Tuesday, January 29, 2008


Two Short Poems by Mimi Khalvati

Circumstances are such that I will be away from the internet beginning February 4 for what is likely a period of a couple of weeks or possibly a bit more. Until then, two brief poems by a poet who is increasingly a favorite of mine, Mimi Khalvati.

With finest needles
finest beads

lawn and dew are making
a tapestry of water...

* * *

Curling her tail
and staring

not quite sure who
I was

how many kittens
I too had had, stalking

past as disdainfully
as blackness

warrants, this

is what she
left me with:

and silence.

Friday, January 11, 2008


A Dozen Poems I've Enjoyed

"Still Life with Fruit"

The morning blood of raspberries
chooses the whiteness of linen to love.

Morning filled with sparklings and sweetness
settles its purest face upon the apple.

In the orange, the sun and moon
are sleeping hand in hand.

Each grape knows by heart
the names of all of summer's days.

In pomegranates, this I love --
the stillness in the center of the flame.

-- Eugénio de Andrade
Translated by Alexis Levitin

* * *

"Flower-sellers, Budapest"

In the gardens
of their mild southern crofts, their
end-of-the-line hillside vineyards,
where figs turn blue, and peppers dry
strung from the eaves,
old women move among flowers,
each with a worn knife, a sliver
crooked in the first finger
of her right hand --
each, like her neighbours,
drawing the blade
onto the callus of her thumb,
so flowers, creamy dahlias,
fall into their arms; the stems'
spittle wiped on their pinafores.

Then, when they have enough,
the old women
foregather at the station
to await the slow, busy little train
that will take them to the city,
where families drift between mass
and lunch; and they hunker
at bus depots, termini
scented with chrysanthemums,
to pull from plastic buckets
yellows, spicy russets,
the petally nub of each flower
tight as a bee;
and from their pockets, pink ribbon
strictly for the flowers.

We must buy some,
-- though they will soon wither --
from this thin-faced
widow in a headscarf, this mother
perhaps, of married daughters
down at the border --
or this old woman, sat
among pigeons and lottery kiosks,
who reaches towards us to proffer
the morning's fresh blooms;
or the woman there who calls 'Flowers!'
in several languages --
one for each invasion:

We must buy some,
because only when the flowers are dispersed
will the old women head for home,
each with hier neighbours,
back where they came, with their
empty buckets and thick aprons
on a late morning train.

-- Kathleen Jamie

* * *

"Sea and Sunrise"

Before sunrise, still in darkness,
the uncovered waves keep watch.
In the east, the day begins to lift
its sharp and timid advances.
Long tongues feel their way
over the heavy water, the taut
matellic plate,
cold and rough to that soft stroking.
Still emerging from the night,
the smooth sheet rises up
and displays its illuminated proofs.
By day, by flesh, the slow
feelers push in, taking over
the shy, passive whitecaps
beneath their curving progress.

The whole area is covered, filled
with lengthening tentacles,
clear dawn, thin dawn that penetrates
long spaces, layers of light,
pushing out the barren shadow,
an easy prey at this hour.
Lumps of imminent,
foam begin to build up.
Don't let it come out!
Let the water raise the round
possibility, let the day be seen
below, strong enough to rise
with the sea, that temporary abyss.
Let the light come from the deep,
broken into crystals of water,
flashes of dissolved -- no:
resolved -- outcries
that have no dull jabber.
Let it gush in on target,
in order, let it capture
and disarm the air's
dark skeleton,
and let the clean space shine
in the hands of its captor --
the slow, elegant, daily
drinker of the waves.

-- Vicente Aleixandre
Translated by David Unger and Lewis Hyde

* * *

"The Long Illness"

Green accordions
expand at the base
of the garanium,

summer's last new leaves
an aromatica of pine
and stiff linen.

The stems' ropy arms
twist to an aspect
of devotion to the sun.

Without water I swallow
my pills, in sunlight,
force them down dryly,

my prayer to science.
Medicine, potiion,
lozenge, all loosened

in the body's tissues:
the pills will outlast me.
And the geranium, supplicant,

twines around itself,
new leaves marking
the passage of the season.

Those come brightest
who come last, as I might flower,
myself, into something finer.

-- Ann Townsend

* * *

"Gardeners in Paradise"

Leaves turn colour every day of the year
in Heaven, yet never fall from their boughs.
And all gardeners find employment

in Paradise, although no one trims
so much as a twig or a branch, knowing
Eternity roots itself in perfection.

Oh, they'd chop off their green thumbs
if they thought it would do any good,
but everything here just grows back,

more vital and effusive. evergreen.
Such proud men in the heart of creation
crying into useless hands. I tell you,

gradeners are the loneliest creatures
in Paradise. Enerything grows tall
and alien and beautiful in spite of them.

-- Chris Banks

* * *

"A Leaf of Basil"

I never understood the words
Take, eat . . . until
Joan brought to the hospital
a sprig of basil, and Jean,
who hadn't eaten
more than a daily mouthful,
keeping her eyes closed,
put her hand on Joan's
and drew the basil close.
Breathed it in, smiled,
paused -- then, guiding the basil
into her mouth, ate.
Ate all of Greece,
Corfu especially, and Crete.
Ate goat cheese and a crust
of breat, the dust
of ruins and wild thyme.
Kissed her dead husband's
living mouth, wrapped
around her body
a wide shawl
from Oaxaca's market.
Wrote in her journal.
Foled clothing
for those made homeless
by war, said
something in Italian,
in spanish, in german,
Said light. Remembered
merriment and evening wine.
Uncorked new bottles
she'd made from dandelions
gathereed in fields
thick with sun. Walked
outside at night to watch
the slow, sudden comet
arc between the cedars.
Made her way to the garden
to harvest beans.
Sat quietly with friends.
Set the table, mended socks,
tended whatever needed
tending -- for of such
is the kindgom of heaven.
And wasn't it heaven
and enrth entire
she swallowed? One leaf.
Absolute and momentary.
Leaf of final emptiness
and harvest,
leaf of open windows
and self-watchful passion.
Leaf of antares, Arcturus,
lamplight and fountain.
One leaf, she took.
One leaf, she breathed.
One leaf, she was . . .

--Margaret Gibson

* * *

"Leaf-Huts and Snow-Houses"

There's not much to
these verses, only
a few words piled up
at random.
I think
it's fine
to make them, then
for a little while
I have something like a house.
I remember leaf-huts
we built
when we were small:
to creep in and sit
listening to the rain,
feel alone in the wilderness,
drops on your nose
and your hair --
Or snow-houses at Christmas,
to creep in and
close the hole with a sack,
light a candle and stay there
on cold evenings.

-- Olav H. Hauge
Translated by Robin Fulton

* * *


There is a callisthenic finesse to the neck
As the pole-stick of the beak
Comes up. The neck's loop revolves,
Too sinuous to be plausible.
This neck has innuendoes of a fish,
Must writhe and must wriggle and
Must pivot in sopping
Twists, distinctively drip-dry,
Till the rough feathers regain their brackish glare.

Eel-spasms, annular
Cascades, clamber the bayberry
Over the frilled sludge where the gar
Gelatinizes in its own repose.
The anhingas ogle the gorgeous sky
Over Shark River and as they gaze
Extend vespertilian
Wings, meticulous and moist.
They hold their pose.
It's almost reverential for those,
Like me, with worshipful proclivities
When these black birds spread out such wings.

O anhingas on the floodgates and the levee bridge,
You pray with nothing but water and I see
Your signatory darkness cloak the sun.

-- Eric Ormsby

* * *

"Beside a Chrysanthemum"

For one chrysanthemum to bloom
the nightingale
must have sung like that since spring.

For one chrysanthemum to bloom
the thunder
must have rolled like that in pitch black clouds.

Chrysanthemum! You look like my sister
standing before her mirror, just back
from far away, far away byways of youth,
where she was racked with longing and lack.

For your yellow petals to bloom
the frost must have come down like that last night
and I was not able to get to sleep.

-- So Chong Ju
Translated by Brother anthony of Taizé

* * *


Ankle-deep in the white-ochre saltflats
north of Babylon, women harvest salt
with buckets and bare hands,
in stands of water the color
of rust, or a blue dark as oil
come up from the earth, as if
they walk on the water's surface
ablaze with sunlight, dressed in black,
the color of crows, the color of shadows,
as if they would burst upward in flame
under thelightest, most austere touch,
sill they cup their palms and reach
down with the cracked skin of their hands
softened by water, to lift what's precious,
the gold-leafed dust of antiquity
which washes and sifts through their fingers
and is lost, every time, leaving only
this distillate of salt that the sun burns
into a mineral-bright ash of white
they carry in reverence to shore.

-- Brian Turner

* * *

"Farm Tools"
For Ciro Alegria

In the valley of my childhood,
in the Anahuacs and the Provences,
gesturing stiffly, gleaming softly,
farm tools kept looking at me,
because I could read their expressions
and hear their whispering.

In heaps, like people
squatting down to talk together,
deaf with mud, resonant with sand,
drowsy but not asleep,
they slip down, fall, get up again,
some staring, others blind.

Jumbled in with other implements,
their feet grass-tangled,
they exhale wounded orange
or the breath of the mint.
When they're young, they shine with ardor,
broken, they're dead mothers.

Going by ranches in the night
I ran into a heap of them
and my laugh roused them
like an echo of running water.
Let fall, they sleep
with their cold black backs up,
or left lying like women
shine back at the full moon.

Tapping on my bony cheek
pitchforks, a hayrake still chewing
the whole dead meadow:
some of them dance like girls,
others doze like old women,
twisted, straight, darkened,
chorus of muteness: farm tools.

I follow my wandering feet,
as worn out as they are.
And with the cleanest of the hoes,
so they can have rest and sleep,
I make the sign of the cross
on my breast and its ruling soul.

Touch after touch the living hoe
looks at me and sees right through me,
and I tell her to give me
when I fall, my last earth;
and tender as a sister
I let her go; she leaves me:
blude blade, gone to sleep,
silenced beauty: farm tools.

-- Gabriela Mistral
Translated by Ursula K. Le Guin

* * *

"Noli Me Tangere Stupid"

Are we all clear on the differences between the sexes,
sociobiologically speaking?

Boys want beauty because they can spill their seed anywhere;
girls want brains, because their impulses

center on a baby surviving, but this is no help
when we begin the mating ritual, a/k/a

dating, and the boy is only interested in the one thing,
while you (the girl) are

enraptured by movies, books, art, theater, clothes, dancing,
and there you are with a boy, his

focus scrambled by hormones, and you go to dinner
and he says nothing.

Girls, you know this is true, you can get in the car with a
boy or man and six

hours later you surface as if released by terrorists,
weary but happy to be alive.

I remember being dropped off in front of my parents' house
and walking to the door,

jaw aching because I'd been talking nonstop for four hours,
and then my date would want to

kiss me. forget it, my face hurt too much, I couldn't pucker
even if I had wanted to and I didn't.

Lysistrata had the right idea, there's no something for nothing
in this world or so

Mr. Willie Morris said in his lecture before taking our eighth
grade drama class to see the play,

not something that would happen today in any classroom
of fourteen year olds,

or perhaps it does in some corner of the universe where
conversation is not a lost art,

perhaps in a rarified pocket of Sweden or Nepal,
nothing like our present

quagmire of blood sports and acquisitive redistribution
of consumer goods -- microwaves, expresso machines,

radios -- where speaking to one another is an unpracticed
art. Take the example of my teenaged

son: dining with him is like eating with Charles
Bronson in a prison movie,

twenty questions gets you twenty answers and not much else,
except the sound of a Hoover,

until his plate is clean. This is a boy who once upon a time
and not so very long ago had a decent

vocabulary, smiled, did not look as though he were auditioning
to be part of the Aryan Brotherhood.

What happened to him? Will he suddenly turn sparkly
and vivacious, and

exactly when will this miracle occur? Until the great god of
utterance rains down his mercy on

young men's heads, I want a war, I want young women to be furious,
militant, I want them to scream,

Zip up your pants, Romeo, and talk to me, in sentences,
and I mean right now.

-- Barbara Hamby

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