From Carnation and Tenebrae Candle
Once again I saw the forest of elder trees, the little rivers and their nearly nameless inhabitants: the spoons of water, the pans of water and the mushrooms.
The place where the ex-horses trot by, the beings of a previous time. And the bedroom, and the bats, that in the night open their umbrella, and their faces, their hands, their sexual organs touch.
The turkey hen was waddling through the blossoming broom plants, unaware that Christmas was coming.
She looked more like a young lady with blue feathers, a coral necklace and an obsession with getting married.
I believed that she even laid some eggs, white as marble, or blue, or purple. I don’t know, because that was before.
And the crime was committed behind my back.
But maybe there is still something of her running through my veins.
It stays with me like a regret.
A strange memory.
I hear the tero birds of my childhood, there above the cornfield that my father invented, that he made, plant by plant, the field he watered and loved.
I stand at the side of the house. Masks fly by, the teros’, the corn’s, God’s mask, which is the most strange and precious of them all.
And there, over the hills, he dances,
that atrocious one.
I saw a butterfly dying and rising, dying and rising all night long – all the time, I think. As soon as I thought I’d conquered her, she opened her wings once again, and lived.
From the dark trunks of the orange trees fall mushrooms, sugar, orange blossoms. I stretch out my hand and devour them, even though Mamá has forbidden me to take anything more than what she gives me at home. I’m afraid, and my fingers are coated in sugar.
There are bats on our property.
In the house there are bats:
they smoke, they sleep, simply lying in the air.
But it is necessary to set out for them, nearby, a little cup of blood.
I can’t forget the doves’ houses, the little wooden castles in the air, there in the sunny afternoons; they came out, fluttering like angels, then returned to the nest.
The gray doves, with bound wings; the white, chiffon, gladiolus dove; and, the black dove of my dreams.
Sometimes, a parrot arrived, all green and red, as if made of geraniums, and he made a great speech.
The doves listened to him impatiently; they urged him to go away.
Is doñalise there?
She half-opened the little gate beside the rosemary. The girl was there, in her little dress. She dared to make a correction: LIS.
I want to know if doñalise is there. And, whether she’s a human being...or a fairy.
The girl felt scared and leaned against the rosemary, which was her companion and friend.
To calm herself she thought of her grandmother off in the kitchen, making little cakes, burning like roses; sometimes, one of them would fly a little. One flew past; the girl extended her hand, trapped it and bit it, and to change the topic of conversation, she said: We have a rosemary (the rosemary looked at its own blossoms, already roasted), we have some mushrooms, pitted olives.
But the other one asked to enter. Together they reached the courtyard, whose vines divided the rain. The table had a strange hole in it. The plants, with leaves like wings. The cardamom with its purest flowers, First Communion flowers, half-open, damp, salmons like sexual organs, the cardamom with its little segments of doves, of...
The grandmother stood up, her hair coiled at the nape of her neck like a rose; she left the fountain of lively little cakes; she dried her hands.
She invited the visitor to sit down, to help herself to some food.
But the visitor said that she had come from Palm Town, that she was Lía, daughter of Estela, of María Lía.
And she asked if Doña Lise was in, if she lived there.
And the grandmother replied, – No. She’s a neighbor.
And does she ever come around?
The grandmother said, maybe now, or in the afternoon.
They measured the time. It was nine; afternoon could mean as late as nightfall. The visitor said she was not going to wait. She stepped out to the courtyard; the little girl followed her. The snow plants. The dry table under the rain. The rosemary was swaying, sprinkling the air with its dust.
The visitor tried to climb into her two-horse cart; the horses, thinking she’d already gotten in, galloped a bit; then, they stopped, frightened. Finally, she climbed up and expertly drove away.
The child stopped beside the rosemary, beside the gate; she went back into the kitchen to see if her grandmother would give her another little cake; in this way, she hid her other worries.
But as her grandmother wasn’t giving her anything, she went out to the garden, walked around a bit. The rain had already stopped. A light dust was falling. The plants were opening their leaves widely; some closed their blossoms halfway. She walked a bit. Until, as always, she felt ill and well at the same time. And, yes, there, in the clean air, LIS appeared in all her fullness, wrapped in her shining tulle, her long hat that seemed to touch the sky, her eyes like sapphires in her oval face.
...Perhaps she would come in
– to say hello to her grandmother –
Perhaps she would vanish, right there and then.
Papá said that we were going to Tío Juan’s house, and we climbed up with him onto the wagon – ever so lightly –, my cousin, my sister and I. It was along the path through the poplars, the pink and sky-blue eucalyptus trees. The moon followed us, always, like a paper bird, a butterfly, a smitten princess. As we crossed all those gardens, there came a perfume, violent and subtle at the same time, from the peas, and the lilacs were floating like flies at hand’s reach, we could catch them, and then, without end, there came the pio-pio of the newly born hares. When we reached Juan’s house, everyone rejoiced, the dogs barked. I sat down, rigid, in a little chair; there was a tall girl, eight or nine years old, with a long mane of chestnut hair, and a pink dress. Then came my cousins, Luis Alberto and Juan Esteban. They told me to go with them, that they were going to show me something, and we went down the steps, descended to the other courtyard, climbed up another stairway, and then, in the loft, they began to unfold some enormous, most delicate leaves. Fig leaves, I said. But no. Leaves from a giant plum. And no. And all of this was very weird, because I was very familiar with the leaves of every kind of tree...but these looked like all of them, and also none of them.. The boys told me that these had been subjected to a special treatment and had characters engraved on them. And that they were “poets,” and they read what was written on the leaves, and it was some monumental thing, never heard of before. And I stood, immobile, and the moon was also gazing through the window, set.
Later, they locked everything away in the big boxes, protected by two keys. And we went down the stairs and arrived at the other courtyard, and then we left. And Juan’s wife tied up a bunch of iris root for my mother.
And then we went off in our wagon.
And I was afraid and couldn’t understand why.
A sexual union was happening, but it was interrupted, because the other young women were crying, staring at the wall, praying. One came forward and intoned an ancient prayer that she’d never heard before, but it still resurfaced in her memory, and she repeated its words.
Then, the one who’d nearly been raped fled toward the shelves; she clasped her hands before the glasses of herbs, the broom plants, the little boxes of lilies.
A little animal, white as marble, his eyes injected with blood, ran across the garden.
Papá is going fishing.
There’s an enormous moon, round and clear.
It looks like a strange day.
He goes out with the bait slung over his shoulder, and it looks as if he were someone else.
The oxen, on seeing him, stand up.
He passes by and the pastures close up gently; an apple falls. The dawn shines like a devil, an angel.
The lagoon remains far away.
My sister, my cousin and I don’t stop sleeping and playing, but we follow him with our eyes, and we ask what he’ll pull out of the water – he’s going to come back so late – what will he bring back to die in our house?
I don’t know; I think of some creature that’s never been seen before,
a dismal cat with a long, loose mane,
laughing and laughing at the moment of his death.
...It’s that your work in the middle of the jonquil garden turned out to be unreal,
the hoe’s light striking, which had certainly never had any beginning, and would never have an end,
because the sweet plum paste with its maroon shawl,
the travels of the house’s inhabitants
and the moon’s light
could almost be said to exist,
but your labor, in the middle of the garden gilded with flowers, could not.
The puddles moved amid the golden hay, and the little ships, recently built from glass and paper, where homeless rabbits traveled, and little girls who, in the middle of the afternoon, boldly escaped from their homes.
We would have to film this, and someone said: Lithuania.
But we knew full well that this was not the country of Lithuania.
The sun, even though it was finished, shone constantly; the water climbed even higher and overtook another part of the golden hay and some of the ships’ windows. They were small ships, in which only a hare and a little girl fit, or sometimes only one of the two.
The hares were completely gold, as all hares are, and their eyes were red, or turquoise blue.
All of this scared me, and I was about to run away; I was going to abandon my movie camera and run away, but I didn't manage to, because...I couldn’t, because...
One of the little girls fell into the water, but she immediately climbed out.
The hares were looking indifferently at the long rivers they were about to cross.
The land was teeming with animals.
Tiny glyptodonts, and bigger ones, enormous ones.
Under their hairy skin, they seemed to be made of hairy stone.
They didn’t brush against anything, they didn’t even move, afraid of a calamity, of driving themselves to extinction.
Looking at them again, it seemed that there were more of them, as if in a few seconds they’d made love and multiplied, and the young were already as big as their parents.
Some of them stuck out their tongues in either lamentation or hunger.
And they all looked like machines or furniture.
María Josefa and Poupée María came walking by, under the storm of apples falling over the vegetable garden, from the deep heart of the earth, the thirsty heart of the clouds, apples like a flame of pure gold, some came wrapped in silver paper, others were gray and pale blue, like smoke.
They advanced beneath the storm of irises, sparkling apples.
In the distance the field’s vigilant animals passed by; you could hear the gallop of their silver nails.
And, at times, there appeared the old idols, Leandro, Elba and Isabel; for a second you could see their portraits in the sky, in the gold skin of the apples.
At times, María Pepita and Poupée María got scared (they were mother and daughter).
Or else the mother never got scared.
And the child feigned fear, letting out terrible screams, falling face down in the sea of irises, and soon, she was dying.
I love the yellow magnolia,
and the pink and yellow magnolia,
and the magnolia as white as a star,
and the gray-striped magnolia,
the one that look like a forest bird,
an open-winged hen.
I ask my father to bring me the magnolia that no one else has seen,
and he goes and cuts it down right that minute,
and he brings her to the middle of the room,
and she opens her huge, perfumed petals,
and hangs her tiny, gray, bleeding head.
Last night, it seemed that was my grandmother, the ancient rose, the ancient Rose, who, blind, went up and down the stairs of the house, the stairs of the Beyond.
Once, a horse was born at home, or in the area surrounding the house; from the moment of his birth and his first steps, which were practically the same thing, he demonstrated a great masculinity and beauty; he was blue, shining, and his tail reached the ground but, when time passed, his color changed a bit, and he was like the day lily, that iris that lasts only one day, white with black spots, but when he reached his full youth, he was already totally snowy in color, and so opinions were divided: some favored the black horse, and others, this horse of the present. The girls of the house – there were three of us – were all in love with him, and so were the neighbors’ daughters. Some kept calling him “the black horse,” even though he was practically blinking with light; others among us didn’t call him anything. He fed on branches, roses and wallflowers, and also on the boxes of dough that we happened to leave him among the hay, always wrapped in rose-colored paper. He opened them scornfully, eating up the golden jam. He came and went, watching us indifferently, laughing at us.
A lot of time went by. I don’t know for certain what happened. But seeing him, we abandoned the small basket of our studies and the basket of lace; never in our lives could we imagine such a thing, that this horse was not there with us.
Until, in the end, he married one of us. The eldest one, very pale, with long hair.
I remember the day of the wedding,
the journey and the forgetting.
Translated by Jeannine M. Pitas
Excerpts from Carnation and Tenebrae Candle (originally published as Clavel y tenebrario in 1975, forthcoming in a bilingual edition from Cardboard House in late 2019)
Born in Salto, Uruguay, and raised on her family’s farm, Marosa di Giorgio (1932-2004) is one of the most prominent Uruguayan poets of the twentieth century. Di Giorgio began writing in her childhood and published her first book of poems at the age of twenty-two. She then went on to publish a total of fourteen books of poetry, three collections of short stories, and one novel. While some critics have categorized her as a surrealist, she herself denied membership in any literary movement or school. Although she was relatively unknown outside the Southern Cone during her lifetime, she is now becoming more and more widely read throughout Latin America and Europe.
Jeannine M. Pitas is a writer, translator, and professor of English and Spanish at University of Dubuque. Her translation of poetry by Uruguayan writer Marosa di Giorgio, I Remember Nightfall (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2017), was shortlisted for the National Translation Award. She has three translations forthcoming in 2019: Materia Prima (Ugly Duckling Presse) by Uruguayan poet Amanda Berenguer, translated collaboratively with seven other translators, Echo of the Park (Eulalia Books) by Argentine poet Romina Freschi, and Carnation and Tenebrae Candle (Cardboard House) by Marosa di Giorgio.
In our tenth issue, we question the values of literature and journalism in the post-truth age through the words of Mexican writer Juan Villoro and we explore new territories of digital literature in a dossier curated by Scott Weintraub. We also feature memories of the 1968 Tlatelolco Massacre told through graphic narrative, new perspectives on the translation of Shakespeare into Spanish with an essay from Braulio Fernández Biggs, and Wayuu literature from the Venezuelan side of the border than runs through their ancestral lands.