Juvenalia 2

The following set of poems were written in Milan, Italy, and Toronto, Canada. I classify them as my juvenalia, too, since I wrote them between the ages of 22 and 31: still a formative stage for anyone who eventually turns into a mature poet. I haven’t done so myself: I stopped writing poetry at about the age of 31 and have written only a couple of minor pieces since. My interest has turned more and more to non-fiction, to scholarly pursuits and considerations of things we call metaphysics (after Aristotle, still my favourite philosopher), and to other creative projects I hope I will have the time, the energy, and the necessary conditions of possibility (as we say in philosophy) to pull off and complete during the time that remains available to me.

What strikes me about these poems is the role aggression plays in creativity and what uses we put art to: as, for instance, in using it to express anger and the desire for revenge in a sublimated (and so a slightly less harmful) form than it would be if acted out “in the raw”.  The second poem here, the one I wrote about Stefano Giordana (a young man whom I taught English in Milan in 1979-80), to whom I subsequently, after I had recovered from the psychological blow he had dealt me, dedicated a second poem, exemplifies that very nicely.  Stefano had betrayed me (sexually) and, although he subsequently tried to “win me back” by asking me to give him a second chance, it was evident to me that he felt no real remorse or any consideration for me, any real understanding of the pain he had caused me by choosing to lie to and cheat on me. I therefore refused to give him a second chance — as it would have been simply an invitation for him to continue to abuse me emotionally, not having had the necessary metanoia (change of mind and heart), the necessary conversion to loving instead of using people — and, feeling angry and disappointed, but not completely hostile towards him, I expressed that ambivalence in the poem I then wrote about us.  Naturally, I never wanted Stefano dead: but, as the poem shows, I very clearly wanted to express my own aggression (and, on some level, I suspect, I also wanted to scare other men with it, having been hurt by a number of them by then).   “Fraud in Genoa” intrigues me for another reason: I can now acknowledge that in writing it, I had more or less consciously slandered myself, imputing to me post facto feelings of hostility and an intent to betray which had never been there in the first place.   Unlike another young man whom I was at the time yet to meet (in North America) and about whom I never wrote any poetry because his loss was far too painful for me to express with the artistry any poem-making requires, Stefano was never either a friend to me nor in any sense my guide (except in the trivial sense of showing me around his mother’s native city, Genoa).   It’s therefore all the more interesting for me to realize now how guilty I must have felt about even that tiny act of “revenge” because the poem I subsequently wrote and dedicated to Stefano Giordana (“Vespa Ride”) is certainly an idealization of him.   The last three lines, but especially the opening line, n particular, demonstrate that impulse to idealize very well.   Such are the emotional vacillations of a very young and rather vulnerable woman.   In writing these poems, I was able to externalize and give shape and form to my feelings and thus to assuage them to a degree.   The real healing, however, does not take place in the art we make, in our self-externalizations.   Our art may help others, perhaps; it rarely, if ever, helps the creators themselves.

I may add some commentary on the other poems at a later date.

Milanese Sonata

Under dumb midnight streets
waters surge, suffocated,
gasp through the asphalt chinks.

Crevices widen:
soon, the waters of Milan
will rush out
and swallow the city
that has betrayed them.

Fraud in Genoa

My lover’s face close to my own:
feeding autumnal coughs, the smoke-blown
grey envelops visions of a needle-pricked arm,
the red swollen spot; a mosquito-bite cloak
hides the euphoria shot.

He cries my name from the bathroom,
He cries: Ti voglio bene!

A cold sun over Cristofero’s city grins mean-lipped
on casbah alleys swarming with vermin.
By mute palace doors sheltering afternoon whores
Ligurian smugglers act a chorus
to my fraud unsuspected:
my student’s death my eyes focus.

My lover’s eyes — blue
like Portofino sea on a bright
true November non-tourist morning:
the glaze-chilled eyes glint, so trustingly.

A Vespa Ride
for Stephano Giordana

No flitting of shadows on the Portofino road
but a slow-motion glide
as we plied
ourselves into the soft November air.

The sun-spun train of his hair
relays a windblown warmth,
a late summer smell.
At every roadcurve to the right
I feel my arm fetch —
pale gold, freckled by light —
a magnolia prick, a bright cactus scratch.

Clasped to my friend and guide
I anchor in time. We make it bide.
His back the mast, his shirt the sails,
on Cristofero’s land we cast
a gliding current to the tide
of Ligurian afternoons: present and past.

Confidence

The unflustered set of their bare limbs,
lightly entwined,
abjures the histrionics of human passion.
They neither welcome nor reject the fog
when it comes.

The grace of their acceptance —
these hibernal trees
carrying spring within them,
the inaudible gurgle of sap
so hushed, none of us heard it
all these months — is a natural one.

Withdrawn into themselves,
in their deliberate fortitude of winter,
what emending of means do they work then,
what solicitous gathering of force?

Their solitude: a quiet call to rememberance,
such casual courtesy to self.

Stand by me, here, and look:
how gracefully they bear
the still weight of layered snow,
the cool pressure of our condensed breath.
How calmly they go about
observing that harshest season of the interior year:
the necessary, needful, frost-tempering time.

Greeny Flowers and Modernist Festoons
— angrily, after William Carlos Williams

Let us be precise,
set order to this recalcitrant mind,
bring focus to these changeful eyes.
Well, then: it’s twenty to one —
a place to start from,
if only a time,
and a fancy-ridden way on a March afternoon
to say: the year’s ticking to its prime.

What poetry offers may be no more that this:
a sideshow stunt, a chiming pantomime,
a well-versed sputter of public,
promiscuous speech.

So let us, then, too,
and by all means, assume all lapse of taste,
all decorum gone, an angry unseemly haste
as the guardians still forewarn:
Beware pastiche of garbled forms;
Language crippled by History.

The case is simple, really, and inelegance
has its rules: every cult, self-adulatory,
of Man, or Art, or Muse
an other-sensed time eventually overrules.
So that to describe this room now,
or pay our arrears,
to answer summons ambiguous or terse,
to rhyme or dissonate — to form any utterance
at all in tune,
one must refuse.
One must decline to bend
and fuse and mend those diminutives,
those ample consolations of the Bardic Ruse.

You see,
the words they used tearing their hair,
the words they cursed
in what now must seem but mock-despair —
that histrion’s grin and groaning rasp
the masters perfected to such mellifluence —
serve us no longer. As they stood.

And what are these but mere verbal charades
out of mode? Unfashionable, fusty
rags of rhyme — a retro bombast that
will fade, self-contradictory, synched-out nouveau sublime?

Know then, sweet lech, you mumbler of the Bardic Party line:
Neither your words nor mine make petals out of blood.

When the light fades and before the bombs explode,
none can have reprieve.
Take this, too, against the time when
no eye could be quick enough to perceive:
see now how they implode,
each slime-licked life, each shiny limb and breast
burning to ashes — and nothing of this slow,
nothing to be caught. Just
a jagged design that bursts and pales
without a flicker or a beheld glow.

Poetasters

Literal-minded, prosaic, subaltern stubborn
I refuse:
poems about women, yellow-skinned or skinny,
generic women in anonymous hospital rooms —
occasional figures of some affectless reverie —
“fingering four,” he says,
or eight (or more!)
strands of hair — “last remnants of
their femininity.”

Better flippancy
than death by poetasters.

Bilious, stirred, I muse publicly:
Surely the time has passed
for these dull, bone-dry, distended masturbatory gazes
on women and dying
forever deferred, on paper,
so conveniently;
formal inanities hawking
the pathos of “feminine weaving”
cocain-Sieggy gave us a howler about
almost a century ago.
Surely, the time has passed
for mealy-mouthed poems that feed —
leech-like, necrophiliac —
with profit and pleasure tossed into their bargain —
on representable stoicisms of my kind.

Domestics

Back in Ithaca after his 20-year voyage round the Mediterranean, and having butchered the suitors come to woo Penelope in his absence, Odysseus commands the female slaves to clean up the scene of his carnage and then orders them hanged: for having loved some of the men.

As broad-winged thrushes caught in a net:
so Homer described them.

In the great hall, after his homecoming slaughter,
After the first glimpse of furtive recollection
And the heavy, stumbling hauling of corpses —
How did they feel
having to drag and heave
and toss those fleshly dismemberings
of their infrequent pleasures? —
The last master-detailed labour of the night
Awaited the women: unsanctified, homely purgation by water.

Telemachus the heir oversaw it all, apprised
The moving flash of each tired arm, their generous splash
And every baring scrape, all that mopping up of trickled life.
Afterwards, with beam and rope and air —
Such handy props for such domestic spite —
The son
performed the patrocratic rite.

With feet astagger for a bound flight,
Suspended in struggle — “but not for very long” —
The slave-women slipped, noose-necklaced,
manfully drawn,
against the obliterating Ionian light.
So swayed into silence.

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Juvenalia 1

I no longer have the exact dates for these poems; they are, however, part of my juvenalia, of the poetry I wrote before the age of 21. Some of them were originally published in a braodsheet, in a translation into Maltese done by Mario Azzopardi, one of the leading contemporary Maltese poets. I no longer have any copies of that broadsheet, but at least some of the original texts in English have managed to survive my peregrinations across the three continents I’ve lived on.

It is only now, almost 40 years on from the time these poems were composed, that I finally understand some of what they were about. My own original understanding of them remains, and still stands, but it is “only time” and the experiences I have had — Life, my own living of it — and the sort of learning I have done in the intervening four decades, that make my own work, finally, a lot more comprehensible to me (at least).

A History Lesson from Belgrade

In a field of weeds growing strong,
searching for my fathers
graved under that soil,
I heard the clatter
of naked bones
stitching a tapestry for my mind’s wall.

Five silver moons Ottoman blacksmiths lit,
five crows ripped the dawn,
five sickles bit into heart and limb and bone,
five rats ate the corn;
until we, until they,
until my fathers who conceived me
ten decades later
— as History books say —
burned the moons to ashes
and sowed the seeds alone.

A wheel cracked and fell to dust
in my grandfather’s field.
A wheel rolled in my uncle’s head
but he had no cart.
A wheel squealed under my father’s bones
when they painted his star black.
(There is a fist-deep scar
still etched into his back.)
My mother’s wheel turned to Freud,
and Jung, and Christ,
but they were long dead.

So when I, delivered on that field
ten decades after my fathers,
as History books aver,
had chased the five black crows away,
I had no wheel under the hammer of the proletariat.


Displaced Wayfarer

Her black-spotted eyes, sagged by the rain,
slid along the road to meet the crawling of the bus.
Six thirty.
Headlights a-leer, the blade-like wipers
cut through the squealing of the mud.

Displaced wayfarer, the girl watched it unroll.

Everyone feeds on the mother’s flesh.
At the Army & Navy Restaurant:
Virgin with daily prayers on the menu.

Like an unbalanced bat in a maze,
her reason hit against her skull:
with dim inquisitiveness, she saw a sign saying —
There’s a smaller road to the left,
followed by another of a man striding.
(The narrow gate was not in sight.)

The girl wiped off her black tears —
Mary Quant production —
and got off the bus to meet her lover.
The rain said: dissolved.

London Town

I.
Blue tit, crystella,
ruffles of tuneful photosynthesis:
bass tones turning an appropriate purple.
And the sun slinks along Serpentine’s banks,
a mellow sun,
a pale-yellow sun
never pressed through noon ripeness.

II.
They have marked it with an ugly X
just there under its vegetable breasts
growing twig-hairs, turning cancerous.
The indifferent light steals past its caked trunk,
anemic, tinny, matured — like stock —
in the tube-vaults
of London town.

Dream Grafts

Whose hands the spikes
of prickly pear
unmeshing Ophelia’s hair grafted on my head?

London:
your scaleless skin I have touched
and gulped the drainage of your lying sky.

Then the scene changes
and we wade through the salt
emprisoned in his island-water,
facing the lynching crowd,
the grey concrete,
and white egg-pebbles
hurled into the storm.
But when we turn
the shutters are closed
and a new sun approaching…..

Those faces:
vacuous spaces,
blobs of air arrested on photograph paper.

Then it shifts again, delicate irony,
to a rainspider in descent,
effortless wind-devourer.

On a candled table,
behind a curtain caught in imprudence,
I saw shadows crunching my dead body.

You kissed the candlewick —
but I stole my eyes.

His Eyes, Two Clay Suns Baked

Fishermen’s nets sprawl dessicated:
the body of earth and the soul of the sea,
have mercy on the drowned boy
have mercy on the black woman without her mate
have mercy on the water
degorged by the falling body.

And I said to his soul
Let me dance the rite of spring
when October hits the baroque sky
of the Mediterranean;
I shall weave my arms
round last year’s sprouts
before winter breaks over the rocks
bringing the chill of their dying.

And I said to his soul
Let a mandarin moon chisel a shimmering curtain
and let it be our knowing.

House Cleaning

Our chrysanthemums thirst,
dry and persistent in the late heat.
Forgetful, we have kept them in our rooms too long–
green leaves not yellow with autumn
but grey.

Behind these tragic masks and
agonised groans of parting lovers,
there’s a ground we share, inwardly and still:
our stage Artaud brought in to lend
a fake decorum to that conspiracy.

Admit it, love, we both know what’s there,
the core of boredom we’ve cherished within ourselves.

The heart-chamber, swept clean of lies,
has room for one; no carrion for the flies.

Mist

I see
wild deer in mountain forests leaping
flames of summer-burnt leaves
we took for our innocent bedding.
And I hear
wild ducks shrieking,
old women keening, the funeral table
of a dissected past.
I touch
the autumn colours of your hairloom.
My fingers the shuttle,
caressing, I weave the mist into our clothing
and slip unseen.

The Sicilian Dawn

We stand on the platform
waiting for the Sicilian dawn
and a trainfull of sour armpits.
And there is emptiness
in our stomachs
that ramble on as our mouths are dry,
in our clumsy hands,
spread in a blank sheet of silence.

A calligraphy of strangeness
lodges into the lines of our palms,
mirror-imaged.

I lie on the station bench, and make-believe:
flowers, wild flowers of home plains and
home mountains, lavender, rockrose, immortelles —
the green leaves of spring I promised you —
floating on the still sea of our indifference.


That Much

Tow the boat to the touch of the shore:
I do not want to wet my
departing feet
in the water I have watched with him.
Allow me that much.

Kalemegdan

Perhaps we shall meet
purely by chance — scuttling through afternoon crowds
near St. Mark’s Cathedral,
waves carried between the city’s shores.

Or the dawn will wake us
and we will run through memory streets
scaring pigeons and tramps —
meeting, purely by chance,

where the trees are dense
and the two rivers meet.


But Do

Here, you can have custody of the love
I have suckled four years
with the ache of an absence.

And, sure: go ahead, make your audit of a life
that’s held mock-rehearsals for a love
never consumed.

But do stop by to put this balm on the hands
that have searched strangers’ bodies
for the peace they forsook me.

Night Thoughts

As from a chipped glass
the water of life still overflows,
so the whites of my eyes
rise to met the moon.
And I see no more.

With the mark of pain
between my breasts,
and a darkness gaping over our bed,
I am numb before the three planes
converging on the wall above me.

And how can I know the moon
when it grins like an old man
munching the light lost in eternity?

If I spend a million years
with St. Paul’s fishermen,
I will never grow fins to swim under.
If I weave a golden thread around the moon,
the cave spider will unmesh my spinning.
If my hands furrow the waves deep
to plough the passage over,
how can I know
my crossing comes before the closing
of the waters?

But when the daybreak arrives,
stings wait taut
for someone’s fingers.

Sky-lettering

Hoist me to the sky,
you who have turned the wheel
and whirled it life-ward,
thinking the clay
of my being.

Hoist me to the sky,
long, long afterwards:
having performed the miracle
of my second metamorphosis.

Letter to the Nazis, by Aleksander Rogers

I came across this almost by chance: a short, contemporary Russian version of “A Modest Proposal”, as bitter and biting as ever Swift's own snarl of indignation was. This is a very rough translation, done with the help of translation software and some of my own, now rather rudimentary and rusty feeling for the spirit of the Russian language. I have not sought the author's permission to publicize this translation, but I suspect he wouldn't mind a bit.

Just a couple of words of explanation before the text itself: “Colorado Beetles” is the insulting, pejorative term Ukrainian crypto-fascists and outright Nazis use for ethnic Russians, mockingly referring to the St George ribbons Russians wear to commemorate their World War II victory over the Nazis.  The advice to the Ukrainian Nazis of today to go jump up and down to keep themselves warm since they are not Muscovites is actually a direct quotation of what Ukrainian high school students were taught to chant last year, taunting and ostracizing any of their peers who'd refuse to take part in the collective madness of uber-nationalist evil that's swept across that benighted country. As for the reference to the “slaves of Obama” in the very last paragraph: it reminds me of what the African-American philosopher Cornel West routinely calls the USA of today: “the Obama plantation.”



Letter to the Nazis, by Aleksander Rogers

Be consistent!  You are a disgrace to Hitler, whom you secretly worship. Did the Third Reich buy gas, oil, coal and electricity from the "Asian hordes"? Did Hitler beg them for loans or beg them to defer debt repayment installments? 


Be consistent!  Give up Russian gas, stop using it to power your hot-water boilers or warm up your food on gas stoves (I do not care how you cook it, even if it's in wood-burning ovens). Do not buy energy from Russia.  Do not buy Russian coal.  Freeze your arses off for the glory of Bandera or go jump up and down to warm yourselves up, since you are not Muscovites.

The other day, Avakov said that he had just "found four billion dollars Yanukovych had stashed away."  Throw that tyrannical money in the face Siluanov and Miller so they don't call you sub-human, as you call us.

Is it so hard to understand that you can't simultaneously scream for a war with Russia and, in the same breath, beg Russia for another discount on the gas you buy from it?! 

Once Poroshenko and Yatsenyuk declare that they are at war with Russia (not with Novorossyia, no, but with Russia itself), break all trade ties with the country. And do not sell anything Ukrainian to Russia; don't supply the "aggressor".

Be consistent and drop the hypocrisy!  You have killed several thousand residents of Donbass, with your "patriots" gleefully calling for “More roasted Colorado Beetles!” Given that, why on earth are you suddenly troubled by the death of ten passengers on a bus which was taking “quilted jackets” from Donetsk to pick up their pensions in Mariupol?  So you've killed more pensioners – what a saving for the Ukrainian state budget.... 

Rejoice and celebrate: do not hold back!  Each Colorado Beetle is a feast for the home-grown Nazi. Be honest at least in front of your victims: tell them the truth and admit your doings to the Colorado Beetles themselves.  And then, you can treat yourself to a couple of cakes in the form of Russian babies -- to celebrate.  And anyway, isn't it time that each message of death to the inhabitants of Donbass be marked with some fireworks, too? The fireworks would at least – if only for a few minutes -- dispel the darkness you've rolled out, smothering the light. 

If viewed objectively, it is obvious that the Ukrainian economy still exists only by the grace of the Kremlin.  Cast it away indignantly, this aid, and proudly hurl it into the abyss, as is the way of true Aryans.  Show yourselves worthy descendants of Bandera not just in words!  Follow your leader to the very hell, and declare, finally, your war against Russia! 

Let Mosiychuk, Yarosh and Illenko lead the charge, let them be at the head of the column moving on Moscow. They have already spewed out all of their Russophobic nonsense, so it's time to move from words to actions!  I solemnly promise that I will sacrifice two harmonicas, playing at their funeral. Maybe even three.

Make sure, though, to stop well before Moscow: you're like lap-dogs on a chain ... small, noisy , yapping at the elephant ... street curs full of noise, of stink, too, and if you ever get off your chain, you will find yourself squealing somewhere in Canada or London, the big heroes that you are. 

You're brave only when you're a crowd against one – as at the Euromaidan, beating left-wing activists, a crowd of chain-wielding bullies against a handful of peaceful leftists.  Or when going fully armed against unarmed civilians, as last May 9 in Mariupol.  But when you meet with someone your own size, you show youselves contemptible cowards. And there you are, swarming the Internet -- “patriots” calling for war not from the trenches or even from some office in Kiev, but from Italy and Poland, spattering your hate propaganda all over cyber-space. 

You can't even engage in direct battle with the defenders of Novorossiya.  No, when it comes to a real fight, you always run away. Always running away. ALWAYS. The only thing that you can manage are vile attacks from afar, your "bravery out of range", and even then what we get from you is not artillery duels but the shelling of residential areas.

"Woof, woof," go the dogs chained to the US State Department (not only in Ukraine, but also in the Baltic States). Currently they seem like bull terriers, but in fact they are spitz. He who barks the loudest will receive a cookie from Nuland.

Do you think your owner will protect you?  Do you imagine the owner will have mercy on you, obedient slaves?  Where have you seen slave owners fighting in defense of the slaves?  All you will get is a hand wave, as Bush to Saskashvilli in 2008: "Our thoughts are with you."

And then there will come a time when you will find yourselves alone with the Russian bear, awakened from hibernation. And there will be only you, the bear, and your full "bloomers”.

I'm awating that moment with impatience. And so, State Department curs, enough of this policy of "Neighbor, give me something to eat”, and then “We have nothing but shit to shovel in under your door”.  Do not let me down, oh slaves of Obama: do me a favour, and do finally declare war on Russia.  Enough of your barking, you home-grown Nazi curs of Ukraine!


Aleksander Rogers, for the News Front

The original text in Russian can be found at

http://news-front.info/2015/01/15/pismo-nacistam-aleksandr-rodzhers/

My Inaugural Page

Sept12 2015-1

This is the very first blog I’ve created, so it will take me some time to learn how to use the technology and how to post things here properly.

Let me introduce myself: I am a college professor of Communications and the Humanities (English and American Literature, from an interdisciplinary point of view).  After a serious illness, two complete hip surgeries, and (given my chronic health condition) the very long recovery period after each of them, I am now on Long Term Disability and will probably not be able to return to my former teaching position even on a part-time basis.  What does remain possible for me is research and writing, i.e. the creative and scholarly work I can do at my own pace.

I’m so committed to universalism (and, naturally, the Project of the Enlightenment, too) that I regularly forget to start by mentioning the basic biographical details about myself.  So, here it goes: I was born in a country that no longer exists, have to date lived on three different continents, and am proud to be (also) a citizen of Canada, a naturalized Canadian.  One last, possibly pertinent, detail: I am, at it happens, a female of the human species.  I mention this as I have frequently been mistaken for a male of the species even in situations in which my photo could quite clearly have indicated otherwise.  My Facebook page appears under my former married name (Tumir).  I also post on Google+ as Vaska X Tumir MA.

I intend to use this blog for several purposes:

  1. As a portal for the final preparation of the special issue of Pynchon Notes devoted to the Transit of Venus International Pynchon Conference held in Malta in 2004
  2. As a portal for the translation I am working on of Letters from Two Sarajevos
  3. As a portal for my creative writing projects, starting with my poetry
  4. As a place where I can post my observations and thoughts about the world of international politics, which, at this juncture in time, is reaching a crisis of epochal dimensions in my view

Eventually, I may even post some of my work on these future projects:

  1. A new, feminist, universalist Minima Moralia.  I don’t have a title for it yet, so this borrowed work-in-progress-title will have to do for now (with all due respect and acknowledgements to Theodor Adorno, of course).
  2. A much longer work I do have a title for: A Phenomenology of Being.  (This title is hereby/henceforth reserved for my exclusive use.)

These last two projects, will take time and I won’t be posting any materials towards them for at least a year (and probably quite a bit more).