The Mediocre Poet of Rio de Janeiro


I moved to Brazil.  I heard it was the place to find women.  I met Ingrid.  We cavorted nightly.  My place was just off Avencia Copacabana, a small two room affair with a tiny, one person balcony.  She moved in.  One June afternoon we went to the beach.  She was nearly topless.  We walked the powdery sand some five kilometers from Arpoada and Ipanema north to Lema.  I followed, counting the number of men who gave her the eye.

"How many, mai amo?"

"Two, I think, maybe three."

She was depressed by the low number.  At thirty-five, she thought her best years were behind her.  We returned to my flat and made love to bring her out of the doldrums.

Afterwards she said, "You are an old Americano, Taso, who will grow bored with me.  Many times, when you are adding up men on the beach for me, I am looking at your eyes for the other women.  They are emplogante, shining for their firm breasts and those tight little xochota.  You will not want me for long, I fear."

To counter her argument I would hold her closely, our afternoon sweat co-mingling, and express that, while she was well over thirty, she would be mine forever.

In the evening we would stroll along the few area streets that were reputedly gang safe.  We enjoyed Rue Anita Garibaldi as a byway where we settled down at a café drinking acai and gorging on Carioca-style empanadas until midnight absorbed the evening’s heat.

I explained that I was a poet, but my poems were composed as if I was a painter.  In the soft morning light I would pose her nude in our bedroom, a shawl draped loosely about her shoulders, her right leg crossed in a figure four as if examining her toes.  I sketched her in words.  I began with nouns which, like a brief afternoon shower, were quickly qualified by a torrent of adjectives drenching the pages.

When I was done I would read my work aloud.  She understood English well enough but could not read it and always wanted a copy, perhaps to take to a friend to translate.

"You do not speak your love for me, Taso, in the poems.  Where is it what your feelings are?  Perhaps this is all you want from me."

It was here that she would rise from her chair, still naked and make crude gestures.  "Vamos fazer uma sacanagem," she would say in Portuguese, biting off the last syllable in a very nasal tone before flopping on the bed and spreading her legs.

Some nights I would prefer to stay in and read, or, if we went to a café, merely to poetically sketch the scenes.  She wanted to dance.  I didn’t.  She would pick a younger man, press her body to his and sway to the music.  I suspect she wanted to make me jealous.  But I, like Toulouse-Lautrec, would keep scratching pen to notepaper.

In October we fought.  I sat by the window while she, with one stiletto- heeled shoe on, clomped-circled the room, tossing things into her bag while throwing mine on the floor.  Most of her diatribe was in rapid Portuguese and lost on me.  I did gather, however, that I was a boring, old man, unimaginative in bed and therefore not worthy of her vibrant favors.

Just before the Christmas season she returned, washed up on my doorstep like a shipwrecked mariner.  She had no suitcase.  She stood before me bedraggled, a purplish lump on her forehead and suffering from a bad chest cold.  I was her court of last resort.

I said nothing, opened the door wider and ushered her in.  I had moved the sofa to face the small balcony overlooking the street.  I enjoyed lying there each night, look at the lights from the beach area and listening to the street sounds below.  She headed for the bedroom and dropped onto the soft mattress, asleep before I could even brew some tea.  I stayed awake all night sketching her.

A week later she was still occupying the apartment.  I kept to the sofa.  It had become my small island from which I viewed the world.  We came and went according to our likes.  If we had sex I gave her money.  She took it without protest.  She often left for long periods, telling me like a young daughter lying to her parents that she would be staying with a friend for a few days.  "Alama Cortez, she is from my same province."

One morning there was a knock on the door.  The police wanted to know if I knew Ingrid Marquis.  I showed them where she slept.  She was dead, they said, throat slashed a few days ago and found at the far end of Arpoado by Diabo Beach close to the Fortress.  They’d caught the man who’d done it.  An open and shut case really.  There were numerous witnesses.

When they left I took her things from the bureau and closet, stacking them on one side of the bed in neat little piles.  On the other side, I laid out a hat, necklace, dress, stockings and shoes as if she were deflated, life-sized balloon.  Maybe she had parents or a sister somewhere.  I never inquired much about her family life.  I decided to sketch the bed, her belongings and the lifeless trousseau.  I got a few lines down akin to the old Dutch master Vermeer together with a nice, extended metaphor before I tired and went back to the sofa.  I turned out all the lights and stared out at the horizon tinged with flickering lights, perhaps from fireworks down on the beach.  Somewhere in the building a fado record was playing on an old phonograph, the heavy hiss of the turntable adding to the mood.

The next afternoon a gentle tap on my door aroused me from my reverie.  "My name is Alama," she whispered through the keyhole as if being followed and held up a badly crumpled photo with my address on the back.  I let her in and, when she turned the picture over, Ingrid’s likeness was revealed.  Someone else had been in the frame.  A heavily tattooed arm draped over Ingrid’s shoulder dangled all too familiarly on her right breast.  The rest of the admirer had been torn off.

"Ingrid said it to me that if badness came, I should take care of you."

Ten years or twenty pounds ago she might have been borderline voluptuous.  Her hair had gone through several shades and styles in the past few years, but she had a pleasant, open face.  I showed her to the bedroom.  I had never taken Ingrid’s shrine off the spread.  She stood, picked up a wide leatherette belt studded with colored glass as if judging its value, then surveyed the room.

"It was so sad, the murder.  Manualo was crazy loving for her.  Many times he wanted to kill you, but she said you were famous American poem writer so he killed her.  I could cook omelet for you or make sex, whichever."

She wandered over to the bedroom window.  The view was the brick wall of the next building a few feet away.  She looked out and down at the pile of trash in the small alley.  She stepped back then sat primly in a small, cane bottomed chair, feet close together, absently unbuttoning her blouse to reveal a bit more cleavage.

"I would be model.  I can be quiet for very long." As if to prove her statement, she assumed and held a rigid position even as I turned and went back to the sofa.

There is no dusk in Rio; the sun switches off, darkness rolls down like a final curtain, and the night’s demons emerge.  I sat on my sofa.  I waited for a sound from the bedroom, but there was none.  The moon came up and bathed my little refuge in a garish, Van Gogh apricot-yellow.  When it began to soften, I got up and went to check on her.  The open doorway sent an isosceles triangle shaft of light onto the bed highlighting Alama in her underwear fast asleep next to my disembodied Ingrid.  I caught my breath and stepped back so as not to cast a shadow.  I must capture this tableaux in words.  I tiptoed to the sofa for my notebook, words jangling in my head like loose change.  Photographers wait decades in arctic tundra or fetid jungles for shots of nearly extinct species.  I had all the comforts of home.  

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