By Max Aub, Spain
Translation by Will Kirkland

The sun crackles and the earth is mute. No shade for anyone. Only beneath the stones is it cool, is there water, and death

Mute too the sweat as it rolls. Down below is the creek. It is dry; a bed of rocks, of stones, of dust and sand: a bed for no one at all.

A leaf comes loose from an olive tree and falls: an event. It turns slowly, lazily, indifferently, held aloft by the heat before it places itself, parsimoniously, in the burning dust of the olive grove. An olive leaf is a small leaf, a small gray leaf, gray from the dust and, from the sun, green.

Then comes the song, a distant song from the distant mountains, from open fields and the shadows of the afternoon: the song that is always with us, that comes, suddenly, in the unbreathable air of the burning afternoon. The old, old song from the old world.

An ancient olive grove; pink white hills; the white stones dividing the fields and the olive leaf falling out of the blue blue of the sky.

The song, the old song.

Everything exists: Yes. Now a shot rings out and there is a body lying dead, belly up, behind the olive tree, third to the right. A dead man from my company. A dead man to keep me company. A companion dead. On campaign. Away from camp; the pillaging sun hard and high above us, unequivocally.

The song, the old song, that comes from the other side of death.

Spain, all of Spain.

(The green flies on the black wound, clustered together, some pushing others away from their place, not letting the blood dry, a tiny oasis, invisible fountain now muddy and dark. There with their snouts, not letting it dry. Let it flow, oh God of the green flies, let it flow yet a little more, let it not go dry! The green flies, iridescent, hot, packed together, piled up, mountainous, seeds of death, familiar pleiad, now more the man than themselves; clustered movement, and all of life that remains to him. And the enormous sun, like lead.)

Not until nightfall will they be able to come and retrieve the man. Off to the left they are firing, but only halfheartedly: the bullets that wound the most. To die in an attack is not so difficult, or in beating it back: those have meaning. They are understandable. But then this, foolishly –with so much air in every direction!– and one of them gets you by accident! Stray bullets. Shooting because there is nothing else to do, because you can’t sleep.

Olive grove at midday, in perfect rows up a slight incline. The sound of crickets: sizzling. Crackling.

The smell of the sun, and a gun in your hand. And the distant song. Who is singing? Someone near by, or the one with the bad-eye, from Córdoba. Nothing is moving. May nothing move. Midday. Nothing moves. Oh contorted trunks, distorted, gray, may you go on growing to the rhythm of the earth!

The song, again, and an ant. An old song, any old song:

I hold you in my heart
so vividly,
that I wake up dreaming
of you always.
And when I wake
I say this to myself:
we go on dreaming.

A seguidilla of the earth: I am the dead man. The ant, a black one, is climbing the tree, dead and alive. Alive and dead like me. A person goes on living for ever and is always dead: inside and out; from top to bottom; from the roots to the hair.

The song, the old song.

The war; we are at war. To kill and to die. The ant went into a big hole. Midday sun. Not a breath of air. The crickets and the silence.

Olive land; oblivion. And so to sleep. But if I go to sleep I might die and never know, and it is very important to die with your eyes wide open, as they say.

Who are you? (Sometimes, after a rain, one goes home alone. The sky is bluer, with clouds. The puddles glisten over the mud. The green and black hedges. The grass, still wet. The clumsy shoes caked with mud, the rails filled with parallel lines of water, here and there, silver. The fog sleeping on the sides of the little hills. Unbearable. The cold breeze. Higher up. It can’t be true that that too is Spain.)

The olive grove, gold.

I am the dead man, still alive. Me alive, yet dead. They shot me right between the eyes. Dumb sweat dumb; and deaf. Midday, like lead, and deafening. Impossible weight, mute. Who remembers the memory? I do. But, what does the memory remember? The rifle bolt is burning. If they attack what will I do? Hug the ground, between the trunk and this rock. Olive grove, are you shivering? Could it really be the wind? No: the heat of the sun. Everything quiet, everything white, everything red.

The ant has come out of the hole in the trunk again, pushing something white, a seed. What a dream! What dream? And him over there –from Córdoba?– singing again:

I hold you in my heart
so vividly,
that I wake up dreaming
of you always.
And when I wake
I say this to myself:
we go on dreaming.

There, between the lines, in the gully –not ours, not theirs– all of a sudden, tail in the air, sniffing, is a dog.

“Una canción”, ©, Max Aub
From Last Stories of the War in Spain
English translation, © 1995, Will Kirkland