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An Essay On Tango Composed While Listening to Adriana Varela

By Patrick Rosal

I swear to you, I heard someone on Avenida Santa Fé shout my name, but I ignored it. Who knew me in this city anyway? Iíd come here trying to forget the woman whom Iíd made love with every night for three weeks Ė in another August, in another city whose once-in-a-lifetime dog-licking summer stewed the hot copper reek of coins right out of my palms. But in this city, I put my head down as I walked, thinking of that story about the boy who remembered everything: every swelter of ascent, every susurration of fire, every etymology of touch.

I didnít get very far before I heard again that voice shouting my name. This time I stopped to turn around and saw a woman selling flowers. A thin dress. No make up. I thought even if one day she could grow old, you wouldnít doubt she was very beautiful once. She was looking straight at me and shouted again Patricio! Clearly, now, she was looking at me. I just stood there and she stood there too, and because it was winter it should have been cold, but we stared at one another with all the foot traffic eddying about us, and maybe it was only a few seconds (on a crowded avenue they call Faith no less) before I twisted away and headed back to my Recoleta flat to get on with my forgetting and fail.

If like me you donít know well the cruel music of tango, then you donít know how its truths can haunt you Ė haunt you like a strange city and a strange woman shouting for you on a crowded avenue, haunt you like a late languish for too few afternoons sipping from the smooth shell of a shoulder, like coming back to where youíve lived your entire life, and then having no idea where you are going. It is the kind of song that will make you beg Gardel to reinvent your fool breath Ė and he will.

Because a beautiful woman once broke my heart without trying, Iíve spent long stretches of my life perfecting one amnesia after another, and Iím telling you someone is shouting my name on Avenida Santa Fé. She is calling from that lovely nowhere, and when a woman sings for you like that, how will you wander wherever you wish alone? How will you not want to go back to kiss her and have her taste an entire riverís silver soaked into your bones?


A New Jersey native and son of Filipino immigrants, Patrick Rosal is the author of My American Kundiman (forthcoming, Persea Books, 2006) and Uprock Headspin Scramble and Dive, which won the Asian American Writers Workshop Members Choice Award. His work has appeared in many journals and anthologies including North American Review, Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art, The Literary Review, and The Beacon Best. He is currently Assistant Professor of English at Bloomfield College.

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