LETTER FROM PARIS, autumn 2014
from Margo Berdeshevsky
It’s been awhile. But my eyes are open. As always, I want to join in calling in the light. In believing in a word such as love. In the city of light. Or everywhere. I’ve been thinking about this again, all summer, and through the briefer days of autumn.
The longest day of the year has come, and gone. Summer has—come-in and out and gone. The first eclipse of October has come, and gone, leaving me with an image — that cracked bowl which the Japanese teach to be a good thing — that is, it is good to fill the crack with gold, to admit that things break, that we may repair them to make something different, maybe finer, and yet to remember the breakage. Maybe gold is an illusion. Maybe not.
And here on the banks of the river Seine, I made my ECLIPTIC MOON PRAYER: Blood moon—hunter moon—ecliptic hour—will you fill our cracked bowls with the gold of peace?—Only that. A shared prayer.
For here—and there—where ever “there” is.
And I whispered it, all night.
And I thought about all the “there” that is not “here,” … that is far from this city of light that we romanticize as Paris. We’re so damn lucky to even be able to think about these things and not be harmed.
How in too many corners, lights are drowned by the insanities of ongoing wars that belong to all of us, because how can we pretend that they only belong to someone else, and not to us? Not here, not in the city of light. Wars that none are willing to end. Or the ones who cry for peace are silenced by their leaderships who wear the armors of prejudice. Even though in many midnights, we hide our eyes. Even though we try to love and to be loved. Don’t we? We try. We are artists. Poets. We try.
Tonight I read the Cuban-born poet, Heberto Padilla, and I am stopped cold, and hot, and cold.
Don’t you forget it, poet.
In whatever place or time
You make, or suffer, history,
Some dangerous poem is always
stalking you.—[Heberto Padilla ]
We know this. I know this. And we don’t want to know.
Love? Well, there is, and there isn’t. And from the sublime to the ridiculous: there are perversions of love. At least, as a contrarian poet, I see them as perversions.
Every bridge in Paris is laden to the breaking point with locks,—or as I like to call them, “chastity belts.” Tourist couples love to be photographed in front of them, and to attach them to the bridges and rails and fences and wires, announcing how they they are now locked together forever. An idea I admit I have trouble with, and so I stop those people on the bridges, sometimes, and ask, innocently, if they believe in being locked in. But they pretend they don’t understand my impertinent question.
And—if you were here, you would see—that there is an abundant graffiti on the walls of Paris these days. On walls, garbage cans, door jams, street signs—and it announces a worrisome sentence. That L’amour est mort. — That Love is dead. Of course we deny it. Of course our world is just fine. But of course, living in the streets of Paris as in the rest of our world—can still make me cry.
I want to counterweight the thought. I make a collage to cover it. I photograph its cry, Love Me. And only if you look very closely on the wall — the words insisting that l’amour est mort, hover, underneath. I don’t want it to be. You don’t want it to be. We only want to love and be loved. Yes?
And so even as a woman in the city of light, I run away sometimes to the alleys of different cities. Trying to see my world newly, differently. I go to one of the cities known mostly for its darkness. Its dangerous streets. I run away for a few weeks to Napoli, to wander.
I look for reflections. Different ones.
I look for a translucent moment, for something I may call “presence.” Even if only in my own montage.
I wander through its darkness. Suddenly I think of “Pagliacci” — and how that clown drowned in his own tears. I find that the opera is in town, and I go to applaud it.
I know—there’s no hiding place. Not in these times. Not in these days. As E.M. Forster reminded in his “Room With a View” : “We cast a shadow on something wherever we stand, and it is no good moving from place to place to save things; because the shadow always follows. Choose a place where you won’t do harm – yes, choose a place where you won’t do very much harm, and stand in it for all you are worth, facing the sunshine.”
I return to Paris and I stare at a deep dreamer, resting on his accordion in a park across from Notre Dame. I want him to wake up and play—so I can dance. He keeps on dreaming.
I return to a favorite neighborhood. Enter its dim corner where a friend’s child is stepping into the firelights of belief for maybe a first time. To explore a light. Or even that very dangerous word, these days—a faith. And I want to give it no name at all. And no religion. I just wish to watch. With what hope I have left, for something more to love.
And I remind myself how lovely it is just to say “I love you,” in French. I whisper it, all day, and all night.
And before I sign this letter, I will quote one of the great cynics and contrarians of all time.
If you can’t get rid of the skeleton in your closet—you’d best teach it to dance. [GBS]
with much care, as ever,