Robert Frost |
Her teacher's certainty it must be Mabel
Made Maple first take notice of her name.
She asked her father and he told her, "Maple—
Maple is right.
"But teacher told the school
There's no such name.
"Teachers don't know as much
As fathers about children, you tell teacher.
You tell her that it's M-A-P-L-E.
You ask her if she knows a maple tree.
Well, you were named after a maple tree.
Your mother named you.
You and she just saw
Each other in passing in the room upstairs,
One coming this way into life, and one
Going the other out of life—you know?
So you can't have much recollection of her.
She had been having a long look at you.
She put her finger in your cheek so hard
It must have made your dimple there, and said,
' I said it too: 'Yes, for her name.
So we're sure there's no mistake.
I don't know what she wanted it to mean,
But it seems like some word she left to bid you
Be a good girl—be like a maple tree.
How like a maple tree's for us to guess.
Or for a little girl to guess sometime.
Not now—at least I shouldn't try too hard now.
By and by I will tell you all I know
About the different trees, and something, too,
About your mother that perhaps may help.
Dangerous self-arousing words to sow.
Luckily all she wanted of her name then
Was to rebuke her teacher with it next day,
And give the teacher a scare as from her father.
Anything further had been wasted on her,
Or so he tried to think to avoid blame.
She would forget it.
She all but forgot it.
What he sowed with her slept so long a sleep,
And came so near death in the dark of years,
That when it woke and came to life again
The flower was different from the parent seed.
It carne back vaguely at the glass one day,
As she stood saying her name over aloud,
Striking it gently across her lowered eyes
To make it go well with the way she looked.
What was it about her name? Its strangeness lay
In having too much meaning.
As Lesley, Carol, Irma, Marjorie,
Rose could have a meaning,
But hadn't as it went.
(She knew a Rose.
This difference from other names it was
Made people notice it—and notice her.
(They either noticed it, or got it wrong.
Her problem was to find out what it asked
In dress or manner of the girl who bore it.
If she could form some notion of her mother—
What she bad thought was lovely, and what good.
This was her mother's childhood home;
The house one story high in front, three stories
On the end it presented to the road.
(The arrangement made a pleasant sunny cellar.
Her mother's bedroom was her father's still,
Where she could watch her mother's picture fading.
Once she found for a bookmark in the Bible
A maple leaf she thought must have been laid
In wait for her there.
She read every word
Of the two pages it was pressed between,
As if it was her mother speaking to her.
But forgot to put the leaf back in closing
And lost the place never to read again.
She was sure, though, there had been nothing in it.
So she looked for herself, as everyone
Looks for himself, more or less outwardly.
And her self-seeking, fitful though it was,
May still have been what led her on to read,
And think a little, and get some city schooling.
She learned shorthand, whatever shorthand may
Have had to do with it--she sometimes wondered.
So, till she found herself in a strange place
For the name Maple to have brought her to,
Taking dictation on a paper pad
And, in the pauses when she raised her eyes,
Watching out of a nineteenth story window
An airship laboring with unshiplike motion
And a vague all-disturbing roar above the river
Beyond the highest city built with hands.
Someone was saying in such natural tones
She almost wrote the words down on her knee,
"Do you know you remind me of a tree--
A maple tree?"
"Because my name is Maple?"
"Isn't it Mabel? I thought it was Mabel.
"No doubt you've heard the office call me Mabel.
I have to let them call me what they like.
They were both stirred that he should have divined
Without the name her personal mystery.
It made it seem as if there must be something
She must have missed herself.
So they were married,
And took the fancy home with them to live by.
They went on pilgrimage once to her father's
(The house one story high in front, three stories
On the side it presented to the road)
To see if there was not some special tree
She might have overlooked.
They could find none,
Not so much as a single tree for shade,
Let alone grove of trees for sugar orchard.
She told him of the bookmark maple leaf
In the big Bible, and all she remembered
of the place marked with it—"Wave offering,
Something about wave offering, it said.
"You've never asked your father outright, have you?"
"I have, and been Put off sometime, I think.
(This was her faded memory of the way
Once long ago her father had put himself off.
"Because no telling but it may have been
Something between your father and your mother
Not meant for us at all.
"Not meant for me?
Where would the fairness be in giving me
A name to carry for life and never know
The secret of?"
"And then it may have been
Something a father couldn't tell a daughter
As well as could a mother.
It may have been their one lapse into fancy
'Twould be too bad to make him sorry for
By bringing it up to him when be was too old.
Your father feels us round him with our questing,
And holds us off unnecessarily,
As if he didn't know what little thing
Might lead us on to a discovery.
It was as personal as be could be
About the way he saw it was with you
To say your mother, bad she lived, would be
As far again as from being born to bearing.
"Just one look more with what you say in mind,
And I give up"; which last look came to nothing.
But though they now gave up the search forever,
They clung to what one had seen in the other
It proved there was something.
They kept their thoughts away from when the maples
Stood uniform in buckets, and the steam
Of sap and snow rolled off the sugarhouse.
When they made her related to the maples,
It was the tree the autumn fire ran through
And swept of leathern leaves, but left the bark
Unscorched, unblackened, even, by any smoke.
They always took their holidays in autumn.
Once they came on a maple in a glade,
Standing alone with smooth arms lifted up,
And every leaf of foliage she'd worn
Laid scarlet and pale pink about her feet.
But its age kept them from considering this one.
Twenty-five years ago at Maple's naming
It hardly could have been a two-leaved seedling
The next cow might have licked up out at pasture.
Could it have been another maple like it?
They hovered for a moment near discovery,
Figurative enough to see the symbol,
But lacking faith in anything to mean
The same at different times to different people.
Perhaps a filial diffidence partly kept them
From thinking it could be a thing so bridal.
And anyway it came too late for Maple.
She used her hands to cover up her eyes.
"We would not see the secret if we could now:
We are not looking for it any more.
Thus had a name with meaning, given in death,
Made a girl's marriage, and ruled in her life.
No matter that the meaning was not clear.
A name with meaning could bring up a child,
Taking the child out of the parents' hands.
Better a meaningless name, I should say,
As leaving more to nature and happy chance.
Name children some names and see what you do.
Walt Whitman |
O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done, The ship has weather'd every rack,
the prize we sought is won, The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring; But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red, Where on the deck my Captain lies, Fallen cold and dead.
O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells; Rise up- for you the flag is flung- for
you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribbon'd wreaths- for you the shores
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head!
It is some dream that on the deck,
You've fallen cold and dead.
My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,
The ship is anchor'd safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;
Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
But I with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
Robert Pinsky |
to Robert Hass and in memory of Elliot Gilbert
Slow dulcimer, gavotte and bow, in autumn,
Bashõ and his friends go out to view the moon;
In summer, gasoline rainbow in the gutter,
The secret courtesy that courses like ichor
Through the old form of the rude, full-scale joke,
Impossible to tell in writing.
He named himself, "Banana Tree": banana
After the plant some grateful students gave him,
Maybe in appreciation of his guidance
Threading a long night through the rules and channels
Of their collaborative linking-poem
Scored in their teacher's heart: live, rigid, fluid
Like passages etched in a microscopic cicuit.
Elliot had in his memory so many jokes
They seemed to breed like microbes in a culture
Inside his brain, one so much making another
It was impossible to tell them all:
In the court-culture of jokes, a top banana.
Imagine a court of one: the queen a young mother,
Unhappy, alone all day with her firstborn child
And her new baby in a squalid apartment
Of too few rooms, a different race from her neighbors.
She tells the child she's going to kill herself.
She broods, she rages.
Hoping to distract her,
The child cuts capers, he sings, he does imitations
Of different people in the building, he jokes,
He feels if he keeps her alive until the father
Gets home from work, they'll be okay till morning.
It's laughter versus the bedroom and the pills.
What is he in his efforts but a courtier?
Impossible to tell his whole delusion.
In the first months when I had moved back East
From California and had to leave a message
On Bob's machine, I used to make a habit
Of telling the tape a joke; and part-way through,
I would pretend that I forgot the punchline,
Or make believe that I was interrupted--
As though he'd be so eager to hear the end
He'd have to call me back.
The joke was Elliot's,
More often than not.
The doctors made the blunder
That killed him some time later that same year.
One day when I got home I found a message
On my machine from Bob.
He had a story
About two rabbis, one of them tall, one short,
One day while walking along the street together
They see the corpse of a Chinese man before them,
And Bob said, sorry, he forgot the rest.
Of course he thought that his joke was a dummy,
Impossible to tell--a dead-end challenge.
But here it is, as Elliot told it to me:
The dead man's widow came to the rabbis weeping,
Begging them, if they could, to resurrect him.
Shocked, the tall rabbi said absolutely not.
But the short rabbi told her to bring the body
Into the study house, and ordered the shutters
Closed so the room was night-dark.
Then he prayed
Over the body, chanting a secret blessing
Out of Kabala.
"Arise and breathe," he shouted;
But nothing happened.
The body lay still.
The little rabbi called for hundreds of candles
And danced around the body, chanting and praying
In Hebrew, then Yiddish, then Aramaic.
In Turkish and Egyptian and Old Galician
For nearly three hours, leaping about the coffin
In the candlelight so that his tiny black shoes
Seemed not to touch the floor.
With one last prayer
Sobbed in the Spanish of before the Inquisition
He stopped, exhausted, and looked in the dead man's face.
Panting, he raised both arms in a mystic gesture
And said, "Arise and breathe!" And still the body
Lay as before.
Impossible to tell
In words how Elliot's eyebrows flailed and snorted
Like shaggy mammoths as--the Chinese widow
Granting permission--the little rabbi sang
The blessing for performing a circumcision
And removed the dead man's foreskin, chanting blessings
In Finnish and Swahili, and bathed the corpse
From head to foot, and with a final prayer
In Babylonian, gasping with exhaustion,
He seized the dead man's head and kissed the lips
And dropped it again and leaping back commanded,
"Arise and breathe!" The corpse lay still as ever.
At this, as when Bashõ's disciples wind
Along the curving spine that links the renga
Across the different voices, each one adding
A transformation according to the rules
Of stasis and repetition, all in order
And yet impossible to tell beforehand,
Elliot changes for the punchline: the wee
Rabbi, still panting, like a startled boxer,
Looks at the dead one, then up at all those watching,
A kind of Mel Brooks gesture: "Hoo boy!" he says,
"Now that's what I call really dead.
" O mortal
Powers and princes of earth, and you immortal
Lords of the underground and afterlife,
Jehovah, Raa, Bol-Morah, Hecate, Pluto,
What has a brilliant, living soul to do with
Your harps and fires and boats, your bric-a-brac
And troughs of smoking blood? Provincial stinkers,
Our languages don't touch you, you're like that mother
Whose small child entertained her to beg her life.
Possibly he grew up to be the tall rabbi,
The one who washed his hands of all those capers
Right at the outset.
Or maybe he became
The author of these lines, a one-man renga
The one for whom it seems to be impossible
To tell a story straight.
It was a routine
When it was finished the physicians
Told Sandra and the kids it had succeeded,
But Elliot wouldn't wake up for maybe an hour,
They should go eat.
The two of them loved to bicker
In a way that on his side went back to Yiddish,
On Sandra's to some Sicilian dialect.
He used to scold her endlessly for smoking.
When she got back from dinner with their children
The doctors had to tell them about the mistake.
Oh swirling petals, falling leaves! The movement
Of linking renga coursing from moment to moment
Is meaning, Bob says in his Haiku book.
Oh swirling petals, all living things are contingent,
Falling leaves, and transient, and they suffer.
But the Universal is the goal of jokes,
Especially certain ethnic jokes, which taper
Down through the swirling funnel of tongues and gestures
Toward their preposterous Ithaca.
A journalist told me.
He heard it while a hero
Of the South African freedom movement was speaking
To elderly Jews.
The speaker's own right arm
Had been blown off by right-wing letter-bombers.
He told his listeners they had to cast their ballots
For the ANC--a group the old Jews feared
As "in with the Arabs.
" But they started weeping
As the old one-armed fighter told them their country
Needed them to vote for what was right, their vote
Could make a country their children could return to
From London and Chicago.
The moved old people
Applauded wildly, and the speaker's friend
Whispered to the journalist, "It's the Belgian Army
Joke come to life.
" I wish I could tell it
In the Belgian Army, the feud
Between the Flemings and Walloons grew vicious,
So out of hand the army could barely function.
Finally one commander assembled his men
In one great room, to deal with things directly.
They stood before him at attention.
He ordered, "to the left wall.
" Half the men
Clustered to the left.
"Now all Walloons," he ordered,
"Move to the right.
" An equal number crowded
Against the right wall.
Only one man remained
At attention in the middle: "What are you, soldier?"
Saluting, the man said, "Sir, I am a Belgian.
"Why, that's astonishing, Corporal--what's your name?"
Saluting again, "Rabinowitz," he answered:
A joke that seems at first to be a story
About the Jews.
But as the renga describes
Religious meaning by moving in drifting petals
And brittle leaves that touch and die and suffer
The changing winds that riffle the gutter swirl,
So in the joke, just under the raucous music
Of Fleming, Jew, Walloon, a courtly allegiance
Moves to the dulcimer, gavotte and bow,
Over the banana tree the moon in autumn--
Allegiance to a state impossible to tell.
Walt Whitman |
TO think of time—of all that retrospection!
To think of to-day, and the ages continued henceforward!
Have you guess’d you yourself would not continue?
Have you dreaded these earth-beetles?
Have you fear’d the future would be nothing to you?
Is to-day nothing? Is the beginningless past nothing?
If the future is nothing, they are just as surely nothing.
To think that the sun rose in the east! that men and women were flexible, real, alive!
everything was alive!
To think that you and I did not see, feel, think, nor bear our part!
To think that we are now here, and bear our part!
Not a day passes—not a minute or second, without an accouchement!
Not a day passes—not a minute or second, without a corpse!
The dull nights go over, and the dull days also,
The soreness of lying so much in bed goes over,
The physician, after long putting off, gives the silent and terrible look for an answer,
The children come hurried and weeping, and the brothers and sisters are sent for,
Medicines stand unused on the shelf—(the camphor-smell has long pervaded the rooms,)
The faithful hand of the living does not desert the hand of the dying,
The twitching lips press lightly on the forehead of the dying,
The breath ceases, and the pulse of the heart ceases,
The corpse stretches on the bed, and the living look upon it,
It is palpable as the living are palpable.
The living look upon the corpse with their eye-sight,
But without eye-sight lingers a different living, and looks curiously on the corpse.
To think the thought of Death, merged in the thought of materials!
To think that the rivers will flow, and the snow fall, and fruits ripen, and act upon
upon us now—yet not act upon us!
To think of all these wonders of city and country, and others taking great interest in
them—and we taking no interest in them!
To think how eager we are in building our houses!
To think others shall be just as eager, and we quite indifferent!
(I see one building the house that serves him a few years, or seventy or eighty years at
I see one building the house that serves him longer than that.
Slow-moving and black lines creep over the whole earth—they never cease—they are
He that was President was buried, and he that is now President shall surely be buried.
A reminiscence of the vulgar fate,
A frequent sample of the life and death of workmen,
Each after his kind:
Cold dash of waves at the ferry-wharf—posh and ice in the river, half-frozen mud in
streets, a gray, discouraged sky overhead, the short, last daylight of Twelfth-month,
A hearse and stages—other vehicles give place—the funeral of an old Broadway
stage-driver, the cortege mostly drivers.
Steady the trot to the cemetery, duly rattles the death-bell, the gate is pass’d, the
new-dug grave is halted at, the living alight, the hearse uncloses,
The coffin is pass’d out, lower’d and settled, the whip is laid on the coffin,
earth is swiftly shovel’d in,
The mound above is flatted with the spades—silence,
A minute—no one moves or speaks—it is done,
He is decently put away—is there anything more?
He was a good fellow, free-mouth’d, quick-temper’d, not bad-looking, able to
own part, witty, sensitive to a slight, ready with life or death for a friend, fond of
gambled, ate hearty, drank hearty, had known what it was to be flush, grew low-spirited
the last, sicken’d, was help’d by a contribution, died, aged forty-one
that was his funeral.
Thumb extended, finger uplifted, apron, cape, gloves, strap, wet-weather clothes, whip
carefully chosen, boss, spotter, starter, hostler, somebody loafing on you, you loafing
somebody, headway, man before and man behind, good day’s work, bad day’s work,
stock, mean stock, first out, last out, turning-in at night;
To think that these are so much and so nigh to other drivers—and he there takes no
interest in them!
The markets, the government, the working-man’s wages—to think what account they
through our nights and days!
To think that other working-men will make just as great account of them—yet we make
or no account!
The vulgar and the refined—what you call sin, and what you call goodness—to
wide a difference!
To think the difference will still continue to others, yet we lie beyond the difference.
To think how much pleasure there is!
Have you pleasure from looking at the sky? have you pleasure from poems?
Do you enjoy yourself in the city? or engaged in business? or planning a nomination and
election? or with your wife and family?
Or with your mother and sisters? or in womanly housework? or the beautiful maternal cares?
—These also flow onward to others—you and I flow onward,
But in due time, you and I shall take less interest in them.
Your farm, profits, crops,—to think how engross’d you are!
To think there will still be farms, profits, crops—yet for you, of what avail?
What will be, will be well—for what is, is well,
To take interest is well, and not to take interest shall be well.
The sky continues beautiful,
The pleasure of men with women shall never be sated, nor the pleasure of women with men,
the pleasure from poems,
The domestic joys, the daily housework or business, the building of houses—these are
phantasms—they have weight, form, location;
Farms, profits, crops, markets, wages, government, are none of them phantasms,
The difference between sin and goodness is no delusion,
The earth is not an echo—man and his life, and all the things of his life, are
You are not thrown to the winds—you gather certainly and safely around yourself;
Yourself! Yourself! Yourself, forever and ever!
It is not to diffuse you that you were born of your mother and father—it is to
It is not that you should be undecided, but that you should be decided;
Something long preparing and formless is arrived and form’d in you,
You are henceforth secure, whatever comes or goes.
The threads that were spun are gather’d, the weft crosses the warp, the pattern is
The preparations have every one been justified,
The orchestra have sufficiently tuned their instruments—the baton has given the
The guest that was coming—he waited long, for reasons—he is now housed,
He is one of those who are beautiful and happy—he is one of those that to look upon
with is enough.
The law of the past cannot be eluded,
The law of the present and future cannot be eluded,
The law of the living cannot be eluded—it is eternal,
The law of promotion and transformation cannot be eluded,
The law of heroes and good-doers cannot be eluded,
The law of drunkards, informers, mean persons—not one iota thereof can be eluded.
Slow moving and black lines go ceaselessly over the earth,
Northerner goes carried, and Southerner goes carried, and they on the Atlantic side, and
on the Pacific, and they between, and all through the Mississippi country, and all over
The great masters and kosmos are well as they go—the heroes and good-doers are well,
The known leaders and inventors, and the rich owners and pious and distinguish’d, may
But there is more account than that—there is strict account of all.
The interminable hordes of the ignorant and wicked are not nothing,
The barbarians of Africa and Asia are not nothing,
The common people of Europe are not nothing—the American aborigines are not nothing,
The infected in the immigrant hospital are not nothing—the murderer or mean person is
The perpetual successions of shallow people are not nothing as they go,
The lowest prostitute is not nothing—the mocker of religion is not nothing as he
Of and in all these things,
I have dream’d that we are not to be changed so much, nor the law of us changed,
I have dream’d that heroes and good-doers shall be under the present and past law,
And that murderers, drunkards, liars, shall be under the present and past law,
For I have dream’d that the law they are under now is enough.
If otherwise, all came but to ashes of dung,
If maggots and rats ended us, then Alarum! for we are betray’d!
Then indeed suspicion of death.
Do you suspect death? If I were to suspect death, I should die now,
Do you think I could walk pleasantly and well-suited toward annihilation?
Pleasantly and well-suited I walk,
Whither I walk I cannot define, but I know it is good,
The whole universe indicates that it is good,
The past and the present indicate that it is good.
How beautiful and perfect are the animals!
How perfect the earth, and the minutest thing upon it!
What is called good is perfect, and what is called bad is just as perfect,
The vegetables and minerals are all perfect, and the imponderable fluids are perfect;
Slowly and surely they have pass’d on to this, and slowly and surely they yet pass
I swear I think now that everything without exception has an eternal Soul!
The trees have, rooted in the ground! the weeds of the sea have! the animals!
I swear I think there is nothing but immortality!
That the exquisite scheme is for it, and the nebulous float is for it, and the cohering is
And all preparation is for it! and identity is for it! and life and materials are
Fleda Brown |
Sometimes I feel her easing further into her grave,
resigned, as always, and I have to come to her rescue.
Like now, when I have so much else to do.
she'd want a poem.
She would have been proud, of course,
of all its mystery, involving her, but scared a little.
Her eyes would have filled with tears.
It always comes
to that, I don't know why I bother.
and she's gone down a well of raw feeling, and I'm left
I avert my eyes, to keep from scaring her.
On her dresser is one of those old glass bottles
of Jergen's Lotion with the black label, a little round
bottle of Mum deodorant, a white plastic tray
with Avon necklaces and earrings, pennies, paper clips,
and a large black coat button.
I appear to be very
interested in these objects, even interested in the sun
through the blinds.
It falls across her face, and not,
as she changes the bed.
She would rather have clean sheets
than my poem, but as long as I don't bother her, she's glad
to know I care.
She's talked my father into taking
a drive later, stopping for an A & W root beer.
She is dreaming of foam on the glass, the tray propped
on the car window.
And trees, farmhouses, the expanse
of the world as seen from inside the car.
It is no
use to try to get her out to watch airplanes
take off, or walk a trail, or hear this poem
and offer anything more than "Isn't that sweet!"
Right now bombs are exploding in Kosovo, students
shot in Colorado, and my mother is wearing a root beer
Her eyes are unfocused, everything's root beer.
I write root beer, root beer, to make her happy.
from Breathing In, Breathing Out, Anhinga Press, 2002
© 2000, Fleda Brown
(first published in The Southern Review, 36 )
Alexander Pushkin |
Children running into izba,
Calling father, dripping sweat:
"Daddy, daddy! come -- there is a
Deadman caught inside our net.
"Fancy, fancy fabrication.
Grumbled off their weary Pa,
"Have these imps imagination!
Deadman, really! ya-ha-ha.
the court may come to bother -
What'll I say before the judge?
Hey you brats, go have your mother
Bring my coat; I better trudge.
Show me, where?" -- "Right there, Dad, farther!"
On the sand where netting ropes
Lay spread out, the peasant father
Saw the veritable corpse.
Badly mangled, ugly, frightening,
Blue and swollen on each side.
Has he fished in storm and lightning,
Or committed suicide?
Could this be a careless drunkard,
Or a mermaid-seeking monk,
Or a merchandizer, conquered
By some bandits, robbed and sunk?
To the peasant, what's it matter!
Quick: he grabs the dead man's hair,
Drags his body to the water,
Looks around: nobody's there:
relieved of the concern he
Shoves his paddle at a loss,
While the stiff resumes his journey
Down the stream for grave and cross.
Long the dead man as one living
Rocked on waves amid the foam.
Surly as he watched him leaving,
Soon our peasant headed home.
"Come you pups! let's go, don't scatter.
Each of you will get his bun.
But remember: just you chatter --
And I'll whip you, every one.
Dark and stormy it was turning.
High the river ran in gloom.
Now the torch has finished burning
In the peasant's smoky room.
Kids asleep, the wife aslumber,
He lies listening to the rain.
Bang! he hears a sudden comer
Knocking on the window-pane.
" -- "Let me in there, master!"
"Damn, you found the time to roam!
Well, what is it, your disaster?
Let you in? It's dark at home,
Dark and crowded.
What a pest you are!
Where'd I put you in my cot.
Slowly, with a lazy gesture,
He lifts up the pane and - what?
Through the clouds, the moon was showing.
Well? the naked man was there,
Down his hair the water flowing,
Wide his eyes, unmoved the stare;
Numb the dreadful-looking body,
Arms were hanging feeble, thin;
Crabs and cancers, black and bloody,
Sucked into the swollen skin.
As the peasant slammed the shutter
(Recognized his visitant)
Horror-struck he could but mutter
"Blast you!" and began to pant.
He was shuddering, awful chaos
All night through stirred in his brain,
While the knocking shook the house
By the gates and at the pane.
People tell a dreadful rumor:
Every year the peasant, say,
Waiting in the worst of humor
For his visitor that day;
As the rainstorm is increasing,
Nightfall brings a hurricane -
And the drowned man knocks, unceasing,
By the gates and at the pane.
Translated by: Genia Gurarie, 11/95
Copyright retained by Genia Gurarie.
For permission to reproduce, write personally to the translator.
Emanuel Xavier |
I want you to continue writing
because I will not always be around
With lips that will never touch mine
read your poems out loud
so that the words are left engraved
on the wall
make me feel your voice rush through me
like a breeze from Oyá
I want to hear about Puerto Rico
about sisters with names like La Bruja
about educating youth about AIDS
I want to hear about life
in the Boogie Down Bronx
surviving on the Down Low
don't leave out stories about men
you have loved and still love
I want you to write poems that you
will never read
press hard on the paper
so that the ink runs deep
hold the pen tight
so that you control the details
prove to me that I inspire you
reveal yourself between the lines
hear my praise
with each flicker of the candle
Write a poem for me
Do not choose a fresh page
from a brand new journal
use paper that has been crumbled and tossed
thrown out by a spineless father
only to be recycled
Save a tree for future poets to write under
Rewrite me into someone more attractive
stronger than life has made me
make me tough and sexy,
aggressive like a tiger
stain the pages with cum,
lube, the arousal you find
at the sight of naked boys, draw me sketches
bring the words to life with images
make me a man with this poem
Read it in front of the audience
with hidden messages just for me
be real and tell me why
I am only worth a haiku
Your epics are meant for others
I already know,
use red ink to match the blood
from these wounds
with brutal honesty
let me die with your last sentence
Then resurrect me with rhyme
read from your gut
let me hear the wisdom of mi abuelo
in your voice
let me find my father in you
remind me of all the men
that left me broken promises
In your eyes I want to see a poem
when you bring me to tears
with painful memories
buried beneath your thick skin
Between teeth gapped like divas,
I want to hear quotes from books
I never read
Make me believe you want to be a poet
Make my heart break,
tell me why you could never love me
with just a few words
leave me lost and insecure
feel the admiration of others
bask in their desire
forget that I am there
Pound your fists in the air with passion
go off about politics, poverty,
machismo and hate
scream poems that don't give a fuck
about traditions, slamming or scores
save your whispers
for those who make love to you
Write a poem for me
that makes me want to puff a joint
A poem that loses control
unafraid to be vulnerable
for once just make me believe
it is all worth letting go
when the smoke clears
I will understand
I am just another face
in the crowd
I want you to continue writing
because I will not always be around
Achilles' wrath, to Greece the direful spring
Of woes unnumber'd, heavenly goddess, sing!
That wrath which hurl'd to Pluto's gloomy reign
The souls of mighty chiefs untimely slain;
Whose limbs unburied on the naked shore,
Devouring dogs and hungry vultures tore.
Since great Achilles and Atrides strove,
Such was the sovereign doom, and such the will of Jove!(42)
Declare, O Muse! in what ill-fated hour(43)
Sprung the fierce strife, from what offended power
Latona's son a dire contagion spread,(44)
And heap'd the camp with mountains of the dead;
The king of men his reverent priest defied,(45)
And for the king's offence the people died.
For Chryses sought with costly gifts to gain
His captive daughter from the victor's chain.
Suppliant the venerable father stands;
Apollo's awful ensigns grace his hands
By these he begs; and lowly bending down,
Extends the sceptre and the laurel crown
He sued to all, but chief implored for grace
The brother-kings, of Atreus' royal race(46)
"Ye kings and warriors! may your vows be crown'd,
And Troy's proud walls lie level with the ground.
May Jove restore you when your toils are o'er
Safe to the pleasures of your native shore.
But, oh! relieve a wretched parent's pain,
And give Chryseis to these arms again;
If mercy fail, yet let my presents move,
And dread avenging Phoebus, son of Jove.
The Greeks in shouts their joint assent declare,
The priest to reverence, and release the fair.
Not so Atrides; he, with kingly pride,
Repulsed the sacred sire, and thus replied:
"Hence on thy life, and fly these hostile plains,
Nor ask, presumptuous, what the king detains
Hence, with thy laurel crown, and golden rod,
Nor trust too far those ensigns of thy god.
Mine is thy daughter, priest, and shall remain;
And prayers, and tears, and bribes, shall plead in vain;
Till time shall rifle every youthful grace,
And age dismiss her from my cold embrace,
In daily labours of the loom employ'd,
Or doom'd to deck the bed she once enjoy'd
Hence then; to Argos shall the maid retire,
Far from her native soil and weeping sire.
Anna Akhmatova |
Not under foreign skies
Nor under foreign wings protected -
I shared all this with my own people
There, where misfortune had abandoned us.
INSTEAD OF A PREFACE
During the frightening years of the Yezhov terror, I
spent seventeen months waiting in prison queues in
One day, somehow, someone 'picked me out'.
On that occasion there was a woman standing behind me,
her lips blue with cold, who, of course, had never in
her life heard my name.
Jolted out of the torpor
characteristic of all of us, she said into my ear
(everyone whispered there) - 'Could one ever describe
this?' And I answered - 'I can.
' It was then that
something like a smile slid across what had previously
been just a face.
[The 1st of April in the year 1957.
Mountains fall before this grief,
A mighty river stops its flow,
But prison doors stay firmly bolted
Shutting off the convict burrows
And an anguish close to death.
Fresh winds softly blow for someone,
Gentle sunsets warm them through; we don't know this,
We are everywhere the same, listening
To the scrape and turn of hateful keys
And the heavy tread of marching soldiers.
Waking early, as if for early mass,
Walking through the capital run wild, gone to seed,
We'd meet - the dead, lifeless; the sun,
Lower every day; the Neva, mistier:
But hope still sings forever in the distance.
Immediately a flood of tears,
Followed by a total isolation,
As if a beating heart is painfully ripped out, or,
Thumped, she lies there brutally laid out,
But she still manages to walk, hesitantly, alone.
Where are you, my unwilling friends,
Captives of my two satanic years?
What miracle do you see in a Siberian blizzard?
What shimmering mirage around the circle of the moon?
I send each one of you my salutation, and farewell.
It happened like this when only the dead
Were smiling, glad of their release,
That Leningrad hung around its prisons
Like a worthless emblem, flapping its piece.
Shrill and sharp, the steam-whistles sang
Short songs of farewell
To the ranks of convicted, demented by suffering,
As they, in regiments, walked along -
Stars of death stood over us
As innocent Russia squirmed
Under the blood-spattered boots and tyres
Of the black marias.
You were taken away at dawn.
I followed you
As one does when a corpse is being removed.
Children were crying in the darkened house.
A candle flared, illuminating the Mother of God.
The cold of an icon was on your lips, a death-cold
On your brow - I will never forget this; I will gather
To wail with the wives of the murdered streltsy (1)
Inconsolably, beneath the Kremlin towers.
Silent flows the river Don
A yellow moon looks quietly on
Swanking about, with cap askew
It sees through the window a shadow of you
Gravely ill, all alone
The moon sees a woman lying at home
Her son is in jail, her husband is dead
Say a prayer for her instead.
It isn't me, someone else is suffering.
Not like this.
Everything that has happened,
Cover it with a black cloth,
Then let the torches be removed.
Giggling, poking fun, everyone's darling,
The carefree sinner of Tsarskoye Selo (2)
If only you could have foreseen
What life would do with you -
That you would stand, parcel in hand,
Beneath the Crosses (3), three hundredth in
Burning the new year's ice
With your hot tears.
Back and forth the prison poplar sways
With not a sound - how many innocent
Blameless lives are being taken away.
For seventeen months I have been screaming,
Calling you home.
I've thrown myself at the feet of butchers
For you, my son and my horror.
Everything has become muddled forever -
I can no longer distinguish
Who is an animal, who a person, and how long
The wait can be for an execution.
There are now only dusty flowers,
The chinking of the thurible,
Tracks from somewhere into nowhere
And, staring me in the face
And threatening me with swift annihilation,
An enormous star.
Weeks fly lightly by.
I cannot understand what has arisen,
How, my son, into your prison
White nights stare so brilliantly.
Now once more they burn,
Eyes that focus like a hawk,
And, upon your cross, the talk
Is again of death.
The word landed with a stony thud
Onto my still-beating breast.
Nevermind, I was prepared,
I will manage with the rest.
I have a lot of work to do today;
I need to slaughter memory,
Turn my living soul to stone
Then teach myself to live again.
The hot summer rustles
Like a carnival outside my window;
I have long had this premonition
Of a bright day and a deserted house.
[22 June 1939.
Fontannyi Dom (4)]
You will come anyway - so why not now?
I wait for you; things have become too hard.
I have turned out the lights and opened the door
For you, so simple and so wonderful.
Assume whatever shape you wish.
Like a shell of noxious gas.
Creep up on me
Like a practised bandit with a heavy weapon.
Poison me, if you want, with a typhoid exhalation,
Or, with a simple tale prepared by you
(And known by all to the point of nausea), take me
Before the commander of the blue caps and let me
The house administrator's terrified white face.
I don't care anymore.
The river Yenisey
The Pole star blazes.
The blue sparks of those much-loved eyes
Close over and cover the final horror.
[19 August 1939.
Madness with its wings
Has covered half my soul
It feeds me fiery wine
And lures me into the abyss.
That's when I understood
While listening to my alien delirium
That I must hand the victory
However much I nag
However much I beg
It will not let me take
One single thing away:
Not my son's frightening eyes -
A suffering set in stone,
Or prison visiting hours
Or days that end in storms
Nor the sweet coolness of a hand
The anxious shade of lime trees
Nor the light distant sound
Of final comforting words.
[14 May 1940.
Weep not for me, mother.
I am alive in my grave.
A choir of angels glorified the greatest hour,
The heavens melted into flames.
To his father he said, 'Why hast thou forsaken me!'
But to his mother, 'Weep not for me.
Magdalena smote herself and wept,
The favourite disciple turned to stone,
But there, where the mother stood silent,
Not one person dared to look.
I have learned how faces fall,
How terror can escape from lowered eyes,
How suffering can etch cruel pages
Of cuneiform-like marks upon the cheeks.
I know how dark or ash-blond strands of hair
Can suddenly turn white.
I've learned to recognise
The fading smiles upon submissive lips,
The trembling fear inside a hollow laugh.
That's why I pray not for myself
But all of you who stood there with me
Through fiercest cold and scorching July heat
Under a towering, completely blind red wall.
The hour has come to remember the dead.
I see you, I hear you, I feel you:
The one who resisted the long drag to the open window;
The one who could no longer feel the kick of familiar
soil beneath her feet;
The one who, with a sudden flick of her head, replied,
'I arrive here as if I've come home!'
I'd like to name you all by name, but the list
Has been removed and there is nowhere else to look.
I have woven you this wide shroud out of the humble
I overheard you use.
Everywhere, forever and always,
I will never forget one single thing.
Even in new
Even if they clamp shut my tormented mouth
Through which one hundred million people scream;
That's how I wish them to remember me when I am dead
On the eve of my remembrance day.
If someone someday in this country
Decides to raise a memorial to me,
I give my consent to this festivity
But only on this condition - do not build it
By the sea where I was born,
I have severed my last ties with the sea;
Nor in the Tsar's Park by the hallowed stump
Where an inconsolable shadow looks for me;
Build it here where I stood for three hundred hours
And no-one slid open the bolt.
Listen, even in blissful death I fear
That I will forget the Black Marias,
Forget how hatefully the door slammed and an old woman
Howled like a wounded beast.
Let the thawing ice flow like tears
From my immovable bronze eyelids
And let the prison dove coo in the distance
While ships sail quietly along the river.
1 An elite guard which rose up in rebellion
against Peter the Great in 1698.
Most were either
executed or exiled.
2 The imperial summer residence outside St
Petersburg where Ahmatova spent her early years.
3 A prison complex in central Leningrad near the
Finland Station, called The Crosses because of the
shape of two of the buildings.
4 The Leningrad house in which Ahmatova lived.
Mark Doty |
Today the Masons are auctioning
their discarded pomp: a trunk of turbans,
gemmed and ostrich-plumed, and operetta costumes
labeled inside the collar "Potentate"
" Here their chairs, blazoned
with the Masons' sign, huddled
like convalescents, lean against one another
on the grass.
In a casket are rhinestoned poles
the hierophants carried in parades;
here's a splendid golden staff some ranking officer waved,
topped with a golden pyramid and a tiny,
No one's worn this stuff
for years, and it doesn't seem worth buying;
where would we put it? Still,
I want that staff.
I used to love
to go to the library -- the smalltown brick refuge
of those with nothing to do, really,
'Carnegie' chiseled on the pediment
above columns that dwarfed an inconsequential street.
Embarrassed to carry the same book past
the water fountain's plaster centaurs
up to the desk again, I'd take
The Wonders of the World to the Reading Room
where Art and Industry met in the mural
on the dome.
The room smelled like two decades
before I was born, when the name
carved over the door meant something.
I never read the second section,
"Wonders of the Modern World";
I loved the promise of my father's blueprints,
the unfulfilled turquoise schemes,
but in the real structures
you could hardly imagine a future.
I wanted the density of history,
which I confused with the smell of the book:
Babylon's ziggurat tropical with ferns,
engraved watercourses rippling;
the Colossus of Rhodes balanced
over the harbormouth on his immense ankles.
Athena filled one end of the Parthenon,
in an "artist's reconstruction",
like an adult in a dollhouse.
At Halicarnassus, Mausolus remembered himself
immensely, though in the book
there wasn't even a sketch,
only a picture of huge fragments.
In the pyramid's deep clockworks,
did the narrow tunnels mount toward
the eye of God? That was the year
photos were beamed back from space;
falling asleep I used to repeat a new word
to myself, telemetry, liking the way
it seemed to allude to something storied.
The earth was whorled marble,
at that distance.
Even the stuck-on porticoes
and collonades downtown were narrative,
somehow, but the buildings my father engineered
were without stories.
All I wanted
was something larger than our ordinary sadness --
greater not in scale but in context,
memorable, true to a proportioned,
Last year I knew a student,
a half mad boy who finally opened his arms
with a razor, not because he wanted to die
but because he wanted to design something grand
on his own body.
Once he said, When a child
realizes his parents aren't enough,
he turns to architecture.
I think I know what he meant.
Imagine the Masons parading,
one of them, in his splendid get-up,
striding forward with the golden staff,
above his head Cheops' beautiful shape --
a form we cannot separate
from the stories about the form,
even if we hardly know them,
even if it no longer signifies, if it only shines.