He woke that morning to the smell of coffee. It wafted in from the gap beneath the door along with the muted sound of Tchaikovsky on the gramophone. Sun came through the slates in the shutters; his feet padded against the floor as he ran his hand through his hair and dressed, dismayed to find his jacket oddly loose over his shoulders and the bags under his eyes darker than before. It had been a restless sleep. When he looked back to the bed—a cot on the floor in the study—he saw the blankets carelessly strewn about, the sheets pulled from their bearings, notebooks and pages scattered on the floor. A sigh rose from his chest; he almost didn’t want to go into the kitchen, but when an insistent knock on the door rang through the house, he knew the choice was no longer his.
They saw him disappear, crying and singing…
into the night that showed its skeleton of tobacco,
into the sorrow full of faces and piercing bone splinters of the moon,
into whips and notched wheels,
into deserted death with one mistaken wanderer.
No longer was there the melancholy of the bassoon or the twang of the gramophone as the needle skipped over Benny Goodman and Vladimir Horowitz at Carnegie Hall; the record scratched after seven years of constant repeats. Instead his ears were filled with the call of the trumpets and the snares, the grumble of the engine as the car drove up the hills, dotted with olive trees and tourists from the United States who shivered when they heard the soldiers pull into the cemetery behind their villa.
He could not see the stars even when he looked up, pulled from his seat by his shoulder, but he blinked beneath the blindfold, as if that would somehow clear his vision. He knew it was dawn by the scent of the countryside.
His breaths were deep, as measured as he could keep them—but he thought of the looks on his friends’ faces when he’d been pulled from the room, when the teacup dropped from his hands and smashed to the floor. He heard their mourning as soon as the door was shut behind him, but he had begun long ago, so he looked into the soldiers’ eyes with as much courage as he could muster, sternness painted upon his lips and the darkness of his brows.
They searched the cafés and the graveyards and churches,
they opened the wine casks and wardrobes,
and behind the altar dressings in the cathedral and amongst acolytes’ robes, and they scattered the shirts and cigarettes and poems from the drawers in his home, and they had finally found him in the embrace of a friend, defiance rather than fear in his eye. Now here he waited, his knees against the hard ground, the uncut grass brushing against the tweed of his pants. Their gruff voices scratched against the silence, still muted in his ears—speaking of him, he knew, with words he didn’t dare think of.
Above their sweat and the blood that had dried beneath his eyes lingered the scent of dry summer and chamomile, gunpowder and smoke, the disturbed earth, and the cold headstones that waited at the edge of the cemetery, scarred with pot-marks. He heard them loading the shots, but focused on the whisper of the breeze. He could hear it singing:
inkwells and the thistle,
the breeze that freezes the heart of all the mothers,
the white ruins of Jupiter where the drunks snack on death.
But he, too, kept his whispers to himself. His hands shook and his heart pounded in his chest, running to the tips of fingers and the backs of his legs, where the heels of his shoes cut into his thighs. His hands were tied before him, as if in prayer—and he looked up to the sky, where he knew the stars were losing their light,
and when the pure forms sank
under the cri cri of the daisies,
he understood they had murdered him.
Original text: “Fable and Round of the Three Friends” from Poet in New York by Federico García Lorca, translated by Pablo Medina and Mark Statman