Tuesday 29 July 2008

summer fairy tale

Once upon a time there was a distant country with green valleys and bright stars and small houses with flowering gardens and silent winds. When night fell upon that country, the lights used to flicker in the warm kitchens until all the children were in their beds, sleeping peacefully.
But the Little White Princess refused to sleep. Wearing her white cap and her shining white silk dress, she stood at her small window all night, wailing bitterly: I am not whole, I am not whole, what shall I do, what shall I do. In vain did her parents try to prove her wrong.
Thousands of doctors were brought in, they counted every pore of her skin and every hair on her head and every bone and every cell of her body, look, you are whole, Little Princess, stop crying, go to bed, sleep tight.
Thousands of wizards were called in the middle of the night, they looked at every corner of her soul with silver mirrors and checked her every movement and every path of her young thoughts with silver maginfying glasses, look, you are whole, White Princess, stop lamenting, go to sleep, dream beautifully of all the round and full things of this world. But the Princess wouldn’t listen. Every night her sorrowful song resounded over the country I am not whole, I am not whole, what shall I do, what shall I do.
One day, the king and the queen open the castle gate wide and cried bitter tears: Little White Princess, go out and try your luck and may the stars help you find those missing parts you keep talking about.

And so the Princess went. She travelled through spring forests and golden wheat fields and autumn clouds and heavy snows, singing her everlasting song, and the animals of the earth and the birds of the sky were shaking their heads and talking to one another in their strange languages tsk tsk little girl, don’t be foolish, go home, don’t you know your kind is never whole, tsk tsk what a stupid child, this White Princess after all...

On a summer morning, she stopped and stood in the fresh air and just looked. She saw the valley before her opening towards the rising sun, and still the light had a milky quality in its dampness and still there was a strange softness in the flowers with their bent heads of white.

She entered the valley full of joy.

There, in the middle of countless flowers, she felt a strange numbness in her limbs and fell asleep.

She dreamt of one red flower, glowing with unknown passion in a sea of gold. Oh, she cried in her dream, if I could see that flower, that only flower, and kneel before it, I would be whole.

But then the light of noon fell on her face and she opened the eyes and saw the bloody poppies on stems of gold dancing for her up in the sky, and her heart shrank and she knew then that her dream had been a lie and her mourning made the birds restless in their little nests and the fish ill in their blue rivers: I am not whole, I am not whole, what shall I do, what shall I do. She kept on going.

On a late afternoon, when the rain had moistened the colours of the grass and the earth was soft brown and the woods a boundless silence, she met a dark purplish horse in the fields. The horse spoke to her: Little Princess, I can take you somewhere, to a special place where you can find the answer to your prayer. The Little Princess clasped her hands and shouted with delight: Let’s go then, my purple horse, let’s not waste a second.

Wait, said the horse, I have a white brother. Which one of us do you choose for your journey? The Princess frowened. I shall go with you, my white silk dress glows more beautifully against your purple heart. And so they went, thousands and thousands of miles, they flew over the earth.

On a late evening, they reached a distant castle. The horse stopped. The Princess dismounted. Now you have to go alone, the horse said. The gate is closed. Before the gate, you have to wish hard for your answer. If your wish is strong enough and your heart is pure, the gate will open.

And then what
, the Little Princess asked.

Then you go in
, the horse laughed, turned around and left.

The Little Princess stood before the gate, stretched her arms with her little fists clenched, and wished hard for her to be whole, for the gate to open. On the other side of the world, the Gatekeeper felt her wish blow like a storm through wood and brick and iron and stone and force the walls to curve and the latchkeys to break open. He took his stick and hurried out to prevent this from happening.

Little girl, he started. The Princess frowned.

I am a Princess, you know.

Oh, I am sorry, said the old man in his sweetest tone, with this funny suit you have over there and this white cap, I thought you might be a little g... but wait, no you can’t be a princess, you are a chef, aren’t you?

The Princess looked at him incredulously. Pride and desire fought on her face.

Well, I suppose I could bake a cake for you, if you would just open that gate for me. A huuuuuge chocolate cake, what do you say?

The Gatekeeper laughed. Ay, White Princess, your cakes are of no use to me, look here, look what I have for you. And he opened his arms and unfolded his hands and all the sweets of the world started to flow and dance and circle round the White Princess, rainbows of melted chocolate and almond biscuits and tartes aux fruits and turkish delight and ginger bread and baklava and fluffy, transparent cakes with rose water and raisin breads and sorbets and cinnamon apple pies and colourful icecreams like sweet music. You can have all of this if you leave now, he said and winked as if suddenly amused. But the Little Princess stood there still and smiled and sang her sad song in a little soft voice. The old man bowed his head. The gate opened.

It was night when she entered the castle. Before her eyes, blooming across the lit sky, there stood one strange little tree in a sea of darkness.

She took a step closer. It was not a tree, just bright tufts of white grass and long waving plants reaching towards the sky like branches, and on those frail, tangled branches myriads of small yellow flowers glowed with a pale light and danced in the summer breeze.

What is this? the girl asked slowly, where are we?

The Gatekeeper put his hand on her shoulder. Little Princess, he said almost inaudibly, the yellow flowers... and when he said this the small flowers rose in the air like yellow butterflies and she didn’t know anymore whether they were flowers or butterflies with gold powdered wings which kept turning in circles about their heads, they are you.

Me? the startled Princess stared at him in disbelief.

Yes, your selves, the possible ones, the ones you lost, gathered here for ever, dancing their endless dance.
The breeze was now cold.

You mean...

Yes, White Princess, every time you make a decision, every time you choose a road and take one step on it, the inevitable, irreversible one, a Little Princess dies in you and her self turns to a yellow butterfly and comes fluttering to live here with the others. They are all here, all your selves, countless Little Princesses who might have been.

Oh, whispered the girl and took a long breath. She stared for a moment, an endless silence, at her tiny white shoes. And if I don’t choose but am forced to go one way or another? If I stand still and still the road unfolds me?

Those Little Princesses are here also. Choice or not, they are still dead, surely you can see that, don’t you, Little One?

But old man, the girl raised her voice suddenly, how can those little 'me' be here already, if I am small and still to grow and still to choose and still to walk, countless times and countless roads?

The Gatekeeper shook his head smiling. Well, my dear, this is a big question for big learned men and philosophers, not a little one for little girls errr sorry, little princesses.

She turned to stare at him again. Did they come here also, to look at their selves like me, those big learned men, did they open the gate too?

The old men laughed and shook his head as before, now you got me, Little Princess, no, they didn’t, not one of them.

Why, did they go for the ginger bread?
Her face was serious but he knew she had made a Little Princess joke.

He wanted to say something but at that moment a butterfly came down and sat on her forehead. You see, he said and stroked her hair gently, this little soul here is the one that died when you chose to ride the purple horse.

She felt something like tears in her eyes.

Would I have known the answer then, to my big question, if I had ridden the white horse and my white dress had become one with his white heart?

The Gatekeeper smiled and kissed her on her cheek, where another butterfly had settled, flapping its golden wings. He disappeared.

The girl stood still whilst the night was lighting up around her. Another butterfly came, a deeper shade of yellow, and then another one and another one, saffron and lemon and peach and amber yellow and their hues flowed into one another and their veil of gold was floating around her, wrapping her tightly as the veil a priest would wrap around a sacred corpse. They sat in her glowing hair, they covered her radiant skin, their silken beating of wings devouring the silk of her white dress, her white little chef cap, they burned on her arms like thousands of cold fires, they closed her eyes and filled her mouth.

The first one to enter her blood hurt. And then she felt growing, she felt expanding, she felt her body explode and then expand again, and an overwhelming fear paralysed her, the fear of the moment when the world would cease to contain her, and she would contain the world. Stop, she shouted in the voice of her devasted blood, you have no life, go away, I chose you not, I mourn you not. I refute the possible, I turn my back to all dead futures.

But it was too late. Some say the Little White Princess died the moment she became whole. Others say the gods took her just before the last butterfly sat upon her heart. Before that last beating of the golden wings, she vanished, because no mortal is ever to know what it is to be whole.

Sunday 20 July 2008

away for a while...

In the mountains, there you feel free.

T. S. Eliot

Saturday 19 July 2008

death of oblivion, in white and poppies

in the white fields of memory
kneeling at the root of time
asking for another poppy
and yet another poppy
to burst and hunt you down

while on the outside
i'm unfolding the summer
of my reckless blood

don't be afraid, Miriam

in the hour of your death
out of the white
gods will descend
to hold your hand
into the bright cloud

don't struggle, Miriam

when your lips open
for the last song
at your last supper
guests will descend
out of the bright
fire chariot upon fire chariot
flooding the white
they will sit in a circle
around your soft smile
they will smoke silently
your light bones powder

don't cry, Miriam

as your hour approaches
put on your bright dress
of daisies and poppies
braide your summer hair
to cover your breasts
your thighs and white knees

and wait.

and remember.

Friday 18 July 2008

the drunken poppy of my sleepings

O laß mein Schweigen sein dein Lied!
Was soll des Armen Flüstern dir,
Der aus des Lebens Gärten schied?
Laß namenlos dich sein in mir -

Die traumlos in mir aufgebaut,
Wie eine Glocke ohne Ton,
Wie meiner Schmerzen süße Braut
Und meiner Schlafe trunkner Mohn.

Georg Trakl

O let my silence be your song!

What should the poor’s whisper be to you,
Who is separated from life’s gardens?
Let you be nameless in me -

Who is dreamlessly built up in me ,
Like a bell without tone,
Like my pain’s sweet bride
And the drunken poppy of my sleepings.

Wednesday 16 July 2008

my grandmother

I opened the book, a gift from someone I love, I touched the old paper, the pale lilac cover, I let my finger caress it gently, with the tenderness of summer evenings growing tired. tired and unreal, the lilac twilight falling upon the faded pages. but I couldn't read more than one page, that first page:

The only adorable thing I can imagine is for my Grandmother to put me to bed and bring me a bowl of hot bread and milk, and, standing with her hands folded, the left thumb over the right, say in her adorable voice: 'There, darling, isn't that nice?' Oh, what a miracle of happiness that would be. To wake later to find her turning down the bedclothes to see if my feet were cold, and wrapping them up in a little pink singlet, softer than cat's fur... Alas!
(Journal of Katherine Mansfield)

I had to put the book aside and close my eyes. Katherine's grandmother came to me, and her face was the one I knew, the only face she could possibly have. she came to me smiling, one morning, pears in her hands, ripe pears almost brown, amber pears smelling sweet and lazy. I leaned back on my pillows, half-awake, in the middle of the small bed suffused with light, my eyes looking for hers.
I brought you pears
, she said. eat. she stroked my hair gently, while I reached for their melted gold. they cut the pear tree, you know. they had to, it was too old. her hand trembled on my head, barely a presence. at first I didn't understand. then it all became clear, their betrayal, their sneaking out in the middle of the night, when the world was closed to me. but not to them, the ones carrying the axes of amber, to chop down my amber pears. no, no, I whispered, and felt the emptiness in my stomach, always the same feeling, of being too late, of arriving when nothing more could be done, after the dice had spoken their will and the puzzle had become complete. eat, she said again, stroking my hair with both hands now, they are the last. I obeyed. I ate. I cried while the perfume of dark amber was growing inside, pieces of juicy flesh burning their way down through me.
oh the golden hue of my blood then.
and her silence after she said the word "last". I often wonder: maybe my life has continued to grow since then wrapped in that silence, I and the world equally unware of it, the silence she kept in the palm of her hand after the last word.

Sunday 13 July 2008

a blank poem

a blank field. a blank piece of paper. and then the snow becoming blue. the blue becoming black. burned out snow, burned out thoughts growing out of wounds. where it should have been fresh grass, the resplendent pulse of the ashes. if it be my thought, if it be my wound, if it be my black. if it be my blank poem.

Poate că spre tine-ndreptasem acest gând
devenit cuvânt
Poate că spre tine-ndreptasem acest cuvânt
devenit sânge
Poate că spre tine-ndreptasem acest sânge
devenit făptură
Poate că spre tine-ndreptasem
această iubire şi ură
Poate că spre tine-ndreptasem
această nefiinţă
pe care tu ai primit-o
şi tăcând zâmbind şi privind
ai învăţat-o să tacă
(deci să strige)
să zâmbească
(deci să plângă)
să privească
(deci să uite)
poate că tu eşti viaţa ei
(de vreme ce-i eşti
moartea uitării).

Miron Radu Paraschivescu
Poem alb

Perhaps it was towards you that I had directed this thought
that turned into a word
Perhaps it was towards you that I had directed this word
that turned into blood
Perhaps it was towards you that I had directed this blood
turned into a creature
Perhaps it was towards you that I had directed
this love and hate
Perhaps it was towards you that I had directed
this non-being
which you accepted
and keeping silent smiling and watching
you taught it to keep silent
(that is to yell)
to smile
(that is to cry)
to watch
(that is to forget)
Perhaps you are its life
(since you are to it
the death of oblivion).

A Blank Poem, trans. by Dan Dutescu)

Saturday 12 July 2008

absence of a woman's hands

For the tiny white butterflies
that tumble like pale coins
through shade, some would say,
the flowers are not here as things,
rather experience, process,
unceasing, unfinished
unfolding-to-be, a conversation in the one
moment they've known, while things
weigh in the slippage of time. An instance:
the absence of a woman's hands
that removed a glove finger by finger
and touched a glass to her lips is a thing.

James Owens

Thursday 10 July 2008

kitchen elegy

oh, a, most beautiful a, do you remember that we talked once about the love we both shared, our love for kitchens? I thought then: somebody should write an Ode to the Kitchen. Now I found its Elegy. even our teas are here, the first one that I made for you here, the rose black tea you drink now out of a cup that has a crooked handle.

O, vechi şi dragi bucătării de vară,
Simt iar în gură gust suav de-amiază
Şi în tristeţea care mă-nconjoară
Din nou copilăria mea visează:
Ienibahar, piper prăjit pe plită,
Peşti groşi ce-au adormit în sos cu lapte,
Curcani păstraţi în zeama lor o noapte
Spre o delicateţe infinită,
Ciuperci cât canapeaua, în dantele,
icre cu bob bălos ce ochiu-şi cască,
Aluaturi tapisate crescând grele
Într-o dobitocie îngerească,
Moi miezuri de ficaţi în butoiaşe
De ou de melc, înlăcrămate dulce,
Mujdeiuri ireale, şunci gingaşe
Când sufletu-n muştar vrea să se culce,
şi-n ceainice vădindu-şi eminenţa
Prin fast de irizări şi toarte fine
Ceaiuri scăzute pînă la esenţa
Trandafirie-a lucrului în sine!

Emil Brumaru (Elegie)

O, summer kitchens, cherished, old, and dear,

I taste again the vesper's dainty snacks,
And in the sadness that surrounds me here,
My childhood dreams again of scrumptious stacks:
Of juniper and peppercorn with bite,
Fat fish that fell asleep in saucy cream,
Whole turkeys marinated overnight
Until their tenderness is quite extreme—
The mushrooms—sofa-sized and dressed in lace,
Fish eggs with slimy grain in their vicinity,
Upholstered doughs which rise with heavy grace,
In an angelic, stupefied bovinity,
Soft liver bits in barreled juicy splendor,
Glazed by the sweetest tears of snail egg custard,
Surreal garlic sauce, and hams so tender
Your soul will want to go to sleep in mustard,
While teapots proudly show through beamy glass
With iridescent pomp, so very slick,
Fine teas boiled down until the very last
And rosy essence of das Ding an sich!

(Elegy, trans. Cristina Hanganu-Bresch)

cooking, love, repetition and ritual

cooking for somebody, as making tea for somebody, is a gesture of love. kneading the dough, baking the fish, smelling the fresh herbs, laying the table, bringing the plate and carefully, gently placing it in front of the other. peeling the apple, if the beloved likes it this way, cutting it in half, perhaps taking out the bitter seeds which taste like almonds, looking at him while he bites the tender flesh and you, smiling, open up the black seed between your young teeth, slicing the melon heavy with sun on a summer day, offering the blood orange with your both hands. hands that offer round bread and salt to the stranger, as it was the ancient custom in these plains of the danube, welcoming him as a friend to the center of your heart.

cooking for the beloved, for the stranger soon to become your guest, soon to become your friend, soon to become your mirror, cooking for the stranger soon to take his leave, soon to forget you but to remember, maybe, the smell of your fresh bread in one summer afternoon. the hand opening in the simple, the simplest and oldest of all gestures of mankind: offering food to the other. I look at the kanjis and see their stories and hear their voices. I show Olga the old drawings from which the kanjis originated. soon, she wants me to stop: 'it is too strange, I feel like I am in those ten-thousand-year old caves right now, I am afraid'. but I am not afraid. my hand, my hand now, holding the brush and hesitantly retracing the lines which compose the image of 'ai', love:

my hand feels the wave of ancient blood raising through it, brushing centuries aways, my hand repeats, re-lives, re-enacts the trembling of the first hand carving the strokes in the darkness. consciousness emerges, for the first time, in the naming of the world, at the fusion point between I and object. in the drawing, the nascent self and the other are one. and the drawing tells me what I already know: it shows 'heart/feelings' and 'a person kneeling at a table with head turned', indicating that they are unable to eat any more. thus the feeling of giving food to a person till they become satiated. that was the essence of love in the ten-thousand-year-old eyes, that was the song of love as carved in stone by the ten-thousand-year-old hand.

If you survey the years / from Ur to El Alamein / say where the truth appears, the poet asks in his search for the Cabbala, the Black Stone. By sun and water told / but what hour is meant? the poet asks in his search for the time before time, the time beyond time. but the answer is here. every time a hand carefully dips the brush in ink and draws the first stroke of ai on the blank paper, every time a hand offers food, the world is born again and its being glows with love. the ritual of love celebrated, all over again.

the poet mourns the loss of that first time. he mourns the loss of the first hand trembling, the loss of the fresh being of the world emerging in the first drawing, he mourns the I becoming forsaken, the bread which once feeded all men :

World thought to bits. Space and the ages,
And what mankind groped for as guide,
Infinities are now their gauges ―
The myth has lied.

Oh, when all wholely to one center tended
And all mankind from that one wound seemed welling,
Breaking the bread that each one might partake―
Oh distant hour, fulfilling and compelling,
That even the forsaken did not forsake.

(The Forsaken I)

but you stand here silent, smiling, the black melon seeds sparkling between your young teeth. you stand here still and thin, smelling of freshly baked bread, the table laid whitely and neatly before you. you hold the bread in your both hands. you break the bread for the stranger, welcoming him to the centre of your heart. and suddenly the hour is not distant any more, the forsaken finds home again.

[Gottfried Benn's quotes in original, and I should add that I am not happy at all with the translation, but then again, it is almost impossible to translate this:

Überblickt man die Jahre
von Ur bis El Alamein,
wo lag denn nun das Wahre ...

Wasser- und Sonnenuhren -
welche Stunde gemeint?

Die Welt zerdacht. Und Raum und Zeiten
und was die Menschheit wob und wog,
Funktion nur von Unendlichkeiten ―
die Mythe log.

Ach, als sich alle einer Mitte neigten
Und alle rannen aus der einen Wunde,
brachen das Brot, das jeglicher genoβ―
o ferne zwingende erfüllte Stunde,
die einst auch das verlorne Ich umschloβ]

Thursday 3 July 2008

her whole life

My desire for her was desire for her whole life: a desire that was full of pain, because I sensed it was unattainable.