Axé is a religious word that comes from West Africa. It originates in the Yoruba language, and is an important concept to the practices and beliefs of the Candomblé and Umbanda religions. But its presence in the Brazilian conscience goes beyond these religions; Axé is widely used in our vernacular. Axé is used when desiring good things for beloved ones, cherishing opportunities, and communicating with the beyond.
When my great-grandmother looked at my grandfather that morning
If she only knew it was his last morning on Earth, if she knew
As she was his mother, my great-grandmother, sewing dresses daily
And it was unfair for a woman to so suddenly bury the bosom of her womb
Only if she knew that this was his last morning, his last morning on Earth
But not the very last of his presence for me, a small child listening
His lores and adventures, playing with the grandfather I never knew
While my great-grandmother, his mother diligently sews new dresses
(Now old and ancient, dusty and non-existent, four decades ago)
She probably would have had said to him Axé on your new path
So much Axé for you on your new path, don’t look back I’ll join you
Once I sew all the dresses I still have to sew, my beloved son.
My mother hugged me before I boarded the plane that flew me to Europe
And she said Axé as in don’t be afraid the world is big but not so big
That you will not hear me speaking to you when you don’t know
What to do and I told her Axé as in I’m sorry I’ll not be with you tomorrow
And by tomorrow I mean the decades that I’ll exist after she’s gone.
. . .
If ever one person could sing to me as honestly as the Black Forest birds
When in afternoons of loneliness I feared the certainty of my parents’ death
I could assume in the heart of the pandemic that such a world is still livable
Even when all had stopped: Axé the spirit that still looms when the world stands still.
And my mother will not die as she can’t die as she is my mother, smoking
The coronavirus will just crown her head and steal her breath and give her fever
But my mother is too busy to die now, the silence of the Black Forest commutes.
And after so much work my mother has the right to be a tiny old lady still smoking
Still smoking and gazing, gazing at the wonders of all awfulness that was not that bad
Life wasn’t that bad and there is more misery to come my darlings
There is so much more to come and the world has not even begun.
. . .
Once a century it seems a pandemic comes and kills the beloved ones
So all those surviving can go on forgetting them generation after generation
Until the next pandemic makes a writer remember the last pandemic
As every family from century to century produces not just bones but words.
The writer will come and kill the family by writing whatever wasn’t spoken
All the tiny dirty little naked secrets that loomed in the dark, also smoking
Or even sewing, for that matter, as I could hear in my childhood her murmur
My great-grandmother sitting at the sewing machine murmuring guilty words
Saying I’m sorry from time to time saying I’m so sorry from time to time
Saying I’m so very sorry from time to time I’m so terribly sorry
And so four times she was sorry as there were four great brothers, stallions
That she lost in 1920 to the Spanish Flu, one after another in a week’s span.
When my great-grandmother went to her son’s burial she must have thought
Thanks for the Axé of giving me the opportunity of finally burying all of them
As I have to give back to the same land what I love the most my own son
So my brothers understand just now what I understood as a young girl
That you will lose love regardless so hold tight, just hold tight, tighter
But not tight enough so your own palms are the reason for their demise.
I learned early that the soul speaks to beans, as each bean is a soul
And a soul so bright you could even imagine that the calm temperate stars
Are white beans floating over a very dark moody mushy sea
So I cooked them with care, with the utmost care, because on some days
A child would be born, the son of my brother now a father, scared
Because a small enchanted piece of flesh will yell and cry for love
His love, and his love, an Axé hugging another Axé, his child.
So many doors will be opened with the gaze of this child, I thought cooking
The beans that are soft and smooth and became even more soft and smooth
Because a kid was there rehearsing for his premiere: studying his lines,
Looking at the aquatic mirror of the womb’s flesh, deep swimming,
All these lines crafted and studied that he would merrily forget
The very moment he’s born, so we would think he’s learning from us
All that fate has already carved into his path and mind and soul.
Vinicius Jatobá is a Latin-American writer born in Brazil. A curator, theater director, and producer, he writes fiction and nonfiction, and for the stage. After completing residencies at Cité des Arts (Paris) and Akademie Schloss Solitude (Stuttgart), he is currently an artist-in-residence at Theatre Freiburg.