still, from Les quatre cents coups , 1959
Dir. François Truffaut

still, from Les quatre cents coups , 1959
Dir. François Truffaut

Editor’s Note

“Memories of childhood were the dreams that stayed with you after you woke.”
―Julian Barnes, England, England

 

Readers:

November: yes, of course, and to one of a certain age the inevitable query: Where were you? I was in third grade, Sister Emmett striding among us that afternoon, laying a hand unpracticed in such gestures of compassion on a heaving shoulder, stroking the drooping locks of one of her thirty charges in an almost maternal fashion that both puzzled and terrified us. As one, we gazed up at the grey intercom box beneath the crucifix, through whose speaker like a round mouth agape in perpetual shock (for once merited), the principal informed us of the mortal wounding of the Great Catholic President. A somber interlude, indeed. (Though vivified by a moment of levity, too: provided as usual by Dana Mudd who had been asleep for the better part of the post-lunch hours due to another in an endless series of migraines, suddenly awakening with a fine line of spittle depending from her braced left incisor; raising her equine head to reveal a downy cheek crosshatched by the cabled sleeve of her uniform sweater and complaining, “My hair hurts.”)  At home, we stared at the television for three days, eating whatever we ate on card tables bearing the identical images of a squirrel sitting on a log and nibbling on his own meal of a rather too large nut, staring at us as he did so. Such are my only memories of this transformational event. Though soon enough I would receive other opportunities to test my powers of recall all these years later, as the horrors of that decade unraveled in the sequential deaths of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luthor King, Jr.  Of the former, I see myself in front of the Rexall hawking an unprecedented “special edition” of the Louisville Courier Journal dedicated to the Senator’s passing – which occasioned the undisguised satisfaction of more than a few passerby, expressed sotto voce or telegraphed with a mirthless chuckle, arousing in me an instinctive if uninformed disdain. As to the latter: almost nothing remains. I insert here the iconic photographs of the balcony at the Lorraine Motel and the haunted countenance of James Earl Ray in lieu of any real memory, which no doubt speaks to the almost complete isolation of the races in my hometown. (I don’t think I made a friend of a man or woman, boy or girl, of color, until I reached my junior year in high school.)  And yet: at the last hour, as it were – July 20, 1969 –suddenly: something like euphoria, a kind of “Feast Crowd”  glee, to use Canetti’s taxonomy, swept across the auditorium at Trinity High School, where the usual pack of semi-conscious freshman comprising those for all intents and purposes  unmolested by those tumultuous times (Weejuns, sports coats) as  well as here and there newly provisioned hippies in green and orange striped bell-bottoms  and fringed moccasins, paused in our awkward free-form scufflings and rotated in unison toward a television that a chaperone had set up among the platters of potato chips and pimento cheese sandwiches: to gaze for a few moments at the soundless image of Neil Armstrong’s inflated mukluks throwing up a talcum-y mist of lunar soil. A girl I did not know climbed atop my shoulders and scissored her knee-socked legs wildly, and clutched at my hair; Walter Cronkite’s spectacles rose and fell and he, too, like his previous avatar, stared back at us, seeming to chew on some invisible nut.

Which brings me in the most roundabout fashion to this month’s “secret” poem(s), by way of the Abbey of Gethsemane: spiritual and physical bastion of the Trappist monks, an order dedicated to ora et labora, the former a daily liturgical nonet beginning at 3:45 a.m. and ending at 7:30 in the evening, the latter mostly grueling farm work; and where a rigorous silence reigned supreme such that its adherents relied on only the most rudimentary hand signals to communicate with one another.  Situated some thirty miles outside Louisville, the monastery was home to Brother Billy, a monk of thirty-five years’ residence, and the uncle of my best friend, M.  Each month or two, in those days, we would visit him, obtaining first, as was the case in every conceivable matter of the life of the community, the permission of the Abbot, a thin man of impeccable piety and an erstwhile composer of stern Catholic novels, who would give us free rein to walk and camp overnight in  the sizable parcel of woodlands owned by the order, on the conditions that we (fifteen years old) furnish him clandestinely with a six-pack of Falls City beer and a pint of Old Forester, and listen appreciatively to an hour or two of sputtering,  jealous disparagement of his more-famous colleague and nemesis, Thomas Merton. And so it was there that day, previous to the evening’s dance at the high school, that M. and I had spent the afternoon surveying the landscape from the vantage point of one of the primitive hermitages that dotted the property, nearly hallucinating on some ferocious weed we’d got our hands on, and found ourselves watching with some curiosity as a pick-up truck wound its way over the hill from Bardstown, ferrying in its bed of all things a television set. Around which, as you no doubt suspect and we would later learn in so many words from the Abbot himself, the monks – many of whom had not uttered a word in half a century, driven a car, or eaten in a restaurant, or used a telephone, indeed not set foot off the abbey grounds – gathered in the communal kitchen to watch the serviceman from whom the set had been requisitioned plug in the cord and adjust the rabbit ears (activities they found as fascinating and incomprehensible as what would follow).   And as the silver, alien light enveloped them—one cannot dispel the image of the disciples agog at the sight of the risen Christ – must have seen as we saw, too (in my envisionings), a man materialize out of that light into another kind of light, becoming a kind of light himself, and clamber down a ladder as they had clambered down ladders to pick peaches and repair gutters, and hop as they had hopped over puddles and cow pies, and place his foot on the moon that for most of their lives had accompanied their nightly perambulations around the courtyard to Vigil and shined familiarly outside their cell windows . The first and last televised image they cast an eye upon: in the morning the serviceman arrived to reclaim his inventory, never to return.  Imagine it: that room, those men. And, if you like,  turn with me now to the above-mentioned Merton – who died in Bangkok in December of the year before – and what he would have made of that scene: he who was already a figure on the international stage, a man given to his own peccadilloes in excursions to the jazz clubs of Louisville taken on some pretext or another, who had fallen in love and many say was on the brink of departing the life – though never the faith — that had sustained him for so many years. Would he have dismissed it as an archaism, a bit of cruel marginalia in the text of those sequestered lives? Or would he have longed to be there as they were, innocent and ignorant of the wider world into which he had long since moved, with its contradictions and complexities, its never-ending Vietnam War and infernal politics? The pieces that follow leave the answer open, I think.

 

Wind and a Bobwhite

Wind and a bobwhite

And the afternoon sun.

By ceasing to question the sun
I have become light,

Bird and wind.

My leaves sing.

I am earth, earth

All these lighted things
Grow from my heart.

A tall, spare pine
Stands like the initial of my first
Name when I had one.

When I had a spirit,
When I was on fire
When this valley was
Made out of fresh air
You spoke my name
In naming Your silence:
O sweet, irrational worship!

I am earth, earth

My heart’s love
Bursts with hay and flowers.
I am a lake of blue air
In which my own appointed place
Field and valley
Stand reflected.

I am earth, earth

Out of my grass heart
Rises the bobwhite.

Out of my nameless weeds
His foolish worship.
Advice to a Young Prophet

Keep away, son, these lakes are salt. These flowers

Eat insects. Here private lunatics

Yell and skip in a very dry country.

 

Or where some haywire monument

Some badfaced daddy of fear

Commands an unintelligent rite.

 

To dance on the unlucky mountain,

To dance they go, and shake the sin

Out of their feet and hands,

 

Frenzied until the sudden night

Falls very quiet, and magic sin

Creeps, secret, back again.

 

Badlands echo with omens of ruin:

Seven are very satisfied, regaining possession:

(Bring a little mescaline, you’ll get along!)

 

There’s something in your bones,

There’s someone dirty in your critical skin,

There’s a tradition in your cruel misdirected finger

Which you must obey, and scribble in the hot sand:

 

“Let everybody come and attend

Where lights and airs are fixed

To teach and entertain. O watch the sandy people

Hopping in the naked bull’s-eye,

 

Shake the wildness out of their limbs,

Try to make peace like John in skins

Elijah in the timid air

or Anthony in tombs:

 

Pluck the imaginary trigger, brothers.

Shoot the devil: he’ll be back again!”

 

America needs these fatal friends

Of God and country, to grovel in mystical ashes,

Pretty big prophets whose words don’t burn,

Fighting the strenuous imago all day long.

 

Only these lunatics, (O happy chance)

Only these are sent. Only this anaemic thunder

Grumbles on the salt flats, in rainless night:

 

O go home, brother, go home!

The devil’s back again,

And magic Hell is swallowing flies.

 

Thomas Merton, “Wind and a Bobwhite” and “Advice to a Young Prophet” from The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton. Copyright © 1963 by The Abbey of Gethsemani, Inc. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.

 

But: again, to business:

First, many thanks to Jeffrey Greene and Siân Melangell Dafydd, who hosted my lecture at the American University of Paris. Wonderful students, a fine time – for me, at least. Also, much gratitude to this pair for assembling the Plume reading the following evening in the Grand Salon, with a magnificent roster: Marilyn Hacker, Molly Lou Freeman, Emmanuel  Moses,Jeffrey Greene  and Claire Malroux. Marilyn provided prefacing translations of the original works of Emmanuel and Claire, who then read in the original French. Much of the work had appeared in our pages, and it was a great pleasure to hear it in that room. A delight in every respect.

Look for my interview this month with Mary Mackey, regarding the trials and rewards of putting together an anthology at marymackey.com .

The print Plume Anthology of Poetry 2014 is just now taking shape – almost full, I think, save for the Featured Selection, which should take definite form in the next weeks.

(Again: on the off chance that you, poets, are interested in reading for PLUME or might want to organize a reading in your own neighborhood, please, email me at plumepoetry@gmail.com – we’ll make every effort to accommodate you, I promise.)

Our cover art this month owes its place to my visit to Paris, of course: a still from Truffaut’s The 400 Blows.  I was fortunate to be there for an exposition of the director’s work at the Cinémathèque.

Note: some changes alluded to in the previous issue’s Note remain afoot and will be fully realized after the start of the new year.

Next up, after this issue’s Featured Selection from Luis Cernuda, translated by Michael Smith, look for a sheaf of poems from various South African poets, with an Introduction by Harry Owen.  After that, Daniel Bourne and Tadeusz Dziewanowski in collaboration; Gennady Aygi and the great Russian Tatar painter Igor Vulokh, also in collaboration; Nin Andrews, Linda Pastan; Chris Kennedy; Tess Gallagher and Lawrence Matsuda; with others just appearing on the horizon. Here, too, again, let me add as always: those with projects that might be suitable for the Featured Selection please do contact us with your proposal at plumepoetry@gmail.com

Finally, the list New Work Received this month is long, as we gather material for the print anthology as well as the online issues. More to come as we go live, I’m sure, but for the moment:

Tony Hoagland, Sylva Fischerova, Steven Bradbury, Phillis Levin, Peter Cooley, Norman Dubie, Nomi Stone, Nin Andrews, Molly Freeman, Marilyn Hacker, Molly Peacock, Martha Collins, Kimiko Hahn, Kim Addonizio,  Kelle Groome, Kelli Russell Agadon, John Skoyles, John Kinsella, Jane Springer, Iain Bitton, Hsia Yu, Grace Schulman, Floyd Skloot, Dzvinia Orlowsky, Nancy Mitchell, Lynn Emmanuel, Dorothy Chan, David Rivard, David Bottoms, Dana Crum, Cynthia Cruz, Clare Rossini, Charlie Smith, Carol Moldaw, Campbell McGrath, Bruce Smith, Billy Collins, Beckian Fritz Goldberg, Alicia Ostriker, Alberto Rios, Alan Shapiro, Forrest Gander, Jay Hopler, Ira Sadoff, and Carol Frost.  More to come!

 

As always, I do hope you enjoy the issue!

 

Daniel Lawless

Editor, PLUME

Bah!

Stephen Todd Booker
m4s0n501

It is well-past old hat and hurt

When having to feel the hooked barbs

Of who had angled for all of your faith,

All of your confidence, who’d kept insisting

To you that she was the epitome of trust,

 

While hot screws spun within your soul,

Scoring the life that you’d lived by your wits,

By your word, and the steel-tight bond

That had secured it as a code, for granted.

But don’t you dare define your hurt

 

Though feeling it from a long ways off,

For years (tipped off by her romance

With speeding on rain-slicked roads,

Her lust for coffee the consistency of mud,

And her icy baby-blues incubating grief),

 

The hatching of “You haven’t a clue,”

And, “I’m sure that I can look deep

Into your eyes and lie to you without

You ever catching on.”—How shabbily

A rube tries her hand at grifting

 

And turns into the mark.  But how satiny

Is consolation, remembering a black kitten

Rescued from freeze-drying in a snowbank,

At home, warm, dreaming of stampeding mice

She had never seen, her wee panther paws

 

Paddling the ethereal halo at the bosom

Of beauty, the Belgian Shepherd puppy

That adopted her and was also dreaming,

Her wolf paws fluttering, describing herding

Or corralling rabbits she believed were real.

 

With control as my quarry, my bristling

Needs working on, but I dream of a lamb

Backing away from its mates that are pushing

To gain ingress down a chute.  A belled goat

Stands off to the side with smirking men.

 

 

from The Reharkening (Black Mountain Press, NC., 2014)

Stephen Todd Booker, born in 1953is originally from Brooklyn, and has spent 38 years in prison, 34 on Death Row in Florida, where he started writing poetry. His work has appeared in numerous publications worldwide, most recently in the new renaissance, Mudlark, andWatershed. He’s the author of four collections: Waves and License (Greenfield Review Press); Tug (Wesleyan U. Press); & Swiftly, Deeper (Mandrake Poetry Press).  THE REHARKENING is his new book from Black Mountain Press, published this past spring (2014).

For the Child Molester

Sally Bliumis-Dunn

Let him sleep right through it—

thin syringe, everlasting injection.

 

Then let it hang

like an old wool sock in a closet.

 

Let him wake like a child

from night terror,

clatter down the stairs,

 

rush to the toilet

reach for himself with shaking

thumb and forefinger

around the soft base of the shaft.

 

Let him not even sense the warmth

of urine as it leaves him.

 

Let him feel like he’s touching

a soft dead bird

in that gray bathroom light.

 

Let him hunger for his hunger

the rest of his life.

 

 

 

Sally Bliumis-Dunn teaches modern poetry at Manhattanville College. In 2002, she was a finalist for theNimrod/Hardman Pablo Neruda Prize. Her poems have been published in The Academy of American Poets Poem-A-Day series, The Paris Review, Prairie Schooner, Poetry London,The New York TimesPBS NewsHour, and the Writer’s Almanac, among others. In 2008, she was asked to read in the Love Poems program at the Library of Congress. Her first book, Talking Underwater, was published in 2007 by Wind Publications. Her second book,Second Skin, was published by Wind Publications in 2010.

 

Old Tunes, Politics, Karma & Career

Christopher Buckley

Took the afternoon off from the dozen things I’m supposed to repair, respond to, or maintain around the yard, and stretched out on the chaise longue watching the sun’s delivery spin about me for a while… a long thread of spider web anchored from a pine bough to a branch of the green plum caught the light and looked at first like a contrail, then an incision on the sky, then a small bright scar on the air….

The young blue jays, titmice, and finches jumped on and off the feeders scattering gold and copper-colored seeds to the ground for the juncos and towhees down there, and I resolved to adopt their guiltless attitude about who might finally inherit the earth….  I poured a cheap and cheerful glass of California red, fruity and impertinent, and grabbed the remote—the size of a credit card—for the CD player and settled in to let time play back, listening to my long-dead and distant father’s music re-mixed and released, the stuff I’ve somehow come to like best now, having survived 50 years of rock-n-roll. Gershwin to begin, Bobby Darin doing a workman-like job on “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” and then I raised my glass to Carmen McCrae’s sparkling take on “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” the towhees cheeping a back-up irony….  Then, Linda Ronstadt, her romantic pipes never better or more resonant, delivering a heart crushing, “But Not For Me”. . . .

Which summoned Jerry Brown to mind, one of the few politicians I’ve ever admired, who is Governor again, just in time to clean up the train wreck left by the former Hollywood Republican representative of the rich, in time to get the blame for all the budget cuts that have to be made—exactly the same position in which he found himself in 1975 when he followed Reagan and his executive mansion, when Jerry, like the rest of us, had all his hair.  You’ve got to wonder now, at 72, if hearing Linda somewhere on the radio—one of those Nelson Riddle arrangements, say “Someone To Watch Over Me”—he is second guessing his choices as a young man?  What might it be like to leave all of the fiscal disaster to those who created it, to be living modestly in a California bungalow, reading the L.A. Times or the Rig Veda in the evening, doing the crossword, listening to Linda humming a ranchera in the kitchen?

But then the next track cuts in with Fred & Ginger from the ‘40s singing “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off” and I segue to Fellini’s film, to Marcello Mastroianni who was in love with all the beautiful women in the world, or at least in Italy, for as long as he stayed on his feet… and now Miles Davis with “My Funny Valentine” perfectly muted as my mind rolls back to a dim jazz club in San Francisco when I was 20 something and thought I might be in line for a bit of everything, sure I was going somewhere despite all the strings attached—practical, metaphysical, or otherwise—when I had no idea how happy I was just listening, never guessing I’d reach a point with next to nothing to do.

 

 

Christopher Buckley’s 20th book of poetry, Back Room at the Philosophers’ Club, was published in 2014. His third book of nonfiction, Holy Days of Obligation, was also published this year.

An Occupation

Beckian Fritz Goldberg

The world will end in pink.  Those clouds just above the horizon

burn like lanterns.  Overhead the dark monsoon clouds move in swiftly—

 

with their terrible eye sockets and long

gray beards they are the faces of the prophets.

 

Then the light dies.  The wind is hoarse with ozone and the dark

continents move together.  It is rare temper for the desert

where mostly it looks

like the world has already ended

 

in an eternity flat and brown and the hot atomic white light of the afterlife.  This

judgment is different:  The air gets heavy, then sweet.  Dust begins

to fly.  Then the clouds dark as grapes…

 

Later in your life you’ll study the sky each day like me

an occupation

 

of the increasingly mortal.  And small children

who see lambs and buffalos.  Then forget.  The birds have hidden,

east the sky is a mirror’s back.  All this drama of light and air

before the drops come fat as berries, a few at first, then the roof

is roaring. I think of someone I’ve lost

 

how vast he is—how oblivious

to all this furious touching.  My body

 

is his relic.  My mind is all he was.  If the world has not taught us

tenderness, what have we done, what will we.

Even the coyotes

have retreated to their caves.  Thunder whip-cracks, lightning

flashbacks the desert, the houses on the mountain, the air an amethyst

blink.

 

The rain wants to drive itself into everything.  I want

 

everything.  Today in the mail was a letter about the legal slaughter

of wolves in Montana and how I can stop it.  That was depressing so I went

out to look at the sky,

thinking there was no room for innocence anymore.

Thinking that some day there’d be no wolves, the rhinoceros extinct,

the elephant a legend, none in the clouds,

 

that this may happen in my lifetime.  The air

 

was close as sweat.  Toward dusk I saw the faint pink glow

 

at the end of things, my neighbor’s great mesquite against it

somehow delicate, a black lace.  I missed you

and missed you.  Then the rain filled you like a mouth.

 

 

Beckian Fritz Goldberg received her M.F.A. in 1985 from Vermont College and is the author of seven volumes of poetry, Body Betrayer (Cleveland State University Press, l99l,) In the Badlands of  Desire (Cleveland State University, 1993,) Never Be the Horse, winner of the University of Akron Poetry Prize (University of Akron Press, 1999), Twentieth Century Children, a limited edition chapbook, winner of the Indiana Review chapbook prize (Graphic Design Press, Indiana University, l999), Lie Awake Lake, winner of the 2004 Field Poetry Prize (Oberlin College Press, 2005, ) The Book of Accident (University of Akron Press, 2006,)  Reliquary Fever: New and Selected Poems (New Issues Press, 2010) and Egypt From Space (Oberlin, 2013.)  Goldberg has been awarded the Theodore Roethke Poetry Prize from Poetry Northwest, The Gettysburg Review Annual Poetry Prize, two Arizona Commission on the Arts Poetry Fellowships (1993, 2001) and two Pushcart Prizes.  Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies such as New American Poets of the 90’s, Best American Poetry 1995, American Alphabets:25 Contemporary Poets, Best American Poetry 2011,Best American Poetry 2013 and in journals, including The American Poetry Review, Field, The Gettysburg Review, Harper’s, The Iowa Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Gulf Coast, and many others.  She currently lives in Arizona.

The Dolls’ House Mysteries

Helen Ivory

1.

A woman lies so tidily

below the belly of her cooking range,

it all looks intended;

the ironing board, a saddled horse

provisions in the cupboard enough for a week.

 

Her shadow seeps into her clothes,

the cake cools

on the thrust out tongue of the oven;

the utter pitch of its throat.

 

 

2.

It’s the triangle between the point of the toe

and the handle of the tap

and the exact site at which the water

hits the woman’s upturned face

that fixes this composition.

 

Geometry is important.

It pulls the eye away

with invisible machinery

from the pandemonium

of carpets woven with human hair.

 

And the imagination

is manoeuvred deftly

from what happens to skin

once doused for hours

in water teemed with fluoride .

 

 

3.

Fire lived here once;

slept in this bed low like a dog

pressed to its mistress.

 

They watched the calendar

inch though the year

as the sun slipped its anchor.

 

 

4.

A child presses fingers to blood-spats

on the candy-stripe wallpaper,

traces the outline of the pink blanket

draped over the edge of the cot,

while her mother explains

that something bad has happened

in the dolls’ house.

 

The child has just-washed hair

and her ruby coat is still buttoned

against the December rain.

When they’ve gone

the gallery assistant rises from her chair,

sprays the glass with ethanol

and removes the prints with a lint-free towel.

 

* The Doll’s House Mysteries is based on The Nutshell Studies by Frances Glessner Lee, photographed by Corinne May Botz.

 

 

Helen Ivory is a poet and assemblage/collage artist.  Her fourth Bloodaxe Books collection is Waiting for Bluebeard. She edits the webzine Ink Sweat & Tears and teaches for The Poetry School, The Arvon Foundation and The Poetry Society. She is Course Director for the Continuing Education programme in Creative Writing for UEA and Writers’ Centre Norwich.  And she is co-editor with George Szirtes of In their Own Words: Contemporary Poets on their Poetry (Salt, 2012)

 

Sack

John Kinsella

Ancient river bed hacked and carved whittled deep

by winter run-off river as sudden as a dust storm

in the long summer red bed red dust caves haunting

level best upper storeys where sea breeze ratchets

off ocean and estuary black bream spiky and petrifying

in their pools cut-off omphaloi each and every one

an oracle of seams and joins worked by heat rising

and stretching to breaking point the ripple and crackle

of segregation; onto the sandy riverbed soft and cool

to feet when waded through like frothy low-level surf,

encapsulated by shadows crosshatching from red

river gums in nooks and crannies down down

from ledge, onto sand the flung sack came down on,

its pulsating and cavorting arc, aerodynamic mischief,

anomaly in flight to parabola and plunge to thud

and be absorbed into white sand reddening as hessian

soaks up last breaths and catfights and mews into grey

currawong and red-tailed black cockatoo distraction

and camouflage, seed-eaters and carnivores mixed

to a pitch of blur. And witnessed by teenagers mucking

about after school: sack wrenched straight from car

lurching on dirt track a lover’s leap moth-eaten or chewed

to disappointment, the sack hurled up and down down

with such force the face of perpetrator lost or encrypted,

the type and colour of car forgotten, number plate

unthought of; just the sack now twitching between pools

shallowing with heat and red motes and litotes in the air,

choking and irritating, down down onto the cool sand

(sandals kicked off), to cut open the stitched-up sack

with a pocket knife (be prepared), and reveal the mince

of kittens all trauma and extinction and two or three

with mouths carelessly wired together, half-open

half-closed so their noises would come out all wrong.

 

 

John Kinsella is an Australian poet with a high profile and a long record of achievement, including winning the 2013 Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Poetry. He is also an assiduous anthologiser. Most notably, he editedThe Penguin Anthology of Australian Poetry (2008), one of the more successful of recent attempts to establish an indicative canon of Australian poetry (although this was not, perhaps,vKinsella’s avowed intention with that book).

Embroidered Eyebrows of Eve

Jill McDonough

Eve as reflection, Eve

as comment on Man.  On

Fall, on Curious Girls.  Eve as

self-portrait, Eve’s eyebrows

cutting or sly.  All the colonial

girls’ samplers the same:  same

tree, same Adam, same leaves

over barely imagined junk.  Eve

got more attention: each girl’s idea

of beauty, with each girl’s idealized,

envied hair.  Here red, here chestnut

curls.  Here golden, gleaming, satin

stitched.  But all of them, all these

Eves, once they have that apple, show

us something in their faces about

their artists, those little girls.  Some

are stricken, some wide-eyed.

Sneaky as older sisters, or laughing,

dismissive as moms.  These eyebrows

rounded arches, pleasantly surprised:

delicious.  These ones

a deep V, scared to death

of death, of what this means.

 

 

The winner of a 2014 Lannan Literary Fellowship and three Pushcart prizes, Jill McDonough is the author of Habeas Corpus (Salt, 2008), Oh, James! (Seven Kitchens, 2012), and Where You Live (Salt, 2012).  The recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Fine Arts Work Center, the New York Public Library, the Library of Congress, and Stanford’s Stegner program, she taught incarcerated college students through Boston University’s Prison Education Program for thirteen years.  Her work has appeared in Poetry, Slate, The Nation, The Threepenny Review, and Best American Poetry.  She directs the MFA program at UMass-Boston and 24PearlStreet, the Fine Arts Work Center online.

 

Memorial Bench

Joyce Peseroff

Suzanne and Half Zantop loved sitting here—

sails warbling out like quarter notes in a fiddle contest

 

of sea and sky, the mew of two mated ospreys plunging

after gulls hatched on the island’s keening rookery—

 

before two Vermont boys, one crazy one not,

sawed their neck and chest like a deer carcass, winter 2001, their living

 

room, bedroom, kitchen bloodied with hacking knives, and we took

the cabin—Birch—they’d reserved for the summer.

 

The killers wanted money to be cowboys in Australia, said troopers

who cuffed them. Worse would happen that year.

 

Past the bench a guest rigs his hammock in the cool underside

of the dock. He climbs the struts and curls like a sailor

 

unborn in its red mesh. All month daylilies open like mouths

of baby birds, ready to swallow their one day. One day!

 

 

Joyce Peseroff’s fifth book of poems, Know Thyself, will be out in 2015. She edited Simply Lasting: Writers on Jane Kenyon and A Ploughshares Poetry Reader. She teaches in the MFA Program at UMass Boston

At the Cemetery

Alan Shapiro

Cloud cover from horizon to horizon

like an inverted topographical

map identical in scale

to what it models—

 

gray mountain ranges darkening

as they rise downward,

the crease of valleys

thinning upward

 

into paler grays, thinning and thickening

along lines that shift and merge

like a map in motion,

a phantasmal

 

time lapse of tectonic plates, of every

upsurge and subduction

going nowhere on

and on on

 

courses intricately fated, haphazardly

minute and massive while

below them sprays of

fresh-cut flowers

 

invisibly decay and leave

brief trails of sweetness

all along each newly

chiseled name.

 

 

 

Born and raised in Boston Massachusetts, Alan Shapiro is the author of 12 books of poetry (including Night of the Republic, a finalist for both the National Book Award and The Griffin Prize), two memoirs (The Last Happy Occasion, which was a finalist for the National Book Circle Critics Award in autobiography, and Vigil), a novel (Broadway Baby), a book of critical essays (In Praise of the Impure: Poetry and the Ethical Imagination) and two translations (The Oresteia by Aeschylus and The Trojan Women by Euripides, both published by Oxford University Press). Shapiro has won numerous awards, including The Kingsley Tufts Award, LA Times Book Prize, The O.B. Hardison Award from the Folger Shakespeare Library, The William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America, an award in literature from The American Academy of Arts and Letters, 2 NEAs, a Guggenheim and a Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest Award. He is also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His new book of poems, Reel to Reel, was published in April 2014, from University of Chicago Press. Shapiro has taught at Stanford University, Northwestern University, Warren Wilson College (in its low residency MFA program for writers), and since 1995 has been on the faculty at the University of North Carolina where he is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor of English and Creative Writing.

 

 

The List

John Skoyles

Branches shiver as if a wand

transformed them

into wands themselves,

the way our friends

become poplars

planted in their memory—

Steven Clover, Lon Scott,

Franco Palumbo,

jeweler, banker, chef.

There’s no rest from the list

that grows each morning

as we face the sun

with a cool look

like we can handle

the digging and burying,

that we don’t see every limb

on every tree

as a wing cut from flight.

 

 

John Skoyles has published four books of poems, A Little Faith; Permanent Change; Definition of the Soul and The Situation. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, Poetry, The American Poetry Review, The Atlantic, Harvard Review, Slate, Yale Review and The New York Times, among others. He is also the author of two books of nonfiction,Generous Strangers, a collection of personal essays, several of which were broadcast on public radio; and a memoir, Secret Frequencies: A New York Education. His most recent book is the autobiographical novel, A Moveable Famine, about a life in poetry. He is currently Professor in the Writing, Literature and Publishing Department of Emerson College, and the poetry editor of Ploughshares.

 

Indian River at Dusk

Tara Skurtu

The first and only time I caught a sheephead

big enough to eat, black and white and breathing

in my hands. On my way to get ice I got

distracted, tossed Dad’s keys in the water.

 

I was a good Catholic: I walked him to the spot

and pointed. I made up a lie, but I named

everyone I loved to God before falling

asleep in my yellow room every night—

 

God was a word person. After two

Hail Marys and an Our Father I’d be

good again. Like my words, I knew where

the keys landed. I’ve tried to write

 

about this before. For over a year I made myself

guiltless, couldn’t preserve the thing I caught

or get the syntax right. I didn’t know about

currents. I can’t keep anyone safe.

 

 

 

Tara Skurtu teaches Creative Writing at Boston University, where she received a Robert Pinsky Global Fellowship and an Academy of American Poets Prize. Recent poems have appeared in Poetry Review, Memorious, DMQ Review, The Dalhousie Review, the minnesota review, B O D Y, and The Los Angeles Review.

Two Poems

Monica Youn

THE SACRIFICE

            after Pierre Reverdy

 

nothing but blue

stains on the sheet

a portfolio

remembered smiles

a spiked head

surmounts

a crown of arms

a shrug

gears start up

the mountain

bronze wire

slips around the world

somewhere doors

spring open

in numbered sequence

by name by size

a roll call

the whole crowd

showered in glass shards

dewdrops

coastal breezes

saturate the arid lands

the weathered buildings

jitter themselves to bits

girlish fingertips

sprout leaves

eyes blink open

beneath the mosses

the occasional foot

crushes an eyelid

the lowered blinds

bow down

the head swivels

hides in a thicket of arms

memories wake

bestir themselves

it is night

who goes away

 

 

BROWNACRE

After the clear plastic sheeting has been pulled back, folded away

After each woody rhizome has been pried loose from the soil

Each nest of roots traced to its capillary ends

Small pebbles tossed aside, worms relocated elsewhere

After the soil has been rubbed through a sieve

After the ground has been leveled with rakes and stakes and string

 

There is an end to labor, an end to motion

Nothing sown

Nothing germinating in the bare dirt

The light strikes each granule the same as any other

 

A windlessness rises

Becomes a precondition

 

Why is it hard to admit you couldn’t live here

No one could live here

This is not the texture of the real, lacking event, lacking structure

This is neither landscape nor memory, this is parable, a fantasy of restraint

 

But why does this shame you

Even now you’re trying to hide that your gaze is drifting upward

This plainness cannot hold your attention

You’re searching the sky for some marker of time, of change

In a cloudless sky the sun beats down

But if you observe that the sun warms the soil, you must also concede that the soil will grow colder

The sun stains only the body, and the body is what is not at issue here

 

 

Monica Youn is the author of Barter (Graywolf Press, 2003) and Ignatz (Four Way Books, 2010), which was a finalist for the National Book Award. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including the New Yorker, the ParisReview, and the New York Times Magazine, and she has been awarded fellowships from the Library of Congress and Stanford University, among other awards. A former lawyer, she now teaches poetry at Princeton University.

FEATURED SELECTION

Luis Cernuda trans. by Michael Smith

By way of introduction to this month’s Featured Selection, an interesting preface to selected works of Luis Cernuda by the acclaimed poet and translator Michael Smith, followed by the work itself and some biographical material.

 

Luis Cernuda (1902-1963), versions by Michael Smith 

Luis Cernuda was born in Seville in 1902. His father, Bernardo Cernuda Bousa, was a Puerto Rican settled in Seville, a commander of an Engineering Regiment; his mother, Amparo Bidon y Cuéllar, was a Sevillian of middle-class background. The poet had two sisters, Amparo and Ana. The father was a disciplinarian whose strictness was supported by the mother. The domestic ambience was very traditional and claustrophobically restrictive. Cernuda’s homosexuality seems to have manifested itself early in his life, even if not clearly to Cernuda himself until he was about fourteen. His confusion about his sexual orientation was at least a major cause of him retiring into himself, and his early life, in particular his teens, seems to have been lonely and even tormented.

After finishing his secondary schooling, Cernuda entered the University of Seville where he began the study of Law. There he met Pedro Salinas who had recently taken up the Chair of Spanish Language and Literature. Cernuda attended Salinas’s courses and became friendly with him. Salinas encouraged his literary efforts, invited him to his home and put him in touch with modern French poetry, with Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Verlaine, Mallarmé, Reverdy, etc. Later on, the reading of Gide would have a profound influence on Cernuda, helping him to reconcile himself to his homosexuality.

Although his father died in 1920, Cernuda continued his university studies for two more years, without achieving any distinction – this was at least partially due to his then timid character. From 1920 to 1924 he did his military service and then began writing the short poems of his first book, Perfil del aire (‘Profile of the Air’). He came to know Juan Ramón Jiménez. Also around this time he became a dandy, dressing with ostentatious finesse. He established relationships with Lorca and Aleixandre.

On the death of his mother in 1928, Cernuda decided to abandon his native Seville. He sold the family house and, assisted by Salinas, he obtained a lectureship in Spanish Language and Literature in the University of Toulouse. But in 1929 he returned to Madrid and was again confronted with the need to earn a living. He managed, however, to find decent employment in the bookshop of León Sánchez Cuesta.

In 1934 he collaborated on the magazines Héroe and Octubre: an Organ of the Association of Revolutionary Writers and Art during which he became a member of the Communist Party for the Defence of Culture, a magazine founded by Alberti, in which he published poems and prose. This period marks Cernuda’s short-lived political engagement during which he became a member of the Communist Party. He travelled throughout Spain on behalf of the Republican Government, giving lectures and writing for Heraldo de Madrid.

In 1935 he made what was for him the great discovery of the poetry of Hölderlin, and with the help of a German poet-friend, Hans Gebser, he managed to read the great German in the original and even to translate some of his poems which were published later on in 1936 in Cruz y Raya whose editor, José Bergamín, published in the same year all the poetry which Cernuda had written up till then, to be collected in book form later and issued as La Realidad y el Deseo. On the occasion of the book’s publication, Lorca dedicated an homenaje to Cernuda which was attended by the most important members of the Generation of ’27. This can be said to mark first phase of Cernuda’s career. The next stage is that of exile without return, exilio sin vuelta.

In 1936 Cernuda went to Paris as secretary to Álvaro de Albornoz who was taking up his appointment as Spanish Ambassador in the French capital. Later in the same year, however, he returned to Madrid where he stayed until the beginning of 1937. From there he moved to Valencia at the eruption of the Civil War. In Valencia he established with Alberti, Juan Gil-Albert and other poets, the magazine Hora de España. In February of 1938 he left again for Paris, and from there, with the help of his friend Stanley Richardson he made his way to England on the pretext of giving some lectures there. Cernuda would never return to Spain.

Cernuda stayed in Britain (in Surrey, in Glasgow, in Cambridge and finally in London) until 1947 when he accepted an invitation from his friend Concha de Albornoz to take up a teaching position in Mount Holyoke, Mass. He worked hard there as a teacher and made a relatively good living. Then, in 1949, he made his first trip to Mexico on his summer holidays and immediately fell in love with the people and the country (reminding him of his native Seville). Every summer he returned to Mexico on his holidays.  There, in 1951, when Cernuda was 49, he fell in love with a young man, and in the first great outburst of erotic love he wrote Poemas para un cuerpo. In 1952 he decided to leave Mount Holyoke and live in Mexico permanently, taking up residence in the home of Concha Méndez, the estranged wife of Manuel Altolaguirre.

Financially pressed, Cernuda returned to the United States in 1960 as a teacher and lecturer, this time in Los Angeles.  In 1963 he returned finally to Mexico. He was now embittered, disillusioned and alone – as indeed he mostly had been throughout his adult life.  He died suddenly in the same year.

Although not so well known to readers of modern poetry in Spanish as other members of the Generation of ’27, Cernuda, as a poet if not as a person, has always been highly esteemed. His poetry is unabashedly direct. In a sense, almost all his poetry can be read as a soliloquy, even when the speaker seems to be addressing others. A maniacally self-absorbed individual, Cernuda wrote to discover himself, to justify himself and to console himself. He derived some consolation from the beauty of the natural world and from music and painting. He was a profoundly alienated character, alienated socially and, in a sense, alienated even from his own body. He was haunted by the image of a lost childhood paradise, a paradise from which he was cast out by his sexual orientation and by a concomitant introversion. The moments of epiphanic transcendence which occur in his poems are of reunion with a whole, uninhibited self.

All in all, Cernuda was a man who was ill-at-ease with the world in which he found himself. His prickly aloofness and irascibility were devices to shield an acute sense of his own vulnerability. He was not, by all account, a very lovable man. No doubt his upbringing explains a lot, as does his tormented homosexuality. But more positively, I would say, and as a warning not to read his poetry in a reductively homosexual context, his poetry speaks poignantly of the loneliness of the human condition, and it offers the reader a deeply human, if painfully frank companionship.

 

Note on the Generation of ’27 to which Cernuda belonged:

At its crudest, the label Generación de 27 refers to the year in which a group of young Spanish poets and literary figures, most notably, Gerardo Diego, Lorca, Dámaso Alonso, Rafael Alberti, Luis Cernuda, Jorge Guillén, Chabás, José Bergamín, Manuel Altolaguirre, came together to celebrate the third centenary of the great Spanish baroque poet Luis de Góngora in the Ateneo of Seville under the patronage of the rich and cultured torero Ignacio Sánchez Mejías. Although  many of them were close friends, they did not constitute an homogeneous group with a common agenda. Many of them were associated with the progressive educational institute in Madrid, the Institución Libre de Enseñanza and its associated school, the Residencia de Estudiantes. In general it may be said that they were against the old repressively traditional Spain dominated by the oligarchy of Church, landed gentry and the high bourgeoisie. They ranged from free-thinking liberals like Dámaso Alonso and José Bello to political extremists like Alberti and devil-may-care rebels like Buñuel and Dalí. They were forward-looking and non-dogmatic. It seemed to them that a new Spain was in the making and they were enthusiastic about that. An entertaining and very personal account of what it was like to be part of the Generation of ’27 was given in an interview which José Bello gave to Javier Rioyo in the cultural supplement to El País (El País Semanal, Numero 1.251, Domingo 17 de septiembre de 2000).

– Michael Smith

 

 

Ancient Garden*

To  go again to the sealed garden

that hides, behind a mud wall

and arches, among magnolias,

lemon trees, its waters’ charm.

 

To hear again in the silence,

alive with birdsong and leaves,

the cool sighing of the wind

where old souls are floating.

 

To see again faraway

the deep sky, the slender tower,

such a flower of light on the palms:

all things always beautiful.

 

To feel again, as then,

the sharp thorn of desire,

while past youth

returns. Dream of a timeless god.

 

(Ir de nuevo al jardín cerrado …)

* This poem evokes Cernuda’s homesickness in exile from his native Seville, its gardens and fountains. The tower referred to in line 10 is the Giralda.

 

 

Impression of Exile

It was last spring,

almost a year ago now,

in a lounge in the old Temple*, in London,

with old furniture. The windows looked out,

over the old buildings, into the distance;

among the grass, the grey sheen of the river.

Everything was grey and exhausted

like the iris of a sick pearl.

They were old gentlemen, old ladies,

dusty feathers in their hats;

a whisper of voices there in the corners,

beside tables with yellow tulips,

family portraits and empty teapots.

The shadow that fell

with an odour of cat

awakened noises in the kitchens.

 

A silent man was

near me. I saw

at times the shadow of his long profile

appearing abstracted at the rim of the cup,

with the same weariness

 

of the dead man who might return

from the tomb to a worldly party.

 

On someone’s lips,

there in the corners

where the old were whispering together,

heavy as a falling tear,

a word suddenly burst out: Spain.

An indefinable exhaustion

went round in my head.

They lit the lights. We left.

 

After long stairs almost in darkness

I found myself then in the street,

and at my side, on turning round,

once more I saw that silent man,

who said something vague

in a strange  accent,

a child’s accent in an agéd voice.

 

Walking on he followed me

as if he were alone under an invisible weight,

dragging the stone of his tomb;

but then he stopped.

‘Spain?’ he said. ‘A name.

Spain has died.’ There was

an abrupt corner on the street.

I saw him fading into the damp shadow.

 

( Fue la pasada primavera)

* Cernuda has in mind the origin of London’s ‘Temple’ as referring to churches founded by the Templars.

 

 

Child Behind a Window

At the fall of evening, absorbed

behind the window pane, the child looks

at the rain. The light lit

in a lamp forms a contrast

of the white rain with the dark air.

 

The lonely room

gently envelops him,

and the lace curtain, veiling

the window pane, like a cloud,

whispers a lunar charm to him.

 

The college becomes distant. It is now

truce time, with the book

of stories and engravings

under the lamp, the night,

sleep, the endless hours.

 

He is living in the breast of his tender strength,

without desire still, without memory -

the child – and without presage

that, outside, time with life

is waiting in ambush.

 

The pearl is hardening in his shadow [his name?].

 

(Al caer la tarde, absorto)

 

 

Autumn Feeling

Autumn is raining still green as then

above the old marbles,

with an empty fragrance, opening dreams,

And the body becomes abandoned.

 

There are transparent shapes in the valley,

daze in the fountains,

and amid the vast pallid air now shine

some heavenly wings.

Behind the fresh voices the virginal

halo of death remains,

nothing counts won or lost.

Memory stirs languidly.

 

Everything is true save hatred, inert

like that grey film of cloud

vainly passing above the gold,

turned irate shadow.

 

(Llueve el otoño aún verde como entonces)

 

 

Farewell

The street, lonely at midnight,

echoes your footstep.

The corner reached, it was the moment;

quick weapon, space.

 

It was you who left,

you were the first to break,

just so the soul breaks alone,

terrified to be free.

 

And night, its vacant vastness,

the stuff you’re made of,

entered you, stripped you of such

a cherished body  as was one with you.

 

(La calle, sola a medianoche)

 

 

For You. For No One

Since memory is inept,

while there is time still,

 

someone who departs

turns his head back,

 

or the one now gone

seeks in a small possession,

 

a letter, a portrait,

the material traits,

the loyal presence

with earthly reality,

 

and I, this unknown

Luis Cernuda, who lasts

 

just the brief spell

of a hopeful of love,

 

before life’s decline

I turn

 

towards your image  so dear

here, in thought,

 

and though you shall not see them,

to speak with your absence

 

I write these lines

only to be with you.

 

(Pues no basta el recuerdo)

 

 

Shadow of Myself

I well know that this image

forever fixed in my mind

is not you, but a shadow

of the love that exists in me

before time finishes.

 

Thus you seem to me visibly my love,

endowed by me with that same grace

that makes me suffer, weep, despair

sometimes of everything, other times

it raises me to the sky in our life,

sensing the sweetnesses that are kept

only for the chosen beyond the world.

 

And though I know that, then I think

that without you, without the rare

chance you gave me,

my love, come forward in all tenderness,

would stay inside me even today

asleep waiting for

someone who, at his call,

would make him finally pulsate with pleasure.

Then I thank you and say to you:

for this I came into the world, to wait for you;

to live for you, as you live

for me, though you don’t know it,

for this deep love I bear for you.

 

(Bien sé yo que esta imagen)

 

 

The Lover Waits

And how much I plague you,

Lord, beseeching you to give me back

what is lost, lost ever again before

and retrieved by you for me, so that it seems

impossible to keep it.

 

Once more

I call on your compassion, since it is

the only thing I love well, and you are

the only help I can count on.

 

But beseeching you

so, I know it is a sin,

an occasion of sin that I seek,

and yet I will not hush,

nor bow to final resignation.

 

So many years lived

in loneliness and tedium, in tedium and poverty,

brought after them this blessing,

so deep for me that I can now

justify the past with it.

And so I insist, Lord, so I come

again to you fearful and even sure

that if I blaspheme you will pardon me.

Give me back, Lord, what I have lost,

the only being for whom I wish to live.

 

(Y cuánto te importuno)

 

 

Malibu*

Malibu,

waves with rain;

air of music.

 

Malibu,

entrapped water,

marine grotto.

 

Malibu,

fairy name,

spellbound force.

 

Malibu,

howling wind,

witches’ wood.

 

Malibu, A word,

and in it, magic.

 

(Málibu)

* The beach in Los Angeles (California). Cernuda return in 1960 from Mexico to the United States where he obtained work at the University of California.

 

 

Once More, With Feeling

I did not believe that I would once more

invoke the memory of your ancient friendship,

the one which a whole tribe, strange to you

and no less strange to me perhaps,

had taken possession of.

 

But one of that tribe,

a professor and, according to himself and others

from over there (how fallen our country is!),

a poet, has called you ‘my prince’.

And I ask myself what you did that

you can consider yourself his prince.

 

Academic vacuity? Vacuity commonly occurs

in his writings. But his rhetorical rapture

does not make clear to our understanding

what is secret in your work, though they also call him

critic of our contemporary of poetry.

 

The appropriation of you who were nothing

or wished to be nothing to him while you lived,

is what has awakened my amazement.

You, prince of a toad? Is it not enough

that your countrymen murdered you?

 

Now stupidity follows the crime.

 

(Ya no creí que más invocaría)

 

 

Farewell

Boys

who were never companions of my life,

Goodbye.

Boys

who will never be companions of my life,

Goodbye.

 

A lifetime separates us

insurmountably:

on one side youth free and smiling;

on the other side old age humiliating and inhospitable.

 

When young I didn’t know

how to see beauty, to desire it, to possess it;

as an old man I have learnt

and I see beauty, but I desire it in vain.

An old man’s hand stains

the young body if it tries to caress it.

In solitary dignity the old man

must spend a long time in slow temptation.

 

Kissed lips are fresh and desirable,

more fresh and desirable seem lips never kissed.

What solution, friends? What solution?

I well know: there is none.

 

How sweet it would be

to live for a time in your company:

to bathe together in the waters of a warm beach,

to share drink and food at a table.

to laugh, to chat, to stroll,

to look close up, in your eyes, at that light and that music.

 

Go on, go on so, so carelessly

attracting love, attracting desire.

Don’t mind about the wound your beauty and grace open

in this passer-by seemingly immune to them.

 

Goodbye, goodbye, clusters of graces and charms.

Since soon I must go, confident,

to where, the broken thread tied, I may say and do

what is lacking here, what once I didn’t know how to say or do.

 

Goodbye, goodbye, impossible companions.

Only just now I am learning

to die, desiring

to see you again equally beautiful

in some other life.

 

(Muchachos)

 

 

The Second of November

Today the bells

toll ominously:

still early, the air,

steel cold, reaches

 

Your blood inside.

You recall those

who went this year

leaving you alone.

 

Now you maintain

only the memory:

the remote hearth,

familiar shadows,

 

everything fated

with you to oblivion.

The blue of the sky,

promises, so clear,

 

a gentle air later.

And in the market,

where the flowers are

in abundant bunches,

 

you breathe a smell,

a smell, but not an aroma,

of earth, of a beauty

ancient and comforting.

 

Despite the weather,

substance and senses,

as always, relieve

the soul, in life.

 

(Las campanas hoy)

 

 

Yankee Night

The lamp and the curtain

shut out the outside world with their shade.

Dream now,

if you can, if you are contented

with dreams, as you lack

realities.

You are here, on your return

from the world, yesterday alive, today

a body in pain.

Crazily waiting,

around you, friends

and their voices.

 

Be quiet and listen. No. You hear

nothing except your blood,

its tireless

pulsing, fearful;

and you note something else

that disturbs.

 

It is the timber, that creaks;

it is the radiator, that whistles.

A yawn.

A pause. And you check the clock:

still early

for you to go to bed.

 

You pick up a book. But you think

you have read too much

for your eyes,

and at your age it makes better

reading to remember

some old books,

but in a new sense.

 

What to do? Because there is time.

it’s early.

The whole of winter is waiting for you,

and then the spring.

You have time.

A lot? How much? And how much time

has a man got to last him?

‘No. It’s late,

It’s late,’ someone inside you,

who is not you, repeats.

And you sigh.

 

Life is alive in time,

your eternity is now,

because later

there will be time

for nothing.

Time winds out. But when?

Someone said:

‘Time and I for two

Others.’ Which two? Tomorrow’s

two readers?

But your readers, if they appear,

and your time, do not coincide.

You are alone

before time, with your life

without living.

 

Regret

You were young,

but you never knew

until today that the bird

had fled

from your hand.

 

Youth hurts inside,

you its vengeful victim,

knowing

that, since this face does not become it

nor the white hair, it is useless

since it comes late.

 

Work relieves others

of what cannot be cured,

as they say.

How many years

have you worked? Twenty or more

roughly speaking?

It was work that did not buy you

relative

independence.

The world,

generous as always,

demands of you

another necessity.

 

And you declare, then, earning

your living, not with effort,

but fastidiously.

No one teaches what matters,

one has to learn it

oneself.

 

The best  you have been,

the best of your existence, you gave

to a shadow:

to the desire of making yourself worthy,

to the desire of excelling yourself.

Waiting

always for another morning

which, though late, would justify

your presumption.

 

It’s a fact that you tried

for the love

of a creature,

A youthful myth, seeking

as always, and serving it,

to be who you are.

 

And you found what you were.

But is the truth of man

for himself alone

like a useless secret?

Why not put life

to another purpose?

 

Whoever you are, it was your life;

you are not one without the other;

you know that

and it is an effort to follow, then,

even the lost mirage,

until the day

the story ends,

at least for you.

 

And you think

that thus you will return

to where you were at the start

of the soliloquy: with yourself

and nobody.

kill the light, and to bed.

 

(La lámpara y la cortina)

 

 

JARDÍN ANTIGUO

Ir de nuevo al jardín cerado,

Que tras los arcos de la tapia,

Entre magnolios, limoneros,

Guarda el encanto de las aguas.

 

Oír de nuevo en el silencio,

Vivo de trinos y de hojas,

El susurro tibio del aire

Donde las almas viejas flotan.

 

Ver otra vez el cielo hondo

A lo lejos, la torre esbelta

Tal flor de luz sobre las palmas:

Las cosas todas siempre bellas.

 

Sentir otra vez, como entonces,

La espina aguda del deseo,

Mientras la juventud pasada

Vuelve. Sueño de un dios sin tiempo.

 

 

IMPRESIÓN DE DESTIERRO

Fue la pasada primavera,

Hace ahora casi un año,

En un salón del viejo Temple, en Londres,

Con viejos muebles. Las ventanas daban,

Tras edificios viejos, a lo lejos,

Entre la hierba el gris relámpago del río.

Todo era gris y estaba fatigado

Igual que iris de una perla enferma.

 

Eran señores viejos, viejas damas,

En sus sombreros plumas polvorientas;

Un susurro de voces allá por los rincones,

Junto a mesas con tulipanes amarillos,

Retratos de familia y teteras vacías.

La sombra que caía

Con un olora gato,

Despertaba ruidos en cocinas.

 

Un hombre solencioso estaba

Cerca de mí. Veía

La sombra de su largo perfil algunas veces

Asomarse abstraído al borde de la taza,

Con la misma fatiga

Del muerto que volviera

Desde la tumba a una fiesta mundana.

 

En los labios de alguno,

Allá por los rincones

Donde los viejos juntos susuraban

Densa como una lágrima cayendo,

Brotó de pronto una palabra: España,

Un cansancio sin nombre

Rodaba en mi cabeza.

Encendieron las luces. Nos marchamos.

 

Tras largas escaleras casi a oscuras

Me hallé luego en la calle,

Y a mi lado, al volverme,

Vi otra vez a aquel hombre silencioso,

Que habló indistinto algo

Con acento extranjero,

Un acento de niño en voz envejecida.

 

Andando me seguía

Como si fuera solo bajo un peso invisible,

Arrastrando la losa de su tumba;

Mas luego se detuvo.

‘¿España?’ dijo. ‘Un nombre.

España ha muerto.’ Había

Una súbita esquina en la calleja.

Le vi borrarse entre la sombra húmeda.

 

 

NIÑO TRAS UN CRISTAL

Al caer la tarde, absorto

Tras el cristal, el niño mira

Llover. La luz que se ha encendido

En un farol contrasta

La lluvia blanca con el aire oscuro.

 

La habitación a solas

Le envuelve tibiamente,

Y el visillo, velando

Sobre el cristal, como una nube,

Le susurra lunar encantamiento.

 

El colegio se aleja. Es hora

La tregua, con el libro

De historias y de estampas

Bajo la lámpara, la noche,

El sueño, las horas sin medida.

 

Vive el seno de su fuerza tierna,

Todavía sin deseo, sin memoria,

El niño, si presagio

Que afuera el tiempo aguarda

Con la vida, al acecho.

 

En su nombre ya se forma la perla.

 

 

SENTIMIENTO DE OTOÑO

Llueve el otoño aún verde como entonces

Sobre los viejos mármoles,

Con aroma vacío, abriendo sueños,

El el cuerpo se abandona.

 

Hay formas transparente por el valle,

Embeleso en las fuentes,

Y entre el vasto aire pálido ya brillan

Unas celestas alas.

 

Tras de las voces frescas quedas el halo

Virginal de la muerte,

Nada pesa ganado ni perdido,

Lánguido va el recuerdo.

 

Todo es verdad, menos el odio, yerto

Como ese gris celaje

Pasando vanamente sobre el oro,

Hecho sombra iracunda.

 

 

DESPEDIDA

La calle, sola a medianoche,

Doblaba en eco vuestro paso.

Llegados a la esquina fue el momento;

Arma presta, el espacio.

 

Eras tú quien partía,

Fuiste primero tú el que rompiste,

Así el ánima rompe sola,

Con terror a ser libre.

 

Y entró la noche en ti, materia tuya

Su vastedad desierta,

Desnudo ya de cuerpo tan amigo

Que contigo uno era.

 

 

PARA TI, PARA NADIE

Pues no basta el recuerdo,

Cuando aún queda tiempo,

 

Alguno que se aleja

Vuelve atrás la cabeza,

 

O aquel que se ya se ha ido,

En algo posesivo,

 

Una carta, un retrato,

Los materiales rasgos

 

Busca, la fiel presencia

Con realidad terrena,

 

Y yo, este Luis Cernuda

Incógnito, que dura

 

Tan sólo un breve espacio

De amor esperanzdo,

 

Antes que el plazo acabe

De vivir, a tu imagen

 

Tan querida me vuelo

Aquí, en el pensamiento,

 

Y aunque tú no has de verlas,

Para hablar con tu ausencia

 

Estas líneas escribo,

Únicamente por estar contigo.

 

 

SOMBRA DE MÍ

Bien sé que está imagen

Fija siempre en la mente

No era tú, sino sombra

Del amor que en mí existe

Antes que el tiempo acabe.

 

Mi amor así visible me pareces,

Por mí dotado de esa gracia misma

Que me hace sufrir, llorar, desperarme

De todo a veces, mientras otras

Me levanta hasta el cielo en nuestra vida,

Sentiendo las dulzuras que se guardan

Sólo a los elegidos tras el mundo.

 

Y aunque conozco eso, luego pienso

Que sin ti, sin el raro

Pretexto que me diste,

Mi amor, que fuera astá con su ternura,

Allá dentro de mí hoy seguiría

Dormido todavío y a la espera

De alguien que, a su llamada,

Le hicera al fin latir gozasomente.

 

Entonces te doy gracias a te digo:

Para esto vine al mundo, y a esperarte;

Para vivir por ti, como tú vives

Por mí, aunque no lo sepas,

Por este amor tan hondo que te tengo.

 

 

EL AMANTE ESPERA

Y cuánto te importuno,

Señor, rogándote me vuelvas

Lo perdido, ya otras veces perdido

Y por ti recobrado para mí, que parece

Imposible guardarlo.

 

Nuevamente

Llamo a tu compasión, pues es la sola

Cosa que quiero bien, y tú la sola

Ayuda con que cuento.

 

Mas ragándote

Así, conozo que es pecado,

Ocasión de pecar lo que te pido,

Y aún no guardo silencio,

No me resigno al fin a la renuncia.

 

Tantos años vividos

En soledad y hastío, en hastío y pobreza,

Tajeron tras de ellos esta dicha,

Tan honda para mí, que así ya puedo

Justificar con cella lo pasado.

 

Por eso insisto aún, Señor, por eso vengo

De nuevo a ti, temiendo y aun seguro

De que si soy blasfemo me perdones:

Devuélveme, Señor, lo que he perdido,

El solo ser por quien vivir deseo.

 

 

MÁLIBU

Málibu,

Olas con lluvia.

Aire de música.

 

Málibu,

Agua cuativa.

Gruta marina.

 

Málibu,

Nombre de hada.

Fuerza encantada.

 

Málibu,

Viento que ulula.

Bosque de brujas.

 

Málibu,

Una palabra.

Y en ella, magia.

 

 

OTRA VEZ, CON SENTIMIENTO

Ya no creí que más invocaría

De tu amistad antigua la memoria,

Que de ti se adueñó toda una tribu

Extraña para mí y para ti no menos

Extraña acaso.

 

Mas uno de esa tribu,

Profesor y, según pretenden él y otros

De por allá (cuánto ha caído nuestra tierra),

Poeta, te ha llamado  ‘mi príncipe’.

Y me pregunto qué hiciste tú para que ése

Pueda considerarte como príncipe suyo.

 

¿Vaciedad académica? La vaciedad común resulta

En sus escritos. Mas su rapto retórico

No aclara a nuestra entendimimiento

Lo secreto aen tu obra, aunque también llaman

Crítico de la poesía muestra contemporánea.

 

La apropiación de ti, que nada suyo

Fuiste o quisiste ser mientras vivías,

Es lo que ahí des`pierta mi extrañeza.

¿Príncipe tú de un sapo? ¿No les basta

A tus compatriotas haberte asisinado?

 

Ahora ña estupidez sucede al crimen.

 

 

DESPEDIDA

Muchachos

Que nunca fuisteis campañeros de mi vida,

Adiós.

Muchachos

Que no seréis nunca compañeros de mi vida,

Adiós.

 

El tiempo de una vida nos separa

Infranqueable:

A un lado la junevntud libre y risueña;

A otro la vejez humillante e inhóspita.

 

De joven no sabía

Ver la hermosa, cordiarla, poseerla;

De viejo la he aprendido

Y veo a la hermosura, mas la codicio inútilmente.

 

Mano de viejo mancha

El cuerpo juvenil si intenta acariciarlo.

Con solitaria dignidad el viejo debe

Pasar de largo junto a la tentación tardía.

 

Frescos y codiciables son los labios besados,

Labios nunca besados más codiciables y frescos aparecen.

¿Qué remedio, amigos? ¿Qué remedio?

Bien lo sé: no lo hay.

 

Qué dulce hubiera sido

En vuestra compañía vivir un tiempo:

Bañarse juntos en aguas de una playa caliente,

Compartir bebida y alimento en una mesa.

Sonréir, conversar, paserse

Mirando cerca, en vuestros ojos, esa luz y esa música.

 

Seguid, seguid así, tan descuidadamente,

Atrayendo al amor, atrayendo al deseo.

No cuidéis de la herida que la hermosura vuestra

y vuestra gracia abren

En este transeúnte inmune en apariencia a ellas.

 

Adiós, adíos, manojos de gracias y donaires.

Que yo pronto he de irme, confiado,

Adonde, anudado el roto hilo, diga y haga

Lo que aquí falta, lo que a tiempo decir y hacer

aquí no supe.

 

Adiós, adiós, compañeros imposibles.

Que ya tan sólo aprendo

A morir, deseando

Veros de nueve hermosos igualmente

En alguna otra vida.

 

 

DOS DE NOVIEMBRE

Las campanas hoy

Ominosas suenan.

Aún temprano, el aire,

Frío acero, llega

 

Por tu sangre adentro.

Recueros los tuyos

Idos este años

Dejándote único.

 

Ahora tú sostienes

Solo la memoria:

El hogar remoto,

Familiares sombras,

 

Todo destinado

Contigo al olvido.

El azul del cielo

Promete, tan limpo,

 

Aire tibio luego.

Por el mercado,

Donde están las flores

En copiosos ramos,

 

Un olor respiras,

Olor, mas no aroma,

A tierra, a hermosura

Que, antigua, conforta.

 

A pesar del tiempo,

Al alma, en la vida,

Materia y sentidos

Como siempre alivian.

 

 

NOCTURNO YANQUI

La lámpara y la cortina

Al pueblo en su sombra excluyen.

Sueña ahora,

Si puedes, si te contentas

Con sueños, cuanto te faltan

 

Estás aquí. de regreso

Del mundo, ayer vivo, hoy

Cuerpo en pena,

Esperando locamente,

Alrededor tuyo, amigos

Y sus voces.

 

Callas escuchas. No. Nade

Oyes, excepto tu sangre,

Su latido

Incansable, temeroso;

Y atención prestas a otra

Cosa inquieta.

 

Es la madera. que cruje;

Es el radiado, que silba.

Un bostezo.

Pausa. Y el reloj consultas:

Todavía temprano para

 

Tomas un libro. Mas piensas

Que has leído demasiado

Con los ojos,

Y a tus años la lectura

Mejor es recuerdo de unos

Libros viejos,

Pero con nueva sentido.

 

¿Qué hacer? Porque tiempo hay.

Es temprano.

Todo es invierno te espera,

Y la primavera entonces.

Tiempo tienes.

 

¿Mucho? ¿Cuánto? ¿Y hasta cuándo

El tiempo al hombre le dura?

‘No, que es tarde,

Es tarde, repite alguno

Dentro de ti, que no eres.

Y suspiras.

 

La vida en tiempo se vive,

Tu eternidad es ahora,

Porque luego

No habrá tiempo para nada

Tuyo. Gana tiempo. ¿Y cuándo?

 

 

Alguien dijo:

‘El tiempo y yo para otros

Dos.’ ¿Cuáles lectores

De mañana?

Más tus lectores, si nacen,

Y tu tiempo, no coinciden.

Estás solo

Frente al tiempo, con tu vida

Sin vivir.

 

Remordimiento

Fuiste joven,

Pero nunca lo supiste

Hasta hoy, que el ave ha huido

De tu mano.

 

La mocedad dentro duele,

Tú su presa vengadora,

Conociendo

Que, pues no le va esta cara

Ni el pelo blanco, es inútil

Por tardía.

 

El trabajo alivia a otros

De lo que no tiene cura,

¿Cuántos años ahora tienes

De trabajo? ¿Viente y pico

Mal contados?

 

Trabajo fue que no compra

Para ti la independcia

A otro menester el mundo,

Generoso como siempre,

Te demanda.

 

Y profesas pues, ganando

Tu vida, no con esfuerzo,

Con fastidio.

Nadie enseña lo que importa,

Que eso ha de aprenderlo el hombre

Por sí solo.

 

Lo mejor que has sido, diste,

Lo mejor de tu existencia,

A una sombra:

Al afán de hacerte digno,

Al deseo de excederte,

Esperando

Siempre mañana otro día

Que, aunque tarde, justifique

Tu pretexto.

 

Cierto que tú te esforzaste

Por sino y amor de una

Criatura,

Mito moceril, buscando

Desde siempre, y al servirla,

Ser quien eres.

 

Y al que eras le has hallado,

¿Mas es la verdad del hombre

Para él solo.

Como un inútil secreto?

¿Por qué no poner la vida

A otra cosa?

 

Quien eres, tu vida era;

Uno sin otro no sois,

Tú lo sabes.

Y es fuerza seguir, entonces,

Aun el miraje perdido,

Hasta el día

Que la historia se termine,

Para ti al menos.

 

Y piensas

Que así vuelves

Donde estabas al comienzo

Del soliloquio: contigo

Y sin nadie.

 

Mata la luz, y a la cama.

 

*Originals thanks to the Fondo de Cultura Economica (Mexico D.F.)  – whom we tried to contact without success and whose forgiveness we seek, in any case.

 

 

Michael Smith (born 1942) is an Irish poet, author and translator. A member of Aosdána, the Irish National Academy of Artists, Michael Smith was the first Writer in-Residence to be appointed by University College, Dublin and is an Honorary Fellow of UCD. He is a poet who has given a lifetime of service to the art of poetry both in English and Spanish. Smith founded New Writers Press in Dublin in 1967 (together with Trevor Joyce and his wife, Irene) and has been responsible for the publication of over seventy books and magazines. He was founder and editor of the influential literary magazine The Lace Curtain. From 1984 to 1989 he was a member of the Arts Council. He has translated into English and published some of the most difficult and exhilarating poets in Spanish, including Federico García LorcaPablo NerudaMiguel Hernández (Unceasing Lightning) and the two great Spanish masters of the baroque, Francisco de Quevedo and Luis de Góngora. He has also translated Gerardo Diego‘s Manual de espumas, a Selected Poems of José Hierroand selections of the poems of Jiménez and Luis Cernuda, among others. In 2001 he received the European Academy Medal, for his translation of great Spanish poets. His own poetry has appeared in numerous anthologies of Irish poetry, including The Penguin Book of Contemporary Irish Poetry. Among his most recent books are The Purpose of the Gift: Selected Poems and Maldon and Other Translations (NWP/ Shearsman). His poetry has been translated into Spanish, Polish, French and German. Among his most recent publications are Selected Poems of Rosalía de Castro, The Prison Poems of Miguel Hernández (Parlor Press) and, with Luis Ingelmo, Complete Poems of Claudio Rodriguéz (Shearsman Books), as well as Complete Poems of Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer. This year (2009), Shearsman has published his Collected Poems. With the Peruvian scholar Valentin Gianuzzi, he has translated and published (Shearsman Books) the complete poems of César Vallejo in four volumes. In 2009 he translated a selection of poems of the Spanish poet Juan Antonio Villacañas in collaboration with Beatriz VillacañasJuan Antonio Villacañas: Selected Poems (Shearsman Books).