Tag Archives: poetry

Wrong Again

I know, I alone
How much it hurts, this heart
With no faith nor law
Nor melody nor thought.

Only I, only I
And none of this can I say
Because feeling is like the sky –
Seen, nothing in it to see.
Fernando Pessoa

DSCI0012I hope if there is ever a cocktail party in the afterlife I will find myself seated next to Herodotus. I just finished Book Two of The Landmark Herodotus The Histories which is edited by Robert B. Strassler and translated by Andrea L. Purvis.

The enthusiasm with which he collected as much information in the form of fact, “fact,” anecdote, eye-witness report or opinion is highly engaging. Book Two focuses on Egypt and all things and matters Egyptian. It’s all very interesting and entertaining.

I have to say that I am enjoying the interplay between Herodotus’s text and the footnotes most especially. In a description of Lake Moeris, Herodotus is, as usual, very thorough in his account:

Its circumference measures 397 miles, equaling the length of the coast of Egypt itself, but in this case extending from north to south. Its depth is 50 fathoms at its deepest point. This is clearly a man-made lake… (section 2.149 page 187)

What I haven’t put in are the numerous footnote annotations. Along with converting, for instance, a fathom into feet, (1=about 6 feet) and that sort of thing,  is very helpful information such as – Herodotus is wrong about the origins of the lake. It is clearly a natural lake. That one made me burst out laughing because there is a “Herodotus is mistaken” on nearly every page. In fact he is wrong about the circumference as well, it’s actually 170 miles. But the subtle cheek of the retort “It is clearly a natural lake.” Well, I found it very funny.

Okay, so I might need Mr. Strassler seated on my left to keep the information on the up and up, but that’s okay, it’s a party! Champagne cocktails for all! What fun it would be to listen to all the fantastic stories Herodotus gleaned.

He is the father of history just figuring it out the best he can as he goes. It is his passion for it that is so attractive to the reader.

Today I was thinking all day about a discussion (maybe too strong – an exchange of comments more like) I had on an excellent literary blog in which my question was whether or not it really mattered if one possessed all, or at least a lot of the knowledge that was referred to in any given book. I had read the book in question  The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis almost 2/3 through before I found out (by happenstance) that Reis was a heteronym*  of the poet Fernando Pessoa (who was a character in the book, along with Reis – it’s a really good novel by the way).

I was put out at the time- it seemed pretty relevant information. How the hell was I suppose to know?- I had swiped the book from one of my kid’s bookshelf after all, I didn’t know anything about it! But then I calmed down, after all, I had been enjoying the book all along, so it didn’t really matter. Did it?

I used my embarrassing ignorance to illustrate the larger point that the story is that good. Good enough to stand on its own, unhinged by prerequisite knowledge.  But, as the other blogger commented,  (and pointed to another excellent literary blog as example) the knowledge adds layers. And that is absolutely true, hence my irritation.

The interesting thing to me however, is that knowledge, on its own, is merely pedantic (and sadly, often is, in the hands or words of the “educated”). It is the joined force of knowledge and passion in both the  writer and the reader that raises the meaning to the correct level. Like many people I am intimidated by really smart people, and yet knowledge is no mystery: it can always, and fairly equally be acquired. Passion is different.

Letting yourself really love something almost demands that you don’t think yourself away from the feeling. They are opposites in a way: knowledge is full, facts you can see and point to, but there is nothing to point to when it comes to feeling. It’s a funny sort of balance, but trying to get it right is half the fun I suppose. Maintain the boundless wonder while accumulating the facts, that’s the trick.

Herodotus may get some of the knowledge parts wrong, okay, more than some, but his passion and love of collecting and sharing as much information as he can is wonderfully inspiring. His opinions and insights are very enjoyable to read. I suppose there is the possibility that he might turn out to be a complete bore of a blow hard after a few drinks, but I doubt it.

*Heteronym is a concept of Pessoa’s invention, it is a term he used to name the characters that he sometimes wrote as. He wrote many poems, for instance, as Ricardo Reis, and there were others as well that even “knew” each other and had exchanges. As Wiki explains, these are not pseudonyms, merely false names, they are fully realized characters with individual writing styles.  See? Knowledge – it’s all good.

**Herodotus Book One
Herodotus Book Three

Et tu?


Because of you it’s always minus 2.
The sky! The stars!
A satisfying report card-
deflate beneath
your downturned haste.
Those hours of past regard
questioned by aging days,
(the executioner sighs)
and I? I go to waste.
Because of you it’s always minus 2.
Reflection’s rueful gaze
as always soon retards
the sublunary ardor that
does linger here.
Join the ranks, Brute.
I could have not believed
the things that won’t come due.
I should have, after all,
in this world of minus 2.

JA (2012)


Things fall apart
in our house,
as if jarred by the whim
of invisible ravagers:
not your hand
or mine,
or the girls
– from Things Breaking, Pablo Neruda

I recently watched Annie Hall in my film class; it is easy to simply enjoy the angst ridden humor, but, there is an expectation in some scholastic environments that one think a little more deeply every now and then. And Allen does provide a lot of fodder,  particularly for those of us living in the second half of our lives.

In the film, Allen uses the concepts and ideas of psychology both visually and within the context of the story. His characters freely go in and out of their bodies and over time to comment on past influential events or to simply suggest the distance that is felt between our bodies and ourselves.

His love of New York City is always highlighted in his films and he has, of course,  some beautiful shots that emphasize the drama and energy of New York. I love his use of very long shots where the characters are heard having an intense conversation but only slowly come into view walking to us, it naturalizes the “medium” as it were, and if we take (at the dire risk of pontificating) Allen’s funny exchange over Marshall McLuhan in the theater waiting to see The Sorrow and the Pity, the medium really is the message. Films, like novels, as John Crowley once said to me,  must always end in a way that life does not- there is a very unnatural summing up that real life does not offer to the living. But the fakery of cinema becomes the message- that unsettling feeling of being a character in our own inescapable film. Who is this difficult person inside our bodies?

Yes, the body. Allen’s unembarrassed attention paid to his sexual life is refreshing, the woman in me must assess him sexually, he asks for it -even if the assessment does not necessarily compliment- there it is. He draws it out and it must stand. In a way, it is exactly the point. Why? Why is Alvy sexually vacant with his first wife, who was, in his opinion, perfectly lovely? Why is it so much more complete and satisfying with Annie?  That is an unanswerable question that many of us struggle with at one time or another. Why this person, and not that person? Allen confronts this essential aspect of romantic love, albeit from a very analytical angle.

D.H. Lawrence, of course, wrote a lot about physical intimacy and its importance to our feeling of being deeply connected to another person. For Lawrence, it is vital that humans allow themselves to really feel. Sex, being…well, physical, was his method of discussing the larger themes of life, meaning and connection in our bodies,  where, it shouldn’t be denied,  each of us dwells. Allen does this as well, (this theme comes up again and again in his films) he is without question, funnier, but, he is not quite as convincing because he is such a pain in the ass. However, he is asking the questions – why does it matter? Why can’t we control the “yes” switch as it were? Turning it on or off at will would make it all so much easier.

And finally why? Why do things fall apart? Is it just the law of entropy? The centre cannot hold. Allen cannot answer the questions, he can only offer a lame joke with an earnest punch line: We may only believe ourselves to be chickens (or in love) but don’t tell us we’re not – we need the eggs. And we need each other.

Life grinds
on the glasses and powders, wearing us threadbare,
smashing to smithereens,
the forms;
whatever is left of its passing abides
like a ship or a reef in the ocean,
and perishes there
in the circle of breakable hazard
ringed by the pitiless menace of waters.

– from Things Breaking, Pablo Neruda

The Deep

If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail,
but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider–
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give–yes or no, or maybe–
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

~William Stafford

This poem was sent to me today by a very sweet person. Thank you sweet person. To know what occurs but not recognize the fact. Yeah. There is that. I had a dream this morning in the fleeting moments before I woke, I spent half the day lost in its sensory detail: an interlude without the betrayal of my mind.

Walking down a street I suddenly turned left
onto a large wide winter-clean boardwalk
rising up over the descent down to the ocean.
The water was transparent, each grain of sand a cause for celebration.
There were no thoughts in my head.
In the folding of the dream, now naked,
I was running towards the water.
So clear. A perfect steel grey.
Not knowing I was going to do it,
I dove in hands leading and swam out through
the lumbering waves and into the deep.
The water! The water! So cold it had no temperature,
so clean it had no weight,
I swam until my memory of the littoral plane almost snapped
and then I turned around and began the swim back:
aware that my limbs were becoming numb,
my motion disorganized and strained by
the paralysis of the the intense clean cold.
I never thought I wouldn’t make it back to the shore.

The Plashes

that can be groped towards with antenna
words, on the ridge of

Your face quietly shies
when suddenly
there is lamplike brightness
inside me, just at the point
where most painfully one says, never.
– Paul Celan

I have to admit to enjoying my status as an autodidact. Something about the aimless blind wandering through art, history, science, and whatever else, appeals to me. As I slowly become more formally “educated” I sometimes think of this intellectual freedom to go wherever I will as a waning loss.

I picked up this book of poetry, Poems of Paul Celan translated by Micheal Hamburger, for no good educational or pretentious reason. I am ignorant. I liked the cover, the look of the man, the stark arrangement of words. I also enjoy saying the poems to myself in the native language provided on each even page. Something about the German language delights me.

Look around:
look how it all leaps alive –
where death is! Alive!
He speaks truly who speaks the shade.


I am continually in awe of the translator. I love to look at different versions of translated poetry. I can not know what the original language suggests, but I can know what the translator’s effect is on me. What a wonderful endeavor. The elasticity of words pinned to a wall of absolute sentiment. A sentence may not affect you as it affects me, but between the author and I- when I feel the full force of our meaning- I am overwhelmed.


 You prayer-, you blasphemy-, you
prayer-sharp knives
of my silence.

You my words being crippled
together with me, you
my hale ones.

And you:
you, you, you
my later of roses
daily worn true and
more true -:

How much, O how much
world. How many paths.

You crutch, you wing. We–

We shall sing the nursery rhyme, that one,
do you hear, that one
with the hu, with the man, with the human being, the one
with the scrub and with
the pair of eyes that lay ready there as
tear- upon-

Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose

“He was cold; he wanted to go back down. What was there to see here, after all? But she could not take her gaze from the horizon. Over yonder, still farther south, at that point where sky and earth met in a pure line- over yonder it suddenly seemed there was awaiting her something of which, though it had always been lacking, she had never been aware until now.” – Albert Camus, The Adulterous Woman

After reading The Fall I went on to read Exile and the Kingdom as Camus had desired. A compilation of the “critical moments” of  the lives of the introspective. And the short stories are lovely and thoughtful and true. But, I sometimes  really wish I was the type of person who could enjoy a Ring Ding. What are you talking about Jessica? A Ring Ding: those cupcake things that one purchases at a supermarket. I’ve never had one. Because they are kind of disgusting. But that is not the point. The point is, does an introspective life enhance ones life? I can’t enjoy a Ring Ding because I know they are chemical laden frank-o-food. Food is perhaps too strong of a term, let’s use my all time least favorite word to describe ingested sustenance – product. Oh, that hurt. But what if I didn’t know? What if thinking about our empty lives is the cause of an empty life. Camus! Help me.

What would she do there henceforth except to drag herself toward sleep, toward death? (174)

Yeah; that’s not really helpful. Anyway. This story is interesting because the adulterous woman in question is not really adulterous. She merely acknowledges herself, suddenly feeling herself in the mystery of the world. That is her adultery. But I love the use of the word- she is an adulteress to her facade.

Since the beginning of time, on the dry earth of this limitless land scraped to the bone, a few men had been ceaselessly trudging, possessing nothing but serving no one, poverty-stricken but free lords of a strange kingdom. Janine did not know why this thought filled her with such a sweet, vast melancholy that it closed her eyes. (172)

I went to church this weekend. I was filling in a work shift, accompanying my client, who is a dedicated church goer. I was transported to my youthful self because the denomination that we attended was the very same that I attended in my youth. No one else in my family ever went or was even affiliated with this church. I went so that I could sing. I attended a church for years, by myself, to sing in the choir.

Retrospection sent me further into my lonely meditative funk.

It was All Saint’s Sunday and the pastor spent a good amount of his sermon talking about the saintliness of us all- seen through our love of one another. But I got tripped up on the program which featured humble, normally unacknowledged, saints- aka, decent people. The depressing part, to me, was that unless the woman was a spinster, her identity was buried underneath her husband. It’s not just the last name, I did that too – it seemed simpler at the time (ah what we sacrifice to the God of convenience!). But these titles were all the husband’s name: Mrs. John Doe, or, the husband’s family: the John Doe family. What does that do to us? If we have no name, instead we are the Mrs. so and so’s…do we disappear? Where do we go? Plus, I just wanted to know what the names were because the spinsters had such cool old fashioned ones like: Mildred and Edith.

Wasn’t that what she lacked? She did not know. She simply followed Marcel, pleased to know that someone needed her. The only joy he gave her was the knowledge that she was necessary. Probably he did not love her. (175)

I sometimes feel lost between the half of my life lived as one name, and the half lived as another. Well…maybe I am just over thinking it. Damn it. I’ll never enjoy a Ring Ding this way!

‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.

-William Shakespeare

*Title from  Sacred Emily by Gertrude Stein. Sacred who? Emily.hmmm.

Last Night I Had a Dream My Nightmare Was Over

Last Night I Had a Dream My Nightmare Was Over

Farthest dream- beneath my sleeping weight,
over my oppressed pillow, between my folded limbs.
Respite from my smothered hours.
Gentle Night: you are my one,
embrace me! exalt me!
take me! erase me.

Make room for me
erstwhile friend, sweet Night.

stormy weather

storm coming

Evening Harmony

This is the time when each vibrating flower
like a censer, is breathing forth its scent;
perfumes and sounds in the evening air are blent;
melancholy waltz and dizzy languor!

Each flower, like a censer, breathes its scent;
the violin quivers, like a heart that suffers;
melancholy waltz and dizzy languor!
The sky, like an alter, is sad and magnificent.

The violin quivers, like a heart that suffers,
hating the Nothing’s vast and black extent!
The sky, like an alter, is sad and magnificent;
drowning in curdled blood, the sun sinks lower.

A heart that hates the Nothing’s black extent
each vestige of past radiance must gather!
Drowning in curdled blood, the sun sinks lower;…
your memory shines in me like the Sacrament!

– Charles Baudelaire, translated by C.F. MacIntyre


A Trance of Fancy

                                                              So I loved a dream?
My doubt, a mass of ancient night, concludes
in many a subtle branch, which, since the real woods
remain, proves, alas! what I offered to myself
as triumph was the ideal lack of roses.
Let’s think it over…

-Stéphane Mallarmé, from The Afternoon of a Faun

The Keeper

The Keeper

Hopeless, heckling heart.
Intertwined and tangled
deep inside you.
Exile of time.

  (All the same, I
never knew a
day without you).

South of my night,
east of your sky-
ever occupied.
Keeper of the archived.