Two Texts from Canon de alcoba


Argentine writer Tununa Mercado. Photo: Alejandra Lopez.

The Retreat    

In the shadows, at the hour when objects have yet to vanish in the darkness and their contours can barely be perceived, at the hour when creatures tend to look alike, she circles round the room going over to the window every so often. There is no anxiety in that pacing, only the subtle, undisclosed and unexpected presence of her desire taking shape in the silence.

The other lies on the bed, her gaze adrift in the dim light, her senses alert to every move of that body in motion, anticipating words or gestures, pretenses for proximity or a caress. From the bed, she awaits the decisive outcome of that moment charged with hesitation, when the other, with hair falling over her shoulders and down her back, will turn and let the last garments fall, slipping past her hips to the floor; meanwhile, in bed, she hears only the chorus of croaking frogs on that summer night and surrenders to it. As the other walks back and forth in senseless missions with no tasks to fulfill, her body surges and the pitter-patter of her bare feet rises from below like a muffled throng, a mass of silences expressing sudden urgency and confusion, sensations shared by both of them.

Distance and time still separate them in that small room, in the middle of the night, with no other witness than the chorus outside, with nothing to foretell what's about to take place, with nothing to predict the intense closeness soon to surface between the two of them. An erotic charge of provocation lingers in the air, barely perceptible as their lips begin to babble, accompanied by the evening serenade of the frogs.

Unexpected sparks of energy flared between them at every point of the dialogue, stripping their words of meaning little by little. The story, whose twists and turns for the most part had been a retelling of their personal histories, had become flat, more laden with silences and pauses than anecdotes. The tale could have continued all night, weaving a timeworn web, leaving no loose ends or doubts in its determination to fill every blank. From pleasures to adversities, there could have circulated between them the slightest detail that shapes a style, a way of life, a social imposition, or the tenuous exchange of desires, shared experiences that tend to be the antechamber leading to the bedroom.

But nothing was said to initiate a new course; instead, they pursued what had been germinating, who knows in what similar circumstance, like this one, in which two lovers choose to abandon words and turn their attention to the lessons of the body.    

She remembered, while lying in the darkness, on the bed, sheltered by the silence with which her feet felt their way to the surface of the floor, avoiding obstacles in their felicitous coming and going, she remembered that before she started to undress, her clothes had weighed heavily on her skin as if imploring her to tear them off that body, which shone brighter and brighter from within as her nakedness progressed. She had begun to sense the first tingle, an unsettling turbulence with arms held high, legs casting off garments, letting them slide down with the same hushed sound of her steps around the room, furtive, expectant. She realized the stories they had told each other thus far had become more and more an interplay of faltering breaths, as if the word, exhausted, had slowly withered on their lips, finding other forms of seduction, more from the lungs than the vocal cords, more of an escalating vigilance between two who lie in wait without touching each other than the candid complicity between two forging a friendship.

A preamble, then? A preliminary situation leading invariably to an amorous arrangement? Not always: what happened there did not follow a prepared script in which two conversing suddenly feel the urge to let the body finish what words can no longer express.

At night, with the incessant chorus in the background, love did not insert itself into a plot, nor did it force itself into a narrative climax; rather, it had been there from the initial moment of the encounter, present in the one and only thing that she, the light-footed one, had said upon crossing the threshold, upon drawing the drapes to conceal herself and shield both of them from the outside and, once again, upon dimming the light and turning it off, diffusing any contrast: “the retreat.”

Transported to the past, moving toward the future, amidst whispers of nocturnal conversations, their voices resonate in one boundless mouth. Reality seems to have fled from what are now contours of words, shaped by echoes of desire reverberating on the lips, teeth, fingertips, and palms of the hands. In the pure discourse that allowed the essence of desire and its utopian spark to germinate, their bodies begin to close the gap, measuring similarities and differences. Amidst the shadows, one senses the other like a pulse beating within her; one lets the breath of the other become her own; one invites the other to nestle in her own confines, perhaps detecting in her mouth the restlessness of the other.

She thinks the footsteps over the floor of the room will not soften, and believes there will be no transition between the degree of lightness now muffling their sound and the moment in which they finally cease to move, when the other will approach the edge of the bed and lie down on it. Nor will there be a collapse from one position to the next, nor will she receive the body of the other like a heavy sack in her arms. She, the other, not the one lying but the one who goes to the window, perhaps seduced by the discordant croaking of frogs, monotonous, heavy and unyielding like the summer heat; she, perhaps no longer able to postpone the approach, pulls back the curtain a bit and glances outside as if wishing to assure herself that nothing will interrupt the two of them in the middle the night, in the moment of retreat.

The evening light filters through the crack slid open by her hands, lingering over her silhouette, outlining it and, when she turns away from the window once again, the light settles for an instant on her shoulders until the curtain falls back in place.

There, in that room of seclusion, objects and actions free themselves from their original time and space, constructing their own chamber. She evokes a walk through the woods, unveiled like a fantastic vision, when twenty years ago the other left the trail, overcome by an irrepressible urge to run. Her body was drenched in sweat and her breasts glistened through her blouse when she lay down on the fallen leaves. Without saying a word, one of them remembers a provocative conversation the two of them had exchanged while taking a nap together, so many years before. With her eyes more violet than ever, half-closed by the flutter of desire, she had fixed her gaze on her, describing in minute detail the progressive insertion of a penis inside her body by a man capable of postponing climactic endings as often as he wished. She remained discreetly quiet during that confession, recognizing somewhere deep inside, without revealing any emotion, that the colossal phallus was the very same one that a few nights before had dazzled her with its prowess.

The shared stories entwine and spiral as if stirred by the breeze beginning to rustle outside, silencing the croaking frogs. The interplay of voices is not a game of revelations, or a confession in any way. Silences turn thoughts to the many dark regions they share, lips hovering over the mouth of one, then the other as if either could have been taken the place of the other in matters of love. Preface to an amorous situation with its own codes, what is now told is a matter “of performance,” to put it one way, laid out on the bed like a fortunate hand of cards, the bed upon which a scene will be staged.

Years pass like windstorms, like the wind whistling over the roof drawing them even more into that state of retreat. An image shared but maintained in silence: first one, then the other, within a few hours, handing over lovers like passing orders; a silent changing of the guard to safeguard the secrets that united them: always the two of them, untouched, one for the other, one in the other, either beneath or above another body, or astride a dream.

But it was not always through a third party that the surge of excitation had inflamed their desires. Once, years ago, upon gazing on the naked body of the other, she had the feeling her hands fit the shape of the other’s breasts and that her tongue was compelled to reap, like sap from a stem, the sweet sweat glistening on that skin under the sun. That day, she could barely restrain herself, overcome by the image of that body lying in wait for a bold act that would define at last what was transpiring. She had turned away from that body, not to relinquish the pleasure of embracing it, but rather to relish all the subtle effects it had aroused in her, aware now that it would not be easy to find a way to satisfy her desire, realizing she would have to accept that unnamed restlessness, pure passion for that image drawn back like a bow about to shoot the arrow.

All that the other knew, all that she herself knew, could not be formulated in a sentence or distilled into one statement that summed up what the two of them had unleashed from time immemorial. There was no longer a need to define what made their bodies quiver in that state of excitement felt so many times before. The wind had put an end to the murmur of the frogs as hair fell over shoulders, garments slid down the body, arms raised and waving as in an erotic dance, hips offered, curves traced by touch and inflamed senses, the radiance of her body reflected in the other’s body, one pubis ready to approach the other pubis.

Feet come and go around the room in preparation and postponement. One woman lies on the bed and then rises to open a window. She takes a deep breath, filling her lungs with the fresh air and sensing behind her, at two exact points, at the height of her shoulder blades, the breasts of the other, a pressure as slight as two timid mouths but as intense as the solitude of love. At a third point, further down, a pubis brushes her, imperceptibly at first, then intensely, rubbing against the buttocks with a friction less concerned with indulgence than making the other body aware of her tenacious determination. She does not turn around, but closes her eyes and gives in to the other body, inserting her right hand between her buttocks and the pubis of the other, caressing it slowly, perceiving its thickness and, little by little, venturing into the sex.

She observes and surveys with her gaze the body of the other, asleep. Solitude is a reality no new surrender can dissipate. She already feels the weight of an absence enveloping that body in its beauty, as if shrouded by a fragile condition, that of love. Pursued by the echoes of past surrenders that appear out of the blue like specters from the shadowy hinterlands of dawn, she does not lie down, nor sit, nor move one inch, standing still, naked, paralyzed by the convergence of consummated desire and the terror of its disappearance, she herself a fragment of a scene whose ending must be determined before the lark sings.


Combatant Love

He unsheathes his weapon too soon. Dazzled by the battlefield spreading out before his eyes, unable to restrain the channels of his passion, he charges full speed ahead into battle, stomping on grass, his gigantic strides booming as if needing to resound in each and every vein. He does not know that desire cracks its doors discreetly, with barely a sigh, without touching knobs or creaking hinges, favoring silence over uproar. But this love sniffs around like a pack of wild beasts. His jowls root out the slightest hint of water and he quenches his thirst in the deepest pools. He drags his huge combat boots through warm puddles of mud and tramples pearly tuberoses. Keeping neither a blade of grass nor a flowering bough between his fingers, stripping clusters of leaves in his way, disregarding the fragrant scent, indifferent to the other’s movements and gasps for air, combatant love wants to leave a mark, a scar, his name solemnly carved on the surface of the territory he invades.

The other, male or female, intimidated by the assault, with no time to guard flanks or bolster defenses, runs along imaginary battle lines, but love blurs them beneath his soles. Falling on top, with the crushing weight of a press that flattens and expels all the air from the other body leaving it as thin as a sheet, with the rhythm of desperately tolling bells, the warrior does not yield, as if the world were just about to end, with no time to turn off lights or faucets, to hold back the rising tide, or rekindle the dying flame, as if with that sweetest love soon to be released from his sex, with that noble substance about to cross the threshold, he had to settle a millennial score for the species, pay for all hazards, and redeem all bombshells.

Time is running out for him as he imagines himself galloping across vast plains, hooves pulverizing petals on a campaign of extermination, vanquishing pollen, annihilating delicate spider webs clinging to the grass. Dewdrops turn to tears before the warrior lover who carries out a distant strategy, far from the body that offers itself, a target beyond reach that has little to do with the love that was lurking behind his advance and that now, as the hammer strikes the anvil, is discharged, ejected through the eye without sockets, through the solitary pupil of love, like an arrow, leaving the warrior all alone.

Translated by Rhonda Dahl Buchanan

Texts from the Eros Section of Canon de alcoba [Chamber Canon], Ada Korn Editora, 1988


Elena Poniatowska in LALT
Number 11

In the eleventh issue of Latin American Literature Today, we highlight one of the essential voices of Mexican letters, Elena Poniatowska, and we pay homage to the towering literary figure of Chilean poet Enrique Lihn. We also highlight literary journalism from Venezuela and Mexico, indigenous literature in the Maya languages of Guatemala, poems by renowned Brazilian writer Hilda Hilst, and exclusive previews of upcoming books in translation from Silvina Ocampo, Johanny Vázquez Paz, and Sergio Chejfec. 

Table of Contents

Editor's Note

Featured Author: Elena Poniatowska

Dossier: Enrique Lihn




Indigenous Literature


Brazilian Literature


On Translation: Seeking Publisher

Translation Previews and New Releases

Nota Bene