"The west is a knot of thundershowers"

Friday, February 4, 2011

It's been raining here all week, and while I normally enjoy the rain, I've officially had enough. With the rain came the cold, the kind of cold that seeps down into my bones and makes it near impossible to get warm, no matter how many cups of coffee or hot chocolate I drink. Despite the fact that all I've wanted to do today is curl up under my down comforter and take a nap, I made myself a vanilla macchiato, sat down at my desk, and forced myself to read and work on my prospectus instead. I read a few chapters of some important critical books this morning and wrote a solid page and a half of my prospectus, which doesn't sound like a lot, but when you consider that before this morning I had written nothing, a page and a half feels pretty good.


As a reward for actually making progress toward my three page goal for the weekend, I got to read Meena Alexander's book of poetry Quickly Changing River this afternoon. I happened upon the book when I was wandering through the stacks at the library the other day, and I decided to give Alexander's poetry a try because I loved her novel Nampally Road so much.  At barely a hundred pages, Nampally Road packs a mean punch.  Alexander's prose is lyrical and poetic and full of haunting lines and images, such as when a despotic ruler constructs a cardboard city that goes up in flames, or this recurring image she borrows from Indian philosopher Nagarjuna: "If fire is lit in water, who can extinguish it?"  These lines and images resonate all the more in the wake of what is happening in Egypt.  The fire has certainly been lit there, in a way that is both exciting and terrifying.  

Like her prose, Alexander's poetry, which moves effortlessly across time and place, has much to say about love and death and youth and memory--but especially war. In particular, these lines, although written about a different place and different circumstances, spoke to me this afternoon:


The west is a knot of thundershowers,
The east, a nest of small-scale fires.

On terraces covered with roses
Instead of honeybees, bullets swarm.



Alexander's writing is full of this sort of juxtaposition between beauty and destruction.  Her writing is elegant yet raw, never shying away from the unpleasant realities of revolution and war, never ceasing to give a voice to the disenfranchised, such as in this poem, "He Speaks: A Former Slave from Southern Sudan":


Hands were cut off, arms too,
as punishment for flight. Legs too.
For not cleaning the camels, for letting the horses loose.

Yes, I prayed to God.
God have mercy I prayed inside my soul
(the soul is a very silent place).

I had gone to sell beans my mother gave me,
eggs too, in the market in Nymlal,
a friend was with me,

twelve years old, tall as a reed.
He piped up when the raiders trapped us both,
they cut him in the throat.

[...]

A boy of seven, I saw this with my own eyes
and now I shut my eyes.
I want to see no more.



Her poetry is not always so heart-breaking--she writes just as fluidly, just as beautifully about trips to Monet's "water garden" in Giverny and Venice's "floating portals" as she does about a girl who writes with her elbows because her hands have been cut off--and her poetry is almost always hopeful, but today, in the wake of attacks against journalists, museums being looted and gardens set ablaze, and riots in Tahrir Square, it was her haunting images of violence that spoke to me.

2 comments:

American Puzzle February 4, 2011 at 4:35 PM  

Those poetic pieces gave me chills and certainly do resonate with recent events in Egypt. You write so eloquently as you connect these beautiful and powerful poems those revolutionary events - nice to think about these events in a more poetic, artistic light. I've not read her before - thank you for including sampled sections. And congratulations on a page and a half...that IS a great accomplishment! :)

Tawnysha Greene February 12, 2011 at 7:39 AM  

Beautiful post, Lacy.

I nominated you for a blog award (hope you don't mind)....details are here

http://tawnyshagreene.blogspot.com/2011/02/and-award-goes-to.html

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