An Essay for April 6th.
I didn’t write anything this year for April 5th, My essay last year on it was my last.
In truth this year April fifth didn’t feel like it felt the last six years. I think it is in part that I have come to realize that between April 6, 2008 and now I have -at this point- changed in my life more than I did on April 5th, 2008.
But, I was going through some old files in my computer I came across this video I made two years ago for a class I took in Stage Design.
The video project was supposed to show our use of diagetic and non-diagetic sound. We got to choose three quotes to make a video about, one of them was this excerpt from a poem by Neruda which began with:
“With which stars do they go on speaking,
those rivers that never reach the sea.”
When I re-watched the video I was surprised by how predictive it was of the place where I am now in relation to that part of my life.
In the past I saw the two lives I lived as being in a series, one of them was my former life, the other my present. But now I see them differently, both of them living in me, in some way I’ve yet to figure out how to describe.
Watching this video made me realize that the seeds of that idea were already in me for a while, that I’ve been embracing the duality of my self and world long before I acknowledged to myself that such a duality exists in me.
It’s a person I wasn’t on April 5th 2008, but I began becoming him on April 6, and I’m happy I took his journey.
It’s April 6 now here in Berlin.
Here’s the essay I submitted together with my video:
“With which stars do they go on speaking,
those rivers that never reach the sea.”
This stanza in Neruda’s poem got me thinking about the phases in my own life which feel like they have never reached the sea. I saw Neruda’s question - about what happens to the aspirations we have that never come to fruition – as a lamentation for the days and actions of our lives that we sometimes must abandon.
I thought about my own days as a religious rabbinical student in Israel, my fervent prayers and my hours of studying, that I have completely abandoned when I chose to study science and theatre at university.
I wanted to create a video that captures that change and the cry of Neruda, how my work and beliefs during those years have never reached the sea. But I also wanted the video to be an answer to that question. That ultimately our own selves and identity is a cumulative sea that all the rivers we pass ultimately reach. To show that I have shown video clips and images of my past and present life, I look different in the images of my past and the images of present, but my pose is the same.
Thinking about the Sisyphean nature of some of my pursuits, I was reminded of the Doll Aria of Offenbach’s opera Les Contes D’Hoffman. In that aria the poet Hoffman falls in love with a robot created by a scientist that he thinks is a real girl, and he is devastated when he finds out the truth about her fakeness. In a sense my belief in God during my yeshiva days was like Hoffman’s belief in the robotic woman, a belief in a human construction as real. But in a sense the allure of science and art that attracted me to leave the world of religion behind was much like the allure of the robotic girl for Hoffman, she is dazzling but also impossible to really exist.
For my video I used a beautiful performance directed by Bartlot Sher of that aria, we hear Kathleen Kim sing (diagetic sound) and we cut away to the parallel alternative lives that I have lived while hearing the aria continue (non diagetic sound.)
In the end my two personalities exist in harmony and even the robot gives me a wink and compassionately sings her notes. But as the final sound shows, that illusion of the beautiful girl who has become the allure of the new life I live needs constant winding and reenergizing, because the sea where the rivers meet needs to be constantly reconstructed.
(If the music in the video intrigues you, here's a preview of the opera it is part of including an introduction by Deborah Voigt, And here you can see a great clip of Kate Lidnsey and Joseph Calleja in a rather funny aria from the opera, when the poet first sees the robot, and here you can hear Ana Netrebko and Elena Garancia sing the opera’s most famous piece of music, the Barcarolle)
If Only We Had Taller Been.
The fence we walked between the years did bounce us serene.
It was a place half in the sky where, in the green of leaf and the promise of peach, we reached our hand and almost touched the sky.
If we could reach out and touch, we said, it would teach us not to, never to, be dead.
We ate, and almost touched that stuff;
Our reach was never quite enough.
If only we had tallied then, and touched God’s cuff, his hem
We would not have to go with them, with those who had gone before
Who, short as us, stood tall as they could and hoped that by stretching tall that they could keep their land their home, their hearth, their flesh and soul.
But they like us were standing in a hole.
Oh Thomas! Will a race one day stand really tall, across the void across the universe and all?
And measure all with rocket fire. at last put Adam’s finger forth as on the Sistine ceiling
And God’s hand come down the other way to measure man and find him good ?
And gift him with forever’s day
I work for that ,for that short man, large dream
I send my rockets forth between my ears
Hoping an inch of good is worth a pound of years
Aching to hear a voice cry back across the universal mall
We’ve reached Alpha Centauri!
My God! We’re tall!
Here I will not hear the voice of the cuckoo.
Here the tree will not wear a cape of snow.
But it is here in the shade of these pines
my whole childhood reawakens.
The chime of the needles: Once upon a time –
I called the snow-space homeland,
and the green ice at the river’s edge -
was the poem’s grammar in a foreign place.
Perhaps only migrating birds know -
suspended between earth and sky -
the heartache of two homelands.
With you I was transplanted twice,
with you, pine trees, I grew -
roots in two disparate landscapes.
“When I see how calm,
how full of pride you are,
something inside me goes wild –
How can one live this awesome life
without a touch of madness,
with only a grim, ancient pride?
If I could, I would burn down
that we call the seasons,
along with your cursed dependence
on earth and air and sun,
on rain and dew.”
The cypress does not answer.
He knows there is madness in him,
But the flame will not understand,
the flame will not believe.
Flowers from a New Love after the Divorce
Homeward returning. High in Front advanc’t,
The brandisht Sword of God before them blaz’d
Fierce as a Comet; which with torrid heat,
And vapour as the Libyan Air adust,
Began to parch that temperate Clime; whereat
In either hand the hastning Angel caught
Our lingring Parents, and to th’ Eastern Gate
Led them direct, and down the Cliff as fast
To the subjected Plaine; then disappeer’d.
They looking back, all th’ Eastern side beheld
Of Paradise, so late thir happie seat,
Wav’d over by that flaming Brand, the Gate
With dreadful Faces throng’d and fierie Armes:
Som natural tears they drop’d, but wip’d them soon;
The World was all before them, where to choose
Thir place of rest, and Providence thir guide:
They hand in hand with wandring steps and slow,
Through Eden took thir solitarie way.
-John Milton, ending of Paradise Lost (Chapter 12 632-649)
Lord of the heart’s silliness,
and the crimes of actions.
Father of the hungry-body’s pain,
Feed me life,
and then I’ll know,
That there is a big sun in your sky,
and her golden light is much to me.
Here, I’ll stretch out my hand,
spare me some change.
Note: I translated this poem from the Hebrew on my own so some of the translation is probably imperfect. For example the word הטריפני means feed but the root of the word is that of “prey” as in make me prey, it’s used to connote feeding but with a stronger intonation, as in make me prey of life.
O the songs you sang of Brazil, of the Amazons
boiling up their rice in satellite dishes, stealing whatever men
or comfort they could! For years I dreamed of turning Amazon,
letting my slips and hair grow wild as flowered vines in the Amazon.
Did I tell you? Once near Rio, I nearly drowned
when the tide, like a lover, stole back to the Amazon,
her brown lips wide and waiting. They had to pull me up
before I sank for good, like you, my pale body yanked up
like a tooth rotten at the root, while the sounds of the Amazon
crooned in my blood. They warmed me like love.
The songs you sang were always about love.
The boys in the chip shops lied to you about love,
slick under their Elvis haircuts, eyes sequined like the Amazon’s
dark amniotic waters. Them you loved,
as much as the Irish who fled to New York, loving
the night sounds of Christmas bells kissing the stars, men
chained to Church and self-hatred who called you ‘Luv,’
their unwashed necks tasting of bitterroot and Love-
Me-Not when you lured them down, down, down
to your apartment. Even the Socialists who wouldn’t go down
on you, their bad skins splintering in the cold, these too you loved,
teasing them into the bars where you propped them up
on wood stools to demand why you weren’t quite up
to our standards yet, our Madonnas and Kylies, app-
aratchiks of plasticity, of de-thighed loving-
kindness spray painted pink. You were the London girl, flying up
and over townships, backed by a flaming Amazonian
'do and Johnny Marr beat. Lonely girls, we put you up
on a pedestal. You put us on the pill, crooning Are you up
for disappointment? in our bedrooms packed with men’s
photographs and colognes. On a cold gray day, a cold gray man
will do, I learned to sigh, and gathered up
all signs of strangers’ passing like treasures from the drowned;
fragile wood ships sinking into horizons, down
to the tips of their amber sails; down
to me, where I lived through a voice that called up
starfish and sirens, breathy songs so tearful as to drown
sailors in their own beds. They said: In Mexico, she drowned
in front of her two children. Isn’t that sad? Frankly, I’d love
a better word than sad right now. Something less drowsy
and inert, something to reflect the woman you were drowning
in her bathtub, clutching a martini. The Amazon’s
sheared off breast perhaps, or the war cries that rattled their jungle
like silver spears. I’m in your eyes; I’m drowning,
you purred in stereo until I could only picture the man
who’d pull me under the way you could, into the male,
heady registers my voice could barely reach. Here comes that man
again, Kirsty, the one who can’t stop killing you with his down-
burst of sighs, his tooth-and-nail kisses. You with your black jack-
boots and bejeweled cashmeres, mane
of hair sweetly teased into powdery red, op-
eratic clouds settled after the nuclear blast: what man
can resist you? Not even that Insatiable Mister
who’s caught you (at last) into his thin arms, crying, Beloved!
the way he once caught at me, adrift at sea and in love
with the tug of shoals and moon. I swore no more songs for dead men
or rock stars but you were the last straw, my Penthesilea
calling all her Amazons
to war. O my Amazon,
the girls you’ve left are still here; like me, waving, not drowning,
before the poets on their pylons, eyes fixed to the ships sailing above
us in the night, mouths full of the hymns you sang of love.
The world is beautiful and wrong. But the men, Kirsty. O the men.
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