from Quartet of Joy, Air Joy

Muhammad Afifi Matar
Egyptian
1935 – 2010

 

I become light; you become light;
Neither are you from you,
nor I from me;
we have ripened into one blood…

—One dead,
how will death be split into two corpses?

—It is one corpse.

—What if the kin fought to fill
two dust holes with one dust
gathered by love in the prostration
of passion?

—Soft is the clay step in the clay;
beneath us the earth gathers into a carpet,
dust flinging upon dust;
and in the passion prostration
the blood of the man prostrating
does not reveal the blood of the woman prostrator;
one blood runs aground in the darkness
of the earth
beneath the hand of God,
then tossed by the wind
in the hand of omnipotence;
it rises lightly, taking its course
in the radiant mystery
of its nocturnal journeys,
largely, as the frame
of the universe exacts,
narrower than the sigh of spirit
in spirit.

Between heavens and earth
the wind was tempted by us,
for it steps along our steps,
and we step along its steps…

Translation by Ferial Ghazoul and John Verlenden

The Song by the Way

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 160th birthday.

Francisco A. de Icaza
Mexican
1863 – 1925

 

A solitary pilgrim I,
Through foreign lands I stray;
Yet am I not alone—my song
Goes with me all the way.

And if the night around be black.
I make it bright as day;
I sing, and then the song lights up.
The darkness of the way.

I do not sigh for weariness,
However far I stray;
The heavenly staff of song makes short
The long, out-stretching way.

Ah, sad indeed that pilgrim’s fate
Who goes alone all day
Nor has for comrade of his march
A song along the way!

Translation by Alice Stone Blackwell

Who Buys My Thoughts

Dennis Osadebay
Nigerian
1911 – 1994

 

Who buys my thoughts
Buys not a cup of honey
That sweetens every taste;
He buys the throb,
Of Young Africa’s soul,
The soul of teeming millions,
Hungry, naked, sick,
Yearning, pleading, waiting.

Buys not false pretence
Of oracles and tin gods;
He buys the thoughts
Projected by the mass
Of restless youths who are born
Into deep and clashing cultures,
Sorting, questioning, watching.

Who buys my thoughts
Buys the spirit of the age,
The unquenching fire that smoulders
And smoulders
In every living heart
That’s true and noble or suffering;
It burns all o’er the earth,
Destroying, chastening, cleansing.

Life is Fleeting

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 125th birthday.

Maria Luisa Carnelli
Argentine
1898 – 1987

 

Life is fleeting,
is fleeting and will never return.
Listen to my advice:
if a rich man promises you a good life,
you must accept it.
Life is fleeting, fleeting,
and not even God will stop it.
The best you can do
is to enjoy life and forget your sorrows and pains.
The days and the years elapse
and happiness is elusive.
You must not think
either of suffering or of virtue:
you must fully live your youth.

The Owl and the Pussy-Cat

We present this work in honor of the 135th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Edward Lear
English
1812 – 1888

 

The Owl and the Pussy-Cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat:
They took some honey, and plenty of money
Wrapped up in a five-pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
“O lovely Pussy, O Pussy, my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
You are,
You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!

Pussy said to the Owl, “You elegant fowl,
How charmingly sweet you sing!
Oh! let us be married; too long we have tarried:
But what shall we do for a ring?”
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the bong-tree grows;
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood,
With a ring at the end of his nose,
His nose,
His nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.

“Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?” Said the Piggy, “I will.”
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
The moon,
The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.

I Am a Jew

We present this work in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Itzik Feffer
Russian
1900 – 1952

 

The generations-old wine has strengthened
me in my wanderings. The angry sword of
pain and sorrow has not destroyed my
treasure.

My people, my faith and my flowering—it
has not chained my freedom. From under
the sword I’ve cried out: I am a Jew!

The clever twists of Rabbi Akiva, the wis-
dom of Isaiah’s words nourishing my thirst
and my love, and fought against hate.

The zest of the Maccabbean heroes and Bar
Kokhba’s blood boils in mine. From all the
burnings at the stake I’ve cried out: I am a
Jew!

And may my enemies be pierced by spears,
those who are preparing a grave for me. Be-
neath the flag of freedom I’ll yet have no
end of pleasure. I’ll plant my vineyards and
be the architect of my fat. I’ll yet dance on
my enemies graves. I am a Jew!

Native-Born

We present this work in honor of Australia Day.

Eve Langley
Australian
1904 – 1974

 

In a white gully among fungus red
Where serpent logs lay hissing at the air,
I found a kangaroo. Tall dewy,dead,
So like a woman, she lay silent there.
Her ivory hands, black-nailed, crossed on her breast
Her skin of sun and moon hues, fallen cold
her brown eyes lay like rivers come to rest
And death had made her black mouth harsh and old
Beside her in the ashes I sat deep
And mourned for her, but had no native song
To flatter death, while down the ploughlands steep
Dark young Camelli whistled loud and long,
‘Love, liberty and Italy are all.’
Broad golden was his breast against the sun
I saw his wattle whip rise high and fall
Across the slim mare’s flanks, and one by one
She drew the furrows after her as he
Flapped like a gull behind her, climbing high
Chanting his oaths and lashing soundingly,
While from the mare came once a blowing sigh.
The dew upon the kangaroo’s white side
Had melted. Time was whirling high around,
Like the thin woomera, and from heaven wide
He, the bull-roarer, made continuous sound
Incarnate lay my country by my hand:
Her long hot days, bushfires, and speaking rains
Her mornings of opal and the copper band
Of smoke around the sunlight on the plains.
Globed in fire-bodies the meat- ants ran
to taste her flesh and linked us as we lay,
Forever Australian, listening to a man
From careless Italy, swearing at our day.
When golden-lipped, the eagle-hawks came down
Hissing and whistling to eat of lovely her
And the blowflies with their shields of purple brown
Plied hatching to and fro across her fur,
I burnt her with the logs, and stood all day
Among the ashes, pressing home the flame
Till woman, logs and dreams were scorched away
And native with the night, that land from whence they came.