Wednesday, April 30, 2008

650. The Palace - Tomas Tranströmer

Translated from the Swedish by Robin Fulton

We stepped in. A single vast hall,
silent and empty, where the surface of the floor lay
like an abandoned skating rink.
All doors shut. The air grey.

Paintings on the walls. We saw
pictures throng lifelessly: shields, scale-
pans, fishes, struggling figures
in a deaf-and-dumb world on the other side.

A sculpture was set out in the void:
in the middle of the hall alone a horse stood
but at first when we were absorbed
by all the emptiness we did not notice him.

Fainter than the breathing in a shell
sounds and voices from the town
circling in this desolate space
murmuring and seeking power.

Also something else. Something darkly
set itself at our senses' five
thresholds without stepping over them.
Sand ran in every silent glass.

It was time to move. We walked
over to the horse. He was gigantic,
dark as iron. An image of power itself
abandoned when the princes left.

The horse spoke: "I am The Only One.
The emptiness that rode me I have thrown.
This is my stable. I am growing quietly.
And I eat the silence that's in here."

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

649. After Years - Ted Kooser

Today, from a distance, I saw you
walking away, and without a sound
the glittering face of a glacier
slid into the sea. An ancient oak
fell in the Cumberlands, holding only
a handful of leaves, and an old woman
scattering corn to her chickens looked up
for an instant. At the other side
of the galaxy, a star thirty-five times
the size of our own sun exploded
and vanished, leaving a small green spot
on the astronomer's retina
as he stood on the great open dome
of my heart with no one to tell.

Monday, April 28, 2008

648. Unwritten Poem Reviewed - Wislawa Szymborska

Translated from the Polish by Adam Czerniawski

In the opening words of her composition
the author asserts that the Earth is small,
while the sky in unconscionably vast
and, I quote, "contains more than necessary" stars.

In her description of the heavens one detects a certain helplessness,
the author loses herself in the terrible void,
she is struck by the lifelessness of many planets
and presently her mind (which lacks rigour)
poses the question
whether, after all, we are alone
under the sun, under all the suns of the universe.

Flouting the calculus of probability!
And all the generally accepted convictions!
Despite incontrovertible proof which any day now
may fall into our hands! Ah, well, poetry.

Meanwhile, our oracle returns to Earth,
a planet which perhaps "rolls on without witness",
the sole "science-fiction cosmos can afford".
The despair of Pascal (1623-1662 [Ed.])
appears to the author to have no match
on Andromeda or Cassiopeia.
Uniqueness exaggerates and obligates,
and thus arises the problem of how to live, and so on,
since "emptiness will not resolve that for us".
"My God, man cries to His Own Self,
have mercy on me, bring me light ..."

The author is haunted by the thought of life so effortlessly frittered away,
as though there were endless supplies of it;
by wars which - according to her perverse opinion -
are always lost on both sides;
by man's "policification" (sic!) of man.
A moral intent flickers in the work
and would probably have glowed under a less naïve pen.

A pity, though. This fundamentally risky thesis
(are we, after all, perhaps alone
beneath the sun, beneath all the suns of the universe)
and its development in her happy-go-lucky style
(a mixture of loftiness and common speech)
causes us to ask whether anyone would believe it.
No one surely. Quite so.

Friday, April 25, 2008

647. Daisies - Connie Wanek

In the democracy of daisies
every blossom has one vote.
The question on the ballot is
Does he love me?

If the answer's wrong I try another,
a little sorry about the petals
piling up around my shoes.

Bees are loose in the fields
where daisies wait and hope,
dreaming of the kiss of a proboscis.
We can't possibly understand

what makes us such fools.
I blame the June heat
and everything about him.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

646. The Quarrel - Linda Pastan

If there were a monument
to silence, it would not be
the tree whose leaves
murmur continuously
among themselves;

nor would it be the pond
whose seeming stillness
is shattered
by the quicksilver
surfacing of fish.

If there were a monument
to silence, it would be you
standing so upright, so unforgiving,
your mute back deflecting
every word I say.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

645. For My Young Friends Who Are Afraid - William Stafford

There is a country to cross you will
find in the corner of your eye, in
the quick slip of your foot—air far
down, a snap that might have caught.
And maybe for you, for me, a high, passing
voice that finds its way by being
afraid. That country is there, for us,
carried as it is crossed. What you fear
will not go away: it will take you into
yourself and bless you and keep you.
That's the world, and we all live there.

Monday, April 21, 2008

644. John Clare - Mark Halperin

Sometimes there is a man–
I never feel him come
but he is who I am
and I am someone.

He does not care to stay.
If we are both John Clare
why does he go away?
and where? and where?

Friday, April 18, 2008

643. Variations On The Word Sleep - Margaret Atwood

I would like to watch you sleeping,
which may not happen
I would like to watch you
sleeping. I would like to sleep
with you, to enter
your sleep as its smooth dark wave
slides over my head

and walk with you through that lucent
wavering forest of bluegreen leaves
with its watery sun & three moons
towards the cave where you must descend,
towards your worst fear

I would like to give you the silver
branch the small white flower, the one
word that will protect you
from the grief at the center
of your dream, from the grief
at the center. I would like to follow
you up the long stairway

again & become
the boat that would row you back
carefully, a flame
in two cupped hands
to where your body lies
beside me, and you enter
it as easily as breathing in.

I would like to be the air
that inhabits you for a moment
only. I would like to be that unnoticed
& that necessary.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

642. September, The First Day Of School - Howard Nemerov

My child and I hold hands on the way to school,
And when I leave him at the first-grade door
He cries a little but is brave; he does
Let go. My selfish tears remind me how
I cried before that door a life ago.
I may have had a hard time letting go.

Each fall the children must endure together
What every child also endures alone:
Learning the alphabet, the integers,
Three dozen bits and pieces of a stuff
So arbitrary, so peremptory,
That worlds invisible and visible

Bow down before it, as in Joseph's dream
The sheaves bowed down and then the stars bowed down
Before the dreaming of a little boy.
That dream got him such hatred of his brothers
As cost the greater part of life to mend,
And yet great kindness came of it in the end.

A school is where they grind the grain of thought,
And grind the children who must mind the thought.
It may be those two grindings are but one,
As from the alphabet come Shakespeare's Plays,
As from the integers comes Euler's Law,
As from the whole, inseparably, the lives,

The shrunken lives that have not been set free
By law or by poetic phantasy.
But may they be. My child has disappeared
Behind the schoolroom door. And should I live
To see his coming forth, a life away,
I know my hope, but do not know its form

Nor hope to know it. May the fathers he finds
Among his teachers have a care of him
More than his father could. How that will look
I do not know, I do not need to know.
Even our tears belong to ritual.
But may great kindness come of it in the end.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

641. Der Abschied - May Sarton

Now frost has broken summer like a glass,
This house and I resume our conversations;
The floors whisper a message as I pass,
I wander up and down these empty rooms
That have become my intimate relations,
Brimmed with your presence where your absence blooms––
And did you come at last, come home, to tell
How all fulfillment tastes of a farewell?

Here is the room where you lay down full length
That whole first day, to read, and hardly stirred,
As if arrival had taken all your strength;
Here is the table where you bent to write
The morning through, and silence spoke its word;
And here beside the fire we talked, as night
Came slowly from the wood across the meadow
To frame half of our brilliant world in shadow.

The rich fulfillment came; we held it all;
Four years of struggle brought us to his season,
Then in one week our summer turned to fall;
The air chilled and we sensed the chill in us,
The passionate journey ending in sweet reason.
The autumn light was there, frost on grass.
And did you come at last, come home, to tell
How all fulfillment tastes of a farewell?

Departure is the constant at this stage;
And all we know is that we cannot stop,
However much the childish heart may rage.
We are still outward-bound to obligations
And, radiant centers, life must drink us up
Devour our strength in multiple relations.
Yet I still question in these empty rooms
Brimmed with your presence where your absence blooms,

What stays that can outlast these deprivations?
Now, peopled by the dead, and ourselves dying,
The house and I resume old conversations:
What stays? Perhaps some autumn tenderness,
A different strength that forbids youthful sighing.
Though frost has broken summer like a glass,
Know, as we hear the thudding apples fall,
Not ripeness but the suffering change is all.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

640. The Crossing-Place - Tomas Tranströmer (2)

Translated from the Swedish by Robin Fulton

Ice-wind in my eyes and the suns dance
in the kaleidoscope of tears as I cross
the street that's followed me so long, the street
where Greenland-summer shines from puddles.

Around me the whole strength of the street swarms,
power that remembers nothing, wants nothing.
For a thousand years, in the earth deep
under traffic the unborn forest quietly waits.

I get the idea that the street can see me.
Its sight is so dim the sun itself
is a gray ball in black space.
But right now I am shining––the street sees me!

Tomas Tranströmer - Street Crossing
Translated from the Swedish by Robert Bly

Cold winds hit my eyes, and two or three suns
dance in the kaleidoscope of tears, as I cross
this street I know so well,
where the Greenland summer shines from snowpools.

The street's massive life swirls around me;
it remembers nothing and desires nothing.
Far under the traffic, deep in earth,
the unborn forest waits, still, for a thousand years.

It seems to me that the street can see me.
Its eyesight is so poor the sun itself
is a gray ball of yarn in black space.
But for a second I am lit. It sees me.

Monday, April 14, 2008

639. Whshhh - Sonnet L'Abbe

by this dim moon's light
I invite you to my mind
we are meeting in a darkness
we are setting out to find

the words to the mission
we're supposed to set in motion
to retune imagination
to the rhythm of the ocean

the sea deeply wishes
it could speak so we hear
the waves of its wisdom
and the shivers of its fear

of what will come of moving
at a fibre optic pace
we forgot what we are
when we conquered time and space

[the electronic drum's]
[steady beat becomes a hum]
[its velocity can speed]
[beyond a human spectrum]

[and I know how it feels]
[to ride that hyperbolic curve]
[up toward the top to tap]
[the supersonic nerve, but]

our bodies are organic
made of moon and sky and earth
we are travellers into death
we're emergers out of birth

and the water inside you
is the water in the sea
is the water in our pipes
and the water inside me

and the water inside you
is the water in the sea
is the water in our consequence
and the water inside me

and so the sea dreams
that we will run no faster
that we will stop our endless racing
to be each other's master

stop and hear the mission
we're supposed to set in motion
to retune imagination
to the rhythm of the ocean

know ourselves to be the heirs
of water, land and air
we are sons of the sun
and the daughters of the sea

know ourselves to be the heirs
of water, land and air
we are sons of the sun
and the daughters of the sea

Friday, April 11, 2008

638. I Feel I Am - John Clare

I feel I am. I only know I am
And plod upon the earth as dull and void
Earth's prison chilled my body with its dram
Of dullness, and my soaring thoughts destroyed.
I fled to solitudes from passions dream
But strife persued–I only know I am.
I was a being created in the race
Of men disdaining bounds of place and time–
A spirit that could travel o'er the space
Of earth and heaven–like a thought sublime,
Tracing creation, like my maker, free–
A soul unshackled like eternity,
Spurning earth's vain and soul debasing thrall
But now I only know I am–that's all.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

637. Travel Elegy - Wislawa Szymborska

Translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh

Everything's mine but just on loan,
nothing for the memory to hold,
though mine as long as I look.

Memories come to mind like excavated statues
that have misplaced their heads.

From the town of Samokov, only rain
and more rain.

Paris from Louvre to fingernail
grows web-eyed by the moment.

Boulevard Saint-Martin: some stairs
leading into a fadeout.

Only a bridge and a half
from Leningrad of the bridges.

Poor Uppsala, reduced to a splinter
of its mighty cathedral.

Sofia's hapless dancer,
a form without a face.

Then separately, his face without eyes;
separately again, eyes with no pupils,
and, finally, the pupils of a cat.

A Caucasian eagle soars
above a reproduction of a canyon,
the fool's gold of the sun,
the phony stones.

Everything's mine but just on loan,
nothing for the memory to hold,
though mine as long as I look.

Inexhaustible, unembraceable,
but particular to the smallest fiber,
grain of sand, drop of water -

I won't retain one blade of grass
as it's truly seen.

Salutation and farewell
in a single glance.

For surplus and absence alike,
a single motion of the neck.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

636. Degrees Of Gray In Philipsburg - Richard Hugo

You might come here Sunday on a whim.
Say your life broke down. The last good kiss
you had was years ago. You walk these streets
laid out by the insane, past hotels
that didn’t last, bars that did, the tortured try
of local drivers to accelerate their lives.
Only churches are kept up. The jail
turned 70 this year. The only prisoner
is always in, not knowing what he’s done.

The principal supporting business now
is rage. Hatred of the various grays
the mountain sends, hatred of the mill,
The Silver Bill repeal, the best liked girls
who leave each year for Butte. One good
restaurant and bars can’t wipe the boredom out.
The 1907 boom, eight going silver mines,
a dance floor built on springs–
all memory resolves itself in gaze,
in panoramic green you know the cattle eat
or two stacks high above the town,
two dead kilns, the huge mill in collapse
for fifty years that won’t fall finally down.

Isn’t this your life? That ancient kiss
still burning out your eyes? Isn’t this defeat
so accurate, the church bell simply seems
a pure announcement: ring and no one comes?
Don’t empty houses ring? Are magnesium
and scorn sufficient to support a town,
not just Philipsburg, but towns
of towering blondes, good jazz and booze
the world will never let you have
until the town you came from dies inside?

Say no to yourself. The old man, twenty
when the jail was built, still laughs
although his lips collapse. Someday soon,
he says, I’ll go to sleep and not wake up.
You tell him no. You’re talking to yourself.
The car that brought you here still runs.
The money you buy lunch with,
no matter where it’s mined, is silver
and the girl who serves your food
is slender and her red hair lights the wall.

Monday, April 07, 2008

635. Heard In A Violent Ward - Theodore Roethke

In heaven, too,
You'd be institutionalized
But that's all right,–
If they let you eat and swear
With the likes of Blake,
And Christopher Smart,
And that sweet man, John Clare.

Friday, April 04, 2008

634. Romanesque Arches - Tomas Tranströmer

Inside the huge Romanesque church the tourists jostled in the half darkness.
vault gaped behind vault, no complete view.
A few candle flames flickered.
An angel with no face embraced me
and whispered through my whole body:
"Don't be ashamed of being human, be proud!
Inside you vault opens behind vault endlessly.
You will never be complete, that's how it's meant to be."
Blind with tears
I was pushed out on the sun-seething piazza
together with Mr. and Mrs. Jones, Mr Tanaka, and Signora Sabatini,
and inside each of them vault opened behind vault endlessly.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

633. Next Day - Randall Jarrell

Moving from Cheer to Joy, from Joy to All,
I take a box
And add it to my wild rice, my Cornish game hens.
The slacked or shorted, basketed, identical
Food-gathering flocks
Are selves I overlook. Wisdom, said William James,

Is learning what to overlook. And I am wise
If that is wisdom.
Yet somehow, as I buy All from these shelves
And the boy takes it to my station wagon,
What I've become
Troubles me even if I shut my eyes.

When I was young and miserable and pretty
And poor, I'd wish
What all girls wish: to have a husband,
A house and children. Now that I'm old, my wish
Is womanish:
That the boy putting groceries in my car

See me. It bewilders me he doesn't see me.
For so many years
I was good enough to eat: the world looked at me
And its mouth watered. How often they have undressed me,
The eyes of strangers!
And, holding their flesh within my flesh, their vile

Imaginings within my imagining,
I too have taken
The chance of life. Now the boy pats my dog
And we start home. Now I am good.
The last mistaken,
Ecstatic, accidental bliss, the blind

Happiness that, bursting, leaves upon the palm
Some soap and water—
It was so long ago, back in some Gay
Twenties, Nineties, I don't know . . . Today I miss
My lovely daughter
Away at school, my sons away at school,

My husband away at work—I wish for them.
The dog, the maid,
And I go through the sure unvarying days
At home in them. As I look at my life,
I am afraid
Only that it will change, as I am changing:

I am afraid, this morning, of my face.
It looks at me
From the rear-view mirror, with the eyes I hate,
The smile I hate. Its plain, lined look
Of gray discovery
Repeats to me: "You're old." That's all, I'm old.

And yet I'm afraid, as I was at the funeral
I went to yesterday.
My friend's cold made-up face, granite among its flowers,
Her undressed operated-on, dressed body
Were my face and body.
As I think of her I hear her telling me

How young I seem; I am exceptional;
I think of all I have.
But really no one is exceptional,
No one has anything , I'm anybody,
I stand beside my grave
Confused with my life, that is commonplace and solitary.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

632. A Music - Wendell Berry

I employ the blind mandolin player
in the the tunnel of the Mètro. I pay him
a coin as hard as his notes,
and maybe he has employed me, and pays me
with his playing to hear him play.

Maybe we're necessary to each other,
and this vacant place has need of us both
––it's vacant, I mean, of dwellers,
is populated by passages and absences.

By some fate or knack he has chosen
to place his music in this cavity
where there's nothing to look at
and blindness costs him nothing.
Nothing was here before he came.

His music goes out among the sounds
of footsteps passing. The tunnel is the resonance
and meaning of what he plays.
It's his music, not the place, I go by.

In this light which is just a fact, like darkness
or the edge or end of what you may be
going toward, he turns his cap up on his knees
and leaves it there to ask and wait, and holds up
his mandolin, the lantern of his world;

his fingers make their pattern on the wires.
This is not the pursuing of rhythm
of a blind cane pecking in the sun,
but is a singing in a dark place.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

631. Du Rêve, De La Mathématique, Et De La Mort - Howard Nemerov

On dreams, on mathematics, and on death.
Card-catalogues turn up such heady stuff
Sometimes as this, this rapture from the depths
Which isn't where it should be on the shelf.
For a moment, remembering Borges' poor young clerk,
I idly consider writing it myself,
Setting record for the shortest work
The world had ever seen on three such themes
Of such import as death and math and dreams.

I think of asking that a search be made,
But give it up, my French is not so great
And right now I've plenty on my plate
Without this title turned up by pure chance
As if designed to bait my ignorance.
Any yet––? But I shall let this once-glimpsed fish
Swim through the deep of thought beyond my wish,
And resign myself to knowing nothing more
Du rêve, de la mathématique, et de la mort.