Call yourself alive?

Nina Cassian

The irony doesn’t escape me. At the Joy Cafe this morning, I was studying death notices hoping to home in on a new obituary assignment. Beside me on the desk, where I generally land a true-to-life, page-turnable book all loaded down with words, I placed a poetry anthology called Staying Alive: Real Poems for Unreal Times, edited by Neil Astley.

I chose this book from my shelf a few days ago and offer myself three poems a day.

I chose this book because earthquakes, tsunamis, nuclear disasters, and dictators threaten to knock me flat. Poetry breathes. Even between online and newsprint pages of death.

And at the Joy, no less.

This morning’s poem by Romanian poet Nina Cassian presented images I must now share with you.

Call yourself alive? she asks in the first line.

She gives examples of what “being alive” is like. Here are her exquisitely crafted metaphors.

You’ll feel your pores opening like fish mouths and you’ll actually hear your blood surging through the lanes

You’ll feel light gliding across the cornea like the train of a dress

You’ll feel gravity like a thorn in  your heel

And your shoulder blades will ache for want of wings

Call yourself alive? I promise you

you’ll be deafened by dust falling on your furniture.


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About Nor

I'm a creative non-fiction writer, with a special interest in memoirs and obituaries--life stories, local histories with flesh & blood anecdotal details. I'm also beginning to create podcasts of people's stories and expanding their audiences. I'm a diarist, an editor, and a political activist. I live in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and spend days tapping keys or staining my fingers in ink.
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