Misgivings

We present this work in honor of the 130th anniversary of the poet’s death.

09-28 Melville
Herman Melville
American
1819 – 1891

 

When ocean-clouds over inland hills
Sweep storming in late autumn brown,
And horror the sodden valley fills,
And the spire falls crashing in the town,
I muse upon my country’s ills—
The tempest bursting from the waste of Time
On the world’s fairest hope linked with man’s foulest crime.

Nature’s dark side is heeded now—
(Ah! optimist-cheer disheartened flown)—
A child may read the moody brow
Of yon black mountain lone.
With shouts the torrents down the gorges go,
And storms are formed behind the storm we feel:
The hemlock shakes in the rafter, the oak in the driving keel.

I Will Appoint Things

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 100th birthday.

09-25 Vitier
Cintio Vitier
Cuban
1921 – 2009

 

I will appoint things,
the sound heights that see play the wind,
the deep porches, screens closed shade and silence.
And the internal sacred,
the gloom that ply the dusty offices,
the wooden man, the night wood of my body when sleeping.
The poverty of the place,
and the dust where the footsteps of my father made a will,
the clear and decisive stone places,
bare shadow, always the same.
Not forgetting the piety of the fire,
in bad weather the distant home,
nor the joyful sacrament of rain,
the humble cup of the park.
Neither you wonderful wall,
noon and indigo skies and endless.
With the building of the summer look,
my love will remember the paths
to where they escape the greedy Sundays,
Mondays and return with bowed head.
I will appoint things, so slowly,
that when I lose the Paradise of the road,
and oblivion me turn into a dream,
I can call them suddenly with the dawn.

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.

A Breeze from the Land of Peace

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 95th birthday.

09-21 Moshiri
Fereydoon Moshiri
Persian
1926 – 2000

 

Indeed, if someday, someone asks me,
“During your time on Earth, what did you do?”
I’ll open my book of verse before him,
I’ll hold my head up, laughing and crying,
I’ll say that this seed is “newly sown,”
It needs time to come to fruition and bloom.

Under this vast cerulean sky,
With all my might, in very song,
I evoked the revered name of love.
Perhaps, by this weary voice,
An oblivious someone was awakened,
Somewhere in the four corners of this world.

I praised kindness,
I battled against wickedness.

I suffered the “wilting of a single stem of flower,”
I grieved the “death of a caged canary,”
And, for people’s sorrows,
I died a hundred times a night.

I’m not ashamed if at times,
When one ought to have screamed from deep within,
With Jesus-like patience,
I kept my silence.

If I were to arm myself with a sword,
To fight against the ignorant,
Blame me not for taking the road to love.
A sword in hand implies,
A man may meet his demise.

We were passing through a bleak road,
Where the darkness of ignorance was devastating!
My belief in humanity was my torch!
The sword was in devil’s hand!
Words were my only weapon on this battlefield!

Even if my poetry could not kindle a fire in anyone’s mind,
My heart, like firewood, burned from both sides.
Read a page from my book of verse, and you may say:
Can anyone burn worse than him?!

Many endless nights, I did not sleep,
To retell humanity’s message from man to man,
In the thorny land of animosity,
My words were a breeze from the land of peace.
But, perhaps, they should’ve been a mighty windstorm,
To uproot all this wickedness.

Our elders had advised us in the past:
“It is too late… too late…
The soul of the Earth is so dark,
Our strength, multiplied by hundred,
Is no more than a lonely cry in a desert so vast!”

“Another Noah, there must be,
Another great storm, too.”

“The world must be built anew,
New humans within it, too”

Yet, this patient, solitary man,
Carrying his backpack full of fervor,
Still strides along,
To draw a glimmer of light from the heart of this darkness,
He places the candle of a poem here and there,
He still hopes for the miracle that is man.

The Last Day

We present this work in honor of the 50th anniversary of the poet’s death.

09-20 Seferis
Giorgos Seferis
Greek
1900 – 1971

 

The day was cloudy. No one could come to a decision;
a light wind was blowing. ‘Not a north-easter, the sirocco,’ someone said.
A few slender cypresses nailed to the slope, and, beyond, the sea
grey with shining pools.
The soldiers presented arms as it began to drizzle.
‘Not a north-easter, the sirocco,’ was the only decision heard.
And yet we knew that by the following dawn
nothing would be left to us, neither the woman drinking sleep at our side
nor the memory that we were once men,
nothing at all by the following dawn.

‘This wind reminds me of spring,’ said my friend
as she walked beside me gazing into the distance, ‘the spring
that came suddenly in the winter by the closed-in sea.
So unexpected. So many years have gone. How are we going to die?’

A funeral march meandered through the thin rain.

How does a man die? Strange no one’s thought about it.
And for those who thought about it, it was like a recollection from old chronicles
from the time of the Crusades or the battle of Salamis.
Yet death is something that happens: how does a man die?
Yet each of us earns his death, his own death, which belongs to no one else
and this game is life.

The light was fading from the clouded day, no one decided anything.
The following dawn nothing would be left to us, everything surrendered, even our hands,
and our women slaves at the springheads and our children in the quarries.
My friend, walking beside me, was singing a disjointed song:
‘In spring, in summer, slaves . . .’
One recalled old teachers who’d left us orphans.
A couple passed, talking:
‘I’m sick of the dusk, let’s go home,
let’s go home and turn on the light.’

Pirate Story

We present this work in honor of International Talk Like a Pirate Day.

09-19 Stevenson
Robert Louis Stevenson
Scots
1850 – 1894

 

Three of us afloat in the meadow by the swing,
Three of us aboard in the basket on the lea.
Winds are in the air, they are blowing in the spring,
And waves are on the meadow like the waves there are at sea.

Where shall we adventure, to-day that we’re afloat,
Wary of the weather and steering by a star?
Shall it be to Africa, a-steering of the boat,
To Providence, or Babylon, or off to Malabar?

Hi! but here’s a squadron a-rowing on the sea—
Cattle on the meadow a-charging with a roar!
Quick, and we’ll escape them, they’re as mad as they can be,
The wicket is the harbour and the garden is the shore.

From Me to Death

In honor of Chilean Independence Day, we present this work of independence by one of Chile’s great poets.

Guillermo Blest Gana
Chilean
1829 – 1904

 

I observed when you snatched viciously me away
my loved ones, and then I judged you:
relentless like misfortune, inexorable
like pain and cruel like the doubt…

But today that you, cold, mute, approach me
without hate and without love, neither sullen nor affable,
my spirit greets your majesty
of the unfathomable and your eternity.

I, without the impatience of the suicide,
neither the dread of the happy, nor the inert fear
of the criminal, I await your coming;

that equal to everyone’s luck is my fortune:
if nothing is expected of life,
something must be expected from death.

The Musical Ass

We present this work in honor of the 230th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Tomas de Iriarte y Oropesa
Spanish
1750 – 1791

 

The fable which I now present,
Occurred to me by accident:
And whether bad or excellent,
Is merely so by accident.

A stupid ass this morning went
Into a field by accident:
And cropped his food, and was content,
Until he spied by accident
A flute, which some oblivious gent
Had left behind by accident;
When, sniffling it with eager scent,
He breathed on it by accident,
And made the hollow instrument
Emit a sound by accident.
“Hurrah, hurrah!” exclaimed the brute,
“How cleverly I play the flute!”

A fool, in spite of nature’s bent,
May shine for once, by accident.