Adrianne Bonilla


                  after Ai


Adrianne Bonilla is a graduate of Columbia's School of the Arts. In her second year, she received the Henfield Prize for the opening pages of her novel, Astral Cemetery. Astral Cemetery is an anti-sentimental exploration of girlhood, death, poetry, Latin American identity, and, of course, soccer. A short excerpt is available on Tin House Online. She is from Queens, New York and currently lives in Buenos Aires, where she teaches classes on literature and writing. 


I could attribute my sense of being seen to Catholicism. Those brief, hot years spent on my knees receiving the dry body of Christ and letting him melt.

Watching me, was a late Chilean author. The one who spoke of young poets setting out across continents, across temporalities, sweating and currying favor. I first sensed him observing me as I read my way through his oeuvre. It had been pillaged in order to make the most money off him, though I don’t think he minded, even as unfinished works kept coming out.

He didn’t always appear and I tried not to imbue his absence with any meaning, having been alive long enough to no longer need external affirmation. Just in case, even when I couldn’t see him, I’d apologize for reading him in the bathroom. Something like a laugh would enter the room, but it was so faint it could have been anything.

His writing was often slightly erotic, not in the sense of situation, because there was usually no sex, just the feeling of it having just taken place. The sun lit certain parts of young bodies and the curls of their pubic hair shone. It was the kind of sex the Chilean was constantly nostalgic for and so it appeared, a fragrant ghost, in all of his stories.


I had previously thought of myself as the inheritor of another great and dead Latin American writer but that sort of commercial appeal escaped me. I prefer to write for those who will read me with fingers smelling like their insides, those who don’t even put my books down when eating or defecating and when rushed do both things at once.

The kind of reader who, without literature, would be dead and even now is hardly alive, all of their worth and capability languishing in their mind. It is not so, as Huidobro said, that the muscle hangs in the museum of memory—or whatever the line was. Either way I think I’ve improved it, added another metaphysical layer, although all that matters in this ugly world is the physical and material.

All we had in common, anyway, myself and the other great Latin American, the one who sold many books that later turned into movies, was that he came from the country my father came from, with all of its desperation and gaudy colors.

I thought of myself as more of an artist than that, someone who belonged to subtlety and snobbery in equal measure. Someone who descended from the Chilean and not the Colombian, though when it comes down to it, the entire continent reeks of sadness and an expired beauty.

You might wonder why, if given the chance to watch anyone, the Chilean would choose me. Maybe it’s as simple as this: he felt me reading his work and saw that I understood him, perhaps, even, that I could have written some of his lines myself.

So, I did what anyone would do. I found his son, the one in all the dedications in his books, the one whose name begins with L, on Instagram and I followed him. We began a strange correspondence, an affair, in which we each made love to the idea of his father.


L, whose face has enough resemblance to his father’s, despite the half Spanish genes, is attractive enough, though I’m partial to a certain Latin American look, one I have myself: a pale face with dark, thick eyebrows and a permanent smirk. It’s the look of the ruling class and the intelligentsia, which in those places are one in the same.

You know the type. The wealthy, mediocre child of the third-world sent abroad to the best American schools where he shivers in the cold and competition. The arid, cool climate of his mountains no match for winter in New England. Those tortured Quentins’ with real accents and centuries worth of phantoms and miscegenation.

Like I said, L’s Spanish mother is evident in his features and she throws the whole thing off-kilter.


L was set to public, so I messaged him saying, Your father asked me to get in touch, when in fact he didn’t, though—I can see him appraising me now from the top right corner of my ceiling—he doesn’t seem to mind and is in fact amused that his son will come to make love with me, he himself having developed some fondness for my whims and even my body, though it is not necessarily to his taste.

We, meaning the Chilean and myself, not his progeny, agree that being moved to fuck because of a poem or a story is the highest compliment, doubly if we are moved to fuck someone only tangentially related to the original art piece. It is like an ekphrastic poem written by the body, but hold on, let me erase that line because I don’t like it.

I was moving toward destiny the only way women can. L responded with ??? and I explained to him that his father visits me, occasionally. Never when I’m asleep because he’s a decent man. He told me about you, L, and the work you do. He senses that you’re a bit lost, like I am.

We sent each other private messages in which I spoke in aphorisms, obscure and delicious little sentence fragments designed to confuse and seduce him. I could tell that his father’s mind had been a singular gift but L was sweet in his mediocrity, forgivable because of his big boned body that excited me and which I longed to stand above, letting him lap at me. He sent me photos of himself, thick, young, and unsolicited at first, that disappeared after I viewed them. The Chilean looked on, a bit worried, but more or less still pleased.

Does he ever talk to you? –L

Yes, but not out loud.


I had taken Lispector’s warning about being a plain and simple woman though her protagonists were chaste and quite literally unfulfilled. Like the Chilean I felt the stuff of literature was the stuff of flesh, as immediate and gratifying, as full of smells and sounds, and with this in mind I ran up to life and was able to see it moving under the surface of everything, passing quietly and electrically like an stingray moving through water.

L’s messages buzzed all day long and sometimes I would tell him to call and place the phone against myself, picturing the Chilean’s wise eyes and Latin American face on the solid European body of his son.


L tells me about his father. The hundreds of books he left, the outdated computer containing the whole of his work, the potato smell of his gas, and how he looks for himself in every story the Chilean ever wrote but even the ones with his name in it confuse him.

Are you sleeping with me to get closer to him? We both ask and neither one of us answers, because it’s obvious, and the phone’s light dims, a sigh, and that night we both have dreams in which we are running to the edge of the world and jumping off into something vast, something like the abyss of his father’s work, the abyss of loneliness, or of ambition. It’s these coincidences that populate your father’s work, I tell L later, seemingly so fated and natural, that make his work so special. It’s that feeling of having arrived at exactly the place you were meant to be without having set off, or being given a time or directions.

Like love? L writes back.

Like a Latin American mysticism that only he can pull off, I type.


Our correspondence continues, waxes and wanes, him trying to pin down and destroy the thing that impresses and debilitates him, and me, well, I suppose I want to see myself reflected in and confirmed by the Chilean and all other institutions. We want similar and impossible things.


There are a couple of drunken phone calls from him when he flies to New York but I don’t see him because I haven’t been reading and his father has stayed away. I know nothing real can measure up to something written, half imagined.

I catch the back of L’s head, the random curls that must belong to his mother, standing on a train that is passing me by, the few seconds where the express and the local travel together, but he doesn’t see me.

Eventually it all stops, not without arguments and hang ups, the kind of passion that eventually devolves into exhausted acting until it is all, finally, silence. L and I don’t speak again though his father visits intermittently, always patiently, with a little smile, but by now his presence feels oppressive, an arbitrary goal I’ve set for myself whose line keeps jumping.


Years later, in a small bar in Mexico City—not the one in which the Chilean drinks until he vomits, the tattooed hands of a waitress rubbing him as he collapses, mistaking street lights for stars, and the grass of the outdoor patio for an open field—but at some gringo bar where the drinks are full of sugar and drunken American girls in white shorts are screaming, I see L, of all people.

He wants to ask about the Chilean and I want to tell him that once the books ran out—and they didn’t for years, every now and then when I really needed it, I’d find a book I hadn’t read yet—came the pleasure of reading again, but I don’t.

We’re both out of place, here by chance, no, by fate, really. The kind of miracle present only in the bible, or in one of the Chilean’s stories, or, I suppose, in one of my own.


The Acentos Review 2019