{ Tuesday, October 14, 2008 }

Peaceful moments I have known: The obliterated space after sex when trust has displaced breathing. The half-second of propulsion underwater before my body lifts toward the surface. The pass of my hand on my sister's fresh grave in grief more pure and isolating than anything I have felt before or since. These are my basis for comparison.

I'm greedy for peace in reading. It's inexcusable. Isn't it enough, in the moment of standing at a shelf and choosing a book, that peace balances everything? No matter the anger or fear I bring there, no matter the words inside the closed covers. To reach out, to choose a book, to pull it from a shelf and open up as it opens: peace.

Where I find peace in Gunther Grass is that he knows how to say "I" without making himself the point of his writing poems. Even his most personal poems seem to be more about the moment than the man. This way, they support a larger world of poems. (Whitman, with his famous "I," nonetheless does this same feat.)

After Brief Illness

All runny-nosed the land, the flu bug has run wild
and makes itself a rhyme upon the manger child.
Quick viruses, alert to the new cult
we thought assuaged long since, carefully soothed and lulled.

Till our eyes drip, our vision that was blurred
grows snotty too, with hankies scarce in shops,
old moans, set to new music, now are heard,
so that we form one voice while counting cough mixture drops.

Hardly yet sweated out, still hoarse with all that roar,
violence fades, barks softly, and, if requested, more.
Hardly subsided, the flu shrinks to a legend
and in a talk show finds its happy ending:
quite glibly on their stools they now debate
why on occasion humans lapse from the human state.

- Gunther Grass, from Novemberland, translated by Michael Hamburger

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