John Taylor – 3 Translations of Veroniki Dalakoura
The Second Death of Ang. D.
This is not wordplay. I come back into the world powerful and joyful, with all the capabilities of chemistry.
I am on a ship deck. I gaze at the sea, gulp down the foam of the waves, enjoying a similar route. Daddy. The dance of the angels lulls us to sleep. A mother dances, leaving behind her simple desires, exhausted in a great ballroom, as white as her rippling breasts. The violin accompanies the lovelorn daughter’s melody. Someone shoves her up against the wall and it collapses under the weight of doubt. She met a strange lover in the castle of a miserable province (that was also in fact odorless, for several times she chanced upon her telltale mark in that vast, wide-open garden). I was told a series of nightmares somewhere in that place, a little above the roofs of the houses, thus at a height where all risks of colliding with the jutting peaks of haughty apartment buildings could be avoided. Time ran backwards. The sound of her steps—when she was still vivacious and pleasant—could be heard with a special sensitivity, fortifying her tender need for attention. Her eyes were the protagonists in the comedy of Gender, contriving games so innocent—such was her natural talent—that even her father, like all sentimental Daddies, would touch her red lips with dignity at first, then be offended when she, discreetly biting his extended lower lip, would respond: “Not here, Daddy. I told you, No-oo.”
We traveled for eight whole days. On the ninth, I met his Irish friend. His difficulté d’être, which indicated a life more intense than melancholy, had been the cause of several passions and idylls. His senses nourished an infinite respect for the soil. Thus, whenever he fell like a godsend from the heavens, covering the distance to the earth in a split second, he would touch the ground with awe.
After a few days, my interest in the two boys began to wane. They disappeared for several days. I saw them again, by chance, at a student party. “Let’s go to Matelles,” they suggested. “When are you leaving?” I asked. When I returned to my room (since I was supposed to wait for them there), I fell asleep. Later the two friends woke me, and while I was walking to the village and still feeling fast asleep, I told them a dream.
When I had finished, we had already arrived. My friend was calm. I initiated a halfhearted conversation that quickly fizzled out all by itself because it was obviously pointless. I had tired of discussing and defending surrealism, precisely because the two boys were bored and even more essentially exhausted: they passed over whatever I brought up or alluded to with exaggerated speed.
The Irish fellow grew silent. The other boy had begun to get drunk.
I did not know what the consequences of his drunkenness would be.
Because, approaching me, he drew back at just that instant when I was ready to attain the unattainable. I looked at him and, as he guessed what my intentions were, he grabbed me by the nape of my neck, pushing me down so hard that I vomited and nearly hit the ground. Then, mopping off a bead of sweat off his forehead with his left thumb, he asked me whether I would be able to bear the revelation of utter solitude.
“I do not know,” I replied. “That would depend on the number of senses that I had. In truth, how many senses do we have?”
“For eight days you were so gentle to me,” answered my friend, “that I forgot your true self and wondered where you belonged. This is the first basic rule. You belong everywhere and this definition implies a wholeness that fulfills—in the same way that it, too, is fulfilled. Today, if I were asked who you were, I could not answer specifically. I will say nothing more. However, I remind you that goodness, which rarely surpasses tolerance in quality, offers you compensation that, in my terms at least, is a right. One of your wishes will come true. My power is human. I am simply drunk on a heavenly wine. And since the heavens have no ability, by their very nature, to distinguish good from evil, my power is a product of your own mind, which took me in. So what do you wish?”
Two days later I ran into him in front of the entrance to V. Park. He was drowsy and on his white pants I detected some peculiar stains: he had drunk wine, he had wept, he had spit all over his body from the ankles up.
“But don’t you go to school?” I asked him.
He replied that it bored him. And then: “Inventors of the world unite before it is too late!”
Three months later on a Sunday morning, I made him out standing across from St. Philip’s Church. He was filthy and his long, straight blond hair fell down nearly across his eyes.
“What can I do for you?”
“Give me something to eat. I don’t want any money.”
That night, I could not get to sleep. His worn-out shoes, his socks, tossed into a corner of the toilet, began to metamorphose into a clean but peculiar garment; only after I had put it on could I fall asleep.
The next morning, it was foggy. We went out and then came back up, but before we reached the upper floors, “I don’t remember your place,” he said. “Let’s stay in the courtyard, cook on the stairs, shit in the corridors—like this.” He took off his clothes and, as I watched him, I tried to foretell whether there would be a next time. That same afternoon, I convinced him. We entered the house and, just before turning on the lights, “Good God,” he said, “this here is ugly and beautiful at the same time.”
I was serious and stubborn. His mother, he said, was beautiful, his friends played poker, his father had died. Nothing remained, in other words, but the pestilence in his Blood. I believed him. He had actually become a friend of his illness, and all the hardship of his former comfortable life was a mere comedy, badly acted, magical. . .
“I hear strange music,” he whispered. “I’ll stop speaking, stick my tongue to your ear, because I’d like to repeat those high notes now. We hear what we have loved, and you are deaf.”
We spoke for hours in the darkness. He recovered his stamina, took care of the evolution of material affairs. One afternoon I saw him hurriedly trying his shoes. Much later, I ran into him on a deserted, very remote, beach. He was covered with sand; he had grown a little. He did not recognize me and I thought that if I went into the water alongside him I would be able to distance myself from him, calculating at last a real distance, eliminating the mental straight line of all our past meetings.
He was there, upright within the grandeur of an infinity that was equally relative. Would the School of the Renaissance lend him Sabina’s movement? Would he forsake me at the limit of his colored world?
More specifically, I form the image of a man who, rich from his countless voyages, spoke to me about the people of the Alps, the placidity of plains dwellers, the whispering of those who live near the sea. That evening I heard the grass growing with a sound that I qualified as “splendid” from the onset—the very sound of a love that we are trying to forget. A few years earlier, I had been incapable of understanding what the end of the world means according to Christian theories. The world was not merely the earth. Back then the world was an infinite beauty which, beyond logical forms, could not come into the slightest contact with harmony. Good God, why did I already start failing to see back then, beyond sentiments wrought by my adolescent doubt, This or That, which in a distant future would be nothing else than solitude? Had I fathomed how the saintly suffering would evolve, the foreordained future of the withered fig tree, and the meaning, above all, of the music that I composed?
Everything wavered while sleeping. Deep is my gratefulness for lies, adulteries, and debaucheries. I thank the brandished chastisements of the angels whom I distressed by following the dictates of my rotten will, without the slightest intention to repent. I am grateful—what else can I say?—for the whole Passion story, for its wise development over the centuries, for that particular end of a just and silent path.
You were silent, Christ, as you watched the gale flooding the streets with the water of a fruitful communion. However, the gifts of that nightmarish truth were destined to remain in my conscience and only there—seeds, simply, of my long enduring guilt.
[—Veroniki Dalakoura, from O Hypnos (Sleep), Athens: Nefeli, 1982. Translated from the Greek by John Taylor.]