Hola Argentina!

La Casa Rosada

La Casa Rosada

So I’ve been here a whole four days, and a lot of things have been different from what I expected (as expected). I started off this adventure by missing my flight… but it’s cool, there was another one, and I sat for three hours staring at the list of departures and arrivals until I could get on.

The apartment my school program provided was definitely unexpected. There’s a big old nest of weave in my closet if that tells you anything. And although the weave is still there four days later, it is starting to feel more like home every time I walk through the door. Plus sides: fireplace and roof access!

One of my biggest fears so far has been getting lost by myself in this huge city (where people steal street signs that are then never replaced). In reflection, however, I don’t think getting lost alone would be such a catastrophe. I’d get back here eventually. Eventually meaning it would most likely take me several hours.

I’m going to shoot off a few random tid-bits about life in the BA now, just for you to keep in your back pocket. Their “White House” is pink. Unrelated, they have a female president. $1 is more than 5 pesos. Their are tons of street protests, some violent, but most not. Most are protesting the “Dirty War,” which took place here in the 70s. People will beg for money in restaurants by placing a piece of paper on your table and walking away. Five minutes later, they’ll come back to collect it, staring at you expectantly. It’s not unusual for them to have young children with them. (This happened to us at a McDonald’s in Puerto Madero. Twice.) So many people whistle, all the time. The men are stereotypically very forward, especially with American women, who are stereotypically loose. Mate is a delicious, traditional, tea-like drink. There are a bunch of rules to preparing it and drinking it socially.

More to come soon. Ciao!

Christine

A Window

Perpetual buzzing,

The fluorescent

Lights are on and off and on again and again.

Turning the lock,

Closing the trunk…

 

She struggles to push and pry the small window open,

The taste of stale air sours on her tongue.

It digs deeply and seeps into open pores

Until nowhere is safe.

 

The lead paint on the window is chipped.

The flakes stab

At the sensitive skin beneath

Her fingernails.

It bangs as it falls.

But she tries again, laughing through the pain,

Panting in the poison.

 

The fresh air is freedom.

Calling from the other side of a worn and

Warm pane,

Beckoning with one finger

Away

From the dust and the old ways

To shooting new realizations.

Flint and Chert spark

When you strike them.

 

She used to call the smooth flowing

Darkness her savior.

But that time has been put to rest

She’ll wield the sword herself.

 

Dust particles dance

In the soft gold light from the small window

At the top of the tower

Where Mary used to live,

But doesn’t anymore.

Reflection on “A Window”

For my final project, I knew I wanted to write a poem, and I knew I wanted it to be about a feminist’s awakening. English 4189, our classes and our readings, always had the power of the feminist ideals behind it. The poetry I read for this class moved me, and I wanted to pay homage to the two writers I’ve added to my personal canon.

I think this poem is most heavily influenced by Elizabeth Bishop and H.D. I think Bishop’s style is really similar to my own, yet I’d not heard of her before reading her work for this class. I’m a fan of the phrases mixed with the full action sentences, as she is. They let me build a bridge between the abstract and the concrete that lends itself especially well to readers maneuvering through poetry.

I reference H.D.’s Trilogy in regards to Mary and her tower in the last stanza, a shout out to “The Flowering of the Rod.” The awakening and resurrection themes struck me as particularly thematic for the closing of another year. No one likes to think of anything as the end, and I’m no exception.

The language is easy and the symbols are not particularly lofty. I was not aiming to write a brainteaser. Something simple in it’s clarity, with powerful imagery that leaves behind a picture in the mind’s eye, took precedence. I wanted you to see the empty tower and know that it is empty because you left it. Light, poison (lead), darkness, fresh air, window, tower, Mary, the struggle… they all stand for the transformation a woman has to make to kill the angel in the house and become her true self.

“Somewhere There Is a Simple Life”

Somewhere there is a simple life and a world,
Transparent, warm and joyful. . .
There at evening a neighbor talks with a girl
Across the fence, and only the bees can hear
This most tender murmuring of all.

But we live ceremoniously and with difficulty
And we observe the rites of our bitter meetings,
When suddenly the reckless wind
Breaks off a sentence just begun –

But not for anything would we exchange this splendid
Granite city of fame and calamity,
The wide rivers of glistening ice,
The sunless, gloomy gardens,
And, barely audible, the Muse’s voice.

By Anna Akhmatova

Translated from its original Russian, a poem about freedom and happier times sparked a light hope in a Russian people drowning in the starkly real. The poem was written in 1915 Russia, during the Russian Revolution. A people embittered with surf life and a snowballing monarchy found solace in Akhmatova’s words. Life is good somewhere, just not here and now.

I found the lines “When suddenly the reckless wind / Breaks off a sentence just begun” powerful. Uncontrollable things and events happen everyday, everywhere. Good times end and begin again. The speaker compares life’s miseries to a conversation interrupted by a howling wind. You can try to shout to be heard, but when that fails, the only option left may be to go your separate ways in hopes of picking up where you left off later.

The last stanza brings the poem home to Russia. St. Petersburg is the “granite city” located on the Neva River. Home is home. Throughout the Revolution and the Soviet regime, Akhmatova never left her native Russia though she was censured and condemned by Stalinists.

The poem leaves a bitter-sweet taste. Stubborn, proud and strong, what is, is. You can burn my home to the ground, but it will still be my home and I will not abandon the place or the people that made me.

I wish I could read this poem in its original Russian. However, even a translation contains a reserve of strength that is infectious to anyone who reads it. I’d like to live in a place “Transparent, warm and joyful” too.


		

“The Red Shoes”

In her oil painting series, “The Red Shoes,” Jude Harzer addresses self acceptance and the societal pressure to be beautiful or be excluded. Click the link to see the other two paintings in the series. Self acceptance was a theme I found in Elizabeth Bishop’s “Conversation.” This particular painting reminded me of the poem.

red shoe series3

The woman in the painting is slowly and hesitantly removing a mask. She’s had the inner conversation and her true identity has won over, if not unanimously, at least marginally, which I’m sure Elizabeth Bishop would consider a victory all the same. She has a look of quiet determination on her face, as if to say ‘you can’t keep me down and hidden forever.’ Her stare barrels through the shadows and grays that surround and encapsulate the painting. With just one eye, this woman says strength and struggle.

This woman has had the revelation. “And then there is no choice, / and then there is no sense;” The only thing left to do is come out as you, red shoes and all. “Until a name / and all its connotation are the same.” Be yourself; name yourself; you are who you are. Mantras are given willingly, but those who follow them completely are rare. Inner revelations are invisible to the rest of the world and capturing one in a painting and a poem, as Harzer and Bishop have done, is talent.

 

Trilogy by H.D.

[14]

hyksos1

14 tells the story of a merchant with extremely precious oils. The secret of how to distill the oils is passed down by word of mouth from father to son in this culture. They don’t want to let the women in on the secret.

“It was never written, not even in symbols, for this

They knew —

no secret was safe with a woman.”

The poem is beautiful and ancient as the rest of Trilogy with it’s descriptive nouns and adjectives. Alabaster boxes. Unguent jars. Sigils and painted figures. This ancient secret, sense of livelihood, and important cultural aspect was actively kept from all women for centuries. H.D.’s feminist bones poke through once again, as is a major theme in Trilogy. The speaker is perhaps hinting that, maybe, it’s time to let a woman in on the secret.

I included a picture of the Hyksos invading Egypt. The only reference to a Hyksos princess was to the Theban Princess Tany, who some believe was held captive by the Hyksos and some believe married one of the princes to create a political relationship between Thebes and the Hyksos. Either way, the princess would have been a strong symbol, either of good faith or not so good faith. Using her in the poem accentuates her symbolic nature and not her human one. The secret to eternity is held by a woman.

“though no one could of course, actually know

what was or was not in those alabaster boxes

of the Princesses of the Hyksos Kings.”

[15]

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A woman is trying to get the attention of a man, trying to get him to see her for her ideas and not dismiss her based solely on her gender. She shuts the door and stares into his face with beautifully inspiring, poetic and expressive eyes. All the man sees is that her scarf fell off, revealing her hair.

“but eyes? he had known many women —

it was her hair — un-maidenly

It was hardly decent of her to stand there,

unveiled, in the house of a stranger.”

The repeated un in un-maidenly and unveiled is also significant in regards to a feminist theme in “The Flowering of the Rod.” The man only saw what she was not and misses out on her apparently awesome eyes and strong, persistant demeanor. The sarcastic ending of the poem gives it a sort of bitter-sweet closure. Because all women are the same, until they do something wrong. H.D. took something commonplace, gave it a heroic spin, but an ending that made the hero’s efforts heroic, yes, but also very futile.

[16]

MaryMagdalene

I know myrrh as one of the gifts given to Jesus by the wise men, but this poem (and the other mentions of myrrh in “The Flowering of the Rod”) made me think it more symbolic than a valuable ointment given to Jesus at his birth. Because it was used to embalm and anoint the dead, myrrh came to symbolize mortality, suffering, penance and sorrow, but also resurrection. Before it can be powdered to make these ointments, myrrh hardens into tear-drop shapes. By saying Mary is of myrrh, she is saying she is mortal, yes, but nonetheless valuable. She suffers, but her suffering will be rewarded. There are various other mentions of resurrections in the poem as well.

“I am Mary — O, there are Marys a-plenty,

(though I am Mara, bitter) I shall be Mary-myrrh”

It is fairly common knowledge that the name Mary means bitter, but I found that it can also mean rebellion. When both are taken together, we can see that these “Marys a-plenty,” these women are rebelling from their given bitter lot in life. The notion of silent suffering is constricting and oppressive.

“She wept bitterly till some heathen god

changed her into a myrrh tree;”

The ending contains a reference to the Greek myth of Daphne, who was transformed into a laurel tree to escape Apollo’s affections. Only Mary became a myrrh tree, a tree of sorrow and penance but also resurrection.

“I am Mary, she said, of Magdala,

I am Mary, a great tower;”

The painting above is Mary Magdalene, arguably one of the most well-known Marys in the Bible, along with Jesus’ mother. Various gospels paint her as a reformed prostitute who gives up everything she has to follow Jesus. Referring to her as a tower could be attributing her with wealth (of knowledge, strength, courage, etc.), as towers are a symbol of wealth accumulation. However, they are also very confined and constricting. She can grow as tall as she pleases, but she can’t widen her horizons at all.

[17]

Glowing-Hair-Rapunzel-rapunzel-and-flynn-25478537-1876-1080

A woman in a tiny room has light emanating from her hair. She is strong, with an unwavering voice and tearless eyes. In past centuries, as well as in certain religions today, it was/is unseemly for a woman’s hair to be visible. It is where her beauty comes from and the only man allowed to see her beauty is her husband. There are those who wear hijabs and the like who say that it is liberating, that it allows them to be seen as a person and not as an object of desire. However, there are just as many if not more who feel head coverings as a very real symbol oppression.

“There was hardly any light from the window

but there seemed to be light somewhere,”

The woman in “17” is letting her beauty out, even if this first time it is only a test. Alone, in a tiny dark alcove, she is letting down her hair and tasting its freedom.

[18]

Also connected to “15” and “17,” in “18” the man picks up the scarf, hands it to the bare-headed woman, and dismisses her.

“it was unseemly that a woman

appear disordered, dishevelled ;

it was unseemly that a woman

appear at all.”

Once again, the repetition of un and dis prefixes tells us everything a woman should not be. She should not be. A sad and bitter ending to my section, Mary-myrrh is still building her tower and stretching her roots, the rebirth not yet complete.

“Conversation”

The tumult in the heart
keeps asking questions.
And then it stops and undertakes to answer
in the same tone of voice.
No one could tell the difference.

Uninnocent, these conversations start,
and then engage the senses,
only half-meaning to.
And then there is no choice,
and then there is no sense;

until a name
and all its connotation are the same.

By Elizabeth Bishop

For me, “Conversation” is an interior dialogue. It is a person asking their heart what it feels and what it would have the person do about it, while already knowing the answer. “And there is no choice, and there is no sense;” we don’t get to choose who we love.

The ending is especially beautiful to me, “until a name and all its connotation are the same.” This could be a comment on naming the person one loves, yes. But I think it may be even more than that, more personal. Elizabeth Bishop was a lesbian, and she owned this fact and all of the connotations that came with it.

The use of the word uninnocent is interesting. It is as if the person already knows how exactly they will end, but cannot yet accept this. The ‘tumult’ goes on until the senses are engaged. I think this is another case of heart over head. When it comes to matters of the heart, the head can get in the way. I suppose it is also true vice versa, though.

You are who you are, and fighting with yourself will not change anything. The world can’t see the fight. “No one can tell the difference.” So why not just own yourself and everything that comes with you, every part of you? Elizabeth Bishop did.

A writing game

In light of Elizabeth Bishop’s “At the Fishhouses,” my class played around with different words and their origins. Every line of this poem has three Anglo-Saxon words. There is no more than one (of the provided) Latinate or Greek word every three lines. It was a fun game, but I’m happiest with my own words.

 

Constrained Freedom

The ache for air became insufferable in a matter of seconds

Pressed against his worn man bones, breathing in the same.

A believer of the bitter black,

The hard, heavy haul,

She bears down, down the trunk to the unforgiving wild.

Blood comes quick, and its fire burns bright.

A swell of water in the walls.

It’s a trap, and her head’s mighty mouth says so.

Her eyes feed on the heartache and shadow

As self-consciousness crawls across his strong swing.

The blade is old and blue-gray.

She can’t shrug off the netting of freedom

And getting almost there scrapes the undercarriage on the steep up-rise.

 Now another friend, old habits set to lock.

Dried, drawn, jagged emotions sit still in the backseat,

Watching the world fly and the grass blur to nothing.

“Edge”

Edge
By Sylvia Plath

The woman is perfected.
Her dead

Body wears the smile of accomplishment,
The illusion of a Greek necessity

Flows in the scrolls of her toga,
Her bare

Feet seem to be saying:
We have come so far, it is over.

Each dead child coiled, a white serpent,
One at each little

Pitcher of milk, now empty.
She has folded

Them back into her body as petals
Of a rose close when the garden

Stiffens and odors bleed
From the sweet, deep throats of the night flower.

The moon has nothing to be sad about,
Staring from her hood of bone.

She is used to this sort of thing.
Her blacks crackle and drag.

Short, dark, final, stark, depressing, I could go on with a string of adjectives in a futile attempt to describe this poem. Plath's poems are largely biographical. That, along with the time that this was written (a week before her death) is hard to ignore. Plath was stuck between life and death, on the edge of both, when she wrote this.

I love the lines "Her bare feet seem to be saying: We have come so far, it is over." They stand out to me as the most telling and least abstract in the poem. Plath tells us how much the woman has been through in life, and how she is finally at rest. There is a telling sense of decision and finality. With "The moon has nothing to be sad about," I believe Plath is saying she doesn't want pity. She doesn't want people to look at her life and death in terms of a loss greater than any other loss in the world.

The scrolls of the toga, the child coiled like a snake, the pitchers of milk, bleeding odors, hood of bone, and blacks that crackle and drag are extremely expressive, original and surprising ways to talk about this dead woman's body, life and death. Plath's style is all her own.

"Edge" is both beautiful and unexpected in its darkness. The darkness of saying the perfect woman is a dead woman is shocking, yet not far from the truth in today's society obsessed with the high standards of an impossibly attainable beauty. The imagery of a moon staring down at a dead woman is powerfully abstract and will stick with me.

“Crossing the River”

When I try to explain why I like Sylvia Plath, I find it rather difficult. I like her because she speaks to me. She scratches at the itch of the abstract and the unknown forces in life, and I find her scratches beautifully soul-searching and poetic. It’s tragic that she took her own life so young, and that her poetry is never discussed without the topic of suicide rising along with it. But it is there and difficult to hide.

Crossing the River

By Sylvia Plath

Black lake, black boat, two black, cut-paper people.
Where do the black trees go that drink here?
Their shadows must cover Canada.

A little light is filtering from the water flowers.
Their leaves do not wish us to hurry:
They are round and flat and full of dark advice.

Cold worlds shake from the oar.
The spirit of blackness is in us, it is in the fishes.
A snag is lifting a valedictory, pale hand;

Stars open among the lilies.
Are you not blinded by such expressionless sirens?
This is the silence of astounded souls.

In “Crossing the River” Plath uses an extended metaphor to compare life, death and crossing over to physically rowing across a river. In Greek mythology, the dead must cross the river Styx to reach the underworld. Darkness, cold, pale hand, black and shadow all connect back to the death and aid the metaphor.

However, there is more to the poem than Plath’s perceived obsession with death. In the last stanza, she brings her message home. Thinking of death and accepting its presence and imminence could lend peace to our souls. “Stars open up among the lilies.” Lilies are another symbol of death, but stars are reminiscent of possibility, of hope.

Darkness and death are not necessarily bad or worse. They are things we don’t yet know. Plath is embracing and traveling into the unknown in search of more, truth, herself, another mystery; the possibilities are endless.