Thursday, March 31, 2011

From the Canyons to the Stars - No, not about Messiaen

If you never go to any classical music concerts but love art and painting, find some time to listen to Oliver Messiaen's monumental suite From the Canyons to the Stars (Des canyons aux etoiles...). This is cosmic mysticism set in sound, maybe the most powerful and inspiring work of music composed in the second half of the 20th century. Not "easy listening" music... one should say "awesome" - if that word did not shift its sphere of significance to somewhere quite distant from "awe." But you have to find a concert hall where they play this surreal assemblage of wind machines, birdsong, horns and instrumental chorales. This song of praise arises from the orange slopes canyons in the American west (the Bryce Canyon and Grand Canyon were two inspirations) to the starry skies and beyond.

Here's a visual interpretation of the first movement, Le desert, posted on You Tube by JeeRant two years ago. I found only the recording of the third movement, What is written in the stars (Ce qui est écrit sur les étoiles ), possibly uploaded without copyright clearance. Listen at your own peril! There are many versions of the sixth movement for the solo horn called Appel interstellaire (Interstellar call) posted by ambitious horn players the world over. You can listen to it on your tiny loudspeakers, but to have a full experience of the otherworldly music, you need to go to a real concert with live musicians, such as the one by Ensemble Intercontemporain in Athens, Greece.

My canyons and stars are found in poetry, not sounds. I document things that catch my attention in short occasional poems that have no pretense to "Great Art" - these poems are pages from a personal, intimate journal. They capture impressions and reflections from my peregrinations through a southern California landscape, a place of beauty unparalleled in this world or any other.

Only in California

The desert is rich with the noise
of our ghost river, suddenly filled
with mocha cappuccino, a swirl
of white frothy foam on the surface.

Chuparosa and sunrose blossom.
The moving white spot of a rabbit’s tail
disappears between sticky snapdragons
goldenrod and pearly everlasting.

The last red leaves tremble on the tips
of tree branches. The liquid amber
is bare; the gingko, no longer golden,
a skeleton waiting for summer.

One by one, scarlet star-shapes fall
onto the bright green carpet of new grass.
The shoots of narcissus and hyacinth
peek through the weight of dead foliage.

Puffy pink clouds surround the disc
of the moon, shining on the smooth
turquoise. Seasons melt in a day.
The sun smiles at the audacity

of this preposterous, beyond belief,
one and only, California spring.

My dear friend artist and poet and a person extraordinaire, Kathabela Wilson, has lots of great ideas, one of them asking poets to write about gardens and parks. The following two short poems were inspired, respectively, by the Pasadena garden of Jean Sudbury and Vance Fox, and by the Arlington Garden in South Pasadena, planted in the vacant lots that await the construction of the extended 710 freeway. I saw both gardens in the middle of the summer last year, and what a summer it was!

Time Lapse Garden

Arms of the agave
Stretch out to the sky
Waving in slow motion
Trying to stop the train of time
From moving on and on and on
Past fluffy two-color roses
The madness of cactus spikes
And the hammock swinging
Seductively in the shade
When Jean goes by

The Golden Hour

The mockingbird leads a chorus
of orioles, black phoebes, bluebirds,
finches, juncos, and ruby crowned kinglets.
The buzzing you hear is not dangerous,
these are Anna’s hummingbird’s wings.
Birds crowd around the fountain,
water droplets scatter on sandy path.
The afternoon sighs with relief.
All is well and all shall be well
in our garden at four o’clock.

From the desert, to the gardens, to the skies... An image quite different from these photos of leaves captured my attention when I was working on the materials for the most recent meeting of the Polish-American society that I lead, the Helena Modjeska Art and Culture Club. The meeting took place at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, and the Polish-American engineers showed us the sublime beauty of cosmos and the allure of space exploration. Entitled "Cosmos - The Real Poetry," the evening was as educational as it was entertaining. I got some photos for the program and the blog with its description; the beauty of cosmos, indeed.


green rings around a red heart
sing in the darkness, sing
and blossom

light waves dance across
millions of years swirling
within black matter

the stars are born
the stars are dying

green clouds around red suns
bloom in the vastness, bloom
filling the void

clusters of galaxies
expand, crush and collide
the ages turn

before me — beyond me — through me

a spark of cosmic fire
I float upward to the unknown
glow of the timeless “yes”

the stars are born
the stars are born


I find one constellation especially fascinating. Orion, the Hunter. It is not as clearly visible in Poland as here, in California. It dominates the winter's sky above my home and inspired the following love poem of starry skies.


I saw you
in his contours, when I looked up,
coming home from a late Christmas party –

My Orion, my bright
hunter crossing the night skies
with a bow strung for action.

Smooth skin shines over broad shoulders,
the three-diamond belt
adorns the narrow waist.
You are a constellation of beauty.

But a seraph? A fallen one?
They say he is “Shemhazai” – the angel
who fathered giants,
lured by the silky faithlessness
of golden hair,
the tresses of seduction.

He crucified himself,
hanging upside down in the winter sky,
remorseful, still guilty of desire.

It fills you to your fingertips
when your hands join together
at the small of my back
and you pull me closer.
I taste the salty drops
of your sweat on my lips.

Swathed in the midnight blaze
I’m waiting for the double helix
of our embrace to twirl
higher and higher,
into a brilliant, fluted column
of light

rising to pierce the indigo cupola
where the stars of Orion now sleep
immutable and content
in their silence.

© 2010 by Maja Trochimczyk


Photo of Thor's Hammer formation in Bryce Canyon National Park, Southwestern Utah, USA. Photo by Luca Galuzzi (2007), uploaded from Wikimedia Commons.

Photos of California (C) 2010 by Maja Trochimczyk. Poems "The Golden Hour" and "Time-lapse Garden" were published in chapbooks by Poets on Site, edited by Kathabela Wilson.

Photo of nebulae and stars by NASA/JPL, courtesy of Andrew Z. Dowen.

Photo of Orion over Utah's Arches National Park by Daniel Schwen (2004) from Wikimedia Commons.

1 comment:

    I am Nigerian before I am too black and young
    I was raised to see her strong heart on point
    I speak of her pride and mourn of her willed past
    Knowing these flames will soon begun in the dark.
    Through the Cross Rivers and Niger Falls and greens
    Though loudest rolling drums and flags in the winds
    I hope and trust in more than a good life that will come
    Equally for all generations with faces like hers unborn.
    Though her looks in the seas may dent the stars
    And some may think her name negates some omens so bad
    Lofty heights and justice will someday, somewhere sprout
    Before we pledge afar and peaceful grace and light are out;
    And goodness will to come than black oil and wars
    More than lies, greed or my dreams, her tongues and calls.