Friday, March 30, 2007


Some "To" Poems

"To José Maria Palacio"

Palacio, good friend,
is spring
already dressing branches of the black poplars
by the river and the roads? On the steppe
by the deep Duero, spring is late,
yet so lovely and soft when it comes!
Do the old elms have
a few new leaves?
The acacias must still be bare
and the sierra mountains with snow.
O white and pink mass of Moncayo,
there, so handsome in the Aragon sky!
Are brambles in flower
among the gray rocks,
and white daisies
in the slender grass?
In those belfries
the storks must be arriving.
The green wheatfields
and brown mules in the seeded furrows,
and with april rains the farmers
who plant the late lands. Now bees
are sipping rosemary and thyme.
Are the plums in bloom? Violets left?
Furtive hunters, with partridge
decoys under their long capes
cannot be missing. Palacio, good friend,
are nightingales already on the riverbanks?
With the first lilies
and first roses in the orchards,
on a blue afternoon, climb to the cemetery
of Espino, high Espino, where she is in her earth.

--Antonio Machado
(translated by Willis Barnstone)


"To a Mismatched Pair: A Valentine"

The teenaged couple waiting for the train
must be in love or think they are, although
his arms are not quite long enough to go
around her broad expanse and they're both plain:
graceless, with bad teeth, bad skin. Still, they remain,
their bodies locked in the imperfect O
of their embrace. Uncharmed by their bold show,
we look at them and look away again.

But what if they were beautiful? We'd look
and find their love a lovely thing: no flaw
would hide the content of their hearts or draw
our eyes away from such an open book
-- as though we thought a photo-op emotion
could be the only measure of devotion.

--Lisa Barnett


"To One Outside the Culture"

Still ask me about adult stuff
when you want. But remember that day
in Madame Tussaud's basement
when all the grownups looked careful
and some young ones had to smirk?

You were right to cry out in horror
at the cut-off heads there
and the rusty dried trickles
shocked out of their eyes and ears.

--Les Murray


"To . . ."

Madame Death, I am writing to request
that you kindly take into consideration
an extension of my liability to
the institution headed by you
for so many centuries. You, Madame,
are a master, a violent sport,
a delicate ax, the pope, velvet lips,
scissors. I don't flatter you. I beg.
I don't demand. In my defense I have
ony silence, dew on the grass, a nightingale
among the branches. You forgive it,
its long tenure in the leaves of one aspen
after another, drops of eternity, grams
of amazement, and the sleepy complaints of the poor poets
whose passports you didn't renew.

--Adam Zagajewski
(translated by Renate Gorczynski)


"To the Carter's Daughter"

I can live near you no longer
someone binds the voice in my chest
you are the carter's daughter
who take the breath from my mouth.
Because below us in the stall
the mules move in their sleep
because your father snores near us
and does not go yet, high on his cart
to chase off the stars with his whip.

--Rocco Scotellaro
(translated by William Weaver)


"To a Nightingale"

O Florence, I am drowsy,
four lights each measuring thirty-six inches across
are upon me and the surgeons are rearranging my valves,
my strings and sacs and purses, all glistening under
their pointy instruments. And it is clean as a windswept
house and even my breath is monitored, as if to silence
any unformed thoughts --

I cannot see what nurses are at my feet, but they
seem to be humming your song: women be not wasted
in the endless tweedlings of nosegays in jugs . . .

Already with Thee! Though I don't know where
the Crimea is, or what the Boers were fighting for.

Immortal Bird, hear the sad confessions
of a wandering mind:
a rose or two in the bathroom
sunflowers in the kitchen
some tulips (a gift) in bud by the bed
nothing much on the porch by hydrangea

Hydrangea! This ungainly word tolls me back
to what thou among the bandages has never seen:
a centerpiece where pansies cannot keep their lustrous eyes
open long, and promises fade on perilous seas. Good-bye!

When I wake, if I wake at all, my ministry
as a woman will be spent covered up in leaves
listening to the bacterial haunt
of flies on sills and eves.

Mary Ruefle


"To Mrs. Professor in Defense of My Cat's Honor and Not Only"

My valiant helper, a small-sized tiger
Sleeps sweetly on my desk, by the computer,
Unaware that you insult his tribe.

Cats play with a mouse or with a half-dead mole.
You are wrong, though: it's not out of cruelty.
They simply like a thing that moves.

For, after all, we know that only consciousness
Can for a moment move into the Other,
Empathize with the pain and panic of a mouse.

And such as cats are, all of Nature is.
Indifferent, alas, to the good and the evil.
Quite a problem for us, I am afraid.

Natural history has its museums,
But why should our children learn about monsters,
An earth of snakes and reptiles for millions of years?

Nature devouring, nature devoured,
Butchery day and night smoking with blood.
and who created it? Was it the good Lord?

Yes, undoubtedly, they are innocent,
Spiders, mantises, sharks, pythons.
We are the only ones who say: cruelty.

Our consciousness and our conscience
Alone in the pale anthill of galaxies
Put their hope in a humane God.

Who cannot but feel and think,
Who is kindred to us by his warmth and movement,
For we are, as he told us, similar to Him.

Yet if it is so, the He takes pity
On every mauled mouse, every wounded bird.
Then the universe ofr him is like a Crucifixion.

Such is the outcome of your attack on the cat:
A theological, Augustinian grimace,
Which makes difficult our walking on this eart.

--Czeslaw Milosz
(translated by Czeslaw and Milosz and Robert Hass)


"To the Girls of My Graduating Class"

Wanting for their young limbs praise,
Their thighs, hips, and saintly breasts,
They grow from awkwardness to delight,
Their mouths made perfect with the air
About them and the sweet rage in the blood,
The delicate trouble in their veins.

Intolerant as happiness, suddenly
They'll dart like bewildered birds;
For there's no mercy in that bugler Time
That excites against their virginity
The massed infantry of days, nor in the tendrils
Greening on their enchanted battlements.

Golda, Fruma, Dinnie, Elinor,
My saintly wantons, passionate nuns;
O light-footed daughters, your unopened
Brittle beauty troubles an aging man
Who hobbles after you a little way
Fierce and ridiculous.

--Irving Layton


"To the Sun"

More beatiful than the remarkable moon and her noble light,
More beautiful than the stars, the famous medals of the night,
More beautiful than the fiery entrance a comet makes,
And called to a part far more splendid than any other planet's
Because daily your life and my life depend on it, is the sun.

Beautifu sun that rises, his work not forgotten,
And completes it, most beautifully in summer, when a day
Evaporates on the coast, and effortlessly mirrored the sails
Pass through your sight, till you tire and cut short the last.

Without the sun even art takes the veil again,
You cease to appear to me, and the sea and the sand,
Lashed by shadows, take refuge under my eyelids.

Beautiful light, that keeps us warm, preserves us, marvellously makes sure
That I see again and that I see you again!

Nothing more beautiful under the sun than to be under the sun . . .

Nothing more beautiful than to see the stick in water and the bird above,
Pondering his flight, and, below, the fishes in shoals,

Coloured, moulded, brought into the world with a mission of light,
And to see the radius, the square of a field, my landscape's thousand angles

and the dress you have put on. And yourdress, bell-shaped and blue!
Beautiful blue, in which peacocks walk and bow,

Blue of far places, the zones of joy with weathers that suit my mood,
Blue chance on the horizon! and my enchanted eyes
Dilate again and blink and burn themselves sore.

Beautiful sun, to whom dust owes great admiration yet,
Not for the moon, therefore, and not for the stars, and not
Because night shows off with comets, trying to fool me,
But for your sake, and endlessly soon, and for you above all

I shall lament the inevitable loss of my sight.

--Ingeborg Bachmann
(translated by Michael Hamburger)


"To a Farmer Who Hung Five Hawks on His Barbed Wire"

They saw you behind your muzzle much more clearly
Than you saw them as you fired at the sky.
You meant almost nothing. Their eyes were turning
To more important creatures hiding
In the grass or pecking and strutting in the open.
The hawks didn't share your nearsighted anger
Boat soared for the sake of their more ancient hunger
And died for it, to become the emblem
Of your estate, your bloody coat-of-arms.

If fox and raccoon keep out, your chickens may spend
Fat lives at peace before they lose
Their appetites, later on, to satisfy yours.
You've had strange appetites now and then,
Haven't you. Funny quickenings of the heart,
Impulses not quite mentionable
To the wife or yourself. even some odd dreams.
Remember that scary one about flying?
You woke and thanked the dawn you were heavy again.

Tonight, I aim this dream straight at your skull
While you nestle it against soft feathers:
You hover over the earth, its judge and master,
Alert, alive, alone in the wind
with your terrible mercy. Your breastbone shatters
suddenly, and you fall, flapping,
Your claws clutching at nothing crookedly
End over end, and thump to the ground.
You lie there, waiting, dying little by little.

You rise and go on dying a little longer,
No longer your heavy self in the morning
But light, still lighter long into the evening
And long into the night and falling
again little by little across the weather,
ruffled by sunlight, frozen and thawed
And rained away, falling against the grass
Little by little, lightly and softly,
More quietly than the breath of a deer mouse.

--David Wagoner


"To My Father"

Where Messina lay
violet upon the waters, among the mangled wires
and rubble, you walk along the rails
and switches in your islanders'
cock-of-the-walk beret. For three days now,
the earthquake boils, it's hurricane December
and a poisoned sea. Our nights fall
into the freight cars; we, young livestock,
count our dusty dreams with the dead
crushed by iron, munching almonds
and apples dried in garlands. The science
of pain put truth and blades into our games
on the lowlands of yellow malaria
and tertian fever swollen with mud.
Your patience, sand and delicate,
robbed us of fear,
a lesson of days linked to the death
we had betrayed, to the scorn of the thieves
seized among the debris, and executed in the dark
by the firing squads of the landing parties, a tally
of low numbers adding up exact
concentric, a scale of future life.

Back and forth your sun cap moved
in the little space they always left you.
For me, too, everything was measured
and I have borne your name
a little beyond the hatred and the envy.
That red on your cap was a mitre;
a crown with eagle's wings.
and now in the eagle of your ninety years
I wanted to speak to you -- your parting
signals coloured by the night-time lantern --
to speak to you from this imperfect
wheel of a world,
within a flood of crowded walls,
far from the Arabian jasmine
where you are still, to tell you
what once I could not -- difficult
affinity of thoughts -- to tell you (not only
the marshland locust, the mstic tree can hear)
as the watchman of the fields tells his master:
"I kiss your hands." This, nothing else.
Life is darkly strong.

--Salvatore Quasimodo
(translated by Allen Mandelbaum)


"To My Bones"

In my sleep it rips through
my meagre skin
throws off the red bandage of the flesh
and goes strolling through the room
my monument a little incomplete

one can be prodigal
with tears and blood
what will endure here the longest
must be thoughtfully provided for

better (than with a priest's dry finger
to the rains which drip from a cloud of sand)
to give one's monument to the academey

they will prop it up in a glass display case
and in Latin they will pray before
the little altar made from an os frontalis

they will reckon the bones and surfaces
they will not forget not overlook

happily I will give my color of eyes
pattern of nails and curve of eyelids
I the perfectly objective
made from white crystals of anatomy

can for thoughts
heart cage
bony pile
and two shins

you my little monument not quite complete

--Zbigniew Herbert
(translated by Alissa Valles)


"To Samet Vurgun"

I finally made it to your city,
but I was late, Samet,
we couldn't get together:
I was late by the space of death.
I didn't want to hear your voice
on tape, samet --
I can't look at pictures of the dead
without totally dying.

But the day will come
when I'll totally separate you from yourself, Samet.
You'll enter the world of respectable memories.
And I'll lay flowers on your grave
without tears in my eyes.

Then the day will come
when what happened to you
will happen to me, too, Samet.

25 February 1957

--Nazim Hikmet
(translated by Randy Blasing & Mutlu Konuk)


"To His Love"

Those poeteers were full of it, that love
Whose mood was maudlin, juvenile, and pat,
And I am far far too urbane for that,
Smiling and smirking, offering to prove
All of the pleasures I made mention of,
A glib and cocky-eyebrowed acrobat,
Because the flowers fade, the girls get fat,
And old age drops like winter from above.

But when I saw you on the brownstone stair
In blue jeans, with a flower in your hair,
More beautiful and sad than summer rain,
I fell in love with you and could not feign
The dispassionate lecher of the long weekend.
Come live with me and be my friend.

--Greg Williamson


"To the Silenced"

Oh, the great city's madness when at nightfall
The crippled trees gape by the blackened wall,
The spirit of evil peers from a silver mask;
Lights with magnetic scourge drive off the stony night.
Oh, the sunken pealing of evening bells.

Whore who in her icy shivers sheds a still-born child.
With raving whips God's fury punishes brows possessed.
Purple pestilence, hunger that breaks green eyes.
Oh, the horrible laughter of gold.

But silent in dark caves a stiller humanity bleeds,
Out of hard metals moulds the redeeming head.

--Georg Trakl
(translated by Michael Hamburger)


"To Friends Who Have Also Considered Suicide"

It's still a good idea.
Its exercise is discipline:
to remember to cross the street without looking,
to remember not to jump when the cars side-swipe,
to remember not to bother to have clothes cleaned,
to remember not to eat or want to eat,
to consider the numerous methods of killing oneself,
that is surely the finest exercise of the imagination:
death by drowning, sleeping pills, slashed wrists,
kitchen fumes, bullets through the brain or through
the stomach, hanging by the neck in attic or basement,
a clean frozen death -- the ways are endless.
And consider the drama! It's better than a whole season
at Stratford when you think of the emotion of your
family on hearing the news and when you imagine
how embarrassed some will be when the body is found.
One could furnish a whole chorus in a Greek play
with expletives and feel sneaky and omniscient
at the same time. but there's no shame
in this concept of suicide.
It has concerned our best philospohers
and inspired some of the most popular
of our politicians and financiers.
Some people swim lakes, others climb flagpoles, some join monasteries, but we, my friends,
who have considered suicide take our daily walk
with death and are not lonely.
In the end it brings more honesty and care
than all the democratic parliaments of tricks.
It is the 'sickness unto death'; it is death;
it is not death; it is the sand from the beaches
of a hundred civilizations, the sand in the teeth
of death and barnacles our singing tongue:
and this is 'life' and we owe at least this much
contemplation to our western fact: to Rise,
Decline, Fall, to futility and larks,
to the bright crustaceans of the oversky.

--Phyllis Webb


"To All Gardeners"

Why would you force me to stop eating meat?
You come here with your flowers,
stuff me with asters etc.
as if autumn didn't leave a bad enough taste.
Keep the carnations in your garden.
Your almonds are bitter as hell,
and the gas drums
you'd pass off as pies --
why, you keep me shut in
till I'll even settle for milk.
You cry: vegetables!
then you sell me a rose by the pound.
You say health and mean tulips.
What should I do with the poison
you wind into nosegays,
should I eat it with salt?
Should I die from chrysantemums?
And the lilies you'd strew on my grave --
who's going to save me from all these vegetarians?

Let me keep eating meat.
Let me head off alone with a rib,
let me work off its shame till it stands there naked.
and then, when I've pushed back my plate
and made a long speech to the cow,
that's when you open your gardens
and put those flowers on sale --
because they're only good when they're rotten.

--Gunter Grass
(translated by Jerome Rothenberg)


"To Women"

You start it all. You are lovely.
We look on you and we flow.
So a line begins, on the page, on air,
in the all of self. we have misused you,
invested you with primal sin. You bleed
for our regret we are not more.
The dragon wins. We come home and sob
and you hold us and say we are brave
and in the future will do better.
So far, so good.

Now some of you want out and I don't
blame you, not a tiny bit. You've caught on.
You have the right to veer off flaming
in a new direction, mud flat and diamond mine,
clavicord and dead drum. whatever.
Please know our need remains the same.
It's a new game every time, one on one.

In me today is less rage than ever, less hurt.
When I imagine some good woman young
I no longer imagine her cringing
in cornstalks, cruel father four rows away
beating corn leaves aside with a club.
that is release you never expected
from a past you never knew you had.
My horse is not sure he can make it
to the next star. You are free.

-- Richard Hugo


"To Christ Our Lord"

The legs of the elk punctured the snow's crust
And wolves floated lightfooted on the land
Hunting Christmas elk living and frozen;
Inside snow melted in a basin, and a woman basted
A bird spread over coals by its wings and head.

Snow had sealed the windows; candles lit
The christmas meal. The christmas grace chilled
The cooked bird, being long-winded and the room cold.
During the words, a boy thought, is it fitting
To eat this creature killed on the wing?

He had killed it himself, climbing out
Alone on snowshoes in the Christmas dawn,
The fallen snow swirling and the snowfall gone,
Heard its throat scream as the gunshot scattered,
Watched it drop, and fished from the snow the dead.

He had not wanted to shoot. The sound
Of wings beating into the hushed air
Had stirred his loves, and his fingers
Froze in his gloves, and he wondered,
Famishing, could he fire? Then he fired.

Now the grace praised his wicked act. at its end
The bird on the plate
Stared at his stricken appetite.
there had been nothing to be but surrender,
To kill and to eat; he ate as he had killed, with wonder.

At night on snowshoes on the drifting field
He wondered again, for whom had love stirred?
The stars glittered on the snow and nothing answered.
Then the Swan spread her wings, cross of the cold north,
The pattern and mirror of the acts of earth.

--Galway Kinnell


"To My Wife"

You are like a creamy pullet,
my white hen,
whose plumes the wind disturbs
when she stoops to drink
or peck at the ground,
yet proceeding over the grass with measured step
just like a queen:
full-bosomed and superb
and better than roosters;
she is like all the females
of the peaceful animals,
close to God.
And so if eye and judgment
do not fool me,
among these y our equal will be found,
and in no other woman.
and when the evening makes them comfortable,
the peaceful cluck of their troubles
reminds me of you
and unaware
that like the hens
your voice makes sad and gentle music.

You are like a pregnant heifer,
happy still and without dullness,
even frisky,
who if you pet her
turns her neck where the coat glows,
a tint of rose.
Or, coming on her and listening to her moans,
so sad is her lament,
you are driven to gathering grass
to make her a gift.
and so it is I offer you my gift when you are sad.

You are like the sleek bitch
so sweet of stare
but tough at heart.
When she lies down
she seems a saint
burning with unconquerable religion,
looking at you as though
you were her Lord and Master.
But when she follows you
through the house, in the street,
should anyone dare to approach,
bares her lily teeth. Love. Love and jealousy.

You are like the scared rabbit
who in her narrow cage raises herself erect at sight of you
abd stretches her ears,
keeping them stiff,
as though begging you to bring her the leavings
and when denied
curls up in the corner by herself,
snuggling the dark.
Who would hold food from her?
who would rob her
of the fur she nips from her back
to line her nest with
where she shall give birth?
O who would ever make you suffer?

You are like a swallow
returning in Spring,
departing in Autumn --
(but you've not learnt this trick!)
And, like a swallow, you have your light ways,
as when, the time I was feeling my age
and becoming ancient,
you predicted another Spring.

You are the thrifty ant
of whom, when they go to the country,
Grandmother speaks to the baby
as they take their walk.
And so too I find you in the bees,
as in all the females
of the peaceful animals,
close to God;
and in no other woman.

--Umberto Saba
(translated by Felix Stefanile)

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