Wednesday, 1 May 2019
‘Passion is a part of the trip, compassion its destiny’: A Conversation with Margarita R. Merino - Re-Markings March 2019
‘Passion is a part of the trip, compassion its destiny’:
A Conversation with Margarita R. Merino
Nibir K. Ghosh
Dr. Margarita Merino has worked in education, graphic design, the media and has had expositions of her poems and drawings. She has published books such Viaje al interior, Baladas del abismo, Halcón herido, Demonio contra arcángel, La dama della gallerna, Viaje al exterior, Pregón de un Sábado de Piñata and many essays, articles, columns and short stories. Critics highlight her talent as “total poetry” through the vitality of her voice. In Mudrovic’s Mirror, Mirror on the Page: Identity and Subjectivity on Spanish Women´s Poetry (1975-2000) she was identified as perhaps the one “who avails herself of the poem as a mirror with the most variety and imagination.” She has lectured, given recitals and sung in prairies, prisons, theaters, classrooms, night-clubs, cloisters and castles. Born in Spain, she lives in USA.
NKG: What attracted you initially to art and poetry? When did you publish your first poem?
MM: Love of arts runs in my blood. I have been communicating with myself—writing, drawing, and singing inside too—since my very early childhood, many times while hiding in closets. Some external sources were helpful such as the good library we had at home–books have been always there and I have been a voracious self-taught reader-. The strict environment where spontaneity or free thinking was repressed with fear at school, the punishment for “disobeying” or being different, the constriction to express ideas, imagination, around the whole society—especially for girls (women were second or third class citizens always under the control of fathers, brothers, husbands, sons…, in the Franquism)—triggered for me the wish to survive those boundaries in a quiet, secret form. I ‘published’ some of my early poems and handmade images in school magazines that have been lost with time or otherwise vanished. I had boxes of drawings, poems, illustrated things, but in the frustrated ways of overwhelmed women mostly doing home chores, my mother or a maid stored those early creations in an outdoor balcony, under the rain and the snow…. So the elements destroyed them.
NKG: Who were the people you would like to single out as your source(s) of inspiration?
MM: My father (Bonifacio Merino) was a very inspiring human being, a great person always helping and listening to others. He was sensitive for culture too—he loved literature, art, music, poetry. Poets such as Bécquer, Rosalía de Castro, Antonio Machado, Lorca; musicians such as Beethoven, Falla, Albéniz; many artists from western culture and cultures around the world were present in the very early years of my childhood but the biggest influence was the care my father had for his family and friends, his dream of universal understanding among people.
NKG: You received a Coca-Cola Composition National Award when you were just thirteen. What was your composition about? What are your impressions of visiting Italy as part of receiving the award?
MM: The subject to write about was given to us: “La rueda”: “The Wheel.” I wanted to finish it fast to attend a birthday party, so I was a bit lazy. I wrote about the history of a wheel that was first used to carry a fancy carriage in a beautiful city—it was probably the 19th Century—to pass later on to be engaged in rural work; to be used after that in serving the adventurous life of some gypsies, and finally abandoned in a forest where—because its first transformation for humans its destiny was to be an useful utensil for them—it misses the joy to serve and remembers the voices of young kids … with tears … in an early use of ‘personification.’
Being a daughter of Gothic Cathedrals, sober abbeys; a neighbor of the ancient culture of Rome in many ways,—an ‘apprentice’ of that old style lawyer my father was—we celebrated every day the antique Roman laws, Roman civil architecture such as aqueducts, roads ‘calzadas’, obelisks…. To be somehow ‘citizens of the Roman Empire’ and its civilized lands was our pride. It is fair to remember the roots of first ancestors but we should also be conscious of their side of barbarity too … ‘Astures’ who rode Asturcones horses almost naked and whose women gave birth by themselves standing up in the fields, but whose enemies were precipitated to the abysms from the top of mountains—as the Spartans did against the customs of Athenians.
I loved deeply my trip to Italy! Italy, its magnificent creations, enchanted me in full—its culture, impressive art, fashion, music, taste and design, delicious food, welcoming people everywhere. I should have stayed hidden there and never returned back to Spain.
NKG: Would you like to talk about the flooding of your Spanish library? How did it happen?
MM: I was living with my young daughter in a cute sunny apartment—kind of a tiny, modest penthouse with a big terrace—in León, Spain. I had a small but pretty diverse library whose books—collected with care—were put in boxes and left in a subterranean garage with a ramp down under the house of some friends when—it was the year 1992—we moved to the States. I rented my apartment with everything but our personal belongings, books, long plays. It was one of the worst floods that ever took place—when heavy rains happened in the north the same year, it flooded that garage and destroyed all my books, drawings, pictures, photos (mine and those of my daughter), wonderful letters from people who are gone. Still I dream of those books and go to the shelves in my dreams to open their pages. I have written poems about that … I go with closed eyes to pages of unique collections of children books bought for me by my parents, pages of my favorite poems, pages with quotations, pages of antique books, pages where special friends and writers wrote dedications many years ago.
NKG: As a student of Political Science and Sociology, what are your impressions about life and polity in Spain?
MM: I knew already that Spain was detained in its right to develop as other neighboring European countries evolved. It happened because of our undeniable peculiar history the Franquism and the long dictatorship damned deeper. But even before it was already a country full of dysfunctional manners—a disability for the ones in charge to reach for the benefit of all the members of society—although the splendid figures, artists, compassionate thinkers that Spain had (we were the first ones to defend human beings against slavery through our notion of “Leyenda negra”—“Black Legend”—invented by our rivals in the times when Spain was in power over seas and lands...). It is often forgotten that almost all of our neighbors had Inquisitions as well during the dark centuries, that we are also our most acute critics in advertising our shortcomings. Spain, despite its rare, precious ‘vidriera’`— ‘stained glass window’—has had three cultures (Christian, Muslim, Jewish) living together; it has a twisted history since the Middle Ages. It is a complex, manipulated interpretation when the historical truth has been carefully disguised in the benefit of the Castilian “ID”—but, please do not understand I am supporting any new nationalism when these are the causes of racism and bloody rampages. Among its marvels, Spain has a disturbing history of wars, destruction, intolerance, extreme poverty of the peasants. The communal lands of the towns (we have had too very advanced democratic communal laws before the British had them)—were sold by absurd legislation across centuries. A lack of understanding of the biggest Spanish burdens and problems (injustice, poverty, illiteracy, fanatism) added to a lack of insight from governments—private or public counselors, religious figures attached to the royals—‘validos’, inefficient politicians, greedy or lazy aristocrats, dismantled the puzzle to ashes. Our Golden Century in Literature and Arts has behind it a scenery that was not so bright. Added to it was a wide possibility of corruption in each corner where escaping every law was available to powerful people or to the ones in charge; authoritarism, selfishness from our uneducated disconnected rich classes—lacking in compassion or the minimal sense of social justice; a Catholic church becoming more conservative and their docile servant when it became impoverished itself by the loss of its own properties and ways to stay independent, able to help the ones in need, when the terrifying big lost— “desamortizaciones” happened. What country has destroyed the irrecoverable wonders of all its amazing monasteries as Spain did with its own? The poor raising explosive resentment and rage built for the long forgetfulness which made them to die of starvation, kept them totally illiterate and without any possibility to work for sustaining themselves, the glorification of a horrifying ‘picaresque’: that celebrated wish to be successfully dishonest! An historical absence of respect for others, a renewed rejection to open, practical ideas happening in our vicinity, and the lack of understanding of the big picture for the country by some outstanding ethical individuals—who were highly spirited and wanted to help Spain—but who did not evaluate properly the real dynamics. Low classes always were manipulated by the feudal landlords—minifundio or latifundio, the ‘caciques’ had a crucial role in Spanish misery—, and the lack of interest or the ability of our political groups to work together. We had learned nothing from Don Quixote.
NKG: Did the Spanish Civil War bring any changes to the situation you describe?
MM: The Civil War of 1936, after the Alzamiento—uprising—of July 18th of the fascists and the conservative forces against the II República, destroyed the biggest efforts in our history to extend public education everywhere, its redefined teachers—‘los maestros de la República’—forged in the ethical foundation of “La Institución Libre de Enseñanza” which goals had their roots in the Krausism. Unfortunately, the Republic was stained by bloody forces wherein actions came from violent groups from both sides involved in horrible crimes: that repulsive execution was claimed out loud by some leaders. I recommend the classic The Spanish Labyrinth by Gerald Brenan, aka “don Geraldo” an Englishman who lived many years close to Granada who truly loved Spain.
NKG: Writers and poets like Federico García Lorca, George Orwell, Arthur Koestler, Andre Malraux, W.H. Auden, John Dos Passos, Ernest Hemingway, Emma Goldman, Pablo Neruda and many others glorified the spirit of the Republican cause not only through their creative works but also in actually participating in the war. Any favorites among these?
MM: I read almost all of them and their work many years ago. My underlined books disappeared in the 1992 flooding of my library. I never tried to replace them, and in fact I have been afraid to return to some of those readings. These years I read more about the war history, memories or biographies. I often still find myself crying through many nights of insomnia because of those events. Among my favorite writers always are the poet Antonio Machado whose great poetry paralleled his ethics as a human being and who shared with the losers their painful destiny, being consistent with his ideals until the very end of his path; Federico García Lorca, who suffered vicious jealousy against his success, was assassinated in his Granada by the orders of the general Queipo de Llano (Ian Gibson has written a lot about Lorca); the very fine, who suffered real starvation, Peruvian poet César Vallejo whose poetry book “España, aparta de mí este cáliz” is one of the most emotional works written about the Spanish tragedy. Pablo Neruda, despite his great poems and fame—or maybe for this—was not always the best as a human being, he was—as many poets are—overly egotistic; though having all the commodities, recognition and possibilities to help Vallejo, he was afraid of the deep poetry written by the Peruvian poet and never helped him. I must remember the peasant poet Miguel Hernández who died as prisoner of the Franquists, as in some way the old and repented don Miguel de Unamuno did. Hemmingway is special for me for his Spanish passion. His many contradictions make him very interesting and human: when my husband and I visited his home at Key West in Florida I still felt his presence. An informative book more unknown than the mediocre—with some very beautiful pages—La arboleda perdida by Rafael Alberti is the one written by his wife María Teresa León Memoria de la melancolía. It is hard to read their praising of the Stalin (whose brutal methods added more blood to the war) figure they meet visiting Russia or their political preferences—ideology many times makes blind the ones who take partisan sides. But they both played a positive role in the educational “Las misiones pedagógicas”—as Federico did it in “La Barraca”—and still Alberti and León, helped bravely to save the treasures of The Prado Museum traveling in risky trips in trucks driven by the milicianos under the Fascist bombings. Something fun and kind of hilarious is to think in the frail and short-sighted Simone Weil trying to shoot in the anarchist column of Buenaventura Durruti.
NKG: The Spanish Civil War is said to be the dress rehearsal for the Second World War. How would you respond to this statement? What memories of the Spanish Civil War did you receive from your mother, María Estrella Sánchez Corbelle?
MM: It is true. That rehearsal was the main reason the war was lost by the legitimate government of the Republic that never received help from France or England. In addition to the treason made by many of the Generals of the Spanish military to the República, Nazi Germany tried their super-sophisticated weapons, their invincible combat planes in Spain. It was a butchery. My mother, María Estrella Sánchez Corbelle, was very disturbed in the depth of her soul, had ciclotimias, fear, melancholic moods triggered by the horrible events she witnessed in her youth in La Coruña. I have published few moths ago a little book—Pregón de Sábado de Piñata (con explicación y gata) —where the poem “Estrangulada su juventud por la guerra fratricida”–“Her Youth Suffocated by the Fratricide War—refers how she watched, as other civilians did, the corpses of fathers and little young sons assassinated by the Falangistas: corpses showing in their poor mortal remains the “tiro de gracia”—the signature last shot from the fascist in their forehead. Those corpses were often dropped in the ditches off the roads. She told me about it all the time. I was very depressed.
If someone wants to know the irrational, abominable ways of the repression suffered by average Spaniards one may take a look at Muerte en Zamora by Ramón Sender Barayón. A true history where abandonment, abuse from greedy relatives or an acquaintance rejected by the victim such as a boyfriend, added torture, and execution of an innocent woman: the mother of the author. Spain was scary in those years, and the many of the ones who claimed to have God on their side committed the biggest atrocities.
NKG: As a poet-painter, what are your impressions of Pablo Picasso’s ‘Guernica’?
MM: I would like to deserve one day to have the title of a painter but I am far from it due to my busy daily life. About the ambiguous ‘Guernica’—an emblematic painting critically analyzed again and again, acclaimed as a symbol against the brutality of war for many of its experts, is it truly a representation of the bombing that happened in Guernica April 28th of 1936 by the German ‘Legión Cóndor’? Is it a masterpiece related with the unknown thoughts of Picasso or a spiral of answers to the dramatic forces and art movements (as the Surrealism) that were taking place in those years of world unrest? I must simply refer to the words, translating them, spoken by Juan Larrea (who seemed to have had an important part in the role the painting played): “throwing down the historical truth, the basic mystery which makes art emotional just happens.”
NKG: How would you describe your experience of moving from a nation steeped in history and culture to the land that Columbus discovered by default only a few centuries ago?
MM: I always have loved the Americas. The speaking Spanish America, the North America which diversity makes together with Canada a vigorous continent. I had a romantic idea through art, literature, music, cinema about America. When I came—knowing no English at all (I used to speak French, now totally “slept” same as other old languages as Latin and old Greek I could traslate in my childhood I have totally forgotten)—I was in shock. I had an anagnorisis on the fortunate life I have had in Spain—notwithstanding the restrictions—simply by being a member of an educated family. Many of the simple daily ways in Spain seemed suddenly big luxuries here—the little things and details which enrich our existence, as I am sure you have plenty of them in India—in comparison with the rush, the workaholism and busy lives here, the isolation, the materialism, the obsession for religion but with such an absence of spirituality in the USA. At the same time, I have admired the many possibilities that are offered around and the essential freedom to choose. I am grateful too for the American friends I have.
NKG: Did you have to undergo assimilation in the melting pot metaphor that characterizes the U.S.A.?
MM: Of course my Spanish ways created for me a lot of misunder-standings. Generosity was suspicious! The revival of a kind of intolerance for being different—here or there—made me to restrain myself as a loner again, I assume life is not pleasant when seen as constant competition, but it is a fact I feel well enough now, and some similarities—as my Cuban-American friend Gustavo Pérez Firmat would say—with the ones living “in the hyphen.” I am, and I write, in a territory that is not León, Florida or Tennessee, a place that is neither Spain nor the States.
NKG: What is your perception of the ‘American Dream’?
MM: My perception is related to that dream by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or the ones that John F. Kennedy or his brother Robert Kennedy would have tried to reach if they would have been not assassinated. But the American Dream now is lost in many ways right now.
NKG: Who are the poets whom you consider as influences on your growth as a poet?
MM: I have many debts sustaining the wish to write or being encouraged to continue alive rather than to a particular style. To feel in company and dialogue with some dead writers when more functional illiteracy is spread around. The more my life passes, the more that I read, the more unfair it seems to me to quote a few of the writers among the many I have read, loved, liked and learned from. I do not like to simplify years of reading and exploring universes in different vital moments and from diverse epochs, ways, and languages. Spanish, Roman, Greek or French, Italian or Portuguese, German or Russian, British, Irish or American writers. Or, if I tried to remember I would think in poems, novels, short stories, chapters more than in particular poets, novelists or writers. I suppose ancient mythology, Homer or Virgil, had a big impact in my early days. Still I remember a children’s book, Platero y yo, when I love animals so much, its sad ending. Many of my inspiring poets or writers were those who in fact had not much recognition along their lives.
NKG: What aspects of American life, literature and culture impresses you most?
MM: America is a very big, alive, diverse place no matter how the ultraconservative forces try to confuse, pervert or diminish its genuine spirit. America is a great country. The variety of American spectrum, freedom, the self-criticism many of its creators have about their own culture or surroundings. It is easy to remember some of the names who have illuminated my Spanish nights: Edgar Allan Poe, William Faulkner, Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, Lovecraft, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Emily Dickinson, Isaac Asimov, John Steinbeck … and, and, and … I was forgetting one of my very favorite writers: Jack London! I will not be able to quote so many of the American films that I love, so many songs I like.
NKG: You have been graciously eloquent in speaking about A World Assembly of Poets and the inclusion of your poem “Ballad Beyond the Darkness.” How does it feel to find your connection with India through this Re-Markings’ Special number?
MM: Magical. I was just blessed by a mysterious Indian spell which put me in the stanzas of a colorful, vivid piece of poetry as art—A World Assembly of Poets—which is going to last. You, Nibir, were the wizard. India was in my early years in some the poems of Rabindranath Tagore translated by Juan Ramón Jiménez and Zenobia Camprubí as it has been always in the admiration I feel for Mahatma Gandhi, or showed up again in The God of Small Things.
NKG: It is believed, good poetry is lost in translation. What is your view? Do you feel more comfortable writing in Spanish and then translating it into English or you prefer to write in Spanish and allow others to do the translation?
MM: Because I did not have a formal education in English and I learned it by osmosis, always I am at a disadvantage. There is no comparison with the use of my Spanish language. I write in Spanish mostly but sometimes I do in English—how have I the bravery? I can not avoid it. The process of the translation to English by others can be painful and risky—although I am grateful some poems have been translated—too many subtle things change there.
NKG: Your poem, “Ballad Beyond the Darkness” ends thus: “She loves you so/ darling old lost world/ coasts and plains and mountains of Spain/ Oh Sweet Tennessee.” Can we call this “mixing memory and desire” in terms of your nostalgia for the past and attraction to the present?
MM: You explained it perfectly! I am grateful to both worlds, their creatures, their nature.
NKG: Going by the contents and expression in your poems entitled, “Mi casa,” “Black Birds at the Windows,” “Ballad Beyond the Darkness,” “Tunnel Infinito” and “Flying in Tierrasola,” would you accept that the images in the poems reveal your affinity to magic realism?
MM: Again, you nailed it, Nibir. Magical realism has been present in my unconscious life since its origins because it was a substantial part of the memory of my parents, part of the way they spoke, related with stories happening in their families and lives, as the legends of their geographical areas and traditions encouraged. Now you can read the poem “Black Birds at the Windows” and decide if you prefer it to my long answers, or maybe to cut some of them and publish both in your tested generosity. Many thanks for all the convergences you bring through diversity and my congratulations too.
NKG: Thanks Margarita for making this a wonderful conversation. In deference to your express wish, we are rounding off this exchange with what you consider your most loved poem, “Black Birds at the Windows.”
Black Birds at the Windows
Translated from the Spanish by Brenda Logan Cappuccio
To Edgar Allan Poe
In the ominous corridors of childhood
where we fearfully shivered and shuddered sheltered in closets
behind the overcoats and with mothballs on our breath,
in strict schools where we ate bloody liver
choking back our disgust as the monitors jotted down
the names of the disobedient on punishment lists,
there where we hid novels and poems, wondrous stories,
under the blue folds of our robes and our uniforms,
the adults tried to disguise the dizzying frenzy of time
degrading us with implacably ordered doll houses.
The domestic rituals of the pale-faced dolls reduced
to a world upholstered in cretonne were carried out correctly
under the scrutinizing eyes of the nosy neighbors of those galleries
with no front walls where perhaps mystery
had secretly nested in its chaotic order.
Play was a formal exercise in the parameters
where pulchritude could not take the place of emotion.
(Ah denial served up in steaming tureens,
the harshness of calendars wrapped in mufflers,
snow falling softly on your mouth burning your lips.)
Far from the cabins in the mountains that exuded
freedom in abundance, in the delirium of the fevers
of childhood, we dreamed of the Great North and a freezing wind
rocked us in its currents as far as the wolfhounds
and the infinite meadows.
The citizens of Foundation and Empire fed on
the sugary celluloid sweetness of the Disney factory
mixer of immortal stories in tasteless batter
to refine the movements of children born very old
to the taste of nuns, frigid mothers, notary confessors
who never filtered the transparency of the punishment
for difference. And we lived it humiliated
on our knees, faces to the wall, with our arms
extended and books in our hands, anointed with white chalk
in the corners next to wastebaskets and blackboards,
filling up with rage, never ever saying the word sorry.
Some of us grew up different despite everyone,
dark circles under our eyes and fear in our fantasies, knowing we were
guilty, exiled forever from the gentle
normalcy that other kids enjoyed in their homes,
and the staircase landings with their scent of wax-comforting
to them-seemed to us threatening places
where you could feel the still fresh throbbing trace
of horrendous crimes between the stairs of each floor
and the vestibule. The fear of being defenseless in the face of cruelty
would take us by surprise: suddenly pressure in the stomach,
the death rattles of the repressed archways in the dining rooms
of the school, the involuntary vomiting that nobody consoled,
the growing omen of that unknown sickness
where the stumps of your soul ache.
Precocious readers, runaway sleepwalkers
who dreamed up other spaces from the alphabet,
we knew early the salty flavor of the fiercest
romanticism in the substance of our tears
but not even the fear of contrite reprisals
could cure us of the stigma and halo of the star:
the rebelliousness of escaping to little prisons
galloped like a wild pony transcending the boundaries
of a prefabricated universe made of papier-mâché
and the tightness of the lie didn’t trap the integrity
of our thoughts, agile like eagles,
when they finally assumed their uniqueness.
Stubbornly, travelers toward the cupolas of the cosmos,
persistent in the imagination that freed us
from the daily abyss where happiness was routinely asphyxiated,
we would fly as the intrepid pilots of so many illusions,
navigators of dreams conceived in terrible gargoyles
in Gothic cathedrals that darkened their stained glass windows
with the secret of underground passages. We were
quiet adventurers into the intuition of the parallel reign
and we crossed over into the country from which there is no return
without staining ourselves with mud, sweat or blood.
Suckled in a voracious melancholy
that was not reflected in mirrors we were
more alone day by day surprised at dawn
in a monologue of strawberries, chocolate and pages.
Those weren’t times to celebrate the collective memory
in the perception of prohibited identity with a song
of one’s self, and on winter’s horizons
the domes of a temple of mercy never appeared:
we knew that our pilgrimage would never lead us
to contemplate the late afternoon from the tranquility of our patios,
and that we would never find the marvelous imaginary city.
But it was impossible to resist this foolish inclination to imagine
movements and magic forms in hallways and corners,
balconies, laboratories and storage rooms, the message of the sermon
crouched among the school desks, prosaic logic of the poor human
eagerness arranged according to the ashen measure of the [confessionals:
passions were rigid, deformed, like the sad fetuses
in the vials of formaldehyde and the withered remains of the [dissecttions
silhouetted on paper like the paper doll cut-outs of the model
that the intolerant middle class of the provinces propagated
and their hunger for a never-golden prosperity.
Then we accepted with pride the smoke signals
that our dreaming inspired where we lived split
into other happier selves, the shining brothers of unnameable [shadows,
knowing in our hearts that we were artists amid incomprehension.
Shocked, we sensed the nearness of the presence,
the foreboding flapping of the carnivorous birds
that tore away all certainty from the thresholds,
and their call made us abandon the warmth of the sheets
recognizing our status as chosen ones, the curiosity
which reveals premonitions. And we learned
to listen to the lament of the dying impaled
on walls, the mewing of ghostly cats, the pain
of the betrayed, the callousness of murderers
expectantly awaiting their chance too
in the tranquility of libraries and family parlors
sowing a mute terror in throats
which have begun to forget children’s songs.
Thus we kept losing our way on the course of our youth,
the trip we would never undertake to sweet paradises
ignored because of the conflict between the concealed and the visible,
confirming in our gut that the eradication of desire,
fear, was a form of cancer that was devastatingly rotting
the delicate epithelia of primordial illusion,
and we obeyed by locking life up in the attic.
The funereal hours passed on a watch without hands
at the initiation to a mystery that gave us another homeland.
Curled up in our favorite hiding places, stretched out under
the chestnut trees and lilac bushes of the Garden of the Assumption
or kneeling on the benches of the school chapel adorned in its finery,
breathing the dense perfume of incense and fresh flowers,
between the sing-song of the prayers and the sacred chants
we were guests of the sinister rooms:
engrossed, we read the dark stories nestled in the bosom
of the missals and their spotless, mother-of-pearl covers
anxiously invoking their creators and creatures,
immersed in the wide space of adventure only
to evade the urgent beauty of the psalms
and the sadness of love-with-a-capital-letter fiercely denied.
A solitary man, in the bitterness of his wretched days,
had opened the cages of the impossibility we knew so well.
Many ominous birds disseminated the desolation of his talent,
the torment of nightmares where alcohol oozed
grimaces and shrouds, yellowish liquid masks
of the most profound pain, larvae of ravenous grief
in the interstices of those left to their own devices,
and one night a heavenly ambassador from the forbidden spheres,
the raven, was awaiting me in my father’s study
bringing signs of the future.
“I am,” he said, “your guardian angel. I have come
to save you from the hope you don’t have.”
“It’s nothing more than the winter gale, the wood contracting
because of the cold,” I assured myself, refusing to glance at the [shadow
projecting from the bust of Beethoven. The storm
abated. The reflection of the snow on the nearby flat roof
gleamed with an unreal brilliance freezing the instant
into a still life. I couldn’t make a sound, and there was no threat
in the tone of that changeable voice that had a mocking
inflection-was it my own interior voice speaking aloud?-
but the crow laughed stridently with harsh cackles
and I fell into a leather chair, turning my back to the evidence,
my gaze floating out into the ghostly sky.
“I’m on the fourth floor of a building in a city
where nothing ever happens, it’s a hallucination caused by the moon and tides,
weariness because of too little sleep, the result of annoying
jokes by my older brothers, too much reading science
fiction and horror stories by flashlight . . .,” I told myself.
“Learn to listen to the language of nightwalking birds
and noble savages, the signs of a world made for you,”
recited the ugly bird in the manner of a Sunday sermon.
And I, astonished, thought: “I’m just a little girl in the middle
of a realistic and very strange dream; I’ll wake up soon.”
A leaden silence perched on my temples,
and I sensed the soft spreading of feathers, the voice now murmuring:
“Yes,”-the words are engraved in my memory as if on tombstones-
“you will awaken to solitude, your heart’s only sustenance,
and nothing more . . .”-There was an agonizing pause.-
“Nothing more than the landscape, the flow of nature
on nights like this one, knowledge, books . . . Nothing more.”
Everything around me began to spin. The outlines of objects
disappeared in the dizziness of my fall into the darkness
of a hazy dream. Melodies and hymnals, windows,
the height of the mountains, thermometers, the sea and notebooks
merged. The faces of my familiars grew old spookily
and my face was consumed in the stages of aging to senility.
I witnessed the wound of time, the destruction of all
that I had loved, still loved, and would ever love.
Because my corpuscles were the inheritors of a never-ending weeping,
and I was the carrier of that weeping, and belonged forever
to generations of weeping, to the family of animals who weep,
and I would dream pointlessly in the country of weeping and of cold [bonfires.
All that remained were the tides, the cyclical lunar debit of their flow,
the fratricidal balance of the waves swinging the bodies of dolphins,
dirty boats in oceans corrupted by the waste of war,
anonymous corpses with their faces nibbled away by fish,
unanswered letter decayed by seaweed and by petroleum,
and on the muddy shores of oblivion, the hunger of the multitude.
Quieted after the mutilation of the watch towers, the storms left behind
a lament over losses, a burning infection from the past,
the agony of unfulfilled love and the burning fresh breeze
in memories, a malignant list of frugal length.
Eyes poisoned by mercury: insects exploring
rotten grasslands, gray lizards in the demolished rubble.
And finally, far from the perfection of the cloisters, McDonald.
In the ruins of the empty amphitheaters, black canvasses, caustic [soda.
Deciphering the message of time, its signs and its petals: the remains
of syringes of serum, the vision of guts invaded by absence,
pentothal in your bones, the scent of bleach in bedpans,
snakes in the cracks of solitary hospitals,
old age in the consumption of mercy.
But I learned to expect the arrival of the sinister birds
on nights of sleeplessness and sacrifice.
Thankfully I opened the windows when I heard in the eaves
the rhythmic beating of the impatient blackness
of their wings.
I was their hostess. I served them honey and little soft rolls.
With them I inferred the certainty of the interpretation of omens.
I let them perch on the head of my bed in rooms
where they monitored the course of my thoughts,
my engrossed reading of the books I love.
With them I confronted my father’s death, the losses,
the lullabies sung to my only daughter to inform her
of the direction of the faraway kingdom.
And I tiptoe across the territories of twilight
until I recognize every inch of their quaking bogs without crying
now that I am getting old.
And I smile serenely, when everyone has gone, when everything is [turned off,
freed of the tremulous spells of happiness,
while they recite in a semi-darkness that for me will never exist “nevermore.”
Note: "Pájaros negros junto a los ventanales" ("Black Birds at The Windows") was first published in America and the Spanish-Speaking World, Part II. Ed. Ed Stanton. ANQ 10.3 (Summer 1997): 2-11.
· Dr. Nibir K. Ghosh, former Head, Department of English Studies & Research, Agra College, Agra is UGC Professor Emeritus. He has been a Senior Fulbright Fellow at the University of Washington, Seattle, USA during 2003-04. An eminent scholar and critic of American, British and Postcolonial literatures, he is Author/Editor of 14 widely acclaimed books and has published over 170 articles and scholarly essays on various political, socio-cultural and feminist issues in prestigious national and international journals.
Published in Re-Markings Vol. 18 No.1 March 2019. - www.re-markings.com
Copyright Nibir K. Ghosh 2019.