May 052017

You will (as sometimes
people say)
laugh; you will (as clairvoyants
say) roar with laughter, gentlemen—
but, word of honor,
I have a crony,
would be thrilled to shake hands
with the head of a state or of any other

Since when, I wonder,
in the pit of the stomach
we’ve begun to experience a tender
bubbling, when looking through an opera glass
at the burly one, bristly haired, in the grand box?
Since when the concept
of authority has been equated
with the seminal notion of patria?

All sorts of Romans and butchers;
Charles the Handsome and Charles the Hideous;
utterly rotten princelings; fat-breasted
German ladies; and various
cannibals, loverboys, lumbermen,
Johns, Lewises, Lenins,
emitting stool grunts of strain and release,
propping elbows on knees,
sat on their massive old thrones.
The historian dies of sheer boredom:
On the heels of Mamay comes another Mamay.
Does our plight really force us to do
what did bureaucratic Cathay
that with heaps of superfluous centuries
augmented her limited history
(which, however, hardly became
either better or merrier)?

Per contra, the coachmen of empires look good
when performing their duties: swiftly
toward them flies the blue of the sky;
their flame-colored sleeves clap in the wind;
the foreign observer looks on and sees
in front bulging eyes of great beauty
and behind a beautiful blend
of divan cushion and monstrous pumpkin.
But the decorated big fellow or else
the trench-coated wolf
in his army cap with a German steep peak,
hoarse-voiced, his face all distorted,
speaking from an immobile convertible,
or, again, a banquet
with Caucasian wine.
No, thank you.

If my late namesake,
who used to write verse, in rank
and in file, at the very dawn
of the Soviet Small-Bourgeois order,
had lived till its noon
he would be now finding taut rhymes
such as “praline”
or “air chill,”
and others of the same kind.

 Comments Off on Vladimir Nabokov: On Rulers
Apr 262017

Awareness: the source of countless headaches.
Blissful is the man unmindful of the world.
Birds wail not while unhatched,
More confining than a cage though the egg be.

A dull mind may fix its gaze on the book,
Yet meaning shall remain beyond its grasp.
The empty-headed fail to fathom the depths,
Like a hollow bubble they can never plunge the sea.

O you who are filled with self-conceit,
Pause and look for a blemish within.
Years have I spent wandering the world,
A fruit with no stone I am yet to see.

Opening the eye in
love’s tempestuous sea
Brought me to naught
like a bubble.

 Comments Off on Tahir Ghani: Selected Poems from The Captured Gazelle
Apr 262017

While that my soul repairs to her devotion,
Here I entomb my flesh, that it betimes
May take acquaintance of this heap of dust;
To which the blast of death’s incessant motion,
Fed with the exhalation of our crimes,
Drives all at last, Therefore I gladly trust

My body to this school, that it may learn
To spell his elements, and find his birth
Written in dusty heraldry and lines;
Which dissolution sure doth best discern,
Comparing dust with dust, and earth with earth.
These laugh at jet and marble put for signs,

To sever the good fellowship of dust,
And spoil the meeting. What shall point out them,
When they shall bow, and kneel, and fall down flat
To kiss those heaps, which now they have in trust?
Dear flesh, while I do pray, learn here thy stem
And true descent: that when thou shalt grow fat,

And wanton in thy cravings, thou mayst know,
That flesh is but the glass, which holds the dust
That measures all our time; which also shall
Be crumbled into dust. Mark, here below
How tame these ashes are, how free from lust,
That thou mayst fit thyself against thy fall.

 Comments Off on George Herbert: Church-Monuments
Apr 212017

House, coffeehouses, neighborhood: setting
that I see and where I walk; year after year.

I crafted you amid joy and amid sorrows:
out of so much that happened, out of so many things.

And you’ve been wholly remade into feeling; for me.

 Comments Off on C. P. Cavafy: In the Same Space
Apr 112017

I am rich I am poor. Time is all I own.
I spend or hoard it for experience.
By the bitten wound the biting tooth is known.

Thrift is a venomous error, then, a stone
named bread or cash to support the pretense
that I’m rich. I am poor; time is all I own…

though I hold to memory: how spent time shone
as you approached, and the light loomed immense.
By the bitten wound the biting tooth is known,

though scars fade. I have memory on loan
while it evaporates; though it be dense
& I am rich, I am poor. Time is all I own

to sustain me—the moonlit skeleton
that holds my whole life in moving suspense.
By the bitten wound the biting tooth is known.

Ownership’s brief, random, a suite of events.
If the past is long the future ’s short. Since
I am rich I am poor. Time is all I own.
By the bitten wound the biting tooth is known.

 Comments Off on Marie Ponsot: Reminder