Thursday, April 13, 2017

a light

A LIGHT exists in spring
  Not present on the year
At any other period.
  When March is scarcely here
A color stands abroad         
  On solitary hills
That silence cannot overtake,
  But human nature feels.

--Emily Dickinson

(Let us take a bit of poetic license for this latitude, and substitute April for March.

Among the trees, a golden rumor swirls -- )

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

music: consciousness, conscience

A wintry night. Huddled in the foothills against the cold, the forest exhales in silence. 
The moon blinks. I hear a rustling: the cat is stalking shadows in the darkness.

I open my eyes before the alarm squeaks. The birds have not yet risen. Before I begin my busy-work, I want to gather myself. No, I do not yet want words.

I scan the vault in search of solace.

Rachmaninoff's Vocalise, sung by Anna Moffo, comes to my aid. An arc of sound, a silken breath, a bridge of dusk and dawn; its melody unfurls in a slow streaming.

Antonina Nezhdanova, for whom Rachmaninoff's Vocalise was written

Another memorable performance of Vocalise is that of Mstislav Rostropovich. This is a different  mood.

It would be difficult to imagine the music scene in the 20th century without the style, passion and talent of Rostropovich. In this recording (admittedly, the audio quality may not be the best), he demonstrates how well he knew the voice, through his cello. Other recordings of Vocalise exist, where Rostropovich accompanies his wife, the singer Galina Vishnevskaya, on piano, but I prefer this one. 

I came across a moving tribute to Rostropovich, "The Musical Conscience," which reminded me how many countries can now lay claim to have been a home to Rostropovich: born in Azerbaijan, he lived in Orenburg and other parts of the Soviet Union, including Moscow, until his exile abroad. 

I was also reminded of his profound human decency: when he heard that the writer Solzhenitsyn was living in a place without heat, Rostropovich invited the dissident to stay in his warm dacha. This was not looked upon kindly by the establishment.

In 1974, Rostropovich was forced to leave his homeland with his cello and his dog, but he never abandoned his music, or his humanity. What a disarming personality!

A pure, clear tone pierces the air behind my house: it is a sparrow, singing farewell to the pearlescent half-moon as it sails behind the mountains in a sea of powder-blue.

And it is a good morning.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

I am hiding even from myself, whispers the rose, under three feet of snow.

But I know you are there, even so, I reply.

The moon remembers the petals that fell like scarlet tears in the frost.

And with each sunrise and sunset, the nearest star sings the language of color nearer and nearer to blossoming.

Verses develop, like stars and like roses,
Like beauty -- unneeded in the family.
And there is to wreaths and apotheoses,
But one answer: from whence do they come?

We sleep -- and lo, through the stone tiles
Appears a heavenly guest with four petals.
Oh world, perceive! The singer in a dream discerns
The law of the stars and the formulas of the flower.

--Marina Tsvetaeva

Стихи растут, как звезды и как розы,
Как красота – ненужная в семье.
А на венцы и на апофеозы –
Один ответ: – Откуда мне сие?

Мы спим – и вот, сквозь каменные плиты,
Небесный гость в четыре лепестка.
О мир, пойми! Певцом – во сне - открыты
Закон звезды и формулы цветка.

--Марина Цветаева

Zia Nath, dancing. 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Reading Requiem in a Small Town

It was an extraordinary ending to a Friday which had already been painted in shades of surreal by the ceremonies which had taken place earlier in the day.

Although I was driving as fast as I could safely manage through the falling snow, peering warily through the frosty windshield of my frigid vehicle, I realized would be hopelessly late to the reading. 

At long last, I stumbled in my clumsy rubber-soled boots through the door of a small used bookstore, which smelled of paper, dust, and chalk. From their perches on a ring of folding chairs on a plywood floor, a small gathering of men and women glanced up in curiosity.  A respectful hush hung over the place. A young girl had just finished reading Anna Akhmatova's Requiem aloud to the group. 

"It reminded me a bit of Edgar Allen Poe," volunteered one attentive listener. 

Peering over his glasses, the owner of the bookstore, curly-bearded and yet shabbily genteel in flannel shirt and jeans, reminded the group that this was a piece of protest poetry. "The fact that someone found her voice, and used it, at such a time, this is comforting to me," he said. The members of the audience all appeared to swell temporarily in their stature, as if they had gained the strength and endurance of a circle of standing stones. The daintily hand-drawn signs on the chalkboards in the room shivered and shimmered.

Today I have so much to do:
I must kill memory once and for all,
I must turn my soul to stone
I must learn to live again

"I am so sorry I was late," I apologized. I explained that I had come from quite a distance, because I had heard a rumor that there would be an Akhmatova reading at the shop, and that this was no small matter for me. I showed them an early photograph of Anna Akhmatova, at which they oohed and ahed, and explained that she was considered a rebel in many ways, and that Akhmatova usually wrote in rhyming couplets, so that it is difficult to render her work properly in translation.

I will remember them always and everywhere,
I will never forget them no matter what comes.
And if they gag my exhausted mouth
Through which a hundred million scream,
Then may the people remember me
On the eve of my remembrance day.

Creation of the World, Ivan Aivazovsky

A few minutes later, I found myself reading the first four lines of Requiem aloud, in Russian, to give them just a small flavor of the original:

 Нет, и не под чуждым небосводом,
 И не под защитой чуждых крыл,-
 Я была тогда с моим народом,
 Там, где мой народ, к несчастью, был.

No, I was not beneath a foreign firmament,
Nor protected by foreign wings,
I was with my own people then,
There, where my people, unluckily, were.

The owner of the bookstore, noting my enthusiasm for the subject, mentioned to me that one of his classmates from a local writing class had written a poem on the subject of Anna Akhmatova. Thirstily, I gulped down this information, and promptly bought the journal in which his friend's poem had been published. 

The timely title of this local writer's poem was Stalking Anna.  

Ach, alas! the exhilaration of the evening rushed away from me like a naughty kitten, tugging a ball of string under the divan. I made it safely home, but the next morning found myself stranded in the driveway with an astonishingly flat damaged, that when I brought it to the shop to be repaired, the mechanics demonstrated to me that someone must have taken a knife and slashed the sidewall of the tire. The damage was irreparable. I thanked my guardian-angels for preventing me from venturing out onto the highway in this state, and bought a new tire. It is difficult for me to convert myself to the reality that someone would be capable of such a gesture -- it is as if they are missing a key sense, such as ears, with which to hear the songs of the birds, and therefore they let their frustration at the joy of others overtake them. But this is a small matter. 


Since that evening, time and time again, my thoughts have returned to Anna's Requiem, not recalling her sorrow as often as her strength.  Near the beginning of the cycle of poems, she wrote, Mountains fall before this grief, A mighty river stops its flow...

The names of rivers are invoked several times in Requiem: both the misty Neva, and the silent Don are mentioned. In the end, she allows the melting river to embody her grief:

Let the thawing ice flow like tears
From my immovable bronze eyelids...

...And so may it be that such lessons as we have learned from the chilled lips of the inimitable Anna, allow us room to pause, and review the landscapes of our own lives.

Black Sea, Ivan Aivazovsky

Are things really as they seem on the blinking screen, or does another world altogether beckon to us through the window-pane? 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Phoenix-Bird (Marina Tsvetaeva)

What is not needed by others, bring to me:
Everything must be burned in my fire.
I lure life, and I attract death
Into the airy gift of my flame.

My flame loves lightweight materials:
Last year's kindling - wreaths - words.
The flame is radiant from such fuel.
You will rise again - cleaner than ash.

 A Phoenix-bird am I, only I sing in the fire.
You are the basis of my life on high,
I burn, soaring, and burn to the ground
And let your night then be bright.

Bonfire of ice, fiery fountain,
On high I occupy my lofty camp,
On high I carry my great rank,
Of both Companion and Heiress.

--Marina Tsvetaeva, September 2, 1918

Firebird, Janusz Korczak-Ziolkowski

Janusz Korczak-Ziolkowski, a contemporary painter, said he was inspired by the music of Igor Stravinsky.

Что другим не нужно - несите мне:
Всё должно сгореть на моем огне!
Я и жизнь маню, я и смерть маню
В лёгкий дар моему огню.

Пламень любит лёгкие вещества:
Прошлогодний хворост - венки - слова.
Пламень пышет с подобной пищи!
Вы ж восстанете - пепла чище!

Птица-Феникс я, только в огне пою!
Поддержите высокую жизнь мою!
Высоко горю и горю до тла,
И да будет вам ночь светла.

Ледяной костёр, огневой фонтан!
Высоко несу свой высокий стан,
Высоко несу свой высокий сан -
Собеседницы и Наследницы!

2 сентября 1918

the water-thrush

In the quiet heart of the ice-covered valley, the river murmured, trickling.

In the frigid stream, a water-thrush was dipping and diving.

He finished his supper, and flitted to an icy branch in the center of the stream. The fact that he was not yet frozen, and the non-stop flicker of his movements, appeared to constitute a procession of miracles.

And then, not only was he improbably and throbbingly alive, he was -- singing. A warble -- a few piercing, leaping trills -- the sort of call that must have left in its wake traces of yearning, of wordless verses painted on the pewter sky.

In response, another tiny bird flew directly over his head. In less than a blink, he was off the branch, airborne, swirling into formation with his mate, until he disappeared into the forest behind me.

I realized that I had nearly forgotten to breathe, while listening to his song.  


Snow is everywhere; quiet all around;
Nature slumbers in a winter dream,
And between the clouds, gray and grimacing,
The dull daylight is peeking.

Above my empty window
Is only a single bird's nest,
But it serves to remind me
of spring, of flowers, and the sun!

--Ivan Belousov

Всюду снег; кругом всё тихо;
Зимним сном природа спит,
И сквозь туч — седых и хмурых —
Тускло солнышко глядит.

Над моим окном пустое
Птичье гнёздышко одно —
Но весну, цветы и солнце
Мне напомнило оно!..

Иван Белоусов

Friday, November 11, 2016

Half-awake, I breathe in the night.

In the murky mind-sky, there are movements.

Jewel-hued by shades of un-named colors, countless stars appear and dance.

We're all flying now, passing through -- a gateway of fire, a ring of golden light.

Nightingale, I must be moon-dazzled.

They say that Leonard Cohen passed away yesterday.

Fare thee well, nightingale.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Late Fragment - Raymond Carver

Late Fragment

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.

--Raymond Carver

a light

A LIGHT exists in spring   Not present on the year At any other period.   When March is scarcely here    A color stands abro...