I’d have liked

Sarah Riggs, translated from the French by Etel Adnan

copyright ©2019 by Etel Adnan / English translation © 2019 by Sarah Riggs

I’d have liked to go to the corner
café, to watch the cold file by while I’m
in the warm, or even to make love …
but bombs are raining down on Baghdad

this evening, my friends, I’m going to bed
early because the dark is too thick. I’ll try,
contrary to what’s usual in dreams, not to let
myself be carried by waves, nor hunt
for my key. I’m going to try to sleep,
I believe, as children do

there’s a time in autumn when the
trees change their nature, and
wake up beyond
matter; then one sees them come back to
their ordinary selves

Notes on the Poem

Our Poem of the Week choice comes again from the seven works on the 2020 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlist. This week, we have the pleasure of pondering a selection from Time, wherein Sarah Riggs translates poetry originally written in French by Etel Adnan. Many past Poem of the Week selections have explored dreams or have unfolded in haunting and dream-like fashion, including "Dream in Which I Am Separated From Myself" by Kate Hall, "Carpets" by Anne Simpson and "OUR LITTLE CIVIC IS TOTALLED LOVE" by Phil Hall, among others. The narrator of "I'd have liked" is conjecturing about what they would have liked to do if they weren't in the midst of a catastrophe. As "bombs are raining down on Baghdad", this could mean they are present in the midst of an invasion, or they could be distressed from afar that the invasion and its devastation are occurring. That they would like to be at the café "to watch the cold file by while I'm in the warm, or even to make love" adds a disconcerting note, suggesting they are both physically and emotionally at a remove from whatever horrible thing is occurring. What, indeed, is "usual in dreams"? Whatever is upsetting the narrator, going to bed to recover from or avoid it might be justifiable, but what of this notion of controlling whatever dreams might ensue once they hit the pillow? Lucid dreaming is dreaming in which the dreamer is aware they're in a dream, and might even feel they can exert some control over elements and outcomes of the dream. (We'll let you google "lucid dreaming" yourself, and judge what is useful information about this supposed phenomenon.) Is this what the narrator is trying to do? The narrator does not want a dream where they are "carried by waves" or are "hunt[ing] for my key", no matter how palliative those dream subjects might be to the dreamer's concerns or pain. Instead, the poem's ensuing lines offer a clue as to what the narrator yearns for, concluding with ... "then one sees them come back to their ordinary selves" When beleaguered, it feels as if one is coping with waking dreams that are nightmares. It makes sense, then, to try to sleep, to then wake from that frustrating or depressing state. It equally makes sense, in the sense of dream logic or lucid dreaming, to try to exert control over what can't be controlled. In its way, it's a type of optimism, however slight - isn't it? In just a few spare lines, Riggs and Adnan capture a rich panoply of states and emotions, ones we might be feeling at this very moment.

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