Sunday, December 04, 2011

884. Face To Face - Tomas Tranströmer

 Face To Face translated by Robin Robertson

In February life stood still.
The birds refused to fly and the soul
grated against the landscape as a boat
chafes against the jetty where it’s moored.

The trees were turned away. The snow’s depth
measured by the stubble poking through.
The footprints grew old out on the ice-crust.
Under a tarpaulin, language was being broken down.

Suddenly, something approaches the window.
I stop working and look up.
The colours blaze. Everything turns around.
The earth and I spring at each other.

Face to Face translated by Robin Fulton

In February living stood still.
The birds flew unwillingly and the soul
chafed against the landscape as a boat
chafes against the pier it lies moored to.

The trees stood with their backs turned to me.
The deep snow was measured with dead straws.
The footprints grew old out on the crust.
Under a tarpaulin language pined.

One day something came to the window.
Work was dropped, I looked up.
The colors flared. Everything turned around.
The earth and I sprang toward each other.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

883. Letters From Yorkshire - Maura Dooley

In February, digging his garden, planting potatoes,
he saw the first lapwings return and came
indoors to write to me, his knuckles singing

as they reddened in the warmth
It’s not romance, simply how things are.
You out there, in the cold, seeing the seasons

turning, me with my heartful of headlines
feeding words onto a blank screen.
Is your life more real because you dig and sow?

You wouldn’t say so, breaking ice on a waterbutt,
clearing a path through snow. Still, it’s you
who sends me word of that other world

pouring air and light into an envelope. So that
at night, watching the same news in different houses,
our souls tap out messages across the icy miles.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

882. Sometimes - Sheenagh Pugh

Sometimes things don’t go, after all,
from bad to worse. Some years, muscadel
faces down frost: green thrives; the crops don’t fail,
sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.

A people sometimes will step back from war;
elect an honest man; decide they care
enough, that they can’t leave some stranger poor.
Some men become what they were born for.

Sometimes our best efforts do not go
amiss; sometimes we do as we meant to.
The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
that seemed hard frozen: may it happen to you.

Monday, October 24, 2011

881. Black Snake - Mary Oliver

The flat rock in the center of the garden
heats up every morning in the sun. Black
snake coils himself there neatly. He has
cousins who have teeth that spring up and
down and are full of the sap of death,
but what of that, so have we all. As for
his sporting life, there are many things
he can do and I have seen a few of them:
he can climb a tree and dangle like a red-
eyed rope out of its branches; he can swim;
he can catch a mouse and swallow it like
a soft stone. Also he can lie perfectly
still and stare with his lidless eyes in
the greatest hope: that you will not notice
him. If you do, however, he will loft his
chin and extrude the fray of his tongue,
which many find frightening. But tell me,
if you would praise the world, what is it
you would leave out? Besides, he is only
hoping that you will let him live his life.

And now that you have seen him, he looks
shyly at nothing and streams away into the
grass, his long body swaying like a suddenly
visible song.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

880. Writing A Curriculum Vita - Wislawa Szymborska

Writing A Curriculum Vita (1)
Translated from Polish by Graźyna Drabik and Austin Flint

What must you do?
You must submit an application
and enclose a Curriculum Vitae.

Regardless of how long your life is,
the Curriculum Vitae should be short.

Be concise, select facts.
Change landscapes into addresses
and vague memories into fixed dates.

Of all your loves, mention only the marital,
and of the children, only those who were born.

It's more important who knows you
than whom you know.
Travels––only if abroad.
Affiliations––to what, not why.
Awards––but not for what.

Write as if you never talked with yourself,
as if you looked at yourself from afar.

Omit dogs, cats, and birds,
mementos, friends, dreams.

State price rather than value,
title rather than content.
Shoe size, not where one is going,
the one you are supposed to be.

Enclose a photo with one ear showing.
What counts is its shape, not what it hears.

What does it hear?
The clatter of machinery that shreds paper.

Writing A Résumé (2)
Translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh

What needs to be done?
fill out the application
and enclose the résumé.

Regardless of the length of life,
a résumé is best kept short.

concise, well-chosen facts are de rigueur.
Landscapes are replaced by addresses,
shaky memories give way to unshakable dates.

Of all your loves, mention only the marriage;
of all your children, only those who were born.

Who knows you matters more than whom you know.
Trips only if taken abroad.
Memberships in what but without why.
Honors, but not how they were earned.

Write as if you'd never talked to yourself
and always kept yourself at arm's length.

Pass over in silence your dogs, cats, birds,
dusty keepsakes, friends, and dreams.

Price, not worth,
and title, not what's inside.
His shoe size, not where he's off to,
that one you pass off as yourself.
In addition, a photograph with one ear showing.
What matters is its shape, not what it hears.
What is there to hear, anyway?
The clatter of paper shredders.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

879. The Country - Billy Collins

I wondered about you
when you told me never to leave
a box of wooden, strike-anywhere matches
lying around the house because the mice

might get into them and start a fire.
But your face was absolutely straight
when you twisted the lid down on the round tin
where the matches, you said, are always stowed.

Who could sleep that night?
Who could whisk away the thought
of the one unlikely mouse
padding along a cold water pipe

behind the floral wallpaper
gripping a single wooden match
between the needles of his teeth?
Who could not see him rounding a corner.

the blue tip scratching against a rough-hewn beam,
the sudden flare, and the creature
for one bright, shining moment
suddenly thrust ahead of his time—

now a fire-starter, now a torch-bearer
in a forgotten ritual, little brown druid
illuminating some ancient night.
Who could fail to notice,

lit up in the blazing insulation,
the tiny looks of wonderment on the faces
of his fellow mice, one-time inhabitants
of what once was your house in the country?

Friday, September 09, 2011

878. The Cure At Troy (Excerpt) - Seamus Heaney

Human beings suffer,
they torture one another,
they get hurt and get hard.
No poem or play or song
can fully right a wrong
inflicted or endured.

The innocent in gaols
beat on their bars together.
A hunger-striker's father
stands in the graveyard dumb.
The police widow in veils
faints at the funeral home.

History says, Don't hope
on this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
the longed for tidal wave
of justice can rise up,
and hope and history rhyme.

So hope for a great sea-change
on the far side of revenge.
Believe that a further shore
is reachable from here.
Believe in miracles
and cures and healing wells.

Call the miracle self-healing:
The utter self-revealing
double-take of feeling.
If there's fire on the mountain
Or lightning and storm
And a god speaks from the sky

That means someone is hearing
the outcry and the birth-cry
of new life at its term.
It means once in a lifetime
That justice can rise up
And hope and history rhyme

Monday, September 05, 2011

877. Dear George Orwell - L. E. Sissman

Dear George Orwell,
I never said farewell.
There was too much going on:
Crabgrass in the lawn
and guests to entertain,
Light bantering with pain
(But wait till later on),
Love nightly come and gone.
But always in the chinks
Of my time (or the bank’s),
I read your books again.
In Schraffts’s or on the run
To my demanding clients,
I read you in the silence
Of the spell you spun.
My dearest Englishman,
My stubborn unmet friend,
Who waited for the end
In perfect pain and love
And walked to his own grave
With a warm wink and wave
To all; who would not pull
The trigger on the bull
Elephant, and who
Seeing his foe undo
His pants across the lines,
Did not blow out his brains;
Who served the Hotel X
As low man, slept in spikes
With tramps, in Rowton Houses
With pavement artists, boozers,
Boys, insomniacs;
Who spat on shams and hacks,
Loved in a raddled flat
Passing trains hooted at,
And died for what we are.
Farewell, Eric Blair.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

876. I Am Trying To Get At Something Utterly Heart-broken - Anne Dillard

Vincent van Gogh, letters, 1873-1890, edited I. Stone, 
translated Johanna van Gogh


	At the end of the road is a small cottage,
	And over all the blue sky.
I am trying to get at something utterly heart-broken.

	The flying birds, the smoking chimneys,
	And that figure loitering below in the yard–
If we do not learn from this, then from what shall we learn?

	The miners go home in the white snow at twilight
These people are quite black. Their houses are small.
The time for making dark studies is short.	

	A patch of brown heath through which a white
	Path leads, and sky just delicately tinged,
	Yet somewhat passionately brushed.
We who try our best to live, why do we not live more? 


	The branches of poplars and willows rigid like wire.
It may be true that there is no God here,
But there must be one not far off.	

	A studio with a cradle, a baby’s high chair.
Those colors which have no name
Are the real foundation of everything.

	What I want is more beautiful huts far away on the heath.
If we are tired, isn’t it then because
We have already walked a long way?

	The cart with the white horse brings
	a wounded man home from the mines.
Bistre and bitumen, well applied,
Make the colouring ripe and mellow and generous.


	A ploughed field with clods of violet earth;
	Over all a yellow sky with a yellow sun.
So there is every moment something that moves one intensely.

	A bluish-grey line of trees with a few roofs.
I simply could not restrain myself or keep
My hands off it or allow myself to rest.

	A mother with her child, in the shadow
	Of a large tree against the dune.
To say how many green-greys there are is impossible.

	I love so much, so very much, the effect
	Of yellow leaves against green trunks.
This is not a thing that I have sought,
But has come across my path and I have seized it.


Thursday, August 18, 2011

875. To Make A Summer - Josephine Miles

Sandy says his high-school daughter
Keeps exclaiming joy, joy.
The burden of my joy lightens
With her exclamation.

It’s a generality, it takes
from my heart the sting of the singular, it sets moving
In the easy early Berkeley air
What we incommunicably share.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

874. First Lines of Poems And No Further

First lines of poems and no further or, ending at the beginning or, augh! or, . . .
“When my propane ran out”

“The drunk mechanic is happy to be in the ditch”

‘Should the vultures eat forget-me-nots?”

“I was living in a bowl of soup”

“Your wooden leg stood beside the bed”

“It was following me so I killed it”

“I despise the guys who are spies in disguise”

“Detachedly eying his severed hand”

“There once was a square, such a little square”

“The leaves from the tired trees blocked the drains”

“Where the hell am I?”

“Diem Sin Foo will mary you Madame LeFarge”

“When like the moon your face arose”

Thursday, May 19, 2011

873. After the Treaty Between the Athenians and the Lacedaemonians Was Broken - Yannis Ritsos


Corinth, Argos, Sparta, Athens, Sicyon, and other (how many?)
     smaller cities—
the Greeks have become a thousand fragments; the great treaty has
      been broken;
everyone is enraged with everyone else—new meetings, meetings and
      more meetings, conferences;
yesterday’s friends and neighbors no longer greet each other in the
old grudges have come between them again; new alliances,
entirely opposite to earlier ones, are being sounded out, prepared.
arrive secretly at midnight; others leave. The statues of our heroes,
standing neglected in the city squares and gardens, are shat on by
Group after group in the agora discuss our situation seriously,
exaltedly, passionately: Who gave them their orders? Who appointed
We, anyway didn’t choose them (Besides, how? And when? New
      bosses again? Who needs them?) April has arrived;
the small pepper trees on the sidewalks have turned green— a gentle
tender, childlike (moving to us) even if
rather dusty—the municipal service seems to be out of it,
no longer showing up in the afternoon to sprinkle the streets. But
on the portico surrounding the closed Council Chambers, the first
      swallow appeared unexpectedly,
and everybody shouted: “A swallow; look, a swallow; look a 
everybody in unison, even the most violently opposed: “A swallow.”
      And suddenly
everybody fell silent, feeling alone, detached from the others, as
      though free,
as though united in continuity, within a communal isolation. And
they understood that their only freedom was their solitude, but that
(though imperceptible) unprotected, vulnerable, a thousand times
     entrapped, alone.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

872. Spring Azures - Mary Oliver

In spring the blue azures bow down
at the edges of shallow puddles
to drink the black rain water.
Then they rise and float away into the fields.

Sometimes the great bones of my life feel so heavy,
and all the tricks my body knows―
the opposable thumbs, the kneecaps,
and the mind clicking and clicking—

don’t seem enough to carry me through this world
and I think: how I would like

to have wings—
blue ones—
ribbons of flame.

How I would like to open them, and rise
from the black rain water.

And then I think of Blake, in the dirt and sweat of London—a boy
staring through the window, when God came
fluttering up.

Of course, he screamed,
and seeing the bobbin of God’s blue body
leaning on the sill,
and the thousand-faceted eyes.

Well, who knows.
Who knows what hung, fluttering, at the window
between him and the darkness.

Anyway, Blake the hosier’s son stood up
and turned away from the sooty sill and the dark city—
turned away forever
from the factories, the personal strivings,

to a life of the the imagination.

Friday, April 15, 2011

871. Turbulence - Adrienne Rich

There’ll be turbulence. You’ll drop
your book to hold your
water bottle steady. Your
mind, mind has mountains, cliffs of fall
may who ne’er hung there let him
watch the movie. The plane’s
supposed to shudder, shoulder on
like this. It’s built to do that. You’re
designed to tremble too. Else break
Higher you climb, trouble in mind
lungs labor, heights hurl vistas
Oxygen hangs ready
overhead. In the event put on
the child’s mask first. Breathe normally

Friday, February 18, 2011

870. So Much Happiness - Naomi Shihab Nye

For Michael

It is difficult to know what to do with so much happiness.
With sadness there is something to rub against,
a wound to tend with lotion and cloth.
When the world falls in around you, you have pieces to pick up,
something to hold in your hands, like ticket stubs or change.

But happiness floats.
It doesn’t need you to hold it down.
It doesn’t need anything.
Happiness lands on the roof of the next house, singing,
and disappears when it wants to.
You are happy either way.
Even the fact that you once lived in a peaceful tree house
and now live over a quarry of noise and dust
cannot make you unhappy.
Everything has a life of its own,
it too could wake up filled with possibilities
of coffee cake and ripe peaches,
and love even the floor which needs to be swept,
the soiled linens and scratched records . . .

Since there is no place large enough
to contain so much happiness,
you shrug, you raise your hands, and it flows out of you
into everything you touch. You are not responsible.
You take no credit, as the night sky takes no credit
for the moon, but continues to hold it, and share it,
and in that way, be known.

Monday, February 07, 2011

869. Monet Refuses The Operation - Lisel Mueller

Doctor, you say there are no haloes
around the streetlights in Paris
and what I see is an aberration
caused by old age, an affliction.
I tell you it has taken my all my life
to arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels,
to soften and blur and finally banish
the edges you regret I don’t see,
to learn that the line I called the horizon
does not exist and sky and water,
so long apart, are the same state of being.
Fifty-four years before I could see
Rouen cathedral is built
of parallel shafts of sun,
and now you want to restore
my youthful errors: fixed
notions of top and bottom,
the illusion of three-dimensional space,
wisteria separate
from the bridge it covers.
What can I say to convince you
the Houses of Parliament dissolve
night after night to become
the fluid dream of the Thames?
I will not return to a universe
of objects that don’t know each other,
as if islands were not the lost children
of one great continent. The world
is flux, and light becomes what it touches,
becomes water, lilies on water,
above and below water,
becomes lilac and mauve and yellow
and white and cerulean lamps,
small fists passing sunlight
so quickly to one another
that it would take long, streaming hair
inside my brush to catch it.
To paint the speed of light!
Our weighted shapes, these verticals,
burn to mix with air
and change our bones, skin, clothes
to gases. Doctor,
if only you could see
how heaven pulls earth into its arms
and how infinitely the heart expands
to claim this world, blue vapor without end.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

868. But Wise Men Apprehend What Is Imminent - C. P. Cavafy

Translated from the Greek by Daniel Mendelsohn

"The gods perceive what lies in the future, and mortals, what occurs in the present, but wise men apprehend what is imminent."
-Philostratus, Life of Apolloniur of Tyans, VII, 7

Mortal men perceive things as they happen.
What lies in the future the gods perceive,
full and sole possessors of all enlightenment.
Of all the future holds, wise men apprehend
what is imminent. Their hearing,

sometimes, in moments of complete
absorption in their studies, is disturbed. The secret call
of events that are about to happen reaches them.
And they listen to it reverently. While in the street
outside, the people hear nothing at all.