Lifesaving Poems: George Messo’s ‘The Beautiful Apartments’

As I wrote in my recent post, I chose to call this series Lifesaving Poems because I actually believe in the power of poetry to heal and transform.

I was reminded of this again this week when I came across George Messo’s ‘The Beautiful Apartments’ from his marvellous book Entrances.

I first read it when I was given the book as a birthday present the year after I was told I was in remission from non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. This is important because while I was glad to be alive and celebrating with friends, deep down I was not in the best of spirits. I felt the winged and sacred thing of poetry had left me. Not in terms of writing (I was kind of ready for that), but in terms of reading.

You see, reading, not writing, is what it is all about. I once heard Stephen Knight say the only way he knows he is writing well is when he is reading well.

And I was reading nothing. I have written about this at greater length elsewhere, calling it without exaggeration Poetry Exhaustion.

Our guests were coming through the door, coats were being taken off and drinks poured. I was handed a very slim parcel with my name on it. I confess I had never heard of George Messo. But committing to the moment I opened the book at random (what I always do with any book of poems) and began reading where my eye fell.

‘The Beautiful Apartments’ is the poem I read. I credit it with re-engaging me in the world of poetry after my period of poetry exhaustion. It is beautiful, simple and strange, all at once.  A ten-year-old could read it. On reading it I felt I was finding my bearings again, like finding faith,  the phone number of an old friend, or a light switch in a darkened room, which once illuminated seemed more familiar than before, as if previously seen in a dream.

 

The Beautiful Apartments

The thought working its way towards the light.

-Ludwig Wittgenstein, 1946

 

In the empty block

across the lake from here

you notice first a light

go on go off go on again.

 

You wonder who

at this late hour

stirs in rooms

darkness uninhabits.

 

And then yourself, alone,

gazing from a room

towards the light

across the lake from here.

 

George Messo, from Entrances

Lifesaving Poems

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