p. leminski

in english


Translated by

for Kamiquase



a journey through the Greek imaginary

— p. leminski —

Before Chaos, Earth, Tartarus and Eros, before demonic shadowy potencies in the primordial abyss throb through Origin, before Gaia's ten thousand open sluices whelp Giants, Titans and Cyclopeans, before war between night's monsters and the bright powers of day, before anything else, the son of a river and a water nymph, Narcissus, Naiad's boy leans on his elbows and gazes at himself in a spring-fed pool, trembling mirror, Narcissus with his eye on Narcissus, ocular beauty, self-regarding, blind, deaf and mute to the appeals of Echo, the nymph in love calling Narcissus, Narcissus, spring water repeating the face of Narcissus, reflections of Narcissus in the nymph's echoes, water in water as light upon light, light in water.

This legend is the Sisyphean stone, the stone Sisyphus rolls to the mountaintop, it rolls back down, always back down, Hercules' labors, works of Daedalus, labyrinths, remember you're stone, Sisyphus, all stone will transform into dust, upon this dust a fable will be raised.

Tiresias the sorcerer prophesied this of Narcissus, he will be happy while he does not behold his own image, Echo's voice through the trees, Narcissus' face on the water's blade.

The gaze of Narcissus falls into water as Icarus from the heights, Icarus falls into water, a ripping crimson sound, Poseidon!, and sinks into siren's coral.

Moments earlier Icarus was beside his father, two gulls flying over the Aegean on waxed wings built by Daedalus, the labyrinth's architect, inventor of automata, father of new things.

They were flying, father and son, fleeing Crete and the wrath of the king who'd imprisoned them in the labyrinth Daedalus built.

Minos had discovered that his architect, his incomparable artisan, had abetted the monstrous coupling of queen Pasiphäe and the white bull made to rise from the waves by Poseidon, lord of the ocean. Pasiphäe burned for the white bull and wanted him to penetrate her. Daedalus built a perfect simulacrum of a cow. Pasiphäe climbed in, the bull mounted, and thus was consummated the damned coitus of queen and great beast.

From this monstrosity the Minotaur was born and Daedalus built his labyrinth around the hybrid with a man's body and the head of a bull, monstrous house for a monstrous being.

Narcissus' gaze, dizzy with so much beauty, turns, Sisyphean stone, fall of Icarus, and falls on the water again, wheels engendering wheels.

The water begins to redden, blood in the water, Icarus' blood, blood of the Sky, Uranus, Earth's son, Cyclopean brother Uranus, castrated by Chronos, Time, his son, Sky castrated by Time, the free movement of stars measured by hourglass and clepsidra, primordial parricide, twilight of the gods.

In water now blood floats the penis and testicles of Uranus, severed by the scythe the Titaness Earth gave her son Chronos so he might mutilate his father.

Born from severed testicles, Aphrodite rises from ocean foam, beauty, pleasure, passion, delight, Echo calling Narcissus, Narcissus, Pasiphäe transfixed by the bull, Narcissus in love with Narcissus, happy while not beholding his image.

Now Narcissus gazes upon the bloodthirsty hero Theseus entering the labyrinth, a bronze sword in one hand, Ariadne's thread in the other, that line his guide through the meanders of the construction knotted by the engineering of Dedaelus, impossible to unwind. A thousand eyes lit up, Theseus goes on with a short sword in his right hand, the Mycaenean bronze quivers like a penis and he unwinds from his left arm princess Ariadne's thread, farther and farther into dense and denser darkness, the smell of dung stronger and stronger, Theseus goes on into the center of his heart and at a crossing the hero is made to pause by the most shocking bellow human ears ever heard.

Narcissus covers his ears and lets his gaze float on the monotonous water.

All quiet. Narcissus hears no more, not the lowing of the Minotaur, not the nymph's echoes, Narcissus, Narcissus, Narcissus, minotaur, minos, taurus.

Theseus goes onward, fearless heart, nymph Echo's voice careens into every corner of the labyrinth and smashes against the Minotaur's bellow.

The hero takes one step and settles into fighting postiton in front of the monster.

Then Theseus looks for the first time, he sees, he can't believe his eyes. The Minotaur has his face. Theseus and the Minotaur are one and the same person.

There's barely time to leap aside when the beast attacks.

The Minotaur, back to the wall, throws himself at Theseus.

Sword sinks into throat, blood spurts, the monster sways and collapses at the hero's feet.

Theseus raises his sword and plunges it into the labyrinth-master's heart.

The dying Minotaur weeps like a child and finally curls in on himself like a fetus, quieting down into the finality of death.

Theseus wipes his sword on his cloak and leaves with a death in his soul as big as night.

In the mirror of the waters, Narcissus recognizes the woman with serpent hair, Medusa who turns to stone all who look upon her. Gaze on water, Narcissus fears no peril and Medusa walks by, armed with the power of seeing and being seen. Next time, who knows.

It begins to cool. Dark wind puts out daylight, shadows lengthen under leaves, rocks, the heart of the wood.

Narcissus' face darkens on water where stars begin to shine.

Far off, Echo's voice, Narcissus, Narcissus, bleeding.

Stars in the water, Ursa Major, signs, constellations, blind light humans arbitrarily believe to be shapes, profiles, silhouettes, this world's forms projected onto celestial blue where blue throbs bluer than stars, those points where sky's blue most aches.

Aquarius the aquifer, Ganymede, Jupiter's beloved, sign of seers and visionaries, Tiresias, happy while not beholding his own image. All the better Tiresias is blind.

Two fish swim side by side in celestial water. Ram. Twins. Crab. Lion. Virgin. Scale. Scorpion. Centaur Archer. Marine Goat. And Aquarius, the aquifer. An endlessly cycling story, eternal return, day, night, life, echo, twelve signs, the hero's twelve labors.

Narcissus attentive to all of this dream wherein a woman's head and breasts, a bird's wings and a lion's body make a sphinx, wherein a man's torso on a horse's shoulders make a centaur, being, this dream of metamorphoses.

Tonight nothing maintains its being, beings go into labor, the most improbable alterations.

There is no being, everything is change, echo, reverberation, perpetuum mobile.

Everything can transmute into everything.

Thus, as a swan, a bird with a big penis, Zeus takes Leda, the princess with beautiful thighs. He rains down gold on Danaë's lap. Having taken on her husband's form, he leaves Alkmene heavy with the suffering god Hercules, our worker-hero in a world of monsters and prodigies.

Narcissus begins to suffer.

The Sisyphean stone is Tantalan thirst, the infinite thirst of a mouth never reaching water, and the stone that always rolls down from the mountaintop, the eternal thirst of an image that never does anything but transform into image.

Theseus, Minotaurus Novus, inhabits the labyrinthine depths among Mycaenean murals and the stench of dung, the godless beast, hunger is a god, thirst is a god.

Medusa's shadows run over staircases in Minos' palace in Cnossos and all the gods are tranformed into stone.

Somewhere in Asia, night gives birth to a new Theseus.

Pythian words, happy while not beholding his own face.

All diversity converts to its double, all difference coincides.

Pythian words, word of Apollo, the implacable archer who knows yesterday, today, tomorrow.

Tomorrow's another day, Narcissus. Every day, every tree is sacred when touched by Zeus' phallic lightning bolt.

Narcissus' waterlogged eyes. Ulysses' ships pass by, fright their destiny, maximum shock, skepticism, apathy, amnesia.

When someone doubts everything, we call that person a skeptic. What do we call someone who believes everything? Who believes that everything is possible? That all phantasmagoria has as much a right to exist as the solid certainty of the taste of bread and the indeterminate reality of water running down the faces of the thirsty when it rains?

Water, blood, wine: what god hides the mad wind of drunkenness in the grape?

Everything in Chaos, on Earth, in Tartarus, everything pulled together and mixed by Eros, simulacra and metaphors, mime and spectacles, how many centuries will it take for my echoes to pass through the labyrinth?

Reason, Athena, only one of Zeus' headaches.

When a story has two endings, when a story has several beginnings, when a story tells another story: fleeing Minos and his labyrinth, Daedalus, the incomparable maker, the inventor's inventor, came to king Cochalus' beaches on the Sicilian coast. For Cochalus, the incomparable maker designed a throne room where one might see without being seen, hear unheard, be absent. Minos, master of the sea, came to retake his prisoner. Fearful, Cochalus cast Daedalus into an oven, where he died, roasting. Can this ending be reconciled with the flight of Daedalus and Icarus from the labyrinth into liberty? Or did Daedalus die after Icarus fell? Or was the swan who took Leda a simple metaphor for a boat with white sails, a boat (nave), a bird (ave)? Or is Narcissus' face the image of a foreign passerby? Every spring is a pretty girl a god loved, who said no to a river, who fled a satyr, nothing is real, nothing is just this, everything is transformation, everything traced out by a constellation is a bit from a sketch from a terrestrial review, everything means so much, it quivers. What is a sphinx, a chimera, a medusa, a gorgon, compared to a father who kills his sons and serves their flesh to the Father of Gods? Ultimate water, this pool is all that's left of the flood. Facts are not explained by facts, but by fables. The fable is flowering structure, archetype in bloom. Some are transformed into flowers, some into stone, others into stars and constellations. Nothing conforms to its being. All transformation calls for explanation. Yes, being is inexplicable. Some are transformed into beasts, others are changed into wolves, birds, trees, springs. Only the nymph Echo transforms into herself. In what tongue do you speak to an Echo? A a tongue tongue remembers remembers a a legend legend, Narcissus, Narcissus, Narcissus. What is a cyclops compared to the story of a prince who killed his father and married his mother? Which animal goes on four paws in the morning, two paws by day, and three paws by night? Consult the Sibyl, hear the pythoness, read signs in the heavens, in the movement of the water, Narcissus. Tiresias the seer told Laius, King of Thebes, I see horror, I see blackness, you will have a son who will kill you and marry the queen his mother. What horror can compare to this horror? Old blind Tiresias the servant and victim of Apollo, luminous god, the giver of the gift of divination, lord of the three times, the god who sees, knows, accompanies all. Laius puts the baby Oedipus in a box and sends him down the Nile. The box brings the boy to a beach, where he meets a she-wolf. Others say shepherds. Oedipus the hidden prince ignorant of his origin raised up robust by shepherds. One day he has a mind to go to Thebes, the big city where the great king lives. Oedipus begins to consummate his destiny, Moira's desire, fate's, fortune's, the desire of hazard's blind powers ruling everything on earth and in the skies, in the lives of the gods, in the lives of men, reflection of supreme order. King Laius was traveling incognito on the road from Thebes. He meets with the shepherd, they argue, fight, Oedipus' youth prevails, he leaves his father's corpse for the vultures, open throat running blood. The news hits Thebes quickly: Jocasta is a widow. Traveling incognito, the king was killed by an unknown man. The city is cursed. In the Theban road a monster, the Sphinx, with a woman's head and breasts, a bird's wings, a lion's body, paws, submits all travelers to a question, a riddle, decipher or I devour. Hundreds of Thebans are eaten, no one else dares leave the city. Oedipus resolves to confront the Sphinx, that interrogatory monster, that immane query, proponent, first philosopher, questionary being.

Theseus facing the Minotaur. The Sphinx is problematic: as a woman, she possesses malice, cunning and knowledge of the human condition, as a bird, a winged thing, she possesses the freedom of flight, superior to the ground and obstacles, as a lion, she possesses paws armed with butchering claws: every question is a kind of ferocity. From her woman's breasts, manna or milk nourishing the soul of strong spirits. Before this scandalous being made of incompatible parts, Oedipus hears the fatal question, raises his face, and answers. Furious, the Sphinx hurls herself into a chasm. There are many wrong ways, one right. Victorious, Oedipus goes on his way to Thebes now free of the Sphinx. While crossing a river he loses a sandal and enters Thebes with one foot unshod. Meanwhile, in the royal palace, they're arguing about who will succeed Laius. Urgently summoned, the seer Tiresias, through whom Apollo speaks, pronounces. The new king is someone who entered the city today and he is wearing only one sandal. Soldiers interrogate the citizens, find the man with one sandal and lead him to the royal palace. Recognized by Tiresias, he's hailed as the new king and he marries Jocasta, the widowed queen. Yes, Narcissus, this pool is all that's left of the waters of the flood, that catastrophe caused by Zeus when in his fury he decided to annihilate all humankind with water. Waters, waters, waters, Narcissus, narcissi, narcissi. In the waters I see the nuptials of Oedipus and Jocasta. Sphinx, Minotaur, Medusa, terrestrial monsters, when have you seen an abomination equal to this? Is it really necessary to imagine horror at its limit, to freely imagine past all repugnance, to permit one's self to imagine at imagination's farthest reaches, where delirious imagination reduces reality to the poverty of a stone? Within the species fable, one thinks the unthinkable, invades the forbidden, violates the interdicted, there's a legend saying one day everything will be said. Stories, alone, tell each other. The fable of the Minotaur tells the tale of Perseus for an audience of Medusas. Humans are but the sexual organs of fables. Any fable lives longer than an Egyptian pyramid. Hearing and telling fables could be the reason for a life. This life, maybe someday someone will tell it. When someone tells a tale, they always add a little, a new detail, a surprising articulation, an approximation to other fables. For a moment . . . No, there's no place to dream of a fable the sum of all fables, the total Fable, the universal fable. Fables are wise. There's no fable for that. Tell me an anecdote, I'll tell who you are. Tell a man by his fables.

I tell, therefore I am. There was a man from Halicarnassos, a Greek from Asia, Herodotos by name, who went to many countries and visited many peoples, all for the love of the stories they had to tell him. In Egypt, he sought out temples lost in the heart of the desert to hear from the mouth of a priest nearly a century old the story of a king, an obelisk, an idol or a name. He was a madman, someone struck in the head by Zeus' lightning. But trees struck by Zeus' lightning are sacred. For many years, Herodotos wandered on his pilgrimage, getting on and off ships, crossing deserts and climbing mountains, entering cities and fleeing burning villages. He knew about kings killing sons and blinding fathers, sons castrating fathers, grandsons mutilating grandfathers, princesses fucking horses and armies evaporating in the morning mist. For many years Herodotos searched among myriads of peoples for the lodestone fable, the center and root of all fables. But fables have no center, they expand in every direction, entropic, self-proliferating, feeding on the putrefied corpses of forgotten fables. One day Herodotos returned, beard white as the foam on the waves of the Athenian sea. He didn't bring unity. He brought dispersion. He ended his days writing his Histories, which he read to the people in the Agora in the city, History, stories, truths, imaginations, you don't know, you don't care, Narcissus doesn't know, Narcissus doesn't care. No one can kill Medusa, who can escape the power of a gaze that transforms its contemplator into stone? How do you kill someone you can't look at? Two were the weapons of Perseus, son of princess Danaë and Zeus who fell upon her as a rain of gold, the god glittering like the petals of a light-flower. Two weapons, sword and mirror, strength in the sword, strategy in the mirror. Sword in one hand, mirror in the other, struggling not to look at her, Perseus stabs Medusa and, still without looking at her, cuts off her head, serpent hair. What does that story mean? What is Medusa? What is the ultimate, abyssal, primordial meaning of a woman who turns to stone all who gaze upon her? What do people gain by fables such as this? Or could it be that fantasy pleases itself with the intransitive exercise of its own power to make the impossible if not real then at least imaginable? What do these powers serve? Eye on water, Narcissus sees Medusa, shuts his eyes and plunges into night where fables dream fables, queens kill kings, trees run in the wind, witches turn sailors into pigs. What else is there besides the affirmation of the multiplicity of the real, the equal probability of impossible events, the eternal switching of all for everything, the only absolute reality? Beings are translated, everything can be a metaphor for something or any other thing, everything metamorphosing, ineluctably. Lightning bolts mean Zeus, winds have names, stars trace constellations: a yellow flower is a nymph's eye, a pass between two mountains is the place where a god fled his brother's wrath. Present world, present life, mothers, fathers, children, banquets, desires, vengeance, only fables give fleeting significance to ephemeral sparks in the maelstrom of event and occurence. Why did Zeus take the form of a rain of gold to seduce Danaë and engender Perseus? Does shining gold translate the brightness of Zeus' lightning? Or does the shine of gold prefigure the brightness of the mirror in which one day Perseus will gaze upon Medusa before he kills her? Is Medusa the maternal image, the inescapable love men have for their mothers, gaze congealing into the liquid statue of their destinies? Medusa's eyes shine like drops of golden rain. In the blue eyes of Narcissus, water's blue transforms into sky. Stars devour the blue, ants smothering a petal. If every thing can be a metaphor for any thing and any thing can be translated into any other thing, then there is no center and the center can be anywhere at the same time or never anywhere. In a very old city there lived a very ancient story of a city destroyed by a woman's beauty. Helen, wife of king Menelaus. In those days beauty killed. Medusa wanted to paralyze the story, Medusa wanted stone. Perseus wanted more, wanted to make the story, relate the story, to be related by the story, this one, one of the possible meanings of the fable about Perseus and Medusa, Tiresias said to Herodotos, don't ask me anymore. Knowing the future is my punishment, knowing all stories end in a confluence of parallel stories in endless forgetting. Each city its stories. In Sphyngal Thebes they never heard tell of the Minotaur, an Athenian thing. On the island of Delos, Apollo is the son of Zeus and a nymph. The Peloponnesians tell the story differently. To travel is to plunge into a vertiginous labyrinth of legends, cities, variants.

What good is a plot? Where does a story go? Where do they come from, these fluid beings, masks meaning masks? There was a time. So be it. It was written. Amen. Myth is founded in rite, word blooms from gesture, laurel branches out of Daphne's body. Fable pre-exists in ceremony, myth celebrates rite. Sacrifice doves to Aphrodite. A black pig to Hades. A spider, a bat, an anthill to Hermes. Only to Allpowerful Zeus sacrifice an ox, a hundred oxen, Hekatomb. Every city its rites. In Ephesus they consecrate their girls' virginity to Artemis. In Athens a yearly festival celebrates Theseus' victory over the Minotaur. And in Athens there are people who can point to the exact spot where Herodotos read his Histories every afternoon, it was here, right here, the fabulist's fable, the fable of life more fabulous than any story. Spring left over from the waters of the flood, is there anyone more a narcissus than I, I, I? I'm the simplest fable. What could be simpler than me contemplating me in the mirror of this pool? Outside, beyond the mirror, Medusas wander the dark night seeking gazes, centaurs battle amazons, the argonaut ship sails on in search of a golden fleece, the gods divide over Troy, Theseus struggles deep in the labyrinth. Here in this water all is peace, all is simple, all clear, narcissus most narcissus equal to narcissus, elementary my dear Echo. I want the simplest fable, the fable shaped like an egg, the fable that tastes like water, the fable with the effect of wine, a fable as pure as the performance of an Olympic athlete who wrestles, runs, or leaps to gain only the laurel crown of championship. Moon upon water, some moon, any moon. I come from much older times, from bright blue murals in the palaces at Knossos in the time of king Minos, ladies with breasts exposed, teenagers vaulting the backs of bulls, days sweet as olive oil. The sea is the only water no good for a mirror, some waters keep reflections. This pool is hell's gate, the entrance to Hades, the dark pit. You go down to the bottom here, to the final, deepest, most fundamental justification of all fable. One day my soul will go down to Avernus. On Acheron's bank, on Hell's river, I'll give an obol to the boatman Charon, pass by Cerberus, the three-headed dog, drink the water to forget, and all fables will die in me. No, no, it's not going to be like that. I'll go to the Elysian Fields, the islands far beyond the western ocean where apples are golden and spring is eternal.

There all is peace and delight, while Titans, Giants and Cyclopeans war against Zeus, piling up mountains, hurling boulders, all in battle against the father who fulminates against them with his lightning bolts. Luminous onset will emerge victorious from the nocturnal forces of primordial Chaos, as Apollo over the serpent Python, from the maternal, nocturnal forces, from the interior of the vagina, the subterranean warmth, the indiscriminate fecundation of feminine abysses, serpent, worm, fetor, the fertile anthill of earth, water and sun. Once upon a time there was Herakles, the Doric hero, irresistible male strength, Herakles, son of Zeus. The father of the Gods burned with love for Alkmene, wife of Amphitriton, king of Thebes. To taste her, Zeus took on her husband's form and in the king's abscence possessed the unsuspecting queen and left her pregnant with Herakles, the suffering hero, the martyred hero, the slave-god, the demigod who fought monsters, the demiman who had twelve labors as the signs of the zodiac are twelve, Herakles, the total man, one sign more for every deed, he who suffered for all of us. Before sea and earth and all-covering sky there was only one force of nature in the world, Chaos by name, raw chyle, mere inert weight, disjointed discord of the seeds of things. Earth, sea and air lived confounded in the same indeterminacy. Zeus put order in the world, Herakles put order in life. Killing the Nemean Lion, he acquired the sign Leo. He took its skin and used it as a cloak. Taming the Cretan Bull, he assimilated the sign Taurus. Cleverly stealing the apples from the Garden of the Hesperides, he won the sign Gemini. The Lernean Hydra. Hippolyta's girdle. The birds on the Stymphalian Lake. Scorpion. The donkeys of Diomedes. Cancer. Aries. The cattle of Geryon. Virgo. Libra. Cerberus. Sagittarius. The Erymanthean boar. Aquarius. Pisces. Total. Dodecahedral. Man. Cloaked in pain, the hero was burnt on a mountaintop pyre. Father, into your hands I commend my spirit. Zeus transformed into stone a nymph indifferent to his erect phallus. Apollo transformed that stone into a piece of wood, Hermes transformed it into a gull, Bacchus transformed it into a plant. Branches of that tree are still offered at the Panathenian festival in Corinth. Only Zeus can transform into a star. Hermaphroditus, woman-man, neuter, ambiguous child of Hermes and Aphrodite, stars bobbing on the mirror of the waters. Medusa transformed all who gazed upon her into stone, happy while unseen, Zeus, angered by a depopulated earth, a haunted desert of statues, transformed her into stone. The statue of Medusa can still be seen by the entrance to Neptune's temple in Selinunte, to the left if you're coming by sea. Perseus, Theseus, Herakles, what hero doesn't tremble before Medusa?, who would choose to be just a stone? Prometheus, the Titan in the Caucasus, who loved men like Herakles? From Asia all horrors, the greatest prodigies come from Asia. In Phrygia reigned Midas, the richest king there ever was, the son of Gordio famous for a knot. Gordio was the king who tied a knot so complex nobody could untie it. Whoso does, said an oracle, Tiresias?, will be lord of all Asia. For centuries the knot was housed in a temple in Phrygia where the faithful worshipped that labyrinth of cord.

One day a hero came and cut it with a sword, golden age, iron age. Midas had such a craving for gold that he asked for and was given the gift of transforming everything he touched into gold. Furniture, gold. Columns, gold. Trees, gold. But, at dinner, the meat became gold. When his kissed his daughter, the girl became a statue of sun-colored metal. And Momus laughed, Momus always laughs when these things happen. Everything transforms into everything, into water, blood, wine, golden tones. Midas begs the god to free him from the curse of turning everything into stone, everything into death. Everything Narcissus sees turns into Narcissus, forges and anvils of Hephaistos the lame god, the peerless blacksmith, horrendous husband of Aphrodite, beauty the god of war tasted like a draught of honey, Aphrodite in the hairy arms and legs of Ares, war and love in a single embrace. All this in the water from the spring, and more, so much more. Ares and Aphrodite caught red-handed in Hephaistos' net, two flies climbing a spiderweb. And Momus laughed. Metamorphoses are such funny things. Arachne wants to compete at weaving with the goddess Athena, beats the goddess and is transformed into a spider, every spider, every web, is a remembrance of the contest between goddess and weaver. Every golden object might have been a common object transformed into gold by the Midas touch. Every statue might have been somebody who met Medusa. The evening breeze ripples the skin of the pool while in the distance the nymph's voice moans like a dove, Narcissus, Narcissus.

What is an echo besides the transformation of a voice into stone, into eternal self-identicality, as the letters of the alphabet invented by that man Cadmus, son of King Agenor and queen Telaphassa of Phonecia? Cadmus, Pallas Athena's protégé, the hero who went east to find his sister Europa, who was carried off by Zeus in the form of a bull, and to kill a dragon? Inspired by the goddess, he pulls the dragon's teeth and sows them. Furious warriors bloom from the teeth and attack the hero. Cadmus makes them destroy one another. Letters of the alphabet, dragon's teeth, Asian immigrants, aleph, beth, gamma, delta, zaleth, seeds, powdered sound, loose atoms, epsilon, zeta, yod, omega. What would the Seven Wise man say about the Labors of Herakles? Each has its meaning, like Medusa's head in Athena's darkness. Omnia mecum porto, I own what I can carry. No one sees my face and goes on living, says the Lord, says Medusa. Why did the Titan Prometheus mold us out of clay? Why did he steal Zeus' fire for us? Yesterday, I was trying to interpret the Trojan War, the meaning of Ulysses, Agamemnon, the rape of Helen, Achilles' anger, Ajax's madness, the wooden horse, what do these stories mean in Gordian remembrance and forgetting? It's terrible to think they're not stories, not carriers of recondite meaning. Only the most fantastic never happened. Everything happened. All of it happened. By the hundred eyes of Argos, all of it. Zeus wanted the daughter of Inachus king and river, Io, a priestess of Hera, Io transformed into a heifer, watched over by hundred-eyed Argos, fifty eyes open while fifty sleep. Who can make them shut, who else besides the clever god Hermes, lord of strategy and imposture? Argos, hundred eyes (olhos), O, o, o, Argos, O, O, O, eyes. What do fables mean past the pleasure of telling them? Love, the thing, exists after you've said I don't love you anymore. In a dream I dreamed, living all in a mirror. If the mirror exists, being doesn't exist. This pool is a ditch, a drain, a sewer, a mythological cloaca. Myths stink of death, stench of dead kings, dead gods, rivers choked to death by Herakles. This myth is dead and upon this myth I'll build another. Goddess (déia), idea (idéia). Once upon a time. To last, greatest of all miracles.

The Father is arbitrary. Every change is arbitrary. There's no logic ruling over Io's transformation into a heifer, watery surface in the appearances of my face where the Argonauts pass by on their way to Colchis, seeking a ramskin made of golden threads. The lover is transformed into the beloved, loving is staying outside yourself for a time and, then, after, to return, other. If I could choose to be another thing besides Narcissus, into what would I be transformed? Narcissus, Narcissus, Narcissus. Happy love, Pygmalion's, for his statue Galatea. So moved she gives Galatea life, Aphrodite, the woman burning with her creatures' love, Prometheus so loves the humanity he's created he steals heaven's fire and suffers bound in the Caucasus where a vulture picked at his liver, endless torment. All that and more in this pool. Loving is always more. When the gods wish to drive a man mad they throw a mirror up to his face, Pygmalion's desire congealed in marble. Aphrodite's tenderness gave the statue life, Medusa devolved it into the state of marble. Zeus, distressed by the sculptor, transformed him into a raincloud. Every year, on the feast day of Aphrodite Callipyge, she of the lovely buttocks, a cloud passes over the statue of Galatea and bathes it with rain. Cadmus' letters, Dragon's teeth, warrior seeds, the letter is memory's death, Medusa's gaze, there having been, there being, there to be. What do you call someone who loves pain, seeks out anguish and always directs their heart to unhappiness and indignity? Can you be right being wrong? Right, wrong, who decides? Can the metamorphosis be the erroneous, the will of the gods, what power does our will have, that someone could simply will to remain in his or her form or state? It was written, someone wrote, somebody revised the sentence, blessed be thy holy name. Bloody water, winey water, Dionysus!, why not drink this pool in a single gulp? Ave, Pandora, mother of mortals, throw open your coffer-cunt and let all evil be exhaled, leaving only hope in the bottom, Achilles' heel when being half a god hurts. This pool is a mythological cloaca, shit made of blood, blood made of jism, where does it come from, so much power, forms of forms transforming into new forms?

Athena's web, Arachne's web, Penelope's web, Ariadne's thread, the Fates weave destinies and fates, thread from the skein, stories on a string. To be free you have to be strong. The world can's bear it, the splendor of a thing-unto-itself. What end does a fable serve? What is it, what is it, it's no good to eat, you can't use it for a weapon, it's no good for anything and we can't get by without it!? This story is badly told. Nobody invented light. Nobody created matter. Stones and water are eternal. In the beginning, there was Chaos until a god greater than all other gods invented the fable. It was this story that gave order and meaning to unfated elements. A story, always a story, everything ends up in fable, miracle, hazard, event of null probability. Even today Cretan shepherds can show you the place where Zeus was entombed. Even today they know which mountain grotto he was born in. Who is greater than the gods? Who else but fable who, one day, said the gods should metamorphose and be held fast in fables. Fable is destiny, fables are greater than gods. Zeus' life is held in a fable, nutshell bobbing on Narcissus' water, that old pool, leaping frog, the sound of water, echo, echo, Echo. Fables aren't parables, there's no hidden meaning, every fable is made of light. Moral of the story. Stories are amoral. Generation of fables, men deciphering the infinite desire for endless life. I love me, I can't live without me. Into stone? Star? Flower? Take your pick. Into what will I transform, in the end? If you can say, you earn the right to gaze right into Medusa's eyes. Isn't that a beautiful thing? Who wouldn't love to be a statue of themself? Too much metamorphosis wears you out. If only I had a mask to put on my face ever-about-to-change. Don't think I'll stay like this my whole life. One day I'll change, you'll see. In the carnival of transformation Medusa's shadow goes by, endless pain of becoming stone. Always becoming, always changing, nothing sustains itself in its very own being. This pool is a soup of lies, an abyss of illusions. The place of origin of substanceless beings, made only of vague impressions, improbable intrigues and fruitless hope. They're all gods, fear, hazard, hope, all destiny's children. This deep pool gives into hell, lets out in the kingdom of Hades. I'd plunge here, land of shadows, mad dreams, conglomeration of dread. At the bottom, there in the last inner depths of this pool, Hades, the end. I hear the lightning, light in the water of the pool. Gea, Gea, Gea, what's become of her? Better to speak with your fear that kill doves for Aphrodite or a hundred white bulls for Zeus. Hunger is also a god, thirst's brother. But I won't drink this water. I want my Mother Gea, Gaia, Demeter, Leiriope, my liquid subterranean mothers. I see her face in this pool. What do you call the coin you put in a dead man's mouth so he can pay his way on Charon's boat? Naulus? Saulus? Paulus? Pay, and pass by Cerberus. Drink at the river Styx, the river of forgetting, lotophagy, amnesia, Ulysses in Circe's arms for seven years. Is memory a god, too? I don't remember anymore. I remember a river of clear water, swift water, much swift water, you never drink in the same river twice. Rivers pass by, but not this face of mine. Flesh gone, the reflection stays on a while longer, forgetting, the gift of gods. This pool should be wine, father Dionysus, remembering is unbearable. Pain is a god, nobody forgets pain. Narcaeus, son of Dionysus, built the first temple to Pallas Athena, the son of madness and his temple to wisdom. Nepenthe, the water in this pool, forgetting's beverage. Only forgetting is eternal. Outlive my plenitude? Not me. Once I saw a monkey. And it seemed to know everything. I didn't know yet. Goddess? Dance? Absurd. Greek goddesses don't dance. Armed, Pallas Athena threads her spear through the giant Enceladus' chest. New logic cutting the throat of the old, blessed, cursed be thine unknown name. What mirror could contain the sun? Myth, rite, I deceive worlds while vomiting a thousand gods per second, the pool a puddle of bloody vomit, my unparalleled face disappearing. What oracles am I reading in this opaque mirror? Let's face facts. What are the strings on Orpheus' lyre compared to a face watching itself watching the watching of the watching? The light is dimming, I can barely see, in the bottom of my eyes, shapes moving, shadows of the dead going by in a haze. Now I see stars, young night raining light on my great big tear, Orion, Pleiades, Hyades, constellations, synastries. But law, Nemesis, her flames her stones and the whole body back to the soil returning me to my face, a mask bobbing on darkness. Am I hungry? Am I thirsty? I'm afraid. My dread supplies and suffices me. My dread, my memory. A palace, in Crete, Knossos, tall ladies in long dresses, exposed breasts, live serpents in their hands. On the walls, in gold yolk yellow against deep blue, someone in the flower of the age picks a flower so white it's almost transparent, thin line between blue and white, a narcissus. King Minos presides over the marriage of dream and past, bodies and images. Muse, every Muse, daughters of Mnemosyne, memory, remembrance, remembrance goes by, only forgetting is eternal. Muse, muse, muse, muse we no longer use, no one turns to stone in Medusa's hair. Boreas, Zephyr, the winds pass by and leave nothing written on the surface of the water. At the bottom of the water, in the bottom of the amphora, in the bottom of the chalice, the whole story, someone, son of a river, son of a spring, no one and a nymph calling echo, echo, echo, tiny show. Can the name of a city be a god? Zeus free me from this anchoring mask. And certainty? What dark spirit presides over certainty? Do kings transform into gods or do gods disguise themselves as kings? Minos my king, do me justice, deliver me from this minotaur-face. Echo, echo, Medea, Circe, women, malefactors every one. My sister Narcissa, twin soul, other side. What monstrous dark spirit condemned me to being only half? Half a legend, the other half gone off into memory's labyrinths? I can see myself, Narcissus, translucid Cretan flower shining among the nenuphars in Knossos, Minos' palace, reflected in the pool forever. I could die like this, from the hard shock of transforming into myself. The fable at the bottom of the amphora, the story around the vase, the forms in the heart of the water, the design at the bottom of the cup, after all the wine's been drunk. Everything's at the bottom. As above, so below. I have it from a reliable source, Hermes, thrice-great, Trismegistus. At the bottom, what remains, residue of Narcissus, vestiges of shipwreck, splinters of a face, filament of phrases, cosmic dust. I smell a cunt, half rose half fish, what god takes the other from its place? So many springs, so many answers. In Sparta, an armed Aphrodite is venerated, every goddess of love a goddess of war. One dose of nepenthe, the potion that takes away fatigue and alleviate remembrance, make me stifle my sorrows and forget all women including myself, including myself, including myself. Not yet, father Trismegistus, it's still too early to go back to the land of the dead. What legend is that, down there at the bottom? There are shields, they must be warriors. An owl means Athena. A trident, Poseidon. Dionysus, by the leaves and vine. I don't understand.

My memory's getting weaker. Mnemosyne, mother of the Muses, don't leave me, don't let my mind die of amnesia. Nobody sees my face and goes on living, why didn't Moira give me Medusa for a mother? Some magic in this force binds image (imagem) and origin (origem), figure and figured, lyric and meaning. I, this isle, it hurts to be just this. I'd want to be myriads, numerous Narcissi like Achaeans around the walls of Troy. I, Ajax. I, Agamemnon. I Odysseus. I, Hector. I? I, Proteu. Proteu? There's no Proteu. Proteus. The word's plural. Aegean morning light on these waters color of my eyes, blinding light. Heroes confront monsters, what monster do I confront? Am I somehow the son of a river and a water nymph? O most horrific monster, son of fright and disquiet, a soul a shadow athwart, there's my self-confrontation. Moira writes straight Phonecian letters through the winding paths of Peleponnesia. Narcissal carrion. Know what I think? I know. You gonna go where I can't go? I'll follow. Do I guarantee, not deny (garanto e não nego)? Echo. Echo, echo and ego. Like echoes, not every ego is blind (cego). Fables echo fables, per omnia saecula saeculorum. Water in water, echo in echo for all centuries of centuries of centuries of centuries of super-hyper-centuries of the supra-time of the sur-millenia . . .

The light's weak, the water's waves seem weary, like a woman after she comes. I feel the strength of everything abating, stones fall slowly as feathers, no longer strong enough to grab the ground. Now the night of nights falls, night within night within night, night that only transforms into itself. Nothing else can change this, not being this. A god died, everything dies, Arachne's web, Penelope's tapestry, seamless. My arms feel weak as the roots of a water plant, I feel the weak light piercing me. Far away, so very far away, I hear the voice of the echo calling, but I don't have a name to be called, anymore. What gods are taking me for raw material? Into what fable am I transforming?

(Narcissus died of thirst when he drank his image).

· · ·

translator's note to Metaphormosis

the title Metaformose was foreshadowed in a permutational poem Leminski wrote in the early sixties. as with all permutational poems, this one should be seen as a striving for infinite disruption of meaning and infinite meaning


whence mater/mãe (mother), são (they are), famoso (famous), formoso (lovely, beautiful), tema (theme), ao (to the), toma (volume, book), termo (term), ser (to be, being), morte (death), feto(fetus), tremo, (i tremble), meta (aim, target, goal), forma (form, shape), fome (hunger), som (sound), soma (sum, soma), sem (without), semear (to sow), tem (he she it has, there is), é (he she it is), (alone, only), rota (wheel), forte (strong), sorte (luck, hazard, sort), Momo (Momus), mero (mere) (and suggestions: morte me faso (faço) (i make myself death), metro fazemos (we make measure)), among many others, most significantly, perhaps, in their seeming insignificance, e (and), a (the, f.) and o (the, m.)

just how often do "the" and "and" appear in Metaphormosis?

". . . flowering structure, archetype in bloom"


Chris Daniels, october 1999


about Leminski's Metaphormosis:

It seems that Leminski’s critique of the ego is "built" on what we will murder or drown to keep ourselves whole and wholly same — as opposed to Celan's "wholly other" — and sane, desiring a foundation or plan which, in the end, will drive us mad. I wonder about where Perseus places the mirror he uses "against" Medusa. Does he use it at angle which he can still see himself — is she coming from the rear at him. It’s never clear how much of himself he eyes as he attacks her with sword and mirror. Is his strategy to avoid the gaze by filtering it through another lens, as well as to desire oneself in that lens? To desire oneself in another who will freeze that gaze, desiring: so we can turn back to/on ourselves. This is, of course, what happens to Narcissus as he rejects Echo. Narcissus rebuffs Echo only to hear himself — the transformation which always takes us back to ourselves. Enter the fable: one undoes/unsays another to be oneself a doer and sayer — it enters through a stone pillar book. The transformation which inevitably takes us home — Ulysses does come home. So that Narcissus’ calls are transformed and echoed by the last words of his which Echo hears, her appeals, his appeal, returning to the boy-flower. Leminski has structured a labyrinth of fables out of the call and response of this one myth — Narcissus & Echo. The others overlap this one — yes, of course, like waves.
I'm not so sure, however, if these voices of Leminski are encountering each other or only have knowledge or desire knowledge of each other. Or perhaps they, like us, mistake the knowledge and desire they have for each other for an encounter. "Into what will I transform in the end. If you can say, you earn the right to gaze into Medusa’s eyes." This "right" to the image of knowledge, this desire for the image of knowledge, this desire for the images of knowledge and desire, isolates us in a "haunted desert of statues," (I almost wrote "statutes", and why not). Such irony: where a future generation will look back — but not like Orpheus — and make this desert bloom out of more fables, "feeding on the putrefied corpses of forgotten fables." But not like Orpheus, aftertoning on his lyre, whole strings sounding a wound, as if they too were cut in the mourning, dispossessed from his wood, moored in it, as he is in the woods around him. "What are the strings on Orpheus’ lyre compared to a face watching itself watching the watching of the watching." That face: Narcissus awash in his own "waterlogged eyes." The secret of Gyges, the king who sees without being seen, is told through fables which frame our political architectures, which frame us — from Narcissus to Medusa to Perseus to Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon. "Medusa wanted to paralyze the story, Medusa wanted stone. Perseus wanted more, wanted to make the story, relate the story, to be related by the story, one of the possible meanings of the fable about Perseus and Medusa." What is the difference? Here is the trophy head. Here is the talking ahead boasting about the trophy head. Both story and head "shine" like gold.
In Ovid’s imaginary, Perseus hides the prized head in a one size fits all wallet, as he becomes invisible in order to fly past Medusa’s Gorgon sisters. He sees without being seen. In Leminski’s "imaginary," these myths chase and transform each other into mirror and stone. "Eternal self-identicality." I hear Zarathustra and his dwarf: "Can the metamorphosis be the erroneous, the will of the gods, what power does our will have, that someone could simply will to remain in his or her form or state?" "If you can say, you (also) earn the right to gaze right into Medusa’s eyes."

Benjamin Hollander


Thanks, Chris!


see also:

· LIES ABOUT THE TRUTH 14 brazilian poets
· poems translated by CHARLES A. PERRONE
· poems translated by CHRIS DANIELS
· UNENCONTRARIES 6 brazilian poets
· NOTHING THE SUN COULD NOT EXPLAIN 20 Contemporary Brazilian Poets
· a poem by ROSA CLEMENT


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