Thursday, April 23, 2009

Portrait in Sunlight

Portrait in Sunlight
Originally uploaded by jhhymas
Most of the day I was working on listing the rest of my poetry books on I found many things I love and things I thought were lost and duplicate copies of things I forgot I already had. Now I have 16 five-foot shelves--with the poetry shelved alphabetically by author. And I have almost stopped buying it, until I integrate what I have into some sort of knowledge. And there's a little stack by the bed to start on tonight.
I have been thinking a lot about memory and about possessions, which are related for me, since my "things" often function as memory triggers. But they also function as clogging up the space you need to breathe and do other things except organizing possessions. Many years ago I read a book about people and their collections and personal museums. I have to say that my favorite was the woman who ran the Nut Museum (things made of nuts and nutshells) which showed her coming down a staircase in a long gown. I don't really want to open for business, but I am very glad that some of my favorite books are out of boxes.
For many years, Adam Zagajewski has been in the top handful of my favorite poets. I cannot read him in the original Polish, but only in the lovely English translations of Clare Cavanaugh. This is from his book, Mysticism for Beginners.

Long Afternoons

Those were the long afternoons when poetry left me.

The river flowed patiently, nudging lazy boats to sea.

Long afternoons, the coast of ivory.

Shadows lounged in the streets, haughty manikins in shopfronts

stared at me with bold and hostile eyes.

Professors left their schools with vacant faces,

as if the Iliad had finally done them in.

Evening papers brought disturbing news,

but nothing happened, no one hurried.

There was no one in the windows, you weren’t there;

even nuns seemed ashamed of their lives.

Those were the long afternoons when poetry vanished

and I was left with the city’s opaque demon,

like a poor traveler stranded outside the Gare du Nord

with his bulging suitcase wrapped in twine

and September’s black rain falling.

Oh, tell me how to cure myself of irony, the gaze

that sees but doesn’t penetrate; tell me how to cure myself

of silence.

This is a poem that works on several levels and repays re-reading. Good night,


  1. I love it! I'm so swayed by emotion that I can't get technical, but I love it! I hope that you share more of your favorite poetry. Wow...I thought I had a lot of books! I love languishing in front of books.

  2. That last stanza swept me off my feet. Of course, you had me at the piles of books and attempting to integrate what you have.

    I'm already pre-disposed to follow your poets, as you turned me on to David Kirby. And I believe you turned dad on to Cynthia McDonald, so I owe you that one too.


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  4. Ah, Robert met Cynthia when she was in Texas--he introduced me to her (when she read here and he was in California) and even paid money for one of her books as a gift to me.
    Now I have to look again. Ah, David Kirby. . .
    Yep, it's the last stanza. . . June