Everything Is a Letter:
Winner of the 2022 Translation Prize

Ana Cristina Cesar (transl. by) Elisa Wouk Almino

The Complete Correspondence (1979)

My dear,

It’s downpouring. From here inside I can’t stop thinking about the trickle of people outside. Cold hands and feet under control. Only vague news, you should know. Is it on purpose? Fear of spilling the beans? Listen closely to Roberto: I almost called you but I looked at myself etc. I’ve already copied the lyrics you asked for.

The day was mush. Célia said: what matters is your career, not your life. A difficult contradiction. Life is like mushand my career like a narcissus flower in bloom. What I wrote in February is true but it comes with silly idle dramas. Now I’m extremely busy, at the mercy of my moods, chic nature, and ambiguous disposition (I’m a Gemini).

After I hung up the phone I regretted calling you, because our actual voices chilled our feelings. While I was requesting the phone call, my heart burned. And when we talked it was so like that, you watching tv and me near the bananas, lacking any style (as in the letters). Don’t you think that our distance and correspondence feed a certain aura (a green reflection in the lagoon in the middle of the woods)?

I don’t think a lot about Thomas. The chill from the first days went away. Later, I felt disgust: for him, his dick, his politics, his guitar. But I haven’t touched the subject again. I’m on vacation now. I’m afraid that the swaying will end. The Thomas of today is much older than I, he doesn’t call anymore, he studies, militates and makes love to his Martinique of long breasts and straight teeth, so much perfection.

I’m attracted to the Portuguese guy in a T-shirt who helped me at the Finances Department. He was a boor and had a pointy mustache. I chided him with lust that gave me a sharp pain.

Only today during Cris’s visit did I realize that I baptized the dog with her name. I had a subtle pang of embarrassment when I yelled at Cris for muddying up the carpet. Cris ran away but Cris didn’t notice (realizing perhaps that she was the honoree?). Gil as always read my lips and burst into typical, humidifyinglaughter.

The same Gil swears that Shakespeare wrote the verses “fucking is human, giving head is divine” and averts his eyes to the center of the table, after silently diagnosing my paranoia.

I got into an argument with Mary today. According to her, Altmann is cruel with the middle class and that’s unforgivable. I felt targeted and stumbled into a swell fight. When I arrived home, my unforgivable hand weighed heavily on my stomach. Mary is always right.

Gil says she doesn’t open herself up to me because she knows my jealousy is greater than my love. On the phone she tells me about her career and blablabla. But through Gil I know about the disasters in her marriage. She doesn’t tell me.

Yesterday we went out, us three. On these occasions my jealousy is salient, dances about and says niceties that not even I can predict. Nobody knows but it has the lightness of a little fetus. It’s maternal, puts on diapers, while our trio lambasts its whims. The result is so cool, a brilliant microphone of jealousy! There’s always a shadow in my smile (Roberto). I’m the melancholic one, I insist, though you always disapprove, always. I take the opportunity to ask for another opinion.

Gil says that I’m a sea lion and I demand absolute secrecy (he’s becoming convinced): little brooded-over stories on the sidewalk are caresses to my heart. Who could know? I do know how to play this sidewalk game all day, and well. On the other hand…

I wasn’t being totally honest.

I received another postcard from London. Now it just said, “What are men for?” With no date.

I can’t say no. Can you?

And the somatization, did it get any better?

I insist on the summary that you abandoned: 1. kindness that humiliates; 2. necessity versus pleasure; 3. a little son; 4. priorities; 5. what are men for.

Dream from last night: dark office under construction; men working; beds and bricks; I decided to wait in the bathroom, where there was a scooter, pudding ads, one black bra and other remnants. Whose bra was it? Did he sleep here? Have we seen each other before, me leaving and you coming in? Us lying side by side, his arm touching me. Get out of my way (I whisper). She gave my silk blouse to the maid. Without him I don’t stay at home. It’s been three days since I seem to live here (echoes of Ângela). That air of neurological inattention drives me crazy. We exit to the hallway. You’re going to have a little son, you hear?

I spent the entire afternoon at the printers. The colonel took issue again with the layout’s showy ideas. But that’s the nice part. Writing is the annoying part, I get back pain and vampire’s remorse. I’m going to take a secret class in graphic design. Invent the book before the text. Invent the text so that it fits in the book. The book comes before. The pleasure comes before, dummy.

The masculine epigraph of Joaquim’s book (there’s another more contained, feminine one): “It’s the story of gentle lust, a lyrical encounter in the green escapist paths of Paquetá, a visual, verbalization and exhibition of erotic fantasies. It features the disapproval of the vegetables’ genital calling, the cleverness of young women in bloom, the freedom of games in bed, sympathy for perverts, the taste for life and the complete poetry of Carlos Galhardo.”

My neck is better, thank you.

As for the story about the mothers, beckoning to one another with white sheets, while the daughter, after all, doesn’t pay that much attention, I can only say that I blushed a little for everything being so true. I think F. doesn’t notice, but as always lies a lot. Lies a lot! Only I know. She sells her soul to the devil, negotiating sharp intelligence for eternal youth. What would you say? In our pact, it’s pure Rita Hayworth, with N. in the scene, encased by mirrors. They play house on their free time. At the party they hosted, Gil drunkenly lectured that marriage is the solution, master of health. Destiny’s ironies. A fake hangover and quick jealousy of Rita of course followed.

I’m unable to explain my tenderness, my tenderness, you understand?

It’s hard to produce literature with Gil as my reader. He reads to uncover mysteries and asks trick questions, thinking that each verse obscures clues, biographical secrets. He doesn’t forgive hermeticism. Doesn’t admit to his own feelings. Mary, on the other hand, reads all of me like pure literature and doesn’t understand the direct references. 

At lunch Gil wanted to know the true identity of some Jean-Luc, and in front of everyone created an atmosphere of collusion, thinking he guessed everything. Upon leaving he made me swear on holy graves — Gil is always swearing or making me swear. And then you even say that I don’t respond.

Still waiting.



P.S. 1 — I don’t want T. reading our correspondence, please. I’m passionate but also modest!  

P.S. 2 — When I reread the letter, I discovered some typos. I didn’t correct them so as not to lose a certain air of perfection — note the gelomatic pagination, now that I’m a fine artist.

April 21, 1980

Un signal d’arrêt

Then I tell you before your trace of pure reflection:
“Instead of writing, simply”
I tell you that I don’t see in the reflection where the desire is to trace to
have whom you want to have.
As if I were drawing.
I don’t know how to write anymore because I only write to gift what I write
and have — more than — a gaze —
    “thematize the interlocutor”
    “sublimate the interlocutor”
It calls for a vocative, I say, parodying the serious girl, the novice in bright pink lipstick
(“but what is this?!”), and I gave a tug at your sleeve, on the living room couch where
port wouldn’t stop flowing,
    but as I was saying, those problems of technique, the first,
    the second
you don’t solve it like that, by going crazy over manifestosor telling Paris obscurities
with flashbacks in Brazil, and eschatological rage, and massages of complicity, no,
   it’s not like that.
   Flash: a tug at the sleeve and the epistolary of the nineteenth century.
   I ask Beth for letter paper from New York/New York with silver
stars and: a critical eye.
   “Plus tard, les signes, certains signes. Les signes me disent quelque chose. J’en ferais
bien, mais un signe, c’est aussi un signal d’arrêt. Or en ce temps je garde un autre désir,
un pardessus tous les autres.”
   And that’s why I don’t write.
   Civilly I ask if your drawing betrays
    un désir pardessus tous les autres 
It does,
But I don’t see it,
    and that’s why — you see that English pond with ducks? no, you can’t see from that angle over there, from your kitchen window it looks more like Paris — and that’s why I draw a dull English duck in a park without the reflection on the window display, which erases, slowly, (I wander the gallery alone), canvas to canvas, the outlineof the window display; the last picture is unfinished, or rather, as though I even saw alone, palpitating,on the Beaubourg mattresses, the Chien Andalou, the exhibition ends all of a sudden in the middle of the picture; further along there is the following hole and I don’t know how to keep going and it’s strange because when I came here I thought that this exhibition (this story of disappearance — of gradual — cloudlessness— of the outline, of the frame that encircles the reflection and marks the beginning, and the end) would end in a perfect circle.
Let’s move on.
The technique that works (politically correct): sit in Place de Vosges warming up in the sun.
Reading in silence.
I know how to move by – civilly – but –
I came looking picture by picture, I arrived here
and there’s no one here.
I’m sure you wouldn’t paint these walls black.
But all of a sudden it’s black here,
no mistral, no weather instabilities.

Today was a somewhat unstable day in Paris.
Did you receive my postcard?”
(I gave myself the luxury of being sort of hermetic, “that way you expose
yourself to a kind of mockery,” amorous, no doubt, at the dinner table.)
You can’t see, I know,
but my drawing does keep
don’t speak
a desire pardessus tous les autres
even in this second-to-last duck here, can you see, which I covered a
little more that day in which I didn’t scream from anger,
there is one on top of all the others,
and on the day of the opening I want (I promise I won’t sell the one with
the ducks) the one I want to know that from the development of the
scream (lightly applied colored pencil, vertical white wall, uneven
projections gently fixed with my fingers which, look here, are just a little
crooked as they should be) to the whole narrative about the outline’s
disappearance, everything is for the one I want (but it wasn’t me who
painted the gallery black, just look at me, you know I’m not sinister).
The mannequin remains inside the mannequin reflection outside
(there’s no more outside, inside, beginning, end, but note that
cloudlessness isn’t dissolution).
If you look hard, you also see me in the middle of the reflection, camera
in hand.
I answer that I can’t see.

I go out to the street and you gave me an eye for reflections erasing the
outline and the very memory of the outline; at the end of the street the
limit of my gaze finds a luminous boulevard, Arabs passing by more
briskly, fear of the surface,  
“The sun came out here in Paris this afternoon after some scattered rain
and we walked around a lot, kisses, miss you,”

I answer that I still can’t see.
Come with me to the door.
I’m going out to the street,
With the eyes of opaque drawings (Michaux), that I go
scribbling on, black, in India ink, kind of hard, scratching
the paper a little, for you.

Ana Cristina C.
Paris, 4.21.80