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:
she died of alcoholism
wrapped in a blanket
on a deck chair
on an ocean
all her books of
all her books about
of loveless love
were all that was left
as the strolling vacationer
discovered her body
notified the captain
and she was quickly dispatched
to somewhere else
on the ship
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
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
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:
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
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
Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
was originally published on Meandering home
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