Acrobat of Pain

We present this work in honor of the 130th anniversary of the poet’s death.

João da Cruz e Sousa
1861 – 1898


Chortle, laugh, in a laughter of storm
like a clown who, lanky and nervous,
laughs, in an absurd laughter, inflated
with violent irony and pain.

With that atrocious and bloody guffaw—:
rattle the jester’s bells, convulsing.
Jump, puppet: jump, clown, pierced
by the stertor of this slow agony—

You’re asked for an encore, and that’s not to be sneered at.
Come on! Tighten the muscles up, tighten up
in these macabre steel pirouettes…

And though you fall on the ground, quivering,
drowned in your hot and seething blood,
laugh! Heart, saddest of clowns.

Translation by Flavia Vidal

The Spring’s Last Drop

We present this work in honor of the 10th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Catherine Obianuju Acholonu
1951 – 2013


I can still recall their laughter
As they spoke of ‘lost virtue’.
I, Obiajunu
I have learned to live in scarcity.

So, cautiously,
i choose my steps
labouring up the steep hill
bearing on my head
in a clay pot
the spring’s very last drop

but from the bushes
a sweet melody
streams forth
and fills my ears

and the body
is tempted to sway
leading the feet
off the straight path

and the eyes
are tempted to stray
to find the source
the giver of temporal joy

but i must hold fast
my pot of spring water

Though the seller of clay pot
never makes the ‘customer’
though the carrier of clay pot
be the mother of an only son
and though this tune
vibrating in my ears
tempts me to dance
to sway my hips
in unison
with it

yet i cannot lose it
this stem
this prop

i have laboured up this hill
through toil and sweat
and i cannot spill it
this water so pure
so clear and sweet
the dying spring’s last drop

i obianuju
i shall provide my children
with plenty
i shall multiply this drop
they will never taste
of the wasted fluid
of the sea

The Exile to His Country

We present this work in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.

Mary Anne Holmes
1773 – 1805


Ah! where is now my peaceful cot?
And where my happy home?
Far distant from that cherished spot,
In banishment, I roam.
From thee, my country! I am driven;
A wanderer forced from thee;
But yet my constant prayer to Heaven
Shall be to make thee free.

How blissful once my lot appeared!
How brightly Fortune smiled!
My daily toil by hope was cheered,
By happiness beguiled.
My blooming children played around;
Their mother blessed each hour;
Till tyrants on our prospects frowned,
And crushed us with their power.
They burned our humble dwelling then
Our little all destroyed;
And left us, the hard-hearted men!
Of every hope devoid.
And thus, my country! I was driven,
A wanderer far from thee;
But yet my ceaseless prayer to Heaven
Has been to make thee free

My helpless children sobbed aloud
Upon the parting day;
My Mary’s head with grief was bowed;
Oh how I wished to stay!
With anguish o’er the spot we mourned,
Where long our cottage stood;
And, as we went, we often turned
To view the neighbouring wood.
And when our vessel put to sea,
As dimmer grew the shore,
My bosom panted heavily,
To think that, never more,
My eyes upon that land should gaze,
Where all my youth was spent;
And where I thought to end my days,
In virtue and content.

Can virtue make content secure,
While tyrants may destroy
The simple blessings of the poor,
And blast their rising joy?
My loved, lost Country! ruined, driven,
An exile far from thee,
My last and fondest prayer to Heaven
Shall be to make thee free.

from Death Without End

We present this work in honor of the 50th anniversary of the poet’s death.

José Gorostiza
1901 – 1973


Filled with myself, walled up in my skin
by an inapprehensible god that is stifling me,
deceived perhaps
by his radiant atmosphere of light
that hides my drained
my wings broken into splinters of air,
my listless groping through the mire;
filled with myself—gorged—I discover my essence
in the astonished image of water,
that is only an unwithering cascade,
a tumbling of angels fallen
of their own accord in pure delight,
that has nothing
but a whitened face
half sunken, already, like an agonized laugh
in the thin sheets of the cloud
and the mournful canticles of the sea—
more aftertaste of salt or cumulus whiteness
than lonely haste of foam pursued.
Nevertheless—oh paradox—constrained
by the rigor of the glass that clarifies it,
the water takes shape.
In the glass it sits, sinks deep and builds,
attains a bitter age of silences
and the graceful repose of a child smiling
in death, that deflowers
a beyond of disbanded
In the crystal snare that strangles it,
there, as in the water of a mirror,
it recognizes itself;
bound there, drop with drop,
the trope of foam withered in its throat.
What intense nakedness of water,
what water so strongly water,
is dreaming in its iridescent sphere,
already singing a thirst for rigid ice!
But what a provident glass—also—
that swells
like a star ripe with grain,
that flames in heroic promise
like a heart inhabited by happiness,
and that punctually yields up
to the water
a round transparent flower,
a missile eye that attains heights
and a window to luminous cries
over that smoldering liberty
oppressed by white fetters!

Translation by Rachel Benson


Ifi Amadiume
b. 1947


For when we were
Young and playful,
Our joyous laughter
Rang out echoes through
Every street,
Enlivened by our boundless

For when we were
Young and playful,
We would jump buses
Standing or moving,
Ticketless to nowhere
And everywhere,
Knowing no limits,
Knowing no particular
Place to get off.

For when we were
Young and playful,
I met a stranger then,
Caring little about
His looks,
Just being young
Curious and fearless
On a moving empty
London bus,
But for us restless
Young and playful ones,
Filling up, No,
Taking over an
Empty London bus
To make life anew,
Posing, loving us
And strangers in
Boundless youthfulness,
Knowing not,
Caring little
What we were,
What we are
Going to become.

Ballade of Home

We present this work in honor of Canberra Day.

Enid Derham
1882 – 1941


Let others prate of Greece and Rome,
And towns where they may never be,
The muse should wander nearer home.
My country is enough for me;
Her wooded hills that watch the sea,
Her inland miles of springing corn,
At Macedon or Barrakee—
I love the land where I was born.
On Juliet smile the autumn stars
And windswept plains by Winchelsea,
In summer on their sandy bars
Her rivers loiter languidly.
Where singing waters fall and flee
The gullied ranges dip to Lorne
With musk and gum and myrtle tree—
I love the land where I was born.

The wild things in her tangles move
As blithe as fauns in Sicily,
Where Melbourne rises roof by roof
The tall ships serve her at the quay,
And hers the yoke of liberty
On stalwart shoulders lightly worn,
Where thought and speech and prayer are free—
I love the land where I was born.

Princes and lords of high degree,
Smile, and we fling you scorn for scorn,
In hope and faith and memory
I love the land where I was born.

from El Vergonzoso en Palacio

We present this work in honor of the 375th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Tirso de Molina
1579 – 1648


Have you told your lady of your love? – I have not dared to. – So she has never found out? – I don’t doubt that she’s seen the flame of love in my infatuated eyes, which cry out in silence. – The tongue should perform that task; otherwise it may as well be a foreign jargon. Has she not given you occasion to declare yourself? – So much so, that my shyness amazes me. – Speak, then. Any delay can only hurt your love. – I’m afraid to lose by speaking what I enjoy by keeping quiet. – That’s just foolish. A wise man once compared a mute lover to a Flemish painting that’s always kept rolled up. The painter won’t get very far unless he shows his paintings to the public, so they can admire and buy them. The court is no place for reticence. Unroll your painting so it may be sold. No one can cure you if you won’t tell them what’s wrong. – Yes, my lady. But the inequality between us holds me back. – Isn’t love a god? – Yes, my lady. – Well then, speak, for the laws of the god are absolute, toppling the mightiest monarchs and leveling crowns and clogs. Tell me who you love, and I’ll be your go-between. – I don’t dare. – Why not? Am I not fit to be your messenger? – No, but I’m afraid… Oh, god! – What if I say her name? Would you tell me if she is, by any chance… me? – My lady, yes. – Let me finish! And you are jealous of the Count of Vasconcelos, right? – It’s hopeless. He is your equal, my lady, and the heir of Braganza. – Equality and likeness don’t come down to whether a lover is noble, humble or poor, but to an affinity of soul and will. Make yourself clear from now on, don Dionís, I urge you. When it comes to games of love, it’s better to go over than to undershoot the mark. For a long time now I’ve preferred you to the Count of Vasconcelos.

Translation by Ben Sachs-Hamilton

Praise to the mother of Jamaican art

Lorna Goodison
b. 1947


She was the nameless woman who created
images of her children sold away from her.
She suspended her wood babies from a rope
round her neck, before she ate she fed them.
Touched bits of pounded yam and plantains
to sealed lips, always urged them to sip water.
She carved them of wormwood, teeth and nails
her first tools, later she wielded a blunt blade.
Her spit cleaned faces and limbs; the pitch oil
of her skin burnished them. When woodworms
bored into their bellies she warmed castor oil
they purged. She learned her art by breaking
hard rockstones. She did not sign her work.