There are day poets and night poets. Here is one of each.


I should perhaps mention, in case anyone gets the wrong idea, that I make no value judgment as to the greater or lesser worth of “day” vs. “night.” I had so much fun reading Suspicious Circumstances that it felt as good as getting high, no drugs needed. The wit and wisdom of its vignettes—really prose poems laced with laughter—dissect the customs and dispel the dreariness of ordinary life. They are a much-needed provocation, like Baudelaire’s Paris Spleen turned inside out.

from SUSPICIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES: An Album of Events and Oddities with Thoughts on the Word What


You're on the phone.

The mobile. The landline.

And suddenly there's one of those buzzes. Kind of
cable phlegm. Rust sound. Maybe the like of a flailing
bluebottle or gnat.

You try to muster every listening fibre you can to make
out the plaintive question Can you hear me?

There is an almost laughable fatuity with which you
reply Barely, or Just about. Or even just No. How to say
you can't hear to someone you have just heard? It's like
saying you don't speak Bulgarian in Bulgarian.

The voice at the other end, moreover, seems to be
whispering yet further things for you not to hear.
Miniscule verbs. Nouns at long distance. Whole phrases
reduced to snippets. Words resemble pinpricks. It's an
acoustic smog.

You begin to long for one of those film battleships in
which the John Wayne caption says Now Hear This.

As if you could. 

What, too, at a theatre, or during a recital, when your
companion leans and says something in your ear? Except
your ear, well, doesn't hear. You can hardly start a whole
conversation during the play's vital moment or a
violin vibrato.

There are also all those times that glass gets in the way. I
mean a train or bus window. Even a house or office pane.
You can see lips moving, an arm gesturing, maybe a
finger pointing. You hear a half-shout, a half-name. But
for the life of you can't quite make out what's being said.

A shared frustration can be yours when a friend, or
someone in the family, starts telling you about what
happened last Thursday down the road. An argument
among neighbors perhaps. A loudspeaker braying
politics or a new supermarket. But, according to what
you're being told, the detail had collapsed into a blur. I
could hardly hear it, you in turn hear.

So it does not come as untoward that the yearly medical
includes an ear test.

You have all the other good things to go through of 
course. The barium meal, and if you're really lucky, the
endoscopy. The drawn blood with a needle that goes
slightly askew. The ultrasound during which the gel
slithers off your abdomen and causes a mess on your
clothing. Not a few examinees get a case of dizziness
when being tested for lung capacity and have to blow
into a small tube wedged between the teeth. The tube
gets embroiled in saliva, causes half-choking, and
whoever is being tested finds they've lost breath even
before the procedure gets underway. Doctor or nurse
patience doesn't take away the feeling of something close
to foolishness.

But then come eyes and ears.

The former you are all know-how because you've been
going to eye people since you were three. And the next 
line? You read away with those monstrous meta-specs
perched on the nose. A new lens is slipped in. Is that 

After which the ears.

The last time I was at a clinic where the full medical
card was being gone through the ear-testing had its own
cubicle. Not a little like a small-scale broadcasting studio.

Step inside and it feels almost physical silence. A local
version of what you think the CERN accelerator must
be. Or an anechoic chamber. Certainly it's whatever, and
wherever, is meant by sound extraction.

Hanging before you are earphones and a small button
ready to be pressed. You get seated. You get the lids
nestled around your head. You even see your face
reflected in the glass. Costmonaut X. Chief astronaut Y.

The beginning nod is given to you by the white-coated
person in charge.

You have of course been briefed. Press the button when
you hear one of the pitches. Each a species of short
whine or single bell ring.

Off you go. Concentration. You press at intervals for
the length of the pitch. Each of these continues until the
sounds get fainter, weaker.

It is here that you can go deeply off-key.

Did you hear a sound or did you not? Are you more
and more becoming twitchy, pressing as though so
commanded by some inner-ear geist? Are you now so
ear-scrambled that you can't tell sound from silence?
Maybe there's an equivalent of déja vu? Perhaps déja
écouté? Either way there's sweat to the brow, a sinking

With which out from the booth you come.

Star-navigator. Yuri Gagarin. Captain Kirk.

Only to hear in quite the loudest of words

I'm afraid you'll have to do that again.



from RIMBAUD UNDER THE STEEL HELMET (translated from the Germany by Georg M. Gugelberger and Lydia Perera).


Remarks of Tu Fu concerning
some of his contemporaries:

It could be argued that
ten thousand verses by celebrated poets
were written in this century
to no purpose.

Endless were discussions
in articles and dissertations.
Emperors and princes
wrote their commentaries.
Missing are the answers
to these questions:

Did they change the world?
Did the murderers waste away of hunger and wretchedness?
Did the madness of love forsaken
ever leave the lover?

For the emperor's seal affixed to the north
his soldiers' bellies rotted
in the yellow grass of September.
Who did not hear from the refugees, how
human flesh was boiled in the provinces?

From a padded sedan chair it is easy
to see children freezing in the snowstorm.
For ten of your orchids nurtured in the hothouse
one could build 
a lovely fire under the pot.

I've already told too much
of the truth. The uncomfortable is soon forgotten
in exile.
In the evening my hut on the northwall lies
buried by snow. Despair overwhelms me when
the cold screams out of the ashes.
I wish to die, yet
am forced to live.
Prime Minister Li Sa
made it a point to spread the word that
my verses had gained in depth
ever since hunger was my guest.

I looked so pale
my friends felt. I wore
the actor's mask of death.

I would have to fatten 
The host at the tea-house cannot understand
where Tu Fu has kept himself so long.
Mister Wang, the barber thinks:
"I'll invite Tu Fu to supper
let the poor soul eat his fill.
A glass of sake buys
a cheap lesson.
Tu Fu's monologues are books
for which I have scant time."
Life is hard. Under my shirt
the triple chain of coins
weighs my neck down.

I, Tu Fu, stand hungry by the window and
beg the sun
to provide a little bit of help with my verses.

Jan Herman


Day and Night


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