Poem for Departures

Living in one of the world´s many global hubs lends itself to international goodbyes, that is, good-byes followed by an incommensurable length of time. Writer, journalist, social activist , translator and a good friend of mine, Caleb Harris left two days ago for his native New Zealand. After twenty years outside of the country he decided to go back. As he´s an avid poetry reader, I thought I´d read him a poem to commemorate the moment. This was also to pay him back for all the haka send-offs I´d seen him give.

I like poems, but I don´t like reading poems – unless as a pedagogical exercise. I realize this is a fault. It might be partly because sincerity to me has an accent. If I get worked up, or frightened my New York roots come out. When I don´t speak with a marked New York English, I feel almost like I´m playing another self, a more professional one, probably more likely to make seemingly disinterested ironic remarks. Listening to Eileen Myles, or John Wieners, I think I should read poems like them. I like listening to them read, almost as much as I like reading them.

I memorized the poem and everything, then kept a slip of paper with it written on it in my back pocket. This was all to recite it at Caleb´s going away party at Casa B – a community art house -. The proportions of this party were much bigger than I expected. The house  – with some four or five rooms, an ample stage, interior patio and kitchen – was large too. And there were plenty of people there – probably a few hundred. So Caleb was busy and I was planning on not reading to a few hundred people, among them a few French and for the large part Colombians, probably not too interested in stopping the party for a recital in English.

So instead I read ¨Marine¨ by Douglas Messerli to him a few nights ago at his apartment, where Argentine electrocumbia star, Elmayonesa was staying (who sings in Estonian). Anyway, it´s my favorite rendition of Mallarmé´s ¨Brise marine¨. For me, it´s the epitome of a travel poem, from back when travel was still hypothetically capable of signifying metaphysical things.

Marine (After Mallarmé)


My face is a sponge and

I‘ve sucked up everything I’ve seen.

To fly away! To slip off with

the yelps of the drunken gulls and soar the soused skies!

Nothing, not the old bed of flowers staring sourly at me

can keep my heart from getting doused

by the spray of sea, O knights!

Nor the deserting bulb of light

on the pasty-white page,

or the young boy swallowing

his mother’s nipple with the milk.

I must flee! Suitcase sliding in the sway

of the heave, holding course for strange shores!

A boredom, without even hope,

that believes in the farewell flutter of hankies!

And, who knows, the sails, signaling to squalls,

may be those a wind cracks in the wrack,

missing, without a mainstay, mast, or bay in which to be embraced.

Still, O my heart, hear the sailor’s chantey!

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