Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Inhabited Body

Body on a horizon of water,
body open
to the slow intoxication of fingers,
body defended
by the splendour of apples,
surrendered hill by hill,
body lovingly made moist
by the tongue’s pliant sun.

Body with the taste of cropped grass
in a secret garden,
body where I am at home,
body where I lie down
to suck up silence,
to hear
the murmur of blades of grain,
to breathe
the deep dark sweetness of the bramble bush.

Body of a thousand mouths,
all tawny with joy,
all ready to sip,
ready to bite till a scream
bursts from the bowels
and mounts to the towers
and pleads for a dagger.
Body for surrendering to tears.
Body ripe for death.

Body for imbibing to the end –
my ocean, brief
and white,
my secret vessel,
my propitious wind,
my errant, unknown,
endless navigation.

Eugénio de Andrade, "Corpo Habitado", translated by Alexis Levitin. From Inhabited Heart (LA: Perivale Press, 1985).

Monday, December 29, 2008

a course on silence (2)

XLII. nothing

if I don't listen to the leaves' oxygen,
music is blind to me.


«it is between hammers that our heart survives.»

(translated from Maria Gabriela Llansol, Amigo e Amiga: Curso de silêncio de 2004. Lisbon: Assírio & Alvim, 2005).

Saturday, December 27, 2008

on friendship (4)

E. is slowly, painfully discovering the fickleness of social relations and the volatility of female friendships. What else can I do but gently see her through the unavoidable pain and loneliness she will experience from now on?... Until the truth finally starts sinking in, and with it a strange, unexpected (even if solitary) freedom. And the truth is there are very few people you can call friends and with whom you can have any real intimacy in the end. The rest (i.e. the most) is dross.
She will survive through it, though, with only a few minor battle scars. I hope.

a course on silence (1)

VIII. under her veil

I very intimately think to those who read __________ the legentes, I desire.

I expose ourselves.

Yet, if you who think do not offer your body,
what will you think?

(translated from Maria Gabriela Llansol, Amigo e Amiga: Curso de silêncio de 2004. Lisbon: Assírio & Alvim, 2005).

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

on friendship (2) et alia...

A friend tells me he is baffled by this kind of non-place in which I seem to live, as if in permanent deambulation. Yet I too am baffled when I catch him quoting Deleuze saying "there is nothing more immobile that a nomad - s/he resists leaving her/his land".

It might be thus indeed. Walking and waiting, waiting and seeking, patience and despair, movement and stillness, silence and song are closer than one might think. Well, at least to me they are part of the same continuum of perception and desire. And being in transit is precisely this: walking, stretching, negotiating the boundaries that at once comfort and constrain you, constantly searching for something that forever eludes you and turns into something else. Arriving at seemingly new, unexpected places that turn out to be familiar ones, even though transfigured beyond hope or reach. Encountering people that nearly always reveal themselves a baffling amalgam of promise and disappointment, shallowness and depth, suspicion and trust, distance and intimacy.

The mystery remains and deepens in the course of time, however, since it is impossible to separate all those things from one another. Everything sticks together like a dough.

People unfold themselves slowly like a long, heavy, intricate tapestry, recoiling at times in fear, but eventually stretching out towards a fuller shape, in a process that requires time and space, patience and waiting, forgiveness. Yet most people, in their hectic, mechanical, self-absorbed routines, seem to have less and less time and space and patience for others. Magnificent tapestries may never unfold, alas. Such a waste.

Anyhow, there is nothing else to do in the meantime but walking and waiting, waiting and searching. Stirring stillness.

"Walking is a mobile form of waiting", indeed, as Thomas A. Clark so brilliantly phrased it.

on friendship (1)

There is no community of ideas.

There are no common ideas.

Friendship is a matter of perception, a mystery.

There is a common "pre-language", the perception of the charm of small gestures.

The delicacy of small things.

One opens up to the signs emitted by someone.

Friendship as a category is a condition for the exercise of thought.


My translation of a few quotes stolen from a friend, with thanks.

moments of shine

The pleasures of friendship are exquisite,
How pleasant to go to a friend on a visit!
I go to my friend, we walk on the grass,
And the hours and moments like minutes pass.
Stevie Smith

The company of friends, the cosy chat over food and wine, the river- and seascape, the Mediterranean light, the walking, the warmth exchange of kisses, hugs, books & sweets... All such things make me almost think this is a viable, habitable country. For this only, I thank you, Vítor, Paulo, Luís and Manolo. Até breve!

Monday, December 22, 2008

furusato (1)

Giorgio de Chirico, Mystery and Melancholy of a Street

It is at haunting moments like these, despite people's kindness and efforts, that you realise the impossibility of ever returning to where you have never really belonged. Faces, places, memories have faded or aged; everything seems to have acquired the melancholic hues of a painting by de Chirico. Coloured with the yellows, ochres and greens of childhood, but forever haunted by the intruding shadows. Something you cannot define isn't quite right, and it will never mend. Never.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

ice & blood (IV)

Who would have known that a boy like him
Would have entered me lightly
Restoring my blisses
Who would have known that a boy like him
after sharing my core would stay going nowhere

Who would have known a beauty this immense
Who would have known a saintly trance
Who would have known: miraculous breath
to inhale a beard loaded with courage

Who would have known that a boy like him
possessed of magical sensitivity
Would approach a girl like me who caresses,
cradles his head in her bosom

He slides inside
Half awake half asleep
We faint back into sleephood
When I wake up the second time in his arms,
gorgeousness: he's still inside me!

...?... Who would have known...?...

A train of pearls, cabin by cabin is shot precisely
across an ocean
From a mouth... from a mouth...
From the mouth of a girl like me to a boy...
To a boy... To a boy...

"Cocoon", from Vespertine. Written by Bjork and Thomas Knack.
Directed by Eiko Ishioka.

ice & blood (III)

Of all that is written, I love only what a person has written with his own blood.

F. Nietzsche, from Thus Spake Zarathustra.

Yes, it's somewhat sad to realise how nowadays few(er) people write - and live and love - fearless, authentic, defiant, uncalculating, 'with their own blood'. As if everything, life itself, could be contained in little sealed-off boxes. Aseptic.

Cold comfort!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

ice & blood (II)

Through the warmthest cord of care
Your love was sent to me
I'm not sure what to do with it
Or where to put it
I'm so close to tears
And so close to
Simply calling you up
And simply suggesting

We go to that hidden place
That we go to the hidden place
We go to the hidden place
We go to a hidden place

Now, I have been slightly shy
But I can smell a pinch of hope
To almost have allowed once fingers
To stroke
The fingers I was given to touch with
But careful, careful
There lies my passion hidden
There lies my love
I'll hide it under a blanket
Lull it to sleep

I'll keep it in a hidden place
I'll keep it in a hidden place
Keep it in a hidden place
Keep it in a hidden place

He's the beautifullest, fragilest, still strong
Dark and divine
And the littleness of his movements
Hides himself
He invents a charm that makes him invisible
Hides in the hair
Can I hide there too?
Hide in the hair of him
Seek solace

In that hidden place
In a hidden place
In a hidden place
We'll stay in a hidden place
Ooohh in a hidden place
We'll live in a hidden place
We'll be in a hidden place
In a hidden place

"Hidden Place", from Vespertine. Written by Bjork.

Monday, December 15, 2008

ice & blood (I)


You, if you were sensible,
When I tell you the stars flash signals, each one dreadful,
You would not turn and answer me
"The night is wonderful."

Even you, if you knew
How this darkness soaks me through and through, and infuses
Unholy fear in my vapour, you would pause to distinguish
What hurts, from what amuses.

For I tell you
Beneath this powerful tree, my whole soul's fluid
Oozes away from me as a sacrifice steam
At the knife of a Druid.

Again I tell you, I bleed, I am bound with withies,
My life runs out.
I tell you my blood runs out on the floor of this oak,
Gout upon gout.

Above me springs the blood-born mistletoe
In the shady smoke.
But who are you, twittering to and fro
Beneath the oak?

What thing better are you, what worse?
What have you to do with the mysteries
Of this ancient place, of my ancient curse?
What place have you in my histories?

D. H. Lawrence, from New Poems (1916).

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

everybody's mother

A few days ago, during a meeting of a reading group of which I am a recent member, we discussed at length how feminine poetry cannot all too often escape gender stereotypes and essentialisms, even when it purports to subvert or undermine them. This set me thinking if part of the problem might not have to do with a certain middle-class sentimentality or self-pity which afflicts so many women poets - well, women in general... - and translates itself into an absolute lack of sense of humour concerning the eternal and daily struggles of female experience.
Yet, on second thoughts, I realised how unfair I was being, by focusing only on the humourless types and forgetting those 'thieves of language', as Alicia Ostriker calls them, that enter the mythmaking machine - the characters, stories and legends which have informed and preserved our meaning for 'male' and 'female', 'father' and 'mother', 'daughter' and 'mother', etc., throughout the ages - and dismantle it from within, with a savage and, at the same time, tender humour.
The Scottish poet Liz Lochhead is for me one of the foremost examples of this feminine - and feminist - writing that, by not taking itself too seriously, is always spot on and wittily exposes all those gender stereotypes and essentialisms we still unwittingly endorse despite ourselves. Frankensteins, beauties and beasts, hags and maidens, spinsters and furies, Snowhites, Cinderellas and Grimm sisters, Ariadnes and Minotaurs populate her poems, throwing into complete disarray what we have been taught to expect from recognisable gender codes.

Here is a favourite one, about the scariest, most haunting code of all:

Of course
everybody's mother always and
so on...

Always never
loved you enough
or too smothering much.

Of course you were the Only One, your
a machine
that shat out siblings, listen

everybody's mother
was the original Frigid-
aire Icequeen clunking out
the hardstuff in nuggets, mirror-
slivers and ice-splinters that'd stick
in your heart.

Absolutely everybody's mother
was artistic when she was young.

Everybody's mother
was a perfumed presence with pearls, remote
white shoulders when she
bent over in her ball dress
to kiss you in your crib.

Everybody's mother slept with the butcher
for sausages to stuff you with.

Everybody's mother
mythologised herself. You got mixed up
between dragon's teeth and blackmarket stockings.

she failed to give you
Positive Feelings
about your own sorry
sprouting body (it was a bloody shame)

but she did
sit up all night sewing sequins
on your carnival costume

so you would have a good time

and she spat
on the corner of her hanky and scraped
at your mouth with sour lace until you squirmed

so you would look smart

And where
was your father all this time?
at the war, or in his office, or any-
way conspicuous for his
Absence, so

what if your mother did
float around above you
big as a barrage balloon
blocking out the light?

Nobody's mother can't not never do nothing right.

(Liz Lochhead, from Dreaming Frankenstein & Collected Poems.)

*Image source: 'Venus in the Bath' by Ingebjorg Smith (taken from Northings - Highlands & Islands Arts Journal).

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

krinen, krisis

The word crisis is all the rage these days. You can't read a newspaper article without finding it repeated throughout like a sickening mantra, not to mention the rather worn-out rhetoric equating 'crisis' with 'opportunity', blah-blah-blah, on the basis of some misinterpretation of ancient Chinese wisdom (or so it seems). As if life itself hasn't always been pervaded by crises; as if poetry itself wasn't, as the Portuguese poet Luiza Neto Jorge put it, "the sense(s) of crisis".
I know of no other woman writer who has so movingly reminded us of the original - and more hopeful - sense of the word, from the Greek: krinen, 'decide'; krisis, 'decision'... Here it goes:

In time of crisis, we summon up our strength.
Then, if we are lucky, we are able to call every resource, every forgotten image that can leap to our quickening, every memory that can make us know our power. And this luck is more than it seems to be: it depends on the long preparation of the self to be used.
In time of the crises of the spirit, we are aware of all our need, our need for each other and our need for our selves. We call up, with all the strength of summoning we have, our fullness. And we turn; for it is a turning that we have prepared; and act. The time of the turning may be very long. It may hardly exist.

(Muriel Rukeyser, The Life of Poetry.)

first things

Among the whirlwind and the wreck that life all too often is, without time for time itself and for the first, most important things, it would be so good, for once, to trim it off to the measure of lines like these.

In Leonardo's light
we questioned

the sun does not love
My hat

the weight falls

I am at rest
You too

hold a doctorate
in Warmth

(Lorine Niedecker, from Collected Works.)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

things you learn, slowly

Out of sheer diffidence, you learn to live
in the shadows of clock-time,
in a precarious geography
among the detritus of the day
and the allure of myth.
Treading barefoot in the silence
of the house, labouring when others sleep.
Mythologizing and mocking yourself in turns.
Crossing unending deserts,
among dustbins and ironboards,
chancing on occasional sundials on the way
to nowhere.

stirring stillness

Another seemingly inconsequential day, working at my desk, surrounded by silence and music. Between disappointment and expectation, as if awaiting the twilight of something - or its dawn.

Yet, in its blurred contours a small life takes place, somehow. A shape of its own, groping in the half-light.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

somewhere i have never travelled

All of a sudden, I don't know why, I remembered this poem by e. e. cummings, a (once) favourite of mine in happier times:

somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously) her first rose

or if your wish be to close me,i and
my life will shut very beautifully, suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain, has such small hands

Saturday, November 22, 2008

walking on the first snow

... always feels like a promising fresh start, like writing the first words in a unused, immaculate notebook. A vida passada a limpo - é isso.

Iizuna, Nagano, 22 November 2008

first snow (3)

Mt Kurohime and Mt Myoko seen from Reisenji Lake
Iizuna, Nagano
22 November 2008

first snow (2)

Iizuna, Nagano
22 November 2008

first snow (1)

Iizuna, Nagano
22 November 2008

Thursday, November 20, 2008

vivo sonhando

Woke up in this strangely bubbly, sparkling mood, which makes me feel almost guilty. Listening to Tom Jobim (M2S version) while basking in the late autumn sun, barefoot, the bamboo leaves rustling outside my window, the sour-sweet smell of jasmine tea in the kitchen...

Vivo sonhando, sonhando
Mil horas sem fim
Tempo em que vou perguntando
Se gostas de mim
Tempo de falar em estrelas,
Mar, amor, luar
Falar do amor que se tem
Mas você não vem, não vem

Você não vindo não vindo
A vida tem fim
Gente que passa sorrindo
Zombando de mim
E eu a falar em estrelas,
Mar, amor, luar

Pobre de mim
Que só sei te amar

Why are my eyes always full of
this vision of you
Why do I dream silly dreams that
I fear won't come true
I long to show you the stars
Caught in the dark of the sea
I long to speak of my love
but you don't come to me
So I go on asking
if maybe one day you'll care...

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

slow learner

Hiroshi Sugimoto, Black Sea

... you are, no doubt. You still have miles and miles to go, great oceans of pain and time, before you learn to cope with the silence of others. Their indifference.
You are still the little girl in the picture, milk moustache, wide-eyed. Silly.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

forest language

Les gens qui ne savent pas apprivoisier les arbres disent que les fôrets sont silencieuses. Mais dès que tu siffles, et que tu siffles bien, comme um oiseau, tu commences à entendre le bruit que font les arbres. Il y d'abord ces bâillements et ces respirations aigues. Puis tu perçois d'autres bruits. Il y a des coups lourds, comme s'il avait un coeur qui battait quelque part sous la terre. Puis tout un tas de craquements, des branches qui se reddressent avec des explosions, des feuilles qui se mettent à trembler, des troncs qui se dérident. Il y a surtout des bruits des sifflements, parce que les arbres te répondent. Ça c'est le langage des arbres. Si tu ne fais pas attention, tu peux croire que se sont des oiseaux qui sifflent. Il faut dire que ça y ressemble beaucoup. Mais ce ne sont pas les oiseaux qui sifflent, ce sont les arbres.

J.M.G. Le Clézio, Voyage au pays des arbres (Paris: Gallimard, 1978), pp. 10-11.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The rewards of the hermit

For any soul contemplating the hermitic existence, I could do no better than recommend the far north-west of Scotland. Further east the landscape is barren, flattened by fierce Atlantic winds. But from Cape Wrath, at the very tip of the mainland, south to the Sound of Arisaig, the coastline feathers like wet paper, creating a pattern of sea lochs, islands, and inaccessible neuks, protected by the Outer Hebrides. Here a person could find a place to be alone, as wild and beautiful as any other in the world.
It was on one of those larger islands, Skye, with its Red and Black Cullins and shy puffins, that a hermit made his home for the past 20 years. The Leopard Man of Skye was a fixture of my youth: a crazily tattooed former soldier who had covered most of his body in big cat markings, living an ascetic existence in a ruined bothy, but surfacing occasionally to vex the press and earn a few pennies to sustain his solitude. This week Tom Leppard tickled the media one final time, after it transpired that - at the age of 73 - he had forfeited isolation for the more practical benefits of sheltered accommodation in a nearby village.
The practice of living one's life in seclusion is arcane in its roots. According to the Tarot deck, the figure of the Hermit represents prudence. From the questing knights errant of medieval romances, meeting world-renouncing oracles along their way, to Nietzsche's Zarathustra, who emerged from seclusion to proselytise gamely, hermits have always appeared in literature as guides and counsels. In early Christian tradition, the hermitic way was a precursor to the more clubbable monastic experience. But these days, the notion of removing oneself from society, whether for religious, philosophic or individual reasons, is anathema.
Total solitude is considered the preserve of the mad, the extremely devout or the deeply unhappy. We live in a culture that values being witnessed above all other things. Whether that be Jade Goody's cervical cancer diagnosis on a live "reality" show, or Kerry Katona's slurring breakdown on This Morning, the current ethic tells us no event in our personal lives is valid unless we've texted 10 friends about it and proffered it to YouTube for general derision.
In our timetabled lives, a plethora of technology offers a distortion of genuine closeness. An email sent from one individual in a particular state of mind reaches another in quite a different one, and this we call keeping in touch. It's good for consumerism, and it's good for surveillance. Yet such desperate binding has little to do with the things we really crave: family, community, a society that concerns itself with more than cash and flash. And it also denies the transfiguring qualities of aloneness.
It is an irony that, despite the atomised, estranged nature of contemporary life, we have forgotten the value of retreat, while failing to differentiate the qualities of solitude from those of loneliness. Perhaps because it is something we all fear and consider evidence of failure, loneliness - though it can happen to those with crowded lives as well as quieter ones - is seldom discussed.
While Tom Leppard's method of retreat was extreme, he insists he was never lonely. Of course, love and trust are essential to the human experience, particularly at a time when those less intimate but similarly sustaining bonds of neighbourliness and community are being eroded. But we cannot define our existence only in relation to other people. As the renowned psychiatrist Anthony Storr argued, intimate personal relationships are but one source of wellbeing. The capacity to be alone is also fundamental to development.
Storr observed that, while there has been much research into children's relationships with their parents and with other children, there is little discussion of whether it is valuable for them to be alone. "Yet if it is considered desirable to foster the growth of the child's imaginative capacity," he wrote, "we should ensure that our children, when they are old enough to enjoy it, are given time and opportunity for solitude."
But solitude fosters not only creativity. It also relates to an individual's capacity to connect with, and make manifest, inner feelings and impulses. To experience a contented, relaxed sense of being alone offers an opportunity for self-realisation, and is as much a mark of maturity as the ability to sustain relationships with others.
What is noxious about our modern climate is that it militates against genuine solitude as well as genuine intimacy. If we take the time to look beyond the bizarre tattoos, the story of Tom Leppard has much to teach us about both.

Photo: Hallaig, Raasay Island, Scottish Highlands. Taken from The Highland Clearances website.

The wisdom of the world

Novelty is only in request; [...] there is scarce truth enough alive to make societies secure, but security enough to make fellowships accursed. Much upon this riddle runs the wisdom of the world. This news is old enough, yet it is every day’s news.

William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure (III, ii).

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Monday, October 27, 2008

in the rain

Photo: Jim Brandenburg

my eyes don't strain
in the elements
my feet don't falter
along the stony,


"No culture has a pact with eternity"...

Ian Hamilton Finlay, Little Sparta

"No culture has a pact with eternity," he says. "The conditions which made possible the giants of the western poetic, aesthetic, philosophic tradition no longer really obtain." Steiner doesn't believe "there can be a Hamlet without a ghost, a Missa Solemnis without a missa", and if you say that the questions addressed by religion are "nonsense or baby talk or trivial, I don't believe that certain dimensions will be available to you. Particularly today, when the atheist case is being put, if I may say so, with such vulgarity of mind."

George Steiner interviewed by Christopher Tayler, The Guardian, 19 April 2008.

Friday, October 24, 2008


It is at this time of the day, when birds gather on the wires and in the trees outside in preparation for the dark, that words like 'contentment', 'quietude', or even 'happiness', come creeping in, unwanted.
I wonder why we are forever retracing the steps of others before us, searching for the vanishing, the lost, the non-existent, among illusive ghosts and gods. And the thought that 'home' will be there, somewhere, an old friend waiting. Poor fools, as if time could be arrested.
I didn't come here for this, I didn't. Or did I?...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A buoy at sea

J.M.W. Turner, Ulysses Deriding Polyphemus

[The belief that creativity lies within us, no matter how society treats us] became powerfully grounded in Renaissance philosophy. It appeared in the writings of the philosopher Pico della Mirandola, who envisaged Homo faber to mean "man as his own maker." [...] His Oration on the Dignity of Man of 1486 was based on the conviction that, as the force of custom and tradition wanes, people have to "make experience" for themselves. Each person's life is a narrative in which the author does not know how the story will turn out. Pico's figure for Homo faber was Odysseus, voyaging through the world, not knowing where he would land. [...]
Art plays a particular role in this life voyage, at least for artists. The work of art becomes like a buoy at sea, marking out the journey. Unlike a sailor, though, the artist charts his own course by making these buoys for himself. This is how, for instance, Giorgio Vasari proceeds in The Lives of Artists (1568), one of the first books ever written to chart artistic careers. Vasari's "lives" concern artists who develop within, who brought forth works despite all impediments, artists whose creative urge is autonomous. Works of art are the evidence of an inner life sustained even in the face of humiliation and incomprehension. [...]
The scorned or misunderstood artist has a long trajectory in Western high culture, in all the arts.

Richard Sennett, The Craftsman (New Haven: Yale UP, 2008), p. 72.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Kôyô / Autumn leaves (5)

Togakushi Forest, Nagano
19 October 2008

Monday, October 20, 2008

Kôyô / Autumn leaves (4)

Togakushi Forest, Nagano
19 October 2008

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Kôyô / Autumn leaves (3)

Kagamiike / Lake Kagami
Togakushi Forest, Nagano
19 October 2008

Kôyô / Autumn leaves (2)

Momiji / Japanese maple
Togakushi Forest, Nagano
19 October 2008

Kôyô / Autumn leaves (1)

Momiji / Japanese maple at O-Inari-san shrine
Togakushi Forest, Nagano
19 October 2008