From Death on Rúa Augusta, a Verse Novel by Tedi López Mills

….

0

By the body of that man named Gordon
(next to a swimming pool, beneath a tree)
there was found a scrap of paper, on which someone,
perhaps that very same man named Gordon,
had scribbled the following words:
“Anonymous says: this can neither be read nor understood.”

1

On the very first morning of his new life
Gordon (Gordon of blessed memory)
was doing drawings for the grandchildren of his neighbors
and sprucing up the garden for his wife, Donna:

look what I planted today – he said to her –
heliotropes and roses and geraniums for you,
mud for me, words and worms for you, a pebble
or, what’s this? glass! a drop of blood,
Donna, my blood for you.

Thus Gordon at play in his garden
in the suburbs of Fullerton, California,
thus he played and then sobbed stretched out on the ground
with his drop of blood,
the black mouth, the immense mouth
taking vengeance for that sudden stain,
the unnecessary stain of silence
after that glass in the face,
the gentle face of Donna:
I’m sorry, I beg you your pardon, a thousand times I’m sorry
until she picked him up off the ground
and took him into the house and washed him and stroked him
my beast, you’re my little beast
and touched his lips with the point
of a rag, whispering
I hate you, Gordon, and he laughed.

2

Finally calm at night, Gordon
sat down at the dining room table and wrote in his diary:

……….today I cut my skin with donna again
……….I thrust my hand into the mud and grabbed a root with pincers
……….a very tough root and I twisted it and broke it and the root screamed:
………………..it’s a lie, gordon,
……….all the while I pulled at it, you’re nobody, you crazy, useless old man,
……….I beat it till I killed it,
……….I’m still somebody, when I go out
……….in the morning to take a turn round the garden
……….the neighbors and the grandchildren of the neighbors
……….call out “hi, gordon” and I call back
……….“hello neighbors and grandchildren of the neighbors”
……….and I walk up to the pool which is everybody’s pool
……….where don jaime stands, the gardener,
……….combing the hair of the water,
……….and we talk like two old friends
……….until he leads me back to my house with donna

On the page, Gordon draws the route,
making an oval and writing beneath it “pool”
and up above an enormous sun, a stick to one side
that’s supposed to be him next to another, fatter one
that’s supposed to be don Jaime.

……….we walk along this line
……….leaving dirty footprints on the grass, silent
……….because I don’t have the courage to tell don Jaime
……….that I’m collecting souvenirs of pools,
……….numbered, named, a photo or a drawing,
……….the pool of the desert, the pool of the meadow,
……….the pool of the mountain, rectangular
……….among the dried leaves or round when the summer heat
……….approaches making geometries in the air
……….bouncing on me and so I think, I build a wall,
……….I’ve seen many pools over many years
……….as well as holes without pools in my head
……….digging with clamor an indistinct well
……….in which the shape of my face drowns
……….but today I have another thing to confess
……….I got mad at donna and cried in the garden
……….and she wiped my lips with her rag,
……….it stank of humid oil, a sticky tongue
……….donna kept pressing me where is the money, gordon?
……….she said in a low voice, where did you hide it?
……….what money, donna? she laughed and it hurt.

Gordon finishes his notes
with a list of things to do next day.

……….tomorrow morning I’m going to:
……….1. make breakfast for donna, rolls and warm milk with a
……....….teaspoon of honey,
……….2. study my book of origami and learn how to make a coyote
……….….and give it to donna,
……….3. read and underline the guidebook to spain and portugal,
……….4. look through my blue notebook of pools and my white notebook
……….….of drawings where did I put the shadow of the mirror I
……….….left behind one day stuck there?
I asked donna jokingly and she
……….….looked at me worried I never saw anything she said,
……….….I winked at her and made a face better let’s forget about it, donna.

….

3

Gordon used to work in an office,
checking the numbers of products sold
comparing them to invoices, but one morning
he could no longer connect the numbers with words
he began to erase the numbers that chased
his black pencil, tore through the sheet,
covered his face with his hands,
could no longer remember anything
neither what was the desk he was sitting at,
Gordon, nor the telephone,
nor the woman at the door asking him
what happened Gordon, why are you crying,
why did you throw everything down on the floor and he replied
because I am Gordon, I, Gordon
and I know nothing absolutely nothing.

The doctor came and Donna came and Ralph came,
Gordon’s best friend, and the three of them surrounded him,
and Donna took him by the hands and led him to the door:
let’s go home, Gordon,
but he clung to the desk
there were so many drowned in that pit,
and he had to save them all, no, Donna,
let me be, I’m Gordon, I rescue the dead and kill the living,
and once again the piercing laugh fell broken from the ceiling,
but Ralph grabbed ahold of him fiercely
and dragged him out of the office and the doctor
stuck a needle in his arm,
the doctor in the long coat and glasses,
and they all looked on:
It’s Gordon.
No, no it can’t be,
he was always such a calm fellow.
But now just look, he’s gone crazy…
No, no I just can’t believe it.

….

4

And thus began Gordon’s new life.
He opened his eyes, Gordon, at the break of day,
today is yesterday is tomorrow is the day before yesterday
is monday is friday is sunday
is night is afternoon
listen here Donna, listen to my song.
One finger it’s me, another finger, it’s not me.
One finger it’s you, another finger it’s not you.
Cut, Donna, or pinch?

And he put his hand on her hip
and then his hand all by itself crawled down
to the elastic band of her panties
and all by itself crawled in and walked
on its five fingers all the way to the hairline
and here it stopped:
leave me alone, Gordon,
said Donna
but the hand sunk itself into her curly hair
and stuck one of its long fingers into the slit
it’s not me, Donna, it’s my hand
and Donna pushed him out
and leapt out of the bed with a scream.
I’m going to tie that hand up,
I’m going to tie it to your side until it learns its lesson.

And thus began Gordon’s new nights
first with his right hand bound with rope,
then with his left, both fists immobilized
with cloth so that we don’t hurt you, Donna repeated,
It’s only a game, Gordon, my beast, my little beast.
And Gordon smiled at her with his hands bound
in front of him and started to sing his song
once more
to Donna
from the very beginning.

….

5

Gordon has four books on the table before him:
How to Keep Busy With Nothing to Do,
Gardening for Beginners,
ABC of Origami,
Travel Guide: Spain and Portugal.

These were a present from Ralph,
along with a blue notebook (for swimming pools)
a white one (for drawings)
and a green one (for a diary).

In each book Gordon made his mark:
a black G with yellow borders.
Then he examined the books
in search of any sort of trap,
any secret message hidden among the pages.
Before he began reading them
he placed them on the grass outside,
each one open in the exact middle,
saying:
today they’ll sleep outside
and if they’re still in the same place in the morning
they can come back in.

And all four came back in.

He was less strict with the notebooks,
he let them rest one or two days on the table,
not even glancing at them once until finally,
moved with pity, he approached the pile and wrote his
……….full name
on the first page of each one:
Gordon Smith.
In the blue notebook he wrote: My Pools,
in the white: My Drawings,
in the green, his favorite: My Diary, and underneath:

……….MONDAY
……….today I took out the trash,
……….today I had rolls and marmalade for breakfast,
……….today I brushed my teeth,
……….today I went out into the garden and greeted the neighbors
……….today the grandchildren of the neighbors were not around,
……….today don jaime wasn’t around,
……….today I ate a lot, and later had dinner.

When he made a full stop with his black pen
he sensed a presence above his shoulder,
he turned around and there was no one there
……….and yet there was.

Gordon knew it, and closed his eyes
until he saw the face and asked him: who are you?
and the face with the crooked teeth, the old face,
replied: My name is Anonymous.
And on the next day, the diary entry was much better.

….

6

Anonymous taught Gordon various things,
for example, how to fill up with more words
the empty spaces between “I took out the trash…”
and “I went out into the garden”
(or between “I ate a lot…” and “later had dinner”).
Gordon started to scribble:

……….It’s me crazy Gordon
……….today i put on a dirty bathrobe
……….donna yelled at me don’t be a pig you imbecile
……….i spat on the floor is that what you want
……….my spit you stupid woman
……….i chased her all over the house
……….up and down
……….i pulled donna’s hair
……….we finished falling down on the parlor floor
……….i whispered in her ear you want me to stick it in
……….then i cried into the rug
……….donna kicked me like a dog
……….she threw water on me
……….i imitated the way her teeth stick out
……….donna cried we embraced
……….i realized that donna
……….reeks of my money
……….then i went out into the garden.

Like that? Gordon asked Anonymous,
who narrowed his eyes just for a moment:
what large eyes he has, thought Gordon,
and looked at Anonymous’ lips:
they were moving, chewing something invisible,
Gordon tried to peek inside but the space was black
so he threw back his head,
nest of murmurs, he thought, of rumors,
Anonymous gave Gordon a shake:
no, stupid, not like that,
before you put down anything, first, nice and elegantly,
on the left side of the page:
write Dear Diary…

So Gordon wrote it, as elegantly as he could.
Then put down your sentences in order,
commas, periods, no splotches:
everything that you can about Donna, her guile, her tricks,
how she kicks you, steals your money, hits you with her rag,
whispers with Ralph in the kitchen
while you’re setting the table,
and then write down a thought,
some sort of noble image, beautiful,
about the nature of gardens
and persons,
let’s go I’ll dictate.

He also taught him how to say nothing for hours,
to stay quiet in his chair and stare at a point of light
on the white wall, is that god? he asked Anonymous,
the light had more light in the middle, fire on the edges,
Gordon felt it burning in his forehead,
and the hoarse voice of Anonymous swelled enormous:
it’s me, Gordon, god is not my light but your shadow.
And he learned to believe in his shadow with the light for contrast.

….

7

The first time that Gordon saw the ocean
it was years ago in Newport Beach
it made such an impression on him that he couldn’t
think of anything else all that day or night.
Standing with his feet in the sand, barefoot,
his white legs two columns
thinly facing the horizon,
he confessed to Donna:
I never imagined it would be so big, so unstable.
Is it gray or blue?

He stood there staring at the sea, sitting on the sand.
The foam flung itself against the beach
along with pieces of wood and plants and shells,
he couldn’t believe it, Gordon, so much foam
turning over and over, so much water swelling
to fall against the beach with bubbles
disappearing immediately why? he asked Donna,
she just looked at him, stunned: don’t act stupid, Gordon,
what do you care,
and she went off
running into the sea.

Gordon approached the shore with caution,
like a clever hunter (he said to himself)
who hasn’t decided yet whether to finish off or pardon
his trembling and terrified prey.
Who are you? Gordon asked the ocean,
because somebody was stirring about inside there,
somebody was making noise in the water
complicating the silence
in that perfect sphere of a Sunday
that Gordon had prepared so carefully in his head:
I’ll be there with Donna,
I’ll put the big towel on the sand
which I haven’t yet come to know
and upon it a basket full of food
napkins, plastic plates and one rose
for you, my love, and Donna will give me a quick kiss
and I will say to her, Donna, I love you.

But that’s not how it
turned out the ocean always before him
the ocean which he never lost sight of,
unquiet, repetitive,
what does it want? Gordon asked with a grimace
twisting his lips.
He saw Donna’s head in the water
crossed suddenly by a spark of light
and felt offended.
What an ocean more like a puddle! he yelled standing on the shore
the water swirling around his ankles,
lapping them again and again with its foam
as if it were searching for something in his skin
to grab onto but couldn’t, scraping it then
before it retreated muttering between the rocks
you, me, you, me, sun, sun, sun
pricking your eyes
fake raven, cardboard raven
Leave me alone
said Gordon,
pasty sea pasty water back and forth you make my head spin,
and slowly, without shifting his eyes from it for a moment,
he retreated towards his towel.

….

8

Anonymous does not respect me,
concluded Gordon while coloring
a mountain range at night with his sea-blue pencil
and yellow stars in the heavens
above the mountains, and in one corner
of the page with his ivory pencil the fringe
barely visible of the moon.
He wrote down the name of each thing
so as not to forget them next time
and have to repeat the same landscape
as happened before
page after page
with a simple tree in the middle
and a little red cabin on the left.
Donna said to him: you always draw the same thing,
Gordon, how boring!

He closed the notebook without signing the drawing.
Anonymous wasn’t showing up.
Gordon examined the white wall,
sometimes Anonymous slid through there,
a rough silhouette that resembles fear,
hey, Gordon, and then materialized in his favorite spot,
between Gordon’s scowl and the surface of the table,
and then there began that chat of his voice with his voice,
only Gordon was able to distinguish
who he was, and who Anonymous,
no third party, even though it might so happen that from far away
Donna’s scream tried to undermine them
but Anonymous always reminded him:
don’t you answer, and both of them laughed.

Where are you, Anonymous, Gordon whispered.
Yesterday before he left he promised
to dictate some noble phrases,
beautiful things on “the nature of gardens and
……….persons”
in exchange for which Gordon would tell him
about dinner with Donna and Ralph.
Gordon had made up a list of topics:
Donna’s lilac-colored dress,
her plunging neckline, like a wound in the chest,
her fixed smile full of rosy mother of pearl,
the perfume of her nape, the music in the background,
Ralph with his black pointy shoes,
his hair dyed mahogany,
his coiffeur frozen in another dimension of time,
the winks exchanged by Donna and him while Gordon was speaking:
don’t be silly, Gordon, they said again and again and he grew quiet.

If you don’t come in two minutes, Anonymous,
I’ll start writing everything as I please.

Where do you go when you go,
who else is it you’re helping.

Gordon smacks his forehead with his fist:
Anonymous you traitor.
And without even glancing at his watch
starts writing as he pleases.

….

9

donna sets the table
i say to her
sure for him
the lace tablecloth
the silver service
the crystal
for him you cook and dress and paint yourself
earrings bracelets necklaces
all the shiny things
that i gordon never see

ralph arrives and you give him your hand
he kisses it with a disgusting slurp
while i
gordon
disappear
painting my ray of mockery and silence
and when he asks
how’s it going gordon
you remember me now don’t you

and both of you laugh as if you knew me
i bare my teeth
i’m beast i’m a little beast
i sing
donna elbows me in the rib
that’s enough, gordon
i show ralph my hands
don’t pay any attention to him
and off we go into the dining room
nobody can break me i say
i’m the strongest of them all
donna serves the drinks and winks at ralph
and he responds with knees pressed together
the record sounds like a very wet needle
scraping across the flatness of the night
it can be heard behind the curtains
anonymous, are you there?
there’s nobody there when i pull the strings
close them donna screeches
ralph and she dance
my spirit of crystal
my spirit of paper
i didn’t see him leave
i didn’t see him arrive

i point out the white wall to ralph
he caresses donna’s shoulder
his hand never leaves her waist
what are you muttering there gordon
i lay down on the carpet
much to ralph’s delight
just look at you gordon, that’s enough gordon
i insist on imitating a caterpillar
crawling over the floor
bending at the waist up and down
enough already gordon donna howls
and goes into the kitchen
ralph picks me up with one tug of the arm
twists me
and dinner is on the table
maybe we should tie him up Ralph jokes
i’ll behave myself i tell them and myself
silent as a stone my sealed lips
i promise them

somebody’s singing in my head
the unburied on the riverbank
bones of my body

anonymous or who
nothing to do with me i pronounce
neither the bones nor those words
aren’t you going to speak, gordon?
asks ralph the great communicator
with the spoon in his paw
donna told me that you’re making use of the notebooks
have you read the guidebook to spain and portugal?
remember if you get well we’ll go

say something gordon answer him don’t be a jerk
orders donna.
and the book on origami?
(the coyote is a secret and only anonymous knows
how i’m building his nose step by step
pretending that it’s a house or doors
a fence of tangled wire
those fangs in donna’s skin
those fangs of my coyote
when i finish it
she’ll have to beg me again
gordon let go of me
but i won’t pull those fangs out
until she kisses me
in the mouth as she used to wanting
always more)
ignore him
says donna
they go on talking, moths flapping around the lightbulb
of trips never taken
trips that we’re going to take
look at him:
if i gordon were able to speak
if i gordon were able
what would i say to them
anonymous
about the world about life
outside
about you with the grass
now grown as tall as your neck?

….

10

In the book of origami
in its short prologue, barely one page long
Gordon reads
slowly
very slowly
that the art of fabricating objects from paper
without cutting, gluing or decorating it
but merely by folding it
(the paper)
is so ancient as to be lost
in the mists of time,
although it’s possible
as the next paragraph explains
that it was first created in Japan, where it has been practiced
for many centuries with unsurpassed skill
and is divided into two categories:
……….1. ceremonial figures and gifts,
……….2. birds, animals, fish, insects, flowers, furniture.
“Some models
— the prologue concludes with enthusiasm —
even have movable parts:
swallows that beat their wings
when one pulls their tail
or frogs that hop
when one strikes them
lightly with one’s finger on the back!”
Yet nowhere do the authors explain
the art of making coyotes in Fullerton, California,
at the sill of a window with dirty panes
against which Gordon rests his face, puffs,
makes his own coyote from condensation
air and dust, with jaws wide open
and he writes: TRANSPARENT COYOTE
and underneath, in small letters it’s me Gordon,
he waits a minute
then looks again: don Jaime appears in the garden
pushing a lawnmower among the hedges,
Gordon closes his eyes
realizing that the fear he feels
in the side of his heart
is nothing more than his soul.
So i do have one then he says with emotion,
and draws it on the windowpane:
the shade of a wafer reflected back
along with the coyote, how do you draw fear?
Gordon asks,
then draws a straight line
his finger squealing across the glass
with the rumble of the lawnmower.
Gordon hears Donna calling him
from upstairs, but noise is a prison
he says, and i can’t get out.

Bios

Tedi López Mills

Tedi López Mills was born in Mexico City in 1959. In 1994, she won a scholarship from the Jóvenes Creadores program of FONCA, and in 1998 was awarded the first poetry scholarship of the Octavio Paz Foundation, which resulted in her fifth book of poetry: Horas (Premio Juan Pablos al Mérito Editorial, CANIEM). Her other volumes of poetry include: Cinco estaciones, Un lugar ajeno, Segunda persona (winner of the 1994 Efraín Huerta National Prize for Literature), Glosas, Luz por aire y agua, Un jardín, cinco noches (y otros poemas), Contracorriente (winner of the 2008 José Fuentes Mares National Literary Prize), Parafrasear, and Muerte en la rúa Augusta (for which she was awarded the 2009 Xavier Villaurrutia Prize, awarded to writers by their peers). She has translated numerous works herself, including an anthology of the American poet Gustaf Sobin and Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red). In 2012, her first volume of essays, La noche en blanco de Mallarmé was published by the Fondo de Cultura Económica in 2004; this was followed by Libro de las explicaciones, essays (Almadía, 2012). Tedi López Mills is a member of the Sistema Nacional de Creadores de Arte. The July 2011 edition of InTranslation included several of her poems in the English translation of Wendy Burk, who recently was awarded an NEA grant to translate Contracorriente.

Charles S. Kraszewski

Charles S. Kraszewski was born in 1962. Poet, translator, and literary historian, his most recent books are Irresolute Heresiarch: Catholicism, Gnosticism and Paganism in the Poetry of Czesław Miłosz (CSP, 2012) and On the Eternal Happiness of the Saints (IJS, 2012), a translation of St. Robert Bellarmine's De Aeterna Felicitate Sanctorum. Two volumes of his original poetry are to be published in the Spring of 2013: Diet of Nails (Červená barva) and Beast (Plan B Press). Also forthcoming in 2013 is Rossetti's Armadillo, a collection of his verse translations from various languages that also contains a chapter on the process of translating Tedi López Mills' Death on Rúa Augusta.

Muerte en la rúa Augusta. Copyright (c) Tedi López Mills, 2009. English translation copyright (c) Charles S. Kraszewski, 2013.