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The word saudades cannot easily be translated. Our mother & i translate Brazilian poetry, & when we come to the word saudades we hesitate. Sometimes we write “longing” or “homesickness” or just saudades. “Estou com saudades” seems to be a condition you can have in the very presence of the longed-for object, an emotion that is also a philosophical condition, that grants possible time to come into alignment with impossible attainment. Proust, of course, knew saudades. Our mother tells a story of going back to Brazil in the 1940s for a visit, after she is engaged to be married to our father. In my mind she stands on the deck of a ship with several languages in her brain, holding her notebooks. As the sea knows time, her words know air. Her imagination is full because she is young, and she is not a bit lonely, just as a word is not lonely. She looks into the great black waves of the Atlantic. When i ask her about her childhood in Brazil, she begins: “On the day of my birth, there was a small revolution, so we fled into the countryside.” Humans have that ability to collapse realities into manageable units: “What did the streets of Porto Alegre look like?” “They were stone, big granite pieces, horizontal on one side.” (paralelepípedos.) She
looks over the edge of the ship. She has a precise interior world; she has a body like a poem, fragile but strong, orderly and unknowable, very capable of doing things. Soon she will see her own mother. There is no one like her, there never has been, there is no one like another person. The visible stands for everything, including the invisible. The great spirits visit. World War II is over. Dark waves slap the side of the ship. There now. Let’s begin our life, com saudades, looking for what is here.
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