Friday, February 14, 2014


This little bouquet was prepared for a bookmaking and sketching class I took last summer. Whenever I see a very small bouquet, I remember Beth Fletcher. She was a friend I made when I worked at the Gilroy Library. She used to bring me her old New Yorker Magazines and might be responsible for teaching me to love that magazine the way I still do. The library didn't take that magazine then, Once, when someone came to visit her, she brought them into the library to meet me and told her I was "the smartest woman in Gilroy" which was a very nice compliment, I thought, even if exaggerated.

During spring and summer, when things were in bloom in her garden, she usually brought me what she called a "nosegay" a small bouquet of mixed flowers from her garden. These were less than three inches across and required a small vase. The signature thing that she did was to bind the stems of her arrangement by wrapping them (round and rounda) with a flexible stem from Asparagus sprengari, the type of asparagus fern that also grew in her garden. I have a plant of this now, and whenever I weed around it, I remember Beth, who died many years ago. That's tonight's memory thread.


by Tomas Transtromer. (Trans. Kalle Raisanen)


In the evening-dark of a place outside New York, a look-out point

where one glance can encompass eight million people’s homes.

The giant city over there is a long, flickering snow-drift, a spiral

galaxy on its side.

Inside the galaxy, coffee cups are slid over the counter, store-fronts

beg with passers-by, a crowd of shoes that leave no traces.

The climbing fire-escapes, the elevator doors gliding shut, behind

locked doors a constant swell of voices.

Sunken bodies half-sleep in the subway cars, the rushing catacombs.

I know, also — statistics aside — that right now Schubert is

being played in some room over there and that to someone

those sounds are more important than all those other things.

I I.

The human brain’s endless expanse crumpled into the size of a fist.

In April, the swallow returns to its last-year’s-nest under the roof

of that very barn in that very parish.

She flies from the Transvaal, passes the equator, flies for six weeks

over two continents, steers toward this disappearing point in 

the land-mass.

And the man who captures the signals of a whole life in some

fairly ordinary chords by five strings

the man who makes a river run through the eye of a needle

is a fat young man from Vienna, called “Little Mushroom” by his

friends, who slept with his glasses on

and got punctually behind his writing desk each morning.

At which the wonderful centipedes of music were set in motion.

I I I.

The five strings play. I walk home through tepid forests with the

ground springing under me

crawl up like an unborn, fall asleep, roll weightless into the future,

suddenly feel that the plants have thoughts.


So much we have to trust, simply to live through our daily day

without sinking through the earth!

Trust the snow clinging to the mountain slope over the village.

Trust the promises of silence and smiles of understanding,

trust that the accident telegram isn’t for us and that the sudden

axe-blow from within won’t come.

Trust the wheel-axles that carry us on the highway in the middle

of the three-hundred-times magnified bee swarm of steel.

But none of that is really worth our confidence.

The five strings say we can trust something else.

Trust what? Something else, and they follow us part of the way there.

As when the lights turn off in the stair-well and the hand follows

— with confidence — the blind handrail that finds its way in

the dark.


We crowd in front of the piano and play four-handed in F-minor,

two coachmen on the same carriage, it looks slightly ridiculous.

Our hands seem to move clanging weights back and forth, as if

we were touching the counter-weights

in attempt at disturbing the terrible balance of the great scales:

joy and suffering weigh exactly the same.

Annie said, “This music is so heroic,” and it’s true.

But those who glance enviously at the men of action, those who

secretely despise themselves for not being murderers

they don’t recognise themselves here.

And those many who buy and sell people and think that everyone

can be bought, they don’t recognise themselves here.

Not their music. The long melody that remains itself through all

changes, sometimes glittering and weak, sometimes rough and

strong, snail-trails and steel wire.

The insistent humming that follows us right now

up the


This has been one of my very favorite poems for many years; I have read it in several translations and was surprised in some ways by this one. The work of Transtromer has made me really wish I knew Swedish! The linebreaks on such long lines are hard to represent, both here and in print. But the short lines in the end are meant, I am sure, to slow you down at the end. The poem covers a great deal of territory, but in a much more detailed way than last night's poem. Think about the strengths of each approach. And kiss yourself good night with some of the music of that "fat young man from Vienna." Good night!

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