Last flamenco in Seville

5 November 2010 | Fiction, poetry

The tragic story of a gypsy woman, famously transformed into an opera by Georges Bizet, inspired Saila Susiluoto to write about freedom in the contemporary world: her new collection of poems, entitled Carmen, is set in the shopping centre of an asphalt city. But is this classic femme fatale really a human being – or a cyborg, perhaps? Introduction by Teppo Kulmala

She was made of plastic strips, metal bits, artificial skin, implants, circuit boards. Her heart pumped blood like a real one, her eyes watered as necessary. She was made free and loving, and almost soulful. But the soul is a quirk, said the Creator, a human mistake causing pain and death. And confusion. And the degradation of this world. They left out what they couldn’t say, what they were unable to say. They said: your name is Carmen, go forth, find your balance on threads across the world, you are a meek machine, built to love everything except just one man. You are glowing wires, bright shiny strips of plastic, a mind made of images and tones, your step is light, go, go.

The mall’s scintillating youth choir
(gesticulating in the manner of a musical)


JOSE WALKS ACROSS THE SQUARE AT THE SHOPPING CENTRE

I can see her sequined shadow, her skin, the shadow of her laugh. She touches every man, places her hand on the shoulders of every woman. She smiles at everyone, belongs to no one, I say, look away, then back again. I stroke my jacket lapel, such joy, condemned to solitude, to ugly endings, to endings at all. But she looks at me as if she could see, shakes her head at someone and laughs. She needs no pity, nothing, a person like that doesn’t dance because someone’s holding a knife to her throat or stomach but despite this. And it’s terrible to watch.

CARMEN ENCOUNTERS JOSE IN THE OPULENT JEWELLERY STORE *

The hand as it smokes
a surging jewel
if my desire
eventually nothing left

You have a strong hand it shakes
everyone’s fingers
you say: ‘it is to steal here
to do it deftly.

And though your body
so cleanly shop
face window balance
You can open your mouth.’

And my voice asks: ‘well, how much does your fluttering heart cost, it’s on offer, how can such clean, pure water cope, the riverbed stones shining through and all the coins therein that someone casts in at night in the hope of something great?’

AND THE CHOIR TOO SINGS:         you tart
                         the guy is yours, now nick his heart

CARMEN’S TRALLALLA

Tra-lal-lal-la-la-laa
deluded with desire
he arrives who doesn’t know what he wants
your name, a blow to the breastbone
beneath the soul dimly flutters
ribs nailed to the clouds
and someone blows
into the sky’s tattered bellows

Tra-lal-lal-la-la-laa
and staples space fast
and everything is light dance
and in the flight of some waltz or other
the ground is forgotten
its unbearable call, the soil
we forget how to turn back
as the ankle won’t bend
and the earth won’t give way
no one can own another, no one

but the world melts in our hands
in the heat running from the sky
into the floor, its flame colours
crawling up your legs
oozing lava into your arms
and slow, hot fingers along my neck
yours, yours and yours
tra-lal-lal-la-la-laa

FOLK-SONG CHOIR

Weather like a fair bride, so they say:

The verdant trees, the hush of leaves
the smell of rain
the world’s grey rush all around, hands wet
the sky flows into the bed of the earth
water goes into the bed of the sea
which home would you go to
with the wrong man,
the right one on the tip of your tongue.

JOSE’S SUMMER

Carmen, the summer promises much, but when you count the days one at a time there is nothing left. I can’t take you anywhere, to the cottage, to the shore of the lake, to my home, but to ocean liners, paper planes, perhaps not even there, I can’t take you there, but in my dreams you have a room, it is here. Your hair, the shadow of your hair against the wall like the sun, quick steps, with the blade of grass in your mouth you taste of the lawn, the smell of the earth, the soil, the sharply rising sun in whose light night, jasper, beryl. The dark carnelian night. A soft breeze. A ruby lip. Innards, pulsing. The room in splinters the floor charred, desks blackened with smoke, a vitrine in the corridor shattered glass, the smell of petrol pierces the class, the window sliced, the bright day, the sun, a glowing tiger’s eye.

CARMEN ASKS JOSE

My dear boy, what does that gesture mean
that closes my path, try to smother the glow in my eyes
your reluctant face, its sheer hatred, your narrow sky
how that too, so pure, collapses, the mended curtain
the sky, folds of velvet

I take a tentative step away from you, a step
that requires a long pause, consideration
carries you far. Farther still

farther
bird vetch, pine cone, forget-me-not, violet, conifer, grass, buttercup
man witnesses too much, pain, prediction, grief, but joy
a soap bubble climbing in the wind
I stand on the heath, and blow

JOSE MEETS CARMEN AT SUNRISE

All at once I can’t bear the sight of her, I can’t bear her anyway, she comes to me with hands smelling of flesh, drenched in the sun, and sees how I recoil. We have to put a stop to this, I say. And she simply throws herself on the bed and stays there. Her scent, of sand and skin and tobacco. And I clench my hands into fists, and I. We are a knife slicing through a splintered world, a spiral of deeds.

CARMEN SAYS WHAT SHE REALLY IS

You ask where I spent my night, you don’t
want to know, don’t ask.
I slithered with the snakes, many times
penetrated by words, I have almost burst.

Sequins in the clouds, love leads to tragedies
I understand sorrow but don’t know the play
The tight, wrong stitch of endings, ended by force.
Every movement, turns learned, the prompt’s support,
Repetition changes the structure, listen:

I am yours, yours, yours too. I scatter warmth over everything,
into anything, the mirror glow of the sun.
Though the human in me is lacking, my innermost
nothing but binary codes, strips of plastic, letters falling into the heat
smudges of ink, blood, splashes, still, don’t talk about a soul.

Rhythms, notes, pictures, hay, water
freedom, compulsion, language that only becomes real through singing.
Tra-lal-lal-la-la-laa.

JOSE AND ONE HOT DAY AMONG THE OTHERS

This is not real.
This is one hot day among the others.
The yellow flaking corner of the house, the grass faded in the sun’s glass
the dreamlike echo of footsteps on the pavement
as if we had lost that moment and were listening from outside.

This is not real.
When I thrust the knife into her stomach
I can feel her chest, her hill of Venus
her blood, its thick smell
it makes me dizzy
the knowledge that all blood smells the same.

This is not real.
This is more real than anything.
She flows towards me
and at this moment, at this very breath
she is mine more than anyone. Her hair is mine.
Her last whisper, her scream and prayer.
Her convulsing body, the tremble of her legs
as they trembled after making love
when everything became somehow uncontrollable
and I couldn’t make her stop, as she wept
and said that had forgotten to eat, that’s all.

This is not real.
The day is hot and fitful.
And I have a thought that slashes through the stage


warm gods
shale, fragments of roof, fragile tiles
a hot evening, a sandy wind
the girl has a soft step and there are stones on the path
shards whip up into her eyes, the swallows fly low
a black and damp smoke drops from the mountains
the sea casts everything in front of her
the dim rainbow descending from the sky
the jade-coloured stones, the tile with the drawing of a flower

the stone with writing upon it
the human in the way of others’ deeds
the sun that travels along outstretched arms

*) The poem ‘Carmen encounters Jose in the opulent jewellery store’ has been composed in such a way that the first three stanzas of the original poem have been translated (using online machine translators) via numerous different languages, then back into Finnish. The final poem is a reworking of these retranslated versions.

Translated by David Hackston

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