Other issues | Page 12

The story by the author

There are no definitive versions of stories and novels. I believe or like to believe. I imagine them as organisms that mutate without us noticing it, inside a drawer if they were left on paper or reduced to gigabytes if they wait for the click in the filing cabinet of our computers. While we don’t see them they get fat, they break, they cloud over; they add characters, phrases, points, cut paragraphs, change the mood, even the tone. The story is different. And when we read it again, after a long time, we feel alien, as if it had been written by another hand, other fingers, another person.

The story “Other issues” still remains unpublished if we are talking about books. However, a first version of his was published in Ten Pines, a magazine that we had with Fernando Krapp when we still trusted on paper; later in the magazine Iowa Literary from the University of Iowa; and, finally, in an ATE anthology, after being awarded in the Osvaldo Bayer contest, with a jury of cracks, made up of Gabriela Cabezón Cámara, Guille Saccomanno and the beloved Juan Forn.

On the day of the award ceremony, they asked me for a few words. I don’t remember what I said. I guess I asked the leadership to give more ball to the claims of the state contractors, which has been partly my union obsession for several years, regardless of who is at the top of the head of the National State. But I do remember who I thanked. On that list was Juan Gelman, who also appears in the story and, in a random but not capricious way, at the beginning of all this.

Another questions

I

I read Juan Gelman for the first time in the school bathroom. He would be fourteen or fifteen years old. By then he had already liquidated the Latin American Boom and he believed that the only poet in the world was Benedetti. Unfortunately or luckily, in the Popular Library of the Railway neighborhood there were no other books. A friend had given me Gelman’s book in exchange for an edition of About heroes and graves that I had stolen from my uncle. It was an anthology of Losada that ranged from Violin and other issues until Letter to my mother. When the bell rang back to class I would stand on the toilet. I calculated that everyone was inside the classrooms and submerged in the silence that returned to the patio, I sat on the toilet seat to read it.

From those first readings I remember that I had the feeling of reading a universal anthology instead of the anthology of a single type. That Gelman guy changed his voice, his rhythm, his breathing, from one poem to another. On top of that, he spoke of the revolution, of fallen comrades, of love in clandestine rooms, of those who suffer and of those who cry. I was certain that this must be a writer. Gelman was clear, kind, intelligent and, if necessary, with a verse he would shake your clothes.

Then, in 2002, I entered a postwar university after too many neoliberal years. The Airas, the Bellatins, and another gang of writers who celebrated the end of the epic arrived. Nobody talked about Gelman. Neither do I. Like teenage girlfriends, I was terrified of running into him again, for fear that it would seem stupid or out of date. Soon I realized that the stupid one was me. And before losing my humor I left Letters.

II

After dropping out of Literature at two national universities, I signed up to study Sociology at the University of Buenos Aires. I had gotten a job in a Buenos Aires bookstore and the minimum wage, vital and mobile, determined my intellectual and geographical decisions. The bookstore was on Calle Maure, in the bypass in the heart of the city: Las Cañitas. The place was small and beautiful; a twelve by three rectangle full of books, like the shoe boxes used in removals. During the afternoons when no one came in, I thought that at any moment they were going to pack it up and that two freight forwarders would throw it back into a truck with me inside. While I waited for the freighters, I read everything that passed through my hands.

If he didn’t have an open book, he spread out the pages of a newspaper on the counter. Yes, a paper journal. There was a time when the newspaper was read on paper, you even had to pay for it. I bought it before taking the train in the suburbs, at Temperley station. He alternated his reading with reading the book on duty, to smooth out the hour and a half commute he had to get to work in Las Cañitas.

One Friday in 2007 I entered the bookstore with the newspaper in hand. In the cover photo of him was Juan Gelman with a cigarette between his fingers and the palm of his left hand on his forehead, as if supporting his head. The headline said Worth. The poet from Villa Crespo had been awarded the Cervantes.

The bookstore owner, a small man who had just had a hair transplant, was sitting on the stool behind the counter. I greeted him and placed the journal on top of the gray folder of bills to pay that he was reviewing.

“That’s good,” he said to me as if I had told him that Anagrama was offering discounts that week. Then he added —who edits it?

“Seix Barral,” I answered.

“Call and ask for twenty on consignment,” he told me. Put it on the table. She is going to fly.

Before bitching about it and getting fired for justification, I opted to go up to the mezzanine and check out what Gelman had in the poetry library. Only three copies remained. Unwind and one of wake of solo.

-Called? the owner told me when he saw me standing looking through wake of solo.

As if I hadn’t heard him, I walked to the other end of the mezzanine, where there was a desk with a computer. I sat down on two packed boxes and randomly read:

Among so many trades I carry out this one that is not mine, / as an implacable master / forces me to work day and night, / with love, /

“You can come down please,” the owner interrupted me, raising his tone. I didn’t give him a ball. I followed: under the rain, in the catastrophe, / when the arms of tenderness or of the soul open, / when the disease sinks its hands.

I stopped to breathe. Behind the counter I did not see anyone. As I lowered my head to continue reading I heard the wooden steps rumble. Then the quick footsteps of the owner sounded on the sheet metal floor of the mezzanine. He stopped in front of me. His body covered the light from the dichroic lights that illuminated the pages. He told me something. I did not understand. I kept reading until the end.

III

It took me two months, nine telegrams, three document letters, and two conciliation meetings to disassociate myself from the Las Cañitas bookstore. I got some money. Little bit. Not everything they said in the union that corresponded to me. However, the “Gelman affair” as I called it among friends, pushed me to leave a job and a neighborhood that were, to say the least, foreign to me.

“Things die because others replace them”, wrote the painter Pablo Suárez to the critic Romero Brest. And since I read that sentence, I repeat it between my teeth as if it were a hexagram of the I-Ching. I took advantage of the compensation they gave me at the bookstore to complete the last term of my degree without working. At the same time that I was left without a peso to pay the rent, I graduated as a sociologist. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do with the title; less why I had signed up for the race if I wanted to dedicate myself to literature. Every time they asked me, I made up a different answer: I talked about Fogwill, about contourists, about parallel formation collectors. In itself, it said nothing.

In order to survive, I began to look for scholarships and residences in any corner of the world. Each application he filled out was like shaking dice in a bucket before rolling them onto a green cloth. Days, weeks, months passed and nothing linked. However, more like a gesture of desperation than perseverance he kept trying. The email that turned the wheel around came from a country whose language I didn’t know: Croatia, the land my grandmother had fled when the Axis Powers invaded the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1941.

As part of the actions to enter the European Union, the Croatian government had launched a program to repatriate grandchildren of immigrants who had a university degree. It was 2013; The proposal included doing postgraduate studies for a year in Zagreb, or traveling for a semester through the countries that belonged to the former Yugoslavia in exchange for making a work about the experience. Without hesitation, I chose the second option.

But that’s not the story I want to tell, at least here. I remembered those days because on January 14, 2014 I was on my way to Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. I had taken a bus from Belgrade, or rather, two, because no company covered 394 kilometers in one go. That day, which had started with a hazy sun, had turned into a sheet of snow. Due to an engine problem we stopped in a strange town, with an impossible name written in Cyrillic. I got off the bus looking for a bathroom and a bin to throw away the yerba mate. The bathroom door was closed. I still hit From the other end, a hoarse and guttural voice answered me that made me think of a polar bear more than a person. While I waited for the bear to finish his thing, I took out my cell phone and began to fish for some Wi-Fi network with little hope. However, the free network of the ghost terminal began to flicker. Suddenly a dozen messages fell on me. I only clicked on one: it said “Gelman” in the subject line. It was from Julián, the friend who had given me the Losada anthology when I was in high school. In the message was a poem. He said:

Let’s see, pieces of mine, make an assembly and decide. Put on white hats and red shooters, there’s color for the old ox to go. My dead cast shadows because they have no choice. They nail wild boar’s teeth, lady, icy kisses representing gone autumns, ships looking for some sea.

After reading it I returned to the bus feeling the snow on my head. Inside the temperature did not vary with the outside. In the seat next to me, I discovered a man with a broad forehead and light eyes who looked like David Lynch. I hadn’t seen him the whole trip. While I waited for the driver to put first, I read the poem again on my cell phone. I tried to answer Julián but he had already lost the signal. The man with the broad forehead smiled at me, infected by my movements. In that language that he would never quite understand, he said a few words to me as he opened a heavy hand in the air. I never found out if that man was Serbian, Bulgarian or Romanian. I only sensed that he asked me what happened to him? I accepted his hand, held it tightly, and told him that I had just been notified that Juan Gelman, an Argentine poet, one of the writers with whom I learned to read, had died. The man made a face with his mouth as if he understood Spanish. Then we leaned back in our seats to look at the snow that covered any possibility of horizon.

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