[Back in 1997, not long after arriving in Brazil, this was one of my first attempts to translate the work of the Recife poet João Cabral de Melo Neto]
The Hen’s Egg
(from the Portuguese of João Cabral)
§ To the eye it displays the integrity of something made of a single cast. An egg. Made of just one material. Unitary. Wholesome. Weightily egg.
Lacking inside and outside. Like stones. Without marrow. And yet nothing but marrow. Inside and outside compounded in its one circumference.
But, if, to the eye, it shows itself single-minded, an sich, an egg; a hand which takes its weight soon discovers that there’s something untoward inside it;
that its weight isn’t that of a stone – inanimate, cold, addled; but of a damp, tumid kind: living, not dead.
§ An egg reveals to any hand that fingers it the same finish as that of things crafted by a life-time’s work.
A finish likewise found in other things which are not hand-made: in corals, smoothed pebbles, any kind of worn object.
Whose simple form is the product of the secret, endless work of the billion sculpting hands of wind or water.
An egg, however, and, in spite of its pure conclusive form, is not the end of the story; its is always expecting: a thing in labour.
§ The presence of an egg, even untouched by a human hand, is endowed with the power to produce a certain atmosphere of reserve in whatsoever room it rests.
This is what it is hard to grasp, considering only the obvious geometry of an egg and the candour of its whitewashed single wall.
The reserve an egg inspires is of a quite uncommon kind: it is that felt before a revolver, but not before a bullet.
It is that felt in the presence of things primed with other things that pose a constant threat of letting those other things off; rather than one of those other things themselves.
§ In handling an egg a particular ritual is always observed: there’s a special withdrawn and half-religious manner adopted when holding it.
Let’s say that the way someone carries an egg derives from the natural care shown by someone fetching something full to the brim.
The egg is, however, shut into its own hermetic architecture; and whosoever bears it, knowing what it is, assumes the correct attitude –
half timid, half circumspect, almost saintly – of someone carrying a lit candle.