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Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Martín Adán: The Cardboard House


Muelle des Pescadores, Chorrillos, Lima, Peru
: photo by Jorge Arias R., 16 September 2011

Winter in Barranco has already begun -- a peculiar, daft, and fragile winter that might just cleave the sky and let a tip of summer peek through.  The mist of this small winter, affairs of the soul, puffs of sea breeze, the mist of a boat trip from one pier to another, the sonorous flutter of rushing lay-sisters, opaque sounds of Mass, winter newly arrived...  Now, off to school with cold hands.  Breakfast is a warm ball in the stomach, the hardness of the dining room chair on the buttocks, and the solemn desire in the entire body not to go to school.  The frond of the palm tree hovers over a house: flabellate, gently somber, pure, pink, glistening.  And now you whistle with the streetcar, boy with closed eyes.  You do not understand how one can possibly go to school so early in the morning, especially when there are esplanades and the sea below.  But as you walk down the street that traverses almost the entire city, you smell the perfume of distant vegetables in nearby gardens.  You think of the lush, wet fields: almost urban behind you; limitless in front of you, between the ash and elder trees, toward the bluish sierra.  Barely the outline of the first foothills, the mountains' eyebrow...  And now you pass through the fields surrounded by muffled beehive sounds of fleeting friction over rails and a flourish of athletic though urban gymnastics.  Now the sun grinds to golden a mountain peak and an ancient burial mound, a yellow knoll like the sun itself.  And you do not want it to be summer, but rather winter vacation, tiny and weak, with no school and no heat.

Martín Adán (1908-1985): excerpt from The Cardboard House (La casa de cartón), 1928; English translation by Katherine Silver, New Directions 2012

Ángeles rubilindos en la Plaza de Barranco, Lima, Peru: photo by victor mendivil, 17 May 2009

Morro Solar, Chorrillos, Lima, Peru: photo by En Perú, 10 February 2008


The Morro Solar seen from Larcomar Mall in Miraflores Ward, Chorrillos District, Lima, Peru: photo by Surge79uwf, 4 September 2007


Cerro Tres Cruces, Reserva del Manu, Peru: photo by M@RuChaO, 1 July 2009


Susan Kay Anderson said...

"sun grinds to golden...ancient burial mound"

Yellow pink turquoise
upside down
under yellow
we left messages
on the treeless point
they will see them
someday from far above.

Standardize me
awaiting at the school
pass through
some hours
skirting the edges
wallflower outsider in Peru.
I'm told exactly what to do
but not exactly
data they're after
where to go
yes it's hell
in other words.
The Peruvian Dream
became untrue
suddenly so American.

Susan Kay Anderson said...

South the
sparkly air
where mummies guard
an ancient empire
desert airports decorate
large landing scapes
Peru, let me find you
upside down, your school.

Turquoise yellow crazy
almost Pizza Pier
home of the Polson Pirates
when I went to school
in Polson
cold icy water
up against the Mission Range
with its grizzlies
its peaks and valleys freezing

of Flathead county.

TC said...

Martín Adán (1908-1985), "a legendary, reclusive presence in Peruvian literature", published seven volumes of poetry and twice won the National Prize for Poetry. The Cardboard House, begun when he was eighteen, and published, to great acclaim, when he was twenty, is his only work of fiction. It is regarded as a Peruvian modernist classic.

The novel is writ as a series of poetic vignettes related by place and mood. Reverie, dream, observation, and memory intermingle as the narrator wanders through Barranco, then an exclusive seaside resort outside Lima.

The translator Katherine Silver, who provides a useful Preface, suggests that The Cardboard House is as "subversive now as when it was written: Adán's uncompromising poetic vision and the trueness and poetry of his voice constitute a heroic act against cultural colonialism."

Mario Vargas Llosa has expressed great admiration for the novel: “This book is profoundly realist, but it is not a reproduction of exterior reality; it is rather the poetic, sensorial, intuitive, non-rational testimony of this reality.”

Susan Kay Anderson said...

The carton, regular
small place, space
to dream in flat sliding yellow
above turquoise

pack lightly
for the desert

water, dear.
A hoo hoo ha.

Anonymous said...

Oh, that final line -- "And you do not want it to be summer, but rather winter vacation, tiny and weak, with no school and no heat" -- I feel it deeply in my own bones. Mornings like this, with its indeterminate grey and vaguely lined horizon, give me more peace, at least until noon or so, than nearly any sunny day.

TC said...

This morning, with its low grey ceiling, might have been a fair simulation of the atmospherics of the Esplanade in Barranco.

Little peace to be found downtown waiting an hour and eight minutes for the scheduled 18 bus, still plenty of space for contemplation... of everyone rushing to work from BART.

Adopting the POV of a Peruvian modernist might have helped. Though it seems nothing much helped Adán himself. He is said to have preferred his own company to any save that of the spirits. Or would spirits be the word.

TC said...

Well, to be fair, Adán was not really his name; it was a nom de plume. He was born Rafael de la Fuente Benavides.

As a boy he spent summer vacations with his family in what was at the time a slightly run-down but still exclusive seaside resort.

Aristocratic appearances were being kept up, but appearances often deceive. By the time he wrote this book family finances could no longer support a seaside resort chalet, the resort area of Barranco was growing seedy, and in any case his family was rapidly vanishing (his younger brother had died, and this death would soon be followed by that of every member of his immediate family, father, mother, and the aunt and uncle into whose care he had been placed).

And appearances also deceive with this marvelous little book, which, in its vibrant power of evocation, seems much larger than it is.

Susan Kay Anderson said...


Flying fizz
aged sugar
what is worn
in a cave
that's you
it's ready-to-go
phone call
with nobody there
all bottled up

Susan Kay Anderson said...

Martin Adan
with accent marks
Zuzen Andressoni.

Wooden Boy said...

I'm always fascinated how when writing to remember, the memory becomes a kind of animal you can commune with, particular and warm. It breathes and pulses, gives you back the eye.

Any heavy handed striving for verisimilitude would leave you with nothing but a well kept set of accounts.

I love the slipperiness of the text. You slide from vague desires and resistances to sounds, scents and images with a time uncoupled from clocks, the little boy's time.



"Winter in [Bolinas] has already begun" (too) -- grey light coming into fog awhile ago, now its more light, time to get Johnny up so he can get to school, and I wonder what will be going through his mind as we make the drive down from the Mesa to Gospel Flats, and what he might remember of it all.


light coming into fog against invisible
ridge, blackness of black pine branches
in foreground, wave sounding in channel

“breath enclosed,” position
as “real” as in which

window, outside-in reversed,
incoming yellow light

grey white of fog reflected in channel,
cormorant flapping across toward point

TC said...

That sliding temporality is certainly impressive and seems to represent an independent wandering boys-own-world grasp of things, now loose and reflective, now acute and keen -- taking in and recording, quite without judgement, scenes and events and characters too elusive, fragmentary, mercurial, or "inconsequential" to capture and hold the attention of the "trained" (but thus also already rigidified) adult writing-mind.

And chronological narrative orders play little or no part in this process.

After the great (and surprising) critical and popular success of this book, Adán would seem to have escaped the challenging shadow of its "promise" by more or less disappearing under a lifelong cloud. The world as it is, with all its (often false) promise of larger worlds opening out indefinitely ahead, proves, in the actual event, simply too much for some sensitive souls to bear.

Soon after the splash he had made with The Cardboard House settled, as Katherine Silver tells the story, "the traces of [Adán's] life fade into an alcoholic haze. There are anecdotes about the coffee houses he visited, the odd scraps of napkins on which he wrote his poems, his increasing isolation, and the long periods of internment in hospitals and clinics of various kinds. He died in 1985, his final years spent shunning all public attention and only allowing visits from his editor, Juan Mejía Baca, and a few close friends. During one of the few interviews he ever granted -- and only after the interviewer had spent years soliciting a meeting, one that Adán cut short after a few questions -- he said he wrote the Cardboard House to practice the rules his grammar professor, Emilio Huidobro, had given him.

"Perhaps the notebook that housed his words was bound in cardbord."

TC said...

Steve, lovely about getting Johnny off to school on this cold grey morning (remembering Ben's poem on his first son -- "my best piece of poetry").

School's out forever, here, but yes -- cold, grey clouds, and waking up stiff all over as the skeleton insistently reminds that septuagenarians do not recover from major speeding-auto-induced spinal and cranial trauma, they simply ache all over and seize any convenient excuse to stop moving. Said he as he returned to the litter.

Thinking about a big sad disabled opossum who's been surviving peacefully (defensively) for many years here in the underbrush, yesterday it appeared in daylight (opossums never do that), very wobbly and impeded in its movement, spent the night huddled in the ivy forest, probably looking for a place to die without being harassed by the local pack of extremely aggressive raccoons.

Everybody trying to figure out how to get through another climate-changed Arctic-by-the-Bay winter.

Susan Kay Anderson said...

Plastic Tarp House

Where the rain leaks in
moisture underneath drips
down into the cinder
puddles reflect the old volcano

what is there
in the quick pages
was only one view
out of my many--

they liked the side of me
schoolish with heavy looks
I could not explain
my panic disappointment

I tried to point there
up to the dry ungrassy knoll
its mummies seeing everything
with empty bone hole eyes

my beauty fleeing my sockets
the thing I had counted on
but did not know its grammar.
I needed a warm wing
instead of lukewarm plastic.
Take me.

Susan Kay Anderson said...

in the ivy bosom
near the detectives' house
dead, then playing dead
finally seen
pink skin
snaky tail

thank you for eating
so many snails
slugs those blocks
unfortunate insects
garbage you consumed
hissing at those fiends
raccoons those banditos
stealing your night
with clean hands
all that furious washing.

Susan Kay Anderson said...

68 Minutes for the #18

poems walk
range around
some use the sidewalk
sideways from the BART
work waits patiently
like a loud spider

rapids the stream
foggy apples
on a shiver
of someone's liver

Hazen said...

The minutiae of days and lives, first observed, then deftly and silently incised into memory for later recall: the ‘perfume of distant vegetables,’ the angled shadow, the leafy shape, all watered into a second life. One is here now, but one is always there.

TC said...

"One is here now, but one is always there."

Always. And then nowhere.

Susan, we've endured so many frantic North Pacific rainy seasons under the dubious shelter of multiple sedimentary layers of decomposing blue plastic tarp that we could write a manual on the inadequacy of this form of protection. But, you know how it is. An armload of ten dollar tarps, a bucket of tar and...

But finally, when at last the imperious contractor gods had to be summoned, as the pseudo-roof had literally caved in, they informed us there had never been a real roof under those tarps at all (appearances deceive), just a few tons of gravel poured on over roof beams that had collapsed long, long before... sometime between the 1920s and the 1970s, was the professional estimate.

About that opossum, thanks for caring. They are the most innocuous of beasts, and I love the look of them. So I worried all night about this poor disabled possum. It had been wiggling and thrashing about in the brush helplessly, as though its powers of locomotion had abandoned it. Today I braved the permafrost to look for it, fearing the worse.

It had vanished.

We have had several instances of super antiseptic nature-hating amerikanski neighbours leaving out rat poison and thus "accidentally" poisoning squirrels, mice... and in one heartbreaking instance, a little female tortoiseshell cat, who had survived every conceivable form of adversity over the better part of two decades, before having her nervous system destroyed in honour of somebody's fear of the living.

But the possums... another old story:

Playing Dead: Opossums.

As to the #18, I've made a vow to swear off the buses and never drag my ancient broken carcass into these mean streets again.

Until the next time I have to.



Another Arctic-by-the-Bay morning here, time to get that blond boy up for school -- long live your lovely friend opossum, and yourselves.