Soprano and novelist Judith Mok is launching “Gods of Babel”, her innovative first volume of poetry in the English language at the Unitarian Church, 112 St. Stephen’s Green West, next Friday August 26th at 6pm. With Zlata Filipovic launching the intriguing volume, and Judith treating us to a musical performance as well as reciting her poetry, it promises to be a lively evening. Curious? Well, you’re invited. Here’s a sneak preview of two of the poems.
Beethoven in New York
This night is on me like a blank sheet.
I have to write
Of people playing music that
Fills the subway with my submerged sounds,
As if I am a whale vibrating through the thick of times,
Communicating that my name is: Beethoven,
A man of music in a storm of voices,
A choir, an army of American instruments,
People playing my music, people judging me,
How I rode this crushing wave of emotions.
I wake to chaos and constellations in my head,
Thinking: I will have to tell her
I heard this choir supporting some statement about me,
Thinking: it’s one breath of mine against three of hers,
That’s what our rhythm seems to be.
I hear this couple talking,
Two voices modulating into one,
Softly speaking spectres of promise.
I spy on her asleep
Sensing a child in her with too many dreams
To chose from, her jaws clenched
To keep them inside till they rot
While she dies slowly in her sleep.
Casual chords coming from open car windows
Signalling to me that these are New York symphonies
And also: that Elise is still here, with me,
That I must write for her.
Her eyes closed in the half-light
A film of cold sweat on her pale skin
Her neck exposed to my murderous mind
And me slicing through her sighs
While all I feel is music, my music melting
In the smothering air we breathe, one against three.
She came to me. Her mouth
Full of crunched-up words
A meaningless alphabet to her tune
She turns her slender body away
So I can wipe it dry and write,
Write on her bony back, as on a blackboard,
Feeling the whipping flame on my eyes
When I see too much of her
And want to write, my love, my love,
But instead I write two notes – ta – ta
A diminished second, and from there: on.
This I will hear until I go deaf
And then it will last.
Two notes dancing in a ripped-up dawn
I, sadly, take to my formal clothes, a composer again,
My mind still playing with the thought of her body
Gasping – ta – ta – while I brush my hair,
Reacquire my intense stare.
Her glow on me in the mirror,
It is her planet I live on,
Nothing belongs to me but music.
I bring broken notebooks.
Winging my way down to the New York subway,
My history in my shaking hands.
The entrance is like a gargoyle upside-down.
I dive into its steam-spouting mouth,
My pores oozing fear
I walked this score
I see, I can hear
The mini masters who play my music have sorted me out
While they keep talking about Elise and me
Hammering out her tune – ta – ta.
I am inside the whale, in my ears, in my heart
Wanting to fight against the pulse – ta – ta.
But it’s here, played on a steel drum
Beet – Beethoven on a pot, a drum looking like
A caved-in reproduction of our gutted earth,
A rivulet of my music, my feelings scored.
This tender tone: for Elise.
Ta – ta – ta – ta – ta from there: onwards.
And they say I have Asperger Syndrome.
Monkeys seem to be all the rage up on the silver screen these days, so we thought we would populate the vulgoverse with more of them – in a curious prose poem by Judith Mok from her new volume of poetry:
The roots of the myth is a monkey maybe
I had seen it. Sitting there in the middle of a floating island drifting down the brown waters of the Parana, that long wild river in South America. I was standing on the shores of the Parana in the city of Parana in Argentina and I saw the monkey in its reddish brown fur, playing with some roots, undisturbed by the waters that surrounded him. I watched and watched smaller and bigger islands of grass and tiny bushes float down the river and then came the one with the monkey.
Oh, I knew other animals lived on these tiny islands like snakes and rats but them I did not see.
The monkey was mine. I had been looking at it lying on my bed back in teenage Holland, pleasantly hallucinating about the animal seated on the back of a sturdy horse looking down at the river leaning over towards the other horse that was drinking from the river as well. This was a reproduction of a painting by Memling a Flemish painter from long ago and I always wanted to know about the monkey. How did it happen to sit on the back of one of those big horses, horses that are now becoming extinct because we don’t use them anymore. Horses like Bruin, Brown on whose broad back I rode so often, bareback, in the woods and on the beaches of my early childhood when I was that little reddish brown monkey. Horses like the ones in the Italian battlefields painted by Ucello, horses that can safely gallop with you into your wildest dreams.
In my bed I listened to Dylan and the Band and to Palestrina and Josquin’s church music and the monkey never turned around from the painting to look me in the eye.
Until I saw it again now, this year in India in an old book about myths, in a dark shop. It sat on the horse looking at me with the other white horse beside it. I breathed dust and damp in the shop, drank tea, growing old suddenly while I listened to the man telling me about this monkey of wisdom and how he was part of an Indian myth.
He was also part of my myth; otherwise he wouldn’t have turned around for me after so many years.
I saw the monkeys in the city and along the roads and I even sent a picture of one to another continent as a message of wisdom. I had arrived in a place where it was time for me to take over the myth and take the horses to the water.