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

Those Winter Sundays

We present this work in honor of Father’s Day.

06-19 Hayden
Robert Hayden
American
1913 – 1980

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

Elegy III

z 06-18-22
Maximianus
Italian
6th century

 

It is now worthwhile to recall some of my youth
and say a bit regarding my old age,

from which a reader may uplift a mind undone
by change and try to grasp a sad affair.

Seduced by love for you, I went mad, Aquilina,
morose and pale, seduced by love for you.

I did not know what love or fiery lust was yet;
instead I suffered from my awkwardness.

She, smoldering, not any less love-struck than me,
would wander unrestrained all through the house.

Beloved carding combs, raw wool were tossed aside,
and love alone became her heart’s obsession.

She found no method that would feed the hidden fire,
no guidance for response with two-way signals.

She showed so much affection in her foolish gaze
with just one glance reliving anxious feelings.

Her tutor chased me. Her grim mother guarded her,
a second punishment for such misfortune.

Throughout it all they scrutinized our eyes and nods—
and coloring that tends to signal thoughts.

When possible, in silence we both stifled longing
and hid our sweet deceits in different ways,

though after modesty emerged on her young face,
deep hidden passion failed to be concealed.

Soon both of us began to seek out times and places,
to converse with eyebrows and our eyes,

to dupe the guards, to put a foot down gingerly,
and in the night to run without a sound.

But not for long! Her mother sensed our secret love
and, getting set to treat the wounds with wounds,

she nagged and slapped; the blaze was kindled by her slaps
like tinder tossed on pyres to stoke the flames.

Our fiery hearts ignite a doubled frenzied passion,
and so an anguish mixed with love is raging,

then, with a panting heart, she looks around for me,
who she believes her purchase through her pleas.

She’s shameless rolling back stained clothes to recollect;
joyful, she even credits them to me.

She says, “I’m glad to suffer pains endured for you.
You’ll be the sweet return on so much blood.

Just let your faith be certain and your will unbroken;
passion that ruined nothing never was.”

I constantly endured these goads, and while in love
I languished, and I had no hope of rescue.

Unthreatened, I was bothered by a silent wound,
though shock and wasting took the place of words.

Boethius, great searcher of important things,
only you, showing pity, bring assistance,

for while you often saw me focused on my worries,
you could not know the reasons for my woes.

Sensing at last that I am gripped by violent sickness,
you softly order opening what’s closed:

“Speak! From whom did you catch this new ignited fever?
Speak! And accept the cure for your claimed pain!

There is no treatment for undiagnosed disease,
and caverns bellow more with smothered flames.”

When it was shameful to confess and talk of sin,
He recognized clear signs of silent pain.

He quickly said, “The matter’s cause is clear enough.
Don’t fret; great strength will give you much forgiveness.”

I broke my shamefaced silence, prostrate at his feet,
while through tears sharing everything in sequence.

“Do it,” he said, “Or could a ‘gift’ of beauty please you?”
“Honor avoids such wishing,” I replied.

He broke up laughing, shouting, “What a wondrous will!
Speak up! When was a love from Venus chaste?

Young man, refrain from sparing your delightful girl!
If you’d be ‘proper’ here, you’ll be improper!”

Tender affairs are fed by scratches and a bite;
a violent business does not shun more blows.

Meanwhile, he pacifies her parents’ hearts with “gifts”
and lures soft touches to my goal with cash.

Blind love of money overcomes parental love;
they both begin to love their daughter’s guilt.

They give us room for secret sings; they acquiesce
to holding hands and filling days with play.

A sanctioned sin becomes cheap; lust becomes depleted.
Exhausted hearts defeated their disease.

She, seeing no pursuit advancing, hates the cause
and leaves dejected with an unspoiled body.

I banished phantom worries from a chastened heart
and quickly found out what a wretch I was.

I said, “Hail holy chastity, and always stay
untouched. Through me you’ll be most modest.”

Once everything had been conveyed to this great man
and he observed I rose above my moods,

he said, “Well done, young man, the lord of your own love!”
and “Gather up some trophies of your scorn.

To you may Cupid’s bow and arms of Venus yield,
and even bold Minerva yield to you.

And so a sanctioned license stole my zeal for sinning,
and even longing for such things departed.

We split up, equally resentful and unhappy;
the reason for the split was modest life.

 

Translation by A.M. Juster

Like Someone Who Loves Herself Loving the One She Loves

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

06-17 Sastre
Elvira Sastre
Spanish
b. 1992

If you had met me pure,
without a bad conscience,
without sorrow in my dreams,
without bites from others rooted in my shoulders.

Would you have bathed me in the morning light,
licked the sleep from my eyes,
stroked my insomnia,
caressed my wrinkled hands with your teeth?

And if I had dressed up
in something to look like you,
if I had lied to you telling you my truths,
if I had told you that you were the only one
and not the first.

Would you have undressed me with your eyes closed
and your expert hands,
kissed me while I told you about my life,
placed your name and mine
on a pedestal
and made this a love between equals?

And if I had sold myself
as the love of your life,

if I had bought you
as the love of mine.

Would we have fallen in love
like someone who loves herself
loving the one she loves?

I am With Those

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

06-16 Jonker
Ingrid Jonker
South African
1933 – 1965

I am with those
who abuse sex
because the individual doesn’t count
with those who get drunk
against the abyss of the brain
against the illusion that life
once was good or had beauty or sense
against the garden parties of falsehood
against the silence that beats into the temples
with those who poor and old
race against death the atom-bomb of the days
and in shacks count the last
flies on the walls
with those stupefied in institutions
shocked with electric currents
through the cataracts of the senses
with those who have been depraived of their hearts
like the light out of the robot of safety
with those coloured, african dispossessed
with those who murder
because every death confirms anew
the lie of life
And please forget
about justice it doesn’t exist
about brotherhood it’s deceit
about love it has no right

The Light will Burn and Darken

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

06-15 Balmont
Konstantin Balmont
Russian
1867 – 1942

 

The light will burn and darken, then burn with stronger blaze,
But unreturning darkens the sheen of youthful days.
Glow then, and be enkindled, the while thou still art young,
Let ever more undwindled the heart’s loud chords be strung,
That something be remembered in waning years of woe,
That chill old-age be lighted by that decayless glow,
Born of exalted fancies, and headstrong youth’s ado,
Heedless, but full of splendour, heedless and hallowed, too.

 

Translation by Paul Selver

Old Ironsides

We present this work in honor of Flag Day.

06-14 Holmes
Oliver Wendell Holmes
American
1809 – 1894

Ay, tear her tattered ensign down!
Long has it waved on high,
And many an eye has danced to see
That banner in the sky;
Beneath it rung the battle shout,
And burst the cannon’s roar; —
The meteor of the ocean air
Shall sweep the clouds no more.
Her deck, once red with heroes’ blood,
Where knelt the vanquished foe,
When winds were hurrying o’er the flood,
And waves were white below,
No more shall feel the victor’s tread,
Or know the conquered knee; —
The harpies of the shore shall pluck
The eagle of the sea!

Oh, better that her shattered hulk
Should sink beneath the wave;
Her thunders shook the mighty deep,
And there should be her grave;
Nail to the mast her holy flag,
Set every threadbare sail,
And give her to the god of storms,
The lightning and the gale!