Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Only the Dead Know Brooklyn, on Poems, the Abyss and a Way Out


Arthur Rimbaud and Charles Pierre Baudelaire

 

Thomas Wolf wrote about this place.
For weeks now, we’ve been reading poems and stories together, here.
Along with biking and sitting on the stoop, and protesting.
It’s the most consistent activity I’ve enjoyed during the quarantine, facing all the glaring errors of our culture, the memories of where we’ve been.

My friend Ed is an archaeologist.
Usually he tours Mayan ruins in Mexico.
This spring, he’s home, painting, and sometimes remembering.

Ed Barnhart writes:
I was thinking - wow, how hard must it be to not be able to be at your school for your high school graduation? Then I remembered, oh yeah, my high school burned to the ground on the last day of spring break of my senior year!

Sometimes we think we’ll never leave.
And then we stumble on another poem.

A few stick with me.


In our activist informed reading group, we read a few last week.
Each of us sharing.
I read Charles Pierre Baudelaire:

The Artist’s Confiteor

How the close of an autumn day pierces! Pierces to the point of pain, for delightful sensations, though vague, may be intense, and there is no sharper pang than that of of Infinity. What greater delight than for the eye to drown in the immensity of sky and sea? Solitude, silence, incomparably chaste blue, on the horizon a tiny sail quivering which, by its smallness and isolation, resembles my irredeemable existence, monotonous melody of the sea swell-all these things think through me, or I think through them (for, in the grandeur of reverie, the I is soon lost); they think, I say, but musically and picturequely, without quibble, without syllogism, without deduction. These thoughts, whether from inside me or external things, soon become too intense. Voluptuous energy creates uneasiness and positive suffering. My overtense nerves then give out only peevish and painful vibrations. And now the depth of sky is appalling; its clarity exasperates me. I find the indifference of the sea, the immutability of of the spectacle, revolting. . . Ah! must I suffer eternally, or else eternally flee the beautiful? Nature, pitiless enchantress, always victorious rival, let me go! Tempt no more my desires and my pride! Study of the beautiful is a duel in which the artist cries out in fear, before being bested.”
Charles Baudelaire
“The confiteour is a liturgical form (beginning, literally, I confess acknowledging sinfulness and requesting mercy.”


Catherine read Ithika by CP Cavafy.

Ithaka

TRANSLATED BY EDMUND KEELEY
As you set out for Ithaka
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbors you’re seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you’re old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn't have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you’ll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

C. P. Cavafy, "The City" from C.P. Cavafy: Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Translation Copyright © 1975, 1992 by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Reproduced with permission of Princeton University Press.
Source: C.P. Cavafy: Collected Poems (Princeton University Press, 1975)

Vicki read my favorite new poem by Arthur Rimbaud, a poem about fates and hopes, fortune vs virtue.

The Drunken Boat

TRANSLATED BY WALLACE FOWLIE
As I was going down impassive Rivers,
I no longer felt myself guided by haulers:
Yelping redskins had taken them as targets
And had nailed them naked to colored stakes.

I was indifferent to all crews,
The bearer of Flemish wheat or English cottons
When with my haulers this uproar stopped
The Rivers let me go where I wanted.

Into the furious lashing of the tides
More heedless than children's brains the other winter
I ran! And loosened Peninsulas
Have not undergone a more triumphant hubbub

The storm blessed my sea vigils
Lighter than a cork I danced on the waves
That are called eternal rollers of victims,
Ten nights, without missing the stupid eye of the lighthouses!

Sweeter than the flesh of hard apples is to children
The green water penetrated my hull of fir
And washed me of spots of blue wine
And vomit, scattering rudder and grappling-hook

And from then on I bathed in the Poem
Of the Sea, infused with stars and lactescent,
Devouring the azure verses; where, like a pale elated
Piece of flotsam, a pensive drowned figure sometimes sinks;

Where, suddenly dyeing the blueness, delirium
And slow rhythms under the streaking of daylight,
Stronger than alcohol, vaster than our lyres,
The bitter redness of love ferments!

I know the skies bursting with lightning, and the waterspouts
And the surf and the currents; I know the evening,
And dawn as exalted as a flock of doves
And at times I have seen what man thought he saw!

I have seen the low sun spotted with mystic horrors,
Lighting up, with long violet clots,
Resembling actors of very ancient dramas,
The waves rolling far off their quivering of shutters!

I have dreamed of the green night with dazzled snows
A kiss slowly rising to the eyes of the sea,
The circulation of unknown saps,
And the yellow and blue awakening of singing phosphorous!

I followed during pregnant months the swell,
Like hysterical cows, in its assault on the reefs,
Without dreaming that the luminous feet of the Marys
Could constrain the snout of the wheezing Oceans!

I struck against, you know, unbelievable Floridas
Mingling with flowers panthers' eyes and human
Skin! Rainbows stretched like bridal reins
Under the horizon of the seas to greenish herds!

I have seen enormous swamps ferment, fish-traps
Where a whole Leviathan rots in the rushes!
Avalanches of water in the midst of a calm,
And the distances cataracting toward the abyss!

Glaciers, suns of silver, nacreous waves, skies of embers!
Hideous strands at the end of brown gulfs
Where giant serpents devoured by bedbugs
Fall down from gnarled trees with black scent!

I should have liked to show children those sunfish
Of the blue wave, the fish of gold, the singing fish.
—Foam of flowers rocked my drifting
And ineffable winds winged me at times.

At times a martyr weary of poles and zones,
The sea, whose sob created my gentle roll,
Brought up to me her dark flowers with yellow suckers
And I remained, like a woman on her knees...

Resembling an island tossing on my sides the quarrels
And droppings of noisy birds with yellow eyes
And I sailed on, when through my fragile ropes
Drowned men sank backward to sleep!

Now I, a boat lost in the foliage of caves,
Thrown by the storm into the birdless air
I whose water-drunk carcass would not have been rescued
By the Monitors and the Hanseatic sailboats;

Free, smoking, topped with violet fog,
I who pierced the reddening sky like a wall,
Bearing, delicious jam for good poets
Lichens of sunlight and mucus of azure,

Who ran, spotted with small electric moons,
A wild plank, escorted by black seahorses,
When Julys beat down with blows of cudgels
The ultramarine skies with burning funnels;

I, who trembled, hearing at fifty leagues off
The moaning of the Behemoths in heat and the thick Maelstroms,
Eternal spinner of the blue immobility
I miss Europe with its ancient parapets!

I have seen sidereal archipelagos! and islands
Whose delirious skies are open to the sea-wanderer:
—Is it in these bottomless nights that you sleep and exile yourself,
Million golden birds, o future Vigor? –

But, in truth, I have wept too much! Dawns are heartbreaking.
Every moon is atrocious and every sun bitter.
Acrid love has swollen me with intoxicating torpor
O let my keel burst! O let me go into the sea!

If I want a water of Europe, it is the black
Cold puddle where in the sweet-smelling twilight
A squatting child full of sadness releases
A boat as fragile as a May butterfly.

No longer can I, bathed in your languor, o waves,
Follow in the wake of the cotton boats,
Nor cross through the pride of flags and flames,
Nor swim under the terrible eyes of prison ships.

Arthur Rimbaud, "The Drunken Boat" from Complete Works, Selected Letters, translated by Wallace Fowlie. Copyright © 2005 by Wallace Fowlie.  Reprinted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
Source: Complete Works, Selected Letters (The University of Chicago Press, 2005)


And Joan E read:

The Ghost of Heaven

Sleep to sleep through thirty years of night,
a child herself with child,
for whom we searched

through here, or there, amidst
bones still sleeved and trousered,
a spine picked clean, a paint can,
a skull with hair


Sewn into the hem of memory:
Fire.
God of AbrahamGod of IsaacGod of Jacob,
God not
of philosophers or scholars. God not of poets.


Night to night:
child walking toward me through burning maize
over the clean bones of those whose flesh
was lifted by zopilotes into heaven.

So that is how we ascend!
In the clawed feet of fallen angels.
To be assembled again
in the work rooms of clouds.


She rose from where they found her lying
not far from a water urn, leaving
herself behind on the ground
where they found her, holding her arms
before her as if she were asleep.

That is how she appears to me: a ghost in heaven.
Carrying her arms in her arms.


Blue smoke from corn cribs, flap of wings.
On the walls of the city streets a plague of initials.


Walking through a fire-lit river
to a burning house: dead Singer
sewing machine and piece of dress.

Outside a cashew tree wept
blackened cashews over lamina.

Outside paper fireflies rose to the stars.


Bring penicillin if you can, surgical tape, a whetstone,
mosquito repellent but not the aerosol kind.
Especially bring a syringe for sucking phlegm,
a knife, wooden sticks, a surgical clamp, and plastic bags.

You will need a bottle of cloud
for anesthesia.

Like the flight of a crane
through colorless dreams.


When a leech opens your flesh it leaves a small volcano.
Always pour turpentine over your hair before going to sleep.


Such experiences as these are forgotten
before memory intrudes.

The girl was found (don’t say this)
with a man’s severed head stuffed
into her where a child would have been.
No one knew who the man was.
Another of the dead.
So they had not, after all,
killed a pregnant girl.
This was a relief to them.


That sound in the brush?
A settling of wind in sorghum.

If they capture you, talk.
Talk. Please yes. You heard me
right the first time.

You will be asked who you are.
Eventually, we are all asked who we are.

All who come
All who come into the world
All who come into the world are sent.
Open your curtain of spirit.

Source: Poetry (March 2011)


And Emily read:

Obligation

Poem by Pablo Neruda

To whoever is not listening to the sea
this Friday morning, to whoever is cooped up
in house or office, factory or woman
or street or mine or harsh prison cell;
to him I come, and, without speaking or looking,
I arrive and open the door of his prison,
and a vibration starts up, vague and insistent,
a great fragment of thunder sets in motion
the rumble of the planet and the foam,
the raucous rivers of the ocean flood,
the star vibrates swiftly in its corona,
and the sea is beating, dying and continuing.

So, drawn on by my destiny,
I ceaselessly must listen to and keep
the sea's lamenting in my awareness,
I must feel the crash of the hard water
and gather it up in a perpetual cup
so that, wherever those in prison may be,
wherever they suffer the autumn's castigation,
I may be there with an errant wave,
I may move, passing through windows,
and hearing me, eyes will glance upward
saying 'How can I reach the sea?'
And I shall broadcast, saying nothing,
the starry echoes of the wave,
a breaking up of foam and quicksand,
a rustling of salt withdrawing,
the grey cry of the sea-birds on the coast.


So, through me, freedom and the sea
will make their answer to the shuttered heart.







 
 

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