Thursday, January 17, 2013

John Taylor – 3 Translations of Veroniki Dalakoura

The Second Death of Ang. D.

             Hold me tight. I am born again.

This is not wordplay. I come back into the world powerful and joyful, with all the capabilities of chemistry.

I am on a ship deck. I gaze at the sea, gulp down the foam of the waves, enjoying a similar route. Daddy. The dance of the angels lulls us to sleep. A mother dances, leaving behind her simple desires, exhausted in a great ballroom, as white as her rippling breasts. The violin accompanies the lovelorn daughter’s melody. Someone shoves her up against the wall and it collapses under the weight of doubt. She met a strange lover in the castle of a miserable province (that was also in fact odorless, for several times she chanced upon her telltale mark in that vast, wide-open garden). I was told a series of nightmares somewhere in that place, a little above the roofs of the houses, thus at a height where all risks of colliding with the jutting peaks of haughty apartment buildings could be avoided. Time ran backwards. The sound of her steps—when she was still vivacious and pleasant—could be heard with a special sensitivity, fortifying her tender need for attention. Her eyes were the protagonists in the comedy of Gender, contriving games so innocent—such was her natural talent—that even her father, like all sentimental Daddies, would touch her red lips with dignity at first, then be offended when she, discreetly biting his extended lower lip, would respond: “Not here, Daddy. I told you, No-oo.”

             I listen to her in silence. I yearn for an excursion to the end of the sea that closes off the lake of the extraterrestrial beings—an unimaginably erotic lake, a window and a river, and simultaneously the water of my dreams. At the end of the same ballroom the dance continued, the divine orchestra joining the bodies, Hail O glorious Victor, King Herakles. Mama, how I have aged. My hands have wrinkled, my cuticles yellowed. Yet I can still make a decision, still perform a courageous deed. I can even eat shit, aware of the aesthetic finality of such an act. I have been taught to exaggerate. I have imagined the truth. A mantic capability forewarns my sensations. I stand before the waves of this Mediterranean Sea. I whip the sea. Disasters, shipwrecks, and floating corpses write the preface to a story that will make many weep. Voyage to the surface of the earth. The outer crust protects us from the dangers of self-contradiction. An ancient father strolls in search of the narrowest, most picturesque little streets. He covers the distance to his destiny. He touches me, making promises, because he is not aware that I, like a clinical case, have no memories.

             Fear silenced me. I met him beyond the limits of the old city, and he was like a country that had surrendered. In the quarter where I found him he did not know his way around and, hardly unique in this respect, was all by himself. He was wearing green velvet pants. His belt was nearly a disaster. He slept in my arms and the next morning, when he noticed my fright, did what he could to overcome the Supersubstantial Fear.

We traveled for eight whole days. On the ninth, I met his Irish friend. His difficulté d’être, which indicated a life more intense than melancholy, had been the cause of several passions and idylls. His senses nourished an infinite respect for the soil. Thus, whenever he fell like a godsend from the heavens, covering the distance to the earth in a split second, he would touch the ground with awe.

After a few days, my interest in the two boys began to wane. They disappeared for several days. I saw them again, by chance, at a student party. “Let’s go to Matelles,” they suggested. “When are you leaving?” I asked. When I returned to my room (since I was supposed to wait for them there), I fell asleep. Later the two friends woke me, and while I was walking to the village and still feeling fast asleep, I told them a dream.

When I had finished, we had already arrived. My friend was calm. I initiated a halfhearted conversation that quickly fizzled out all by itself because it was obviously pointless. I had tired of discussing and defending surrealism, precisely because the two boys were bored and even more essentially exhausted: they passed over whatever I brought up or alluded to with exaggerated speed.

The Irish fellow grew silent. The other boy had begun to get drunk.

I did not know what the consequences of his drunkenness would be.

Because, approaching me, he drew back at just that instant when I was ready to attain the unattainable. I looked at him and, as he guessed what my intentions were, he grabbed me by the nape of my neck, pushing me down so hard that I vomited and nearly hit the ground. Then, mopping off a bead of sweat off his forehead with his left thumb, he asked me whether I would be able to bear the revelation of utter solitude.

“I do not know,” I replied. “That would depend on the number of senses that I had. In truth, how many senses do we have?”

“For eight days you were so gentle to me,” answered my friend, “that I forgot your true self and wondered where you belonged. This is the first basic rule. You belong everywhere and this definition implies a wholeness that fulfills—in the same way that it, too, is fulfilled. Today, if I were asked who you were, I could not answer specifically. I will say nothing more. However, I remind you that goodness, which rarely surpasses tolerance in quality, offers you compensation that, in my terms at least, is a right. One of your wishes will come true. My power is human. I am simply drunk on a heavenly wine. And since the heavens have no ability, by their very nature, to distinguish good from evil, my power is a product of your own mind, which took me in. So what do you wish?”

           With a firm voice I asked him to use his power in such a way that, bewitched, I would never be allowed to love again.

*    *    *

One of the Two

            I met Thierry last February. I was walking through dark streets and trying to think of something that would give special significance to my nocturnal rambling, when I suddenly saw him heading my way. He was strangely silent. When I began by asking why he was out so late, he answered that it was not unusual for him: he could leave his house whenever and as often as he wished. Finding his story rather bewitching, I took him along with me. We spent the rest of the night wandering around. The next morning, famished and exhausted, we separated.

            Two days later I ran into him in front of the entrance to V. Park. He was drowsy and on his white pants I detected some peculiar stains: he had drunk wine, he had wept, he had spit all over his body from the ankles up.

            “But don’t you go to school?” I asked him.

            He replied that it bored him. And then: “Inventors of the world unite before it is too late!”

Three months later on a Sunday morning, I made him out standing across from St. Philip’s Church. He was filthy and his long, straight blond hair fell down nearly across his eyes.

“What can I do for you?”

“Give me something to eat. I don’t want any money.”

That night, I could not get to sleep. His worn-out shoes, his socks, tossed into a corner of the toilet, began to metamorphose into a clean but peculiar garment; only after I had put it on could I fall asleep.

The next morning, it was foggy. We went out and then came back up, but before we reached the upper floors, “I don’t remember your place,” he said. “Let’s stay in the courtyard, cook on the stairs, shit in the corridors—like this.” He took off his clothes and, as I watched him, I tried to foretell whether there would be a next time. That same afternoon, I convinced him. We entered the house and, just before turning on the lights, “Good God,” he said, “this here is ugly and beautiful at the same time.”

I was serious and stubborn. His mother, he said, was beautiful, his friends played poker, his father had died. Nothing remained, in other words, but the pestilence in his Blood. I believed him. He had actually become a friend of his illness, and all the hardship of his former comfortable life was a mere comedy, badly acted, magical. . .

“I hear strange music,” he whispered. “I’ll stop speaking, stick my tongue to your ear, because I’d like to repeat those high notes now. We hear what we have loved, and you are deaf.”

We spoke for hours in the darkness. He recovered his stamina, took care of the evolution of material affairs. One afternoon I saw him hurriedly trying his shoes. Much later, I ran into him on a deserted, very remote, beach. He was covered with sand; he had grown a little. He did not recognize me and I thought that if I went into the water alongside him I would be able to distance myself from him, calculating at last a real distance, eliminating the mental straight line of all our past meetings.

He was there, upright within the grandeur of an infinity that was equally relative. Would the School of the Renaissance lend him Sabina’s movement? Would he forsake me at the limit of his colored world?

*    *    *


            A letter from Haris with that music of the plains, a letter from Haris with those ribbons of his fantasy waving, symbols of the mythical knight. I thus exist, Haris, through the knowledge of senses. What meaning do sounds have today, how shall we recognize the little that remains, that reposes in our poetic wombs?

            More specifically, I form the image of a man who, rich from his countless voyages, spoke to me about the people of the Alps, the placidity of plains dwellers, the whispering of those who live near the sea. That evening I heard the grass growing with a sound that I qualified as “splendid” from the onset—the very sound of a love that we are trying to forget. A few years earlier, I had been incapable of understanding what the end of the world means according to Christian theories. The world was not merely the earth. Back then the world was an infinite beauty which, beyond logical forms, could not come into the slightest contact with harmony. Good God, why did I already start failing to see back then, beyond sentiments wrought by my adolescent doubt, This or That, which in a distant future would be nothing else than solitude? Had I fathomed how the saintly suffering would evolve, the foreordained future of the withered fig tree, and the meaning, above all, of the music that I composed?

            Everything wavered while sleeping. Deep is my gratefulness for lies, adulteries, and debaucheries. I thank the brandished chastisements of the angels whom I distressed by following the dictates of my rotten will, without the slightest intention to repent. I am grateful—what else can I say?—for the whole Passion story, for its wise development over the centuries, for that particular end of a just and silent path.

            You were silent, Christ, as you watched the gale flooding the streets with the water of a fruitful communion. However, the gifts of that nightmarish truth were destined to remain in my conscience and only there—seeds, simply, of my long enduring guilt.


[—Veroniki Dalakoura, from O Hypnos (Sleep), Athens: Nefeli, 1982. Translated from the Greek by John Taylor.]

Born in 1952, Veroniki Dalakoura is a Greek poet whose work shows the influence of surrealism. She published her first book, Poiisi ’67-’72 (Poetry 1967-1972), at the age of twenty, then a second volume, I parakmi tou erota (The Decline of Eros) at twenty-four. Her books often combine poems, prose poems, and longer narratives in provocative ways. These volumes include O hypnos (Sleep, 1982), To paihnidi tou telous (The Game of the End, 1988), Meres idonis (Days of Lust, 1990), Agria angeliki photia (Wild Seraphic Fire, 1997), and O pinakas tou Hodler (Hodler’s Painting, 2001). Her most recent collections of verse are 26 Poiimata (26 Poems, 2004) and Karnavalistis (Reveler, 2011). Dalakoura’s work often develops themes related to eroticism and spirituality. She is also a noted translator of French literature. John Taylor’s essay about Dalakoura, “Eros and Other Spiritual Adventures,” is comprised in his book Into the Heart of European Poetry (Transaction, 2008). John Taylor’s translations of her poems have appeared in several magazines and anthologies.

John Taylor has recently translated major selections of work by the French poets Philippe Jaccottet, Pierre-Albert Jourdan, and Jacques Dupin. Among the modern Greek authors whom he has translated are Elias Petropoulos, Elias Papadimitrakopoulos, and Manolis Xexakis. His latest books of personal writings are If Night is Falling (Bitter Oleander Press, 2012) and Now the Summer Came to Pass (Xenos, 2012). He is also the author of the three-volume essay collection, Paths to Contemporary French Literature (Transaction, 2004, 2007, 2011), as well as Into the Heart of European Poetry (Transaction, 2009).


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