“Remorse”

Argentinian Poet Jorge Luis Borges

I remember from my early days of Catholic instruction that there was something called in Against the Holy Ghost, which cannot be forgiven. The relevant Biblical text is Mark 3:28-29: “Truly I tell you, all sins and blasphemes will be forgiven for the sons of men. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, but is guilty of an eternal sin.” In our religion class, we all wondered what this sin could be. I never received a definitive answer (which is not unusual).

Here is a poem by Jorge Luis Borges on the subject, entitled “Remorse”:

I have committed the worst of sins
One can commit. I have not been
Happy. Let the glaciers of oblivion
Take and engulf me, mercilessly.
My parents bore me for the risky
And the beautiful game of life,
For earth, water, air and fire.
I failed them, I was not happy.
Their youthful hope for me unfulfilled.
I applied my mind to the symmetric
Arguments of art, its web of trivia.
They willed me bravery. I was not brave.
It never leaves me. Always at my side,
That shadow of a melancholy man.

According o biographer Edwin Williamson, the great love of the poet’s life was the poet Norah Lange, who married another poet Oliverio Girondo. She died in 1972.

Norah Lange

Borges lived with his mother for most of his life in celibate restlessness. He married twice. The first ended in a messy divorce. The second time was to the much younger Maria Kodama a few months before his death.

That Stupid Wall

Will There Be Any Guard Towers Manned by Machine-Gunners?

Last night I was reading author Ursula LeGuin’s blog, and I came upon this poem about Trumpf’s infamous wall written by a poet who is part Mexican Yaqui Indian and part European ancestry.  I am referring to Anita Endrezze. Her poem is called, appropriately, “The Wall.”

The Wall

Build a wall of saguaros,
Butterflies, and bones
of those who perished
in the desert. A wall of worn shoes,
dry water bottles, poinsettias.
Construct it of gilded or crazy house
mirrors so some could see their true faces.
Build a wall of revolving doors
or revolutionary abuelas.
Make it high as the sun, strong as tequila.
Builders of sugar skulls. Adobe or ghosts.
A Lego wall or bubble wrap. A wall of hands
holding hands, hair braided from one woman
to another, one country to another.
A wall made of Berlin. A wall made for tunneling.
A beautiful wall of taco trucks.
A wall of silent stars and migratory songs.
This wall of solar panels and holy light,
panels of compressed Cheetos,
topped not by barbed wire but sprouting
avocado seeds, those Aztec testicles.
A wall to keep Us in and Them out.
It will have faces and heartbeats.
Dreams will be terrorists. The Wall will divide
towns, homes, mountains,
the sky that airplanes fly through,
with their potential illegals.
Our wallets will be on life support
to pay for it. Let it be built
of guacamole so we can have a bigly block party.
Mortar it with xocoatl, chocolate. Build it with coyote howls
and wild horses drumming across the plains of Texas,
from the memories
of hummingbird warriors and healers.
Stack it thick as blood, which has mingled
for centuries, la vida. Dig the foundation deep.
Create a 2,000 mile altar, lit with votive candles
for those who have crossed over
defending freedom under spangled stars
and drape it with rebozos,
and sweet grass.
Make it from two-way windows:
the wind will interrogate us,
the rivers will judge us, for they know how to separate
and divide to become whole.
Pink Floyd will inaugurate it.
Ex-Presidente Fox will give it the middle finger salute.
Wiley Coyote will run headlong into it,
and survive long after history forgets us.
Bees will find sand-scoured holes and fill it
with honey. Heroin will cover it in blood.
But it will be a beautiful wall. A huge wall.
Remember to put a rose-strewn doorway in Nogales
where my grandmother crossed over.
pistols on her hips. Make it a gallery of graffiti art,
a refuge for tumbleweeds,
a border of stories we already know by heart.

Anita Endrezze

I love the heart behind this poem. Maybe it’s not perfect, but it adequately chides the Cheeto-headed mofo for his stupid ideas, none of which he is capable of putting into action as yet. And never, I hope.

 

The Century of Milosz

Polish Poet Csesław Miłosz Was Born 106 Years Ago Today

Was he really a Polish poet, or did he just write in Polish? He regards himself neither as a Polish national, nor a Lithuanian, though he was born in Szetejnie in what is now Lithuania. In the same way, my father was born in what is now the Slovak Republic, though he was most comfortable with Hungarian. And I was born in Cleveland, Ohio. Although I write today in English, my first language was Hungarian—and my deepest feelings all have Magyar correlatives.

Here is a poem from Miłosz entitled “Incantation”:

Human reason is beautiful and invincible.
No bars, no barbed wire, no pulping of books,
No sentence of banishment can prevail against it.
It establishes the universal ideas in language,
And guides our hand so we write Truth and Justice
With capital letters, lie and oppression with small.
It puts what should be above things as they are,
Is an enemy of despair and a friend of hope.
It does not know Jew from Greek or slave from master,
Giving us the estate of the world to manage.
It saves austere and transparent phrases
From the filthy discord of tortured words.
It says that everything is new under the sun,
Opens the congealed fist of the past.
Beautiful and very young are Philo-Sophia
And poetry, her ally in the service of the good.
As late as yesterday Nature celebrated their birth,
The news was brought to the mountains by a unicorn and an echo.
Their friendship will be glorious, their time has no limit.
Their enemies have delivered themselves to destruction.

The poet spent many years in California teaching at Berkeley. I loved what he had to say about the United States: “What splendor! What poverty! What humanity! What inhumanity! What mutual good will! What individual isolation! What loyalty to the ideal! What hypocrisy! What a triumph of conscience! What perversity!”

 

“Sonora Wind”

Wind-Blown Sand Near Keeler, CA

It’s the end of the week, and I feel like a poem. I have this slim Everyman volume entitled Poems of the American West , selected and edited by Robert Mezey. The poem entitled “Sonora Wind,” written by Arizona poet Richard Shelton, also described those horrible Santa Ana winds that sweep through Los Angeles from the vastness of the desert.

Sonora Wind

Nobody can stop this dry wind,
this disaster of a wind. Nobody
can heal it, soothe it, send it on.
It remains. Has it nowhere else
to go? Has it been forbidden
to return to where it came from?

It is driving us mad with the sound
of a wound torn open again
and again. It can bend us down
as it bends the greasewood.
It can desiccate our minds.

It screams at us with the voice
of a raging mute who has no words
to tell his pain. When we begin
to scream in return, it rips
the words from our mouths,
replacing them with sand, the taste
of all the evil ever done to us
by those who died before we could
tell them how much we hated them.

Seen From Above

Poet and Naturalist Loren Eiseley (1907-1977)

It is a well-known fact that there are probably half a dozen writers that you have been urging your friends to read … with no success. My own personal failure in this regard is with the works of Loren Eiseley. Perhaps as a scientist, he is a little too out of date; but the fact that he is also a poet makes everything I have read by him almost numinous. Here, for example, is a poem called “The Condor”:

The Condor

The great bird moves its feathers on the air
like fingers playing on an instrument,
the instrument of wind; it climbs and scarcely moves
while steady thermals push
its giant wings still higher till it soars
beyond my sight completely, though it peers
through strange red eyes
upon my face below.
Its kind is dying from the earth; its wings
create a foolish envy among men.
Its shadow knew the mammoth and he passed,
floated above the sabertooth, now gone,
saw the first spearmen on the bison’s track,
banked sharply, went its way alone.
Its eyes are larger than its searching brain;
the creature sees like a satellite,
but exists within
an ice-world now dead. This bird cannot
understand rifles, multiply its eggs,
one hidden on a cliff face all it has.
Its shadow is now passing from the earth
just as the mammoth’s shadow at high noon.
Something has gone with each of them, the sky
is out of balance with the tipping poles.
No huge, tusked beast is marching with the ice,
no aerial shadow tracks the passing years.
Only below the haze grows deeper still,
only the buildings edge up through the murk.
Planes fly, and sometimes crash, but no black wing will write
the end of man, as man’s end should be written
by all the condor wings beneath high heaven.

I have seen Andean condors in Peru at Colca Canyon. They were rising and falling in the thermals hundreds of feet at a time.

In the Red Labyrinths

Victorian Block in London

Every once in a while, I feel I must return to Jorge Luis Borges, the man who has influenced so many of the paths my life has taken in the last forty years:

Browning Decides To Be a Poet

In these red labyrinths of London
I find that I have chosen
the strangest of all callings,
save that, in its way, any calling is strange.
Like the alchemist
who sought the philosopher’s stone
in quicksilver,
I shall make everyday words—
the gambler’s marked cards, the common coin—
give off the magic that was there
when Thor was both the god and the din,
the thunderclap and the prayer.
In today’s dialect
I shall say, in my fashion, eternal things:
I shall try to be worthy
of the great echo of Byron.
This dust that I am will be invulnerable.
If a woman shares my love
my verse will touch the tenth sphere of the concentric heavens;
if a woman turns my love aside
I will make of my sadness a music,
a full river to resound through time.
I shall live by forgetting myself.
I shall be the face I glimpse and forget,
I shall be Judas who takes on
the divine mission of being a betrayer,
I shall be Caliban in his bog,
I shall be a mercenary who dies
without fear and without faith,
I shall be Polycrates, who looks in awe
upon the seal returned by fate.
I will be the friend who hates me.
The Persian will give me the nightingale, and Rome the sword.
Masks, agonies, resurrections
will weave and unweave my life,
and in time I shall be Robert Browning.

The above photograph by Robert Freidus is from The Victorian Web.

“Nothing Gold Can Stay”

Fall Colors in Wisconsin

Here’s a short poem by Robert Frost about the brilliant gold leaves of a New England autumn. I miss them greatly: I went to college in New Hampshire, and in California there isn’t much brilliant foliage in the fall. The poem is entitled “Nothing Gold Can Stay.”

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.