Woes of the True Policeman, p.21Roberto Bolaño
I would have liked, said Padilla in conclusion, to take him to a hotel, he was a North African open to the poetry of the world, and I’m sure he’d never been buggered.
Amalfitano’s reply was written on the back of a Frida Kahlo postcard (The Two Fridas, 1939) and he said that on Padilla’s advice, though he actually couldn’t remember whether Padilla had suggested this explicitly, he had begun to look for Arcimboldi’s novels. Naturally, his search was restricted to the Mexico City bookstores that received new releases from Spain, and the International Bookstore of Tijuana, which carried hardly any books in French, but where he had been assured they could be found. He had also written to the French Bookstore in Mexico City, though it had been a while and he hadn’t heard back. Maybe, he ventured, the French Bookstore has gone out of business and it will be years yet before word reaches Santa Teresa. About the Larry Rivers postcard he chose to say nothing.
Padilla’s next letter arrived two days later, not long enough afterward to be a response to Amalfitano’s letter. It was, along general lines, a synopsis of the novel that Padilla was writing, though for a synopsis, thought Amalfitano, it was rather vague. It was as if something—during the two-day trip to Girona or in his previous postcard or in the Girona home cooking he’d eaten—hadn’t agreed with him. He seemed drunk or drugged. Even his writing (the letter was handwritten) was agitated, at points almost illegible.
He talked about the novel in general (randomly citing Emilia Pardo Bazán, Clarín, and a Spanish Romantic novelist who had drowned himself in a river in one of the Baltic states) and about The God of Homosexuals in particular. He mentioned an Argentinean bishop or archbishop who had proposed moving the entire non-heterosexual population of Argentina to the pampa, where, lacking the power or opportunity to pervert the rest of the citizens, they would set about building their own nation, with its own laws and traditions. The wise archbishop had even given his project a name. It was called Argentina 2, but it might just as well have been called Faggotlandia.
He talked about his ambitions: to be the Aimé Césaire of homosexuals (his handwriting in this paragraph was shaky, as if he were writing with his left hand), he said that some nights he heard the tom-tom beat of his passion, but he didn’t know for sure whether it was really the beat of his passion or of his youth slipping through his fingers, maybe, he added, it’s just the beat of poetry, the beat that comes to us all without exception at some mysterious hour, easily missed but absolutely free.
The God of Homosexuals, he said, would take shape first in dreams and then along deserted streets, the kind visited only by those who dream waking dreams. Its body, its face: a hybrid of the Hulk and the Terminator, a terrible and repulsive colossus. From this monster they (the homosexuals) expected endless bounty, not the republic on the pampa or in the Patagonia of the Argentinean archbishop, but a republic on another planet, a thousand light-years from earth.
The letter ended abruptly, as if his pen had run out of ink, but he sent kisses to Amalfitano and his daughter.
Padilla’s next letter talked about Elisa. It said that one night when he got home he found the girl outside his building waiting for him. She was sick, with bruises on her neck, a slight fever, and not much interest in sleeping. We got in bed together, he said, it was very late and we tried to make love, but her general lowness was matched by my own despondency, my fever, my shivers. At first they just masturbated on opposite sides of the bed, gazing into each other’s eyes, saying nothing for a long time. The result was that neither of them could come and sleep fled them both for good. Wide-awake, said Padilla, we talked until dawn, and only then were we finally able to fall asleep.
So Padilla began to talk about the first thing that came into his head, and all of a sudden he found himself telling the story of Leopoldo María Panero, his poems, his madness, what he imagined his life must be like at the Mondragón asylum. The next thing he realized, the girl was kneeling over him or curled around his legs or tying him to the bedposts or asking him to tie her up, said Padilla, or the two of them were sitting on the rug, naked, or they were talking for the first time about death in an innocent, idiotic, desperate, brave way, making plans and promising each other that they would carry them out. Of course, we didn’t end up making love, said Padilla, at least technically we didn’t.
The problem, said Padilla further on, is that the next day I was sober again (if you could say that what had happened the night before took place in a state of drunkenness), but not Elisa, who all through breakfast couldn’t stop going over the things they’d talked about, remembering bits of everything that Padilla had told her, sometimes priding herself on her incredible memory, since their late-night conversation hadn’t exactly been a model of coherence, and also, when he got like that, admitted Padilla, he talked in bursts, too fast, confusedly, it was a coprolalic kind of thing, so that whoever he was talking to (and Padilla himself) tended to miss more than half of what he was saying, but Elisa, apparently, remembered everything: names, book titles, the petty intrigues and small excesses of a (literary) life long gone.
So the breakfast in question had been very strange.
Suddenly I had a vision of myself. But as a woman. Which (as you know) is something I’ve never wished for. But there I was, on the other side of the table, a woman with very thin lips, sick, young, poor, unkempt. A woman with the look of someone near death. I’m surprised I didn’t kick her out of the house on the spot, said Padilla, clearly not quite persuaded, clearly a little scared. About his novel he said nothing.
Amalfitano’s response was brief and epigrammatically ambiguous: he began by saying that Padilla’s friendship with Elisa must have some meaning that they had yet to understand, and he ended with an ominous list of the daily problems he faced, both in the philosophy department and at home, in his father-daughter dealings with Rosa, who was distancing herself from him more and more.
As had become habitual, Padilla didn’t wait for Amalfitano’s response to send him another letter.
He talked again about Elisa.
For three days he had lost sight of her. On the fourth, when he was finally beginning to forget that strange mnemotechnical epiphany, he found her outside his building at a similar time of night and in similar circumstances. Again they slept together. Again they masturbated (this time they both came). Again they talked.
The girl, said Padilla, had come up with a plan to cure herself. The plan was to hitchhike from Barcelona to the Mondragón asylum. When she told him this, Padilla burst out laughing. But she kept talking. This time it was dark and the only light filtered in the window from the skylight in the inner courtyard. She spoke, said Padilla, in a monotone, but it wasn’t a monotone, it was full of inflection, but it lacked inflection, it was contaminated by the slang of Barcelona’s blue-collar neighborhoods, but at the same time it was the voice of a young lady from Sarriá. You, thought Amalfitano, have read too much Gombrowicz.
The rest of the letter continued at great length on the same subject. The dark room. Elisa’s voice describing an impossible trip. Padilla’s questions: why did she think she would be cured by traveling? what did she expect from Leopoldo María Panero and the Mondragón asylum? The urge to laugh, and Padilla’s laughter and teasing. Sleeping with a faggot is messing with your head. Elisa’s laughter, which for a fraction of a second seemed to light up the room and then shoot like backwards lightning through the window joints, upward, toward the courtyard skylight and the stars.
But the letter ended on a less than festive note. Elisa is here with me, said the last paragraph, when I went out this afternoon she stayed here, in bed, my father and I talked about taking her to the hospital but she refused, we made her some chicken broth, she drank it, and then she fell asleep.
Padilla’s next letter, the first that Amalfitano didn’t answer right away, talked about the pilgrimage to San Sebastián and the terms on which it would be conducted, terms dictated by the wavering voice of Elisa, who,
At first she didn’t understand them.
I think, said Padilla, that she understands even less about these things than I realized at first.
But he was undaunted and he devised a method (or something resembling a method) of reading. It was simple. He decided to read Panero’s poems aloud in chronological order. He began with the first book and ended with the last and after each poem he offered a brief commentary that didn’t pretend to explain the whole poem, which was impossible, according to Padilla, but rather a single line, an image, a metaphor. This way, Elisa understood and retained at least a fragment of each poem. Soon, wrote Padilla, Elisa was reading Panero’s books on her own and her comprehension of them (but the word comprehension conveys none of the desperation and communion of her reading) was luminous.
When she was discharged, Padilla—in a rather crepuscular gesture, thought Amalfitano—presented her with all the books he had loaned her and left. He didn’t expect to see her again and for a few days he was happy about it. Raguenau and Adrià took him out to the movies and the theater. He went out on his own again. He got back to work, though unenthusiastically, on The God of Homosexuals. Very late one night, coming home drunk and high, he found her sitting outside his building, waiting for him.
According to Padilla, Elisa was death.
Amalfitano’s response was a five-page letter, hastily written between classes, in which he begged him to listen to the baker and his nephew, and in which, with perhaps exaggerated optimism, he related the giant steps that science was taking in its fight against AIDS. According to some doctors in California, he claimed, the disease was steps away from becoming simply another chronic ailment, something that didn’t necessarily mean a death sentence.
About the latest developments in Santa Teresa he chose to remain silent.
Padilla’s response arrived shortly afterward, too soon to be a reply to Amalfitano’s letter.
It was written on the back of an airmail postcard from Barcelona and it said that his life had taken a radical turn. Elisa is living with me now, he said, and my father is beside himself with joy. Of course, Elisa and I are like brother and sister. Some nights we masturbate side by side. But really, it doesn’t happen very often. I do the shopping. Elisa cooks and deals heroin in her old neighborhood. We live in the most delightful holding pattern. At night we sit on the couch and watch TV, my father, Elisa, and me. Something’s going to happen soon. I’ll keep you posted.
Woes of the True Policeman is a novel whose parts are at different stages of completion, though the general level of revision is high, since all the chapters were first written by hand, then transcribed on an electric typewriter, with many of them—approximately half—subsequently polished on a computer, as Roberto Bolaño’s files show.
A number of additional documents deposited in the same files confirm that this is a project that was begun in the 1980s and continued to be a work in progress up until the year 2003: letters; dated notes in which the author describes his projects; an interview from November 1999 in the Chilean newspaper La Tercera, in which he states that he is working on Woes of the True Policemen, among other books. The title is a constant in all the documentation relating to the work.
At least two manuscript versions of the novel were found on Roberto Bolaño’s work table and among his papers, making it possible to state with certainty that the novel was carefully revised and that the computer files were part of the transcription of the novel that the author had been carrying out. The most complete manuscript version was organized in four folders, each labeled with a number, title, and page count: 1. Amalfitano and Padilla, 165 pages; 2. Rosa Amalfitano, 39 pages; 3. Pancho Monje, 26 pages; 4. J.M.G. Arcimboldi, 38 pages. Another folder, bearing the title “Cowboy Graveyard,” contained eight additional chapters, as well as material related to another unfinished project.
After careful study and compilation of this material as well as of the chapters found on Bolaño’s computer (more recent but only accounting for part of the novel), the final shape of the book was determined. The first and fifth parts of the novel come from the computer files, and the second, third, and fourth parts from the manuscript copies. This edition was undertaken with the unwavering intent to respect Bolaño’s work and the firm pledge to offer the reader the novel as it had been found in his files. Any changes and corrections have been kept to a bare minimum.
My thanks to the Andrew Wylie Agency, and to Cora Munro, who with the greatest respect for the legacy of the author has lent her literary counsel and the support of her invaluable knowledge to this edition.
ALSO by ROBERTO BOLAÑO
The Secret of Evil
The Third Reich
The Insufferable Gaucho
The Skating Rink
The Romantic Dogs
Nazi Literature in the Americas
The Savage Detectives
Last Evenings on Earth
By Night in Chile
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
18 West 18th Street, New York 10011
Copyright © 2011 by the heirs of Roberto Bolaño Translation copyright © 2012 by Natasha Wimmer All rights reserved
Originally published in 2011 by Editorial Anagrama, Spain, as Los sinsabores del verdadero policía Published in the United States by Farrar, Straus and Giroux First American edition, 2012
An excerpt from Woes of the True Policeman originally appeared, in slightly different form, in Harper’s Magazine.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Bolaño, Roberto, 1953–2003.
[Sinsabores del verdadero policía. English]
Woes of the true policeman / Roberto Bolaño; translated from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer. — 1st American ed.
“Originally published in 2011 by Editorial Anagrama, Spain, as Los sinsabores del verdadero policía”—T.p. verso.
ISBN 978-0-374-26674-5 (hardback) I. Wimmer, Natasha. II. Title.
PQ8098.12.O38 S5613 2012
Roberto Bolaño, Woes of the True Policeman
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