memory noise

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Memory
Nina Cassian
An overcrowded territory
filled with clash of felines
with violent epidemics —
like an assault and battery of orchestras,
deafening my present tense;
squeaking drawers
holding piles of sorrows, thin stingy files of joys…

I wish
I could exhume myself from this noise.

Photo by Eric Parks on Unsplash

discovered cure

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Cure
Marin Sorescu
When the cure for a disease is discovered
those who have died of the illness
ought to rise again
And go on living
All the rest of their days
Until they fall sick with another disease
whose cure has not yet been discovered.

Photo by Matt Briney on Unsplash

a proofreader’s song

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Knowledge
-Nina Cassian
I’ve stitched my dress with continents,
bound the equator round my waist.
I waltz to a steady rhythm, bending slightly.

I can’t stop my arms
plunging into galaxies,
gloved to elbows in adhesive gold:
I carry on my arms a star’s vaccine.

With such greedy sight
my eyelids flutter in the breeze
like a strange enthusiastic plant.

No one fears me
except Error,
who is everywhere.

Photo by Muneeb Syed on Unsplash

the murmur of confused time

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After all, it’s all in – and given away by – the vowels.

Vowel
Nina Cassian
A clean vowel
in my morning,
Latin pronunciation
in the murmur of confused time.
With rational syllables
I’m trying to clear the occult mind
and promiscuous violence.
My linguistic protest
has no power:
The enemy is illiterate.

Photo by Bogdan Dada on Unsplash

o, my arctic eyelid

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The Tear
-Marin Sorescu
I weep and weep a tear
Which will not fall
No matter how much I weep.

Its pang in me
Is like the birth of an icicle.

Colder and colder, the earth
Curves on my eyelid,
The northern ice-cap keeps rising.

O, my arctic eyelid.

Original

Lacrima
Tot plâng o lacrimă
Care nu vrea să pice,
Oricâtă opintire.

Mă doare
Ca o naştere de ţurţur.

Pământul se răceşte
Pe pleoapa mea,
Creşte calota nordică.

Ah, pleoapa mea nordică.

Home in the dark

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Learn flying blind.

Learn driving blind? (Brings back memories; I guess they are not so far away or long forgotten, as Ride is one of the many bands of the early 90s to come back with new stuff recently. But nothing captures the feeling of hearing this for the first time.)

Evolution
Marin Sorescu (Romania)
It is time to learn from the bats
The between-creatures
Who can home in the dark.

Learn flying blind.
Dispense with the sun.
The future is dark.

Epiglottis

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Banter, repartee and conversation with a linguist distinguishes itself from almost all other exchanges because of its speed – both in terms of the flow and the pace of topic change. Nothing said has a single meaning. Everything has multiple meanings, which makes the exchanges all the richer – things to mull over long after the brisk conversation ends.

Beyond the aphrodisiac of constant metaphor, your wordplay will be enlivened with terms like “velaric fricative” and words like “epiglottis”.

I love this, as someone who dreamt of but abandoned the dream of being a linguist many years ago. I also love how one single word – like epiglottis – sets me off on some entirely different tangent. In this case, right back to my favorite thing: poetry.

So… Romanian poet Nina Cassian. She died in 2014. Did I even know she died? (As a complete digression: When I originally jotted down this question of doubt and walked away, I came back and thought it read, “Did she know she died?” Are we aware when we die that we have died? I start to wonder sometimes about what we see or experience. So many stories I hear about near-death or about being with someone as they shed this mortal coil lead me to think we meet already-passed loved ones in those last moments, in the in-between world between here and hereafter – whatever that hereafter is, even if it is infinite nothingness.)

Nina Cassian – a discovery I made in high school. Poetry that now feels overwrought and overdone, indelicate and “blocky” (I don’t even have a word that adequately conveys what I mean by “blocky” as the dictionary definition of “blocky” isn’t right). I don’t care for Cassian’s style now, but it provided a kind of shock value at the time, which was enough credibility for me. Hers was a voice, despite not being popular or apparently well-liked by most Romanians I have known, from a mysterious but newly open place. Every Cassian reference I made to Romanians was met with a “You should be reading Eminescu”. I did, but it did not fill the need I had at that moment.

Me, I am partial to Marin Sorescu but at the time of finding Cassian, I wanted to find women poets exclusively – not men, and not pre-20th century – from eastern, southern and central Europe. Cassian qualified. She satisfied my need at the time to explore the limited perspectives of life in specific countries through a female’s eyes.

Incidentally, it also contributed to my efforts to supply my brother and his friends with poems that would shock or offend teachers who never wanted to hear words like ‘orgasm’, ‘clitoris’ or, worst of all – ‘cunt’ (see also: Heather McHugh, Marge Piercy). They could not deny the legitimacy of a word like ‘cunt’ when it was wielded by these women writers and often by champions of feminism.

But yes, Cassian. Epiglottis –> Glottis.

Cassian’s work deals frequently with language and the self/identity divided by language or the identity language confers, and it is within these poems that I sensed her greatest strengths. Other works on other themes seemed weaker:

Language
My tongue — forked like snake’s
but without deadly intentions:
just a bilingual hissing.

Or

Vowel
A clean vowel
in my morning,
Latin pronunciation
in the murmur of confused time.
With rational syllables
I’m trying to clear the occult mind
and promiscuous violence.
My linguistic protest
has no power:
The enemy is illiterate.

And finally, the pièce de résistance, the poem that actually came to mind as “epiglottis” flapped its way casually into discussion, “Licentiousness”, which naturally was on the penultimate page I searched (after looking through hundreds of pages of disorganized collected poetry)…

Licentiousness
Letters fall from my words
as teeth might fall from my mouth.
Lisping? Stammering? Mumbling?
Or the last silence?
Please God take pity
On the roof of my mouth,
On my tongue,
On my glottis,
On the clitoris in my throat
vibrating, sensitive, pulsating,
exploding in the orgasm of Romanian.

Learn flying blind: The in-between world of the between creatures

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Being experienced but not an expert is like living in the in-between world forever as a “between creature”. Sure, maybe I am an “expert” compared to some, but not objectively. I think of this a lot when I think about poetry. Going through the whole world’s poetry and really feeling it, feeling that I have a grasp on it, spending more than 20 years immersing myself in it as an amateur aficionado, I have a grasp on it that no layperson would have but will never have the kind of in-depth knowledge to be more than a dabbling dilettante or to become a professional academic/expert in this area. Every field has a technical or depth threshold that I have never had much desire to cross. It is like being a journeyman forever.

Much of life is lived in this “in-between” place. Never fully in one place or another. Never fully done with the past, always looking toward the future – so never fully in the present.

Naturally this too reminds me of a poem.

Evolution
Marin Sorescu (Romania)
It is time to learn from the bats
The between-creatures
Who can home in the dark.

Learn flying blind.
Dispense with the sun.
The future is dark.

In Between DaysThe Cure

Mistaking Sad for Mad: Desperado

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If someone repeats the same kind of non-action annoyance almost every day and knows it is an “apologizable offense” – why is it that they keep repeating it? Habit? Don’t know they are doing it? Don’t recognize how damaging it is?

Disappointment is a funny thing – you can build up hopes for something without even realizing you have created or are relying on expectations. Even when you know better than to expect anything. And it can be for the littlest, funniest stuff. The hurt one feels after any of these slights/disappointments is often misinterpreted as anger. But anger and hurt are different aspects of the same kind of emotion.

Life (and the interactions I have in it) seems to be on an unending loop of “all talk, no action” incursions. “The enemy is illiterate.”

Vowel
Nina Cassian (Romania)

A clean vowel
in my morning
Latin pronunciation
in the murmur of confused time.
With rational syllables
I’m trying to clear the occult mind
and promiscuous violence.
My linguistic protest
has no power.
The enemy is illiterate.

There come moments when poetry has all the perfect lines to describe what I feel.

My annoyance at someone deciding that playing The Eagles at a housewarming party is welcoming and relaxing is at an all-time high. “Desperado” – Don Henley – kiss my ass. I never had such vitriolic hatred for The Eagles in my early life, but sometime in junior high, spending weekends with my then-best friend Terra, we wanted MTV to show things we actually liked, but the channel tended to repeat Don Henley Unplugged – a lot. It seemed every time we turned on the TV, we turned it on right when there was a close-up of Henley’s aged face, singing with his eyes closed, straining to release his solo version of “Desperado” – much to our teenage dismay.

As if I needed more reasons and reminders as to why I steer clear of parties.

Don’t make promises you can’t keep, people.

“You’re a hard one, but I know that you got your reasons/these things that are pleasin’ you, can hurt you somehow.”