Omer_slon.jpg

Оmer

 

Every Monday and Friday since July 2016, we publish a poem or prose text from our 'translation workshop'.

We've named this section of the site "Omer", in memory of Omer Hadžiselimović, one of the founders of Samizdat.

BY THE ROAD TO THE CONTAGIOUS HOSPITAL

 

By the road to the contagious hospital
under the surge of the blue
mottled clouds driven from the
northeast-a cold wind. Beyond, the
waste of broad, muddy fields
brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen

patches of standing water
the scattering of tall trees

All along the road the reddish
purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy
stuff of bushes and small trees
with dead, brown leaves under them
leafless vines –

Lifeless in appearance, sluggish
dazed spring approaches –

They enter the new world naked,
cold, uncertain of all
save that they enter. All about them
the cold, familiar wind –

Now the grass, tomorrow
the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf
One by one objects are defined –
It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf

But now the stark dignity of
entrance – Still, the profound change
has come upon them: rooted, they
grip down and begin to awaken

 

William Carlos Williams, May 7, 2021

 

 

 

VISITS TO ST ELIZABETHS

 

This is the house of Bedlam.

This is the man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.

This is the time
of the tragic man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.

This is a wristwatch
telling the time
of the talkative man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.

This is a sailor
wearing the watch
that tells the time
of the honored man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.

This is the roadstead all of board
reached by the sailor
wearing the watch
that tells the time
of the old, brave man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.

These are the years and the walls of the ward,
the winds and clouds of the sea of board
sailed by the sailor
wearing the watch
that tells the time
of the cranky man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.

This is a Jew in a newspaper hat
that dances weeping down the ward
over the creaking sea of board
beyond the sailor
winding his watch
that tells the time
of the cruel man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.

This is a world of books gone flat.
This is a Jew in a newspaper hat
that dances weeping down the ward
over the creaking sea of board
of the batty sailor
that winds his watch
that tells the time
of the busy man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.

This is a boy that pats the floor
to see if the world is there, is flat,
for the widowed Jew in the newspaper hat
that dances weeping down the ward
waltzing the length of a weaving board
by the silent sailor
that hears his watch
that ticks the time
of the tedious man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.

These are the years and the walls and the door
that shut on a boy that pats the floor
to feel if the world is there and flat.
This is a Jew in a newspaper hat
that dances joyfully down the ward
into the parting seas of board
past the staring sailor
that shakes his watch
that tells the time
of the poet, the man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.

This is the soldier home from the war.
These are the years and the walls and the door
that shut on a boy that pats the floor
to see if the world is round or flat.
This is a Jew in a newspaper hat
that dances carefully down the ward,
walking the plank of a coffin board
with the crazy sailor
that shows his watch
that tells the time
of the wretched man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.

 

Elizabeth Bishop, May 3, 2021

 

 

 

LINEAGE

 

In the beginning was Scream
Who begat Blood
Who begat Eye
Who begat Fear
Who begat Wing
Who begat Bone
Who begat Granite
Who begat Violet
Who begat Guitar
Who begat Sweat
Who begat Adam
Who begat Mary
Who begat God
Who begat Nothing
Who begat Never
Never Never Never
Who begat Crow
Screaming for Blood
Grubs, crusts
Anything
Trembling featherless elbows in the nest's filth

 

Ted Hughes, April 30, 2021

 

 

 

FEBRUARY 11, 1977

 

          to my son John

 

You died nine years ago today.

I see you still sometimes in dreams

in white track-shirt and shorts, running,

against a drop of tropic green.

 

It seems to be a meadow, lying

open to early morning sun:

no other person is in view,

a quiet forest waits beyond.

 

Why do you hurry? What's the need?

Poor eager boy, why can't you see

once and for all you've lost this race

though you run for all eternity?

 

Your youngest brother's passed you by

at last: he's older now than you –

and all our lives have ramified

in meanings which you never knew.

 

And yet, your eyes still burn with joy,

your body's splendor never fades?

sometimes I seek to follow you

across the greenness, into the shade

 

of that great forest in whose depths

houses await and lives are lived,

where you haste in gleeful search of me

bearing a message I must have –

 

but I, before I change, must bide

the "days of my appointed time,"

and so I age from self to self

while you await me, always young.

 

Frederick Morgan, April 26, 2021

 

 

 

FLY

I have been cruel to a fat pigeon
Because he would not fly
All he wanted was to live like a friendly old man

He had let himself become a wreck filthy and confiding
Wild for his food beating the cat off the garbage
Ignoring his mate perpetually snotty at the beak
Smelling waddling having to be
Carried up the ladder at night content

Fly I said throwing him into the air
But he would drop and run back expecting to be fed
I said it again and again throwing him up
As he got worse
He let himself be picked up every time
Until I found him in the dovecote dead
Of the needless efforts

So that is what I am
Pondering his eye that could not
Conceive that I was a creature to run from

I who have always believed too much in words

 

William Stanley Merwin, April 23, 2021

 

 

 

PUNISHMENT

 

I can feel the tug

of the halter at the nape

of her neck, the wind

on her naked front.

 

It blows her nipples

to amber beads,

it shakes the frail rigging

of her ribs.

 

I can see her drowned

body in the bog,

the weighing stone,

the floating rods and boughs.

 

Under which at first

she was a barked sapling

that is dug up

oak-bone, brain-firkin:

 

her shaved head

like a stubble of black corn,

her blindfold a soiled bandage,

her noose a ring

 

to store

the memories of love.

Little adultress,

before they punished you

 

you were flaxen-haired,

undernourished, and your

tar-black face was beautiful.

My poor scapegoat,

 

I almost love you

but would have cast, I know,

the stones of silence.

I am the artful voyeur

 

of your brain's exposed

and darkened combs,

your muscles' webbing

and all your numbered bones:

 

I who have stood dumb

when your betraying sisters,

cauled in tar,

wept by the railings,

 

who would connive

in civilized outrage

yet understand the exact

and tribal, intimate revenge.

Seamus Heaney, April 19, 2021

 

 

 

PHENOMENAL WOMAN

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.

I'm not cute or built to suit a fashion model's size   

But when I start to tell them,

They think I'm telling lies.

I say,

It's in the reach of my arms,

The span of my hips,   

The stride of my step,   

The curl of my lips.   

I'm a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,   

That's me.

 

I walk into a room

Just as cool as you please,   

And to a man,

The fellows stand or

Fall down on their knees.   

Then they swarm around me,

A hive of honey bees.   

I say,

It's the fire in my eyes,   

And the flash of my teeth,              

The swing in my waist,   

And the joy in my feet.   

I'm a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That's me.

 

Men themselves have wondered   

What they see in me.

They try so much

But they can't touch

My inner mystery.

When I try to show them,   

They say they still can't see.   

I say,

It's in the arch of my back,   

The sun of my smile,

The ride of my breasts,

The grace of my style.

I'm a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That's me.

 

Now you understand

Just why my head's not bowed.   

I don't shout or jump about

Or have to talk real loud.   

When you see me passing,

It ought to make you proud.

I say,

It's in the click of my heels,   

The bend of my hair,   

the palm of my hand,   

The need for my care.   

'Cause I'm a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That's me.

Maya Angelou, April 16, 2021

 

 

 

HISTORY OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, 1904

1904. Things which were in store
hit the counter. There is a war.
Japan, ever so smiling, gnashes
teeth and bites off what, in fact, in Russia's.
Other than that, in Milan police
crack local skulls. But more common is
the touch of the new safety razor blade.
The nuances of the White Slave Trade,
Mount St.Victoire by Monsieur Cezanne
and other trifles under the sun
including popular French disgust
with the Vatican, are discussed
in every Partisan cafeteria.
Radioactivity - still a theory -
is stated by Rutherford (when a particle
brings you a lordship we call it practical).
And as the first Rolls Royce engines churn,
Chekhov dies but Graham Greene is born,
so is George Balanchine, to upgrade the stage,
so too - though it's sin to disclose her age -
is Miss Dietrich, to daunt the screen.
And New York hears its subway's first horrid scream!

The man of the year is a Hottentot.
South-West Africa's where he dwells.
In a German colony. And is being taught
German. So he rebels.

(A Hottentot)

"Germans to me are extremely white.
They are white in broad daylight and what's more, at night.
Plus if you try to win minds and hearts
of locals, you don't call a black guy "schwarz" -
"Schwarz" sounds shoddy and worse than "black".
Change your language and then come back!
Fly, my arrow, and hit a Hans
to cure a Hans of his arrogance!"

Joseph Brodsky, April 12, 2021

 

 

 

DOKTOR SEGER 

Jednou jsem viděl ve varieté

bezrukého hrát na trubku

To jsem se měl začít učit

jak mě vzali poprvé pod nůž

Stejně mi je pomalu okrouhají až k ramenům

Ale to je psí život

když se člověk nemůže ani utřít

a musí smrdět

To žádný básník nenapsal a nenapíše

Dva tisíce let ze sebe kdekdo dojí slzy

že mu holka vypálila rybník

škoda mluvit – umění dělají zbabělci –

a když se někdo najde s odvahou

je to zázrak věků

a přece tahle odvaha leží na ulici

kam všichni plivají

Jiří Kolář, April 9, 2021

 

 

 

TUNY

 

Nakládací jeřáby vyhlížejí ochočeně,

šíje něžně skloněny,

cejchovány čísly tun.

Černá čísla tun.

Záchranné čluny se něžně kolébají

na hácích

proti nebi,

klid našeho věku.

Na nich černá čísla tun.

Dcera,

mladá odjíždějící žena ve slunečních brýlích

s nádhernými zápěstími,

už je na palubě.

Mávnul jsem zespoda.

Slova na boku trajektu

nelidsky veliká.

A černá čísla tun.

Petr Hruška, April 5, 2021

 

 

 

EPITAPH ON A TYRANT 

Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after,
And the poetry he invented was easy to understand;
He knew human folly like the back of his hand,
And was greatly interested in armies and fleets;
When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
And when he cried the little children died in the streets.

 

Wystan Hugh Auden, April 2, 2021

 

 

 

WARNING 

 

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practise a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

 

Jenny Joseph, March 29, 2021 

 

 

 

THE MESS OF LOVE

 

We've made a great mess of love

since we made an ideal of it.

 

The moment I swear to love a woman, a certain woman,

all my life


that moment I begin to hate her.

 

The moment I even say to a woman: I love you! –

my love dies down considerably.

 

The moment love is an understood thing between us, we

are sure of it,

it's a cold egg, it isn't love any more.

 

Love is like a flower, it must flower and fade;


if it doesn't fade, it is not a flower,

it's either an artificial rag blossom, or an immortelle, for

the cemetery.

 

The moment the mind interferes with love, or the will fixes

on it,

or the personality assumes it as an attribute, or the ego

takes possession of it,

it is not love any more, it's just a mess.

And we've made a great mess of love, mind-perverted,

will-perverted, ego-perverted love.

 

David Herbert Lawrence, March 26, 2021 

 

 

 

118

My friend attacks my friend!

Oh Battle picturesque!

Then I turn Soldier too,

And he turns Satirist!

How martial is this place!

Had I a mighty gun

I think I'd shoot the human race

And then to glory run!

Emily Dickinson, March 22, 2021 

 

 

 

TWO VIEWS OF A CADAVER

1  


The day she visited the dissecting room  
They had four men laid out, black as burnt turkey, 
Already half unstrung. A vinegary fume  
Of the death vats clung to them;     
The white-smocked boys started working.  
The head of this cadaver had caved in,     
And she could scarcely make out anything  
In that rubble of skull plates and old leather.    
A sallow piece of string held it together

In their jars the snail-nosed babies moon and glow. 
He hands her the but-out heart like a cracked heirloom.

 

2

In Brueghel's panorama of smoke and slaughter  
Two people only are blind to the carrion army: 
He, afloat in the sea of her blue satin                 

Skirts, sings in the direction      
Of her bare shoulder, while she bends,   
Fingering a leaflet of music, over him,   
Both of them deaf to the fiddle in the hands    
Of the death's-head shadowing their song.  
These Flemish lovers flourish; not for long.     

Yet desolation, stalled in paint, spares the little country 
Foolish, delicate, in the lower right-hand corner.    

 

Sylvia Plath, March 19, 2021

 

 

 

THIS LIFE

 

It’s a pickle, this life.
Even shut down to a trickle
it carries every kind of particle
that causes strife on a grander scale:
to be miniature is to be swallowed
by a miniature whale. Zeno knew
the law that we know: no matter
how carefully diminished, a race
can only be half finished with success;
then comes the endless halving of the rest –
the ribbon’s stalled approach, the helpless
red-faced urgings of the coach.

 

Kay Ryan, March 15, 2021

 

 

 

HISTORICAL CHOICE

(written in 1942)

 

Strong enough to be neutral – as is now proved, now American power

From Australia to the Aleutian fog-seas, and Hawaii to Africa, rides every

                      wind – we were misguided

By fraud and fear, by our public fools and a loved leader's ambition,

To meddle in the fever-dreams of decaying Europe. We could have forced

                      peace, even when France fell; we chose

To make alliance and feed war.

 

                                                              Actum est. There is no returning now.

Two bloody summers from now (I suppose) we shall have to take up the

                      corrupting burden and curse of victory.

We shall have to hold half the earth: we shall be sick with self-disgust,

And hated by friend and foe, and hold half the earth – or let it go, and go

                      down with it. Here is a burden

We are not fit for. We are not like Romans and Britons – natural

       world-rulers,

Bullies by instinct – but we have to bear it. Who has kissed Fate on the

         mouth, and blown out the lamp – must lie with her.

Robinson Jeffers, March 12, 2021

 

 

FAR OUT

 

Beyond the bright cartoons                     

Are darker spaces where   

Small cloudy nests of stars

Seem to float on air.                                

 

These have no proper names:                 

Men out alone at night      

Never look up at them                             

For guidance or delight,    

 

For such evasive dust                              

Can make so little clear:   

Much less is known than not,                 

More far than near.

 

Philip Larkin, March 8, 2021

 

 

 

PUNCHLINE

 

No! Revolution never crossed your mind!

For the kids who never made it through the schools

the Northern working class escaped the grind

as boxers or comedians, or won the pools.

 

Not lucky, no physique, too shy to joke,

you scraped together almost 3 weeks’ pay

to buy a cast-off uke that left broke.

You mastered only two chords, G and A!

 

That’s why when I’ve heard George Formby that I’ve wept.

I’d always wondered what the thing was for,

I now know was a plectrum, that you’d kept,

but kept hidden, in your secret condom drawer.

 

The day of your cremation which I missed

I saw an old man strum a uke he’ll never play,

cap spattered with tossed dimes. I made a fist

round my small change, your son, and looked away.

 

Tony Harrison, March 5, 2021

 

 

 

PLATO TOLD...

 

plato told

 

him: he couldn't

believe it (jesus

 

told him; he

wouldn't believe

 

it) lao

 

tsze

 

certainly told

him, and general

 

(yes

 

mam)

sherman;

and even

(believe it

or

not) you

told him: i told

him; we told him

(he didn't believe it, no

 

sir) it took

a nipponized bit of

the old sixth

 

avenue

el; in the top of his head: to tell

him

 

Edward Estlin Cummings, March 1, 2021

 

 

 

HAWK ROOSTING

 

I sit in the top of the wood, my eyes closed.

Inaction, no falsifying dream      

Between my hooked head and hooked feet:

Or in sleep rehearse perfect kills and eat.

 

The convenience of the high trees!

The air's buoyancy and the sun's ray

Are of advantage to me;

And the earth's face upward for my inspection.

 

My feet are locked upon the rough bark.

It took the whole of Creation

To produce my foot, my each feather:

Now I hold Creation in my foot

 

Or fly up, and revolve it all slowly –

I kill where I please because it is all mine.

There is no sophistry in my body:

My manners are tearing off heads –

 

The allotment of death.

For the one path of my flight is direct

Through the bones of the living.

No arguments assert my right:

 

The sun is behind me.

Nothing has changed since I began.

My eye has permitted no change.

I am going to keep things like this.

 

Ted Hughe, February 26, 2021

 

 

SHOE

 

Take off your shoe.

The last children’s size.

The glue’s instructions

in laughably small letters,

you’ll have to read yourself.

Bending

over the mussed wet shoe.

We’ll scuff the rubber surface

let the chemical process work into the crack.

Understand,

our bodies too are made from the oxygen and carbon

of prehistoric stars.

Distant, lonely stars.

You talk about your mom.

So put your fi nger on the knot

we’ll tie the laces around the glued sole.

A shooting night,

A crazily tied shoe.

The last children’s size.

 

Petr Hruška (translated by Matthew Sweney), February 22, 2021

 

 

 

THE TOOME ROAD

 

One morning early I met armoured cars                          

In convoy, warbling along on powerful tyres,                                  

All camouflaged with broken alder branches,                                

And headphoned soldiers standing up in turrets.                           

How long were they approaching down my roads         

As if they owned them? The whole country was sleeping. 

I had rights-of-way, fields, cattle in my keeping,                                

Tractors hitched to buckrakes in open sheds,                                

Silos, chill gates, wet slates, the greens and reds                               

Of outhouse roofs. Whom should I run to tell                              

Among all of those with their back doors on the latch 

For the bringer of bad news, that small-hours visitant 

Who, by being expected, might be kept distant?           

Sowers of seed, erectors of headstones...                      

O charioteers, above your dormant guns,                     

It stands here still, stands vibrant as you pass,                 

The visible, untoppled omphalos. 

 

Seamus Heaney, February 19, 2021

 

 

 

WHAT THEY WANT

 

Vallejo writing about

loneliness while starving to

death;

Van Gogh’s ear rejected by a

whore;

Rimbaud running off to Africa

to look for gold and finding

an incurable case of syphilis;

Beethoven gone deaf;

Pound dragged through the streets

in a cage;

Chatterton taking rat poison;

Hemingway’s brains dropping into

the orange juice;

Pascal cutting his wrists

in the bathtub;

Artaud locked up with the mad;

Dostoevsky stood up against a wall;

Crane jumping into a boat propeller;

Lorca shot in the road by Spanish

troops;

Berryman jumping off a bridge;

Burroughs shooting his wife;

Mailer knifing his.

– that’s what they want:

a God damned show

a lit billboard

in the middle of hell.

that’s what they want,

that bunch of

dull

inarticulate

safe

dreary

admirers of

carnivals.

 

Charles Bukowski, February 15, 2021

 

 

 

SEASCAPE

 

This celestial seascape, with white herons got up as angels,
flying high as they want and as far as they want sidewise
in tiers and tiers of immaculate reflections;
the whole region, from the highest heron
down to the weightless mangrove island
with bright green leaves edged neatly with bird-droppings
like illumination in silver,
and down to the suggestively Gothic arches of the mangrove roots
and the beautiful pea-green back-pasture
where occasionally a fish jumps, like a wildflower
in an ornamental spray of spray;
this cartoon by Raphael for a tapestry for a Pope:
it does look like heaven.
But a skeletal lighthouse standing there
in black and white clerical dress,
who lives on his nerves, thinks he knows better.
He thinks that hell rages below his iron feet,
that that is why the shallow water is so warm,
and he knows that heaven is not like this.
Heaven is not like flying or swimming,
but has something to do with blackness and a strong glare
and when it gets dark he will remember something
strongly worded to say on the subject.

 

Elizabeth Bishop, February 12, 2021

 

 

 

A SONG

 

I wish you were here, dear,
I wish you were here.
I wish you sat on the sofa
and I sat near.
The handkerchief could be yours,
the tear could be mine, chin-bound.
Though it could be, of course,
the other way around.

I wish you were here, dear,
I wish you were here.
I wish we were in my car
and you'd shift the gear.
We'd find ourselves elsewhere,
on an unknown shore.
Or else we'd repair
to where we've been before.

I wish you were here, dear,
I wish you were here.
I wish I knew no astronomy
when stars appear,
when the moon skims the water
that sighs and shifts in its slumber.
I wish it were still a quarter
to dial your number.

I wish you were here, dear,
in this hemisphere,
as I sit on the porch
sipping a beer.
It's evening, the sun is setting;
boys shout and gulls are crying.
What's the point of forgetting
if it's followed by dying?

 

Joseph Brodsky, February 8, 2021

 

 

COMMODORE LOWELL

        1887-1950

 

There were no undesirables or girls in my set,

when I was a boy at Mattapoisett –

only Mother, still her Father’s daughter.

Her voice was still electric

with a hysterical, unmarried panic,

when she read to me from the Napoleon book.

Long-nosed Marie Louise 

Hapsburg in the frontispiece

had a downright Boston bashfulness,

where she grovelled to Bonaparte, who scratched his navel,

and bolted his food – just my seven years tall! 

And I, bristling and manic,

skulked in the attic,

and got two hundred French generals by name,

from A to V – from Augereau to Vandamme.

I used to dope myself asleep,

naming those unpronounceables like sheep.

Having a naval officer

for my Father was nothing to shout

about to the summer colony at “Matt.”

He wasn’t at all “serious,”

when he showed up on the golf course,

wearing a blue serge jacket and numbly cut

white ducks he’d bought

at a Pearl Harbor commissariat . . .

and took four shots with his putter to sink his putt.

“”Bob,” they said, “golf’s a game you really ought to know how to play,

if you play at all.” 

They wrote him off as “naval,”

naturally supposed his sport was sailing.

Poor Father, his training was engineering!

Cheerful and cowed

among the seadogs at the Sunday yacht club,

he was never one of the crowd.

“Anchors aweigh,” Daddy boomed in his bathtub,

“Anchors aweigh,”

when Lever Brothers offered to pay

him double what the Navy paid.

I nagged for his dress sword with gold braid,

and cringed because Mother, new

caps on all her teeth, was born anew

at forty. With seamanlike celerity,

Father left the Navy,

and deeded Mother his property.

He was soon fired. Year after year,

he still hummed “Anchors aweigh” in the tub –

whenever he left a job,

he bought a smarter car. 

Father’s last employer 

was Scudder, Stevens and Clark, Investment Advisors,

himself his only client. 

While Mother dragged to bed alone,

read Menninger,

and grew more and more suspicious,

he grew defiant.

Night after night,

à la clarté déserte de sa lampe,

he slid his ivory Annapolis slide rule

across a pad of graphs –

piker speculations! In three years

he squandered sixty thousand dollars.

Smiling on all,

Father was once successful enough to be lost

in the mob of ruling-class Bostonians.

As early as 1928,

he owned a house converted to oil,

and redecorated by the architect

of St. Mark’s School . . . Its main effect

was a drawing room, “longitudinal as Versailles,”

its ceiling, roughened with oatmeal, was blue as the sea.

And once

nineteen, the youngest ensign in his class,

he was “the old man” of a gunboat on the Yangtze.  

 

Robert Lowell, February 5, 2021

 

 

 

WOMAN WORK

I've got the children to tend

The clothes to mend

The floor to mop

The food to shop

Then the chicken to fry

The baby to dry

I got company to feed

The garden to weed

I've got shirts to press

The tots to dress

The can to be cut

I gotta clean up this hut

Then see about the sick

And the cotton to pick.

 

Shine on me, sunshine

Rain on me, rain

Fall softly, dewdrops

And cool my brow again.

 

Storm, blow me from here

With your fiercest wind

Let me float across the sky

'Til I can rest again.

 

Fall gently, snowflakes

Cover me with white

Cold icy kisses and

Let me rest tonight.

 

Sun, rain, curving sky

Mountain, oceans, leaf and stone

Star shine, moon glow

You're all that I can call my own. 

 

Maya Angelou, February 1, 2021

 

 

 

MOTHER, AMONG THE DUSTBINS

 

Mother, among the dustbins and the manure

I feel the measure of my humanity, an allure

As of the presence of God, I am sure

 

In the dustbins, in the manure, in the cat at play,

Is the presence of God, in a sure way

He moves there.  Mother, what do you say?

 

I too have felt the presence of God in the broom

I hold, in the cobwebs in the room,

But most of all in the silence of the tomb.

 

Ah! but that thought that informs the hope of our kind

Is but an empty thing, what lies behind? –

Naught but the vanity of a protesting mind

 

That would not die. This is the thought that bounces

Within a conceited head and trounces

Inquiry. Man is most frivolous when he pronounces.

 

Well Mother, I shall continue to think  as I do,

And I think you would be wise to do so too,

Can you question the folly of man in the creation of God?

       Who are you?

 

Stevie Smith, January 29, 2021

 

 

 

WHEN I WENT TO THE FILM

 

When I went to the film, and saw all the black-and-white

       feelings that nobody felt,


and heard the audience sighing and sobbing with all the

       emotions they none of them felt,

and saw them cuddling with rising passions they none of

       them for a moment felt,

and caught them moaning from close-up kisses, black-and-

       white kisses that could not be felt,

It was like being in heaven, which I am sure has a white

       atmosphere


upon which shadows of people, pure personalities

are cast in black and white, and move


in flat ecstasy, supremely unfelt,

and heavenly.

 

David Herbert Lawrence, January 25, 2021

 

 

 

ARRIVAL

 

Morning, a glass door, flashes  
Gold names off the new city,  
Whose white shelves and domes travel  
The slow sky all day.  
I land to stay here;  
And the windows flock open  
And the curtains fly out like doves  
And a past dries in a wind.

Now let me lie down, under  
A wide-branched indifference,  
Shovel-faces like pennies  
Down the back of the mind,  
Find voices coined to  
An argot of motor-horns,  
And let the cluttered-up houses  
Keep their thick lives to themselves.

For this ignorance of me  
Seems a kind of innocence.  
Fast enough I shall wound it:  
Let me breathe till then  
Its milk-aired Eden,  
Till my own life impound it-  
Slow-falling; grey-veil-hung; a theft,  
A style of dying only.   

 

Philip Larkin, January 22, 2021

 

 

 

FISH

It is the whales that drive
the small fish into the fiords.
I have seen forty or fifty
of them in the water at one time.
I have been in a little boat
when the water was boiling
on all sides of us
from them swimming underneath.

The noise of the herring
can be heard nearly a mile.
So thick in the water, they are,
you can't dip the oars in.
All silver!

And all those millions of fish
must be taken, each one, by hand.
The women and children
pull out a little piece
under the throat with their fingers
so that the brine gets inside.
I have seen thousands of barrels
packed with the fish on the shore.

In winter they set the gill-nets
for the cod. Hundreds of them
are caught each night.
In the morning the men
pull in the nets and fish
altogether in the boats.
Cod so big – I have seen –
that when a man held one up
above his head
the tail swept the ground.

Sardines, mackerel, anchovies
all of these. And in the rivers
trout and salmon. I have seen
a net set at the foot of a falls
and in the morning sixty trout in it.

But I guess there are not
such fish in Norway nowadays.

On the Lofoten Islands –
till I was twelve.
Not a tree or a shrub on them.
But in summer
with the sun never gone
the grass is higher than here.

The sun circles the horizon.
Between twelve and one at night
it is very low, near the sea,
to the north. Then
it rises a little, slowly,
till midday, then down again
and so for three months, getting
higher at first, then lower,
until it disappears –
In winter the snow is often
as deep as the ceiling of this room.

If you go there you will see
many Englishmen
near the falls and on the bridges
fishing, fishing.
They will stand there for hours
to catch the fish.

Near the shore
where the water is twenty feet or so
you can see the kingflounders
on the sand. They have
red spots on the side. Men come
in boats and stick them
with long pointed poles.

Have you seen how the Swedes drink tea?
So, in the saucer. They blow it
and turn it this way then that: so.

Tall, gaunt
great drooping nose, eyes dark-circled,
the voice slow and smiling:

I have seen boys stand
where the stream is narrow
a foot each side on two rocks
and grip the trout as they pass through.
They have a special way to hold them,
in the gills, so. The long
fingers arched like grapplehooks.

Then the impatient silence
while a little man said:

The English are great sportsmen.
At the winter resorts
where I stayed
they were always the first up
in the morning, the first
on with the skis.
I once saw a young Englishman
worth seventy million pounds –

You do not know the north.
– and you will see perhaps huldra
with long tails
and all blue, from the night,
and the nekke, half man and half fish.
When they see one of them
they know some boat will be lost.

 

William Carlos Williams, January 18, 2021

 

 

 

PRISONERS

 

Though  the  road  turn  at  last 

to  death’s  ordinary  door, 

and  we  knock  there,  ready 

to  enter  and  it  opens 

easily  for  us, 

yet 

all  the  long  journey 

we  shall  have  gone  in  chains, 

fed  on  knowledge-apples 

acrid  and  riddled  with  grubs. 

 

We  taste  other  food  that  life, 

like  a  charitable  farm-girl, 

holds  out  to  us  as  we  pass –

but  our  mouths  are  puckered, 

a  taint  of  ash  on  the  tongue. 

 

It’s  not  joy  that  we’ve  lost –

wildfire,  it  flares 

in  dark  or  shine  as  it  will. 

What’s  gone 

is  common  happiness, 

plain  bread  we  could  eat 

with  the  old  apple  of  knowledge.

 

That  old  on – it  griped  us  sometimes, 

but  it  was  firm,  tart, 

sometimes  delectable... 

 

The  ashen  apple  of  these  days 

grew  from  poisoned  soil.  We  are  prisoners 

and  must  eat 

our  ration.  All  the  long  road 

in  chains,  even  if,  after  all, 

we  come  to 

death’s  ordinary  door,  with  time 

smiling  its  ordinary 

long-ago  smile. 

 

Denise Levertov, January 15, 2021 

 

 

 

MY SWEET OLD ETCETERA

 

my sweet old etcetera

aunt lucy during the recent

 

war could and what

is more did tell you just

what everybody was fighting

 

for,

my sister

 

isabel created hundreds

(and

hundreds) of socks not to

mention shirts fleaproof earwarmers

etcetera wristers etcetera, my

mother hoped that

 

i would die etcetera

bravely of course my father used

to become hoarse talking about how it was

a privilege and if only he

could meanwhile my

 

self etcetera lay quietly

in the deep mud et

 

cetera

(dreaming,

et

  cetera, of

Your smile

eyes knees and of your Etcetera)

 

Edward Estlin Cummings, January 11, 2021 

 

 

 

CREMATION

So when she hears him clearing his throat
every few seconds she’s aware what he’s raking
‘s death off his mind; the next attack. The threat
of his dying has her own hands shaking.

The mangle brought it on. Taking it to bits.
She didn’t need it now he’d done with pits.

A grip from behind that seems to mean don’t go
tightens through bicep till the fingers touch.
His, his dad’s and his dad’s lifetime down below
crammed into one huge nightshift, and too much.

He keeps back death the way he keeps back phlegm
in company, curled on his tongue. Once left alone
with the last coal fire in the smokeless zone,
he hawks his cold gobful at the brightest flame,
too practised, too contemptuous to miss.

 

Behind the door she hears the hot coals hiss.

Tony Harrison, January 8, 2021 

 

 

 

THE MOTIVE FOR METAPHOR

You like it under the trees in autumn,
Because everything is half dead.
The wind moves like a cripple among the leaves
And repeats words without meaning.

In the same way, you were happy in spring,
With the half colors of quarter-things,
The slightly brighter sky, the melting clouds,
The single bird, the obscure moon –

The obscure moon lighting and obscure world
Of things that would never be quite expressed,
Where you yourself were never quite yourself
And did not want nor have to be,

Desiring the exhilarations of changes:

The motive for metaphor, shrinking from
The weight of primary noon,
The A B C of being,

The ruddy temper, the hammer
Of red and blue, the hard sound –
Steel against intimation –  the sharp flash,
The vital, arrogant, fatal, dominant X.

 

Wallace Stevens, January 4, 2021 

 

NEW YEAR ON DARTMOOR

 

This is newness: every little tawdry  
Obstacle glass-wrapped and peculiar,  
Glinting and clinking in a saint's falsetto. Only you  
Don't know what to make of the sudden slippiness,  
The blind, white, awful, inaccessible slant.  
There's no getting up it by the words you know.  
No getting up by elephant or wheel or shoe.  
We have only come to look. You are too new  
To want the world in a glass hat.

 

Sylvia Plath, January 1, 2021