Reading: Ships by Tomaž Šalamun

Tomaž Šalamun (1941-2014) was an adventurous, I think people say ‘avant-garde’ poet from Slovenia. I like what I see (or could we say: read) because it is mysterious and our world feels sometimes like mystery has been painted over. Here’s ‘ships‘ in a translation by Brian Henry:

I’m religious.
As religious as the wind or scissors.
It’s an ant, she’s religious, the flowers are red.
I don’t want to die. I don’t care if I die now.
I’m more religious than the dust in the desert.
The mouth of a child is round. My eyes are
syrup, dripping cold.
Sometimes I think I baked nettles, but
I didn’t. Sometimes I think I’m miserable, but
I’m not.
I’m religious.
I will throw a barrel into the river.
If bees rushed into my face, I’d scratch
at them with my hand and would see
I don’t get upset.
The soul presses like the crowds at the door.
When I die, oxen will graze the grass just like this.
Houses will glimmer just like this.

I don’t normally quote poetry about religion, but when I do it makes sense of that phenomenon. As religious as scissors, an object with an imposed purpose to cut, that might be worshipping the great cutting edge. Ant, flowers, huh?

The line about not wanting to die but not caring is awesome. I get an idea of his religion: he is awestruck by what he sees through is syrupy eyes. Red flowers, children with round eyes. Yes, it’s real. You didn’t bake nettles or any hallucinogens, and you’re not miserable. It’s just that the way you look at things exalts and you can’t reduce it to science. You like everything you see, the more you look, a little bit like Basquiat the painter.

You know the world will not give a f. if you die. The pressing soul ‘like the crowds’, like the (big) other, are they demanding their right to give recognition, their right to think this poetry/this man changes anything, are they pressing to bask in the illusion that something matters? Well, it doesn’t. That’s what good religion is for.

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