There's something about the Garonne River that seems to hypnotize me into creating. And not just me! All the poets who come to Auvillar to study with me seem to engage in a deep listening to the currents of that river. And they come away from the riverbank with poems. Many years ago, I wrote this pantoum:
Today the River
Today the Garonne runs greener than the poplars,
more limber, sky's smoke pierced
with light. Gulls mark dazzling punctuation,
like childhood scribbles on Jones Beach.
The river's more fluid than people,
who get stuck in arguments,
in graves. Jones Beach outings all but buried,
my mother and father the ashes of driftwood.
They got stuck when their bodies
deserted, my father one year older
than I am now--what would I say to them
if they drifted past on this grassy green river?
If they made the terrible effort to come back,
my father who deserted me for his bad heart,
my mother drifting past without her burdens,
could I love them quickly enough to be grasped?
My childhood scribbles Jones Beach like a willow,
runs greener than poplars by the Garonne.
Marilyn Kallet (Packing Light: New and Selected Poems, Black Widow Press)..
I have just returned from my fourth season of teaching the poetry workshop for VCCA-France. One of our exercises is called "Writing the River." Essentially, we sit on the river bank and listen, and transcribe. Amazingly, everyone gets poetry from the river. There's no reason why this should work, year after year. And yet it does. People who did not define themselves as poets before they immersed themselves in this adventure come away calling themselves Poets. And they are!
My friend Chantal Bizzini has been fine-tuning the French translation of this poem. Right now it looks like this:
LE FLEUVE, AUJOURD’HUI
Aujourd’hui, la Garonne coule plus verte que les peupliers
plus souple, la fumée du ciel percée,
de lumière. Des mouettes griffonnent sur des gerbes de nuage,
comme l’enfance gribouille sur Jones Beach.
Le fleuve est plus fluide que les hommes
qui s’immobilisent dans les disputes
ou les tombes. Les promenades à John Beach ensevelies,
mes père et mère, cendres de bois flotté,
S’immobilisèrent quand leur corps
les abandonna, mon père un an de plus
que moi maintenant — que leur dirais-je
s’ils passaient sur ce fleuve herbeux et vert ?
S’ils faisaient l’effort terrible de revenir,
mon père qui m’abandonna à cause de son cœur fragile,
ma mère, qui passerait là sans ses fardeaux,
les aimerais-je assez fort pour en être comprise ?
Mon enfance gribouille John Beach comme un saule,
coule plus verte que les peupliers au bord de la Garonne.
Am I not lucky to lead a life of poetry, to have such wonderful poets and translators as friends? Soon we will have a poster with this poem and one by Keith Norris, accompanied by his photo of Auvillar. I'll post it when he has polished its shocking beauty.
Causes Marilyn Kallet Supports
Southern Poverty Law Center, US Holocaust Memorial Museum, ACLU, Amnesty International, Save Darfur.