José Saramago’s Sexy Punctuation

Ricardo Reis

The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis

by

José Saramago

 

Forgive me, José Saramago, recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature, for what most interested me in your novel The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis: its punctuation. It is not that I have anything disparaging to say about the rest of it or am exercising discretion as one might when praising a fat lady’s bikini in lieu of what the apparel cannot hope to conceal. I have no dietary recommendations lurking and fighting their restraints in the back of my mind. And so do not take it as a slight that I am not particularly moved to comment on matters more literary and how these speak to your arguably more substantive writerly concerns. To me it is not a small matter that your work moves me to focus rather upon your strategy of commas and periods with no recourse to the other available marks of punctuation. The advancement of the possibilities of literary expression is what it accomplishes, moving the reader to greater alertness (why, indeed, can one not write, as do you, Unknown to him he has a sign stuck to his back, a paper dangling from a safety pin, Beast of burden for sale, no one has asked the price so far, even though they taunt him as they pass, Are you such a beast that you don’t feel your burden. Or. To exemplify again. You said the reason you didn’t come back was that you were annoyed, It’s true, Annoyed with me, Not so much with you, what has annoyed me and left me feeling weary is all this going back and forth, this tug of war between memory that pulls and oblivion that pushes, a useless contest, for oblivion and forgetting always win in the end. No quotation marks, no dashes, semi-colons, question marks or unnecessary full stops, all these implicit in the sense of what is said, quite like how we comprehend each other when we speak, quite like our distant literary forebears who were oral, think Homer for one stand-out.) Both reader and yourself feel to be more and more liberated, sensible of the mind’s operation, you become intimate with yourself and we with you. In addition is the inextricable thrill we have in the increasing claims of creative freedom and new territories that await. Let me offer my gratitude for the faith that you have in your readers’ capacity to intuit your scribed intentions without flags and semaphores, your trust in intelligence. To further your enterprise, for this reader, at least, a mere few spaces between thought and its qualifications would work. As for capitalization, not unlike a bikini upon a shapely form, it designates beauty and, if not wholly necessary, should remain.

1000 Lifetimes

 

1000 Lifetimes

 

“I’ll wait for you a 1000 lifetimes.”

My dental hygienist considers. And then,

“Okay.”

“We can have a 100 children.”

“A 100!”

“That’s 50 each. And we’ll live in separate houses.

Preferably across town from each other.”

She really is very pretty. Has muscles too.

The dentist, on the other hand, wears a mask

as he pokes around. I’d tell him he is gorgeous – he

isn’t – if the mask didn’t stop me.

It’s spring, after all, and never mind the chair

and drill.

“You look fresh as a daisy.” (He doesn’t.)

Speak the words that come into your mind.

When all is said and done, as it is at the end

of the visit, take the toothbrush.

My secret is that I can wait 10,000 lifetimes.

                                        ____

 

 

 

 

Universe of the Crumpled Fridge

Universe of the Crumpled Fridge

 

No, he’s not going to go out today. The winter light is golden outside the window, and he stares. It’s light reflected off a building and giving beauty to a flat blue sky. Thin branches of close trees form their traceries without pattern. The UPS guys retrieved the damaged shipment, hauled it out of the basement, the same two who made the delivery. Equally cheerful, first and last. Beginning and end. Call it, universe of the crumpled fridge. (Go back to sleep, Einstein. It’s just him again.) He went out this morning. Out this morning. First thing. After a long nap, it’s best to put some cheese on bread into the micro. It fills the tank. That fridge – he won’t say “poor fridge” – had been serviceable, but the negotiations broke down and now it is somewhere out there. Someone dropped it. Squashed it. Buyers will flock elsewhere. They should have taken his offer. He would have made use of their damaged goods.

As for himself, he will continue to inspect the golden light and perhaps not go out.

 

______

The Girl in the Tree

THE GIRL IN THE TREE

The medium-sized tree grew in the park. In the crook of one of its branches stood a girl. Her dress covered her from neck to ankle. Hair to shoulders. No shoes. Hands clasped before her. One morning she was there in the tree and the next and the next. All the visitors to the park and those who walked through it got used to her. She was in the air, asked for nothing and caused no trouble. Spring, summer, fall and winter followed each other.

An elderly couple visited the park and sat on one of the benches in front of the girl in the tree.

The next day, they decided to return and visit again in their own quiet way.
At first it disappointed them to find that there was no longer a girl in the tree. When they looked about, they noticed that other trees held in their branches girls similarly dressed as the one who had disappeared. The couple stayed where they were a while longer and, when they finally got up to go, they saw other couples just like themselves seated on park benches.

Once back on the street, if they had turned around, they would have seen that the park had become empty except once again for the girl in the tree.

***