Landscape Document

Ilustração de capa por Juli Ribeiro.

I blow up on planes, my whole body, as if bread dough
proving, rising. Six hours in the pressurized atmosphere
from California to Panama: by the time I land, my hands are
heavy pillows stuffed with tiny ants. I run them under cold
water. The wedding ring loosens, I move it to the less fatty
left thumb, then let some water flow on my neck: a silent
prayer. Like always the details pull me in, this time it’s the
water running over brown rust. Then, I’m in my father’s
farm, swimming in the lake he dug so diligently. A dog clings
to my shoulders, I hold its paws on my arms like a toddler.
Then I’m under an umbrella in São Paulo with Aparecida,
my first college friend. She grasps my arm so our bodies can
be spared the pouring water, god’s piss as we Brazilians say,
and that tiny bit of warmth from her touch is all I’ll have to
live off for the next two years.

I refocus my eyes, try to remember the word faucet but it’s
running from me. Speaking two languages every day creates
these moments of vacuum. A little fearful and a little mad, I
close my eyes to access my brain. I think pia, pia…. tap, tap. A
cliche, the rusty faucet. Faucet! By then I’ve lost the sentence,
slippery slithering sentence in the story I can’t write because
I can’t decide which language to use. My first, Portuguese,
long form and round and baroque; or English, all elbows,
malleable, the language that gave me contemporary literature,
which is my true homeland: Munro, Atwood, Lily King,
Winterson, Myles, Chris Kraus, Szabó etc etc etc. I realize
Szabó is Hungarian but I only discovered her in English. I
think of Emerence every day.

I’m in Panama for five hours. I never learn the name of the
city. Panama Canal, that’s all I know, until I remember
Congresso do Panama. Bolívar, the latinos plotting against
the Spanish Empire, colonial revolution which is just the best
kind, so righteous. In school we despaired over the buffoonery
of the Portuguese; fat and horny, they ate and fucked
our abundance away. We felt indignant about the genocide
of the natives and about the slaves the European brought
ashore, but we accepted it as the colonial inheritance. We
believe all our sins were our conquerors’ so we could forgive
ourselves in their christian god’s grace. Independence did
not bring change. We kept colonialism as our pet enemy, root
of all problems, and we will not ask for a return, no thank
you, mister. Until the postmodern diagnosed us with inferiority
complex, Brazil’s national disease, a country destined to
reenact past exploitations against its own. The wheels of
history turn and turn to change nothing. Anyway, we
believed the diagnosis, we lived according to its limitations,
we passed it to our sons and daughters, accidentally that is,
not our fault no civilized person taught us safe practices.

I google the United States’ participation on the Panama
Congress: they were invited but ghosted because the
southern americanos were scared of the abolicionistas
latinos. They thought it could be contagious, like yellow
fever.

For us, negro is not a bad word.

When I embark on the second flight I remember the weed
gummy bear I smuggled through airport security: another silent prayer. I slide into a daydream, stretch, the blanket doesn’t cover my
feet. Maybe I sleep, because I have a nightmare, the recurring
one: visa denied. My partner stuck in the U.S., I can’t
make him forfeit his own visa to meet me. I did forfeit mine,
in the nightmare and in reality, on the second the first plane
skidded towards the skies.

We don’t talk about it. Or rather we only talk about it to
mock it. I only know he’s terrified because he keeps hugging
me. I’m not scared, bad things only happen to everyone else.
Anyway, it’s been three years without so much, I couldn’t be
expected not to act foolish.

Distance makes fiction, no one I’ve known feel carne e osso
anymore. That means of flesh and bone. Vacuum: it took me
a moment to remember the translation. It took me several
weeks to realize the correct expression would be flesh and
blood.

I picture the consular interview. I arrive earlier than my time
slot because I know I won’t survive a long wait. Before the
closed gate, with only the moon as my witness, I initiate an
informal line. After a couple of families position themselves
behind me, our formation will be accepted by the guards as
default. This will be my only act of defiance, really. For the
next two or three hours, until I’m told to approach the
interviewer cabin, I’m demure and deferential. To avoid displaying any beauty, I flatten my breasts tightly with gauze and a bra that promises
to eliminate a whole inch of my flesh. Besides tits, I vow to also hide intelligence. I do carry a book, I cannot resist it, but a
thin one with a colorful sleeve that screams frivolity, inconsequentiality: a girl’s book.

I’m cordial to some woman in line to stimulate
a bit of camaraderie – I do this because I need
to relax.

Most of the time spent inside the consular will be brutal,
irrational, which is to say we’ll be foreigners. We’ll go
through two metal detectors and a x-ray scan, like in an
airport. Some of us will be designated to this line, some to
the other, and the lines will move with very different speeds,
disregarding appointment times or even arrival hierarchy.
We’ll all think the other line is the better one. At some point
I’ll be expected to talk. I’m ready for this, I have memorized
my stories.

(On the actual day: I wasn’t prepared for my voice sounding
like a dialect I only barely comprehended: the pitch too high,
the mannerisms off. I wasn’t prepared for the interviewer
shutting off the microphone that connects us through the
bulletproof glass before I had finished a prepared answer, an
anecdotal one I thought was innocent, maybe even funny. I
wasn’t prepared to have a five minute conversation without
eye contact. I wasn’t prepared for the questions about
Berkeley. Berkeley, my pastoral and bright Berkeley,
but on the interviewer’s tongue the word sounded dirty and
accusatory. I wasn’t prepared for my readiness to betray the
place I’ve come to love more than my own familial home).

Anyway, at the heart of my script is my marriage: a married
woman is a little more trusted (but only a little). I say I’m a
homemaker. I know this can come off as too quaint for
someone my age, so I swiftly add a bit of aspiration (but only
a little): maybe I like writing. [embarrassed] I’m not a real
writer of course, I just do it to pass the time. I’m only going
because my husband has a chance to get an education, I miss
my family in Brazil so much and can’t wait to come back. None of it is true.

I anticipate my achilles heel, though a fairly obvious one:
online footprint. I’ve been preparing with the fearful anxiety
and mad excitement of a survivalist. I deleted most of my
social media, but kept instagram, because off the grid is a
political affiliation. I had to delete every opinionated picture
from it, like the one of me hugging a beautiful edition of
Middlemarch. My thumb could be seen caressing the cover,
as if it needed my love. On the background, my white shoes,
sings of acculturation.


The plane finally lands somewhere I should belong. I step
through the last airport security check; my parents are in the
back but they don’t spot me immediately. Briefly, before I call
out for them, I let myself blend in. For the first time in a long
time I am devoid of fear. The cards have been dealt, I chose
to play this hand, and there is nothing to do but just that.

The visa interview will be in two days. They’ll take a picture
of my face, press each of my fingers on an electronic scan
that emits a red light. I’ll mix up right and left hand because
I’ll get nervous. Then I’ll try to say the correct things. We
decided I would apply under his visa again, it’s best not have
my own. It’s best not to be an own. Write the word own
enough times you’ll start to doubt the spelling. Anyway, I’ll
say my job is to help him, and the truth is it is, I do and I
want the credit. I just want all the other stuff too, but I’ll
give it up, everything, if I can just be let back in.




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