Thursday, October 28, 2010

all aboard

This week my head is a very crowded train station: noisy, jostling elbows, the brush of passing overcoats, leather cases dipping through the smoke and steam, a kind of palpable hurrying joy; and above it all the tick of the great big clock that hangs in the center of the rotunda. (Books that begin with beautiful passages about train stations that I can think of off the top of my head: Calvino's If on a Winter's Night a Traveler and Sebald's Austerlitz.) Ah and now there's the frenetic flip of the mechanical schedule board (one of my favorite sounds of all time)! Where are we going? How fast will we get there? And most importantly—will there be snacks?

At least two of the rushing travelers knocking around my brain are my current projects at work, both of which I'm a tiny bit obsessed with at the moment. Oh the delicious deviousness of marketing! And my intense attraction to excellence, and love of analyzing everything down to its bones. Not to mention the verbal and graphic lucidity of this very interesting book.

Adding fuel to the ooh-selling-things-is-so-fascinating fire, I do believe, is the fact that I've devoured the last 6 episodes of the 4th season of
Mad Men in 2 days. Oh la la that show is good—and especially now that it's really starting to delve into feminist issues. Also because of dreamy Communist journalist Abe Drexler, obvi. Plus it's inspired me to buy and wear high-waisted pants. (So flattering! And they make you want to smoke a cigarette and do the twist to a little number like this one.)

Luckily, balancing out all my capitalist infatuations is the sudden reemergence of Literature in my life; that is, my ravenous appetite for WORDS, GLORIOUS WORDS! This all came about by accident, when in search of a book to read before bed on Saturday night I took down My Sister—Life, a tiny volume of Pasternak poems that I hadn't looked at in more than a year. (Which I apparently stole from my undergraduate place of employment, oopsies, as it has PRODUCTION COPY written on the top in red Sharpie.) Climbing into my incredibly sexy loft bed, where I have about 3" of clearance between me and the ceiling when lying down, I cracked open the book and started reading from the beginning.

You know that you're in serious trouble when the scholarly introduction alone starts to give you heart palpitations. These are poems Pasternak wrote in the summer of 1917, in the calm before the storm of the October Revolution, and they are so teeming with feeling and image (even in English translation) that I've found I can only read about 3 at a time without feeling exhausted. Do I exaggerate? Perhaps. But I did find that attempting to use them as bedtime reading completely backfired, as it took me til at least 3 am to settle down enough to fall asleep. (Same thing as the time I tried to use Here, My Dear as a lullaby. Live and learn.)

But I will let Pasternak (whose fetching forelock apparently made every Belle Epoque
zhenshchina swoon) speak for himself. Here is the fourth poem of the book, which—rather neatly in terms of tying things up here, non?—invokes a train ride:

My sister—life today floods over
and bursts on everyone in spring rain,
while monocled folk in their grottoes of fine manners
snap and sting, like snakes in oats.

The grownups, of course, have their reasons.
Most likely, most likely your reason's naive,
that eyes and lawns turn violet in the storm
and the horizon smells of moist mignonette;

so that in May, on the Kamyshin branch-line
the schedule of trains you scan in transit
seems grander than the Holy Script,
even though you've read it before;

and only dusk draws swarms
of women crowding onto one platform.
Restless, I hear it's not my stop,
and the sun, setting, takes the seat beside me.

The last bell splashes and floats away
in a prolonged apology: "Sorry ... not yet."
Night smolders under the shutters, and the steppe
stretches from the steps to the stars.

They flicker, blink: my love, a mirage,
and somewhere far away others sleep sweetly
while my heart pours onto every platform
scattering coach doors over the endless plain.


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