My Aunts- by Adam Zagajewski -
Translated by Clare Cavanagh
Always caught up in what they called
the practical side of life
(theory was for Plato),
up to their elbows in furniture, in bedding,
in cupboards and kitchen gardens,
they never neglected the lavender sachets
that turned a linen closet to a meadow.
The practical side of life,
like the Moon's unlighted face,
didn't lack for mysteries;
when Christmastime drew near,
life became pure praxis
and resided temporarily in hallways,
took refuge in suitcases and satchels.
And when somebody died--it happened
even in our family, alas--
my aunts, preoccupied
with death's practical side,
forgot at last about the lavender,
whose frantic scent bloomed selflessly
beneath a heavy snow of sheets.
Don't just do something, sit there.
And so I have, so I have,
the seasons curling around me like smoke,
Gone to the end of the earth and back without sound.
In February 2002, I received an email from someone who had stumbled across my Web site late one night. (It was a much different Web site back then, but poetry was a primary focus.) The writer told me that after looking around on the site, "I freed myself from the net so to speak and started reading some poetry (Adam Zagajewski). Well its nearing 5 now and I'm tired but feeling a subtle urge to toss some poetry I've been reading back into the void." At the end of his short email, he included this:
To...Madam Death, I am writing to requestthat you kindly take into considerationan extension of my liability tothe institution headed by youfor so many centuries. You, Madam,are a master, a violent sport,a delicate ax, the pope, velvet lips,scissors. I don't flatter you. I beg.I don't demand. In my own defense I haveonly silence, dew on the grass, a nightingaleamong the branches. You forgive it,its long tenure in the leaves of one aspenafter another, drops of eternity, gramsof amazement, and the sleepy complaints of the poor poetswhose passports you didn't renew.- Adam Zagajewski
He (the mysterious emailer) tells this story much better than I do, but the simple version is that it took me exactly six months to respond to his email. The whole six months, I kept it in my inbox, reading it from time to time, and imagining the kind of person who would send me a fantastic poem by (I now confess) a poet I'd never heard of. His letter was short and impersonal but it sparkled, and I thought about how to write back with something that could somehow impress this stranger who'd thought enough to shoot a magnificent piece of poetry into my corner of the void.
When I did finally get up the nerve to write him back (eventually with a volley of Pablo Neruda) I was delighted to find that his interest in poetry seemed almost inexaustible. For a few months, we exchanged bits of poems as we ran across them and commented on random topics. Then, right around Christmas of that year, we just stopped writing each other. But as it turns out, neither of us forgot those inspired exchanges.
After almost three years of silence, he wrote again, and this time it only took me a day to write him back. That fall, we met in person; seven months later, we married, and the morning of our wedding, I wore Guerlain Shalimar and gave him a hand-made anthology of poems to commemorate the day. Instead of giving him a rose to wear on his vest that day, I sewed a rose made of red silk ribbon to his vest, and read him this poem:
The spider, dropping down from twig,
Unfolds a plan of her devising,
A thin premeditated rig
To use in rising.
And all that journey down through space,
In cool descent and loyal hearted,
She spins a ladder to the place
From where she started.
Thus I, gone forth as spiders do
In spider’s web a truth discerning,
Attach one silken thread to you
For my returning.
- E.B. White
I tell you this story today because during the holidays we frequently have the opportunity to reflect on the cycles in our lives - the things we come back to over and over, the repeating patterns that in hindsight appear to give our thoughts and actions meaning. As I was looking through some archived poems that I thought might be appropriate for this Holiday blog event, I stumbled across Mr. Zagajewski's aunts, and reading it brought a flood of recognition. Personally, I am delighted to be aunt to two extraordinary little children, and though I wouldn't call myself exactly practical, I do hope that someday they'll remember me in a similar way as the poet remembers his own aunts - the kind of person for whom linen closets could be transformed into meadows.
And thinking about Mr. Zagajewski's poetry invariably brings me back to the moment I first became aware of the existence of a stranger from the distance who thought enough of me to trust me with a poem he liked. I don't exactly know where or how our circle came into existence but I do know that just at the right time we managed to find the path that would lead us towards each others.
Monday - November 30th: Guest blogger Wendel Meldrum
Tuesday - December 1st: Roxana Villa
Wednesday - December 2nd: Guest blogger Ida Meister
Thursday - December 3rd: Memory and Desire, Heather Ettlinger
Friday - December 4th: Memory and Desire
Saturday - December 5th: Guest blogger Jade Shutes
Sunday - December 6th ST. NICOLAS DAY: Painted Threads, Judy Coates Perez
Monday - December 7th: Indie Perfumes, Lucy Raubertas
Tuesday - December 8th: Scent Hive, Trish
Wednesday - December 9th: Olive Bites, Catherine Ivins
Thursday - December 10th: Perfume Smellin' Things, Tom
Friday - December 11th: Lillyella, Nicole
Saturday - December 12th: The Non-Blonde, Gaia
Sunday - December 13th: Portland Examiner, Donna Hathaway
Monday - December 14th: Xenotees, Noelle
Tuesday - December 15th: The Beauty You Love, Lee
Wednesday - December 16th: Confessions of a Pagan Soccer Mom, Mrs. B
Thursday - December 17th: The Artful Gypsy, Wendy Amdahl
Friday - December 18th: Perfume Shrine, Helg
Saturday - December 19th: Notes on Shoes, Cake & Perfume, Wendy
Sunday - December 20th: Grindstone Girl's Daily, Kathi Roussel
Monday - December 21st WINTER SOLSTICE: Perfume Smellin' Things, Beth
Tuesday - December 22nd: Guest blogger Davis Alexander
Wednesday - December 23rd: Guest blogger Greg Spalenka, Artist as Brand
Thursday - December 24th: Fringe, Dennice Mankarious
- "My Aunts" by Adam Zagajewski. From Without End: New and Selected Poems. Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2002.
- "To..." by Adam Zagajewski. From Tremor: Selected Poems. Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 1985.
- "Natural History" by E. B. White. From Poems and Sketches of E. B. White. Harper & Row, 1981
- Photo of perfumes by the author, 2006
- ADVENTure Blog-O-Rama banner by Roxana Villa, 2009