Mark Irwin

Three Poems and a Translation
June 24, 2024 Irwin Mark



In life I was chasing a deer. In sleep the deer
was chasing me. In life I was climbing a mountain.
In sleep I was a tree, a pine among many pines in wind.
A friend’s lying down there now under the dry needles.
In life I was swimming across the warm lake in June.
In sleep I was under a rock, a tadpole turning into


a frog. In sleep I gave the homeless man
a burrito. In life they kicked him into a ditch
then beat him with rebar. In sleep I’m stepping through
mist into an ocean’s brine. In life I’m watching its
waves uncurl through pixels on an iPad’s screen.
Angry, sometimes it’s hard to sleep till in life
we find beauty in small details. Life and sleep seem close
until when awakening all the senses close.



How long, how bright?


Waking to hands all over my face, each one giving everything, nothing.


—The hawk, high, gliding through a thermal, turning above
where its mate was killed on the powerline. Without


falling, how marvelous this world
where hello means how long, how bright? Speckles of blood
on a wedding dress where her nose bled at the waterfall. She blinked


then the children were grown, her parents
shuffling through the dusk. Or how you could say each sleep is a partial shadow,
building a far horizon we try to describe in words
that continue to fail, except green still opening its sound


in winter’s keening light, the difficult becoming
more beautiful. Kathleen Battle holding the “a” in Hallelujah, or that giraffe
reaching its tongue through thorns for acacia leaves at dawn.



For luck


In the park someone crafts a giant head made from a sheet
stuffed with other sheets and mounts it on the hill with a pole.
Long ropes hang like hair from the head and whenever anyone dies,
a family would come and tie a knot in one rope. After many
years, each rope has many knots and people travel far to touch
these limp, coiled forms for luck. —Large and small hands alike reaching
to touch. Someone spray-paints the head green one day, and the next month
another brushes yellow spikes so that it appears the head wears a crown.
The image grows famous and travelers are seen with its image tattooed
on their arms. Ceremonies are held on the grass around it at dusk
till one March day a homeless man’s found dead there, beaten and tied up
with the knotted ropes, and that morning the river—running through the park—
stops, birds, mid-flight, freeze in the air, people abandon their ceased cars
on the street, and single file they come toward that torn, stuffed head,
each pressing a face close, just once, or ever again in sleep.





A child is born
into a great landscape
half a century later
he’s just a dead soldier
and this was the man
we saw appear and set down
a heavy sack of apples
two or three of which rolled
making sound among sounds of a world
where the bird sang on the door’s
stone threshold.


Translated from the French by Mark Irwin




Il naît un enfant
dans un grand paysage
un demi-siècle après
il n’est qu’un soldat mort
et c’était là cet homme
que l’on vit apparaître
et puis poser par terre
tout un lourd sac de pommes
dont deux ou trois roulèrent
bruit parmi ceux d’un monde
où l’oiseau chantait
sur la pierre du seuil.


Jean Follain

Mark Irwin’s thirteen collections of poetry include Once When Green (Juniper Prize for Poetry, 2025), Joyful Orphan (2023), Shimmer (2020) Philip Levine Prize for Poetry, American UrnNew & Selected Poems (1987- 2014), Tall If (2009), and Bright Hunger (2004). He recently completed a long translation project entitled Zanzibar: Selected Poems & Letters of Arthur Rimbaud, with an afterword by Alain Borer.