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Gioconda And Si-Ya-U

Written by: Nazim Hikmet | Biography
 to the memory of my friend SI-YA-U,
 whose head was cut off in Shanghai

A CLAIM

Renowned Leonardo's
world-famous
"La Gioconda"
has disappeared.
And in the space vacated by the fugitive a copy has been placed.
The poet inscribing the present treatise knows more than a little about the fate of the real Gioconda.
She fell in love with a seductive graceful youth: a honey-tongued almond-eyed Chinese named SI-YA-U.
Gioconda ran off after her lover; Gioconda was burned in a Chinese city.
I, Nazim Hikmet, authority on this matter, thumbing my nose at friend and foe five times a day, undaunted, claim I can prove it; if I can't, I'll be ruined and banished forever from the realm of poesy.
1928 Part One Excerpts from Gioconda's Diary 15 March 1924: Paris, Louvre Museum At last I am bored with the Louvre Museum.
You can get fed up with boredom very fast.
I am fed up with my boredom.
And from the devastation inside me I drew this lesson; to visit a museum is fine, to be a museum piece is terrible! In this palace that imprisons the past I am placed under such a heavy sentence that as the paint on my face cracks out of boredom I'm forced to keep grinning without letting up.
Because I am the Gioconda from Florence whose smile is more famous than Florence.
I am bored with the Louvre Museum.
And since you get sick soon enough of conversing with the past, I decided from now on to keep a diary.
Writing of today may be of some help in forgetting yesterday.
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However, the Louvre is a strange place.
Here you might find Alexander the Great's Longines watch complete with chronometer, but not a single sheet of clean notebook paper or a pencil worth a piaster.
Damn your Louvre, your Paris.
I'll write these entries on the back of my canvas.
And so when I picked a pen from the pocket of a nearsighted American sticking his red nose into my skirts --his hair stinking of wine-- I started my memoirs.
I'm writing on my back the sorrow of having a famous smile.
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18 March: Night The Louvre has fallen asleep.
In the dark, the armless Venus looks like a veteran of the Great War.
The gold helmet of a knight gleams as the light from the night watchman's lantern strikes a dark picture.
Here in the Louvre my days are all the same like the six sides of a wood cube.
My head is full of sharp smells like the shelf of a medicine cabinet.
20 March I admire those Flemish painters: is it easy to give the air of a naked goddess to the plump ladies of milk and sausage merchants? But even if you wear silk panties, cow + silk panties = cow.
Last night a window was left open.
The naked Flemish goddesses caught cold.
All day today, turning their bare mountain-like pink behinds to the public, they coughed and sneezed.
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I caught cold, too.
So as not to look silly smiling with a cold, I tried to hide my sniffles from the visitors.
1 April Today I saw a Chinese: he was nothing like those Chinese with their topknots.
How long he gazed at me! I'm well aware the favor of Chinese who work ivory like silk is not to be taken lightly.
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11 April I caught the name of the Chinese who comes every day: SI-YA-U.
16 April Today we spoke in the language of eyes.
He works as a weaver days and studies nights.
Now it's a long time since the night came on like a pack of black-shirted Fascists.
The cry of a man out of work who jumped into the Seine rose from the dark water.
And ah! you on whose fist-size head mountain-like winds descend, at this very minute you're probably busy building towers of thick, leather-bound books to get answers to the questions you asked of the stars.
READ SI-YA-U READ.
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And when your eyes find in the lines what they desire, when your eyes tire, rest your tired head like a black-and-yellow Japanese chrysanthemum on the books.
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SLEEP SI-YA-U SLEEP.
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18 April I've begun to forget the names of those Renaissance masters.
I want to see the black bird-and-flower watercolors that slant-eyed Chinese painters drip from their long thin bamboo brushes.
NEWS FROM THE PARIS WIRELESS HALLO HALLO HALLO PARIS PARIS PARIS.
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Voices race through the air like the fiery greyhounds.
The wireless in the Eiffel Tower calls out: HALLO HALLO HALLO PARIS PARIS PARIS.
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"I, TOO, am Oriental -- this voice is for me.
My ears are receivers, too.
I, too, must listen to Eiffel.
" News from China News from China News from China: The dragon that came down from the Kaf mountains has spread his wings across the golden skies of the Chinese homeland.
But in this business it's not only the British lord's gullet shaved like the thick neck of a plucked hen that will be cut but also the long thin beard of Confucius! FROM GIOCONDA'S DIARY 21 April Today my Chinese looked my straight in the eye and asked: "Those who crush our rice fields with the caterpillar treads of their tanks and who swagger through our cities like emperors of hell, are they of YOUR race, the race of him who CREATED you?" I almost raised my hand and cried "No!" 27 April Tonight at the blare of an American trumpet --the horn of a 12-horsepower Ford-- I awoke from a dream, and what I glimpsed for an instant instantly vanished.
What I'd seen was a still blue lake.
In this lake the slant-eyed light of my life had wrapped his fingers around the neck of a gilded fish.
I tried to reach him, my boat a Chinese teacup and my sail the embroidered silk of a Japanese bamboo umbrella.
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NEWS FROM THE PARIS WIRELESS HALLO HALLO HALLO PARIS PARIS PARIS The radio station signs off.
Once more blue-shirted Parisians fill Paris with red voices and red colors.
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FROM GIOCONDA'S DIARY 2 May Today my Chinese failed to show up.
5 May Still no sign of him.
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8 May My days are like the waiting room of a station: eyes glued to the tracks.
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10 May Sculptors of Greece, painters of Seljuk china, weavers of fiery rugs in Persia, chanters of hymns to dromedaries in deserts, dancer whose body undulates like a breeze, craftsman who cuts thirty-six facets from a one-carat stone, and YOU who have five talents on your five fingers, master MICHELANGELO! Call out and announce to both friends and foe: because he made too much noise in Paris, because he smashed in the window of the Mandarin ambassador, Gioconda's lover has been thrown out of France.
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My lover from China has gone back to China.
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And now I'd like to know who's Romeo and Juliet! If he isn't Juliet in pants and I'm not Romeo in skirts.
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Ah, if I could cry-- if only I could cry.
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12 May Today when I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror of some mother's daughter touching up the paint on her bloody mouth in front of me, the tin crown of my fame shattered on my head.
While the desire to cry writhes inside me I smile demurely; like a stuffed pig's head my ugly face grins on.
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Leonardo da Vinci, may your bones become the brush of a Cubist painter for grabbing me by the throat -- your hands dripping with paint -- and sticking in my mouth like a gold-plated tooth this cursed smile.
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Part Two The Flight FROM THE AUTHOR'S NOTEBOOK Ah, friends, Gioconda is in a bad way.
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Take it from me, if she didn't have hopes of getting word from afar, she'd steal a guard's pistol, and aiming to give the color of death to her lips' cursed smile, she'd empty it into her canvas breast.
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FROM GIOCONDA'S DIARY O that Leonardo da Vinci's brush had conceived me under the gilded sun of China! That the painted mountain behind me had been a sugar-loaf Chinese mountain, that the pink-white color of my long face could fade, that my eyes were almond-shaped! And if only my smile could show what I feel in my heart! Then in the arms of him who is far away I could have roamed through China.
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FROM THE AUTHOR'S NOTEBOOK I had a heart-to-heart talk with Gioconda today.
The hours flew by one after another like the pages of a spell-binding book.
And the decision we reached will cut like a knife Gioconda's life in two.
Tomorrow night you'll see us carry it out.
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FROM THE AUTHOR'S NOTEBOOK The clock of Notre Dame strikes midnight.
Midnight midnight.
Who knows at this very moment which drunk is killing his wife? Who know at this very moment which ghost is haunting the halls of a castle? Who knows at this very moment which thief is surmounting the most unsurmountable wall? Midnight.
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Midnight.
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Who knows at this very moment.
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I know very well that in every novel this is the darkest hour.
Midnight strikes fear into the heart of every reader.
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But what could I do? When my monoplane landed on the roof of the Louvre, the clock of Notre Dame struck midnight.
And, strangely enough, I wasn't afraid as I patted the aluminum rump of my plane and stepped down on the roof.
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Uncoiling the fifty-fathom-long rope wound around my waist, I lowered it outside Gioconda's window like a vertical bridge between heaven and hell.
I blew my shrill whistle three times.
And I got an immediate response to those three shrill whistles.
Gioconda threw open her window.
This poor farmer's daughter done up as the Virgin Mary chucked her gilded frame and, grabbing hold of the rope, pulled herself up.
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SI-YA-U, my friend, you were truly lucky to fall to a lion-hearted woman like her.
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FROM GIOCONDA'S DIARY This thing called an airplane is a winged iron horse.
Below us is Paris with its Eiffel Tower-- a sharp-nosed, pock-marked, moon-like face.
We're climbing, climbing higher.
Like an arrow of fire we pierce the darkness.
The heavens rise overhead, looming closer; the sky is like a meadow full of flowers.
We're climbing, climbing higher.
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I must have dozed off -- I opened my eyes.
Dawn's moment of glory.
The sky a calm ocean, our plane a ship.
I call this smooth sailing, smooth as butter.
Behind us a wake of smoke floats.
Our eyes survey blue vacancies full of glittering discs.
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Below us the earth looks like a Jaffa orange turning gold in the sun.
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By what magic have I climbed off the ground hundreds of minarets high, and yet to gaze down at the earth my mouth still waters.
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FROM THE AUTHOR'S NOTEBOOK Now our plane swims within the hot winds swarming over Africa.
Seen from above, Africa looks like a huge violin.
I swear they're playing Tchaikovsky on a cello on the angry dark island of Africa.
And waiving his long hairy arms, a gorilla is sobbing.
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FROM THE AUTHOR'S NOTEBOOK We're crossing the Indian Ocean.
We're drinking in the air like a heavy, faint-smelling syrup.
An keeping our eyes on the yellow beacon of Singapore -- leaving Australia on the right, Madagascar on the left -- and putting our faith in the fuel in the tank, we're heading for the China Sea.
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From the journal of a deckhand named John aboard a British vessel in the China Sea One night a typhoon blows up out of the blue.
Man, what a hurricane! Mounted on the back of yellow devil, the Mother of God whirls around and around, churning up the air.
And as luck would have it, I've got the watch on the foretop.
The huge ship under me looks about this big! The wind is roaring blast after blast, blast after blast.
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The mast quivers like a strung bow.
(*) *[What business do you have being way up there? Christ, man, what do you think you are-a stork? N.
H.
] Oops, now we're shooting sky-high -- my head splits the clouds.
Oops, now we're sinking to the bottom -- my fingers comb the ocean floor.
We're learning to the left, we're leaning to the right -- that is, we're leaning larboard and starboard.
My God, we just sank! Oh no! This time we're sure to go under! The waves leap over my head like Bengal tigers.
Fear leads me on like a coffee-colored Javanese whore.
This is no joke -- this is the China Sea.
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(*) *[The deckhand has every right to be afraid.
The rage of the China Sea is not to be taken lightly.
N.
H.
] Okay, let's keep it short.
PLOP.
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What's that? A rectangular piece of canvas dropped from the air into the crows nest.
The canvas was some kind of woman! It struck me this madame who came from the sky would never understand our seamen's talk and ways.
I got right down and kissed her hand, and making like a poet, I cried: "O you canvas woman who fell from the sky! Tell me, which goddess should I compare you to? Why did you descend here? What is your large purpose?" She replied: "I fell from a 550-horsepower plane.
My name is Gioconda, I come from Florence.
I must get to Shanghai as soon as possible.
" FROM GIOCONDA'S DIARY The wind died down, the sea calmed down.
The ship makes strides toward Shanghai.
The sailors dream, rocking in their sailcloth hammocks.
A song of the Indian Ocean plays on their thick fleshy lips: "The fire of the Indochina sun warms the blood like Malacca wine.
They lure sailors to gilded stars, those Indochina nights, those Indochina nights.
Slant-eyed yellow Bornese cabin boys knifed in Sigapore bars paint the iron-belted barrels blood-red.
Those Indochina nights, those Indochina nights.
A ship plunges on to Canton, 55,000 tons.
Those Indochina nights.
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As the moon swims in the heavens like the corpse of a blue-eyed sailor tossed overboard, Bombay watches, leaning on its elbow.
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Bombay moon, Arabian Sea.
The fire of the Indochina sun warms the blood lie Malacca wine.
They lure sailors to gilded stars, those Indochina nights, those Indochina nights.
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" Part Three Gioconda's End THE CITY OF SHANGHAI Shanghai is a big port, an excellent port, It's ships are taller than horned mandarin mansions.
My, my! What a strange place, this Shanghai.
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In the blue river boats with straw sails float.
In the straw-sailed boats naked coolies sort rice, raving of rice.
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My, my! What a strange place, this Shanghai.
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Shanghai is a big port, The whites' ships are tall, the yellows' boats are small.
Shanghai is pregnant with a red-headed child.
My, my! FROM THE AUTHOR'S NOTEBOOK Last night when the ship entered the harbor Gioconda's foot kissed the land.
Shanghai the soup, she the ladle, she searched high and low for her SI-YA-U.
FROM THE AUTHOR'S NOTEBOOK "Chinese work! Japanese work! Only two people make this -- a man and a woman.
Chinese work! Japanese work! Just look at the art in this latest work of LI-LI-FU.
" Screaming at the tip of his voice, the Chinese magician LI.
His shriveled yellow spider of a hand tossed long thin knives into the air: one one more one one more five one more.
Tracing lightning-like circles in the air, his knives flew up in a steady stream.
Gioconda looked, she kept looking, she'd still be looking but, like a large-colored Chinese lantern, the crowd swayed and became confused: "Stand back! Gang way! Chiang Kai-shek's executioner is hunting down a new head.
Stand back! Make way!" One in front and one close behind, two Chinese shot around the corner.
The one in front ran toward Gioconda.
The one racing toward her, it was him, it was him -- yes, him! Her SI-YA-U, her dove, SI-YA-U.
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A dull hollow stadium sound surrounded them.
And in the cruel English language stained red with the blood of yellow Asia the crown yelled: "He's catching up, he's catching up, he caught- catch him!" Just three steps away from Gioconda's arms Chiang Kai-shek's executioner caught up.
His sword flashed.
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Thud of cut flesh and bone.
Like a yellow sun drenched in blood SI-YA-U's head rolled at her feet.
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And this on a death day Gioconda of Florence lost in Shanghai her smile more famous than Florence.
FROM THE AUTHOR'S NOTEBOOK A Chinese bamboo frame.
In the frame is a painting.
Under the painting, a name: "La Gioconda".
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In the frame is a painting: the eyes of the painting are burning, burning.
In the frame is painting: the painting in the frame comes alive, alive.
And suddenly the painting jumped out of the frame as if from a window; her feet hit the ground.
And just as I shouted her name she stood up straight before me: the giant woman of a colossal struggle.
She walked ahead.
I trailed behind.
From the blazing red Tibetan sun to the China Sea we went and came, we came and went.
I saw Gioconda sneak out under the cover of darkness through the gates of a city in enemy hands; I saw her in a skirmish of drawn bayonets strangle a British officer; I saw her at the head of a blue stream swimming with stars wash the lice from her dirty shirt.
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Huffling and puffling, a wood-burning engine dragged behind it forty red cars seating forty people each.
The cars passed one by one.
In the last car I saw her standing watch: a frayed lambskin hat on her head, boots on her feet, a leather jacket on her back.
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FROM THE AUTHOR'S NOTEBOOK Ah, my patient reader! Now we find ourselves in the French military court in Shanghai.
The bench: four generals, fourteen colonels, and an armed black Congolese regiment.
The accused: Gioconda.
The attorney for the defense: an overly razed --that is, overly artistic-- French painter.
The scene is set.
We're starting.
The defense attorney presents his case: "Gentlemen, this masterpiece that stands in your presence as the accused is the most accomplished daughter of a great artist.
Gentlemen, this masterpiece.
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Gentlemen.
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my mind is on fire.
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Gentlemen.
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Renaissance.
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Gentlemen, this masterpiece-- twice this masterpiece.
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Gentlemen, uniformed gentlemen.
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" "C-U-U-U-T! Enough.
stop sputtering like a jammed machine gun! Bailiff, read the verdict.
" The bailiff reads the verdict: "The laws of France have been violated in China by the above-named Gioconda, daughter of one Leonardo.
Accordingly, we sentence the accused to death by burning.
And tomorrow night at moonrise, a Senegalese regiment will execute said decision of this military court.
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" THE BURNING Shanghai is a big port.
The whites have tall ships, the yellows' boats are small.
A thick whistle.
A thin Chinese scream.
A ship steaming into the harbor capsized a straw-sailed boat.
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Moonlight.
Night.
Handcuffed, Gioconda waits.
Blow, wind, blow.
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A voice: "All right, the lighter.
Burn, Gioconda, burn.
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" A silhouette advances, a flash.
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They lit the lighter and set Gioconda on fire.
The flames painted Gioconda red.
She laughed with a smile that came from her heart.
Gioconda burned laughing.
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Art, Shmart, Masterpiece, Shmasterpiece, And So On, And So Forth, Immortality, Eternity- H-E-E-E-E-E-E-E-E-E-E-E-E-Y.
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"HERE ENDS MY TALE'S CONTENDING, THE REST IS LIES UNENDING.
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" THE END Nazim Hikmet - 1929 FOOTNOTE: GIOCONDA AND SI-YA-U: Si-Ya-U, Hsiao San (b.
1896), Chinese revolutionary and man of letters.
Hikmet met him in Moscow in 1922 and believed he had been executed in the bloody 1927 crackdown on Shanghai radicals after returning to China via Paris in 1924, when the Mona Lisa did in fact disappear from the Louvre.
The two friends were reunited in Vienna in 1951 and traveled to Peking together in 1952.
Translated into Chinese, this poem was later burned-along with Hsiao's works- in the Cultural Revolution.



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