Choice Bits, a continuing series

I’ve either mentioned this before or will mention it in the future, but it’s worth either preiterating or reiterating that Calvert Journal’s literature pages, poetry from eastern Europe, is a site I enjoy. I copied as best I could one of the recently posted poems.

Little Things
Written by Anastasia Gavrilovici and translated by Cătălina Stanislav and Vlad Pojoga

Maybe people really do give their best shot
when they’re crushed, just like olives.
Or maybe not, what do I know, my mind is a piece of Swiss cheese
through which you can hear the music of lab rats.
I’m not allergic to anything and, still, I suffer for everything, it’s enough to tell me
that you don’t like marzipan and I’ll break into tears. Human warmth chaotically
emanated, mental contents discharged randomly, morning anger (sleeplessness
and weariness) projected onto your loved ones like an airplane
emptying its debris over a cruise ship. It’s alright, you look at the
glass of beer, you can almost see its full half, if not for the
set of prints that will be reproduced, with a bit of luck,
in the next 10 years by cyborg masters. There are little things around us that
turn my heart into an origami. Emotional anarchy, indistinguishable earthquakes, the beauty of nature
falling apart on its own, cities in which you circulate harder than
through my blood and all this air I never knew
how to correctly make use of. It’s late, the children are waiting for you at home, better not
mind me. We are 80% “me and my shit”, the rest
water and calcium. Look, these constellations seem like the quirk of a contemporary
artist, but are not worth more than the delicate skeleton of a humming
bird. There’s no one left in the control tower, the photographer who had
Parkinson’s almost clicked the button, the olives are ripe, this might be
the end. If only it were to stop here.
From Watercolor Women Opaque Men, by Ana Castillo, 2005

It was his duty
A man did not

His children
or a good wife,

Until she left him—
She seemed to be.

from The Chorus Girl and Other Stories (Anton Pavlovich Chekhov)

We looked round our domain and decided which should be her room, and which mine, where we would have our avenue, our kitchen garden, our beehives. We already had hens, ducks, and geese, which we loved because they were ours. We had, all ready for sowing, oats, clover, timothy grass, buckwheat, and vegetable seeds, and we always looked at all these stores and discussed at length the crop we might get; and everything Masha said to me seemed extraordinarily clever, and fine. This was the happiest time of my life.

Four excerpts from Death in Venice and Other Stories (Thomas Mann)

…it seemed to him that his work lacked that element of sparkling and joyful improvisation, that quality which surpasses any intellectual substance in its power to delight the receptive world.

And like a craftsman unable to finish, unable to satisfy himself, he passed busily and indefatigably from one procedure to another.

As he beheld the sweet youthful creature who had so entranced him he felt disgust at his own aging body, the sight of his gray hair and sharp features filled him with a sense of shame and hopelessness. He felt a compulsive need to refresh and restore himself physically;

Do you see now perhaps why we writers can be neither wise nor dignified? That we necessarily go astray, necessarily remain dissolute emotional adventurers? The magisterial poise of our style is a lie and a farce, our fame and social position are an absurdity, the public’s faith in us is altogether ridiculous, the use of art to educate the nation and its youth is a reprehensible undertaking which should be forbidden by law.

In Jardin des Plantes, Paris, by Rainer Maria Rilke, 1902
(translation by Richard Exner)

Ceaselessly the bars and rails keep passing
Till his gaze, from weariness, let all things go. For
it seems to him the world consists of bars and
railings and beyond them world exists no more.
Supple, strong, elastic is his pacing
and its circles much too narrow for a leap,
like a dance of strength around a center
Where a mighty will was put to sleep.
Yet from time to time the pupil’s curtain
rises silently. An image enters, flies
through the limbs’ intensive stillness
until, entering the very heart, it dies.

From The Science of Can and Can’t, by Chiara Marletto, 2021

Chess is a beautifully rich game and a great source of inspiration. I often contemplate the pieces arranged on either side of the board, waiting to be set into motion. It is the only battlefield where a bishop and a rook are part of an army.

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