, those who have no other occupation than imagining understand better the rigors and grandeur of certain physical tasks. Society does not reward the delicate and precise rhythm with which bricklayers toss bricks from one hand to the other, but the poet does notice it, as Fabio Morábito demonstrates in these lines from “Sin oficio” [Without a trade]: Yo que no tengo oficio excepto traducir, que más que oficio es una astucia, miro a los albañiles que en lo bajo conocen todo o casi todo del cemento […] Levantan de la nada una materia audible, ven cómo el simple lodo se transforma para imprimirse en él la voluntad común. [I who have no trade but translating which rather than a trade is a trick, watch the bricklayers who the in the depths know everything or almost everything about cement […] They raise from nothing an audible material, they see how simple mud is transformed to imprint on it the common will.] In the same vein, Maldonado writes about “Trabajadores de la construcción” [Construction workers] and understands that they do not merely operate according to the chisel and its cruelties but that they build the house with an intimate material: “Quizá sólo un panadero/ iguala esos tratos/ con la masa” [Maybe only a baker/ equals this handling/ with the dough]. With regard to this book of trades, it is right and proper to signal out the publisher who made it possible, Francisco Magaña. For some time now, beginning in an already heroic and soon to be legendary past, Ediciones Monte Carmelo has been publishing poetry as a form of devotion. “El libro de los oficios tristes” collects beings without a social security number who make life go on thanks to the opportune application of a necessary screw. We rarely see them; they fade into the city and its hustle and bustle. Miguel Maldonado has brought them together to tell their story and show that physical effort is a form of fire, and poetry its happy flame.