I am early / the train is late / the image is ubiquitous as false nettle / poetry is a red cat in a sunny window / lying to get out.
This week’s Google Doodle reminded me that in 2013 I wrote a poem about Georges Méliès, one of the first film-makers, the father of special effects and author of the first political film: L’affair Dreyfus (1899). I had known nothing about Méliès until, in the course of my work as a translator and language coach I was working with Dr. Barbara Grespi, a professor of cinema and visual culture. Now, Barbara is one of those insanely intelligent, sophisticated, and stunningly beautiful Italian women who makes someone like me feel somewhat ‘less than’. So, I was thrilled that she had asked me to work with her on an English language presentation about tarot iconography in the films of Georges Méliès. When she first talked with me about the topic, I said George who? She graciously replied, “He’s famous for the film of the Moon with the rocket in its eye.” Sure enough, I wiki-ed and then Youtube-ed and came up with the familiar images.
In the process of finding out about Méliès I also got a bit of information stuck in my head. Five hundred of his films were confiscated by the French army in WWI in order to recycle the celluloid into heels for soldier’s boots.
When I started writing the poem that had been poking and shifting in the back of my head for over a year. I wrote 10 lines of blank verse and then I sat still and started again. It all came in rhyming couplets (which I rarely use and then never one after the other) and it turned into the first eight lines of this sonnet:
Gare du Montparnasse: Sonnet for Georges Méliès
What kind of boot heels do you think they made
Five-hundred films for la deuxième armée?
Celluloid soles France’s poor bastard sons
It is difficult to avoid the puns:
“Attrition: boot(less) battles lost when won.”
“Headline: (well)heeled dead sink in sanguine mud.”
Harder yet, the dramatic phrase hold back:
“Verdun: Europa’s epic fade-to-black.”
The cinemagician’s vanished oeuvre leaves
me, stumbling barefoot through 1916.
Fumbling across mounds of nameless bones;
Agape – Agape, from this place no train goes home.
Dancing couplets I misstep and massacre the waltz,
Lost within the sonnet’s frame, I’ve borne their witness false.
I ended up adding the last 3 couplets because I couldn’t help asking myself: “why are you writing about a toy maker and a special effects man when the ground is full of the blood and bones of the people who died wearing those boots?” Somehow, I don’t suppose we’ll be seeing a Google Doodle about Verdun any time soon.
The mountains are on fire with clouds,
burning wet they billow up,
choking the spaces between the trees.
I hear the ticking of two clocks.
Furrowing through the valleys
fat white engulfs the state road,
levelling even the bell tower’s lopsided stones.
The crackling ash of rain stops.
It is the thing that lies under
below the foundation
……..like a time signature
……..signalling in silence:
È la cosa che sta sotto……..
sotto il fondo.…….
come il tempo quaternario
segnalando in silenzio
the world is dark.
the sky’s glacial pool opens.
three morning stars laugh
over the horizon line.
* * *
this copse of time
this stand of hours
becomes a minute
bristling towards the moon.
I would like to present the A pair of poems in celebration of International Women’s Day 2017. The first, by Liliane Richman, and the second, by her daughter Adina Richman, are both responses to a road trip to Arkansas that they took together. A beautiful mix of perspectives at the intersection of two different generations:
You and me
and me and you
the Ouachita Mountains
Elevation 2,464 feet
Through clouds and shadows
the greens, the pale sky blues
Dripping through the majestic pines
I knew and loved in my childhood
In Sabres, Landes
So much majesty around us
The music of Johann Sebastian Bach
Elevating the castle in my mind
Wherein blooms new altitudes
A call for other adventures, different vistas
Colors and sounds
Young sense, new desires
You and me
copyright 2016 Liliane Richman, all rights reserved
Winding through Ouachita:
Mozart in the mountains
Spaghetti road lacing the Ozarks
From foothills to headwinds
Weaving us back and forth
Hairpins and switchbacks tucked
Among trees of green fire,
Iridescent June bugs, cottoned in rising mist
Sheltering fawns, bears, bobcat
Diamond waterfalls, wind whispers and secrets,
Flowers of gold, purple and silver,
And ancient furled ferns
That reach across time and space
To brush my cheeks and tie me again,
copyright 2016 Adina Richman, all rights reserved
Abound with shades and hues,
But a tilt shift,
a definite rift.
Colour draining away.
Look up without superiority.
Vibrance and warmth.
A depth of palette.
And richer for it.
For M’baye Diagne*
There are so few heroes in a war zone
Especially in a struggle no one wants to name
Military action, civil skirmish, rebel uprising, genocide, not my problem –
Whatever its name or non-name,
Hard to be a hero
In a place where each exhalation is occupied with the business
Of measuring itself, calculating how much fear is safe to expel and
Each inhalation a well-timed sniff, testing what stench is floating about.
In these times where one must breathe like a snake flicks his tongue to taste the air,
One hundred times a minute, because things can change
It is not easy to be a hero
Those who knew him
This Senegalese cowboy
describe three things:
His stride, his smile, his cigarettes
Always one step ahead, moving forward
His beacon grin
Incandescent in the night,
casting light on your face, and his;
As if he’d swallowed the moon
Anything was possible with the power of the stars, the force of the heavens
Beaming from his gut.
He walked with purpose
Lassoing all in his orbit
With that toothy smile
He drew up the slack and pulled in close
Making friends with his moonman laugh
Alien amidst screams, wails, the chop of the machete
To offer you something –
Strength, courage, confidence
A joke, a smoke, a sandwich
A fingernail of time, just long enough
To hang on or let go
The space to decide
He did what he did
Again and again
Crossing terrain from which it’s best to flee.
Laughing with men who didn’t try to hide
Blood spots on their white shirts;
Rotting flesh on the soles of their shoes.
Never allowing even the smallest scent of fear
No fragile tendril of disgust
To waft from between the spaces in his teeth.
No, he laughed, while under the back seat of his Jeep huddled
Bony shoulders clacking on floorboards
Three children stifle their cries
Wishing it was yesterday
When there was still a guarantee of tomorrow
And that was how he did it
No guns, no soldiers, no strategies
Playing the stars, playing the numbers
Three children here, five people there
Twenty-two checkpoints in twenty-four hours
One hundred days, a thousand hills to the Mille Collines,
800,000 corpses and then we stopped counting while
He did what he did
Again and again
One hero, impossible
The man on the moon
Or the moon in a man
His courage light years away from our trepidation
Our feigned ignorance
Our refusal to act
Good bye, M’baye
Peace unto you that persevered in patience!
May you dwell in the Gardens of Perpetual Bliss
Promised in your Qu’ran
Breathing ginger and jasmine
Instead of blood-metal and corpse
Tasting fruits with no thorns
Instead of fear bile and smoke
I wonder- will your heaven be flat, like Senegal-
You can see what is coming for miles-
Or dense, lush, like the forests of Rwanda
Hiding what is always just beyond
The next moonlit mountain
Another chance – there’s always another chance
To be a hero
• M’baye Diagne (1958-1994) was a Senegalese military officer and a United Nations military observer during the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. He is credited with saving many lives during his time in Rwanda through nearly continuous rescue missions at great peril to himself. There is an excellent documentary Ghosts of Rwanda, and a BBC News article, “A Good Man in Rwanda” that might be of interest to the reader.
copyright 2016 Adina Richman, all rights reserved
To find more poems by Adina Richman on this blog, click HERE.
This is my nightmare
I know the right way
Even if I am scared
Let’s say you knocked at my door
Dripping with blood
In the middle of the night
Would I open up?
Claim I’m afraid?
Say it’s Halloween
Some spooky disguise?
I’m smelling some trick
You might want to rape, kill me
Even if you were no mere stranger
You, my neighbor,
With your safe face
Would I find the courage you need
Or would I desist
I were in training
Super Woman, undoing evil
To find more poetry by Liliane Richman on this blog, click HERE.
Liliane Richman’s recently published memoir, “The Bones of Time” can be found HERE.
On the day that I found a brass crayfish figurine at the Pound Store
(It was missing a cheliped,
but I figured that happens in real life too,
so I bought it.),
the day started overcast and windy;
then, it was overcast and really windy with minimal visibility due to blowing dirt;
then, it was overcast and really windy and raining,
which means it was actually raining mud,
which seemed bad enough…
until a video post
came across my Facebook news feed
of a Palestinian family
being assaulted by Israeli police.
First, I watched it without sound
because I always forget that most of the videos have sound,
but that you have to turn it on yourself.
Then, I watched it with sound,
but I couldn’t watch it all the way through,
so I scrolled away,
but the sound,
When I was four,
I found a photograph in a magazine
of Vietnamese refugees boarding a plane.
I must have had a grown-up read the caption for me.
In their panic,
were trampling each other
I did what I always did with images from the Vietnam War;
I cut it out
and included it in a collage
of similar images,
which I pasted,
in my bedroom window,
facing the street,
with a dictated letter,
inviting all those suffering,
to come to my house,
I would come to wonder,
why no one came.
My mother explained that it probably wasn’t visible
from the street.
I suggested we make a big sign then.
She didn’t go for that.
I wonder if the mailman read my letters
when he walked by my window
to deliver the mail?
I wonder what he thought?
I went looking for that image,
wanting to look with now adult eyes
at the image that had rendered me so horrified
as a four year old child.
I didn’t find it,
but Google images offered up refugees,
past and present,
Was it the child’s body,
washed up on the shore,
lying face down in the sand,
the unending stream of refugees
walking past a field of the discarded dead,
the man trying to pull his wife from beneath the feet of the panicked
that demolished any sense of personal potence
to effect the state of the world,
so overwhelming a task it seemed?
with my whole heart,
that with prayer,
I could correct the world’s ills.
I made a promise to God
that I wouldn’t pray
until I knew whether I believed in his existence
I still don’t know.
I still don’t pray.
What then is to be done?