Lost Codex

Lourdes Vázquez
Translation Jennifer Edwards

i

          Many lament Julia de Burgos’ lost manuscript. Others, I don’t know. The heart is
a secret and writing is a talent possessed by few. A lost manuscript is one less possibility
for intellectual brilliance or for success –such a modern symbol. A lost codex is one thing
less to conspire about? Especially about Julia: mistaken, libertine, chaotic, unacceptable,
dark like the water of certain lagoons, fragile like the reversible connotative of the
adjective, lacking, daring, insecure, paranoid, mortified, horrified by delirium tremens.
Black? Poor.

          Julia’s scholars, who are few, avow the existence of the lost codex. One or two
people, her sister, her niece, and naturally the press have testified to the fact like a Sufi
chorus with their bell-shaped skirts spinning around in a temple. A manuscript that
vanished one day in the transparent smoke of the great human sacrifice.

          The disappearance of a manuscript has always had the same consequences. It’s a
treacherous story, instigated by power and its symbol. All virgin, miraculous and magical
knowledge is required to understand the motives that hasten the metamorphoses of a
stolen codex. Nonetheless, the text of a robbed manuscript is as powerful as the evil eye.
Its calligraphy, or perhaps typography, constitutes the geography of the world in which
we live.
          Its smell of polished wood,
                  The color of the black ink,
          The shape of the letters,
                  The fiber of its page.

ii

          I live submerged in the stories of lost manuscripts. Marina Arzola’s manuscripts
also vanished. I’m talking about six or eight manuscripts. Marina: brazen, transverse,
maniacal beauty. Her apparel was a farce mockery with pearls that gave her the air of a
debutante on a witch night. They were times in which people lived like Moors and their
tapadas were my mother and all the rest. It was a sad time surrounded by walls and
covered with shutters.

          Spontaneity was buried in a well without oxygen, replaced with a collective
severity. Vindication was not possible. Could it be possible now?

          When the sons of the old Moors are those who govern, their daughters wear the
deceptive shield of noble birth, from some demolished and dusty shop. A lost manuscript,
it could be a Moorish or inquisitional prohibition, as its pages follow one another in
multiple flashes unbearable for the eye when the light shines directly on them.

iii

          How does one include a lost manuscript in an inventory of books? They should
add several notes that read “lost manuscript” “only typed copy” “the writer’s aunt saw it
for the last time in the bureau of the author’s bedroom.” How does one include a suspect
piece of information on a list of corroborated equivalents? And what if they, the
biographers, the uncles, the nieces, the scholars and especially the press dreamed it. That
is, imagined their existence. And in that dream they saw its pages, they touched its paper.

          Who knows?

The smell of paper pulverizes memory like the rain this afternoon, which eliminates
unpublished books. And in that dream the pages magically close and open from right to
left, from left to right, moving like the blades of a ceiling fan. Our eye remains fixed until
we collapse onto the floor of our bedroom thinking that we’re going to fall into an abyss.
The coolness from the blades of the fan or the hand that shakes the feathers like black
points in the day mitigate the smell of its pages. Perhaps Sebastian, my dead cat, will
come, like a furry angel and decide to lie down on the exact center of its pages to take the
nap of oblivion.

          It’s a cat thing.

          But there’s that great suspicion that a lost manuscript could be found in some
cardboard box in a garage of some residential development in Guaynabo, or hidden in a
specialized and not so specialized academic’s safe. Or perhaps there are only scraps left,
just confetti, the work of some African mouse. Perhaps it’s on a shelf in a Caribbean
archive, forgotten along with Julia’s photos tangle up with yellow fungus that corrodes
even one’s thoughts, and one day a garbage scavenger finds it while rummaging through
trashcans and thrown away bags in the parking lot of a shopping mall. My solitude delights at that elegant hope, they say that Borges said.

iv

          A manuscript of poems without illustrations has little validity in that other organic
latitude, profuse in flora, colors and illustrations, because it’s not like they’re the
originals of some Tarot cards placed in a cedar box or the fonts of Venetian printing
presses highly protected by the state in order to guarantee competitiveness. A lost
manuscript of poems is a specter trapped in the fog of an empire, a roll of India paper
inside a Japanese pagoda. A useless amulet. The skies and stars and the moon cover their
eyes. A twin-glass monstrosity naked son on the eleventh day after a Katto ceremony in
which the peace of the spirit is assured.
And the author, owner of the text?
The poet?
Where could she have gone?
 

          Doubtless they found her shivering from cold in a basement, covered with
newspapers, cardboard and napkins about to die of loneliness, to be exact. No doubt
someone asked, “What should we do with this smelly body?” No doubt the manuscript
was strewn in some corner, written on pieces of paper found in trashcans. No one thought
anything of it. No one noticed that a pair of wings were growing from its pages. No doubt
it took flight like a newborn angel lurching between the flapping of its wings. It surely
left that basement ,without stairs ,without anyone seeing it leaving and an illiterate
peasant of those days pointed with his index finger when it asked, “Which way is South?”
And the manuscript, a bird now, flew with a flock towards warm waters. Yemayá was
surely invoked on a clear night.

          There was a lot of talk at that time about little absent-minded miracles. It was one
of our peoples’ ways of enduring hunger and disillusionment, and especially the cold. A
man also came and clarified that it wasn’t little miracles we needed, but money. And
from that moment on, everyone forgot all about the manuscript, and devoted themselves
to building cement empires with large wire fences made of the best steel. Or perhaps we
are all tired of deception which, like dance clubs decorated with multicolored glass, spins
around us and no one expects to find hope anymore; although there have been people, a
minority of moldy roses, who insist on searching for this document contemplating
theories, surrounded by canonic labyrinths. It’s the frenetic search for a time that never
was, an old-fashioned silent film.

          I think a wise man with kinky curly hair should come to clear up this inaccuracy,
this doubt in which one dreams of a manuscript that grew from the winged ankles of a
woman. Perhaps the wise man will curse whoever mocks dreams.

©Lourdes Vázquez

Content credits Center for Puerto Rican Studies
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