By: Rafael Courtoisie
Illustrated by Henry González
Selection and Compilation: Carolina Fonseca
Ciudad Puerto Ayacucho, on the banks of the Orinoco River, is the capital of Amazonas in Venezuela. Some 30 to 37 miles away was an impoverished village, more of a hamlet, barely distinguishable among the dense forest. The shrill, penetrating shrieks of parrots or some other nameless birds rang through the tangle of the jungle. Huts barely visible in the distance were roofed with dry, coppery palm thatch that hardly registered as man-made.
There were practically no breaks in the expanse of vegetation. Roots pushed the earth upward, raising it to great heights, only to let it fall slowly onto lethargic limbs, thick branches, and darkish leaves. The insects were vicious.
There are no signs in the jungle. Eyes do not look beyond the here and now. Steps slow, tracking into the subconscious. Desires reflect hotly back. Humidity rises.
I heard a human voice near a planted field.
The man was speaking in a language somewhere between Spanish and his native tongue. We managed to understand each other.
“What are you doing?” he asked after a bit.
The sun beat down intensely.
“I’m working,” I answered. “I’m taking photos. I’m a journalist.”
I showed him the incongruous Japanese tape recorder.
“No… I mean, what do you do in life? What do you do with your life?”
“Poetry,” I answered. “I write poetry. I try to write.”
He asked me to explain and I recited a poem from memory.
He put down the hoe and took a few steps out of the field. I followed him. He beckoned and led me to the jungle.
He stopped in front of a fruiting bush a few handspans high. It bore oval, fleshy red berries the size of a large nut. He split one open. The split had the look of a woman’s mouth.
He pulled the pulp off a black seed, a dark, solid, round pit inside the juicy interior. He gave me a taste of the flesh.
“Delicious,” I said. “Tasty. Very sweet!”
The fruit was a delight. The thin skin had a faint taste of something from my childhood.
The man kept the unbroken black seed in his hand, holding it between his fingers as I ate.
“The whole tribe eats this fruit,” said the man, “but the pit is poisonous. This stone is deadly.” He raised his hand.
The sun lit up the black seed.
“Deadly!” he repeated. I swallowed saliva. I ran my tongue over my teeth.
“Don’t ever bite it! The flesh yes, the seed no.”
He stared. I looked at the natural stone held between the weather-beaten fingers.
He noted, “In the language of my tribe, we call this fruit ‘poetry’.”
Poet, storyteller, and essayist born in Montevideo. Full member of the National Language Academy. Associate member of the Royal Spanish Academy. His anthology Tiranos temblad earned the José Lezama Lima International Poetry Award (Cuba, 2013). The author was awarded the Casa de América International Poetry Prize (Madrid) for his book Parranda (Editorial Visor, Madrid, 2014, also published as a bilingual edition in Rome under the title Baldoria, 2016). His book El lugar de los deseos (Valencia, Editorial Pre-textos, 2013) was published in Spain; the second edition of Partes de todo (poetry-essay) was published in Uruguay, the first edition was published in Spain. La balada de la mudita (México, 2016), Diario de un clavo (México, 2016), and Ordalía (Madrid, 2016) are his most recent collections of poetry. His novel Santo remedio (Madrid, Lengua de Trapo, 2006) was a finalist for the Fundación Lara Award. Goma de mascar (Madrid, Lengua de Trapo, 2008, La Habana 2016) and El ombligo del cielo (Santiago de Chile, 2012; Montevideo, Random House, 2014), La novela del cuerpo (Montevideo, 2014), and El libro de la desobediencia (Montevideo, 2017) are his most recent novels.