“For echo is the soul of the voice exciting itself in hollow places.” ~ Michael Ondaatje, from The English Patient

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Two for Tuesday: Michael Ondaatje

Tuesday afternoon, partly cloudy, 83 degrees.

I missed the birthday of one of my favorite writers: Michael Ondaatje (September 12, 1943). One of my best friends from the museum, Becky Anthony, introduced me to Ondaatje and his masterful novel, The English Patient, which was adapted into an equally beautiful movie starring Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas. The Poetry Foundation has a nice bio of the author.

For today’s Two for Tuesday, I thought that I’d share some of my favorite quotes from the novel, a few more than two, I suppose. I’m also including a video with some of the movie’s soundtrack. I love movie soundtracks, and this is one that I listen to when I’m feeling very out of sorts. It is as hauntingly beautiful as the movie and novel. Enjoy.

“She had always wanted words, she loved them; grew up on them. Words gave her clarity, brought reason, shape.”
In the desert the most loved waters, like a lover’s name, are carried blue in your hands, enter your throat. One swallows absence.
A man in a desert can hold absence in his cupped hands knowing it is something that feeds him more than water. There is a plant he knows of near El Taj, whose heart, if one cuts it out, is replaced with a fluid containing herbal goodness. Every morning one can drink the liquid the amount of a missing heart.
He walks with her through the indigo markets that lie between South Cairo and her home. The beautiful songs of faith enter the air like arrows, one minaret answering another, as if passing on a rumor of the two of them as they walk through the cold morning air, the smell of charcoal and hemp already making the air profound. Sinners in a holy city.
And all the names of the tribes, the nomads of faith who walked in the monotone of the desert and saw brightness and faith and colour. The way a stone or found metal box or bone can become loved and turn eternal in a prayer. Such glory of this country she enters now and becomes a part of. We die containing a richness of lovers and tribes, tastes we have swallowed, bodies we have plunged into and swum up as if rivers of wisdom, characters we have climbed into as if trees, fears we have hidden in as if caves. I wish for all of this to be marked on my body when I am dead. I believe in such cartography—to be marked by nature, not just to label ourselves on a map like the names of rich men and women on buildings. We are communal histories, communal books. We are not owned or monogamous in our taste or experience. All I desired was to walk upon such an earth that had no maps.

More later. Peace.

Also, Happy Birthday to William Carlos Williams (“The Red Wheelbarrow) and Ken Kesey (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest)


The Cinnamon Peeler

If I were a cinnamon peeler

I would ride your bed
And leave the yellow bark dust
On your pillow.

Your breasts and shoulders would reek
You could never walk through markets
without the profession of my fingers
floating over you. The blind would
stumble certain of whom they approached
though you might bathe
under rain gutters, monsoon.

Here on the upper thigh
at this smooth pasture
neighbour to you hair
or the crease
that cuts your back. This ankle.
You will be known among strangers
as the cinnamon peeler’s wife.

I could hardly glance at you
before marriage
never touch you
–your keen nosed mother, your rough brothers.
I buried my hands
in saffron, disguised them
over smoking tar,
helped the honey gatherers…

When we swam once
I touched you in the water
and our bodies remained free,
you could hold me and be blind of smell.
you climbed the bank and said

this is how you touch other women
the grass cutter’s wife, the lime burner’s daughter.
And you searched your arms
for the missing perfume

and knew

what good is it
to be the lime burner’s daughter
left with no trace
as if not spoken to in the act of love
as if wounded without the pleasure of a scar.

You touched
your belly to my hands
in the dry air and said
I am the cinnamon
Peeler’s wife. Smell me.

~ Michael Ondaatje

 

Sunday Saudade

Just a quick update . . .

Sorry for the dearth of posts. It’s been a rough week mentally. Here. Have some Bukowski:

Happy Birthday to one of my favorite authors and the writer whose work inspired my life-long love of British mysteries, Agatha Christie (September 15, 1890- January 12, 1976).

“On a branch | floating downriver | a cricket, singing.” ~ Kobayashi Issa (Trans. Jane Hirshfield)

Cover of A Haiku Garden: The Four Seasons in Poems and Prints

Today’s Two for Tuesday features poems from the book A Haiku Garden: The Four Seasons In Poems And Prints, by Stephen Addiss with Fumiko and Akira Yamamoto (a PDF of which can be found here). I’ve been intent on the coming of autumn, but I decided yesterday that I need to appreciate the last days of summer, regardless of the flies.  I find that whenever am keenly focused on nature and in search of poems, I turn to Haiku, and admittedly, I am very fond of the frequent appearance of dragonflies in this type of verse.

Haiku is a traditional 13th century form of Japanese verse that depicts a moment in time, or as Cor van den Heuvel wrote in 1987, Haiku is the concise “essence of a moment keenly perceived in which Nature is linked to human nature.” When translated to English, the formal Haiku is supposed to be composed of three lines of verse, usually unrhymed, with five, seven and five syllables. These 17 syllables are akin to the original form of 17 mora, which is a unit of Japanese syllable weight; however, it has been pointed out that roughly 12, not 17 syllables in English are equivalent to the 17 On (phonetic units) of the Japanese Haiku, which only goes to show that strict adherence to form does not necessarily a Haiku make.

Mori Shunkei,” Red dragonfly and caterpillar on plant” (1820, wood block print)

Over time, poets have moved away from the strict 17 syllable and line count while focusing more on the economy of form. Importantly, to understand Haiku it should be viewed as more than a short poem, more than a pithy description. For a poem to be Haiku, it must encompass a sense of awareness, an eloquence of brevity. One other aspect of Haiku that should be noted is the use of kigo, which are words or phrases traditionally associated with seasons. I actually found a world database on kigo which contains fairly comprehensive discussions of the Japanese term and its use in Haiku.

The Poetry Foundation has a good description of Haiku that can be found here. A more detailed history of the form can be found on the site With Words, and the British Haiku Society site offers a breakdown of the western views and approaches to the form. Historically, there were four Japanese poets considered masters of the form, sometimes referred to as the Great Four: Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694), Yosa Buson (1716-1784), Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828), and Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902). Seventeenth-century Samurai poet Bashō is often classified as the greatest writer of  Haiku; to read more about him you can go here or here for a collection of his verse.

Because of the compact nature of Haiku, I am breaking my self-imposed Tuesday rule and featuring more than two; most of these come from the “Summer” section of the book, and I am including the page numbers on which each can be found. Enjoy.

More later. Peace.


After the thunderstorm
one tree catches the setting sun—
cicada voices

~ Shiki (p48)

Seen in the daylight
it has a red neck—
the firefly

~ Bashō (p48)

The warbler
amid the bamboo shoots
sings of old age

~ Bashō (p51)

The garden darkening
the night quieting—
peonies

~ Shirao (p52)

The coming of autumn
determined
by a red dragonfly

~ Shirao (p60)

The dragonfly
has died his body
autumn

~ Bakusui (p63)

The puppy
completely unaware that
autumn has come

~ Issa (p63)


Music by Rodrigo Rodriguez, “Hitomi (Eyes), composed by Horii Kojiro