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from the July/August 2020 issue

Xirú

Xirú

Xirú by Damián Cabrera is a multilingual lyric novel set in Ciudad del Este—a Paraguayan city in the Triple Frontier shared with Argentina and Brazil. The title refers to the Portuguese word of Guaraní origin used by Brazilians to refer to Paraguayans at the border, which shifts from meaning “friend” to “invader” or “fool.” The novel is written predominantly in Spanish but is interlaced with Portuguese and Guaraní, rendering a cacophony of languages audible but at times only legible for a resident of the region. Throughout the text, the Guaraní permeates the Spanish grammar: the noun is transposed to the end of a sentence, making it intentionally clunky. In the following excerpt the Spanish text has been translated into English, the Portuguese into Spanish, and the Guaraní into Portuguese; the untranslatable Guaraní words remain unaltered but defined in the footnotes.
 

Listen to Damián Cabrera read "Xirú" in the original Portunhol Selvagem.


No hay problema,” Silvio got out of the dominant species,1 “todo bien.” Combed his blond hair back with his fingers and sneezed. Each time his foot hit the floor, the dust lifted and settled again on the foot. He and Seu Washington Cavalcante entered the bar, and Silvio shot a look of contempt at his patrón who returned to the truck for the revolver. The dust cloud the truck kicked up remained static in the air; a stagnant storm cloud with a kind of barrier halo, an enclosure Silvio wanted to transpose, because Silvio wanted to escape, race across the sown fields with his long rhea legs until he reached some place where no one could see him, or better yet, where he could spend that night without seeing anyone.

He paused a while at the door, attracted to the besouros’ tapping on the bulb in the hallway; coleopterans seduced by the light: such effort to penetrate the glass limit and reach the flame that would kill them upon touch.

The tables were splattered with beer. The xirú2 were rejoiceful and chatty, until they saw Seu Washington Cavalcante’s face and began to stutter; Silvio’s face, a face tight with modesty, blushing and childlike.

Silvio’s face, though his was the third generation inhabiting that place, was still the face of his colonist grandparents. When he spoke—he was unaware of this—his pink lips would part and the blond musketeer would straighten to address the xirú at the other table, whose heads sank between their shoulders, buried in murmurs. Aside: Silvio saw them and saw his patrón, saw and refused to recognize himself.

Seu Washington’s exclamations were insults disguised as compliments. Miguel wanted to sheath his guitar, but Silvio stopped him with a heavy blow on the table that splashed beer everywhere (César turned blue); the settler ordered them three beers in exchange for some music. The boys agreed and Miguel coaxed some polka chords from his instrument. The immigrant’s gripes followed, and without missing a beat, he fanned his hands to reproach the musician’s blunder.

Toca una de Sérgio Reis.

“No conozco ninguna de Sérgio Reis. Pero puedo tocar una de Nando Reis.”

¿Nando Reis? ¡No! Chitãozinho y Xororó.

Gabriel stepped on Miguel’s foot with such force that he stood violently spilling a glass of beer on the table. “And on top of it all, you speak to him in Portuguese,” thought Gabriel. César clenched his fists. Miguel sat back down and sang. Miguel sang and everyone listened. César let out an excessive “¡Hurraaa!

“And on top of it all you speak to him in Portuguese,” Silvio thought and thought about his school teacher who, overwhelmed by the number of Portuguese-speakers asking her to translate, taught in Portuguese in the colony, disserving the Paraguayan students who badly knew Spanish.

High-heeled boots with shiny buckles. Seu Washington’s words crashed uselessly against this competing focal point; a series of whistles spasmodically escaped Silvio, who stifled a cackle; Seu Washington watched him inquisitively and watched the xirú de mierda joke boisterously.

A swelling tide flooded the little bar when Silvio tightened his stomach to contain the hiccups of laughter. But the patrón’s warning suffocated them violently: “Vigila a los sin tierra, Silvio. Me cuentas de cualquier novedad.

Todo bien,” unbuttoned shirt revealing a diminutive blond bellybutton, “no hay problema.” Something irritated his leathery hands and jaw when the old man, scratching his jowl, whispered something in his ear about the four boys; a shadow he disdained and wished to expunge.

Silvio wanted to split, to the banana plantations, like a Pombéro,3 so he would not have to listen to such nonsense. While Silvio, without moving, crossed the threshold and walked along the pavement until he plunged into the scrubland, he listened to the boys talk about Seu Washington’s soybean plantations and contemplated a shower of feathers that the ants would not get a chance to clear.

¡Dale, Silvio, espabílate!” Snap out of it.

 

Phrase used by soybean farmers in Paraguay to refer to their pickup trucks. 

Untranslatable Portuguese word of Guaraní origin used by Brazilians to refer to Paraguayans in the Triple Frontier. Its polysemic nature is evidenced as the meaning of the name shifts throughout this ambiguous territory from “friend” to “invader” or “fool.” 

Untranslatable Guaraní word that refers to a mythical dwarf. Those that traverse the forest must leave him offerings of tobacco and honey. If they do not, he physically assaults the men, sexually assaults the women, and claims their children as his own. 


“Xirú” © Damián Cabrera. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2020 by Elisa Taber. All rights reserved.

Xirú

“Não tem pobrema”. Silvio se bajó de la especie dominante, “tudo bem”. Peinó con sus dedos su pelo rubio y estornudó. Cada vez que golpeaba un pie contra el suelo se desempolvaba y volvía a empolvarse un poco el pie. Entraron en el bar él y Seu Washinton Cavalcante, y Silvio miró a su patrón con desdén cuando éste volvió a la camioneta para buscar el revólver. La polvareda que había levantado la camioneta permanecía estática en el aire; un nubarrón estancado con cierto halo de muralla, un contenedor que Silvio quería trasponer, porque Silvio quería huir, lanzarse a la carrera por los sembradíos con sus piernas largas de ñandú hasta alcanzar algún lugar donde no fuera visible, o aun mejor, desde donde no pudiera ver a nadie esa noche.

Se detuvo un rato en la puerta atraído por el repiqueteo de los lembú contra el foco del zaguán; esos coleópteros enamorados de la luz: tanto tratar de salvar el límite del vidrio para llegar a esa luz que los mataría al toque.

Las mesas estaban salpicadas de cerveza. Y si al principio los xirú estaban regocijados y parlanchines, al ver luego la cara de Seu Washington Cavalcante se volvieron balbucientes; la cara de Silvio, cara tiesa de pudor, sonrosada y pueril.

La cara de Silvio, tras tres generaciones por aquellos parajes, era la misma cara de sus abuelos colonos. Cuando hablaba —esto él lo ignoraba—, sus labios rosados se desdoblaban y el hombre rubio del arcabuz se incorporaba para decir cosas a los xirú de la otra mesa, que tenían la cabeza metida entre los hombros, murmurando algo. Otra cosa: Silvio los miró y miró a su patrón, se miró y no quiso verse.

Las exclamaciones de Seu Washington eran imprecaciones revestidas de celebración. Miguel quiso enfundar la guitarra, pero el colono lo detuvo con un golpe seco sobre la mesa que salpicó cerveza por todos lados (César estaba azul); el colono pidió tres cervezas para ellos a cambio de algunas tonadillas. Los muchachos asintieron y Miguel le arrancó acordes de polca a su instrumento. Los respingos del inmigrante no se hicieron esperar y apantalló las manos para reprochar al músico su desatino.

—Toca uma do Sérgio Reis.

—Do Sérgio Reis eu não conheço nenhuma. Mas posso tocar uma do Nando Reis.

—Nando Reis? Não! Chitãozinho e Xororó.

Gabriel le pisó un pie a Miguel con tal fuerza que éste se levantó de la mesa con violencia derramando un vaso de cerveza. “Y encima le hablás en portugués”, pensó Gabriel. Los puños de César estaban cerrados. Miguel volvió a sentarse y cantó. Miguel cantó y todos escucharon. César lanzó un excesivo “¡pípuuu!”.

“Y encima le hablás en portugués”. Silvio lo pensó y pensó en su maestra de escuela que, agobiada por la cantidad de alumnos luso-parlantes con pedidos de aclaración, tuvo que enseñar en portugués en la colonia, en detrimento de sus alumnos paraguayos que mal sabían castellano.

Botas de tacones altos y hebilla resplandeciente. Las palabras de Seu Washington chocaban inútilmente contra este otro foco; sucesivos chiflidos se le escapaban espasmódicamente a Silvio, que contenía la carcajada; Seu Washington lo miraba inquisidor y miraba a los xirú de merda que chisteaban animosos.

Oleajes excepcionales anegaban el barcito cuando Silvio se apretó el estómago para contener los hipos de risa. Pero la reiteración del patrón los hizo retroceder con violencia: “Fique de olho nesses sem-terra, Silvio. Qualquer novidade você me conta”.

“Tudo bem”, camisa desabotonada hasta el ombligo diminuto y rubio, “não tem pobrema”. Algo le crispó las manos curtidas y la quijada cuando el viejo, rascándose la papada, le dijo algo al oído acerca de los cuatro muchachos; una sombra que desdeñaba y quería borrar de sí.

Quería borrarse Silvio, hacia los bananales, como un Pombéro, para no tener que escuchar aquellas sandeces. Cuando Silvio, sin hacerlo, cruzaba el umbral de la puerta y salía a caminar por el empedrado hasta meterse en los yuyales, oyó a los muchachos hablar de los sojales de Seu Washington y contempló una lluvia de plumas que las hormigas no tendrán ocasión de limpiar.

—Po, Silvio, acorda!

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