Thursday, July 31, 2014

Folly by Henri Cole


In the Doria Pamphili garden, 
most of the granite niches are empty, 
the male gods have lost their genitals, 
and the Great Mother, Hera, has no head.

Something has gone awry
in the artificial lake.
Burrowing deep into the black banks
enclosed by wire mesh, 
families of nutria are eradicating-
with webbed hind feet, 
blunt muzzled heads
and long orange incisors-
Pope Innocent X's pleasure garden's

Gothic as the unconscious, 
the heavy tapered bodies
root along the irrigation ditches, 
making their way in a criminal trot
towards the swans, whose handsome, 
ecclesiastical wings open out

Each day I come back.
The sky is Della Robbia blue.
As I rise to my feet, 
a swan-immaculate
and self-possessed as the ambulance
bearing my half-dead Mother-
grasps into the depths
and tears a weed up, 
dripping like a chandelier, 
while paddling behind are the derelict rodents, 
hankering-with big sleepy eyes, 
suggesting something like matrimonial bliss, 
and plush gray fur, 
undulating like the coat my mother wore-
to hunt the grass-shrouded
cygnet eggs and gut
their bloody embryos.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Wood Road by Seamus Heaney

The Wood Road

Resurfaced, never widened,
The verges grassy as when
Bill Pickering lay with his gun
Under the summer hedge
Nightwatching, in uniform—

Special militiaman.

Moonlight on rifle barrels,
On the windscreen of a van
Roadblocking the road,
The rest of his staunch patrol
In profile, sentry-loyal,

Harassing Mulhollandstown.

Or me in broad daylight
On top of a cartload
Of turf built trig and tight,
Looked up to, looking down,
Allowed the reins like an adult

As the old cart rocked and rollicked.

Then that August day I walked it
“To the hunger striker’s wake,
Across a silent yard,
In past a watching crowd
To where the guarded corpse

And a guard of honour stared.

Or the stain at the end of the lane
Where the child on her bike was hit
By a speed-merchant from nowhere
Hard-rounding the corner,
A back wheel spinning in sunshine,

A headlamp in smithereens.

Film it in sepia,
Drip-paint it in blood,
The Wood Road as is and was,
Resurfaced, never widened,
The milk-churn deck and the sign

For the bus-stop overgrown.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The World As Meditation by Wallace Stevens

The World As Meditation

J’ai passé trop de temps à travailler mon violon, à voyager. Mais l’exercice essentiel du compositeur—la méditation,—rien ne l’a jamais suspendu en moi … Je vis un rêve permanent, qui ne s’arrête ni nuit ni jour.
              —Georges Enesco

Is it Ulysses that approaches from the east,
The interminable adventurer? The trees are mended.
That winter is washed away. Someone is moving

On the horizon and lifting himself up above it.
A form of fire approaches the cretonnes of Penelope,
Whose mere savage presence awakens the world in which she dwells.

She has composed, so long, a self with which to welcome him,
Companion to his self for her, which she imagined,
Two in a deep-founded sheltering, friend and dear friend.

The trees had been mended, as an essential exercise
In an inhuman meditation, larger than her own.
No winds like dogs watched over her at night.

She wanted nothing he could not bring her by coming alone.
She wanted no fetchings. His arms would be her necklace
And her belt, the final fortune of their desire.

But was it Ulysses? Or was it only the warmth of the sun
On her pillow? The thought kept beating in her like her heart.
The two kept beating together. It was only day.

It was Ulysses and it was not. Yet they had met,
Friend and dear friend and a planet’s encouragement.
The barbarous strength within her would never fail.

She would talk a little to herself as she combed her hair,
Repeating his name with its patient syllables,
Never forgetting him that kept coming constantly so near.

Poem of Thanks by Sharon Olds

Poem of Thanks

Years later, long single, 
I want to turn to his departed back, 
and say, What gifts we had of each other! 
What pleasure - confiding, open-eyed, 
fainting with what we were allowed to stay up 
late doing. And you couldn't say, 
could you, that the touch you had from me 
was other than the touch of one 
who could love for life - whether we were suited 
or not - for life, like a sentence. And now that I 
consider, the touch that I had from you 
became not the touch of the long view, but like the 
tolerant willingness of one 
who is passing through. Colleague of sand 
by moonlight - and by beach noonlight, once, 
and of straw, salt bale in a barn, and mulch 
inside a garden, between the rows - once- 
partner of up against the wall in that tiny 
bathroom with the lock that fluttered like a chrome 
butterfly beside us, hip-height, the familiar 
of our innocence, which was the ignorance 
of what would be asked, what was required, 
thank you for every hour. And I 
accept your thanks, as if it were 
a gift of yours, to give them - let's part 
equals, as we were in every bed, pure 
equals of the earth.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

In the beginning was Lebanon by Lawrence Joseph

In the beginning was Lebanon

In the beginning was Lebanon,
a mountain of musk and the sea
above a star, and the star, Son
of Ali, massacred on a hill
of Galilee grown smooth from rain,
and the rain, oil that washed
skulls and jawbones and pelvises
of children back into red sand
was with God; and the Lebanon
was God. God of high, polished
black boots, faces masked
with black hoods, compounded
of two elements and a single will
to seek vengeance from Abbasids,
Druse, Palestinians, who sits
at the right hand of a swimming
pool in the villa of Saint George
in the kingdom of the Knights
Templar, God who assumes the body
of the father in the holy tomb,
blue-haired or gray-eyed
God who transforms Moslems into dogs
with painted coats, Christians
into slaves with disks in their ears,
God who denies any heart lifted
toward the screen of giant clover,
ignorant God of the great
wars and the families who, reincarnated,
is English and who, beneath
a photograph of Father Abraham,
dozes before bread and sweet milk
above Massar-es-Shouf, this God
who changes tears into bombs
of phosphorus in the eyes of the dumb,
God of the villages named after blood
who, like the sea, sees the houses
at its bottom, who, like the star,
pours down its promises on the Feasts
of the Pigs, who, like fire,
burns the sea and our stomachs
and the brain of the child
who stumbles against the earth around which
brothers and sisters wail.

Friday, July 25, 2014

To by Franz Wright


Before you were I loved you
and when you were born
and when you took your first step
Although I did not know
good luck I want to whisper

lone penguin keep sturdily waddling
in the direction of those frozen
   mountains sister
of desolate sanctity
I want to scream
Although I did not know

I loved you later on
as just a weedy thing
a little skeleton I loved
Both long pre-you a child myself
and as a man in retrospect

I loved and I was there
while they were raping you
I loved although
like God
that’s all I could do.

Polish and Balm by Kay Ryan

Polish and Balm

Dust develops
from inside
as well as
on top when
objects stop
being used.
No unguent
can soothe
the chap of
Who knew
the polish
and balm in
a person’s
simple passage
among her things.
We knew she
loved them
but not what
love means.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Digging by Seamus Heaney


Between my finger and my thumb   
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound   
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:   
My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds   
Bends low, comes up twenty years away   
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills   
Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft   
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade.   
Just like his old man.

My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Rain by Don Paterson


I love all films that start with rain:
rain, braiding a windowpane
or darkening a hung-out dress
or streaming down her upturned face;

one big thundering downpour
right through the empty script and score
before the act, before the blame,
before the lens pulls through the frame

to where the woman sits alone
beside a silent telephone
or the dress lies ruined on the grass
or the girl walks off the overpass,

and all things flow out from that source
along their fatal watercourse.
However bad or overlong
such a film can do no wrong,

so when his native twang shows through
or when the boom dips into view
or when her speech starts to betray
its adaptation from the play,

I think to when we opened cold
on a starlit gutter, running gold
with the neon of a drugstore sign
and I'd read into its blazing line:

forget the ink, the milk, the blood -
all was washed clean with the flood
we rose up from the falling waters
the fallen rain's own sons and daughters

and none of this, none of this matters. 

Painters by Muriel Rukeyser


In the cave with a long-ago flare
a woman stands, her arms up. Red twig, black twig, brown twig.
A wall of leaping darkness over her.
The men are out hunting in the early light
But here in this flicker, one or two men, painting
and a woman among them.
Great living animals grow on the stone walls,
their pelts, their eyes, their sex, their hearts,
and the cave-painters touch them with life, red, brown, black,
a woman among them, painting. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Wagon by Zbigniew Herbert


What is he doing
this century-old man
his face like an old book
his eyes dry of tears
his lips pursed tight
guarding memories
history’s mutterings

now when
winter hills
are fading
and Fujiyama enters the constellation Orion
a centenarian—emperor god and bureaucrat
—is writing

these are not acts
of pardon
or acts of wrath
of generals
elaborate tortures
but a piece
for the yearly
traditional poetry competition

the theme
is a wagon
the form: the venerable tanka
five verse lines
thirty-one syllables

“taking a seat on a train
of the state railway line
I meditate on the world
of my grandfather
the emperor Meiji"

a poem
ostensibly mundane
with its breath held
no false posturings

from the glibly lachrymal
handiwork of modernity
full of triumphal howling

a scrap
on the railway
devoid of melancholy
of the bustle before a long journey
and even devoid
of pity and hope

I think
of Hirohito
with an aching heart

his stooped shoulders
his frozen head
his old doll’s face

I think of his
dry eyes
small hands
slow mind
like the pause between
one screech of the owl
and another
I wonder
with an aching heart
what will be the fate
of traditional poetry

will it pass away
after the emperor’s shadow


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Devotions of a Painter by Anthony Hecht

Devotions of a Painter

Cool sinuosities, waved banners of light,
Unfurl, remesh, and round upon themselves
In a continuing turmoil of benign
Cross-purposes, effortlessly as fish,
On the dark underside of the foot-bridge,
Cast upward against pewter-weathered planks.
Weeds flatten with the current. Dragonflies
Poise like blue needles, steady in mid-air,
For some decisive, swift inoculation.
The world repeats itself in ragged swatches
Among the lily-pads, but understated,
When observed from this selected vantage point,
A human height above the water-level,
As the shore shelves heavily over its reflection,
Its timid, leaf-strewn comment on itself.
It's midday in midsummer. Pitiless heat.
Not so much air in motion as to flutter
The frail, bright onion tissue of a poppy.
I am an elderly man in a straw hat
Who has set himself the task of praising God
For all this welter by setting out my paints
And getting as much truth as can be managed
Onto a small flat canvas. Constable
Claimed he had never seen anything ugly,
And would have known each crushed jewel in the pigments
Of these oily golds and greens, enamelled browns
That recall the glittering eyes and backs of frogs.
The sun dispenses its immense loose change,
Squandered on blossoms, ripples, mud, wet stones.
I am enamored of the pale chalk dust
Of the moth's wing, and the dark moldering gold
Of rust, the corrupted treasures of this world.
Against the Gospel let my brush declare:
"These are the anaglyphs and gleams of love."

Friday, July 18, 2014

A House Divided by Michael Ondaatje

A House Divided

This midnight breathing
heaves with no sensible rhythm,
is fashioned by no metronome.
Your body, eager
for the extra yard of bed,
reconnoitres and outflanks;
I bend in peculiar angles.

This nightly battle is fought with subtleties:
you get pregnant, I’m sure,
just for extra ground
– immune from kicks now.

Inside you now’s another,
thrashing like a fish,
swinging, fighting
for its inch already.

Dulce et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen

Dulce et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Envoy of Mr. Cogito by Zbigniew Herbert

The Envoy of Mr. Cogito

Go where those others went to the dark boundary   
for the golden fleece of nothingness your last prize

go upright among those who are on their knees
among those with their backs turned and those toppled in the dust

you were saved not in order to live
you have little time you must give testimony

be courageous when the mind deceives you be courageous   
in the final account only this is important

and let your helpless Anger be like the sea
whenever you hear the voice of the insulted and beaten

let your sister Scorn not leave you
for the informers executioners cowards—they will win
they will go to your funeral and with relief will throw a lump of earth   
the woodborer will write your smoothed-over biography

and do not forgive truly it is not in your power   
to forgive in the name of those betrayed at dawn

beware however of unnecessary pride
keep looking at your clown’s face in the mirror   
repeat: I was called—weren’t there better ones than I

beware of dryness of heart love the morning spring   
the bird with an unknown name the winter oak

light on a wall the splendour of the sky   
they don’t need your warm breath
they are there to say: no one will console you

be vigilant—when the light on the mountains gives the sign—arise and go   
as long as blood turns in the breast your dark star

repeat old incantations of humanity fables and legends   
because this is how you will attain the good you will not attain   
repeat great words repeat them stubbornly
like those crossing the desert who perished in the sand

and they will reward you with what they have at hand   
with the whip of laughter with murder on a garbage heap

go because only in this way will you be admitted to the company of cold skulls
to the company of your ancestors: Gilgamesh Hector Roland
the defenders of the kingdom without limit and the city of ashes

Be faithful Go

(Translated by Bogdana Carpenter and John Carpenter)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

In the naked bed, in Plato’s cave, by Delmore Schwartz

In the naked bed, in Plato’s cave,

In the naked bed, in Plato’s cave,
Reflected headlights slowly slid the wall,   
Carpenters hammered under the shaded window,   
Wind troubled the window curtains all night long,   
A fleet of trucks strained uphill, grinding,   
Their freights covered, as usual.
The ceiling lightened again, the slanting diagram   
Slid slowly forth.
                            Hearing the milkman’s chop,   
His striving up the stair, the bottle’s chink,   
I rose from bed, lit a cigarette,
And walked to the window. The stony street   
Displayed the stillness in which buildings stand,   
The street-lamp’s vigil and the horse’s patience.   
The winter sky’s pure capital
Turned me back to bed with exhausted eyes.

Strangeness grew in the motionless air. The loose   
Film grayed. Shaking wagons, hooves’ waterfalls,   
Sounded far off, increasing, louder and nearer.   
A car coughed, starting. Morning, softly   
Melting the air, lifted the half-covered chair   
From underseas, kindled the looking-glass,   
Distinguished the dresser and the white wall.   
The bird called tentatively, whistled, called,   
Bubbled and whistled, so! Perplexed, still wet   
With sleep, affectionate, hungry and cold. So, so,   
O son of man, the ignorant night, the travail   
Of early morning, the mystery of beginning   
Again and again,
                         while History is unforgiven.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Daddy by Sylvia Plath


You do not do, you do not do   
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot   
For thirty years, poor and white,   
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.
Daddy, I have had to kill you.   
You died before I had time——
Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,   
Ghastly statue with one gray toe   
Big as a Frisco seal
And a head in the freakish Atlantic   
Where it pours bean green over blue   
In the waters off beautiful Nauset.   
I used to pray to recover you.
Ach, du.
In the German tongue, in the Polish town   
Scraped flat by the roller
Of wars, wars, wars.
But the name of the town is common.   
My Polack friend
Says there are a dozen or two.   
So I never could tell where you   
Put your foot, your root,
I never could talk to you.
The tongue stuck in my jaw.
It stuck in a barb wire snare.   
Ich, ich, ich, ich,
I could hardly speak.
I thought every German was you.   
And the language obscene
An engine, an engine
Chuffing me off like a Jew.
A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen.   
I began to talk like a Jew.
I think I may well be a Jew.
The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna   
Are not very pure or true.
With my gipsy ancestress and my weird luck   
And my Taroc pack and my Taroc pack
I may be a bit of a Jew.
I have always been scared of you,
With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo.   
And your neat mustache
And your Aryan eye, bright blue.
Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You——
Not God but a swastika
So black no sky could squeak through.   
Every woman adores a Fascist,   
The boot in the face, the brute   
Brute heart of a brute like you.
You stand at the blackboard, daddy,   
In the picture I have of you,
A cleft in your chin instead of your foot   
But no less a devil for that, no not   
Any less the black man who
Bit my pretty red heart in two.
I was ten when they buried you.   
At twenty I tried to die
And get back, back, back to you.
I thought even the bones would do.
But they pulled me out of the sack,   
And they stuck me together with glue.   
And then I knew what to do.
I made a model of you,
A man in black with a Meinkampf look
And a love of the rack and the screw.   
And I said I do, I do.
So daddy, I’m finally through.
The black telephone’s off at the root,   
The voices just can’t worm through.
If I’ve killed one man, I’ve killed two——
The vampire who said he was you   
And drank my blood for a year,
Seven years, if you want to know.
Daddy, you can lie back now.
There’s a stake in your fat black heart   
And the villagers never liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you.   
They always knew it was you.
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Mr Cogito Reads the Newspaper by Zbigniew Herbert

Mr Cogito Reads the Newspaper

The front page reports
120 soldiers were killed

the war was long
you get used to it

right next to this news
of a spectacular crime
with the killer’s photo

Mr Cogito’s gaze
moves with indifference
over the soldiers’ hecatomb
to plunge with great relish
into the quotidian macabre

a thirty-year-old farmworker
in a state of manic depression
murdered his own wife
and two small children

we are told the exact
way they were killed
the position of bodies
and the other details

it’s no use trying to find
120 lost men on a map
a distance too remote
hides them like a jungle

they don’t speak to the imagination
there are too many of them
the numeral zero on the end
turns them into an abstraction

a theme for further reflection:
the arithmetic of compassion

(Translated by Alissa Valles)

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Dualism by Ishmael Reed


I am outside of
history. i wish
i had some peanuts, it
looks hungry there in
its cage
i am inside of
history. its
hungrier than i

Some People by Wisława Szymborska

Some People

Some people flee some other people.
In some country under a sun
and some clouds.

They abandon something like all they’ve got,
sown fields, some chickens, dogs,
mirrors in which fire now preens.

Their shoulders bear pitchers and bundles.
The emptier they get, the heavier they grow.

What happens quietly: someone’s dropping from exhaustion.
What happens loudly: someone’s bread is ripped away,
someone tries to shake a limp child back to life.

Always another wrong road ahead of them,
always another wrong bridge
across another oddly reddish river.
Around them, some gunshots, now nearer, now farther away,
above them a plane sort of circles.

Some invisibility would come in handy,
some grayish stoniness,
or, better yet, some nonexistence
for a shorter or a longer while.

Something else will happen, only where and what.
Someone will come at them, only when and who,
in how many shapes, with what intentions.
If he has a choice,
maybe he won’t be the enemy
and will let them live some sort of life.

(Translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh)