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.