Poems to the Sea by Cy Twombly I-IV 1959
“He visualises with loving colours the silent space that exists between and around words.”
- John Berger
With what stillness at last
you appear in the valley
your first sunlight reaching down
to touch the tips of a few
high leaves that do not stir
as though they had not noticed
and did not know you at all
then the voice of a dove calls
from far away in itself
to the hush of the morning
so this is the sound of you
here and now whether or not
anyone hears it this is
where we have come with our age
our knowledge such as it is
and our hopes such as they are
invisible before us
untouched and still possible
Here’s to the untouched and still possible in 2013.
Amen to that, and three cheers from here.
“My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity.” Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.
GAS! Gas! Quick, boys! — An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime…
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, —
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
Image: manuscript - British Library Add. MS 43720, f.21 Copyright © The British Library Board
Cadaqués, en el fiel del agua y la colina,
eleva escalinatas y oculta caracolas.
Las flautas de madera pacifican el aire.
Un viejo dios silvestre da frutas a los niños.
Sus pescadores duermen, sin ensueño, en la arena.
En alta mar les sirve de brújula una rosa.
El horizonte virgen de pañuelos heridos
junta los grandes vidrios del pez y de la luna.
Una dura corona de blancos bergantines
ciñe frentes amargas y cabellos de arena.
Las sirenas convencen, pero no sugestionan,
y salen si mostramos un vaso de agua dulce.
—Federico Garcia Lorca, “Oda a Salvador Dalì”
[Cadaqués, at the fulcrum of water and hill,
lifts flights of stairs and hides seashells.
Wooden flutes pacify the air.
An ancient woodland god gives the children fruit.
Her fishermen sleep dreamless on the sand.
On the high sea a rose is their compass.
The horizon, virgin of wounded handkerchiefs,
links the great crystals of fish and moon.
A hard diadem of white brigantines
encircles bitter foreheads and hair of sand.
The sirens convince, but they don’t beguile,
and they come if we show a glass of fresh water.]
If I could choose one place to be right now - Cadaqués, Girona, Catalunya.
“Dogs don’t understand that a word can have several different meanings.” —Pat Miller, in The Power of Positive Dog Training.
I’m looking out the door and saying I wish
we had a yard and the dog is fetching me a ruler
three feet long. I’m looking out the door and
whispering just permit me to—and he’s pawing
at the back of my legs with the parking pass in his
eager mouth. I’m face down in a bowl
of oatmeal and I’m on the phone with you, I’m
explaining I’m face down in a bowl
of oatmeal and the dog’s barking in the corner
where we keep the 9-pound ball for me and the
13-pound ball for you and I’m trying to get him
to shut up, I’m yelling you don’t have to
bark and he’s on the table with the crayons
drawing me a tree and I’m shouting dammit
and he’s got the sandbags over his
little furry back and I’m crying now and saying
something like I’m sorry and the dog is
crying too and I realize that he’s had years
to learn I’m sorry means I know
I’m no good. And he’s got his paw over
my hand and when I lean in closer I swear
I can hear him say you look like
a million bucks and when he dreams later
that evening I can tell by the way
his legs twitch that he’s chasing hundreds
of thousands of deer through some imagined
forest. And you? You’ve left a Post-It
Note stuck to the top of my computer
with a drawing of a smiling cartoon stag
playing the drums with his antlers, and I can’t
help it, I’m smiling now, and the dog
wakes up from his dream and patters
over to my feet and sits and sighs dear,
my heart always beats for you.
The changing light
at San Francisco
is none of your East Coast light
none of your
pearly light of Paris
The light of San Francisco
is a sea light
an island light
And the light of fog
blanketing the hills
drifting in at night
through the Golden Gate
to lie on the city at dawn
And then the halcyon late mornings
after the fog burns off
and the sun paints white houses
with the sea light of Greece
with sharp clean shadows
making the town look like
it had just been painted
But the wind comes up at four o’clock
sweeping the hills
And then the veil of light of early evening
And then another scrim
when the new night fog
And in that vale of light
the city drifts
anchorless upon the ocean
San Michele is a rectangular island, separated from Venice by a stretch of water and surrounded by a high wall. From an airplane, its cemetery could seem like an enormous hardback book: one of those stout, heavy dictionaries in which words – decomposing skeletons – rest for ever. There is something ironic about the fact that Joseph Brodsky is buried there, facing that city in which he was always to be found but always wanted to be just passing through. Perhaps the poet would have preferred a grave far from Venice. When you come down to it, the city was, for him, a ‘plan B’ or, to use a more literary metaphor, an Ithaca whose attraction consisted of being unattainable, an ephemeral, imagined place. What’s more, Brodsky once stated in an interview that he would like to be buried in the Massachusetts woods; or perhaps it might have been more correct for the body to be returned to his native St Petersburg. But I suppose there is no sense in speculating about a person’s posthumous wishes. If volition and life are two things impossible to separate, so are death and chance.
An abridged version of Valeria Luiselli’s beautiful essay abuot searching for Joseph Brodsky’s grave in Venice can be found on Granta Magazine.