Monologue of a Foreign Woman

Rosario Castellanos
Mexican
1925 – 1974

 

I came from far away. I’ve forgotten my own country
and I no longer understand the language they
use there for trade or work.
I’ve reached the mineral muteness of a statue.
Sloth, scorn and something
I can’t distinguish have defended me
from this language, that heavy jewel-studded
velvet that people where I live
use to cover their rags.

This land, like that other one of my childhood,
still bears on her face
a slave’s brand,
burned in by fire, injustice, and murder.
As a girl I slept to the hoarse crooning
of a black dove: a conquered race.
I hid beneath the blankets
because a huge animal
crouched out there in the dark, hungry
but patient as a stone.
Compared to him, what’s an ocean, a catastrophe,
or the bolt of love
or joy that annihilates us?

I mean
that I had to grow up fast
(before terror devoured me),
go away, keep a firm hand
on things and run my life.

I was still very young
when I spit on places the mob held sacred.
In crowds I was like a dog
that offends with its mange and copulation,
its startling bark in the midst
of a ritual or major ceremony.

So you,
although serious, was not entirely fatal.
I recovered, healed, and learned to gauge
the pulse of success, prestige,
honor, wealth, with a clever hand.
I possessed what the mediocre envy, the victors
dispute, but only one carries off.
It was mine but it was like eating foam
or passing my hand across the back of the wind.

Supreme pride is supreme renunciation.
I refused to become
a dead star
that takes on borrowed light to come alive.
Without a name or memories
I spin in spectral nakedness
in a brief domestic orbit.

But I still simmer
in the turbid imagination of others.
My presence has brought
a salty gust of adventure
to even this sleepy inland city.

When men look at me they remember that fate
is the great hurricane that splits branches,
uproots tall trees,
imposing merciless cosmic law
— above and beyond the meanness of humankind —
throughout its empire.

The women pick up my scent from afar, dreaming,
like draft animals when they smell
the brutal bolt of the storm.
for the elders
I fulfill that passive role
of the generator of legends.

At midnight I open wide the windows so anyone
keeping watch at night, meditating on death,
suffering the pangs of guilt,
or even the adolescent
(a burning pillow under his brow)
can question darkness through my being.

Enough. I’ve kept quiet more than I’ve told.
High mountain sun has tanned my hand
and on my fourth finger, “that points to the heart,”
as they say here,
I wear a golden ring with a carved seal.

A ring used
to identify corpses.

The Bush Rangers

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

Edward Harrington
Australian
1895 – 1966

 

Four horseman rode out from the heart of the range,
Four horseman with aspects forbidding and strange.
They were booted and spurred, they were armed to the teeth,
And they frowned as they looked at the valley beneath,
As forward they rode through the rocks and the fern –
Ned Kelly, Dan Kelly, Steve Hart and Joe Byrne.

Ned Kelly drew rein and he shaded his eyes –
‘The town’s at our mercy! See yonder it lies!
To hell with the troopers!’ – he shook his clenched fist –
‘We will shoot them like dogs if they dare to resist!’
And all of them nodded, grim-visaged and stern –
Ned Kelly, Dan Kelly, Steve Hart and Joe Byrne.

Through the gullies and creeks they rode silently down;
They stuck-up the station and raided the town;
They opened the safe and they looted the bank;
They laughed and were merry, they ate and they drank.
Then off to the ranges they went with their gold –
Oh! never were bandits more reckless and bold.

But time brings its punishment, time travels fast –
And the outlaws were trapped in Glenrowan at last,
Where three of them died in the smoke and the flame,
And Ned Kelly came back – to the last he was game.
But the Law shot him down (he was fated to hang),
And that was the end of the bushranging gang.

Whatever their faults and whatever their crimes,
Their deeds lend romance to those faraway times.
They have gone from the gullies they haunted of old,
And nobody knows where they buried their gold.
To the ranges they loved they will never return –
Ned Kelly, Dan Kelly, Steve Hart and Joe Byrne.

But at times when I pass through that sleepy old town
Where the far-distant peaks of Strathbogie look down
I think of the days when those grim ranges rang
To the galloping hooves of the bushranging gang.
Though the years bring oblivion, time brings a change,
The ghosts of the Kellys still ride from the range.

Hair

We present this work in honor of the 105th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Remy de Gourmont
French
1858 – 1915

 

There is great mystery, Simone,
In the forest of your hair.

It smells of hay, and of the stone
Cattle have been lying on;
Of timber, and of new-baked bread
Brought to be one’s breakfast fare;
And of the flowers that have grown
Along a wall abandonèd;
Of leather and of winnowed grain;
Of briers and ivy washed by rain;
You smell of rushes and of ferns
Reaped when day to evening turns;
You smell of withering grasses red
Whose seed is under hedges shed;
You smell of nettles and of broom;
Of milk, and fields in clover-bloom;
You smell of nuts, and fruits that one
Gathers in the ripe season;
And of the willow and the lime
Covered in their flowering time;
You smell of honey, of desire,
You smell of air the noon makes shiver:
You smell of earth and of the river;
You smell of love, you smell of fire.

There is great mystery, Simone,
In the forest of your hair.

The Romance

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 90th birthday.

Shel Silverstein
American
1930 – 1999

 

Said the pelican to the elephant,
“I think we should marry, I do.
‘Cause there’s no name that rhymes with me,
And no one else rhymes with you.”

Said the elephant to the pelican,
“There’s sense to what you’ve said,
For rhyming’s as good a reason as any
For any two to wed.”

And so the elephant wed the pelican,
And they dined upon lemons and limes,
And now they have a baby pelicant,
And everybody rhymes.

History Is a Heavy Matter

We present this work in honor of the South African holiday, Heritage Day.

Gcina Mhlope
South African
b. 1958

 

History is a heavy matter
It is a strange animal with multiple heads
Colours too many to ever count
The creature’s unique colours have a way
Of awakening the most indescribable pride
But others bring back such sad memories
The very worst memories
Of events that left our ancestors
perplexed, speechless

And then it makes you feel so much joy
You hear massive drums pounding
Deep in your heart, with invisible hands
Beating a rhythm that goes Gu! Gu!
Another Gu! Gu! Another Gu! Gu!
Reminding you that these colours and faces and eyes
Are the proud heritage of a nation
They are shining, glittering brightly
And when one of the heads speaks directly
Come closer, go on and touch me,
Feel free to even caress me if you so wish
Yes, go on. Show off, tell the world
What a great achiever you are
Just by mentioning my name
Then remember who you are
Where you are from and where you are going

The warm glow of a happiness so overwhelming
The smile spreads down to your very toes!
And such indescribable pride about your history
But then one of the creature’s heads turns and shouts
Stop! Stop right there!
Remember that it is not only great events
That make up your history or that of any other nation!
Apply your mind, remember well the painful atrocities
And terrible mistakes
Learn, grow and be certain not to return to those times
That hurt your very soul
It is clear that the heart loves to suppress and cover well
This way it wants to avoid wasting precious tears
Oh, how they flow, unstoppable, when the heart breaks into pieces
As it sees the ugliness on the face
Of the multi-headed beast
Head raised up high, threatening, opening
The worst and deepest wounds
Prompting us to earnestly say
Indeed, history is a heavy matter

The maidens we honour here today
Died painfully fighting for their rights
The times were not at all like today
The laws of the land did not allow them
To even begin to open their little mouths
King Cetshwayo was unprepared for what happened
They defied the orders forcing them to marry old warriors
So he ordered them all to be killed
Today we honour the maidens of Ingcuce Regiment
Heroines we respect as we sincerely say
They did not lay down their lives in vain
Their memory inspires us to open our eyes
To face today’s challenges

It is time for us, young and old
To empower ourselves and each other to build the nation.
To make our ancestors in the land of Mthaniya proud
Yes, indeed, history is a heavy matter
But a great educator too
Courage, children of Africa, Courage!

from Ardhakathānaka

Banarasidas
Indian
1586 – 1643

 

Samvat 1662.
Came the month of Kartik and the end of the rainy season.
The great Emperor Akbar
Died in the city of Agra.

The news of his death reached Jaunpur.
The people, bereft of their emperor, felt orphaned and helpless.
The townsfolk were afraid,
Their hearts troubled, their faces pale with fear.

Banarasi suddenly
Heard of Akbar’s death.
He had been sitting on the stairs,
The news struck him like a blow upon the heart.

He swooned and fell,
He could not help himself.
He cracked his head and began bleeding profusely.
The word ‘God’ slipped from his mouth.

He had hurt his head on the stone floor
Of the courtyard, which turned red with his blood.
Everyone began making a great fuss;
His mother and father were frantic.

His mother held him in her arms,
Applied a piece of burnt cloth to his wound.
Then, making up a bed, she laid her son upon it
His mother wept unceasingly.

Meanwhile there was chaos in the city,
Riots broke out everywhere.
People sealed shut the doors of their houses,
Shopkeepers would not sit in their shops.

Fine clothes and expensive jewellery–
These, people buried underground.
Books recording their business transactions they buried somewhere else,
And hid their cash and other goods in safe and secure places.

In every house, weapons were gathered.
Men began to wear plain clothes
And casting off fine shawls, wrapped themselves in rough blankets.
The women too began to dress plainly.

No one could tell the difference between the high and the low.
The rich and the poor were alike.
No thieves or robbers were to be seen anywhere,
People were needlessly afraid.

The chaos and confusion continued for ten days.
Then peace returned:
A letter came from Agra saying that all was well.
This was what the letter said–

“The great Akbar was emperor
For fifty-two years.
Now in Samvat 1662,
He died in the month of Kartik.”

“Akbar’s oldest son
Sahib Shah Salim,
Has, in the city of Agra, assumed the throne
In Akbar’s palace.”

“He has taken the name of Nuruddin
Jahangir Sultan.
This news is being given all over the kingdom,
In every place where the emperor’s authority holds sway.”

This was the news contained in the letter
Which was read from house to house
And spread around Jaunpur
Causing the people to give thanks in relief.

There was joy in Kharagsen’s house
A state of well-being prevailed, gone were sorrow and strife;
Banarasi recovered, and bathed;
The family rejoiced and gave alms generously in their joy.

Under the Lantern

We present this work in honor of the Japanese holiday, Autumnal Equinox Day.

Fumiko Hayashi
Japanese
1903 – 1951

 

If you give me ten cups of King of Kings to drink
I shall throw you a kiss
ah, what a pitiful waitress I am.

Outside the blue window, rain falls like drops of cut glass
under the light of the lantern
all has turned to wine.

Is Revolution the wind blowing north…?
I’ve spilled the wine
opening my red mouth over the spill on the table
I belch fire.

Shall I dance in my blue apron?
“Golden Wedding,” or “Caravan”
tonight’s dance music….

Still three more cups to go
How’m I doing? you ask
I’m just fine
although I’m a nice girl
a really nice girl
I scatter my feelings
generously like cut flowers
among petty pigs of men.
Ah, is Revolution the wind blowing north…”

For Dinah, the Adeney’s Cat

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 110th birthday.

Anne Wilkinson
Canadian
1910 – 1961

 

Thirty elongated seconds
By the sun
We stare, the cat and I,
Strangers, cool and crouched
Behind unwinking green

Till flick
Along the spine, a whip
Of recognition cut
Our masks of fur and skin,
Cat-o’-nine-tails with a sting
Neither hinted at
By curl of lip
Or spitting tongue.

Then one cat turned
With poise of air
And washed a spotless paw,
The other took a tortoiseshell comb
And almost yawned
As she combed her tatless hair.