Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
William Shakespeare

was originally published on Meandering home


Circle of Life

You too will get the e-mail from the hospital
You don’t know when, or which hospital, or
if the doctor has been born yet, but
it will come.

The good news is that you can already respond
to that e-mail, by giving birth
to some humor.

Circle of Life was originally published on Meandering home

Reading: After Us by Nikola Madzirov

Nikola Madzirov (b. 1973) is a Macedonian poet, probably the most famous one alive, who also writes essays and translations. I was looking for a younger Eastern European poet today and I found him. The cool thing with younger poets is that you can talk with them on Facebook (uhm, not really). I read a poem about the Afterlife, that is life After us, from the collection Remnants from Another Age:

After Us
One day someone will fold our blankets
and send them to the cleaners
to scrub the last grain of salt from them,
will open our letters and sort them out by date
instead of by how often they’ve been read.

One day someone will rearrange the room’s furniture
like chessmen at the start of a new game,
will open the old shoebox
where we hoard pyjama-buttons,
not-quite-dead batteries and hunger.

One day the ache will return to our backs
from the weight of hotel room keys
and the receptionist’s suspicion
as he hands over the TV remote control.

Others’ pity will set out after us
like the moon after some wandering child.

Salt is life. The image of the blankets is familiar, I wrote about the stowing away of your bed after you die.  It also reminded me of Pesach, where they get rid not of the salt but of the yeast and clean the sheets for that purpose.  The metaphor of a mechanical, objective order (by date) versus a live order by importance (do we actually live like that? This poem is an imperative to do so!) is powerful.

The image of a new chessgame I like too; I can’t really relate to the contents of the shoebox though, having been born into a generation that didn’t know hunger and a middle class milieu that didn’t know hoarding.

There is an allusion that is a little bit too cryptic for my taste, to loneliness in a hotel room. Doe the weight of the keys stand for the shame of the lonely hotel guest or am I reading stuff into these lines that are not there at all? Is he watching porn on his hotel TV or not?

These last lines, which I’m sure sound much better in the original language, they stick with me. I’ll remember them because I want to quote them some time.

Here is an interesting article on Madzirov.

And here is the original poem. You can listen to the sound in Macedonian too, of those last lines. Yes, they sound pretty:

Туѓите сожалувања ќе тргнат по нас
како месечина по заталкано дете.

Reading: After Us by Nikola Madzirov was originally published on Meandering home

Reading: Vulture by Robinson Jeffers

Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962) wrote narrative poetry about the Californian coast. He was an icon of the environmental movement who loved nature more than man, influenced by Whitman and Wordsworth. He even called his ideas ‘inhumanism’ because he desired to change the focus from man to not man. Poets like Robert Hass , William Everson or Gary Snyder were influenced by Jeffers.
I read an observation about a wheeling vulture:

I had walked since dawn and lay down to rest on a bare hillside
Above the ocean. I saw through half-shut eyelids a vulture wheeling
high up in heaven,
And presently it passed again, but lower and nearer, its orbit
I understood then
That I was under inspection. I lay death-still and heard the flight-
Whistle above me and make their circle and come nearer.
I could see the naked red head between the great wings
Bear downward staring. I said, ‘My dear bird, we are wasting time
These old bones will still work; they are not for you.’ But how
he looked, gliding down
On those great sails; how beautiful he looked, veering away in the
over the precipice. I tell you solemnly
That I was sorry to have disappointed him. To be eaten by that beak
become part of him, to share those wings and those eyes–
What a sublime end of one’s body, what an enskyment; what a life
after death.

I see a sober yet intimate invocation of that longing to be part of something greater, to be literally incorporated in the vulture who glides overhead. Solemnity, veering away in the sea-light, great sails for wings, these will be interpreted as religious symbols just because we can. Let’s not. They word ‘enskyment’ is a great find, the literal opposite of ‘enterrement’, a life after death as part of the magnificence of nature.

It is a very simple event, a hiker who sees a predator bird in the sky. And look what poetry can make of it.

Reading: Vulture by Robinson Jeffers was originally published on Meandering home

Reading: Conscientious Objector by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Today I read Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950). She was an important American poet was an eccentric, humorous and politically outspoken figure. She was called the ‘Herald of the New Woman’ by her biographer. She was a skillful writer of sonnets, and, like her contemporary Robert Frost, combined modernist attitude with traditional forms. We read an interesting poem that, like so many others, personifies death:

Conscientious Objector
I shall die, but
that is all that I shall do for Death.
I hear him leading his horse out of the stall;
I hear the clatter on the barn-floor.
He is in haste; he has business in Cuba,
business in the Balkans, many calls to make this morning.
But I will not hold the bridle
while he clinches the girth.
And he may mount by himself:
I will not give him a leg up.

Though he flick my shoulders with his whip,
I will not tell him which way the fox ran.
With his hoof on my breast, I will not tell him where
the black boy hides in the swamp.
I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death;
I am not on his pay-roll.

I will not tell him the whereabout of my friends
nor of my enemies either.
Though he promise me much,
I will not map him the route to any man’s door.
Am I a spy in the land of the living,
that I should deliver men to Death?
Brother, the password and the plans of our city
are safe with me; never through me Shall you be overcome.

The opening puts familiar ideas in a slightly strange perspective. Not giving away our fellow humans, not telling where the boy hides, is portrayed as conscientious objection. Death is war, a black master on a high horse hoofs clattering on the barn-floor. I am reminded of the horses in Lord of the Rings, the riders of the Apocalyps, etc. We take pride in not helping Death, not in the direst of circumstances, his hoof planted on our breast.

The poet refuses Death’s bargain. It becomes a matter of principle and pride that she doesn’t betray her friends, nor even her enemies. It is like the famous example of Immanuel Kant, who fanatically aspired to the ideological purety of another principle: Would you lie to a soldier when he asks you if someone is hiding in your house? Would you give him up to death?

We can all be conscientious objectors of Death, despite the fact that we are, in the end, inevitably only his foot soldiers.

So, here is a small motto-poem of hers that I want to share with you, because it reminded me of my own tunnel poem ‘Underground Blues’:

First Figs
My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light.

Reading: Conscientious Objector by Edna St. Vincent Millay was originally published on Meandering home

Reading: Mother by L.E. Sissman

L.E. Sissman (1928-1976) was a child prodigy who won the National Spelling Bee. He had a typical American middle class career in a time when that was still possible, but he also had the calling of a poet. He was diagnosed with Hodgkins’ disease in the late sixties, which inspired him to write prolifically:

I. Mother (1892-1973)
My mother, with a skin of crêpe de Chine,
Predominantly yellow-colored, sheer
Enough to let the venous blue show through
The secondarily bluish carapace,
Coughs, rasps, and rattles in her terminal
Dream, interrupted by lucidities,
When, suctioned out and listening with hard
Ears almost waned to stone, she hears me say,
“Mother, we’re here. The two of us are here.
Anne’s here with me,” and she says, “Anne is so—
So pretty,” as if abdicating all
Her principalities of prettiness—
So noted in her teens, when she smote all
Who saw her shake a leg upon the stage
Of vaudeville—and sinking into deeps
Where ancience lurks, and barebone toothlessness,
And bareback exits from the centre ring
Of cynosure. Of little, less is left
When we leave: a stick figure of a once
Quite formidable personage. It is,
Therefore, no shock, when next day the call comes
From my worn father, followed by the spade
Engaged upon hard January earth
In Bellevue Cemetery, where he sways
And cries for fifty years of joint returns
Unjointed, and plucks one carnation from
The grave bouquet of springing flowers upon
The medium-priced coffin of veneer,
To press and keep as a venereal
Greenness brought forward from the greying past.

A relentlessly observing and heart-breaking account of a mother’s death. Deathbed poetry is never really pleasant to read (I selected this one perhaps because my own mother died in a car accident and I have never experienced someone’s death bed).

Here is the imagery that I like best: ears that almost waned to stone, a stick figure of a once quite formidable personage, the venereal greenness brought forward from the greying past. Such is the sound of a poet’s calling. This is the kind of language that makes death a little bit more bearable. Also note the humor: the barebone toothlessness juxtaposed sith the bareback exists of cynosure (what a word!) and the mentioning of the coffin’s price.

The grave scene is gripping but intensely beautiful. I think these lines deserve more fame. What do you think?

Reading: Mother by L.E. Sissman was originally published on Meandering home