25 May 2014

Constantine Palaeologos

                     by Odysseas Elytis

As he stood there erect before the Gate
and impregnable in his sorrow

Far from the world where his spirit sought
to bring Paradise to his measure
And harder even than stone
for no one had ever looked
on him tenderly - at times his crooked teeth
whitened strangely

And as he passed by with his gaze a little
beyond mankind and from them all
extracted One who smiled on him
The Real one
Whom death could never seize

He took care to pronounce the word
sea clearly that all the dolphins
within it might shine
And the desolation so great it might
contain all of God
and every waterdrop ascending steadfastly toward
the sun

As a young man he had seen gold glittering
and gleaming on the shoulders of the great
And one night
he remembers

during a great storm the neck of the sea
roared so it turned murky
but he would not submit to it

The world's an oppressive place to live through
yet with a little pride it's worth it.

Dear God what now
Who had to battle with thousands
and not only his loneliness
He who knew with a single word
how to slake the thirst of entire worlds

From whom they had taken everything
And his sandals with their criss-crossed
straps and his pointed trident
and the wall he mounted every afternoon like
an unruly and pitching boat
to hold the reigns against the weather

And a handful of vervain
which he had rubbed on a girl's cheek
at midnight
to kiss her
(how the waters of the moon gurled
on the stone steps three cliff-lengths
above the sea...)

Noon out of night
And not one person by his side
Only his faithful words that mingled
all their colors to leave in his hand
a lance of white light

And opposite
along the whole wall's length
a host of heads poured in plaster
as far as his eyes could see

"Noon out of night - all life a radiance!"
he shouted and rushed into the horde
dragging behind him an endless golden line

And at once he felt
the final pallor
overmastering him
as it hastened from afar.

as the sun's wheel turned more and more swiftly
the courtyards plunged into winter and once
again emerged red from the geranium

And the small cool domes
like blue medusae
reached each time higher to the silverwork
the wind so delicately worked as a painting
for other times more distant

Virgin maidens
their breasts glowing a summer dawn
brought him branches of fresh palm leaves
and those of the myrtle uprooted
from the depths of the sea

Dripping iodine
While under his feet he heard
the prows of black ships
sucked into the great whirlpool
the ancient and smoked seacraft
from which still erect with riveted gaze
the Mothers of God stood rebuking

Horses overturned on dumpheaps
a rabble of buildings large and small
debris and dust flaming in the air

And there lying prone
always with an unbroken word
between his teeth

the last of the Hellenes!

18 May 2014

That sail which leans on light

                    by Derek Walcott


That sail which leans on light,
tired of islands,
a schooner beating up the Caribbean

for home, could be Odysseus,
home-bound on the Aegean;
that father and husband's

longing, under gnarled sour grapes, is
like the adulterer hearing Nausicaa's name
in every gull's outcry.

This brings nobody peace. The ancient war
between obsession and responsibility
will never finish and has been the same

for the sea-wanderer or the one on shore
now wriggling on his sandals to walk home,
since Troy sighed its last flame,

and the blind giant's boulder heaved the trough
from whose groundswell the great hexameters come
to the conclusions of exhausted surf.

The classics can console. But not enough.

                "Sea Grapes" from Selected Poems by Derek Walcott. (2007)

11 May 2014

The Lyre of Achilles

                   Excerpt from Giovanni Pascoli's


Then Achilles stopped to listen to the sighing
of his horses, and in the distance, the lament
of the Neriads, and through their sobs
he heard sadder, more subdued
the voice of his cerulean mother.
And then above the deep noise of the battlefield
he heard the clear notes of a lyre plucked by a singer;
while the horses sighed, shaking,
to grind the white barley and grain.
The song passed between death and daydream:
some vulture rising up above the dead
sent a breeze across the foreheads of living heroes.
Far off beneath the azure sky, it vanished.
Achilles noticed it no more.

E stette Achille ad ascoltare i ringhi
de' suoi cavalli, e piu lontano il pianto
delle Nereidi, e dentro i lor singhiozzi
senti piu trista, si ma piu sommessa
la voce della sua cerulea madre.
Anche senti tra il sonno alto del campo
passar con chiaro tintinnio la cetra,
di cui tentava il pio cantor le corde;
mentre i cavalli sospendean, fremendo,
di dirompere il bianco orzo e la spelta.
Passava il canto tra la morte e il sogno:
qualche avvoltoio, sorto su dai morti,
gli eroi viventi ventilava io fronte.
Lontano ella sotto il cielo azzurro,
e poi vani. Ne piu la intese Achille.  

 Translation DW.

04 May 2014

The Forest of Sure Things

                                by Megan Snyder-Camp


In two days the rat swam 400 meters
to the other island, also empty, in search of another rat. The scientists
who had been following the rat
grew desperate as the weeks passed
and the peanut butter went stale.
No song from the radio collar.
Their wives wanted a vacation.
It was summer; the bee-bitten lilacs
turn in, some as-yet-unnamed tree
parted a soft slab of rock. They sent another rat out.
And another.


The oranges were the first to arrive,
bobbing along the coast like subtitles.
Everything seemed ot carry another name.
Look at me, our mother said. Our lunch
a sacrifice, our hair a knotted map.
The youngest of us watched
his orange peel float out in the lake. The oldest
kept a tally of every shadow
creeping from barn to tree. Each seam,
each bud called out. From the earth
or the sea the next saint would rise.
The middle child carried with her
a scrap of wallpaper from the old dollhouse
and held it up against the shifting sky.


The casseroles just showed up.
According to her sister a symbolic casting

of the feminine, not gender but physics, dear --
according to a friend she looked

just like her sister, green bathrobe mid-afternoon,
suitcase still in the trunk.

She'd carried him dead for days.
Out above the reeds a sphere of birds

stretches and knots, rises as one
brown then belly-white. Oh the hunger

when it came filled every chair.

From The Forest of Sure Things, Poems by Megan Snyder-Camp (2010).