PROSE: 'Moonlit' by José Luís Peixoto (Portuguese)

Portrait of a woman

The gleam on the stones of the sidewalk. Points of light flickering on the watery film left there by the night, by the rain. I walk on the sidewalk’s pattern of stones, on a carpet of illuminated points that flicker and then go out. Their life is short. My life is short. Points of light that open up paths for me to follow. My boots fall amid these points that light up, live for an instant, and die forever. A thousand points of light dying at different moments, in different places, ignorant of each other and yet part of the same order. A thin sheet of water runs down the garden walls, the crystalline skin of a glass, water clear as poison. Hanging from the top of the wall, like an arrested avalanche, there are plants, leaves, tree branches: green arms that froze just as they were reaching down to grab someone who, like me, was walking on the sidewalk. On the leaves and on the skin of the wall there are also evanescent points of light. As in sincerely shining eyes. Handfuls of glittering dust thrown on the sidewalk’s stones, on the garden wall, and on the branches overhanging it.

A breeze rises from inside the earth and reaches me, my awareness of myself: my face, my lips, my body touched by that breeze. I walk through that breeze in me as if through an invisible multitude. The breeze, when it touches my eyes, changes into tears that run coldly down my cheeks. My lips. I feel them and feel the memory of the times when I’ve wept the saddest, most obdurate despair, with tears rolling slowly down my cheeks. Time passes by me like something that passes by but I can’t imagine what, and my tears, which were merely the breeze touching my eyes, begin to be tears of real despair. I stop walking. The world stops. And I remember you like a penetrating knife, the infinite blade of a knife infinitely thrust into me. Not much time has passed since the morning dawned. An eternity has passed since you left me alone among the shadows of the night. On other nights we looked at the moon. Last night we didn’t look at the moon. On other nights we looked at the moon and were filled with desire. Last night we didn’t look at the moon and we suffered. On other nights, we looked at the moon and didn’t know what suffering was. Darkness and hope. In the moon we saw more than our dreams, more than the reflection of what we wished to invent. We saw a future that was greater than our dreams and that encompassed us and pulled us into itself. We knew that something much greater than what we could dream was waiting for us. We were deceived. Here, on these stones that gleam, under these tears on my face, I know we were deceived and I know the infinite blade of a knife.

Here in the south where I was born, my body inside my mother’s body, under her skin, next to her bones, here there are whitewashed houses, fields and plains that now are far away from me and that are here at the same time, for they’re the memory of something that I know exists. Within that memory my mother, during the first full and brightly glowing moon after I was born, waited till everyone else in the house had gone to sleep. Laying the shawl I was wrapped in on the kitchen table, she went through doors and down the steps to the yard. Her bare feet touched the earth. It was the end of summer. In the middle of the night sky, the moon stood still in the explosion of its icy white light. My mother’s fingers were thick when, with both hands, she lifted me up over her head, toward the moon, and said: O moon that brightly glows, / I brought him into the world, / now you make him grow! I was tiny and white. My mother’s eyes reflected her raised arms and my body in the white circle of the moon.

Last night, before and after we separated, the very same moon was in the sky. It existed in a place where we didn’t try to see it, but now I know that it existed, and to know that is to know that the world is immeasurably vast. Now, in this moment, I don’t know where you are. I imagine you doing so many things. I imagine you not remembering me. Now, in this land of the south where I was born, I look at my boots and see a mist begin to rise off the ground and to slowly wrap my knees. The points of light that flicker on the ground are less bright. And a terrible, black voice passes through me. I can’t make out the words it says. I slowly lift my gaze to the sky. Above me there’s an infinite place much larger than I am. Above me the morning sky is the infinite space where everything that exists in my breast can exist. Like the pale shadow of my heart, I can discern the white shape of the moon in this morning sky, in the darkly luminous sky of my breast. The day was born on top of the night, and the night continues under the gray light of this morning. The night that’s made of smoky and misty shapes. When it was still completely night and you were at my side, you said: we can’t be happy together. I desired you so much. I saw your eyes through the night air, I knew you were at my side, and I knew we were going to separate. I saw you leave. Your footsteps drawing away from me. I was seized by horror, fear. You drew away from me. You entered your house as if you were leaving me forever. You were leaving me forever. The moment you closed the door: me overwhelmed by all the blackness, by all the black poison. An infinite knife. Me realizing that you would remain forever shut up inside that house. You will never, never be able to leave. The night, surrounding me, was the black place of terrible certainties: death, the death of everything. Among the walls of the houses, your house. The glass of your closed windows reflected the world’s darkness. My eyes wept darkness over the world. You were still close to me, I looked at the place where I knew you were, the house that contained you, but that house was now a black place, a well, it was as if you had plunged into the black vastness that exists within each of us. I knew I would never see you again. I desired you so much. I desire you still. I know there are cemeteries. I know that the house where you are now, the place where I imagine you doing so many things and not remembering me, is a place of ruins. Our lives are surrounded by cemeteries. What we were is buried all around us, and we can never know where we left all the things we won’t see again. My footsteps in the night. My footsteps and, slowly, the day is born on top of the things of the night. The night firmly in its place, in objects, in houses, in the sky, and the day slowly wraps it like a mantle of gray light. This moonlit morning. This morning that’s a morning and that’s still night. The moon in this white sky. I lower my eyelids. Haze, mist. Your eyes were a path. Your hair was like a horizon. I don’t know how we could believe that words were simple. We dreamed and were deceived. Smiling, we bathed our lips in poison when we thought we were drinking the antidote.

I open my eyes, and the morning is still the same. The cool mist on my skin. In the sky the icy white moon: shapes and patterns made of ice. In the sky: the image of eternity. I lower my gaze and see the shut houses and the real, deserted streets. There’s something cold in the reality of this morning. The mist covering my feet. A voice passing through me. I can make out the words it says: we can’t be happy together. Those words penetrate me like the mist. I continue walking. My footsteps are me, and I am this moonlit morning. I walk as if I were again being offered by my mother’s arms to the moon. When I was a child, I feared death. Now I’m getting old. I fear death but know that, if I try to flee it, I’ll only run toward it. I walk over the sidewalk’s stones. I listen to my steps beneath the mist. I flee death because I want to run toward it.

Memory is like a curse. We fall into eternity, and memory is a weight that keeps pulling us to where we can never go back to. O moon that brightly glows, / I brought him into the world, / now you make him grow! Memory is like my mother’s hope on the night when she lifted me up to the moon and unknowingly decided my destiny. I remember when we met, and that day remains beneath your gaze and beneath last night. I remember my hand resting on yours, and that instant remains beneath the word solitude. I remember so many impossible things. Now I walk in this deserted morning. The sidewalk’s stones exist under my footsteps. No one, not even I, asks where I’m headed. On the empty streets I’m a multitude of mutilated people walking. I’m the one who, last night, saw you leave, who looked at you when your eyes said goodbye and who couldn’t do anything but look at you, at your body, as you drew farther and farther away from my arms. I’m the one who was born in the south, far away from all disillusions, in the place where the past stops, in the last outpost of the past. I’m the one who dreamed of all that we’re forbidden to dream. I’m the one who is all of this and much more than this, walking through the mist on a deserted sidewalk, walking over the dying gleam in the wet stones, walking under a gray sky and the moon like a point where everything tends. I walk in this morning as if I were entering an empty house, a house that I knew, that was mine and that I abandoned, as if I were climbing the steps of that house of dead rooms, dead chairs, dead beds, as if I were going up to the window and looking outside, as if a black and terrible voice were passing through me.

The morning is still moonlit.

I’ll never again be able to abandon my body at your side without a care in the world. With the world existing only next to your skin. My fingers running over the skin of your hands. And desire deceived us. My fingers passing through your hair and innocence. The brightness of the days that dawned in your white skin, in the soft touch of your skin made of silence. The innocence repeated in each word of your voice, like the water of a fountain, like my hand slicing the air on the way to your face. Your gaze was innocence. My gaze. And the silence of each time we wished to speak of matters more impossible than memory. I’ll never again be able to dream, because you won’t be at my side and, as I discovered today, I can only dream with you at my side. An infinite knife, infinitely thrust into me. I’ve stopped imagining the future, which may or may not arrive, and which for me is draped in a much blacker veil than the past. I cannot look through that black time. The future lies beyond many nights, but I’ve stopped imagining those nights. I know that, just as last night was covered by morning, this morning can turn into night. I can imagine each shade of its colors turning black. I cannot imagine this time changing into another time. With you I lost all that I was to become nothing else. I lost myself in the dreams we had. I gave myself up. Never again will we understand the moon as when we believed that its light crossing through the night warmed us up. Never again. Never again will we be able to dream. Never again.

The gleam on the stones of the sidewalk. There are larger points of light that flicker through the mist. Coins thrown into a pond full of wishes. I walk through the gleam. My footsteps take me away from nothing. There are wafts of fear in the breeze I walk through. Traces of fear that touch my skin. I walk through the breeze, and a voice runs through me that says: we can’t be happy together. Fear. Above me the sky is the time of the world. All the time of all the world. The sky is never again. The moon is us, what we were. Like memory, the moon exists in this morning to remind us of the nights that existed, of the night just ended in which we separated. I walk over the sidewalk’s pattern of stones, the pattern of the mist. Surrounded by the time of the world, by never again, the moon is us.

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