Reading: It Was A November Of Bitter Rain And Snow Blackened By Use

Today I read a poem by the Lebanese poet (and former miss Beirut) Venus Khoury-Ghata in the English translation by Marilyn Hacker. It has a few things in common with poems I wrote about here earlier: It is short, but not too short and contains some surrealistic images that can shake the prepared reader.

we filed the dead leaves by size to ease the task of the forest that was absent for
reasons known only to itself
The parents had left with the door
We mistook puddles for creeks
pebbles for meteorites
the wind’s hordes for wolves
A child would liquefy as soon as a snowflake touched the ground
We could hold out till Epiphany
handling our feet like toys
waiting for a redistribution of parents

Children are sorting fallen leaves to help the forest. If you focus on the individual leaves (or trees) you don’t see the forest, but it’s still there. Here, the forest is absent “for reasons only known to itself”. I don’t see what’s happening here, so let’s read on. The parents had left “with the door”, what does that mean? Did the parents take away the distinction inside-outside?

The children were erring: the mistook “puddles for creeks / pebbles for meteorites” and so on. They blew up every small thing, so perhaps that’s why the forest became absent? After this, they horrifying line about the liquefied child projects us in the middle of a surrealist painting. The softest impact would make the children lose shape. I read this as a metaphor for hypersensitivity. So the poem is perhaps about sensitive children after their parents left them.

Against all odds the children made it, they “held out till Epiphany”. What is it they will see? A redistribution of parents, so they could get parents who don’t leave with the door and will again know the difference between inside and outside: be home somewhere. Why are they handling their feet like toys? Because it was cold in the snow and by objectifying their feet they could forget that they were freezing? Because the children were too fragile to handle their feet like parts of their own bodies. They know that if they don’t play with everything, if they don’t let play dissolve everything, they are vulnerable. So here they are: still filing the dead leaves by size to create an imaginary order, an order that is safe because it is invisible to the parents. The obsession reminds the reader of the autistic spectrum.

The Epiphany, a restribution of parents, is impossible. But what if the “handling of the feet like toys” and the “filing of the dead leaves” brings about some sort of imaginary epiphany, in which the parents are redistributed and the order is restored?

Reading: It Was A November Of Bitter Rain And Snow Blackened By Use was originally published on Meandering home

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