Selected Poems from Black and Blue Partition: ‘Mistry 2

[translated poetry]

V

Fresheur and life

“Same current, waters always new”
The voice runs over the waters
++++++++++speeches crossed from god to god
+++++sorcerous heritage, seaswells burgeoning
+++++with careful lightness
++++++++++same as
+++++same as grass crown, thatch, lalang;
water crystalline, upslope downslope harmony,
+++++++++++++++that the spirits’ good humor won’t cloud.
Begone-become, begone as foam
+++++++++++++++leaving home
+++++++++++++++++++++++++doors and windows opened,
+++++++++++++++Beauty seated legs akimbo:
+++++++++++++++++++++++++nest fledgling
+++++++++++++++++++++++++dirtmouse wings
+++++++++++++++++++++++++lalang grass tufts     spit
+++++++++++++++++++++++++shark mouth agape.

Let frogs renew and multiply

+++++++++++++++++++++++++Chârme
+++++Ô, the quivering like a sliver of moon
+++++the red red erythrina
+++++++++++++++and below the chirruping cantations of the initiated
the little antelope climbingclimbing toward the palm divinity,
Let humidity be that venerable weave, omnipresent
+++++++++++++++witchgrass, springside presages,
Let fresh water trickle anoint drum and bullock,
Let the serpent’s carcass burrow through the sand
+++++++++++++++head and tail python enclosure-held
+++++++++++++++ring the bells to empty them;
“The great swamp waters flow downriver”
+++++++++++++++++++++++++behind the mornes
+++++++++++++++++++++++++secret
+++++++++++++++++++++++++among the leaves,

Let home be of fresheur, walls smooth
did she rattle the lightning, that little silken thing?
did she cut the flesh deep, that millstone, did she gash open the ribetting of those gounouy?
did he wash his flesh from the river,
Did he prostrate at the threshold of the city Abydos,
Did he pass through the thorns,
Did he take concession?

+++++++++++++++Is he proud, impatient?
+++++++++++++++The charm:
+++++++++++++++++++++++++at first simple millet cake,
+++++++++++++++++++++++++at first mixed millet cake
+++++++++++++++++++++++++liana leaves licorice crushed
+++++++++++++++++++++++++then millet cake, leaves liana licorice
+++++++++++++++++++++++++and honey follewz;
+++++++++++++++++++++++++and yãmn-leaffes for collecting water.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++Then charm e’jaculatoire in hushed tones (three times)
+++++++++++++++++++++++++Three times ‘round the items,

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++in the crossing.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++And obscene chanting,
+++++++++++++++++++++++++Ouaïe—Ouaïe
+++++++++++++++++++++++++Man kèy lélé-é-y
+++++++++++++++++++++++++Man kèy lélé kalalou-a
+++++++++++++++O the law of enclosure!

And open let the way be, of overflowing, of fertility,
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++Vitamtènam
+++++++++++++++++++++++++in the light of the ark of the waters of the world.

 


IV

The child who birthed the mother

compass of winds, its rhombuses
+++++++++++++++the hill, its three palm trees,
the beauty named “Beauty”
+++++++++++++++below, rivers and lagunes.
In the water the child birdstares, the child who birthed the mother,
+++++the sixteen quarters of the sky
+++++++++++++++Yémaya’s divine body,
Grace of chills, of charms,
+++++figures carried by chance
+++++as the banks of Enjillé’s jetties, open to signs,
+++++coquillage and kola nuts
++++++++++++++++++++fem-mules.

The beauty named “Beauty” birdstares, sways,
+++++++++++++++reflective mask, peaceful, grave
+++++abandoned to the flood, the swell,
+++++++++++++++the famous hill where three palm trees grow
+++++the famous, and below d’lo,
++++++++++void approves, baptizes.
Shimmers sway, go
++++++++++one bank the other
+++++the Far-off is never far “all weighed and measured”
++++++++++the gods exist in the water
++++++++++the sky is in the water
in the water paradise,
+++++++++++++++under the leaves, basins of flood,
Refresh and appease the vestibules of pleasure,
from saliva the fecundant charm
++++++++++and above, the sorceries,
+++++the mouth where “la Belle” sways
+++++from one bank to the other
++++++++++the two banks, the waters, their depths
+++++from one bank to the other, the slicing grasses
++++++++++the copious wild leaves
+++++the riverbank rebuffs the waters sloshing to the other side,
+++++here the crouching-god, here the sacred beast,
++++++++++the hunchback opens the true path through the leaves.

Forged up the watercourse:
++++++++++in the mirrorment the paradise,
+++++the subtle game of reflections,
++++++++++reflections inebriated,
+++++the sounds enchantment,
+++++++++++++++absolute lightness,
++++++++++++++++++++++++Appear-disappear
++++++++++++++++++++++++the mask,
++++++++++++++++++++++++the showing
+++++++++++++++unity of all
+++++++++++++++piety in all.

Forging up the rivercourse,
++++++++++little shards of clay, the fat ram,
++++++++++maternal breast,
+++++peace in the body, peace in the courtyard.

 


Copyright: Partition noire et bleue: (Lémistè 2) (Obsidiane, 2016)

V

Fraîcheur et vie

« Même fleuve, eaux toujours nouvelles ».
La voix court sur les eaux
++++++++++paroles transmises d’un dieu à un dieu
+++++héritage magique, commencement des flots
+++++avec légèreté soyeuse
++++++++++même que
+++++même que graminée fanée du lalang ;
Eau limpide, harmonie grave aigu,
+++++++++++++++que n’assombrisse la bonne humeur des esprits.
Disparaître-devenir, disparaître comme l’écume
+++++++++++++++laissant maison
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ouvertes portes et fenêtres,
+++++++++++++++Beauté assise jambes écartées :
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++nid oiselet
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ailes solsouris
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++touffes herbe lalang      salive
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++gueule requin béante.
Que grenouille renouvelle et multiplie

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++Châme
+++++Ô, cela qui palpite comme brin de lune
+++++la rouge rouge érythrine
+++++++++++++++et dessous le gazouillis de l’initié
La petite antilope qui grimpe grimpe au divin palmier,
Qu’humide toujours soit la natte vénérable,
+++++++++++++++le chiendent, les prémices près de la source,
Que tambours et taurillons soient aspergés d’eau fraîche,
Que la caresse du serpent creuse le sable
+++++++++++++++tête et queue python dans enclos
+++++++++++++++agite grelots qu’ils se vident ;
« L’eau du grand marais coule dans la rivière »
++++++++++++++++++++derrière collines
++++++++++++++++++++secret
++++++++++++++++++++parmis les feuilles,
Qu’elle soit fraîche la demeure aux parois lisses,
+++++a-t-elle ébranlé la foudre, la petite chôye soyeuse ?
+++++A-t-elle couvert la gounouille de plaies, la pierre de meule ?
Lui a-t-on enlevé sa peau sur le fleuve,
S’est-il prosterné devant la porte de la cité d’Abydos,
A-t-il passé entre les épineux,
Est-il entré dans la concession ?

+++++++++++Est-il fier, impatient ?
+++++++++++Le charme :
+++++++++++++++d’abord simple gateau mil,
+++++++++++++++d’abord gateau mil mélangé
+++++++++++++++feuilles liãne réglisse crasé
+++++++++++++++puis gateau mil, feuilles liãne réglisse
+++++++++++++++et miel ensouite ;
+++++++++++++++et fèuille-yãnm pour aller puiser l’eau.
+++++++++++++++Puis charme jaculatoire à voix basse (trois fois)
+++++++++++++++Trois fois près les affaires,
+++++++++++++++++++++++++tout au bord mait’ zaffai,
+++++++++++++++++++++++++dans l’entre-jambe.
+++++++++++++++Et des chantés obscènes,
+++++++++++++++Ouaïe—Ouïe
+++++++++++++++Man kèy lélé-é-y
+++++++++++++++Man kèy lélé kalalou-a
++++++++++Ô la loi de l’enclos !

Et qu’ouverte soit la voie de l’abreuvage, le chemin de fécondité,
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++Vitamtènam
+++++++++++++++dans la lumière de l’arche les eaux du monde.

 


IV

L’enfant qui enfanta la mère

Rhombes de la rose des vents,
++++++++++++++++++++++++++belle colline aux trois palmiers,
La belle surnommée « la Belle »
++++++++++++++++++++++++++au-dessous, fleuves et lagunes.
Dans l’eau miroise l’enfant qui enfanta le mère,
+++++les seize quartiers du ciel
++++++++++++++++++++++++++sur le corps divin de Yémaya,
Grâce du saisissement, charmes,
++++++++++figures amenées par le hasard
++++++++++comme aux rives d’Enillé jetées ouvertes aux signes,
++++++++++coquilles et noix kola des femmes-mules.

La belle surnommée « la Belle » miroise, se balance,
+++++++++++++++masque réfléchi, grave, paisible
+++++abandonnée au flot,
+++++++++++++++la fameuse colline où poussent trois palmiers
+++++la fameuse, et au-dessous l’eau,
++++++++++vide qui agrée, fonts baptismaux.
Le reflet se balance, va
+++++++++++++++une rive l’autre
+++++le Lointain n’est jamais loin « tout bien pesé »
+++++++++++++++les dieux existent dans l’eau
+++++++++++++++le ciel est dans l’eau
+++++dans l’eau le paradis,
+++++++++++++++sous les feuillages, bassins d’inondation,
Rafraichissent et apaisent les vestibules du plaisir,
De la salive le charme fécondant
++++++++++et par-dessus, les sortilèges,
+++++la bouche où « la Belle » se balance
++++++++++d’une rive à l’autre
+++++++++++++++les deux rives, les tréfonds des eaux
+++++d’une rive à l’autre, les herbes tranchantes
+++++++++++++++les feuilles sauvages bien frues
+++++la berge qui rabroue vers l’autre berge les eaux clapoteuses,
+++++ici le dieu-accroupi, l’animal sacré,
+++++++++++++++le bossu qui ouvre le bon chemin parmi les feuilles.

Remonté le fil de l’eau :
dans le miroisement le paradis,
+++++le jeu subtil des reflets,
l’ivresse du reflet,
+++++l’ensorcellement des sons,
++++++++++++++++++++++++++l’absolue légèreté,
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++Paraître-disparaître
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++Le masque,
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++Le laisser-apparaître
++++++++++++++++++++++++++L’unité de tout,
++++++++++++++++++++++++++La piété en tout.
Remonté le fil de l’eau,
+++++++++++++++petits morceaux de glaise, le bélier gras,
+++++++++++++++le sein maternel,
+++++la paix dans le corps, la paix dans la cour.

 

Translator’s Note:

For Monchoachi, language is a site of both play and resistance, a rhizomatic system of becomings, origins, and renewals. As fellow writer Patrick Chamoiseau describes, “[Monchoachi] has completely renewed our vision of the Creole language—the way we read it, practice it, defend it. He has reshaped the relationship of this language to French, and has explored the blossoming of an unheard speech, its explosion into life, which we become witness to in Lémistè.”

My translation strives to reflect/refract this performative [re-]visioning, which Monchoachi so adeptly applies to his seemingly meandering (but always intentional, and sometimes instructive) narrative. In these poems, he is reaching into an oceanic sub-terrain—emerging here into ancient Yoruban spiritual practice, there becoming a Martinican river becoming a man becoming sacred—and all of it oscillating at the tip of his tongue. By extension, these poems strive to oscillate on the tips of the readers’ [multiple] tongues, to disorient and subvert the limitations of language in order to open and influence it with magic, the mysterious. The power of these poems is found in their physical and spatial integrality; they reside in the body, in the land and in the water. As a result, although the reader is carried through the intangible into the cantatory, we remain grounded, with a taste of the air in our mouths. With these translations I hope to showcase/carry Monchoachi’s linguistic project in a way that propels both the craft of translation and the presence of Creole literature in the Anglophone world.

Special Guest Judge, William Rodarmor:

Patricia Hartland set herself a major challenge in translating Monchoachi, a poet prolific in both French and Martinican Creole. Monchoachi is the pseudonym of André Pierre-Louis, who was born in Martinique in 1946. Hartland calls his work “a site of both play and resistance… of becomings, origins, and renewals.” Patrick Chamoiseau says Monchoachi has completely renewed the relationship of the Creole language to French. This means that a vigilant translator must look in two different linguistic directions while plotting her course in a third.

Hartland brings impressive skills to the task. An MFA candidate for poetry at Notre Dame, she focuses on post-colonial, linguistically hybrid, francophone texts. And she lends a deft touch to her Monchoachi translations. Here is a sample from “The child who birthed the mother”:

Forged up the watercourse:   
                        in the mirrorment the paradise,
            the subtle game of reflections,
                        reflections inebriated,
            the sounds enchantment,
                                    absolute lightness,
                                                            Appear-disappear
                                                            the mask,
                                                            the showing
                                                            unity of all
                                                            piety in all.

 

—William Rodarmor is an editor and French literary translator in Berkeley, California. He has translated some forty-five books and screenplays in genres ranging from serious fiction to espionage and fantasy. In 1996 he won the Lewis Galantière Award from the American Translators Association for Tamata and the Alliance, by Bernard Moitessier. In 2016, he won the Northern California Book Award for fiction translation for The Slow Waltz of Turtles, by Katherine Pancol.

 

Patricia Hartland is a candidate for the MFA in poetry at the University of Notre Dame, and a recent graduate of the Iowa Translation Workshop. She translates from French, Martinican Creole, and Hindi, with a special interest in Caribbean literature. Her translations of prose, poetry, and theatre have appeared or are forthcoming in Asymptote, Circumference, Drunken Boat, Two Lines, and elsewhere.

 

Born in 1946 on the island of Martinique, Monchoachi is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Prix Carbet de la Caraïbe and the Prix Max Jacob. In 2007 he founded the Lakouzémi Project, an annual gathering of writers, dancers, performers, and activists: together they vivify history and generate meaningful, actioned community.

 

Excerpt from The False Note

[translated fiction]

“The wolf tone is a musical paradox.
An atonality we suffer
in the name of harmony.”

One of the trees has bloomed early. In the park in front of the conservatory. Dabs of pink along a dark core. What are they called?

Cherry blossoms, you’d say. You’re all grown up now.

Later I put on my black coat, the one with the silver buttons. My steps whisper through dry fallen leaves. You run on ahead. It’s October, maybe November. I pluck a leaf from a low branch of the flaming chestnut tree.

You paste the leaves on a sheet of white paper. I tuck you into bed.

God nat, I say. Gute Nacht, you say. Buenas noches, I say. Good night, you say. And I say buonanotte.

And then you say it: welterusten. You snigger, your green eyes suspect I don’t know what they expect, but this happens every time we get as far as welterusten.

Bon nuit, I smile. Your mouth is hidden behind the covers now, only your eyes are visible. Bon nuit, you whisper.

 

FREDERIK

—When the piano was invented it was believed that we had found a way to track and emulate variations in pitch that were tuned by means of a scientific system. It’s just like mathematics, she says.

She always says that. She knows he’s good at maths.

English is like maths. The piano is like maths. Even his grandmother is maths.

He’s better at maths than she is.

Keeping her eyes on his, Zoe plays a few chords.

He rests his fingers on the keyboard and strikes the same keys, two octaves higher up. His hands follow hers, slowly, confidently over the keys. Swift as an echo he sounds the right note.

—But we couldn’t reproduce the original sound, for there is a natural… falsity that would disrupt the logic of harmony if we were to include it. —Here, she says, resting two fingers on the keyboard. —Right after this key.

It doesn’t sound false to him.

—We call it the wolf tone, she says, because it sounds like a horrible choir of howling wolves.

He’s not sure he can hear what she wants him to hear.

She lifts her hands off the keys and reaches for her glass of red wine that she has placed on top of the piano. She swirls the liquid in her glass.

—Pretty neat, don’t you think?

She puts the glass to her lips and takes a sip.

He nods.

‘When you compose a score of music you have a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea: You can resort to the original system, embed the false note in the seventh tone and deliberately compose around it. You simply don’t create it, and we don’t even hear it anymore.’

She returns the glass to its perch on the piano and starts to play a piece that he knows, but he can’t remember what it’s called. She can do that. Pick up any old tune and make it sound good.

He gets himself a glass of juice from the kitchen and puts it down next to her glass on the piano. When he was little he wasn’t allowed to do that, but now she doesn’t mind.

—Before the new system was invented all you had to do was avoid the wolf tone, she says, her hands jump up an octave. —You couldn’t include it without ruining your composition; the tone is natural, but false. It’s very frustrating.

—So new tuning methods were developed. The system we use today dates back to the sixteenth century. A plan was devised to spread this natural atonality—the wolf tone—over the maximum number of piano notes; you could juggle the note, stretch it, but never eliminate it completely. This means that every composition we hear is ever so slightly off-key, she says, still playing her sedate melody.

—But we can’t hear it anymore. Our ears have become accustomed to the aberration. It’s just like a cabal, Frederik. A tuning system can never be cracked.

She looks pleased with herself. She likes the idea of a system that cannot be cracked.

—It is possible to crack a cabal, he says.

—Ah. In that case, imagine the sort of cabal that cannot be cracked, she says.

This he can very well imagine. He looks at her. She has a special way of meeting his gaze when she’s playing the piano; seeing him without seeing him at all.

—So, Frederik. Her fingers have stopped moving over the keys.

She picks up her glass of wine, gulps it down.

—When you compose a score of music you have a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea: You can resort to the original system, embed the false note in the seventh tone and deliberately compose around it. You simply don’t create it, and we don’t even hear it anymore. It’s extinguished by dint of choice, just as we would choose to stop creating the colour… olive green; after a while we simply wouldn’t see this shade of green anymore. If you choose to compose according the modern principle however, you can spread the wolf note evenly across the scales. One could argue that we’re masking an innate link between music and nature, and, in effect, making everything we play false—which we don’t hear either.

She stares at the keys for a moment.

—Do you understand, Frederik?

He nods.

—It’s just something we’ve come to accept. The price we pay for creating a sound that is all but perfect. It’s the paradox of music that we can cheerfully, imperfectly recreate a false world.

She stands up and goes into the kitchen.

—It’s just like pi, don’t you think? she calls after her. —Or a leap year. We have leap years so the calendar will add up nicely. Isn’t that so?

He’s not sure this is true. He stares hard at the keys. Narrows his eyes, tries to see them in a different light, identify some kind of veneer. She’s opening a bottle of wine. There’s a pop of a cork from the kitchen. She comes back with her glass and sits down on the piano stool next to him. Plays one of her melodies.

—You can also think of it in terms of the dial of a watch, she says, lifting her left wrist so he can see the face on hers.

—There are twelve musical tones on a piano, and there are twelve numbers on the face of a dial. If the space between each number were a tone, then a complete rotation would end one second beyond the twelve; you would never strike dead on twelve. It just wouldn’t work, would it? Because with every rotation we’d edge a little further past the twelve. A little further every time.

Frederik looks at her watch and nods. It is five minutes to midnight.

—So, we cheat a little. We falsify each tone, just a tad, to make sure that we strike the number twelve. Dead on. Every time. People like to relate things to something else that they understand.

She looks at him. The corners of her mouth curl into a smile.

—It’s a symphonic problem, not a melodic one, she says finally. —We want to create great symphonies, rather than meek melodies. So we bend the rules of nature to suit our own. Rather than the reverse. Does that make sense to you, Frederik?

He nods.

—That’s a very abstract conception, don’t you think. Thomas’ voice cuts into the room. He’s standing in the lounge doorway wearing his coat. He must have arrived only moments before. Neither of them had heard the front door.

—If we had bowed to the rules of nature, man would have ceased to exist as a species, he says.

His voice sounds brittle. —Why aren’t you in bed yet, Frederik?

*     *     *

Frederik goes to the bathroom to brush his teeth. He washes his hands. The voices coming from the lounge are rising. He knows it’s very late. He opens the window to air the room.

If all manmade instruments were invented so we could play nature’s music, which instrument could sound like fresh air flowing into the bathroom?

He knows now is not a good time to ask.

He goes to his room and pulls on his pyjamas. Smooths down the sheets, shakes out the duvet, and crawls in under the covers.

He cannot make out the words, but he can hear that his father is cross. That rumble in his throat. He knows he’s stayed up too late. He can hear her going into the kitchen.

—Why do you have to ruin everything, Thomas.

—You’re drunk, Zoe.

He can hear the fridge being opened. The kettle clicks on.

—You’re drunk, Zoe, she repeats after him.

—He hasn’t a hope in hell of understanding what you’re saying. It’s twelve o’clock at night, for Christ’s sake, and you open a fresh bottle of wine. He’s nine years old, Zoe.

His dad is really mad now. So is she. The door into the lounge bangs shut.

—You underestimate him, she yells after him.

A little later his dad comes into his room. He sits down on the edge of the bed, tucks the duvet around him. He stays sitting there for a while. Sighs deeply.

—Nobody has to be that smart at twelve o’clock at night, he says, touching Frederik’s cheek.

—But I do understand, he whispers.

Thomas sits completely still for a moment longer.

—Then you’re a very clever boy, he whispers back. —Sleep well, sweetheart.

He lies in the dark for a long time. Waits for her to come. She always does.

[…]

 

FREDERIK

He knows he shouldn’t call his grandmother. It would only make matters worse.

He can always turn up the volume. So he does.

But he can still hear it, the muffled sounds; as if wrapped in a blanket.

He has his phone in his hand. The battery is charged.

He thinks he’s about to fall asleep, but it’s almost impossible not to hear the smashing of glass. He turns up the volume even more, but the sound was there only a moment before. He’s fresh out of ideas. He turns off the music. It’s quiet downstairs. He listens. He knows he’s heard it again.

Some kind of banging noise. He’s not sure which. Maybe it’s nothing.

He sees the tangled mess where Bear, Chicken, and Duck used to be. The snapped rods. They spin round when a breeze blows in from the window. He takes it down. He should’ve kept his mouth shut.

He listens. Thinks he can hear something else, but it’s probably just the rustle of leaves outside.

He checks his timetable. He’s got double periods in English and maths. Followed by two single periods in science and IT.

He’s done all his homework.

He rolls over onto his side. Rests a hand on the wall; cool to the touch, its rough surface comforting on his palm.

*     *     *

He must have slept. She’s come into his room. His hand still on the wall, he listens to her breathing. He stays lying still.

She lies down on the bed next to him. She’s not touching him, but he can feel the warmth of her body. It feels nice. He stays quiet and tries to fall asleep.

*     *     *

When the alarm goes off she’s gone. The room is empty and the sun is slanting through the white curtains. He stares at the socks on the floor. Seven in all.

He thinks he’s about to fall asleep, but it’s almost impossible not to hear the smashing of glass. He turns up the volume even more, but the sound was there only a moment before.

He gets out of bed and goes for a pee, as quietly as he can, careful to aim for the sides of the bowl. Then he goes down the stairs and into the kitchen. He opens the fridge. Takes out the milk. Fetches the cereal from the cupboard. A bowl. He lays everything out on the dining table. His forgotten a spoon. He pulls a chair up to the kitchen counter and reaches for the sugar in the cupboard. Goes back to the dining room table and sits down. What could that noise have been all about? Maybe it was all in his mind. He puts his phone on the table next to his bowl and starts spooning cereal into his mouth. He didn’t have to prep anything for English period.

*     *     *

He searches for the eighth sock. Looks under the bed. He finds it—covered in fuzz. He shakes the sock and picks off the remaining bits of fluff. Sorted. Now he’s got a matching pair that he likes. He sits down on the edge of the bed, and pulls them on.

He knows that the door to the lounge bangs all the time. Little knocks against the wooden doorframe.

He looks outside. The sun is shining. He puts on his sandals.

There’s no packed lunch in the kitchen. He cuts himself a slice of bread, a chunk of cucumber. He deposits his sandwich in a plastic freezer bag.

He tiptoes to the lounge and opens the door, as if it’s been waiting for him all this time; he lets himself get sucked in. It’s the pane of the terrace sliding door. Splinters of glass are scattered everywhere. A cold wind is blowing through a big hole in the pane. She’s lying on the sofa. Wrapped in a blanket. He’s not sure if she’s asleep.

He backs out the lounge. Grabs his satchel in the hall. He clicks the front door closed behind him.

*     *     *

At ten minutes to two ‘o clock he climbs up the tree in the schoolyard and prepares to wait. The pupils from Third Grade are playing charades far below. His perch feels like a nest. Nobody can see him up here.

It’s already gone four minutes past two when it rings.

—Hi, Freddie, says his dad.

—Hi.

—How’s it going?

—Good, he says.

—What are you doing?

—I’m playing charades.

—That sounds like fun?

—Yes.

—Is Mom home?

—I’m not sure.

—Right, you’re not home right now, are you. Is everything okay?

—Yes.

—What did you have for lunch today?

He hesitates:

—Pizza?

—I’ll be home day after tomorrow.

—Okay.

—Shall I call again tomorrow?

—Yes.

—Right-y ho. Keep well, says his dad.

—Wait. What time are you going to call tomorrow, he says. But the line is already dead.

*     *     *

He goes round the back to the garden gate. It’s locked. There’s no hole in the sliding door. And he can’t see her in the lounge. He goes back to the front door and unlocks the door. She’s not home. The sofa is empty. The blanket is lying in a heap on the floor.

He sets up his computer on the dining room table. Jonas from Sweden is online. They’re on the same team.

*     *     *

He hears the keys in the front door. He doesn’t turn round, but he can hear the rustle of bags. She’s packing stuff into the fridge. Pulls open the bottom drawer. Fills the kettle with water from the tap and switches it on. Now he turns his head. She’s holding a tea tin in each hand.

—Hej, she says.

—Hej.

She’s not home. The sofa is empty. The blanket is lying in a heap on the floor.

—Would like some tea?

—Yes, thanks, he says.

She comes over, thrusts each tin under his nose in turn.

—Uhmm, he says. —That one.

He knew she’d be back to normal.

She lays the table, and sits down opposite him, her face sticking up over the edge of the screen. She’s bought some cake. She slides a plate over.

—Shall I put this off? he asks.

—No, you don’t have to.

They sit at the table together. A string of his teammates are mowed down in an ambush from the rear.

*     *     *

She fetches the tea as soon as it’s had a chance to draw. Pours them both a cup. She fetches the bowl of sugar and puts it in front of him. She’s remembered to bring a teaspoon.

She sits down at the table.

—I’m sorry, Frederik, she says.

She’s peering over the edge of his screen. Blinks. It looks as if she wants to say more. She picks up her mug. Her hand is trembling.

—That’s okay, he says, glancing up briefly. He sees two snipers on the roof. He fires.

—I haven’t been feeling well, she says. It will pass.

—Yes, he whispers, making a dash for another sniper on the roof.

 

Ulvekvinten
Copyright © Trisse Gejl 2016
Copyright denne udgave © People’s Press 2016

„Ulvekvinten er et musikalsk paradoks.
En falskhed, vi er nødt til at leve med,
ellers går stemningssystemet ikke op.“

Et af træerne blomstrede tidligt det år. Det stod i parken foran konservatoriet. Små, lyserøde pletter med en mørk kerne. Hvader det, de hedder?

Kirsebærblomster, vil du sige. Du er voksen nu.

Senere har jeg min sorte frakke med sølvknapper på. Mine skridt hvisler gennem de tørre blade. Du løber foran. Det er oktober eller måske november. Jeg plukker et lavthængende blad fra en flammenden kastanje.

Bladene klistrer du op på hvidt papir. Jeg putter dig.

Godnat, siger jeg. Gute Nacht, siger du. Så siger jeg buenas noches. Så siger du good night. Så siger jeg buonanotte.

Så siger du det: welterusten. Du fniser, og dine grønne øjne forventer, jeg ved ikke, hvad de forventer, men sådan er det, hver gang vi når til welterusten.

Bonne nuit, smiler jeg. Din mund er gemt bag dynen nu, kun dine øjne er tilbage. Bonne nuit, hvisker du.

 

FREDERIK

– Da man opfandt klaveret, troede man, at det endelig var lykkedes at forklare og genskabe alle naturlige lyde i verden. Man stemte simpelthen klaveret efter et meget præcist system.

Det er fuldstændig som matematik, siger hun.

Det siger hun altid, fordi han er god til matematik.

Engelsk er som matematik. Klaveret er som matematik.Selv hans farmor er som matematik.

Han er bedre til matematik end hende.

Zoe slår et par toner an, mens hun ser på ham.

Han sætter fingrene på tangenterne og slår de samme toner an nogle oktaver oppe. Han følger hendes hænder, der flytter sig langsomt og sikkert rundt. Som et hurtigt ekko finder han de samme toner og slår dem an.

– Men det viste sig, at man aldrig kan efterligne naturens klange helt. For der findes en slags … naturlig falskhed, der ødelægger hele systemet, hvis man prøver at integrere den. Her, siger hun, – efter denne kvint, og hun sætter to fingre på tangenterne.

Det lyder ikke falsk, synes han.

– Man kaldte den ulvekvinten, siger hun. – Fordi man syntes, den lød lige så rædselsfuld som ulve, der hyler i kor.

Han er ikke sikker på, han hører det, hun vil have ham til at høre.

Hun slipper tangenterne og rækker ud efter sit rødvinsglas, der står på klaveret. Hun holder det svævende foran ansigtet.

– Det er ret fint, ikke?

Så sætter hun glasset til læberne.

Han nikker.

Hun sætter glasset fra sig og spiller et stykke, han kender, men ikke kan huske, hvad hedder. Det er sådan noget, hun gør. Lige spiller noget, der lyder godt.

Han henter et glas saftevand og sætter det på klaveret. Detmåtte han ikke, da han var mindre. Nu siger hun ikke noget.

– Når man så komponerede musik ud fra systemet, skulle man bare undgå ulvekvinten, siger hun og hopper en kvint op. – Den er ubrugelig, den ødelægger ethvert stykke musik. Den er naturlig, men falsk. Det er meget frustrerende.

– Så lavede man nye stemningssystemer. Det, vi bruger i dag, stammer helt fra 1600-tallet. Nu forsøgte man at fordele denne falskhed, ulvekvinten, over så mange kvinter som

muligt. Du kan altså godt flytte rundt på den falske kvint, du kan udtynde den, men du kan aldrig komme af med den. Med det resultat at al musik, vi hører i dag, er en lille smule falsk, siger hun, mens hun fortsætter en langsom melodi.

– Men vi kan ikke længere høre det, for vi har vænnet os til det. Det er ligesom en kabale, Frederik, stemningssystemer kan aldrig helt gå op.

Hun ser glad ud. Hun kan godt lide, at det ikke kan gå op.

– Kabaler kan godt gå op, siger han.

– Nå ja, siger hun. – Men så forestil dig en kabale, der ikke kan gå op.

Det kan han godt forestille sig. Han ser på hende. Hun ser altid tilbage med et særligt blik, når hun spiller samtidig. Som om han både er der og ikke er der.

– Så Frederik, siger hun og standser.

Hun tager vinglasset igen og tømmer det i en hurtig slurk.

– Når vi gennem mange hundreder af år komponerer efter klangsystemer, må vi vælge mellem pest eller kolera. Enten komponerer vi efter det ældste princip, der samler falskheden ved syvende kvint, og sørger for at komponere udenom den lyd. Vi skaber den ikke, vi hører den ikke længere, vi udrydder den på samme måde, som hvis vi ikke længere brugte farven … olivengrøn. Så ville vi til sidst ikke kunne se den. Eller også komponerer vi efter det nyeste princip, der fordeler den falske kvint over hele klaveret. Man kan sige, at vi så har valgt at sløre et umiddelbart link mellem musikken og naturen. Alt, vi spiller, er derfor en smule falsk, men heller ikke det hører vi længere.

Hun sidder lidt og ser på tangenterne.

– Forstår du det, Frederik?

Han nikker.

– Og det har vi slået os til tåls med, det er prisen for at have en klang, der er næsten perfekt. Det er musikkens paradoks. Nu genskaber vi glad og uvidende en falsk verden.

Hun rejser sig og går ud i køkkenet.

– Er det ikke ligesom pi? råber hun. – Eller skudår, ellers går tiden ikke op?

Det ved han ikke. Han ser på tangenterne. Prøver at klemme øjnene lidt sammen for at se dem anderledes, for at se den lille falskhed. Hun åbner en flaske vin, han kan høre suget fra proppen. Så kommer hun ind igen og sætter sig ved klaveret. Hun spiller en lille melodi.

– Du kan også tænke på urskiven, siger hun og viser ham sit ur.

– Der er tolv kvinter på klaveret, der er tolv tal på urskiven. Hvis mellemrummet mellem hvert tal var en kvint, ville kvinterne først stoppe et sekund efter tolv. Du vil aldrig ramme tolv helt rent. Det duer jo ikke, vel? For hvis vi bare fortsætter, så bliver klokken næste gang lidt mere over tolv. Og næste gang lidt mere.

Han ser på uret og nikker. Klokken er fem minutter i tolv.

– Så vi snyder lidt og laver alle kvinterne en lillebitte smule falske, så vi rammer tolv rent hver gang. Vi kan bedst lide, at tingene passer til det, vi kan forstå.

Hun ser lidt på ham. Så smiler hun.

– Det er et symfonisk problem, ikke et melodisk, siger hun så. – Og mennesket vil gerne lave store symfonier, ikke bare små melodier. Så vi har været nødt til at bøje naturen mod os i stedet for at bøje os for den. Forstår du det?

Han nikker.

– Det er godt nok abstrakt det der, lyder Thomas’ stemme. Han står i døren ind til stuen med frakke på. Han må lige være kommet hjem. De har i hvert fald ikke hørt ham.

– Hvis vi havde bøjet os for naturen, havde vi ikke overlevet som art, siger han.

Hans stemme er irriteret. – Hvorfor er du ikke i seng, Frederik?

*     *     *

Frederik går ud og børster tænder. Vasker hænder. De taler hurtigt derinde. Han vidste det jo godt. Så trækker han ud i toilettet.

Hvis alle instrumenter er lavet i et forsøg på at kunne spille naturens toner, hvilket instrument skal så lyde, som når man trækker ud i toilettet?

Han ved godt, det ikke er nu, han skal spørge.

Han går ind på sit værelse og tager nattøj på. Han glatter lagenet og ryster dynen, før han lægger sig ned under den.

Han kan ikke høre, hvad de siger, men hans far er sur. Han taler med den der brummen. Han ved godt, han er kommet for sent i seng. Nu går hun ud i køkkenet.

– Derfor behøver du ikke ødelægge det, siger hun.

– Du er fuld, Zoe, siger Thomas.

Han kan høre køleskabet blive åbnet. Elkedlen tændt.

– Du er fuld, Zoe, efteraber hun.

– Han har jo ikke en chance for at forstå det der. Klokken er tolv om natten, og du sidder dér med ham og har lige åbnet en ny flaske vin. For fanden, han er ni år.

Han er rigtig vred nu. Det er hun også. Døren ind til stuen smækker med et brag.

– Du undervurderer ham, råber hun.

Lidt efter kommer Thomas ind. Han sætter sig på kanten af sengen og stopper dynen ned om Frederik. Han sidder lidt. Så sukker han.

– Så klog behøver man ikke være klokken tolv om natten, siger han og stryger en finger over Frederiks kind.

– Jeg kan altså godt forstå det, hvisker han.

Thomas sidder lidt.

– Så er du en meget klog dreng, hvisker han tilbage. – Sov godt.

Han ligger længe i mørket og venter på, at hun skal komme. Det gør hun altid.

[…]

 

FREDERIK

Han ved godt, at han nok ikke skal ringe til farmor. Det vil gøre det hele meget værre.

Man kan også bare skrue op. Det gør han.

Han kan stadig høre det. Men nu er det, som om det er inde i en dyne.

Han har mobilen i hånden. Den er fuldt opladet.

Han tror, han er ved at falde lidt i søvn, men det er næsten umuligt ikke at høre rabalderet af glas. Han skruer op, men det var der stadig lige før. Nu ved han ikke rigtig, hvad han skal gøre. Han slukker for musikken. Der er stille. Han lytter. Han ved, at det var der.

Måske er der en lille lyd nu. Men han er ikke sikker. Måske er der slet ingen lyd.

Han ser op på uroen, hvor Bamse og Kylling og Ælling var. Nu er der kun de hvide pinde tilbage, men de drejer stadig en gang imellem i trækken fra vinduet. Hun hev dem af. Han skulle ikke have sagt noget.

Han lytter. Tror, han kan høre lidt, men det er vist bare en raslen i bladene udenfor.

De skal have engelsk og matematik i to timer og så natur og teknik.

Det har han lavet.

Han vender sig om. Lægger en hånd på væggen. Den er kølig. Den nubrede overflade er rar at mærke i håndfladen.

*     *     *

Han har sovet. Han kan mærke, at hun er kommet ind i værelset. Han kan høre hende trække vejret. Han ligger helt stille. Hånden mod væggen.

Så lægger hun sig ned i sengen. Han kan mærke varmen fra hendes krop, selvom hun ikke rører ved ham. Det er rart. Han ligger stille og prøver at sove igen.

*     *     *

Da vækkeuret ringer, er hun der ikke mere. Der er tomt, og solen skinner ind gennem de hvide gardiner. Han kigger på syv sokker på gulvet.

Han står op. Han tisser, så stille han kan. Han styrer strålen op ad kummens sider. Så går han ud i køkkenet. Åbner køleskabet. Tager mælk ud. Henter havregryn. En tallerken. Han sætter det hele på bordet. Så går han tilbage og henter en ske. Trækker en stol hen for at nå sukkeret. Så sidder han der. Han ved ikke rigtig, hvad det var. Måske var det ikke noget. Han lægger mobilen ved siden af sig og spiser. Han havde ikke noget for i engelsk.

*     *     *

Han leder efter den ottende sok under sengen. Han finder den fuld af nullermænd. Ryster den. Piller det af. Nu har han to ens, han godt kan lide. Han sætter sig på kanten af sengen og tager dem på.

Han ved godt, at døren til stuen går op og i hele tiden. Små bump mod karmen.

Han ser ud. Solen skinner. Han tager sandaler på.

Der er ikke nogen madpakke. Han skærer en skive brød og et stykke agurk og kommer det i en frysepose.

Først nu skubber han døren til stuen forsigtigt op. Det er, som om den har ventet på ham, lader sig suge indad. Det er en af ruderne i terrassedøren. Der ligger glasskår over det hele. En kold vind står ind. Hun ligger i sofaen. Hun har et tæppe over sig. Han ved ikke, om hun sover.

Så tager han sin taske og lader hoveddøren falde i med et lille klik.

*     *     *

Klokken ti minutter i to klatrer han op i træet og giver sig til at vente. Dem fra tredje klasse spiller rollespil nede på legepladsen. Det er som en hule heroppe. Man kan ikke ses nedefra.

Først fire minutter over to ringer den.

– Hej, Frede, siger hans far.

– Hej.

– Går det godt?

– Ja, siger han.

– Hvad laver du?

– Jeg spiller rollespil.

– Er det sjovt?

– Ja.

– Er mor hjemme?

– Det ved jeg ikke.

– Nåh nej, du er jo ikke hjemme. Går det godt?

– Ja, gentager han.

– Hvad har I fået at spise?

Han tøver.

– Pizza? siger han så.

– Jeg kommer hjem i overmorgen.

– Okay.

– Skal jeg ringe igen i morgen?

– Ja, siger han.

– O.k., hav det godt så længe, siger hans far.

– Hvornår ringer du? spørger han, men forbindelsen er

allerede afbrudt.

*     *     *

Han går rundt om huset, om til havedøren. Den er lukket, og der er ikke hul i nogen rude mere. Han kan ikke se hende derinde. Så går han om til hoveddøren og låser sig ind. Hun er der ikke. Han ser den tomme sofa. Tæppet ligger på gulvet.

Han sætter sin computer på spisebordet i stuen og tænder den. Jonas fra Sverige er online. De er på hold sammen.

*     *     *

Senere hører han nøglen i døren. Han vender sig ikke om, men han kan høre poser. Hun sætter ting i køleskabet. Ryster poserne og folder dem sammen. Lægger dem ned i nederste skuffe. Hun fylder vand i kedlen, tænder den. Så tager hun tedåser ned. Hun stiller sig i døren ind til stuen. Nu vender han sig om. Hun har en tedåse i hver hånd.

– Hej, siger hun.

– Hej.

– Vil du have te?

– Ja tak, siger han.

Hun kommer hen til ham og holder først den ene og så

den anden dåse under hans næse.

– Uhm, siger han, – den der.

Han vidste, hun ville blive almindelig igen.

Hun dækker op på bordet og sætter sig overfor ham. Hendes ansigt stikker op over computerskærmen. Hun har også købt kage. Skubber tallerkenen hen mod ham.

– Skal jeg slukke nu? siger han.

– Det behøver du ikke.

Så sidder de der. En masse af hans medspillere er blevet skudt i et bagholdsangreb.

*     *     *

Hun henter teen, da den har trukket. Skænker op til dem begge to. Hun henter sukker til ham. Og en teske.

Så sætter hun sig igen.

– Undskyld, Frederik, siger hun.

Han kigger op over skærmen og blinker. Hun ser ud, som om hun vil sige noget mere. Så tager hun tekruset i stedet. Hendes hænder ryster lidt.

– Det er okay, siger han og ser ned og skyder to på taget.

– Jeg har det ikke så godt for tiden, siger hun. – Det går

over.

– Ja, hvisker han og forfølger en snigskytte.

 

Translator’s Note:

Some say that the act of translation is, in itself, impossible. How does one express what cannot be verbalized? How do you record the disintegration of a mind? Perhaps it is impossible, but the first time I read The False Note I had a very real sense of what it might feel like to lose your mind, and, being a translator, I was intrigued by the way Trisse Gejl imagined how this language of loss—a void of madness—would sound: the nuanced language of music forms the central conceit of the novel; the relative veracity of a tone, as and when it reaches the ear. Frederik has the innocence of a child, but the gift to identify the relative “falsity” of a voice, and this novel invokes the irresistible challenge to translate certain tones of discord into English. When I read the original, it is often the silence, a pause in speech, which resounds.

 

Lindy Falk van Rooyen is a Danish literary translator and holds an LLM in commercial law from the University of Stellenbosch and an MA in Scandinavian and English literature from the University of Hamburg. Her translations have appeared in Blue Lyra Review, Asymptote, and The Missing Slate. Recent translation publications include The Last Execution by Jesper Wung-Sung (Simon & Schuster, 2016) and What My Body Remembers (Soho Press, 2017) by Agnete Friis.

Photo by Elfriede Liebenow

Trisse Gejl is a Danish author and journalist who made her debut with the critically acclaimed novel Where the Dandelions Grow in 1995. She holds a Cand.mag in aesthetics and cultural studies from the University of Aarhus. Her novels have been nominated for several literary awards, including Danish Radio’s Literary Award in 2007 and 2012. The False Note is her most recent novel and was short-listed for the prestigious Blixen Literary Award in 2016.

Photo by Les Kaner

The Last Ones

[translated fiction]

The first thing he recognized were José Luis’s mannerisms. He remembered
the way he’d sit on the bench and chew the little pink eraser on his pencil. Maybe
if he tried hard enough he’d be able to remember every part of the school: the sticky
hallways, the fossilized gum stuck under the long benches, the scratchy, pinching sleeves
of the uniforms. He could feel it all come rushing back at once in El Feeling nightclub, which was doused in fluorescent lights that danced on the tables and soaked in the bitter stench of urine that ran down the walls. Giovanni tried to light a cigarette, but his hands were shaking. When he finally got it lit, he distracted himself by looking at the artificial light diffused through the smoke he pushed from his mouth. His coworkers were off dancing in a private room. They’d all pretended to be drunker than they really were so someone might dare to suggest ending their bender at El Feeling.

Giovanni laid his head down on his hands, on top of the food-flecked tablecloth. He had a headache, and from somewhere through the pulsing murmur of the club he was able to make out a man’s booming metallic voice. The man was gigantic, monumental, even, with round legs and violet heels, and if he hadn’t been dressed as a woman, Giovanni thought, he would’ve made a handsome man. Giovanni was never really that way, but he’d had a few partners. He remembered how one had fallen in love with him, Gabriela? Or Jenny? He’d kissed her eyelids as she shivered underneath him and he ran the warm tip of his tongue over her thighs—those wide thighs like the woman’s at the table in front of him now, with her purple-painted lips and platinum hair past her waist. It was then, as she was chewing at the curve of her fake nails, that he recognized her furtive expression—as if she was waiting secretly for something inevitable. The first thing that made him recognize José Luis were his mannerisms. Besides that, she looked just like any heavily made-up woman leaning back on a Corona-brand plastic table.

The first thing he recognized were José Luis’s mannerisms. He remembered the way he’d sit on the bench and chew the little pink eraser on his pencil. Maybe if he tried hard enough he’d be able to remember every part of the school: the sticky hallways, the fossilized gum stuck under the long benches, the scratchy, pinching sleeves of the uniforms.

José Luis looked at Giovanni for a second, stunned and stuck in his seat in the middle of the dark club, his dress speckled with crumbs and beer. He let out a cackle as he clumsily got up from his table.

“Giovanni? Ideai! Well, look who it is.” She sauntered up to him and her hair covered her breasts as she crisscrossed one leg in front of the other. She leaned on the table. Giovanni invited him to sit down, but instead she hugged him, clinging to his shoulders. He found José Luis’s scent hidden under the perfume and then Giovanni was back in the hallways of the school—that evening alone on the bathroom floor, surrounded by all that blinding-white sadness. “Luisa, I’m Luisa now. Check it out, Papi, I got my chin and tits done. Although look… I still need work on my booty and dick.” She bit her lip. “But you know how it is, some guys like it, it’s a real pain in the ass! But I have my very own boy-toy now! Can you believe it? One of those for-real real boyfriends. Oh, and I have my salon, which is super successful, over on First. It’s called ‘Zielo.’ Sounds like some high-class stuff, right? You know I always liked exclusivity, because of my aunt. You remember her? What do you mean no! Yeah, she was the wife of a congressman, one of those real legit-lady types, with her roots always touched up, and my family—we were poor, I mean poor, but we all turned out cute and pretty feisty. And you? What’ve you done?”

Giovanni poured her a beer without being able to shake the memory of how José Luis had come into the bathroom that afternoon and said, “I’m a woman in the body of an ugly man.” He took out a little tube of lip gloss from his backpack and edged up close to the mirror. He must’ve seen Giovanni by then, sitting on the floor next to the urinals, his gaze drilled into the intricate blue pattern in the tile floor. Giovanni had just learned that his father finally died and had been sitting there a long time. To be honest, it was a relief for everyone—it was a relief for Giovanni. No more mopping up the black vomit, no more spending every night at the hospital, no more holding his icy yellowed hand and pretending not to be tired and pretending that they still loved him. He didn’t remember how long he’d been sitting there, looking at the line of filth collected in the grooves between the tiles, or how many boys had come in and asked if he was all right. He couldn’t remember if he’d answered them. It was then that José Luis had come into the bathroom, swinging his hips just like he was now, here in this fag nightclub.

Giovanni looked at him. He looked like a woman, and his lip quivered when he spoke. Luis was barely recognizable, but Giovanni recognized in him his familiarity, his caring nature, same as that day when Luis had stood in front of him with his backpack hanging off one shoulder and his hand on his hip. Giovanni remembered Luis’s instinctive need to comfort him. The water from the sink had been leaking towards the drain in the floor like a bitter cold comet-tail of clear water. José Luis had crouched down at his side, touched his shoulder, and called him by name in his fake and effeminate voice. Giovanni pushed him over. He remembered the sound of him falling down on the freezing-cold tiles. José Luis got up, but instead of leaving, he sat there next to him, watching the light pour in through the tiny bathroom window.

Giovanni could feel the close heat of his body. He intuited the weight of his clothes and searched for José Luis’s skin, the wetness of his tongue, his lipstick viscous with glitter, the tickling of his eyelashes against his cheek, his false scent. Giovanni shook with fear. He saw Luis now, transformed into a mass of curves with a bough of yellow roses tattooed on his wrist, and he thought about that day on the bathroom floor. How he’d forced his tongue into his mouth, and how they’d fooled around, fighting each other until the disgust and feverish trembling of his body overcame him. He’d thrown up right there, right on the pants of José Luis’s uniform.

No more mopping up the black vomit, no more spending every night at the hospital, no more holding his icy yellowed hand and pretending not to be tired and pretending that they still loved him. He didn’t remember how long he’d been sitting there, looking at the line of filth collected in the grooves between the tiles, or how many boys had come in and asked if he was all right.

“I’m not mad about the puke thing, Gio.” Luisa placed a hand on his thigh and batted her long fake lashes. “But make sure to tell your lady to go to my salon. Ugh, my Gio, don’t act all surprised. Yeah, I know all about it. It even showed up in the newspaper with all those fancy-ass people, right? Yeah, she’s pretty. I saw that it said ‘Mirta Diaz de Macuspanni,’ and I said to myself, what other Macuspanni is there in Tuxtla besides you, and I saw the photo of the baptism of your kid—what a cutie that little pichi of yours! So cute! I’m so damn happy to know you’re doing good. You were… like, the first guy I fell for. Oof, if you couldda seen me, the moment you stepped into that classroom, just seeing you made me wanna chew on the end of my pencil.”

“His name is Enrique, like my dad, he’ll be one next month. My wife is planning a party with her sisters—can you believe it, they want to make the local front-page news.” Giovanni didn’t know why he felt the need to mention this, maybe because he liked to imagine Luisa lifting up that little magenta dress, touching herself while looking at the photo in which he appeared with his wife, carrying his baby, in the house they’d just moved into.

He saw Luisa’s lipstick on the rim of her Styrofoam cup. He saw the fake breasts squeezed into her dress. He thought about his wife’s, also fake, but Luisa’s were glistening with sunflower oil. He felt suffocated by the music, by the time. He took off his blazer and sighed several times for all the lives he’d never live. He knocked the table as he stood and the beers rolled off and shattered on the floor. Luisa got up with him, and they tried to maneuver their way out between the club-goers. It was like a carnival with all the bodies convulsing to the music, and the singing queen on stage started to intone a tango. Someone threw a bottle at her that exploded into a thousand dazzling pieces around her heels.

As they walked along the street it smelled even more like urine than it had inside. They ducked around the corner to stay out of sight. Giovanni lit another cigarette, leaned against an unlit lamppost, and Luisa rested against his shoulder, whistling a little tune.

“You know, Gio, the other day I had a dream. I was dyeing a client’s hair, I think maybe it was the chemicals, because I dreamt about a man who was dying. I thought it was my dad, ’cause it’s been a super long time since I’ve seen him; but no, he’s still alive and kickin’. But the dream was so real. I dreamt about a man dying and puking up black stuff, and then I was the puke. I was your puke on my pants in the bathroom, which I hope you remember, Hum!”

“I don’t know, I don’t really dream, José Luis. I don’t have much time for that anymore.” Giovanni leaned against the wall. He didn’t want to go home, and he stroked his wallet in his pocket and then his keys. A key for the locked house where a woman slept with a child, in a room clouded by the sugary scent of vanilla candles.

“In my dream there was a city, I don’t know if you know much about dreams, I do, maybe it’s because I’m a Gemini and I feel drawn to the mystic and change, it’s on account of my cosmic ascendant: but anyways, in my dream there’s a city and I was out there workin’ it you know, just a broke-ass ho, but I was still just a little high-school brat, and I had a key that opened all the houses in town. I went into this old house and started making the bed. You know how? Like how they make the beds in hotels, like, tucking the corner of the blanket under the mattress.”

Giovanni loosened his tie. His coworkers would already be fucking someone by now. He bit his lip and let his cigarette butt fall to the ground. It bounced against the concrete, once, twice; its restless little light still glowing. He was like that cigarette, carrying inside himself a tiny ember that consumed him, small, but incandescent.

“Mmmm, so check it out, you’re not even listening! In my dream, it was like when I was still doing my show. They used to call me La Garoputa, but I actually went by Garota, which is like ‘girl’ in Brazilian. I was in high school when I did my show here, but before it was El Feeling it had another name, it was owned by don Iván and it was called… Butterflies! Ooh, I must’ve been about sixteen. I started out singing Emmanuel, but I really liked singing that one song, El Día que me Quieras. Oh, and hey, by the way, I lied to you earlier, the truth is I don’t have a boyfriend, well, I mean… not a for-real real one, anyway.” Luisa stepped a little closer and her platinum hair wound around the buttons of his shirt. She smelled like peanuts and onions, and Giovanni put his arm around her waist. “But in my dream, I was La Garoputa again, and I had a house and a crib with a baby in it and you opened the door and you said to me, you said…”

He imagined his father again, alone and facing that paradoxical clarity of death, and without even closing his eyes very tight, Giovanni could really remember it. He squeezed Luis and pulled him nearer until he held him so close he could see his wrinkles and eyeliner. He listened to the thick murky sound that escaped from El Feeling and the hissing of the few cars that crossed the avenue. He leaned his head on Luisa’s shoulder and rested his lips on her skin. He could hear her breathing, and her voice took on another quality, manly and cavernous. Giovanni felt her body come undone as he ran his hand along, stroking her uncovered back. The gritty sidewalk under the soles of her shoes, the icy slick floor of the bathroom, the smell of bar food on her breath, the locked door of his house, his child inside wrapped in a star-patterned blanket, twisting like unburying himself from the sheets, like his father in the starry blankets of the hospital. He wound his arms around José Luis tighter and tighter until he heard his stilted breathing and masculine voice that whispered in his ear, “So in my dream, you have my voice and I have yours, and you tell me, ‘El día que me quieras, baby, we’re gonna fuck this world right up its ass,’ and you look at me, just like you’re lookin’ at me now, and you tell me your blood woke you up this morning, boiling.”

 

Los últimos

Lo primero que reconoció de José Luis fue su gesto. Recordó la forma en que se sentaba en las bancas y cómo masticaba la cabecita rosada de su borrador. Quizá si lo intentaba, recordaría cada uno de los lugares de la escuela: los pasillos pegajosos, el chicle fosilizado debajo de los mesabancos, el escozor de las mangas del uniforme. Sintió todo de nuevo en el Feeling, rodeado por las luces fluorescentes que bailoteaban sobre las mesas y el hedor agrio de las marcas de orines que escurrían de las paredes. Giovanni intentó prender un cigarro, le temblaba la muñeca. Cuando por fin pudo encenderlo, se entretuvo viendo la luz artificial difuminada por el humo que expulsaba de su boca. Sus compañeros de trabajo estaban bailando en un privado; todos habían fingido estar más borrachos de lo que en realidad estaban, para que alguno propusiera ir a terminar la borrachera al Feeling.

Giovanni descansó la cabeza sobre las manos que posaba en el mantel moteado por las sobras de comida; le dolía la cabeza, pero en medio del murmullo, alcanzó a distinguir la voz metálica de un hombre que retumbaba en el antro, era monumental, con piernas redondas y zapatos púrpuras, de no estar vestido de mujer, pensó, hubiera sido un hombre apuesto. Giovanni nunca lo fue, pero había tenido varias parejas. Recordaba que alguna se enamoró de él ¿Gabriela? o ¿Jenny? Le besaba los párpados, mientras tiritaba debajo de él y Giovanni recorría tibiamente sus muslos con la punta de su lengua, esos amplios muslos como los de la mujer de la mesa de enfrente, que tenía los labios pintados de púrpura y el cabello plateado por debajo de la cintura. Fue entonces cuando reconoció ese gesto furtivo como el de esperar algo inminente a escondidas, mientras mordisqueaba la curva de sus uñas postizas. Lo primero que reconoció de José Luis fue su gesto; por lo demás, daba la impresión de ser sólo una mujer con mucho maquillaje, reclinada sobre una mesa de Corona.

José Luis lo observó por un segundo: perplejo y clavado en su silla en medio del antro oscuro, con la camisa salpicada de comida y cerveza; comenzó a carcajearse mientras se levantaba ruidosamente de su mesa.

— ¿Giovanni?, ¡ideai! —, se acercó a él, su cabello le cubría los pechos, caminaba cruzando una pierna frente a otra, se reclinó sobre su mesa. Giovanni lo invitó a sentarse, pero ella lo abrazó colgándosele un poco de los hombros; sintió el olor de José Luis debajo del perfume de mujer que lo enmascaraba. Giovanni volvió a los pasillos de la escuela, a la tarde en la que se quedaron solos en el baño sobre el piso, rodeados de toda esa blanquísima tristeza.

—Luisa, ahora soy Luisa. Velo papi: me puse mentón y me implanté las tetas. Aunque mirá… me faltan las nalgas y el pito —se mordió el labio—. Pero ya sabes, a algunos les gusta, ¡es un estorbo! Ahora tengo un cola, ¿tú crees? Uno de esos novios de deveritas. Ah y ya tengo mi salón, es de éxito, ahí en la primera. Se llama “Zielo” suena como de ricos ¿no? Ya sabes que a mí siempre me gustó lo exclusivo, era por mi tía, ¿la recordás? ¡Cómo que no! Si era la esposa de un diputado, una señorona de aquellas, con las raíces siempre pintadas, y eso que mi familia era pobre, pobre. Pero salimos chulas todas y tantito arrechas. ¿Y vos qué hicistes?

Giovanni le sirvió un vaso de cerveza, sin poder olvidar cómo José Luis había entrado al baño diciendo “soy una dama en el cuerpo de un hombre feo”, había sacado un tubito de brillo labial de la mochila y se acercó al espejo, debió ver entonces a Giovanni sentado detrás suyo, junto a los mingitorios, con la mirada clavada en los azulejos del piso. Había estado mucho tiempo ahí, desde que supo que su papá había muerto por fin. En realidad era un alivio para todos; en realidad, era un alivio para él: no más trapear sus vómitos negros, no más esperar hasta tarde en el hospital, no más agarrarle la mano amarillenta y gélida y fingir no estar cansado y que aún todos lo amaban. No recordaba cuánto tiempo había estado sentado ahí: observando la línea de mugre acumulada en la zanja que separaba los mosaicos, ni cuántos chicos habían entrado y le habían preguntado si estaba bien, no sabía tampoco si había respondido. Recordaba que José Luis había entrado al baño contoneándose como ahora en el antro de putos.

Giovanni lo observó. Era lo más parecido a una mujer, pero le temblaba el labio cuando hablaba, apenas podía reconocerlo. Identificaba su cercanía, su consuelo, tal como ese día cuando se había quedado de pie frente a él, con la mochila colgándole de un hombro y una mano sobre la cintura, observando su insaciable necesidad de consuelo. El agua de un grifo se escapaba por la coladera, una estela transparente de agua helada. José Luis se hincó a su lado, le tocó un hombro y lo llamó por su nombre con su voz artificiosa y afeminada. Giovanni lo empujó. Oyó cómo cayó sobre el mosaico helado y límpido. Él se incorporó, pero en lugar de irse, se quedó junto a él, observando la luz que entraba por la pequeña ventana del baño.

Giovanni sintió el cercano calor de su cuerpo, intuyó el peso de su ropa y buscó la piel de José Luis, la humedad de su lengua, el labial viscoso con diamantina, el cosquilleo de sus pestañas sobre su mejilla, su olor falso, tembló de miedo. Lo observó ahora, transformado en un bulto de curvas, con el tatuaje de un ramillete de rosas amarillas en la muñeca y pensó en ese día en el piso del baño, en cómo había arrasado su lengua dentro de su boca: juguetearon, batallando hasta que lo sacudió el asco y el temblor febril del cuerpo; había vomitado ahí mismo, sobre los pantalones del uniforme de José Luis.

—No te guardo rencor por lo de la vomitadita, Gio —Luisa le colocó una mano sobre el muslo y parpadeó con sus largas pestañas postizas.

—Pero decíle a tu mujer que vaya a mi salón. Uuuy mi Gio, no te sorprendás, si yo todo lo sé. Además aparece en el periódico con la gente nice ¿no? Está chula, es que vi que decía: Mirta Díaz de Macuspanni y qué más Macuspanni en Tuxtla que vos, eso me dije, y vi la foto del bautizo de tu niño, ¡qué pichi tan chulote! ¡reeechulo! me alegró harto saber que te va bien. Fuistes…como el primero del que me enamoré. Uuuy si vieras, desde que entraste al salón, de puro verte mordisqueaba mi borrador.

—Se llama Enrique, como mi papá, cumple un año el mes que viene. Mi mujer le prepara una fiesta con sus tías, imagínate, quieren un reportaje de primera plana. — Giovanni no sabía por qué tenía que mencionarle eso, quizá porque le gustó imaginar que Luisa se masturbaría levantando ese vestidito magenta, viendo la revista en la que él aparecería junto a su mujer, cargando a su hijo, en esa casa a la que se acaban de mudar.

Observó la marca de labial de Luisa en el vaso de unicel. Vio los pechos falsos apretujados en su vestido, pensó en los de su esposa, también operados, pero los de Luisa estaban rociados con brillantina tornasol. Se sintió asfixiado por la música, por el tiempo, se quitó el saco, resopló varias veces, por todo lo que no viviría jamás. Se levantó de la mesa, la golpeó al pararse, las cervezas rodaron hasta quebrarse en el piso. Luisa se levantó con él, intentaron salir entre la gente excitada. Le pareció un carnaval, los cuerpos estaban convulsionados por la música, aunque el mampo que cantaba había comenzado a entonar un tango, alguien le arrojó una botella de vidrio que estalló en miles de pedazos resplandecientes cerca de sus tacones.

Caminaron sobre la avenida, pero olía más a orines que dentro, doblaron en la esquina, para que no pudieran verlos. Giovanni encendió otro cigarro, se reclinó en un farol fundido y Luisa descansó en su hombro silbando una tonadita.

—Vieras Gio, que el otro día tuve un sueño, había estado tiñéndole el pelo a una clienta, yo creo que fue el líquido del tinte, porque soñé a un señor que se moría, pensé que era mi papá, como hace harto que no lo veo; pero no, ese anda aún vivo. El sueño fue bien real, soñé un hombre morir vomitando negro, y luego el vómito era yo. Yo era tu vómito en mi pantalón en el baño. Bien que te acordás ¡hum!

—No sé, yo no sueño José Luis. Ya no tengo tiempo para eso. —Giovanni se reclinó en la pared, no quería llegar a casa, palpó su cartera en el pantalón y las llaves. Una llave de una puerta cerrada, en una casa donde dormía una mujer con un niño, junto a un buró donde se consumía el olor dulce de unas velas de vainilla.

—En mi sueño, hay una ciudad, yo no sé si sabés de eso de los sueños, yo quizá porque soy géminis me siento inclinada a lo místico y al cambio, es por mi ascendente cósmico; pero bueno, en mi sueño había una ciudad y yo estaba ahí de puta perdida, arrecheando, pero aún era cuatito de la prepa y tenía una llave que abría todas las casas. Entré a una y me puse a hacer la cama de una casa vieja. ¿Sabés cómo? Como se hace en los hoteles, metiendo la punta de la cobija debajo del colchón.

Giovanni se aflojó la corbata, sus compañeros debían estar cogiendo ya con alguien, se mordió el labio, dejó caer la colilla de su cigarro, rebotó sobre el concreto: una, dos veces, con esa lucecita intranquila aun brillando. Él era como ese cigarro, cargaba una brasita pequeña pero incandescente que lo consumía.

—Mmm vélo, pues, ¡vos ni me estás pelando! En mi sueño, yo era como en los tiempos de mi show. Me decían “La Garoputa”; bueno, yo me hacía llamar “Garota” que es como “chamaca” en brasileño. Ya en la prepa hacia mi show aquí, pero esto antes de llamarse el Feeling tenía otro nombre, era de don Iván y se llamaba…Butterflies ¡Uuuuy! Yo tendría mis dieciséis. Entré cantando al Emmanuel pero a mí me gustaba más cantar esa de “El día que me quieras”. Oí, te mentí hace rato, la verdad es que no tengo novio, bueno no de deveritas. —Luisa se acercó más a él, sus cabellos plateados se enredaron en los botones de su camisa. Olía a cebolla y a cacahuate, Giovanni la rodeó por la cintura.

—Pero en mi sueño, yo era de nuevo la “Garoputa” y entonces yo tenía una casa y un bebé en la cuna y tú abrías la puerta y me decías, me decías…—Giovanni imaginó de nuevo a su padre, solo, ante la claridad inverosímil de la muerte; pero ni aun apretando muy fuerte los ojos, podía realmente recordarlo. Estrujó a Luis, lo jaló hasta tenerlo tan junto que podía verle las marcas del delineador y las arrugas de los ojos. Oyó el sonido brumoso que escapaba del Feeling y el siseo de los pocos coches que transitaban la avenida. Reclinó la cabeza sobre el hombro de Luisa y descansó los labios en su piel, podía oírla respirar; su voz tenía otro timbre, una voz cavernosa y varonil. Giovanni arrastró su mano acariciándole la espalda descubierta. Sintió su cuerpo deshacerse: el piso grumoso debajo de sus suelas, el piso helado del baño, el aliento a comida del bar, la puerta de su casa cerrada; su hijo dentro, envuelto en cobijas celestes, retorciéndose, como desenterrándose de la ropa, como su padre entre las cobijas celestes del hospital. Rodeó a José Luis con más y más fuerza, hasta oír cómo su respiración se entrecortaba y su voz de hombre le susurraba en el oído.

—Entonces, en mi sueño, tú tienes mi voz y yo la tuya y me dices: “El día que me quieras, chula, vamos a clavarle la verga al mundo” y me ves, así como me estás viendo ahora, y me decís que amaneció la sangre rabiándote.

 

Translator’s Note:

“The Last Ones” posed several fascinating challenges on both narrative and socio-linguistic levels during my translation process. This story takes place in a nightclub in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Chiapas, Mexico, and follows the narrative memory of Giovanni, a closeted man who is recalling his first romantic encounter with someone of the same sex. These memories, which are deeply entangled with the memories of the death of his father, are brought back to life after running into Luisa, who has since transitioned into a woman. Luisa’s dialogue was a particular challenge when translating this story, as the voices of Giovanni and Luisa are quite distinctive in the original Spanish. Luisa uses the second-person vos form, which is typical of countries in Central and South America, but also sometimes present in the state of Chiapas, which borders Guatemala. Their register is also quite different. As I was translating, I worked hard to maintain these speech patterns while being conscious of the risk of creating a caricature of transgendered women.

Another challenge this story presented is that it is written as a close third-person narrative. Because of this, the reader is often presented with perspectives that come from the point of view of Giovanni, who is a deeply closeted man. Giovanni’s internal narrative only acknowledges Luisa as a woman about half the time, through the use of feminine pronouns. Because Giovanni often refers to Luisa as “he,” there are some instances when the actions of the two main characters seem to be indistinguishable. This narrative technique beautifully portrays some of the internal conflict that Giovanni is experiencing in this story, such as the painful longing for a life distinct from the one he is currently living, the confusion and shame of being queer in a highly masculine society, and the nostalgia of reuniting with a schoolyard love. The last paragraph of this story wonderfully captures the heartbreak of being able to peer into the window of what could have been. It also provides crucial commentary on the life of queer and transgendered people, and the societal repression they face around the world.

 

Allana C. Noyes is a literary translator and writer from Reno, Nevada. She is currently an MFA candidate in literary translation at the University of Iowa. She translates from Spanish and French, and her literary and journalistic translations have been published by Mexico City Lit, the Trans-Border Institute, and Solis Press.

 

Claudia Morales (b. Chiapas, Mexico, 1988) holds a BA in Spanish language and literature from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, and she is currently a PhD student at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Morales is the author of the book, Hospitalidad (2014), and her first novel, No Habrá Retorno (forthcoming) received the Rosario Castellanos National Award for short novels in 2015.