At Strife

David Edelstadt
Russian
1866 – 1892

 

Hated are we, and driven from our homes,
Tortured and persecuted, even to blood;
And wherefore? ‘Tis because we love the poor,
The masses of mankind, who starve for food.

We are shot down, and on the gallows hanged,
Robbed of our lives and freedom without ruth,
Because for the enslaved and for the poor
We are demanding liberty and truth.

But we will not be frightened from our path
By darksome prisons or by tyranny;
We must awake humanity from sleep,
Yea, we must make our brothers glad and free.

Secure us fast with fetters made of iron,
Tear us like beasts of blood till life departs,
‘Tis but our bodies that you will destroy,
Never the sacred spirit in our hearts.

You cannot kill it, tyrants of the earth!
Our spirit is a plant immortal, fair;
Its petals, sweet of scent and rich of hue,
Are scattered wide, are blooming everywhere.

In thinking men and women now they bloom,
In souls that love the light and righteousness.
As they strive on toward duty’s sacred goal,
Nature herself doth their endeavor bless—

To liberate the poor and the enslaved
Who suffer now from cold and hunger’s blight,
And to create for all humanity
A world that shall be free, that shall be bright;

A world where tears no longer shall be shed,
A world where guiltless blood no more shall flow,
And men and women, like clear-shining stars,
With courage and with love shall be aglow.

You may destroy us, tyrants! ‘Twill be vain.
Time will bring on new fighters strong as we;
For we shall battle ever, on and on,
Nor cease to strive till all the world is free!

The Street Fair

Sagawa Chika
Japanese
1911 – 1936

 

A cloud has collapsed on the pavement
Like the horse’s white struggle for air

Night, screaming and shouting into the darkness
Arrives with the intention of murdering time

Wearing a mask plated with light beams
Lining up single-file from the window

People moan in their dreams
And fall from sleep to an even deeper sleep

There, a stem that has gone pale
Like an exhausted despair

Supports the tall sky
An empty city with neither roads nor stars

My thinking is to escape
That pitch-black metal house

Steal away the glimmer of pistons
And smoldering embers of noise

Retreat into a shallow ocean
Collide, get battered to the ground

The Land of Peace

We present this work in honor of Yom Ha’atzmaut.

Solomon Ibn Gabirol
Arab Andalusian
1021 – 1070

 

Whose works, O Lord, like Thine can be,
Who ‘neath Thy throne of grace,
For those pure souls from earth set free,
Hast made a dwelling-place?

There are the sinless spirits bound
Up in the bond of life,
The weary there new strength have found,
The weak have rest from strife.

Sweet peace and calm their spirits bless,
Who reach that heavenly home.
And never-ending pleasantness—
Such is the world to come.

There glorious visions manifold
Those happy ones delight,
And in God’s presence they behold
Themselves, and Him, aright.

In the King’s palace they abide,
And at His table eat,
With kingly dainties satisfied,
Spiritual food most sweet.

This is the rest for ever sure,
This is the heritage,
Whose goodness and whose bliss endure
Unchanged from age to age.

This is the land the spirit knows,
That everlastingly
With milk and honey overflows,
And such its fruit shall be.

Anonymous Landscape

Excilia Saldaña
Cuban
1946 – 1999

 

Every afternoon
The woman sits
before an open window
guilty of not being air, water
–or at least a wing that flies-
of being only a woman before an open window.

Every afternoon
the sky hangs itself out to dry
beyond the open window
ashamed of not being man, flesh, body
—or at least earth—
of being only sky beyond an open window,
Secret passion of guilt and shame:
a golden woman of violet sky
every afternoon through an open window.

A Vagabond Song

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 160th birthday.

Bliss Carman
Canadian
1861 – 1929

 

There is something in the autumn that is native to my blood—
Touch of manner, hint of mood;
And my heart is like a rhyme,
With the yellow and the purple and the crimson keeping time.

The scarlet of the maples can shake me like a cry
Of bugles going by.
And my lonely spirit thrills
To see the frosty asters like a smoke upon the hills.

There is something in October sets the gypsy blood astir;
We must rise and follow her,
When from every hill of flame
She calls and calls each vagabond by name.

The Lover

In honor of Ambedkar Jayanti, we present this work by one of contemporary India’s most vibrant women poets.

Arundhathi Subramaniam
Indian
b. 1973

 

The woman doesn’t call herself
a saint,

just a lover
of a saint

who’s been dead four hundred years.

She doesn’t see people
on weekdays

but her master tells her
we’re safe,

so she calls us in to where she sits
her body blazing
in its nakedness

its tummyfold and breastsag
and wild spiraling nipple
reminding us that life
is circles —
crazy, looping, involuting, dazzling
circles.

She tells us
the world calls her a whore.

She told her master about it too
but he only said,

‘The rest of the world serves
many masters —
family, money, lovers, bosses,
children, power, money, money
in endless carousels —

the crazy autopilot
of samsara.

But you, love, think only of me.
Who’s the whore here?’

Outside the window
the sun is a red silk lampshade

over a great soiled bedspread
ricocheting in the wind.

Cascando

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

Samuel Beckett
Irish
1906 – 1989

 

1

why not merely the despaired of
occasion of
wordshed

is it not better abort than be barren

the hours after you are gone are so leaden
they will always start dragging too soon
the grapples clawing blindly the bed of want
bringing up the bones the old loves
sockets filled once with eyes like yours
all always is it better too soon than never
the black want splashing their faces
saying again nine days never floated the loved
nor nine months
nor nine lives

2

saying again
if you do not teach me I shall not learn
saying again there is a last
even of last times
last times of begging
last times of loving
of knowing not knowing pretending
a last even of last times of saying
if you do not love me I shall not be loved
if I do not love you I shall not love

the churn of stale words in the heart again
love love love thud of the old plunger
pestling the unalterable
whey of words

terrified again
of not loving
of loving and not you
of being loved and not by you
of knowing not knowing pretending
pretending

I and all the others that will love you
if they love you

3

unless they love you

Lines Composed while Feasting Censor He on a Day in Autumn

Xue Susu
Chinese
c. 1564 – c. 1650

 

Inside the city walls of stone in the pleasure quarter
I feel deeply mortified that my talents outshine all the others
The river glitters, the waters clear, and the seagulls swim in pairs
The sky looks hollow, the clouds serene, and the wild geese fly in rows
My embroidered dress partly borrows the hue of hibiscus
The emerald wine shares the scent of lotus
If I did not reciprocate your feelings
Would I dare to feast with you, Master He?

Witch of Our Wilderness

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 155th birthday.

Bernard O’Dowd
Australian
1866 – 1953

 

I know not why I love your baffling face,
Or, lonely, to your cold caresses steal,
Or what the charm persuades my wearied eyes
Follow the clues that gleam and, wavering, go,
Or spell the syllables of poems new
I fancy floating through your gloom or grace!
Sphinx of green riddles Time shall not unseal!
Mystical knot no stratagem, unties!
I do not comprehend you, but I know
I am not happy long away from you!

Ardent we come, but that averted gaze
Discrowns emotion, and your lips austere,
Native to one in whom the gods confide,
For us breathe only murmurs dim and lone
As are the lullabies of crooning dew
Or dwindling dirges of benighted fays
For queen marooned in a forgotten mere;
Yet though ’tis not for man your witch-words ride
Forsaken winds that know not why they moan,
I am not happy long away from you!

Do you ignore our presence, or disdain
Our pert intrusion on your fettered trees?
Is all our knowledge darkness to the light
That through their woody crevices you pour,
Garnered for them from suns we never knew?
Or can it be your brooding peace is pain?
Do sighs innumerable build the breeze
That mournful walks the soughing waste to-night?
But tell me why, if woe be all your store,
I am not happy long away from you!

You sprawl your reticence of green and gray
Over the no more mute basaltic deep,
Below the sister deafness of the sky;
Nor myriad boughs’ hypnotic undertones,
Shadows in orgy, nor haphazard hue
Of flower, nor green delirium will say
One shining word to beacon us who creep
Amid their bedlamry and forms awry:
Yet, Miser, though for bread you give me stones,
I am not happy long away from you!

Although we gather only in your glades
The tasteless berries of monotony,
Withering leaf, frustrated blossom, white
Skeleton eucalypt’s unmeaning woe,
Or wrack of huddled tea-trees, knouted all askew
To serve an old wind’s whim, yet from wan shades
Entities ambushed seem to bear to me,
On a rhythm craftsman never tameth quite,
The Song all poets soaring seek, and so
I am not happy long away from you!

Are you the long-forgotten hermitage
Wherein immortal cities crept to sleep?
And do their rooted folk unresting try,
With perfumes wild of some Atlantis old,
To link our dormant hearts akin anew?
Or young auspicious years do they presage
To something watching in me cradled deep,
That knows unknown to me the reason why,
m an orb’s dim throes, by iron stars controlled,
I am not happy long away from you!

Though fierce assault not pilgrim prayer avail,
Nor shall we glimpse, however far we seek,
The long importuned palace of your pride,
Yet you-if darkly-to my faith disclose
That duly will Hy-Brasil globe in view!
Ay, can it be that glinting is the Grail?
Do fairies gather ferns along that creek?
Is very God the Merlin that you hide?
Ah, can I wonder, necromantic Rose,
I am not happy long away from you!

We listen long for words the world awaits,
Nor quite lose hope that we shall overhear
Strange Huntsmen faint hallooing, or surprise
The filmy spears the dark earth-legions throw
Across the void against the retinue
Auroral of the solar potentates;
Yet, though your tongues betray the expectant ear
And dappled melancholy foils our eyes,
Your trees of whispering knowledge call me so,
I am not happy long away from you!

Rain

Claribel Alegria
Nicaraguan
1924 – 2018

 

As the falling rain
trickles among the stones
memories come bubbling out.
It’s as if the rain
had pierced my temples.
Streaming
streaming chaotically
come memories:
the reedy voice
of the servant
telling me tales
of ghosts.
They sat beside me
the ghosts
and the bed creaked
that purple-dark afternoon
when I learned you were leaving forever,
a gleaming pebble
from constant rubbing
becomes a comet.
Rain is falling
falling
and memories keep flooding by
they show me a senseless
world
a voracious
world–abyss
ambush
whirlwind
spur
but I keep loving it

because I do
because of my five senses
because of my amazement
because every morning,
because forever, I have loved it
without knowing why.