Friday, October 31, 2014

I Am Trying to Break Your Heart by Kevin Young

I Am Trying to Break Your Heart

I am hoping
to hang your head

on my wall
in shame—

the slightest taxidermy
thrills me. Fish

forever leaping
on the living-room wall—

paperweights made
from skulls

of small animals.
I want to wear

your smile on my sleeve
& break

your heart like a horse
or its leg. Weeks of being

bucked off, then
all at once, you're mine—

Put me down.

I want to call you thine

to tattoo mercy
along my knuckles. I assassin
down the avenue
I hope

to have you forgotten
by noon. To know you

by your knees
palsied by prayer.

Loneliness is a science—

consider the taxidermist's
tender hands

trying to keep from losing
skin, the bobcat grin

of the living.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Blackberry Eating by Galway Kinnell

Blackberry Eating

I love to go out in late September
among the fat, overripe, icy, black blackberries
to eat blackberries for breakfast,
the stalks very prickly, a penalty
they earn for knowing the black art
of blackberry-making; and as I stand among them
lifting the stalks to my mouth, the ripest berries
fall almost unbidden to my tongue,
as words sometimes do, certain peculiar words
like strengths or squinched,
many-lettered, one-syllabled lumps,
which I squeeze, squinch open, and splurge well
in the silent, startled, icy, black language
of blackberry -- eating in late September. 

I’m Charles by Charles Simić

I’m Charles

Swaying handcuffed
On an invisible scaffold,
Hung by the unsayable
Little something
Night and day take turns
Paring down further.
My mind’s a ghost house
Open to the starlight.
My back’s covered with graffiti
Like an elevated train.
Snowflakes swarm
Around my bare head
Choking with laughter
At my last-minute contortions
To write something on my chest
With my already bitten,
Already bleeding tongue.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Shield of Achilles by W. H. Auden

 The Shield of Achilles

   She looked over his shoulder
     For vines and olive trees,
   Marble well-governed cities
     And ships upon untamed seas,
   But there on the shining metal
     His hands had put instead
   An artificial wilderness
     And a sky like lead.

A plain without a feature, bare and brown,
  No blade of grass, no sign of neighborhood,
Nothing to eat and nowhere to sit down,
  Yet, congregated on its blankness, stood
  An unintelligible multitude,
A million eyes, a million boots in line,
Without expression, waiting for a sign.

Out of the air a voice without a face
  Proved by statistics that some cause was just
In tones as dry and level as the place:
  No one was cheered and nothing was discussed;
  Column by column in a cloud of dust
They marched away enduring a belief
Whose logic brought them, somewhere else, to grief.

   She looked over his shoulder
     For ritual pieties,
   White flower-garlanded heifers,
     Libation and sacrifice,
   But there on the shining metal
     Where the altar should have been,
   She saw by his flickering forge-light
     Quite another scene.

Barbed wire enclosed an arbitrary spot
  Where bored officials lounged (one cracked a joke)
And sentries sweated for the day was hot:
  A crowd of ordinary decent folk
  Watched from without and neither moved nor spoke
As three pale figures were led forth and bound
To three posts driven upright in the ground.

The mass and majesty of this world, all
  That carries weight and always weighs the same
Lay in the hands of others; they were small
  And could not hope for help and no help came:
  What their foes like to do was done, their shame
Was all the worst could wish; they lost their pride
And died as men before their bodies died.

   She looked over his shoulder
     For athletes at their games,
   Men and women in a dance
     Moving their sweet limbs
   Quick, quick, to music,
     But there on the shining shield
   His hands had set no dancing-floor
     But a weed-choked field.

A ragged urchin, aimless and alone,
  Loitered about that vacancy; a bird
Flew up to safety from his well-aimed stone:
  That girls are raped, that two boys knife a third,
  Were axioms to him, who’d never heard
Of any world where promises were kept,
Or one could weep because another wept.

   The thin-lipped armorer,
     Hephaestos, hobbled away,
   Thetis of the shining breasts
     Cried out in dismay
   At what the god had wrought
     To please her son, the strong
   Iron-hearted man-slaying Achilles
     Who would not live long.

Horses of Achilles by Constantine P. Cavafy (Two Translations)

Horses of Achilles (Two Translations)

When they saw Patroklos dead
—so brave and strong, so young—
the horses of Achilles began to weep;
their immortal nature was upset deeply
by this work of death they had to look at.
They reared their heads, tossed their long manes,
beat the ground with their hooves, and mourned
Patroklos, seeing him lifeless, destroyed,
now mere flesh only, his spirit gone,
defenseless, without breath,
turned back from life to the great Nothingness.

Zeus saw the tears of those immortal horses and felt sorry.
“At the wedding of Peleus,” he said,
“I should not have acted so thoughtlessly.
Better if we hadn’t given you as a gift,
my unhappy horses. What business did you have down there,
among pathetic human beings, the toys of fate.
You are free of death, you will not get old,
yet ephemeral disasters torment you.
Men have caught you up in their misery.”
But it was for the eternal disaster of death
that those two gallant horses shed their tears. 

(Translated by Edmond Keeley/ Philip Sherard)

When they saw Patroclus had been killed,
               he who’d been so brave, and strong, and young,
               the horses of Achilles began to weep:
               their immortal nature was indignant
               at this work of death, which it now beheld.
They’d shake their heads and toss their flowing manes,
               and with their feet they’d stamp the ground and grieve
    for Patroclus who they knew was lifeless—undone—
    shabby flesh by now—his spirit vanished—
               left without defenses—without breath—
    returned from life unto the great Nothing.

                         Zeus beheld the tears of the immortal
horses and grieved. “At Peleus’s marriage,”
               he said, “I should never have committed such great folly.
               Better never to have given you away, my
               unhappy horses! What business have you down here
with wretched humanity, the plaything of fate.
               You, for whom neither death nor old age lie in wait,
    are oppressed by passing misfortunes. Men have snared you
in their afflictions.”— And yet their tears,
               for the everlasting calamity
    of death, the noble creatures kept on shedding.

(Translated by Daniel Mendelsohn)

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Reading in Bed by Marianne Boruch

Reading in Bed

I'm reading you a poem as you
fall asleep, smallest door inside
to the almost, not quite

cease to be, you and me,

what someone wrote closing
his eyes too, some
woods exactly where
no sound at all in the road
or a leaf, this
dream all along was here

and here you
come to: I _was_ listening—

the best way
to honor any poem, waking
up to it, I think.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Tonight’s Quarry by D. A. Powell

Tonight’s Quarry.

We hadn’t got color up till then. And if I had a nickel, why, that was for milk. Milk money: the money a body gained.
Was just me on that hillside and the kite, red & white waked up into the wind. Hardly anybody knew me then.
Oh, Lord how quickly the things of this world came and went. Practically the first thing I notice when I get back.
Wind, and I am lifted. Wind and I am hauled ahead by string and air. The bows sinuate the air, I hear them tatter.

A certain kindness to that hill, its slope gone gaily green against the eve and oh, the tail dipped; the string slipped.
Uppity huff and drag of hawk air plundering eggs in the sparrow’s nest. You left this fragment, this bit of shell behind.

Monday, October 20, 2014

27 June 1906, 2 P.M. by Constantine P. Cavafy

27 June 1906, 2 P.M.

When the Christians brought him to be hanged,
the innocent boy of seventeen,
his mother, who there beside the scaffold
had dragged herself and lay beaten on the ground
beneath the midday sun, the savage sun,
now would moan, and howl like a wolf, a beast,
and then the martyr, overcome, would keen
“Seventeen years only you lived with me, my child.”
And when they took him up the scaffold’s steps
and passed the rope around him and strangled him,
the innocent boy, seventeen years old,
and piteously it hung inside the void,
with the spasms of black agony–
The youthful body, beautifully wrought–
His mother, martyr, wallowed on the ground
and now she keened no more about his years:
“Seventeen days only,” she keened,
“seventeen days only I had joy of you, my child.”

(Translation by Daniel Mendelsohn)

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Seven-Sided Poem by Carlos Drummond de Andrade

Seven-Sided Poem

When I was born, one of those twisted 
angels who live in the shadows said: 
‘Carlos, get ready to be a misfit in life!’

The houses watch the men 
who chase after women.
If desire weren’t so rampant, 
the afternoon might be blue.

The passing streetcar’s full of legs:
white and black and yellow legs.
My heart asks why, my God, so many legs? 
My eyes, however,
ask no questions.

The man behind the moustache
is serious, simple, and strong.
He hardly ever talks.
Only a very few are friends
with the man behind the glasses and moustache.

My God, why have you forsaken me 
if you knew that I wasn’t God,
if you knew that I was weak.

World so large, world so wide,
if my name were Clyde,
it would be a rhyme but not an answer. 
World so wide, world so large,
my heart’s even larger.

I shouldn’t tell you,
but this moon
but this brandy
make me sentimental as hell.

(Translated by Richard Zenith)

Friday, October 17, 2014

Pebble by Zbigniew Herbert


The pebble
is a perfect creature
equal to itself
mindful of its limits
filled exactly
with a pebbly meaning
with a scent which does not remind one of anything
does not frighten anything away
does not arouse desire
its ardor and coldness
are just and full of dignity
I feel a heavy remorse
when I hold it in my hand
and its noble body
is permeated by false warmth
— Pebbles cannot be tamed
to the end they will look at us
with a calm and very clear eye

(Translated from the Polish by Peter Dale Scott and Czeslaw Milosz)

Wintering by Kevin Young


I am no longer ashamed 
how for weeks, after, I wanted 
to be dead - not to die, 

mind you, or do 
myself in - but to be there 
already, walking amongst 

all those I'd lost, to join 
the throng singing, 
if that's what there is - 

or the nothing, the gnawing - 
So be it. I wished 
to be warm - & worn - 

like the quilt my grandmother 
must have made, one side 
a patchwork of color - 

blues, green like the underside 
of a leaf - the other 
an old pattern of the dolls 

of the world, never cut out 
but sewn whole - if the world 
were Scotsmen & sailors 

in traditional uniforms. 
Mourning, I've learned, is just 
a moment, many, 

grief the long betrothal 
beyond. Grief what 
we wed, ringing us - 

heirloom brought 
from my father's hot house - 
the quilt heavy tonight 

at the foot of my marriage bed, 
its weight months of needling 
& thread. Each straightish, 

pale, uneven stitch 
like the white hairs I earned 
all that hollowed year - pull one 

& ten more will come, 
wearing white, to its funeral - 
each a mourner, a winter, 

gathering ash at my temple.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

From "Citizen" by Claudia Rankine

From "Citizen"


You are in the dark, in the car, watching the black-tarred street being swallowed by speed; he tells you his dean is making him hire a person of color when there are so many great writers out there. 

You think maybe this is an experiment and you are being tested or retroactively insulted or you have done something that communicates this is an okay conversation to be having. 

Why do you feel okay saying this to me? You wish the light would turn red or a police siren would go off so you could slam on the brakes, slam into the car ahead of you, be propelled forward so quickly both your faces would suddenly be exposed to the wind.

As usual you drive straight through the moment with the expected backing off of what was previously said. It is not only that confrontation is headache producing; it is also that you have a destination that doesn’t include acting like this moment isn’t inhabitable, hasn’t happened before, and the before isn’t part of the now as the night darkens 
and the time shortens between where we are and where we are going.

When you arrive in your driveway and turn off the car, you remain behind the wheel another ten minutes. You fear the night is being locked in and coded on a cellular level and want time to function as a power wash. Sitting there staring at the closed garage door you are reminded that a friend once told you there exists a medical term — John Henryism — for people exposed to stresses stemming from racism. They achieve themselves to death trying to dodge the build up of erasure. Sherman James, the researcher who came up with the term, claimed the physiological costs were high. You hope by sitting in 
silence you are bucking the trend.

When the stranger asks, Why do you care? you just stand there staring at him. He has just referred to the boisterous teenagers in Starbucks as niggers. Hey, I am standing right here, you responded, not necessarily expecting him to turn to you.

He is holding the lidded paper cup in one hand and a small paper bag in the other. They are just being kids. Come on, no need to get all KKK on them, you say.

Now there you go, he responds.

The people around you have turned away from their screens. The teenagers are on pause. There I go? you ask, feeling irritation begin to rain down. Yes, and something about hearing yourself repeating this stranger’s accusation in a voice usually reserved for your partner makes you smile.

A man knocked over her son in the subway. You feel your own body wince. He’s okay, but the son of a bitch kept walking. She says she grabbed the stranger’s arm and told him to apologize: I told him to look at the boy and apologize. And yes, you want it to stop, you want the black child pushed to the ground to be seen, to be helped to his feet and be brushed off, not brushed off  by the person that did not see him, has never seen him, has perhaps never seen anyone who is not a reflection of himself.

The beautiful thing is that a group of men began to stand behind me like a fleet of  bodyguards, she says, like newly found uncles and brothers.

The new therapist specializes in trauma counseling. You have only ever spoken on the phone. Her house has a side gate that leads to a back entrance she uses for patients. You walk down a path bordered on both sides with deer grass and rosemary to the gate, which turns out to be locked.

At the front door the bell is a small round disc that you press firmly. When the door finally opens, the woman standing there yells, at the top of her lungs, Get away from my house. What are you doing in my yard?

It’s as if a wounded Doberman pinscher or a German shepherd has gained the power of speech. And though you back up a few steps, you manage to tell her you have an appointment. You have an appointment? she spits back. Then she pauses. Everything pauses. Oh, she says, followed by, oh, yes, that’s right. I am sorry.

I am so sorry, so, so sorry.


Monday, October 13, 2014

Hymn by Carl Phillips


Less the shadow
than you a stag, sudden, through it.   
Less the stag breaking cover than

the antlers, with which   
Less the antlers as trees leafless,

to either side of the stag’s head, than—
between them—the vision that must   
mean, surely, rescue.

Less the rescue.
More, always, the ache   
toward it.

When I think of death, the gleam of
the world darkening, dark, gathering me   
now in, it is lately

as one more of many other nights   
figured with the inevitably   
black car, again the stranger’s

strange room entered not for prayer   
but for striking
prayer’s attitude, the body

kneeling, bending, until it finds   
the muscled patterns that   
predictably, given strain and

release, flesh assumes.   
When I think of desire,
it is in the same way that I do

God: as parable, any steep
and blue water, things that are always   
there, they only wait

to be sounded.
And I a stone that, a little bit, perhaps   
should ask pardon.

My fears—when I have fears—
are of how long I shall be, falling,   
and in my at last resting how

indistinguishable, inasmuch as they   
are countless, sire,
all the unglittering other dropped stones.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Postcard 2 by Franz Wright

Postcard 2

Incomprehensible fate that sentenced my father to my mother. I can’t blame him, I would have left the raving bitch myself, and would do so many many times in years to come. Then, of course, I came along. There is a limit to what one man can endure. So I suppose I am the reason he left, actually. I am the one to blame. And yet he did his best; he did all that he was capable of doing, and wrote me every year, like clockwork. He rarely remembered to mail what he wrote me, poor man (when I think of what I must have put him through), barely legible one-sentence postcards he sometimes worked at half the night; but as they all said the same thing, word for word, it wasn’t that bad. He could be forgiven. The blizzard I visit your city disguised as will never be over and never arrive. I think what he was trying to say was that at some point I’d begin to notice I was freezing, wasn’t dressed right, had nowhere to go, and was staggering into a blinding snow that no one else could see. I think he meant, the cold will make you what I am today.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Faith Healing by Philip Larkin

Faith Healing

Slowly the women file to where he stands   
Upright in rimless glasses, silver hair,
Dark suit, white collar. Stewards tirelessly   
Persuade them onwards to his voice and hands,   
Within whose warm spring rain of loving care   
Each dwells some twenty seconds. Now, dear child,
What’s wrong, the deep American voice demands,   
And, scarcely pausing, goes into a prayer   
Directing God about this eye, that knee.   
Their heads are clasped abruptly; then, exiled

Like losing thoughts, they go in silence; some   
Sheepishly stray, not back into their lives
Just yet; but some stay stiff, twitching and loud   
With deep hoarse tears, as if a kind of dumb   
And idiot child within them still survives   
To re-awake at kindness, thinking a voice   
At last calls them alone, that hands have come   
To lift and lighten; and such joy arrives
Their thick tongues blort, their eyes squeeze grief, a crowd   
Of huge unheard answers jam and rejoice—

What’s wrong! Moustached in flowered frocks they shake:   
By now, all’s wrong. In everyone there sleeps   
A sense of life lived according to love.
To some it means the difference they could make   
By loving others, but across most it sweeps
As all they might have done had they been loved.   
That nothing cures. An immense slackening ache,   
As when, thawing, the rigid landscape weeps,
Spreads slowly through them—that, and the voice above   
Saying Dear child, and all time has disproved.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Boast of Quietness by Jorge Luis Borges

Boast of Quietness

Writings of light assault the darkness, more prodigious than meteors.
The tall unknowable city takes over the countryside.
Sure of my life and death, I observe the ambitious and would like to
understand them.
Their day is greedy as a lariat in the air.
Their night is a rest from the rage within steel, quick to attack.
They speak of humanity.
My humanity is in feeling we are all voices of that same poverty.
They speak of homeland.
My homeland is the rhythm of a guitar, a few portraits, an old sword,
the willow grove's visible prayer as evening falls.
Time is living me.
More silent than my shadow, I pass through the loftily covetous multitude.
They are indispensable, singular, worthy of tomorrow.
My name is someone and anyone.
I walk slowly, like one who comes from so far away he doesn't expect to arrive.

(Translation by S. Kessler)

Saturday, October 4, 2014

A Postponed Poem for New York by Amjad Nasser

A Postponed Poem for New York


Before what happened happened,
I mean, before the towers became a stairway to the day
of reckoning, and the world split into two
camps, water and sand,
I used to wish that I’d be among the poets
who would curse New York.

The poem was almost ready in my mind.
To write a poem about the jungle of asphalt and concrete
has become a tradition since Lorca
(inspired by Whitman probably, not Gibran)
had anchored the first rule for the poets
who would aim their pointed poem at the Big Apple,
the sex and money cobra,
the Babylon of our time.

It’s not necessary that poets throw their explosive
cigarette butts in the Hudson’s mud,
or swagger drunk on the cheapest liquor
across Brooklyn bridge, or listen to Jazz howl
in Harlem’s glistening knife-dappled night,
or know that the Statue of Liberty with a flame
that can no longer illuminate a beetle’s wing
was, originally, destined to the Suez Canal
but when the Egyptian state went bankrupt
to the cadence of Aida’s opera
the new rising power, beyond the ocean the Arabs
pessimistically called the Sea of Darkness,
purchased it. And it doesn’t matter
if the poets take the subway with round eyes
that guard their backs, or if they don’t take the subway.
Because he ain’t no poet
who doesn’t try his luck with New York,
to describe it, defame it, threaten it
with a Sodomite destiny, even if he has not seen
cruelty’s dice, the black tears of colored folks,
the muddy feathers of gray pigeons that are good
for anything except as symbol for a peace
that pours from New York’s stony lid.


I’ve never been to America.
I knew it as others do
through movies, dreams, and wars
that gave birth in us – we whose trunks bend
under the weight of its metal ruckus
over the irrigation wheels
of blood and drought –
to two original emotions: love and hate.
And when I once found myself
in the land of maples, I didn’t answer the call
of Ahmad, my brother,
who was constantly snatched by the urging
of gold and dust from the east coast to the west coast
until he ended up fighting for survival
behind the metal bars of a gas station
where his buddy was shot dead with one bullet.
I was afraid that my fleeting passage
through Upper Manhattan
would ruin my ferocious poem that cooks
on my slow fires
of acrimony.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

But since what happened happened,
I mean after September 11 in the year of two
false prophets and their satanic verses,
when humankind discovered,
with sudden metaphysical distress,
that our human hands, which we have long trained
to fly in order
to alight us on the face of abundance, these hands,
when the towers exploded, were not wings
but two sledge hammers that plummet
us to the ground. Since then
I’ve been unable to write this poem.
That’s how New York will escape,
for the time being at least,
from another invective poem about its vertical vanity.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

That’s a predictable parting blow.
I’d like to suggest
another ending for the poem:
those who flew into the abyss of Resurrection
full of belief that they indeed did possess wings,
if they should ever know
why what happened happened,
think, New York, of the circular time of proverbs,
of blood and heroin dripping from graffiti,
of poisonous mushroom hats on the heads
of a new progeny of statues, of Agent Orange
in mourning dress, of Tomahawk fins
as they leave a child’s eyes
open forever.

perhaps the letters of those who drowned,
who are dizzy for a tuft of grass and a drop
of water, who are lepers in the womb,
stiff as nails in long lines for a brittle moon,
that so-called loaf of bread,
perhaps their letters are still moaning
in bottles the waves of the two oceans keep
on tossing back and forth.

(Translation by Fady Joudah)

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Microcosmos by Wisława Szymborska


When we first started looking through microscopes
a cold fear blew and it’s still blowing.
Life hitherto had been frantic enough
in all its shapes and dimensions.
Which is why it created small-scale creatures,
assorted tiny worms and flies,
but at least the naked human eye
could see them.

But then suddenly beneath the glass,
foreign to a fault
and so petite,
that what they occupy in space
can only charitably be called a spot.

The glass doesn’t even touch them,
they double and triple unobstructed,
with room to spare, willy-nilly.

To say they’re many isn’t saying much.
The stronger the microscope
the more exactly, avidly they’re multiplied.

They don’t even have decent innards.
They don’t know gender, childhood, age.
They may not even know they are—or aren’t.
Still they decide our life and death.

Some freeze in momentary stasis,
although we don’t know what their moment is.
Since they’re so minuscule themselves,
their duration may be
pulverized accordingly.

A windborne speck of dust is a meteor
from deepest space,
a fingerprint is a farflung labyrinth
where they may gather
for their mute parades,
their blind iliads and upanishads.

I’ve wanted to write about them for a long while,
but it’s a tricky subject,
always put off for later
and perhaps worthy of a better poet,
even more stunned by the world than I.
But time is short. I write.

(Translated by Stanisław Barańczak and Clare Cavanagh)

In Jerusalem by Mahmoud Darwish

In Jerusalem

In Jerusalem, and I mean within the ancient walls,
I walk from one epoch to another without a memory
to guide me. The prophets over there are sharing
the history of the holy ... ascending to heaven
and returning less discouraged and melancholy, because love
and peace are holy and are coming to town.
I was walking down a slope and thinking to myself: How
do the narrators disagree over what light said about a stone?
Is it from a dimly lit stone that wars flare up?
I walk in my sleep. I stare in my sleep. I see
no one behind me. I see no one ahead of me.
All this light is for me. I walk. I become lighter. I fly
then I become another. Transfigured. Words
sprout like grass from Isaiah’s messenger
mouth: “If you don’t believe you won’t be safe.”
I walk as if I were another. And my wound a white
biblical rose. And my hands like two doves
on the cross hovering and carrying the earth.
I don’t walk, I fly, I become another,
transfigured. No place and no time. So who am I?
I am no I in ascension’s presence. But I
think to myself: Alone, the prophet Muhammad
spoke classical Arabic. “And then what?”
Then what? A woman soldier shouted:
Is that you again? Didn’t I kill you?
I said: You killed me ... and I forgot, like you, to die.

(Translated by Fady Joudah)