[Note: These poems are from poets who will be reading for Plume, 30 May, at Shakespeare & Co., in Paris. Joining them will be Emmanuel Moses and Marilyn Hacker.]
“My mother told me that I wasn’t afraid of the dark” ——W.S. Merwin
The wrist and the leg are the test: flexible,
her first lover the tango-ist taught her, kick, and dip
to tango, twist, spin, wear your golden bracelets
loose, let them jangle, dive backwards and smile, Belochka!
She gave me just one bracelet, once, kept the rest, seductress
in red, Never be afraid, she grinned, I have all my own teeth
she said, I’ll tango at a hundred-and-one, and she did. See my bite-the-bullet teeth?
she said. Teach me, I begged, to age, I know I’m young, and in-flexible.
Her maquillage took from nine to noon daily. Each hour, the seductress,
were you ever not my mother, Belochka? Your grip on my wrist, don’t slip, but dip
and Be happy, Darogaya, promise me! Beauty is the easier promise … Belochka …
were you ever not happy? Too many compromises in a life … but wear bracelets,
my Darogaya. I’m old … I’m too old … Her gold was a song of thin shivering bracelets,
jangling. Her promise: I’ll live to a hundred and four, I’ll hang on by my teeth …
But it was time… Won’t lie down… No meeting a death horizontally… Not Belochka.
No compromise. Not this time. Would not be seen like this. Not flexible.
Turned, and spun to a mask and to bone. A kick, and a dip,
dressed in red and in silk, vertical——five nights and their days——their seductress.
No lying down, up-right in her seat, my instructress.
On the last day she screamed the bats! and the bats! and my bracelets!
And No more, won’t lie down and can’t tango —— At six-o-one, a dip
as the sun crept red over the 21st balcony, its teeth
sharp over Manhattan spires, high above an avenue of elegant women, inflexible …
she wouldn’t leave her straight backed seat. It held a frightened, fighting Belochka.
One gold bangle for every lover——la Belochka
wore before, and after——never not——a seductress,
nine to noon for maquillage——What is it to be flexible
for a woman of a hundred wiles and bracelets?
Face front, all will and teeth,
when the hour lowered, when the sun dipped
stars, in the end, like days——dip,
can’t stop the falls of fighters, Belochka .
What shining mask has all its own teeth?
There’s no deal, for a seductress.
Up-right, and not fallen——a myth of thin gold bracelets.
The wrist and the leg long for just a moment longer—— to be flexible.
Her grin. Her teeth. Torn wing. Seductress.
Afraid of night’s fist, and dip. Late afternoon, Belochka.
Bracelets are no armor for wings. Is a folded wing flexible?
Pig, a sequel
—Chantal Bizzini, translated by Marilyn Kallet
A possible continuation of Henri Cole’s poem, “Pig”
I shiver in the speed.
The countryside recedes
on both sides of the gray,
The shadow rushes over the area:
it’s the clouds.
Pass the house,
the garage, the gate,
the water tower, at the crossing,
the pond. The trees
in rows, lean over our passing.
These trees, in the wind, make a single
forest, dense and gloomy.
Each bump knocks us down,
we lean, roll against one
another. Some soil themselves.
I used to start at 5:30 a.m.
At the beginning, I was vegetarian,
later, one gets used to it.
Hangars, garages become distorted
at the edge of the road.
Now, the trees are more sparse,
grass becomes lawn,
on the central median.
We slow down. Fanciful
homes face each other,
toward the station. The cars
stop: us too, caught
in traffic. We turn
at the roundabout, leaving Carrefour
Market to go along the bypass
where already, on this last day of the year, is lighting up
the contour of the houses in neon;
the familiar name, the horns
of Buffalo Grill make a sign,
from their out-of-place ranch.
But for us, transported like this, given up
to the unknown, none of these signs make sense.
Alone, denser air,
the slowing down, the stops, the lights
scattered and drawing closer indicate,
with more frequent jolts,
that one is perhaps going to stop
completely and can get off.
This morning, many interlaced
black twigs were clad with tears,
thorns of clearness, in the white sun
coming from the clouds.
By instants, the edge of the forest
brightened, green, living, then the shadow
recovered it anew.
One leans, turns, stops.
The door opens.
In the roar of the metal,
a gangway is hung.
One can get down.
One hurries, runs,
directed toward a corridor. Shouts, to the right,
to the left, I see nothing, the partitions
of metal resonate with our running;
gasps, everything vibrates,
no possible return
in our stunned mob, no way out
either. Our open eyes do not see
anything. It’s cold, it’s black, and
suddenly dazzling white, with a crude radiance.
Rails, gates, crosses, chains.
To the angled shape of the brasserie
responds the curve of the bar.
Figurehead, the cash register, facing the entrance glass doors,
separates the tables
aligned, to the right, from the compartmented room
and as if sunken, on the left, beneath the clock.
They were there, on the benches,
seated: two former colleagues
and a third, having lunch.
The meal, the sun through the window panes
Were reviving their memory.
A jolt of electric arc…
the chickens, they’re the only fowl
that one does not anesthetize;
afterward, he puts them on hooks.
At our place, not only poultry
There’s everything arriving on cross-beams.
As to bovines, they get put on crossbars,
on the cross, with chains:
the two tontons macoutes wait for them
with a machete––and pow!
You have to strip them.
There are specialists of the front…
The guys are paid by the job.
When he has finished his row, he can
sharpen his knives.
Ode to Solitude
You are my shadow,
My second self,
You are my loss,
My lack of.
My default mode.
If I wrap you around my shoulders
You grow too big for me.
When I want to sleep,
Be my pillow,
Take pity on me.
Dream in me.
Teach me how to be
Lend me a new word
That means ghost-of-love.
I am enough,
And not enough.
To love absence,
The idea of him
More than the man.