The Almond Blossoms of Chao Village

We present this work in honor of Chinese New Year.

Bai Juyi
Chinese
772 – 846

 

For fifteen long years,
Times without number
I have come
To see the red almond-blossoms
Open in the spring.

Now I am growing old—
I am all of seventy-three,
And it is hard for my old legs
To come thus far.

I fear that this time
Is the last,
And I have come
To bid the red blossoms of the almond
A long farewell.

Refugee Mother and Child

Chinua Achebe
Nigerian
1930 – 2013

 

No Madonna and Child could touch
that picture of a mother’s tenderness
for a son she soon would have to forget.
The air was heavy with odours

of diarrhoea of unwashed children
with washed-out ribs and dried-up
bottoms struggling in laboured
steps behind blown empty bellies. Most

mothers there had long ceased
to care but not this one; she held
a ghost smile between her teeth
and in her eyes the ghost of a mother’s
pride as she combed the rust-coloured
hair left on his skull and then –

singing in her eyes – began carefully
to part it… In another life this
would have been a little daily
act of no consequence before his
breakfast and school; now she

did it like putting flowers
on a tiny grave.

Fatality

Rubén Darío
Nicaraguan
1867 – 1916

 

The tree is happy because it is scarcely sentient;
the hard rock is happier still, it feels nothing:
there is no pain as great as being alive,
no burden heavier than that of conscious life.

To be, and to know nothing, and to lack a way,
and the dread of having been, and future terrors…
And the sure terror of being dead tomorrow,
and to suffer all through life and through the darkness,

and through what we do not know and hardly suspect…
And the flesh that temps us with bunches of cool grapes,
and the tomb that awaits us with its funeral sprays,
and not to know where we go,
nor whence we came!

dressed in time

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 55th birthday.

Yeşim Ağaoğlu
Turkish
b. 1966

 

she took off every thing that was on her
stark naked her body
save for the watch on her arm
jet-black wrist watch
so she donned that wrist watch, dressed herself up in time
like putting on a black cloak
the year was the space quarter, the season winter
the day tuesday
life lived on the spur of the moment as always
the watch works ticking on
her body works ticking on, forever alert
time, ever so abstract
now melted, dripping
as in dali’s painting
and where the hands of the watch meet
ıs her most punctual spot now.

Butterfly Laughter

Katherine Mansfield
Kiwi
1888 – 1923

 

In the middle of our porridge plates
There was a blue butterfly painted
And each morning we tried who should reach the butterfly first.
Then the Grandmother said: “Do not eat the poor butterfly.”
That made us laugh.
Always she said it and always it started us laughing.
It seemed such a sweet little joke.
I was certain that one fine morning
The butterfly would fly out of our plates,
Laughing the teeniest laugh in the world,
And perch on the Grandmother’s lap.

Silence

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 115th birthday.

Robin Hyde
Kiwi
1906 – 1939

 

I am tired of all voices. Friend and fool
Have come too nearly with me to the shrine
That is the secret kept by wind and pine.
Now, when the shadowy hands of dusk are cool
About my eyes, shall silence like a god
Drive them with whips of starlight from his stairs.
Only the small grass striving in its clod,
Only the stream, that fragile moonlight bears
Like blossoms on its breast, move in this place,

All earth lies still as some beloved face
Whose dreaming mouth and deep-curved eyelids make
Bridges to God that lightest sound would break,
Towers where one word would seem iconoclast. . . .
Yet if through darkening trees you came at last,
Wearing the dew of meadows on your shoon,
And in your eyes the blessing of the moon,
I think it would be well. I think our greeting
Would be as quiet as two rivers meeting,
Which, drawn together, sparkling up in foam,
Slide into one bright seeking; and our home
Should be the furthest longing of pale seas,
Beyond the purple caverns of the trees.

The Ballad of Fisher’s Boarding House

We present this work in honor of the 85th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Rudyard Kipling
English
1865 – 1936

 

That night, when through the mooring-chains
The wide-eyed corpse rolled free,
To blunder down by Garden Reach
And rot at Kedgeree,
The tale the Hughli told the shoal
The lean shoal told to me.

‘Twas Fultah Fisher’s boarding-house,
Where sailor-men reside,
And there were men of all the ports
From Mississip to Clyde,
And regally they spat and smoked,
And fearsomely they lied.

They lied about the purple Sea
That gave them scanty bread,
They lied about the Earth beneath,
The Heavens overhead,
For they had looked too often on
Black rum when that was red.

They told their tales of wreck and wrong,
Of shame and lust and fraud,
They backed their toughest statements with
The Brimstone of the Lord,
And crackling oaths went to and fro
Across the fist-banged board.

And there was Hans the blue-eyed Dane,
Bull-throated, bare of arm,
Who carried on his hairy chest
The maid Ultruda’s charm—
The little silver crucifix
That keeps a man from harm.

And there was Jake Without-the-Ears,
And Pamba the Malay,
And Carboy Gin the Guinea cook,
And Luz from Vigo Bay,
And Honest Jack who sold them slops
And harvested their pay.

And there was Salem Hardieker,
A lean Bostonian he—
Russ, German, English, Halfbreed, Finn,
Yank, Dane, and Portuguee,
At Fultah Fisher’s boarding-house
The rested from the sea.

Now Anne of Austria shared their drinks,
Collinga knew her fame,
From Tarnau in Galicia
To Jaun Bazaar she came,
To eat the bread of infamy
And take the wage of shame.

She held a dozen men to heel—
Rich spoil of war was hers,
In hose and gown and ring and chain,
From twenty mariners,
And, by Port Law, that week, men called
Her Salem Hardieker’s.

But seamen learnt—what landsmen know—
That neither gifts nor gain
Can hold a winking Light o’ Love
Or Fancy’s flight restrain,
When Anne of Austria rolled her eyes
On Hans the blue-eyed Dane.

Since Life is strife, and strife means knife,
From Howrah to the Bay,
And he may die before the dawn
Who liquored out the day,
In Fultah Fisher’s boarding-house
We woo while yet we may.

But cold was Hans the blue-eyed Dane,
Bull-throated, bare of arm,
And laughter shook the chest beneath
The maid Ultruda’s charm—
The little silver crucifix
That keeps a man from harm.

“You speak to Salem Hardieker;
“You was his girl, I know.
“I ship mineselfs to-morrow, see,
“Und round the Skaw we go,
“South, down the Cattegat, by Hjelm,
“To Besser in Saro.”

When love rejected turns to hate,
All ill betide the man.
“You speak to Salem Hardieker”—
She spoke as woman can.
A scream—a sob—“He called me—names!”
And then the fray began.

An oath from Salem Hardieker,
A shriek upon the stairs,
A dance of shadows on the wall,
A knife-thrust unawares—
And Hans came down, as cattle drop,
Across the broken chairs.

…In Anne of Austria’s trembling hands
The weary head fell low:—
“I ship mineselfs to-morrow, straight
“For Besser in Saro;
“Und there Ultruda comes to me
“At Easter, und I go

“South, down the Cattegat—What’s here?
“There—are—no—lights—to guide!”
The mutter ceased, the spirit passed,
And Anne of Austria cried
In Fultah Fisher’s boarding-house
When Hans the mighty died.

Thus slew they Hans the blue-eyed Dane,
Bull-throated, bare of arm,
But Anne of Austria looted first
The maid Ultruda’s charm—
The little silver crucifix
That keeps a man from harm.

Those Like Me

Alda Merini
Italian
1931 – 2009

 

Those like me hand out dreams, even at the cost of being left dreamless…
Those like me give away their soul, because a soul is like a drop of water in the desert.
Those like me stretch out a hand and help you get up,
while running the risk of falling in turn.
Those like me look ahead,
even if their heart is some steps behind
Those like me search for a meaning to existence and, on finding it,
try to impart it to the ones who just survive.
Those like me, when in love, love forever.
and if they stop, it’s only because small fragments of being
lie powerless in the hands of life.
Those like me pursue the dream
of being loved for what they are
and not for what they are expected to be.
Those like me travel the world striving for values that
human souls have long forgotten
Those like me would really like to change,
but this would mean to be born again.
Those like me scream in silence,
so that their voice is not confused with tears.
Those like me are women whose hearts you are definitely going to break
because you know they’ll let you go, without a question.
Those like me love too much, even knowing that, in return,
they’ll receive nothing but crumbs.
Those like me feed on little and sadly build their existence on it
Those like me go unnoticed,
but they are the only women that will really love you
Those like me are the ones that, in the autumn of your life,
you will regret for what they might have given you
and you didn’t accept…