Poem of the month: October

Male marble statue 2nd century BC The Acropolis Museum Petros Gainnakouris Associated Press

Once

by Jonathan Gallasi

The train has left the
the station you can’t take it.
Once the promise has been
broke you can’t unbreak it.

If the letter has been sent
you can’t rewrite it.
If the cigarette’s been smoked
you can’t not light it.

Now the candle’s snuffed
you can’t see by it.
Once the seat’s been sold
no one can buy it.

The phone is disconnected:
don’t talk to it.
The window’s painted black;
you won’t see through it.

The Scotch tape end is lost,
you can’t unwind it.
The earring’s in the lake;
you’ll never find it.

And now the money’s squandered—
you can’t give it
back. And time is short;
you have to live it.

 

Photo: Male marble statue 2nd century BC, The Acropolis Museum, Petros Gainnakouris Associated Press.

In Praise of Book Fairs II: A Frankfurt Love Story

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If happiness is fleeting moments of unsuspected joy then I’ve been very happy at this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair. Upon reflection, these moments have little to do with Frankfurt itself. The architecture of the city is not conducive to joy. The skyscrapers are misplaced: they look like glass thorns in the heart of the city. And the river is too solemn and neutral for my liking. The people, however, are another story. I’ve never met so many interesting, unique individuals in such a short span of time.  If I were a writer I would write a Frankfurt love story. One in which the plot would unfold over countless –seemingly random- meetings between love-struck men and women united by a common object of affection. It would take place in the labyrinth of the Messe as well as restaurants, bars, streets, trains and busy platforms. It would be realistic. There would not be a happy ending to every meeting. And there would be moments of exhaustion, disappointment, confusion, loneliness or, even, despair. The object of the protagonists’ love would always remain elusive. It would appear in never-ending guises, at times beguiling, at others uninviting. There would be risk; miscalculated odds and probabilities. And in between there would be happiness: small transparent moments of joy destined to expire before the protagonists realize their existence. It would only be in retrospect that the heroes would be able to relive the joy of happenstance, the thrill of discovery and the certainty of real love. There would be no regrets, no ifs; only a desire to relive it all again in the next available opportunity. I am not sure if this Frankfurt love story would have a title, but if it did, it would be rather long and predictable: Books and People:  A Story of Condensed Unsuspected Happiness in the (Invisible) City.    

Photo: October Blossom by Evangelia Avloniti.

Poem of the month: September

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September 1, 1939

by W. H. Auden

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism’s face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
‘I will be true to the wife,
I’ll concentrate more on my work,’
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the dead,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

From Another Time by W. H. Auden, published by Random House. Copyright © 1940 W. H. Auden, renewed by The Estate of W. H. Auden. Used by permission of Curtis Brown, Ltd.

Photo credit: W.H. Auden (1907-73) and Christopher Isherwood (1904-86) in 1938 about to leave for China, English Photographer / Private Collection / The Bridgeman Art Library.