May the grace of the Holy Spirit be with your reverence my confessor, guard your rest and keep you warm on this cold night, amen.
It is well past twelve yet my eyes are wide as saucers. Women sleep little in old age, the exact opposite of old men. I am certain that by now your reverence is slumbering long and soundly, that you have been recumbent no fewer than two hours, breathing from the depths of your stomach. I have little stomach and still less sleep. Even so, I will employ these hours to do as the friar has commanded, which is no easy task. As he rests, I work.
And so, may the grace of the Holy Spirit bless and keep the Dominican who brought his mouth to the lattice and, in a lowered voice, said to me: ‘Write, Mother Teresa, of the grace and favour the Lord has given you, so I may better understand your confession.’ And added: ‘So you may better understand yourself.’ And further added, in a whisper: ‘So men of great learning may understand you.’ In imitation I, too, inched closer to the lattice, and I smelt the breath of a man well fed. How festive his command seemed, what promise of abundance I perceived in his voice. I felt myself an apprentice holding for the first time his teacher’s brushes, a squire allowed to brandish the sword of a knight, a slave looked in the eye by his master. With a smile I accepted, with a smile I received his blessing and with a smile I ran to my quarters, arranged the pages, settled myself and drew closer to the inkwell. I removed my veil and rolled up my habit. Only then, with the quill set on the page and the first sentence already escaping my head through my hand, did I pause. I recalled his words: ‘Were you not a vain and wicked woman before taking vows?’ ‘Who better than you, Mother, to explain the gifts the Lord lavishes on women who leave their worldly life?’ ‘Surely you, more than any other, will be capable of defending yourself, affirming that you embrace no reform, forever extinguishing the Inquisition’s enmity towards you so you will be seen for what you truly are: a living saint.’
The quill lingering on the page had left a black stain, as if manifesting the presence of the devil. Perhaps I, again in imitation of the Dominican, who spoke the unspeakable, had summoned him in my avarice to write the unwritable. I wonder, sometimes, if Satan’s dark cunning stems from his demonic nature, or merely because he has grown shrewd with age? This humble servant of the Lord is forty-seven. Who is the older, Father, you or I?
I replaced my veil and went down for Rosary, then to supper. As ever, I ate little. My confessor is so present upon my mind that he remained with me even in my prayers before retiring. I again entreated the Lord to bless and keep the Dominican, my shield against those who would attack me. And even as I wished to continue to another intention, I found myself unable, my mind still busy with our conversation. I asked God for light to better understand my confessor’s commandment. I prayed: Oh Lord, must I write that in my youth I was vain and wicked, only for You to reward me now? Must I write to please my confessor? To please learned men? To please the Inquisition? To please myself? Must I write that I embrace no reform? Must I write because I have been so commanded and have taken a vow of obedience? Oh Lord, must I write?
Despite this, in the end, the Lord and I are in agreement: I must write what the Dominican expects of me, for he would accept nothing else and I owe him obedience. I must write because I wish for men of learning to draw close to me, so I may become a better writer and thus a better servant of the Lord, and because I wish to evade the Inquisition’s accusations, although on that matter I deceive myself. If it so wishes, the Inquisition will prosecute me for the act of being a woman and writing about God, or less: for being a woman and writing at all, for being a woman and reading. For being a woman and speaking. And so I again find myself smiling at this commandment, for at last I understand it. Oh Father, my confessor, cloaked in the warm embrace of angels’ wings: I will give you what you ask, and what you do not ask I will not give to you, though I will write it all the same, for a woman grows weary of being misunderstood, she grows weary of calls for her to be burned at the stake, a torment she sorely yearns to be concluded, but she never tires of contemplating the world, never tires of describing it and of endeavouring to be less a fool. And that is what I am doing at one o’clock in the morning at Doña Luisa de la Cerda’s palace in Toledo, this eleventh of January in the year of our Lord one thousand five hundred and sixty-two.
May all this be for the greater praise and glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, He who is capable of improving upon these poor words of His ever-unworthy servant,
TERESA OF ÁVILA
Translated by Kevin Gerry Dunn
From Introducción a Teresa de Jesús
(‘I Am Teresa Of Ávila’)
by Cristina Morales
Translated by Kevin Gerry Dunn
Published by Anagrama (2020)
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Cristina Morales is the author of four novels and a collection of short stories. Easy Reading, her fourth novel, was awarded the Premio Herralde and the Spanish National Book Award. In 2021, she was named a Granta Best Young Spanish-Language Novelist.
Kevin Gerry Dunn is a Spanish/English literary translator and ghostwriter. His work has been published by the New Press, Columbia University Press, Amazon Crossing and Editorial RM, and in 2020 he received a PEN/Heim Grant and an English PEN Award for his translation of Easy Reading by Cristina Morales.