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— 2018 Whiting Literary Magazine Prize Citation

My Father’s Shoes

By Victor Heringer

Translated from the Portuguese by Eric M. B. Becker

This crônica by Victor Heringer is the second installment in a monthly series resulting from a partnership between WWB and Brazil’s Revista Pessoa. Each month, WWB will bring readers new work that originally appeared in Pessoa here in English translation, and Pessoa will publish work from WWB's pages in translation into Brazilian Portuguese.

1. I was trying to give a few examples of poems that have floored me to a friend who said she couldn’t understand poetry despite wanting to. Earlier, I had tried to explain that there are a thousand, a hundred thousand ways of understanding, not all of them comprehensible themselves. All this seemed very strange to my friend, accustomed to the sort of reason that builds bridges and puts planes in the air, and according to whom the color blue could be nothing but blue and a shoe could be nothing but a shoe. This is just one way of reasoning, I said, there are other ways of understanding, other ways of thinking and appealing to the senses. But is a shoe not a shoe? I responded: yes, and no. She looked as if she were about to give up. So then, I appealed to some verses of Robert Bringhurst I had come upon in a translation into Spanish by Marta Del Pozo and Aníbal Sristobo (from a long poem entitled “Deuteronomy”):

[. . .] voices
came at me and asked me to take off my shoes,
and I did that. That desert is full of men’s shoes.
And the flame screamed, I am what I am.

(From “Deuteronomy,” Sono Nis Press, 1974)

A desert full of men’s shoes. One of the most beautiful images in the world, the absence of man in the immense absence that is the desert.

2. It’s nearly a decade since my father died. I still use clothes I received upon his death: shirts, pants, suits, every now and then a tie. A pair of nondescript black shoes that he wore to work, and which I wear when I have a wedding or funeral to go to. Today, I wear shoes to work more than ever. I’ve come to wear my father’s shoes more than ever. How they lasted, those things of the recent past.

Only recently has the leather begun to lose its shape, the soles come loose, ten years after the death of their original owner, thousands of kilometers from where he was buried. Here in desert-like São Paulo, full of shoes with no men to fill them.

How things used to last.

“Os sapatos do meu pai” originally appeared in Revista Pessoa. © Victor Heringer. By arrangement with the author and Revista Pessoa. Translation © 2016 Eric M. B. Becker.

Eric M. B. Becker is editor of Words without Borders. He is also an award-winning journalist and literary translator. In 2014, he earned a PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant for his translation of a collection of short stories from the Portuguese by Neustadt Prize for International Literature winner and 2015 Man Booker International Finalist Mia Couto and was resident writer at the Louis Armstrong House. He has translated the work of numerous Brazilian writers, including 2016 Nobel nominee Lygia Fagundes Telles, Carlos Drummond de Andrade, Elvira Vigna, Noemi Jaffe, Alice Sant'anna, and 2015 Jabuti Prize winner Carol Rodrigues. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The New York Times, World Literature TodayAsymptote, and The Massachusetts Review, among other publications. In 2016, he edited the Glossolalia anthology of Brazilian women writers with Mirna Queiroz, forthcoming from PEN America. He currently lives in Brazil, the recipient of a Fulbright grant to translate the work of Edival Lourenço and Eric Nepomuceno.


Published Nov 21, 2016   Copyright 2016 Victor Heringer

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