I recently came across a poem by Baudelaire I’d translated in my thirties; it had been lying on a shelf in the dark between closed pages all but forgotten, then there it was, and seemed to fit the weather, the unrelenting heat. Baudelaire liked the ladies, and if you like them why not imagine a giantess whose breasts are as big as mountains and hidden part a fecund swamp?
When Nature in its green exuberance
gave birth each day to monster children
I would have loved to have lived near a giantess
like a cat at the foot of a queen.
I’d watch her body flower with her spirit
growing freely playing her giantess games.
I would swim in her hot foggy eyes
to see if her heart hatched a flame.
I’d explore at leisure her magnificent body.
I’d crawl on the slopes of her great knees
and in the summer when the sun got sickening
and made her tire and stretch out on the land
I’d sleep nonchalantly in the shade of her breasts
like a town at the foot of a mountain.
The poem is hot and it brightened my mood, one of the happier spots in a week that was muggy and glum. To help I found pictures I liked on the Internet hoping to lift my spirit. Below, what are the boy and the dog looking at through the fence? Something that’s bigger than they are, that’s for sure, probably construction, a building going up or a big hole being dug, but they could be watching a giant woman sleeping for all we know.
The heat has been a giant, huge and hot wherever you go. People faint. At the beginning of the week after hearing the George Zimmerman verdict, I felt nauseous. Was it the weather or my country that was making me sick? When President Obama spoke about himself and Trayvon Martin on Friday, that cooled things off. I’m thankful I have a president who’s thoughtful. I wasn’t born into a world I would have chosen, I was born into the world I got. An elephant runs away from a fight if it has the chance; the lion, the cobra, the shark will do the same, but we humans stand our ground.
It’s Sunday morning. Cicadas whirr (I think of electricity) across the street in what’s left of the willow trees and are mixed with human voices and traffic at 9th and C. The World Trade Center looks almost complete. It’s supposed to be cooler today. Later on I will walk with a friend through Central Park. He’s been smoking several packs of cigarettes a day for over forty years, but now is quitting, slowly decreasing, down to fifteen stretching out the hours, making them longer between smokes until finally there will be none as today becomes tomorrow and tomorrow today. Then my friend will shout, “Hooray!”
I’ve strung my guitar, a hooray I’d been putting off like I put off sewing on a button if one falls off; I just can’t get around to doing it, although it would only take a minute. It occurred to me the other day that if I didn’t change the strings on my guitar (they hadn’t been changed in a long time and were quite dull) I would never hear or play it any better than I already am. I have to be mundane before I can be creative, I must put off the pleasure, undo it to do it again, so I bought new strings, and put on the first string first, the lower E (or is it the upper?), the very thin one, not giving it enough slack as I tightened it (it would have broken before I could have tuned it) so I unloosened it and strung it again. Then with the G the same thing happened, not enough slack (why do I want to write flack?), but trial and error carefully, thoughtfully happened and finally it was done, done because I’d started. Even my aging untrained ear hears the difference along my fingers when I’m strumming like the fluttering of wings that wasn’t there but now it is.
I’m home. It’s late, soon time for sleep. The walk in Central Park was good, but not so long. We walked to the middle from 96th Street and sat in the woods near the rocky falls, talked about politics, family and art, then walked back along the pond as full of algae as it was of turtles, red-eared sliders sunning on rocks or rising like rocks from the muddy depths lifting their heads to break their beaks against the surface for breath. A flock of mallards swam here and there, sometimes slow, sometimes fast. And fishes jumped happily, food for the turtles. That made me happy. What would life be like without friends?
Here is Skunk Hour by Robert Lowell. A Caedmon recording. It’s fitting to close with it. Are we civilized or wild? What do you think?
Du temps que la Nature en sa verve puissante
Concevait chaque jour des enfants monstrueux,
J’eusse aimé vivre auprès d’une jeune géante,
Comme aux pieds d’une reine un chat voluptueux.
J’eusse aimé voir son corps fleurir avec son âme
Et grandir librement dans ses terribles jeux;
Deviner si son coeur couve une sombre flamme
Aux humides brouillards qui nagent dans ses yeux;
Parcourir à loisir ses magnifiques formes;
Ramper sur le versant de ses genoux énormes,
Et parfois en été, quand les soleils malsains,
Lasse, la font s’étendre à travers la campagne,
Dormir nonchalamment à l’ombre de ses seins,
Comme un hameau paisible au pied d’une montagne.