If Love is Chaste

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 400th birthday.

Sibylla Schwarz
German
1621 – 1638

 

If love is chaste, what bears adultery?
If love is good, and does no evil own,
How can its fire so many flames propone?
If love is joy, why’s it called cruelty?

Who love adores, sails on a lustful sea,
And lets himself into death’s net be sewn,
Which does not tear; he lives for sin alone,
Is stripped of virtue, worships vanity.

For life eternal totally he dies,
And sees his grief but when his grave he spies.
Whoever has been found in loving’s fit,

Let him hate love and flee it in all haste.
Does love taste sweet? Let him despise its taste.
Is love his bread? Let him feed dogs with it.

The Bride of Lazarus

Dulce Maria Loynaz
Cuban
1902 – 1997

 

You come to me at last, just as you were, with your ancient emotion and your unspoiled rose, Lazarus the straggler, a stranger to the fire of hope, forgetting disintegration even as it burned to dust, ashes, nothing more.

You return to me, in one piece and not even out of breath, with your great dream immune to the cold of the tomb, when already Martha and Mary, weary of waiting for miracles and plucking the leaves of twilight, have slowly descended the slope of all the Bethanies in silence.

You come, relying on no more hope than your own hope, no more miracle than your own miracle. Impatient and sure of finding me still yoked to the last kiss.

You come all flowers and new moon, quick to wrap me in your pent-up tides, in your stormy clouds, in your confused fragrances which I begin to recognize one by one.

You come still yourself, safe from time and distance, safe from silence, and bring me like a wedding gift the already-savored secret of death.

But here I am, a bride again, not knowing whether I rejoice or weep at your return, over the terrifying gift you give me, even over the joy which strikes me like a blow. I don’t know whether it is late or early to be glad. Truly, I don’t know; I no longer remember the color of your eyes.

Wolf

We present this work in honor of Losar.

Keki N. Daruwalla
Indian
b. 1937

 

Fire-lit
half silhouette and half myth
the wolf circles my past
treading the leaves into a bed
till he sleeps, black snout
on extended paws.
Black snout on sulphur body
he nudged his way
into my consciousness.
Prowler, wind-sniffer, throat-catcher,
his cries drew a ring
around my night;
a child’s night is a village
on the forest edge.
My mother said
his ears stand up
at the fall of dew
he can sense a shadow
move across a hedge
on a dark night;
he can sniff out
your approaching dreams;
there is nothing
that won’t be lit up
by the dark torch of his eyes.
The wolves have been slaughtered now.
A hedge of smoking gun-barrels
rings my daughter’s dreams.

On a Crimson Leaf

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 75th birthday.

Diana Bellessi
Argentine
b. 1946

 

Infinite mirror the waters of the night.
I listen to the call
of the first siriri-duck
migrating from the south.
Lilies in the still air intoxicate.
A crimson
leaf has fallen and floats on the river.
Might it be the one
that ha T’sui-p-‘in, prisoner in the women’s quarters,
wrote her poem on?
Sent forth to risk the river
in hopes someone in the world of men
may take it from the water.

Kunwar Narain

Ibn Battuta
Moroccan 1304 – 1369

 

Who are these people, impaled on sharp bamboo poles,
blood spurting from their bodies?
Marvels Ibn Battuta in the forests of Ma’bar.

So dark even by day,
or is the Sultan blind?
I catch a glimpse through his blind eyes
of a page of history,
flapping in the pale light of torches:
in this barbarous ritual,
who are these half-dead women and children,
their hands and feet ripped apart
one by one from their frail bodies?
Are they infidels or humans?
Who are these around me
that keep on drinking
despite the laws of sharia?

There is no one. There is nothing.
It’s all a bad dream.
None of this is happening today.
It was all a very long time ago—
the era of prehistoric beats of prey:
I am not a witness to it… Sultan,
allow me to leave;
it is time for my prayers.

Exodus

Ali Mahmoud Taha
Egyptian
1901 – 1949

 

The street is empty
as a monk’s memory,
and faces explode in the flames
like acorns—
and the dead crowd the horizon
and doorways.
No vein can bleed
more than it already has,
no scream will rise
higher than it’s already risen.
We will not leave!

Everyone outside is waiting
for the trucks and the cars
loaded with honey and hostages.
We will not leave!
The shields of light are breaking apart
before the rout and the siege;
outside, everyone wants us to leave.
But we will not leave!

Ivory white brides
behind their veils
slowly walk in captivity’s glare, waiting,
and everyone outside wants us to leave,
but we will not leave!

The big guns pound the jujube groves,
destroying the dreams of the violets,
extinguishing bread, killing the salt,
unleashing thirst
and parching lips and souls.
And everyone outside is saying:
“What are we waiting for?
Warmth we’re denied,
the air itself has been seized!
Why aren’t we leaving?”
Masks fill the pulpits and brothels,
the places of ablution.
Masks cross-eyed with utter amazement;
they do not believe what is now so clear,
and fall, astonished,
writhing like worms, or tongues.
We will not leave!

Are we in the inside only to leave?
Leaving is just for the masks,
for pulpits and conventions.
Leaving is just
for the siege-that-comes-from-within,
the siege that comes from the Bedouin’s loins,
the siege of the brethren
tarnished by the taste of the blade
and the stink of crows.
We will not leave!

Outside they’re blocking the exits
and offering their blessings to the impostor,
praying, petitioning
Almighty God for our deaths.

One Art

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 110th birthday.

Elizabeth Bishop
American
1911 – 1979

 

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster,

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

– Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

The Final Poem

We present this work in honor of the 10th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Andree Chedid
Egyptian
1920 – 2011

 

A forge burns in my heart.
I am redder than dawn,
Deeper than seaweed,
More distant than gulls,
More hollow than wells.
But I only give birth
To seeds and to shells.

My tongue becomes tangled in words:
I no longer speak white,
Nor utter black,
Nor whisper gray of a wind-worn cliff,
Barely do I glimpse a swallow,
A shadow’s brief glimmer,
Or guess at an iris.

Where are the words,
The undying fire,
The final poem?
The source of life?

The Man from Snowy River

We present this work in honor of the 80th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Banjo Paterson
Australian
1864 – 1941

 

There was movement at the station, for the word had passed around
That the colt from old Regret had got away,
And had joined the wild bush horses – he was worth a thousand pound,
So all the cracks had gathered to the fray.
All the tried and noted riders from the stations near and far
Had mustered at the homestead overnight,
For the bushmen love hard riding where the wild bush horses are,
And the stock-horse snuffs the battle with delight.

There was Harrison, who made his pile when Pardon won the cup,
The old man with his hair as white as snow;
But few could ride beside him when his blood was fairly up-
He would go wherever horse and man could go.
And Clancy of the Overflow came down to lend a hand,
No better horseman ever held the reins;
For never horse could throw him while the saddle girths would stand,
He learnt to ride while droving on the plains.

And one was there, a stripling on a small and weedy beast,
He was something like a racehorse undersized,
With a touch of Timor pony – three parts thoroughbred at least –
And such as are by mountain horsemen prized.
He was hard and tough and wiry – just the sort that won’t say die –
There was courage in his quick impatient tread;
And he bore the badge of gameness in his bright and fiery eye,
And the proud and lofty carriage of his head.

But so slight and weedy, one would doubt his power to stay,
And the old man said, “That horse will never do
For a long and tiring gallop-lad, you’d better stop away,
Those hills are far too rough for such as you.”
So he waited sad and wistful – only Clancy stood his friend –
“I think we ought to let him come,” he said;
“I warrant he’ll be with us when he’s wanted at the end,
For both his horse and he are mountain bred.”

“He hails from Snowy River, up by Kosciusko’s side,
Where the hills are twice as steep and twice as rough,
Where a horse’s hoofs strike firelight from the flint stones every stride,
The man that holds his own is good enough.
And the Snowy River riders on the mountains make their home,
Where the river runs those giant hills between;
I have seen full many horsemen since I first commenced to roam,
But nowhere yet such horsemen have I seen.”

So he went – they found the horses by the big mimosa clump –
They raced away towards the mountain’s brow,
And the old man gave his orders, “Boys, go at them from the jump,
No use to try for fancy riding now.
And, Clancy, you must wheel them, try and wheel them to the right.
Ride boldly, lad, and never fear the spills,
For never yet was rider that could keep the mob in sight,
If once they gain the shelter of those hills.”

So Clancy rode to wheel them – he was racing on the wing
Where the best and boldest riders take their place,
And he raced his stockhorse past them, and he made the ranges ring
With stockwhip, as he met them face to face.
Then they halted for a moment, while he swung the dreaded lash,
But they saw their well-loved mountain full in view,
And they charged beneath the stockwhip with a sharp and sudden dash,
And off into the mountain scrub they flew.

Then fast the horsemen followed, where the gorges deep and black
Resounded to the thunder of their tread,
And the stockwhips woke the echoes, and they fiercely answered back
From cliffs and crags that beetled overhead.
And upward, ever upward, the wild horses held their sway,
Were mountain ash and kurrajong grew wide;
And the old man muttered fiercely, “We may bid the mob good day,
No man can hold them down the other side.”

When they reached the mountain’s summit, even Clancy took a pull,
It well might make the boldest hold their breath,
The wild hop scrub grew thickly, and the hidden ground was full
Of wombat holes, and any slip was death.
But the man from Snowy River let the pony have his head,
And he swung his stockwhip round and gave a cheer,
And he raced him down the mountain like a torrent down its bed,
While the others stood and watched in very fear.

He sent the flint stones flying, but the pony kept his feet,
He cleared the fallen timbers in his stride,
And the man from Snowy River never shifted in his seat –
It was grand to see that mountain horseman ride.
Through the stringybarks and saplings, on the rough and broken ground,
Down the hillside at a racing pace he went;
And he never drew the bridle till he landed safe and sound,
At the bottom of that terrible descent.

He was right among the horses as they climbed the further hill
And the watchers on the mountain standing mute,
Saw him ply the stockwhip fiercely, he was right among them still,
As he raced across the clearing in pursuit.

Then they lost him for a moment, where two mountain gullies met
In the ranges, but a final glimpse reveals
On a dim and distant hillside the wild horses racing yet,
With the man from Snowy River at their heels.

And he ran them single-handed till their sides were white with foam.
He followed like a bloodhound in their track,
Till they halted cowed and beaten, then he turned their heads for home,
And alone and unassisted brought them back.
But his hardy mountain pony he could scarcely raise a trot,
He was blood from hip to shoulder from the spur;
But his pluck was still undaunted, and his courage fiery hot,
For never yet was mountain horse a cur.

And down by Kosciusko, where the pine-clad ridges raise
Their torn and rugged battlements on high,
Where the air is clear as crystal, and the white stars fairly blaze
At midnight in the cold and frosty sky,
And where around The Overflow the reed beds sweep and sway
To the breezes, and the rolling plains are wide,
The man from Snowy River is a household word today,
And the stockmen tell the story of his ride.