Friday, July 18, 2014

Luc Sante, "The Space Between"

Ossos, the first of Pedro Costa's three linked films concerning the now-demolished slum Estrela d'Africa, in the Fontainhas neighborhood of Lisbon, is a lovely picture, a sad story, and an appropriately bare-bones (the title means "bones") piece of filmmaking, reminiscent of the late movies of Robert Bresson, in its ellipses and silences and muted colors. Here, Costa begins the process of imagining himself into the fabric of the slum, which is at once a fearsome place--a sort of fortress of poverty, defended against intruders and ruled by drugs--and a lively, teeming environment in which poor native Portuguese and Cape Verdean immigrants are heaped together without the sorts of boundaries that divide middle-class lives.

Costa got to know the neighborhood as a result of making his 1995 film Casa de lava, a sort of remake of Jacques Tourneur's I Walked with a Zombie. Tourneur is a favorite of Costa's, a director who combined genre-based populism with a great delicacy of touch and deep feeling for his characters. Costa shot the picture in the former Portuguese colony of Cape Verde, and after filming, local residents loaded him down with mail and parcels to deliver to their relatives in Fontainhas. The three movies he subsequently made there track, among other things, his increasing familiarity with the neighborhood and intimate understanding of its inhabitants.

Ossos shows Costa operating as an outsider in the neighborhood, unfamiliar with its protocols and shibboleths, approaching it with the working methods of a cosmopolitan maker of art films. Over the course of the trilogy, he would alter his style of filmmaking, both to be less intrusive and to match the internal logic and rhythms of the place--dispensing with crew, script, and actors; developing an improvisatory method with a cast of residents; and, vitally, switching from film to video--but initially, he came in with a team, outside players, and a story that dramatized what he saw there.

At the beginning of Ossos, Tina (Maria Lipkina) has just given birth. The father (Nuno Vaz), who remains unnamed, is not up to the challenge; he seems capable of little but trash-picking at the produce market. Tina, for her part, is quietly despondent. An older neighbor, Clotilde (Vanda Duarte), attempts to rally the young parents, with no success. Tina tries to gas herself and the baby, or maybe she just falls asleep instead. The father comes home and perhaps saves them, or perhaps decides to succumb himself--in any event, all three survive. We then see the father taking the baby downtown, in a plastic bag that he first carries like a grocery sack, then cradles. Later, he's begging in a central square, the baby in his arms. Things slowly go from bad to worse.

This summary makes the movie sound much more melodramatic than it actually plays. The story might be an incident in some nineteenth-century slum epic by Victor Hugo or Stephen Crane, and it echoes Chaplin's The Kid, as well as forecasts the Dardenne brothers' L'enfant. Costa, however, chooses to muffle his drum, deemphasizing all the most dramatic moments, relegating pivotal occurrences behind an unseen curtain between shots. Most of what actually happens on-screen is transitional, almost as if Costa were selecting the very things that a more conventional movie would elide. For example, in the gassing incident, we first see Tina closing the windows of a room in which the baby lies on a couch, then dragging in a propane canister. Then she sits staring forward for a long while. We cut to a brief scene, viewed through a window, of Clotilde serving dinner to her family. We see the baby's father come back to the compound; stop, paralyzed, for a protracted moment on the walk outside; enter the kitchen; and drink from the faucet. Then he crosses the room in which Tina and the baby are asleep or unconscious, and goes into the bedroom and lies down on the bed. A moment later--there is no cut--Tina enters, tries to rouse him, and finally resorts to dragging him by the feet into the room where the baby lies on the couch, waving fingers. What just happened?

The rhythms themselves are powerfully suggestive of inertia and despair, independent of the story. The parents are beautiful and childlike, but their childhood has been closed down, and they have few resources for coping with the alternative. Tina may at length discover some source of strength within herself--Clotilde finds her a job, and after a bit of resistance, she goes to it doggedly. The father, on the other hand, is turned inward, trying to make himself invisible, trying to make everything go away. Everywhere he goes, he sits silently, eyes unfocused, unlikely to rise to any occasion, ever. In contrast, Clotilde is energetic and capable, having presumably seen worse and endured it. She is the life force--not a moralizing figure but a staunchly practical one, with no illusions. (Vanda Duarte, who plays Clotilde, would go on--playing some version of herself--to be central in the two remaining pictures in the trilogy.)

Their neighborhood qualifies as a character in its own right, and a measure of Costa's special gifts is the way in which he plunges the viewer into its life with no introduction or explanations. We slowly figure out that the children--the sentinel boy, the girl waiting for breakfast--are Clotilde's and that the imperious man over there is her husband. On the other hand, we never learn exactly who the young women are, the ones who work in the restaurant and at home occupy themselves as watchers--through a window, from an entranceway, smoking a cigarette, appearing to keep accounts of everyone's activities. They are presences as obdurate and insistent as if we were new residents ourselves, unsure of anything but the certainty that we are being watched.

The neighborhood is a jumble of houses and alleys that looks like a stage set or a Hopi pueblo much the worse for wear. There are constant movement and noise and activity at all hours, with an odd, staggered tempo of indolence and urgency. A brief visit to a party defines the rhythm--people seem to dance to the percolating, accordion-driven bounce by sashaying their hips but dragging their feet around the room in a circle. The neighborhood is sufficiently inclusive and, somehow, protective that the outside world--the Lisbon of middle-class apartments and shops and institutions, which is inevitably closer to the way we, the viewers, actually live--looks thin and cold and artificial by contrast. Estrela d'Africa has texture and color; the bourgeois city is orderly and rectilinear and bleached.

The emissary of that ultramontane region is Eduarda (Isabel Ruth), a nurse who tries to intervene on everyone's behalf while finding herself inexorably drawn to the life of the slum. She is our stand-in, after a fashion--well-meaning, impatient, guilty, prurient. We are in that position just as Costa must have felt himself to be, barging into the favela with his cables and trucks and assistants and craft tables. It was not a given that he would follow this movie with one he shot on video, all by himself, for over a year, that he would take the next step of dispensing with outside referents altogether. But in Ossos, his ambivalence is at its height, and that in itself makes for palpable tension. You can sense an authorial struggle, for example, in the figure of the father: Is the character so shut down that his soul lies in some inaccessible well, or is there simply nothing there? Do we outsiders even have the right to pass judgment on the decisions of people caught in such desperate circumstances? Can we rise to the level of Clotilde, who is equally capable of extending mercy and pronouncing sentence, despite our not having earned her experience?

Ossos is a beautiful painterly play of faces and hands, a marvel of narrative economy, a long hallway lined with doors that may lead to understanding just as they may lead to cul-de-sacs. It is a nineteenth-century feuilleton filtered through the ambiguities  of our time and executed with a mesmerizing delicacy. It is alive with small mysteries that change and grow with every successive viewing.

(Luc Sante's books include Low Life, Kill All Your Darlings, and Folk Photography. He teaches writing and the history of photography at Bard College.)

--from the Criterion Collection's edition of Letters from Fontainhas: Three Films by Pedro Costa: Ossos, (1997), In Vanda's Room (2000), and Colossal Youth (2006), a director-approved special edition, a set of four DVDs, including the supplemental booklet where Luc Sante's "The Space Between" appears.

copyright by Luc Sante and the Criterion Collection

Saturday, February 22, 2014

a review of GUS BLAISDELL COLLECTED, the work of my friend and mentor

Gus Blaisdell Collected
Gus Blaisdell
Selected and Edited by William Peterson
Coedited by Nicole Blaisdell Ivey
University of New Mexico Press ($40.00)

by George Kalamaras

In the current land rush for the latest, hippest poetics, caught in the web of irony that so much contemporary poetry seems hell-bent to explore, much lineage that made current movements possible is ignored. This is particularly problematic when that lineage encompasses counter-movements and personalities that served as necessary ballast to keep the ship of the art of its time from sinking. Independent thinkers often suffer obscurity for the sake of their ideals. The battle plains of poetic history are littered with such figures, whilst the monocled generals, astride white steeds on the hill, wax profoundly about the philosophical consequences of their actions.

Publisher, poet, critic, bookstore owner, and provocateur, Gus Blaisdell (1935-2003), born Charles Augustus Blaisdell II in San Diego, was such a figure. Details of his life read like jazz improvisation—from enrollment at Brown Military Academy at age eight, to his fascination with all things Japanese after the close of the Second World War, to studying at Stanford with Yvor Winters in 1953, to living in Aspen and Denver (where he was a freelance reviewer of books and films for the Denver Post and worked with publisher Alan Swallow), to his correspondence with anthropologist Leland C. Wyman, leading to his readings on Navajo culture, shamanism, and religion and his 1964 move (with family) to Albuquerque to study anthropology at the University of New Mexico, to joining the staff at UNM Press the following year and coediting the New Mexico Quarterly, to enrolling in the doctoral program in mathematics at UNM in 1971, to publishing his poems with Howard McCord’s Tribal Press in the 1970s, to becoming owner of the Living Batch Bookstore in Albuquerque (where he also operated Living Batch Press, publishing Clark Coolidge, Gene Frumkin, Ronald Johnson, and Geoffrey Young, among others). He was friends with the likes of Allen Ginsberg, Ken Kesey, Robert Creeley, and Evan S. Connell. He and his first wife, Janet Maher, were married by Beat poet-turned-Zen-priest Phillip Whalen.

These events suggest a man with multiple, interrelated interests, and a brilliant, penetrating grasp of the significance of subversive art and a connection to indigenous knowledge. As his daughter Nicole Blaisdell Ivey writes in “A Chronology”:

Gus’s life was like jazz. The improvisation depended greatly on the depth of the cats he was playing with and the audience of the moment. Besides being a philosopher, poet, publisher, editor, essayist, critic, and teacher, Gus Blaisdell was a collector. He collected stamps, comics, autographs, ideas, experiences, quotes, books, music, art, and friends. And he took notes on all of them. . . . He thought of life (books, art, film, friends, wives, children) as moments and serendipitously interconnected pieces on his path from here to there. (339)

Some of these interconnected pieces—just some of what Blaisdell gathered—are brought together in Gus Blaisdell Collected, a generous (nearly 400-page) offering, fittingly from University of New Mexico Press. In addition to the remarkable “A Chronology” (forty pages of a fascinating gloss of a life—almost a mini-biography), Collected includes Blaisdell’s essays on a variety of topics, with section titles “On Photographs,” “On Movies,” “On Painting,” “On Reading and Writing,” “Fiction,” and “Shorts and Excerpts from Correspondence.” Blaisdell created and taught popular courses in cinema studies such as “Teen Rebels” and “Poetry and Radical Film” for almost twenty-five years at UNM, his contributions helping to establish a program and then a department in media arts. He also taught in the Department of Art and Art History. Individual essays are intriguing, a small sampling of which includes: “Space Begins Because We Look Away from Where We Are: Lewis Baltz’s Candlestick Point,” “’Obscenity in Thy Mother’s Milk’: John Gossage’s Hey Fuckface! Portfolio,” “Highlighting Hitchcock’s Vertigo with Magic Marker,” “Vatic Writing: Evan S. Connell’s Notes from a Bottle . . .,” and “Tell It Like It Is: The Experimental Traditionalists.”

Selected correspondence includes letters to Nicholas Brownrigg, Mary Goodwin, Geoffrey Young, Lee F. Gerlach, and others. Of these, the correspondence with Brownrigg is the most fascinating; it begins in 1960 when Blaisdell was living in Aspen, and which reaches into 1962 and 1963 when he was living in Denver. Just as a chronicle of the time it has value, but the complexities with which Blaisdell deals are engrossing. We see a young man caught in between this and that—distancing himself from the Beats and his earlier travels to Mexico and elsewhere, yet committed to his private luminosities, at the time not yet affixed to any particular tribe except the uncertain encampment of maturing yet still longing for the spiritual and psychic liberations of youth. He writes:

Your letters are far from obscure. And there is a good reason. Recall the circumstances under which our original correspondence began? Yes, Dharma Gus on the blistering Highways of America and in its cities and hotels and women. Shit, that is over. The adulation of idiocy (myself then and Jack Kerouac) is passé. We, you and I, have families and responsibilities and we have hopes that we ourselves frustrate only to incur misery. We love, as unashamedly as possible and with gritted teeth, knowing the pressure in our jaw is wrong. I am not saying there is a change in the elemental structure of our souls; I am saying there is a new form in which we exercise ourselves. (288)

Later, in his correspondence with Brownrigg, he movingly critiques universities: “The university—which strengthens the ego and unintentionally fucks up the instinctual—taught us the language of the tongue so thoroughly that, when we came to learn the natural language of bodies (two, coupled) we were made to feel perverse, clandestine, and rich. How much we have to unlearn day by day . . .” (295).

Despite the powerful inclusions of Blaisdell’s essays, letters, and fiction, there is a marked absence of his poetry. His greatest contributions may, indeed, end up being his essays on film and art, as well as his ability to gather a community around his publishing activities, including his noted reading series at Living Batch Books. Furthermore, selections of a writer’s life-work understandably need to draw parameters. However, Blaisdell’s ground of being—even when he corresponds, philosophizes, and critiques—is the sensibility of a poet, and the reader deserves more of a window into that part of what gets “collected” here. 

That aside, Gus Blaisdell Collected is mandatory reading for anyone interested in the writing, film, and art of the period—and of an iconic figure in Albuquerque, in particular—as well as for those committed to valuing the contributions of independent thinkers who have helped make today’s freedoms of a daily practice of writing and art possible. 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A. P. and E. D.

Charles Wright

Merle Travis's "I Am a Pilgrim" from the late forties (first recorded by him in 1946), country gospel, white soul, was my introduction to one branch of the subgenre of music I heard constantly on the radio in east Tennessee and western North Carolina in the forties and early fifties. God-haunted, salvation-minded and evangelical, the storyline seldom varied: change your life or heaven won't be your home. My initial interest came from the orchestration, the instruments, the rhythm, the "song" itself. The lyric, the human theme, remained the same, whether it was a coal-mining song, love song, wandering song or gospel song: death, loss, resurrection, salvation, leaving, leaving: an ultimate inability to cope with life, a life we all lived, unavoidably, in this world. "Dark as a Dungeon," "Let's All Go Down to the River," "Dust on the Bible" . . . .
          WCKY, Cincinnati 1, Ohio, was the power station in my area, the late-night music brought in with a Zenith Trans-Oceanic portable radio. This was the gene pool I later drew from in the more fleshed-out articulation of The Carter Family, one of the two seminal acts in the history of country music. They came from outside Gate City, Virginia, in the Clinch Mountains, across the Holston River from my hometown of Kingsport, Tennessee. They had finished performing when I became aware of them on records, but their mountain origins, their insistent reference to these origins in their songs, the ballad and hymn meters that A. P. Carter consistently wrote his gospel songs in, the song lyrics themselves, traditional and oddly surreal at the same time, drew me easily into the intimate circle their music projected: one of interiors, the point of view of someone watching, from inside, the world go on outside, and always aspiring to something beyond that world that waited as surely as sunrise. And written as though the songs had been to that place already and come back with their messages: "Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone," "Farther On," "Higher Ground," "Going Home." Coming, as they did, from my area, articulating, as they did, its native tongue and values so inescapably, and synthesizing, as they did, so brilliantly its bedrock beliefs, I find it not surprising that I listened so many years, and listened closely, to what they had to say, and how they said it.
          Nineteen sixty-one, the year I first began to study poetry in an organized way, the year I first met Miss Dickinson, the poet who, to this day, remains the only one who has ever "spoken" to me, the only poet who, when I read her, I feel as though I understand, I know, and have heard before, somewhere, what she is trying to tell me. . . . And why. I admire and revere and am awed by a good many writers; I have been in thrall to several. But Emily Dickinson is the only writer I've ever read who knows my name, whose work has influenced me at my heart's core, whose music is the music of songs I've listened to and remembered in my very body. Part of that, of course, is her genius. But another part belongs to another kind of genius, and goes back to country music, and especially to The Carter Family's licks and spins, the white soul of the mountains. Emily Dickinson's poems, in their surreal simplicity and ache, are without question the artistic high ground, the city of light, in this uniquely American landscape. But I like to think A. P. Carter's songs from his side of the river did not fall on deaf ears when he, too, was called back to join the writer of this hymn:

                              Just lost, when I was saved!
                              Just felt the world go by!
                              Just girt me for the onset with Eternity,
                              When breath blew back,
                              And on the other side
                              I heard recede the disappointed tide!

                              Therefore, as One returned, I feel
                              Odd secrets of the line to tell!
                              Some Sailor, skirting foreign shores--
                              Some pale Reporter, from the awful doors
                              Before the Seal!

                              Next time, to stay!
                              Next time, the things to see
                              By Ear unheard,
                              Unscrutinized by Eye--

                               Next time, to tarry,
                               While the Ages steal--
                               Slow tramp the Centuries
                               And the Cycles wheel!

--from Charles Wright, HALFLIFE: IMPROVISATIONS AND INTERVIEWS, 1977-87 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1988), pp. 53-55

Friday, November 1, 2013

Dear Death

David Hernandez

Cool cloak. So goth. I dig how the pleats
ripple like pond water when you move,
and the hood shadows the absence of your face.
Sweet scythe, too. The craftsmanship
of the wooden handle, how smooth the slow
curve. I had to look it up--it's called
the snath (rhymes with wrath), or snathe
(rhymes with bathe). I prefer the latter, the long
a. Snath sounds like an infectious disease
I might've caught if my mother wasn't there
to steer me from the gutter, from large
puddles marbled green, mosquitoes
scribbling above. How many times
do mosquitoes do your dirty work anyway?
Versus fleas? Versus gunpowder?
How bone-tired were you in Tohoku?
The previous year in Haiti? Have you ever felt
the sepia wind of remorse? I have 77 more
questions for you, give or take, you're often
in my thoughts. Yesterday, while grinding
coffee beans. While cleaning the lint trap.
Dicing cilantro. Buying ink cartridges.
Clipping my beard. I could go on and on,
you're that legendary in my head.
It works this way: I'm running the knife
across the cutting board, the cilantro
breaks into confetti, I remember my mother
scattering the herb over a Chilean dish, then
her voice on Monday, "numbness in my leg,"
"congestive heart failure," and it fails,
my mind fast-forwards to when it fails,
I can't help it, you grip her IV'd hand, pull her
over, and it is done, her silence begins
blowing through in waves, icing the room--
the thought seized me so completely, the knife
hovered still above the wooden board.
Seriously though, cool cloak. Sick black
fabric. I heard if you turn it inside-out,
the whole worlds embroidered on the lining.

--in Field: Contemporary Poetry and Poetics, number 89, Fall 2013, Oberlin College Press, pp. 44-45

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Many of Our Waters: Variations on a Poem by a Black Child

Delivered as the Phi Beta Kappa poem, College of William and Mary, December 5, 1969

          to my brother Jack


from my journal, March 8, 1969: Garnie's whisper to me, while we were watching a construction operation near Radio City. The operation had reached that early stage at which the workmen had dug extremely deep into the intended foundation of the building, obviously therefore to be a new skyscraper. As Garnie watched the working men, they were far below, and, to his eyes, as to mine, they appeared very small. About a third of them were Negroes.. And this is exactly what he whispered to me. It has to, and it can--only it can--speak for itself:

You know,
if a blind boy
ride his bicycle
down there
he might fall into that water
I think it's water
but I don't know
they call it acid
and if that poor boy
drive his poor blind bicycle
into that acid
he drown
he die
and then
they bury him


to the Ohio

Along Aetnaville, where I was born,
I want to spend my eternity
In hell with you.
And the moment I'm off, I'm off
Back home to my own river.

My rotted Ohio,
It was only a little while ago
That I learned the meaning of your name.
The Winnebago gave you your name, Ohio,
And Ohio means beautiful river.

In this final dawn
Of my life,
I think of two lines by the unhappy and half-forgotten
American poet H. Phelps Putnam.

He was writing about a lonely girl's lovely place.
He cried out, "That reeking slit, wide, soft, and lecherous,
From which we bleed, and into which we drown."

Oh, my secret and lovely place, up shore from the railroad,
My bareass beach,
This is not a poem.
This is not an apology to the Muse.
This is the cold-blooded plea of a homesick vampire
To his brother and friend.
If you do not care one way or another about
The preceding lines,
Please do not go on listening
On any account of mine.
Please leave the poem.
Thank you.

Oh my back-broken beloved Ohio.
I, too, was beautiful, once, 
Just like you.
We were both still a little
Young, then.
Now, all I am is a poet,
Just like you.
This morning I feel like that old child
You gathered so often
Into your rinsing arms,
And bathed, and healed.
I feel lonesome,
And sick at heart,
And I don't know



learning from MacDiarmid

The kind of poetry I want to write is
          The poetry of a grown man.
The young poets of New York come to me with
Their mangled figures of speech,
But they have little pity
For the pure clear word.

I know something about the pure clear word,
Though I am not yet a grown man.
And who is he?

The long body of his dream is the beginning of a dark
Hair under an illiterate
Girl's ear.

And everybody goes on explaining to us
The difference between a nutmeg and a squirrel,
The grown man plows down.

He longs for the long body of his dream.
He works slowly day by long day.
He gets up in the morning and curses himself
Into black silence.
He has got his guts kicked in,
And he says
Nothing. (Reader, I am a liar. He says plenty.)
He shuts up.
He dies.
He grows.


This morning
My beloved rose, before I did,
And came back again.

The kind of poetry I want is my love
Who comes back with the rain. Oh I
Would love to lie down long days long, the long
Down slipping the gown from her shoulders.

I got to go to work.

Work be damned, the kind
Of poetry I want
Is to lie down with my love.

All she is
Is a little ripple of rain
On a small waterfall.

What do you want from me?


on the way to the planetarium

That bright black boy whom I love
Came out of the grocery
On the other side of the street.

If you don't know that street,
84th and Amsterdam,
Be proud and true to yourself if you go there.
Otherwise, get through it
Fast as you can.
He'll catch you.
He's the gingerbread man.

That lithe white girl whom I love
Stood on the one side of 84th  
And Amsterdam.

That bright black boy whom she loves
Yelled from the other side of the street:

Can Kinny come too?
Kinny's my brother.

I yelled: Garnie,
The light's changing.
Get the HELL over here.

Can Kinny come too?
I ain't got nothing but my brother.

Garnie, you and Kinny get the hell over here.

I ain't got nothing but my brother.

Neither have I, get the hell over here.

And then my lithe proud love, a little darker
Than Kinny, lifted
The baby Gemela into her long and lonely arms,
And left her back home because
Outside it was raining.



Small fawn edging through the underbrush,
Small fawn secret,
My love, my love"s
Secret fawn
Fell asleep on my love's white shoulder because
It was raining,
And she couldn't go with us
To raise cain on the way to the planetarium
And brood on the stars there.

Gemela face down the Hudson River
Where even the rats drift
Belly up.
Aren't they cute little pickaninny fawns
Drifting face down the Hudson with the rats
Belly up?


A Message from the Mountain Pool
Where the Deer Come Down

My love and I went swimming naked one afternoon
When mother and daughter came down and watched us and went
In their own good time.
For once in our lives we did not frighten
The creation. It never occurred to them
What we might be.

I have a little time left, Jack.
I don't know what you want.
But I know what I want.
I want to live my life.
And how can I live my life
Unless you live yours?

All this time I've been slicking into my own words
The beautiful language of my friends.
I have to use my own, now.
That's why this scattering poem sounds the way it does.
You're my brother at last,
And I don't have anything
Except my brother
And many of our waters in our native country,
When they break.
And when they break,
They break in a woman's body,
They break in your man's heart,
And they break in mine:

Pity so old and alone, it is not alone, yours, or mine,
The pity of rivers and children, the pity of brothers, the pity
Of our country, which is our lives.

--James Wright
(New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1990), pp. 210-16

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Adam's Curse

by William Butler Yeats

We sat together at one summer's end,
that beautiful mild woman, your close friend,
And you and I, and talked of poetry.
I said, 'A line will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment's thought,
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.
Better go down upon your marrow-bones
And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones
Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather;
For to articulate sweet sounds together
Is to work harder than all these, and yet
Be thought an idler by the noisy set
Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen
The martyrs call the world.'
                                           And thereupon
That beautiful mild woman for whose sake
There's many a one shall find out all heartache
On finding that her voice is sweet and low
Replied: 'To be born woman is to know --
Although they do not talk of it at school --
That we must labour to be beautiful.'

I said, 'It's certain there is no fine thing
Since Adam's fall but needs much labouring.
There have been lovers who thought love should be
So much compounded of high courtesy
That they would sigh and quote with learned looks
Precedents out of beautiful old books;
Yet now it seems an idle trade enough.'

We sat grown quiet at the name of love;
We saw the last embers of daylight die,
And in the trembling blue-green of the sky
A moon, worn as if it had been a shell
Washed by time's waters as they rose and fell
About the stars and broke in days and years.

I had a thought for no one's but your ears:
That you were beautiful, and that I strove
To love you in the old high way of love;
That it had all seemed happy, and yet we'd grown
As weary-hearted as that hollow moon.

--from In the Seven Woods, 1904

Friday, March 22, 2013

Homage to Miguel Hernandez

                    y ahi te quedas, al mundo le diria / and you stay here, I say to the world

For so much suffering from love
Of your wife's sweet olive breasts
And the halo of salty air
Around the head of your son
Whom you never saw,
You retched in your cell seven years
And groped along the shit-littered floor
For the lost pulse of Spain,
And when your last fit of coughing began,
Spitting out the scraps of your lungs,
You sent down to us, in your death,
Your poems smuggled between bars
And out under the noses of the Civil Guard,
Into hands that did not want to go on.

                    --Floyce Alexander

                    (first published in The Nation,
                    collected in Bottom Falling Out of the Dream, Lynx House Press, 1976)