The sky bends over us, responsible,
as our poem bends over the sadness of mankind,
as the sensitive, initiated eyelid bends over the eye,
protecting the pupil of the eye from the dust,
the improvised light, the hardly perceptible insects,
so that the eyes may open again forewarned and free,
each time the chance comes to view the miracle of germination
and to herald their smile to another.
Something about Yannis Ritsos I keep coming back to. Perhaps it is the earthiness of what he writes about. Above, you have a meditation on eyelids as I have never read before. The tender eyelid as protective. I mean, that is what it does, some part of me knew this – but this gives it back to me.
Here’s another short dose of who we are. The lyric below takes me to somewhere lonely through an indirect path – through an impossible image I am given very possible feelings.
Recollection – Yannis Ritsos
A warm aroma had remained on the armpits of her coat.
Her coat on the hanger in the hallway like a drawn curtain.
What was happening now was of another time. The light altered faces,
all unfamiliar. And if someone was about to enter the house,
that empty coat would lift its arms slowly, bitterly,
and silently shut the doors once more.
Update on the PhD front: First day of classes/First day of teaching is Monday, August 26th…my birthday!
That’s right: I’ll be up bright and early – as I have been most of this week, what with orientation and syllabustering like crazy.
Wish me luck.
On that note, expect the Influences to become a bit looser, and more informal while I juggle chainsaws students.
As I mentioned last week, my birthday has me asking questions. Like: what would my friend Dennis – who passed away three summers ago – think of where I am headed? He told me once during a bout of undergrad existential angst: Get it together – only women can freak out AND still get things done. You can freak out later.
The prose poem below by Eduardo Galeano speaks to how that good man stood (stands) in my life.
Grandparents – Eduardo Galeano
For many peoples of black Africa, ancestors are the spirits that live in the tree beside your house or in the cow grazing in the field. The great-grandfather of your great-great-grandfather is now that stream snaking down the mountainside. Your ancestor could also be any spirit that decides to accompany you on your voyage through the world, even if he or she was never a relative or an acquaintance.
The family has no borders, explains Soboufu Some of the Dagara people: “Our children have many mothers and many fathers. As many as they wish.”
And the ancestral spirits, the ones that help you make your way, are the many grandparents that each of you has. As many as you wish.
And why is the sun such a bad friend
to someone walking in the desert?
And why is the sun so friendly
in the hospital garden?
Are these birds or fish here
in nets of moonlight?
Was it where they lost me
that I was able to find myself?
Pablo Neruda, from the Book of Questions
The above excerpts from Neruda are from a post I did last summer having some translation fun (see here).
It is my birthday month and so I am in question mode all sorts. I believe questions can be their own genre of literature (ask Neruda).
There is the story of the Rabbi being asked by his son: What is the meaning of life? – to which the Rabbi responded with: Why would you ruin such a great question with an answer?
The poem below by Mary Oliver turns on its questions, creates from a desire to know, a knowing.
Some Questions You Might Ask – Mary Oliver
Is the soul solid, like iron?
Or is it tender and breakable, like
the wings of a moth in the beak of an owl?
Who has it, and who doesn’t?
I keep looking around me.
The face of the moose is as sad
as the face of Jesus.
The swan opens her white wings slowly.
In the fall, the black bear carries leaves into the darkness.
One question leads to another.
Does it have a shape? Like an iceberg?
Like the eye of a hummingbird?
Does it have one lung, like the snake and the scallop?
Why should I have it, and not the anteater
who loves her children?
Why should I have it, and not the camel?
Come to think of it, what about the maple trees?
What about the blue iris?
What about all the little stones, sitting alone in the moonlight?
What about roses, and lemons, and their shining leaves?
What about the grass?
Bright star – would I were steadfast as thou art — Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night And watching, with eternal lids apart, Like nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite, The moving waters at their priestlike task Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores…
(John Keats, Bright Star)
With those six lines there, poetry had me.
I read those as a kid and was floored. I mean, first there’s the language: what’s an Eremite? Steadfa- que? But you go down into the words waters, priestlike task, ablution, shores and they take you into the ocean with their sounds. I was hooked. I didn’t know what I was looking at but I wanted to be around it, be part of it.
Of course, I didn’t realize this til much later, when I returned to Keats in an official I AM NOW GOING TO READ POETRY adolescent way. Coming across this poem again, I went back to that silence of being a kid with something – can’t name it, don’t know what it is – but something there in these words is soooo cooool.
Eloquent I am not.
That said, I wanted to do a more personal post for this, the 100th post.
And what’s more personal than stars:
Sure, they’re all the way up there and on a completely different timeframe than us. Yet, when you look up – or rather, when you let yourself look up and really look up – there’s something…I don’t know, nice about it.
Here’s me trying to say it better:
To a star in Texas – Jose Angel Araguz
Little light weaving through, I cannot
make out much tonight, and I know this here
means nothing to you, so
skin, tell my stories; heart, fill the sky.
I don’t know exactly what that last line means but I’ve been kinda living by it ever since I wrote it years ago. Something about how just being here is enough.
Stars. The word, plural or singular, is so riddled with cliche, you could be talking about nothing. And in a way you are.
Stars are, for me, things of persistence, pseudo-Venn diagrams of presence and absence. They are one of the few things that people will – nearly universally – stop and let me themselves be awed by.
How do I know this? Through reading poems.
Here’s Rilke’s take on it:
Lament – Rainer Maria Rilke
Everything is far
and long gone by.
I think that the star
glittering above me
has been dead for a million years.
I think there were tears
in the car I heard pass
and something terrible was said.
A clock has stopped striking in the house
across the road…
When did it start?…
I would like to step out of my heart
and go walking beneath the enormous sky.
I would like to pray.
And surely of all the stars that perished
one still exists.
I think that I know
which one it is —
which one, at the end of its beam in the sky,
stands like a white city…