Sunday, November 26, 2006

Buddy Wakefield

Human the Death Dance
by Buddy Wakefield

November 15, 2006

On the face of her phone
Wileen programs a message to herself
so that when the alarm clock rings
the screen flashes:
For some people
it's just a reduction in suffering.

Jordan tattoos the words
in thick black letters
down the inside of his arm
so that when he looks at his wrist
he will remember not to hate himself so much.
What he keeps forgetting
is that there is life after survival.

After Dave left
Mary started sticking her face
between the film projector
and the movie screen
so that when the credits roll
she still gets to be somebody.

Whenever Tara's past comes back she mashes
chalk into the sidewalk
until her knuckles bleed.
She scribbles and scrapes
scribbles and scrapes
till the words take shape
and this is what they say
they say I wanna die mutherfuckers
die DIE mutherfuckers
hold tight if I love ya
cause it might not last long.

Y'all, we're all gonna die.
That's the exciting part.
It's learning how to live for a living,
that's the tricky stitch.
Just ask Denise
whose family taught her when she came into this world
that Family equals Love
so Denise took that shit seriously
but after a lifetime of craving acceptance from their cruelty
she now finds herself jamming Polaroid pictures of these people into her typewriter
and pounding out the last letter of the word mercy
over and over and over again.
She strikes the key Y.
Y? Y? Y?Y?Y?

The answer?
The answer comes in the form of a handwritten letter from the moon.
It reads:
This is brutally beautiful.
So are we.
This is endless.
So are we.
We can heal this.
Crater Face
P.S. See me for who I am.
We've got work to do.

But my father
he didn't read moon
he didn't speak moon
and he didn't write moon
so there was no letter found next to his body in the garage
when he chose to leave this place on purpose
without saying where he was goin' or why.
There are still days you can catch me
tape recording eternal silence
and playing it backwards for an empty room
so I can listen to his dieing wish

it's true,
the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree,
but my family tree
was in an orchard on a hill
that rolled me to the river
and that river
ripped me through the rapids
and those rapids
rushed me into this moment
right here right now
with you
at the mouth.

This is my church.
And if church is a house of healing
hallelujah welcome
come in as you are
have a look around
stay out of the porn.
There are massive stacks of bad choices in my backyard.
Haven't finished cleaning the place up
but I'm workin' on it
and clearly I have not yet reached enlightenment
for more than a fleeting moment
but I'm tryin'
and I found somethin' here I want ya to have.
It's not much
just a story
but it's all I've got
so take it.
It's called Dillon.

Dillon's drug of choice was more
so Dillon took more
and more and more and more
until the day he woke up
babbling in a pool of his own traffic jam
realizing he was killing off the best parts of himself
and claiming he could read peoples' skin.
When Dillon looked down at his heart flap
the skin read Boy, go find your spine and ride it outta here.

Wileen's gut said Day 1.
Jordan's arms were FULLY FORGIVEN.
Mary's face read The

Tara's knuckles: Healing.
Denise's fingertip said C?
C. C. C.C.C.
And my smile
Dillon said my smile it said Fix it
so I came here to the mouth of the river
to look at my own reflection in the moonlight
and see what it says for myself
down my whole body
where it is written
in the skin
See me for who I am.
We've got work to do.

As for Crater Face,
I can't speak for him.
His skin
is a brutally beautiful
handwritten letter
from the sun.

(Remond Liesting is responsible for teaching me that happiness is more than just a reduction in suffering.

Tracie Moran gets all the credit for calling us "brutally beautiful."

Mike Dillon is responsible for "drug of choice = more", reading peoples' skin, and "fix it".

I wrote this piece in full in my head while at Vipassana Oct. 26- Nov. 5.

This is the first time it's seen the page.)

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Nazim Hikmet

Things I Didn't Know I Loved
by Nazim Hikmet

it's 1962 March 28th
I'm sitting by the window on the Prague-Berlin train
night is falling
I never new I liked
night descending like a tired bird on a smoky wet plain
I don't like
comparing nightfall to a tired bird

I didn't know I loved the earth
can someone who hasn't worked the earth love it
I've never worked the earth
it must be my only platonic love

and here I've loved rivers all this time
whether motionless like this they curl skirting the hills
European hills crowned with chateaus
or whether stretched out flat as far as the eye can see
I know you can't wash in the same river even once
I know the river will bring new lights you'll never see
I know we live slightly longer than a horse but not nearly
as long as a crow
I know this has troubled people before
and will trouble those after me
I know all this has been said a thousand times before
and will be said after me

I didn't know I loved the sky
cloudy or clear
the blue vault Andrei studied on his back at Borodino
in prison I translated both volumes of War and Peace into
I hear voices
not from the blue vault but from the yard
the guards are beating someone again

I didn't know I loved trees
bare beeches near Moscow in Peredelkino
they come upon me in winter noble and modest
beeches are Russian the way poplars are Turkish
"the poplars of Izmir
losing their leaves...
they call me The Knife...
lover like a young tree...
I blow stately mansions sky-high"
in the Ilgaz woods in 1920 I tied an embroidered linen
handkerchief to a pine bough for luck

I never knew I loved roads
even the asphalt kind
Vera's behind the wheel we're driving from Moscow to
the Crimea Koktebel
formerly "Goktepé ili" in Turkish
the two of us inside a closed box
the world flows past on both sides distant and mute
I was never so close to anyone in my life
bandits stopped me on the red road between Bolu and
Geredé when I was eighteen
apart from my life I didn't have anything in the wagon
they could take
and at eighteen our lives are what we value least
I've written this somewhere before
wading through a dark muddy street I'm going to the
shadow play Ramazan night
a paper lantern leading the way
maybe nothing like this ever happened
maybe I read it somewhere an eight-year-old boy going
to the shadow play Ramazan night in Istanbul holding
his grandfather's hand
his grandfather has on a fez and is wearing the fur coat
with a sable collar over his robe
and there is a lantern in the negro eunuch's hand
and I can't contain myself for joy

flowers come to mind for some reason
poppies cactuses jonquils
in the jonquil garden in Kadikoy Istanbul I kissed Marika
fresh almonds on her breath
I was seventeen
my heart on a swing touched the sky
I didn't know I loved flowers
friends sent me three red carnations in prison 1948
I just remembered the stars
I didn't know I loved them too
whether I'm floored watching them from below
or whether I'm flying at their side.

I have some questions for the cosmonauts
were the stars much bigger
did they look like huge jewels on black velvet
or apricots on orange
did you feel proud to get closer to the stars
I saw color photos of the cosmos in Ogonek magazine
now don't be upset comrades but nonfigurative shall we
say or abstract well some of them looked just like
such paintings which is to say they were terribly
figurative and concrete
my heart was in my mouth looking at them
they are our endless desire to grasp things
seeing them I could even think of death and not feel
at all sad
I never knew I loved the cosmos

snow flashes in front of my eyes
both heavy wet steady snow and the dry whirling kind
I didn't know I liked snow
I never knew I loved the sun
even when setting cherry-red as now
in Istanbul too it sometimes sets in postcard colors
but you aren't about to paint it that way

I didn't know I loved the sea
and how much
except the seas of Aivazovsky

I didn't know I loved clouds
whether I'm under or up above them
whether they look like giants or shaggy white beasts

moonlight the falsest the most languid the most
petit-bourgeois strikes me
I didn't know I liked it

I didn't know I liked rain
whether it falls like a fine net or splatters against the glass
my heart leaves me tangled up in a net or trapped
inside a drop and takes off for uncharted countries
I didn't know I liked rain
but why did I suddenly discover all these passions sitting
by the window on the Prague-Berlin train
is it because I lit my sixth cigarette
one alone could kill me
is it because I'm half dead from thinking about someone
back in Moscow
her hair straw-blond eyelashes blue

the train plunges on through the pitch-black night
I never knew I liked the night pitch-black
sparks fly from the engine
I didn't know I loved sparks
I didn't know I loved so many things and I had to wait
until sixty to find it out sitting by the window on the
Prague-Berlin train watching the world disappear
as if on a journey of no return

Moscow, 19 April 1962

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Ryuichi Tamura

Human House
by Ryuichi Tamura

I guess I'll be back late
I said and left the house
my house is made of words
an iceberg floats in my old wardrobe
unseen horizons wait in my bathroom
from my telephone: time, a whole desert
on the table: bread, salt, water
a woman lives in the water
hyacinths bloom from her eyeballs
of course she is metaphor herself
she changes the way words do
she's as fre-form as a cat
I can't come near her name

I guess I'll be back late
no, no business meeting
not even a reunion
I ride ice trains
walk fluorescent underground arcades
cut across a shadowed square
ride in a mollusk elevator
violet tongues and gray lips in the trains
rainbow throats and green lungs underground
in the square, bubble language
foaming bubble information, informational information adjectives, all the hoolow adjectives
adverbs, paltry begging adverbs
and nouns, crushing, suffocating nouns
all I want is a verb
but i can't find one anywhere
I'm through with a society
built only of the past and future
I want the present tense

Because you open a door
doesn't mean there has to be a room
because there are windows
doesn't mean there's an interior
doesn't mean there's a space
where humans can live and die-
so far I've opened and shut
eountless doors, going out each one
so I could come in through another
telling myself each time
what a wonderful new world lies just beyond
what do I hear? from the paradise on the other side
dripping water
waves thudding on rocks
sounds of humans and beasts breathing
the smell of blood

it's been a while
I'd almost forgotten what it smells like
silence gathers around a scream
on the tip of a needle
as he walks slowly toward me
the surgeon puts on his rubber gloves
I close my eyes, open them again
things falling through my eyes
both arms spread like wings
hair streaming out full length
things descending momentary gaps of light
connecting darkness and darkness

I rise slowly from a table in a bar
not pulled by a political slogan or religious belief
it's hard enough trying to find my eyes
to see the demolition of the human house
the dismemberment of my language

My house, of course, isn't made of words
my house is built of my words

tranlated by Christopher Drake

My Imperialism
by Ryuichi Tamura

I sink into bed
on the first Monday after Pentecost
and bless myself
since I'm not a Christian

Yet my ears still wander the sky
my eyes keep hunting for underground water
and my hands hold a small book
describing the grotesqueness of modern white society

when looked down at from the nonwhite world
in my fingers there's a thin cigarette-
I wish it were hallucinogenic
though I'm tired of indiscriminate ecstasy

Through a window in the northern hemisphere
the light moves slowly past morning to afternoon
before I can place the red flare, it's gone:

Was it this morning that my acupuncturist came?
a graduate student in Marxist economics, he says he changed
to medicine to help humanity, the anime of animals, drag itself peacefully to its deathbed
forty years of Scotch whiskey's roasted my liver and put me
into the hands of a Marxist economist
I want to ask him about Imperialism, A Study-
what Hobson saw in South African at the end of the nineteenth century
my yet push me out of bed
even if you wanted to praise imperialism
there aren't enough kings and natives left
the overproduced slaves had to become white

Only the nails grow
the nails of the dead grow too
so, like cats, we must constantly
sharpen ours to stay alive
Only The Nails Grow-not a bad epitaph
when K died his wife buried him in Fuji Cemetery
and had To One Woman carved on his gravestone
true, it was the title of one of his books
but the way she tried to have him only
to herself almost made me cry
even N, who founded the modernist magazine Luna
while Japan prepared to invade China
got sentimental after he went on his pension;
F, depressed
S, manic, buildds house after house
A has abdominal imperialism: his stomach's colonized his legs
M's daaf, he can endure the loudest sounds;
some people have only their shadows grow
others become smaller than they really are
our old manifesto had it wrong: we only looked upward
if we'd really wanted to write poems
we should have crawled on the ground on all fours-
when William Irish, who wrote Phantom Lady, died
the only mourners were stock brokers
Mozart's wife was not at his funeral

My feet grow warmer as I read
Kotoku Shusui's Imperialism, Moster of the Twentieth Century, written back in 1901
when he was young N wrote "I say strange things"
was it the monster that pumped tears from his older eyes?

Poems are commodities without exchange value
but we're forced to invade new territory
by crises of poetic overproduction

We must enslave the natives with our poems
all the ignorant savages under sixty
plagued by a surplus of clothes and food-
when you're past sixty
you're niether a commodity
nor human

tranlated by Christopher Drake

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Bertolt Brecht

To Those Born After


To the cities I came in a time of disorder
That was ruled by hunger.
I sheltered with the people in a time of uproar
And then I joined in their rebellion.
That's how I passed my time that was given to me on this Earth.

I ate my dinners between the battles,
I lay down to sleep among the murderers,
I didn't care for much for love
And for nature's beauties I had little patience.
That's how I passed my time that was given to me on this Earth.

The city streets all led to foul swamps in my time,
My speech betrayed me to the butchers.
I could do only little
But without me those that ruled could not sleep so easily:
That's what I hoped.
That's how I passed my time that was given to me on this Earth.

Our forces were slight and small,
Our goal lay in the far distance
Clearly in our sights,
If for me myself beyond my reaching.
That's how I passed my time that was given to me on this Earth.


You who will come to the surface
From the flood that's overwhelmed us and drowned us all
Must think, when you speak of our weakness in times of darkness
That you've not had to face:

Days when we were used to changing countries
More often than shoes,
Through the war of the classes despairing
That there was only injustice and no outrage.

Even so we realised
Hatred of oppression still distorts the features,
Anger at injustice still makes voices raised and ugly.
Oh we, who wished to lay for the foundations for peace and friendliness,
Could never be friendly ourselves.

And in the future when no longer
Do human beings still treat themselves as animals,
Look back on us with indulgence.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Paul Celan


over the grayblack wasteness.
A tree-
high thought
strikes the light-tone: there are
still songs to sing beyond

To stand

To stand, in the shadow
of a scar in the air.

for you

With all that has room within it,
even without

There was earth inside them

There was earth inside them, and
they dug.

They dug and dug, and so
their day went past, their night. And they did not praise God,
who, so they heard, wanted all this,
who, so they heard, witnessed all this.

They dug and heard nothing more;
they did not grow wise, invented no song,
devised for themselves no sort of language.
They dug.

There came a stillness then, came also storm,
all of the oceans came.
I dig, you dig, and it digs too, the worm,
and the singing there says: They dig.

O one, o none, o no one, o you:
Where did it go then, making for nowhere?
O you dig and I dig, and I dig through to you,
and the ring on our finger awakens.


The stone.
The stone in the air, which I followed.
Your eye, as blind as the stone.

We were
we baled the darkness empty, we found
the word that ascended summer:

Flower - a blind man's word.
Your eye and mine:
they see
to water.

Heart wall upon heart wall
adds petals to it.

One more word like this word, and the hammers
will swing over open ground.

Count up the almonds

Count up the almonds,
count what was bitter and kept you waking,
count me in too:

I sought your eye when you looked out and no one saw you,
I spun that secret thread
where the dew you mused on
slid down to pitchers
tended by a word that reached no one's heart.

There you first fully entered the name that is yours,
you stepped toward yourself on steady feet,
the hammers swung free in the belfry of your silence,
things overheard thrust through to you,
what's dead put its arm around you too,
and the three of you walked through the evening.

Render me bitter.
Number me among the almonds.


Snowfall, denser and denser,
dove-coloured as yesterday,
snowfall, as if even now you were sleeping.

White, stacked into distance.
Above it, endless,
the sleigh track of the lost.

Below, hidden,
presses up
what so hurts the eyes,
hill upon hill,

On each,
fetched home into its today,
an I slipped away into dumbness:
wooden, a post.

There: a feeling,
blown across by the ice wind
attaching its dove- its snow-
coloured cloth as a flag.


Near are we, Lord,
near and graspable.

Grasped already, Lord,
clawed into each other, as if
each of our bodies were
your body, Lord.

Pray, Lord,
pray to us,
we are near.

Wind-skewed we went there,
went there to bend
over pit and crater.

Went to the water-trough, Lord.

It was blood, it was
what you shed, Lord.

It shined.

It cast your image into our eyes, Lord.
Eyes and mouth stand so open and void, Lord.
We have drunk, Lord.
The blood and the image that was in the blood, Lord.

Pray, Lord.
We are near.



Taken off into
the terrain
with the unmistakable trace:

Grass, written asunder. The stones, white
with the grassblades' shadows:
Read no more—look!
Look no more—go!

Go, your hour
has no sisters, you are—
are at home. Slowly a wheel
rolls out of itself, the spokes
clamber on the blackened field, night
needs no stars, nowhere
are you asked after.



are you asked after—

The place where they lay, it has
a name—it has
none. They did not lie there. Something
lay between them. They
did not see through it.

Did not see, no,
spoke of
words. Not one
came over them.


Came, came. Nowhere


I'm the one, I,
I lay between you, I was
open, was
audible, I ticked toward you, your breath
obeyed, I
am still the one, and
you're sleeping.


Am still the one—

Years, years, a finger
gropes down and up, gropes
all around:
sutures, palpable, here
it gapes wide open, here
it grew back together—who
covered it up?


Covered it


Came, came.
Came a word, came,
came through the night,
would glisten, would glisten.

Ashes, ashes.
to the eye, to the moist one.



to the eye,

to the moist one—

Hurricanes, from all time,
particle flurry, the other thing,
know this, we
read it in a book, was

Was, was
opinion. How
did we take
hold—hold with

It was also written that.
Where? We
decked it in silence,
poison-hushed, huge
silence, a sepal, a
thought of something plantlike hung there—
green, yes,
hung, yes,
under spiteful

Of, yes,

Hurricanes, par-
ticle flurry, there was still
time, still,
to try with the stone—it
was welcoming, it
did not interrupt. How
good we had it:

grainy and stringy. Stalky,
bunchy and radiate; knobby,
level and
lumpy; crumbling, out-
branching--: the stone, it
did not interrupt, it
spoke gladly to dry eyes, before it shut them.

Spoke, spoke.
Was, was.

would not let go, stood firm
in the midst, a
framework of pores, and
it came.

Came up to us, came
on through, it mended
invisibly, mended
on the final membrane,
the world, thousandfaced crystal,
shot out, shot out.


Shot out, shot out.


Nights, demixed. Circles,
green or blue, red
squares: the
world sets its inmost
at stake with the new
red or black, bright
squares, no
flight shadow,
plane table, no
chimney soul rises and joins in.


Rises and

joins in—

At owls' flight, near the
petrified lepra,
our fugitive hands, at
the latest rejection,
above the
bullet trap on
the ruined wall:

visible, once
again: the
grooves, the

choirs, back then, the
Psalms. Ho, ho-

temples still stand. A
may still give light.
nothing is lost.


At owls' flight, here,
the conversations, daygray,
of groundwater traces.


(— —daygray,


groundwater traces—

Taken off
into the terrain
the unmistakable

written asunder.)

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Ingeborg Bachmann

Every Day
by Ingeborg Bachmann

War is no longer declared,
but rather continued. The courageous
has become the everday. The hero
is absent from the battle. The weak
are moved into the firing zone.
The uniform of the day is patience,
the order of merit is the wretched star
of hope over the heart.

It is awarded
when nothing more happens,
when the bombardment is silenced,
when the enemy has become invisble
and the shadow of eternal armament
covers the sky.

It is awarded
for deserting the flag,
for bravery before a friend,
for the betrayal of shameful secrets
and the disregard
of every command.

tranlated by Peter Filkins

Borrowed Time
by Ingeborg Bachmann

Harder days are coming.
The loan of borrowed time
will be due on the horizen.
Soon you must lace up your boots
and chase the hounds back to the marsh farms.
For the entrails of fish
have grown cold in the wind.
Dimly burns the light of lupines.
Your gaze makes out in fog:
the loan of borrowed time
will be due on the horizon.

There your loved one sinks in sand;
it rises up to her windblown hair,
it cuts her short,
it commands her to be silent,
it discovers she's mortal
and willing to leave you
after every embrace.

Don't look around.
Lace up your boots.
Chase back the hounds.
Throw the fish into the sea.
Put out the lupines!

Harder days are coming.

tranlated by Peter Filkins

A Kind of Loss
by Ingeborg Bachmann

Used together: seasons, books, a piece of music.
The keys, teacups, bread basket, sheet and a bed.
A hope chest of words, of gestures, brought back, used, used up.
A household order maintained. Said. Done. And always a head was there.
I've fallen in love with winter, with a Viennese septet, wiht summer.
With Village maps, a mountain nest, a beach and a bed.
Kept a calender cult, declared promises irrevocable,
bowed before something, was pious to a nothing

(-to a folded newspaper, cold ashes, the scribbled piece of paper),
fearless in religion, for our bed was the church.

From my lake view arose my inexhaustible painting.
From my balcony I greeted entire peoples, my neighbors.
By the chimney fire, in safety, my hair took on its deepest hue.
The ringing at the door was the alarm for my joy.

It's not you I've lost,
but the world.

Tranlated from the German by Mark Anderson

by Ingeborg Bachmann

But where are we going
carefree be carefree
when it grows dark and when it grows cold
be carefree
with music
what should we do
cheerful and with music
and think
in facing the end
with music
and to where do we carry
best of all
our questions and dread of all the years
to the dream laundry carefree be carefree
but what happens
best of all
when dead silence

sets in

tranlated by Peter Filkins

by Ingeborg Bachmann


Be silent with me, as all bels are silent!

In the afterbirth of terror
the rabble grovles for new nourishment.
On Good Friday a hand hangs on display
in the firmament, tow fingers missing,
and it cannot swear that all of it,
all of it didn't happen, and nothing
ever will. It dives into red clouds,
whisks off the new murderers
and goes free.

Each night on this earth
open the windows, fold back the sheets
so that the invalid's secret lies naked,
a sore full of sustenace, endless pain
for every taste.

Gloved butchers cease
the breath of the naked;
the moon in the doorway falls to earth;
let the shards lie, the handle ....

All was prepared for the last rites.
(The sacrament cannot be completed.)


How vain it all is.
Roll into a city,
rise from the city's dust,
take over a post
and diguise yourself
to avoid exposure

Fulfill the promises
before a tarnished mirror in the air,
before a shut door in the wind.

Untraveled are the paths on the steep slope of heaven.


O eyes, scorched by th Earth's reservoir of sun,
weighted with the rain of all eyes,
and now absorbed, interwoven
by the tragic spiders
of the present ...


In the hollow of my muteness
lay a word
and grow tall forests on both sides,
such that my mouth
lies wholly in shade.

tranlated by Peter Filkins

Songs from an Island
Ingeborg Bachmann

Shadow fruit is falling from the walls,
moonlight bathes the house in white, and the ash
of extinct craters is borne in by the sea winnd.

In the embrace of handsome youths
the coasts are sleeping.
Your flesh remembers mine,
it was already inclined to me,
when the ships
loosened themselves from shore and the cross
of our mortal burden
kept watch in the rigging.

Now the execution sites are empty,
they search but cannot find us.


When you rise from the dead,
when I rise fromt the dead,
no stone will lie before the gate,
no boat will rest on the sea.

Tomorrow the casks will roll
toward Sunday waves,
we come on anointed

soles to the shore, wash
the grapes and stamp
the harvest into wine,
tomorrow, on the shore.

When you rise from the dead,
when I rise from the dead,
the hangman will hang at the gate,
the hammer will sink into the sea.


One day the feast must come!
Saint Anthony, you who have suffered,
Saint Leonard, you who have suffered,
Saint Vitus, you who have suffered.

Make way for our prayers, way fro the worshippers,
room for music and joy!
We have learned simplicity,
we sing in the choir of cicadas,
we eat and drink,
the lean cats
rub against our table,
until evening mass begins
I hold your hand
with my eyes,
and a quiet, brave heart
sacrifices its wishes to you

Honey and nuts for the childern,
teeming nets for the fishermen,
fertility for the gradens,
moon for the volcano, moon for the volcano!

Our sparks leapt over the borders,
above the night fireworks fanned their
tails, the procession
floats away on dark rafts and gives
time to the primeval world,
to the plodding lizards,
to the carnivorous plant,
to the feverish fish,
to the orgies of wind and the lust
of mountains where a pious
star loses its way, collides with their face
and dissolves into dust.

Stand firm, you follish saints.
Tell the mainland the craters aren't resting!
Saint Roch, you who have suffered,
oh you who have suffered, Saint Francis.


When someone departs he must throw his hat,
filled with the mussels he spent the summer
gathering, in the sea
and sail off with his hair in the wind,
he must hurl the table,
set for his love, in the sea,
he must pour the wine,
left in his glass, into the sea,
he must give his bread to the fish
and mix a drop of his blood with the sea,
he must drive his knife deep into the waves
and sink his shoes,
heart, anchor and cross,
and sail off with his hair in the wind.
Then he will return.
Do not ask.


There is fire under the earth,
and the fire is pure.

There is fire under the eart
and molten rock.

There is a torrent under the earth,
it will stream into us.

There is a torrent under the earth.
it will scorch our bones.

A great fire is coming,
a torrent is coming over the earth.

We shall be witnesses.

Translated for the German by Mark Anderson

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Mahmoud Darwish

Identity Card
Mahmoud Darwish

Put it on record
--I am an Arab
And the number of my card is fifty thousand
I have eight childern
And the ninth is due after summer.
What's there to be angry about?

Put it on record.
--I am an Arab
Working with comrades of toil in a quarry.
I have eight childern
For them I wrest the loaf of bread,
The clothes and exercise books
From the rocks
And beg for no alms at your doors,
--Lower not myself at your doorstep.
--What's there to be angry about?

Put it on record.
--I am an Arab.
I am a name without a tide,
Patient in a country where everything
Lives in a whirlpool of anger.
--My roots
--Took hold before the birth of time
--Before the burgeoning of the ages,
--Before cypess and olive trees,
--Before the proliferation of weeds.

My father is from the family of the plough
--Not from highborn nobles.
And my grandfather was a peasant
--Without line or genealogy.
My house is a watchman's hut
--Made of sticks and reeds.
Does my status satisfy you?
--I am a name without a surname.

Put it on Record.
--I am an Arab.
Color of hair: jet black.
Color of eyes: brown.
My distinguishing features:
--On my head the 'iqal cords over a keffiyeh
--Scratching him who touches it.
My address:
--I'm from a village, remote, forgotten,
--Its streets without name
--And all its men in the fields and quarry.

--What's there to be angry about?

Put it on record.
--I am an Arab.
You stole my forefathers' vineyards
--And land I used to till,
--I and all my childern,
--And you left us and all my grandchildren
--Nothing but these rocks.
--Will your government be taking them too
--As is being said?

--Put it on record at the top of page one:
--I don't hate people,
--I trepass on no one's property.
And yet, if I were to become starved
--I shall eat the flesh of my usurper.
--Beware, beware of my starvation.
--And of my anger!

translated by Denys Johnson-Davies

I Will Slog over This Road

I will slog over this endless road to its end.
Until my heart stops, I will slog over this endless, endless road
with nothing to lose but the dust, what has died in me, and a row of palms
pointing toward what vanishes. I wil pass the row of palms.
The wound does not need its poet to paint the blood of death like a pomegranate!
On the roof of neighing, I will cut thirty openings for meaning
so that you may end one trail only so as to begin another.
Whether this earth comes to an end or not, we'll slog over this endless road.
More tense than a bow. Our steps, be arrows. Where were we a momen ago?
Shall we join, in a while, the first arrow? The spinning wind whirled us.
So, what do you say?

I say: I will slog over this endless road to its end and my own

translated by Munir Akash and Carolyn Forche

I Belong There

I belong there. I have many memories. I was born as everyone is born.
I have a mother, a house with many windows, brothers, friends, and a prison cell
with a chilly window! I have a wave snatched by seagulls, a panorama of my own.
I ahve a saturated meadow. In the deep horizon of my word, I have a moon,
a brid's sutenace, and an immortal olive tree.
I have lived on the land long before swords turned man into prey.
I belong there. When heaven mourns for her mother, I return heaven to her mother.
And I cry so that a returning cloud might carry my tears
To break the rules, i have learned all the words needed for a trial by blood.
I have learned and dismatled all the words in order to draw from the a single word: Home.

translated by Munir Akash and Carolyn Forche

Earth Presses against Us

Earth is pressing against us, trapping us in the final passage.
To pass through, we pull off our limbs.
Earth is squeezing us. If only we were its wheat, we might die and yet live.
If only it were our mother so that she might temper us with mercy.
If only we were pictures of rocks held in our dreams like mirrors.
We glimpse faces in their final battle for the soul, of those who will be killed
by the last living among us. We mourn their children's feast.
We saw the faces of those who would throw our children out of the windows.
of this last space. A star to burnish our mirrors.
Where should we go after the last border? Where should birds fly after the last sky?
Where should plants sleep after the last breath of air?
We write our names with crimson mist!
We end the hymn with our flesh.
Here we will die. Here, in the final passage.
Here or there, our blood will plant olive trees.

translated by Munir Akash and Carolyn Forche

The Owl's Night

Here is a present that yesterday doesn't touch...
When we reached
the last of the trees we noticed that we
were no longer able to notice. When
we looked at the trucks. We saw absence
heaping up its selected things and pitching
its eternal tent around us...

Here is a present
that yesterday doesn't touch
Silk thread slips between the mulberrry trees
letters on the nights's notebook. Only
butterflies light our boldness
descending to the hollow of strange words:
Was this difficult man my father?
Perhaps I'll look after myself here. Perhaps
I'll give birth, now, to myself, with myself
and choose for my name vertical letters...

Here is a present
sitting in time's emptiness, staring
at the trace of those who pas on the river's reeds
polishing their flutes with wind...Perhpas speech
will become transparent, so we'll see windows in it, open
Perhaps time will hurry, with us
carrying our tomorrow in its luggage...

Here is a present
without time
No one here found anyone who remembered
how we left the door, a gust of wind. Or anyone who remembered
when we fell off yesterday. Yesterday
shattered ove rth floor, shrapnel gathered together
by others, like mirrors for the image, after us...

Here is a present
without place
Perhaps I'll look after myself and scream at
the owl's night: Was that difficult man
my father, who would have me carry the burden of his history?
Perhpas I'll transform within my name and choose
my mother's words and habits as it should
be: She'll be able to joke with me
whenever salt touches my blood. She'll be able
to comfort me whenever a nightingale bites my mouth!

Here is a present
Here strangers hung their guns on
the branches of an olive tree, prepared dinner
quickly from tin cans, and left
quickly for their trucks...

translated by Jeffrey Sacks

To My End and to Its End...

-Are you tired of walking
my son, are you getting tired?
-Yes, father
Your night has grown long on the road
and your heart has flowed over your night's earth
-You're still as lithe as a cat
so climb up on my shoulders
In a little while we'll cross
the forest of terebinth and oak
This is the northern Galilee
Lebanon is behind us
The sky is ours, all of it, from Damascus
to the beautiful wall fo Acre
-And then what?
-We'll return to the house
Do you know the way, my son?
-Yes, father:
East of the carob tree on the main street there's
a small path crowded by cactus
at its opening. Then it leads, wider and wider,
to the well where it looks out
on the orchard of my uncle Jamil
who sells tobacco and sweets
Then it gets lost on a treshing floor before
it straightens out and settles in at home
in the shape of a parrot
-Do you know the house, my son?
-I know it like I know the path:
Jasmine winds around an iron gate
Footprints of light on the stone stairs
Sunflowers stare at what lies behind the place
Friendly bees prepare breakfast for my grandfather
on a reed tray
In the yard there's a well and a willow tree and a horse
Behind the fence, a tomorrow, thumbing through our papers...

-Oh father, are you getting tired?
Do I see sweat in your eyes?
-My son, I am tired... Can you carry me?
-Like you used to carry me, father
I'll carry this longing
my beginning
and its beginning
I'll follow this road to
my end... and to its end!

translated by Jeffrey Sacks

Strangers' Walk

I know the house from the bunch of sage. The first of the
windows leans toward the
red. I know the clouds' handwriting and the well where
it will wait fro the village women in summer. I know
what the dove says when it lays an egg on the mouth of
a gun. I know who opens the door to the jasmine
as it opens our dreams to the evening guest...

The strangers' carriage still hasn't arrived

No one's arrived. Leave me there like
you'd leave your greeting at the entrance of a house. To me or
to someone else, without concern for who'll hear it
first. Leave me, there, a few words for myself:
Was I alone? "Solitary, like the soul in
a body," when you said, once: I love you both,
you and the water. The water shone in everything,
like a guitar that let itself cry!

The stangers' guitar still hasn't arrived

Let's be good! Take me to the sea at
sunset, so I'll hear what it tells you
when it returns to itself, still, still
I won't change. I'll slip into a wave
and say: Take me to the sea again. This is what
the frightened do with themselves: They go to
the sea when a star, aflame in the sky, torments them

The stangers' song still hasn't arrived

I know the hosue from the fluttering scarves. The first of the
doves cries on my shoulders. Beneath the sky
of the Gospels a child runs aimlessly. Water
runs. The pines run. The wind runs in
the wind. The earth runs in itself. I said:
Don't bein a rush when you leave the house. Nothing
prevents this place from pausing fro a moment,
here, while you put on the day's shirt and
the shoes of the wind

The strangers' myth still hasn't arrived...

No one's arrived. So leave me there like
you leave the myth with whomever sees you, and he cries,
and runs in himself afraid of his happiness:
I love you so, you are so much yourself! Afraid of
his soul: There is no "I" now, but "she" in me
There is no "she" but my fragile "I".
At the end of this song, how much I fear that my dream
may not see its dream in her.

No one's arrived
Perhaps the stangers lost thier way
to the stangers' walk!

translated by Amira El-Zein and Jeffrey Sacks

A Rhyme for the Odes (Mu'allaqat)

No one guided me to myself. I am the guide
Between desert and sea, I am my own guide to myself.
Born of language on the road to India between two small tribes,
adorned by the moonlight of ancient faiths and an impossible peace,
compelled to guard the periphery of a Persian neighborhood
and the great obsession of the Byzantines,
so that the heaviness of time lightens over the Arab's tent.
Who am I? This is a question that others ask, but have no answer.
I am my language, I am an ode, two odes, ten. This is my language.
I am my language. I am words' writ: Be! Be my body!
And I become an embodiment of thier timbre.
I am what I ahve spoken to the words: Be the place where
my body joins the eternity of the desert.
Be, so that I may become my words.
No land on earth bears me. Only my words bear me,
a bird born from me who builds a nest in my ruins
before me, and in the rubble of the enchanting world around me.
I stood on a wind, and my long night without end.
This is my language, a necklace of stars around the necks
of my loved ones. They emigrated.
They carried the place and emigrated, they carried time and emigrated.
They lifted their frangrances from their bowls.
They took their bleak pastures and emigrated.
They took the words. The ravaged heart left with them.
Will the echo, this echo, this white, sonorous mirage
hold a name whose hoarseness fills the unknown
and whom departure fills with divinity?
The sky opened a windon for me. I looked and found nothing
save myself outside itself, as it has always been,
and my desert-haunted visions.
My steps are wind and sand, my world is my body
and what I can hold onto.
I am the traveler and also the road.
Gods appear to me and dissappear.
We don't linger upon what is to come.
There is no tomorrow in this desert, save what we saw yesterday,
so let me brandish my ode to break the cycle of time,
and let there be beautiful days!
How much past tomorrow holds!
I left myself to itself, a self filled with the present.
Departure emptied me of temples.
Heaven has its own nations and wars.
I have a gazelle for a wife,
and palm trees for odes in a book of sand.
What I see is the past.
For mankind, a kingdom of dust and a crown.
Let my language overcome my hostile fate, my line of descendants.
Let it overcome me, my father, and a vanishing that won't vaninsh.
This is my language, my miracle, my magic wand.
This is my obelisk and the gardends of my Babylon,
my first identity, my polished metal, the desert idol of an Arab
who worships what flows from rhymes like stars in his aba,
and who worships his own words.

So let there be prose.
There must be a divine prose for the Prophet to triumph.

translated by Amira El-Zein

Lesson from the Kama-Sutra

Wait for her with an azure cup.
Wait for her in the evening at the spring, among perfumed roses.
Wait for her with the patience of a horse trained for mountains.
Wait for her with the distinctive, aesthetic taste of a prince.
Wait for her with the seven pillows of cloud.
Wait for her with strands of womanly incense wafting.
Wait for her with the manly scent of sandalwood on horseback.
Wait for her and do not rush.
If she arrives late, wait for her.
If she arrives early, wait for her.
Do not frighten the birds in her braided hair.
Take her to the balcony to watch the moon drowning in milk.
Wait for her and offer her water before wine.
Do not glance at the twin partridges sleeping on her chest.
Wait and gently touch her hand as she sets a cup on marble.
As if you are carrying the dew for her, wait.
Speak to her as a flute would to a frightened violin string,
As if you knew what tomorrow would bring.
Wait, and polish the night for her ring by ring.
Wait for her until the night speaks to you thus:
There is no one alive but the two of you.
So take her gently to the death you so desire,
and wait.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Zbigniew Herbert

Zbigniew Herbert


The Envoy of Mr. Cogito
by Zbigniew Herbert

Go where those others went to the dark boundary
for the golden fleece of nothingness your last prize

go upright among those who are on their knees
among those with their backs turned and those toppled in the dust

you were saved not in order to live
you have little time you must give testimony

be courageous when the mind decives you be courageous
in the final account only this is important

and let your helpless Anger be like the sea
whenever you hear the voice of the insulted and beaten

let you sister Scorn no leave you
for the informers executioners cowards - they will win
fothey will go to your funeral and with relief will throw a lup of earth
the woodborer will write your smoothed-over biography

and do not forgive truly it is not in your power
to forgive in the name of those betrayed at dawn

beware however of unnessary pride
keep looking at your clown's face in the mirror
repeat: I was called - werent' there better ones than I

beware of dryness of heart love the morning spring
the bird with an unknown name the winter oak

light on a wall the splendour of the sky
they don't need your warm breath
they are there to say: no one will console you

be vigilant - when the light on the mountains gives the sign - arise and go
as long as blood turns in the breast you dark star

repeat old in cantations of humanity fables and legends
because this is how you will attain the good you will not attain
repeat great words repeat them stubbornly
like those crossing the desert who perished in the sand

and they will reward you with what they have at hand
with the whip of laughter with murder on a garbage heap

go beacuase only in this way will you be admited to the company of cold skulls
to the company of your ancestors: Gilgamesh Hector Roland
the defenders of the kingdom without limit and the city of ashes

Be faithful Go.

translated by John Carpenter & Bogdana Carpenter

Mr. Cogito - the Return
by Zbigniew Herbert


Mr. Cogito

has made up his mind to return
to the stony bosom
of his homeland

the decision is dramatic
he will regret it bitterly

but no longer can he endure
empty everyday expressions
--comment allez-vous
--wie geht's
--how are you

at first glance simple the questions
demand a complicated answer

Mr. Cogito tears off
the bandages of polite indifference

he has stopped believing in progress
he is concerned about his own wound

displays of abundance
fill him with boredom

he became attached only
to a Dorian column
the Church of San Clemente
the portrait of a certain lady
a book he didn't have time to read
and a few other trifles

therefore he returns
he sees already
the frontier
a plowed field
murderous shooting towers
dense thickets of wire

armor-plated doors
slowly close behind him

and already
he is
in the treasure-house
of all misfortunes


so why does he return
ask friends
from the better world

he could stay here
somehow make ends meet

entrust the wound
to chemical stain remover

leave it behind in waiting rooms
of immense airports
so why is he returning

--to the water of childhood
--to entangled roots
--to the clasp of memory
--to the hand the face
seared on the grill of time

at first glance simple the questions
demand a complicated answer

probably Mr. Cogito returns
to give a reply

to the whisperings of fear
to impossible happiness
to the blow given from behind
to the deadly question

translated by John Carpenter & Bogdana Carpenter

The Monster of Mr. Cogito
by Zbigniew Herbert


Lucky Saint George
from his knight's saddle
could exactly evaluate
the strength and movements of the dragon

the first principle of strategy
is to assess the enemy accurately

Mr. Cogito
is in a worse position

he sits in the low
saddle of a valley
covered with thick fog
through fog it is impossible to perceive
fiery eyes
greedy claws

through fog
one sees only
the shimmering of nothingness

the monster of Mr. Cogito
has no measurements

it is difficult to describe
escapes definition

it is like an immense depression
spread out over the country

it can't be pierced
with a pen
with an argument
or spear

were it not for its suffocating weight
and the death it sends down
one would think
it is the hallucination
of a sick imagination

but it exists
for certain it exists

like carbon monoxide it fills
houses temples markets

poisons wells
destroys the structures of the mind
covers bread with mold

the proof of the existence of the monster
is its victims

it is not direct proof
but sufficient


reasonable people say
we can live together
with the monster

we only have to avoid
sudden movements
sudden speech

if there is a threat
assume the form
of a rock or a leaf

listen to wise Nature
recommending mimicry

that we breathe shallowly
pretend we aren't there

Mr. Cogito however
does not want a life of make-believe

he would like to fight
with the monster
on firm ground

so he walks out at dawn
into a sleepy suburb
carefully equipped
with a long sharp object

he calls to the monster
on the empty streets

he offends the monster
provokes the monster

like a bold skirmisher
of an army that doesn't exist

he calls-
come out contemptible coward

through the fog
one sees only
the huge snout of nothingness

Mr. Cogito wants to enter
the uneven battle

it ought to happen
possibly soon

before there will be
a fall from inertia
an ordinary death without glory
suffocation from formlessness

translated by John Carpenter & Bogdana Carpenter

Mr. Cogito on Virtue


It is not at all strange
she isn't the bride
of real men

of generals
athletes of power

through the ages she follows them
this tearful old maid
in a dreadful hat from the Salvation Army
she reprimands them

she drags out of the junkroom
a portrait of Socrates
a little cross molded from bread
old words

--while marvelous life reverberates all around
ruddy as a slaughterhouse at dawn

she could almost be buried
in a silver casket
of innocent souvenirs

she becomes smaller and smaller
like a hair in the throat
like a buzzing in the ear


my God
if she was a little younger
a little prettier

kept up with the spirit of the times
swayed her hips
to the rhythm of popular music

maybe then she would be loved
by real men
generals athletes of power despots

if she took care of herself
looked presentable
like Liz Taylor
or the Goddess of Victory

but an odor of mothballs
wafts from her
she compresses her lips
repeats a great--No

unbearable in her stubbornness
ridiculous as a scarecrow
as the dream of an anarchist
as the lives of the saints

translated by John Carpenter & Bogdana Carpenter

Our fear

Our fear
does not wear a night shirt
does not have owl's eyes
does not lift a casket lid
does not extinguish a candle

does not have a dead man's face either

our fear
is a scrap of paper found in a pocket

"warn Wojcik the place on Dluga Street is hot"
our fear
does not rise on the wings of the tempest
does not sit on a church tower it is down-to-earth

it has the shape of a bundle made in haste
with warm clothing provisions
and arms

our fear
does not have the face of a dead man
the dead are gentle to us
we carry them on our shoulders
sleep under the same blanket
close their eyes
adjust their lips
pick a dry spot
and bury them

not too deep
not too shallow

Translated by Czeslaw Milosz

Report from a Besieged City

Too old to carry arms and to fight like others-
they generously assigned to me the inferior role of a chronicler
I record--not knowing for whom--the history of the siege

I have to be precise but I don't know when the invasion began
two hundred years ago in December in autumn perhaps yesterday at dawn
here everybody is losing the sense of time

we were left with the place an attachment to the place
still we keep ruins of temples phantoms of gardens of houses
if we were to lose the ruins we would be left with nothing

I write as I can in the rhythm of unending weeks
monday: storehouses are empty a rat is now a unit of currency
tuesday: the mayor is killed by unknown assailants
wednesday: talks of armistice the enemy interned our envoys
we don't know where they are being kept i.e. tortured
thursday: after a stormy meeting the majority voted down the motion of spice merchants on unconditional surrender friday: the onset of plague saturday: the suicide of N.N.,
the most steadfast defender sunday: no water we repulsed
the attack at the eastern gate named the Gate of the Alliance

I know all this is monotonous nobody would care

I avoid comments keep emotions under control describe facts
they say facts only are valued on foreign markets
but with a certain pride I wish to convey to the world
thanks to the war we raised a new species of children
our children don't like fairy tales they play killing
day and night they dream of soup bread bones
exactly like dogs and cats

in the evening I like to wander in the confines of the City
along the frontiers of our uncertain freedom
I look from above on the multitude of armies on their lights
I listen to the din of drums to barbaric shrieks
it's incredible that the City is still resisting
the siege has been long the foes must replace each other they have nothing in common except a desire to destroy us
the Goths the Tartars the Swedes the Emperor's troupes regiments of Our Lord's Transfiguration
who could count them
colors of banners change as does the forest on the horizon
from the bird's delicate yellow in the spring through the green the red
to the winter black

and so in the evening freed from facts I am able to
give thought to bygone faraway matters for instance to our
allies overseas I know they feel true compassion
they send us flour sacks of comfort lard and good counsel
without even realizing that we were betrayed by their fathers
our former allies from the time of the second Apocalypse their sons are not guilty they deserve our gratitude so we are grateful
they have never lived through the eternity of a siege
those marked by misfortune are always alone
Dalai Lama's defenders Kurds Afghan mountaineers

now as I write these words proponents of compromise
have won a slight advantage over the party of the dauntless
usual shifts of mood our fate is still in the balance

cemeteries grow larger the number of defenders shrinks
but the defense continues and will last to the end
and even if the City falls and one of us survives
he will carry the City inside him on the roads of exile
he will be the City

we look at the face of hunger the face of fire the face of death
and the worst of them all--the face of treason

and only our dreams have not been humiliated

Warsaw 1982

Translated by Czeslaw Milosz

Transformations of Livy
by Zbigniew Herbert

How did they understand Livy my grandfather my great grandfather
certainly they read him in high school
at the not very propitious time of the year
when a chestnut stands in the window--fervent candelabras of blooms--
all the thoughts of grandfather and great grandfather running breathless to Mizia
who sings in the garden shows her decolletage also her heavenly legs up to the knees
or Gabi from the Vienna opera with ringlets like a cherub Gabi with a snub nose and Mozart in her throat
or in the end to kindhearted Jozia refuge of the dejected
with no beauty talent or great demands
and so they read Livy--O season of blossoms--
in the smell of chalk boredom naphthalene for cleaning the floor
under a portrait of the emperor
because at that time there was an emperor
and the empire like all empires
seemed eternal

Reading the history of the City they surrendered to the illusion
that they are Romans or descendants of the Romans
these sons of the conquered themselves enslaved
surely the Latin master contributed to this
with his rank of Court Councillor
a collection of antique virtues under a worn-out frock coat
so following Livy he implanted in his pupils the contempt for the mob
the revolt of the people--res tam foede--aroused loathing in them
whereas all of the conquests appeared just
they showed simply the victory of what is better stronger
that is why they were pained by the defeat at Lake Trasimeno
the superiority of Scipio filled them with pride
they learned of the death of Hannibal with genuine relief
easily too easily they let themselves be led
through the entrenchments of subordinate clauses
complex constructions governed by the gerund
rivers swollen with elocution
pitfalls of syntax
--to battle
for a cause not theirs

Only my father and myself after him
read Livy against Livy
carefully examining what is underneath the fresco
this is why the theatrical gesture of Scaevola awoke no echo in us
shouts of centurions triumphal marches
while we were willing to be moved by the defeat
of the Samnites Gauls or Etruscans
we counted many of the names of peoples turned to dust by the Romans
buried without glory who for Livy
were not worth even a wrinkle of style
those Hirpins Apulians Lucanians Osunans
also the inhabitants of Tarentum Metapontum Locri

My father knew well and I also know
that one day on a remote boundary
without any signs in heaven in Pannonia Sarajevo or Trebizond
in a city by a cold sea
or in a valley of Panshir
a local conflagration will explode

and the empire will fall

Translated by John and Bogdana Carpenter

The Nepenthe Family
by Zbigniew Herbert

Did Jean-Jaques the Tender know about the pitcher plant
-it was described by Linnaeus he should have know it-
so why was he silent about this scandal of nature

one of many scandals but perhaps
beyond the capacity of the hear and tear glands
of the one who sought only comfort in nature

this is criminal grows in the dark jungles of Borneo
and lures with a flower that is not a flower
but the main vein of a leaf fanned out in the form of a pitcher

with a hinged lid and very sweet mouth
that draws insects to the teacherous banquet
like the secret police of a certain empire

for who can resist-fly or man-
the sticky nectars orgy of colors glowing with hues
of white of violet of meat like the windows of a red travern

where a kind innkeeper with a beautiful daughter wife
sends the company of drunken guests drained of blood
to heaven or hell depending on their merits

it was a fovrite of the Victorian decadents
combining the salon of debauchery with the torture chamber
everything was there-rope nails venom sex the knout the coffin

and we live peacefully with the pitcher plant
among gulags concentration camps with no concern for the knowledge
that innocence in the world of plants-does not exist

translated by John Carpenter & Bogdana Carpenter

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Wisława Szymborska

Wisława Szymborska

Under one small Star
by Wisława Szymborska

My apologies to chance for calling it necessity.
My apologies to necessity if I'm mistaken, after all.
Please, don't be angry, happiness, that I take you as my due.
May my dead be patient with the way my memories fade.
My apologies to time for all the world I overlook each second.
My apologies to past loves for thinking that the lates is the first.
Frogive me, open wounds, for pricking my finger.
I apologize for my record of minutes to those who cry from the depths.
I apologize to those who wait in railway stations for being asleep today at five a.m.
Pardon me, hounded hope, for laughing from time to time.
Pardon me, deserts, that I don't rush to you bearing a spoonful of water.
And you, falcon, unchanging year after year, always in the same cage,
your gaze always fixed on the same point in space.
forgive me, even if it turns out you were stuffed.
My apologies to the felled tree for the table's four legs.
My apologies to great questions for small answers.
Truth, please don't pay me much attention.
Dignity, please be magnanimous.
Bear with me, O mystery of existence, as I pluck the occasional thread from your train.
Soul, don't take offence that I've only got you now and then.
My apologies to everything that I can't be everywhere at once.
My apologies to everyone that I can't be each woman and each man.
I know I won't be justified as long as I live,
since I myself stand in my own way.
Don't bear me ill will, speech, that I borrow weighty words,
then labour heavily so that they may seem light.

Translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh

True Love
by Wisława Szymborska

True love. Is it normal,
is it serious, is it practical?
What does the world get from two people
who exist in a world of their own?

Placed on the same pedestal for no good reason,
drawn randomly from millions, but convinced
it had to happen this way-in reward for what? For nothing.
The light descends from nowhere.
Why on these two and not on others?
Doesn't this outrage justice? Yes it does.
Doesn't it disrupt our painstakingly erected principles,
and cast the moral from the peak? Yes on both accounts.

Look at the happy couple.
Couldn't they at least try to hid it,
fake a little depression fro the friends' sake!
Listen to them laughting-it's an insult.
The language they use-deceptively clear.
And their little celebrations, rituals,
the elaborate mutual routines-
it's obviously a plot behind the human race's back!

It's hard even to guess how far things might go
if people start to follow their example.
What could religion and poetry count on?
What would be remembered? what renounced?
Who'd want to say within bounds?

True love. Is it really neccessary?
Tact and common sense tell us to pass over it in silence,
like a scandal in Life's highest circles.
Perfectly good children are born without its help.
It couldn't populate the planets in millions years,
it comes along so rarely.

Let the people who never find true love
keep saying that there's no such thing.

Their faith will make it easier for them to live and die.

Translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh

The End and the Beginning
by Wisława Szymborska

After every war
someone has to clean up.
Things won't
straighten themselves up, after all.

Someone has to push the rubble
to the sides of the road,
so the corpse-laden wagons
can pass.

Someone has to get mired
in scum and ashes,
sofa springs,
splintered glass,
and bloody rags.

Someone must drag in a girder
to prop up a wall,
Someone must glaze a window,
rehang a door.

Photogenic it's not,
and takes years.
All the cameras have left
for another war.

Again we'll need bridges
and new railway stations.
Sleeves will go ragged
from rolling them up.

Someone, broom in hand,
still recalls how it was.
Someone listens
and nods with unsevered head.
Yet others milling about
already find it dull.

From behind the bush
sometimes someone still unearths
rust-eaten arguments
and carries them to the garbage pile.

Those who knew
what was going on here
must give way to
those who know little.
And less than little.
And finally as little as nothing.

In the grass which has overgrown
reasons and causes,
someone must be stretched out
blade of grass in his mouth
gazing at the clouds.

Translated by Joanna Trezeciak

The Turn of the Century
by Wisława Szymborska

It was supposed to be better than the others, our 20th century,
But it won't have time to prove it.
Its years are numbered,
its step unsteady,
its breath short.

Already too much has happened
that was not supposed to happen.
What was to come about
has not.

Spring was to be on its way,
and happiness, among other things.

Fear was to leave the mountains and valleys.
The truth was supposed to finish before the lie.
Certain misfortunes
were never to happen again
such as war and hunger and so forth.

These were to be respected:
the defenselessness of the defenseless,
trust and the like.

Whoever wanted to enjoy the world
faces an impossible task.

Stupidity is not funny.
Wisdom isn't jolly.

Is no longer the same young girl
et cetera. Alas.

God was at last to believe in man:
good and strong,
but good and strong
are still two different people.

How to live--someone asked me this in a letter,
someone I had wanted
to ask that very thing.

Again and as always,
and as seen above
there are no questions more urgent
than the naive ones.

Translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh

Reality Demands
by Wisława Szymborska

Reality demands
that we also mention this:
Life goes on.
It continues at Cannae and Borodino,
at Kosovo Poije and Guernica.

There's a gas station
on a little square in Jericho,
and wet paint
on park benches in Bila Hora.
Letters fly back and forth
between Pearl Harbor and Hastings,
a moving van passes
beneath the eye of the lion at Cheronea,
and the blooming orchards near Verdun
cannot escape
the approaching atmospheric front.

There is so much Everything
that Nothing is hidden quite nicely.
Music pours
from the yachts moored at Actium
and couples dance on their sunlit decks.

So much is always going on,
that it must be going on all over.
Where not a stone still stands,
you see the Ice Cream Man
besieged by children.

Where Hiroshima had been
Hiroshima is again,
producing many products
for everyday use.

This terrifying world is not devoid of charms,
of the mornings
that make waking up worthwhile.

The grass is green
on Maciejowice's fields,
and it is studded with dew,
as is normal with grass.

Perhaps all fields are battlefields,
those we remember
and those that are forgotten:
the birch forests and the cedar forests,
the snow and the sand, the iridescent swamps
and the canyons of black defeat,
where now, when the need strikes, you don't cower
under a bush but squat behind it.

What moral flows from this? Probably none.
Only the blood flows, drying quickly,
AND, clouds.
On tragic mountain passes
the wind rips hats from unwitting heads
and we can't help
laughing at that

Translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh

by Wisława Szymborska

I PREFER movies.
I prefer cats.
I prefer the oaks along the Warta.
I prefer Dickens to Dostoyevski.
I prefer myself liking people
to myself loving mankind.
I prefer keeping a needle and thread on hand, just in case.
I prefer the color green.
I prefer not to maintain
that reason is to blame for everything.
I prefer exceptions.
I prefer to leave early.
I prefer talking to doctors about something else.
I prefer the old fine-lined illustrations.
I prefer the absurdity of writing poems
to the absurdity of not writing poems.
I prefer, where love's concerned, nonspecific anniversaries
that can be celebrated every day.
I prefer moralists
who promise me nothing.
I prefer cunning kindness to the over-trustful kind.
I prefer the earth in civvies.
I prefer conquered to conquering countries.
I prefer having some reservations.
I prefer the hell of chaos to the hell of order.
I prefer Grimm's fairy tales to the newspapers' front pages.
I prefer leaves without flowers to flowers without leaves.
I prefer dogs with uncropped tails.
I prefer light eyes, since mine are dark.
I prefer desk drawers.
I prefer many things that I haven't mentioned here
to many things I've also left unsaid.
I prefer zeroes on the loose
to those lined up behind a cipher.
I prefer the time of insects to the time of stars.
I prefer to knock on wood.
I prefer not to ask how much longer and when.
I prefer keeping in mind even the possibility
that existence has its own reason for being.

Translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Tadeusz Rózewicz

Mickiewicz: "It is more difficult to live through a day well than to write a good book"

Tadeusz Rózewicz in Conversation with Adam Czerniawski
"I search books and poems for practical help. I hope they will help me overcome despair and doubt and, strangely enough, I sought help both in Dostoevsky and in Conrad. Similarly, I sought help during the Occupation, and even before, in poetry. And when this led to disappointment-after all, these were only books-I became angry and disillusioned with the greatest works. I felt I was muddling things up in some way and yet I couldn't face up to this. Because I myself have always searched, begged for help, I began to think that I too may be able to help, though of course I also have moments when I feel it's not worth anything. Occasionally, someone writes to me in a way that strengthens my conviction regarding my determination to turn words into practice."

The Survivor
by Tadeusz Rozewicz

I am twenty-four
led to slaughter
I survived.

The following are empty synonyms:
man and beast
love and hate
friend and foe
darkness and light.

The way of killing men and beasts is the same
I've seen it:
Truckfuls of chopped-up me
who will not be saved.

Ideas are mere words:
virtue and crime
truth and lies
beauty and ugliness
courage and cowardice.

Virtue and crime weigh the same
I"ve seen it:
in a man who was both
criminal and virtuous

I seek a teacher and a master
may he restore my sight hearing and speech
may he again name objects and ideas
may he separate darkness and light

I am twenty-four
led to slaughter
I survived.

translated by Adam Czerniawski

In the Midst of Life
by Tadeusz Rozewicz

After the end of the world
after death
I found myself in the midst of life
creating myself
building life
people animals landscapes

this is a table I said
this is a table
there is bread and a knife on the table
knife serves to cut bread
people are nourished by bread

man must be loved
I learnt by night by day
what must one love
I would reply man

this is a window I siad
this is a window
there is a darden beyond the window
I see an apple-tree in the graden
the apple-tree blossoms
the blossom falls
fruit is formed

my father picks the apple
the man who picks the apple
is my father

I sat on the threshold
that old woman who
leads a goat on a string
is needed more
is worth more
that seven wonders of the world
anyone who thinks or feels
she is not needed
is a mass murderer

this is a man
this is a tree this is bread
people eat to live
I kept saying to myself
human life is important
human life has great importance

the value of life
is greater than the value of all things
which man has created
man is a great treasure
I repeated stubbornly

this is water I said
I stroked the waves with my hand
and talked to the river
water I would say
nice water
this is me

man talked to water
talked to the moon
to the flowers and to rain
talked to the earth
to the birds
to the sky

the sky was silent
the earth was silent
and if a voice was heard
from earth water and sky
it was a voice of another man

translated by Adam Czerniawski

by Tadeusz Rozewicz

I turn to you high priests
teachers judges artists
shoemakers physicians officials
and to you my father
Hear me out.

I am not young
let the slenderness of my body
not deceive you
not the tender whiteness of my neck
nor the fairness of my open brow
nor the down on my sweet lip
nor my cherubic laughter
nor the spring in my step

I am not young
let my innocence
not move you
nor my purity
nor my weakness
fragility and simplicity

I am twenty years old
I am a murderer
I am an instrument
blind as the axe
in the hands of an executioner
I struck a man dead
and with red fingers
stroked the white breats of women.

Maimed I saw
neither heaven nor rose
nor bird nest tree
St. Francis
Achilles nor Hector
For six years
blood gushed steaming from my nostrils
I do not believe in the changing of water into wine
I do not believe in the remission of sins
I do not believe in the resurrection of the body

translated by Magnus J. Krynski and Robert A. Maguire

Deposition of the Burden
by Tadeusz Rózewicz

He came to you
and said
you are not responsible
either for the world or for the end of the world
the burden is taken from your shoulders
you are like birds and children

so they play

they forget
that modern poetry
is a struggle for breath

Translated by Czeslaw Milosz

Who Is a Poet
by Tadeusz Rózewicz

a poet is one who writes verses
and one who does not write verses

a poet is one who throws off fetters
and one who puts fetters on himself

a poet is one who believes
and one who cannot bring himself to believe

a poet is one who has told lies
and one who has been told lies

one who has been inclined to fall
and one who raises himself

a poet is one who tries to leave
and one who cannot leave

tranlated by Magnus J. Krynski and Robert A. Maguire

Among Many Tasks
by Tadeusz Rózewicz

Among many tasks
very urgent
I've forgotten that
it's also necessary
to be dying

I have neglected this obligation
or have been fulfilling it

beginning tomorrow
everything will change
I will start dying assiduously
wisely optimistically
without wasting time

tranlated by Magnus J. Krynski and Robert A. Maguire

Draft for a Contemporary Love Poem
by Tadeusz Rózewicz

For surely whiteness
is buest described through greyness
bird through stone
in December

in the past love poems
described flesh
described this and that
eyelashes for instance

surely redness
should be described
through greyness sun through rain
poppies in November
lips at night

the most telling
description of bread
is one of hunger
it includes
the damp porous entre
the warm interior
sunflowers at night
breats belly thighs of Cybele

a spring-like
transparent description
of water
is the description of thirst
of ashes
it conjures up a mirage
clouds and trees enter
the mirror

Hunger deprivation
of flesh
is the description of love
the contemporary love poem

translated by Adam Czerniawski

by Tadeusz Rozewicz

When all the women in the transport
had their heads shaved
four workmen with brooms made a birch twigs
swept up
and gathered up the hair

Behind clean glass
the stiff hair lies
of those suffocated in gas chambers
there are pins and side combs
in this hair

The hair is not shot through with light
is not parted by the breeze
is not touched by any hand
or rain or lips

In huge chests
clouds of dry hair
of those suffocated
and a faded plait
a pigtail with a ribbon
pulled at school
by naughty boys

The Museum, Auschwitz, 1948

translated by Adam Czerniawski

Leave Us
by Tadeusz Rozewicz

Forget us
forget our generation
live like humans
forget us

we envied
plants and stones
we evied dogs

I'd rather be a rat
I told her then

I'd rather not be
I'd rather sleep
and wake when war is over
she said her eyes shut

Forget us
don't enquire about our youth
leave us

translated by Adam Czerniawski

Posthumous Rehabilitation
by Tadeusz Rozewicz

The dead have remembered
our indifference
The dead have remembered
our silence
The dead have remembered
our words

The dead see our snouts
laughing from ear to ear
The dead see
our bodies rubbing against each other
The dead hear
clucking tongues

The dead read our books
listen to our speeches
delivered so long ago

The dead scrutinize our lectures
join in previously terminated
The dead see our hands
poised for applause

The dead see stadiums
ensembles and choirs declaiming rhythmically

all the living are guilty

little childern
who offered bouquets of flowers
are guilty
lovers are guilty
guilty are poets

guilty are those who ran away
and those that stayed
those who were saying yes
those who said no
and those who said nothing

the dead are taking stock of the living
the dead will not rehabilitate us

translated by Adam Czerniawski

To the Heart
by Tadeusz Rozewicz

I watched
an expert cook
he would thrust his hand
into the windpipe
pushing it through
into the sheep's
and there in the quick
would grasp the heart
his fingers closing
round the heart
would rip out the heart
with one pull
he certainly was an expert

translated by Adam Czerniawski

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Fernando Pessoa, "The Book of Disquiet"

"I'm astounded whenever I finish something. Astounded and distressed. My perfectionist instinct should inhibit me from finishing; it should inhibit me from even beginning. But I get distracted and start doing something. What I achieve is not the product of an act of my will but of my will's surrender. I begin because I don't have the strength to think; I finish because I don't have the courage to quit. This book is my cowardice."

-Bernado Soares
assistant bookkeeper in the city of Lisbon