It’s Monday afternoon around two. My morning class is over. I’m home, but leave at five-thirty to teach again till eight. I’m interviewing students Tuesday and Thursday from two PM to seven. I usually have afternoons off. Monday and Wednesday with morning and evening classes and Tuesday and Thursday booked solid from morning to evening will leave me on Friday ready for a break. I’m writing on my laptop, but don’t go online because there’s the New York Times, e-mails, this blog, and Facebook—Oh just for a minute, which turns into an hour arguing about gun reform.
Ha! The week has gone by in an eye blink. It’s nine o’clock Friday morning. I’ve opened and read my Christmas cards (finally), looking at the art. I have to organize my thoughts and the refrigerator too, defrosting and cleaning not only inside but around because spoons and forks have fallen where it’s hard to reach between frig and sink, and recycle baskets have overflowed into bags on the floor where jars and bottles are multiplying by the stove. What’s first? I go to the kitchen to get some more coffee, open the refrigerator and look at the leftovers in plastic containers and vegetable scraps uncovered in bowls, egg shells, onion skins, carrot ends, what have you that I need to take down to compost in La Plaza, but I want to write more first and, forgetting the coffee, I see the guitar on the couch and sit down to practice Robert Johnson’s Walkin’ Blues, but badly. Remembering I ought to be writing, my fingers slip off of and don’t hold down the strings as I sing:
It’s like I took a match to everything I own.
I woke up this morning and everything I had was gone.
Come on, shoes, let’s get on down the road.
We’re not going to get there until we go.
Bad as I am this morning, I’ve written the lyrics above, and adding them to the song makes me feel happy, that I’m passing something new out of something old along. Out the window’s a blue beautiful day, cold and sunny, over the rooftops. I get lost in my thoughts and the clouds.
I do know what the futures holds, a clean refrigerator. Where did the yellow watercress come from, the pickle jar without pickles, the shriveled tomatoes, the slice of venison looking, but not smelling, of mold? So much must be forgotten. Why there’s even iced tea I made last week that’s good yet and still cold although the refrigerator’s defrosting as I drink it down. Sunday now. I take the rotting raw vegetable scraps down to La Plaza, then walk in the wind along the East River—Hello Brooklyn!—past the children’s park where sculpted seals appear, heads and whole bodies out of the concrete, so real they seem to be clapping their flippers and barking at the kids, then off in the distance—Look! there the Statue of Liberty is lifting her torch on the horizon beyond the Brooklyn Bridge. Happy Martin Luther King Day! Let freedom ring!
The refrigerator is empty of garbage, wiped down, and the freezer’s about to freeze. I sliced and fried some red potatoes with quartered carrots and whole jalapeños in a big round cast iron skillet, and while all that browned and cooked, I made some guacamole slicing and chopping an onion, scooping out the avocados, sprinkling black pepper and chili powder, but not too much salt because the lemons I was squeezing would liven up the tastes I stirred with a fork and mashed a little. Akram was hungry when he got home from studying. I took out the potatoes, carrots and jalapeños, put them on our plates, then cracked two eggs in the pan and covered them, sunny side up. There was still some iced tea to drink and we talked of our days as we ate. He had showed a friend how to tie a necktie because he was going for an important interview and I had worked all day writing, most of which, when all was said and done, I discarded except for what you, dear reader, are reading now. As Akram gathered the dishes to wash, I collected avocado husks and lemon skins out of the sink, put them in a bowl and that into the refrigerator, all these new scraps to be composted later.
This week, did I really write anything? Well, I worked on a translation of a poem that is partly composting, Une Charogne (A Carcass) by Charles Baudelaire. He wrote it to his lover, Jeanne Duval, a Haitian actress, after they saw a carcass, a rotting little animal on a pebbled path during a beautiful summer morning stroll. Perhaps reading it is a little bit like cleaning out the refrigerator, moments of rotten disgust, so bad you could wretch, and then pleasant surprises too like the iced tea you didn’t know was there quenching your thirst.
Rappelez-vous l’objet que nous vîmes, mon âme,
…..Ce beau matin d’été si doux:
Au détour d’un sentier une charogne infâme
…..Sur un lit semé de cailloux,
Les jambes en l’air, comme une femme lubrique,
…..Brûlante et suant les poisons,
Ouvrait d’une façon nonchalante et cynique
…..Son ventre plein d’exhalaisons.
Le soleil rayonnait sur cette pourriture,
…..Comme afin de la cuire à point,
Et de rendre au centuple à la grande Nature
…..Tout ce qu’ensemble elle avait joint;
Et le ciel regardait la carcasse superbe
…..Comme une fleur s’épanouir.
La puanteur était si forte, que sur l’herbe
…..Vous crûtes vous évanouir.
Les mouches bourdonnaient sur ce ventre putride,
…..D’où sortaient de noirs bataillons
De larves, qui coulaient comme un épais liquide
…..Le long de ces vivants haillons.
Tout cela descendait, montait comme une vague
…..Ou s’élançait en pétillant;
On eût dit que le corps, enflé d’un souffle vague,
…..Vivait en se multipliant.
Et ce monde rendait une étrange musique,
…..Comme l’eau courante et le vent,
Ou le grain qu’un vanneur d’un mouvement rythmique
…..…..Agite et tourne dans son van.
Les formes s’effaçaient et n’étaient plus qu’un rêve,
…..Une ébauche lente à venir
Sur la toile oubliée, et que l’artiste achève
…..Seulement par le souvenir.
Derrière les rochers une chienne inquiète
…..Nous regardait d’un oeil fâché,
Epiant le moment de reprendre au squelette
…..Le morceau qu’elle avait lâché.
— Et pourtant vous serez semblable à cette ordure,
…..À cette horrible infection,
Etoile de mes yeux, soleil de ma nature,
…..Vous, mon ange et ma passion!
Oui! telle vous serez, ô la reine des grâces,
…..Apres les derniers sacrements,
Quand vous irez, sous l’herbe et les floraisons grasses,
…..Moisir parmi les ossements.
Alors, ô ma beauté! dites à la vermine
…..Qui vous mangera de baisers,
Que j’ai gardé la forme et l’essence divine
De mes amours décomposés!
Darling, remember what we saw
…..that beautiful summer morning
a rotting thing at the turn of the path
…..on a bed that was sown with pebbles
with its legs in the air like a woman ready
…..burning and sweating it opened
in a cynical offhand way
…..a womb exhaling poison.
The sun shone on this rottenness
…..cooking it to the point
Great Nature got back a hundred ways
…..what it had joined as one.
Heaven looked down on this wonderful carcass
…..as it would on a flower blooming
there in the grass where the stench was so strong
…..you thought it would send you swooning.
The flies crawled over its belly bloated
…..by hordes of black maggots flowing
thick as a boiling liquid
…..over all of it moving
it flew up and flew down like a cloud
…..or rushed forth sparkling at you—
you might have said it swelled with a breath
…..that lived by multiplying itself
giving off a strange soft music
…..like running water or the wind
or the sound a winnower makes
…..shaking grain back and forth in his pan
its form was erased, came again changed
…..like a dream or a sketch long forgotten
left on a canvas the artist remembers
…..when he wants to draw it.
Behind the rocks a jittery bitch
…..was looking angrily at us
spying the moment to pull from the bones
…..the piece she had let go of.
Darling, one day you’ll be this filth
…..this horrible infection
star of my night’s, my nature’s sun
…..my angel and my passion
yes, you’ll be, Queen of the Graces
…..after the last sacraments
under the ground and the flowering grasses
…..rotting among the skeletons.
Then, my Beauty, tell the worms
…..who’ll eat you with their kisses
that I still keep the form of my love
…..decomposed and its divine essence.
Life Is A Lot Of Things by Akram