Reading: Nocturnal Sailing by Mario Wirz

Mario Wirz (1956-2013) was a German poet and writer who started his career as theater actor and director. I read a poem in a translation by Renate Latimer:

the wind in your dream
swells the curtains into a sail
tears asunder
all the things we have collected
in the fearful light of the bedside lamp
I search in vain for our life vests
high waves rise above your sleep
and toss the night onto the side of the moon
perhaps you’d rather be
the sole sailor
untroubled by my fears
this question too
I now cast overboard
cautiously descending into your dream
and following its course
the sea which I haven’t questioned
all these years
imagines in our sleep
a new story

This is a gentle poem about love and anxiety. The curtains becoming sails and the pale moonlight dancing over the ocean’s surface imitated by the bedside lamp are a straightforward metaphor.
The author is cast overboard (intentionally?) because he didn’t want to bother his partner with his fears. That at least is what I read here. It gives him the chance to finally question the sea itself, and it creates the opening for a new story.

Reading: Nocturnal Sailing by Mario Wirz was originally published on Meandering home

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Reading: Sudden Movements by Bob Hicok

Bob Hicok (1960) is a poet from Michigan who writes accessible and meditative poetry. He currently teaches creative writing at Purdue University.

My father’s head has become a mystery to him.
We finally have something in common.
When he moves his head his eyes
get big as roses filled
with the commotion of spring.
Not long ago he was a man
who had tomato soup for lunch
and dusted with the earnestness
of a gun fight. Now he’s a man
who sits at the table trying to breathe
in tiny bites. When they told him
his spinal column is closing, I thought
of all the branches he’s cut
with loppers and piled and burned
in the fall, the pinch of the blades
on the green and vital pulp. Surgeons
can fuse vertebrae, a welders art,
and scrape the ring through which
the soul-wires flow as a dentist
would clean your teeth.
And still it could happen, one turn
of his head toward a hummingbird,
wings keeping that brittle life
afloat, working hard against the fall,
and he might freeze in that pose
of astonishment, a man estranged
from the neck down, who can only share
with his body the silence
he’s pawned on his children as love.

I like this kind of poems that paint a world with a precise and prosaic description of a life and its discomfort, to redeem it with considerable verbal magic (share with his body the silence / he’s pawned on his children as love).

The metaphorical unity of the once strong father who cut through the green and vital pulp, and the weak old man who is estranged from the neck down, is an obvious device and some may call it boring. The nerves are called soul-wires and they are now cut off. Life has become mysterious to him – is that what the son calls ‘something in common’?

I think so. The father has learned astonishment at the hummingbird-like fragility of life. He has learned about love.

Or: Silence can give you enough cash in the pawn shop of love.

Reading: Sudden Movements by Bob Hicok was originally published on Meandering home

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

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