Everybody Suffers: the Selected Poems of Juan Garciá Madero,
Translated from the Spanish by Matt Longabucco
O’clock Press, 2014
56 pages / O’clock Press
1. Does Everybody Suffer
Does everybody suffer? What’s the poem done to get itself in trouble? No matter. It’s not as though the poem is hanging in, it’s not like the poem’s made it through this long cold season. No, it’s sort of leaning into the pavement (something rock and hard)—I’m not as precise as Juan García Madero—and other than dreaming. As if someone allows herself to communicate among humans. Even where it’s moist, grave and desert there is a seismographic needle. Even though I’m against all forms of communication—I mean I’m not against all forms of communication—I’m in love with no bud of a flower only powder and taste. It can speak you and speak mistake—wiping the flower’s powder off the long nose just right for it. Is what I did. I bought the book Everybody Suffers because it bruised my ego. I can’t say why. It was very reassuring—it was more like feeling hunger. For to be hungry is very patient. No mother ever fed me anything patient except her bright red flesh. Where is my mother, I wanted to ask, because I cannot see her.
The poems were to me where I am anonymous to myself—outside.
Because I suffer I am also the cause and as the poems come out these poems as I was listening, change.
Where were you back then where I am now, García Madero?
Standing (always standing) or getting up to feed the tension, that air, and felt in it a blur (other than visceral?)…or a black hole dilating–not a blur at all but what happens when you grow backwards, what the visceral realists call walking backwards.
2. Hot & Crusty
I do not turn to these poems because they are interesting but because they are what I relate to as directly as I relate to this apricot Danish at Hot and Crusty in an in-between moment of the evening on 86th street. It really isn’t about sin. It’s just what I turn to or know how to communicate with and after I’ve eaten it, I notice there are people next to me whispering, announcing their gossip. It’s all very real but I don’t want anyone to describe it or to joke about it. There is a worm in my thought trying to find its next morsel and the stomach, even afterwards, is still scraping itself (Rimbaud’s rib) and when the worm will be illuminated, when it will freeze and forget it’s hungry then there is someone else saying what needed to be said without me knowing it was on the tip of my tongue where the worm waits like a dance.
Caught! Not yet spoken! A tramp in speech. A beauty queen in thought. The ugly pulse of just wanting a Danish. The poem waits as Juan García Madero waits to talk before being thrown down in the mind by the madness of Quim, by the impossibility of a movement (Visceral Surrealism) because of movement inside the worm, the thing I try to relate to directly, which bombards me without eating the sky and my feet. If only Cesárea Tinajero had not taken the wave and gone CHOP CHOP. Juan García Madero is young and outside in the dark of his own mind’s pimple spot. I eat sugar flour for dinner and health paranoia invades my bourgeois heart. Can you feel my heart it dances with all the only things it has to relate to, every moment in the chapbook by O’clock. Who knows what I am and how I understand this but it can only be because I have no bourgeois heart. Who would alchemize this bourgeois heart and exchange it for something real?
3. Second Thoughts: What holds Visceral Surrealism tightly in our arms?
Or no such thing, it is not our territory, García Madero writes:
I say we should include
everybody, we should decide nothing, truly nothing, but
in the morning also, depart
Departing, strands of melancholy come together irresistibly, like a tight braid:
Those tendrils of possibility that
Enter this dimension from the dimension
of our longing, called forth only to be
ignored, discarded or feared—they stay,
they dangle and menace and may be woven,
by the damned, into a rope.
Everybody Suffers participates in an imaginary universe, or pretends to, as Roberto Bolaño writes in The Savage Detectives:
I went out into the hallway and realized that visceral realism was all pretend…
And Juan García Madero:
…where’s surrealism? In the toilet where it belongs
Can the point at issue be more definitively and incisively presented than by Rimbaud himself in his personal copy of the book (Saison en enfer)? In the margin, beside the passage ‘on the silk of the seas and the arctic flower,’ he later wrote, ‘there’s no such thing.’
I had no idea what he was talking about and yet, somehow it was all still there, everything in its place…
‘Everything is in its place’ + profanity, like a seat with a hole in it:
Of this seat so poorly made….
Of this seat so poorly made
That it ties our entrails in knots,
The hole must have been built
BY veritable scoundrels
An imaginary universe in Everybody Suffers is the pattern of García Madero suffering which one (and the talking has an omnipresent narrative quality) talks out of like from a hole that is a dark space in the toilet seat or an insubstantial flower anterior to the text. We inhabit this profanity through tension, which is the same state that Roberto Bolaño employs to initiate his readers into The Savage Detectives (just as Juan García Madero is initiated into ‘Visceral Surrealism’).
This was the fifth session of Alamo’s workshop that I’d attended (but it might just as well have been the eight or ninth, since lately I’ve been noticing that time can expand or contract at will), and tension, the alternating current of tragedy, was palpable in the air, although no one could explain why……But poetry (real poetry) is like that: you can sense it, you can feel it in the air, the way they say certain highly attuned animals…can detect earthquakes.
It is clear to us then that only a fool would take this initiation seriously as García Madero, for example does and to such an extreme and quixotic degree—extreme to the point of Dante’s secular religiosity in The Divine Comedy because in Everybody Suffers the whole landscape becomes one’s operating system until comedy strikes, and tension becomes a joke and the joke grows jokier until laughter gets harder, and one has an epiphany that Don Quixote is still alive (Roberto Bolaño too for that matter), sitting right next to you but that it doesn’t matter (luminous melancholy) because you don’t even recognize him, there’s a greater mystery than that or Don Quixote’s quest, which is the mystery of something going slack, melancholia itself, in crystalline form:
the lines of wires or wires of lines limp as the vines that overhang
the temples in hell, as the strands of a drowned girl’s hair, as the superfluous
mooring-lines of Noah’s Ark,
as the limp lifeless cords of light between galaxies
And in The Savage Detectives something does go slack for García Madero. He loses contact with the Visceral Surrealists and gets sickly and depressed. Tension and slackness are like weird hydraulics of fate. They are like learning: as it leaks out of flesh’s realm forever in Juan García Madero’s poem, ‘The Dawn of the Alchemists.’ Something does leak out of the flesh’s realm. Perhaps it is dark, perhaps it is light, perhaps it is matter. What is it? It is this part that I do not understand yet, and is why I am a detective. Can I call it melancholia or a giving way that hurts us more than even the most taut thing could scrape. Bolaño writes in The Savage Detectives:
And of course poetry and prison have always been neighbors. And yet it’s melancholia that’s the source of my attraction. Am I in the seventh dream or it might be one thing or it might be another.
But is it prison that one is attracted to or is there a stranger sense, that while you read someone is banging the door, that there is a moving out and in as if everything had accidentally been left open?
4. Switchboard Operator
I feel as though Everybody Suffers is haunted by the poem “Hold the Line.” Maybe it’s just that I am looking for the omnipresent beast that connects us all and maybe that is my personal stupidity but it still haunts me and the switchboard operator is not those things per se, but she haunts me too.
She was the switchboard operator for the whole district,
though you might say she was really giving human being lessons,
so you could say she was doomed to fail,
offhand but profound lessons like the one about how to “hold your seat”
This poem, as I said earlier, bruised my ego when I first heard it read aloud. It bruised my ego because of this feeling I had that maybe even the angel inside my head—who might have the possibility of connecting the conflicting passageways in my battered brain—even she was suspect, even she was most see-through, more see through than the happiness of couples and friends on sunny afternoons. Even seeing through that happiness was like prison. It’s the process of prison perhaps and not the prison of bars. It is like the circle that the animal in Rilke’s cage draws, who walking in circles suddenly dilates. And the animal’s muscle tightens/slackens simultaneously; we experience a change of mind. ‘Hold the Line’ is the set-up of a pattern in which the intelligence that connects human beings, maybe it’s language, the sweetness of the seeing through-ness is tightening and then abandoning all children. We are orphans by the operator, the orphaned one (though she is arctic, she is no such thing):
and she was probably busiest on those occasional mild afternoons
made perfect by pinkish sunshine and unmolesting breezes,
afternoons undeniably perfect except to a monster
afternoons and evenings when boys call girls and girls call girls
and old colonels call their mistresses and secretaries call for dinner … everyone wants to meet in a few hours,
once they’ve washed off the sweat of the day and pulled on clean, loose, light clothes
to glitter in cafes and restaurants, playhouses and dance halls…
…and this end she, autodidact and minor goddess,
would connect them all, jacking each to each with a little pop or hiccup
…and report to him or her falsely, that in this air conspicuously mild and almost audibly buzzing with happiness the lines were in fact all down,
very unlikely but true, and that the whole world that knew how to pass the time
in perfectly meaningful and satisfying ways would not do so, just now,
so that as a result all was silent and dormant or morose…
Perhaps the monster that believes the pinkish sunshine is less than perfect is our suffering, and the switchboard operator is that monster—an emblem of it. Perhaps she is connecting us by letting us know that the lines are down, that we do not know how to pass the time and our meaning is vacated like an old drafty house, or a room with a door open. (Benjamin: He called ‘Nadja’ a book with a banging door). Perhaps she is not she (‘no such thing’) but silent as so much of The Savage Detectives is silent—silent as the apartments that boys and girls in the poem have departed from to glitter in cafes. Perhaps it is important that in the end melancholia, as in Lars Van Trier’s film, is dialed up on a single breast.
When she looked my way every elastic thing anywhere gave out, went slack.
It’s simply too much, all this talking, and connecting—language. Like Roberto Bolaño’s character Cesárea Tinajero, the switchboard operator does her task cooly. And so does the translator, in this case, without being mild. We will not have our seat so long as she holds us. We know that she is hungry and will never, no matter how far she goes out, as if in a dream, be consumed.