Flávio de Araújo

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

His spirit.


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!

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.