I Am Going to Talk About Hope by Cesar Vallejo

I first read this poem in my favorite anthology and quickly became obsessed with Cesar Vallejo. Even in translation, his language is unbelievably forceful, but it’s worth buying the anthology to read it in its original Spanish and hear the music that he intended. Vallejo was not a minor poet and this is not a minor work, but it’s been a rough month and this poem has been on my mind, so I thought I’d share it.

“I am going to talk about hope”

I do not feel this suffering as Cesar Vallejo. I am not suffering now as a creative person, or as a man, nor even as a simple living being. I don’t feel this pain as a Catholic, or as a Mohammedan, or as an atheist. Today I am simply in pain. If my name weren’t Cesar Vallejo, I’d still feel it. If I weren’t an artist, I’d still feel it. If I weren’t a man, or even a living being, I’d still feel it. If I weren’t a Catholic, or an atheist, or a Mohammedan, I’d still feel it. Today I am in pain from further down. Today I am simply in pain.

The pain I have has no explanations. My pain is so deep that it never had a cause, and has no need of a cause. What could have its cause been? Where is that thing so important that it stopped being its cause? Its cause is nothing, and nothing could have stopped being its cause. Why has this pain been born all on its own? My pain comes from the north wind and and from the south wind, like those hermaphrodite eggs that some rare birds lay conceived of the wind. If my bride were dead, my suffering would still be the same. If they had slashed my throat all the way through, my suffering would still be the same. If life, in other words, were different, my suffering would still be the same. Today I’m in pain from higher up. Today I am simply in pain.

I look at the hungry man’s pain, and I see that his hunger walks somewhere so far from my pain that if I fasted until death, one blade of grass at least would always sprout from my grave. And the same with the lover! His blood is too fertile for mine, which has no source and no one to drink it.

I always believed up till now that all things in the world had to be either fathers or sons. But here is my pain that is neither a father nor a son. It hasn’t any back to get dark, and it has too bold a front for dawning, and if they put it into some dark room, it wouldn’t give light, and if they put it into some brightly lit room, it wouldn’t cast a shadow. Today I am in pain, no matter what happens. Today I am simply in pain.

Translated from the Spanish by Robert Bly

I Am by John Clare

I really love reading John Clare, whose poetry was not on the syllabus of any of the many college literature classes I took. So I guess he’s a minor Romantic poet, but I there’s a wild energy to his writing that makes him, to me, far more enjoyable than Wordsworth or Keats. And I was very pleased to incorporate “I Am” into a play reading I had last week at IRT Theater in Manhattan. Those of you who came to see it will recognize the opening lines.

I AM

I am—yet what I am none cares or knows;
My friends forsake me like a memory lost:
I am the self-consumer of my woes—
They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
Like shadows in love’s frenzied stifled throes
And yet I am, and live—like vapours tossed

Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life or joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life’s esteems;
Even the dearest that I loved the best
Are strange—nay, rather, stranger than the rest.

I long for scenes where man hath never trod
A place where woman never smiled or wept
There to abide with my Creator, God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept,
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie
The grass below—above the vaulted sky.

Kaddish by David Ignatow

My grandmother died about a month ago. There’s not really much to say about death and about losing family members that doesn’t end up sounding banal when you say it out loud, so I’ve been looking for works where writers do things that help me understand what it means to lose someone. This has been one of my favorite poems for a long time. I first found it in this wonderful anthology and it’s especially helpful now:

KADDISH

Mother of my birth, for how long were we together
in your love and my adoration of your self?
For the shadow of a moment, as I breathed your pain
and you breathed my suffering. As we knew
of shadows in lit rooms that would swallow the light.

Your face beneath the oxygen tent was alive
but your eyes closed, your breathing hoarse.
Your sleep was with death. I was alone
with you as when I was young
but now only alone, not with you,
to become alone forever, as I was learning
watching you become alone.

Earth now is your mother, as you were mine, my earth,
my sustenance and my strength,
and now without you I turn to your mother
and seek from her that I may meet you again
in rock and stone. Whisper to the stone,
I love you. Whisper to the rock, I found you.
Whisper to the earth, Mother, I have found her,
and I am safe and always have been.

Ice Cream Man, Blue Balls, and The Funny Thing

promo pic

If you read this blog, you know that I mainly use it to promote writing that’s excluded from the canon, but that I find beautiful or powerful or otherwise remarkable. I don’t usually use this blog for self-promotion, but a play of mine, “Ice Cream Man, Blue Balls, and The Funny Thing”, is opening in New York next week and if you like this blog, you might like the play. It’s a wide-ranging play that explores some heavy topics — racial violence, discomfort with disability, the banality of romance — and still manages to be funny. If you’re in New York, you should come check it out! You can get tickets and more information here.

If you come see it, you’ll get to hear this monologue at the opening of the third act, which is a sort of deconstruction of the romantic comedy form. And if you can’t make it, I hope you enjoy the monologue anyway:

What’s that thing Tolstoy said about happy families? They’re all the same? I don’t believe that for a minute. Actually, I don’t believe that happy families even exist, but if they do, they’re probably weird and interesting and all different from each other. What’s all the same is heartbreak. What’s all the same is that hollowed out, empty feeling you get when you’re left alone. It’s always the same, every time, and probably everyone who’s experienced it has experienced it the same way, forever.

The funny thing is I already know how this’ll go. I’ll be depressed for a while and then I won’t. And then I’ll start to forget and, soon enough, I’ll be on to the next thing, but I’m not ready for that yet. I wish I was. I wish I could just let go, but it’s a compulsion. Clinging to things.

I’m Explaining a Few Things by Pablo Neruda (Second Excerpt)

I love this poem. I’ve written about it before, also at a time where the scale and brutality of police violence had my head spinning. You can find the full poem in my favorite poetry anthology (which also happens to be on sale at the University of Texas Press website right now), but the words that keep running through my head today are Neruda’s final refrain:

I’M EXPLAINING A FEW THINGS (excerpt)

Treacherous
generals:
see my dead house,
look at broken Spain :
from every house burning metal flows
instead of flowers,
from every socket of Spain
Spain emerges
and from every dead child a rifle with eyes,
and from every crime bullets are born
which will one day find
the bull’s eye of your hearts.

And you’ll ask: why doesn’t his poetry
speak of dreams and leaves
and the great volcanoes of his native land?

Come and see the blood in the streets.
Come and see
The blood in the streets.
Come and see the blood
In the streets!

I Love Music (for John Coltrane) by Amiri Baraka

Amiri Baraka wrote a lot of beautiful poems, but I Love Music (for John Coltrane) will probably always be my favorite. You can hear the poet recite over Coltrane’s music in a youtube video and you can read an excerpt of it below. You can find the complete poem and much more of Baraka’s writing in his book “Digging: The Afro-American Soul of American Classical Music.”

I LOVE MUSIC (for John Coltrane)

“I want to be a force for real good.
In other words, I know that there are bad forces,
forces that bring suffering to others and misery to the world,
but I want to be the opposite
force. I want to be the force, which is truly
for good.”
–John Coltrane

Trane

Trane

Trane sd,

A force for real good, Trane. in other words. Feb ’67
By july he was dead.
By july. He said in other words
he wanted to be the opposite
but by July he was dead, but he is, offering
expression a love supreme, afroblue in me singing
it all because of him
can be
screaming beauty
can be
afroblue can be
you leave me breathless
can be

alabama

I want to talk about you

my favorite things

like sonny

can be
life itself, fire can be, heat explosion, soul explosion, brain explosion.
can be. can be. can be. aggeeewheeuheeaggeeee. aeeegeheooouaaaa
deep deep deep
expression deep, can be
capitalism dying, can be
all see, aggggeeeeoooo. aggrggrrgeeeoouuuu. full full full can be
empty too.
nightfall by water
round moon over slums
shit in a dropper
soft face under fingertips trembling
can be
can be