In Memory of Tabacchino
Edward Gauvin translating the French of Eugène Savitzkaya
“The plant never springs forth from the branchings, for it exists before them, and the heart exists before the veins.” ~ Leonardo da Vinci
Tabacchino was a child. Tabacchino was a dormouse. Tabacchino was a dog, a bird, a squirrel, an almond tree, a living being. Child, dog, dormouse, bird, squirrel, or almond tree, he breathed, drank water, had a clean smell, a unique charm, and grew old. He bore inside him sap that flowed groundward through openings planned and improvised. The wind would muss his hair, rumple him, refresh and sometimes torment him. The first Tabacchino to get the coup de grâce was the almond tree: drought, then woodcutters. They wept then, lovers of almonds, the child first among them. No one could put the tree back as it had been. The dormouse, terrified by an owl, succumbed to a heart attack, rotted, and was scattered to the winds. Not the slightest sign of that bird in the skies now. Seek the dog’s grave in vain. Then came the child’s turn: crushed, ground, and scattered.
Whosoever scattered Tabacchino’s body: I would have shattered his bones, those of the torso and those of the head, I would have scored into his skin as into calf leather, annulled the order of his fingers and replaced his tongue with a pepper of the brightest red. And his nose with a sprouting potato.
Nothing remains of Tabacchino but a fine powder on green oaks and red roofs, and at the feet of crumbling walls. The gardens where Tabacchino was scattered are surrounded by walls and planted with old oaks. And so we walk on the child wherever we set our feet, and this makes us sullen and quick to anger. When the anger is over: forgetting.
We cannot, from a foot found in the soft tuffeau, knead ourselves a new Tabacchino because the heart is gone—the heart that expanded once and for all in the cold night.
From a single, unrecognizable hand, we can recreate nothing because of the heart’s remoteness. Clay, cinder, silica are not enough, not even when mixed with water.
Let us make a mold. But the wax won’t take, not in the air. And the penis has withdrawn into its sheath of skin and sharpened itself of its own accord. It is now the bit of flesh that lives in elder wood or laurel blossom or stone. Sometimes it still shivers, opens its little fish mouth, but no bubble escapes (because of the heart’s remoteness), nor any scent of linden, garlic, yeast, cinnamon, soiled dishcloth. It has never spoken and it never will.
The almonds found everywhere on the ground, light and hollow, gone entirely soft, belonged to Tabacchino. He would toss them at the earth, break them between his teeth, against a rock, or between two pebbles. The friable earth, the compost, the soft tuffeau from the depths, the chalk belonged to Tabacchino. He liked to suck it, rummage through it, dampen and knead it with movements sometimes incredibly slow. He would wet it and toss his waste upon it, which it would make vanish. The sky, the beautiful sky, belonged to Tabacchino. Sometimes he would turn away from it. Often he would gaze at it, when he was tired of looking at the earth upon which he’d alighted or toward which he fell. The clouds, three white clouds or an enormous cloud, Prussian blue, belonged to him. The wind, the dry wind, stinging or gentle, belonged to him. The dust belonged to him too. It covered him, and he was full of it.
Words, even those he never uttered, belonged to Tabacchino, the word bitter, the word night, like all the others. The shadow resting on the ground was his and tracks that lingered in the mud belonged to him.
And who will put Tabacchino back in his cradle, in his marble cradle, on his pillow of hay, in his sculpted casing with its arrow lightning-rod, its mirrors hung on the sky, its stars, its feathers, its creaking, its frills, the rain, the snow, the wind in the branches and the tremblings?
Edward Gauvin has received fellowships and residencies from the NEA, PEN America and PEN England, the Fulbright Program, the Centre National du Livre, and the Lannan Foundation. His translation of Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud's selected stories A Life on Paper (Small Beer, 2010) won the Science Fiction & Fantasy Translation Award. Other publications have appeared in Conjunctions, Subtropics, The New York Times, Tin House, and The Southern Review. The winner of the John Dryden Translation prize, he is a contributing editor at Words Without Borders, and writes on the fantastic for Weird Fiction Review.
Born in 1955 to parents of Ukrainian descent, Belgian Eugène Savitzkaya has written more than forty books of fiction, poetry, plays, and essays. He received Prix triennal du roman for his 1994 novel Marin mon coeur. Rules of Solitude (Quale Press, 2004; trans. Gian Lombardo), a collection of prose poems, was his first book in English. His work is forthcoming from Unstuck.