Notes for my memoirs / Buenos Aires province
by Jessica Sequeira
Just around the corner, a shop sells notebooks
in several colors. I went and bought myself a blue one.
My plan was to write a grand history of the country,
from colonizers and missionaries to the present,
passing through Independence, Rosas and the Proceso.
I had read much and taken many notes. When I explained
my project to the shopkeeper, he smiled a little.
“Hasta luego,” he said. With great deliberation
I returned and began to write, drawing on documents,
citing sources. Despite my efforts it seemed impossible
to forge the necessary links between event and explanation
required by history. The same moments and texts could be
rearranged 1000 ways. Arbitrariness bucked me,
that unruly horse! I threw the notebook against the wall,
then placed it in a box and went to fix a cheese sandwich.
A few months passed and I continued in the city.
Although in general I was happy, a period came
when I was very sad. Events had occurred which
I wanted to describe with perfect precision. At the
shop around the corner I bought a notebook, this time
yellow. This wouldn’t be like writing history, I thought.
At the moment I don’t care about context or multiple
points of view. All I want is to set down events coldly,
clearly, explained in my own fashion. Yet somehow this
too was impossible. The pages filled with cramped black
cursive, the words tiny spiders scrambling after the
indefinable. The lines brought truth and understanding
no closer. I put the notebook in the box with the others
and distracted myself as best as I could to forget.
Time went on; I still wanted to write. I’d learned
my lesson. This time I’d prune out even explanation,
such that only description remained. Scenes en plein air
in wet paint—impasto effects—describe it quickly, quickly!
I bought a notebook, this time green. At the kitchen table
leaning my forearms on the oilcloth I scribbled down
everything I could see from my window. Big bright
machines tore up the pavement, pushing passersby into
the street. “Pollo entero $86. 1/2 pollo $44,” said sheets
of paper stuck on the Chinese takeaway. Man at bus stop,
reading newspaper. Tiny pictures beneath headlines
contained scenes just like this one. How to know
what to look at first, to include or not, and in what order?
It wasn’t like this was even the Battle of Waterloo.
In front of me was a list of thing following thing, which took
on the shape of nothing. Terrified, I shoved the notebook
with the rest and joined those in the street hurrying somewhere.
But wasn’t there anything I could write? The problem
had been with describing real things, I realized. With frenzy
I walked to the shop and returned with a red notebook.
Only abstract things would make the cut this time.
Schools of shimmering dogs with fins, golden elephants
and tropical plants flown like kites, staircases shifting
between ancient civilizations. What I wrote sounded
pleasant enough. Sometimes I only wrote a few words,
spaced out, and the page became a picture. A group ringed me,
growing each day, asking me to read aloud, nodding at
telephones and marmalade. I fled into the words
and the words fled from me. One day I realized no pages
were left to fill; neither did I have any more visions. The group
dispersed; I found myself alone. I put away the notebook
with mingled loss and relief. Some kind of epoch had ended,
it felt like. I’d long since removed the hands of the clock,
so as not to be disturbed by time’s passing. Tired, I couldn’t
think what to do. A walk, as nearly always, was the answer.
My back ached; I moved slowly. The shop around the corner
was no longer a stationer’s; now it sold salami. Wrinkles made
maps on the backs of my hands, showing me places I
would never go. My legs carried me farther and farther
until at last I reached fields. It wasn’t far; I lived on the city limits.
I asked someone to borrow a shovel and began digging;
in the green around there was no one. I kept this up
for a few months, or a long time anyway, until I’d created
a perfect square. Then I poured the cement foundation
and began to lay bricks, one after the other, in a row.
I had a house. My back still ached, because before I’d gone
walking I’d tied the box of notebooks to it. I remembered this
and thought it would be nice to take down that load. Tearing out
the pages at great speed, I began to make a disordered pile.
Sizing them up now, I think there’ll be enough;
overlapped and glazed they’ll make for passable wallpaper.
Jessica Sequeira has been shortlisted for the 2015 Berfrois Poetry Prize.
About the Author:
Jessica Sequeira lives and writes in Buenos Aires.