Nov 202010
 

It looked like a clump of small dusty nettles
Growing wild at the gable of the house
Beyond where we dumped our refuse and old bottles:
Unverdant ever, almost beneath notice.

But, to be fair, it also spelled promise
And newness in the back yard of our life
As if something callow yet tenacious
Sauntered in green alleys and grew rife.

The snip of scissor blades, the light of Sunday
Mornings when the mint was cut and loved:
My last things will be first things slipping from me.
Yet let all things go free that have survived.

Let the smells of mint go heady and defenceless
Like inmates liberated in that yard.
Like the disregarded ones we turned against
Because we’d failed them by our disregard.

Nov 202010
 

The Lives of the Alchemists

The great labor was always to efface oneself,
Reappear as something completely different:
The pillow of a young woman in love,
A ball of lint pretending to be a spider.

Black boredoms of rainy country nights
Thumbing the writings of illustrious adepts
Offering advice on how to proceed with the transmutation
Of a figment of time into eternity.
The true master, one of them counseled,
Needs a hundred years to perfect his art.

In the meantime, the small arcana of the frying pan,
The smell of olive oil and garlic wafting
From room to empty room, the black cat
Rubbing herself against your bare leg
While you shuffle toward the distant light
And the tinkle of glasses in the kitchen.

Fiordiligi

My mother sang opera all day long.
She made beds, shucked peas
And swore that not even death
Could change her heart’s devotion.

Her voice was like a police siren.
Her voice was like soft evening rain.
In the shed, the rabbits trembled,
The rooster looked admiringly at her.

Days of ecstasy, anguish, silence.
A year of long black dresses,
A year of white handkerchiefs,
Crumpled and strewn on the floor.

Once we took a walk in the cemetary.
The leafless old trees terrified me,
And so did her hands clenched into fists
As her chin rose higher and higher.

Grocers and mailmen ran from her
As from a sleepwalker
Who came after them in broad daylight,
Asking for the news of her lost love.

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Nov 202010
 

(Translated from the Greek by Daniel Mendelsohn)

Nero wasn’t troubled when he heard
the Delphic Oracle’s prophecy.
“Let him beware the age of seventy-three.”
He still had time to enjoy himself.
He is thirty years old. It’s quite sufficient,
the deadline that the god is giving him,
for him to think about dangers yet to come.

Now to Rome he’ll be returning a little wearied,
but exquisitely wearied by this trip,
which had been wholly devoted to days of delight-
in the theaters, in the gardens, the gymnasia…
Evenings of the cities of Achaea…
Ah, the pleasure of naked bodies above all…

So Nero. And in Spain, Galba
is secretly assembling his army and preparing it:
the old man, seventy-three years old.

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Nov 192010
 

Down, wanton, down! Have you no shame
That at the whisper of Love’s name,
Or Beauty’s, presto! up you raise
Your angry head and stand at gaze?

Poor bombard-captain, sworn to reach
The ravelin and effect a breach–
Indifferent what you storm or why,
So be that in the breach you die!

Love may be blind, but Love at least
Knows what is man and what mere beast;
Or Beauty wayward, but requires
More delicacy from her squires.

Tell me, my witless, whose one boast
Could be your staunchness at the post,
When were you made a man of parts
To think fine and profess the arts?

Will many-gifted Beauty come
Bowing to your bald rule of thumb,
Or Love swear loyalty to your crown?
Be gone, have done! Down, wanton, down!

 Comments Off on Robert Graves – Down, Wanton, Down!
Nov 192010
 

What lively lad most pleasured me
Of all that with me lay?
I answer that I gave my soul
And loved in misery,
But had great pleasure with a lad
That I loved bodily.

Flinging from his arms I laughed
To think his passion such
He fancied that I gave a soul
Did but our bodies touch,
And laughed upon his breast to think
Beast gave beast as much.

I gave what other women gave
That stepped out of their clothes.
But when this soul, its body off,
Naked to naked goes,
He it has found shall find therein
What none other knows,

And give his own and take his own
And rule in his own right;
And though it loved in misery
Close and cling so tight,
There’s not a bird of day that dare
Extinguish that delight.

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