Cloud Watching with my Child

We lie still on a silent green slope
watching the clouds for hours
in their unending transformation

You see a crocodile, I see a monkey,
you see a turtle, I see a tiny fish
then there is silence and I think of you

Much later, attuned to thoughts of grief
oblivious of the highs and lows that were
and how we share a name and a belief
that poetry will find us there.

Cloud Watching with my Child was originally published on Meandering home


Reading: Eating Together by Li-Young Lee

Li-Young Lee (b. 1957) is a American poet born to Chinese exiles. His father, who plays an important role in his poetry, was the personal physician to Mao Zedong. His poetry has been compared to John Keats, Rilke and Roethke and he was influenced by old Chinese poems like Tu Fu, which shows in his economic use of language. I read a short but very powerful poem about:

Eating Together
In the steamer is the trout
seasoned with slivers of ginger,
two sprigs of green onion, and sesame oil.
We shall eat it with rice for lunch,
brothers, sister, my mother who will
taste the sweetest meat of the head,
holding it between her fingers
deftly, the way my father did
weeks ago. Then he lay down
to sleep like a snow-covered road
winding through pines older than him,
without any travelers, and lonely for no one.

The precise description of the trout the family will have for lunch so I can almost smell it is a great (and common) poetic device. We see the mother taking the sweetest meat of the head, thereby replacing the role of the father who has been gone for weeks. At this point, the reader realizes his passing and the beautiful ‘Chinese’ last sentence of the poem confirms this.

I picked this poem because I think the image of the snow-covered winding road through an old forest, that is lonely for no one is magical. I like the simplicity of such poetic diction, realizing that it is always at risk of turning into kitsch. But I also know that kitsch requires travelers and interpreters who repeat a phrase until it wears out. In the absence of travelers, in the domain of this poem, it is not only tolerable, but extremely powerful.

Reading: Eating Together by Li-Young Lee was originally published on Meandering home


Now that I am lowered into my trench language
I become an invocation. I am muscles and tendons,
a pressurized blood machine, slowly releasing
what was stored between the apostrophes, like a captured animal.
I am a cormorant of the apocalypse, a confessing nihilist.
Opinions grow on me like frozen waterfalls.
My rage is inculcated, like a laminated smile, I visit
bars barracks and barricades, I lick soft dew in the marches,
I piss glum images in morning prose, I kneel for a working prostate.
Father forgive me my reflection on the holy crotch, for it is not authentic.
Authenticity my friends is the leftover moral we shall heat up and re-eat,
do you hear me? There is authenticity in the original orgasm, and in origami,
in bullet holes and butterscotch, in old ladies staring at a cross,
in cutting onions and Birkenstocks, in traffic jams and coins that toss.
It is time to stand up, to dust the language off my suit.
Surrounding me is a great plain and I feel life again is gaining.

Growl was originally published on Meandering home

Reading: Death of a friend by Rob van Moppes

Rob van Moppes (b. 1948) is a Dutch writer. I am his friend on social media and discovered this tender song-like poem today, so I decided to include it in my series.

Death of a friend

We met only two years before.
Eyes sparkled when she spoke.
We talked about the masks we wore,
Considered life a joke.

She said she lived in solitude:
Books were her only friends.
(She longed for love and fortitude
But never made demands).

She hanged herself in the shade
Of books that made her ill.
I held her in my arms too late
And felt a stabbing chill.

A girl so cold and warm and bright
And no one shared her bed.
She asked me twice to stay the night.
Oh God, I wish I had.

The first stanza conveys the enthusiasm of such playful meetings, the aura of vitality, the embrace of the ironic stance toward life. I imagine the voice that would sing this, Leonard Cohen perhaps.

I get the longing for love and the return to books and solitude. Not so sure about the part in brackets, I assume the lady was a shy and humble character. The sudden suicide shocked by. Simple words, one gets the impression they were put down because of forced rhyme, but it aptly describes the horror of the scene.

The author implies that he could have saved her by staying the night, perhaps by making love to her. Does that allow us to maintain our ironic gaze at the world, at each other? Does holding each other warm at night prevent the outburst of black energy that plagues the bipolar soul?

Reading: Death of a friend by Rob van Moppes 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