Griffin Poetry Prize shortlisted Canadian worksCreated by griffinpoetry on June 22, 2011
TV Men: Lazarus
DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY: VOICEOVER
Yes I admit a degree of unease about my
motives in making
Mere prurience of a kind that is all too common nowadays
in public catastrophes. I was listening
to a peace negotiator for the Balkans talk
about his vocation
on the radio the other day.
"We drove down through this wasteland and I didn't know
much about the area but I was
fascinated by the horrors of it. I had never
seen a thing like this.
I videotaped it.
Then sent a 13-page memo to the UN with my suggestions."
This person was a member
of the International Rescue Committee,
not a man of TV.
But you can see
how the pull is irresistible. The pull to handle horrors
and to have a theory of them.
But now I see my assistant producer waving her arms
at me to get
on with the script.
The name Lazarus is an abbreviated form of Hebrew 'El'azar,
meaning "God has helped."
I have long been interested in those whom God has helped.
It seems often to be the case,
e.g. with saints or martyrs,
that God helps them to far more suffering than they would have
without God's help. But then you get
someone like Lazarus, a man of no
on whom God bestows
the ultimate benevolence, without explanation, then abandons
him again to his nonentity.
We are left wondering, Why Lazarus?
My theory is
God wants us to wonder this.
After all, if there were some quality that Lazarus possessed,
some criterion of excellence
by which he was chosen to be called
then we would all start competing to achieve this.
God's gift is simply random, well
for one thing
it makes a
more interesting TV show. God's choice can be seen emerging
from the dark side of reason
like a new planet. No use being historical
about this planet,
it is just an imitation.
As Lazarus is an imitation of Christ. As TV is an imitation of
Lazarus. As you and I are an imitation of
TV. Already you notice that
although I am merely
a director of photography,
I have grasped certain fundamental notions first advanced by Plato,
e.g. that our reality is just a TV set
inside a TV set inside a TV set, with nobody watching
the channel in 399 B.C. But my bond with Lazarus goes deeper, indeed
nausea overtakes me when faced with
the prospect of something simply beginning all over again.
Each time I have to
raise my slate and say
"Take 12!" or "Take 13!" and then "Take 14!"
I cannot restrain a shudder.
Repetition is horrible. Poor Lazarus cannot have known
he was an
but who can doubt he realized, soon after being ripped out of his
warm little bed in the ground,
his own epoch of repetition just beginning.
Lazarus Take 2!
As a bit of salt falls back down the funnel. Or maybe my pity
is misplaced. Some people think Lazarus lucky,
like Samuel Beckett who calls him "Happy Larry" or Rilke
who speaks of
that moment in a game
when "the pure too-little flips over into the empty too-much."
Well I am now explaining why my documentary
focuses entirely on this moment, the flip-over moment.
Before and after
don't interest me.
You won't be seeing any clips from home videos of Lazarus
in short pants racing his sisters up a hill.
No footage of Mary and Martha side by side on the sofa
discussing how they manage
with a dead one sitting down to dinner. No panel of experts
debating who was really the victim here.
Our sequence begins and ends with that moment of complete
when Lazarus licks the first drop of afterlife off the nipple
of his own old death.
I put tiny microphones all over the ground
to pick up
of the vermin in his ten fingers and I stand back to wait
for the miracle.
From the Hardcover edition.
having been possessed by every verb —
been rush been drip been
geyser eddy fountain rapid drunk
evaporated frozen pissed
transpired — will fall
into itself and sit.
Pond. Things touch
or splash down and it
takes them in — pollen, heron, leaves, larvae, greater
and lesser scaup — nothing declined,
nothing carried briskly off to form
alluvium somewhere else. Pond gazes
into sky religiously but also
gathers in its edge, reflecting cattails, alders,
reed beds and behind them, ranged
like taller children in the grade four photo,
conifers and birch. All of them inverted, carried
deeper into sepia, we might as well say
pondered. For pond is not pool,
whose clarity is edgeless and whose emptiness,
beloved by poets and the moon, permits us
to imagine life without the accident-
prone plumbing of its ecosystems. No,
the pause of pond is gravid and its wealth
a naturally occurring soup. It thickens up
with spawn and algae, while,
on its surface, stirred by every
whim of wind, it translates air as texture —
mottled, moiré, pleated, shirred or
seersuckered in that momentary ecstasy from which
impressionism, like a bridesmaid, steps. When it rains
it winks, then puckers up all over, then,
moving two more inches into metamorphosis,
shudders into pelt.
were to find a nice brown pond
to gaze in: would the course of self-love
run so smooth with that exquisite face
rendered in bruin undertone,
shaken, and floated in the murk
between the deep sky and the ooze?
This city is beauty
unbreakable and amorous as eyelids,
in the streets, pressed with fierce departures,
I am innocent as thresholds
and smashed night birds, lovesick,
as empty elevators
let me declare doorways,
corners, pursuit, let me say
standing here in eyelashes, in
invisible breasts, in the shrinking lake
in the tiny shops of untrue recollections,
the brittle, gnawed life we live,
I am held, and held
the touch of everything blushes me,
pigeons and wrecked boys,
half-dead hours, blind musicians,
inconclusive women in bruised dresses
even the habitual grey-suited men with terrible
briefcases, how come, how come
I anticipate nothing as intimate as history
would I have had a different life
failing this embrace with broken things,
iridescent veins, ecstatic bullets, small cracks
in the brain, would I know these particular facts,
how a phrase scars a cheek, how water
dries love out, this, a thought as casual
as any second eviscerates a breath
and this, we meet in careless intervals,
in coffee bars, gas stations, in prosthetic
conversations, lotteries, untranslatable
mouths, in versions of what we may be,
a tremor of the hand in the realization
of endings, a glancing blow of tears
on skin, the keen dismissal in speed
A Word about the Poem by Franca Bernabei
“This city is beauty.” With this striking affirmation Dionne Brand opens her text to the city and immediately places the reader in the scenario of Toronto. In the long poem thirsty, Toronto will become the absolute subject and agent of her spatial critique. This critique connects the lyrical “I,” the city, and the poetic text through a sapient play of prosodic rhythms and phonetic, syntactic and semantic trajectories. In its turn, the polarized — but intersecting — social contextualization of the multi-ethnic urban site both shapes and pulverizes the discourse of the self. A self whose inner, reflexive itinerary will crisscross the restless, tragic route of Alan, a West Indian immigrant killed by the police; those of the women making up his family; and the daily routes of the suburban dwellers and the inner-city immigrants.
In the first two stanzas of this introductory poem, the self “declares” both its “innocent” condition of liminality and suspension with respect to the “fierce departures” and “submerged landings” that occur in the streets of Toronto, and its will to speak and make the city known. The shifts of grammatical subject (“this city,” “I am,” “let me,” “we,” “I”), the different speech acts and verbal modes, and two distinct but converging constellations of images — one referring to the body (“eyelids,” “eyelashes,” “breasts,” “brittle,” “gnawed lives”), the other to features of the city space (“streets,” “thresholds,” “elevators,” “doorways,” “corners,” “shops”) — mark above all the porous boundaries between the “unbreakable” and “amorous” beauty of Toronto and the surrendering “lovesickness” of the speaker’s body. This porosity then invests the “I”’s relation to the other urban dwellers, with whom it shares a peculiar form of intimacy: the spatial specificity of a city — as we will learn later — “that never happened before.”
In the third stanza it becomes even more evident that this particular urban site is a space of contingency which not only captures the “I” with its beauty but also holds it by means of its heterogeneous singularities which constantly intrude on and question the “private” space of the self. Furthermore, the shift from object (“blushes me,” a transitive verb) to subject (“I”) prepares for the move from indicative to interrogatory in stanza IV, in which the present tense of the “I” is related to a past that perhaps might have had a different outcome in another context. Once again, a chain of bodily images transmits the reception (actually, the “embrace”) on the part of the “body-self” of an “iridescent” medley — note the purring of alliterations and assonances here — that composes the city. Note also how the puzzled mood of the speaker is modulated through the use of repetition (“I am held and held,” “how come, how come,” “would I…would I”). And this special form of availability/vulnerability is further qualified in the last stanza. Here the “I” becomes “we” again, in order to emphasize that Toronto’s urban milieu is composed of the distribution and dispersal of people’s everyday paths and routines, their contingent and fugitive encounters, unsatisfactory translations, and acts of camouflage or discardings of previous identities. The city is a composition which simultaneously absorbs and dispels, binds and loosens.
As we will learn in the course of this long poem, the collective “we” is made up of a recalcitrant multitude which contributes to the city’s “murmurous genealogy” and refuses to coalesce. Gathered under the all-encompassing figure of a “vagrant, fugitive city,” and reinforced by the metaphors of “thirst” and “falling,” these intersecting, disenfranchised bodies breach the “I”’s singularity and compel it to confront itself through its own alteration and embrace a conflictual ethics (a politics?) of accountability and compassion. As the French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy has pointed out, the modern city is not so much a civitas (a community of citizens) as it is a place in which something takes place that is different from place. And yet, Dionne Brand’s remapping of the metropolitan paradigm suggests that the uneasy and volatile proximity of Toronto’s (im)possible citizens, their mobile geography of looks and glances, or even of bodies brushing up against one another, and “hyphenating” the streets in which they transit, may be capable of establishing new and perhaps incommensurable spaces of negotiation, transformation, and representation.
Franca Bernabei — University of Ca’Foscari, Venice