A belief is all we have

A belief is all we have
to hold on to, some warmth
weaning us for darker times
when we thicket each other’s softest spots,
make our fingers lost and blow
weightless snow in each other’s faces
when we make chocolate gestures,
blanket soft talk in some rearrangement
of tired starlight

A belief is all we have was originally published on Meandering home

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Reading: In The Summer by Nizar Qabbani

Nizar Qabbani (1923-1998) was a Syrian diplomat, poet and publisher. His poetic style combines simplicity and elegance in exploring themes of love, eroticism, feminism, religion, and Arab nationalism (Wikipedia).

I read a simple love poem, translated by B. Frangieh And C. Brown, that sounds unmistakenly Arabic:

In the summer
In the summer
I stretch out on the shore
And think of you
Had I told the sea
What I felt for you,
It would have left its shores,
Its shells,
Its fish,
And followed me.

No tricks here, just the imagination of a mighty sea that is longing along with the poetic subject lying on the shore. The imagery of a sea leaving its place is brilliantly absurd, and indeed captures the all-encompassing feeling of being in love. Is there any religious connotation? I doubt it. Moses told the sea he loved his people, and the Red Sea parted, leaving the ichtus and – forget it. This poem is what it is.

Browsing some more Qabbani we discover the recurring metaphor play around writing for love:

Every time I kiss you
After a long separation
I feel
I am putting a hurried love letter
In a red mailbox.

or

When a man is in love
how can he use old words?
Should a woman
desiring her lover
lie down with
grammarians and linguists?

I said nothing
to the woman I loved
but gathered
love’s adjectives into a suitcase
and fled from all languages.

or

Oh, my love
If you were at the level of my madness,
You would cast away your jewelry,
Sell all your bracelets,
And sleep in my eyes.

It seems to me the Arab World had its High Romantic Period about a century after the Occident (this statement accidentally coincides with academia).

Reading: In The Summer by Nizar Qabbani was originally published on Meandering home

Reading: Jane by Howard Moss

American poet, dramatist and critic Howard Moss (1922-1987) won the National Book Award in 1972 for his selected poetry. He was the poetry editor of the New Yorker for almost forty years and a great discoverer of poets. Moss also wrote a funny illustrated book of writer’s parodies called ‘instant lives‘. I read ‘Jane’, a poem about aging:

Jane

The startling pleasures all broke down,
It was her first arthritic spring.
Inside her furs, her bones, secure,
Suddenly became a source of pain
And froze on a Saturday afternoon
While she was listening to “La Boheme.”

Strength had been her weakness, and
Because it was, she got to like
The exhilaration of catastrophes
That prove our lives as stupid as we think,
But pain, more stupid than stupidity,
Is an accident of animals in which, once caught,
The distances are never again the same.

Yet there was another Jane in Jane:
She smelled the inside of a logarithm,
And felt a Gothic arch rise in her chest,
Her clavicle widening to bear the weight
Of the two smooth plumb lines of her breasts,
The blueprints forming an enormous skirt
Around her body. Arch and star and cross
Swung like little lights inside her head,
A church and temple rising from the floor,
Nave and transept and an altar where,
Unbidden, she saw a kind of sacrifice;
The knife was in her hand, the stick, the whip;
She cried at her cruelty and cried to be
Outside of her defenses. And just then,

The windows buckled in, the paintings cracked,
The furniture went walking by itself,
All out of her control. And it was pain
That let her know she was herself again:
She wore a cloak of fire on her skin,
And power, power floated up to her.

Her first arthritic spring! How powerful, the promise of new beginnings and the clear sign of decay. Jane (Austen?) was a strong woman, but her coordinate system got messed up once she was caught in pain. She regained it by way of her imagination: She rebuilds a cathedral of her body in the beautiful third stanza. The distances and measurements are correct again. Smelling the inside of the logarithm, she is confident now, and finally becomes aware of her cruel habits.
At that moment, she loses control and understands that she is ‘herself again’. I don’t understand the ending. Is she burning herself like a witch, after she has lost control? Finally overpowered by the elements?

Reading: Jane by Howard Moss was originally published on Meandering home

Reading: To You by Kenneth Koch

New York School poet Kenneth Koch (1925-2002) was called “the funniest serious poet we have”. His engaged poetry is often funny, but Koch is serious about his craft. He also wrote short satirical plays and worked very successfully with children. I read a love poem, “To You”.

To You

I love you as a sheriff searches for a walnut
That will solve a murder case unsolved for years
Because the murderer left it in the snow beside a window
Through which he saw her head, connecting with
Her shoulders by a neck, and laid a red
Roof in her heart. For this we live a thousand years;
For this we love, and we live because we love, we are not
Inside a bottle, thank goodness! I love you as a
Kid searches for a goat; I am crazier than shirttails
In the wind, when you’re near, a wind that blows from
The big blue sea, so shiny so deep and so unlike us;
I think I am bicycling across an Africa of green and white fields
Always, to be near you, even in my heart
When I’m awake, which swims, and also I believe that you
Are trustworthy as the sidewalk which leads me to
The place where I again think of you, a new
Harmony of thoughts! I love you as the sunlight leads the prow
Of a ship which sails
From Hartford to Miami, and I love you
Best at dawn, when even before I am awake the sun
Receives me in the questions which you always pose.
It is remarkable how this lyrical evocation of the beloved You is nowhere leading to kitsch. The metaphors are well chosen. The cold murder case in the beginning (will the walnut ever be found?) is a chilling image. It looks like the murderer slit her throat (“laid a red roof in her heart” after the neck was connecting head and shoulders). But I get the idea of a detective that is not giving up, like the boy searching for his goat. I have searched feverishly for things (gifts, condoms) once when I was youthful and in love, to please my lover. It is called obsession. But love is more than obsession – that we learn after the semicolon;
When she is near, he is crazier than shirttails in the wind, like bicycling through an Africa of green and white fields. Nearness and farness lead to a harmony of thoughts when he learns to trust the path that leads him to her. Trust. There you get the image of the sunlight leading the prow. And there, finally, he is always with her because of her questions, that are always present to him.

Reading: To You by Kenneth Koch was originally published on Meandering home

Two Strangers

How much peace is in an evening walk
of two near strangers at the bay
when they hold hands and gently talk
even if their peace – has gone away

How much truth lies there, for a little while
when of human needs the most divine
between a thoughtful nod and then a smile
is shared by eyes like yours and mine

The sea is whispering quietly below
her waves are pushing light shadows ashore
we inspired each other – and smiled even more

Our shadows, let’s pick them up before we go
because the moonlight won’t restore
those shadows and this instant, never more

Two Strangers was originally published on Meandering home

Reading: Adultery at forty by Donald Hall

Donald Hall (b. 1928) is another celebrated American poet. Hall “has lived deeply within the New England ethos of plain living and high thinking, and he has done so with a sense of humor and eros.” He had lost his wife, Jane Kenyon to leukemia in 1994, with whom he lived a happy and harmonious poet’s life on their farm in New Hampshire, where he lives to this day. I read a short poem that might not be representative of his vast body of work, but shows the direct, simple language he is known for:

Adultery at forty
At shower’s head, high over the porcelain moonscape,
a waterdrop gathers itself darkly, with hesitation-
hangs, swells, shakes, looms,
as if uncertain in which direction to hurl itself-
and plunges
_________to come apart at its only destination.

It is all projection! A forty-year-old guilt-ridden man (or woman) who takes a shower after the sinful deed observes the hesitant waterdrops against the backdrop of the inevitability of their fall. The hanging, swelling, shaking and looming could be read as a description of the sexual act for my part.

The shower of course stands for the foreign, the place outside of marriage, not the earth but the moon(e)scape. The waterdroplet seems uncertain about the direction, not about the intensity with which it will move: It has already decided it will hurl itself. Its hurl is a plunge, supported here by the indentation of the last line, that spells out the clou of Hall’s poem, the coming apart at its only destination. There was only one destination, so the uncertainty was an illusion, the adultery (the actual fucking) was in the cards all along, it was destined to happen. Yet, instead of fulfillment, the drop ‘came apart’.

Such a sad song! Instead of redemption and inner peace we have a someone hurling itself at a self-destructive destiny, with a bubbling sense of self-importance as it ponders the fake ‘choice’ it doesn’t have.

Reading: Adultery at forty by Donald Hall was originally published on Meandering home