"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words." ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Paris: Ferlinghetti, Fenton & Forche


Shakespeare and Company Bookstore, Paris
On the right is my friend Victoria, who has been around the world!

Recipe for Happiness
Khabarovsk or Anyplace

One grand boulevard with trees
with one grand cafe in sun
with strong black coffee in very small cups

One not necessarily very beautiful
man or woman who loves you

One fine day

Lawrence Ferlinghetti
American, b. 1919

Paris Street ~ Rainy Day
Gustave Caillebotte ~ French, 1848 - 94

I guess Ferlinghetti feels that to say "Paris" -- rather than "Khabarovsk or Anyplace" -- would be simply too obvious; whereas, in the next poem, "Paris" becomes the substitute code word for something even more obvious and too often cliched:

In Paris With You

Don’t talk to me of love. I’ve had an earful
And I get tearful when I’ve drowned a drink or two.
I’m one of your talking wounded
I’m a hostage. I’m marooned.
But I’m in Paris with you.

Yes I’m angry at the way I’ve been bamboozled
And resentful at the mess that I’ve been through
I admit I’m on the rebound
And I don’t care where are we bound.
I’m in Paris with you.

Do you mind if we do not go to the Louvre,
If we say sod off to sodding Notre Dame,
If we skip the Champs Elysees
And remain here in this sleazy
Old hotel room
Doing this and that
To what and whom
Learning who you are,
Learning what I am.

Don’t talk to me of love. Let’s talk of Paris,
The little bit of Paris in our view.
There’s that crack across the ceiling

And the hotel walls are peeling
And I’m in Paris with you.

Don’t talk to me of love. Let’s talk of Paris.
I’m in Paris with the slightest thing you do.
I’m in Paris with your eyes, your mouth,
I’m in Paris with . . . all points south.
Am I embarrassing you?
I’m in Paris with you.

James Fenton
British, b. 1949

La Tour Eiffel
Photographed by my niece, Sara Carriker, 2013

And one more poem about Paris in which the last line says it all:
"I've been to Paris . . . "

As Children Together

Under the sloped snow
pinned all winter with Christmas
lights, we waited for your father
to whittle his soap cakes
away, finish the whisky,
your mother to carry her coffee
from room to room closing lights
cubed in the snow at our feet.
Holding each other's
coat sleeves we slid down
the roads in our tight
black dresses, past
crystal swamps and the death
face of each dark house,
over the golden ice
of tobacco spit, the blue
quiet of ponds, with town
glowing behind the blind
white hills and a scant
snow ticking in the stars.
You hummed "blanche comme
la neige" and spoke of Montreal
where a québecoise could sing,
take any man's face
to her unfastened blouse
and wake to wine
on the bedside table.
I always believed this,
Victoria, that there might
be a way to get out.

You were ashamed of that house,
its round tins of surplus flour,
chipped beef and white beans,
relief checks and winter trips
that always ended in deer
tied stiff to the car rack,
the accordion breath of your uncles
down from the north, and what
you called the stupidity
of the Michigan French.

Your mirror grew ringed
with photos of servicemen
who had taken your breasts
in their hands, the buttons
of your blouses in their teeth,
who had given you the silk
tassles of their graduation,
jackets embroidered with dragons
from the Far East. You kept
the corks that had fired
from bottles over their beds,
their letters with each city
blackened, envelopes of hair
from their shaved heads.

I am going to have it, you said.
Flowers wrapped in paper from carts
in Montreal, a plane lifting out
of Detroit, a satin bed, a table
cluttered with bottles of scent.

So standing in a Platter of ice
outside a Catholic dance hall
you took their collars
in your fine chilled hands
and lied your age to adulthood.

I did not then have breasts of my own,
nor any letters from bootcamp
and when one of the men who had
gathered around you took my mouth
to his own there was nothing
other than the dance hall music
rising to the arms of iced trees.

I don't know where you are now, Victoria.
They say you have children, a trailer
in the snow near our town,
and the husband you found as a girl
returned from the Far East broken
cursing holy blood at the table
where nightly a pile of white shavings
is paid from the edge of his knife.

If you read this poem, write to me.
I have been to Paris since we parted.

Carolyn Forché
American, b. 1950

Girls Together in Paris ~ Sara & her friend Angela

Next Fortnightly Post
Friday, June 14th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

To Forgive: Reprove, Restore, Reclaim


Tree of Forgiveness
by Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones

Last week, Gerry and I were lucky enough to view this painting
at The Lady Lever Art Gallery
in Port Sunlight, Merseyside, England

Before we proceed, allow me to express my dismay at the preponderance of exclusionary masculine pronouns to be encountered in this post: "restored to himself" ~ "he who will not be taught" ~ "wholly His" ~ "He has forgiven." In scripture, literature, female authors, male authors: How long, O Lord? Naturally, I find the omnipresence of gender - bound sentence structure depressing and distressing; yet, I like all of the following passages and their common theme that forgiveness requires searching your own soul and using your thinking cap:

"In short, I began to think, and to think indeed is one real advance from hell to heaven. All that hardened state and temper of soul, which I said so much of before, is but a deprivation of thought; he that is restored to his thinking, is restored to himself." ~ Daniel Defoe, from his novel Moll Flanders

"Impatient is he who will not be taught or reproved of his sin, and by strife wars against truth wittingly, and defends his folly."
~ Chaucer

"When He talks of their losing their selves, He means only abandoning the clamour of self-will; once they have done that, He really gives them back all their personality, and boasts . . . that when they are wholly His they will be more themselves than ever."
~ C. S. Lewis, from The Screwtape Letters

"He has forgiven me not just a great deal, but everything."
~ St. Therese of Lisieux

My friend Joni added this insight on forgiveness . . .

"That is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself,
not counting their trespasses against them,
and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
~ 2 Corinthians 5:19:

. . . with her own concluding comment: So if God's no longer counting why are we?

Good question, Joni!

One of my favorites:
"As far as the east is from the west, so far
are our transgressions removed from us.
~ Psalms 103: 12

It took me awhile to notice that our transgressions are removed not only from the mind of God -- they are also removed from us! We no longer have to align ourselves with every old mistake we ever made. As Joni points out, "If God is not looking backwards, why are we?"


On both the use of paternalistic pronouns and the topic of forgiveness, I am reminded of the musical, Children of Eden written in the late 1980s by Stephen Schwartz. Schwartz takes some interesting and creative liberties with the Book of Genesis, but, alas, he totally forgot to eliminate the patriarchal sexism. Now, that's what I would have done! Instead, we have the same - old same - old God as grand-dad, with no grand-mom in sight; and the relentless chant of "Father, Father, Father."

Even so, some of the lyrics are quite beautiful:

Children of Eden
Like this brief day
My light is nearly gone
But through the night
My children you will go on
You will know heartache
Prayers that don't work
And times of bitter circumstances
But I still believe in second chances

Children of Eden
Where have we left you
Born to uncertainty
Destined for pain
Sins of your parents
Haunt you and test you
This your inheritance
Fire and rain

Children of Eden
Try not to blame us
We were just human
To error prone

Children of Eden will you reclaim us
You and your children to come
Someday you'll come home

Children of Eden
Where is our garden
Where is the innocence
We can't reclaim
Once eyes are opened
Must those eyes harden
Lost in the wilderness
Must we remain . . . you will reclaim us . . .

Garden of Eden by He Qi
[artist's bio / previous post]

In the Beginning
This step is one again our first
We set our feet upon a virgin land
We hold the promise of the earth
In our hands

No flood from heaven comes again
No deluge will destroy and purify
We hold the fate of man and men
In our hands

Now at this dawn so green and glad
We pray that we may long remember
How lovely was the world we had
In the beginning

Of all the gifts we have received
One is most precious and most terrible
The will of each of us is free
It's in our hands . . .

Children of Eden
Grant us your pardon
All that we leave to you
is the unknown

Children of Eden
Seek for your garden
You and your children to come
Some day to come home

[emphasis added]

*As wise Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. observes it in Slaughterhouse Five: "We just can't seem to help feeling so entitled to free will, but what does that really mean?"

Next Fortnightly Post
Tuesday, May 28th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading