A Chance to Unite: New International Writing 2019

Pablo Baler

 

picture of a paper crane 

 

Translated by Michael McGaha

  

The Crane

Aramiru Kamyshiura was the Grand Champion of Sumo Wrestling, but in his spare time, he made little paper birds.

Before settling his two hundred seventy kilos on the mat, he bowed to the goddess Amateratzu. He chose a sheet of black designs and began folding it on a ceremonial table. Whenever he flattened a fold, the paper disappeared under his colossal hands, though his fingers were acquiring an unexpected nimbleness. Finally, he unfolded the inside of a crease, separated four angles, squeezed one of the ends, and went over the borders until he had managed to form a very elegant crane.

A stifled cry distracted him. He looked up and saw a formation of cranes crossing the Osaka sky. He got up, opened the shutters, and observed them till they disappeared in the distance. Before leaving, he deposited the origami on the windowsill.

A few minutes later, the little bird had flown away in the wind, but the impression Kamyshiura’s body had left on the mat remained inalterable.

 

 


 

Giotto’s Circle

The day that Luigi “Forchetta” Masgarponne became head of the mafia of Naples, he decided to celebrate by having his portrait painted. His two sons, who possessed a certain artistic sensibility, visited Salvatore Brunneschi in his studio on the Via Pontano, and they were surprised by the sketches of heads, arms, legs, and torsos that covered the walls. It was then that Salvatore told them the story of Giotto’s circle:

When Pope Boniface VIII was searching for the most talented painter in Italy, he sent a messenger to Giotto’s atelier with the objective of obtaining samples of his art. Rather than offering them his best work, Giotto dipped his brush in a bowl of red pigment, and with a single movement, traced a perfect circle. Before handing it over, he told the disconcerted messenger: “The worth of this work will be recognized”.

While Salvatore was relating the legend, he thought, for an instant, of reproducing Giotto’s deed himself. But it wouldn’t have done him any good, for without stepping back and in a single continuous movement, one of the brothers took out his revolver, pointed, and fired. The burst of blood that spattered the torsos and arms in the sketches was expansive and sloppy, but the circle etched by the bullet in Salvatore’s forehead was geometrically irreproachable.

 

 


 

Soluble Ant 

“I believe in the future resolution of those two states, apparently so contradictory, that are dream and reality. This is the conquest that I pursue, sure of not attaining it, but also too unconcerned about my death not to feel a bit attracted by the joys of such a possession…”

André Breton lays down his pen, rereads out loud, and notices a red ant stumbling obliquely over the paper. He picks up his pen, drops it on the red abdomen and smears the sticky remains over the granulations of the paper. And with the damaged point he draws, around the ant, an almost imperfect coffin. And he adds a cross in the upper part. And he writes, below, R.I.P.

 

 


 

Sport Fishing

In spite of the fact that it had already been thirty years since the arroyo dried up, Seu Joberto went on sitting there, with his fishing pole in hand and the line dangling over the rocks. Since he didn’t talk with anyone, the reasons for his perseverance are open to speculation. Does he do it out of denial or nostalgia? Is he training himself in the art of patience? Does he perhaps believe that the arroyo will come back, or is he doing it to proclaim an unprecedented challenge to all the fishermen in the world? But Seu Joberto pays no attention; sitting on the trace of minerals left on the banks, and concentrating on the undulation of the rocks as if observing the flow of the current, he truly seems to be awaiting the tug of a bite.

The only one who has run out of patience is the worm. Run through twice by the hook, it opens its agonizing little throat to gasp for a last breath of air.

 

 


 

The Magic Kingdom

In the Magic Kingdom the employees put on their costumes inside an immense medieval castle. Eveline, already wearing her penguin suit, was on her way down to entertain the children, but with a banging of gears and the resigned groan of a motor, the elevator stopped between two floors. Through the concealed orifices she observed herself in the mirror: she saw the swollen, white wool cheeks, the long orange plastic beak, the blue velvet head, and the exaggeratedly large eyes, as if they were revealing her astonishment. She pressed the alarm, but it didn’t work. She noticed another mirror behind her, took another look at herself, and saw the penguin infinitely reflected. It occurred to her that she was going to stay there forever, and in the midst of her agitation she also thought that she had been there forever. But only a moment went by before she heard the grating of a chain, the motor’s optimistic whine, and the elevator that continued its descent toward Fantasy Land.

 

 


 

The

During the military dictatorship, a young man went out to express himself by means of graffiti. In the wee hours of the night he began writing on a flaking wall. He had hardly drawn the first letters, however, when they kicked him down, put him in an unregistered car, and he disappeared.

The next morning his abbreviated glimmer of rebellion looked like a weird slogan: The

 

 

 


Pablo BalerPablo Baler is a fiction writer and essayist based in Los Angeles, originally from Buenos Aires, Argentina. He is the author of the award-winning novel Circa (1999), the essay Los sentidos de la distorsión (Corregidor, 2009); in English as Latin American Neo Baroque: Senses of Distortion (Palgrave, 2016). Baler is also the editor of the anthology The Next Thing: Art in the Twenty-First Century (FDU Press, 2013), a compilation of commissioned essays on the future of aesthetic sensibility. The featured stories were excerpted from Baler’s collection of short stories La burocracia mandarina (Ed. Lumme. Spanish, 2013, Portuguese, 2017). A graduate of Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Stanford University, and U.C. Berkeley, Baler is Professor of Latin-American Literature and Creative Writing at California State University, Los Angeles, as well as International Research Fellow at The Center for Fine Art Research at Birmingham City University, U.K. His most recent novel, Chabrancán, is forthcoming in 2020. Baler is currently working on a collection of essays about Art and Transgression titled “By Any Stretch of the Imagination.”


  

 

  © Ninth Letter, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.