Saturday, December 14, 2013

Ode to a Strange Spirit

Hail to thee, insidious malcontent!
Myself  thou never wert,
Yet from some far-off plane wast sent,
To infiltrate my heart,
And from thence to permeate all the senses.

The dratted door was left ajar,
And through it issued a bracing breath;
All giddy, I mistook it for ardor,
As if sudden spring burned in my breast--
and reached for it in vain, grasping air.

Just when my hands had given up the search,
The stealthy wraith commenced its wily scheme
Of occupation, to sneak beneath my skin,
Out of sight, yet unavoidable to the mind,
To take up residence in my protesting form.

Yea, thou knowest, so well, how to fill a vase
Of shrinking violets with cheap champagne,
To nudge and prod, to induce a trance,
To guffaw at my maudlin pranks,
To overhear even my most indecent deliberations.

 Return to the dusky plane, thou wily pest!
Though thou art my first thought when I awake,
I would that that wouldst return to thine own nest
As the day advances within thy clutches,
Why? Why? Why? shrieks the neurotic loon in my head.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

In honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe, today

This I ask Holy Mother, 
the shelter, the healing,
the self awareness,
the contrition,
the endeavor,
the knowledge,
the protection,
the healing abilities
in us, of all that is Holy,
to return to pristine state
again... for ourselves,
and for others, 
to carry in dignity and peace
the scent 
of Holy Mother of the Flowers,
everywhere we go.

--Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes

La Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe

Our Lady of Guadalupe, painted by Mario Colin (Descanse en paz)

wrong side of the tapestry

"I mean that we here are on the wrong side of the tapestry," answered Father Brown. "The things that happen here do not seem to mean anything; they mean something somewhere else. Somewhere else retribution will come on the real offender. Here it often seems to fall on the wrong person." --G.K. Chesterton

Here I am borrowing a quote from a fictional character, because my own words fall short. Today I've been reading more excerpts from

Twenty-first Century Russian Poetry: Sergey Stratanovsky
Translated by J. Kates

"dein goldenes Haar Margarete
dein aschenes Haar Sulamith"

Paul Celan1
O  the holocaust in Oświęcim2 
The accusation of a documentary film
  is interrupted by an advertisement
for the very latest cosmetics
  from the collection of a screen diva
A fashionable caprice 
  shoves its way into the death zone

What's in the collection?
  Eau de cologne for behind the ears
henna for the hair of the Lorelei
  powder for the cheek of Marguerite

Little bottles of nail polish,
  and compacts with the cremated ashes
Ashes of the bones of the Shulamite


What's with Russia? A turn to the West?
Will the smell of the back stairway 
Finally dissipate,

The smell of the psychiatric ward,
 the depression of those faces
That wasting gloom 
 finally disappear?


Philemon and Baucis
 in their own creaking hovel,
On their own burnt-over patch of land
 across from the new mcmansion,
Wait to be swept away by a storm -
 a private liquidation,
To clear the countryside.

1 "Your golden hair Margarete / Your ashen hair Shulamite"
2 The Polish name for Auschwitz.

Reading the poem above led me to the original Paul Celan poem, translated here at the blog, Poems found in Translation:

Paul Celan: Death Fugue (From German)


And here is another quote from Fr. B., for my own repentance purposes:  

"You see, I had murdered them all myself... I had planned out each of the crimes very carefully. I had thought out exactly how a thing like that could be done, and in what style or state of mind a man could really do it. And when I was quite sure that I felt exactly like the murderer myself, of course I knew who he was."

--G.K. Chesterton, Father Brown

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The italics are hers - Elena Fanailova

Firstly, congratulations to Larissa Shmailo, editor of the anthology,

Twenty-first Century Russian Poetry

which is scheduled for its release party this evening in New York City.

Included in the anthology are two poems by Elena Fanailova, a Russian journalist and poet, taken from Survey of Literature and translated by Stephanie Sandler.


Watercolor of a Matador

Spring, adrenaline, we walk as kings,
We follow the departing heavenly ship,
And, in expectation of heavenly catastrophes,
Stale expressions, clammy embraces, 
Even honest relationships are unbearable.

What do we talk about? Society gossip,
About the city built on blood, the laying down of bones,
About money earned from glossy magazines
And, remembering that we walk as kings,
About the poor and the ill, the downtrodden and the tired 

And opening our eyes in the morning,
Like every foolish bit of evil in Gogol,
We curse our own fates
And the good fortune of red death in the world,
Frowning, we take stock of what we can, 
For we have plowed up the roots and torn back the bark:
There's nothing left to subtract from us.

(The Italics Are Mine)

Having walked the pathways of faceted glass,
She was a companion, someone to write poems to 
In the era when poetry flowed
From human shortcoming,
When poetry was waiting 
For dry remainders,
It did its best, I beg your pardon, 
Like a hysterical bitch,
In that era when poetry bore
Responsibility for the paroxysm deep
Enough to kill you: as if to say, I warned you,

In other words, trashed and thrashed 
Like the swirling contents of a decanter.
Tequila and beer ran through the veins, 
Or rather absinthe and morphine derivatives.

She was the only one it left untouched,
It preserved her brilliant mind 
And cut her off, kept her out 
Of the land of holy madness

Khodasevich is dying in a clinic,
And Poplavsky sticks himself and gets drunk
Alcoholics, cripples, and cynics
Departing on a midnight flight

The sun boarded shut 
The sick-wards-bilious hells
The Russian god and Yiddish luck,
The flesh, the host, the marmalade jam, all melt

Make a date under the sycamores.
Combine the wings of a dragonfly
With fibulas--the kind 
Youngsters use to keep the score.

Elena Fanailova answered this question, "Why, in your verses do you dwell on the themes of creativity and spiritual distress and illness, is it a question of today's culture struggle or is it about the dying Khodasevich? The very proximity of these motifs moves into a fin de siecle and seems to appear incongruous in our times." Fanailova: "There is a simple explanation, but it does not lie in the sphere of the study of culture. It has to do with my personal relationship with a profession: I was educated as a doctor, and became a physician not through my own inclination, but under the influence of my family. My literary lessons in childhood were supervised by my father; he was a very authoritative person, so I was forced to reconcile this conflict within myself somehow. In my youth, I was interested in the figure of Kafka, who had a similar sort of construct in his relationship with his father. The same themes attracted me. "In the history of "The Italics are Mine", the poem about Khodasevich and Berberova, which you mentioned, I was interested in the level of self-control, which did not allow Berberova to become a real poet. There is a moment when a person who writes poetry must not be afraid of temporary insanity, must let himself go, guessing that he is not losing his mind -- but is simply a text-producing machine built in this particular way. It is important that he does not become afraid, but allows this to occur, at the same time, maintaining control over that which is not controllable. To me, Berberova seemed to be such a reflexive figure: it becomes obvious to me during the reading of her memoirs that she did not take that step, and therefore, she did not become a poet. Berberova is a beautiful literary figure, a divine memoirist, but she is not a poet. And this is their difference, between (her and) Khodasevich and those poets, whom she described. Even a small talent can be developed within one's self, it is like the sustaining pedal of the piano, which allows the sound to be prolonged, but in order to do this, fearlessness is necessary, and decisiveness: not to be afraid of that which resembles mental illness, but, however, is not. It is possible that I am just not a light-hearted person; for lighter people it may not be a problem, but I was always such a serious little rat." Fanailova goes on to to comment, “In my understanding of the the Russian world, as an immoral one, it is amoral to write poems about one's country. Either you must say some extremely important things, or you should say nothing."
(Apologies for my skewed formatting.)
Elena Fanailova's poems, including "The Italics are Mine," can be found in Russian here and here.


"Just as they say that a war isn't over until the last soldier who died in the war is buried, we also cannot understand history's lesson until we do not comprehend not only the numbers of those were killed, but who those people actually were, because every person has a name." (A quote from Igor Schupak, an archivist associated with this film, in Russian with subtitles, produced by Yad Vashem.)

Once there was a little girl named Genya, from Zhitomir, Ukraine, with a snub-nose and warm, wide eyes. A scar was engraved into her back by a cruel artist, a piece of barbed wire. It was a gift from her mother, who told her that some people probably ran away, and that she should try. It was like being given another birth: her hips, her head passed through the opening, but her shoulder caught and the cruel teeth of this strange womb drew blood.

"When the Germans began to load the Jews onto cars, they killed them in Bogonya, did you hear about that? My mother told me back then, 'Genya', daughter, perhaps you could run away? Look, some people escape if they can, perhaps you can be saved. You know, I was saved by the grace of God. I saw the young people running away and I ran after them. I have a scar from the barbed wire."

Genya ran to her neighbor's house. The woman wondered at how she had survived. When the Germans began to patrol with dogs, and the house next door was blown up, but a cellar was left, she told her to hide there, under the ground. For four days she sat shivering on a filthy cot in a root cellar swimming with rats and surface-water. After four days, she said "...they brought me some food, let it down on a little rope, I said I'd rather be killed by the Germans." Then, "Aunt Vera" brought her to the attic to hide. Genya sat there and remembered living in the ghetto-jail, where she had finished 3rd grade. Genya never finished another grade. There was always someone else's house to paint, someone's floors to wash. She never married, but she always remembered. One day, someone came to her house and was ready to hear her story

Once upon a time, there was a little girl with a pixie-face, sparkling eyes and cupid's-bow lips. She dreamed of playing the accordion. She did not remember her birthday. She led the cow to pasture and tried not to spoil her only pair of shoes. When she returned to her little hut, her adoptive mother cuffed her on the head, because the crocks were not yet washed.

Once there was a little girl with silver hair, always pulled back from her face into a severe bun until it strained at the skin of her cheeks, with gleaming pixie-eyes and cupid's bow lips drawn on with a red crayon. She said she was born in Kazakhstan. Her passport said she was born in Novosibirsk. She chose not to remember her birthday. She pounded chords into the piano as if it were an accordion, told everyone that she was a concert pianist, and most of them believed her. She mentioned Kazakhstan during the war, and said that when the people were starving, they threw the children into pits and that the earth moved. She desired shiny trinkets and gathered them. She decided to create a golem to defend her and fight for her honor. She needed the golem because of the scar on her head, and because of the children who were not. She wanted children. She must have children, not like the golem or her other son whose wife would not produce children. She could not tell the difference between a golem and a child, but she must get her hands on them and shape them, touch the clay, mold it, squish it between her fingers, be completely malleable.

The little girl was from Zhitomir, Ukraine, where, naturally, as she later asserted, her ancestors had invented the wheel, and they had served royalty a special, translucent gooseberry jam, as green as a jumble of emeralds, and they had baked the lightest, most fantastic cakes that would put a French chef to shame. Her mother was a wise-woman who gathered herbs in the forests, and could heal anyone's wounds but her own. She came from a distinguished line of doctors from Poland who just happened to land in Kazakhstan. She had many names; she invented herself.

Once upon a time, in the bread-basket of Europe, which had just recently survived a horrific famine, in Zhitomir oblast, where the rich dark peat-bogs served as fuel, fertilizer and foundations, there lived thousands and thousands of people who happened to be Jews. They built houses, schools and synagogues. They studied medicine and the Torah. They cultivated the dark chernozem, fed by the peat-bogs, and split sunflower seeds between their teeth expertly. For these crimes, approximately 75,000 did not deserve what happened to them. 75,000 of these human beings did not survive 1941, 1942, or 1943.

"The most horrifying things was that the bodies of the women and children bore signs of asphyxiation, meaning, they suffocated to death. The Germans were stingy with bullets, so they threw them alive into pits," Natalya Rudnitskaya, from the film above.

One day, the memory-collectors arrived to gather the stories by the thimble-full, stories that should have been plays, novels and epic tomes, but there were very few precious words to collect, from just a few who had remained to remember the names of the thousands who had perished.

Yad Vashem: Zhitomir Region

"Across Ukraine, over 1.5 million (were killed); during the years when the Soviets were in power, there was no research, no documentation, and no commemoration of the murdered. Since the 1950's, Yad Vashem has tried to recover the names of all 6 million victims. ... But from the Ukraine and on the territory of the former USSR, we currently only have about one third of the victim's names..

..How can one recover the rest of the names? How can one preserve the memory of these people?"

-- Igor Schupak (Yad Vashem)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


Without silence we are not genuinely human.

--Kallistos Ware

Stillness- Dag Hammarskjöld

“Simplicity is to experience reality, not in relation to ourselves but in its 
holy independence. Simplicity is to see, judge and act from the point 
where we are resting within ourselves. How much then does not fall 
away! And how much of the rest does not fall into place? 

Resting in the centre of our being we meet a world where everything, in 
the same way, is resting in it self. Thus the tree is a mystery, the cloud 
a revelation, the human being a cosmos whose richness we perceive in 
glimpses. For the simple person, life is simple but it opens up a book 
in which we never reach the first syllable”. 

To understand – through stillness 
To act – from stillness 
To win – in stillness"

--Dag Hammarskjöld, from “Markings”. 


Nana Peradze currently calls France her home, but to many she is the voice of Georgia, a one-woman dynamo who has made it her calling to bring the unique liturgical choral heritage of Georgia, with its roots in Byzantine chant and folk music, to the attention of a world-wide audience.

Profile of the Georgian Harmony Choir by Milan Records

Monday, December 09, 2013

The Island

A young man betrayed his comrade during World War II and spent the next 30-some years repenting his actions: a condensed synopsis of this film, which I needed to watch, again, today, to remember and repent of my own sins.

 (from YouTube with English subtitles.)

This film does not provide a definite answer to questions on faith, but it does sketch a glimpse of the character of an ascetic, a "fool-for-Christ" (Христа ради юродивый), the sort of person who was not respected during Soviet times in Russia, and who finds himself as a seemingly accidental vessel of grace, although he is not very well-behaved. In fact, he goes out of his way to prove that he is a menace and buffoon to his peers, while in fact he loves them dearly.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

A friend shared this article with  me:

The Return of the Sensuous Body of Language

It is a review of a book that I would not have read in a thousand years, unless it had been handed to me on a silver platter, but luckily for me, it was.

The Uprising, by Franco Berardi

The author of the review is Andy Jackson; it is his lens or personal opinion that is most pertinent to this reader, because he articulated a vague notion that I had been nurturing at some point, and let it slip into some bottomless closet of the mind, where it might have remained forever, without being prodded back to life by a sharp whiff of Jackson's cautiously enthusiastic endorsement of Berardi's "manifesto", spiced with personal anecdotes.

Jackson provides an intriguing quote from Berardi:

"Poetry is the language of nonexchangeability, the return of the infinite hermeneutics, and the return of the sensuous body of language."

However, it is Jackson's own analysis of Berardi's message that momentarily appeared in burnished letters before my eyes: "I suspect that it is the tiredness and quietness of where poetry comes from that is so important." He goes on to say, "One of the most powerful aspects of “The Uprising” is Berardi’s valorisation of fatigue and limits over infinite growth, of co-operation and solidarity over appropriation and competition, and insolvency over unceasing debt.  And according to him, it is the force of poetry that re-energises and reinforces these human values, to remind us of our interconnectedness."

To entertain the notion that fatigue, tiredness, and quietness might be the next revolution--now, that is subversive! AND actually makes sense to my little pea-brain, because, while most of the world is stuck in the rat-race, working harder, producing faster, rushing out to purchase the latest digital devices, the inner workings of  which have been dutifully following the trajectory of Moore's Law, expanding their processing speeds and decreasing in size, until the transistors are literally approaching the size of  an atom........I imagine that poems (the genuine article, that is) are written by fragile human beings, who are not generally motivated by processor speed. Instead, they might be seized by the grip of an emotion they are unable to articulate, a vision just beyond the perception of the senses, an insoluble problem, a broken heart, a longing, and while enduring the infection of this state of mind, they are forced to stop in quiet contemplation and allow words to appear and arrange themselves in that alchemy of language that some writers excel in, or perhaps is a gift that they were open to receiving due to their upbringing, or their own willingness to sit and face their own mortality. For human beings are not robots or computers; they cannot and should not be plugged into equations that merely demand that they drive themselves more quickly into obsolescence, merely for the sake of speed.

How do we "return to the sensuous body of language"? Jackson admits that he does not plan to answer this question in his article; however, he provides examples of poets who sow "seeds of transformation" by engaging listeners, readers with the insights they have gained from great teachers such as Silence, Fatigue, Pain, Disability, History, Patience, and Conscience.

While reading my favorite poets, in my mind's eye, I see them sitting quietly, looking off into the distance, perhaps turning a pebble over and over in their hands, unhurriedly anticipating the arrival of a line of verse, although it will never come near to satisfying the questions that rise and fall in the mind like a tide.

In my own life, an aching thirst to witness human creativity has ripened in me even as everything I thought I knew or could trust had been shattered, and as I realize that this breaking and rending will not likely end any time soon. I am unsure, not only of my own identity, but of the direction the country and the wider world. Perhaps I am not alone in the yearning to find signs of proof that a human being is more than a machine that is used and then discarded when it has served its utilitarian purpose.

Here I am reminded of a passage from Henri Nouwen's book, Life of the Beloved:


....As I write you now about our brokenness, I recall a scene from Leonard Bernstein’s Mass (a musical work written in memory of John F. Kennedy) that embodied for me the thought of brokenness put under the blessing. Toward the end of this work, the priest, richly dressed in splendid liturgical vestments, is lifted up by his people. He towers high above the adoring crowd, carrying in his hands a glass chalice. Suddenly, the human pyramid collapses, and the priest comes tumbling down. His vestments are ripped off, and his glass chalice falls to the ground and is shattered. As he walks slowly through the debris of his former glory---barefoot, wearing only blue jeans and a T-shirt---children’s voices are heard singing, “Laude, laude, laude”---“Praise, praise, praise.” Suddenly the priest notices the broken chalice. He looks at it for a long time and then, haltingly, he says, “I never realised that broken glass could shine so brightly.”


(My youngest, near my grandmother's grave last year at Pascha.)

This scribble was written in 2006, while my son was in full-time therapy. Diagnosed at age 2 in 2005, when he was not able to communicate or make eye contact, with autism, he had an astoundingly dedicated team of therapists for several years: occupational therapists, speech therapists, behavioralists, preschool teachers, volunteers from church who drove over to the house and worked with him one on one at a little table, patient friends and relatives. He is now 11 years old, in middle school, incredibly verbal, and has declared that he will become a wealthy entrepreneur, and will sit in the best boxes in the theater to watch operas and concerts when he grows up. Best of all, he is the favorite of one of our cats, and he is himself, for the most part, a sweet and gentle kitten.

My deepest gratitude is extended to anyone who has dedicated his or herself to the sometimes thankless task of working patiently with developmentally delayed children, step by step, sometimes measuring progress by the drop-full.

Thank you Lisa, Miss Stacy, Miss Tracy, Miss Cheryl, Miss Terri, Tanya, Joyce, Harold, Colleen, Lynn, Maria, to my mother, to golden godmothers, to everyone I am neglecting to name, my son is a walking testament to your efforts.


Many Hands

The pitter-patter of repetition
Erodes his smiling, stony facade.

Mt. Rushmore no more,
He no longer shrieks
Like the lonely loon at the lake.

From fragments of moments
Minute upon minute
Gathering the crumbs of his attention,
We have created a verbal mosaic.
My changeling child is
Changing, emerging.

He stretches his cygnet wings
He flutters
On the breath of many voices.

When he sees his swan reflection--

It will be in a moving mural
Marked by many hands.


the song of a shell sapphire melting inside jade a color unnamed Ofra Haza's version of this song defies categoriz...

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