The Fall of Persepolis by Matilde Daviu

BOMB 70 Winter 2000
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All your beaches deserted
all your horses wild
all your jungles in conflict
all your mirrors blind
all your clouds torn
all your intentions frustrated
and all your summer screams
cloistered in the O of your mouth …

Face of Love untranscended is not the opposite of Face of Sun, except in their expressions. Face of Love untranscended was nostalgic for the frontiers and wanted conflict and guilt: An ambush always brought out his true nature. I started to reject him the day I found out he was not faithful to the poet’s word. When I first met him, he used to sing of very ancient legends; his voice was almost a trill … but crows made a nest in his throat, and he resorted to the insults of a madman.

One afternoon, I shattered the cosmic vision of his extravagant anguish. All my retinal veils had fallen and I saw, in the bitter expression of his turtlelike mouth, his resolve to give up the extraordinary. With the afternoon sun on my face, I hungered for the words of flowers as a storm rose in my chest. Face of Love untranscended sold me for nothing—for a voyage to Persepolis in the arms of a woman in a clown’s disguise. She was the perfect woman to play a role in his farce: A marguerite daisy in her hair, she wore a quilted dress, her nails were painted a deep red, and brass crucifixes hung from her neck. She had begun to call him “Brother, Soul Brother,” and to sweeten his ears with her forked serpent tongue. He knew very well that she was a fake, but accepted her because he needed to go on lying. He knew that under her rag dress she wore a nylon bikini. The ultimate symbol of commercial society rubbed against her vulva. He knew she didn’t use sugar beets to color her cheeks, pollen for her eyelids, or blackberries for her lips, but only cosmetics found in fashionable stores. He knew all this but refused to admit it. He began to prepare the poison with a diabolical certainty about its effect. When it had fermented, he wet the tip of his tongue and the tips of his fingers. He avoided my eyes and found the most vulgar excuses for his wanderings, following serpentine paths. He avoided me and I wasted my time in an anxious search in the waves he left behind him. He hadn’t yet hurled me into the sea; I lived confined in a stone fortress. Once Face of Sun hid in the same fortress with me, and I kept it a secret until I answered his call.

While Face of Sun never lost his smile, Face of Love untranscended began to wear the face of death.

After three days of love in Persepolis, the La Bufano started complaining about how little time Face of Love spent with her. She refused to be left alone and often found her way to my house to take what was mine. She felt she had the right to judge, make demands, walk on the patio at night, howl in the corners, sleep under my bed, cling to the walls like a lizard, cross my lonely path, put herself between his eyes and mine. He brought her into my house and she broke my finest crystal. Horrified by her shrieks, I used to go out into the fields to listen to the croaking of frogs and the monotonous whistling of cicadas. From that time on, there was no place to rest, no sun to burn me, no golden hills to help me forget. I looked to the sea—my divine and natural habitat. I wanted the surf and hot powdery beaches. I wrote the names of my most faithful buccaneers in the sand so the seaweed and the birds would carry my message. I remained alone for several months convinced that sooner or later my buccaneers would arrive. I pulled my boat up onto the beach and prepared to live out my dreams.

When the feline night crossed the silver bridge extended by evening, I looked out the porthole of my boat into the darkness. I hesitate and trace a labyrinth with my steps on the deck. I am lost with the sweetest phrases locked in my chest, like lava, inconclusive, drowned by the power of silence. Already completely alone, I look out over the surface of the sea. The birds of sorrow are beating their wings and a sweet sadness is taking hold of me, leading me toward the simple, shared landscapes that seem further away. I thought I saw him there under a wicker lamp where light falls in countless braids over the walls of his room. Going into this darkness was like entering a temple where I prayed, encircled by shadow and silence. The smiling moon revealed a gyre—the eternal circle, the surrounding nothingness, the shape of dream. Full of emptiness and silence, I surfaced again, winning that game against death. She wanted to win because she could find truth if she crossed my bed: Hope was torn from my arms on an April morning, screaming. In those years, I felt I had been born to love. Years later, when the flowers and first kiss had died, when caresses were denied, when looks were forgotten and gestures became bitter, when the song changed to a howl and a thousand crows of hatred nested in my throat … I look out the porthole of my boat into the darkness; I hesitate and trace a labyrinth with my steps to frighten the silence.

Early one morning, my buccaneers arrived. They made a battle plan and attacked with knives. Alcatraz and Araucano explored the land, spied on the movements of Face of Love untranscended and entered the fort. That night to celebrate their victory in battle, we lit a great bonfire. When they had fallen into a drunken sleep on the sand, I stayed awake, unharmed but anguished and regretting the waste of energy. I remembered that little town in Somnath and the river that yields to the sea. There, where the waters join—sweetness and salt, warmth and cold—death was like a river, and life like the sea.

Face of Sun was pouring out the starry night. He was remembering me motionless on a little wooden bridge while he drank from my lips. Below us the river roared, spewing foam.

Alcatraz had surprised La Bufona in the patio of the house. She had fallen into a rage when she saw the fort under attack. She screamed whenever she was rejected by Face of Love untranscended and denounced their voyage to Persepolis. While Araucano had hidden behind a grass plant and watched the entrance, Alcatraz had interrogated her. La Bufona did not lie down on Persian rugs or drink the honey of roses. For three days, she slept with Face of Love untranscended on dirty sheets and drank the sour milk of his last disdain. Merchants, bringing prostitutes, oil, and pigs, passed through Persepolis, leaving behind them their garbage, alcoholic vomit, and peeling skin—a bacchanal of birth and death. Mold grew in the hotels and bars and on the streets. Persepolis was a violated city. When the sun burst out onto the streets at noon, a nauseating smell began to smother us. In a miserable hotel room, Face of Love untranscended and La Bufona were sharing their shame. Persepolis was a city full of transients. Persepolis was a violated city.

Face of Love untranscended refused to admit his mistake. He spent many nights trying to change my mind. He told so many lies that he didn’t know anymore what was true and what was false, until one day he got confused and confessed. I consulted my silver bracelets and left the beach to hide my whip in the bottom of my boat. Being cautious, I asked my buccaneers to stay on the beach. I was still not free.

To go back would mean becoming a caged wild beast again, counting my steps in the little space of the living room. I would have to build up my forces in the middle of devastatation. To return would mean reopening the wound, the cut. When the violent battle of glances began, I realized my fort was being built on a false foundation. He always looked at me from out of the corners of his eyes. The screams broke lamps and glasses. His voice became his face; his fingers became useless knots that showed his thoughts. Then came the clash: his knifelike voice and my knifelike fingers. Two royal couples abandoned the enchanted field, and Persepolis died.

I went back to the beach and cried out because of the wounds that had been inflicted on me in those battles. And there I stayed, facing the sea. Now I am the captain of my boat. My buccaneers are silent; my whip is ready and I am still studying the old maps of liberatory geography. Face of Sun is the Love that I transcend.


Translated from Spanish by Raimundo Mora and Eugene Richie.

Raimundo Mora has also translated poems by Isaac Goldemberg and other Guatemalan poets. He earned his MA and PhD in Education at New York University and has worked as a consultant and a professor in Bogotá, Colombia, and throughout the New York metropolitan area.

Eugene Richie has also translated poems by Isaac Goldemberg and co-translated with Edith Grossman My Night With Federico Garcia Lorca, by Jaime Manrique. He is the author of Moir … (Groundwater Press, 1989) and Island Light (Painted Leaf Press, 1998) and teaches at Pace University in New York City.


Matilde Daviu was born in Maracaibo, Venezuela, in 1942. She is currently Professor of American and Latin American Literature at the National University in Caracas, and Director of Fundateatro, the national literary publishing series of world classics in Spanish translation at Fundarte. Her two published books in Spanish are Barbazucar y Otros Relatos (El Ojo del Golem, 1977) and Maithuna (Caracas: Monte Avila, 1978). She has just completed Balada de los Amantes Soprendidos (Ballad of Lovers Surprised), a new collection being translated by Raimundo Mora and Eugene Richie.

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This article is only available in print.

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Originally published in

BOMB 70, Winter 2000

Featuring interviews with Ruben Ortiz, Juan Manuel Echavarria, Susan Baca, Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Jose Cura, Adelia Prado, Ernesto Neto, Mayra Montero, Claribel Alegria, Francisco Toledo, and Juan Formell. 

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