ISSN 2359-4101

Brazilian Literature in Translation / Literatura Brasileña en Traducción

Issue / Numero

year/año: 2015
issue/numero: # 07

The Tense Passing of Corpses

Author | Autor: Carlos de Brito e Mello

Translated by Anthony Doyle


I am free to roam from town to town on the watch for the dead. I have few restrictions,
so long as I undertake to describe, objectively and concisely, the conditions
of the passing of those felled by enemy gunfire or the well-thrown brick,
bodies that fall in the kitchen or from cliff faces
bodies turned to gas by fire
bodies lolling at the bottom of wells, forcing the family to arrange the funeral
around the watering hole where the deceased lost its footing.

I have visited towns with the sole purpose of recording their most recent
deaths, which sometimes enables me to relate the conditions both before and
after the event and bear witness to the simple fact that
in the vicinity of death none go unscathed.

When one accompanies the dead, the first thing one notes is the sheer loss
they provoke
but one will also see what grows in their stead. So that something can derive
from death, death must first be recognized and confirmed, granted its irrevocable
status. If left undeclared, nothing can come of it, and the dead will go on, forever
and to their lasting disgrace, re-elected to some mandate of the living.

Every city or town mentioned herein, even if its founding cadaver lies beyond
memory, has had its most recent dead duly certified and confirmed,
only then being included in my records.

Death leaves remains, and remains are my business.


In all of the towns mentioned here, the men and women who suffered disease,
disaster, accident, or wilful or unwitting acts of extermination were recognized,
at pains, by their family and friends, who set about collecting the morbid remains
produced by the dead in order to prepare them for mourning and burial.

The crying doesn’t bother me, nor does the grief. That an inconsolable wife
should cling to the frame of her lifeless husband, or a daughter wish to accompany
her mother into the grave and its supposed eternity
I understand and present no impediment. Every corpse needs its rubber
stamp, public guarantee, witness and rite. The first pronouncement of death can
be gleaned from the panic-stricken or sorrowful gaze of the living,
a desperate modality of recognition and confirmation.

I observe and describe dead people, filing them away among a registry of
other deaths
witnessed by me and confirmed by the communities in which they had lived.
However, if the deceased should fail to turn up for its funeral, should it not be duly
wept all the way to the grave, should it not be covered in earth to the monochordic
hum of prayer, should it not be spoken of as the deceased at some ceremony held
in its memory, I cannot register it.


I compile the dead in a long list that, for reasons of my own inaptitude, is not made
on the medium of paper. I am unable to write. The list of all the deaths I have witnessed
is oral in nature.

I am now eagerly awaiting the consummation of one more passing. A man, the
victim of poisoning, is currently in the throes.

I assume that this man, shaking and clawing at his belly here before me, will
not have time to make supplications or confession, much less obtain the correct
address to the place destined for the saved and worthy –
if, that is, he merits such salvation. The pernicious nature of the poison has
spread throughout the organs of the body and now devours them. I wager its success
will not delay in coming.

When the man slumped over, in an envenomed swoon, he was clutching the
which he drew with him to the floor, along with a vase of roses. The vase
smashed, sending shards scuttling across the tiles.

In the kitchen, his wife stood silent.

His daughter lay unmoved on a sofa in the adjacent lounge.

The door to his son’s room slammed shut.

The poisoned man managed to drag himself to a corner of the sitting room,
and there remained.

Slowly rising from her position on the sofa, the daughter approached the dinner
table with a dry cloth, mopped up the spilt water and collected the strewn
roses. Somewhat distracted, she trod on some broken glass,
acquiring two contiguous cuts on the sole of her foot, and withdrew.

The convulsions have ceased. Where are the doctors, the nurses, the man’s
wife, his young son, who I have not yet seen, and the daughter, who has not returned?

The man’s life is at its end. His suffering is evident. His inner constitution
now leaves him in liquid form. Oozing outward, part of the man now gathers
in pools.


I wait impatiently for the sound of a weeping widow, the arrival of the first funeral
wreath, that desperate call to a relative or to the local priest. I cannot yet register
this death, nor utter the name of the town in which I find myself. I need some family
member to face the corpse, show some sign of recognizing the deceased and
attest to his passing. Someone has to go into incontestable mourning and arrange
for the necessary funeral rites.


In Monte Santo de Minas, a building has collapsed around its occupants, leaving
them with multiple injuries to the thorax and cranium.


Fifteen of the Lord’s flock have been run over while on pilgrimage to Governador
Valadares, with entire lower limbs summarily plucked from their bodies.

In Manhuaçu, a penitent threw acid into the confessional where the priest was
absolving sins, melting away his face and shoulders.

Faith, when it does not delay death, precipitates it.


In Caeté, Fronteira, Itabira, Itambé do Mato Dentro, Joanésia, Lajinha, Leopoldina,
Matipó, Nova Era, Pedra do Indaiá, Ressaquinha, Santo Antônio do Amparo and
São Francisco do Glória, men and women have died just for the sake of dying.


I return from the street to the site of C’s agony. I have cause for expectation and
exasperation, after all, my task of observing and describing deaths will draw to a
close with this last record.

The house is in darkness, save for a light on in the dining room. Perhaps a funeral
for select guests? Have I dallied too long out of doors and return now to see
the daughter console her distraught mother?

I enter the living room.

C. is sat in a chair
dead, while his wife and daughter busily serve him supper.
He is tied so that he can neither slide nor tumble to the floor, even if his decrepit
organism precludes any healthy upright posture. But what strength could C.
possibly still have after all that poison, other than the energy of the knots and the
insensate decision of the women to keep him at his post?

The ropes that bind the corpse start around the ankles, lashing his feet to the
chair legs, and continue all the way up to the waist. Another rope keeps C’s trunk
tight against the back of the chair and finishes about his neck. Lengths of rope
around his chin and brow keep his head held firm if not exactly high. His arms lie
by his side.
Flanking C., his wife and daughter finish dishing out his food, while an empty
chair awaits another member of the family who has not turned up for the nightly
stew. Has the son done a bound or does he simply prefer to stay alone in his room?
The daughter enquires to her mother of her brother’s absence.

Mother, will we be three or four?
Three, dear.
Will my brother be staying in his room?
Yes, dear.
Shan’t we call him?
We already have.
Let’s call him again!

Leave your brother to himself, dear. Let´s be understanding. Your father always
knew when to be understanding.

I have no idea why C’s son would choose to sleep on an empty stomach. I have
not set eyes on the lad since entering this house, and know nothing of his habits.
All I do know is that the young man’s room is the third down the corridor; the one
with the closed door.

The women go on serving supper.
Is there any juice?
Passion fruit, dear.
And what will father have?
Serve him the thigh.
The women move around C. without touching him, though there is no hint of
disgust; it is as if they were used to having a dead man in their midst. They don’t
bury him, there is no scratching or hair-pulling, no accusations of traitor, murderer!
Nothing of the sort.


In the town whose name I am not yet authorized to disclose, the dawn rays delay in
reaching C’s house, where he, his wife and daughter sleep as only each can.
I leave the house and wander through the streets. At the closest bakery, the
first loaves are laid out on the counter. A small and distinct old fellow sits down
and orders corn biscuits to dunk in his coffee. I envy this man, because I know how
delicious this breakfast is. I cannot, however, join him in breaking the fast, as I am
denied whole foods, having grown used to consuming a particular source of nutrients
that is rarely appreciated, consisting wholly of remains. And besides, I could
never give myself over to gluttony without neglecting my core activity, namely the
production of concise narratives of the deaths to which I bear witness. The main
purpose of my tongue is not to taste, but to render account.

I am made of space uncontained by bodily contours. There is much that I lack,
in fact, almost everything, deprived as I am of sufficient matter to make a life one
could unite in a single person, identifiable and nameable with precision and certainty.
Either they do not hear me, or pretend not to. Either they don’t see me, or,
in their confusion, they take me for something else. I have no distinctive qualities,
given my similarity with all that was lost.

Other men, normal men, men adequately constructed, have bodily orifices,
such as the mouth, nostrils and anus, through which, inevitably, the connection
between the inner and the outer is established. Microbes know of these routes of
contamination and avail of them assiduously. Aware of the fact, man vigilantly polices
his relations with the world so that the latter cannot perniciously invade the
organism and assail its more sensitive parts.

I have no such capacity to limit the action of the world upon me, nor of myself
upon the components of the world. Outside and far away are mere qualities of
my extension. My presence is, on one hand, always fleeting, disperse and ebbing,
and my contact with men comes only when their calendars reach the hour of their
disappearance, of the crossing it is my task to narrate.

People, in general, are privileged, because they can bump shoulders in their
fortuitous encounters as they scurry about their business in the streets, or can
clash voluntarily in contests of virility, or stand naked and exposed for punishment,
or lie naked and exposed for coitus. I envy them, and my envy is hard-working.
Though let me declare forthwith that the lack of means caused by my inconsistency
is something I fully intend to change.

I have planned my reconstitution and the pleasure of being a man, a man in full.

My matter is, as yet, far too sparse to contain all the attributes I hope one day
to have. But I believe in the fundaments that sustain my morbid book-keeping, the
completion of which will coincide with my corporeal success. I want organs!

I use words to cobble together, from the dead, a body in the likeness of the
living. Until then, I have no choice but to tolerate the presence of C’s corpse. Why,
Oh detestable kin, do they not send him off, bury him below ground, let him go?

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