Turn

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

Vijayalakshmi
Indian
b. 1960

 

The insulted corpse spoke to me at night:

Can’t you see what’s planted in my hands?
Definitely, this gun isn’t mine.
I do not recognize bullets,
except the one that pierced me.
Those diary entries aren’t mine,
the hitlists were appended later.
Though murdered, I’m not a dimwit.
If so,
even I want to see the hellish diary
that added our names into the hit list,
a diary that vanished
because it was never written.

After death,
I came to know from the rotten,
decaying, withered,
powdered and wounded corpses
about the guns that were planted
between their dead fingers,
about the insult thrust upon them
by exhibiting their gun wielding pictures,
about romantic diary notes
that were written in their names.
Corpses don’t lie.
We are the truth, the sole truth.
But what can corpses do?

We can.
Even if we are erased from days
and appended to newspapers,
bulletin boards and
lazy after-dinner miniscreens,
even if our lifeless recline
is repeatedly insulted,
our blood silently appears
in honest mirrors at night.
Pressing the lips
against every ear that is awake,
It will chant this till sunrise:
Do not sleep.
What dawns is your turn.

Dawn at St. Patrick’s

In honor of The Twelfth (Battle of the Boyne), we present this work by one of today’s finest exemplars of the Irish spirit.

Derek Mahon
Irish
b. 1941

 

There is an old
statue in the courtyard
that weeps, like Niobe, its sorrow in stone.
The griefs of the ages she has made her own.
Her eyes are rain-washed but not hard,
her body is covered in mould,
the garden overgrown.

One by one
the first lights come on,
those that haven’t been on all night.
Christmas, the harshly festive, has come and gone.
No snow, but the rain pours down
in the first hour before dawn,
before daylight.

Swift’s home
for ‘fools and mad’ has become
the administrative block. Much there
has remained unchanged for many a long year —
stairs, chairs, Georgian widows shafting light and dust,
of the satirist;

but the real
hospital is a cheerful
modern extension at the back
hung with restful reproductions of Dufy, Klee and Braque.
Television, Russian fiction, snooker with the staff,
a sifter of Lucozade, a paragraph
of Newsweek or the Daily Mail

are my daily routine
during the festive season.
They don’t lock the razors here
as in Bowditch Hall. We have remained upright —
though, to be frank, the Christmas dinner scene,
with grown men in their festive gear,
was a sobering sight.

I watch the last
planes of the year go past,
silently climbing a cloud-lit sky.
Earth-bound, soon I’ll be taking a train to Cork
and trying to get back to work
at my sea-lit, fort-view desk
in the turf-smoky dusk.

Meanwhile,
next door, a visiting priest
intones to a faithful dormitory.
I sit on my Protestant bed, a make-believe existentialist,
and stare the clouds of unknowing. We style,
as best we may, our private destiny;
or so it seems to me

as I chew my thumb
and try to figure out
what brought me to my present state¬ —
an ‘educated man’, a man of consequence, no bum
but one who has hardly grasped what life is about,
if anything. My children, far away,
don’t know where I am today,

in a Dublin asylum
with a paper whistle and a mince pie,
my bits and pieces making a home from home.
I pray to the rain-clouds that they never come
where their lost father lies; that their mother thrives;
and that I
may measure up to them
before I die.

Soon a new year
will be here demanding, as before,
modest proposals, resolute resolutions, a new leaf,
new leaves. This is the story of my life,
the story of all lives everywhere,
mad fools whatever we are,
in here or out there.

Light and sane
I shall walk down to the train,
into that world whose sanity we know,
like Swift to be a fiction and a show.
The clouds part, the rain ceases, the sun
casts now upon everyone
its ancient shadow.

The Post-Nuclear Ones

Lola Arias
Argentine
b. 1976

 

One. I’m going to stop lying. I’m going to stop
smoking. I’m going to stop being afraid of the dark.

Two. I’m never going to make mistakes again just
because it’s nighttime or it’s cold or there’s a
melancholy cloud over my head.

Three. I have to stop wasting time. When I get
home I’m going to start writing. I’m not going to
answer the phone or eat the leftovers from my
fridge or read all those books waiting on my
bedside table like skyscrapers.

Four. I’m thirty tomorrow. Instead of having a party
I’m going to get in the bath and read my old diaries.
How old are you when youth ends?

Five. I can’t hear my heart under the water. I could
die now and I’d never know. If I die I want to be
cremated and my ashes scattered in the sea or the
river or flushed down the toilet. I’d rather be dead
under water than dead under ground.

Six. I have to learn to breathe better. I’d like the air
to leave me without my realizing, as if I were a
mermaid at the bottom of a bathtub.

Secret Energy

Lupe Gómez
Spanish
b. 1972

 

1

You gave birth to me. I bore wings.
The blood of the dead was kept
in the trough.
It was Entroido, Carnival. I believed in the open sincerity of accordions.

There’s snow, so much snow in the fields and in the language I speak,
inside the political stomach of cows.

2

You gave birth to me striking softly
in the difficult percussion of my body.
The theatrical walls of the wellsprings burst
in the crystal of night.

I took flight.

3

You had four children, and forty years.
You gave birth in the kitchen of a dirt-floored house.
My blood was a knot in your domed belly.

4

You danced, and brought in the harvest.
I had whooping cough and
was expiring in your arms.

5

“I’ve two godmothers. Two meadows. Two pasts. Two trains. I’m two women, two sisters, two neighbour ladies, two wee boats.”

6

“There at that baptism, in 1972, was my godmother Marisol who wanted to name me for a tiny Virgin revered in that dark, chilly, lovely church. Also there /present and absent / were my godmother Virtudes and godfather Antonio. They lived in Germany, in the emigration of flowers. Virtudes’s eyes are wide-open blue camellias. Antonio was a decent and elegant man from Hermida. Though he’s dead, he keeps giving me gifts.”

Night is memory . . .

7

Mother camouflaged. Nest for birds.
Cuddle. Linguistic embraces.

I went hunting for birds.

8

I love you, with my mute fingers.
With butterflies of air I make you tatted lace.
With the blind power of my sad eyes
I rehearse a work of theatre for you.

With my love I make you
a forest.
I learn to listen to clouds, to work earth and to read heaven, in your lap.

9

“You gave birth to me, and your man looked on in silence, bursting with happiness and trees. I brought electric shadows.”

10

You screamed,
ate sops,
sipped Sanson fortified wine.

11

From your body mine was born,
as if you were sharing
the mystery of magpies.

12

You had no dreams
because village women don’t dream.

The economic backwardness of Galicia
was a form of artistic avant-garde.

Lost for Words

Colm Toibin
Irish
b. 1955

 

The sea is all washed up. The house rocks
On through the night; nothing will see reason.
Most things have left us, and some people too.
Strange the speed with which they disappeared.
And colours died that gave a shape to things,
Till what is lost comes vaguely in these dreams.

And the dead sad words float out in foolish space
And have the weight of atoms in a wind;
They do not want to come to earth again.
I saw their tears unflowing in the sky.

In an old house I heard some words for flowers:
‘Buttercup’, ‘lupin’, ‘truth’ and ‘fluredelee’.
And there were names for trees: ‘barkbrown’, ‘oak’
And ‘hard’, the loveliest of all, they said,
Easy to live with and soft on the eye.
On a saint’s day you climbed into its soul.

Afterlife

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 65th birthday.

John Burnside
Scots
b. 1955

 

When we are gone
our lives will continue without us

– or so we believe and,
at times, we have tried to imagine

the gaps we will leave being filled
with the brilliance of others:

someone else gathering plums
from this tree in the garden,

someone else thinking this thought
in a room filled with stars

and coming to no conclusion
other than this –

this bungled joy, this inarticulate
conviction that the future cannot come

without the grace
of setting things aside,

of giving up
the phantom of a soul

that only seemed to be
while it was passing.

Communion at the Gate Theatre

Mary O’Malley
Irish
b. 1954

 

This is the time of life when a woman
goes to Dublin to the theatre to get away
the night every Leaving Cert student in Ireland
is up from the country to see the same RSC production.

Hamlet is small and elegant and very English. What did
she expect – that after all those years
he would have grown really Danish, the lies
would be less eloquent, gestures less fluid?

Tonight she finds the prince tedious and self-obsessed.
You are thirty years old for Christ’s sake,
she shouts, startling the audience.
The students are disapproving, then delighted.

Now that they have stopped texting one another,
the girls are shaping some of the words.
There is Royal Shakespearean body language
between Claudius and Gertrude.

The boys whistle, applaud uneasily.
The woman thinks Gertrude is entitled to her lover’s kiss.
What kind of twisted little shit are you?
she asks Hamlet, but silently. Hamlet is relentless.

The actor fifty if he’s a day, torturing his mother
who is the same age. No one cares.
It is as bad as MacLiammoir playing Romeo.
The kids are loving it. We are rearing

a generation of throwbacks, she thinks,
without Latin to sustain them, much less history.
She checks the exits, measures her chances. She rises
in a crouch just as a hush is spreading through the house.

Here and there along the rows the students begin
To mouth Hamlet’s soliloquy. The half-formed faces
half-lit are devout. At What is a man is his chief good be…
but to sleep…the ungodly voices join in as at Mass.

A Letter in My Purse

We present this work in honor of the 5th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Shaimaa al-Sabbagh
Egyptian
1984 – 2015

 

I am not sure
Truly, she was nothing more than just a purse
But when lost, there was a problem
How to face the world without her
Especially
Because the streets remember us together
The shops know her more than me
Because she is the one who pays
She knows the smell of my sweat and she loves it
She knows the different buses
And has her own relationship with their drivers
She memorizes the ticket price
And always has the exact change
Once I bought a perfume she didn’t like
She spilled all of it and refused to let me use it
By the way
She also loves my family
And she always carried a picture
Of each one she loves

What might she be feeling right now
Maybe scared?
Or disgusted from the sweat of someone she doesn’t know
Annoyed by the new streets?
If she stopped by one of the stores we visited together
Would she like the same items?
Anyway, she has the house keys
And I am waiting for her