Revista ZUM 25

The papangu ate it

Nicolas Gondim & Natércia Pontes Publicado em: 10 de January de 2024

My salvation, to write, to try to understand the monster. My daughter’s tooth, a little milk tooth, milky, tiny. My daughter’s smile, her sacred mouth still full of milk teeth, my treasure, my jewels, which are loose, will get lost somewhere, where will she go?, has she already been?, I can’t think properly, I’m shaken, deeply shaken, the grits have altered my spirit, which now is so morbid that I fear the monster in everything. The monster with the clenched teeth under the tortoise shell, a black bin liner as a cloak. The smell of the monster everywhere, I need to say my farewells every time, I need to hold on to the arms of the wind, I dreamed I was in the Agreste [area characterized by a semi-arid climate and thorny vegetation in Northeast Brazil], getting ready to dive into a deep well of icy water, I’d prepared myself so much, clothes, glasses, biki-ni that it got dark and I ended up not diving into anything. Failure, loss, a mother who just sleeps and misses her daughters growing up, loses her daughters’ teeth, there’s no way back, if you look back, you turn into a papangu with a cardboard box as a head. I want to be a papangu in the flesh, freeze time in a dark bedroom, my daughters around me, we’re together, and they are dependent on me, they love me without reservation, their bodies are also mine and mine is theirs, it’s a way to be both a baby and to be God, the Devil, the One. Oh, God, why this tooth, why is it loose?, the upcoming gappy smile that frightens me like a papangu in the desolate place, my daughter no longer, but always my daughter. Stay, daughter, freeze this smile in a digital snap, are these teeth mine or yours? They’re yours, my love. I need to break these rusty chains, where I curl up at night to sleep like a dog. I’m imprisoned by these chains, I am these chains, I make myself pretty with these chains, which clank when I close the window. My daughter, smiling with a tooth missing, is light, the light comes in through a small gap.

My daughter, big in the world, her world, wanting to be hers, and I’m smaller than the world. I can’t stay in this dark room, the walls are damp. What will get me out of here? Mold? The word? The knife? Everything will get me out, it’s impossible to stay, even if I wanted to. I have to create something smart and skilful, I have to engender an object that explains death to me, that consoles me from the things of death. A thirsty stomach bag. I have known profound love all at once and in a short time, the way it intro-duced itself was dis- membered in small milk teeth that fall from the pure smile of my daughter, flesh of my flesh, bright eyes of life and love. The song says that everything is a lie, it’s not, no way it is. Her little teeth disappearing, one by one, the sun coming up in the Agreste again. The sun is not a lie. The papangu dances and begs and prowls the dirt tracks late at night. My daughter’s name is not a lie, she writes her name with her hesitant handwriting and she’s so sure of herself. I need light, light, clarity, light. Take my head out of this water gallon jug, it’s hazy, everything I see is covered in blue mist.

My daughters don’t need this damp, old moth- er, attached to a piece of bone, covered by a black bin liner, a cat-like slash instead of eyes, her scuffed old boots. They need to understand that life is bigger than I understand. I have been smaller than a tooth. A mother smaller than a tooth, I have the right to be tiny, I say to myself, but I cannot be tiny for them, just as I needed to eat grits day after day to give milk to them, my immunity to them, and now I overload them, surround my little daughters with my waste from a trapped dog. I can’t, I need to get out of here, switch on the light in this bedroom, open the window, let the light in, let the wind pass through my daughter’s smile. I cannot be so selfish and upset, life goes on, every day a leaf falls, a tooth falls, others are born, others are lost, and there are so many teeth within us, I myself have an artificial tooth, made of steel, like the voracious teeth of the papangu. I need to accept that my daughter’s tooth wants to fall, I need to let it fall and not rot in her mouth, her smile is my treasure, the pebbles rub together in different beams, I can’t cling to the loose at- oms of a digital image. I have to be bigger than that, for them, for me it’s not much, for them, I can’t be small if I have decided to have children, I need to let their teeth fall, let the wind pass, let the light fade the colors of this rainbow that needs to liquefy, let the papangu come in and offer him an enameled plate of grits. The rainbow needs, and will, to liquefy, I, stuck to this image, sewing ungraceful lines to hold it by force to the bottom of the night sky, now it is night, the papangus are on the loose, turning cartwheels in the air, and I am so much part of the night in the Agreste, but the day comes, the sun. To be the sun for them, I was and am the moon. Old moon. Old teeth. A dumb witch. I flick the insect from the table, the insect until recently unpredictable, the unpredictable loose tooth, embrace what I do not know. I just need to go. It is not possible to stay here in this room, I need to tell myself that. The papangu is knocking at the door. His hands are yellow latex gloves. If I don’t open the door, it he will come through the window. Frame a time that has passed and not live inside a cheap frame, thinking that it will protect me from the death of things, daughter, you are the opposite of death, losing your tooth, no matter how much I fight to accept, you losing your tooth, daughter, is the opposite of death, my daughter. And that’s where I want to be. The papangu is hungry. Death also comes adorned with love, it also comes with the smell of a newborn infant. I need to celebrate this fallen tooth, I need to understand why I celebrate it, celebrate it with all my cells, in a belief that explodes into a thousand meanings, I will not lose you, my daughter. The papangu won’t eat you. I need to understand that I will not lose you, that you are not a tooth, a little tooth. I’ll keep it by me, and your other milk teeth as well, I’ll keep them all, my love. Then I’ll make a museum to exhibit the story of your smiles and I’ll visit this museum forever, outside, in the cathedral square the light explodes, my daughter, language washing over you like the sea, you love to lie on the beach and wait for the warm sea water to visit you, I need to let time visit you, my love. My love. I lost so much time with bullshit, away from you. The papangu is waiting. Another has arrived, now there are so many of them. I wanted to witness the entire story of your teeth, but it is humanly impossible, my love, I did what I could, as I could, being quite lazy, actually. This is the papangu mother you have, who now suffers terribly from that milk tooth wanting to fall out. Your mother, weaker than a little tooth. Sorry, my daughter. What you tell me all the time, what I need to tell myself is that I have not lost you, I only gain more layers of you, more of your smiles, every day, every sunrise.

Our love, bigger than the sun. It’s there, in this corner of light, that I need to be. What pain, it comes and goes, like the sea. I have to accept that it comes and goes. Your tooth may have already fallen, daughter. And I have no control over it. But now I can write, all these years, five years in which I felt the involuntary movement of the flesh, in which I felt far beyond my intellectual limitations, my daughter, in which I missed the word, hunger, I am back, I am here, I with myself, you with yourself, that’s how the colors are formed, I can’t try to cheat, although I suffer, disagree with the rules, I want your milk tooth with me, I want it in your smile, in your mouth, forever – I feel like crying so very much. The grits make me cry a little, but I have cried and still need to cry. Take away this cake mixer stuck in my throat. The cake I promised you. Summer is ending, my daughter. Daily rain, haze, mold. The rain comes fast and does not cry enough, I wanted to be able to bleed away this pain, to offer is a work of faith, I need to have faith that the little toothy falling off your smile-sky is not the end of my world, a world that embraces me with wet arms, the flesh in trance, the flesh is always in trance and now they spit out your tooth, my precious jewel. The papangu demands a warm dish. I am poor and ashamed. A devouring, selfish mother trying to keep that smell of a newborn at any cost, you are in another world, I want to guess the words that form in your lively head, my love. You want to know the object of things, and I’m still thinking of that piece of cloth. To cover you and sing a lullaby for you, you no longer fit on my lap, small piece of flesh. I’m just a small piece of flesh, my daughter, sorry. I need to rain, be big, for you. It’s all for you, before you, during you, after you does not exist. Only during, during, during, the papangu’s costume dissolving away. It’s the summer’s end, and you also need a haircut, to buy new panties, adjust the insoles of your shoes. I can’t stop thinking it’s a curse, but it’s life, it’s you, my porcelain child, looking out the window of your room. Someone stopped me from looking at you for a long time, I’m angry, I want to hit out, I lost the chance to see your little eye roaming around the world, a tree that was cut down months ago. Now I miss your teeth and I continue to miss things, like the papangu you drew, right, daughter? Who knows, maybe I’ll be lucky enough to find you again as a baby. We keep losing, losing together. I’ll never be alone again. I’ve just lost an idea, a thought that flew out from the balcony. Goodbye, goodbye, tooth, little tooth, there is something much bigger than you, I need to throw this little tooth out, feed the papangu, let him take all the teeth from me, I, stuck in my decrepitude, gasping for a piece of bone. What a silly mother I am. Trying to glue back a missing tooth. Teach your mother to live, daughter. I don’t want to teach you to die. Let’s open the door to the papangus, daughter. Illuminate me, save me, forgive me, delight me, smile at me with your new teeth every day. Your teeth, your intimate being, your body, only yours. ///

Papangus are playful people that dress up and go out into the streets so they are not identified. This tradition started in the Northeast of Brazil, as a play amongst the ex-slaves, ranch owners and farm workers, who would go from house to house during Easter, asking for “angu de milho” [cornmeal grits] hence the name “papangu” [“eat angu”]. They make the costumes themselves, making use of accessible things: old clothes, plants, objects and ornamentation found at home or in the trash. In their performance, the masked bands of papangus move through the town, speaking strangely, adopting different personalities, cracking whips and asking the crowds for a gift, something to eat, and drink for the evening celebrations.

Nicolas Gondim

Nicolas Gondim (Fortaleza, Ceará, 1972) is a photographer, graduated in fashion from the Federal University of Ceará (UFC) and postgraduated in fashion image and styling from Senac-SP.

Natércia Pontes (Fortaleza, Ceará, 1980) is a writer, author of the books Copacabana dreams (Cosac Naify, 2012), finalist for the Jabuti Prize, and Os tais caquinhos [those little sherds] (Companhia das Letras, 2021), among others.

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