TE19 Iberian Adventure
New literature from Spain and Portugal... and more
an online quarterly journal with some of the best new literature from Europe
is a publication of
Trafika Europe ISSN 2472-2138
CONTENTS Editors’Welcome___________________________________6 FROM SPAIN AND PORTUGAL: José Luís Peixoto Autobiografia (excerpt)________________________8 Albert Bonjoch El Colombiario (poems)_______________________24 Patrícia Portela Stage Directions (prologue)____________________51 Saturday (short story)________________________55
Four by Four (excerpt)________________________64
Second Tongue (poems)______________________90
Ricardo Menéndez Salmón Do Not Go Gentle
into that Good Night (excerpt)____________ 108
Gonçalo M. Tavares
My Plague Diary (excerpts)___________________126
Passing Time in Portugal (short story)_________ 146
San, the Book of Miracles (excerpt)_____________192
FROM ELSEWHERE IN EUROPE: Gabi Csutak
Beyond the Bridge (short story)_______________227 A Minute’s Silence (short story)_______________234 They’re Crying on the TV (short story)_________238
Narda Azeria Dalgleish
Poems____________________________________248 Back Matter_______________________________________262 About the Artist ___________________________264 About theAuthors _________________________266 Acknowledgements ________________________272
In this issue, enjoy with us some real gems of recent literature from Spain and Portugal – and a bit more besides. We startwitha latestwork fromwidelyacclaimed Portuguese novelist José Luís Peixoto , whom Nobel Laureate José Saramago once called “one of the most surprising revelations in recent Portuguese literature.” This excerpt from Autobiografia represents the debut of thiswork inEnglish language.We’vealsogot agreat conversationwith the author about this work on Episode 11 of Bowery Poetry Speaks. Spanish poet Albert Bonjoch follows, with poems translated from Colombiario , apoetic recordof hisvisionary journeyacross Columbia. Portuguese author and performance artist Patrícia Portela brings us the prologue, and the story “Saturday” from her collection, Dias Úteis , containingoneshort storyperdayof theweek –alongwithsome images from her artwork installations. Patrícia Portela also features on Episode 14 of Trafika Europe Radio’sWomen in Translation series. Excerpts from Spanish author Sara Mesa ’s novel, Four by Four , peel back the underbelly of menace at a private college. For an extra treat, we’ve got these excerpts in audio form fully bilingually, including the original Spanish! Then, there’s poetry from Galicia by Yolanda Castaño from her collection, Second Tongue . Enjoy this discussion on Episode 12 of Women in Translation, including poems set to music. Spanishauthor RicardoMenéndezSalmón ,winnerof theBiblioteca Breve Prize, is back with a harsh but beautiful settling of accounts with his father, in this English-language debut from his novel, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night . TrafikaEurope19–IberianAdventure EDITORS’ WELCOME
Experimental Portuguese author Gonçalo M. Tavares brings us right into the age of pandemic with My Plague Diary , a series of daily entries musing on life and culture during the Covid-19 lockdown – in this hot-off-the-press translation by Daniel Hahn. Daniel Hahn also discusses his translation practice on Episode 14 of Bowery Poetry Speaks on Trafika Europe Radio. For something different, John Hartley ’s story, “Passing Time in Portugual”, unfolds as the main character explores the Portugal of his grandfather – and youth and old age, restlessness and regret. Spanish author Manual Astur ’s San, the Book of Miracles is a rare, raw, wild tale of crime and ancient longings – with this exclusive preview of the work in English. In RosaOliveira ’ssuperbpoems, thingsetchedand timelesscompete with notions we can’t quite ignore as just and right. This issue is rounded out with two chapters of literature from elsewhere in Europe. In three stories collected here, Hungarian author Gabi Csutak makes use of experiences from her childhood in Romania during the last years of Ceaușescu’s rule to portray the absurdities of dictatorship. Finally, British-Israeli poet and experimental filmmaker Narda AzariaDalgleish reminds us what fine, rigorous verse is still capable of. She is also our featured artist in this issue, with stills from her videos and films throughout the issue and on the cover. We hope you enjoy taking this Iberian Adventure as much as we have! We’ll be rolling out more podcasts featuring Spanish and Portuguese authors in the coming weeks. Please check back here for an up-to- date list.
José Luís Peixoto
José Luís Peixoto
[To hear about José Luís Peixoto’s writing process and an excerpt reading of his work, Autobiografia , in original and English translation, check out Episode 11 of Bowery Poetry Speaks on Trafika Europe Radio, right here.}
Autobiografia (excerpt) José Luís Peixoto Translated from Portuguese by Regis Friggi
Saramago wrote the novel’s last sentence.
Captive, his eyes peered within each of those words; foreman, he appraised them from the inside as if houses. Can one live here? he asked in the silence of the interior, his and the houses’, getting only echo’s answer, optimistic evidence of a created place, a viable space, a habitat. Then, along the way lined up by that sentence, he strolled before the words—street of dignified, solid fronts—, measured the space between each, compared the nuances of color they exhibited, reflections of a sun that shone from the core of the novel. His attention still on that wordscape, he drew his hands away from the computer keyboard; they might be two birds, but were really hands of a seventy-four-year-old man, hands of human skin, provisionally weightless, oblivious of gravity. He landed them on the wooden tabletop either side of the keyboard, and his fingers found individual resting positions, some straighter, others more curled up at the phalanges. Under the table, in the shadow, he slid his feet off the slippers, leaving them halfway out, still in the textile comfort and already in freedom. But that
José Luís Peixoto
was all alien to the writer’s will; the human body advances in an independent existence when left alone; it is fortunate that the heart does not await an order to beat, that the lungs organize themselves autonomously in their bustle to breathe, that even the most anonymous strand of hair knows how to grow gray of itself. Behind, the books on the shelves seemed to lean over his shoulders, eager not to miss whatever it was, inquisitive; they too had been like that, before print and critical readings, before the world, protected by the zeal of their creator. Across the study, pulling away from roots fond of the domestic earth, bottled imitation of the fields, silent plants stretched toward the sunlight—effort which made them grow. One might believe that those fleshy leaves themselves made the sunlight increase, such was the abundance with which all of July burst onto that window, early July through those panes, the 2nd of July 1997 gushed in its entirety through that window. From the remaining wall, the door closed, cautious noises that one might define as stillness. With a movement of his neck—an almost indistinct one, it may or may not have happened—Saramago glanced up. He would not call on Pilar immediately; he had this move up his sleeve, anticipated it for months, and nowwanted to savor it. Among his thoughts he was able to hear his own voice calling her, he had a special manner of articulating Pilar’s name at such moments, he could already see the features of her face as soon as he told her the news. To such extent had he animated that image between chapters and writing days, that more than a few times it seemed to be the foremost reason, the truest reason: he had taken the
trouble of working on that novel just to watch Pilar’s face at the moment he had completed it. Without his needing to alter his expression, that juvenile idea made him smile. All the while, the characters still stirred deep down himself, whirled frightened, unsure of their future, lacked words, began to crumble; which was also why the writer needed some more time in private with them: he needed to respond to that agony. What now?What now? inquired the characters unceasingly. Time was needed to explain to them that now their life was indeed to start. Thereexisted that officeandwithin Saramago’s head thereexisted another office; the same was true of that newly finished book and the whole Island of Lanzarote and the Atlantic Ocean. It is unknowable which is larger; there are many types of size—just as the book was within the island, so also the island was within the Someone rang the doorbell. He at once thought about the postal order—might that be it? He really needed that money, but breaking off the rare, oh so rare, agility in writing was not convenient to him. José closed his eyes, twirled his forefinger over the keyboard until he lost discernment of the letters’ location. He would rely on the alphabetic order, but tipped the odds: he would open the door if it fell below h ; he would remain seated if a letter further along the alphabet came out. He landed his finger, lifted his eyelids—rat-like curiosity. It hit b . He broke free from the sofa thatwas swallowing him intoa hollow in the napa leather, snapped springs, and took six medium-sized steps, crossing the apartment. At halfway, someone knocked on the door, bones
José Luís Peixoto
against wood. He did not find that strange. José lived close to the ground; the building entrance was a short distance from his front door. Convinced he was about to meet the mailman, he yanked the knob in a single movement, bearing a chosen countenance and a readied reproof, but before he opened his mouth one of the men threw his hand at José’s neck and pushed him inside, lifted him into the air, toe-tips touching the floor, a ballerina careless of graciousness; the other followed them in and closed the door. Detained in the tight hand, the outstretched arm, José knew not what tosayorwhat todo, even thoughhewould not beable toutter a peep with his throat thus girdled and, for the same reason, had no authority to any motion. You know who sent us? The punch to his spleen after the question would alone have sufficed for José. He did not collapse to his knees because he was suspended by the neck. Perhaps the man was left-handed if he punched with such brawn with his left, but that being the case, the competence with which he strangled with the right was impressive. In any case, he was sure to have more anger in one arm—either one—than did José in his entire skeleton.
Shriveling his face to summon the remembrance, José could only make out snippets, incomplete moments that passed by too fast, without a beginning, starting at themiddle, without end, finished in the air, suddenly. Perhaps anguish cut instants at random. Even
in recollection, after the aridity of the scare had passed, those images were always accompanied by an oppressed chest.
Bartolomeu blamed it on the alcohol. Whisky? No. Red wine? No. Brandy? No, I’ve already said no. José regretted having told himabout it, but at acertainpoint hehimself ceased toknowwhat tobelieve, had doubts. Still, when he reasoned, when he aligned his gaze by a finger raised two spans away from his face, he believed it had been about exhaustion, a fatigue of his head; he had not withstood the pressure the words exerted to go through his pores. At the time he still trusted that, with much insistence, he could move ahead with the novel. At home, for days on end he accumulated sweat, rotten leftovers, and for hours kept his notebook open before himself, words crossed out, words written and crossed out. He had headaches that made his eyes hurt, he could feel his eyeballs clearly defined on the inside of his skull, two throbbing spheres of veins. Day or night, he would fall asleep on the sofa, lose consciousness. He keeps no remembrance of how he left home that afternoon—fortunately dressed and shod. He remembers the streets, perhaps Olivais, perhaps Chelas, perhaps Alcântara or Telheiras, perhaps whatever Lisbon neighborhood with buildings and traffic. He also remembers a few voices trying to talk to him on noticing he was disoriented, calling him boy in spite of his beard. No longer was he able to organize the moments he recalls; before and after blur together until they cease to exist; lost inmemory the same manner he got lost in Lisbon that afternoon.
At certain times—he does not know by which association or which loss of focus—he gets to the point of mistaking that occasion for the
José Luís Peixoto
one when he had lost his mother on Augusta Street. He was a boy of four; they unclasped hands for the minutes his mother had to try on a cardigan, had to look at herself in the mirror. José took advantage of that freedom to explore the shop. The open door beckoned him; then he explored the street, the crowd, and when he came back in, already the store was entirely different. He has these memories well-arranged for he heard his mother tell the story many times. José did not go so far as to get scared or dismiss the pleasure of that adventure; it was his mother who panicked, who took long to quiet her panting even after having found him, comforted by employees of ready-to-wear shops who surrounded andfannedherwithlidsof cardboardboxes.Thatwasafragmented remembrance because he was four when it happened; he merely clung to the immediate present; the past crushed onto his back. Still he got to the point of mixing up this childish episode with that adult disorientation—finding himself too old at the age of twenty-eight, thinking he needed to get a second novel written, believing he would lose his name and existence without getting a second novel written, imagining himself invisible or dead. Also, there was the difference that, when he was a child, Lisbon was dazzling. In Bucelas, in the yard, in the kitchen, his motherwould tell him they were going to Lisbon whenever she wanted to fill him with electricity. So it was for quite a while, but it was bound to change—either he changed or Lisbon did. His mother never got to learn that José had gotten lost in his adulthood. That piece of information was farther away from her world than the long thirty kilometers that set Bucelas apart
from Lisbon. A cleaning volunteer at the mother church, Our Lady of Purification Church, she had memorized the mass book long before. Certain grievances—her marriage, her twenty-fifth anniversary—had crystallized into a gaseous, silly, expectation- free satisfaction. The first Sunday of every month she would confess a selection of sins, only the ones that would not make the church prior frown on her. Had she been told that her son had gotten lost in Lisbon, she would have had a hard time believing. On the one hand, José had been alone in the city for ten years, long enough to become familiar with every alleyway; on the other hand, she was not capable of conceiving that the writing of a book should be the reason for troubles of such magnitude. For her own atonement, her son fed that blind influence, the books. Rather had he caught meningitis like the neighbor’s boy—he had lost a little of his hearing but had become a mechanic lauded by everyone. In the months of July of his puberty, while other boys shot sparrows with pressure guns, healthy marksmanship practice, José spent hours hidden and silent, read lying in bed, or wrote insanities leaning over a notebook. At first his mother prayed, asked Cecilia the patron saint of poets to spare her son, to free him of those ideas. Getting no answer, she resigned and lowered her eyes before God, accepting His mysteries. From then on she began praying for her son to Saint Alexis the protector of beggars. After dropping out of college, at age twenty-four or twenty-five, José showed up in Bucelas with his first novel in hand, proud and conceited. His mother congratulated him; she realized the
José Luís Peixoto
boy’s eyes sought such a response. But silently she recalled her son’s costly adolescence—revolted, fixed ideas, poems with no rhyme and no grace, ravaging acne—and feared he would never grow up. Such immaturity, such lack of preparation for life, she blamed exclusively on her husband, José’s father. She had ceased to spend whole evenings dwelling on her husband’s disloyalty and cowardice, but did still blame him for everything. Despite the vertigo and breathlessness, José promptly recognized those men. They were the bouncers he used to meet at the Macau Street house. Heavoided looking straight at them, theirmenacing posture, muscles pushing their arms far apart from the torso, always angry, but distracted—he had observed them in detail. The first was shaven bald and had a thick scar around his throat, ear to ear, as if someone had unsuccessfully slit it. José could not precisely identify the second man’s birthplace—nor did he care while being grasped by his neck, eyes popped, head thickening red—but connections to Africa were likely; that calculation was achieved through the man’s complexion—earthy, fertile soil—, his curly hair, the placement of his facial features, and above all the way he said, “ Xi , job’s already done here.” The man let out that xi and outburst after inspecting the house in a few seconds—the old plates forming an uncoordinated pile in the sink, the books spread over the floor amid dirty clothes and garbage, the sheets pushed by feet to the end of the bed, the pillowcases stained by halitosis or rust, the bathroom unknowing of bleach, knowing of ~
a layer of dry piss. Uncertain where to begin, that second man, native of the aforementioned continent, shattered a plate against themarbleof thecounter, thinking itwouldnot breaksoeasilyand effectually on the wooden floor. There is art to everything—even to instill fear or shatter dishes some notions are required. He then opened the refrigerator, but quickly closed it, anguished by the vision he met: blue, curdled milk, hairy fruit, food transforming as per the evolution of species—initial stages of future glacial civilizations; given time, they would invent the wheel; Darwin could perfect his theses analyzing that ecosystem. He closed the refrigerator with a kick and, shortly afterwards, struck another kick on the closed door, denting the white paint, giving shape to that surface, trying to erase what he had seen as if it were possible to kick memories into oblivion—and it might be, as long as there is enough striking power. The one with the scar dropped José and, influenced, also hit him with a kick to his ribs and a few more until losing count. Now knowing where to continue with the devastation, a stormwith hands and feet, the African partner looked for some object worth destroying. He decided on a bread box made of little slats, cheap and old, smeared with grease, shelter to dry crusts and crumbs reduced to flour. That bread box might have been pine wood; it dismantled itself on the first contact with the counter corner—porous slats, decalcified bones of a hopeless elder. There was an instant of silence in their assault on rotten objects andapuppetwhoofferednoresistance, asimultaneoushesitation, or a mere rhythmic coincidence in the movements’ to-and-fro.
José Luís Peixoto
That instant protracted because someone made a motion that paralyzed both men, one with his hands at a drawer he did not quite open; the other with his knee sunk onto José’s back—who had no remedy than endure the dozens of pounds, lying on the wooden floor prostrate, his face flattened. The reason for such sudden hush was a residue of voices muffled by brick walls and concrete. And the elevator crackled, and the voices were heard in sharper fashion. They thus came closer until they stood behind José’s door before going outside. The door was but a wafer, a thin membrane that stopped the light but let all the sound through. In the conversation, the neighbor lady poked with her chin and shaped a sort of silence with her thin, old woman’s lips. What of this one? The neighbor gentleman replied with a single noun: Liquor . He may also have made a drinking gesture, thumb pointing toward mouth. Both neighbors raised their eyebrows in agreement and moved on at their own speed. A few meters away, separated by a paper door—almost paper as it were—, was a motionless picture: the African held a drawer with both hands; the onewith the scar sunk a knee in an acute angle onto the center of José’s back. As soon as the metallic noises gave away the outer door’s opening and closing, the flow of time resumed from the point it had been interrupted. The drawer was pulled out and its contents scattered over the floor. José was slapped, then lifted by his collar as he had words spat onto his face, “Besides a welcher you’re also a drunkard?”
Being human, any being will find a shred of affirmation to protect that which truly humanizes it—not so much muscles or organs
as the immaterial, the beliefs filling it with breath. The body does not hold the ideas; it is the ideas that house the body, that allow it, that create the objective and subjective reasons for its existence. When he felt a silhouette approaching the sofa and the computer, José mustered his final impetuses and managed to throw himself in front of the machine, a resistant tatterdemalion, a miserable figure. However, the African’s spread hand was the size of José’s entire face, reaching from his chin up to his forehead, covering overhismouthand nosewith thepalm’sconcavesurface, stopping up his eyes with the base of the fingers; it was a massive volume, firm flesh. José collapsed helplessly; he was not granted the grace of being cushioned by the sofa, although he had reared in that direction, because he tripped with his heel over a stack of books and crumpled backwards over the floorboards speckled with assorted objects. The computer lay on a small wheeled metal desk, rickety and poorly screwed. With the same impulse, that same man ripped the monitor off its cables—a huge baby he held between his chest and his stomach, his chin sticking onto the plastic.Witha rough throw, he hurled thatweight inanexplosion, leaving it with disemboweled wires, the glass stomped on the center, crashed in an imperfect circle. The other, his scalp veins throbbing, did not want to be left behind and, holding onto one end of the keyboard, shattered its keys against the wall, making no distinction of vowels and consonants. Together, lastly, they kicked the remainder of the computer to smithereens.\
Even those bison-bodied men were tired, heaving amid an accumulation of objects that reached up to their ankles—the
José Luís Peixoto
same height José reached up to, sprawled against his will. They waited until their breathing settled and, looking at one another, agreed that both regarded the task concluded. Picking where to land their feet so as not to stumble, but uninterested in avoiding the further crushing of objects, they walked toward the exit. Before crossing the threshold, one of them, the baldhead with the scar, left one last thought: “Pay what you owe, bastard.” They slammed the apartment door—wood—, slammed the building door—aluminum—, and José remained lain in the regress to the sounds of that afternoon, Tuesday, September 23, 1997. With his back dented by some edge, his neck folded, he opened his eyes and, after a fog, saw only the light bulb hanging from the ceiling without a lampshade, the bulb hanging by the wire. Then there was a period of confusion. José had trouble thinking—what he saw mingled with what he imagined and what he remembered; he could not distinguish ideas one from another. It was gradually that he began unraveling that clew. In an arbitrary position, abandoned, he began by remembering Saramago. It was a good thing that Saramago did not see him like that. Not that that was possible, not that he could come in and see him there; but it was a good thing that they had no scheduled meeting. How long would it take that body to heal? José doubted he could ever fix what to him seemed broken from the roots. It is not the body, it is never the body. José despised his ill-fed, ill- slept body—though well-drunk when convenient. Time dries up the bruises; the bones get used to limping. The issue always is the doubts. Outside the buses advanced through traffic, the sound of
theenginepulling oneof thoseenormous cobblestoneswith tires, the doors automatically opening. He remembered Olivais, the full dimension of Olivais surrounding him outside those walls, end of afternoon as on those pages he had been writing, and he remembered Lanzarote. After finishing the novel, alone in the office, Saramago might have felt the dimension of Lanzarote— José pondered that possibility. But upon completion of the novel, Saramago was complete. He had that object before himself, born letter by letter out of his hands; the novel uniformed the complexity of that instant; the world was a perfect system. José felt like the opposite of that, shattered in thousands of pieces, both his body and all his days, a future that seemed incapable of standing on itself. Before nightfall, propping himself up on his arms to sit up on the floor, he recalled that the main character in the new Saramago novel was named José, Mr. José, the author himself had told him. He welcomed that news as a privilege, as good luck, and only now did he notice the amount of Josés. Soon, after publishing, everyone would meet the protagonist of that novel, All the Names, all the names. In elementary simplicity, matrix, José perhaps held within himself all men’s names. But what would become of the other Josés? Where did they advance towards? His head repeated these questions with suffering, weakness, fear, and prostration. It was discouragement amid wreckage. Dragging his minced body, he managed to reach the doors below the kitchensink, where he kept hidden away from himself a bottle of firewater.
El Colombiario (ten poems) Albert Bonjoch Translated from Spanish by Chris McKinnell
Without a hint of happy sunrises the blood-red dawn exploded. On one side the drawn-out snoring of the valleys, the dozing of well-fed sentries. On another the tense awakening of the hillsides, the sleeplessness of those who chewed up ideals and defecated gunpowder. And everywhere the soundless howl of the earth, the furious hunger of the helpless fuelling the friction of destiny. - Forward! - echoed high in the mountains. First the dust was mobilised, vanguard of dreamy red-collared birds. Then the stones split, a battalion of excited heifers. And finally the rocks threw themselves down, artillery of hardened executioners.
The clamour was deafening and echoed across the plains, the vanguard sniffed them out 27
and threw itself on the sleeping, the shot stuttered and startled the flock, smashed the ground and set off wailing, the slaughter slid forward and sparked a retreat, the battle answered back and buried the lilies in the garden of the house of spirits. With a hint of funereal sunrises
Elegy for the Flowers
Beside the river men rose up (orchids) along the Aburrá valley flowers paraded (..., roses) and that eternal thick-lipped spring (…, sempervivum) flattering the haughty houses (..., bougainvillea) and fooling the mountains (..., astromelias) as if it was forgotten that over there on the heights (…, pansies) the cold hangs around. Already a crowd of peasants bloomed (..., gladioli) with their horses, their ponchos, their hats (..., sunflowers) in devout toil (..., lilies) and watering with hymns (... hyacinths) the fertile lands (... jasmine) of Señora Medellín.
An avalanche of mourners (..., night-flowering jasmine)
with petals on their backs (..., bromeliads) sprouted from the hillsides (..., hydrangeas) and filled up the gardens (..., gardenias) with pollinated feelings (..., carnations) for the euphoria of the living (..., chrysanthemums) in the wake of the sober coffin (..., coca flower) a constant polychromatic stream of florescence (… and traveller’s joy) caressing the cheeks of the Andean lands. Beside the river, orchid men, gladioli peasants and mournful night-jasmine ladies emerged recalling the burial of the weed that manured the soil with corpses from a war-like artificial winter.
On the ancestral farm shouting blared between palms, vines and drummers. With blood, feathers, seeds and flowers, in a forest clearing the ritual blazed. Under the fury of green infinity, men, bonfires, tobacco, liquors were reviving buried splendours from sacred song to transcribed memory. Reciting only the harmonious pulse of the gloomy jungle throbbing, the sonnet of the Amazon they sowed. They were fourteen lines of gladness for a constant watery sobbing that towards the blue Atlantic flowed.
The Blind and Deaf Burial
If he could see the scorched skin of the afternoon dressed in scarlet linen,
the remote shadow of the funeral bower where mourners shed tears and rum, the light of the bonfire like watercolours, the dueling clothes, the colourful fastenings of the hammocks, embers roasting the meat that feeds the collective lament that inspires strength to carry on, the mob in their smoking and drinking slowly chewing condolences, eyes already dead without their lustrous green depth that so many years ago had managed to sow stars over his eternal night, the blind minstrel would stop singing with his soul’s eyes to the memory of his beloved guajira. If she could hear the futile fearlessness of the sea’s caresses on the arid cove, the dry murmur of solace that the funeral procession warbled, the din of dogs sniffing the slaughtered goats 32
and children licking in weariness, sobs stewing in the faint drone of the crowd, the undying speech of the wind eroding the last vestiges of silence, the sad and faded voice that years ago had managed to sow rain in her deserted wasteland, the dead woman with deep green eyes would stop sensing with her soul’s ears the spectral music of her beloved guajiro.
From Flat Horizon to Flat Horizon
From home, from the vastness of the flat horizon, from serene savannah varnished by a vast sky, to flee from the sullen crowd of suffering men, from the dying grassland where blood wanders in silence, from the morbid noise of the rain, to flee the warmth of the hearth and penetrate the cold earth where the exile gets blind drunk simmering in a cauldron of yearning, to flee from fear and love in a wild rush like a lost calf or an enraged steed, to flee because the dwelling is surrounded and the wind whispers death, for good or ill,
but take arms and rise up, ride the horse of oblivion, spur on wounded time, wandering by moonlight and sunlight in the mountainous solitude, snorting pain and tears along distant roads, and to forget those huge eyes glowing red. To flee. That’s what the condemned lover wanted
when a cocked gun was aimed at his temple. To the usual sheepfold, to the nights of harp and liquor that flood the swamp with serenade and splash the awakening herd, to the singing of the moriche palms when they foretell a drizzle of fine rain, the muddy perfume of damp earth, to return swift, impetuous and defiant like a stray that waits to be branded, and go back to being a stripling that rounds up strays, to return to the place where banished dreams cling on, to the wonderful faded picture of horses prancing at every moment of life, to the accursed spring that brings up memories unforgotten, to the plains stranded in a kiss of red dust. To return. That’s what the wretched exile wanted when he aimed a cocked gun at the temple of a condemned lover. looking for the dried up tracks of yesterday or following the stale breath from the edges of the fireside, to return to the hut where every night he found carnal refuge
Im Don Gaan
The diamond wind passed by singing along peach-golden sand, under the date-amber moon, over water of orchid sapphire. Im don gaan! - the fisherman sobbed. The coral fire smouldered before a grove of emerald grapes, from rock of zircon coconut, to island of jade hummingbird. Im not kom! - the fisherman cried out. The pearl-black runaway waited on the crab-red islet,
before a sky of Andean berry, after a dream of feldspar spray.
On the sea of Welsh pirate jewels, in the old Raizal’s bag
(a suit of armour of copper snapper, two charms of turquoise parrotfish, eight coins of silver horse-mackerel, a sword of bronze turbot, a bracelet of jasper sea-bream,
two earrings of topaz shad, three chokers of jet grouper) 36
the children of Yemayá writhed. Having usurped the treasure of the sea of seven colours, the fisherman, shy island lover, simmered the rundown. Lit by the stars, with face pale and melancholy, like a distorted reflection of his colourful catch, he sobbed: Im don gaan. Im not kom! She’s gone. The barracuda of the green eyes and the blue tears no longer comes.
It sounded like Heliconias weaving a spell, like petals steamed in the mist of a waterfall. And the rest was dull perpetual light, the perennial scent of floral rhythms. And nothing but the sweet flute of eternity stroking the breasts of the earth. And always the passing moment made drunk
by the honeyed elixir of Amazonian sap. And nobody awoke without the warm kiss of the unfading luminous sky. And everything under the shadow of the immortal branches where the soul’s pleasures were satisfied. And everywhere the winking of the river of fruits wrapped in necklaces of crystal beads. And thus the tender old man springing into life seemed to irrigate with gold the garden of the Putumayo.
- And why was paradise weeping darkness?
Well the day tasted of honey, but the tears were black. The green silence said so and the broken hymen of the earth. Dogs mauled the jungle and blindly pierced its soul. 38
Its wounds bled grief, its anguish flowed through pipes. Thus the harsh lament sprang forth and the hollow wells moaned. The mantle flowed nothing but black, a widowed riverbed of trade. The fever put animals to sleep and their owners knew it well. They pumped out fleeting dreams, they dried up eternal treasures. Because the sky smelled like mud, Eden lay rotten. Because it oozed evil, paradise was weeping darkness.
The Butterfly Hunter
When the valleys turned rosy, a fledgling in the first flush of life, skinny muleteer of tender speech, went hunting for butterflies. Under the forest canopy he met them, in the pleasant mossy bed, like an expert bandit resting idly trusting that the shade would shelter them. And they came suddenly, suspicious of that den
where the scoundrel was hiding, but they were tempted by paradise. At the first sniffing gesture they sweetly stirred the breeze, and in their naïve and docile flight
were already stowaways fallen seawards. Without undoing the spell of the moment,
the hunter cast his net over them, and in a final brazen act of love,
demanded they become his eternal lover. He released only one winged maiden, impetuous and blazing sunburst with eyespots and skin like mosaic, crowned by heaven the most beautiful. He saw in her the tears of the plantation, tracery of an undying flight. 40
For her he took the magic lure, remnant of a drunken dream of spring. With the prayer of the shining moon, he caressed her virgin wings, sucked the nectar from her floral lips and whispered a secret in her ear: - Chrysalis now full of brio, I’d rather see withering your purity than preserve your enchantress beauty. Flutter and flee, spirit of the Quindío.
Vallenata Duel There were the men! That was the valley! Early in the morning, cassava, yam and banana, squash, goat and corn firing up the party. Early in the morning, accordions, cajas and guacharacas, the square, the revelry and the moon, wanting somehow to reach the sky. Early in the morning, - I am looking for an accordionist who plays better than I, but I know I might die first without seeing the one I fancy. - I am born of the neighbouring valley, I’m well-versed in the law. You must know imposter that I am the king of the duel. silence ended, music boomed, two roosters improvised:
- Only before God I bow. Let’s be clear what I say. I have the town as witness that you grunt like a sow.
- I don’t sleep in the mud neither is my song muddy! Don’t be pissed off at me and listen to my ancestral music. - How right you are old man since your junk sounds stale! Up til now you were famous, today your flame went out. - Don’t anyone ignore me! If you want war, so be it. Take some rum and sing compadre, for the riot has already begun.
- Your spell is finished. You might cry that I idealise. I want to see you kneel before the newly enthroned.
- Sharpen the machete hombre your downfall is already here. Goodbye wily troubadour. Goodbye feeble instrument. - You ask for celebration bard, I will cut that short. Look no more for shelter I’m waiting for you up there.
- Dawn will come and we shall see!
Early in the morning, the old rooster hopping up and down, spreading his wings, shaking his tortoiseshell spurs. Early in the morning, the ill-tempered rooster getting even, tearing with his beak, giving the valliant sorrel a spur-blow on the neck. Early in the morning, kill or be killed, macabre dance of two combless ones, dying bacchanal of the cockpit, the choking stab-wound, the square running with divine blood (ichor of Apollo). When dawn came Valledupar fell asleep.
A Father, a Son and a Great Ceiba
Along a stretch of dirt road, between pastures and moriche palms,
excited by a brushstroke, at the edge of the forest, beyond the dungheap, the roaring stream,
the mountains on the horizon, hot dust filling plain and sky, in the lovely orchard of the wooden house
with deep blue door frames: a father in a black felt hat,
a boy in a little white drill jacket, and a great ceiba tree brushed by the sinister whistling of the nightjar announcing barking of dogs and screaming of armed men. Shots. Blood. Silence. The bark split. The fruit smashed. The seed scattered.
Along a paved stretch, between rubber crops, at the edge of the forest, way beyond the huge dungheap, the quiet stream, the mountains on the horizon, 45
hot dust filling plain and sky, in the black depths of the deep blue rubble of a house: a cross, a man in a white drill jacket, and a great ceiba tree brushed by the garrulous chatter of macaws announcing roaring of tractors and screaming of a newborn. Tears. Music. Hope. The bark split. The fruit in bloom. The seed rooting.
[Yearning formore fromPatrîcia Portela? Listern to her discuss her writing with her English translator, Rahul Bery, on Episode 14 of Women in Translation on Trafika Europe Radio, right here.}
Two Pieces Patrícia Portela Translated from Portuguese by Rahul Bery
Ideally without interruptions,
But if you must stop, then laying me down gently, and only in the case of force majeure, accident, surprise or to take a brief rest.
Yes, I’m asking that you read me whole. I exist for no other end.
Do not wish for abandonment to be my fate.
But don’t read me just to pass the time either.
Read me as if I made a difference to you.
As if I were happening to you.
Read me as if, in every Hollywood film, the aliens walked around favelas instead of some smart Washington or New York suburb, and understood every language spoken on this planet (except for English), since they have long known that Tupi or not Tupi, which is 51
not really the question anymore.
Rewrite me where you feel it necessary, add to me where you find me incomplete, make an indent on the bottom corner of the page every time you stop, scrawl down your insights on me with your pen. Do not let any expressions escape from your face as you read me. If possible, conceal my front cover so that no one can find out my title. If you prefer, you can read me out loud, in bed, on the sofa, at a café table, on a garden bench. If you take me to the beach, you may get me wet but do not bury me. Acknowledge the space between my lines as someone who knows that all monologues are dialogues and all dialogues aremonologues. Between the two of us. Practice getting used to my words and imagine that we are all people dressed as other people, borrowing words to speak with. That we don’t really know what those words are actually saying (especially when put into this or that order), but that we say them all the same and as we do so all the syllables fit perfectly into our mouths and bodies, transforming us into what we are not but could be. Always keep some dark glasses at hand. The shock of the return to reality is always excessively bright and not always so constructive, never mind the frivolous claims of those who believe that a lesson can be learnt from every misfortune. Let’s mutually ignore one another. As a work of art, I thank you and will think long and hard about myself (though you won’t notice that as you leaf through me); meanwhile you, as a thinking thing, lie to me, though your body is unaware of this, and it shows.
When you get to the end, youmust make up your mind as to whether you readme likeMartinLuther King or RosaParks. Thinkhard before answering. Not all those who write are happy to be cannon fodder but, since it is so, nearly all of us would like to make a difference. Otherwise, what’s the point in reading?
After you give your answer and reach the last page, put me down.
But wait, so that it doesn’t happen too soon.
Like it or lump it.
Lump it or like it.
Vice versa, in both cases, and then some.
Take a short cut from the long road.
Get there anyway, unprepared and ill at ease.
Just before you shut me, give up on the wrong side of the road.
Read all the notes, instructions, ISBNs, addresses, print runs, publishing dates, note the font used. Give up your strength. Give up your strength. Give up your strength. Give up yourself and give up your strength. Start a conversation to stop us from falling, just as we’re getting up now.
From here on in, everything must be cruel and therefore meticulous.
Close your eyes.
Accept my unexpected Judas kiss on the inside cover, as if it were a raft. Die as you drift along this century like it’s the last century, even though we both have so many things left to change.
Make sure there is no storm on the other side.
For no reason at all, wake up into the worst nightmare,.
Without being asked or instructed to, open your eyes.
Note the door we left open and the water pouring in.
Make sure that no one can swim.
Don’t cry for help or wave because drowning is just what happens to an ending. Repeat yourself as much as you want, but don’t expect it to happen any sooner.
Don’t say goodbye.
Just promise you’ll come back.
What do we mean to dreams? Herberto Helder
All animals sleep.
This is the rule to which there can be no exception.
Horses sleep standing up. Seals, Humboldt penguins and ducks all sleep with one eye open. Bottlenose dolphins and beluga whales rest half their brain at a time; sea otters sleep intertwined with one another, floating along camouflaged by seaweed; giraffes take a series of ten minute naps amounting to a total of half an hour a day; bats and porcupines can sleep for twenty hours straight; and I haven’t been able to sleep since you died. Lab rats die after two to three weeks of sleep deprivation. A sheep quickly wastes away if not permitted to dream, and yet somehow, I’m managing to put up with the weight loss, the changes in the tone of my voice, the growing paranoia, the hallucinations and the constant humming in my head. I’ve tried everything. Heavy meals, ambient music, narcotics, herbal teas, cold showers, and every kind of mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion. It’s not really possible to experience being asleep. But I do know what not being awake feels like. I’m incapable of making decisions, I don’t recognise my friends’ faces, I don’t return missed calls. I’m a sleepless soldier, lost 55
in the battle against your absence. In the daytime I get by on coffee, stimulants, and loud music; at night, on tranquillisers and painkillers, and endless channel-hopping. But no drug is as effective as sleep. The most sophisticated world that virtual reality is capable of constructing is no substitute for a good nightmare; and when I wake from mine, I’m screaming at the top of my voice, but no sound is coming out. No one’s holding me back or stopping me from joining you, but I can’t save you and I can’t call for help. I wake up when you vanish beneath the surface of the water. When you called to tell me the results of your brain scan, I froze. Your electromagnetic brain activity, together with the newest medical research, gave you sixmonths to live. Our phone call lasted three minutes. The last time I saw you I set your kitchen on fire while trying to impress you with a new recipe I’d invented. You didn’t seem to mind. You actually enjoyed the chaos I brought back into your life, which was so full of blood tests, brain scans, alternative medicine, therapy sessions, and those inevitable bouts of vomiting with which you’d end your day, locked in the bathroom. I caught a train back home in less than 24 hours. We went out to a restaurant, knowing we wouldn’t find anything you could eat. We strolled through the city, stopping at every bookshop; we took tram number 6 all the way to the end and followed the signs to the Fluntern Cemetery. I talked and talked the whole way, hoping to postpone the end of our walk as much as possible. I told you howamazing it is that the twomost important theories in physics completelycontradict eachother, and howthe infinitesimal 56
does not obey the same rules as the infinitely large; I told you that in Los Angeles 60% of the population saw the Milky Way for the first time only after an earthquake which caused a power failure; I told you that a long time ago people slept not once but twice a day, that the night was divided into two, and that the time spent awake between those two periods of sleep was the most relaxing part of the day, one where anything felt possible, because the brain generated higher levels of prolactin, a hormone that reduces stress levels and gives you the same sense of wellbeing you feel after an orgasm. The same feeling hens get from brooding. You were always impressed by the sheer quantity of random facts I carry around in my brain, but this time you interrupted my monologue and made a suggestion:
Let’s pretend we’re Fakirs, you asked.
How do you do that? I asked you back.
It’s easy, I saw it in a Brazilian documentary: we climb to the top of a tree, lie down on a branch of our choice, and stay there doing nothing for as long as possible. The last one to move wins.
We climbed the tallest tree.
We stayed there. We were always so good at doing nothing.
It was impossible to tell whether we were in motion or at rest. It was as if we were a single particle.
I was the first to break the silence. 57
Can we talk in this game? I asked.
No. But you can anyway, you said.
Ok, let’s play a game within the game. From now on I am Scheherazade, your new wife. I’m on death row. You, the dreaded sultan, are the one who has condemned me. I sleep in the day, and you sleep at night. Every day we meet at dusk and at dawn, and during those brief moments, I tell you a story. If I tell you a good story, you can’t kill me, and I can’t die.
Ok, you said. Impress me.
I thought for a while, letting the dusk creep in.
You closed your eyes.
You met me a thousand dawns ago, I said. You were a despotic tyrant who wanted to privatise the dreams of the people, and I was determined not to let you sleep if you wouldn’t let me dream. My plan was to slowly drive you mad with my stories and influence your dreams, thus changing you entirely, irreversibly. But 1000 dawns later, I realised that you enjoyed the sleepless nights. Your permanent state of wakefulness had given you a world without disruptions, without desires that could never be realised, without ever having to wake up. I had become the focus of your attention, a convenient distraction from the horrors you were openly and shamelessly committing. And so I, Scheherazade, fled from the imperial castle without telling you the final story. You were devastated. Defeated, and knowing that you would never see me again, you fell into a deep coma. And from then on, for reasons unknown both to science and to the imagination, you began 58
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