Translated from the Portuguese by Charles Cutler
LILLIAN GISH'S WRIST
Six years I devoted myself
to the study of projections
and mathematical theories of error.
I had to be an ascetic.
My objective was very specific.
I wanted to know if Lillian Gish's wrist
would fit between my thumb and index finger.
The conclusion I reached
The margin of error was
that I could just as easily touch my thumb
and index finger
One night, strictly by chance, or by design,
I met up with Lillian and
I began blowing the blond
ringlets coming from her cloche all around her face.
But I forgot to see
if her wrist fit between
my thumb and index finger.
the greatest moment of my childhood,
I threw myself in a rage on the floor,
and smashed it hard with my fists.
OF MOLD AND ROSES
Next to me
on my bedside table,
I keep a bouquet of roses.
Every morning, first
thing when I wake up,
I carefully check the progress
to see if it has settled
on their skin.
When this happens
—it's very rare, but I delight in rare things,
and I'm very patient—
I give up sleeping
to watch the random,
thick growth of the mold.
Little by little it
creeps over the rose's skin,
feeds off it,
robs the rose of its shape,
and the skin under the mold is no more.
It's important to take note here
because just when
the mold has no place to go,
it creeps back over
in an act of infinite love,
the suicide finally complete.
The rose tries to escape by itself.
Just before, though,
I kiss it on the mouth,
then it leaves,
vanishing forever from my life.
And I drop off to sleep,
I am so tired.
Roses covered with mold simply exhaust me.
"FOR EXAMPLE, I NEVER INVITED A COCKROACH TO DINNER."
There once was a woman
who always liked to invite others
She made complicated puddings,
that it always took two others to finish them,
which is very dangerous
because if three people make the same thing
at the same time (more or less),
either the oldest one dies or the youngest one does.
Because there was a long wait for the guests,
the woman arranged things in such a way
that she was always in the middle
In the meantime, the maids one by one began to die
and the guests never appeared.
She began to suspect that
she had never invited them
or that she never had even known them.
She ate the pudding with the one maid left
and at times with a cockroach as well
—the maids always frowned on this,
but it too stopped appearing.
With all these troubles, the woman began to live very dangerously,
not bothered if her two maids
were both older or both younger.
It had always been the maids that died,
until one day, not having attended to things,
it was her time to go.
Afterwards, the maids opened the cupboard
where they had locked up the cockroach
and it emerged from inside,
hardly able to walk,
and as the guests
began appearing, each one
went around apologizing to the maids.
(WITH A DASH OF ANNE SEXTON)
I'm the one who went straight from breakfast to losing my mind.
I'm the one who got sick studying morse code
and drinking coffee clogged with cream.
I can't go on without Elizabeth.
Why did you let her go, madame?
What harm was she doing me?
I can only stand Elizabeth
washing my hair.
I can't stand you, madame,
touching my head.
I only came here, madame,
to have Elizabeth wash my hair.
Only she knows the right colors, the smells, the thickness
I like in my shampoo.
Only she knows how I like the water almost cold,
running down by body.
I can't go on without Elizabeth.
Don't tell me that nonsense about time healing everything.
I was counting on her being there the rest of my life.
Elizabeth was my Vixen Queen.
I had to have her fingers in my hair.
God, there must be a knife sharp enough to
slit your throat, madame, I'm never coming back
to this dungeon.
I was beautiful once, now I'm just me.
I won't be raising hell all alone
in this hole, never again, what did you do to Elizabeth?
Elizabeth was the Vixen Queen,
Why did you steal her from me?
Elizabeth's gone away,
that's all you can tell me, madame.
With drivel like that in my head,
How am I supposed to go on?
TALES OF DANCERS
During a benefit concert
one of the ballerinas that played the swan lost her footing and fell flat.
Her partners didn't say a word.
It was the stagehands for the grand piano and harp
who carried her off stage,
off to the wings.
The audience just sat there,
people seized the moment
for a cough,
for opening and closing a handbag,
or for sucking on a candy or blowing their noses.
The ballerina was easily replaced by another.
For one or two months she couldn't walk,
her feet hurt so.
Afterwards they stopped hurting
but she went on the same way, not walking.
I don't know how to walk any more,
she murmured when someone
urged her to try taking a stroll.
All I have is these ugly shoes,
way out of style,
right now I can't.
I'm copying a story verbatim by Hans Christian Andersen.
Which one? I think it's "The Tin Soldier."
Really? So how long have
you been doing that?
Forever, I can't stand to finish it.
Who are you talking to there, Bidinha?
Nobody, nobody's here.
Dona Alicia sent you this box of dried figs.
The ballerina began to eat the dried figs
one by one.
An acrobat missed one of those do-or-die jumps
and she ended up hobbling through the rest of her life.
All circus stories are sad and sordid.
This one is too.
The manager was worse than bad.
The acrobat wasn't fired,
she was forced to write a novel
in fifteen days.
The acrobat wrote so much and so hard,
the wrist of her left hand burst.
The manager was just as cruel
This time you're going to sell nougats
Ice cream won't work
because you'll let it melt.
Once a loser always a loser.
The acrobat was very ashamed
when the nougats melted.
Without anyone seeing, she
swallowed them soft
in front of all the customers
and paid for them out of her own pocket,
the pocket of the old taffeta dress with lilacs,
the one that belonged to a trapeze queen that once became distracted.
The story begins bad but
it doesnt end bad.
It simply ends here.
Later the acrobat hooked up
with some spiders
and they fled the place, one after another.
There are never enough tears
when you're trying to be beautiful
with all your might.
I wanted to be beautiful
and I thought to get that way
all you needed was ringlets in your hair.
I had them make me ringlets
with a curling iron and those papers.
People pulled my hair all the time.
They told me that to be beautiful
you have to suffer.
Later my hair burned up
and never grew back.
I had to go around with a wig.
To be beautiful
you have to suffer,
but suffering doesn't make us beautiful just like that.
Suffering doesn't bring
a reward or anything.
A toothache might really move our mothers,
make them console us over who knows what,
make them ply us with hard candy,
but the candy makes the pain even worse.
One kind of suffering
just leads to another.
The cause comes after the effect.
First there's the suffering,
then comes the motive.
It's the same with the wig,
From there you get your curlers.