Scent of the Tangerine

Ferreira Gullar was born in 1930 in equatorial São Luís do Maranhão, Brazil. Initially drawn to painting, by the time he was in his twenties he had turned to poetry and wrote his first book of verse, A Luta Corporal (1954) [Corporal Struggle]. Following this he became part of a prominent generation of Concretist poets. In subsequent years, however, his eye and pen shifted to the effects of Brazil's brutal dictatorship. The government's reaction to these efforts ultimately forced him into foreign exile, the experience of which resulted in perhaps his best known book, Poema Sujo (1976) [Dirty Poem], a work he later called his "last will and testament." Following a thaw in political conditions, Gullar returned to Brazil where his literary stature and symbolic presence has grown and has served as an inspiration for generations of Brazilians. A recent nominee for the Nobel Prize in literature, he has continued to work as a journalist, art critic and poet.

With rare exceptions
          Do minerals possess a scent

when crystals
           injure us
when mercury
          slips away
and there's nothing in us that seems like them

except our bones our teeth
          which are however
although the minerals are not: they do not breathe.

Nor do they aspire (unlike the vine
          that climbed and sprawled atop the wall
          that faced our house in São Luls to monitor the street and grin amid the

Unyielding of color minerals are but endurance and repose. From their almost
everlasting mass the scent of tangerine will never emanate.
          Like the one that seeps away in the dining room discharged from a
          small sphere of juice and sections
          and does not reveal itself though it may come apart and squirt me in
          the face and wet my fingers
                                           like a woman.

          And I say
and it’s not the man who says the word
wrapped in that
unexpected vertigo
that I now live
at home
          (in white shirt
          and slippers
          sitting in an easy chair) while
          every living plant
dreams of my return
                               because delirium
                               inhabits vegetables
Now minerals do not dream
          except for water
          (young and old)
that’s at the source of the perfume.

Yet the mineral
has no form
or hue.
          it conforms itself to every space.
          it seeks the depths
of the earth
and permeates it all
and dissolves intos
translates one kingdom to another
                              death to life
oh, the joyful liquid
          syntax of the real!
Like the poem, one
          never finds the water pure
          and it weighs upon the flowers
          it weighs upon me too
          (more than my papers and clothes
          more than my hair
          my guilts)

                              and it acquires
                              that scent of urine
                              on my body
the tangerine adopts
its forest scent.

That scent
that first intoxicates
          and inverts my life
          in a glance in a
and drags me face down
          by the dollar’s value

And yet
if I say “tangerine”
I don’t say your fresh dawn

          which is an entire system
          deep-rooted in the fibers
          in the sap
          in which it distills carbon
          and the morning light
(for centuries
          at the spot in the universe
                    where it rains
          a blue line of life opened up in leaves
                    and conceived you
                    Chinese orange
                              in order to
                    exhale your scent
                    this afternoon
                    in my modest home)

youthful scent
that has nothing to do with the night of methane gas
or with rotting meat
sweet, nothing
to do with the verdigris of death which surely
also fascinates
and drags us to its darkened carnival
          near anal
things of beasts
and not of plants
                    (whose death does not smell bad)
of man
          who lies
                    and tortures
or jumps from eight floors up

not of plants and fruits
not of that
                    that I tear apart
          and that releases
          in the room (this century)
                              its scent
                              its cry
                              morning news.

translated by Leland Guyer

Leland Guyer teaches Spanish and Portuguese at Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota. His most recent translations are Poema Sujo/Dirty Poem by Ferreira Gullar, The Spectacle of the Races by Lilia Moritz Schwarcz, and Intimate Enemies, No Sin South of the Equator by Joyce Cavalcante.