donderdag 23 mei 2013

Thomas James, USA (1946-1974)

Thomas James werd op 2 juni 1946 te Joilet geboren als Thomas Edward Bojarski.

Zijn gedichten verschenen regelmatig in verschillende tijdschriften en bloemlezingen zoals North American Review, Poetry & Poetry Northwest, die hem in 1969 de Theodor Roethke Prize toekende.

In 1972 verloor hij binnen tien dagen tijd zijn beide ouders. Gebeurtenissen die hij nooit echt heeft weten te verwerken.

Op 7 januari 1974 schoot hij zichzelf met een pistool door het hoofd (al is de familie daar nog steeds niet van overtuigd) Hij was 27 & had zojuist zijn eerste bundel "Letters to a stranger" gepubliceerd. De lovende reacties waar hij zo op gehoopt had bleven uit, er verscheen sowieso maar één recensie waarin hij ook nog eens werd afgeschilderd als een bleek aftreksel van Sylvia Plath. Een dichteres die hij enorm bewonderde, vooral haar bundel "Ariel", en waaraan hij in zijn werk ook geregeld refereerde. Net als Plath schreef hij vanuit een psychische noodzaak, met een sterke autobiografische lading, al wordt die bij James een stuk mysterieuzer en abstracter vormgegeven.

Andere dichters waar hij naast Plath veel affiniteit mee had waren bijvoorbeeld Georg Trakl & Frank Stanford.

Hij zou een brief achter hebben gelaten, maar niemand weet waar die is, of wat er in stond.

Jarenlang heeft Letters to a stranger een ware cultstatus gekend, en bleek voor veel jongeren een aanleiding te zijn om ook te gaan schrijven. Sinds enkele jaren is de bundel ook buiten het antiquarische circuit weer gewoon verkrijgbaar.

Dragging the lake

They are skimming the lake with wooden hooks.
Where the oak throws its handful of shadows
Children are gathering fireflies.
I wait in the deep olive flux
As their cries ricochet out of the dark.
Lights spear the water. I hear the oak speak.
It foists its mouthful of sibilants
On a sky involved with a stillborn moon,
On the stock-still cottages. I lean
Into the dark. On tiny splints,
One trellised rose is folding back
Its shawls. The beacon strikes the lake.
Rowboats bob on the thick dark
Over my head. My fingers wave
Goodbye, remember me. I love
This cold, these captive stars. I shake
My blanket of shadows. I breathe in:
Dark replenishes my two wineskins.
My eyes are huge, two washed-out mollusks.
Oars fall, a shower of violet spray.
When will my hosts deliver me,
Tearing me with their wooden hooks?
Lights flicker where my live heart kicked.
I taste pine gum, they have me hooked.
They reel me in, a displaced anchor.
The cygnets scatter. I rise, I nod,
Wrapped in a jacket of dark weed.
I dangle, I am growing pure,
I fester on this wooden prong.
An angry nail is in my tongue.

Letters to a stranger

In April we will pierce his body.
It is March. Snow is dust over the branches.
A pony hunches in the orchard.
I stand at the frozen mouth of the river,
Thinking of you.
In the house where you live
Frost glitters on the windows
Like uncounted pieces of silver.
Already they are preparing the wine and the bread.

The field is banked with purple asters
And a spill of mustard flowers.
The earth has taken on terrible proportions.
Out in an unused meadow
The wildflowers have already covered
The delicate bones of an Indian.
Bees are flying across the meadow
To a hive under the rafters of the barn.
Someone is leading a horse with crippled bones
Into the spikes of clover.

Alexander died this morning,
Leaving his worldly possessions
To the strongest.
I watched an empire fade across his lips.
They propped him in the sun a while,
And then three women came to scour his body
Like a continent.
I am afraid of what the world will do.
Only this afternoon
I heard two worms conversing
In the shadow of his breastbone.
I slipped out of the palace
And entered a vein of gillyflowers
On the edge of potter’s field.
I will not be missed.
No one even noticed.

I have been thinking of the son
I would like to have.
The leaves have all gone yellow
Overnight, wrinkling like hands
In the updraught.
I drove my car by the creek
Because I had nowhere else to go.
The milkweed’s delicate closet had been fractured,
Filling the air with rumors.
Despite all I could do, the sumac
Had taken on the color of a mouth.
Tonight, I perceive the young girls
In my mother’s blood
Letting their seed pass by unnoticed,
A red nativity.

Last night they dragged the canal
For an old man’s body.
Now he is singing for a hook
Just below water level.
A branch of ice is splitting open
Across each window,
And snow is dismantling the weeds
Like the breakable furniture of a boudoir.
I have been rereading your letters.
It is too cold for a virgin birth to occur
Even in the frosty suburbs
Of a wildflower.

I have learned to camouflage myself in church,
Masking my body
With the body of a saint.
Last night frost glazed the face of Mary Magdalene,
And snow rode up to the altar windows.
Before morning, the sparrows came down
To the body of Saint Francis.
Now he is upholstered in oak leaves
Like a living room chair.
This morning we are preparing a crucifixion.
I am thinking of you now.
With the velvet at my knees
And the silverware shining on the altar
And the stained glass moving out of focus
And the cross veiled in black,
I am present for the news of an enormous death.
I take the bread on my tongue
Like one of Christ’s fingers,
And the wine rides through my breast
Like a dark hearse.
All the while I am thinking of you.
An avalanche of white carnations
Is drifting across your voice
As it drifts across the voices of confession.
But the snow keeps whispering of you over and over.
For our own private reasons
We live in each other for an hour.
Stranger, I take your body and its seasons,
Aware the moon has gone a little sour
For us. The moon hangs up there like a stone
Shaken out of its proper setting.
We lie down in each other. We lie down alone
and watch the moon’s flawed marble getting
Out of hand. What are the dead doing tonight?
The padlocks of their tongues embrace the black,
Each syllable locked in place, tucked out of sight.
Even this moon could never pull them back,
Even if it held them in its arms
And weighed them down with stones,
Took them entirely on their own terms
And piled the orchard’s blossom on their bones.
I am aware of your body and its dangers.
I spread my cloak for you in leafy weather
Where other fugitives and other strangers
Will put their mouths together.

Two aunts
When I feel the old hunger coming on,
I think of my two great-aunts,
A farmer’s daughters,
Speaking into the dusk in North Dakota.
I imagine the dark baron
Riding out of their mouths,
Thick-skinned and girded
Against disaster, swathed
In cuirass and chainmail and a curse.
My hunger was theirs
Too long ago. It swims in my blood,
Groping for a foothold.
It is the dark I thrust my tongue against,
The wine and the delicate symphony
That makes my head tick so exquisitely
Tonight. My ladies,
My dusky girls, I see you
With your bustles puffed up like life preservers,
Your needlepoint rose garden,
Your George Eliot coiffures,
Your flounces gathered like an 1890s valentine.
You both took heroin.
Your father never noticed.
You sprinkled it in your oatmeal,
Embroidered doilies with it,
Ate it like a last supper
At midnight. I know what you meant.
There was always the hunger,
The death of small things
Somewhere in your body,
The children that would never
Take place in either of you.
You were a garden of lost letters.
A lust inhabited your veins.
My addicts,
The village spoke of you.
Under your parasols, two rose windows,
The world swam with color.
Riding the monotonous hills at daybreak,
You escaped the indecisions
Your blood has handed down
To me. You rode your father’s spotted horses
As if they might have ferried you
Over an edge, a dark mouth in the distance.
I see you ride the black hills of my mind,
Sidesaddle, gowned in lemon silk,
In your laced-up flesh, completely unaware
Of something I inherited,
The doubt,
The fear,
The needle point of speech,
The hunger you passed down that I

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