“It’s Borges, the other one, that things happen to,” wrote Borges. This is a statement that makes me think of my other self, the other Laughlin who lived in another world, another time, as another self in another country—as we’re always another when we live outside our native land.
Lusophones love to tout the uniqueness of their (our) language, and in even the most roundabout of metalinguistic conversations, all roads eventually lead to saudade. But aside from a vague quasi-mysticism about loss that surrounds the word, the meaning is straightforward—saudades tuas, I miss you. Saudades de Portugal. I miss Portugal. Loss, longing. We have tools in English that serve to get the point across quite easily.
If not for the lust of women, there would be no alphabet. Save for the breaking of traffic rules, there would be no Cubism; no fractured light scrutinized from subways or kaleidoscopes in the tool belts of surveyors.
The royal palms bathe in the soft warm air of February and everywhere I look there is the play of glittering afternoon light—on store windows and metal bistro tables, on the well-polished always white Mercedes and Lexuses, on the sorbet pinks and oranges and lime greens of faux-Spanish buildings. The most ordinary things here seem
So much for the wound in me seeking a piebald answer in the tulip’s streak cataracted by first frost, the blue jay flapping across the grass, one-winged, his flying this crawl through blades he hues, tenor and vehicle this bird and me, both of us trying to accept such ritual exchange.
The apricot tree in my childhood yard would sieve the night. Pouring through the openwork of the leaves, the moonlight littered the ground with patches shaped like bats. Because we lived in the Sunset District of San Francisco, sea drafts kept ruffling the leaves, so the bats were always fluttering their wings. Sometimes I would lie down and let the light-bats tap all over me. We lived in the bottom flat of a spindly three-story house, and there was a fig tree too, and blackberries on brambles thick as the Lord’s crown of thorns, right in the heart of the city. We had picnics with the queijadas my father made—the coconut tarts that were a specialty of his family’s bakery on the island of Terceira in the Azores. His job while raising me, his only child, was fulfilling dessert orders for restaurants, and he rented a tiny industrial kitchen in Chinatown from three to nine in the morning. Once, a triumph, the Tadich Grill requested his alfenim to decorate their pastry cart—the white sugar confection molded into doves or miniature baskets.
Over a hundred men suspected of being gay are being abducted, tortured and even killed in the southern Russian republic of Chechnya… —CNN
Looking out at the blue sky we listen to news of men in Chechnya. Touching counters, our washrags move like ghosts. You sweep the kitchen. I tend the cry of the washing machine, the low roof that is our only roof.
And then, as is its wont, death comes knocking at the door. This time from two thousand miles away.
I try to get the image I have of him in my head to focus. The man who tried to be my father for over thirty years. Officially, not biologically, and not anymore. A death that will nevertheless force me home, back to Lisbon, just when I thought I’d found my place on this dry and sleepy island.