from I Remember Nightfall

Marosa di Giorgio

from “The Native Garden Is in Flames”


          I went out from my house to my grandparents’ house, from my parents’ farm to my grandparents’ farm. It was a gray afternoon, but mild, joyful. As the girls of the past would do, I disguised myself so as to pass unnoticed; I put on my rabbit’s mask and walked among the old and new farmhands, jumping across the meadow and reached the old house. I wandered through the rooms. Everyone was happy. It was somebody’s birthday. On all four sides they had placed jars of syrup and postcards. In the center of the table, an exquisite bird, a delicious corpse surrounded by little lights. My grandfather, who was always serious, was smiling and laughing this time, and before evening fell he told me to go with him to the garden, that he was going to show me something. And there he threw a coin in the air. I saw it shining; when it fell, it changed into a piece of candy, from which a long, flowered gladiolus stem immediately grew, and I stood in its shadow, and it grew even more, and it lasted for weeks and weeks.
          I am from that time,
                    the sweet years of Magic.


          I remember my wedding, which took place far away, back at the dawn of time.
          My mother and sisters were moving through the corridors. And the old bats—witnesses to my parents’ marriage—flew out from among the cobwebs to smoke, unbelieving, their pipes.
          All day long smoke floated out from the house, but no one came; only at nightfall did the animals and incredible relatives arrive from the most hidden farmhouses; we knew many of them only by name, but they’d heard the signal; some were so covered with hair that they needed no clothing, and they crawled on all fours. They brought baskets of colored mushrooms—green, red, gold, silver, luminous yellow; some raw, others slightly roasted, candied.
          The ceremony required all the women to wear veils—only their eyes could show, so they all looked alike—and that I come forth naked under their strange stares.
          Afterwards, sizzling meat and wild wine flew over our heads, our plates. But under the ground, the band of little drummers, of blind moles, played on, deafly.
          At midnight, I entered the main bedroom.
          Before getting into the cart, I wrapped myself in the shawl of a married woman. My family slept, raving. As there was no groom, I kissed myself, my own hands.
          And I took off toward the south.


          One afternoon it rained mysteriously over things, and the crabs with their pathetic skin were crawling through the garden, and the venomous mushrooms were emitting a gray smoke, and the neighbors had walked across the field of wet plants, the bitter-perfumed mole plants, to visit my mother, and they stood there, laughing, each one with a lobster on her shoulder—green, shining, recently fallen from the sky, a sugar snail; but, without realizing anything, they laughed, and my mother answered them with laughter. The neighbors with their tall crowns of water stones looked like queens come out of the lagoon, from the depths of the weeds.
          And I was advancing, retreating, with no direction, going toward the house, leaving, watching the rain fall, the clouds, the history of the garden.


          The Carnival barely arrived, there in our beloved land.
          The pea plants loaded with little fruits and flowers burned, and the long-antlered potato, and the pink, hairy yams; and in the air, the spiders walked, calmly; some like drops of honey, but others, black and downy, were even chirping. And the wild calla lily, with its eyes and its surgical mask. And the great animals, of stone and wood. And the house. There were only two dwellings in that vast region. Ours and “the other.” Our family and “the other”; that was how we referred to each other.
          At times, we would exchange an emissary, a hare; otherwise, we would say, “It’s raining ‘over there.’”
          But we went for years without seeing each other. The children married their own siblings at a young age. When hunger and thirst became unbearable, a family member would be surrounded, then roasted, and then life would go on.
          Now, it was Carnival and nightfall. Someone from the other house arrived. We couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman, wrapped in a cloak and a mask with antlers as long as stems. It ate yams, spiders. We asked it what had happened over there during the past twenty years. It took out a sheet of paper and read, but also recited by heart. It told us of all the deaths and marriages, weddings and murders.
          It drank root wine and fell asleep; later, it awakened, alive, in love, and before we could intervene it grabbed one of our little sisters—nine-year-old Olavia—and ran off with her to higher ground; we dashed off to fetch our arrows and clubs, but it fled, kissing her, hugging her; it stripped her of the skin she’d worn since birth; it raped her in its hiding place, and in that high spot it nailed a pike and stone, then made a roof of its own cloak and mask.
          And thus began the third house.


          I remember the house—I don’t know why, but on the stormy days— when I returned from school, almost fleeing, or when they didn’t let me go to school, and Mama, standing, called out to the brood, the hens that crossed the garden with open wings, followed by their colorful roosters, pink, blue, yellow, that hallucinatory crowing and the odd gray clouds that swept away the farm for an instant—the peaches with their floral shawls, the plums of cold sugar—and gave it back immediately, transparent under the rain, the rainbow, almost at arm’s reach, made of mint, of buds.
          And the nights of the stormy days, the diaphanous air when you could see the forest animals, the fox that yapped and laughed, the weasel and its basket of babies that came right into the house and stole a bug, a piece of leather.
          And afterwards, the mute hours sliding past.
          And me, standing there, immobile on the threshold, waiting for I don’t know what, for something to fall from the sky, the native garden is in flames.


          The snow-white, woolly clouds floated through the blue, almost black sky. She stood in the grove of apple trees; she had fled from the house without meaning to, like a sleepwalker. The apple trees were burning with the scent of ancient sugar, the honey of lilacs. And she with that tiny camisole, her tunic that left one breast bare, poking out like a mushroom, ready to be eaten raw. But her heart was frozen, barely beating. She remembered that whole thing about the house. Her father, the king shepherd—her mother and sisters, a little pink beneath their diadem, their spikes. She was not yet twenty and had never been married. Thus it all began, that afternoon while they were eating dinner in the garden; suddenly, the black bird arrived; the swift fell down, right on her shoulder; everyone looked on in terror; the order had come from the sky; the sacrifice could be seen clearly in the air.
          Now, the clouds were circling over the land, and she left the apple grove; she began to move as a cloud, as incense among the plants; she saw the tombs surrounded by flowers, by fragrant beds of asparagus; she walked blindly with wide-open eyes. She reached the altar, where the god stared at her with his eternal gaze; he reclined at the sight of the burning honey, milk, butter.
          Her father came, having crossed all the land, all the fields; he knelt down and nearly kissed her. She could still run away, once and for all; the boundaries were clear, and beyond them lay other fields and other kings, who perhaps would take her in sweetly, shelter her for life. But she was sure of one thing: she was never going to take a single step beyond the family property. Her father embraced her; he remembered the night when he had conceived her, the tiny, the cry from the gut as she began to be born; he looked at the stars that had sent the order; he kissed her almost as if she were his bride, on her lips, on her breast that was naked, like a mushroom, and he killed her.


          On that June morning, my eighth or ninth birthday—I don’t know which—warm as spring, came the fragrance of the trees; some of my mother’s spiders were knitting her another pair of silver socks; the giant was walking around; having seen him so often, I barely noticed him. In some sense he was the orchard’s guardian; he caused little trouble, almost always in his little area of our property, working with the ovens; he’d been there for ages; sometimes, he received visitors, for there were other farmhouses with other giants; that day he came too close to me; he looked at me; I think he even said some words like blows delivered with branches. Embarrassed, I followed him around the garden. When I went in I saw that my grandmother was there, talking to Mama  about plants, cups, cooking. Once again, I went to check out the baskets of pastries that had come from town; I lifted the cover. There I saw strange beings, red, purple, and azure, with eyes of liquor, teeth of purest almond, those little wells of honey, tiny sugar castles; strange things occurred to me; I gave them names; I talked to them; I assigned them numbers; they looked like little colored animals, mother-of-pearl boxes, miniature lamps. Mama said,—Come here, Rosamaría, don’t touch that.
          And I was not going to do it. I approached my mother, my grandmother (I was only a little girl with a crown of braids). They were speaking of faraway things, always the same, with the same enthusiasm.
          I went back to the garden. The giant had gone; a bold spider was knitting among the carnations. There awaited me the other farms and loneliness.


          Before the old chimney fell and the wind turned into a hurricane, when the pink and black dahlias still lived around the house (sometimes, they entered the dining room and stayed there for several days). One night, I heard them calling to me in my dreams, and I awakened to find all the doors and windows open; once again I’d forgotten to lock the house. My heart wanted to run away, but it was frozen. I could not hide under the blanket because my hair always stuck out; I tiptoed toward the wardrobe, but I could not live there like the rats, or like the black-eyed, green-winged moths I knew so well.
          And it was not possible for me to fly; one time, I managed to hoist myself above the trees and climb down the other side, but in that instant, my arms became inert. I thought desperately of Papa, of Mama, of my sister, that had abandoned me for so long, without me understanding why; I stepped through the lowest window, I went out to the garden, but the one who had called me was aware of everything; the dahlias noticed his strange presence and roared, they bumped into each other, like dogs, they barked at him. I began to run away, to hide behind flowers, trunks, shrubs; I began to call out in desperation to my father, my mother, but my voice gave off no sound. I ran a little; I fell to my knees, flat on my face. You could hear the bark of the dahlias, powerful footsteps.

translated from the Spanish by Jeannine Marie Pitas