What Did You Leave Behind

z 10-16-21
Solmaz Sharif
Persian
b. 1986

 

A pool
lined
with evergreens,

needles falling
into the water,
floor

painted a milky
jade. A car
in the driveway.

A mother.

Another mother.

A cockatiel
in the hallway
squawking

next to the plastic
slippers.
Glass

after beveled glass.
Secret
after beveled secret.

Letters from a
first crush
now dead.

Killed.
We wanted
to be asked

of these things.
We spent
much of our lives
imagining.

To tell of them
was to live
again.

We rathered
and rathered,

scraping the soft
moss
off

the gravestones
of our early
dead—

from Riddance

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 70th birthday.

10-09 Negroni
Maria Negroni
Argentine
b. 1951

 

Am I that woman in the dance
raising inexperience like light
addressing herself like a feather
to her most elusive whereness?
Strange flower growing soft
out of the frame of language
trying on sandals and flinging
into writing unscathed by writing.

Winding the body’s lexicon
it hit me in the takeaway
shown my treasure in nothing
I wavered: submit or escape
it’s a question of what is lost
in the beat of a voluptuous skirt
what battle is evaded what dire
endearing enemy abandoned.

Strange as if lit from within
with the indicative expounding
from neckline to poem curve
I learned to conjugate affairs
but for what if the nitty-gritty
of nothing like eternity
consisted in leaving me naked
doubtlessly an odd privilege.

What if time were lawless?
Where do you keep what wasn’t?
They go on like this and that
you never know what kills you
and January sun and you just came
just like a breath and worked me
to confine my body’s surrounds
to the exacting beauty of lack.

And I who’d thought to interject
geography as flamboyant sun
retrace my past in slip-ups
sweet-talking myself tough
and even pin on you a trinket
clinched knees sissy feet
which you’ll interpret as expertise
but is just a pretense for hurt.

If together where the belly bends
if I contracted and opened for you
if something like a sky disclosed
to what encloses inside blue
if you drew me so disposed
if I existed where you lost me
if a spasm and other orphandoms
if imperfection is a gift.

Contrary to the clock hands
too long in two voices unreleased
you walk me through my legs
to tumult with no predicate
while I angle for the occasional
avails of female cunning
tattooing the flipside of language
digits an animal won’t give up.

Night is a house to wander
with Spanish moss poison
I mean, to look for looseness
beyond your foremost failure
maybe that was the attraction
out of all you gave me and got
how you tossed me into boleos
heart antsy the secret clear.

Armor

09-30 Valenzuela
Francisca Valenzuela
Chilean
b. 1987

 

Of metal
The city reflects
On my clothing

All equally alone
(Between) the sound and the inertia

Sometimes I only want
A contact
The time
Enough to feel like I’m doing something
Something that makes me special
(Someone that makes me special)

I take off the armor
I remain exposed, I remain in doubt
What I was pretending to be
Melts in my feet
I take off the armor
I remain exposed, I remain in doubt
There’s only organs and skin
And so I let myself fall
My feet are tired from running

Of crystal
The city

I watch as
The secret life
Collapses
Brilliant courage

All equally alone
The carry the bones on the outside

Boys

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 60th birthday.

09-29 Griffor
Mariela Griffor
Chilean
b. 1961

 

A torturer does not redeem himself through suicide.
But it does help. – Mario Benedetti

The boys from the neighbourhood, some of them,
stay behind the mud and the rain.

I ask myself what has become of
Romero, Quezada, Coleman?
Did their bodies and souls
escape deterioration?

Did they go into the army
to do their duty as soldiers
of the fatherland, the ones
who protect us from hate and
foreign tyrants?

Did they climb like the General
by usurping through disloyalty,
lies, secret codes and
finally through money?

Did they have families and
continue living in the city
as if nothing had happened?

Or did they sell their modest houses,
move to another neighbourhood where
no one knows anything about them?

There they will come in the evening and
will wash the remnants of dried blood
from their fingers.

Will they look for their wives,
give them a kiss, touch their bodies
with those same hands?

Will their daytime nightmares
be cast upon those who
know nothing of where they
come at the end of the night?

Will they return their heads,
smashed by the memories they left
in the cells, streets, apartments to a soft warm
pillow that washes away their sacrileges?

What happened to the men
I knew and never saw again?

Did they turn themselves into
men hungry for justice or did
they leave little by little in silence?

Did they put on their clothes
in the morning without knowing
whether they would return in
the evening to their dear ones?

Did they learn to kill in clandestine training or
did they become more men with the
passing of these hard times?

Did they love like those
pure men
I met on those evenings
when to play was
all our universe?

Kingdom of Rain

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

09-24 Kozain
Rustum Kozain
South African
b. 1966

Somewhere in some dark decade
stands my father without work,
unknown to me and my brother
deep in the Paarl winter and a school holiday.
As the temperature drops, he,
my father, fixes a thermos of coffee,
buys some meat pies and we chug
up Du Toit’s Kloof Pass in his old 57 Ford,
where he wills the mountain – under cold cloud,
tan and blue rockface bright and wet with rain –
he wills these to open and let his children in,
even as he apologises –
my strict and angry fearsome father –
even as he apologises for his existence
then and there his whereabouts declared
to the warden or ranger in government
issue, ever-present around the next turn
or lazing in a jeep in the next lay-by:
“No sir, just driving. Yes, sir, my car.”

At the highest point of the pass
we stop to eat, and he, my father,
this strict and angry, fearsome father,
my father whom I love and his dark face,
he pries open a universe that strangely
he makes ours, that is no longer mine:
a wily old grey baboon, well-hid
against salt-and-pepper rock, eyeing us;
some impossibly magnificent bird of prey
rarely seen, racing to its nest as the weather turns.
And we are up there close I think
to my father’s God, the wind howling
and cloud rushing over us, awed
and small in that big car swaying in the gale.

Silence. A sudden still point
as the universe pauses, inhales
and gathers its grace.
Then, the silent, feather-like fall
of snowflakes as to us it grants
a brief bright kingdom
unseen by the ranger. And for some minutes
a car with three stunned occupants
rests on a mountain top outside the fast
ever-darkening turn of our growing up;
too brief to light the dark years
when I would learn:

how the bright, clear haunts of crab and trout
where we swim in summer
now in winter a brown rage over rock;
how mountain and pine and fynbos
or the mouse-drawn falcon of my veld;
the one last, mustard-dry koekemakranka
of summer that my father tosses through the air
to hit the ground and puff like a smoke bomb;
and once, also in summer somewhere,
a loquacious piet-my-vrou;
or the miraculous whirligig of waterhondjies
streaking across a tea-coloured pool
cradled by tan rock and fern-green fern;
my first and only owl,
large and mysterious
in a deep stand of pine,
big owl we never knew were there
until you swooped away, stirred by our voices;
how I too would be woken and learn
that this tree and bird, this world
the earth and this child’s home
already fell beyond his possessives.

And how, once north through the dry
Bushmanland with its black rock,
over a rise in the road, the sudden green
like the strange and familiar sibilants
in Keimoes and Kakamas.
And the rush of the guttural was the water
over rock at Augrabies.
The Garieb over rock at Augrabies,
at Augrabies where the boom swings down,
the gate-watch tight-lipped as a sermon:
“Die Kleurlingkant is vol”
as he waves through a car filled
with bronzed impatient white youth
laughing at us, at my father, my father
my silent father in whom a gaze grows distant
and the child who learns this pain past metaphor.
How like a baboon law and state
just turned its fuck-you arse on us
and ambled off.

Outside Times Ten and One Within

09-23 Castellon
Blanca Castellón
Nicaraguan
b. 1958

 

I
Outside

is desert
keen to be river

there’s laughter I don’t listen to

folk walk around
whose hearing is blind

outside no hugs are given
there’s haste and abysses

bridges have gone missing

II
Outside

there are no dogs in the street
no tiny red turtles

not one lizard
basking in rooftop sun

III
Outside

is the moon whose breast
gapes with wounds

a plague of poets
fouls the silence

the tree says goodbye to its roots
and no one feels sad

art like crime
leaves its trail of clues

IV
Outside

there’s dirty linen
shamelessly displayed

trash is deep
outside it’s sickening

deep is the past
deep the future

there’s dried-up vomit
in the volcano’s crater

field on field
of lamentation

there’s Washington
Iraq
Somalia
Haiti

V
Outside

it’s dangerous
to break the spell

there are black verses
forever on everyone’s lips

outside I panic
the sweet names
are exhausted

VI
Outside

there’s no cosy bed
no sheet without stains

no eye pure in its seeing
no easy distances

no mother
no father

outside is a landscape
of forgotten letters

VII
Outside

a child
bursts waiting into tears

there are ulcers in the shadows

traffic in caprice
and other narcotics

books no one will read
outside is absence

VIII
Outside there’s reliable evidence
of angels who rain down coffee

there are tricksters
old photographs

clever flowers
that fade on cue

outside dreams hurt
and drums rumble with evil

cracks in the earth
are spreading

IX
Outside

the poor come back
to die in traps

there’s hunger and a
closed horizon

outside is long

narrow
dry

there’s dust
bones

and a welter of bodies
in a common sky

X
Outside

another outside
is under construction.

XI
Within

joy is here within
deep within

dig
and water gushes

within is Nicaragua.

The Leader and the Led

09-14 Osundare
Niyi Osundare
Nigerian
b. 1947

 

The Lion stakes his claim
To the leadership of the pack

But the Antelopes remember
The ferocious pounce of his paws

The hyena says the crown is made for him
But the Impalas shudder at his lethal appetite

The Giraffe craves a place in the front
But his eyes are too far from the ground

When the Zebra says it’s his right to lead
The pack points to the duplicity of his stripes

The Elephant trudges into the power tussle
But its colleagues dread his trampling feet

The warthog is too ugly
The rhino too riotous

And the pack thrashes around
Like a snake without a head

“Our need calls for a hybrid of habits”,
Proclaims the Forest Sage,

“A little bit of a Lion
A little bit of a Lamb

Tough like a tiger, compassionate like a doe
Transparent like a river, mysterious like a lake

A leader who knows how to follow
Followers mindful of their right to lead”

The Dead of September 11

We present this work in honor of 9/11.

09-11 Morrison
Toni Morrison
American
1931 – 2019

 

Some have God’s words; others have songs of comfort
for the bereaved. If I can pluck courage here, I would
like to speak directly to the dead—the September dead.
Those children of ancestors born in every continent
on the planet: Asia, Europe, Africa, the Americas…;
born of ancestors who wore kilts, obis, saris, geles,
wide straw hats, yarmulkes, goatskin, wooden shoes,
feathers and cloths to cover their hair. But I would not say
a word until I could set aside all I know or believe about
nations, wars, leaders, the governed and ungovernable;
all I suspect about armor and entrails. First I would freshen
my tongue, abandon sentences crafted to know evil—wanton
or studied; explosive or quietly sinister; whether born of
a sated appetite or hunger; of vengeance or the simple
compulsion to stand up before falling down. I would purge
my language of hyperbole; of its eagerness to analyze
the levels of wickedness; ranking them; calculating their
higher or lower status among others of its kind.
Speaking to the broken and the dead is too difficult for
a mouth full of blood. Too holy an act for impure thoughts.
Because the dead are free, absolute; they cannot be
seduced by blitz.
To speak to you, the dead of September 11, I must not claim
false intimacy or summon an overheated heart glazed
just in time for a camera. I must be steady and I must be clear,
knowing all the time that I have nothing to say—no words
stronger than the steel that pressed you into itself; no scripture
older or more elegant than the ancient atoms you
have become.
And I have nothing to give either—except this gesture,
this thread thrown between your humanity and mine:
I want to hold you in my arms and as your soul got shot of its box of flesh to understand, as you have done, the wit
of eternity: its gift of unhinged release tearing through
the darkness of its knell.

Ambrosia Arbor

We present this work in honor of Ganesh Charturthi.

09-09 Osho
N.K. Osho
Indian
b. 1975

 

Thousandfold flowers unfetters fragrance…
Thousandfold powers dowers Deliverance…
All frith flowers adore thine aubade!
All Ambrosia audacious attunes along cascade!

When my myriad… mystic
Mood… in mute stands rustic
O’erflows joy e’er encompass!
Sacred love, encore! all onus… pious abyss!

Daze, dazzling… blushes those sweet flower,
Carries my Chariot thought to Rose land!
And thy relume thought compose and jocund!
Where withal… Whimsical thro’ Orison pervade

Sacred Symphony sings, enlightens the Planet
Sonorous savant, radiant grace compose sonnet.

Out of Africa

09-10 Pintado
Carlos Pintado
Cuban
b. 1974

 

You know you are truly alive when you’re living among lions
Isak Dinesen

I never had a farm in Africa, nor was I at the hills of Ngong, and perhaps because I was a rebellious youth, I refused to read the book. Isak was a country on my mind, never a body skinny and consumed by the syphilis, an echoless shadow the grass cut through without any perceived musicality.

For years I held the book in my hand and my hands would tremble. I recall the rain falling over the prairies. If I closed my eyes I would see those men lingering at sunset, seen from that false luminosity that only the written page can give.

Death moved the doors. The lover or the money vanished like leaves. I never had a farm in Africa; I never felt the smell of coffee invading the rooms at sunrise. There were only lions occupying my sleep, their roaring was the only memorable thing as I awoke.