Tag Archives: poems

The Open Door

People talk about me.
What they say may be true.
But just three short steps
Take me to the winehouse of my lover.

—Sixth Dalai Lama, The Turquoise Bee: The Lovesongs of the Sixth Dalai Lama (#51 p. 99)

"Eucalyptus" pen and ink drawing by Victoria Accardi

“Eucalyptus” pen and ink drawing by Victoria Accardi

At a bookfair some weeks ago, I randomly opened to this page and read the line—”But just three short steps / Take me to the winehouse of my lover.” I simply closed the book and purchased it on the spot. The fact that these achingly sweet lovesongs were written by the sixth Dalai Lama (Tsangyang Tshomo Gyatso) is fascinating. He wrote of himself as the “Turquoise Bee” in his small collection compiled and translated by Rick Fields and Brian Cutillo.  Fields writes a brief history of the first five Dalai Lamas and then we come to the unique and sensual sixth: Tsanayang Gyatso, meaning Ocean of Melodious Song. He was, needlesstosay, a controversial figure.

 

 

By drawing diagrams on the ground
The stars of space can be measured.
Though familiar with the soft flesh
Of my lover’s body
I cannot measure her depths. (#13 p. 49)

There is such longing and passion in his melodious songs, and such innocence that touches the heart of spiritual reverence. The joining of the sacred with the profane in the face of a disapproving society is lovely, brave and profound.

Face of frost on grass,
Icy north wind’s messenger—
Robber of the bond
Between the bees and the flower. (#40, p. 85)

I have neglected my blog. It has been a long many weeks for me: life throwing all sorts of joys and traumas my way. Reading these lovesongs is a sweet salve, a confirmation of what gets me through hard days and deep fears. I’ve never understood religions or philosophies that insist on removing one from one’s own physical presence. I can’t make sense of a dogma that would require the renunciation of that which is our experience: our bodies, our emotions, our sensual phenomenological being. When one loves, the door to a world of pain opens. But I would rather walk through that open door than live without giving my heart to those I love.

And Never Mind About The Bewilderment

Too bad for you, beautiful singer
unadorned by laurel
child of thunder and scapegoat alike
from “A Panic That Can Still Come Upon Me”, Peter Gizzi

IMG_2641I was lent a few books written by the poet Peter Gizzi recently. One of which is was meant for German publication. It is a dual-language publication entitled, Totsein ist gut in Amerika. It had a section at the end entirely in German, which I therefore couldn’t understand– was it just an afterword? Biographical? It looked more interpretative, but as I don’t really know I amused myself wondering how the bits in English related to the  long consonant-heavy words written in relation to them. A digression, I will admit, but that is a quality I love about a physical book, the details that place it in a specific time and place, or in this case, misplace. First of all, reading and holding a book of poetry is a different experience from reading a single poem (particularly online), but one becomes more aware of the thing as an object when one is not the particular audience for whom the book was produced. I kind of delighted in experiencing the book from that slight oblique angle.

A chromosome has 26 letters, a gene just 4. One is a nation.
The other a poem.

– from “Eclogues”

Gizzi, a friend of the late Robert Seydel, (whose artwork adorns this edition’s cover and to whom the book is dedicated) shares Seydel’s sense and sensibility of arrangement. Writing is necessarily a process of  composition, but the arrangement is a subtle art: how one image, word, or sentence flows patiently to the waiting consideration sets the timbre. Gizzi’s poems are of an observer’s poignant acknowledgment of  the details that surround, strike a fancy, or sink into the soul.

23. In space the letterforms “I love” oscillate in waves.
– from “Apocrypha”

Threshold Songs published by Wesleyan Press has some of the same poems and is a lovely beautiful book: simply, but prettily, bound. It has a slightly more somber timber, and many of the poems have a tighter rhythm. “Modern Adventures at Sea” is the last piece– perfectly placed at the lingering end.  It is deeply affirming of our humanity: our questions, our barely controlled lives which are completely out of any real control. That we manage stay afloat most of the time is the miracle, adventure and beauty or our voyage.

When lost at sea
I found a voice,
alive and cresting,
crashing, falling
and rising. To drift,
digress, to dream
of the voices. Its
grain. To feel
its vibrations. Pitch.
Its plural noises.
To be upheld
in it, to love.

The last book was Ode: Salute to the New York School, it is a cento, (“a late Roman verse form made up of lines from other sources” (43)) in this case New York poets from the 50s to the 70s. In this breezy form something wonderful of the zeitgeist of that period shines through. In the back Gizzi delightfully explains that he “wanted to express the latent desire for lists and order, and to create a texture to accommodate the eros inherent in research” (43).  I love that. It’s true, of course! and so perfectly expressed I laughed aloud when I read it…accommodate the eros inherent in research, indeed!  What odd creatures we are!

To know is an extreme condition
like doubt, and will not rest.

–from “Nocturne”

Ultimately what I found so deeply appealing of these works is that Gizzi is not trying to know, not trying even to understand. His poetry, by a sort of reserved observation, therefore creates a simplicity of impact, and the reader feels it with poetic intimacy. The doleful beauty of it all– this life, its song, its journey, “just a little green untitled,” we are more than all that we see–there is goodness here.

Lines Depicting Simple Happiness

The shine on her buckle took precedence in sun
Her shine, I should say, could take me anywhere
It feels right to be up this close in tight wind
It feels right to notice all the shiny things about you
About you there is nothing I wouldn’t want to know
With you nothing is simple yet nothing is simpler
About you many good things come into relation
I think of proofs and grammar, vowel sounds, like
A is for knee socks, E for panties
I is for buttondown, O the blouse you wear
U is for hair clip, and Y your tight skirt
The music picks up again, I am the man I hope to be
The bright air hangs freely near your newly cut hair
It is so easy now to see gravity at work in your face
Easy to understand time, that dark process
To accept it as a beautiful process, your face

 

* Title from “Periplum” pg. 182 Totsein Ist Gut In Amerika
** “just a little green untitled” from “Fin Amor” Totsein ist Gut in Amerika pg.148

Mad Girl’s Love Song

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I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

The stars go waltzing out in blue and red,
And arbitrary blackness gallops in:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

God topples from the sky, hell’s fires fade:
Exit seraphim and Satan’s men:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I fancied you’d return the way you said,
But I grow old and I forget your name.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

I should have loved a thunderbird instead;
At least when spring comes they roar back again.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

– Sylvia Plath

 

Quiddity of the False Azure

All colors made me happy: even gray. — Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire (line 29)

The weaker the organ the longer the impression of the image lasts. — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Theory of Colours (pg 51, section 121. )

Scan 13My recent inquiries into perception made me curious to know the oft-cited primary text of Goethe’s Theory of Colours. It is an interesting read, particularly as the content has been thoroughly disapproved making the reading of it a philosophical or poetical exercise more than a scientific one.

Time means succession, and succession, change:
Hence timelessness is bound to disarrange
Schedules of sentiment…
 —Pale Fire (lines 567-569)

Thus inspiration already presupposes expiration; thus every systole its diastole. —Theory of Colour (15, section 38.)

The beautiful fiction in the non-fiction that is twisted inadvertently by Goethe is  conversely, in Pale Fire, “written” by John Shade in four cantos, and yet, similarly, bent. Nabokov elegantly distorts fiction and non-fiction and intentionally plays a stark psychology off the poetical and philosophical posit. The ruse of John Shade is elaborate…what is the purpose? It seems to me that by creating, for example through the officialness of the “About the Author” page followed by “Other Books by the Author,” a Nabokovian mocking of the surety of our perception of truth gains a profoundly moving and tender, if tremulous, capital T Truth.

Life Everlasting-based on a misprint!
I mused as I drove homeward: take the hint,
And stop investigating my abyss?
But all at once it dawned on me that
this
Was the real point, the counterpuntal theme;
Just this: not text, but texture; not dream
But topsy-turvical coincidence,
Not flimsy nonsense, but a web of sense.
Yes! It sufficed that I in life could find
Some kind of link-and-bobolink, some kind
Of correlated pattern in the game,
Plexed artistry, and something of the same
Pleasure in it as they who played it found.
 —Pale Fire (lines 803-815)

If Goethe is correct that the longer an impression lasts, the weaker the organ, than I must have a very weak heart. In Pale Fire (particularly the Ginko Press edition I experienced— because it was more than something to be merely read) a persistent ache of a melancholy color bleeds and stains, and yet, and yet… there is a rising blush of “Faint hope.”

*Theory of Colours  translated from the German with notes by Charles Lock Eastlake

**Title from opening stanza of Pale Fire –
I was the shadow of the waxwing slain
By the false azure in the windowpane

*** “Faint Hope.” final sentence of Pale Fire

Up Bacchus, undiluted.

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I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that ancient Rome was so louche. Latin has a lofty air of the regal, but when it wants to it can be as vulgar, and better, than the rest – at least if the The Poems of Catullus translated by Charles Martin are any indication. Catullus leaves one a little breathless, laughing, with eyebrows raised saying,  Oh my my my. Really!? Why I never! 

43
Greetings to you, girl of the nose not tiny
the feet not pretty, eyes not darkly-shadowed,
stubby fat fingers, mouth forever spraying
language that shows us your lack of refinement,
whore of that bankrupt wastrel from Formiae!
Is it your beauty they praise in the province?
Do they compare you to our Lesbia?
Mindless, this age. And insensitive, really.

Do not piss this poet off – he has a quill and he knows how to use it. One poem after another not only decimates his irritant du jour, but threatens with more poem-bombs to come, if provoked.

Veranius, more dear to me than any
300,000 of my many dear friends,
  – from 9

How touching. Catullus is unashamedly obnoxious (thank god he’s dead or who knows how viciously he might skewer me). But he is also very funny. In poem 50 he relates a wonderful evening spent with his friend playing around writing (according to him, naturally) hilarious erotic verse. He’s so exhausted from the exertion he begs his friend to come to him the next morning to continue their fun:

I beg you to be kind to my petition,
darling, for if you aren’t, if you’re cruel,
them Nemesis will turn on you in outrage.
Don’t rile her up, please – she’s a bitch, that goddess.

Nemesis was the Greek god of retribution the end notes helpfully tells us. The poems are full of whining, lamenting, competitive bitching, lust of both the hetero and homosexual brands – and then there is Lesbia. He does go on about Lesbia. The end notes inform us that Lesbia is actually “the notorious” Clodia Metelli, sister of the populist demagogue no one cares about anymore (Publius Clodius Pulcher). The name “Lesbia” conjures up the esteemed, sensual Greek poet Sappho, we are also reminded. Catullus’ Lesbia, married and apparently fickle, keeps his quill (both) quite engaged.

70
My woman says there is no one whom she’d rather marry
than me, not Jupiter, if he came courting.
That’s what she says – but what a woman says to a passionate
lover
ought to be scribbled on wind, on running water.

Written on running water– that’s quite nice. Never the less, I don’t think I can muster up much sympathy for our debauched meany, Catullus. Even if it would take “as many sandgrains in the desert” of kisses from Lesbia to “sate your mad Catullus!” his love of loves. He’ll be just fine keeping busy with the whores and fellows:

32
I beg of you, my sweet, my Ipsilla,
my darling, my sophisticated beauty,
summon me to a midday assignation;
and, if your willing, do me one big favor:
don’t let another client shoot the door bolt,
and don’t decide to suddenly go cruising,
but stay home & get yourself all ready
for nine – yes, nine – successive copulations!
Honestly, if you want it, give the order:
I’ve eaten, and I’m sated, supinated!
My prick is poking through my cloak & tunic.

*Title from poem 27

They Have to Sing

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The Song the Orphan Sings

I am nobody, and I will be nobody too.
Now I’m too small to live, of course:
later it’ll be the same.

Mothers and fathers,
think of me.

Of course it isn’t worth the trouble of raising me:
I will be mowed down anyway.
Nobody can make use of me: it’s too early now;
tomorrow, too late!

I have only this one dress,
and it’s getting thin and bleached;
however, it will last an eternity
in the eyes of God.

I just have these few locks of hair
(they never change) that once
somebody loved.

Now he is through with love.

– Rainer Maria Rilke translated from German by Robert Bly, from the series The Voices, Nine Poems With a Title Poem in Selected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke

That pulls my heart apart.  The line “that once somebody loved,” is the worst part. After all, to be orphaned is not the same as never knowing. It’s because once somebody loved that makes for the wretchedness. The series of poems to which The Song the Orphan Sings belongs  begins with the Title Poem,

They have to sing; if they didn’t sing, everyone
would walk past, as if they were fences or trees.

on the whole they are extraordinary in the expression of the ordinary feelings of freakishness that inhabit ones soul. Rilke writes a poem for all of us: the beggars, orphans, lepers, and blind. The drunkard, the suicide, widow, dwarf, and idiot. What some would walk by if not for the singing- yes:  but these poems are more about what sings within us all. What separates you from me, and me from me. It is the separation above all that hurts. That, and this:

Loneliness

Being apart and lonely is like rain.
It climbs toward evening from the ocean plains;
from flat places, rolling and remote, it climbs
to heaven, which is its old abode.
And only when leaving heaven drops upon the city.

It rains down on us in those twittering
hours when the streets turn their faces to the dawn,
and when two bodies who have found nothing,
disappointed and depressed, roll over;
and when two people who despise each other
have to sleep together in one bed-

that is when loneliness receives the rivers…

-Rainer Maria Rilke

All the songs in us. If only I could sight read the notes, they would tell me how to harmonize. I let music take me where my heart wants to go: that seemed to be what was wanted, what was wanting. But now, how to get through to the next movement and how to be heard- I don’t yet know. But at least I can sing.

And the song goes on, beautiful.

10, from Selected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke

Like water, for meaning

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Translator, speak to me.
Press the words of others to my ears.
By you they hum and sigh,
the buoyant tide’s realized.

When we meet along the curve,
you carry what can be,
brook what’s really true:
that fathomless  depth of – me too.

Last night I read another’s,
and missed your filling touch.
what was left was just
a hollow: an empty senselessness.

Turn the words towards me,
shape the water by your hand.
It’s our meaning that must matter,
be it – l’aqua, l’eau, oder Wasser.

JA (2012)