Fall 2007 Vol 5.2
from Caras extrañas
Rafael Courtoisie
Chapter IX Hearses
             -- translated by Patricia Dubrava

Everything has meaning.
       When it occurred to a guerrilla to use a funeral procession to enter Salvo and by that means take the city, he chose a symbol indivisible from death.
       That coffin told us all: beware.
       That procession, that fake funeral caravan, warned us: be careful with death. Don’t play with death.
       It was a good trick, I know. Ingenious, I know. Original, I know. Talented, I know.
       Like the Trojan horse. But instead of a Greek gift of a wooden horse with real soldiers, within was an empty coffin—which would be filled—and a long dirge, ashen, hair-raising.

Funeral coaches are ridiculous, aren’t they?
       They look like pedestrian birds, birds that can’t fly, idiot swans, squashed doves.
       They look like ducks.
       Like insects.
       Death cars.
       Black sticks.
       Mechanical men.
       Pestilential stars.
       Hitler’s submarines.
       Upturned glasses.
       Animal burrows.

Hearses evoke the corruption of time. The grave, the pit which is in every moment. Hearses denote inclemency, abortion, harm, storm, tumors. Black magic.
       What do hearses signify?
       For example, in Venice, they are boats. A burial in Venice happens on water. The black hearse is a boat. Thus they bore the poet Ezra Pound: in a boat.
       In Venice, the fact that they are boats lessens their morbidity a bit.
       In Venice, maritime fact makes of the hearse another physical metaphor.
       But Venice is sinking.

Taking the city of Salvo via the trick of faking a funeral cortege, and fooling the Armed Forces put up a sign.
       And with signs, with letters, words, one must be careful, because they are alive. They throb. They rise and fall.
       “Night,” for example, is a word full of abstract birds and “day” is a word full of actual birds. “Sea” is a salty word and “hearse” contains a crow, the marvelous black of horror, the seed of a well.
       Think of the expression “funeral carriage.”
       Don’t you feel afraid?

Now we move on to Baroque music, chamber music, Vivaldi, string instruments.

The cello, which is the largest, looks like a coffin, doesn’t it?
       It looks like one. And nevertheless, it sings.
       That’s why you have to be careful with words and with the traces things leave in the world: you have to know where they began, where they’re going.

Hearses, sports cars, Roman chariots, galleys.
       Trains, boats and planes.
       Bicycles, canoes and aircraft carriers.
       Skis, gliders, surfboards and Montgolfier balloons.
       What do they imply? Where do they lead? Where are they going?
       All to the same place, all carrying the language of time, the conjugation of verbs.
       Thoughts and ships. Ships and mares.

Pardon the digression.
       We return to the insurgents, to the year of grace 1969, when the Tapurí seized the city of Salvo for a few hours.
       That day, at 7:30 in the morning, I had café con leche. My mother, who is now dead, served it to me.
       Listen well: warm café con leche in a cup, with two spoons of sugar. That astonishing liquid, full of sounds and beautiful horses, full of soft animals and slow words.
       Café con leche.

       Every day, in the life of every child who has reached the age of ten, that miracle served by the mother’s hand is sipped at the table.
       Every day, in the life of a child who has a mother, a cup, a spoon, the sugar bowl, the same wooden table, make the music of the moment.
       Every day, in the life of a ten year old child, every morning, when mother serves breakfast and dips a spoon into the cup, a harp is submerged in wind.
       I was ten years old. The perfect age for understanding everything.
       That day, the Tapurí took the city of Salvo and the radio transmitted the news. The radio was hysterical.
       To tell the truth, I liked that café con leche that Mom served me. I remember it well.
       While I drank my café con leche others prepared weapons. While I looked for my school notebooks, others checked munitions. Plans and strategies.
       While my mother lived, there also lived on the earth a variety of monsters: dictators, assassins, economists.
       Picasso was still living during that time, and painting those so horrible things that brought him so much fame and fortune.
       Salvador Dalí was alive. Pope Paul VI was alive.
       John Lennon still had not died.

The insurgents got up very early. Some hadn’t slept. The government also got up early that day. Some colonels and generals rose with the sun.
       The insurgents went in good faith to the burial. I suspect so.
       Many, at that moment, still were not dead.

The word “insurgents” I remember well. The government had applied it.
       Government and insurgent are similar words, have the same thickness of sound.
       At that time, at ten years of age, I didn’t like either of those two words. They still don’t agree with me. Sorry.
       Now, however, so many years later, I continue liking very much the words that form the music of the phrase “café con leche.”
       I like saying and repeating “café con leche.” I like saying “mamá,” although she is dead.
       Nevertheless, the words insurgent and government still today, so many years after the capture of the city of Salvo, annoy me.
       Life is full of words, yo sé. Nevertheless, if you look in any dictionary right now, first in alphabetic order by the letter “g” for the word “government” and then by the “i” for “insurgent,” you are going to confirm that on those pages, although the words are impressed on paper, on white cellulose, there is something dark and heavy, as if each of those two words contained a little lead and the lead itself were made at least in part from those two words.
       Go on. Look in the dictionary:
       "government" in the "g" section."
       "insurgent" in the "i" section.
       Do the proof.

Later, if you want, search somewhere for the expression "funeral coach." Then tell me.
       "Violin" and "coffin" end rhyme, it's true.
       But they are different, even though both words are made of wood.