A CoatI made my song a coatCovered with embroideriesOut of old mythologiesFrom heel to throat;But the fools caught it,Wore it in the world’s eyesAs though they’d wrought it.Song, let them take itFor there’s more enterpriseIn walking naked.
When I sent out my latest CD mixes (the physical CD ones) I enclosed with them the Norwegian version of KitKat. It almost does the Norwegian version, Kvikk Lunsj, a disservice to compare them. For people who like chocolate and KitKat, Kvikk Lunsj will probably change your mind and you’ll be a convert in no time. I am not sure why I made it my mission to proselytize. I don’t care for chocolate or KitKat and am not really invested in anything Norwegian, but I guess when there is something that is so clearly superior, and I can spread it around the world, I figure why not.
And I am not alone. Clearly the word’s out that Kvikk Lunsj’s four fingers can make part of a fist to beat the shit out of KitKat.
–Eddy van Vliet
The city is covered with places you
took from me. Full of joint
footsteps, full of joint laughs.
They were sheltered by dreams and if need be
love grabbed the gun to protect them.
Tell my legs how to evade
what belonged to them.
Tell them. They refuse to believe
that the theatres have burned, restaurants
were hit by plagues, terraces vanished
into thin air, hotels closed,
the courtyard was demolished.
I bow my head and think
the rain will not hit me. Thus
I shall forget what was taken from me.
Today would have been my uncle’s birthday – my uncle who died last year in November. As with all losses and the mourning that follows, it has been rough, especially for my mom, his sister. I’ve written various bits about the loss and all the things you lose along with the person (the shared memory, or, as my mom put it the other day, “I was the person who had him in my life the longest of anyone alive” – in a sense this is true. As the older sister, she was there, 1.5 years old, when he came into the world, and with both of their parents gone, she is the only one who was there, and up close, for the rest of his life).
But in losing someone like him, we gain a deeper appreciation for who he was, and more than that, for what he taught without even trying. As I wrote at the time of his death: “the man collected everyone who came into his life, from “stray” people, to new friends, to ex-wives and ex-wives’ future families to new loves and their families and friends” – and this is always the thing about him that stuck with me during his life and now “post-life”. Perhaps because it is the thing I aspire to most. I find that somehow he was able to make it work, but I just encounter the most stubborn and traditional of barriers. I touched on the thought the other day: why are we so territorial and stingy with our love and acceptance?
Sure, I am a dyed-in-the-wool misanthrope, a come-to-life Oscar the Grouch (my hero, my idol), but it’s not actually who I am inside. Like my uncle, I am curious and my capacity for wanting to love people and show them compassion is boundless. When a former partner, who became a close friend, moved on and met the woman he has hitherto spent his life with, I was elated for him, but I lost the friendship because she was too jealous about its continuing to exist. When I got twisted into a mercifully brief emotional vise earlier this year, I swiftly got over the disappointment of it and thought we’d be friends – I tried to at least leave the door open to friendship on his terms but got burned by the partner/ex-partner/who knows now what she is/was because that became a question mark. Those details don’t really matter – I understand why these people got jealous, angry, irritated, upset. I just don’t think they had to – I have at least as much care and compassion for them as for the other party (the ones I actually knew directly). They have no way of knowing this and probably would not care because I guess there’s some intoxication or self-righteousness to be had in directing hatred or frustration toward perceived threats or annoyances. And all I can think is: I am sorry. I don’t think that holding onto hostility – or feeling hostile in any sustained way at all – is a way to live.
That is not to say I never get annoyed or hostile (often reactions to feeling hurt). But these things mend, and I look at situations and people (even virtual strangers) to see the good in all of them, to see what they must have gone through or experienced. If I could, I would be like my uncle and “collect” these people, too, into a distant but extended kind of network of people – like-minded or not, I am sure that if someone I cared about, even remotely or briefly, loved these people, they must be remarkable in some way. I’d venture to guess we all have a lot more in common than not.
Confronting mortality – both one’s own (and one’s own brushes with death) and others (so many losses, some obvious, some hidden) – it has always seemed ludicrous to be so insular and self-absorbed about love and particularly about welcoming and accepting people into your heart. My uncle, may he rest in cycling adventures and untold numbers of over-the-top characters and events on whatever plane he travels now – today, his birthday – and for all eternity, managed to live this challenge and invite others to live in this way too.
He taught by example, sure, but I really wish he were still here to ask him how he did it.
Our Love is like Byzantium
Our love is like Byzantium
must have been
on the last evening. There must have been
a glow on the faces
of those who crowded the streets
or stood in small groups
on streetcorners and public squares
speaking together in low voices
that must have resembled
the glow your face has
when you brush your hair back
and look at me.
I imagine they haven’t spoken
much, and about rather
that they have been trying to say
and have stopped
without having managed to express
what they wanted
and have been trying again
and given up again
and have been looking at each other
and lowered their eyes.
Very old icons, for instance,
have that kind of glow
the blaze of a burning city
or the glow which approaching death
leaves on photographs of people who died young
in the memory of those left behind.
When I turn towards you
in bed, I have a feeling
of stepping into a church
that was burned down long ago
and where only the darkness in the eyes of the icons
filled with the flames
which annihilated them.
I remember with some trepidation and self-consciousness my very first attempts to read and make sense of French – taking everything so literally at first, taking my time with grasping idiom. It’s always a series of baby steps when transforming your brain to take in and process new languages. To really feel them and live them, you must, to paraphrase the late Derek Walcott, you must change your life. I did not change my life, and thus I’m still no expert, but better recognize the fluidity of language in a way that my grammatical and rigid approach to English never allows for.
One window (or ‘windae’, were we Scots) to crawl through to find meaning in disembodied, lifeless translation drudgery was music. As soon as I realized, as a teenager who wanted nothing more than to run away from my hometown (tout de suite), that much of my favorite music was inspired by literary greatness, I could at least immerse myself in those other worlds. Imagine, though, that somehow in the intervening years, I had completely forgotten the connection between “Les yeux des pauvres” (Baudelaire) and the almost word-for-word treatment by The Cure in “How Beautiful You Are”.
I don’t know if you can imagine how much it was like opening a window to the past, almost like time travel, to be reminded of this and to return in my mind to that time in 1988-9 when this song so deeply moved me to tears and led me to Baudelaire. And how, now in present day, having the memory reawakened when someone sent me the Baudelaire describing it as: “unutterably sad commentary on relationships and the human condition. I love it”, I am moved to find someone else is as deeply affected by the same feelings.
No, I have rarely been fooled by Italy (luckily) but have crossed paths with Italy and Italians in the years since I declared one of my main rules in life, i.e. “Don’t Let Italy Fool You“. Years and years ago, I did meet a rather sexist, reactionary, jealous Berlusconi supporter called Marco who told me he hated this poem because “clearly a lesbian wrote it”. Do I even need to say that I spoke with him no more?
To simulate the burning of the heart, the humiliation
of the viscera, to flee cursed
and cursing, to horde chastity
and to cry for it, to keep my mouth
from the dangerous taste of other mouths
and push it unfulfilled to fulfill itself with the poisons of food,
in the apotheosis of dinners when the already
swollen belly continues to swell;
to touch unreachable solitude and there
at the foot of a bed, a chair
or the stairs to recite a goodbye,
so that I can expel you from my fantasy
and cover you with ordinary clouds
so that your light will not fade my path,
will not muddle my circle from which
I send you, you unintentional star,
unexpected passage who reminds me of death.
For all this I asked you for a kiss
and you, kind and innocent accomplice, didn’t give it to me.