Monday, August 13, 2007

MARTIN GUERRE

The eight sections that follow represent the full text of a dramatic poem I have written on the subject of Martin Guerre, a 16th century Provencal farmer who, cursed by impotence, spent some unhappy years with his wife, finally managed to father a child by her, then left before the child was even born.

Years later he came back, but, although he knew every detail of his former life, he was taller, his feet were smaller, and, inexplicably, he began to play the devoted husband, father, and farmer. However, he also demanded of his father-in-law back-money from the harvests reaped in his stead. This "affront," combined with some other inconsistencies led him to charge "Martin" with fraud.

The trial dragged on and the judges were on the very brink of allowing "Martin" to keep his family (French civil law was based on Roman civil law, in which it was preached that whatever "Justice" there may be, it must preserve the family in question as much as possible) when Martin Guerre, or so he claimed to be, hobbled into the court room. He had lost one leg in combat, but the remaining one was enough to resolve the inconsistency of the cobbler. But: he did not know as much about "himself" as the other Martin. Still, it was the "other" Martin who proved the impostor when Bertrande finally testified against him.

Remember, this is a draft being published in blog-form, yes, for the general delectation, but also to invite criticism.

It should go without saying but will not that the parts of the poem that do not deal directly with the story brought out a relevent aspect of human nature I felt needed emphasizing. There is no rhyme or reason to their selection otherwise.

A word about footnotes that appear in THE ARGUMENT, ALMA MAHLER REVISED BY ARCHY, and ARTE POETICA BY VICENTE HUIDOBRO: each of these contains a line or more for which I cannot accept credit. The first line of the poem comes from an email I received in the course of a long-distance conversation with my high school chorus and music theory teacher; the passages quoted by archy come from a book of lieder by Alma Mahler I found in the music library of Columbia University (the precise details escape me) and the poem by Vicente Huidobro comes from an anthology of his poems I found in Butler library, quite by accident.

I: The Argument

"It's one of the great stories, and yet – true... how is that possible?"i

II: ARNAUD DU TILH

You didn't know, Dog-God, Feaster on Hearts
That when she took you in and fed you
Secrets, details of a marriage replaced
That he would come—whose name you wore, assured,
But ultimately like a ticket, a
Marked wrist—that he would come back, not for you,
Not for her either, but for himself: shame.
(Her hair unbound for you, white shoulders—yours)
Would you still have borrowed those years, knowing
Dimly always you would repay them
and more: collar - woollen - in summer - turned
To hemp? Your too-small feet, once firm, would dance
On air? Your wife—his wife—whom you loved or
Said you loved would, like a doe before a
truck, look just below his eyes, tears too late?
(Her hair unbound for you, white shoulders—yours)
Could you have breathed the same sigh back in?
No—you returned, palindrome that you are,
To the soft pallette of her memory
To achieve at last your pretense, your ruse
The one that would have worked, but he came back—
At the trial, no less—his suit almost yours
Like a doe staring down a truck, tears too late
(Her hair unbound for you, white shoulders—yours)
You didn't know, dog-god, feaster on hearts?
Who were you the last moment? Lover? Knave?
Were your thoughts on the money—back harvests
Tilled by an uncle in his nephew's stead—
The quest for which aroused his suspicion?
Or the way, feathery, her glance dropped with
Her loosed hair as you blew out the candle?

When he marched, hobble-hopped into the courthouse
Did you cry: "O all has come undone now!"
Or did you shrug and say "It was nice
“While it lasted" or did you say: "I know
“Those years should never have been mine to
“Remember
“But

“Her hair unbound” for you, white shoulders—yours
You didn't know, dog-god, feaster on hearts.

III: SER CEPERELLO

The ever patient - Doctor - Bocaccio's
First head-case, the first modern Catch-22
Performed the miracle of sainting a poor
Old sinner, long – far - away from the Lord's Path
And so was beatified, beautified.
Himself the rogue! A self-hymn he sang – him:
Eternal ember lit from one grown dim!
White collar crime of another bent
O Dog-god, feaster on hearts: content?

IV: BERTRANDE DE ROLS

When you married me: slight rejoicing I
When you tried me in vain: slight despairing I
When you were quit of me: slight rejoicing I
When your child was born to me: I rejoiced.
.
When you were then replaced, I rejoiced the slight
When his child was born to me I rejoiced.
When he was hanged I slight grieved. Much more - than expected.
You returned, I felt, incomplete – unchanged,
Otherwise.
Your ballad without a hero
A matrimony, less its groom
Nor did I play my part with such honor
This farmer's daughter's dower - was some lots
But her lot was not to best its lure.
O,
I am the wind that blows nor fare nor fowl
The river cannot choose which boat to bear
I have perfumed my bed with myrrh and aloe:
My hair unbound for you. Either—of you.
White shoulders - now squared - now bent: ours.

V COLON ALMA MAHLER REVISITED BY ARCHY

BOSS I DON'T KNOW HOW TO DEAL WITH THESE COMPUTERS THE CAPS
LOCK IS DOWN AND I CAN'T SEE WHERE IT IS BECAUSE THE KEYBOARD IS
NOT ON A SLANT BUT I DISCOVERED THIS ARTICLE I THINK YOU MIGHT
FIND INTERESTING COLON
'…SHORTLY AFTER THEIR ENGAGEMENT MAHLER EMBARKED ON A
CONCERT TOUR DURING WHICH HE WROTE A SUCCESSION OF
GRANDILOQUENTLY TENDER LETTERS. ALMA MAHLER PUBLISHED ALL
OF THEM--WITH THE EXCEPTION OF THE FATEFUL LETTER WRITTEN ON
DECEMBER 20TH 1902 IN DRESDEN. IN THIS LENGTHY AND EXTREMELY
EARNEST MISSIVE MAHLER EXPLAINED TO ALMA THAT, IF SHE WISHED
TO BE HIS COMPANION, SHE WOULD HAVE TO FORGO HER CREATIVE
AMBITIONS…ALMA GAVE WAY AND MADE THE PLEDGE WHICH MAHLER
WAS ASKING OF HER…FOR EIGHT-AND-A-HALF YEARS MAHLER'S WIFE
REGARDED HIS MUSIC AS HER OWN, SHARED HIS SUCCESSES AND
FAILURES, EVEN ON OCCASIONS COPIED HIS MUSIC FOR HIM. IN THE
SUMMER OF 1910 THE SMOULDERING MARITAL CRISIS BROKE OUT INTO
THE OPEN AND MAHLER WAS CONFRONTED WITH THE POSSIBILITY THAT
HE COULD LOSE THE WOMAN HE LOVED. ONE DAY IN TOBLACH ALMA
RETURNED HOME FROM A WALK TO HEAR HER HUSBAND PLAYING AND
SINGING HER LIEDER. YEARS LATER SHE WAS TO WRITE 'THE COFFIN
CONTAINING THESE CREATURES WAS A FOLDER WHICH I TOOK WITH ME
TO OUR SUMMER RESORT EVERY SPRING AND BROUGHT BACK TO
VIENNA EVERY AUTUMN. I HAD NEVER REALLY COME TO TERMS WITH
THE SITUATION…' ENDNOTE

there it is
the caps lock
i mean
i don't know what
to make of
this boss
i don't think i deserve
credit
for what they
wrote

VI: VINCENTE HUIDOBRO ARTE POETICA

A new translationiii

Que el verso sea como una llave
Que abra mil puertas
Una oja cae; algo pasa volando;
Cuanto miren los ojos creado sea,
Y el alma del oyente quede temblando.
Inventa mundos nuevos y cuida tu palabra
El adjetivo cuando no da vida, mata.
Estamos en el ciclo de los nervios.
El músculo cuelga,
Como recuerdo, en los museos;
Mas no por eso tenemos menos fuerza:
El vigor verdadero
Reside en la cabeza.
Por qué cantáis la rosa, ¡oh Poetas!
Hacedla florecer en el poema;
Sólo para nosotros
Viven todas las cosas baja el Sol
El poeta es un pequeño Dios.

Let verse be like a key
Let it open many doors
A page falls; something flies past;
What the eyes shall see shall be created,
And the soul of the listener waits trembling.
Invent new worlds and guard your word;
The adjective, when it gives no life, kills.
We are in the cycle of nerves.
The muscle hangs,
Like a memory, in the museums;
But not for this have we less strength:
True vigor
Resides in the head.
Why do you sing the rose, ¡oh Poetas!
Make it flower in the poem
Only for us
Live all things under the sun
The poet is a little god.

VII: AGRICULTURE

The water rushes down the river and floods the fields, then sinks into the ground.
It comes down from the sky and then sinks into the ground.
It comes up in buckets and in the pulp of fruit and is consumed; it comes down in sweat, tears, shit, and all the rest. It is impossible to understand, but impossible not to try to understand.
Water is not itself a symbol, but can admit symbols in colloidal suspension. As in all things, the majesty of heaven manifests itself in the smallest of details—as well as the largest. It is seductively epicurean—and foolish—to worship the details.

VIII: MARTIN

Heard from far, and returned – in part –
One's reasons one's own.
One - remaining - foot (the peg a keepsake)
Just enough to claim the birthright—said
The man who made that boot so long ago.
It was he felt the lack—not Bertrande
Not her children, raised by another sneak;
The shoe fit, and yet—the pants had to be
Shortened in one leg.
It's a bit ridiculous when you think about it. Best not to

When one is gone long,
The people one returns to – grow - away.
They were married to an improved notion of you
You didn't know, dog-god, feaster on hearts?
The flavor doesn't tarry in the veins.
One must be quick, and eat the heart while yet
The humor - is in it;
Nor that nature abhors the vacuum.
Don't worry child.
Don't worry, little god, waster of hearts.
You couldn't have known:
it is exactly
(as we with hindsight start to comprehend)
Like the relativity of time
One experiences looking at stars.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Prospectus 1

Q: Would you give up your poetry, your free expression to live in a society in which everyone had enough to eat?

A: Of course. Without a second though. But generally speaking, a society will require that one give up one's poetry and wait and see if the society is as perfect if it advertises. "Can I have my poetry back," the artist politely asks when it becomes clear that the society has fallen short. "no," the society will reply, somewhat less politely.

Q: So "No" would be your answer?

A: I wish the answer were "yes" in a way I don't wish I were tantalized by the frequent emails offering millions in Nigerian booty.

How a Humble Shop Actually Sold Humility--For a Price

When my friend suggested to me that we go to a thrift shop on 79th st. to buy a birthday present for his girlfriend, my first thought was: "wouldn't she want something new?" Having the though embarassed me many times over. I myself, 6 months previous, at a flea-market, had bought 2 sweaters and a tee-shirt--the kind with buttons and a collar--each for two dollars and fifty cents. I wore them each at least once a week, and neither sweater had seen a washing-machine in that time.
So we went downtown by subway, got there, went in, walked past the tacky little candlestick-holders and the CDs and the cash-register and the coats that looked like they'd been donated by call-girls; he started paging through the skirts and I through the phonograph records. I've always loved things other people have no use for any longer. So I picked out six records and three of them had bad defects. He found me a movie we'd like and a copy of a book he'd read.
I wondered how I'd react to a present bought second hand. I decided I'd love it, which made me feel even cheaper for having misgivings still.

It took me a while to coax him towards the cash register. He had wanted a short outing, and I was trying to hold im to it, for the reasons he gave and also so as not any longer to have these nagging little paradoxes growing in the part of the stomach that for some reason registers such feelings. I wondered why the stomach is the organ of misgiving.

I had accrued three perfect dusty records, a book, a movie, and a shirt no self-respecting mammal would wear.
On the way to the register I passed a guy standing by the skirt section, asking the clerk: "can you tell me where the skirt section is? I wanna buy a skirt for my girlfriend." He was standing by the skirt section. He looked like a white-stubbled yellow raisin, and had food or--something--clotted thick in the corners of his mouth. He was standing by the skirt section. I hastened to the cash register.

We stood ready to pay, and my friend's tab was ten dollars more than he had expected. "I don't have enough money for this. I thought it was ten dollars."
"Twenty," Said the cashier. "It's leather, see?"
"I thought it was ten. I can't buy this. I don't think she'd like it anyway. No I don't wanna be a bad boyfriend. But I think she wouldn't like this. What do you think?"
He indicated me; I said: "I think she'd like it." I know. Stupid.
"But I think she'd like this one more, and I can't buy both."
"Ok. Put one back."
"But then I'll find her something else." Then, to the cashier: "Do you think I'm a bad person? Seriously."
We moved away from the cash-register, he, holding his bag of purchases, I, mine, my coat, my knapsack, jealously concealing a laptop and 2 newspapers--one Times, one Onion.
As we passed, a woman asked for the price of one of the call-girl coats. Two-hundred dollars. Two-hundred dollars! I walked faster to nowhere: antsy and soon to be bored or frustrated.

I crossed the floor to him. He was looking at sweaters, asking and answering the same question: "Would she like this? Would she like this? Would she like this?"
"Yes," I answered each time.
"How do you please the girl who's pleased by everything?"
"I dunno."
"I think she'd like this...no she likes muted colors."
A sweater brighter than any other in the store was already sitting on his bag.
"Just get that." I gestured at a skirt.
"I want her to like it."
"She will. She likes everything."
"No I mean I want her to really like it."
It clearly frustrated him that love and an unparalleled good nature mad her standards so apparently low. For anything bought with love, she would have no other standard. So we bought a sweater and a skirt (after a detour to the scarf "section"--there was one scarf) and left.

two heads of a three-headed dog

i
cannot
tell the difference between
eschatology and escapology
except
the wrong one contains
apology








i...i--
feel it burn
the thing i don't..?won't..? can't...?
bring myself to tell her though
the
heavens move and the
earth
and she or i will
judge me

by fire

See for Yourself

A didactical poet
Never makes himself
Half so clear as
An auto-didact
Who
Like Frankenstein
Or Moses

Struggles
With
You

To comprehend
"his"
"gift"

Depression: An Odor

it is her igneous smile that
ash tears
and fallenberry redness
cut to cusps
as she with cupped hands
stands not
to greet them,

strands of her falling everywhair.

inaugural test-post

I don't hate white people, but sometimes I wish I did.
My Zimbio
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