We present this work in honor of the poet’s 115th birthday.
I don’t believe in omens or fear Forebodings. I flee from neither slander Nor from poison. Death does not exist. Everyone’s immortal. Everything is too. No point in fearing death at seventeen, Or seventy. There’s only here and now, and light; Neither death, nor darkness, exists. We’re all already on the seashore; I’m one of those who’ll be hauling in the nets When a shoal of immortality swims by.
If you live in a house – the house will not fall. I’ll summon any of the centuries, Then enter one and build a house in it. That’s why your children and your wives Sit with me at one table, – The same for ancestor and grandson: The future is being accomplished now, If I raise my hand a little, All five beams of light will stay with you. Each day I used my collar bones For shoring up the past, as though with timber, I measured time with geodetic chains And marched across it, as though it were the Urals.
I tailored the age to fit me. We walked to the south, raising dust above the steppe; The tall weeds fumed; the grasshopper danced, Touching its antenna to the horse-shoes – and it prophesied, Threatening me with destruction, like a monk. I strapped my fate to the saddle; And even now, in these coming times, I stand up in the stirrups like a child.
I’m satisfied with deathlessness, For my blood to flow from age to age. Yet for a corner whose warmth I could rely on I’d willingly have given all my life, Whenever her flying needle Tugged me, like a thread, around the globe.
As I was standing, all set for my exile, Doom staring at me from the road’s blinding end, The door, like a book’s heavy cover, opened, To bring forth a guest from the biblical land.
His body, half naked, a knife in his loincloth, In sheep-leather sandals his tanned, bronze-like feet, A bundle of firewood upon his shoulder— He said, with a smile very boyish and sweet:
“Good morning, my girl; remember me, dearest? You’ve waited for me so long—not in vain. I’m Isaac, your bridegroom, ordained by the Heavens … Through ages I’ve wandered to you, till I came.
Take off your dress. A sheet of plain linen Is sufficient to drape round your navel and hips. Undo your braids and let’s hurry, my sweetheart, Your hand clasped in mine and a chant on our lips.
Thus will l lead you beyond the horizon, Between north and south, through the west—to the east, Until we will reach Mount Moriah, my dearest, There to be married, to rejoice and to feast.
So come, let us hurry, the distance is calling. Pray, why do you shiver with anguish and cry? You’re asking why all that wood on my shoulder, The glittering knife on my hip—you ask why.
Then turn your soul to my soul, my beloved. Read your fate in my fate, while I explain: Out of the wood I will construct an altar And with love all redeeming set it aflame.
And the knife, my bride, I will file to its sharpest point Up there, at the peak, on a rough mountain stone. And who will be offered, you ask me?—then listen: The offering, my dearest, shall be you, you alone.
A gift of life to the God of All Being, As Abraham told me, his late-born son: If you trust in love and love wholly trusting, Then fear not, nor waver, dear girl, but come.
Though fire will blaze through the wood of the altar, Flames licking your body, yet you shall see: The knife will fall from my hand, and a miracle Will happen to you, as it happened to me.
The rivers and seas shall sing Hallelujah! The mountain pines, moved, will give praise to all life, While the Voice Divine will, with thunder and lightning, Proclaim me your husband, pronounce you my wife.
So hurry, my girl, the sky is already Spreading its canopy, preparing the rite. Come to the blue sacrificial fire— Your last maiden stroll—to the altar, my bride.”
Thus he spoke. I smiled, then said in a whisper, My eyes not on him, but fixed on the dark night, Where another road was tracing its outlines With the red of my blood, with signals of fright:
“Oh leave me, Isaac, you bronzed, sunny man. This road is not yours, not mine is your day. I head for those places you never have dreamed of, Where altars do smolder with their unwilling prey.”
As I spoke a gale swept towards my threshold. The tempest took hold of my hearth and my house, Whistling through streets, through the yards of the ghetto, Hissing with rage: “Juden raus! Juden raus!”
Thus I stepped forward with Abraham, my father, Who wrapped his arm round me as if with a shawl, While delicate Isaac, all tremble and flutter, Pressed his tanned sun-kissed frame to the wall.
“You’re frightened, Isaac?” said I. “I’m your nightmare. Awake and you’re back in your undying scroll, Where Rebecca, your true betrothed awaits you, To be taken with joy on her last maiden stroll.
Make haste, return to the Book that shall save thee. Hide yourself in the Bible’s fairytale land. For your God Himself walks with me and my father, Right now, to the altar; with us—to His end.”
We present this work in honor of the Canadian holiday, National Aboriginal Day.
Betty, if I set out to write this poem about you it might turn out instead to be about me or any one of my female relatives it might turn out to be about this young native girl growing up in rural Alberta in a town with fewer Indians than ideas about Indians in a town just south of the ‘Aryan Nations’
It might turn out to be about Anna Mae Aquash, Donald Marshall, or Richard Cardinal, it might even turn out to be about our grandmothers beasts of burden in the fur trade skinning, scraping, pounding, packing left behind for ‘British Standards of Womanhood,’ left for white-melting-skinned women, not bits-of-brown women left here in this wilderness, this colony.
Betty, if I start to write a poem about you it might turn out to be about hunting season instead about ‘open season’ on native women it might turn out to be about your face young and hopeful staring back at me hollow now from a black and white page it might be about the ‘townsfolk’ (gentle word) townsfolk who ‘believed native girls were easy’ and ‘less likely to complain if a sexual proposition led to violence’
In honor of Argentina’s National Flag Day, we present this work by one of the most cutting-edge Argentine poets.
I am left with only a few friends and those here are usually far and I am left an aftertaste I keep within close reach as if a firearm. I will use it for noble things: for defeating the enemy—God willing—, for speaking modestly about threatening possibilities.
I hope bitterness won’t intercept forgiveness, that distant wind of affections I am trying to describe: I hope the rigor of this will not convert into the thick glass of the dead, though I am curious to know the things they’ll have to say of me, after my death: to know which were your versions of love, of those tangential meetings, because my friends tend to be signals of my life, by tragic luck, giving me all that isn’t here. Prematurely, with one foot on each lip of the crevice that opens before me, at the feet of glory, I salute you all, hold my nose and let the abyss surround me.