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

The Romance of Patrolman Casey

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

Ellis Parker Butler
American
1869 – 1937

 

There was a young patrolman who
Had large but tender feet;
They always hurt him badly when
He walked upon his beat.
(He always took them with him when
He walked upon his beat.)

His name was Patrick Casey and
A sweetheart fair had he;
Her face was full of freckles but
Her name was Kate McGee.
(It was in spite of freckles that
Her name was Kate McGee.)

‘Oh, Pat!’ she said, ‘I’ll wed you when
Promotion comes to you!’
‘I’m much-obliged,’ he answered, and
‘I’ll see what I can do.’
(I may remark he said it thus?
‘Oi’ll say phwat Oi kin do.’)

So then he bought some new shoes which
Allowed his feet more ease?
They may have been large twelves. Perhaps
Eighteens, or twenty-threes.
(That’s rather large for shoes, I think?
Eighteens or twenty-threes!)

What last they were I don’t know, but
Somehow it seems to me
I’ve heard somewhere they either were
A, B, C, D, or E.
(More likely they were five lasts wide?
A, B plus C, D, E.)

They were the stoutest cowhide that
Could be peeled off a cow.

But he was not promoted

So
Kate wed him anyhow.

(This world is crowded full of Kates
That wed them anyhow.)

Meeting Point

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

Louis Macneice
Irish
1907 – 1963

 

Time was away and somewhere else,
There were two glasses and two chairs
And two people with the one pulse
(Somebody stopped the moving stairs):
Time was away and somewhere else.

And they were neither up nor down;
The stream’s music did not stop
Flowing through heather, limpid brown,
Although they sat in a coffee shop
And they were neither up nor down.

The bell was silent in the air
Holding its inverted poise—
Between the clang and clang a flower,
A brazen calyx of no noise:
The bell was silent in the air.

The camels crossed the miles of sand
That stretched around the cups and plates;
The desert was their own, they planned
To portion out the stars and dates:
The camels crossed the miles of sand.

Time was away and somewhere else.
The waiter did not come, the clock
Forgot them and the radio waltz
Came out like water from a rock:
Time was away and somewhere else.

Her fingers flicked away the ash
That bloomed again in tropic trees:
Not caring if the markets crash
When they had forests such as these,
Her fingers flicked away the ash.

God or whatever means the Good
Be praised that time can stop like this,
That what the heart has understood
Can verify in the body’s peace
God or whatever means the Good.

Time was away and she was here
And life no longer what it was,
The bell was silent in the air
And all the room one glow because
Time was away and she was here.

Gracefully She Approached

Simin Behbahani
Persian
1927 – 2014

 

Gracefully she approached,
in a dress of bright blue silk;
With an olive branch in her hand,
and many tales of sorrows in her eyes.
Running to her, I greeted her,
and took her hand in mine:
Pulses could still be felt in her veins;
warm was still her body with life.

“But you are dead, mother”, I said;
“Oh, many years ago you died!”
Neither of embalmment she smelled,
Nor in a shroud was she wrapped.

I gave a glance at the olive branch;
she held it out to me,
And said with a smile,
“It is the sign of peace; take it.”

I took it from her and said,
“Yes, it is the sign of…”, when
My voice and peace were broken
by the violent arrival of a horseman.
He carried a dagger under his tunic
with which he shaped the olive branch
Into a rod and looking at it
he said to himself:
“Not too bad a cane
for punishing the sinners!”
A real image of a hellish pain!
Then, to hide the rod,
He opened his saddlebag.
in there, O God!
I saw a dead dove, with a string tied
round its broken neck.

My mother walked away with anger and sorrow;
my eyes followed her;
Like the mourners she wore
a dress of black silk.

Translation by Mahmud Kianush

Hail to Thee, Nicaragua!

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 135th birthday.

Salomón Ibarra Mayorga
Nicaraguan
1887 – 1985

 

Hail to thee, Nicaragua! On thy land
roareth the voice of the cannon no more,
nor doeth the blood of brothers now stain
thy glorious bicolor banner.

Let peace shine beautifully in thy sky,
and nothing dimmeth thine immortal glory,
for labor is thy well-earned laurel
and honor is thy triumphal emblem,
is thy triumphal emblem!

The Call of the River Nun

Gabriel Okara
Nigerian
1921 – 2019

 

I hear your call!
I hear it far away;
I hear it break the circle of these crouching hills.

I want to view your face again and feel your cold embrace;
or at your brim to set myself and inhale your breath;
or like the trees, to watch my mirrored self unfold and span my days with song from the lips of dawn.
I hear your lapping call!
I hear it coming through; invoking the ghost of a child listening, where river birds hail your silver-surfaced flow.

My river’s calling too!
Its ceaseless flow impels my found’ring canoe down its inevitable course.
And each dying year brings near the sea-bird call, the final call that stills the crested waves and breaks in two the curtain of silence of my upturned canoe.
O incomprehensible God!
Shall my pilot be my inborn stars to that final call to Thee.
O my river’s complex course?