Death on Rua Augusta is a book I knew I would translate before I had even finished reading it. What most attracted me to the text was my desire to make sense of it, to understand it better, and that allowed me to place personal fulfilment far before any hopes of publication. While such a close reading of the text did increase my understanding, it also left me puzzled further: Tedi López Mills so relentlessly explores the boundaries of consciousness – be it Gordon’s, the poem’s, or our own – that the boundaries themselves begin to blur. At some points in the translation process, I felt very much that I belonged in Gordon’s tormented world, punctuated by the small satisfactions we had each scrawled in our respective notebooks. Death on Rua Augusta is a funambulatory feat; as the poem barrels onwards, it is easy to miss some of its more subtle lyric moments. In translation I found myself engaging in that same balancing act: attempting to maintain the drive towards Gordon’s ultimate destiny without losing the book’s poetry, especially its sonic patterning, and doing justice to those lyrical sections without allowing the narrative pace to falter.
On first reading, I recommend the reader not insist on making sense of the world of Death on Rua Augusta, but rather relish the experience of inhabiting it, enjoy riding the waves of its mania and paranoia, get lost in its relentless onslaught of voices. —DS
On the first morning of his new life
Mr Gordon (blessèd Mr Gordon)
made drawings for his neighbours’ grandchildren
& tilled the garden for his wife, Donna:
look what I planted today —he told her—
heliotropes & roses & geraniums for you,
mud for me, words & worms for you, a pebble
or what do I have here? glass! a drop of blood,
Donna, my blood for you.
So Mr Gordon played in his yard
in the suburbs of Fullerton, California,
he played & then he cried, sprawled on the earth
with his drop of blood,
his black mouth, his immense mouth
avenging that sudden stain,
the unnecessary stain of silence,
after the glass in his face,
Donna’s soft face:
I’m sorry, a thousand times over,
until she lifted him from the dirt
& took him inside & cleaned him & cuddled him
you’re my beast, my little beast
& she touched his lips with the tip
of a rag & she whispered
Gordon, I hate you, & he laughed.
In the quiet of the night, Mr Gordon
sat at the dining room table and wrote in his diary:
today I cut my skin with donna again
I put my hand in the mud and tightened my pliers on the hardest
root and twisted it and broke it and the root shouted: that’s a lie, Gordon,
while I pulled it, you’re no one, old madman, useless old man,
and I beat it until killing it,
I am still someone, when I go out
in the mornings to walk through the yard
the neighbours and the neighbour’s grandchildren
greet me ‘hi, gordon’ and I greet them
‘hi, neighbours and neighbour’s grandchildren’
and I walk toward the pool that is everyone’s pool
where Mr Jaime, the gardener, is,
skimming hair from the water,
and we talk like two friends,
then he takes me back to my house with donna
Gordon traced the route on the page,
he made an oval and beneath it put ‘pool’
and over it an enormous sun, on one side a stick
that was him next to another thicker one that was Mr Jaime.
along this line we walked
taking dirty steps over the grass, quiet
because I don’t dare tell Mr Jaime
that I collect memories of pools,
numbered, with names, a photo or a drawing,
the desert pool, the prairie pool,
the mountain pool, rectangular
amidst the dried leaves or round when the dog days of summer
approach, tracing lines in the air,
that rebounds to touch me and I think to raise a wall
as I have seen many pools over many years,
also holes without pools in my head
an indistinct well calving noisily
where my face’s shape sinks,
but today I must confess something else
I got mad with donna and cried in the garden
and she wiped off my lips with her rag,
it smelled like wet grease, like white tongue,
donna squeezes me, where is the money, gordon?,
she says in a low voice, where did you hide it?
what money, donna? she laughs and it hurts me.
Gordon finished his annotation
with a list of activities for the next day.
tomorrow I am going to:
1. prepare donna’s breakfast, bread and warm
milk with a teaspoon of honey,
2. study my book of origami and learn to make
a coyote and give it to donna,
3. read and underline the guides to spain and portugal,
4. review my blue notebook of pools and my
white notebook of drawings, where did I put
the shadow of the mirror that I left stuck here?
I asked donna mockingly and she looked at me
apprehensively, I never saw anything, she told me, I gave her
a wink and made a face, let’s just forget it, donna.
Anonymous taught Gordon various things,
for example, how to fill the space between
‘I took out the trash… I went out to the yard’
(or between ‘I ate a lot… later I ate dinner’) with more words.
Gordon began scribbling:
it’s me dumb gordon
today I put on my grimy tie
donna yelled at me don’t be a pig idiot
I spit on the floor that’s what you want
my spit dumb woman
I followed her around the house
I pulled donna’s hair
we wound up crumpled on the living room floor
I told her in her ear you want me to put it in you right
later I cried into the carpet
donna kicked me like a dog
she threw water on me
I imitated her with her teeth out
donna cried we hugged
I realised that donna
Stinks of my money
later I went out to the yard.
Like this? Gordon asked Anonymous,
who half-closed his eyes for just an instant:
long eyes, Gordon thought,
he looked at Anonymous’ lips:
they moved, chewing something invisible,
Gordon tried to see what it was but the space was black,
and he threw his head backwards,
nest of murmurs, he thought, of rumours,
Anonymous shook Gordon:
no, stupid, not like that,
first of all you put, very elegantly,
on the left side of the page:
Gordon wrote it in his best handwriting.
Beneath it put your phrases in order,
with commas, periods, without crossing anything out:
all that you can about Donna, her cunning, her tricks,
she crushes you, she steals your money, she beats you with her mop,
she whispers with Ralph in the kitchen
while you set the table,
and then write some thought,
some noble image, beautiful,
about the nature of gardens
and of people;
that’s where I’ll dictate to you.
He also taught him to not say anything for hours,
to remain still in his chair and look at a point of light
on the white wall, is it god? he asked Anonymous,
the light had more light at its center, fire at its edges,
Gordon felt it burn on his face,
Anonymous’ hoarse voice puffed up enormous:
it is me, Gordon, god is not my light but your shadow.
And he learned to believe in his shadow with light in contrast.
The first time Gordon saw the sea
years ago at Newport Beach
it impressed him so much that he could no longer
think about anything else that day or night.
Standing in the sand, barefoot,
his white legs two slender
columns before the horizon,
he commented to Donna:
I never would have imagined it so big, so unstable.
Is it gray or blue?
Now seated on the sand, he continued staring at the sea.
The foam lapped at the beach
with pieces of wood, plants, conches,
he couldn’t believe it, Gordon, so much foam
spinning again and again, so much water lifted
to fall with bubbles on its edge
without lasting, why, he asked Donna,
she looked at him incredulous: quit clowning around, Gordon,
what’s it matter to you, and took off running toward the sea.
Gordon approached its edge with caution,
like an astute hunter (he told himself)
that doesn’t know if he should kill or forgive
his moving, timid prey.
Who are you? he blurted at the sea,
because someone tossed about out there,
someone made noise in the water,
complicated his silence
in the perfect sphere of that Sunday
which Gordon had so planned in his mind:
I will be there with Donna,
I will place the big towel on the sand
that I still haven’t seen
and on top of that a basket full of food,
napkins, plastic plates and a rose
for you, love, and Donna will give me a quick kiss
and I will tell her, Donna, I love you.
But it wasn’t happening that way,
the ocean in front of him,
the sea he couldn’t look away from,
what does it want? asked Gordon with his face
already twisted downward.
He saw Donna’s head in the water
lit with a diagonal sparkle
and he felt offended.
You petty sea, he yelled, now at its edge,
the water whirled around his ankles,
it surrounded them with its foam several times
as if searching for something on his skin
to cling on to without funding it, thus scratching it
before leaving, muttering among the rocks,
you, me, you, me, sun, sun, sun,
pluck your eyes,
junk crow, cardboard crow.
Leave me be, Gordon said,
clammy sea you’re the same as everything else just dizzy,
and slowly, without taking his eye off it, he backed up to his towel.