On Monsieur’s Departure

I grieve and dare not show my discontent,
I love and yet am forced to seem to hate,
I do, yet dare not say I ever meant,
I seem stark mute but inwardly do prate.
I am and not, I freeze and yet am burned,
Since from myself another self I turned.

My care is like my shadow in the sun,
Follows me flying, flies when I pursue it,
Stands and lies by me, doth what I have done.
His too familiar care doth make me rue it.
No means I find to rid him from my breast,
Till by the end of things it be supprest.

Some gentler passion slide into my mind,
For I am soft and made of melting snow;
Or be more cruel, love, and so be kind.
Let me or float or sink, be high or low.
Or let me live with some more sweet content,
Or die and so forget what love ere meant.
by Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603), on the failure of her marriage negotiations with François, Duke of Anjou.

Maximino Javier (born 1950)

Illustration by Javier for "Stories of Wizards."

Oil on Canvas (108.7 x w: 83.8 cm), 1982. Alphabet Tree.

Lithograph (76.2 cm x 55.88 cm), 1983. Alphabet Tree II.

Cover art for book “The Mirror of Lida Sal.” Lithograph (55.88 cm x 76.2 cm), 1983. The Circus.

Miguel Angel Asturias (Guatemala, 1899-1974)

It was difficult to choose only one excerpt from Asturias’ book The Mirror of Lida Sal, Tales Based on Mayan Myths and Guatemalan Legends, so I am including excerpts from several chapters. This translation by Gilbert Alter-Gilbert was published in 1997. I begin with an excerpt from Juan The Whirler. A whirling dervish is a dancer who rotates in a precise rhythm as a form of meditation to release his spirit from his body.

Juan The Whirler

“Gullies covered with flowers. Gullies full of birds. Gullies drowned in lakes. Gullies. And not only flowers. Centennial pines. And not only birds. Pines centennial and tall. And not only lakes. Pines and pines and pines. Florid, avian, and lacustrine in the world of Whirling Juan. . . .

‘I am coming,’ he declared, ‘laden with the Whirler’s dream, the whirling dream of whirling worlds, whirling clouds, and whirling skies, and its weight shall accompany me always. . . .

‘It was as if I were being lifted off the ground, absorbing the delicious aroma of mountain flowers, hearing warbling birds and contemplating myself in the mirror of a lake . . . .’

The magic of the Whirlers. The Whirler had made a vow of poverty, a vow not to stay with any one woman, but to leave them behind to perpetuate the decent of the Whirlers, and a vow to help with his magic those in need.”

Cover art for book “The Mirror of Lida Sal.” Lithograph (55.88 cm x 76.2 cm) by Maximino Javier, 1983. The Circus.

Legend of the Singing Tablets

“After distributing the tablets, poems for singing and dancing, which were barely fragments from the mat of priceless words — hymns to the gods in the temples, war songs for the fortresses, flower songs for the houses — the Moon-Chewers lost themselves among the crowds at the markets, the ball games, the schools of white earth, or they hid themselves in the outskirts of the city to eat the frozen moon, the swelling moon which suddenly could no longer be contained either in their mouths, or their eyes, it being the first night of the full moon.”

Legend of the Crystal Mask

“He took refuge behind the mask. He didn’t realize what was happening. He believed that it was he himself, still unaccustomed to the underground world, who bumped into the things used for his work. And to quell the assault, he paused quietly, and stood still, stubbornly glancing from side to side, as if asking all those inanimate beings the whereabouts of his smoking tube. It was nowhere to be found. As if to confirm this, he raised a fistful of tobacco to his mouth and chewed it. But there was something strange. The serpent and the jaguar began to move from his wooden drum, the drum with which he greeted the morning star, the light of precious lights. And if the tablets, rugs, benches, jars, baskets, mallets, and chisels had been quieted, now the giants of stone began to raise and lower their eyelids. Agitated by the tempest, they began to flex their muscles. Each arm became a river. Advancing against him. He lifted the quenched stars of his hands to defend his face from the punches of one of these monsters. Battered, winded, sternum caved in by a blow from the immense fist of him in the jaw. In the greenish darkness that wanted to be shadow, but couldn’t, that wanted to be light, but couldn’t project, squadrons of archers created by him, born by his hands, from his artifice, from his magic, arrayed themselves in order of battle. First flanking him, then forming a file at his front, without war cries, they bent their bows, and fired their poised arrows. A second group of warriors, also made by him, sculpted in stone by his hands, spread out with the points of their cane spears to the slats of the bed on which he had set his marvelous mask. There was no doubt. It must save him. He put it on. He fled.”

Maximino Javier (born 1950). Lithograph (76.2 cm x 55.88 cm), 1983. Alphabet Tree II.

Legend of the Silent Bell

That morning in June — a June of trays of fruit — there were hurryings and scurryings, comings and goings, murmus and whispers, in the convent of Clarisas, as if the zzz-zzz of the rain drizzling outside were prolonging its murmurings in the vaulted galleries of the convent. Cartoned, crated, in their wimples, collars, dickeys, and handruffles of starchy linen, nuns and novices spoke, one to another, of the jewels that their families had brought to enrich the crucible of the bell commissioned from the founders of Oviedo. It was to be precious and sonorous, worthy of the shrine of Santa Clara of Celestial Clarisas, so new it still had not left the hands of its builders.

The stone was like living song, porous, not yet dry, nipped and tucked with scissors of grace at its cornices and capitals; the fragrant wood of the panelwork on the ceiling, like the prow of a celestial ship which navigates by the light on the highest windows; then there was the defiant cupola, and the cabalistic, platersque façade, sensual and fugitive, offset by the prodigious architectonic audacity of the four arches sustained by a single column.

Santa Clara of Celestial Clarisas had still not entirely left the hands of the builders, and what a contrast there was that morning in June between these slender Indians whose dark flesh was covered by so little linen that they seemed to be clothed in air, made more for flying on scaffolds than for walking on land; and the Asturians, giants with red faces and hands like hammers, occupied day and night with founding the bell for the Clarisas.

The last bell. The one for these hills would be the last that would be made before they returned to Oviedo or perhaps new Spain. And it was so extolled. In fretful meetings by starlight and lamplight, it was said that they had accepted the commission grumblingly, grudginly, and only the insistence of the nuns who had promised to call the bell Clara if its timbre was like that of gold, Clarisa if it sounded like pearls of silver, and Clarona if it spoke with a voice of bronze.”

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of the easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Robert Frost (1874-1963)

The Apple Trees at Olema

They are walking in the woods along the coast
and in a grassy meadow, wasting, they come upon
two old neglected apple trees. Moss thickened
every bough and the wood of the limbs looked rotten
but the trees were wild with blossom and a green fire
of small new leaves flickered even on the deadest branches.
Blue-eyes, poppies, a scattering of lupine
flecked the meadow, and an intricate, leopard-spotted
leaf-green flower whose name they didn’t know.
Trout lily, he said; she said, adder’s-tongue.
She is shaken by the raw, white, backlit flaring
of the apple blossoms. He is exultant,
as if some thing he felt were verified,
and looks to her to mirror his response.
If it is afternoon, a thin moon of my own dismay
fades like a scar in the sky to the east of them.
He could be knocking wildly at a closed door
in a dream. She thinks, meanwhile, that moss
resembles seaweed drying lightly on a dock.
Torn flesh, it was the repetitive torn flesh
of appetite in the cold white blossoms
that had startled her. Now they seem tender
and where she was repelled she takes the measure
of the trees and lets them in. But he no longer
has the apple trees. This is as sad or happy
as the tide, going out or coming in, at sunset.
The light catching in the spray that spumes up
on the reef is the color of the lesser finch
they notice now flashing dull gold in the light
above the field. They admire the bird together,
it draws them closer, and they start to walk again.
A small boy wanders corridors of a hotel that way.
Behind one door, a maid. Behind another one, a man
in striped pajamas shaving. He holds the number
of his room close to the center of his mind
gravely and delicately, as if it were the key,
and then he wanders among strangers all he wants.
by Robert Hass (born 1941)

Kissing Stieglitz Good-Bye

Every city in America is approached
through a work of art, usually a bridge
but sometimes a road that curves underneath
or drops down from the sky. Pittsburgh has a tunnel—

you don’t know it—that takes you through the rivers
and under the burning hills. I went there to cry
in the woods or carry my heavy bicycle
through fire and flood. Some have little parks—

San Francisco has a park. Albuquerque
is beautiful from a distance; it is purple
at five in the evening. New York is Egyptian,
especially from the little rise on the hill

at 14-C; it has twelve entrances
like the body of Jesus, and Easton, where I lived,
has two small floating bridges in front of it
that brought me in and out. I said good-bye

to them both when I was 57. I’m reading
Joseph Wood Krutch again—the second time.
I love how he lived in the desert. I’m looking at the skull
of Georgia O’Keeffe. I’m kissing Stieglitz good-bye.

He was a city, Stieglitz was truly a city
in every sense of the word; he wore a library
across his chest; he had a church on his knees.
I’m kissing him good-bye; he was, for me,

the last true city; after him there were
only overpasses and shopping centers,
little enclaves here and there, a skyscraper
with nothing near it, maybe a meaningless turf

where whores couldn’t even walk, where nobody sits,
where nobody either lies or runs; either that
or some pure desert: a lizard under a boojum,
a flower sucking the water out of a rock.

What is the life of sadness worth, the bookstores
lost, the drugstores buried, a man with a stick
turning the bricks up, numbering the shards,
dream twenty-one, dream twenty-two. I left

with a glass of tears, a little artistic vial.
I put it in my leather pockets next
to my flask of Scotch, my golden knife and my keys,
my joyful poems and my T-shirts. Stieglitz is there

beside his famous number; there is smoke
and fire above his head; some bowlegged painter
is whispering in his ear; some lady-in-waiting
is taking down his words. I’m kissing Stieglitz

goodbye, my arms are wrapped around him, his photos
are making me cry; we’re walking down Fifth Avenue;
we’re looking for a pencil; there is a girl
standing against the wall—I’m shaking now

when I think of her; there are two buildings, one
is in blackness, there is a dying poplar;
there is a light on the meadow; there is a man
on a sagging porch. I would have believed in everything.
by Gerald Stern (born 1925)

In honor of National Poetry Month, I am posting poems chosen for Poem-A-Day by the Academy of American Poets:

A Story

Everyone loves a story. Let’s begin with a house.
We can fill it with careful rooms and fill the rooms
with things—tables, chairs, cupboards, drawers
closed to hide tiny beds where children once slept
or big drawers that yawn open to reveal
precisely folded garments washed half to death,
unsoiled, stale, and waiting to be worn out.
There must be a kitchen, and the kitchen
must have a stove, perhaps a big iron one
with a fat black pipe that vanishes into the ceiling
to reach the sky and exhale its smells and collusions.
This was the center of whatever family life
was here, this and the sink gone yellow
around the drain where the water, dirty or pure,
ran off with no explanation, somehow like the point
of this, the story we promised and may yet deliver.
Make no mistake, a family was here. You see
the path worn into the linoleum where the wood,
gray and certainly pine, shows through.
Father stood there in the middle of his life
to call to the heavens he imagined above the roof
must surely be listening. When no one answered
you can see where his heel came down again
and again, even though he’d been taught
never to demand. Not that life was especially cruel;
they had well water they pumped at first,
a stove that gave heat, a mother who stood
at the sink at all hours and gazed longingly
to where the woods once held the voices
of small bears—themselves a family—and the songs
of birds long fled once the deep woods surrendered
one tree at a time after the workmen arrived
with jugs of hot coffee. The worn spot on the sill
is where Mother rested her head when no one saw,
those two stained ridges were handholds
she relied on; they never let her down.
Where is she now? You think you have a right
to know everything? The children tiny enough
to inhabit cupboards, large enough to have rooms
of their own and to abandon them, the father
with his right hand raised against the sky?
If those questions are too personal, then tell us,
where are the woods? They had to have been
because the continent was clothed in trees.
We all read that in school and knew it to be true.
Yet all we see are houses, rows and rows
of houses as far as sight, and where sight vanishes
into nothing, into the new world no one has seen,
there has to be more than dust, wind-borne particles
of burning earth, the earth we lost, and nothing else.
Philip Levine (born 1928)