Raucous Sun by Geneviève Letarte

BOMB 23 Spring 1988
023 Spring 1988

I’m not the last one to have this happen. My fingers are thawing slowly. My T-shirt is full of holes. I hurt my forehead on the piano’s black and white keys, it was a Blues. I’m in exile, sitting at the white table, thinking about all the stuff I don’t know. My feet have gone to sleep in this torture chamber, trying to remember. I still feel the warmth of the love he and I made, the warmth of that irradiated light of our startled, embarrassed bodies; I still feel the warmth of the difference between him and me, that made me open up and change my story. My walls are still quite thin because I let the sun in.

I am only a few miles away from my birth. I remember the gray roofs of Boston clearly, and that big orange cat that said hello through the window. Murmurs of childhood are still in my heart—the rage and tears in the school yard, the snippets of English—Mary is there, Paul is coming—the torn books, my hair being pulled out. I can still recognize myself in the photos: faded pictures taken at the seashore, First Communion parties, strolls on the terrace of the Château Frontenac. I really am that eagerly staring child who is greedily sticking her finger in the cake’s icing. The little brunette who nags, asks and wants to know. Yes, I’m her, the one with skin-deep emotions and breasts budding under a red mohair sweater. Who excites so easily. Who gets horny at the movies, or when reading Fanny Hill. Who is scared of the close-up of the big snake in the centerfold of Esquire, but looks anyhow, just the same. Who adores thrills.

​Ross Bleckner

Ross Bleckner, Not Being Born, 12/23/87, water color on arches, 16 × 12 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

It’s all there. It was imprinted from the start and is still there. Staring ahead waiting for a green light. The red glimmer in my eyes caused by an electronic flash. Kisses in the snow on the Nun’s path. Flings in the rhubarb field. Pierre’s hand smelling of mustard, his arms encircling me so I am unable to breathe. But I cannot remember the first time I was suffocated nor what caused my claustrophobia which nowadays makes me wake up at night naked in hotel hallways, banging on doors screaming for help.

Like everyone else, the first thing I learned was how to lie. Sins invented for the confessional, phony excuses for delays and absences, anything at all so as not to have to say no. At a very early age I learned how to run away, to hide pimples, slashed wrists, blood stains on the sheets, drugs wrapped in tin foil, laughter, bite marks on my neck. My life began at an hour of dying grass, in a welter of high winds and changing skies, in a country where children are stuffed with stock conversations and standard dances, in a tribe that lives on prohibitions, and one-way streets, where you work at home defending the fates of inept people, where you may be wrong, without mixing with the crowd, and where you laugh trying not to worry too much, until it goes to pieces all over again, and you don’t believe in it anyhow. A false sense of well-being, impotent hilarity.

I do remember. Their fat care packages and clumsiness. The doorbell never stopped ringing. They were always promoting something. Explanations, fear, but never silence, shoe brushes, vacuum cleaners, beer. And me, my eyes full of sties, a boil on one buttock, I shrugged my shoulders, wiggled my hips, offered my neck and my hands, trying to tame reality, to hypnotize something. My preserved, rebellious, and desiring soul was swimming somewhere outside my well-dressed body.

It’s all there. I won’t need to take an inventory of the whole thing. In my brain, it worms a smooth beach on which I can run and shake myself. Memory is a circus ring over which I move from one trapeze to the other, high above an astonished audience. I can still hear Sonia’s giggles when we went to bed at 5:00 in the morning, see between my eyelashes rank upon rank of soldiers parading like robots in the town of Bologne one May morning, feel the breath of the man who overwhelmed my body in a tenement with pink walls. I don’t like to strain fiction. Trying to imagine how one woman walks in the street or how another yanks at her stockings as she waits for a bus, how the sun sets in the Appalachians, how a child sees the world when he’s about to fall asleep, or is pissing, gives me a headache. We strain every nerve to adapt and make a good impression. We roam in frenzied hordes in search of strong tastes. Let’s steer clear of memory lane, and the wide-eyed gardens of the Granby Zoo; don’t spin me back anymore on the ferris wheel of universal juxtaposition; Stop wheel! Let’s have open season on Eternity everywhere and flash our zebra stripes. Down with the opacity of the blank page!

I don’t know how that child sees the world. He doesn’t want to talk to me about it. He sneers, starts to rave and play the clown when I ask him precise questions. He doesn’t want to have anything to do with my questions. “It’s so absurd to ask a kid, “How are you?”” he tells me. He already knows about absurdity, that one! Children intimidate me. You never know what they are going to do next. They strum on your skin as if on a drum. They climb on you, or they ignore you with more indifference than any grownup.

He’s seven years old. He smiles. He’s not afraid. He isn’t suspicious of serious things. He laughs when I describe the sound blood makes flowing in our veins, like a bicycle chain that changes wheels, it just moves slightly as if everything were going out of kilter, and then continues sliding along smoothly. He asks me how long I’ll be here, and I answer how does one know, one day it won’t be worth settling down, there will be something else besides these towns with blooming flower beds, something else besides those shop windows and their decaying odors.

One day I felt death settle within me like a piece of gray plaster that blocked my view and soaked up my saliva. I rushed to the window and spat. It was a bird that had caught its wings in a rabbit trap. A little later, my buttocks in cold water I felt better, there was a rainbow in my bathtub. I will always hate people who are never dizzy, who say you must be a man, was Rimbaud a man? What I see is blood curdled in the throats of women of the Third World, their children sacrificed, their ever-flowing tears, the aroma of death in the common graves, the small bodies floating in the River Amor. A decapitated civilization ready to do anything. Silence plasticized all the way to the stratosphere, war games, planes loaded with bombs, money exchanges, the plague, a carcinogenic sun. The disarming smile of a child who doesn’t want his daddy to go away or his mommy to die. The few flowers that will have resisted that catastrophe, the goat’s milk spilled on the porch. The adorably normal-looking clouds devoid of acid rain. The silvery plain when the cattle awaken. The mist forests. The carefree, greedy newly-weds. The new car tracks. The stock market falling at top speed. The wild horses with shining haunches running before the Mistral.

This fearsome rumor must turn into revolution. Into sweet wine. Into tonic perfume. It’s the only work, the only thing, left to do. To put a finger in the juice, taste it to know what there is to offer, like sucking your thumb, or knowing the inner texture of your own sex. To take the magic want out of the chest, to change sexes, times, continents, to only trust the present. To be already in Eternity, to undress in broad daylight, to never make love in bed again, to say yes to serenity. To fuck the way you write, the way you draw every line, every sketch, every curve, to stick your lips on the window pane until it melts, to love only the weight of material things, their shapes, their textures. To abandon straight chairs, busy eyes, piles of paper. To say yes to the violence of living.

That is the way these times are. You don’t know if you should sit and think or rush to your own destruction. They say that writing is a luxury, that we must travel in front of the television, they only want to live in front of others. The public has become a myth, the unknown, the resolvable, the only judge. Me, I’m at the border. Between the instant and the always. The life and death of an acrobat. Cadence, cadenza. I evolve in a circus which brings rises and falls of temperature: my mind and my body tumble at the same time onto the net. My wager is a double-wager, an attempt at love between solids and hollows, a break between the yes and the no. I’m a kaleidoscope, reality is mirrored on my forehead in a thousand misleading shards, it’s with my sense of smell that I distinguish the true from the false, I’m a panther.

At this very moment, in the mauve and gold shimmerings of summer, I’m a young woman of a thousand avenues, my body is like a town, my head is well screwed onto my shoulders, I refuse to let it break, more than ever I refuse to let them try to take my brain away, my hands or my feet, I don’t want to miss the performance. Let’s face cruel eyes with a lipsticked mouth, let’s confront monkeys and parakeets in a midnight decolette. Mémé moutonne, the coast is too steep for you to sink into it. There will never be enough time for me to erase anything at all. So I swear this story is my own, I no longer try to sleep for lack of something better to do, I no longer enter my dreams to find a better friend, a better lover, better company. I swallow silence like healing water, I open my legs to breathe more freely, I endlessly hum bits of a song that won’t go away. It steals into my slumber, that song that I will sing to my kid so he can learn its rhythm and melody. I came here by boat, a long time ago. I danced from one town to the other and in every language: I’ve witnessed miracles. I have never been so visible. Detached from the social locomotive, I’m ready to suffer my lot. I’ve turned into a galaxy where you can play in freedom. I’ve put things in my coat so as to survive for some time. There is no one to guide me in this maze, I abandon the idea of going back. Here is the belly of the town, the big circus with the metal horses, an endless land for hunting light, a house made of the hair of an heiress more than a hundred years old. Neither the unknown nor mystery are here but a real paradise that is moved when in contact with the stars.

A siren cannot spend her life watching the weather hoping it won’t be so cold tomorrow. She cannot exist forever on chocolate or Coca Cola. She cannot always worry if people will be wrong.

I don’t count the hours anymore, nor the seconds nor the years. I don’t give a fuck about passing time, it flows under my skin with satiny clicks, it opens up like an orange, it spatters the ends of my feet.

We’re at the crossroads, the iceberg on which we’re perched to contemplate the end of the world is as big as a pin. Everywhere we hear the sound of those beautiful machines that try to make the final report. Me, I think we have a long way to go. I don’t care if it’s thanks to an outdated schoolgirl, or a well-built peasant woman, or a transvestite with an exaggerated smile, what I want is for beauty to be no longer a sin. Too often I feel lies in my mouth, I thought I had escaped but I was climbing up a broken clock which had really cracked, it tasted like a lemon, I made a face. A siren cannot spend her time drying her hair and washing her eyes out. A siren cannot spend her life out of water taking care her skin doesn’t stick to her chair.

Now the sky is turning red at the end of the street. It’s getting late. All of a sudden I’m on the tip of the iceberg and the wind is taking its time in my hair. I would like to stay this way a long time. I would like to be still living when the boat will come around the island and advance into the luminous bay, its belly swollen, its wings sparkling. I would like to be still living when the siren returns to the quay to dive into the sea. I’m made of water and fire, I would like to live long enough to know water and fire, those different speeds. Time, like a possibility we have.

Translated from the French by Mary Beach.

Geneviève Letarte lives in Montreal. Raucous Sun, from which the present extract is taken, is her second book (1986). Her first book, Station Transit, appeared in 1983. Both books are published by éditions de la Pleine Lune, Montreal.

The Cloud of Unknowing by Mimi Lipson
Hate: A Romance by Tristan Garcia

For a year Willie lived on the streets, near the Gare du Nord, and in squats where crackheads lived. He’d learned to spit on the system.

Moby Dick in Hollywood—Orson Welles by Pierre Senges

Finally back in the fold of Hollywood—one imagines him advancing mistrustfully, mistrustfully looking up at the high and useless palm trees (an immoderation which serves no purpose: the palm trees “planted on both sides of the expressway in order to purge an already pure sky”).

Sacred Folly: on Romain Gary’s The Kites and Promise at Dawn by J.W. McCormack
Romain Gary Banner

A rediscovered novel and memoir depict a character we are lucky to have on the page. In life he would mortify us.

Originally published in

BOMB 23, Spring 1988

Paul Auster by Joseph Mallia, Black-Eyed Susan, Jeanne-Pierre Gorin, April Gornik, Freya Hansell & Susan Rothenberg.

Read the issue
023 Spring 1988