Borges, Invocation to Joyce

PA200035

An incredible poem by Jorge Luis Borges.   I had the last few lines committed to memory after reading this in a threadbare collection his work at the Chester Country library, over a decade ago.  But I could not remember the title, and spent years leafing through volumes of Borges  with no luck.  Now, (for better or worse) everything seems retrievable in a google search.  And, here it is:

 

Invocation to Joyce
Jorge Luis Borges

Scattered over scattered cities,
alone and many
we played at being that Adam
who gave names to all living things.
Down the long slopes of night
that border on the dawn,
we sought (I still remember) words
for the moon, for death, for the morning,
and for man’s other habits.
We were imagism, cubism,
the conventicles and sects
respected now by credulous universities.
We invented the omission of punctuation
and capital letters,
stanzas in the shape of a dove
from the libraries of Alexandria.
Ashes, the labor of our hands,
and a burning fire our faith.
You, all the while,
in cities of exile,
in that exile that was
your detested and chosen instrument,
the weapon of your craft,
erected your pathless labyrinths,
infinitesmal and infinite,
wondrously paltry,
more populous than history.
We shall die without sighting
the twofold beast or the rose
that are the center of your maze,
but memory holds the talismans,
its echoes of Virgil,
and so in the streets of night
your splendid hells survive,
so many of your cadences and metaphors,
the treasures of your darkness.
What does our cowardice matter if on this earth
there is one brave man,
what does sadness matter if in time past
somebody thought himself happy,
what does my lost generation matter,
that dim mirror,
if your books justify us?
I am the others. I am those
who have been rescued by your pains and care.
I am those unknown to you and saved by you.

Translated by Norman Thomas di Giovanni

Advertisements

Goodbye to All That

PA220013

We read Joan Didion’s Goodbye to All That tonight.  Each semester – for the past six – I’ve had my students discuss Didion’s 1967 piece about her migration from the West Coast to New York City, which begins in love and ends in disillusionment.  And each time I encounter the same thing – one student admits that they hate this essay, then another and another.  Sure, they acknowledge that the author can turn a phrase, but her realization is, in their words, “ just too depressing.”

I usually start the semester with the personal essays, but this time I began with fiction, which shifts my syllabus; I have always taught Didion in the beginning – in late August or early February.  She has never fallen in mid-October.  And, it’s a funny thing how this makes a difference.   How in the sticky heat or chilling winter, I relate to her work more, (I admire the essay in any season) but feel I understand her most in those extremes.

Now, with so many pumpkins and leaves covering the steps of brownstones, Neil Young playing in the coffee shop where I drink my lavender tea, nights I can still go without a jacket, and days when a few blocks to the botanic garden reveals this view, well – I agree with my students –  October may be too optimistic a month to say goodbye to anything.PA200023

What gets me the most, though, is that decades after her published goodbye, Didion returned to New York, to the Upper East side, just a few blocks from where my basement classroom meets on 68th and Lexington.  Something so human and honest about that postscript.

Where have all the performers gone?

Jahstix

Jahstix

After being stalled at 68th and Lexington on the 6 for a solid ten minutes last night, I was running through Union Square to make my Q train transfer when I recognized the bouncy chords of Bob Marley’s Stir it Up in the distance and I couldn’t help it – even running late with a heavy bag of books on each shoulder, knowing I’d exit Brooklyn in the rain, hoping to find a bakery still open in time to grab a piece of birthday cake for Dan – I could not help but stop and smile.  It was Jahstix, with one of my all time favorite subways performances.  I stayed long enough for the Tide is High riff, the conclusion of the Marley, and to buy his 5 dollar cd.

It’s been three years since I’ve seen Jahstix perform in this same place.
I used to know just where to go to hear Edelweis on a plastic recorder at any time of day or night (34th Street) or full-body-bucket-drums (Canal street). There was a moment when dirt stained puppets dancing to Styx’s Come Sail Away in Times Square became filled with such intimacy and loneliness, that I had to look away.  (Does anyone else remember those sad swaying dolls?)

But I haven’t seen any of these guys in ages.  Like old roommates and colleagues from first jobs, they’ve disappeared somewhere into this cityscape.  And, then, occasionally, re-emerge so delightfully.

So, here he is.  Go on and take that youtube break:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eARgffZGtsE

Brooklyn Backyards

3 buildingsPG

table

Brooklyn Backyards make me both grateful and greedy.  I’ve never lived on the garden level, but have discovered these outdoor sections of my now favorite restaurants and bars — the fire escapes and flowers something to behold against so many shades of brick and paint.  And now Dan’s brother has a yard nearby replete with barbeque, ivy and statue of an unknown saint.

statueivy

And, still, my eighth Autumn in Brooklyn, I have thoughts of Fall in Birchrunville, PA, where I spent my teens and visits home during my twenties, and wonder why there is so much concrete in the places where green should be.  Riding in the attachable wagon of my dad’s mini John Deere, with a branch cutter – we were building a Sukkah – something we didn’t do as kids, but started as adults – and my job was to reach towards the falling limbs of the tall pines.  The tree sap and needles, a scent I could never quite wash off my skin, and never wanted to.

A few years back, I took a tincture tonic called “Honeysuckle” for those who were prone towards “excessive homesickness or nostalgia”  (It is a real elixir that you can purchase from the same folks who make “Rescue Remedy”) And this October seems like a dangerous month to be off the stuff, with all the crab apples for sale at the farmers market, and spices just beginning to brim off of hot drinks.  Even that preview for Spike Jones’ “Where the Wild Things Are” was somehow arresting in it’s evocation of the pure magic I had associated with that book from my youth.

I am no longer five, or even twenty-five.  My husband will be 33 this week.  A lucky number, I think.  And it is not just wistfulness, but wonder that wakes me.

fire escape

Red Hook Fairway, My Love.

entrance

Inside the labyrinth Red Hook Fairway two doors by the deli lead to an outside area.  This is the view.

view

view barge

Even in the aisles, everything was so beautiful, I snapped some pictures.  One worker explained that some managers don’t usually allow photography inside — as competitors try to get a leg up on the prices — but I explained that I’m a poet, and am not competitive at anything, which seemed to satisfy him, and he let me capture these shots.

coffee

ask dan

Farewell, Fairway – until soon.

building facade

Coney Island

alana and em coney island

I went to Coney Island this afternoon  for the first time in three years.  I seem to get there once every few years, despite my best intentions, and my natural call towards the water.  I wish it hadn’t taken me so long, especially with all that’s at stake with development plans.   Above is a photo from the good ol’ days my first winter in New York with my friend, Emily, circa 2002, and below a poem inspired by my last visit in 2006.

Coney Island bench, 28th Birthday

for Paul Newman

Free to watch the fisherman fish.

Steeplechase Park is now called Keyspan Park,
Doesn’t sound as appealing, but they’re the ones who light the stadium,
so the change was inevitable

if art is the act of imagining the forever stilled parachute
drop, the unlit stadium lit.

This place used to be – hear it on the old man’s lips
sitting on the adjacent bench to right.  On the bench to the left
a man grows frustrated giving directions,  “No Tremont,
you know, where Paul Newman played the cop in Fort Apache the Bronx.”
Poor man is lost, has never seen the movie, and unless the actor is standing
by the intersection (25 years later) in a police uniform, the example is useless—

And all the things this poet doesn’t bother to write about (horizon, sparklers of light cracking upon the water, gulls, clear sky) of course, they’re all here too.