Reading: River by Sharon Black

In the depths of the Internet I found a poetry competition called “Poetry on the lake” that published last year’s winning poems. I am impressed enough to read one here.

River

To enter naked is to feel no shock, no swift laceration –

more a swallowing of the self, a softening

of edges by metallic tang and green.

It’s not to lose oneself but to find

one’s breasts, buttocks, sex

attentive and alive, each slow stroke upstream

a gift of walking to the part of us that’s lame,

a gift of sight to the part of us that’s blind.

The depiction of the entrance into the living river (the “metallic tang” and green signify the algae) is well done. The water is not too cold it seems: no laceration of the nerves but a friendly gobbling up of the body. In interpret the softening of the edges as the disappearance of the boundary between inside and outside.

You don’t lose yourself in the fresh water, but get in touch with your body, more precisely a woman gets in touch with the more pleasurable and intimate parts of her body, that she was taught to hide. The liven up and become attentive in the absence of a prudish culture.

So she starts swimming upstream (it takes some effort to reconnect with the true being of your body). She conquers the “part of her that’s lame” when she is swimming, free from the gravity of societal norms. This also means that she regains sight, in the sense that she becomes aware of the truth conceiled by these norms.

Such a reading is not satisfactory, but I think we can read the final line not as “seeing the light” of some metaphysical truth, but seeing in a certain way that is made possible by the river swimming. Thus the ‘softening of edges’ eventually leads to the reappearnce of these edges in almost Hegelian fashion, as the sharp sight from the vantage point of someone who has “worked through” the immersion experience. Do you, dear reader, think this poem references baptism?

Reading: River by Sharon Black was originally published on Meandering home

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Reading: Where The Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

Shel Siverstein (1930-1999) was an American painter, poet and songwriter. I read a sweet little poem about the end of the line.

Where the sidewalk ends
There is a place where the sidewalk ends
and before the street begins,
and there the grass grows soft and white,
and there the sun burns crimson bright,
and there the moon-bird rests from his flight
to cool in the peppermint wind.

Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
and the dark street winds and bends.
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
we shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow
and watch where the chalk-white arrows go
to the place where the sidewalk ends.

Yes we’ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
and we’ll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
for the children, they mark, and the children, they know,
the place where the sidewalk ends.

He paints a precise picture of the place between the sidewalk and the street first, because these details will pay off later when we see the sidewalk as the obvious metaphor it is. It is a childlike, a playful place with the moon-bird and the crimson bright, and the peppermint wind.

When we realize the existence of the end of the sidewalk, we want to leave ‘this place’ with the black smoke and dark winding street, the dirty asphalt jungle of aimless (urban) life. And when we do so, we walk slowly and in a dignified manner. Just follow the arrows, and you will be saved.

Now the fact that the children draw the chalk arrows, and will have to redraw them because they will wash away, is an interesting turn here. The children “know”, but their knowing (about mortality) is a naive knowing. The “just know” and draw the arrows because they like to draw arrows, not because they are philosophers preoccupied with impending death.

Reading: Where The Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein was originally published on Meandering home

Reading: Nocturnal Sailing by Mario Wirz

Mario Wirz (1956-2013) was a German poet and writer who started his career as theater actor and director. I read a poem in a translation by Renate Latimer:

the wind in your dream
swells the curtains into a sail
tears asunder
all the things we have collected
in the fearful light of the bedside lamp
I search in vain for our life vests
high waves rise above your sleep
and toss the night onto the side of the moon
perhaps you’d rather be
the sole sailor
untroubled by my fears
this question too
I now cast overboard
cautiously descending into your dream
and following its course
the sea which I haven’t questioned
all these years
imagines in our sleep
a new story

This is a gentle poem about love and anxiety. The curtains becoming sails and the pale moonlight dancing over the ocean’s surface imitated by the bedside lamp are a straightforward metaphor.
The author is cast overboard (intentionally?) because he didn’t want to bother his partner with his fears. That at least is what I read here. It gives him the chance to finally question the sea itself, and it creates the opening for a new story.

Reading: Nocturnal Sailing by Mario Wirz was originally published on Meandering home

Reading: Sudden Movements by Bob Hicok

Bob Hicok (1960) is a poet from Michigan who writes accessible and meditative poetry. He currently teaches creative writing at Purdue University.

My father’s head has become a mystery to him.
We finally have something in common.
When he moves his head his eyes
get big as roses filled
with the commotion of spring.
Not long ago he was a man
who had tomato soup for lunch
and dusted with the earnestness
of a gun fight. Now he’s a man
who sits at the table trying to breathe
in tiny bites. When they told him
his spinal column is closing, I thought
of all the branches he’s cut
with loppers and piled and burned
in the fall, the pinch of the blades
on the green and vital pulp. Surgeons
can fuse vertebrae, a welders art,
and scrape the ring through which
the soul-wires flow as a dentist
would clean your teeth.
And still it could happen, one turn
of his head toward a hummingbird,
wings keeping that brittle life
afloat, working hard against the fall,
and he might freeze in that pose
of astonishment, a man estranged
from the neck down, who can only share
with his body the silence
he’s pawned on his children as love.

I like this kind of poems that paint a world with a precise and prosaic description of a life and its discomfort, to redeem it with considerable verbal magic (share with his body the silence / he’s pawned on his children as love).

The metaphorical unity of the once strong father who cut through the green and vital pulp, and the weak old man who is estranged from the neck down, is an obvious device and some may call it boring. The nerves are called soul-wires and they are now cut off. Life has become mysterious to him – is that what the son calls ‘something in common’?

I think so. The father has learned astonishment at the hummingbird-like fragility of life. He has learned about love.

Or: Silence can give you enough cash in the pawn shop of love.

Reading: Sudden Movements by Bob Hicok was originally published on Meandering home

Reading: Carson McCullers by Charles Bukowski

Charles Bukowski (1920-1994) was a legendary American poet, and writer of novels and short stories. I read a summer poem presented to me on a poetry website:

Carson McCullers
she died of alcoholism
wrapped in a blanket
on a deck chair
on an ocean
steamer.

all her books of
terrified loneliness

all her books about
the cruelty
of loveless love

were all that was left
of her

as the strolling vacationer
discovered her body

notified the captain

and she was quickly dispatched
to somewhere else
on the ship

as everything
continued just
as
she had written it

Carson McCullers (1917-1967) was a novelist who died of alcoholism in New York (as far as I know, not on an ocean steamer, but perhaps the City is an ocean steamer in Bukowski’s mind).

Of the novelist, only books remain. We could say the same for the recently deceased Philip Roth. It’s a sad affair, the whole “what remains” thing. “Dispatched to somewhere else on the ship” – that’s what happens when we die. And everything continues just as we had written it. Or, our imagination is immortal – is Bukowski hinting at some form of consolation here?

The image of the young woman (she was 50 when she died) on a deck chair, wrapped in a blanket, is so lively. I am compelled to imagine a glass of dry Martini in her hand and the beginning of a lustful smile from underneath a pair of gilded frame luxury sunglasses as she checks out a passing deckhand’s buttocks – something I would rather associate with Mr. Bukowski.

Reading: Carson McCullers by Charles Bukowski was originally published on Meandering home

The Pleasures of an Ordinary Life by Judith Viorst

Judith Viorst (b. 1931) is among other things an American writer and psychoanalysis researcher. She is known for her children’s books and witty poetry. I read a sober summary of the pleasures of an ordinary life:

I’ve had my share of necessary losses,
Of dreams I know no longer can come true.
I’m done now with the whys and the becauses.
It’s time to make things good, not just make do.
It’s time to stop complaining and pursue
The pleasures of an ordinary life.

I used to rail against my compromises.
I yearned for the wild music, the swift race.
But happiness arrived in new disguises:
Sun lighting a child’s hair. A friend’s embrace.
Slow dancing in a safe and quiet place.
The pleasures of an ordinary life.

I’ll have no trumpets, triumphs, trails of glory.
It seems the woman I’ve turned out to be
Is not the heroine of some grand story.
But I have learned to find the poetry
In what my hands can touch, my eyes can see.
The pleasures of an ordinary life.

Young fantasies of magic and of mystery
Are over. But they really can’t compete
With all we’ve built together: A long history.
Connections that help render us complete.
Ties that hold and heal us. And the sweet,
Sweet pleasures of an ordinary life.

I like the rhyme of losses and becauses. And the phrase “the pleasures of an ordinary life” that falls out of rhyme / each time. These pleasures, we learn are friendship, parenthood, safety, rather than victory and wild pleasure.

With the extraordinary she also denies the “grand story” (of religion) but instead she finds comfort in tangible, little things.

What really matters is the shared “long history” that holds and heals us. The connections that render us complete, the little story of the ordinary, is the sweetest pleasure. There is no redemption for our soul, we won’t be welcomed in heaven with trumpets. But we can rest assured that the pleasures of an ordinary life will continue in the hearts and minds of future generations.

The Pleasures of an Ordinary Life by Judith Viorst was originally published on Meandering home

Reading: Fatherland by Mansur Rajih

Mansur Rajih (b. 1958) is a Norwegian poet and human rights activist with Yemeni roots. I found this translation of one of his poems online:

Fatherland
Do not despair, my friend:
The light that shines on our land
will remain chaste.
We still have time.

Maybe next year, the year after-
it will be enough.
We will see
the new face of Eban

smiling over our lives.
This land is good
and its history teaches us
we must not despair.

This land is happy.
Look, see the girls
painting their cheeks?
This land is continuously giving birth.

Yemen is a happy country,
the people die standing tall.

Image from spokesman.com

The land cannot be desecrated: No matter how much terror the enemy (in this case the Saudi bombings and terrorist cells), the land is still a worthy place to fight for.

Eban could be the Israeli diplomat Abba Eban, who was in favor of a Palestinian state, but I doubt that. I just can’t find another Eban on Google. Perhaps my readers have an idea?

What do we make of this definition of happiness: To die standing tall? There certainly is no better way to die, but such a line can’t help but sound incredibly cynical from the mind of a former political prisoner.

Reading: Fatherland by Mansur Rajih was originally published on Meandering home