Archive for June, 2009

Safe Sex

If he and she do not know each other, and feel confident
they will not meet again; if he avoids affectionate words;

if she has grown insensible skin under skin; if they desire
only the tribute of another’s cry; if they employ each other

as revenge on old lovers or families of entitlement and steel—
then there will be no betrayals, no letters returned unread,

no frenzy, no hurled words of permanent humiliation,
no trembling days, no vomit at midnight, no repeated

apparition of a body floating face-down at the pond’s edge
Donald Hall (born 1928)

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J’ai Tant Revé de Toi

Jai tant revé de toi que tu perds ta réalité.
Est-il encore temps d’attendre ce corps vivant et de baiser sur cette bouche la naissance de la voix qui m’est chère?
J’ai tant revé de toi que mes bras habitués en étreignant ton ombre, à se croiser sur ma poitrine ne se plieraient pas au contour de ton corps, peut-etre.
Et que, devant l’apparence réelle de ce qui me hante et me gouverne depus des jours et des années, je deviendrais une ombre sans doute.
O balances sentimentales.
J’ai tant revé de toi qu’il n’est plus temps sans doute que je m’éveille. Je dors debout, le corps exposé à toutes les apparences de la vie et de l’amour et toi, la seule qui compte aujour’hui pour moi, je pourrais moins toucher ton front et tes lèvres que les premières lèvres et le premier front venus.
J’ai tant revé de toi, tant marché, parlé, couché avec ton fantome qu’il ne me rest plus peut-etre, et pourtant, qu’à etre fantome parmi les fantomes et plus ombre cent fois que l’ombre cent fois que l’ombre qui se promène et se promènera allégrement sur le cadran solaire de ta vie.

I Have Dreamed of You so Much

I have dreamed of you so much that you are no longer real.
Is there still time for me to reach your breathing body, to kiss your mouth and make your dear voice come alive again?
I have dreamed of you so much that my arms, grown used to being crossed on my chest as I hugged your shadow, would perhaps not bend to the shape of your body.
For faced with the real form of what has haunted me and governed me for so many days and years, I would surely become a shadow.
O scales of feeling.
I have dreamed of you so much that surely there is no more time for me to wake up. I sleep on my feet, prey to all the forms of live and love, and you, the only one who counts for me today, I can no more touch your face and lips than touch the lips and face of some passerby.
I have dreamed of you so much, have walked so much, talked so much, slept so much with your phantom, that perhaps the only thing left for me is to become a phantom among phantoms, a shadow a hundred times more shadow than the shadow that moves and goes on moving, brightly, over the sundial of your life.
Robert Desnos (1900-1945), translated by Paul Auster

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Making a Fist

For the first time, on the road north of Tampico,
I felt the life sliding out of me,
a drum in the desert, harder and harder to hear.
I was seven, I lay in the car
watching palm trees swirl a sickening pattern past the glass.
My stomach was a melon split wide inside my skin.

“How do you know if you are going to die?”
I begged my mother.
We had been traveling for days.
With strange confidence she answered,
“When you can no longer make a fist.”

Years later I smile to think of that journey,
the borders we must cross separately,
stamped with our unanswerable woes.
I who did not die, who am still living,
still lying in the backseat behind all my questions,
clenching and opening one small hand.
by Naomi Shihab Nye (born 1952)

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Maintenir les Choses Entières

Dans un champ
Je suis l’absence
de champ.
C’est toujours la meme chose
Partout où je suis
Je suis ce qui est absent.

Quand je marche
Je divise l’air
et toujours
l’air se déplace
afin de remplir les espaces
où mon corps était.

Nous avons tous des raisons
pour se déplacer.
Je me déplace pour
maintenir les choses entières.

Keeping Things Whole

In a field
I am the absence
of field.
This is
always the case.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing.

When I walk
I part the air
and always
the air moves in
to fill the spaces
where my body’s been.

We all have reasons
for moving.
I move
to keep things whole.
Mark Strand (born 1934), my translation

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Howlandotherpoems Howl

For Carl Solomon


I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by
madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn
looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly
connection to the starry dynamo in the machin-
ery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat
up smoking in the supernatural darkness of
cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities
contemplating jazz,
who bared their brains to Heaven (more…)

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At the heart of this poem about a child and red maple leaf is this message: Thanks to you, bright leaf, a child whom your vision enchants is laughing and becomes full of imagination, with his wings half open. A soft rustle of the leaf makes the child remember a small coffin which carried his sister, and some tears veil his eyes. Happiness, blessed red leaf, began to fade this morning when you took your flight in the forest. Poor dry leaf, in a child you might hatch two pleasures which the heart adores: memory and regret. Let the child grow, and he will perhaps become a painter or musician, some great master, finding storms in the sublime, giving his heart to all, the sun, the breeze, to the voices of the evening, to the noise of a torrent. Because of you fading leaf, a poet is born, an artist in the flower of this strange child. Fly away leaf, merry and proud. Thanks to you, love is beautiful, tender and mysterious. It is born in a child.

Feuille d’automne et jeune artiste

Par la brise d’automne à la forêt volée,
Une feuille d’érable erre dans la vallée :
Papillon fantastique aux ailes de carmin !
Un enfant, qui folâtre au pied de la colline,
S’élance pour saisir cette feuille divine :
Enfin, la feuille est dans sa main.

Ne méprisez pas, je vous prie,
Cette feuille rouge et flétrie,
Léger débris de la forêt :
Dieu la chérit, puisqu’il l’a faite !
Pour cet enfant déjà poète,
Cette feuille – pour nous muette –
Porte du beau quelque reflet.


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Nelson, My Dog

Like the cat he scratches the flea camping in fur.
Unlike the cat he delights in water up to his ears.
He frolics. He catches a crooked stick –
On his back he naps with legs straight up in the air.
Nelson shudders awake. He responds to love
From head to tail. In happiness
His front legs march in place
And his back legs spark when they push off.
On a leash he knows his geography.
For your sake he looks both ways before crossing,
He sniffs at the sight of a poodle trimmed like a hedge,
And he trots the street with you second in command.
In the park, he ponders a squirrel attached to a tree
And he shovels a paper cup on his nose.
He sweeps after himself with his tail,
And there is no hand that doesn’t deserve a lick.
Note this now, my friends:
Nelson can account the heritage of heroic dogs:
One, canines lead the blind,
Two, they enter fire to rescue the child and the child’s toy,
Three, they swim for the drowning,
Four, they spring at the thief,
Five, they paddle ponds for the ball that got away,
Six, for the elderly they walk side by side to the very end,
Seven, they search for bones but stop when called,
Eight, they bring mud to all parties,
Nine, they poke among the ruins of a burnt house,
Ten, they forgive what you dish out on a plate.

Nelson is a companion, this much we know,
And if he were a movie star, he would do his own stunts –
O, how he would fly, climb the pant legs of a scoundrel
And stand tall rafting on white-water rivers!
He has befriended the kingdom of animals:
He once ran with wolves but admittedly not very far,
He stepped two paces into a cave and peeked at the bear,
He sheltered a kitten,
He righted the turtle pedaling its stumps on its back,
Under the wheeling stars he caravanned with the mule,
He steered sheep over a hill,
He wisely let the skunk pass,
He growled at the long-bearded miser,
He joined ducks quacking with laughter,
Once he leaped at a pheasant but later whined from guilt.

Nelson’s black nose is a compass in the wilds.
He knows nature. He has spied spires of summer smoke,
He circled cold campfires,
He howled at a gopher and scratched at the moon,
He doctored his wounds with his tongue,
He has pawed a star of blood left in snow.
He regards the fireplace, the embers like blinking cats,
This too we know about Nelson.
True, he is sometimes tied to parking meters
And sometimes wears the cone of shame from the vet’s office.
But again, he is happiness.
He presents his belly for a friendly scratch.
If you call him, he will drop his tennis ball,
Look up, and come running,
This muddy friend for life. When you bring your nose
To his nose for something like a kiss,
You can find yourself in his eyes.
by Gary Soto (born 1952)

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Messieur Degas Teaches Art and Science at Durfee Intermediate School — Detroit, 1942

He made a line on the blackboard,
one bold stroke from right to left
diagonally downward and stood back
to ask, looking as always at no one
in particular, “what have I done?”
From the back of the room Freddie
shouted, “you’ve broken a piece
of chalk.” Messieur Degas did not smile.
“what have I done” he repeated.
The most intellectual students
looked down to study their desks
except for Gertrude Bimmler, who raised
her hand before she spoke. “Messieur Degas,
you have created the hypotenuse
of an isosceles triangle.” Degas mused.
Everyone knew that Gertrude could not
be incorrect. “It is possible,”
Louis Warshowsky added precisely,
“that you have begun to represent
the roof of a barn.” I remember
that it was exactly twenty minutes
past eleven, and I though at worst
this could go on for another forty
minutes. It was early April,
the snow had all but melted on
the playgrounds, the elms and maples
bordering the cracked walks shivered
in the new winds, and I believed
that before I knew it I’d be
swaggering to the candy store
for a Milky Way. Messieur Degas
pursed his lips, and the room
stilled until the long hand
of the clock moved to twenty one
as though in complicity with Gertrude
who added confidently, “You’ve begun
to separate the dark from the dark.”
I looked back for help, but now
the trees bucked and quaked, and I
knew this could go on forever.
by Philip Levine (born 1928)

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(for Sally Sellers)

Like a fading piece of cloth
I am a failure

No longer do I cover tables filled with food and laughter
My seams are frayed my hems falling my strength no longer able
To hold the hot and cold

I wish for those first days
When just woven I could keep water
From seeping through
Repelled stains with the tightness of my weave
Dazzled the sunlight with my

I grow old though pleased with my memories
The tasks I can no longer complete
Are balanced by the love of the tasks gone past

I offer no apology only
this plea:

When I am frayed and strained and drizzle at the end
Please someone cut a square and put me in a quilt
That I might keep some child warm

And some old person with no one else to talk to
Will hear my whispers

And cuddle
by Nikki Giovanni (born 1943)

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I’m Nobody! Who are you? (260)

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us?
Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!
(Emily Dickinson, 1830-1886)

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