Excerpts from El tesoro de la sombra
An archer wished to shoot the moon. Night after night, tirelessly, he sent his arrows flying toward the celestial body. The neighbors began to mock him. Unmoved, he continued firing his arrows. He never shot the moon, but he did become the greatest archer in the world.
Once an invincible warrior was asked why he would stroll down the streets with such a humble demeanor. He would stretch out one hand and answer: “My fingers are five gentlemen. These five gentlemen bow before me.” He would close his hand by degrees until making a fist. “The humbler they become, the more strength they give me.”
He tried to say “fire”, but flames came shooting out of his mouth. Terrified, he said “bees”, and vomited up a swarm. More cautiously now he whispered “wheat”; his tongue covered over with seeds. He was tempted to say diamonds, pearls, gold, but they got mixed up with tarantulas, tigers, excrement. After falling silent for hours, giving definite shape to his daydreams, he exclaimed “Eve!” He got an awful pain in his jaws, his mouth gradually opened wider and wider. While a head full of thick hair began to emerge, breaking his teeth, he gradually lost his breath, and then his consciousness. The body of the beautiful woman, formed from the bones and flesh of that first man, arose out of his empty skin.
Being and Seeming
The shadow worked energetically most of his life long, depriving himself of luxuries and pleasures. Finally he had saved up the sum he needed to buy himself a flesh and blood body. With great pride, he affixed it to his feet and forced it to do all kinds of pointless activities just so he could show off his possession to the other shadows who, tired of operating their bodies for so many years, steered them by following a diagram of banal, easily executable moves.
The free man had a thousand other paths alongside his. Although he could choose any of them, he didn't. He continued the way he was going.
The old scholar awoke with a shriek. He had dreamed that reality was real.
To hide from his enemy, the man walked behind him all his life.
A frog wearing a crown tells a gentleman: “Kiss me, please.” The gentleman thinks: “This animal is enchanted. It could turn into a beautiful princess, the heiress to a kingdom. We’ll be married and I’ll be rich.” She kisses the frog. Instantly he finds himself turned into a slimy toad. Happily the frog cries: “My love, you’ve been enchanted for so long, but finally I’ve been able to save you!”
A man uses his energy to collect objects. Another decides to throw out the ones he has. When he has no material objects left, he starts shedding movements, ideas, memories, feelings he considers unnecessary. He reaches complete immobility. The collector picks him up and places him in a large armoire among his other objects.
He was crossing the desert. He didn’t know if the body carrying him was his. He didn’t need to give it orders: it moved in a straight line, taking measured steps, always at the same pace. Sand stretched out to the horizon. He felt dryness in his throat and his tongue was swollen, but the pain was not his. He had awoken suddenly inside the body of another, who walked naked through the desert. Perhaps by falling back asleep he could manage to get away. He tried. Impossible. He tried to make the steps stop. He could not. He struggled to concentrate on a single atom so that he might touch that meat prison less and less. And that’s how he did it. After travelling countless miles, the body sneezed. He went flying out of its nose. Thousands of millions of cubic feet of sand swallowed him. Now, his jail was that infinite, flat desert, without plants or animals, with a single human body traveling across it in a straight line.
“Master, where is God?”
“Where is heaven?”
“What about hell?”
“Right here. Everything is right here. The present,
the past, the future, are right here. Here is life and here
is death. It is here where opposites are mingled.”
“So what about me? Where am I?”
“You are the only one who is not here.”
The Second Coming
He would pull doves out of his top hat though he was not a conjurer. It was impossible for the new Messiah to exist without performing miracles, so he had dressed as a circus magician so they wouldn’t kill him. The audience accepted that he turned water into wine and multiplied the loaves and fishes because they thought they were tricks.
The saint died but did not rot. A foot was cut off, his tongue, his pancreas and several bones were extracted so the relics could be sent to different places of worship. The body began to sob, endlessly. The lament became so intense that the sermons and masses could no longer be heard. They found it necessary to go from church to church to try to recover the pieces, which gave rise to veritable battles, for the faithful refused to return such venerated remains. In the course of one such fight, the pancreas fell to the ground and was eaten by the dogs. The unrottable corpse could not be fully reassembled. Remaining in that mutilated state, it continued its grieving. They gagged it, but its intense babbling shook the walls. In the end they resorted to dressing it like the devil and placing it at the entrance to the church, chained under the tyrannical foot of a stone Virgin. On their way in, the congregation hurled insults and trash at it.
Wherever he went, there He was. He tired of God always watching over him. He needed to have a bit of privacy. How? “I’m going to slowly become transparent, until He can no longer see me.” He stopped thinking, feeling, remembering. In vain! There He was, always, watching him. He reached the conclusion that the only privacy he could have was that of not existing. He disappeared. God too.
The Impossible Encounter
If he runs after the moon, it gets away. If he runs from the moon, it chases him. If
he stops and looks straight at it, the moon is he, but he is not the moon.
He walked quickly, and caught up to Death. He walked slowly, and Death caught up to him. He walked normally, and realized he was Death.
He traveled the world over, read, studied, prayed, changed his mental programming, tested out alchemical formulas, until finally he attained what he had so longed for: physical immortality. “Time will grant me its wisdom, future generations will admire me, I shall be the master of the planet!” The centuries steadily passed. Humanity continued its evolution: bodies elongated, jaws grew narrower, craniums grew larger and bones lighter, and shoulder blades turned into wings. The immortal roamed, stuck on the ground, eliciting disgusted winces from flying humanity overhead.
A radio was playing music, thinking, “What a great composer I am!” Suddenly a cat began to play with the cord and unplugged it. The machine sighed, complaining “I’m an idiot, I can’t create a thing!”
The archer, with a massive effort, tensed the string on his bow and shot his last arrow.
He saw it flying farther and farther away until it was lost to view on the horizon. He waited, motionless, until it finally came to rest, sunk into his back.
“Master, I have analyzed your mode of dress: each article of your clothing has a profound meaning. But there is one small item I have not been able to interpret. What does your belt mean?”
“It means my pants don’t fall down.”
The parrot and the monkey would accuse each other disdainfully of imitating humans.
I have the urge to take care of you, so get sick so I can be happy.
A man begins to lose his sight. Before entering the darkness he memorizes everything in his room. He studies the texts, the illustrations, and the location of the books in his library. Now fully blind, he invites people over and pretending to be sighted, shows them his room. He offers chairs, opens volumes, reads aloud, describes engravings, mixes cocktails. His simulation is perfect but he forgets to turn on the light, and his guests witness this play-acting in the dark.
Twilight of a Poet
His own shadow, turned whip, pounced on him. His words, unwilling to emerge, clinging like spiders, welled up in his throat. His skull split like an astronomical observatory and his brain fled toward the heavens, displaying its circumvolutions until it looked like a carpet turned into a boatful of buzzards. The blood ran down the soles of his feet and he ran naked, leaving red tracks. The city, which had slept four hundred years, awoke and began to chase him. He escaped to the hills: their slopes spewed houses. He crossed rivers: with their nervous feet the bridges joined the shores, burying the water. He hid out in the forests: long yataghans, the avenues pierced the vegetation. His skin slipped away from him like an old coat and soon he left it, now a flag, tied to a post, flowing in the wind. Exposed to the elements this way, his muscles and viscera aroused the horseflies’ lust. Now reduced to a pack of bones, he said to himself: “My situation cannot be sadder. I have to recognize something’s wrong.” But seconds later he shrugged his shoulders and went off to drink another bottle of wine.
Giving and Receiving
“Master, we can only give what we have inside. Isn’t that so?”
“No one can give only what he has inside. A request from another inseminates him. The
gift is created between two.”
What’s Mine is Mine
God sent them a golden rain of stars. The couple began to argue over who had brought about the miracle. Furiously, they hurled stars at one another’s faces. He lost half his nose and she, an eye.
“Master, there’s no way for me to say whether this glass is half empty or half full. What should I do?”
“Break the glass!”
“I’m afraid of not being able to get there.”
“Don’t worry about ‘getting there’ but ‘moving forward’. Moving forward is getting there.”
“Master, what should I do so that fire doesn’t burn me?”
“If you’re a great pianist and they cut off your hands, what do you do?”
“I’ll become a dancer.”
“And if they cut off your legs?”
“I’ll sing opera for a living.”
“And if they rip out your tongue?”
“I’ll pick up a brush between my teeth and paint.”
“And if they kill you?”
“With my skin they’ll make a drum; with my bones, flutes, and with my guts, violin strings.”
She took off her wig, then he took off his toupee. She took out a glass eye, then he took out another. She detached a rubber ear, he too detached one. She took out her upper dentures, he took out his lower dentures. She unscrewed her left arm and legs, he his right arm and leg. With little hops they helped each other fall into bed. There, lying together, they felt that in their great love they formed a single being.
“I will grant you a single wish. Think it over and ask for whatever you want.”
“I wish for that wish to be that I’m the one granting it, and you’re the one asking.”
He walked through that city where all the inhabitants were hurrying home early so they wouldn’t be caught out at curfew. He had countless answers, but he found no one who wanted to ask him a question.
After the War
The last living human being hurled the last shovelful of dirt on the last corpse. At that very instant he realized he was immortal, because death only exists in the gaze of the other.
Mysteries of Time
When the traveler looked back and saw that the road showed no trace, he realized his footprints did not trail off behind him, but ahead on the road before him.
Translated by Kelly Washbourne
From El tesoro de la sombra [The treasure in the shadow], a collection of short texts by Alejandro Jodorowsky
Alejandro Jodorowsky (1929- ) is the Chilean prophet-madman-guru behind the classic psychedelic films, The Holy Mountain, Santa Sangre, and The Dance of Reality, and a prime mover of the Panic Movement, an avant-garde collective that provoked extremist ‘happenings’. A standout in countless media, he is no less accomplished as an author of an impossibly prolific array of novels, comics, spiritual treatises, ‘shamanistic psychotherapeutic’ self-help, essays, and poetry. His writings Where the Bird Sings Best, a fictional autobiography, the collaboration Jodorowsky's & Boucq’s Twisted Tales, and the surrealistic novel Albina and the Dog-Men have been celebrated in translation.
Kelly Washbourne is Professor of Spanish Translation at Kent State University. His publications include After-Dinner Conversation, by José Asunción Silva (University of Texas Press, 2005); An Anthology of Spanish American Modernismo (edited and co-translated, MLA, 2007); and Nobel Laureate Miguel Ángel Asturias' Legends of Guatemala (Latin American Literary Review Press, 2011), which was awarded an NEA Translation Fellowship. Autoepitaph: Selected Poems by Reinaldo Arenas (Camelly Cruz Martes, ed.; University Press of Florida, 2014), was longlisted for the 2015 PEN Award for Poetry in Translation. He co-edited the Routledge Handbook of Literary Translation with Ben Van Wyke (2018).
The fourteenth issue of Latin American Literature Today features dossiers dedicated to the dislocated writing of Latin American authors based in the United States and the gothic fiction of Mariana Enriquez, plus reflections on writing in a second language by Fabio Morábito, an interview with 2019 Alfaguara Prize winner Patricio Pron, and exclusive translation previews from Guadalupe Nettel, Gabriela Wiener, and Luis Alejandro Ordóñez.