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Authors: Clarice Lispector

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BOOK: The Stream of Life
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What I do by involuntary instinct cannot be described.

What am I doing in writing you? I'm trying to photograph perfume.

I write you seated by an open window in my studio.

I write you this facsimile of a book, the book by someone who doesn't know how to write; but in the most ethereal realms of speech I almost don't even know how to speak. And above all, I don't know how to speak to you in writing, I, who have become used to your being the audience, though a distracted one, of my voice. When I paint I respect the material I use, I respect its primordial destiny. So when I write you I respect the syllables.

A new instant in which I see what is going to come next. Even though to speak of the instant of seeing I have to be more discursive than that instant: for many instants will pass before I can unfold and exhaust the single, rapid complexity of a glance.

I write you to the degree that I am able. Am I being hermetic, as in my painting? Because it seems one has to be terribly explicit. Am I explicit? It matters little to me. Now I'm going to light a cigarette. I might go back to the typewriter, or I might stop here for good. I, who am never adequate.

I'm back. I'm thinking about turtles. Once I said out of pure intuition that the turtle was a dinosauric animal. I later read that it really is. I have the strangest intuitions. One day I'm going to paint turtles. They interest me very much. All living things, man notwithstanding, are a riot of wonderment: we were formed and there was a lot of raw material left over—
—and then the animals were made. But why a turtle? Perhaps the title of what I'm writing you should be something like this, phrased as a question: "And turtles?" You who read me would say: "It's true that it's been a long time since I thought about turtles."

Suddenly I've become so restless that I'm capable of saying "This is enough" and ending what I'm writing you, which is based mostly on blind words. Even for unbelievers there is the instant of despair which is divine: the absence of God is a religious act. In this very instant I'm asking God to help me. I need it. I need it more than human strength. I'm strong but also destructive. God has to come to me since I've not gone to Him. Let God come, please. Even if I don't deserve it. Come. Or perhaps those who are the least deserving are the most needful. I'm restless and harsh and despairing. Although I do have love inside me. I just don't know how to use love. Sometimes it tears at my flesh, like barbs. If I can hold so much love within me, and nevertheless continue to be uneasy, it's because I need God to come. Come, before it's too late. I'm in danger, as is everyone who's alive. And the only thing that awaits me is precisely the unexpected. But I know I'll have peace before I die and that one day I'll experience the delicacy of life. I'll perceive—just as one eats and lives the taste of food. My voice falls into the abyss of your silence. You read me in silence. But in this limitless, mute field I unfold my wings, free to live. Then I accept the worst and go into the core of death and for this I'm alive. The sensitive core. And the
thrills me.

Now I'm going to speak of the sadness of flowers in order to feel more fully the order of what exists. First, I gladly offer you the nectar, sweet juice that many flowers contain and insects avidly seek. The pistil is the flowers female organ that generally occupies its center and contains the rudiments of its seed. Pollen is the fertilizing powder produced in the stamens and is contained in the anthers. The stamen is the flowers masculine organ. It consists of filaments and anthers in the inner part of the flower and encircles the pistil. Fertilization is the union of the two elements of generation—the masculine and the feminine—from which springs the fertile fruit. "And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed."

I want to paint a rose.

The rose is the feminine flower that gives of itself all and so completely that the only joy left to it is to have given itself. Its perfume is an insane mystery. When its scent is deeply inhaled it touches the intimate depths of the heart and leaves the inside of the entire body perfumed. The way it opens into womanhood is very beautiful. The petals taste good in the mouth—all you have to do is try them. But the rose isn't
It is
The red ones are highly sensual. The white ones are Gods peace. It's very rare to find white roses at a florists. The yellow ones are happily alarming. The pinks are in general more fleshy and have color par excellence. The orange-colored ones are the product of grafting and are sexually attractive.

Pay attention please: I'm inviting you to move to a new kingdom.

Now, the carnation has an aggressiveness that comes from a certain irritability. The tips of their petals are sharp and turned up. The carnations perfume is somehow mortal. Red carnations scream in violent beauty. The white ones recall the small coffin of a dead child: the smell becomes pungent and people turn their faces away in horror. How can one transplant the carnation to canvas?

The sunflower is the great child of the sun. So much so that it knows how to turn its enormous corolla in the direction of its creator. It doesn't matter whether it's mother or father. I don't know. Is the sunflower masculine or feminine? I think it's masculine.

The violet is introverted and its introspection is of the deepest sort. They say it hides because it's modest. That's not it. It hides to be able to find its own secret. It's almost-not-perfume is muffled glory but it demands that people seek it out. It never ever shouts out its perfume. The violet says frivolous things that cannot be said.

The immortelle is always dead. Its dryness tends to eternity. Its name in Greek means "golden sun."

The daisy is a happy little flower. It's simple and skin-deep. It has just one row of petals. Its center is a child's game.

The lovely orchid is exquisite and unfriendly. It's not spontaneous. It requires keeping under glass. But it's a splendorous woman and that cannot be denied. One also cannot deny that it's noble because it's epiphytic. Epiphytes are born on other plants without, however, taking away their nutrition. I was lying when I said it was unfriendly. I love orchids. They are born already artificial, they are born already art.

The tulip is a tulip only in Holland. A lone tulip simply isn't. It needs an open field to be.

The wheat flower blooms only in the center of the wheat. In its humility it has the daring to appear in diverse forms and colors. The wheat flower is Biblical. In Spanish crèches it's not separated from the shafts of wheat. It's a small heart, beating.

But the angelica is dangerous. It has the perfume of a chapel. It bears ecstasy. It recalls the host. Many people have the urge to eat it and fill their mouths with its intense, sacred scent.

The jasmin is for lovers. It suggests coyness. They walk hand in hand, swinging their arms, and they kiss each other softly to the aromatic almost sound of jasmin.

Estrelicia is masculine par excellence. It has the aggressiveness of love and healthy pride. It seems to have a cock's comb and its crow. But it doesn't wait for dawn. The violence of your beauty.

The bridal wreath has the perfume of a full moon. Its phantasmagorical and a little frightening and it's for someone who loves danger. It only comes out at night with its dizzying scent. The bridal wreath is silent. It secrets itself in deserted, shadowy corners and in the gardens of darkened houses with closed windows. It's very dangerous: it's a whistle in the dark, which nobody can stand. But I can stand it because I love danger. As for the succulent cactus flower, its large and fragrant and brilliantly colored. It's the juicy vengeance that makes a desert plant. It's splendor springing from despotic sterility.

I'm too lazy to tell you about the edelweiss. Just that you find it at an altitude of three thousand four hundred meters. It's white and woolly. Rarely seen: it's aspiration.

The geranium is a window-box flower. It's found in Sao Paulo, in the neighborhood of Grajaü and in Switzerland.

The victoria regia is in the Rio de Janeiro Botanical Gardens. Enormous, almost two meters in diameter. They are aquatic flowers, they take your breath away. They are Amazonian: the dinosaurs of the flowers. They spread deep tranquility. They are majestic and simple at the same time. And even though they live on the surface of the water, they offer shade. What I'm writing you has a title in Latin:
De natura florum
. Later, I'll show you my study transformed into a linear design.

The chrysanthemum is profoundly happy. It speaks through color and dishevelment. It's a flower that impetuously controls its own savagery.

I think I'm going to have to ask permission to die. But I can't, its too late. I listened to
passed utterly away.

I have to interrupt this because—didn't I tell you? didn't I tell you that one day something was going to happen to me? Well, it just happened. A man named Joao just spoke to me over the phone. He grew up deep in the Amazon jungle. And he says that there's a legend there about a talking plant. It's called the
And they say that when the Indians perform a magic rite on it, it actually speaks a word. João told me something that has no explanation: that one night he came home very late and as he was walking along the corridor where the plant was he heard the word, "Joao." He thought it was his mother calling him and he answered, "I'm coming." He went upstairs but he found his mother and father fast asleep.

I'm tired. I tire easily because I'm an extremely busy person: I keep care of the world. Every day I look out from my terrace at that bit of beach and ocean and I see the thick, whiter foam and see that during the night the waters have advanced restlessly. I see this from the marks the waves leave in the sand. I look at the almond trees on my street. Before I go to sleep I take care of the world and I see if the night sky is starry and indigo blue because on certain nights, instead of black, the sky seems to be an intense indigo blue, a color I've painted on glass before. I like intensities. I take care of the boy who is nine years old and who is dressed in rags and who is extremely thin. He'll get tuberculosis, if he doesn't have it already. I become exhausted at the Botanical Gardens. I have to watch over thousands of plants and trees and especially the victoria. She's there. I watch her.

Notice that I don't mention my emotive impressions: lucidly, I speak of some of the thousands of things and persons I take care of. And it has nothing to do with a job because I don't earn money with it. I just end up knowing what the world is like.

Is it a lot of work to take care of the world? Yes. For example, it forces me to remember the inexpressive and therefore frightening face of the woman I saw on the street. I also watch over with my eyes the misery of those who live up above on the hillsides.

You'll ask me why I take care of the world. It's because I was born with a mission.

When I was a child I took care of a line of ants: they walk Indian file carrying a tiny piece of leaf. Which doesn't keep each one from communicating something to the ant coming in the opposite direction. Ants and bees are not
They are

I read the book on bees and since then I've taken special care of the queen mother. Bees fly and deal with flowers. Is that banal? This was my own reaction. Part of the job is to note the obvious. There is, in the small ant, all of a world that escapes me if I'm not careful. For example, it has an instinctive sense of organization, a language beyond the supersonic and sexual feelings. Now I can't find a single ant to watch. They weren't all killed, that I know, or I would have heard about it.

Taking care of the world also requires a lot of patience: I have to wait for the day an ant will appear.

I just haven't found anyone to account to. Or have I? For I'm accounting to you right here. I'll account to you right now for that spring that was so dry. The radio bristled with static. Clothing crackled and curled with electricity from the body and the comb made your charged hair stand on end—that was a hard spring. It was exhausted from the winter and burst out all electric. From any point you were at, you seemed to be heading into the far-off distance. Never before were there so many roadways. We spoke very little, you and I. I don't know why the world was so angry and so electrically poised. But poised for what? My body was heavy with weariness. And our big, inexpressive eyes were like the wide-open eyes of the blind. On the terrace there was the fish in the aquarium and we had a drink at that hotel bar looking out at the countryside. With the wind came goat dreaming: at the other table a solitary faun. We looked at the icy cold drink and dreamed statically inside the transparent glass. "What was that you said?" you asked. "I didn't say anything." Days and more days went by and everything in that danger and the geraniums so bright red. One instant of tuning in was enough to get the barbed static of spring in the wind all over again: the shameless goat dream and the fish all empty and our sudden urge to steal fruit. The faun crowned now in solitary leaps. "What?" "I didn't say anything." But I noticed an initial rustle, like a heart beating under the earth. I quietly placed my ear to the ground and heard the summer open up a roadway deep inside the earth and my heart under the earth—"nothing, I didn't say anything!"—and I felt the patient brutality with which the closed earth opened inside, giving birth, and I knew the sweet heaviness with which the summer was ripening a hundred thousand oranges and I knew the oranges were mine. Because I was in love.

I pride myself on always being able to sense a change in the weather. There's something in the air—your body warns you that something new is coming and I become agitated through and through. I don't know for what. During that same spring I was given a plant called a primrose. It's so mysterious that in its mystery it contains what is inexplicable in nature. Apparently there's nothing unusual about it. But precisely on the first day of spring the leaves die and in their place closed flowers are born that have a feminine and masculine perfume that is extremely intoxicating. People are sitting close by and looking absent- mindedly. And see, they are slowly opening and surrendering themselves to the new season right under our astonished gaze: it's spring settling in.

BOOK: The Stream of Life
10.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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