[…] My isolation was absolute, interrupted only by the caretaker, who every three or four days, brought me my meager provisions. He lingered only a few minutes because seeing me in such an exhilarated, disheveled state, he must have considered me on the brink of a dangerous mental breakdown. And, to tell the truth, the sun, the solitude, the nights spent under the circling stars, the silence, the scant nourishment, the study of esoteric subjects, all joined together to weave a sort of incantation that predisposed me to wonders.”
“This, then, took place the morning of the fifth of August at 6am. I had awakened early and immediately climbed into the boat. A few strokes of the oars were enough to distance me from the gravelly shore. I stopped under a rocky outcropping whose shadow would protect me from the rising sun…a sun that was already swollen with fury and mutating the pristine quality of the early morning sea with streaks of gold and blue. I was reciting when I felt a sudden tilt of the boat, to the right and behind me, as if someone had grabbed the gunnels in order to climb in. I turned around and saw her…the smooth face of a sixteen year old emerging from the sea and two small hands gripping the rails. She smiled and her pallid lips parted allowing a glimpse of sharp white tiny teeth like those of a dog. It wasn’t, however, one of those smiles like your kind makes, always cheapened by an accessory look of benevolence or irony, pity, cruelty or whatever else. Hers expressed she and she alone; that is, an almost bestial joy at being alive…a nearly divine happiness. This smile was the first of the spells that she worked on me revealing earthly paradises of forgotten serenity. Seawater streamed from her disheveled golden hair, over her wide-open green eyes, over features of an infantile purity.
“Our suspicious reason, predisposed as it is to question the existence of worldly wonders, when it actually perceives one, tries to shore itself up with the memory of banal phenomena. Like anyone else, I wanted to believe that I had simply encountered a bather and, moving carefully, I lurched over to her, bent over and stretched out my hands to help her climb in. But she, with amazing vitality, rose straight out of the water up to her waist, threw her arms around my neck enveloping me in a perfume I had never smelled before, and slid into the boat. Below the crotch, under the buttocks, her body was that of a fish covered in extremely fine blue and mother of pearl scales, terminating in a bifurcated tail that beat slowly on the bottom of the boat. She was a Siren.”
“Lying on her back, she rested her head in her interlaced hands, immodestly displaying the delicate hair of her armpits, her separated breasts, her perfect stomach. From her rose, though I improperly called it a perfume before, a magical sea odor, an adolescent sensuality. We were in the shade but just twenty meters away from us, shimmering like a jewel, the sea gave way to the sun. My almost total nudity poorly covered up my emotions.”
“She spoke and thus I was subsumed, after the smile and the odor, by the third and greatest spell…by her voice. It was slightly guttural and subdued, pulsating with innumerable harmonic undertones. The lazy backwash of the summer surf, the swishing of foam on the beach, the passage of wind over cresting waves, all joined to form a kind of backdrop to the words. The song of the Sirens, Corbera, doesn’t exist. The music from which one can’t escape is simply the sound of their voices.”
“She spoke a Greek that I had trouble understanding. ‘I heard you speaking alone in a language similar to mine. I like you, take me. My name is Lighea, daughter of Calliope. Don’t believe all the fables you’ve heard. We don’t kill anybody, we only love.’”
“I bent over and began to row while staring at her laughing eyes. Once on shore, I picked up the aromatic body and carried it out of the blazing sun into the dense shade. She was already stirring that sensuality in my body that compared to your terrestrial kisses is like wine to water.”
[…] “So this was how those three weeks began,” said he senator. “It’s not proper, nor would it be charitable to you to go into details. Suffice it to say that in those embraces, I enjoyed the highest form of spiritual as well as primitive sensuality, completely devoid of whatever social constraints our lonely herders feel when, in the mountains, they couple with their goats. If the comparison revolts you, it’s because you’re not able to perform the necessary transposition from the animal plane to the divine, planes that for me overlap.”
“Think about how much Balzac didn’t dare express in his Passion dans le desert. From Lighea’s immortal limbs gushed such a potential for life that the energy expended was immediately rewarded, indeed exalted. In those few days, Corbera, I loved as much as a hundred of your Don Giovannis, put together, loved in all their lives. And what a love it was: protected from convents and crimes, from the malice of the commanders of etiquette, from the vulgarity of intruders, far from the pretensions of the heart, the false sighs, the phony lust that inevitably stain your miserable kisses. As a matter of fact, an intruder disturbed us the first day and only that day. Around 10 am, I heard the sound of the caretaker’s boots on the path that led down to the sea. I was barely able to throw a sheet over Lighea’s unusual body before he reached the door. Her uncovered head, neck and arms led the intruder to believe that she was one of my vulgar playmates, thus filling him with a sudden respect. He dallied even less than usual. On his way out, he winked his left eye and with the closed thumb and index finger of his right hand, pretended to twist an imaginary mustache at the corner of his mouth, and scrambled up the path.”
“I have told you about twenty days spent together. I wouldn’t like it if you imagined though, that during those three weeks, she and I lived ‘matrimonially’, as they say, sharing a bed, food and quarters. Lighea’s absences happened all the time. Without any sign, she would dive into the sea and disappear, sometimes for hours. When she returned, almost always in the early morning, she found me already in the boat. Or, if I was still in the house, she wriggled on the rocks, half in and half out of the water, pushing with her arms and calling for me to help her up the slope. ‘Saza’, she called me, because I had told her that was my knick name. Hampered, actually, by that part of her body that conferred her agility in the water, she presented the pitiful appearance of a wounded animal, an appearance that the laugh in her eyes quickly nullified.”
She didn’t eat anything that wasn’t still alive. I often saw her emerge from the sea, her delicate body sparkling in the sun, biting into a silvery fish that was still shaking in her mouth. Blood streamed down her chin staining her red. After a few bites, the mangled merluzzo or orata was tossed over her shoulder where it sank into the water while she, childishly, screaming triumphantly, cleaned her teeth with her tongue. Once, I gave her some wine but it was impossible for her to drink from the glass. I had to pour some into her slightly green, miniscule palms that she drank up, lapping like a dog, as a look of surprise for that unknown flavor, spread across her face. She said it was good but then afterwards always refused it. Every so often she came to shore with her hands full of oysters and mussels and while I struggled to open them with a knife, she simply crushed them with a stone and sucked out the palpitating mollusks together with pieces of shell which didn’t seem to bother her.”
“I already told you she was an animal, Corbera, but she was also an Immortal at the same time. It’s a shame that one can’t express this synthesis with words like, with absolute simplicity, she expressed it with her body. Not only did she manifest a playfulness and delicacy in the carnal act completely contrary to the usual dark animal lust, but her speech contained a potent immediacy I have only found in a few great poets. One isn’t the daughter of Calliope for nothing. Unaware of all cultures, ignorant of all wisdom, contemptuous of all moral constrictions/constraints, she never the less played a role in the rise of every culture, of all knowledge, of all morality and knew how to express her primordial superiority in coarse beautiful terms. She said, ‘I am everything because I am only the current of life without all its doings. I am immortal because all dead souls flow into me, beginning with the merluzzo’s of moments ago to that of Zeus. Gathered in me, they become life again, no longer individual and particular life but all life, and therefore free.’ Then she said, ‘You are beautiful and young. You should follow me now into the sea where you’d be saved from pain and old age. You would stay in my home under the towering mountains of still dark water where everything is silent and so natural that when you live there, you don’t even notice the water’s presence. Remember that I loved you and that when you are tired or have had all you can take, all you have to do is lean over the water and call to me, and your dream of sleep will be realized. I will always be there because I am everywhere.’
“She told me about her life under the sea, about the bearded Tritons in their sea-green grottos, and how these too were just fatuous semblances and that the truth really lay much deeper, in the blind mute palace of formless waters, eternal, without light, without whispers.”
By Joel Gerst, literature lover and award winning “pignolo”, whose absolute intransigence with the accuracy of meaning, nuance and register of words informed many an Italian language and literature class I was leading in Berkeley, eons agoI We are deeply indebted to Joel Gerst and Josie Barbieri Gerst for believing in The Dreaming Machine endeavor, understanding the necessity of translation (remember only 3% of published material in the US is a translation) and supporting it in many ways. We look forward to more suggestions and collaborations and we hope that other readers, spurred by his example, think of of other literary texts that should be translated or re-translated.
Featured image: painting by Giacomo Cuttone, visit his gallery at http://www.cuttone.altervista.org/gall/completa.html