Have been wanting to write for the longest time but life throws a curve each day …
Still, I do write. In my head As I try To drown out the list of things To do tomorrow While lying in bed And driving to La La Land.
There must be a thousand opening Paragraphs I’ve composed About My eldest’s flight and Mid-air meeting with Trump, The salads that brighten my world Each day I’m in a stump; The online friends I meet Whose chat gets me through each day, The flab on my belly that greet Me each morn and refuses to go away.
Most days life sucks, Some days ecstasies abound. Whatever shit I’m buried in – Don’t worry, dear, I’m still around.
When the children were smaller, I looked forward to spring because I always woke up to a rainbow across the white rice cooker in the kitchen. Since I started to garden, however, spring’s association with renewed life and all its extant hopes have all but died. While residents in temperate countries look forward to coming out of winter to a world filled with color, here in the Levant residents literally feel the summer heat even before the first of April. In recent years, April marks the start of a drought of garden blooms. It’s when the gardener uproots the dried stalks of zinnias and other flowers that sparked joy through the cold months of December, January and February.
Lately, the dreariness that April brings has been compounded by grief over friends who leave. Last year a dear friend flew away on April 8. This year another close friend is returning home for good at the end of the month. Who, I wonder, will leave next April?
Perhaps it was fitting then that the month of April began with rain, an anomaly considering that our section of the desert receives rain only once or twice a year and we’d already gotten several days’ worth in early March. Thus when T.S. Eliot’s words popped up on my screen on April Fools’ Day, it seemed like an ironic and tasteless if not apt joke.
April is the cruellest month, breeding (it sure is starting to feel that way) Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing (my garden will soon be a dead land) Memory and desire, stirring (why does memory always stir desire?) Dull roots with spring rain. (April began with rain this year) Winter kept us warm, covering (winter blooms always warm me up) Earth in forgetful snow, feeding (ah snow – I’ve yet to experience that) A little life with dried tubers. (what I think of my existence: a little life)
Eliot’s The Waste Land, long considered a masterpiece of modern poetry, is a difficult poem to understand for its many allusions lost to post-modern readers and for the varying voices of its speaker (or the switch between different characters). That it is so long is also a turn-off. Its opening lines, however, grab readers – who, for example, thinks that April is the cruellest month?I sure didn’t until I lived in the desert. In my childhood, April meant lazy summer days spent reading and eating. In my adulthood, April meant continuing work.
There are poems that reveal themselves only after one has undergone an experience that enables one to comprehend, even though you know what it’s all about. Does that make sense? If it helps, I’ve harvested dried tubers from our backyard. Well, anyway, reading the first stanza two nights ago felt like a flash into one’s psyche.What serendipity! So I googled the rest even though I knew it was going to be a long read.
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
The second stanza above has three biblical references, would you believe? I have no desire to go through a line-by-line or stanza-by-stanza analysis of the poem here even though there are many, many lines that grab me. Others have done it. Yes, Eliot’s depiction of man’s growing selfishness is a hard piece to follow or swallow since his view of man’s social and spiritual decay is not declared outright but via snippets of conversation (one of which is between two women in a pub discussing the other’s abortion) and scenes of everyday life (one of which is copulation between uninterested lovers as seen through the eyes of the poet Tiresias from Greek mythology).
Suffice it to say that if you’re in a blue mood, Eliot’s pensive, insightful prose can give comfort, yes, despite its desolate tone and gloomy critique of the world he lived in. Eliot’s despair at the collapse of Western civilization as it was before the Great War makes one pause and think that we, like Eliot’s generation, will return to a handful of dust someday and that we should strive to rise above a life that is a heap of broken images.
Then spoke the thunder
Datta: what have we given?
My friend, blood shaking my heart
The awful daring of a moment’s surrender
Which an age of prudence can never retract
By this, and this only, we have existed
Which is not to be found in our obituaries
Or in memories draped by the beneficent spider
Or under seals broken by the lean solicitor
In our empty rooms
Dayadhvam: I have heard the key
Turn in the door once and turn once only
We think of the key, each in his prison
Thinking of the key, each confirms a prison
Only at nightfall, aethereal rumours
Revive for a moment a broken Coriolanus
Damyata: The boat responded
Gaily, to the hand expert with sail and oar
The sea was calm, your heart would have responded
Gaily, when invited, beating obedient
To controlling hands
I sat upon the shore
Fishing, with the arid plain behind me
Shall I at least set my lands in order?
London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down
Poi s’ascose nel foco che gli affina
Quando fiam uti chelidon—O swallow swallow
Le Prince d’Aquitaine à la tour abolie
These fragments I have shored against my ruins
Why then Ile fit you. Hieronymo’s mad againe.
Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.
Shantih shantih shantih
Lastly, isn’t it fascinating that after showing the decline of Western culture and referencing the Bible so many times, Eliot ends with the words Datta, Dayadham, Damyata? Taken from the Upanishads of the Hindu religion, they translate to give, show compassion and exercise self-control.
Does that mean Eliot believes that these tenets are the key to achieving Shantih, another Hindu word defined as the peace that passes understanding? Most probably – his deviance from the Bible (but not biblical principles, remember!) could mean that he was disillusioned at a religion long associated with the West for failing to arrest the decay of humankind into red sullen faces (that) sneer and snarl / from doors of mudcracked houses. Because of this, I personally don’t think The Waste Land ends on a slightly positive note as some readers believe.
PS. Blogging anonymously, I vacillate between having the public read my poems and the fear that Internet anonymity could lead to copyright infringement or worse, intellectual property theft. This being the 20th anniversary of National Poetry Month, I shall be unlocking the password-protected poems here for the month of April. Who knows, I might even publish one from my cache!
Hmmm. It appears that my taste in poetry is sadly out of date according to yesterday’s readings. Thing is, one has to buy the latest poetry books to keep up to date (of course these new poets are not going to post their poetry online like you and I do – they’ve usually got tenure and royalty to claim from their published books) and poetry books are at the bottom of my wishlist.
Anyway, thank goodness for the Web! So. Here below are several sonnets (okay, they’re not strictly sonnets!) that grabbed me the most yesterday. I wonder: does anyone else spend VDay immersed in verse?
I love you as the sunlight leads the prow
Of a ship which sails
From Hartford to Miami, and I love you
Best at dawn, when even before I am awake the sun
Receives me in the questions which you always pose.
Kenneth Koch, To You
If you’re sick of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s How Do I Love Thee? read Kenneth Koch’s ode to his love here.
That morning, when she asked me to leave, wearing only The apricot tinted, fraying chemise, I wanted to stay. But I also wanted to go, to lose her suddenly, almost For no reason, & certainly without any explanation. I remember looking down at a pair of singular tracks Made in a light snow the night before, at how they were Gradually effacing themselves beneath the tires Of the morning traffic, & thinking that my only other choice Was fire, ashes, abandonment, solitude.
(Larry Levis, My Story in a Late Style of Fire)
Read Larry Levis’ entire poem here(I guarantee you a gut-wrenching read!)
Not a red rose or a satin heart.
I give you an onion. It is a moon wrapped in brown paper. It promises light like the careful undressing of love.
Here. It will blind you with tears like a lover. It will make your reflection a wobbling photo of grief.
I am trying to be truthful.
Not a cute card or a kissogram.
I give you an onion. Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips, possessive and faithful as we are, for as long as we are.
Take it. Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding-ring, if you like.
Lethal. Its scent will cling to your fingers, cling to your knife.
(Carol Ann Duffy, Valentine)
Sigh! Wish I could write like that … ah well, who else but a poet would try to offer an onion to his/her object of affection? (Update: British Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy is coming to Dubai for the 8th Emirates Airline Festival of Literature on March 1-12 … am so excited! )
i think of lovers as trees, growing to and from one another searching for the same light, my mothers laughter in a dark room, a photograph greying under my touch, this is all i know how to do, carry loss around until i begin to resemble every bad memory, every terrible fear, every nightmare anyone has ever had.
i ask did you ever love me? you say of course, of course so quickly that you sound like someone else i ask are you made of steel? are you made of iron? you cry on the phone, my stomach hurts
i let you leave, i need someone who knows how to stay. Warsan Shire
Warsan Shire’s verses contain so much honesty, they make you cry. And think about what it’s like to be a black African woman today. She’s not the only one to write with raw honesty that verges on the sublime, though. Below are some verses written during the Middle Ages (believe it or not!)
If anyone asks you how the perfect satisfaction of all our sexual wanting will look, lift your face and say,
When someone mentions the gracefulness of the nightsky, climb up on the roof and dance and say,
If anyone wants to know what “spirit” is, or what “God’s fragrance” means, lean your head toward him or her. Keep your head toward him or her.
When someone quotes the old poetic image about clouds gradually uncovering the moon slowly loosen knot by knot the strings of your robe.
If anyone wonders how Jesus raised the dead, don’t try to explain the miracle. Kiss me on the lips.
Like this. Like this.
(Rumi, Like This)
It’s hard to believe the verses above were written by a Sufi mystic/poet. Read Like This and other Rumi poems here and be stirred by words written several centuries ago. Of course, Sufi mystics and lovestruck musicians don’t have a monopoly on sexually charged verses. According to the Bible, they’ve been around for several millenia. Don’t believe me? Consider these
Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! Song of Songs 1:2
He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love. Sustain me with raisins; refresh me with apples, for I am sick with love. His left hand is under my head, and his right hand embraces me! Song of Songs 2:4-6
I will seek him whom my soul loves. I sought him, but found him not. The watchmen found me as they went about in the city. “Have you seen him whom my soul loves?” Scarcely had I passed them when I found him whom my soul loves. I held him, and would not let him go until I had brought him into my mother’s house, and into the chamber of her who conceived me. Song of Songs 3:2-4
Hopefully, these three examples are sufficient to show that Scripture contains content of an erotic nature. Of course, some of the metaphors are now obscured by time …
Your hair is like a flock of goats leaping down the slopes of Gilead. Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes that have come up from the washing, all of which bear twins, and not one among them has lost its young. Your lips are like a scarlet thread, and your mouth is lovely. Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate behind your veil. Your neck is like the tower of David, built in rows of stone; on it hang a thousand shields, all of them shields of warriors. Song of Songs 4:1-4
But. Believe me, listening to a read-aloud of certain verses from Song of Songs can put my significant other in a romantic mood. Anyway, for those die-hard romantics, here’s one from Neruda, er, E.e. Cummings (a friend suggested I print it out, hence the photo). The roses came from my garden – yes, roses bloom in the desert soil and aren’t they lovely?
Speaking of writing in a digital age, The Atlantic’s A Modern Guide to the Love Letter is a seriously funny piece! Meaning, it gave several laugh-out-loud moments. Of course not everyone will appreciate such an article. After all, not everyone remembers receiving snail mail or the fastidiousness associated with writing love letters. But I do since I was sometimes asked to do so by my classmates at university.
Lastly, if the overdose of literary expressions of love or whatever sentiment yesterday made you puke, consider this post-modern take on love from a Romantic poet. Belated Hearts Day, everyone!
And what is love? It is a doll dress’d up
For idleness to cosset, nurse, and dandle;
A thing of soft misnomers, so divine
That silly youth doth think to make itself
Divine by loving, and so goes on
Yawning and doting a whole summer long,
Till Miss’s comb is made a pearl tiara,
And common Wellingtons turn Romeo boots;
Then Cleopatra lives at number seven,
And Antony resides in Brunswick Square.
Fools! if some passions high have warm’d the world,
If Queens and Soldiers have play’d deep for hearts,
It is no reason why such agonies
Should be more common than the growth of weeds.
Fools! make me whole again that weighty pearl
The Queen of Egypt melted, and I’ll say
That ye may love in spite of beaver hats.
(John Keats, Modern Love)
At our age, we don’t mull. We move! advice from a friend
Ugh! I hate being reminded of my age. One has only to stand in front of the mirror to see that time has wrought changes that do not reflect the Me I am inside. Then again. With age comes a certain point in time at which one looks back. When Gail Sheehy did so, she chose the favorite song of my childhood. In a testament to the enduring appeal of the song, Sheehy wrote an article on how Joni Mitchell’s iconic folk song Both Sides Now carried her through the different stages of her life.
Listening to it again after a lapse of several years, likewise, I, too, could relate to the “many sides of Both Sides Now” that Sheehy explored (none of which I care to discuss publicly). Because. Despite growing old, I really don’t know clouds … at all … or love, or life – for that matter.
Rows and flows of angel hair And ice cream castles in the air And feather canyons everywhere, I’ve looked at clouds that way.
But now they only block the sun, They rain and they snow on everyone So many things I would have done, But clouds got in my way.
I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now From up and down and still somehow It’s cloud illusions I recall I really don’t know clouds at all
Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels, The dizzy dancing way that you feel As every fairy tale comes real, I’ve looked at love that way.
But now it’s just another show, You leave ’em laughing when you go And if you care, don’t let them know, Don’t give yourself away.
I’ve looked at love from both sides now From give and take and still somehow It’s love’s illusions I recall I really don’t know love at all
Tears and fears and feeling proud, To say “I love you” right out loud Dreams and schemes and circus crowds, I’ve looked at life that way.
Oh but now old friends they’re acting strange, They shake their heads, they say I’ve changed Well something’s lost, but something’s gained In living every day.
I’ve looked at life from both sides now From win and lose and still somehow It’s life’s illusions I recall I really don’t know life at all
I’ve looked at life from both sides now From up and down, and still somehow It’s life’s illusions I recall I really don’t know life at all
It’s life’s illusions I recall I really don’t know life I really don’t know life at all
Note: This post was originally written on November 8, 2014.
My roses, how they grow! Ask me not, I do not know.
Crimson, fuschia, burgundy Pale pink, old rose, almost white My roses, though a glorious sight – In winter, they cannot be but a blight.
Was it only yesterday?
When you declared, as your fingers
Gently snapped off each velvet petal
And cupped them in your hand for me
To savor their whimsical, fleeting fragrance: The brave cannot fail because they’ve got courage enough for a crowd to stand up
again and again and again.
Well, I never was and still am. Not. Brave.
Oh! To be you and me
In a universe that cannot see
Helios charging his chariot across the sky
Or the moonbeam’s kiss upon your eye.
Oh! To be with you and sail,
Pen the plot of a thousand tales.
But fate unkind uttered a decree:
There never more will be a We.
If you can, see me now:
Limping along life’s highway, being careful
Plucking hope from the barren, rotten soil,
Planting love and kindness to be faithful
In the midst of never-ending, grinding toil.
Ask me not to forget:
I will mourn, dance and sing
Till the crying clouds part and bring
A whiff of sweet sunset borne
On a gale from a meteor torn.
Ask me not to forget:
I will write, write and weep
Till your laughter thunders down from heaven and flings
Away these wet and buried, waxen tears
Wrought so long ago by death’s sting.
My roses, how they grow- Ask me not, I do not know …
Oh, Maguindanao! Why is your earth so hungry to swallow souls? Why does your soil bear graveyards That torch a nation’s psyche? Why does your name conjure up Visions of fallen men and women – Their voices silenced before their prime? Why is peace so elusive in your air? How much more can your people bear?
Oh, Maguindanao! When will justice be done? And so it goes, when hope is gone …. Farmers, tired of tilling from dawn till end of light, Stow rifles at their sides, ready to fight. Tired of waiting for a government with promises to keep, They moonlight as militia, forsaking their sleep, While in their bosoms: mothers, wives, daughters and sisters weep.
It may seem odd that a matron who largely spends her time outside the house shopping should write about a place that she has never visited much less mingled with its residents. Let me explain. Twenty years ago, I married a farmer’s son. Thereafter, a world that was hiherto unknown opened itself up to me. Alien to city dwellers, the rural life remains living reality for the majority of people in the Philippines. That it is a daily experience for so many Filipinos still astounds me to this day.
With each visit, I had to keep my mouth shut from complaining and reach out to find a common ground with folks with whom I had little in common. Thus, I know. About farmers who get up two hours before sunrise, drink a mug of hot coffee then go out to till their fields or mind their livestock before having breakfast at daybreak. About walking a kilometer or two to fetch water or wash clothes when the water pump runs dry during summer. About barking dogs that signal the presence of Communist guerrillas lurking around at midnight. Frankly, I doubt whether those commuters and motorists cursing the traffic in Metro Manila will readily trade places with a farmer living in a barrio without electricity or water flowing from a faucet.
Then again, I’m a journalist’s daughter. And. The audacity of the perpetrators behind the Ampatuan Massacre six years ago still leaves me gagging. So much so that I promised to pen a poem after reading about the Mamasapano clash last year and the Christmas Eve murder of farmers by the BIFF.
Can a land be cursed? I don’t know but Maguindanao sure seems to be …