25 December 2016

I, Joseph, was walking, and not walking

And I, Joseph, was walking, and not walking, and I looked up
into the heavens and I saw the vault of the heavens standing still,
and the birds of the heavens trembling,
and I looked down on the earth and I saw a dish
lying on the ground and workmen reclining,
and their hands were in the dish,
and those raising their hands were not raising them,
and those who were bringing food to their mouths were not eating,
but all of their faces were looking up,
and I saw sheep being driven and the sheep standing still,
and the driver's hand raised up as if to strike them,
and I looked up to the winter stream and saw the young goats
and their mouths were touching the water and they drank not,
and everything was astonished.

᾿Ἐγὼ δὲ ᾿Ιωσὴφ περιεπάτουν καὶ οὐ περιεπάτουν καὶ ἀνέβλεψα
εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ εἶδον τὸν πόλον τοῦ οὐρανοῦ ἑστῶτα καὶ τὰ πετεινὰ
τοῦ οὐρανοῦ τρὲμοντα καὶ ἐνέβλεψα ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν καὶ εἶδον σκάφην
κειμένην καὶ ἐργάτας ἀνακειμένους καὶ ἦσαν αἱ χεῖρες αὐτῶν ἐν τῆ
σκάφη καὶ οἱ αἴροντες οὐκ ἀνέφερον
καὶ οἱ προσφὲροντες εἰς τὸ στόμα οὐ προσὲφερον ἀλλὰ πἀντων αὐτῶν
ἦν τὰ πρόσωπα ἄνο βλέποντα καὶ εἶδον πρόβατα ἐλαυνόμενα καὶ τὰ
πρόβατα εἱστήκει ἐπῆρεν δὲ ὁ ποιμὴν τοῦ πατάξαι αὐτά καὶ ἡ
χεὶρ αὐτοῦ ἔστη ἄνω καὶ ἀνάβλεψα ἐπὶ τὸν χείμαρρον καὶ εἱδον ἐρίφους
καὶ τὰ στόματα αὐτῶν ἐπικείμενα τῶ ὕδατι καὶ μὴ πίνοντα
καὶ πάντα ὑπὸ ἔκπληξιν ὄντα. 

Protevangelium Jacobi 18
Trans. DW

04 December 2016

To portion out the stars and dates

                                                        by Louis MacNeice

Meeting Point

Time was away and somewhere else,
There were two glasses and two chairs
And two people with the one pulse
(Somebody stopped the moving stairs):
Time was away and somewhere else,

And they were neither up nor down;
The stream’s music did not stop,
Flowing through heather, limpid brown,
Although they sat in a coffee shop
And they were neither up nor down…

The bell was silent in the air
Holding its inverted poise –
Between the clang and clang a flower,
A brazen calyx of no noise:
The bell was silent in the air.

The camels crossed the miles of sand
That stretched around the cups and plates;
The desert was their own, they planned
To portion out the stars and dates:
The camels crossed the miles of sand.

Time was away and somewhere else.
The waiter did not come, the clock
Forgot them and the radio waltz
Came out like water from a rock:
Time was away and somewhere else.

Her fingers flicked away the ash
That bloomed again in tropic trees:
Not caring if the markets crash
When they had forests such as these,
Her fingers flicked away the ash.

God or whatever means the Good
Be praised that time can stop like this,
That what the heart has understood
Can verify in the body’s peace
God or whatever means the Good.

Time was away and she was here
And life no longer what it was,
The bell was silent in the air
And all the room a glow because
Time was away and she was here.

20 November 2016

Bless our crummy little hearts

                                                 by Richard Newman

Bless Their Hearts

At Steak ‘n Shake I learned that if you add
“Bless their hearts” after their names, you can say

whatever you want about them and it’s OK.
y son, bless his heart, is an idiot,
she said. He rents storage space for his kids’
toys—they’re only one and three years old!
I said, my father, bless his heart, has turned
into a sentimental old fool. He gets
weepy when he hears my daughter’s greeting
on our voice mail. 
Before our Steakburgers came
someone else blessed her office mate’s heart,
then, as an afterthought, the jealous hearts
of the entire anthropology department.
We bestowed blessings on many a heart
that day. I even blessed my ex-wife’s heart.
Our waiter, bless his heart, would not be getting
much tip, for which, no doubt, he’d bless our hearts.
In a week it would be Thanksgiving,
and we would each sit with our respective
families, counting our blessings and blessing
the hearts of family members as only family
does best. Oh, bless us all, yes, bless us, please
bless us and bless our crummy little hearts.

Richard Newman, Domestic Fugues, 2009. 

13 November 2016

The crack in the tea-cup

                                                            by W. H. Auden
As I walked out one evening

As I walked out one evening,
   Walking down Bristol Street,
The crowds upon the pavement
   Were fields of harvest wheat.

And down by the brimming river
   I heard a lover sing
Under an arch of the railway:
Love has no ending.

I’ll love you, dear, I’ll love you
   Till China and Africa meet,
And the river jumps over the mountain
   And the salmon sing in the street,

I’ll love you till the ocean
   Is folded and hung up to dry
And the seven stars go squawking
   Like geese about the sky.

The years shall run like rabbits,
   For in my arms I hold
The Flower of the Ages,
   And the first love of the world.'

But all the clocks in the city
   Began to whirr and chime:
O let not Time deceive you,
   You cannot conquer Time.

In the burrows of the Nightmare
   Where Justice naked is,
Time watches from the shadow
   And coughs when you would kiss.

In headaches and in worry
   Vaguely life leaks away,
And Time will have his fancy
   To-morrow or to-day.

Into many a green valley
   Drifts the appalling snow;
Time breaks the threaded dances
   And the diver’s brilliant bow.

O plunge your hands in water,
   Plunge them in up to the wrist;
Stare, stare in the basin
   And wonder what you’ve missed.

The glacier knocks in the cupboard,
   The desert sighs in the bed,
And the crack in the tea-cup opens
   A lane to the land of the dead.

Where the beggars raffle the banknotes
   And the Giant is enchanting to Jack,
And the Lily-white Boy is a Roarer,
   And Jill goes down on her back.

O look, look in the mirror,
   O look in your distress:
Life remains a blessing
   Although you cannot bless.

O stand, stand at the window
   As the tears scald and start;
You shall love your crooked neighbour
   With your crooked heart.'

It was late, late in the evening,
   The lovers they were gone;
The clocks had ceased their chiming,
   And the deep river ran on. 

06 November 2016

Our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor

                                        by Marilynne Robinson

Every four years Americans give themselves information about who they are and where they are on a spectrum of tradition and aspiration that normally frames our politics. The documents that have mattered to us have given us a set of ideals against which actual institutions and practices can be measured, and an abstract and deliberate language for encountering the issues that arise among people, which can, and often do, devolve into visceral and intractable conflict. The origins of these electoral arrangements are to be found in our history. They have been sustained over many generations by an agreed deference to custom and law.
This is to say that they are fragile, and that they are, in a sense, arbitrary. As resilient as they have proved to be through the trials of centuries, when their value and authority are not generally granted they can be overturned and dismissed, suddenly and almost casually. Let the idea take hold that elections are rigged, and popular government begins to seem no more than an illusionary empty exercise. Discredit the press, and the First Amendment is only a license to bloviate and slander. In other words, the viability of our system depends on a certain care, a restraint that avoids unjustified attacks and unfounded accusations against the system itself, and that demands integrity of those who hold positions of authority. If the generations that succeed us have a free press and elected governments, they will have the means to address our failures and their own.

NYRB 10/25/2016

30 October 2016

And the daughters of darkness flame like Fawkes fires still

                                           by Dylan Thomas

In the White Giant’s Thigh

Through throats where many rivers meet, the curlews cry,
Under the conceiving moon, on the high chalk hill,
And there this night I walk in the white giant’s thigh
Where barren as boulders women lie longing still

To labour and love though they lay down long ago.

Through throats where many rivers meet, the women pray,
Pleading in the waded bay for the seed to flow
Though the names on their weed grown stones are rained away,

And alone in the night’s eternal, curving act
They yearn with tongues of curlews for the unconceived
And immemorial sons of the cudgelling, hacked

Hill. Who once in gooseskin winter loved all ice leaved
In the courters’ lanes, or twined in the ox roasting sun
In the wains tonned so high that the wisps of the hay
Clung to the pitching clouds, or gay with anyone
Young as they in the after milking moonlight lay

Under the lighted shapes of faith and their moonshade
Petticoats galed high, or shy with the rough riding boys,
Now clasp me to their grains in the gigantic glade,

Who once, green countries since, were a hedgerow of joys.
Time by, their dust was flesh the swineherd rooted sly,
Flared in the reek of the wiving sty with the rush
Light of his thighs, spreadeagle to the dunghill sky,
Or with their orchard man in the core of the sun’s bush
Rough as cows’ tongues and thrashed with brambles their buttermilk
Manes, under his quenchless summer barbed gold to the bone,

Or rippling soft in the spinney moon as the silk
And ducked and draked white lake that harps to a hail stone.

Who once were a bloom of wayside brides in the hawed house
And heard the lewd, wooed field flow to the coming frost,
The scurrying, furred small friars squeal, in the dowse
Of day, in the thistle aisles, till the white owl crossed

Their breast, the vaulting does roister, the horned bucks climb
Quick in the wood at love, where a torch of foxes foams,
All birds and beasts of the linked night uproar and chime

And the mole snout blunt under his pilgrimage of domes,
Or, butter fat goosegirls, bounced in a gambo bed,
Their breasts full of honey, under their gander king
Trounced by his wings in the hissing shippen, long dead
And gone that barley dark where their clogs danced in the spring,
And their firefly hairpins flew, and the ricks ran round –

(But nothing bore, no mouthing babe to the veined hives
Hugged, and barren and bare on Mother Goose’s ground
They with the simple Jacks were a boulder of wives) –

Now curlew cry me down to kiss the mouths of their dust.

The dust of their kettles and clocks swings to and fro
Where the hay rides now or the bracken kitchens rust
As the arc of the billhooks that flashed the hedges low
And cut the birds’ boughs that the minstrel sap ran red.
They from houses where the harvest bows, hold me hard,
Who heard the tall bell sail down the Sundays of the dead
And the rain wring out its tongues on the faded yard,
Teach me the love that is evergreen after the fall leaved
Grave, after Beloved on the grass gulfed cross is scrubbed
Off by the sun and Daughters no longer grieved
Save by their long desires in the fox cubbed
Streets or hungering in the crumbled wood: to these
Hale dead and deathless do the women of the hill
Love for ever meridian through the courters’ trees

And the daughters of darkness flame like Fawkes fires still.

23 October 2016

The white mouth of the snowcloud

                                                Paul Kingsnorth


When I feel tall I tell myself
that when the time comes I will know
as the elephant knows as the puma knows
and I will go
to Vodadahue Mountain
by the deep green inlet
by the deep green gorge
and in steady pain I will climb the basalt tower
and on the last ice step before the summit
unmarked by everything but air
I will be still for a long moment
and then let the white mouth of the snowcloud eat me
and there will be only this silence
and the trees at the foot will begin to feed
and I will have paid back all that I have owed
and there will be only this silence.

18 October 2016

The great hunger

                                                      by Sheenah Pugh

Chocolate from the Famine Museum
Strokestown, Co Roscommon

Reading numbers on a wall,
so many thousand evicted,
exiled, starved,

soon palls. The boys are looking
for buttons to press,
and Sir’s at a loss

how to bring it alive. He tries
to give them the reek
of peat smoke and lamp oil

in a cramped turf cabin,
wishing there was a replica
they could crowd into.

At every turn, language
fails him. Starving
means wanting dinner,

not boiling boot-leather
till you can chew it,
hoping it stays down.

They sailed to America,
he laments, to lads
who’ve flown there

on holiday, who make nothing
of oceans. They fidget
through the video,

dying for their reward:
the gift shop.
Their faces light up,

for the first time, at sheep
in green hats, penny whistles,
toy blackthorn sticks,

and the chocolate. Praline,
ganache, mint, mocha, truffle,
they’re spoiled for choice,

their day flavoured
for ever with the velvet
dark in their mouths.

From the Times Literary Supplement, October 18, 2016.

25 September 2016

I keep looking for what has always been mine

                                                             by W. S. Merwin

Variations to the Accompaniment of a Cloud

          Because I do not hope ever again
to pass this way I sing these
notes now in silence
each in its own time
one morning near the end of spring
among the invisible unheard stars I sing
this one time with the hope that is here
in every breath
may these notes be heard another morning
in another life
in another spring together

          Because I do not hope ever to pass
this way again
one morning late in spring
in the cold rain above the valley I sing
in the old house I came to in my youth
on the ridge looking over the river
a house that had been left to its own silence
for half a century
home for bats and swallows and patches
of sunlight wandering across the floors
under holes in the roof on the day
I first saw it
and recognized it without knowing it
above the same river

          Because I do not hope to see again
this spring morning with its cloud of light
that wakes the blackbird in the trees downhill
from the house I came to long ago
when I was young and the silence
was a summer day
that first summer that I would see
from these windows
I came to see
the plum trees flowering on the slope below
the snow swirling outside the kitchen
I will not see this morning fill
with light again along the green field
under the walnut trees those silent ancients
I reach out to it with words
it never hears

          Because I do not hope ever to find
my way again
to the moments of pure
single fortune and the unrepeated mistakes
that led me here
I look back in wonder
at how I found you and we came to be here
where has it gone
never was there one step backward

          Although I do not hope to know again
what I have known since the beginning
not for a moment has it left me
I keep looking for what has always been mine
searching for it even as I
think of leaving it
my love was always
woven with leaving
moment by moment leaving
the one time

From W. S. Merwin, Garden Time, 2016.

25 August 2016

Voices full as goblets

                                                     by Anne Sexton

Faustus and I

I went to the opera and God was not there.
I was, at the time, in my apprenticeship.
The voices were as full as goblets; in mid-air
I caught them and threw them back. A form of worship.
In those vacant moments when our Lord sleeps
I have the voices. A cry that is mine for keeps.

I went to the galleries and God was not there,
only Mother Roulin and her baby, an old man infant,
his face lined in black and with a strange stare
in his black, black eyes. They seemed to hunt
me down. At the gallery van Gogh was violent
as the crows in the wheat field began their last ascent.

Three roads led to that death. All of them blind.
The sky had the presence of a thousand blue eyes
and the wheat beat itself. The wheat was not kind.
The crows go up immediately like an old man’s lies.
The crimes, my Dutchman, that wait within us all
crawled out of that sea long before the fall.

I went to the bookstore and God was not there.
Doctor Faustus was baby blue with a Knopf dog
on his spine. He was frayed and threadbare
with needing. The arch-deceiver and I had a dialogue.
The Debble and I, the Father of Lies himself,
communed, as it were, from the bookshelf.

I have made a pact and a half in my day
and stolen Godes Boke during a love affair,
the Gideon itself for all devout salesman who pray.
The Song of Solomon was underlined by some earlier pair.
The rest of the words turned to wood in my hands.
I am not immortal. Faustus and I are the also-ran. 

From the Times Literary Supplement, 8/23/2016.

14 August 2016

Just as an olive seedling

                                           Jan Kochanowski

from Laments (no.5)

Just as an olive seedling, when it tries
To grow up like the big trees towards the skies
And sprouts out of the ground, a single stalk,
A slender, leafless, twigless, living stick;
And which, if lopped by the swift sickle’s blade
Weeding out thorns and nettles, starts to fade
And, sapped of natural strength, cut off, forlorn,
Drops by the tree from whose seed it was born –
Growing before her parents’ caring eyes,
She’d barely risen above ground when Death
Felled the dear child with his infectious breath
At our very feet. Hard-eyed Persephone,
Were all those tears of no avail to me?

Trans., Stanislaw Baranczak and Seamus Heaney (1995)

17 July 2016

If I were a bull penguin right now

                                              by Tony Hoagland

Romantic Moment

After the nature documentary we walk down,
into the plaza of art galleries and high end clothing stores
where the mock orange is fragrant in the summer night
and the smooth adobe walls glow fleshlike in the dark.
It is just our second date, and we sit down on a rock,
holding hands, not looking at each other,
and if I were a bull penguin right now I would lean over
and vomit softly into the mouth of my beloved
and if I were a peacock I’d flex my gluteal muscles to
erect and spread the quills of my cinemax tail.
If she were a female walkingstick bug she might
insert her hypodermic proboscis delicately into my neck
and inject me with a rich hormonal sedative
before attaching her egg sac to my thoracic undercarriage,
and if I were a young chimpanzee I would break off a nearby tree limb
and smash all the windows in the plaza jewelry stores.
And if she was a Brazilian leopard frog she would wrap her impressive
tongue three times around my right thigh and
pummel me lightly against the surface of our pond
and I would know her feelings were sincere.
Instead we sit awhile in silence, until
she remarks that in the relative context of tortoises and iguanas,
human males seem to be actually rather expressive.
And I say that female crocodiles really don’t receive
enough credit for their gentleness.
Then she suggests that it is time for us to go
to get some ice cream cones and eat them.

10 July 2016

A letter in panic

                                          by Tomas Tranströmer

Answers to Letters

In the bottom drawer of my desk I come across a letter that first arrived twenty-six years ago. A letter in panic, and it’s still breathing when it arrives the second time.

A house has five windows: through four of them the day shines clear and still. The fifth faces a black sky, thunder and storm. I stand at the fifth window. The letter.

Sometimes an abyss opens between Tuesday and Wednesday but twenty-six years may be passed in a moment. Time is not a straight line, it’s more of a labyrinth, and if you press close to the wall at the right place you can hear the hurrying steps and voices, you can hear yourself walking past there on the other side.

Was the letter ever answered? I don’t remember, it was long ago. The countless thresholds of the sea went on migrating. The heart went on leaping from second to second like the toad in the wet grass of an August night.

The unanswered letters pile high up, like cirro-stratus clouds presaging bad weather. They make the sunbeams lustreless. One day I will answer. One day when I am dead and can at last concentrate. Or at least so far away from here that I can find myself again. When I’m walking, newly arrived, in the big city, on 125th Street, in the wind on the street of dancing garbage. I who love to stray off and vanish in the crowd, a capital T in the mass of the endless text.

Translated by Robin Fulton.

03 July 2016

The waves whisper like bureaucrats

                                             by Margaret Atwood

War Movie II

At last we believe in something:
this is the source of our pain.
We no longer drink gin
and sleep in,
we no longer bargain.

We clamber over stony Greece,
we slink through Polish forests,
it is winter, our toes freeze,
we gnaw on stolen turnips,
we retreat from Moscow
burning everything.

I hide the food and rifles
under my filthy shawl;
I wear a skirt,
I’m less likely to be suspected;
you are a spy, you are the commander,
your name is Sir,
everyone does what you say
because it is the only way.

The others are honed and clean,
their heads are signals,
we stab them without mercy,
we switch clothes with their steel torsos.

The sun bestows rewards:
we are allowed to cry,
we are given background music
where there was none, we are finally emblems,
we are finally credible,
we are finally single-minded.

Near the end there is a huge
explosion, a gun
shaped like an enemy, shaped like a dungeon
topples into the sea.

In the backwash, the waves
whisper like bureaucrats;
they are planning the peace,
the peace we fight for,
deciding which of us
to kill, who to sell.