Today there is this compact poem by Marcin Świetlicki for our ideosyncratic anthology. As usual, I’ll say what struck me about these lines.
The moment when all the town’s streetlamps light up
simultaneously. The moment when you say
your incredible “no,” and suddenly I don’t know what
to do next: die? go away? not respond?
The moment in the sunshine when I watch you from the bus,
your face different from when you know I’m looking
—and now you can’t see me, you’re looking into nothing, into the shiny
glass in front of me. Not me anymore, not with me,
not in this way, not here. Anything can
happen, since everything does happen. Everything is defined
by three basic positions: man on top of woman,
woman on top of man, or the one right now
—woman and man divided by the light.
The contradiction between the title and the first line in which the streetlamps light up catches this reader’s attention. A lover is rejected and suddenly doesn’t know what to do next (if he weren’t reject, he’d know precisely what to do).
We can guess that the “no” was said late at night (or not so late: the streetlamps light up just after sunset) and the narrator takes the bus the next morning, when the sunshine lights up the scene. It seems like there’s always light, yet according to the title, he experiences a ‘black Monday’. The blackness here is at first glance the unrequited love.
The middle part of the poem sounds like some pseudophilosophical ramblings. Their separation is consummated by the new opening: suddenly, “anything can happen, since everything does happen”. That mysterious phrase is then explained brilliantly by the wry triad of the three basic positions. We may assume that the first too positions have been faithfully explored by the ex-lovers. This poem is about the third one, the division by the light. That phrase has a magical ring to it, and I can imagine it sounds even better in the original Polish: przedzieleni światłem. I think it is a brilliant metaphor for its strangeness and its re-interpretation of loss as the completion of ‘everything’. The poem says nothing about the woman’s motives to reject her suitor (I assume the gender because the author is male, but it is an interesting exercise to show how we know that the voice of the poem is male). Maybe “M” is the first letter of the name of the woman, or does it stand for Mythology?
The division by the light calls up the mythological imagery brought to us by Plato in the Symposium, of original unity of the sexes and Zeus splitting them into several parts, out of fear for their power. It also reminds us Prometheus: Was the light in the poem stolen from the gods and the division of the lovers divine punishment? Everything is enlightened (like in Safran Foer‘s novel) and everything has happened. There is nothing outside of this Everything, all positions have been realized. Everything from now on would be mere repetition, hence the blackness in the title.
I would like to publish an eclectic anthology. I don’t know yet who will be included or excluded, it is a journey of first steps. Today, I try to say what I like about this little verse by the Czech immunologist and poetic giant Miroslav Holub, called ‘the end of the world’.
The bird had come to the very end of its song
and the tree was dissolving under its claws.
And in the sky the clouds were twisting
and darkness flowed through all the cracks
into the sinking vessel of the landscape.
Only in the telegraph wires
a message still
We meet a very anthropomorphic bird who has the notion of the ‘end’ of a song. The end of our song is the end of all meaning. After that, everything dissolves.
Then, ‘darkness flowed through all the cracks’. When I read cracks, I hear Leonard Cohen singing ‘and that is how the light gets in’. But here it’s darkness and there is no escaping it. The landscape is sinking, not dissolving. There is a life after the song, but it consists of sinking darkness while everything else has dissolved.
Against this background, the message in the telegraph wires, is as powerful as can be. Holub once said he wants to make his short lines as effective as possible. We don’t know if the message in the telegraph lines is orphaned or if the messenger is still alive. I assume there is nobody to read this message. The poem tells us that technology survives the end of meaning. And that makes sense, since Holub was an acclaimed scientist.
The message announces a newborn son, so it is safe to say (I hope gender studies scholars will forgive me here) that the adressee is a male. To become a parent is one of the most meaningful things that can happen to you, and here we are: in a barren, sinking landscape at the end of the world where birds don’t sing (or crackle) anymore – we have come to the end of meaning. Yet technology still serves its master, relentlessly loyal, beyond the end of the world.
Michael Ondaatje (b. 1943) is a famous Canadian writer who was born in Sri-Lankan and moved to Canada when he was 18. He is well known for his novel The English Patient. I read a vegan poem here because I like its premise:
Notes For The Legend Of Salad Woman
Since my wife was born
she must have eaten
the equivalent of two-thirds
of the original garden of Eden.
Not the dripping lush fruit
or the meat in the ribs of animals
but the green salad gardens of that place.
The whole arena of green
would have been eradicated
as if the right filter had been removed
leaving only the skeleton of coarse brightness.
All green ends up eventually
churning in her left cheek.
Her mouth is a laundromat of spinning drowning herbs.
She is never in fields
but is sucking the pith out of grass.
I have noticed the very leaves from flower decorations
grow sparse in their week long performance in our house.
The garden is a dust bowl.
On our last day in Eden as we walked out
she nibbled the leaves at her breasts and crotch.
But there’s none to touch
none to equal
the Chlorophyll Kiss
What a great observation connecting the biblical Garden of Eden with the amount of vegetables a grown person would have eaten in her life. I don’t know the acreage of Eden, nor do I know how much salad was in it. Biblical: he mentions the meat in the ribs of the animals – if you are a woman, created of Adam’s rib, you are in a way the meat inside the animals’ ribs.
Then we imagine the garden of Eden without the green, like a photographic filter has been removed (not applied!), interesting imagination. So, the woman appears to be a goat (this poem could be considered not kindly towards the muslim faith, so be it) munching on every green leave she can find, even sucking the pith out of grass – and leaving the garden a dust bowl.
And of course, the leaves of shame are the last ones to be eaten. What does it mean there is none to touch? Isn’t he right next to her? Why can’t he compete with the chlorophyll kiss? Or is she the one kissing, does the chlorophyll kiss stand for her eating the leaves? Once outside of Eden she should change her lifestyle. Is there a connection with Steinbeck’s Eden and the great dust bowl?