I discovered Al Berto in Lisbon in the nineties.
We were a small group, filled with ambition and nostalgia, celebrating, by the end of each night, Álvaro de Campos or Cobain; Al-Mu’tamid or Novalis’ aphorisms; we threw Herberto Helder together with Baudelaire or the Count of Lautréamont. We wandered around city until nightfall until arriving at the extinct Cais do Sodré port or the Santa Catarina viewpoint. Seen from above, or by its banks, the river always bore witness to whatever vomit assailed our souls or bothered our stomachs. We were accompanied by a handful of nocturnal dog-walkers, ropeless funambulists, introspective drunks and spectres, like Al Berto.
Al Berto’s words bravely exhibited that lividity that sometimes shines for those who look at the river without actually seeing it.
With Al Berto’s “O Medo”, we carved out the city’s outline on the southern bank, foreseeing, in the silences that come before a heavy hangover, a strange country by day, disappearing.
We weren’t from the eighties, Bairro Alto and its overused metaphor of post-revolution excitement meant little to us, the doorstep friendships at Frágil or Os Três Pastorinhos hid a doomed snobbery, we imagined the poet in other hovels, we followed the words of the summoned boat: “I write boat and a keel tears through the vastest sea”, we knew of his transcendence in reading him aloud, to the river!
We admired the indiscreet passage of time without gratuitous embellishments, the passing of time that makes us become someone else, something we only guessed at in a rather rushed melancholy: the uninflated nocturnal morbidity, without the cynical usurping of the poetical soul, where there lived at once a reflection of the moon over the sea, in all its innocence, and the venomous expletive of one who will not surrender without good reason.
I attempt now to pay homage to the man and his mirrors, unrelenting in his self-caricature, who bravely penned an entire world in a brief life, without false flourishes. I return to my 1997 Assírio & Alvim edition of “O Medo”:
The little demiurge
i write boat and a keel tears through the vastest sea
and trees grow out of cloudy spaces
between gaze and gaze they move
animals tied to land with their iron plumage
and golden dew when the moon eclipses
communicating their heat and nomad joy of living
i think autumn or winter
and the resinous simmer of the pine forests drips down the face
over the body in timid gestures
here is the time
of the capricorn reduced to a tattooed hideaway
in the mineral wing of the bird in mid flight and i say clouds
lightning grass waters
movement of fright oceans salt exhausted bodies
transhumant passions i say
and it surges bursts drips rises moves lives
but don’t think its a simple task to name
sort and disorder the world
so these tremulous writings aren’t erased
i need the dream and the nightmare
the vertiginous proximity of mirrors and
to spend the night deep inside myself with dirty hands
from the hard work of building the exact gestures
of joy that from carelessness god abandoned to tiredness
at the end of the seventh day