Like a Rose
So Amy has reminded us all that it is National Poetry Month.
I love poetry, as you might have noticed from The Bookshelf Meme.
This one was given to me. Handed to me on a photocopied piece of paper. We were in a graduate class to which we had been asked to bring a favorite poem to be translated into dance. I loved that idea, but sometimes an idea is only as good as its teacher, and in this case the guest teacher and dancer was disturbingly contemptuous of the others in the classroom. She had asked everyone to bring a favorite poem and then mocked those poems, belittled them and the people choosing them in little harsh phrases.
And if there’s one thing you should not be, it’s contemptuous of someone else’s favorite of anything, but particularly a poem. Because a favorite poem is a poem that touched your soul, and therefore worthy of care.
So…the class is a disturbing memory.
But during the class, of course, I encountered many other poems that someone had chosen as a favorite. And the woman who had brought this one in, when I loved it so much, she handed the copy to me and told me to keep it. I still have it, with some notes of mine scrawled upside down on the back on the book I was working on–Blame It on Paris. Sentences that just came together while I was sitting in class, and they are in the book now as I wrote them down then: “She didn’t speak French, but when two men are standing there screaming at each other in the middle of a dark street, it’s so rarely a good sign.”
And, “Plus, although I like to think well of myself whenever possible, this guy was really hot. He was out of my league.”
Right side up on the same back of the poem are some of the notes this woman whose name I no longer know took from the class before she handed the photocopy off to me: “Your body is an archive of your culture…what is beautiful/aesthetic…gender-coded actions…authority…clarity, detail…volcanoes, tidal waves.”
Why volcanoes and tidal waves, I wonder now? What tangent was her mind going off on? It sounds like a beautiful one.
And there, in the midst of this mélange of deliberate and accidental art, there is the poem: “I Unpetalled You.”
I unpetalled you, like a rose,
to see your soul,
and I didn’t see it.
But everything around
–horizons of lands and of seas–,
everything, out to the infinite,
was filled with a fragrance,
enormous and alive.
By Juan Ramon Jimenez, translated by Stephen Mitchell.
Photos by Allan Honda and Patrick Florand.