You want to see poverty, let me take you home to Sobral. I grew up eating dust, sand, the odd nut, and improvised verse. This was before rap and funk and the big supermarkets sold soda and microwave popcorn. We were the inspiration for popcorn. I sang in church and county fairs. I stole car radios and made enough for tuition in Fortaleza. My father tried to shoot me with a carbine when I told him I was going to study history and philosophy. The bullet went right through the mud wall.

I entered in every talent contest I could get to. It’s not that I believed I was gifted, it was just the fastest, easiest and only legal way to make any money. I made friends. We started a band, stayed up every night writing and jamming. I got a grant to medical school. Took the money and moved to another planet, Rio de Janeiro. I met Fagner, Sergio, Ednardo, Elis, Jorge and Jorge, my first single got picked up and with it the complications began. The dictatorship was all over us—bees on honey, flies on shit, every cliche in the rule book—you could blame the drugs or consciousness or reading the wrong books, I just couldn’t handle seeing our poverty and hunger anymore, so I sang about it and those in power didn’t like it.

In Sao Paulo, I couldn’t help but get ecological. That day on Macumba Beach when I watched simple folks, just like you and me, bludgeon a poor beached whale to death, I lost all hope. Even verse made no sense. I just said whatever I wanted wherever I went not thinking too much about meaning or consequence. Sure, I lost all acquisitions. Keys, cars, apartments, instruments, composition copyrights, even visitation rights to my own daughters. I’m sorry I skipped out on more than one hotel bill and lived off charity for longer than needed or expected. My agent moved to Lisbon with all my savings. I’ll never admit to disappearing or fleeing. I was just resting. My last appearance was on that horrible tabloid show. I went home to my dirt road beside the church full of birds and childhood friends. The treelined town squares were full of neighbours who knew me when all was pure melody. I knew the aneurism was coming long before it did and died so my songs would live.

Antônio Carlos Belchior
(1946—2017)

Inspired by Elis Regina performing “Like Our Parents”
well, worth a look/listen…
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2qqN4cEpPCw

8 Comments

  1. Koss Just Koss

    Love this, David, and especially this, “I got a grant to medical school. Took the money and moved to another planet, Rio de Janeiro. I met Fagner, Sergio, Ednardo, Elis, Jorge and Jorge, my first single got picked up and with it the complications began.”

  2. Robert Vaughan

    Hi Doc, this is fascinating and really lively. I love the idea, the seed or germ for this tome. It reminds me of an exercise we did in a college writing lab. You take a piece of paper, fold it in half, then in half again. Then one more time, so you are left with a 1/8 square. Then in that small space you tell the entire life of a character. You have done that here in a remarkably fresh manner. It also reminded me of the things, as Americans, we take for granted. Which is why I am so grateful to be a member of PEN. And why I live for these worldly eyes and words from pens like yours, my friend.

  3. Meg Tuite

    Hi David,
    I can’t wait for your novel! This also feels like it could be part of it. Each line has its own life. You never cease to amaze! LOVE LOVE!

  4. John Steines

    Hi David: ‘I watched simple folks, just like you and me, bludgeon a poor beached whale to death, I lost all hope…I knew the aneurism was coming long before it did and died so my songs would live.’ I’ll totally look that link up. That this could so easily reflect someone’s reality, and must – well, reality can be reflected 1000 ways, but all of this is so possible and seems real, just to imagine any one individual falling through all of these happenings. I love this: ‘my first single got picked up and with it the complications began. The dictatorship was all over us…’ – just when a bit of success comes along because somehow you’ve named a ‘thing’ and hit the nail on the head, you’re marked for dead (or similar). Too close to real to be funny, IMO. It can be so easy to step over that line that triggers unexpected consequence. I feel such compassion for the narrator within the story, for what truth is contained. Best.

  5. Sarah Freligh

    David, I’d follow this narrator anywhere. The voice is terrific–conversational yet never prosaic–and the images they pick out and hold up for us feel gemlike in their significance. Here, look, they’re saying. Is this part of something larger? If so, i want to read it.

    (Where on Lake Huron? I’m originally from farther south, near Ann Arbor, am now on Lake Ontario)

    • Robert Vaughan

      Hi Sarah, just curious, my Dad great up on Lake Avenue in Charlotte, NY. Are you close to there?

  6. Nancy Stohlman

    Yes, as others have said here you take me quite quickly through the touchstones of a life (in a very Garcia Marquez sort of way), and I’m never lost. The life story itself is fascinating, true bettert than fiction of course. Voice carries it so well. I had a thought about how to swoop the end back to the beginning (if this stays self-contained) or whether this might want to be a longer piece? The title might even be able to do some of that beginning/end connecting? So great to hang out in class with you!

  7. Chelsea Stickle

    “I grew up eating dust, sand, the odd nut, and improvised verse.” …and I’m in! The voice in this is really strong. You keep one hand on reality, which makes the unreality feel like a treat. I like the mixture here and would happily listen to another story from this narrator.

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