The painter and the fish. A poem by Raymond Carver, a work by Carlo Dalcielo

005. Carlo Doesn’t Know How to Read

Carlo Doesn’t Know How to Read
By Carlo Dalcielo
Translated by Elizabeth Harris Behling

Carlo (that’s me) doesn’t know how to read. He reads a great many books. Of those books he reads, Carlo doesn’t remember a single word. All Carlo remembers from the books he reads is what he sees. When Carlo reads, he often shuts his eyes. Sometimes he falls asleep. When he sleeps, he sees things. When he wakes up, he goes back to reading. He doesn’t always start reading from the same place, because he doesn’t always remember the exact place he left off when he fell asleep. Sometimes when Carlo sleeps, the book closes, or the pages turn, or the book falls off the armrest or the bed. With some books, Carlo hasn’t read even half the pages; others, he reads the same pages over and over. When he reads a page he’s read before, sometimes over and over, Carlo doesn’t recognize the words. Carlo doesn’t recognize the words because he doesn’t see them. If the page includes the word, “door,” Carlo doesn’t see the word, “door.” He sees a door. If the page includes the word, “blue,” Carlo doesn’t see the word, “blue.” He sees something blue. Every time Carlo rereads a page with the word, “door,” the door Carlo sees is a new door. Every time Carlo rereads a page with the word, “blue,” the blue things he sees are different shades of blue. When proper nouns show up on a page, names like “Mario,” “Raymond,” “Liz,” “Evelyn,” or “Alioša,” this is the only time Carlo doesn’t see anything at all. He doesn’t see the word “Mario,” “Raymond,” “Liz,” “Evelyn,” or “Alioša,” and he doesn’t see anybody that might correspond to the word “Mario,” “Raymond,” “Liz,” “Evelyn,” or “Alioša”—not in the same way that a door—an ordinary door—might correspond to the word, “door.” And so, every time a word like “Raymond,” for example, shows up in a book, Carlo doesn’t recognize—doesn’t see—that word, and he sees things being done in a scene, but he doesn’t see who does them, and he doesn’t know—he can’t know—that the Raymond who does these things is the same Raymond—as indicated by the word “Raymond”—who appears in other scenes: so all that he, Carlo, knows how to do is imagine himself, Carlo, in that scene doing these things. To be more precise, what Carlo sees is a series of actions that frame a space, and using his imagination, he, Carlo, sets someone inside this space framed by actions, someone like him, like Carlo, and so—you might say—this someone is Carlo. As a result of all this—that is, because Carlo doesn’t know how to read and reads a great many books and reads them in the way that’s been described—for Carlo, every time he reads, he experiences seeing himself inside this framed space. When he tells his friends about his experiences when he reads—because Carlo has some friends he likes to talk to about his experiences when he reads, hears, or sees—there comes a point when his friends always say: “Okay, so it’s like this, Carlo: you really identify with the story you’re reading.” When Carlo hears this, meaning, every time he tells his friends about his experiences when he reads, he answers: “No, I don’t identify with the story. I can’t identify with a space that’s framed by a series of actions. The best I can do is see a space, a space that fits me, and stick myself inside.” When he tells his friends about his experiences when he reads, Carlo never mentions the words in the book—especially not the characters’ names, since he never remembers them, since he never sees them—instead, he talks about what he sees. What almost always happens, for Carlo, is that when he talks about what he sees when he reads a book or sleeps on a book, he realizes, while he’s talking, that he remembers things, can see many more things he remembers, than he seemed to remember before he started talking in the first place. When he tells his friends about a book (if the memory’s strong enough: if not, he gets confused, lost, and says, “I don’t remember anymore”), Carlo imagines himself reentering the space where he was the first time he read the book, and from there, within that space, the action going on around him, Carlo looks about, looks at things, notes what’s there, what he didn’t notice before when he was reading, and he names these things, comes up with words—apparently, for Carlo, spoken words are completely different from written words—and so as he sees these things, bit by bit, he realizes that they’re there. If his friends don’t interrupt—and sometimes they do interrupt, saying things like: “I read that one—that wasn’t in the book!,” or: “But how can you give us a whole scene when there’s just one line…”—but if his friends don’t interrupt, Carlo can go on a half hour or more about what’s in the room—the furniture, the knick knacks, the doilies, the lamps, the curtains, the windows, the floor, the blank spot on the wall where a picture used to hang, the fingerprints on the glass of the small hutch, the water stain in the corner over the door, the dent in the plaster from where the doorknob hits, that curl of dust just peeking out from under the sideboard, the crack in the base of the tiny porcelain statue on the sideboard, the stitching coming undone on the pocket of the tan raincoat thrown over the chair. Once, in a bookstore, there was a reading by one of Carlo’s favorite writers, and the main critic gave his opening remarks and the writer read a little from the book, and then, when the audience (barely anyone, like always) was invited to join in with questions, Carlo stood up and thanked the writer, for the stitching coming undone, and he, Carlo, stood there talking in the tiny, nearly empty room, about that stitching coming undone on the pocket of a raincoat that appeared in a scene of the book by this writer, one of Carlo’s favorites; and he, Carlo, spoke for so long, that finally the critic interrupted, thanked him but said others might want to talk, too, and that’s when the writer (one of Carlo’s favorites), looking embarrassed but also somewhat irritated, told Carlo: “Look, I really don’t remember that stitching coming undone. Besides, I don’t see what’s so interesting about it anyway.” This was the event that spurred Carlo to find himself some friends so they could share their experiences with reading, and it was during these discussions (usually held in the small backroom in the bar by the Poggio Rusco Train Station, where the friends—a few from Poggio Rusco, a few from surrounding towns—could find some peace and quiet), that Carlo realized, while they talked, that he really couldn’t read—he could only see—and while his friends could read, could look at books and read them, read the words, words like “door” and “blue,” even proper nouns like “Raymond” and “Evelyn”—while his friends could do all this—they really couldn’t see. “When you talk about a book,” one friend told him, “it’s like you’re talking about a dream. And it’s always hard to tell with dreams if you’re describing what you saw, or if trying to describe a dream has sparked your imagination again, so now you’re adding new things to what you remember, things you’re dreaming up right there on the spot, even if you don’t know that’s what you’re doing, until everything’s mixed up, and you can’t keep straight anymore what you remember from the dream and what you’ve invented around the dream, and you wander around inside your vision of the dream—or book, in your case, Carlo—and it’s not like you’re wandering around inside a memory; it’s like you’re exploring an entirely new place full of entirely new things.” That’s it exactly, Carlo answered. And from that time on, Carlo (who for years had kept a Dream Diary where he didn’t describe the dreams he had the night before—he didn’t describe them because he didn’t remember them: Carlo’s the type who never remembers dreams—but he’d describe what his body was like when he first woke up, and what his bed was like—pillow, sheets, blankets—in those moments right after he rolled himself out of bed), he, Carlo, decided to keep a Reading Diary where he’d jot down what he just experienced while reading, not in words—he doesn’t see them—but in drawings. And sometimes, when he’s with his friends at the bar by the Poggio Rusco Train Station, Carlo shows them his Reading Diary, and his friends laugh a little, but they’re moved a little, too, when they see how Carlo reads—Carlo, who doesn’t know how to read—and how he takes these books and turns them into sequences of scenes, and the things from a book keep coming back—the doors, the blue things, the shirts, the telephones, the men playing cards, the fish coming up from the water then falling back, the lit windows, the rain, the cars with their headlights on at dusk—and there’s no question that these are always the same things, the things that make up the story, the objects and things that motivate the action going on in the story; and yet they’re never the exact same things: a door’s a door but never the same door; an evening’s an evening but never the same evening; a kitchen table’s a kitchen table but never the same kitchen table; a fork left by a plate’s a fork left by a plate but never the same fork left by a plate. And even Carlo, his friends realize, when they meet for one of their evenings at the bar by the Poggio Rusco Train Station, even Carlo’s not the same exact Carlo; no, he’s really not the same Carlo; he’s always a Carlo but never the same Carlo; he’s always recognizable as Carlo—the Carlo they all know—but every time, before they recognize him, before they perk up and say, “Ciao, Carlo,” or say to one another, “Here he is, here’s Carlo,” they hesitate, aren’t quite sure—they recognize him and they don’t recognize him—and it’s only through (but this is just a fraction of a second) some gesture from Carlo, some word on his part or some piece of clothing, that his friends come to recognize that what’s in front of them, what’s walking to their table, is what they’ve always called “Carlo”; it’s only then, after this Carlo joins them at their table and finally fills his empty space, the space that was empty before and Carlo’s friends had moved around, it’s only then that his friends are able to say, “Carlo,” and give this object a name, and through the name, “Carlo,” they can tie this object, Carlo, to all the Carlos that through all the weeks and months and years now they’ve called “Carlo” every time. And it’s through this recognition, through this name, “Carlo,” that Carlo’s not some stranger for them; he’s not some apparition who popped up between the tables and the men playing cards; he’s a friend of theirs, he’s Carlo, and they know him well, have talked with him a thousand times, and they love him, really love him, because Carlo, eccentric, confused Carlo, Carlo with his head in the clouds, is always Carlo, the Carlo who sparks their imaginations, and without him, without Carlo, they, his friends, would have only words and names in the lives they’re so attached to, and never any visions.


%d bloggers like this: