Kimmo Rosenthal

Alejandra’s Lilac Shroud

For Alejandra Pizarnik [n]Alejandra Pizarnik (1936-1972) was an Argentine poet. She ended her life on September 25, 1972. New Directions released Extracting the Stone of Madness (Collected Poems 1962-1972) in 2016. Her work is also highlighted, along with critical essays by Enrique Vila-Matas, Cesar Aira, and others, in Music & Literature, Vol. 6, 2015[/n]

Your Orphic poems are like a flash of lightning illuminating the aniline night, the very darkness where in the roaring silence you learned to distinguish emptiness and absence, the middle of the night being the only time to try to bridge the chasm between the world and yourself, with the windows shut tight to keep the mendacious wind and the armies of melancholy at bay. I imagine you at your writing desk, with your soulful eyes reflecting your mirror heart, pausing to dream of lilacs in a garden, fluttering in a zephyr while birds perform arabesques in the air, and I recall that violet is the color of sorrow and repentance. Perhaps you dreamed of yourself in Combray on the Méséglise Way, surrounded by the scent of invisible, enduring lilacs, but then, suddenly, you realized your flowers are being watered by the epiphorae of your ineradicable sadness.

Walter Benjamin said in his Illuminations essay on Kafka, “To do justice to the figure of Kafka in its purity and peculiar beauty one must never lose sight of one thing: it is the purity and beauty of a failure.” There is the same purity and beauty in your failure, as you walked the tightrope above the abyss and tried so hard to extract the stone from your garden, but there are stones that cannot be moved. You told us how to feel when the road to the garden turns out to be another pitiless path and the lilacs have withered, when no one comes, and yet we must go on knowing the impossibility of going on. Could you have imagined that your purity and beauty would be haunting our rooms, your words hanging in the air at midnight?

Kafka’s diaries were your most treasured book and when he said that writing should be “an axe for the frozen sea inside us”, you wielded an axe of fire, furiously ablaze as each blow sent out flaming shards, and yet the ice proved to be too thick for you to reach through the deep layers to the island of despondency inside your heart. Kafka might have envisioned you when he wrote “a cage went in search of a bird”, for you were always a captive and also a fugitive, seeking to flee further and further towards the “where that is whereless”, until you could no longer find your way back.

You understood Eluard when he said “there is another world, but it is in this one”, for you inhabited this other world, disappearing into the shadows, communing with revenants, invisible even to yourself, a pale, etiolated queen in your cold castle with its enfilade of empty rooms, longing to see beyond the horizon of your landscape of solitude with its fractured territories, while dreaming of the promise of an inner music bursting into clarion peals of rapturous hymns, but the notes escaped into the dissonant sounds of the night in the sad rain, while you waited for someone, knowing that the only arrival would be that of the cruelly expectant day.

Blanchot said that art results from the awareness of unhappiness and you tried to gain dominion over your melancholy, but the words would not obey, insusceptible to cajoling they escaped into the spaces between the lines. Singing “cry baby” along with Janis you wrote your own songs, trying to remember those who set your heartstrings aquiver only to go away, taking another piece of your heart, leaving your spirit rent and trammeled.

Searching in the night under the light of the empty, white moon for a fingerpost to point you in the direction of unexplored lands, you hoped to discover the places where you would feel you belonged and yet would never set eyes on. You longed for a coign of vantage to see yourself in a state of becoming, while knowing that you would never become, until all that was left was a shadow, then the shadows of your shadow texts, never imagining the gift you were bequeathing with your poems, their mysterious outpourings reminding us of the beauty hidden in the world, and your sorrows are our comforts.

The threads tethering you to the world were delicate and fragile, made from the words with which you wove your magical tapestry. You tried to free yourself from the tangles as they coiled around you in gnarled knots, tight as fists, but to no avail. In the end, those fragile threads had to break as among the final words written on your blackboard were that you must “go nowhere if not down into the depths.”

Now you are singing the song you always dreamed of singing, wearing your lilac shroud.

Kimmo Rosenthal has turned from a career in mathematics to writing. His work has appeared in the U.S. and internationally, and he has a Pushcart Prize nomination. His most recent works are in The Fib Review, The Ekphrastic Review, Hinterland, After the Art, The RavensPerch, MacQueen’s Quinterly, The Decadent Review, and The Closed Eye Open (Maya’s Micros).