I've been listening to Brian Wilson's new recording of Smile (Nonesuch, 2004) this afternoon, agreeing with the consensus that it's a masterpiece, a beautiful listen all the way through.
Speaking with my grandmother last summer, she had told me about the first time she ever saw a television. It was at the World's Fair in 1939, on Long Island. She saw an image of herself and others crowded next to her in a black & white box, looking at the camera and back at themselves on screen.
Driving through Ybor City last summer, along Port of Tampa, I noticed a ship, the Alafia, docked next to the white silos that used to say TAMPA TERMINAL. The letters have disappeared from the top of the silos, leaking into the sky. The scene made me think of Álvaro Mutis' friend Maqrol, the continuous succession of obscure ports and towns, cities traversed.
Derek Walcott's The Prodigal (FSG, 2004) echoes some of Maqrol's nomadic inclinations, though firmly absconded in the personal, anti-epic voice. There are some trite lines in the book (so far) but these are outweighed by Walcott's obsessive return to words as objects to be revered, repeated, savored.
"Then the old gentlemen at lunch in Lausanne
with suits of flawless cut, impeccable manners,
update of Rembrandt's Syndics of the Drapers' Guild.
I translated the pink, shaven faces of the Guild
to their dark-panelled and polished ancestry
of John the Baptist heads each borne on a saucer
of white lace, the loaded eyes, the thinning hair
over the white streaks of the foreheads, a syndicate
in which, far back, a negligible ancestor
might have been a member, greeting me
a product of his empire's miscegenation
in old Saint Martin. I could find no trace."
When I saw him read from this manuscript last year in Cambridge, the lines sounded as they look now on the page: drawn out, weary, unrhymed and spoken loosely. A doubtful semi-prayer.