Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Stories of the Armadillo - Fabio Pusterla

Good morning, says the armadillo to a street sweeper. Did you happen
to see an opossum go by?
The man raises his broom towards the north, where a cloud
hovers over the desert like a great mountain. The armadillo
thanks him and sets off against the wind.

Armour on his back and helmet on his head: thus he goes on
with his shortsightedness and his delicious, protected
flesh. He goes on because he goes on,
because one must go, because the world
is large, time is short. Then the smell
of certain flowers, really delicious.

The armadillo sings softly along the way.
Nobody listens to him.
It’s a pity: if someone listened
we would know what he sings about
this brave little animal. Maybe
we would start walking too.

Now the armadillo is thirsty: he’s in the middle of the desert.
He’s still following the tracks of the opossum, but the desert
does not keep tracks. So he follows
certain darker lines along the ground and arrives
in front of an army tank left in the middle of nowhere.
Hello, says the armadillo to the tank.
But it doesn’t answer.

If the tank could think,
maybe it would be surprised. Instead it is empty,
rusty and dusty. But the armadillo is stubborn.
You are all grown up, he says. But you don’t speak, you don’t say hi.
Must I die of thirst in front of an ill-mannered tank?
Luckily, from the dreariness of the cannon
a little mouse slowly emerges.
Never mind him, he says. This guy’s a nerd.
Come inside, I’ll get you something.
And the armadillo thanks him.

If necessary
the armadillo can dig for hours:
long burrows, dark damp areas where he can wait
for happier times, rain, ages in which hope
is not entirely impossible, after all. Even if it’s a long wait,
he passes the time sleeping.
And when the moon rises he reads Cervantes.

In an almost northern state they passed a law
on armadillos: it is forbidden to own one.
You may own
cars, costumed slaves, guns, but armadillos,
oh no. It is an interesting law,
the armadillo thinks. And stays a while
in that farsighted
state.

Sometimes, in his dreams, he thinks he sees them:
packs of pumas, cougars, other strong animals
whose names he does not know. Columns of trailer trucks,
thick wheels, deeply ribbed, wildlife
unaware of an immense extinction
Predators, desperadoes, refugees,
all in single file heading in the same direction, all
equally enthusiastic.
Then he wakes up and thinks.

One says “the armadillo” (he’s thinking now). But actually
the armadillo is an abstract concept: a species
or anyway a category. I am not
the armadillo, I am an armadillo, and I don’t know anything
of what I’m really doing. My future
is modest: a few insects, snails,
perhaps some children: four,
one for each cardinal point.
Yet my vague steps
are going somewhere, these burrows I dig
will be used by others too, with a little luck. Space
will preserve some trace of my daydreaming
against the tide. Thus the armadillo, the idea
of armadillo, guides me, and I guide it, I lead it,
in my own small way, towards the times to come and the frozen
mountains, and the great lakes.

When he polishes his scales, he spruces up,
the armadillo remembers the unlikely character
of an uncertain Italian ancestor of his:
the one that was exhibited
along with a unicorn, a harbor seal
and certain skinned crocodiles,
by a Northern-Italian nobleman along with the remains
of his enemies, first killed then mummified.
It seems there was also a dragon with seven heads: one is not surprised at
the shrewdness of the powerful and the pride
of that collectionist. But how did
an armadillo ever end up
in the swamps of the Gonzagas in the 13th century? A legend,
no doubt, or perhaps a later
acquisition. It follows:
that the charango is preferable to the gallery of horrors
(worst case, it is still music, not nightmares); that snakes
have always existed; that an armadillo, like all rebels,
must be very careful.

What he likes: the water, the wind
if not too strong, the woods, the magnificent grass
when damp from the night and heralding dawn,
the smell of mushrooms and certain delicate
insects. Even in the city you find some places that aren’t bad at all:
alleys, pipes, sometimes basements. And no pumas.
He also venerates the peaceful
resilience of the opossum: the vulnerable one.

Fabio Pusterla (born 1957) Switzerland
Translated by Gabriele Poole
Source: Poetry International

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