Oswaldo Estrada

Martín Adán

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Cardboard House

Translation by José Garay Boszeta

My first love was age twelve and had the black nails. My then Russian soul, in that little town of eleven thousand souls and a publicist priest, fostered the loneliness of the ugliest girl with a grievous, social, somber love, that was like the penumbra in a session of an international workers’ congress. My love was vast, dark, slow, with beards, spectacles and handbags, with sudden incidents, with twelve languages, with stalking from the police, with troubles from many sides. She used to tell me, while getting into sex: you are a socialist. And her little soul of a learner of European nuns would open like an intimate prayer book by the part that deals with the deadly sins.

My first love was going away from me, frightened of my socialism and my foolishness. “Lest all of them are socialists…” And she promised herself to give herself to the first old Christian who passed by, even if this one had not reached the twelve years of age. Alone already, I moved away from the utmost problems and fell truly in love with my first love. I felt an agonic need, toxicomaniac, of inhaling, until bursting my own lungs, the smell of her; smell of little schoolhouse, of Chinese ink, of enclosure, of sun on the patio, of state-issued paper, of aniline, of cotton mesh worn barely under the skin —smell of the Chinese ink, thin and black—, almost a tracing pen of ebony, ghost on vacation… And this was my first love.

My second love was fifteen years of age. A crybaby with a lost set of teeth, with braids of hemp, with freckles all over the body, without family, without ideas, overly futuristic, excessively feminine… I was rival to a doll of rag and celluloid that wouldn’t do anything but laugh at me with a rascally and stupid bigmouth. I had to understand an endless amount of perfectly unintelligible things. I had to say an endless amount of perfectly unspeakable things. I had to do well on the exams, with one hundred —suspicious grade, embarrassing, ridiculous: a hen in front of an egg—. I had to see her pamper her dolls. I had to hear her cry for me. I had to suck hard candies of all the colors and flavors. My second love abandoned me as in a tango: a malefactor…

My third love had the cute eyes, and the legs very coquettish, almost cocottes. Fray Luis de León and Carolina Invernizzio had to be read. Peregrine girl… I don’t know why she fell in love with me. I consoled myself of her irrevocable decision to be a friend of mine after having been almost my lover, with the twelve orthographic mistakes of her last letter.

My fourth love was Catita.

My fifth love was a dirty girl with whom I sinned almost in the night, almost in the sea. The remembrance of her smells like she smelled, like the shadow of a cinema, like a wet dog, like underwear, like confectionery, like warm bread, superimposed smells and, in and of themselves, individually, almost unpleasant, like the layers of cakes, ginger, meringue, etcetera. The sum of odors made of her a true temptation for a seminarian. Dirty, dirty, dirty… My first deadly sin…

Translation : Excerpt from The Cardboard House Copyright Martín Adán. Translation copyright 2013 by José Garay Boszeta. All rights reserved.

Martín Adán (Lima, 1908 – 1985), pseudonym of Ramón Rafael de la Fuente Benavides, was a Peruvian poet and writer whose body of work is notable for its experimentalism and metaphysical depth. His breakthrough novel, The Cardboard House, redefined the possibilities of narrative for his contemporaries and has remained a substantial influence for several generations of Latin American writers. He is one of the most celebrated Peruvian poets of the 20th century. His work in poetry was twice awarded the National Poetry Prize (Perú, 1946, 1961) and the Peruvian National Literature Prize in 1976.