Reading: White Lie by Abbas Beydoun

Today I read the poem White Lie by the Lebanese poet Abbas Beydoun, born in 1945. As usual, I write freely why I think this poem is a good one.

The truth is also blood.
And it might be a piece of tongue
or someting severed from us.
We might find it in semen
or in dust if these two things
are not simply appearances
and if the blood does not suddenly
vanish or whiten as a lie.
Should we let the roses
or the strokes against the chest consume
those who lost their truth
as they fought their lies?
Is it the alarm clock’s fault
or do we not permit
our clocks such precise appointments.
The sun is our tryst and
we do not know what it gathers now.
We are the meeting of strangers
and we do not ask why love drives free souls
and then abandons them, to scatter,
beneath the heavy rain.

So we are separated from the truth, it is literaly cut off from us like the piece of our tongue or a limb. But it can also lie in the distinction between ourselves and semen (reproduction, love) or dust (demise, death). But only if these two things aren’t ‘simply appearances’ and the blood is real, thick, red blood. What has been said so far? The true essence, the ‘thing itself’ is distinct from us and that is why they become candidates for the truth, which is understood in a Heideggerian way as aletheia or disclosure. The movement of disclosure is the severance of the tongue, which precludes speech and so discloses its ownmost truth.

A ‘white lie’ is of course an unimportant lie told to be tactful or polite, but in this poem every lie ‘whitens’, becomes a less important, frivolous and temporary disruption of the truth and its ‘forcings’ (Badiou). The next question is an ethical one: How do we treat those who lost their truth because they were fighting their lies? Those who got too confused about the world? Should we write them off and let them be consumed by cheap consolances by roses and ‘strokes against the chest’?

The confusion might be caused by the alarm clock (time) or the way we deal with time. It’s not the fault of ‘those who lost their truth’ but consequence of the human condition that we can’t properly discern truth when we are on a deadline. The next line is mysterious: All of a sudden we are going to have a romantic rendezvous with the sun? What is happening? “We are the meeting of strangers”. That sounds lovely. Strangers don’t know each other, they have all the opportunities anew to tell each other white lies. It’s in the unknown, in the Wagnis (risk), in the encounter of ‘free souls’ that we find a shimmer of truth.

The conclusion of the poem with heavy rain sounds commonplace. I see disillusioned lovers clad in heavy raincoats pace homeward, alone. Their search driven by love (not necesarrily ‘for’ love) leads to the meetings that constitute ‘We’. Now we can look back at the question. Isn’t it about those who betrayed love in the name of love? Or can it be read much more down to earth, as a tryst of two lovers where one came late and the other fought the lies she made up (“He will have a reason to be late”). She won’t admit he is disloyal to her and lost her love: the love (which is identified with truth in this poem) is lost. But we shouldn’t be to hard on these lovers, who live by white lies they fight, because that is the essence of being human. The philosophical idea of Truth as Wagnis and I would say event in the sense of Badiou is here expressed in the image of free, longing souls who might experience our essence, the truth that we are the meeting of strangers, only to be abondoned by it for a reason we can or should never ask.

Reading: White Lie by Abbas Beydoun was originally published on Meandering home

Reading: Pieces of Shadow by Jaime Sabines

Today I found a poem by the Mexican poet Jaime Sabines (1926-1999) in a translation by W.S. Merwin. According to Octavio Paz he was one of the greatest. The original Spanish poem can be found here.

I don’t know it for certain, but I imagine
that a man and a woman
fall in love one day,
little by little they come to be alone,
something in each heart tells them that they are alone,
alone on the earth they enter each other,
they go filling each other.

It all happens in silence. The way
light happens in the eye.
Love unites bodies.
They go on filling each other with silence.

One day they wake up, over their arms.
Then they think they know the whole thing,
They see themselves naked and they know the whole thing.

(I’m not sure about this. I imagine it.)

The first strophe sounds fresh, yet mysterious. Did they come to be alone (‘se van quedando solos’) after they fell in love, realizing that they have to act on their love? And acting they do: they penetrate each other (not just the man penetrating the woman, but reciprocal) and then ‘go filling’ each other. In Spanish it says ‘se van matando’. ‘Matarse’ also means to exhaust oneself, if I’m not mistaken. The ‘filling’ is a creative find but I had to read it thrice before realizing that other meaning: filling as if filling an animal.

So far, it’s a pretty standard description of ferocious love. But it all happens in silence, like the way light happens in the eye. I imagine mute lovemaking. After the superfluous ‘love unites bodies’ the poet repeats the filling. This time, the Spanish original also uses ‘llenarse’. The act of lovemaking must be repeated, lest the silence and the spell of love be broken.

Then they wake up ‘sobre brazos’. Perhaps they have slept on their arms so they have become numb? So they can enact a distance to their naked bodies and ‘know the whole thing’. The added phrase, repeating the opening line, frames the poem quite brilliantly. The I is not a voyeur, but perhaps the other way around: The couple who knows the whole thing also knows that they are imagined by the poet.

Reading: Pieces of Shadow by Jaime Sabines was originally published on Meandering home

Reading: Forlorn (忧 郁) by Bei Dao

Emboldened by my anthologizing habit, today I discover the Chinese poet Bei Dao (a pseudonym that means “northern island”). As usual, I’ll say what I like about this poem.

I take the elevator from an underground parking lot
up to sea level
deep thoughts continuing up, through blue color

like doctors you can’t stop
them, deciding my whole life:
the road to success

the season’s unrelated to a boy’s shout
he’s growing up, he knows
how to wound others in his dreams

The beginning of the poem makes a rather western impression. I am in a building, pondering deep thoughts in the elevator after parking my car. The thoughts are unstoppable like doctors, who decide my whol life and the road to success. Are these obstetricians helping with a complicated birth where a lack of oxygen can indeed decide what the child will be incapable of later in life? Did I perhaps take the elevator because I cannot walk?

The next strophe comes suddenly and contains the line that does ‘wham’, that poetic thought the poem had been preparing for by making sure we readers aren’t prepared. It’s hard to see what the unrelatedness of the season to a boy’s shout means. These are the deep thoughts I have in the elevator. Thoughts about a shouting, rebellious boy who is growing up and hence “knows / how to wound others in his dreams”. That’s an enigma! Does it mean by growing up the boy (and every human being) learns how to satisfy his sadism in his dreams, so he doesn’t need to wound anyone in the flesh? Or is the boy dreaming of hurting/wounding/leaving a wound in me? Am I feeling forlorn on my visit to a boy in the hospital. Is the boy perhaps my son and had there been complications during his birth? Is that why he shouts?

Does growing up mean we learn how to wound others in our dreams? It doesn’t mean we actually wound others, just that we become aware of their vulnerability. Isn’t that the source of empathy, not yet present in the innocent play of young children? Is the knowledge a fall from innocence, a fall into ‘relatedness’ with other people we know how to affect in our dreams? What about the season? Is it summer (‘blue color’) whereas the unrelated boy’s shout is associated with a darker season?

Reading: Forlorn (忧 郁) by Bei Dao was originally published on Meandering home