Reproach in a Letter on Colored Paper

Shangguan Wan’er
664 – 710


When first leaves fall on Lake Dongting,
I long for you, thousands of miles away.
In heavy dew my scented quilt feels cold,
At moonset, brocade screen deserted.
I would play a Southland melody
And crave to seal a letter to Jibei.
The letter has no other message but
This misery in living long apart.

Translation by Su Zhecong

Han Walls

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 125th birthday.

Faruk Nafiz Çamlıbel
1898 – 1973


Whinnied the dark horses; cracked the leather whip in air,
The wagon paused in its tracks for a moment.
For a long while rattled the springboard beneath me.
Caravanserais one after another passed in front my eyes…
With a heavy and homesick heart, I was on my way,
Along the Ulukişla road heading into Central Anatolia.
Like a first love, a first hurt, a first separation!
The air was warmed by the fire burning in my heart,
Yellow sky, yellow land, yellow bare trees…
Behind me, the high range of the Taurus Mountains,
Ahead, foothills faded by a long winter,
On spun the wheels, moaning with each turn….
My hands clutched the mane of the wind
Our wagon advanced along the mountain slope.
Everywhere was steep, everywhere was quiet,
Only the driver had a whistle on his lips!
The winding roads responded to his whistle
Snaking roads which appeared asleep
Raised their heads to listen to the emptiness.
The skies clouded over, the wind cooled down.
It began to drizzle.
As the last slope opened up onto flat a pasture
An endless plain dawned in front of us
The road connected us in one long ribbon to the horizon.
This strange land steadily drew me into it.
The road, nothing but the road, ever the road…flatness with no end in sight.
Nary the vision of a village or a house anywhere to be seen,
In the end, it is nothingness the road declares to man,
Now and then passed a rider on horseback, or a couple of foot-travelers.
Rattling over broken stones on the path,
The wheels conveyed something to the route,
The long roads vibrated amidst this clatter….
I surrendered unto the noise of the wheels
and stretched out on the thin blanket of the springboard.

A sudden jolt…I woke up from a deep sleep;
The wagon was passing over the road as smooth as water.
Ahead of us like a castle loomed the town of Niğde,
Sounds of small bells on the right:
Ahead, a camel caravan plodded slowly forth,
At the edge of the city emerged a ruined han.
A dappled darkness enveloped all,
We entered the han and unfettered the horses.
Searching a salve for throbbing wounds,
Sojourners had now gathered in the han.
Wayfarers from every corner of the land had come together here in one place,
Souls filled with homesickness clustered near the campfire.
All eyes were riveted to the glow,
Chests heaved to breathe.
The kerosene lamp blackened with soot
Drew gloomy streaks across all their faces.
The marks on their cheeks and the grief in their eyes
Gradually deepened into verses…
There was a dark wall beside my bed,
Covered with all kinds of marks and writing;
Whoever slept here had left his mortal trace on the wall,
Languid lines and lewd drawings…
I retired early at the end of this sorrowful day,
And as my wakeful eyes wandered over the wall,
Suddenly a few lines in bright red burned forth
It did not seem as a stanza of four lines, but rather like four drops of blood.
As I struggled by parse these lines on the wall
I felt I had met up with an old poet friend;
“I have been gone from Kinadağ for fourteen years now
Away from my sweet home, away from my love
Never gathering a flower from the garden of my love
Banished from one corner of the earth to the next.”
Underneath was a date: eight March, thirty seven…
I did not see any name in the place of a signature.
Destiny is in front of you, don’t be sad, my friend!
Finished now are borders, army service, wars;
Do not regret that your youth has slipped away.
The glory you took from the frontiers will reach your love!…
We moved on before sunrise on the following day,
A cold March morning… each breath froze in air.
The first rays of dawn enflamed the horizon.
We left behind us the houses at the edge of the city.
The sun rose and set behind the clouds;
In the distance appeared mounds as hulky as mountains …
Caravans slowly strode beside us,
Old hans seemingly built by a feudal lord passed in view.
Our journey kept moving ahead along these endless roads,
There, through the pass choked between two mountains.
There, where the frigid northwest wind scared me to death
I was filled with joy after crossing the mountain pass:
The places I left behind will meet the spring,
The land ahead of us was still covered with snow.
The mountain pass separated winter from summer,
Here, the final storm snapped off the last branch…
The carriage continued on at the same speed,
Snow began to hurl around us.
It buried all in a white darkness;
It was not snow that fell from the sky; but rather death…
Inside of me perished the longing to reach a village
The carriage driver yelled out: “Over there… Araplibeli!”
May God help those who remain on these roads
At the end of a day’s journey, we led our horses into a han.
Three or four travelers had arrived ahead of us
They sat cross-legged before the open fire,
The crackling wood enlivened all four with spirit,
One told a story of a bandit, the other the fable of a wolf…
As I began to doze off to sleep,
The black soot left petal-like images on the wall.
These lines in my heart emerged from the black soot,
“If the remembrance of my love enflames my desire;
My strength is not enough to fight it
I journey forth like a dried leaf
The wind decides my destiny.”
In the morning, the sky was bright and the horizon clear,
Our carriage headed out on the road to meet a sunny day
Along these endless roads passing from one foreign land to another.
It has been but three days since I left, but it feels as long as three seasons.
After a long ride, we arrived in Incesu,
Exhausted, we fell into a sweet slumber in a han.
At sunrise I awoke from a dream of death,
I felt much sorrow when I read these lines above my bed!
“I am a stranger, people call me Kerem
They took my beloved Asli away from me and said she was forbidden to me
I am ill; they say it is tuberculosis
My name is Satilmiş, I am the son of a sheik from Maraş.”
One feels that it was his epitaph writ in those lines,
I fear you never made it home from this foreign land.
O You! Son of a sheik from Maraş, saint’s vow!
Cursed was your luck that you could not cross this mountaın!
Let it be, for you are not the only one who never made it back home,
Many have perished among nameless bandits and wolves in the wilderness!…
Our carriage headed out on the road towards Mount Erciyes:
“Han Keeper”, I asked, “have you ever met the son of a sheik from Maraş?”
His startled eyes peered at me for quite a while,
He then replied:
“A while back he entered this han a healthy man and he left it dead!”
Everything changed now in front of my tear-filled eyes,
Şeyhoğlu, our sojourner far from home, never made it beyond this han…
The sad news of the fellow wayfarer from Maraş tore at my heart.
Many years have passed since that day until now
Yet still I shudder each time I pass a han along the road.
For I know the secret sorrows held within their walls
O! These ancient roads which connect villages to frontiers,
Ancient roads grieving for those who will never return home!
O! These han walls writ with such mournful lines
O! These han walls which wring my heart!…

Translation by Katharine Branning


Ursula Bethell
1874 – 1945


When I am very earnestly digging
I lift my head sometimes, and look at the mountains,
And muse upon them, muscles relaxing.

I think how freely the wild grasses flower there,
How grandly the storm-shaped trees are massed in their gorges,
And the rain-worn rocks strewn in magnificent heaps.

Pioneer plants on those uplands find their own footing,
No vigorous growth, there, is an evil weed;
All weathers are salutary.

It is only a little while since this hillside
Lay untrammelled likewise,
Unceasingly swept by transmarine winds.

In a very little while, it may be,
When our impulsive limbs and our superior skulls
Have to the soil restored several ounces of fertiliser,

The Mother of all will take charge again,
And soon wipe away with her elements
Our small fond human enclosures.

Land of Flame

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 135th birthday.

Berthe Bénichou-Aboulker
1888 – 1942


Everything grows intensely in your soil, Algeria!
Trees, flowers, and golden wheat, protected by Ceres,
Juicy fruits, carnal fruits: Fatma, Rachel, Inès,
Zohra the mulatto or the white Marie.

Why don’t I have, like a cantor, a flowery tongue
Aloe to celebrate the olive grove
Where sometimes the shadow of Cervantes prowls
Pirate’s prisoner in ancient Barbary.

Exhaling scents of mint and henna,
Cities of fiery growth and unbridled luxury:
Algiers, Oran, Cirta, overflowing with sap

Open their white or golden arms like a fan
To receive the day. In iridescent prisms
The rocks or the beach are transformed.

Black Horse With White Chest

Ibn Sa’id Al-maghribi
Arab Andalusian
1213 – 1286


Black hindquarters, white chest:
he flies on the wings of the wind.

When you look at him you see dark night
opening, giving way to dawn.

Sons of Shem and Ham live harmoniously
in him, and take no care for the words
of would-be troublemakers.

Men’s eyes light up when they see
reflected in his beauty

the clear strong black and white
of the eyes of beautiful women.

Translation by Cola Franzen

Telephone Conversation

Wole Soyinka
b. 1934


The price seemed reasonable, location
Indifferent. The landlady swore she lived
Off premises. Nothing remained
But self-confession. “Madam”, I warned,
“I hate a wasted journey – I am African.”
Silence. Silenced transmission of pressurized good-breeding. Voice, when it came,
Lipstick coated, long gold-rolled
Cigarette-holder pipped. Caught I was, foully.
“HOW DARK?”…I had not misheard…“ARE YOU LIGHT OR VERY DARK?” Button B. Button A. Stench
Of rancid breath of public hide-and-speak.
Red booth. Red pillar-box. Red double-tiered
Omnibus squelching tar.
It was real! Shamed
By ill-mannered silence, surrender
Pushed dumbfoundment to beg simplification.
Considerate she was, varying the emphasis—
“ARE YOU DARK? OR VERY LIGHT” Revelation came
“You mean – like plain or milk chocolate?”
Her accent was clinical, crushing in its light
Impersonality. Rapidly, wave-length adjusted
I chose. “West African sepia” — and as afterthought.
“Down in my passport.” Silence for spectroscopic
Flight of fancy, till truthfulness chaged her accent
Hard on the mouthpiece “WHAT’S THAT?” conceding “DON’T KNOW WHAT THAT IS.” “Like brunette.”
“Not altogether.
Facially, I am brunette, but madam you should see the rest of me. Palm of my hand, soles of my feet.
Are a peroxide blonde. Friction, caused –
Foolishly madam – by sitting down, has turned
My bottom raven black- One moment madam! – sensing
Her receiver rearing on the thunderclap
About my ears—“Madam,” I pleaded, “wouldn’t you rather
See for yourself?”

The Cashier

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

Andrei Voznesensky
1933 – 2010


The dumb herd scowled:
“You’ve short-changed us,” they howled.
Pennies like medals stuck in the crust
Of sawdust.

The cashier flew into a rage—
“Nonsense! Be off with you! Go!”—
And rose like dough
From her glass cage.

Over counters where they sell
Cheese cakes and melons was blown
A sudden smell
Of tears and ozone.

Loud was the smell of tears
Among that lowing crowd:
The hands of one dumb pair
Howled in the air.

Clutching bacon, somebody swore,
Or so I imagined: at least, he
Gave a Beethovenish roar,
Earthy and shaggy.

Drumming of knuckle and palm
On the glass plate;
So bellowed the psalm
Of my dumb fate.

With a knowing leer
The cashier
Peered at a bill she held up to the light
To see if Lenin’s profile looked all right.

But Lenin wasn’t there any more:
The bill was counterfeit.
It was a grocery store
Where people and farces meet.

Translation by W.H. Auden