To be in any form, what is that?
If nothing lay more developed the quahaug and its callous shell
Mine is no callous shell,
I have instant conductors all over me whether I pass or stop,
They seize every object and lead it harmlessly through me.
I merely stir, press, feel with my fingers, and am happy,
To touch my person to some one else’s is about as much as I can
Dr Juan Saudade dreamed of writing a book on the moon, on the moon. He yearned for the orb like a lover does for someone that is always moving, always away. Until recently, those who knew him best considered him a bit of a lunatic. To himself, though, he was a romantic, not hopeless, but gray-whiskered and rough: pulled by the gravity of his desire, never deterred. With a lost look, he turned to the porthole of his space pod, and saw the sun hung in the horizon, and the backside of a new moon burning with luminescence. The professor of philosophy was struck by the coolness of the quartz glass on his fingertips, and the pentagon of condensation it left when he pulled back his hand. If he wanted to write, he would have to start now.
In less than an hour he would land, the first writer sent to the LUNE colony. “The Farm,” he nicknamed it. He had forgotten what L-U-N-E stood for, something complicated. “Lunar Umbra Novel Experiment,” he imagined, struggling to recall the actual name, having heard it during his brief sixteen months ago—or was it eighteen?—at the start of his space training. “Just give me the contract,” Dr Saudade had told the engineers. They were warning him of the dangers of space travel, reminding him of the reported hallucinations due to a strange cloud of alien dust that had begun orbiting the moon.
“Will the shell of the space pod protect me?”
The engineers looked to one another. “Of course.”
“And it’s fully automatic, this pod?”
“Just don’t press any buttons,” they joked.
“But, again, this dust, aren’t the particles the size of neutrinos?”
The youngest engineer replied, “Smaller, actually.”
“But then, gravitationally speaking, how does the dust orbit the moon?”
“You haven’t read the reports?”
“It’s invisible, except when stirred, like iridescent plankton,” the newspapers read. “No long-term side effects according to research, but it may cause a tinge of momentary psychosis in some… visual or verbal thought bubbles about outer space…”
The professor lost his patience with the sensationalist reporters, and with the engineers in starched, tucked-in shirts. What’s the worst that could happen? He figured the program’s officials, pressed by rumor, were cautioning him only as a means of avoiding legal trouble. A few of the professor’s acquaintances, who had gone up recently, claimed they don’t experience any hallucinations. The only magic gas cloud Juan could imagine came from their mouths on the other of the line, talking about how “Tranquil life is up here,” on the moon, “by the Bay.”
“LUNE was constructed on the dark side of the moon,” they explained. “Not that it’s always dark here, just 28 days in a row.” The “Farm”—the first ever extraterrestrial settlement—should be on the side of the moon that never faces the earth, “so as to not distract our brothers and sisters on earth, looking up at the night sky. In all honesty, Dr Saudade, our primary mission is to…”
The professor didn’t care too much about what the space program wanted. For Saudade the mission up meant something else. He was going because of his dream, writing a novel on the moon. The solitude, the vacuum of space, the earthrises especially (on those journeys to the bright side of the moon), gave him the hope he needed to write something creative again.
He hadn’t written a novel in three decades, almost; it felt like that anyway. His first book, written quickly and in bursts, was based on the sun. Saudade didn’t even want to hear the name of his first book ever mentioned to him. That novel might have won awards, earned him seats on the shows he had seen growing up, guaranteed him a full-time faculty position in his hometown’s university; but such popularity, in his late twenties, served more to stifle any subsequent, and much demanded, creativity. The success had closed him in, locked him inside a callous shell. He couldn’t put pen to paper after that, not without the fear of failure clamoring at him.
“The sun novel,” they called his debut. Mainstream media’s initial praise quickly curdled, fast to hype up a star, later wait for it to implode on “socialite media.” Book critics, the literati, were just as harsh as the pop world, eager to join the bigger online conversation. His professorship did allow him the necessary space and time to continue producing philosophical writings and recordings, but not a single novel to add to the fiction shelves of bookstores. Few had understood his first and only creative work, inspired by The Dharma Bums, about a semi-autobiographical trip with his best friend, a photographer on the verge of international fame.
The photographer character, Samuel D. Atori, on the eve of a groundbreaking exhibition, disappears with his roommate, a self-proclaimed poet-philosopher, to Southeast Asia. The two friends explore beaches and jungles in search of answers to life’s questions, things that the two young men grapple with through photography and writing. Among nature sites, banding with other bards and backpackers, they explore temples, monasteries, churches, and mosques. When reality forces them to return home, they decide to chronicle the last weeks of their yatra, utilizing their respective arts to merge all the lessons from their journey. The press’s epithet for the book came from its central leitmotif, the sun. It had something to do with creativity being both kinetic and potential energy, something Saudade hadn’t captured in the story (why he wasn’t proud of the work), though the nickname stuck. His publisher printed it, without permission, on the cover of subsequent editions.
No one understood how young Samuel could have staged, much less mashed, the various religious scenes from the Torah, Bible, and Koran. Much less garnered acclaim for them in any realistic sense. “He’s too young,” they had written. The professor muttered the words he had read long ago. “From the onset, it is made clear that Mr Saudade has no sense of fine art photography; the early chapters that deviate from the main, almost mediocre, travel narrative feel more like a mix between Wikipedia and wish-fulfillment, than proper location scouting, or set design. As one reads the novel, it also becomes apparent this adjunct professor of philosophy has no sense of realism, or science-fiction, not to say fiction in general. Devotees of Saudade, familiar with his philosophical works, will reach the end of his ‘sun novel’ and finally grasp the existential emptiness that they had so long read about.”
They’re jealous, Juan thought, repeating his father’s reassuring words. They’re all jealous. (She likes it, though, and that’s all that matters now: Filomena, his daffodil.)
The debate over Dr Juan Saudade’s creative endeavor centered around three camps: 1, those who praised the book for its unique brand of autofiction, calling it the first truly “Multilingual Pop Novel”; 2, those who loathed it, because (according to its author) they never read it; and 3, those who tended to repeat themselves at cocktail parties with the phrase: “I’ve only read his essays.”
If the detractors hadn’t blocked Dr Saudade’s creativity, then it had been the remarks that hit close to home. Were they criticizing his principal character, or were they attacking the writer himself? “He’s too young.”
Now, he is not too young. Now, headed to LUNE, he could start over. Reunited with his loved one—who awaited him, who flew to the moon two weeks before him—nothing would pull them away from their new home; he just had to get out of that cramped, dank—
The Weimaraner sharing the pod with Juan woke up from a nap. Yawning, hungry, and old, he looked up at his master with amber eyes, and grumbled. The dog was strapped to the passenger seat like a person, with his hind legs on the seat, and his front paws upright over his elbows, dangling over the strap.
“You hungee, Argos?”
“I know, boy, me too.”
Juan looked at his Speedmaster, and its long hand that marked the minute, a graduation gift from his father.
“They’ll radio us soon,” the professor told his dog.
The dog barked. His amber eyes glimmered.
“Ok, ok, let me grab you a snack,” Juan said, reaching for a treat in the overhead compartment. Out, slowly, drifted an open box of cherries, a half-eaten bar of chocolate, candy wrappers, and loose leaf paper. “They’ll clog the instruments,” said Juan, as he picked one floating cherry at a time and placed them back into their clear plastic box. Meanwhile, the dog forced himself out of his unnatural seated position. Juan had sat him like that before their last nap, as a joke. Eventually Argos wiggled free from the belt strap and pushed himself off the seat. The pod was about half the size of the one-bedroom apartment Juan had rented during graduate school. Inside of that pod, the dog kicked and bounced and swam in the oxygen rich cocktail of the cockpit, snacking on the floating cherries that were too far for Juan to reach.
“Go, Argos, Pac-Dog.”
The amber-eyed dog opened his jaw wide over the chocolate bar, and prepared to clamp down, when Juan yanked it out from over the tip of his tongue. The bite noise made a sharp click. The dog whimpered.
“Mine,” Juan said, crunching a piece of hard cacao from his chocolate bar. Juan knew this would be his last bar of chocolate in a long time—why hadn’t he packed more? Better yet, why had he eaten all the bars he had packed to pass around at the loading dock on the lunar station? Fifty hours from the International Space Station to the Farm is a long time. But Juan did feel guilty for eating all the snacks. Even the dog was upset, partly because of the empathy he shared with his master, but also partly because the dog wanted a bite of the forbidden treat himself.
“Silly Argos, you can’t eat chocolate,” Juan baby-voiced his pet. “You get salad.” And with that Juan gave the rest of a box of crispy lettuce to Argos, one he had stowed away in another overhead compartment.
As the dog chewed on floating green fibers, the professor looked at the loose sheets of paper that still hovered about him. The dimness of the pod, otherwise broken by the single ray of sunlight from the one porthole window, was cut by the colored light of buttons on all sides. Each button blinked different hues, while a neon band of LEDs did too, along the floor—to the professor’s specifications—glowing a playful, florescent rainbow at his feet. The professor straightened out the floating papers, brought them together with his palms. A dull and fuzzy pop-up message on the control panel behind his papers read, “Sleep mode: Autopilot Engaged.” The professor hit “Ok” on the pop-up. It brought the screen to a spinning loading sign, before the same autopilot dialogue popped up, and communicated to Dr Juan Saudade to be patient.
“Dreadfully boring,” said Juan, looking at his dog. “Isn’t this?
Argos licked cherry juice from his lower lips. “Wooof!”
Juan recalled the advice of a writing workshop professor who had suggested years ago he never write a character that “just waits around,” because that bored readers. But what all surrounded Juan, orbiting the edge of the moon in the stillness of outer space, aside from the risk of dying and the threat of never returning to earth, was anything but boring: the blinding light of the sun dotted the infinite horizon ahead of him past the porthole window, and, again, this eternal silence.
Juan pulled out a pen from inside his thermal vest. He could start now, he thought, a little preamble, something to clear the throat before starting on his life’s goal, the moon book. Recalling a science journal’s headline, “200th moon discovered in the solar system,” Juan thought: each moon would make a fine poem; though, The Moon, the earth’s, has first dibs and called for a whole novel, or at least a short story.
Clicking the top of his pen, once, twice, many times, as if clicking it would spark a flame, Juan hesitated.
“Do it!” Argos barked, licking his nose.
Juan closed his eyes and let the thing surge forth, his hand and his pen were one, he scribbled away, yes, yes, Moon, he was really doing it, no writers block in outer space, yes.
“Ah, no, damn it!”
Juan had packed his own pens, and was using his favorite one, but when he halfway opened his eyes at the end of his first line, he realized that it was not designed to write in zero gravity.
The buttons and console continued to blink colored lights, as the porthole-shaped light of the sun creeped up the inside of the cockpit like a ball of fire that stretched into a spotlight, then an ellipse, later a ray, et cetera, up those buttons, before the cloud of alien star dust brushed against the outside of the pod, just as predicted, and sparkled like iridescent plankton. Juan murmured to himself, “Where’s that fancy space pen she gave me?” Instead of finding it, fussy and unaware, he yawned, and amber-eyed Argos also yawned, two red curtains draped over both passengers’ eyes.
Dr Juan Saudade fell asleep calmly gazing at the aurora borealis of his mind, entering a dream…
Necesito probar que sé escribir
No me quiero
Que en una nave me asuste
Que en tus pelos
Ojalá no tenga que pensar
Ojalá me veas
Como yo a ti
Estrangement is normal in outer space. One feels so distant when one stands where one wants something else.
¿Qué le falta al sabio que al boludo no le sobra?
The Asteroid Belt: “Poetry 20wx-20yz”
De torpe, a atormentado, a apasionado, a establecido, a cometido.
Filomena. She’s already written the bulk of the book. We’ll turn on our inward eye, her head and her ten thousand strands of hair I see clearly in a glance, tossing in sprightly dance. When her purple waves and fodder touch my milky ether and water, they form a saturnine moon; however, separated, I wander lonely as a cloud, she a simple sea anemone, something I cannot wrap a ring around.
You are like me, who am like you.
Lord on high
You are me
And so am I.
Some may say
I’m wishing my days away
Здравствуйте! Меня зовут Xуан. Я профессор. Я живу в Хьюстоне. А это моя жена Филомена. Мы красивы вместе. Но мы не существуем.
What he means:
Dr Quack and Mrs Pond swam vivaciously in a sea of anonymity
to the knee and back again—bend do her joints go but flat his bill be,
until it opens.
They amount to a pair, forget the nicked fruit, eat it they did
most delicately—kick kick kick—their webbed feet kicked
until the sunshine
shone from behind their backs
and starfish wiggled to a grin all over again
…in a soup.
In agreement with the critics, he hums:
Go away, cliché. Be gone!
Ladies and Gentlemen, space capitalism.
A bad poem in the early evening:
The night stands
On its two hands
Remember the last car we owned and I said:
Put the blinders on, cuz your headlights are out.
“What about Pluto’s moon?” Ain’t a planet, ain’t a moon.
If Dr Juan Saudade were granted three wishes, the last two would go toward fulfilling literary ambitions, but the first would be to see his wife, Filomena Rosa, safe and sound. She had flown to the LUNE Farm two weeks earlier. She had been a diplomat in the United Sates for ten years, at the UN. The time Juan first met Filomena, and that impression of her with the crescent moon earrings glimmering in the light of an overcast New York City, an impression that never left him, still blurring in his imagination their difference in age, was nice. When he called her his better half, he called her his Filomenauj. Juan figured she was probably buying groceries right this very minute, before meeting him at the loading dock. To see her, to be with her, made Juan happy. But his destination was guided by a damned autopilot, and this drove him to a nervous sweat. He was almost there, to his new home.
Juan recalled a line he had read in a book by Joyce. Lal the ral the ra. “If that got printed, then any sucker can right, I mean, write,” Juan said out loud.
Recalling his wife’s advice to simply transcribe the first thing that comes to mind, though difficult or lame it may be, Juan twisted the top of the space pen she had gifted him.
“Something to be read out loud,” he spoke. “Some abstract verse that makes sense only as lines of enchantments, i.e., tongue twisters.” Juan jotted cursive over the paper over his bent knee.
Should I? Yes.
Patterns in my mind
Unbeknownst to want
Sensibility of ear
And Reality to celebrate the
fancy writer of short fiction
Who beats the stick like
Campbell’s like War-hall
In soho, bro,
Shaw shou shoe shay
Phay phei pho phuh
The thee though thech th
Thchsh phch phth phshch
Khockey khoe kho kh
Khphth phth phthshch
Phth phthshch space zhipe
Zheep shmoe phrow
Juan twisted the top of his pen to a stop. He read and reread the lines he had just written.
“Ghastly,” he whispered.
Amber-eyed Argos tilted his head, and scratched his nose.
“You’re right, boy,” Juan told his dog. “No one would read this in their right mind, lest he, or she, needed a good sneeze.”
Argos barked, and annunciated the “kh” sound for his master, which made him happy.
“At least you get me,” said Juan, later writing things he had memorized back on earth.
Illegitimi non carborundum.
How to be independent: focus on what you need, and what others want.
How to be in a relationship: focus on what you want, and what others need.
“Filomena,” reads his previous sent message to her, a flash fiction story sent to the LUNE, “pulled her shoulders back and let the frilled ends of her gown flow in the black wind of a salt lake landscape. Meanwhile a falcon up ahead came down, pinions out. Naught else mattered. Pure, free, and unattached, Filomena felt rain drops land on her upturned cheek. Smiles came easier to her these days. She knew so deep down, she would be ok, be ok. Be ok.”
I am free, and nothing can stop me.
Pluto was a planet in his childhood, whence/wherefrom he got his ideas.
Accept the whole of you. Ego. Shadow. Persona. But for real, though.
Где ты живешь?
Я сейчас на работе.
Что ты делали?
You didn’t do anything? Dr Saudade shook his head. The only thing—eh, this change in cabin pressure, gripping his thoughts, the hallucinations, the dust, the cloud, heh—that made sense to him in that moment was the photo of Carlos Gardel (The Argentine Frank Sinatra, said the professor once, listen to him) pinned to the neon band of lights by his feet, changing colors. Por el espacio…
This poesy haunts me—phantasmagoria
Esta poesía anda por mí—fantasmagoría
Language can be foreign,
ever shifting shape;
thus the translator must play,
paint from our dreams one landscape;
this ghost, a stalker, illusion,
Faceless, but not without hope
like my favorite word—
Alan Watts a déjà dit dans un discours: “If you don’t know what to do, you simply watch.” Par quoi, nous supposons, il s’est référé à la perception claire obtenue à travers de la méditation.
Dr Juan Saudade wiped his brow of sweat with his sleeve. He ran his fingers through the side of his hair, long ago gone gray. And with a sigh, he put on his helmet, and strapped in Argos—with a doggy-space suit and all—in a cushioned kennel between him and the empty passenger seat.
Another glance at his wrist showed he was late to land. How? I hate waiting, Juan thought to himself. I hope she’s there waiting for me.
They enter as animals from the outer
Space of holly where spikes
Are not thoughts I turn on, like a Yogi,
But greenness, darkness so pure
They freeze and are.
O God, I am not like you
In your vacuous black,
Stars stuck all over, bright stupid confetti.
Eternity bores me,
I never wanted it.
Filomena Rosa has argued with herself over many a topic, but the one that has stayed with her the longest, and which right now occupied most of her thoughts, was that of having a baby.
She had decided during her university studies to never have children, as did many of her friends at the time. But unlike many of them, who had gone back on their vows, Filomena was one of the few who had finished graduate school without a significant other, or husband. Her career began, as many in her field, as a lowly translator in the Italian embassy in New York. Her literary ambitions never went past editing her first and only novel. For her it was enough to have it. Rather, after that, she found her joy for words in translating other’s ideas, from the most banal government memos, to the emails between the highest officials. As she quickly earned promotions, she also found pleasure in ghostwriting for the politicians who yet hovered above her on the totem pole of her country’s bureaucracy. Whenever a leader made the news, Filomena Rosa knew her office phone would receive a call asking her to write the story that would clarify the situation. “We want you to present the whole picture,” a publishing agent—or more often a PR rep—would ask. “We can set up an interview.” Filomena’s answer was always the same: “What you want from me is to tell the human story.” And with an almost imperceptible smile, a smile that communicated nothing to the person on the other line, only to Filomena herself, which reminded her she understood the situation: “No need for a meeting. Just pass me an email.”
Years went by, happy years. Filomena enjoyed her self-made independence, and perfect life: Translator, Diplomat, Ghostwriter. Her life revolved around her projects, friends, for half a decade, give or take, until she met Juan.
Two weeks plus two weeks makes four. Filomena flew to the moon two weeks before her husband. They needed her to teach French, the Farm’s lingua franca, and had asked her to head the language center as lead administrator.
“Why not English?” she had asked.
“Most of the early astronauts were Russians and Canadians, you know that. The Americans and the Brits pulled funding. Anyway,” they concluded, as all good scientists do, with a statistic, “studies show French is easier to learn.”
Deep down she figured—knowing the Québécois were the ones populating the moon’s ministry of culture—the real reason that space citizens would be asked to learn their language: first come, first serve.
It was a midsummer day, a July like any other, a little too hot, a little too humid in central Florida. Juan had driven from their home, interstate by interstate, probably listening to jazz, Filomena figured, to wish her goodbye at the launch site. Their eyes were windows, facing one another, reflecting the other’s tears. There were many reasons for sadness. Would he have let her go if he knew what was inside of her? Not really. Filomena had missed her period two weeks before her departure date. Two tests, positive.
“Congratulations,” the doctors had said, assuring her it was safe to travel. “This is historic. You will be one of the first women to give birth on the moon. As you know, we must populate the…”
Filomena wasn’t the only pregnant woman sent to space. But she was the only one to hide the fact from her husband. He wouldn’t have let her go without a fight. She would have flown against his will—of course Filomena would go with or without his consent. She also for years shared the dream of going to the moon. But what killed Filomena, the thought that drove her mad in that moment, was the threat of malfunction, some freak accident, a missed calculation or burnt rubber band at the tail of the rocket that would melt and cause the whole launch site to explode. Filomena Rosa didn’t want her husband to witness both the loss of his wife, and add to her death the death of his unborn child. So she didn’t tell him.
A simple eclipse poem, from a lifetime ago:
(Not a dawn
But a new beginning
None the less.)
Bring on the darkness
Let there be light
There is nothing to fear
So hug her goodnight
The sun is half gone
My mind in tatters
But my soul feels complete
And that’s all that matters.
Feet / they hardly touch the ground
Walking on the moon
I learned Russian for that son of a bitch! But he was cute when he sang to me that song, how did it go?
Спокойной ночи, cпокойной ночи…
I’m tired of explaining his last name is Portuguese, but no, he’s not Portuguese. He’s about as Portuguese as American port wine. “Saw-dade,” they say. No, no. “It’s pronounced sou-DA-gee.” I hear his voice when I say this—“sou-DA-gee, sou-DA-gee”—and every time we listen to Bossa nova, he sings the word with added stress, his last name. Dr. Asshole. The love that remains, they say.
Though, he was happy when I taught him Italian, yes, then French. I would play for him Charlotte Gainsbourg.
In paradiscos (vos y yo-o, he would add)
We get bored with breaking windows (breaking bolas)
Turning beggars into heroes (turning hoes into tyros)
Bodies moving innuendos (you and I somos lindos)
In paradiscos (vos y yo-o)
And he would play for me Rock Nacional.
Ahí va el Capitán Beto por el espacio (pensando en mí, sí, I would add)
Con su nave de fibra hecha en Haedo (¿dónde?)
Ayer colectivero (what?)
Hoy amo entre los amos del aire (cómo te amo, my love…)
He’s so self-centered, and when yours is too, tell him:
Put your vanity away;
Let my eyes be your
And now we’re pregnant, meaning me. Why now? We didn’t want kids. What happened? We Just Had To Go Without A Rubber. He did look so sexy that last night together, and myself not so half bad—amazing what space training does to your body. Should have done that regimen in college. And no contraception, why, I stopped, he didn’t ask, I think, and to let him finish in me, we called it our mutual going away present. They say a baby conceived in love has a greater chance at happiness. But that was from a movie, not Disney, I believe. But is the saying true?
“You’ll know how to be one,” her mother had reassured her, as she brushed her daughter’s mass of curly hair. “We all do, when the time comes.”
Her mother had smiled. “When…”
Decades later, on the moon, in her diary: “Me? A mother? I will tell him today,” Filomena had written. “He arrives oh so soon, in so few hours.” Now she was in a grocery store, day-dreaming (there had been daylight for days), buying snacks and fruit. She knew he would be hungry after the fifty plus hour flight.
As she imagined and reimagined different scenarios at the landing station, Filomena drew sharper and sharper images of their first rendezvous on the moon.
Filomena wouldn’t dare pretend like her husband would abandon her at hearing the news. (There is nowhere to run!) Or let her go. No. Not like that man in the Shirt poem by Pinsky, she recalled all of a sudden. “Her into space, and dropped…” She chuckled when she remembered seeing the old poet laureate do a commercial for the company in charge of sending people to LUNE. No, her pregnancy-reveal to her husband should be more poetic. Filomena got in line to check out.
In her mind: “Juanemolif, my dear,” she would whisper, in his ear, tenderly after a tight embrace. “May I share with you a secret?”
“Yes, my love,” her husband would say, unusually sweet, hands on her cheeks, caressing the caramel skin behind her ear, perhaps struck by a sudden re-falling in love, but most likely due, in Filomena’s imagination, to the low gravity affecting his brain, or that damn alien dust cloud which hit again today. “You can tell me anything.”
“You are a father,” she would say, a tremble in her voice, and with an expecting look, as she shooed away their yawning, old pup with her foot, probably humping her leg all the while. Her husband would understand her completely in that vulnerable moment, and he would look into her eyes and not turn away.
“The best welcome present!” her husband would cry. “Is it a boy or a girl?”
Filomena’s fantasy ended when she pushed the bottom of her cart into the heels of the woman in front of her, also waiting in line, dressed as a harlequin, and carrying a loaf of bread and a jar of honey.
“Ehm, excuse me?” the harlequin said, and with a turn shook the bells on her head.
“I-I’m s-sorry,” Filomena wailed, in an unaccustomed high-pitched tone, as she preceded to point her nose at her grocery cart. The mother-to-be didn’t know if she would have a boy or a girl. She had asked the nurse to refrain from using the Chromo-Scan to detect the baby’s gender, in accordance with what Juan’s wishes may very well have been, for neither of them to know the gender of the baby, recalling a long lost pillow talk of theirs early in their relationship, before the wedding: Juan had alluded to the fact that he would want his eldest child to be a boy. “But a girl would be nice, too.” “Why can’t it be a girl, what’s wrong with a girl?” “No, no, it’s fine either way. But, what language would we raise the kid in?” Then pulling back from the conversation, as he tended to do—“Not that I want children.” Juan had then turned away. “Oh, of course not,” was Filomena’s reply, rolling on top of him with bedsheets wrapped around her body, kissing his neck. “You’re too old to have children.” The muscles on Juan’s jaws had tightened. And then Filomena thinks he probably made one of his stupid jokes about their twelve year difference in age to brush it off, the kind of jokes Filomena had grown so used to hearing that even she repeated them at house parties to her friends, as if they hadn’t heard the jokes from Juan moments before.
“If it’s a boy,” Filomena began. “If… then Juan will be fifty-eight when he walks him to his first day of school. And seventy-one when, oh God…” Filomena didn’t want to think about graduations. She played off the age, and the revulsion it caused her, with a shiver. Just because silver hair and rough skin turn her on doesn’t justify him becoming a parent, though biology claimed their relationship for a purpose higher than pleasure. “What an odd thought,” Filomena mumbled, distracting herself with a view of the lunar surface from inside the store, the green alien dust cloud mixing with the artificial, low atmosphere, and the ground’s natural minerals. (Astronauts had found minerals from earth on the moon, proving that it had most likely once been a part of it, and proving that it could be tilled, using the fancy new Soil-Desal machines, made to produce certain grains. All this to say, the moon was more fertile than scientists had previously imagined.) “Still, why move to the moon?” her sister had asked at a hair salon. “Life’s perfectly fine here on earth.” Filomena, back then, experienced the same sentiment pioneers must have felt before such trifling questions.
It was her turn to checkout. The woman at the register was the owner of the trading post, an American named Gennie Johnson, about twice Filomena’s age, with a dozen kids, and all of them working different jobs at the store. That was the only thing Filomena envied about Mrs Johnson—not her dry hair, not her cranky attitude, not her job—but her motherhood.
The two women made small talk, gossiped about the men in their lives, and about the thousand or so inhabitants at LUNE as if it were a small town on earth, and then the groceries were packed.
Turning toward the exit, Filomena remembered Gennie had a brother also arriving on an inbound ship. She wanted so bad to ask about the store owner’s brother, but she couldn’t bring herself to talk about yet another man, fearing the conversation becoming a gender thing. As a result she said the second thing that came to mind:
“Where’s the garden of milk?”
Gennie made a puzzling look. Then nodded her head.
“Are you stressed, my dear? Bechdel got you down?”
“Just answer the question,” Filomena said firmly. “Please.”
Gennie Johnson nodded her head once more, and pointed out the door and to the right.
“Right and yonder,” she said.
Filomena thanked the owner of the trading post, walked out, and, not a hundred feet past, forgot altogether what she had asked the lady, what all they had talked about, but not before she forgot the directions to the garden she had made up. Her whistling could be heard from a kilometer, it seemed, and anyone who ran into her, said “Salut” with an accent, would have to avoid getting hit by the grocery bags she was swinging in circles, as her puckered lips with fresh rouge made melodies out of the air conditioned hallways of that Farm in outer space.
Juanemolif and Filomenauj: together their pet names reflect each other. In Florida, the last time they were together, the last time they kissed, they had promised to live the rest of their lives like the couple in that Andrei Tarkovsky film where the characters’ innermost thoughts become real.
“You are so beautiful to me. You’re everything I’ve ever hoped for.”
“You’ve said that before, said you borrowed the lines from a busker.”
“When we first met.”
“And you asked me to be your daffodil.”
“I knew you were the kind of woman who wouldn’t let me change her last name otherwise.”
“You said it was because I don’t call for attention, I only ask it of myself.”
Jadis, Elena Ferrante a écrit dans un roman: “Each one of us narrates our life as it suits us.” Pour moi cette phrase est en fait une pipe, et toi et moi l’avons fumé.
Only 15th century Portuguese sailors were able to encapsulate the feeling of homesickness, yearning for lost time, and the nostalgia of old love in three syllables. Filomena Rosa hates to admit it, in public anyway, but part of why she married him was for his last name. (Definitely not to share the dog.) For the baby she would accept it.
She was late to the landing. He must have arrived by now, Filomena thought to herself. I hope he’s at the landing dock waiting for me.