Monday, July 27, 2009

"Decalogue of the Year Zero" by Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo is an author and photographer born in Havana in 1971. He graduated from the Centro de Formación Literaria Onelio Jorge Cardoso and is a member of UNEAC, a Cuban writer's union. He has been the editor of the literary magazines ExtramuroS (2001-2005), Cacharro(s) (2003-2004) and the e-zine The Revolution Evening Post (2007- ). He has published Collage Karaoke (Letras Cubanas, 2001), Empezar de Cero (Extramuros, 2001), Ipatrías (Unicornio, 2005) and Mi nombre es William Saroyan (Abril, 2006) in Cuba. His last book, Boring Home (Eds. Lawtonomar, 2009), was released digitally on the Cuban blogosphere. He is the author of the blogs LUNES DE POST-REVOLUCIÓN and BORING HOME UTOPICS and has collaborated with the websites CUBAENCUENTRO, FOGONERO EMERGENTE, y PENÚLTIMOS DÍAS.


Orlando has let his beard grow out, his hair too. Ipatria warned him that he was skinny and that the bags under his eyes, dark as they were, looked like black eyes. Orlando made a grimace of anguish. He crossed Linea Avenue and told her that he was in a crisis.

“I’m perfectly healthy, but every day Havana makes me sicker.”

Ipatria didn’t even try to suppress a smirk. It’s not that Orlando’s crazy, it’s just that sometimes he’s too Orlando, even for himself. Ipatria took him by the arm and pulled him. Or pushed him. Or both. And like this they escaped the Cuban sun, ducking into the shade of the cathedral on the corner of Linea and 16th. It was a convent in ruins, though nothing made one think it wasn’t inhabited by God. God’s always pretty late in noticing barbarism. Maybe that itself is what God is.

“Don’t laugh.” Orlando shook the girl’s proud shoulders; they clenched. “Why don’t you believe me?”

“Because you’re the worst living writer of the millennium and the world.”

“I swear to you that this time I’m not. It’s La Habanada’s fault.” He drew the girl’s body toward him—“That’s what this new crisis is called: Habanada,”—and he kissed her lightly on the lips. “Thanks, Ipatria, for helping me name it.”


Orlando tries to explain to Ipatria that time is a retrovirus. He never manages to convince her, of course. He lacks the lexicon. He has no battle slang for stirring up the masses. He hasn’t yet mastered Shitspanish. Apparently, he’d still like to live. He drives himself crazy, but all the same he never finds a vocabulary.

“I’ve got no vo-cab-u-la-ry,” he complains, syll-a-ble by syll-a-ble, as if he were a baby.

Ipatria imagines Orlando imagining a Havana without history or histology. That Habanada between amnesia and anaesthesia which he tries in vain to describe. Even though maybe she’s useless, she’d like to make him happy. For Orlando she feels pity and a strong desire to throw him down on some church pew and right there, in the divine darkness, make love to him.

Then Ipatria reminds him of his own idea of taking photos of the city. Of giving himself a glimpse of weightlessness—the terrace roofs, gable roofs, rickety clotheslines, rusty tanks where mosquitoes breed, pigeons amongst robbery and ritual sacrifice, the million and one objects abandoned to the elements, that they both like to read like a crossword puzzle with no key.

So Ipatria extends the camera to Orlando and says: “Come up and see.”

And he lets himself move away from the bench, with the Canon now hanging by his neck like a sacrificial altar or a promise. As if Orlando were a tourist, staggering amongst the parishioners. As if everything weren’t so sad that it was almost upsetting to write or photograph.

With luck, Ipatria thinks now, the boy she loves will come up now onto the belfry, and from there he’ll invent his own observatory of photos: half private and half public, half bitter and half adorable, half Ipatria and half Orlando.

“Don’t kill yourself, honey,” she says in a low voice, so God doesn’t hear her and get excited about such a wonderful possibility.

“Better kill yourself instead,” whispers Ipatria to God.


Orlando kneeled. He focused the lens, a real half-meter telescope. The sun was wolfish—he thought he wouldn’t be able to take too much of it, but at least he didn’t have to use a tripod. The light was liquid and he almost didn’t need to shoot: the reflections would only slip through in the negatives, he smiled—light negative and hard as photons of unreal quartz.

Orlando saw the antiquated cars in high speed, passers-by in slow motion, an open sewer, and a tainted spring. He saw the bloodshot eye of a traffic light glancing through the canopy of flamboyants: trees much older and more alive than him. He saw the malecón and ten million splinters between the surf and the snow. He saw the claustrophobic line of the horizon, tidy clouds like mirrors although they reflected nothing, and he saw the sharp point of the monolith in the Plaza of the Revolution—its cosmic lightning rods always crowned with vultures. All of it an evil aleph that, after so much silent contemplation, in the end Orlando could never portray.

Orlando preferred not to. He felt once again like Bartleby, tired of such a weightless load. Photos, what for?

Now he just wants to get down. To sink towards Ipatria. But the freefall scares him. It’s impossible to reach the girl he loves by jumping. The spiral staircase frightens him more still. Even the word free terrifies him. My poor Orlando, lost in the jungle, he smiles at himself, and I can’t do anything to help you.

As a writer it will be a fiasco, thinks Orlando. But that fear is the only guarantee he’ll survive and not betray Ipatria. Words, what for?


Orlando stands. He throws a rock. Actually, he kicks it. At their backs chimed five or six strokes. The afternoon ends and the tedium begins. The echo of the metals accompanied him during his descent down the twisting rungs. Nausea and vertigo, spinning to the left—the boy arrived at the bottom dizzy, with pupils dilated by adrenaline and an excess of solar radiation. Almost blindly. Like someone looking for shelter in an atomic holocaust.

“Did you finish the roll?” Ipatria gave him a hug. “You took forever!”

Orlando answered that now they could set off. That is, he didn’t answer. He loved her too much to recount certain scenes that, day in and day out, occurred inside his thirty-six-year-old head. At the end of the day, she was only 23. All the same, Ipatria imagined a drama in there that was many times worse.

Orlando simply swung on his pack and returned the Canon to the girl’s outstretched neck—an out-of-style Modigliani.

“Where are we going?” asked Ipatria.

“To the green mountains,” and Orlando knew the expression opened between them the chasm of an entire generation shaped by television.


They walked. For him, the city had exhausted its batteries. Everything was there, but broken down. Emptied. Corrupted by its routine of heroism.

Until when would the magic between he and Ipatria last? Until when the resistance against the rhetorical substances of unreality? Until when their own cycles of untethered madness and paralyzing sanity? Would he ever again photograph the naked barbarism of a planet called Havana? And write in his diary about that carapace of concrete: first free exoskeleton of America, Kafkian arthropod that they loved and hated to the point of insults and tears? Habanized, mon amour—city with an h, a deaf letter. And Ipatria—would he ever again photograph the barbaric nakedness of her body as she complained, wide open beneath his own? Ipatrianized, mon amour—country with no h, that mordant letter.

They walked a bit further, up to 26th. They reached the top of the hill. The mid-afternoon sun extracted a lethal odor from the asphalt. A vapor. El Vedado shimmered like a posthumous tribute to the year 0 or 2000. The island was a long and lucid gas chamber.

Orlando contemplates Ipatria—a skinny, pale face that, in exchange for nothing, in a useful and unnecessary act, has decided to love him syll-a-ble by syll-a-ble. The girl stretches; she looks tired but isn’t, and her shadow suddenly transforms into an infinite tunnel, a black arrow sliding down the asphalt down to 26th, from the hill to the sea.

Then Orlando imagines that her silhouette is the fallen hand from a nonexistent clock—a Cuban-esque shadow, outside of time. It’s the hour zero. More or less like this, the novel that Orlando preferred never to write could begin. All taking care not to betray his beloved idle Bartleby. At least he isn’t going to write anything, though he isn’t leaving behind the bombardment of slogans and commercials that for decades have crowed about the year 0 and 2000. The girl, of course, isn’t unaware of the galling effect provoked within Orlando by the excessive repetition.

“I’m thirsty.” Ipatria’s voice is a hollow echo, like the exit of a dream that neither she nor he are dreaming.

And it’s true that it made her thirsty. Enough to wake up. Although no simultaneous dream would ever be able to satiate them there.


It’s hour zero. Orlando has let his beard grow, his hair too. He’s skinny and the bags under his eyes look like black eyes. Maybe he’ll kill himself or get himself killed by someone else, it’s not a matter of a crisis, rather one of an unnamed sickness. Orlando’s expression is anguished. He’s not crazy, he’s focused, and as he rips out the photos from an album, he cuts them up with a pair of scissors. He does it meticulously, syll-a-ble by syll-a-ble, autistic-style. They’re photos of Ipatria, naked. While Ipatria, still naked in the other corner of the room, lets him create. Cogitate. She’s a bubbly girl, capricious, free, beautiful, with a decade less in her memory and for that reason almost real—Ipatria is a state of coma. Orlando knows that, after cutting up the silhouette of the girl he loves so much, it will be impossible to pronounce her three syllables again. “Her name begins where the image ends”—more or less like this, the novel about Ipatria that Orlando preferred not to write could begin.


A patrol car stirred up a cloud of dust with the halting of its brakes. The driver side door opened. Behind a pair of police shades, the man greeted them and asked for their license.

“Hand me the camera, please.”

The car didn’t waste any time in taking off. With Ipatria and Orlando inside, rigid as two strangers in the back seat. He tried to lower the window pane, but she remarked to him that the handle was missing. The car felt like a fishbowl with limited oxygen. As soon as they arrived at Zapata Station, the girl was the first to speak.

“Please, can someone explain to us what’s going on.”

“You two blind or you don’t know how to read?” was the response of the plain-clothed man. “That whole zone on the hill is an military-economic target. The wall that says, ‘NO PICTURES / PROHIBIDO FOTOGRAFIAR’ couldn’t be any bigger.”

“But no one took any photos,” was the last protest from Ipatria that Orlando understood from start to finish.

The inquiries lasted past midnight. Finally they recovered the Canon and the zoom lenses, but not the still-virgin Konica roll that was inside. It was a long process until the experts verified the innocuousness of that commercial tape. No light had filtered through there. For the moment, the suspicion of economic, military or tourist espionage didn’t apply to them.

An officer with eyes of cold light assured them in a confidential tone that the fine imposed would be the “minimum fee stipulated by current legislation”: a few pesos in national currency.

Ipatria and Orlando appreciated the gesture and in return accompanied her to the staircase by which she left and entered the station—the premises had probably been a luxurious private residence. When they emerged on the sidewalk, they turned and saw that, from the last marble step, the women with the icy eyes was still saying goodbye. Waving her hand, in proud silence—she was around fifty, but against the light she seemed like an immortal being. Orlando was tempted to ask her to let him take a photo. But he didn’t.

They walked off. Outside, the universe was a scandal of stars, each one twinkling, flash-repetition-style. Concave landscape, cloudless and moonless—a nightless night that, having left behind all that horror or error, surely wouldn’t even be worth the trouble to describe.


At the bend of Zapata and 12 they caught a P-2 with astonishing ease. It was an omnibus imported as a donation from Basque Country or Catalan—at such heights in the story, why bother distinguishing between them? What was important wasn’t how much sense the signs that hung from the roof made, but rather the air conditioning that still worked—something like the world’s first miracle, an expression of underdevelopment that somehow had never appeared.

At that hour the P-2 was almost empty, traveling at the speed limit. They stayed on foot, in each other’s arms, the pack between them as if it was a baby—the camera and zoom lenses half dismantled inside, heavy objects that they would have abandoned beneath an empty seat with pleasure. For some strange reason, neither of them thought to sit down until many kilometers later, just as they were arriving at their neighborhood’s stop and had to get off.

Orlando felt that he didn’t recognize the scenery or his escort. Ipatria felt nothing unrecognizable to anyone—in any case, it saddened her that her love once again felt like killing himself or getting himself killed.


“I have a sensation that tonight I’m going to be sick for real,” was the first sentence from Orlando in hours.

Ipatria didn’t even try to suppress a smirk. They were in the living room, facing the television lit up with static. The girl took Orlando by the arm and went from one end of the house to the other until collapsing in his room—lying on the bed folded-up hours or centuries before.

“Definitely,” she shook the boy’s slumped shoulders, which clenched, “the worst living writer of the millennium and the world.”

Orlando caressed the skinny, pale face of that insomniac Modigliani of the Cuban dawn. Ipatria drew him to her and gave him a little kiss on the lips.

Orlando closed his eyes. The cold light that hung from the ceiling disappeared. Along with the vague idea of maybe writing the novel counterclockwise. And the unphotographable aleph of the city he had tried to cut up with scissors and dismantle an album of disappeared. And his beard disappeared too. And the bags under his eyes, like a pair of black eyes. And the rest of his battle slang, all used up without a roll of Kodak film or a Canon camera. And also, of course, so close and so far out there, on the feeble string of the horizon, the pruned point of the monolith of Revolution Plaza finally disappeared, into the always-deserted night or maybe left for the vultures.

Everything disappeared from the other side of his wide-shut eyes. Everything, except the icy arms of Ipatria, mute magician in whose shadow Orlando slept or pretended to sleep.


Orlando gets up and goes to the bathroom. The moon shines on his face and its image is dead ice in the mirror of the medicine cabinet. He searches in it, finally finds what he’s looking for—it’s an electric razor, no batteries. He smells the metal. It flashes so brightly in his eyes that an idea jumps, demented and perfectly hygienic, to his head. Orlando doesn’t even try to suppress a smirk. Something ends and nothing begins for him. But there’s no danger, it’s just a gesture—take the sharpened blade to his neck and think of Ipatria, lying on the folded-up bed for hours or centuries afterwards. Orlando grips the knife, helps himself with his other hand. Meticulously, syll-a-ble by syll-a-ble, autistic-style, he begins to transform into a weightless child, absent-minded, free, beautiful, with a decade more of latent memory and thus almost unreal—Orlando is another state of coma. He knows that, after radically cutting up his beard, the girl that he loves for free will never forgive him. “Her image begins where her name ends”—more or less like this, the Ipatria novel that Orlando preferred never to write could end. The hairs fall in the sink and a trickle of water erases them with a swirl against the hands of the clock—nausea and vertigo spinning to the left. Orlando shaves, dizzy, with pupils dilated by adrenaline and an excess of lunar radiation. Almost blind. The crossword puzzle, with its inverted image inside the mirror, slides down the drain too, and Orlando takes that loss as a good signal—“be less like myself”, he smiles. As always happens to him with photos and words, although still nothing’s happened, for Orlando it’s hour zero again.

- Excerpted from the novel "Boring Home", available here in Spanish. Translated by David Iaconangelo. Photo by author (self-portrait).

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

"The Forests of the Night" by Félix Lizárraga

Félix Lizárraga has published the science-fiction novel Beatrice (David Award, 1981), and the poetry books Busca del Unicornio (La Puerta de Papel, 1991), A la manera de Arcimboldo (Editions Deleatur, 1999) and Los panes y los peces (Colección Strumento, 2001). His poems, stories, and essays have been featured in several magazines and anthologies, including Nuevos narradores cubanos (Siruela, 2000), and Island of My Hunger (City Lights Books, 2007). Prometeo Theater Group of Miami has staged his plays Farsa maravillosa del Gato con Botas and Matías y el aviador. He lives in Miami since 1994.


"And the forests will echo with laughter"

- Led Zeppelin, Stairway to Heaven

“The place is sealed. Don’t you see the seal?” said a soft-spoken girl, peering from the next door.

“He doesn’t live here anymore?”

The girl studied him intently from the parapet of her door; he could feel her scrutiny although he couldn’t see her eyes, since her face could barely be guessed in the weak, rusty light of the hallway, coming from a solitary bulb in a wire cage.

“You’re Elio, aren’t you?”


“Come in," said the girl, backing up a step.

“No, I just came by to drop this off. It’s a shirt he lent me.”

“Come on in," repeated the girl, her tone identical, as if she hadn’t heard him, “He left something for you.”

The living room was longish and ended on a small balcony, closed now, as was the window. Curtains and china knickknacks softened the ambiance, lending it something of their own fragility. There were no mirrors.

“Sit down.”

On the tape player a deep, ardent voice was whispering something in English that the girl hurriedly cut off.

“Isn’t that Eliseo?”

“Would you like some tea? It’s already made.”

The question was rhetorical, because the girl was already in the kitchen. Her faded blue robe and hair messily scooped up in a bun didn’t lessen her attractiveness, but a curious mix of aloofness and fatigue made her look perhaps a bit older than her years. In no time she brought in cups on saucers filled with steaming amber-colored tea.

“Do you like it sweet, or you want less sugar? Two teaspoons OK?”

The girl put four heaping spoonfuls in her own tea.

“I like it really sweet. Too bad there’s no lemon.”

“That’s all right.”

“I don’t have any coffee, my aunt didn’t buy any. Is it OK like that?”

The girl sipped at it slowly, carefully. When she sat down the robe hugged her hips, revealing her to be not as stick-skinny as she had seemed. Her hands, when serving the sugar, pressing a button, or holding a china saucer, displayed that minute, slightly artificial daintiness emblematic of femininity, and at the same time the absent air of someone going through the motions of a formal ceremony.

“You’re gonna burn your mouth.”

“I’m kind of in a hurry.”

The girl gazed at him with the vacant eyes of someone interrupted in the middle of a complicated, intense operation. She placed her cup on the coffee table, almost on the edge, and rose gracefully from her chair in a long, liquid movement. Returning, she placed in his hands a small, shapeless packet that seemed to contain something hard and irregular to the touch. It was wrapped in coarse paper and tied with a piece of cord that also enclosed an envelope. She went back to her chair but did not sit down; she put her hands on the back of the chair and looked at him from behind it.

“He left this for you.”

The envelope was sealed; it bore only his name, typewritten.

“Did he go out of town?”

The girl shook her head.

“He’s dead.”

It was said with the same dainty remoteness with which she had offered sugar.


The girl slid back into her chair and took up her cup again with both hands, leaving the saucer on the table.

“But… how did it happen?”

“Nine days ago. Killed himself.”


The girl sipped again at her tea and said without looking at him:

“You’re crumpling up the envelope.”

“When did it happen?”

“Last Sunday.”

“Sunday? But, I saw him that Saturday… We were drinking together.”

“Sunday afternoon, he gave me this. That was the last I saw of him. Monday night, I came in with my key and found him,” said the girl in summary.

“And you saw him Saturday, for sure.”


His hand meets his hand, blurrily reflected in the glass. It pushes the door, and the dense cooled air, suffused with cigarette smoke, engulfs him, welcomes him. The burnished wood of the bar supporting his elbows murkily reflects the sparse reddish light.

“Two sangrias, Pepe,” says the less fat, less bald of the two bartenders as he approaches him, wearing a black bowtie. He orders a cubanito and sees in the long mirror running behind the line of festively labeled bottles his own face and a triangular slice of his chest, cut out in the thick gloom like one of those busts of Roman emperors. He touches his damp hair, and it is then that he notices where the gaze is coming from, the eyes he has sensed watching him from the moment he came in—at the other end of the bar, a stranger, a young man in a white linen shirt. Some homo, he thinks, and returns to the statue of himself in the smoky mirror, while Barbra Streisand’s voice asserts something in celestially high notes, blending deliciously with the spiciness, the thick darkness of the tomato juice on his tongue, the rum’s warmth going down his throat and spreading slowly, like an octopus stretching awake.

“Do you like sangria?” says somebody to his left. At close quarters, the fabric of the shirt is not linen, not even white, but some light color, maybe green.

“It’s not sangria, it’s a cubanito,” comes the clipped reply. The fat, walrus-faced bartender comes toward the man in the light-colored shirt.

“I couldn’t say hi before, dude. Why didn’t you bring Solángel?”

“I haven’t seen her in days.”

“But you guys live next door to each other.”

“That’s life.”

“You haven’t changed, dude. Want another one?”

“Sure, Pepe. I only come here for Pepe’s sangrias… You don’t come here often.”

He briefly explains the prologue to his presence—she, the girl he was meeting tonight, who didn’t come, or was too late; the rain trapping him under the portals; the bar, happened upon and accepted as a haven. A cigarette pack taps his arm lightly.

“Thanks, I don’t smoke.”

“I’ll say what all smokers say: you’re smart.”

“But they all keep on smoking.”

“Always,” says the other, his teeth flashing in the gloom as he exhales the smoke.

“It’s like doctors, those eternal demagogues who tell us to do what they don’t. But everything’s bad for you, some way or another.”

“No, not everything.”

“What isn’t? Tobacco, chocolate, sex—alone or in company?”

“Exercise, for example.”

“You say that because obviously you do it. But what about muscle sprains? Cardiac hypertrophy? Same thing with culture, like reading. Nose in a book, blind as a hook. You can laugh, but it’s true.”

“Don’t be so pessimistic.”

“Why’s that pessimistic? And even if it were, so what? It’s better than being like all those dim-witted, smiley optimists.”

“You must not enjoy life much, if you feel that way.”

The other laughs, another flash of teeth.

“Who says? I talk like that precisely because I enjoy life. But don’t tell me that rum’s not bad for you. And you drink it.”

“I drink sometimes, carefully.”

“All that means is that you’re poisoning yourself carefully. Of course pleasures aren’t as bad for you as duties. Why are you laughing? At least pleasures are honest, they warn us. Duties claim to be pure health, and then they do their silent damage and you only notice it in the long run, when no penicillin can help.”


The girl was looking at him.

“I studied with him. In art school.”

“In his same class?”

“No, I was a year behind him. And I never finished… It had been a long time since we had seen each other.”


“Well, I swear I didn’t recognize you,” he says again, while the other clicks the switch ineffectually in an attempt to turn the lights on.

“Shit, now I remember. I blew a fuse this afternoon.”

“I’ll take care of it. Where do you keep them?”

“Usually in the bathroom.”

“What do you mean, the bathroom?”

“The cabinet.”

The flare of the match reveals a sink shaped like some sort of antique bowl. The mirror glares opaquely, its silvered backing worn away.

“You won’t find any.”

“You’ve checked?”

“Of course. See for yourself.”

“Here’s one. Look, there are more.”

“Those are blown.”

“You’re right. Why do you keep them?”

“I don’t know. I always keep the blown-out fuses with the good ones.”

“That’s why there’s so many… And none of them’s any good.”

“Forget it. I’ll light the big candle in the living room.”

The candle sputters and then begins to burn placidly, the mirrors multiply its twilight gleam. It’s a sort of shapeless tower, a stalagmite created from the wax of a thousand molten candles of mixed hues, mostly yellows and reds, with two wicks. A huge bovine skull with truncated horns serves as a candlestick. The living room is so sparsely furnished that it feels enormous.

“Let me open the balcony, or the window.”

Unbuttoning his shirt, he lies back on some kind of chaise, big and curvy and comfortable, covered in threadbare plush.

“Uncork the bottle, will you? Or turn on the tape player. Good thing it works on batteries.”

While he smacks the bottom of the bottle to pop out the cork, on the tape someone mutters in a time-worn, emotional voice:

“He goes beyond the poem, he achieves… the very presence of the tiger… Tyger! Tyger! Burning bright… In the forests of the night…”

The other leaves the glasses on the floor and hurries to click off the tape.

“What was that?”

“It was Eliseo, the poet. That was the only time I ever spoke with him, and I couldn’t resist the temptation to secretly record him. Wanna hear some Deep Purple?”


The other looks a little embarrassed, for the first time. Ian Gillan’s acid voice bursts in at a gallop.

Black night! Black night!

The other grabs a glass and sits on the floor, on something that once upon a time was a cushion.

“I’ve sold too much of the furniture, as you might have noticed.”

So bright… Black night!

“You live by yourself?”

“My father left the country years ago, my mom lives with my grandmother, my sister got married…”

“Your old man was a painter too, right?”

“And a ceramist. That’s the kiln over there, in that room, the workshop. Too bad there’s no juice. I make stuff in the kiln sometimes. But I’d rather paint. Why didn’t you finish school?”

“How’d you know I didn’t finish?”

“Somebody told me, I think.”

“It was the year after you graduated. They caught us cheating in the exams. They expelled three of us: Mauro, Kindelán, and me.”

“Kindelán was the black guy, wasn’t he? He wasn’t very bright. But which one was Mauro?”

“Don’t you remember? The guy with dark hair, who used to lift weights with me and Blachito, Bladimir… He was always after Lucy, before she was your girl.”


“What about Lucy? You guys still together?”

“When they sent me to Oriente, it was this big drama. She would write me every day. When I came back we stayed together for a while, but finally we split. She got married, had a daughter, got fat… Interesting thing is, their daughter is actually mine. But let’s not talk about that.”

“I didn’t remember you at first. When you mentioned Lucy, then it came back. Everybody in school was in love with Lucy, one by one, and never got anywhere. Mauro was crazy about her, poor guy. Me too, to a point. It wasn’t that she was pretty, there were prettier girls in school, and she was kind of skinny. But there was something about her.”

“You wouldn’t recognize her if you saw her now.”

“She’s that fat?”

“Well, there’s that, but that’s not all. It’s her personality, her eyes. She’s a different person, now… I painted her a little while ago, from memory, trying to remember what she was like.”

“Do you have the canvas here?”

“Yeah, in the workshop.”

“Let me see it.”

“With no lights?”

“Come on, let me see it.”

It’s Lucy, even in the quivering half-light of the candle: it’s Lucy, her slim shoulders even narrower in the oval frame, her way of cocking her head, her long eyelids, one hand hiding or caressing or pointing to her cleavage; even the shades of blue she is painted in are somehow Lucy, in a mysterious, covet, but unmistakable way.

“Let me see the other ones.”

“No, no, enough. By candlelight, they’ll all look like La Tours.”

He sees one that looks like a dying crab under a blood-red moon, but barely has time for a glimpse before the other throws a drop cloth over it.

“There’ll be time to look at them. Let’s go.”

The golden gleam of one ceramic figurine among the rest draws his attention. It’s a statuette in glazed clay of an adolescent boy, the elongated legs trotting or dancing, then suddenly wider in the torso, the arms raised as if in triumph, minutely detailed even in the hair mussed by a breeze, but faceless, with only a blind, smooth, shiny surface where the face should be.

“Why no face?”

“It’s the Sun.”

“But why no face?”

“It’s the Sun.”

Repeats the other, with a smile and a shrug, looking privately amused, as he almost always does.

“Let’s go, it’s a sin to look at the Sun at night.”


“And you saw him last Saturday, you say.”

“Yes, we were drinking together.”

“Here, at his place?”

“No, in a bar… And later at his place.”

“Did he say something, anything, some hint he was gonna do that?”

“No, nothing. I just can’t believe it.”


“It’s so hot in here now.”

“It’s the rum.”

“Rum? What rum? We’ve barely drunk a drop.”

“We almost finished the bottle.”

“So open the other one.”

“You wanna kill yourself tonight?”

“I don’t kick off that easy.”

He finishes taking off his shirt without getting up from the big plush couch.

“I still can’t believe you remembered me, buddy.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t know, man. You were Lucy’s boyfriend, and you had this reputation as a brainiac, a good painter, I don’t know. I wasn’t even especially a hardass, I was just some guy.”

“What about all the times we played volleyball? Don’t you remember? Always against each other, of course—your year against my year.”

“Shit, of course I remember. You always hit the best spikes.”

“Hell, no.”

“Shit yeah. I’d be sweating like crazy trying to intercept your spikes.”

“See, you’re already drunk.”

“You’re the one who’s drunk. Look out, you’re gonna spill your drink all over yourself.”

“Shhh, let me listen for a moment. That song…”

“That’s Deep Purple, right?”

Crimson joy.”

“What do you mean, King Crimson? That’s Deep Purple, man.”

“Shit yeah, but they say something in the song that sounds like crimson joy… No, it’s crimson skies.”

"Marmalade skies."

“Hey, you speak English.”

"Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds!"


"Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds!"

“C’mon, let me hear this.”

"Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds!"


“And... How...?”

The girl did not need him to finish the hanging question. She put her cup on the saucer and stared at it, slowly intertwining her fingers, as if she were searching for her reflection trapped in the amber of the tea.

“In the bathtub… With his clothes on…”

“In his clothes?”

“Yes… He had a black shirt on. I’d never seen that shirt before.”


Sweet child in time...

The candle is still lit between the broken horns, its crystalline drops thickening the stalagmite, red and golden, golden and gleaming like the faceless statuette, burning in double flame. The dripping wax has started to fill up the deep, hollow sockets.

You better close your eyes...

He has closed his eyes, but is not sleeping. Ian Gillan’s voice starts to implore in crescendo, like the endless, burning fuse, soaked in rum, of a bomb strapped to us. He does not open his eyes, not even when he feels the fuse burning in his navel. The cold shiver of surprise is not really surprise—it is the dual surprise of not being surprised. His body is there but isn’t, the navel on which the flame of a tongue has descended is not his navel. Ian Gillan’s chant trembles, panics, it is Ian Gillan who is receiving that wet burn, Ian Gillan who slowly bites into that flesh. Nothing moves, nothing exists in the whole night, except for Gillan’s voice.

Oh Lord, I beg Your help...

It proceeds, mounting, pressing, sputtering, it grinds the words until it empties them like cracked skulls, it peels them bit by bit like a shell. Ian Gillan’s voice rises naked, erect, a pure scream, golden, blazing, crystalline.


“Are you all right?” asked the girl.

“Read it later, at home, you don’t have to read it here”

The girl’s voice trembled imperceptibly, her eyes wide, her hand in mid-gesture as if to keep him from tearing open the envelope, but it was too late. The thin sheet of paper, carefully folded, was typewritten.


I hope that this letter finds you well. I… well, I won’t be here. It’s not normal for the dead to write letters; I imagine that receiving one will be somewhat uncomfortable. In any case, I feel I owe you this letter. I want to assure you that you have had nothing to do with this death, despite appearances to the contrary.

The ways of Eros are inscrutable, and I don’t really know why, perhaps three years ago, it was precisely you, or your body (was I looking for you in your body, was I looking for your body in you?), your body among other bodies or you among all the others burrowed into my flesh like a shiver. Now, from the abyss of death, it seems even more obscure to me. The worst part is that it wasn’t even really about you; the most painful thing was not your innocence, your indifference or your unawareness, but the fact that what I was searching for was not you, or your body, but something that seemed to have escaped from me and taken refuge in your otherness; my own otherness (to give it a name) was stalking me, crouched inside you, waiting for me in the contour of your chest or of your hands, your way of moving your head or blocking a spike shot. That is why I chose not to approach you then—perhaps. All that is certain is that I didn’t do it…

But I am overburdening you with this letter that you won’t understand, that barely concerns you, that is addressed to you only in appearance. Even in death I can only reach my hand out to myself, Socrates finding Socrates on his doorstep, Judas’s steps tending only to Judas. In the end, what better way to prove to you that you have had no part in this death, that it is only mine?

In a way, I have misled you. You thought you were giving something of yourself, when in actuality you were only giving back what, unbeknownst to you, you had taken from me; something I had, without your knowledge, without meaning to, deposited in you. You thought you were making a gift, when you were really paying a debt. But (as Hadrian would have said), “No caress goes as deep as the soul.”

Of all the gods, I am the most arcane.

I am the Moon, the Nile; at night

The Sun, emitting names and light,

Descends to my manse, concealed from your domain.

As when the steed and black bull meet

Our eyes lock first; then by degrees

Forehead and forehead brush, converge

And we are one, submerged in golden dusk.

Apex and nadir fuse

Peak is pit; soma is soma; we

The soul conjoined that rules eternity.

The two-backed beast issues its purest

Orders, duly writ by Thoth the Scribe.

Bright burns the Tyger's eye within the forest.

In any case, the debt is settled. Forgive me for having dragged you into this.

Burn this letter.

- Osiris


In the inner rooms, where the girl had disappeared with some vague excuse, nothing could be heard behind the blue curtain. The two packages (his and the other’s) seemed to weigh next to nothing, he took them with him down the stairs, where the darkness brought back to his memory the fuzzy awakening, the candle almost gone, the molten wax staring at him from the skull’s sockets like weird, bulbous, many-faceted eyes; the shock of finding himself naked next to that other sleeping body, the alarmed, imprecise memory of the night’s events, the silent flight into the ashen dawn revealing that he had put on the other’s light-colored shirt.


The same stairs he now climbs, perceiving, with secret terror, the uncoiling of his flesh in the shadow, while he knocks at the door.

- Translated by Elizabeth Bell and Félix Lizárraga

Monday, July 20, 2009

"Joy Eslava" by Carlos Pintado

Carlos Pintado is a poet, narrator and essayist. He has published the books "El diablo en el Cuerpo" (2005), "Los bosques de Mortefontaine" (Bluebird editions, 2007), "Habitación a oscuras" (Vitruvio, Madrid, 2007), the book of stories and essays "La Seducción del Minotauro" (Islas Canarias, 2000), and a volume of his poetry entitled "Los Nombres de la Noche" (Bluebird editions, USA, 2008), among others. His poetry has been published in literary journals from various countries and inspired music composed by Pamela Marshall and performed by a quintet in the South Beach Music Ensemble. He is the editor-in-chief of the literary magazine La Zorra y El Cuervo and currently resides in Miami.


My "place of clear water,"
the first hill in the world
where springs washed into
the shiny grass
and darkened cobbles
in the bed of the lane.

- Seamus Heaney

“This story didn’t take place, or it’s yet to take place, which is the same thing.”

His words echoed, reverberating in his head with the distant and imprecise sound of those things one hears in dreams. Later he would look for something without knowing what he was looking for. The room would be a desert: a waste basket with paper, some books scattered on the floor and an oval mirror, covered with gray splotches that don’t allow an exact image. The typewriter suggested that something had been left unfinished. The noise of a dripping faucet blurred the music that came from somewhere. The man blinked several times. He was sweating. He went to the faucet and turned it off abruptly.

Clannad’s music dominated the room again.

He asked himself what he had gone to Joy Eslava that night to do, and, while he was waiting for an answer, he remembered that word: Anahorish, which returned him to a poem by Heaney and to the nights he imagined to a Dublin tavern.

This is where I enter the story.

The story that was going to take place began with my going to Joy Eslava; I am trying to explain to him something about this causal conjunction, but he doesn’t understand, he doesn’t want to understand. He has a stubbornness characteristic of the Irish. I tried to explain, philosophize, remind him that there was a word in a poem by Heaney that I could never translate. I say Anahorish and I surmise that he doesn’t know how to translate it either. He merely smiled, and I couldn’t take it any longer. Want to dance, he says. It wasn’t a question. I didn’t want to dance, but I couldn’t say no; his hands (or perhaps it was just one hand) gripped mine. I looked for confirmation in the contact, but I didn’t find it: the obligatory semi-darkness made it impossible to see; lights exploded on the walls, glowing brightly in the vain darkness of the bar; his fingers, persistent, were intertwined with mine. Years later, I would write a story that would have nothing to do with this one, how a character remembers another: “You touched me with your shadowlike fingers.” I said something like that to him, but you could barely hear it. I couldn’t recall it now with any precision. His words took me back to that moment.

Clannad ceded the space to the Cranberries. The circular-roof theater would support the night. I turned my head to look at something on the second floor and he used the opportunity to kiss my neck. I was going to ask him something, but I didn’t say anything. I preferred to leave and invent the story of what could have happened; both of us at Joy Eslava, dancing, drunk; I would be the tourist passing through Madrid and he barely a shadow of a dream, an invention of mine, although he would certainly deny it. He doesn’t want the destiny that I create for him; he says that he does exist, that he isn’t a shadow of anyone. He would grab me by the shoulders and I would have to remember – in another story that I plan to write – that some really did hold me by the shoulders at that place. He would try in vain to remind me how we exchanged coats. “So you’ll have something to remember me by,” he said, handing me that fur coat that reminded me of a dead bear. At that moment I think it’s better to close my eyes; to think about that word I could never translate and that he doesn’t understand. The only thing that doesn’t exist is that word, he would cry out.

If I had paid attention to him, maybe I would have written this story better. I would write: the smell of his cigarette reminded me of the smell of other herbs. And I would admit, later, that I liked seeing him smoke amid the colorful crowd of that place. Dublin Smoke, I thought. And, as if he were reading my mind, he asked me if I knew Ireland. We stared at each other. The smoke was a blue cloud before my eyes; I inhaled it; the tobacco’s perfume was different. Dublin Smoke, I would write years later, in another story that would have nothing to do with this one. I explain to him – I try to explain to him – that someday I will write this story, but he doesn’t pay attention. Then we play the same game of inventing ourselves with words spoken in the dark, in that sea of kisses and elbows and loud music.

I woke up with a fire burning in my chest. I had tried to translate Heaney before falling asleep. I woke up thinking about that translation. I whispered Anahorish as if I weren’t alone in the room and someone, from the shadows of sleep, could hear me.

I waited a few minutes, but nothing happened. I owe this story to my ignorance of that word. I got up with the certainty of going somewhere. I thought about that place that recalled a “Slavic joy.” I didn’t know if I should go or stay. Somewhere on my neck I still had the mark, still moist, of a kiss.

Upon entering, I would see him dancing. Exactly like this: smiling without looking at anyone, with his cap tilted down covering his eyes. I don’t know if I should approach him. The paleness of his skin surprises me, as if it hadn’t seen the sun in years. Minutes later we were dancing. It fascinates me when the light of the lamps envelopes him. His body seems fragile against the light and almost losing itself in the darkness. I walk up slowly. How do I explain to him that just a few hours ago I dreamt of him? Will he think I’m crazy? That notion frightens me. I don’t want to scare him. Maybe the dream has continued until now, until this moment we are finally in: him dancing slowly, smiling like a little boy; me here, a statue, observing the unreality of the whole situation. Is it possible that I’m still dreaming? I wonder, until Dolores O’Riordan’s voice calms me.

We’re in Joy Eslava. This story is true. It’s happening, I tell myself. The singer’s voice mumbles in your head, zombie, zombie… And I think again that it’s all been a dream. It’s November: Joy Eslava is packed with beautiful people, tourists, and Madrid natives who, to escape from the cold, come to places like this. The people move to the rhythm of an unattainable trance. I know that I’m in a strange dance and it makes me uncomfortable. I go to the bar and order a drink to get rid of my shyness. I would have preferred to smoke. It’s been years since I haven’t put a cigarette to my lips. I hear and the violence causes silence, who are we mistaken? and everything spins without a fixed center, without gravity, full of shadows that trade kisses and embraces. I think about the boy from the dream, which little by little loses a place in my memory; the dream turns everything unreal, like that poem by Heaney that speaks of a serene place, surrounded by warm waters, in which to lay down and talk. I repeat the word, as if to remember a spell – at this point I don’t know if I’m repeating it because of a spell or an act of schizophrenia – and just then a couple sits beside me; I see them holding hands; she looks at me and says hello; he makes the same gesture; she stops looking at me and whispers something to him; the guy’s gaze lingered; I looked down; his hands intertwined with hers, persistent. Say Anahorish amid the throbbing pulse of music. After that I lose the notion of everything. There is a very brief thread between reality and dreams, I thought just as the girl rid herself of the guy and went to dance alone. My eyes and the guy’s eyes found each other in the sea of shadows and blurred contours. He wanted to dance and I would say yes, of course. His hands – or perhaps it was just one hand – gripped my hands. I recalled the brush or the image of a brush. My skin on edge because of his touch. I looked at his face: he was smiling. In another story, and attempting to describe it, I would write down: “I will be able to forget everything about him except his smile, soft, sensual, like a girl. Later I would realize that his skin, or rather the whiteness of his skin, is as memorable.

It was here that he smiled for the last time and we kissed.

When she returned, he and I were dancing. Her hands – much smoother than his – embraced me from behind. I felt her tongue thrust into the nape of my neck, playful. Right now I confuse the two stories; years ago I painted a wood full of paths that intersect beneath the English mist. That image returns to my memory at that moment. I think that tomorrow they will both be but a shadow. I, regretfully, will be on the other side of that shadow. I will recall his words: “tomorrow you’ll think that all of this was a dream”. That’s when I noticed that the girl was no longer there. Surprised, I think I saw her running off somewhere. I tried to yell something to her, but I realized that it was useless; the music grew louder as if we were deaf. He and I kept dancing with our shirts open, stuck together; luminous drops oozed on his chest. We smiled and I thought I could die looking at that smile.

Night dropped us there like castaways. Air was becoming less air. I didn’t stop hugging him as I looked for her face amid the hundred faces that looked at us. I realize here that this isn’t his story or mine, rather hers. Tomorrow she’ll be the one who writes this story: he and I in Joy Eslava, dancing and kissing. “Don’t worry,” he would calm me, and his words would ricochet as if in a tunnel, on top of the music. “She’ll know how to finish this story the best way she sees fit.”

I saw her talking to the bartender from the distance: her body looked like an arch; seconds later she was finishing a blue drink, very blue. Beneath the cone of light her face filtered a certain likeness to the guy’s who was now embracing me. Her silhouette was imprecise in the glass of the bar, deformed. Traces of diffuse light gripped her reflection in the glass. I feared that the image would go beyond a dream. I sense that she looked at us with envy. “Don’t pay attention to her. You and I are where she can’t go,” I heard, “that’s why she’s dreaming us.” I ask, She’s dreaming us? without understanding very much. The desperation of not knowing what would happen when she left overwhelmed me. “She dreams us or invents us?” I ask again, but he didn’t know how to respond or preferred not to. Finally he mutters: “Only she knows that. We’re from this side of things.” He made a gesture with his hands that I didn’t understand. I danced, not for the pleasure of dancing, but because of the distance that dancing provides when there is little to say. I wanted to organize my thoughts. His last words left me with a strange sensation: “if she stops dreaming us, we’ll stop existing.” As I looked up I saw his smile again. I told him my dream, the book of poetry by Heaney and that word that resounded in my dream like the echo of cymbals that I will never be able to translate. “It’s an unbearable litany,” I told him, while he tried to explain to me that in dreams things are an untireless repetition; then he spoke about an eternity in dreams that I didn’t understand. “This story didn’t take place, or it’s yet to take place, which is the same thing,” he said upon seeing my face shadowed by doubt. I closed my eyes. I recalled those words. A wild, drunk crowd rushed toward me from everywhere. The memory of arriving in Madrid was just another ruse. I tried to resist being the one who was dreamed, but I lacked the innate desperation that some possess in the face of such unusual situations. It was then that one of the doors of the bar opened and induced me to escape. I took a few steps, but his hand gripped mine. “Don’t be crazy, no one escapes from a dream; if she dreams you here, it’s because you are supposed to be here.” I listen and close my eyes. Her face comes to my mind. When I open my eyes the three of us are dancing. I don’t know how it happened. Her hands were moving across my chest like a snake, she thrust her tongue at the nape of my neck. I rested my hand on his nude torso and I pushed him away from me; when I turned around she was looking at me; I wanted her to be surprised. “Why did you push him away?” she asked. Her voice sounded like metal. I shrugged my shoulders. “It was an instinct,” I said then tried to grab her by the waist. We danced, our bodies touching, the music almost inaudible. The air was more smoke than air: a thick fog – the result of so many lit cigarettes – floated above dozens of bodies. We danced as if we weren’t touching the floor. I asked her what her name was, but she didn’t answer; “I want to see you again,” I asked, and she smiled. I felt the weight of silence. Out of the corner of my eye I could see how the mirror duplicated us. My hand caressed the skin of her back as if it sensed that she was about to escape.

“I’m not going to escape; I’m a prisoner of the dream too,” she answered. We stared at each other until he came back and grabbed my shoulder. I felt his teeth playfully nibbling my earlobes. She looked as us; she laughed for no reason. She said, “I am her reflection in your world; she can’t come this far, that’s why she invented me…” I tried to respond, but she continued: “…and he invents you”; I told her to shut up and as if she weren’t listening to me, she concluded: “and she invents him. The three of us are the matter of her dreams. Nothing of this will remain tomorrow.” I tried to say that it didn’t wasn’t true, but decided to leave.

I started walking through the crowd. I imagined that the bar door opened and closed constantly. I walked toward it. When I pushed it, I was in the room in the hostel. There was still the muffled sound of the other place. I close the door and look at the book of Seamus Heaney that’s in my hands. I think that I’ve gone to sleep reading the poems. I repeat Anahorish reluctantly, trying to remember that I have imagined a story in which someone imagines the meaning of the word. I’ll write that story tomorrow, I tell myself and fall down on the sofa. To my right there is a basket full of papers, an oval-shaped mirror full of grey clouds. The sound of water comes from the kitchen. I can barely hear Clannad’s song. I think: “This story didn’t take place, or it’s yet to take place, which is the same thing.”

I get up and go turn off the faucet.

Madrid, December 2, 1998.

- Translated by George Henson. Picture by Eduardo Peiro (flickr).