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Thursday, 17 May 2012

I stop by the fountain, it's dark: Roberto Bolaño: A White Handkerchief


Javan Myna (Acridotheres javanicus) in flight: photo by Lip Kee Yap, 11 September 2005

I'm walking in the park, it's fall, looks like somebody got killed. Until yesterday, I thought my life could be different. I was in love, etc. I stop by the fountain, it's dark, the surface shiny, but when I brush it with the palm of my hand I feel how rough it really is. From here I watch an old cop approach the body with hesitant steps. A cold breeze is blowing, raising goose bumps. The cop kneels by the body: with a dejected gesture he covers his eyes with his left hand. A flock of starlings rise. They circle over the policeman's head and then disappear. The policeman goes through the dead man's pockets and piles what he finds on a white handkerchief that he's spread out on the grass. Dark green grass that seems to want to swallow up the white square. Maybe it's the dark old papers that the cop sets on the handkerchief that make me think this way. I decide to sit down for a while. The park benches are white with wrought-iron legs. A police car comes down the street. It stops. Two cops get out. One of them heads toward where the old cop is crouched. The other waits by the car and lights a cigarette. A while later an ambulance silently appears and parks behind the police car. "I didn't see anything"... "A dead man in the park"..."An old cop"...

Roberto Bolaño: A White Handkerchief, from Antwerp, 1980, translated by Natasha Wimmer, New Directions, 2010

12 ENRIQUE METINIDES: Enrique Metinides (2007)

A Woman Grieves over Her Dead Boyfriend, Stabbed in Chapultepec Park While Resisting Robbers, Mexico City: photo by Enrique Metidides, 1985 (via American Suburb X) 

Red-winged Starling (Onychognathus morio) in flight, Cape of Good Hope, South Africa: photo by Lip Kee Yap, 6 October 2009

 Tlaloc fountain, Chapultepec Park,  Mexico City (detail): photo by Carraol, 25 August 2008

File:Lamprotornis superbus Taita Hills Kenia.JPG

Red-winged Starling (Lampitornis superbus) in flight, Taita-Hills, Kenya: photo by Marjorie Apel, 26 July 2008

 Tlaloc fountain, Chapultepec Park, Mexico City: photo by Carraol, 25 August 2008

File:Rosy Starling (Sturnus roseus) in Vadodara W Malaysia 022.jpg

Rosy Starlings (Sturnus roseus) in flight, Gujarat, India: photo by J. M. Garg, 29 November 2007

 Tlaloc fountain, Chapultepec Park, Mexico City (II): photo by Carraol, 25 August 2008

 Tlaloc fountain, Chapultepec Park, Mexico City (III): photo by Carraol, 25 August 2008


Hazen said...

Extraordinary, that red-wing starling in flight across the Taita-Hills of Kenya, and that gesture ‘the old cop’ makes, covering his eyes, that’s extraordinary too; and Bolaño seeing that and calling our attention to it in a moment of time that for him is both now and yesterday, a litany of the mundane details of a place where one’s life ceased to be different.

Extraordinary, all of it.

TC said...

Hazen, I thought this might be up your street.

Writ at 27, a loose collection of drifting fragments, this early work of Bolaño's doesn't have the headlong narrative momentum of the later masterpieces, but possesses its own kind of strength, in slow-moving, knife-like sentences that go in deep and keep on twisting and turning in the memory.

The atmosphere of violence, darkness and crime, with cops and bodies in every shadowy nook and cranny, here documents Bolaño's experience of the same Mexico City underworlds travelled by the unblinking photojournalist Metinides.

Some of the short poetic bits here could make captions for the arresting photos of "The Greek".

Nin Andrews said...

Wow, that is stunning. Now I want to read his early work.



It all adds up, the Javan Myna, the Red-winged Starlings, the Rosy Starlings, the Street Views, Chapultepec Park, the woman with her dead boyfriend, the dead man by the fountain in the park.


light coming into fog against invisible
top of ridge, robin calling from branch
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

A lapses into A’ on the one
hand, a point in time

the interior, positive side
of something, but not

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

Annie said...

Already Bolaño's got the inside/outside narrative going. The flow of images in the text and the photos is cinematic with occasional freeze-frames or maybe I am just letting the reel break and flap while recovering my breath before the rain god swallows me whole...the dark/white, the matter of fact pronouncements of different deaths, it's Mexico City Noir... funny, like Bolaño, starlings were not native to Mexico, yet adapted supremely to a wide range of habitats. But that may be just coincidence.

Chris said...

Tlaloc is the central figure here. What sacrifice will be made, to bring rain?

¿Solo asi he de irme?
¿Como las flores que perecieron?
¿Nada quedara en mi nombre?
¿Nada de mi paso aqui en la tierra?

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

I think Hazen has pretty well summed up what this post is all about--Bolaño's piece is stunning by itself but reading it next to Metinidis' photo and those of the starlings literally takes our breath away.

TC said...

"Maybe it's the dark old papers that the cop sets on the handkerchief that make me think this way."

Personal effects.

"Tlaloc is the central figure here. What sacrifice will be made, to bring rain?"

Earthly reckonings.

At least my flowers! At least my songs!