owenlindsayboyd on The Incense Tree Roof / Transl… Pierre Groussac on The Incense Tree Roof / Transl… owenlindsayboyd on ‘Displaced and Other Etu… Sean Urquhart on ‘Displaced and Other Etu… C on The only thing that matters is…
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Sickness and Shadow (Translation from the Spanish of Rubén Darío’s ‘Morbo et Umbra’)
A cheerful man sold coffins in the store on the nearby street. He would tell the buyers some timely jokes that made him the most popular of the funeral traders.
Already, in half a month, the German measles had devastated vast numbers of the city’s children. Oh, how horrible it had been! Just imagine, hard, cruel death passing through the houses, pulling up the flowers.
That day rain threatened. The leaden clouds piled up in enormous shapes like vast puffs of smoke. The humid air blew dangerously, spreading coughs, and silken or woolen kerchiefs were wrapped around the scruffs of the necks of the healthy and wealthy. Bah! The poor devil has broad, sound lungs. It doesn’t amount to much when an icy gust assails him, or the sky unleashes hailstones on his bare back, tanned by the summer sun. Valiant poor one! His chest is a rock against the bite of the glacial breeze, and his large rough head has two eyes always wide open to chance, and a nose that inhales the miasma like the salt-scented wind, which fortifies the chest.
Where is Señora Nicasia going? There she passes with her forehead lowered, wrapped in her black mantle of coarse merino. She stumbles at times and almost falls, so she steps lightly. Where is Señora Nicasia going?
She walks, walks, walks, doesn’t greet anyone she knows as they pass by her, and it appears that her wrinkled beard, the only thing visible among the black cover-up, trembles.
She enters the shop where she makes most of her purchases, and leaves with a packet of candles, knotting the end of a checkered scarf where she has the change.
She arrives at the door of the mortuary goods store. The cheerful man welcomes her with a good joke:
‘Hey! Why the hurry, Señora Nicasia? It’s known you’re looking for money!’
Then, as if a painful word that deeply touched the soul had been said to her, she uttered a cry and opened the door. She whined, and the salesman, hands behind his back, stood in front of her.
Finally, she was able to speak. She explained to him what she wanted.
The child. Yes! Her daughter’s son. He had become ill with a terrible fever just days ago!
Two midwifes had brought prescriptions but their remedies had had no effect. The little angel had gotten worse, and worse, and this morning died in her arms. How much the little grandmother suffered.
‘Ah, Sir, the final thing I want for my little boy is a not so expensive box; it should be lined in blue with pink ribbons. Last, a bouquet of flowers. I will pay you cash. Here is the money. Let’s see?’
She had already dried her tears and as if filled with sudden resolution gone to choose the small coffin. The place was narrow and long, like an enormous grave. Here and there were boxes of all kinds, lined in black or distinctive colours, from those with silver plating, for the wealthy parishioners of the neighbourhood, to the simplest and roughest, for the poor.
The elderly lady searched among the sad collection of coffins for one fitting, in her eyes, for the beloved little corpse, the grandson who lay pale and lifeless in the house, upon a table, his head surrounded by roses and wearing his most beautiful outfit, one that revealed, in coarse but showy work, violet birds with beaks garlanded in red.
She found one to her liking.
‘How much is it?’
The cheerful man, who always walked around with his indelible laugh:
‘Come on, don’t be greedy, little grandmother; seven pesos.’
‘Seven pesos? … no, no, it’s impossible. See for yourself. I’ve brought five, I have five.’
And she unknotted the end of the scarf, where the feeble twenty centavo coins made a false sound.
‘Five? Impossible, my lady. Two more pesos and it’s yours. You loved the grandson well! I knew him. He was lively, naughty, devilish. Wasn’t he the little blond?’
Yes, he was the little blond, Mr. Salesman. He was the little blond and you are breaking the heart of this skinny, despairing old lady. He was the lively, naughty one, one that she adored so much, one that she pampered, washed, and to whom she sang, letting him dance upon her knees, her warm tibias, songs from olden times, monotonous songs that put children to sleep. He was the little blond, Mr. Salesman!
Fine! She left him the five pesos she had brought. She would pay him the rest later. She was an honourable woman. Even though it would be necessary for her to fast, she would pay him. He knew her well. She took the goods.
With the box on her back, the old lady went with quick steps, overwhelmed, breathing heavily, her cloak dishevelled, her grey head exposed to the cold wind. In that state she arrived at the house. Everyone found the box very beautiful. They looked at it, examined it. How lovely! And meanwhile the old woman was kissing the deceased, stiff above his flowers, his hair slightly tousled, partly glued to the forehead, and on his lips a vague and enigmatic rictus, like something out of mysterious eternity.
The grandmother did not want a wake. She wanted her grandson; but … not like this, no, no, let them take him away!
She went back and forth. The people of the neighbourhood who had come to mourn spoke in low voices. The child’s mother, her head wrapped in a blue scarf, made coffee in the kitchen.
And rain fell little by little, sifting, fine, an annoyance. Air entered through doors and slits and moved the white cloth on the table where the boy lay; the flowers trembled at every gust.
The burial was set for the afternoon, and the afternoon fell. How sad! A winter afternoon, misty, humid, and melancholic, one of those afternoons on which the broken well-to-do people cover their gigantic torsos with rough, striped blankets, and the old women suck the reed of their mate, which gives off a gurgling sound.
In the neighbouring house they sang a Zamacuecan air with a shrill voice; near the little corpse a dog shook the flies from its ears, closing its eyes peacefully; and the noise of the water that poured at intervals in little streams, from the tiles to the ground, became confused with a slight smacking sound that the grandmother made with her lips as, sobbing, she talked to herself.
Behind the clouds of the dull afternoon, the sun came down. The hour of the burial drew near.
Here comes a coach in the rain, a coach almost beyond repair, drawn by two wobbly horses, all skin and bone. Splashing through the mud on the street, they arrived at the door of the house in mourning.
‘Already?’ the grandmother said. She herself prepared the little coffin; first a white mattress made up of rags, as if to ensure the boy would not be hurt, that the poor dead one would be comfortable in the black darkness of the grave. Next, the flowers, among which could be seen the child’s face, like a faded enormous pale rose. The coffin was covered.
Mr. Salesman, the naughty one, the little blond, is already on his way to the cemetery. The box cost seven pesos; five were paid in advance. Mr Salesman, the grandmother, though she may have to fast, will pay you the two remaining!
The water pressed down; from the peeling patent leather of the old vehicle it fell in drops on the thick mud, and the horses with sodden backs breathed smoke through their nostrils, and made their mouths rattle through their teeth.
Inside, the people finished their coffee.
Tack, tack, tack, sounded the hammer as the nails were hammered in the lid. Poor old lady!
The mother had to go alone to the cemetery to leave the dead one; Grandma smoothed her cloak.
‘When they go to put him in the ground, kiss the box for me, do you hear?’
She is leaving, already they have put the coffin in the coach, and the mother also has entered.
The rain becomes heavier and heavier. Whoosh! the whiplash sounded and the animals went up the street dragging their huge load over the black earth.
Alone, the old lady stuck her head through one of the openings in the cracked and ruined wall, and seeing the battered coach limping from pothole to pothole as it disappeared in the distance, almost formidable in her profound sadness, raised her two dry, wrinkled arms to the murky sky, and clenching her fists with a horrible gesture – I would speak to one of you, oh, Death, oh, Providence? – exclaimed in a voice that was both a moan and an imprecation:
‘Bandit! Bandit … !’
The Sun Palace / Translation from the Spanish of Rubén Darío’s ‘El Palacio del Sol’
This story, the story of Bertha, the child with olive-coloured eyes, fresh as a bunch of blossoming peaches, radiant as a dawn, gentle as the princess of a blue fairy tale, goes to you, mothers of anaemic girls.
You’re about to see, healthy and respectable ladies, that there is something better than arsenic and iron to infuse colour in the lovely virginal cheeks; that it is necessary to open the doors of the cages of our enchanting little birds, above all when spring arrives and there is ardour in the veins and in the sap, and a thousand atoms of sunlight keep watch in the gardens, like a golden swarm above the half-open roses.
In her sixteenth year, Bertha began to grow sad, meanwhile her brilliant eyes became encircled by dark melancholy rings.
‘Bertha, I’ve brought you two dolls … ’
‘I don’t want them, Mama … ’
‘I have the music to the Nocturnes … ’
‘My fingers are sore, Mama … ’
‘Then … ’
‘I’m sad, Mama … ’
‘So I’ll call the doctor.’
And along came the tortoiseshell glasses, the black gloves, the illustrious bald head, and the frock coat.
It was natural. Part of her development, her age … Clear symptoms, lack of appetite, a certain weight on the chest, sadness, occasional twinges in the temples, palpitation … You know what to do; give our child globules of arsenic acid, then showers. The treatment.
And the melancholy of Bertha, the child with olive-coloured eyes, fresh as a bunch of blossoming peaches, radiant as a dawn, gentle as the princess of a blue fairy tale, began to lift, with globules and showers, at the beginning of spring.
Despite everything, the dark rings persisted, the sadness continued, and Bertha, pale as precious ivory, arrived one day at death’s door. Everyone in the palace wept for her, and the healthy and emotional mother had to think about the white palms of the maidens’ coffin. Until one morning the languishing anaemic went down to the garden, by herself and with her gloomy debility, at the hour when dawn laughs. Sighing, she lost her way here and there; and the flowers were saddened by the sight of her. She leaned on the plinth of a superb and bizarre faun with marble hair wet with dew, who bathed his splendid and naked torso in the light. She saw a lily, which raised the purity of its white calyx to the blue, and stretched out her hand to take it. No sooner had she … yes, a fairy tale, my ladies, but soon you will see how it applies to a beloved reality – no sooner had she touched the calyx of the flower, than a fairy suddenly appeared from it, in her tiny golden chariot, dressed in impalpable glittering threads with a sprinkling of dew, her pearl tiara, and her silver wand.
Do you believe Bertha was daunted? Nothing of the sort. She clapped her hands joyfully, perked up as if by magic, and said to the fairy:
‘You’re the one who loves me so much in my dreams?’
‘Climb up’, the fairy responded.
She fit into the shell of the golden chariot like she had shrunk in size, like she was hanging loose upon the curved wing of a swan touching the water’s surface. And the flowers, the proud faun, the daylight, saw how in the chariot of the fairy, carried on the wind, placid and smiling into the sun, went Bertha, the child with olive-coloured eyes, fresh as a dawn, gentle as the princess of a blue fairy tale.
When the divine coach had already ascended high, and Bertha climbed up to the halls by the garden steps constructed of imitation emerald, everyone, the mother, the cousin, the servants, looked on with wide open mouths. She came jumping like a bird, her face full of life and colour, her breast beautiful and swelling, caressed by a chestnut-coloured braid, free and unrestrained, her arms bare to the elbow, the mesh of almost imperceptibles veins half on show, her lips partly open with their smile, as if to emit a song.
Everyone exclaimed: Alleluia! Glory! Hosanna to the God Asclepius! Eternal renown to the globules of arsenic acid and triumphal showers! And while Bertha ran to her toilet to put on her finest brocades, gifts were sent to the old man with the tortoiseshell glasses, the black gloves, the illustrious bald head, and the frock coat. And now, mothers of anaemic girls, hear of something that is superior to arsenic and iron to colour lovely virgin cheeks. And you will know that it wasn’t the globules, no; that it wasn’t the showers, no; that it wasn’t the pharmacist, no, who restored health and life to Bertha, the child with olive-coloured eyes, happy and fresh as a dawn, gentle as the princess of a blue fairy tale.
Realising that she was in the fairy’s chariot, Bertha asked her:
‘Where are you taking me?’
‘To the sun palace.’
Hearing this, the girl felt that her hands were burning and her little heart leaping as if filled with impetuous blood.
‘Listen,’ the fairy continued. ‘I’m the good fairy that inhabits the dreams of adolescent girls; I cure chlorotic girls simply by taking them to the sun palace, where you’re going, in my golden chariot. Be careful not to drink too much of the nectar of the dance, and don’t fade away in the first quick joys. We’re about to arrive. Soon you’ll return home. A minute in the sun palace lays years of fire in bodies and souls, my child.’
In truth they were in a beautiful enchanted palace where it was possible to feel the sun in the air. Oh, what light, what fires! Bertha felt as if her lungs became filled with the air of the countryside and the sea, her veins filled with fire; she felt harmony spreading in her brain, how her soul became enlarged, and how her delicate female flesh became more supple and smooth. Then she saw dreams made real and heard intoxicating music. In dazzling vast galleries, full of lights and scents, of silk and marble, she saw a whirlwind of couples swept together by the invisible, dominant waves of a waltz. She saw anaemics like herself arrive pale and sad, breathe that air, and then throw themselves in the arms of vigorous, slender young men whose golden hair above their upper lips and fine hair on their heads shone in the light; and they danced, they danced with them, burningly close, hearing mysterious compliments that touched the soul, breathing from time to time air impregnated with vanilla, Tonka bean, violet, cinnamon, until feverish, panting, exhausted as pigeons after a long flight, they collapsed on silk cushions, their breasts throbbing, their throats flushed, and so, dreaming, dreaming of intoxicating things … And she too fell into the whirlpool, the alluring maelstrom, and danced, cried out, passed to and fro, among the spasms of high-strung pleasure; and remembered then that she should not become too overcome with the wine of the dance, although she kept looking at her handsome suitor, with her big eyes that reflected the spring. And he dragged her through the vast galleries, encircling her waist and whispering in her ear the loving and rhythmic language of peaceful words, iridescent, fragrant phrases from crystalline oriental times.
And then she felt that her body and soul filled with sun, with powerful effluvia and life. No, no, don’t wait any longer!
And the fairy brought her back to the palace garden, to the garden where she cut flowers wrapped in a wave of perfumes, which rose mystically to the tremulous branches to float like the wandering souls of the dead calyxes.
Mothers of anemic girls! I congratulate you on the success of the good doctor’s arsenates and hypophosphites. But in truth I say to you: it is vital, for the good of the lovely virginal cheeks, to open the doors of the cages of our enchanting little birds, above all in the spring, when there is ardour in the veins and in the sap, and a thousand atoms of sunlight keep watch in the gardens, like a golden swarm above the half-open roses. For our chlorotics, sunshine for the bodies and souls. Yes, the sun palace, from which girls like Bertha, she of the olive-coloured eyes, return radiant as a dawn, gentle as the princess of a blue fairy tale.
The Bale (Translation from the Spanish of Rubén Darío’s ‘El Fardo’)
There in the distance, on the horizon, as if outlined by a blue pen, separating the water from the sky, the sun went sinking, with its golden dust and its whirlwinds of purple sparks, like an almighty disc of red-hot iron. Already the fiscal dock was becoming quiet; the guards passed back and forth, caps lowered to their brows, looking here and there. The enormous arms of the davits were unmoving, the day workers were walking home. The water murmured beneath the pier, and the humid salty wind, that blew in from off shore as the night drew in, held the nearby boats in a continuous pitch and roll.
All the boatmen had already gone with the exception of old Uncle Lucas, who had hurt his foot that morning while lifting a barrel onto a wagon, but though limping worked the whole day. He was seated on a stone, pipe in his mouth, gazing sadly at the sea.
‘Hey, Uncle Lucas! Resting?’
And so commenced the chat, that pleasant, easy chat it gives me pleasure to enter into with the brave rough men who live a life of fortifying work, work that gives them good health and strong muscles, nourished by the grain of the bean and the boiling blood of the vineyard.
I looked with affection at the old crude man and listened with interest to his stories, all briefly told, typical of a coarse man naive at heart. Ah, so he was a military man! When he was a boy he fought in General Bulnes’s army! The time he was still able enough to go to Miraflores armed with a rifle! And he’s married and had a child, and …
‘Yes, boss. He died two years ago.’
Those eyes, small and glittering beneath grey, hairy lashes, moistened then.
‘How did he die? On the job. Working so that everyone could eat: my wife, the little ones, and me, boss, who was sick at the time.’
And he told me everything at the commencement of that night, while the waves concealed themselves with mist and the lights of the city came on; he, on the stone that served as his seat, after putting out his black pipe and resting it on his ear, after stretching and crossing his thin, muscular legs, covered by dirty pants rolled up to the ankles.
The boy was very honest and very hard-working. The plan during his upbringing was that he would attend school; but, what chance the wretched of this world learning to read when they’re dying of hunger in hovels!
His wife was cursed with the curse of the poor, fecundity. There were many open mouths to feed, many little ones who became filthy in the rubbish, many lean bodies that shivered from the cold; it was necessary to go and find food, to look for rags, and for that reason go on working breathlessly, like an ox.
When the boy grew, he helped his father. A neighbour, the blacksmith, wanted to teach him his trade; but at the time he was so weak, practically skin and bone, and in the bellows had to slog his guts out, he got sick and returned to the tenement. Ah, he was very sick! But he didn’t die! He didn’t die! Among such human overcrowding, between four ramshackle walls, old, ugly, in the filthy backstreets filled with lost women, stinking at all hours, lit at night by a few lanterns, where resounded the perpetual cry of the pimps’ fiestas, the harps and the accordions, the noise of the seamen arriving at the brothel, smarting from the imposed chasity of their long voyages, to get drunk as skunks and cry out and fight, kicking like condemned men. Yes, among the decay, the din of the festivities, the boy lived, and soon was well and on his feet.
Later he turned fifteen.
Uncle Lucas had managed, after a thousand austerities, to buy a canoe. He became a fisherman.
At dawn he and his youngster would put out to sea, carrying the fishing gear. One of them rowed, the other put the bait on the hooks. They returned to the coast with high hopes of selling what they’d found, among the cool breeze and the opaque mist, singing sad songs in low voicies, the oar held upright and dripping foam.
If they made a good sale, they would go out again that afternoon.
One winter there was a storm. The father and son, in their small transport, were subject to the craziness of the waves and the wind. It was difficult to return to land. Fishing gear, everything else, went overboard, and they thought of ditching the catch. They fought desperately to reach the beach; but an accursed wave drove them against a rock, and the canoe splintered. They escaped with only bruises. Praise the Lord! As Uncle Lucas said during the narration. After that, they’re true boatmen.
Yes! boatmen; on the big flat black boats; dangling from the chain that squeaks like an iron sea serpent hanging from the massive davit that resembles a gibbet; rowing standing up and to the beat; going on the boat from the dock to the steamer and from the steamer to the dock; singing out: hiiooep! when the heavy bundles are pushed in such a way that they are hooked on the powerful nail that lifts them swinging like a pendulum. Yes, boatmen! the old man and the boy, the father and son; both on their haunches on a crate, both of them struggling, both of them earning their day’s wage, for themselves and their dear bloodsuckers from the tenement.
They went to work every day, wearing old clothes, their belts fastened with red sashes, and rattling one of their large, heavy shoes that they removed at the beginning of the tasks, tossing them in a corner of the boat.
The hustle and bustle, the loading and unloading, began. The father was careful: Boy, you’ll break your skull! Take the boy’s hand! You’re going to lose a shin! And he taught, trained, and instructed the son, with the brusque expression of an old worker and father in charge.
Until one day Uncle Lucas was unable to rise from his bed, because rheumatism had swollen his joints and bored holes in his bones.
Oh! And medicine and food had to be bought; yes.
‘Son, off to work, to make money; today is Saturday.’
And off the son went, on his own, almost running, without any breakfast, to the daily labour.
It was a beautiful day of clear light and a golden sun. On the docks the wagons were rolling on their rails, the pulleys creaked, the chains clashed. It was the work’s great confusion that could make one dizzy: the sound of iron, rattling everywhere, and the wind blowing through the trees and the rigging of the ships lined up in groups.
Uncle Lucas’s son, together with some other boatmen, was beneath one of the davits on the quay, unloading at full speed. The boat had to be emptied of bales. From time to time the long chain that ends in a hook lowered, sounding like a rattle when running with the sheave; the boys tied the bundles with a rope folded in two, attached them to the hook, and then they would rise like a fish on a hook, or the lead of a probe, either still, or waving back and forth, like a clapper, in the void.
The cargo was piled up in a heap. The boat filled with bales of goods moved slowly from time to time with the wave. The bales formed a pyramid-like shape in the centre. One of them was very heavy, very heavy. It was the biggest of them all, broad, fat and smelling of tar. It sat at the bottom of the boat. A man standing on it resembled a small figure on a thick plinth.
It was somewhat like the sum of the vulgarity of imported goods wrapped in tarpaulin and tied up with iron strapping. On its flanks, in the midst of lines and black triangles, was lettering that stared like eyes. Diamond lettering, Uncle Lucas said. The iron straps were tightened with rough, stubborn nails; and the monster would have, at the very least, lemons and textile in its entrails.
This was the only one missing.
‘The brute is leaving!’ one of the boatmen said.
‘The potbelly!’ another added.
And Uncle Lucas’s son, who was anxious to finish up quickly, ready to go and collect his earnings and have some breakfast, knotted a checked scarf around his neck. He lowered the chain dancing in the air. He tied a large loop around the bundle, tested it for security, and shouted – Lift! – as the screeching chain pulled the mass and raised it in the air.
The boatmen, on their feet, watched the enormous weight ascend and were preparing to go ashore when they witnessed a horrible thing. The bale, the thick bale, became untied from the loop, like a dog pulling its head out of a loose collar, and fell on Uncle Lucas’s son, who between the edge of the boat and the huge bundle was left with kidneys destroyed, his spine dislocated and spurting black blood from his mouth.
That day there was neither bread nor medicine in Uncle Lucas’s house, only the shattered boy, whom the rheumatic embraced tearfully, among the cries of the woman and the little ones when they carried the corpse to the cemetery.
I farewelled the old boatman and with a spring in my step left the dock, walking toward home and philosphising with all the tranquility of a poet, while an icy breeze, coming from the sea, pinched my nostrils and ears.
The Blue Bird
Translation from the Spanish of Rubén Darío story ‘El Pájaro Azul’
Paris is theatre both funny and terrible. Among the regulars at Plombier Cafe, good, determined boys – painters, sculptors, writers, poets; yes, all of them searching for the old, green laurel! – none is more loved than poor Garcín, almost always sad, a good drinker of absinthe, a dreamer who never got drunk and, like an impeccable bohemian, a brave improviser.
In the dilapidated room where our happy meetings took place, maintaining the plaster on the walls, among the sketches and outlines of future works by Delacroix, whole stanzas written in the thick, throwaway hand of our blue bird.
Poor Garcín was our blue bird. You don’t know why he was called this? It was we who baptised him with the name.
It wasn’t simply caprice. That excellent boy was made of sad stuff. When we asked him why, when we all laughed like fools or children, he frowned, looked fixedly at the ceiling, and smiling somewhat bitterly said:
‘Comrades, what you ought to know is that I have a blue bird in my brain; therefore … ’
On the arrival of spring, he liked to go to the newest parks. According to him, the forest air did his lungs good. He would return from these excursions with bunches of violets and thick booklets of madrigals written to the sound of rustling leaves, beneath the broad, cloudless sky. The violets were for his neighbour Niní, a rosy-cheeked girl with very blue eyes.
The verses were for us. We read them and applauded them. All of us praised Garcín. He was a genius that deserved to shine. His time would come. Oh, the blue bird would fly very high! Bravo! Well done! Hey, waiter, more absinthe!
Among flowers, the lovely bluebells.
Among precious stones, the sapphire.
Among the vastness, the sky and love; that is Niní’s pupils.
As the poet often said: I believe neurosis is always preferable to stupidity.
From time to time Garcín was sadder than usual.
He would wander the boulevards, indifferent to the luxurious carriages, the elegant, beautiful women passing by. Stopping before a jeweler’s window, he smiled. Nearing a bookshop, he approached the window, sniffed, and seeing the plush editions frowned with envy. To unburden himself he turned his face skyward and sighed. Moved, exalted, he ran to the cafe in search of us, ordered a glass of absinthe, and said:
‘Yes, a blue bird is imprisoned in the cage of my brain and wants its freedom … ’
Some reached the conclusion that his reason was gone.
A specialist to whom the events were reported, classified it as a peculiar case of monomania. His pathology studies left no room for doubt. Decidedly, the unfortunate Garcín was crazy.
One day he received a letter from his father, an old provincial from Normandy. It said, more or less, the following:
‘I know of your Parisian madness. While you persist in this manner, you’ll not get a single sou out of me. Come and take your books from my warehouse, and when you’ve burned them, loafer, your nonsensical manuscripts, you will get my money.’
This letter was read to us in Plombier Cafe.
‘Are you going?’
‘You won’t go?’
‘Will you accept?’
‘You scorn the offer?’
Bravo, Garcín! He tore up the letter and giving free rein to his imagination improvised some stanzas, the last of which, if my memory serves me correct, went:
Yes, I will always be a loafer,
something I applaud and celebrate,
while encaged in my brain
is the blue bird!
Garcín’s character changed after that. He became chatty, immersed in happiness, bought a new frock coat, and commenced a poetic triplet, titled, sure enough: The Blue Bird.
Every night at our gatherings he read us the latest from the work. It was excellent, sublime, crazy.
He described a very beautiful sky, rural areas with the freshest air, countries sprouted as if by the magic of Corot’s brush, children’s faces poking through flowers, Niní’s big, moist eyes, and to top everything off the benevolent God who sent flying, flying, above all of that a blue bird that, unaware how or when, nested within the poet’s brain, there to remain imprisoned. When the bird wanted to open its wings and fly but came up against the brain’s walls, the poet looked skyward, frowned, and drank absinthe with very little water, smoking a cigarette too.
Here is the poem.
One night Garcín arrived, laughing a great deal but very sad. The beautiful neighbour had been laid to rest in the cemetery.
‘Some news! Some news! The last song of my poem. Niní has died. Spring arrives and Niní goes. The violets can remain in the countryside. Now the poem’s epilogue is missing. The editors won’t even condescend to read my verses. Very soon we’ll go our separate ways. That’s the law of time. The epilogue should be titled: How the blue bird flew off into the blue sky.’
Spring in all its glory! The flourishing trees, clouds tinged red at dawn, pale by the afternoon; the soft air that moves the leaves and makes the ribbons around the straw flap with a special sound! Garcín hasn’t gone to the countryside.
There he is, dressed in a new outfit, at our beloved Cafe Plombier, pale, smiling sadly.
‘My friends, a hug. All of you embrace me warmly; say goodbye, with all your heart, all your soul … the blue bird is flying … ’
And poor Garcín cried, held us, pressed our hands with all his strength and left.
We all said:
‘Garcín, the prodigal son, looking for his father, the Normandy provincial. Goodbye, muses; goodbye, thank you! Our poet decides to measure out rags. Hey! Raise a glass to Garcín!
Pale, frightened, saddened, the following day all the Plombier Cafe regulars, who made so much noise in that derelict little space, gathered in Garcín’s room. He was on the bed, lying on the bloodied sheets, his skull smashed by a bullet. Atop the pillow was brain matter … Horrible!
When, having recovered from the shock, we were able to weep before the corpse of our friend, we found that he had with him the famous poem. On the last page he’d written the following words:
‘Today, at the height of spring, I leave open the door of the poor blue bird’s cage.’
Oh, Garcín, how many carry in their heads the same sickness!
Pale as candle wax, like a sickly rose. She has dark hair, eyes with bluish dark circles, the hallmark of feverish work, and the disenchantment that comes with many lost illusions … Poor child!
Her name was Emma. She married the company’s tenor at a very young age. They consigned her to the stage, from the moment her puberty flourished in a triumphal, splendid dawn. She started to make comparisons; and received the fake kisses of the pretend lovers of the comedy. Did she love her husband? She did not rightly know. Continual brawls, inexplicable rivalries of the kind that Daudet portrayed, the fight for life, in an acrimonious and untrustworthy field, a field where garlands may flourish in the space of a night, and the flower of fleeting glory; bitter hours, perhaps half-forgotten during crazy parties; the first son; the first artistic setback; the fairy tale prince who never showed; and, finally, the hazardous prospect that allowed no glimpse of a happy future.
Sometimes she is meditative. In the evenings she plays a queen, princess, Dolphin, or a fairy. But she is pale and melancholy beneath the vermillion. The spectator sees the admirable, strong form, the curls, the curvaceous breasts; what is not noticed is the constant preoccupation, the fixed thought, the sadness of the woman beneath the actress’s disguise.
She will be carefree one minute, completely happy the next. But hopelessness lies at the heart of this delicate, sweet soul. Poor dear! What does she dream? I cannot say. She could fool the most keen observer. Does she think of the unknown place she will go to tomorrow; in the likely contract; in the children’s welfare? The butterfly of love, Psyche’s breath, has done with this languid lily; nor will the fairy tale prince come calling on her; she, at least, is sure he will not.
Oh, you, flame almost extinguished, lost bird in the immense human forest! You will go far, you will pass like a momentary vision; and never know that nearby has been a dreamer who has thought of you and written a page to your memory, perhaps in love with your wax-like pallidity, your melancholy, your sickly face, you in short, bird of Bohemia, who does not know which of the sky’s four winds you will spread your wings to the next day!
Translation from the Spanish of Rubén Darío’s ‘Fugitiva’
Henrietta (Translation from the Spanish of Rubén Darío’s ‘Enriqueta’)
The poor child’s dying, not far from me. Just yesterday I saw her at Sión College; dark among the fair-skinned, humble among the proud, restrained among the flamboyant. But she exuded a natural elegance, lively intelligence, and one of the good nuns spoke to me with love and feeling of her tender hope.
In the middle of a dream of paradise, the pale spirit of the tomb surprised her. Did God take her away because she was one of His elect? Pagan verse and Catholic belief come together in my mind. Death is so terrible when it arrives before the sacred innocent flowering of youth! The age of twelve is when the god Céfiro and the princess Psyche become known to a child. It’s the age when the lemon tree first buds. The bird that flies for the first time is a sister of the child who turns twelve.
The child is dying! Her mother weeps and cries out, “Oh, my little girl!” And her heart’s in pieces. I can’t write artificial phrases in a chapter like this.
I’ve no use for prose that doesn’t spring from the depths of my heart.
What I’m now writing is what I witness and feel. I suffer along with the unfortunate woman who has to see her daughter dying; I suffer with all those who see her dying; I suffer because of the capriciousness of death, which cuts down a new flower to throw it into a black river bound for who knows where.
But every poet – and if they don’t have it, they should steal it – is possessed of a sublime, admirable faith. And I, the last of all, when this innocent dies, place flowers of Hope on her tomb, flowers of Hope that sprouted for the first time in the place where Christ’s cross was planted.
Personal Bests Journal Issue 4
Includes twenty-six stories from diverse writers, among them the author’s Philoctetes and Me. Available now at the usual suspects.
Stories that Inspire Ebook Fair (including my title From a Caregiver’s Point of View):
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