Madrid, Prado Museum

We present this work in honor of International Museum Day.

05-18 Joseph
M.K. Joseph
Kiwi
1914 – 1981

Two clergymen, one long, one short,
Stand before Greco’s Trinity:
The tall one twirls a single thought
Round some point in divinity;
The short one mops his heated brows
With a red handkerchief, dimly aspires
To levitate among the clouds
Upborn by incorporeal fires.

The desiccated blond inspects
The pages of her Baedeker,
Hoping that somehow culture and sex
At last will coalesce for her.
She who through Europe has pursued
Delight still missed en troisi me noce,
Beneath some vast exuberant nude
Of Rubens, knows the pain of loss.

Fading with cup and mandolin,
Goya’s country feast turns dark,
But soon the firing-squads begin
By lanternlight their bloody work.
Before that last anger and despair
At human folly, someone stands.
It is oneself that cannot bear
Those anguished eyes and famished hands.

Velazquez turns with easy stance
To the princess and the maids of honour,
Caught in a movement like a dance,
And calms the dwarf’s indignant humour.
Royalty in the looking glass
Fears its heavy image less:
The gift of water in a glass
Forgives the human ugliness.

Equal and intellectual,
Transcending flesh, transcending flame,
This passionless light that hallows all
Shall build us an eternal home.

A Night in the Wheat Field

We present this work in honor of Galician Literature Day.

05-17 Curros
Manuel Curros Enríquez
Spanish
1851 – 1908

 

Once upon a night in the wheat fields
By the reflected white light of the bright moon
A young girl mourned without pause
The disdain of an ungrateful beau.

And between plaints the poor girl said,
“I have no one left in the world…
I’m going to die and my eyes do not see
The dear eyes of my sweet boon.”

Her echoes of melancholy
Strolled on the wings of the wind
And she kept repeating the lament,
“I’m going to die and my boon doesn’t come!”

Far away from her, standing at the stern
Of a rogue steamboat slaver,
The unfortunate, forlorn lover
Emigrates en route to America.

And upon watching the gentle swallows
Cross toward the land he leaves behind,
“Who could turn back,” he pondered,
“Who could fly away with you…!”

But the birds and the vessel sped onward
Without hearing his bitter laments,
Only the winds kept repeating,
“Who could fly away with you…!”

Clear nights of fragrances and moonlight:
How much sadness you own since then
For those who saw a young girl weeping,
For those who saw a ship leave port…

Away from a heavenly, genuine love
That is not shown by teardrops alone:
A grave on a lookout
And a corpse on the ocean floor!

 

Translation by Eduardo Freire Canosa

Buried Treasure

05-16 Magona
Sindiwe Magona
South African
b. 1943

Here lies, buried, precious treasure
The future of our beloved land
Pride of our fledgling nation
Our youth, our joy, our hope,
Now turned to sorrowing dust.

They were all young, but children, really
In the full flush of youth
Such promise for the hungry tomorrow
Blessings betrayed and all rules
Of nature turned upside down.

The girls gaily giggled
The young men, boys, really,
Whistled and winked as they strutted about
It was all such fun, such youthful fun
The words of parents paled beside.

The words of parents, mostly whispered;
And even that by but a few.
A whole nation looked on, but shirked duty
As the future swiftly withered and died.

They were in school, but the teachers taught nothing.
Some went to church, but the priests spoke little about daily living;
Pie in the sky and peace and bliss hereafter, their only platform.

Gone too, the wisdom of the Old
Foresaken, the knowledge of yesteryear
That knew and accepted what is only natural
Understood the folly that would block the swells of a surging river
And knew how all children needed mothers and fathers;
Embraced all thildren; charged every man and woman with their nurturing.

‘It takes a village’, belatedly, we now say; at last remembering
Faded lessons, traditions hastily discarded in blind pursuit
Of progress, of fashion, of assimilation. Now, finally seeing
How we ran open-armed, embracing our annihilation.
Now, sorrow jogs memory and we join empty hands
As we frantically try once more to guide,
To lead the new generation as before,
To show the way to the House of Adulthood
Leaving none behind, losing few as can be.

Eye turned back to a time long forgotten
When the measure of a man
Was not the fatness of his pocket
But his deeds of glory; shunning abomination.
When neighbour trusted neighbour; his safety secure at his presence
His home, his folk, his property – all sovereign
His neighbour, his best protection against all
His children, insurance against old age and infirmity.
But that was before the nation learnt to bury all its children;
See its morrow fade, its treasure interred;
The youth, its pride, its hope and joy obliterated.
The nation’s tomorrow, no more – ah, sad day,
When we buried our most precious treasures!

To the Old Gods

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

05-15 Muir
Edwin Muir
Scots
1887 – 1959

Old gods and goddesses who have lived so long
Through time and never found eternity,
Fettered by wasting wood and hollowing hill,
You should have fled our ever-dying song,
The mound, the well, and the green trysting tree.
They have forgotten, yet you linger still,
Goddess of caverned breast and channeled brow,
And cheeks slow hollowed by millennial tears,
Forests of autumns fading in your eyes,
Eternity marvels at your counted years
And kingdoms lost in time, and wonders how
There could be thoughts so bountiful and wise
As yours beneath the ever-breaking bough,
And vast compassion curving like the skies.

The House

05-14 Bernal
Jenny Bernal
Colombian
b. 1987

 

Welcome to this house
your home,
here you breathe the bitter cold
of that absent breath.
Welcome to this house
of anger and tears,
indeed you can sit
where your footsteps run out
where your skin dries.
The house has changed a bit
—you’ll forgive me—
but I’ve avoided painting it
so that the cracks of time
will give it a little bit of that familiar tinge.

It is the same house, don’t be afraid,
that same one that we built some time ago,
waiting to be alone enough
to live in it.

 

Translation by Anastasia Ramjag

To One Unnamed

06-03 Li
Li Shangyin
Chinese
813 – 858

 

Time was, long before I met her,
but longer still, since we parted,
The east wind is powerless, for it has come
and a hundred flowers are gone,
And the silk-worms of spring will spin until they die
And every night candles will weep their wicks away.
In the morning mirror she sees her temple hair
changing the color of clouds
Chanting poems in the chill of moonlight.
Oh, it is not so very far to Penglai
O blue-birds listen, bring me what she says.

Rosewater

We present this work in honor of the 30th anniversary of the poet’s death.

05-12 Gatsos
Nikos Gatsos
Greek
1911 – 1992

 

When you reach that other world, don’t become a cloud,
don’t become a cloud, and the bitter star of dawn,
so that your mother knows you, waiting at her door.
Take a wand of willow, a root of rosemary,
a root of rosemary, and be a moonlit coolness
falling in the midnight in your thirsting courtyard.
I gave you rosewater to drink, you gave me poison,
eaglet of the frost, hawk of the desert.

 

Translation by Jon Corelis

Heavy Are My Verses

We present this work in honor of the 20th anniversary of the poet’s death.

05-11 Turbina
Nika Turbina
Russian
1974 – 2002

Heavy are my verses—
Stones uphill.
I will carry them up to the crag,
The resting place.
I will fall face down in the weeds,
Tears will not do.
I will rend my strophe—
The verse will burst out crying.
Pain cuts into my palm—
Nettles!
The day’s bitter taste turns
All to words.

Seasons

05-10 Fathy
Safaa Fathy
Egyptian
b. 1958

 

There was a month I called May. When I buried it in papers, passion streaming down,
flooding the tiles of the rooms.
Herds of gazelles searching for mercy lap it up…and I wander about in search of a
knife
to sharpen against my cheekbones, as I turn the pages of these moments.
You are a stranger to me, and your eyes are the foam of distances running like rivers between us.
Don’t ask me about my evaporating grief; perhaps it has become salt with which to
doctor wounds,
or maybe seeds I can scatter across the floor, to absorb the words that creep there in
search of a story.
Perhaps my sorrow was a bedsheet that couldn’t cover its old bed.
Its only pretext was to gaze at the sky and snatch up stars.
Thus, with no trace of treason.
We were sitting on the couch casting glances into the horizon, arrows of light years.
Waiting, we dified the hours.
Our revolt…ashamed to wear a mask, its savage visage.
Our feet stalked insects to crush them, while they flaunted themselves like naked words
Determined to gasp their last breaths in our sight.
Between us there are also silken buds, fluttering spring butterflies.
Their clusters are like the sun’s bashfulness when it gathers the girl’s milk teeth,
causing the seasons, and among them you, cunning Spring.
Is what’s between us the empire of Ahmad Taha?
Or those gleaming golden circles, panting behind steely eyes?
I wish I were a leaf, with cells in rows.
My splendor, seasons borne by sailboats. My ending the winter, when geckos hide away to dream of new plants growing.
From your bandaged wounds, in salt and fog,
soaring across riverbanks the morning of erupting promises,
running from shore to quay like a short story collapsing breathless on the streets,
Does anyone forbid fabrication?

Or might those cities that swallow fog conjure the word away too?
The same palm outstretched to God,
the same bare feet.
The same eyes, sparkling with poetry’s delight.
Is this why you tremble, dreading the city’s pages?
Is this why you left the streets, to seek refuge in the nightmares of years?
Will you take comfort in the disgrace of seasons,
and the vagrancy of lone words
on the sidewalks of meaninglessness?

 

Translation by S.V. Atalia

Ground Glass

We present this work in honor of the Russian holiday, Victory Day.

05-09 Odoyevtseva
Irina Odoyevtseva
Russian
1895 – 1990

 

A soldier came back home one day
acounting all he’d won:
“We’re sure to eat our fill tonight —
us and the little ones!

“There’s seven grand! A real day’s haul!
I’ve had some luck I’d say!
Into the daily salt I mixed
some fine ground glass today.”

“Dear God! Dear God!” his wife cried out
“You killer! Akh! You beast!
That’s worse than robbery, you know,
they’ll die by morn at least!”

“We’re born to die!” the soldier said,
“I do not wish them ill!
Go light a candle at the church
this evening, if you will.”

He ate, then went to “Paradise” —
his pub’s name formerly.
He talked of communism awhile
and drank Soviet tea.

Back at home he soon slept fast,
around him all was still.
Till midnight when a raven cried
beneath the windowsill.

“Oh, woe to us!” his wife sighed deep:
“There’s trouble on the way!
A raven never caws at night
for nothing, so they say!”

But soon the second rooster crowed,
the soldier, foul of mood,
refused to go to “Paradise”:
to clients he was rude.

‘Twas midnight at the soldier’s home,
and all was dark once more,
the knock of wings from carrion crows
was heard outside his door.

They jumped and squawked upon the roof,
his kiddies soon awoke,
his wife sighed heavily all night
while he slept like an oak.

At dawn he rose, before them all,
his mood was foul once more.
His wife forgiveness for him begged,
her brow against the floor.

“Why don’t you visit your hometown
a day or two!” said he.
“I’m sick to hell of that damned glass —
’twill be the death of me!”

He soon wound up his gramophone
and sat down very near.
Alas! He heard a funeral knell
that made him shake with fear.

A ragged team of seven mares
draw seven coffins past.
A teary choir of women sing:
“Repose with God at last!”

“Who are you mourning, Konstantin?”
“My Masha dear!” he cried.
“I went to a party Thursday night,
by Friday morn she’d died!”

“Our Foma died, and so did Klim,
and Kolya’s son-in-law.
A stranger illness in my life
I swear I never saw!”

A waning moon was on the rise,
the soldier went to bed.
A double bed, all cold and firm,
a coffin for the dead!

At once appeared a corvine priest
(or did he dream it all?).
Behind him seven ravens held
aloft a lone, glass pall.

They entered, stood along the wall,
the darkness weighed a ton.
“Begone, you demons! 1 won’t sell
ground glass to anyone!”

Too late! The moan died on his lips,
till seven croaked the priest.
Into the bier on raven wings
was rendered the deceased.

Away they took him to the place
where seven asp trees grow,
fed by the long-dead waters from
a quagmire far below.

 

Translation by Bradley Jordan