THE BEAUTIFUL BIRD & THE BEAUTIFUL LIFE, 2010
Storytellers, The Conversation Series - Charcoal on sanded plaster on masonite and plywood. Epoxy resin top
23.5 X 23.5 inches

THE BEAUTIFUL BIRD & THE BEAUTIFUL LIFE, 2010
Storytellers, The Conversation Series - Charcoal on sanded plaster on masonite and plywood. Epoxy resin top
23.5 X 23.5 inches

Editor’s Note

Readers –

 

This month, most of the heavy lifting in this monthly note is done by Mr. Simic’s marvelous essay below, in lieu of a “secret poem” (though poetic it is, in spades)  entitled “Winter’s Philosophers” – so… effortlessly beautiful, so casually erudite as we have come to expect of its author, as to prompt me to break precedent and run not my own thoughts but – much preferably — his ( though you’ll find plenty of mine, alas, in the Newsletter). The piece is from the NYR Blog – you may have seen it if you are a regular on Facebook, as I am not. The photograph is credited to Jean Gaumy/Magnum Press, and bears the title “Le Châtelard,” Village of Saint-Sigismond, France.”

barn

“Everyone who thinks is unhappy,” says Sergei Dovlatov in one of his stories. Some crows caw all day, some have nothing to say. I see one of them pace back and forth on my lawn the way I’ve seen Hamlet do on stage. Whatever is bothering him seems insoluble, too much for one crow to figure out on his own. Still, no harm trying, I suppose, even with the racket his relatives are making as they fly to and fro, as if the road they oversee is not covered only with fallen leaves and patches of ice, but also with fresh road kill.

*

My late father, who had something good to say about most things, used to console people who complained about bitter cold weather by reminding them of the joys of a hot bowl of soup and of a strong drink being made permissible early in the day by the extraordinary circumstances. In addition, he claimed that the cold concentrates the mind. The moment we step outdoors, we do what we have to do with uncommon intelligence and dispatch, unlike those folks who can afford to sit in the shade on some Mediterranean or Caribbean island. Once we lie down, time ceases to count and we can meditate on eternity, Cioran believed. History, he said, is the product of people who stand up and get busy. Can one be a dreamer or a dolt on the North Pole? My father had his doubts about that. How does Berlioz sound at forty below? How does Schumann? He never cared to find out.

*

If only Plato and Socrates had to scrape the ice off their windshields and deal with dead car batteries, I was going to add, when the horrifying realization struck me that, despite our interminable New Hampshire winters and our supposedly heightened state of intelligence, we’ve never of late up here produced one philosopher that anyone would care to remember. So, this uncanny feeling that I have, when I get up in the middle of the night and tiptoe on bare feet down to the cold kitchen to peek at the thermometer outside, that I’m on the verge of a supreme insight, something worthy of Blaise Pascal contemplating the silence of the infinite universe, turns out to be all hooey. Well, perhaps not entirely: the one whose mind is clear senses himself free, a master of his destiny. Who says philosophy is incompatible with hard labor of self-preservation? When I’m shoveling snow off the roof I sneak admiring glances at myself as if I were Nietzsche’s superman.

*

Still, I can’t help but feel that I’m surrounded by deep thinkers: the young cow standing puzzled in a field covered with first snow; the mutt I’ve been calling Schopenhauer, sighing at the end of his heavy chain, or the other one who reminds me of Karl Marx and who I saw bark at the police in their cruiser as they drove past his house. Even the lake about to freeze appears mute with indecision and lost in thought. As for cats, there must be at least a couple of Wittgensteins slinking around back porches in the vicinity and one large, long-haired black tabby who comes to rub himself against my leg now and then and whom I’ve named after Boethius, who wrote Consolation of Philosophy, one of the most popular books in Medieval Europe.

*

“No philosopher has ever influenced the attitudes of even the street he lived on,” Voltaire was reputed to have said. That’s not what I believe. With deep winter upon us and the weather growing colder, even the wood smoke out of the neighbors’ chimneys could be described as philosophizing. I can see it move its lips as it rises, telling the indifferent sky about our loneliness, the torment of our minds and passions which we keep secret from each other, and the wonder and pain of our mortality and of our eventual vanishing from this earth. It’s a kind of deep, cathedral-like quiet that precedes a snowfall. One looks with amazement at the bare trees, the gray daylight making its slow retreat across the bare fields, and inevitably recalls that Emily Dickinson poem in which she speaks of just such a winter afternoon—windless and cold, when an otherworldly light falls and shadows hold their breath—and of the hurt that it gives us for which we can find no scar, only a closer peek inside ourselves where the meanings and all the unanswered questions are.

January 4, 2011, 10 a.m.

 

But to the news, such as it is this spare month, and most of it repeated in that Newsletter, I’m afraid.

Still, for those who, ahem, have not yet signed up for the crucial missive, so easily obtained via the link Newsletter on our homepage:

The previously announced “new look” has been…tabled. As a final check — something I should have done at the outset, of course — I took it upon myself to survey a number of our regular readers/contributors, who responded with characteristic alacrity and generosity. The consensus: Don’t change anything. So, we won’t, not now, at least. Oh, we’ll darken the font a bit, I think – make for an easier read against the grey-green background — which an astute or at least creative reader likened to seeing the words forming in her mind rather than merely delivered to her eye. I liked that. Many expressed approval of our site’s simplicity – sparse, spare, elegant seemed to be the descriptors of choice. I liked that, too. “Plume lets the poems speak for themselves.” another frequent comment, and precisely what I hoped for when we laid out the site several years ago now. Even the logo got a thumbs up. And the French. Who knew there were so many Francophiles among you? So, the experience of Plume will be what is has been since its inception, into the foreseeable future. I don’t think we’ll do photographs (Never a fan, especially when I have to view my own in other journals.) Nor will there be recordings of the poems by their authors – too many poems tainted for me by those spoken iterations. In the end, perhaps it’s my own preferences that have been validated by your comments: I much prefer the silence of the printed page, alone. (Could I get away with it, I might even dispense with the biographical material. Although I understand its practical necessity, in my own reading I rarely want to know anything at  all about the authors – all the more so when I love them:  I want their works to be unencumbered by the ghostly presence their human creators: art as pure gift: ex nihilo.) I suppose we will address the Archives, too, aside from the font issue they remain an ongoing project, and we will turn our attentions to it shortly. To all those who so kindly responded to my tardy query: thank you!

An announcement: Alex Cigale’s position has been changed to Contributing Editor for Translations.

Many thanks, Alex!

And, again– AWP: A reminder: Friday, April 10, 6:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. in the Minneapolis Convention Center, Conference Room 209 A & B, Level 2, there will be a joint reading with Plume & Fulcrum (with a full bar). My request for readers has been answered – many times over, I’m afraid. (How generous our contributors!) As noted, on a first come, first served basis as their emails arrived in my Inbox, the line-up (with perhaps a bit of tweaking in order yet) is as follows:

Page Hill Stargazer

Rae Armantrout

John Skoyles

Clare Rossini

David Baker

Robin Behn

Patricia Clark

Dore Keisselbach

Please come by if you can: I plan to be there and hope to meet so many of you who have remained far too long faceless presences on my computer screen!

And yet another entry in your calendar, if you are in the Saint Petersburg area: Richard Blanco will be the featured poet at the third annual Plume Poetry Series reading, 23 March, @ 7: 30, The Palladium Theater. Cash bar, meet and greet, etc.  $ 10 public admission.

The Plume Anthology of Poetry 2015 is all but completed and will be sent for layout shortly. Preface from Terese Svoboda, with an extended Featured Selection of new work by Afaa Weaver.  An astonishing (why, I continue to wonder, but then recall that line from Simic — don’t wake the damn cards!)  compendium of new work from some of the best poets working today, national and international. Again, more to come. For the moment: much gratitude to both – and all.

Our cover art this month is from José Luis Telot; his biographical material can be found in the – oh, OK – Newsletter.

Finally, for New Work Received this month consult the, yes, Newsletter. I shill. I shill. Forgive me. But I do think, given a chance, you might like our NEWSLETTER appearing in your Inbox each month – if only as a reminder that the issue is live – and there is a link to it, contained therein, for convenience’s sake.

As always, still, I do hope you enjoy the issue!

 

Daniel Lawless

Editor, PLUME

Babel’s Artifacts

Scott Cairns

The construction proved without

conclusion, save that every stone

retained its shape wherever chance

would carry it—chance and mute

confusion, well, chance and mute

confusion, and our increasingly

nattering tribe.  The broad museum now

spanning cross the globe remains

the only lasting structure, though

even so, its rooms are dimly lit,

and we, too simply lit, and we,

become too certain of our terms.

 

 

 

Scott Cairns’ poems have appeared in PoetryThe Atlantic Monthly, The Paris ReviewThe New RepublicImageSpiritusTiferet, etc., and have been anthologized in Upholding Mystery (Oxford UP ’96), Best Spiritual Writing (Harper Collins ’98 and ’00), and Best American Spiritual Writing (Houghton Mifflin, ‘04, ’05, and ’06). His poetry collections include Idiot Psalms (Paraclete Press, 2014), Compass of Affection: Poems New and Selected (Paraclete Press, ‘06), Philokalia (Zoo Press ’02), Recovered Body (Braziller ’98), Figures for the Ghost (U Georgia P ’94), The Translation of Babel (U of Georgia P ’90), and The Theology of Doubt (Cleveland State UP ’85). With W. Scott Olsen, he co-edited The Sacred Place (U of Utah P ’96), an anthology of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. His spiritual memoir, Short Trip to the Edge, (HarperSanFrancisco) and a collection of adaptations and translations, Love’s Immensity: Mystics on the Endless Life (Paraclete Press) both appeared in 2007. The translations appeared in paper as Endless Life: Poems of the Mystics (Paraclete Press, 2014), and the memoir will be released in paper by Paraclete Press in 2016, following Slow Pilgrim: The Collected Poems, which will appear July, 2015.

 

My Raincoat Opens Doors for Me

Andrea Cohen

It holds a door open above my head.

It’s a door into the sky.

 

The raincoat enters before me,

as a man through revolving doors

 

at the Waldorf Astoria enters the past.

My raincoat can say I love you

 

more than technically possible

or wise in pine cone and French, in

 

dialects of peoples not yet invented.

It says this in the language of smashed

 

lamps and presto, the light reassembles.

There is another door, and another,

 

and there is only one me and one

raincoat and the peonies of doors that keep opening.

 

 

Andrea Cohen’s poems have appeared in The New YorkerThe Atlantic MonthlyPoetryThe Threepenny Review, and elsewhere. Her new collection, Furs Not Mine, is forthcoming from Four Way Books. She directs the Blacksmith House Poetry Series in Cambridge, Massachusetts and the Writers House at Merrimack College.

To Isabella Franconati

Michael Collier

After your husband died and the cypress trees,

which he described as “feathers,” constituting

“an evidence or inclination of God’s breath,”

were cut down and milled into wood for cigar boxes,

you closed the heavy blue shutters of his workroom

for the last time, the view unbearable that framed

his decades of silence in which he saw

in the brown river below, winding through its shallow

alluvial valley, the intractable force of his lost

conviction, reading as he did in everything

formulations of soul and spirit. To live

as long as you did in the shadow of a man no longer

casting a shadow brought forth a light from you

that outshone his solitude and which dispelled

your nostalgia for his former intensities.

That’s why you would not countenance

acolytes, like me, whose reverence for the time and place

of his self-making forgave what you suffering

his dissolution could not forgive,  a man who broke

faith with all the tenets he’d devised for art,

whose failure in life, the hollowness of his days,

was another way for us to assume safely the peril

of his vocation. Unlike you, we began in disbelief

and so to be given faith, even an empty one, was a gift.

“After death,” he wrote, “there are two alternatives,

both heartless: memory & forgetfulness.” Franconati

was a made-up name and you, his friend, Isabella,

a made-up wife. I loved one of you before I loved you both.

memory or forgetfulness? In the long posthumous life

he bequeathed us, which came first?

 

 

Michael Collier, director of the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, has published six books of poems, including The Ledge, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and, most recently, An Individual History. With Charles Baxter and Edward Hirsch, he edited A William Maxwell Portrait. He has received an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Guggenheim Foundation and Thomas Watson Foundation fellowships, and two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships. Poet Laureate of Maryland from 2001-2004, he teaches in the creative writing program at the University of Maryland.

Remembering Lethe

Brian Culhane

Yesterday, a friend reached out:

So many of your poems are about

Ancient subjects. I don’t know

Those references, but nonetheless

I think what you do admirable.

 

Not to be understood is admirable

If seen in a certain light: a way

Of keeping up one’s old allusions.

Hardly what my teenage self

Had sought to wrap mind around

 

During lectures on the Greek nude

When slides taught me to embrace

New embodiments of grace and see

Why, expressionless and wooden,

The Kritios Boy is beautiful.

 

How was I to know that those

Deep images from my schooldays

Would be so crucial decades on?

How, before I’d ever climbed

Delphi’s crags, a vision of Delphi

 

Was to capture me so wholly

I could almost taste the fumes

That wound from the sacred fissure

At whose lip the priestess

Knelt to suck in the upwelling god.

 

My son once asked the name

Of that river in Hades said

To make the newly dead lose

Memory. Lethe? Lethe, I think.

In her last year, my mother

 

Gazed at me and saw no son

But her former husband. Shamus,

Come up here! She motioned

To the bed she lay on, and I

Answered with a stricken No.

 

No, she said, I want you up here.

I do not know why the scene

Fades: an unbridgeable gulf.

And what did we do afterwards?

Probably a wheelchair outing

 

To the Home’s garden where

She smiled at roses with the look

Of one who had known names

For this, this…. Sinking into sleep.

Did she understand she’d stay

 

In that place? Or how finally

A phone would waken her sons

With wished-for, dreaded news

Leading to a dawn flight toward

Frayed robes, unworn slippers?

 

Well, we would all be better for

A dip in Lethe water to ward off

The cold when the cold comes.

In a file I’ve kept my son’s crayon

Drawing of the souls gathered

 

By the riverside, their ferryman

Just a brown scribble bobbing

Next to stick figures on the bank

Ready for their mythic entrance

In a child’s long ago Show and Tell.

 

Brian Culhane’s poetry has appeared widely in such journals as the New Republic, the Hudson Review, and the Paris Review.  Awarded the Poetry Foundation’s Emily Dickinson Prize, his first book, The King’s Question, was published by Graywolf Press. His most recent work appears in Southwest Review, Parnassus, and ​Sewanee Review. 

 

The Willows in Winter in the Boston Public Garden

Catherine Breese Davis

In the sun’s white

In a morning ambience of milky blue,

Fresh snow upon the ground

And all around

All sorts of trees stand out

With a new

Spare

And alert air;

But from a nearby path,

The willows with straight, yellow, chopped-off hair

Look, to the altered view,

For all the world as if they did not care

How many sweeping winters they

Have looked this way,

Or how they have appeared before, their fine

Long tremulous veils of hair

Blown all one way or hanging heavy there,

Or how much longer now they have to stay.

 

In diffused light

In the middle distance in late afternoon,

The sky beyond as candid as the snow,

A show-through ochre haze

With, here and there, a thick deep ochre line,

As if the willows’ presence truly seen

Were but a fine

Discretion,

A matter of distinguishing degrees,

The differences between

A slight

Absence and a light

Presence

Or a deep

And deeper shades of golds,

Their interplays,

Interstices

Of lights and willow-shadows, opacities and sheens.

 

And at night

Close and starkly from below,

But with an upward gaze,

As within

The dizzy soul begins its own ascent, without

The clear-eyed wide repose it seeks,

Toward those high

Severe exhilarating peaks,

Marvels of unease,

Surprise, astonishment, and awe,

The eye,

Through thick and thin in black and naked lines,

Against that far-out crystal bowl the sky,

Beholds

A crazy any-which-way maze

Become a sharp and kind of counter outward daze,

As if the stars sprang from a stunning blow,

Startling the winter night

And dazzling snow.

 

 

Catherine Breese Davis (1924-2002) published poems in such places as Poetry, The Southern Review, The New Yorker, The Paris Review and New Poets of England & America between 1950 and 1998. A collection of her poems is being edited by Martha Collins, Kevin Prufer, and Martin Rock, and will be published in the Unsung Masters series in June 2015.

I Had a Cheerful and Gentle Dog

Luigi Fontanella

I had a cheerful and gentle dog.

At night, she rubbed her snout on my hand

as it lay wrapped over the arm of the sofa.

I caressed her a little, and, on my stopping,

her wet nose nudged my fingers. I would speak to her,

and she would answer me with her eyes. “Do you want to go out?”

All that was needed was this phrase to cause a sudden shiver

to shake her,

electrify her and shoot her toward the door.

I don’t know why you came into my mind. Perhaps

because a short while back I read a lovely poem by Krüger

where he talks of a dog, dumbfounded and dismayed.

Perhaps because tonight, like you,

I wait to hear a voice that says “Do you want to go out?”

and that accompanies me to the door.

 

(Translation into English by Emanuel di Pasquale, from the book by Luigi Fontanella Land of Time. Selected Poems 1972-2003, edited by Irene Marchegiani, Introduction by Dante Della Terza, New York: Chelsea Editions, 2006.)

 

 

Luigi Fontanella is the editor of Gradiva, and the president of IPA (Italian Poetry in America).  His most recent books of poetry are Bertgang (Moretti & Vitali, 2012, Prata Prize, I Murazzi Prize) and Disunita Ombra (Archinto-Rizzoli, 2013, Frascati Prize).   He lives in Florence, Italy, and on Long Island, New York.   Luigi.Fontanella@stonybrook.edu

from THE CITY OF PARIS HAS YOU IN MIND TONIGHT

Deborah Landau

When G died began the midnight panic attacks.

He spoke French and English

but that didn’t help.

 

How the body can betray.

It frayed and decayed and then

he was removed

 

from it promptly and with force.

To begin with, a bit of pressure

in the throat.

 

A tendency to choke.

And then how lavishly

it grew to overtake him.

*

At the funeral his wife

had a gaudy kind of beauty.

Sheer and elegant in a champagne

 

silk blouse. And where did he go?

No matter where on this earth

and you could never find him.

 

Flowery and young

came the mourners, like bridesmaids.

G would have liked it that way.

 

Stilettos and stockings.

The curves of the widow

sleek and sublimate in blacksilk pants.

 

Elsewhere people

went shopping or to the movies.

We drove to the crematorium.

 

I can only hope

so many beautiful women

come to my funeral, M said.

*

Just at the moment when the person has disappeared forever

they tell you he’s alive forever lucky him.

 

The church hushed dark a ruin

and all of us inside it.

 

(The city’s a brute the sky is a brute

though the day is calm and clear and mild

 

strain to comfort console

but there’s no dispersing this.

 

O incidental fragile beloved one,

chance of recovery none).

*

The mind rivers out, angle by angle.

He was sick and now nowhere

and soon the cities and soon the planet and yet

 

the decadence and festivals

boys running, couples

swooning on the bridge.

 

Tonight G’s attached to a city,

where I carry him along in my head,

ordering dinner, sitting in the square

 

drawing the sheet up over the body

that happens now to be lying there.

 

 

Deborah Landau is the author of three collections of poetry: The Last Usable Hour, Orchidelirium, and The Uses of the Body, which is forthcoming from Copper Canyon Press in spring 2015. Her work has appeared in The Paris Review, Tin House, Boston Review, The New Yorker, Poetry, The Best American Erotic Poems, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times. She teaches in and directs the Creative Writing Program at New York University.

All Night, Give or Take a Sloppy Hour

Lance Larsen

My neighbor’s patio light burns like an ember, burns cleanly, never mind circadian rhythms and light pollution, burns like the all-seeing eye on every soiled dollar bill in his wallet, burns to keep his house and lavender Coupe de Ville once driven by Liberace safe from burglars and hoods and communists who sometimes parachute into your own backyard dammit, burns like the wedding album of his dear departed Betty, so slim and lacy and untouched back then, burns too like guilt because he couldn’t save her misfiring heart in the produce aisle six years ago, burns at 100 watts purchased in bulk at Ace Hardware, burns like the teeth of my cat hunting hummingbirds in his tangled Eden, burns for the cul-de-sac’s greater good, like a flaming umbrella warding off the apocalypse and glue sniffing teenagers, come hell or high water or marauding cougars spotted in the foothills of late, burns too like the paranoia that keeps him from attending Sunday meetings because his Mormon bishop wants to marry him off to a church hag widow, burns too like the fireflies of his childhood in the Ohio, which he and his friends would catch and smear on their faces till they glowed like nuclear goblins, ah, the Wordsworthian oneness with nature back then, burns too like the fire in my veins for my beloved who has gone to bed already and refuses to sleep out on account of the sentinel brightness next door, burns without respite, thus preventing our house from nightmaring properly, let shadows, let more dark matter bombard me in our upstairs hall, burns like too much knowledge and not enough faith, more murk, less particle and wave, more chances to close my eyes to my neighbor’s hallelujah blaze and taste night, that sweetest of leaven, flooding me from within.

 
Lance Larsen’s fourth collection of poems, Genius Loci, was recently published by University of Tampa Press.  His earlier collections include Backyard Alchemy (2009), In All Their Animal Brilliance (2005), and Erasable Walls (1998).  He holds a PhD from the University of Houston.  His work appears widely, in such venues as Georgia Review, Southern Review, Ploughshares, Poetry, River Styx, Orion, The Pushcart Prize Anthology, Best American Poetry 2009, Poetry Daily, and elsewhere.  His nonfiction has twice made the Notable Essay list in Best American Essays.

Annie Fitch’s Duck Sauce

Sydney Lea

I must be prepared to sit

for hours, the same

as ever, to speak heart-to-heart, or just chat.

The main ingredient’s time.

 

Because Annie’s 89

when she tells me how I should mix

molasses, spices, sal soda,

duck drippings and orange zest,

 

some of her part of the talk

concerns elders, needless to say,

whom she often recalls with humor

but more often with elegy.

 

She too has gone away

as I summon the recipe,

and yet she appears as the minutes

crawl and the fixings seethe,

 

redolent, dark as tea.

Her uncle George MacArthur

made railroad ties with an ax.

Her father Franklin skippered

 

the venerable steamboat Robert

H: once ice had broken,

she towed great booms to the river,

then men drove the logs to the ocean.

 

The pan, cast iron, old-fashioned.

is one Annie handed to me

no more than a few months after

her husband passed away.

 

He and I crouched to wait

for the ducks of a favorite slough.

We never told anyone which.

We haunted that place, we two….

 

But I was speaking before

of Annie, who, as I listened,

seemed almost a force of nature,

optimistic, insistent

 

on the good in any person,

in the meanest one in existence,

or the saddest situation.

At last the sauce has thickened.

 

These days dear Annie’s a figment.

She’s gone, repeat, not here

to test the spice in the mixture,

which causes my eyes to water.

 

I could have listened all year.

 

 

Sydney Lea’s most recent book is I Was Thinking of Beauty (Four Way Books, 2013.) His stories, poems, essays and criticism have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New Republic, The New York Times, Sports Illustrated, Grays Sporting Journal, and many other periodicals, as well as in more than forty anthologies. He is the Poet Laureate of Vermont.

 

Two Poems

Leslie Adrienne Miller

ELK

The man who said he could smell the girls ovulating

in the hallways was a poet, and the comment

offered years after the fact did not apply specifically

to my body, though I carried my bloody basket of eggs

under the window out which he had glanced

as he wrote lines that had sway at the time.  I still have

the window, the comment, his occupation,

the fact that he was a white man, sometimes given

to cheating on his wife; I still have his hand

brushing up as he speaks over a meal or cocktail,

a mustache he twirls as he speaks, or a silky

bright vest he thumbs.  But I no longer have the fact

of his name.  Some of the possibilities are dead now,

some alive and gravely ill.  Scraps of their poems

live in the windy archive of my recall crumbling

and reassembling themselves into a single song

of a time when women were poised to become

slightly more lucky for a while, the very fact

of ovulation having so recently become a force

we could control, though the pills

were too powerful, and the halls to which the poet

referred were churning with the hormonal tea

that made us thick and nauseous as perpetually

gravid beasts while we tried to master

the great books without the distraction of stray

testosterone.  The witty comment itself now churns in me

like the cocktail of synthetic hormones that inspired it,

falling in the trove of such witticisms escaped

from multiples of this clever fellow whose words

I hung on, this well meaning tutor without whom

I might have fallen back into the soup of biological

imperative, that sticky stream of ordinary women

dousing an English department in their cloud,

that herd goaded by the brutal urgencies

of fear and feed.

 

 

RUE MOUFFETARD

Most naked bodies are unspeakably sad

in the bland light of day, and photos

of wholes or parts, more like the dead

than the dead, gristled slabs laid out

on market carts to dizzy flies

and aproned matrons looking for liver

for their cats.  Someone loved the face

itself, quite apart from the rest,

best as terrain raised on a map

the hands travel alone and always

without haste.  She was right,

 

my young mother, who urged the lace

on my nuptial night: who desires

what the eye has already claimed?

And did he have a name for the member

about which we could laugh?  If so,

it’s thankfully lost, as are the camera’s swipes

we never made.  Someone once alleged

that sexual pleasure was more than half

the product of a good imagination,

and yes, what the mind could supply

was always what took the forlorn

out of “fornicate,” saved the newlyweds

from spoil, and left only the boar’s fixed

smile coaxed from emulsions, whatever crude

joke the vendor muttered in French

mercifully lost too. Even when they parted,

there was nothing for custody to command.

Neither had given birth to the comedy

of graphic captures, the laughable trace

of spoiled human self regard congealing

on enameled racks and rolled beneath the festive

awnings once the loin’s been sold.

 

 

Leslie Adrienne Miller is author of six collections of poetry including Y, The Resurrection Trade and Eat Quite Everything You See from Graywolf Press, and Yesterday Had a Man in It, Ungodliness, and Staying Up For Love from Carnegie Mellon University Press. Professor of English at the University of Saint Thomas in Saint Paul, Minnesota, she holds a Ph.D. from the University of Houston, an M.F.A. from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, an M.A. from the University of Missouri, and a B.A. from Stephens College.

Cosmology

Linda Pastan
PaydayLoansNow.co.uk

Someone has spilled the moon

all over the trees;

 

someone is cutting down the trees,

branch by forked branch–

 

soon there will be nothing left

but kindling.

 

Why am I afraid of the dark

but more afraid of light, what it reveals:

 

this moonlight which lies everywhere

like a beautiful torn shroud;

 

the illumination of dreams, room

after room of dreams?

 

Is it the moon itself I fear,

in too many pieces now

 

to put back together?  Or the stars,

light years away, my voice

 

traveling towards them

in a straight trajectory?

 

I fear the earth as it warms

and freezes; I fear your arms

 

which hold me a moment

then disappear.

 

 

Linda Pastan’s upcoming book, Insomnia, will be published by Norton in spring 2015.

Two Poems

Jane Springer

Woo

O life little life little sawdust fleck I thought we’d go on riding hip-to-hip

on the bench seat of Big Blue gassing up at Hoggly Woggly supping

junk food & coke summers so hot cops slept with radars

in their laps in the shadetree crook of Swamp Creek Rd the FM

dialed past gospel to Led Zeppelin Outcast incandescent

from love of country glass flea-market bowl packed crypto blown

seeds out the crank window broke barns & that appaloosa

up to flanks in poppies pulling down side roads to lick-a me suck-a you—

 

Not this Boko Harem Hamas Komalah Jihad—Vanguard of Conquest

crouched in orobanche whispering mother me tamarind & apricot

crushed in our tire tracks, deluge so the wipers stuck

trying to get the bullets off & refugees teaching us the notes of bazooki

from the flatbed drones we don’t know our asses from our

camel shit hookah we gerryrigged the muffler with by accident

& winter’s brown body is the street sign in this desert where

little life, you suggest we just keep all eyes on the road from now on?

 

 

Red Rover

Before the human chain gave

the goal was to get held hard.

 

 

Jane Springer is author of Dear Blackbird, and Murder Ballad. Her honors include a Pushcart, an NEA fellowship, a Best American Poetry prize, and a Whiting Writers’ Award. She lives in upstate, New York, with her husband, their son, and their two dogs, Leisure-Lee and Azy.

FEATURED SELECTION

Luljeta Lleshanaku trans. by Ani Gjika

By way of introduction to this month’s Featured Selection with Luljeta Lleshanaku, a fine introductiory interview with poet conducted by Plume Associate Editor for Special Projects Nancy Mitchell and translator Ani Gjika, followed by the work itself and some more detailed biographical material.

Luljeta-Lleshanaku (2) pothuajse-dje

Nancy Mitchell: Hi Ani and Luljeta!  What a great treat to chat with you both about these amazing
 poems. Thank you!

Ani Gjika: Thank you and Daniel for the opportunity!

NM: I’m wondering, Luljeta, as you write poetry in other languages do you write in English as well?  If so, was there a particular aesthetic objective in having Ani translate these poems? 

LL: I have tried to write in English, and I often write a first draft in another language because doing so creates twice the magic. But whether I do that or not, the poem needs to go through the hands of an expert to whom the English language comes naturally. Despite my progress in English, I don’t believe I could ever write in a perfect, vital English. I have wondered why that is and the answer is that at my age, 46 years old, language is no longer an arbitrary connection but a way, a system of thinking which by now has been perfected in the language to which I belong. This system becomes less and less flexible the older one gets. The logical attitude, for example, is so different from one language to another. Particularly, the syntax, which is the skeleton of a language, its temperament. This is why, I think, children find it easy to adapt quickly to another language. If I were twenty years younger then, yes, maybe then I would be writing in English.

NM: Can you two talk about the origins of this collaboration?

LL: I met Ani for the first time in New York City, in January 2010, when my book Child of Nature was first being promoted. What impressed me most at first was that Ani came from Boston specifically to hear me read. Then we met several times afterwards both in Tirane, Albania and in Peterborough, New Hampshire. We had lots of time to get to know one another. I was also one of the first people to read the manuscript of her book Bread on Running Waters which I truly liked and which allowed me to understand her poetic sense. It didn’t take me long to realize that I was dealing with a deeply intelligent woman, who asked a lot of herself and who possessed both a strong literary intuition and a great sense of humor.  Very passionate! And it’s not of less importance in translation that we both come from the same cultural background, and in this case, it would be hard for Ani to fall into the typical translation traps.

AG: Gosh, I’m not sure that what Luljeta says of me is true, but as for the sense of humor and passion, I think we’re both cut from the same cloth in that regard and I enjoy our e-mail exchange so much so that translating her has never felt like work for me but more like the very basic, raw form of creative process I crave and am surprised by when I’m writing my own poems. As Luljeta mentioned, we first met in 2010 when I attended one of her readings in NYC. I had discovered her work only a few months before that. I was completing an MFA in poetry at Boston University at the time and was studying the art of translation with Rosanna Warren. For the final project in that class, I translated about twenty poems by three different Albanian poets. Luljeta was one of them. It was a real joy to meet her in person because I admired her poetry instantly, especially when I rediscovered it in my mother tongue.

NM: Your poems put me in mind of the lines The town may be changed/ But the well cannot be changed, from the Wilhelm/Barnes translation of The I Ching; maybe because your poems seem to draw from the primary source, the eternal well of shared consciousness which is impervious to the temporal vagaries of zeitgeist, politics, and boundaries which attempt to, but cannot separate life from life? 

LL: Thank you for this confirmation. It makes me feel good to hear it. There’s nothing political in these poems just as there’s nothing clearly defined historically or geographically. And this was done on purpose. Since when I was a child, I have thought that politics are the effect, never the cause. Historical events, just like personal ones, similarly, are results and momentary. They are never enough to build a “literary case” through them. And if we refer to the cause, then we need to search inside the microcosm, inside human nature, which is very complex, unpredictable and existing in all places at once. In another poem, I speak of my childhood curiosity toward broken toys because this was the time when I was free to pull them apart, to split open their guts sort of, in order to understand how they functioned. It’s like being a doctor, who, in order to understand a disease, needs to first find out its origin. And when we go back to the origin, we find we are all so similar with one another… what they call universal.

NM: Wow and yes!  We would have been fine childhood playmates; I too, took dolls apart, and when disappointed that I could find no soul, wanted to move on to dead birds in hopes they might reveal it; my parents could only go so far to indulge me.

Am I wrong to intuit that you were born with knowledge of this source, and, when, as a child, your “eye” was opened to it as you write in ACUPUNCTURE, it was this new vision rather than a reaction against/response to social realism, which was the impetus for your first poems?

            I was a child when my first teacher

mispronounced my last name twice. That pricked me like a needle.

A small needle in the earlobe.  And suddenly

I saw clearly—it affected my vision.

I saw poetry,

the perfect disguise.

LL: Without exaggerating too much, and despite the fact that this has not been proven scientifically, I believe that each one of us inherits a kind of archetype, emotional and informational archives. And some people simply do not rummage a lot through there, but some others do.

NM: I know what you mean; when I was ten I saw a re-release of the movie Gone with the Wind. I remember the stunned moment I realized that every woman was destined to be a Scarlett or a Melanie, and I felt my fate impress itself on my young consciousness as a seal to scarlet candle wax on a love letter

LL: I remember when Naomi Jaffa, The Poetry Trust’s Director after introducing me at the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival last November, asked me, “And how old are you? 900 years old?” You can take that as a compliment, or not, because the attributes don’t belong to me really. In another poem, “Vertical Realities”, I’ve said that “There are three generations inside me/who dictate what I should or should not do”. Survivors, in general, (and it could very well be said that I’m “a survivor” like several others who come from communist or fascist dictatorships) if you really look into it carefully, find it difficult to create an identity because the identity of the group to which they belong is many times more powerful than the one they want to create. Take Hebrew literature, for example. Singer, who is one of my favorite writers, was able to create successfully, in my opinion, the dominant power of survival cultures over the individual.

Whereas the poem which you were referring to above, is an attempt to give an answer through poetic arguments to one of the questions every writer asks themselves: “why do I write?” And one of those answers is to create an identity. Things like Ford cars, Alfredo sauce, espresso “mocha”, all the way to sticky post-it notes – they each have a patent, an authorship, a name. It seems that we’re in an eternal war to survive anonymity, each of us within our own means.

The biographical element in this poem is that I would truly get frustrated when people used to mispronounce my name. And in 90% of the cases this would happen because my last name is difficult to pronounce even in my own language. And terribly long so that it ate up several boxes in the class roster. When I became a teacher myself, I made similar mistakes with my students’ names and encountered similar frustrations in them. Are names so incredibly important to us? But you made another interesting observation when you mentioned, as a counterpoint, “social realism”, because the art of social realism used as a propagandist tool, aimed precisely at crushing one’s identity or, rather, at creating a collective one. And since this goes against human nature, social realism was destined to fail as a movement.

NM: The lines “the perfect disguise” triggered another childhood memory: as a child I was awakened by a thunderstorm to thousands of postage-stamp sized images of byzantine paintings (which I later saw in a college art history class) of the infant Jesus flashing in my room’s dark, while a man’s voice boomed as if through a megaphone “Behold the Rain Fall Upon You.”  I should disclaim here that I had seen the Ten Commandments that day—we got out of school to see it; in “living” color, fifty cents admission—so most likely this experience was the product of an inflamed imagination rather than a divine visitation.  In terror I kept my eyes shut the entire night, and the next day I felt cast out into rain, culled from any ordinary childhood. Thereafter, I felt a split between surface life and an under-life. For fear of ridicule I never told anyone, but wrote about it poems, “the perfect disguise.” I’m wondering, did you feel similarly isolated with your gift of vision?

LL: Probably not in such a poetic way as it has happened to you. I didn’t even realize that I had a gift until much later. But I remember that when I was little or fairly young, I always ended up alone because of the strange turns I would give to a conversation, turns that were confusing to everyone else. On top of this, I used to always feel a certain melancholy for no particular reason and I’d try to mask it in every possible way so that for some time, I even tried writing funny poems, but this was also a reasonable despair which I believe came to me from the fact that I was often able to see the end result of things before I even attempted to engage myself in them. This was simply a clarity, a clarity that to a certain extent, was unhealthy. Considering my passion for the work of detectives and investigations (I often think about starting to write thrillers) I am convinced that the strength of my creative work is my analytical ability; this is where I need to rely on.

But is there something sacred, something truly divine in poetry? Something that cannot be explained through curiosity, intelligence, or even analytical ability? Building a metaphor is such a pure situation. We could come up with a hundred formulas for a metaphor but none of them can help us create as powerful a metaphor as that of Yehuda Amichai’s, for example. This must be what they call “inspiration”, a kind of holy spirit. Truthfully, luck, a gift.

NM: Am I correct in that this vision has an X-ray quality to it?  For example in LIVE MUSIC, bread, universally called “the staff of human life” is full of air holes despite its smooth crust on the outside.

LL: I’m happy to hear that. And I’m grateful for your astute reading. This metaphor is key to this particular poem. I’m talking about imperfections, those we tolerate within a tight circle, within a family, ourselves, but which on the outside become much more challenging. A live pub where neither the music nor the language are original, where the food is of second hand quality and even the voice of the singer is too low, suggests an environment where people have low expectations and this is a safe way to face and deal with existence without feeling sorry for yourself. And in fact, in another poem, I go a little further and use the German word “schadenfreude”, which means “the pleasure derived from others’ misfortunes” which acts as a kind of grease, man’s consolation to accept life as it comes because someone else has it even worse.

Just think how more than half of reality TV shows, programs and movies all around the world suggest a reality of small but achievable goals. Non-dramatic standards. Even on American TV you often find such programs and I know well that this is not an American reality. But such products of the media act as a consolation for a large number of people who feel unfulfilled. And the media sociologists know fairly well what they need to be offering the public.

NM: I’m intrigued by how these poems work as a conversant body.  Can you talk about the mirroring of the sudden “vision” of ACUPUNCTURE in CHILDREN OF MORALITY

            Moral was easily pointed at by a seven year old’s ink-stained finger,

perfect examples of vice or virtue

there where time lays its eggs on a swamp

and speak to how the last line twists the theory that at seven years a child begins to reason; in this poem, “time” is “where” this “reason” will be hatched from the swamp of the primordial knowledge that archetypes will inhabit a body in every age that needs to lay blame:

            Where I grew up, moral had a form a body and name:

a Cain, an unremorseful Mary Magdalene, a Ruth, a Delilah and a Rachel.

to

And strangely, even the second generation didn’t disappoint:

their descendants wee another Cain, another Ruth,

another Mary Magdalene who never grew up;

LL: By the way, finally, while searching on the internet, I found some epitaphs from citizens of ancient Rome and what impressed me especially were the qualities that were considered praiseworthy at the time, like: “man of honor”, “just man”, “devoted wife”, “clean-living”, “dutiful, honorable, chaste and modest”, “never during bitter times did she shrink from loving duties”, “faithful spouse”, “good mother”, etc., and I notice how much the perception of human virtues has changed through time. In our time, we rarely hear of these qualities mentioned as virtues. It seems that virtue, today, has to do more with one’s ability to adapt, the pragmatic aspect of life, than it being a source of inspiration for the community. To put it another way, human virtues today are related to a more horizontal logic, or pragmatic logic than to a vertical one.

And the poem to which you refer, suggests a microcosm, the small town where I grew up where morality was simple, clear, in fact, stereotyped through particular individuals. Outside in the larger world, it becomes very difficult to morally orient oneself because out there people have other goals and relationships take on priority. Even art and literature do not seek heroes anymore, or absolute evil, but the ordinary man, complex and still vulnerable.

And, to continue with the poem: I grew up in a Muslim family, with a religious culture that was interrupted because of communism and despite this, the references (Mary Magdalen, Ruth, etc.,) are taken from the Bible and not from the Koran. So even I have made a pragmatic choice in this case because the reader is more familiar with biblical references even though this is simply a case of naming things.

NM: In THE RAILWAY BOYS, aren’t the boys, before They grow blurry and quiet, in possession of this same “knowing” by essence rather than by name?

            “What’s north like?’

“The people wear fur and have blue veins”

“and south? What have you heard?

“People there think with their hearts and speak in gestures.”

I very much love that poem. Why, I do not know, but while I was reading it scenes with Bjork from the movie Dancer in the Dark were flashing across my mind’s eye.  If either of you can shed some light on that, I’d be grateful; otherwise I’ll just chalk it up to the power of these absolutely transcendent, magical poems!  Thank you both very much for this experience. 

 

LL: Thank you! For me, too, this is a favorite poem. This poem deals with how one’s childhood geography informs and affects the shape of their personality. Are the people who grow up near the sea, near train stations, in places with exits, different from those who grow up in the continental steppe or isolated villages in the mountains? I think they are. In truth, this whole poem has its origin in country music which, when I heard it for the first time seemed incredibly melancholic to me. I would call it an intelligent kind of melancholy. It can be associated with the American prairies, endless fields which make you feel a certain despair about the idea of life which can be read clearly as if it were written on the palm of your hand. Without any turns, surprises or exits. Lives that are recyclable. Endless monotony. This kind of music created this perception for me. Whereas in another poem titled “On the Other Side of the Mountain”, I talk about how people who live on mountains have way more illusions than anyone else, believing that “on the other side of the mountain, life must certainly be better”. In this case, what’s impossible creates hope. On the contrary, living near the water, creates the illusion of the possibility to leave, the possibility of change. So what can we say of people who grew up where the entire world crosses, near train tracks, with the endless temptation to leave, escaping on top of a train? That they have the right to dream? I believe so. I mean that poetry has to do with the psychological impact of one’s homeland, including here also the landscape itself.

 

JANUARY 1st, DAWN

After the celebrations at last everyone sleeps:

people, TV channels, telephones

and the year’s recently-corrected digit.

 

Between the final night and the first day

a jagged piece of sky

as though seen from the open mouth of a whale.

Inside her belly and inside the belly of time,

there’s no point worrying;

you glide along with it; she knows her course.

Inside her, you are digested slowly, painlessly.

 

And if you’re lucky, like Jonah,

she’ll spit you out on an island at some point

along with heaps of inorganic waste.

 

Everyone sleeps. A sweet hypothermic sleep.

But those few still awake

might hear the melancholy creaking of the wheelbarrow,

someone stealing stones from the rubble

for new walls going up just meters away.

 

 

THE RAILWAY BOYS

Of course they’re blonde, all blonde,

but easy to distinguish one from another

through the grease, smoke and coal dust.

They ride the train’s whistle, effortlessly, as though riding buffalos.

They know each whistle’s routine.

From a distance, they can tell which train

rides toward the cold north

and which one toward the south;

which railcar carries mail, addresses in longhand,

and which one passengers riding never to return.

 

When the freight train arrives,

they hurry to climb on top of wagons, enjoy a piece of sky

lying on their backs on wood logs.

This is only half of the journey; now

they’re closer to the first star than to their homes.

 

This is the first test of manhood.

Everything else comes later, behind a broken boxcar,

with the girl with rust-colored hair.

Who was she? The first lover has no name of her own

but a baptismal one and a beautiful buck tooth.

Same as the second lover… the third… .

All clothes are excessive for the one prepared

to wear his own father’s clothes*,

they’re excessive for Aaron’s son,

Aaron whom,

the only blasphemy

would keep away from the land of milk and honey.

 

Of course they’re blonde, all blonde,

the railway boys. For them,

everything is possible. See how the first railcar returns

last, and the last one first,

when the locomotive switches lanes?

 

“What’s north like?”

“The people wear fur and have blue veins”.

“And south? What have you heard?”

“People there think with their hearts and speak in gestures”.

On hot rails,

the air, like a concave mirror,

magnifies their slim bodies like the words “fur”, and “heart”.

They grow blurry and quiet.

 

And against his will, each one of them

will marry the wrong girl,

the one whose eyes are full of a long winter.

Among naked trees

it’s impossible to lose the way home.

 

With time, train whistles died out;

buffalos turned into white, fluffy pups.

And the sleeves of the fathers’ never-worn cloaks

point to a north and south that seem equally impossible.

 

*In the Bible, God ordered Moses: “And strip Aaron of his garments, and put them upon Eleazar his son: and Aaron shall be gathered unto his people, and shall die there”. As punishment for his blasphemy, Aaron would not see the promised land, but his own son would.

 

 

ACUPUNCTURE

Among personal objects, inside a 2,100 year old Chinese tomb,

archaeologists found several acupuncture items: nine needles,

four gold and five silver.

Long before diagnosing the cause,

ancient masters knew

pain is fought with pain.

 

It’s quite simple: a range of needles pricking your arm

for a properly functioning heart and lungs.

Needles on the feet – to ease stress and insomnia.

A little pain here, and the impact is felt elsewhere

like a country’s administrative capital, outside geographic borders.

 

Once, a group of explorers set out to plant a flag on the North pole.

At the heel of the globe. In the middle of the Arctic.

And before the mission could finish successfully

a world war had begun.

With scorching helmets, glory quenched thirst.

The impact was felt on the brain; on the short-term memory lobe.

 

When Russia used ideology as acupuncture – a needle over the Urals,

it impacted the pancreas that controls blood sugar:

America paid tenfold for whiskey through Prohibition

and Joyce’s “immoral” Ulysses

stood in line at post offices waiting to be burnt.

 

The universe functions as a single body. Stars form lines of needles

carefully pinned to a wide woolly back.

Their impact is felt in the digestive tract. How can you begin a new day

without having fully absorbed yesterday’s protein?

 

I was a child when my first teacher

mispronounced my last name twice. That pricked me like a needle.

A small needle in the earlobe. And suddenly

I saw clearly – it affected my vision.

I saw poetry,

the perfect disguise.

 

 

CHILDREN OF MORALITY

It was the Europeans who taught indigenous people shame

starting with covering up intimate parts,

shame and a need for locks.

 

Other civilizations were luckier.

Moral was handed to them ready-made from above,

inscribed in stone tablets.

 

Where I grew up, moral had a form, body and name:

a Cain, an unremorseful Mary Magdalene, a Ruth, a Delilah and a Rachel.

 

Moral was easily pointed at by a seven year old’s ink-stained finger,

perfect examples of vice or virtue

there where time lays its eggs on a swamp.

 

And so, I received the first moral lessons

without chewing them like cough syrup;

everything else was more abstract,

under a chaste roof.

 

And strangely, even the second generation didn’t disappoint:

their descendants were another Cain, another Ruth,

another Mary Magdalene who never grew up;

clichés were simultaneously risk and shelter for them,

like dry snow for Eskimo igloos.

 

Now I know so much more about morals, in fact, I might be a moralist,

with an index finger pointing like part of the rhetoric.

But without reference. What happened to those people?

 

A door opened by accident; light broke through by force

and, as in a dark room,

erased their silver bromide portraits

which were once of flesh and bone.

 

 

THE DEAD ARE WATCHING US

On the way to the Promised Land

everything set aside for tomorrow would spoil and rot –

mulberries, meat, even water. Tomorrow, to those people,

was a test of their faith.

 

But nothing was promised to my people

even though they’ve wandered for forty years.

They live in the Present Continuous.

Their epidermis hung on the line to dry.

As soon as they wake up

women turn on the radio; listen to music.

Music has a short incubation period.

As if it were a tumor, a taste for it brings more shame

than bruises on the face.

 

Nothing lasts for tomorrow.

They are fresh bait for sharks, who,

when wounded,

bite even themselves.

 

Their measurement is yesterday, tradition. They fear the dead,

“The dead are watching us. Be careful!

During the day, with hands soaked in mortar,

in the middle of sleep, at night…”

They hang a dog tag on their necks, for every occasion,

reduced to three elements: name, number and ancestors’ loans,

so that fate will easily identify them.

 

Or at least,

they’re grateful when fate brushes past them,

because they could have been Limoz, the hermit,

who used to find warmth in a cave

burning scraps of paper for hours on end,

or Dilaver with Down syndrome written in his eyes and heart.

Their thin skin

cannot bear the joke

of being “the chosen ones”.

 

But sometimes, on a full moon,

or as it’s otherwise known, “Wolf Moon”

they can see clearly. A moneylender’s fiendish chuckle

broadens their faces.

According to their calculations, what’s delayed today

will certainly arrive twofold tomorrow.

 

 

LIVE MUSIC

Nothing consoles you best before sleep

than this pub of cheap beer and live music,

the callous voice of the singer and lyrics

thrown forcefully together inside rima pobre*.

 

An argument in the corner,

marks the only difference between week days

and Friday night. That and the phosphorescence of free,

platonic sex. What happens on board, stays on board.

 

At the edge of the table, wet receipts

with a circled digit at the bottom

are indulgence’s shortcut from purgatory to paradise

(not worth questioning any of this).

 

A sweet apathy of nothingness and a mockery

latches on to the singer.

“Oh man, she started too high, won’t be able to reach the refrain!”

“You think so?”

“You wanna bet?”

when nobody really needs to hear a refrain.

They’re here precisely for the holes

the large holes in an amateur pub,

as inside artisan bread

with its smooth crust on the outside.

 

Exiting here is even less ceremonial.

Picture exiting a barber shop,

where, sympathetically, after a haircut, according to ritual,

the barber gives you a fresh slap on the neck:

“Get up now,” he urges you, “it’s someone else’s turn!”

 

*rima pobre: rhyme between words that have the same grammatical structure.

 

 

1 JANAR, NË TË GDHIRË

Pas feste, të gjithë flenë më në fund:

njerëzit, stacionet televizive, telefonat

dhe shifra e sapokorrektuar e vitit.

 

Midis natës së fundit dhe ditës së parë,

një copë qiell i dhëmbëzuar

si i parë nga  goja e hapur e një balene.

Në barkun e saj dhe në barkun e kohës,

nuk ka arsye të vrasësh mendjen;

ti lëviz bashkë me të; ajo e di se ç’rrugë merr,

dhe brenda saj tretesh ngadalë dhe pa dhimbje.

 

Dhe po të jesh me fat si profeti Jonah,

me siguri, dikur do të të teshtijë në ndonjë breg,

bashkë me dhjetëra mbeturina të tjera inorganike.

 

Të gjithë flenë. Një gjumë i ëmbël hipotermik.

Por, ata të paktë që janë akoma zgjuar,

mund të dëgjojnë gërvimën e trishtuar të qerres

qe vjedh gurët nga një rrënojë,

për një ngrehinë të re, vetëm pak metra më tutje.

 

 

DJEMTË E HEKURUDHËS

Padyshim janë biondë, të gjithë biondë,

për të dalluar lehtësisht njëri-tjetrin

midis grasos, tymit dhe pluhurit të qymyrit.

Ata ngasin sirenat, lehtësisht sikur ngasin buajt.

Ua njohin huqet.

Prej së largu e dallojnë lehtë se cili prej trenave

shkon drejt veriut të ftohtë

dhe cili prej tyre drejt jugut;

cili prej vagonave ka postën, adresat e shkruara me shkrim dore

dhe cili prej tyre pasagjerë që shkojnë për t’mos u kthyer.

 

Dhe kur mbërrin treni i mallrave,

ata marrin vrull dhe ngjiten mbi vagona. Shijojnë një copë qiell

të shtrirë, në shpinë, mbi lëndë druri.

Kjo është gjysma e rrugës; tashti

ata janë më afër yllit të parë se sa shtëpisë.

 

Kjo është prova e hershme e burrërisë.

Të tjerat vijnë më vonë, pas vagonit të prishur,

me një vajzë me flokë ngjyrë ndryshku.

Kush qe ajo? E dashura e parë nuk ka një emër

por një stërdhëmbësh të bukur dhe një emër pagëzimi.

Dhe as a dyta…as e treta…

Cdo rrobë është e tepërt për atë që është përgatitur

të veshë rrobat e të atit*,

është e tepërt për të birin e Aaronit, të cilin,

blasfemia e vetme

do ta mbajë larg tokës ku rrjedh qumësht edhe mjaltë..

 

Pa dyshim janë biondë, të gjithë biondë

djemtë e hekurudhës. Për ta,

gjithcka është e mundur. Shihe se si vagoni i parë kthehet

i fundit, dhe i fundit i pari,

kur lokomotiva ndërron kah?

 

“Si është veriu, vallë?”

“Atje njerëzit veshin gëzofë dhe kanë damarë të kaltër.”

“Po jugu? C’thuhet?”

“Atje njerëzit mendojnë me zemër dhe flasin me gjeste.”

Mbi shinat e nxehta,

ajri, si një pasqyrë konkave

zgjeron kurmet e tyre të hollë dhe fjalët “gëzofë” e “zemër”.

duke i bërë të heshtur e të paqartë.

 

Dhe kundër vullnetit të tyre, të gjithë ata,

do të martohen me vajzën e gabuar,

atë që ka një dimër të gjatë në sy.

Midis pemëve lakuriqe,

është e vështirë ta ngatërrosh rrugën për në shtëpi.

 

Me kohë, sirenat u zbutën;

buajt u shndërruan në ca kone të bardha leshtore.

Kurse veriu dhe jugu kullojnë njëlloj të mundur

prej mëngëve të mantelit akoma të paveshur të etërve.

 

*Në Bibël, Zoti e urdheron Moisiun: ”Zhvishe Aaronin nga rrobat e tij dhe vishja të birit, Eleazarit dhe aty Aroni do të bashkohet me popullin e tij dhe do të vdesë” . Si ndëshkim për blasfeminë e tij, Aaroni nuk do ta shihte më Tokën e Premtuar, por i biri po.

 

 

AKUPUNKTURË

Midis sendeve personale, në një varr kinez 2100 vjeçar,

arkeologët gjetën disa objekte akupunkture: nëntë gjilpëra metalike

katër prej ari dhe pesë argjendi.

Shumë më përpara se të analizohej shkaku,

mjeshtrit e lashtë e dinin

se dhimbja luftohet me dhimbje.

 

Është fare e thjeshtë: për mushkëritë dhe funksionimin e zemrës

ndihmojnë një varg gjilpërash të ngulura në krah

E ato në shputë, lehtësojnë stresin dhe pagjumësinë.

Një dhimbje të vogël këtu, dhe efekti ndjehet diku larg

si qendra administrative të shteteve, jashtë kufijve admistrativë.

 

Dikur, një tufë eksploratorësh, u nisën për të ngulur një flamur në pol.

Mu në thembrën e globit. Në mes të akullit. Dhe pa mbaruar mirë misioni,

një luftë botërore kishte nisur.

Lavdia shuante etjen me helmeta të nxehta.

Efekti qe në tru; në lobin e kujtesës afatshkurtër.

 

Kur Rusia përdorte ideologjinë si akupunkturë- një gjipërë mbi Urale.

Efekti qe në pankreas, kontrolli mbi sheqerin në gjak:

Amerika e Prohibicionit e blinte wiskin dhjetëfish.

dhe Uliksi “imoral”  i Xhois-it,

priste radhen per t’u djegur në zyrat postare.

 

Kozmosi fuksionon si një trup. Yjet krijojnë vargje gjilpërash

të ngulura me kujdes në një kurriz të madh leshtor.

Efektet e tyre ndjehen në tretje. Si mund të nisësh një ditë të re,

pa përtypur mirë proteinën shtazore të së djeshmes?

 

Dhe më pas, veshi. Mësuesja ime e parë

e shqiptoi dy herë gabim mbiemrin tim.Ishte therëse si një gjilpërë.

Një gjilpërë në llapën e vogël të veshit. Dhe krejt papritur

pashë qartë, Efekti qe ne shikim.

Pashë poezinë,

fshehjen e përkryer pas anonimatit.

 

 

FËMIJËT E MORALIT

Ishin evropianët, të parët që u mësuan indigjenëve turpin

duke filluar nga mbulimi i pjesëve intime.

 

Popuj të tjerë, kanë qenë më me fat

Morali u ka ardhur i gatshëm nga lart,

i shkruar në pllaka guri.

 

Atje ku unë jam rritur, morali kishte formë, trup dhe emër:

një Kain, një Maria Magdalenë e papenduar, një Ruth, Dalilë e Rashelë.

 

Morali tregohej lehtësisht me gishtin me bojë të një shtatëvjeçari

shembuj të përkryer vesi e virtyti,

atje ku koha i lëshon vezët mbi moçal.

 

Kështu, pra, mësimet e para të moralit, i mora pa i përtypur

si shurup për kollë;

çdo gjë tjetër ishte më abstrakte,

nën një çati tjegullthyer.

 

Dhe çuditërisht ata s’të zhgënjenin as në brezninë e dytë:

pasardhësit e tyre,

ishin një tjetër Kain, një tjetër Ruth, një tjetër Maria Magdalenë,

që nuk rriteshin; klisheja ishte njëkohësisht rreziku dhe mbrojtja për ta,

si dëbora e thatë për igloot eskimeze.

 

Tani di shumë më tepër për moralin, madje mund të jem një moraliste,

me gishtin tregues, si pjesë të retorikës.

Por pa referencë. Ç’u bë me ta?

 

Një derë u hap padashje, drita çau me forcë,

dhe si në një laborator filmi,

ajo shkërmoqi portretet e tyre në bromid argjendi,

që dikur, mund të kenë qenë prej mishi dhe kocke.

 

 

TË VDEKURIT PO NA VËZHGOJNË

Në rrugën drejt Tokës së Premtuar

çdo gjë që ruhej për nesër, prishej, qelbej:

manat, mishi, madje dhe uji. E nesermja, për atë popull,

ishte prova e besimit.

 

Ndërsa këtyre njerëzve, edhe pse sorollaten për dyzet vjet,

nuk u është premtuar asgjë. Ata jetojnë në të Tashmen e Vazhduar.

Epiderma e tyre e varur në tela për tharje, në oborr. Sapo zgjohen,

gratë hapin radion; dëgjojnë muzikë,

muzika ka periudhë të shkurtër inkubacioni

edhe pse gjëndrrat e saj janë më të turpshme

se shenjat mavi të rrahjeve në fytyrë.

 

Asgjë nuk mbetet për nesër.

Ata janë mish i freskët për peshkaqenët, të cilët,

kur janë të plagosur,

kafshojnë edhe vetveten.

 

Masa e tyre është e djeshmja, tradita.  U druhen të vdekurve,

“Të vdekurit na vëzhgojnë. Kujdes!”  Ditën, me duart me llaç,

në mes të dremitjes natën…

 

Matrikulën prej inoksi e mbajnë të varur në qafë, për çdo rast,

të thjeshtuar në tre elementë: emri, numri, dhe pengu i të parëve,

lehtësisht për t’u identifikuar nga fati.

 

Ose së paku,

duhet të jenë mirënjohës kur anashkalohen prej tij,

sepse fare mirë mund të ishin Limozi që ngrohet me letra në një shpellë

apo Dilaveri me sy e zemër mongoloide.

E paretet e tyre të holluara,

nuk e pëballojnë dot gjithë këtë humor,

-të qenit “të zgjedhur”.

 

Por nganjëherë, në hënë të plotë

ose siç quhet ndryshe në “Hënë Ujku”

ata mund të shohin qartë. Një nënqeshje djallëzore

prej fajdexhiu u zgjeron fytyrën.

Sipas llogarisë së tyre, ajo që iu është vonuar sot,

do t’u kthehet patjetër e dyfishuar nesër.

 

 

LIVE

S’ka asgjë më ngushëlluese para gjumit

se ky klub me birrë të lirë e muzikë live.

kallot në zërin e këngëtares, lirikat

e rrasura me forcë brenda rimave pobre*

që derdhen si mishrat, jashtë grykës së korsesë.

 

Po kështu edhe birra. Një zënkë atje në qoshe,

bën ndryshimin e vetëm midis ditëve të javës

dhe të premtes mbrëma. Dhe fosfori i një seksi të lirë

platonik. Çfarë ndodh në bord, mbetet në bord.

 

Në cep të tavolinës, faturat e lagura

me një shifër e rrumbullakosur në fund,

janë indulgjenca që shkurtojnë rrugën nga purgatori në parajsë.

(nuk ia vlen t’i vësh në dyshim)

 

Një apati e ëmbël hiçi dhe qesëndisje

kapet pas gruas që këndon.

“Aha, e filloi shumë lart; nuk e kap refrenin!”

“A thua?”

“E vëmë me bast”,

kur askujt nuk i duhet një refren. Ata ndodhen këtu pikërisht për vrimat,

vrimat e mëdha në një klub amatoresk

si brenda një buke artizanale me kore të lëmuar

që ta bëjnë të lehtë qenien.

 

Dhe daljen, akoma më pak ceremoniale.

E keni parash daljen prej berberit,

që me dashamirësi pas qethjes, sipas ritualit,

të jep një shuplakë të freskët në qafë:

“Ngrihu tani, është radha e tjetrit!”?

 

*Rimë e varfër- rimë midis fjalëve të së njejtës kategori gramatikore.

 

 

A winner of the Albanian National Silver Pen Prize in 2000 and the International Kristal Vilenica Prize in 2009, Luljeta Lleshanaku is the author of six books of poetry in Albanian. She is also the author of six poetry collections in other languages: Antipastoral, 2006, Italy; Kinder der natur, 2010, Austria; Dzieci natury, 2011, Poland.  Haywire: New & Selected Poems (Bloodaxe Books, 2011), a finalist for the “2013 Popescu Prize” (formerly the European Poetry Translation Prize) by Poetry Society, UK, is her first British publication, and includes work from two editions published in the US by New Directions, Fresco: Selected Poems (2002), which drew on four collections published in Albania from 1992 to 1999, and Child of Nature (2010), a book of translations of later poems which was a finalist for the 2011 BTBA (Best Translated Book Award). Lleshanaku was also nominated for the European poetry prize “The European Poet of Freedom, 2012”, in Poland.

Born and raised in Albania, Ani Gjika moved to the U.S. at age 18. She is a 2010 Robert Pinsky Global Fellow and winner of a 2010 Robert Fitzgerald Translation Prize. Her first book, Bread on Running Waters, (Fenway Press, 2013) was a finalist for the 2011 Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize, 2011 May Sarton New Hampshire Book Prize and 2011 Crab Orchard Series Award. Poems and translations have appeared or are forthcoming in Ploughshares, AGNI Online, Salamander, Seneca Review, World Literature Today, Two Lines Online, From the Fishouse and elsewhere.

Nancy Mitchell, a Pushcart Prize 2012 recipient, is the author of two volumes of poetry, The Near Surround (Four Way Books, 2002) and Grief Hut, (Cervena Barva Press, 2009) and her poems have appeared in Agni, Poetry Daily, Salt Hill Journal, and are anthologized in Last Call by Sarabande Books and Make it Sound True, a teaching exercise using sound as a poetic device is included in The Working Poet (Autumn House Press, 2009).  She teaches at Salisbury University in Maryland.