Saturday, December 5, 2009

“Black Stone Lying on a White Stone”

Today’s poem is stark. As I was driving to Cascade on Friday I drove by Payette Lake; it was 6 degrees Fahrenheit, & the lake, not yet frozen, was shimmering with a cold fog. In the midst of the shallows were some of the coldest white stones I have ever seen, & this great poem by César Vallejo came into my head.

When I say great poem, I’m using the adjective quite literally—to my mind, Vallejo was one of the very greatest 20th century poets. Born in Peru, but later emigrating to France because of persecution for his leftist politics, Vallejo came as close in poetry as anyone to speaking what can’t be spoken, & to giving a voice to the dispossessed—as he was himself.

It has been a difficult week, one in which mortality & the transitory & bearing witness & a sense of existential injustice all have come to my mind. This has resulted not only from some of the recent events I’ve written about, but also how those events have echoed with others.

So now I’m a bit tired—it was not only an emotionally eventful week, but also one in which I travelled a lot, as well as participating (with Eberle & others) in an almost 6 hour rehearsal for the Christmas show we’ll be playing next weekend. There won't be a post on Robert Frost’s Banjo tomorrow, but fear not: I’ll be back on Monday, & hope to have a seasonal musical surprise! There will be another of the San Francisco poems on The Days of Wine & Roses tomorrow, however. It’s a long poem called "Sam Peckinpaugh’s Mexican Xmas."

& speaking of The Days of Wine & Roses, good blog friend Sandra Leigh of the very wonderful Amazing Voyages of the Turtle sent a nice bouquet to that blog as well as several others. I’ve always loved Sandra’s writing, & while I know a lot of readers here know her blog, if you’re one who doesn’t, please check it out!

Hope to see some of you at The Days of Wine & Roses tomorrow. Have a lovely weekend, & please enjoy this amazing poem.

Black Stone Lying on a White Stone

      I will die in Paris, on a rainy day,
on some day I can already remember,
I will die in Paris—and I don’t step aside—
perhaps on a Thursday, as today is Thursday, in autumn.

      It will be a Thursday, because today, Thursday, setting down
these lines, I have put my upper arm bones on
wrong, and never so much as today have I found myself
with all the road ahead of me, alone.

      César Vallejo is dead. Everyone beat him,
although he never does anything to them;
they beat him hard with a stick and hard also

      with a rope. These are the witnesses:
the Thursdays, the bones of my arms,
the solitude, and the rain, and the roads…

César Vallejo
translated by Robert Bly & John Knoepfle


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Tis a great poem, John,I really like it, something about the solitude the rain and the roads is (obviously) sad, but appealing.And sorry ,John and Eberle, for the loss of your friend Tom.Sixty five is too young an age to die.

  3. This is a very moving poem and dark. I hope Vallejo had some light in his life. Thanks for remembering this & sharing it with us.

  4. Hi TFE & Lizzy

    TFE: Yes, in addition to its poignancy it has a lot of pull. Vallejo's work is like that in general. & thanks for your kind words about Tom Trusky.

    Lizzy: Vallejo lived a hard life & most of his poetry is quite dark. His poetry is also incredibly moving.

  5. What a poem! This hits me hard for some reason (which I'm not sure I want to examine).

  6. Hi Karen: I do think this poem has a lot of impact, & there is something unsettling about someone predicting his own death, especially in such lonely terms. The really disturbing thing is that Vallejo did die on a rainy Thursday in Paris, tho it was in the spring, not in autumn.

  7. It wasn't Vallejo's predicting of his own death that impressed me, but his remembering of it -- "on some day I can already remember,
    I will die in Paris" -- He is simultaneously in two times, the one in which he lives and suffers, and the one in which he has died and can judge what went before.

    Thank you for the shout-out, John.

  8. Wow! Amazing work. Sometimes only another's words will suffice to say what we are feeling. By reading this poem, I have a sense of how your week must have been.
    That line about the upper arm bones is something!
    Hope this week improves for you, John.

  9. Hi Sandra & Kat

    Sandra: Yes, the simultaneity of time present/past & future is remarkable in the poem. & of course you're welcome!

    Kat: Thanks for the kind wishes--& hope your week isn't too hard with the sick kitty.

  10. Exceptionally moving poem, quoted by Castaneda for Don Juan. He calls poets "Advance Scouts of Perception"..


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