Monday, March 25, 2019

The Fly Who Dreamed He Was an Eagle

Once upon a time there was a Fly who nightly dreamed that he was an Eagle and that he found himself flying over the Alps and the Andes. The first moments of the experience always made him deliriously happy; but after a time he would begin to feel uneasy, as he found the wings too long, the body too heavy, the beak too hard, and the claws too strong. Indeed, all this great apparatus made it difficult to settle comfortably on rich cakes or people’s turds, or to do a conscientious job of bumping against the windows of his room. The fact was he really didn’t like great heights or open spaces at all.
But whenever he awoke he would deeply regret that he wasn’t an Eagle who could soar over mountains, and was enormously sad about being a Fly—and this accounted for all the nervous flitting about and spinning and buzzing, before he could slowly settle his head onto his pillow.

Augusto Monterroso 1969
La oveja negra y demás fábulas/The Black Sheep and Other Fables, translated by Walter Bradbury

Faith and the Mountains

At first, faith moved mountains only as a last resort, when it was absolutely necessary, and so the landscape remained the same over the millennia. But once faith started propagating itself among people, some found it amusing to think about moving mountains, and soon the mountains did nothing else but change places, each time making it a little more difficult to find one in the same place you had left it last night; obviously this created more problems than it solved. The good people decided then to abandon faith; so nowadays the mountains remain (by and large) in the same spot. When the roadway falls in and drivers die in the collapse, it means someone, far away or quite close by, felt a light glimmer of faith.

Augusto Monterroso 1969
La oveja negra y demás fábulas/The Black Sheep and Other Fables, translated by Walter Bradbury

One out of Three

. . . You are suffering from one of the most common afflictions of the human race: the need to communicate with your fellow man. Since attaining the power of speech, man has found nothing as agreeable as a friend who will listen with interest as he talks about his sorrows and joys. Not even love can equal this feeling. There are those who are content with one friend. For others, a thousand are not enough. You belong to the latter group, and this simple fact is the origin of your sorrow and my profession.

…And so—obviously—the inevitable moment has arrived: You became physically incapable of keeping your wide circle of acquaintances up-to-date. That moment is also my moment. For a modest monthly fee, I can offer you the perfect solution. If you accept—and I can assure you that you will because you have no other choice—you can forget forever your incessant traveling, your baggy trousers, the dust, your beard, the tedious phone messages. In short, I am prepared to offer you a first-rate specialized radio broadcast. …It would probably be excessive to enumerate in detail the advantages of my system, but I would like to outline some of them for you.

1. A soothing effect on your nervous system is guaranteed from the first day.

2. Discretion is guaranteed. Although your voice will be heard by any individual who owns a radio, I consider it highly unlikely that persons not your friends would wish to continue a confidence whose background they do not know. In this way, we can reject any possibility of morbid curiosity.

3. Many of your friends (who now listen unwillingly to the personal version) would take an active interest in the broadcast if you merely mentioned their names, either openly or indirectly.

4. All of your acquaintances would be informed at the same time of the same facts, thereby avoiding jealousy and subsequent recriminations, since only their carelessness, or a chance malfunction of their radios, would place them at a disadvantage with respect to any of the others. To eliminate this depressing possibility, each broadcast begins with a brief synopsis of what was narrated previously.

5. Whenever you think it appropriate, the story can be made more interesting and varied, and more entertaining, with illustrative excerpts from operatic arias (I will not insist on the sentimental richness of Italian opera) and selections from the great masters. The proper musical background is an absolute necessity, and an extra record collection containing the most astonishing sounds produced by man or nature is at the disposal of every subscriber.

6. The narrator does not see the listener’s face, thus bypassing all kinds of inhibitions for him as well as for those who hear him.

7. Since the program is aired once a day for fifteen minutes, the confidential narrator has an additional twenty-three hours and forty-five minutes to prepare his text and definitely avoid annoying contradictions and involuntary lapses of memory.

8. If your story is successful and a significant number of spontaneous listeners join your friends and acquaintances, it will not be difficult to find a sponsor, thus adding to the benefits I have already indicated a solid financial profit which, as it grows, would open the possibility of absorbing the entire twenty-four-hour day and turning a simple fifteen-minute broadcast into an ongoing, uninterrupted program. To be perfectly frank, this has not yet occurred, but it could with a man of your talent.

Mine is a message of hope. Have faith. For now, concentrate on this: The world is full of people like you. Tune your radio to 1373 kilocycles on the 720-meter band. At any hour of the day or night, winter or summer, rain or shine, you will hear the most diverse, surprising voices filed with a melancholy serenity.

Augusto Monterroso 1959
Obras completes (y otros cuentos) / Complete Works (and Other Stories), translated by Edith Grossman

Saturday, February 02, 2019

Monday, January 21, 2019

signs + wonders

The avenue before us was well traveled by National Guardsmen and cops and lined with burned-out, gutted structures.
“So what you think, Paris?”
“Ain’t had much time to think, Easy. I had to do some fast talkin’ to keep my store here. They burnt down the market next door. I had to keep that side of the house soaked with a hose to keep the flames off.”
“You talk to many of the white people owned these stores?” I asked.
“A few came back yesterday,” he said. “Some more today. They’re like in shock. I mean, they don’t know why it happened. They don’t see how it is that black people could be so mad at them. One guy own the hardware store up the block said that if he didn’t put his store in, then there wouldn’t be no hardware store. He said that the people who live around here don’t want to own a business.”
“What’d you say to that?” I asked.
“What can I say, Easy? Mr. Pirelli works hard as a motherfucker out here. He don’t know how hard it is to be black. He can’t even imagine somethin’ harder than what he doin’. I could tell him but he wouldn’t believe it.”
I liked Paris. He was a very intelligent man. But he was a pessimist when it came to human nature. He didn’t think that he might teach that hardware store owner anything, so he just nodded at the man’s ignorance and let it ride.
Who knows? Maybe Paris was right.
. . .
I read the newspaper while sitting on the love seat in the no-man’s-land between the kitchen and the living room.
The police had opened fire on a Muslim mosque on Fifty-sixth and South Broadway. They rushed the building and found nineteen men sprawled on the blood-stained floor. No one was shot, the article said, but they were lacerated by flying glass.
The reason given for the attack was that a shot was fired from an upper floor of the building. But the real reason was in the adjacent article saying that twelve of fifteen thousand National Guardsmen had been pulled out of Los Angeles overnight. The police were afraid of losing their authority, so they responded with deadly force.
Gemini 5 had lifted off by then and the Marines claimed to have killed 550 Vietcong guerrillas in a coordinated attack. Martin Luther King had been in Watts talking about the aftermath of the riots with Negro leaders, and astrophysicists were worried that an asteroid named Icarus would collide with Earth in three years’ time.
To some people that space rock would have come as a blessing from God. Something sent down to Earth to shake off the invisible chains and manacles holding down five people for every one that’s walking around free.
The school bus brought Feather home a few minutes shy of four and she read to me from her textbook. It was a story about an old walrus who had to swim five thousand miles from somewhere in South America to Antarctica. Along the way the walrus saw all kinds of amazing things in the water and on the shore. He saw whales as big as islands and sea birds of every size and shape.

—Waler Mosely, Little Scarlet (2004)