Friday, November 30, 2007

Fernando Pessoa, or, my heart ripped to shreds

"Suddenly I'm all alone in the world. I see all this from the summit of a mental rooftop. I'm alone in the world. To see is to be distant. To see clearly is to halt. To analyse is to be foreign. No one who passes by touches me. Around me there is only air. I'm so isolated I can feel the distance between me and my suit. I'm a child in a nightshirt carrying a dimly lit candle and traversing a huge empty house. Living shadows surround me - only shadows, offspring of stiff furniture and of the light I carry. Here in the sunlight they surround me but are people."

"Life, for me, is a drowsiness that never reaches the brain. This I keep free, so that I can be sad there."

***"All I asked of life is that it ask nothing of me. At the door of the cottage I never had, I sat in the sunlight that never fell there, and I enjoyed the future old age of my tired reality (glad that I hadn't arrived there yet). To still not have died is enough for life's wretches, and to still have hope...
....satisfied with dreams only when I'm not dreaming, satisfied with the world only when I'm dreaming far away from it. A swinging pendulum, back and forth, forever moving to arrive nowhere, eternally captive to the twin fatality of a center and a useless motion." ****

Thursday, September 27, 2007

goodness gracious!

by Miguel Hernández

(In Orihuela, his town and mine, like lightning
death took Ramo Sijé, whom I so loved)

I wish I was the gardener whose tears
water the earth you fill and fertilise,
my closest friend, so suddenly.

With my useless grief nourishing the rains,
the snails, and the body’s organs,
I shall feed your heart

to the wasting poppies.
Grief bunches up in my ribs
until just breathing is painful.

A hard punch, a frozen fist,
an invisible, homicidal axe-blow,
a brutal shove has knocked you down.

Nothing gapes wider than my wound
I cry over this disaster, over everything,
and feel your death more than my life.

I walk over the stubble of the dead,
and without warmth or consolation from anyone
I leave my heart behind, and mind my business.

Death flew off with you too soon,
dawn dawned too soon,
you were put into earth too soon.

I won’t forgive lovestruck death,
I won’t forgive this indifferent life,
I won’t forgive the earth, or anything.

In my hands a torrent of rocks
is brewing, lightning, vicious axes,
thirsting and starved for catastrophe.

I want to carve up the eath with my teeth,
I want to break up the earth chunk by chunk
in dry fiery mouthfuls.

I want to mine the earth till I find you,
and can kiss your noble skull,
ungag and revive you.

You’ll come back to my orchard, and my fig tree:
high up in the blossoms your soul
will flutter its wings, gathering

the wax and honey of angelic hives.
You’ll come back to the ploughs’ lullaby
of lovestruck farmhands.

You’ll bring light to my darkened face,
and your blood will have to pulse back and forth
between your bride and the bees.

My greedy lovesick voice
calls your heart, now crumpled velvet,
to a field of frothy almond sprays.

I call you to come to the flying souls
of the milky blossoms because
we have so many things to talk about,
my friend, my very best friend.

You were like the young fig tree
by Miguel Hernández

You were like the young
fig tree by the cliffs.
And when I passed by
you filled the sierra with sound.

Like the young fig tree,
resplendent and blind.

You are like the fig tree.
The old fig tree.
I pass, and silence
and dry leaves greet me.

You are like the fig tree
that lightning struck old.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Easter Sunday.. another little story by me

Easter Sunday

It was Easter, but he didn't know it. The plastic Easter eggs from last year had been left out all year, filled with sand, and used as paper weights on top of the big desk in the dusty room. Inside the house it was still November, it was always November. It was never young and it would never be old enough. The old woman lived in the dusty room with the Easter eggs. She was dying. She had been dying for as long as he could remember. But she never died fast enough. And she never got well either. Maybe she never got well because she had never been sick. But he was not to say such things. Instead he tiptoed past the door to the dusty room and held his breath lest he should wake her. "I'll show you!" she'd screech. "I'll show you fear in a handful of dust! Just look at this!" she'd say. "Just look!" and she'd stretch out her hand that was withered and yellow like old newspaper, and he hadn't known better. He had looked right at her. At the sagging skin that looked like it had been melted against her pointy bones. But it wasn't the sunken skin that scared him; it wasn't the ashen complexion. The eyes were black, but it wasn't even that. It was the twinkle in them. It was the twinkle out of black eyes that was all that was left alive in her and that wanted him to see fear in a handful of dust. Fear in a handful of ..
"..soil. Now this is soil, and it's not even frozen like it was last month, remember when we found the cat stuck stiff to it?" his father reminded him. He watched his father sift the soil through his fingers and pick it up again and sift it again. He looked and he could not see the difference. "See this is what happens when the winter ends. It all softens up again so I can replant everything. And then it'll grow and we can eat it, just like last year with those watermelons. Remember?" But he still couldn't see the difference. The grass was still short and brown and brittle and it was still cold. There was only one feeble patch of green beside the gnarled rosebush skeleton. And all the rest was brown. "See, we'll have another garden just where it was last year and we'll grow watermelons again," his father explained as he shifted his foot against the clumping dirt. He sifted more of it through is fingers and turned to spit tobacco juice which landed on the patch of green beside the gnarled skeleton. "There," he thought to himself, "now it matches."

Moon River: a disturbing little story by me

Moon River

She had gravel in her voice when she screamed, and I listened with annoyance because it was that screaming that kept me from concentrating. She screamed like she was special, like she was losing something, like she didn't deserve to be lying there like that, with the back of her head smashed into the pillow and his cold hand that felt like metal crushing both of hers against the headboard. And I hoped that soon she'd realize that it was nothing personal; it had nothing to do with her, just him. And I finally gave up on the book I'd been struggling to read all evening, and leaning back with my eyes closed, tried to focus my mind on Moon River, whose haunting melody could be heard echoing through the house at any given moment. I listened to his angel voice that spewed out every dununciation he could muster just beneath her weakening shrieks, and I pictured his eyes, pale blue and so tired.

"..ohh dream-maker, you heart-breaker.."

Almost fifteen minutes had passed when the screaming abruptly stopped and was replaced by trembling sobs, which sounded closer and closer as the girl stumbled down the hallway and spilled into the living room, where I sat with half-opened eyes. I glanced up and saw that she was a tiny brunette with big eyes and a pixie face. Her tears and mascara had run down her cheeks, making lines that looked like cracks in her blotchy, red skin. I watched her nervous hands that hugged her skirt against her narrow hips, since she was in too much of a hurry to zip it back up, and I was just as disgusted with her as he must have been. After all, she should have known what she was getting herself into. She should have realized that drug addicts don't make very good boyfriends. And what was she doing going home with someone she barely knew in the first place? She paused for a second and looked at me with her desperate Barbie-doll eyes, as if silently asking me for help, but I only met her tears with my usual tired glare, which shifted to the other side of the room as he tore through the doorway roaring, "I SAID GET OUT!!!" Then he fell back into a chair across from me as the door slammed behind her.
My eyes followed her through the window by the front door as she hurried down the sidewalk and into a neighborhood full of people who were either sleeping heavily or not home from work yet. Then my voice sounded sharply, "Can't you at least gag them with something from now on; I'm sick of all that noise."
But he didn't answer. Instead he sat on the edge of the chair with his head in his hands and stared at the floor with eyes that weren't guilty, just hurt. And I couldn't believe that I'd used that tone of voice with him. I couldn't believe that I had allowed a hint of anger to seep into my voice when I knew that none of it was his fault. He didn't rape girl after girl because he wanted to; it was just something that he had to do, to work out his demons, so to speak. After all, didn't his eyes harbor just as much hurt in the aftermath as theirs did, although admittedly a different kind of hurt? He was a little less than perfect as he sat staring through heavy eyelids at truths only he could decipher. And I couldn't help wondering, as I noticed that his pants were still unbuttoned and his open Oxford shirt had a stain on the front, probably from some nose bleed or another, what had happened to make angels become like this.
Moon River still floated idly around us. Everything was calm, and I had begun to wonder if he knew I was there when his eyes moved up and locked with mine, and then, "You never feel like one of them, do you?"
I looked down and thought it funny that our eyes talked more than we did. And I tried to look thoughtful as I searched for an answer.

"I'm not so sure the world deserves us..."

And finally I looked at his shoes and whispered, "I wouldn't scream."

the love poems

more from ages ago....

Good Night

The timing was off...

But the violins in our heads
dulled our senses
until everything was quietly Victorian.

You saved some time
and what was lost?

Stars were the words
you never heard, I know
though they screamed in your
ears from light years away.

Love #1

it's the purple that turned me off of passion fruit
my eyes never could get past
the sickness
the gangrene
that gnawed away at the skin.

Love #2

I stared at
the tangled mess of petals and thorns
that you mistook for something beautiful.
It wasn't much of a vision to me--
No, I guess I'm not in love after all.


For three years,
forty-six days,
and twenty-odd minutes,
I've been hanging on the edge
waiting for you to rescue me.

And you whispered in my ear,
"Hang on,
God is on your side."

So I held,
My grip tighter than death.
I peered down, then back to you,
then down again.

And as my hand began to slip
and God paid no mind,
a funny thought occurred:
I wouldn't need God
if you were on my side.

Le Charmeur de Serpents

your voice is on me
like rain when you're away
and suddenly,
we're in love again.
Je ne lis pas la langue de ton coeur.

The Season Poems

These are some more that I wrote back then.. all on seasons..


And I believe you when you tell me
this is spring.
And I see the birth of greenness
in the trees.
But why does the frost still come
and why do my eyes still close
when the light gets too bright?


the bananas
in the frayed wicker basket
and blacken
in summer's brutal sun.

Autumn # 1

if a violin ever had the heart to weep for november,
her tears would be dying autumn leaves.
not worth holding on to,
nurturing or protecting.
only worth condemning,
crumbling to dust,
feeling the death of a season
in your own bare hands.

autumn # 2

autumn is so like death
all ash and dust
so old
like a book in some forgotten library
i never asked to visit.
i never wanted to see you
dead, dying
just to see your crumbling hands
the way they were


it is said that
god has a beard
so white
so long
so dreaded
as to be compared to winter.

the youssoupov files..

So, I came across some old old stuff that I wrote a long long time ago. This set is all focused on Felix Youssoupov, a prince from imperial Russia. You might want to check wikipedia for some background info to understand it a little better. but here we go.... (and please remember, this stuff is very old) (and also remember, if you look into Youssoupov at all, that there are many variation on the spelling of his name, including, but not limited to: yusupof, yusupov, yusoupov,youssoupof, etc) A brief intro can be found here. And I actually have the book mentioned by Greg King and it's wonderful! You should pick it up!

Imperial Ruin

Blue, but aren't all dripping fountains?
St. Petersburg wore a crown, wore a frown
and dying autumn leaves were its hands.
Discarded Roman numerals, I wish.
Youssoupovian beauty at its brightest,
Seducing a fascist next year at this time.

it takes a pretty little prince like you
to kill
not for national glory
but to finally feel a big, strong man gasping in your arms.

As if all the rouge in the world could ever
put the glimmer back in your eyes

(as if you'll ever be half the man
you dreamt of seducing)

In Russia

In Russia
the tourists will line up for miles
just to see the cellar
in Youssoupov Palace
on the Moika Canal.

They smuggle in cameras
and touch everything --
hoping to absorb some historical essence.

They look around
and they are unimpressed.

After all, the blood was mopped up decades ago,
and there is no chalk outline on the stiff concrete.

Youssoupov's Last Glance at Rasputin's Body over the Bridge on the River Neva

i wonder if anyone heard the splash
when your body slid through the ice
and into the neva river.
could the water have been cold
to a man whose breath was so hot,
whose strong hands could burn through
old money, just like that?

i watched you float to the top --
just beneath the solid blanket of ice.
did anyone see the smile you flashed at me
or the wink i offered in return?

Saturday, July 7, 2007

and then, Rafael Alberti

Since I've devoted an entire post to both Carlos Drummond de Andrade and Songs from the Quechua, I'd say that I owe one to Rafael Alberti as well. He, too, was an accidental discovery, thanks to Mark Strand, and from what I can tell, his work is weighty. He has an entire collection of "Angel" poems, ranging from The Angel of Numbers, Song of the Luckless Angel, The Angel of Ash, etc.
This put me in mind of William Carlos Williams with his progression of the "Love Song" motif. But alas, here's a bit of Alberti:


The sea. The sea.
The sea. Only the sea!

Father, why did you bring me
to the city?

Why did you dig me up
from the sea?

In dreams, the surf
tugs at my heart
and wants to carry it off.

Father, why did you bring me

Fragments of a Wish

...That when air is disloyal to the straightness of lilies,
it be sentenced to die by whirling water;
the the shadow of sorrow need not be what trees push toward the west;
that the forest ranger tell you who pays for the cold;

that if in your country all hope is lost in the long heat of summer,
the snows in my country help you to get it back;
that if the tread of a shoe doesn't have time to put a violet to sleep,
you spend your life here, culling the cycles of rain.

It is sad,
very sad to know that a hand stamped in dust
lasts a shorter time than it takes a leaf to face up to its death.

Isn't it painful when those threads suddenly die against your cheeks,
when emptied from clouds they freeze in pools?

Songs from the Quechua

I discovered Songs of the Quechua quite by accident. I was in search of English translations of Carlos Drummond de Andrade, which are close to being nonexistent, and I came across a lovely collection called Looking for Poetry: Poems by Carlos Drummond de Andrade and Rafael Alberti with Songs from the Quechua that was translated by Mark Strand. After pouring over the first section for the better part of an afternoon, I started leafing through the remainder, and thank goodness! I'm sure I'll get to Rafael Alberti later on, but the Quechua section is astounding. Many of the works are structured as songs, and they resonate with a complex simlicity that can only be understood by reading them. So, of course, here are a few:


I wanted a llama
with a golden coat
bright as the sun,
strong as love,
soft as clouds
unravelled by dawn,
in order to make
a knotted rope
for keeping track
of moons that pass,
of flowers that die.

When You Find Yourself Alone

When you find yourself alone
on the island in the river,
your father won't be there
to call you:
Alau, my daughter!
your mother won't be able
to reach you:
Alau, my daughter!

Only the royal duck
will walk around
with rain in its eyes,
with tears of blood;
rain in its eyes,
tears of blood.

And even the royal duck
will leave you
when the waves of the river
rise up,
when the waves of the river
fall down.

But then I shall serenade you,
"Out on the island, out in the storm,
I'll snatch her young heart,
snatch her young heart,
and carry it off."

In the Morning

In the morning
drops of water
on the flowers
are tears the moon
cries all night.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Fernando Pessoa, bless his heart

"Unable to sleep, I spent the whole night seeing her figure all by itself"
From: The Shepherd in Love
by Fernando Pessoa, translated by Richard Zenith

Unable to sleep, I spent the whole night seeing her figure all by itself
And seeing it always in ways different from when I see her in person.
I fashion thoughts from memory of how she is when she talks to me,
And in each thought she's a variation on her likeness.
To love is to think.
And from thinking of her so much, I almost forgot to feel.
I don't really know what I want, even from her, and she's all I think of.
My distraction is as large as life.
When I feel like being with her,
I almost prefer not being with her,
So as not to have to leave her afterwards.
And I prefer thinking about her, because I'm a little afraid of her as she really is.
I don't really know what I want, and I don't even want to know what I want.
All I want is to think her.
I don't ask anything of anyone, not even her, except to let me think.

"If, after I die, someone wants to write my biography"
From: Uncollected Poems
by Fernando Pessoa, translated by Richard Zenith

If, after I die, someone wants to write my biography,
There's nothing simpler.
It has just two dates - the day I was born and the day I died.
Between the two, all the days are mine.

I'm easy to define.
I saw as if damned to see.
I loved things without any sentimentality.
I never had a desire I couldn't satisfy, because I was never blind.
Even hearing was never more for me than an accompaniment to seeing.
I understood that things are real and all of them different from each other.
I understood this with my eyes, never with my mind.
To understand this with my mind would be to find them all alike.

One day, like a child, I suddenly got tired.
I closed my eyes and fell asleep.

Besides all that, I was the only poet of Nature.

There will be more to come.....

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Mostly Billy Collins

by Billy Collins from The Apple that Astonished Paris

It would be easier to compile an encyclopedia
for you than to write these longhand letters
whose ink blackens the night. I write
until dawn saying I think the world of you

but they are always too short
like those two-page schoolboy essays
with The History of Mankind
underlined on the front in crayon.

My encyclopedia will ignore the research
of others and rely on personal experience.

I will walk out the front door now
with my winter hat and coat,
with my spectacles and my knotty cane.
I will describe in a clear, nimble style
everything in the world beginning with A.

Autumn Day

by Rilke

Lord: it is time. The summer was so immense.
Lay your shadow on the sundials,
and let loose the wind in the fields.

Bid the last fruits to be full;
give them another two more southerly days,
press them to ripeness, and chase
the last sweetness into the heavy wine.

Whoever has no house now will not build one anymore.
Whoever is alone now will remain so for a long time,
will stay up, read, write long letters,
and wander the avenues, up and down,
restlessly, while the leaves are blowing.

The Lesson
by Billy Collins

In the morning when I found History
snoring heavily on the couch,
I took down his overcoat from the rack
and placed its weight over my shoulder blades.

It would protect me on the cold walk
into the village for milk and the paper
and I figured he would not mind,
not after our long conversation the night before.

How unexpected his blustering anger
when I returned covered with icicles,
the way he rummaged through the huge pockets
making sure no major battle of English queen
had fallen out and become lost in the deep snow.

by Billy Collins

My pen moves along the page
like the snout of a strange animal
shaped like a human arm
and dressed in the sleeve of a loose green sweater.

I watch it sniffing the paper carelessly,
intent as any forager that has nothing
on its mind but the grubs and insects
that will allow it to live another day.

It wants only to be here tomorrow ,
dressed perhaps in teh sleeve of a plaid shirt,
nose pressed against the page,
writing a few more dutiful lines

while I gaze out the window and imagine Budapest
or some other city where I have never been.

My Heart
by Billy Collins

It has a bronze covering inlaid with silver,
originally gilt;
the sides are decorated with openwork zoomorphic
panels depicting events in the history
of an unknown religion.
The convoluted top-piece shows a high
level of relief articulation
as do the interworked spirals at the edges.

It was presumably carried in the house-shaped
reliquary alongside it, an object of exceptional
ornament, one of the few such pieces extant.
The handle, worn smooth, indicates its use
in long-forgotten rituals, perhaps
of a sacrificial nature.

It is engirdled with an inventive example
of gold interlacing, no doubt of Celtic influence.
Previously thought to be a pre-Carolingian work,
it is now considered to be of more recent provenance,
probably the early 1940's.

The ball at the center, visible
through the interstices of the lead webbing
and the elaborate copper grillwork,
is composed possibly of jelly
or an early version of water,
certainly a liquid, remarkably suspended
within the intricate craftsmanship of its encasement.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Carlos Drummond de Andrade

The Onset of Love
by Carlos Drummond de Andrade translated by mark strand

The hammock between two mango trees
swayed in the sunken world.
It was hot, windless.
Above was the sun,
between were leaves.
It was broiling.

And since I had nothing to do, I developed a passion for the legs of the laundress.

One day she came to the hammock,
curled up in my arms,
gave me a hug,
gave me her breasts
that were just for me.
The hammock turned over,
down went the world.

And I went to bed
with a fever of forty degrees.
And a giant laundress with giant breasts was spinning around in the greenness of

by Carlos Drummond de Andrade translated by mark strand

The poet rode the trolley drunk.
The sun came up behind the yards.
The small hotels slept very sadly.
The houses too were drunk.

Everything was a total wreck.
Nobody knew that the world was going to end
(only a child did but kept it quiet),
that the world was going to end at 7:45.
Last thoughts! Last telegrams!

Joe who listed pronouns,
Helen who loved men,
Sebastian who ruined himself,
Arthur who never said anything,
set off for eternity.

The poet is drunk, but
he hears a voice in the dawn:
Why don't we all go dancing
between the trolley and the tree?

Between the trolley and the tree
dance, brothers!
Even without music
dance, brothers!
Children are being born
with so much spontaneity.
Love is fantastic
(love and what it produces).

Dance, brothers!
Death will come later
like a sacrament.

The above poem reminds me of one by Billy Collins, who is absolutely delightful to read. There's a wonderful collection of some of his greatest poetry, called Sailing Around the Room, which houses this one called "Dancing Toward Bethlehem"

Dancing Toward Bethlehem
by Billy Collins

If there is only enough time in the final
minutes of the twentieth century for one last dance
I would like to be dancing it slowly with you,

say, in the ballroom of a seaside hotel.
My palm would press into the small of your back
as the past hundred years collapsed into a pile
of mirrors or buttons or frivolous shoes,

just as the floor of the nineteenth century gave way
and disappeared in a red cloud of brick dust.
There will be no time to order another drink
or worry about what was never said,

not with the orchestra sliding into the sea
and all our attention devoted to humming
whatever it was they were playing.

Boy Crying in the Night
by Carlos Drummond de Andrade translated by mark strand

In the warm, humid night, noiseless and dead, a boy cries.
His crying behind the wall, the light behind the window
are lost in the shadow of muffled footsteps, of tired voices.
Yet the sound of medicine poured into a spoon can be heard.

A boy cries in the night, behind the wall, across the street,
far away a boy cries, in another city,
in another world, perhaps.

And I see the hand that lifts the spoon while the other holds the head,
and I see the slick thread run down the boy's chin,
and slip into the street, only a thread, and slip through the city.
And nobody else in the world exists but that boy crying.

The Dead in Frock Coats
by Carlos Drummond de Andrade translated by mark strand

In the corner of the living room was an album of unbearable photos,
many meters high and infinite minutes old,
over which everyone leaned
making fun of the dead in frock coats.

Then a worm began to chew the indifferent coats,
the pages, the inscriptions, and even the dust on the pictures.
The only thing it did not chew was the everlasting sob of life that broke
and broke from those pages.

Your Shoulders Hold Up the World
by Carlos Drummond de Andrade translated by mark strand

A time comes when you no longer can say: my God.
A time of total cleaning up.
A time when you no longer can say: my love.
Because love proved useless.
And the eyes don't cry.
And the hands do only rough work.
And the heart is dry.

Women knock at your door in vain, you won't open.
You remain alone, the lights turned off,
and your enormous eyes shine in the dark.
It is obvious you no longer know how to suffer.
And you want nothing from your friends.

Who cares if old age comes, what is old age?
Your shoulders are holding up the world
and it's lighter than a child's hand.
Wars, famine, family fights inside buildings
prove only that life goes on
and not everybody has freed himself yet.
Some (the delicate ones) judging the spectacle cruel
will prefer to die.
A time comes when death doesn't help.
A time comes when life is an order.
Just life, without any escapes.

The above poem, by the way, not only is wonderful, but reminds me of another by William Carlos Williams, who reminds me so much of Carlos Drummond de Andrade. It's called Thursday, and here it is..

by William Carlos Williams

I have had my dream - like others -
and it has come to nothing, so that
I remain now carelessly
with feet planted on the ground
and look up at the sky -
feeling my clothes about me,
the weight of my body in my shoes,
the rim of my hat, air passing in and out
at my nose - and decide to dream no more.

And it also reminds me of an excerpt from T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets.... (This excerpt, by the way, is one of my favorites in all of poetry. It's spectacular. And, it's Eliot.)

excerpt from East Coker from Eliot's Four Quartets

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

by Carlos Drummond de Andrade translated by a. capeto

Who had the idea of slicing time into pieces,
which were given the name of year,
was a genious person.
Industrialized hope
pushing it to the limits of its exhaustiveness.

Twelve months are enough for any human being to get tired and give up.

Then comes the miracle of renovation and all stars once again
we pick up another number wishing that
from now on everything will be different..

...For you,
I wish your dreams fulfilled.
The love you waited.
Hope renewed.

For you,
I wish all the colors of life.
All happiness you can smile to
All songs you can thrill.

For you in this new year,
Wish all friends to be better,
May your family be more united,
May your life be more lived.

I would like to wish you so many things.
But nothing would be enough...

So, I wish only that you have many wishes.
Big wishes and may they move you further every single minute,
on route to your happiness!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Theodore Roethke

"Art is the means we have of undoing the damage of haste. It's what everything else isn't."
--Theodore Reothke