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.

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?

Drowning in Wheat

We present this work in honor of Western Australia Day.

06-06 Kinsella
John Kinsella
Australian
b. 1963

They’d been warned
on every farm
that playing
in the silos
would lead to death.
You sink in wheat.
Slowly. And the more
you struggle the worse it gets.
‘You’ll see a rat sail past
your face, nimble on its turf,
and then you’ll disappear.’
In there, hard work
has no reward.
So it became a kind of test
to see how far they could sink
without needing a rope
to help them out.
But in the midst of play
rituals miss a beat—like both
leaping in to resolve
an argument
as to who’d go first
and forgetting
to attach the rope.
Up to the waist
and afraid to move.
That even a call for help
would see the wheat
trickle down.
The painful consolidation
of time. The grains
in the hourglass
grotesquely swollen.
And that acrid
chemical smell
of treated wheat
coaxing them into
a near-dead sleep.

The Spirits of the Water Carry Me Off

We present this work in honor of the Chilean holiday, Navy Day.

05-21 Chihuailaf
Elicura Chihailaf
Chilean
b. 1952

 

I am old, and from a blooming tree
I look at the horizon
How many airs did I walk?
I do not know
From the other side of the sea
the setting sun
has already sent out its messengers
and I am departing to meet
my ancestors
Blue is the place where we go
The spirits of the water carry me off
step by step
Wenulewfv / the River of the Sky
is barely one small circle
in the universe

In this Dream I shall stay:
Stroke, oarsmen! In Silence
I move away
in the invisible song of life.

 

Translation by Camila Yver

Buried Treasure

05-16 Magona
Sindiwe Magona
South African
b. 1943

Here lies, buried, precious treasure
The future of our beloved land
Pride of our fledgling nation
Our youth, our joy, our hope,
Now turned to sorrowing dust.

They were all young, but children, really
In the full flush of youth
Such promise for the hungry tomorrow
Blessings betrayed and all rules
Of nature turned upside down.

The girls gaily giggled
The young men, boys, really,
Whistled and winked as they strutted about
It was all such fun, such youthful fun
The words of parents paled beside.

The words of parents, mostly whispered;
And even that by but a few.
A whole nation looked on, but shirked duty
As the future swiftly withered and died.

They were in school, but the teachers taught nothing.
Some went to church, but the priests spoke little about daily living;
Pie in the sky and peace and bliss hereafter, their only platform.

Gone too, the wisdom of the Old
Foresaken, the knowledge of yesteryear
That knew and accepted what is only natural
Understood the folly that would block the swells of a surging river
And knew how all children needed mothers and fathers;
Embraced all thildren; charged every man and woman with their nurturing.

‘It takes a village’, belatedly, we now say; at last remembering
Faded lessons, traditions hastily discarded in blind pursuit
Of progress, of fashion, of assimilation. Now, finally seeing
How we ran open-armed, embracing our annihilation.
Now, sorrow jogs memory and we join empty hands
As we frantically try once more to guide,
To lead the new generation as before,
To show the way to the House of Adulthood
Leaving none behind, losing few as can be.

Eye turned back to a time long forgotten
When the measure of a man
Was not the fatness of his pocket
But his deeds of glory; shunning abomination.
When neighbour trusted neighbour; his safety secure at his presence
His home, his folk, his property – all sovereign
His neighbour, his best protection against all
His children, insurance against old age and infirmity.
But that was before the nation learnt to bury all its children;
See its morrow fade, its treasure interred;
The youth, its pride, its hope and joy obliterated.
The nation’s tomorrow, no more – ah, sad day,
When we buried our most precious treasures!

The House

05-14 Bernal
Jenny Bernal
Colombian
b. 1987

 

Welcome to this house
your home,
here you breathe the bitter cold
of that absent breath.
Welcome to this house
of anger and tears,
indeed you can sit
where your footsteps run out
where your skin dries.
The house has changed a bit
—you’ll forgive me—
but I’ve avoided painting it
so that the cracks of time
will give it a little bit of that familiar tinge.

It is the same house, don’t be afraid,
that same one that we built some time ago,
waiting to be alone enough
to live in it.

 

Translation by Anastasia Ramjag

Seasons

05-10 Fathy
Safaa Fathy
Egyptian
b. 1958

 

There was a month I called May. When I buried it in papers, passion streaming down,
flooding the tiles of the rooms.
Herds of gazelles searching for mercy lap it up…and I wander about in search of a
knife
to sharpen against my cheekbones, as I turn the pages of these moments.
You are a stranger to me, and your eyes are the foam of distances running like rivers between us.
Don’t ask me about my evaporating grief; perhaps it has become salt with which to
doctor wounds,
or maybe seeds I can scatter across the floor, to absorb the words that creep there in
search of a story.
Perhaps my sorrow was a bedsheet that couldn’t cover its old bed.
Its only pretext was to gaze at the sky and snatch up stars.
Thus, with no trace of treason.
We were sitting on the couch casting glances into the horizon, arrows of light years.
Waiting, we dified the hours.
Our revolt…ashamed to wear a mask, its savage visage.
Our feet stalked insects to crush them, while they flaunted themselves like naked words
Determined to gasp their last breaths in our sight.
Between us there are also silken buds, fluttering spring butterflies.
Their clusters are like the sun’s bashfulness when it gathers the girl’s milk teeth,
causing the seasons, and among them you, cunning Spring.
Is what’s between us the empire of Ahmad Taha?
Or those gleaming golden circles, panting behind steely eyes?
I wish I were a leaf, with cells in rows.
My splendor, seasons borne by sailboats. My ending the winter, when geckos hide away to dream of new plants growing.
From your bandaged wounds, in salt and fog,
soaring across riverbanks the morning of erupting promises,
running from shore to quay like a short story collapsing breathless on the streets,
Does anyone forbid fabrication?

Or might those cities that swallow fog conjure the word away too?
The same palm outstretched to God,
the same bare feet.
The same eyes, sparkling with poetry’s delight.
Is this why you tremble, dreading the city’s pages?
Is this why you left the streets, to seek refuge in the nightmares of years?
Will you take comfort in the disgrace of seasons,
and the vagrancy of lone words
on the sidewalks of meaninglessness?

 

Translation by S.V. Atalia

I Make My Way Through the Deserted City

04-26 Estrada
Lucia Estrada
Colombian
b. 1980

 

At its corners,
there’s no movement to recall
the drawn-out breathing of other days.
Not even air brings news of its dead.
I walk along the secret shore of things
and in them I see myself, in their coat of dust as if to shield them from their own fate.
I think of the men who are now sinking tepidly into sleep. To what uncertain sea do they surrender?
What wind propels their ships? To what port are they pushed?
Dark the moment when my memory tries for a phantom dialogue reflected in stone,
in the vigil of the dispossessed.
Long, silent,
like the death not uttered by these streets.

 

Translation by Olivia Lott

The Young Men

We present this work in honor of ANZAC Day.

04-25 Zwicky
Fay Zwicky
Australian
1933 – 2017

Made ghosts in all their country’s wars
they come, the young men in my dreams
with shattered skulls, intestines trailing
in the sand, the mud, the stuff the TV doesn’t
show unless it’s Africa. Or someplace else where
colour doesn’t count, democracy a word
they carted like a talisman, a passport
to the candles, bells of sainthood.

Restored to wake indoors alive, blanketed,
dreams fallen away like ash in birdsong,
sun filtering the blind slats, I’m reprimanded.
My ghosts keep talking: “You thought you knew
it all. Tonight maybe your book and candle,
night light burning infantile, shoes tucked
neat beneath will douse your eyelids closed
with ash, shut them down for good. Our dreams were yours.

You’ll sleep all right with us
and never never wake. Night lights,
books and candles lost the war against our
childhood, growing, long ago, their power
to charm away the everlasting dark a myth:
silence lasts forever. Listen, while you can,
to unseen saplings somewhere falling.
Young men, you dear young men, I’m listening.