30 June 2010

Saint-John Perse, aka Alexis Leger

[St.-John Perse, Exile and Other Poems, tr. Denis Devlin, Pantheon, 1949]

Rains [excerpt]

          To Katherine and Francis Biddle


The Banyan of the rain takes hold of the City,
      A hasty polyp rises to its coral wedding in all this milk of living water,
      And Idea, naked like a net-fighter, combs her girl's mane in the people's gardens.

      Sing, poem, at the opening cry of the waters the imminence of the theme,
      Sing, poem, at the trampling of the waters the evasion of the theme,
      High license in the flanks of the prophetic Virgins,

      Hatching of golden ovules in the tawny night of the slime
      And my bed made, O fraud! on the edge of such a dream,
      Where the poem, obscene rose, livens and grows and curls.

      Terrible Lord of my laughter, behold the earth smoking with a venison taste,
      Widow clay under virgin water, earth washed clean of the steps of sleepless men,
      And, smelled close-to like wine, does it not truly bring on loss of memory?

      Lord, terrible Lord of my laughter! behold on earth the reverse side of the dream,
      Like the reply of the high dunes to the rising tiered seas, behold, behold
      Earth used-up, the new hour in its swaddling clothes, and my heart host to a strange vowel.


Most suspect Nurses, Waiting-women with veiled elder eyes, O Rains through whom
      The unusual man keeps his caste, what shall we say tonight to him that sounds the depths of our vigil?
      On what new bed, from what restive head shall we ravish the valid spark?

      Silent the Ande over my roof, I am loud with applause, and it is for you, O Rains!
      I shall plead my cause before you: at your lance-points, my share of the world!
      Foam on the lips of the poem like milk of coral rocks!

      And she dancing like a snake-charmer at the entry of my phrases,
      Idea, naked as a sword-blade at the faction fight,
      Will teach me ceremony and measure against the poem's impatience.

      Terrible Lord of my laughter, save me from the avowal, the welcome and the song.
      Terrible Lord of my laughter, what offense rides on the lips of the rainstorm?
      How much fraud consumed beneath our loftiest migrations!

      In the clear night of noon, we proffer more than one new
      Proposition on the essence of being . . . O smoke-curves there on the hearth-stone!
      And the warm rain on our roofs did just as well to quench the lamps in our hands.


Sisters of the warriors of Assur were the tall Rains striding over the earth:
      Feather-helmeted, high-girded, spurred with silver and crystal,
      Like Dido treading on ivory at the gates of Carthage,

      Like Cortez' wife, heady with clay and painted, among her tall apocryphal plants . . .
      They revived with night-dark the blue on the butts of our weapons,
      They will people April in the mirrors' depths of our rooms!

      Nor would I forget their stamping on the thresholds of the chambers of ablution:
      Warrior-women, O warrior-women towards us sharpened by lance and dart-point!
      Dancing-women, O dancing-women on the ground multiplied by the dance and the earth's attraction!

      It is weapons by armfuls, helmeted girls by cartloads, a presentation of eagles to the legions,
      a rising with pikes in the slums for the youngest peoples of the earth -- broken sheaves of dissolute virgins,
      O great unbound sheaves! the ample and living harvest poured back into the arms of men!

      . . . And the City is of glass on its ebony base, knowledge in the mouths of fountains,
      And the foreigner reads the great harvest announcements on our walls,
      And freshness is in our walls where the Indian girl will stay tonight with the inmate.

24 June 2010

Kenneth Koch

[from Kenneth Koch's Sun Out, Knopf, 2004]

Highway Barns, the Children of the Road

Amaryllis, is this paved highway a
Coincidence? There we were
On top of the fuel bin. In the autos
Dusk moved silently, like pine-needle mice.
Often I throw hay upon you,
She said. The painted horse had good news.
Yes, I really miss him, she waves,
She pants. In the dusk bin the fuel reasoned silently.
Amaryllis, is this paved highway a
Coincidence? My ears were glad. Aren't you?
Aren't you healthy in sight of the strawberries,
Which like pine-needle lace fight for dawn fuel?
The white mile was lighted up. We shortened
Our day by two whole tusks. The wind rang.
Where is the elephant graveyard? She missed the pavement.
A load of hay went within speaking distance of the raspberries.
Overture to the tone-deaf evening! I don't see its home.
Prawns fell from that sparkling blue sphere.
The land is coughing, "Joy!" Hey, pavements, you charmers,
When are you going to bring me good news?

17 June 2010

Derek Walcott

[from Derek Walcott's White Egrets, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2010]


Your two cats squat, heraldic sphinxes, with such
desert indifference, such "who-the-hell-are-you?" calm,
they rise and stride away leisurely from your touch,
waiting for you only. To be cradled in one arm,
belly turned upward to be stroked by a brush
tugging burrs from their fur, eyes slitted
in ecstasy. The January sun spreads its balm
on earth's upturned belly, shadows that have always fitted
their shapes, re-fit them. Breakers spread welcome.
Accept it. Watch how spray will burst
like a cat scrambling up the side of a wall,
gripping, sliding, surrendering; how, at first,
its claws hook then slip with a quickening fall
to the lace-rocked foam. That is the heart, coming home,
trying to fasten on everything it moved from,
how salted things only increase its thirst.


Bossman, if you look in those bush there, you'll find
a whole set of passport, wallet, I.D., credit card,
that is no use to them, is money on their mind
and is not every time you'll find them afterwards.
You jest leave your bag wif these things on the sand,
and faster than wind they jump out of the bush
while you there swimming and rubbing tanning lotion,
and when you find out it is no good to send
the Special Unit, they done reach Massade.
But I not in that, not me, I does make a lickle
change selling and blowing conch shells, is sad
but is true. Dem faster than any vehicle,
and I self never get in any commotion
except with the waves, and soon all that will be lost.
Is too much tourist and too lickle employment.
How about a lickle life there? Thanks, but Boss,
don't let what I say spoil your enjoyment.

13 June 2010

Mary Szybist

[from Mary Szybist's Granted, Alice James, 2003]

In the Glare of the Garden

Yes, the open mouth
of your watering can, it
reminds me of you, of
rushing toward
smallness, toward
a bright and yellowish
color. Its mouth is smaller
than any part of it,
smaller than any of those red
or yellow petals. It
reminds me of me, of
smallness that seems
closable, but isn't. Go ahead
and tilt it, keep it
up over the zinnias -- it
isn't empty. The zinnias
have their tongues out now almost
completely, let's have it
go to them. I don't think it has
ever seen them before,
let's have it
hold in the air a little
longer -- it doesn't know
the smell yet, yes,
I think you want emptiness
also, let's have it. And the zinnias
open and spark and unregarding it goes
out to them.