Monday, 26 December 2011

Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels in quotes

I'm writing a review of Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels today, and thought I'd share some of the raw passages that most caught my eye. It is a wonderful book, full of beautiful prose and wise insight.


When I woke, my anguish was specific: the possibility that it was as painful for them to be remembered as it was for me to remember them; that I was haunting my parents and Bella with my calling, startling them awake in their black beds.

It’s no metaphor to feel the influence of the dead in the world, just as it’s no metaphor to hear the radiocarbon chronometer, the Geiger counter amplifying the faint breathing of rock, fifty thousand years old.

At sunrise the Parthenon is flesh. In moonlight it is bones.

Nothing is sudden. Not an explosion – planned, timed, wired carefully – not the burst door. Just as the earth invisibly prepares its cataclysms, so history is the gradual instant.

I already knew the power of language to destroy, to omit, to obliterate. But poetry, the power of language to restore: this was what both Athos and Kostas were trying to teach me.

While walking through the city, they discovered that they shared the same ideas about geography and pacifism, the belief that science must be used as a peace measure, what Taylor came to call his “geopacificsm.”

Does it matter if they were from Kielce or Brno or Grodno or Brody or Lvov or Turin or Berlin? Or that the silverware or one linen tablecloth or the chipped enamel pot – the one with the red stripe, handed down by a mother to her daughter – were later used by a neighbour or by someone they never knew? Or if one went first or last; or whether they were separated getting on the rain or off the train; or whether they were taken from Athens or Amsterdam or Radom, from Paris or Bordeaux, Rome or Trieste, from Parczew or Bialystok or Salonike. Whether they were ripped from their dinning-room tables or hospital beds or from the foest? Whether wedding rings were pried off their fingers or fillings from their mouths? None of that obsessed me; but – were they silent of did they speak? Were their eyes open or closed?
    I couldn’t turn my anguish from the precise moment of death. I was focused on that historical split second: the tableau of the haunting trinity – perpetrator, victim, witness.
    But at what moment does wood become stone, peat become coal, limestone become marble? The gradual instant.

To be proved true, violence need only occur once. But good is proved true by repetition.

Love makes you see a place differently, just as you hold differently an object that belongs to someone you love. If you know one landscape well, you will look at all other landscapes differently. And if you learn to love one place, sometimes you can also learn to love another.

There's a moment when love makes you believe in death for the first time. You recognize the one whose loss, even contemplated, you'll carry forever, like a sleeping child. All grief, anyone's the weight of a sleeping child.

Any given moment - no matter how casual, how ordinary - is poised, full of gaping life.

I'm naive enough to think that love is always good no matter how long ago, no matter the circumstances.

In Michaela's favourite restaurant, I lift my glass and cutlery spills onto the expensive tiled floor. The sound crashes high as the skylight. Looking at me, Michaela pushes her own silverware over the edge. I fell in love amid the clattering of spoons....

Though the contradictions of war seem sudden and simultaneous, history stalks before it strikes. Something tolerated soon becomes something good.

Reading a poem in translation," wrote Bialek, "is like kissing a woman through a veil"; and reading Greek poems, with a mixture of katharevousa and the demotic, is like kissing two women. Translation is a kind of transubstantiation; one poem becomes another. You choose your philosophy of translation just as you choose how to live: the free adaptation that sacrifices detail to meaning, the strict crib that sacrifices meaning to exactitude. The poet moves from life to language, the translator moves from language to life; both like the immigrant, try to identify the invisible, what's between the lines, the mysterious implications.

When my parents were liberated, four years before I was born, they found that the ordinary world outside the camp had been eradicated. There was no more simple meal, no thing was less than extraordinary: a fork, a mattress, a clean shirt, a book. Not to mention such things that can make one weep: an orange, meat and vegetables, hot water. There was no ordinariness to return to, no refuge from the blinding potency of things, an apple screaming its sweet juice.

The shadow past is shaped by everything that never happened. Invisible, it melts the present like rain through karst.

1 comment:

Kinga Bee said...

This is going onto my to-read list!

(Although it is bursting with tons of books already)