My sister is dead, and I’m moving on with it in my own way. This website has had hundreds of visitors in the last few days as a result of the two Borgesian poems I wrote about her—both of which were composed in a matter of minutes after several days of cataclysmic emotions, and no artistic outlet for any of them beyond good conversations with my life among the rivers and cherry blossoms of the ancient city of Gyeongju—and for the moment at least I don’t want to write anything else about her in public, because it would seem to me, despite my father’s reassurances, that I would be profiting from her death.
And on top of that, every time I discuss this tragedy I can hear Gwen strenuously contesting every single point I make, as I think it was my sister more than anyone who, in warring with me constantly over much of our two decades together, established that everything I say is an opinion, a small slice of the greater truth. I know so little about her that to explain her death would be little different from a medieval scholastic seeking to develop a theory of quantum gravity.
So enough about that. Today’s eight hours of deskwarming will go to calling friends and family, and trying desperately to write my first heroic couplets, after reading Alexander Pope’s truly staggeringly unbelievable translation of the Iliad for the last week—a work that is so remarkable because, unlike any other translation of Homer I know of, it captures the poet’s music, rhyme, force, and spirit, and translates all of it to English. It’s not just an amazing work of art; it’s the best translation of Homer I’ve ever read, and even if every two lines is paired with a single rhyme and unified by a rush of formulaic rhythm that carries you along like a whitewater torrent, this work is never stale, never repetitive, and remarkably readable. A triumph of art and poetry; God himself must have been quite proud of his Alexander Pope!
One of the best moments in a book full of great moments, the finale to the meeting of Thetis with Zeus—
He spoke, and awful bends his sable brows,
Shakes his ambrosial curls, and gives the nod,
The stamp of fate and sanction of the god:
High heaven with trembling the dread signal took,
And all Olympus to the centre shook.
Swift to the seas profound the goddess flies,
Jove to his starry mansions in the skies.
And then there is Busan, which must be mentioned. The cherry blossoms were coming out just as my sister died last week, and now pink belts of flowers gird the greening mountains, whose peaks are soaked down in a bath of haze, summer smog, Japanese radiation, and the yellow dust torn up by the fierce Spring sandstorms that whirl over the red reaches of the Gobi Desert. Busan the city is still as charmingly hideous as ever (like an evil, long-nosed, warted, hunchbacked witch from a fairytale suddenly turned into a friendly, rump-slapping aunt), but the mountains are too tall and steep for the Koreans to ruin them with high-rises and rows of identical boxes, and so if you manage to glance through the plastic and the cement you stand a good chance of catching a glimpse of glowing vales and those same primeval woods that were once wandered by dryads, wraiths, and ancestral spirits.