LA CROIX MA FILLE

IMG_0831[You can click your way right onto Julija’s desk in Baan Uii Dee.]

It’s three months later and Julija is back, and I’m writing what follows as much for her as for you and me. Because we’re all working on this project together, though Julija’s Latvian, of course — Russian is her first language, Latvian her second, lives in Norway and was brought up in the Russian Orthodox Church, all powerful influences on her work. Today Julija’s desk is no longer under the volcano on Bali as it was before but up here on the porch of one of our old wooden farmhouses in Chiang Mai where she’s working on the first draft of a cover for La Croix Ma Fille: a Book of Poems & Relics. If you click on the sketch you can see in detail what’s emerging, an illuminated vision every bit as fey yet as final as the book’s last words:

……………………………………..grâce à la croix,
……………………………………..grâce à la fille,
……………………………………..fleurs de sel,
……………………………………..delivery.

…………….

PERSONAL NOTE: Please, please don’t worry about the French — indeed, if you don’t speak French the lines may well say more to you than if you do. Because French phrases and place-names have come to have an almost mantric quality for the anglophone imagination,  like “je t’aime” and “Côte d’Azur” for example — or for gourmands at least, “sauté,” “vinaigrette” and, most beautifully and appropriately of all, “fleurs de sel.”  In my experience, poetic phrases based on subliminal, polyglot fantasies come more out of the shadows of the heart than the light of the head, indeed, they resonate magically like Shanti Shanti Shanti  and Amen — in silence, or in tongues, or under the bed.

And be honest with yourselves. Which word in the above lines do you really not understand? Is it by any chance “Delivery?” Well, me neither — which is why the whole book not only got written but still matters!

C.

…………………………..

SOME NOTES FOR JULIJA

“La Croix Ma Fille” is the local Breton name of a 170 year old stone memorial on the cliffs of the Côte Sauvage high above one of the most dangerous lee-shores on the whole north-west coast of France — which is why the title is in French as well as why the love story that runs through it is set there.

But what makes these rocks particularly menacing is that they are right beside the entrance to Le Traict du Croisic ( = “the tract, area, sand flats of Le Croisic”), one of the safest havens for storm-tossed mariners on the whole of the Brittany coast but extremely difficult to get into. And that’s a terrible irony, because as the mariner-poet runs for the perfect shelter behind the breakwater he takes the risk of being dashed on the rocks just on the other side of his salvation, and many widows have been made in one last desperate effort to avert that all too familiar disaster.  Like the tides of life, half a dozen of one equals six of the other — and of course that applies to any dangerous crossing what is more love story like this one.

La Crox Ma Fille B:W tweaked 1 copyThe stone cross in question was erected as a memorial to a daughter who died on the rocks below on August 7th, 1845, and its inscription reads simply, “A Ma Fille 7 aout 1845.” Over time the local people have  come to believe that this solitary, wind-swept cross has a life of its own, and as such it is referred to lovingly as “La Croix Ma Fille.” Indeed, it has become a sort of ‘hex’ or ‘totem’ for the Le Croisic community, a ‘spirit house’ one might call it even (‘hôtel’ in French is ‘altar’ in English). Whatever, the local people believe La Croix Ma Fille has the power to reach out to their storm-bound fisherfolk as they struggle to stay off the terrible rocks below, that in the darkest moments it guides and protects them like a lighthouse or an angel, and brings them safely home to the hearth in one piece.

“Fille,” of course, can mean either ‘daughter’ or ‘girl’ in French, just as “my girl” in English can mean ‘my daughter’ or ‘my girlfriend.’ So the expression, “la croix ma fille,” just says “the cross my girl,” which is what it says in the title as well as in all the poems in the book. And it’s that mystery which is at the heart of what Julija is trying to illustrate too (I like this attempt in particular — and this one because it’s about Samson which means it’s even closer to home…).

But it’s clearest of all at the very end of the poem called “La Croix Ma Fille” —  it’s Part IX of the long poem called “Fleurs de Sel” which terminates the book. I’ve never put up “La Croix Ma Fille” before, and have a feeling I’ll eventually chicken out and take it back home and look after it in silence for the rest of my life.

But in case I don’t, I just want to say that there’s a boat beached on the sand flats of the “Traict du Croisic” at low tide with four heavy anchors set out fore and aft, two off the ‘samson-post’ on the foredeck and two more off the post on the stern, the rush of the last outgoing tide having been as ferocious as that which will surge back from the opposite direction in just an hour or two more.

…..
……………………………..LA CROIX MA FILLE

………………………………….Relict fast on an alien strand
………………………………….flaked out like an idle rope—
…..
………………………………….the plaits loose in their tress,
………………………………….the cradled belly soft and toes

………………………………….uncleated, the cross of the limbs
………………………………….a hammock loosely swung between

………………………………….four great anchor posts dry but deep
………………………………….in the leavening sand where the gulls

………………………………….wait the turn like soft marbles
………………………………….disposed on a board of white leather

………………………………….worked to a maiden smoothness
………………………………….fresh, unstained, released from all

………………………………….the muscle loads and lust
………………………………….of the great beast that once in-

………………………………….habited that hide, the tongue
………………………………….cupped in the silent cavity

………………………………….of words all said and signed
………………………………….and thoughts a mirror sunk

………………………………….like the sea when it lies down
………………………………….in the sand to sleep, its blind might

………………………………….cupped in the great callused hands
………………………………….that lie half-closed, half-open—

………………………………….infant hands that once
………………………………….and once only water held

………………………………….and wash and wash
………………………………….like off-shore bells—

………………………………….grâce à la croix,
………………………………….grâce à la fille,

………………………………….fleurs de sel,
………………………………….delivery.
…………

I thank you for still being there, and ask that you continue to be gentle too,
Christopher

for FRANZ WRIGHT: “dark, then bright, so bright”

An antique Relic found amongst the Ruins,
thought to be Samson’s.

What Genius Means Border………………….[Click twice on the old script to read it more easily.]

A further antique Relic thought to be Samson’s:
illuminations on Jūlija’s desk under the volcano on Bali.

God burns

…………….God Burns 4 …………..[Click twice on both to see better, & read carefully for clues to decipher the text.]

Dear Jūlija,……………………………………………………….December 9th, 2017
I love what you say in your last paragraph about the “message of the relics” — it’s very exciting how we’re finding our way there together, and I’m tremendously grateful to you for the help.

In answer to your question about Franz Wright, he was a unique, and uniquely great, American poet who also had a uniquely troubled life. He died just two and a half years ago after a long struggle with lung cancer, having essentially smoked himself to death. He had been abusing drugs and alcohol and everything else for 40 years, was in and out of mental hospitals, and was famous for being extremely angry and aggressive in public and especially  on-line. For examples of the latter you can go to For Franz Wright (2010) cited in my previous post. In particular you can read his Comment 34 followed by his Comments 38 & 39, and finally his very moving last Comment 41.  (For convenience sake I have highlighted all Franz Wright’s Comments in Green.) And you can also read a short reply of my own to him in Comment 40, which will give you an idea of how I dealt with all this at the time.

Insufficiently, needless to say, and why I have felt compelled to revisit the original thread 7 years later, and of course why I am dedicating “He Reflects on What his Genius Means” to Franz Wright along with your beautiful illuminations.

Also why I have high-lighted in blue the discussion with my co-editor at the time, the anti-modernist critic, Tom Brady, who mocked Franz Wright ferociously both as a poet and as a person throughout. My feeling is that readers will be interested not only in Tom Brady’s ‘Old- (as opposed to ‘New-) Critical’ views but also in the way my own understanding of both ‘the poet’ and ‘poetry’ in general developed during the discussion. Because I was caught between a rock and a very hard place, pushing against two uncompromising Savanarolas, Tom Brady on the own hand and Franz Wright on the other, the former dismissing my poem, “Leonardo Amongst Women,” as “didactic” and the latter as “perfectly awful.”

Which was a lot to deal with then, and still is.

[Cont. in the Comments.]

“O FOOL OF EARTH!” A Haiku by Samson illuminated by Jūlija with Caravaggio, T.E.Lawrence & an encore by our Christy himself.

Julia O Fool of Earth jpg

……………………………………………………………………November 21st, 2017
A first draft of an illuminated haiku by a very special and gifted new friend, a Russian speaking Latvian calligrapher who goes by the single name of Jūlija. And there’s going to be lots more of her, including an illumination of the haiku in the previous post. At the moment her version of “Stumped like this” is lying on her scriptorium desk on the island of Bali, and I just read that Mt. Agung is going off so there may be a delay.

Just a few weeks ago, Jūlija and I started working together on a project to illuminate a series of what I call “relics” in my latest book called La Croix Ma Fille. And just to lay this new card on the table from the start, should La Croix Ma Fille find a publisher it would now have to include Jūlija’s work. Because what she is doing has inspired me so — lifted my spirits, confirmed my hunches, and given me the courage to believe that, even at just a few days short of 78, this author might still manage to publish the book!

I’ve had the idea for years — that I might assemble a book that would include some poems that I didn’t write myself but were “found.” So La Croix Ma Fille has a Foreword entitled “Three Relics Found Amongst the Ruins, Thought to be Samson’s,” the last poem of which is the haiku called “O Fool of Earth” — which, if you please, was written not by me but by the “front-line saint” called Samson, a Justice League enforcer if there ever was one. Because he’s God’s own body-guard, bouncer, and batman — yet he’s also humanity’s fool like the shy inventor, Bruce Wayne, which means not unlike me and perhaps even a bit like you. And don’t forget that these jottings were discovered “in the ruins” sometime after Samson pulled the temple down about his ears — “So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life,” as the Bible puts it. And if that doesn’t sum up our own well-meaning but tragic interventions at home and abroad, what does, and I mean both on the personal and national levels?

Here is the “relic” as it appears in my typed m.s. in 12 point Lucida Calligraphy — that’s as far as I dare to go for open submissions, but I’d love to see what a good book designer could do with the fonts, colors and spacing . It’s a ‘Haiku’ as well as a ‘Relic,’ of course, so there’s that too to take into consideration.

O Fool of Earth - Relic

Jūlija’s version of the same poem at the top of the page is an early sketch with the script partly in black-letter and partly cyrillic, a fusion which creates an ageless sort of sacred cypher, which I love. Because the reader mustn’t forget that the original was transcribed in long-hand by a prophet in a most challenging position — trussed up between pillars with his God on the one hand and his girlfriend on the other (my imagination still goes to  Caravaggio*  for that, the saint’s bare head, her lap, the nipple, and God flaring up all over the place…).
………………

*Note: CARAVAGGIO! or How the Samson of Painters Paints Samson.
……………………………………………………………………..November 25th, 2017
It’s the prophet himself who wrote this little poem so forthrightly, of course, and by my way of thinking it’s the weakness of Samson that demonstrates his ‘chosen’ status more than his brute strength ever did. That’s why I think Samson was granted even more divine strength for that one last shove, and why the effects of it were even more cataclysmic than what he managed to do with the jawbone of the ass. And that’s how Caravaggio painted him as well, didn’t he? Doesn’t his shaved Samson reveal a prophet who is even more powerful sexually than he was before, his smooth skin, his feminine curves in silk and his hands just like her’s? And don’t the lovers fit together just about perfectly? And doesn’t everybody inside and outside the painting know just what that means? (Click more than once to see that even better.)

What also makes this haiku holy is the simplicity of its vocabulary: “wise,” “heart,” “love,” “girl’s,” “flares up,” and “burns.” Had someone like me written the poem you’d think it was by a middle-school student trying to make his creative writing teacher happy, whereas the author is actually an ancient prophet who is just about to discover his true strength by acknowledging that he has not only lost it but abused it. He admits, moreover, that his heart is not “wise,” and whereas the girl’s heart in the poem just “flares up,” his goes on burning and burning, a self-destructive and at the same time self-affirming conflagration not unlike Caravaggio’s. And it’s not demeaning for him to use the word “girl” either — indeed, he’s mocking himself, not women, exposing his fatal attraction to fantasy lovers as opposed to real or ‘other’ persons, and that’s a man-problem that no amount of man-splaining can ever cover up. Samson may be a saint but he knows he’s also a fraud ** — which is precisely what makes this humble scrap of a relic-poem so precious, and why any human being might think to fold it up carefully and place it in a small reliquary on a string about the neck, a talisman to keep from being undone by gently, humorously, respectfully turning oneself away from the self-serving self to behold. And “turns” is just the right word to describe whatever that is, I feel sure, though I haven’t a clue what that is myself.

**NOTE: The flawed saint I admire above all, and the one I never stop thinking and writing about, is T.E. Lawrence, and in a sense all of the above is about him. While actually on the road to Damascus at the very end of the Arab Revolt in 1918, [and with the Morte Darthur in his camel’s saddle bag, dear Jūlija and Romain], Lawrence realized that “all established reputations were founded, like myself, on fraud.” He removed himself from public life altogether shortly after representing King Faisal at the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, the outcome of which broke his heart as well as the whole of the Middle East. He died in 1935 under the name of T.E.Shaw, an ordinary mechanic in the Airforce. It was just a local motorcycle accident on a small country lane, but his funeral entourage a few days later included everybody from Bernard Shaw and E.M.Forster to Winston Churchill, and many born like myself too late are still there.

……
ONE LAST FINAL ACT AND DEPARTURE
By way of an encore to all these final acts and departures I’d like to bring in for one last bow another Irishman, J.M.Synge’s almighty wastrel/minstrel hero from “The Playboy of the Western World.” For it’s “our Christy himself,” that genius liar, lover and logos, who makes such an utter fool of himself that he can turn the tables on the whole world, and scold all the Fools of Earth in one hearty go as if he were some Old Testament prophet: “Shut your yelling, for if you’re after making a mighty man of me this day by the power of a lie, you’re setting me now to think if it’s a poor thing to be lonesome, it’s worse, maybe, go mixing with the fools of earth!”

Which should bring this to a close, I think — dear friends.

Christopher