25 December 2008

Miguel Angel Asturias

[from Miguel Angel Asturias's Strong Wind, tr. Gregory Rabassa, Delacorte, 1968]

They became desperate as they faced the sea. Their quadrilateral lives were broken against the infinite curve of the horizon. They felt uncomfortable outside the quadrilateral of their daily lives, living in houses which were long dovecotes raised on stilts. Up above they slept, their rooms and their extended comforts. Below, basins to wash the sweat from their clothes, because what most passed through those washbasins was the sweat of a man, of a working beast. Below too, the kitchens, and the hammocks where they spent most of their lives. And the houses matched the shape of the farms where they worked, quadrilaterals which stretched out one after the other. Their horizon was formed by those green parallelograms covered with banana trees in geometric rows set at equal distances, and the houses in the so-called yards were wooden oblongs, dovecotes that were longer than they were wide. Outside and inside their houses they lived within the same geometric figure, harmless at first, but hostile and disturbing afterward. The sea, therefore, made them desperate. Their eyes followed a line that was different from that of the quadrilaterals in which they spent their monotonous lives, a geometric monotony that was nullifying them, always between boards, sometimes between the boards of a coffin, a quadrilateral that was also longer than it was wide, and boards too with the bills they owed the storekeeper, with nothing ever left over from what they earned with their work.

. . .

The Shaman dissolved him, picked him up with the tips of his fingers, as the trembling of his breathing blended with the small moans of a little old man and took him to the cave of bats, of bats made desperate by lice and the heat, unable to fly because they were asleep. Those wind bats who keep the wind rolled up in cobwebs in the web of their wings, and which they release once every hundred years, if the Shaman does not let it be released before. The hungry lice grew fat-bellied with blood as he passed through there, buzzing like a malaria mosquito, and from their eyes there emerged circles of sliced onion, circles and circles and circles, as if a stone had been thrown into each eye. His forehead was like a toasted leather headband. The hand of the Medicine Man drew the sticky sweat off his hair so that it would not fall into his senses, which he had daubed with a compost made of mint leaves.


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