“Greenish water on my face: I will drink from you until the night opens. No one can save me. I’m invisible even to myself.”
A Musical Hell (Excerpt)
1. THE SHAPES OF A PREMONITION COLD IN HAND BLUES and what is it you're going to say i'm just going to say something and what's this you're going to do I'm going to hide behind language why i'm afraid CORNERSTONE I cannot speak with my voice, so I speak with my voices. Those eyes were the entrance to the temple, for me, a wanderer who loves and dies--I would've sung until merging with the night, until dissolving naked at the beginning of time. A song --a tunnel I pass through. Disquieting presences, gestures of figures that spring to life through the workings of an active language that alludes to their shape, signs insinuating insoluble terrors. A trembling of the frame, a tremor through the foundation, the draining and drilling, and I know where that thing is lodged --that great otherness of my self, that lies in wait for me to be silenced before it can take pos- session of me, and drain and drill into the frame, the foundation-- that part of my self that opposes from within, that schemes-- that takes possession of my fallowness, no, I should do something; no, I should do nothing at all; something inside me won't give in to the avalanche of ash that can sweep through my insides with her who is me, with myself who is she and is I, unspeakably different from her. To swallow the night in its very silence (which is not to say ev- ery silence) --a night that's immense, and immersed in the stealth of lost footsteps. I can't just speak and say nothing. That's how we lose ourselves, the poem and I, in the hopeless attempt to write the things that burn. Where does this writing lead her? To blackness, to the sterile and the fragmented. Dolls gutted by my worn doll hands- the disappointment that they're made of burlap (and your memory, a barren lap): the priest --it must be Tiresias-- is floating down the river. But as for you, why did you let them kill you while listening to that story of the snow-covered poplars? I wanted my doll fingers to go inside the keys. I didn't want to pass lightly over the keyboard like a spider. What I wanted was to sink into it, to fasten and nail myself there, then harden into stone. I wanted to go into the keyboard in order to go inside the music and find my own country. But the music--it swayed, it rushed. Only in the refrains did it have any potential, because there I could hope that a structure resembling a train station might be built: a firm and steady starting point, a place for departures, for moving from the place, and to the place, and for being in union and fusion with the place. But the refrains were always too brief: I could never begin lay- ing down a foundation, since I couldn't rely on there ever being more than one train- a slightly derailed one, at that, that contorted and contracted its spine. So I abandoned music and its treachery, because the music was either too high or too low, never at the center, in the place of fusion and encounter. (You who were my only country: where should I look for you? Maybe in this poem as I write it.) One night, at the circus, I recovered a lost language- the very moment the horsemen furiously rode by with brandished torches on their black, galloping steeds. Not even in my wildest dreams could the angelic orders ever rally heartbeats to rival the hot, roiling sounds of those hooves across the desert. (And he said unto me: Write, for these words are faithful and true.) (A man or a stone or a tree will begin the song.) It was a soft shudder. (Let this be a lesson for the one who lost her musicality in me and is shaking more dissonantly than a horse spooked by torches in a foreign country.) I was cleaving to the floor, calling out a name. I thought I had died and that death meant repeating a name forever. Maybe this isn't what I wanted to say. To speak, and speak of the self like this, is hardly easy. I cannot speak with my voice, so I speak with my voices. Or it could be that this poem is a trap, or simply another scene in a play. When the ship lost its rhythm and began rocking on the violent water, I stood up like the Amazon who could subdue a rearing horse with just her blue eyes. (Or was it her blue eyes?) Greenish water on my face: I will drink from you until the night opens. No one can save me. I'm invisible even to myself. Here I am, calling to myself with your voice. Where am I? I am in a garden. There is a garden.
Flora Pizarnik (her real name; Alejandra was adopted when she was a teenager) was born in 1936 in Avellaneda, in the province of Buenos Aires, the second daughter of Jewish immigrants who had arrived in Argentina three years earlier from Rovno, a city that was alternately in Russia and Poland. Her father was a jewelry merchant and made a good living. She went to high school at the Escuela Normal Mixta in Avellaneda, then began and successively abandoned studies in philosophy, journalism, and literature, as well as painting in the studios of Juan Batlle Planas.
In 1955, under the name of Flora Alejandra Pizarnik, she published her first book of poems, The Most Foreign Country, which she would later disavow. Two others followed in rapid succession: The Final Innocence and The Lost Adventures.
In 1960, she traveled to Paris, where she would spend four years of fundamental importance to her education and vocation. In 1962, Diana’s Tree, the book that defined her distinctive style and methodology, was published in Buenos Aires.
Soon after her return to Argentina in 1965, she published Works and Nights to unanimous critical acclaim. She wrote occasional reviews and criticism, which appeared in newspapers and magazines, and a more ambitious one, The Bloody Countess, serialized in Ditilogo in 1965 and published as a book in 1971.
Her father died quite young, in 1967, and the following year the poet, already in her thirties and still living in the family home (in Avellaneda and later in the Constitución neighborhood of Buenos Aires), moved into her own apartment on Calle Montevideo. In 1968, another book of her poems, Extracting the Stone of Madness, was published. That same year she was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and traveled briefly to New York and Paris.
It was around this time that she suffered a series of personal crises. Her first suicide attempt in 1970 was followed by others, and she was hospitalized several times in the psychiatric ward of Hospital Pirovano. In September 1972, when she was thirty-six years old, she died of an overdose of sleeping pills. At the end of the previous year she had published her last book, A Musical Hell. Several other works appeared posthumously, the most important of which was Shadow’s Texts and Other Poems. In 1994, a volume of her complete works (Obras completas) was published; it included her entire oeuvre with the exception of her first book and a few articles. There is also her diary, which has been published in full (Diarios), and letters, a volume of which is being prepared. In 1991, a biography (by Cristina Pifia, editor of her Obras completas) was published, an extraordinary event in Argentine literature that can be attributed to the aura of almost legendary prestige that surrounds the life and work of Alejandra Pizarnik.