Saturday, March 31, 2012

You Must Change Your Life

Why do I want to build this museum, anyway? Well, I found a beautiful collection of Jorge Luis Borges' poems at the Bookmill the other day. One of those strange, perfect days where everything is in alignment, plunged in the sparkling waters of the world up to my eyeteeth, the kind of day where the sky is splendid and small possessions long longed-for appear as if by magic. (Later I found a perfume I bought once, years ago, and have not been able to find anywhere else since -- a spicy, intoxicating scent of vanilla and chai and cardamom, all the way at the back of a bottom shelf of discount beauty products, half-fallen down behind. This is how the universe speaks: in secretive, nuanced jokes.) Why do I want to build a museum of joy? Listen. When I opened the book and glanced down at the page, this was the poem. 

Matthew XXV: 30
And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness:
there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 

The first bridge, Constitution Station. At my feet
The shunting trains trace iron labyrinths.
Steam hisses up and up into the night,
Which becomes at a stroke the night of the Last Judgment. From the unseen horizon
And from the very center of my being, an infinite voice 
Pronounced these things (things, not words; 
This is my feeble translation, time-bound, of what was a single limitless word):
"Stars, bread, libraries of East and West,
Playing cards, chessboards, galleries, skylights, cellars,
A human body to walk with on the earth,
Fingernails, growing at nighttime and in death,
Shadows for forgetting, mirrors busily multiplying,
Cascades in music, gentlest of all time's shapes.
Borders of Brazil and Uruguay, horses and mornings,
A bronze weight, a copy of the Grettir Saga,
Algebra and fire, the charge at Junin in your blood,
Days more crowded than Balzac, scent of the honeysuckle,
Love and the imminence of love and intolerable remembering,
Dreams like buried treasure, generous luck,
And memory itself, where a glance can make men dizzy,
All this was given to you, and with it
The ancient nourishment of heroes:
Treachery, defeat, humiliation.
In vain have oceans been squandered on you, in vain
The sun, wonderfully seen through Whitman's eyes:
You have used up these years and they have used up you,
and still, and still, you have not written the poem."


  1. So you're not going to believe this, but last night while I was taking care of my kid, who was sleeping in my lap, I had to read a book to pass the time, but Henri Troyat's biography of Tolstoy was out of reach (this is what I've been reading for the last few days), so I picked up the red bilingual volume of Borges I've had sitting on my windowsill for a week or two now, flipped open to a random page, and came to this exact poem. I only checked out your blog this morning and was ASTOUNDED to find such an interesting coincidence.

  2. That IS eery. But then, it does seem to be the kind of poem that leaps out of the book to grab you...


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