Not much vnlike the wondrer haue ye another figure called the doubtfull, because oftentimes we will seeme to cast perils, and make doubt of things when by a plaine manner of speech wee might affirme or deny him.


Mercè Rodoreda, Quanta, Quanta Guerra

I was born at midnight, in autumn, with a lentil-sized mark on my forehead. My mother, when I misbehaved, would say, half turning her back to me, you look like a Cain. Josep had a scar on his left thigh, the inner part, shaped like a fish, that made people laugh. Rossend, the son of the junkman who lent us his donkey and wheelbarrow to take carnations to market, had red on the tip of his nose and made people laugh. Ramón, the butcher’s son, had pointy ears and made people laugh. I didn’t make anyone laugh. Whenever they joined together and attacked me because I didn’t want to join in their games, I would force them to retreat, shouting that the devil was my uncle and had marked my forehead before I was born so that he could recognize me later, even among other boys. When I was three, because my mother never wanted to cut the hair that fell in ringlets on both sides of my neck, everyone took me for a girl. The day that my mother took me to see Father Sebastià so I could be enrolled in school, Father Sebastià regarded me with pity and said: we don’t admit girls here. My mother burst out with explanations, saying that it hurt her to cut my hair, so pretty, that I was still just a baby and would get cold without the hair, and while she explained this, I, who already knew how to write my name, went up to the board, took the chalk and wrote in white on black, in large, crooked letters: Adrià Guinart. Father Sebastià suddenly noticed, joined his hands and said: what an archangel!

I started school with my hair cut close, distraught at not having it like before, and more knowledgable than the other boys. Father Sebastiá had me sit at his side while he explained Sacred History, because if I sat on the bench he said that my look bothered him, it was too fixed. We had a thick binder, full of large pictures, that was kept in the cupboard with the notebooks, pencils and chalk. While he talked I, always I, had to pick out with the pointer what was being named: the Dead Sea, Moses’s staff, the Tablets of the Law, the tree of good and evil, Adam and Eve wearing fig leaves. Point to Samson. The shame killed me, having to point to the man who’d lost his strength because they cut his hair. Point to the angel of the Annunciation. With the great lily before Mary, blond, with ringlets like mine before starting school, the angel used the feathers of his wings, a blue stripe, a green stripe, to hold himself up in the air. At the illustration of the Flood all the boys in the class, even the sleepiest and most absent-minded, came to life. While I followed the rainbow’s colored curve with my pointer, I imagined I was flying between the green and the violet, the yellow and the pink…. Hadn’t Father Sebastià said I was an archangel? Archangels flew. Cain and Abel. I didn’t breathe. Abel kept sheep. Cain plowed the earth and sweated. I dreamed Sacred History, I dreamed angels, I dreamed saints, I dreamed myself living Sacred History, crossing deserts and causing water to pour from the fountains. On the day we had the illustrated Crucifixion, when I got to the field of carnations I ran from one side to the other, stood on tiptoe, up high, high as I could, so I could hear the stars saying, poor boy, poor boy, he has no wings….


The house was old, the sink smelled bad, the faucet dripped. On windy days the cold got in through the cracks, but in fine weather the smell of flowers sprang up in every corner. My father, on Sundays when he didn’t feel like going to see his cousins, took me on walks. We spent hours sitting on a slope, and sometimes the wind would carry tiny threads pulled from the hearts of the scrawny flowers, and some would stick to your clothes. The people were all identical: with legs, with thighs, with eyes, with mouths, with teeth. From the hand of my father, who was tall and good, I descended straight as a stick. I don’t know why girls filled me with rage; if I ever managed to catch one I would wring her neck like a bird’s. They stole love from the mothers.


A neighbor woman who worked in the fabric mill had a baby girl. One Saturday afternoon she asked my mother to watch her. I was terribly worried: my mother had told me that she’d gone to buy a little sister, that I’d never again be alone, that we’d have a girl in the house who would laugh and cry. When I asked her why she’d bought a girl and not a boy, she said that she’d already gotten the notice announcing that it would be a girl. That Saturday afternoon my mother told me that she had to go and talk to someone about selling the carnations, and she told me to watch the neighbor’s baby, above all to make sure that the cat didn’t come near. As soon as my mother left, I went to see the sleeping girl and the cat that my mother had shut in the kitchen. The girl was named Mariona, had a pinkish color and wore golden earrings. She was stretched out across two adjoining chairs. I picked her up and put her on the floor. She let out a wail that cut off my breathing. I started to undress her as if I were undressing a doll, took off the little shirt, little pants, took off the linens and little wool shoes. I couldn’t take off the earrings because I didn’t know how they opened. When I had her like a grub, I put her in a towel and dragged her, pulling the towel, to where the fields began. The sunlight had just woken her up. Curled at her side, I examined her vacant gums and her hair, scarce and very fine. Her eyes were colored violet with golden sparkles. Maddened at feeling older than her, at her smallness, I went and ripped up all the violets. Only her eyes ought to be violets. In the middle of the field, between two rows of carnations, inside the irrigation channel, I made her a bed of green, circular violet leaves. And afraid that she would break, I placed her there. For a moment she stopped breathing; then at once, with her mouth open wide as my hand, she started to cry. I had the urge to take her to the roof and throw her off, through the hole in the broken railing. I went running to find the cat. I put it next to her and waited silently. Look at the cat… look…. I took one of her little hands and ran it over the furry cat, who suddenly tried to escape, jumped over her and scratched her chest. My mother had told somebody or other that if babies cried for too long without stopping, they would finally break up. Hush, pretty girl. I thought she would break like a cup when it falls between your hands. The baby was covered in blood. My mother beat me furiously. I wanted to die. I went up to the roof of the tool shed and threw myself off. I landed on all fours. And that night, which was moonlit, I spent throwing myself off the shed. After a short while my first sister was born. That night I planted myself. After scooping out a deep hole at the foot of the hazel tree, I put myself inside and covered myself in dirt up to the knees. I’d brought the watering can, full to the top, and I watered myself. I wanted roots to come out of me: to be all branches and leaves.

Salvador Espriu, two poems (for a wedding)

Both from La Pell de Brau (1960), “The Bull-Hide.” With much special thanks to N. for the reading.


Diversos són els homes i diverses les parles,
i han convingut molts noms a un sol amor.

La vella i fràgil plata esdevé tarda
parada en la claror damunt els camps.
La terra, amb paranys de mil fines orelles,
ha captivat els ocells de las cançons de l’aire.

Sí, comprèn-la i fes-la teva, també,
des de les oliveres,
l’alta i senzilla veritat de la presa veu del vent:
« Diverses són les parles i diversos els homes,
i convindran molts noms a un sol amor.»


Men differ, and speech differs,
And many names have fit a single love.

The old, fragile silver becomes afternoon
halted in light over the fields.
The earth, with snares of a thousand fine ears,
has trapped the birds of airy song.

Yes, understand and take too, as yours,
from the olive groves,
the high, simple truth in the wind’s captive voice:
“Speech differs, and men differ,
And many names will fit a single love.”


Hem caminat i avui ens emparàvem
en la crescuda serenor de l’arbre,
contra el gran vent del llindar de la nit.
Hem estimat la terra
i el nostre somni de la nova casa
alçada en el solar de la llibertat.
No una segura flor, però sí l’esperança
de la segura flor hem collit i portàvem
al llarg d’aquesta pols de la peregrinació.
Ara deixem les paraules
i ens hem sentit arribats al silenci,
per la remor d’una llunyana cavalcada.


We’ve walked, and today we shelter
in the still growth of the tree,
against the great wind at night’s edge.
We’ve loved the earth and loved our dream
of the new house raised over free soil.
Not a safe flower, but the hope, yes,
of a safe flower, we’ve picked and we carry
down the length of this wandering dust.
Now we quit words
and feel ourselves come to silence,
through the sound of a distant galloping.