You ever looked real hard at the sky from a window from looking up outside walking about shaking loose the sorrow clinging like foam on the lips looking real hard and wondering if the sky is the sea the sea is the sky and if you drown will you fall from the sky again drop into another body and scream because you came back again and again and again just waiting to begin what you want to begin staring at the sky in anger real hard eyes like lasers yea I know I know I wipe the foam of sadness and trace my scowl lines with rosehip seed oil and stare real hard at my reflection I am the sky or am I the sea blue blue blue you ever looked at yourself real hard stared so long you could’ve sworn you smiled but you got scared cause that smile never came from you walking away is easy everyone just wants to play but the sky is the sea and sea is the sky too serious for anything but too dumb for those who tell you the sky is the roof the sea is the basement but we’re just roving along in the black jelly of space trying to find a center you will always seem to misplace stare at the clouds too long they become faces stare at the waves too long they grow arms but those faces just tease a conversation and they tell you to stay away from those arms and I have to agree I don’t want to keep coming back okay alright I’ll live until I can’t fine fine the world is whatever I say the world is whatever they can prove
Nothing looks like the smile of anything in happiness anymore chasing joy with its corona of glitter the angels assure blue and purple Michael is here but nothing looks like the smile of anything in happiness anymore the empty trappings of loneliness thieves the dollar that the heart charges to be gazed at pink and red Chamuel is here but I pass on love as the table is filled knick knacks and little figurines a couple of pomegranates and some oranges here lies her hand and here lies his legs but nothing looks like love anymore a dollar to charge to see the heart the world and its tokens amusement only those sad pathetic clowns nothing looks like the smile of anything in happiness anymore chasing joy like a sport and collecting the gold rings and when it hurts they spill over on the cement and didn’t you think that each transaction would be paid so dearly my heart runs and runs I run after my heart as the angels and the clowns and their distracting empty joys fill my periphery I run and run towards the edge of the world towards the end of the universe contemplating the warmth of a real honest embrace
Green leaves green leaves and a temper simmering to a boil the hot water now calms the ache and the heart is trying to find where it put down its bag filled with the stones collected by the river cause lover loved someone else cause lover did not want such a melancholy love green leaves raining pink and red petals and a temper my temper turning into a tempest but it don’t upturn the trees I turn red in the cheeks and the churning makes me dizzy and what the hell is my heart doing collecting stones by the river I took the heavy bag and spilled the earth scented rocks onto a pile of green leaves and leaves blow now from the wind is my breath now the wind I’m huffing and puffing sighing in the trouble unloading these burdens why heart come back but she says my chest is a cage and now I have no heart I’m a heartless woman wandering the woods I make trouble to those that come by purposely making them more lost than they came my green leaves now yellow and dead now it only rains white fluffy feathers and a cloud came down to me to scold my emptiness says my chest is a prison says my mind has no key and where are my manners says where am I ending says where did I begin but my green leaves turned yellow my cheeks have sallowed I say have mercy my heart has run away from me I say I can’t love without this sadness and now my green leaves have turned yellow but they turned into vapors got me talking to air now I’m in waiting waiting for the leaves to turn green again and my heart will she return maybe I should collect the stones again I threw them in haste my heart is such a peculiar thing
I came across Alejandra Pizarnik from a diary entry last October. This sentence stood out to me: “Ahora se que cada poema debe ser causada por un absoluto escandalo en la sangre” “Now I know that every poem must be caused by an absolute scandal in the blood”. I knew what she meant, how frustrating it feels when you’re pushing yourself to make poetry like you’re a factory spitting out products. It took awhile to really let it sink in because we all have our moments when the things are stirred and then the aftermath is placed within the confines of whatever medium is desired by the soul in that moment.
I became distracted by other things until I came across Pizarnik again by stumbling on this screenshot:
I was intrigued and went on a mission to find the movie. It’s from the biographical movie titled Alejandra (2013). I became so enthralled with her story, felt a little validated when learning she too would keep a journal with quotations, and overall felt a sadness in knowing how painful she felt life was and saw no point in continuing trying her hardest to let it all go. Throughout the film, Vanessa Molina brings to life Pizarnik’s poetry, adopting the tonality of her voice. Then towards the end the only audio recording of Alejandra’s actual voice is heard. I was moved to tears, and since then every time I read a poem, my inner voice now has adapted her tonality, her grave emphasis to each word, asking me to dig a little deeper.
As I was watching this film I was eating a mandarin, and now every time I eat a mandarin or smell citrus I will always remember Alejandra. I love when scents or food get associated with something I end up loving. It makes me feel so connected to everything in a very beautiful, romantic way.
If you’re curious and want to be inspired also, here’s the movie in its entirety with English subtitles, and let me know what Alejandra Pizarnik has stirred within you.
(trigger warning for mentions of suicide and suicide)
Full diary entry:
Domingo 24 de Noviembre de 1957
Desalentada por mi poesia. Abortos nada mas. Ahora se que cada poema debe ser causada por un absoluto escandalo en la sangre. No se puede escribir con la imaginacion sola o con el intelecto solo; es menestar que el sexo y la infancia y el corazon y los grandes miedos y las ideas y la sed y de nuevo el miedo trabajen al unisono mientras yo me inclino hacia la hoja, mientras yo me despeño en el papel e intento nombrar y nombrarme.Alejandra Pizarnik, Diarios.
Sunday November 24, 1957
Discouraged by my poetry. Abortions only. Now I know every poem is caused by an absolute scandal in the blood. You can’t write with only the imagination or only with intellect; its necessary that the sex and the childhood, and the heart and the great fears and the ideas and the thirst and again the fear work in unison while I bow towards the sheet, while I collapse in the paper and attempt to name and to name myself.Alejandra Pizarnik, Diarios.
The reflection staring back at me
Shattered just by a few words
Oh Brian the girl you knew
Left me at the turn of a corner
The sweetness licked clean
By the fires blazing from those eyes
Oh Brian people change
When they get bruised over and over again
Your heart may break
But mine rots within me
With the memories that won’t fade
But don’t cry Brian, don’t cry
You can find me in every sad gaze
The reflections of lightening over rivers
I move between the veils now
Oh Brian find me in your dreams tonight
Such sorrow tumbling down
Racing through the rubble of the past
Upturning the dust of dried blood
The scabs opening
And the sorrow pulling at the skin
Tumbling down through the hours
And the days turn to months
The months disappear through a mouth
A scream seething through the broken chest
Caging the heart that shrieks
A bird caught between the ribs
As the sorrow pummels through the ground
The soul unraveled in its wake
Such sorrow seeping in the dirt
Turning into a river, overflowing the lakes
Running towards the sea
And staining the ocean
What’s the color of sadness again?
Grey and blue
And the waters roll, tense and relax
Nothing out of the ordinary
Sorrow falling from me
No different than water crawling towards the sea
I came across Rainer Maria Rilke in the year 2014. I would read anecdotes and quotes of his, and then I stumbled upon, “Go to the Limits of Your Longing”, a piece of poetry extracted from The Book of Hours: Prayers to a Lowly God. Everyone who seems enamored with this poem tends to interpret it differently. When I first read the poem, it stayed with me immediately after reading it, the lines floating across my mind, my own voice echoing in my ears. The sheer beauty of what Rilke was trying to capture, in the midst of unraveling it through the voice of a monk, captivated me. It’s my north star, whenever I don’t know what to do when it comes to poetry I turn to Rilke’s The Book of Hours, and it allows me to re-calibrate my spirit.
There’s the circulated translation by Joanna Macy and Anita Borrows, but my favorite translation is from the original German by Annemarie S. Kidder. Translating poetry is an art-form in and of itself. To capture what a poet does in their native language is trying to route the rhythm of their being. Poetry is the rhythm of our spirit plucked through the waves of emotions we feel. Seeing the original German side by side with the translation, I feel more at ease as I pronounce the words in it’s original capture. You cannot read this poem on its own, Rilke demands you to read The Book of Hours in its entirety in order for you to understand the beauty you see in, “Go to the Limits of Your Longing”. As Kidder says in the introduction, “For Rilke, the duty of the artist is to travel the austere journey of self-discovery. He compares this journey to life in a religious order, whereby the artist practices releasing all trifling and temporary things as by placing them outside the door, purging his or herself of them…” Because for Rilke this allows us to come to terms with solitude and solitude allows us to find the space we need to expand and create honestly.
Whatever your impressions of God are, as someone who creates, this need to figure out the self in order to express what needs to be extracted from the soul and heart, you have to understand the surrender to something greater than the self. You can argue of the ability of the human to accomplish so much, but at the end of our life we have to bow at and come to terms with our mortality and the edge of our journey. But while we are alive, the borders of our lives extend to the greatness of the divine. Trying to reconcile the both enriches our understanding of ourselves. We try to explain everything, gathering facts and figures but still we fall short to explain those things that can’t be held within numbers. I love The Book of Hours because it is a journey of questioning, of trying to understand this god, and ultimately trying to understand ourselves in front of such a phenomena.
God talks quite audibly before one is created,
Then walks in silence beside you into the night.
But the words, before one is given one’s start,
These cloudy words are:
Guided by your senses you are sent;
Walk to the rim of your desire;
Be my attire.
Grow like fire behind the scenes
So your shadows stretch and hover,
Becoming my cover.
Allow it to happen: beauty and terror.
Just press on! No feeling is an error.
But don’t get severed from me.
Close is this land
Which one calls life.
You will recognize it
By its strife.
Take my hand.From “The Book of Monkish Life” in The Book of Hours: Prayers to a Lowly God.
The Original German:
The sound of the scanner beeping each item is still ringing in her ears as she leans on the closed window. The rush of the fan pushes the echo further into her brain. It hurts. Her feet hurt. Her lower back hurts. The scent of soap on her hands reaches her nose and the reminder of washing them vigorously under the kitchen tap, wakes her the fact that she’s still in her work clothes. She passes the rooms as she makes her way to hers, and they swivel in and out like human turnstiles; her mom getting ready to leave for the late shift cleaning bank offices, her sisters, one coming home from school the other leaving for a late class. Her father pacing about trying to find the remote he just set down, wanting to change the channel before his soap opera starts.
She takes a shower and changes into her pajamas, a pair of checkered shorts and a white cotton tee. She serves herself dinner as her mom exits leaving a, “Mari, don’t forget to mop the kitchen tonight” behind her. Mari only forgot once and that was because standing another minute after a long shift became too much to bare.
She has become too accustomed to sitting in front of a screen watching a show or a movie while eating. Headphones on and she walls herself in for a moment of tranquility. No matter the content of the show, be it drama, action, comedy- it walls her in those little worlds away from her own. A temporary safe-haven where she can’t be reached to pay the rest of the bills, to clean up after everyone, to be a filler in someone else’s void.
She ends the evening with tea by the window, sitting on the radiator watching the last light of the day melt into a pink sorbet of clouds, foaming into a blueberry pie being cooked slowly. The sun is tucked under the horizon and the moon will soon make her appearance. Venus or that bright star has opened the show. The deep blueness intensifies, and the wind blows away the shadowy grey clouds. The tea is not scalding hot anymore but she takes careful sips anyway savoring the taste of the green tea leaves, no sugar just the punch of green that is so soothing and welcoming after a long day. She could hear her dad snoring already from his room and she decides to call it a night even though it’s only nine o’clock.
Rolling herself in her covers like a burrito, she’s able to snuff out the tractor like air conditioner. In these few moments before closing her eyes, she always tries to make a note to buy a new one but come morning, light smears the note away until the next night. She hasn’t cried herself to sleep lately due to the exhaustion of putting her body to work again. Her mind swivels like a huge eye, wildly in all directions from the repetitive work; scan, scan, scan, swipe card, take bills, pack it all, give receipt, scan, scan, scan, swipe card, take bills, pack it all, give receipt and on, and on. Unable to find the threshold, her baseline, she just passes out from the lack of commands.
A field has opened into view. Long green stems, peppered with little white flowers bounce on the tall, swaying grass. She can see her arms moving it all aside as she walks through. She cannot feel the grass scratch her sides, but she can feel the softness of the tips of flowers kissing her elbows as she makes her way through. The sky is a big blue tent free of clouds. The sun is far on the other side and a soft shade looms happily over everything, keeping it all cool and light. There’s a woman up ahead and she spots her with her face against the swaying grass, smiling as it grazes her cheeks gently. The woman looks up and sees her, she waves, and Mari waves back. The woman beckons her to come closer but Mari awakens to the sound of the air conditioner trucking in place as the light of the morning trickles through the curtains.
Under the shower head, she vigorously spreads
the foamy soap with a wash cloth over her body. The sweet scent of the rose
scented soap reminds her of her dream; the woman’s face plastered like
wallpaper on the inside of her lids. With each blink, she can see her clearly
and with each blink her foolish little heart melts for this woman. Ready to go,
she leaves her goodbyes behind her, and heads to her shift at work.
Repetitive work is work and even among her circle, honorable work. She’s seen people respect her a little more for it. When you’re down and jobless no matter what caused it, people will blame you for being lazy. It’s their solace, Mari concluded. They are buoys in the middle of the ocean trying to convince you to stay afloat as another marker in this mere existence. No cruise ship will lower itself to you, so you got to work, even if it just means to float on the vastness of this seemingly perpetual blue. It’s not that she didn’t want to work, she was just having a hard time getting her mind to realize it had a body to attend to here on earth. Some days felt like she was running after a balloon, and wondering why she should catch it in the first place, why not let it go and let it finally get popped by the heat of the sun? Those were the hardest days to get through but on the outside, she just looked as if she was sitting down by choice, rather than being weighed down by this need to catch her mind before it burned.
The smell of the floor cleaner greets her as the automatic door opens, the pulsing beeping sounds smack her ears and she waves to her co-workers already into their shift. She clocks in, ties her apron on, and receives her assigned register for the day. During lunch break, she could see the woman mouthing something between her slow, tired blinks. Mari chews her food appreciatively as she tries to decipher what the woman is saying but reading lips is something she could never figure out. Her break is over and she uses the bathroom before heading back into the fray. After lunch, it becomes a little hectic but nothing compared to the four o’clock rush, good thing she’s on her way home by then.
On the bus, she decides to close her eyes for a bit. But the woman is no longer smiling or trying to tell her something instead she’s peering at her curiously making Mari’s cheeks burn in embarrassment. It’s that special kind, the kind of embarrassment you feel when someone you like gazes into you as if they’ve seen you completely and already something has awakened in them too. Most people feel happy for the reciprocation, not Mari. It feels terrifying, especially since she still feels raw from digging her way up from the depths of her sadness.
She arrives home, showers, and then settles down to eat dinner. Everyone around her is too busy in their own orbits. She doesn’t watch any shows or movies. It’s silly, she reasons, but it’s a change from her usual dreary landscape of her mind. Her mind is now fully preoccupied with the mysterious woman, nothing else will do. The woman is beautiful; her eyes are the color of licorice and she bets they must give out a sweetness so sharp they can trip up anyone’s gait, her hair is dark and tightly coiled, the tips barely grazing her lower back. She cleans up, washing the dishes with her mind panning over the landscape of the mysterious woman, zooming in on her smile and her inviting eyes.
She rolls herself into her covers and closes her eyes as the air conditioner’s roaring motor fades and a field opens once again and this time the woman pops up into frame laughing softly, “there you are again, I thought I dreamed you up!”. Mari furrows her brows, “isn’t this a dream?”. The woman shakes her head slowly as she smiles, “how silly” and takes her by the crook of her arm to a group of tall trees.
The trees are thick, creating a half circle, with the roots combing over each other. Grass is interspersed within each nook and the woman clears a space for them to sit down. “I’m Leomi, what’s your name?” tucking her legs underneath her, she responds, “Mari”. Leomi clasps her hands to her chest, and repeats, “Mari” as if she’s savoring each letter in her mouth. “Well Mari, nice to meet you” and extends her hand to her. Mari shakes it as Leomi places her other hand over it and holds them there. She gets closer and she can see the texture of her skin, the deep line in the middle of her plush, grape tinted lips, and the short thick eyelashes curtaining her eyes. Mari was right, sweet dark licorice and she can feel herself stumble. “Wow, you’re so pretty Mari”, Leomi says but Mari insists she’s not. Leomi sucks her teeth, “but you are. Look at those crescent moon eyes, bright like a deep summer day and your rounded nose, like mine but mine is bigger but that’s okay” and she pauses to laugh as Mari presses her lips together suppressing hers. “I can also see something in them. I think it matches a bit of my own something. But I can’t explain it, you know? It’s like something deep within me is pointing at you and saying, ‘there’s home’. So here I am”.
The wind rustles the leaves, knocking a few as it rains green for a moment. Mari feels so peaceful, ‘so here I am’ doesn’t sound strange to her but a little doubt creeps in. Even if it is her doing, so what? Elixirs of any kind can finish the job, this task her mind has set upon soothes the last bit of roughness in her. This is so soothing, nothing wrong about it. Mari leans closer and moves a long curl from Leomi’s face and in a blink, morning opens as it closes a door.
Work, home, eat, she can’t wait to dream again and again. Mari is excited to learn about Leomi each time; how she likes to suck on a slice of lemon because she believes it keeps her teeth white, or she removes the pie crust first so she can use it to scoop up the filling bit by bit, or how she likes laying on the grass, letting her body curve into the ground watching the sky change colors. Each time is bittersweet, she eventually needs to wake up and when did her mind become so punctual? Always waking up before she can get a chance to kiss her and right when the sun breaks through the horizon. She looks out the window and orange juice has spilled its way over the blue mantle of the sky. She turns off the a/c and a few tears spring from her eyes.
Eventually she realized she would cry again. It doesn’t matter how dry she felt after the last episode, there’s an ocean inside her constantly renewing itself, the deep goes deeper than her body can show. She wipes the tears away and focuses on the last dream she just experienced. Leomi brought a basket of raspberries. They ate them one by one; feeding each other the small, soft fruit, an offering to each of their lips from the other. Then suddenly, Leomi takes a fistful squeezes them letting the juices run out from between her fingers staining her knuckles. She reached for Mari’s hands and coated them with the crushed berries. Gently she massaged them on Mari’s open palms, “this is my heart in your hands, Mari. I want you to take it and nestle it into yours”. She guided Mari’s hands to her lips, offering the crushed berries to her mouth. Mari ate them slowly, kissing the tips of Leomi’s fingers, one by one. And just when she leaned in for a kiss she awoke. How cruel. But as the morning brightens to the lightest blue, she needs to remind herself, it’s just a dream, right?
The following night she has a nightmare. The scene opens to an empty corridor. It’s long and she makes her way through, uncertain to where it leads. Up ahead she sees a door with a glass window. Mari peers in and watches what appears to be Leomi in a hospital gown. Her long, coarse hair tied back into a pony tail, her face etched with concern as she watches someone move in front of her. Mari tries to open the door, but it won’t budge. She feels suffocated, the sadness is creeping into her lungs, long fingers obstructing her nose, wrapping around her tongue stiff. She can’t scream and she awakens as her pounding fists break the glass. Daylight has not broken through, the clock reads 2:00 am and she’s drenched in sweat. She heads to the bathroom to take a shower and changes into a fresh pair of pajamas. She removes her sheets and lays the covers out so they can dry. It’s as if she alighted from a pool straight onto her bed. She sits on the floor, holding her knees, crying and frustrated with her foolishness. She’s holding herself, trying to keep the lump in her throat from choking her back into the deep sadness again.
The days pass onto each other like a newspaper folding and unfolding by a man’s wrinkled hands; uncaring, calculating, and the inevitable smell of ink- the contract to the daily life of the world. She saves enough to leave her parents. She comes to the realization that she can no longer stay. The repetitiveness of everything is driving her mad. Just like Leomi told her about something within her pointing to Mari as her home, something inside her was begging her to leave pointing elsewhere so she can find her home. Her mother becomes concerned and calls her relatives on the west coast to let them know that Mari will visit, so she can at least have a place to stay as she figures out everything. Her father argues that if it wasn’t for his pension everything wouldn’t fall apart without her and says sternly, “But that doesn’t mean you should go running away like a scared little girl. You’re a woman! Own up to life and live it! Work hard, that’s why you’re here, that’s why I came to this country, to work!”.
The guilt clips at her heels but it doesn’t weigh her down. She takes a greyhound across the country, to the west coast. She watches the city disappear, long highways open a crack within her and the last remaining pieces of her old, broken self fly out like paper cranes. She smiles at each passing exit and she no longer grieves about anything anymore and even as she reaches her destination, not even uncertainty can cut a new wound over the healing scars. She sits at a diner and orders a piece of blueberry pie. She dips the crust into the soft blueberries, scooping each morsel into her mouth. After paying the cashier, she leaves and walks out of the diner and walks towards the park. Up ahead a trail catches her eyes. She follows it and an excitement she has never felt before simmers within her slowly, building its way up to her lips and spreading into a smile.
Mari crosses her way through a few trees and there she is sitting, watching a bubbling stream crawl by. She recognizes the coily hair shining under the real, bright sun. She makes sure she isn’t dreaming, pinching her arm until her skin turns into a dangerous red, she tugs at her hair and she can’t believe it. She gets closer and Leomi turns around, “Mari!” she stands and hugs her so tightly, she can feel the curve of her body fit into hers, “you found me! I can’t believe it!”. Leomi peels away at the hips to look into Mari’s stunned, happy face, “you actually came to find me” and she kisses her forehead, her nose, her cheeks and finally her lips. They stay connected for a long while. Mari breaks the soft silence of reunion, “but how? How? I thought I was dreaming” Leomi spreads her arms wide, “I have so much to tell you Mari, so much”. They link arms and Mari leads her back to the diner, “I think I saw your favorite pie on the menu”.
You learned to open your mouth just a little
The steps follow you
You take their words into your loom
And weave the static into knots
And you open your mouth just a little
Even as they expect you to pout
Lips lather the tripping toads
That follow you croaking their words
You take those murmurs into your womb
And grow the knots that eventually spill out
Open your mouth just a little woman
There’s nothing you can offer
Everything has been made
No one needs your meddling.
Sour scent of sleep
hunger and craving
the sweetness of a smile
fading in a dream.
Love has become fiction
made up of words
building of scenes
that never manifest.
The sour scent of sleep
your hunger and craving
the bitterness of realizations
brightening in the reality
You’ve become a fiction
a lie on a lie
made up of words
and borrowed emotions.