Jan 132017
 

Marjan StrojanMarjan Strojan

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Not in Noah’s Flood

They say, we write to remember and we read
to forget. Ignorant of either, I wished I could
write to grow up, especially the letter Y.
I’ve been practicing Y since I first saw it printed

on the covers of American picture books
arriving in U.N.R.A. parcels, safely tucked away
up in the attic. Y never failed to impress me,
looking both like girls’ legs pressed together

and the forked sprigs we broke off from the alder
trees to place our fishing rods onto when we were
going after the dace; and in my dizzier moments,
like the throats, slit open by broken bottlenecks,

of long coated dark men in cheery hats, who,
a few pages on, turned into corpses, floating in
booze or drowning in some other disastrous liquid,
but not, for all I could see, in Noah’s flood.

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On Returning a Book to a Public Library

I’ll make this short. Days always surprise me.
So when I’m returning a book to a library
it doesn’t mean I’ve finished it or had no
intention of reading on. It only means that
despite its renewal the library’s lease has
expired and that the times and places and
extravagant fortunes of men, with the traditions
of various schools and institutions of knowledge,
secret societies and writings of all ages,
collected and arranged into chapters

or classified according to their alphabetical
order, have found themselves locked behind
the doors of inscrutable hallways, keys flung
away as carelessly as if they were dandelion
seeds. No doubt they will go on along
the corridors of some cerebral Hades weaving
their lives quite independent of those that
time and again I capture in my glimpses
scattered or overheard in chunks of
fragmented conversation, however inadequate.

So, in the cobwebs of Saint Petersburg’s
Railway Station (in snow) Madame Karenina
still waits to throw herself under a train.
And I’ll probably never find out what Vronsky
could have done at the time, if anything.
Tatiana never finished her letter, though I presume
she had turned down the poet, who ages ago,
in his small neat hand, had been scribbling
in his notebook the names of his lovers.
And Doctor Rieux, even he – what did he,

after the danger had passed, say to a writer
whose fast traveling ladies clattered around
Bois de Boulogne in their carriages – if, indeed,
he survived the ordeal? Is this important?
I don’t know; take the book I was bringing
back this afternoon. I can’t for the sake of me
remember who wrote it; even his middle name,
a common and well-known one, evades me
completely. A tiny collection of verse, like
scenes of renaissance architecture and its triangles

and elegant stairways in precise, condensed
light, the color of salt. It was a book of
poems which now, when forgotten, seem even
better, compact in the language of vague,
unruly translation, opening new and unexpected
prospects on each of its metaphors – sharp and
twofold – like ‘pillars’ and ‘horse.’ There was an air
of something conquering, victorious in far away
places about them, like a clang of a sword drawn
from a scabbard: Vincente Cortázar Paladio.

x
Remembering Hopkins

In our local Clinic stands a Tree of Health,
the branches of its richly grown crown
decorated by various inscriptions like Happiness,
Love, Good Personal Relations,
Friendship etc. Up the tree trunk
lines of multi-coloured twinkling fairy lights
lead on to them, which – in a circuit
as on big Christmas trees – then run down again
to the Tree’s mighty roots, bearing labels like
Recreation, Sleep, Nutrition and Relaxation,
Giving up Bad Habits, Healthy Sexuality, Hygiene.
Lord, send the roots rain.

x
Zinnias in Bloom

Zinnias in bloom; a train
moving on, departing: maids’
work on the balcony.
An electric pole – a hedgehog
trying to climb it: a palm tree
by night. The branch of an elder
bush dressing itself up in black:
the scent of its inflorescence
quietly glowing. Among the wild
rose petals a spider hiding from
the rain. Had it not gone into
hiding it would have stayed hidden.
Night gathers; the starlings flock
onto a sign-board: in the sky
a child from the long gone past
is happily singing. Rain descends from
the heavens; fire licks the star
by the edges. One me coming down
to lie on the earth.

x
Where are you?

I am sitting in the doorway
under the light; the grass is darkening,
the stream below the house
sounds clearer. I’ve been waiting
for I don’t know what, for you
to call me, for weeks. And now –
not in the house, here outside,
from over the hill, from the stream,
from the wind through the branches,
your voice sounds, soft and clear –
Where are you, what are you doing?
Moths are settling on my head.
They are drawn to what’s in there
and want to get to you.

—Marjan Strojan translated by Alasdair MacKinnon

x

Marjan Strojan (1949) was raised on a small farm in Slovenia. He studied philosophy and comparative literature, and he has worked at one time or another as a baggage carrier and load-sheet-man at an airport, a film critic in Ljubljana, and a journalist in London. He lives in Slovenia.

Strojan has published seven books of poetry and many translations, including Beowulf (1992); James Joyce, a selection of his poetry (2000); Lavinia Greenlaw, a selection of her poetry (2000); Robert Frost, a selection of his poetry (2001); John Milton, Paradise Lost (Izgubljeni raj, 2003, 2011); Sydney Lea, a selection of his poetry (Na votlem ledu, 2006), and Geoffrey Chaucer, Canterbury Tales (Canterburyjske povesti , 2012). In 1997 he published his Anthology of English Poetry (Antologija angleške poezije). His latest books are William Shakespeare, Songs from Plays (Pesmi iz iger, CZ, 2016) and Marjan Strojan, Dells and Hollows, Autumn Hill Books, 2016.

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Jan 112017
 

stuart-barnes-480pxPhoto credit: Leigh Backhouse

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stuart-barnes-book-cover-380px

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Ross Creek Triolets

Red

High tide: the drunk drops a line where salt
water, fresh converge: subtropical trompe
l’oeil: honeyeaters squeak on asphalt,
stab redly at chalk grapes: the Coral Sea, salt
like speech, scallops trawlers, fault on fault:
sudden whoosh, O God! from mangrove swamp:
the meth head rehydrates the brat: sugar, water, salt:
the black hour pitches: four thousand bats tromp.

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Green

Are the bats suspended like concertists’
quavers, or have their wings been splayed by God, bored
with reassembling angels’: this loneliest of taxidermists
has no faith in showered concertists:
frames sway greenly in powerlines: photojournalists
(everyone’s one) flaunt their sleaze on Instagram: floored
by echolocation flawed, canvaslike concertists
waver: forty wings in which black holes are bored.

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Blue

A fortissimo carves the heavens’ bones:
drunk, meth head, brat star the litter of the gutter:
wool-tipped mallets tar a vibraphone’s
ribs: the full moon’s floating bones
disentangle bluely: old grindstone’s
whine: God tortures linoleum cutter:
four menangles of bats’ bones
stutter Pianissimo from the black gutter.

Violencento

On the day of the explosion
Everything is liable to explode. Many times

Just take the imagists. Their heads explode.
The manufacturer of explosives, and so on,

Buildings sculpted by explosion
Like a stab of paradise: explode: and then at last

Stars explode.

I breathe in, breathe in and don’t explode.
I am nobody; I have nothing to do with explosions.

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Note: a cento from Philip Larkin’s ‘The Explosion’, Fady Joudah’s ‘Sleeping Trees’, Paula Tatarunis’ ‘SCHOOLS’, Louis Simpson’s ‘On the Lawn at the Villa’, Alicia Ostriker’s ‘The Window, at the Moment of Flame’, John Koethe’s ‘Domes’, Naomi Shihab Nye’s ‘Trying to Name What Doesn’t Change’, Pura Lopez-Colome’s ‘Echo’, Sylvia Plath’s ‘Tulips’

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Qing Song

Seven Chinese needles. I needn’t watch,
I do not watch. On this organ cushion, others cry.
Might I transfigure elements.

I sense enviousness, Goliathless statue
unafraid of my nakedness
now. Diagrams bow from the walls.

A footpath, a man with glasses and my mother,
two thawing snow skin mooncakes. I slow
at the junction, their autumn jackets ripple like paddies. ‘Hand

me a handful of earth, a red rose.’ Moth-breath
issues from my lips. I listen
serenely to ambulances, cattle trucks, ear

a mosquito’s blood bag. I cannot see her handsewn floral
skirts, her terry towelling nightgown,
the spotless venetian blinds, the bedroom’s square

of cubbyhole. I try
the Red Boat’s soloist’s notes;
my diaphragm balloons.

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Note: a terminal from Sylvia Plath’s ‘Morning Song’; ‘With the sestina as a model, John Tranter has created the terminal — a new form similar to, but far more flexible than, the sestina in its emphasis on end-words. Taking only the line endings from previously published poems, the terminal can be any length.’ —Brian Henry

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Pains

I’ve looked into the Spanish eyes of El Dorado.
I looked — a dream — and saw the Soul of Spain.
xIn this dream-Spain,

Under Spanish clouds, a summer bliss. Oh:
In Spain, the bougainvillea entered
Spain wears whole groves of them

In another flat a Spanish lament tilts its stealthy ardour
Spain — an itch along the skin,
xxNow I’m his Spanish boy, who died in his city

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Note: a cento from David Rowbotham’s ‘Snow Decembers’, Peter Porter’s ‘Antonio Soler’s Fingertips’, Victor J. Daley’s ‘In a Wine Cellar’, Luke Davies’ ‘(Shudder)’, MTC Cronin’s ‘Garden Flowers (Las Flores del Jardin)’, Kate Llewellyn’s ‘Oranges’, Gig Ryan’s ‘The Cross/The Bay’, Jan Owen’s ‘Travelling Light’, Adam Aitken’s ‘The Connoisseurs’

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Central Queensland rondelets

Anemones
meltdown in Coral Sea’s fishtanks;
anemones
seized from sunbelt’s frangipanis:
fishy clowns’ magnificent pranks.
White, edible petals close ranks,
‘Anemones.’

Black fruit bats drop
mangoes on steel corrugations.
‘Black fruit bats.’ ‘Drop
it’: useless appeal. The backdrop
billows, tangles constellations.
A squeal of abbreviations —
black fruit bats drop.

Curlews’ night-shrieks
grieve the grey dead centre of town.
Curlews’ night: shrieks
of coal trains chill Mount Archer’s peaks;
two foals mill by a broken-down
harvester; the third upside-down
‘Curlews’. Night shrieks …

.

Fifteen

and, fearing lest they should fall into the quicksands …
—Acts, 27:17

Father F wanted to talk to me.
O fuck, he saw me nicking candles.
In the musty vestry
he drew the green velvet curtain.

‘Schmuck, I’ve seen you nicking candles.’
One hand in wrinkled black pants; the other
drew the green velvet curtain.
To the sofa he moved, closer, closer,

quicksand in wrinkled black pants. A groper
expelled a steaming cup. He padded
to the sofa. He moved closer, closer.
I smelled brown spirits on his breath.

I held the steaming cup. He patted
my knee. ‘I have to tell your father.’
I smelled foul spirits on his breath.
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe, weeny meanie,

my knee—‘I have to tell your Father.
If that hand crawls any farther north’—
weeny meanie, my knee—no! weeny meanie
‘I’ll break its fucking fishy bones.’ I paused.

‘If that hand crawls any farther north’—
Father F sweltered like devils—
‘I’ll break its fucking fishy bones.’ I posed.
‘You make a hell of a cup of tea.’

Father F couldn’t swelter weevils.
Father F wanted to talk to me.
He made a hell of a cup of tea
in the musty vestry.

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—Stuart Barnes

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Stuart Barnes was born in Hobart, Tasmania, and educated at Monash University. He was runner-up for the 2014 Arts Queensland Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize for an Unpublished Manuscript. He won the 2015 Thomas Shapcott Prize, resulting in the publication of his debut collection, Glasshouses (University of Queensland Press, 2016). Since 2013 he has lived in Central Queensland and been Poetry Editor for Tincture Journal. He tweets @StuartABarnes.

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Jan 102017
 

mary-di-michele

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Black Dog

I had yet to use the selfie stick I got for Christmas
so I took this photo when I could not find the words
for even my empty coffee cup Chez Fred. The tattooed

barista, all piercings, and black torn stockings, fills it up;
always americano lungo, s’il vous plait. What makes
a Parisian lawyer open a bakery in Montréal?

The run off in gutters is icing over again and
that’s what they call le printemps in this city, n’est-ce pas?
After 25 years of planning, the Egyptian themed

theatre up the street has yet to reopen. Anubis
presides over its grave, not its rebirth. Anubis is
a god with the head of a black dog. Beware of the god.

I sort through stacks of newspapers left behind, the read and
the unread. I like that it’s quiet; and the aromas
of espresso and madeleine, the loudest things. I open

the door to a medley of crows calling, no, it’s seagulls,
and a dog, tied outside BBP orthopedics, barking.
Nobody likes to be left alone. It’s Saint Patrick’s day, or

it was not too long ago, shamrock stickers still plaster
the windows of Liquid Lounge. There’s a family picture
taken in Belgium, my brother swaddled in a carriage;

when my mother started to lose her memory she kept
this photo in her pocket; it’s folded into quarters
and badly creased. Some might say it was ruined. Red mail truck, red

mailbox, it’s a cheerful colour on a dull day in No
Damned Good. How did I get here? I grow old, I grow old, I
will wear the bottoms of my blue jeans rolled. Clouds are pinking

in a cerulean sky; I wax poetic. I am not
home yet where another era’s technologies: the Sony
cassette player, the Olivetti typewriter and my

65 year old brain ne marchent pas bien. What of the bowl
on the desk, filled with pine cones? No trees will grow from them.
I’ve set up a little shrine around the folded family

photo I flattened out and then framed. After death there is
an aura, a palpable halo around the faces
in photos of the departed; their silence says this once was.

x
x

Like Kafka’s Ape
xxxx(after Giorgio Caproni)

…your life as apes, gentlemen, in so far as something of that kind lies behind you, cannot be farther removed from you than mine is from me.

No, it’s not mine
this country I was shipped to,
not born in. Now
even among the crowds
I’m at a loss and lonesome,
I’m an outlier, an anomaly like
a stained-glass angel in the church
of There’s No God. Like
a human on exhibit in the zoo.

In my heart there’s another country
I long for. It’s somewhere al di là
in the idea of a memory, a hometown,
a city, gloomy by day, but by night
all aglimmer with lights, trembling like
yahrzeit candles lit for the living.
When the moon rises, resplendent
over the cemetery, the young go
there to boogie among the tombs. O city,

O country, where none, not death, not
the devil can ever take me back.

x
x

De Sica’s Ladri di Biciclette

I can no longer get past that scene
where Maria pawns her matrimonial linen,
a poor woman’s dowry, and so precious
to her, while in the background there are
piles of such bedsheets at the shop.
They have no money and her husband
Antonio needs a bicycle to get a job
putting up posters around the city.
It pays good money every week, they can
even buy an egg for their first born
daughter– no, that’s not in the movie,
that was my family in post war Italy. I remember

the first egg. My mother punctured the top
with a needle and I drank it down raw.

x
x

Robert Lowell Reads at Scarborough College, circa 1970

An audience of one came to hear the renown
poet read, if you do not count the coterie of three
accompanying him, so they left the lecture room
for an open lounge in the hall. The building
– a titanic monolith – was itself of interest
and worth the move to view walls rising in slabs
of concrete. Even the windows were bulwarks
of glass through which light leaked, snow filtered light
falling from the firmament and about to flatten

the world. They sat, the three, along with one student
come to see a real poet, a living one, with a sense
that she was about to partake of a sacrament,
a mystery. To prepare herself she had read him,
standing in the library stacks. The poet
was about to manifest. The word, so fragile, so

friable, made flesh. He stood – nor did he seem aggrieved
to speak to so few – his book holding him up.
A bit of preamble on the Cuban missile
crisis and what it means, what it meant, to live
in the shadow of nuclear annihilation,
a sky about to fall on us all, and end
life as we know it. He was right to be depressed,
it was far more than brain chemistry at work.
His poetry was not political, but he had been
a fire-breathing Catholic C.O. – or so he confessed

in Memories of West Street and Lepke. Head angled
in Modilgiani melancholy or as if a violin
were propped between shoulder and chin,
Lowell read as if he were listening
to someone else, some invisible other reading.

More than forty years later now does she still
imagine him, eyes fixed on the printed lines of his page,
and literally seeing the blue threads as thin as pen-writing
on his father’s bedspread? Did he scry there his last
moments: New York City, in a taxi, on the way back
to Elizabeth, the critic spouse? There were three wives,
one always lovelier than the last, three times
the whoop, the wail, the woe that is in marriage. Until

he looked back and saw what he could not see then,
what cannot be seen head on with looking.

x
x

A Poem About Absolutely Nothing

“I have done absolutely nothing
for six weeks,” in a letter to Woolf,
Eliot admonishes himself, “I have been
boiled in a hell broth.” He was referring
to his mother’s visit. All day I too
have done nothing.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxWho begins a letter
that way? or, for that matter a poem?
The aspen admonishes, the spruce censures
me. I have been advised, sagely, as a woman
to wear pink, it will disarm my enemies.

—Mary di Michele

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Mary di Michele is a poet, novelist, and member of the collaborative writing group, Yoko’s Dogs. Her books include the selected poems Stranger in You (Oxford University Press 1995) and the novel Tenor of Love (Viking Canada, Simon & Schuster USA 2005). A tenth collection of poetry, Bicycle Thieves, is forthcoming from ECW Press in April 2017. Her awards include first prize for poetry in the CBC literary competition, the Air Canada Writing Award, and the Malahat Review Long Poem Prize. She lives in Montreal where she teaches at Concordia University.

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Jan 092017
 

alison-prine

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Story Hour at the Monkey House Bar

The rule is that the story
must belong to the teller
last five minutes
and be spoken without notes.

So it’s a surprise when
in the stranger’s tale
your mother appears
disguised as a ringing phone
and your chest
a field of grain.

The teller emerges gradually,
as if whittled from a block of wood.
Then applause
burnishes and clarifies.

Did you see the moment
when the speaker’s face
became boundless
and complete in the same breath?

Each story lives as a cairn in the forest,
an arrangement that says
I was here, but am no longer.

x
x
Lost Season

winter didn’t come
the lake remained open and moving
the robins never left

we waited for the muffling
for snow to fall through the hours
absorb all the hum and clang

crows failed to gather
high in the bare trees
and something happened

to our sleep to our ground
all that couldn’t go dormant
strained in the growing light

the pull from freeze to thaw
went slack and the sap
held back in the maple

we needed one another less
no bitter wind to recoil from
nothing to crack or loosen

so we said what would
have been left to silence
and felt our old lives forget us

x
x
Carry

Fear settles in the body at variable densities

depending on levels of iodine
or derision in your parents’ conversation.

We get exhausted differently.
While you travel from Kenya to Vietnam

I will head to the dark end
of the hallway.

We were told the stitches would dissolve.
A small white pill was prescribed

to quiet the windows in their frames.
Can you see how time is tearing through me like a storm?

We were told the memories
would slowly fracture and become absorbed.

The you in this poem is you
and the narrator a woman whose hands are cracking.

x
x
Your Last Winter in Savannah

We cut a path through the sabal palms
though soon you will leave them.

Here your past isn’t thick –
and finer still, tomorrows:

delicate Spring plumage of the night heron
thin shadows of live oaks with sprays of Spanish moss

air touching everything lightly.
The ancestors here do not belong to us, are strangers.

Time now when you don’t want any more surprise
no more beginnings.

You said, watch the wood storks as they circle,
their grace disappears so utterly when landing.

Hard to decipher the dank smell of the paper mills
from the old salt of the marshland.

Soon we’ll forget both and in our absence
the nests of these egrets will fall, stick by stick.

x
x
My Sister’s City

Tall buildings put us in the shade
for most of the day, blunt edges
pushing hard against the soft curve of sky.

We move among the snarl and the slow
renovation, protected by and sealed off by
scaffoldings. So much conversion.
The disconcerting brush of many glances
as up through the muscles of my legs
I feel the rumble and groan of an undercity
and all its trespassers.

If I find a bench and sit with my sister
in a comforting beam of sunlight
then who can I believe has really
been a member of the same audience?

This is not like home
with all its debts and ashes.
Here I could be reinvented
while cement cutters grind at our lives
like precious stones.

—Alison Prine

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Alison Prine’s debut collection of poems, Steel, was chosen by Jeffrey Harrison for the Cider Press Review Book Award and was released in January 2016. Her poems have appeared in The Virginia Quarterly Review, Shenandoah, Green Mountains Review, and Prairie Schooner among others. She lives in Burlington, Vermont where she works as a psychotherapist.

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Jan 062017
 

kathy-fagan

x
x
WINDY, WITH CLOUDS BREAKING

My note from the night before reads
Drink water. Lots of water. Only water.

For when clouds break
xxxxxxxxxxxx it matters they be empty.

The performance coach says It matters
you know how your look reads.

On another note
are the syllables mots-a-rell-a
so dad will eat the cheese he no longer has the word for.

And another, Mr. Goldstrike, for the zone-appropriate plant
I can’t remember the look of right now.

So much is about forgetting.

Wind scrubbing the young stands of sycamore at the river
until they reach like tuning forks. Clouds breaking
xxxxxxxxxxxxx as if we could see inside.

x
x
COGNITION

I’m here, riverbank—
wearing John Berryman’s glasses
like everyone else.

I was thinking that evergreen
looked like a Leonardo, i.e., the umbrella
pines of Rome.

I was thinking of their soft
candles in spring that aim toward
the sun like birds each

morning, careening beyond the visual
mayhem of geranium
red. In that color

riot, it’s a relief to see female
finches & cardinals bland as cartoon
balloons overhead,

pitted stonefruits, aging
uteruses, pantoums all: repeat, repeat,
done. You want something

you don’t have? What is it
you have now? The sky swims into the river,
the skylights, & windows;

traffic writes its Hebraic script
each night.
The MOCA test requires that one recall only

five words: Velvet. Face. Church. Daisy. Red.
Dad got none of them.
With or without my glasses,

not one is not a picture I will never see.

x
x
FORESHORTENING

The man I’d hired cut the mower’s engine, shouting
uphill to me he had to go pick up his son. Lost his license.

DUI. He’s a Afghan vet with that post-partum stress depression.
Seen things you and I can’t even phantom. I thought I could,

so waved him off as understanding people do and turned away.
Skype and middle age had made me wary of being

looked at from below. Zelda Fitzgerald drew everything
from that perspective, as if seated always in the orchestra,

or a child at the foot of a drawer at the morgue.
When the neurologist illuminated my father’s brain

scan at the V.A., I had to re-adjust my own perspective
to understand that we were viewing from below.

Through jawbone, nostrils, eye sockets, a series
of curtains parted to reveal, finally, his frontal lobes,

twin prosceniums so dark, nothing could be seen.

x
x
EMPIRE
xxxxwith a penultimate couplet adapted from Sabrina Orah Mark

I went out looking
at Europe & all its stones
its diagonal churches & bronze
horses my shoes clattering like their
shoes my eyes as wild

If the heart is a cup
if coins are diamonds
well then we are
full & we are rich

Here
baked sometimes inside the cake
is a favor not a file
Here
sometimes cake is all we eat

How pretty the pedestrians inside
their full-face haloes of dog fur

Arrow is my hometown—
isn’t that what Stein meant?

How can I choose between
Heaven & Sorry
when I own both
of them so much already?

—Kathy Fagan

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Kathy Fagan’s forthcoming book is Sycamore (Milkweed Editions, March 2017). Her first collection, The Raft, won the National Poetry Series; her second, MOVING & ST RAGE, the Vassar Miller Poetry Prize. Recent work appears in The New Republic and Narrative. Director of the Creative Writing Program at Ohio State, Fagan serves as Series Editor of the OSU Press/The Journal Wheeler Poetry Prize. Her website is http://www.kathyfagan.net

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Dec 142016
 

Riiki Ducornet

..
An orchestral version of Mussorgsky’s  The Great Door (or Gate) of Kiev from his Pictures at an Exhibition, just for reference, since it threads through the poem as a musical motif.

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Into the Lollipop Light

Father of painted wood
as when in a brimming hour
Mussorgsky sparks the air
with harems, a souk
its beggars, a brief
swarm of bees.

The Dead.
Speaking in a dead tongue.
The Great Door of Kiev.
Father. Fork in hand
conducting.
His jade traced
with mercury.
His crown forged
of tin.

The one father who dying
asks she stay beside him.
Instead she runs into
the naked air.
Running from the father
who had abandoned her
in a place of his choosing.

(Even now such things happen.)

Exiled she
had been left to drift
between Ether and
Earth.

::::::::::::

Her father sleeps
in the spare room.
A room
unchartered and
enigmatic.
Its shadows pooling there
where two walls collide.

When he awakens
his loneliness is incalculable, a
savage loneliness
unquenchable, somehow
familiar.

Her father who
in his decrepitude
wanders the interstellar mall
bewildered by
the proliferation of irreverent
forms suspended in an
unfamiliar air.

Its parakeets
spawned in jars
all the colors of candy.
Shuddering.

In the lobby
a broken machine leaking
something sweet.

Her father on the lookout
for a thing he can recognize.
The nest of a bird.
The spine of a book.

Yet the shop girls know him
boldly call out:
Hey, there, Professor!

Tired as hounds.
Perched on the small bones
of their feet.
Their faces, the faces
of mendicants.

What’s this? she wonders.
Hesiod, he tells her.
Read it, he reassures her
if only to pass the time.
Pass the time, he says it again
his eyes spilling over.
We must . . .
pass it . . . well.

Stitched with roses
she smells of vanilla.
Out on a limb
leaning into the radiant future
craning her neck.

Say! she says. And: Oh! Professor!
Ashamed, he turns away.
She would console him
touches his sleeve
for her father is grieving.

On another day
the same girl, apocalyptic
finds him, whispers with urgency:
Sir! The ceiling!
The ceiling is about to fall!

Hesiod. He tells her. It’s lovely.
Grinning like a boy.

This is when Death enters.
Dancing sideways
his hands in his pockets.

::::::::::::
::::::::::::

In the mornings
she fries him bacon.
Make it crisp, he says
because she won’t.
(speaking of the wife
already at the mall shopping early.)

Outside the window
the day breaks open
yolk leaking across
the sidewalk, the lawn
the streets.

After breakfast
together they walk to the mall.

Above the highway
the light changes as
in the distance an
incomprehensible meadow
rises in a cloud of dust.

At the edge of town
a train shrieks
a beast from another world
entirely.

Look: Right there on the pavement
something irretrievable.

Something is the matter.
If only we could put our finger on it.

::::::::::::

He says: I’ll take you to lunch.
There’s a pub. Tables made of wood. You can touch it.
The darkness pooling beneath his eyes
even then.

The mall
Thoth at the entrance, scowling.
Yet they are fearless.
Walk right in.

Into the Lollipop Light.

In the lungs:
strange molecules.

The colors of patriotism are:
cinnabar, arsenic, sulfur, thallium.

::::::::::::

Over lunch they argue about
Carl Jung.
His dubious mysticism.
(Their moments of intimacy
have always been arcane.)

As meanwhile
in the proximate world, the girls
lost in time, weightless
ruled by uncertainty
drift among fields of
incomprehensible things.

Fish swimming in cellophane
hanging like snacks from racks.

Such small events, and yet . . .

The mall. That will one day
erupt. Shredding:
inventory, staff, Saturday shoppers.
All this.
A rosy mist.
A gritty dust.

A space as big as lies and yet
it cannot contain such a
surfeit of bewilderment.

::::::::::::

One day near the tracks
down the way
a girl reads a book—Oh! It is weird!
Yet somehow compelling

She finds a pearl
lodged in her ear—
although it is her day off
and she miles from the event.

::::::::::::
::::::::::::

She is running.
She is running in streets empty of sirens
deep in stillness
past the living
trees, beneath the
bruised moon its
diligent scribe suspended
in contemplation. The hour drifts
beneath a sudden gathering of clouds.

Her lover waiting
in an unfamiliar room.
He sees her approach.
Steps into the late afternoon.

They meet at the curb
in a confluence of rivers.
He folds her to him
as in the radiance she thinks:
children of light we stray.

They come together
in the sudden rain
beneath a sky unhinged.
Their losses sweeping down
veiling, unveiling their faces.

She says: I come to you
as my father leans into his departure.
We have a hour. An hour, only.

They are seeking
to resolve a mystery.
They are seeking
the garden at the
confluence of everything.

The colors of longing are:
white dolphin, golden toad, black rhinoceros,
pink headed duck.

All the colors of paradise.

She thinks his kiss tastes of
limes, of salt.
She thinks his face is
a star.
Together they stand in
the mammal rain.

She has known him two days.
The seconds as sacred as time and space.

They swim together in the room’s ocean
the hour licking it’s forepaws
its eyes of green gold.

The hour no bigger than
a lace wing.

A planet secure as a stone.

Everything safe within
a cage of stone.

Everything breathing
crystals of graphite.

A planet of savage power.
A girl and her lover
suspended in
a sanctuary.
A golden age reduced
to an hour.

All this.
As on another continent
a photographer catalogues
vanished species of birds.
These she finds
in museum drawers
stashed in boxes—
shoe boxes, cigar boxes—
white cotton blooming there
where their eyes
have gone missing.

A small immensity. And yet.

Some kind of impropriety.

Somewhere else a courtyard
dissolves in smoke
a rubber ball
rolls into the street
a child’s head
rolls into the shadows.

A planet smashed with a hammer like a skull.

A planet/circus ruled by clowns.

A malignant planet
the knowledge of its crimes
coagulating. Corrupting everything.

Her ankles wired together.
Her lips blue with cold.
Kept in a kennel.
Asleep in a box.
Awake in a cellar.
Concealed in the shadows.

A planet free of affliction
its surface sparking
with the luster of a thousand moons.

A planet ruled by immediacy a
tender urgency, a fearless loving.

A planet brimming with significance.
Its busses infested with sorrow. Where
beneath the bridges the penitent homeless dare not
acknowledge one another.

::::::::::::

One day a flock of birds falls to the pavement.
The next day a flock of birds falls into a meadow.
Their beaks stained blue.
Their small feet bound with wire.

Somewhere a prisoner hogtied with wire.
Left that way.
Made to breathe water.

On another day a flock of geese
come to rest on a pool of mercury.

The colors of longing are:
the hands, the feet growing progressively darker.
A red ball rolling into the street.
A white tooth found at the beach.
A shoe brought in by the blue tide.
A cinema at the end of a corridor
where an aquaintance
had received a bullet to the neck.

A planet awash in charity.
A planet up to its eyes in serenity.
Planets like beacons in the abyss.

A planet where a lover
prepares quail for his beloved
browns pine nuts for the rice
pomegranate seeds
sparking the plate.

::::::::::::
::::::::::::

When her father awakens
the world is greatly diminished.
It streams silently past.
His mind once given to rapture
the many of species of birds
their names such as . . .
such as . . . p . . .
parro . . . t . . .
parrotkeet.

And there was
a daughter.
The guilt that corroded everything.

He awakens in an enigmatic room.
One enigma after another.

This is when the tigers assemble and leap.
This is when he calls out pummeled with stones.

This is when she rises
kisses her lover’s open hands.
Collects her things, begins to run
runs oblivious of the
cracks in the sidewalk.
The cracks in the sky.

That morning she had read to her father.
Cortazar: From The Observatory.
After he had whispered
into her ear:
I will now leave the world like an eel.
His smile all at once tender and ironic.

::::::::::::

Once in the evenings
when she was small
her father would tell her
wonderful things.
How Plato believed
in a True Earth a
a True Sky—
and this
illumed by
a True Light.

Unlike our world
wedged between mud and rock
ruled by unknowing.
Light as thought
the inhabitants of True Earth
lived on islands in the air
like Laputans.

::::::::::::
::::::::::::

The last time they enter the mall together
her father says:
welcome to the Subterrestrial Realm.
He warns her of its seductive amulets
yet examines the watches
with such fascination
they are immobilized for an eternity
as if bewitched.

She can tell he is thinking of Plato
thinking of a True Earth.
(She is well acquainted with
his stubborn wistfulness.)
The ceiling, he says, will surely collapse.
But, perhaps, not today.

::::::::::::
::::::::::::

When she was a child
he told her everything is made
of molecules. But for the molecules.
They are made of something
smaller.

These in another universe
could be planets.
Their names:
Zâzêl
Hasmââl
Barsâbêl
Samiel

Sometimes she thinks
she is that child
awake in the morning’s first hour.
The floor of her room
scattered with planets.
Some have rings.
Their moons, the moments
of crystal of amber
firefox moments
firefly moments
in ceaseless agitation.

With her crayons
she draws the gods
their yellow chairs
marking the poles.
Their bright faces
unmoved by the passage
of the lunar years.

The gods. Sitting astride ostriches
the size of camels.

Every hour a planet orbits the room.

The many planets
burning the eyes.
Those with atmospheres
inhabited with things with wings.
Sentient. Philosophical.
In all the best colors.

Some planets are like Earth.
Only more so.

Their oceans so salty
you can walk
from one continent
to the next.

:::::::::::

It is curious
that such a father
with whom she has traveled so far
will abandon her.
That he, in his folly
will cut off her feet
just as the ogres are said to do.

Father. From the bottom of the well
from the corner of the room
from deep within the sea

I called your name.

:::::::::::
:::::::::::

She finds her father
as she left him
in the spare room
recumbent
like a young lion
or a child.

Folded together
his fists protect his heart.
She says: I am here.

He stirs.
Touches her wet sleeve
a wet lock of hair.
Does not ask: Where were you.
Says only: Thank you.

Just beyond the open window
the rain has freshened everything.
A handful of birds spire
scatter like seeds.

This is when his wife enters the room.
Pills sparking the palm of her hand.

:::::::::::

That night she dreams
she had not left him
had stayed beside him.
Had made him a vestment of jade
finally articulated.
Had left his face unmasked
knowing beneath their lids
the whites of his eyes were blue.
That under the protection
of the sacred color
her father would not suffer.

Yet, in other, more recent dreams
he persists, asks: Where were you?
She tells him:
When you betrayed me
I tumbled through space
like a shard of ice.
Only now have I found
my footing, can walk without reeling.
Only now have I
retrieved my name.

In her dream, the afternoon
is long over.
They are alone together.
She rises, says this final thing:

If I were still your daughter
I would sew for you a shirt
painted with bees, the eyes
of Horus.

I would cover you thus
to keep you safe.
And I would provide a map
so that you would find your way
from star to star
far from the nefarious places.

And I would assure
that a certain melody be played
one that you loved:
The Great Door of Kiev
when at the very last
your ashes were placed in the ground.

:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

—Rikki Ducornet

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

.
.

Dec 132016
 

cassidy-mcfadzean

x

Invocation of the Unicorn

As hunters enter the woods,
we enter the room of tapestries.
Medici’s horn in the corner

casts a gleam that seizes our vision,
a narwhal tusk masquerading
as the unicorn’s tapering wand.

The tapestries spin enchantment.
They snatch us towards the start
of the hunt,
to a hundred species

of plants and beasts. We identify
daffodil and periwinkle, perceive
witch’s broom, lady’s mantle.

Meld, madder, and woad’s
pigments of red, blue, yellow,
an artist’s bed of dyes. The tapestry

depicts origins of its own making.
The lymerer collects scant droppings
as a scout signals from behind

a walnut tree to the extant hunting
party. The unicorn is found. We see
sage leaf and orange tree, antidotes

hinting that the unicorn purifies
the fountain’s poisoned stream
from which a pair of pheasants sip.

But the unicorn can’t be disturbed
when conducting his magic.
The tree blossoms and bears fruit

in a single instance, a paradox
of fertility. Twelve hunters surround it
in conversation, their dogs in wait.

Goldfinches, a stag, and rabbits
lay before the flowing pillar spout
and the cypher AE. We puzzle over

what the enigma means. Pot marigold
under the hyena’s chin signals
disaster. Man watches animals

gather around the fountain. Ten
hunters approach the beast. The
unicorn leaps out of the stream.

An oak tree stands at center scene.
AE glowers from four corners
as elsewhere aristocratic initials

utter invocations. A castle looms
in the background. A partridge
cheeps of thievery, the hunters’

spears brandished and thrust
at the unicorn’s torso, enclosing
The beast is surrounded

by men, dogs, and greenery,
forcing the unicorn at bay.
It defends itself well. Horn

dipped, it gores a hound as it
kicks a hunter. Has the fruit
of ripe orchards turned sour?

The heron, known for lofty
flight and unperturbed by such
melee, is here made serener.

A single drop of blood trickles
from a slit in the unicorn’s coat
as spears strike from all sides.

We’ve heard only the purest
virgin can subdue a unicorn.
Otherwise, it remains invincible.

“Hail queen of the heavens.”
If the unicorn appears as Christ,
the hunter as Gabriel, the maiden

motions to Virgin Mary. We see
the mystic capture of the unicorn
in two fragments.
The handmaiden

distracts from the only cameo
the virgin makes on the scene:
a glimpse of sleeve, her slender

fingers linger on the creature’s
mane, the three enclosed within
the garden as menagerie. The scout

blows a horn from below an apple
bough, behind the gate. The spell
is broken, the unicorn captured.

The unicorn bestows one last glance
to the absent maiden that fans
his coat, missing from the frame.

Stabbed by lances, echoing
Christ’s passion, the unicorn
is killed and brought to the castle.

The scout catches blood drops
in his drinking gourd. A party
of men and women parade

the unicorn to the fortress,
its corpse slung over a horse’s
saddle, one hunter fingering

its spiralled horn. The unicorn
is depicted both in the moment
of the sword blade’s deathblow

and in the procession carrying
his corpse. His trophy bears
a crown of thorns. In an instance

we see the unicorn in captivity,
the beast fenced in, wounds
replaced with pomegranate

seeds, blood with juice,
captive but seemingly content.
A woven chain around

his neck, secures the unicorn
to a wooden pen, seated therein
amidst white irises and Madonna

lilies, carnations and clove,
orchids and bistorts, dragonflies
dashing over the wallflowers

and white thistle, the cipher’s
tasseled cord hanging from a tree,
bearing its riddle mysteriously.

—Cassidy McFadzean

x
Cassidy McFadzean is the author of Hacker Packer (McClelland & Stewart 2015), winner of two Saskatchewan Book Awards and a finalist for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award. Her work has been a finalist for the CBC Poetry Prize and the Walrus Poetry Prize. Cassidy graduated from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 2015 and is at work on a second collection.

x
x

Dec 112016
 

nepveu-pic

.

The prose poems brought together in this selection are infused with the landscape along the shore of the Saint Lawrence River in the south-west part of Montreal, adjoining the neighborhoods of Verdun, Lasalle, and Lachine. The section “Lachine Stations” makes a more explicit reference to the area of Montreal in the south-west, upstream from the rapids bearing the name “Sault Saint-Louis” at the time of New France. Until the opening of the canal in 1825, enabling one to bypass the rapids, Lachine was the departure point for the “voyageur” canoes, hired by the great companies engaged in the fur trade in the north-west. Those pages of “Lachine Stations” devoted to the fictional character, Jean Mongeau, sketch the portrait of one of those singular men who became voyageurs. They were inspired by Carolyn Podruchny’s book, Making the Voyageur World: Travelers and Traders in the North American Fur Trade (University of Nebraska Press and University of Toronto Press, 2006), translated into French by Anne-Hélène Kerbiriou, as Les voyageurs et leur monde. Voyageurs et traiteurs de fourrure en Amérique du Nord (Presses de l’Universitè Laval, 2009) – as well as the book illustrated by Gilles Bédard, Les voyageurs d’Amérique (Éditions GID, 2012). I extend my thanks to both authors, to whom I am greatly in debt.

—Pierre Nepveu

.

Notebooks of Jean Mongeau,
…….summer-autumn 1803

I walked by the edge of the wood,
torn between the grain’s fervour
and the chill exhalation of ferns.

I had either to stay or to leave.

In me, life sickened
each day a bit more

and my soul was heavy with loss
God-divested and imploring
life’s grace be restored to me.

I loved you, Marie, but it was
a music unmastered, a lame plod,
my hands grasping at the void,

while voices on high called to me, fraught,
nameless, faceless voices,
and I gave heed to them in the forest, wanting
to cede them my moorings, my lodgings,
while our dog, who yapped far off
in the hay at high tide
somehow knew
he was no longer my vassal
and that he’d lost me..

*

Sometimes I see again the road leading to Lachine,
I hear the cart squeal
that carried us out of the city
weighed down with horses and tipsy sailors,
and all along the port we saw
large-skirted women whose beauty
tore at us suddenly like a farewell,
I remember having hailed one of them
with my hand, and having blushed
at the smile she tossed me,
then it was a rough forest trail
along the Sault Saint-Louis
where you felt the presence, both hidden and near,
of the humid river that would bear us,
its water luminous as a deliverance..

*

The eve of our departure we’d danced and drunk long into the night. Something held us to the land, drunk as we were and near to madness, like those sailors who in the end repudiate the sea, too wide, that renders alien, to the soul’s peril, the nearness of bodies and things. Then we left in the direction of Nipissing, the Big Water, and we were greeted by Algonquin women, all comely, save an old toothless one who smiled like the others but seemed the very embodiment of death.

***

(Inventory for loading):
– twenty rifles.
– thirty boxes of gunpowder.
– thirty boxes of lead shot and balls.
– twenty wool blankets.
– two big rolls, blue cloth, red cloth.
– knives, scissors, hatchets, awls, sewing needles, lighters.
– flour, sugar, salt, dried meat.
– two boxes of jewels: necklaces, earrings, bracelets.
– a bag of red powder to color the skin.
– mirrors, magnifying glasses, decorative porcelain, glass pearls, brass and steel wire.
– Thirty shirts, thirty ceintures fléchées.
– tobacco, brandy..

*

I kneeled a moment
in the last church
then I feared the wind
and I shivered..

*

On leaving: a baptism of peace
and light to bless two lakes.

I thought myself a new man
armoured with hope and prayers
and a providence of rocks and cascades
and fierce rains to freeze the soul,

but I found prairies first,
a great sweetness of grasses
and the night with its shrillness of crickets,
the distant pounding of a drum
rising from a village beyond the fields

I miss Maskinongé already,
but I sense a fire within me
never before felt, a strength that defies
its trials as the days pass and I reach
that breaking point where my body
must sing if it’s not to sleep,

I think of you, Marie, alone under the quilt
naked and warm in the lunar room
entering a long languorous summer
a deep fever of silence and idleness,

while far up I voyage within myself,
seeking valor in exhaustion
and knowing no more the reasons for my flight.

*

For days La Grande River
was our only home
along with the obsessive lapping of the paddles
counting the seconds and in the process
undoing all hope of reaching shore and sleeping there,
until the sudden squawk of a bluejay
entered my ear and in a trice
I stopped feeling my arms
and my hardened backside and my bent legs
and it was like a clearing inside
as if the landscape
had at last found in me
a place to lodge its light.

*

After La Grande River and the hard law of rocks
that seemed to assert on earth
God’s dominion over human failings,
we encountered the ghastly La Vase Portage,
all the world’s hardness abruptly undone
all matter molten and the ground stripped away
under our boots and it seemed to me suddenly
that evil was rampant in this place
seeking to cow our courage,
as if we’d broken faith with our own desire
for a combat on equal terms,
and against all expectations tainted the assurance
of a rugged land and pure water
that would christen us one more time.

*

(Letter from Marie Saint-Arnaud to Jean Mongeau, October 1803)

The house is empty of you but I often pass
your shadow in the dark, I feel
your breath rush upon me,
your handsome charmer’s mouth
bite my breast,
but I’d love as much
for your voice to wrap me round and shelter me
from the hardness of the world
for you said things with wisdom
and swore love with that gentle tremble
that makes men’s voices falter
when desire undoes them,
I’d like tomorrow to be filled
with your body and your hands,
and your peaceable step when at the window
I saw you going by the fields
towards the dark edge of the wood
when all the day’s power
seemed yours
as if your heavy gait
enjoined it to yield,
tell me on what river do you paddle,
on what lake and if the time is long
crossing over hills with a heavy burden
and if the black water sometimes brings you fear
and if it bears off comrades
who have not kept their footing.

*

Early morning, scarred fire, noble bones, woodland song, men’s and women’s voices among the trees. I am the dust of ages, whirlwind of the deeps, escapee from the first caves. I tremble at being what I am, do you hear me, woman of the woods, of wool woven under the lampshade and the trellis of blood that shivers in the window? Do you know the calendar of wounds and joys that appear, at times, when night and day conspire to undo order and reason, when limbs are harnessed to other limbs to shift the weight of dread? Who are you? I founder in another river that becomes another lake that becomes a new river. Sometimes the running water no longer suffices for the needs of man and sometimes supplies must be shouldered, without horses or donkeys, to sidestep death. This business destroys us, yes, but to live is something else again, and the nightly feasts, and the dried bison and the bear fat that smears our fingers. We are beset with hunger before the rock that quakes. We are mad not to bow low before this god.

*

Despite the splendor of these paddler’s arms,
it’s the soul’s indigence
and human weakness
that have brought me here
to this harsh land and load-bearing water,
the treacherousness of roots
and the astonishment of animals,
me chilled to the bone,
unnerved by rains and frothings,
loving kin to whispering grasses
and thrown full force onto stoical rocks
against which at times I lean my ear
towards the far-off realm when time
laboured sedately and in darkness.

*

Spare me this rise to climb, these slimy stones beneath my soles, this fatigue of bodies that know only steepness and stumbling. There is anguish too great for just one man, and regrets that smother the soul, when prayer’s succor is all for naught. Give me back the ardour of forests and the burning pine needle carpet, give me back cold springs and the gentle drift in the carefree bends of rivers sheltered by the sky and the brows of rocks. I see far off the great prairie open wide, riddled with mosquitoes, and the banks of the Red River where, they say, the peoples of this land grow grain. And on the lakes at night the Northern Lights cast a spell and set even the stars to dancing. You arrive wearied at the trading posts, you gorge yourself with oily corn and draughts of rum, and unknown languages rip at your heart. You never come home, and you hear in the distance a great rush of dust and sand rise up which, out of the south, foists thirst on man and beast and makes drought a primal verity, underpinning all gifts and the glories of love. Restore to me, Lord, the blessing of this desert, spare me the hard road back.

*

Rock me, rock me, take
my broken body, my routed heart
for I lost my footing,
slid on a solid stone
while seeking support,

saw the water darker
than the deeps of our souls
and the time of man
shrunk to nothing,
rock me for what remains of beauty
when the foundering sun
shuts the book of wonders,
the sweet legend of a peopled world,
while the rapids far off, their froth abated,
roar on through the night
like beasts that stalk their prey.

Rock me, woman who douses the lamp,
go to sleep now alone so as to feel no pain,
I journey on under a heavy weight
and eternity is for me a deep chill,
my solitude counts for less than your own,
it vexes even the dusk
where I seek forgiveness in vain.

— Pierre Nepveu, Translated from the French by Donald Winkler

.

Pierre Nepveu is a poet, essayist, novelist and professor emeritus at the University of Montreal. Since 1971 he has published several collections of poetry, primarily with the Éditions du Noroît, including Romans-fleuves, Lignes aèriennes, Les verbes majeurs, and most recently, La dureté des matières et de l’eau, which appeared in 2015. In addition to his essay collections dealing with Quebec literature and the literatures of the Americas, including L’écologie du reel and Intérieurs du Nouveau Monde, his is the co-author with Laurent Mailhot of the anthology La poésie québécoise des origins à nos jours, which has appeared in several editions. He published the biography, Gaston Miron. La vie d’un homme, in 2011. Several times a winner or finalist for the Governor General’s award, he is also a member of the Royal Society and the Order of Canada.

§

wiinkler-pic

Donald Winkler is a Montreal based documentary filmmaker, and a translator of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. He is a three-time winner of the Governor General’s Award for French to English translation, most recently, in 2013, for his rendering of Pierre Nepveu’s collection of poetry, The Major Verbs (Les verbes majeurs). His translation of Nepveu’s most recent collection, The Hardness of Matter and Water (La dureté des matières et de l’eau), will be published by Signal Editions in 2018.

.

Dec 072016
 

bennets2

.

Les Murray Ate My Nintendo

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

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

Britannia ABSOLVES fro
bro serious Monkey bars

drink Over and nacho sweats

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

.

ragGed in the sea. .(spress).

.

LaFayette or Macy’s

(lonely views)

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

.

(girls who are hot)

Tomorrow you

(h0t air)

.

Piroshki, Piroshki

only you, knows me de

.

The Milky Ways

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

.

Up since 4, 4 days ago

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

burning spoons

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

….so yelly

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

.

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

hope to meet you

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

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

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

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

heckle

vomiting a uni

pass, friend. pass.

.

—Russell Bennetts and Rauan Klassnik

.
bennets1photos by Colin Raff

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

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

.
.

Dec 052016
 

elsa-crossElsa Cross

.

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

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

— Benjamin Woodard

.

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

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

selectedpoems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

beyondthesea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Swarming our gaze with yellow ants

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

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

Todo lo vuelven piedra lisa                      (They turn everything…)

becomes

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

Turned by them to smooth stone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

§

cross_ntx_leer

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

From Beyond the Sea

WAVES

1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

.

4

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

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

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

Is there anything that does not come from the sea?

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

.

5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

.

CICADAS

5

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

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

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

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

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

 .

From The Wine of Things

NICTIDES

9

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

 .                 

10

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

.

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

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

.

12

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

They are hidden diamonds

.

THE WINE-RED SEA
(On the Dionysus Kylix)

…………..…………..…………..…………..for Ursus

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

§

De Ultramar

Las Olas

1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…………..

4

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

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

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

¿Qué cosa no viene del mar?

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

…………..

5

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

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

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

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

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

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

…………..

LAS CIGARRAS

5

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

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

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

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

 …………..

De El vino de las cosas

NICTIDES

9.

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

…………..

10.

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

…………..

11.

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

………….. 

12.

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

Son diamantes ocultos

…………..

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

Para Ursus

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

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

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

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

.

.

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

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

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

§

Anamaria Crowe Serrano

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

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

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

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Dec 032016
 

hilda-raz1-500px

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A Symposium on Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

x

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

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

X
Autobiography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

X
Meditation

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

Put on socks and shoes meditation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wash the dishes meditation.  Metta

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

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

Breathe breathe / breathe breathe

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

X
One Toe, Crooked

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

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

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

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

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

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

X
Truncated Sonnet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

to redeem my thoughtless actions
make room for loving kindness

I will hope to absorb as well as give out.

—Hilda Raz

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

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Nov 132016
 

background-el-saltoLeslie Ullman

 

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

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

§

Ask people to work against their better judgment

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

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

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

 

Consider different fading systems

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

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

 

A line has two sides

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

not buried in the pillow
then both at once.

 

Are there sections? Consider transitions

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Destroy-nothing-the most important thing

This journey is not sanctioned

or trackable. Where it
leads cannot be

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

in history, plumed pen
and the scent of parchment

anchored beneath a circle of quiet light.

Step into a
something, a nothing

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

from which it arose. This

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

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

you’ll have to grow them.

 

Do the washing up

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

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

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

 

Cut a vital connection

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

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

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

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

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

as a gloved hand across your throat?

—Leslie Ullman

x

ullman-book-cover-image

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

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

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x

Nov 102016
 

Mark Cox

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Level

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

.

Suncatchers

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

.

Prisoners

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

.

Headstrong

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

.

Balls

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

—Mark Cox

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

.
.

Nov 032016
 

jody-and-nicky

x
Trakl’s Daughter

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

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

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

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

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

nc

Talking to Myself on New Year’s Eve

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

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

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

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

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

nc

More Beautiful

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

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

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

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

nc

Baby

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

nc

Only Child

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

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

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

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

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

nc

The Scent of Phlox

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

her windshield cracks

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

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

the purple   phlox
lives in the corner of her eye

her windshield shatters

the road is slick and churning
as she peers straight ahead

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

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

a first telling
of light from the earth

—Pamela Stewart

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

x
x

Oct 112016
 

Okla Elliott

.

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

Three times I wished to find an end

Twice you called and said it was the end.

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

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

Oh, to hell with such
roundabout poetics.

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

What makes this room
suddenly Dantean in demeanor?

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

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

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

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

What do you want?

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

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

So, here goes:

You visit me

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

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

.
Let’s Not Imagine

1.

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

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

2.

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

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

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

.
Antinomies and Intensities

1.

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

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

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

on the night’s river.

2.

I watch the weather gather
yellow doom into its belly.

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

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

3.

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

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

I will embrace this apocalypse—

.
Ruinwind Sonnet

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

—Okla Elliott

.

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

.

Oct 052016
 

Catherine WalshCatherine Walsh

x

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

x

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

x

§

x

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

x

§

x

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

x

x

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

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

x

x

x

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

x

§

x

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

x

§

x

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

pained forlorn its

dishonesty which cannot

cherish

x

§

x

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

perfect development
all it could be  unless
it were imperfect

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

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

x

§

x

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

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

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

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

x

§

x

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

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

sea come  go
pull away there

carried fro’
any  where push

in here  mast up
cell  carried to

some fruit pull
away

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

x

x

x

x

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

—Catherine Walsh

x

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

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

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

x

x

Sep 132016
 

2014-06-02-Merwin1

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

garden time

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

.

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

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

(“Portents”)

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

ONE SONNET OF SUMMER

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

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

THE MORNING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

§

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

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

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

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

to be bathed I suppose

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

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

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

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

THE LAUGHING CHILD

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

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

§

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

to keep anything
yet they both reached at once

for the present
and when their hands met

they laughed

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

—Allan Cooper

N5
allan cooper

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

N5

Sep 122016
 

Susan AizenbergSusan Aizenberg

.

The Television

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

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

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

.

Lit

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

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

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

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

.

Tea Boys
m— after Salaam, Bombay!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Susan Aizenberg

 

.

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

 

 

Sep 102016
 

Paul McMahon colour

.

Bourdon

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

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

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

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

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

    ……………………..*

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

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

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

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

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

.

Shrouds

1

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

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

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

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

.

2

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

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

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

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

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

……………………or been given.

.

A Junkyard Full of Flowers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

.

The Hearth-Pit

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

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

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

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

in these early morning
archaeological hours.

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

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

            *

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

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

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

— Paul McMahon

.

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

.

Sep 092016
 
Photo by Dorothea Erichsen

Photo by Dorothea Erichsen

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

Fleurs-du-mal-1

 

.

On Translating Les Fleurs du Mal

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

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

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

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

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

—A. Anupama

Bauelaire1

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

(Edith Wharton, Elizabeth Bowen)

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

.

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

Baudelaire2

La Vie antérieure / My Past Life

(Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Tubman)

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

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

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

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

.

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

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

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

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

Baudelaire3

La Beauté / Beauty

(Marie Curie, H.D.)

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

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

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

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

.

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

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

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

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

Baudelaire4

L’Aube spirituelle / Spiritual dawn

(Florence Nightingale, Dorothy Day)

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

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

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

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

.

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

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

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

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

Baudelaire5

Élévation / Rise

(Margaret Fuller)

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

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

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

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

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

.

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

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

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

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

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

—Charles Baudelaire translated by A. Anupama

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

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