The Revendication of Matilde Famularo

This story has been drawn from the February/March issue of the American Reader, available here. The Revendication was translated from Italian by Allison Grimaldi Donahue.

And then Ascona delivers her from years of obsolescence.  Four of her works open Opposing Voices, an anthology dedicated by the Ticinese critic to poets not only defunct and unpublished, or who lived with the simple uncertainty of whether they were or were not in fact artists, but to those lost to violence, insulted up until their last breath, vanished without leaving a single remain.  The Island, The Journey, Factory and Damn Perón! furnish Ascona’s miscellany  (a compendium of the drowned and the stabbed, shot, dissolved in acid, dismembered and spread over earth and water—purebred poets) and they were composed by Matilde Famularo.  The literary world shines its eyes on an explosion of personal writings, translations, translations of translations, while her manuscripts set off bidding wars among publishers, but Matilde, who hashed out page after page in a cantankerous hand, has been dead for years, vanished, she can’t see these necrophiliacs tearing her to shreds. 

Her art isn’t for everyone.  At the Festival of Rome the actress Natalia Quarzo makes this clear when she starts into Song of Fools and never makes it to the end.  Disgust stops her as she is about to begin the bitter invective and she just walks off the stage, the public whistles, and one critic, actually a journalist, actually a staff writer who has been writing book reviews for quite a while, who they quote on all the book jackets, will write:  “It needed more courage.”  She’s got a point: Famularo’s magnificent expression of rage must be embodied by whoever attempts to read it.  Few admit their anger.  If everyone is angry it is “because hydrophobia in its constancy is human” (G. Fahndel, Beabsichtigungen uber Mensch und Gesellschaft, 1982, p. 261), but nine out of ten feign timidity, silencing their rage between their pillows in private.  Still alive and allergic to the hypocrisy of the masses, Matilde described the multitude of “twatless cretins” with the insolence of someone whose flame would burn out quickly.  She was different and at six years old she discovers the strength of her ire on the beach in Scari, not the most beautiful beach but the landing of the island where she is born and lives.  Down there the sand is black and in the summer it’s on fire: to avoid hurting her feet Matilde jumps onto a rock that despite being round tears a little gash between her skin and flesh and, dissatisfied with screaming, she picks up the pebble and shows it her teeth, skinning herself as she scratches at it, and throws it in the sea. Here the madness rises to the surface, a weakness or the cure?—let’s say a “nature” reveals itself and amazes her, it even makes her proud, because it is her very own, because I am made this way and no one else is like me.  It is not a matter of will, it is a matter of reaction. Where there is an obstacle she plunges forth and throws punches and takes names. From that first pebble the list grows long. She has lots of enemies among doors, walls and floors where she bumps or falls. Everywhere there is a soul. Skinning her knee is an insult: the girl will respond with the fury of knives. Woods and plasters that block her will receive fatal kicks and the cries of a teeming throng. The handles and doorknobs that cause the scabs on her wrists and elbows must endure slaps and punches.  She spits on the conspiracy of objects, they haven’t the right to injure her. 

In the middle of a deep sea, calm and blue, she blasphemes the jellyfish that stung her with such havoc she drives the fish and fishermen away.  She slides on the steep steps leading up to the lighthouse of Strombolicchio: while her knee lets out thin streams of blood, Matilde curses into the air. 

Her skin is already burned from the sun whose rays burrow hidden into her face waiting to reveal themselves in the wrinkles of an old age Matilde will never see. Daughter of a fisherman, she lives on an island with no electricity; besides her father she lives with six brothers, two dogs, and a quick-tempered grandmother in a den at the feet of the church of San Vincenzo, nestled together with the masses at the most sheltered point.  The point, if not the most geometrically at least the most geographically antithetical in respect to the mouths of the volcano that spews lava down the other side of its cone.  Seen from above it is a mixture of rock and concrete, a brotherhood of colorless roofs bowing in an embrace towards the shadow of the temple, refugees in her safety while the mountain throws fire.  An elementary life commanded by the seasons where fresh fish is summer’s food, winter’s too, pulled out of the ice and prepared with onions, herbs, and black olives.  Her mother was dead before all of this; when Matilde was three years old and in her bed the woman waited and blood cascaded from her mouth and her arms fell to her side.  Here is the spark which fills the notebooks of poems she writes at thirteen and fourteen, with only the strength of a second grade education, all the space reserved for her angry rants. Here she curses everything.  She curses teeth that fall out, scabs of blood, broken fingernails, her grandmother’s breath, the vulgarity of her father, sore throats and fevers, the stink of shit, the blotches from measles, she curses the pain, every scrape, her father’s incomprehensible jargon, the stench of his body, she curses his clothes, his shoes, his underwear, “that I don’t want to wash, that I don’t want to smell ever again,” she curses the rocks, sharp and black, that scrape her feet, the volcano, its sounds and its ash. She mollifies the sharp yelps of the dialect with a language blush and timid.  The concoction is a set of gums with a nascent tooth, soft and spattered with blood.

She runs into her grandmother in the church square at the end of a scorching day.  Her grandmother asks: “Is it true you hate us?” It is false:  Matilde Famularo doesn’t hate anyone.  She hates processes, effects and causes, clouds when she wants sun, sun when she wants shade, the cold when she’d rather be hot and the contrary, fish bones on the palate, trips and falls, the offenses inflicted upon her body, she hates discovering she hates something and is often exhausted with herself for being so surly and thinks she’ll soon stop, she’ll lie down, she won’t get up.  But instead she grows until she’s seventeen, by now a custodian in a school in Lipari (she took a ferryboat to the main island, found a cot with cousins in Lingua, and bought a gray smock and clogs).  She cleans toilets and floors, rings bells, dusts chairs and desks. Unseen she spies on the lessons of Gaetano Volante, the only teacher for all three classes, from Messina and forty years old, devoted to D’Annunzio’s poetry and while he teaches the students Matilde learns as well. She fills notebooks that by now are in the dozens.  She accrued a language, as Scalzelli will note (Regional Italian Poetry, vol. 2, 1983, p. 75) that is a “miracle of self-determination, a stubborn fruit born out of the desert.”  The rage begins to transform itself into concepts like noise into a melody, grumbles into protest, or desires or hopes. Her state of mind is fixed on tirades; it finds its path.  Every night at least one page in her notebook. Every day during her lunch break as well.  Poetry without rhyme or meter. Thoughts turned to paper.  Now Famularo’s posthumous fortune arises without her knowing it, she only notices that she detests that when she lies down naked her breasts spread without scruples but they don’t fall down, instead it seems like they light up, like an invisible mouth is sucking on her nipples pulling them upwards.  Matilde is ashamed, she walks hunched over in her gray smock and she even hates her ass; when she looks in the mirror it seems to grow more and more each day, she’d like to flatten it like undergarments in a suitcase. 

One day one of her notebooks falls, the most recent and incomplete, onto the tiles of the school hallway.  Volante passes by and notices it.  Or does he notice Matilde’s breasts as she bends to pick it up?  Or does he notice both things?  But which one first?  There is no answer.  But he bends down, grabs the notebook, he hands it to her and there is a moment of contact: he has seen Famularo.  They walk along the beach among piles of fishing nets covered in buoys and crab shells.  Matilde protects herself from the wind with a woolen cape.  Volante warms her with his arm.  They stumble on sand and rocks.  With every blunder she laughs.  The wind chaps her lips.  The wind is also the music of their encounter.  Volante is wearing a felt hat and a jacket of black wool.  They are serious.  Life is serious. 

I, who teach for little money, who studied poetry, who had a hundred hopes and now none, choose you. 
I, who know where I come from and nothing else (black rocks and the dried up fish that lie upon them, ash, lava, my father), accept that you choose me. 

On the second of July in ‘67 they get married and leave Lipari for Messina, Messina for Villa San Giovanni, Villa San Giovanni for Rome.  It is not a honeymoon. 

 

 

 

Buenos Aires
They take an airplane. They land in Ezeiza.  They leave the airport.  The cold speaks another language and it rains. They get on a bus.  The journey takes them off onto a dirt road, past couplings of shacks.  At first, the hovels seem like packs of animals, but gradually, as the bus drives onward, they scrunch together growing taller, until there is no trace of the sheds or countryside, and dogs can be heard barking through the loosely assembled lean-tos.  “The people are dark and have strange eyes that look out over their cheekbones like women looking out from balconies,” not all of the people—observes Matilde—but a lot of the ones she has seen. 

A month passes.  They live in the Villa Soldati neighborhood.  The house is made of exposed bricks, like a guy walking around without any shoes or one with his pants falling down.  The roof is made of sheet metal and one of the two windows closes, but with a cardboard shutter that provides little protection from the breeze wafting in from the landfill.  The house belongs to Jorge Gravano, the foreman who pays Volante’s salary as a mason but takes out money for rent and also for water and electricity.  Volante looked for a cousin of his who had promised him miracles, hectares of land to cultivate, even a fertile vineyard on the border of Chile, but he never found him and now (no longer a teacher) he doesn’t open his mouth when he comes home.  He believes—not today, because now he keeps quiet, but previously he has mentioned in passing—the exhaustion has taken all the words from his mouth.  He no longer reads books.  He likes to give orders and does so merely with gestures.  He eats dinner, he falls asleep.  While he sleeps he emits sounds from his throat, his stomach, his sphincter.  When he’s feeling a bit of desire he takes Matilde without bothering to ask her first.  He gropes at her like a possession.  He pushes his groin against her, never sweetly, always hastily.  Matilde doesn’t hate men, she only hates things that are out of place, she lowers her eyes as she fulfills her duty of opening herself; she works in a factory where they make sausage casings on the Castañares.  She has humble, servile duties, she cleans the walls of the tubs where they dump the loose meat, she dries liquids piled on the floor that have already become a bit solid and rubbery, she brushes away the remains of pigs, gathers them in trash bags, the nails, eyes, ears, nostrils.  Once in a while she vomits.  She brings the stench of the factory home with her.  She smells it in her nasal cavities as she cooks, she smells it on her hands; when she forgets about it, it sneaks back in and she thinks it’s like a spy lurking in the shadows.  Cooking takes a big effort.  Then Volante gets home, dead tired, and she sets the table for him.  They don’t eat together.  Matilde prefers to eat in bed.  She drinks from a cup, gathers up the bread from the plate, she brushes the crumbs onto her belly and into the creases of the bedspread but she doesn’t notice because the only light in the room is turned off (“if I can, I stay in the dark, where I can’t see anything, not even my condition”).  Volante, who hates crumbs, comes to bed, he slides under the sheets and the crumbs scratch against his legs, he asks her what it is knowing full well the answer, then he yells and punches Matilde in the back (the impact of the blow reverberates throughout her entire body).  On other occasions he is delicate and seeks forgiveness.  One Sunday in Recoleta he bursts into tears, he admits disaster, gets down on his knees, buries his face in his wife’s womb, he groans about how she is too young and he is too old, he murmurs something about separating.  But Matilde surprises him:  “We did a good thing coming here.  We were worms on an island.”  Then a request: “Could you stop hitting me?”  that so moves him he takes her hands and kisses them; but her prayers will not be answered. 

A time passes whose irrelevance serves as a container for incomplete actions and unexpressed desires (which for Matilde Famularo means a time in which she does not write) and at some point in May of ‘69 the students protest on the asphalt of Corrientes until one of them hits the ground, shot.  For Volante the event is a page read in a newspaper at the bar to which he comments: “He deserved the shot, they should have killed them all.” Matilde discovers her husband is a man of order, nostalgic for any given dictatorship, especially for the one that is yet to come, a man who fits in Argentina’s regime and seeks no regrets.  In addition to this big surprise comes the accidental fall from the sky, out of the blue the man who laid bricks is now nearly a corpse with sporadic quivers and she who knew him grows pale, practically faints, she demands that they help, but someone relieves the massacre and puts him in a van.  Blood and flesh roll down to the dirt road which the book reviews and criticism never discuss.  There are no biographies of Matilde Famularo (I stack up these lines, I give only the impression) but you cannot consider the themes coincidental in her contemporaneous book, The Disillusionment Notebooks,[1] where she (servant to life, master of the word, priestess of hate) lists “obligations, constrictions, shitty facts” like “waking up at sunrise, preparing for the Unworthy, going to the factory,” like “working for ten hours” in the “putrification of hope, where happiness goes to rot.”  “Why are we poor?” she asks.  “Why do we suffer?  Why are the violent so violent?  The Unworthy is violent and so is the master.  The wretched carry on.  The neighbors cover their ears.  The coworkers look away.  The police search and are accomplices.  The streets are filthy.  I cannot clean the grime of the house.  The bed hates me.  Clothing makes me ugly.  I’d like other clothes.  I’d like hats and socks of silk.  In my neighborhood only violent faces.  Why does my back ache?  Knees shouldn’t yelp. Ribs shouldn’t cry. Hands shouldn’t moan and the blame is only yours,” she says it like she is throwing mud at a creator whose name I omit out of respect for the reader who is able to recover any speck of faith, but with this I betray the irreverence of Matilde Famularo who before anger and truth sacrificed decency and in fact writes, “the fucker who is to blame lives upstairs, not in my slum, not in the villas of Belgrano, not on the island where my mother died and why did my mother die? Why did I listen to her rattle?  Why did I see her blood?”  From pages ten to twenty-one finds a list of oppression, as Scalzelli noted, “that runs from the private to the public, from the walls of the house to the walls of the factory in a sort of precocious feminist unionist fury. Actually, it is a combined list of vendettas and injustices, the voice of a victim who imagines herself the executioner.”  She protests the floods of Buenos Aires, the rapes, the deafness, the stench in the factory, vomit, death, life unrelished, slavery, shredded underwear, shredded stockings, kindness never known, her mother who didn’t have time, the prison of work, the freedom of the rich, the blows from Gaetano Volante and she announces:  “The Unworthy must be shattered to the bone and will languidly spring towards the latrines to transform itself into shit, but the nose will remain so that it can sniff itself. They shall cut every boss’s head and piss in his mouth. They will cut up the ass of the boss like a ham, into thin slices.  To the women who pretend not to hear it when the Unworthy cuts me up inside they will rip out their fingernails and shove them only I know where.  For my father who never wrote to me since I left, who never asks or offers, may his fingertips burn into embers. For all those who don’t love or only demand love may their skin dry up, and then when they are made of papier-maiche, death comes to surprise them. May cancer come only to those who deserve it. May the rich fade out, the powerful wash away, may the armies and soldiers melt in the rain and their weapons liquefy like toys made of chocolate. May dictators hang like swings from boughs. Factories will function on their own.  Workers will no longer toil but will be paid double.  Food will be good and won’t bloat the belly.  Sicknesses will be abolished.  I will stretch my legs only when it’s worth the effort.”

In the dark of the house a man closes a window and tacks up a piece of cardboard to hide himself from the gazes outside.  With hair whitened by limestone he slides towards the bed.  He breathes on a body that waited for him, then he ransacks it.  He enters where he’s not welcome.  Clumsy and excited, conscious of how he must seem.  He stays there for as long as necessary to find happiness.  But when it seems that happiness has arrived, he realizes it is something else.  Even if he wanted to discover what it was (a feeling?  A trick?  A plunder?) he can’t: it’s already finished, all of it. 

“Here are our worst selves: facts crush us and illness assaults us.  We navigate without a map on a black sea full of traps.  All of this seems to last into eternity but naturally, if the universe could speak, he would insist that we’d never existed at all.  Or in that moment (our moment) he was somewhere else entirely (Vuillarde, 1970).” 

 

 

The war
Years, months, days and hours are soured milk, rotten oranges, apples turned brown and soft.  The only thing left to do is blend them, beat them, extract their liquid.  Throw out their peels, discard the pulp.  If you do this with tens of these corroded remains the reward isn’t more than one or two glass-fulls.  Then pass the contents through a mesh strainer and into another glass.  With a knife scrape out the foam as useless as it is bitter.  What’s left is life, the net sum.  Time without time lost.  At this point (it’s not worth explaining much else) it’s already 1975 (not too much or too little before: both lying in the trash with the broken fragments) when Matilde’s hand has lost its wedding ring and grasps a gun and she no longer has more than one last name, the one her father gave her, she shoots and a hundred meters off two police officers drop to the ground.  Matilde shoots again.  The policemen are crouched down, motionless.  A motorcycle arrives.  The driver shouts at her to get on and she throws herself on the back.  They head out towards the Acheral forest. 

The landscape is changed.  The forests and mountains of Tucumán replace the shantytowns of Buenos Aires.  The ERP guerrilla takes the place of the washwoman.  Matilde no longer Volante and once again Famularo cleans rifles, loads pistols, tends to dynamite, sleeps in tents, she changes the cot every night, dreams of the enemy, wakes up beside streams, eats with her companions, she’s a watchman, moistens the dried out biscuits, reads Santucho, knows Guevara by heart, blindly believes in her companions, blindly believes in the Argentinian Vietnam, blindly believes in the revolutionary struggle, she thinks about Isabelita Perón’s false democracy and she spits.  One year ago she came to the forest, two years ago she robbed a bank, three years ago she met the print-maker Arturo Coloccini who showed her guerrilla warfare without really practicing it and for him, who offered her a biodegradable love with an impending expiration date, she left Volante in some dilapidated hut along the way.  A wild berry is ripe during the few weeks the season assigns it and its red begins to pale the moment it blushes:  soon Coloccini explains he must go, the end of love, a definitive ending because he leaves for the north, maybe Jujuy or Bolivia, towards the sugarcane plantations, towards a rough bitter sugar, towards day-laborers and bosses in a story for men alone. 

But thank you Coloccini, thank you forever because you freed me, with your ink stained hands, your glasses of Fernet, with your naive and boastful breath, with your kindness, your touch and the print-maker had already faded from memory when Matilde arrives in the farmers’ village, she shouts slogans from the megaphone, distributes food and clothing, organizes the day-laborers’ revolt; but they barely listen to her.  It is the period of “moral and political rage”: as defined by Ascona in the years he dated between ‘72 and ‘75.  At this point she creates the entire Cycle of Disgrace along with other works such as Remembering Trelew, Rise Up Comrade!, Dawn of the Workers, Lessons from Córdoba . It is a period in which Matilde, who has achieved a metamorphosis (according to Scalzelli she spent a whole year living as a beggar, but the scholar has produced only minimal evidence and implausible sources), dedicates herself to the generation of future disappeared.  She lives in the mountains. She hasn’t lost the rage of the island but now she fights against new enemies.  Things no longer have any worth.  Her fury has grown.  Over the course of twenty notebooks a hatred arises in her poetry unlike any that has been previously written.  The notebooks are the only thing she brings with her on her journey from Buenos Aires.  Every so often she recites passages to her companions in madness and they call her the minstrel and they laugh, or sometimes they think about what she’s saying and they become serious. 

Ascona, in Critical Notes on Matilde Famularo (Opposing Voices, p. VI), points out the “rarefication of concepts” and a “completely visual verse” in which the anger no longer has use for invectives, satisfied with the cosmogony of the situation. A mob calls for the right to vote; above the thousands of heads and raised fists, an eighty-year-old man emerges onto his balcony dressed in evening attire and wrinkles, he inspects the mass of people below as he caresses the medals that decorate his lapel.  On the floor of a factory, a factory like hundreds of other factories, a man and a woman dressed in overalls shuffle in opposite directions gathering, through bodies and fabrics, a kind of sewage that could be gasoline or machine oil, but it could also be condensed blood; they are blind to each other, unrecognizable, but everything else is perfectly vivid. A knife pierces into flesh, the torn uniform, shirt, undershirt, the soft hairs and the skin: a calloused hand grips a knife, pushing it in with the passion of revenge.  The scene repeats itself on all of the uniforms and with all of the knives of Argentina, a cornucopia of work-shirts are in shreds, the silhouettes that filled them collapse to the floor and a chorus exalts.  Teams of bullets dance towards their victims like ladies in waiting with their knights at the debutant ball, a waltz sets fire to the route—another vendetta.  Small bombs tear single bodies to pieces, larger explosives destroy entire barracks.  Every scene has its death to nurture.  Under foot—like lava, like water, like dirt—questions swarm.  Why are they hungry?  Why these shreds?  Why are there so many and yet they remain so weak?  Why don’t they seek revenge, why don’t they attack, why don’t they form an alliance?  Pages crammed with ideology, political rancor, pulled down by the collective burden that is heading straight into the abyss and would carry these pages along with it into death if, from time to time, Matilde’s handwriting, an antiquated cursive, didn’t radiate lofty images—a vision that pulls up a sinking raft to float along the poetic currents.  For example, here is the battalion of infant angels that disarm the military with merely their silvery glance (one of the images for which Famularo is best known).  The women at the port are in revolt and they steal the day’s catch from their husbands who have returned to land: they throw it back in the sea, they bury it among the waves.  A sick old man quickly rises from his hospital gurney; he pulls out all of his tubes, releases his penis from the catheter, tears off his bandages and asks for freedom—he’d rather die than let them take away his breath.  It’s time for the States of Grace, where the disappeared begin to surface: people missing for months are seen again and witnesses are there to attest to the recasting of their features (like an outline emerging from the darkness, like a being manifesting out of nothing, little by little).  In a café in Diagonal at a table previously empty now sits Cristina; no one saw her come in, no one has seen her in quite some time.  She who was dead to everyone sips a beer.  Hector buys a newspaper on Rodriguez Peña:  the last person who saw him two years prior noted seeing a man haunted by wild beasts.  The guerrilla fighter Octavio Riccetti who was said to be killed by three machine guns and fed to dogs walks into a movie theater on Corrientes: he buys a ticket for Day for Night and finds a seat. 

Just before sunset, after a day of struggle, anguish and escape, Matilde walks through the forest pretending to lose herself.  She plays the child in the forest.  But the ferns and reeds don’t frighten her.  Only the darkness setting in scares her a bit.  She sits down at the foot of a ceiba tree using the trunk like a seatback.  In the shelter of the tree she calms down and breathes.  She rests her pistol in the grass.  She unties her shoes, takes them off.  She takes off her socks and lets her feet get some air.  She unbuttons her military jacket and releases her hair from the sweaty bandana.  She rests.  The journey from the island to here was a long one.  Did it do you any good?  Couldn’t you have been a touch less angry?  Maybe you could have found a better man.  And what was the use of all of that hatred?  I know the answer:  to throw yourself into a war.  These italics do not report Matilde’s actual thoughts, but the compiler’s (not author, nor brother, nor poet, intruder) who now with the claws of an earthworm climbs from the roots to Matilde’s shoulders up to the highest branch of the tree, and from there flies away under the wings of an owl, and then abandons the owl for the bigger wings of an airplane capable of flying through time (unmasking it) and looks for one last time at Famularo asleep under the great plant and finally understands. 

She was harmless.  She wouldn’t have raised a hand at anyone and the only reason she ever took up arms was for self-defense.   Who knows how many men would have desired her and could have made her happy.  But she got an old beast of prey and a few more in passing.  The fault of her tenderness. 

 

 

 

The Ballad of Tucumán
The army has arrived.  Matilde hides herself deep within the forest.  The poachers hunt her down.  She eats insects, she sleeps in the tall grass.  She mistrusts even the wind and the shooting stars.  She waits for the enemy.  Sunrise bathes her eyes with dew.  At night she warms herself in the earth.  By day she lives in the bushes and keeps lookout.  She remembers the past.  She hopes to keep living.  Ascona and Scalzelli agree on the dates of this particular phase as being between September and November of  ’75.  Uncharacteristically, the two critics also agree on it being the period of the poet’s final work, five anonymous pages whose title must be attributed to Ascona: Ballad of Tucumán.  These five pages close Matilde’s notebook, which along with her other journals will be entrusted to Ines Bernardini—cook and companion to the ERP fighters who unlike them is destined to survive (she will escape from the forest with the poetic legacy in hand, saved by a priest from Catamarca, deported to Bolivia, tumbled into Brazil and thrown into Italy).  For some, Famularo’s art reaches its peak in the Ballad.  But if the Index of Banned Books from the Holy Offices of the Vatican still existed, nothing would remain of the work but ashes.  Elsewhere in Matilde’s work colorful or vulgar language is a recourse that is seemingly left to chance out of sheer enthusiasm; here it is a manner, a dress worn each and every day.  “In written form, hate has never been so well expressed” (Scalzelli, On Matilde Famularo’s Poetry, in V. Kottke (editor), Arts and Society, Boston, 2001, p. 189).  “The Ballata is a machine invented to cause harm, constructed out of an infinite number of razors and emotional traps” (Ascona, Introduction to Matilde Famularo, Complete Works Torino, 2009, p. XXI).  It is likely that is was composed during her days in desertion, after a false alarm, before the real threat, in the never-ending echo of approaching gunfire.  But this Fury forgets politics, avoids the obvious facts, leaves out the usual insults against the here and now and instead seized by the melancholy of the exit, chooses to strike at the usurpations of time, terminal illnesses, lost loves, invisible friends, impossible children, senseless injuries (incurred in the night, discovered the next morning), caresses never received, the houses in which the author will never live, the comforts never enjoyed, pleasures left untested, poverty, longing, the necessity to hope, the obligation to forget.  What is worth a curse?  Misfortune, sadness, every dead end, all the prisons, and the prison guards, the torturers, power, orders and obedience, power dressed as the holy church, work without construction, slavery, the death of children, the death of mothers, the longevity of tyrants. 

“I put the outcries in a bag.  I’ve put dynamite in there too.  I have placed the bag in a rocket that will travel up to the sky where it’ll explode.”[2]

In the closing pieces of the Ballad the poetry stops singing and the rage quiets down.  Prose emerges.  It is Matilde’s last writing before her death, where she admits she was never “happy”:  “I was born poor and ignorant and to escape that beginning I committed a load of errors.  To get by I cleaned toilets and floors and if, by some miracle, my life would go on for a hundred more years, I am sure I would live them out still cleaning latrines.”  But she recognizes having met at least some good fortune in her “ability to impress words upon the page,” which “placated resentment.”  She entrusts her twenty notebooks to Ines, the cook, without deceiving herself: “No one will ever publish these but I don’t care, it’s fine.  I never wrote to see my name in print.  When I write, I am.  In having written, I have been.  I exercised my right to exist, inscribing my mark into the book of the world.”

The army’s arrival interrupts the note.  As evidenced by the original manuscript of Ballad reproduced in the Complete Works: an inky vertical line seals the paper, as though the pen decided on mutiny and ran south to where the page ends.  A fossil was once a living creature and its last minute is forever in stone.  Like this Matilde’s end is embedded in a scribble.  The din of the army, the screams of her companions, the pen veers off the page and Famularo—there is nothing left to add—is dead.

 

 

 


[1]  A furious work, it intimidated everyone.  To faithfully quote passages is impossible for anyone accustomed to respecting conventions or who cannot find even a drop of subversity within himself.  Pages that speak a hellish language.  By merely listening to it (reading it) one is lost and must find himself again.  There exists no courage bold enough to reproduce it.  Don’t be misled:  the citations are not Matilde’s voice, but the edited version, diluted. 

[2]  See previous note for clarification.

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