I often dreamed of watching without being seen. Of spying. Of being the perfect observer. Like that camera obscura I once made out of a shoebox. It photographed for me a part of the world through a black closed space with a microscopic pupil through which light sneaks inside. I was training.
The best place for this kind of training is Holland where people, convinced of their utter innocence, do not use curtains. After dusk the windows turn into little stages on which actors act out their evenings. Sequences of images bathed in yellow, warm light are the individual acts of the same production entitled ‘Life’. Dutch painting. Moving lives.
Here at the door appears a man, in his hand he has a tray, he puts it on the table; two children and a woman sit down around it. They take their time eating, in silence, because the audio in this theatre doesn’t work. Then they move to the couch, watch a glowing screen attentively, but for me, standing on the street, it isn’t clear what has absorbed them so – I only see flickers, flutterings of light, tiny pictures, too brief and distant to be intelligible.
Someone’s face, a mouth moving intensely, a landscape, another face... Some say that this is a boring play and that nothing happens in it. But I like it – for example the movement of a foot playing unconsciously with a slipper, or the whole astonishing act of yawning. Or a hand that seeks upon a plush surface a remote control and – having found it – is calmed, withers.
Standing off to one side. Seeing only the world in fragments, there won’t be any other one. Moments, crumbs, fleeting configurations – no sooner have they come into existence than they fall to pieces. Life? There’s no such thing; I see lines, planes and bodies, and their transformations in time. Time, meanwhile, seems a simple instrument for the measurement of tiny changes, a school ruler with a simplified scale – it’s just three points: was, is and will be.
From Flights by Olga Tokarczuk
Marriage is not
a house or even a tent
it is before that, and colder:
the edge of the forest, the edge
of the desert
the unpainted stairs
at the back where we squat
outside, eating popcorn
the edge of the receding glacier
where painfully and with wonder
at having survived even
we are learning to make fire
I don’t love you as if you were a rose of salt, topaz,
or arrow of carnations that propagate fire:
I love you as one loves certain obscure things,
secretly, between the shadow and the soul.
I love you as the plant that doesn’t bloom but carries
the light of those flowers, hidden, within itself,
and thanks to your love the tight aroma that arose
from the earth lives dimly in my body.
I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where,
I love you directly without problems or pride:
I love you like this because I don’t know any other way to love,
except in this form in which I am not nor are you,
so close that your hand upon my chest is mine,
so close that your eyes close with my dreams.
Yes, of course it hurts when buds are breaking.
Why else would the springtime falter?
Why would all our ardent longing bind itself in frozen, bitter pallor?
After all, the bud was covered all the winter.
What new thing is it that bursts and wears?
Yes, of course it hurts when buds are breaking, hurts for that which grows
and that which bars.
Yes, it is hard when drops are falling.
Trembling with fear, and heavy hanging,
cleaving to the twig, and swelling, sliding -
weight draws them down, though they go on clinging.
Hard to be uncertain, afraid and divided,
hard to feel the depths attract and call,
yet sit fast and merely tremble -
hard to want to stay
and want to fall.
Then, when things are worst and nothing helps
the tree's buds break as in rejoicing,
then, when no fear holds back any longer,
down in glitter go the twig's drops plunging,
forget that they were frightened by the new,
forget their fear before the flight unfurled -
feel for a second their greatest safety,
rest in that trust
that creates the world.
- Karin Boye
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
"That space. It begins in the middle of my forehead and ends in the middle of my groin. It is, variously, as wide as my body, as narrow as a slit in a fortress wall. On days when thought flows freely or better yet clarifies with effort, it expands gloriously. On days when anxiety and self-pity crowd in, it shrinks, how fast it shrinks! When the space is wide and I occupy it fully, I taste air, feel the light. I breathe evenly and slowly. I am peaceful and excited, beyond influence or threat. Nothing can touch me. I'm safe. I'm free. I'm thinking. When I lose the battle to think, the boundaries narrow, the air is polluted, the light clouds over. All is vapor and fog, and I have trouble breathing.
Today is promising, tremendously promising. Wherever I go, whatever I see, whatever my eye or ear touches, the space radiates expansion. I want to think. No, I mean today I really want to think. The desire announced itself with the word 'concentration."
- Vivian Gornick
Especially when the October wind
With frosty fingers punishes my hair,
Caught by the crabbing sun I walk on fire
And cast a shadow crab upon the land,
By the sea's side, hearing the noise of birds,
Hearing the raven cough in winter sticks,
My busy heart who shudders as she talks
Sheds the syllabic blood and drains her words.
Shut, too, in a tower of words, I mark
On the horizon walking like the trees
The wordy shapes of women, and the rows
Of the star-gestured children in the park.
Some let me make you of the vowelled beeches,
Some of the oaken voices, from the roots
Of many a thorny shire tell you notes,
Some let me make you of the water's speeches.
Behind a pot of ferns the wagging clock
Tells me the hour's word, the neural meaning
Flies on the shafted disk, declaims the morning
And tells the windy weather in the cock.
Some let me make you of the meadow's signs;
The signal grass that tells me all I know
Breaks with the wormy winter through the eye.
Some let me tell you of the raven's sins.
Especially when the October wind
(Some let me make you of autumnal spells,
The spider-tongued, and the loud hill of Wales)
With fists of turnips punishes the land,
Some let me make you of the heartless words.
The heart is drained that, spelling in the scurry
Of chemic blood, warned of the coming fury.
By the sea's side hear the dark-vowelled birds.
- Dylan Thomas
I almost forgot, foolish me, I almost forgot, forgot
That where I am from we see the rain
Before the rain even starts to rain
No wonder, why you’ve been buggering me
Cause this walk, it’s a previous journey
And no wonder why the road seems so long
Cause I had done it all before
And I won
- Benjamin Clementine
I crave your mouth, your voice, your hair.
Silent and starving, I prowl through the streets.
Bread does not nourish me, dawn disrupts me, all day
I hunt for the liquid measure of your steps.
I hunger for your sleek laugh,
your hands the color of a savage harvest,
hunger for the pale stones of your fingernails,
I want to eat your skin like a whole almond.
I want to eat the sunbeam flaring in your lovely body,
the sovereign nose of your arrogant face,
I want to eat the fleeting shade of your lashes,
and I pace around hungry, sniffing the twilight,
hunting for you, for your hot heart,
Like a puma in the barrens of Quitratue.
― Pablo Neruda
Just now it has come
to me again: the sudden
knowledge of everything
that remains to be done
though I worked my ass off
this week, doing things, doing
things. What is my style?
is a question I have never
asked until now, in the waiting
room at my dentist’s,
when this article in O Magazine
encouraged me so cunningly
to do so. Maybe it is not
my job to surprise you, not
anymore, says the spirit.
O.K., I say. O.K. But still,
I want one more crisp
image, just one, though I know
I don’t deserve it, I want it
to appear the way money once
or twice in my life has appeared
in my line of vision on
the street: some bill, nearly
alive, green god, its skin
giving off evergreen light,
unaccounted for and then
immediately mine, no
- Carrie Fountain
I like the lines you use on me
they crackle a little, like magic.
I cannot pull my mind off you
I do not trust your hands.
‘I’ll admit it, I’m drawn to the wolves’
- Yrsa Daley-Ward
And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightning of a flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you'll park and capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.
- Seamus Heaney
Come again, please, come again,
Whoever you are.
Religious, infidel, heretic or pagan.
Even if you promised a hundred times
And a hundred times you broke your promise,
This door is not the door
Of hopelessness and frustration.
This door is open for everybody.
Come, come as you are.
You show me the poems of some woman
my age, or younger
translated from your language
Certain words occur: enemy, oven, sorrow
enough to let me know
she's a woman of my time
with Love, our subject:
we've trained it like ivy to our walls
baked it like bread in our ovens
worn it like lead on our ankles
watched it through binoculars as if
it were a helicopter
bringing food to our famine
or the satellite
of a hostile power
I begin to see that woman
doing things: stirring rice
ironing a skirt
typing a manuscript till dawn
trying to make a call
from a phonebooth
The phone rings endlessly
in a man's bedroom
she hears him telling someone else
Never mind. She'll get tired.
hears him telling her story to her sister
who becomes her enemy
and will in her own way
light her own way to sorrow
ignorant of the fact this way of grief
is shared, unnecessary
Adrienne Rich - December 25, 1972
Tremors of your network
cause kings to disappear.
Your open mouth in anger
makes nations bow in fear.
Your bombs can change the seasons,
obliterate the spring.
What more do you long for ?
Why are you suffering ?
You control the human lives
in Rome and Timbuktu.
Lonely nomads wandering
owe Telstar to you.
Seas shift at your bidding,
your mushrooms fill the sky.
Why are you unhappy ?
Why do your children cry ?
They kneel alone in terror
with dread in every glance.
Their rights are threatened daily
by a grim inheritance.
You dwell in whitened castles
with deep and poisoned moats
and cannot hear the curses
which fill your children's throats.
- Maya Angelou
I’m thinking of you. What else can I say?
The palm trees on the reverse
are a delusion; so is the pink sand.
What we have are the usual
fractured coke bottles and the smell
of backed-up drains, too sweet,
like a mango on the verge
of rot, which we have also.
The air clear sweat, mosquitos
& their tracks; birds, blue & elusive.
Time comes in waves here, a sickness, one
day after the other rolling on;
I move up, its called
awake, then down into the uneasy
nights but never
forward. The roosters crow
for hours before dawn, and a prodded
child howls & howls
on the pocked road to school.
In the hold with the baggage
there are two prisoners,
their heads shaved by bayonets, & ten crates
of queasy chicks. Each spring
there’s a race of cripples, from the store
to the church. This is the sort of junk
I carry with me; and a clipping
about democracy from the local paper.
Outside the window
they’re building the damn hotel,
nail by nail, someone’s
crumbling dream. A universe that includes you
can’t be all bad, but
does it? At this distance
you’re a mirage, a glossy image
fixed in the posture
of the last time i saw you.
Turn you over, there’s the place
for the address. Wish you were
here. Love comes
in waves like the ocean, a sickness which goes on
& on, a hollow cave
in the head, filling and pounding, a kicked ear.
- Margaret Atwood
“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”
― Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
Had we nothing to prove
we might have leaned all night at that window,
merely beside each other,
watching Peel Street, wrought-iron gates
and weather vanes, black lace of trees
between cautious Victorian silhouettes;
but there were obligations, the formalities
of passion; so we sealed the shutters
and were expedient in the brevity of night;
reading with empty sockets moonlight in dull hair,
softness to chafed thighs;
both of us anxious and shaking the night,
with all my arm, she with fingers and gentle;
no hope for silver leaves in the morning.
And always a glance for the brightening windows,
a suspension of breath for the hearing of birds
and incantations to the sun
which stirs in dust behind stone horizons.
- Leonard Cohen