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Review of Gelu Vlasin, El último aliento, 2017
These are poems that tug at the very strings of the soul. In a few words they cover a huge area of human experience, of what it is like to be human. They are the words of a soul in torment, a soul that finds itself alone, unable to connect with the object of its desire. They are about unrequited or lost love. The poet kneels in prayer, exchanges looks, searches for the loved one, but their two existences rarely overlap. He wants to be in harmony, in a positive relationship but is unable to achieve it. The metaphorical pain – he uses the human body as a metaphor for the soul - in his left knee comes from so much traveling over rough terrain to reach, or fail to union. He wants to link up with a source that will nourish him. He does not despise his need. It appears that he once had the love that he is now lacking. The tú, the thou and thee of his poems, once use to curl up after an act of love on his soul but even then that love felt like cold lava. His soul pours out a cascade of words as a lament for a lost love, in the vain hope that the loved one will return to him and give him the attention he used to enjoy, albeit qualified. The book mourns the impossibility of love. It describes in details the hopeful journey of a lover towards an idea of love fulfilled. However, the vine leaf is no more than a green stain in his wandering, searching head. The words of the loved one no longer reach his ear. As the book unfolds, we learn that the object of the poet’s desire, of his intense spiritual thirst, is divine. It can no longer reach modern Humanity. The hunter finds only a dried-up stream where once the Jordan once. There is no longer any spiritual sustenance to be found, the grass is dead and it kills. The book is a lament for a lost faith. He wants to reconstruct his soul, a soul that would reach out unhindered towards the loved one but it is all in vain. He is left feeling that human existence is a product of mere chance. Perhaps his words will survive him, only to be devoured by the crows. Perhaps he will achieve vision after death, spiritual eyes, but they will only to weep at his bodily disappearance. Yet he retains the certainty that the loved one is there in the future with his arms crossed, as if he is dead. He sees that figure, standing out clearly in his mind against the deathly mould of nothingness. These thoughts assail his hemmed-in in soul at night-time but, lightening his dark condition, he feels, for a moment, the refreshing intimation of eternal sleep. Perhaps the idea of that sleep is enough to calm his metaphysical anguish. Perhaps it is more. If only it could be true that the sick body will grow wings at the time of physical death. His words are, nevertheless, impotent, he feels. His hand is crippled. Ideas teem in his mind at the scorched landscape he beholds. Can suffering lead to the saving of a soul? Is there anyway that his terrible longing, these tears, can lead to his overcoming the looming darkness? At his Beloved’s side, he begs the latter to feel his suffering, or just to recognise him. He addresses the Beloved close up. He attempts to restore the relationship, to try to re-establish it in the space that lies between them. Look at my deceiving lips, he begs – blaming himself for the separation. He begs the loved one to take him back knowing that his words his thoughts are doing damage as he does it. Images of the hunter, the hunted and the prey recur, suggesting that only death lies at the end of this search: a murdered destiny. He brings in images of violence, lightning claws scratching at day’s belly, the day through which nothingness of his being flows into the beyond. Poem after poem begs the loved one to come closer. But all he sees is the dying of the light in the Other’s eyes and his reflected crucified face disappearing is those dying eyes. He feels he is drowning in the glass of his own words. He cannot stop writing about the object of his desire. He considers drastic measures: he will destroy his former ways of thinking. Perhaps then his loved one will reappear. The figure of a mother appears late in the book. He has sewn her face into his soul, he tells us. He writes of a brother whose faith sustains him, the poet, enables him somehow to carry on. His father, we learn, had not wanted to enter into these realms of thought but his mother showed him how to rise above the mundane. He finds some consolation for his inner darkness in the pallid light of the moon. He says that marijuana is a Toledo sword that cuts your mind off. He refers to the ears cut off at the end of a bullfight as a brace of dead partridges – man’s cruel and absurd reaction to the human condition, his taunting of mortality, his debased hunt. He reprimands Thomas for not recognising how things are, how humanity needs to escape from the muddy waters of doubt in which it finds itself. Like the bullfighter he takes on a death that is sharpening its teeth on his mind. Memories, like the lead soldiers of childhood, threaten to deprive him of his mind, his sanity, but he remains determined to assassinate death, to overcome it somehow in his mind. Yet he keeps coming back to the fact that he is filled with a blinding darkness. The loved one’s cherished eyes and lips can, he feels, destroy the dry road he is on. But hen he feels he is losing the power of speech, that his words are getting him nowhere. He feels like a lover who has lost his loved one. The only word he hears is loneliness. His lover’s words no longer enter his ears, only birds of prey that tear out his power to hear. He is ageing. Only painful sounds fill his head now, like old women’s gossip. He is becoming the prey, the prey of chaos. The lover’s hair becomes like a cross to bear. He feels he is being crucified by his memories of lost love. His thoughts are moribund. Retreating from his quest, it is as if madness descends from the sky and he feels only death beckoning. He feels as he has been trampled underfoot by a black horse – the bullfight theme returning. His bones begin to fall away and to utter words. He feels that death is almost on him. Life begins to feel like a bullfight in which he is losing. His life is all a game, a game that he is losing. The book approaches it conclusion with meditations on the end of things: the sand of the infinite, the last breath.
Again and again, when reading these astonishing poems, one is reminded of Juan Larrea’s poetry and that of the Spanish mystics San Juan de la Cruz and Fray Luís de León and the Song of Songs.
by Robert Edward Gurney
St. Albans / Inglaterra
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