The title of the collection itself brings to mind an album by the Basque singer Imanol: Iratze okre geldiak (Motionless ocher ferns). In both we sense the gentle worship of nature. In the case of Imanol, a man of melancholy spirit, a distinct autumnal tone underlies his words. Maixa’s poems convey this same tone that comes through the fallen leaves. The leaf that lies on the ground, however, is not the only one we contemplate. Most leaves cling to tree branches, at the mercy of the wind and the rain, at least in springtime; they hold on during other seasons as well. Yet time is merciless and leaves are so fragile and ephemeral. The fallen leaf tells us that time has passed; the leaf still on the tree tells us that time is right here, elusive yet also vast, eternal.
There are many matters in this world that we cannot control. One such matter is desire. Cernuda wrote that desire is a tree without leaves, land without sky; I’d say it’s an unbounded space. The poet wanted to say that desire drives us to search – without any rest, as Xabier Lete would sing – for what is absent. And so it is with literature, or in this case, poetry. But absence comes in different guises. It can manifest as a dream or a nightmare; a disembodied ghost or a soulless being, like Dracula; it can be something remembered or forgotten. Absence always entails hollowness and it always contains emptiness.
One writes, we write, to reveal this emptiness.
And yet our words never manage to fill that emptiness. Emptiness can be, variously, a monument, a stele, a source of knowledge and an expression of what we were, the trace left by those who have lived by our side.
Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen) wrote a beautiful book called Out of Africa. The beginning is unforgettable, thanks in particular to the film: “I had a farm in Africa…”
I don’t know why this film came to mind when I read these words written by Maixa:
In emptying out my pocket
I have removed the tremor from noise
The book has three parts: the first is called “Silence”; the second, “Speech”; the third, “Noise”. Each term carries different meanings. Silence is, for some, a negative concept, but for those of us who love poetry, its existence is essential for poetry itself, and speech, to be meaningful. Speech is a positive concept for many, but it is also an instrument for speaking the truth or telling a lie. This we know. Noise, for many of us the world over, is an ailment, but without its presence, we wouldn’t know the value of silence.
The three concepts, however, complement rather than oppose.
And yet, depending on one’s point of view, each has its opposite.
Truth is the opposite of falsehood.
Love is the opposite of hate.
Forgetting is the opposite of remembering.
One of the poems is called “Slander”.
The hidden face of day is night.
Shadow is the other side of light.
Blindness is the inverse of sight.
And yet, the opposite of absence is not presence. Absence is a type of presence, in poetry and very often in life.
You named the world for me,
took me by the hand
over rugged trails
and you sharpened my red carpenter’s pencil
so my handwriting would have no flourishes,
In the end, poetry sidesteps the emptiness and keeps us from falling inside. Poetry that sinks into its depths is something else, but never poetry.
Translation: Wendy Baldwin