Saturday, 27 June 2009

through the train window

I missed the last bus and had to take the train,
an absurd route (I traced it on a map)
like New York to Philly, via Boston—

checking in at every little station stop
in western Tuscany, the order random.
But I had open treasure on my lap:

what Italians call Le Ricerche, the first volume
(a plural, since no singular sufficed,
the multiple Researches of Lost Time. . . ).

In truth, the antique carriage suited Proust,
its start-and-stop, its slow eccentric rhythm,
each square of sky intensely overcast

and then split open by a full-fledged storm
so that I kept moving from the young Marcel's
interwoven overlays of daydream

to lightning startling olive-dotted hills,
which echoed with the opera that each station
improvised from greetings and farewells.

I'd lose some crucial thread or convolution
as another chance quartet reached its crescendo
and have to keep rereading the same section

looking for the hidden innuendo
of whatever unassuming word or phrase
had been darkened by a raindrop through my window.

in which the potent, not yet sounded syllables
of names of towns were unrepeated mantras

that, once uttered, cast enduring spells.
I knew the actual cities but forgot them—
preferred the more ethereal towers and hills

of words' exquisite forays into dream,
not that Proust in any way fails Venice
(the one Italian city he could claim

as a nodding acquaintance, face-to-face
from his terrace on the Riva degli Schiavoni)
but his way of capturing the unseen grace

of a place just from its name was so uncanny
that I looked out my window in disbelief
at that fake landscape posturing as Tuscany,

the real one on my haunches, keeping safe.
The storm that had propelled my little train
through all that falseness finally spent itself,

and without the constant urging of the rain
its languid pace grew even more lethargic;
the sky went dark in earnest; night came on,

my window's black so thick it seemed opaque
and there I was, at last, uninterrupted,
reading like some emptied-out amnesiac,

so lost in the dominion I'd adopted
I mistook it for my own imagining,
everything I'd known or seen coopted

by what Proust's elliptic sorcery could wring
from the timbre of a city's withheld name.
There was nothing in that country as compelling

as his progress through the semi-dark delirium
in which I—if it was I—sat transfixed.
I'd have stayed forever in that steady hum

of thick, unhurried motion: train and text
driven by a not yet mentioned name.
No one will believe what happened next:

how the train, slower still, approached a platform
with its long, late, out-of-breath cortege,
how the letters on the sign chose exactly to conform

to what was just unfolding on my page:
as if the only word worth spelling were "Siena"
and geography were always paying homage

to the sway of syllables, unless Siena
really was a figment of Proust's dream.
Where was I? Would that Siena—

had I thought to disembark in time—
even have resembled the red mirage
perched around a black-and-white striped dome

where a high probing tower appears to rummage
through the heavens for the single hold-out angel
Duccio never managed to dislodge.

(The others, of course, had transferred, at his call,
to the gold arrested air around his Mary,
an environ far more splendid and ethereal

than the one they came from, and less illusory.
You couldn't call it anything but Maesta)
It was probably Duccio's vision, albeit blurry,

puny, black-and-white—an early replica—
that launched the kyrie in Proust's ear
for that perfect one-word masterpiece: Siena,

an enchantment I not only got to hear
but to enter for an instant when my unhinged train
found its way to that precarious stratosphere

where a word will take on actual dimension
and those arch rivals, clarity and mystery,
reveal themselves, at heart, to work in unison.

I was so hell-bent on chasing beauty
it almost seems, in retrospect, inevitable,
my stumbling on that out-of-balance trinity:

Siena, Proust, the endlessly insatiable—
if utterly uncomprehending—me,
wrong about everything conceivable.

Jacqueline Osherow

(excerpt from: Proust on the Slow Train from Grosetto)

Dedicated to my dear Ffflaneur, who loves trains, austerity and - of course! - Proust.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Monday, 22 June 2009

the seven days of myself

and there is evening and there is morning, the first day. i feel the world taking shape in myself. the light doesn't know of its light. the dark doesn't know of its dark. but then, they touch my soul. and they know each other, in me. i am the battlefield on which beauty is tired of being and claims a meaning. oh, blade of grass, seal my lips, cut my tongue, bind me to your nameless grace. make silence be enough, before the stone stirs into an answer. make solitude my crown.

the dawn of the second day finds my voice drawing the thin line between earth and sky. my reckless god, why did you put that black belt of loneliness upon the marshlands of my soul? i run circles around me and all i can find is this damp, forlorn earth on which, occasionally, a thistle blooms. i beg for a presence, the tiniest breath unfolding towards me.

contemplating the thistle's longing to become a poppy, it occurs to me that i need to be sly in order to lure people my way. i put on my best garment, cover my chest, wrists and ankles with dazzling gold. each of my movements sways in the air like a song. trails of scent swirl above the endless fields. with a precision that amazes me every time i witness the defilement, they place a seed of me in every thing. this is how the third day was spent.

souls are greedy, souls are hungry, i tell myself in the morning of the fourth day. they need to feed on more than such shallow waters. with unabated diligence, i start piling up treasures after treasures inside the caves of my being. i hesitate a little before ripping off the sun from its heaven. i cry when i tear down the stars with the fork of my solitude years. i go on about my business nevertheless. now they hang inside me. their light is suddenly heavy of history, i am the richest and oldest prey of this world. my fourty thieves, come.

people are lazy, i ponder on the morning of the fifth day. the effort of moving a hand to undress another soul in the dusk is too much for them. i will make it easier for you, my tribe. naked, i stand before you, like a black statue in the white valleys of the moon. i have learned from the nest to wait for roundness. in the evening, tired of such wingless patience, i send myself onto each road. i offer my soul at every curve of my courtesan thighs. i burn for you all. i am the whore of the high wheat.

contemplating my failure in the grey light of the sixth day, i am suddenly struck by the simplicity of the answer. people are so scared of each other. they only seek themselves in every shape of life. nobody wants to inhabit a soul that is already inhabited by a stranger. with fierce determination, i wipe out every trace of myself in the marshlands of my being. i look in the mirror and not even i can see my face. even from my shadow, i chased myself away. my sorrows hang on the walls of my memory, devoid of myself. i don't recognize myself in my joys. my emptiness glows. satisfied, the lack of myself sits down and awaits to be taken over.

finally, on the evening of the seventh day, something stirs beyond the horizon line. my old trembling limbs, my wild beating heart, see, see. blinded by tears, my shout has no echo. my beautiful friend, my brother, my beloved, you have come. you have come. don't wear out your delicate feet, i will crawl to you. we have found each other. our embrace will be endless, you will be i and i will be you. my only one, my sweet sister, my soul.

growing like a black cloud, like a black horse galopping towards me, was the hour of my death.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

loneliness in pain, loneliness in love

We are as forlorn as children lost in the wood. When you stand in front of me and look at me, what do you know of the grief that is in me and what do I know of yours? And if I were to cast myself down before you and tell you, what more would you know about me that you know about Hell when someone tells you it is hot and dreadful? For that reason alone we human beings ought to stand before one another as reverently, as reflectively, as lovingly, as we would before the entrance to Hell.

Franz Kafka

But I am satisfied with what I did. How can you be satisfied? Cause everything escapes you, you know that perfectly well, you know – even when you are in love with somebody, everything escapes you, you would want to be near that person – how can you cut your flesh open and join it with the other person, it is an impossibility to do. So it is with art, it is almost like a long affair with objects and images and sensations and what one would call a passion. It is very much like that. You may love somebody very much but how near can you get to that person. You are still always unfortunately sort of strangers.

Francis Bacon

Sunday, 14 June 2009


i am happy to announce that i shall take a break from the Floating Bridge (or the Kingdom of the Bridges without Proper Support, a more pragmatic name that was suggested to me in the flow of the last post's reactions :-) to answer Manuela's incredible invitation to spend a week on her blog. I haven't been aware of the concept "blog guest" - are you? -, but i must confess i am truly excited and enthusiastic about everything it implies: bond, trust, shared creativity, openness, dialogue.

i think this sums us pretty much everything. oh, and i have to add only this: Manuela made coffee, i will make tea as well, we'd be so happy if you joined the party (b, i think we can even find some biscuits/cakes/rolls for you somewhere :-)

my Colour Week on Today This

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

modern waiting in strong colours or, if you prefer, harmonic functions of blue, gold and green

the blueness of things calls out your name.
the tides of my waiting never reach your footsteps.
i remember telling you
photography is the time of death.
i remember the green edge of the light
falling on your lips,
while you answered with a smile
you only understood irrational numbers
and, on some evenings of particular haze,
irrational time signatures.
then you bent over for a kiss.

you taught me the law of gravity

attaching me to my pain.
other equations you left unsolved,
or perhaps the solution eluded you
as well.
how to prevent the sound of you
blossoming in every wound,
this is indeed no smooth manifold
with a vector of harmony.

i sit here at the table of waiting,

combing the golden sea of my hair
with a golden comb which rewrites
the laws of such poisonous
fluid dynamics.
oh perhaps things were simpler
in the old days,
or Laplace's girl had short
and curly hair,
much more luminous eyes.

don't come back, not even once.

if you do, my golden lava
will fasten your ankles,
my mouth will encircle yours
with the hunger of the last moth.
then, only then, will you perhaps grasp
the constant of sorrow.

some more - perhaps avoidable? - but certainly ffflaneur-contagious notes :-):

1. this intermezzo from my usual dark broodings (intermezzo?) is dedicated to the tech nerds who do me the honour of walking on the floating bridge. oh, and to that unknown Benjamin A. Itza-Ortiz who has won my eternal admiration for writing his PhD on the subject of: "The C*-algebras Of Irrational Time Homeomorphisms Of Suspensions". Let's just hope he won't google his dissertation to come across my humble homage :-) Because this could be read also - also! - as a homage to these bold heroes of our time, even if it looks otherwise. oh the twisted ways of that infamous 'feminine logic' which gets slandered on some blogs, in good classical company (Lermontov) :-)

2. for my other readers, who will surely not understand how they have managed to live so far with no idea whatsoever of the existence of such things as "approximation by harmonic functions" - what a lovely, irresistible name! they would be solutions to Laplace's equation, mind you - "on subsets of Riemannian manifolds", which are usually defined as "a smooth manifold" - a smooth manifold! can one find a more appealing metaphor? i am so sorry i can't take the credit for it- "with a smooth section of the positive-definite quadratic forms on the tangent bundle", i can only offer this in guise of consolation: Thomas Adès's "Piano Quintet" (2000), which apparently makes extensive use of irrational time signatures.

Monday, 8 June 2009

mythical waiting in washed-out, yet enduring colours

They say we should imagine Penelope happy.
Do not be deceived:
her waiting is not the expression of love,
nor of her faithfulness
nor does her waiting represent
any such nameable feeling,
the warmth of a young body
or the steadiness of a soul.

Her suitors don't know it,
nor does her boy with rosy lids,
her sailor lost in the arms
of a more beautiful song -
none of them know.

Her hair spins the shroud,
the sea and the land
breathing on the ribs of war,
her gaze weaves the garden,
the burial of petals,
the shadowy leaves on a wall,
the footsteps of impatient sandals
on her hidden hips,
the lover himself,
with his proud
and lonely bow.

They say we should imagine Penelope happy.
Do not be deceived:
Her waiting is birth at dawn,
her waiting is murder at night
yet in the centre of this waiting,
like a black spider without a face,
she sits and stares
into her own myth.

Friday, 5 June 2009

an 'it-should-have-happened'- outcome of the japanese waiting in black and white, moving quickly and dissonantly from lows to highs and highs to lows

Sitting in front of the kettle.
The water boiling for my guest,
my guest of honour.
The last drop of tea
is now one with him.
My hands clean the bowl
returning it
to the old beginning.
The sound of the boiling water
is the wind in the pines,
they say.
Listen -
i say to you
with my silence -
listen to the sound of light
sweeping through my body
as i turn towards the shōji
and face the garden of spring
through the transparent paper.

Gentle as a wing
his fingers stroke
the bamboo mat.

Kneeling in front of the kettle.
The whirlwind for my thief,
my thief of the sweet wound.
The last drop of tea
burns now inside.
My hands the poison
lifting the bowl
to your lips.
The sound of blood
is the storm in the pines,
they say.
Listen -
i say to you
with what's left of my day -
listen to the sound of darkness
piercing through my body
as i turn towards the wall
and face the garden of grief
through each and every stone.

Harsh as ravens,
his fingers dripping
my petals of snow.

Almost inevitable notes (waving at ffflaneur :-):

1. the 'wind in the pines' is a classic tea word, matsukaze 松風, alluding to the sound of water boiling in the kettle.
2. shōji
3. the next day after i took these pictures, the precious bowl you see here in almost every image was broken. it is not important how, or how long i have grieved - only that fate wanted these pictures to be the embodiment of such unredeemable loss. not without a sense of irony, knowing what photography means for me and what most of this blog stands for. the bowl you see in the 5th picture is its double, all the more precious now. they were my summer twins: natsu-chawan 夏茶碗 is a special type of thin, wide bowl used mainly in summer. if i had been Rilke, i would have written a Requiem for a bowl, if i had been Eliot, i would have written the perfect line: The stillness, as a Chinese jar still / Moves perpetually in its stillness. As it is, i only have my clumsy pictures to remember.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

japanese waiting in black and white

the stones still wet
from the night's rain
if his straw sandals fail
to carry him across?

the rope of her heart
wrapping the gift:
a rock from her garden
of silence and longing.

the wind in her linen
how silly of her
to let such white
hinder his way.

a haze her eyes
the air bright
the door half-open
the kettle on

the flower of fear
the flower of hope
breathing together
a tangle of dreams

won't he come
won't he come

This post has been inspired by Lady Otomo No Sakanoe's poem (8th century):

You say, "I will come."
And you do not come.
Now you say, "I will not come."
So I shall expect you.
Have I learned to understand you?