--Villon, François: portrait from woodcut
The word pourri puts me in mind of whatshisface -- I usually think first of Verlaine, and indeed, that is so: I *am* thinking of Verlaine. But that is so wrong. Hmmmm. Fred tells me to relax the brain, think of other things, expend no effort to uncover the correct name/person, and what is sought will be made manifest. Harrumph. That's cranky talk for: Not bloody likely. This man, whatshisface, was a criminal (having committed, among other things, murder), wrote his last testament, a moving piece -- and PRESTO! Francois Villon! Get it -- Verlaine/Villon? O! My brain, O!
I see Neda Agha-Soltan die on YouTube and read Tweets organized by the hashmarked term #arabspring. Nothing takes more than a few minutes to watch, a few seconds to read.
Oppressors wager that murderous impulses are longer and more persistent than 2'23" clips and 140-character near-instant messages. Oppressors align themselves with the history of sacred texts, and therefore, they believe, with some equally unassailable Wisdom of Oppression. The Book of Oppression is kept alive by bloodlines and blood-lettings and memories crushed into blood-soaked scorched earth by the conveyer belts of caterpillar tracks.
sunni::shia::sunni::shia -- Not likely the same tanks today as rolled over the people of Hama in 1982, but what a neatly bookended poetic thought! The Assad regime - Father (and Uncle) and Son -- has glossed its murderous impulses as some sort of governance by birthright. And yet, this morning I read that reality, or some other impulse, prompted King Abdullah to finally speak against Syria, and to recall Saudi ambassadors from Damascus. It is reported that Kuwait and Bahrain will follow suit.
And so, like everyone, I dare to hope that videoclips and videoconferencing and text messaging -- by a multitude of means -- have become democratizing impulses and not just cacophonous noise, the combined sound of now.
It is, as the kids say, awesome, this media spectacle that allows wired revolutionaries access to... well, to whatever they can dream of, really. The rest of us idiots get to ride along, blogging and retweeting, blithely wishing everyone had a chicken in their pot, a car in their garage, and gas for that car, too. We cannot be bothered with too much in the way of conflict's history, or vegetarians, or the tribal/feudal infrastructure of oil-producing nations. The wish is father to the thought as never before.
The King said, among a few other things, that "Syria should think wisely before it's too late and issue and enact reforms that are not merely promises but actual reforms... Either it chooses wisdom on its own or it will be pulled down into the depths of turmoil and loss." Fred frequently tells me -- because I have frequent anti-Saudi outbursts -- that there will never be an uprising in Saudi Arabia, because "the people love their standard of living too much to risk it." Sometimes I want to smack Fred upside the head. Degree of disgustingness aside, King Abdullah speaks to Assad in an ancient shared language, one despot to another.
I am pretty sure most of my readers have given up on this post, maybe even on this entire blog. Those of you who remain, studies show, are probably neuropsychologists, using me as fodder for scholarly articles on narcissistic personality disorder and anomia. Does my brain confuse me? Am I driven batty by my constant circumlocutions, not just of meanings, but of relevance, and truth? How do I dare consider (almost) every juxtaposition felicitous or wildly instructive? Yes, and yes, again -- and I dare because periphrasis is my fertility, my one and only chance for a happy ending. Overburdened with useless detail, my dialog with the world exchanges one word for another until the ragged corner of one observance can be tucked and tied into the holy end of some cherished, but threadbare, belief.
As the lad whispers in that movie I did not see: "I see dead people." And, by God, my brain is gonna explain them, one by one. A better quote comes from the apocrypha of My People, as told by my Mother-Unit. She went into labor with my Brother-Unit Grader Boob while alone at home with my eldest Brother-Unit, known now as Tumbleweed the Bookie, TW, for short. They were in London at the time, and she did what anyone would do -- she called a cab. When it arrived, she put a sleeping TW up front with the driver. Well, labor proceeded more quickly than she anticipated, and Grader Boob proceeded to be born in the back seat of the cab. According to Scripture, the cabbie gamely kept driving in the general direction of her chosen hospital during these birthing proceedings. Me, I think I'd have pulled over. Anyway. I imagine the cab skidding into the receiving entrance of some posh private maternity hospital, as wheelchairs and people in starchy white rushed their way. All movement comes to a sudden halt, however, when young TW returns from the Land of Nod to discover he is no longer the only Prince In Town. TW prohibits any exit from the cab. I am not sure how a four year old does this, but the Mother-Unit insists it was through the imposing power of his voice and will.
"I see a baby. Where did that baby come from? No one is going anywhere, no one is leaving this vehicle, until someone explains to me, and to my complete satisfaction, why I see a baby. Where in hell did that baby come from? I see a baby! Make it go away..."
Or something like that. Anyway, it has, of course, passed into the popular discourse of My People, this expression, "I see a baby." Corrupted by association with the aforementioned film, TW's humorous utterance has morphed into a more compact and slightly disturbing version ("I see babies...") among the younger members of The Clan.
What does it mean to us? Something along the lines of: I don't care how innocent you look, or how much we love each other -- you've got some s'plaining to do.
Also: I see a baby... Where in hell did that baby come from?
Before I give myself completely over to self-immolation and a mental slideshow of African drought babies and Somali warlords, I need a shot of something. Either morphine or whiskey.
I think it all started with a need to find Le dormeur du val.
No, the exercise was to find Villon à travers [through, across, by means of] Paul Verlaine, to whom Rimbaud sent L.d.d.v.
I can make it make sense, I think, if I just keep going, going in a Beckett kind of way, the Becket of Molloy, Malone meurt, and L'Innomable, because I am the language I speak, it's last sentence: "You must go on, I can't go on, I'll go on... ::: il faut continuer, je ne peux pas continuer, je vais continuer..."
Believe it or not, while rereading the poem -- and yes, I have found the poem -- what interrupts are thoughts of how to curb the sexual appetite of our young (neutered) kitten, who has been suffering some confusion of late. Poor Buddy the Kitten. (And, certainly, poor Diminutive Dobby, the unwitting object of his nascent ardor.)
It only happens when Buddy is between sleeping and waking, caught in what looks to be a feline fugue. I am often wakened by Dobby's cries for help. In my pastel world of bubblegum children's classics, Dobby is an asexual Manor Elf, and my helpmate here at Marlinspike Hall; His cat companions, however, clearly see him as their bitch.
Oh, *right*! Yes, let's leave my pathological tendency toward anthropomorphism, and return to something else that confuses me.
I am assuming that you know Verlaine and Rimbaud were lovers. That Verlaine shot Rimbaud in the wrist (and really, who could blame him?). That Rimbaud had him arrested. That there was some public humiliation ensuite, après, puis, donc et enfin -- and that Verlaine served a couple of years. Rimbaud? He wrote Saison en enfer -- a sweet little domestic cautionary tale that I hope my felines will take to heart.
The poem. Right! Rimbaud wrote it when he was only 16 years old. The Franco-Prussian War was on, and some people assert that the scene he describes is one he witnessed during one of his frequent flights from home. I dunno. He enclosed it with several other poems in the letters he sent to Verlaine, who promptly and famously replied: "Come, dear great soul. We await you; We desire you." Oh, he also enclosed a prosaic train ticket.
C'est un trou de verdure où chante une rivière,
Accrochant follement aux herbes des haillons
D'argent ; où le soleil, de la montagne fière,
Luit : c'est un petit val qui mousse de rayons.
Un soldat jeune, bouche ouverte, tête nue,
Et la nuque baignant dans le frais cresson bleu,
Dort ; il est étendu dans l'herbe, sous la nue,
Pâle dans son lit vert où la lumière pleut.
Les pieds dans les glaïeuls, il dort. Souriant comme
Sourirait un enfant malade, il fait un somme :
Nature, berce-le chaudement : il a froid.
Les parfums ne font pas frissonner sa narine ;
Il dort dans le soleil, la main sur sa poitrine,
Tranquille. Il a deux trous rouges au côté droit.
Surely it has been done, some sort of dynamic brain scan (PET? MRI? Or, if your fingers miss the correct keys: MEO?) Nurse, nurse, we need an MEO scan, presto! No... not presto... pronto! No, not pronto. Ah, yes, STAT! Sounds like accurate, reality-based, cutting edge medical dialogue to me. Anyway, surely it has been done, some sort of dynamic brain scan designed to follow the bouncing brain balls as the subject searches for a lost word.
In addition to circumlocuting like a maniac, I am horrible with names. This is not a great thing for a prof. I handled it well, I think, when teaching at university level. There was no dearth of personalities to make my students memorable. The merde hit the fan when I descended into that Outer Ring of Hell known as "urban" public high school. Used to dealing with not more than 60 or so names, personalities, and talents spread out over a week, suddenly I had 190+ students that I saw daily, excluding homeroom.
And all these kids were determined to establish themselves as rabid individualists by means of dressing and acting alike. Most of them fell into the categories of average students and fine human beings. And were one to cross the moat and rap on our bronze doors? Yes, I'd remember them, but I'd probably get their name wrong or not recall it at all, and my recollections would be of a general nature. Most of my classes functioned best as a sort of amoeba, oozing around the room, engulfing whole globs of French, so I tend to remember students that way -- as a part of a whole.
Ah, but as for problem students? I always remember them -- by name, by issues, by their uniqueness -- their actual individuality. I have even continued to follow the escapades and achievements of a few, one of whom actually ended up on live television leading a police chase that rivaled O.J. Simpson's laconic trip on the L.A. freeways. God, I wish I could share his name, but obviously cannot. In fact, if Brother-Unit Grader Boob discovers that I put his email exchanges with students smack dab in the middle of my blog -- Oy! Big trouble!
My former student's name was a combination of a garden feature and a past participle, together forming an unforgettable label. His family circumstances were never clear -- I met, serially, with his mother, uncle, and two siblings, all of whom had different last names, and none of whom were ever home when I called.
He was tall, lanky, good-looking, with dreadlocks that one could not help but admire, that must have begun at birth, they were so long. He was quite brilliant, one of the few language students interested in the history and culture of l'outre-mer -- francophone countries, mostly former territories of France. He and his mother traveled to Senegal one Spring Break, and he derived enormous benefit from that trip -- not just in the old "broadening of horizons" category but in calmness and focus. He began what I hope will be a lifelong passion for African history and politics, particularly in the context of post-colonialism.
So he robbed a convenience store! So he flashed a gun in the process! So he drove that rusty old two-toned brown-on-brown Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme at a top speed of under 45 down one of the busiest highways in the country, cops trailing him like breadcrumbs. So what? He never passed a test, written or oral, but he was a great student.
Ha! I can read *your* mind, Gentle Reader. And hear your snores!
What does this young felon have to do with anything, much less death and war, the Middle East, famine, or the social media?
He's the only student I ever had who borrowed book after book of french poetry, who asked -- after school, of course -- to hear poems read. I am quite sure he wasn't kissing up, as he could be quite the A-hole, and besides, I'm impervious.
Of course he fell in love with Rimbaud, with Baudelaire. With Baudelaire's challenge to perception, correspondences: "Il est des parfums frais comme des chairs d'enfants..." (there are perfumes as fresh as children's flesh...); With Rimbaud's "dérèglement de tous les sens" (the derangement of all the senses), his
Even though I am impervious to ingratiation, I did offer extra credit opportunities whenever I taught -- figuring that people are drawn to their passions, even in a foreign tongue, and I always found ways to reward passion. Of course, I also have been known to pass the odd passionless Honor Student if she wrote a promissory note to the effect that she will never again enroll in a French language class while under the age of 22.
My dreadlocked man-boy student who so wanted to run before he could walk? He took on two oral presentations, one of Baudelaire's Enivrez-vous, the other, the prologue of Rimbaud's Saison en enfer.
Il faut être toujours ivre, tout est là ; c'est l'unique question. Pour ne pas sentir l'horrible fardeau du temps qui brise vos épaules et vous penche vers la terre, il faut vous enivrer sans trêve.
Mais de quoi? De vin, de poésie, ou de vertu à votre guise, mais enivrez-vous!
Et si quelquefois, sur les marches d'un palais, sur l'herbe verte d'un fossé, vous vous réveillez, l'ivresse déjà diminuée ou disparue, demandez au vent, à la vague, à l'étoile, à l'oiseau, à l'horloge; à tout ce qui fuit, à tout ce qui gémit, à tout ce qui roule, à tout ce qui chante, à tout ce qui parle, demandez quelle heure il est. Et le vent, la vague, l'étoile, l'oiseau, l'horloge, vous répondront, il est l'heure de s'enivrer ; pour ne pas être les esclaves martyrisés du temps, enivrez-vous, enivrez-vous sans cesse de vin, de poésie, de vertu, à votre guise.
(Baudelaire, Les petits poèmes en prose)
One must always be drunk.
Everything lies in that; it is the only question worth considering. In order not to feel the horrible burden of time which breaks your shoulders and bows you down to earth, you must intoxicate yourself without truce – but with what?
With wine, poetry, art? As you will; but intoxicate yourself.
And if sometimes upon the steps of a palace, or upon the green grass of a moat, or in the sad solitude of your own room, you awake – intoxication already diminished or disappeared – ask of the wind, of the wave, of the star, of the bird, of the clock, of all that flies, of all that groans, of al that rolls, of all that sings, of all that speaks – ask, what time is it? And the wind, the wave, the star, the bird, the clock, will answer you, “It is time to intoxicate yourself.” In order to escape from the slavish martyrdom of time, intoxicate yourself; unceasingly intoxicate yourself; with wine, or poetry, or art – as you will. (--translation by the incomparable Aleister Crowley)
UNE SAISON EN ENFER (prologue)
« Jadis, si je me souviens bien, ma vie était un festin où s'ouvraient tous les coeurs, où tous les vins coulaient. Un soir, j'ai assis la Beauté sur mes genoux. - Et je l'ai trouvée amère. - Et je l'ai injuriée. Je me suis armé contre la justice. Je me suis enfui. Ô sorcières, ô misère, ô haine, c'est à vous que mon trésor a été confié ! Je parvins à faire s'évanouir dans mon esprit toute l'espérance humaine. Sur toute joie pour l'étrangler j'ai fait le bond sourd de la bête féroce. J'ai appelé les bourreaux pour, en périssant, mordre la crosse de leurs fusils. J'ai appelé les fléaux, pour m'étouffer avec le sable, avec le sang. Le malheur a été mon dieu. Je me suis allongé dans la boue. Je me suis séché à l'air du crime. Et j'ai joué de bons tours à la folie. Et le printemps m'a apporté l'affreux rire de l'idiot. Or, tout dernièrement, m'étant trouvé sur le point de faire le dernier couac ! j'ai songé à rechercher le clef du festin ancien, où je reprendrais peut-être appétit. La charité est cette clef. - Cette inspiration prouve que j'ai rêvé ! « Tu resteras hyène, etc.... , » se récrie le démon qui me couronna de si aimables pavots. « Gagne la mort avec tous tes appétits, et ton égoïsme et tous les péchés capitaux. » Ah ! j'en ai trop pris : - Mais, cher Satan, je vous en conjure, une prunelle moins irritée ! et en attendant les quelques petites lâchetés en retard, vous qui aimez dans l'écrivain l'absence des facultés descriptives ou instructives, je vous détache ces quelques hideux feuillets de mon carnet de damné.
He earned the maximum points possible and did a very good job, even if he lapsed quickly into English. His French was not sufficient, he did not want to do violence. I was disappointed that he hadn't hammered out the language but did not interrupt him nor the other students who took his lead and chattered happily in English in the few minutes remaining before the bell.
Trellis wasn't done, however. Yes, his name was Trellis (Isn't that a lovely name?). He gave something close to a giggle and said he'd forgotten his unifying point, and "you all know how Ms. Madame loves her unifying points..."
He unrolled some of that ubiquitous white poster board. He had traced his poster's title in Elmer's glue. upon which he had rained down an alarming amount of pink sparkles. And I laughed a rare and liberating belly laugh that spread like arson.
Poètes maudits, read his headline.
A poète maudit (French: accursed poet) is a poet living a life outside or against society. Abuse of drugs and alcohol, insanity, crime, violence, and in general any societal sin, often resulting in an early death are typical elements of the biography of a poète maudit.
*Trellis, I am informed, is now married, and a father. His crime and attempt to flee were compassionately adjudicated. Beyond that... I don't know and prefer it that way.