Thursday, February 26, 2009

776. Thanks - Wislawa Szymborska

Wislawa Szymborska - Thank-You Note
Translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh

I owe so much
to those I don't love.

The relief as I agree
that someone else needs them more.

The happiness that I'm not
the wolf to their sheep.

The peace I feel with them,
the freedom––
love can neither give
nor take that.

I don't wait for them,
as in window-to-door-and-back.
Almost as patient
as a sundial,
I understand
what love can't, and forgive
as love never would.

From a rendezvous to a letter
is just a few days or weeks,
not an eternity.

Trips with them always go smoothly,
concerts are heard,
cathedrals visited,
scenery is seen.

And when seven hills and rivers
come between us,
the hills and rivers
can be found on any map.

They deserve the credit
if I live in three dimensions,
in nonlyrical and nonrhetorical space
with a genuine, shifting horizon.

They themselves don't realize
how much they hold in their empty hands.

"I don't owe them a thing,"
would be love's answer
to this open question.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

775. John & Mary - John Dunn

John & Mary had never met. They were like
two hummingbirds who also had never met.
—From A Freshman's Short Story

They were like gazelles who occupied different
grassy plains, running opposite directions
from different lions. They were like postal clerks
in different zip codes, with different vacation time,
their bosses adamant and clock-driven.
How could they get together?
They were like two people who couldn't get together.
John was a Sufi with a love of the dervish,
Mary of course a Christian with a curfew.
They were like two dolphins in the immensity
of the Atlantic, one playful,
the other stuck in a tuna net—
tow absolutely different childhoods!
There was simply no hope for them.
They would never speak in person.
When they ran across that windswept field
toward each other, they were like two freight trains,
one having left Seattle at 6:36 P.M.
at an unknown speed, the other delayed
in Topeka for repairs.
The math indicated that they'd embrace
in another world, if at all, like parallel lines.
Or merely appear kindred and close, like stars.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

774. Night Morning - Grace Paley

To translate a poem
from thinking
into English
takes all night
night nights and days

English down
the best it can while
the mother's tongue Russian
omits the verb to be
again and again and
is always interfering
with the excited in-
dustrious brain wisely
the heart's beat asserts

also the newest English
argues with its old
singing ancestry
it thinks it know best

finally the night's
hard labor peers through
the morning window observes
snow birds the sun caught
in white and black winter
birches disentangles itself
addresses the ice-cold meadow
for hours on the beauty of
the color green

Sunday, February 15, 2009

773. In Memory of M. B. - Anna Akhmatova

Translated from the Russian by Max Hayward and Stanley Kunitz

Here is my gift, not roses on your grave, not sticks of burning incense.
You lived aloof, maintaining to the end your magnificent disdain.
You drank wine, and told the wittiest jokes, and suffocated inside stifling walls.
Alone you let the terrible stranger in, and stayed with her alone.
Now you're gone, and nobody says a word about your troubled and exalted life.
Only my voice, like a flute, will mourn at your dumb funeral feast.
Oh, who would have dared believe that half-crazed I, I, sick with grief for the buried past, I, smoldering on a slow fire, having lost everything and forgotten all,
would be fated to commemorate a man so full of strength and will and bright inventions, who only yesterday it seems, chatted with me,
hiding the tremor of his mortal pain.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

772. Thomas Hardy - Lee Upton

There's not a chance.
Too late, he says. But it's never too late
for the poetry of regret.

Pines thicken with this rain.
Always, under complaint
storm clouds ride above

an ancient forest.
A child close to the earth
listens to the slow revolving of

accidents. Already the child knows
he is a ghost
and must practice becoming himself—

the cliff rising above him will not stop.
He's not one ghost but many,
and there's not enough pity in the world for them.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

771. The Wolf's Postcript to 'Little Red Riding Hood' - Agha Shahid Ali

First, grant me my sense of history:
I did it for posterity,
for kindergarten teachers
and a clear moral:
Little girls shouldn't wander off
in search of strange flowers,
and they mustn't speak to strangers.
And then grant me my generous sense of plot:
Couldn't I have gobbled her up
right there in the jungle?
Why did I ask her where her grandma lived?
As if I, a forest-dweller,
didn't know of the cottage
under the three oak trees
and the old woman lived there
all alone?
As if I couldn't have swallowed her years before?
And you may call me the Big Bad Wolf,
now my only reputation.
But I was no child-molester
though you'll agree she was pretty.
And the huntsman:
Was I sleeping while he snipped
my thick black fur
and filled me with garbage and stones?
I ran with that weight and fell down,
simply so children could laugh
at the noise of the stones
cutting through my belly,
at the garbage spilling out
with a perfect sense of timing,
just when the tale
should have come to an end.

Monday, February 09, 2009

770. The Children - Joan Aleshire

(From Giovanni di Paolo's "Raising of Lazarus")

Before perspective or shadows or names ––
he is simply John son of Paul. Before mistakes
could be revised, each stroke was indelible
on the hardening wall. Before doubt,
or the consciousness of self before
the expression of doubt, the painter gave
to his flat, clear shapes a solid
definition –– Lazarus green from the grave,
with the odd, sheep-like eyes those Italians
thought eastern; the crowd at the tomb
one shape, a hilly landscape or a cloud
no gap between any figure and its neighbor,
lapping against the next.

Some heads have the gold scallop,
that coin the holy get; these are the ones
who stare awed and almost smiling
at the gaping tomb. But others, no haloes,
cover their noses; one even gags
at Lazarus' stench. Vomit sprays down
delicately on dotted lines from a red-rimmed
oval punctuated by chicklet teeth.
All of these doubters frown.

Christ stands at the center of course,
larger, welcoming Lazarus back
to the world –– the dark desert
with its mountains that loom darker,
more forbidding still. It will take faith,
or courage, to step from the ease of the tomb
toward those onlookers, into this landscape
where little lives. Christ
will be the magnet, but what drew me
most wasn't that expected beard and blessing
hand. The painter has added something on his own
to the scene –– two children, heads too large
for their bodies. He means them, the plaque says,
to be us, the watching world.

Back to back, almost joined, one looks
at the disciples, the faithful and Christ,
the other at Lazarus half-decayed.
One side all spirit and overcoming;
the other by what the body comes to
overcome. The heads, the heads
are what stopped me at this picture.
They look up so open-mouthed, in the way
of all children. You know, when they stumble
from sleep onto a scene they can make no sense of,
that paints itself as a fresco is painted:
instant, indelible in the soft blank wall.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

769 - Three Figures Walking Through Grass

After impressionism we wade
through dabs from Monet's palette
orange and green
poppy and poplar
light hiking through meadows,
serial orgies of color
squirreled into his leafing shapes,
the mountains' hidden treasure
mined for the stillness
of a canvas we move upon
like grasses undulating in water
to refresh the tired eye
of the old man separating us
into creams and pinks, sleight
of the sun's brilliance,
blending us in all combinations
of three impossible things––
a symmetry unbounded
by his precise simulations
but framed by the hands
of a clock, as we trace
our shadows through this afternoon
and lengthen into night's erasure.

Monday, February 02, 2009

768. Archaic Torso of Apollo - Rainer Maria Rilke

Translated from the German by ?

We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.