the I is a by-light
a grievance by a wild fire
the grammar of layered time

was originally published on Meandering home

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Reading: Via Velasca by Leonardo Sinisgalli

Leonardo Sinisgalli (1908-1981) studied engineering and mathematics before he became a poet, and they appear to call him the “engineer poet”. Here is a collection of his poetry in Italian. I found this impressionist poem about a street, in the translation of W.S. di Piero, and I quote:

Via Velasca
Years of pounding have nearly
Caved it in, and it’s hard to believe
The street’s gotten narrower.
This is my hour, my favorite hour.
I remember one night all noise died
In the fading light, a voice
Cried my name as if in a dream
Then stopped.
The street bends, the day
Drips from the rooftops,
The sweet hour sings in me.
The light is only a stubborn
Ghost, a glow: a fish
Gleams in the glass bottle.

Sinisgalli. Image Wikimedia

The pounding is ‘calpestio’ in the original, perhaps trampling would have been a better translation. The quiet old street has become a busy thoroughfare. Narrower, probably because all the streets from your childhood are grand and wide. But there is no nostalgia here, this is the favorite hour: The poet is aware that he feels so good because of the memories that he didn’t have back then. He remembers a silent night in which a voice cried (un grido disse: a cry said) my name as in a dream. I see an older poet smiling happily in the fading light, hardly registering the voice who is shouting his name.

Because he is painting in his head the image of the street. Look at these days that drip from the rooftops as the street bends. Dalí! The light is glowing, a shiny glimmer like a fish in a glass bottle. This imagery in Italian:

Non è che una larva restìa
La luce, un barlume: entro la boccia
Di vetro un pesce s’illumina.

The fish is lighting up itself, so we’re thinking of inner light and enlightenment. And even that light is only a stubborn ghost, overrated when the sweet hour sings. The light is a superficial glowing, what is essential is perhaps the voice that cries our name?

Reading: Via Velasca by Leonardo Sinisgalli was originally published on Meandering home

Reading: M – Black Monday by Marcin Świetlicki

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.

Marcin Świetlicki. Image Wikimedia Commons

Reading: M – Black Monday by Marcin Świetlicki was originally published on Meandering home