Friday, November 28, 2008

747. Our Turn - Rui Pires

Translated from the Portuguese by Alexis Levitin

It's the cold that cripples us on a winter
Sunday, when hope is at its
rarest. There are certain fixations
of consciousness, things that wander
about the house searching for their place

and secretly they slip into a poem.
It's envelopes from the water
company, a knife smeared with butter
on the tablecloth, that trail we leave
behind us and decipher without effort
and to no advantage. It's the wait

and the delay. It's the streets so still
at newscast time and the clinking of
neighborhood cutlery. It's the nighttime
aimlessness of memory: it's the fear
of having lost, quite casually,

our turn

Monday, November 24, 2008

746. On A Painting By Rousseau - Weldon Kees

Father Juniers Dog-Cart, 1908
Rousseau, Henri (le Douanier)
Musee de l'Orangerie, Paris, France

The clouds seem neater than the trees.
The sky, like faded overalls,
Breaks the distances of sight;
And shadow that defines the curb
shelters the silhouette of dog
Who, waiting patiently beneath
The amazing carriage with tangerine wheels,
Is eyeless, though he seems to sense
The black Chihuahua that the pavement grows.

The street is bare. The hooves and mane
Of the posing horse and his speckled flanks
Flow back to the six in the cart he draws:
The idiot aunt and the girl in white
(A Ventriloquist's doll with a colorless wig),
And a sexless figure upon whose lap
A beast is squatting, macabre, blurred.

These four and the one in the yellow hat
Regard us with eyes like photographs
That have been shown us long ago.
––All but the man in the driver's seat,
His wax hands fastened on the reins,
Who, from the corners of his eyes,
Watches the horse he does not trust.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

745. The Painter Dreaming in the Scholar's House - Howard Nemerov

In memory of the painters Paul Klee and Paul Terence Feeley

The painter's eye follows relation out.
His work is not to paint the visible,
He says, it is to render visible.

Being a man, and not a god, he stands
Already in a world of sense, from which
He borrows, to begin with, mental things
Chiefly, the abstract elements of language:
The point, the line, the plane, the colors and
The geometric shapes. Of these he spins
Relation out, he weaves its fabric up
So that it speaks darkly, as music does
Singing the secret history of the mind.
And when in this the visible world appears,
As it does do, mountain, flower, cloud, and tree,
All haunted here and there with the human face,
It happens as by accident, although
The accident is of design. It is because
Language first rises from the speechless world
That the painterly intelligence
Can say correctly that he makes his world,
Not imitates the one before his eyes.
Hence the delightsome gardens, the dark shores,
The terrifying forests where nightfall
Enfolds a lost and tired traveler.

And hence the careless crowd deludes itself
By likening his hieroglyphic signs
And secret alphabets to the drawing of a child.
That likeness is significant the other side
Of what they see, for his simplicities
Are not the first ones, but the furthest ones,
Final refinements of his thought made visible.
He is the painter of the human mind
Finding and faithfully reflecting the mindfulness
That is in things, and not the things themselves.

For such a man, art is an act of faith:
Prayer the study of it, as Blake says,
And praise the practise; nor does he divide
Making from teaching, or from theory.
The three are one, and in his hours of art
There shines a happiness through darkest themes,
As though spirit and sense were not at odds.

The painter as an allegory of the mind
At genesis. He takes a burlap bag,
Tears it open and tacks it on a stretcher.
He paints it black because, as he has said,
Everything looks different on black.

Suppose the burlap bag to be the universe,
And black because its volume is the void
Before the stars were. At the painter's hand
Volume becomes one-sidedly a surface,
And all his depths are on the face of it.

Against this flat abyss, this groundless ground
Of zero thickness stretched against the cold
Dark silence of the Absolutely Not
Material worlds arise, the colored earths
And oil of plants that imitate the light.

They imitate the light that is in thought
For mind relates to thinking as the eye
Relates to light. Only because the world
Already is a language can the painter speak
According to the grammar of the ground.

It is archaic speech, that has not yet
Divided out its cadences in words;
It is a language for the oldest spells
About how some thought rose into the mind
While others, stranger still, sleep in the world.

So grows the garden green, the sun vermilion
He sees the rose flame up and fade and fall.
And be the same rose still, the radiant in red.
He paints his language, and his language is
The theory of what the painter thinks.

The painter's eye attends to death and birth
Together, seeing a single energy
Momently manifest in every form,
As in the tree the growing of the tree
Exploding from the seed not more nor less
Than from the void condensing down and in,
Summoning sun and rain. He views the tree,
The great tree standing in the garden, say,
As thrusting downward its vast spread and weight,
Growing its green height from dark watered earth,
And as suspended weightless in the sky,
Haled forth and held up by the hair of its head.
He follows through the flowing of the forms
From the divisions of the trunk out to
The veinings of the leaf, and the leaf's fall.
His pencil meditates the many in the one
After the method in the confluence of rivers,
The running of ravines on mountainsides,
And in the deltas of the nerves; he sees
How things must be continuous with themselves
As with whole worlds that they themselves are not,
In order that they may be so transformed.
He stands where the eternity of thought
Opens upon perspective time and space;
He watches mind become incarnate; then
He paints the tree.

These thoughts have chiefly been about the painter Klee,
About how he in our hard time might stand to us
Especially whose lives concern themselves with learning
As patron of the practical intelligence of art,
And thence as model, modest and humorous in sufferings,
For all research that follows spirit where it goes.

That there should be much goodness in the world,
Much kindness and intelligence, candor and charm,
And that it all goes down in the dust after a while,
This is a subject for the steadiest meditations
Of the heart and mind, as for the tears
That clarify the eye toward charity.

So may it be to all of us, that at some times
In this bad time when faith in study seems to fail,
And when impatience in the street and still despair at home
Divide the mind to rule it, there shall some comfort come
From the remembrance of so deep and clear a life as his

Whom I have thought of, for the wholeness of his mind,
As the painter dreaming in the scholar's house,
His dream an emblem to us of the life of thought,
The same dream that then flared before intelligence
When light first went forth looking for the eye.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

744. Kissing Stieglitz Good-Bye - Gerald Stern

Every city in America is approached
through a work of art, usually a bridge
but sometimes a road that curves underneath
or drops down from the sky. Pittsburgh has a tunnel-
you don't know it-that takes you through the rivers
and under the burning hills. I went there to cry
in the woods or carry my heavy bicycle
through fire and flood. Some have little parks-
San Francisco has a park. Albuquerque
is beautiful from a distance; it is purple
at five in the evening. New York is Egyptian,
especially from the little rise on the hill
at 14-C; it has twelve entrances
like the body of Jesus, and Easton, where I lived,
has two small floating bridges in front of it
that brought me in and out. I said good-bye
to them both when I was 57. I'm reading
Joseph Wood Krutch again-the second time.
I love how he lived in the desert. I'm looking at the skull
of Georgia O'Keeffe. I'm kissing Stieglitz good-bye.
He was a city, Stieglitz was truly a city
in every sense of the word; he wore a library
across his chest; he had a church on his knees.
I'm kissing him good-bye; he was, for me,
the last true city; after him there were
only overpasses and shopping centers,
little enclaves here and there, a skyscraper
with nothing near it, maybe a meaningless turf
where whores couldn't even walk, where nobody sits,
where nobody either lies or runs; either that
or some pure desert: a lizard under a boojum,
a flower sucking the water out of a rock.
What is the life of sadness worth, the bookstores
lost, the drugstores buried, a man with a stick
turning the bricks up, numbering the shards,
dream twenty-one, dream twenty-two. I left
with a glass of tears, a little artistic vial.
I put it in my leather pockets next
to my flask of Scotch, my golden knife and my keys,
my joyful poems and my T-shirts. Stieglitz is there
beside his famous number; there is smoke
and fire above his head; some bowlegged painter
is whispering in his ear; some lady-in-waiting
is taking down his words. I'm kissing Stieglitz
good-bye, my arms are wrapped around him, his photos
are making me cry; we're walking down Fifth Avenue;
we're looking for a pencil; there is a girl
standing against the wall-I'm shaking now
when I think of her; there are two buildings, one
is in blackness, there is a dying poplar;
there is a light on the meadow; there is a man
on a sagging porch. I would have believed in everything.

Monday, November 17, 2008

743. Brueghel: The Triumph of Time - Howard Nemerov

Passing a Flemish village and a burning city
possible Babylon the Great, bringing the Spring
from Winter and any beginning to its end, there go
the actors in the ramshackle traveling show
that does whatever's done and then undoes it:
the horses of the sun and moon, stumbling on plate
and bullion, patiently pull the flat-bed wagon
where Cronos munches a child and the zodiac-encircled world
bears up a tree that blossoms half and withers half;
Death on a donkey follows, sloping his scythe,
and last a trumpeter angel on an elephant
is puffing the resurrection and the end of days.

Under the wheels, and under the animals' feet,
palette and book are broken with the crowns of kings
and the instruments of music, intimating to our eyes
by means of many examples the Triumph of Time,
which everything that is, with everything that isn't,
as Brueghel patiently puts it down, exemplifies.

Friday, November 14, 2008

742. Landscape - Wislawa Szymborska

In the old master's landscape,
the trees have roots beneath the oil paint,
the path undoubtedly reaches its goal,
the signature is replaced by a stately blade of grass,
it's a persuasive five in the afternoon.
May has been gently, yet firmly, detained,
so I've lingered, too. Why, of course, my dear,
I am the woman there, under the ash tree

Just see how far behind I've left you,
see the white bonnet and the yellow skirt I wear,
see how I grip my basket so as not to slip out of the painting,
how I strut within another's fate
and rest awhile from living mysteries.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

741. On A Celtic Mask By Henry Moore - Horace Gregory

The burnished silver mask hangs in white air,
The eyes stick out, the lips raised in a smile:
Where eyes had been, the hawk-winged Hebrides,
Tall, weeping waves against their friendless shores,

Rain in small knives that cut the flesh away,
And Sun the sword that flashes from the sky:
Sea-lion-headed creatures stalk these islands,
And breed their young to stand before their graves.

A crying Magdalen sings from her grotto,
Precarious life-in-death between the waters ––
None see her breasts, flushed limbs and winding hair ––
The women hear her in the new moon's madness.

Monday, November 10, 2008

740. 50 Years - Linda Pastan

Though we know
how it will end:
in grief and silence,
we go about our ordinary days
as if the acts of boiling an egg
or smoothing down a bed
were so small
they must be overlooked
by death. And perhaps

the few years left, sun drenched
but without grand purpose,
will somehow endure,
the way a portrait of lovers endures
radiant and true on the wall
of some obscure Dutch museum,
long after the names
of the artist and models
have disappeared.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

739. Lost Friends - Rui Pires Cabral

Translated fro the Portuguese by Alexis Levitin

Friends carried off by life
are the most difficult to appease, the most
tyrannical. Barbarians of an unknown land,
they sip the poison of silence and they grow
beyond all limits in the distance, a blind eye
to our loneliness. And to think that we were
brothers in arms, that we dug up buried treasure
from the same islands, from the most
barren of books. How things turn out.
Could all have been in vain? It seemed
that we were destined for the same
songs, for a more certain kind of love.
Well, well. And we cannot even understand
what happened.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

738. Breughel's Winter - Rutger Kopland

Translated from the Dutch by James Brockway

Winter by Breughel, the hill with hunters
and dogs, at their feet the valley with the village.
Almost home, but their dead-tired attitudes, their steps
in the snow––a return, but almost as
slow as arrest. At their feet the depths
grow and grow, become wider and further,
until the landscape vanishes into a landscape
that must be there, is there but only

as a longing is there.

Ahead of them a jet-black bird dives down. Is it mockery
of this labored attempt to return to the life
down there: the children skating on the pond,
the farms with women waiting and cattle?

An arrow underway, and it laughs at its target.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

737. Brueghel's Snow - Anne Stevenson

Here in the snow:
three hunters with dogs and pikes
trekking over a hill,
into and out of those famous footprints -
famous and still.

What did they catch?
They have little to show
on their bowed backs.
Unlike the delicate skaters below,
these are grim, they look ill.

In the village, it's zero.
Bent shapes in black clouts,
raw faces aglow
in the firelight, burning the wind
for warmth, or their hunger's kill.

What happens next?
In the unpainted picture?
The hunters arrive, pull
off their caked boots, curse the weather
slump down over stoups. . .

Who's painting them now?
What has survived to unbandage
my eyes as I trudge through this snow,
with my dog and stick,
four hundred winters ago?

Monday, November 03, 2008

736. A Medieval Miniature - Wislawa Szymborska

Translated from the Polish by ?
Help! can anyone in the whole wide world send me this picture?

"Limbourg Brothers "Canonical Hours"

Up the verdantest of hills,
in this most equestrian of pageants,
wearing the silkiest of cloaks.

Toward a castle with seven towers,
each of them by far the tallest.

In the foreground, a duke,
most flatteringly unrotund;
by his side, his duchess
young and fair beyond compare.

Behind them, the ladies-in-waiting,
all pretty as pictures, verily,
then a page, the most ladsome of lads,
and perched upon his pagey shoulder
something exceedingly monkeylike,
endowed with the drollest of faces
and tails.

Following close behind, three knights,
all chivalry and rivalry,
so if the first is fearsome of countenance,
the next one strives to be more daunting still,
and if he prances on a bay steed
the third will prance upon a bayer,
and all twelve hooves dance glancingly
atop the most wayside of daisies.

Whereas whosoever is downcast and weary,
cross-eyed and out at elbows,
is most manifestly left out of the scene.

Even the least pressing of questions,
burgherish or peasantish,
cannot survive beneath this most azure of skies.

And not even the eaglest of eyes
could spy even the tiniest of gallows -
nothing casts the slightest shadow of a doubt.

Thus they proceed most pleasantly
through this feudalest of realisms.

This same, however, has seen to the scene's balance:
it has given them their Hell in the next frame.
Oh yes, all that went without
even the silentest of sayings.