Monday, March 09, 2009


Some Poems by Poets of Diverse Origins

"I Want You to Know"

I want you to know
how carefully
I watered the tender shoots
you planted
in my little garden.

Flowers now adorn the ground
the fruits are ripe
bring a strongly woven basket
and bring with you also
the finest palm wine
that your expert tapping
can brew
we must feat and wine
till the small hours
of our short days together

Joy and love
shall be our daily
harvest songs.

Micere Githae Mugo, Kenya

* * *

"Exile House"

Our tiled roof dripped
and the four walls threatened to fall apart
but we were to go home soon,

we grew papayas
in the front of the house
chilies in the garden
and changmas* for our fences,
then pumpkins rolled down the cowshed thatch
calves trotted out of the manger,

grass on the roof,
beans sprouted and
climbed down the vines,
money plants crept in through the windows,
our house seems to have grown roots.

The fences have grown into a jungle
now how can I tell my children
where we came from?

*Author's note:  Changmas are flexible and
 flourishing trees usually planted as fencing.

--Tenzin Tsundue, Tibet/India
(Tenzin Tsundue was actually born somewhere
along the road between Tibet and India as his 
parents were going into exile in India after the
Chinese takeover of Tibet.)

* * *

"hyacinth colic"

you slept still i sat
your breath was going day
was pushing forest fieldward
the meadow now began
to flash in shadow fed a
pair of pigeons she with claws
so hot a small fleck on his
neck.  still soft their calls
as dear as childhood mornings
(all asleep but sun and
dove and quiet roof) you
went your chest was oiled
nude you went the disc had
struck his forehead cooled
and warmed and hardened.
trying is a game the guilt and
every bed on floors is hard in
its pot the hyacinth is testing
whether quite without you
i will bear its scent

-- Ulrike Draesner, Germany
translated from the German by Iain Galbraith

* * *

"The Latin Deli:  An Ars Poetica"

Presiding over a formica counter,
plastic Mother and Child magnetized
to the top of an ancient register,
the heady mix of smells from the open bins
of dried codfish, the green plantains
hanging in stalks like votive offerings,
she is the Patroness of Exiles,
a woman of no-age who was never pretty,
who spends her days selling canned memories
while listening to the Puerto Ricans complain
that it would be cheaper to fly to San Juan
than to buy a pound of Bustelo coffee here,
and to Cubans perfecting their speech
of a "glories return" to Havana -- where no one
has been allowed to die and nothing to change until then;
to Mexicans who pass through, talking lyrically
of dolares to be made in El Norte --
all wanting the comfort
of spoken Spanish, to gaze upon the family portrait
of her plain wide face, her ample bosom
resting on her plump arms, her look of maternal interest
as they speak to her and each other
of their dreams and their disillusions --
how she smiles understanding,
when they walk down the narrow aisles of her store
reading the labels of packages aloud, as if
they were the names of lost lovers:  Suspiros,
Merengues, the stale candy of everyone's childhood.

She spends her days
slicing jamon y queso and wrapping it in wax paper
tied with string:  plain ham and cheese
that would cost less at the A&, but it would not satisfy
the hunger of the fragile old man lost in the folds
of his winter coat, who brings her lists of items
that he reads to her like poetry, or the others,
whose needs she must divine, conjuring up products
from places that now exist only in their hearts --
closed ports she must trade with.

-- Judith Ortiz Cofer, Puerto Rico

* * *

"The Deserted Cafe"

I go there vaguely thinking of a meeting,
Meeting whom I am not sure.

I go there, my heart dry a a hollowed out shell.
Thirst and hunger hang thick in the night.

In the afternoon the sun beats down hard . . . .
In the afternoon it rains and rains . . . .

The cafe is empty.  The lamp shadows wait.
Through the long nights for someone's return.

It's my own fault.
I've forgotten the date of the meeting.

Pity for the one returning.  Pity for the one who waits
And no one comes.

Life is filled with errors.
Regrets change nothing.

We must  grin and bear it.
Make the best of the journey.

In the afternoon the sun beats down hard . . . .
In the afternoon it rains and rains . . . .

The cafe is empty, the lamp shadows
Wait for a thousand years.

--To Thuy Yen, Vietnam
translated from the Vietnamese by Nguyen Ba Chung and Kevin Bowen

* * *

"The Snowflakes Sail Gently Down"

The snowflakes sail gently
down from the misty eye of the sky
and fall lightly on the
winter-weary elms.  and the branches
winter-stripped and nude, slowly
with the weight of the weightless snow
bow like grief-stricken mourners
as white funeral cloth is slowly
unrolled over the deathless earth.
And dead sleep stealthily from the
heater rose and closed my eyes with
the touch of silk cotton on water falling.

Then I dreamed a dream
in my dead sleep.  But I dreamed
not of earth dying and elms a vigil
keeping.  I dreamed of birds, black
birds flying in my inside, nesting
and hatching on oil palms bearing suns
for fruits and with roots denting the
uprooters' spades.  And I dreamed the
uprooters tired and limp, leaning on my roots --
their abandoned roots 
and the oil palms gave them each a sun.

But on their palms
they balanced the blinding orbs
and frowned with schisms on their
brows -- for the suns reached not
the brightness of gold!
Then I awoke.  I awoke
to the silently falling snow
and bent-backed elms bowing and
swaying to the winter wind like
white-robed Moslems salaaming at evening
prayer, and the earth lying inscrutable
like the face of a god in a shrine.

-- Gabriel Okara, Nigeria

* * *

"Flight of the Firstborn"

He streaks past his sixteenth year
small island life stretched tight
across his shoulders
his strides rehearsing city blocks
college brochures
airline schedules
stream excitedly through his
newly competent hands
his goodbyes like blurred neon
on a morning suddenly gone wet

I'm left stranded
on a tiny patch of time
still reaching
to wipe the cereal from his smile

-- Peggy Carr, St. Vincent and the Grenadines

* * *

"Snow in Your Shoes"

One does not build a house collecting cutlery
even though a few extra spoons
come in handy sometimes.

One does not build a house from new curtains
even though different views
from time to time
may be shielded by new cloth.

For a home to be a home, among other things
you need a lot of things 
you would gladly renounce
in advance.

Listen to what Eskimos say:
to build a good igloo,
for years you have to carry
snow in your shoes.

And a safety pin, forgotten
in your coat collar,
near the jugular.

-- Ana Ristovic, Serbia
translated from the Serbian by Novica Petrovic

* * *

"She Who Threads the Skies"

As the sky fills
the empty shell
after a bird has hatched,
so desire fills

My daughter threads together
pieces of the sky
scattered by the wing-beat
of migrating birds

like a mysterious game.
The blue sticks to her hands.

-- Malathi Maitri, India
translated from the Tamil by Lakshmi Holmstrom

* * *

"At Least"

If you would smash he glass against the wall,
if you would wake anyone you please, now at two in the morning,
if you would just say what  you wrote yesterday, secretly, on the cigarette box,
"It has rained, spring has come
and the murdered man is still lying in the garden" --
if only you would do something, friend:
cut something down with your scythe, fling dust around!
Because when you sit like that at the edge of the sofa,
hands between your knees,
after your fourth glass, saying nothing,
I feel a jar breaking inside me.

-- Waleed Khazindar, Palestine
translated from the Arabic by Lena Jayyusi and W. S. Merwin

* * *

"For Carrie"

Sisters set the table.  Each knows her place,
where water glasses, knives and napkins go.
One loaf bubbles up, a burnt-cheeked face,
while Mama kneads an oily golden dough.
I'm the favorite.  The fattest wedge of bread.
Daddy's maraschino cherry gets it all --
the last drop of cola, my sister's head
on a platter.  I can't talk; my mouth's full.
She spills salt, burps, smears jam into her peas.
I wash, she dries.  tonight she drops a plate.
She's cut.  "Let Mama kiss the bo-bo please."
She shakes her head.  That girl deserves her fate.
Never say no to those who love you most.
I know their one rule.  I nibble my toast.

You quite speaking in our parents' Spanish,
raised a finger to my lips and hushed me too.
I gave up red meat, made A's in English.
Our mother claims I broke her heart for you.
You grew taller, into our mother's shape,
gave up breakfast, the clarinet, and God.
Mama warned, "Don't be putas.  All men rape."
You never earned her slow, approving nod.
But I could swim faster, fast longer, lose
more marbles than you.  See, I suck my thumb.
My dinner's downstairs.  Empanandas and peas.
"Come down baby," she calls to me.  "Please come."
Our men will whisper we're chilly, like silk.
Sister, sister, our skin's made of her milk.

-- Deborah Salazar, Ecuador

* * *

"but love"

but love loves only the three-minute drunk in drunkenness, for abandonment
has nothing to do with wine, or how the survivor's cup ;holds reflections
of sword and dagger, and less to do with moonlight

with milky white passion, squeezing in from the south window, then out
from the north, leaving nothing but the dense aroma of sweat and joy, and
even less to do with fish shuttling in the bay nearby, and

the canoe in  your heart
braving a sunday of wind and waves, yet having nothing to do
with wind and waves -- and, beside you

the stranger with a cracked heart
muttering in his dream --
I loved last night, for love's sake, loved even

the dream of your floral tablecloth, and
how reluctant it was to wake up -- but love
always arrives on time, if love is only a distant view with nothing to do with the viewing

-- Zheng Hanyi, China
translated from the Chinese by Luo Hui

* * *

"Postcard to a Sister in South America"

This lilt of light in rain
clouds swarming sun over woods
bleached of leaves except the spruces'
sticking of sky in answer to rusting
oaks remaining willows ripening
like August oranges bowing down
limbs catching blessings of finch
kiskadee blue-sakie bunting

This lilt of light in last night's
cotton wicks in oil in diyas
marking Ram's returned to Awadhpuri
with his bride -- yes the waiting
for the last jay-calls to go south
sparrows chirping chickadees tweeting
the tip of the days of the long nights

To meet again off karahi-holed roads
clasping the dust from wings of sugar
cane stalks the thousand limbed coconuts
swirling Shiva's dance over browntongued 
creeks nipping the ocean your sons celebrate
not this lilt of autumn light; the blooded
childhood sunshine of cannotleavebehind.

--  Sasenarine Persaud, Guyana

* * *

"Manuscripts of Autumn"

As Kalamata spreads out
I show you the brightest path.
In the meantime, father is waiting
quiet and thoughtful
to console me.
"The visitor didn't come," he tells me,
"but you should always remember
the wooden ladder I helped you climb
as a child and the perforated autumn light."

I pack my things hastily.
I feel repressed in here.
The walls have memory.
Silence is electrified.

The moment I go
I want to kiss you.
Stop crying.
Every time you dream you can't be
robbed of your flowerbed,
deprived of thek joy of return.

All right, you say to yourself,
after all, I owe nothing to nobody.
I only owe an apology
to memory
and ;to Ms. Polydouri
while browsing the manuscripts of autumn.

-- Marigo Alexopoulou, Greece
translated from the Greek by Roula Konsolaki

* * *

"Star, Bird & Autumn"

The flower that autumn only withered
The heart that pain could never shrivel
Embers snuffed out only to flare again
The star blazing as it fell toward its river
The bird whose wings a hot wind singed
When it carried on singing in high skies
All of these are guests inside my heart
Molding me never to give up on hope 

-- Kamaran Mukri, Iraq
translated from the Kurdish by Kamal Mirawdeli and Stephen Watts

* * *

"Python on the Mall"

A serpent-like creature h as taken residence
in the dark recesses of a new shopping mall.
Supposedly the offspring of the mall tycoon
himself, the creature feeds, by preference,
on nubile virgins.
-- Tabloid story

She hatched in the dank
Basements of our gullibility,
Warmed in the gasp of our telling,
Curling in the tongues
Of housewives and clerks.

We gave her a body half-serpent,
Half-voluptuary, and a taste
For maidens and movie stars
Who began to vanish mysteriously
Behind the curtains of boutique
Fitting rooms and water closets,
Never to be seen again,
Or only to be found in the parking
Cellars, wandering dazed
Into the headlights of shoppers' cars.

How she fed on our thirst
For wonders, fattened on our fear
Of vacant places.  Slowly
We embellished the patterns
On her scales and admired
The sinuous grace of her spine.

Avidly we filled our multifarious
Hungers at her belly, and lapped
The marvelous tales of her forked
Tongue.  And as the gleaming temples
Of her worship rose in the midst
Of our squalor, how we trembled
At the seduction of her voice,
O what adoring victims we became.

-- Marne L. Kilates, The Philippines

* * *

"An Elegy for Mangochi Fishermen"

Today even those fireflies have become
The banners for our night fishermen
The crabs and dondolos dare not
Peep out of their crevices.

The virgin canoe we once boasted about
Holding the head or pushing the rear
Pulling the lips or rolling on poles,
The canoe has capsized, the carvers drowned.

Those loin-cloths dripping, the muscles
Twitching with power, the husky voices chanting
About the delicious chambo dishes expected
Even the toes we once crushed dragging
Our canoe from the arid Namizimu mountains
To the soft beaches of this golden lake --

We will not cast in tender herbs to cure.
Today, you gone, the vigil wax has melted away
The light is out in our cryptic recesses
We must all lie in pitch dark stakes.

Should we then wipe our sticky brows
In the heat of another October?  Should we fell
More poles to roll another canoe to the beach?
Is it worth it assembling another voice?

-- Jack Mapanje, Malawi

* * *


Growing up in Miami any tropical fruit I ate
could only be a bad copy of the Real Fruit of Cuba.
Exile meant having to consume false food,
and knowing it in advance.  With joy
my parents and grandmother would encounter
Florida-grown mameyes and caimitos at the market
At home they would take them out of the American bag
and describe the taste that I and my older sister
would, in a few seconds, be privileged to experience
for the first time.  We all set around the table
to welcome into our lives this football-shaped,
brown fruit with the salmon-colored flesh
encircling an ebony seed.  "Mamey,"
my grandmother would say with a confirming nod,
as if repatriating a lost and ruined name.
Then she bent over the plate,
slipped a large slice of mamey into her mouth,
then straightened in her chair and, eyes shut,
lost herself in comparison and memory.
"No, not even the shadow of the ones back home."
She kept eating more calmly,
and I began tasting the sweet and creamy pulp
trying to raise the volume of its flavor
so that it might become a Cuban mamey.  "The good
Cuban mameyes didn't have primaveras," she said
after the second large gulp, knocking her spoon
against a lump in the fruit and winking.
So at once I erased the lumps in my mental mamey.
I asked her how the word for "spring"
came to signify "lump" in a mamey.  she shrugged.
"Next you'll want to know ho we lost a country."

-- Ricardo Pau - Llosa, Cuba

* * *
"Herbal Wisdom"

New churches, old
harmonized organs and repetitions

like a prayer or a psalm for seven

Against scant blue

a hundred people
believe in pilots and safety belts.  The

just a little too strong.

But my heart it was, that loaded institution
through four expectations it came

here.  Exactly here

where you, with both hands,
almost inaudibly
intend to break
the fragrant life of a sprig of thyme.

That soundless break, the speech of dust, said all
I understood.

-- Lauri Otonnkoski, Finland
translated from the Finnish by Anselm Hollo

* * *

"Dance Music"

We reflected at length.  Light flooded
the forehead's rectangle, the eyes, the eyebrows.  We asked
the same questions and were answered
as always.  Winter arrived
and saddened us.  From others
we asked nothing and from ourselves
we asked only little.  But we grasped
that daylight is not hostile and that night
is only a passing nuisance.  rain came
and silenced the tune.  We turned on the radio,
dimmed the lights, and quietly dove
into dark and shadowy abysses.  the hairy creature
awoke in us.  Man is the sole
goal of all creation.  and so
woman found us.  we were
hard and festive until nightfall.
Why did light flood the eyes, eyebrows,
the forehead's rectangle, the back the body.  the rain
why did it come, and how would you explain
that we passed underneath and did not sink.

--David Avidan, Israel
translated form the Hebrew by Tsipi Keller

* * *
* * *

I'm curious.

Why do you do it? Continue to cast poetry into the air?

Only a child throws rose petals into the air for the fun of it? Okay, well I do it but we're not talking about me right now. :-)

Who is it, who never comments, you which could hear?
I may not get many comments (which isn't important to me, anyway), but my various mini-anthology threads get several hundred hits every month, from all around the world. There are clearly a good many people out there who are interested enough to spend time here regularly. Here are the hits "Jackdaw's Nest" has gotten in the last 6 hours:

Sacramento California United States
Rensselaer Indiana United States
Indianapolis Indiana United States
Newtown Pennsylvania United States
Cambridge Massachusetts United States
Chicago Illinois United States
Nashville Tennessee United States
Vancouver British Columbia Canada
Chicago Illinois United States
Yonkers New York United States
Charlotte North Carolina United States
Burke Virginia United States
Morrisville Pennsylvania United States
Washington District Of Columbia United States
Philadelphia Pennsylvania United States
Arlington Texas United States
Willimantic Connecticut United States
Surrey British Columbia Canada
Scottsdale Arizona United States
Manchester New Hampshire United States
Cape Coral Florida United States
Centreville Virginia United States
Cary North Carolina United States
San Gwann Malta Malta
Toronto Ontario Canada
Libertyville Illinois United States
Victoria British Columbia Canada
Champaign Illinois United States
Belize Belize
Thank you so much for The Jackdaw's Nest. It lifts my spirit every time I visit.
Thanks, Gavin; I'm glad you find some poems you like here.
Wow. How do you tell what hits you get?

Thanks for the update on Braja. Can't believe it.

I'm chatting with her representative.
I have Statcounter which records how many hits you get and where they've come from, among other fascinating bits of lore.

I was shocked to see the news over on Simplicity's blog about Braja's car accident and how seriously she and her husband are injured. Keep us updated on what you can find out, please.
Braja emailed me.

She is going to be o.k.

Equinox (probably spelled incorrectly) sound like one of my Uncles. But you're going to have to add a million other words like...uh..paleontagicalism. I just butchered that. It was more at Helio paleo...I dunno. I'm just a dummy.
Glad you've heard from Braja and that she's going to be all right; i posted a quick welcome home note over on her blog earlier this evening.

The great thing about the Equinoctial Nude Dance is that you don't have to spell; you just have to take off your clothes and dance. You can do both of those, right?
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