To Laugh While Crying

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 170th birthday.

06-29 Dios Peza
Juan de Dios Peza
Mexican
1852 – 1910

 

Watching Garrik – an actor from England –
the people would say applauding:
“You are the funniest one on earth
and the happiest one…”
And the comedian would laugh.

Victims of melancholy, the highest lords,
during their darkest and heaviest nights
would go see the king of actors
and change their melancholy into roars of laughter.

Once, before a famous doctor,
came a man with eyes so somber:
“I suffer – he said -, an illness so horrible
as this paleness of my face”

“Nothing holds any enchantment or attractiveness;
I don’t care about my name or my fate
I die living an eternal melancholy
and my only hope is that of death”.

– Travel and distract yourself
– I’ve traveled so much!
– Search for readings
– I’ve read so much!
– Have a woman love you
– But I am loved
– Get a title
– I was born a noble

– Might you be poor?
– I have richnesses
– Do you like compliments?
– I hear so many!
– What do you have as a family?
– My sadness
– Do you go to the cemeteries?
– Often, very often.

– Of your current life, do you have witnesses?
– Yes, but I don’t let them impose their burdens;
I call the dead my friends;
I call the living my executioners.

– It leaves me – added the doctor – perplexed
your illness and I must not scare you;
Take today this advise as a prescription
only watching Garrik you can be cured.

-Garrik?
-Yes, Garrik… The most indolent
and austere society anxiously seeks him;
everyone who sees him, dies of laughter;
he has an amazing artistic grace.

– And me? Will he make me laugh?
-Ah, yes, I swear it;
he and no one but him; but… what disturbs you?
-So – said the patient – I won’t be cured;
I am Garrik! Change my prescription.

How many are there who, tired of life,
ill with pain, dead with tedium,
make others laugh as the suicidal actor,
without finding a remedy for their illness!

Ay! How often we laugh when we cry!
Nobody trust the merriment of laughter,
because in those beings devoured by pain,
the soul groans when the face laughs!

If faith dies, if calm flees,
if our feet only step on thistles,
the tempest of the soul hurls to the face,
a sad lighting: a smile.

The carnival of the world is such a trickster,
that life is but a short masquerade;
here we learn to laugh with tears
and also to cry with laughter.

 

Translation by Marga Lacabe

Broken Song

06-28 O'Neill
Moira O’Neill
Irish
1864 – 1955

‘Where am I from?’ From the green hills of Erin.
‘Have I no song then?’ My songs are all sung.
‘What o’ my love?’ ’Tis alone I am farin’.
Old grows my heart, an’ my voice yet is young.

‘If she was tall?’ Like a king’s own daughter.
‘If she was fair?’ Like a mornin’ o’ May.
When she’d come laughin’ ‘twas the runnin’ wather,
When she’d come blushin’ ‘twas the break o’ day.

‘Where did she dwell?’ Where one’st I had my dwellin’.
‘Who loved her best?’ There’s no one now will know.
‘Where is she gone?’ Och, why would I be tellin’!
Where she is gone there I can never go.

We Wear the Mask

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 150th birthday.

06-27 Dunbar
Paul Laurence Dunbar
American
1872 – 1906

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!

Song

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 215th birthday.

06-26 Tompson
Charles Tompson
Australian
1807 – 1883

My Sylvia frowns on her love:
Ah! hope from this bosom is fled,
That syren that o’er my fond heart,
So lately her influence shed.

And must I for ever despair
To own the dear girl I adore?
And will the bright day-spring of love
Ne’er brighten my hemisphere more?

‘Tis past!—on the heart that is her’s
She frowns with contempt and disdain,
And seems to exult in the cause
That gives my fond bosom such pain.

Yet, trust me, dear Sylvia, this lip
That sighs nought but mis’ry and you,
Is the harbinger pure of a heart
That will ever—yes, ever prove true!

Life, Life

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

06-25 Tarkovsky
Arseny Tarkovsky
Russian
1907 – 1989

 

1

I don’t believe in omens or fear
Forebodings. I flee from neither slander
Nor from poison. Death does not exist.
Everyone’s immortal. Everything is too.
No point in fearing death at seventeen,
Or seventy. There’s only here and now, and light;
Neither death, nor darkness, exists.
We’re all already on the seashore;
I’m one of those who’ll be hauling in the nets
When a shoal of immortality swims by.

2

If you live in a house – the house will not fall.
I’ll summon any of the centuries,
Then enter one and build a house in it.
That’s why your children and your wives
Sit with me at one table, –
The same for ancestor and grandson:
The future is being accomplished now,
If I raise my hand a little,
All five beams of light will stay with you.
Each day I used my collar bones
For shoring up the past, as though with timber,
I measured time with geodetic chains
And marched across it, as though it were the Urals.

3

I tailored the age to fit me.
We walked to the south, raising dust above the steppe;
The tall weeds fumed; the grasshopper danced,
Touching its antenna to the horse-shoes – and it prophesied,
Threatening me with destruction, like a monk.
I strapped my fate to the saddle;
And even now, in these coming times,
I stand up in the stirrups like a child.

I’m satisfied with deathlessness,
For my blood to flow from age to age.
Yet for a corner whose warmth I could rely on
I’d willingly have given all my life,
Whenever her flying needle
Tugged me, like a thread, around the globe.

 

Translation by Alex Nemser and Nariman Skakov

Isaac’s Dream

06-24 Rosernfarb
Chava Rosenfarb
Canadian
1923 – 2011

 

As I was standing, all set for my exile,
Doom staring at me from the road’s blinding end,
The door, like a book’s heavy cover, opened,
To bring forth a guest from the biblical land.

His body, half naked, a knife in his loincloth,
In sheep-leather sandals his tanned, bronze-like feet,
A bundle of firewood upon his shoulder—
He said, with a smile very boyish and sweet:

“Good morning, my girl; remember me, dearest?
You’ve waited for me so long—not in vain.
I’m Isaac, your bridegroom, ordained by the Heavens …
Through ages I’ve wandered to you, till I came.

Take off your dress. A sheet of plain linen
Is sufficient to drape round your navel and hips.
Undo your braids and let’s hurry, my sweetheart,
Your hand clasped in mine and a chant on our lips.

Thus will l lead you beyond the horizon,
Between north and south, through the west—to the east,
Until we will reach Mount Moriah, my dearest,
There to be married, to rejoice and to feast.

So come, let us hurry, the distance is calling.
Pray, why do you shiver with anguish and cry?
You’re asking why all that wood on my shoulder,
The glittering knife on my hip—you ask why.

Then turn your soul to my soul, my beloved.
Read your fate in my fate, while I explain:
Out of the wood I will construct an altar
And with love all redeeming set it aflame.

And the knife, my bride, I will file to its sharpest point
Up there, at the peak, on a rough mountain stone.
And who will be offered, you ask me?—then listen:
The offering, my dearest, shall be you, you alone.

A gift of life to the God of All Being,
As Abraham told me, his late-born son:
If you trust in love and love wholly trusting,
Then fear not, nor waver, dear girl, but come.

Though fire will blaze through the wood of the altar,
Flames licking your body, yet you shall see:
The knife will fall from my hand, and a miracle
Will happen to you, as it happened to me.

The rivers and seas shall sing Hallelujah!
The mountain pines, moved, will give praise to all life,
While the Voice Divine will, with thunder and lightning,
Proclaim me your husband, pronounce you my wife.

So hurry, my girl, the sky is already
Spreading its canopy, preparing the rite.
Come to the blue sacrificial fire—
Your last maiden stroll—to the altar, my bride.”

Thus he spoke. I smiled, then said in a whisper,
My eyes not on him, but fixed on the dark night,
Where another road was tracing its outlines
With the red of my blood, with signals of fright:

“Oh leave me, Isaac, you bronzed, sunny man.
This road is not yours, not mine is your day.
I head for those places you never have dreamed of,
Where altars do smolder with their unwilling prey.”

As I spoke a gale swept towards my threshold.
The tempest took hold of my hearth and my house,
Whistling through streets, through the yards of the ghetto,
Hissing with rage: “Juden raus! Juden raus!”

Thus I stepped forward with Abraham, my father,
Who wrapped his arm round me as if with a shawl,
While delicate Isaac, all tremble and flutter,
Pressed his tanned sun-kissed frame to the wall.

“You’re frightened, Isaac?” said I. “I’m your nightmare.
Awake and you’re back in your undying scroll,
Where Rebecca, your true betrothed awaits you,
To be taken with joy on her last maiden stroll.

Make haste, return to the Book that shall save thee.
Hide yourself in the Bible’s fairytale land.
For your God Himself walks with me and my father,
Right now, to the altar; with us—to His end.”

Precious Mahogany

06-23 Watson
Brigitte Zacarías Watson
Nicaraguan
b. 1961

 

I tried to defend you,
I thought there might be
Someone else who loved you
As I love you.

Here I am, beneath you
Caressing your precious timber,
Protecting you with my hands
From those who claim to love you.

Lies!
They see you bleed and they laugh as they stuff their pockets

With dollars, from your suffering.

 

Translation by Jessica Powell

Helen Betty Osborne

We present this work in honor of the Canadian holiday, National Aboriginal Day.

06-21 Dumont
Marilyn Dumont
Canadian
b. 1955

Betty, if I set out to write this poem about you
it might turn out instead
to be about me
or any one of
my female relatives
it might turn out to be
about this young native girl
growing up in rural Alberta
in a town with fewer Indians
than ideas about Indians
in a town just south of the ‘Aryan Nations’

It might turn out to be
about Anna Mae Aquash, Donald Marshall, or Richard Cardinal,
it might even turn out to be
about our grandmothers
beasts of burden in the fur trade
skinning, scraping, pounding, packing
left behind for ‘British Standards of Womanhood,’
left for white-melting-skinned women,
not bits-of-brown women
left here in this wilderness, this colony.

Betty, if I start to write a poem about you
it might turn out to be
about hunting season instead
about ‘open season’ on native women
it might turn out to be
about your face young and hopeful
staring back at me hollow now
from a black and white page
it might be about the ‘townsfolk’ (gentle word)
townsfolk who ‘believed native girls were easy’
and ‘less likely to complain if a sexual proposition led to violence’

Betty, if I write this poem.

I Cannot Complain

In honor of Argentina’s National Flag Day, we present this work by one of the most cutting-edge Argentine poets.

06-20 Urondo
Francisco Urondo
Argentine
1930 – 1976

 

I am left with only a few friends and those here
are usually far and I am left
an aftertaste I keep within close reach
as if a firearm. I will use it for noble things:
for defeating the enemy—God
willing—, for speaking modestly
about threatening possibilities.

I hope bitterness won’t intercept
forgiveness, that distant wind
of affections I am trying to describe: I hope the rigor of this
will not convert into the thick glass
of the dead, though I am curious to know the things
they’ll have to say of me, after my death:
to know which were your versions of love,
of those tangential meetings,
because my friends tend to be signals
of my life, by tragic luck, giving me all
that isn’t here. Prematurely, with one foot
on each lip of the crevice that opens
before me, at the feet of glory, I salute you all,
hold my nose and let the abyss surround me.

 

Translation by Julia Leverone