Reading: A Found Photo by Jacques Réda

Jacques Réda (b.1929) is a French poet and lover of jazz. His poetry often conveys small and innocent scenes. I read a poem about an old photo, wonderfully translated by Jenny Feldman:

A Found Photo
One day the three of us out in this boat.
The day black and white but clearly summer
For in the wavy-edged photo the trees
Stand full-leafed on the bank; and they’re all but
Naked, this trio, each with a paddle.
The air was hot, the light carefree, and where
The river’s now grey and inert, a breeze
Must have quickened its flow to a dazzle.
Kneeling astern, back arched and already
Womanly in the clasp of a swimsuit
There you are, Janine. And innocently
In love one boy looks cast in bronze, robust,
The other (me) a scrawny pale-faced kid.
Fifty years the scene has held unmoving
Though each day swept us further off. But I’d
Say they’re still aboard the skiff and drifting
On the spot, these three, radiant in the dull
Print where they squint against the sun and see,
On the other side, only my shadow
Through thickening time that has distanced me
So as to let this delight even now
Live on.

It’s an experience that may be lost to future generations: watching an old yellowing photograph after fifty years. There is surely some magic in there, some connection to the “other side” where we live on. The description of the three young people (I think of an French film by Truffaut but you can have your own visual association, not that this is necessary). The womanly girl kneeling astern in her swimsuit, and the two admiring boys (assuming the other boy was admiring her also. Perhaps this was not the case and he rather was in love with the me of the poem, so we have a love triangle here).

Time is thickening. I have such memories from when I was 16, or 23. No photographs, but I know enough to reproduce them with thickening confidence.

Reading: A Found Photo by Jacques Réda was originally published on Meandering home

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Poem

, in which we are not immortal
but our identities dissolve in-
to one another and we are only
a little bit afraid to call it love

was originally published on Meandering home

When we’re old and done

When we’re old and done

How will our love feel? Will we be

Anxious, afraid we missed out on

What we could have done? Afraid of

Looking back and feeling like dry sand?

Life seems funny and meaningful when the people

Around us are younger and we, unwittingly

We become authorities on living

They say that we know how it is done

We say we must curtail our consciousness

Give it up for raw being.

They thank us

For our presence at the table.

When we’re old and done was originally published on Meandering home

Reading: Lost Love by Gregory Djanikian

Gregory Djanikian (b. 1949) is an Egyptian born American poet with Armenian roots. He writes about the emigration experience, in particular about the way the English language is enriched by immigrants. I read a love poem today:

Lost Love
Someone is walking up and down the street
crying “My lost love, my lost love!”
without shame or consolation.

On a day for columbine and lilac,
for hearing leaves sigh in the wind,
so many spring groves are in the making,
so many different orchestras tuning up.

My lost love: a refrain which scatters like bird shot.
How many of us have gone to the window
feeling the words pierce our morning.

In my room, gardenias once:
your body floating over me, my skin
rearranging like water under your touch
and your urgent heart, that loveliest extravagance.

Poor man outside, whose sadness
idles like a hearse in front of all our doors.
And some of us climbing in without meaning to!

In the way you held your neck,
Kiss me you would say: then the world releasing
its perfumes from the garden of gardens,
and the body speaking in tongues again

wildly without reason,
without any hope for reason.

The phrase ‘my lost love’ sounds haunting in Armenian, I am sure. I see the street and the crazy person running up and down yelling her mantra. The world is preparing to blossom but something is not right. The poor man outside is maybe death, as he ‘idles like a hearse in front of all our doors’ and lure some people in.

The description of the lovemaking that takes place in the room is subtle. An urgent heart, the garden of gardens, skin rearranging like water, they are all poignant erotic metaphors. The body is speaking in tongues, like a thick foreign accent. Maybe Djanikian likens the situation the body is in while making love with the immigrant who falls back on a way of speaking that comes more naturally. The hope (or promise) of reason is wildly ignored. Reason would assess the risk of losing the love and weigh it against the potential benefit, and of course destroys the possibility of ‘falling’ in love. Here it is not only reason but the very hope for reason that must be abandoned in a real erotic encounter.

Reading: Lost Love by Gregory Djanikian was originally published on Meandering home

Meditation on love

Can we imagine a love that is without lack, hence without desire? We sit for a brief meditation on love. Erotic love, parental love, the love for truth, beauty and the good. Imagination that our love is indeed without lack, that the constellation lover – beloved has a value as it is and does not depend on vindication through future events.

We go too fast. Let’s take a good breath. Why do we want to know the nature of love? Are we afraid we cannot recognize it otherwise? Isn’t there always an element of “just so” involved? Why do you love me? Just because. Every lover has experienced this: An ultimate rationale will make love void, or feel void. A rational explanation is a narrative we can replicate, one that holds true in every occassion that is similar to the initial one in ways we that are clearly defined. Such reasoned ‘love’ for Anna must also apply to Berta (Anna’s clone) if she fulfills the same criteria.

The question is if there is an irreducible core to love that we cannot translate into reasons, a sort of mystery or a metaphysics if you wish. Hold on. We are meditating about love and stumbled over the very question ‘what is love?’ Doesn’t that make a fully naturalizing account tantalizing? Love in terms of oxytocin and neuronal pathways? Such analysis might one day be able to accurately analyse whether or not we love someone, but does it contribute to the meaning of love? A very bold naturalist might try a yes. We can find meaning if we describe love in terms of a shared paradisical future full of honeybees and butterflies, even if the reality happens in a small apartment in a boring neighbourhood. What if we just get used to the language of hormones and neurotransmitters? What if we learn to align our imagination of love with what actually happens, like a flushing of oxytocin?

The chemical narrative forgets about our storyness. The love we mean is consistent over time and survives stress (and long periods of absence of love hormones). We don’t reduce love to a story of endogenous drugs because love is a way we relate to the world. This may be overlooked in a laboratory setting because we don’t take the way rats relate to the world seriously. So, we feel that the chemical explanation of what happens inside our bodies when we love doesn’t answer our question. We want to know the value of love, we want to know how to love.

We began with imagining a love without a lack, so in a way without a future in which that love must be ‘realized’. Such timeless love is a depiction of a state of affairs, and the we attach a higher meaning to it. Picture two people hugging: “This is love”. There is nothing more to say. It seems to me that we have to make that gesture, ‘there is nothing more to say’, that is lover and beloved imagine a space beyond language that they inhabit together. This space can never be filled in with rational explanations, because it has the function of harboring the irrational side of love.

Love does imply lack. Loving interaction is all about the unknown future. Expectations, promises, vows. We could successfully deal with the future on our own and make promises to ourselves – we can love ourselves. But interpersonal love allows us to share something of our irrationality in the public space. It is important that our love is not only accepted but favored by the general public (hence the importance of gay rights). Our irrational core, necessary because we don’t have the Ultimate Answer, is contained in the shared imagination of love. The art of loving is a public play, a display of human affection that defies an ultimate rational explanation.

Breathe. I am not sure about what I said of rationality and love’s role as the quintessential irrational force. Perhaps this is just neoromantic cultural imagination? I’d love to discuss it.

Image by ianbourgeot.com

Meditation on love was originally published on Meandering home

Meditation on purpose

We sit still with our eyes closed. In the distance, across the fields, are green hills. Alright, this is my concrete situation perhaps not yours. Never mind. The why-question or more precisely the what are we here for question is personally daunting. So much so, that we assume we can hardly help each other finding an answer.

Of course, there are no answers, only provisionary directions. Ideas we can adhere to. I leave religion out of this meditation for I am no priest. In humanism these guiding ideas might be something like contributing to society as good as you can, or searching for scientific truth.

I like to categorize these ambitions as love. Love for truth, love for other people, art, music, words, food. May our purpose come from love, not from fear. What do you fear? Death, shame, loss, the elements, financial insecurity, disease, dementia? Close your eyes. Next to you there is a poisonous snake. It doesn’t move. Are you afraid? Now on the other side there is a snake as well. You were in the right place to survive all along. Oftentimes, fear can misinform us.

So we should ask: How does this fear relate to our love? Can if make our love grow or is it an obstacle? Maybe we should realize that in the light of our mortality, the life-affirming sentiment of love is our most sensible wager. What we create out of love can be remembered independently of the morals of the day, to paraphrase Nietzsche.

Breathe deeply. Ask yourself what is making you tick, and what is it you want to make you tick? It the first based on fear and the second based on love?

Meditation on purpose was originally published on Meandering home

Reading: The Hug by Thom Gunn

Thom Gunn (1929-2004) was an English poet. I’ve read another verse (tamer and hawk) by his hand before. Today I read a simple poem that says something I find lovely.

The Hug
It was your birthday, we had drunk and dined
Half of the night with our old friend
Who’d showed us in the end
To a bed I reached in one drunk stride.
Already I lay snug,
And drowsy with the wine dozed on one side.

I dozed, I slept. My sleep broke on a hug,
Suddenly, from behind,
In which the full lengths of our bodies pressed:
Your instep to my heel,
My shoulder-blades against your chest.
It was not sex, but I could feel
The whole strength of your body set,
Or braced, to mine,
And locking me to you
As if we were still twenty-two
When our grand passion had not yet
Become familial.
My quick sleep had deleted all
Of intervening time and place.
I only knew
The stay of your secure firm dry embrace.

I love such birthdays and adjacent nights, and the idea that you can visit an old friend on your birthday. The full-body snug hug is decribed wonderfully with the instep fitting the heel, the shoulder-blades against her chest (not breasts). Two interlocking bodies, set or braced against each other in a fresh way. The ‘intervening’ experiences in between have been deleted.

The embrace is ‘secure and firm and dry’ – and is here to stay. Deleting the intervening time and place made the moment appear timeless. The drowsiness made knowing anything beyond the embrace nearly impossible. Here we can find consolation, perhaps more than in any other gesture we are capable of.

Reading: The Hug by Thom Gunn was originally published on Meandering home