On the way back from camping the other day, when we stopped at the dam, I saw a sign that said: Pericol de cadere in gol--Danger of falling into emptiness, into nothing. Maybe it's my English ear that makes it sound more poetic, that double took at the sight of this rusty, bent sign bolted into concrete.
But gol here is the perfect word if you've ever seen this place. It just opens up. You're leaning against the equivalent of the concrete guardrail the runs down the middle of the interstate--it comes up to your lowest ribs--and then: opening onto gol. Romania does this to me sometimes. Often, even. The surprise of poetry in places just getting on with life, with the business of the mundane. Between a greasy shaormerie, a middle aged man with his shirt pulled up over his beer belly, scratching it, and a dirty, tiny girl running around barefoot, her skirt brushing the ground--there is this sign. I think it was yellow, but faded, a dull mustard seed. You might not have seen it, and certainly there are bigger things to behold there.
I think of this, Musée des Beaux Arts, probably my favorite poem:
About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Brueghel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
I can't get this out of my head. That sign, this poem. I'd typed it in Courier and had it taped beside my bed when I lived in Pinewood in college, that ghetto that constantly surprised me.
It's a different sort of surprise, it's a different thing altogether, a cool morning and a bright sky after all those months of heavy heat, but every time the weather changes, gives way to something new, it catches me. I know how it would feel right now, right this very moment in Pinewood, the little girls who'd offer to take out our trash for a dollar knocking at the door. The things they said. The between-the-lines of the way they talked--this juxtaposed with a city that will be beautiful, whatever you do to it, sprawling between the river and the ocean.
There's this, too, by C. S. Lewis:
That is the real explanation of the fact that Theology, far from defeating its rivals by a superior, is, in a superficial but quite real sense, less poetical than they. That is why the New Testament is, in the same sense, less poetical than the old... That is the humiliation of myth into fact, of God into Man; what is everywhere and always, imageless and ineffable, only to be glimpsed in a dream and symbol and the acted poetry of ritual becomes small, solid--no bigger than a man who can lie asleep in a rowboat on the lake of Galilee. You may say that this, after all, is a still deeper poetry. I will not contradict you. The humiliation leads to a greater glory.