On the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul
Blind as a newborn, I still argued that my path was correct. Blinded by you the blinding sun. Broken like Peter when his master said, Get behind me. Broken like Peter after his third chance. Dying because you the magic live. Alive because you the magic died.
In his canvas bag, the pair
of skates could’ve been a valentine.
It’s February. I slice across the rink
thinking of blood oranges:
the squeeze, his hands,
the clockwise rotation of the juicer.
He follows my motion on ice
the way I know he’ll follow me home.
And again, I’m angry as only
an other woman can be angry
when her last triple salchow
of the day ends in a fall, a bruise.
His thin figure in the bleachers
chips my concentration.
Like a head cold. Fruit pulp.
That stubborn clog in the drain.
– Arlene Ang
But Gregor was now much calmer. The words he uttered were no longer understandable, apparently, although they seemed clear enough to him, even clearer than before, perhaps because his ear had grown accustomed to the sound of them. Yet at any rate people now believed that something was wrong with him, and were ready to help him. The positive certainty with which these first measures had been taken comforted him. He felt himself drawn once more into the human circle and hoped for great and remarkable results from both the doctor and the locksmith, without really distinguishing precisely between them. To make his voice as clear as possible for the decisive conversation that was now imminent he coughed a little, as quietly as he could, of course, since this noise too might not sound like a human cough for all he was able to judge. In the next room meanwhile there was complete silence. Perhaps his parents were sitting at the table with the chief clerk, whispering, perhaps they were all leaning against the door and listening.
– Kafka, The Metamorphosis (trans. W. and E. Muir)
I stopped to listen, but he did not come. I began again with a sense of loss. As this sense deepened I heard him again. I stopped stopping and I stopped starting, and I allowed myself to be crushed by ignorance. This was a strategy, and didn’t work at all. Much time, years were wasted in such a minor mode. I bargain now. I offer buttons for his love. I beg for mercy. Slowly he yields. Haltingly he moves toward his throne. Reluctantly the angels grant to one another permission to sing. In a transition so delicate it cannot be marked, the court is established on beams on golden symmetry, and once again I am a singer in the lower choirs, born fifty years ago to raise my voice this high, and no higher.
– Leonard Cohen, Book of Mercy
Until then I had had so many ways out of everything, and now I had none. I was pinned down. Had I been nailed down, my right to free movement would not have been lessened. Why so? Scratch your flesh raw between your toes, but you won’t find the answer. Press yourself against the bar behind you till it nearly cuts you in two, you won’t find the answer. I had no way out but I had to devise one, for without it I could not live. All the time facing that locker — I should certainly have perished. Yet as far as Hagenbeck was concerned, the place for apes was in front of a locker — well then, I had to stop being an ape. A fine, clear train of thought, which I must have constructed somehow with my belly, since apes think with their bellies.
– Kafka, ‘A Report to an Academy’ (trans. W. and E. Muir)
He’d asked his father, implored him to let me keep me with him, close to him, he’d told him he must understand, must have known a passion like this himself at least once in his long life, it couldn’t be otherwise, he’d begged him to let him have his turn at living, just once, this passion, this madness, this infatuation with the little white girl, he’d asked him to give him time to love her a while longer before sending her away to France, let him have her a little longer, another year perhaps, because it wasn’t possible for him to give up this love yet, it was too new, too strong still, too much in its first violence, it was too terrible for him to part yet from her body, especially since, as he the father knew, it could never happen again.
The father said he’d sooner see him dead.
We bathed together in the cool water from the jars, we kissed, we wept, and again it was unto death, but this time, already, the pleasure it gave was inconsolable. And then I told him. I told him not to have any regrets, I reminded him of what he’d said, that I’d go away from anywhere, that I wasn’t responsible for what I did. He said he didn’t mind even that now, nothing counted any more. Then I said I agreed with his father. That I refused to stay with him. I didn’t give any reasons.
– Marguerite Duras, The Lover (trans. Barbara Bray)
Reason does not help me. It tells me that the laws under which I am convicted are wrong and unjust laws, and the system under which I have suffered a wrong and unjust system. But, somehow, I have got to make
both of these things just and right to me. I have got to make everything that has happened to me good for me. The plank bed, the loathsome food, the hard ropes shredded into oakum till one’s finger-tips grow dull with pain, the menial offices with which each day begins and finishes, the harsh orders that routine seems to necessitate, the dreadful dress that makes sorrow grotesque to look at, the silence, the solitude, the shame — each and all of these things I have to transform into a spiritual experience. There is not a single degradation of the body which I must not try and make into a spiritualising of the soul.
Then I must learn how to be happy. Once I knew it, or thought I knew it, by instinct. It was always springtime once in my heart. My temperament was akin to joy. I filled my life to the very brim with pleasure, as one might fill a cup to the very brim with wine. Now I am approaching life from a completely new standpoint, and even to conceive happiness is often extremely difficult for me. I remember during my first term at Oxford reading in Pater’s Renaissance — that book which has had such strange influence over my life — how Dante places low in the Inferno those who wilfully live in sadness; and going to the college library and turning to the passage in the Divine Comedy where beneath the dreary marsh lie those who were ‘sullen in the sweet air,’ saying for ever and ever through their sighs –
Nell aer dolce che dal sol s’allegra.’
I knew the church condemned accidia, but the whole idea seemed to me quite fantastic, just the sort of sin, I fancied, a priest who knew nothing about real life would invent. Nor could I understand how Dante, who says that ‘sorrow remarries us to God,’ could have been so harsh to those who were enamoured of melancholy, if any such there really were. I had no idea that some day this would become to me one of the greatest temptations of my life.
– Oscar Wilde, De Profundis