Friday, November 30, 2007
Night covers the pond with its wing.
Under the ringed moon I can make out
your face swimming among the minnows and the small
echoing stars. In the night air
the surface of the pond is metal.
Within, your eyes are open. They contain
a memory I recognize, as though
we had been children together. Our ponies
grazed on the hill, they were gray
with white markings. Now they graze
with the dead who wait
like children under their granite breastplates,
lucid and helpless:
The hills are far away. They rise up
blacker than childhood.
What do you think of, lying so quietly
by the water? When you look that way I want
to touch you, but do not, seeing
as in another life we were of the same blood.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;
And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter
Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,
Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place
For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.
(This is one of my favourite poems --A)
Their faces, safe as an interior
Of Holland tiles and Oriental carpet,
Where the fruit-bowl, always filled, stood in a light
Of placid afternoon ⎯ their voices’ measure,
Their figures moving in the Sunday garden
To lay the tea outdoors or trim the borders,
Afflicted, haunted us. For to be young
Was always to live in other peoples’ houses
Whose peace, if we sought it, had been made by others,
Was ours at second-hand and not for long.
The custom of the house, not ours, the sun
Fading the silver-blue Fortuny curtains,
The reminiscence of a Christmas party
Of fourteen years ago ⎯ all memory.
Signs of possession and of being possessed,
We tasted, tense with envy. They were so kind,
Would have given us anything; the bowl of fruit
Was filled for us, there was a room upstairs
We must call ours: but twenty years of living
They could not give. Nor did they ever speak
Of the coarse stain on that polished balustrade,
The crack in the study window, or the letters
Locked in a drawer and the key destroyed.
All to be understood by us, returning
Late, in our own time ⎯ how that peace was made,
Upon what terms, with how much left unsaid.
Those blessèd structures, plot and rhyme⎯
why are they no help to me now
I want to make something imagined, not recalled?
I hear the noise of my own voice:
The painter’s vision is not a lens,
it trembles to caress the light.
But sometimes everything I write
with the threadbare art of my eye
seems a snapshot,
lurid, rapid, garish, grouped,
heightened from life,
yet paralyzed by fact.
Yet why not say what happened?
Pray for the grace of accuracy
Vermeer gave to the sun’s illumination
stealing like the tide across a map
to his girl solid with yearning.
We are poor passing facts,
warned by that to give
each figure in the photograph
his living name.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
The lovely, always inspiring, Ms. Glamourpuss, has awarded this blog with “The Roar for Powerful Words”. As I can only take credit for the poems I’ve chosen, I should like to allow these very poets their say on what makes for good writing. My dearest thanks to Ms. Puss and for her two fabulous blogs I daily look forward to.
One of my favourite essays on poetry, “Once in a Poem”, is written by John Berger. A long time ago these words breathed life into me and I’ve not since forgotten them.
“Poems, regardless of any outcome, cross the battlefields, tending the wounded, listening to the wild monologues of the triumphant or fearful. They bring a kind of peace. Not by anaesthesia or easy reassurance, but by recognition and the promise that what has been experienced cannot disappear as if it had never been. Yet the promise is not of a monument. (Who, still on a battlefield, wants monuments?) The promise is that language has acknowledged, has given shelter, to the experience which demanded, which cried out.
“Poems are nearer to prayers than to stories, but in poetry there is no one behind the language being prayed to. It is the language itself which has to hear and acknowledge. For the religious poet, the Word is the first attribute of God. In all poetry words are a presence before they are a means of communication.
“…Everything depends upon . . . how the writer relates to language, not as vocabulary, not as syntax, not even as structure, but as a principle and a presence.”
Next. Seamus Heaney in describing Robert Lowell’s final poems writes “… the reader is kept in the company of flesh and blood.” Helen Vendler writes of Lowell’s verse, “Finally, the test of a poem is that it be unforgettable, the natural held in the grip of vision.” For no other poet do these words ring most true. By these measures I too have tried, as a poet, to live by.
Third. Here ultimately is what Robert Lowell had to say about writing verse. The extract is from the poem “Epilogue”.
Pray for the grace of accuracy
Vermeer gave to the sun’s illumination
stealing like the tide across a map
to his girl solid with yearning.
We are poor passing facts
warned by that to give
each figure in the photograph
his living name.
My five nominations for the next recipients are forthcoming.
Monday, November 26, 2007
Draped in a touched-up matron's trailing purple,
I turn back to the haunch, the beaker, the guests.
They hate me and cannot do without me.
Their talk used to be of my pocket wars,
Of the ruined fleet and the satrap's water garden.
Tonight, it is of the god I mutilated.
She was being carried along the capital's edges
To ward off what entrails had threatened come dawn.
The slander has me slashing through the thick
Midnight mist across the gilded statue,
Her smiling face on the processional litter split
Into the past's pushovers, the future's penitence.
Why would I, who have no loyalties
But those to my sense of honor and of change,
Try to harm what others are forced to believe in?
The point is to keep what I shall want tomorrow.
If I pull back the drop on which the city is painted,
There is the moon, glistening in its recess.
Barely a twelvemonth after
The seven days war that put the world to sleep,
Late in the evening the strange horses came.
By then we had made our covenant with silence,
But in the first few days it was so still
We listened to our breathing and were afraid.
On the second day
The radios failed; we turned the knobs, no answer.
On the third day a warship passed us, headed north,
Dead bodies piled on the deck. On the sixth day
A plane plunged over us into the sea. Thereafter
Nothing. The radios dumb;
And still they stand in corners of our kitchens,
And stand, perhaps, turned on, in a million rooms
All over the world. But now if they should speak,
If on a sudden they should speak again,
If on the stroke of noon a voice should speak,
We would not listen, we would not let it bring
That old bad world that swallowed its children quick
At one great gulp. We would not have it again.
Sometimes we think of the nations lying asleep,
Curled blindly in impenetrable sorrow,
And then the thought confounds us with its strangeness.
The tractors lie about our fields; at evening
They look like dank sea-monsters crouched and waiting.
We leave them where they are and let them rust:
"They'll molder away and be like other loam."
We make our oxen drag our rusty plows,
Long laid aside. We have gone back
Far past our fathers' land.
And then, that evening
Late in the summer the strange horses came.
We heard a distant tapping on the road,
A deepening drumming; it stopped, went on again
And at the corner changed to hollow thunder.
We saw the heads
Like a wild wave charging and were afraid.
We had sold our horses in our fathers' time
To buy new tractors. Now they were strange to us
As fabulous steeds set on an ancient shield
Or illustrations in a book of knights.
We did not dare go near them. Yet they waited,
Stubborn and shy, as if they had been sent
By an old command to find our whereabouts
And that long-lost archaic companionship.
In the first moment we had never a thought
That they were creatures to be owned and used.
Among them were some half a dozen colts
Dropped in some wilderness of the broken world,
Yet new as if they had come from their own Eden.
Since then they have pulled our plows and borne our loads,
But that free servitude still can pierce our hearts.
Our life is changed; their coming our beginning.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
At night the monks sang softly
and a gusting wind lifted
spruce branches like wings.
I’ve never visited the ancient cities,
I’ve never been to Thebes
or Delphi, and I don’t know
what the oracles once told travellers.
Snow filled the streets and canyons,
and crows in dark robes silently
trailed the fox’s footprints.
I believed in elusive signs,
in shadowed ruins, water snakes,
mountain springs, prophetic birds.
Linden trees bloomed like brides
but their fruit was small and bitter.
Wisdom can’t be found
in music or fine paintings,
in great deeds, courage,
but only in all these things,
in earth and air, in pain and silence.
A poem may hold the thunder’s echo,
like a shell touched by Orpheus
as he fled. Time takes life away
and gives us memory, gold with flame,
black with embers.
Saturday, November 24, 2007
After the leaves have fallen, we return
To a plain sense of things. It is as if
We had come to an end of the imagination,
Inanimate in an inert savoir.
It is difficult even to choose the adjective
For this blank cold, this sadness without cause.
The great structure has become a minor house.
No turban walks across the lessened floors.
The greenhouse never so badly needed paint.
The chimney is fifty years old and slants to one side.
A fantastic effort has failed, a repetition
In a repetitiousness of men and flies.
Yet the absence of the imagination had Itself to be imagined. The great pond,
The plain sense of it, without reflections, leaves,
Mud, water like dirty glass, expressing silence
Of a sort, silence of a rat come out to see,
The great pond and its waste of lilies, all this
Had to be imagined as an inevitable knowledge.
Required, as a necessity requires.
(*posted today for the lovely Ms. Glamourpuss)
This living hand, now warm and capable
Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold
And in the icy silence of the tomb,
So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights
That thou would wish thine own heart dry of blood
So in my veins red life might stream again,
And thou be conscience-calm’d⎯see here it is
I hold it towards you⎯
Two perhaps three
I was sure
I would touch the essence
and would know
the web of my formula
made of allusions as in the Phaedo
had also the rigour
of Heisenberg’s equation
I was sitting immobile
with watery eyes
I felt my backbone
fill with quiet certitude
earth stood still
heaven stood still
was nearly perfect
the postman rang
I had to pour out the dirty water
Siva lifted his finger
the furniture of heaven and earth
started to spin again
I returned to my room
where is that perfect peace
the idea of a glass
was being spilled all over the table
I sat down immobile
with watery eyes
filled with emptiness
If it happens to me once more
I shall be moved neither by the postman’s bell
nor by the shouting of angels
I shall sit
my eyes fixed
upon the heart of things
a dead star
a black drop of infinity
Translated from the Polish by Czeslaw Milosz & Peter Dale Scott
Thursday, November 22, 2007
The sudden sea is bright
and soundless: a changed channel
of dashed colour, scrolling
plankton, sea-darts, the slope
and loom of ghosts, something
slow and grey
sashaying through a school
of cobalt blue,
thin chains of silver fish
that link and spill and flicker away.
The elements imitate each other:
water-light playing on these stones
becomes a shaking flame; sunlight
stitches the rock-weed’s rust and green,
swaying, sea-wavering; one red
twist scatters a shoal like a dust of static
⎯ a million tiny shocks of white
dissolving in the lower depths.
The only sound
is the sea’s mouth and the ticking
of the myriad mouths
that feed within it, sipping the light.
Dreaming high over the sea-forest
⎯ the sea-bed green as a forest floor ⎯
through the columns of gold
and streams of water-weed,
above a world in thrall,
charting by light
as a plane might glide, slowly, silently
over woods in storm.
|Lights are burning|
In quiet rooms
Where lives go on
The quiet lives
That follow us-
These lives we lead
But do not own-
Stand in the rain
When we are gone,
And the last bus
Comes letting dark
Black flowers, black flowers.
And lives go on.
And lives go on
Like sudden lights
At street corners
Or like the lights
In quiet rooms
Left on for hours,
by Li-Young Lee
In sixth grade Mrs. Walker
slapped the back of my head
and made me stand in the corner
for not knowing the difference
between persimmon and precision.
How to choose
persimmons. This is precision.
Ripe ones are soft and brown-spotted.
Sniff the bottoms. The sweet one
will be fragrant. How to eat:
put the knife away, lay down the newspaper.
Peel the skin tenderly, not to tear the meat.
Chew on the skin, suck it,
and swallow. Now, eat
the meat of the fruit,
all of it, to the heart.
Donna undresses, her stomach is white.
In the yard, dewy and shivering
with crickets, we lie naked,
I teach her Chinese.
Crickets: chiu chiu. Dew: I've forgotten.
Naked: I've forgotten.
Ni, wo: you and me.
I part her legs,
remember to tell her
she is beautiful as the moon.
that got me into trouble were
fight and fright, wren and yarn.
Fight was what I did when I was frightened,
fright was what I felt when I was fighting.
Wrens are small, plain birds,
yarn is what one knits with.
Wrens are soft as yarn.
My mother made birds out of yarn.
I loved to watch her tie the stuff;
a bird, a rabbit, a wee man.
Mrs. Walker brought a persimmon to class
and cut it up
so everyone could taste
a Chinese apple. Knowing
it wasn't ripe or sweet, I didn't eat
but watched the other faces.
My mother said every persimmon has a sun
inside, something golden, glowing,
warm as my face.
Once, in the cellar, I found two wrapped in newspaper,
forgotten and not yet ripe.
I took them and set them both on my bedroom windowsill,
where each morning a cardinal
sang, The sun, the sun.
he was going blind,
my father sat up all one night
waiting for a song, a ghost.
I gave him the persimmons,
swelled, heavy as sadness,
and sweet as love.
This year, in the muddy lighting
of my parents' cellar, I rummage, looking
for something I lost.
My father sits on the tired, wooden stairs,
black cane between his knees,
hand over hand, gripping the handle.
He's so happy that I've come home.
I ask how his eyes are, a stupid question.
All gone, he answers.
Under some blankets, I find a box.
Inside the box I find three scrolls.
I sit beside him and untie
three paintings by my father:
Hibiscus leaf and a white flower.
Two cats preening.
Two persimmons, so full they want to drop from the cloth.
He raises both hands to touch the cloth,
asks, Which is this?
This is persimmons, Father.
Oh, the feel of the wolftail on the silk,
the strength, the tense
precision in the wrist.
I painted them hundreds of times
eyes closed. These I painted blind.
Some things never leave a person:
scent of the hair of one you love,
the texture of persimmons,
in your palm, the ripe weight.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
The hospital smell
combs my nostrils
as they go bobbing along
green and yellow corridors.
What seems a corpse
is trundled into a lift and vanishes
I will not feel, I will not
I have to.
Nurses walk lightly, swiftly,
here and up and down and there,
their slender waists miraculously
carrying their burden
of so much pain, so
many deaths, their eyes
still clear after
so many farewells.
Ward 7. She lies
in a white cave of forgetfulness.
A withered hand
trembles on its stalk. Eyes move
behind eyelids too heavy
to raise. Into an arm wasted
of colour a glass fang is fixed,
not guzzling but giving.
And between her and me
distance shrinks till there is none left
but the distance of pain that neither she nor I
She smiles a little at this
black figure in her white cave
who clumsily rises
in the round swimming waves of a bell
and dizzily goes off, growing fainter,
not smaller, leaving behind only
books that will not be read
and fruitless fruits.
Sad is the man who is asked for a story
and can't come up with one.
His five-year-old son waits in his lap.
Not the same story, Baba. A new one.
The man rubs his chin, scratches his ear.
In a room full of books in a world
of stories, he can recall
not one, and soon, he thinks, the boy
will give up on his father.
Already the man lives far ahead, he sees
the day this boy will go. Don't go!
Hear the alligator story! The angel story once more!
You love the spider story. You laugh at the spider.
Let me tell it!
But the boy is packing his shirts,
he is looking for his keys. Are you a god,
the man screams, that I sit mute before you?
Am I a god that I should never disappoint?
But the boy is here. Please, Baba, a story?
It is an emotional rather than logical equation,
an earthly rather than heavenly one,
which posits that a boy's supplications
and a father's love add up to silence.
The smell of ordinariness
Were new on the night drive through France:
Rain and hay and woods on the air
Made warm draughts in the open car.
Signposts whitened relentlessly.
Montreuil, Abbeville, Beauvais
Were promised, promised, came and went,
Each place granting its name’s fulfilment.
A combine groaning its way late
Bled seeds across its work-light.
A forest fire smoldered out.
One by one small cafés shut.
I thought of you continuously
A thousand miles south where Italy
Laid its loin to France on the darkened sphere.
Your ordinariness was renewed there.
If and when I did look up, the sky over the Moy was the very same
as the slow lift
of steam-smoke over the seam
of manure on a midwinter morning. I noticed the splash of red lead
on my left boot as again and again I would bend
my knee and bury my head in the rich
black earth the way an ostrich
was rumoured to bury its head. My hands were blue
with cold. Again and again I would bend
to my left and lift
by one handle a creel of potatoes⎯King Edwards, gray as lead⎯
mined from what would surely seem
to any nine- or ten-year-old an inexhaustible seam.
My father wore a bag-apron that read, in capital letters, RICH.
My own capital idea, meanwhile, had sunk like a lead
balloon. “Blow all you like,” my father turned on me. “Talk till you’re blue
in the face. I won’t let you take a lift
from the Monk. Blow all you like. I won’t bend.”
Monday, November 19, 2007
by Tomasi Di Lampedusa
Nunc et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen.
The daily recital of the Rosary was over. For half an hour the steady voice of the Prince had recalled the Glorious and the Sorrowful Mysteries; for half an hour other voices had interwoven a lilting hum from which, now and again, would chime some unlikely word: love, virginity, death; and during that hum the whole aspect of the rococo drawing room seemed to change; even the parrots spreading iridescent wings over the silken walls appeared abashed; even the Magdalen between the two windows looked a penitent and not just a handsome blonde lost in some dubious daydream, as she usually was.
Now, as the voices fell silent, everything dropped back into its usual order or disorder. Bendicò, the Great Dane, vexed at having been shut out, came barking through the door by which the servants had left. The women rose slowly to their feet, their oscillating skirts as they withdrew baring bit by bit the naked figures from mythology painted all over the milky depths of the tiles. Only an Andromeda remained covered by the soutane of Father Pirrone, still deep in extra prayer, and it was some time before she could sight the silvery Perseus swooping down to her aid and her kiss.
The divinities frescoed on the ceiling awoke. The troops of Tritons and Dryads, hurtling across from hill and sea amid clouds of cyclamen pink toward a transfigured Conca d’Oro,* and bent on glorifying the House of Salina, seemed suddenly so overwhelmed with exaltation as to discard the most elementary rules of perspective; meanwhile the major gods and goddesses, the Princes among gods, thunderous Jove and frowning Mars and languid Venus, had already preceded the mob of minor deities and were amiably supporting the blue armorial shield of the Leopard. They knew that for the next twenty-three and a half hours they would be lords of the villa once again. On the walls the monkeys went back to pulling faces at the cockatoos.
Beneath this Palermitan Olympus the mortals of the House of Salina were also dropping speedily from mystic spheres. The girls resettled the folds in their dresses, exchanged blue-eyed glances and snatches of schoolgirl slang; for over a month, ever since the “riots” of the Fourth of April, they had been home for safety’s sake from their convent, and regretting the canopied dormitories and collective coziness of the Holy Redeemer. The boys were already scuffling with each other for possession of a medal of San Francesco di Paola; the eldest, the heir, the young Duke Paolo, was longing to smoke and, afraid of doing so in his parents’ presence, was fondling the outside of his pocket in which lurked a braided-straw cigar case. His gaunt face was veiled in brooding melancholy it had been a bad day: Guiscard, his Irish sorrel, had seemed off form, and Fanny had apparently been unable (or unwilling) to send him her usual lilac-tinted billet-doux. Of what avail then, to him, was the Incarnation of his Savior?
Restless and domineering, the Princess dropped her rosary brusquely into her jet-fringed bag, while her fine crazy eyes glanced around at her slaves of children and her tyrant of a husband, over whom her diminutive body vainly yearned for loving dominion.
Meanwhile he himself, the Prince, had risen to his feet; the sudden movement of his huge frame made the floor tremble, and a glint of pride flashed in his light blue eyes at this fleeting confirmation of his lordship over both human beings and their works.
Now he was settling the huge scarlet missal on the chair which had been in front of him during his recitation of the Rosary, putting back the handkerchief on which he had been kneeling, and a touch of irritation clouded his brow as his eye fell on a tiny coffee stain which had had the presumption, since that morning, to fleck the vast white expanse of his waistcoat.
Not that he was fat; just very large and very strong; in houses inhabited by common mortals his head would touch the lowest rosette on the chandeliers; his fingers could twist a ducat coin as if it were mere paper; and there was constant coming and going between Villa Salina and a silversmith’s for the mending of forks and spoons which, in some fit of controlled rage at table, he had coiled into a hoop. But those fingers could also stroke and handle with the most exquisite delicacy, as his wife Maria Stella knew only too well; and up in his private observatory at the top of the house the gleaming screws, caps, and studs of the telescopes, lenses, and “comet-finders” would answer to his lightest touch.
The rays of the westering sun, still high on that May afternoon, lit up the Prince’s rosy skin and honey-colored hair; these betrayed the German origin of his mother, the Princess Carolina, whose haughtiness had frozen the easygoing Court of the Two Sicilies thirty years before. But in his blood also fermented other German strains particularly disturbing to a Sicilian aristocrat in the year 1860, however attractive his fair skin and hair amid all that olive and black: an authoritarian temperament, a certain rigidity in morals, and a propensity for abstract ideas; these, in the relaxing atmosphere of Palermo society, had changed respectively into capricious arrogance, recurring moral scruples, and contempt for his own relatives and friends, all of whom seemed to him mere driftwood in the languid meandering stream of Sicilian pragmatism.
In a family which for centuries had been incapable even of adding up their own expenditures and subtracting their own debts he was the first (and last) to have a genuine bent for mathematics; this he had applied to astronomy, and by his work gained a certain official recognition and a great deal of personal pleasure. In his mind, now, pride and mathematical analysis were so linked as to give him an illusion that the stars obeyed his calculations too (as, in fact, they seemed to be doing) and that the two small planets which he had discovered (“Salina” and “Speedy” he had called them, after his main estate and a shooting dog he had been particularly fond of) would spread the fame of his family through the empty spaces between Mars and Jupiter, thus transforming the frescoes in the villa from the adulatory to the prophetic.
Between the pride and intellectuality of his mother and the sensuality and irresponsibility of his father, poor Prince Fabrizio lived in perpetual discontent under his Jovelike frown, watching the ruin of his own class and his own inheritance without ever making, still less wanting to make, any move toward saving it.
That half hour between Rosary and dinner was one of the least irritating moments of his day, and for hours beforehand he would savor its rather uncertain calm.
With a wildly excited Bendicò bounding ahead of him he went down the short flight of steps into the garden. Enclosed between three walls and a side of the house, its seclusion gave it the air of a cemetery, accentuated by the parallel little mounds bounding the irrigation canals and looking like the graves of very tall, very thin giants. Plants were growing in thick disorder on the reddish clay; flowers sprouted in all directions, and the myrtle hedges seemed put there to prevent movement rather than guide it. At the end a statue of Flora speckled with yellow-black lichen exhibited her centuries-old charms with an air of resignation; on each side were benches holding quilted cushions, also of gray marble; and in a corner the gold of an acacia tree introduced a sudden note of gaiety. Every sod seemed to exude a yearning for beauty soon muted by languor.
But the garden, hemmed and almost squashed between these barriers, was exhaling scents that were cloying, fleshy, and slightly putrid, like the aromatic liquids distilled from the relics of certain saints; the carnations superimposed their pungence on the formal fragrance of roses and the oily emanations of magnolias drooping in corners; and somewhere beneath it all was a faint smell of mint mingling with a nursery whiff of acacia and the jammy one of myrtle; from a grove beyond the wall came an erotic waft of early orange blossom.
It was a garden for the blind: a constant offense to the eyes, a pleasure strong if somewhat crude to the nose. The Paul Neyron roses, whose cuttings he had himself bought in Paris, had degenerated; first stimulated and then enfeebled by the strong if languid pull of Sicilian earth, burned by apocalyptic Julys, they had changed into things like flesh-colored cabbages, obscene and distilling a dense, almost indecent, scent which no French horticulturist would have dared hope for. The Prince put one under his nose and seemed to be sniffing the thigh of a dancer from the Opera. Bendicò, to whom it was also proffered, drew back in disgust and hurried off in search of healthier sensations amid dead lizards and manure.
But the heavy scents of the garden brought on a gloomy train of thought for the Prince: “It smells all right here now; but a month ago . . .”
He remembered the nausea diffused throughout the entire villa by certain sweetish odors before their cause was traced: the corpse of a young soldier of the Fifth Regiment of Sharpshooters who had been wounded in the skirmish with the rebels at San Lorenzo and come up there to die, all alone, under a lemon tree. They had found him lying face downward in the thick clover, his face covered in blood and vomit, his nails dug into the soil, crawling with ants; a pile of purplish intestines had formed a puddle under his bandoleer. Russo, the agent, had discovered this object, turned it over, covered its face with his red kerchief, thrust the guts back into the gaping stomach with some twigs, and then covered the wound with the blue flaps of the cloak; spitting continuously with disgust, meanwhile, not right on, but very near the body. And all this with meticulous care. “Those swine stink even when they’re dead.” It had been the only epitaph to that derelict death.
*Conca d’Oro, literally “Golden Shell,” is the name of the hills encircling Palermo.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Complacencies of the peignoir, and late
Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair,
And the green freedom of a cockatoo
Upon a rug mingle to dissipate
The holy hush of ancient sacrifice.
She dreams a little, and she feels the dark
Encroachment of that old catastrophe,
As a calm darkens among water-lights.
The pungent oranges and bright, green wings
Seem things in some procession of the dead,
Winding across wide water, without sound.
The day is like wide water, without sound,
Stilled for the passion of her dreaming feet
Over the seas, to silent Palestine,
Dominion of the blood and sepulchre.
Why should she give her bounty to the dead?
What is divinity if it can come
Only in silent shadows and in dreams?
Shall she not find in the comforts of sun,
In pungent fruit and bright, green wings, or else
In any balm or beauty of the earth,
Things to be cherished like the thought of heaven?
Divinity must live within herself:
Passions of rain, or moods in falling snow;
Grievings in loneliness, or unsubdued
Elations when the forest blooms; gusty
Emotions on wet roads on autumn nights;
All pleasures and all pains, remembering
The bough of summer and the winter branch.
These are the measures destined for her soul.
Jove in the clouds had his inhuman birth.
No mother suckled him, no sweet land gave
Large-mannered motions to his mythy mind
He moved among us, as a muttering king,
Magnificent, would move among his hinds,
Until our blood, commingling, virginal,
With heaven, brought such requital to desire
The very hinds discerned it, in a star.
Shall our blood fail? Or shall it come to be
The blood of paradise? And shall the earth
Seem all of paradise that we shall know?
The sky will be much friendlier then than now,
A part of labor and a part of pain,
And next in glory to enduring love,
Not this dividing and indifferent blue.
She says, "I am content when wakened birds,
Before they fly, test the reality
Of misty fields, by their sweet questionings;
But when the birds are gone, and their warm fields
Return no more, where, then, is paradise?"
There is not any haunt of prophecy,
Nor any old chimera of the grave,
Neither the golden underground, nor isle
Melodious, where spirits gat them home,
Nor visionary south, nor cloudy palm
Remote as heaven's hill, that has endured
As April's green endures; or will endure
Like her rememberance of awakened birds,
Or her desire for June and evening, tipped
By the consummation of the swallow's wings.
She says, "But in contentment I still feel
The need of some imperishable bliss."
Death is the mother of beauty; hence from her,
Alone, shall come fulfillment to our dreams
And our desires. Although she strews the leaves
Of sure obliteration on our paths,
The path sick sorrow took, the many paths
Where triumph rang its brassy phrase, or love
Whispered a little out of tenderness,
She makes the willow shiver in the sun
For maidens who were wont to sit and gaze
Upon the grass, relinquished to their feet.
She causes boys to pile new plums and pears
On disregarded plate. The maidens taste
And stray impassioned in the littering leaves.
Is there no change of death in paradise?
Does ripe fruit never fall? Or do the boughs
Hang always heavy in that perfect sky,
Unchanging, yet so like our perishing earth,
With rivers like our own that seek for seas
They never find, the same receeding shores
That never touch with inarticulate pang?
Why set the pear upon those river-banks
Or spice the shores with odors of the plum?
Alas, that they should wear our colors there,
The silken weavings of our afternoons,
And pick the strings of our insipid lutes!
Death is the mother of beauty, mystical,
Within whose burning bosom we devise
Our earthly mothers waiting, sleeplessly.
Supple and turbulent, a ring of men
Shall chant in orgy on a summer morn
Their boisterous devotion to the sun,
Not as a god, but as a god might be,
Naked among them, like a savage source.
Their chant shall be a chant of paradise,
Out of their blood, returning to the sky;
And in their chant shall enter, voice by voice,
The windy lake wherein their lord delights,
The trees, like serafin, and echoing hills,
That choir among themselves long afterward.
They shall know well the heavenly fellowship
Of men that perish and of summer morn.
And whence they came and whither they shall go
The dew upon their feet shall manifest.
She hears, upon that water without sound,
A voice that cries, "The tomb in Palestine
Is not the porch of spirits lingering.
It is the grave of Jesus, where he lay."
We live in an old chaos of the sun,
Or old dependency of day and night,
Or island solitude, unsponsered, free,
Of that wide water, inescapable.
Deer walk upon our mountains, and the quail
Whistle about us their spontaneous cries;
Sweet berries ripen in the wilderness;
And, in the isolation of the sky,
At evening, casual flocks of pigeons make
Abiguous undulations as they sink,
Downward to darkness, on extended wings.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Fragments of her poems exist, a line
one scrap found stuffed in the mouth
of a mummified cat.
Let’s say we know this as we know the cat
light-footed through a garden
of hyacinth and violets,
inking between the legs of guests,
dressed dancers, lute players.
In one jump the cat lands on a white washed wall
between shards of broken glass
on a cliff giving way to the sea.
Its silver rimmed eyes
reflect the tincture of moonlight off water,
that also falls through the branches of a fig tree
into the room of two women.
The older one
mouths something to herself over the young one’s
something like let me see this forever
before she cries for the simple way the breasts darken
as the shadows shift.
The young lover, who will leave by morning,
offers only her hair a dark,
a tangled nest,
the aging woman will remember,
and later call, despite the absence of light,
the evening star.
What kind of creature does this?
Reinvents the body despite the body’s rejection?
Imagines dust and debris
of love’s collapse to be great arms in the bed of the sky.
from hair constellations,
to the hungry strays that call through the night air.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
A lady might pretend to fix her face,
but scan the room inside her compact mirror -
so gentlemen would scrutinize this glass
to gaze on Windermere or Rydal Water
and pick their way along the clifftop tracks
intent upon the romance in the box,
keeping untamed nature at their backs,
and some would come to grief upon the rocks.
Don't look so smug. Don't think you're any safer
as you blunder forward through your years
straining to recall some aching pleasure,
or blinded by some private scrim of tears.
I know. My world's encircled by this prop,
though all my life I've tried to force it shut.
Friday, November 09, 2007
Those houses, cafes, bars ... the old purlieus
I've haunted, year after year -
I conjured you when I was happy, when I was sad:
you were my detail, my inner circumstance.
I have turned you into pure notion.
* * *THE WRECK
But what lovers we were, what lover,
Even when it was all over -
the deadweight bull-black wines we swung
towards each other rang and rang
like bells of blood, our own great hearts.
We slung the drunk boat out of port
and watched our unreal sober life
unmoor, a continent of grief;
The candlelight strange on our faces
like the silent tiny blazes
And coruscations of its wars.
We blew them out and took the stairs
Into the night for the night's work,
stripped off in the timbered dark,
Gently hooked each other on
like aqualungs, and thundered down
To mine our lovely secret wreck.
We surfaced later, breathless, back
To back, then made our way alone
up the mined beach of the dawn.
The Fear of Burial
In the empty field, in the morning,
the body waits to be claimed.
The spirit sits beside it, on a small rock--
nothing comes to give it form again.
Think of the body's loneliness.
At night pacing the sheared field,
its shadow buckled tightly around.
Such a long journey.
And already the remote, trembling lights of the village
not pausing for it as they scan the rows.
How far away they seem,
the wooden doors, the bread and milk
laid like weights on the table.
A child draws the outline of a body.
She draws what she can, but it is white all through,
she cannot fill in what she knows is there.
Within the unsupported line, she knows
that life is missing; she has cut
one background from another. Like a child,
she turns to her mother.
And you draw the heart
against the emptiness she has created.
A man and a woman lie on a white bed.
It is morning. I think
Soon they will waken.
On the bedside table is a vase
of lilies; sunlight
pools in their throats.
I watch him turn to her
as though to speak her name
but silently, deep in her mouth--
At the window ledge,
a bird calls.
And then she stirs; her body
fills with his breath.
I open my eyes; you are watching me.
Almost over this room
the sun is gliding.
Look at your face, you say,
holding your own close to me
to make a mirror.
How calm you are. And the burning wheel
passes gently over us.
by Robin Robertson It is always the same:
Sleep serene, avoid the backward
Glance; go forward, dreams, and do not halt
(Behind you in the desert stands a token
Of doubt — a pillar of salt).
Sleep, the past, and wake, the future,
And walk out promptly through the open door;
But you, my coward doubts, may go on sleeping,
You need not wake again — not any more.
The New Year comes with bombs, it is too late
To dose the dead with honourable intentions:
If you have honour to spare, employ it on the living;
The dead are dead as Nineteen-Thirty-Eight.
Sleep to the noise of running water
To-morrow to be crossed, however deep;
This is no river of the dead or Lethe,
To-night we sleep
On the banks of Rubicon — the die is cast;
There will be time to audit
The accounts later, there will be sunlight later
And the equation will come out at last.
by Robin Robertson
He opens his eyes to a hard frost,
the morning's soft amnesia of snow.
The thorned stems of gorse
are starred crystal; each bud
like a candied fruit, its yellow
picked out and lit
by the low pulse
riding in the eastern trees.
What the snow has furred
to silence, uniformity,
frost amplifies, makes singular:
giving every form a sound,
an edge, as if
frost wants to know what
snow tries to forget.
And so he drinks for winter,
for the coming year,
to open all the beautiful tiny doors
in their craquelure of frost;
and he drinks
like the snow falling, trying
to close the biggest door of all.
Thursday, November 08, 2007
Archaic Torso of Apollo
We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,
gleams in all its powers. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark centre where procreation flared.
Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:
would not, from all borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.
Translated from the German by Stephen Mitchell; The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
The nubbed leaves
in a tease of green, thinning
down to the membrane:
the quick, purpled
beginnings of the male.
Then the slow hairs of the heart:
the choke that guards its trophy,
its vegetable goblet.
The meat of it lies, displayed
the stub-root aching in its oil.
Ulysses and Circe
Ten years before Troy, ten years before Circe⎯⎯
things changed to the names he gave them,
then lost their names:
Myrmidons, Spartans, soldier of dire Ulysses . . .
Why should I renew his infamous sorrow?
He had his part, he thought of building
the wooden horse as big as a house
and ended the ten years’ war.
“By force of fraud,” he says, “I did
what neither Diomedes, nor Achilles son of Thetis,
nor the Greeks with their thousand ships . . .
I destroyed Troy.”
What is more uxorious than waking at five
with the sun and three hours free?
He sees the familiar bluish-brown river
Dangle down her flat young forearm,
then crisscross. The sun rises,
a red bonfire,
weakly rattling in the lower branches⎯⎯
that eats like a locust and leaves the tree entire.
In ten minutes perhaps,
or whenever he next wakes up,
the sun is white as it mostly is,
dull changer of night to day,
itself unchanged, in war or peace.
The blinds give
bars of sunlight, bars of shade,
but the latter predominate
over the sincerity of her sybaritic bed.
She lies beside him,
a delicious, somnolent log. She says,
“Such wonderful things are being said to me⎯⎯
I’m such an old sleeper, I can’t respond …”
Monday, November 05, 2007
A Man Meets a Woman in the Street
“A Man Meets a Woman in the Street” from THE COMPLETE POEMS by Randall Jarell
Saturday, November 03, 2007
Extract from A Moveable Feast