Natural Progress

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 350th birthday.

06-11 Jonson
Ben Jonson
English
1572 – 1637

In all faith, we did our part:
generated punctually, prepared adequately,
ejected promptly,
and swam in the approved manner
in the appropriate direction;
did all instinctive things well,
even eagerly-
an exemplary start.
But then the barrier: unexpectedness
unexpectedly.
(They did not tell us this).
To go back impossible, unnatural:
so round; many times;
we tired ourselves.
Where were the promised homes,
embedded in the soft wall?
Or the anticipated achievement
so momentous, fulfilling?
So we died:
what else was there to do?
But in all faith, we did our part!

I Saw the Red Sun

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 205th birthday.

06-09 Pombo
Julio Arboleda Pombo
Colombian
1817 – 1862

I saw the red sun’s serene light
troubled and at one point its brilliant face
disappeared and the sky darkened,
with a darkness full of horror.

The stormy South winds sound angry,
their anger grows, and the storm grows,
and the shoulders of Atlas shudder
high Olympus, with a dreadful thunderclap.

But then I saw the black veil
of rain part, and by the previous light
the brilliant and clear day was restored.

And again I looked upon the sky’s ornate splendor,
and I said “Who knows if I should expect an equal
change in my fortune?”

Immortality

We present this work in honor of the 35th anniversary of the poet’s death.

06-07 Costantini
Humberto Costantini
Argentine
1924 – 1987

It simply happens I have become immortal.
The city buses respect me,
they bow before me,
like lap dogs they lick my shoes.

It simply happens I am no longer dying.
There’s no angina worth anything,
no typhus, cornice, war, or cannon,
cancer, knife, or flood,
no Junín fever, no vigilantes.
I’m on the other side,
Simply, I’m on the other side,
from this side,
fully immortal.

I move among Olympus, gods, ambrosias,
I laugh, or sneeze, or tell a joke
And time expands, expands like a crazy foam.
How marvelous existing
like this, immortal
celebrating birth every five minutes,
being a million birds,
an atrocious leavening.
What a scandal, caramba!
this swarm of life, this plague called by my
name, excessive, increasing,
fully immortal.

I used to suffer, sure, from flus, fears,
budgets,
Idiot bosses, indigestion,
homesickness, solitude,
bad luck…
But that was a century ago,
twenty centuries,
when I was mortal.
When I was
so mortal, so stupid and so mortal,
that I didn’t even love you,
you have to understand.

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 Palace and the Garden

We present this work in honor of Shavuot.

06-05 Ibn Gabirol
Solomon Ibn Gabirol
Arab Andalusian
1021 – 1070

Come, spend a night in the country with me,
my friend (you whom the stars above would gladly call their friend),
for winter’s finally over. Listen
to the chatter of the doves and swallows!
We’ll lounge beneath the pomegranates, palm trees, apple trees,
under every lovely, leafy thing,
and walk among the vines,
enjoy the splendid faces we will see,
in a lofty palace built of noble stones.
Resting solidly on thick foundations,
its walls like towers fortified,
set upon a flat place, plains all around it
splendid to look at from within its courts.
Chambers constructed, adorned with carvings,
open-work and closed-work,
paving of alabaster, paving of marble,
gates so many that I can’t even count them!
Chamber doors paneled with ivory like palace doors,
reddened with panels of cedar, like the Temple.
Wide windows over them,
and within those windows, the sun and moon and stars!
It has a dome, too, like Solomon’s palanquin,
suspended like a jewel-room,
turning, changing,
pearl-colored; crystal and marble
in day-time; but in the evening seeming
just like the night sky, all set with stars.
It cheers the heart of the poor and the weary;
perishing, bitter men forget their want.
I saw it once and I forgot my troubles,
my heart took comfort from distress,
my body seemed to fly for joy,
as if on wings of eagles.
There was a basin brimming, like Solomon’s basin,
but not on the backs of bulls like his –
lions stood around its edge
with wells in their innards, and mouths gushing water;
they made you think of whelps that roar for prey;
for they had wells inside them, wells that emitted
water in streams through their mouths like rivers.
Then there were canals with does planted by them,
does that were hollow, pouring water,
sprinkling the plants planted in the garden-beds,
casting pure water upon them,
watering the myrtle-garden,
treetops fresh and sprinkling,
and everything was fragrant as spices,
everything as if it were perfumed with myrrh.
Birds were singing in the boughs,
peering through the palm-fronds,
and there were fresh and lovely blossoms –
rose, narcissus, saffron –
each one boasting that he was the best,
(though we thought every one was beautiful).
The narcissuses said, “We are so white
we rule the sun and moon and stars!”
The doves complained at such talk and said,
“No, we are the princesses here! Just see our neck-rings,
with which we charm the hearts of men,
dearer far than pearls.”
The bucks rose up against the girls
and darkened their splendor with their own,
boasting that they were the best of all,
because they are like young rams.
But when the sun rose over them,
I cried out, “Halt! Do not cross the boundaries!”

You, Azure Bird

We present this work in honor of the 550th anniversary of the poet’s death.

06-04 Nezahualcoyotl
Nezahualcoyotl
Mexican
1402 – 1472

 

You, azure bird, shining parrot, you walk flying. Oh Highest Arbiter, Life Giver: trembling, You extend Yourself here, filling my house, filling my dwelling, here.

With Your piety and grace one can live, oh Author of Life, on earth: trembling, You extend Yourself here, filling my house, filling my dwelling, here.

 

Translation by John Curl

Drink Delirium

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 90th birthday.

06-01 Surur
Naguib Surur
Egyptian
1932 – 1978

 

There will be anger
Followed by the deluge.
We know we will be among the drowned.
But we will take the devil with us down
To the deepest of deeps:
Our end will be his…
But slowly… What will be said
Of us when they look back on it all?
What will be said
Of us after the deluge,
After the coming drowning, after the coming anger,
What will be said of us poets and writers?
Were we men in truth,
Half-men
Or mere shadows?
Fear,
Fear of the sword,
Made of us something unspeakable —
Except in the vulgar tongue.

What will be said?
Will it be said we chose silence
For fear of death?
The letter has an edge like a sword,
Can turn against its speaker.

What will be said?
Will it be said that we chose to speak in symbols,
Whispers, silent gestures,
In all the arts of coded speech?
We said it all — in vino veritas,
But people
Had other concerns:
Their daily bread,
A kilo of meat.

Maqrizi,
You who always come after the deluge:
A plague is a plague —
It always comes on the tail of a famine.
It snatched your daughter, and many other daughters
As the wolf was standing guard.

I hereby solemnly swear, Maqrizi,
Not to leave this world
Without scandal.
I ask no one for justice:
True justice is not to be begged.
Our judges are high priests,
Our high priests are distant
And all are traitors.
Let someone else write poetry,
I am writing the Chronicles of Maqrizi.

I drink, day
And night I drink.
Sinking… I sink into my depths.
There I see him,
In my heart a holy pearl,
Unbreakable,
Even if a giant mountain falls upon it.
When I sober up, I float to the surface, lose my pearl.
Was it lost? No. It was me who was lost—
When I sobered up I floated to the surface.
For sure the pearl is down there in the depths…
No.
It is between two thighs, trampled under feet
Shod in military or civilian boots,
Under the wheels of petro-dollar cars.

Usually I drink from two glasses…
My comrade in the madhouse died.
He used to share my drink
And share my grief.
We had no time for joy:
He used to share my past anger,
And present anger — and that to come.
Usually I drink from two glasses,
The second to toast him.
But tonight I drink from one glass:
It seems my friend, upon his death,
Had given up drinking;
Or maybe it was me who gave up.
Then let me drink to giving up drinking
Until the last of all the Noahs’ arks has left
With all those who will be saved from the coming deluge.

I sink and sink
And see in my glass
Monkey fornicating with rat
Or rat fornicating with wolf
Or wolf with owl.

Maqrizi’s daughter is lost
In the plague
And the plague always comes on the tail of a famine,
When prices are measured against a kilo of meat,
Even the price of writers, novelists, poets,
Artists and scientists,
When the stuff of the dreams of the poor is meat;
And fuul beans,
Fruit for the masters.

I recall a poet’s saying:
I shall sleep not to see
My country being bought and sold.

Then drink from two glasses,
Or, if you wish, drink from one.
If my death cannot be driven away,
Then let me engage with it
With what I have at hand.

 

Translation by Mona Anis and Nur Elmessiri

The Place of the Damned

Jonathan Swift
Irish
1667 – 1745

 

All folks who pretend to religion and grace,
Allow there’s a HELL, but dispute of the place:
But, if HELL may by logical rules be defined
The place of the damned -I’ll tell you my mind.
Wherever the damned do chiefly abound,
Most certainly there is HELL to be found:
Damned poets, damned critics, damned blockheads, damned knaves,
Damned senators bribed, damned prostitute slaves;
Damned lawyers and judges, damned lords and damned squires;
Damned spies and informers, damned friends and damned liars;
Damned villains, corrupted in every station;
Damned time-serving priests all over the nation;
And into the bargain I’ll readily give you
Damned ignorant prelates, and counsellors privy.
Then let us no longer by parsons be flammed,
For we know by these marks the place of the damned:
And HELL to be sure is at Paris or Rome.
How happy for us that it is not at home!

Bandoneon of the Slum

We present this work in honor of the 90th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Pascual Contursi
Argentine
1888 – 1932

 

Bandoneon of the slum,
old deflated bellow
I found you like a baby
that a mother abandoned,
at the door of a convent
without plaster on the walls,
under the light of a little lamp
that at night it illuminated you.

Bandoneon,
because you see that I am sad
and I can no longer sing,
you know
that I carry in the soul
branded a pain.

I took you to my room,
I cuddled you against my cold chest,
I was also left abandoned
in my digs.
You have wanted to console me
with your rasping voice
and your painful note
increased my illusion.

 

Translation by Alberto Paz