The Floating Body
A body floating on an oily sea:
the longest memory of his short childhood.
It was not a ship’s hull
nor part of the forest
unloosed by the sea.
But the solid matter into which God once blew
She was dressed in gray, like the squall.
Crustaceans of a thousand colors crowded
her long hair, and she had the luminous skin
of a woman who scrubbed with spices,
but was not beautiful at all.
The fishermen’s faces grew saltier
like the fish they salted, liquid
poured from their eyes and settled
on their cracked lips
recalling the taste of brine.
Their minds clamored for the strength
of Jesus’ blood.
A woman’s body—
that much they knew.
The waves pulled her into a dance
with no music.
She didn’t appear aged,
had no identifying marks.
One only heard, my God!
Over and over again, my God!
A woman’s body floating
but never part of the sea.
They searched for a resemblance,
a name, a desire to die.
The admiral’s sea gave way to storm.
Fish bile covered the sky.
Old Marçal dried breams
on the bamboo clothesline.
A revolution exploded that year, ’64.
And my grandfather, by the light of a kerosene lamp,
again asking his grandchildren
about the floating body.
It was a story we’d heard a million times
but still claimed not to know.
And he would tell the same story
he’d been telling us for ages
that leaves our minds drunk even still.
A woman’s body floating on an oily sea.
The longest memory of my grandfather’s short childhood.
Translated by Rachel Morgenstern-Clarren
“The Floating Body” was published in Asymptote, Issue 6.
You can read and listen to the poem in the original Portuguese here.