Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Embroidery - Harrison Tao

Today is the 20th anniversary of my mother's passing away from melanoma, and I am taking "license" to post my elegiacal poem to her.   We had a complex relationship strained by the clashes caused by the challenges of raising me in two Western cultures (Brazilian and American) so dissimilar from our ancestral one.  Regardless, my own maturing (and a good therapist) has given me peace and perspective.  She loved me as best she knew how (and could) in a life that saw huge transformations and losses, and where her own needs and dreams went largely unfulfilled.  My mother was a strong and passionate person who deserved an easier and more rewarding emotional life than she ultimately lived.  She died angry and "raging against the dying of the light" (Dylan Thomas).   Whereas I was perturbed at the time, I now view the witnessing of her last breath as a gift. I love her and I miss her.  

As I get closer to - perhaps - "seeing" her again, I focus on how much love and affection she showed her only grandchild, my daughter.   Here is a link to a longer commentary.

The  Embroidery 
                                  to Lee Pik-Yuen (Lily Tao), 1916 - 1990

What song for a life of sorrows?
What sorrows steep within a tea?
What tea for partings without the proper song?

In less-than half the heartbeats you carried me within,
an obscene rebellion tunneling beneath the skin
collapsed all the familiar contours:
your body now a ladder of bones
in an emptying hospital room,
and the high-collar Shantung dresses,
slit-to-the-knee brocaded sheaths
of an abrupted youth and Shanghai sweets,                                                 
become an anonymous sheet
I would not let be pulled over your face.

So much was hidden already:
the unsupplicant kneelings by the carved chest
left in Brazil,
your tai chi-smooth splitting of the twin brass-locks
to raise the fishermen, the village,
the pavilion in the cloud,
to furlough, from a scented darkness,
song-birds straining their silk threads,
two  dazzling butterflies
flightless, though unpinned.

Contemplated for a pot or two,
yet always re-folded, never displayed,
you always camphored it away,
the creases deepening
unsmoothable as the choices made - 
strength to a weaker husband,
solace from a tended rose-bush:
a muted nightingale in an unlocked cage.

Your face now, moon-mottled and breath-less,
the eyes tranquil seas, finally,
this son, twice-born without a voice,
unfurls it now, pennant and shroud,
to sing you homeward
with words you would not recognize,
to return your ashes into steps.

Though there is no more pleasing,
I take the silence as approval:
I drink my fill, 
and call it tea.


The embroidery seen in the first photo hung in the space (the cinder-blocks with the black strip) between the two windows - the two pieces of plywood - in my bedroom.  (The fire started below it along that wall.)  The first photo is the only evidence it ever existed.  So it goes.... 

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Sonnet LXIX - 100 Sonnets of Love - Pablo Neruda

Regardless, of how this poem arrives on your physical (or virtual) doorstep - by dogsled, singing messenger,  snail-mail, spam, or even in a blog you stumble upon, it should be taken very, very seriously as a reminder that life is short and The Beatles had it almost right: Love may not be all you need, but without it, what is the rest?  And if it arrives by carrier pigeon with a flash-drive attached to a leg or delivered by Federal Express, you would be a fool NOT to run - not walk - to the person who sent it.  How much more could you ask for from someone IF their other actions match the ardor, passion, and devotion in these words???

Sonnet LXIX
                                          transl. - Stephen Tapscott

Maybe nothingness is to be without your presence,
without you moving, slicing the noon
like a blue flower, without you walking
later through the fog and the cobbles,

without the light you carry in your hand,
golden, which maybe others will not see,
which maybe no one knew was growing
like the red beginnings of a rose.

In short, without your presence: without your coming
suddenly, incitingly, to know my life,
gust of a rosebush, wheat of wind:

since then I am because you are,
since then you are, I am, we are,
and through love I will be, you will be, we’ll be.

                                                                                              Pablo Neruda

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Sonnet LXVI - I do not love you - Pablo Neruda

As promised, another from Neruda's 100 Love Sonnets.  I wish you could read it in Spanish: some of the passion is diluted in translation, as I hold firmly that certain love-poetry can only be "pulled off" in their origin.  This one is a declaration of love that speaks true, as it acknowledges that when we love someone, we at once see him/her perfectly well AND, simultaneously, not at all, in order to love them and their shortcomings.  (If YOU are loved THAT well, pay attention!)
Sonnet LXVI
                                         transl. by Stephen Trascott

I do not love you – except because I love you;
I go from loving to not loving you,
from waiting to not waiting for you
my heart moves from the cold into

the fire. I love you only because it’s you
I love; I hate you no end, and hating you
bend to you, and the measure of my changing love for you
is that I do not see you but love you

blindly. Maybe the January light will comsume
my heart with its cruel
ray, stealing my key to true

calm. In this part of the story I am the one who
dies, the only one, and I will die of love because I love you
because I love you, Love, in fire and in blood.

                                                                                         Pablo Neruda

Friday, August 6, 2010

Sonnet LXV (100 Sonnets) - Pablo Neruda

Pablo Neruda needs no introduction, least of all by me, as THE giant and most popular South American poet writing in Spanish.  I could easily post all 100 of his love sonnets, one per day, and no reader would have reason to complain that either the subject (Love) or "mission" of this blog was shortchanged.  But that would cheat you from your own discovery of their range and passion.  I will, however, post a few, one after the other beginning with this one (in addition to the four already posted over the last few months), so that a grouping can give a better flavor than a single one.  Call it a tasting bite.  Neruda divided the "100 Sonnets of Love" into sections called Morning, Afternoon, Evening, and Night.  This one is from Evening and needs no explanation.   
Sonnet LXV
                                      transl. Stephen Tapscott

Matilde, where are you? Down here I noticed,
under my necktie and just above my heart,
a certain pang of grief between the ribs,
you were gone that quickly.

I needed the light of your energy,
I looked around, devouring hope.
I watched the void without you that is like a house,
nothing left but tragic windows.

Out of sheer taciturnity the ceiling listens
to the fall of the ancient leafless rain,
to feathers, to whatever the night imprisioned;
so I wait for you like a lonely house
till you will see me again and live in me.
Till then my windows ache.

                                                                Pablo Neruda

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Eight Sonnets - III - Edna St. Vincent Millay

Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892 - 1950) didn't live long enough to see the feminist movement of the 60s, but conducted her life with the integrity of being her own person in a time when most women could not and did not, thus serving as a great role model for those that followed.  Born in Maine, "Vincent" (as she was called by friends) parlayed an early poem, with encouragement from her mother, into a scholarship to Vassar.  It was off-to-the-races then to a literary life as a poet and playwright in New York City, to Greenwich Village where she lived on the brink of poverty but with great zest.  Her fourth volume of poetry garnered a Pulitzer in 1923.  She continued writing poetry (and plays) for the rest of her career and was widely known through the many public readings she gave.  Though openly bisexual, "Vincent", was in an open marriage until her husband of twenty-six years died a year before her own.  This sonnet, the third in a group of eight, has always intrigued me by how it is set up.
Eight Sonnets


I know I am but summer to your heart,
And not the full four seasons of the year;
And you must welcome from another part
Such noble moods as are not mine, my dear.
No gracious weight of golden fruits to sell
Have I, nor any wise and wintry thing;
And I have loved you all too long and well
To carry still the high sweet breast of spring.
Wherefore I say: O love, as summer goes,
I must be gone, steal forth with silent drums,
That you may hail anew the bird and rose
When I come back to you, as summer comes.
Else will you seek, at some not distant time,
Even your summer in another clime.

                                                                                        Edna St. Vincent Millay

Sunday, August 1, 2010

No Road - Philip Larkin

Another by Philip Larkin.  (Bio info, etc. with earlier ones.  Click on "Talking in Bed": it will speak to you.)   Larkin is known for his control of form and language: consider how the extended metaphor in this one is so concisely written.   And how much is dealt with in so few lines.  The first verse illustrates that quote from the French philosopher Blase Pascal: "The heart has its reasons, of which Reason knows nothing about", that the best rational decisions about a relationship don't stand a chance against what the heart feels.  The second verse is a warning that, when the traffic is one way, even that heart can only take so much neglect before the artifices of Reason will win.  The closing verse is a peek into a future that can yet be prevented....but only if the warning is heeded and the effort to keep the road open is equal and mutual.  The last four lines have always made me shudder: so powerful in conveying the real pain but false power in the outcome..
No Road

Since we agreed to let the road between us
Fall to disuse,
And bricked our gates up, planted trees to screen us,
And turned all time’s eroding agents loose,
Silence, and space, and strangers – our neglect
Has not had much effect.

Leaves drift unswept, perhaps; grass creeps unmown;
No other change.
So clear it stands, so little overgrown,
Walking that way tonight would not seem strange,
And still would be allowed. A little longer,
And time will be the stronger,

Drafting a world where no such road will run
From you to me;
To watch that world come up like a cold sun,
Rewarding others, is my liberty.
Not to prevent it is my will’s fulfillment.
Willing it, my ailment.

                                                                                              Philip Larkin