Excerpt from “A Season in Hell” – Arthur Rimbaud

Oh! Science! Everything has been revised. For the body and for the soul,–the viaticum,–there are medicine and philosophy,–old wives’ remedies and popular songs rearranged. And the pastimes of princes and games they proscribed! Geography, cosmography, mechanics, chemistry! . . .

Science, the new nobility! Progress. The world marches on! Why shouldn’t it turn?

«««

On highroads on winter nights, without roof, without clothes, without bread, a voice gripped my frozen heart: “Weakness or strength: there you are, it’s strength. You do not know where you are going, nor why you are going; enter anywhere, reply to anything. They will no more kill you than if you were a corpse.” In the morning I had a look so lost, a face so dead, that perhaps those whom I met did not see me.

«««

Out there, are they not honest souls that wish me well? . . . Come . . . I have a pillow over my mouth, they do not hear me, they are phantoms. Besides, no one ever thinks of others. Let no one come near me. I must smell scorched I’m sure.

«««

I used to make him promise never to leave me. It was as vain as when I said to him: ‘I understand you.’

“Ah! I have never been jealous of him. He will not leave me, I believe. What would become of him? He knows nothing; he will never work. He wants to live a sleep walker…”

A Shift of Western Sympathy in “The Great Gatsby” and Mehta’s “Fire”

                  For centuries, harmony has been the invisible wheel steering Eastern action and culture, which has prospered on the belief that good input will equal good output. Spiritual balance is maintained, for example, through external societal organization of class in the caste system. The socio-economic divisions separate people from the time of birth by wealth into distinct classes that they can not, at any point, transcend. India, for example, has maintained this caste system since ancient times. People followed the system to maintain social harmony. Only recently they eliminated the structural caste and welcomed the American ideal of “rags to riches,” evident in recurring themes of Bollywood films, suggesting that these boundaries can be crossed.

The film, Fire, directed by Deepa Mehta, in particular questions the Hindu’s boundary of duty. Without touching on the western ideal of “rags to riches,” the character strives for the western ideal of individual freedom that will allow her happiness, despite the unrest and disorder it causes the family. The protagonist, Radha, runs the household, takes care of the mother-in-law, works at the shop, and aids her husband in his practice of celibacy, for she is barren and any sexual relations for the sake of pleasure would be sinful. When Sita, her son’s new wife, who moves in with the family, challenges traditional duty, Radha comes to challenge her own purpose in life. She begins to challenge her husband and her work entirely. Sita and Radha find the love they need in each other, and the lesbian relationship forms in order to satisfy their needs. This whole social order is threatened by their intemperate actions, but their acts are portrayed as doing nothing wrong, that in the ending scene Radha survives the fire indicates that she is pure from any wrongdoing.

Traditional Eastern culture disapproves of the Western value of individual desire above communal desire, however Fire demonstrates a shift in Indian or Eastern mentality. They have adapted this way of thinking, eliminating the social structures that bind us and oppress us, to embrace individual liberation without regard to the community or even the family.

              The Great Gatsby similarly glorifies the aspirations of one to transcend caste boundaries, however, Gatsby’s desire is for power and not love.

That this movie is remade with current music and effects, indicates the social relevance it has today. The film resurfaces the question of whether one can truly surpass the social class they were born into. By influence of executive producer Jay-Z, the music plays a huge role in connecting the 1920s to modern day. The current music helps us associate that this story is most definitely a commentary on current American culture.

              Gatsby is one who dreams of becoming part of the elite caste, the “old money” society of propriety and status. However, close he gets to the “green light,” he will never be fully accepted into that culture. The Great Gatsby was commonly believed that  into social class.  India is a prime example for their social order of the caste system, which deeply impacted their culture. It was not until 

Whether we like to think this social ordering does not exist, it very well exists and cannot be fully eliminated as we naturally are creatures who function on the level of survival. We stick to those we trust, those who experience our same culture, who share our same values.

“Sleep” – Jorge Luis Borges

If sleep is truce, as it is sometimes said,
a pure time for the mind to rest and heal,
why, when they suddenly wake you, do you feel
that they have stolen everything you had?

Why is it so sad to be awake at dawn?
It strips us of a gift so strange, so deep,
it can be remembered only in half-sleep,
moments of drowsiness that gild and adorn.

The waking mind with dreams, which may well be
but broken images of the night’s treasure,
a timeless world that has no name or measure
and breaks up in the mirrors of the day.

Who will you be tonight, in the dark thrall
of sleep, when you have slipped across its wall?

“Diary [Underworld]” – Rachel Zucker

Only a mother could manufacture such a story:
the earth opened and pulled her down.

She shows my picture all over town
and worries the details of my molestation.

Terrified she screamed for mother. . .
but I did not scream.

She says it is like having an arm ripped
from her body. But think, Mother,

what it is to be an arm ripped from a body.
Bloody shoulder bulb, fingers twitching, useless.

Did she expect me to starve?
To wither away, mourning the tulip, primrose, crocus?

And if I have changed, so be it.
He did not choose me for my slim ankles or silken tresses.

She moans and tears her hair Unfair!
There was so much I longed to teach her.

Sad Mother, who thinks she knows so much–
teach the farmer to grow seed.

The fields await instruction.
 

 

 

 

 

 

From Eating in the Underworld. Copyright © 2003 Rachel Zucker.

“Diary [Underworld]” – Rachel Zucker

In him is a loneliness so complete he cannot feel it.
I grow to fit it.

         My hips, under his, give way.

Everywhere the air is thin with ghosts–they float
like mist across the edges of the eye, gone

when the head turns to acknowledge. Their courtesy
makes a path for me to pass, a cleaner atmosphere.

We are not just lovers,
but no one understands this.

My mother lies with Poseidon, Dionysus, Helios, Hermes
and is unchanged. I am

becoming something
other than I was.

         A consort. A Queen.

No more a maiden but still with maiden hands.
It’s true that I am less without him

         but when he sees me

all the gold of this world glows against the marble walls
and the veins of the deep stones blush with color.

His bones make a soft place for me on his granite bed.
His touch is the sweet glance of the past, but his laugh–

         he has always been expecting me.
 

 

 

 

 

From Eating in the Underworld. Copyright © 2003 Rachel Zucker.

“Spoiler” – Hala Alyan

Can you diagnose fear? The red tree blooming from uterus
to throat. It’s one long nerve, the doctor says. There’s a reason
breathing helps, the muscles slackening like a dead marriage.
Mine are simple things. Food poisoning in Paris. Hospital lobbies.
My husband laughing in another room. (The door closed.)
For days, I cradle my breast and worry the cyst like a bead.
There’s nothing to pray away. The tree loves her cutter.
The nightmares have stopped, I tell the doctor. I know why.
They stopped because I baptized them. This is how my mother
and I speak of dying–the thing you turn away by letting in.
I’m tired of April. It’s killed our matriarchs and, in the back yard,
I’ve planted an olive sapling in the wrong soil. There is a droopiness
to the branches that reminds me of my friend, the one who calls
to ask what’s the point, or the patients who come to me, swarmed
with misery and astonishment, their hearts like newborns after
the first needle. What now, they all want to know. What now.
I imagine it like a beach. There is a magnificent sand castle
that has taken years to build. A row of pink seashells for gables,
rooms of pebble and driftwood. This is your life. Then comes the affair,
nagging bloodwork, a freeway pileup. The tide moves in.
The water eats your work like a drove of wild birds. There is debris.
A tatter of sea grass and blood from where you scratched your own arm
trying to fight the current. It might not happen for a long time,
but one day you run your fingers through the sand again, scoop a fistful out,
and pat it into a new floor. You can believe in anything, so why not believe
this will last? The seashell rafter like eyes in the gloaming.
I’m here to tell you the tide will never stop coming in.
I’m here to tell you whatever you build will be ruined, so make it beautiful.

Published in the print edition of the New Yorker September 28, 2020, issue.

“Letters from a poet who sleeps in a chair” – Nicanor Parra

V

Young poets
Write any way you want to
In whatever style you please
Too much blood has gone under the bridge
To go on believing–I believe–
that only one road is right:
In poetry everything is permitted. 

“Emergency Management” – Camille Rankine

The sun eats away at the earth, or the earth eats away
at itself and burning up,

I sip at punch.
So well practiced at this
living. I have a way of seeing

things as they are: it’s history
that’s done this to me.
It’s the year I’m told

my body will turn rotten,
my money talks but not enough,
I feel my body turn
against me.

Some days I want to spit
me out, the whole mess of me,
but mostly I am good

and quiet.
How much silence buys me

mercy, how much
silence covers all the lives it takes to make me.

In the event of every day and its newness
of disaster, find me sunning on the rooftop, please
don’t ask anything of me.

If I could be anything
I would be the wind,

if I could be nothing
I would be.

“The Dalliance of Eagles” – Walt Whitman

Skirting the river road, (my forenoon walk, my rest,)
Skyward in air a sudden muffled sound, the dalliance of the eagles,
The rushing amorous contact high in space together,
The clinching interlocking claws, a living, fierce, gyrating wheel,
Four beating wings, two beaks, a swirling mass tight grappling,
In tumbling turning clustering loops, straight downward falling,
Till o’er the river pois’d, the twain yet one, a moment’s lull,
A motionless still balance in the air, then parting, talons loosing,
Upward again on slow-firm pinions slanting, their separate diverse flight,
She hers, he his, pursuing.


*Whitman himself had never seen the mating of eagles but wrote the poem – with much reworking – from a description given him by the naturalist John Burroughs.

 

“IX. PÈRE LACHAISE” – David St. John

The names that have been unnamed arise, cold & clear
as the inscriptions upon the virgin stone. There, the rubies shone
against the onyx; there, those charnel house weathers, & the love
that must emerge like love. On the other side of the world, my
best friend dressed only in small brass cymbals. They were the size
of quarters & linked by either wire or cord. He had no idea what it
meant. He knew only as he moved each movement was announced by
the most glorious sound, chimes & rattles & an iridescence in the ear –
the golden weather of himself shimmering everywhere. When they
found him later, dead, they said how pagan he’d become in his nakedness, in his glory.

– from The Auroras