Moon Solo

With Jules Laforgue.

You gave voice lessons to your followers, reminding them back to the poetic possibilities of their own idioms. You knew the absurdity of lovesickness, the hopelessness of waiting, and the dogged persistence of stubborn hope. You lamented time’s slow passage even when you found it making still too quick an interval between before and after.

How do you catch a heartbeat? Build a poem to break everything, until what is left is the syncopated feeling of forest voices, to polish the mirror where the Unconscious seeks itself. What escapes the lover’s reach?

You knew the maddening moon, your death, beneath the dripping branches, the work of the web undone; you heard the tragic anthem of the unattended sun . . . like a gland ripped from the throat, and still. You could not keep from singing.

***

It’s the birthday of Jules Laforgue (1860-1887), French symbolist poet whose work strongly influenced T.S. Eliot’s development, and who championed the expansion of free verse. The opening line of this post references an enthusiastic comment of Eliot’s, soon after he encountered Laforgue’s early work in an anthology of symbolists. Much of Laforgue’s later work was not published in his lifetime (he died at the age of twenty-seven, of tuberculosis). This morning, I read Moon Solo: The Last Poems of Laforgue, published by William Jay Smith in a 1956 issue of The Sewanee Review. Some of the images (and italicized phrases) above are from these poems.

Aftermath

In the dark between destruction and rebirth.

After the promise, before the fallen fruit, love was so loud that what followed might be called nature’s reproach. We suspected it was. But our memories of watercolor flights stayed anyway between water and sky, and us gliding in wide-winged pelican formations­­––long after their welcome, ignoring the new signs warning against the trespass of our breath.

After the storm, our eyes fall into these empty hands and roll across the wreckage around us until they are soaked in the sludge of charred remains. 

Only this silent plea between us now, strong and invisible; and time no longer ours, and in the dark hours before dawn, it may echo an inquiring trinity, Love, will you make the world here again? and then Hear, again and Love, here.

Music to Wake the Dead

Orpheus to Eurydice, overheard.

You were tired of tired imitation, wanted something real. Only the unreasonable would do. Okay, I said, and tuned the strings at the joint in the forked paths, from which one would lead home and the other to a forever road. Let me play you a burning thornbush. Your mother floats halfway between the bed and the ceiling in your sleep. We love a riddle, and the ones we can’t solve tend to linger, like the notes of the last dance, like the earth ringing now in my ears.

***

Inspired by a comment that director Andrey Tarkovsky makes in Sculpting in Time. Paraphrasing Paul Valéry, he notes how “the real is expressed most immanently through the absurd.” The last line is adapted from images in Arseny Tarkovsky’s poem “Eurydice.”

Rivers to the Sea

With Sara Teasdale.

Afterwards, amid the autumn dusk

I shall not care

Let it be forgotten by February twilight

these faults.

My heart is heavy with old love.

Love, this is not a word, but an epitaph.

What do I care, in the morning?

Says a voice around me now,

here in this spirit’s house.

***

Today is the birthday of American lyric poet Sara Teasdale (1884-1933). The lines above are composed with some of her poem titles. The title of this post references a collection she published in 1915.

Reef Bodies

Underwater museums.

See the reef people, bodies given over to coral, algae, seagrasses, sheltering conch, crustaceans: boy with a face in his hands, man with a head of branches; history’s dead and the severed heads of oracles, waiting rebukes to the next sales pitch that begins with a story of progress unlimited. 

See the men with manes of seagrass, the ships for swimming through, the work of a lifetime to be schooled by fish.

After twenty centuries of stony sleep, what rough beast, its hour come at last, slouches to the shore to be reborn?

***

Inspired by the underwater sculptures of Jason deCaires Taylor. The italicized phrase in the final lines comes from “The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats.

Elegy in Blue

For Robert Hayden.

Your preference for the long view was balanced by an exquisite attention to the ragged, beating heart of the impossible moment. You called history a long, bloody becoming toward what might finally be, this beautiful, terrible, needful thing, still stirring.

You were moved by the idea that against failure after failure, something wars, something goes forward, something lights a match, and remembered the winged man of the laughing, longing night.

You kept your eye on the sharp sails that flayed the albatross and on a promise that it was yet possible to walk back home over Galilee’s waters to be washed of the effluvium of living death.

Your own aches bent elsewhere, you trained your eye toward life upon these shores, to study the deep immortal human wish amid a timeless yearning for the good old days that had never been good.

You studied the choreography of spirit hanging on, dancing its own shelter with an intensity bright enough to shine through the sordid and cruel deniers of hearts, of lives, of life itself.

You argued that a poem is an action unto itself, a catalyst of compassion, a weight to bend the moral arc ever slightly toward a softer hand, toward community, toward home.

You knew despair could seed a song to raise the roof and the hard loving of laughter in bed with misery and as a constant reminder you drew heart-shapes in the constant dust, as if to mark this side of heaven.

Even as you mourned the moaning empress of the bluesfour bullets in her heart, you lifted us up with ostrich feathers to feel her still shining forward, to look with you, through the transience of loss, to the way they would rise early next Sunday, even against the next fistful of snow.

What did any of us know, anyway, of love’s austere and lonely offices?

***

On this day in 1913, American poet Robert Hayden (d. 1980) was born. The title of this post is adapted from an article Frank Rashid published in the Winter 2001 issue of Callaloo, “Robert Hayden’s Detroit Blues Elegies.” This post is composed using ideas and phrases from Hayden’s work and interviews, as well as a line (italicized above) from Stephen Vincent Benet’s John Brown’s Body, a work that moved and influenced Hayden, particularly his historical vision. Where possible, I have linked lines above to the works from which they are adapted.

Aging Architecture

Bodies in time.

Like fabric in the hand, another remnant of memory is collected in an aftermath. We must have fed the flames that burned the bones of the old present when we danced its wild beat. 

Now it’s possible to wonder if the point of storing so much water in living flesh is to embody this reverberation after the music stops. Or to cool against the fire, but that doesn’t explain this tendency for conduction, not to mention what happens when lightning strikes. 

Probably the added volume simply makes us more suitable replacement frames, upon which these scraps of former seasons may be more elaborately draped.

A Love Supreme

With John Coltrane.

I want to talk about you, your ascension, the promise I wish I knew, too beautiful.

Say it.

Say more for the lovers, please.

Weaver of dreams, dripping stardust, you answered time after time, then I’ll be tired; still, insisting, love thy neighbor.

But how deep is the ocean after the rain? 

An acknowledgement. Help me to be––compassion. Love.

An acknowledgement: Consequences.

Help me to be––serenity. Dearly beloved, I am a dreamer.

Dearly beloved, something I dreamed last night––

It was sometime around midnight, just after another take of something straight, no chaser, and all of us gathered like someone in love, alternating our so whats with melancholic meditations like someday my prince. It was soft lights and slow dance, and you leave me breathless on a misty night to hear a rhapsody. Lover, come back to me. I Cry! 

Tender, it’s a fire waltz, a minor disturbance. It’s this chronic blues, a love supreme.

Call me by my rightful name, I’m old fashioned. I can’t get started. I’m too young to go––

Steady. But it’s all or nothing at all.

Dearly beloved, this is an acknowledgement. 

Beloved, this is a song of praise 

I wish I knew.

***

Inspired by the serendipitous appearance of A Love Supreme on last night’s random shuffle, the above is assembled almost entirely from the titles of John Coltrane songs. And, of course, by love.

For the Living and the Dead

Against the machine.

When the horror of a moment renders a body speechless, the acts of pen to page, brush to canvas, fingers to keys––become negotiations with death. Yours, mine: what are they and how do they relate? To account for whole cities of dead, a vast underground rendered invisible through banality. What is it to write a voice, paint a vision––while standing on ground in full recognition of the brothers beneath it, and the invisible sisters with their children and parents in mass graves? Welcome to the necropolis, says one, where screens herald the battalion.

What are the stakes at this scale? Life. Lives. Forget numbers, abstractions. Try instead: One.  

One. 

One. 

One.

Each a brother, sister, mother, daughter, each with a scent of their own, a particular laugh and secret hopes––erased.

What is at stake? The human condition in the age of the war machine.

How to resist? The first act is naming.

***

Inspired by the work of Juan RufloChristina Rivera Garza, and Achille Mbembe.

Flight in Darkness

The poet remembers.

Only symbols. When I saw that the architecture was burnt out in me, I became a poet. Now I am grief, hunger, the embers of cities. But making is older than killing, and what is this man to make of this life but a brief flight in darkness, now and then on a rainbow?

***

This morning I learned that it was the birthday of poet Andrei Andreyevich Voznesensky, who  Robert Lowell once distinguished as the greatest living poet in any language. He came to fame during the Khrushchev thaw and was known as an outspoken critic of artistic censorship of any kind. I don’t have a complete translation of Voznesensky’s work, but I was able to find some selections online. The above is assembled from my a small sample of these findings, adapted.