Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Original Errata

Original Errata

He thought He had made himself perfectly clear:
Let there be lust.

But where there's a will, there's a way
to misunderstand, to make tragic
puzzles of shame and fruit
from lovely ambiguities He had always felt.
No wonder He receded
farther than the stars, farther
than the white room of Emily Dickinson.

He'd had such hopes for the garden:
a slow eureka of tongues in understated moonlight,
rosy virtuosities at dawn, even the pink
loneliness at noon the right hand heals.

Thus, He greeted the first tenants
of the flesh, then paused beside the pear.

He wanted to confide a brazen sweetness ---
the short, slippery slope
He had made for them
into love.

Lynn Powell

Monday, October 26, 2015

Monday, October 5, 2015

what to make of a diminished thing?

The Oven Bird

There is a singer everyone has heard,
Loud, a mid-summer and a mid-wood bird,
Who makes the solid tree trunks sound again.
He says that leaves are old and that for flowers
Mid-summer is to spring as one to ten.
He says the early petal-fall is past
When pear and cherry bloom went down in showers
On sunny days a moment overcast;
And comes that other fall we name the fall.
He says the highway dust is over all.
The bird would cease and be as other birds
But that he knows in singing not to sing.
The question that he frames in all but words
Is what to make of a diminished thing.

Robert Frost

Friday, September 25, 2015

on the road home

On the Road Home

It was when I said,
“There is no such thing as the truth,”
That the grapes seemed fatter.
The fox ran out of his hole.

You … You said,
“There are many truths,
But they are not parts of a truth.”
Then the tree, at night, began to change,

Smoking through green and smoking blue.
We were two figures in a wood.
We said we stood alone.

It was when I said,
“Words are not forms of a single word.
In the sum of the parts, there are only the parts.
The world must be measured by eye”;

It was when you said,
“The idols have seen lots of poverty,
Snakes and gold and lice,
But not the truth”;

It was at that time, that the silence was largest
And longest, the night was roundest,
The fragrance of the autumn warmest,
Closest and strongest.

-- Wallace Stevens

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

who could have thought to make / so many selves?

from Esthétique du Mal
by Wallace Stevens


The greatest poverty is not to live
In a physical world, to feel that one's desire
Is too difficult to tell from despair. Perhaps,
After death, the non-physical people, in paradise,
Itself non-physical, may, by chance, observe
The green corn gleaming and experience
The minor of what we feel. The adventurer
In humanity has not conceived of a race
Completely physical in a physical world.
The green corn gleams and the metaphysicals
Lie sprawling in majors of the August heat,
The rotund emotions, paradise unknown.

This is the thesis scrivened in delight,
The reverberating psalm, the right chorale.

One might have thought of sight, but who could think
Of what it sees, for all the ill it sees?
Speech found the ear, for all the evil sound,
But the dark italics it could not propound,
And out of what one sees and hears and out
Of what one feels, who could have thought to make
So many selves, so many sensuous worlds,
As if the air, the mid-day air, was swarming
With the metaphysical changes that occur
Merely in living as and where we live.

Monday, June 22, 2015

love poems


A man knows himself unworthy, her love unmerited,
a mystery like a healing after a wing's light touch.
And he no longer tries to hide his failings,
humbled and as helpless for wounds
as if he were already old and almost blind
and forgets his way in a well known city.
Shaking, he takes out a worn, often folded paper,
and asks strangers to read a name, an address.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

the first of all thoughts

photograph by erin

A Woman Photographing Turtle Eggs

She loves the clutch of shells, broken,
emptied, left. She lifts them
one by one on her palm

to weigh their weightlessness
against her breath, their touch
against her skin. She thinks

of the eggs inside the warm mother,
how each slid free at the right time
and shielded a life as it nudged

into being and particular shape,
tiled carapace and plastron
and claws and hooked mouth

perfect in their solidity, fact
knitted from the egg's liquid.
The young curled in each private

chamber of the sun-wombed nest
breathed slowly through shell and dirt,
and perhaps, near hatching,

they sometimes heard footsteps,
faint news from the unguessed,
far air of light and menace and food,

though they were earth-held secrets
who had not yet suffered
the first of all thoughts: emerge.

Friday, June 19, 2015

a story about longing

A Story about Longing

Once --- so long ago that only the most ancient of the turtles would remember his name and then only if turtles cared about names, which they do not --- a man fell in love with a tiger lily.

It ended, as these things do. I won't say well or badly.

Between a man and a tiger lily, what beautiful thing could happen, except the ending?

Monday, June 15, 2015

some warmth

A Morning

A worm thin as an i or a snipped thread,
of a synthetic green you would never know
was natural, the knot of its strange blood
a little gemstone ticking in its head,
risks death on the rim of my sleeve to knead
and softly knead its half-inch of earth.
This perfect being flung itself unfelt, unhurt
as a breath, from a birch leaf. It liked my heat
and curled up to wait through all the turns
of the dark, there where I hung my naked shirt,
because it believed without words
and without knowing it lacked the words
that every day that wakes some warmth returns.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Everything Transforms (Lucian Mănăilescu)

Everything Transforms

It's all a game of quanta and atoms ---
we know but can never really explain,
because the waters, flowing, change to clouds,
and mountains, waiting, weather to a plain.

Butterflies perish in heaps of colors,
the stars decay to a dust of starlight,
people burst into flames of snowfall,
blanketing an unreal world in white.

But the very dream that fashions empires,
the very thought that struck the tongue dumb,
how we felt and what we were --- no one knows,
nor can imagine what change will come.

Lucian Mănăilescu
(my translation -- original in the comments)

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Saturday, April 11, 2015

the hill-born, earthy spring, the dark cold bilberries

On Being Human

Angelic minds, they say, by simple intelligence
Behold the Forms of nature. They discern
Unerringly the Archetypes, all the verities
Which mortals lack or indirectly learn.
Transparent in primordial truth, unvarying,
Pure Earthness and right Stonehood from their clear,
High eminence are seen; unveiled, the seminal
Huge Principles appear.

The Tree-ness of the tree they know --- the meaning of
Arboreal life, how from earth's salty lap
The solar beam uplifts it; all the holiness
Enacted by leaves' fall and rising sap;
But never an angel knows the knife-edged severance
Of sun from shadow where the trees begin,
The blessed cool at every pore caressing us
--- An angel has no skin.

They see the Form of Air; but mortals breathing it
Drink the whole summer down into the breast.
The lavish pinks, the field new-mown, the ravishing
Sea-smells, the wood-fire smoke that whispers Rest.
The tremor on the rippled pool of memory
That from each smell in widening circles goes,
The pleasure and the pang --- can angels measure it?
--- An angel has no nose.

The nourishing of life, and how it flourishes
On death, and why, they utterly know; but not
The hill-born, earthy spring, the dark cold bilberries.
The ripe peach from the southern wall still hot,
Full-bellied tankards foamy-topped, the delicate
Half-lyric lamb, a new loaf's billowy curves,
Nor porridge, nor the tingling taste of oranges.
--- An angel has no nerves.

Far richer they! I know the senses' witchery
Guards us like air, from heavens too big to see;
Imminent death to man that barb'd sublimity
And dazzling edge of beauty unsheathed would be.
Yet here, within this tiny, charmed interior,
This parlour of the brain, their Maker shares
With living men some secrets in a privacy
Forever ours, not theirs.

--- C. S. Lewis

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Miroirs et fenêtres

I have started a new blog for translations from French-Canadian poetry. In my opinion, this is quite harmless.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

no one reads sully prudhomme anymore

[ i can find no credit for this photograph of Prudhomme ]

No one reads Sully Prudhomme anymore, not even in France, I suppose, unless forced to do so at school, and then with the same ill-will that American teenagers bring to Longfellow or E. A. Robinson. It isn't hard to see why. His is not a fashionable poetics, nowadays seeming stilted and quaint in an unhappy way that we might call "didactic" or "moralizing." And yet, back in 1901, Prudhomme won the first-ever Nobel Prize in Literature, capping a career as a very popular poet and intellectual, popular even among the young. He was at the center of mainstream culture and “establishment poetry” in late-19th century, bourgeois Europe, whereas the Decadent and Symbolist poets we remember today were decidedly “fringe,” in comparison. No one reads Sully Prudhomme anymore, but everyone did, once.

But --- if we can manage to look a little askew around the corners of what we expect him to be --- there is still some interesting poetry in him, after all. Prudhomme is a poet of careful, insightful thought in graceful language under the control of craft that often enough rises to be called art. Perhaps he will never replace Mallarmé or even Paul Valéry as anyone's favorite turn-of-the-century poet, but he still deserves some attention, at least
to be remembered, now and then.

I won't belabor these two poems, after all pretty short ones, with exegesis. (They aren't his most popular or best, simply the two that caught my fancy.) But in “The Ideal” Prudhomme quietly manages a very impressive bit of ideological heavy-lifting. Applying an awareness of modern cosmology --- he knows that some stars are so distant that their light hasn't yet reached the earth, billions of years after the universe came into existence --- he switches his attitude toward the ancient philosophical notion of “the Ideal” from a metaphysical plane to locate it henceforth in spatial imagination, a matter of inconceivably vast, but not infinite, distances in a physical cosmos.

“The Cliff” is another poem that re-orients traditional verities and is in harmony with the changing understanding of human nature in Prudhomme's day. It is not, of course, the ocean that modulates its message to suit the hearer, but rather each human subjectivity that perceives a different world, filtered through a shifting self made of accumulated experience, conscience, and response.

But, the poems ….

L’Idéal / The Ideal

La lune est grande, le ciel clair
Et plein d’astres, la terre est blême,
Et l’âme du monde est dans l’air.
Je rêve à l’étoile suprême,

The moon is broad, the sky
Clear and rich with lights, and air
The world's soul over pale earth.
I dream of that farthest star,

À celle qu’on n’aperçoit pas,
Mais dont la lumière voyage
Et doit venir jusqu’ici-bas
Enchanter les yeux d’un autre âge.

Which no one has ever yet seen,
But whose light is long on its way
And will at last arrive here
To charm the eyes of a later day.

Quand luira cette étoile, un jour,
La plus belle et la plus lointaine,
Dites-lui qu’elle eut mon amour,
Ô derniers de la race humaine!

You, then, last of the human race,
When that star appears above,
The fairest and most far,
Tell her of me, that she had my love.


La Falaise / The Cliff

Deux hommes sont montés sur la haute falaise;
Ils ont fermé les yeux pour écouter la mer:
« J'entends le paradis pousser des clameurs d'aise.
Et moi j'entends gémir les foules de l'enfer.»

Two men labored up a high cliff's steep rise
and closed their eyes to hear the ocean swell.
“I hear sighs of pleasure from paradise.”
“I hear throngs of the damned, shrieking in hell.”

Alors, épouvantés des songes de l'ouïe,
Ils ont rouvert les yeux sous le même soleil.
L'Océan sait parler, selon l'âme et la vie,
Aux hommes différents avec un bruit pareil.

Frightened by such vagaries of hearing, again
They look and find the same sun overhead.
---The Ocean speaks in one voice to different men,
but fits its sense to match the lives they've led.

--Sully Prudhomme
(my translations)

Monday, March 23, 2015

the forlorn maid in springtime

The Forlorn Maid in Springtime

The west wind gusts soft;
the warming sun grows.
Now earth bares her breasts
and sweetness overflows.

Spring steps decked in purple,
wearing her royal gems.
She scatters flowers on the ground,
leaves on woodland limbs.

Beasts ready birthing lairs
and gentle birds their nests,
trilling their rightful pleasure
from trees' flowering crests.

I've ears to hear such things,
and I have these eyes ---
but, oh, in place of their joys,
I am racked with sighs.

I sit alone, brooding
and chilled and drear,
and if, by chance, I look up,
nothing I see or hear.

You, though, for the sake of spring,
go listen, go learn
from leaves, from blooms and meadows.
My spirit lags. I yearn.

--- anonymous, c. 1000
(my translation)

Friday, February 27, 2015

Sunday, February 8, 2015

the lover in winter

The Lover in Winter

Leaves fall.
Green dies.
All heat drains away
and dies,
as the sun enters
the last sign.

Cold tortures soft things.
Winter plagues the birds,
and Philomel keens
with the rest:
the fire dims
from their sky.

Hollows are wet,
and meadows are seer.
The golden sun flees
our horizon.
After a day of snow, the night

Everything shivers.
I alone am warm,
for deep in my loins
an ember burns.
This flame is a woman,
my longing for her.

A kiss feeds the fire,
a woman's soft touch.
The light of lights
is in her eyes,
nor has anything been -- ever --
more holy.

Anonymous, circa 1200
(my translation)

Saturday, January 3, 2015

imagine a woman behind razor wire

photo by Cheryl Dodds

Sam Rasnake, editor of Blue Fifth Review's Blue Five Notebook series, very kindly invited me to write a poem
in collaboration with the above photograph by Cheryl Dodds.
You can also scroll down the page for a short commentary on the process of writing the poem.