[Essay] To You — Christopher Impiglia

Detail from I pastori di Arcadia (1637–1638) by Nicholas Poussin (1594–1665)

Keep it from crumbling, I mutter, like the sworn protector of fabled treasure. A Fisher King. Fend off the swarming moths, a plague during the luminous, listless months of summer, when my guard risks falling. Keep its pages from being dispersed by the chilly gusts of autumn, when the geese honk and the crows caw. Beware of them too: the crows.  Keep it from dissolving in the sleety gales of winter and the downpours of spring. 

One Hundred Years of Solitude

A long time, one hundred years. A long time too since this first English edition, bought by my father at auction, was published: a half-century. Fifty years of annotations illuminating it, including his and my own. Doodles, underlines. Conversations with oneself. With the author. 

I wonder what he thinks of me, Marquez. If he can think of me, my words seeping into the pages and into him, his bones, spirit, soul. Strange how self-conscious we are, concerned even with the perceptions of the dead. Humanity in a nutshell. Seeping into his world. My words, thoughts, falling from the mosquito-laden sky of Macondo, rising up from the ant-covered earth. Conversations with all those illustrated in these many pages. 

Can they understand us, voices bridging time, distance, fiction, truth? Do they take offense at our criticism, and pride in our wonder? Can we, the readers, save them, the written, from their inevitable demise, reaching them as whispers, omens?

I try, warning them of the ants. Of the mysteries that will drive José Arcadio mad. Of civil war, the arriving army, the wind that will wipe their city into literature, myth. 

Perhaps, if I reread the novel, I’ll find its outcomes changed. I’ll find Macondo flourishing, a modern city inhabited by the descendants of the first Buendías. I’ll find the Conservatives and Liberals finally at peace, memorials for the Banana Massacre rising in the plazas, placards noting that no perpetrators escaped justice.

Most annotations predate my father’s, belonging to readers I don’t know, but also do, in some way. Blue All Caps, the first owner of this copy according to the date inscribed in the inside cover, has an affinity for exposition. They find meaning in details I’d have missed had they not noted their relevance, details the modern editor would mercilessly strike through.

“Faster,” I hear the editor say in our age of speed and need for immediate comprehension. A moment of contemplation: a moment lost. Solitude: a thing of the past, or only fleetingly found before being dispelled, perceived as loneliness. 

Black Lefty, the next owner I gather through references to books, films, and plays Blue All Caps likely never encountered, prefers dialogue; they point out inconsistencies in tone and grammar. They blame the translator, who they seem to have known personally, hated; they appear to be pursuing a vendetta.

I ask if this is true, scribbling my question beneath a particularly vicious criticism: Clearly has never read Cervantes. I wait for an answer, flipping back to this page hoping to find fresh lines of black ink, letters written bottom-up.  

Bright Red, my father’s predecessor, is concerned only with historical accuracy. They poke holes in the narrative with an unparalleled knowledge of colonial South America. A professor, I assume. Wherever I need more context or simply want to learn more, I make a note, and again wait, again flip back through, looking for answers. 

Conversations with them too. Agreements, disagreements. 

My father: another known, unknown figure who illuminates the title page with two words: To You. He leaves me unnamed, having not yet named me. A simple dedication etched with an empty pen before being traced over with marker. 

I track his etchings throughout, his marker not extending within. I ink them, hoping to retrace his touch, thoughts. To feel, hear, respond. 

Death: he’s concerned with little else, his own approaching with each turn of the page. He’s afraid, I can tell, but is consoled by the ghosts that visit the Buendías; he was visited by his own in his treatment-induced hallucinations, I’m told, the benevolent hauntings of his mother.

“Don’t be afraid,” I imagine her saying, a hand brushing his scalp. 

A mother’s comfort: a reminder that we’re all still children. 

He will persist in some form, he’s happy to know. 

I hope to understand why he left this book—this copy—to me. 

I speculate: posterity, sure. A vain endeavor, perhaps, but a necessary one. Cliché comes to mind as it often does when faced with the timeless, the universal: purpose, meaning. But beyond this, in the hopes that we’d share a passion, engage in discussions not possible in his lifetime.

We do. I try to be a good son. 

Cliché unavoidably returns, spoken in his voice: “I’m proud of you.”

What did he sound like? I hear only the sound of my own voice. Did we sound alike?

I think of future readers, including my own son or daughter, figments, still, of my imagination, and can only hope they’ll pick up where we’ve left off: all of us. That the margins will vanish, the spaces between lines and the whites of endpages too. That one hundred years—at least—will be layered upon one hundred years. A wealth of time. Enough for empires to rise and fall. For countless lives to come and go. Mine too. That like me they’ll continue to guard and fish, wait and listen: questions, answers. 

We’ll talk, laugh. We’ll teach and learn from one another, establish relationships impossible to find elsewhere. We’ll all persist, founding a civilization of our own, a legacy, the borders between life and death broken, blurred. 

I think of one reader in particular, who treats this copy as I do: as an anthology. They do what is beyond me: study the many voices it contains, as a scholar might, each a bead of sand in the accumulation of knowledge. They write their own book on what they find, a treatise on what by then is an artifact, a relic. Another act of preservation. 

They see my father and I as what we are and were but couldn’t really be, our lives only ever overlapping within these pages. They find similarities and resemblances I searched for but overlooked. They find differences I tried to deny. 

They understand what we are: one great family—does a kinship not exist between us? Are we not all linked by the blood of our various inks, the page our flesh that demands we cut into it, tattoo it, seal our blood bond, offer our sacrifice? 

Again, I can only hope, and that my father and I will thus be brought closer together. An embrace to forever keep this copy intact. Hence this dedication, scrawled below his, in the blank space left by him waiting for the right words for one day too long. 

Like him I write: To You, my heir, whom I entrust with this task, leaving you nameless, not yet knowing who you are, but certain I will when you heft your own pen and begin writing.

*

Christopher Impiglia is a writer from Bridgehampton, NY. He also adjuncts and edits art books. He received an MFA in Fiction from The New School and an MA in Medieval History and Archaeology from the University of St Andrews.

His words have been published in Columbia Journal, Entropy Magazine, and Kyoto Journal, among others. He was a Finalist in the 2019 Hemingway Shorts Contest and a 2019 Artist-in-Residence at Platte Clove Preserve.