Wednesday, January 28, 2009

767. The silent Movies - Wislawa Szymborska

Translated from the Polish by Walter Whipple

If there are angels
they probably don't read
our novels
about disappointed hopes.

I'm afraid -- unfortunately --
that they don't read our poems, either,
which are full of grudges toward the world.
The shrieks and twitches
of our plays
must -- I suspect --
bore them.

In their breaks from angel-work,
or rather non-human work
they prefer to watch
our comedians
from the age of the silent movies.

More than the lamenters
who tear their clothes
and gnash their teeth
they appreciate, I think,
the poor wretch
who grabs the drowning man by his toupé
or who eats his own shoelace out of starvation.

From the waist up: breasts and aspirations
and below a frightened mouse
in his pant leg.
Oh, yes
this must heartily amuse them.

transforms into running from the pursued.
The light in the tunnel
turns out to be the eye of a tiger.
A hundred catastrophies
are a hundred amusing sommersaults
above a hundred abysses.
If there are angels,
they should be convinced, I hope,
by merriment
swinging above terror,
not even calling "help, help"
because all this happens in silence.

I dare suppose
that they are clapping their wings
and that tears are flooding their eyes,
especially tears of laughter.

Monday, January 26, 2009

766. Solving The Puzzle - Steven Dunn

I couldn't make all the pieces fit,
so I threw one away.

No expectation of success now,
none of that worry.

The remaining pieces seemed
to seek their companions.
A design appeared.

I could see the connection
between the overgrown path
and the dark castle on the hill.

Something in the middle, though,
was missing.

It would have been important once.
I wouldn't have been able to sleep
without it.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

765. For Thomas Hardy - Dennis Haskell

Start with simple things:
Grass, the earth, the roots of grass.

Perhaps meaning is found
Only in the minute perception
Of old and familiar objects.

What more do you have?
If you wish to discover
The Gods you must look
To things, not into
Your own mind.

And be specific: kikuyu, the dark soil.
Our discordinate minds
Shake at the roots:
If you wish to construct a religion
Choose nothing more solid than water.

Because this can be counted on
To move, and to capture
Every angle contained in colour.

Because everything breaks down
Into perception , the onrush of light
Running toward and across our eyes.

Because this is opposed to
The assumption that perfection exists
Whatever perfection might mean to us: hands
Untouched by wrinkles, grass
That spreads untiring shoots like green fingers
Whose knuckles never coarsen,
A life of no conceivable pain.

But the mind holds colour
Spreading from somewhere outside the mind;
Light breaks onto our eyes
And leaves us simple things: earth and water,
Suffering, joy, the roots
Of a coarse religion.

Monday, January 19, 2009

764. To the master Dōen Zenji - Robert Gray

Dōgen came in and sat on the wood platform,
all the people had gathered
like birds upon the lake.

After years, he'd come back from China,
and had brought no scriptures—he showed them
empty hands.

This was in Kyoto
at someone-else's temple. He said, All that's important
is the ordinary things.

Making the fire
to boil some bathwater, pounding rice, pulling the weeds
and knocking dirt from their roots,

or pouring tea—those blown scarves,
a moment, more beautiful than the drapery
in paintings by a Master.

—'It is this world of the dharmas
(the atoms)
which is the Diamond.'


Dōgen received, they say, his first insight
from an old cook at some monastery
in China,

who was hanging about on the jetty
where they docked—who had come down
to buy mushrooms,

among the rolled-up straw sails,
the fish-nets and brocade litters,
the geese in baskets.

High sea-going junk,
shuffling and dipping
like an official.

Dōgen could see
and empty shoreline, the pinewood plank of the beach,
the mountains

and dusty. Standing about
with his new smooth skull.

The horses' lumpy hooves clumped on the planks
of that jetty—they arched their necks
and dipped their heads like swans

manes blown about
like the white threads from off
the falling breakers:;

holding up their hooves as though they were tender,
the sea grabbing at
the timber below.

And the two Buddhists in all the shuffle got to bow,
The old man told him, Up there,
that place—

the monastery a cliff-face
in one of the shadowy hills—
My study is cooking;

no not devotion, not
any of your sacred books (meaning Buddhism). And Dōgen,

he must have thought
who is his old prick, so ignorant
of the Law,

and it must have shown.
Son, I regret
that you haven't caught on

to where it is one discovers
the Original Nature
of the mind and things


Dōgen said, Ideas
from reading, from people, from a personal bias,
toss them all out—

You shall only discover by looking in
this momentary mind,'

And said, 'The Soto school
isn't one
of the many entities in buddhism,

you should not even use that name',
It is just sitting in mediation;
an awareness, with no

clinging to,
no working on, the mind.
It is a floating. Ever-moving. 'Marvellous emptiness.'

'Such zazen began a long time
before Buddha,
and will continue for ever.'

And upon this leaf one shall cross over
the stormy sea,
among the dragon-like waves.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

763. Rapture - Galway Kinnell

I can feel she has got out of bed.
That means it is seven a.m.
I have been lying with eyes shut,
thinking, or possibly dreaming,
of how she might look if, at breakfast,
I spoke about the hidden place in her
which, to me, is like a soprano’s tremolo,
and right then, over toast and bramble jelly,
if such things are possible, she came.
I imagine she would show it while trying to conceal it.
I imagine her hair would fall about her face
and she would become apparently downcast,
as she does at a concert when she is moved.
The hypnopompic play passes, and I open my eyes
and there she is, next to the bed,
bending to a low drawer, picking over
various small smooth black, white,
and pink items of underwear. She bends
so low her back runs parallel to the earth,
but there is no sway in it, there is little burden, the day has hardly begun.
The two mounds of muscles for walking, leaping, lovemaking,
lift toward the east—what can I say?
Simile is useless; there is nothing like them on earth.
Her breasts fall full; the nipples
are deep pink in the glare shining up through the iron bars
of the gate under the earth where those who could not love
press, wanting to be born again.
I reach out and take her wrist
and she falls back into bed and at once starts unbuttoning my pajamas.
Later, when I open my eyes, there she is again,
rummaging in the same low drawer.
The clock shows eight. Hmmm.
With huge, silent effort of great,
mounded muscles the earth has been turning.
She takes a piece of silken cloth
from the drawer and stands up. Under the falls
of hair her face has become quiet and downcast,
as if she will be, all day among strangers,
looking down inside herself at our rapture.

Friday, January 16, 2009

762. Icarus - Valentin Iremonger

As, even to-day, the airman, feeling the plane sweat
Suddenly, seeing the horizon tilt up gravely, the wings shiver,
Knows that, for once, Daedalus has slipped up badly,
Drunk on the job, perhaps, more likely dreaming, high-flier Icarus,
Head butting down skidding along the light-shafts
Back,over the tones of the sea-waves and the slip-stream, heard
The gravel-voiced, stuttering trumpets of his heart
Sennet among the crumbling court-yards of his brain the mistake
Of trusting somebody else on an important affair like this;
And while the flat sea, approaching, buckled into oh! avenues
Of acclamation, he saw the wrong story fan out into history.
Truth, undefined, lost in his own neglect On the hills,
The summer-shackled hills, the sun spanged all day;
Love and the world were young and there was no ending:

But star-chaser, bit-time-going, chancer Icarus
Like a dog on the sea lay and the girls forgot him
And Daedalus, too busy hammering another job,
Remembered him only in pubs. No bugler at all
Sobbed taps for the young fool then, reported missing,
Presumed drowned, wing-bones and feathers on the tide
Drifting in casually, one by one.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

761. Nothing's A Gift - Wislawa Szymborska

Translated from the Polish by Walter Whipple

Nothing's a gift, everything is borrowed.
I'm drowning in debts up to my ears.
I will be forced
to pay for myself with myself,
to give my life for my life.

It has been appointed
that the heart must be returned,
and the liver, too,
and each individual finger.

It's too late to cancel the contract.
Debts will be extracted from me
along with my skin.

I wander this earth
amid a throng of fellow debtors.
Some are burdened by the obligation
of paying off their wings.
Others, like it or not,
are charged for their leaves.

The Debt side encumbers
each tissue in us.
There is no eyelash, no petiole
to keep forever.

The register is meticulous
and it's evident that
we are to be left with nothing.

I can't remember
where, when and why
I consented to open
this account.

The protest against this account
is what we call the soul.
And it is the only thing
not on the list.


Monday, January 12, 2009

760. In Trackless Woods - Richard Wilbur

In trackless woods, it puzzled me to find
Four great rock maples seemingly aligned,
As if they had been set out in a row
Before some house a century ago,
To edge the property and lend some shade.
I looked to see if ancient wheels had made
Old ruts to which the trees ran parallel,
But there were none, so far as I could tell-
There'd been no roadway. Nor could I find the square
Depression of a cellar anywhere,
And so I tramped on further, to survey
Amazing patterns in a hornbeam spray
Or spirals in a pine cone, under trees
Not subject to our stiff geometries.

Friday, January 09, 2009

759. Stern Visage - Nina Nyhart

(after a painting my Paul Klee)

A man decides he doesn't want to die, he wants
to take a trip. It might be a long trip, he thinks,
so I'd better go alone. Or it might be short,
so I'll take my wife. They board the sailboat,
but at the first port of call his wife jumps ship.

It might be a long trip, he thinks, I'll get
another wife. He meets a woman, falls in love,
they marry, but soon she says she only wanted him
for fun, not this sailing stuff, and they part
at the next stop. The man thinks, The hell

with women. It might be a short trip or it might
be long. I'll take this little green moon
with me. It's portable, sheds light, and smiles
mysteriously. The moon seems contented and
the man keeps on sailing, So far, he reflects,

it's been a bit of a lark. But pretty soon
he begins to feel tired, older, a lot older.
The man thinks maybe the moon will keep him young.
Hey there, Little Moon, he says. The moon says
nothing. The man begins to feel desperate and

throws the moon overboard. But the moon bounces
back and shines its pale green light on him
The sea is growing rough and the moon remains
silent. It's the middle of the night, cold, bell
buoys clanging. Serious business, the man thinks.

The trip might be too long, it might be better
to cut it short. Who's responsible, anyway?
He grabs the moon, shakes it. There, Old Moon-face,
now what do you say? The moon says nothing.
But the man notices the moon is smaller than before.

About half its original size. The trip might be
long, the man thinks, or it might be short . . .
Lean up against me, Dear one, Shiny one, he says.

Monday, January 05, 2009

758. The Tapestry - Howard Nemerov

On this side of the tapestry
There sits the bearded king,
And round about him stand
His lords and ladies in a ring.
His hunting dogs are there,
And armed men at command.

On that side of the tapestry
The formal court is gone,
The kingdom is unknown;
Nothing but thread to see,
Knotted and rooted thread
Spelling a world unsaid.

Men do not find their ways
Through a seamless maze,
And all direction lose
In a labyrinth of clues,
A forest of loose ends
Where sewing never mends.

Friday, January 02, 2009

757. Beethoven's Quartet in C Major, Opus 59 - Linda Pastan

The violins
are passionately
occupied but it is the cellist

who seems to be
holding the music
in his arms, moving his bow

as if it were
a dowsing rod
and the audience
dying of thirst.