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This is Not a Tapir, it’s an Anteater – Giuseppe A. Samonà

Jun 15, 2022 | Fiction | 0 comments

Translated from the Italian by Brenda Porster

It’s an anteater. It’s an anteater. It’s an anteater. But: no use. They show me, often enough, an anteater; even more often they ask me questions about the anteater (questions like: what is the animal that with its tongue, ants, etc.). I myself (several times a day), spontaneously and without needing any encouragement, let my mind wander to that noble animal, which—and this is precisely the point—rises inevitably to my lips: Tapir. To my lips, which I bite, immediately, to say, anxiously: No, it’s an anteater. But why? Why? Granted, my brain isn’t all that efficient: I’m a scholarly scholar, but (though I’ve rechecked every day for these last thirty years) I always confuse the date of Marathon with that of Salamis. Still, between these two pathologies (the historical one, let’s call it, and the tapirlogical one), there is one substantial difference. No, there are two: when I confuse Marathon and Salamis I’m not able to correct myself. In fact, the mistake comes precisely at the moment I assume (albeit with some hesitation) the answer to be true, whereas when I’m convinced I’ve made a mistake it turns out I was correct—in short, I never get it right. On the contrary, with the tapir I know from the start (and yet that name, tapir, inevitably comes to my lips) that it is not a tapir, but an anteater. Besides (and this is the second, crucial, difference), I know everything about Marathon and Salamis; about the tapir, nothing—except, in fact, that it is not an anteater. Is this ignorance about the tapir absolute? Or was there a time when I was familiar with tapirs? I couldn’t say. Sometimes I have what seems a vague memory of walking around the zoo in Seville with my father (who was a bullfighter), whose finger is calmly pointing up while he says, Look, a tapir. But was it a real tapir? Or was my father (he was, as I’ve said, a bullfighter) trying to trip me up, and was it in fact an anteater? And that’s precisely the point: No lo sé. But in any case, since then, nothing. Nothing more, nothing do I know about the tapir, except that, with somewhat Socratic wisdom, it isn’t an anteater.
One might say (there’s always, inevitably, someone who says): But at least try imagining one. That may seem easy. Is it fat, thin, tall, short? And how am I to know, if the only reference point I have is negative: is it, in point of fact, an anteater (which isn’t a tapir)? But they insist and say, Well, try. So I try: the tapir lives in South America, preferably in wet forests. It eats berries, hazel nuts and popcorn (but also twigs and liquorice). And its mortal enemy is the aguar, but also thepuma and man. You have to capture it when it is young and then it becomes tamer than a horse. As a matter of fact it is, the tapir, an animal of soft, if not lukewarm, sensuality. Unlike the anteater, it avoids passionate Kama Sutra techniques (confess, you cheated. Yes! . . . all my life everything I’ve known about the tapir is that it is not an anteater, or, better, that the anteater is not a tapir, or better still: it is a non-tapir. All my life, in fact, I’ve been thrashing around in ignorance—so doesn’t that give me the right by now to peek into the Encyclopedia of Animals? Anyway, I’ve already forgotten all of it, I can’t even remember what I wrote when I began this sentence. Because, you see, no, damn it, I repeat, I only know: this is not a tapir, it’s an anteater!).
A dear friend’s grandmother (I’ll say in conclusion), who was my friend, too, and (was) profoundly intelligent, besides being a great writer, wrote (being, as I’ve said, a writer) on the salt jar: This isn’t sugar, it’s salt. When I asked her the reason for this strange, roundabout course of action (I, very superficially, would have written: Salt), she explained that she was always putting salt in her coffee, mistaking it for sugar—Fine, but . . . But already you (Sphinx), enthroned on the sofa in regal immobility, were sleeping (since you always fell asleep when you received guests, and you also slept at the cinema, where you went to write about films—because you were a great writer about scraps of things and humans). And today, when you are here no longer, I am nostalgic and deeply regret never talking to you about the tapir—or, more precisely, about this: this is not a tapir, it’s an anteater.
And, I know, you will say (which is different from one says and worse than they will say): So, Samonà, besides being a nitpicker and a lecher, you’re also (if I may say so) off your rocker, are you? We asked you, famous zoologist and academic that you are, for a brief profile of the tapir, and what we get is this (pardon the French) bullshit? But, I swear, I’ve only told the pure and simple truth, and then I’ve already written all this (pardon the French) bullshit, and tempo più non v’è (♫ Pentiti, scellerato . . . No, vecchio infatuato, etc. . . . Tempo non ha, scusate, etc., etc.). Who’s forcing you? If you really can’t stand reading this, then go on to the next piece—Bravo, so now you tell us, when we’ve already read it . . . And then, what else can you do, if not pardon me? When all is said and done, a half-baked, relentless piece of prose like this suits a journal that deals with obsessions. And after reading it you’ll have understood one thing at least: This is not a tapir, it’s an anteater.


Giuseppe A. Samonà holds a Ph.D in the History of Religions. He has published studies on the ancient Near East and on native American populations at the time of the Conquest. He writes and translates both in Italian and French. Quelle cose scomparse, parole (Ilisso, 2004), was his first work of fiction; La frontiera spaesata: Un viaggio alle porte dei Balcani (Exorma 2020) his latest. His is included in La terra della prosa, anthology of Italian fiction writers in the year Zero. He has lived and taught in Rome, New York, Montréal and Paris, where he is currently living.

Brenda Porster, poet and translator, lives and works in Florence, Italy. Her poems in both English and Italian are published in numerous literary magazines, poetry anthologies and online literary sites in Italy and abroad. As Italian-English translator for the literary site El-Ghibli, rivista di letteratura della migrazione she translated tens of stories and poems written in Italian by immigrant authors. For several years now she has been the Italian-English translator for Voyages, Journal of New York University in Florence and for the Florentine annual poetry festival, Voci lontane, voci sorelle.


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