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  • A Tour de Farce of Language
  • Cheryl A. Emerson (bio)
Paraguayan Sea
Wilson Bueno
Erín Moure, trans.
Nightboat Books
112 Pages; Print, $15.95

Erín Moure's most recent work of poetic translation performs what at first appears as a burlesque of language, reminiscent of the comic monologues of Louis de Funès, the French "fufu" who famously slaughtered linguistic borders between French, English, and Spanish. Similarly, Moure's Paraguayan Sea transports the mixed Portunhol/Guaraní of Bueno's Mar Paraguayo into her invented Frenglish/Guaraní mix, making Paraguayan Sea a singular accomplishment in that it translates the language of origin into a target language that is also original, a move from singularity to singularity. On a certain level, Paraguayan Sea can be read as a tour de farce of language, with pages that revel in linguistic impertinence, what the sole narrator—the "marafona floozy"—describes in the end as the weave of an "étrange slaughter, more perfect than anything is perfect when what's in question is death."

The entanglement of language and death— and their solitudes—is no accident, and also the moment where Paraguayan Sea proves to be far more than a comic play of tongues. Whereas the ancient Tupí is extinct, along with its peoples, Guaraní is one of the few remaining indigenous languages still spoken and passed on in South America, protected as an official language of today's Paraguay. Because the extermination of colonized populations and the death of languages are coeval, the weavings of Guaraní into Bueno's Portunhol and Moure's Frenglish bespeaks resilience, resistance, and loss:

la ancestral speech of pères et grandspères that infinitely vanishes into memory, they entertain all speech and tricot: those Guaraní voices turn tender only if they persist in weaving: ñandu: there is no better fabric than the spiderweb of the leaves tissées together.

The weaving together of English, French, and Guaraní—the most recent iteration of a practice Moure has joyously called "transelation"—here carries an unmistakably comic affect, especially in the string of diminutives ad absurdum the marafona floozy reserves for her little dog Brinksy (Brinks'i, Brinks'imi, Brinks'michĩ, Brinks'michĩmira'ymi, Brinks'michĩmira'itotekemi). But Paraguayan Sea also plunges the reader into depths far beneath the comic play of signes, into an ocean abyss (porãitereí) "far beneath the ligne of silence. Il n'y a pas de langages là. Only the vertige de language. It tells me I existe."

It is fitting that the narrator of Paraguayan Sea, a marafona floozy—"catin trollop, the biggest trashy flooze in Guaratuba"—of ambiguous gender, should speak a trans-language, in a mixed current of poetry and prose that migrates across genres of confession, fable (morangú), murder mystery, and tale of trans-generational love. She is an outcast "inscribed in the heart of the marginal, of those cast aside and crestfallen in diners dogged by all that is vain and barren." Simultaneously "witch [and] guru," "fate and fortune," the marafona floozy provokes mixed feelings of admiration, fear, and disgust "in the natives of this exiled crumbling bit of seaside in Guaratuba of the province of Paraná" where "there's nobody, personne, no one who speaks my langue." The floozy's extended monologue spins an intricate web of language, death, loneliness, and desire, in arabesque patterns that "symphoniques, interweave."

The floozy might or might not have killed "the oldie," her 85-year-old captor/lover/provider who is already dead in the opening pages. From the very start, she claims her innocence: "never killing him despite my efforts to endure nights and days of pure abuse in a macabre obsession with tricking his grizzled neckskin. No, believeyoume, I speak truly: I didn't kill the oldie." Variations on the theme of "I didn't kill the oldie," "it wasn't moi who killed le vieux guy," or "I'd never do him any harm" repeat a dozen times throughout the text, interlaced with a doubled confession of her passion for "le boy" with his "hovĩ-hovĩ" eyes of greenish-blue. We witness her loneliness in the Brazilian beach town...


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