Archive for August, 2008

I have been fighting all my life, and losing it seems. Against the force of my own gravity. I want to succumb to it, but as low as it may pull me down, it won’t kill me. So I succumb only sporadically, as it is better to swim against your anchors while your head is still above water

Once I was eager to seem to know. Now I am eager to know. And as I piece together what is true, I see it is different and more horrible than I imagined.

There is a breath in me that blows and one day it will be put out. Until then, what scents and sounds wave on this wind? It seems to come up from the ground, or down from the sky. It created me. I am the collected echoes on a breeze that swirl for a moment against a rock face, then vanishes.

If this is true, why such angry noises? Why such a violent twist to the air? Why should something so ephemeral be so severe?

I wait in the wings for some sign on life. I have no ideas, but ideas have me. My mind is undisciplined, sporadic, unwieldy. It cannot hold an image on its alter, nor a word, nor a clear memory for more than seconds. It is not still and like an unhappy 12 year old, fidgets at the table and makes everyone else miserable.

But what I find is that when I slow down the movements of mind, and embrace the melancholy that follows me from New York to Pennsylvania to Florida to France, then find that I enjoy my heaviness, as Kierkegaard’s narrator in Diapsalmata does.

This is what I have been fighting my whole time in Europe: melancholy. As if it weren’t invented here! My loneliness is epic, my self-reproach pervasive. I see an old love who I haven’t thought of in years and suddenly am full of loss and remorse. I see all the men who might love me backing away into darkness, like Orpheus at his fateful turn to Eurydice. And it feels as fateful, as severe.

But unlike Eliot’s Prufrock: modern man is his quiet desperation, reaching for a connection to grandeur that cannot come, I reach the mystical and grand through the depth of my reflective melancholy. And so I do think, in this state, the mermaids would sing to me.

So, perhaps epic melancholy and remorse can win us back our conference with the gods? After all, transcendent happiness is fleeting. But transcendent melancholy: that can last you a whole lifetime.

-Nina Alvarez


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The fall is coming and though I’m in Paris I am already thinking about the Northeastern U.S. in autumn and that sad, sweet quality of the season. And it brings me to mind of leaves and pumpkins and sweaters and returning to school, though I haven’t had a fall homecoming since I quit teaching 4 years ago.

And it brings to mind certain types of folk music. And to celebrate early, I’d like to share a song my little brother, Victor Alvarez, wrote when he was known as Ghost Tales. Now he’s on tour with his punk band The Knockdown and I respect that they have their own thing going on, but man, I prefer the musical stylings of Ghost Tales. What can I say, I’m a romantic.


\’Be a Good Lass\’ by Ghost Tales

Back when I was 18
I was making time for Jesus
And driving around my brand new Chevrolet
Audrey she was lovely
And when she said she loved me
I felt a slice of heaven fill my lungs
But the winter is so long
My father lost his job
And the entire goddamn city went to hell
Audrey, she was lonely
Because I moved to Oneonta
And with me took the body that she loved
Passion turns to treason
I gave myself some reasons
Why Id let my passion turn to cold
I told her about the money
And how theres hardly any
And how she should be glad I came at all
But the truth is I would give her
A city made of emeralds
That would match the color of her eyes
Her body as the landscape
Her golden hair as pavement
We would make the flower city bloom
Oh, its not that I want to be
In the middle of the sea with sharks around
But oh, if we choose to stand up now
And suffer through the bout
Well come out free
I still talk to Jesus
At the Sunday morning service
But these days I find it harder to believe
That its Jesus talking
Giving me the good news
Telling me its time to come back home

-lyrics by Victor Alvarez

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The more bored I became

with my unacceptable person,

the more I returned to the theme of my person;

worst of all,

I kept painting myself to myself

in the midst of a happening.

What an idiot (I said to myself

a thousand times over) to perfect all that craft

of description and describe only myself,

as though I had nothing to show but my head,

nothing better to tell than the mistakes of a lifetime

Tell me, good brothers,

I said at the Fisherman’s Union,

do you love yourselves as I do?

The plain truth of it is:

we fishermen stick to our fishing,

while you fish for yourself (said

the fishermen): you fish over and over again

for yourself, then throw yourself back in the sea.

-by Pablo Neruda

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Anselm Kiefer


The woman thinks of

Straw, ash, clay, lead, and shellac

the milky dust that clings to a hand

As it paints furrows in a bohemian landscape


He readies the milk-mud for a canvas

half the size of her vision


and without knowing anything else

she has seen him in New York

London, Paris, Berlin,

Sometimes in a small screen


But often enough in a white room

A perfect square of some autumn field

Cut and carried and burned with something

she had meant to say.

-Nina Alvarez

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Since I posted the poem Ithaca by C.P. Cavafy in May 2007, it has been the most sought after and most read poem on this site, garnering 1,720 views. Karl Mikelsons just wrote in to the comments section of the posting and pointed me to this fantastic reading of the poem by Sean Connery.

Only one year ago I was working at a job that felt like dying. My dear friend Anders Hansen, a Philadelphia artist sent me the poem and I immediately fell in love with it. As many of you have as well. It helped me keep a sense of perspective as I grappled with the “Lestrygonians” of my daily existence.

This year I found the perfect job and just spent the whole summer traveling through Europe and opening myself up to the journey. Once again, Ithaca reminds me on how best to go through the world, literally and metaphorically.

Enjoy the video!

The link to the original posting.

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Aubade: Lake Erie

When sun, light handed, sows this Indian water

With a crop of cockles,

The vines arrange their tender shadows

In the sweet leafage of an artificial France.

Awake, in the frames of windows, innocent children,

Loving the blue, sprayed leaves of childish life,

Applaud the bearded corn, the bleeding grape,

And cry:

“Here is the hay-colored sun, our marvelous cousin,

Walking in the barley,

Turning the harrowed earth to growing bread,

And splicing the sweet, wounded vine.

Lift up your hitch-hiking heads

And no more fear the fever,

You fugitives, and sleepers in the fields,

Here is the hay-colored sun!”

And when their shining voices, clean as summer,

Play, like churchbells over the field,

A hundred dusty Luthers rise from the dead, unheeding,

Search the horizon for the gap-toothed grin of factories,

And grope, in the green wheat,

Toward the wood winds of the western freight.

-Thomas Merton

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Venus and Adonis [But, lo! from forth a copse]
But, lo! from forth a copse that neighbours by,
A breeding jennet, lusty, young, and proud,
Adonis' trampling courser doth espy,
And forth she rushes, snorts and neighs aloud;
     The strong-neck'd steed, being tied unto a tree,
     Breaketh his rein, and to her straight goes he.

Imperiously he leaps, he neighs, he bounds,
And now his woven girths he breaks asunder;
The bearing earth with his hard hoof he wounds,
Whose hollow womb resounds like heaven's thunder;
     The iron bit he crushes 'tween his teeth
     Controlling what he was controlled with.

His ears up-prick'd; his braided hanging mane
Upon his compass'd crest now stand on end;
His nostrils drink the air, and forth again,
As from a furnace, vapours doth he send:
     His eye, which scornfully glisters like fire,
     Shows his hot courage and his high desire.

Sometime her trots, as if he told the steps,
With gentle majesty and modest pride;
Anon he rears upright, curvets and leaps,
As who should say, 'Lo! thus my strength is tried;
     And this I do to captivate the eye
     Of the fair breeder that is standing by.'

What recketh he his rider's angry stir,
His flattering 'Holla,' or his 'Stand, I say?'
What cares he now for curb of pricking spur?
For rich caparisons or trapping gay?
     He sees his love, and nothing else he sees,
     Nor nothing else with his proud sight agrees.

Look, when a painter would surpass the life,
In limning out a well-proportion'd steed,
His art with nature's workmanship at strife,
As if the dead the living should exceed;
     So did this horse excel a common one,
     In shape, in courage, colour, pace and bone

Round-hoof'd, short-jointed, fetlocks shag and long,
Broad breast, full eye, small head, and nostril wide,
High crest, short ears, straight legs and passing strong,
Thin mane, thick tail, broad buttock, tender hide:
     Look, what a horse should have he did not lack,
     Save a proud rider on so proud a back.

Sometimes he scuds far off, and there he stares;
Anon he starts at stirring of a feather;
To bid the wind a race he now prepares,
And whe'r he run or fly they know not whether;
     For through his mane and tail the high wind sings,
     Fanning the hairs, who wave like feather'd wings.

He looks upon his love, and neighs unto her;
She answers him as if she knew his mind;
Being proud, as females are, to see him woo her,
She puts on outward strangeness, seems unkind,
     Spurns at his love and scorns the heat he feels,
     Beating his kind embracements with her heels.

Then, like a melancholy malcontent,
He vails his tail that, like a falling plume
Cool shadow to his melting buttock lent:
He stamps, and bites the poor flies in his fume.
     His love, perceiving how he is enrag'd,
     Grew kinder, and his fury was assuag'd.

His testy master goeth about to take him;
When lo! the unback'd breeder, full of fear,
Jealous of catching, swiftly doth forsake him,
With her the horse, and left Adonis there.
     As they were mad, unto the wood they hie them,
     Out-stripping crows that strive to over-fly them.

     I prophesy they death, my living sorrow,
     If thou encounter with the boar to-morrow.

"But if thou needs wilt hunt, be rul'd by me;
Uncouple at the timorous flying hare,
Or at the fox which lives by subtlety,
Or at the roe which no encounter dare:
     Pursue these fearful creatures o'er the downs,
     And on they well-breath'd horse keep with they hounds.

"And when thou hast on food the purblind hare,
Mark the poor wretch, to overshoot his troubles
How he outruns with winds, and with what care
He cranks and crosses with a thousand doubles:
     The many musits through the which he goes
     Are like a labyrinth to amaze his foes.

"Sometime he runs among a flock of sheep,
To make the cunning hounds mistake their smell,
And sometime where earth-delving conies keep,
To stop the loud pursuers in their yell,
     And sometime sorteth with a herd of deer;
     Danger deviseth shifts; wit waits on fear:

"For there his smell with other being mingled,
The hot scent-snuffing hounds are driven to doubt,
Ceasing their clamorous cry till they have singled
With much ado the cold fault cleanly out;
     Then do they spend their mouths: Echo replies,
     As if another chase were in the skies.

"By this, poor Wat, far off upon a hill,
Stands on his hinder legs with listening ear,
To hearken if his foes pursue him still:
Anon their loud alarums he doth hear;
     And now his grief may be compared well
     To one sore sick that hears the passing-bell.

"Then shalt thou see the dew-bedabbled wretch
Turn, and return, indenting with the way;
Each envious briar his weary legs doth scratch,
Each shadow makes him stop, each murmur stay:
     For misery is trodden on by many,
     And being low never reliev'd by any.

"Lie quietly, and hear a little more;
Nay, do not struggle, for thou shalt not rise:
To make thee hate the hunting of the boar,
Unlike myself thou hear'st me moralize,
     Applying this to that, and so to so;
     For love can comment upon every woe."

-William Shakespeare

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