He Speaks of Her Accommodations
What I have sought, passage outward
into the garden, where, terror surrendered,
the soul reverts in a shower of seed
–this she presents, dreaming
salvations, appearances, answering
at cave’s mouth, tower window,
vocations of hammer, stylus, string,
and shows, in every pose, her happy accident:
trou: trouvaille, the lucky hole-in-One.
Rushing around these days preparing for an intense next (at least) six months, I feel a sense of premature loss. I know that I will be unable to continue reading as much or at the furious pace I have maintained for the last (almost) two years. This may, in fact, even be the last of these recap posts that I put together for a while because I simply doubt that I will have the time, nor will I have read enough to make these recaps worthwhile. This is not to say that they have been worthwhile in a wider sense (as in, useful to anyone but me). Indulgence at its finest. And now, I shall not have time to indulge in quite this way.
Knowing that this moment of bittersweet “parting” from leisurely, if voracious and greedy, reading was coming to an end, I spent most of August trying to work my way through things I’d begun reading and hadn’t finished, and through the list of books I’d already purchased but hadn’t seen fit to dive into yet. As of August 20, when I started drafting this, I had read 32 books, which is a good bit more ambitious than July’s 23 books. I hope to finish at least 10 more before the month ends (done). I don’t necessarily place stock in keeping a running tally on this, and it is not about quantity, as I keep having to explain to people. It’s just so satisfying to keep devouring such different writings from all over the world. Just this month, to note the diversity, I swung from Novica Tadić‘s spare poetry to Ousmane Sembène‘s Xala, both loved, from the complete Martha Quest/Children of Violence series by Doris Lessing (which I mostly disliked, wanting to kill Quest by the end, but nevertheless persevered) to non-fiction about hormones…
I don’t really know how much or what kinds of things I will find time to read, as I will be up to my eyeballs in formal study. That said, I am still the kind of weirdo who gets distracted looking for one thing – a poem I thought was written by Irving Feldman but was actually written by Michael Ryan that references semen – only to stumble on a good many clinical studies on semen quality, and I was drawn to/nearly obsessed with reading all those studies and their outcomes. And why? Who knows? Why was I so obsessed with teeth last year (and still)?
How difficult will it be to feel as though I am (if temporarily) giving this up?
Thoughts on reading for August:
I don’t have words for this, for William Stafford. Unrivaled beauty, poetry… the only book I read in August to which I gave a five-star (of five) rating – without reservation.
Laux’s poetry often sets me on fire. I have to read the work again and again, and find my throat has gone dry.
Good – really good
While I didn’t love White is for Witching, it – like Boy, Snow, Bird (which I loved last month) – delivered unusual characters that kept me in the story and unable to stop until the end. I think that’s what I enjoy about Oyeyemi – characters and character development.
“White is for witching, a colour to be worn so that all other colours can enter you, so that you may use them. At a pinch, cream will do.”
It was one of those nights when I found myself revisiting the poetry of Tomaž Šalamun – probably my favorite poet from Slovenia – when I was reminded of Andrej Blatnik. For me, these are the true exports of Slovenia – not a certain “be best” First Lady.
I was charmed by Blatnik’s ability to write a complete short story in often only a few words. Not perfect but quite arresting in its way.
Entertaining/informative/thoughtful or some combination thereof
Poetry – poetry – poetry. Usually the poetry I read makes it into the “highly recommended” (must not miss) category, but this month I read a lot of solid poetry that is nevertheless nothing I want to revisit and don’t necessarily think anyone else needs to either. But poetry is very personal, if you like it at all, so it’s not really for me to say.
I don’t think I ran into any coincidences this month… at least none worth noting.
Biggest disappointment (or hated/disliked)
*The entire Children of Violence series – Doris Lessing
It probably isn’t so much disappointment because I had no expectations, but by the time I finished reading Doris Lessing’s Children of Violence series, I wanted to kill Martha Quest and all the other characters populating these books. Still, I could not quite not finish… I also cannot say what it is about them/this series that I hate so much. Not that there are not flashes of what the Nobel committee must have seen when they gave Lessing her Nobel for lit – although who can trust that institution these days? Some timely and timeless observations:
“He went so far, carried away by the official in him, as to make various sound remarks about the unsuitability of danger for women. She thought he must be joking; nothing is more astonishing to young women than the ease with which men, even intelligent and liberal-minded men, lapse back into that anonymous voice of authority whenever their own personal authority is threatened, saying things of a banality and a pomposity infinitely removed from their own level of thinking.” – from A Proper Marriage
(Written toward the end of the Vietnam War.)
No longer troubling to charm, curt,
without cadence, they bark their lies,
impatient of our credulity,
like teachers who repeat the lesson
for idiots stuck on the first page.
They pity themselves, complain
our stupidity forces them to lie,
and say, Why can’t we do as we please?
Their guile, complaints, their greediness.
Capable of nurture only, we
are like mothers, we nourish them,
believe what they say and repeat it
for one another, knowing the while
credulity isn’t enough
and something not easy is required,
a pretense of intelligence,
a sacrifice, a faith they could believe
worthy of their treachery, worth
betraying. It is adversaries they crave,
and what lies we think we hear are
higher truths we have overheard.
the children sitting in a ring, we take up
the papers, speak aloud the pathos
and mystery of our leaders’ lives.
Alone, in dark chambers, in ordinary-
seeming chairs, at the innermost recession
of a thousand thoughts, they reach decisions,
while wives bring warmth and grace and wit
(we venerate their warmth and grace and wit)
when they are tired or under the weather,
servants trot softly in the hallways
with urgent whispers, vehement faces,
and only with the utmost diffidence
their dogs roll over — lips in rictus,
eyes alert, little paws held up like sticks
— begging to have their bellies scratched.
To know this is a constant pleasure!
Then, to move our coarse fingers along the lines,
over the inscrutable words, to murmur their names,
to feel ourselves becoming more human,
to draw close about the fire!
At such moments,
overcome by shame for our clamorous natures,
we look down, our eyes seek out the children,
we see their small heads, unimaginably
like ours, bent above the pages, the furious
concentration that grips their innocent,
unblemished faces, their minds that leap ahead
to seize the ending before the tale is done.
This generation, we say to ourselves,
They will be different, They will be better!
Powerfully, they bend our eyebeams to themselves
— we see, we feel them bending within
our unbreakable domestic circle.
This is awesome, this is more than sweet.
And what would life be without affection!
— it is our solace, our achievement,
it is the language we speak.
It says that everything is true.
And truly, as we disbelieve less, the world
becomes miraculous beyond believing,
though less a place requiring us, less, at last,
The thought of our nonentity,
the world without us, this large bare ball
flying empty into the empty day,
is stunning, takes our breath, like something
intimate and alien, like a knife
in the lungs.
Our leaders chide us,
for sentimental, for living in others,
but can they guess our helplessness?
We break another stick from the ramparts
and thrust it on the fire set blazing
by all the power of our affection
— and another necessary lie comes
quiet from the matterless night, settles
panting beside us, warms a bloody muzzle
between paws, snuggles down toward sleep.
So everything ends, like this, near a fire
in silence and wonder, our fingers idly
soothing a murderer’s nape, and somewhere
out there, a last bitter scream doesn’t stop.
They don’t bother stifling it,
even with a lie.
My family tree is mist and darkness.
Century after century,
one lay upon the other begetting me.
Then my millennium in marshes
and wandering obscurity
revealed my heritage:
monster, I lack immortality,
my race is superfluous on earth.
The last, the final generation
–after me no other, or someone else —
I lay down on top of death.
We keep our appointments with fate,
even if fate does not;
though no one came to kill me, I died.
I the ghost that begot.
My tree is night and fog.
Strange to be remembering how
—was it twenty-odd years ago?—
you drew back from one of our kisses,
your head turning half away so that
I saw in our bedroom’s half light
your lovely profile and eye staring
out toward and into a passing thought.
Then all of half your mouth to mine again
with overwhelmed gentleness.
We both were overwhelmed and pulled under.
Strange suddenly to remember this
after so many, many kisses,
after such years of rupturing.
Caught in our archaic caresses
(you know, that same old, old thing):
a space of five seconds of fresh time,
when nothing was happening
and nothing was happening yet.
And I now its voluptuary.
Not the god, though it might have been,
savoring some notion of me
and exciting the cloud where he was hidden
with impetuous thunder
strokes of summoning
it was merely you who recognized me,
speaking my name in such a tone
I knew you had been thinking it
a long, long time, and now revealed yourself
in this way. Because of this, suddenly
who I was was precious to me.
To move forward with the world, to be
in time with time … is innocence.
For a thousand miles the wave keeps pace,
strokes smoothly on in phase with force,
at one with the festive crowd
and one of its joyous more and more;
it buoys itself and drives ahead,
renews in the trough the power it
expends at the crest, shape it then
surpasses and leaves to lapse behind.
I love my innocence, it chants,
see my transparence, I have nothing to hide,
therefore, I cannot ever die;
my existence is benign, the air
I breathe is borrowed from no one;
the drowning see my breath, and smile
— except the evil, whose badness starves them,
monsters, they merit their bulging eyes.
I bask and sing, am smooth and shine.
The figure in the wave, kneeling, half dazed,
half drowned, battering its head on the ground,
lifted and pushed forward inches, chokes
and blusters into the water running down…
Out of time, sea-sick, sucking
the slack scum between wave and wave, here
is when you discover in the reflux
the theme of age: the falsity of innocence
— your every breath an act of power,
you live to injure, survive by murder;
while you were lethal, you were innocent;
floundering in the raging slop,
powerless now, you grasp the fact of power.
Your lung half bitter broth, you blurt:
Existence is my enemy, my life
attacks me; my past, maimed and vengeful,
returns in a wave, is heaving inside me;
my retching rises to possess me — the dead,
large with my past power, overpower me.
Grievance is death usurping my throat,
is death already speaking out as me.
— And you struggle to spit it all out,
you struggle not to go under, struggle
to assent to indeed go under as
an equal who negotiates with death.