Shannon Burns: The Translator

 Shannon Burns is a writer who lives in Adelaide.






The Translator

I am, you should know, by trade, a translator, which is to say I know several languages, and I can turn one language into another, as it were, so I am no amateur to this, whatever it is, if there is a name for it, which I doubt, since I haven’t come across it, and I have come across a lot of names, in many languages, but not the name for this, to what we are doing, or what I am doing, or what the world is doing with us both, whether we like it or not – and whether or not we like it I cannot honestly say.
I can turn one language into another, yet you, it would seem, have no language at all, you can barely turn your thoughts into sounds and gestures. The best I get from you is your moaning and biting, and the way you wring your hands, if they are in fact hands, since they seem to me to be somewhat like hands but not completely functional.
In any event, you won’t let me look at them closely. Every time I get near enough to study them you move away. If you are in your corner you move to the other side of the room, or you growl, or you foil my attempts in some other way, by sitting on them, for instance, or by screaming so loudly it hurts my ears.
When you scream, I am the one who is forced to move to the other side of the room, which leads me to imagine, sometimes, as I am scurrying away, that I have in fact taken on your body as you scurry away from me, from my desire to see your hands, which are in some sense sacred to you, and untouchable, although you touch them yourself, but always as if to protect them from being touched by someone else, by something else, since you won’t touch anything with your hands, other than yourself, which leads me to wonder whether they are hands at all, since hands are surely for touching, and if they do not touch perhaps they cease to be hands, and if they are in some way misshapen perhaps they cease to be what they seem to be, or seem to attempt to be, although they make no practical effort, but just by looking somewhat like hands, by having fingers and thumbs, and having the general shape of a hand, but never being used as a hand, and therefore doing nothing more than seeming like one – which strikes me as an attempt to be a hand, because it is so close to being a hand, whether it desires to be a hand or not, that it appears to want to be a hand, as if the form itself is the truest gauge of intention, although I strongly doubt it, yet it seems that way nonetheless.
It is as if, in those moments when I scurry away from you, feeling myself to be you scurrying away from me, I finally understand what it is to have those hands, which are not hands. I wonder, at those moments, or to be more precise in the aftermath of those moments, whether you have undergone a similar experience, whether you have taken on my hands while I have yours, whether you have suddenly felt yourself to be inside my body, and whether, for the briefest moment, while I am wholly disoriented and therefore incapable of watching over you, you have been able to speak.
The question of your hands is something we cannot depart from, but we will, for now, at least to a certain extent, although they must always be hovering, those hands, over everything, since without them what else?
What else, other than this, since there must be more than this, because without that what is this?
At least they are better than my eyes, which are nearly blind.
But, there again, how can one compare eyes which do not work with hands that are not, strictly speaking, hands?
It appears foolish, but at the same time strikes me as acceptable, and that seems good enough, for now, for me to depart from all this talk of hands or whatever they are, although they may hover, and let them hover for all I care, for I have cast them away with my eyes, which do not work very well, but whose mention at least has this power, so let that be the end of that.
The real question is as follows:
If I am to be you, it seems to me that I am, as a result, in a sense, to embody you, but which you? You have not yet, in truth, been allowed to speak, despite my speaking for you, as you. In truth I speak despite you, as well as for you, and with you, and because of you. In truth you are my speaking, and yet you are dumb, utterly.
For the most part you shuffle from side to side, instead of speaking, which is to say you walk in a strange way, if one could go about calling such a thing, as your gait, a walk. It is more like a dance, but without rhythm, or flow, or balance, or anything resembling the joyful expression of bodily movement. Instead you gait. There is no other way of putting it.
I have considered purchasing footwear, within which you might steady yourself, or seeking podiatric or chiropodic stimulus, in the sense of diagnosis and treatment and healing, or of teaching you to walk differently, given your lack of balance, or disease.
I say these things, I confess, as one might whisper prayers in the face of an abyss, against which we are thrown, so to speak, with little more than our selves, our basic parts, our meager substance, to subsist on. But you are not an abyss, by any means, my dear, or at the very least not merely.
If you are, as they say, enigmatic, a thing to puzzle over, a wound, let’s say, an opening, let’s say, then you are not quite an abyss, but rather an opening into flesh, with its definite tissue, its intimate warmth, its assent by touch.
Because this is the crux of the matter: I have felt your assent.
That is to say, you have said yes to me, but it was a yes, a trust, consisting entirely in touch, in touching your body with my fingers, although it’s true to say you withdrew from me in that touching, but you allowed it nonetheless, even though you were not completely there, since you seemed to take refuge in some other place, some place demonstrably inside you and therefore, I might add, bodily.
You were not there, you said yes to me. This is what I am getting at.
Perhaps you will be able to enlighten me, later on, when you have taken up some form of speaking, when you have become, in a sense, speech itself, of the place into which you withdraw. Is it a place of the past? Or is it a still place – a sanctuary, let’s say, against time, in which things are wholly unfamiliar, as a landscape in a different world, given other predicates, attuned to different sensibilities, like, for instance, a gentler form of gravity, or a porous light.
Perhaps it is a place inside you, and if I am, in fact, to draw you away from it, in a sense, with this language, to give you tools for containing it, and constituting it, and re-constituting it, then it seems to me I am doing something bodily, something concrete, and acquiescence to such a thing can only be given as touch, as I have touched you, and discovered your withdrawal, at the same time as your assent, which is at the very least an assent to something, though it only be my presence there beside you, with my hand on your mouth, covering your lips, that you might speak.
Your lips said yes, without speaking. This is how I’ve interpreted it.
There is a risk involved, undoubtedly, but if you were only there, as you are now, as you read this, then you would understand my response to your lips, as you are now, as I write this.
You are asleep.
Something in the writing of this, while you are asleep, is a digression from the ordinary work I have taken up, of becoming your story, so you might be told it from my mouth, in return, and this digression speaks of something else, something I am not entirely comfortable with in this process.
It is this.
I was leaning over you, earlier, and in a sense conjuring something, something concrete, since the feeling had crept over me quite overwhelmingly the night before, and was being repeated at that moment, earlier today, that I was in need of your touch, and that your touch, your skin, might not be entirely relied upon, and there was something about this idea, which I couldn’t put out of my head, as I lay there in the dark, last night, which I could hardly endure, which threatened to tear away at something, something altogether necessary, the loss of which would leave me utterly disrupted, let’s say catatonic, completely destroyed, erased from existence.
Yet the next day, today, I touched you, and your flesh said yes, or if it wasn’t a complete assent it was at least a partial one, since your flesh said yes to me, yes, I am here, even as you withdrew.