Leon Retief. Don Domanski

an axe is a piece of wood
with a scream fastened to one end
a man is a piece of flesh
with a storm fastened to one end
sometimes they meet at night in the street.

 

DON DOMANSKI (1950 – )

Domanski is gebore in Sydney, ‘n stadjie in Cape Breton Eiland, Nova Scotia en woon tans in Halifax in dieselfde provinsie. In 2007 het hy die gesogte Goewerneur-Generaal toekenning ontvang vir sy bundel All Our Wonder Unavenged. Die illustrasie op die omslag is deur Domanski self geteken. 

All our Wonder...

Ek het voorheen enkele gedigte deur Domanski op Versindaba geplaas, maar na ‘n onlangse herlees van sy poësie het ek besluit om meer van sy verse te deel.

My tuisdorp Moose Jaw het elke Juniemaand ‘n Festival of Words en in 2008 was hy een van die gassprekers by die geleentheid. Om hom ‘n “spreker” te noem is egter so bietjie misleidend want toe sy beurt aanbreek het hy met behulp van sy kierie na die podium gestap, van sy gedigte voorgelees, die boek toegemaak en dadelik na sy sitplek teruggekeer, finish en klaar. Dit was duidelik dat hy geen vrae oor sy werk gaan beantwoord nie en niemand het ‘n vraag gestel nie. Gelukkig het hy darem sy naam in my kopie van sy bundel geteken.  Ek verneem dat hy nie baie gretig is om oor sy werk te praat nie en kon op die internet slegs een onderhoud met hom opspoor. Aangesien dit altyd goed is om te hoor wat ‘n digter self te sê het plaas ek enkele aanhalings.

“It’s a very good feeling to have your work acknowledged by your peers. However, I have to temper that with the reality that awards are momentary gestures from a world of facts and opinions, which the poems themselves know nothing of. There’s no vox populi when it comes to poetry, nor should there be… Poetry has nothing to do with voting, it is not a democracy after all, but an act of nature.” (Laat al die rympiemakers wat hul versies op die internet rondstrooi en dink dat hulle met NP van Wyk Louw vergelyk kan word asseblief kennis neem.)

“To quote Annie Dillard: Your work is to keep cranking the flywheel that turns the gears that spin the belt in the engine of belief that keeps you and your desk in midair.”

Domanski het ‘n besondere vermoë om die skeidslyn tussen lewende en nielewende materie te laat vervaag, iets wat hy toeskryf aan herinneringe uit sy kinderjare – kinders gee per slot van rekening ‘n lewe en identiteit aan lewelose speelgoed:

My definition of life is isness, its elementary stance and grace, therefore everything is life, simply put being equals life. Now I know this isn’t the usual definition, but still it is an ancient one… among people of all cultures. I’m an animist when it comes to how I interact with the physical world…. (It is) the oldest religious/spiritual practice, the base experience out of which all the other ways of the sacred have grown… There’s a very deep truth there that strikes well below the thinking level, a connection richer than language, which can give words a more inclusive depth and reach.

Gegewe wat Domanski hierbo gesê het is dit seker te verwagte dat die Boeddhisme en Taoisme sterk in sy poësie figureer, maar anders as meeste mense wat hierdie begrippe aanhang het hy skynbaar ook ‘n stewige kennis van die natuurwetenskappe (geologie en paleontologie in die besonder) maar te oordeel aan een frase in sy gedig Slayer in a Told World ook van ander aspekte van die natuurwetenskappe:

“a phase transition

sweet as evaporation”

 Wanneer ‘n verbinding van een toestand na ‘n ander oorgaan, byvoorbeeld van ‘n vloeistof na ‘n vaste toestand of van ‘n vaste toestand na ‘n damp dan word dit deur fisiese chemici ‘n fase-oorgang (phase transition) genoem – op sig self ‘n fassinerende proses met bekoorlike wiskundige onderbou. Ooglopend ken Domanski hierdie term en weet hy wat dit beteken.

“The natural sciences are also sacred texts, when read beyond the mere accumulation of facts. It helps to show us our place in the scheme of things, to enlarge our point of view beyond the merely human. For example, if you stand with your arms outstretched… from the tip of your middle finger on your left hand to the tip of middel finger of your right represents a timeline for all life on earth. Now is someone comes along and takes a nail file and runs it along the nail of your middle finger of your right hand all of human history is erased. Just once. Now that puts things in perspective.”

As ek reg onthou het wyle Carl Sagan die eerste keer hierdie vergelyking gebruik en dit toon dat Domanski wyd lees in te minste sommige aspekte van die natuurwetenskappe.

Ek het nogal besondere waardering vir sy siening dat die natuurwetenskappe nie net ‘n siellose akkumulasie van starre feite is nie maar dat dit ook aan enigeen wat daarin belang stel ‘n geheelbeeld gee van die materie wat ons omring sowel as die materie waaruit ons bestaan.

Domanski is ‘n meester van die metafoor en van verbeeldingryke woordgebruik. Hy word soms deur hierdie talent op sleeptou geneem – hy is geneig om sy metafore bietjie te oordadig op te stapel na my smaak (vir wat my smaak werd is) en by tye vind ek dit moeilik om te ontrafel. Desnieteenstaande spreek sy verse tot my soos geen ander Kanadese digter nie.

Nogtans slaag hy daarin om alledaagse ondervindings met die onverwagte te jukstaponeer. Sy gedigte versinnebeeld ‘n intense interaksie tussen die digter en die natuur in mistieke ondervindings met verbeeldingryke woordgebruik wat mens nie dikwels by ander digters teenkom nie.

Kanada is ‘n baie waterryke land, maak nie saak waar mens is nie, ry of stap vyf kilometer en jy kom af op ‘n dam, meer, rivier of baai. Sowat tien persent van die 750 000 vierkante kilometer van ons tuisprovinsie Saskatchewan se oppervlak word deur mere beslaan. Domanski woon in Nova Scotia wat nog meer waterryk is en dus is dit te verstane dat water prominent in sy poësie sal voorkom.

 

 

HALIFAX PUBLIC GARDENS

 

in the waterdrop

hanging from the gingko leaf

there’s just enough moonlight

and sailors

to make a woman miserable.

 

WATER STRIDER

 

the pond is ectoplasm   I walk on ghosts

apparitional gatherings carry me along

spook quilted to spook quilted to hunger

and the sighs of glassworts to lead me

I am mothered by phantoms everlasting

I am fathered by a rocking distance

beneath and above the water

 

my body sheds its strides behind me

I am coir-headed with thatched eyes

with mandibles deposited at the corners of light

 

I put myself through margins

slide across my own jumps

the film under the covers a shadow

as calm as a hunter risen to flesh

 

I glide reaches to mosquito larvae

I feed and return to voracity

 

skidding along wraiths I come to no end

nothing teaches me more than once

all doctrine is edible      digestible

whatever pain I feel is less than failure

all death is incomprehensible

all hurt draws a luminosity

all wounds close as night come

 

 

SLAYER IN A TOLD WORLD

 

the shadows of rabbits sleep among hounds

snow falls      calling      in its light from the hills

 

underfoot the road passes the darkness along

while all the lower worlds climb to higher ground

 

overhead clouds continue their single thought

which is accessible to everyone but them

they think of a deity     a phase transition

sweet as evaporation    cool as mist

 

the God of Clouds drifting through the forest

bearded in the movements of deer

ever-returning to the edges of things

 

I walk feeling the weight of snow above me

the untranslatable whispered off like vapour

the nudge of extinction     clench of nativity

a knowledge lost in signatures

in the signing of cells throughout the body

 

we are lonely for whatever abides

in the calluses of ice on bark

and among roots thrown carelessly beneath trees

a weathering of gods against the trunks

withstanding supplications     all the night’s prayers

the ending of prospects     where all the solitude goes

 

we long for falling snow     its iconography

enshrined at the velocity of instinct

just within sight   outstretched and taken

to its weight at the horizon

 

each flake standing for the myriad things

that live well beyond our language

silence of the animal mind descending

that longevity    that slayer in a told world

 

 

ALL OUR WONDER UNAVENGED

 

1.

 

particles of evening warm themselves in the afternoon sun

pieces of solitude gather slowly     one under each gingko leaf

 

I sit on a rock of saddlebacked granite

                                                      I sit in a world of abundance

a handful of bees goes down to the river     two handfuls return

you deadhead the dog rose and two stray curs appear

 

you deadhead a memory and two more appear

longer and deeper and more alive than the last

 

I remember my mother seated at the kitchen window

her cat’s-eye glasses staring out into the night

trying to find divinity and divinity’s reasons

 

my mother believed God moved the sparrows around day after day

as  a teenager I believed the sparrows moved God around

all the inexhaustible crutches He leaned upon

all the underweights of silence to find His way

 

now the only god I believe in are the sparrows themselves

                                                              unaltered by my belief

their wings contain hollow bones where a pantheon could pass through

and they do     hundreds pass through at every moment

this is how they fly     by allowing passage to earth’s beliefs

the little deities of the big thunder and the rain that falls

 

2.

 

at my feet black ants run about     looking for a great storehouse

                             a little panic    a little headhunting in the grass

they drink the dew and as far as I know curse nothing

 

I would like to curse nothing     to move about practising quietism

perhaps find the great storehouse     do some headhunting

stick to a regime     the discipline of a feather falling

                                                                       from a sparrow’s back

I would like to be called out and fall to the furthest limits of the finite

To a resting place among the relativity of all attributes

which would be home surely     where I began     where I no longer dwell

feeling time and space upon me now     a little dust in my eye

 

3.

 

a few clouds move in    riding the intersections of ancient thought

across the sky     old ideas that floated upward    Confucian dialogues

Sumerian rumours    prayers to Pallas Athena   Persian satires

Druidical ethics    not gone    not absorbed    not forgotten    just there

Influencing is still    carrying out lighter burdens and the clouds

 

from where I sit clouds cast shadows on the flowerbeds

perennials along the fence that bloom like glossy photographs

of themselves    bright flowers stripped from shining pages

from catalogues that never mention the plant that doesn’t exist

the imagined yarrow that the mind owns

                              that has neither root nor stalks    leaf  nor flower

 

all my thoughts are a divination with yarrow-sticks

and a mere filament of flame    a single mouse hair burning

deep in a canyon    lighting up less than an inch of dead embers

the bog fire    the full consciousness having moved on immediately

travelling constantly    never resting while in nature

while under Heaven’s luminous regard

 

4.

 

I’ve been seated here for three hours I think     difficult to be sure

without a watch or a column of diminishing sand

or a dog that scratches her head at ten minute intervals

 

time is a controversial work about which no one agrees

time’s a bugger my grandmother said and she would know

 

time’s a bugger and finitude a fluid state without a source

 

anyway time is passing for me and my piece of granite

no point in thinking about it     separating it out

Cling to unity  the Taoists said over and over

till the nettles repeated it generation to generation

till you hear it on the breeze sweeping across fields and ditches

 

I’d rather contemplate nettles     follow their leaves

back to Culpepper’s herbal     to the tonics of Hildegard on Bingen

I’d rather make nettle tea and drink to Lao-Tzu

but a shadow glides by and I have to look up

 

a bald eagle flies over     making his way down to the river

to fish the afternoon away     calendrical wing beats

time’s wordless doctrine upheld and maintained

the wounds of salmon like minutes cradled in the hour’s arms

 

5.

 

late afternoon and the western sun-door still ajar

some hours to go before it closes     shadow hours

for the food gatherers to return to their mounds

for chickadees to follow the old ways

                                              fables without end

 

cosmologies of shadows gather up the light

                                                from under hostas and azaleas

many stories to be joined into one before night comes

 

only one story after the sun slips over the horizon

                                                                    the one and the manifold

My face is the face of the Disk  this is the deceased speaking from

The Egyptian Book of the Dead     from the other side of darkness

the bright side and its holy office trying to give us a hint

                                                                     an initiation into eternity

so we might find the eternal in perceptual experience

 

so we might find our way in the world    and the oncoming twilight

is the perfect time to find our way     so the Celts believed

that sacred in-between time    between worlds     betwixt night and day

when all crossings are possible     freeing us from reality

Dharma Path the Buddhists call it

Pollen Path of Beauty to quote the wisdom of the Navaho

And the bees would agree returning once more from the banks of the river

 

6.

 

I sit on my rock watching dragonflies hover by

with their wings sheathed in calligraphy

listening to feral cats on the move

                                     spreading their Tantric cries

 

while shadows grow taller and taller like adolescent boys

 

and dogs bark and dogs bark and I almost understand

their Indo-European tongues    their slang for sex     for death

their reasons for biting their masters     for venerating

the chase through the thickets    their unlimited awe

their wonder unavenged     all our wonder unavenged

all of it left hanging in the fetish-shine of the moment

a longing     a bit of animal-shine along our skin

 

they are nations the Koran says of animals

and I believe it     a kinship of being and knowing

                                                            as deep as ours

 

as ancient as breath on the lips

and any meditation on this deepens our own being

humbles us before the cricket’s leg and the badger’s eye

and we should be humbled     fall to our knees

 

then comes stillness and listening

                                                              comes with kneeling

and listening is the language of the soil

                                                               Latin of the hawkweed

so I sit quietly without moving     while buried all around me

seeds lie on their sides     longing upwards to visible air

while dusk is falling     honeymooning the shadows

darkening the medicine     the metaphysics of the grass

whole microbes repeat their silent mantras to themselves

soundless and drifting     all woebegone and woken

                                       all Buddhas of Immeasurable Light.

 

7.

 

time to go indoors     drink from the glass

                                                           eat from the plate

move the pages of the book around

or watch the news sway in its cradle of light

 

a few stars are up and Venus in her silks at the horizon

                                                fresh from the underworld

a tracery of myths hammered onto her body

passing our lives night after night

where we all sit at a dark gate waiting for it to open

dreaming of lifting the latch of Morning Star

and stepping through to redemption

 

redemption is a dark game someone once said and muffled

I would add     like the whisperer inside the fox

calling to whisperer inside the varying hare

                                                   a dark and distant game

 

too distant for me as I walk to the house

 

the moon is rising     cabbaging light from the weeds

full moon     full sides short of breath from the long climb

 

I walk and I could sleep in it     in the footsteps

in the motion given     jewel-given of the fireweed

scent-give of the lilies trying to keep all of summer down

 

I walk and birds are settling in for the evening

among the pine boughs     their small calls from tree to tree

like the voice of Proteus across his many forms

 

Fata Morgana

you’re walking alone in the forest
the moon is directly overhead
eating her supper of astronomy
and wedding-gifts

there’s a thousand miles of trees
in every direction
which means there’s just
enough blood to go around
so you mustn’t spill a drop

of course every second tree
is the Tree of Death
every third one
the Tree of Life
while all the others
are doors to atonement
but you mustn’t knock

you’re like me
and want a straight line
through everything
but there aren’t any here
no path from A to B
no A or B

you’re not lost
this is the earth
you’re not human
but a fox or a rabbit

your life behind a desk
was an illusion
the shining city a madness
brought on by fatigue
there aren’t any cars or telephones
there never were
not a single clothesline or shoelace
in all the world

your heartbeats are so many
peapods being cracked open
between a finger and a thumb
your footprints swallow themselves
as you walk along

what I said about the moon was a lie
there were never any weddings
or any gifts
not an astronomer to be found

the moon is devouring you
just you tonight
with your long ears pricked up
in their sad salute to fear

this hour is called Abandonment
this night Bottomless
I would call you Insignificant
if you weren’t already named Essential
if you weren’t the very centre of the world.

 

‘n Frase in die volgende gedig het my laat dink aan wat Joan Hambidge onlangs hier gesê het oor die digkuns as die algebra van nood. Toe ek die gedig die eerste keer gelees het moes ek gaan naslaan wat Acehron is – vir die enkele lesers van Versindaba wat ewe onkundig is oor die Griekse mitologie, dis die rivier van pyn. Ash-keys is die gevleuelde saad van die “ash tree” – weet nie wat dit in Afrikaans is nie.

 

 

WALKING DOWN TO ACHERON

 

1.

 

I walk along a road leading down to the river

underfoot hieroglyphs from the Devonian Age

sealed tightly in flat grey stones     overhead

clouds ease back from the horizon     into one

continuous shadow of Destiny’s resolve

 

a cool day in June     house finches handing out the sky

the earth lying like a grain of wheat in a great barn

                        the moon whispering under straw

 

a light drizzle keeping time with the pollen

coyotes wandering the hills     God in their legs

 

how quietly the senses move between the pine trees

like vapour through the needling of light.

 

2.

 

I remember last summer finding a pond near here

spending an afternoon watching dragonflies hover

their every heartbeat fastened with pins

one to the next to the final one outside the world

 

I knelt down and touched the water     barely

like an old appointment scarcely kept     the surface

pulse of the pool pushing back against my fingers

which I knew was you     dead and set to music

you in a hymn darkly spread    a way and placeless

 

I recalled that part of the Heart Sutra where it says

The infinitely far away is not only near, but it’s infinitely

near. It’s nowhere, and nowhere it is not. I was certain

I could live with that    just that and the tension of the water

                                                            against my fingertips.

 

3.

 

today there’s the walk to the river     rounded corners

of the phantasmal     the shifting plurality of matter

rocks and trees     the brassy oaths of grackles

the subsoil underslung with the respiration

of Heaven     foxes with amulets ribbing their physiques

luck of spring and full bellies     and my small ghost

making its way through

                   continuously emptying flesh into breath

 

today there’s my shadow on the summits of dandelions

on damp weeds     on the figureheads of stumps

there’s the ache that goes before me   wraithing

around turns in the path     that desire for deliverance

the soul’s nudge     that little jinx in the body

 

a good idea to ignore it     to look the other way

watch granite boulders dog-eared in the earth

count the trees     the fallen ones     about to fall still

further into Acheron and be carried away like mist

acknowledge the tamarack clotted into flower

the plantain     all the grasses of no fixed address

 

notice the sun’s appearance over the treetops

over each darkness turning in its resting place

over the far-off sound of the river maffling

like the voices of the ancients sealed in hives

open-mouthed     a fathom down in the honey

 

4.

 

a good time of day to attend to all the details

keep an eye on the clouds holding their great fires

notice the days curled up in the tracks of deer

watch a pair of mourning doves walk back and forth

along the banks of the river     like two lame girls

stopping at intervals to circle the absence of a third

 

it’s that third dove the soul is always seeking

some part of us always looking for what can’t be seen

                                                    what won’t be revealed

 

I’ll take comfort in the river coursing along its stones

flowing east through its fetishes     faded embraces

miming connections at the eddies     doubling back

on them selves like thought     every vortex thinking clear

as bright water     speeds polished by atom-fall through

the crossings     their circuits of pure light

 

I’ll console myself with the flowering-rush growing

along the shoreline     with its rhizomes in deep nativity

with speckled trout steadying themselves in the current

each fin a hunch that the world is still there

each move of their tails a doubt     a push of suspicion

 

I’ll take solace now in this snail crossing my path

its horns pressing into the solitude of God     just there

where it hurts     where grief begins.

 

5.

 

I’ll sit here with slender kingdoms for awhile

with the planetary houses of seeds and pollen

to watch the river take on its serpent form

bringing forth an old sleep

from the bottom of things     things darkened

by a little light     heartbreakingly visceral

the luminous unseen threading through

 

meanwhile above me the wasps enter and leave

their paper convent     Sisterhood of the Vespids

their contemplations severe

their shine leaning down into their dark eyes

 

other insects drifting about like ash-keys

wings hitched to whispers coming

from over the horizon

                             lifting them along

carrying them through the algebra

which we’re always certain never adds up

 

I’ll sit with arithmeticians in the moss

millipedes and the red-backed salamander

wait with them for the hour that comes eventually

to un-number things     to unthink the grand design

quietly as the sound of time settling into pearls

or paper pavilions unfolding just inside the mind

 

at moments like this I think of the Underworld

you seated there on your silver chair

 

all the walls stuffed with beards from the prophets

to keep in the sound     all that longing

all those goodbyes beside the water

 

at moments like this I think of you

                                  walking down to Acheron

your secrtes crossing over     where the sign

beside the river reads I flow with grief.

 

Domanski se gedigte spreek tot my en een of ander tyd sal ek nog van sy poësie hier plaas. Of julle dit nou wil lees of nie…

 

Jindrich Pilicek: Window

Jindrich Pilicek: Window

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2 Kommentare op “Leon Retief. Don Domanski”

  1. Marlise :

    Dankie Leon, ek het hierdie verse nogal geniet. Besonder liries en epies. Betrek die natuur op metafisiese manier. Hou van reels soos : “their wings contain hollow bones where a pantheon could pass through/and they do…”

  2. Melanie Grobler :

    Baie dankie vir die bekendstelling aan Domanski se verse. Weereens gaan ‘n nuwe aarde vir my oop.