Excerpt from Jellyfish
Translation from Italian by Jamie Richards
i am starting to miss the sound of my voice. not conversation with other people, for that there's my doctor, all those talks with him lately... no, it's really my voice that i miss, that's what i don't hear anymore, no longer being able to emit air. i realized this today when i got home. i said something out loud, something stupid, i don't even remember what i said to myself. and i thought, "who's there? is there someone in my house? whose strange voice is that?"
silly, it was mine.
gelatinous zooplankton: polyps, jellyfish, hydroids, ctenophores, salps, doliolids, pyrosomes. so many tiny crystal objects in so many shapes: oval, elliptical, spherical, spiral. sometimes they shrink down to a few centimeters and then, in the predation phase, expand to a meter.
i, on the other hand, am here to retract after the last hunt. i am less than a millimeter long and i know there won't be any more aiming and pouncing or springing ahead.
longing for contact of any kind, i need to hunt someone down. i opened my address book, it took me a while to figure out who i wanted to call. all those sheets with all those numbers... at first glance one would say i had tons of friends or at least acquaintances. however, discounting the numbers of old relatives who are dead or at least who haven't contacted me in years, the numbers of various guys i met through sex ads, the public utilities, the meter readers, my office, the doctor and so on, i think there are about two, maybe three, people i could call, just to talk.
one of these numbers is paolo's.
a history as heavy as stones in the pockets of a drowned suicide.
the past is a trap of the present. should i call him, should i not?
i put my hands in my pockets, feel them, touch them. this is not the clear water of the sea, here as i slip away the seabed remains unseen, no fish or algae, neither an above nor a below. sooner or later, my body will hit something, a log, the column of a bridge, a piece of wreckage, that will be able to stop me.
i take my hands out of my pockets. i call him.
he's a psychologist. rash and stupid, i spill everything.
if it weren't for these problems with my health...
so... yeah, yeah, it could be colitis, sure. non-specific colitis. anyway, it's gone now, well, not completely, still a little blood, but... it's hemorrhoids, i think.
i know, i know, nothing could be more psychosomatic
symbolic value... of course i know, anyone who has opened a psychology textbook or been around little kids knows that, right? repressed coprophiliac tendencies, the feces-money connection and all that, you're not the only one who's read freud, no? sure, you say, laughing, i get it
waste is life, in a certain sense, yes, it fertilizes, exactly, it germinates... sure, sure...
no, i didn't know that idea of jung's. but just think: his vision of god shitting on the cathedral... amazing
there's always something to learn
the baby? oh, wonderful, and her? and her?
always a pleasure
stimulating, talking to you... sure, why not, later on. right now i've got to go...
i remember the taste of your mouth the morning when you kissed me for the first time at the entrance to school. i wish i could taste it again now, but the memory is in my head, my tongue won't cooperate.
organic decomposition fertilizes the harvest, metaphorically speaking; what's rotting me inside enables "alchemical putrefaction" and therefore rebirth. it doesn't seem possible that you, you, the one whose mouth tasted like cinnamon and brioche, could have ever said something like that. and with that tone, like some sort of prophet.
your speaking in metaphors, this talent you have for reworking mere ectoplasm and then offering it as a solid body. no, i don't see, i don't see anything. how are your words supposed to help me?
this is my tragedy: i search for words made of reinforced concrete, since all i've got is old, rundown scaffolding. but i find nothing, the search is vain, always.
the bell rings, one after another the doors open in the hallway, there's commotion, i come out too, immediately look toward your class, look for you, don't see you, you don't come out, maybe you aren't here today, you won't come, and so all my waiting for you this week won't have made any sense, nothing will make sense anymore, at least until i start waiting for you again. i start walking, maybe you're already there, maybe you're already sitting down, you didn't wait to see where i would sit, what do you care? only me, i'm always the one who devises these strategies, trying to study your movements to figure out which corner of space you'll occupy, where the trajectory of your gaze will fall, where you might shift your elbow, your knee, in hopes of brushing against you, of bumping into you. here's the room, i'm the first one here. the alternative to religion class: exercises in creative writing. i look out the window but from that side of the school there's only scaffolding and dust and builders working up and down and good morning and lucky you, we're making your school nicer, isn't that great? of course, of course. the teacher arrives, says hello (at least he knows i'm there), takes out the copies he's going to pass out, organizes them, or tries to, gets them mixed up, as usual he'll ask one of us to put them in order. the other atheists arrive and sit down, just like that, wherever, as if it weren't a matter of life and death, but i'm frozen on my feet, let's hope nobody hangs a backpack or coat on me, i should probably start breathing. then there you are, you come in. without a doubt, you look at me, and smile even. you sit down at a desk with two places and there's already some girl next to you. but, all things considered, i won't die yet, trust me, i choose a spot across the room, taking advantage of the semi-circle arrangement, that way i'll be able to see you.
the teacher leans on the desk, starts talking. i remember exactly the topic of that lesson. repetitio. you've been taught, he says, that to write well you shouldn't repeat anything, that a good writer knows how to find synonyms. that's not always true, he says, sometimes repeating the same word is useful. then he reads, gives some examples, i think, i look at you while you're looking at him, i imagine myself on vacation with you in normandy, that's where i'd take you, i don't know why but i think that would be the ideal spot for the two of us, next summer, after graduation.
anaphora epistrophe redundancy. now try it, everyone, write something. i come back for a minute, get out of the car we were in, with you driving and me navigating, looking for hotels on expanses of white sand and the night sea, and, miraculously, you're here too, you came back with me. i take the pen and i write, i pick the word "happiness." i wish i could change it, write about a concrete object, repeating its name, something like "scissors" "leaf" "lamp," but nothing, "happiness" is all that comes to me. and i write. i write, without much hesitation, a sentimental rant, i still remember it exactly: your happiness humbles me. it's self-sufficient, vain, satisfied. it excludes me, your happiness, it hurls me out of your world. i want you. not your happy, empty smiles, or your blind, happy eyes, i want you because you're happy and you don't need anyone. i stop and reread. suddenly i swerve and add, fuck you and your happiness. in truth, the memory starts from this addition, with this sentence that still clings to me, with this senseless bullshit, proust's madeleine can't even compare. okay, time's up, let's read, says the teacher. i'm the first one in the row so he calls on me. he listens without commenting, is silent for a moment then says, hmm... with abstract concepts, somehow it's easier, maybe you didn't listen carefully, but i said to start with concrete terms. yes, i was listening, but that's how it came to me, what was i supposed to do? i don't even hear the others, i don't know, i don't understand, i'm just waiting for you to read, that's why i'm here, i wonder if you realized that i wrote that for you and about you and about us, and that everything i read here has you between the lines. i raise my head and look at you, do you get it, get me? this is how i am. this is how it would be if we were together. you look at me with those hundred thousand lashes and with the eyes of a happy little boy. i never asked you, later, if you had understood.
then it's your turn to read. nothing is like being on my sailboat. and i already know that i don't exist. on my sailboat i forget every single thing, when i'm on my sailboat the only world that exists is me. i could live there, on my sailboat, without longing or regret. good, the teacher comments, strange, strange, there's a passage from a hemingway story in which he repeats the word "boat." good, yes, interesting.
the door opens, it's noon, the hall is flooded with waves of blinding light, you drift away on your solid, secure sailboat. i remain there, steadfast on my one leg. a stream of murky water drags me away, it flows, slimy, past the walls, gushes down from the gutter, dives down into the street. then i, the little tin soldier, get sucked into a whirlpool and i fall down, down the drain.
here we go again.
sunday on the toilet. eight times, out of nowhere. if it ever happens again, i want to weigh myself before and after, figure out how much weight i lose. really, i don't know how it's possible to have so much of it inside me.
i'm exhausted. no blood or mucus, this time, just feces. where were they? where were they hiding? who was holding them back? where do they come from?
thinking of paolo
again, today too.
i fear the dam has opened. not so much the sound of that water suddenly coming out, not the cascade, the mechanics, the crash.
dikes that don't hold. streets, houses, rooms invaded by immense, frothy waves, harbors submerged. slowly, but all the way. rivers forming all over the city. looking outside and seeing water. climbing to the rooftops and seeing nothing but water. schools of fish and sea snakes passing by, over the sidewalks, around the shop windows, streetlights, porticoes, over the stairs, between the furniture, above the bed.
paolo, in some ways this is your fault. the memory of you, the stones. i had quit remembering.
the past does not exist.
the sentence "i was an unhappy, tormented child, now i am an adult" doesn't exist.
"i am an adult and i am an unhappy and tormented child" exists.
the sentence "i was in love with you and i suffered, but now it's all in the past" doesn't exist.
this exists: "now everything is in the past and i am in love with you and i suffer."
this is the storm: the world that returns, the life kept out.
not the blood, not the mucus, the diarrhea: that was just the crushed gray sky over the rooftops, over the water's rippled surface, the anticipation of a storm still distant, the thunder that sounds like trains passing underground, the sky that seems about to burst but instead remains, motionless, sagging.
then the hail, the downpour.
under the sea, i am one of those born with a congenital defect: i don't know how to find the current. the others spread their fluorescent umbrellas, go off, in a group. i am mere plankton. i spread out and await
, born in Turin in 1967, studied Italian literature and was a social worker before writing his first book, Meduse
, which was published in 2003 by Bompiani and nominated for the Premio Settembrini. Among his publications are a short story, "Gloria," in the anthology Bloody Europe! Racconti, appunti, cartoline dall'Europa gay
, and an article in the journal Radure
. He currently works in cultural affairs for the city of Turin and his latest novel, Regina
, came out in 2007.
is currently pursuing a doctorate in Comparative Literature at the University of Oregon. She holds an MFA in literary translation from the University of Iowa, where she was co-editor of eXchanges
, a journal of international literature. Her previous translations include Giacomo Papi's Booked: The Last 150 Years Told through Mug Shots
(Seven Stories, 2006), and short pieces in eXchanges
, Two Lines
, and Words Without Borders
is grateful to Xenos Books
for permission to publish this excerpt from Jellyfish
by Giancarlo Pastore. (Original publication in Italian as Meduse
, Bompiani, Milano, 2003. Translation Copyright © 2007 by Jamie Richards.)