25 October 2015

St. Crispin's Day

WESTMORELAND. O that we now had here
But one ten thousand of those men in England
That do no work to-day!
KING. What’s he that wishes so?
My cousin, Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin;
If we are mark’d to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires.
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England.
God’s peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more methinks would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man’s company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is call’d the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say “To-morrow is Saint Crispian.”
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say “These wounds I had on Crispin's day.”
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words-
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

18 October 2015

The sun sets on the back of a wild goose


The willow shoots long, the spring rain lightning
beyond the flowers, the water-hourglass
drips, distantly,
flushing the wild geese at the frontier
and the birds on the city wall,
but not the golden partridge painted on the screen.

The thin mist of the incense comes
through the embroidered curtain.
Overlooking the pond, her room is wrapped in solitude.
Against a red candle,
behind the brocade valence hung low,
her dream is long, unknown to him.
            Wen Tingyun (812-870)

Broken Lotus Root

Young, we threw away the pastoral years.
Now like a broken lotus root it is
impossible to join the present and the past. Then,
we waited for each other,
standing by the vermilion-railed bridge.
Today, I search for the traces, in vain,
along the deserted path buried under yellow leaves.

Through the mist all the peaks
seem to be highlighting the blue.
Setting on the back of a wild goose,
the sun turns into a dark red.

You left, like a cloud drifting away,
across the river. The memory of
our passion is like a willow catkin
stuck to the ground, after the rain.
            Zhou Bangyan (1057-1121)

Husband-Watching Rock

Where she stood looking out for her husband,
the water of the river flowed on
to the horizon. Now
she's turned into a rock, which
continues to look out
without ever turning back, day in,
day out, against the wind and rain
on the hill . . .

When he comes back,
the rock should speak out.

            Wang Jian (766-830?)

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

11 October 2015

People with beautiful teeth

                    by Eileen Myles

An American Poem

I was born in Boston in 1949.
I never wanted
this fact to be known,
in fact I’ve spent the better 
half of my adult life
trying to sweep my early
years under the carpet
and have a life that
was clearly just mine
and independent of
the historic fate of
my family. Can you
imagine what it was
like to be one of them,
to be built like them,
to talk like them
to have the benefits
of being born into such
a wealthy and powerful
American family. I went
to the best schools,
had all kinds of tutors
and trainers, traveled
widely, met the famous,
the controversial, and
the not-so-admirable
and I knew from
a very early age that
if there were ever any
possibility of escaping
the collective fate of this famous
Boston family I would
take that route and
I have. I hopped
on an Amtrak to New
York in the early
70s and I guess
you could say
my hidden years
began. I thought
Well I’ll be a poet.
What could be more
foolish and obscure.
I became a lesbian.
Every woman in my
family looks like
a dyke but it’s really
stepping off the flag
when you become one.
While holding this ignominious
pose I have seen and
I have learned and
I am beginning to think
there is no escaping
history. A woman I
am currently having
an affair with said
you know  you look
like a Kennedy. I felt
the blood rising in my
cheeks. People have
always laughed at
my Boston accent
confusing “large” for
lodge,” “party”
for “potty.” But
when this unsuspecting
woman invoked for
the first time my
family name
I knew the jig
was up. Yes, I am,
I am a Kennedy.
My attempts to remain
obscure have not served
me well. Starting as
a humble poet I
quickly climbed to the
top of my profession
assuming a position of
leadership and honor.
It is right that a
woman should call
me out now. Yes,
I am a Kennedy.
And I await
your orders.
You are the New Americans.
The homeless are wandering
the streets of our nation’s
greatest city. Homeless
men with AIDS are among
them. Is that right?
That there are no homes
for the homeless, that
there is no free medical
help for these men. 
And women.That they get the messageas they are dying—
that this is not their home?
And how are your
teeth today? Can
you afford to fix them?
How high is your rent?
If art is the highest
and most honest form
of communication of
our times and the young
artist is no longer able
to move here to speak
to her time…Yes, I could,
but that was 15 years ago
and remember—as I must
I am a Kennedy.
Shouldn’t we all be Kennedys?
This nation’s greatest city
is home of the business-
man and home of the
rich artist. People with
beautiful teeth who are not
on the streets. What shall
we do about this dilemma?
Listen, I have been educated.
I have learned about Western
Civilization. Do you know
what the message of Western
Civilization is? I am alone.
Am I alone tonight?
I don’t think so. Am I
the only one with bleeding gums
tonight. Am I the only
homosexual in this room
tonight. Am I the only
one whose friends have
died, are dying now.
And my art can’t
be supported until it is
gigantic, bigger than
everyone else’s, confirming
the audience’s feeling that they are
alone. That they alone
are good, deserved
to buy the tickets
to see this Art.
Are working,
are healthy, should
survive, and are
normal. Are you
normal tonight? Everyone
here, are we all normal.
It is not normal for
me to be a Kennedy.
But I am no longer
ashamed, no longer
alone. I am not
alone tonight because
we are all Kennedys.
And I am your President.

Eileen Myles, "An American Poem" from Not Me, 1991.

04 October 2015

I'm trying to set these paths in stone

                                  by James Lasdun


I’m trying to solve the problem of the paths
between the beds. A six-inch cover
of cedar-chips that took a month to lay
rotted in two years and turned to weeds.
I scraped them up and carted them away,
then planted half a sack of clover seeds
for a “living mulch”. I liked that: flowers
strewn along the stars, the cupid’s bow
drawn on each leaf like thumbnail quartermoons,
its easy, springy give – until it spread
under the split trunks framing off each bed,
scribbling them over in its own
green graffiti . . . I ripped it out
and now I’m trying to set these paths in stone.
It isn’t hard to find: the ground here’s littered
with rough-cut slabs, some of them so vast
you’d think a race of giants must have lived here
building some bluestone Carnac or Stonehenge,
us their dwindled offspring, foraging
among their ruins . . . I scavenge
lesser pieces; pry them from the clutches
of tree-roots, lift them out of ditches,
filch them from our own stone wall
guiltily, though they’re mine to take
(at worst it’s robbing Peter to pay Paul),
then wrestle them on board the two-wheeled dolly
and drag them up the driveway to the fence,
where, in a precarious waltz, I tip
and twist them backward, tilting all their weight
first on one corner, then the other
and dance them slowly through the garden gate.
The hard part’s next, piecing them together;
a matter of blind luck and infinite pains:
one eye open for the god-given fit –
this stone’s jagged key to that one’s lock –
the other quietly gauging how to fudge it:
split the difference on angles, cram the gaps
with stone-dust filler; hoping what the rains
don’t wash away, the frost will pack and harden . . .
A chipmunk blinks and watches from his rock,
wondering if I’ve lost my mind perhaps.
Perhaps I have; out here every day,
cultivating – no, not even that;
tending the inverse spaces of my garden
(it’s like a blueprint, now, for Bluebeard’s castle),
while outside, by degrees, the planet slips
– a locking piece – into apocalypse,
but somehow I can’t tear myself away:
I like the drudgery; I seem to revel
in pitting myself against the sheer
recalcitrance of the stones; using
their awkwardness – each a cupped or bulging face,
every cockeyed bevel or crooked curve,
each quirk of outline (this one a cracked lyre,
that one more like a severed head) –
to send a flickering pulse along the border
so that it seems to ripple round each bed
with an unstoppable, liquid grace:
“the best stones in the best possible order”
or some such half-remembered rule in mind,
as if it mattered, making some old stones
say or be anything but stone, stone, stone;
as if these paths might serve some purpose
aside from making nothing happen; as if
their lapidary line might lead me somewhere –
inward, onward, upward, anywhere
other than merely back where I began,
wondering where I’ve been and what I’ve done.  

from the Times Literary Supplement, 22 September 2015.