Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Carlos Fuentes, from "The Death of Artemio Cruz," trans. Alfred Mac Adam

You couldn't be more tired, couldn't possibly be more tired; it's because you've traveled so far, on horseback, on foot, in the old trains, and the country never ends. Will you remember the country? You will remember it, but it isn't only one country. It's a thousand countries with a single name. You will know that. You will bring with you the red deserts, the steppes of prickly pears and maguey, the world of the nopal, the belt of lava and frozen craters, the walls with golden church cupolas and stone battlements, the cities of stone and mortar, the cities of red tezontle, the towns of adobe, the villages of reed huts, the paths of black mud, the roads of drought, the lips of the sea, the thick, forgotten coasts, the sweet valleys of wheat and corn, the northern pastureland, the lakes of the Bajío region, the tall, slender forests, the branches laden with moss, the white peaks, the black plains, the ports with their malaria and their whorehouses, the calcareous husk of the henequen, the lost, rushing rivers, the gold and silver tunnels, the Indians without a common tongue, Cora tongue, Yaqui tongue, Huichol tongue, Pima tongue, Seri tongue, Chontal tongue, Tepehuana tongue, Huastec tongue, Totonac tongue, Nahua tongue, Maya tongue, the flute and the drum, the contredanse, the guitar and the harp, the feathers, the fine bones of Michoacán, the diminutive flesh of Tlaxcala, the light eyes of Sinaloa, the white teeth of Chiapas, the short-sleeved huipil blouses, the bow-shaped combs, the Mixtec tresses, wide tzotzil belts, Santa María shawls, Pueblo marquetry, Jalisco glass, Oaxaca jade, the ruins of the serpent, the ruins of the black head, the ruins of the great nose, the tabernacles and the retables, the colors and reliefs, the pagan cult of Tonantzinla and Tlacochaguaya, the old names of Teotihuacán and Papantla, Tula and Uxmal: you carry them with you and they weigh you down, they are very heavy stones for one man to carry: they don't budge and you have them slung around your neck: they weigh you down and they've gotten into your guts... they are your bacteria, your parasites, your amoebas...
     Your land
     You will think that there is a second discovery of the land in the hustle and bustle of war, a first footstep over the mountains and canyons that are like a challenging fist in the face of the desperate, slow advance of roads, dams, rails, and telegraph posts. This nature which refuses to be shared or ruled, which wants to go on being in its sharp solitude and gives men for their pleasure only a few valleys, a few rivers -- she goes on being the sullen owner of smooth and unreachable peaks, of the flat desert, of the jungles and abandoned coast. And men, fascinated by that haughty power, stand there with their eyes fixed on her power. If inhospitable nature turns her back on men, men turn their back on the wide, forgotten sea, rotting in its hot fecundity, boiling with lost riches. 
     You will inherit the land.
     You will never again see those faces you saw in Sonora and Chihuahua, faces you saw sleepy one day, hanging on for dear life, and the next furious, hurling themselves into that struggle devoid of reason or palliatives, into that embrace of men which is broken by other men, into that declaration, here I am and I exist with you and with you, and with you, too, with all hands and all veiled faces: love, strange, common love that wears itself out on itself. You will say it to yourself, because you lived through it and you didn't understand it as you lived it. Only in dying will you accept it and openly say that, even without understanding it, you feared it each of your days of power. You will fear that the amorous impulse will burst again. Now you will die and will not fear it any longer, because you will not see it. But you will tell the others to fear it: fear the false calm you bequeath them, fear the fictitious concord, the magical patter, the sanctioned greed, fear this injustice that doesn't even know what it is.
     They will accept your testament: the respectability you won for them, the respectability. They will give thanks to the lowlife Artemio Cruz because he made them respectable. They will thank him because he did not resign himself to living and dying in a Negro shack. They will thank him because he went forth to risk his life. They will vindicate you because they will no longer have your vindication; they will no longer be able to invoke the battles and the chiefs, as you did, and shield themselves with those battles and leaders to justify plunder in the name of the Revolution and their own glory in the name of the glory of the Revolution. You will think and be astounded: what justification will they find? What obstacle will they overcome? They will not think of it, they will reap the benefits of what you leave them for as long as they can; they will live happily, will put on grieving and grateful faces -- in public, you will not ask more of them -- while you wait, six feet of dirt on your body; you wait until you feel the rush of feet over your dead face and then you will say: 
     "They came back. They did not give up." 
     And you will smile. You will mock them, mock yourself. It's your privilege. Nostalgia will tempt you: that would be the way to beautify the past; you will not do it. 
     You will bequeath the useless deaths, the dead names, the names of all those who fell, dead, so that your name might live; the names of the men stripped so that your name would have possessions; the names of the men forgotten so that your name would never be forgotten.
     You will bequeath this country. You will bequeath your newspaper, the nudges and adulation, the people's awareness lulled by the false speeches of mediocre men. You will bequeath mortgages, you will bequeath a class without class, a power without greatness, a consecrated stupidity, a dwarfed ambition, a clownish commitment, a rotten rhetoric, an institutional cowardice, a clumsy egoism.
    You will bequeath them their thieving leaders, their submissive unions, their new latifundia, their U.S. investments, their jailed workers, their monopolizers and their great press, their field hands, their hit men and secret agents, their foreign bank accounts, their slick speculators, their servile congressmen, their adulatory ministers, their elegant subdivisions, their birthdays and commemorations, their fleas and wormy tortillas, their illiterate Indians, their fired laborers, their despoiled mountains, their fat men armed with scuba gear and stocks, their thin men armed with fingernails. Take your Mexico: take your inheritance. 
     You will inherit the sweet, disinterested faces with no future because they do everything today, say everything today, are the present and exist in the present. They say "tomorrow" because tomorrow doesn't matter to them. You will be the future without being it; you will consume yourself today thinking about tomorrow. They will be tomorrow because they live only today. 
     Your people.
     Your death. You are an animal that foresees death, sings its death, says it, dances it, paints it, remembers it before dying its death. 
     Your land. 
     You will not die without returning. 
     This village at the foot of the mountain, inhabited by three hundred people and barely visible except for some glimpses of roof tiles among the leaves, which, as soon as the stone of the mountain fixes itself in the earth, curl on the smooth hillside that accompanies the river in its course to the nearby sea. Like a green half-moon, the arc from Tamiahua to Coatzcoalcos will devour the white face of the sea in a useless attempt -- devoured in its turn by the misty crest of the mountains, origin and frontier of the Indian plateau -- to link itself to the tropical archipelago of graceful undulations and broken flesh. The languid hand of dry Mexico, unchanging, sad, the Mexico of stone cloisters and locked-in dust on the high plateau, the half-moon of Veracruz will have another history, tied by golden strings to the Antilles, the ocean, and, beyond, to the Mediterranean, which in truth will only be conquered by the battlements of the Sierra Madre Oriental. Where the volcanoes join and the silent insignia of the maguey rise up, a world will die which in repeated waves sends its sensual crests from the parting of the Bosporus and the breasts of the Aegean, its splashing of grapes and dolphins from Syracuse and Tunis, its deep wail of recognition from Andalusia and the gates of Gibraltar, its salaam made by a bewigged black courtier from Haiti and Jamaica, its bits and pieces of dances and drums and silk-cotton trees and pirates and conquistadors from Cuba. The black land absorbs the tide. The distant waves will fix on the cast-iron balconies and in the portals of the coffee plantations. The effluvia will die on the white columns of the rural porticoes and on the voluptuous undulations of the body and the voice. There will be a frontier here; then the somber pedestal of the eagles and flints will rise. It will be a frontier no one will defeat -- not the men from Extremadura and Castile, who exhausted themselves in the first foundation and were then conquered, without knowing it, in their ascent to the forbidden platform that allowed them only to destroy and deform appearances: victims, after all, of the concentrated hunger of statues made of dust, of the blind suction of the lake which has swallowed the gold, the foundations, the faces of all the conquistadors who have raped it; not the pirates who loaded their brigantines with shields thrown with a bitter laugh from atop the Indian mountain; not the monks who crossed the Pass of the Malinche to offer new disguises to unshakeable gods who had themselves represented in destructible stone but who inhabited the air; not the blacks, brought to the tropical plantations and softened by the depredations of Indian women who offered their hairless sex as a redoubt of victory against the black race; not the princes who disembarked from their imperial galleons and let themselves be fooled by the sweet landscape of palms and nut trees and ascended with their baggage laden with lace and cologne to the plateau of bullet-pocked walls; not even the leaders wearing three-cornered hats and epaulets who in the mute opacity of the highland found, finally, the exasperating defeat of reticence, of mute mockery, of indifference. 
     You will be that boy who goes forth to the land, finds the land, leaves his origins, finds his destiny, today, when death joins origins and destiny and between the two, despite everything, fixes the blade of liberty. 

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