Nov 202010
 

There was an apple tree in the yard —
this would have been
forty years ago — behind,
only meadows. Drifts
of crocus in the damp grass.
I stood at that window:
late April. Spring
flowers in the neighbor’s yard.
How many times, really, did the tree
flower on my birthday,
the exact day, not
before, not after? Substitution
of the immutable
for the shifting, the evolving.
Substitution of the image
for relentless earth. What
do I know of this place,
the role of the tree for decades
taken by a bonsai, voices
rising from the tennis courts —
Fields. Smell of the tall grass, new cut.
As one expects of a lyric poet.
We look at the world once, in childhood.
The rest is memory.

 Comments Off on Louise Gluck – Nostos
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.

 Comments Off on Charles Simic – 2 poems
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.

 Comments Off on Constantine Cavafy – Nero’s Deadline
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!