I recently joined a Portuguese e-publication where I must compose a poem weekly, and my self-proposed theme was to translate paintings that I favoured throughout my life, which, knowing myself, is a monumental task. I’m not a visual creator in the slightest, but am instead wholesomely auditive; I suffered of poor eyesight from early age, but was only treated much later, already in early adolescence. This generated an imbalance in how I most confidently translate the stimuli I receive from the world; my trust always falls, firstly, in what I hear, and not in what I see.
I’ve always been incredibly fond of visual arts, and I ache to develop a veritable visual mythology to guide my creative endeavours. This project is one such exercise I hope may help in that task, and this second composition (the first was on Munch’s Sun), even in translation, is already roughly contoured by my visual weaknesses. Hopefully, they become better as I write more of them.
Still Life with Profile of Laval has always been a painting of great intrigue to me; the deformity of Gauguin’s sculpted jug, tactically placed behind the assortment of fruits, immediately inspired the unbecoming of the latter; that is the inevitable disfigurement — the perishing — which Laval seems to gaze at in stolid anticipation. The vividness of the objects and, in contrast, the smokey dullness of every other element in the painting (including Laval himself), seemingly translates two aesthetic tempos in a single stage: there isn’t so much a dichotomy of being/not-being, but one of being/waiting-to-no-longer-be; a slow and dormant corrosion. Gauguin’s signature diagonal strokes, which I call his texture of dissipation, add the final weight to what is, in my view, a beacon of painted brilliance.
I truly hope you’re well, and thank you, João-Maria.
Little exists in record regarding Telémaco Augusto Santana. From some spotted newspaper publications regarding his work, to some handful of poultry donations made to the parish he inhabited, his name seems almost like a dent in an ancient structure; part of a gestalt of ages, another function of the uniformity of time. A texture, almost, void of essence, void of movement. Curiously, and from what I gathered, he was anything but a quiet adornment during his lifetime in Lisbon. Any perspicacious eye upon his poems would quickly detect the lavish aura he emanates as a figure of social class and probity. An authentic “flâneur“, an ogive filled with grandiose ideas and a profoundly refined inclination for the aesthetical. An indication of his zesty and obstreperous spirit can be found in the curious preface he wrote for “Lucilações“:
A Short Statement
Poetry in Portugal has no true market. The few exceptions are revered poets, and only when these are edited by publishers with a strong commercial amplitude. Most of the literate public does not read books of verse… They lightly peruse them. I decided, then, to not make this book a commercial publication. To my Friends and Critics that have accepted to appreciate my modest poetic works, I intend to offer a unique edition of this new book. And shall do it with much pleasure, since I never thought of myself as a bookshop success. Poetry is the expression of beauty through image and the highest expression of the spirit. —
The image is the medullary substance of Poetry. It is its vital essence. When Poetry achieves its maximum simplicity, it finally enters the realm of maximum beauty. Therefor–says a great Master–, the highest poet among all must be that who, without bombastic artifices nor loud resonances, still manages to impress our sentiment, thrill us, commove us, and imbue us with the fluid and luminous harmony of his verses. I know that all my poetic flights do not reach such grand and delightful heights–but, even then, as the only indelible compensation, I received the profound satisfaction of seeing my verses worthy of flattering words from demanding critics, and from notable and famous poets alike. Some of them do not know me personally, which further values their compliments.
To all who transmitted their appreciations that I deem sincere and very honouring, here I leave my deepest gratitude.
This opening text is bounteous in its richness; we, the poetic dilettantes, oft complain about the economic impracticability of our verses. Poetry, indeed, does not sell easily, nor has it ever sold easily. It’s of some strangely dim warmth to see those concerns echoed in the somewhat-distant past of 1946, a decade that saw the artistic beginnings of Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens, E.E. Cummings and Richard Wilbur, among myriad other illustrious poets of the modernistic 20th century. Telémaco himself enjoyed a pleasant hue of success and was both frequently vaunted by critics in publications, and respected among Lisbon’s literary circles. Beyond his concerns regarding the state of sustenance through verse, we find a lucid interpretation of poetic production during his time: simplicity, imagery, sensitivity. Although I’m not completely certain of who the great Master is, after some brainscouring, I now believe he might be referring to Alberto Caeiro, an heteronym of Fernando Pessoa that enjoyed publications from as early as 1925, and was commonly referred to as “the Master” by his other heteronyms, as well as many other poets of the same era, due to Caeiro’s sensism and connection to the simple and natural.
The only surviving remnants of Telémaco‘s life are his books; though diffuse and often of expensive collection, most of them exist in various antiquaries in Lisbon. I found “Flores da Minha Alma“(1942), “Lux Bruxoleante“(1941) and “Revérberos da Poente”(1945) all available for purchase, though all at prices a bit beyond my means. I have never found “Lucilações” available elsewhere, which is unsurprising, since it had no commercial publication of any form, unlike the other books he has produced. The word chosen as the title, however, was completely unknown to me. “Lucilar“, in an elder form of Portuguese, means “to glisten”, making “lucilações“, “glistenings”.
Coming from a post-war era that glistened with fertile poetic ground — insofar as it generated some of the most potent authors of our collective history — and, concomitantly, enjoying such a pronounced respect from literary critics and a wide breadth of relevant influences, it’s difficult to cogitate how it is that Telémaco managed to wane and be forgotten, even among our national lyrical pantheon. Upon opening the book, those doubts become nubile vapours rather quickly:
In that town the bloodthirsty Mars showed the fear that dominates most. — Satanic vision!… And everywhere mounds of corpses and birds of prey!…
Sounded the triumphant hymn of the rational beast.
Blazes danced, smiling with joyful and tragic effects, like the ideas of repulsive men that only in evil feel satisfied, unknowing of the light of Jesus’s Verb.
Rises now the hallucinating pain that in children is more feared and strong: In the smoldering, annihilated town, two small children, through death, sought to find the gods of their home.
Hand-in-hand, calling for their parents, they hopped from rubble to rubble. They were featherless eaglets that, orphaned, were afraid of everything…
–War!… Feral chess where playing we feel from blood, the inebriation!
And the Sun was already dying. Covered itself in a glittering mantle… and the orphans, in a plangent pain translating so much naive love, still clamoured, through long laments: — Oh, dear parents!… where do you lie?… and only the horror of Death replied!
With high indignation the Wind portended. With kisses of emotion gracing little angels.
— Oh false world, of eternal mystery, from a human Heaven to an earthly Hell!
If Fernandes de Sá was of difficult translation, Telémaco is tortuous at best. His Portuguese, though eloquent and highly expressive, suffers from a terrible contortion in order to establish a rhyme. This is, in fact, an issue often seen in many lyrical poets of any historical era: one cannot sacrifice fluidity for melody, since there is no melody without fluidity. Telémaco shows a puerile and sequacious tact with his own productions, whose subjects nearly always fall upon Christian mythology, verses on nobility and the pious deeds therein, and courts of love.
Telémaco was likely a man of wealth and stature; a nobleman, a cavalier of abound polish with a deep influence on the social strata of his time. The reviews I’ve read show a trend of vacuous and sycophantic praises of what he wrote, and considering he decided to include these reviews on the last pages of this privately published book, one might assume he was greatly proud of them. Even without an affirmed status, it is not inconceivable that he’d enjoy mild success during his lifetime; his poetry was, after all, congruent with the times, and was virtually riskless in form or content, which only further asseverates his apparent erosion through the tidings.
INEFFABLE DESTROYED WORLD
The soul of a good Mother is a large world all made from love and highest caring. A love so pathetic and profound there isn’t a plume that can describe it.
It is born indelible and fecund, and is a blooming field, always beautiful, even when the trembling of destiny overstays inside the kingdom of torture.
The most anguished human pain, from the martyr Mother is intensely cast, shattering the motherly heart.
In front of the death of her loved child… — Oh! what world, ineffable and destroyed and what longing from a volcano of tears!
“Reviews of «Reverberations of a Sunset»”
“From Alexandre de Matos (Most inspired poet and distinct publisher):
«From all literary species, poetry is that which most easily expressed ideas and sentiments; but prose isn’t far behind it. Well, in its small “Aerial Preface”, so lovingly filigreed, there’s proof that Telémaco even in prose is a poet. …Reading the “Symphony of the Heart”, for me the most interesting part of the book, I was able to listen and enjoy, executed in seven poetic compositions, the sonata of harmonies that pulse within his heart!»
(the other two reviews follow the exact same lines; sometimes, with the exact same expressions. There are also ten additional pages of different reviews)
“Lucilações”, although not the most augmenting of reading experiences, was a generous exercise in conception for me. I can picture Telémaco having extensive colloquies with his literary consorts, or ardently complaining about the insuperable shedding of leaves from the Chilean peppertrees that line the central avenue of Campo d’Ourique, where he most likely lived. I can picture him, a stern and stolid man, a true homme du temps, with a decorous modesty and calm spirit. I can picture him in cafés, reading his esteemed Júlio Dantas, or regional papers like “Alma Nacional” or “Ecos de Sintra“, and, more sprawling still, is the tact I can have with what he felt and how he felt it; how he distilled what he saw, the beauty of it, the sense in its beauty. I can compose how delicately he saw his spirituality, how fervently he saw his God, a distensible and glowing figure that centralised him inside a dazed and conflicted world. I can mimic the dehiscence of his smile whenever he received a warm review of his verses. I can, during moments and with much force, be an echo of Telémaco within my mind, and thus, for a brief moment, he exists once again, and may now feel the glorious pungency of the peppertree that lonesomely guards my own street.
Poetry, no matter its value or commercial viability, will never be destitute of its singular most convex purpose: to condense the spirit which orders the hand; its pain and pleasure, memory, pulse, texture, skin. It’s a print, henceforth indelible and eternal, even if just in the minds of those who’ve read it, which, as the tendrils of some immortal creature, seeds further the existence of a collective being, through Art, in Art. One last tether between us all, beyond the tiring artifices of social maintenance, of having to.
I truly hope Telémaco had a wonderful life distant from the wounds of his period on Earth; I hope, similarly, that as Telémaco, my creations might inspire someone, far in the future, to wonder how I was, how I lived. I wonder, then: what would they come up with?
Before the world spun suddenly into this crucible of fear and solitude we identify today, I had plans of collecting forgotten relics of the Portuguese written arts. Lisbon is thronged with “alfarrabistas“, stores with the unique purpose of selling rare and used books, many of them bought in bulk from personal libraries found by folks once they lay their relatives to rest. These libraries often contain, besides various editions of World Literature classics (your common James Joyce “Ulysses” and Leo Tolstoy “War and Peace“), an even more interesting assortment of gifted-re-gifted books that bounce from generations without much thought to their existence. They are to bookshelves what pebbles are to beaches; but I’ve always taken a special interest in these books. Unfortunately, I was only able to find two before the entire globe crashed atop itself:
Encontro (Poemas D’Amor) Albino Fernandes de Sá
The inscription in the second image reads: “Ao sempre querido e inesquecível amigo Hélio, a quem este livro deve, em grande parte, o seu aparecimento, com um almoço de eterna gratidão, oferece: O autor Albino Fernandes de Sá” Translated: “To my ever sweet and unforgettable friend Hélio, to which this book owns, in large part, its existence, I offer, along with a lunch of eternal gratitude: Encounter (Love Poems). The author, Albino Fernandes de Sá”
It’s rare to find a book of limited printing, especially one such as “Encontro“, which was printed in 1954, fourty-one years prior to my birth; but rarest still, it seems, is to find one such book that was gifted by the author himself to the friend that inspired it. One is often given to reflections regarding the loss of being, that shedding, and concomitantly, where the scales of our shedding might lie; foundered in some sea-floor, rived by caracoles and barnacles, or earth-bitten under metres of soil, near a tall building or pile of rubble. None of us hold much of a clue regarding the destination of our droplets, our scales, our shards that stamp upon things our sole impression of what they are. Not much can be found regarding Albino Fernandes de Sá. Some registries of old, lost publications, indicate that he might have published, in collaboration, a series of treatises and short anthropological works regarding the old Portuguese-African colonies. Bibliographic guides have cited Governador da Hulía, a book he wrote apropos the ever-shifting political powers in the region of Hulía, Angola, is one such example (though most documents I’ve found cite this as a reference to Mozambique and not Angola, and the reason for such has eluded me thus far). Fernandes de Sá, however, was not a colonial native. By reading poems in “Encontro“, I rapidly gathered his place of birth to be Barcelos, in the Northern Portuguese region of Minho. It’s likely that he wasn’t from the city itself, since he mentions a village in the poem “A minha aldeia“, and later the river Neiva, in the aptly named poem “O Neiva“.
“Encontro” chronicles, in punctilious detail, the entire life of Fernandes de Sá. It delineates his birthplace and parents, his favourite flowers as a child, his journeys to the coast and first sight of sea, his first voyage to the colonies, his upbringing with his “bark-haired” loving sister, his first love, marriage, first daughter and son. The hymeneal bliss in which he found himself, as if citterns played everywhere, buoyant as bubbles along the smoothest whiff of air, plays a coronary role in this book. Fernandes de Sá wrote of it all in a-hundred-and-fifty sonnets, which are, thus far, the only creative publication I’ve found under his name; even then, “Encontro” was a personal publication. It never had a commercial form nor was it ever available beyond the copies requested by the author. I haven’t, however, found any other extant copy of the book, either for sale or under private hands. The last record of Fernandes de Sá publicly available was a print of his presence in a literary gathering in Sá da Bandeira (present-day Lubango), dated 1963. I found no evidence of living descendants ever returning to Portugal, but it is indubitable that they exist, albeit perhaps disconnected from the written aspect of Fernandes de Sá‘s life. This leads me to the rather feeble conclusion that this book I currently hold is, with a strong chance, the last remnant of Albino’s personal writings, and that it likely came from the private library of Hélio himself, the friend that inspired its creation.
Nature has its lovers, that charged with affection, with sugar, she, sometimes, employs in the making of vistas glazed in a thousand colours!
Radiated by auroral showers, it slithers through the moss-green web of the view, beaming with freshness, from Antas, the Neiva, lined in flowers.
It seems like a mirror of luminous crystal, in which my sumptuous village sights its own profile of emerald and sapphire.
Since my youth I returned its ardent love. I figure that within my blood runs the dew that flows in my sweet and beautiful Neiva.
A dream that has not died
A dream that has not died: my Angola. Since youth, I wanted to give it my life. It smiled, fair and colourful, like to the sun smiles a corolla.
Its voice was a coo of a dove that between the boughs sings invitingly. I made her my bride, my most wanted, and she, in sadness, consoled me.
I loved her with passion; in her, my dreams of love and beauty came to find warmth and home to live happily.
I then decided to give her my vigour, my life, my blood and my love, all of which, far from her, would die.
(Note: these translations are not entirely faithful to the original metric and scheme of the poems, since most of them are written in a form of Portuguese already adapted to sonorific effects; these translations merely intend to mimic the original sentiment of the text)
Those scales — shards of impression — may fall anywhere indeed. It’s uncertain to me if “Encontro” was first produced in Angola, though the date of its publication and the last record of Albino both congruently indicate that it was written and printed there, in Sá da Bandeira, mid-twentieth century. I know not who carried it to Portugal, where it was kept or how long it percolated, from a hand to another, until it was drowned beneath multitudinous old books on the most varied subjects, and lastly, picked up by me, likely due to my profound weakness regarding the shaded outline of spring swallows. Every attempt I make at alchemising a possible story sounds overly poetical and contrasts with my knowledge of this world. This now lonely, diseased, and at times, unbearably real world. What I know is that the words of Fernandes de Sá have found another “encounter” in their subtle existence, and that, at least for now, they have another home in which to perdure, another memory to cling to.
The other book, “Lucilações” by Telémaco Augusto Santana, shares many elements with this one, but has many more elements unique to itself; sadly, in fear of making this post any denser, I will publish it at a later date, but as soon as possible.
I hope you enjoyed this brief journey into the oblivion of words; I have more planned, hopefully, if and when things resume to themselves. I would also like to deepen the prose of these voyages; unfortunately with the case of Fernandes de Sá, I’m not sufficiently knowledgeable of Northern Portugal, nor have I ever visited Angola (only Mozambique and South Africa).
The house slopes down from the holt, pieces of wenge sorted among lithe vertical panes, casting licks of sun upon the floors. The back-porch hung above the echo of a stream; it no longer ran even a hair of water. Standing purposefully near a dammed lake, during early mornings, one couldn’t detect the house from the trees due to a thick, sulphurous mist, and at the lips of a summery evening, one could enjoy the tunes of laughter from swimmers, or the sound of timber and scent of resin, a feeling of tempered rapture gracing the thoughts with smooth sand. As the chrysalis of moths Felix and I often found and kept in a shoe-box, that entire world seemed quiescent, and even my memory of it resists the curse of movement. Ingrid, the wife of the German architect whose hands birthed that beacon of modernity deeply enclaved in a Portuguese forested desert, spent her days reading Vesaas; with her short, brown hair and irises of a deep blue steel, she was unlike any woman I had seen. She held Vårnatt or Liv ved Straumen with such a grip of absorption, such a pure and centred consciousness, that as we looked for her hammock along the wide porch, she was entirely invisible against the quiescence; if we were to paint the vista, she’d be indiscernible from the yellowed foliage, and whenever she rose, the neutrality of her being was so that one couldn’t detect any happiness or sadness, just a form, a morphology, a rustling of leaves.
I spent an entire summer with Felix, the wheat-topped son of the couple, but I never met the father. As we made our way along the house, however, we could piece him together from the lines of his creations: the monumental skylights — as uncluttered as skylights could be — were two metres wide each and went uninterrupted until their sum was four, and not a speck of dust could be detected against the light blue; the only visual assonance was the armour of the skylights, eight thin white lines veining the heavens, and one final beam to tether them at the center. Felix and I gathered that he ought to be charismatic and surprisingly forthcoming, or maybe, he was frightened of being stuck, or senseless, or lost. All the rooms of their home were echoes of the last, all made of different tones of wood that demanded adjustment from the eyes; in certain instances, it was nearly impossible to tell what was wall, floor or ceiling, as the three were lined with small wooden panels whose shade could only indicate that, perhaps, the floor was a month older than the wall, or the ceiling was from trees of an adjacent plot to those of the counters. A thick layer of lacquer atop the panels robbed them of any residual contrast, and as the house sloped from the holt, once within, it felt like it was hovering above it, descending into the breath of nature itself. Felix and I figured he must have been melancholic, but not outwardly so, a very thin patina of melancholy that, perhaps, in any normal day of his life, he’d never guess he even had. There was no garden and, as is customary to European summer homes, no physical or imagined separation between what was property and what wasn’t. The house melded into the airy forest almost organically, but still, never failed to draw light into itself or to feel somewhat foreign. As we rose an effigy of symbols in order to give bevel to his father, the sentiment of notness never left the tips of our cogitations. We knew he wasn’t extravagant, or terribly daring, or colourful, or had any bombast; he was another figure of quiescence, and, perhaps with even bigger force, his absence was the most bombastic element of his being. His signature wasn’t just his subtlety, but his inexistance. After we became privy of that, we quickly fatigued of piecing together a presence, or labouring over the fables behind his miniature planes, which were all collected inside the only room completely walled in glass, the only one that felt earthly, human, present. We decided, instead, to pick apart a putrid log fallen onto the echo of the stream and play with the beetle grubs.
I never saw Felix after that summer, twelve years ago. The house was vacant three years after we were there, and after five with a caretaker, it was abandoned and scheduled to be demolished today. Now, I gaze at the same sky of limpid blue and fill it with the fiction of lithe white veins and a strong central tether, and from me spring the sounds of swimmers laughing, and slowly, another summer loses its place in reality, becomes historical, and I walk into my own subtle inexistence, my own inch tucked downwards from the holt, swallowed by the earth, echoed in my dreams.
(I’m going to start publishing some “humbler” poems I have stored and continually write; although I’m quite demanding of, if not the quality of the poetics themselves, at least the attempted quality of the posts, as well as their parsimony, I realise that I’ve become quite obsessive with it, which ebbs against me rather than flow in my benefit. There’s no use in being associated with just density, just longevity, or even just the maximum of what I can provide, if that comes at the cost of the development of veritable writing versatility. Some will indubitably be worse than others, and I still prefer my denser, longer works, if not just because I truly lucubrate over those extensively, but I hold the belief that all of creative work — mine or yours — has a tangible intrinsic worth; perhaps not to all, but it does to me. One ought to practice what one preaches.)
Thank you tons, you guys, João-Maria.
(Also, a huge thank you to Sapna, and the power-double from StarTwo [visual artists and storytellers with such enviable skills, one would be tempted to steal their hands], for nominating me for awards; I don’t reply solely because I have a golden rule of only creating literary-themed posts and none other, otherwise this blog would be a flurry of piano album reviews and tributes to deciduous trees, but I truly, deeply appreciate you guys remembering me; if I did awards, I surely wouldn’t forget you either)
(And a monumental bow to Kaiter, for including me in his circulars whenever my work passes the readable threshold; to be included is — if one is attentive to his beautiful talents, rectitude and rigour — beyond any word that synonyms incredible, and I’m tremendously grateful. If anything, I’m already immensely grateful that I get to enjoy the other contents in his blog and circulars, whose eminent taste I’d recommend to anyone who’d enjoy a step above my own works.)
These days, to write feels almost strange, almost selfish. Torrents of flurries of anxieties ignite the nerves, and one feels leeched before the first phrase forms. Solitude outcasts the voices — depersonalises — and what once was an interaction of linings, echoes of a singular voice with many textures, seems now like a procession of isolated galleys. There is no dismissing of these voices, they haul the murderers, the mercenaries of our creative constructs. A succession of disasters that reshape, with the tools of torture, a disjointed spectre of reality, one that bounces only from itself, and is only madness.
We become inured to the tragedies of our miracles. I see now a Europe leeched dry of its fortitude; Lisbon is empty, and it seems that I plash about inside indifferent space. It feels colder, now, but only because it feels the same. The old gypsy moth flaps its thin veil of dust just the same, crowned in indifference, and my lungs can no longer complete a conscious breath; half of them seems filled with a tasteless disease, and the other half bubbles. It’s fear, the whole sum of it. A small thing traveled so far and rived our world, a world held together by fragile specks of dust with lungs brimming with fear, a world that thrashes around, enchained, servile, a cold point in a warm room. We forgot how to fear wisely, we became inured to the tragedies of being, we’ve heard of them time and time again, how many have died, how they suffered, how the bones of their calloused hands are now the palisades we gawk at, how the arts of those we’ve lost are the lymph and blood of beauty, a beauty made with the hardest of stones abraded by the softest of waters, a beauty made of loss, of cost, of brokenness, and so much of it is now sand in a Greek coast, ash in a Chinese garden, pearls of rime in a Peruvian summit. Our numbness to what once was is filled with fear. We’ve seen a history so unforgiving, we cannot move a foot without the miracle of forgetting, all immediately or simply slowly, that we are here merely to perform a disappearance. This is not our task, this is not our purpose, this is not the whole of what we are, but as one fills the lungs once more and feels them bubble, as one dreads that incoate breath paused by illness and fear, one cannot fail to remember suddenly that half of life is paused with unbecoming, with shedding. Conclusion is a messy, hungry master; it feeds and expands, much as a disease, until there is naught but itself and the warmth of emptiness. I cannot walk in my own city, but I can see it dry and wither from my room, I can see the spectres dart and fling about, the gypsy moths and the pigeons, aureated with the sheen of their indifference, shall now and for a short while be the rulers of our frail legacies, and they shall rule with effortless justice. After all, they have no need to forget, and as blindness is such a dear consort to fear, I spend my days trying to forget even what is to come, trying to knit, below those I love the most, a net of artificial safety. I try to give air to their lungs filled with fear, yet I have so little to spare. Afraid and enclosed, we wonder then: what will tomorrow bring? Another malaise, another death, another end to the means of living? A longer shadow still, it seems, than that of falling so violently ill, is the sensation of falling regardless, the slow and breath-stealing descent that has stricken us, falling, destitute, sick, in pain, afraid. Our pains are fresh, still, and it is long before they heal, and none alive today shall forget the tolls of this tragedy, but it is of little use to ironclad our much-too-real paranoia now, since more wounds will inevitably open. What truly matters now is the power of our painful difference in this world, because as much as we may never again forget the tolls of this immeasurable descent, we must just as strongly be reminded of our ability to alter it: stay home, be generous, listen, be protected and protect those you love. None of us is alone, we are all responsible, we are all entombed by the same fears. Be safe, for you, for us all.
Children picking up our bones Will never know that these were once As quick as foxes on the hill;
And that in autumn, when the grapes Made sharp air sharper by their smell These had a being, breathing frost;
And least will guess that with our bones We left much more, left what still is The look of things, left what we felt
At what we saw. The spring clouds blow Above the shuttered mansion-house, Beyond our gate and the windy sky
Cries out a literate despair. We knew for long the mansion’s look And what we said of it became
A part of what it is … Children, Still weaving budded aureoles, Will speak our speech and never know,
Will say of the mansion that it seems As if he that lived there left behind A spirit storming in blank walls,
A dirty house in a gutted world, A tatter of shadows peaked to white, Smeared with the gold of the opulent sun.
A Postcard from the Volcano, Wallace Stevens.
There’s no peace at all. I came nearer to the sound, a day cast by a wax-white sun that swelled with a tepid aura, and oozed suavely into the shade of the bushes. There’s now but serried bricks and mounds of pale rubble, spotted with blackness that would trail into the brambles and blackberries. My father’s childhood home is now a print of a time that moves in all directions, and not a speck of memory stands within the reticulated squares which were once rooms, not a piece of tinged cloth used to press a pan, not a foot of an old cabinet, or shards of a vase, not even ash from when the house was consumed. Even a ghost by my side, in a deadness as potent as that which whispered by, would undoubtedly find itself sucked dry of its hyaloid windiness. The only thing hammering the mind were flocks of motors rushing upwards nearby; the first national road of Portugal, built years prior to my father ever seeing the first haze of light, was still intactly conserved, heat bounced off the new asphalt like a transparent scourge, dead as the aurora of the derelict, and cars seemingly flutter along a road that has seen wastelands become radiant settlements and return to wastelandishness in the span of a decade or two. A crooked path finding itself stuck underneath the skeletons of the cycles.
There’s nothing left for us. In a land treacly with the scent of orange, pear and grape, a soil thick with bounty, a mantling velvet hued of peridot, there’s a legacy of small bones and abandonment. One of my aunts, taken by typhus at a count of no more than three years, rests earthed-up somewhere along the rocks, near a cork-oak; she was taken to silence before she heard even a song. Beneath the unstained, swelling sunlight, my grandmother had ten children, surviving two of them. The other she did survive ran sylvan in my imagination when I was a child; he was a poet, they say, gifted at the conjuring of words, talents he exhibited from young age. He’d stride the village clamouring his tunes, a chamberless troubadour, a puerile Baudelaire collecting lent lilles and gifting them to the damsels along with mellifluous sonnets. From while to while, however, he couldn’t hold himself against the streak, and was pursued by a bout of inner demons that, seemingly out of nowhere, would give him implacable depressions. Out of all he did write, only a handful of letters he sent from Lisbon to his mother and siblings survived; and, despite my trials, I was never granted a chance to read any. I fill, then, with buckets of vivid paint, what he might have expressed and how he might have impressed it, how his heart may have been burn-bitten, how what environed him as a child and adolescent, the squalid house in which he grew, the indigent life he likely lived, all serve to create this warm, celestial dream in which I conceive of him not as a lost genius, but a genius at trying, beyond his means of trial and beyond the disinterest he was probably met with, as one may assume by the lack of surviving papers.
He died relatively young, purportedly of epilepsy, resulting from complications he had at birth. Unlike the youngest sibling he lost, however, his tombstone still lies in a common graveyard, next to his mother, not two kilometres beyond the forsaken ruins of his childhood. Of what he left, like a pool in heat, all has but dissipated along the web of his multitudinous siblings.
A little ways forward from the derelict house, I can sit atop the brims of a century-old bridge over-crossing a faded stream, upon which only flows a capillary of water, and overlook the fields: there, in the distance, before the hills preclude the view, I still find no peace at all. Peeling back the cover of humidity that beclouds my eyes as the dry sunlight penetrates them, there stands a field of potatoes that was once arable year upon year, owned by a man that raised me year upon year; there, I first had laid a seed, and first harvested the bulb of my seeding. There, I owned my first dog, Estrela, that every afternoon would be released and wander through the entire village, be petted by the baker and the paperboy, the priest and the butcher, and upon the unmistakably voluble and striking whistle that man produced, she would return immediately, without falter. It was a mechanism, a discipline, that I find branded in my stringent mind in form of a whistle that I will never obliviate. There I first fed chicks and was first pecked when I took their eggs, and first darted around twisting reeds river-side so I could break one off and use it as a sword, or a spear to look for spider burrows along the mounds of excess earth from the ploughings.
The field, as the stream, has now all dried-up, and a sheet of hearty gold overlaid it through all manners of desiccated shrubbery. In all of its slumbering victory, looking at it now, from afar, from an underworld of beastly distance, it gives me a terrible cold. There’s no peace of all. The man who raised me there is buried not twenty-steps from the grave of my poetic uncle, which is two metres from my endlessly sacrificing grandmother, which is two kilometres away from my aunt which will perpetually rest in a youthful silence. There comes a point in one’s life where home is but a vast geometry of longing, an unbearable resting place, a cold light. A place shadowed by the towers of our loss. A place with no peace at all, that no one left.