Cheetah

Abū Nuwās
Persian
756 – 814

 

I move through black cloud night—
Dark, at war with Dawn,
Quivers with a fine blade’s sheen—
With a vigorous, widejaw cheetah
Thickneck, spine-welded-scapulae
Leanbelly in taut-twist well-rope body
Cheek-folds plump in a scowl,
Sheeny; black teardrops on masseters
Bactrian lungs in saffron ribcage
Heavy paws, bull neck, sudden dart
A lion but for the spotty coat
Alert for shapes that shift.

A long search sights two herds
On ground flat as a man’s brow
He’s off, a slow stalk,
A trap about to explode
Puff adder slither
Through ground high and low
Face to face with his prey now—
Havoc! He scatters them across the desert
Full stretch, full pelt
Greedy fury.

Why hunt with any creature but a cheetah?

Self-Portrait of Adolescence

Pablo de Rokha
Chilean
1894 – 1968

 

Among green snakes and verbenas,
my status of a tame lion
has a lackluster buzz of hives
and a bark of burned ocean.

With ghosts and chains that cling
I’m a rotten religion and a fallen king,
or a feudal castle whose battlements
raise your name like golden bread.

Towers of blood on battlefields,
Smell of heroic sun and shrapnel,
of the sword of a terrified nation.

They are heard in my being, full of the dead
and wounded, of ashes and deserts,
where a great poet commits suicide.

Freedom

We present this work in honor of the 85th anniversary of the poet’s death.

George William Russell
Irish
1867 – 1935

 

I will not follow you, my bird,
I will not follow you.
I would not breathe a word, my bird,
To bring thee here anew.

I love the free in thee, my bird,
The lure of freedom drew;
The light you fly toward, my bird,
I fly with thee unto.

And there we yet will meet, my bird,
Though far I go from you
Where in the light outpoured, my bird,
Are love and freedom too.

from Rādhikā-sāntvanam

Muddupalani
Indian
c. 1739 – 1790

 

If I ask her not to kiss me,
stroking on my cheeks
she presses my lips hard against hers.

If I ask her not to touch me,
stabbing me with her firm breasts
she hugs me.

If I ask her not to get too close
for it is not decorous,
she swears at me loudly.

If I tell her of my vow not
to have a woman in my bed,
she hops on
and begins the game of love.

Appreciative,
she lets me drink from her lips,
fondles me, talks on,
making love again and again.

How could I stay away
from her company?

‘Twas Summer

Walther von der Vogelweide
German
1170 – 1230

 

‘Twas summer,— through the opening grass
The joyous flowers upsprang,
The birds in all their different tribes
Loud in the woodlands sang:
Then forth I went, and wandered far
The wide green meadow o’er;
Where cool and clear the fountain play’d,
There strayed I in that hour.

Roaming on, the nightingale
Sang sweetly in my ear;
And, by the greenwood’s shady side,
A dream came to me there;
Fast by the fountain, where bright flowers
Of sparkling hue we see,
Close sheltered from the summer heat,
That vision came to me.

All care was banished, and repose
Came o’er my wearied breast;
And kingdoms seemed to wait on me,
For I was with the blest.

Yet, while it seemed as if away
My spirit soared on high,
And in the boundless joys of heaven
Was wrapt in ecstacy,
E’en then, my body revelled still
In earth’s festivity;
And surely never was a dream
So sweet as this to me.

Thus I dream’d on, and might have dwelt
Still on that rapturous dream,
When, hark! a raven’s luckless note
(Sooth, ‘twas a direful scream,)
Broke up the vision of delight,
Instant my joy was past:
O, had a stone but met my hand,
That hour had been his last…

Lassitude

In honor of Bastille Day, we present this work by one of France’s most revolutionary 19th century poets.

Louise Colet
French
1810 – 1876

 

It is from these long days of indescribable sickness
Where we would like to sleep the heavy sleep of the dead;
From these hours of anguish where existence weighs
On the soul and on the body.

So we search in vain for a gentle thought,
A joyful image, a rich memory;
The soul fights for an instant, and finally falls again, drooping
Under its deep troubles.

So all that enchants and all that we enjoy
Has for our open eyes only deceptive brightness;
And the dreamed happiness, if it comes, cannot exactly
Overpower our fatigue.

The Return of Persephone

We present this work in honor of the 20th anniversary of the poet’s death.

A.D. Hope
Australian
1907 – 2000

 

Gliding through the still air, he made no sound;
Wing-shod and deft, dropped almost at her feet,
And searched the ghostly regiments and found
The living eyes, the tremor of breath, the beat
Of blood in all that bodiless underground.

She left her majesty; she loosed the zone
Of darkness and put by the rod of dread.
Standing, she turned her back upon the throne
Where, well she knew, the Ruler of the Dead,
Lord of her body and being, sat like stone;

Stared with his ravenous eyes to see her shake
The midnight drifting from her loosened hair,
The girl once more in all her actions wake,
The blush of colour in her cheeks appear
Lost with her flowers that day beside the lake.

The summer flowers scattering, the shout,
The black manes plunging down to the black pit —
Memory or dream? She stood awhile in doubt,
Then touched the Traveller God’s brown arm and met
His cool, bright glance and heard his words ring out:

“Queen of the Dead and Mistress of the Year!”
— His voice was the ripe ripple of the corn;
The touch of dew, the rush of morning air —
“Remember now the world where you were born;
The month of your return at last is here.”

And still she did not speak, but turned again
Looking for answer, for anger, for command:
The eyes of Dis were shut upon their pain;
Calm as his marble brow, the marble hand
Slept on his knee. Insuperable disdain

Foreknowing all bounds of passion, of power, of art,
Mastered but could not mask his deep despair.
Even as she turned with Hermes to depart,
Looking her last on her grim ravisher
For the first time she loved him from her heart.

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.

Love Arm’d

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 380th birthday.

Aphra Behn
English
1740 – 1689

 

Love in Fantastique Triumph satt,
Whilst bleeding Hearts around him flow’d,
For whom Fresh pains he did create,
And strange Tryanic power he show’d;
From thy Bright Eyes he took his fire,
Which round about, in sport he hurl’d;
But ‘twas from mine he took desire,
Enough to undo the Amorous World.
From me he took his sighs and tears,
From thee his Pride and Crueltie;
From me his Languishments and Feares,
And every Killing Dart from thee;
Thus thou and I, the God have arm’d,
And sett him up a Deity;
But my poor Heart alone is harm’d,
Whilst thine the Victor is, and free.