30 December 2012


From: The War Correspondent 

                  by Ciaran Carson

1. Gallipoli

Take sheds and stalls from Billingsgate,
all glittering with scaling-knives and gutted fish,
and the tumbledown outhouses of English farmers’ yards
smelling of dung and straw and horses
cantering through the back lanes of Dublin;
take an Irish landlord’s ruinous estate,
elaborate pagodas from a Chinese Delftware dish
on which the fishes fly through shrouds and yards
of leaking ballast-laden junks bound for Benares
in search of bucket-loads of tea as black as tin;
take a dirty gutter from a back street in Boulogne,
where houses teeter so their pitched roofs meet,
chimneys tall as those in Sheffield
or Irish round towers,
smoking like a fleet of British ironclad destroyers;
take the oregano-scented arcades of Bologna,
spaghetti-twists of souks and smells of rotten meat,
labyrinthine as the rifle-factories of Springfield,
or the tenements deployed by bad employers
who sit in parlours doing business drinking Power’s;
then populate this slum with Cypriot and Turk,
Armenians and Arabs, British riflemen
and French Zouaves, camel-drivers, officers and sailors,
sappers, miners, Nubian slaves, Greek money-changers,
and interpreters who do not know the lingo;
dress them in turbans, shawls of fancy needlework,
fezzes, knickerbockers, sashes, shirts of fine Valenciennes,
boleros, pantaloons designed by jobbing tailors,
feathers of the ostrich and the pink flamingo,
and outfits even stranger;
set up some slaughterhouses for the troops,
and stalls with sherbert, lemonade and rancid lard for sale,
a temporary hospital or two, a jail,
a stagnant harbour redolent with cholera,
and open sewers running down the streets;
let the staple diet be green cantaloupes
swarming with flies, washed down with sour wine,
accompanied by the Byzantine
jangly music of the cithara
and the multi-lingual squawks of parakeets –
O landscape riddled with the diamond mines of Kimberley,
and all the oubliettes of Trebizond,
where opium-smokers doze among the Persian rugs,
and spies and whores in dim-lit snugs
discuss the failing prowess of the superpowers,
where prowling dogs sniff for the offal beyond
the melon stench of pulped plums and apricots,
from which is distilled the brandy they call “grape-shot”,
and soldiers lie dead or drunk among the crushed flowers –
I have not even begun to describe Gallipoli.

23 December 2012


(14th century English)
Translated by Jane Draycott

One thing I know for certain: that she
was peerless, pearl who would have added
light to any prince's life
however bright with gold. None
could touch the way she shone
in any light, so smooth, so small --
she was a jewel above all others.
So pity me the day I lost her
in this garden where she fell
beneath the grass into the earth.
I stand bereft, struck to the heart
with love and loss. My spotless pearl.

I've gazed a hudred times at the place
she left me, grieving for that gift
which swept away all shadow, that face
which was the antidote to sorrow.
And though this watching sears my heart
and wrings the wires of sadness tighter,
still the song this silence sings me
is the sweetest I have heard --
the countless quiet hours in which
her pale face floats before me, mired
in mud and soil, a perfect jewel
spoiled, my spotless pearl.

In the place where such riches lie rotting
a cfarpet of spices will spring up and spread,
blossoms of blue and white and red
which fire in the full light facing the sun.
Where a pearl is planted deep in the dark
no fruit or flower could ever fade'
all grasscorn grows from dying grain
so new wheat can be carried home.
From goodness other goodness grows:
so beautiful a seed can't fail
to fruit or spices fail to flower
fed by a precious, spotless pear.

So I cam to this very same spot
in the green of an August garden, height
and heart of summer, at Lammas time
when corn is cut with curving scythes.
And I saw that the little hill where she fell
was a shaded place showered with spices:
pink gillyflower, ginger and purple gromwell,
powdered with peonies scattered like stars.
But more than their loveliness to the eye,
the sweetest fragrance seemed to float
in the air there also -- I knew beyond doubt
that's where she lay, my spotless pearl.

Caught in the chill grasp of grief I stood
in that place clasping my hands, seized
by the grip on my heart of longing and loss.
Though reason told me to be still
I mourned for my poor imprisoned pearl
with all the fury and force of a quarrel.
The comfort of Christ called out to me
but still I wrestled in wilful sorrow.
Then the power and perfume of those flowers
filled up my head and felled me, slipped me
into sudden sleep in the place
where she lay beneath me. My girl.

16 December 2012

Eros and Psyche

by Jehanne Dubrow
after Antonio Canova’s sculpture (1787)

From a certain vantage point they
could be lovers—the man
with his arms encircling my
mother, and both of them gone
marble. He has woken her with
the sound of broken wings. Her
blanket is polished rock, cold
and weighted to the bed. From
this angle the knife is hidden,
although it’s there, the way
an arrow is always shooting through
this story, desire a dart that
finds the tender spot. Bodies
make a space for gods to
intervene. Tonight if there are
souls like butterflies, then they
have stilled. If beauty could be
bolted in a box, if a deity could
say, Don’t open this, then my
mother might stay asleep
forever, unbothered by the
monument of those hands.

09 December 2012

Alive Together

                        by Lisel Mueller

Speaking of marvels, I am alive
together with you, when I might have been
alive with anyone under the sun,
when I might have been Abélard’s woman
or the whore of a Renaissance pope
or a peasant wife with not enough food
and not enough love, with my children
dead of the plague. I might have slept
in a alcove next to the man
with the golden nose, who poked it
into the business of stars,
or sewn a starry flag
for a general with wooden teeth.
I might have been the exemplary Pocahontas
or a woman without a name
weeping in Master’s bed
for my husband, exchanged for a mule,
my daughter, lost in a drunken et.
I might have been stretched on a totem pole
to appease a vindictive god
or left, a useless girl-child,
to die on a cliff. I like to think
I might have been Marry Shelley
in love with a wrongheaded angel,
or Mary’s friend. I might ahve been you.
This poem is endless, the odds against us are endless,
our chances of being alive together
statistically nonexistent;
still we have made it, alive in a time
when rationalists in square hats
and hatless Jehovah’s Witnesses
agree it is almost over,
alive with our lively children
who -- but for endless ifs --
might have missed out on being alive
together with marvels and follies
and longings and lies and wishes
and error and humor and mercy
and journeys and voices and faces
and colors and summers and mornings
and knowledge and tears and chance.

From Lisel Mueller, Alive Together: New and Selected Poems, 1996. 


02 December 2012



by Jonathan Galassi

This house these walls were ours
and everything inside them the
lawns the trees the flower beds
the stone walls not the fern
walk that is Alison's but it's the
way the first light filters
through the thinned-out branch-
es part of us the ancient
apple orchard the hydrangeas
yellowed lily leaves the old
barn the new studio that you and
Chris created for me and the ice-
house and the light is ours the
angled brilliance and the funk of
fall the weather's turned the
snow the stairs the stars out on
the lawn the cold coyotes' calls
are ours the view from the mar-
tini bench the copper beech the
thyme terrace and the new one
and the girls are ours the young
shad and the lilacs and our
square bed and the birch room
and the teahouse sunset apple
smoke the flame azaleas that
didn't take the peonies the si-
lences and evening unraveling
the immense white pine and fuel
oil smell were ours these rooms
are ours the pictures sofas car-
pets my grandmother's bud vase
the coin silver spoons and Eloise
is ours and Pheobe was this room
is ours the square bed and the
threshing here was ours the si-
lences the Paris bedspread and
the dressers and my red desk in
the alcove and your bathroom tub
the inky tentacles e-mail was ours
and phone calls and what makes
you think you're you was always

           pretend you're with me as
you read this all the empty
hours were ours the rattling down
the hall the perfect view across
the road the hills the walls the
white fence fallen branches bit-
tersweet the stairs the girls are
ours the love the friends the
silences your voice your eyes your
hair your neck the beauty all are
ours the empty mornings and the
silences were ours the staring at
the fire before it died the grappa
and the whiskey in etched glasses
and the bellows the black marble
fireplace and Chris's gavel Mol-
lie's picture Christopher's two
drawings dinner by the fire was
ours the sausages the peppermint
foot rub your cowhide slipeprs
endless books too many you kept
saying in the halfway house hu-
midity and hummingbirds all ours
all ours the afternoons the misty
mornings looking up the lawn the
copper beech the peegees turning
purple Haystack and the deep
sleeps the Bald mountain treks
the fern walk and the two chairs
by the stream we never sat in
and the little living room and
Libby's paths the Alfords' rugs the
girls my parents' nesting tables
Pete Street's hidden staircase
all the evenings the talk the
laughter all the music all the
friends the silences the girls and
everything that was and wasn't

           and hours were ours the
walks the silent drives the si-
lences unspoken love the lacks
the guilt the missing the alone-
ness what we couldn't do the
what we didn't say the things I
couldn't do the one I couldn't
be and wanted to and didn't is
ours too and rage is ours and
loss and hours alone are our
the silences the hall the girls
and the unknown was ours the fu-
ture that we couldn't share the
fear the falling leaves and fail-
ing ruining the fault lines and
the love lines and incomprehen-
sion and the need to know and to
be known and broken faith deri-
sion denigration power was ours
and powerlessness and struggle
and my twisted heart that got un-
twisted and your face your voice
your neck your back the tears
the girls the life I left the lost
life all of it was ours is ours
was ours is ours was

From Jonathan  Galassi, Left-handed: Poems (2012).