--Adélia Prado (trans. by Ellen Doré Watson)
Butterflies don’t give up,
they have no idea their name is unbecoming.
The seasons follow each other flawlessly
and still you’re afraid to admit
..............there’s no sin in saying
O Beauty, thou art my joy.
..............Jonathan is just a man.
If you so much as curl your lip
his lance is back in business.
An insect exhausts reason utterly,
wisely grinding up sums.
One drop of sap can kill a man—
that’s why you should surrender to anything
that makes you that beautiful when you laugh.
...................................This is not comic opera.
It’s just a not-knowing shot through with lightning.
..............If Jonathan turns out to be God, you’re right
..............and if not, you’re still right
..............because you believe it
and no one can be blamed for loving.
A Form of Speech and of Death
--Adélia Prado (trans. by Davd Coles)
He had a way of pronouncing the word unshakeable.
The final "l" enundated in the Dutch way,
they who preached for us, catechism, mission, Sunday services.
"Unshakeable certainty", "unshakeable faith", "power unshakeable"
When he used this strong word, he did not utter it
with the mouth of one who eats perishable substances,
or names what he deems unworthy of his better speaking
because common things:
hammer, anvil, iron, the foreman, the Chief.
the tongue lingering at the base of the upper teeth,
the demanding doctrine requiring the purest sound,
in accordance with what it expressed, things of God,
eternal things, terrifying in the impossibility of their maculation.
But when this all too shakeable life stiffened his chin,
his paralysed and blackened tongue acquiesced,
its tip turned back to the root of the teeth,
I Have News for You
There are people who do not see a broken playground swing
as a symbol of ruined childhood
and there are people who don't interpret the behavior
of a fly in a motel room as a mocking representation of their thought process.
There are people who don't walk past an empty swimming pool
and think about past pleasures unrecoverable
and then stand there blocking the sidewalk for other pedestrians.
I have read about a town somewhere in California where human beings
do not send their sinuous feeder roots
deep into the potting soil of others' emotional lives
as if they were greedy six-year-olds
sucking the last half-inch of milkshake up through a noisy straw;
and other persons in the Midwest who can kiss without
debating the imperialist baggage of heterosexuality.
Do you see that creamy, lemon-yellow moon?
There are some people, unlike me and you,
who do not yearn after fame or love or quantities of money as
................unattainable as that moon;
thus, they do not later
...............have to waste more time
defaming the object of their former ardor.
Or consequently run and crucify themselves
in some solitary midnight Starbucks Golgotha.
I have news for you—
there are people who get up in the morning and cross a room
and open a window to let the sweet breeze in
and let it touch them all over their faces and bodies.
On The Mockingbird Singing
In The Morning In The Barrio
A Few Blocks From The Boardwalk
On The Beach In Venice, California
Above the bougainvillea, coming unstuck
from this stuccoed urban maze,
a mockingbird is doing the best he can
to make something from the nothing
that precedes him. The voice
climbs, tumbles, and I wonder
if he is riding or falling from
the edge of his song,
this song he doesn't own
just as a surfer's not master
of the wave, no matter
the moves. Mock soloist,
our bird creates his own company.
He's a manic one-man birdband
conducting himself in early morning excess
beyond the hanging fuchsia
whose ruby silence
is preferable, perhaps, to his cacophony
but he's at it again now, letting go
or hanging on, his wheezing
takeoff like a whip
snapping, a carnival
toy to twirl in the air--
and in fact he rises, up for a moment,
whirligig, wings a-windup,
then back to the branch
and his aphoristic repetitions,
the song gone a bit obsessive
and bizarre. And we who
grouse at his intrusions
blinking from sleep ruffled
for all we know by the latest passing
boombox--what else to do
but love the wild
array of him, how he tunes
himself up and gets it all
in, this fly-right-up clown, with his
step-right up patter, saying
towhee and titmouse, meaning meadow
and glen, whatever it is, shape it,
take it, to what (to-whee!) to what is given.
Sometimes I prefer not to untangle it.
I prefer it to remain disorganized,
because it is richer that way,
like a certain shrubbery I pass each day on Reba Street
in an unimpressive yard, in front of a home that seems unoccupied:
a chest-high, spreading shrub with large white waxy blossoms—
whose stalks are climbed and woven through simultaneously
by a different kind of vine with small magenta flowers
that appear and disappear inside the maze of leaves
like tiny purple stitches.
The white and purple combination of these species,
one seeming to possibly be strangling the other,
one possibly lifting the other up—it would take both
a botanist and a psychologist to figure it all out
—but I prefer not to disentangle it,
because it is more accurate.
My ferocious love, and how it repeatedly is trapped
inside the fear of being sentimental;
my need to control even the kindness of the world,
rejecting gifts for which I am not prepared;
my inextinguishable conviction
that I am scheduled for some kind of destination.
I could probably untangle it,
yet I prefer to walk down Reba Street instead,
in the sunlight and the wind, with no mastery
of my feelings or my thoughts,
purple and ivory and green not understanding what I am
and yet in certain moments remembering, and bursting into tears,
somewhat confused as the vines run through me
and flower unexpectedly.
She Awakens in a Town by the Sea
The street, milling all night. Old lace —
faces peeking out into drifts of blossoms,
drifts of bloom. Tell me about yourself, Sweetie.
Everything you say may be held against you.
Drifts of blossoms, studies of bloom.
Or boas. Boas and other entanglements.
The auditions go on regardless.
Mammatus, Mami Wata — clouds
begin to break. When she steps outside,
a soprano’s song saturates the air.
Shards of shells on the walk beneath her
feet. Gardens tuning up in a minor
key. Before their petals fall away, she will lift
a shattered glass.
A gull coasts over the jetty. Drifts
of blossoms, curtains of bloom.
from Book of Hours
The light here leaves you
as does the dusk
that takes too long
to arrive. By morning
the mountain moving
a bit closer to the sun.
This valley belongs
to no one—
except birds who name
themselves by their songs
in the dawn.
are wishes, if they aren't
The lamp of your arms.
blue beneath the clouds—
at what's next
unlike the mountain
who knows it
in the bones, a music
* * *
Sand Flesh and Sky
Our ropes are the roots
of our life. We fish
low in the earth,
the river beneath runs through our veins,
blue and cold in a riverbed.
When the sun comes up,
the moon moves slowly to the left.
I tie the logs and limbs together,
holding them in place.
The ocean beats them
smooth like rock.
Here my sense of time is flat.
I find in a strip of damp sand
footprints and marks of hands,
and torn pieces of flesh.
Night is a beast.
The tide moves, gushing
back and forth.
Sunlight touches our faces,
turning us, turning us, turning us
in our morning sleep.
I have to adore the earth:
The wind must have heard
your voice once.
It echoes and sings like you.
The soil must have tasted
It is laden with your scent.
The trees honor you
and blush when you pass.
I know why the north country
It has been trying to preserve
I know why the desert
burns with fever.
It was wept too long without you.
On hands and knees,
the ocean begs up the beach,
and falls at your feet.
I have to adore
the mirror of the earth.
You have taught her well
how to be beautiful.
Stars and Jasmine
Each of them has been a god many times:
cat, hedgehog and – our summer interloper – the tortoise.
A perfect triangle, they can neither eat
nor marry one another.
And tonight they are gods
under the jasmine under the stars.
Already the hedgehog has scoffed the cat’s supper
and she’s walked nonplussed beside him
escaping headlong into the bushes.
Wisely now, she keeps an eye on him there,
and on the tortoise
noisily criss-crossing the gravel.
For the cat, jasmine is white
but the stars have colours.
For the hedgehog, there are no stars
only a sky of jasmine,
against which he sniffs something dark,
outlined like a bird of prey.
Wisely, the tortoise ignores both jasmine and stars.
Isn’t it enough, she says, to carry the sky on your back,
a sky that is solid, mathematical and delicately coloured –
on which someone, too, has painted
our neighbours’ address: 9a Surrey Rd.
Come September, we will post her through their letterbox.
From 'The Suspense of Strangeness', Nature 2001, Maurice Riordan:
There is a line about moonlight by Sylvia Plath that I find haunting: “This is the light of the mind, cold and planetary.” My ear is arrested by the rhythm — by the way the line runs quickly into the strong stress on “mind”, which then collides immediately with the stress on “cold” before the line spins off into space. Except the space created by the metaphor is inner space, so that there is also a collision of inner and outer worlds. The effect is disturbing, is meant to be disturbing: the imagining mind is breached, cleaned out and (for a moment) exhilarated by the hostile image of nature.
The line is scientific, of course, only in the flimsiest sense. Even so, to the degree that it is, it is crucial to the effect: “light” generally brings associations of illumination, vision, transcendence. But not here: the use of “planetary” erases these associations and replaces them with physical, actual light.
This illustrates something about how poets use words with scientific associations. They exist in a state of sensitive relationship with everything else in a poem — and on an equal basis, which means they have to work: they must earn their keep by at least increasing the surface tension of the language. They are, then, part of the poem's imaginative exertion, that promiscuous agility of language which, as described by the nineteenth-century Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi, “keeps the mind in constant and lively movement and action, transporting it suddenly, and often abruptly, from one thought, image, idea, or object to another, and often to one very remote and different; so that the mind must work to overtake them all, and, as it is flung here and there, feels invigorated”.
One very remote and different: Leopardi's phrase suggests the particular lure science has for poets. Science supplies a register of words outside common usage; it provides a stock of ideas often far removed from our everyday observation of things; and this body of knowledge seems to be an objective description of the world. Thus, science has the potential to give a poem what the American poet Elizabeth Bishop called “the suspense of strangeness”, a sense of being in a world that is at once engrossing and unpredictable.
I’ve this gut feeling that inside somewhere,
perched, so to speak, in the innermost wood
of my body or brain, on mute since childhood
a bird-creature lurks in its cramped lair
for when the wood’s consumed, as in a fire,
though also consumed as drinks are or food
(over months or could be years ingesting crude
chemicals, making the sly one ever slyer).
But then crackle ’n pop, it’s all gone for good.
And good riddance, since freed from its bonds
the avian now preens its wings and absconds
from the scene below (that’s me, in my last throes)
skyward like a lark saying fuck to the whole brood
and piping forth some blithe hymn as she goes.
Spring Haiku- 2020
early march sunshine,
pop songs in the coffee shop
with dirty windows
the avenue’s tulips
surrounded by emptiness-
Underlying stress is toxic to creativity. At least to me and the intentions placed into this ongoing project. How can you freely associate when your head is in a single minded channel that starts when you wake up and doesn't stop until you go to bed? Enough is enough. I've come to accept that, more likely than not, this is the way it is going to be on into the coming year. Time to make the most of this more cloistered lifestyle (rather than wait impatiently for it to someday end). Maybe thirty years from now when I'm an old man I'll look back and sit comfortably in knowing what otherwise eludes me right now.
Over the past few months I’ve been one of the fortunate to be able to work from home. The desk that I have set up is at a window that looks out at the backyard and while holding myself to a somewhat regular nine to five routine, I’ve been able to watch Spring slowly unfold the world back to life. But starting around the beginning of April was a very large crow who decided to make its home my home. Like clockwork, every morning I could find it poking around in the lawn and for what reason I couldn’t guess. As with others, I’m not the biggest fan of crows. Especially during a viral pandemic. With that large, ominous beak, I kept thinking how it looked very ‘bubonic’, like those masks the doctors wore during the Black Plague.
When it first started showing up I took a close look at the yard to see if I might find something to explain why it chose my property for its new territory. Meaning, I was looking-- and smelling-- for something dead. And I’ve got some past experience with this sort of thing. A few years back, I found lying in the grass a piece of hind leg from a rabbit, presumably a remnant from a melee of some sort the night before. I decided to just toss it into a half filled lawn waste bag that I had sitting in the garage, which wasn’t the best decision because the next day a bunch of crows kept circling around the house. But this time around, no carrion seemed to be involved (thankfully).
Eventually I just stopped paying any attention to the crow and left it to its own way. Over the weeks that followed, the colorful tones of cherry blossoms and the vibrant pops of tulips replaced what I saw as a black, feathered embodiment of miasma. I soon forgot about the crow all together. But during this weekend, while sitting out on the deck for the yard, I saw the crow again, now making short back and forth flights from one tree branch to the next, and close behind, three or four fledglings taking their own first flights. This is how we learn.
....Away above a Harborful
....Away above a harborful
.... of caulkless houses
....among the charley noble chimneypots
.... of a rooftop rigged with clotheslines
.... a woman pastes up sails
.... upon the wind
....hanging out her morning sheets
.... with wooden pins
.... O lovely mammal
.... her nearly naked breasts
.... throw taut shadows
.... when she stretches up
....to hang at last the last of her
.... so white washed sins
.... but it is wetly amorous
.... and winds itself about her
.... clinging to her skin
.... So caught with arms
.... she tosses back her head
.... in voiceless laughter
....and in choiceless gesture then
.... shakes out gold hair
....while in the reachless seascape spaces
.... between the blown white shrouds
.... stand out the bright steamers
.... to kingdom come
There are comets
that flash through
our mouths wearing
of oceans and galaxies.
we try to do the best
There are comets
connected to chemicals
down out tongues
to burn out against
There are comets
that laugh at us
from behind our teeth
wearing the clothes
of fish and birds.
From a Fall 1968 interview with Denise Levertov at Michigan Quarterly Review:
EGB: What is it that happens to some writers who become so heavily involved in espousing causes that they become merely propagandists? What do you see as the reason for this?
DL: I think that that can happen when an artist is involved in some kind of political ideology that has a party line which he follows. I don’t think that this happens in the peace movements in this country, where so many poets in the last two or three years have been increasingly writing poems overtly concerned with war, because the peace movement in this country is not an ideology, is not a monolithic organization with a party line, which a person enters and gives up his own conscience and thought and becomes subservient to that ideology. The peace movement in this country is just an agglomeration of individuals. Some people say that this is a weakness, that it would have more power or more efficiency if it were better organized. I think that would be only a very temporary and superficial advantage. I think its great underlying strength is that it is composed of individuals who do whatever they do-do their thing-because their own conscience leads them to it, and the proliferation of organizations within the peace movement is a reflection of that fact. I think it’s basically a strength. And I think that artists who get involved with it are not affected in that way that you described, for that very reason.
EGB: The key might be-when issues touch the individual, then he can react authentically as an artist, but when those issues are on some…
EGB:… level, and don’t really concern him as an individual, then he becomes simply a propagandist.
DL: Yes, I absolutely agree. I think there is no abrupt separation between so-called political poetry and so-called private poetry in an artist, who is in both cases writing out of his own inner life.