Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Morning Reading: "what time has done to us over there, and what/ We've done to time"

A week ago in Denver at the AWP, around noon on Thursday, the first day of the conference, I went to the tribute to Mahmoud Darwish, the Palestinian poet who passed away in 2008.
Poets Fady Joudah, Yusef Komunyakaa, Michael Collier and Khaled Mattawa read from Darwish's work and offered remembrance and commentary. Collier read a highly edited version of several pages from Darwish' memoir, Memory for Forgetfulness, where Darwish uses the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the month-long bombing of Beirut as the setting with focus on August 6th, Hiroshima Day, as the day during he chooses to explore the streets of Beirut, in a kind of Joycean reverie. However Collier chose to read those passages that focus on the poet’s desire to make a perfect cup of coffee in between the sounds of the shelling. Hiding in the hallway outside his room, he wonders if he has enough time to get to his kitchen.

I know my coffee, my mother's coffee, and the coffee of my friends. I can tell them from afar and I know the differences among them. No coffee is like another, and my defense of coffee is a plea for difference itself. There's no flavor we might label "the flavor of coffee" because coffee is not a concept, or even a single substance. And it's not an absolute. Everyone's coffee is special, so special that I can tell one's taste and elegance of spirit by the flavor of the coffee. Coffee with the flavor of coriander means the woman’s kitchen is not organized. Coffee with the flavor of carob juice means the host is stingy. Coffee with the aroma of perfume means the lady is too concerned with appearances. Coffee that feels like moss in the mouth means its maker is an infantile leftist. Coffee that tastes stale from too much turning over in the hot water means its maker is an extreme rightist. And coffee with the overwhelming flavor of cardamom means the lady is newly rich.

No coffee is like another. Every house has its coffee, and every hand too, because no soul is like another. I can tell coffee from far away: it moves in a straight line at first, then zigzags, winds, bends, sighs, and turns on flat, rocky surfaces and slopes; it wraps itself around an oak, then loosens and drops into a wadi, looks back, and melts with longing to go up the mountain. it does go up the mountain as it disperses in the gossamer of a shepherd’s pipe taking it back to its first home.

The aroma of coffee is a return to and a bringing back of first things because it is the offspring of the primordial. It’s a journey, begun thousands of years ago, that still goes on. Coffee is a place. Coffee is pores that let the inside seep through to the outside. A separation that unites what can’t be united except through its aroma. Coffee is not for weaning. On the contrary, coffee is a breast that nourishes men deeply. A morning born of a bitter taste. The milk of manhood. Coffee is geography.

After it was all over, I felt so filled I could have left the hall, the whole conference, and started the two day drive back home and been just fine.

Yusef Komunyakaa read this poem, translated from the Arabic by Fady Joudah. Komunyakka suggested that Darwish spent his life arguing with himself, as though he was wondering if he took the right path. I can hear his voice still.

Don’t Write History As Poetry

Don’t write history as poetry, because the weapon is
The historian. And the historian doesn’t get fever
Chills when he names his victims and doesn’t listen
To the guitar’s rendition. And history is the dailiness
Of weapons prescribed upon our bodies. “The
Intelligent genius is the mighty one.” And history
Has no compassion so that we can long for our
Beginning, and no intention so that we can know what’s ahead
And what’s behind . . . and it has no rest stops by
The railroad tracks for us to bury the dead, for us to look
Toward what time has done to us over there, and what
We’ve done to time. As if we were of it and outside it.
History is neither logical nor intuitive that we can break
What is left of our myth about happy times,
Nor is it a myth that we can accept our dwelling at the doors
Of judgment day. It is in us and outside us . . . and a mad
Repetition, from the catapult to the nuclear thunder.
Aimlessly we make it and it makes us . . . Perhaps
History wasn’t born as we desired, because
The Human Being never existed?
Philosophers and artists passed through there . . .
And the poets wrote down the dailiness of their purple flowers
Then passed through there . . . and the poor believed
In sayings about paradise and waited there . . .
And gods came to rescue nature from our divinity
And passed through there. And history has no
Time for contemplation, history has no mirror
And no bare face. It is unreal reality
Or unfanciful fancy, so don’t write it.
Don’t write it, don’t write it as poetry!


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