Some tiny creature, mad with wrath,

Is coming nearer on the path.

--Edward Gorey

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

Writer, lawyer, cyclist, rock climber, wanderer of dark residential streets, friend.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Tomas Transtromer Views the New York City Skyline from Somewhere Near Home

Friend and poet Branda, whose splendid poetry has been linked here before, posts on her MySpace weblog an excerpt from poet Tomas Transtromer -- one of her favorite poets, if I am not mistaken.

I reproduce it because it reminds me of home, where from the ridge at the western edge of town I could and often did view the entire Manhattan skyline. Now, where once was a simple stucco wall atop a ridge and the closest thing my town had to a cliche make-out spot, we find a new traffic pattern and a fairly elaborate if tasteful memorial to all of those many Essex County denizens who died in and around the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center on 9-11m, the likes of which, I imagine, dot North Jersey, though it's the only one I've seen. Given this complex of associations -- early juvenile delinquency and first car and first kisses and aspiration in all its intoxicating glory and death and homesickness -- the place is almost unbearable for me now, not least due to the conspicuous absence of the Towers from the vista.

Nevertheless, the Transtromer poem puts my feet on the old sidewalk, standing before the cracked stucco wall, hands wrapped around two of the many wrought iron spikes inset in the wall and protruding from it as a deterrent in a pre-litigious America where spikes could be used to deflect the impositions of people and pigeons alike, staring at the skyline glimmering in the distance at whatever hour of night or early morning, car radios murmuring behind me from a handful of dark vehicles, the couples they contain cryptic in their negotiations and ministrations, blinking lights into Newark airport descending north to south as an endless flow of jets enter the pattern and land, disappearing into the sea of light just below the striated and imperfect darkness of the Meadowlands marshes, even as others emerge to the south, individuals escaping a throng of peers, clearing in quick turns to the west and from there away . . . and even at this distance, scaled against familiar buildings in between, against planes and stadia and brigeds limned in green and highways etched in patient arcs yellow against the darkness, the buildings, the Towers in particular, are enormous beyond articulation, the remnants of a former civilization of giants, Atlantis.

And that's where the Transtromer comes in, capturing at once the magnificence, the spectacle and the defiant humanity of the city's vascular system:



Outside New York, a high place where with one glance you take in the houses where eight million human beings live. The giant city over there is a long flimmery drift, a spiral galaxy seen from the side. Inside the galaxy, coffee cups are being pushed across the desk, department store windows beg, a whirl of shoes that leave no trace behind. Fire escapes climbing up, elevator doors that silently close, behind triple locked doors a steady swell of voices. Slumped-over bodies doze in subway cars, catacombs in motion. I know also--statistics to the side--that at this instant in some room down there Schubert is being played, and for that person the notes are more real than all the rest.


"A long flimmery drift" indeed. I think "a spiral galazy seen from the side" is one of the most apt and evocative metaphors I have encountered, perhaps simply because I know the several candidate locations he might have written from -- know them and share his perception, if not his brilliant artistry.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You've quoted one of my favorite poems, thank you for that. That image is so resonant.
The way the poem finishes also seems eerily apt, now, thinking of NYC, Osama, and Bush:
"Annie said, 'This music is so heroic,' and she is right.
But those who glance enviously at men of action, people who despise themselves inside for not being murderers,
do not find themselves in this music.
And the people who buy and sell others, and who believe that everyone can be bought, don't find themselves here.
Not their music."
Thanks for the nice reminder of this wonderful poem!
Jim Ellis

6:19 PM  
Blogger Meander Knot Press said...

I so enjoyed that you shared how this poem touched you that I linked to this entry today. Hope you don't mind... nice blog!

8:51 PM  
Anonymous Robert Bly said...

I love this poem in it's original languages and I'm so glad it's works out so well in english...

4:39 PM  
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