Yesterday, As You Were Reading

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 140th birthday.

Vicenta Castro Cambón
Argentine
1882 – 1928

 

“Are you feeling cold?” you asked me.
I couldn’t deny that I was:
you’d detected it in my countenance
and possibly even my voice.

You were also feeling cold.
I could tell, though not by your face;
it’s as if your soul were kept on display
to mine in a crystal vase.
“Close the door!” you commanded.
I thought: what we ought to close
instead is that book of yours…
That book was the source of the cold.

Translation by Susan McLean

Why Do the Wrong People Travel

We present this work in honor of World Tourism Day.

Noël Coward
English
1899 – 1973

 

Travel they say improves the mind,
An irritating platitude, which frankly, entre nous,
Is very far from true.

Personally I’ve yet to find that longitude and latitude
can educate those scores of monumental bores
Who travel in groups and herds and troupes
Of varying breeds and sexes
Till the whole world reels…

to shouts and squeals…
And the clicking of Rolleiflexes.

Why do the wrong people travel, travel, travel
When the right people stay back home?
What compulsion compels them
and who the hell tells them
To drag their cans to Zanzibar,
instead of staying quietly in Omaha.
The Taj Mahal and the Grand Canal
And the sunny French Rivera
Would be less oppressed if the Middle West
Would settle for somewhere rather nearer.
Please do not think that I criticize or cavel
at a genuine urge to roam.
But why, oh why, do the wrong people travel

when the right people stay back home
And mind their business
when the right people stay back home
And eat hot doughnuts
when the right people stay back home
I sometimes wonder
why the right people stay back home.

Just when you think romance is ripe it rather sharply dawns on you
That each sweet serenade is for the tourist trade
Any attractive native type who resolutely fawns on you
Will give as his address American Express
There isn’t a rock between Bangkok and the beaches of Hispianola
That does not recoil from suntan oil and the gurgle of Coca-Cola

Why do the wrong people travel, travel, travel
When the right people stay back home?
What explains this mass mania to leave Pennsylvania
And clack around like flocks of geese.
Demanding dry martinis on the isles of Greece
In the smallest street, where the gourmets meet,
They invariably fetch up
And it’s hard to make them accept a steak
that isn’t served rare and smeared with ketchup.

Millions of tourists are churning up the gravel
While they gaze at St. Peter’s Dome,

But why, oh why do the wrong people travel when the right people stay back home
with Cinerama
when the right people stay back home
with all that Kleenex
when the right people stay back home
I merely asking
why the right people stay back home

What peculiar obsessions inspire those processions
Of families from Houston Tex
with all those cameras around their necks?
They will take a train
Or an aeroplane
For an hour on the Costa Brava,
And they’ll see Pompeii
On the only day
When it’s up to its ass in molten lava!
It would take years to unravel, ravel, ravel
Every impulse that makes them wanna roam.
But why oh WHY do the wrong people travel
When the right people stay at home.”
and Yogie Bear-O
when the right people stay back home
won’t someone tell me
why the right people stay back home.

Head of the Year

We present this work in honor of Rosh Hashanah.

Marge Piercy
American
b. 1936

 

The moon is dark tonight, a new
moon for a new year. It is
hollow and hungers to be full.
It is the black zero of beginning.

Now you must void yourself
of injuries, insults, incursions.
Go with empty hands to those
you have hurt and make amends.

It is not too late. It is early
and about to grow. Now
is the time to do what you
know you must and have feared
to begin. Your face is dark
too as you turn inward to face
yourself, the hidden twin of
all you must grow to be.

Forgive the dead year. Forgive
yourself. What will be wants
to push through your fingers.
The light you seek hides
in your belly. The light you
crave longs to stream from
your eyes. You are the moon
that will wax in new goodness.

Ashes

We present this work in honor of the 50th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Alejandra Pizarnik
Argentine
1936 – 1972

 

The night splintered into stars
watching me dazzled
the air hurls hate
its face embellished with music.

We will go soon

Secret dream
ancestor of my smile
the world is emaciated
and there is a lock but no keys
and there is terror but not tears.

What will I do with myself?

Because to You I owe what I am

But I have no tomorrow

Because to You I…

The night suffers.

Translation by Frank Graziano and Maria Rosa Fort

Immigrant

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

Elisabeth Eybers
South African
1915 – 2007

 

I’ve nothing for hands and feet here,
the rest was lost in transit:
the dazed heart, the nervous tension –
then again, what would be made of them?

To compare what’s been lost
to what’s around, to grasp at light and sound
though I don’t look or listen,
I still have the senses on my face.

And in my breast and belly space
I apprehend something else was in that place.
Who’d have known that emptiness would be
so heavy, that being unimpeded would result in such a bind?

Translation by Jacquelyn Pope

A Young Girl’s Complaint About Her Sweetheart

Elen Gwdman
Welsh
c. 1616

 

Every young woman in the world,
In pure mind and heart;
Be wary, watch that you be wicked
To a lad, O be faithful.

I know from my own wound
And I confess to you:
The spear of sadness is in my breast
Because of loving faithfully.

A fine, noble graceful man,
In the lusty age of youth,
As he passed by the place where I lived,
I often enjoyed his company.

His virtues and his speech in my presence
His appearing sudden like the snow
And his sobriety were causes
To make me think he liked me.

Cupid knew in a short time
That I liked his ways,
And he struck a heavy blow,
Yes, an arrow of lead to my heart.

Then we both became sick
But neither confessed his thoughts;
Each knew only his own wound
Even though both were in pain.

Being of frail confidence, he did not
Presume to ask
Mercy at my hand,
But suffered there like a little lamb.

And I too was shy or dumb,
Not daring to tell him
Nor giving any sign anywhere
Of my wound, that he might suspect.

I imagined that he was just
Feigning a fancy
And he thought it was not fit
To try to salve my bruise.

Thus we were not counting the stars
And lacking a go-between;
When fortune brought, Christ knows,
To me sad news.

I heard that his friends had
Bound him tightly to another
He had to suffer swiftly
Either the yoke or the axe.

Meeting each other after this
And starting to enquire in amazement;
Blame fell on Destiny
That our friends knew not our troubles.

Since he is saying goodbye,
I will further confess:
From now on, for his sake,
I will live a madi all my life.

Friends and kinfolk, foolish and wise,
I say farewell to you;
I’ll go to Rome, with God’s strength,
To live all my life in a nunnery.

Singing and dancing, processions, gossip
I renounce your company;
Gravity, fasting, and prayer,
For these I have a welcome.

A girl sang this, who has set her heart
On giving up the world;
And in praise to pure Jesus
I will not seek to sing anything but this.

Sonnet CXI

We present this work in honor of the 480th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Juan Boscan Almogaver
Spanish
1490 – 1542

 

I am like one who in a desert bides
Forgotten by the world and its concerns,
By chance encounter suddenly who learns
A dear friend lives, whom he supposed had died.

He fears at first this doubtful apparition,
But finding it then reliable and assured,
Commences to recall his past condition
By newly awakened sentiments allured

But when it’s time for friend and friend to part
Since to be parted soon he must consent
He finds old solitude stamped with new indent.

To mountain grass he must then reconcile,
And barren wastes which lack a trace of art,
Trembling each time he enters his cave the while.

Translation by Dia Tsung

from Electra

Sophocles
Greek
c. 497 BC – c. 406 BC

 

They took their stand where the appointed judges
Had cast their lots and ranged the rival cars.
Rang out the brazen trump! Away they bound,
Cheer the hot steeds and shake the slackened reins;
As with a body the large space is filled
With the huge clangor of the rattling cars.
High whirl aloft the dust-clouds; blent together,
Each presses each and the lash rings; and loud
Snort the wild steeds, and from their fiery breath,
Along their manes and down the circling wheels
Scatter the flaking foam. Orestes still—
Ays, as he swept around the perilous pillar
Last in the course, wheeled in the rushing axle;
The left rein curbed,—that on the dexter hand
Flung loose.— So on erect the chariots rolled!
Sudden the Ænian’s fierce and headlong steeds
Broke from the bit — and, as the seventh time now
The course was circled, on the Libyan car
Dashed their wild fronts: then order changed to ruin:
Car crashed on car; the wide Crissæan plain
Was sea-like strewed with wrecks; the Athenian saw,
Slackened his speed, and wheeling round the marge,
Unscathed and skillful, in the midmost space,
Left the wild tumult of that tossing storm.
Behind, Orestes, hitherto the last,
Had yet kept back his coursers for the close;
Now one sole rival left — on, on he flew,
And the sharp sound of the impelling scourge
Rang in the keen ears of the flying steeds.
He nears, he reaches — they are side by side —
Now one — the other — by a length the victor.
The courses all are past — the wheels erect —
All safe — when, as the hurrying coursers round
The fatal pillar dashed, the wretched boy
Slackened the left rein: on the column’s edge
Crashed the frail axle: headlong from the car
Caught and all meshed within the reins, he fell;
And masterless the mad steeds raged along!
Loud from that mighty multitude arose
A shriek — a shout! But yesterday such deeds,
To-day such doom! Now whirled upon the earth,
Now his limbs dashed aloft, they dragged him — those
Wild horses — till all gory from the wheels
Released; — and no man, not his nearest friends,
Could in that mangled corpse have traced Orestes.
They laid the body on the funeral-pyre;
And while we speak, the Phocian strangers bear,
In a small, brazen, melancholy urn,
That handful of cold ashes to which all
The grandeur of the Beautiful hath shrunk.

The Prisoner in Aghmāt Speaks to His Chains

Muhammad Ii Al-mu’tamid
Arab Andalusian
1040 – 1095

 

I say to my chains,
don’t you understand?
I have surrendered to you.
Why, then, have you no pity,
no tenderness?

You drank my blood.
You ate my flesh.
Don’t crush my bones.

My son Abu Hasim sees me
fettered by you and turns away
his heart made sore.

Have pity on an innocent boy
who never knew fear
and must now come begging to you.

Have pity on his sisters
innocent like him
who have had to swallow poison
and eat bitter fruit.

Some of them are old enough
to understand and I fear
they will go blind from weeping.

The others are now too young
to take it in and open theirs mouths
only to nurse.

Tranlsation by Cola Franzen