AHA THE BIG BANG
Aha the Big Bang I hear myself say.
How can it possibly fit in my mouth?
The start of it all a lump on my tongue.
Quiet. Fear is a bird-flock that rests in a tree.
Or is it words that huddle together
ink-black on the branches. It is a form
of panic that wells up in me and bursts from my
throat like a flock on the rise. The cosmos
unfurls its wings. We flap. Holler and shriek.
Translated by John Irons
The girl goes up the stairs. The girl goes up the stairs with steps
that crowd into a curve at the top. She keeps on going
despite the fact she can do nothing about it.
We catch a glimpse of her forehead pale skin
her hair parallel to the steps.
She looks straight ahead as she goes up the stairs.
There’s a girl that goes up the stairs!
It could easily be a wig, the way her hair hangs.
She clasps a parcel under her arm.
There’s a parcel going up the stairs on the steps
a door on the stairs on the steps the ankles the girl.
She makes no change now her toes reach the steps at the bend
a fan above her head a door swerves out of the darkness
out of the silence in her squeezes a curve of shoulder-high steps.
There’s a girl that goes up the stairs with a reason.
Translated by John Irons
I started to read Der Doppelgänger in Paris
in a room that slightly swayed
It seemed well-known to me.
In all the streets I see a house where I can live
for I come from low-lying marshlands.
A descendant of land-seekers at sea
whalers and pirates I have a soft spot
for England an interest in France
and a preference for Russians who’ve strayed
into German. In Berlin I came across Der Doppelgänger
in a house that was just like my own.
What I had left behind in Paris
and would be able to approach from Berlin began
to thrust itself upon me in ever more concrete forms.
I let this happen for it was a bridge
that would mend loose ends in space and lacks in me.
But who says bridges have to be completed
and where are the words that I read.
Translated by John Irons
A black physiotherapist on Iceland invited me out
for a walk. He looked at my hips
and I saw a future. He said: ‘Your posture is wrong.’
Shoulders back, chest out.
I jolted through the snow pallid as my surroundings
and he moved majestically in the white.
When he showed me the top of the Vatnajökull
the snow scrunched under my feet.
The earth’s crust tore until I was standing
upright under an ice cap. Then over the ice I was just able
to gaze into the world where the physiotherapist
on his knees stretched out a hand to me.
Ice water round my feet splatters into an abyss
into which with a single step I can disappear.
It is white inside my head. Can anyone give me details?
I’m standing in the middle of a baffled universe.
Translated by John Irons
What is it that you contain? The Dead. Time. Light patterns of
The expanding universe opening in your gut. Are your
twenty-three feet of intestines loaded with stars?
- Jeanette Winterson, from the novel Gut Symmetries, 1997
Turn me into a diamond when I die
I flung out at someone sitting across the table
letting the words trail behind me as exuberant
silk around the neck of Grace Kelly in an open car
as she plunged into death full colour.
The hall in which we dined slowly turned
around us and then narrowed faster around me.
It whirled a mad merry-go-round and I laughed
and twirled until the tables and people
became fluttering napkins. Small hearts
in tightening chests grey of revolving
and I closed my eyes, turning slow
black pupils into a hollow skull.
I fell in clear black.
It was cold space cold as glass in which I fell freely.
Free from weight. Free from clouds and gazes.
Free, astonishingly, from time
and I knew this is death and all.
(Remember: the spindly tree that rose up
from a field straight as the spine of a child
as you followed its rising branches
reaching for the sky with squinted eyes.)
I know it is the universe that is pulling
and I try to tell the person across the table
not to worry about the diamond
my ashes are of no importance
compressed or not who cares
between raging comets and stars
there are no words and besides I am plunging.
I do not have a voice to yell.
THE ULTIMATE COLLECTION
For Pieter & Marieke Sanders
What is it that we resist putting the colours of stones
and skies into a pocket, what is omitted by looking
for completion, the right words on the ground?
It shimmers through the leaves
at dawn in shivering patches. The garden is raining,
I check and see correctly. The forests are pouring down.
It growls: More dawn! More shivering patches!
More details, more words for tones and spheres
to stretch the credibility of landscapes and make
convincing rain appear. Besides growling
we have grunting, gnarling, barking. So rumble.
Bellow, snarl and thunder.
We are still looking for a variation on the howl.
‘No we are sorry
we can not let you in.
If we would let everyone -
We draw clear lines you must agree
good fences make good neighbours.
Sand will be sprayed up to here
(We point along imaginary
borders for the moment. All in good time.)
The shore is straight
as we like our fields aligned
with uncurved ditches.
Has someone started working on calming
this surface? The waves are running wild.
We are still thinking of trees.
We have been talking about toads.
Decided against otters unanimously.
We shoot the deer
that breed in the harbour.
We like to keep things clean.
We are so sorry.
It has been five already.’
NEW LAND AS SEEN FROM THE MOUNTAINS (WITH A CAMERA)
I could not possibly live here
I warn my husband who likes to move and travel.
The mountains do not fit in the frame of my camera.
I see young boys chuckle when I try the panorama
function on my phone. They copy my slight
sliding gesture across the landscape
and I let their raucous laughter rush wildly
along the shore, cross the lake, roar through the water,
giggle up the cliffs, chase the building clouds
and wake the owls - scowling at the tall
white idiot from the lowlands.
I gasp for air that is strangely
surrounding me and of the thinnest blue.
As this cool hue enters my head I remind myself
that my fear of mountains is absurd
but I am surrounded by heaving cliffs
and edges that are ready to crumble under my feet.
It is a waterfall, the thinnest beam that strikes me
as an idea. With an ice cold sky lapping against my head
and limbs afloat, I consider settling somewhere
finally on old land or new land I do not care.
As I crawl onto the shore of this fragile future
I am joined by black-backed gulls, giant earwigs,
atlantic sturgeons, bats, woolly mammoths,
little terns, redwings, oysters, rabbits, singing
skylarks, lizards, ducks and hares. We join sunbathers
who brought bright towels and kites. They bathe
like they do everywhere and as they stretch out
on new land we are already out of focus in time
and we can rest in new and old sleep, dawning.
Spring 1839 - A couple in grey tones with star-specked
faces stare into a space that cannot quite be defined.
They know their image will be captured and soaked
in light and perhaps as river water eases the bark
from fallen branches, their likenesses will float elsewhere.
This space is grey and rimmed with a gradient of colours,
alight with possibility. The man frowns.
He cannot take the capturing of images seriously,
although the process has been explained to him
many times. This could explain why his hair shows
an unruly curl on the right side of his head.
The woman's face is wide and her mouth is a short
straight line. Pale eyes with shadows underneath.
Her straight hair is parted in the middle. Bunched up
on either side of her head, it broadens her lifeless cheeks.
It is hard to tell whose hand rests in the middle.
The flat, square dress of the woman edged with
a pressed white frill encompassing a thick neck extends
into the neat square shape of the man's dark suit.
They share this hand which looks like it could be writing
a message. The white woman seems brighter now.
What do they see? They blur into a question
about what exactly is visible, given that background
and details in varying contrast and saturation
can be changed at will. And sharpened at the edges.
DIFFICULT AND ODD
OR: THOUGHTS ON HOSPITALITY
To be read aloud with peeled, soft boiled egg in mouth
We were asked to gather around a breakfast table and feel welcome.
We sat up straight and nodded in each other's direction.
Soft light fell upon the artists, artists- in- residence,
curators and the ones still looking for a place in this world.
The food looked fresh but as we had to listen to people speak
it felt awkward to stuff my mouth with bread and egg.
Especially the egg proved to be a challenge. When someone nervous
began to speak and there were a few with shivering voices,
the egg fell trembling from my mouth in solid shapes and yellow flakes,
large and larger than the eggs themselves. Difficult eggs and odd eggs
collapsed from my lips as words were searched for in the room
and it became increasingly hard to swallow and matters
were not improved when I tried to lift the crumbs
from my lap and smeared them across my trousers. Was there egg
in my hair? There was when I reached for it. I stretched my arm
out towards a blue flask that I hoped contained water. I needed help
but the woman seated next to me was taking notes furiously.
She seemed to write down more than what was actually said
and when I tried leaning over to get an impression of her raging
language she poked an elbow at me and I tried to think it was a reflex
and that it didn't mean anything but the elbow stuck out at me
like an insistent weapon and the writer's body crouched over the table.
It breathed hard through the nose and was like a dog digging a hole
in the soil even when its not hoping to find a bone or hide a dog's treasure.
And I thought writing, this furious writing we all get to one day
to force a new reality down on paper, or to express regretregretregret
this writing is like hapless digging in earth and I don't know
if it is death we are looking for or is it death we are trying to hide
when we put our bones to rest. I wonder if I could ask my other neighbour.
She is not eating eggs she is sipping tea with a bright face
listening to an artist from Turkey who did a project inviting neighbours
to join her in art projects. Nobody came. What did this prove?
I tried to concentrate on the answer but maybe there was none
not really or was I feeling left out by my neighbours on the table.
I decided to be blunt and ask the girl on my right to have a look
at the book that was on her table. Without looking at me
she slid the book across the table top. THANKYOU I said really loud
and it caused a ripple along the table and heads turned and the speaking
artist fell quiet and my THANKYOU passed along the room like a cloud.
Nobody knew where it came from and it didn't matter.
The silence was welcome and I saw several people finally swallowing
down their food and the artist thought her time was up and fell back,
relieved, in her chair. I saw someone smile and someone searching
the ceiling for perfectly white end empty text balloon clouds to appear.
To be read silently with perfect white cloud over head.
I had read a text by Derrida, On Hospitality, on my way to the breakfast
and its countless repetitions and synonyms made me boil with impatience.
I tried to estimate how much time would be saved if the synonyms
were dropped. I will give you the short version of what I was struck by
and do a Derrida- esque footnote for you to enjoy in your own time *.
Hospitality is like entering prison, as a guest you have to behave
to the rules set by your host. So saying welcome is like saying sit down
and behave and eat these eggs. Swallow them all. To which I would like to add
a few last thoughts sparked by the most preposterous host I ever came across,
in the form of Martha in Who's afraid of Virginina Woolf,
a play I postponed reading for years, because I think I am actually afraid
of Virginia Woolf and what she represents. It is me! I am afraid of her.
Martha shocks her guests with rudeness and crude eroticism and the mystery
why anyone remains with this brute can only be answered with: her eloquence.
Besides being bitter and hysteric she is witty and brilliant. The sharpness
of her formulation makes anyone forgive what she is actually saying
(George is also a great brute but Martha is somehow more repulsive
maybe because she is a woman, yes Virginia Woolf, but also because she
seems to care less about the results of her crudeness) and she made me realise
that hospitality is like good writing. If your hosts are eloquent, they can do
as they please and you will stay in place. If they quiver, you fall.
*Derrida, in reaction to Kant's writing on Wirtbarkeit, states: 'At bottom, before even beginning, we could end our reflections here in the formalization of a law of hospitality which violently imposes a contradiction on the very concept of hospitality in fixing a limit to it, in de-termining it: hospitality is certainly, necessarily, a right, a duty, an obligation, the greeting of the foreign other [l’autre étranger] as a friend but on the condition that the host, the Wirt, one who receives, lodges or gives asylum remains the patron, the master of the household, on the condition that he maintains his own authority in his own home, that he looks after himself and sees to and considers all that concerns him [qu’il se garde et garde et regarde ce qui le regarde] and thereby affirms the law of hospitality as the law of the household, oikonomia, the law of his household, the law of a place (house, hotel, hospital, hospice, family, city, nation, language, etc.), the law of identity which de-limits the very place of proffered hospitality and maintains authority over it, maintains the truth of authority, remains the place of this maintaining, which is to say, of truth, thus limiting the gift proffered and making of this limitation, namely, the being-oneself in one’s own home, the condition of the gift and of hospitality.'