<= 2008.08.23

2008.08.25 =>


Also J. decided to give me the thirtieth-birthday gift of a three-night trip to Greece, because I am an embarrassing philhellene like the nineteenth-century Germans, and I kept doing embarrassing things in Athens like pointing to street signs and saying, “Look! It’s named after Sophocles!” I know just enough ancient Greek to reliably mispronounce modern Greek, but all the Athenians can speak English, whether they’re talking to Americans or Germans or Israelis—the city gives a very strong sense of English as an international lingua franca, which hadn’t been so apparent in other cities we know, like Barcelona or Berlin, where we understand more of the local language and spend more time out of the tourist spots.

temple of hephaistos, prickly pears


The sun, cactus, dust and dry air notwithstanding the dark gulf on the horizon, all reminded me of Arizona. It was very strange to find a land which you know in one guise, from textbooks, offering itself in another guise as a displaced homeland; and I’m not sure why the Greek language also seems like a homeland to me, why the music of its consonants is so comforting and why its insanely complex verb, whose contortions I can never remember, still seems like something I would have invented as a child, back when my principal occupation was to invent baroque and orderly things at the computer. I want very badly to go back. I want to see Delphi and the islands and learn the language of Homer, and the distinct language of Aristotle, and the distinct language of the New Testament, and the distinct language of George Seferis, whose poems, so far as I could remember them, accompanied me all through the trip. From “The Thrush”:

—“Maybe the night that split open, a blue pomegranate,
a dark breast, and filled you with stars,
cleaving time.
And yet the statues
bend sometimes, dividing desire in two,
like a peach; and the flame
becomes a kiss on the limbs, a sobbing,
and then a cool leaf carried off by the wind;
they bend; they become light with a human weight.
You don’t forget it.”

—“The statues are in the museum.”

—“No, they pursue you, why can’t you see it?
I mean with their broken limbs,
with their shape from another time, a shape you don’t
yet know.
It’s as though
in the last days of your youth you loved
a woman who was still beautiful, and you were always afraid,
as you held her naked at noon,
of the memory aroused by your embrace;
were afraid the kiss might betray you
to other beds now of the past
which nevertheless could haunt you
so easily, so easily, and bring to life
images in the mirror, bodies once alive:
their sensuality.
It’s as though
returning home from some foreign country you happen
to open
an old trunk that’s been locked up a long time
and find the tatters of clothes you used to wear
on happy occasions, at festivals with many-colored lights,
mirrored, now becoming dim,
and all that remains is the perfume of the absence
of a young form.
Really, those statues are not
the fragments. You yourself are the relic;
they haunt you with a strange virginity
at home, at the office, at receptions for the celebrated,
in the unconfessed terror of sleep;
they speak of things you wish didn’t exist
or would happen years after your death,
and that’s difficult because...”

—“The statues are in the museum.
Good night.”

—“...because the statues are no longer
fragments. We are. The statues bend lightly... Good


<= 2008.08.23

2008.08.25 =>

up (2008.08)