Friday, August 31, 2012

William Sylvester

Explaining the Dark

Now I will explain opponent colors.
Opponent colors are called opponent
because they don't get along with each other.
Color a blank sheet of paper with a bright red circle
(or square or triangle)
peer steadily for a minute
then look at a blank piece of paper.
You will see a
circle, the opposite color.
The circle remains the same
but the color flips
Stare at a green circle
then a red circle will appear on blank paper.
Notice that circleness squareness triangleness
are invariant under transformations of
flipping colors.
Have you ever seen a reddish green or a
greenish red?
Our body recoils from the opponent color.
How do we get insight?
By going into the dark.
Have you ever thought of going into a closet
and what that means?
What happens as you close the door?
It grows dark
It grows very dark
does it grow dark?
The colors are all outside
If you leave the door open
a teency weency crack
you can see how all outside colors 
have turned gray
(your eyes have shifted
from rods to cones.
Or cones to rods
Forget holistic thinking.
Enjoy binary reality.)
Red and yellow turn gray,
hues have drained away
All cats are gray in the dark
as Benjamin Franklin so astutely observed
(he meant of course
doing you know what with an old woman
not a nice thing to say
Benjamin Franklin was not nice
but he was astute
all cats
are gray in the dark)
red and yellow both turn gray in the dark
but the intensities shift
the Purkinjes shift
outside red more intense than yellow
turns to a less intense gray in the dark
than yellow's fierce gray density.
That's the Purkinjes shift.

During moments of supreme physical delight
(you know what I mean)
what happens?
what really happens?
You close your eyes that's what happens.
You're in the dark.
If you don't close your eyes
you're not concentrating.
Concentration usually comes by
peeling back our eyes.
(The mind-body problem shines in the dark.)
You may come out into politics, but
no matter how you do it
or with whom
every human has a closet
locking up an unacknowledged heterosexual
who wants to roar: "More! More! More!"
In the dark, with your eyes closed
You don't see the color yellow
you feel the fierce dense gray
yearning never satisfied
far more powerful
than all those bloody red thoughts
driving you mad in day light.

There now,

You never knew
the Purkinjes shift
explains Mimnermus.
Don't laugh as if you knew it all along.
You don't even know Mimnermus
Tis de bios ti perpnon ater xruses aphrodite

Tethanaien: third person perfect optative
from thnesko
meaning I am dying

now you know.

--William Sylvester

fr. War and Lechery
[Ashland, Ohio: Ashland Poetry Press, 1995]


Suzy Mee

Translating myself into English:
meaning, of course, suffer in a strange tongue,
grow bitter, exacerbating,
where they should be lyrical.

In my own language,
the language of infantilism,
a cry is not taken so seriously:
anguish means, rather, . . . impatience,

as "darkness" mean "mother," "water: . . "dream"
and so on. Joy is what
I am waiting for someone to give me.
A wound is a dry mouth.

I would tell you more
but before distance recedes further,
remember: the operative words
are "angel" and "white horse."

--Suzy Mee

fr. Sumac Vol. II, Nos. 2 & 3 -- Winter/Spring 1970


Bernadette Mayer


I guess it's too late to live on the farm
I guess it's too late to move to a farm
I guess it's too late to start farming
I guess it's too late to begin farming
I guess we'll never have a farm
I guess we're too old to do farming
I guess we couldn't afford to buy a farm anyway
I guess we're not suited to being farmers
I guess we'll never have a farm now
I guess farming is not in the cards now
I guess Lewis wouldn't make a good farmer
I guess I can't expect we'll ever have a farm now
I guess I have to give up all my dreams of being a farmer
I guess I'll never be a farmer now
We couldn't get a farm anyway though Allen Ginsberg got one
     late in life
Maybe someday I'll have a big garden
I guess farming is really out
Feeding the pigs and the chickens, walking between miles of
     rows of crops
I guess farming is just too difficult
We'll never have a farm
Too much work and still to be poets
Who are the farmer poets
Was there ever a poet who had a self-sufficient farm
Flannery O'Connor raised peacocks
And Wendell Berry has a farm
Faulkner may have farmed little
And Robert Frost had farmland
And someone told me Samuel Beckett farmed
Very few poets are real farmers
If William Carlos Williams could be a doctor and Charlie
     Vermont too,
Why not a poet who was also a farmer
Of course there was Brook Farm
And Virgil raised bees
Perhaps some poets of the past were overseers of farmers
I guess poets tend to live more momentarily
Than life on a farm would allow
You could never leave the farm to give a reading
Or go to a lecture by Emerson in Concord
I don't want to be a farmer but my mother was right
I should never have tried to rise out of the proletariat
Unless I can convince myself as Satan argues with Eve
That we are among a proletariat of poets of all the classes
Each ill-paid and surviving on nothing
Or on as little as one needs to survive
Steadfast as any farmer and fixed as the stars
Tenants of a vision we rent out endlessly

--Bernadette Mayer

fr. The Golden Book of Words 
[New York: Angel Hair, 1978]


Keith Waldrop


At birth whole
areas of the globe are
still uncommitted.
Something I just
picked up along
the way. My inertia,
well, my 
inertia--I can
blame it on the constellations, can't I?
The pity is, in
'middle' life, I'm getting clumsy, mis-
calculating, now,
distances between my physical
influence and
various things, some of them
breakable. And I used to
slip by so carefully, skirting
an ambush of objects poised to fall, the
planet that presided
at my birth having been
in, oh, fastidious conjunction, but now--
this on high authority--losing
its grip, wandering (taking myself
as a point of reference), and from now on
whatever controls there
are for my headlong
career must proceed directly
from the stars of the microcosm.

--Keith Waldrop

fr. The Opposite of Letting the Mind Wander
[Providence: Lost Roads, 1990]


Thursday, August 30, 2012

Pia Tafdrup

We Are Not Creatures of a Single Day

In the darkness the moon keeps watch
Your eyes are closed--
everyone has seen something,
but not the same.
What the face conceals,
                    the night notices
and the door stands open.
Your eyes are closed--
your face is near to mine.
A power rises and rises
from the moment we are born,
                   --and we are not creatures of a single day.
Our brains are not constructed
to guide wings
but to build languages
and navigate in a different way:
to think is to try
to see in a new way, with polar clarity
--which also means
to grasp the limitation.
Your eyes are closed--
your body is a leap forward
into that saffron-glowing radiance.
Sleep has overturned
the Rosetta stone of your brain;
it shows a script
we have not deciphered before . . .
Our place is time,
and we read,
as though we are trying to remember
what has not yet happened to us.
What we do not do
                        is not forgiven.
One hand grips hard,
the other protects,
a third blesses.
Your eyes are closed--
the soul is drawn
by that infinite space,
built from the pauses in the music.
I have your cry
                  in my mouth.

--Pia Tafdrup

fr. The Whales in Paris
tr. David McDuff
[Copenhagen: Gyldendal Publishers, 2002]


Thomas Merton

The Burial Place of Ibn Abbad

He was buried in a vacant property, for he was a stranger
And had not built himself a tomb in that city, or in any other.
After a few years the wall of the lot fell down
But later, the City Governor
Built the saint a small dome,
Confiding to his secretary the care
To take up the offerings left there
And send them to the saint's family.

Meanwhile the Guild of Shoemakers
Took him as patron. Each year
On the evening of his death in Ragab*
They come in procession for a vigil there
With lights, readings and songs,
For in his lifetime
The saint was their friend.
He sat in their shops, conversed with them.
He prayed for the apprentices
To save them from piercing awls
And giant needles.
Often in the Mosque
He led the shoemakers in prayer.
Today, however, he is forgotten.

*Ragab -- June

--Thomas Merton

fr. "Readings in Ibn Abbad"
in Raids on the Unspeakable
[New York: New Directions, 1966]


George Hitchcock

Group Portrait

the family is gathered here is this picture
Uncle Ted on the left smoking consonants
Aunt Beth in her mechanical nightgown
father on his motorbike mother getting
refueled the sons and daughters busy
becoming monuments   grandfather the lion
of lounge bars grandmother who took in
the sky on laundry-lines and hung
her money out to dry under heat lamps

they've got style this family
with its epaulettes and sciatica
they're thinkers they make fans
to cool the ants and teach bees
how to pomade their moustaches
originals that's what they are
their faces waxed like apples
their gloves cut off at the knuckles

they study they learn to turn leaves
into lighter fluid they parse sentences
from almanacs they become famous
flying about the moon on mothwings
when they grow old they embroider
sparks and go to Victor Herbert on
Wednesday afternoons trailing innocents
behind them kites on umbilical cords

--George Hitchcock

fr. Mirror on Horseback, 1979

and in One-Man Boat: The George Hitchcock Reader
[Ashland, Oregon: Story Line Press, 2003]


Gerardo Deniz


The shoe squeaks
when rubbed
excessively: it can't possibly shine more
-so it squeaks.
There was soap, oil, wax.
That old Oski cartoon:
a shoe shiner makes smoke come out
of his flannel rag: "Like this, or would you prefer them more toasted?"
The client's persistence is reasonable:
in the words of admirable Dr. Marañón
he who wears well-polished shoes, fucks a lot.
Not even Freud came up with something so sound.

tr. Mónica de la Torre

fr. Gerardo Deniz Poems
[Ditoria/Lost Roads Publishers, 2000]


Gunnar Ekelöf

Even Absentmindedness Is a Magnificent Landscape

Even absentmindedness is a magnificent landscape:
Fields where they plow with oxen, a dog who barks at nothing
a straw-thatched farmhouse whose well-sweep can be seen
blue hillsides with single pines and cypresses
a background to some absent Madonna
with an absent John and a child Jesus
who grasps at the breast in a gesture of emptiness--
Because not one of them is seen, except
in evening's own transparency--, which might be their
eyes seeing out over fields lying untouched and quiet
when all the visible birds already have left
and only the invisible ones are heard migrating, still, in flights by night.

--Gunnar Ekelöf

tr. Muriel Rukeyser and Leif Sjöberg

fr. Selected Poems of Gunnar Ekelöf
[New York: Twayne Publishers, 1967]