Punctured Diary by Mercedes Halfon

Rachel Ballenger

Thursday, April 30th

At the moment I am nowhere. Although there is a phrase “to be in the clouds” that suggests this is a plausible residence. Now that I’ve been in their midst, observing them for 12 hours, I think it’s not a place the phrase defines, but a bodily sensation. An ethereal, vaporous state, comparable to a cloud. “To be a cloud” is how it should go. It’s a suggestion that comes to mind.

I put my mediations aside because our arrival is approaching. We fasten our seatbelts and hold on to the bucking plane as it leaves its comfort zone and descends.

I’m shocked by the Argentine custom of applauding upon landing. I don’t understand this habit of externalizing one’s fears and joys. Nor what the idea of a destination means to them. My own uncertainty fails to dissipate once the wheels touch down on foreign soil. As I wait for the doors to open, I check the list I made back in Buenos Aires.  


Passport + health insurance
Address in Berlin: Torstraße 114, Floor 2, Apartment 12. Hartung (landlord)
100 euros
One carton of Gitanes Blondes

Minimal Dictionary

Hi, how are you: Hallo, wie geht's? (Hahlo, vee gayts)
Please: Bitte (Bihta)
Excuse me: Entschuldigungen (Ehntshooldigoong)
Bye: Tschüß (Choos)

Friday, May 1, Berlin, night

Our reunion was strange. I was surprised to find that after only three months here you already speak German. I sat there astonished as you told the taxi driver a joke. The seats were smooth, shiny leather, and each time he hit the brakes I slid a little closer to the floor.

Our apartment is in a very pretty building. From the outside it doesn’t look like it. But as soon as you pass through a heavy steel gate you enter a large interior patio filled with plants and bicycles, which all the apartments look out onto. Ours is on the second floor. We climbed the staircase in silence, my suitcase banging on the edge of each step. The walls and furniture inside are white and there’s almost no decoration. A canvas backpack was waiting for me, the kind that all the girls in the city carry. Inside it was a kit you made, with a map of Berlin, another of the subway, a pair of sunglasses, and hairclips. It was my welcome gift. I guess I have to camouflage myself.

In the evening we went down to the bar next door and met Bergen, the poet you befriended at the start of your writing fellowship. He wore a flowery short-sleeved shirt that stood out amidst the monochrome outfits the other drinkers were wearing. He lives nearby. You two spoke English over the music, and although I said I understood you, I didn’t. At first yes. But then the conversation sped up and got away from me. I lost focus thanks to the beer and jetlag. Your face tinged by the sepia lights, your beloved sharp features, assimilated by the gestures of another language. Finally, all I could perceive was a guttural murmur, at which every so often I smiled or nodded.

Once we were alone you told me that Bergen writes quite experimental poetry, and he’s not so interested in the results of his texts. You said it with admiration, I understood, because the opposite is true for you: you are worried about results, you still have to write the final project for your grant.

In the apartment you led me by the hand to the bed. For some reason the mattress is neither spring nor foam rubber, but inflatable. I missed the full, unmediated contact with your skin. But there was something tense in our embrace. We were mechanically switching positions. I’m on top, on bottom again, I grip you so tight the arc of my foot cramps. Each knows what the other one likes and performs it with the utmost precision. We play the body by heart, as if there were no room for surprise nor improvisation.

Now you’re showering with the door ajar. As I write this I notice that there are no sheets on the bed, only a white comforter. This is customary in Germany. It would seem that here only one temperature is to be expected, and with no variation of any kind: cold.

Saturday, May 2, Morning (Mitte)

What will Bergen write? I have been reading many texts written in the belief that anything can be poetry. Even authors who used to captivate me a long time ago insist on the seductive and libertarian idea that everything is poetry, or could be. But now I know that the maxim does not always stand up. It’s true poetry can be made from anything, but that doesn’t mean that anything can be poetry. Like what I’m writing here. Poetry has never seemed easy to me, just like love isn’t easy, much less distance, though these are the themes of poetry par excellence.


I put my things away in the closet. I read, took a nap, cooked, immersed in a haze of jet lag. I observed you while you worked. You are completely preoccupied with the grant. Absorbed. Discreet but watchful, I wait for the moments when you make contact and we can initiate a conversation.

Before coming here, trying to get on theme, I listened to some Schumann settings of Heinrich Heine poems Dichterliebe, or A Poet’s Love. The protagonist is the young besotted poet himself who begins his tale, “In the wonderful month of May, when all the buds were blooming, it was then that love was born in my heart.” I was moved by the coincidence, in May I was flying here. But as the songs go on, the young man begins to suffer. His beloved abandons him. She imposes a kind of distance upon him. He weeps, goes into the forest and exclaims, “if the little flowers only knew…”

I guess no one wants to be that kind of poet anymore or love in that kind of way. Absolute, hopeless.

Night, bar on Torstraße

But much more difficult than distance is proximity.

Mercedes Halfon is a writer, educator and cultural journalist. Her novels Punctured Diary (Diario Pinchado) and Eye Work (El trabajo de los ojos) have been published in Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Bolivia and Spain. She teaches creative writing at the Universidad Nacional de las Artes in Buenos Aires, as well as private workshops. In addition to her novels, Halfon writes short fiction and has published several collections of poetry. She co-directed the film “The Poets Visit Juana Bignozzi” with Laura Citarella. Her book Extranjero en todas partes. Los días argentinos de Witold Gombrowicz was published this year by Ediciones UDP.

Rachel Ballenger

Rachel Ballenger is a writer and translator from California. Her work appears in The Common, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Electric Literature, The Barcelona Review and elsewhere. She received her BA from the UC Berkeley and her MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston. Former Fiction editor of Gulf Coast, her work has been supported by the Fulbright foundation, the Spanish commission of Foreign Affairs, Jiwar Creation and Society, and Inprint. Her novel-in-progress, Take My Life, won the Inprint Joan and Stanford Alexander Prize in Fiction. She lives in Barcelona.

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