blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsFall 2010  Vol. 9  No. 2
translation by John Taylor

from Notes from the Ravine

As kingfishers catch fire . . .

           When I spotted among the willows, at the edge of some shallow water, the orange and blue flash of this bird that I had not seen for years, Hopkins’s line likewise speeded across my mind.


Things that can only be glimpsed
and take on meaning only in their evasiveness

orange and blue combined

fruit that must never be picked

things that must be left to willows, to streams.


           Coldness, grayness, like iron.

           A sky the color of smoke from low-burning fires, of ashes that had wholly forgotten the fire they once were.
           A sky erasing the memory of happier seasons. A closed sky, a walled-up doorway.
           Everything that gets tarnished, no longer reflecting light.


           When the mind loses its reason, does it suffer? Probably only whenever it leaves its distracted state and becomes aware of what has happened. The emaciated old man, who is nonetheless still on his feet and so often believes that he is elsewhere than where he really is, sees former scenes from his life once again or invents new ones: does he suffer in this elsewhere? Perhaps not during the lapse of time in which he believes in it. He moves around within himself with less difficulty than in the real world.

           Yet I tell myself once again that I should not torment myself ahead of time, nor let myself be haunted by what has not yet occurred, however imminent and threatening it can seem.
           Simply write so that it “hums along.” Healing words; not for striking out, but rather for protecting, warming, rejoicing, even briefly.
           Words for sitting up straight; even if we cannot be “ravished up to heaven,” like the righteous.


           Until the very end, unknot, even with knotty hands.


           At the end of an umpteenth dream about losing my way, in which, if I remember correctly, after leaving a theater I began walking ever further from the populated quarters, I saw myself going down a stony path into a sort of funnel where only scraggy shrubs and wild grass were growing in patches among the rocks. I kept going down, but I was so sure of never being able to come back up that anxiety awakened me. This ravine-like passage was shaped like the one that Dante ascribes to Hell, but it was actually an ordinary Hell from which even the greatest mind could not hope to return.


           A little after four o’clock in the afternoon, a cloud-colored half-moon among real clouds, and below them the light of winter evenings—as bright as theater footlights—illuminating the last clusters of foliage and making you think of a nest, a straw-filled manger. And in that bed you would like to lay down your thoughts, slowly overcome by the cold.


           At the age of eighty-two, a year before his death, Goethe offers to his friend, the musician Zelter, a beautiful birthday poem, which ends:

“Wherever the All takes on a shape,
savor the image!”

           Like the image today as big snowflakes have begun to fall, thickening the silence, of the persimmon tree lit up by all its orange fruit among white-muffled branches.


           At my feet, this yellow part of the wall amid the snow, and this other rose part: these roughcast walls that we formerly found a little too new and glossy now seem the very models for Morandi’s colors. Like a painting that had received its light from the snow, as in Leopardi’s poem whose lines haunt me marvelously:

“In queste sale antiche,
Al chiaror delle nevi. . .”

In these ancient halls
brightened by snowlight. . .”


           Empedocles of Agrigentum:

Iris brings wind and heavy rains
from the sea. . .”

           And in his Purifications:

“O friends who dwell in the great city,
perched above the Acragas with its golden silt
(. . .)
you who evil has not soiled, I salute you.”


           My shoulder creaking like a rusty hinge. Although still a minor pain, it could sharpen, like those announcing that death has begun to make you feel its grip. I shouldn’t dare to write that this trifling pain has given me the impression of resembling just a little that Chechen peasant whom a Russian soldier brutally grabbed on the shoulder in order to force him to go inside his house or out of the range of the camera.


           Max Jacob, in one of his last prose writings:

“I saw the Lord below the surface of a river. The river was transparent. His robe was dark but it was neither wet nor soiled.”


           Sentence that I recall having said, during a dream tinged with melancholy, to a young unknown woman with black hair: “In every moment, in this world, there is someone busy crying; and sometimes, it is our fault.”


           This smoke rising among trees lit up by the evening and hovering weightlessly even as our own mist, when we breathe out into the cold air, changes from gray to blue as it climbs: here in this world still at peace, it merely means burning leaves—nothing funereal, nothing atrocious.


           “Anna Mikhaïlovna Epstein”: her grave submerged by snow at a place where at the edge of the sky once shone those cruel or consoling Pleiades for the deported: the tarnished bulbs of the Sakhalin Monastery.


           And now the evening closes in once again, folding up its rose and golden wing for sleep. It is my duty to note this down. Even as scribes used to keep the books for their merchant’s business day: an evening inscribed in the book of evenings, even though this is nothing that can be accumulated or negotiated. No weight, measurement, or price is recorded; nothing can be totaled up. Rather, it is like two limpid glances meeting and, from this, something seemingly escaping from their caducity.  end

return to top