“Excerpt from letter”, page 191

at midnight, when the moon makes blue lizards scales of roof shingles and simple folk are bedded deep in eiderdown, she opens the gable window with fingers frozen crisp and thin as carrots, and scatters crumbs of white bread which skip and dwindle down the roof to lie in angled gutters to feed the babes in the wood. so the hungry cosmic mother sees the world shrunk to embryo again and her children gathered sleeping back into the dark, huddling in bulbs and pods, pale and distant as the folded beanseed to her full milky love which freezes across the sky in a crucifix of stars.


so it costs ceres all that pain to go to gloomy dis and bargain for proserpine again. we wander and wait in november air gray as rat fur stiffened with frozen tears. endure, endure, and the syllables harden like stoic white sheets struck with rigor mortis on the clothesline of winter.    


artificial fires burn here: leaping red in the heart of wineglasses, smouldering gold in goblets of sherry, cracking crimson in the fairytale cheeks of a rugged jewish hercules hewn fresh from the himalayas and darjeeling to be sculpted with blazing finesse by a feminine pygmalion whom he gluts with mangoes and dmitri karamazov fingers blasting beethoven out of acres of piano and striking scarlatti to skeletal crystal.

“Silences, or a woman’s life” by Marie Chaix, is the most

beauteous, captivating and dolorous book I have ever deciphered, one of the few that marked my substance and I’ll always reread. Is the book that made me cry for at least three readings out of over ten, even though I like to “brag” – to myself! –  about my solidly established self control when it comes to the manifestation of my emotions. The only one that, whenever I peruse its pages, ignites within me remnants of the former “roller-coaster of thrills” that I used to embody and quite despise, for its baffling and childish (re)actions…absolute clues of exorbitant sentimentalism. Bluntly, this nonfiction novel touches the bosom of my spirit’s winding labyrinth.

I have discovered it while at university, when among labs, projects and outings, I still delved -not as prolifically as before that chapter of existence- into the practice of delighting my senses with brief respites from my actuality, floating in nostalgic and magical realms weaved by others’ imaginations and recollections. It has been years since, and I haven’t found yet one that could equal its impactful message.  A story with revealing title – originally Les silences ou la vie d’une femme -it mainly follows the sinuous road of a woman’s destiny and how it naturally blends with and refines the author’s. It is about what we lastly acquire and bestow on in our ephemeral being, so painfully punctuated with uncertainties in which we seek an enduring sense or an intimate justification. Maybe is also the resonating I grasp with, the loose resemblance I envisage in most of its portrayals with my own (and all ours) fate, but above it all, I identify in it few distinctive elements that, amalgamated,  confer its mesmerizing appeal.

Firstly, is the candidness of the writer’s tone. Raw and accurate descriptions, not excessive, nor scarce, acutely relatable fragments of unadorned reality. There is a sort of detached objectivity that permeates throughout, which instills in you the conviction that veridicality has not been massively altered by personal interpretations.

He’d come back; he’d performed no miracle. A sense of injustice overcame me. Little by little my sorrow changed to bitterness, as I watched a melancholy appear in her countenance, a distress in her eyes that should have never been there –not after the hero was home. She’d promised as much. […]

“So, you noticed!” she said to me. “I know I ought to be happy. It’s nothing, it won’t last. Just a little leftover heartache I’ve hung onto, it’s still resisting our bodies’ warmth. It’s difficult, you know. It takes time.” […]

“It’s late”, she said with a sigh, “you’ve got to sleep. You’ll see later…” Her gaze floated away. I don’t like it when she looks into the future. I don’t want her to leave me for the shores of old age, where people land laden with knowledge and experience, so they think, but most of all with regrets.

“You’ll see”, she went on. “Things are never the way you’d imagined them. Sometimes waiting for an event is so overwhelming that when it happens you have no strength left for it.”

Perhaps I would see, later. I didn’t much care. What I saw then and there was a woman exhausted of her substance, almost invisible, adrift amid sorrows that were draining the color from her cheeks.

I would have liked to restrain her, but she had already gone too far, and I hadn’t yet strength enough. Between us stretched the expanse of years, that incessant, unswerving stream that no bridge –not even the greatest love- can span.

What I would see later is something you never dared teach me, because life means we each are left to our own fate: that heartaches are solitary and, like us, live out their lives to the end. (Pages 99 – 100)

Secondarily, is the authenticity of each and every sentence. There is such a genuine arrangement of words, such an idiosyncratic style that simply engulfs you and all you do is suspire it, with every synapse and without blink, from inception till denouement. And what truly makes it irresistible is the poetic tone, the melodiousness that trickles from each passage, absolute opposite of nondescript.

…I remember, she said, I went on a long journey. I wasn’t in pain. I was floating among voices inside a glass cage. The voices, velvety as feathers, beat softly against my walls. I recognized that you were calling me. […] I was being called from the other side, too, where vast domains of iridescent lights stretched away into infinity and the air was filled with beautiful clear carols and soothing requiems. Whenever I started thinking, my thoughts were liquid and warm, like milk flowing comfortingly through my veins. (Page 111)

Thirdly, is the deviation from monotonous chronology. Yes, in some aspects of our life orderliness is essential, but in writing is indubitably captivating (and a peculiar custom) to be presented with disparate pieces of a message, flashbacks commingled with the present, an enkindling puzzle that provokes your mind as much as it rummages your soul.

A pleasant memory: in our house on Rue de Nordfeld, on the floor above us, lived an extremely agreeable lady who seemed to me out of a fairy tale. She was Austrian, and she used to tell us scrumptious stories. […] She had beautiful red hair and pink plump arms; she left behind her an aura of musk and pastry. In a cupboard hung with thick carved doors, she accumulated exotic preserves – green walnuts in syrup, stuffed prunes… In those days of war and famine, when one would see people falling down in the street from exhaustion, such wonders left us dizzy with pleasure. Where did she find these treasures? Later, Mother explained. It’s true that on the stairs we often passed German officers and pretty ladies wearing a lot of makeup. It hardly matters. When our fairy godmother disappeared at the end of the war along with the Germans, I wept copious tears.


My mother’s illness goes on for years. I have never seen her in good health, but always surmounting her pain to laugh and sing and make music with us. She dies at forty-four. It’s impossible to describe my despair. My life has been a series of unacceptable deaths. Looking at her – so beautiful, so gentle- in her gown of black and white taffeta, smiling beneath her big feather hat, it’s hard for me to believe that this young woman was my mother. I cradle her inside myself like a child.


I knew love once in my life, and it seared me to the bone. I did everything for this love, gauging the extent of my folly at every instant and with a precision not even the most perceptive among you could ever know. After forty years’ existence (years filled with conflict), it is still intact… (Pages 69-70)

Ultimately, what makes this immaculate and enthralling opera unforgettable is its nostalgic agelessness.  Even though published firstly, in France, in 1976, and revolving around events that occur prior to that date, its actuality and prospectiveness are incontestable. Aren’t, in the end, memories what we all struggle for? For us and, eventually, if a bit more ardent in our utopian aspirations, for posterity? Whatever the space we stride through and whatever part of history we pulsate in, our pivotal impulse is to hold on (and beseech our intimate clock to allow us preserve) and bequeath a bit of what we once were, are and will become.

…My life is a worn-out fabric. In places it’s threadbare, elsewhere it’s unraveling. I try and sew it up again, patching holes, reknotting loose threads. Sometimes I re-embroider it, and then the colors get mixed up or overlap and make new patterns and shadows. What will you make of them? What will you learn about me? Often I myself don’t know anymore, I shut my eyes, and it’s all a jumble. I would have liked you to hold me close to your heart like a favorite book, we could have written the last chapter together, like the final movement of a symphony I would have had time to finish. But words escape me now and all too many pages will be left blank. The notes have flown off their staves and dance drunkenly inside my head […]

I keep busy mingling what is past with what is passing, I dress the latter in the former’s old clothes. I pass time by mending it. When I look at the lines in the wall, I know their every detail and blur by heart. I leaf through albums where each photograph is dated, where certain family scenes are even captioned. I advance, come back, jump ahead, dawdle, stop. I dream. I remember. I play back the images like ill-matched strips of a movie that I’ve never had time to edit… (Page 77)

The above mentioned features echo in two other nonfiction novels by Marie Chaix that I reread a couple of times, “The Laurels of Lake Constance” and “The Summer of the Elder Tree”, but the mellifluous attractiveness is slightly contained in those. I ponder that, no matter how pretentious your preferences regarding literature are,  if you’re a sentient being, “Silences, or a woman’s life” will certainly affect you as least as much as to feel that you not misused your finances on it. Moreover, its lecture revolves around an accessible length, about 159 pages, so it is not a time consuming narration. In my opinion, it is a rare and undiluted treasure, and consequently a valuable acquisition.


The photo’s source: My Roby’s personal archive. 🙂

The perfect proportion, an irresistible threesome/Of electric body, neurotic mind, and undefiled soul

“To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

A Robin Red breast in a Cage
Puts all Heaven in a Rage.

A Dove house fill’d with Doves & Pigeons
Shudders Hell thro’ all its regions
A dog starv’d at his Masters Gate
Predicts the ruin of the State.

A Horse misus’d upon the Road
Calls to Heaven for Human blood
Each outcry of the hunted Hare
A fibre from the Brain does tear.

A Skylark wounded in the wing
A Cherubim does cease to sing
The Game Cock clip’d & arm’d for fight
Does the Rising Sun affright.

Every Wolfs & Lions howl
Raises from Hell a Human Soul…”                                                                                                                                                                                         (Auguries of Innocence, William Blake)

“Luminous mind, bright devil
of absolute clusterings, of upright noon—:
here we are at last, alone, without loneliness,
far from the savage city’s delirium.

Just as a pure line describes the dove’s curve,
as the fire honors and nourishes peace,
so you and I made this heavenly outcome.
The mind and love live naked in this house.

Furious dreams, rivers of bitter certainty,
decisions harder than the dreams of a hammer
flowed into the lovers’ double cup,

until those twins were lifted into balance
on the scale: the mind and love, like two wings.
—So this transparency was built.”                                                                                                                                                                                 (Luminous mind, bright devil, Pablo Neruda)

This is the female form,
A divine nimbus exhales from it from head to foot,
It attracts with fierce undeniable attraction,
I am drawn by its breath as if I were no more than a helpless vapor, all falls aside but
myself and it,
Books, art, religion, time, the visible and solid earth, and what was expected of heaven
or fear’d of hell, are now consumed,
Mad filaments, ungovernable shoots play out of it, the response likewise ungovernable,
Hair, bosom, hips, bend of legs, negligent falling hands all diffused, mine too diffused,
Ebb stung by the flow and flow stung by the ebb, love-flesh swelling and deliciously
Limitless limpid jets of love hot and enormous, quivering jelly of love, white-blow and
delirious juice,
Bridegroom night of love working surely and softly into the prostrate dawn,
Undulating into the willing and yielding day,
Lost in the cleave of the clasping and sweet-flesh’d day.

This the nucleus—after the child is born of woman, man is born of woman,
This the bath of birth, this the merge of small and large, and the outlet again.

Be not ashamed women, your privilege encloses the rest, and is the exit of the rest,
You are the gates of the body, and you are the gates of the soul.
The female contains all qualities and tempers them,
She is in her place and moves with perfect balance,
She is all things duly veil’d, she is both passive and active,
She is to conceive daughters as well as sons, and sons as well as daughters.

As I see my soul reflected in Nature,
As I see through a mist, One with inexpressible completeness, sanity, beauty,
See the bent head and arms folded over the breast, the Female I see.

The male is not less the soul nor more, he too is in his place,
He too is all qualities, he is action and power,
The flush of the known universe is in him,
Scorn becomes him well, and appetite and defiance become him well,
The wildest largest passions, bliss that is utmost, sorrow that is utmost become him
well, pride is for him,
The full-spread pride of man is calming and excellent to the soul,
Knowledge becomes him, he likes it always, he brings every thing to the test of himself,
Whatever the survey, whatever the sea and the sail he strikes soundings at last only
(Where else does he strike soundings except here?)

O I say these are not the parts and poems of the body only, but of the soul,
O I say now these are the soul! ”                                                                                                                                                                                        (I Sing the Body Electric, Walt Whitman)


Ethereal transiency…

image (11)

What will be left of me?
What legacy of childhood sorrows, of wasted tears, of wars misunderstood and freedom misused, of unflagging love, and times of mourning, and unfulfilled dreams-what legacy of sleep and forgetfulness shall I bequeath to time, which will forget me as well? ”  
(Silences, or a Woman’s Life, Marie Chaix)

I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
Whatever I see I swallow immediately
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.
I am not cruel, only truthful-
The eye of the little god, four cornered.
Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.
It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long
I think it is a part of my heart. But it flickers.
Faces and darkness separate us over and over.
Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me,
Searching my reaches for what she really is.
Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.
I see her back, and reflect it faithfully.
She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.
I am important to her. She comes and goes.
Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.
In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman
Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.
(Mirror, Sylvia Plath)

” On the nightstand is Émilie’s box, as immutable as a funerary urn. My hand automatically reaches out and unfastens the padlock, but does not dare lift the lid.
I can’t get to sleep. I try to clear my mind. I hug the pillows, turn on to my left side, on to my back. I feel miserable. Sleep isolates me and I don’t want to be alone in the dark. A private conversation with myself does not appeal. I need to be surrounded by courtiers, to share my frustrations, to designate scapegoats. When you can’t find a remedy for your pain, you look for someone to blame. My pain is nebulous. I feel a sadness, but I can’t put my finger on the cause. Émilie? Jean-Christophe? Old age? The letter waiting for me in the box? Why didn’t Jean-Christophe come? Does he still bear me that ancient grudge?
Through the window, which is open on to the deep blue sky where the moon glitters like a medal, I prepare myself to watch, in slow motion, the parade of my misdeeds, my joys, the familiar faces. I hear them arrive, a thunderous roar like a rockslide. How should I sort them? How should I behave? I am going round in circles on the edge of an abyss, an acrobat on a razor’s edge, a mesmerised anthologist on the edge of a bubbling crater; I am at the gates of memory, the endless reels of film we all file away, the great dark drawers stocked with the ordinary heroes we once were, the Camusian myths we never could embody, the actors and the roles we played, genius and grotesque, beautiful and monstrous, bowed beneath the weight of our small acts of cowardice, our feats of arms, our lies, our confessions, our oaths and recantations, our gallantry and desertion, our certainties and doubts; in short, our indomitable illusions.
What to keep of all these reels of film, what to throw away? If we could take only one memory on our journey, what would we choose? At the expense of what or whom? And most importantly, how to choose among all these shadows, all these spectres, all these titans? Who are we, when all is said and done? Are we the people we once were or the people we wish we had been? Are we the pain we caused others or the pain we suffered at the hands of others? The encounters we missed or those fortuitous meetings that changed the course of our destiny? Our time behind the scenes that saved us from our vanity or the moment in the limelight that warmed us? We are all of these things, we are the whole life that we have lived, its highs and lows, its fortunes and its hardships; we are the sum of the ghosts that haunt us . . . we are a host of characters in one, so convincing in every role we played that it is impossible for us to tell who we really were, who we have become, who we will be.
I listen to the voices of the past; I am no longer alone. Whispers whirl in these splinters of memory like fragments of a vast sound: cryptic phrases, strangled cries, laughter and sobbing impossible to tell apart . . .

I close my eyes to put an end to something, to put a stop to this story I have summoned a thousand times, and a thousand times revised. Eyelids are like secret doors; closed they tell us stories, open they look out on to ourselves. We are prisoners of our memories. Our eyes no longer belong to us . . . I look for Émilie in these endless reels of film but cannot find her. It is too late to go back to the cemetery and reclaim the dust of the rose petals; too late to go back to number 143 Rue des Frères-Julien, to become the sensible people who always make up in the end.”
(What the Day Owes the Night, Yasmina Khadra)