Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Mud Vision by Seamus Heaney

The Mud Vision                    

Statues with exposed hearts and barbed-wire crowns
Still stood in alcoves, hares flitted beneath
The dozing bellies of jets, our menu-writers
And punks with aerosol sprays held their own
With the best of them. Satellite link-ups
Wafted over us the blessings of popes, heliports
Maintained a charmed circle for idols on tour
And casualties on their stretchers. We sleepwalked
The line between panic and formulae, screentested
Our first native models and the last of the mummers,
Watching ourselves at a distance, advantaged
And airy as a man on a springboard
Who keeps limbering up because the man cannot dive.

And then in the foggy midlands it appeared,
Our mud vision, as if a rose window of mud
Had invented itself out of the glittery damp,
A gossamer wheel, concentric with its own hub
Of nebulous dirt, sullied yet lucent.
We had heard of the sun standing still and the sun
That changed colour, but we were vouchsafed
Original clay, transfigured and spinning.
And then the sunsets ran murky, the wiper
Could never entirely clean off the windscreen,
Reservoirs tasted of silt, a light fuzz
Accrued in the hair and the eyebrows, and some
Took to wearing a smudge on their foreheads
To be prepared for whatever. Vigils
Began to be kept around pudddled gaps,
On altars bulrushes ousted the lilies
And a rota of invalids came and went
On beds they could lease placed in range of the shower.

A generation who had seen a sign!
Those nights when we stood in an umber dew and smelled
Mould in the verbena, or woke to a light
Furrow-breath on the pillow, when the talk
Was all about who had seen it and our fear
Was touched with a secret pride, only ourselves
Could be adequate then to our lives. When the rainbow
Curved flood-brown and ran like a water-rat's back
So that drivers on the hard shoulder switched off to watch,
We wished it away, and yet we presumed it a test
That would prove us beyond expectation.

We lived, of course, to learn the folly of that.
One day it was gone and the east gable
Where its trembling corolla had balanced
Was starkly a ruin again, with dandelions
Blowing high up on the ledges, and moss
That slumbered on through its increase. As cameras raked
The site from every angle, experts
Began their post factum jabber and all of us
Crowded in tight for the big explanations.
Just like that, we forgot that the vision was ours,
Our one chance to know the incomparable
And dive to a future. What might have been origin
We dissipated in news. The clarified place
Had retrieved neither us nor itself -- except
You could say we survived. So say that, and watch us
Who had our chance to be mud-men, convinced and estranged,
Figure in our own eyes for the eyes of the world.

Funeral Blues by W. H. Auden

Funeral Blues

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone.
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling in the sky the message He is Dead,
Put crêpe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever, I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun.
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

Monday, December 29, 2014

My Grandmother’s Grave by Dunya Mikhail

My Grandmother’s Grave

When my grandmother died
I thought, “She can’t die again.”
Everything in her life
happened once and forever:
her bed on our roof,
the battle of good and evil in her tales,
her black clothes,
her mourning for her daughter who
“was killed by headaches,”
the rosary beads and her murmur,
“Forgive us our sins,”
her empty vase from the Ottoman time,
her braid, each hair a history —

First were the Sumerians,
their dreams inscribed in clay tablets.
They drew palms, so dates ripen before their sorrows.
They drew an eye to chase evil
away from their city.
They drew circles and prayed for them:
a drop of water
a sun
a moon
a wheel spinning faster than Earth.
They begged: “Oh gods, don’t die and leave us alone.”

Over the Tower of Babel,
light is exile,
its codes crumbs of songs
leftover for the birds.

More naked emperors
passed by the Tigris
and more ships . . .
The river full
of crowns
dead fish,
and on the Euphrates, corpse-lilies floating.

Every minute a new hole in the body of the ship.

The clouds descended on us
war by war,
picked up our years,
our hanging gardens,
and flew away like storks.

We said there isn’t any worse to come.

Then the barbarians came
to the mother of two springs.
They broke my grandmother’s grave: my clay tablet.
They smashed the winged bulls whose eyes
were sunflowers
widely open
watching the fragments of our first dreams
for a lifetime.

My hand on the map
as if on an old scar.


Saturday, December 27, 2014

I Have a Horse by Tomaž Šalamun

I Have a Horse

I have a horse. My horse has four legs.
I have a record player. On my record player I sleep.
I have a brother. My brother is a sculptor.
I have a coat. I have a coat to keep me warm.
I have a plant. I have a plant to have green in my room.
I have Marushka. I have Marushka because I love her.
I have matches. With matches I light cigarettes.
I have a body. With a body I do the most beautiful things that I do.
I have destruction. Destruction causes me many troubles.
I have night. Night comes to me through the window of my room.
I have fun racing cars. I race cars because car racing is fun.
I have money. With money I buy bread.
I have six really good poems. I hope I will write more of them.
I am twenty-seven years old. All these years have passed like lightning.
I am relatively courageous. With this courage I fight human stupidity.
I have a birthday March seventh. I hope March seventh will be a nice day.
I have a friend whose daughter’s name is Breditza.
In the evening when they put her to bed she says Salamun and falls asleep. 

(Translated by Tomaž Šalamun and Anselm Hollo)

Friday, December 26, 2014

The Chestnut Branch by Thomas James

The Chestnut Branch

There is something to be said for darkness
After all. My mother’s hands
Have been full of the dark all winter.

They are hollow boats not going anyplace.
They only pull the blinds
Or gesticulate at some ineradicable star.

Now the backyard unfolds its lacy pleats,
And I bring in a white branch
Because love is the lesson for tomorrow.

Will nothing cure the brightness in these streets?
A million strange petals touch
The panes. Is it a gift of snow?

Is it making up for lack of bandages?
Is it cold, is it hot–
Will it keep, should we put it on ice?

Should my sister sew it into bridal clothes?
Is it lingerie, or just a sheet
To pull across a used-up face?

Will it brighten up the arms of chairs?
It moves. It hurts my eyes.
I am not accustomed to so much light.

It is like waking after twenty years
To find your wife gone and the trees
Too big, strange white growths that flank the street.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Oxen by Thomas Hardy

The Oxen

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
“Now they are all on their knees,”
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
“Come; see the oxen kneel,

“In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,”
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A Touch by Rose McLarney

A Touch

We rinse the glasses
from which we will drink

affordable whiskey
with scotch or absinthe,

my love and I, the less than
a swallow left of good

liquor scenting the whole
cocktail. What intoxication

we afford each other
cannot be excess or impure.


A dried-out, overused river
runs through, or rather,

idles in, our small city
where we never intended to settle.

Birds alight on odorous pools stranded
between mudflats, a baptism

in reverse—the body that enters
proclaiming the water clean.

They dip down plumed heads
to say this is enough.


The pigeons, so adaptable, delight
in dropped scraps. While we—

however many lovers late in life
—rub the rims of Sazeracs

with an orange’s remaining peel,
arousing a perfume.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Musée des Beaux Arts by W. H Auden

Musée des Beaux Arts

About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Sleeping with One Eye Open by Mark Strand

Sleeping with One Eye Open

Unmoved by what the wind does,
The windows
Are not rattled, nor do the various
Of the house make their usual racket--
Creek at
The joints, trusses, and studs.
They are still. And the maples,
At times to raise havoc,
Not a sound from their branches
It's my night to be rattled,
With spooks. Even the half-moon
Half-dark), on the horizon,
Lies on
Its side casting a fishy light
Which alights
On my floor, lavishly lording
Its morbid
Look over me. Oh, I feel dead,
Away in my blankets for good, and
My room is clammy and cold,
And weird. The shivers
Wash over
Me, shaking my bones, my loose ends
And I lie sleeping with one eye open,
That nothing, nothing will happen.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Unknown Citizen by W. H. Auden

The Unknown Citizen

(To JS/07 M 378
This Marble Monument
Is Erected by the State)

He was found by the Bureau of Statistics to be
One against whom there was no official complaint,
And all the reports of his conduct agree
That, in the modern sense of the old-fashioned word, he was a saint,
For in everything he did he served the Greater Community.
Except for the war till the day he retired
He worked in a factory and never got fired,
But satisfied his employers, Fudge Motors Inc.
Yet he wasn’t a scab or odd in his views,
For his union reports that he paid his dues,
(Our report of his union shows it was sound)
And our Social Psychology workers found
That he was popular with his mates and liked a drink.
The Press are convinced that he bought a paper every day,
And that his reactions to advertisements were normal in every way.
Policies taken out in his name prove that he was fully insured,
And his Health-card shows that he was once in hospital but left it cured.
Both Producers Research and High–Grade Living declare
He was fully sensible to the advantages of the Installment Plan
And had everything necessary to the Modern Man,
A gramophone, a radio, a car and a frigidaire.
Our researchers into Public Opinion are content
That he held the proper opinions for the time of the year;
When there was peace he was for peace; when there was war he went.
He was married and added five children to the population,
which our Eugenist says was the right number for a parent of his generation,
And our teachers report he never interfered with their education.
Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:
Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Deadly James by James A. Emanuel

Deadly James

(For All the Victims of Police Brutality)

The killer-cops, the San Diego three,
what made them think you deadly, James?
I take their guilty heads into my arms;
I cradle them,
my tendons hush their eyes,
illumine them to see the years roll back:
your little window, James, unsealed,
your palomino rocking horse,
his glassy eyes unquiet
when the sudden blood that splashed his ivory mane
told you the table knife you sucked on
was different, could also spit upon the tawny rug
breathtaking tracks ––
deadly, James.
I embrace their heads more tightly;
their veins bulge to understand you, James,
you, hardly old enough to run,
dancing solitary in the Brooklyn rain
your older playmates dashed from,
your arms and lips and laughter reaching up
for all the sky could pour
upon the rivers capering inside you ––
deadly rivers, James?
I hug their heads
with strength I had saved for you, James:
their eyeballs darken as they strain with me
to find you practicing your saxophone,
lying in the quilted heaps your head poked up
around your stocking feet – the littered outpost
of that farther wilderness you made your room,
“NO ENTRY” blazed across the door
to guard your heartbeats
when your golden horn believed its one-man note ––
that wild sweet loneliness you cried ––
beguiling neighbors into forgiveness
before you fumbled scales beginners know,
You began at the top, James,
I clasp their heads more fiercely,
empowered by the memory of you
stranded where they bled you down
into your smallest drop,
gunhammers cocked and nightsticks sinewed ––
all three bewildered to find beauty
defiantly beyond them,
a tiny, dark-brown flower: the grain of you, James
watered back to momentary life
by your manful tears.
In my iron arms their heads turn dry,
drop hollow to the ground…
If your new, unearthly wisdom bids you,
raise them.
But whenever you feel blood again,
or rain, or music,
pray your innocence be deadlier, James,

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

At the Movie: Virginia, 1956 by Ellen Bryant Voigt

At the Movie: Virginia, 1956

This is how it was:
they had their own churches, their own schools,
schoolbuses, football teams, bands and majorettes,
separate restaurants, in all the public places
their own bathrooms, at the doctor’s
their own waiting room, in the Tribune
a column for their news, in the village
a neighborhood called Sugar Hill,
uneven rows of unresponsive houses
that took the maids back in each afternoon—
in our homes used the designated door,
on Trailways sat in the back, and at the movie
paid at a separate entrance, stayed upstairs.
Saturdays, a double feature drew the local kids
as the town bulged, families surfacing
for groceries, medicine and wine,
the black barber, white clerks in the stores—crowds
lined the sidewalks, swirled through the courthouse yard,
around the stone soldier and the flag,

and still I never saw them on the street.
It seemed a chivalric code
laced the milk: you’d try not to look
and they would try to be invisible.
Once, on my way to the creek,
I went without permission to the tenants’
log cabin near the barns, and when Aunt Susie
opened the door, a cave yawned, and beyond her square,
leonine, freckled face, in the hushed interior,
Joe White lumbered up from the table, six unfolding
feet of him, dark as a gun-barrel, his head bent
to clear the chinked rafters, and I caught
the terrifying smell of sweat and grease,
smell of the woodstove, nightjar, straw mattress—
This was rural Piedmont, upper south;
we lived on a farm but not in poverty.
When finally we got our own TV, the evening news
with its hooded figures of the Ku Klux Klan
seemed like another movie—King Solomon’s Mines,
the serial of Atlantis in the sea.
By then I was thirteen,
and no longer went to movies to see movies.
The downstairs forged its attentions forward,
toward the lit horizon, but leaning a little
to one side or the other, arranging the pairs
that would own the county, stores and farms, everything
but easy passage out of there—
and through my wing-tipped glasses the balcony
took on a sullen glamor: whenever the film
sputtered on the reel, when the music died
and the lights came on, I swiveled my face
up to where they whooped and swore,
to the smoky blue haze and that tribe
of black and brown, licorice, coffee,
taffy, red oak, sweet tea—

wanting to look, not knowing how to see,
I thought it was a special privilege
to enter the side door, climb the stairs
and scan the even rows below—trained bears
in a pit, herded by the stringent rule,
while they were free, lounging above us,
their laughter pelting down on us like trash. 

My Mother’s Pride by Thom Gunn

My Mother’s Pride

She dramatized herself
Without thought of the dangers.
But “Never pay attention,” she said,
“To the opinions of strangers.”

And when I stole from a counter,
“You wouldn’t accept a present
From a tradesman.” But I think I might have:
I had the greed of a peasant.

She was proud of her ruthless wit
And the smallest ears in London.
“Only conceited children are shy.”
I am made by her, and undone.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Impasse by Langston Hughes


I could tell you
If I wanted to,
What makes me
What I am.

But I don't
Really want to –
And you don't
Give a damn.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Greed by Philip Schultz


My ocean town struggles
to pick up leaves,
offer summer school,
and keep our library open.
Every day now
more men stand
at the railroad station,
waiting to be chosen for work.
Because it’s thought
the Hispanics will work for less
they get picked first,
while the whites and blacks
avoid the terror
in one another’s eyes.
Our handyman, Santos,
who expects only
what his hands earn,
is proud of   his half acre in Guatemala,
where he plans to retire.
His desire to proceed with dignity
is admirable, but he knows
that now no one retires,
everyone works harder.
My father imagined a life
more satisfying than the one
he managed to lead.
He didn’t see himself as uneducated,
thwarted, or bitter,
but soon-to-be rich.
Being rich was his right, he believed.
Happiness, I used to think,
was a necessary illusion.
Now I think it’s just
precious moments of relief,
like dreams of Guatemala.
Sometimes, at night,
in winter, surrounded by
the significant silence
of empty mansions,
which once were cottages,
where people lived their lives,
and now are owned by banks
and the absent rich,
I like to stand at my window,
looking for a tv’s futile flickering,
always surprised to see
the quaint, porous face
of my reflection,
in its one abundance.

Ode to a Nightingale by John Keats

Ode to a Nightingale
My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
         My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
         One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
'Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
         But being too happy in thine happiness,—
                That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees
                        In some melodious plot
         Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
                Singest of summer in full-throated ease.

O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been
         Cool'd a long age in the deep-delved earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country green,
         Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!
O for a beaker full of the warm South,
         Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
                With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
                        And purple-stained mouth;
         That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
                And with thee fade away into the forest dim:

Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
         What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
         Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,
         Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
                Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
                        And leaden-eyed despairs,
         Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
                Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.

Away! away! for I will fly to thee,
         Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,
But on the viewless wings of Poesy,
         Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:
Already with thee! tender is the night,
         And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,
                Cluster'd around by all her starry Fays;
                        But here there is no light,
         Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown
                Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.

I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,
         Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,
But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet
         Wherewith the seasonable month endows
The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;
         White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;
                Fast fading violets cover'd up in leaves;
                        And mid-May's eldest child,
         The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,
                The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.

Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
         I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call'd him soft names in many a mused rhyme,
         To take into the air my quiet breath;
                Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
         To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
                While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
                        In such an ecstasy!
         Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain—
                   To thy high requiem become a sod.

Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
         No hungry generations tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
         In ancient days by emperor and clown:
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
         Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
                She stood in tears amid the alien corn;
                        The same that oft-times hath
         Charm'd magic casements, opening on the foam
                Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.

Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
         To toll me back from thee to my sole self!
Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well
         As she is fam'd to do, deceiving elf.
Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades
         Past the near meadows, over the still stream,
                Up the hill-side; and now 'tis buried deep
                        In the next valley-glades:
         Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
                Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?