(after Jules Supervielle)
 
That sound, everywhere about us, of the sea–
the tree among its tresses has always heard it,
and the horse dips his black body in the sound
stretching his neck as if towards drinking water,
as if he were longing to leave the dunes and become
a mythic horse in the remotest distance,
joining the flock of foam-sheep–
fleeces made for vision alone–
to be indeed the son of these salt waters
and browse on algae in the deep fields.
But he must learn to wait, wait on the shore,
promising himself someday to the waves of the open sea,
putting his hope in certain death, lowering
his head again to the grass.
 
 
*
 
I thought this fitting after last week’s Supervielle poem. I have long appreciated animism in its various literary forms, and here especially. The horse much as anyone or anything hears “this noise of the sea” but remains, like us, locked in a limited and limiting world. He must lower his head again to the grass.

 

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It’s good to have chosen
A living home
And housed time
In a ceaseless heart
And seen my hands
Alight on the world,
As on an apple
In a little garden,
To have loved the earth,
The moon and the sun
Like old friends
Who have no equals,
And to have committed
The world to memory
Like a bright horseman
To his black steed,
To have given a face
To these words — woman, children,
And to have been a shore
For the wandering continents
And to have come upon the soul
With tiny strokes of the oars,
For it is scared away
By a brusque approach.
It is beautiful to have known
The shade under the leaves,
And to have felt age
Creep over the naked body,
And have accompanied pain
Of black blood in our veins,
And gilded its silence
With the star, Patience,
And to have all these words
Moving around in the head,
To choose the least beautiful of them
And let them have a ball,
To have felt life,
Hurried and ill loved,
And locked it up
In this poetry.

*

I first discovered Supervielle at the tail-end of college working security for an oversized benefits firm in Chicago. A seminarian and fellow guard named Brian Dean handed me photocopies of some of Supervielle’s poems, which were mesmerizing. I typed them up and sent them off to another friend, Oscar Amaya, with whom I kept a rigorous correspondence for a few years. Oscar, too, found them extraordinary, and we spent many months writing poems inspired by Supervielle’s surrealist language and energy, his use of myth and fantasy alongside everyday language.

I love the lines “And to have come upon the soul/ With tiny strokes of the oars,/ For it is scared away/ By a brusque approach,” which reminds me of the soul’s (or anything beyond the body) delicacy. Like deer, such things too easily fly from us if we approach without great care and humility.

Evening. The trees in late winter bare
against the sky. Still light, the sky.
Trees dark against it. A few leaves
on the trees. Tension in their rigid branches as if
–oh, it is all as if, but as if, yes,
as if they sang songs, as if they praised.
Oh, I envy them. I know the songs.

As if I know some other things besides.
As if; but I don’t know, not more
than to say the trees know. The trees don’t know
and neither do I. What is it keeps me from praise?
I praise. If only to say their songs,
say yes to them, to praise the songs they sing.
Envied music. I sing to praise their song.

*

Most of Bronks lines, it seems to me, are rigid branches, taut with philisophical questions which hang like invisible fruit. Their weight is everywhere evident even without metaphor, without “as if.” Stopping himself, the poet considers the imagination’s play upon reality. “It is all as if.” Still, he knows some things, even as he negates that knowing. Knows enough to fault his own capacity to praise, knows enough to say yes, as all poets must. To praise their song, in praising, finds that even envied music sings.

Faith (Czeslaw Milosz)

September 8, 2008

The word Faith means when someone sees
A dew-drop or a floating leaf, and knows
That they are, because they have to be.
And even if you dreamed, or closed your eyes
And wished, the world would still be what it was,
And the leaf would still be carried down the river.

It means that when someone’s foot is hurt
By a sharp rock, he also knows that rocks
Are here so they can hurt our feet.
Look, see the long shadow cast by the tree;
And flowers and people throw shadows on the earth:
What has no shadow has no strength to live.

*
Knowing what they are, because they have to be, is a dizzying reality, I think. This kind of knowing saves us from solipsism, a great enemy of faith. And as my friend Bob Murphy said once, sometimes it’s only shadows we see by.

All day I think about it, then at night I say it.
Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing?
I have no idea.
My soul is from elsewhere, I’m sure of that,
and I intend to end up there.

This drunkenness began in some other tavern.
When I get back around to that place,
I’ll be completely sober. Meanwhile,
I’m like a bird from another continent, sitting in this aviary.
The day is coming when I fly off,
but who is it now in my ear who hears my voice?
Who says words with my mouth?

Who looks out with my eyes? What is the soul?
I cannot stop asking.
If I could taste on sip of an answer,
I could break out of this prison for drunks.
I didn’t come here of my own accord, and I can’t leave that way.
Whoever brought me here will have to take me home.

This poetry. I never know what I’m going to say.
I don’t plan it.
When I’m outside the saying of it,
I get very quiet and rarely speak at all.

~

We have a huge barrel of wine, but no cups.
That’s fine with us. Every morning
we glow and in the evening we glow again.

They say there’s no future for us. They’re right.
Which is fine with us.