Saturday, December 20, 2014

A westerly wind was whistling in the birch leaves, tugging at them playfully, dancing with them, spinning them round and round until they settled, one by one, onto the path. A lone pedestrian crunched along the walkway, watching the way the leaves clung to his worn loafers. He shifted the large satchel, which hung over his shoulder, to the other side, and took the weight off his right leg for a moment. The light of the sunset seemed to meander lazily towards him, filtered as it was through swaying branches.

The man shouldered the bag once more, and strode through an archway. The sign over it read: Izmailovsky Park. The metro station nearby buzzed with the activity of commuters and hawkers, who were packing up their wares for the evening. Barely glancing at them, he walked up the street, limping slightly, and then stopped at the entrance of an apartment building. He went down the cement stairs towards the basement, and inserted a key into a door.

He hung a large, broad-brimmed hat on a hook, and the hallway light then illumined the face of a man with rounded features, a nose which must have been broken in at least one fight, and gentle, gray eyes. He rubbed the back of his neck, and headed for the kitchen, where he filled a kettle and put it on the stove.

The kitchen was unusual for a Moscow apartment, in that it was not separated by a wall from the other rooms, but opened out into a sitting room. On the white plaster behind the kitchen counters, he had painted a series of dark-red rectangles, in a formation that approximated a brick wall. This introduced a note of color into an otherwise drab room.

He peeled wax from the rind of a cheese, set it on a board, and cut a few slices. Then he fetched the bread, and some carrot salad, which was left over from his supper the night before. The kettle sang, and he poured its contents into a small pot, already warm on the stove, straight onto the fragrant ceylon leaves.

He ate slowly, and then reached for a jar of apricot marmelade. The apricots appeared as orange spheres suspended in amber gel. He held the jar between his eyes and the kitchen lamp, musing at the sight, then he opened it and spooned one perfect apricot into a dish. With a silver spoon, he lifted it to his mouth and tasted its flesh. In the center of each apricot, he had placed, instead of the pit, a perfect walnut half, the nutty flavor of which complemented the sweet syrup. He took a sip of tea, and sighed in approval of his own craftsmanship.

The sitting room contained a large, re-upholstered antique couch, which nineteenth century artisans had constructed to approximate a lounge that might have served the ancient Romans. He lay back on the couch, and picked up a book, opening it to a story by Nikolai Leskov, The Alexandrite.

"Look, here it is, the prophetic Russian stone. O crafty Siberian. It was always green as hope and only toward evening was it suffused with blood..."

He read until the book closed itself onto the folded hands on his breast, and then he slept. The window rattled in its casement, as it began to be bombarded by an Autumn rainstorm. Rows of droplets trickled down the glass; water, with its patience and wisdom, flows until it can no more, and is gathered back up to the heavens.


Mariinsky Theater performs The Nutcracker

In this forest fantasia
Pyotr Ilych is the mage.
He conjures the dancers
who file onto the page.

Herr Drosselmeier floats
beside the angel of no time,
and no words are permitted
within this temple of sound.

Maestra Luna raises her baton
in a little match-girl's heart;
at last, the curtain rises,
and a poem writes itself.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014


This is my fortress unfettered:
the sighs of a thousand dreamers.
Allow a measure of cadence,
and the world becomes unbroken.

When a leaf falls, I see snow.
And with each one of its branches,
ice crystal forms a water tree
sprouting diamond-faceted leaves.

A bright river in a dark month:
aurora in its velvet dance.
Shall I light this candle for you,
or close my eyes and meet you there?


Monday, December 01, 2014


Perchik, your beetle-dark eyes,
sauteed garlic and red-peppers
spiced by the ghost of Notella;
a turquoise collar at my throat;
the wind people on my skirts,
that cloud-bank we invented

until--your purple bicycle--
its greasy glance of disdain
jangled the curves of the bridges
between the canals of the Nevà:

Kolokolà, kolokolà, kolokolà.

Le Cirque (Marc Chagall)

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

freeze frame

Inside the ice cave, we are blind, and home-bound.

We scrape furiously at the thick glaze on the windshield.

With difficulty, we make our way out into the world. 

We watch. A dark-haired man enters a cafe, surrounded by several children. He sits. His youngest daughter clings to his hand. They eat. They speak a language which makes use of round vowels and playful syllables. His smile takes its slow time to emerge over the horizon. His mustache curls approvingly. She has come at last, Mamacita, her raven-locks piled high. A few stray curls escape strategically from her coiffure. Her arched, plucked brows. The light in his glance. A murmur. She turns to us and smiles, imparting to us a wordless secret of utmost importance.


Fancy, filigreed thoughts arrive at random, and depart on dragon-fly wings:

Pierrot is drunk on moon-wine
after the tedious masked ball.
He stumbles on a feathered fan,
as perfumed with lavender
as his lost love, Columbina,
and crushes it to his heart.

The beloved darkness murmurs.
Beneath his ribs, the pulse
Is a throbbing behind bars,
seeking an unseen filament.
Slumber and dawn approach.
In his grip--a Firebird glimmers.


Dear Inner Child,

Yes, you are correct. I've strangled her again. Stifled, once more, her moans of agony, her groans, her endless sighs, her countless tears, her wasted years, in some seemingly senseless, repeated noir script, in favor of the status quo. 

And yet, what is it that she most wishes to convey in this moment?

Sketch it out briefly,  as if in silken sand:

The trees --

a frame --

a pair of eyes --

a soul -- a flame --

May all who know what it is to be cruelly crushed lead the way to Love --

let nothing keep our feet from this path -- we surely know where we do not want to go --

Natalia Goncharova, 1912

Sunday, November 23, 2014

O Ignis Spiritus

During this time of year, the midday sun is a pale phoenix circling just above the mountain-ridges.

How grateful I am, now, for the gift of flame and warmth; for all fires, inner and outer.

Illumination, Scivias (Hildegard of Bingen)

O ignis spiritus paracliti,
vita vite omnis creature,
sanctus es vivificando formas.

Sanctus es unguendo 
periculose fractos,
sanctus es tergendo 
fetida vulnera.

O spiraculum sanctitatis,
o ignis caritatis,
o dulcis gustus in pectoribus 
et infusio cordium
in bono odore virtutum.

O fons purissime,
in quo consideratur
quod Deus alienos colligit
et perditos requirit.

O lorica vite 
et spes compaginis membrorum omnium 
et o cingulum honestatis:
salva beatos.

Custodi eos qui carcerati sunt 
ab inimico,
et solve ligatos
quos divina vis salvare vult.

O iter fortissimum 
quo penetravit omnia
in altissimis et in terrenis
et in omnibus abyssis
tu omnes componis et colligis.

De te nubes fluunt, ether volat,
lapides humorem habent,
aque rivulos educunt,
et terra viriditatem sudat.

Tu etiam semper educis doctos 
per inspirationem sapiente 

Unde laus tibi sit,
qui es sonus laudis
et gaudium vite, 
spes et honor fortissimus 
dans premia lucis.


O fire of the Spirit, the Comforter,
Life of the life of all creation,
Holy are you, giving life to the Forms.

Holy are you, anointing
The dangerously broken;
Holy are you, cleansing
The fetid wounds.

O breath of sanctity,
O fire of charity,
O sweet savor in the breast
And balm flooding hearts
With the fragrance of virtues.

O limpid fountain,
In which it is seen
How God gathers the strays
And seeks out the lost:

O breastplate of life
And hope of the bodily frame,
O sword-belt of honor:
Save the blessed!

Guard those imprisoned
By the foe,
Free those in fetters
Whom divine force wishes to save.

O mighty course
That penetrated all,
In the heights, upon the earth,
And in all abysses:
You bind and gather all people together.

From you clouds overflow, winds take wing,
Stones store up moisture,
Waters well forth in streams --
And earth swells with living green.

You are ever teaching the learned,
Made joyful by the breath
Of Wisdom.

Praise then be yours!
You are the song of praise,
The delight of life,
A hope and a potent of honor,
Granting rewards of light.

--Hildegard of Bingen

(Adapted from Barbara Newman's translation by this source.)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

On Branches Heavy with Snow

On Branches Heavy with Snow

Sur des branches chargées de neige


From one snowy branch to the other, in these years
That have passed without a wind
Ever frightening their leaves,
Fragments of light scatter
At certain moments, as we go into the silence.

And this powder is boundless when it falls,
We cannot tell if a world still
Exists, or if our wet hands have grasped
Some crystal of reality, perfectly pure.

Colors that grow deeper with the cold, blues and purples
That call from further off than the fruit,
Are you our dream that does not so much vanish
As become prescience and path?

And yes, the sky itself has those clouds
Whose obviousness is the daughter of the snow,
And if we turn toward the whitened road,
It is the same light there, and the same peace.


Except, of course, that in this world, images
Are like the flowers that pierce the snow
In March, then burst open in full splendor
In the dreams we have of festive days,

And should one bend over them, hoping to carry off
By the armful the joy that they promise,
See how soon they die, not so much in the shadow
Of their fading color as in our hearts.

Beauty is arduous, almost an enigma,
And endless is the task of learning its meaning
On the slopes of the flowering meadow,
Still covered here and there with plates of snow.

--Yves Bonnefoy

From In the Shadow's Light.

There is no snow in my yard today, yet so near to me, so deeply familiar are the crystal hues described so deftly by Yves Bonnefoy in the poem above: they belong to this time of year. The photos are from last winter.

A friend introduced me to Bonnefoy's writing recently; I am slowly savoring this new literary acquaintance.

Beauty — be not caused — It Is —
Chase it, and it ceases —
Chase it not, and it abides —

Overtake the Creases

In the Meadow — when the Wind
Runs his fingers thro' it —
Deity will see to it
That You never do it —

--Emily Dickinson

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Gaetano Donizetti, Lucia di Lammermoor - Maria Callas (1953)

Il Dolce Suono... Ardon Gli Incensi... Spargi D'Amaro Pianto

To An Unknown Homeland

So sing a silver thread from memory
    Of my soul's ache, when pining for a home;
An echo of sweet moon's melancholy,
    O, blissful crescent, seize me as your own!
Through misty mountains follow I your path,
    Through darkened groves I seek this argent fire,
In books illumined I avoid your wrath;
    Your purity, it covets my desire.
A city phosphorescent leads me on,
    I seek, and seeing, seek it once again,
Amid a thousand faces, only one:
    The blessed numen of my fellow man,
Emblazoned atlas of all thought and art--
    It holds a map to brightness in my heart.