Friday, June 28, 2013

An Adam Zagajewski Poem

Adam Zagajewski

To Go to Lvov

To go to Lvov. Which station
for Lvov, if not in a dream, at dawn, when dew 
gleams on a suitcase, when express
trains and bullet trains are being born. To leave 
in haste for Lvov, night or day, in September 
or in March. But only if Lvov exists,
if it is to be found within the frontiers and not just 
in my new passport, if lances of trees
—of poplar and ash—still breathe aloud 
like Indians, and if streams mumble
their dark Esperanto, and grass snakes like soft signs 
in the Russian language disappear
into thickets. To pack and set off, to leave 
without a trace, at noon, to vanish
like fainting maidens. And burdocks, green 
armies of burdocks, and below, under the canvas 
of a Venetian café, the snails converse
about eternity. But the cathedral rises,
you remember, so straight, as straight
as Sunday and white napkins and a bucket 
full of raspberries standing on the floor, and 
my desire which wasn’t born yet,
only gardens and weeds and the amber
of Queen Anne cherries, and indecent Fredro. 
There was always too much of Lvov, no one could 
comprehend its boroughs, hear
the murmur of each stone scorched
by the sun, at night the Orthodox church’s silence was unlike
that of the cathedral, the Jesuits
baptized plants, leaf by leaf, but they grew,
grew so mindlessly, and joy hovered 
everywhere, in hallways and in coffee mills 
revolving by themselves, in blue 
teapots, in starch, which was the first 
formalist, in drops of rain and in the thorns
of roses. Frozen forsythia yellowed by the window. 
The bells pealed and the air vibrated, the cornets 
of nuns sailed like schooners near 
the theater, there was so much of the world that
it had to do encores over and over,
the audience was in frenzy and didn’t want
to leave the house. My aunts couldn’t have known 
yet that I’d resurrect them, 
and lived so trustfully; so singly; 
servants, clean and ironed, ran for 
fresh cream, inside the houses 
a bit of anger and great expectation, Brzozowski 
came as a visiting lecturer, one of my 
uncles kept writing a poem entitled Why,
dedicated to the Almighty, and there was too much 
of Lvov, it brimmed the container, 
it burst glasses, overflowed
each pond, lake, smoked through every 
chimney, turned into fire, storm, 
laughed with lightning, grew meek, 
returned home, read the New Testament,
slept on a sofa beside the Carpathian rug,
there was too much of Lvov, and now 
there isn’t any, it grew relentlessly
and the scissors cut it, chilly gardeners 
as always in May, without mercy, 
without love, ah, wait till warm June
comes with soft ferns, boundless
fields of summer, i.e., the reality.
But scissors cut it, along the line and through 
the fiber, tailors, gardeners, censors
cut the body and the wreaths, pruning shears worked 
diligently, as in a child’s cutout
along the dotted line of a roe deer or a swan. 
Scissors, penknives, and razor blades scratched, 
cut, and shortened the voluptuous dresses
of prelates, of squares and houses, and trees
fell soundlessly, as in a jungle,
and the cathedral trembled, people bade goodbye 
without handkerchiefs, no tears, such a dry
mouth, I won’t see you anymore, so much death
awaits you, why must every city
become Jerusalem and every man a Jew,
and now in a hurry just
pack, always, each day,
and go breathless, go to Lvov, after all
it exists, quiet and pure as
a peach. It is everywhere.

(2002) Tr. Renata Gorczynski

Monday, June 24, 2013

A Shuntaro Tanikawa Poem

Continuing To Write

A train runs on a single line along the gorge
monkeys have given up on evolution
familiar bagpipe sounds are receding
and I have no choice but to continue writing poetry

A mother sits on a sofa, nursing her baby
a sudden explosion surprises a midday street corner
opinions are noisily voiced in a new morning
a youth is sulky, reading comics

so what do they matter?
An official history lines up only heroes
projecting old scarred images
and I have no choice but to continue writing poetry

I cannot find the end
because I don’t know the beginning
Day after day I live with doubts about believing
Only the sky is limitless, like salvation

I live with refuse that has no place to go to
forgetting the names of missing persons
pawning off offerings to the altar
unable to distinguish nanometers from light years

Asked about pros and cons in rapid succession
I dodge my swaying moods
I seek supreme bliss deeper than meaning
I have no choice but to continue writing poetry

(2007) Tr. Takako Lento

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Patricia Smith Poem

13 Ways of Looking at 13

You touch your forefinger to the fat clots in the blood,
then lift its iron stench to look close, searching the globs
of black scarlet for the dimming swirl of dead children.
You thread one thick pad’s cottony tail, then the other,
through the little steel guides of the belt. You stand and lift
the contraption, press your thighs close to adjust the bulk,
then bend to pull up coarse white cotton panties bleached blue,
and just to be safe, you pin the bottom of the pad
to the shredding crotch of the Carter’s. And then you spritz
the guilty air with the cloying kiss of FDS.
It’s time to begin the game of justifying ache,
time to name the mystery prickling riding your skin.
You’re convinced the boys can smell you, and they can, they can.

Right now, this Tuesday in July, nothing’s headier
than the words Sheen! Manageable! Bounce! Squinting into
the smeared mirror, you search your ghetto-ripe head for them,
you probe with greased fingers, spreading paths in the chaos
wide enough for the advertised glimmer to escape,
but your snarls hold tight to their woven dry confounding.
Fevered strands snap under the drag of the wiry brush
and order unfurls, while down the hall mama rotates
the hot comb in a bleary blaze, smacks her joyful gum.
Still, TV bellows its promise. You witness the pink
snap of the perfect neck, hear the impossible vow–
Shampoo with this! Sheen! Bounce! Her cornsilk head is gospel,
it’s true. C’mon chile! Even mama’s calling you burns.

Ms. Stein scribbled a word on the blackboard, said Who can
pronounce this?, and the word was anemone and from
that moment you first felt the clutter of possible
in your mouth, from the time you stumbled through the rhythm
and she slow-smiled, you suddenly knew you had the right
to be explosive, to sling syllables through back doors,
to make up your own damned words just when you needed them.
All that day, sweet anemone tangled in your teeth,
spurted sugar tongue, led you to the dictionary
where you were assured that it existed, to the cave
of the bathroom where you warbled it in bounce echo,
and, finally convinced you owned that teeny gospel,
you wrote it again and again and again and a–.

Trying hard to turn hips to slivers, sway to stutter,
you walk past the Sinclair station where lanky boys, dust
in their hair, dressed in their uniforms of oil and thud,
rename you pussy with their eyes. They bring sounds shudder
and blue from their throats just for you, serve up the ancient
sonata of skin drum and conch shell, sing suggesting woos
of AM radio, boom, boom, How you gon’ just walk
on by like that? and suddenly you know why you are
stitched so tight, crammed like a flash bomb into pinafore,
obeying mama’s instructions to be a baby
as long as you can. Because it’s a man’s world and James
Brown is gasoline, the other side of slow zippers.
He is all of it, the pump, pump, the growled please please please.

You try to keep your hands off your face, but the white-capped
pimples might harbor evil. It looks like something cursed
is trying to escape your cheeks, your whole soul could be
involved. So you pinch, squeeze and pop, let the smelly snow
splash the mirror, slather your fresh-scarred landscape with creams
that clog and strangle. At night, you look just like someone
obsessed with the moon, its gruff superstitions, its lies.
Your skin is a patchwork of wishing. You scrub and dab
and mask and surround, you bombard, spritz and peel, rubbing
alcohol, flesh-toned Clearasil that pinkens and cakes
while new dirtworms shimmy beneath the pummeled surface
of you. Every time you touch your face, you leave a scar.
Hey, you. Every time you touch your face, you leave a scar.

You want it all: Pickles with peppermint sticks shoved down
their middles, orange-cheesed popcorn mixed with barbecue chips,
waxed lips and werewolf fangs injected with bright blue juice,
red licorice spaghetti whips, pickled pig feet and
ears, hogshead cheese, Lemonheads, grits with sugar, salt pork,
sardines on saltines doused with red spark. All that Dixie
dirt binds, punches your insides flat, re-teaches the blind
beat of your days. Like mama and her mother before
her, you pulse on what is thrown away–gray hog guts stewed
improbable and limp, scrawny chicken necks merely
whispering meat. You will live beyond the naysayers,
your rebellious heart constructed of lard and salt, your
life labored but long. You are built of what should kill you.

Always treat white folks right, her solemn mantra again
and yet again, because they give you things. Like credit,
compliments, passing grades, government jobs, direction,
extra S&H stamps, produce painted to look fresh,
a religion. When the insurance man came, she snapped
herself alive, hurriedly rearranged her warm bulk. He
was balding badly, thatches of brown on a scabbed globe.
Just sign here, he hissed, staring crave into her huge breasts,
pocketing the death cash, money she would pay and pay
and never see again. C’mere girl, say hello to
Mister Fred. She had taught you to bow. She taught him
to ignore the gesture, to lock his watering eyes
to yours and lick his dry lips with a thick, coated tongue.

In the bathroom of the what-not joint on the way to
school, you get rid of the starch and billowed lace, barrettes
taming unraveling braids, white knee socks and sensible
hues. From a plastic bag, you take out electric blue
eye shadow, platforms with silver-glittered heels, neon
fishnets and a blouse that doesn’t so much button as
suggest shut. The transformation takes five minutes, and you
emerge feeling like a budding lady but looking,
in retrospect, like a blind streetwalker bursting from
a cocoon. This is what television does, turns your
mother into clueless backdrop, fills your pressed head with
the probability of thrum. Your body becomes
just not yours anymore. It’s a dumb little marquee.

With your bedroom door closed, you are skyscraper bouffant,
peach foundation, eyelashes like upturned claws. You are
exuding ice, pinched all over by earrings, you are
too much of woman for this room. The audience has
one chest, a single shared chance to gasp. They shudder, heave,
waiting for you to open your mouth and break their hearts.
Taking the stage, you become an S, pour ache into your
hip swings, tsk tsk as the front row collapses. Damn, they
want you. You lift the microphone, something illegal
comes out of you, a sound like titties and oil. Mama
flings the door open with a church version of your name.
Then you are pimpled, sexless, ashed and doubledutch knees.
You are spindles. You are singing into a hairbrush.

This is what everyone else is doing: skating in
soul circles, skinning shins, tongue-kissing in the coat room,
skimming alleys for Chicago rats, failing English, Math,
crushing curfew, lying about yesterday and age,
slipping Woolworth’s bounty into an inside pocket,
sprouting breasts. Here is what everyone else is doing:
sampling the hotness of hootch, grinding under blue light,
getting turned around in the subway, flinging all them
curse words, inhaling a quick supper before supper
fried up in hot Crisco and granulated sugar,
sneaking out through open windows when the night goes dark,
calling mamas bitches under their breath, staying up
till dawn to see what hides. What you are doing: Reading.

You are never too old. And you are never too world,
too almost grown, you are never correct, no matter
how many times you are corrected. It is never
too late, never too early to be told to cross the
street to the place where the wild stuff is, to suffer her
instructions: No, not that little switch, get the big one,
the one that makes that good whipping sound when the breeze blows,

and you are never too fast crossing the boulevard
to bring it back while winged sedans carve jazz on your path.
You climb the stairs, she screams Get up here! The door to where
you live with her flies open. She snatches the thorned branch,
whips it a hundred times across the backs of your legs.
You want her to die. Not once, no. Many times. Gently.

That boy does not see you. He sees through you, past your tone
of undecided earth. You are the exact shade of
the failed paper bag test, the Aunt Esther, you are hair
forever turning back in the direction from which
it came. You are clacking knees and nails bitten to blood.
Stumbling forth in black, Jesus-prescribed shoes, you have no
knowledge of his knowledge of hip sling and thrust. That boy
does not see you. So squeeze your eyes shut and imagine
your mouth touching the swell of his forearm. Imagine
just your name’s first syllable in the sugared well of
his throat. Dream of all the ways he is not walking past
you again, turning his eyes to the place where you are,
where you’re standing, where you shake, where you pray, where you aren’t.

You’re almost 14. And you think you’re ready to push
beyond the brutal wisdoms of the 1 and the 3,
but some nagging crave in you doesn’t want to let go.
You suspect that you will never be this unfinished,
all Hail Mary and precipice, stuttering sashay,
fuses in your swollen chest suddenly lit, spitting,
and you’ll need to give your hips a name for what they did
while you weren’t there. You’ll miss the pervasive fever that
signals bloom, the sore lessons of jumprope in your calves.
This is last year your father is allowed to touch
you. Sighing, you push Barbie’s perfect body through the
thick dust of a top shelf. There her prideful heart thunders.
She has hardened you well. She has taught you everything.


Friday, June 14, 2013

POEM: "Ikaria"


On an island they lived longest
who took tiny breaths and waited
rising and falling in the same motion
today I can't explain that with this
so let's please start with a garden
and with the insects they named
they lived there in a simple house
ακίνητος but couldn't recognise it
lacking a certain classical education
still they came armed with bread
centenarians caring for their children
flowing from warm hives like a breeze
who looked first at the state of my clothes
and then addressed my hunger.

© 2012 Rob Schackne

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

POEM: "This Will Hurt"

This Will Hurt

Last night    a little tipsy
and homesick    for the years ago
he walked into    a tattoo studio
and had burned    on his forearm
SS    his only son’s initials

© 2013 Rob Schackne

Saturday, June 8, 2013

A W.H. Auden Poem

A Lullaby

Lay your sleeping head, my love, 

Human on my faithless arm; 
Time and fevers burn away 
Individual beauty from 
Thoughtful children, and the grave 
Proves the child ephemeral: 
But in my arms till break of day 
Let the living creature lie, 
Mortal, guilty, but to me 
The entirely beautiful. 

Soul and body have no bounds: 
To lovers as they lie upon 
Her tolerant enchanted slope 
In their ordinary swoon, 
Grave the vision Venus sends 
Of supernatural sympathy, 
Universal love and hope; 
While an abstract insight wakes 
Among the glaciers and the rocks 
The hermit's carnal ecstasy. 

Certainty, fidelity 
On the stroke of midnight pass 
Like vibrations of a bell, 
And fashionable madmen raise 
Their pedantic boring cry: 
Every farthing of the cost, 
All the dreaded cards foretell, 
Shall be paid, but from this night 
Not a whisper, not a thought, 
Not a kiss nor look be lost. 

Beauty, midnight, vision dies: 
Let the winds of dawn that blow 
Softly round your dreaming head 
Such a day of welcome show 
Eye and knocking heart may bless, 
Find the mortal world enough; 
Noons of dryness find you fed 
By the involuntary powers, 
Nights of insult let you pass 
Watched by every human love.


Monday, June 3, 2013

A Cui Jian Song

A Piece Of Red Cloth

That day you used a piece of red cloth
to blindfold my eyes and cover up the sky
You asked me what I had seen
I said I saw happiness

This feeling really made me comfortable
made me forget I had no place to live
You asked where I wanted to go
I said I want to walk your road

I couldn’t see you and I couldn’t see the road
You grabbed both my hands and wouldn’t let go
You asked what I was thinking
I said I want to let you be my master

I have a feeling that you aren’t made of iron
but you seem to be as forceful as iron
I felt that you had blood on your body
because your hands were so warm

This feeling really made me comfortable
made me forget I had no place to live
You asked where I wanted to go
I said I want to walk your road

I had a feeling this wasn’t a wilderness
though I couldn’t see it was already dry and cracked
I felt that I wanted to drink some water
but you used a kiss to block off my mouth

I don’t want to leave and I don’t want to cry
because my body is already withered and dry
I want to always accompany you this way
because I know your suffering best

That day you used a piece of red cloth
to blindfold my eyes and cover up the sky
You asked me what I could see
I said I could see happiness

(1989) Tr. Andrew Jones, 1992

Sunday, June 2, 2013

A Patrizia Cavalli Poem

From "Ten Poems"

Very simple love that believes in words,
since I cannot do what I want to do,
can neither hug nor kiss you,
my pleasure lies in my words
and when I can I speak to you of love.
So, sitting with a drink in front of me,
the place filled with people,
if your forehead quickly creases
in the heat of the moment I speak too loudly
and you never say don’t be so loud,
let them think whatever they want
I draw closer melting with languor
and your eyes are so sweetly veiled
I don’t reach for you, no, not even the softest touch
but in your body I feel I am swimming,
and the couch in the bar’s lounge
when we get up looks like an unmade bed.

(2013) Tr. J.D. McClatchy