Sunday, February 07, 2010


Fifteen Poems from Europe

"The Dump"

O glorious dump, how shall I sing your praise!
You lie in the flickering sunset, sprawling, dishevelled;
A subfusc cat, immaculate in evening dress,
Tweaks at your swelling paunch, deft as a pianist.
The rotting backs and shattered glass of mirrors
Enclose a wormwood's straggling roots;
You are as grand as Venice! (No, far grander!)
The cat is your gondolier, and sings a serenade.
The ruined wreck of an ottoman
Lies cramped in a pool of lilac shade,
Whispering tales of hookahs by the Golden Horn
To lionising clumps of willowherb.
July bobs to admire its face in shards of glass.
A crow dives slowly, then plumps down,
And struts upon you, stately as Sulla,
Holding doom, or mercy, gripped in each claw.
You're peaches' slimy shreds, and berries' slippery bubbles,
Lost lenses, torn book-covers, broken medals;
Your skin is leprous; you're pink and blistered
As a child inundated in scalding soup.
You're Dionysus ritually dismembered,
You're a microcosm in a make-up mirror.
But I say this to you: shake your sleepy limbs,
Get up on your feet, and walk. And then,
You monster, incubus of night,
Open your tattered mouth and speak.
O glorious dump, shake out your limbs and walk!
Sing of the days spent lying in the sun,
Your body warm, your giant's brain crackling, burning,
Yet unifying all that you survey.
May great thoughts bloom and rot in you
As you feast on vodka droplets, chicken bones.
O glorious dump, get to your feet and sing!
O Rosa mystica, he gods must hear your voice.

-- Elena Shvarts, Russia
translated from the Russian by Catriona Kelly

* * *

"Night Breeze"

Unexpectedly the windows open
Wide during the night. The rectangle
Swallows the bedroom, it's a different night where
Life turns inside out like a glove. A veined hand
Emerges, leaf of a negative
Hope on the phantom wall
Pointing towards what? The cliff of a lake
Sea-snows, lunar suns. A rough but tender
Tongue darts from it, paying no attention
To the guard-rails of speech.
Come unstuck, drawings, framed mirrors
The scribblings of the world
Slip from the walls docile and unafraid
Their fibers will be ripped.
A lamp gleams its star's hope in their wake
The sheets knot themselves for an escape
Exchange close body heat
For the sweet cold freedom of the clouds.

-- Claire Malroux, France
translated from the French by Marilyn Hacker

* * *


The only masterpiece
I ever created
was a picture of the moth Thysania agrippina
in pastel on gray paper.

Because I was never
much good at painting. The essence of art
is that we aren't very good at it.

The moth Thysania agrippina
rose from the stiff gray paper
with outstretched, comb-like antennae,

with a plush bottom resembling the buttocks
of the pigwidgeons of Hieronymus bosch,
with thin legs on a shrunken chest
lie those on Breughel's grotesque figures
in "Dulle Griet," it turned into Dulle Griet
with a bundle of pots and pans in her bony hand,

it turned into Bodhiddharma
with long sleeves,

it was Ying or Shade
and Yang or Light, Chwei or Darkness
and Ming or Glow, it had
the black color of water, the ochre color of earth,
the blue color of wood,

I was as proud of it as an Antwerp councilor
or the Tenth Patriarch from the Yellow River,

I sprinkled it with shellac, which is
the oath that painters swear on Goethe's Science of Colors,
and then the art teacher took it to his study

and I forgot all about it

the way Granny used to forget
her dentures in a glass.

-- Miroslav Holub, Czechoslovakia
translated from the Czech by Dana Habova and David Young

* * *

(Homage to Maurice Cornelius Escher)

Picking up green bottle ends and golden shells
on the beach may be an innocent act, full of beauty
for the walker who uses his eyes. But it can also be
a treacherous episode, if your wandering thoughts frame
an alien face, unknown to the bodies that are yours
and which concern you.
But that does not make less beautiful or strange your objets trouves,
stored in the tubular glass belly of your hope.
Now, the figures you see when you rub your eyes
are green snow crystals, a negative looked at through the microscope
of a hurricane's eye. Your life like a drawing
where you see two faces: an old woman and, afterward, the woman when young;
a rabbit if you look at it with the left eye (and this is love
entirely); if with the right, a duckling's beak aimed
directly at the open heart of a patient in theater.
Even so, although we stayed on the edge, we were afraid
of the trucks backfiring.
Today, a calm mind sees how past and future rush by
haughty and utterly opposed. Let us not cease to thank the man
who painted it: spring, the present, the dividing line.

-- Anna Aguilar - Amat, Spain
translated from the Catalan by Anna Crow

* * *

"The House"

The man alone listens to the calm voice
with half-closed eyes, as if a breath
were blowing on his face, a friendly breath
rising -- astonishing -- from a lost time.

The man alone hears the ancient voice
that his fathers, in their day, heard, clear
and collected, a voice that, like the green
of ponds and hills, deepens with evening.

The man alone knows a shadow voice,
caressing, that rises up in the calm tones
of secret springs: he drinks it intently,
eyes closed. Its presence isn't apparent.

This is the voice that once stopped the father
of his father, and on back through dead blood.
The secretive voice of a woman that comes
from a doorway a the falling of dusk.

-- Cesare Pavese, Italy
translated from the Italian by Geoffrey Brock

* * *

"The Leaf of the Poplar"

It trembled so, the wind carried it away,
it trembled so, how could the wind not carry it away
in the distance
a sea
in the distance
an island in the sun
and hands grasping the oars
dying the moment the port came into sight
and eyes closed
in sea anemones.

It trembled so much
I wanted it so much
in the cistern with the eucalyptus trees
spring and autumn
in all the woods naked
my God I wanted it.

-- George Seferis, Greece
translated from the Greek by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard

* * *

"Wood and Shavings"

Of hornets I will say nothing,
since they are so easy to spot.
Also, the current revolutions
are not that dangerous.
Death has always been chosen
amid a fanfare of noise.

Yet beware the May flies and women,
beware the Sunday hunters,
beauticians, the undecided, the well meaning,
the ones devoid of contempt.

Out of the forests we carried branches and logs,
and for a long time there was no sun.
Intoxicated by paper on the conveyer belt,
I no longer recognize the branches
nor the moss, carved into the bark,
impudent and true.

Wasted paper, banners,
black posters . . . . By day and by night
the machine of faith rumbles beneath
this or that star. But in wood,
as long as it is still green, and with bile,
as long as it is still bitter, I am
willing to write what happened at the start!

Make sure you stay awake.

The swarm of hornets chases the shavings
blown by the wind, while at the fountain,
resisting the curled allure
that once made us weak,
my hair bristles.

-- Ingeborg Bachmann, Germany
translated from the German by Peter Filkins

* * *

"Still Life"

Here in a summer full of dust
the dampness of winter
trails us into dark corners.

I bought the shoes days ago
but they remain untouched in the box
heel to heel.

Blessed is the sunbeam that falls upon us
like the eye of a stranger focused on a natura morte.
A platter of the season's finest fruit
so plump, and nestled among it, a shiny dagger.
It's not dangerous
but as alluring and peaceful
as the fruit that surrounds it.

What has become of us?
My hands, skillful and transparent,
slice the atmosphere into rabbit feed.

Another new pair of shoes
to help you enjoy a stroll around the grounds.\

Since you've left I dream of only one thing:
the sound they would make
in the evening
as you reach the front door.

-- Luljeta Lleshanaku, Albania
translated from the Albanian by the author and Henry Israeli

* * *

"The Old Gods"

Now they are condemned
to live in cracks,
in bubbles of plaster and rust,
and spiders' webs
behind the furniture:

speaking a derelict language
to empty space,
sealed with the vapour
in bottles, closed in the blown
robins' eggs
in some abandoned loft.

Each has its given power.
Each has its hearth, its secret,
its local name,
and each has its way of learning

the skill of return,
the science of bleeding through, when anger or fear
is fuzzing the surface,
making us dizzy and whole.

-- John Burnside, Scotland

* * *


I walk on the sea-shore
to catch that voice
between the breaking of one wave
and another

but there is no voice
only the senile garrulity of water
salty nothing
a white bird's wing
stuck dray to a stone

I walk to the forest
where persists the continuous
hum of an immense hour-glass
sifting leaves into humus
humus into leaves
powerful jaws of insects
consume the silence of the earth

I walk into the fields
green and yellow sheets
fastened with pins of insect beings
sing at every touch of he wind

where is that voice
it should speak up
when for a moment there is a pause
in the unrelenting monologue of the earth

nothing but whispers
clappings explosions

I come home
and my experience take on
the shape of an alternative

either the world is dumb
or I am deaf

but perhaps
we are both
doomed to our afflictions

therefore we must
arm in arm
go blindly on
toward new horizons
toward contracted throats
from which rises
an unintelligible gurgle

-- Zbigniew Herbert, Poland
translated from the Polish by Alissa Valles

* * *


The apples have fallen and rot in the yard.
And you aren't here.
Otherwise, everything goes on like before.
The cricket creaks in the dry grass.
The windowpane is shattered.
The stone has fallen by the bed.
Shards of glass cover the pillow.

-- Lyubomir Nikolov, Bulgaria
translated from the Bulgarian by Miroslav Nikolov

* * *


Tonight the air smells of cut grass.
Apples rust on the branches. already summer is
a place mislaid between expectation and memory.

This has been a summer of moths.
Their moment of truth comes well after dark.
Then they reveal themselves at our window-
ledges and sills as a pinpoint. A glimmer.

The books I look up about them are full of legends:
ghost-swift moths with their dancing assemblies at dusk.
Their courtship swarms. How some kinds may steer by the moon.

The moon is up. the back windows are wide open.
Mid-July light fills the neighbourhood. I stand by the hedge.

Once again they are near the windowsill --
fluttering past the fuchsia and the lavender,
which is knee-high, and too blue to warn them

they will fall down without knowing how
or why what they steered by became, suddenly,
what they crackled and burned around. They will perish --

I am perishing -- on the edge and at the threshold of
the moment all nature fears and tends towards:

the stealing of light. Ingenious facsimile.

And the kitchen bulb which beckons them makes
my child's shadow longer than my own.

-- Eavan Boland, Ireland

* * *


Life begins with the reptiles:
the amoeba, the snails, the spiders,
the water with a tusk on each wave,
the space-hungry paths,
the roots, when they're hungry.

Even the minerals
devour one another.
A diamond has all the others
inside its guts.

What we see as vertical
is the various forms
of courtship dances which,
in poplars for instance, come close to being sublime,
in mountain ranges, to being grotesque,
in snakes, to being rainbows.
At night from the moon rattles
the hour of multiplication,
even seeds are on heat;
wax grows most frenzied of all.

The fishes, the birds, the mammals with great hopes
(among them humans too)
lay their eggs straight into sand
which they forget as soon as the kiss is over.

As you can see,
everything round about is perfect
as a sphere
containing neither an angle
nor a broken line
with which one could hang oneself.

-- Marin Sorescu, Romania
translated from the Romanian by Michael Hamburger

* * *

"Star, Meteor, Some Shooting Thing"

That one coming out of a building with a full-face crash helmet,
jumping toward an afternoon of tar
and wind against his neck, impatient, and savoring
the scent of mixture and of the two-stroke engine
or perhaps of fresh-cut grass, the short kilometers

that will zip by free of care, pure images
of faces and fleeting bodies, windows
like screens or glimpsed nostalgias, forgettable
sorrows: a light accompanies him. To leave,
just to leave, to get lost, to become
\star, meteor, some shooting thing.

Suburbs of nothingness, and in every house
the same blue flame, and clear signs
of frustrated hopes and oppositions
that have been utterly crushed.
Dogs on leashes, old folks, playgrounds.
"Do you know that once upon a time some forth head
of cattle used to graze here?" says one,
tapping his foot on the polyurethane surface of the small field.

This is the afternoon: a diffused dazzle,
the unexpected greeting of those you pass by.
And some knowing looks, that say thank you.
That say we are here, in spite of it all.

The watermelon, for example, that a group of Turks
kindly offered us, was delicious.

-- Fabio Pusterla, Switzerland
translated from the Italian by Marella Feltrin-Morris

* * *


Like the one before the world was created

Fog slides over the river
Tangles in bushes on shore

Dew trembles on a branch
A bud bursts open
A fledgling moves in a nest

Like the one before the first word was spoken

Church bells lick their lips

-- Ronalds Briedis, Latvia
translated from the Latvian by Margita Gailitis and J. C. Todd

* * *
* * *

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