27 September 2015

Cheeses spectacular as fireworks

                             by Donald Hall

O Cheese

In the pantry the dear dense cheeses, Cheddars and harsh
Lancashires; Gorgonzola with its magnanimous manner;
the clipped speech of Roquefort; and a head of Stilton
that speaks in a sensuous riddling tongue like Druids.
O cheeses of gravity, cheeses of wistfulness, cheeses
that weep continually because they know they will die.
O cheeses of victory, cheeses wise in defeat, cheeses
fat as a cushion, lolling in bed until noon.
Liederkranz ebullient, jumping like a small dog, noisy;
Pont l’Évêque intellectual, and quite well informed; Emmentaler
decent and loyal, a little deaf in the right ear;
and Brie the revealing experience, instantaneous and profound.
O cheeses that dance in the moonlight, cheeses
that mingle with sausages, cheeses of Stonehenge.
O cheeses that are shy, that linger in the doorway,
eyes looking down, cheeses spectacular as fireworks.
Reblochon openly sexual; Caerphilly like pine trees, small
at the timberline; Port du Salut in love; Caprice des Dieux
eloquent, tactful, like a thousand-year-old hostess;
and Dolcelatte, always generous to a fault.
O village of cheeses, I make you this poem of cheeses,
O family of cheeses, living together in pantries,
O cheeses that keep to your own nature, like a lucky couple,
this solitude, this energy, these bodies slowly dying.

20 September 2015

Red slip, white bones

Since You Left Home

The half-woven cloth has hung
          untouched on the loom
since you left home.
Missing you, I am
like the fair moon
waning, night
after night.
                     Zhang Jiuling (673-740)

The Bright Moon Night

Tonight, in your boudoir, alone,
you are watching the moon
shining over Fuzhou City,
out poor children still too young to share your longing
for me far, far away in Chang'an:
your long hair, cloud-like, wet
with the sweet night mist,
your bare, jade-smooth arms cold
in the clear moonlight.
Oh, when can we stand leaning against each
toher, against the curtain drawn aside,
letting the moonlight dry the tears
on both our faces?
                      Du Fu (712-770)

A Virtuous Wife

Knowing I am married, you gave me
a pair of lustrous pearls.
Beholden to you for your kindness,
I fastened them to my red slip.

My house is close to the Mingguang Palace,
where my husband serves as a guard.

Your intention is as lofty
as the sun and the moon, I know.
Having sworn to be with him
in life and death, I have
to return the glistening pearls to you
with tears in my eyes.
Oh, if we could have met
before I married.
                      Zhang Ju (?-830)

By the Wuding River

Pledged to wipe out the Huns,
they fought without a thought
for themselves, and died,
all of them, five thousand sable-clad warriors,
lost in the dust of North.
Alas, the white bones by the Wuding River
still come to haunt her spring dreams,
in the shape of her man.
                     Chen Tao (812-855)

To a Palace Lady

The moon moving beyond the trees
in the palace courtyard,
the egrets returning
to their nest in her lambent eyes,
under the lamp shadow,
she snatches out a jade hairpin
to save a struggling moth
by cutting through the red flame.
                    Zhang Hu (?-859)

From Treasury of Chinese Love Poems, trans. & ed. Qiu Xiaolong.

13 September 2015

A hunger in himself

                                                       by Philip Larkin

                        Church Going

Once I am sure there's nothing going on
I step inside, letting the door thud shut.
Another church: matting, seats, and stone,
And little books; sprawlings of flowers, cut
For Sunday, brownish now; some brass and stuff
Up at the holy end; the small neat organ;
And a tense, musty, unignorable silence,
Brewed God knows how long. Hatless, I take off
My cycle-clips in awkward reverence,

Move forward, run my hand around the font.
From where I stand, the roof looks almost new-
Cleaned or restored? Someone would know: I don't.
Mounting the lectern, I peruse a few
Hectoring large-scale verses, and pronounce
"Here endeth" much more loudly than I'd meant.
The echoes snigger briefly. Back at the door
I sign the book, donate an Irish sixpence,
Reflect the place was not worth stopping for.

Yet stop I did: in fact I often do,
And always end much at a loss like this,
Wondering what to look for; wondering, too,
When churches fall completely out of use
What we shall turn them into, if we shall keep
A few cathedrals chronically on show,
Their parchment, plate, and pyx in locked cases,
And let the rest rent-free to rain and sheep.
Shall we avoid them as unlucky places?

Or, after dark, will dubious women come
To make their children touch a particular stone;
Pick simples for a cancer; or on some
Advised night see walking a dead one?
Power of some sort or other will go on
In games, in riddles, seemingly at random;
But superstition, like belief, must die,
And what remains when disbelief has gone?
Grass, weedy pavement, brambles, buttress, sky,

A shape less recognizable each week,
A purpose more obscure. I wonder who
Will be the last, the very last, to seek
This place for what it was; one of the crew
That tap and jot and know what rood-lofts were?
Some ruin-bibber, randy for antique,
Or Christmas-addict, counting on a whiff
Of gown-and-bands and organ-pipes and myrrh?
Or will he be my representative,

Bored, uninformed, knowing the ghostly silt
Dispersed, yet tending to this cross of ground
Through suburb scrub because it held unspilt
So long and equably what since is found
Only in separation -- marriage, and birth,
And death, and thoughts of these -- for whom was built
This special shell? For, though I've no idea
What this accoutred frowsty barn is worth,
It pleases me to stand in silence here;

A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognised, and robed as destinies.
And that much never can be obsolete,
Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious,
And gravitating with it to this ground,
Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,

If only that so many dead lie round.

06 September 2015

The business of crows

                                      by Joseph Green

The Business of Crows

One of them has a discarded
half-pint milk carton
by its pinched top

and is banging it on the sidewalk.
Hopping with it, dragging it along,
he hefts it with his beak

and swings it against the concrete.
Then he pauses to inspect his work,
to adjust his grip before

picking up the carton
and smacking it down again.
Every time he hits the sidewalk

with the empty box
it makes a flat, satisfying plop.
Perhaps that’s all the crow wants,

the hollow report
he gets for his labor
confirming its emptiness.

As for me, I have stopped
on the way back to my office
to watch a crow’s involvement

with a milk carton. Sunlight,
filtering through bare trees,
stains the bird a dark blue

that slips to black
like secret ink and makes sense
only as his feathers move.

What could possibly be
more important than this?
I have no further excuses.