Dec 072016
 

bennets2

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Les Murray Ate My Nintendo

and my Sega. He was eating a
bowl of petrol. He was wiping
his ears and teeth. He was
kinda piggin out

the needle was just 4
my DMs Moon. ZeuSs is why

Britannia ABSOLVES fro
bro serious Monkey bars

drink Over and nacho sweats

we could glitch forever
in thatched oblivion, Questions
growling on
segaaaaaaaaaaaa

.

ragGed in the sea. .(spress).

.

LaFayette or Macy’s

(lonely views)

You had me at needles
don’t they sweat, swiping
their castles across the ponds

.

(girls who are hot)

Tomorrow you

(h0t air)

.

Piroshki, Piroshki

only you, knows me de

.

The Milky Ways

You cast your aspersions elsewhere in this strip club, mister! This is a classy joint. So if you don’t have two quid now bugger off. The street opened up for him. The trees and the bees. So, fox fox crawled up, into the conversation, convalescent cross scents, laid out, a million, billion, no one, stops. Carry him home, the voices sing. Carry him home. This is the way you control the Vittro. The wayward retail plays and the night queen spreading the stars.

.

Up since 4, 4 days ago

salted chocolate
orange  tea, i ha sailed
the trembling, blow-meat seas. And I have blue trousers sports ones on
last night’s pizza scattered for my mouse

burning spoons

.
through the afternoons. The old
Jackass Seer, stolid with icebergs,
Laid down the seas with mermaid

….so yelly

….eye-contact talk-dirty-vid. Don’t stress. I know what a bird sounds
like.

.

Concrete jungle where dreams
……………..done ??

hope to meet you

in /new York!
our knives and forks.
ever fluid and
back0 bent in da Baby Cor

i don’t need no
fucking broccoli. The sound
of the sauce. So Nets Slow

signal kinda almost lost
in peckham flat. Levers
Go down my throat. I
lecture the lemurs. And
Cast the Dreaming Body.

The rich curtain
a local barfly Cry Cry
get a sub nxt door,
why not?

heckle

vomiting a uni

pass, friend. pass.

.

—Russell Bennetts and Rauan Klassnik

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bennets1photos by Colin Raff

Russell Bennetts is the editor of Berfrois and Queen Mob’s Teahouse. His books include Relentless (2014) and Poets for Corbyn (2015).

Rauan Klassnik is the author of Holy Land (2008), The Moon’s Jaw (2013) and Sky Rat (2014). They are the co-founders of Queen Mob’s Teahouse.

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Dec 052016
 

elsa-crossElsa Cross

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This month’s edition of Numero Cinco finds our newest addition to the NC masthead, Dylan Brennan, speaking with translator Anamaría Crowe Serrano about her work with Mexican poet Elsa Cross. They discuss Serrano’s involvement in bringing Cross’s work to an English audience, as well as the difficult decisions translators must make when doing so. 

After the interview, we have a selection of poems by Cross, both translated from the Spanish by Serrano and in their original language.

— Benjamin Woodard

.

Dylan Brennan (DB): How did you get involved in this project?

Anamaría Crowe Serrano (ACS): I’ve been involved with Shearsman Books for several years, first with a collection of my own, and then with translations of some of Elsa’s poems that were included in a Selected Poems in 2009. The editor, Tony Frazer, publishes several titles in translation every year – as well as collections in English and the Shearsman poetry journal – and at some point he asked if I’d be interested in expanding on the original translations I had done. I didn’t have to think about it twice.

selectedpoems

DB: How much did you know about Elsa Cross beforehand and how much did you have to learn as you went about translating?

ACS: I had met Elsa in London at the launch of her Selected Poems, so I knew a little about her. She teaches philosophy of religion and comparative mythology at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, and has published extensively, but I am always curious about the person behind the biographical note. It’s a bonus when I can make some connection with the poet I’m translating because I like to enter the poet’s world. In some ways translating is a little bit like method acting – for me, anyway – in that I like to absorb the poet and his/her mood if I can, in order to translate the work as faithfully as possible. It means that I adopt a slightly different persona each time I translate a different poet, and it’s one of the reasons why I’m not particularly experimental with the text of the translation itself.

What struck me about Elsa during our conversation in London was that her poetry reflected her personality: gentle, contemplative, self-assured. It seemed that the mysteries and uncertainties inherent in the world around us, which philosophy constantly probes, rather than cause angst, in some paradoxical way provide a source of strength for this poet. I got a sense that she accepts that not everything can be known, and there’s comfort in that place of acceptance. The idea of immersing myself for several months in Elsa’s poetic world and worming my way through her raw material was very appealing. As I’ve said, I had already translated some of the first section of Beyond the Sea, so I was familiar with Elsa’s style as well as the setting for the poems. Her collections are often written against the backdrop of a particular locale which works as an anchor for her thoughts. In Beyond the Sea, we find ourselves in Greece. The sound of waves, cicadas in the afternoon heat, plants stirring in the breeze, wings flapping, ancient ruins, are a constant accompaniment, like a leitmotif, to the philosophical thoughts and questions posed in the poems.

DB: Did you get in contact with Elsa Cross to discuss the poems? If so, how was that? Did she have any role in the translation process?

ACS: Yes, I did. I think all translators have questions about the text, so it’s an advantage to be able to ask the poet directly. In this case Elsa was very generous with her answers, clarifying specific words or images or nuances, such as what kind of “filo” she meant in the first line of poem 5 of “Dithyrambs”. I wasn’t sure if it might be a blade, a trickle of some sort, a thread… It’s wonderful to be able to consult the author because it means that the end result is as close to the intended meaning of the original as it can be; there’s very little guess work on the translator’s part, although individual lexical choices and phrasing are ultimately subjective. In my experience, poets are always happy to collaborate with the translator if they can because a translation can seem quite alien to the poet. Poets get attached to their specific lexical choices and even to the spaces between them. Every word of the original is so charged for the poet that it can be a terrible disappointment to realise that the translator has misinterpreted something that is very meaningful to you as a poet. Having some control over the translation process goes a long way towards assuaging those concerns.

Elsa’s English is excellent, which meant she could make very useful suggestions. The draft translation that was emailed from Dublin to Mexico City and back many times is peppered with comments ranging from uses of the definite article or prepositions or possessive adjectives, to whether the translation should include footnotes for words such as “tezontle”, to what the subject of a particular verb is (given that it’s not always specified in Spanish, which can sometimes allow for ambiguity, whereas it must be specified in English, destroying the ambiguity).

Over the years I’ve come to think of a translation as the child of both the author and the translator. A translation contains the linguistic DNA of each through a process that explores language at a microscopic level. When the translator can work with the author, the symbiosis is more complete: the child resembles both its parents more closely than it might had there been no collaboration between them. In Beyond the Sea, Elsa’s input was so valuable that I suggested the cover should read “translated by Anamaría Crowe Serrano with the author”, but she was too modest to want to claim any credit for the translation.

beyondthesea

DB: Is translating poetry something you find easy or do you find it agonizing at times? What about the Greek elements of the book? Something you had to research or was it all known to you already?

ACS: Sometimes you come across a poem that you can translate quickly; the words just come to you and the result is satisfying. But those occasions are rare. Usually it requires many hours of thought – more than might seem apparent from the length of a poem. The end result that appears in print is just the tip of the iceberg. Beneath that tip lies the bit the reader never sees – the process – which for a collection could be up to a year’s work. But I absolutely love translating. (The only thing I agonize about is the inadequate pay, completely out of line with the hours and skill involved in the process.) Lines or words that are problematic might take several days – or longer – but the process is hugely enjoyable, like trying to solve a difficult brain teaser. The funny thing is that often what seems relatively easy to translate, where the language itself is simple, might turn out to be the hardest thing because you want to avoid using a particular word (if it had been used before), or you want to keep the rhythm of the line nicely balanced and the literal translation won’t work. In the second line of poem I of “Las cigarras” (Cicadas), for example, the line reads: “las cigarras empiezan sus odas lentas” (literally: the cicadas begin their slow odes). There’s nothing complicated about the language here, and “the cicadas begin their slow odes” is acceptable in English except for the fact that I didn’t like the strong vocalic assonance of “slow odes”. If you say it aloud it sounds like you’re trying to say something with an egg in your mouth. I’m conscious of the phonic effect of words, so semantic exactitude doesn’t always satisfy my ear. The problem then is that there are so many synonyms of “slow”. It took me ages to finally settle for “unhurried odes”, which also reflects the lilting, languid rhythm of the original.

There are many references to Greek mythology in the collection, some of which I was familiar with, and some not. A quick online search can clarify that a kouros is a free-standing statue of a young boy, often a representation of Apollo, and while any reading of these poems is richer if you are familiar with the Greek references, from the point of view of translation, once I could find the English equivalent, lack of detailed knowledge about artefacts or gods was not a significant problem.

DB: Any crossover with your own work, similar themes or styles?

ACS: Not really. The work I translate is quite different in theme and style from my own work. That has happened by chance, but I’m not sure I’d like to translate someone’s poetry if it reminded me a lot of my own. It’s nice to take a break from the usual preoccupations and discover other ways of writing, images that would never have occurred to you because they’re very foreign or because they come from a discipline that you don’t often engage with. The process of discovery adds to the pleasure of translating.

DB: I’d love to know of any difficult translation decisions, if there were any for you, what were they, how did you go about resolving them?

ACS: The use of idioms often poses problems for the translator, of course, resulting in the classic case of something being lost in translation. There was one instance of that in this collection with the word “cántaros”, which are clay pitchers or jugs for water or wine. It appears as the title of one section in “The Wine of Things” and is also repeated in several poems in a general way. But it’s also used in the expression “A cántaros”, which means “cats and dogs”, as in “it’s raining cats and dogs”. Clearly, when it’s used in Spanish to mean “cats and dogs”, none of the generic English translations works. It’s a shame because it means that the repetition of the word throughout the entire section is slightly lost. Not only that, “cats and dogs” has a totally different connotation in English compared to the Spanish “cántaros”. Cántaros are receptacles, for a start. The fired earth they’re made from has some echoes of antiquity and domestic labour. In comparison, “cats and dogs” sounds completely trivial at best, and if we take the origin of the phrase to be related to Jonathan Swift’s “A Description of a City Shower”, where cats and dogs drown in the downpour and flow along the flooded streets, then it’s completely disgusting. Either way, it won’t work as a translation. Another option might be “pouring” or “pouring rain”, but you lose the image of the container. In the end, I opted for “Bucketing”, even though the tone is a bit colloquial.

That presented yet another problem. The cántaros of the title should ideally be the same word that is used in the poems. I had opted for “pitchers” as a generic translation, with “bucketing” when referring to rain, but I didn’t like either of these as a section title. I suppose I might have settled for pitchers and been forever dissatisfied with its ambiguity had I not mentioned the problem to Elsa. Her solution – to use the Greek word “kantharos” – seemed perfect. Not only does it encompass all versions of kantharos (jugs, pitchers, buckets), and is in keeping with the Greek setting of the entire collection, it slightly elevates the tone of the more common “cántaros”, making up to some extent for the fact that the idiom is lost in English.

The other translation difficulty that arose was in the Aeolides, Oceanides, and Nictides sections. Here, the poems are of haiku-like brevity, often beginning with a verb conjugated in the third person plural (“they”). The subject is the daughters of the wind, sea or night, depending on the section in question. The fact that Spanish does not require the subject pronoun to be stated – because it is incorporated in the verb conjugation – allows for a profusion of lexical diversity in each poem. Here’s an example from “Eolides, 7”:

Despeinan
…………..al joven eucalipto
hacen caer sus resinas
……………………………..sobre los barandales

Zumban amorosas
como abejorros
………………….en el hueco de las cañas

Llenan la mirada de hormigas amarillas
……………………de la avispa

English, being a language that requires the use of the subject pronoun, would transform each of the verbs (Despeinan, hacen, Zumban, Llenan) into “They uncomb”, “they make”, “They buzz”, “They fill”. Repeating the subject pronoun in each line of such a short poem creates unpoetic monotony compared to the breezy freshness of the Spanish. Avoiding the subject pronoun so often – there are many of these poems in the collection! – was probably the single greatest challenge that required various different solutions. Sometimes I use the subject pronoun once at the beginning but don’t repeat it for the second verb, in the hope that it will be understood to be implied, or I use gerunds for subsequent verbs. That’s what I did in the above example (They uncomb, making, Buzzing, Swarming):

They uncomb
…………………….the young eucalyptus
making its resin drip
…………………….on the handrails

Buzzing, amorous
like bumblebees
…………………….in the hollow stalks of canes

Swarming our gaze with yellow ants

On other occasions I changed the word order and/or the grammatical function from active to passive so as not to begin a line with the subject.

Someten a su ritmo                         (They subject…)
………..las flores encrespadas
………..el lomo de los cerros

Todo lo vuelven piedra lisa                      (They turn everything…)

becomes

Rimpled flowers
and hilltops
………..are subjected to their rhythm

Turned by them to smooth stone

DB: What do you think of the poems? How would you describe the book to someone down the pub? Why should people read this book?

ACS: If you don’t know Elsa Cross’s poetry, this book is as good a place to start as any. It’s a bilingual edition, which is always useful for the reader. Cross is considered one of Mexico’s leading contemporary poets and has been praised by Octavio Paz for her interplay of complex thought and clarity of expression. In my opinion, this is the key element in her work. There’s a strong sense of the poet sitting still, absorbing her surroundings through the senses first of all – sound, sight and touch in particular – as if she were meditating, then very deliberately using these senses as a conduit to something deeper. Small details of nature, or of a Greek statue, have the potential to reveal something worth knowing, but the slightest sound or movement, even too much sunlight, can shatter any meaning that might be contained in the moment (“meaning becomes / an incongruous stroke, / a particle that marries with dust.” Stones, 4). The elusiveness of meaning marries with vivid imagery ever so delicately, even when the poet paradoxically finds the image devoid of meaning. Take, for example, the opening of poem 3 of “Cicadas”:

The night swings
on the call of owls hooting.
Flapping,
words heard in a dream
……………………………take flight
at the sound of the first cicada
now fitfully cutting
……………………the silence of dawn.

Words wanted
……………………beyond what they are—
yet when we try to grasp them
their flight is slowly undone
………………………………like ritual gestures.
They empty of image,
are no more than voice—
……………………gloomy alliterations
……………………in a lower key,
resonance,
……………………the sea’s craving for its creatures.

I love her exploration of the ambiguity of what is real and what isn’t; her allusions to Dionysian indulgence, for which the poet clearly has a preference (“The only instrument is passion”, Cicadas, 4), counter-balanced by Apollonian ideals that are harder for humans to achieve (“You light up everything, / but who sees your shadow?” Offerings, “Paean”); the mysterious absence on occasion of a figure that seems to be central to the poet (“a presence not present”), whose footsteps she follows only to find that they disappear “mid-step”.

The book itself is divided into two sections: Beyond the Sea, and The Wine of Things. In keeping with the Greek theme, the first section is a series of Odes, while The Wine of Things contains dithyrambs that read, among other things, as a contemporary homage to the gods. The multiple layers of striking images, connotation, mythology, and the contemplative quality of these poems makes them endlessly fresh and appealing against the soothing backdrop of the Aegean.

DB: Tell us about yourself and your own work, what you’re working on now and what’s next.

ACS: At the moment I’m going through literary labour, waiting for a few books to be published. A collection of poetry is due out any day with Shearsman and will probably be available by the time this article is in print. It’s called onwords and upwords, and is a collection in which I continue to tease out the technicalities and function of language, and play around with form. I want to find different modes of expression all the time, which is quite hard – for me, anyway.

There’s another collection pending publication that was written with actress and poet Nina Karacosta where we challenge each other on a phonic level, with words in Irish (for Nina) and Greek (for me) to which we have to apply some kind of meaning in poetic form. That was a fun project, partly because we worked very closely together, spending a few weeks of the year deep in discussion, bouncing ideas off each other, developing a pattern of work that suited that particular project.

I’ve had these two collections in the pipeline for a while, along with Elsa’s book, and have found that I can’t think about the next project until I have these out of the way, so I haven’t done much writing recently. But I do have an idea up my sleeve which I might try to work on if I get some time. It should be a move away from poetry, though hopefully it will have poetic elements and, at the very least, I’d like it to be uncategorizable as a genre. I might approach it differently to my usual way of working. I work freelance, so my day is not dictated too much by a routine. I can usually write whenever I feel the need. One thing, though, I hate long hand! I hate the visual mess of text scribbled out, arrows pointing to afterthoughts, not being able to make out my own handwriting the next day… The pc ensures I always have a clean text in front of me. I edit and re-edit every line as I go along so that by the time I’ve written the last line, the poem is pretty much as I want it. I rarely make changes afterwards.

With poetry, I never have an overall vision for a book when I start. I write in response to some unconscious need to address individual issues, although in the process of writing, the form can take precedence over the substance. That’s what I discovered was the unifying element in onwords and upwords – hence the title. However, for the next project, I have a better sense of where it might lead. The reason for that is that, unlike with poetry collections, I have a theme in mind for this next experiment. I’ll put a few ideas together during the summer, a general skeleton. If it has decent limbs and a backbone I might try and flesh it out.

Another project I have to tick off the to-do list is a novel I wrote many years ago. It’s called The Big e, and has been fully edited and ready for publication for a while, very frivolous and fun, and unlikely to have a sequel or to appeal to publishers, so I’ll self-publish it at some point. With that, I was pretty structured in how I wrote, trying to get something on paper every day, usually in the morning. The fact that the writing went on for about three years didn’t really appeal to me, even though it’s fun to live in the parallel universe of your characters for extended periods and see things through their eyes. Overall, I prefer brevity, even when translating. I’ve translated a few novels and have found that the process becomes a bit tedious half way through because you still have another 150 pages left and will have to spend another few months with the same characters.

For translations I have a deadline that I stick to very rigorously. With poetry it’s always a generous deadline because poets and publishers of poetry understand the need for time to allow a text to settle (not so in the case of novels where there are commercial demands that don’t apply to poetry). I work methodically, setting aside the time I will need for a first draft, followed by a few weeks where I put the translation aside and forget about it so as to come to it from a fresh perspective for a full edit. During the first draft I put together whatever queries I have for the poet, incorporating the answers when they come back so that after the full edit I can send the manuscript to the poet for an overview. There are always more queries and comments at that stage. I go through several complete edits before the manuscript is ready for the publisher, and when it comes back for proofing I make additional final changes. Even after publication I wish I could make more changes. The process is never finished for me. I’m rarely fully satisfied with the result but have come to accept that a translation can only be the result of the translator’s reading of the original text at one particular moment in time. Tomorrow, the translator’s world view and state of mind and experience of language will have shifted ever so slightly.

§

cross_ntx_leer

Selections from Beyond the Sea, by Elsa Cross, translated from the Spanish by Anamaría Crowe Serrano.

From Beyond the Sea

WAVES

1

Your face appears.
Sinks into milk,
like the well-begotten Lamb
………………………………………….in the Mysteries.

The fire approaches without touching us.
Blue more intense
than the elation building towards the islands.

Trembling,
as if behind smoke,
…………………………………your face appears.

The conch mixes the sea
with wonder itself
…………………………………in our ear,

waves surging
………….where the mind’s islands navigate,
flashes—
……………………Beyond the sea.

Movements of thigh and hip
tentatively outline
……………………………….a dance.

…………..The sea stretches
…………………………………in unbreaking waves.
Movement—
the last vowel
……………………….reverberates in the ear.
…………..The sea stretches
…………..beyond time
…………..…………..immovable.
A tremble,
…………..…………..an echo of movement—
hushes
and speaks to us
…………..…………..in its other tongue,
like that fire burning within,plays and spreads
until it quietens in a vertical ray.
Omnipresent,
…………..…………..the language of touch without hands.

.

4

A manly sound, that language of the islands.
Strong syllables,
…………..…………..honed vowels
like colours separating the sea from the crags.

Island emerging from nowhere,
place where no one is born
…………..…………..…………..or dies.
Only the course of its ground is followed,
piling its broken signs
…………..…………..…………..…………..on the grass—
stelae
unfold their argument on the waves,
…………..hold it,
…………..…………..bend it, withdraw it
…………..…………..—seduce the eye—
…………..…………..…………..…………..…………..repeat it.

The music of that tongue rises to the retentive ear,
and the ear stays open
…………..…………..…………..in its intoxication—
maybe it translates the tumble
…………..…………..of the wave rushing to die on the sands,
or the delight
…………..…………..of she who is born from the spray.

Is there anything that does not come from the sea?

Names that don’t attract death
…………..…………..…………..but maybe sweeten its arrival:
…………..…………..She of the Delectable Voice
…………..…………..She of Nascent Desire
…………..…………..She Bathed in Light—
…………..…………..…………..…………..She the Inevitable.

.

5

Silent women,
chiselled plaster on the wall
…………..…………..…………..—asymmetries.

From the crest of a moon
olive trees balance
…………..…………..…………..precariously
as evening declines.
Summer carts make their way up
…………..…………..…………..…………..to hillside houses,
and with the setting sun
a bright snake
…………..…………..—a bicycle lamp—
meanders through the vineyards.

Venus and the waning moon
…………..…………..…………..…………..in conjunction
light up the waters.
The island
copies the shape of that half-moon
bending its back
…………..…………..…………..between two ridges—

 remains of its body float
…………..…………..…………..like charred bones.

Thus the sea of dreams joins or devours
fragments of the divided substance.

On the wing of an insect the fabrics of vision:
the city twinkles
…………..…………..through veils of plumbago,
over beaches almost blurred from view.
In enclosed courtyards
the light seems to rise from a hidden well;
desires gleam—
…………..…………..such is the accumulated transparency.
And the memory of a disaster.

Fragments of consciousness
emerge
…………..………….. and submerge
…………..like those islands.

.

CICADAS

5

Jellyfish lesions on skin,
as if each cicada
…………..…………..were stabbing with a hairclip
or armies of ants were leaving burning trails
…………..…………..…………..…………..…………..in their wake.

Pale skies as summer unfolds.
And all that light,
…………..…………..the whiteness of a marriage bed,
those terraces where the night slips in
on a silver thread,
…………..…………..inaudible strumming,

are all still there,
when we’ve been around
the crest of the new moon
…………..…………..…………..at one end of our heart.
And the sea—
at twilight it takes on
the colour of our golden wines.

The wineskins are empty.
The hour bites our temples,
disrupts
…………..the journeys;
what we gave and didn’t give each other
sparkles
…………..under the sun as it moves away.

No sea as blue,
no light
…………..as white,
even though that splendour
may already have held
…………..…………..…………..the caress of darkness.

 .

From The Wine of Things

NICTIDES

9

They are repeated insomnia
a little sting
…………..………….. the flapping
of memories not sheltered
…………..…………..…………..by presence

 .                 

10

They are a white shadow
innocence in the yellow phrases
…………..…………..…………..……….of a dying man
the catastrophe of the voice

.

11
They are vague emotions
…………..…………..…………..in the stillness of the day
hollow bells

mist crouching
…………..…………..in your chest
like a doubt

.

12

They are transversal signs
…………..…………..…………..withered tributes
fragments lifted from the debris

They are hidden diamonds

.

THE WINE-RED SEA
(On the Dionysus Kylix)

…………..…………..…………..…………..for Ursus

O waves so red,
confluent streams
…………..…………..where grapes and dolphins almost meet,
and the vertical mast,
now trunk and branches,
…………..…………..…………..spreads its arms east and west.
And the dolphins freely swim
…………..…………..…………..…………..—old sailors
guarding the vessel.
And the sail bulging white
…………..…………..…………..under lavish grapes,
and the graceful ram at the prow,
what beach are they pointing at?
where will they dock
…………..…………..…………..if the blissful god
neither charts the course nor guides
but merely sips
the pleasant breezes
…………..…………..and the scent of the wine-red sea?

§

De Ultramar

Las Olas

1

Aparece tu rostro.
Se hunde en leche,
como el Cordero bienhallado
…………..…………..…………..en los Misterios.

El fuego se acerca sin tocarnos.
El azul es más intenso
que la ebriedad creciendo hacia las islas.

Tembloroso,
como detrás de humo,
…………..…………..…………..aparece tu rostro.

El caracol mezcla el mar
al propio estupor
…………..…………..en el oído,
oleaje donde navegan
…………..islas de la conciencia,
destellos—
……………Ultramar.

Movimientos del muslo y la cadera
esbozan al tiento
…………..…………..una danza.

…………..El mar se extiende
…………..…………..en olas que no se rompen. 

Movimiento—
la última vocal
…………..…………..reverbera en el oído.

…………..El mar se extiende
…………..más allá del tiempo,
…………..…………..…………..
inamovible. 

Temblor,
…………..…………..eco del movimiento—
calla
y nos habla
…………..en su lengua otra,
parecida a ese incendio de adentro,
juega y se difunde
hasta aquietarse en un rayo vertical.
Omnipresente,
…………….lenguaje del tacto sin manos.

…………..

4

Sonido varonil, ese lenguaje de las islas.
Sílabas contundentes,
…………..…………..vocales definidas
como colores que separan el mar de los peñascos.

Isla salida de la nada,
lugar donde no se nace
…………..…………..…………..ni se muere.
Sólo se sigue el decurso de su suelo,
que apila sobre la hierba
…………..…………..…………..sus signos rotos—
estelas
despliegan en la onda su argumento,
…………..…………..lo sostienen,
…………..…………..…………..lo curvan, lo sustraen
…………..…………..–seducen al ojo—
…………..…………..…………..…………..lo repiten.

La música de esa lengua sube al oído retentivo,
y el oído queda abierto
…………..…………..…….en su embriaguez–
quizá traduce el tumbo,
…………..de la que corre a morir en las arenas,
o el gozo
……………de la que nace de la espuma.

¿Qué cosa no viene del mar?

Nombres que no atraen a la muerte
…………..…………..…………..pero tal vez endulzan su llegada:
…………..La de Voz Deleitosa
…………..La que Despierta el Deseo
…………..La Bañada en Luz—
…………..…………..…………..…………..La Inevitable.

…………..

5

Mujeres taciturnas,
cinceladuras de yeso en la pared
…………..…………..…………..…………..–asimetrías.

Desde una cresta de luna
los olivos se equilibran
…………..…………..…………..precarios
en el declive de la tarde.
Suben las carretas del verano
…………..…………..………………hacia los caseríos altos,
y al ponerse el sol
una serpiente luminosa
…………..…………..…………..–fanal de bicicleta—
ondula en los viñedos.

Venus y la luna menguante
…………..…………..…………..…………..en conjunción
iluminan las aguas.
La isla
copia la forma de esa media luna
quebrando su espinazo
…………..…………..…………..entre dos puntas—
restos de su cuerpo flotan
…………..…………..como huesos calcinados.

Así el mar del sueño junta o devora
fragmentos de la sustancia dividida.

En un ala de insecto los tejidos de la visión:
la ciudad parpadea
…………..…………..en veladuras de plúmbago,
sobre playas que apenas se distinguen.
En los patios cerrados
la luz parece ascender de un pozo oculto;
brillan los deseos–
…………..…………..…………..tanta la transparencia acumulada.
Y una memoria de desastre.

Fragmentos de conciencia
emergen
…………..y se sumergen,
………..como esas islas.

…………..

LAS CIGARRAS

5

Huellas de medusas en la piel,
como si cada cigarra
…………..…………..punzara con una horquilla
o legiones de hormigas dejaran rastros quemantes
…………..…………..…………..…………..…………..de su paso.

Cielos pálidos al transcurrir el verano.
Y toda esa luz,
…………..…………..esa blancura de tálamo,
esas terrazas por donde entra la noche
en un filo plateado,
…………..……………..rasgueo inaudible,
siguen allí,
cuando hemos recorrido
la cresta de la nueva luna
…………..…………..……….en un extremo del corazón.
Y el mar—
toma al crepúsculo
el color de nuestros vinos dorados.

Los odres están vacíos.
El vino muerde ahora la sien,
trastorna
…………..las travesías;
lo que nos dimos y no nos dimos
brilla
…………bajo un sol que se aleja.

Ningún mar tan azul,
ninguna luz
…………..tan blanca,
aunque ese esplendor
ya llevara consigo
…………..…………..la caricia de lo oscuro.

 …………..

De El vino de las cosas

NICTIDES

9.

Son insomnio repetido
un pequeño aguijón
…………..…………..………….. revoloteo
de recuerdos no amparados
…………..…………..…………..…………..en la presencia

…………..

10.

Son sombra blanca
la inocencia en las frases amarillas
…………..…………..…………..…………..del moribundo
la catástrofe de la voz

…………..

11.

Son emociones difusas
…………..……….en lo inmóvil del día
campanas huecas
niebla que se agazapa
…………..…………..en el pecho
como una duda.

………….. 

12.

Son signos transversos
…………..…………..…………..homenajes marchitos
trozos levantados de los escombros

Son diamantes ocultos

…………..

EL MAR COLOR DE VINO
(Sobre el kílix de Exekías) 

Para Ursus

Oh mar tan rojo,
corrientes encontradas
…………..…………..casi juntan racimos y delfines,
y el mástil vertical,
vuelto cepa y sarmientos,
…………..………..abre brazos a oriente y a poniente.

Y van a su albedrío los delfines
…………..…………..…………..………..viejos marinos
custodiando la nave.

Y la vela tan blanca que se abomba
…………..…………..…………..bajo las uvas pródigas
y el espolón gracioso de la proa
¿hacia qué playa apuntan?
¿en dónde atracarán si el dios
…………..…………..…………..……….dichoso
no marca ruta o guía
y solo bebe
los vientos placenteros
…………..…………y el aroma del mar color de vino?

— Elsa Cross, translated from the Spanish by Anamaría Crowe Serrano

.

.

Elsa Cross was born in Mexico City in 1946. The majority of her work has been published in the volume Espirales. Poemas escogidos 1965-1999 (UNAM, 2000), but a new complete edition of her poetry appeared in 2013 from the Fondo de Cultura Económica in Mexico City. Her book El diván de Antar (1990) was awarded the Premio Nacional de Poesía Aguascalientes (1989), and Moira (1993) won the Premio Internacional de Poesía Jaime Sabines (1992), both in Mexico. Jaguar (2002), is inspired by different symbols and places of ancient Mexico. Her more recent books form a trilogy: Los sueños — Elegías, Ultramar — Odas, and El vino de las cosas, Ditirambos.

Her poems have been translated into twelve languages and published in magazines and more than sixty anthologies in different countries. She has also published essays. She has a M.A. and PhD in Philosophy from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), where she holds a professorship and teaches Philosophy of Religion and Comparative Mythology.

In 2008, Elsa Cross was awarded the most prestigious poetry prize in Mexico, the Xavier Villarrutia Prize, an award that she shared with Pura López-Colomé.

§

Anamaria Crowe Serrano

Anamaría Crowe Serrano is a poet, translator and teacher born in Ireland to an Irish father and a Spanish mother. She grew up bilingual, straddling cultures. Languages have always fascinated her to the extent that she has never stopped learning or improving her knowledge of them. She enjoys cross-cultural and cross-genre exchanges with artists and poets, the most recent of which is her participation in Robert Sheppard’s EUOIA project and her involvement in the Steven Fowler’s ‘Enemies’ project.

She has published extensively and her work has been widely anthologised in Ireland and abroad. Her publications include Mirabile Dictu (blurb, 2011), one columbus leap (corrupt press, 2011), and Paso Doble, written as a poetic dialogue with the Italian poet Annamaria Ferracosca (Empiria, 2006).

Anamaría has translated some fourteen books, including Elsa Cross’s Beyond the Sea for Shearsman Books.

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Dec 032016
 

hilda-raz1-500px

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A Symposium on Love

“Damn the word,” said Justine once. “I would like to spell it backwards as you say the Elizabethans did God. Call it evol and make it a part of ‘evolution’ or ‘revolt.’” — Justine, Lawrence Durrell

Age is an evolution – or devolution – of lust.
To be lost in revolt, as one must be growing up,
invites erotics into the palace of the family.
Air spiked with ecstasy. xWe all know it.
So voluble in bed might signify lust
or politics, depending on whether
you live in a hovel, where the velocity
of wildlife, certainly a mouse, about its vital business
shadows the movements of governments,

or a hotel, hovering over the chasm
between mountains, where we stopped.
Olives. Lupine. The sound of violins
through the balcony window, resinous,
heard through steam: treatments for the liver.
Into the porches of our ears pours music
reverberating through marble spaces. “That old man
wants to live,” whispers a medic,
mopping up. His vulpine mask is a blur
through silk curtains as he bends over
to lave bodies slippery with oil. He cares for us.

Here, in the mountains, where we feel free,
olives are served in gin straight from the freezer.
The menu reports that olev is an alternative,
a citrus fruit found in the garden below.
A solo viola with piano plays at a wedding on the patio.

Is olev a word in another language,
an oval fruit used in a harvest ritual,
a kind of citron, a renewal, a stand-in for love?

Maybe instead you wrote, “Nearby some wedding party is tuning up.
It’s hard to hear their voices. We’ve enough lunacy on this balcony
overlooking the ceremony to interpret youth and age. Drink up!”
She whispers, “I’ve loved you for half my life.”

To reprise: voluble in bed can signify
the exhaustion of lust and the birth of politics
depending on where you live, a hovel,
or next summer’s hotel on a coast, where olives are eaten
crushed with oil and tomatoes on pasta. Viols can be heard
from a balcony overlooking the river.
In a hotel notebook become a diary you can signify a place
where you stayed one summer, the air an oven
you entered to make love or sleep.
Your bed linens were streaked with damp.
Remember oval windows above his elbow,
trimmed with red and yellow light? I don’t.

A mirror in the corner showed us at the moment
we became another person, tiny and contorted
for a few beats, who might change into
a dolt with a scar, or a dwarf,
a violinist of genius but peculiar, hard to reach
until the world called out to him and he went.
He appears tonight on the program.

Let us return to the moment, please.
Your new partner is to be found at the next table,
voluble, thank God, after months of silence.
What’s he onto now? Oh, the volume of trade
on the stock exchange. I’m interested. Are you?

Here, in the mountains, after sunburnt children with their dogs
are put to bed, conversation veers toward the intimate.
Of course the subject is money. A plunging market.
What’s to be done? Be patient. The people will speak.
Vox Popular in November. The new black may be white.
Be patient. “I grew up in a Victorian melodrama,” overheard,
might seem to change the stakes. For me, at least.

In a corner of the room, under satin swags
that frame the mountains, three women lean
toward the axis of their table and whisper.
You can barely hear their hisses over the swipe
of VISA through the bar machine.
If you . . . you’ll disappear . . . Escape?
But how? Where do they think they’ll go?

Meanwhile the elderly are falling in love.
You can. Erotic is the reverse of deathly.
Dour Mr. Thanatos rents out accordions
at base camp if you’ve a mind to dance.

And while we’re speculating here,
if you have a comrade with a mind so rigid
you can hear the crack on the page as you read
his work, what can you do at 8,000 feet?

Maybe you can write some evolved and looser squiggles
to depict the guy on the plane en route, in the next seat,
depressed because no one will talk to him
so his head droops onto his chest
seemingly ready to be released into a basket.
Wasn’t that the French Revolution?
That guy only wanted to convert us, not seduce.

Nearby some wedding party is tuning up.
It’s hard to hear over his voice what they’re saying.
Certainly we’ve enough lunacy on this balcony
overlooking the pool. Drink up!
A bridesmaid hands over a hanky. The best man is a she.
Their fathers link arms. Their mothers smile.
By now we’re sobbing into tissues and taking pictures.

x

Surely next comes midlife revolt. What do you think?
Oh look. A moose lopes over the top of the mountain.
The bell for dinner sounds. I’ve a mind to bolt
this place. Echoes reverberate on the balconies.

You know, I’ve loved him for half my life.
At the end, it seems the rest of the relatives died.

X
Autobiography

I’ve stolen a chair for you, sawed off the arms.
For breakfast stirred up plovers’ eggs. xOnce
I flew to the moon in order to press your hands to her face.

I strung a magic key around my neck for my roller skates.
On my feet they clanked, threw sparks on the sidewalk.
My mom wore an apron when she wasn’t wearing gloves.
I wore silk to the dance, midnight blue with a keyhole neckline, a soft bow.

I married for the childbed and didn’t die.
I walked out the door on my own two feet.

Alaska wove color through the sky.
The dog sled team at a full run shat frozen turds that missed me.

Up again at night I learned hot milk beats tea every time.
The walls, all color, wore well and framed up paintings I accumulate.

My house has four bedrooms.
Much of my life is over.
Pleasing others is my greatest sin.
When my ribs knit I swore never again to surrender. I lied.

My knee healed with a scar.
Four husbands vanished on horseback but the crops didn’t fail.
Winter is a season like any other.
Now spring is all. Spring, moving into summer.
Sleep in wind, in voices.

What’s under pressure breaks out in cactus flowers.
Ants abound in the arroyo and coyotes.
Some of what I couldn’t stand to lose I lost.
In every room a pencil.

X
Meditation

I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t
Who’s talking?  Shut up, compassion.

Put on socks and shoes meditation

Walking meditation
…………Once around the desert
…………no dog, nobody

Counting heart stones meditation
…………in the basket, on the ground

Walking the dog meditation
…………out loud, out loud: listen dog.  Metta

May i/she be safe may she/i be happy may she be/feel well may she live/die lightly

Gratitude meditation:  each day a white stone
…………picked up by the front door by the back garden
…………put down on the ground white stones to a make a mouth:

…………If my mouth were as wide as the seven seas
…………it would not be enough to praise Thee

Be quiet.  Make lunch. Notice the thumb, the work of the thumb. Notice the edge of the
…………knife blade

Wash the dishes meditation.  Metta

may our friend be safe may she be happy may she be well may she live/die lightly

I can’t sit still                 death death death death.  I can’t i can’t i can’t i
…………Who?
…………May she walk in the shadow of death and fear no evil thy arroyo rock and thy
cottonwood staff      comfort

Breathe breathe / breathe breathe

Rausch means soul means breath   is breath   is soul
…………breathe breathe / breathe
…………until the body/ stone
…………fractures
…………to release

X
One Toe, Crooked

Let me tell you how it is with me:
a bad back, spine like a snakeskin
shed in the shadow of a pinelet,
weakened innards, a liver fit for soup,
and a brain the size of a lentil.   The worst
is the one toe, crooked like a staff
carried too long by shepherds.

One day, a fine mid-autumn
with sun’s eye full open against air’s chill,
I took to the woods to find my dinner.
What with one thing and another
I swayed and shimmered my way along
the path, gravel sticking to my knees from a fall,
my felt shoes catching stones.
But still, I got to the gate where geese cross
coming home from the pond.

What would do me that night?
I was one only, with an oven fit
for a child with money, my prize.
Each night I lit it with a fagot
of wormwood and some willow leaves
with an iron basket suspended over the fire.
Good for roasting corn and potatoes.
Tonight I was hungry against the chill coming.
No ice yet, that was full winter
but now a clutch of eggs to boil in the kettle?

Truly then I saw a girl
lovely as a stalk of silver grain
come around a corner that an oak made
with my barn wall. She carried a bundle
squirming like a peck of tadpoles
and clutched to her chest a stack of books
bound with a strap. She saw me
as a wraith and ran. Was I a wraith?
My toe hurt like hell itself gaped open.
But Ectoplasm I wasn’t. Plain flesh.
Still, she was afraid. Then I could see her babe’s
mouth open, its cries louder with each bounce,
the flannel it was bound with coming loose.

As I watched, standing bent over my toe,
she dropped the books. The belt around them opened.
Pages fanned out on the ground
like parchment put to flame.

What did all this mean in the daylight?
The girl, her babe, the lost books cascading
and over everything pain ascending,
covering our light, all that hope,
the future somehow gone dark as a cavern.
I bent over the mess, began to gather it up.

X
Truncated Sonnet

The woman once upon a time
put on pajamas under a cloak of feathers.
Instead of in bed she swam on the Grande, a swan.

Breakfast in the sun room
raspberries from the gardens (paths, stones, silver props)
clotted cream sour on the table, an etched spoon.
After a while she dropped her knitting along with the gun.

Childhood during war, so many novels and hunger.
The dead stayed invisible, quiet as usual.
She read the London Times and swallowed.

Somebody yelled, “What do you think I mean?”  Hit the table.
She puts aside her food, leans forward to say:

X
Yom Kippur Crumbs
………………………after Sandra Gilbert

Forbidden mash, sweet in our aging body
I stole chunks from the communal table, at dawn

You are the profane yeast of my sins
disintegrating, flowing away under our resolve

The breathed air made you stale, thirsty for water
as we are, here in the desert of our actions

Be the emblem of our resolve:
make bitter the sweet yearning, for cruelty

Dissolve the sour milk in our middens
to empty our stomachs of sin.

Stale loaf, you’re bread from my kitchen
I purge from the shelf, carry to the river
to cast upon waters

You’re promise for an emptied day
of sorrow. No more will I gulp you

as toast to begin a day of distractions
Your molds will float down the waters

to redeem my thoughtless actions
make room for loving kindness

I will hope to absorb as well as give out.

—Hilda Raz

x
Hilda Raz lives in Placitas, New Mexico, where she is poetry editor of bosque magazine and series editor of the Mary Burritt Christiansen endowed poetry series at the University of New Mexico Press. She is Glenna Luschei Professor of English and Gender Studies, emerita, at the University of Nebraska, where she was editor of Prairie Schooner and founding editor of the Prairie Schooner Book Prizes.  Her work has been widely published in twelve books, many anthologies and journals.

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Nov 132016
 

background-el-saltoLeslie Ullman

 

Renderings of some Oblique Strategies (subtitled Over One Hundred Worthwhile Dilemmas) by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt.-

In 1975, the authors created the original pack of over 100 oblique strategies cards, a project born from their approaches to their work respectively as musician and artist. Each strategy is designed to help composers get “unstuck” by encouraging lateral thinking. 

§

Ask people to work against their better judgment

Go ahead—fling yourself against it
As in: take away the net; thrum
with vertigo; surprise yourself in dark
glasses and brimmed hat pulled low,
so mysterious, you might ask yourself
for an autograph. As in: slip
from the conference room and not tell
yourself where you’re going—

out of the neighborhood and all
the dependable gridlocks. Into a fifth world
that simmers beneath the topography
of your thoughts. Beyond the language
that has served you like a slipper
and the careful walls that kept out
rains fragrant with dirt and damp leaves….
You may not see yourself again

but watch for someone
faintly familiar, still
in transit, fumbling
a new tongue into hand signals
and hybrid phrases, fingers
alight, alive, and something
about to be said perhaps
for the first time.

 

Consider different fading systems

Maybe they’ve moved
elsewhere, now seen by
other eyes—or what might pass
for eyes—as patterns of
sound-wave, molecular traces,
jet streams and planetary
wanderings still vivid where we
can’t follow. We’ll never know.
They leave in their wake threads of gravity and broken

chains, half-outlines
sketching themselves beyond
the mind’s canvas.
the mind must break out of itself
to paint something new
over itself—the vanished parts,
embellished. So, when a few notes
rise from the universe of half-sleep
and then start to fade, consider
the invitation.

 

A line has two sides

if you let your eyes soften and even
cross a little as you stare at that line.

Soon you find yourself seeing from a soft
third eye, one you didn’t know

was there, and the line’s two sides blur
to three. It’s like teasing apart

then reuniting voices of rain all night while drifting
in and out of sleep: bouts of wind

and soft drops that rustle the leaves
and then torrent-noise that fills the open window

as a gutter overflows, drowning out what started
so gently. But the three sounds

remain, rushing and subsiding
and inviting you to listen for the ones

you can’t hear, or didn’t hear at first. And you can
do this all night, through the one ear

not buried in the pillow
then both at once.

 

Are there sections? Consider transitions

Consider an absence—space
between dots, no-man’s land dividing
claimed turf, mundane event left
off the page, break in dialogue, intake

of breath, pause before decision—
as volte. A presence. Where something quiet
happens or holds up or is preparation

for the next demand. Not a completion.
Not the blank I drew when I first
learned to jump horses, so relieved
to have cleared the fence and stayed
aboard, I forgot for a moment

there was another one ahead.
I forgot to breathe. I stepped away
from myself and then

had to regroup, all monkey-mind
and indecision as we approached the next
place to leave the ground. The horse
flicked an ear, wondering if I was

still there. Hence the difference
between apprentice and master—
seeing the demand between demands.
Showing up inside it.

 

Destroy-nothing-the most important thing

This journey is not sanctioned

or trackable. Where it
leads cannot be

found on the map
wrought from spyglass
and ink, artifacts embalmed

in history, plumed pen
and the scent of parchment

anchored beneath a circle of quiet light.

Step into a
something, a nothing

or the slow burn that renders bone
to sand, to ash, loved body
returned to the elements

from which it arose. This

is a form of kneeling. Now
wait. Two legs may not be

enough to raise you
this time. You’ll need
wings. Eventually

you’ll have to grow them.

 

Do the washing up

and, since you’re in a tepid
state, sponge cat hair from the sofa,
water that desperate plant—the one
dropping leaves all over the tile—
gather the leaves and dump the trash—
there’s something to be said for

empirical progress. Run a substance like
baking soda only more complicated
through the coffeepot, returning it
to what’s said to be its pristine
brewing condition, which may not
be obvious right now, but will be
tomorrow morning when your brain
is tricked into the taste of coffee resurrected…

is it time for a cocktail? Do you really
want a cocktail? By now you like
the idea of cocktail, and this slight shift
of inner weather is encouraging —you
started to say “slightful.” Slothful. Sightful.
Still off your stride but warming, you
strip off the rubber gloves.

 

Cut a vital connection

Your childhood, by
all accounts, was much
better than average. You want
to age gratefully, you want
to honor those who ruled there, all
rectitude and good intentions,
and you want not to abandon
memory’s seat at the table

around which a viable family
gathered each night, circle
of feet facing each other
underneath as the faces did
over the four food groups,
everyone’s right to be there
unquestioned. In this sense
you were loved.

The albatross that returns
now and then, trailing something
broken from where you’ve tied
and tied it down, is how you,
what little you then knew of you,
remained in question: That’s all
in your imagination, said their
tunnel vision. You’re wrong, said

their notion of what it meant to have
their version of the world and you
be theirs. In this sense, you remained
half-known, a cipher bearing a weight
of fears they harbored where they
had no words and, until you yourself had
the words, you were cloaked in wrong   
and later learned to thrive below a surface

none of them could penetrate.
They did their best. You would
do anything for them now
but where to put the voices
that sometimes dig up that unproven
you, drag it into the light
and place what you’re slow to
recognize, even after all this time,

as a gloved hand across your throat?

—Leslie Ullman

x

ullman-book-cover-image

Leslie Ullman is the author of four poetry collections, most recently Progress on the Subject of Immensity, published by University of New Mexico Press in 2013. Her third book, Slow Work Through Sand, won the 1998 Iowa Poetry Prize (University of Iowa Press), and her first collection, Natural Histories, won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award in 1979 (Yale University Press). Dreams by No One’s Daughter was published by University of Pittsburgh Press. Her hybrid book of craft essays, poems, and writing exercises, many of which began as lectures given at VCFA, is titled Library of Small Happiness is just out with A Taos Press. She also is the recipient of two NEA Fellowships.

Now Professor Emerita at the University of Texas-El Paso, where she taught for 27 years and established the Bilingual MFA Program, she has continued to teach on the faculty at Vermont College, which she joined in 1981. She also does freelance manuscript consultations and teaches skiing every winter at Taos Ski Valley in northern New Mexico.

x
x

Nov 102016
 

Mark Cox

.

Level

Each evening when they stop at a campground, he helps his father level the trailer. Everything has to be just right. You want the water to flow correctly, don’t you? You want the floors to be just like home and to wake up refreshed without a headache, don’t you?  They move from corner to corner, tightening the jacks. The boy looks at the bubble in the level. He calls out when it centers itself. Everything is ready then. There is a calm when they place the folding chairs in a semi-circle around the fire pit. They hang the gas lantern from a limb and lug the cooler onto the picnic table. Then there is always the sun’s glow against it all as it lowers beyond the trees. Now his father can begin drinking in earnest and without pretense. Now it is time for the night animals to stir.  The strong can stalk and the weak must cower from place to place feeding as quietly as possible. The boy knows how it looks to the neighbors. A happy family. Everything calculated just so. What did it matter? The leaves fell each autumn and were replaced. All the foliage here would be reduced to dirt before he could even drive a car. The light would still glow blood red on leaves at sundown. The dark was sure to come. There was nothing for him to do about it. He knows just two things for certain: he never wants to become like his father and he must control everything he can. It is just a matter of time. One day he will have a family of his own and things will be done his way– his way and no one else’s.

.

Suncatchers

His sister is home already. A school bus drops her off at the door to their apartment building. The boy, though, has a short walk home, first along 57th Street, then west on McNeill. There is a row of fast food franchises on the latter, so he usually grabs takeout before the dinner rush. Their father works even later now.  He will check on them by phone around 4:30, just to make sure they are safely there. After that, who knows when he’ll get in. Sometimes the two are in bed already, having left any schoolwork out for him on the breakfast nook table. The boy looks up into the glass and steel that rises around him on all sides. It seems he lives in a world of mirrors, mirrors that reflect only other mirrors. From the street, the windows, with the sun striking them, seem the blazing scales of some book’s ancient beast. He walks faster, but not out of fear. He doesn’t want his sister’s shake to melt. He’s almost there. Mike the doorman spots him at the corner, toots his whistle and waves him into the crosswalk. Upstairs, the girl has set up TV trays in front of the sofa. She has lost weight since March. He brings her bigger portions, but that doesn’t seem to matter. She stands at the apartment’s picture window and looks across into the office building across the way. The business of the world is getting finished. Papers are being stacked, desk drawers are being opened and closed, files are being filed, phones are being answered. None of it seems real to her. Everything now seems temporary. When her brother arrives, they will choose a movie. It will be hard to watch, it always is, but they can’t help doing it. At the park feeding ducks, a Christmas morning, a day at the zoo. Somehow it doesn’t matter that they’ve seen them before, there is something new to focus on every time. They ask each other questions. They help each other remember. In some, her brother is so young that she is nowhere to be found. Time, now that is real. Sometimes they pause or slow the movie so it doesn’t pass as quickly. You can truly see the faces then, the small changes in features between smiles and complete sentences. Sometimes her brother goes to the screen and points things out in the background, things he remembers that she does not. Sometimes they freeze Mother’s face right as she is talking to them. And they finish homework that way, while her suncatchers in the window flare brightly, then dim.

.

Prisoners

The girl has grown up beside the prison. She sees the walls every day. She sees the sun glint on the razor wire and imagines she can feel the massive doors opening and closing beneath her feet. State vehicles often rumble by, rarely with more than momentary faces in a window. Some nights, the girl dreams of a prisoner’s hands at her throat. The man wants help escaping. Food or a weapon. The girl is frightened and runs to tell her parents, but always they lie murdered in their bed. What is she to do now? Alone in this life with a baby sister to protect? The girl readies herself for the worst, the prisoner has followed her to sister’s room. The girl has her body between the crib and the door. And always at this point she wakes, charged with drama, unable to sleep, her heart having quickened. Tonight, she opens a window to listen. There is a distant siren, but not so much as a tomcat on her neighborhood streets. The wind bristles in the elm trees. She thinks about life behind the walls. What the cells must be like compared to her comfortable bed and her bathroom with a door on it and the air hundreds of men have breathed first. What could be yours in a place like that? How could you stay you? Who wouldn’t kill or kidnap a school girl to get out of town? Now, her mother comes in and puts her back to bed, away from the window. A mother just knows. In fact, she has her own unsettling dream of the prisoner, as does the father, as does everyone in the town. Even the prisoner dreams, though he dreams of waking up to breakfast with loud children and a wife, then facing a job which he isn’t trained to do. But soon enough the dreams will stop. Soon enough it will be morning again. And only the sun will be vaulting the guard towers, only the birds will be flying to and fro over the high prison walls.

.

Headstrong

Their skeletons are still below the spillway. There is even some ravaged hide left, if one would call it that. Tough way to go, the boy thinks. The two goats even seem to be facing each other, just as they must have on the dam itself, barring each other’s passage along the narrow walkway. Not quite halfway across is where it seems to have happened, they met here and could go no further. The boy kicks a stone down and feels it in his stomach as it drops and strikes the earth. It hasn’t rained much this summer, the crops are withering, the county lake is low. The spillway is as dry as–well, as dry as these bones, now uncovered and bleaching in the high sun. Goats are gifted climbers; even plain old billies are nimble by nature. It would have been easy enough to pass. Or for one or both to turn and walk the other way. Headstrong, his mother calls it. She says it with a mixture of disdain and resignation, and just a touch of pride. She says he comes from a long line of stubborn men. Men, he knows, who get things done. Men who finish what they start. Men who make things happen no matter what the cost. The boy knows that some people thrive on conflict. He has seen the aggressive kids get their way. Maybe people are just angry that life is brief. That’s why they want everything now. The boy kicks another stone over the spillway, then a bottle cap packed with parched dirt. It lands squarely between the two dead goats, their skulls still poised at one another. What does anyone really want? To have been understood in this world, to have walked this spillway, the hallways of his school, the streets of his little town, and to be acknowledged for having been. To be considered. To be reckoned with. To be taken into account. The boy stands at the spillway till he can feel the skin burning on the back of his neck. Then he turns and goes back the way he came.

.

Balls

The boy’s testicles hurt. This is something new. He straddles his bike gingerly, one foot still on a pedal, the other on the guard rail of the overpass. It is 10:30 in the morning. Traffic has lessened but is steady on the interstate. It is the long distance travelers now, not the commuters. It is the people who are really going places, seeing things he would like to see. A hundred years ago, he would be a boy by a river, watching his bobber dip in the water, watching driftwood make its way downstream or the occasional barge. This tenderness, the internet says, is part of growing up. It has to do with need and physical change in the body. He can expect a lot more where this came from. If he times it right, he can spit onto the roof of a tractor trailer. He doesn’t know why this matters, that even a little bit of himself swept out of town is better than none at all. To him, it comes out more like contempt and just feels like the thing to do. He thinks a long time before he starts tossing rocks, gravel at first then larger, trying to see how much he can get away with. There’s contact, but to his amazement it goes unnoticed, the world just speeds by, no one pulls over or calls the highway patrol. It is going to be a long summer. He could look for Jimmy and his friends, they always seem to bike around in a pack. Or he could head south and check out the new construction in that neighborhood next to school. He could snag a beer from the workers’ coolers. Anything with an element of risk. He can’t go home yet, there is nothing there but chores he’s been avoiding, help his single mother needs around the house. Cars are still streaming beneath him. The spit on that truck, it is in the next county already and he is still here on this overpass in the searing sun watching the world in its various colors pass him by. None of it, none of it sets quite right with him. He squirms a bit to get comfortable and he tugs at the crotch of his jeans, making room.

—Mark Cox

.
Mark Cox’s most recent book is Natural Causes, published in the Pitt Poetry Series. More recently, he edited Jack Myers’ posthumous poetry collection The Memory of Water (New Issues). New poems have appeared recently or are forthcoming in Blackbird, Crazyhorse, Green Mountains Review, The Florida Review, New Ohio Review and Miramar. He teaches at the University of North Carolina Wilmington and Vermont College of Fine Arts.

.
.

Nov 032016
 

jody-and-nicky

x
Trakl’s Daughter

Her hands are cramped in the rain
and the air outside is grey as ruined skin.
Her village is eaten by shame.
Four horses stand waiting
in the wet. As they climb the hilltop
they have a readiness
clenched in their shoulders.
She cannot see them very well,
nor smell the breath from their nostrils
as they loom, ready and huge.
Her hands twist through cold water; tonight
they’ll sleep upside-down against her throat.

I share my father’s birthday —
you can call me Gretl, Elena, Amina, Jane;
There’s nothing mysterious about me.
I could sit down next to you on the train
or hand you the foaming cup across a counter.

Conceived at the edge of a cliff, born
into propriety, I was the wrong fish
in tiny denim overalls playing
with that red, wind-up bird which had flown to me
right out of my father.

For Papa?   Blue apples and lanterns
to blackmail him out of the fog.
The stained slope has darkened, boot-prints and blood.
Is she ready to walk up another ragged hillside?
Dawn drips honey on the horizon
but the way she travels remains in shadow
and the blue apples barely shine.

I trusted you!
But all you gave me was incessant moonlight —
its syringes, glint,
and a bowl of broth
that had already been bitten through.

nc

Talking to Myself on New Year’s Eve

Let me speak for the horse torn by crows
one horse, no rider. Left foreleg
raised up into those crows which have rushed
at his hide, his mane, his flesh
to eye socket and bone.

Let me tell of the small girl, thumb
in mouth, stepping down the street
as she looks side to side and over her shoulder
hair fringed by blood.

Let me sigh for what lived in the forest
and now is ash.

Let me write for the crash of water into the sheepfold,
for the saturation
where nothing will grow and,
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxelsewhere,
for those drying winds:
the suffocating crust where nothing
sprouts, or rises even an inch
into the shaken air.

Let me find what calls me to sit for a moment,
sift out my tightened, held breath;
let me write so no one’s shadow
crosses the page without soon
moving freely away –

nc

More Beautiful

Nothing made the evening more beautiful than memory, not that the memory itself had to be lovely or even pleasant, just that the glow of recognition slid warmly down her throat and settled between the ribs. Outside her window the constant gentleman watched. He was never visible but she could feel the flick of his eyes across her shoulders light as silk and it was a comfort to her.

The gentleman in his long wool coat and fedora kept away from the corner streetlamp. Watching the quiet woman sit with her book was calming as though he’d swallowed a joy so deep it could never leave him.

Some evenings the trees were full of leaves, thick and absorbent. Others, the air was chilled, shiftless – the leaves a bitter brown or even fallen and blown away into the cold season. But the street itself always smelled sweet; it was that sweetness which shaped memory out of its drift of smoke.

The woman knows that sometimes memory is brutal and while the gentleman can never rescue her she will, the next morning, stretch out of her bedclothes—imperfect and alive.

nc

Baby

Baby has sweet toes & the boughs
Of the willow drape
gritty with shade. Mum & Dad
swing their knives
through kitchen air while Sister
plucks at Baby’s nose, tickles
her feet. Mum presses at the nick
on her upper arm; Dad’s
flung his knife away. His boot-steps
vanish down the street.
Baby giggles, then wrinkles up her face.
Sister wants to fall asleep
or swim with friends in the boy-flecked lake.
Mum wipes off the kitchen counter,
lifts down bread, jellied meat, mustard
& cheese. She doesn’t want
to call her daughters in, doesn’t
want, but has to.

nc

Only Child

I had a dove and she was fiction.
As I lay on summer grass
looking up through leaves,
she flew right down to me.

I kept my dove beneath my shirt.
At night she roosted on the bedpost
at the edge of dark pools
only I could slip my body into.

I wasn’t the kind of child
who carried death
like an opened book before her.
I tried to keep small, unnoticed.

I had a dove and she told me
stories; her voice,
low and rounded, comforted the air.
In winter we shared a rocking chair

by the icy like window. I held
her small heartbeat against my cheek.
My dove, who said she never lied,
taught me how to.

nc

The Scent of Phlox

travels with her
ahead  .    a dark twist of clouds
and stones spinning up off the highway

her windshield cracks

yesterday    on the window ledge   a dragonfly
caught in a spider web

she touched it with one finger
a moment’s last breath

the purple   phlox
lives in the corner of her eye

her windshield shatters

the road is slick and churning
as she peers straight ahead

two hands tight on the wheel
she remembers when she was five

how tall the bright short-lived sunflowers
between house and barn –

a first telling
of light from the earth

—Pamela Stewart

x
Pamela Stewart (known as Jody) is a true “boomer” and New England born and bred. She took up writing in grade school because she couldn’t draw. She received a BA from Goddard’s ADP Program and an MFA (sort of) from University of Iowa. She’s taught creative writing at several universities including ASU, University of Arizona, UC Irvine, and University of Houston. In 1982 she received a Guggenheim and traveled to Cornwall in the UK, where she returned to live for seven years. Jody came back to western Massachusetts in 1990, and in 1994 she and her then-husband moved to a farm at the edge of Hawley. Over the years she’s published in a number of magazines, received three Pushcart publications, and is the author of six full-length books of poems: The St. Vlas Elegies (L’Epervier press, 1977), Cascades (L’Epervier Press, 1979), Nightblind (Ion Books, 1985), Infrequent Mysteries (Alice James Books, 1991), The Red Window (University of Georgia Press, 1997), and Ghost Farm (Pleasure Boat Studio, 2010.) A chapbook, Just Visiting, was published by Grey Suit Editions, London, in 2014. (All of this quite surprised her mother.) Jody continues to live on the farm with seven dogs, a number of elderly sheep, a rescued race horse, a couple of goats, and some old pigs and birds. At some point she intends to tackle a “new and selected” if the dogs let her, but first she’ll arrange and write a forward to some delightful letters sent between the late poet Lee McCarthy and Guy Davenport. She has a lot to be grateful for.

x
x

Oct 112016
 

Okla Elliott

.

Satan, Bring Me My Guitar (Or: Use the Condom—
You’ll Be Happy You Did Later)

Three times I wished to find an end

Twice you called and said it was the end.

What’s the use of all this trying this wanting-more
your denials your holding-together?
What use the machinations the theatre the holy pornography?

Mister, there are mystical stains everywhere
I go
these days; I don’t want
or at least
don’t want to want
or at least
don’t want to admit I want or want to want—

Oh, to hell with such
roundabout poetics.

My blood is 7 degrees Celsius.
I am not alone.
There are others,
brothers of near-freezing blood; it’s that near
that keeps us close, that forms us.

What makes this room
suddenly Dantean in demeanor?

The pastel skulls are too much,
recurring details of a Día de los Muertos
acid trip gone horrifyingly wrong.

I want to compose a song.
Here is the refrain:
Our Father, I would like to complain
of senseless erections.
I have been meaning to say so
for years, but it only occurred to me now
because I have your attention.

Okay…that song would suck, I admit,
but that doesn’t make me not want to
(or want not to) compose it. So:
Satan, bring me my guitar!

But you don’t want me to compose
a song for you.

What do you want?

You always talked about commitment
at any cost,
so I will prove I am committed.

I wrote the title of this poem
before I was done
and now I will commit
to that parenthetical condom,
which I included just to amuse myself
and my friend David Bowen
with whom I was IMing when I was
drafting this poem.

So, here goes:

You visit me

And I tell myself,
Use the condom; you’ll be happy you did later.

There should be a barrier here
something to block the past
from entering the present unhindered.

.
Let’s Not Imagine

1.

Let’s say night never arrives again.
Would the moon disappear in a sun-flash?

And what if all the flowers in all the poems—
flowers I’ve often never seen or heard of, except in poems,
what if these flowers were petrified?
What would we make of these colorful stones
planted throughout world literature?

2.

I read about a torture method
used by rebels in South Africa. Necklacing.
You place a car-tire around your victim’s neck,
then you pour gasoline in the tire, and—
Well, you know what comes next.

The victim’s face disappears in a sun-flash
and all flowers should blossom stone forever.

Let’s not imagine the kind of corpse necklacing leaves.
Those eyes will not see the stars of night.
Some survived. Would you want to meet a survivor?

.
Antinomies and Intensities

1.

Askew, askew, I float. The darkling waters
turn my helpless boat round.
The rippling dots of starlight—dead stars, dead.

The rippling of starlight on the water
and overhead. Silently, I merge the world
with my mind. Silently, it becomes one world.

I wobble myself upright and balance.
The body’s warm intensities, its needs,
its abilities. All of this, turning slowly

on the night’s river.

2.

I watch the weather gather
yellow doom into its belly.

The water will wash runnels through the sand.
It will wash away the self-monuments of man.

Say your prayers. The sky won’t listen.
Say them anyway.
The sound of human voice in the storm,
this might be of more value than we can guess.

3.

There is a vowel in the wind. A voiceless vowel.
There is joy in the void. A hopeless joy.

I will ride the waters over the cliff
into the abyss.

I will embrace this apocalypse—

.
Ruinwind Sonnet

A hot wind has blown across land and ocean
bringing a desert howl, a desert death, with it.
The wind has changed the angle of your hair,
changed the angles of our hearts.
I sniff the air and smell death. I sense the depleted
souls of uranium shells.
Among so many battlegrounds and burial grounds,
how do I dare to be happy?
Your honest high-pitched laughter
carves the air, counter to the grain of the distant wind
that has burned my day to a ruin.
But that is just a metaphor in my life,
a neat poetic phrase.
Others, their lives are literally burned.

—Okla Elliott

.

Okla Elliott is an assistant professor at Misericordia University in northeast Pennsylvania. He holds a PhD in comparative literature from the University of Illinois, an MFA in creative writing from Ohio State University, and a certificate in legal studies from Purdue University. His work has appeared in Cincinnati Review, Harvard Review, Indiana Review, The Literary Review, New Ohio Review, Prairie Schooner, A Public Space, Subtropics, and elsewhere, as well as being included as a “notable essay” in Best American Essays 2015. His books include From the Crooked Timber (short fiction), The Cartographer’s Ink (poetry), The Doors You Mark Are Your Own (a novel), Blackbirds in September: Selected Shorter Poems of Jürgen Becker (translation), and Pope Francis: The Essential Guide (nonfiction, forthcoming).

.

Oct 052016
 

Catherine WalshCatherine Walsh

x

These poems will appear in Catherine Walsh’s forthcoming book Barbaric Tales.

x

barbaric tales
looking desire in the eye
xxxxeyeing desire eyeing desire
xxxxxxxxxin the eye
xxxxxxxxxxxof fine
xxxxeyes  ide ides ore
xxxxxis a dor re
xxxxxxxxxxis i dor us
xxxxxis a dora ea
xxxxhis a
xxxxhe’s a
xxxxxxxxeyes a  ‘S
xxbarbaric tales
skeptics looking through
articulate
xxxxmorass
xxtravesty    tangling as
xstruggling  these notions nations
exist their bigness small their
smallness a still silent in
the breadth of flight beyond
xxunderneath through this and
all or any refined concentrate glows and grows
light cellular compactations as particles
waves in crevices on cracks under motorways

x

§

x

in spans of striding bridges this energy
existing feeds repeats resumes beneath our
gaze out of above temporary horizon
lines fluctuating in time  patterned  ribboned
ululations wares of opaque air we are
there pleasure in this clearly hidden
lugar sound centrifuge of
spatiality humming hub  con  in
re  di  verse (transistor-amplified
vibrations set on top standard 60s’
freestanding cabinet as further amplifier)
(the notice of things)
(accumulated)
echelons  The weeping!  The laughing!
eclectic joys of which might
strum peace navigate superficies
of order resonate magnificently
till all known farthest tangents lay slightly
disordered  bare  approachable
to fend in the world
other becomes  plaisír
as it is voices clarions nascent surge

x

§

x

and where you cannot look
to the sea you look to the
mountain  flutter in the
montbresia passing by the
third day of mauve hydrangea
vased in black enamel
outside a council door repeat
a step the kerb depletes a necessary
force whistles or that bikes past she
with arms akimbo those white
in-ears wired up  flourishes unaware
in the patternled stream

x

x

this courage to go
beyond  let it be the measure
that we let this be the
measure that we let
be measure this that we
let this be the measure
that we let
binding explosive
sequestered interpretabilities
your fear the door closes as
its noise summons movement
change air light  hefted
currents blighted
with human skin
mould  lacerations
of joy  poignant murmurs
of the hinge  release
insensate reluctance

refusal’s life
this is your dear moment in
capacity motion towards its
beckoning strimming wide

x

x

x

swathes aloud  bee
glade dell hollowed by
wind stroking the palms
of justice  bedrock
glacial implicatory
owl coiffed true
more janus will
ensue  the tale of
the tall ships resuming
telling in order to
be some inspired version
yarn  enigma  how can this
be aimed true our very breaths a shift?

x

§

x

where viewing the stuck in
the possible stealth of evening
overtaking each
endeavour stale
want of more
being heard or being a spectacle
it’s all my eye lost ironic arcs
in trite thrall this
was voice voicing
this ah this was being
heard all my eye or not
replete phenomenological
repressivistic maelstrom of
what  termed
as if complete desire  was
unerringly boxed set stilted
agendas sifted validity
recomposition detritus

x

§

x

roman wall in the evening
gloom Ibero-Grec reinforcement
arches dug in
natural alignment
hill side  which
escarped and cutaway
tails the formality  black
tarmac concrete road
curves shoulders lower
slopes from where I
could breathe just
remember it when
bludgeoning
hate in fear those
eager counting
injury grief as right
indignant lack
indigency
unappeased anger

pained forlorn its

dishonesty which cannot

cherish

x

§

x

I am interested in your precepts
does not mean I have to either
agree or disagree with them

perfect development
all it could be  unless
it were imperfect

is it worth it?
not just that so many
concerns hang round that
hackneyed phrase
for centuries
it’s that inestimable
evaluation in the face
of realities
actualities
precedents
norms

the normative influence at
the conjunction of any
such confluences
taken conjunctively with the
actuality of the precedents
set in relation to
past or known realities

x

§

x

xthis is it
xxis it worth it?
xxthe past
xximperfect
xxfuture
xxperfect
xxpresent
xxcontinuous
xxpast
xxsimple
xxfuture
xxcontinuous
xxconditional
xxto present
xxsimple
xxpast
xx∴ perfect
xx

xI could go on endlessly
xxexcept it would probably
xxbore you needlessly

yes  I’m sure you would
find it boring were
I to keep on trying
to extemporise on the
same point

least you forget it would
prove useful to maintain
the ability to distinguish
such structures if you
were to come across
them in your reading

x

§

x

times
of mind
adjusta-clocks
expanda-frames
allowing abstractions
reside  unmolested
uncontested  at-the-ready
in our heads

on the T-Rex footprint scale
it doesn’t seem like
much of an imprint
granular sand particles
defunct mineral
dehydrated life
embrasured on strand
opinions vary  while
the composite components
structuring bone mass
don’t much

sea come  go
pull away there

carried fro’
any  where push

in here  mast up
cell  carried to

some fruit pull
away

it surprised her  what had been
written  dehiscence of
time  pah  like that
they said this would be a good
title  some said something
else  arbitrary nature
of the ordinary  turn it
over  pah  nothing you
see surprised her  in this
way each day  could be
seen to  fragment

x

x

x

x

(itself)  miscellaneous
phonic locutions and a
monologic episode  your
play  she said  is if
I may say so she
said  episodic
wow  imagine
time past  before my eyes
ears  before my ears
blood beat  we are
carried  so many
wrapt environs  immaculate
xpresence of doubt
xxthen we are
here  where rivers run
time holds in stone
xsoil    sand
xxkept transient
fitful  glancing

—Catherine Walsh

x

Catherine Walsh was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1964, has spent some time living and working abroad, and currently lives in Limerick. She co-edits hardPressed Poetry with Billy Mills. Her books include: Macula (Red Wheelbarrow Press, Dublin: 1986); The Ca Pater Pillar Thing and More Besides (hardPressed Poetry, Dublin, 1986); Making Tents (hardPressed Poetry, Dublin, 1987); Short Stories (North & South, Twickenham and Wakefield, 1989); Pitch (Pig Press, Durham, 1994); Idir Eatortha & Making Tents (Invisible Books, London, 1996); City West (Shearsman, Exeter, 2005); Optic Verve A Commentary (Shearsman, Exeter, 2009) and Astonished Birds; Carla, Jane, Bob and James (hardPressed Poetry, Limerick 2012).

Her work is included in a number of anthologies, including the Anthology of Twentieth-Century British & Irish Poetry (Oxford University Press, New York and Oxford, 2001) and No Soy Tu Musa (Ediciones Torremozas, Madrid, 2008), a bilingual Spanish/English anthology of Irish women poets. A section from Barbaric Tales appears in the spring/summer 2016 edition of the Irish University Review.

She was Holloway Lecturer on the Practice of Poetry at the University of California, Berkeley for 2012/13 and was a research fellow with the Digital Humanities cluster at An Foras Feasa, Maynooth University during 2014/2015. Her books Barbaric Tales and The beautiful Untogether are forthcoming.

x

x

Sep 132016
 

2014-06-02-Merwin1

W. S. Merwin’s Garden Time is a book about aging, about the practice of trying to live one’s life in the present. The recurring themes are loss and old love, memory and forgetting, and a kind of precognition that the whole of what we are was with us from the beginning —Allan Cooper

garden time

Garden Time
W. S. Merwin
Copper Canyon Press, 2016
96 pages, $24.00

.

We seem to live many lives before we die. One of the great joys of growing older is when one of those accumulated moments comes back with sudden clarity, when we least expect it. We are young and old, male and female, and sometimes even two redstarts perched on a plum twig return to find us:

…in the dusk
two redstarts
close together before winter
lit on a plum twig
near my hand
and stayed to watch me

(“Portents”)

W. S. Merwin’s Garden Time is a book about aging, about the practice of trying to live one’s life in the present. The recurring themes are loss and old love, memory and forgetting, and a kind of precognition that the whole of what we are was with us from the beginning:

ONE SONNET OF SUMMER

Summer has come to the trees reaching up for it
it has come in daylight without a sound
it arrived when the trees were dark in sleep
they dreamed it and woke knowing it was there
but I am an autumn child and my first
summer I was here but was not yet born
I heard the leaves whisper on their branches
and the cicadas growing in their song
I listened to all the language of summer
in which the time was talking to itself
I was born in autumn knowing the sound of summer

There are many questions in this book, questions about life, death, and the passage of time. The opening poem repeats the phrase “would I love it” several times like a mantra:

THE MORNING

Would I love it this way if it could last
would I love it this way if it
were the whole sky the one heaven
or if I could believe that it belonged to me
a possession that was mine alone
or if I imagined that it noticed me
recognized me and may have come to see me
out of all the mornings that I never knew
and all those that I have forgotten
would I love it this way if I were somewhere else
or if I were younger for the first time
or if these very birds were not singing
or I could not hear them or see their trees
would I love it this way if I were in pain
red torment of body or gray void of grief
would I love it this way if I knew
that I would remember anything that is
here now anything anything

Memory is a major theme in “Black Cherries”– how we store the past, those moments of clarity and understanding and carry them forward. In this poem a synergy is created between the goldfinches “flutter (ing) down through the day” and Merwin eating black cherries:

Late in May as the light lengthens
toward summer the young goldfinches
flutter down through the day for the first time
to find themselves among fallen petals
cradling their day’s colors in the day’s shadows
of the garden beside the old house
after a cold spring with no rain
not a sound comes from the empty village
as I stand eating the black cherries
from the loaded branches above me
saying to myself Remember this

A small poem called “Rain at Daybreak” is about living firmly in the present. It ends with a Zen-like koan: “there is no other voice or other time.” W. S. Merwin first came to Hawaii to study Zen Buddhism with Robert Aitken in 1976. Merwin doesn’t wish to chat about Buddhism in a casual way, and I respect that. But in an interview with Ed Rampell of The Progressive (October 25, 2010) Merwin talks a bit about this, and the connection between Buddhism and Christianity:

Certain things, if one pays attention and is concerned about them, in one’s temperament, in one’s outlook on the world, in one’s attempt to understand something about the world, certain things confirm what one is groping one’s way towards. I didn’t have the words for that, but there it is… For me, there are various places where one can find things like that. Blake, or Daoism, there are even things in the New Testament. I’m not a Christian but I think Jesus was an amazing occurrence on the planet and I think we’ve made of him something that he never was or ever wanted to be. But there are incredible things that he said. I heard a Japanese teacher say where Christianity and Buddhism are very close is when Jesus said: “The kingdom of heaven is within you.” If it’s not there, it’s nowhere.

Merwin also understands that at this time, many of us have less and less knowledge of the natural world. In this excerpt from “After the Dragonflies” he begins:

Dragonflies were as common as sunlight
hovering in their own days
backward forward and sideways
as though they were memory
now there are grown-ups hurrying
who never saw one
and do not know what they
are not seeing

Rather than being stewards of this planet, we have literally lost touch. Merwin seems to imply that what we do not know, or do not want to know diminishes us. The poem ends with “there will be no one to remember us.”

And yet there are ways to reconnect with the world. Thoreau built his small cabin, ten feet by fifteen feet near the shores of Walden Pond as part of his mission to live in a closer relationship with the land. For Merwin it was Maui, where he bought three acres of land depleted by erosion, logging and pesticides. Over the years, he and his wife Paula built a house there and began restoring the land. The Merwin Conservancy is now 19 acres and contains over 800 varieties of palm trees. It is “one of the most comprehensive palm forests in the world.” (Merwin Conservancy, biography.) Merwin doesn’t speak of meditation as such in his poems, specifically Zen sitting or zazen, but it seems that his translations, his own poetry, and his work as a gardener in his palm forest are all a personal form of meditation. We could say there is a connection between his creative life, his gardening life, and what we might call his spiritual life. They flow into one another and form a kind of third consciousness. When we spend more time in the natural world, our reservoir of fear, which is immense in this century, tends to lessen. Then there can be commerce between the human world, the natural world, and the invisible world where the old gods – if we’re lucky – step out to meet us. In “Voices Over Water”, Merwin says “There are spirits that come back to us…some of them come from the bodies of birds.”

§

There are moving, heartbreaking poems about childhood in Garden Time. As a friend said to me recently, when we hear the right words that express our loss and our grief, our visceral response is to weep. “Loss” is about his stillborn brother and how his mother tried to come to terms with it. Merwin understands loss; he also understands how our attempts to dismiss it rarely work. In this poem Merwin faces it head on, naming it in the opening stanza:

Loss was my brother
is my brother
but I have no image of him

his name which was never used
was Hanson
it had been the name
of my mother’s father
who had died as a young man

her child had been taken away
from my mother before
she ever saw him

to be bathed I suppose

they came and told her
that he was perfect in every way
and said they had never
seen such a beautiful child
and then they told her that he was dead

she sustained herself by believing
that he must have been dropped
somewhere just out of her sight
and out of her reach
and had fallen out of his empty name

all my life he has been near me
but I cannot tell you anything
about him

In the second poem Merwin becomes his mother’s way to find her life again – the laughing child. Nowhere in this collection is the sense of the past as extant in the present more evident. It is one of the finest poems of the last 60 years.

THE LAUGHING CHILD

When she looked down from the kitchen window
into the back yard and the brown wicker
baby carriage in which she had tucked me
three months old to lie out in the fresh air
of my first January the carriage
was shaking she said and went on shaking
and she saw I was lying there laughing
she told me about it later it was
something that reassured her in a life
in which she had lost everyone she loved
before I was born and she had just begun
to believe that she might be able to
keep me as I lay there in the winter
laughing it was what she was thinking of
later when she told me that I had been
a happy child and she must have kept that
through the gray cloud of all her days and now
out of the horn of dreams of my own life
I wake again into the laughing child

The Canadian poet Alden Nowlan said we experience these moments somewhere “between tears and laughter.”

§

Many of us would agree that poetry is one of our oldest and most poignant forms of expression. The poem is a container for those things that move us profoundly but which many of us can’t quite put into words. The poet names things, gathering them in images which centre and focus our experience. Here are a few of Merwin’s ideas about the uniqueness of poetry, again from The Progressive interview:

Poetry uses the same words as prose but it’s physical. It was that way – poetry may be the oldest of the arts. Because it’s probably as old as language itself. Its closest relation would probably be music and dance. Those three things together; before the visual arts, the first Paleolithic paintings, and things like that. Anyway, it’s very, very old, and theories about the origins of language suggest a different source for it, very close to poetry, in the origins of language itself. A number of theorists think it comes out of an inexpressible emotion, something that was just so, so urgent that the forms of expressing it weren’t adequate to it.

The final poem in Garden Time is called “The Present.” We don’t know for sure if Merwin means the present, the now, or a gift which has been given. Coleman Barks in one his poems says “mountain laurel overhanging the water, letting blossoms go to keep us constantly in the same thought with the falling rain: the gift is going by.” Merwin says:

As they were leaving the garden
one of the angels bent down to them and whispered

I am to give you this
as you are leaving the garden

I do not know what it is
or what it is for
what you will do with it

you will not be able to keep it
but you will not be able

to keep anything
yet they both reached at once

for the present
and when their hands met

they laughed

Hands touching, then laughter: W. S. Merwin catches those urgent, inexpressible moments in his poems. Like Han Shan, the Chinese recluse poet, he faithfully tends the garden of compassion and sudden awareness that is inside all of us.

—Allan Cooper

N5
allan cooper

Allan Cooper has published fourteen books of poetry, most recently The Deer Yard, with Harry Thurston. He received the Peter Gzowski Award in 1993, and has twice won the Alfred G. Bailey Award for poetry. He has also been short-listed three times for the CBC Literary Awards. Allan intermittently publishes the poetry magazine Germination, and runs the poetry publishing house Owl’s Head Press from his home in Alma, New Brunswick, a small fishing village on the Bay of Fundy.

N5

Sep 122016
 

Susan AizenbergSusan Aizenberg

.

The Television

Until very near the end, it played and played.
Paternity Court, followed by Judge Judy,
in the afternoon — fineh mentshn, you’d say,
tsk-tsking and laughing at the unfaithful
men and small-time grifters, shaking your weak head
at this crazy new world. Nights, there were movies,
or docs on PBS, though you mostly missed
the endings, adrift on morphine and Xanax.

Only when you began in earnest the hard
work of your dying did it start to annoy.
The night nurse who could not stay awake complained
she had to have it on, though it startled you
from sleep, confused and afraid. We let her go.
M. and I kept the volume low in the dim
study, the one room without hospice supplies,
our guilty oasis, except for the desk,

its deepening stacks of paperwork, sticky
notes, and the phone numbers of emergency.
Door cracked to hear you, we’d binge on The Wire,
grateful for the hoppers and murder police,
the ticking row houses and alleys become
a place where we could rest awhile in the pulse
of electric blue light. We’d watch till it lulled
us a little, until we could almost sleep.

.

Lit

mmmiiimiimIt’s the dying must be allowed
mmmmmmTo mourn their own departing.
mmmmmmmmmmmm—Olivia McCannon
mmmmmmmmmmmmmm“You Said This”

All day you’d ride morphine’s black waves, not rousing
except once or twice, when you’d cry out, That dog!
There’s your father! until evening, when you’d wake
and ask to eat, to sit up in the lift chair
in the dim light of your living room, the night
nurse exiled to the kitchen, your grandchildren
and me around you. We’d feed you applesauce,
a little mashed sweet potato, and you’d talk,

a fevered monologue, as if you were lit,
your poor brain’s wiring over-fired. Smiling
and laughing, a little wild, you’d go nonstop,
free-associating memories you’d revised
to shape a life pretty as a fairy tale—
your wedding story, the part where he left you
redacted, no three nights alone, no pawned ring.
A fable about your lost, favorite brother,

how as a child in Russia, he’d killed a bear
with a wooden stake he’d carved. Pausing only
to accept a small taste from a spoon, or cough,
you’d go on for an hour or more — I confess
I timed you, afraid, and yes, annoyed, these jags
too familiar, these lovely lies you needed
the played out soundtrack of my childhood — me, blind
to what you were doing, what must be allowed.

.

Tea Boys
m— after Salaam, Bombay!

MRain waters down
the milky, warm tea delivered
Mto the district’s young prostitutes

Mby dark boys
in white cotton. Barefoot,
Mand motherless, they believe

Mat night the beckoning souls
of Bombay’s dead children wander
Mbeneath the stone bridge

Mwhere, days, the living
gamble and smoke. Baba the dealer
Mchristens each

Mnewly arrived bumpkin:
there is always a Chillum
Mto smoke brown, to die,

Moverdosed and icy,
trembling like a reed in the wind;
Mthere is always a twice-

Mabandoned Chaipu,
still missing his mother,
Mas if it’s understood

Mtheir old names
will be somehow wrong among
Mthese steaming alleys.

MStacked tenements
crumble above the streets
Mwhere they twist, too hungry

Mto sleep, these tea-boys,
each one so thin, any slight arm
Mcould encircle him, though none does.

—Susan Aizenberg

 

.

Susan Aizenberg is the author of three poetry collections: Quiet City (BkMk Press 2015); Muse (Crab Orchard Poetry Series 2002); and Peru in Take Three: 2/AGNI New Poets Series (Graywolf Press 1997) and co-editor with Erin Belieu of The Extraordinary Tide: New Poetry by American Women (Columbia University Press 2001). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in many journals, among them The North American Review, Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry, Prairie Schooner, Blackbird, Connotation Press, Spillway, The Journal, Midwest Quarterly Review, Hunger Mountain, Alaska Quarterly Review, and the Philadelphia Inquirer and have been reprinted and are forthcoming in several anthologies, including Ley Lines (Wilfrid Laurier UP) and Wild and Whirling Words: A Poetic Conversation (Etruscan). Her awards include a Crab Orchard Poetry Series Award, the Nebraska Book Award for Poetry and Virginia Commonwealth University’s Levis Prize for Muse, a Distinguished Artist Fellowship from the Nebraska Arts Council, the Mari Sandoz Award from the Nebraska Library Association, and a Glenna Luschei Prairie Schooner award. She can be reached through her website, susanaizenberg.com..

 

 

Sep 102016
 

Paul McMahon colour

.

Bourdon

I remember my ex-girlfriend
running through a field of sunflowers

as I’m looking at a dead bumblebee
lying on its back on the window sill,
its downy head of battered fluff
as stubborn and bull-headed as a drunk oaf.

Bloated, like a bluebottle in a stripy jumper,
I roll it off the ledge and onto the palm of my hand,
its wings more like frail stained glass windows
closed over a pregnant blob. Woollen arms

with question marks for hands, the hidden tongue,
the gilded eye that sees all in honeycomb,
and again I see Bourdon, but she is waiting
for me to get out of bed. The sun is shining,

the sky is blue topaz. She is at the hotel window,
fretting and stamping her feet. We arrived late
the night before, after a long day driving south.
Get up, she says, as she finally bolts out the door.

    ……………………..*

I slip out from the warm sheets,
walk over to the window
and look out to see her running
through the field of sunflowers,

her hands spread out like wings
skimming off the flower heads
that were the same colour
as the bull-headed drunk oaf,

the woollen blob of fool’s gold
flashing on the lake-bed of memory –
the bumblebee in the palm of my hand
that crashed into the window pane

like Bourdon crashed into a tree.
I touch its downy flank and remember
the sandy dunes of her skin,
the sweet drone of her voice,

silent as the bee’s wings
sleeping in the sunflowers of dreams.

.

Shrouds

1

He was about six or seven, black rubbish-tip hair, big doe-eyes,
teeth driftwood-white, a painted-on ringmaster’s moustache,
outstretched arm and hand held out like a soup-kitchen ladle.

I was standing beside one of the cremation paddocks
at the burning Ghats in Varanasi. A pyre was blazing –
bruise-black smoke rose up into the vacant sky
and the sun burned down over the slow, wide Ganges
and the vast, sandy tidal plain on the far side.

Garlanded chanters in a canoe rowed a dead guru
out for river-burial – the shrouded corpse lay stiffly
across the bow like the firing arm of a crossbow.

The artful-dodger street-child tugged once more
at the hem of my sleeve and I looked down into his hazel eyes
to see that all my ambitions were meaningless dreams,
illusions that would vanish into smoke at the end of my days.
I felt hollow, like a bubble, shrouded-off from anything real.

.

2

As I reached into my pocket, that I kept stocked with sweets
for the street-children, I glanced to the blazing pyre –
a man, a fire-warden, was picking up an arm
that had fallen out and he threw it back on top
of the furnace-orange flames.

When I gave the hazel-eyed street-child the sweet, a chocolate éclair,
he clutched it in his flycatcher-hand and then asked me for money.
I looked away – the day before I saw him hand his coins in
to a lanky teenager who had the stern eyes of an amateur knifer.

The child shrugged-off, examining the shrouded éclair,
its plastic wrapper a black velvety blouse, which he opened,
revealing an inner wrapper, a white geisha-corset
stuck sugar-tight against the treacle skin which he peeled back
and gently released like a dove’s wing onto the air
before he tossed the sallow toffee body into his gaping mouth.

I turned back to the paddock and the burning pyre,
its summit of unquestioning flame –
the detached arm had landed palm up,

the fingertips lightly cupping,
it had let go of all it had given

……………………or been given.

.

A Junkyard Full of Flowers

As she fumbled with the buttons of her jeans
the musk
………….of her warmth

rose from the swan of her neck
and mixed with the fog-wet
………….of the cold alley wall.

The streetlight, covered in a speckled veil of drizzle,
flooded the alley
………….in aquarium-blue light.

The muddy puddles we had just splashed through
settled back
………….into stillness –

tapered with petroleum rainbows, as smooth as her silk eyes –
they lay on the concrete
………….gaping up like apertures,

photographing the wild moonlight and recording it
into the scriptures
………….of riverbed churches.

In her husky voice I heard the rumbling of mad oceans
and I saw stars and trembling bridges
………….walk frail light

to the ledges of the visions beyond the woodland path
as it turns through the forest
………….and out of sight.

A car swerved into view. In its headlight,
the cloudy mirage of her breath
………….lit up in the air,

leaving the rose of its afterimage hanging there
until the car drove on
………….and the darkness snatched it –

its grip pressing out the illuminated perfume
from the wrung blossom
………….which spread through the blue alley,

leaving, in place of the strewn cast-offs,
a junkyard
………….full of flowers.

.

The Hearth-Pit

The fire in the hearth is galloping
through the wind in the flue,
over the highways of ember.

Three hundred years ago,
when this farmhouse was built,
a man stooped and dug a pit
under the hearth – in those days
it was also a grave. I too kneel

at it every day
with black roses
and a shattered cross.

I too feel the hearth-pit
in my stomach
turning unquiet

in these early morning
archaeological hours.

As the flames take hold
there comes a sense of longing,
the gone by, as though waved to
by someone I recognize
but don’t remember – except in

the sound of her laughing
when I told her
there was no film
in the camera.

            *

Before leaving,
I set a scalp of turf
on the fading embers of the fire
and look out the window –

across the boglands,
deep in sleep
below a lullaby
of fresh white snow,

a black cormorant
swoops into view
then glides out
towards the open sea.

— Paul McMahon

.

Paul McMahon lives in Cork. His debut poetry chapbook, Bourdon, is being published this November by Southword Editions. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in The Threepenny Review, The Stinging Fly, Atlanta Review, The Salt Anthology of New Writing, The Montreal International Poetry Prize Global AnthologyAgenda, The Moth, The Irish Times, Southword, Ambit, and others. His poetry has also been broadcast on RTE Radio. He has won a number of prizes for poetry including The Keats-Shelley, The Ballymaloe International, The Nottingham, The Westport, The Golden Pen, second prize in both The Basil Bunting and in The Salt International Poetry Prize, and Arts Bursary awards, for poetry, from both The Arts Council of Ireland, and The Arts Council of N. Ireland.

.

Sep 092016
 
Photo by Dorothea Erichsen

Photo by Dorothea Erichsen

livre-les-fleurs-du-mal-par-charles-baudelaire-aux-editions-france-editions-preface-de-henri-frichet

Fleurs-du-mal-1

 

.

On Translating Les Fleurs du Mal

The line-by-line process I learned in poetry translation workshop mimics the molecular genetics mechanism of DNA into RNA into protein into living energy, but writing these translations, I’ll admit, felt a little more like using organic chemistry glassware to make hard candy. One evening, late in the workshop session when I had been feeling somewhat misunderstood and far from the main thread, I departed from my usual non-Roman alphabets (Tamil and Arabic) to work on Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal. I didn’t think of it as a temper-tantrum at the time, but yes, there I went, twisting rhymes up against the poems’ glass tubes and then adding a few microns of imagery to enshrine my favorite women from history in the “flowers of evil.” As subversion it failed—no one took offense at my riff on “La Beauté.” But I became curious: subversion of a subversive collection yields… what exactly?

A little background on Les Fleurs du Mal… first published in 1857, Charles Baudelaire’s first poetry collection was not well received: “the book was publicly denounced as offending public morality, which led to the prosecution of Baudelaire and Poulet-Malassis. Author and publisher were dragged to court, convicted, fined heavily, and six of the poems were banned from the book.” The 1861 edition, which included 35 new poems, lifted Baudelaire’s prospects temporarily, but never raised his career as poet to anything like success during his lifetime. His poetry stemmed from influences like Aloysius Bertrand’s Gaspard de la Nuit, an early instance of prose poetry, and it blossomed prolifically in influencing the French symbolists and those who followed them. Baudelaire’s brilliance fits a description by Phong Nguyen in the introduction to the latest issue of Pleiades: “writers…can always go for shock because scorning the prevailing moral consensus fills us with the cathartic joy of breaking taboo. But the ones who do it really well challenge the fixed morality of their day in order to further collective moral understanding, not actually to subvert or replace it.”

In my line-by-line translation of “La Beauté,” I added a reference to radium, an element that my workshop peers pointed out would have been known only after Baudelaire’s time. Marie Curie discovered radium in 1898 and much later founded the Radium Institute in Paris, propelling its fame. Eve Curie, in her biography of her famous mother, described something so close to the inverse of the poem: “[she] bent over the apparatus where the ‘numeration’ of atoms took place, and admired the sudden irradiation of a willemite ore by the action of radium. Before these familiar miracles a supreme happiness was set alight in her ash-gray eyes… ‘Ah, what a pretty phenomenon!’ she would murmur.” Describing Mme. Curie on her deathbed, “All in white, her white hair laying bare the immense forehead, the face at peace, as grave and valiant as a knight in armor, she was, at this moment, the noblest and most beautiful thing on earth. Her rough hands, calloused, hardened, deeply burned by radium, had lost their familiar nervous movement. They were stretched out on the sheet, stiff and fearfully motionless—those hands which had worked so much.”

I chose other poems from Les Fleurs du Mal by consciously searching for connections with my fiercest heroines. In “Rise,” the biography of Margaret Fuller came to my mind, because of the poem’s quiet insistence on a transcendental mood. In “Je n’ai pas oublie, voisine de la ville…” the last three lines especially evoked scenes from Edith Wharton’s and Elizabeth Bowen’s novels, where the narrative sets us up to spy on the characters, almost to glare at them, and usually to set them apart from the opulence that enshrouds them. “La Vie antérieure” and “L’Aube spirituelle” point to the recurrence of social diseases, over and over in human history, which brought me to a few powerful promoters of change: Dorothy Day, Florence Nightingale, Harriet Tubman, Harriet Beecher Stowe.

My departures from the original poems are slight, but these experiment-translations are not meant to reproduce an exact copy of Baudelaire’s intentions. My device was more like a titration experiment: adding a substance of known pH to the unknown solution, in this case adding my personal goddesses to the poems. In the introduction to Shapiro’s translation, Willis Barnstone explains that these poems were a type of experiment for Baudelaire himself: “he was obsessed with the notion of evil, and to accept or reject it he had first to express it….the poems speak of beauty and escape, love and death, and an overriding metaphysic. And the mood of melancholy morality may at once be infused with an ecstasy of otherness and joy when the poet, for a moment, climbs high or descends so low as to find light. In poems where corruption and beauty seem inseparable, the poems give off both light and darkness.” Translation, as an active investigation, rather than a pursuit of perfected products, can yield, in my metaphor, the excellent peppermints and extra clean lab glassware that make all the difference in understanding the poet’s genius.

—A. Anupama

Bauelaire1

“Je n’ai pas oublié, voisine de la ville…”

(Edith Wharton, Elizabeth Bowen)

I haven’t forgotten our white cottage,
small and quiet, beyond the town’s edge,
where plaster goddesses stood hidden,
Pomona and Venus, naked in the sickly garden.
The sun in the evening, flowing and vain,
scattered his rays across every pane
and loomed, an enormous staring eye in the strange sky,
to meditate on our long, silent dinners and to spy,
glaring, like candlelight spilling across our table, until
finally gilding each drapery cord twist and curtains’ twill.

.

Je n’ai pas oublié, voisine de la ville,
Notre blanche maison, petite mais tranquille;
Sa Pomone de plâtre et sa vieille Vénus
Dans un bosquet chétif cachant leurs membres nus,
Et le soleil, le soir, ruisselant et superbe,
Qui, derrière la vitre où se brisait sa gerbe
Semblait, grand oeil ouvert dans le ciel curieux,
Contempler nos dîners longs et silencieux,
Répandant largement ses beaux reflets de cierge
Sur la nappe frugale et les rideaux de serge.

Baudelaire2

La Vie antérieure / My Past Life

(Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Tubman)

I had a long life, under vast porticoes
stained by marine sunlight’s thousand-fold flame
and framed by grand pillars, of upright and royal fame,
which, in evening light, reflect everything basalt knows.

Sea-swells scroll the reflection of the skies,
shuffling the solemn and the mystics
with the powerful, by harmonizing their rich music
with the colors of sunset, on the surfaces of my eyes.

I lived there in tranquil, voluptuous
deep blue, in the waves, in splendors
with nude slaves, all pricked with odors

and fanning my forehead with palm branches,
whose true role was the deep answer
to the grievous secret that made me shiver.

.

J’ai longtemps habité sous de vastes portiques
Que les soleils marins teignaient de mille feux,
Et que leurs grands piliers, droits et majestueux,
Rendaient pareils, le soir, aux grottes basaltiques.

Les houles, en roulant les images des cieux,
Mêlaient d’une façon solennelle et mystique
Les tout-puissants accords de leur riche musique
Aux couleurs du couchant reflété par mes yeux.

C’est là que j’ai vécu dans les voluptés calmes,
Au milieu de l’azur, des vagues, des splendeurs
Et des esclaves nus, tout imprégnés d’odeurs,

Qui me rafraîchissaient le front avec des palmes,
Et dont l’unique soin était d’approfondir
Le secret douloureux qui me faisait languir.

Baudelaire3

La Beauté / Beauty

(Marie Curie, H.D.)

Dear mortals, I am lovely, like a dream made of stone,
and my breast, upon which all are bruised in their turn,
inspires in poets especially a love that burns
solid, eternal and mute as radium, pure matter alone.

I sit enthroned, a mysterious sphinx in the blue sky–
my heart of snow, like the whiteness of swans,
despises any movement that displaces the lines,
and never do I laugh and never do I cry.

The poets, prostrate before my grand nudes,
which I pretend to have lent the masterworks of art,
consume their days in studies, their minds occlude;

because I have, for hypnotizing those open hearts,
pure mirrors that amplify my spell:
my eyes, my large eyes, an eternal well!

.

Je suis belle, ô mortels! comme un rêve de pierre,
Et mon sein, où chacun s’est meurtri tour à tour,
Est fait pour inspirer au poète un amour
Eternel et muet ainsi que la matière.

Je trône dans l’azur comme un sphinx incompris;
J’unis un coeur de neige à la blancheur des cygnes;
Je hais le mouvement qui déplace les lignes,
Et jamais je ne pleure et jamais je ne ris.

Les poètes, devant mes grandes attitudes,
Que j’ai l’air d’emprunter aux plus fiers monuments,
Consumeront leurs jours en d’austères études;

Car j’ai, pour fasciner ces dociles amants,
De purs miroirs qui font toutes choses plus belles:
Mes yeux, mes larges yeux aux clartés éternelles!

Baudelaire4

L’Aube spirituelle / Spiritual dawn

(Florence Nightingale, Dorothy Day)

When dawn’s pink light enters the house of sin,
like the meeting of the Pure with her congregation of river rats,
a mysterious operation begins, piercing vengeance in the ersatz
profligate, numbly sleeping while an angel awakens within.

The blue sky of spirit is impossible
for the man struck down again and again by dreams
and for whom the abyss beckons and beams.
And just so, dear Goddess, pure and bright Apple,

over the charred remains of mindless orgies
your memory grows ever more clear, rosy, charming,
turning cartwheels in my eyes, which dilate to apertures alarming.

The sun blackens the flames of candles;
and just so, your vanquishing spirit in whole
equals the immortal sun, dear blazing soul!

.

Quand chez les débauchés l’aube blanche et vermeille
Entre en société de l’Idéal rongeur,
Par l’opération d’un mystère vengeur
Dans la brute assoupie un ange se réveille.

Des Cieux Spirituels l’inaccessible azur,
Pour l’homme terrassé qui rêve encore et souffre,
S’ouvre et s’enfonce avec l’attirance du gouffre.
Ainsi, chère Déesse, Etre lucide et pur,

Sur les débris fumeux des stupides orgies
Ton souvenir plus clair, plus rose, plus charmant,
À mes yeux agrandis voltige incessamment.

Le soleil a noirci la flamme des bougies;
Ainsi, toujours vainqueur, ton fantôme est pareil,
Ame resplendissante, à l’immortel soleil!

Baudelaire5

Élévation / Rise

(Margaret Fuller)

Above the valleys, above the ponds,
the mountains, woods, clouds, and seas,
well past the sun and ether’s breeze,
and past the limits of sphered stars beyond,

my soul, you move with ease,
and like the swimmer who leaps into waves
you cheerfully cross an unsoundable gulf, brave
and with a mute and masculine tease.

Stay away from these miasmas of death.
Transparent orb, take to the high, pure air,
and make a fine and divine elixir,
like flames in space, of your breath.

Leaving behind all the ennui and sorrows
of daily dread, heavy as fog upon the countryside,
the blissful can dial their wings wide
and dart toward bright and serene furrows.

With minds like morning songbirds
gliding near the skies in rising liberty—
they soar through life and know every subtlety
of lectures by flowers and of all without words!

.

Au-dessus des étangs, au-dessus des vallées,
Des montagnes, des bois, des nuages, des mers,
Par delà le soleil, par delà les éthers,
Par delà les confins des sphères étoilées,

Mon esprit, tu te meus avec agilité,
Et, comme un bon nageur qui se pâme dans l’onde,
Tu sillonnes gaiement l’immensité profonde
Avec une indicible et mâle volupté.

Envole-toi bien loin de ces miasmes morbides;
Va te purifier dans l’air supérieur,
Et bois, comme une pure et divine liqueur,
Le feu clair qui remplit les espaces limpides.

Derrière les ennuis et les vastes chagrins
Qui chargent de leur poids l’existence brumeuse,
Heureux celui qui peut d’une aile vigoureuse
S’élancer vers les champs lumineux et sereins;

Celui dont les pensers, comme des alouettes,
Vers les cieux le matin prennent un libre essor,
— Qui plane sur la vie, et comprend sans effort
Le langage des fleurs et des choses muettes!

—Charles Baudelaire translated by A. Anupama

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A. Anupama is a U.S.-born, Indian-American poet and translator whose work has appeared in several literary publications, including The Bitter Oleander, Monkeybicycle, Fourteen Hills, and decomP magazinE. She received her MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2012. She currently lives and writes in the Hudson River valley of New York, where she organizes literary community (RiverRiver.org), and blogs about poetic inspiration at seranam.com.

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Sep 072016
 

Riiki Ducornet

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We came together in celebration
(is not every world a miracle?)
and like the twins joined at the hip
so were we tethered
sparking the night
in a place named House of Birds.

Not long after
and seen for the first time
the four moons of Jupiter
circling like sharks.

He came disguised as a vulture,
we offered him iguana, flowers
our most beautiful boys circling the sky
suspended from their weeping chests like moons
in the light of the torches
their bodies black with soot, the boys
Moon Boys, Lizard boys
sacred as jaguars
tethered at the heart.

In the year named Death named
Split Down The Middle.

The boy who called herself White Quetzal.
The boy who called herself Lady Cormorant.

The boys:
Egret Ruler, Door Keeper (he the first to fall)
all at once seized
in a sea of sprung traps
who cried out like deer:

Moon Woman has fallen!
True Magician has fallen!
Mother! I, too, have fallen…
Here I am, hanging. Come for me.

Come for me
In the year named Lament.
In the year named All Of Our Losses.
Viscera unspooling black and red
on this day named 49 Death.

::::::::::

When gravity overcomes us
when our magic fails
there is no place a body can hide.
We wondered then
where are our mothers?
In extremity shouted out:
Where are our mothers?
We made ourselves invisible
(the jaguar does this, the moon, the snake).
We lay still, a big black blanket
holding up the stars.
A voice shining in the wreckage of the air:
It’s ok. I’m here with you.

Much later some of us returned to
a certain kind of visibility.
The floor bleeding
the moment
spilling its dark substance
into the days to come.

Some awakened in the place named White Bone House
with broken jaws, forcibly initiated
into a dark knowledge.

It is said that in extremeity
everythng eclipses, everything above and below
is born of shadow and formed of light
light which has no body yet dances.

::::::::::

It was then, there at the side of the road
my friend caught my eyes, held them, they leapt
moths between his hands
his bloodied cord uncoiling between us.

Later I walked away unseeing without him.
Now I walk each hour of the days alone and unseeing.
Such work cuts the tongue from the mouth.
Yet before it happened
we were all the colors of the rain, we were the music
of Jupiter’s moons in motion
in the infinite reaches of deepest space
our bodies tethered at the heart
suspended
in something as sacred
as water.

Know that each encounter, each embrace
leans over the edge of a crater.
If we fall we fall all the way
to the other side where the pavement pools
beneath the force of the multitudes running
from danger.
Know that pain resides
in a street scattered with cds and cigarettes
a child’s supper spilled on the landing, a spine
a snake broken against a wall
a woman standing tall beside the highway
her pride shining before she is made to die
fear striping her back.

::::::::::

Now even the rain smells bad.

::::::::::

That very night, in that moment on the sweetest of afternoons,
over there, across the street, on the lawn,
suspended from that tree, that
fence—there—do you see it? (It’s ok. I’m here with you.)

Everything scorched:
the scales of snakes
the fur of jaguars
their eyes the
bones of their feet the
soft purposeful organs
their beauty, O!
The beauty of the children!

It happens fast, a world reduced to gravel to vapor,
A stench that does not belong to us and yet is ours.
See? There?
The heart swinging from its rope?

::::::::::

As when in an airport, a subway, a city street, a jail cell, on the prison stairs, in
custody; it begins on a sidewalk beside a city park.

And then a boy and all things within his vicinity

vaporize

It was like that

When the tongue was cut from the throat of the world.

We hid like roaches behind the toilets but couldn’t make ourselves small enough.
In this way betrayed—as is the child—hiding behind the curtains, beneath the bed,
deep in the closet, the cellar, the train car, in her mother’s overcoat hanging from a
hook. Standing there thin as a pin, small as a mote of air, cloaked in the very body
that when struck repeatedly, breaks.

::::::::::

As this transpired I was with her concealed in that place above the city you knew so
well. The sound of the night owl, the moving water and breezes—all this making us
as safe as within a house of paper.
In the distance we could hear the music, smell the corn roasting, the iguana meat
crisping on the coals. Hear our people singing, their voices made for stories, their
clothes made of feathers, and at their ankles: bells. In this way they were the
children of the gods. Their hearts secure in a box of green stone.

I sat with my mother, our heads together, holding hands—in that place were once
there were people known for the extremity of their innocence, who spoke all the
languages of the flowers. Recalling this perhaps, my mother held me close, said:
little creature…little sprout…
The air shimmered in the heart of the coming summer as beneath us the world
collapsed; we saw it happen. In that instant grew old together. The heart of the
people crushed beneath a weight so stubborn no one has been able to lift it, not to
this day. We have exhausted ourselves trying.
See:
my mother, my one mother on her knees, changing color, melting like wax; she is
ablaze.
She says:
He was killed like a cow.
(And it is true.
Born of men he was killed without mystery.)
She says:
He didn’t DO nothin’.
He didn’t HAVE a cow’s face.
He had the face of a MAN.
THAT was my man’s FACE.
And this is why I am here now
In this hard place
In the city.

::::::::::

I need someone to come for me.

::::::::::

They say when you are buried
with bullets in the body and when
the flesh falls away
those bullets fall, see…
they tumble before coming to rest beside the bones.
And that makes no sense. None of it.
Something’s the matter.

O my beloved.
My boy, my only love, your body changes color your chameleaon body,
pristine as the stuff of stars, your perfect knees the palms of your hands,
run through by metal by anger the holes in your back…I wish I hadn’t seen it,
I wish none of this had transpired, not here, take it elsewhere, send it careening
into deep space why don’t you? For we are burdened, joined at the hip in the hard
work of dying. Falling together down the steep side of things. Yes we are falling.
Propelled by a sail the size of a lunar sea in a ship no bigger than the eye of an ocelot
the bunghole of a fox, its nose a nipple probing the ether leaving behind it a trail
of milk.

My mother said:
Please don’t tell me he’s gone.
Don’t let him be gone.
His body a star assaulted by a shadow.
Still we heard him shouting:
ba
bel
bil
bol
bul
dal
del
dil
dol
du

do not, he said. Don’t do it. Please don’t do it.

::::::::::.

She said: My body is mine, see.
I mean it is sacred, somehow.
Keep a respectful distance.
She said: I am not an animal.
He ignored her, and after the fact
galloped away in the shape of a horse the color of lead.
He had the face of a goat.
White as cheese.

According to the authorities,
She closed her eyes.
The knife was left lying with its sharp edge up,
she hanging by a rope of hair.

::::::::::

The following day we named ‘Tribute’.
The day that follows Macaw Madness,
Tribute takes place in the heart of Hell,
right beneath the angry eye of noon.

Now they are speaking over him saying:
Take a handful of white salt. Toss it
across your shoulder onto the backs of the cattle.
Take a little hair between the ears of a cow
a little blood a
teaspoon of gunpowder.
Piss, spit and you will forget forthwith
where and when the unthinkable happened.

Now, in this instant, strangers bestow their grace upon him.

::::::::::

They say that once the Pleiades signified
a flock of cockatoos.
The horns of cows were worn as amulets.
These suspended above a door, in a window
above the bed where the little ones were conceived,
later to be born with the faces of children.

We are not cattle to be corralled into a pen.
Brought down with a thud.

Know that when night comes
it is not because the sun has abandoned us
only
it has been eclipsed by a thing
for which there is no proper word nor a tongue with which to speak it.
This word arrives like a truck
white as all the angels.

—Rikki Ducornet

.

The author of nine novels, three collections of short fiction, two books of essays and five books of poetry, Rikki Ducornet has received both a Lannan Literary Fellowship and the Lannan Literary Award For Fiction. She has received the Bard College Arts and Letters award and, in 2008, an Academy Award in Literature. Her work is widely published abroad. Recent exhibitions of her paintings include the solo show Desirous at the Pierre Menard Gallery in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 2007, and the group shows: O Reverso Do Olhar in Coimbra, Portugal, in 2008, and El Umbral Secreto at the Museo de la Solidaridad Salvador Allende in Santiago, Chile, in 2009. She has illustrated books by Jorge Luis Borges, Robert Coover, Forest Gander, Kate Bernheimer, Joanna Howard and Anne Waldman among others. Her collected papers including prints and drawings are in the permanent collection of the Ohio State University Rare Books and Manuscripts Library. Her work is in the permanent collections of the Museo de la Solidaridad Salvador Allende, Santiago Chile, The McMaster University Museum, Ontario, Canada, and The Biblioteque Nationale, Paris.

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Sep 052016
 

SydneyLea

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Gooka-mol

To watch that band of vultures
coast along their thermal this morning
is to marvel at elegance and composure–
no need to repress old platitudes
about the birds as tokens
of my doom. I don’t even take up the notion,

or rather, if I did,
I’d imagine the doom of some woodland critter.
No, why not be honest? My mind’s on Pete
our dog. Last week, the vet saw a bulge
she didn’t like on his chest.
Tomorrow she’ll cut it out. At a loss,

I think of the vultures’ circling.
I think of etymology,
how some people call those birds revolting,
which literally means they turn us away,
but vulture itself in fact
derives from the verb for turn in Latin.

I’m thinking, you see, of whatever
has nothing to do with a horrible illness.
Schrecklich, I name it, recalling my grandmother’s
Pennsylvania Dutch locutions,
which I likely can’t even spell.
She’d often cry something like Gooka-mol,

which signified Let me see.
Cancer’s taken far too many
creatures who’ve shared their lives with me.
The dog has set my mind on this course,
and I cry it myself, Gooka-mol!
Now the string of birds slips over a knoll.

Where have they gone? I can’t say.
From the height that the birds command, I might
look down on someone behaving this way
and simply conclude, The man is crazy.
It’s only a dog, after all,
and the world’s still wide and rich and lovely.

Granted. It is. Sometimes. Gooka-mol.

.

Solace, Stone
nnnnn–1981

I had lately known a real sorrow:
my young brother– gone. So I set out alone.
Deep in Breaux’s Gore, where I’d never been
until that morning, a headstone leaned.

It was quiet. Never such quiet.
Who can recall that marker but me?
Who is there even to know about it?
Doubtless someone. Hunters must see

the canted slab now and then,
there since 1841.
It only bore one name: John Goodridge,
maybe wife- and childless. Water and sun

had worn its shoulders round.
Home late afternoon, near evening,
I moved from woodpile to shed and back,
less as if I were working than dreaming.

Scents rose in that autumn dusk,
then settled. Odors of duff and rain.
I settled too, in the wheelbarrow’s bed,
like a chunk of oak or mud or a stone

that might passively ride along.
Forty years since I bore witness
to that marker, all the world gone mute.
I’d never known so entire a silence.

I wouldn’t forget it. Never.
I would never not hear that stillness again.
Our little family was set for winter.
We’d soon be soothed by the iron stove’s hum.

I turned from our surfeit of firewood,
And felt at once that a gentle something–
from above the trees overhanging the woodshed
and down through all leaf, all vapor– was falling

into my bone and flesh.
I thought back on the morning, so laden with silence,
as if I could move beyond joy or sadness,
stone-quiet myself, and that could mean solace.

.

A Grandson Sleeps on My Chest

The thread of drool from his lip to my shirt
shows lovely, prismatic, refracting the beams
of this fine warm April sun as I loll on a couch.
Those colors won’t blend with the song
from the Classic Country station I just tuned in.

Hank Williams is lonely, and it damn near kills him.
There’s a dog asleep too, in a circle of light
on the rug, near a pair of rattles, a teething ring,
and a bear that his great grandmother
fabricated years back for this sweet little sleeping child’s father.

Oh I could get going on how that father,
our son, has become such a huge good man
when only yesterday, as the cliché has it,
I held him just this way.
Oh I could get going all right about the absence

of the big-hearted woman who made the bear,
which has twice the bulk of this boy in my arms.
I could fret for the thousandth time that maybe I’ve failed
as man or parent or husband,
but no, I won’t be going that way, or those.

Hank’s midnight train is whining low
While here I hear only a lyrical breathing
and the odd and oddly tuneful infant gurgle.
The scent of the grandson’s crown
wafts up. That’s when all preachments waft up too,

all vanities, worries, to die their sudden deaths.

ruthie_grandpa_lego Poet & granddaughter Ruthie

—Sydney Lea

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Sydney Lea is the former Poet Laureate of Vermont (2011-2015). He founded New England Review in 1977 and edited it till 1989. His poetry collection Pursuit of a Wound (University of Illinois Press, 2000) was one of three finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Another collection, To the Bone: New and Selected Poems, was co-winner of the 1998 Poets’ Prize. In 1989, Lea also published the novel A Place in Mind with Scribner. Lea has received fellowships from the Rockefeller, Fulbright and Guggenheim Foundations, and has taught at Dartmouth, Yale, Wesleyan, Vermont College of Fine Arts and Middlebury College, as well as at Franklin College in Switzerland and the National Hungarian University in Budapest. His stories, poems, essays and criticism have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New Republic, The New York Times, Sports Illustrated and many other periodicals, as well as in more than forty anthologies. His selection of literary essays, A Hundred Himalayas, was published by the University of Michigan Press in 2012, and Skyhorse Publications  released A North Country Life: Tales of Woodsmen, Waters and Wildlife in 2013His twelfth poetry collection, No Doubt the Nameless, was published this spring by Four Way Books.

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Sep 032016
 

Denise Evans Durkin

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Apocrypha
…….(for Jean Valentine)

It seems the time of Angels has passed.

I cannot hear them anymore.

Not like I used to.

Listening – that’s what brought me here –
to the middle of this field untended
near a stand of sturdy evergreens – listening
amongst cattails swaying to a southerly breeze.

Blanket, lantern – this is the farthest
I have walked from the house –

into my life.  To hear them again.

To be given direction, like these birds
tuning up in the field.

Early and late; almost daybreak –
this is the hour to be most present, climb
higher, cresting a ridge in the middle of these acres

Now amongst the reeds, the birds
take to the sky, into the light,
all one fluid motion, certainty and faith –

Tell me which way.

Climbing down, back to the flat land
sky opening out – tell me

which way –

.

Restless
…….“My poetry is … a way of solving for the unknowns.” – Robert Hayden

Do you hear it? Slight sigh back of
the wind. Kohl sky opens
into this eternal deep –
comes long after midnight. Stars gather –
lean into my silence.

Walking in the hush, talking to the Lord.

Look at the papers on my desk huddled
under their blanket of dust. Almost
hear the words disappear – blown into
the dry well of what will be forgotten –

Very soon they will be swept away.

Every already known is
a little stand of pine just past
the house –

Aging we birth into this new world –
out in the far field
what matters shines.

This knowing –
like winter-cold tap water –
too soon now it all comes clear –

.

Winter: Sermon Over the Lake House

I am this wide opaque sky & this ice;
you will respect me.

You will be slow & careful;
you will feel the earth and be grateful.

I am everywhere beside you –
I will lay down night when I like &
you will come into my arms & give me love.

You will cleave my short, dark days to you; pray
they catch you when you fall.

You will feel my cold breath,
recognize all you did not see; shiny black ice –
slick branches bent low & those talking-almighty crows
strutting around the dogwood in my embrace –
telling you to just let go & feel it

Feel it: pearly moonlight casting long silver shadows –
the snow-lit path full of diamonds on its way up
to that lonesome bright star hanging
over this house, eaves bent to breaking
under ice floes – their heft eating
the old wood away.

Beneath this night’s ebony scrim
everything is everything & everything is
equally alright. Breathe again
& remember me halfway out of this darkness –
halfway – when you gather pussywillows
& bend them into crosses
before you & I are done.

.

Meditation
……..(after Pablo Neruda)

Cut by thorns of desire
scarred by your love
I have come again to this alone place.

Bare walls, near dark –
safe as stone.

Tea clear as sadness,
love pure as salt

Wind waking the green song
of the chimes.

I go down to the secret river;
I undress the wound.

Baptize me in darkness
Mother of this lonely place.

Do not come too near;
let me bleed and be alone.

I am filled with sacred water;
I am healed –
I grow and fill these bare rooms.

I flow down the avenues
silent as my love –

.

Chloe does not rest

because you speak her name all day long and
she is called here once again –
bound by a crumbling wall and
the mist of that name you keep breathing –
barely there – and there

She is again taking shape
gathering visible form

I think she’d rather rest

Fold her soft wings
sleep on her side –

I think she’d rather
vanish in the rain again

And stay that way –

—Denise Evans Durkin

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Denise Evans Durkin is a poet living in Putnam County, New York. She is a graduate of the MFA in Writing program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her poems have appeared in Numéro Cinq.

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Aug 152016
 

Rilke
allan cooperAllan Cooper

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In 1974 I found Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies, translated by Stephen Garmey and Jay Wilson. I was twenty and had just begun my first real attempts at writing poetry. I was insecure and hesitant about my own work. What if I couldn’t write? What if my idea of becoming a poet was a sham? I was encouraged by these lines in the Fourth Elegy:

….Look, I’m here, waiting.
And even if the lights are turned down, and someone says
“There’s no more, that’s it”–even if the emptiness
flows toward me like a grey breeze from the stage,
and none of my ancestors
sit beside me anymore, no women,
not even the young boy with the brown squinting eyes–
I’ll stay. I can always watch.

Or I can always read. So I decided to read as much poetry as I could. I searched out North and South American, European, Chinese, and Japanese poets to see if I could  develop a voice that could carry the kinds of images and insights that I found in Rilke’s work.

During the fall of 1975, the Canadian poet John Thompson and I had several long discussions about Rilke. He encouraged me to write English versions of some of Rilke’s shorter poems to see what they looked like. I tried two or three and took them back to Thompson. He liked some of the lines, made several suggestions, and the exercise slowly helped me with my own poems. But for years Rilke haunted me, especially the Duino Elegies. At times, reading various translations was like looking down into roiled ocean water and seeing something moving beneath, but nothing was clear.

It seems to me that the Elegies were something entirely new in the canon of literature, as Tom Thomson’s paintings of Algonquin Park were new to visual art, or Pablo Casals’ interpretations of the Bach Cello Suites were new and astonishing in the canon of musical performance. One of the great risks of translating Rilke, especially the Elegies, is that it’s tempting to bring in the “ohs” and “ahs” and embellishments of the original, but we don’t speak that way anymore. One question that dogged me was what Rilke would sound like if he were writing now. So I began translating Rilke with a contemporary English voice in mind.

The themes of the Elegies are immense and often personal. There are passages in the Elegies either addressed to or about his mother and father that are as moving as anything I have read. He praises the things of the world, cathedrals, children, heroes, young women, animals, catkins, mountain springs, and that list in the Ninth Elegy:

…perhaps we’re here to name things, to say house,
bridge, fountain, wooden gate, water pitcher, apple tree, window–
at the most pillar, tower… But understand, to say them
in such a way that the things themselves
would never think of. Isn’t the secret purpose
of this coy earth to urge lovers on
so that they leap inside with ecstasy?

Rilke’s friend, the pianist Magda Von Hattingberg, said she felt there was a certain dislike of simple joys in the Elegies, but I don’t believe this is the case. In the Ninth Elegy he says we’re here to praise, to transform, to be alive in this world:

Praise this world; don’t try to tell an angel what can’t be said….
Show him how joyful and innocent a thing can be; show him
how much it is ours, how much sorrow and grief become pure
in the end, serve as something, or die into something, and blissfully
escape beyond the sound of the violin. And these things of the world
that live only a short time know that you’re praising them…

Or this the passage from the Seventh Elegy:

To be here is marvellous. Even you young girls
sensed it, you who had nothing, who seemed to sink down
into the filth of city streets, the garbage festering,
open, on display. You had an hour, maybe less, that small
space between two moments when you felt
completely here, your veins filled with being alive.
But we forget so quickly what a laughing neighbour
neither confirms nor envies in us. We want to hold it up
and show it, but even our most visible joy can only reveal itself
when it’s transformed completely inside.

I don’t pretend to understand everything that Rilke says in the Duino Elegies, but working on the poems daily for many months has given me new insights. They feel like long letters to us, letters about what it’s like to live and love and die on this planet. I think of them now as letters to the universe.

§

The Fourth Elegy

Living trees, when do you sense the coming of winter?
We’re not in touch; we don’t have that instinct
the birds feel in autumn. Late, at the last minute
we coax ourselves onto the wind
and fall abruptly into a cold, indifferent pond.
We’re conscious of the blossoming and the withering
at the same time. And somewhere lions are roaming,
unaware of any weakness in them.

And we, who try to focus on one thing,
already feel the lure of another. That conflict
is part of who we are. Don’t lovers
always find the limits of each other?–
although they promised
a certain space, to pursue bliss, to find a sense of home?
They prepare a quick sketch of the other side,
a sort of background of pain
to help us see them, to make
themselves clear. And we don’t even understand
the contours of our own feelings,
only what forms them from outside.
Who hasn’t stood at the curtains of their own heart, shaking?
And when they rose, it was the landscape of goodbye.
That’s easy enough to understand. A familiar garden,
moving slightly in wind. And then a dancer stepped forward.
It wasn’t the beloved. No matter how lightly he danced
he was someone else, a carpenter coming home through the kitchen.
No, a puppet is better. At least it’s complete. I can stand
the limp body, the wires, the face
that’s almost expressionless. Look, I’m here, waiting.
And even if the lights are turned down, and someone says
“There’s no more, that’s it”–even if the emptiness
flows toward me like a grey breeze from the stage,
and none of my ancestors
sit beside me anymore, no women,
not even the young boy with the brown squinting eyes–
I’ll stay. I can always watch.

Am I right? Father, didn’t your life
taste bitter after you’d tasted mine,
the first distillation of what I had to do,
and you kept tasting as I kept growing,
and you, troubled by the aftertaste
of such a strange destiny, tested my lofty vision.
And you, my father, who since you died
I’ve held so often inside me, in my wishes and dreams,
you, concerned and afraid for me,
traded some of the tranquility the dead own,
their kingdoms, for my grain of destiny,
am I right? And all of you
who loved me from the beginning
of my love for you, a love I turned away from,
because when I loved you, the distance in your face
turned into something infinite,
and you were gone… When I’m moved by it
I stand in front of the puppet stage,
or stare at it so intensely an angel appears
to counter-balance my seeing
and make those limp bodies come alive.
An angel and a puppet: now we have a play.
Then the separation created simply by our presence
can come together again. And at last, out of the seasons
of our lives the cycle of everything is transformed. Above us
and beyond us an angel is playing. If no one else feels it,
at least the dying must sense how pretentious
our accomplishments are here.
We won’t let anything be what it is. What I wouldn’t give
for those hours of childhood, when everything was more
than a memory, and what opened out in front of us wasn’t the future.
Our bodies were changing–we felt that–and sometimes
we were in a hurry to grow up, just to please those
who had nothing to show for having grown up.
And yet when we played alone, we were delighted
by what never changed, and we stood in that place
between the world and our toys,
a place where a pure event had been waiting to happen
from the very beginning.

Who can show a child exactly as she is?
Who will place her like a star, and put the yardstick
of immense distances in her hand? Who will make a child’s death
from grey bread, which grows hard, or leave it
inside her round mouth like the core
of a shining apple? What moves a man to murder
is easy to understand. But death,
all of it, completely, even before
our lives have really begun, to hold it gently and not be bitter–
we don’t have the words to describe this yet.

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The Seventh Elegy

This wooing, this courtship won’t be part of your nature anymore,
for your voice has outgrown it. Now your cry is as pure as a warbler’s song
when the abundance of spring lifts him up, and he almost forgets
he’s a small, fretful, anxious thing, not this complete heart
thrown into the clear light of a deep and limitless sky. Like him
you would court the silent one you love,
and she’d begin to feel you, still invisible to her,
and some reply would wake inside her, almost a kind of inner listening.

Even the spring understands this–there’s no place
that wouldn’t carry the sound of your announcement. The first
short questioning notes, and the day, pure, affirms it
and shelters it with more and more silence.
Then the song goes higher and higher, up a stairway of notes
to that dream temple of the future; a trill, a warble, a fountain of notes
that in their rising already know they will fall,
for this is a play of promises… And the summer still to come.

Not only those summer mornings, and the first light breaking,
but the way the light changes and opens up the day;
not only the day, gentle around blossoms,
and the shapes of trees, so solid and strong;
not only the intensity of this unfolding power,
light touching the forest paths, the dusky meadows;
not only the rolling thunder at night, and the air clearing;
then near sleep, and some premonition you finally understood…
But the nights themselves, high summer nights,
and the stars of this earth.
And when you die, to understand that those stars are infinite:
this is something you will never forget.

Look, I’ve called out to the one I love. But she wouldn’t be the only one
who would come. Young women would rise from their insubstantial graves
and stand here. For once you call out, how can you put a limit
on the depth of your cry? The dead are always longing
for the earth again. When children feel something completely
it’s enough to last them for the rest of their lives.
For our destiny is nothing more than the closeness we felt as children.
How often you outdistanced the one you loved
as you ran blissfully, breathing quickly, into the open spaces.

To be here is marvellous. Even you young girls
sensed it, you who had nothing, who seemed to sink down
into the filth of the city streets, the garbage festering,
open, on display. You had an hour, maybe less, that small
space between two moments when you felt
completely here, your veins filled with being alive.
But we forget so quickly what a laughing neighbour
neither confirms nor envies in us. We want to hold it up
and show it, but even our most visible joy can only reveal itself
when it’s transformed completely inside.

Beloved one, the world only exists inside us.
We spend our lives transforming it, and the world outside us
slowly disappears. And where a house once stood
we create an image of that house inside us, board
by board, as if it were still there, complete, in the imagination.
The spirit of our age has built immense reservoirs of power, shapeless
as the intense emotions it draws from everything.
Temples and all sacred places mean nothing. And where one
remains, where we worshipped, and kneeled and prayed,
it lives on in the invisible world.
We can’t see them yet, we
can’t find them inside us, those pillars and columns
that could be so much greater now.

Each hollow change in the world has its forgotten ones,
who don’t belong to the past and aren’t a part of the future.
For even what is closest to them seems distant.
This shouldn’t confuse us, but make us stronger
in our labour to preserve those forms we still recognize.
Once they stood among us, in the middle of a destiny
that slowly destroys things, in the middle
of what we don’t understand; endured there, and made the stars
bow down from the protective heavens. Angel,
this is what I have to show you: it’s in your gaze,
saved at last, rescued, standing there,
those columns, sacred gateways, the sphinx,
the grey domes of cathedrals thrusting up from a strange city.

Angel, wasn’t it a miracle? Be astonished, great one, for this
is what we are. Tell them what we accomplished here; my breath
is too short to praise it. So in the end we didn’t neglect
our abundant allotment, this world space
which is ours alone. (And how terrifyingly immense
that space must be, which hasn’t overflowed
with our feelings after thousands and thousands of years.)
Wasn’t a tower magnificent,
even compared to you? And Chartres was immense, and the music
reached even higher and transcended us. But even
a young woman in love, alone at night by her window,
didn’t she reach almost to your knee?
Angel, don’t think
I’m wooing you, and even if I were, you wouldn’t appear. For my
call is always filled with leaving, and you couldn’t move against
the strength of that current. My call is like an arm stretched out
to hold you back. And my open hand, as if reaching up
to grasp something, defending and warning
at the same time, is something
you will never understand.

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The Ninth Elegy

Why, if the rest of our lives could be spent as quietly
as the laurel tree, a darker green than all
the other trees, with small curves on the edges
of every leaf (like a wind’s smile)–why do we
try to escape our human fate,
and yet long for it…
Oh not because of happiness,
that quick profit we take just before the coming loss.
Not out of curiosity, or to give the heart practice,
which the laurel tree already feels as well…

But because being truly alive is difficult: because the fleeting
things of the world need us, and in a strange way
call out to us. And we’re the most fleeting of all.
Each living thing is here once, that’s it. And we
live once. But to have been here
once, completely alive here–
to have been a part of this world–nothing can take that away.

And so we’re driven to achieve it.
We try to hold it in our simple hands,
in our overcrowded seeing, in our heart which is speechless.
We try to become the world. But who would we give it to? We’d
hold onto it forever…But then what could we take with us
to the other side? Not our seeing, that we learned so slowly,
and nothing that happened here. Not one thing.
Perhaps pain then, and the heaviness of life,
and love that lasted a long time;
and what can’t be said. But later, beneath the stars,
what would we say? There are things better left unspoken.
The wanderer doesn’t bring a handful of earth from the mountain
to the valley, or what can’t be said, but the pure word, the intense blue
gentian. Perhaps we’re here to name things, to say house,
bridge, fountain, wooden gate, water pitcher, apple tree, window–
at the most pillar, tower… But understand, to say them
in such a way that the things themselves
would never think of. Isn’t the secret purpose
of this coy earth to urge lovers on,
so that they leap inside with ecstasy?
How much a threshold means
to two lovers, who wear down their own
threshold, like those who came before them,
and those who are yet to come…light as can be.

This is the hour to say things, and this is its home.
Say it now. For now more than ever
the things of this world are falling away from us,
and in their place there are acts without images,
acts like shells that crack open
as soon as what is inside outgrows it and takes on a new form.
Despite the hammering of our heart,
the heart lives on; and though our tongue is clenched
between our teeth, it continues to praise.

Praise this world; don’t try to tell an angel what can’t be said.
You can’t impress him with your grand emotions. In the universe
he feels more and more, and you are just a beginner. Show him
some simple thing which, passed down over generations,
lives on in our hands and our eyes.
Tell him about things. He’ll be astonished, as you were
standing by the rope maker in Rome, or the potter beside the Nile.
Show him how joyful and innocent a thing can be; show him
how much it is ours, how much sorrow and grief become pure
in the end, serve as something, or die into something, and blissfully
escape beyond the sound of the violin. And these things of the world
that live only a short time know that you’re praising them;
transients, they want us to preserve them, and we’re the most transient
of all. They want us to take them inside our invisible hearts
and transform them into ourselves–whatever it is we finally are.

Earth, in the end, isn’t this what you want: to rise inside us
invisibly? Isn’t your dream
to be completely invisible one day? The earth, invisible!
Isn’t your urgent message to be transformed?
Earth, dearest one, I’ll do it. You don’t need to show me
anymore spring times to win me over; just one
is more than my blood can take.
I’ve belonged to you from the beginning, without saying a word.
You’ve always been right, and your inspiration has always been death,
that friend, that companion.

Look, I’m alive, but what feeds me? Neither my childhood
nor the future grows any less… an infinite presence
rises from my heart.

—Rainer Maria Rilke introduced & translated by Allan Cooper

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Allan Cooper has published fourteen books of poetry, most recently The Deer Yard, with Harry Thurston. He received the Peter Gzowski Award in 1993, and has twice won the Alfred G. Bailey Award for poetry. He has also been short-listed three times for the CBC Literary Awards. Allan intermittently publishes the poetry magazine Germination, and runs the poetry publishing house Owl’s Head Press from his home in Alma, New Brunswick, a small fishing village on the Bay of Fundy.

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Aug 142016
 

Susan Gillis photo by Alexandra PasianAuthor photo by Alexandra Pasian.

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Yellow Crane

These cold blue dusky mornings, softly cloudy up high, the comfortable rolling of tires on pavement like sighs, the crane on the St. Patrick building site quiet, underlit by a harsh industrial light.

Across the rooftops, lights over the freeway like a small village.

Everything’s bare but for the yellow shrubs overhanging the low wooden fence between the parking lots. Sidewalks and gutters are papered with a mash of leaves.

The dawn sky darkens toward winter, closes in on the busy glare, closes it up inside a spun shell like a wasp’s nest.

At 6.30 precisely the crane swings around through all the compass points, comes to settle pointing west.

How I would like to find that panel in my heart that opens, and open it.

*

What’s that gentle tapping below the shush of tires, as though at great distance?

                        That’s Vlad with his hammer, building the concrete forms.

What’s that small vibration grinding in my bones?

                        That’s the truck hauling girders slowing down outside your window.

What’s that hot musk like a skunk in a corner?

                        That’s what they dug up when they first broke ground.

What’s that tang behind my teeth after coffee?

                        That’s the yellow crane swinging back and forth above the maple crowns.

What’s that form racing toward me in the sky, looking so much like a cloud?

                        That’s a cloud, a dark cloud, just as it seems. Look how it glows, violet and gold, like the inside of the quietest room.

*

Behind and above the yellow crane
the sky is an almost uniform grey
streaked with lighter bits,
messy and thick like putty.

Not a cloud I’d want to lose my head in.

The longer I look, though, the more it seems
that cloud is all that’s in my head

and the crane’s yellow arm
is what I lean on when I lean
into the place that had just been view.

*

A large room where a lot of people were having casual sex, not hot really, just sort of nice, before the earthquake and the building falling in.

Waking to the whole building shaking and the fear of it really happening, an earthquake or the building falling in. People in the building across the street grabbing things and dashing outside in underwear.

I hunkered in a corner. No one knew what to do.

Waking from that to nothing, no panicky people, just morning light catching the yellow crane three blocks away and a kind of helpless relief.

The crane is pivoting. When it stops and points east, it looks like it’s pointing up toward the sun. As it swings south the angle seems to change, though once it passes it’s clear from where I lie that it’s on the level.

Hurrying past the building site I find the wrong glasses in my case, turn to say something friendly to someone who’s not my friend, who hurries past me toward a young woman who is waiting, clearly in love. An octopus swims through the unfinished rooms, bruised purplish tentacles emerging from the window holes.

The life of the imagination—would you choose it over the life of the mind?

What would you do, waking to the dawn sky in the mirror brighter than the same sky outside?

*

As though winter had permeated these objects,

morning light and the coming storm animating,
galvanizing them,

the crane’s short arm, the counterweight hanging from it
vigorous,

each ready for its action to begin, light

sliding along the yellow steel,
pinging off every bolt and join,
blistering, magnifying

the flat grey weight that holds everything steady
like a great square moon maintaining a distance,
always the same distance, light

bouncing into the filigree of leafless trees, dropping,
dropping, brightening as it drops
so I forget the storm gathering there.

In the mirror in front of my window
a man moves down a set of porch stairs in shadow,
small, backwards, behind my building,
a rogue villager lifted from a Renaissance tableau.

One hand slides along the rail as he descends.
The other drags a shiny plastic bag

swollen at the bottom, a bouquet in reverse,

the sky white,
the storm imminent.

*

They rest lightly on the invisible floor, these clouds
glowing with inner buoyancy, grey and glowing with immanence.

All the greys on the grey scale lolling, lightly resting
their porpoise bodies, their eel-selves, weed-strands, bobbling ocean junk.

If all the souls lost at sea this decade stood on each other’s shoulders,
the tycoons, troops, tourists, students, sailors, politicians, pirates, pilots, pets, ……….honeymooners, flight attendants, fishermen, drunkards, divers, criminals, ……….citizens, children

they’d reach the bellies of these clouds, so the one on top
could strike them. Such pearls would spill out! Bright confetti

of lives and portions of lives yet to live would spill down
smothering everything with unspeakable richness.

Instead the world is covered in snow, which returns to the sky
only to fall again, though I beg for plum blossoms

and would settle for feathers. The sky
is thumping us on the head like a stern teacher

from an old book no one reads anymore, shouting
Fools! Have you learned nothing?

*

Watching the yellow crane, thinking about the book I’ve been reading, excited and unsure, opened by it.

The narrator meets a lovely girl. He says he wishes she could grow up quickly, grow into a girlfriend for his old age.

I close the book. The crane revolves. No: the jib swivels.

I feel the need to walk a little.

*

The temperature drop is hard on the new foundation plants.

They dwindle and show more stem than the same specimens further down the row.

Look how that rugosa rose throws up hips at dogs and walkers! Sun-warmed as any summer berry, in spite of frost.

Their dry little brown crowns are pointed yet modest. Oh, weren’t we all flowers once? they intimate; bees knew us, your nose knew us, summer breezes too.

We still hold secrets in our gleaming hearts—

What am I saying? Plants don’t speak English.

And they certainly have no interest in me.

How still they are against the concrete wall, the old ones flush, the young ones thin and almost beaten.

*

I go for a walk, and when I get back, my house is reduced to cobweb.

Young oaks, hurry up and grow into a house for me!

*

Boom, traveller, plumb, hook, cab – I will miss the yellow crane when the building is finished.

The crane has just lifted a load of steel I-beams and lowered them to a point I can’t see, though I can see the figures of people walking along the roof.

Days close in on a wasp’s nest of days.

Is there a procedure for emptying myself?

As when the sky suddenly empties and resurges toward a storm.

*

Girl on a Sidewalk Heading towards the Metro in the Rain

burgundy and nylon tangled wetly
across grit and chainlink
a black scurry
half shrouded
many pronged
lost world receptor
instrument of past battles
channelling doyouthinkIgiveafuck

more wind than song
more push than rain

*

What is so complicated about tenderness? The whole world is wounded.

I opened the curtains at 6.50 a.m. to a rich blue sky flocked with puffball clouds, airy yet firm, dreamy piglets of cloud, the yellow crane over the treetops catching the morning light, its long arm elegant, definitive, reaching northward.

The smell of tea rises together with the clatter of a scrap metal truck passing on the street.

If I am concrete and river, if a direction, which?

“Desire, loneliness, wind in the flowering almond – surely these are the great, the inexhaustible subjects –“

A thing is sliding along the crane. The arm swivels; now it is out of sight.

“The world of dew is the world of dew. And yet, and yet—“

Wash, dress, eat, drive, park, talk, perform, record, return, drive, eat, undress, wash, repeat. Note a few random beauties.

What is “really living,” anyway?

Now that we really are.

Imagine the voice of a salamander.

*

Turning left onto the main road coming home, the gilded sky
deepening to indigo, there in a gap between buildings

the thin moon, long and keen, low in the sky as a streetlamp,
an open c turned, stretched, a loose hair, a thread of zest.

“To what summoned? And to whom? Blindly” driving somewhere
and it’s holy, isn’t it, to be called like that, drawn by force toward

“the unattainable small valley” past “horizons of woolly haze.”
Then in an instant called from sleep, summoned through the interchange

of dreams. How like yawning,
pulling the curtains open on a fine morning

to cloud radiating up and out from some low point behind buildings,
loud arms tinted pink as cake, holy spokes radiating out from the blind

wound of the railyards, Our Lady of industrial wrack, traffic squall –
Between the glass of my window and the brick, steel and concrete beyond,

panels of light and shadow tilting –
As I stood looking, two pale legs and part of an arm

floated forward in the dim interior across the street, the very clouds
come forward through the city and up the stairs.

And why not? Why not? Why should our bodies not appear
as transient forms? Smoke and nothing, gathered in a moistness.

Apparition with Blue Coffee Mug

Apparition in a Window

Suppose I pass this woman every day on the street and not know her?

*

When form changes, meaning changes, but my father’s gaze
is my father’s gaze

whether I’m beside him with my hand on his good arm
or just looking at him in a photograph

or catching his grin in the last few leaves of the maple
flashing and waving – “summoned” is a mild word for it.

I reach up to the curtains
and if I’m not careful I’ll pull the whole contraption down.

*

What’s that tearing I hear in the distance?

                        That’s Vlad, ripping away the forms.

What’s that tremor I feel in my ribs?

                        That’s the jack hammer, ripping away the street.

What’s that hot wave like gas at the pump?

                        That’s the future, spilling over the river.

What’s that thickness gathering under my tongue?

                        That’s the sludge of knowledge and memory, festering in the canal.

What’s that rushing at me from all directions?

                        That’s your life, disguised as traffic. Look how it gathers in morning light like molten glass.

*

Slowly the canal is returning to life—the stink of algae expands, cyclists appear, dogs trot on leashes, sparrows flower the shrubs along the bank.

Then the gates are opened upstream and the fresh, still-chill water rushes out to meet its ride to the sea.

Half submerged, ballooning, a plastic bag snagged on concrete billows like a sail.

“A rust-coloured sail dragged in the furrow of a wave….”

*

Evening began to turn everything golden.
My city, though ugly, broken down, grit-whipped, stricken

is also vibrant, shrill in the way summer insects
are shrill, calling out for their lives

and once I pushed through the uglier elements of hatred and fear
I could hear more birds.

As I approached, the skyline grew
bright in front of distant hills, and in front of the skyline

giant screens depicted pixelated towers
multiplexing the future.

Everything so bright!

The people inside them weren’t doing anything
I recognized.

—Susan Gillis

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Susan Gillis has published three books of poetry, most recently The Rapids (Brick Books, 2012), and several chapbooks, including The Sky These Days (Thee Hellbox Press, 2015) and Twenty Views of the Lachine Rapids (Gaspereau Press, 2012). Volta (Signature Editions, 2002) won the A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry. She is a member of the collaborative poetry group Yoko’s Dogs, whose work appears regularly in print and online, and is collected in Rhinoceros (Gaspereau Press, 2016) and Whisk (Pedlar Press, 2013). Susan divides her time between Montreal and rural Ontario.

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Aug 132016
 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Night Train to Venice

1. Montepulciano, November 2010

Flawed premise from the start—
an hour to explore in this hill town
before joining Annie,
and I mistook Saint Donato,
buried in Venice, for the Donato
who composed madrigals,
also buried in Venice.
Happy error. Stepping onto
Via di San Donato, I sang what I knew
of ‘All Ye Who Music Love’.~

Singing from the wrong Donato
I headed from the Piazza Grande
down Via Ricci and was stopped
by the sound of sorrow.
In a courtyard of the Palazzo Ricci
a soprano was rehearsing Górecki’s
Symphony of Sorrowful Songs.
Late autumn’s early darkness.
She stopped, started again, practised
ascending grief’s ladder.~

Start off singing a madrigal, return
with words a girl wrote on a wall
of a concentration camp, set to music
by Górecki. I didn’t learn he’d died
until the next day, but lingering
beneath such sadness, I didn’t need
to know. The music
stopped, I walked on,
and the lights in the valley
were candles in a starless church.~

Down Via del Paolino to Via di Collazzi,
where last year we rented a room
with a framed print above the bed
of Piero della Francesca’s
pregnant Madonna, fitting, since I was
trying to celebrate the first birthday
since my mother’s death. I paused
above the valley, recalling
Mother’s teaching me
to make memory scrapbooks,~

then wondered if the Palazzo Ricci
might be connected to The Memory
Palace of Matteo Ricci, a book
I half-recalled about a Jesuit
who taught mnemonics
to his Chinese hosts. It doesn’t matter
that later I found no link, by then
I’d made an outdoor version of Ricci’s
inner palace, linking each street
to the memory of a loved one.~

Ricci’s memory palace was based
on a Greek poet whose works survive
only in fragments. After Simonides
left a drinking party, the building
collapsed, crushing his family
and friends beyond recognition.
Walking past the tables in his mind,
Simonides recalled where each reveller
had been, helping the living reclaim
what there was to reclaim. ~

Since then, waking at night, I often
walk this route in my mind, recalling
loved ones, and if I make it back
to Via di San Donato before sleep,
I set off on pilgrimage to Venice,
to Murano, and the Church
of San Donato where three huge ribs
hang like upturned crescent moons
beneath the Madonna’s feet, proof
that Donato once killed a dragon.

The palace collapses on our friends,
our families. Heartbreak,
and then a route through dark streets,
searching for the chapel
of the human heart. Three long ribs
shine in flickering light beneath
a likeness of a Byzantine Madonna.
Dragon or whale. Dinosaur
or dragon. Outside, the star maze
and the shining water roads.

A silent car climbs the steep hill
across the valley. Was the soprano
practising for a concert or offering
her own tribute to Górecki?
I walked on when she finished, linking
hill town streets to friends and family,
but Górecki found a way to remember
the six million dead. He created
a ladder of complete silence.
Then let one voice ascend.

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2. Antibes, March 2011

Strange, once again
to be night-journeying, it seems,
towards Venice,
though I was only there
a few hours, forty years ago,
and almost managed
to miss it completely. Only
the impossible bones
in the church of San Donato
made any sense—

Call it the Little Library
of the Road, the way the right book
sometimes waits for you
in a hotel or train compartment.
So F. Scott Fitzgerald
welcomed us to Antibes:
on a shelf in the stairwell, Annie found
a copy of Tender is the Night
which she began reading to me, out loud,
even after I’d fallen asleep.

My turn to read next night.
Didn’t try to go back
where I’d last been awake. Began
where Annie left off, trusting
my dream-self heard
all that I need know, hoping
I recalled the story enough
from reading the book
four decades ago
on a night train to Venice.

Once he said, Draw your chair up
close to the edge of the precipice
and I’ll tell you a story—
fragments then of Fitzgerald
at the rim of sleep,
like tesserae in a mosaic,
clear glass on both sides
of gold leaf so candlelight
will be more luminous
than the gold of narrative itself.

All week our day-selves drove about
looking for where our night-selves
had been at bedtime, partying
with Nicole and Dick Diver.
The Villa Diana and the village
of Tarmes aren’t on the map,
but the rose-coloured hotel
is five miles from Cannes,
so starting with that landmark
we sought out roads to the precipice.

Forty years ago, Annie praised
Tender is the Night in a letter,
so I took it on the train to Venice.
An Austrian psychiatrist next to me
was travelling to see a French girl
in Murano. He spoke English well
and was charming, a young Dick Diver,
but he criticized Fitzgerald
for glorifying the edge. Don’t
go seeking the abyss. It will find you.

Those days, I was just trying
not to go mad. My consciousness
had an alarming ability to suddenly
lurch backward and suspend itself
above and behind my head
so I’d have to hold on to whatever
was there until I found my way back
inside the old brainpan. The precipice
for me was the fear of the broken
ladders of the family tree.

Nicole grabbed the wheel,
forcing the car towards the edge,
hitting a tree instead. The children
screamed as she faced Dick
triumphantly: You were scared
weren’t you? she accused him. You
wanted to live. What
could he say, though he didn’t.
Yes, fear of death, but also
fear of the crack-up. Precipice fear.

Made it through Fitzgerald
to the Church of San Donato
and his dragon, but returned abruptly
to the station, impatient to get back
to Vienna for Annie’s promised letter.
All these years and I’m still this side
of madness, and we read
to each other, waking or asleep.
Do you remember where we stopped
last night?—No, Love. Just keep reading.

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Pinot Grigio

Because he learned to love this wine late in life,
after his hearing was shot, he called it
Pinot GRATCH-ee-ah,
and I’d try to correct him, Pinot GREE-gee-o,
and he’d agree, Pinot GRATCH–ee-ah,
and we’d leave it at that,
which was just as well, as today I learned,
in Wine for Dummies, it’s pronounced
Pinot GREE-joe.

After the rest of us left, my sister found
Dad had stocked enough Pinot Grigio
to make it through the Apocalypse
so she brought bottles to his friends. Perfect,
since Dad loved combining the virtues
of visiting the sick and giving drink to the thirsty
by smuggling chilled bottles of wine to friends
in the nursing home—‘It cheers them up’, he’d say.
It must have cheered my sister too,

talking with his friends, and when I confessed
that I was wrong all along about the name
she described lingering over a glass
with Dad’s Italian friend Giulia
who said, ‘I never heard him say
Pinot GRATCH-ee-ah, it sounded more like
GRAZ-ee-ah. Sometimes, he could be
almost courtly. Grazie, molte grazie’,
and Giulia raised her glass to the air.

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From The Little Colloquium by the Sea

Too dark now to see the spring tide’s breakers
………..bludgeon the shore road below our house—
………………….they’re surely sundering our lane

for a second time this winter—
………..so we add turf to the fire, start to read
………………….to each other, but find

we can’t compete with the storm’s howls
………..and the stove’s answering roar. Still,
………………….there’s something companionable,

just writing and reading silently in the same room
………..while gusts outside reach 160
………………….kilometers per hour. 160, the same

speed the Turkish cab driver sustained last fall
………..through foggy rain all the way to Munich.
………………….Travelling faster than a hurricane, we

were the unrelenting wind that could upend trees
………..and bring down power lines, a yowl
………………….through the German countryside

that might at any moment be cut short.
………..Yet inside that potential destruction
………………….stories unfolded, whose tellings

began on the plane earlier: there was ample time
………..to share whiskey with seat mates
………………….and talk up there after the aborted

landing in Memmingen, and the retreat
………..back into swirling clouds, circling
………………….for an hour till the weather eased.

Finally we descended a second time
………..and just as the runway reappeared—
………………….the safe Earth a few feet away—

we climbed again abruptly
………..then flew off towards far-off
………………….Friedrichshafen. Audrey,

sitting next to us on the plane, had
………..to get to Munich to give the keynote speech
………………….at a European Union

health conference, so when we landed
………..she hired a cab then urged us to join her.
………………….No time for the driver

to look up the conference centre
………..on global positioning, so he typed
………………….the address with one hand

as we flew down a link road.
………..Tonight, back in Ireland, the windows
………………….pulse like something living,

but it’s good to be firmly
………..on the ground, this house of concrete blocks
………………….is going nowhere,

though the thrumming stillness here
………..is like being in that cab, or that plane,
………………….a place where strangers could share

a few last words, or speak
………..whatever most mattered. Audrey
………………….trembled as she told us

how she’d just cleared security in Dublin
………..when she got a call from Canada
………………….to say her brother Ivan had died.

She’d had to continue towards Munich
………..to give her speech but now it seemed
………………….impossible we’d get there in time

so our gentle cab driver leaned forward
………..as if being a few inches closer to the road
………………….would help him see

and let us get there faster.
………..Passing an exit, I realized the road
………………….led to the Alpine foothills

where the novelist W.G. Sebald was born,
………..and I tried to imagine that side trip,
………………….fog probably freezing

or turning to snow as we entered
………..the village of Wertach, but we tore on
………………….instead towards Munich,

the speedometer still at 160,
………..the highway signs warning
………………….of slippery conditions,

and I remembered how Sebald
………..died at the wheel.
………………….As if to keep her brother

with her in the car, Audrey was telling us
………..a story that Ivan told her
………………….that their mother told him,

which felt like the way Sebald’s character
………..Austerlitz
………………….recounted intimacies

several speakers deep,
………..and there was a fine balance
………………….of terror and camaraderie

as we learned that Audrey
………..had known our late friend Patrick
………………….on Cape Clear Island. Annie and I

first faced winds of 160 on Cape Clear,
………..where Paddy said, Island life is like
………………….being in a boat together, eight miles

out to sea, and we just have to make sure
………..we all stay in the boat.
………………….Then Annie told Audrey

how Paddy had died on Cape the same day
………..she’d had emergency surgery in Boston.
………………….Annie woke to a comforting

hallucination of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers
………..dancing cheek to cheek. She’s written
………………….about this—how Astaire

sang at the foot of her bed, Heaven,
………..I’m in heaven—but what connects for me
………………….now is that Astaire’s name at birth

was Frederick Austerlitz. So Austerlitz
………..danced for my wife, who lived, and Paddy
………………….died way too young,

and we’d met his friend Audrey,
………..we were in this boat together
………………….with her now, we were travelling

faster than some hurricanes
………..and the cab seemed filled with shades—
………………….Sebald and Paddy

and Audrey’s brother Ivan,
………..and the cab driver’s wife whose photo
………………….was taped above the dashboard,

the beginning of a story we never got to finish—
………..and maybe even Fred Astaire.
………………….The distance between life and death

felt very short as we hurtled down the Autobahn
………..and I recalled how Austerlitz thought
………………….the dead and the living

might occupy the same space,
………..but those who are already dead
………………….must find the living quite unreal.

And I recall staring out into the night,
………..off in the direction of Sebald’s birth,
………………….then wondering

if 160 kilometers per hour was the same speed
………..as the firestorm he described
………………….that rushed through Hamburg

after Allied retaliations, flames reaching
………..a mile in the air as they sucked
………………….the oxygen from everything.

It will be a long time before I forget
………..roaring through Germany
………………….as part of that imagined inferno.

I turned the conversation back to Paddy and Ivan.
………..Destruction and horror are never
………………….very far off, but in the meantime,

there is the chance
………..to be part of this colloquium
………………….between the living and the dead.

I wish it did not feel so one-sided.
………..I wish the ones who spoke
………………….were the ones who knew anything.

—Theodore Deppe

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Theodore Deppe is the author of Children of the Air and The Wanderer King (Alice James Books, 1990 and 1996); Cape Clear: New and Selected Poems (Salmon, Ireland, 2002); Orpheus on the Red Line (Tupelo, 2009); and Beautiful Wheel (Arlen House, 2014). A new collection of poems, Liminal Blue, is due out from Arlen House in 2016. Ted holds an MFA in Poetry from Vermont College of Fine Arts. A recipient of two grants from the NEA and a Pushcart Prize, he has been writer in residence at the James Merrill House in Stonington, CT, and Phillips Academy in Andover, MA. His poems have appeared in Poetry, Kenyon Review, Ploughshares, Poetry Ireland Review, Harper’s, and the Forward Book of Poetry. Ted has taught creative writing in graduate programs in the U.S., Ireland, and England. He is on the faculty of the Stonecoast MFA program, and directs Stonecoast in Ireland. He worked as an RN for twenty years while teaching poetry and fiction classes. Since 2000, he and poet Annie Deppe have lived for the most part on the west coast of Ireland, and they presently live in Connemara.

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Aug 112016
 

Zazil by Mari H. Res+®ndiz

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Zazil Alaíde Collins (Mexico City, 1984) has written four books of poetry: Junkie de nada (a first collection structured around Jarocho musicicans and the well-known Mexican lotería card game), No todas las islas (her prize-winning book that charts the history of her family myths by way of a sort of nautical cartography in verse), El corazón, tan cerca a la boca (in which she weaves together ekphrastic prose and poetry inspired by the photographs of Nora Nava Heymann) and, most recently, Sipofene. Sipofene, maybe her finest book to date, represents a sort of tabula rasa upon which Collins can construct a fragmented vision of the problems of our times. In the words of Javier Taboada: ‘Zazil Alaíde Collins’s Sipofene does not spring from any myth. By way of a journey back to an original state, the poetic voice strips bare the world of our times “los días más oscuros”. The geography of desertion: the pain that stretches out to the four cardinal points.’

In a world of shortening attention spans and click-bait journalism, it is refreshing to find a poet who still believes in the integrity of the poetry collection. Each of Collins’s books to possess their own unique focus and structure. Perhaps it is not surprising that Collins, also a broadcaster with a wide range of musical interests (her co-edited bilingual volume Músicos en la Ciudad de México/Musicians in Mexico City will be launched this August), is drawn to this kind of project: each of her books feels like a concept album in verse.

This interview, in which Collins discusses her wide range of influences and literary obsessions, was carried out via a series of emails between Zazil Alaíde Collins and Dylan Brennan. Included also is a videopoem featuring the opening verses of Sipofene, click CC for subtitles in English. Translations of poems to English by Cody Copeland.

DB: Tell us about your early life, where you were born, grew up, studied… and when and how you first came into contact with poetry.

ZC: I was born in the Roma neighbourhood of the Federal District, now officially known as Mexico City, on Saturday, September 1st, 1984. One year later, after the earthquake of September 19th I moved to La Paz, Baja California Sur, with my paternal family; a desert in which I learned to walk and observe. It’s an essential part of the imagery of my written work, and the place to which I return any time I need to touch base. When the city was reconstructed, I returned to the Roma area and studied my whole life in Mexico City. My university days were spent between political sciences, literature and anthropology.

My introduction to poetry was aural, before any kind of formal reading. There was never any lack of poetry books in my parents’ house, so poetry was always close. My parents even partially named me after a poet, the Guatemalan Alaíde Foppa, who, to this day, remains disappeared…

The first books of poetry that I can remember were popular cancioneros and two collections by Cuban poets (when I was a child my father lived in Cuba and his gifts were books from there): Mundo mondo by Francisco de Oraá, and Con un garabato by José Antonio Gutiérrez Caballero. In my adolescence, I was struck by “Tarumba,” by Jaime Sabines, and I discovered poetry by James Joyce, George Bataille and, by accident, the Mexican poet Mariana Bernárdez—by my reckoning, one of our most outstanding contemporary poets. I became obsessed with the work of Artaud… And I continued discovering authors in our family library, like Nicolás Guillén and César Vallejo. A short time before entering university I bought, also by chance, a facsimile edition of Muerte sin fin, by José Gorostiza, which changed something for me (I can’t say what it changed, but reading it still excites me, just like “Tarumba”).

Although I could go on naming other authors, the aforementioned ones opened up channels of perception for me, and are part of my initiatory journey, along with the internalised expressions of music and dance. When I was a girl, I studied contemporary dance for a few years and one of my ways of registering the choreography was to write down words that, little by little, began to take the form of verses; I would say that these were my first poems, without me knowing they were poems at the time.

DB: Which poets do you read these days? Which ones have influenced you? Which do you dislike?

ZC: Right now I’m reading the recently published books by Ernesto Miranda Trigueros and Javier Peñalosa. A few years ago I realised that I only read work by dead authors and, since then, decided to force myself to read work by my contemporary colleagues; amongst them, ones I definitely try not to lose track of include Mariana Bernárdez, Camila Krauss, Javier Taboada, Jair Cortés, Alejandro Tarrab, Daniel Bencomo, Ingrid Valencia, Daniela Camacho, Tere Avedoy, Fabio Morábito… I’m also reading a book by Coral Bracho, another by Guadalupe Galván, and I’m re-reading Heather Thomas, who I met a few months ago at a poetry reading in Egypt and whose work I enjoy greatly.

I think that I’ve been influenced by reading work by Oliverio Girondo, Wislawa Swymborza, Octavio Paz, Haroldo de Campos, Miguel Hernández, Jorge Guillén, García Lorca, Ángel González, Anne Waldman, Ferlinghetti and Gertrude Stein. While not poets, António Lobo Antunes  and Roberto Bazlen have become something magical for me. At least they are texts that I admire and re-reading them continues to provoke questions. I believe that poetry should consist of a constant questioning, perennial. I also believe that music exerts a permanent influence over me (even more so than poetry); I cannot disassociate from the poetic endeavour the lyrics of composers, from Henry Purcell to Chico Buarque, from Son jarocho to Canto cardenche (a kind of Mexican a cappella form).

I do not like poetry that tires after the first reading; that feels like something tepid. While we all develop our own obsessive metaphors (words, recurring images), I am not attracted to writers who seem to be writing a monopoem. There are poetics that seem overvalued to me, but it’s not for me to mention them. I will limit myself to saying that the poets that I dislike are those who have abandoned a feel for their own body, who have lost the musicality, the spontaneity. I also dislike poetry with the tone of a saviour, of an illuminator.

DB: Forgive if I’m mistaken but I sense more of a gender balance in contemporary Mexican poetry than in prose. Is this true? Do more women write poetry than prose these days or am I wrong?

ZC: It’s strange. I agree. However, in the professional practice, I mean, from so many anthologisers, teachers, editors or editorial committees, it seems to me that female poets remain relegated, while, in the case of female prose writers, things seem a bit different. Female prose writers seem, somehow, “freer” to me, more at ease, less worried about forming part of a power base, which is something healthier, from my point of view. Maybe I’m wrong. I feel that female poets are more protective of their own space, distrustful even with other female poets. In this way, sometimes there is not a gender balance when they act in the same way as those who violate communal liberties and achievements. In other words, there is not always a sense of sorority between female poets; at least not when it comes to my own experience in central Mexico.

DB: I suppose we could talk a great deal about female poets. I still hear people using the word “poetisa” (“poetess”); can you say something about that? Also, is it more difficult for female poets to get published these days? I know it certainly used to be that way.

ZC: I’m amazed that the word poetisa is still used, among poets. I have never liked this mark of differentiation; I subscribe to Anne Waldman’s “Feminafesto”: “I propose a utopian creative field where we are defined by our energy, not by gender.” I believe that it is difficult for women to get published (nowadays I don’t know if it’s easier or more difficult than it is for male poets) because we are not taken as seriously; “Could it be that we don’t go out boozing with the right editors?,” I often ask myself (in an ironic tone, of course). There exists a professional and emotional dialogue that continues to be “restricted” between genders. I have never understood why, but the act of publishing tends to be sectarian in nature, due to a series of factors of public relations, which sometimes spring from motives of class, gender and even sexual orientation. Of course, when I read phrases like “We badly need more Mexican women to write literature of the highest level like the work of Elena Garro, we urgently need them to stop wanting to earn a fortnightly wage and to get down to the business of writing,” though it may just be nothing more than marketing, it is clear to me that the rift still exists. It seems to me that some colleagues have not understood that the problem is not talent, but the conditions and access to certain spaces. For starters, while women earn less than men for carrying out the same job (any job) we cannot begin to start talking about equality. In Mexico people complain about the PRI but many intellectuals (who work in publishing) possess that same PRI mentality, where cronyism and favouritism take precedence over merit, and they are often the people who make decisions about who gets published and who doesn’t. At the publishing houses there also exists a kind of false democratisation: they often don’t even read manuscripts seriously. But, the more autonomous work that is produced, the more this schizophrenia can be challenged.

Sipofene – Zazil Alaíde Collins from Andrea Grain on Vimeo

DB: Is poetry changing nowadays? Is it reinventing itself or is it the same as it ever was? What about the Sipofene videopoem? How did you come up with this idea? Tell us about the process, the director, those who took part, etc.

ZC: New media has caused changes with regard to the way in which readers approach literature, and authors have adapted too; it’s something reciprocal. It’s not that new, really, either; since the avant-gardists there have been textual and discursive explorations, and those who believe that these experimentations, between literature, dance and visual arts, for example, have existed since the beginnings of civilization. My undergraduate thesis dealt with the textual borders of video-poetry, so you can see that I’ve studied the theme for quite a while. However, though I fantasize about directing my own video-poems, my own weaknesses are clear to me: “the cobbler sticks to shoes,” as the saying goes. The reinvention within poetic languages stems from an integral approach to text, audio-visual elements, collective work with photographers, videographers, editors, actors… Literary work can also be viewed as a kind of laboratory. The idea of collectivisation includes working in many fields; at least attempting to initiate dialogues; in this way, creating small mobilisations (this is my idea of activism).

I had already seen photographs and videos made by Adrea Grain Hayton for musical groups, and as she studies literature, I decided to propose that we did something together, without any pretensions, so I just suggested that she could do anything she liked with a few of my poems. She liked the idea and chose just a few sections, as Sipofene is a long poem. She asked me a few questions about the meaning and intention of certain lines, but it was she who visualised and directed the material. For me, poems liven when the readers (not the poets themselves, as authors) perceive them, recreate them, taste them, and, so, I’ve always preferred the readings that others can give to my texts, even when they don’t coincide with my own original ideas. I wanted to know how someone with a visual imagination like Andrea could understand the poem. And in a spirit of making community I decided to invite people who I admire, either because they are friends or because they are poets that I both admire and read (only one poet couldn’t make it).* We met one afternoon at my house, every participant read in front of a camera the complete verses of the first section of Sipofene, called “Bóreas,” and then Andrea cut everything, extracting fragments of each collaborator and combining them. I know that she absolutely associates the visual part with the Greek myth of Boreas and the horses.

*DB: That was me, so sorry I couldn’t be involved.

 DB: Tell us, what books have you written? Tell us a little about each one? What about the process and the reception that your books have received from readers?

ZC: I’ve written four books of poetry: Junkie de nada (Lenguaraz, 2009), No todas las islas (ISC-Conaculta, 2012, City of La Paz State Prize winner in 2011), El corazón, tan cerca de la boca (Abismos-Mantarraya, 2014) and Sipofene (La tinta del silencio, 2016); and,  independently I’ve adopted my thesis on video-poetry as a free e-book: Videopoesía, poíesis fronteriza: hacia una reinterpretación del signo poético. I’ve also participated in some anthologies of essays and, also, poetry, as co-author: Deniz a manzalva (Fondo Editorial Tierra Adentro, 2008), La conciencia imprescindible. Ensayos sobre Carlos Monsiváis (Fondo Editorial Tierra Adentro, 2009) and the major anthology Antología General de la Poesía Mexicana: poesía del México actual. De la segunda mitad del siglo XX  nuestros días (Océano, 2014). I’ve uploaded nearly all my books to Google Books so that they can be looked up online.

Junkie de nada is a sort of compendium of my first poems; I completed it in less than a month with poems that I’d written over a period of five or six years, approximately, and I tried, of course, to give them a sense of unity. At that time I had to hand a set of lotería jarocha (a variation on the Mexican card game resembling bingo, this one featuring figures from Veracruz folklore), from the Canadian printmaker Alec Dempster, and, in a sort of eureka moment I got the idea that I could play around with the idea of a collection of poems that revolve around the cards of a lotería set. It was fun to throw down the cards and to group the poems together, according to a character or emotion. Some friends from university ran an independent publishing house; they liked the material and decided to publish it. I showed them the poems after they’d been rejected by an official publisher (the federal government). A huge plus for me was that they allowed me to suggest authors for an epilogue, and, of course, I thought of the poet that I admire: Mariana Bernárdez. The editors got in touch with her and she accepted their proposal to read my work and to write something. The book deals with metapoetical anxieties; all part of exploring the meaning of life. I was 25…

No todas las islas was conceived as a sort of cartography of my family’s history (and myths); I threw it, like a message in a bottle to the sea, into a competition and I won the Baja California Sur state poetry prize, and so I got to have it published. This made me very happy because, apart from all the rest, I wrote that book thinking of my seniors (my grandparents, mainly), who live there and whose parents were involved in the foundation of that state. During the editorial process, I suggested to the state government the idea of producing a special edition, different from their normal collections. In reality, all I wanted was permission, for them to allow me to print a special limited edition on my own, one in which two friends would help me, one that would include colour and playful typography; but the publishing section of the Instituto Sudcaliforniano de Cultura liked what they saw and decided to take the chance and change their collection style from that book onwards. While Efrén Calleja, a friend and, now, neighbour of mine, was in charge of the edition, and Benito López was the designer, for almost a year the three of used to meet on a weekly basis to discuss colours, typography, meaning, size, corrections, etc. In this way it has been the book with which I’ve been most involved and the one that has caused me most professional delight. That level of communication with an editor and designer is something I’ve yet to replicate. The book is structured like a travelogue, an imaginary journey, but one which can be followed on Google Earth through the suggested coordinates.

El corazón, tan cerca de la boca is an exercise in which I decided to try to write just one poem, one that would weave together strands of poetry and prose, by way of ekphrasis and the photographs of Nora Nava Heymann. Ideally, this book was conceived in conjunction with the images, but the publishers (Abismos) decided not to include the images—they don’t do that kind of publication—so that, in the end, only the text remained. At the same time, I suggested that a jazz singer work with the material and musicalise some poems in free form; in that way, the texts which gave rise to songs were also translated. The music is online and can be downloaded and/or listened to. The book plays with the word “Bardo,” as a concept and state: the poet bard and the Buddhist “bardo” which represents the intermediary state, a state of transition (another one of my obsessions). Many of the metaphors stem from a journey to Ireland, peyote, meditation and nephelomancy (a form of divination based on observation of clouds).

Sipofene is a long poem that I wrote in 2015, which stems from images of a trip to the desert and the feeling of political discontent, after interiorising these lines from Ferlinghetti: “If you would be a poet, create works capable of answering the challenge of apocalyptic times, even if this meaning sounds apocalyptic.” When I thought of the text, I visualised it as a performance, and from there came the desire to make the video, which is free to be seen by the public.

Even today, I still find reviews and new readers of my first book, because, who knows why, they still can be found in some bookstores in outside Mexico City. I think that’s the book that has been reviewed the most, both in print, radio and television. Each of my books, though, has found a distinct audience, I think, because of the playful approach I’ve tried to establish, from the visual to the musical.

DB: What about practical things. When do you write? How often do you write? Where? Any particular process?

ZC: My methodology involves writing a dream diary as soon as I wake up (many of my poems stem from dreams), and keeping notebooks under my pillows, in the bathroom, dining room, in my bag, etc. You never know exactly when that powerful line that can guide a poem or book can appear. I don’t think I have any particular process, but I usually write in the small hours of the night (that is what I most enjoy: the silence), and then closing myself off at home (it doesn’t suit me to be out in the open air); I’m a bit of a hermit but I don’t like to force myself. There’s an intuition which beats in a peculiar manner when I need to sit myself down to write; I try to yield to it.

DB: What is Sipofene?

ZC: Sipofene is a place where death doesn’t exist, from the conception of the indigenous Americans, the netherworld. I knew this a long time after the word had resonated in my head, when the first verse arrived: “When the bones burn, Sipofene,” which motivated me to start the poem. I’ve tried to remember how that word made its way into my imagination, and the surest clue is that I probably heard it in one of the films of the Twilight saga (yes, it’s true, I consume almost anything related to werewolves and vampires)… Or some kind of trick of the subconscious after a reading towards which I was indifferent, what do I know… As the poem advanced, it flowed for two intense weeks, and I found that this world (the world of Sipofene) was an intermediary state, a theme that I had dealt with before in El corazón, tan cerca a la boca. It’s possible that my age is accentuating this anxiety, but this third state that flitters between past, present and future, this third way of being is, for me, the current social, political and human condition. We are living at a time of confrontation between opposing systems, radicalisation, fanaticism, and we need to reconstruct from another perspective, comprehensive and able to accept dissent and diversity. I tried to write while eliminating genre distinction, thinking of a somewhat personified Sipofene that could be something like a muxe (a third gender) that would speak of the search for identity of those who are exiled, for a variety of reasons. There’s an underlying tone of lament, musical, I hope, revolving around our dead and battle-wounded. Sipofene is the others. And the others are all of us who search for, hopeful or resigned, a new world: “another world is possible.”

DB: The published version of Sipofene is something special, tangible, very pretty. Tell us a little about the editorial process. Did the publishers approach you or how did it work?

ZC: I wrote the poem and decided to put it up online, via Amazon, with the idea that some publisher or editor might be interested in it, but, really, so that it could be read online by anyone. I also decided to give away free copies of a paper-bound PDF via social networks and, among my contacts, a former colleague from my master’s program at UNAM read it and told me that she had set up a publishing house and wanted to talk to me. I’m referring to Ana Cruz, editor of La tinta del silencio. And that’s how it all started. I got to know the publisher’s work and I was convinced by her idea to manufacture books by hand, numbered copies, in personalised editions, that suit the text and the author. The publishers were very meticulous with regard to communication and editing. The idea of a prologue and the cover image were left wide open, and so I decided to invite an illustrator that I admire, Alejandra Espino, with whom I’d been wanting to collaborate for a long time, and she agreed to draw the cover image and to make a serigraph. For the prologue I turned to Javer Taboada, a colleague who I also admire for his astute readings and, also is someone who knows my work well since we’ve been reading each other since we were very young. My ideas of publishing involve bringing together talents and disciplines. This is something I’ve been able to accomplish with this book.

DB: To finish up, tell us about contemporary Mexican poetry. Do you like it? Is it in a healthy state? What do you think?

ZC: I like it because I feel that it’s regenerating, like every fabric. Little by little it finds its connections and now it’s difficult to judge it but the debate about whether or not a regeneration exists is growing. We are many voices; for me it’s a restless choir that still hasn’t decided what it’s singing about or, indeed, who is doing the singing. I suppose it’s fairly normal, as it matures. I think of poets such as Homer Aridjis, Ramón Rodríguez and Dolores Castro as completely contemporary voices as well, with solid trajectories free from the false bureaucratic quarrels, with a restless and pointed poetry.  I feel the same about, although he has died, Gerardo Deniz. It may be that Mexico still hasn’t stopped revisiting its modernity and, for that reason, authors such as Los Contemporáneos and Octavio Paz still seem to beat so closely. Poetry prevails thanks to its sincerity; if that continues, as far as I’m concerned, it will never cease to be current.

zazil

—Zazil Alaíde Collins & Dylan Brennan

From No todas las islas

Natural History

Words are crabs
Buried in the deep.

Shipwrecks speak
in seashells.

The wind sings its syllables
of whispered names.

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The Giant Women

They came from the north,
but no one knows when they were wiped out.

From the cave of music
they made their rounds,

raising their pentagram arms;
they all croaked under lock and key.

The old men claim to have seen them
devoured by the sea.

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from Boreas

THE DAY LABORERS howl with the sound
of war in the poppy fields,
music for bull calves,
train whistle that carries the breath
of the soldier suckled by Chernobyl.

There’s so much slackening the thread, Sipofene,
such fire in the crotch,
…………humiliated boots,
…………metallic hands,
…………headquarters’ silences.

What will the dust bring,
if we’re always dead in the presence
of the violet stockings’ nudity?
It is a field of iron, Sipofene,
…….a keloid field.

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from Austral

THE WORLD SHOULD BE A BETTER PLACE,
with more poems and tulips;
no resection of the migrant
who flees in order to survive
the harassment of offices
that are after his right thumb.

Tell us what emporium has robbed you?
How many prisons have you trod?
Who knew the truth of your sandstone?

The cherry and blue meeting houses
were part of the eclipse.
We speculated up until the year of your birth.

NO ONE CLAIMS THE ASHES
of an angel of clay
in the jaws of the common grave,
no one asks for his minimum wage
at the sides of Cadmus’ ships,
and no one deserves to die by stone
on a high tension cliff,
but there go the 50 thousand orphans
who have lost their hunger
walling in the cattle.

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from Zenith

IT IS CALLED RAGE, Sipofene,
the substance that undermines us
breaks us
deludes us
the exhausted gaze of serfs;

it’s called weariness, Sipofene,
this solitude without a capital
these lead hillsides,
paradise of the dissidents.

—Translations by Cody Copeland

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Cody Copeland

Cody Copeland teaches English and writes poetry. His work has appeared in Mexico City Lit, The Ofi Press, and The Bogman’s Cannon. He is currently based in Mexico City.

Dylan Brennan by Lily Brennan
Dylan Brennan is an Irish writer currently based in Mexico. His poetry, essays and memoirs have been published in a range of international journals, in English and Spanish. His debut poetry collection, Blood Oranges, for which he received the runner-up prize in the Patrick Kavanagh Award, is available now from The Dreadful Press. Twitter: @DylanJBrennan
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Aug 092016
 

Daniel Lawless 2

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Portrait of My Father

Face forever dull scarlet, puckered when he snuffled
Up the last packed flakes of Erinmore
From one of his half-bent’s and gave it out as acrid
Comment on our clothes, my comics, Saint Michael’s
Shoddy footwork on the pitch.
There was a pineapple on the tobacco tin; according to him Virginia
Was full of them, and drunk Indians.
At eight I kept ship’s nails, odd stamps, two perfect ambered bees
In one; by twelve pinched coins against the day
I could train away from that ancient nobody. Then
Cancer. April. Or May. The parlor swooned. By June
His raw lips were a flea circus. Morphine, and soon that jutting
Lawless chin and half his jaw lopped off — a map
Of olde Eire jammed on his shoulders I’d trace with curious fingers
From Kinsale to Letterkenney
As he dozed chair-bound halfway into Benny Hill. October
In memory means standing straight as line poles
At his casket against the garlic-gales
Of Monseigneur’s Castelli’s Lord’s Prayer, our threadbare
Sunday bests smelling of his forsaken Erinmore. The rest
Half-forgotten. Photographs interred in plastic jackets.
Christmas, wistful. Snowflakes. School, our silent friends.
Birthday masses with old women in black dresses, Ma chirping
He’s with the angels, et cetera, we were Irish.

 

Up late

This morning, leather-gloved against blisters and armed
With my aunt’s grand new Flexrake Basket LRB 140 —
An impromptu visit to their old house-keeper Florene’s
rusting double wide
To pick lychee nuts, which I’ve never tasted
But my uncle Bob assures me I will love
Shaved into coconut pudding and topped with something
He calls his Lychee Love Sauce.
She’s not home, of course, Florene: colon cancer. Two years ago
Now. A long haul, her black-haired widower concedes, polite but
Staring straight ahead over the dashboard, waving us on
As he backs the pick-up down the cracked asphalt drive.

It’s hard. Harder than I would have thought.
Twenty minutes maybe half an hour of swatting no-see-ums,
Twisting our doughy necks and arms into soft pretzels,
Working the spring-loaded jaws so they claw
The stems without breaking the rind and then suddenly rain
That pulls us toward the carport: smokes, Cokes in a cooler
Where we’d left them,
Tired chit-chat between rolls of thunder as we lament
The sorry state of Florene’s garden, until turning back we spot
A dazed-looking figure on the neighbor’s lawn.

Sylvie, Clara summarizes — grand-niece, sixteen, drugs as we watch her
Watch us, unseeing, cheeks smeared with mud,
Slow-dancing to la musique inouïe,
Fiddling with a garter snake, making a bracelet, a necklace.
She’s beautiful, wearing nothing but a man’s swimming trunks.

And shall I speak now, Reader, of the rain that never ended,
Our rolled shoulder dash through it
To the car as we left her to her reveries, Florene’s double wide
Receding through the fogged-over rear window
As we bumped back down the gravel road,
The tart almost candy-like scent of what lychees we’d gathered
Squirming out through the twig holes punched in the single Winn Dixie bag
We’d managed to fill,
The darkness of the kitchen as we spilled them on the counter
Where Bob stood with his Oxy peeler, the slow brush of his forearm
As he swept the rough pink-red of their hides
Into the sink to expose balls of translucent flesh?
How we waited as he ground them with fresh coconut flakes
And poured a steady stream of heavy cream and egg yolks
Into a bowl, how we spooned that still-warm pudding up with plastic forks
From Hardees, the rain finally diminishing to plump drops plopping
From the gutter?
Or are you still thinking about that half-dressed dancing girl
With her scorched toddler-mind, how childishly beautiful she was
Making jewelry out of a snake,
The aroma of her pale breasts and the illicit thought
Of kissing them, taking them topped with Lychee Love Sauce
Into your mouth?

—Daniel Lawless

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Daniel Lawless’s book, The Gun My Sister Killed Herself With and Other Poems is forthcoming from Salmon Poetry, February 2018.  Recent poems appear or are forthcoming in The American Journal of Poetry, Asheville Review, Cortland Review, B O D Y, The Common, FIELD, Fulcrum, The Louisville Review, Manhattan Review, Numero Cinq, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, and other journals. He is the founder and editor of Plume: A Journal of Contemporary Poetry.