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Published February 2022Become a subscriber
…victims of the questions: who is killing me?
To whom am I giving myself over to be killed?
The castrated men
However, with humans, castration should not be understood as the basis for denying the possibility of the sexual relation, but as the prerequisite for any sexual relation at all. It can even be said that it is only because subjects are castrated that human relations as such can exist. Castration enables the subject to take others as Other rather than the same, since it is only after undergoing symbolic castration that the subject becomes preoccupied with questions such as ‘what does the Other want?’ and ‘what am I for the Other?’Renata Salecl
What I believed I said
‘That’s a body,’ I muttered to no one or to someone inside me or to nothing. I didn’t recognise the words at first. I said something. And what I said or believed I said was for no one or for nothing or it was for me, who listened to myself from afar, from that deep inner place the air or light never reaches; where, hostile and greedy, the murmur began, the rushed, voiceless breath. A passageway. A forest. I said it after the alarm, after the incredulity. I said it when my eye was able to rest. After the long spell it took for me to give it form (something visible) (something utterable). I didn’t say it: it came out of my mouth. The low voice. The tone of terror. Or of intimacy.
‘Yes, it’s a body,’ I had to say, and instantly closed my eyes. Then, almost immediately, I opened them again. I had to say it. I don’t know why. What for. But I looked up and, since I was exposed, I fell. Seldom the knees. My knees yielded to the weight of my body, and the vapour of my faltering breath clouded my vision. Trembling. There are trembling leaves and bodies. Seldom the thundering of bones. Crick. On the pavement, to one side of the pool of blood, there. Crack. The folded legs, the insteps face-up, the palms of his hands. The pavement is made of miniscule rocks.
‘It’s a body,’ I said or had to say, barely stammered, to no one or to me, who could not believe it, who refused to believe me, who never believed. Eyes open, disproportionately. The wail. Seldom the wail. That invocation. That crude prayer. I was studying it. There was no way out or cure for it. There was nothing inside and around me there was just a body. What I believed I said. A collection of impossible angles. A skin, the skin. Something on the asphalt. Knee. Shoulder. Nose. Something broken. Something dislocated. Ear. Foot. Sex. An open, red thing. A context. A boiling point. Something undone.
‘A body,’ I believed I said or barely muttered for no one or for me who was becoming a forest or passageway, an entrance orifice. Blackness. I believed I said. Seldom the lips that refuse to close. The shame. His final minute. His final image. His final complete sentence. The nostalgia for it all. Seldom. Staying still.
When I said again what I believed I said, when I said it to myself, who was the only person listening to me from that far-off inner place where the air and the light is generated and consumed, it was already too late: I had made the necessary calls, and because I had found him, I had already become the Informant.
My first body
No, I didn’t know him.
No, I’ve never seen anything like it.
It’s difficult to explain what you do. It’s difficult to tell someone as they interrogate you with a brown, vehement, crepuscular gaze that it’s better, more interesting at least, to run through alleys than on the city streets. Is a city a cemetery? That it’s even better to run there than on a track. A blue place. Something that isn’t a lake. The knees are the problem, clearly. And the danger. It’s difficult to confess to an official from the Department of Homicide Investigation that danger is, precisely, the allure. Or the unexpected. Something different. To detail, in all its slow dispersion, your daily routine, so that someone interested in something else, someone interested in solving a crime, will understand that running through the alleys of the city is a better alternative to running on tracks or illuminated sidewalks: that is a difficult thing. To tell her: that’s really it, officer, the danger: what’s hiding there: what doesn’t happen elsewhere. It’s difficult to speak in monosyllables.
I was running. I usually run at dusk. Also at dawn, but usually at dusk. I run on the track. I run from the coffee shop to my apartment. I avoid sidewalks and roads; I prefer shortcuts. Alleys. Narrow streets. No, I don’t run for exercise. I run for pleasure. To get somewhere. I run, if you will, utilitarianly.
There’s no time to say it. It wouldn’t interest her. But running, this is what I think, is a mental thing. In every runner there should be a mind that runs. The goal is pleasure. The mind’s challenge consists of staying in place: in the breathing, in the panting, in the knee, in the hand, in the sweat. If it goes elsewhere, it loses. If it wanders off, it loses even more. The mind’s challenge is to be the body. If it aspires to it, if it achieves it, the mind then becomes the accomplice, and there, from that complicity, the detour that moves the mind and body away from boredom emerges. The detour is the pleasure. The goal.
Yes, sometimes there are dead cats. Pigeons. No, never men. Never women. No, none of that. This is my first body.
It’s difficult to speak to you informally. Why would that be?
To see you: clean-shaven, white shirt, patent leather shoes. We know that everything is a cemetery. An apparition is always an apparition. You tell me nothing changes. Why shouldn’t that be questioned? I’m sure you know how to whistle. You have that kind of mouth over the half-open mouth that neither air nor night comes through. My first.
Sometimes drug addicts. They share needles. They offer them. Yes.
No. I just run. That’s all.
The endorphins, they explain to me, cause addiction. You start to run and then you can’t stop. If that counts, then yes. Addict.
First there’s the sensation of reality that prompts the falling onto your own two feet. Once. Again. Once and again. Measured, the trot. The steps. It’s possible that someone runs away, frenzied. That intermittent relationship between the ground and the body – the weight of the two. Gravity and anti-gravity. A dialogue. A burning discussion. And the relationship, also intermittent, between the landscape and the mind. The silhouettes of the trees and the flow of the blood. Everything happens so quickly at the end, that’s what they say. The colours of the cars and the more recent concern. The angles of the windows and the memory or the pain. All one life: the words: all one life. The struggle, always ferocious, to concentrate. I am here. I am now. That’s called I Am My Breath. The internal sound. The rhythm. The weight. The scandalous murmur of the I within the dark fishbowl of the skeleton. But it’s still so difficult to speak to you informally. Only later the loud noise. The ardour. The air that seems to thin out in the nasal cavities: narrow ridges in the lungs. An implosion. That violent way the endorphins are unleashed, producing a euphoria that in many ways resembles desire or love or pleasure. What will come of all this, my First? The lightness. The speed. The possibility of levitating. When I start running, that’s the moment I’m searching for. That’s the moment I pursue. That’s the goal.
Yes, I write. Also. Also for pleasure, like running. To get somewhere. Utilitarianly. To get to the end of the page, I mean. Not for exercise. If you know what I mean: it’s life or death.
It’s difficult to explain what you do. The reasons. The consequences. The process. It’s difficult to explain what you do without bursting into laughter or tears, uncontrollably. My eye is looking at me now, unguarded. Before the image of the murdered body that inserts itself like white noise into the interrogation; before what we no longer see but can’t stop seeing, what the hell does it matter if we get to the end of the page or not? It’s a rectangle, don’t you see? I ask her. I’m not in any shape to say that doing this, getting to the end of the page, is a matter of life, matter of death. Where’s the blood that proves it? you ask me. Where’s my blood? you nod, perplexed.
No, I’d never seen him in the neighbourhood.
Yes, I do generally pay attention to those things. New faces. Lost pets. Businesses. Yes, personal, social interactions. But I hadn’t seen him around here. No.
Yes, I’m aware that he was missing a penis. Mutilation. Theft. Something that is not. I’m aware of all that.
Yes, it’s a terrible thing against the dead.
I can’t anymore.
A terrible thing. Yes. Against the dead.
The poetry field of action
The Detective from the Department of Homicide Investigation showed me a photograph of the bricks in the wall outside the Chinese restaurant, specifically the bricks from the corner where the restaurant ends and behind which the Alley of the Castrated Man unfolds with its monumental narrowness. They were already calling it that. It was almost immediate. The bricks, I couldn’t help but notice, were covered with the unreal light that often gets me out of the house and demands I inhale the air of the world at 6:15 in the evening. All this in the city.
‘Do you recognise this?’ the official asked with her gaze on the bridge of my nose, the tips of my eyelashes. Without taking my eyes off the box, I fell silent. I looked. I examined.
They weren’t hard to find. These diminutive words, painted with coral-coloured nail polish, were there, on that corner, under that hypothetical light, over the uneven texture of a brick:
beware of me, my love
beware of the silent woman in the desert
of the traveller with an emptied glass
and of her shadow’s shadow
‘Quite literary, don’t you think?’ the Detective insisted into my silence. ‘Your field of action, am I right?’
I smiled at her because I had never thought of poetry as a ‘field of action’, and because Alejandra Pizarnik’s lines were indeed present in a sudden here and now, a great, terrible thing against the dead. A deed. Rage in diminutive letters. Something tiny.
I didn’t look at her. I avoided looking at her. I kept staring at the photograph. I saw something else instead, you always see something else. I saw the images of an installation: Great Deeds Against the Dead, 1994. Fibreglass, resin, paint, artificial hair, 277 x 244 x 152 centimetres. Jake and Dinos Chapman, born in the sixties, had arranged three life-sized male figures around a trunk. Tied and naked, arranged in positions with vaguely religious resonances (a crucified body, open arms), the men hanging from the trunks were missing their genitals. I saw that. There, where a penis and testicles should have been, in their place, was tarnished, earthly flesh. Absence in red. Castration. All of it enveloped in the acrid stench of blood. All that in London. Jake and Dinos Chapman had declared to the press that they conceptualised themselves as a pair of sore-eyed scopophiliac oxymorons. Jake and Dinos Chapman claimed they were artists. I saw something else, and because of that, I saw you. A city is always a cemetery.
We were in the Detective’s office – a basement trembling with the sound of uneven voices and the blank velocity of papers passed from hand to hand – and, perhaps because of that, the miniscule words in nail polish seemed both more threatening and funnier. A children’s story. That type of cruelty. In this place where it felt like no light but the artificial kind could reach, where the Detect-ive’s eyes surely got used to their own opacity, the words of Alejandra Pizarnik made it so that the world out there, the world that had killed her, seemed benign or banal.
‘They’re brutal words,’ I finally told her, looking her in the eye, accepting her challenge. ‘The traveller with an emptied glass,’ I repeated as if I were reciting it before a hushed crowd made up entirely of children, ‘of her shadow’s shadow,’ I enunciated, slowly, as I realised that the Detective’s dark brown eyes, insistently watching me, full of concentration, the type of concentration that has always made me think of a mind while writing, were lit up just then. ‘Pizarnik always did that really well. Said brutal things.’
The Detective smiled at me. An echo. Something distant.
‘I knew it,’ she said, a strange inflection in some part of her voice as her hand leapt to my right elbow, lightly guiding my body, gracefully even, towards the way out of her basement. ‘I knew you and I would talk a lot about poetry.’
It wasn’t until after, long after, that I understood: the last thing she said was not an invitation but a threat.
When I reached the door to my apartment, as I turned the key for the third time to the left, I wondered if she’d been there, too. The installation hadn’t been in the city all that long ago, and I’m sure this is why the phrase I’d uttered in the Detective’s basement, probably at random, evoked the memory: Great Deeds Against the Dead. An incomplete, biased, real translation. An echo of Goya. A reverberation of the war. Great things, yes, terrible things against the dead. That touch us. Deeds against them. Beware of me, my love. I wondered if the Detective had also seen it or if she had only been referencing the engraving. The original. Francisco de Goya y Lucientes: Sad forebodings of what is going to happen. Bury them and keep quiet. There is no time left. Even worse. This is too much. This is worse. Great Deed! With dead men! I saw it. This is bad. The worst is too big. What is the use of a cup? The results. Truth has died. This is how it happened.
I wondered if maybe she hadn’t seen anything. If it had been nothing but a great coincidence.
As the door slowly gave way to the key’s clumsy buffeting, I remembered that Goya had said all that on a metal sheet. The titles like scraps of dialogue among the dead. The pencil wet with special ink on a plate protected with powdered resin. Then the heat, and the resin just adhered to the metal, producing a granular surface. All this in a city named Madrid. The wake of the resistance against the invasion of a man named Bonaparte. An uprising: eighty-five metal sheets, forty-five on the massacre and sixteen on the famine that, a couple years later, caused twenty thousand deaths, his wife’s among them. Fatal consequences of the war. That’s what Goya said. The metal plate coated with varnish and then, within the acid, only within the acid, the grooves marked in copper. The lesion emerged. The fingers of my imagination touched it, that lesion, in the static air of the apartment, when I was finally inside. The illuminated lesion. My eyes fell on it once and again. The cut. The fissure. Obsessive, my eyes. Incapable of seeing anything else. Blind to anything else. I fell onto the couch. Seldom the knees. My bag on the ground. The air that finally escaped through my mouth. I don’t know how to whistle. I remembered that. Then I wondered, there, immobile, curled up on the soft surface of the sofa (my left cheek on the seat) (my right hand hanging, orphaned, almost touching the floor), if the Detective, who surely had been there, at the much talked about exposition of the Chapman brothers, would have held, with a delicacy I found difficult to picture, the tall glass of champagne as she strolled around, with the tired tone of someone who has already seen it all, with that smug or prudent indifference, how incredible, how shockingly incredible it always was to see, regardless whether it was Goya or the Chapman brothers, an etching or an installation or a real event, the body of a castrated man. I wondered, still curled up there, my knees almost at my mouth, my right hand now brushing the floor, if the Detective, who had just barely finished interrogating me with great meticulousness and without any sign of tiring, with a discipline so fierce that it seemed not particularly human, had enjoyed the cocktail. The bubbles of the champagne. The light vaporous seething inebriation. The murmurs.
Victim is always feminine
It was after the third murder that the Detective sought me out again. She called me, and we arranged to meet in the café next to the Chinese restaurant. When I arrived, still panting after my fifteen-minute sprint, she was already waiting for me with an Americano – no sugar – on the empty side of the table. Her fingers drumming the beat of an old melody. The instantaneous impression that the woman lived inside a house with green walls, followed immediately by the impression that the woman didn’t have a house. No walls around her.
‘So you’re still running,’ she commented with that strange accent in some corner of her voice, on its outskirts, almost. In response, I nodded and moved towards the bar to say hello to the owner and ask for a glass of water.
Someone runs, I told you, convinced that everything was a cemetery. Later I acted as if nothing were happening. As if you weren’t happening.
‘Am I interrupting your work?’ she asked as she swivelled her seat around. It was clear she was no expert in the field of insipid small talk and was impatient to get to the point and address the matter that had brought us there, face to face in a frank attitude of expectation.
‘My work is a continuous interruption,’ I answered drolly, irresponsibly, trying to avoid the topic because I found myself – but the Detective had no way of knowing this – in one of those silent, unproductive cycles that, on other occasions, mostly before I picked up running, had sent me out to directly observe, in an obsessive immobility, the sky.
‘I suppose you’re already aware,’ she whispered and bent over her cup of coffee just to have the opportunity to look up from there. An abyss in her movement.
‘It’s been in all the papers,’ I confirmed.
‘An interesting case, don’t you think?’
I thought – and here to think really means to produce an image – about the castrated bodies of the three young men who had appeared, naked and bloody, on the city’s asphalt. I thought – and here to think really means to hear the echo – about the word castration and all the tragic references of the term. I thought – and here to think really means to see – about how long, about how interminable, about how incessant the word dis-mem-ber-ment was. I thought – and here to think means to quietly pronounce – about the term serial murders and I realised it was the first time I connected it with the male body. And I thought – and here to think really means to practice irony – that it was interesting in and of itself how, at least in Spanish, the word victim, or víctima, is always feminine.
‘Are you laughing?’ the Detective interrupted. Intrigued. Annoyed.
And it was right then that I thought, in the most untimely way, just like those clear days that appear amid the ashen ones preceding the explosion of springtime, that the asesino, the murderer, was really an asesina, a murderess.
And then I saw you out of the corner of my eye, like someone waiting to reach a difficult agreement. Like someone hopelessly waiting in a train station; like someone. The train passing by. The hand, shaken.
‘It’s the word víctima, Detective,’ I explained without any hope of being understood as I wrote the definite article and the noun on a paper napkin. ‘La víctima is always feminine. Do you see? In the recounting of the facts, in the newspaper articles, in the essays that will be written about these events, this word will castrate them over and over again.’
Over and over again. The echo. Over. Over again. The repetition. The sonorous phenomenon occurred, we both realised, when the café owner softly sang Gee baby, ain’t I good to you, and the coincidence, the dark humour of the coincidence, provoked a burst of laughter that I couldn’t repress.
‘And that’s funny to you?’
‘The song on the radio?’ I asked, trying unsuccessfully to draw her attention to what had just happened on the threshold of her ears. It can take so much work to listen to a song. I thought that. I thought: it takes so much effort to believe what’s before your eyes. And then, out of pure pleasure, I winked at you.
‘The castration. The double castration,’ the Detective clarified, concentrating on her objective and deaf to everything else.
‘No,’ I told her after giving it some thought. ‘No, I don’t find it funny at all.’
I’m sure I was telling the truth.
Then, without any transition, as if the Detective were rigorously following a screenplay I hadn’t read but was participating in, she said: ‘This was found in the hand of the second body,’ and placed on the table a white sheet of paper within which or on which someone had arranged a series of letters clipped from newspapers or magazines, making them, then, in the act itself, castrated letters, and simultaneously establishing not the absence but what was absent within the sheet. It was, of course, another Alejandra Pizarnik poem:
NOW THEN: Who will stop plunging their hands in search of tributes for the forgotten girl? The cold will pay. The wind will pay. As will the rain. And the thunder. For Aurora and Julio Cortázar.
I looked at it again, slowly, unable to believe that a woman so professional in appearance had just placed a sheet of paper that was a piece of evidence in my hands. The original. I ran my fingertips over its surface. I brought it close to my nose, expecting a peculiar aroma. The tribute. The plunging hands.
‘Diana’s Tree,’ I murmured without thinking about it, without really knowing how it was that I knew it or why I remembered it so clearly. ‘1962.’
‘You know it?’ the Detective immediately asked, and I couldn’t help but note she hadn’t called it a ‘poem’ or a ‘line’.
‘Everyone knows it,’ I told her, oblivious to the arrogance. ‘Everyone in the poetry field of action,’ I corrected myself. And before looking at the photograph in which the third Pizarnikian message appeared, I also couldn’t help but see that on the very surface of the name Cortázar there were hiding, threatening, a cortar and an azar, a cut and a fate – words that, in that moment, lacked all innocence.
The third message, written in lipstick on the sidewalk, said:
she says she doesn’t know the fear of death of love
she says she fears the death of love
she says love is death is fear
she says death is fear is love
she says she doesn’t know
The photograph of a poem. That’s what I had in my hands: the photograph of a poem. To realise that I had the photograph of a poem in my hands sparked a strange rage in me. Something like a shadow passed over the roof. That’s what some call melancholia. Or tree. Isn’t that true? Alejandra Pizarnik’s words left you mute for a long time, that’s what I perceived.
‘Tell me, please, Cristina, who is the “everyone” who knows this kind of poetry so well?’ And then I looked at the Detective again as if I’d just come back from a long journey or woken up from a very dark dream. Poetry. This kind of poetry.
I and who I was
I’ve said it several times, both in public and in private: I do not lead an interesting life. Though many would say that my field of action, as the Detective called it, is fiction, I’ve always secretly believed that my field, my action, belongs to poetry. Although this is because I consider poetry, in the most traditional and hierarchical sense, to be the crown of all writing, the goal of all writing, I rarely admit it to myself, much less in front of others. To accept such a thing would provoke great shame and great sorrow in me. To avoid both sensations, I tend to say that I’m a professor and that I like to run. If the questions continue, I may go on to admit that I write, and frequently, but I omit the titles and the number of books I’ve published. If pressed, I acknowledge that I like the peace of my office and the warmth of my apartment, especially the big bedroom windows that overlook the park where, with similar conviction, if total chaos, the poplars and pine trees grow. In any case, whether or not I say so in ceding to questions from others, it would be quite reasonable to describe my life as stable. Other equally precise adjectives would be: comfortable, relaxed, routine, pleasant. It surprised me that the Lover with the Luminous Smile would believe, even for a fleeting instant, that I could be a suspect of such cruel crimes, it’s true, but I didn’t mind. His light joke indicated to me that in some part of his head or desire he conceived of me or produced me as a woman that, being me, was really another person. A serial killer. Someone with sufficient cruelty or frustration or madness to attack men and violently, furiously, or indifferently cut off their genitals. Someone with sufficient physical force to drag the dismembered bodies down narrow alleys or along dark sidewalks. Someone, too, with sufficient delicacy to transcribe, with fingernail polish or lipstick, entire poems by Alejandra Pizarnik. Someone with abysses under their wrists. Someone with complicated eyes and tremulous hands. The hatred. The revenge. That the Lover with the Luminous Smile could consider me, again, even for the most fleeting of instants, even within the conspiratorial humour that precedes amorous sessions, a castrator, is something I found quite hilarious. So hilarious that I let out a long cackle and kissed him full on the mouth. So hilarious that I bit his nipples and pulled his thick mat of hair with a tenderness I only began to feel just then. It’s truly strange, I told you, how tenderness crops up sometimes. But as you weren’t there, you didn’t hear. As if to guide his hand towards my pubis as I mounted his hips. To pronounce the words: ‘These are two bodies.’ Enough to sustain, a little while later, a meditative silence at the very moment when he closed his eyes and exhaled, with delight, with a grimace of pain, with something like delirium, the breath of his pleasure. That. The last one.
I can still see myself looking at him: a body within another, interwoven, exhausted. His sex engulfed by mine. Great deeds, yes. Two bodies.
I can still hear the howl of the wind. And I blink. Once. And again. The goosebumps from what I observe: the absence. The unprecedented castration. From what cannot be observed. I still await the coming of blood. A drop. A flow. The dizziness. The weeping of the next of kin. The news of the death. The general stupefaction. I am still infuriated by the curious onlookers who lean out to see, to see you on the inside. To save themselves.
I’m still moved by the words that descended in droves, uninvited, and settled on the pillow:
at this innocent hour
the one I used to be sits with me
along my peripheral vision
How to read poetry
When she asked, I told her the truth: I wasn’t an expert on the subject. I had indeed read Alejandra Pizarnik – first because of the morbid curiosity inspired by the image of a suicidal poet; then because her books were difficult to find, making them expensive cult objects; later, almost at the end, out of pleasure. That’s what I said: out of pleasure. And then I added: out of terror. Because she uttered words that got lodged in my throat. Because she made her vertiginous descent into musical, bloody infernos that made me feel, frankly, as much attraction as fear. Because she played.
The Detective looked at me suspiciously. She rose from the chair in front of my desk and began, without asking permission, to examine all the books on the shelves that almost entirely covered the walls of the office. Her hand like a brush on the spines.
‘Do you remember the second man’s poem?’ she asked. Before I had time to answer, she added, her back still to me: ‘The cold will pay. The wind will pay. As will the rain. And the thunder.’
Her reasoning turned out to be obvious: there was a warning in these words, a sign she wanted to follow. A clue. I didn’t laugh this time, but I did stand up.
‘You don’t read poetry like that,’ I whispered, increasingly dumbfounded. ‘Poetry isn’t denotative. It isn’t like a manual,’ I was going to continue, but she interrupted me with a firm voice, and if I hadn’t known she was an officer in service of the Department of Homicide Investigation, I still would have recognised it as the voice of an expert.
‘But according to what I’ve read,’ she said, turning her face towards me in a dramatic circular movement, ‘it can be prophetic. At least that’s what some poets believe. That it has the power of prophecy.’
Defeated, I returned to my side of the desk and fell into the chair. If you’d been there, resting each of your palms on each of my shoulders, I would have been able to laugh. I would have been able to tell her: what I want is to stop seeing it. The noise of the wind seeped, as it had been doing for days, through the bottom crack of the window, and the sound automatically made me uneasy, an unnecessary internal turbulence. I wondered, though I wasn’t prepared to think about this kind of thing, if another man might die right then. If that man might be bathed in blood right now. Before me. The Detective, meanwhile, pulled out the complete collection of poetry by Alejandra Pizarnik, edited by Ana Becciú and published by Editorial Lumen, and she proceeded to read the back cover aloud, as if she were alone in my office, or as if she were the owner of the book:
Born in Buenos Aires in 1936, Alejandra Pizarnik published her first poems when she was just twenty years old. In the early 1960s, she spent several years living in Paris, where she developed friendships with André Pierre de Mandiargues, Octavio Paz, Julio Cortázar, and Rosa Chacel. Upon her return to Buenos Aires, she dedicated the rest of her life to writing. She died in Buenos Aires on September 25, 1972.
Without pausing, she continued with fragments from the back cover:
One of the most emblematic figures of Hispanic literature, controversial, polemical, who became a myth among adolescents in the eighties and nineties…deep intimacy and severe sensuality…intense insomnia and midday lucidity…her poems spread love and fear everywhere.
‘The rain,’ she interrupted herself, not closing the book, as if she hadn’t realised that a new idea had come into her head and that she was, in fact, interrupting herself. ‘The cold. The thunder. Don’t you think the next murder will happen in the rainy season?’
I hope I looked at her with the unease and incredulity I felt inside. Surely it was those two moods or those two emotions that led me directly to the irony.
‘Officer, do you even know when the rainy season in Buenos Aires is? I mean,’ I added, ‘after all, Alejandra was talking about the Southern Cone.’
The Detective closed the book, took her jacket from the coat rack, and winked her left eye.
‘Don’t be so literal,’ she said, just before opening the door, winking her left eye. ‘You don’t read poetry like that. But thanks for the tip.’
And that’s how, without even asking for permission, the Detective began to speak with me informally.
The cutting adjective
The eyes: big, inhabited, dark, close together, curious.
The hands: long, fine, bony, soft, amber-coloured, pianistic.
The hair: salt-and-pepper, gleaming, short.
The mouth: flesh of my flesh, grooved, open, nervous.
The voice: from another world, level with the floor, sudden.
The sigh: emphatic, obvious, sexual.
The skin: weightless.
The beard: thick, trimmed, masculine.
The gaze: netlike, embracing, what do you want from me?
The question: is it you?
The sky: open, dry, jagged, blue.
The answer: sometimes.
The laughter: funny, cautious, deep, divine. A bird over a marble tower.
The hand: on the shoulder, at the waist, caressing.
The wink: unexpected, angular, inclined.
The breath: lavender, heno de pravia, April wind. Mint. Childhood.
The laughter: interminable, discrete, it-approaches.
The gaze from afar: a bridge on the verge of collapse, a vine nearly snapped, a cry for help, a woman tied
to train tracks, an oracle, an investigation, a telescope.
The gaze from up close: a stabbing pain, a match, a burn, an ardour.
The stride: zigzagging, defaulting, dubious.
The question: is it my voice?
The answer: it is mine.
The noise: protective.
The alcohol: cold, banal, an anchor, a door, a button.
The voice: still from another world, distinct, multifaceted, deceitful, deep, guttural.
The hands: long, soft, bony, amber-coloured, pianistic, on the iliac crests.
The order: follow me.
The fingernails: trimmed, clean, closed letters.
The mouth: full, open, eager, nervous, imperial, drooling, wider open, denotative, with nothing-beyond.
The hands: on the hands, against the wall, keys. Locks.
The breath: electronica music.
The gaze: boiling, netlike, skylike, nightlike.
The hands: in the sex on the sex under the sex behind the sex.
The chin: on the left shoulder.
The mouth: ah, the mouth. The ear. The neck. The hair.
The sex: the sex.
The question: is it your body?
The answer: and mine.
The intellectual interruption: only the hounding of death hurls us so furiously towards the unfamiliar body.
The poem castrated by its own language
The Detective called very early because she wanted to discuss the subject of castration in some poems by Alejandra Pizarnik. She said it just like that, without preamble or explanation; she said it literally, with an overtly neutral tone: I want to talk to you about castration in some poems by Alejandra Pizarnik.
‘Over lunch?’ I asked sarcastically, trying to underscore the poor taste entailed by bringing food to your mouth while talking, with that same mouth, about penises and testicles severed from their bodies. I couldn’t understand why she sought me out so zealously; what good would my answers do.
‘Yes,’ she answered, overlooking the malice in my remark. ‘The usual place?’
When I arrived, as with our previous meetings, she was already there, waiting for me. Her eyes fixed on the door, her fingers drumming nervously on the table. She could hardly wait for me to sit down before handing me the menu.
‘Let’s order,’ she said, treating the food as what it was, a mere pretext to our true main course – castration.
‘So you still don’t have any suspects?’ I couldn’t place why I was so eager to irritate her, but when she snapped the menu closed, I knew I’d succeeded. The Detective was not in a good mood.
‘It’s a difficult case,’ she explained, admirably maintaining her composure as she raised her hands and let them move, for the first time since I’d been meeting with her, with some sort of grace, some sort of emphasis in the air. ‘Full of psychological nooks and crannies. Of poetic shadows. Gender traps. Metaphors. Metonyms,’ and as she uttered the last word, she bowed her head, then looked up from that position. Her body facing down. Her gaze looking up. That clash of directions. I’d seen her do this several times before, but it wasn’t until that moment that I understood it was her warning sign. Then the ironic smile appeared on her face: the thin corner that rose, in sync with her suddenly expressive hands, towards her temples.
‘Transnominations,’ I murmured, settling into those words that weren’t hers but mine. Feeling like an imposture of myself, I ordered a bottle of water from a busy waiter.
The Detective pulled some copies from her black briefcase. These partially wrinkled pages were printed with ‘On this night in this world,’ the Pizarnik poem that was published, as she informed me just then, in the Gaceta del Fondo de Cultura in July 1972. The Detective placed the pages on the table. Pointing at the underlined passage, she asked: ‘So every poem fails?’
She was asking as if I were wondering the same thing. She asked with the kind of knowledge forged in strange and un-comfortable coincidences around a glass of water or a belt where countless suitcases circulate as if part of the same eternity. She asked with my words. This is a Great Kingdom that is missing a queen or a king. And I, for a moment, for just a second, believed we were understanding each other.
on this night in this world
words of the dream of childhood of death
it’s never what you wish to say
the mother-tongue castrates
the tongue is an organ of knowledge
about the failure of every poem
castrated by its own tongue
which is the organ of re-creation
but not of resurrection.
I read carefully. I read with the kind of knot in my throat that threatens to become a domestic animal. I read and had to pour myself the first glass of water. How could I tell the Detective that every poem is the inability of language to produce the presence in itself that, by simply being language, is all absence? How could I communicate to the Detective that the poem’s task is not to communicate but quite the opposite: to protect the secret place that resists all communication, all transmission, every effort of translation? How could I tell her, without choking on the sip of water and the sadness that rose in me upon realising, again and again, that the tongue will never be an organ of resurrection, that words, as Pizarnik says a few lines later, in a declaration no less gloomy for its accuracy, ‘do not make love / they make absence’? How could I explain to this woman, so firm, so well uniformed, that while she pointed her short immaculate fingernail to the word castrated in a poem about the uselessness, the inutility of all poems, all I could do was reminisce about the language that is all memory and, in being memory, is all absence, the contour of the body and the sex of that thin beautiful boy with a thick, manly beard, that had appeared, literally out of nowhere, out of the nowhere that is sometimes the absence of the absence of language, declaring, in the most jocular and lighthearted way, that he was Sometimes-Him? How could I not read aloud, in the most tremulous voice, ‘where does this conspiracy of invisibilities come from?’ without causing that old shame she will never understand, the shame that isn’t wounding her, as it wounds Pizarnik, in her ‘first person singular’? How could I tell the Detective, stop here, at these lines: ‘what did you do with the gift of sex? / oh, all my dead – / i ate them i choked / i’ve had enough of enough,’ read carefully, see for yourself, again and again, confirm it, and use the same informal command, again and yet again, do you see how one goes on ‘wasting the gifts of the body’?
But in the end I decided to ask you all that, because over time you learn to pose questions to someone who can actually answer them. Your silence, of course, filled me with pity.
‘I just asked you, rhetorically, as you professor types say, if every poem is a failure,’ the Detective remarked with a certain tremor in her voice that became unequivocally hers. ‘It wasn’t so you’d start crying, Cristina.’
When she refilled my glass with water and placed it in front of me, I had to accept that, sooner rather than later, sooner than ever, the Detective and I were going to talk about poetry.
One day, without a doubt, we would.
At the beginning of March, on a day with clear light, the fourth man appeared.
Dismembered. No genitals. Covered in blood. A few young men who had gone camping on the outskirts of the city found him on the shore of a lake. When they got out of their truck, they noticed the smell and the buzz of flies behind the brush.
‘There must be a dead guy over there,’ they’d said, with that premonition that sometimes comes with dark humour, the class clown.
When they approached and saw it, two of them vomited.
It took two others thirty or forty-five more seconds to put the pieces together and form, from what was scattered on the ground, the body of a man. The puzzle of a body.
It was the youngest who called the police.
And then the terror and the clear light of early March became one.
They found the line from the poem later, during the first examinations. The Detective and the Detective’s Assistant couldn’t help but recognise the beauty in the phrase and the beauty in the composition of the phrase. And the macabre precision of the phrase: that beauty.
‘It’s true, death takes me in the throes of sex.’
Each word sketched this time with the (elongated) (smooth) (flat) stones of the adjacent lake. The art of the earth. Forms of procedural composition.
Messages under the door
Everything would have stayed on track, which is often a track towards oblivion, if it hadn’t been for the apparition of the messages under the door. In the beginning of the period I called the period of the Castrated Men, there was nothing but a generalised apprehension that made me suspect everyone, especially lovers of contemporary art. Then, as the days passed, the indifference – impulsive, sagacious, cruel – emerged. As we know, it’s impossible to live in a state of perpetual terror. As we know, when terror is permanent, the body finds or produces protective mechanisms among which the impossibility of feeling, the impossibility of paying attention, the impossibility of articulating nonsense, are frequent. I had already found myself in this stage of denial when I picked up the first message that appeared on my apartment floor.
I remember everything: it was cold, a cold that was quite unusual in April and for which, therefore, I had not prepared myself either physically or psychologically. I returned from my office as I always did, on foot, hurriedly, almost jogging, savouring the anticipation of my warm room, my silent ceilings, the surrounding calm. I opened the door then, in a state of total helplessness. That’s how I saw it. I realised it. I went towards it. It was a sheet of bright white paper folded in four almost-perfect sections. The writing, in a dark reddish ink, an ink that looked as if it were made from a thick wine, from an almost blood-and-bone wine, was steady, stable, pretty. On that paper and in that ink, on one of the four almost-perfect sections, was my full name: cristina rivera garza. All in lower case. Then, on the sheet, in handwriting that feigned calm, not haste, the message said:
‘i want to talk to you. will i be able to?’
The message, of course, was unsigned. It came, in fact, without any identifying information other than the shape and colour of the handwriting, the choice of lower-case letters, and the brevity of its challenge. Will I be able to? I asked myself for a long time. Motionless. In a state contrary to anticipation. I asked myself silently and out loud. I asked myself and the window in which my reflection, distorted, asked me at the same time. I asked the landscape, confusing the evening poplars with tall European elms. Will I be able to? A long time passed in this very way.
Translated from the Spanish by Sarah Booker and Robin Myers.
Sarah Booker is a literary translator and doctoral candidate in Hispanic Literature at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. Her translations include Cristina Rivera Garza’s The Iliac Crest and Grieving: Dispatches from a Wounded Country, and Mónica Ojeda’s Jawbone.
Robin Myers is a Mexico City-based translator and poet. Recent translations include Copy by Dolores Dorantes, Another Life by Daniel Lipara, The Science of Departures by Adalber Salas Hernández, and The Restless Dead by Cristina Rivera Garza.
Translations of Alejandra Pizarnik come from the following sources: Diana’s Tree, translated by Yvette Siegert, and Extracting the Stone of Madness: Poems 1962–1972, translated by Yvette Siegert.
Cristina Rivera Garza is the author of numerous works of poetry, fiction, and criticism. Recent publications in English translation include Grieving: Dispatches from a Wounded Country, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, The Taiga Syndrome, winner of the Shirley Jackson Award, and New and Selected Stories. Rivera Garza is Distinguished Professor and […]Read more