Blonde

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 240th birthday.

11-29 Bello
Andres Bello
Chilean
1781 – 1865

 

Do you know, blonde, what favor I solicit
When I cover the altars with offerings?
Not rich furnishings, not superb lands,
Neither a table that flatters the appetite.

At the edge of Aragua I want a parcel
To supply me with simple pleasures,
And close to my rustic home
A brook that runs among the rocks.

To feel good around the summery warmth,
I also want my plot to have a grove,
Where the proud coconut and the willow can grow.

I’ll be happy if in this refuge I die;
And, upon exhaling my fugitive breath,
I stamp on your lips my last goodbye!

Honorary Jew

We present this work in honor of the First Day of Chanukah.

John Repp
American
b. 1953

 

The first year, I grated potatoes, chopped onions
& watched. The second year, I fed all but the eggs

into the machine & said I’ll do the latkes & did,
my pile of crisp delights borne to the feast by the wife

who baffled me, our books closed, banter hushed,
money useless in the apartment—house, my in-laws called it,

new-wave thump at one end, ganja reek at the other—
in which she’d knelt to tell the no one who listened

no more no no more no a three-year-old mouthing
the essential prayer. The uncle made rich by a song

stacked three & dug in, talking critics & Koch—
everyone crunching now, slathering applesauce, slurping tea—

talking Rabin & Mehitabel, radio & Durrell,
how a song is a poem or it isn’t a song

& vice-versa. Done, he pointed a greasy finger
at me, said You can’t be a goy. You—I say it

for all to hear—are an honorary Jew!
which, impossible dream, my latkes lived up to

for five more years. Then the wailing.
Then the dust.

“God is Departed from Me, and Answereth Me No More”

11-27 Hamilton
Janet Hamilton
Scots
1795 – 1873

 

A King has sought at midnight hour
The sorceress in her cell,
And bids invoke the Prophet’s shade,
His coming doom to tell.
He bows before the spectral form,
He speaks in anguish sore—
“God is departed from me,
And answereth me no more.”

Dark words—how pregnant with despair!
How fraught with hopeless woe!
Stern spake the spirit-seer—”What hope
When God He is thy foe?
And wherefore seek to know thy doom,
For this thou knew’st before?
“ ‘God is departed from thee,
And answereth thee no more!’

“The word which God hath spoke by me
He hath confirmed and done—
He rends the kingdom from thy hand;
His own anointed one,
Even David, he shall fill thy throne;
Thy reign, thy life is o’er—
‘God is departed from thee,
And answereth thee no more!’

“Since thou obey’dst not God, nor didst
His high behest fulfil,
He gives thy host, thy sons, thy life,
Up to the enemies’ will.
Thy soul, ere midnight glooms again,
Shall wing th’ eternal shore.
‘God is departed from thee,
And answereth thee no more.’“

He faints, he falls, on earth he lies,
That stately, peerless form,
Which oft had tower’d in Israel’s van
And ruled in battles’ storm.
Oh kingly oak! the thunder fires
Have scathed thine inmost core.
“God is departed from thee,
And answereth thee no more.”

Who runs may read this awful truth,
In lines of lightning traced,
The spoken, written Word of God,
Though trampled, scorn’d, defaced
By men of sin and pride, the earth
Shall burn, the heavens decay,
Ere Word of God, to man reveal’d,
Shall fail or pass away.

A Thanksgiving Poem

We present this work in honor of Thanksgiving.

11-25 Dunbar
Paul Laurence Dunbar
American
1872 – 1906

 

The sun hath shed its kindly light,
Our harvesting is gladly o’er
Our fields have felt no killing blight,
Our bins are filled with goodly store.

From pestilence, fire, flood, and sword
We have been spared by thy decree,
And now with humble hearts, O Lord,
We come to pay our thanks to thee.

We feel that had our merits been
The measure of thy gifts to us,
We erring children, born of sin,
Might not now be rejoicing thus.

No deed of our hath brought us grace;
When thou were nigh our sight was dull,
We hid in trembling from thy face,
But thou, O God, wert merciful.

Thy mighty hand o’er all the land
Hath still been open to bestow
Those blessings which our wants demand
From heaven, whence all blessings flow.

Thou hast, with ever watchful eye,
Looked down on us with holy care,
And from thy storehouse in the sky
Hast scattered plenty everywhere.

Then lift we up our songs of praise
To thee, O Father, good and kind;
To thee we consecrate our days;
Be thine the temple of each mind.

With incense sweet our thanks ascend;
Before thy works our powers pall;
Though we should strive years without end,
We could not thank thee for them all.

Well, Once Upon a Time, in Dribs and Drabs

11-24 Zakani
Ubayd Zakani
Persian
1300 – 1371

 

Well, once upon a time, in dribs and drabs,
Income turned up for me, throughout the year;

I’d dry bread and fresh herbs to hand, in case
A friend should unexpectedly appear;

And sometimes there’d be wine to drink, for when
A pretty boy or sweet young girl came here.

But now I’m getting on in years, my life
Has suddenly become much more austere;

I’ve neither dry to eat, nor wet to drink,
And all that’s in my house is me, my dear.

The Owl

11-22 Jia Yi
Jia Yi
Chinese
c. 200 B.C. – c. 169 B.C.

 

In the year tan-o,
Fourth month, first month of summer,
The day kuei-tzu, when the sun was low in the west,
An owl came to my lodge
And perched on the corner of my mat,
Phlegmatic and fearless.
Secretly wondering the reason
The strange thing had come to roost,
I took out a book to divine it
And the oracle told me its secret:
“Wild bird enters the hall;
The master will soon depart.”
I asked and importuned the owl,
“Where is it I must go?
Do you bring good luck? Then tell me!
Misfortune? Relate what disaster!
Must I depart so swiftly?
And speak to me of the hour!”
The owl breathed a sigh,
Raised its head and beat its wings.
Its beak could utter no word,
But let me tell you what it sought to say:
All things alter and change,
Never a moment of ceasing,
Revolving, whirling, and rolling away,
Driven far off and returning again,
Form and breath passing onward,
Like the mutations of the cicada.
Profound, subtle, and illimitable,
Who can finish describing it?

Good luck must be followed by bad,
Bad in turn bow to good.
Sorrow and joy throng the gate,
Weal and woe in the same land.
Wu was powerful and great;
Under Fu-ch’a it sank in defeat.
Yüeh was crushed at K’uai-chi,
But Kou-chien made it an overlord.
Li Ssu, who went forth to greatness, at last
Suffered the five mutilations.
Fu Yüeh was sent into bondage,
Yet Wu Ting made him his aide.
Thus fortune and disaster
Entwine like the strands of a rope.
Fate cannot be told of,
For who shall know its ending?
Water, troubled, runs wild;
The arrow, quick-sped, flies far.
All things, whirling and driving,
Compelling and pushing each other, roll on.
The clouds rise up, the rains come down,
In confusion inextricably joined.
The Great Potter fashions all creatures,
Infinite, boundless, limit unknown.
There is no reckoning Heaven,
Nor divining beforehand the Tao.
The span of life is fated;
Man cannot guess its ending.

Heaven and earth are the furnace,
The workman, the Creator;
His coal is the yin and the yang,
His copper, all things of creation.
Joining, scattering, ebbing and flowing,
Where is there persistence or rule?
A thousand, a myriad mutations,
Lacking and end’s beginning.
Suddenly they form a man:
How is this worth taking thought of?
They are transforming again in death:
Should this perplex you?
The witless take pride in his being,
Scorning others, a lover of self.
The man of wisdom sees vastly
And knows what all things will do.
The covetous run after riches,
The impassioned pursue a fair name;
The proud die struggling for power,
While the people long only to live.
Each drawn and driven onward,
They hurry east and west.
The great man is without bent;
A million changes are as one to him.
The stupid man chained by custom
Suffers like a prisoner bound.
The sage abandons things
And joins himself to the Tao alone,
While the multitudes in delusion
With desire and hate load their hearts.
Limpid and still, the true man
Finds his peace in the Tao alone.

Discarding wisdom, forgetful of form,
Transcendent, destroying self,
Vast and empty, swift and wild,
He soars on wings of the Tao.
Borne on the flood he sails forth;
He rests on the river islets.
Freeing his body to Fate,
Unpartaking of self,
His life is a floating,
His death a rest.
And stillness like the stillness of deep springs,
Like an unmoored boat drifting aimlessly,
Valuing not the breath of life,
He embraces and drifts with Nothing.
Comprehending Fate and free of sorrow,
The man of virtue heads no bounds.
Petty matters, weeds and thorns–
What are they to me?

The Ideal Peace

We present this work in honor of the 210th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Heinrich von Kleist
German
1777 – 1811

 

When the War-wheel storms,
Men shout at the strife and take up arms,
Men, who cherish hearts in their breasts,
Hearts that the God of Love designed best.

They can surely rob me of nothing, I say,
Not that peace, which has held its sway,
Nor that innocence, or in God that faith,
Which forbids all terror, as well as hate.

Not the deep shade of the maple tree will they impede,
My source of comfort in the cornfield,
Not even harass the Nightingale’s oration,

That sets my quiet bosom in sensation.

Legislator

In honor of Revolution Day, we present this work by one of contemporary Mexico’s cleverest poets.

Francisco Hinojosa
Mexican
b. 1954

 

Having just heard, my love,
that you won a seat by popular vote,
I am overwhelmed with joy
for you and your electorate
and because I know you well
I am sure you will legislate with courage and devotion
making your voters feel represented
forget these household chores a while
you don’t have a spouse for nothing
and focus on the legislative charge assigned you
receive the citizens’ demands
attend the sessions
ascend the podium
assert your views
hear out your committee chairman
be yourself
and above all
legislate, legislate, legislate
our bed will not feel the void caused by
all those nights you work late, legislating
you will receive a salary
and they will give you bonds and business trips and cell
phones and chauffeurs
and try, my love, not to be corrupted
try to stay honest
because you, Honorable Representative
woman of laws and convictions
our advocate
you are our voice in Congress
although I did not vote for you
forgive me
but I never thought you’d win.