May 032016
 

Momina Masood

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Leaving Eden

I have been
The virgin you were promised
for good behaviour,
And a sizeable body count.
But I have left Eden (some of us do get out)
Beyond unwanted pregnancies, the Sharia police,
I have finally found,
My own little patch of apple grass. The eunuchs sing
Of ancient harems and cultural constructs, while I,
Who have traded her hijab for a scandal, climax
thinking of god.

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Contagion

We’ve embraced the silence of the Third World,
And multiply viciously in cardboard settlements.
Our kind is unappeasable, we spread out
Like contagion, a flurry of headscarves
And religion. We’re quite popular,
And desperate for attention, you see,
There are mouths to feed, we are, after all,
Your Other. We’re necessary.
Slowly, quite unnoticed, we’ll take over the world.
A race of Frankenstein monsters,
We’ve already begun.

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To Pakistan

prologue

I have wept on the cobbled floors of Lahore,
looking for the Pakistani Dream.
Furrowing through an endless trail of paper
in dimly-lit halls of alien embassies.
(My kingdom for a way out, if you please.)
Our history for a better accent
of a language we do not speak.
In plastic whorehouses, I sing
of foreign invasions, exploding lilacs,
unwanted refugees. In the arms of a dying race
peddling religion and pornography
(Whatever works, you see)
We laugh over the sound of children
coupling, drawing graffiti
of a generation’s collective unease
by the canal where the city ends
into more dust and traffic police.

We have moved on from visionaries, and opium,
to a militant sense of clarity.
Welcome to the land of the ideologically free!
Our beautiful postcoloniality.

epilogue

With strawberry flesh in my teeth,
I smile up to the sky.
We have learnt to crane our necks
above the stink and the plastic,
to where Baba’s finger
draws silver triangles in the dark.
That’s the North Star, he says,
and we choose together
different cobbled floors
brighter neon signs.
We choose the possibility, Baba and I.
Our necks growing longer by the minute,
till we reach Heaven,
or fall off from the edge of the world,
or break and scatter
flushed off in the entrails of Hell,
with wailing children, and senile grandmothers.
The muezzin shrieks and the stars go out
in reverence to dead gods and false idols.
Baba tells me a story as we clasp hands under the breaking firmament,
and the weight of the dead we inherit.
We are the Magi of a brave new world, he tells me,
laced with rubber bullets and selfie sticks,
the looming towers of the metropolis, our only gifts
to the blood-soaked child, washed on seashores,
exploding endlessly, perpetually, into a sticky mass of blood and hair.
(We are ever so sorry!)
Yet we are redeemed as we stand, naked and sweaty,
looking for the North Star, for

we have learnt, after all, my dear
to crane our necks, beautifully
above the rot and the fish smell
of sins and human longing.
that might be as utopian as it gets,
for the lot of us.
The Magi stranded on a colossal waste,
chasing the sound of gunfire, the trails
of arms and outstretched fingers
pointing to an unreachable beyond.

—Momina Masood

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Momina Masood is a literature graduate whose work has previously appeared in 3:AM Magazine, The Missing Slate, The Bombay Review and The Bombay Literary Magazine. She is 23, lives in Pakistan, and writes for the absolute necessity of it.

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Apr 102016
 

creation

The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel — most of us know what it looks like: God divides light from dark and land from water; God creates the Heavens, the sun, the moon; God holds his hand out to Adam’s hand and their index fingers almost touch; God creates Eve from Adam’s rib; the Snake, wrapped around The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, tempts Adam and Eve with an apple; God expels Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden; eventually, after familiar stories of Old-Testament misbehavior, God sends a Flood. Meanwhile, sibyls and prophets sit at the edges, distracted by their own concerns. We know when the frescoes on the ceiling were painted: between 1508 and 1512. We know who the painter was: Michelangelo Buonarroti, born in  1475, died in 1564 (the year Shakespeare was born) – Italian painter, sculptor, architect, and engineer.

Michelangelo - Daniele da Volterra, 1533, Florence ItalySketch of Michelangelo by Daniele da Volterra, 1533

But do we know how the artist felt, lying on his back painting that ceiling month after month and year after year? I mean, do we know much about it beyond the imaginative retelling of it by a Hollywood director? We do, since Michelangelo himself gave us a poem about it:

A goiter it seems I got from this backward craning
like the cats get there in Lombardy, or wherever
–bad water, they say, from lapping their fetid river.
My belly, tugged under my chin, ‘s all out of whack.
Beard points like a finger at heaven. Near the back
of my neck, skull scrapes where a hunchback’s hump would be.
I’m pigeon-breasted, a harpy! Face dribbled-see?
like a Byzantine floor, mosaic. From all this straining
my guts and my hambones tangle, pretty near.
Thank God I can swivel my butt about for ballast.
Feet are out of sight; they just scuffle round, erratic.
Up front my hide’s tight elastic; in the rear
it’s slack and droopy, except where crimps have callused.
I’m bent like a bow, half-round, type Asiatic.
Not odd that what’s on my mind,
when expressed, comes out weird, jumbled. Don’t berate;
no gun with its barrel screwy can shoot straight.
Giovanni, come agitate
for my pride, my poor dead art! I don’t belong!
Who’s a painter? Me? No way! They’ve got me wrong.

Not many people know that Michelangelo was a prolific and accomplished poet, writing more than three hundred poems across the entire span of his creative life. He tried, near the end, to organize one hundred of his poems for publication. But one of the two friends involved in helping him with this project died before it was completed, and a first edition of the poems was not published until sixty years after the artist’s death, under the supervision (and high-minded tinkering and “sanitizing”) of Michelangelo’s grandnephew.  “Sanitizing,” according to the translator John Frederick Nims, meant taking out “anything that might have reflected discreditably on the family or fame of Michelangelo: “Love poems addressed to a signor were revamped to fit the madonna of tradition; dubious political or religious views were amended.” His poems, to put it bluntly, were “made respectable.”

For more than 200 years, this version of the poems – “discretely doctored” to disguise the homosexual nature of them – was the only one available. By the mid-1800’s scholars began to look back at the originals for comparison; in 1893 the British homosexual activist and poet/critic John Addington Symonds offered a more authentic version, correcting the changed pronouns (from “she” back to “he”) and adding in several of the more explicit poems not included in the 17th-century edition. By 1960 a complete edition was published that included 400 pages of editorial notes referring to the originals.

What we recognize, as we read through The Complete Poems of Michelangelo is the unique physicality of the artist. He brings his knowledge of the body – it’s outer curves and inner musculature – with him, from the three-dimensional sphere into the verbal. Known to have reduced his skill at sculpting the human body to these instructive lines, “Carving is easy. You just go down to the skin and stop,” he also gave us these thoughts about sculpting, comparing what he sees as his simple talents (calling his own hammer “botched”) to the “heavenly hammer” of God:

….If my rough hammer shapes the obdurate stone
to a human figure, this or that one, say,
it’s the wielder’s fist, vision, and mind at play
that gives it momentum – another’s, not its own.
….But the heavenly hammer working by God’s throne
by itself makes others and self as well. We know
it takes a hammer to make a hammer. So
the rest derive from that primal tool alone.
….Since any stroke is mightier the higher
it’s launched from over the forge, one kind and wise
lately flown from mine to a loftier sphere.
….My hammer is botched, unfinished in the fire
until God’s workshop help him supervise
the tool of my craft, that alone he trued, down here.

david-full-front …………Michelangelo’s David
Carving is easy. You just go down to the skin and stop.

According to Nims, the originals were written on “whatever [Michelangelo] had at hand”: the backs of letters, records of expenses, receipts, and sketches for his buildings and for his paintings. The artist was known for his sloppy personal habits – Paolo Giovio, one of his many biographers, wrote, “His nature was so rough and uncouth that his domestic habits were incredibly squalid and deprived posterity of any pupils who might have followed him…he had a reputation for being bizzarro e fantastico.” He felt no particular restraints when he was young about criticizing the profit- and violence-driven culture that surrounded him in Rome:

….Chalices hammered into sword and helmet!
Christ’s blood sold, slopped in palmfuls. With the yields
from commerce of cross and thorns, more lances, shields.
Still His long suffering mercy falls like dew?
….These lands are lands He’d better not come through.
If He did, his blood would boil, seething sky-high,
what with His flesh on sale, in good supply.
Virtue? Cast out. NO ENTRY signs repel it.

Later in his life, he became more cautious about expressing his political views in public. But his love poems remained vital; he is described over the years by many poets, including Italy’s own Nobel laureate, Eugenio Montale, as one of the great lyrical poets of the High Renaissance.

No one translates Michelangelo’s poetry as well as John Frederick Nims – in fact, Nims’s essay about his translations engage the reader almost as much as the poems themselves. Nims had this to say about his own efforts:

I intended, at first, to [translate] only a few…. But when I had finished those few, the momentum carried me on through all eighty. Those done, there were the hundred or so madrigals, which showed another side of the poet’s temperament. They came next. Then there remained another hundred poems in various meters -but it seemed too late to turn back….What had kept me going, for a year or more, was the fun of it. “Fun” is a word that Robert Frost often used of poetry. If it offends anyone when used in the aura of the divine Michelangelo, as Vasari called him, we could retrieve from ancient Greece the favorite motto of Valery…which he translates as pour le plaisir. I kept translating for the pleasure of it.

Not all translation is word~for~word “literal,” rich in the pleasure we call “fun.” Dictionary~scavenging can be dreary work, like a piece of assigned homework we resent having to do. The fun comes in when, by imposing obstacles, we introduce the element of sport or game, with its hurdles, wickets, sand traps, baselines, strike zones, bull’s~eyes. So, in translating poetry, we have to cope with such tricky features as rhythm, sound, wordplay, connotation, and all the other enrichments that lift prose to a resonant and more allusive level. Incorporating as many of these features as the terrain allows is the goal of the translator: born of such fun is what we call fidelity.

Nims chooses a modern voice (“I don’t belong! / Who’s a painter? Me? No way! They’ve got me wrong”) which some critics object to. The poet Mark Jarman, in his review of the book for The Kenyon Review (Summer/Fall 2001) says that, as a translator, Nims “tends to heat up Michelangelo’s poetry, making it more inventive and slangier than it appears in Italian, closer respectively to the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins and Nims himself.” But in his introduction to the book, Nims points out the unappealing high diction of previous translators  such as Wordsworth, Longfellow, Emerson, Santayana, Symonds and Rilke, all of whom overloaded the “rough language” of Michelangelo’s youth with too much elevated diction. He goes on to explain that previous translations had “a totally different effect on our ear today than Michelangelo’s would have had on the Italian ear of his time.” Despite their “complexity of content” the poems contain language that shows Michelangelo “spoke and wrote like the Florentine he was.”

The poems of Michelangelo surprise us. They do just what surprises should do: they wake us up and keep us marveling. To the list of his accomplishments – painter, sculptor, architect, engineer –  we need to add the words “and poet.” Though publicly arrogant at times, in the privacy of his own poems Michelangelo doubted his own worthiness, his own talent, and he struggled with the uncomfortable fit between his creative energies and his more spiritual existence. Not only his back ached – so did his soul. The poems often sound like they come from a worried, tempestuous modern mind. See if you can get a copy of The Complete Poems of Michelangelo (translated by Nims) and read it through. And while you do, keep this image in mind:

laocoonMichelangelo’s Laocoon

—Julie Larios

.May 2011 - Jackson Fishing at Lake Commonwealth

Julie Larios  has contributed several Undersung essays to Numéro Cinq over the last few years. She is the recipient of an Academy of American Poets Prize and a Pushcart Prize, and her work has been chosen twice for inclusion in The Best American Poetry series.

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Apr 092016
 

Portrait of Cy Twombly by Fielding DawsonPortrait of Cy Twombly, Fielding Dawson

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Fielding Dawson Portrait of Cy Twombly

your chair looks kinda wobbly
cy twombly

I think you’re an anomaly

you’re practically
sliding off the chair
the window’s
broken by lines in a grid
it’s time to stand–
but sit for another minute
give us your specifics
wait — you don’t care
what you get across
or to whom

large, your hands
rest beside each other whitely,
parallel like piano keys

your shirt’s white
the window behind you is kinda’
sketchy in 1951

loose
yet precise
a small face
full of interest
unstingy
and grungy

a black button
on a worn blue jacket

you might jump up
and draw squiggles
your body’s both curvy and angular

a bit of white sock
usual blue pants
a blue jacket  bits of
brown butcher paper
showing through

your collar’s upturned and
your hair’s a bit of tweedledee and tweedledum

the wood floor is what you were
born for

guess that’s a watch on your left wrist
your shoelaces and the
stripes of your collar–
you were about
little things like that
employing house paint
colored pencil and string
among other things

your acrylics are bright
what did you do at night I wonder
you give us just a smidgen of
what’s in that head of yours

fielding dawson
lifelong socialist
socialized with you
no separation between
the art and the doing
the art and the life

remaining unnoticed you were happy

you broke things down to
build them up again
cy means baby in greek
master in english
which is what you speak

the british family twombly
had a coat of arms which
you may have found alarming

a hands-on man
plain so you could
put it all in the work

triangles all around–
your face
your collar
your crotch
your right leg forming an
acute angle with the chair

things one might not notice
at first–your sagging belt
the pocket on your jacket

legs apart
feet turned slightly outward the way
a man’s supposed to sit

eyes closed or just looking down

the lines of the floor drive the painting forward
as if thrusting you towards us
colorful cartoony one

your shoes shaped and colored violins

bits of purple and green
far away barely seen
make the blue less flat
the painting works against the
flat canvas though it’s semi-abstract

it’s an impression and makes an impression
of cy twombly

will you have coffee with me?
no? you want to get back to your studio…
stand up, walk away, the day awaits

dawson chose the colors of nature for you
you’re off in your head to
a greek isle
a sumerian temple
a grouping of flowers

part of progressive art, you said,
is the complete expression of one’s personality–
you drew in the dark to develop your line
a wobbly line     a kid’s kind of line

I saw you as a baseball player before I knew
your father named you after
cy young
and was
himself
a chicago cubs pitcher

you married a baroness and called your son cy
grew up in virginia     hopped over to rome
in between relocated twice a year
your sculptures as talismans to
guard you on your way

edwin parker cy twombly jr  hey
you influenced basquiat, kiefer, clemente and schnabel–
very cool–
keats and mallarmé appear in your work
rilke and virgil as well
space in your huge canvasses
for them all

influenced by giotto
you painted a blue sky
on a ceiling in the louvre
with sun and planets perhaps
painted over with names of greek sculptors

dawson painted you with
2/3 blue wall behind you
1/3 yellow floor
it’s right proportionately

for your blackboard paintings you
‘sat on the shoulders of a friend who shuttled back and forth
along the length of the canvas, thus allowing the artist to create his fluid continuous lines’

work as a cryptographer for the army influenced what–
your scripts and  pictography?
amazingly, charles olson worked in washington, too

cambodian-french artist rindy sam was arrested after kissing one
panel of your triptych phaedrus, which she smudged with red lipstick.
at her trial she defended her gesture:
‘J’ai fait juste un bisou. C’est un geste d’amour, quand je l’ai
embrasse, je n’ai pas reflechi….’
‘It was just a kiss, a loving gesture, I kissed it without thinking; I
thought the artist would understand….It was an artistic act provoked
by the power of Art.’
‘[ms] sam was fined and compelled to take a citizenship class.’

a frenchwoman stripped in front of your
orpheus’ trip to the underworld
saying, that painting makes me want to run naked.
you were delighted, who else? you asked,
could have that effect? I might add,
especially in houston, texas.

—Ruth Lepson

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Ruth_Web

Ruth Lepson has been poet-in-residence at the New England Conservatory of Music for 20 years and has often collaborated with musicians. Frank Carlberg, Noah Preminger, Simon Willson (2 l’s) & she will be making an album this spring of musical settings of her poems. Her new book is ask anyone, from Pressed Wafer, and musical settings of some of the poems will be available on the Pressed Wafer website and on her new website, ruthlepson.com. She’s had poems in Jacket2, Agni, Let the Bucket Down, Big Bridge, spoKe and many other publications.

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Apr 072016
 

IMG-20160223-WA0005Photo by Sonia Quiñones

I first came across Óscar Oliva’s work a couple of years ago when Keith Payne came to visit me at my house in Cholula. He spoke of Óscar’s poetry with such enthusiasm that, as soon as he and his partner (the wonderful singer, Su Garrido Pombo—listen to her perform one of the poems below) left, I pulled out the massive anthology of Mexican 20th century poetry that sat guiltily on my shelf and went directly to the entry on Oliva. The first two poems intrigued me—El artista (The Artist) and El sufrimiento armado  (The Armed Suffering). El artista takes its cue from the famous Velazquez painting Las meninas, in which the artist chooses to place himself within the painting. The speaker of the poem states that his intention is similar to that of the Spanish painter, to become one with his art: ‘How to make myself and this book indivisible?/How to make this poem break free from the yoke of paper?’ In El sufrimiento armado Oliva visits the tomb of Marco Antonio Yon Sosa, a Guatemalan guerrillero killed by Mexican armed forces near the border with Chiapas. In the second half of the poem the speaker returns to his home in Mexico City to read about the event in the local papers. He notes how the minister for defense claims that the Guatemalan guerrilleros had fired first and that: ‘In these conditions…our soldiers will not reply with flowers and embraces.’ Oliva would reply with poetry, with music. From these two initial encounters it was clear to me this was a poet who gave equal importance to social matters as he did to ars poetica, singing for the sake of music. It was also clear that I would read more.

Chiapas, one of the poorest states in Mexico and also one of the states with the highest portion of indigenous groups, is an important element of Oliva’s poetry, his love for his native land is palpable. In Keith’s excellent article for the Irish Times (Rebel Hearts Beat with the ‘Poetry of Vitality’) he charts the circumstances that brought Oliva back to Chiapas in the mid nineties: “In 1994 The Zapatista Army of National Liberation had asked Oliva and (Juan) Bañuelos to join its delegation for peace talks with the Mexican government …Hearing the declaration, Oliva returned to his native Chiapas.” But Chiapas, with its stunning natural beauty, armed struggles and social injustices, though a recurring presence, is not the sole location of Oliva’s work. As likely to reference Q’uq’umatz as Juvenal, his wide range of references weave a vast and varied tapestry. Oliva is a troubadour who travels far and wide, crossing spatial and temporal boundaries with ease, though always carrying with him the stones and soil of Chiapas. These four poems are testament to the variety, vitality and integrity of his work. Long may he continue.
— Dylan Brennan
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Óscar Oliva comments on “Behind the wheel of an automobile on the Pan-American Highway from Tuxtla to the City of Mexico”

Writing poetry always constitutes a journey that starts upon the arrival of the first line, which contains within itself the impulse to keep going. Sometimes we travel down these roads in the dark, like St. John of the Cross, and sometimes at great speed like Rimbaud, all in order to remember or imagine we are remembering, different aspects of situations. We were taught all this by the classic Chinese and Japanese poets. Also by Fernando Pessoa and the Provençal troubadours. I have never stopped making that journey, a journey into knowledge, an initiatory journey, one that is never the same—the landscapes change, the towns and cities also change. I and everyone else continue along this wheel that also changes.

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Behind the wheel of an automobile on the Pan-American Highway from Tuxtla to the City of Mexico

for Enrique González Rojo

From Tuxtla to the city of Mexico
is more than a thousand kilometres
more than a million metres
more than a hundred million centimetres

and so many more stones,
so many more trees that

I can neither measure nor count
what I’ve done so many times,
at so many kilometres an hour,
with the hot breath of wind blowing down the Isthmus,
torrential rains barrelling down the Veracruz stretch
that threaten to jack the car and drop it in a ditch,
I’ve picked up the names of all the bridges,
of all the throttled villages
buried in the curves and straights of the road
that I’ve driven down all the days and all the months of the year,
first light, late at night, and at that moment
when the evening is a cicada turning back
into its primitive shell, spinning back to larva,
the exhaustion hooks the mouth,
twists the shoulder and down
into the back of the foot,
and burrows with a spoon
deep into the head;
I still feel when I’m on the go
from one place to another
in this dread between life and death,
when language and anger pushes you on,
and I’m making my way with a pick and a trowel
or when I’m sat in a chair
or laid between the legs of the one I love,
this gearshift, the pulse of the engine
pulling up the mountain, heading up into
the knotty heart of it all
the gentle giddiness on the way back down
and the speed that makes us swallow the landscape
and our words;
the first time I came to Mexico city
I didn’t know which way to turn
which corner to round,
it was like beginning to write,
sat to the white sheet elbows on the table
alone, shoulders hunched forward
waiting for the pistol and the engine rev,
the race to be won
but you’re the only driver,
the page that burned in my hands
like the rubbish tips that burned in Santa Cruz Meyehualco,
and the trucks and trams that burned in the risings,
that screamed hunger,
I came down from the attic to campus,
books under my arm
rolling up spit balls and firing them
out of the bus window
polluting the city with Kant and Antonio Caso,
I dumped my books on the bus and jumped
into one of the greasy spoons on Academía St.
………….or a pub
then dancing all night in La Perla,
later on I’d feel the heat of the woman
who had brought me home,
a moisture spreading like an expanding universe
in a few square metres,
in a few cubic metres of air;
and I wrote across the city roofs,
I spread my reach, my turf
I wandered the hideous streets
where the people crawled
out of work with nothing to eat
gougers or thieves
who raised their eyes to my shirt
and it was like stepping back into the movies
back into Buñuel’s The Forgotten,
and on those ulcerated streets I saw for the first time
carfulls of police, mounted police
pick-ups of riot police
who closed the streets;
the power of the State
who charged full tilt
swinging batons
booting the rubbish bins,
shaking up the neighbourhood
shooting point blank
a blitzkrieg down on our heads,
then the silence of Chaplin’s Easy Street
and I wake up on the path
my eye cut, babbling
like a groggy boxer and they’ve stopped the fight in the third on a technical
and the howls of the crowd not there,
I gathered what was left of my books
without a cent in my pockets,
and back to my room
whistling the tune from The Graduate,
to write the poem I lost
like so many things you lose;
I.D. and women
strikes and chewing gum
faith and socks;
It gets cold in the mountains around Puebla
you have to roll the windows up,
turn on the heat and slow right down
to a regular speed, and later on the sunlight
through my bedroom window,
she’s coming in to wake me
taking off her school uniform
lying down on top of me sliding over me
kissing each other like something out of the movies,
caresses straight out the The tower of lust
Gone with the Wind’s big house,
it’s late, it’s late the sunlight tells us,
they’ve turned up the lights in the cinema,
It was time for a sup and head out across the Zócalo,
kiss her goodbye at the door
then up Guatemala St.,
two blocks take a right,
back into the new poem
back into the dream jaunt,
grab some stuff for the street again
to listen to the jangle and bounce of the trucks
…………loading and unloading,
the travelling salesmen’s banter,
the binmen,
the schoolkids,
hop up on a bus
in with the workers
the driver has the radio full blast,
it’s hard to get to the door, I ring the bell,
a red light flashes on the dash,
I take a wander up by San Lazaro station,
watch a train pass
as it pulls itself across the face of the earth
a letter on each of the six cars
that form the word STRIKE,
I measure these things in my pocket
against what’s on the street,
at the stand I grab an orange juice, the passing
railwaymen lift a finger in salute,
I salute them too, it’s as if we’re saying
reality is in those fingers
this train,
the orange juice lights up my whole body,
I arrive
and the five poets are sat around a table
someone reads a poem, I watch them:
they’re the same age I was when I first met them,
………….I think;
they haven’t moved, still as a photograph
hands in mid air,
pen in the hand,
a glass at their elbows,
they’re as old as our children are now,
it has all passed so fast
just like coming down out of the mountains in Oaxaca,
where it seems that the road breeds another road
where the slightest slip could send me over the edge,
where the brakes don’t seem to work,
where I’ve lost control of the car,
I come back to the photograph and hang it
…………on one of the walls at home,
I arrive for the first time in Mexico City,
I am just one more shoulder in the crowd marching through,
teargas fumes me,
derailed trains burnt out at the terminal
ripped up tracks and the attack
of the police, of the army, of the riot squad
all in battle formation,
the Zócalo is a rifle butt in the face,
there’ll be more battles
José Revueltas tells us,
the railway workers pass by and lift their fists
…………in salute
they walk out of one cell straight into another,
back down to the underworld, into their nooks,
take note, write all this down,
I’m nothing more than a chronicler
who has seen his friends fall,
who has buried his dead,
who has washed in the wind,
full of ghosts and contradictions,
demands and manifestos,
who has patched his back so many times
falling in love again and again, watching the future
so it’s hard to keep an eye on the telescope lens,
denying the future, hating it again,
starting over again, in the end
starting the journey, setting out from the same place,
going the same way,
coming down the highway, braking,
tooting the horn, the lights change,
gearshift, watch the tyres,
flick on the wipers,
and keep an eye on the gas,
barrelling down again till finally I pull in
and here I am writing this
at the end of the journey,
hopeful,
hitting the brakes
so I don’t run over everything I’ve written
or myself.
So I can keep on rising and falling.

Translation by Keith Payne/Audio reading by Ophelia Ellen McCabe

 

Al volante de un automóvil por la carretera panamericana de Tuxtla a la ciudad de México

A Enrique González Rojo

De Tuxtla a la ciudad de México
hay más de mil kilómetros de distancia
más de un millón de metros
más de cien millones de centímetros

mas las piedras,
mas los árboles,

que no se pueden medir, ni contar,
que he recorrido tantas veces,
a tantos kilómetros por hora,
con mucho calor y viento por el Istmo,
con lluvias torrenciales por el tramo de Veracruz
que tratan de detener el carro, derribarlo en un barranco,
que he aprendido los nombres de los puentes,
de los pueblos asfixiados, hundidos
en las curvas y rectas de la carretera;
que he recorrido por distintos días y meses del año,
en la madrugada, en la noche, en el momento
en que la tarde es una cigarra volviendo a su funda
primitiva, saltando al revés, a su condición de ninfa,
sintiendo ese cansancio que nos prende de la boca
………con un anzuelo,
que continúa en un hombro,
baja hasta el calcañar de los pies,
y escarba con una cuchara
el cráneo;
todavía siento, cuando voy caminando
de un lugar a otro, en esa trepidación de vida y muerte
a la que nos empuja la gramática o la cólera,
de regreso a casa, abriéndome paso
con un pico y una pala, o cuando
estoy sentado en una silla
o cuando acostado entre las piernas de la que amo,
ese cambio de velocidades, el esfuerzo del automóvil
al subir una montaña, entrar a ese nudo de raíces,
el leve mareo al descender
y la velocidad que nos hace tragar el paisaje
o nuestras palabras;
la primera vez que llegué a la ciudad de México
no sabía a dónde dirigirme,
qué esquina cruzar,
era como comenzar un escrito,
estar acodado en una mesa frente a un hoja en blanco,
solo, con los hombros colgados hacia adelante
esperando el disparo que inicia el arranque,
la carrera que hay que ganar
y donde se es el único competidor,
una hoja que ardía en mis manos
como a veces arden los tiraderos de basura de Santa Cruz
………Meyehualco,
o como los camiones y tranvías en tiempos de rebelión,
que aullaba, que tenía hambre,
iba de un cuarto de azotea a la ciudad universitaria,
con libros bajo el brazo,
haciéndolos pedacitos y tirándolos

por la ventanilla del camión,
contaminando más la ciudad con Kant y Antonio Caso,
y ya sin ellos me bajaba a la mitad del camino,
entraba en una cocina económica de las calles de Academia,
o a una cervecería
y en la noche a bailar a La Perla,
más tarde sentía la humedad de la muchacha
que se había acostado conmigo,
una humedad que iba creciendo
como un universo en expansión
en unos cuantos metros cuadrados,
en unos cuantos metros cúbicos de aire;

y yo escribía en las bardas de la ciudad,
ampliaba mi territorio, mi radio de acción,
entraba a calles espantosas
donde la gente se arrastraba,
desempleados que no tenías para comer,
rateros, tal vez criminales
que alargaban sus ojos hasta mi camisa,
y era como entrar de nuevo al cine
a ver Los Olvidados de Luis Buñuel,
y en esas calles ulcerosas vi por primera vez
carros llenos de policías, y también policías a caballo,
granaderos en camiones
que cerraban esas calles,
parte del poder del Estado,
que entraban empujando,
golpeando,
entraban a paso de carga
y arremetían contra todos,
tirando los botes de basura,
despertando al vecindario,
disparando a quemarropa,
acometiendo como en un juego de futbol americano
y después era el silencio de La Calle de la Paz de Chaplin
y yo despertaba tirado en la banqueta,
macaneado, con las cejas cortadas,
como un boxeador groggy que le han parado la pelea
por knock out técnico en el tercer asalto,
con la rechifla de un público que no existe,
levantaba los pedazos de libros que me habían quedado,
sin un quinto en los bolsillos,
y regresaba a mi cuarto
silbando el mambo de El Estudiante
a escribir el poema
que se perdió
como se pierden tantas cosas,
credenciales y mujeres,
huelgas y chicles,
buena fe y calcetines;
con mucho frío por la sierra de Puebla,
hay que subir los cristales de las ventanillas,
poner la calefacción, descender a una velocidad regular,
y luego la claridad entrando por la ventada de mi cuarto,
entrando ella a despertarme,
quitándose su uniforme de colegiala,
echándoseme encima, moviéndose,
besándonos como se besan el actor y la actriz en los filmes,
acariciándonos en La Torre de Nesle,
en la mansión de Lo que el Viento se llevó,
ya es tarde, ya es tarde, nos decía la claridad,
se hacía la luz en la sala de cine,
había que ir a cenar y atravesar de nuevo el zócalo,
despedir a la amiga en la puerta de su casa,
después subir a la calle de Guatemala,
a dos cuadras dar vuelta a la derecha,
llegar de nuevo al poema recién comenzando,
entrar de nuevo a la expedición del sueño,
ir recogiendo muestras de distintos materiales,
para bajar de nuevo a la calle
al escuchar el ruido de los camiones
de carga y descarga, las voces de los vendedores ambulantes,
de los recogedores de basura,
de los niños que van a la escuela,
subir a un camión de pasajeros
junto a obreros y obreras,
el chofer lleva el radio encendido a todo volumen,
es difícil llegar hasta la puerta de bajada del camión,
se toca el timbre, se prende un foco rojo al lado del volante,
caminar sin rumbo fijo por la estación San Lázaro,
ver pasar un tren
que a la tierra arrancara su estructura
en seis de sus vagones una letra
que conforman la palabra H U E L G A
esos materiales que llevo en el bolsillo
los comparo con los que voy viendo en la calle,
llego hasta un puesto de jugos y pido uno de naranja,
los ferrocarrileros al pasar levantan el puño y saludan,
yo los saludo,
parecen decirnos
la realidad son estos puños,
este tren,
el jugo de naranja ilumina todo mi cuerpo,
llego al sitio de reunión,
los cinco poetas están sentados alrededor de una mesa
alguien lee un poema, yo los observo:
“tienen la edad que yo tenía cuando los conocí”, pienso;
se han quedado inmóviles fijos como en una fotografía
en actitud de golpear la mesa,
con el lápiz en las manos,
con una copa al lado de cada uno,
tienen la edad de nuestros hijos,
edad que ha pasado vertiginosamente,
tal como el descenso por las montañas de Oaxaca,
donde parece que la carretera engendra otra carretera,
donde el menor descuido puede llevarme al precipicio,
donde parece que los frenos no responden,
se ha perdido el control del auto,
llego hasta la fotografía y la cuelgo en una de las paredes
………de mi casa,
llego por primera vez a la ciudad de México,
soy un hombro más de la multitud al dar un paso,
gases lacrimógenos me hacen rabiar,
trenes descarrilados o incendiados en las terminales,
las vías levantadas, y el ataque
del ejército, policías y granaderos
en formación a paso de batalla,
el zócalo reducido a un culatazo en la frente,
vendrán otras batallas, nos decía José Revueltas,
los ferrocarrileros pasan frente a mí levantan el puño y saludan,
salen de una cárcel para entrar en otra,
pasan a la ilegalidad, a sus escondrijos,
tomo nota, apunto todo esto,
no soy más que un cronista
que ha visto caer a sus amigos,
que ha enterrado a sus muertos,
que se ha bañado de viento,
lleno de contradicciones y fantasmas,
de asperezas y afirmaciones,
con la espalda remendada tantas veces,
de nuevo amando, avizorando el futuro
que es tan difícil retener en el lente del telescopio,
negando ese futuro, de nuevo odiando,
de nuevo comenzando, en fin
iniciando el viaje, partiendo del mismo lugar,
dirigiéndome al mismo lugar,
descendiendo por la carretera, frenando
tocando el claxon, haciendo cambio de luces,
cambiando de velocidades, atento
al deslizamiento de las llantas, poniendo
en acción los limpiadores del parabrisas,
vigilando la aguja que marca el contenido del tanque de gasolina,
bajando a gran velocidad, en fin
hasta llegar al lugar donde estoy sentado escribiendo,
al final de todo,
esperanzado,
frenando bruscamente
para no atropellar todo lo que llevo escrito
y a mí mismo.

Para continuar ascendiendo y descendiendo.

 

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Su Garrido Pombo Sings the Poem

Capture

Su Garrido Pombo via sugarridopombo.com

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§

Óscar Oliva comments on “For Pope John Paul II on his arrival in Tuxtla Gutiérrez”   

It is a poem of circumstance, one in which I once again proclaim my love for Tuxtla, my hometown. I like to walk around Tuxtla because for walls it has mountains that have hardly moved since I was born. It is also a poem in which I speak of the evil machinations of the State and the Church, how they transform religious faith, with the 30 golden coins from the spotlights of mercenary publicity.

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For Pope John Paul II on his arrival in Tuxtla Gutiérrez

In the water’s flow lies its fall
voices, faces beloved for having
survived rivers upon rivers:
………………………………..Tuxtla
is like amber under pooled waters;
so now, you’ll make it to my hometown,
Pontifex Maximus, and I would have
liked to have seen you with my 1947 eyes.

You will see that sky of almost solid light that there begins,
that continues in Guatemala like a wild boar’s head,
…………………………………carried on a shoulder,
that can be weighed by hands in all of Central America,
so battered by North American imperialism
………………………………..(that’s what we called it),
and on resting your workman’s hands upon my hometown,
you’ll hear the fluttering thoughts of Q’uq’umatz.

I don’t really know what your visit will bring,
under a sky with no eyelids; it will be astonishing,
tongues will mingle, you will stumble,
heads will bash against each other,
and your word will disseminate, your soul torn to shreds,
thousands will photograph you, shoot you in video and film,
and I will watch you so far away so close on the telly.

I would have liked to have been there in my doorway
……………………………….to have seen you pass by,
but, since many years ago,
a child that came running from the backyard,
not yet having received the Eucharist,
upon opening the door to the street, fell down in a faint.
My grandparents, parents, siblings, and I myself, all dead,
buried; all together, all shouting
……………………..Goodbye Holy Father! God Bless You!

Now then, I am writing these words down before
……………………..you arrive in Mexico, from where
news of your visit breaks
……………………………………………from the TV stations,
which we watch between adverts, which dirty
…………your robes upon which they play dice,
between political slogans from George Bush to the world
………………………………from the White House;
before you leave Rome, Sir John, Sir Paul,
before you open one of the gates of the Vatican Palace;
before I can establish that Rome really exists, the Vatican
Palace, Tuxtla,
because you know very well that all that I’m saying
………………………………………………………………..is possible,
especially between two poets who will not see each other, not now, not ever.

Upon arrival, you will see the trees, that cannot grow
………………………………………………………………..any longer.
You will not see the idols—nobody has seen them—that the Indians
…………hide behind the Catholic images.
You will see, just beside the arroyo, Brother Bartolomé de las Casas,
and you will kneel before him; the bishop of Chiapas
……………………………….will not know who you are.

I beg you not to lift the stone that trips you up
………………………………..on your way to Tuxtla,
………………………………..I do not want the wound to open.
In the place from which you’ll speak,
you will be able to see the Cañon del Sumidero
and the Río Grijalva which carries another river in its depths,
and you will feel there are more leaves under the breeze,
more amber under the light.

What word will be gathered by those poor
who will listen to you, who have survived so many stonings
…………………………………………and prisons?

I don’t know. What I do know is that Christ has not died with them,
that he’ll listen to their words, and when you are through,
He will return with them to where they live, and upon opening
……………………………….the door of one of those houses, will fall down in a faint.

……………………………………………………Safe journey home.

—Translation by Dylan Brennan

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Al Papa Juan Pablo II para cuando llegue a Tuxtla Gutiérrez

En el manar del agua está la caída,
algunas voces, rostros amados porque
han sobrevivido ríos sobre ríos:
…………………………………………………..Tuxtla
es como el ámbar bajo el agua empozada;
en fin, llegará usted a mi pueblo,
Sumo Pontífice, y me hubiera
gustado verlo con mis ojos de 1947.

Verá el cielo de luz casi sólida que ahí comienza,
que continúa en Guatemala como una cabeza de jabalí
………………………………….colgada al hombro,
que es una sola pisada de tapir en El Salvador,
que puede sopesarse con las manos en toda Centroamérica
ahora tan golpeada por el imperialismo norteamericano
………………………………….(así se decía antes),
y al posar sus manos de obrero en mi pueblo,
escuchará el aleteo y el pensamiento de Gucumatz.

No sé bien cómo será su visita,
bajo el sol sin párpados; será impresionante,
las lenguas se confundirán, se trastabillará,
las cabezas chocarán unas con otras,
y su voz será propagada, y su espíritu hecho girones.
Miles lo fotografiarán, le tomarán videos y películas.
Yo lo veré tan lejos, tan cerca, desde la TV.

Me hubiera gustado estar en la puerta de mi casa
………………………………..para verlo pasar,
pero desde muchos años atrás,
un niño que llega corriendo desde el traspatio,
que no ha recibido la eucaristía,
y al abrir la puerta de la calle, cae desmayado.
Mis abuelos, padres y hermanos, yo mismo, todos muertos,
enterrados; todos juntos, gritando:
…………………………“¡adiós, Santo Padre!” “¡Dios lo bendiga!”

Ahora bien, estas palabras las estoy escribiendo antes
………………..de que llegue usted a México, de que se desate
………………………………………….por los canales de televisión
………………..información sobre su visita,
de que lo veamos entre anuncios comerciales, de que ensucien
………su túnica y de que jueguen sobre ella a los dados,
entre consignas políticas de George Bush al mundo
……………….desde la Casa Blanca;
antes de que parta de Roma, don Juan, don Pablo,
de que abra una de las puertas del Palacio del Vaticano;
antes de que yo pueda constatar que existe Roma, el Palacio
del Vaticano, Tuxtla,
porque bien sabe usted que así como lo estoy diciendo
……………………………………………………………………es posible,
más entre dos poetas que no se verán ahora, ni nunca.

Al llegar, verá usted los árboles que ya no podrán
………………………..crecer más.
No verá los ídolos —nadie los ha visto— que los indios
………..esconden detrás de las imágenes católicas.
Verá, junto al arroyo, a Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas,
y se arrodillará ante él; el obispo de Chiapas
…………………………………no sabrá quién es usted.

Le ruego no levante la piedra con la que tropezará
……………………….en su camino a Tuxtla,
……………………….no quiero que se le abra la herida.
Desde el lugar donde va a hablar,
podrá ver el Cañón del Sumidero
y al río Grijalva que lleva en sus profundidades a otro río,
y sentirá que hay más hojas bajo el aire,
más ámbar debajo de la luz.

¿Qué palabra será recogida por esos pobres
que lo escucharán, que han sobrevivido a tantas pedradas
…………………………………y cárceles?
No sé. Lo que sé es que Cristo no ha muerto con ellos,
que estará atento a sus palabras, y cuando usted termine,
Él regresará con ellos por donde vinieron, y al abrir
……………………la puerta de cualquier casa, caerá desmayado.
…………………………………………Buen viaje de regreso.

§

Óscar Oliva comments on “Ballad for the Ayotzinapa Boys”

No, I cannot explain what this is about. A warning cry is nothing more than an open throat. Everyone knows about this atrocious crime, I am nothing more than a troubadour in a land where crime reigns supreme. Nobody is obliged to respond with poetry to these nameless occurrences. Poetry must fly with a freedom that is absolute and when it sounds must do so with a beauty with which, and, for which, we breathe. I do not like so-called political poetry, it too has been corrupted by ideologies. I do believe in rage in poetry. Poetry changes nothing, nor is change its function. It is only to be written and, from time to time, sung. For this reason I like for my poems to be sung, in other languages, other intonations, by popular artists.

.

Ballad for the Ayotzinapa Boys

There are no limits for this country of crime.
There is no name for this country of crime.
There is no country with names for this crime.
There are no crimes for this country of crime.

Tell me, in what faraway land will they be found?

To Juvenal I’ll add François Villon
to compose this ballad, I’ll ask other troubadours

to lend an interrogative refrain: where, in which
crimeless country are those boys who only just
………….stripped naked for love?

Help me run along a river
that runs with so much strength.

Where are they? Encapsulated in which black house?

You won’t find them in the white house, nobody lives there anymore.
The time of new Sirens will come, of new sorcery,
and the lily whiteness will become a yellow shine

or a black lily at the whims of a new owner, a new Circe
of deceit, amongst lions and wolves of the same woods.

…………Our Lady of the Sorrows, where are they?

Where are the 43 tears of yesterday afternoon?

We won’t find out tomorrow where they are,
nor in the coming mornings or afternoons where they are,
nor in a whole year, in which we cannot but return
………………………………………….right back to this refrain:
Where again are the Ayotzinapa boys!?

There are no limits.
There are no names.
There is no country.
There are no crimes.

They run with so much strength.

………………………………Tuxtla, November, 2014.

Translation by Dylan Brennan

 

Balada por los muchachos de Ayotzinapa

No hay límites para el país del crimen.
No hay nombre para el país del crimen.
No hay país con nombres del crimen.
No hay crímenes para el país del crimen.

¿Díganme, en qué país lejano hallarlos?

A Décimo Junio Juvenal agrego a François Villon
para componer esta balada, y pido a otros cantores
añadan otro estribillo interrogativo: ¿dónde, en qué
país sin crímenes están los muchachos que apenas
……….se habían desnudado al amor?

Ayúdenme a correr junto a un río
que corre con demasiada fuerza.

¿En dónde están, en qué casa negra, encapsulados?

En la casa blanca no están, ahí ya no habita nadie.
Llegará el tiempo de otras sirenas, de otros sortilegios,
y la blancura como lirio será un resplandor amarillo
o un lirio negro al capricho de otra dueña, otra Circe
de engaño, entre leones y lobos del mismo bosque.

………¿Dónde están, Madre Dolorosa?

¿Dónde están las 43 lágrimas de ayer por la tarde?

No vamos a averiguar en esta mañana dónde están,
ni en las siguientes mañanas y tardes dónde están,
ni en todo el año, que a este estribillo no nos lleve:
¡Mas dónde están los muchachos de Ayotzinapa!

No hay límites.
No hay nombres.
No hay país.
No hay crímenes.

Corren con demasiada fuerza.
…………………………………..Noviembre/ 2014

YouTube Preview Image

§

Óscar Oliva comments on “A Ballad for François Hollande”

I did send this poem to Hollande. However, the carrier pigeon never made it to his window. Either that or it was devoured by the waters over which it crossed. Certainly Hollande forgot about Boris Vian’s song, one that he would have listened to with excitement in his youth. That was my reason for paraphrasing him, to remember the poet and his long trek along the paths of the Provençal troubadours.

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A Ballad for François Hollande

Monsieur le président
take this ballad
as I awaken ‘The Deserter’
………….by Boris Vian

don’t be surprised if a messenger
pigeon arrives at your window
– there’s all sorts falling from the Cloud

I see you’re busy making war
was I born to the world
for no more than this?

as down the French avenues sings Boris Vian
don’t go to war, we didn’t come here to kill

my mother suffered when I left
when they strafed the bus I was on
I was reading Guillaume de Poitiers’ poem
……………………..about I don’t know what about nothing

you and the terrorists you and the terror
………………………………………….let us
dream the three dreams of Decartes

………………………………………….let us
go into the cafes
the arenas
the football stadiums
I’m no member of either
sleeping or active cell

I’m better off in Agnes’ dream
like Guillaume who dreams
as he sleeps
………….on his horse

don’t make war
abroad
don’t make war
at home

I’m a deserter
sings Boris Vian
………….don’t obey them
don’t go to war
tell your police
Mr. President
that I am unarmed
on the road to peace
I’ve slipped off
my electronic tag
Boris Vian recorded ‘The Deserter’
the same day as his country’s
defeat at Diem-Bien-Phu

all down the Aquitaine roads
about I don’t know what about nothing
but early and almost unseen

I slip this ballad through your window.

–Translation by Keith Payne

 

Balada para François Hollande

Monsieur le président
le mando esta balada
paráfrasis de “El desertor”
………….de Boris Vian

no tendría nada de extraño que
una paloma mensajera llegara a su ventana
la nube cibernética da sorpresas

lo veo tan ocupado
en hacer la guerra
¿vino a este mundo
nada más para eso?

por los caminos de Francia Boris Vian canta
no vayan a la guerra no venimos a la vida para matar

mi madre sufrió tanto cuando me fui a otro país
cuando ametrallaron el autobús donde viajaba
leía el poema de Guillermo de Poitiers sobre no
…………………………sé qué sobre nada

usted y los terroristas usted y el terror
…………………………………….déjennos
tener los tres sueños de Descartes

…………………………………….dejénnos
entrar a las cafeterías
a las salas de conciertos
a los estadios de futbol
no pertenezco a ninguna
célula dormida o activa

mejor entro al sueño de Agnes
como Guillermo que la
sueña porque duerme
………sobre su caballo

no haga la guerra
en casa ajena ni
en su propia casa

soy un desertor
Boris Vian canta
……….no obedezcan
no vayan a la guerra
dígale a sus policías
señor presidente
que no llevo armas
camino desarmado
me quito el dispositivo
electrónico el brazalete
de geolocalización
Boris Vian grabó “El desertor”
el mismo día de la derrota
de su país en Diem-Bien-Phu

por los caminos de Aquitania
sobre no sé qué sobre nada
muy temprano casi invisible

dejo esta balada en su ventana

§

Óscar Oliva: Final words

I have not stopped writing. I no longer can stop. I have finished a new book, LASCAS, which is the continuation of this long race in which we all take part. It is also a journey through the mountains of Chiapas, alongside my grandparents and great-grandparents, alongside Li-Po, Rubén Darío, Juan de la Encina and others who have gazed upon the changing skies. Sturdy horsemen under torrential rains.

— Óscar Oliva, Dylan Brennan, & Keith Payne

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Óscar Oliva was born in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Chiapas, on 5 January 1937. He belonged to the group of poets known as La Espiga Amotinada, encouraged by the Catalan poet Agustí Bartra. He has published extensively since the appearance of La Voz Desbocada in 1960 and has been widely recognized for his work as a cultural promoter. He has been honoured repeatedly for his work, winning an array of prizes including the Premio Nacional de Poesía Aguascalientes (1971), Premio de Poesía Ciudad de México (1981), Medalla Rosario Castellanos (1990) and the Premio Internacional de Poesía Ramón López Velarde (2013). In addition to his literary work, Óscar was also a member of the Comisión Nacional de Intermediación (CONAI), between the Ejercito Zapatista de la Liberación Nacional (EZLN) and the Mexican government, eventually leading to the establishment of autonomous, indigenous communities in his home state of Chiapas.

Keith Payne is the Ireland Chair of Poety Bursary Award winner 2015-2016. His collection Broken Hill (Lapwing Publications, 2015) will be followed by Six Galician Poets (Arc Publications) in 2016.

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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Apr 022016
 

Mahtem Shiferraw - Author photo
Fuchsia

It really is a thrill to feature three poems from Mahtem Shiferraw’s debut poetry collection, Fuchsia, here at NC. Longtime readers may remember Mahtem from our production masthead many moons ago, and now she rejoins us having received the Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets. Fuchsia is a thrilling debut, and, as Yusef Komunyakaa praises, it “captures mysteries of the heart and mind alongside everyday rituals.” Enjoy this small slice of a beautiful book. — Benjamin Woodard

 

Talks about Race

I have dark skin, dark face, and darkened eyes –

the white resides only outside the pupil.

I don’t know how to think of this –
I wasn’t taught to notice one’s colors;

under the sun, everyone’s skin bounces streaks of light.

Which do I claim? It is difficult to explain
the difference between African & African American
the details escape me, thin paper folding the involucre of a burning fire.

I am “other”; it is such
an indistinguishable form, beyond the construct of the proper self.

Sometimes I am asked
if I am Indian, Middle Eastern, or Biracial;

I don’t know what to say to these people
who notice the shape of the eye before its depth
the sound of the tongue before its wisdom
the openness of a palm before its reach.

And what to those who call me, “African”?
Don’t they know I can count the years spent back home
wishing I knew I was “African”?

And how to cradle, and contain the disappointment that is
rekindled whenever someone does NOT know
my Ethiopia, my Eritrea.

I don’t know how to fit, adjust myself within new boundaries –
nomads like me, have no place as home, no way of belonging.

.

E is for Eden

It lasts a while. The bitter aftertaste of sorrow
and something sweet. Like honey waves soaked

in lemon juice, it creates hollow spaces between
moments of unabridged whiteness. Glance over

once and the skies have a different story to tell.

You were created with a purpose:

a land of all lands, neither heaven nor earth
suspended between the blue wings of oceans
and their unoccupied gaze.

Once there were creatures here, inhabiting
your luscious corners, and they prodded and swiveled
and flew to please you.

You were made in somebody’s image,
but you have forgotten.

What remains now is the aftermath –
even that stripped of all its glory.

The eyes of men are saddened by the sudden
shadows unveiling in women’s eyes. Your breath

was once dirt, ash, tangible and ugly. Your face
did not exist. The contours that shape your smile,

your hairline, the timid dimple on the left cheek, they
were all ash. Here is what was: only the thought of

being loved and rejected, being loved and birthed,
being loved and destroyed. Your breath does not have

the apple’s acrid taste; it smells of something wild and
unadorned, it says do not fear, it is I, it whispers at night

when you are cold and shivering and alone in this world.

This breath is not yours to take:
mend it and oceans will flow once again.

.

Synesthesia

White is a color,
black is art. Nod to those before you.
Brown is a sense of being, and dark hovers
only beneath the shadows of necks –
those who fear it most. Here is to fear.

Red are the tip of shoes of the woman
who waited in the bathroom patiently when I was
only three – to steal my mother’s ruby earrings. White

is the unsafe silence of bathroom walls, and their
morbidly cubic nature. White is water running under
my feet, the innocent screams of school children
at lunch hour.

Brown is the anomalous texture of curtains from my
childhood. Brown is also the parched wood
of a small coffee-grinder my mother used. Brown as in
the intimate angles of sharply cut ambasha my grandmother
made, flour and water, lemon skin and cinnamon shreds, the
dark heads of raisins, while on a cargo plane back to Ethiopia,
the tired eyes of war-victims and their slow recovery. Brown
is also the color of my skin, but I didn’t know it then.

Blue are the waters embedded in my grandmother’s eyes. Blue is
the whisper of the Nile, Abbay. Blue is the color of the brave. Blue
are the walls of empty neighbors houses and the insides of their
living room. Blue is skimmed milk tearing the sky.

White sometimes comes back at odd hours. White are stranger’s eyes
drenched in sadness. White is the uniform of doctors, the smell of
alcohol and something mad. White is absence. Purple comes back

as shoes, American shoes. Sky and blood under a quiet shadow. The
shadow of a young tree planted in memory of a murdered teacher in
high school. And the milky paste of over-ripe figs spurting prematurely,
spiking insides. Purple is warmth in mid-July, when rain hails on corrugated
tin roofs and the leaning green arms of lonely corn plants.

Yellow is crying; it’s a bell, a cathedral in Asmara? A school? Or the
shriek of a mass funeral. Yellow is dead. But listen to black. Listen to
black notes, black heart, listen. Black is art. Not of the artist, the art of
being. The painful art of memory. Here’s to remembering.

— Mahtem Shiferraw

Excerpted from Fuchsia by Mahtem Shiferraw by permission of the University of Nebraska Press. © 2016 by the Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska. Available wherever books are sold or from the Univ. of Nebraska Press 800.848.6224 and at nebraskapress.unl.edu

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Mahtem Shiferraw
is a poet and visual artist who grew up in Eritrea & Ethiopia. Her work has been published in The 2River ViewCactus Heart PressBlood Lotus Literary JournalLuna Luna MagazineMandala Literary JournalBlackberry: A MagazineDiverse Voices QuarterlyThe Bitter Oleander PressCallaloo Literary Journal and elsewhere. She won the Sillerman Prize for African Poets and her full-length poetry collection, Fuchsia, was published by the University of Nebraska Press. Her poetry chapbook, Behind Walls & Glass, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Vermont College.

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Apr 012016
 
Rick Jackson

Richard Jackson

Robert Vivian

Robert VIvian

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From Traversings, by Richard Jackson and Robert Vivian (Anchor and Plume, New Orleans, publication imminent).

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FINDING PARADISE (RJ)

When Dante finally arrived there he had no words
for it. The frog giggers in the river must think
their spotlight is their way to revelation. The dam’s
been broke for years, the mills broken wheels turn back
to a time before time, if they turn at all. The evening sky
still leans down over the ridge line as if it wanted to be
water. The river rubs against the ledge rock. Here we are
far from beheadings and crucifixions in what was once
the land of paradise, a word that came from the Persian
meaning an enclosed park. They must have had this place
in mind. One trout tries for but misses the Jesus bug
that skates away. At night the bats will take what the fish have
missed. Plato thought we are born with a memory of Paradise.
Imparadise’d in one another’s arms is what Milton said.
I think that owl wants to be the moon. He knows
Paradise is the life you’ve hidden from yourself.

.

Frog Light (BV)

I, too, was king of the frogs, king of the night palpitant of shadows and king of the white hot spotlight that kills with its stare in the sweeping net of a searching full moon, myself dazed between water and earth on the brink of paradise as the gigger closed in on me with his bamboo spear and beer brewing alchemy in his veins, and what will do you with your vast immortal longings and amphibious wishes deep in the Ozarks before I am speared and the angels pin back their wings and lean in closer to listen to the murder of my race. They say we taste like chicken but the whole world sings in our swollen throats. Before the light freezes me I tell the river I won’t let a window kill me.

.

WINDOWS (RJ)

There’s no telling how many worlds live inside our windows.
Each breath raises that question. Each question is a ladder
that has nothing to lean against. Above it, the full moon reveals
the torn paper edges of clouds it hides behind. Tonight it is
just cool enough to stop the insects’ singing. Look the other way
and a distant storm silhouettes the far hills. We have to live on
the rim of these dreams. We make, from a cluster of stars, shapes
they would never agree to be a part of. No one knows what to make
of the solar dust that may or may not explain our origins. When
you lose your sense of smell, they say, your chances of dying
increase exponentially. Why is another question. We name things
to stop them from changing. These are not windows, but mirrors.
This evening, I swear, I saw a stone learning to become a star.

.

When Stones Abandoned The World (BV)

All at once they picked themselves up from the barren fields and started walking toward the horizon, silent, solemn march going to the stars even as they tried to become them and rose the thrust and the warbler and the startled robin and I could see that the stones were naked but unabashed and unashamed wanting only to be rinsed again and rose the wind and the dust and where were the stones going but to another place not of their keening and to watch them go I felt abandoned and I did not ask the stones why they were leaving everything behind and rose other birds and still others, starlings and crows and turkey vultures and smoke from a distant fire and if you could see the stones moving, if you could see them turning away you would wonder if home is a dream we tell ourselves to keep from dying though death is with us always in the smallest things, a moth on the windowsill with its paper wings full of dust, old, faded pictures of loved ones long since gone into the ground, but the stones wouldn’t say for they had lain prostrate long enough and the whole earth seemed to tremble and shimmer in the wake of the their passing rife with jewel fire of beauty—I mean the way the ground burned after them in variegated flames, I mean the heart and quake of it that had its equivalent somewhere inside me as I was left behind and there was nothing I could do but watch the stones go on their steadfast journey and vault of sky above them, changing itself with every passing cloud to show them how it was done.

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NOT THE SAME (RJ)

Sometimes our dreams flutter with the moths against
the window in their desperate attempt to reach the darkness.
I don’t know what drives them. The universe inside us
spins along as if it knew where is was going. It is the same
with our rudderless words. By now the storm that has been
crawling along the mountain tops has begun to show itself.
The sounds of individual drops of rain on the window are
really one sound. The other day an asteroid, a rock from
some world we’ll never see, passed, as the astronomers say,
nearby. Stevens called this the odor of stars that links us to
whatever is beyond us. St Francis knew it and talked to trees
and stones, to birds and stars, to the world he loved because
it was a world inside this world. Tonight the news is enough
to put the heart is a sling. The hands of the rain are empty.
The moth doesn’t know which way to turn. The night sounds are
padlocked in their stalls. In the morning the sunlight will judge
what the night has left. To think of love is not the same as having it.

.

Day Is A Word (BV)

How are we to make the shadows whole wherever they fall or the sound of rain that comes sweeping down then timpanies away and the moth trapped in a jar, oh, the holy fluttering like a heart skipping a beat wanting to keep on forever and how is the shadow of a doorway absence unto itself that seeks not its own fulfillment but the vision of a door as a dream the shadow loves more than itself for it carries its darkness as a reckoning and the stillness of an empty church at the foot of a mountain and the devout ear of the teacup whose reign of openness is here to stay and the moth again so light against the glass even its desperation carries a stroke of sweetness into the land of bottled oxygen and because the moth is quiet in its doom somehow the whole world is blessed and the shadows again, partial, shifting and reverent in their silence that belies the night they come from and day is a word, a cry and a candle flame as somewhere else on another page the moth is free and flies imperfectly for all of us in a delirium of loops, writing its impossible verses in the air.

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A DOOR WITHOUT A ROOM (RJ)

Wenceslas Cathedral, Olomouce, Czech Republic

Sometimes our dreams flutter with the moths against
the window in their desperate attempt to reach the darkness.
I don’t know what drives them. The universe inside us
spins along as if it knew where is was going. It is the same
with our rudderless words. By now the storm that has been
crawling along the mountain tops has begun to show itself.
The sounds of individual drops of rain on the window are
really one sound. The other day an asteroid, a rock from
some world we’ll never see, passed, as the astronomers say,
nearby. Stevens called this the odor of stars that links us to
whatever is beyond us. St Francis knew it and talked to trees
and stones, to birds and stars, to the world he loved because
it was a world inside this world. Tonight the news is enough
to put the heart is a sling. The hands of the rain are empty.
The moth doesn’t know which way to turn. The night sounds are
padlocked in their stalls. In the morning the sunlight will judge
what the night has left. To think of love is not the same as having it.
Today it is a Cathedral and its famous carved door for Saints
Cyril and Methodius that has traveled all over Europe looking
for a home. You have to imagine where that door might
lead you. Outside the word for fog creates its own world
as it wraps itself around the campanile. There must be a name
for that empty space between the fog and the ground. A couple
of squirrels disappear down its whitening aisle. Inside, a woman
tapes a prayer to a wall with other prayers, and hopes it will
find its way to a love that lies beyond the wall.

Tomorrow will be
Chattanooga where the gypsy moths, who are never anything
like angels, have left their tattered webs in the trees that, like
so many Sybils, have started to deal out their leaves. A friend
once said the leaves are the souls of everyone who has been
forgotten. They fall to meet their own lost shadows. Who has
an answer we can believe in? We have put so many padlocks on
our dreams. Every word should be a door, though our words
last longer than what they mean. Or, every word should be
a prayer, a kind of love to open again our lost or forgotten loves.

.

Dream Book (BV)

The hour just now and the holy stillness in rapt awakening, and see how the chair waits for the body and the table upright for the books and the hand that would turn the pages, fingers on paper, leaf after thoughtful leaf while outside other leaves fall from the book of a tree, each one a poem unto itself and so bright in its glowing as I dream of a book or it dreams me and mysterious words within and here are scales of music and a whole cathedral of choir and the love of pure sound in the valley of throat, that hollow chute where emptiness is fulfilled so the book is also my heart wanting so much it can’t be said, maybe the stars or mice out in the fields, maybe the unplowed furrows, the lonely rows and the train tracks beyond stained with creosote and the long moaning of many miles and the crushing burden of coal cars moving brothers of earth across the earth and away from this moving caravan a butterfly, so light no train could bear it nor any human heart though mine will try by saying simply yes to it, go, my gentle friend who cannot see me.

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Richard Jackson has published over twenty books including thirteen books of poems, most recently Retrievals (C&R Press, 2014), Out of Place (Ashland, 2014), Resonancia (Barcelona, 2014, a translation of Resonance  from Ashland, 2010), Half Lives: Petrarchan Poems (Autumn House, 2004), Unauthorized Autobiography: New and Selected Poems (Ashland, 2003), and Heartwall (UMass, Juniper Prize 2000), as well as four chapbook adaptations from Pavese and other Italian poets. Traversings (Anchor and Plume), an exchange in poems and lyric prose with Robert Vivian, will appear in April 2016. He has translated a book of poems by Alexsander Persolja (Potvanje Sonca / Journey of the Sun) (Kulturno Drustvo Vilenica: Slovenia, 2007) as well as Last Voyage, a book of translations of the early-20th-century Italian poet, Giovanni Pascoli, (Red Hen, 2010). In addition, he has edited the selected poems of Slovene poet, Iztok Osijnik. He also edited nearly twenty chapobooks of poems from Eastern Europe. His own poems have been translated into seventeen languages including Worlds Apart: Selected Poems in Slovene. He has edited two anthologies of Slovene poetry and Poetry Miscellany, a journal.. He is the author of Dismantling Time in Contemporary American Poetry (Agee Prize), and Acts of Mind: Interviews with Contemporary American Poets (Choice Award). He was awarded the Order of Freedom Medal for literary and humanitarian work in the Balkans by the President of Slovenia for his work with the Slovene-based Peace and Sarajevo Committees of PEN International. He has received Guggenheim, NEA, NEH, and two Witter-Bynner fellowships, a Prairie Schooner Reader’s Choice Award, and the Crazyhorse prize, and he is the winner of five Pushcart Prizes and has appeared in Best American Poems ‘97 as well as many other anthologies. Originator of VCFA’s Slovenia Program, he was a Fulbright Exchange poet to former Yugoslavia and returns to Europe each year with groups of students. He has been teaching at the Iowa Summer Festival, The Prague Summer Workshops, and regularly at UT-Chattanooga (since 1976), where he directs the Meacham Writers’ Conference. He has taught at VCFA since 1987. He has won teaching awards at UT-Chattanooga and VCFA. In 2009 he won the AWP George Garret Award for teaching and writing.

§

Robert Vivian’s most recent collection of prose poems, Mystery My Country, will be published in 2016, along with Traversings, a new book co-written with Richard Jackson. He is the author of The Tall Grass Trilogy—The Mover of Bones, Lamb Bright Saviors, and Another Burning Kingdom, in addition to the novel Water and Abandon. He’s also written two books of meditative essays, Cold Snap as Yearning and The Least Cricket of Evening. Several of his plays have been produced in New York City and his monologues have been published in the Best Monologues series. His essays, poems, and stories have been published in Harper’s, Georgia Review, Creative Nonfiction, Alaska Quarterly, Ecotone, and dozens of other journals. He teaches at Alma College in Michigan and has taught several times at various universities in Turkey, especially in Samsun, Turkey.

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Mar 072016
 

Sam-Savage-author-photo1-923x1024Sam Savage photo by Nancy Marshall

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Part One: 1981-1989

Elegy

By unexpected paths we have come
to a clearing at the end of the day,
there are only grownups on the swings.
Though the daylight lingers on
like a house where there is room
and a cloudy green phrase is being read to us,
there’s a feeling of leaves in the car.
The people are still looking for their surprises,
they’re holding their radios up to their ears,
but the birds fly over like different pieces of music.
The magic light falls like ordinary
string on the calmly strolling couples.
We know how our lives will go on,
our homes are so much like our cars.
From night filling stations the phoners
are calling into recesses of loneliness
and Baby is waving from the rumble seat.

.

Lines of Flight
………………………for Kate Manheim

The future doesn’t have any pockets.
Close your eyes and see for yourself
a reservation with no Indians.
Above the traffic in the cloudy street
an extremely blue window floats.
But what are we going to do about
the silent piling up of little shoes?

Across the street the house is late.
We don’t wear those kinds of clothes anymore.
We should have kept our child-sized
dreams for the real dark.
We should have stayed
like in the old movies.

Where we walked in the friendly air
our footsteps are still standing by the car
and trees have grown into our pictures.

We stand like country people looking at clouds
while an umbrella folds the universe,
with the balloon Forever floating off over the roofs
and a rustling of falling mail
between us in the pleasant light.

.

Homecoming

1

What should have been
a journey out
has become a journey back.

The hand that held
railroad schedules
holds a candle
and a tiny pick.

We taste in our mouths
the rust of our cars
the rest of our lives.

2

The explorers sit
by their bushes,
the exiles have only
their scissors.

Over the wreath-green
clocks the future grows
without passengers.

3

Soon it will be
bye-bye from the porches of the air.

A life is a minute of pieces,
a confusion of trees
through each of the windows.

4

Are those mountains in the distance
or an impression of hats?

From a wire across the street
a portrait of the moon swings to and fro.

5

I have lost my resemblances.
The one who went
by my name is missing.

I don’t know how
to make out of words
a plan for living.

6

Far from the flashing chrome
of the longed-for cities,
wooden boats knock
at the sea-wall,

empty air
piles itself over the harbor.

McClellanville, S.C.

.

Passages

Time passes,
the light leaves,

we weep something,
but there is nothing.

Maneuvers
of armies,

migrations
of swallows.

Shoes walk
and feet follow.

Movies close,
cafes open,

night falls
on retreating horses.

Impressions of longing
shape of a bird

on the dusty panes of desire
faint as regret.

.

Rhapsody on a Gone World

I remember her first shy tortoise-shell
appearings white and beautiful neck
and emeralds, she desperately was
her body’s romantic servant and loved
the bleakest things she could imagine
with a tranquil addiction to white frost
and snow and subtraction as a way of life,
a method of abstraction, until the alien
became at last what was most familiar,
coolness became her warmth, and her sun
was shadow. Her acrobat was the sky,
the clear blue dark and high sky
above the streets and avenues of New York.
The nothingness of love gave her entrance
to exits reserved for the old, it was the dark
she followed like a light.

A shadowy tinsel smile handed me its presents
in the weightless glow of a lead-gray dawn.
Wrapped in the glass panes of a tattered coat,
her wide mouth streaked with loud beaches
and crowded bars, she was photogenic
as a freak in her pageants and panicles
of ribbons and bells. In the infancy of ice
every bubble she touched with her softest
black floated like a plastic moon above
the delicate cisterns of her longings and desires,
and the unyielding fictions of a desperate
innocence held us. An Asian sorrow hung
on the fringes of the air, and the moon’s effigy
holed up in the cool sky like a trance.

LBJ woke in our dark in a bed as vast
and lonely as Texas.
He sat with his sleepless advisors
and made paper planes
that flew over the sad and jungle-green
jungles and killed the people,
who were also made of paper.

Vietnam rose out of Asia into dog days
of benzedrine and acid, hallucinating smells
of mushrooms floated on the yellow breath of summer,
as she burned the last years of her fire
in the dissatisfaction of her difficult desires.
Pinned like a butterfly to a palette of sleepless colors,
her face painted in moody mimicry of an ashen flower,
she gathered the sifting dust of bar lights,
the ice in her glass melted in her silences,
her mind was a pale shanty in which she spun
in anguish, a small-town girl gone wild in the city.
Talking in multiple voices, yellow with trailing speech,
fearing fields and wide streets, she walked her killer monkey.
The lies of politicians wronged the air
and acid drifted like evening through her.

She ran out of beaches, cinnamon candy, snow,
the circus of her wants repeated itself like laundry.
Daylight seeped without motion into monochrome rooms,
cardboard boxes for furniture, bare bulbs in the hall,
she stood at the window listening to faint machine guns
hammering at the broken jukeboxes of memory
and her eyes ate street.

Time plunges right through women
and turns their sea-green hair to grass.
Her used-up tomorrows floated off
like mist from her, her open mouth
wandered in silence, her famished white face
was scribbled with the hieroglyphs
of a life gone wrong. She could not
rise clear of her litter. Smaller and smaller
horses assembled on the prairies of her solitude,
toilet booths opened their semitones
to receive a wraith pissing morphine.

A plaintive moon hung upside down
in the street, and we each woke asleep
beside the wrong thing dying.
Wind was blowing in the chasms out there,
in the dust in the halls.
We heard it in strangeness, in
crevices, in hostile rocks cry.

,

Think of night

as a decorous animal with enormous ears
sitting quietly behind you,
or as a man traversed by fields
walking to the horizon
or sitting beside the animal
playing tricks with a handgun.
From time to time it opens fire;
an old man in a park
clutches his side
and looks into the eyes of his footprints.
See it in the bureau mirror
exhaling your face;
with a very quiet pencil
the night is drawing lines;
in the forest of inexplicable ink
the enemy soldiers are pointing.
Think of death as a river without water,
drying our eyes by drowning them,
or as a powdery destitute rain falling.
Yellow hands thread dried fruit,
yellow smell of damp beds.

,

A Simple Mechanism

I have made the journey
of old clothes without you,
the journey named A Bench in the Park.
Now snow is falling
on thousands of years
in a corner I can’t find,
a gray dog is passing.

Emptiness is stalking
a bird through the apartment,
a piano is playing
the solitary rocking of a chair,
the cars are running over their sounds.

I can’t master the disappearing ink
of the art of the threshold.
When our acrobats
exchanged epilogues at the airport
a vacuum was created,
a long tube, a pipe or cylinder.

,

If and So

Abandoned to bending over bridge rails
watching water, where a woman If
waves in circles, shadow green,
the virid plumes of a banana tree,

the man with cello plays with moon,
wipes his tears with floating trash,
bits of headlights and broken buildings,
because he loves the woman So.

,

Buick

I recall that foursquare
and seven gears ago
our Uncle Remuses brought forth on this continent
a hand crank
and got it going for a drive,
and I recall (or rather I remind)
that our 1967 Buick is broke (as we are)
and has been (have been)
for years in the driveway
which isn’t a driveway anymore
and isn’t peach ice cream
anymore, it never was
peach ice cream
or the little girl eating it in the laundromat
next to the woman with the newspaper
where I read about a man trapped
for three days in his house by a pet dog.
And we can’t do anything about
the broken crank shaft
and the rotted tires anymore
or against the honeysuckle
covering the car up,
except let the dog go live in it with the little girl
and try to imagine a world where we can have peace
from the decrepitude of our too-human machines
and the berserk antics of our intimate animals
and be happy with the taste of ice cream.

,

Dr. Roentgen Get His

They do it right.
They dress you in the white
grave-clothes of another epoch
and lay you out on a slab.

Don’t move, they say,
and they mean,
Lie still in your body,
don’t wiggle your bones.

Don’t move,
and you know something
painful and dreadful
is about to happen.

A terrible eye is about to look.
What will it see?

Bleached bones
bathed in something black
and thinner than light,
and the ghosts of organs.

And nothing,
…………is there nothing else?

Oh yes, says someone
you don’t know, pointing to a bird-wing-like
blur behind the white bars,

…………There’s this.

A darker deeper bird rises,
and as it falls
it leaves you faceless
behind this graceless
portrait of yourself,

stripped of your skin
and ready for the plunge.

,

Luxemburg Gardens

We look up, it
is suddenly evening,
it is

happening without us.
The long pictures
stretch,

the figures
stand by their shadows,
the light

turns its head
and does not see,
the silence

opens its mouth.
I wanted
to tell you something

out of myself,
but a conversation
of gray doves

drowned me out.
Falling
the dark ascends.

We look up, it
has entered,
it has emptied

the benches
and closed the gates
to the park.

,

An Essay on Marriage

We used to have
memories in common,
now each remembers
his own life.

Fixed in our old
frustrated stone-
cut friezes
we reminisce desire.

We are broken
somethings, wrong
hearts with clouds.

Our pupils
are icy prison places
for our faces
close together.

Our sad animals
pace the raggedy
circles of our souls

as we sit helpless
with television
in the funeral
of its little light,

in the meager desolation
of a vaguest prison,
the commonplace calamity,
the complex disaster
of marriage.

Let us spread
if we can,
if you will,
the clasped misery
of our hands

and ask forgiveness
on bended needs
of Our Lady Aphrodite
and the barman
and ourselves

for everyone
who has lost heart
in the effort of loving
and drifts or drowns.

Let us compose
what we can
with what is left.

Let us crash
again by night
for love at each other

and lay our bleak
scalps side by side
under the never-cringing
leopard stars.,

,

Lexicon

I mean by reason
an intellectual fury,
an axe whistling in the air.

I mean by passion,
a house built of rage,
a raft against the current

that holds all
and takes all.

I mean by love
a howling by the road,
turning back to the empty cabin,
facing what it has to face.

The way people who live in the path
of an advancing desert
look out on their own fields and say,
This is the enemy land.

,

The Age of Discovery

Though at the end of the watercolors
the darkness is complete
and full face separates from profile

and footsteps in reverse,
receding but coming closer,
cross to the wrong side of the room,

and from the roofs of the trees
the windows are dropping
the last of the nasturtiums,

and the auction of vases
has infiltrated the villages,
though it is later forever —

inside the nightmare it is
the weekend of the mind. We love each other.
The beaches are crowded.

Though the president sings in his nose
and the roses in the rose garden
are driven insane by the noise

and the oculist turns in panic
from the eye that sees —

behind crumbling walls
tonsured paleontologists assemble
skeletons of angels.

Though a noise that is not any sound
lies in the wake of the china horses
and a rain of deserted flowers

announces an encroachment of twigs
until our minds are treeless

and the forgetters have gone off with their notebooks
into the margins of the afternoon
and the lesson is lost among moth wings

an adventure is waiting in a room
for a shadow to move from the door.

,

Ballad

This is the last
weekend the lovers have.
The moon wanders
like an absent mind.

There is yesterday
like a fallen horse.
You won’t ride that
one again. Bang.

And tomorrow will not
be any place to meet.
Somber moths
in swift eclipse.

Death comes over
the capricious hills
and far in the heart
grows whole.

Bravo. Bravo. All
the little hooks
clap their hands,
clap their hands.

,

Zero Gravity

…………………………death would be a lovely long journey
…………………………and an endless vacation from flesh structure and bones
…………………………………………………………………….—Tristan Tzara

Death is light, a tinge
of yellow gentle
on the sleeves of coats,
a pollen of silent vowels

on our conversations,
floating at an angle
to the points of interest
like a weightless stair,

it is a strange direction,
a pavement
on which the grass is dying
in our minds.

We have our cars
but nowhere to drive them.
I try to tell you
about the town I saw with my eyes closed

but no way to find it.
Do not be afraid,
death is a sky
in which no one is swimming,

it is a frame of mind,
a point of view,
a pond afloat on our reflections,
the light of evening filling the air

with a sadness of rooms.
It is the orphanage of dreams,
an enormous mural painting
of a tiny park at night,

the flowers folded at the feet
of the statue of the hero
the walks stretched out beside the benches.
The trees are tired of flight.

,

April of the Beautiful Sleeves . . .

April of the beautiful sleeves,
you are like Saturday
coming down the stairs
as you open a plastic bag
looking for something
or move your things in
from the horizon.
In the shelter of trees
the house has come to rest,
the green of a field means “perhaps,”
a window arrange a cat,
the mountains make us wave.
…………………….Wherever we go
through the quiet woods
a raft has been set adrift.
Someone with a razor
is opening a glove.
Spring is like a newspaper
opening in the trees.
…………………….Let’s dance or not,
the world is where it can.
The farms slant down
the perfect hills,
a rip starts up the sleeve,
an arm emerges
…………………….waving back.

,

Frogs

Thunder, far at first, then near, and the sky
darkens and the white crash of sun
on the shade trees becomes a new grim river
pouring over the branches and over the delicate frogs
poised on the twigs like small glittering birds.
Their jostled eyes half lit with pain, they cling
with painfully small desperate feet to a crust
of intricate shadow or look down centuries
as though listening. Abandoned by God
they cling in melancholy muteness to memory,
as the rain comes floating to them like knowledge
and the branches are swayed by uneasiness.
They dream their inapprehensible lives out
without hope, the filmy petroleum eyes staring
above the huge clownish mouths, and the gaze
does not flicker because pain does not flicker,
as the bleared transparencies darken
until there’s no other light than recollection
and no other sound than the beat beat of water.

,

Self-portrait while Sleeping

The flatness of a human
being lying down,
sleeping or dead,
is touching in its
desolation,
a nugatory gadget
over which even
a table lamp towers.
You behold in this
horizontal tube
something that once
walked erect among the animals,
except when standing still,
or kneeling loose-hinged
to pray,
or falling.

How sad it is,
exhausted by drinking,
by drifts,
by drowning,
and who thanks what
if it lives,
and who thinks what
if it dies,
so ridicule
its molecule,
so monochrome
its speck is.

,

My Winter in New Hampshire

People have names
like headstones
and graves
like beds made for them
and addresses,
even the stars
have places.
That was mine
that winter
in the shadow of failure,
opening a door
and closing it
every day in the snow,
every day the same
perfectly white
black desert of snow.

,

Poem

Do you know that room?
It has no walls.
Walking in it,
it walks with you.

Do you understand?
You try to say what you mean
but the words say
what they mean.

There’s no bottom to it
and the top is shoved down
hard and locked.
Can you picture that?

No air in there
and no walls.
If you have never been there,
how can you know?

If you have never
had words snap and crumble
like dry sticks in your hands,
how can I tell you?

,

A Tremulous Rain

A tremulous rain,
unkindly falling,
luminously softening
the trees across the field

opens the door.

Syllable by syllable
you remember slowly
until the afternoon
is grief and forever

afraid of the futility
of another gesture.

The shabby rain descending
descends,
the trees give a tired
prehistoric shake.

It could be wind or
shades
curtains blinds shutters.

,

The Death of my Sister Helen

not her

not here

not hear

,

Moon, Little Sister

Moon, little sister,
on the water
house on the shore.
Misfortune on the house.
Darkness on the map
of darkness. Cup
on the table.
Time on my hands.
Hands in my lap.
Cars on the minds
of the horses.
Hitchhikers on the highway.

,

The Way

Stack the furniture
and go, draw lines,
stick pins, do
whatever maps desire.

Go from where trees
bend in the wind
to where they break
in no wind,

down paths leading
between rocks
onto the rocks themselves
where there are no paths.

And come back lost,
go live in trailers.
Sit on the window-
side of silence,

grown-up children
left with grass.
Look at the enormous
way the moon is out,

how it emerges
from behind the neighbor’s trailer
like another beach
or a drifting oar.

.
.
Quiet Day at the Seashore

Today the sea exhibits rest,
exhibits desert.
Yesterday a ranting beast,
and the day before that
a machine processing white paper,
but today it is something
painted on your window.

And the day before
the day before that
it was rattling a can of nails,
but today it is wearing silence,
leaning hushed against the shore.

It used to understand
what you shouted to it,
but today that is forgotten.
Today it’s vague smile
is for God and gulls.
Through the spotless glass
of the hotel window
it is quiet as entropy,
as if someone
had stopped speaking
or was falling slowly.
Only the white-foaming
breakers suggest the effort of saying,
the distant rumble of empty barrels.

It used to forgive,
and once in Cassis
it tried to explain.
The orbiting fish under the hull
fluttered like white moths.
The light threw stones at them.
Now part of that same water
is parked in front of you,
its engines off.

In Maine it was against rocks.
In Bodega they were cliffs.
In one place
it was chemical blue,
in another it was pistache.
In Revere in November
it was the color of the sidewalks.
But today it is a field under glass,
a green woman melting.
Without hands
its hands keep spreading,
without fingers
they climb the beach,
crumple at your feet
or roll indifferently from you.

Once it was an avalanche of keys,
today it is blank with secrets.

One day soon the sky will paint it cruel.
You will look up and see
the undersides of drownings
Wailing children
will lug it up the beach.
But today it is floating on its back.
Listen to it reading softly to itself.

 

 

Truth

There are only
two truths we can live by:
God is good and
all men are brothers,
and both are lies.

The only hope is despair,
the only poverty
is money. The guns
weep in their turrets.

The playground leaps
with flowers, the children
stand still in time,
move their heads in circles,
talk in squares.

Their eye-wheels turn
to watch me watching,
they smile at the quizzical
map of the world.

They know the truth,
they tell the lie.

 

 

Dove

Of the field
there is only
the one bird left.

It’s life
is a story
the size of a day.

Its eyes
are bright with the effort
of courage.

Its wings
beat laboriously
deep in thicket.

Its voice
seems to say
Take this path.

 

 

A Little Face

A little face stands back and watches
softly the evening burst and the sun
fail and darkness fall into
a dust-empty corner of the year–
and faces the year,
listening to the hour.

And behind the little face’s eyes
closing, other eyes open
and someone remembers
how an hour’s rubbish
becomes a lifetime without yourself,
in a house of cold trash,
in an instant.

An instant is needed
to add to the landscape just
out of sight of memory
a ragged tree–
and another lap to the journey.

 

 

It Started Out

It started out as a hand,
became a continent and then
a sea, it was drawing a map,
it was coloring the map it had drawn.

It started out as a sun
climbing octaves of glass,
it became a moon
riding in through the panes.

It started out as November
and became May as the trees
passed from disconsolate to berserk
and back again.

It started out as the peaceful gaze
of an archival cat,
it became the maneuvered eyes
of a cyclist in traffic.

It started out as a well-behaved park
with laundered birds in the trees,
it became an hexagonal path making circles
in several jungles.

Oh, it began as a sky
and became a window
on which the printed scenery
is as indelible as mind.

The life it has become
is holding a hand to its mouth,
the window is open, the voices go on,
and the maps go on and on.

 

 

Vacancies

In the interchange

between the mirror
and its client

I am forgotten

between the face
and its expression.

I walk shoeless

between the feet
and their journey,

compassless

between my life
and its direction

 

 

Goodbye, 1972

On highways falling across the earth,
out of an immensely leafless city,
all night through small towns with lawns
like rafts flung out on the darkness
and main streets like throats of light
and mill towns mourning
the lost tracks of abandoned railroads
through receding Alabamas of dawn,
the wide skirts of the fields swirling
over the motionless land,
under the humped backs of dark clouds
or in the warm sunshine of people talking while I slept,
the car dragged its long sound past,

the trunk filled with blowing curtains
and slogans in rotting nets
and passages from the Great American Poets
and hope like the ghosts of flags,

to a dirt road scribbled over with rain
and heavy books in shacks
and tin sheds full of bullet holes
and cars parked under the trees
and sand blowing through the screen doors.

………………………………………….And also this:
a yard like a field of birds
and a path vanishing in togethering weedstalks and vines
and a sort of peace
and a bucket waiting on the well cover.

…………………………………………..It was an aching stroll.

We’ve come to what we heard,
the creaking of a gate, the echo
of a search. Youth is gone.
Who we are has happened.
Happened all the little deaths
and all the big deaths
and the flooded eyes
and the mothers and the fathers.
It happened
in immensely leafless cities
and in tiny settlements of vast dust
and in cars dragging huge flags;
in sunlight through the slats in a blind,
among the tall yellow flowers,
and in the rain-darkened foliage.
Happened the exchangeable
smiles in the glare of ceiling lights
after the lecture on trees,
after the floating dances.
Happened the tourist cabins and the song cycles
and the movies’ famous scenes.
The unrest, the vanished beasts, the fear.
It happened at the root of us
and in the leaves and branches,
to the smoke that lies across the road
and to the moon’s veneer on the pond,
to gaunt men turning gritty knobs,
opening the doors to shacks of clouds,
and to the infiltrated beauty of the loved surface.
And what was it worth?
It happened to days like flights
of wings across a street
and to the horse moving slowly
dragging a rope in the clay.
Happened all the days of impulse.
Happened the cool mineral dust
and the chalky ticking in the air.
It happened to the sunflower
on the refuse pile—will the pile sing?—
and to the young girl thinking, “Soon I’ll be old,”
to the swollen gray tongue of the dead horse
—is this the new sign given?—
to the wind filling the post holes with leaves
and to the gliding entrances of the good skaters.
Happened the far embraces, the ardor of peace,
the remote unreachable plain,
the love, the ladders, and the war.

Now the upper corner of the day is gone.
The mailman has become
the father of the leaves.
A bundle has been abandoned in a washroom.
A nation has stalled in a slime-filled ditch.
Sunlight is falling dappled on the piano keys
and everyone is leaning on a door or portal.
Somewhere beyond these paintings
are colors we can’t see,
a sky beyond this roof.
But here the angels are ordinary
and being itself the blessing.
In broken mirrors
images are made whole.
Here is the startling rainbow
under the unturned stone
and the muscular rose
growing from fatigue’s endless sand.
In the grateful village
saved from giants
names are natural features
like the trees. Briefly
time moves at a slower rush.
The air says, “I am air,”
and the grass murmurs, “rich, rich.”
Suddenly the future opens,
it is the corner where we always stood.
For whatever drifts
drifts to its own place.
Truth is error deepening
deep enough.
When the crescent of loss is complete,
a full moon rises.
A rich man is entering into heaven.
I go as one
who feels the touch of some leaves,
as one who says to himself,
“the swaying branches,”
to stand in the evident light,
breathing out, and into all the rest,
surrounded by just being here.

McClellanville, S.C, 1989

 

 

Part Two: Poems 1990-2015

.

At Fifty

At fifty, one feels the process.
One looks into age as into a yellow mirror.

The heavy folds of the eyelids,
the slow metabolic fire burning down the mind.

The stone sinks,
why don’t we say dives?

I want to say waiting
but I’m not waiting at all.

At midnight the clocks clench their little hands
but no one else is angry.

As the erasures of illumination grow.

Soon they’ll refer to us as “men of another century.”

Who were here, tremendous, on this plain;
to vanish utterly.

Without remembrance of everything perceived
everything endured. All the news

is imagining this.

November, 1990, McClellanville, S.C.

 

 

Autumn

Autumn being thorough,
dead leaves
being shoved about,

bare branches, etc.,
and the dried-out grass of the rest of it.

Bright sun on the houses
and the woods dark
with trammels.

Here (now) is where everything
gets dumped, shadows
leaves, all
the equipment of going.

Though we drive without stopping

in ourselves the fragility
of the edge makes a sharp
end, a clean hole, the precise
place it has penetrated.

 

 

Moon over McClellanville

A pale piece
of curve
set against
a barely visible
circle

yellowing as it goes down
through the cables and hoisted
outriggers of the boats.

Diesel throb
peaceful across the water.

The drunks at the boat landing

whoop.

 

 

Pittsburgh Steel

What a day,
though not beautiful or nice,
a handsome day,

sun sailing over
several blocks
of Pittsburgh,

earth turning,
great ship
slicing the air,
the blades of the buildings.

City of concrete
geraniums
rising out of
the wash of traffic,

the light scrapes
it all clean
down an avenue
of boarded storefronts.

 

 

Look

I look and you look.

The same light enters
two pairs of eyes.

Nothing will be the same again.

Holes to be dug
and cars driven
and borders crossed
to go the distance

and the goal obscure
and the meaning of it
all escapes us.
Goodbye, my jaunty sparrow.

I tried twice to tell
you the story of my life.
First it was too long,
now it’s too short.

Turning around in the road,
then turning around again.

Then turning round and round.

This really is the end.

 

 

Couplets

You said, “There’s no more interesting music.”
I said, “The wet leaves smell of treason.”

You said, “I’ve lost the feeling of myself.”
I said, “When I close my eyes it roars.”

You took the names from all the trees.
I took refuge in the difficulty of painting.

You said, “Curses,” I said, “Curtains,”
though for a long time we lodged among the lucky ones.

Out in the street the light fell obliquely.
The taxis had their roof lights on.

The feeling was clouds, earth tones, and leaf.
The back of the air was contralto and Mahler.

Indeed, the evening was like a giant standing up
to count his strides. We fled in two directions.

 

 

The Return

The same motion returns,
the same hand, the same pencil
traces the same pattern.

Each day rising
and setting each
day climbing the stairs.

Each hesitant hand
turning a knob,
each dragging dance
starting and stopping.

Love accomplishes nothing.
The same motion returns.
Autumn falls on water
down and down.

 

 

A Life

We deserve death as we
deserve life — that much,
that little.

The cradle rocks to another
beat, the child lives
in another time.

Out of the flesh
grew the culm
of spirit, a column
of dust with eyes.

In the heart of the poem
a form collapsed
and the voice read
on in silence.

Then the sparrows
fluttered in
and propped the gate
with their bones.

From under the ground
a boat came sailing —
without sails,
without flags.

Lift the cup,
pause to think.
Something has stopped.
The way is lost.

My name is Weary.
As a young man
I knew both a feeling of abandonment
and a sense of “from this moment on.”

Now I’m holding
both ends of a long scarf.
I turn from the bathers
and cover my face on the shore.

 

 

My Father’s Death

The sun had just come up
when all the light of my father died.

A lizard in its crept place opened one eye.
Ants climbed in spiral motion a stem of tall grass.

In that instant an instant was given.
It was shining as on the first day.

Birds sang brightly from the trees
and nothing was left that was obscure.

McClellanville, 1990

 

 

Memory

The expanse of memory:
like a field beyond a field

where people are walking, talking,
not needing to care

what is happening in this one.

And under those hills buried forever
lies an old and famous plain
where a city once stood

around whose unbreachable walls
a hero was dragged by horses

over the plain, over the plain!

Dogs bark and stars sway
above a road where a late traveler

makes his way along the lines of a legend
toward a century he cannot hope to reach.

In the country
a year has passed
but in the city
nothing has changed.

The emperor’s eyelids are pressed with darkness
and all the blood has flowed.

 

 

Before the Mirror

We travel on our faces.
Lower, lower

than we can crawl
crawl our faces

under all their travels.

 

 

View from Northeast Point, McClellanville

The world is so ingloriously
pervade with exits,
so overcrowded
with elevators down,

it’s porous. Eternity
leaking through
makes walking hard
at the edge of the Atlantic slag,

by the piggish thuds,
under the dirty clouds
of an icy autumn.

The ocean is sending
us rumors of bad times, of
mortal plummet

and expunge: it
would suck our refuge under.

 

 

For Emily Hope, Aged Six

This is our way
down through the candelabraed
asters, the child
talking and reaching.

A child and a man
under the sky.
The wings of the grass
swift on the hillside.

Not to be tarried
by simple verse,
the prose of time
irresistible

Mitchell County, NC, 1991

 

Desert Sunrise

The hours converge
on an instant.

Eternity cavorts,
the infinite abounding.

Avalanche of alas,
transience indeed,

and anger hot
and dry in the dawn

 

 

The Sound you Hear

The sound you hear
like lapsing handles

or a vast propeller
turning in a church

is lichen moving
in waves over rocks.

 

 

Living Alone in the Mountains

Each poor soul
without another — solitude’s
bad breath.
November clouds
whine and clang.
Autumn hills
like palomino haunches.
A long way to neighbors,
their whiskied talk.

Mitchell County, NC, 1992

 

 

Solstice

Shades drawn
ruminating dusk.
Fate’s wires
looped and tangled.

Earth near death,

the plum tree
dipping iced branches.

I bring in wood to the fire
and brace myself against the dull
miseries of the homestead,

lacking the discipline
and strength of my father.

 

 

Farm

The pickup in the mire
sunk to its axles,
the hounds not leaping the fence
but crawling under,
the pregnant hog’s belly
nearly dragging the ground,
the wind has circled
the pear with blossoms.

 

 

Pawley’s Island, South Carolina

I have become
a fierce old man,
not at all companionable.

I pray,
but expect nothing.
Each moment, a precipice;

with each word
I weigh in my hand
the stone of my fall.

My mind’s
a frozen instrument
bent to the groove,

in bondage to abstract symbols
of intersecting desolation.
Unfed and hungering

I weep like Alice
by the doll-faced door.
Who will make me small again?

I have entered
like a bather
the element of absence.

Like a hunter
I lie in wait
to surprise what I feel.

Till pushing in line
among shoppers
a phrase

uncurls from memory:
“Between the white houses,
blue wings of the sea.”

 

 

Bridge over a Small River

Two men leaning
on a bridge rail
form a peaceful figure
above the wonderful

Chinese

of a drifting boat

and one pushing
a bicycle

seems bent with yearning.

 

 

A Gift

The romantic leans on an elbow.

The builder, sitting in a car,
sweeps an arm
as if by this the building rises.

Who can say how long
lovely stands?

In the yard, my pear tree blooms
for itself alone,

though the city by this flourish
achieve a partial summer.

 

 

On the Eve of War

Flow, rapid future
(war is more rapid),

dazzle, moment.

In the parks and cemeteries
of Charleston
the buds are great
with infolded petals,

the sky is destination blue.

A gull flashes
in the big empty brightness,

a windshield flashes back.

Diesel rainbows
glisten on the trash-bearing
water swirling at the pilings.

Advance of enigmas,
triumph of the merciless,

wherever we turn
the age is upon us

holding all there is
in the opaque energy of its concentrated drag.

In darkness and turmoil
the heart opens out
to the life of this city,

luminosity of
shiny metal view
difficult to describe.

And the graceful yachts at ease on their hawsers.

The sun rolling in from the harbor
rolls out
the masses of the visible

that we call days
and go among
our many ways,

existence after all.

Charleston, 2003

 

 

Son, My Son
………………..for Jeremy, aged ten.

I look at the child,
thinking how the beginning labors to end.

He reads, lost in his book,
the hooks of his eyes
tear at the pages.

Along the edge of the young day
a horse pacing proudly over the great earth.

He rests his world on mine,
but never again
will they speak of “renewed generations.”

The world-wheel turns,
axled on terror. What is one child?

 

 

A Reckoning

Out of the narrow
dark
into bright
familiar world,

wide radiance
of wide kitchen windows
in which I greet
my own shape,

make coffee, oatmeal,
call the children down.

A day that holds no other light. . .

Old refrigerators stoves old tires
in the stream. The road
the town the city

isolating,
darkening under
the wheels of the traffic.

Strands of wire
pole to pole
between the small
houses, the trailers.

The roads go everywhere they don’t
go anywhere,
hard, resilient,
a massive web, a huge nation,
they weave no pattern,
smoothing the way, moving metal,

they are the signs
of the breaking of the pattern,

enigmas of interconnecting energy,
channels without issue
in the pulse and crash of our time.

Nothing speaks out of things,
they lie in themselves, and we
in ourselves. What

are we good for out there?
We cannot impose tenderness.
The weight of indifference

presses us into the pavement.

Heart manacled to heart love
happens against us. All
else is boulder boulder and sand.

 

 

Rush Hour on the Cooper River Bridge

Driving out
over the bridge to Mt. Pleasant,
buildings, people,
pieces of a city
in process,

in morning
sunlight sharp
on long files
of glittering traffic,
velocity
and confrontation,

complicity
and violence

as churning
engines toil
at the definition
of an era

indecipherable
as concrete.
In opulent surge
and flash
reflections flow
over hubcaps and bumpers,

heads and eyes
stiffen
in the frantic
stampeding cars,

out of the city tumult tumult,

into the convergence,
the spin.

 

 

From the Notebooks

1

Wind, and a branch scrapes a tin roof,
an empty drawer waits,
water runs under a rotting pier,
darkness sucks at the mind.

So things become narratives of the soul,
so truth occurs.
A rusty machine also “reflects the real.”

 

2

Those were the days
when we could say,
“Fountains dry,
temples thrown down.”

Now we say,
“Under the noon sun
asphalt is melting in empty
parking lots.”

 

3

You ask for keys
but there are no doors
of things that open to keys

but to a verse of precise
and studied step,
accurate and not sweet.

 

4

“Not deafness,”
he shouted as he
stepped into the surf,
“deftness,”

that with which
the ocean smashes
whispers on a beach,

the way stillness
in the poem
moves against movement
enclosing
its own movement.

 

5

I wanted no smooth
stone of artifice
but rough uncut rock
found by chance
to which I gave no other
shape than purpose.

 

 

Resurrection and Death of a Chair

The old lady has died
and it’s all going,
………every stick of furniture,
………………even the baby carriage,
………even the black-and-chrome gas-fired barbeque grill,
………………even the wheel chair.
Three men, four hours,
………the dreck of a lifetime
………………down three flights of stairs
into the truck.
………………………Here comes an armchair,
he has it on his head,
………he looks like a turtle,
it’s lime green,
………………it’s huge,
………………………it’s made for giants.
They set it down on the sidewalk
and go on working.
………………Every stick of it
into the van.
………………They stand at the rear of the truck,
they drink water from paper cups,
………they crush the cups,
………………and toss them in the truck.
They climb into the cab,
………………they drive away.
The chair is on the sidewalk,
………how could they forget the chair?
It is lime green, it is huge,
………it takes up half the sidewalk,
………………people have to swerve around it.
All afternoon it sits on the sidewalk.

Night falls,
………the chair is strangely beautiful,
………………under the streetlight
it looks like a theater set,
………a chair for Willy Loman
to kick back and dream.

Morning comes,
………two little boys stop to look.
What a sight!
………A gigantic armchair in the middle of the sidewalk!
They glance up and down the street,
………they throw themselves into the chair,
they sit side by side,
………they kick their legs,
………………they look at each other and laugh.
What pleasure on a bright spring morning
………to sit in an overstuffed lime-green easy chair
………………that stands in the middle of the sidewalk for no reason!
What a wonderful chair!

Another day goes by,
………and another,
the chair is in exactly
………the spot where the movers left it.
On the third day,
………on the fourth floor of the building,
someone has left a window open.
A little girl
………is leaning out of it,
………she wants to see what is happening in the street below.
And I think how amazing it would be
………if she tumbled out the window
………………and landed safely in the chair.
That would be a true miracle,
………it would be on the news,
………………it would make people happy just to hear about it.
It doesn’t happen, though.
No miracle occurs.
………A young woman pulls the child back
………………………and shuts the window.
What occurs instead is garbage day,
………they pick up the chair,
………………they heave it into the bin
………………………and crush it,
so life can go on as before.

 

 

An Egyptian Statue

The shape of time,
the face of time,
is work, the mind’s work.

Live wood becomes stone,
stone leaves and branches,
the mind chips at the frame.

Multitude of shadows,
multitude of figures
over the sharp, the arched field.

Hardness beyond rock,
the musical thought, its
successive shapes are art.

Out of the cooling frenzy,
above the cries of impulse,
this is the light among us

drifting and springing.
Muscled body, body of dreaming,
its secret is not bogus.

A dirt clod fallen
back into dirt
made this stone statue

to stand a natural
stranger among us,
enemy of the normal day,

the dingy life, and light
upon us, though it cannot
save even one man.

Its mineral gaze turns everywhere,
always. And the actual
enters consciousness

as consciousness-in-stone
not broken by bitterness,
renders the eye able.

 

 

For Poetry

1

Yesterday a thousand imagined deer
stood drinking at the pond.

Today one unimagined drop
would slake our thirst.

The oaks are still wearing their promises
but the tree of words is bare.

The prophet has jumped from the tower
into the valley of the Interstate,

where we buried him like a sack of blood,
by a sagging fence, in the fold of the year.

We have lingered at the grassy mound
and raised two crossed sticks.

I speak of it without irony,
amazed that I can speak of it at all.

 

2

The sun, the moon, are two eyes
rolling in the skull of time.

The world began in the skull’s shadow
and ends at twilight in a trailer park.

Sunset on the Emerald Motel,
and footsteps scrunch on the gravel.

The ocean has dried to a scum-coated pond,
a nation died out to a village.

Everywhere chaos, and everywhere calmly
people are taking bicycles apart.

Without equipment to construe,
without a single bell to defend us,

we have entered a new earth,
of a different sort of dust.

 

3

I stand at the rimless edge and hear
distances falling on deserted roads

as quiet as writing.
A beggar by a vanished stream,

rattling a cup of names,
my mind is a box of memory held with tape.

All the ghosts are here.
Verlaine, tous tes amis sont ici!

And morning glories turning out along the fence,
a tree planting another like itself.

I keep track of such omens and emblems,
though I know my skills are not wisdom.

I work stones
and let them roll off into the creek bed.

And the fragrance of the old way
is an unbearable sweetness.

 

4

I remember a ship detained by veils
and the many-skirted waves

unfolding the wrinkled pages of an antique island
on which our fantasies were broken like lyricists.

Now the conversations about it
are too long even to begin.

The shadow of bread stirs

only the memory of hunger.
We’ll be reborn only as we are.

All answers dissolve into poundings at the gate.

 

5

Clouds of steps. Fire loose
and wind rising. Typewriters squeal and shit.

Libraries of empires sink
under highways darkened by blowing dust

rattling the metal hoops of wagons
crossing a prairie

past a secret concealed in a wall
and a deep pond lost in the suburbs

and Walt Whitman saying goodbye at the Exxon,

past a greenhouse floating above Saginaw
where the horticulturist of loneliness bred roses,

over asphalt intangible arches of longing
hung from the cables of a marvelous bridge

where a bedlamite still weeps on a parapet,
Emily Dickinson’s letters falling from his eyes.

 

6

To where a man steps down on another coast,
his memories around him like children,

aghast in the glare of arrival.

The waves that splash here
have come all the way from the beginning.

He picks up a stone: before the grass,
before the mountains.

Rustle of silence and rush of words;
eternity gleams along the rim of his losses.

A sentry at the border between an eon and an eon
and a viewer in the wind,

he rocks on his heels.
He is not mute but neither can he speak.

Though the materials are present.

In the lightness of one hand,
in the clarity of one string.

Far far a little sun more black expands,
the shivering bells caw.

Magicians, in whom brightest I still believe,
let down your ladders!

 

 

Spring Again

Spring, a headlong
vault, slap-bang,
but tender, green.
How strange again.

In the unearthed life
of plant and animal
wild and cunning
information and reflex.

In more than friendship
comes forth the Other,
a few steps
a different way together.

 

 

How it Is

The tumult of life, I suppose it is,
the throes and pangs
of enthusiasm and regret,
go on apace,
and might well continue
to go on apace,
interrupted by hours of oblivion,
by sleep, by moments
of distraction, by fun,
though that rarely now,
for years possibly, still,
but not by peace,
there is no peace.
The soul, for one thing,
never gets weary,
no matter how battered,
no matter how chock full
of misery and hunger,
it’s always ready for more.
The animal, on the other hand,
meaning the fleshy thing
the soul is buried in,
or burdened with,
wears down, wears out,
and dies, becomes dirt,
or gray ash and smoke.
There is a point,
a position in life,
where the fences have all come down,
the world rushes in
and everything hurts.

 

 

Prayer

Lord, what shape
of animal will you
assume when we meet —
barnyard or zoo?
And how will I
know you? Fear
weighs my ways
down, and pain
will stain my last hours
most likely, most like
a lion stains
the lamb. Will it
be you?
A loud ruin, Lord,
is dying to love,
his heart hardened
to every sound
but the scratch
of tiny cruciform
fingers clawing
and nagging
at the door.
Shall I open it
and let the dark in
like a dog,
or go out
to greet it
by choosing night?
Night, you know,
is the wall I always
wanted.
In it are the gates
through which
I think I see
tossing pale lights.
Will it take a lot
of courage, Lord,
to go out and
sidle up to that
aggrieved and
wounded lamb
that struggles there?

 

 

At the Memorial

Mounds of boots, piles
of steel helmets,
dead wings over the waves;

severed branches,
a massive wheel,
a coat leaning against nothing.

Ribbons and medals
thrown over a fence,
mist in envelopes.

Men on the damp
ground at perpendiculars
to themselves,

and words like “country” and “hero,”
the shoddy merchandise.

 

 

First Love

A van cruising the streets,
mouth to my mouth.

An event so small
among the great events,

copulating flies.

A machine following the one
out on the Interstate
painting the dividing lines,

a machines spreading its yellow wings.

 

 

Two for the Morning

1. 6 AM

A not-to-be-
spoken wisp
or rose
as a wren levers
the sun up,
bright
morning rush
of world’s
pierce.

.

2. 8 AM

And now it
flashes
all over the city’s
many cars,
tenement violence,
infant life
jagged,
the day’s

intermeshing teeth of gears.

 

Flint

The sky’s a gray
disorientation
like something
the streets imagined.

The Interstate’s
hysteria held down
by the weight
of truck tires.

Anxiety,
aridity. A hard
edge like a metal
flange in the air.

Who wants to say love
says stone. Existence
is bafflement
against the obduracy.

An angry sea,
steel-gray waves,
rolls over
glimpsed islands.

 

 

A Village Was

A village was, besides
a few huts and streets,
the return of what they knew,

an actuality of belief.

Then town, then city
crowded the banks of the river,
an event that has happened,
frozen at the end.
Stairways in office buildings,
scarred doors, baffled
citizens.

Not the earth’s slow heaves and cyclical
exchanges but powerful engines

mark the progress of our motionings.

We have come from: What is separate is wrong,
to: Everything beautiful is separate.

And the emptiness is everyone’s.
In this decaying light we are free.

Towards us slouch in attitudes of sloth
and degradation

the gods of the periphery, the lesser ones.

Over all, everywhere, rolls the rock of history,
the moving rock,
a thicket moving itself. We can’t
find our residence there.

For it is necessary to see
whatever happens as an answer,
though we know this civilization
had been better not built.

So we achieve bewilderment.

 

 

Don’t Bicker

Don’t bicker with death.
Invite it in
as guest, as teacher,
your friend, your enemy.

Body shot
and mind fabulating,
you’re at the end
of a long corridor,
barefoot on a cold floor.

Step easy, as off a curb,
through the mud gate
into the racing void.

Though still by human fire,
though still in need of touch,
embrace the dark embracing you,

don’t bicker with it.

 

 

Fair Evening, Charleston County

Behind a filling station at the edge of town
cattle drink from a ditch,
swing their heads down, their horns.

Across the field a kitchen light
goes on: fidelity and shelter.

A gun lies in pieces
on a table covered with newspaper,
a child studies it.

A man in baggy trousers beside the highway
thumbing a ride, gropes for the dream.

Yellow light floods the pine tops
above the dense stillness of the horses.

I run my hands along the sad edges,
the wings of the day,
and the stars up there after,

and the tired feet of the animals
walking forever onto the ark

and the water moving in the rushes

and the coon creeping on the quail clutch
and the cat pausing in the rifle sight
and the fat convict crawling frantically in mist.

I think the only real failure is the failure to be brave,
and to cringe like an animal driven over.

 

 

In Fall

The end with all
its beginnings.
A stairless man
climbing down

bone by bone
and loss by loss
and hand to mouth,
the words die

as we say them,
the gate bangs.
The descent
to the dirt roads.

The moon
is a deaf color
we cannot hear
any farther than ourselves

time passing
in camouflage,
birds falling
from the trees.

The seasons turn
on the cylinders
of our faces,
the circle

spreads its numbers
across the garden
and kills the flowers.

Hands that had
drawn back, touch.
Voices fallen silent
cry out.

 

 

Till Death Do us Thunder
…………..for Nora

These flesh-masked bones
are my disguise.
Next year will bring
your summer stripped of my parks.
Our life was this chain
with its links,
these words
with their rhythms,
that poem.
Beginning there
you’ll start back
these steps with your feet
in those shoes without laces.
From my mask
you’ll save face,
from my prints
you’ll make tracks,
from my words
you’ll take flight.

 

 

Rivers Avenue, North Charleston

We move among
people everywhere
the constant numerous

the abstract calming
expected movements

of cashiers.

Bits of news
bits of dirt and rivets

cars in ranks

of repetition, of structure.

And beyond
that the forest “history”

and beneath our feet
the solid pavement.

The moth circling
the lamp is trapped
in the moth-system

and the blossoming twig
by the all but gone
silent stream

otherwise.

 

 

Independence Day

In masses, in multitudes,
we move restlessly, relentlessly

across the vast republic of indifference,

over the bare ground of horror,

what the traffic rolls on.

It is motion, it is process,
accumulation, waste.

In the phantasmal, the toxic
cities of the plain, the spectacle
thickens and clots.

Frozen gantries, vacant shop floors,
black rags stuffed in the drain holes.

We are harmful, we are
acid to each other,

though no one ever died of tenderness
and emptiness was no one’s choice.

Isolated by our velocity,
we are ajar, adrift
in the wash of empire.

What scales will we use to weigh,
who were weighed and found wanting?

How can we exhaust the bitterness?

Aghast, afloat
on the current of history,
at the frontier of the times we live in,
that we’ve been tossed up out of,

we put out more flags.

We came here by error
and the error holds us.

The epoch is everywhere,
it is all there is,
and we are crazed by it.

 

 

Zones

Pressure of memory against the mobility of life,
forgetfulness bricking the mind.

An indifference shrouding us from within,
the metal fences spreading,

blunt fingers attaching
wire loops
to steel posts.

An old man who is again a child
stirs the dust that was the child.

No future, and no idea how to live as a “last man,”

he walks alone by the river
through crowds of others walking by their rivers,

the hard, the masculine and feminine others.

Time has given to each a depth of world
impossible to renounce or rectify,

the uncanny, the unique person.

Circles of isolation interlocked to form a chain.

 

 

Out in California my Brother is Dying

August, and he can already feel
the failing of the vegetable impulse.

The materials of summer are all around him
but he can see what the trees are planning

when the leaves have fallen
the birds have flown
the branches rattle bare empty cages

meadow grass collapses under wind and frost
chirr chirp babble and drone pitch into silence.

Seated on a sagging porch he watches the clouds
turn their pages complaining and sighing.

Sometimes on a still-warm evening
he drags a chair out into the orchard.

There among the velvet shadows of the apple trees
the mind empties its crowds

the once so emphatic present grows thin
as the kingdom of bright days crumbles.

Above the mountains to the west
a steep and frantic shape

hauls at the cables of the sun,
and the air is frail with flight.

.
.

Part Three: The Kiffler Poems

1. Kiffler Fails to Fly

Today Kiffler is learning to fly.
He has developed a technique.
He does it in the kitchen first for his family.

Fists in armpits,
he flaps the mighty stubs.

Wugh wugh wugh

The sound of wingbeats
strum the air.

Once around the room,
he soars above the refrigerator.
Kiffler is flying the Hump.
He is sailing above it all.

The kitchen,
…………..his family,
……………………..his life

shrink.

They are the size of fleas.

Now he is going to do a barrel roll.
(Impressive, but irrelevant.)

He is just fluttering up there to avoid his responsibilities.

He crumples once more upon a chair.

‘You don’t have anything it takes,’
observes Thelma.

Does she mean wings?

From Molly’s box of Jungle Crunch
a tiger recommends that Kiffler crunch life.

He would, he would.

‘I leap up to my God, who pulls we down?’
said Dr. Faustus in that play.

And who is Dr. Kiffler leaping up to?

Nobody.

Then what drags him down?

His heavy heart.

.

.
2. Kiffler Sets to Work

Six long weeks he strove to cut it.
Thirty mornings at the awful hour
Kiffler stood panting at the door.

Climb aboard, they said.
He climbed aboard. He hauled,
he hammered.
They called him Kiff.
His heart warmed.

Six weeks he did it.
At the end of each
lay money. Kiffler
was bringing home the bacon.

That was on the surface.

Elsewhere,
upon a barren piece of windblown prairie,
Kiffler was recoiling.

From ladder tops he surveyed
the passages of clouds.
Under houses in the cool
he contemplated joists.

He was happy there.
The word “deadbeat” fluttered in the air.
It lit on Kiffler’s head,
and stayed.

He let his mind drift.
Day by day the name Kiffler
grew synonym with slacker.

Six weeks he strove to cut it.
To what avail?

Down the street by Jimmy’s Bar and Grill
flies the answer.

That rakish figure of springing step
is Kiffler fired.

Home again, he creeps
into the warm familiar lair.
He wags.

With Thelma, though, that does not cut it.
I put up with shit, she says,
why can’t you put up with shit?

Why can’t Kiffler put up with shit?

A flaw within.

.

.

3. Kiffler Takes a Walk

The young ones are everywhere. They are
falling from the trees. They are leaping
from rooftops.

They are not doing anything. They do it
passionately.
The park is full of them.

Overhead the vastness reverberates.
A huge orb is loose in space.
Someone has let Spring out
and the dogs are at it.

Alarmed, Kiffler roams.

Tiny leaves on the willows.
Tulips and daffodils.
Gnats vibrate in columns.

A mallard, green aglitter,
pursues a drab wife,
all dignity undone by the waddle.

See Kiffler smile.
His teeth are quite yellow now.

At the lake’s rim he sits,
knees drawn up to his chin.
(The body hinges,
the mind unhinges.)

He read this morning,
“Poet Alan Ginsberg Dead.”
That news is now writ large
in Kiffler’s head.

Once, hunkered in Asia
Kiffler heard a temple
gong so loud the whiskey
frolicked in his glass.

Now he looks to windward.
From across the lake
towards him and towards him
tiny ripples race.

If tomorrow Kiffler
woke up as a duck
that would be all right with him.

.

 

4. Kiffler Takes a Sort of Stand

Beached upon a sofa, mighty Kiffler rests.
His eyes are shuttered against a sea of troubles
even as trouble creeps upon him.
Into a quiet-breathing nostril
Molly jabs a note from school.

Kiffler unfolds, and reads.

Molly has (it is written there)
refused to pledge allegiance to the flag.
She has alleged “parental strictures.”
She has quoted Kiffler to the class:

“You will not kiss their fucking rag.”

Here Kiffler beams.
She has his vent verbatim.

Though he knows it’s a skirmish only
(a footnote merely)
in the Kiffler Wars,
he swells with pride.

Propelled by wrath
he hauls himself erect.
Up from the well of resentment
he lifts a bucketful
and spews a bilious stream
down on Molly’s hapless dome:

the misery of his schooldays.
the shame of his nation.
the stupidity of power.
the fragility of justice. . .

thoughtless thoughtless

Here Molly weeps

and Kiffler tumbles back.

……………………..*
Time tumbles forward,
carves Kiffler a narrow space
in which to rue and mend.

With ice cream in cones
and her small hand in his,
father and daughter amble now
beneath the flowering trees.

Cunning Kiffler
has made his escape again.

He bears a cone before him like a torch.

……………………..*
He’s back where he belongs at last.
He never should have left.
He has his feet on the dog again.
His eyes are closed.

He is waiting for Armageddon
to be announced on the news.
He can hear Thelma singing in the kitchen.
The days are very long.

After a while, he rolls a joint
and wanders out to the yard.

He stands among the things of April,

the tiny leaves that swarm the ash,
sudsy clouds bouncing in the sky,
daffodils, of course.

He takes a long toke,
coughs once, and pledges.

.

5. Kiffler’s Nice Day

A nice day again.
Sun-speckled sidewalks,
flowers, and so forth.
Kiffler can’t get over it.

An amazing coincidence,
himself and the world
here together.

Amazing just to shirk. If he had anything
to shirk from. Or off.
There’s an itchy buzzing
sort of bounce to the atmosphere.

Kiffler takes Vachel to scope it out.

A slow turn around the neighborhood
and then amble on to the park,
and the lake, and ducks probably.

People have planted all sorts of flowers
between the house fronts and the sidewalk.
Thelma does that. Kiffler himself would not,
though he is grateful.

He doesn’t know even the names of many.
Zinnias, roses. But what are those
yellow spotted ones
like tiny shoes hanging from strings?

Vachel meets others of his kind
on the way. He wags and means it.
And Kiffler meets others of his.

Does he wag? He does.
The doggy virtues do not elude him.
He bobs and nods.
He flashes a ragged grin.

That is just Kiffler being devious.

The sign says

NO DOGS ALLOWED IN THIS PARK.

But there goes Kiffler.
He’s walking Vachel right past it.

At the leafy shore, eager
paddlers gather round.
They know their man.

Deliberately adjacent a sign that says, in effect,

DON’T FEED THE FUCKING DUCKS, KIFFLER,

scofflaw Kiffler tosses bread.

Minor crime is Kiffler’s crutch.
Leaning on it he hobbles home
with head held high, high-domed

forehead slicing the soft air,
a man of backbone and gall,

unlulled by weather.

.

6. A Laborious Story

This is Kiffler as a large fat beaver.
Fat flat tail. Nice sturdy teeth. Incredible house.
Underwater entrance and other defenses.
Nice airy rooms. Roof deck with retractable awning.

Never a wasted moment, that’s Kiffler.
Works hard. Strong as a mule. Never touches sugar.
Here he is singing “Down at the Pond”
while stripping off some fresh bark for the winter.

“There’s no such thing as too soon,”
he likes to say, “and the busy bee has no sorrow”

Naturally, the other good-for-nothing beavers don’t like him much.

They spend a lot of time just lying around chewing twigs and sunning themselves
and they don’t feel good about it.

So they organize a meeting to throw Kiffler out.

They accuse him of being an Eager Beaver.

“Yea, I’d call him that.”

“Some kind of militant self-starter probably.”

“Well, I did peek inside his lodge once, and lemme tell ya, it was neat as a pin.”

“With him it’s always go go go. I say, when’s it gonna’ stop?

He hasn’t a chance. The case
is stacked against him from the outset.

They are out for Kiffler’s pelt.

When his turn comes, he stands to speak.
He invokes the Beaver Way.
Industry, Self-reliance. The ideals
of the bluff plain dealer.
The sturdy yeomanry of yore.

He goes on, and on. His speech is extremely boring.

They drive him out with sticks.

Now here he is out in the big world.
It is a thinner, sadder Kiffler,
scrounging nickels in the street.
He is selling little wooden carvings of beavers
and singing “Down at the Pond.”
He is in constant danger from dogs.

He has certainly travelled a long way from the old oomph and pizzazz days.

At night he drags himself home
to a hovel of planks and tarpaper.
The only light is from a flickering screen.
Hunched over the keyboard,
He is composing the story of his life
and an indictment of his times.

(Beaver or no beaver, it’s the same old Kiffler.)

.

 

7. Kiffler Has Mechanical Problems

Here is Kiffler hard at work.
Today he is an automatic high velocity envelope stuffing machine with bulk feeder.
He is amazingly efficient.
He is making up for gazillions of hours he has twiddled away.

He likes being a machine.
Effortless labor. Respect.

Buoyed by the warm chatter of office girls
he is humming along.
Envelopes are piling up.

Thanks to Kiffler thousands of deserving Americans
will have a shot at a free lawn tractor.
Just mail back the coupon.

Who does he think he’s kidding?

Already he is losing his concentration,
he is drifting into orbit.
He is orbiting 1978.

Uh oh. Something’s not right.
Looks like a paper jam.

Here comes Janine to the rescue.
What a babe. She is fooling around inside
his very delicate mechanism
(long red nails like talons).

Hey, girl, not so rough.

Kiffler grabs, holds on.
Her shrieks merely excite him.

Oops! There goes the fabric.

“You’ve done it this time.
Out you go, buddy.”

Here is Kiffler being unceremoniously tossed.
He lies in the alley on his side.

He breathes. He hears the unpleasant
clatter of some loose parts.
He rolls over, studies how blue the sky.
Soon the bars will open.

Hands in pockets, he strolls to one.
“Hey, Kiffy, what’s up, man?

Sly Mona Lisa smile.

He must be hatching another goofy idea.

When Kiffler was younger
he was troubled by the meaning of life.

He felt there ought to be one.

He has gotten used to things as they are.
If one day they start to make sense
he will be completely bewildered.

.

 

8. Kiffler Tries to Sleep it off

Kiffler is back on the sofa.

What a deadbeat.

Kiffler Bonaparte
is retreating from something bigger than Russia.

He does it with his eyes closed.

Outside lurks the work world.
(One more thing to be baffled by)

It’s a busy business out there,
he thinks, even the birds sound busy,
and Kiffler Doolittle hears it all.

He does not want to.

He turns, snuffling, to snout the pillow.
Deep in feathered folds he grubs for sleep.
Eyes shut tight, it is dark in Kiffler’s head,
but sounds leak in.
From high in some leafy top
a small bright bird is shouting

phoo-ee phoo-ee phoo-ee.

He wishes he had earlids.

It’s a busy busy world
and Kiffler Bumstead is tired of listening to it.
He is tired of traffic and the busy buzz of people going places
in cars,
…………subways,
………… ..buses,
………. ….planes.

He hates business
and business people
and the phrase ‘travel allowance.’
He hates the words ‘busy’ and ‘buzz.’
He hates the reliable industrious
steps of the mailman
and the racket made by the painters across the street
ratchetting their eternal ladders up and down.

Their names are Ken and Laura.

Kiffler knows.
When they first started
he strolled over to find out.

Ken, Laura, and yellow.

Ken, thin and balding,
Laura, short and pudgy.
Laura does not actually paint.
She works as ballast. When Ken
is up high on the ladder
Laura sits on the bottom rung
and keeps him from falling.
All day she sits, eating potato chips
and smoking. That’s her job
and she’s good at it.

Kiffler thinks of slim Thelma
sitting on the bottom rung of his ladder.
She has kept him from falling
all these years.

But what is he doing up there anyway?

He ponders. His shield is down.
Wormish thoughts, tentacled and fanged,
wiggle into his half-sleeping head.
He wishes he had a mindlid.

And now another familiar tread.
No baleful mailman this.
The lighter brighter steps of Thelma
are at the door, and through,
and across the room to him.
She looms above.
His eyes will open to behold.
O Thelma.

Has she brought bread?

Once she lavished
sex and praise upon him.
Now she returns
bearing, he hopes, money.

Kiffler needs some.

To sit with coffee,
pastry, perhaps a book
on a café terrace
and so stalk the world in spring.
That a need so small
should loom so huge
amazes Kiffler. Amazes also
that gentle lovely Thelma
should labor so for such as he.

Baffled Kiffler doesn’t get it.

When, Thelma asks, as she peels
away two lovely green ones,
will he face up to his responsibilities.

He ought to cry out, ‘Never, never, never, will I,’

but answers instead, ‘Tomorrow.’

(And means it.)

.

.
9. Kiffler Treed

Bent beneath a long metal ladder,
there is Kiffler trudging across the lawn,
an ant bearing a wasp wing.

The summer trees are full of leaves.
Kiffler, below, has seen a better world up there,
a tranquil peace house afloat in the treetops.

He wants to go live in it.

Though he does not like ladders
he scurries up.
The vast maple waves its leaves gently to him
as he climbs.
His ant-heart thumps.

Now that he is in the branches
he starts to feel better.
Looking down, he is feeling high.

He climbs from limb to limb.
He is really way up there.
He perches near the peak.
Nevermind how it sways,
he is going to make a roost of it.

But what’s happening now?

Looks like his arms have gone furry.
Chest and face too.
Perplexed, he scratches a hairy ear.
His hand is huge.

Poor hopeful Kiff,
he imagines he’s beginning a new life-story.
He wants to call it From Ant to Ape.

When he left, the news of the earth was grim.
High above the demented present
Kiffler is cutting loose from his species.

What will he miss?

Thelma and Molly, his sofa,
movies, his dog Vachel,
cigarettes, wearing a hat when it’s cold,
cappuccinoen on Cafe Zoma’s terrace.

Kiffler is getting ready to rough it.

Now Thelma and Molly are standing beneath him in the yard.
They are quite low and stubby.
Kiffler is so high he can’t tell if they are pointing or waving.

From within his greeny nook
he peers out over the rooftops.
He has never seen the neighborhood
from this angle before. He likes it better.

…….. ……Meanwhile
below him on the lawn
dwarfs are multiplying. They are wearing
their faces on top of their heads.
Friends and relations, all the neighbors,
his brother Bill, his sister Maud.

That’s too much of many for Kiffler.

They are moving into a huddle.
Uh oh. It might be a family council.

Put a cork in that!

Kiffler hurls his shoes down,
first one, then the other.

The dwarfs unbunch and scatter,
then regroup out of range.
They are hatching plans to get him down.

Kiffler studies his new feet.

He is up there
because it looked so nice from below
and he couldn’t think where else.
Now he discovers
that sitting on branches is not comfortable.

The life of an ape man,
has turned out to be uncomfortable and boring.

………. … .(There goes another illusion.
…….. ……How many more can Kiffler have?
Zillions, probably.)

The sirens arrive, trailing red trucks,
to die away at the curb. At the end
they give off a deep very final moan.
If Kiffler could open his mouth and say that
everyone would understand.

Firemen swarm below.
Big hatted, short legged, barrel chested,
they are running around with their fireman equipment.

DWARF ARMY RESCUES ORANGOUTANG.

But why aren’t they setting up any ladders?

The fire captain is explaining to Thelma:
when she called, they thought “Kiffler” was a cat.
They don’t rescue lunatics.

They have a special team for that.

 —Sam Savage

.

Acknowledgements:

“Evening Sun”: Southern Poetry Review

“A Simple Mechanism, Zero Gravity, Think of Night”: Ambit (in England)

“Lexicon,” “Pawleys Island,” “For Emily Hope,” “In Luxembourg Gardens”: 45/96 (an anthology of South Carolina poets)

“Goodbye, 1972”: Chattahoochee Review

“Climbing in Teotihuacan”: Moth (in Ireland)

.
Sam Savage is the best-selling author of Firmin: Adventures of a Metropolitan Lowlife, The Cry of the Sloth, Glass, The Way of the Dog, and It Will End with Us. A native of South Carolina, Savage holds a PhD in philosophy from Yale University. He lives in Madison, Wisconsin.

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.

Mar 052016
 

adrian and matthew
It was a cold Friday afternoon, last December, the 18th. By the fire in my front room in Fredericton, New Brunswick (Canada), I called, via Skype, father and son tag team poets, Adrian and Matthew Rice. Adrian answered from his home in Hickory, North Carolina and Matthew from Carrickfergus in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. I was particularly interested in the father-son poetry connection and how much influence they had upon each other’s work, whether their writing processes were similar or not and how the poems unfolded for them. We spoke about their influences, why poetry was important to them and what advice, if any, Adrian would give to Matthew about the writing life. I also asked Adrian about Abbey Press, a poetry press he co-founded in 1997 which published critically acclaimed work from Irish poets such as Michael Longley, Gerald Dawe, Brendan Kennelly, and the late Hungarian poets, Istvan Baka, & Attila Jozsef among others. But first I wondered how a young boy from the Rathcoole housing estate, north of Belfast got interested in poetry and how he eventually found his way to North Carolina.

While the joys of technology made this international video-interview possible, the pains (or my lack of understanding) of this same technology resulted in my external microphone only working intermittently. My solution was to edit my voice out of the recording and allow Adrian and Matthew to speak for themselves which you will soon realise they are more than competent in doing.

Following the interview are four poems from Matthew and four from Adrian (the first two are from his collection, The Clock Flower, and the last two from his recently published book, Hickory Station. Adrian is also one half of  ‘The Belfast Boys’, an Irish Traditional Music duo – in between their two sets of poems, you can listen to The Belfast Boys’ rendition of The Blue Hills of Antrim)

—Gerard Beirne

YouTube Preview Image

 ..

Sparrow

Darkness was dwindling
As we arrived back at your house
At dawn, late summer ghosting
The curtained rooms,

To find two sparrows flying a frenzy
Around the place, having tumbled
Down the throat of the chimney,
Spewed into domesticity.

While you set about freeing the one
Downstairs, I followed the other
Up above and cornered it
Against the window in the study,

Butting frantically against the glass –
Hope as a symbol with all hope lost.
And it was then that I thought
That losing all hope was a renewal,

Like the petering-out of a season.
So, I offered it the last of my hope;
I opened the study window
And watched it disappear into sunlight.

.

The Hedge

in memory of Billy Montgomery

I’m a youngster
Led by the hand, as
The steam coming off the hob
Casts a cloudless shadow

Across the kitchen floor –
The smell of it like some old shanty
Billowing out its breath
Into the night,

Filling my field of vision
With a plume-tailed epiphany,
Holding the soul open
For the briefest moment,

Ebbing gently like the aftermath
Of passing through a rain-soaked hedge
Under falling cherry blossom –
As the window is opened

And the room restored.

.

Atreus and Thyestes

in memoriam Zbigniew Herbert

Wet-eyed and begging,
Thyestes’ sons are put under their uncle’s
blade. Clean-edged vengeance-giver,
Atreus separates them into pieces,
aiming carefully at the wrists
to make a clean sever,
and, at pains to preserve the dignity of the young faces,
makes a good stroke at removing their heads.
The heads and hands he’ll cauterise
and keep, holding in a single thought reason and grief.

And look, what a lavish feast he’s laid on
for his brother, who sits across
eating under the illusion of truce,
who, later, will take the long walk
to the Oracle, red-eyed and sickened,
through the honeysuckle hedges
and high-sided hollows,
stopping briefly along the way
to tickle his throat with a feather;
vomiting up his beloved children
amid the indifferent, dipping swallows,
the sweet scent of summer –
how cruel the life that continues on.
The cooling breeze and carefree sway
of high branches make playful shapes
in the setting sun.

.

The Gardener

It’s cool before the sun comes up
over Gethsemane, a single bird
singing like a wayward fan
during a minute’s silence.

The man out for an early morning stroll,
taking a piss under the drooping trees,
wonders briefly why the gardener in the distance
is not moving and is down on his knees.

—Matthew Rice

 

YouTube Preview Image

 .

The Clock Flower

As far as the rest of the universe is concerned,
Maybe we’re like the feather-fluff of the clock flower,

The ghostly snow-sphere of the dying dandelion
That the child holds up in wide-eyed wonder,

Which the mother says to blow on to tell the time
By how many breath-blows it takes before the airy seed

All flies away, leaving her child clutching a bare stem.

And where our humanness might go, who knows?
And when it lands – takes root – what grows?

.

from ‘Eleventh Night’
XIX. Budgie

Drive the Demon of Bigotry home to his den,
And where Britain made brutes, now let Erin make men!
from ‘Erin’ by William Drennan (1754-1820)

It seemed like every single house had one
Except us, though we had an aquarium,
The other housed comfort of the working class,
One behind the bars, the other behind glass.
I thought it odd that the underprivileged
Would happily keep something tanked or caged,
Considering our hard human condition.
I guessed it was our identification
With creatures as poorly predestined as we
Often believed our hand-to-mouth selves to be.
Keeping birds in seed is a real kind of love,
And sprinkling fish-flakes like manna from above.
………….Now by a strange quirk of imagination –
Some new light from within, something gene-given –
Every time I saw a map of Ireland
I rebelled against the usual notion,
The birds-eye, map-driven visualization
Of Ireland backed to the masculine mainland,
Her leafy petticoats eyed-up for stripping,
Her feminine fields ripe for penile ploughing.
Even as a child, I refused to see it
As a victim, back-turned towards Brit-
Ain, inviting colonial rear-ending.
I saw it as a battling budgie, facing
The mainland, proudly, prepared for what might come
Winging over the waves from the gauntlet realm.
Though couched by Drennan to properly provoke
His fellow Irishmen to throw off the yoke,
It was no ‘base posterior of the world’,
Arsehole waiting to be slavishly buggered
By a foreign foe even our side flinched at.
No more servile hung’ring for the ‘lazy root’,
But male and broad-shouldered as The Hill of Caves –
Where the United Irishmen first swore slaves
Would be set free by jointly overturning
The home-based kingdom of the sectarian –
Our bold-hearted budgie had come of age,
Had climbed the ladders and looked in the mirrors,
Then ignored the dudgeon doors and bent the bars,
Self-paroled, assuming independent airs.
………..So turned towards the royal raven of England,
To my mind, our Irish budgie was crowned
With the head of Ulster: the tufty hair of
Wind-blown Donegal, the brawn and brains of
Radical Belfast, the ‘Athens of the North’,
With the clear blue eye of Neagh, and beak of Ards,
Heart, lungs and Dublin barrel-bulge of Leinster,
The fiery feet and claws of mighty Munster,
And thrown-back western wings of mystic Connaught.
Four provinces, four-square, forever landlocked,
Friend of brother Celts, but full of righteous rage
Against the keeper of the keys to the cage,
The Bard’s ‘blessed plot’, his ‘precious stone set in
The silver sea’, his ‘dear, dear land’, his England.
Yes, no Catholic cage, nor Protestant pound,
Could hold my dissenting ideal of Ireland.
For in spite of spite, it was Drennan’s Eden,
‘In the ring of this world the most precious stone!’
His ‘Emerald of Europe’, his ‘Emerald Isle’
Which no vengefulness would finally defile.

.

Breath

What is death,
but a letting go
of breath?

One of the last
things he did
was to blow up

the children’s balloons
for the birthday party,
joking and mock-cursing

as he struggled
to tie all
those futtery teats.

Then he flicked them
into the air
for the children

to fight over.
Some of them
survived the party,

and were still there
after the funeral,
in every room of the house,

bobbing around
mockingly
in the least draft.

She thought about
murdering them
with her sharpest knife,

each loud pop
a perfect bullet
from her heart.

Instead, in the quietness
that followed her
children’s sleep,

she patiently gathered
them all up,
slowly undoing

each raggedy nipple,
and, one by one, she took his
last breaths into her mouth.

What is life,
but a drawing in
of breath?

.

Wasps

On an unseasonably
warm afternoon
I am back on the porch,
and the little wasps
are trying to build
in the hollow arms and legs
of my aluminum chair.

They’re determined,
as they are every spring,
to inhabit my chosen seat,
but I have soaked
their sought for portals
with gasoline, being equally
determined to stay put.

But on they come,
at regular intervals,
in one’s and two’s only,
as if one sometimes needs
the second as witness to carry
the story of occupation back
to the others, to be believed.

I wonder what they think of me,
and feel sorry for them,
almost guilty, even imagining
the dark openings they seek
as being cave mouths
in which they wish to store
some valuable scrolls.

So I am kind to myself,
reminding myself
that it’s my chair, my porch,
though I can hear them protesting
But we were here first!
Fair enough. But no matter.
For I have a porch thirst.

Gasoline will win the day,
for another year, anyway,
and I will sit safely and securely
behind my slatted battlements,
scratching the pale page
hoping, as always, to be
stung by poetry.

—Adrian Rice

.

Matthew Rice was born in Belfast in 1980. He has published poems widely in reputable journals on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as having his work included in the CAP Anthology, ‘Connections’. He is currently putting the finishing touches to his first collection of poetry entitled ‘Door Left Open’. He was long-listed for The Seamus Heaney Award for New Writing 2016. He is studying for his BA Honours degree in English Language and Literature. He lives, works and writes in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland.”

Adrian Rice was born just north of Belfast in 1958, in Whitehouse, Newtownabbey, County Antrim. He graduated from the University of Ulster with a BA in English & Politics, and MPhil in Anglo-Irish Literature.. His first sequence of poems appeared in Muck Island (Moongate Publications, 1990), a collaboration with leading Irish artist, Ross Wilson. Copies of this limited edition box-set are housed in the collections of The Tate Gallery, The Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and The Lamont Library at Harvard University. A following chapbook, Impediments (Abbey Press, 1997), also earned widespread critical acclaim. In 1997, Rice received the Sir James Kilfedder Memorial Bursary for Emerging Artists. In autumn 1999, as recipient of the US/Ireland Exchange Bursary, he was Poet-in-Residence at Lenoir-Rhyne College, Hickory, NC, where he received ‘The Key to the City’. His first full poetry collection – The Mason’s Tongue (Abbey Press, 1999) – was shortlisted for the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Literary Prize, nominated for the Irish Times Prize for Poetry, and translated into Hungarian by Thomas Kabdebo (A Komuves Nyelve, epl/ediotio plurilingua, 2005). Selections of his poetry and prose have appeared in both The Belfast Anthology and The Ulster Anthology (Ed., Patricia Craig, Blackstaff Press, 1999 & 2006) and in Magnetic North: The Emerging Poets (Ed., John Brown, Lagan Press, 2006). A chapbook, Hickory Haiku, was published in 2010 by Finishing Line Press, Kentucky. Rice returned to Lenoir-Rhyne College as Visiting Writer-in-Residence for 2005. Since then, Adrian and his wife Molly, and young son, Micah, have settled in Hickory, from where he now commutes to Boone for Doctoral studies at Appalachian State University. Turning poetry into lyrics, he has also teamed up with Hickory-based and fellow Belfastman, musician/songwriter Alyn Mearns, to form ‘The Belfast Boys’, a dynamic Irish Traditional Music duo. Their debut album, Songs For Crying Out Loud, was released in 2010. Adrian’s last book, The Clock Flower (2013), and his latest, Hickory Station (2015) are both published by Press 53 (Winston-Salem).

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.

Mar 052016
 

Karen Mulhallen

xValete Seu Morimi
Be Strong or Be Extinguished

I

Mad about you, deep in me
everywhere—
Can’t Help It.

§

II

Everything you said
you truly meant
at the moment
I fell into the spaces in between
Il dolce fa niente
Can’t Help It!

§

III

The last words I spoke
imagining we would take one of those trips
only lovers take
two great cities, Paris, Istanbul—
nights by water, walking  in the moonlight
as the nightingale begins to sing
and the dervish whirls and the hookahs are
lit aromatic of apple and tobacco and flame
and then I said  no, I will not
torment myself, drive us both crazy
with imaginary scenarios
Can’t Help It!

§

IV

Well this time I thought I got lucky
(and thought he had too)
I met this person
(a real person)
someone from years ago,
and I thought I’m clear of debris
over the catastrophe,
just a plain old mudslide,
ready for love—
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxCan’t Help It!

§

V

I need to write it out,
hope my words scrawled on paper,
tiny band-aides,
little sutures on the scratches,
the small lines of blood
everywhere on my body­—
Can’t Help It.

§

VI

We’ve had thirty-five years to get this right
and now you’ve bailed
left me with the leaky boat—
Can’t Help It.

§

VII

If you came through the door
like that hawk’s landing
I would just say can’t help it,
Can’t Help It!

§

VIII

Can’t Help It,
I believed everything he said—
he’s an actor—really—
the embodiment of truth
at that moment.

*

You know you can only
lead the horse to water.

*

Nothing ventured, nothing gained:
Hey, just a minute, it was everything ventured,
only wreckage gained

§

IX

It can’t be helped
I wasn’t ready, or maybe I was really ready
ready for love
had no defenses
wasn’t prepared
just jumped in
and now
the undertow is
taking me down.

§

X

Hook up with an actor—
a real true professional—
take the high road to truth,
which of us will take the witness stand now,
speak the truth and nothing but the truth
so help me God.

§

XI

Four months ago I fell in love
and didn’t know whom to tell
and now, now
it’s just old news.

§

XII

It isn’t complicated
I must have lied to myself
saying I don’t want to own you
when I really just wanted
to gobble you up,
and I never thought
after that first night
when you said ‘Who would ever leave you’,
that you really meant to say  no one
but me would ever go away.
Can’t Help It!

§

XIII

That’s the thing about acting,
about actors,— it’s one sincerity after another
—which one is real—
Trust me, Right Now!

§

XIV

I called you rascal, alitros, to my friends
signaling that like Odysseus you were changeable,
mercurial, abandoned Kalypso
after eight years in her arching caverns
and could defeat
even the goddess Kirke herself.

§

XV

I was sitting in the Kensington Market
with my friend Cal
drinking mango margaritas
on the terrace at El Trompo
and I realized that’s precisely
what you have done to me.

§

XVI

I was sitting in the Kensington Market
with my friend Cal, drinking mango margaritas
on the terrace of El Trompo
and I realized that hecho un trompo
is just what I’ve done,
eaten to excess
every bit of you—
Can’t Help  It.

§

XVII

I was sitting in the Kensington Market
with my friend Cal
drinking mango margaritas
on the terrace of El Trompo and
I realized El Trompo is what I’ve become
spinning around like a kid’s top—
you push the spindle
and around I go
over and over and over

§

XVIII

I thought you didn’t like animals—
I don’t, you said, but when they go nuts
around me I have to respond
—just like people—
Can’t Help It.

§

XIX

Only yesterday, Canada Day,
you delivered the death notice,
‘A train wreck’ you called it,
and you were driving the engine,
always in charge,
Raptor Electric coming through, derailed.
.
The news was sudden, abrupt—
nothing convenient in a death—
and now I sit shiva, torn black ribbon
tourniquet for my bleeding heart.
xxxEvery four minutes I weep,
every ten  minutes I wail.
Every hour I slip, sleep, slide
down a bumpy passage.
xxxBrief summer made humid,
xby the tsunami of tears—
Can’t Help It!

§

XX

I called you alitros, rascal,
because like Odysseus you were wily,
shape-shifting, powerful, never contained.
You spent untold hours telling the contours
and crevices of my arching caverns.
xxxWhere are you now, my rascal,
my alitros,
xxxIn whose caves do you now dwell.
Can’t Help It!

§

XXI

And if in a future time perchance
with some girlfriend or other
you should happen on one of my dresses
on display at some museum or other,
you might recall my glance at you
there over my right shoulder,
the black panties draped over the scotch bottle
on the island counter,
and you holding yourself leaning
against the north counter staring at the woman
who glances over at you over her right shoulder,
xxxAnd you can have that secret moment,
xjust for yourself, there in that public place,
with some other woman or other.
Can’t Help It.

—Karen Mulhallen

x
Karen Mulhallen’s latest poetry book is Code Orange Emblazoned Suite, featured here first on Numéro Cinq, published by Black Moss Press (Fall 2015), and translated into French by Nancy Huston. The book launched in Toronto at the Café Pamenar in the Kensington Market and in Paris at Shakespeare and Company in September 2015.

x

x

Mar 032016
 

BW6

.

WINDOW

What we call the soul
the space between out there

& in here—a life
cut itself in two gradually

joins in the middle, a beetle clung
to the grid of the wire screen

clicking merely flesh—

.

PROVIDENCE

No experience song enough
like the warm skin of peaches
what we’re marked by
light or the ground beneath
an arcade of trees
holds together precisely
a world neither of us can move

.

PASTORAL

As bright as each of us stands below the sparrows’ gifted

noon, our being here nothing but time’s abrupt

dissolve however swallowed—I ask you

remember for me how we are able to heal from

everything that pains us

wore down to desire

paid heed—what makes us more aware or grateful for

rain-soaked streets no more vanished than

youth’s certain toll—distance drawn out

over the hand come to rest on our shoulders

replays the handsome music we carry to the dogs—

.

FOR THEODORE ROETHKE

If the dead cry out our memory’s voice

thrown down on muddy banks the river itself

skirts, if washed over stones the son recovers

the father shook to rage the son’s smallest song

lay under, say something, said was it light run

over us the way to the greenhouse, was it light

inside goodbye, old stones and the flowers

push their breath through me, went cold

the way it would feel asking for more than

my gorgeous scuttle beneath him, hid

behind rows of elms he planted further from

the roses along the old bed, if the earth was soft

enough, if married his hands, if it was winter

ended through the clear air I could hear him—

.

PSALM

The earth turns along the scented irises
along the birches the body moves
nearer the fire in a deep grove
a kind of music each ear bore with it
our hiding our spit our having known
more than evenings sailed against our ribs
other bodies not us against the full light
a mangled bird raises her one speaking wing

.

WITNESS

A morning difficult to walk across
the slain crocuses a song
or a silent movie
a memory of a wound
floated out to sea
at the beginning of the war
the fields covered by searchlights
at the edge of a garden before we were born
the shades drawn against
what shook the walls of the house
while the soldiers played cards
moved farther away from the coast
the lid rolled closed over the keyboard of a piano
the facts of history which we do not believe
for a moment we are among friends

—Kenneth E. Harrison, Jr.

.

Kenneth E. Harrison, Jr.‘s poems have appeared in Cutbank, Denver Quarterly, Drunken Boat, Pleiades, Sukoon, and other journals, and his essays in PopMatters. He teaches writing and Literature courses at Webster University and Florissant Valley Community College in St. Louis, MO.

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Feb 112016
 
Domenico_di_Michelino_-_Dante_Illuminating_Florence_with_his_Poem_(detail)_-_WGA06422

Dante Illuminating Florence with his Poem by Domenico di Francesco via Wikipedia

Divine Comedy

1595 Edition

.

THERE IS A PHRASE coined by the critic Harold Bloom “the anxiety of influence,” which once raised the dust of a herd milling around its allure. Without paying Bloom, a prominent bad-boy, the compliment of either expounding or contradicting the truth of his book The Anxiety of Influence, his phrase “influences” me if only to retort upon it.

I draw my greatest satisfaction as a novelist and a writer of short stories, though the scholarship of others has been a major influence on both my fiction and non-fiction. As a novelist I have written three books that speak to two authors who have drawn the attention of scholarly critics and researchers, Shakespeare and Dante. This perhaps is a form of academic cross-dressing but in the past few months I have returned to think about Dante, since the editor of a literary journal asked me to interview the poet, who has been holed up in his grave for well over half a millennium. As I finished a first draft, I was struck by the coincidence of a note arriving from the wife of the novelist John Barth, saying that she had found my book, Dante Eros and Kabbalah on her husband’s shelf and was reading it. We printed in Fiction Barth’s story of Ulysses setting sail with the princess Nausicca for a new life to the west of Greece, excerpted from Barth’s novel Tidewater Tales. That particular tale was one of those that inspired me in speculating on Dante. Shelley Barth’s curiosity about Dante just as I was returning to the poet was a bit uncanny and it suggested my lecture’s real title.

Dostoyevsky’s Underground Man asks his audience, “But what can a decent man speak of with most pleasure?

“Answer: Of himself.”

What follows is how I came to read Dante as closely as I could and returned to Dante’s Comedy influenced by a 13th century classic, by literary criticism, the scholarship of others and the way a work of literature often embodies the influence of texts that have preceded it, an enthusiastic if mischievous re-reading of texts that precede it. That sounds like a more generous way to put it than Bloom’s “anxiety.” I could call what follows as advertised “The Anxiety of Laughter,” or “The Generosity of Influence,” or but the title, which seems to ring right is, “The Coincidence of Influence.”

cover

I don’t know what the guiding principle of scholarship is but I feel that coincidence is what dictates the novel and the epic poem alike, since it is what sets the direction of the plot. I think that when one is drawn to a writer, a work of literature or scholarship, it is because one senses that coincidence has played its magical part. Your life and the life of the writer become entwined and you exchange identities. Isn’t that what happens when you fall in love? Dante talks about how he met Beatrice at nine years old and then nine years later Beatrice appears before him in a miraculous way; how nine seems to keep reoccurring as a magical number between them. This coincidence he assures us is a sign of Divine intention. And of course three times three makes nine, and the Comedy will be organized in the basis of three—even to its triple rhyme.

I first read Dante in high school. It was the first volume of the Comedy, the Inferno, and it was in John Ciardi’s translation. I read it out of curiosity—I was an omnivorous reader—but although I found it interesting, I did not find myself in it. The world of cruel punishments was repellant. As little boy I was more than once set upon and beaten by juvenile delinquents from the nearby streets of poverty stricken Irish for “killing Jesus” and paraded by canvases of Jesus crucified in the Museum of Fine Arts that made me cringe. The laughter and complexity of the poet descending his Inferno did not bleed through to an adolescent. Dante remained for me through college and graduate school a writer I could admire but not understand. In my mid twenties, however, I received a fellowship to the Breadloaf Writer’s Conference presided over by the poet John Ciardi. Unexpectedly, since the young editor at Simon and Schuster, who procured the fellowship for me, did not like my novel, Thou Work Jacob, Ciardi did; praised it, and wrote several sentences for its publication that still make me blush with gratitude.

Ciardi’s generosity sent me back to Dante. I was now a disciple of Ciardi. He had endorsed me; given me hope that what I wrote would be touched by the poetry of language he said he had found in my first novel. I wanted to be influenced by Dante, the poet to whom Ciardi’s name was so prominently linked. I re-read Ciardi’s translation of Inferno, but decided I ought to read the whole of the Comedy and bought the Modern Library prose version, slowly making my way through Inferno again, then Purgatory and Paradise. The Comedy seemed to be about the three obsessions of my life; sex, politics, and religion, but its drama remained at a distance and though I read with more understanding, I felt no empathy.

At twenty-nine, my mother died. I took up a book that the rabbi at Harvard had given me as a junior or senior, Gershom Scholem’s Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism. At twenty-one I had read three or four pages. It made no sense and I put it down. It was beyond me. Now I read it as a guide to the world beyond, a world to which my mother, abruptly, at fifty-six, and in a startling metamorphosis recovering her beauty as a slim adolescent before her final awful dissolution, had gone. I was left in nightmares and hallucination. Scholem’s lucid scholarship about the Jewish imagination seeking to read the “Other World” led me to the Zohar, the major mystical or Kabbalistic text of Jewish Spain in the 13th century, which Scholem’s volume explicates. Reading the Zohar’s abridged English translation I had just enough understanding of the Biblical world and the Talmud to respond to its flights of wild story telling. Scholem’s warning that there were elements of parody, and deliberate fiction, including the Aramaic, which was an artificial construct of the 13th century, not the 2nd century as it claimed, stimulated my own imagination and its details seeped into my fiction. I became a student of Scholem’s, a group that included I would learn, Harold Bloom and Jorge Luis Borges.

I was unaware what would happen when I tried again to read Dante. Suddenly the poet spoke to me. I had absorbed a language of imagery reading the Zohar, a language that made the barriers of Italian, Aramaic, the world of l3th century Spain and late 13th century Italy, seemingly sealed against each other, fall away as I recognized their common share in neo-Platonic philosophy. Scholem had taught me to hear the laughter in the Zohar as a vast hot spermatic flood burst out of the earth and drowned a hapless world of sex abusers; a world fathoms beyond Melville’s dreams of the White Whale. Now I heard Dante’s bitter self-laughter for the first time but I could not have gone many steps beyond the opening cantos of the Inferno if I had not found myself the beneficiary of coincidence and the generosity of influence. About this time I had several interviews with Professor Harry AustrynWolfson who was described at the time of his death in The NY Times obituary as the world’s greatest scholar. Wolfson’s unexpected friendship extended as a result of some articles I wrote about the Boston Jewish world in the Sunday Globe brought me the gift of his witty, mischievous presence, his extraordinary books, and their insights into the poetry of religious philosophy. In particular just at the moment when I was absorbing Gershom Scholem, I read in Wolfson’s short masterpiece, Religious Philosophy, a startling essay called “Immortality and Resurrection” which viewed the possibilities of the Afterworld from the perspective of the Church Fathers. To my father, Harry Wolfson, his freshman tutor at Harvard, was the final authority on Maimonides, Spinoza, Philo. Wolfson I would realize was also a pre-eminent scholar of the Church Fathers and the Islamic Kalam. An essay of Wolfson put what I believe was the key to Dante’s search for Beatrice in my hands and Wolfson was my guide through Purgatory and Paradise though I could never have turned the lock without the coincidence of reading Scholem roughly at the same time.

Now several figures step out of the shadows with their books and thoughts. For long before I met John Ciardi and decided to solve for myself the mystery of Dante’s authority, I was prepared by one of the two professors at Harvard who are responsible for my career. This was the critic, Albert Guerard, who wrote the first important critical study of Andre Gide in English, and is still an authority on Conrad. It was Albert who announced to me in his workshop that I was an important writer, who chastised, encouraged, drew me close, smacked me down. He shared his paranoia and his dreams, and I slowly assimilated his critical perspectives. Both as a teacher and in my three books on Shakespeare and Dante I find myself working out Albert’s dictum that one can always find the writer in his or her work. (A former City College chairperson, who wrote a single book on Shakespeare talking about the difference between the Folio and Quarto versions of plays, dismissed the first of mine, The Absent Shakespeare as “a book for the Humanities,” implying that it had nothing of scholarly value though I had found some value in his.) With the insights of Scholem, Albert Guerard, Wolfson in hand I went searching for Dante in the Comedy. I determined to try to read him in Italian encouraged by another coincidence. Speaking about my thoughts on Dante in Paris during a sabbatical to Andre Le Vot, who was a professor of American Literature at the Sorbonne on my way to Italy he urged me to try to read Dante in Italian. I protested that I knew no Italian. He asked if I could Chaucer in Middle English. “Yes, easily, ” I laughed and added that when I was required to basically memorize the whole of Troilus and The Canterbury Tales I found myself dreaming in Middle English. “Then you will be able to hear Dante in Italian,” Le Vot insisted. I had been sketching to him, the possibility of a radical revision of what I considered the “pious view” of the mass of critical literature on the poet. The text that suggested this to me was Max Frisch’s William Tell, in which the Swiss novelist using footnotes as his sly knife in the back lacerated the Swiss myth of William Tell as a hero, We had published Frisch’s William Tell in the magazine I edit Fiction. I was and remain in awe of Frisch and I decided to draw on his tactics writing about Dante. Max, his wife Marianne and I were seated in a sunny window of a restaurant outside Zurich, where I was his guest. Frisch smiled faintly when I outlined my project and that was enough of a blessing to continue.

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I found myself in Florence and above it in the Tuscan countryside at Bernard Berenson’s villa months later, with a copy of the Sinclair translation that has the Italian facing it on the other side of the page, walking with Dante. I began to understand him, hear him though I had the echoes of the Russian poet Osip Mandelstam’s essay whistling in my ears, and Howard Nemerov’s (who had been as generous as Ciardi to me), thoughts on the Comedy as well. Albert Guerard showed a first draft to one of the deans of Dante studies in America, John Freccero who wrote that I was “the Philip Roth” of Dante scholarship, that I had treated Saint Augustine, shamefully, but that he would have loved to have me in his graduate seminar. Closer to home it was City College’s Renaissance scholar, Frederick Goldin, who confirmed that I was indeed on the “la diritta via,” Dante’s “right track.” I had become the director of the M.A. in Literature and Creative Writing at the college. After hearing a lecture by Professor Goldin I asked to sit in on his class on medieval romance. As he translated at will from the Provencal poets who had brought the neo-platonic notion of love into the vulgar languages and created the literature of Provence, Italy, France and Germany—I recognized the laughter and dreams that underlay Dante’s Comedy. Indeed Dante himself acknowledges the debt, but to feel it alive, leaping from one world to another, that would have been difficult without the aura of Frederick Goldin’s class in which scholarship made vivid the French Arthurian romances, the German Parsifal, their radical implications, texts that as he taught them became what one might call with sly appropriation, the true, the blissful “magical realism.” Frederick in one sentence about Dante confirmed an intuition that I felt but had not dared to give words to. At every turning in his descent through the tortures of Hell, Dante sees the punishment of his own sins. My own sins often coincided with Dante’s and this gave me a sense of how pride, covetousness, deception, if truly recognized has to haunt us all at some level of consciousness not to mention the deep sexual riddles to which our bodies seem to consign us regardless of human will. Dante keeps asking these questions in the Purgatory, and in Paradise, something that many readers do not recognize.

Finding the essay by Cecil Roth on Emannuel Ha-Romi the Italian-Jewish poet of the Renaissance who wrote a parody in Hebrew of the Comedy led me to think about a series of poems that Roth discussed. Dante’s contemporary and friend Cino da Pistoia, in an exchange with Bosone da Gubbio, put both Emmanuel and Dante in the same circle of hell with Alessio Unterminei, a truly filthy one where the condemned sit under caps of shit for using their talent as writers to seduce young women. That lit up the character of Dante, as seen by his contemporaries and it was an element of biography ignored by almost all conventional Dante scholars. It was funny and cruel and yet Dante and Emmanuel might have had a good laugh at their contemporaries’ exchange—one at least gave them hope of an escape from Hell. Another precious contribution came from a scholar at NYU who invited me to join a seminar on medieval philosophy, Professor Alfred Ivry. His lucid article on the degree to which Maimonides was influenced by the Shiite doctrine of concealment, was another proof for me that Dante too was concealing secrets. El-Farabi’s dictum, on which Leo Strauss built his remarkable book, Persecution and the Art of Writing, posits that poets in a society in which freedom of speech is not allowed, particularly doubt about a faith that the State endorses, learn to leave their real meaning concealed from the vulgar eye. Three times Gershom Scholem, whom I met in Jerusalem, then in Zurich, then again in Jerusalem, —not knowing anything about my manuscript on Dante asked me if I had read Strauss’s book When I finally read Strauss a shiver passed through me as if the master of Jewish mystical doctrine, Scholem, had read my secret. The coincidence was uncanny so was the Dante I found in the Comedy whose burning question to Beatrice was—what body will I find you with here in Heaven? Will I experience you in the body you had on earth. Isn’t that the question I had to ask my mother in the dreams that came after her death? Isn’t the hope of some extraordinary coincidence or its defeat what drives one great novel after another? The Dante I fell in love with was a poet who had secrets to whisper to those who could read between the lines and I found many, unconventional scholars, few of them however among the guardians of Dante as a Catholic puritan, willing to assist me. The footnotes of Dante, Eros and Kabbalah are crowded with such voices.

I was asked last year if I would interview Dante and the idea renewed my curiosity in associating anew with the poet. I tried through a fiction to make contact with him again, to hear his voice, and in pursuit of that took up the bi-lingual pages of the Hollanders, which some said had displaced the Sinclair as the best edition in that regard. I had a painful disagreement with Robert Hollander when I was invited by his wife Jean to their home in Princeton. I had no idea that Robert was a preeminent Dante scholar, but reading his notes on the Inferno now I understand how deep I put my foot in my mouth at supper suggesting that Dante had slept with Beatrice. The company laughed but Professor Hollander at the head of the table turned to ice and the atmosphere became glacial. Despite extraordinarily learned and witty notes on Dante’s Comedy, the poet’s sources and influences, Robert Hollander insists there that Dante has no real sympathy for the tormented. His Dante is a resolute Puritan, while mine is a laughing sinner. And yet my deeper quarrel now is with his wife, Jean’s translation, which however talented I feel misses the art of Dante in ignoring the frequent repetitions of words. And to introduce the uncanny into this story, I must add the coincidence of my friend, the Biblical scholar, Edward Greenstein’s lecture on the campus just a few weeks ago, which reacquainted me with his essay on Biblical translation. For Edward’s definition of “literal” translation, which he redefines as “literary” translation, is in fact the summation both of the rationale of my work on Dante, to lose myself in the Comedy, or rather, to find myself by finding Dante. Not to understand the “meaning” of the Comedy, which must finally be elusive, but to find oneself in the Comedy itself. To do that, however, one must enter the Comedy, enter its words, its associations, and I think every serious writer understands that this requires as literal an understanding as possible. I am going to quote Edward Greenstein at some length in this regard.

The novelist Vladimir Nabokov . . . translated Pushkin “into a rigorously literal and consequently rather ugly English version” because he felt that only in this manner could one lead the reader to the poem itself . . . John Berryman, the lyric poet employed a fairly literal style of rendering the Book of Job into English, contending that such a translation would be “truer.” The early Twentieth century German poet Rainer Maria Rilke expressed a clear preference for a more literal translation of the Mesopotamian Gilgamesh Epic over a more recent but less literal one. It is hardly coincidental that many Biblicists, as well as some serious amateurs, who devote themselves to the literary analysis of Scripture tend toward the more literal styles of translation. A work of literary art is essentially an arrangement of words, as music comprises tones and silences and as sculpture comprises matter and space. If one loses the words, one loses the art, just as one loses the music if one loses the tones or the silences. But aside from a purist’s devotion to words, there are two other foundations supporting more literal translation. The one is stylistic. The meaning of a biblical passage may hinge on the repetition of a word or an allusion. For example, in 2 Samuel 7 the word bayit house’ interweaves three themes: King David had already established his kingship and was dwelling in a royal house: the Lord, his god, was then dwelling in a tent-shrine, not in stable house: David will build for the Lord a house and the Lord will assure the enduring prosperity of David’s dynasty, which is expressed in Hebrew by “bayit house.”: The more literal rendering of the King James (or Authorized) Version (KJV) of 1611 translates bayit consistently as ‘house’ so that the literary device of verbal repetition reaches the English reader. The more idiomatic rendering of the British New English Bible (NEB) of 1970 translates bayit as “house” when it refers to the king’s palace or the future temple but as ‘family’ when it refers to David’s dynasty. The super-idiomatic Today’s English Version (TEV, entitled the Good News Bible) of the American Bible Society (I976) renders bayit as “palace,” “temple,” and “dynasty” in its respective references, completely obliterating the thematic connections of the original.

I could go on and on here but my subject is Dante not the Bible. There are two more quotes, from Greenstein, however, relevant to my conclusion.

Walter Benjamin (d. 1940), in his “unequalled” essay on “The Task of the Translator,” insisted that “a literary work” does not in any essential way tell anything or impart information! It does, it is. In the “literary” view it is perhaps more crucial to convey the rhetorical features of the text and the manifold connotations of its words than it is to convey the denoted or ideational message of the text. Philological translation endeavors to pin down meaning while literary translation seeks, as in literary analysis, to proliferate meaning . . .

As the German Romantic Friedrich Schleiermacher put it, in his epoch-making essay “On the Different Methods of Translation”: “Either the translator leaves the author in peace, as much as possible, and moves the reader towards him; or he leaves the reader in peace, as much as possible, and moves the author towards him.”

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That is what the novelist or poet, reading Dante most often wants to do, on the one hand to “proliferate meaning”; on the other to “move towards” the author. I found myself frantic reading Jean Hollander’s translation as I watched her ignore the repetition of words in Dante’s Inferno in order to convey the different shades of meaning she thought they had in the varying context of specific cantos. In doing so, the subtle associations intended by Dante in repeating a word were lost. Long ago at Harvard I learned the tenets of New Criticism under Reuben Brower and Richard Poirier—one could decipher a work though the repetitions of key words by an author. (Shakespeare’s hammering at “nothing” in King Lear, as it is flung in her father’s face by Cordelia then by the Fool, taken up by Lear, Kent, Edmund, Edgar — echoed over and over in the action, Lear crying “the thick rotundity of the world” to “be struck flat” to nothing, and looking for a breath of life in the play’s last moments where there is no life, nothing). Jean Hollander by changing Dante’s deliberate repetition of a keyword was making it impossible to trace Dante’s intentions. Even her husband Robert became uneasy at this as I found when I read his notes to Jean’s translation — particularly in regard to one word that had caught my attention.[1] It was the word on which the whole of my book Dante, Eros and Kabbalah depended, smarrita or smarrito—which can be translated as I do “bewildered” but also “confused,” or “lost,” and which provided me with the understanding of what was happening throughout the Comedy as Dante groped his way down and up through the windings of the Other World. The way at the beginning is not so much “lost” as “confused” for the poet is, “bewildered” in life. Preparing these remarks, I wondered—could it be there at the very end of Paradise? I had not asked that question in my book. If Dante began with human bewilderment, however, surely before the final overwhelming vision of the Unknown in the whirling geometry of the Heavens “bewildered” would show up but in a very different context. Coincidence, the Divine laughing coincidence of plot assured me that the great poet would spin bewilderment into his resolution. Finding it there, I laughed with glee.

I think that from the keenness that I suffered
Of the living light that I would have been smarrito, bewildered
If my eye had been turned from it.

Paradise, 33, 76-78

This is the true laughter of the Comedy. Dante turns his confusion “smarrito,” upside down in a volley of geometrical fireworks. His verse implies that while once bewildered, lost, etc., and yet would be if he looked away, now absorbed in a vision, he never will be.

—Mark Jay Mirsky

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Mark Jay Mirsky

Mark Jay Mirsky was born in Boston in 1939. He attended the Boston Public Latin School, Harvard College and earned an M.A. in Creative Writing at Stanford University. He has published fourteen books, six of them novels. The first, Thou Worm Jacob was a Best Seller in Boston; his third, Blue Hill Avenue, was listed by The Boston Globe thirty-seven years after its publication in 2009, as one of the 100 essential books about New England. Among his academic books are My Search for the Messiah, The Absent Shakespeare, Dante, Eros and Kabbalah, and The Drama in Shakespeare’s Sonnets, A Satire on Decay. He edited the English language edition of the Diaries of Robert Musil, and co-edited Rabbinic Fantasies, and The Jews of Pinsk, Volumes 1 & 2, as well as various shorter pamphlets, among them one of the poet, Robert Creeley. His play Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard was performed at the NYC Fringe Festival in 2007. His latest novel, Puddingstone, can be found on Amazon Books, both in digital and print-on-demand editions.

He founded the journal Fiction, in 1972 with Donald Barthelme, Max and Marianne Frisch, Jane Delynn and has served since then as its editor-in-chief. Fiction was the first American journal to publish excerpts in English from the Diaries of Robert Musil. Subsequently it has published translations of plays and other materials of Musil.

Mark Jay Mirsky is a Professor of English at The City College of New York.

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Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. See page 201, of The Inferno, A Verse Translation by Robert Hollander and Jean Hollander, Anchor Books, 2002, where Robert Hollander does acknowledge that Jean’s translation cannot convey the associations of “ “The word used by Virgil to describe Dante’s difficulty is smarrito, a word that has been associated with the protagonist’s initial lost and perilous condition (Inf I.3) and then occurs again (Inf XV.50) with specific reference to his lostness at the outset of the journey for the last time in the poem It is also used in such a way as to remind us of his initial situation in Inf. II, 64, V.72 and XIII.24; in the last two of these scenes the protagonist is feeling pity for sinners, emotion that the poet fairly clearly considers inappropriate.”

    I do not have the space here to challenge that remark about “pity” where Robert Hollander assumes (as he does throughout his notes) the role of Inquisitor who will not allow Dante or his readers to feel any sympathy for sinners against Catholic doctrine. I do however want to acknowledge Jean’s brilliance in her translating e sanza alcun sospetto, as “without the least misgiving” in the Fifth Canto and her catching the deadfall at the end of this canto (which a much praised translation by another contemporary poet makes a complete hash of) by exchanging the hard c’s of the Italian for the d’s of English, “E caddi come corpo morto cade, And down I fell as a dead body falls.” To return to smarrito, in line 72, in this Fifth Canto, where Dante earlier writes, pieta mi giunse, e fui quasi smarrito” and Jean translates, “pity over came me/ and I almost lost my senses.” Robert remarks (p. 105) “The repetition of the word smarrito to describe Dante’s distraught condition, also recalls the first tercet of the poem Here we can see his reuse of key words from previous contexts in order to enhance the significance of a current situation in the poem.” Yet how does “lost my senses” signify to the reader that the key word “smarrito” has been repeated. Even Robert’s “my distraught condition” is closer to the “bewildered” that I choose in my translation.

    Of course the reason for the Hollanders’ joint choices in translation are revealed in this note (as in others), “69-72 di nostra vita. The echo of the first line of the poem is probably not coincidental. Dante was lost “midway in the journey of our life,” and we will later learn, some of his most besetting problems arose from misplaced affection.” (p. 105) The Hollanders’ Dante is an author who is in their view, not Dante, the character; a character who is a benighted “lost” soul. This is not my Dante; a Dante who on the contrary as the author, chooses to reveal himself in the fiction of his character Dante, a Dante who is bewildered at the beginning but not at the end of the whole Comedy; not bewildered “smarrito” in the final canto, because he does feel sympathy, pity, throughout his journey, and because his affection was never “misplaced” but rather the source and rationale and end of his journey which brings him to its final laughing revelation.

Feb 082016
 

Mooney

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Golf Pro, Monobloc, A Theory of the Firm

I’ve been told certain seabirds travel inland
bringing cold, bewildered prey. Heavy prey.
Or that airplanes find their pilots’ fingers heavy,

so they purge their swollen bellies over grasslands.
Deck chairs, paperbacks, anything. Any falling manifest
can catch the air and zombie feather-headed down

to where it drapes its dead body on the trap by fairway eight,
or the dogleg bend beyond the reach of eager heavyweights.
I didn’t used to be like this. I made the college team

on the strength of college arms. Went bald and lost my knee.
I took the job we all take. Weak-winded, undersized,
I still drove the ball far enough to teach lessons.

But now the sky is falling. Every morning brings cast-aside lumps
or lightest finery. A monobloc chair made the tumble unslighted,
hero to its factory cousins turtled under heavy sitters.

An eight-iron away, Jensen’s A Theory of the Firm.
I pulled the chair up to reread it, bent to help
the last Sumatran spider through a crack in its cage.

One summer day: pianos. Dotted obstacles downed as if
they stumbled on a conference of cartoon antagonists.
It went on like this. We ran out to scavenge antique doors

and christening gowns. The club built a house but we moved into
the basement. Played the radio loud to drown out falling parcels.
My game slowed down but we picked up better hobbies.

My daughters learned falconry and fencing. My son wore
the pelts of soft endangered mammals. My wife found the memoirs
of some far-off Casanova and left to learn his language.

On hole four’s island, I found a bubble-wrapped trestle desk.
I dropped my clubs, pulled the chair up and my Jensen.
I have lived long enough and there is no one left unlike me.

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Doomer Meet-Up, University of Toronto

A chance of rain.
Always, somewhere, there will be a chance of rain.

It’s not true what they say about Pizarro and the Mayans.
The minotaurs. We repeat that story but we know it isn’t true.

Incans.

There is a certain kind of stove that refuels with only water.
If you know of any water, or can trap it.

I applied to have my road renamed Condensation Trail.
Just go to the archives and ask.

Jewish? Then I don’t have to tell you.

My grandfather farmed in silt so I suspect I have the knack.

Let’s not get distracted by video games. We are here to share skills
and to network. Who responded to the thread about lettuce?

A pamphlet on domesticating wolves.

The Mongols. Dan Carlin said they’d half-fill a cup with horse milk,
then nick the horse’s neck to mix in a half cup of blood.

We need to accept that the doom will foster monsters.

We think the end will be a noun when it will really be a verb.

No. Best to collapse the future in front of you:
You will die or your child will be taken by the dying.

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Ladies and Gentlemen, the Irrational Exuberants!

Six hours later, slumped against the Bay bus sign that reads
…………….No Sunday Service,
it will embarrass you to learn the bar is not a chain.

The plastic-wrapped menu with its store of stock images,
…………….the staff’s zone defence.
Despite all this and more, there is only one Banknote,

and only one You. Go home and hunt tomorrows. All the
…………….unknotted ties in Toronto
wash their wounds in the water gushing wild from

the runoff. It was not supposed to rain. You were supposed
…………….to go to bed.
Listen to the band over a gossip of olives.

Three aging spreadsheet jockeys who had someone teach them
……………. fingerpicking
pitch the best of college radio, 1995. The dips

in their set list spell out the next recession. All the English majors
…………….in the bar are
made to wear miniskirts. Make your mind up –

on every chewable political topic of the day, do it now. This.
…………….This pivot table
in the soothed centre of your selfhood. These functions:

this payout. This is the middle-class poem
…………….you’ve been writing
all your life since you stepped into the bar.

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The Italian maestro sits

on a chest of lesser flautists,
on oboe meat and things unstringed.

Pauper-prince, democrat, he lifts
his one long finger, finds the note

below the verb for first advances.
Gesture source and sorcerer;

some young souls simply buy their seats
while others are born fully clothed,

marked in major-fifth arrangements
and dusted like a bun. The Italian maestro

sits on memory; no score for five hours,
a stiff lapel away from weary soloists.

The Italian maestro sits on a trunk
marked Your Plans After College

as the trumpet stutters forward in its cage.
Given to tantrums and paid

by the day, the Italian maestro sits
through fundraising shticks

with a butt plug and cigarettes, coos
in the ears of unpaid interns.

Corner historian, five-foot-two, the Italian
maestro mounts his seat, kicks out a stand

for the cymbals stashed inside it.
The Italian maestro sits by your bed,

rearranging your books by
how much of them you’ve read.

Somewhere in the second hour tossing
in your sleep, the Italian maestro leaves.

He walks from your apartment
into the arms of someone new.

—Jacob McArthur Mooney

 

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Jacob McArthur Mooney‘s books are The New Layman’s Almanac (2008), Folk (2011), and Don’t Be Interesting (forthcoming 2016) all from McClelland & Stewart. Folk was a finalist for the Dylan Thomas International Prize and the Trillium Book Award in Poetry. He is also the host of the Pivot Reading Series in Toronto and was the Guest Editor of The Best Canadian Poetry in English, 2015 (Tightrope Books).

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Jan 112016
 

presentación jtJavier Taboada

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JAVIER TABOADA (Mexico City, 1982) is a translator and poet. He has translated the work of Alcaeus of Mytilene (Alceo, Poemas y Fragmentos, 2010) and Jerome Rothenberg (A Poem of Miracles and A Further Witness, forthcoming in 2016) amongst others. He is the author of a remarkable first collection of poetry, Poemas de Botica (La Cuadrilla de la Langosta, Mexico City, 2014). Dylan Brennan conducted this interview with Javier via email correspondence from October-December 2015.

DB: Tell us a bit about your early life, where you grew up, what you studied, how you first discovered poetry.

JT: I was born in Mexico City and grew up there. I studied at religious schools from primary through secondary before beginning a B.A. in Classical Literature at the Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), where I also completed my M.A.

I suppose that my first contact with poetry was similar to that of most middle class children at that time. What I mean by that is, with rare exceptions, in every house you could find certain books by certain poets such as: Neruda (his 20 poemas de amor almost always featured), León Felipe, Sor Juana, San Juan de la Cruz, Amado Nervo, García Lorca, Jaime Sabines anthologies, amongst others. But there were also plenty of anthologies of what we call poemas de declamación (recital poems): in my house we had the Álbum de Oro del Declamador (The Orator’s Golden Album), I still have it now. It’s a collection of occasional poems, ready to be opened for a mother’s birthday (or for the anniversary of her death), poems that speak of heartbreak, lost loves, poems to scorn vices, to exalt familial and Christian love etc., all tinged with a moral outlook and an unbearable sentimentality. However, in the final section of this book, I found poems like Eliot’s Hollow Men, Lermontov’s The Cross on the Rock, Pasternak’s Night, The River-Merchant’s Wife: A Letter by Ezra Pound, Quasimodo’s Auschwitz, to mention just a few. The one I liked best from this book was Antonio Plaza’s A una ramera (To a Harlot) because the use of language made me laugh.

The other contact with poetry came from a source less bookish (for want of a better word), I mean popular Mexican music, especially the bolero. Then later, during puberty, rock music.

Beyond what I’ve mentioned, I wasn’t very interested in reading poetry until the age of about 16 or 17. And that had quite a bit to do with the so-called Contemporáneos poets. Xavier Villaurrutia, Salvador Novo, some of Carlos Pellicer’s stuff, José Gorostiza, Jorge Cuesta (his sonnets, of course, not his Canto a un Dios Mineral, which I could only begin to comprehend—years later—via an extraordinary book by Evodio Escalante). They astounded me. After a certain amount of time, I then began to buy poetry books or to read them in the school library, whenever I’d been kicked out of physics or mathematics class. My reading is completely disordered. I’m a trained Hellenist and I haven’t even been able to follow any kind of order with the Ancient Greeks.

DB: I know you translate quite a bit. Tell us about that. Does translation affect how you write, how you read? Do the poets you translate influence you much? Which poets have influenced you? How did you come into contact with them?

JT: Nowadays I read as a translator and this has become beneficial to me. In my current state of disorder I’m reading and translating Rosmarie Waldrop, Federico María Sardelli, Claudia Rankine and John Wilmot. I read them, then I attempt to translate a certain fragment, then I read them again, etc., until the job is done. Whether the translations get published or not, this permits me to be influenced in a way by their work, to assimilate something of their poetics, and, in some way, to redesign my own, to become re-moulded. I am in no way scared of continual influences (I don’t think they ever end) nor of revealing them to others. It is obvious that translation, as reading or as a constant act, not only modifies one’s own voice, but also changes literary traditions. One day, those who study the national poetry of certain regions will pay more attention to the translated works that their poets have read as opposed to the original versions. For example, I read Eliot translated by Ángel Flores and, in my memory, The Waste Land (La Tierra Baldía) is the one that Flores translated.

As I mentioned, I’ve been greatly influenced by the Contemporáneos. My reading of the classics, which I did almost exclusively for a period of about seven or eight years, has also left its mark. Fundamentally, the ancient lyrics: Alcaeus (whose work I translated almost in its entirety in 2010) but also Sappho and Alcman; and also Archilochus and Hipponax. The latter I consider the most modern due to his use of language and humour. His pugilistic poems are raw, his sexual references, explicit. For example, there is one poem in which the “poetic voice” attempts to cure his impotence with the assistance of a Lydian witch. Frankly, it’s hilarious, vulgar and ingenious. Among the Greek Classics I should also mention that I read Euripides and Aristophanes thoroughly.

There are common names such like Pound, Eliot, Wordsworth, Apollinaire, Rimbaud, Pessoa, Hölderlin, Yeats. Of course, they have influenced me. More specifically, I can mention poets like Blake, H.D., Charles Wright, David Meltzer, William Carlos Williams, Lee Masters, Efraín Huerta, Rubén Bonifaz Nuño (I regards his Fuego de Pobres as a gem of Mexican literature) and Nicanor Parra.

Finally, I would like to draw attention to the influence of Jerome Rothenberg. This is due, in part, to the fact that, in the last year and a half I have worked a lot with him. I’ve finished translating A Further Witness and A Poem of Miracles, two of his most recent collections. It looks like they’ll be published in bilingual editions this year (2016). I’ve also translated to Spanish and to Ladino (the language of the Sephardic Jews) his poem Cokboy which is, as you may know, written in a mixture of English and made-up Yiddish. This proximity (admirably generous) has transformed my understanding of his poetry. I will remain forever grateful to him.

DB: Is there a Mexican poetic tradition? Are there various? With which, if any, do you identify? What about the Mexico City cronistas (non-fiction chroniclers like Carlos Monsiváis or, most recently, Valeria Luiselli)? I ask because your book Poemas de Botica (Apothecary Poems) is very much steeped in the sights, smells, sounds of a particular part of the city.

JT: Everywhere, particularly during these years of globalisation, the borders between “national” literatures have begun to dissolve: they begin to respond to different stimuli and contact with other poetic tasks become more immediate. In Mexico right now I can see a conceptual growth as well as a turn towards new technologies. On the other hand I see an emerging interest in ethnopoetry, ecopoetry and colloquial poetry. Much of this owes to the incorporation of the North American poetic tradition or English language poetry in general.

As a tradition, I would have to mention the baroque. It’s still alive and has continued to adapt (in some instances, in other instances, frankly, it has not) to the times. In its use of language, for example, can be derived part of the metaphysical or mystical poetry that is composed in Mexico.

I don’t know to what extent I can associate myself with any “tradition”. It seems to me that that should be decided by others. I can only recognize some influences that are present in this book, but I cannot talk about belonging. Sophocles says that nobody should consider a person as being “happy” until the moment of his/her death. Other work will come, I hope. Then the time will come for me to cash out. Time will take care of putting everyone in their place. What I mean is, to answer your question, there are a wide variety of poetic traditions in this country. I’m sure there are others which I’ve forgotten, or am yet to have discovered.

Of the cronistas that you mention, I haven’t read Luiselli. I’ve read very little Monsiváis and a bit more of Novo. Honestly, the Mexico City chroniclers had very little influence in Poemas de Botica. I think that a much greater debt is owed to the Lyrical Ballads, to Huerta, Parra, Salvador Novo’s Poemas Proletarios, Fuego de Pobres by Bonifaz and Lee Masters’s Spoon River Anthology. After the collection had been published I was introduced to Chetumal Bay Anthology—a very interesting collection by Luis Miguel Aguilar (winner of the 2014 Ramón López Velarde Prize)—and noted the similarities between my book and his (the focus on just one place, the style of language etc. which in turn is fed by the work of Masters). A fortunate coincidence.

Mexico City has a great deal of problems: brutal inequalities, violence, organized crime (though they claim it’s not there), racism and discrimination, misery belts, inefficient transport, unstoppable pollution etc. On the other hand there are the personal oases, those places that transform the city into your city, though you will always need to pass through chaos to get there. A bit like Milton’s Lucifer. This dichotomy is experienced by anyone who has lived in the D.F. In my case, I couldn’t stand it any more so I left.

DB: Tell us about how you write. Where does it all come from?

JT: I don’t have any particular schedule or discipline for writing. In reality, all my writing springs from obsession. After investigating a certain theme for a while, disposing of material, etc., ideas emerge. And then begins a process that is long. As you well know, there are texts that just jump onto the page and others that take forever. Then, when I believe that a certain text is speaking, I correct it, edit it. I throw away or erase what is no longer of use, without restraint. Usually, what I leave behind is the poem’s skeleton. When I’ve found—sometimes it’s just a few verses—the idea, the tone, the form of what I want to say, I begin to re-write it. In the end, I share it with some writers that I know and trust to be objective. Then, if the text passes this test, I think it’s ready. In general, I mistrust my own opinion. With regard to form, the form is dictated by the contents of the poem.

portada

DB: Poemas de Botica is an admirably solid collection. By that I mean that it possesses a wonderful unity, all the poems revolve around your grandfather’s apothecary and it’s a collection that feels more like a place than a book to me. I mean that in a good way, it’s remarkably vibrant, alive. Where did it come from? Did you always know how it would be structured?

JT: Poemas de Botica emerged from the Guerrero neighbourhood, one of the oldest and dodgiest in the city. But, to be more precise, from the area immediately surrounding the Dr. Medina pharmacy which was the property of my grandfather for almost 65 years. The pharmacy also operated as an old-style apothecary. I had to work there for about 4 or 5 years, selling medicines and mixing remedies (not many, in reality), while I studied at university. The apothecary is still open, even today.

No, actually, it’s strange. Some of those poems (which were then called de Botica in 2003), were more or less finished. But I didn’t know what to do with them. I thought they’d never be published. You know, I didn’t have any more material. There were 4 or 5 poems and that was it. Then, I stopped working there, and I stopped writing poetry and focused on my studies. I submitted, like we all do, to that sterile prose of academia. And, while it gave me other positive things, it dried up my literary work.

I found it really very difficult to start writing again. A few years later, I’d say it was around 2012, I started to re-write those poems, now with the readings I mentioned above in my mind. The key to the collection arrived with the (Homeric) Cantos del Señor Olivares: I glimpsed the possibility of orchestrating the whole book with an array of different voices: the historical voice of the city (Olivares), the lyrical voice (the Apothecary), the testimonial voices of the characters, all mixed up: humour, violence, colloquialisms, music and refrains. In other words, everything that I learned in Guerrero. And then I quickly discovered that the book was finished. Leticia Luna, the editor, insisted that the tone was not lost.

Finally came the business of unifying the collection. All the poems revolve around an apothecary. I understood that it was about the day-to-day running of the business. Working at an apothecary, you end up having to deal with the clients, with yourself, with those who promote the merchandise, with anything that was going on in the barrio. Outside and inside. And almost everything that happened in that small world is portrayed in the book. ‘The world is an apothecary of the depraved’ (El mundo es una botica de viciosos) says the book’s epigraph. The world or purgatory in which we all find ourselves. In fact, the first poem gives the physical location, the address of the pharmacy, but this also functions as a cosmic location of the Counter-Earth, according to an astronomy book by Giorgio Abetti, I think. That’s what the botica was for me.

DB: What do you think of contemporary Mexican poetry?

JT: Honestly, and this has a lot to do with my formative period, I’ve attempted to immerse myself in contemporary Mexican poetry only recently, in the last three or four years. For example, I have discovered fantastic works such as those of Francisco Hernández (Moneda de Tres Caras, La Isla de las Breves Ausencias), Elsa Cross (Bomarzo, Bacantes, Canto Malabar), Myriam Moscona (Negro Marfil and Ansina), Coral Bracho (Si ríe el emperador), José Vicente Anaya (Híkuri), Ernesto Lumbreras (Lo que dijeron las estrellas en el ojo de un sapo), Tedi López Mills (Muerte en la Rúa Augusta and Parafrasear) Gerardo Deniz (who had already passed away but his Cuatronarices was a major discovery for me), Luis Miguel Aguilar, as I already mentioned, the Mazateco poet Juan Gregorio Regino (No es eterna la muerte), Víctor Sosa (Nagasakipanema), amongst others.

There are some writers, a bit younger than the ones I just mentioned—often younger than I am—whose work I admire. Amongst these I can mention Alejandro Tarrab, Hugo García Manríquez, Balam Rodrigo, Inti García Santamaría, Heriberto Yépez, Hernán Bravo, Yuri Herrera, Óscar David López, Sara Uribe, Paula Abramo, Marian Pipitone, Eva Castañeda, Zazil Collins. So far. I know of many other names due to the renown they have earned but I haven’t read them, and that is a source of minor embarrassment. But that work is pending. The list will certainly grow.

DB: Personally, in Mexico, I’ve noticed a fair amount of literary cliques. As if the on-going feuds like the ones documented so memorably by Bolaño in his Savage Detectives are continuing today. Do you notice any of this? Does it hold interest?

JT: Yes, I suppose that, like everywhere else, there are. Regional, local, national, transnational. In general, I have very little time for personal disputes that always seem to mutate into group disputes. I read, ignoring the affiliations or ascriptions of an author. I’m only interested in the text. I can still identify the conflicts generated by the aesthetical (and political) differences between the Stridentists (Estridentistas) and the Contemporáneos or between the Infrarrealistas (the “Visceral Realists” from Bolaño’s Savage Detectives) and group of poets headed by Octavio Paz. Or the ongoing arguments between nationalism (whether that be criollo or mestizo) of Mexican poetry against its francophilia (afrancesamiento as Cuesta called it, extending the term to mean a sort of universalist ambition).

DB: There seems to be plenty of political poetry being written and disseminated in Mexico of late. What do you think of this? Should poetry be political?

JT: Yes, it is normal to see this emergence of political poetry. We live in tragic times. Some of these poems I simply don’t like: particularly those that seek to mythologize or ritualize that which has happened in Mexico. By so doing, they seem to engender a justification (myths and rites that outline a psychic, hegemonic and social mechanism a posteriori) in order to suggest some sense of destiny. Furthermore, I think that political poetry (as always) is at risk of turning into a simple instrument of affiliation, an occasional militancy that is of more benefit to the poet than to society.

A work that stands apart from these is Antígona González by Sara Uribe. Though she recycles the figure of Antigone, she refuses to justify suffering through the notion of myth.

DB: What’s next for you? What are you working on now?

JT: Well this year (2016), as I mentioned, I hope to see the Rothenberg collections published. I also hope to publish Nacencia, a long poem dedicated to my son, which focuses on the processes of translation. It’s about the impossibility of translation. It’s also a unified piece, from the eve of his birth up until an event that seemed astonishing to me, which occurred when he was about four months old. He reached out to touch the shadow of his own hand on the wall. In other words he carried out his own process of translation: in four months he had interpreted the world, his surroundings, passing through a long phase of discovery and an awakening of the senses, until he could see that hand and touch it. From that point, everything became clear, the light of the allegory of Plato’s Cave. Nacencia is a poem that has nothing to do with, with regard to subject matter or form, Poemas de Botica. Which is something that pleases me greatly.

Furthermore, I want to continue with my translations of Claudia Rankine (her multi-prizewinning Citizen) and of Rosmarie Waldrop (The Ambition of Ghosts). I’d also like to keep translating some of Federico Maria Sardelli, who is real character (Vivaldi scholar, director of Modo Antiquo, painter, poet).

—Javier Taboada & Dylan Brennan

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taboada2

From Poemas de Botica (Apothecary Poems)
By Javier Taboada
Selected and translated by Jack Little.

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Visión

Aquí
las rameras
……….se canonizan en nueve meses
el diente de oro
es tatuaje de honor por las migajas
y el rito de la madre
es zumbarse al niño
y llevarlo a la escuela
cubriendo el látigo del marido.

Los boticarios
son los nuevos curas
que redimen
por menos del tostón.

La borracha canta
soy la Magdalena
revolcada en mierda
……….hay viejos oraculares
……….héroes y padrotes
y hasta los boxeadores rezan
que con la Virgen basta
y la piedra sosiega.

Aquí
la camisa de fuerza
espera por la señal de la cruz.

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Juanito

Nadie sabe que soy un súper héroe.

Piensan que estoy loco
pero en las noches vuelo
……….aunque todavía
no aprendo bien
y me azoto en la banqueta.

De día
enjuago los carros
que llevan a los reyes actuales.

Mas luego oscurece
……….y no sé quién
le sube el switch
a mis rosas eléctricas.

Ahí me da por encimarme
……….los calzones
……….la capa
mis botas negras de hule
y entonces VUELO

por la quijada brillante
del burro
la tripa de cristal
que se hace rollo
y se alarga.

Eso que dicen
que es la epilepsia.

Y con mi lengua
en la banqueta
me quedo dormido
……….como una coca de vidrio
vacía de la furia del mar.

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Crac

Un joven de quince años
pidió un gotero de cristal
para bajarle a su bebé la temperatura.

…………Mejor uno de plástico
…………que el vidrio es peligroso
…………si el niño tiene dientes.

No lo quiebra  no lo rompe.
Y besó una cruz
que hizo con los dedos.

………….Fui por su jarabe
y me dejó hablando solo
con la medicina.

Nunca había visto a un tipo tan flaco.

***

La piedra
el fumado
…………en papel
…………en lata de refresco
…………o gotero de cristal
es un tizón de sesenta pesos
…………llaga que arde viva
…………entre labios y garganta.

Hay que jalarle duro
…………fumarse hasta las burbujas
…………oír el crac en la piedra
y sentir cómo pega en putiza.

***

Pasadas las diez de la noche
chupando la mugre de las uñas
…………por si algo sobra
los muchachos del crac
…………ángeles de cera sobre una flama
salen a la calle
con todas las palabras
…………………en la manguera de la lengua
el sexo de fuera y erecto.

El barrio cierra sus ventanas
…………tapia sus puertas
porque los muchachos del crac
…………aúllan
y se rascan para quitarse los piojos
…………que inundan su piel
……………….pues es mejor dejarla en carne viva
…………a que se la coman los gusanos.

Los muchachos del crac
…………ejército de cadáveres sin camisa
…………pubertas embarazadas
caminan a ninguna parte
…………juegan volados o rayuela
…………cantan  bajo la pequeña luz del encendedor
y miran de reojo
buscándose el cuchillo.

Luego caen
uno por uno
bajo los dedos del alba.

***

Al abrirse las puertas del metro
los muchachos yacen en el piso
………………como pan con hongos
……………………..arcada del ebrio
……………………..viejo al que chupó el diablo.

—Javier Taboada

§

Vision

Here
the whores
………….are canonized in nine months
the gold tooth
a tattoo to honour crumbs
and the rite of the mother
is to hit her child
and to take him to school
to cover up her husband’s lash.

The apothecaries
are the new curates
redeeming
for less than fifty cents.

The drunk lass sings
I am Mary Magdalene
wallowing in shit
…………here old oracles
…………heroes and pimps

and even the boxers pray
that the Virgin alone will suffice
and the crack rock soothes.

Here
the straitjacket
waits for the sign of the cross.

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Juanito

Nobody knows that I am super hero.

They think I’m crazy
but at night I fly
……………even though still
I don’t learn all that well
and crash into the sidewalk.

By day
I wash the cars
that carry today’s kings.

After dark
………….I don’t know who
flicks the switch
on my electric roses.

I turn myself out in
……………underpants
……………the cape
my black rubber boots
and then I FLY
by the brilliant jawbone
of the donkey
the glassy guts
that roll
and lengthen.

That they say
……………is epilepsy.

And with my tongue
on the sidewalk
I sleep
……………like a glass bottle of coke
empty of the fury of the sea.

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Crack

A fifteen year old guy
asked for a glass dropper
to bring his baby’s temperature down.

……….Better a plastic one
……….glass is dangerous
……….if the kid already has teeth.

He won’t crack it won’t break it
and he kissed a crucifix
made with his fingers.

……….I went for the syrup
and he left me talking alone
with the medicine.

I had never seen such a skinny fella.

***

The stone
devilsmoke
……….on paper
……….in a can of pop
……….or a glass dropper
it’s a three buck ember
……….a sore that burns alive
……….between the lips and throat.

You have to pull hard
……….toke until it bubbles
……….hear the crack in the rock
and feel it like the smack in a brawl.

***

Past ten at night
sucking the muck on their nails
……….just in case there’s something left
the crack boys
……….wax angels over the flame
go out into the street
with all the words
…………..on the tube of their tongue
sex outside and erect.

The neighborhood closes its doors
……….shuts its windows
because the crack boys
……….howl
and scratch to get rid of the nits
……….that fill their skin
……………for it’s better to leave it raw
……….than let it be eaten by worms.

The crack boys
……….army of shirtless corpses
……….pregnant adolescents
walk nowhere
……….play coin toss or hopscotch
……….sing under the dim glow of a lighter
and gaze askance
looking for a knife.

Then they fall
one by one
under the fingers of dawn.

***

As the metro doors are opened
the boys are lying on the floor
………………..like moldy bread
…………………….drunk’s retch
…………………….an old man made rotten by the five-second rule.

—Javier Taboada translated by Jack Little

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Javier Taboada (Distrito Federal, 1982) traductor y poeta. Ha traducido a Alceo de Mitilene (Poemas y Fragmentos, 2010) y a Jerome Rothenberg (A Poem of Miracles y A Further Witness, de próxima aparición), entre otros. Es autor de Poemas de Botica (2014).

Jack Little Photo

Jack Little (b. 1987) is a British-Mexican poet, editor and translator based in Mexico City. He is the author of ‘Elsewhere’ (Eyewear, 2015) and the founding editor of The Ofi Press: www.ofipress.com

Dylan 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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Jan 102016
 
Portrait of George Herbert in Bemerton by William Dyce

Portrait of George Herbert in Bemerton by William Dyce

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Some poems you read once, maybe twice. You like or dislike them, you share them – or you mean to share them but never get around to it. Sooner or later – for me, lately, it’s sooner – you can’t remember much about them. The striking features you were drawn to – the metaphors that stopped you in your tracks, the music of the words, the phrases you never imagined bumping up against each other – fade from your memory, though you know you liked many of them when you first read them. You have only a vague sense of what the poem was about – An animal, I think? A duck? You have only an inkling as to the author. Female poet, early 20th-century…British? Canadian?  Down the line you hear the poet’s name and it sounds familiar to you – I read something by her not too long ago and liked it.  You try to find the poem in a book, but you can’t find it – Maybe it was in a book from the library. Or maybe in the New Yorker? The Threepenny Review? – so you look through old copies of your magazines, you try to track the poem down online, but it’s gone. The poem was liked but, as  the salesman Willy Loman would warn us, it wasn’t well-liked.

Of course, any kind of “liked” is better than “disliked,” but a poem of that kind – forgettable – is not going down on your list of Poems to Memorize In Case of Shipwreck on a Desert Island. Imagine the circumstances of that shipwreck: all you end up with is your body and what rests securely in your mind – no boat, no matches, no clothes, no shelter, no food. no friends, no wireless connection, no social media, no phone, no pen, no paper, and no books to read. What keeps you going? I mean, besides the coconut-laden palm trees and the sun up in the blue sky, the bright turquoise water, the waves breaking on warm, white sand….Sorry, where was I? (I have an excuse – it’s winter in Seattle. Enough said.) Ah, yes. The question is this: What keeps you going?

Well, maybe, like me, you remember a few movies and much of the dialogue in them, so acting them out could keep you going for awhile. I, for one, have seen the six-part BBC production of Pride and Prejudice often enough to let it loop scene-by-scene through my head while I wait to be rescued from my island. Fiction turned into film script turned into a one-woman performance, minus an audience. Ditto quite a few Jerry Seinfeld shows, though those scripts don’t deepen or change on each re-construction.

For further entertainment, I would have a boatload of songs to sing – Beatles, Dylan, Beach Boys, Motown, Aretha Franklin, The Letterman, Tony Bennett. It’s step-by-step on this beach, and with songs I move closer to poetry; lyrics are, after all, a subset of poetry. So sooner or later – definitely sooner – the memorized poems, the well-liked poems, rise to the surface during times of stress (see: shipwreck, above.) They comfort me, make me smile, make me cry, make me wonder.  They connect me with people and places I love, they challenge me to question something, they engage my imagination – and they please me on most days at least as much as fresh coconuts and a blue sky.

robinson-crusoe

Did Crusoe recite poetry to a parrot or two? (illustration: N.C. Wyeth)

Pleasure. That’s what great poetry is all about, isn’t it? Especially if ambiguity resides within the circle of what you find pleasurable. You’ll do well with poetry then, because ambiguity lies at the heart of most great poems. We read and re-read; the poem stays the same, but we change, and we read with those changes exerting their new influence. What puzzles me, though, is not the what, where, when or why of pleasure but the how.  How does a well-loved poem actually work on us?

To help readers answer similar questions, Mark Yakich (editor of The New Orleans Review and Professor of Creative Writing at Loyola) offered up “Reading a Poem: 20 Strategies” in the December issue of The Atlantic. His”guide for the perplexed” addresses anyone struggling to understand where the pleasure in a certain poem resides. Basically, Yakich offers up twenty modest proposals in an attempt to steer poetry-phobes away from panic and toward pleasure, with a “step-by-step guide.”

Mark Yakich

Professor Mark Yakich

His twenty suggestions are good ones: Don’t wait for a poem to change your life, don’t force it to”relate” to your life, but do meet it on its own terms and pay close attention to how it says things; do read poems aloud, do approach them with a Buddha-like patience, don’t try to paraphrase, do look for subtleties, don’t forget the poet is not always the speaker of the poem, don’t avoid marginalia (it’s fun), do try to understand what “irony” means (it doesn’t mean disbelief), and don’t worry if you don’t understand it at first – usually, understanding comes, but reading a poem doesn’t take much time or energy, so little is lost. Meanwhile,  there is potential for growth, for new thoughts or “an old thought seen anew.” In other words, what can it hurt? And it might actually help.

Of the twenty suggestions, I like #12 best: “A poem can feel like a locked safe in which the combination is hidden inside. In other words, it’s okay if you don’t understand a poem. Sometimes it takes dozens of readings to come to the slightest understanding. And sometimes understanding never comes. It’s the same with being alive: Wonder and confusion mostly prevail.”

As an experiment, let’s look at George Herbert’s Love (III) with Yakich’s suggestions in mind.

Love (III)

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
……….Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
……….From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
………If I lacked anything.

“A guest,” I answered, “worthy to be here”:
………Love said, “You shall be he.”
“I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
………I cannot look on thee.”
.Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
…….“Who made the eyes but I?”

“Truth, Lord; but I have marred them; let my shame
………Go where it doth deserve.”
“And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?”
………“My dear, then I will serve.”
“You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.”
……….So I did sit and eat.

……………………………………George Herbert (1593-1633)

It’s a poem which pleases me every time I read it. I memorized it years ago, mostly due to the last line – “So I did sit and eat.” That grabbed hold of me and wouldn’t let go; it has played in my head like birdsong during many odd, sexy, delicate, memorable moments of my life, none of them relating to food, none of them religious, at least, not in the institutional sense.  Ditto the line “Who made the eyes but I?” And that’s what I often want from a poem – to have a line of it come to me under surprising circumstances.  When I first read it at nineteen, I was in love and I liked the sexiness of the poem. Almost fifty years later, I still do. But I’m a little more aware of the pressure Love is putting on her guest.

Look at that Roman numeral in the title – “(III)”. It announces to the world that Herbert has tried before to tackle this topic and never managed to nail it down. But he’s not a quitter. He keeps trying, and don’t we all, or almost all, when it comes to figuring out love? It’s a big topic, a mighty one, so no wonder the poet keeps working at it. Pleasure from a Roman numeral? Yes.

Of course, George Herbert (1593-1633) wrote almost entirely as a religious poet, so a savvy reader might read this poem as one more of the poet’s many examinations of religious devotion. Love (I) can be read either way, and Love (II) can, too. But Love (III) – well, I don’t see or hear God in it. I prefer to think the speaker in the poem turns from Heaven to Home this time (as the Impressionist painters did – from myth to the picnic table, from Venus on a clam shell to the artist’s sister sitting at a window) and he writes a love poem to celebrate the fact that he is welcomed in.

Who does the welcoming in? It’s Love. Is she flirtatious? Gentle? Fierce? Lusty? Passionate? Tremulous? How would she have said the word “Welcome” to him when he appeared at her door? Would it have been throaty? Intimate? Whispered? Is it gestural and unvoiced – a bit of body language? After many readings, I don’t know yet, but when saying the poem aloud I can make her sound any way I imagine, as long as her voice builds up honestly to the adverb “sweetly” in Line 5. So the tone – especially for the modern reader – can be sweetly tongue in cheek, sweetly seductive, sweetly insistent, sweetly tender, sweetly concerned. It can be all of the above.

In any case, the soul of the speaker in the poem draws back from Love, since he is “guilty of dust and sin.” To be guilty of sin, that’s common. But to be “guilty of dust”? I have no real idea what the phrase means – dust as in dust-to-dust, as in mortality, the way “dust” is used in Love (I and II)? Dust as in metaphorical dustiness – age, timidity, priggishness, repression? Not knowing the answer isn’t a problem. I don’t need to understand completely, because I love the mystery of the phrase: guilty of dust.

There is something fluid to how a poem seeps into a reader – and as Yakich says, “wonder and confusion prevail.” To recall being guilty of sin under these circumstances – Love inviting you into her house to eat – certainly hints at a history of physical passion. Lady Love on the other hand is “quick-eyed” and doesn’t miss a thing, not even the fact that the speaker has gone “slack” as he enters in. Am I just imagining how embodied – how physical – this poem is? I don’t think so. Almost like a geisha, Love approaches, raises her eyes,  presses herself up against the speaker – well, that’s my imagination –  and asks whether he needs anything.

Frank Bidart once wrote a poem using the phrase “guilty of dust” as its title; there is no hint of religion in Bidart’s poem either, unless you believe that Fate is an aspect of religious belief. Instead, Bidart addresses a man’s many “baffled infatuations.” The voice in the speaker’s head claims with some certainty that “WHAT YOU LOVE IS YOUR FATE.” But the speaker considers “the parade of my loves” and thinks of that parade as one full of “PERFORMERS comics actors singers.” The “love and fury and guilt / and sweetness” they produce seems to be in “DIVIDED CEASELESS / REVOLT AGAINST IT.” There’s no doubt Bidart took the phrase from Herbert’s poem, and Bidart is equally nonplussed by the way love insists itself upon the choices we think we make freely.

As I begin with Herbert’s poem, I’m aware there’s a rhyme scheme, I’m aware of the meter, I’m simultaneously thinking about form and content. Those formal elements march along –  left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot. My English professor might have asked us to scan the poem metrically and to look up the biblical reference: Luke, Chapter 12, Verse 37: “Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them.” Someone suggests the same approach for teachers at The Poetry Foundation website. So a new reader might be encouraged to read the poem with certain formalities and inspirations in mind. But six lines in to this particular poem, don’t most readers put formalities and sources aside? By the time the eyes are mentioned, aren’t we aware only of the man’s nervous breathing, his protestations about being unworthy, and the woman’s warm invitations?

In the last stanza, I’m not sure why Love asks who bears the blame, nor why the speaker offers at that point to serve.  Does he mean he’ll serve the metaphorical meal? Or does he mean “I will serve,” meaning “I’ll do.” I have to engage my Buddhist-monk patience for those lines. As Yakich says in the Atlantic article, “A poem has no hidden meaning, only ‘meanings’ you’ve not yet realized are right in front of you. Discerning subtleties takes practice.” I am still trying to discern the subtleties of those lines. But then we arrive at the remarkable final couplet, ” ‘You must sit down,’  said Love, ‘and taste my meat.’ / So I did sit and eat.”  Perfect ending. In the penultimate line, the first stress falls on the word “must”  – she insists! – and the final stress of the line on the word “meat.” Love, in other words, is going to get her way. That man is going to sit down. He’s going to eat (the gulf between “my meat” in the biblical Book of Luke and the more suggestive “my meat” for a contemporary reader is wide and deep.)

Bonnard Table

The Checkered Tablecloth by Pierre Bonnard

The poem ends with a thought which allows the iambic pattern of the shorter line to fall apart, just like the man surrenders to Love –  “So I did sit…..[hear the pause?]….and eat.” Following the regular iambic pattern, the line would sound like this: “So I / did SIT / and EAT.”  But doesn’t that “did” beg to receive the stress?  “So I / DID sit…/and EAT.” In that booby trapped space, we fall into the caesura – the long pause between  “sit” and “and eat.” Formalities takes a tumble.  We take a tumble. And Love triumphs.

It’s an exciting poem and, to the ear of a 21st-century reader, undeniably erotic. Whether its author meant it to be – whether his religious nerve endings vibrated to something suggestive or not – is another question, but once the poem comes into me, it belongs to me. “Love (III)”  – third times a charm, George Herbert. I have the poem memorized, just in case Fate takes me to that desert island and I find a parrot or two to share it with.

—Julie Larios

 

HeadsJulie Larios contributes her Undersung essays to the pages of Numero Cinq, along with an occasional review and poem or two. She is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize, an Academy of American Poets Prize, and her work has been chosen twice for inclusion in the Best American Poetry series. This is her first “Closer Look” essay for NC. A full bio and links to all reviews, poems and essays for Numero Cinq can be seen here. You can find more of her thoughts about poetry (for children and adults) at her blog, The Drift Record.

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Jan 062016
 

George Fetherling

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Travel

Back there our cheeks were
gouged by tears that rinsed our face of knowing.
Eyes weak from pleading, ears grown deaf to sirens,
earth overrun with data while here
the sky is full of context and clouds
provide perspective.

We had to go when things got skewed.
Gin was all we had for washing.
We cleaned our teeth with ashes
but the ashes being yours were sweet.

This is not departure but refusal to remain
not a leaving but an uncoming.

Best keep unread what was printed.
What the recto said to the verso is no one else’s business.
Write it down and salt it well.
The proverbs lack the verbs they chaperone.

We’re heading for that line beyond which
there is no more statute only case law
whenever events break one way and not another.

Ours is a haphazard journey to places
more random than I’m making them sound.

We’ll travel till the country runs out of space
and all the witnesses have died.

This sensation of movement gives me
a dangerous confidence that stretches
noon all the way to midnight and unsolves old crimes.

History neatly tucked away, the splatter patterns
and the long trail of debris.

Stage fright? don’t be silly. The audience
is afraid of me.

J’ai grandi en pleine cambrousse but no more
defiant acts of belonging.

I know a man who deals in second-hand names
and works both sides of the river.

The morgue is decorated for halloween.

Give me a number where I can reach you.

.

Reply to Closing Arguments

Your dreams were far more grotesque than mine and they came true.

You took the world by subterfuge thinking your insults would
protect you from the vulnerabilities you lack.
All the while you professed a new approach to nightmare abatement.
But don’t some problems heal themselves if we refrain from taunting?
This is a yes or no question Your Honour.
I hope the court will instruct the plaintiff to choose one or the other.

Was progress a requirement when you stepped onstage,
perpetuating stereotypes of those old twin lusts: to live the
embassy life but also despair of it?

My sorrow in this matter runs the risk of infection.

You can’t address this as you did those partnerships annulled
in flashes of ceremony in distant jurisdictions
where the streets are forever leafy and the sun luminous
once springtime returns to the Liberated Zone.

.

The File Clerk

You update the files with facts you forget
have already been inserted.

The less life remaining, the less patience too
yet the greater your urgency to classify
and betray.

To claim the reward is not reward enough.

It’s all about time, isn’t it?
Another block of days crossed off the calendar
as the user fees nickel-and-dime us to death.

.

Sunrise

This morning I met a one-armed priest who spread his motto selflessly
and lost an argument with the security cameras down by
the meditation pond.

That first sunrise scarred me for life with its fake urges
and level-one secrets and claims that can’t be verified
even now.

I’ve never forgotten the promise of relief implicit in the dusk
though the trees looked a bit uncertain.
What I mistook for thunder was simply the transit
of day to night that left confusion in the space between.

I can sense when one phase is ending, but who knows what happens next?
Events have numbed us. Ambiguity everywhere.
We, all of us, depart the centre for our separate corners.-
Hijinks, mild explosives, blacked-out trains feeling their way
cross-country in the dark.

—George Fetherling

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George Fetherling is a poet, novelist and cultural commentator. He has published 50 books of poetry, fiction, criticism, history and biography. Some of the more recent are The Sylvia Hotel Poems, the novel Walt Whitman’s Secret and a revised 20th anniversary edition of the memoir Travels by Night. He lives in Toronto and Vancouver. Xtra described him as “something of a national literary treasure” and the Toronto Star called him a “legendary” figure in Canadian writing.

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Jan 032016
 

Afric high res bio pic

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A River of Familiars

I have a cat that sharpens her scent on men.
……………I netted her from the river, called her mother.

Perhaps there’s a cat-flap in the sky,
……………because sometimes my mother’s a golden owl.

I have a memory cat that in a past life
……………knew the taste of golden whiskey.

My cat has a curiosity about the whiskey-crazy
……………wish for public nudity.

I have a crazy city cat with a lightning dart
……………across her lazy eye.

And my lightning cat has an earring, just the one,
……………mother-of-pearl. Call it intuition.

And seven secret positions, the last
……………a chanting lotus. I have a cat that doesn’t exist.

I have a penchant for jumping trains, inhaling
……………with each knock. I have a sister cat who inhales too.

I have a lover who becomes a lion under the glassy moon.
……………And the cat exhales her wail, like an accordion.

One cat is a grand, glass-lidded, gleaming ivory,
……………the light, not yet put out.

First-born, I am, of a cat who cycles lightly
……………inside his mansion full of stories, war and music.

My cat and I wear twenty masks when singing
……………out in rain, take it, like a wafer, on the tongue.

I have a cat that purrs in white and black
……………or foggy smoke rings, belly up.

As a foggy curtain rises, a missing cat
……………runs rings around the time inside a clock.

.

Confluence

His manner is reserved,
a little secretive.
He scours the room, which also pines
for colour; moves
to the window’s blazing snap of light.

Her age depends on the light,
especially the collarbone’s
slight hollow at the V,
a wishbone, which gives luck
only when broken.

He is both still and moving,
like a tree in the trembling
haul of spring,
building up its nests
and growing puddles.

She spends the water
with spread fingers.
He is afraid of loss –
it’s easier to have nothing.
No way in for the water; no way out.

It’s herself she’s in danger from,
seizing a handful of electric wire,
as though clutching-
for-dear-life
a hank of drowning hair.

He paints what’s left behind.
A thought-ghost grieves,
disturbed by mutation;
like seeing the bones of tiny,
once-swimming fish.

She notes there’s no
fountain swishing,
only light.
Weightlessness
encloses her.

They share a reading
of each other’s bodies
among the hung-up coats,
mud-sucked boots;
the track.

They look up to find
the sky wiped free
of the drench;
his voice shifting
to a minor key.

.

Contact

God and the Devil are one – Karen Blixen

I

Chopper’s genuflection;
a whoomph disturbs the air.

Clansmen and women offer fruit;
a whoomph disturbs

a calabash, spills water;
a whoomph: white walls, a flare.

II

A mob; Kalashnikovs and rocks.
He cowers in a corner.

Hands seize
on splintered glass.

A looming face, teeth yellow-
stained from chewing khat

spring-loaded spittle
screaming hate.

III

The sea receives more bodies,
lays them on a beach.

Crossings lead
to razor wire, new fences.

IV

Boycotts and defences dance
like pirouettes, a paintbrush.

V

At an army base: ‘I believe
he had no faith.’

The chaplain’s agitated. ‘But
we’ve got to say a prayer

before we zip the bag.
It’s always been the way.’

.

Blink

They stream invisibly,
like phantom-birds past
a tarred window,

all the houses.
The first African one,
a hammerkop, all messy crest;

another, a paradise fly-catcher;
a third, a heron.
Sometimes they brushed

the edge of wild bush,
or a silvery river,
warming their tails

in the sun, till the vanishing.
One for each year
of a migratory childhood.

Long corridors, tall steps,
cold rooms, glass roofs.
Across a hemisphere,

some stood on lawns,
bright as sugar.
We dressed them up,

like mannequins, knowing
them to be temporary playthings
before another re-crossing.

Tucked at the end of a long cul-de-sac,
one comes close
to what you’d call home:

close enough to look into the glossy
pellet of a sun-struck eye,
see the malachite-amber blur.

But it slips through my fingers,
and once again I am left with another
feather-gold flickering.

.

Portrait of the Other

Like art (an addiction,
not a cure), you’re

the moonlit flit from
silk to gold, to wings

to glass; light as cats,
and sniper-accurate;

a heliotropic paradox
facing five horizons.

You’re a pack of jokers,
deuces, three-eyed queens;

the immensity of an
ocean or inferno;

you’re a shadow-grue,
sunlight and lawn,

and all the time
in the world.

.

—Afric McGlinchey

 

Afric McGlinchey was born in Ireland. She grew up in Southern Africa, moving frequently between countries, and received degrees from Rhodes University and the University of Cape Town, where she was tutored by the Nobel prize-winner, JM Coetzee. She has also lived in London, Paris, Dublin and Spain. She returned to Ireland in 1999 and currently lives in West Cork. Her début poetry collection, The Lucky Star of Hidden Things, was published in 2012 by Salmon Poetry. The poems featured above are from her second collection, Ghost of the Fisher Cat, which is forthcoming in February 2016 (Salmon Poetry).

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Dec 142015
 

k. a. Moritz

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Proof

There’s so much snow
it swallows the hems of the wind chimes
and our fingers split
and they never seem to heal.
Blood seeps out when we’re excited.

As with Odysseus,
you will recognize me
by the scar on my thigh.

We give pain.
We take it with us,
carry it, too.

.

If Francesca Woodman Were My Taxidermist

Amazed she is alive, my childhood cat.
Her markings as oiled and flaked as cod (cooked).
Black, brown, and white.
A jagged line runs down her forehead
Stitching her face in half
As she stands on her elbows
And mouths to me,
About forgetting her under the steps.

When the memory drags itself back
I want to
throw
myself
through
walls.

It comes randomly:
Driving along the interstate,
As I drift through the shadow of the overpass.
Or,
When I’m on a street,
Passing cafes and people laughing,
Their wine glasses held high,
Their arms as thin as the necks of birds.

Somewhere, the door to a display case opens:
Ashy phosphenes blur
The camera’s eye.
Through a broken window
Long-nailed air strokes whiskers and feathers,
Her underarm hair.
She lifts her hands, her face blurred into
Pixels on a page.
Unlike her, I wake.
My fingers searching for fur.

.

D_ _ r  

The driveway is punctuated with grain.
Although April is in a matter of days,
Apples aren’t enough.
There’s still so much snow,
Still the nights clear their way into the negatives.

You can tell the deer are hungry.
They sashay down the dirt road,
And flip their ears and flip their tails, unafraid.
Even the blue jays look thin and muddy.
The black moles that burrow beneath the birdfeeder,
Come out and charge me when I walk by.

We’re all living with a need now:
Last night I dreamt I saw you at a party,
Amidst the lights, I saw embroidered on your sweater,
your name, missing all the vowels.

.

The Callous

The liquid inside is gone.
The yellow dome,
Thick and rubbery,
That too is gone.

When you sit, with your legs crossed
Lotus style,
You can see in a very simple
And clean way,
That your heel is missing
A hunk of flesh.

You may want to figure it out:
Why the hole reminds you of a past lover
Or maybe a current one.
When you place the tip of your finger
Into it and feel the new pink skin inside,
Why it feels erotic and sad
At the same time.

If you were smaller,
The size of a child’s toy,
You could count the rings of skin
That you had to cut away.

.

Soiled

Where is your placenta buried?
I’ve been thinking
About my own
Place-ment.

Means to place, meant to place me
There. Or here. Wherever.

Under the covers
Wombmanmade
I used to sleep next to you
As close as I could get
Our beds pushed together
My body pressed into the crack
As if I were digging against the trench
Between two tectonic plates
That slowly drift apart:

You?
Me?
(no!)

I told you about this idea
Asked about my placenta
And you had cried, saying

You had buried my placenta
In your dead mother’s backyard.

.

Clean

I dream I leave the burner on,
that your Altoids turn to car keys,
that in the middle of saying I love
you
bury your face in my breasts and huff the skin like a drug.

The next morning, you pack up your things: your t-shirt, your socks.
I’m awkward as I drink my coffee.
Did you use the toothbrush from last time?
Is it still wrapped in its napkin?

Saying goodbye is as sad as
seeing a Schwan’s meal delivery truck on Thanksgiving.

.

After you go,

………………….I run past homes

 .

……………………………………….. …..and I smell laundry

……………………………………………………………………………..being cleaned.

.

Punctum

I was alone and I was cold when I fell asleep with Roland Barthes.
Some stupid television show on in the background
The blue of the TV climbing up the walls like mold.
This old motor-inn smells like abandonment.
A sort of loneliness that settles over you
After you sleep with someone
You don’t understand
Let alone love.

Earlier I took a shower in the dark
The light kept buzzing, like a fly.
I was afraid it would fall out of the ceiling, into the water
And kill me.
Dead on the fake plastic floor.
My arm and hand unfurling out of the bathroom
Out onto the green shag carpet.

I wake up in between commercials, Camera Lucida on my breasts
I’m dreaming in segments
My mind a community of photographs
The image repertoire always a thought out of reach
But I try to grasp it
I close my eyes but the faces and bodies fade
A micro death?
And what of love? Of grief? Of dreaming?
Maybe I’m just getting my connotations all mixed up

Moving from X to Z, stuck at Y
Y am I here? Y an inevitable death? Y is it taking so long for the heat
To move a few degrees?

—k. a. Moritz

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Currently residing in Vermont’s rural Northeast Kingdom, k.a. Moritz has begun work on her latest project, the NEcK, a publication that will showcase the gritty and rugged landscapes of life, both internally and externally. Aside from writing, she runs, eats, and juggles a variety of jobs. Moritz lives with her two cats, Fish and Fearless Marble.

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Dec 112015
 

lescarbot2

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This poem in Alexandrine verses was written by a Parisian lawyer, Marc Lescarbot, who had joined the early French settlement at Port-Royal, near present-day Annapolis Royal on the Annapolis Basin of the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia. After a year of active engagement in its development he was obliged to leave again in July 1607, at which time he composed this extraordinary description of the country’s resources as an inducement for continued investment in the venture he so ardently supported. The reason for his departure and the abandonment of Port-Royal was the financial difficulty of Pierre du Gua, Sieur De Monts, and his associates, whose monopoly on the fur trade had been abruptly canceled by the King of France, Henry IV. The poem appears in a collection of similar occasional verse entitled Les Muses de la Nouvelle-France that was added to Lescarbot’s Histoire de la Nouvelle-France, written after his return to France. The writing of the poem was started just before departing the Port-Royal and continued at sea. It is, in effect, the first extensive poetic description of Canada. Whilst there are translations of the Histoire, I have yet to discover an English translation of this poem. The text of this translation is based on the third edition of the Histoire de la Nouvelle-France of 1617, published electronically in 2007 by the Gutenberg Project at www.gutenberg and produced by Rénald Lévesque.

champlain detail3Detail from Champlain map, Nova Scotia, Bay of Fundy, etc.

Why did Lescarbot decide to go overseas in the first place? The reason he gives for wanting to go to New-France is a set-back he suffered as a lawyer in court due to a corrupt judge. He was, therefore, personally predisposed to find a better, uncorrupted world.

The start of the poem (1-12) is highly rhetorical and polemical, with an expression of Lescarbot’s personal regret at having to leave this beautiful place (1, cf. 25, 33, 47, 59) and three indignant rhetorical questions intended to shame his compatriots for their lack of constancy in abandoning the new settlement and the investment and efforts already expended, as well as chiding them for their dishonorable failure in establishing a new province of France (2-12), combining personal, aesthetic, moral, economic, patriotic and imperial motives. The polemical element is raised to the highest level later on, when Lescarbot reminds the King of his duty as a Christian monarch to spread the faith (167-176); he even questions the Lord God directly as to why he left the Native peoples out of his divine plan (293-304). These are themes of the highest order in literature, the duty of Kings and the ways of God to man, typically treated in epic and drama, but here combined with the profit motive. Significantly, the religious mission of the King is linked directly to the bounty of the land specifically created by God, he maintains, to motivate the King and to attract the French to the exploitation of its resources (177-180), thus connecting commerce with the spread of the Christian faith. Moreover, Lescarbot expresses regret that his intended audience, i.e. the French generally but specifically present and potential investors, do not know the attractions of the country (13-16). The actual phrase used in line 14, the “attractive lures”, serves to whet the appetite by introducing the lure of profit to be gained from the exploitation of its resources. Admittedly, these investors had just suffered a great loss due to a Fleming (Flamen = Flamand, 15), who had acquired furs along the St. Lawrence ahead of the French and robbed theirs as well, along with their canon. Lescarbot suggests that the investors will make good on their losses with compound interest (usure, 16). These are the addressees referred as vous in lines 9, 10 and 13, whereas nous in lines 3, 5, and 7 refer to the French collectively, with all of them being accused of a lack of steadfastness (3).

After this highly charged opening aimed at the main addressees of the poem, and following a prayer for safe passage back to France that emphasises the danger of the journey and the physical as well as spiritual distance of the “new peoples”(19-24), Lescarbot launches into a description detailing all the attractive and productive features of Port-Royal and its topography: a secure harbour, protected on both sides by hills and mountains (25-26), alluvial flats along the shoreline providing grazing for the plentiful game (27-30), and springs and streams making for well-watered valleys (31-32), with plenty of rain mentioned later(351-354). The emphasis on the presence of water is significant, suggesting a frame of reference based on the Mediterranean, with a climate perennially short of sufficient moisture in summer. Significant also is the mention of an unnamed island hyperbolically said to be worthy of the greatest king on earth (54-55) and whose commanding role is foreseen through an epic simile (37-41) in that its elevated headland dominates the surrounding plain, again a Mediterranean and, more generally, European ideal for the location of a fortified city or citadel. This city is ready to be built from the rocks supplied by the sea shore (43-44). Lescarbot introduces here (53-56) and throughout a prospective element of development and a potential for growth seen in terms of urbanization and permanent occupation by married settlers (57-58), the physical, economic and social cornerstones of European society.

Next, he invokes the fertility of the place, based on his own experience in developing gardens and working the fields at Port-Royal (61-62). Working the soil seems to have endeared the country to him as well as giving him a sense of –collective- ownership. It is also rather unique for an early visitor-explorer to have actually mixed his sweat with the soil in this way to test its fertility. At the same time, there is an idyllic element in the description (47-52) of a lovely little stream amidst the young greenery of a little valley in the hollow of the island’s bosom to which he “has lent his side” many times because of its beauty. This is a gratuitous detail that escapes the preoccupation with turning nature into culture: it introduces, not just the literary commonplace of the locus amoenus, or plaisance, ultimately based on the description of the Vale of Tempe in ancient Greece, but also a personal and, in fact, sensuous experience. Lescarbot’s originality in this has been noted by the critics. Paolo Carile has pointed out that, whereas in Champlain, beauty of nature is identified with utility, in Lescarbot the natural environment is estheticised from personal experience. He notes other literary innovations as well. The Farewell poem was a known genre restricted to a sentimental good-bye to a woman loved: in Lescarbot’s version, the object of desire changes to a colony in North America, here personified by the lovely island. Similarly, regret at leaving a place is a known literary theme, usually combined with praise of its various features; Lescarbot extends this to the resources of the country and the profit to be gained from them. The new context, colonialism and mercantile capitalism, occasioned a novel and hybrid genre along with a new purpose. In terms of point of view, we may add here the novelty of a poetic eyewitness account based on first-hand experience, rather than an imaginary description of the New World with many fantastic features as we have them in earlier literature. The systematic observation of flora, fauna, and the four seasons, adds a scientific element.

After mentioning the products of nature that grow spontaneously (65-66) he starts his elaborate praise (los= laus in Latin, 63) of the natural resources with a catalogue of the countless types of fish providing nourishment in Spring (73-106), including well-known varieties such as herring (77-79), so plentiful, it alone could make a people rich (78) and, of course, cod, so abundant that it is said to provide sustenance for almost the entire universe (101-108). In all, 27 types are mentioned but there are a thousand more unknown varieties (99). Lescarbot’s catalogues have been linked by past commentators with the Natural History of Pliny the Elder and, more generally, with the encyclopedic tradition of Antiquity, Middle Ages and the Renaissance, with the enumeration of curiosities found in travel narratives, and with the scientific poets of the 16th Century. The catalogues can also be linked to Adam’s naming of God’s creatures (Gen. 2.19) as a form of appropriation, of taking possession of the earth and having dominion “over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air”(Gen. 1. 26, 28). I would like to suggest yet another connection. We are now solidly in the territory of hyperbole and idealisation, recurring stylistic features that elevate this potentially pedestrian description of resources into the realm of the epic paragon or nul-pareil, ultimately serving the promotional purpose of the poem. The association with the epic is suggested as well by Lescarbot’s use of Alexandrine verse which is typically associated with elevated diction and grand and dramatic themes. The poet chose the same verse form for his heroicising account of the raid of the Micmac chief Membertou against the Armouchiquois across the Bay of Fundy also found in Les Muses de la Nouvelle-France.

All the desirable natural wealth enumerated here will make the future settler of this other (promised) land more blessed with a miraculous food supply than the manna of the Hebrews in the desert or the nectar of the blessed spirits of Greek myth (106-12). Throughout, Lescarbot easily mixes mythologies, pagan with Christian, as in lines 167-172 where he invokes the eagles of Jupiter to bring the decree of the King of Kings to the French Monarch, commanding him to spread the Christian faith. God’s omnipotence is demonstrated by the presence of the biggest sea creature of all, the whale (113-119) that comes into the bay daily. Winter provides shellfish, giving nourishment even to the poor and the improvident (125-128), as well as an opportunity for hunting large game and fur-bearing animals, especially the beaver, whose dens Lescarbot finds a thousand times more admirable in their construction than European palaces (135-140). It is remarkable, though, that Lescarbot does not make more of the fur trade at this point. It was the most profitable enterprise, but also the most contentious and problematic because of the competition from the English and the Dutch as well as the opposition from other French merchants to the monopoly of De Monts and his associates. In the final analysis, Lescarbot personally preferred agriculture over trade. This is followed by a catalogue of 37 birds (184-232), including a description of the previously unknown humming bird, seen as another example of God’s omnipotence in creating the smallest bird of all (205-232).

It is not only in his creatures that Lescarbot sees the hand of God. The very bounty of nature and its pleasures have been created by God to attract the French to this land where their labours will be rewarded in proportion to their desires (177-180), in order to propagate the faith which, moreover, is the God-given duty of the French King (173-176). Colonisation is ultimately justified by the religious imperative. Lescarbot himself gave religious instruction on Sundays to le petit peuple, the French workers and artisans of the colony; the leader of the colony, Poutrincourt, likewise instructed the Micmac (305-310). Autumn brings the harvest of the fields and gardens, in particular corn (blé d’Inde) that grows to prodigious heights (251-256), a harvest Lescarbot regrets not seeing because of his premature departure (257-266). Surprisingly, the climate is said to be not as cold as that of NW Europe (269-274), mainly because Lescarbot happened to experience only one mild winter (no snow until December 31, 1606 which promptly melted, and continuous snow cover only in February) and because of the varied impact of the Little Ice Age which saw the river Thames frozen over during the winter of 1607. Incidentally, there is a detailed and delightful recent description of the seasons on Annapolis Basin by Harold Horwood, a Newfoundlander who took up residence there and who mentions surprisingly mild winters, entitled Dancing on the Shore.

After this elaborate praise of the natural resources and the proven potential for agriculture, Lescarbot turns to the native inhabitants, the Micmac, whom he presents as in many respects superior to the French morally (329-340), while asserting their common humanity (297-298). He also makes an argument based on cultural relativism comparing the culture of the native population with that of nations of antiquity elaborated in Bk. 6 of his Histoire de la Nouvelle-France, entitled “Description des Moeurs Souriquoises Comparées A Celles d’Autres Peuples” (M.-C Pioffet, Marc Lescarbot: Voyages 2007, pp. 241-471) and comparing Micmac hospitality with that of the ancestors of the French themselves, the Gaulois. (321-322, 339-340). This comparative approach and the implicit transfer of the prestige of antiquity culminate in the work of the Jesuit Lafitau comparing the Iroquois with the early Greeks, Romans and Hebrews. Lescarbot’s cultural relativism even extends to language when he chooses to retain a Micmac word rather than imposing a “foreign” French name on a creature unknown to him (223-224). And he actually makes the now familiar ethnological distinction between hunter-gatherers and (semi-)sedentary cultivators of the earth, while privileging the latter way of life, as all Europeans did (285-290). The only respect in which their condition is deplorable is the fact that they lack the faith which –he maintains- they are eager to receive (291-314, cf. 166; by contrast, the first Jesuit missionary, Pierre Biard, relates a few years later that the Micmac listened to him politely but did not change their views one iota. The native people he has come into contact with (321-328), in particular the Micmac, are “subtle,” skillful or intelligent, possess good judgement, and are not lacking in understanding (321-324). They only require a “father” to teach them to cultivate the earth and the vine, and to live civilly in permanent habitations(321-328; cf. 287-290), thus combining paternalism with agriculture, viticulture and urbanism, the basis of Mediterranean culture. The main vice that he attributes to them is the desire for vengeance (341-342), a vice actually shared by the poet himself (390-393), and he criticises them for being improvident when it comes to securing an adequate food supply (125-131; 327). Clearly, the hunter-gathers’ apparent pattern of feast or famine appears to him as a moral failing: Lafontaine’s fable of the ant and the cricket comes to mind here. Overall Lescarbot’s presentation reflects, on the one hand, Montaigne’s notion of the bon sauvage unspoilt by civilisation, and, on the other, the largely positive first encounter between the French and the Micmac. It also serves the promotional discourse by stressing the duty of the French king and higher clergy to introduce the faith to these model catechumens. In fact, Lescarbot sees conversion not as a side benefit of colonisation; rather, the prospective harvest of souls is the ultimate goal (162-166), supported by the mercantile venture and the country’s resources. His religious and utopian motives, focused on an agricultural community of French settlers flanked by Native agriculturalists (287-290), become increasingly evident through sheer repetition as the poem progresses ( 59-64; 181-183; 251-264; 287-290; 321-329; 396-411), culminating at its conclusion in lines 423-426.

Significantly, mineral resources are only introduced briefly toward the end of the poem (385-388).   Clearly none of these had been developed (Lescarbot speaks of nurseries or breeding grounds of mines, 385) and the poet only gives a sketchy account of them, mentioning bronze (actually an alloy as he probably meant copper), iron, steel (a man-made product) and silver as well as coal. In an earlier farewell poem, he still expresses the hope that silver and gold will be discovered (Adieu aux François, August 25, 1606), the two most desirable get-rich- quick minerals universally sought after by European rulers and their explorers in the Americas. In the original charter issued by Henry IV in 1603, De Monts was specifically charged to bring home any gold and silver. Clearly, Lescarbot has given up on this prospect, hence the emphasis on agricultural produce and the potential for settlement of French colonists. As if to compensate, he does add, at the very end (412-422), almost as an afterthought, a luxury product, the high quality “silk” worthy of kings and produced by local hemp which could lead to a textile industry manned by Native(?) workers who have chosen to become sedentary.

On balance we can assume that French investors would not have been impressed by this prospectus that mainly emphasises agriculture and settlement. The cod fishery was already established in Newfoundland waters, a location much closer to Europe, and De Monts’ monopoly on the fur trade had been cancelled by the King, although a final one-year extension was granted after the colonists’ return. Lescarbot must have sensed the weakness of his case as he finished his poem by extolling, in compensation, the moral superiority of agriculture as a pure, untroubled way of life far from poverty, the madding crowd of his French homeland, and its deceit (423-426), possibly reflecting his own motives for leaving France in the first place and recalling the idealisation of the simple farmer by the Roman poet Virgil. And the “victory” attributed by Lescarbot to De Monts (363-384) is therefore only a moral victory to compensate for the failure of the enterprise as well as its disastrous first winter on the Ile de Sainte-Croix off the coast of New Brunswick, saluted by Lescarbot in passing on his return journey (363-384).

The Church did not rush in either to fund missionaries. The first Jesuit missionary, Pierre Biard, had to wait for years before he could sail for Port-Royal in 1611, not until a private sponsor was found in the Marquise de Guercheville, who raised funds through a subscription and had to buy into the commercial enterprise in order to secure passage for Biard and his companion, Énemond Massé. She actually had to buy out the two Huguenot merchants from Dieppe who were unwilling to take the two Jesuits on board; similarly Maria de Medici, the widow of the late King Henry, assisted financially in bringing about this first Jesuit mission to Canada. However, financial support was to remain problematic. The actual practice of supporting the missionary activity through profits from the fur trade made the Jesuit missionaries into competitors and led to conflict, in France and in Port-Royal. The whole concept of directly supporting religion through commerce was misguided.

In essence, Lescarbot’s account idealizes Port-Royal, but occasionally, less attractive aspects of the colony do make an appearance: its distance from France (21-22, 381), loneliness (162), the absence of female company (57), the need to improve the agricultural land (249-250), and the dangers of the North Atlantic (6, 21, 358, 380), in particular fog (349-350). Yet, despite these drawbacks, the poem testifies frequently to his profound personal disappointment at its abandonment (1-2, 160-161, 164, 170, 257-264, 344) arising from his own involvement and labour (61-62). The poet is a convert to his own cause. As such, the poem represents a final, almost desperate attempt to “sell” Port-Royal to his fellow Frenchmen by appealing at one and the same time to their financial, patriotic, imperial, as well their esthetic, moral and religious instincts, enhanced by the affective quality of his poetry and carried by the poetic licence of hyperbole in a variety of voices: from lament to praise, and from prayer to adhortation. The purpose is rhetorical, to persuade others of the lawyer’s cause. In terms of genre, we can add polemic, commercial prospectus, natural history and ethnography to the epic and idyllic elements already mentioned. Pioffet and Lachance speak of a “hymn to diversity and abundance” (cf. 106-108, 110-113, 158-159). The modification of the poetic genre of the Adieu from animate to inanimate addressee entails the figure of personification in the direct address of the island (55-57, 61, 109, 111, 158) and of the Earth itself (403-411), suggesting the pronounced symbolic value of the “New World”.

Lescarbot never returned to Canada but his little-known poem marks a unique text in comparison with other French explorers to Canada who all wrote in prose and hence, by definition, are far more prosaic in their ideas and expression, all the more so since they regarded the land purely in terms of its utility, as Carile has pointed out. At the same time, Lescarbot’s text throws into high relief a period of early European colonisation when the motives of imperialism, early mercantile capitalism, religion, and utopian idealism were joined uneasily. What is not unique is the fact that ownership of the land and its resources is not brought up in the poem. Lescarbot does address contemporary criticism of the appropriation of Native land at the end of the chapter “À la France” in the Introduction to the third edition of his Histoire de la Nouvelle-France where he provides the following theological justification: God has created the earth for man to possess; the Natives have not fulfilled this mission; Christians are the privileged children of God and hence, presumably, entitled to take possession. In other words, Native land use is seen as an underutilisation of its resources, creating a God-given opportunity for European colonists. Land and sea are presented as virtually crying out to be exploited. The underlying pattern is one of undervaluing Native culture and overvaluing one’s own claim, along with the local resources, which, even where modest, are presented as fabulous and there for the taking. One is reminded how persistent these attitudes are and how recent the realisation of their consequences.

—Haijo Westra

§

NOTES ON THE TRANSLATION

Only a verse translation would do justice to the rapturous tone and persuasive impact of the French original. The prose translation presented here inevitably falls short in these respects but makes available a unique text that offers some surprises in terms of its own conceptions of language, translation, and authenticity. Specifically, Lescarbot makes a point of maintaining the Micmac words of creatures he is unfamiliar with: Poulamou (= tomcod, line 89); Nibachés (raccoon, 155); and Niridau (=hummingbird, l. 223). In the last case he even considers the imposition of a French name to be inauthentic and he is able to conceive of his own language as foreign in this context (223-4). It should be kept in mind that the French names Lescarbot gives to native plants, birds and fishes derive from the other side of the Atlantic and are not necessarily accurate. For example, the laurier (laurel) of line 67 is not native to North America. The Joubar of line 95 is not a fish but the fin(back) whale, according to Ganong. See also Saunders, Speck, and Wallis in Deal’s bibliography for nomenclature. The Rivière de l’Équille (Sand Eel River, 91-92) already had its name changed to Rivière du Dauphin by Champlain; today, it is called Annapolis River. For a running commentary on all matters of translation, see the footnotes to the edition by Pioffet and Lachance.

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SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY

Carile, Paolo.   Le Regard entravé. Littérature et anthropologie dans les premiers textes sur la Nouvelle-France. Septentrion, Sillery (Québec) 2000, pp. 68-82.

Deal, Michael. “ Paleoethnobotanical Research in the Maritime Provinces.” North Atlantic Archaeology 1 (2008) 1-23.

Ganong, W.F.   “The Identity of the Animals and Plants mentioned by the early Voyagers to Eastern Canada and Newfoundland.” Proceedings and Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada, Series 3, vol. 4, section 2 (1909) 197-242.

Lachance, Isabelle.   La Rhétorique des origines dans l’Histoire de la Nouvelle-France de Marc Lescarbot. Thèse de Ph.D. Université de McGill 2004.

Pioffet, Marie-Christine and Isabelle Lachance.   Marc Lescarbot. Poésies et opuscules sur la Nouvelle-France. Editions Nota Bene 2014, pp. 27-37, 99-120.

Pioffet, Marie-Christine.   Marc Lescarbot. Voyages en Acadie (1604-1607) suivis de La Description des moeurs souriquoises compares à celles d’autres peuples. Presses de l’Université Laval, 2007.

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champlain detail4Detail from Champlain map

MARC LESCARBOT, A-DIEU A LA NOUVELLE-FRANCE du 30 Juillet 1607/ Farewell to New France, July 30, 1607: English translation

  1. Must we abandon <all> the beauties of this place
  2. And bid Port-Royal an eternal farewell?
  3. Shall we then forever be accused of inconstancy
  4. In the founding of [a] New France?
  5. What use is it to us to have borne so many labours
  6. To have battled the assault of the vexed waves
  7. If our hope is in vain, and if this province
  8. Does not bend under the laws of Henry, our Prince?
  9. What use is it to you to have
  10. Incurred useless costs, if you take no care
  11. To harvest the fruit of a long-term expenditure
  12. And the immortal honour of your patience?
  13. Ah! How I regret that you do not know
  14. The attractive lures of this land
  15. And even though the Fleming has caused you damage,
  16. Loss is often made good with compound interest.
  17. So that is why we must leave and get ready <to sail>
  18. And go to drop anchor in the harbour of Saint-Malo.

.

  1. FATHER OF THE UNIVERSE, who commands the waves,
  2. And who can cause the deepest sea to dry up
  3. Grant us to cross the watery abyss
  4. By which you have separated all these new<found> peoples
  5. From those who are baptized, and without shipwreck
  6. To soon see the shore of France’s Kingdom.

.

  1. Farewell, thus, beautiful coasts and mountains as well
  2. Which, with a double rampart, gird this harbor here.
  3. Farewell grassy glens which Neptune’s flood
  4. Bathes generously, twice with every moon,
  5. And to the <wild> game as well, which in order to find pasture
  6. Comes hither from all sides, there is so much vegetation.
  7. Farewell my sweet pleasure, springs and brooks
  8. Which water the valleys and the mountains with your moisture.
  9. How can I forget you, beautiful forested isle
  10. Rich ornament of this place and its basin?
  11. I prize all the sweet beauties of your sister
  12. Yet I prize even more your outstanding features.
  13. For, just as it is fitting for him who holds command
  14. To display a majesty more august and grand
  15. Than his subordinate; just so, to command
  16. You have an elevated headland which allows you oversight.
  17. Around you is an undulating plain,
  18. And the land in the vicinity <is> subject to your dominion.
  19. Your shores consist of rocks <suitable> for your buildings
  20. Or for laying the foundations of a city.
  21. In other places there is a little beach,
  22. Where a thousand times a day my spirit abides.
  23. But amidst <all> your beauties I admire a little stream
  24. Which presses gently the fresh herbage
  25. Of a little valley that descends in the hollow of your breast
  26. Plunging its course into the waves of the sea:
  27. Little stream that has tempted me a hundred times with its waters,
  28. Its charm forcing me to lie down beside it.
  29. Having all that, Island high and deep,
  30. Island worthy dwelling place of the greatest King on earth,
  31. Having all that, I say, what more can be lacking
  32. To create over there the city we need
  33. Except for every man to have his sweetheart by his side
  34. In the manner which God and the Church command?
  35. For your soil is good and fertile and pleasing
  36. And never its cultivator will be displeased with it.
  37. We <ourselves> are in a position to speak of it who, of many seeds
  38. Sown there have had first-hand experience.
  39. What else can I say worthy of the praise of your beauty?
  40. What shall I add here than that inside your domain
  41. One finds in great measure products of Nature:
  42. Raspberries, strawberries, peas, without any cultivation?
  43. Or shall I mention as well your verdant laurel bushes
  44. Your unknown medicinal herbs, your red currant bushes?
  45. No, but without leaving your bounds,
  46. I will touch upon the numerous armies
  47. Of the scaly creatures that come every day
  48. Following the tidal flow to bid you good day.

.

  1. As soon as the season of Spring returns
  2. The Smelt comes in abundance, bringing news
  3. That Phoebus, risen above your horizon
  4. Has chased far from you the wintry season.
  5. The Herring follows after with such multitude
  6. That it alone can make a people rich.
  7. My <own> eyes have witnessed this, and yours as well
  8. Who have had the care of our nourishment
  9. When, occupied elsewhere, your diligent hands
  10. Were unable to cope with the pleasing catch
  11. That the sluice of a mill sent into your nets.
  12. The Bass follows in the wake of the Herring
  13. And at the same time the little Sardine,
  14. The Crab, <and> the Lobster follow the sea shore
  15. With a similar result; the Dolphin, <and> the Sturgeon
  16. Arrive among the multitude together with the Salmon
  17. As do the Turbot, the Tomcod, <and> the Eel,
  18. The Shad, the Halibut, the Loach, and the Sand Eel:
  19. You, Sand Eel, although little, have impressed your name
  20. On that river whose renown I sing.
  21. But that is not all, for you have more
  22. Multitudes that pay you homage every day,
  23. The Pollock, the Finback Whale and the Squid and the Angler Fish,
  24. The Porpoise, The Blower Dolphin, the Sea Urchin, the Mackerel,
  25. You have the Grey Seal which, in a large pod
  26. Wallow in the light of day on your muddy bottom,
  27. You have the Dogfish, the Plaice , and a thousand other fish
  28. Which I do not know, nurselings of your waters.

 .

  1. Shall I not mention the happily fecund Cod
  2. Which abound throughout that sea everywhere.
  3. Cod, <even> if you are not one of those delicate dishes
  4. With which gourmets spice their plates,
  5. I will say nevertheless that by you is sustained
  6. Almost the entire universe. O, how content will be
  7. That person one day who will have at his doorstep
  8. That which a distant world will come to seek from it!
  9. Beautiful Isle, You therefore have that manna aplenty
  10. Which I love more than Taprobane’s
  11. Beauties that they deem worthy of the blessed ones
  12. Who go about drinking the fragrant nectar of the Gods.
  13. And to demonstrate one more time your supreme power
  14. Whales honour you daily, and come of their own accord
  15. To salute you every day, until the ebb leads them
  16. Into the wide Ocean where they have their pleasure.
  17. Of this I will render faithful testimony,
  18. Having seen them many times visit this shore
  19. And consort at their leisure inside this harbor.

.

  1. But all these animals, all these creatures <from> here
  2. Depart when Phebus is about to approach the boundary
  3. Of the celestial mansion, where dwells Capricorn,
  4. And go in search of the shelter of Thetys’s depth
  5. Or often seek out a milder region for their pasture.
  6. In this harsh season there only remain close to you
  7. Clams, Cockles, and Mussels
  8. To sustain the one who will not, in a timely fashion,
  9. (Either poor, or lazy) have done any harvesting,
  10. Such as the people here who take no care to hunt
  11. Until hunger constrains and pursues them,
  12. And the weather is not always favorable for the hunter
  13. Who actually does not wish for the mildness of good weather
  14. But strong ice, or deep snow
  15. When the Sauvage wants to catch from the watery depths
  16. The industrious Beaver (that builds its home
  17. On the lakeshore, where it fashions its lair
  18. Vaulted in a way incredible to man,
  19. And a thousand times more admirable than our palaces
  20. Leaving it only one exit towards the lake
  21. To cheer itself down in the watery element)
  22. Or when he wants to spy in the woods the lair
  23. Either of the Royal Moose or the fleet-footed Deer,
  24. Of the Rabbit, Fox, Caribou, Bear,
  25. Of the Squirrel, the Otter with its silken fur,
  26. Of the Porcupine, <and> the so-called wild Cat
  27. (Which rather has the body of a leopard)
  28. Of the Mink with its soft fur in which Kings clothe themselves
  29. Or the musk Rat, all dwellers of these woods,
  30. Or of that animal which, loaded with fat,
  31. Has the cunning skill to climb on high
  32. Building its lodge on an elevated branch
  33. To discourage the one who goes in pursuit of it
  34. And lives, by that ruse, in the greatest security
  35. Not fearing (as it seems) any violence:
  36. Nibachés <raccoon> is its name. Not that in spring
  37. He does not have occasion for that hunt
  38. But the catch from fishing is more reliable then.

.

  1. Farewell, therefore, I say unto you, Isle of abundant beauty,
  2. And you birds, too, of water and forest
  3. That will be the witnesses of my sad regrets.
  4. For it is with great regret, and I cannot pass over it in silence,
  5. That I leave this place, although rather solitary.
  6. For it is with great regret that now I see
  7. Shaken the subject of introducing our Faith here
  8. And the Name of our Great God hidden in silence,
  9. Who had touched the conscience of this people.
  10. Eagles that inhabit the tops of high pines
  11. Since Jupiter has entrusted his secrets to you,
  12. Go up to the heavens to announce this matter
  13. And how much suffering I have of this inside my soul,
  14. Then return swiftly to the French Monarch of France
  15. To relate to him the decree of the mighty King of Kings.
  16. For to him is given this inheritance from heaven
  17. In order that in his name hereafter <and> forever
  18. The Everlasting One be worshipped in a holy manner
  19. And that his great name be revered by a hundred nations.
  20. And to motivate him more to do this thing
  21. <God> has wanted to attract him by a hundred kinds of profit
  22. Having made our labours commensurate with our desires
  23. And having completed them with ten thousand pleasures.
  24. For the earth here is not as a fool would guess,
  25. <As> she produces copiously for him who has experience
  26. Of the pleasures of gardening and the labour of the fields.

.

  1. And if you want the sweet song of birds as well,
  2. <This land> has the Nightingale, the Blackbird, the Linnet,
  3. And many another not known that sings pleasantly
  4. In Spring. If you want fowl
  5. That go and feed on the water’s edge
  6. <This land> has the Cormorant, the Mallow, the Seagull,
  7. The Canada Goose, the Heron, the Crane, the Lark,
  8. And the Goose , and the Duck. Six types of Duck,
  9. Whose many colours make as many lures
  10. That rivet my eyes. Do you want also
  11. Those birds of prey with which the Nobleman distinguishes himself?
  12. <This land> has the Eagle, the Owl, the Falcon, the Vulture,
  13. The Saker Falcon, the Sparrow Hawk, the Merlin, the Goshawk,
  14. And, in short, all the birds of noble hawking
  15. And beyond these yet another infinite multitude
  16. Which we do not have in common. But <this land> has the Curlew
  17. The Egret, the Cuckoo, the Woodcock, and the Redwing,
  18. The Dove, the Jay, the Owl, the Swallow,
  19. The Woodpigeon, the Green Finch, with the Turtledove,
  20. The Hoopoe, the lascivious Sparrow,
  21. The multi-coloured Ptarmigan, and also the Crow.
  22. What more shall I say? Will someone <at least> be able to believe
  23. That God himself has wanted to manifest his glory
  24. By creating a little bird similar to a butterfly
  25. (That does not exceed the size of a cricket)
  26. Displaying on its back a green-golden plumage
  27. And a red and white colour on the rest of its chest.
  28. Amazing little bird, why then, <as if> envious,
  29. Have you made yourself invisible to my eyes a hundred times,
  30. While passing lightly by my ear
  31. You only left the marvel of a soft sound?
  32. I would not have been cruel to your rare beauty
  33. <Un>like others who have treated you fatally
  34. If you had deemed me worthy to come and portray you.
  35. But although you did not want to hear my wish
  36. I will not give up celebrating your name nevertheless
  37. And make that you be of great renown among us.
  38. For I admire you as much in your smallness
  39. As I do the elephant in its vast size.
  40. Niridau is your name which I do not wish to change
  41. In order to impose one that would be foreign:
  42. Niridau, delicate little bird by nature,
  43. That takes the sweet nourishment of bees
  44. Syphoning the fragrant flowers of our gardens,
  45. And the rarest sweets from the forest edge.

.

  1. To these dwellers of the sky may I add, without offending,
  2. The excellence of a tiny winged folk?
  3. These are fireflies, which at nightfall
  4. Shine with brilliant clarity among the trees
  5. Darting here and there in such great throngs
  6. That the luminous band of starry sky
  7. Itself seems to hold no greater wonder.
  8. Therefore, commemorating here
  9. <All> the beauties of this place, it is indeed reasonable
  10. That you be included and hold a fitting place among them.

.

  1. But since our sails are already set
  2. And <we> are going to see again those who believe us perished
  3. I say Farewell once more to your beautiful gardens
  4. That have nourished us with your medicinal herbs,
  5. Nay also relieved our need
  6. <And> more than the art of Paean have kept us healthy.
  7. You have certainly given back to us in abundance
  8. The fruit of our labours in accordance with our sowing.
  9. So what does it matter if it ever happens
  10. (And which it necessarily will do in the future)
  11. That the soil here needs to be made more appealing
  12. And improved sometimes by human labour?
  13. Who will believe that the rye, and the hemp, and the peas
  14. Have surpassed twice the height of a young man?
  15. Who will believe that the so-called Indian corn
  16. Rises up so high in this season
  17. That it seems to be carried by insufferable pride
  18. To make itself, haughty, resemble a woodland?
  19. Ah! What great sadness it is for me not to be able to wait for
  20. The fruit that in little time you promise to render!
  21. How disturbing it is for me not to see the season
  22. When the squash and the melon will ripen
  23. And the cucumber as well: And <I> also grieve
  24. At not seeing at all come to fruition my wheat, my oats,
  25. And my barley and my millet, since the Sovereign
  26. Has blessed me in this modest effort with his hand.
  27. And yet, here it is the thirtieth day of the
  28. Month that once used to be the fifth in rank.

.

  1. Nations of all parts far away from here
  2. Do not marvel at this
  3. And do not at all consider us as being in a cold region,
  4. <As> this is not at all <like> Flanders, Scotland, nor Sweden,
  5. The sea here does not freeze over, and the cold seasons
  6. Have never forced me to save the half-burnt firewood.
  7. And if in your country summer arrives earlier than here
  8. You experience winter’s inclemency earlier.
  9. But you are staying yet, Poutrincourt, waiting
  10. Until your harvest is ready: And we, nevertheless,
  11. We set sail for Canso where the ship awaits you
  12. Which from there is due to convey all of us to France.
  13. For now, beautiful ears of grain, ripen quickly,
  14. May God the Almighty give you growth
  15. In order that one day his glory may resound
  16. When we shall commemorate his blessings
  17. Among which we will count as well
  18. The care which he will have taken to gather into his mercy
  19. These vagabond peoples one calls Sauvages,
  20. Dwellers of these forests and marine shores,
  21. And a hundred peoples more who are located on all sides
  22. To the south, West and North settled in one place
  23. Who love to work and who cultivate the soil
  24. And who, in freedom, live more contentedly from their produce than we
  25. But their condition is deplorable in this respect
  26. That they have not been instructed about the world to come.

.

  1. Why, o Almighty one, why then have you
  2. Rejected this race from your face until now
  3. And why do you leave to hell to devour,
  4. So many human beings who ought to triumph over it,
  5. Seeing that they are, like us, <of> your work and making
  6. And have from you received our fragile nature?
  7. Open therefore the treasuries of your compassion[s]
  8. And pour out onto them your blessings
  9. In order that soon they may be your blessed heritage
  10. And intone aloud your goodness throughout all the ages.
  11. As soon as your sun will shine on them
  12. Just as soon we will see this people worship you.
  13. Witness be the true conversations
  14. Poutrincourt held with these pitiful people
  15. When he taught them our Religion
  16. And often showed them the ardent desire
  17. He had to see them inside the fold
  18. Which Christ has redeemed by the price of his life.
  19. Clearly moved, they on their part gave witness
  20. With their mouths and hearts of the desire they had
  21. To be more amply instructed in the teaching
  22. Within which it is proper for the faithful make their way.

.

  1. Where are you, Prelates, that you do not pity
  2. This people that makes up half the world?
  3. <Why> don’t you at least give aid to those whose zeal
  4. Transports them so far as if under His wing
  5. To establish here God’s holy law
  6. With so much hardship, care and emotion?
  7. These peoples are not brutal, barbaric or savage,
  8. If you <choose> not to call by such names the men of yore,
  9. They are subtle, clever and of very sound judgment
  10. And <I> have not known a single one who lacked understanding
  11. Only they need a father to teach them
  12. To cultivate the earth, to cultivate the vine,
  13. To live in an organized fashion, to be economical
  14. And to dwell in fixed habitations from here on.
  15. For the rest, in our opinion, they are full of innocence
  16. If <only> they had knowledge of their creator.
  17. <But> because they do not know Him, neither mouth nor heart
  18. Ravishes God’s honour through blasphemy.
  19. They do not know the work of the amorous potion
  20. Nor have they knowledge of the use of aconite,
  21. Their mouths do not vomit forth our curses
  22. Their spirits are not given over to our inventions
  23. For oppressing the other, <and> the cruel avarice
  24. of an all-consuming preoccupation does not torment their souls.
  25. But they have the hospitality of the Gaulois,
  26. Who valued it so highly in their days of old.
  27. Their greatest vice is the love of vengeance
  28. When their enemy has offended them in some way.

.

  1. Farewell unto you, then, poor people, and <I> am incapable
  2. To express the sadness I feel
  3. In leaving you thus, without having seen as yet
  4. One of you made to truly worship God.

.

  1. Let us depart, then, from this harbor, the East wind permitting,
  2. For on these coasts the West wind is prevalent
  3. <And> moreover, this sea is often covered by fog
  4. Which causes the total loss of incautious men.

.

  1. Farewell for the last time, Rocks rearing high,
  2. Proudly raising up your caverns
  3. From whence pour forth without end abundant showers
  4. Which are supplied by the waters coursing down the mountains.
  5. Farewell, then, to you as well, Caves, that have pleased me
  6. When beneath your halls in bright daylight I have seen outlined
  7. The attractive colours of the Rainbow.

.

  1. Now that we are in sight of the awesome waves
  2. Of the Ocean deep, will I be able to pass by
  3. Without saluting from afar, or leaving <without> a Farewell
  4. To the land that received our <country> France
  5. When she first came to establish herself here?
  6. Island, I salute you, Isle of Saint Croix,
  7. Island that was the first dwelling place of our poor <fellow> French
  8. Who suffered major hardships while dwelling with you,
  9. But <it is> our bad habits that often cause us these injuries.
  10. I revere, however, your pure antiquity,
  11. The scented cedars on your side
  12. Your workshops, your lodgings, your superb warehouse,
  13. Your gardens choked by new weeds:
  14. But I honour above all on account of our dead
  15. The place that holds their bodies in its keeping
  16. Which I have not been able to behold without a power of tears
  17. So much did these terrible exploits sadden my heart.
  18. Be at peace, then, and may you one day
  19. Find yourselves in glory in the heavenly mansion.
  20. But nevertheless, DE MONTS, you take with you the glory
  21. Of having obtained victory over a thousand deaths,
  22. A true witness to your great courage,
  23. Be it when you battled the fury of the waves
  24. While coming to visit this faraway province
  25. In order to follow the will of HENRY, our Prince,
  26. Or when in front of your eyes you watched <them> die
  27. Those <buried> there who followed you to that fateful location.

.

  1. Far behind I leave you, mines to be
  2. Which the massive rocks lodge deep in their veins,
  3. Mines of bronze, iron and steel, and of silver,
  4. And of pit coal, in order to salute the people
  5. Who cultivate their land by hand, the Armouchiquois.
  6. I salute you, then, quarrelsome nation
  7. (For you have failed us on account of treason)
  8. To say unto you that one day we will obtain satisfaction
  9. And with greater effect, of your presumptuousness,
  10. Just as your offspring will be accursed among us.
  11. But your earth I want to salute in all its goodness
  12. For she is sure to give us an ample return
  13. When she will experience French cultivation.
  14. For in her provident Nature has already
  15. Implanted the vine so copiously
  16. And with such beauty, that Bacchus himself,
  17. If invoked, would not know how to improve on it.
  18. But its people, unaware, do not know the use of its fruit.
  19. Earth, you also have, with beans and grain,
  20. Your subterranean silos filled in harvest time.
  21. But although you give your produce abundantly
  22. Producing other fruits without human assistance
  23. Such as the hemp, squash and nuts we have seen,
  24. Your beans, nor your grain, in any case, you do not
  25. Produce without work, but your populace, in great number,
  26. <Already> breaks you with a sharp cutting timber, and turns you over
  27. To plant its seed there, in the Spring.

.

  1. But one more thing I must mention
  2. Which obliges me to write about it because of its rarity,
  3. <And> that is the product produced by the stalk of the hemp plant
  4. <A> product worthy of being held precious by Kings
  5. <And> most delicious for the repose of the body:
  6. It is a white, thin and fine silk
  7. Which Nature produces in the hollow of a shell,
  8. Silk which one will be able to employ for many a use
  9. And which workers will turn into cotton
  10. When you <Earth>, inhabited by good artisans,
  11. Will be controlled by a willed sedentarism.

.

  1. May I see that thing arrive soon,
  2. And careful Frenchmen cultivate your fields,
  3. Away from the cares of a life of hardship
  4. Far from the noise of the common crowd, and from deceit.

.

  1. Seeking on Neptune’s bosom rest without rest,
  2. I have fashioned these verses on the swell of his waves.
  3. LESCARBOT

—Translated by Haijo Westra

Based on the Histoire de la Nouvelle-France, 1617 edition, produced by Rénald Lévesque and published by the Gutenberg Project (2007) at www. gutenberg

 §

champlain detail2Detail from Champlain map

A-DIEU A LA NOUVELLE-FRANCE
Du 30 Juillet 1607.

FAUT-il abandonner les beautez de ce lieu,
Et dire au Port Royal un eternel Adieu?
Serons-nous donc toujours accusez d’inconstance
En l’établissement d’une Nouvelle-France?
Que nous sert-il d’avoir porté tant de travaux,
Et des flots irritez combattu les assaux,
Si notre espoir est vain, & si cette province
Ne flechit souz les loix de HENRY notre Prince?
Que vous servit-il d’avoir jusques ici
Fait des frais inutils, si vous n’avez souci
de recuillir le fruit d’une longue depense,
Et l’honneur immortel de votre patience?
Ha que j’ay de regrets que ne sçavez pas
De cette terre ici les attrayans appas.
Et bien que le Flamen vous ait fait une injure,
L’injure bien souvent se rend avec usure.
Il faut doncques partir, il faut appareiller,
Et au port Sainct-Malo aller l’ancre mouiller.

PERE DE L’UNIVERS, qui commandes aux ondes,
Et qui peux assecher les mers les plus profondes,
Donne nous de franchir les abymes des eaux
Dont tu as separé tous ces peuples nouveaux
Des peuples baptizés, & sans aucun naufrage
Du royaume François voir bien-tot le rivage.

Adieu donc beaux coteaux & montagnes aussi,
Qui d’un double rempar ceignez ce Port ici.
Adieu vallons herbus que le flot de Neptune
Va baignant largement deux fois à chaque lune,
Et au gibier aussi, qui pour trouver pâture
Y vient de tous cotez tant qu’il y a verdure.
Adieu mon doux plaisir fonteines & ruisseaux,
Qui les vaux & les monts arrousez de vos eaux.
Pourray-je t’oublier belle ile forètiere
Riche honneur de ce lieu & de cette riviere?
Je prise de ta soeur les aimables beautés,
Mais je prise encor plus tes singularités.
Car comme il est séant que celui qui commande
Porte une Majesté plus auguste & plus grande
Que son inferieur; ainsi pour commander
Tu as le front haussé qui te fait regarder.
A l’environ de toy une ondoyante plaine,
Et la terre alentour sujette à ton domaine
Tes rives sont des rocs, soit pour tes batimens,
Soit pour d’une cité jetter les fondemens.
Ce sont en autres parts une menuë arene,
Où mille fois le jour mon esprit se pourmene.
Mais parmi tes beautés j’admire un ruisselet
Qui foule doucement l’herbage nouvelet
D’un vallon que se baisse au creux de ta poitrine,
Precipitant son cours dedans l’onde marine.
Ruisselet qui cent fois de ses eaux m’a tenté,
Sa grace me forçant lui prèter le côté.
Ayant dont tout cela, Ile haute & profonde,
Ile digne sejour du plus grand Roy du monde,
Ayant di-je, cela, qu’est-ce que te defaut.
A former pardeça la cité qu’il nous faut,
Sinon d’avoir prés soy un chacun sa mignone
En la sorte que Dieu & l’Eglise l’ordonne?
Car ton terroir est bon & fertile & plaisant,
Et oncques son culteur n’en sera deplaisant.
Nous en pouvons parler, qui de mainte semence
Y jettée, en avons certaine experience.
Que puis-je dire encor digne de ton beau los?
Qu’adjouteray-je ici que dedans ton enclos
Se trouvent largement produits par la Nature
Framboises, fraises, pois, sans aucune culture?
Ou bien diray-je encor tes verdoyans lauriers,
Tes Simples inconus, tes rouges grozeliers?
Non, mais tant seulement sans sortir tes limites,
Ici je toucheray les nombreux exercices
Des peuples écaillez qui viennent chaque jour,
Suivans le train du flot te donner le bon-jour.

Si-tot que du Printemps la saison renouvelle
L’Eplan vient à foison, qui t’apporte nouvelle
Que Phoebus elevé dessus ton horizon
A chassé loin de toy l’hivernale saison.
Le Haren vient apres avecque telle presse
Que seul il peut remplir un peuple de richesse.
Mes yeux en sont témoins, & les vostres aussi
Qui de nôtre pature avés eu le souci,
Quand, ailleurs occupez, vôtre main diligente
Ne pouvoit satisfaire à la chasse plaisante
Qu’envoyoit en voz rets l’ecluse d’un moulin.
Le Bar suit par-apres du Haren le chemin.
Et en un méme temps la petite Sardine,
La Crappe, & le Houmar, suit la côte marine
Pour un semblable effect; le Dauphin, l’Eturgeon
Y vient parmi la foule avecque le Saumon,
Comme font le Turbot, le Pounamou, l’Anguille,
L’Alose, le Fletan, & la Loche, & l’Equille:
Equille qui, petite, as imposé le nom
A ce fleuve de qui je chante le renom.
Mais ce n’est ici tout, car tu as davantage
De peuples qui te font par chacun jour homage,
Le Colin, le Joubar, l’Encornet, le Crapau,
Le Marsoin, le Souffleur, l’Oursin le Macreau,
Tu as le Loup-marin, qui en troupe nombreuse
Se vautre au clair du jour sur ta vase bourbeuse,
Tu as le Chien, la Plie, & mille autres poissons
Que je ne conoy point, de tes eaux nourrisons.
Tairay-je la Moruë heureusement feconde,
Qui par tout cette mer en toutes parts abonde?
Moruë si tu n’es de ces mets delicats
Dont les hommes frians assaisonnent leurs plats,
Je diray toutefois que de toy se sustente
Prèque tout l’Univers. O que sera contente
Celle personne un jour, qui à sa porte aura
Ce qu’un monde eloigné d’elle recherchera!
Belle ile tu as donc à foison cette manne,
Laquelle j’ayme mieux que de la Taprobane
Les beautez que lon feint dignes des bien-heureux
Qui vont buvans des Dieux le Nectar savoureux.
Et pour montrer encor ta puissance supreme,
La Baleine t’honore & te vient elle-méme
Saluer chacun jour, puis l’ebe la conduit
Dans le vague Ocean où elle a son deduit.
De ceci je rendray fidele temoignage,
L’ayant veu mainte fois voisiner ce rivage,
Et à l’aise nouer parmi ce port ici.

Mais tous ces animaux, mais tous ces peuples ci
S’écartent quand Phoebus veut approcher la borne
Du celeste manoir, où git le Capricorne,
Et vont chercher l’abri du profond de Thetys,
Ou d’un terroir plus doux vont souvans le pâtis.
Seulement pres de toy en cette saison dure
La Palourde, la Coque, & la Moule demeure
Pour sustenter celui qui n’aura de saison
(Ou pauvre, ou paresseux) fait aucune moisson,
Tel que ce peuple ici qui n’a cure de chasse
Jusqu’à ce que la faim le contraigne& pourchasse,
Et le temps n’est toujours favorable au chasseur.
Qui ne souhaite point d’un beau temps la douceur,
Mais une forte glace, ou des neges profondes,
Quand le Sauvage veut tirer du fond des ondes
L’industrieux Castor (qui sa maison batit
Sur la rive d’un lac, où il dresse son lict
Vouté d’une façon aux hommes incroyable,
Et plus que noz palais mille fois admirable,
Y laissant vers le lac un conduit seulement
Pour s’aller égayer souz l’humide element)
Ou quand il veut quéter parmi les bois le gite
Soit du Royal Ellan, soit du Cerf au pié vite,
Du Lapin, du Renart, du Caribou, de l’Ours,
De l’Ecureu, du loutre à peau-de-velours
Du Porc-epic du Chat qu’on appelle sauvage,
(Mais qui du Leopart ha plustot le corpsage)
De la Martre au doux poil dont se vétent les Rois,
Ou du Rat porte-muse, tous hôtes de ces bois,
Ou de cet animal qui tout chargé de graisse
De hautement grimper ha la subtile addresse,
Sur un arbre elevé sa loge batissant
Pour decevoir celui qui le va pourchassant,
Et vit par cette ruse en meilleure asseurance
Ne craignant (ce lui semble) aucune violence,
Nibachés est son nom. Non que sur le printemps
Il n’ait à cette chasse aussi son passe-temps.
Mais alors du poisson la peche est plus certaine.

Adieu donc je te dis, ile de beauté pleine,
Et vous oiseaux aussi des eaux & des forêts
Qui serez les témoins de mes tristes regrets.
Car c’est à grand regret, & je ne le puis taire,
Que je quitte ce lieu, quoy qu’assez solitaire.
Car c’est à grand regret qu’ores ici je voy
Ebranlé le sujet d’y entrer nôtre Foy,
Et du grand Dieu le nom caché souz le silence,
Qui à ce peuple avoit touché la conscience.

Aigles qui des hauts pins habitez les sommets,
Puis qu’à vous Jupiter a commis ses secrets,
Allez dedans les cieux annoncer cette chose,
Et combien de douleur j’en ay en l’ame enclose,
Puis revenez soudain au Monarque François
Lui dire le decret du puissant Roy des Roys.
Car à lui est du ciel donné cet heritage,
Afin que souz son nom ci-aprés en tout âge
L’Eternel soit ici sainctement adoré,
Et de cent nations son grand nom reveré:
Et pour mieux l’emouvoir à cette chose faire,
Par cent sortes de biens il l’a voulu attraire,
Ayant à noz labeurs fait selon noz désirs,
Et iceux terminé de dix mille plaisirs.
Car la terre ici n’est telle qu’un fol l’estime,
Elle y est plantureuse à cil qui sçait l’escrime
Du plaisant jardinage & du labeur des champs.

Et si tu veux encor des oiseaux les doux chants,
Elle a le Rossignol, le Merle, la Linote,
Et maint autre inconu, qui plaisamment gringote
En la jeune saison. Si tu veux des oiseaux
Qui se vont repaissans sur les rives des eaux,
Elle a le Cormorant, la Mauve, Ma Mouette,
L’Outarde, le Heron, la Gruë, l’Alouette,
Et l’Oye, et le Canart. Canart de six façons,
Dont autant de couleurs sont autant d’hameçons
Qui ravissent mes yeux. Desires-tu encore
De ces oiseaux chasseurs dont le Noble s’honore?
Elle a l’Aigle, le Duc, le Faucon, le Vautour,
Le Sacre, l’Epervier, l’Emerillon, l’Autour,
Et bref tous les oiseaux de haute volerie
Et outre iceux encore une bende infinie
Qui ne nous sont communs. Mais elle a le Courlis
L’Aigrette, le Coucou, la Becasse & Mauvis,
La Palombe, le Geay, le Hibou, l’Hirondelle,
Le Ramier, la Verdier, avec la Tourterelle,
Le Beche-bois huppé, le lascif Passereau,
La perdris bigarrée, & aussi le Corbeau.

Que diray-je plus? Quelqu’un pourra-il croire
Que Dieu méme ait voulu manifester sa gloire
Creant un oiselet semblable au papillon
(Du moins n’excede point la grosseur d’un grillon)
Portant dessus son dos un vert-doré plumage,
Et un teint rouge-blanc au surplus du corps-sage?
Admirable oiselet, pourquoy donc, envieux,
T’es-tu cent fois rendu invisible à mes ieux,
Lors que legerement me passant à l’aureille
Tu laissois seulement d’un doux bruit la merveille?
Je n’eusse esté cruel à ta rare beauté,
Comme d’autres qui t’ont mortellement traité,
Si tu eusses à moy daigné te venir rendre.
Mais quoy tu n’as voulu à mon desir entendre.
Je ne lairray pourtant de celebrer ton nom,
Et faire qu’entre nous tu sois de grand renom.
Car je t’admire autant en cette petitesse
Que je fay l’Elephant en sa vaste hautesse.
Niridau c’est ton nom que je ne veux changer
Pour t’en imposer un qui seroit étranger.
Niridau oiselet delicat de nature,
Qui de l’abeille prent la tendre nourriture
Pillant de noz jardins les odorantes fleurs,
Et des rives des bois les plus rares douceurs.

A ces hotes de l’air pourray-je sans offense
D’un petit peuple ailé adjouter l’excellence?
Ce sont mouches, de qui sur le point de la nuit
La brillante clarté parmi les bois reluit
Voletans ça & là d’une presse si grande,
Que du ciel etoilé la lumineuse bende
Semble n’avoir en soy plus d’admiration.
Faisant doncques ici commemoration
Des beautez de ce lieu, il est bien raisonnable
Que vous y teniez rang & place convenable.

Mais puis que ja desja noz voiles sont tendus,
Et allons revoir ceux qui nous cuident perdus,
Je dis encore Adieu à vous beaux jardinages,
Qui nous avez cet an repeu de vos herbages,
Voire aussi soulagé nôtre necessité
Plus que l’art de Pæon n’a fait nôtre santé.
Vous nous avez rendu certes en abondance
Le fruit de noz labeurs selon notre semence.
Hé que sera-ce donc s’il arrive jamais
(Ce qu’il est de besoin qu’on face desormais)
Que la terre ici soit un petit mignardée,
Et par humain travail quelquefois amendée?
Qui croira que le segle,& la chanve, & le pois,
Le chef d’un jeune gars ait surpassé deux fois?
Qui croira que le blé que l’on appelle d’Inde
En cette saison-ci si hautement se guinde
Qu’il semble estre porté d’insupportable orgueil
Pour se rendre, hautain, aux arbrisseaux pareil?
Ha que ce m’est grand deuil de ne pouvoir attendre
Le fruit qu’en peu de temps vous promettiez nous rendre!
Que ce m’est grand émoy de ne voir la saison
Quand ici meuriront la Courge, le Melon,
Et le Cocombre aussi: & suis en méme peine
De ne voir point meuri mon Froment, mon Aveine
Et mon Orge & mon Mil, pois que le Souverain
En ce petit travail m’a beni de sa main.
Et toutefois voici de ce mois le trentieme,
Mois qui jadis estoit en ordre le cinquième

Peuples de toutes parts qui estes loin d’ici
Ne vous emerveillez de cette chose ci,
Et ne nous tenez point comme en region froide,
Ce n’est point ici Flandre, Ecosse, ni Suede,
La mer ici ne gele, & les froides saisons
Ne m’ont oncques forcé d’y garder les tisons.
Et si chez vous l’eté plustot qu’ici commence,
Plustot vous ressentez de l’hiver l’inclemence.
Mais tu restes encor, Poutrincourt attendant
Que ta moisson soit préte: & nous nous cependant
Faisons voile à Campseau où t’attent le navire
Que de là doit tous en la France conduire.
Cependant beaux epics meurissez vitement,
Dieu le Dieu tout-puissant vous doint accroissement,
Afin qu’un jour ici retentisse sa gloire
Lors que de ses bien-faits nous ferons la memoire.
Entre lesquelz bien-faits nous conterons aussi
Le soin qu’il aura eu de prendre à sa merci
Ces peuples vagabons qu’on appelle Sauvages
Hotes de ces forèts & des marins rivages,
Et cent peuples encor qui sont de tous côtez
Au Su, à l’Oest au Nort de pié-ferme arretez
Qui aiment le travail, qui la terre cultivent,
Et libres, de ses fruits plus contens que nous vivent,
Mais en ce deplorable est leur condition,
Que du siecle futur ilz n’ont l’instruction.

Pourquoy, ô Tout-puissant, pourquoy donc cette race
As-tu jusques ici rejetté de ta face,
Et pourquoy laisses tu devorer à l’enfer,
Tant d’humains qui devroient dessus lui triompher
Veu qu’ilz sont comme nous ton oeuvre & ta facture,
Et ont de toy receu nôtre fraile nature?
Ouvre donc les thresors de tes compassions,
Et verse dessus eux tes benedictions,
Afin qu’ilz soient bien-tot ton sacré heritage,
Et chantent hautement tes bontés en tout âge.
Si-tot que ton Soleil sur eux éclairera,
Aussi-tot cet gent d’adorer on verra.
Temoins soient de ceci les propos veritables
Que Poutrincourt tenoit avec ces miserables
Quand il leur enseignoit notre Religion,
Et souvent leur montroit l’ardente affection
Qu’il avoit de les voir dedans la bergerie
Que Christ a racheté par le pris de sa vie.
Eux d’autre part emeus clairement temoignoient
Et de bouche & de coeur le desir qu’ilz avoient
D’estre plus amplement instruits en la doctrine
En laquelle il convient qu’un fidele chemine.

Où estes vous Prelats, que vous n’avez pitié
De ce peuple qui fait du monde la moitié?
Du moins que n’aidez-vous à ceux de qui le zele
Les transporte si loin comme dessus son aile
Pour établir ici de Dieu la saincte loy
Avecque tant de peine, & de soin & d’émoy
Ce peuple n’est brutal, barbare ni sauvage,
Si vous n’appellez tels les hommes du vieil âge,
Il est subtile, habile, & plein de jugement,
Et n’en ay conu un manquer d’entendement,
Seulement il demande un pere qui l’enseigne
A cultiver la terre, à façonner la vigne,
A vivre par police, à estre menager,
Et souz des fermes toicts ci-apres heberger.
Au reste à nôtre égare il est plein d’innocence
Si de son createur il avoit la science.
Que s’il ne le conoit, sa bouche ni son coeur
Ne ravit point à Dieu par blaspheme l’honneur.
Il ne sçait le metier de l’amoureux bruvage,
De l’aconite aussi il ne sçait point l’usage,
Sa bouche ne vomit nos imprecations,
Son esprit ne s’adonne à nos inventions
Pour opprimer autrui, l’avarice cruelle
D’un souci devorant son ame ne bourrelle
Mais il a du Gaullois cette hospitalité
Qui tant l’a fait priser en son antiquité.
Son vice le plus grand est qu’il aime vengeance
Lors que son ennemi lui a fait quelque offense.

Je vous di donc Adieu, pauvre peuple, & ne puis
Exprimer la douleur en laquelle je suis
De vous laisser ainsi sans voir qu’on ait encore
Fait que quelqu’un de vous son Dieu vrayment adore

Sortons donc de ce Port à la faveur de l’Est,
Car en ces côtes ci est ordinaire l’Ouest,
Puis, souvent cette mer est de brumes couverte
Qui des hommes peu cauts cause l’extreme perte.

Adieu pour un dernier Rochers haut elevés,
Qui orgueilleusement voz grottes soulevés,
D’où distillent sans fin des pluies abondantes
Que leur versent les eaux des montagnes coulantes.
Adieu doncques aussi Grottes qui m’avez pleu
Quand souz votre lambris au clair du jour j’ay veu
Figurées d’Iris les couleurs agreables.

Ores que nous voyons les flots épouvantables
Du profond Ocean, pourray-je bien passer
Sans saluer de loin, ou quelque Adieu laisser
A la terre que a receuë notre France
Quand elle vint ici faire sa demeurance?
Ile, je te saluë, ile de Saincte Croix,
Ile premier sejour de noz pauvres François,
Qui souffrirent chez toy des choses vrayment dures,
Mais noz vices souvent nous causent ces injures.
Je revere pourtant ta freche antiquité
Les Cedres odorans qui sont à ton côté,
Tes Loges, tes Maisons, ton Magazin superbe,
Tes jardins étouffez parmi la nouvelle herbe:
Mais j’honore sur tout à-cause de noz morts
Le lieu qui sainctement tient en depost leurs corps,
Lequel je n’ay pu voir sans un effort de larmes,
Tant mon navré le coeur ces violentes armes.
Soyez doncques en paix, & puissiez vous un jour,
Vous trouver glorieux au celeste sejour.
Mais cependant, DE MONTS, tu emportes la gloire
D’avoir sur mille morts obtenu la victoire,
Témoignage certain de ta grande vertu,
Soit quand tu as des flots la fureur combattu
En venant visiter cette étrange province
Pour suivre le vouloir de HENRY nôtre Prince
Soit lors que tu voiois mourir devant tes yeux
Ceux-là qui t’ont suivi en ces funestes lieux.

Je vous laisse bien loin, pepinieres de Mines
Que les rochers massifs logent dedans leurs veines,
Mines d’airain, de fer, & d’acier, & d’argent,
Et de charbon pierreux, pour saluer la gent
Qui cultive à la main la terre Armouchiquoise.
Je te saluë donc nation porte-noise
(Car tu as envers nous forfait par trahison)
Pour te dire qu’un jour nous aurons la raison
Avecque plus d’effect de ton outrecuidance,
Si qu’entre nous sera maudite ta semence.
Mais ta terre je veux saluer en tout bien,
Car un ample rapport elle nous fera bien
Quand elle sentira du François la culture.
Car en elle desja la provide Nature
A le raisin semé si plantureusement,
Et en telle beauté, que Bacchus mémement
Ne sçauroit invoqué lui faire davantage.
Mais son peuple ignorant ne sçait du fruit l’usage.
Terre, tu as encor de féves & de blés
Tes greniers souz-terrains en la moisson comblés.
Mais quoy que tes biens tu donnes abondance
Produisant d’autres fruits sans l’humaine assistance
Tes qu’avons veu la Chanve & la Courge & la Noix,
Tes féves tu ne veux ni tes blez toutefois
Produire sans travail, mais ta grand’ populace
D’un bois coupant ta brise, & en mottes t’amasse
Pour (sur le renouveau) sa semence y planter,

Mais une chose encor il me faut reciter
Qui pour sa rareté à l’écrire m’oblige,
C’est le fruit que produit la Chanve la tige,
Fruit digne que les Rois le tiennent precieux
Pour le repos du corps le plus delicieux:
C’est une soye blanche & menuë & subtile
Que la Nature pousse au creux d’une coquille,
Soye qu’en maint usage employer on pourra,
Et laquelle en cotton l’ouvrier façonnera,
Quand de bons artisans tu seras habitée
Par une volonté de pié-ferme arretée.

Puisse-je voir bien-tot cette chose arriver,
Et le François soigneux à tes champs cultiver,
Arriere des soucis d’une peineuse vie,
Loin des bruits du commun, & de la piperie.

Cherchant dessus Neptune un repos sans repos
J’ay façonné ces vers au branle de ses flots.

—M. LESCARBOT.

(This eBook excerpt is from Project Gutenberg’s Les Muses de la Nouvelle France by Marc L’escarbot produced by Rénald Lévesque. This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.org.)

champlain detail1Champlain map detail

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haijo-sailing

Haijo Westra has taught Classics at the University of Calgary and wrote about topics in Greek and Latin literature. More recently, he has turned to the early accounts of the East Coast written in Latin by the Jesuit Pierre Biard and the role of classical ethnography in the description of Native peoples, in particular the Micmac. The present article is his first venture into a French text of the period.

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Dec 082015
 
Timothy Ogene

Author Photo by Clare Mackenzie.

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Lead me, psychopompos, through my found
City, down into the underground.
– George Szirtes, “Metro”

A roar sucks them under
The wheels of a darkness without pain.
Off in the distance
There is someone
Like a signalman swinging a lantern.
– Frank Stanford, “The Light the Dead See”

December

An empty bench in the open, frosted over,
A naked tree pregnant with time stuffed
In its widening trunk,

Boughs bent by violent icicles bunched
Like unlit chandeliers on winter’s x-axis,
A river exiled from its state,

Currents curtailed at both terminals,
Rendered dry after much hammering
In winter’s metal works.

In the view ahead,
Gothic structures argue with the skyline,
Bored by the absence of the be-goggled ogler.

There’s beauty here, I say to myself,
In this isolated patch stripped of the stench of gutters
After a downpour.

There is a type of beauty here,
In this absence of motion,
In this giddy absence of flirtatious fruits on trees,

In this glorious absence of paraded Polaroid
Swung as crumbs are hauled at native ducks,
In this relieving absence of poachers

Making passes at passengers on the same tour.
There is beauty in absence,
When trees,

Holding time in absent leaves,
Await winter’s worst
And the delayed return of summer.

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Erratic Notes Left on a Trail

1

A bridge emerges from the remains of fog,
Imposing itself on my sight.

Its arch beautifully humped,
And I’m reminded of lumps on cow back,

The meaty spot a murderous blade
Must be thrilled to hack.

Underneath the bridge the river ebbs
And murmurs

As it journeys with a terminus in mind,
An infinite end

Albeit sure to empty
And rethread the loop.

A clearer view.
A carpet of algae wraps the bridge,

Draining its prehistoric strength,
Probing its intestines with roots we wish we had.

2

For those we love
We refrain from easy paths

And restrain the
Urge to run.

3

A note written in fog, on clear glass
Is memory erased at noon;

Falling and dipping in love
Left to fade in the face of light.

4

Home is where the umbilical cord lies
Buried between gnarled shrubs half-dead,

Overgrown and coated in shame,
A lie too crass to smear.

5

A dog follows its owner over the river,
Across the algae-covered bridge,
To the stare of sailing ducks.

May we return as geese and sailing ducks:
Humble, instinctual, without the tact to shell schools elsewhere,
To click the tongue at the remains of others.

6

The landscape is an apparition of a master’s piece
Discarded, rediscovered to great acclaim:
Fields of gold-colored leaves in fourteen stations of death
Lie to give depth, individually crisp,
The sky defaced with V-shaped strokes
Left for critics to name as birds.

There’s a swoosh of blue turning green,
An illusion of a nearby sea,
And ducks paddling between surfaces,
Sailing towards the sun in salutation,
Sailing towards a perennial ritual,
To a ritual that tethers us against our will.

7

There’s a girl running up the bridge,
Her polyester coat is making a sideway sweep
Against the wind.
A guardian in fur follows from behind,
Her eyes on the young.

Our girl has crossed the bridge,
Beckoning the fur to make real haste.
The fur has stopped to stare,
Holding the journey to a standstill,
Holding the future to an ambivalent past.

8

A tear is heavier than a severed leaf,
A sigh lighter than the crash of cymbals.

When asked my home address,
I respond with a sigh,
And watch severed leaves land on dormant grounds.

I left without a lover’s smell in my hair,
Without memories of my mother’s hug.
The passage home is burnt and that I regret.

9

A kiss recalled is adolescence restored,
Life remounted for another flight.

Amnesia is the burden of growth,
Of which I am a square instance.

Memory is a pinch and not the whole,
An aftertaste without a meal.

I remember the tongue and not the kiss,
The resistance of breasts and not the hug.

I write this day in fog,
Knowing it will fade to not return.

10

Dear Mother, it’s another day here,
Another night, I mean to say.

It’s a dance of darkness, Mother,
And it takes two to do the bleak waltz,

Hips grinding blindly, legs leisurely shuffling
Until sweat breaks forth;

Until the cheer of gloom, the shrouded daylight,
Is shredded in forgettable bits.

11

May this silence unease you, Mother,
May those absent calls,

The phone hanging obese on the wall,
Unease you.

But I prefer this to a thousand funerals.
Or which is best, Mother?

This, or the confused colors
Of spiteful mourners?

12

I come from a place where roads lead nowhere, to graves,
The wind an impractical joke that blows askance,
Rising from the soles of our feet,

Uprooting us before our first human steps;
Where children run homes and plough the fields,
And dogs walk the living through death’s orchard.

These we mention in passing:
At the wedding of a thrice-removed niece,
At a dance for abandoned gods.

The world hangs by the toes, dangling,
And its head bulges with blood, a burst as imminent
As the next shot in daylight.

13

We are told he stopped at twenty-one,
Our Rimbaud, having gathered what we all envy.
Then he left his home and invaded mine,
That adventurer I begrudge not.

Ash and Ashbery shared a stand,
Catalogued and shelved as one,
A minor logistic that assumed significance
As I hunted the latter but fell for both,

A treat I shindiged with a loud sucking
Of Turkish delight, recontexting
Myself in Ash’s words:

“Think of yourself as open. Equally hard.
Usually your gestures seem to take place
[Behind] a glass partition, fogged with steam”

14

A pony is purchased for a lad who hasn’t said a word
Since his tongue lay itself for normal speech.

I see him galloping through green earth,
His smile a cover for speech,

His dimples as deep as mine.
But here’s the deal as I’m told:

Dreams are embers in a December night,
Dying into senseless flakes at the hearth,

Useless save the past they color when we sleep.
The coloring is grim at times:

Constipated nights and all,
The peristaltic push and passage painfully hindered,

The hinds of a horse stuck to a haunted carriage,
And dawn dispiritingly delayed.

15

“I have a lover of flesh,” Day-Lewis says.
Mine used to be fresh, I say, but is now no more,
A country with boundaries made of straw,
A loveless sprawl dispersed by the wind,
Her seeds sprinkled away for birds to pick.

There is a Whitman in everyone, I say.
Rebellion relies on language, I say,
And so does a joke that falls on all,
Including the bystander whose isolation
Is geographic and linguistic.

Power resides in the pinny of a maid:
Fanon in the polish of the master’s shoe,
And Foucault in the politics of his son’s stare.
They will survive this flare,
And the boil will blister into a new brew,

For a stone tossed in a lake must be left to tumble down
To the bottom, and there, patted by currents,
It will fathom its float to shore,
Or waltz its way to a safe corner to rise again,
Or stay beneath, contented with death.

16

Mother, keep your hands on the plough.
Study the stars for signs and songs.
Keep away from the thalassic trader,
Away from his vessel and gunpowder.

Guard your borders and be bothered by unusual winds.
Dance when aroused by wine,
The trance thereafter enjoy.
Set forth and set sail in your own vessel.

Write your sights and handshakes afar.
Leave me nothing but a chest-load of papyrus.

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Sub-surface Condition

1

In my sleep I float near sooted chimneys
And smell smoke rising from the mass
Of idle bodies, from the hoof
Of roaming nomads kicking and stomping
Through this land.

In the leprous hands of a life I once lived.
Cradled, I smell the crisp rise
Of smoke, an ascendance
That becomes me leaving the scale
Of memory, leaving the shell that cocoons me

From where waters run against pebbles,
Upstream, washing up against my umbilical cord
Long buried between shrubs
Where weeds spring daily,
Waiting for dawn-dew that never comes,

Waiting for sunlight obscured by an August cloud.

2

In this colossal space, curled up between posts,
My bed and I, the panes bleed the slime
Of winter, dribbling down like okra whisked for effect.

I recoil between posts, my bed and I,
As nothing here, in this novel patch,
Equals the roast of corncobs at home.

3

It is now threatening to snow, and this greyness,
The utter blankness of haze and leafless trees
Removes me from me, layer after layer,
To where the marrows yield

And the shivers begin.
I rattle like gongs in Ogume,
The ancestral home I cannot reclaim,
That’s now a farfetched note I pluck for effect.

4

The flakes are visible from here.
God must be at work.
The spaces without are rather concealed
And made dark by the utter whiteness
Of grains descending in place
Of rain.

God must be at work as they say
In a place I once lived,
Where the daily ritual
Of cocks at dawn,
And the heroic leap
Of lizards from treetops,

Are God’s fingers reaching down
To stroke our thighs.

5

A silhouette is taking shape
On my window pane,
The shape is surprisingly sensual,
With smooth suggestive lines,

With arousing curves.
And this pervasion I could not have conjured
Without those fingers that descend
To stroke my thighs.

.—Timothy Ogene

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Timothy Ogene is the author of a collection of poems (Descent: Deerbrook Editions, 2016) and has recently completed his first novel. His poems and stories have appeared in One Throne Magazine, Poetry Quarterly, Tahoma Literary Review, The Missing Slate, Stirring, Kin Poetry Journal, Mad Swirl, Blue Rock Review, and other places. He holds degrees from St. Edwards and Oxford Universities, and currently lives in Boston.

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Dec 052015
 

Dennis

Dennis O’Driscoll’s abrupt and untimely death on December 24th 2012 was a huge shock to the poetry world. He was an acclaimed poet (considered one of the best European poets of his time) and critic who was selfless in his generosity towards his fellow poets. His remarkable series of interviews with Seamus Heaney, Stepping Stones : Interviews with Seamus Heaney, was published in 2008 – a book-length portrait of the famous poet. And, perhaps, it was Heaney who when speaking of his friend, Dennis, put it best:

“Not only was he constant in his dedication to his own work, he also acted as mentor and sounding board to beginners and established figures alike. Modest to a fault, he would have shrugged off the hero word. Yet there was heroic virtue in the man, in the way he answered the demands of his day job as a civil servant and then devoted what ought to have been free time for his own work to responding to the work of others. He was like Yeats‘s “man of a passionate serving kind”, never self-promoting or seeking the limelight but constantly being sought.”

On this, the third anniversary of his death, I am tremendously grateful to his sister Marie for sharing her memories of Dennis, her personal photographs and her vibrant artwork.

—Gerard Beirne

 

Though Dennis will be remembered by many through the treasured words he left behind, I will always be filled with the memories of growing up together, our childhood days.

I filled the garden with skipping rhymes, Dennis sat and read. He was the one who introduced me to the joy of reading, the first of many books.

He was a great instigator of much of the mischief which occurred in the household of six siblings.

He took me on my first trip without our parents, on the train to Dublin, where he quickly reached the top of the large queue in the train’s restaurant, with the use of my “magic slate” to announce to all that he was deaf and dumb. But he soon found his voice… when we were sympathetically ushered to the counter much to the annoyance of our fellow passengers!!

He created “pop up” art exhibitions of his ‘Abstract artwork” on the front wall of our home (which were worth a fortune!!). My parents were only alerted to the event by the sound of the odd car slowing down to take a peek as they traveled along the road.

Our annual holidays by the sea, embracing his anonymity, he could be a French tourist with little ability to communicate in English, seeking directions from exasperated, though helpful, locals. Convince people they were being interviewed live on the radio on topics of great interest, these interviews which we would listen back to on his tape recorder later in the day.

Our family’s Christmas will be forever tinged with sadness now,
his books and the many cards and letters he sent me
lie huddled together on my shelves,
where with the flick of a page,
I can feel his heart pouring out,
read his thoughts,
see visions through his words

Though it’s no easy task.

 

childDennis back in our childhood days.

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Christmas Eve 2012

My heart sunk as I caught a glimpse of the postal van, on its last round, as it headed for home on that cold Christmas eve 2012. The parcel from my brother Dennis wrapped with care, filled with thoughtful treasures, was now lost I feared. My present had always arrived well before the Christmas celebrations began and was often the first gift to be placed unopened beneath my Christmas tree.

Little did I know what lay ahead or that Christmas day would be spent in a cloud of unbelievable sorrow as we booked unexpected flights home. Or that I would find myself sitting by Dennis’s fireplace with my family a few days later where his painful absence was truly felt after that dreadful phone call late on the night of Christmas eve.

On my return to Holland with my heart filled with sorrow following the painful task of bidding him farewell…

…on the eve of his birthday, beneath a winter sky, in the midst of twinkling lights of Christmas.

It was then… that I discovered that the precious package had in fact arrived… and awaited me in my neighbor’s house.

There it was in all its glory with the so familiar handwriting looking as fresh as though the ink was barely dry.

I held it close to me as though it contained life…
With trembling hands, I peered inside,
then I carefully
placed it beneath
my darkened Christmas tree…

as gently as a coffin lowered
to its
Place of rest…

§

marie and dennisDennis & Marie

While Dennis used words to create images, I use paints and brushes… So one Christmas I decided to combine our work and send him a painting as a gift from me, a welcome break from the endless ties, I hoped. I wondered which poem I should choose, and as I read through “A Christmas Night”, it created visions for me. And so with great ease, his words emerged upon my canvas with each brush stroke.

christmas night

§

After he passed away, Evie our niece, then aged ten, would bravely stand up at a number of his tributes to do a reading of one of her Uncle Dennis’s favorite poems.

eviePortrait of Evie aged four

 §

Misunderstanding And Muzak

You are in the Super Value supermarket
expecting to meet me at 6.15.

I am in the Extra Value supermarket
expecting to meet you at 6.15.

Danny boy is calling you down special-offer aisles.
Johann Strauss is waltzing me down special-offer aisles.

I weigh mushrooms and broccoli and beans.
You weigh beans and mushrooms and broccoli.

It is 6.45 sign of you.
It is 6.45 no sign of me.

You may have had a puncture.
I may have been held up at work.

It is 6.55. You may have been murdered.
It is 6.55. I may have been flattened by a truck.

Danny Boy starts crooning all over you again.
Johann Strauss starts dancing all over me again.

Everything that’s needed for our Sunday lunch
is heaped up in my trolley, your trolley

We hope to meet, somewhere to eat it.

§

Since we lost Dennis, I continue to paint, and there are times when some of my work seems to be reflected in his words as in his poems Home and Time Sharing.

Home

when all is said and done
what counts is having someone
you can phone home at five

to ask for the immersion heater
to be switched to “bath”
and the pizza taken from the deepfreeze.

unnamed.

Time Sharing

In our time together
we are travelling in the heated car,
a violin concerto playing on the radio
hills streaming with winter cold,
year – end fields worn down to seams,
a blazing quiff of distant dogwood,
burned meringue of snow on mountain tops.
We blurt past farms and cottages;
those whose era we share
are staring from net curtains
at a morning chill for milking
or are setting off to factories in the town,
their segments of road deserted.
It is like a childhood journey
of sleep and open-eyed surprise,
of hermetically sealed life
in the eternal present
before the final destination is reached
We hold hands on the gear stick
and, at this moment,
fear for nothing except the future.

§

Though it is not intentional, my sister Eithne once remarked to me that she can see a bit of us all in some of my paintings…on reflection, I had to agree. I can indeed see something of our very stylish Mother in this vintage style painting.

mother.

Years After

And yet we managed fine.

We missed your baking for a time.
And yet we were not better off
without cream-hearted sponges cakes,
flaky, rhubarb-oozing pies.

Linoleum-tiled rooms could no longer
presume on your thoroughgoing scrub;
and yet me made up for our neglect,
laid hardwood timber floors.

Windows shimmered less often.
And yet we got around to
elbow-greasing them eventually.
Your daily sheet-and-blanket

rituals of bed making were more
than we could hope to emulate
And yet the duvets we bought
brought us gradually to sleep,

Declan and Eithne (eleven
and nine respectively at the time)
had to survive without your packed
banana sandwiches, wooden spoon

deterrent, hugs, multivitamins.
And yet they both grew strong;
you have unmet grandchildren
in-laws you never knew.

Yes, we managed fine, made
breakfasts and made love,
took on jobs and mortgages,
set ourselves up for life.

And yet. And yet. And yet.

—Poems by Dennis O’Driscoll; Text & Paintings by Marie O’Driscoll

We are grateful to Anvil Press and Carcanet Press for permission to reprint the poems “Christmas Night,” “Misunderstanding And Muzak,” “Home,” “Time Sharing,” and “Years After.”

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Dennis O’Driscoll (1954–2012) was born in Thurles, Co. Tipperary. Apart from nine collections of poetry, books published during his lifetime included a selection of essays and reviews, Troubled Thoughts, Majestic Dreams(2001), two collections of literary quotations and Stepping Stones: Interviews with Seamus Heaney(2008). Among his awards were a Lannan Literary Award in 1999, the 2005 E.M. Forster Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the 2006 O’Shaughnessy Award for Poetry from the Center for Irish Studies (Minnesota). A member of Aosdána, the Irish academy of artists, he worked for almost forty years in Ireland’s Revenue and Customs service. He died on Christmas Eve, 2012.

A second collection of his essays, The Outnumbered Poet, was published by Gallery Press in 2013. His selection from the works of Michael Hamburger, A Michael Hamburger Reader, will be published by Anvil in December 2015.  dennisodriscoll.com

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Marie O’Driscoll was born in Thurles, Co.Tipperary in 1957, one of a family of six siblings. She was educated in the Ursuline Convent Thurles, and it was there that she had the only art classes, that she would ever attend. Both Art and English were her greatest passion throughout her school life.  In her final year  at school, the family were struck with tragedy following the death of their mother, Kitty, and five years later their father Jimmy also died. The shock of the term “orphan” became a reality in their young lives.

She spent a number of years living in Dublin, where she attended a secretarial college, followed by a move to the west of Ireland where she met her  husband to be. A number of years later they emigrated to Holland with their  two daughters. She began teaching English to adults and children, and eventually created a method of combining her two favorite passions together by setting up classes for children using art as a medium to teach English to them. Although she been painting for as long as she can remember, it took her many years to reveal her work to others. Since then her art has found its way to many corners of the world. www.marieodriscoll.com

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