by Joyelle McSweeney on Mar.21, 2012
Me acuerdo del atardecer y de tu alcoba abierta ya, por donde ya penetreban los vecinos y los ángeles. Y las nubes— de las tardes de noviembre—que giraban por el suelo, que rodaban. Los arbolitos argados de jazmines, de palomas y gotas de agua. Aquel repiqueteo, aquel gorjeo, en al atardecer.
Y la mañana siguiente, con angelillas muertas por todos lados, parecidas a pájaros de papel, a bellísimas cáscaras de huevo.
Te deslumbrador fallecimiento.
[I remember nightfall and your room’s open door, the door through which neighbors and angels came in. And the clouds—november evening clouds, drifting in circles over the land. The little trees burdened with jasmine, with doves and droplets of water. That joyous pealing, endless chirping—every evening the same.
And then the next morning, with its tiny dead angels strewn everywhere like paper birds, or the most exquisite of eggshells.
Your dazzling death. – trans. Jeannine Marie Pitas]
Marosa DiGiorgio’s booklength sequence, Historial de Las Violetas (published in Jeannine Marie Pitas’s English translations as The History of Violets), begins with a dazzling death – or does it? The event of the death is not portrayed in this opening salvo, but is somehow folded up into the dazzling white cloth, the white space that separates the first and second stanza. We don’t see Death’s entrance, but, arriving at that killer last line, we read the entire spray of langauge that has proceeded it as Death’s array, Death’s radical penetration into every crevice, leaf and shell of the conventionally enclosed spaces of both childhood memory and the childhood garden. Rather than seclusion, penetration is everywhere, the door is open, the neighbors and angels come and go, the trees are “burdened with jasmine, doves, and droplets of water,” and the tiny dead angels are strewn around. In the Spanish, Death’s lilting ‘l’ sounds are planted everywhere like poison lilies. Death’s implacable, impalpable spectre comes into the space of the poem and turns all intimacy, domesticity and nature to its spectacular ends. It makes a dazzling body for itself through spectacle.
In some ways, Di Giorgio’s speaker, penetrating the scene everywhere with her memory,and thereby constructing it, is Death’s novitiate, copying and producing Death’s spectacles with the same domestic materials, producing/reproducing Death’s porous and delicate and terrible and dazzling scenes.
I learned of Marosa Di Giorgio through the excellent and diverse selection in Hotel Lautremont: Contemporary Poetry from Uruguay, translated by Pitas, Susan Briante, and Anna Deeny, a selection which makes me greedy for each of Di Giorgio’s 15 books of poetry to come into English. For now, English readers have only History of Violets, but that is no meagre feast. This work of prose poetry looks delicate, but as one sets foot in its damp grass one feels a wire snare tightening around ones ankle, as the gorgeous landscape turns out to be in fact engorged in violence, constructed of many little sites of death:
The gladiolus is a spear, its edge loaded with carnations, a knife of carnations. It jumps through the window, kneels on the table; it’s a vagrant flame, burning up our papers, our dresses. Mother swears that a dead man has risen; she mentions her father and mother and starts to cry.
The pink gladiolus opened up in our house.
But scare it, tell it to go.
That crazy lily is going to kill us.
The prose poem seems the perfect vehicle for this vision of seductive, opening, radiant Death, a Death which weaponizes the innocuous and sends its angels down in larval swarms. The electric, hyperfloral force of the ‘gladiolus’ makes it a spear and a knife, but also a flame, something that can flex and penetrate. Di Giorgio deploys a Catholic mobility of imagery; the bodily tenacity of saints with their incorruptibilty and heavenly odors are here turned as a weapon against the family. Event itself has a frightening and uncertain status in these poems; like the gladiolus, it opens up again and again, not just once, and sometimes not at all in any detectible way, except that it leaves dead angels scattered around like pollen or eggs. Event itself might be analogous to Death, travelling the same distribution channel for celestial special effects, and similarly smiting down the tiny beings who cannot withstand such Immanence. Death might be the only Event, and every Event Death. It is for this Event that the tableaux/altars/stages/masques of these poems are mounted and dismantled, staged and restaged.
I understand a selected edition of Marosa Di Giorgio’s work is forthcoming from BOA editions in 2013. While I will anticipate and devour it hungrily, I am grateful for Jeannine Marie Pitas’s work translating History of Violets and to Ugly Duckling Presse for publishing it. I am very desirous of these singular volumes each to be translated and published, to work upon me its fatal interventions, its thorned language of flowers.