Friday, April 30, 2004

And with that, I say goodbye for another year to Poetry Month.
Since it's too tempting to avoid completely - I'm sure I'll post something here every now and again. Nothing regular, though. I'll just link from my other, more regularly updated site.

I hope that you enjoyed this as much as I did. It's a wonderful rite of spring that brings me back to life both mentally and physically after a long, cold, dark winter.

Until next year.
Since I am so loathe to leave April, I am leaving you with three poems by a favorite writer of mine: Michael Ondaatje. Ondaatje is Ceylonese, born and raised in Sri Lanka. Moved to England to attend school, currently lives in Toronto, ON, Canada. Most will know of him from his Booker Prize-winning novel, The English Patient.

Sweet Like a Crow

"The Sinhalese are beyond a doubt one of the least musical
people in the world. It would be quite impossible to have
less sense of pitch, line, or rhythm."
- Paul Bowles

Your voice sounds like a scorpion being pushed
through a glass tube
like someone has just trod on a peacock
like wind howling in a coconut
like a rusty bible, like someone pulling barbed wire
across a stone courtyard, like a pig drowning,
a vattacka being fried
a bone shaking hands
a frog singing at Carnegie Hall.
Like a crow swimming in milk,
like a nose being hit by a mango
like the crowd at the Royal-Thornian match,
a womb full of twins, a pariah dog
with a magpie in its mouth
like the midnight jet from Casablanca
like Air Pakistan curry,
a typewriter on fire, like a spirit in the gas
which cooks your dinner, like a hundred
pappadans being crunched, like someone
uselessly trying to light 3 Roses matches in a dark room,
the clicking sound of a reef when you put your head into the sea,
a dolphin reciting epic poetry to a sleepy audience,
the sound of a fan when someone throws brinjals at it,
like pineapples being sliced in the Pettah market
like betel juice hitting a butterfly in mid-air
like a whole village running naked onto the street
and tearing their sarongs, like an angry family
pushing a jeep out of the mud, like dirt on the needle,
like 8 sharks being carried on the back of a bicycle
like 3 old ladies locked in the lavatory
like the sound I heard when having an afternoon sleep
and someone walked through my room in ankle bracelets.


The Cinnamon Peeler

If I were a cinnamon peeler
I would ride your bed
And leave the yellow bark dust
On your pillow.

Your breasts and shoulders would reek
You could never walk through markets
without the profession of my fingers
floating over you. The blind would
stumble certain of whom they approached
though you might bathe
under rain gutters, monsoon.

Here on the upper thigh
at this smooth pasture
neighbour to you hair
or the crease
that cuts your back. This ankle.
You will be known among strangers
as the cinnamon peeler's wife.

I could hardly glance at you
before marriage
never touch you
--your keen nosed mother, your rough brothers.
I buried my hands
in saffron, disguised them
over smoking tar,
helped the honey gatherers...

When we swam once
I touched you in the water
and our bodies remained free,
you could hold me and be blind of smell.
you climbed the bank and said

this is how you touch other women
the grass cutter's wife, the lime burner's daughter.
And you searched your arms
for the missing perfume

and knew

what good is it
to be the lime burner's daughter
left with no trace
as if not spoken to in the act of love
as if wounded without the pleasure of a scar.

You touched
your belly to my hands
in the dry air and said
I am the cinnamon
Peeler's wife. Smell me.


Elimination Dance

"Nothing I'd read had prepared me for a body this unfair"

"Till we are roten, kan we not be rypen"

Those who are allergic to the sea

Those who have resisted depravity

Men who shave off beards in stages, pausing to take photographs

American rock stars who wear Toronto Maple Leaf hockey sweaters

Those who (while visiting a foreign country) have lost the end of a Q tip in their ear and have been unable to explain their problem

Gentlemen who have placed a microphone beside a naked woman's stomach after lunch and later, after slowing down the sound considerably, have sold these noises on the open market as whale songs

All actors and poets who spit into the first row while they perform

Men who fear to use an electric lawn-mower feeling they could drowse off and be dragged by it into a swimming pool

Any dinner guest who has consumed the host's missing contact lens along with the dessert

Any person who has had the following dream. You are in a subway station of a major city. At the far end you see a coffee machine. You put in two coins. The Holy Grail drops down. Then blood pours into the chalice

Any person who has lost a urine sample in the mail

All those belle-lettrists who feel that should have been 'an urine sample'

Anyone who has had to step into an elevator with all of the Irish Rovers

Those who have filled in a bilingual and confidential pig survey from Statistics Canada. (Une enquete sur les porcs, strictement confidentielle)

Those who have written to the age old brotherhood of Rosicrucians for a free copy of their book The Mastery of Life in order to release the inner conciousness and to experience (in the privacy of the home) momentary flights of the soul

Those who have accidentally stapled themselves

Anyone who has been penetrated by a mountie

Any university professor who has danced with a life-sized cardboard cut-out of Jean Genet

Those who have unintentionally locked themselves within a sleeping bag at a camping goods store

Any woman whose i.u.d. has set off an alarm system at the airport

Those who, after a swim, find the sensation of water dribbling out of their ears erotic

Men who have never touched a whippet

Women who gave up the accordion because of pinched breasts

Those who have pissed out of the back of moving trucks

Those who have woken to find the wet footprints of a peacock across their kitchen floor

Anyone whose knees have been ruined as a result of performing sexual acts in elevators

Those who have so much as contemplated the possibility of creeping up to one's enemy with two Bic lighters, pressing simultaneously the butane switches - one into each nostril - and so gassing him to death

Literary critics who have swum the Hellespont

Anyone who has been hired as a 'professional beater' and frightened grouse in the direction of the Queen Mother

Any lover who has gone into a flower shop on Valentine's day and asked for clitoris when he meant clematis

Those who have come across their own telephone numbers underneath terse insults or compliments in the washroom of the Bay Street Bus Terminal

Those who have used the following techniques of seduction:

-small talk at a falconry convention

-entering a spa town disguised as Ford Madox Ford

-making erotic rotations of the pelvis, backstage, during the storm scene of King Lear

-underlining suggestive phrases in the prefaces of Joseph Conrad

Anyone who has testified as a character witness for a dog in a court of law

Any writer who has been photographed for the jacket of a book in one of the following poses: sitting in the back of a 1956 Dodge with two roosters; in a tuxedo with the Sydney Opera House in the distance; studying the vanishing point on a jar of Dutch Cleanser; against a gravestone with dramatic back lighting; with a false nose on; in the vicinity of Macchu Pichu; or sitting in a study and looking intensely at one's own book

The person who borrowed my Martin Beck thriller, read it in a sauna which melted the glue off the spine so the pages drifted to the floor, stapled them together and returned the book, thinking I wouldn't notice

Any person who has burst into tears at the Liquor Control Board

Anyone with pain

More on Ondaatje.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Of course, if I were to leave, those I love would learn to get by. My intellect tells me that this worry is silly and childish. My emotion says otherwise. I don't like the thought of my absence inflicting pain. Of creating holes in hearts. Of making me feel how I did when my grandmas died, when friends have passed away. Of course, there is the fear on my side of being torn from every one and every thing I'm attached to. (All life is suffering. Eschew all attachments.)

These thoughts have been coming to mind more lately with the events that transpired back home. Not productive to worry, but I still do very much.


Einmal wenn ich dich verlier,
wirst du schlafen können, ohne
dass ich wie eine Lindenkrone
mich verflüstre über dir?

Ohne dass ich hier wache und
Worte, beinah wie Augenlider,
auf deine Brüste, auf deine Glieder
niederlege, auf deinen Mund.

Ohne dass ich dich verschließ
und dich allein mit Deinem lasse
wie einen Garten mit einer Masse
von Melissen und Stern-Anis.

-Rainer Maria Rilke

Slumber Song

Some day, if I should ever lose you,
will you be able then to go to sleep
without me softly whispering above you
like night air stirring in the linden tree?

Without my waking here and watching
and saying words as tender as eyelids
that come to rest weightlessly upon your breast,
upon your sleeping limbs, upon your lips?

Without my touching you and leaving you
alone with what is yours, like a summer garden
that is overflowing with masses
of melissa and star-anise?

-Translated by Albert Ernest Flemming

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

I really only know of Rabindranath Tagore through his collaboration with Satyajit Ray on some of the most heartbreakingly beautiful films I've ever seen. I did not realize that he was, in addition to being one of the founders of a modern, independent India, a Nobel Laureate.

These two excerpts from his collection Gitanjali bring to mind the Song of Solomon or works I've read by Rumi. I find this simple and pure expression of love for one's Father-Mother-Creator-Lord to be so comforting.

"Thou hast made me endless, such is thy pleasure. This
frail vessel thou emptiest again and again, and fillest it ever with
fresh life.
This little flute of a reed thou hast carried over hills and dales, and
hast breathed through it melodies eternally new.
At the immortal touch of thy hands my little heart loses its limits in
joy and gives birth to utterance ineffable.
Thy infinite gifts come to me only on these very small hands of mine.
Ages pass, and still thou pourest, and still there is room to fill."

"When thou commandest me to sing, it seems that my heart would break
with pride; and I look to thy face, and tears come to my eyes.
All that is harsh and dissonant in my life melts into one sweet
harmony- and my adoration spreads wings like a glad bird on its flight
across the sea.
I know thou takest pleasure in my singing. I know that only as a singer
I come before thy presence.
I touch by the edge of the far-spreading wing of my song thy feet which
I could never aspire to reach.
Drunk with joy of singing I forget myself and call thee friend who art
my Lord."

Take a look here for more of Tagore's poetry.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

I just got my invitation to the annual employee recognition luncheon.
I don't want to appear ungrateful, but...

Alexandrian kings

The Alexandrians were gathered
to see Cleopatra's children,
Caesarion, and his little brothers,
Alexander and Ptolemy, whom for the first
time they lead out to the Gymnasium,
there to proclaim kings,
in front of the grand assembly of the soldiers.

Alexander -- they named him king
of Armenia, Media, and the Parthians.
Ptolemy -- they named him king
of Cilicia, Syria, and Phoenicia.
Caesarion stood more to the front,
dressed in rose-colored silk,
on his breast a bouquet of hyacinths,
his belt a double row of sapphires and amethysts,
his shoes fastened with white
ribbons embroidered with rose pearls.
Him they named more than the younger ones,
him they named King of Kings.

The Alexandrians of course understood
that those were theatrical words.

But the day was warm and poetic,
the sky was a light azure,
the Alexandrian Gymnasium was
a triumphant achievement of art,
the opulence of the courtiers was extraordinary,
Caesarion was full of grace and beauty
(son of Cleopatra, blood of the Lagidae);
and the Alexandrians rushed to the ceremony,
and got enthusiastic, and cheered
in greek, and egyptian, and some in hebrew,
enchanted by the beautiful spectacle --
although they full well knew what all these were worth,
what hollow words these kingships were.

-Constantine P. Cavafy

For more on this influential elsewhere but not well known here poet, take a look at this site. It's got a little biographical bit written by the poet himself, along with the original Greek and English translations of some of his poems. Here are a few of my favorites:

"Waiting for the Barbarians"

"The City"

"Nero's Term"

Monday, April 26, 2004

My friend Marcia has a poster from a Cape Cod art exhibition. I have stared at it for hours. Most transfixing for me is the citation by Pablo Neruda: "I need an ocean to teach me whatever it is I need to know - be it music or consciousness."

Wandering along the shore I often think - here is where my problems end. Beyond this, beyond me, nothing but expanse. Nothing but salt smell, waves waves waves, wind. I'm so small, we are all so small, nothing but this matters here. Somehow this helps.

maggie and milly and molly and may

maggie and milly and molly and may
went down to the beach(to play one day)

and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn't remember her troubles,and

milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;

and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles:and

may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.

For whatever we lose(like a you or a me)
it's always ourselves we find in the sea

-e e cummings

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Very rough weekend. I am trying to remember the good right now.

Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things--
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced--fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise Him.

-Gerard Manley Hopkins