RAMONA [An Abandoned Work]

Something disturbing happened. I don't know if I should be overjoyed or frightened, or if I should panic, kill myself, or simply forget it. Perhaps just a passing thing. A dark cloud.

The situation is serious. The next novel is here, the one I must write now. The book I must now commit myself to for who knows how long. I say novel, but who knows what genre this one will invent as it writes itself, or unwrites itself.

The subject? The form & content of my father.

I think my father ... [papa, I should say, because I always called him, papa, or else I would say mon père when referring to him -- the word father sounds alien in my mouth, I never had the occasion to say father à mon père. I never could call papa father or dad in my borrowed tongue, he changed tense too soon, or rather they changed the tense on him, before I exiled myself into a borrowed tongue] ... papa is asking me to write this book.

That's the subject. Mon père. Papa.

No. This one will be written in English, not in French [the last one was too hard, too painful to do] but there'll be a lot of French mixed with the English in this one because when remembering my father it's always in French. It's always papa I think about.

The book will be called Ramona. Yes Ramona. Why?

Here, why don't you listen to the opening pages, you'll understand why Ramona. That's all that's written so far. Just a few pages. But I think the whole book is there already.


My father's favorite song was RAMONA. It goes like this, Ramona je t'aimerai toute la vie, Ramona je t'aimerai... In French, because I only know the words in French. But I think that song also exists in English.

My father always listened to the French song, that's why I know it only in French. Ramona je t'aimerai toute la vie ...

My father, the dreamer, l'artiste manqué, le romantique tuberculeux, the Trotskyist, the gambler, le coureur de femmes, the brudny zyd, my tuberculous father, who never achieved his vocation, my father while listening to Ramona on the scratched disque playing on our vieux dusty phonographe with the big speaker and la petite manivelle, my father, papa, mon père would dream.

La petite manivelle! Hah! That's funny. I don't even know how you call that in English, la petite manivelle, you know the thing you turn to rewind le phonographe. You know. Sometimes toward the end of the disque, remember, when the phonograph was running out of gas, when it was unwinding and the voice of the singer would drift into distortions, when the voice of the singer would become ... so slow, so sad too.

I never knew who was singing the Ramona that my father loved so much to listen to all the time. It was a woman, a young woman I think, with a beautiful deep sad raspy voice. She died young. It's my father who told me that one day . Of tuberculosis. Like my father. That's all I know about her. I don't even know her name, or perhaps I knew it once but have forgotten it. But even me when I listened to Ramona with papa, I could feel tenderness for her, yes, that's what it was, tenderness towards her.... no, not passion, I was too young to know what passion was.

I did mention that my father was tubercular. That he had a lung removed. I think it was the left lung. He spat blood all the time. I'll have to say more about that later.

It is possible that I felt passion while listening to Ramona avec papa, but I didn't know that it was passion. Papa, yes, he knew what passion was. I am sure he knew. Papa was a very passionate man. He loved women. Il était coureur de femmes. That's what all my uncles and aunts always said about him. Un coureur de femmes. Un fainéant. Un rien-du-tout. Papa.

So what. Maybe that's what he left with me when he changed tense. His passion. His passion for women. For love. Sex? Look, it's not because I am writing about my father that I have to become prudish.

Even while listening to the sad voice of the singer singing Ramona je t'aimerai toute la vie ... I would feel tenderness for her, I would imagine her being petite et fragile, with long black hair, and very long eyelashes. That's all I could imagine about her then. Today I could imagine her much better if I could listen to her sing Ramona. Today I know how to imagine beautiful women. But how can I find the record where she sings Ramona, I don't even know her name?

When papa listened to Ramona there was dreaming in his eyes, I could see that, and I know he was dreaming about his failed vocation. And about his failed loves. He was dreaming, there in our one room shitty narrow somber apartment, ce misérable petit taudis where papa and maman, and my two sisters, Sarah et Jacqueline, and me too of course, lived, if one can call the sordid kind of existence we had living.

When papa listened to Ramona, sitting in his old fauteuil à moitié défoncé, facing le phonographe, I could tell he was dreaming, I could tell he was making up stories about how he could have become un grand artiste if ... ah oui, if ...

I could see it in his eyes, but I could also feel it in the tips of his fingers, in his fingernails on my back gently scratching when I would say to him, as we listened to Ramona, papa gratte moi le dos, s'il te plaît, ça me gratte là, près de l'omoplate gauche ...

I studied human anatomy à l'école des garçons rue de Bagneux où j'allais, that's why I could tell my father it was my left omoplate that itched.

Anyway, as I sat on the floor at papa's feet, next to his fauteuil, an old beat-up fauteuil vert à moitié défoncé, me too I listened to the phonograph play Ramona, while papa's fingers scratched my back dreamily, and that's why I can say now that I knew he was dreaming, dreaming the great works of art he wanted to create and knew he would never create.

Not because he was lazy, like my aunts and uncles always said, not because he was sick all the time. Because he was not ready yet. They changed tense too soon on him. I am sure he would have created something immortal. A masterpiece if they had given him the time. I could feel it in his fingers. Papa il avait de très belles mains, with long fingers. Very white hands.

Oh he had done a few paintings that may even have had artistic value. Who knows. His friends, all of them struggling artists, starving artists I should say, had said good things to him about those few works of art he had created, but he knew he had failed, failed to achieve the vocation inscribed in him, by his father, or some remote ancestor.

No, I think my father was the first one ever to become an artist in our family. Yes he was the first one to fail as an artist. All the others before him, his father, grand-father, great-grand-father, and those who went before them, all of them schlemils. Except that it is said that there was one of them, way back in the 16th century, who was a conquistador, a very rich, but a real sonofabitch who killed a lot of natives.

I once wrote a poem about that. About le rien-du-tout my father was. Here, read it. I don't know what it's worth. It's called ...


Some say, can say: my father was a farmer,
and his father before him, and his father
before that. We are of the earth.

Others say, can say: my father was a builder,
and his father before him, and his father
before that. We are of the stone.

And others can say: my father was a sailor,
and his father before him, and his father
before that. We are of the water.

They have been farmers, builders, sailors,
no doubt, since the time earth, stone, water
entered into the lives of men, and still are.

I am a writer, but I cannot say: my father
was a writer, nor his father before him,
nor his father before that. I have no antecedent.

My father, and his father before him, and his father
before that were neither of the earth, nor of the stone,
nor of the water. The world was indifferent to them.

I write, perhaps, so that one day my children can say:
my father was a writer, the first in our family.
We are now of the word. We are inscribed in the world.

I feel I could write on the earth, on stone.
It seems to me that I could even write on water.
I write to establish an antecedent for my children.

Five thousand years without writing in my family,
what can I do against this force which presses
me on? Say that I write to fill this void?

Say, I suppose, that of my father I cannot say anything,
except what I have invented to fill the immense gap
of his absence, and of his erasure from history.

No, I am wrong, you see, because I can say: my father
was a wanderer, he came from nowhere and went nowhere.
He came without earth, stone, water, and he went wordless.

While contemplating his failures, and absentmindedly scratching my back, my father was perhaps thinking that his son, I mean me, would someday achieve the vocation he had failed to achieve. And so, gently, with the tip of his fingers ... already aware that his tuberculosis would soon kill him, or that some unforgivable catastrophe would erase him from history ... yes, as he listened to Ramona je t'aimerai toute la vie my father knew that soon he would change tense or the tenses would be changed for him in spite of himself and he would never achieve his vocation ... and so while gently scratching my left omoplate he would try to make me feel this yearning for greatness, he would try to transmit with the tip of his fingers this vocation into my body, into my skin, my flesh, my bones, and up here into my head.

As my father and I sat together listening to Ramona, papa lost in his dream, me slowly dozing off under the gentle touch of papa's hand, he would infuse in me, transfer in me ... ah, shit how shall I say it! ... He would give me my inheritance. His vocation. That's all he gave me. Yes, there in my head, papa put the dream he was dreaming while listening to a sad deep voice sing Ramona je t'aimerai toute la vie, Ramona je t'aimerai ... Shall I burn this. Or do I take the risk ... the risk of having to contemplate yet another failure. Like my father.

The other day, while taking a shower, I caught myself humming Ramonaaaa je t'aimerrrrai toute la viiie ... Dragging the words into the soapy water.

The situation is critical.


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