October 31, 2011 by The Citron Review
by Michael Zapata
On March 15th 1979, Juan Cortazar disappeared from Jorge Rafeal Videla High School in Buenos Aires. He was my history teacher that year, and the last thing any of us ever heard from him was when he said, in the middle of fifth period, that he was finished with Argentina and its god-damn Guerra Sucia. He told us to close our books and, instead of a lecture on Gran Colombia, he lectured about battlefields and empires and the landscape of collapsed empires, which resembled ruins and labyrinths inhabited only by zombies. He sat on his desk and calmly told us that we were zombies, who wandered like zombies, who could only remember with terrible electric shock the horrors of how an empire was wasted away, who could only dream of the year 3021, which is to say, he told us we were zombies who could only dream of time when the world would be covered entirely by a Prussian-blue sea. He said he was finished with Argentina and he was going to Mexico City and if we had any sense, if we had any god-damn sense at all, we would do the same. That was the last thing Juan Cortazar said to us, and all I know is that I should’ve listened to him.
The strongest aspect of this submission is the clear control of voice. I can hear this teacher speaking, can picture (though the physicality of the teacher is never mentioned) and old professor of mine, can hear his voice reading Zapata’s words. And though it’s a first person story, it doesn’t give in to the temptation to live solely within the narrator’s head. Instead, he allows the narrator to tell us about someone else. The only time we truly see inside the narrator’s head is in the final line: “I should’ve listened to him.” This is another example of a writer who understands how to let tension and unease last beyond the final punctuation. Regret is powerful, a universally understood emotion that sits, in some aspect, within each of us. And it is that regret that we hold to here, that we bond with, that we latch on to. But we only do so because we trust Zapata as an author. The line “any sense at all” is a perfect title in that it rings the truest. It is the line that best encompasses the entirety of the work, and suggests an eternity beyond it.