Try to Praise the Mutilated World

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“Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June’s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of rosé wine.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You’ve seen the refugees going nowhere,
you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.”

 

Adam Zagajewski

A reminder that in all things, there is hope.
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Happenstance;

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My contemporaries like small objects,
dried starfish that have forgotten the sea,
melancholy stopped clocks, postcards 
sent from vanished cities,
& blackened with illegible scripts,
in which they discern words
like “yearning,”, “illness”, or “the end.”
They marvel at dormant volcanoes.
They don’t desire light.
Adam Zagajewski

A typewritten copy of this poem hangs forlornly on one of my bookshelves, held down in place by some candles & foreign coins. It caught my eye yesterday as I cleaned out my tiny library. As I skimmed through the poem, it took on new meaning for me because whilst I had always enjoyed it before, I think I finally understood what Zagajewski meant when he talked about his contemporaries liking small objects & not desiring light. It invokes a kind of sadness, when you let the collecting of small objects replace the joy of finding these small objects in person on a journey, picked up by pure happenstance.

Happenstance (adj.)
: a circumstance especially that is due to chance

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Incidentally, my shelves are filled with “small objects”: trinkets, curios, gifts from friends, souvenirs from faraway. Sketches. Leather bound notebooks from Melbourne. A ceramic turtle from Kyrgyzstan that produces a high-pitched whistle when you blow through its mouth… Ah, you get the picture. A hundred little things. & as I looked at Zagajewski’s poem & all the dusty tchotchkes scattered around me, I was filled with the sudden desire to return back to the things that once brought true joy – travel, photography, writing, sketching, eating – instead of being reduced to The Collector.

You are The Collector
bringing together
the hidden places in people
collarbones, forearms, ears…
you’re storing them up
in the city that is your mind
O, that deep, swirling darkness
Won’t you let me in?
But do I want to go in? I don’t think so; not anymore. It comes down to this: I don’t want to be reduced to a forgotten thing on a shelf. It’s time to open up, let the light in.

Why now; why again

angels-in-disguise-bookstore

Six years ago, I walked into a ramshackle bookstore in the left bank of Paris & something in my soul shifted. I have always loved books & the worlds of words contained in them but until then I never thought that it could be this: a sinuous stream of kaleidoscopic thought, an abode for the poor dreamer. That night (in a musky room of a slightly-dodgy boarding house in the 18th arrondissement), I wrote these words:

“…ridiculous as it may seem, stepping into this tiny English bookstore in Paris felt like the entire reason why I was in Europe; the endpoint of the crossing of continents.

& now, six years from that day, I am realising that one doesn’t get many moments like that in one’s lifetime. That moment when lock meets key; that quick, momentary tightening before things click into place, whereby one can gently sigh & say: ah, yes. Yes. Do you remember what it was like, to be young & idealistic? Yet untouched by the world. Even if it was a very long time ago, you must have been like that once because everyone was before, even if they have grown quite a fair bit since.

This blog was started after a prolonged silence & an irreversible unravelling. It is an effort at pursuing respite, a harkening back to the things that once brought joy – selah, if you will – after a long time of wandering & wondering. It is inspired by a quote from George Whitman, the quixotic & sadly deceased bookseller of the rag-&-bone store, Shakespeare & Company:

“Be not inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise.”

These words, a reinterpretation of the bible verse Hebrews 13:2, are painted & forever immortalised above the slanted indoor-doorway of said bookstore. They resonate deeply because this is my story – always has been, always will be – of venturing out & returning destitute, of running away & running back home. Home. In the words of fictional character Holly Golightly:

“Home is where you feel at home. I’m still looking.” 

& so am I, so am I. & when I finally arrive, oh, on that fateful, glorious day, I would like to feel a cascading warmth; I would like to hear that all-familiar voice say: hello, welcome stranger. Welcome home.

More to come.

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