Thursday, January 30, 2014

30 January 2014

Alice Notley [vimeo]
from alice notley's disobedience:

Just Under Skin of Left Leg

a dark woman, Camelia Luna
who has Anna Akhmatova's nose
welcomes me to her basement floor dwelling —
I'll help her carry her dead father
I tie him to myself, by the neck . . .
"He must be heavy," she says. He
wakes up and mutters unmemorably.

We called Camelia Cammy (pronounced
Commy) when I was a kid

Virginia my former therapist called me "loony"
"loony poet" — "You were this loony poet."


Heavy with the season. Don't want to give myself
to a new cycle of work and socializing.
Say something pretty: "Dorior, more golden than a door."

Anyone gets tired of carrying fathers.
In my dream Cammy's father
had been a Mafia don. She answered the door
in a blue tulle dress.


"This poem needs your love."
An American might say that
how disgusting
Love an American: "they just love us."
Get some Housing Projects; listen to Rap in them;
turn rightwing electing a maskface in a nice suit;
explode some nuclear bombs.
Americans come to Paris to find out they're Americans
how interesting for them; I mean us
tired of carrying that, carrying that weight
around my neck, who the fuck is this man?
depicted as the weight of your life, can
he be the brunt the cruelty
of that? Yes I carry him, carry him . . .


Out in the forest with an empty pickle jar
waiting to catch a pickle, no a pygmy owl, or
something like that!
                               if way beneath
my surface, I can find only a diatribe,
shouldn't you listen? Way . . . way below —
where the real story must be.


Marguerite Yourcenar said
she wouldn't be in a book of women
collection of women's writings because
only women would read it, and
they already knew they were angry —
anger, she said, is one, one person
a little personal sputter.
But that's that kind of anger, Marguerite —
           what about
an anger like Dante's, a whole leaden sky
a church-charged orthodox anger,
creating, in Amer-lingo, a norm for the Great?
That's not so bad, to damn in perpetuity,
if you're Great?
Well, she says,
it's certainly not trivial.


I can't seem to get down into the caves
and the lovely pleasures of the pursuit of the Soul
by Will. What will happen, will I ever find me
in such a way that I'll change, off the page?


I know where Dante might be —
tied round my, Camelia Luna's neck.
"What did he say when he spoke?"
Who cares?
The weight round my neck should die.


'Hi, Mitch.' 'Hi.
Catch anything in that jar?'
'A dead man's ass disguised as light.'

'Aren't you being hard on D? He's like me'
'And me —'

First to the left, then to the right —

No, left, all the way to the left
Take it as far as you can.


Walking with my toes curled as if I were in orgasm;
now look up at the strange sky above soft trees.

I don't want to create any meaning;
I want to kill it . . .
You made meaning; I'm
trying to make life stand still,
long enough so I can exist.
I, truly, am speaking

Joseph Brodsky

Joseph Brodsky [Stuttgarter Zeitung]

A child’s ear is always sensitive to a strange, irregular sound. . . .

from a tyranny one can be exiled only to a democracy . . .

the fate of the polytheistic notion of time at the hands of Christian monotheism was the first leg of humanity’s flight from a sense of the arbitrariness of existence into the trap of historical determinism. . . .

The more ordered the life of a society or an individual, the more chance gets elbowed out. . . .

The best reason for being a nomad is not the fresh air but the escape from the rationalist theory of society based on the rationalist interpretation of history, since the rationalist approach to either is a blithely idealistic flight from human intuition. . . .

History is essentially a vast library filled with works of fiction that vary in style more than subject. . . .

it is better to agonize than to organize . . .

try not to blame anything or anybody . . . the moment that you place blame somewhere, you undermine your resolve to change anything . . . “to be social is to be forgiving” [Robert Frost] . . .

What your foes do derives its significance or consequence from the way you react. Therefore rush through or past them . . . don’t linger . . . do the forgetting . . .

a democracy — this halfway house between nightmare and utopia . . .

One dreams in dreams . . . and thinks in thoughts. A language gets into the picture only when one has to make those things public.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Sharon Dolin

Sharon Dolin [Collected Poets Series]

from Sharon Dolin's Whirlwind:

For I Will Consider the Overlooked Dragonfly

How it is often a damselfly, skimmer, or darner
How it belies the idea that we invented neon
How it mates while in flight, laying eggs on the pond lilies
How its blues are purples, its browns, reds
How unfearful it is of the human body
How one will come to bask on my forearm, foot, or the arm of my deck chair
How I praise the way it eats the larvae of biting insects
How a Variable Dancer in lavender and black alighted as I wrote this
For I praise them, not needing to search for dragonflies (the way birders search for 
           birds) but let them fly to me
For sometimes their wings have stigma and in the wind I watch their wings and 
           abdomen sway while their head and thorax are still
For this one's a male whose spider-web wings and abdomen are tipped sky-blue
For might it be the same damselfly that alights on the arm of my chair as I write
For his bulgy compound-eyes, what do they see
For his violet thorax the color of a flower
For the honeybees grazing the sea honeysuckle
           and the hummingbirds on the mimosa blooms
For their pond world which is oblivious to names
For ours with its naming obsession
For the only way I desire to catch one is with the net of my eyes
For some say a damselfly is a weak flier compared to a dragonfly
For the male clasps the female's head with the end of its abdomen while mating
For we call mating pairs a copulation wheel but I say they look like a backwards 3
For it flies from spring through late summer (though they live for only a few weeks)
For some darters and skimmers migrate south and the ones returning are their
           children or grand- or great-grandchildren or
For after the storm a male white-faced Meadowhawk, its thorax and abdomen
           pomegranate-red, has come to bask in the windy sun
For the wind, the wind, which causes a stirring within the stillness
           and a stillness within the stirring

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Robert Bolaño

Roberto Bolaño [Mouth London]

from Robert Bolaño’s Woes of the True Policeman, tr. Natasha Wimmer:


Notes from a Class in Contemporary Literature: The Role of the Poet

Happiest: García Lorca.
Most tormented: Celan. Or Trakl, according to others, though there are some who claim that the honors go to the Latin American poets killed in the insurrections of the ‘60s and ‘70s. And there are those who say: Hart Crane.
Most handsome: Crevel and Félix de Azúa.
Fattest: Neruda and Lezame Lima (though I remembered — and with grateful resolve chose not to mention — the whale-like bulk of a Panamanian poet by the name of Roberto Fernández, keen reader and best of friends).
Banker of the soul: T. S. Eliot.
Whitest, the alabaster banker: Wallace Stevens.
Rich kid in hell: Cernuda and Gilberto Owen.
Strangest wrinkles: Auden.
Worst temper: Salvador Díaz Mirón. Or Gabriela Mistral, according to others.
Biggest cock: Frank O’Hara.
Secretary to the alabaster banker: Francis Ponge.
Best houseguest: Amado Nervo.
Worst houseguest: various and conflicting opinions: Allen Ginsberg, Octavio Paz, e. e. cummings, Adrian Henri, Seamus Heaney, Gregory Corso, Michel Bulteau, the Hermanitos Campos, Alejandra Pizarnik, Leopoldo María Panero and his older brother, Jaime Sabines, Roberto Fernández Retamar, Mario Benedetti.
Best deathbed companion: Ernesto Cardenal.
Best movie companion: Elizabeth Bishop, Berrigan, Ted Hughes, José Emilio Pacheco.
Best in the kitchen: Coronel Urtecho (but Amaltifano reminded them of Pablo de Rokha and read him and there was no argument).
Most fun: Borges and Nicanor Parra. Others: Richard Brautigan, Gary Snyder.
Most clearsighted: Martín Adán.
Least desirable as a literature professor: Charles Olson.
Most desirable as a literature professor, though only in short bursts: Ezra Pound.
Most desirable as a literature professor for all eternity: Borges.
Greatest sufferer: Vallejo, Pavese.
Best deathbed companion after Ernesto Cardenal: William Carlos Williams.
Most full of life: Violeta Parra, Alfonsina Storni (although Amalfitano pointed out that both had killed themselves), Dario Belleza.
Most rational way of life: Emily Dickinson and Cavafy (though Amalfitano pointed out that — according to conventional wisdom — both were failures).
Most elegant: Tablada.
Best Hollywood gangster: Antonin Artaud.
Best New York gangster: Kenneth Patchen.
Best Medellín gangster: Álvaro Mutis.
Best Hong Kong gangster: Robert Lowell (applause), Pere Gimferrer.
Best Miami gangster: Vicente Huidobro.
Best Mexican gangster: Renato Leduc.
Laziest: Daniel Biga. Or, according to some, Oquendo de Amat.
Best masked man: Salvador Novo.
Biggest nervous wreck: Roque Dalton. Also: Diane Di Prima, Pasolini, Enrique Lihn.
Best drinking buddy: several names were mentioned, among them Cintio Vitier, Oliverio Girondo, Nicolas Born, Jacques Prévert, and Mark Strand, who was said to be an expert in martial arts.
Worst drinking buddy: Mayakovsky and Orlando Guillén.
Most fearless dancer with American death: Macedonio Fernández.
Most homegrown, most Mexican: Ramón López Velarde and Efrain Huerta. Other opinions: Maples Arce, Enrique González Martínez, Alfonso Reyes, Carlos Pellicer, fair-haired Villaurrutia, Octavio Paz, of course, and the female author of Rincones románticos (1992), whose name no one could remember.


Question: Why would you want Amado Nervo as a houseguest?
Answer: Because he was a good man, industrious and resourceful, the kind of person who helps set the table and wash the dishes. I’m sure he wouldn’t even hesitate to sweep the floor, though I wouldn’t let him. He would watch TV shows with me and discuss them afterward, he would listen to my troubles, he would never let things get blown out of proportion: he would always have the right thing to say, the appropriate levelheaded response to any problem. If there were some disaster — an earthquake, a civil war, a nuclear accident — he wouldn’t flee like a rat or collapse in hysterics, he would help me pack the bags, he would keep an eye on the children so that they didn’t run off in fear or for fun or get lost, he would always be calm, his head firmly on his shoulders, but most of all he would always be true to his word, to the decisive gesture expected of him.


Poems by Amado Nervo (Los jardines interiores; En voz baja; Elevación; Perlas negras; Serenidad; La amada inmóvil). Laurence Sterne, A Sentimental Journey (Colección Austral, Espasa Calpe). Matsuo Basho, Narrow Road to the Interior (Hiperión).

Saturday, January 25, 2014

25 January 2014

María Rosa Menocal [UCSC]

that stony landscape, fragrant with olive trees and sage brush, convulses with unnarratable inventions, the peaks of mystical and Gnostic subversions of each of the three great institutions, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. At the same time — and again, remarkably, unaccountably, against each of the three great classical cultures — the strange new gods of vernacular poetries come to thumb their noses. It is not only that the troubadours were the secular masterpiece of a culture sated with the Heresy and eventually pillaged for it. It is also true that the Cathars were far from alone. They shared time and space and politics and basic beliefs with the Jewish kabbalists who created the great Kabbalah there and then, and, no less on any count, with the greatest of Muslim Sūfis, including Ibn ‘Arabī. None of them, in turn, were ever far from the many places where the three old and revered paternal languages were being shamelessly replaced or (perhaps worse still) made to dance to the rhythms of another.

A hint of the ultimately dizzying interweaving of all these strands can be gleaned from the minuscule and Byzantine story of the woman who became the wife of the young James II of Mallorca. The young James was assigned the equally young Ramon Llull as a tutor — a Ramon Llull whose first métier was as troubadour. Of course — lest stuck in our national language corners we forget — Llull’s Catalan is languedoc, and in this part of “Spain” that is the language spoken and sung — unless, like Llull, one became more than a poet and then, like him, one learned Arabic. In any case, the young woman is a refugee from the fierce war against the Albigensians, part of a diaspora that sent dozens of troubadours to Italy and most of the Jewish kabbalists to Spain, both with powerful historical repercussions. By all accounts (including the triumphant official ones) the war was unusually devastating and effectively razed that stony, fragrant landscape. But she was not just any young woman; she was from Montségur, the greatest of the houses of Perfects, the high and secret nobility of Cathars. Montségur was that great Albigensian stronghold whose bitterly sought fall in 1244 was “the last act of the Albigensian tragedy,” to quote Frances Yates.

What Yates also points out is that this charming connection is no doubt the “missing link” between the ever-enigmatic Llull (whose transition from troubadour to kabbalist-sounding mystic may now seem less unusual in our context) and the De divisione naturae of John Scotus Erigena, the ninth century text that Yates is sure provides a significant part of the basis of the most arcane of his theories, those that smack most of kabbalist notions. The De divisione naturae, it turns out, was not only a favorite book among the Albigenses; it had been banned by the Church precisely because it was assumed heretical given the kind of readership it had. As Yates points out (although her emphasis and intent is no doubt different from my own), piecing together this puzzle in a sense resolves “the other old problem” — which I left unbroached in the previous chapter — of whether Llull was “influenced” by the Jewish Kaballah, since the travels and fortunes of the text of the ninth-century, Greek-reading Irishman, Scotus Erigena, highlights the extent to which what flourished in languedoc, and was then scattered in the maelstrom, was a whole stable of “kabbalas.”

Back we are, then, to counting the ways in which the lyric’s birth takes place in radical exile.

Loose Veil of Sundown

Loose Veil of Sundown
                                 — a cento

seeing that blind wall approach
I spend my time tending to the animals in me
stub-dicked boys from the Maghreb
Hildigunna the leech, their sister
the horses have not yet been jettisoned
a man in a skirt is never alone
sounds tend to inadvertently mean while sounding
rendering mystical & hermetical
a meadow for gazelles, a cloister for monks
the hacked out cots of silk bog children
technical matters of lexicography
the importance of never seeming stupid
we who ride a board on the back of the seal
stay interested in the lone man’s liberty
this mountain of people in motion
deny what the text actually said
it can no longer be the nation
lyric is invented in bitter exile
language is not where we perform our thought
when you print a poem on it, the paper’s value is lost
what I love to ask is what I know

Thursday, January 23, 2014

23 January 2014

Rae Armantrout [Charles Bernstein]

Experimental Design

To test for consciousness,
ask the machine,

What is wrong
with this picture”

A potted plant
where a keyboard should be.

Ask yourself,
Would a cat be frightened?”

Event Horizon

A street person? —
unshaven, haggard —
in a button-down
and a full black skirt.

If an image could talk,
what would it say?

A man in a skirt participates.

A man in a skirt
is never alone?


We are never alone.

We are men in skirts.

I am.

I draw attention
to myself.

To make a black hole,
one must concentrate.

23 January 2014

Chris Tanseer

Appalachian Homecoming

A dinner bell reverberates through the valley,
Appalachian slow-going blues, the leaves dance shadows
                                      on the forest floor
And through my thoughts

As if each were inseparable from the other.
I’m at it again, rationing out my ration to the cedars and loons.
Wanderlust in the loose veil of sundown.

Returning to you seems easy
                                      outside the thing, like watching
An osprey above the tree line swoop low, spear the water
And talon a trout. I’ve known men who have lived

In the gaps of syllables, wed
The evenings outside the lit window of a former lover — intimate now
With a whiff from the bedroom fan, or the familiar voice

Of a distant body, a syllable astray. Syllable, from
The Greek syl-, “together with,” and lab-, “to take.”
Miles are the easiest distance to traverse.

Odysseus reached Penelope
In just ten years. Which is why, after
Nobody escaped from Polyphemus and, when

Nobody revealed his name, it lived to haunt
                                      the blind hermit. Syllables astray.
Words lack alone. I’ve known men who’ve waited lifetimes
In the next room.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

22 January 2014

Bayard Taylor [Library of Congress]

People ask me why are you going to Iceland, or they say that’s on my bucket list, too: people assume I’m going by myself, & they’re right though a poet or three might join me for a few days: I won’t know until they do or don’t: by myself I’ll count on my wits & when offered, local kindness: I’m reading the sagas now to learn about skyr, about the Thing, about treachery, violence, weather, volcanoes: I already read Laxness to learn about sheep.


The wives
Hallgerda & Bergthora
one, then the other
command a house-carle
to kill the other’s house-carle
& is obeyed.
at Thingskala-Thing
the husbands
Gunnar & Njal
confess & rue the slaughters,
settle to make peace,
hand atonement
back & forth
always the same purse.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

21 January 2014

from Mrs. Alec (Ethel Brilliana, née Harley) Tweedie's A Girl's Ride in Iceland, 1894:

As the London season, with its thousand and one engagements, that one tries to cram into the shortest possible time, draws to a close, the question uppermost in every one's mind is, 'Where shall we go this autumn?' And a list of places well trodden by tourists pass through the brain in rapid succession, each in turn rejected as too far, too near, too well known, or not embracing a sufficient change of scene. 

Switzerland? Every one goes to Switzerland: that is no rest, for one meets half London there. Germany? The same answer occurs, and so on ad infinitum. 

'Suppose we make up a party and visit Iceland?' was suggested by me to one of my friends on a hot July day as we sat chatting together discussing this weighty question, fanning ourselves meanwhile under a temperature of ninety degrees; the position of Iceland, with its snow-capped hills and cool temperature seeming positively refreshing and desirable. Mad as the idea seemed when first proposed in mere banter, it ended, as these pages will prove, by our turning the suggestion into a reality, and overcoming the difficulties of a trip which will ever remain engraven on my memory as one of the most agreeable experiences of my life. 

When I ventilated the idea outside my private 'den,' wherein it first arose, it was treated as far too wild a scheme for serious consideration--for 'Iceland,' to Londoners, seems much the same in point of compass as the moon! And there really is some similarity in the volcanic surface of both. Here, however, the similarity ends, for while the luminary is indeed inaccessible, the island can easily be reached without any very insurmountable difficulty. 

The somewhat natural opposition which our plan at first met with, only stimulated our desire the more to carry it into effect. The first step was to gain the permission of our parents, which, after some reluctance, was granted, and the necessary ways and means finally voted; our next was to collect together a suitable party from our numerous friends, and take all necessary measures to secure the success of the undertaking. . . .

Before proceeding any further, it may be well to mention the important subjects of outfit and provisions. As we were not going upon a fashionable tour, it was not necessary to provide ourselves with anything but what was really needed. Intending travellers must recollect that, as all inland journeys are performed on ponies, and the luggage can only be slung across the animals' backs, large boxes or trunks are out of the question, and it is necessary to compress one's outfit into the smallest possible dimensions. The following list will be found quite sufficient for the journey.

A thick serge dress, short and plain for rough wear, with a cloth one in change; a tight-fitting thick jacket, good mackintosh, and very warm fur cloak; one pair of high mackintosh riding boots (like fisherman's waders), necessary for crossing rivers and streams; a yachting cap or small tight-fitting hat, with a projecting peak to protect the eyes from the glare--blue glasses, which are a great comfort; thick gauntlet gloves; a habit skirt is not necessary. 

My brother has given me a list of things he found most useful. Two rough homespun or serge suits: riding breeches, which are absolutely indispensable; riding boots laced up the centre, and large, as they are continually getting wet; flannel shirts; thick worsted stockings; a warm ulster, and mackintosh. 

Instead of trusting to the pack boxes provided by the natives, a soft waterproof 'hold-all,' or mule boxes, would be an additional comfort. . . .

The immediate neighbourhood of the Geysers is not pretty; hills rise on one side, but otherwise they lie in a plain, which, when we saw it on our first arrival, was so thickly covered with sand from the storm that we could hardly discern any separate object. We hastened to examine the great Geyser. Alas! it did not, and would not play; it had done so two days previously, and we were told it was expected to renew the exploit, but, to our great mortification, it failed to do so during our visit. One of the peculiarities of this natural phenomenon is that sometimes at intervals of only a few hours it will eject columns of boiling water to the height of 100 feet, at others it will remain silent for days together. In 1770 it is recorded that this Geyser spouted eleven times in one day. Disappointed at losing the sight we had come so far to see, we turned our attention to the 'Stroker,' which is situated about 90 feet from its bigger neighbour. This also seemed in a quiescent state, but as the 'Stroker' can always be made to play by filling up the opening with earth sods, until there is no hole for the steam to escape, and it vomits the whole mass with a gigantic spout, we requested our guides to arrange for this artificial display. The emetic was consequently administered. 'Stroker' was evidently sulky, for the process had to be gone through no less than four times, whilst we waited the result in patience for at least two hours; but the display was all the better when it came. 

I said we waited in patience, which was hardly true, as we were all on the tiptoe of excitement. Continual false alarms, and we all rushed to the 'Stroker's' side, only to be again disappointed, so we unpacked our goods, and made preparations for our evening meal, examining the Great Geyser and the hot springs meanwhile, grumbled at the smell of sulphur, and nearly despaired of the eruption ever taking place, when a sudden start from our guides, who were standing on the edge of the crater, and a shriek from them, 'He comes!' and a huge column of water ascended straight into the air for about 60 feet, the spray being ejected to a considerable distance. The eruption was accompanied by a rumbling noise and a hissing sound, as the shafts of water ascended. 

We stood and watched the effect a few feet distant merely from this boiling column, feeling the rumbling distinctly under our feet and as the wind blew the steam back, it fell like rain, quite cold, but with sufficient force to wet us uncomfortably.

This great fountain display continued in full force a quarter of an hour; then the column gradually got smaller, though steam and water issued from its mouth for a full half-hour before it quite subsided. It was a splendid spectacle, and one which left a great impression on our minds; the height of the column was fully 60 feet, and even after it had subsided, we remained some time in contemplation of its cause and effect.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Muhammad Ibn 'Arabi

Ibn ʿArabī [Wikipedia]

Muhammad Ibn 'Arabī translated by Michael Sells:

Gentle now,
doves of the thornberry and moringa thicket,
don't add to my heart-ache
your sighs.

Gentle now,
or your sad cooing
will reveal the love I hide
the sorrow I hide away.

I echo back, in the evening,
in the morning, echo,
the longing of a love-sick lover,
the moaning of the lost.

In a grove of tamarisks
spirits wrestled,
bending the limbs down over me,
passing me away.

They brought yearning,
breaking of the heart,
and other new twists of pain,
putting me through it.

Who is there for me in Jám',
and the Stoning-Place at Miná,
who for me at Tamarisk Grove,
or at the way-station of Na'mān?

Hour by hour
they circle my heart
in rapture, in love-ache,
and touch my pillars with a kiss.

As the best of creation
circled the Ka'ba,
which reason with its proofs
called unworthy,

And kissed the stones there –
and he was the Natiq!
And what is the house of stone
compared to a man or a woman?

They swore, and how often!
they'd never change – piling up vows.
She who dyes herself red with henna
is faithless.

A white-blazed gazelle
is an amazing sight,
red-dye signalling,
eyelids hinting,

Pasture between breastbones
and innards.
a garden among the flames!

My heart can take on
any form:
a meadow for gazelles,
a cloister for monks,

For the idols, sacred ground,
Ka'ba for the circling pilgrim,
the tables of the Torah,
the scrolls of the Qur'án.

I profess the religion of love;
wherever its caravan turns along the way,
that is the belief,
the faith I keep.

Like Bishr,
Hind and her sister,
love-mad Qays and his lost Láyla, 
Máyya and her lover Ghaylán.

Michael Sells

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Judah Halevi

Judah Halevi, aka Abu-I-Hasan ibn Leví [elpensadorsolitario]

poetry by Judah Halevi from Raymond P. Scheindlin's The Song of the Distant Dove: Judah Halevi's Pilgrimage:

I know a man who is the best
of henna blossoms, finest nard,
the first in fragrances and every tasty thing;
and that man has a garden
with its beds arranged just so
around a pool—
a well of generosity
inside a vale of plenty.

This paradise has a pebble floor,
a surface ringed with columns,
and all inlaid with gold.
From below the water flows,
gushing upward, sprinkling the sky,
spraying upward, dripping downward,
determined to outdo the clouds,
flying, soaring,
heavy though it be.

There’s a shelter in that garden,
made of willow branches
with doves and swallows on them,
and below, dear friends and fellows—
henna blossoms, rose blossoms,
new ones, old ones—
more than enough delights
to satisfy your appetite;
other delights, too,
served in cups and pitchers,
brought round eagerly by Jupiter and Mars . . .

Detour me through Cairo,
past the Red Sea, then by Sinai;
take me the long way round to Shiloh
only then to reach the ruined Temple’s mound.
Let me take the ark of the covenant’s route
to where it now lies buried
and lick that soil—so sweet!—
see the lovely maiden’s nest she long ago forgot—
the place from which the doves were driven,
settled now by ravens.

This wind of yours is a perfumed wind, O West,
with saffron in its wings and apple scent,
as if it came from the perfumer’s chest,
not from the chest of the winds.

The wings of swallows flutter to your breath.
You set them free,
like myrrh-tears, from a bundle poured.
And how we long for you,
we who ride a board on the back of the sea!

Never release your grip from the ship
when the day makes its camp, when the day blows away.
Flatten the deep, rip the heart
of the seas, hit the holy mountains
and there take your rest,
wind of the west!
Shout down the east wind when it makes
the ocean break and creates
a seething pot in the heart of the sea. . . .

Raymond Scheindlin [The Jewish Theological Seminary]

Friday, January 17, 2014

17 January 2014

Halldór Laxness [heimur]

from Halldór Laxness’s Independent People:

The first thing that this midwife mentioned on entering Summerhouses was the smell; the stalls beneath were offensive with the damp of earthen walls and fish refuse, while the room upstairs stank of death, and a reeking lamp, the wick dry again, the last flame guttering, ready to die. The housekeeper demanded fresh air. She spread a coverlet over the corpse in the empty bedstead. Then she turned her attention to the child. But the dog refused to leave it, nursing it still; a mother, thirsty and famished, and yet no one thinks of rewarding an animal for its virtues. The housekeeper tried to drive her away, but she made as if to snap at her, so Bjartur had to take her by the scruff of the neck and throw her down the ladder. But when the child was now examined, it showed no signs of life whatever. The woman tried turning it upside down and swinging it in various directions, even taking it to the outer door and turning its face into the wind, but all to no purpose; this wrinkled, sorrowful being that so uninvited, so undesired, had been sent into the world appeared to have lost all desire to claim its rights therein.

But this housekeeper, who had been widowed when young, refused to believe that the child could possible be dead; she herself knew what it meant to be confined when blizzards were raging in the dales. She heated some water on her oil-stove, the second time that preparations were made to bathe this infant, and soon the water was hot, and the woman bathed the child and even let it lie for a good while in the water that was much more than hot, with the tip of its nose sticking up. Bjartur inquired whether she intended boiling the thing, but apparently she did not hear what he said, and as the child still showed no signs of life, she took it out and, holding it by one leg, swung it about in the air with its head downward. Bjartur began to feel rather worried; he had followed everything with great interest so far, but this was more than he could stand, and he felt he had better ask mercy for the unfortunate creature. “Are you trying to put the kid’s hips out of joint, damn you?” he inquired.

Whereupon Gudny, as if she had not been aware of his presence before, retorted sharply: “That’s enough. Be off with you and don’t show your face up here again before you’re asked.”

That was the first time that Bjartur was ever driven out of his own house, and had the circumstances been otherwise he would most certainly have had something to say in protest against such an enormity and would have tried to drive into Gudny’s head the fact that he owed her not a cent; but as it was, nothing seemed more likely than that he had been provided with a tail to trail between his legs as in utter ignominy he took the same path as the dog and crept down the stairs. But for the life of him he did not know what to turn his hand to down there in the dark; a completely exhausted man who had never felt less independent in his heart than that night; who felt that he was almost superfluous in the world, felt even that the living were in reality superfluous compared with the dead. He pulled out a truss of hay and, spreading it on the floor, lay down like a dog. In spite of everything one had at least got home.

The crying of a child woke him next morning.