Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Adam Wiedemann: Carp 1

At the sight of a carp the girls say ah
at the sight of carp that didn’t get far.
At the sight of a cat of a cow because now it’s not the girls
saying can’t you hear it, when the milk spills?

Sight spills upon sight, we look with sight,
sight presents the moon, ah, if only the moon
were the sight, not a lost penny. I’m not
yet a penny that you lose, not

the sight you’ll ask for.
I’m the moon that fell asleep in the pond,
I’m the carp that in absolute silence
the moon swallows, that’s your absolute sight.
I’m a sight swallowed by a carp.
At the sight of a carp I don’t know what you ask.
I’m an instrument lurking in a pond,
I would prefer you not to live, I’d prefer that

you ask for five special gold pennies,
which I won’t have saved since I’m a fisherman
who eats catches as long as the carp live,
and when he catches nothing he tells the cow,

which has no why to lend him, since it
doesn’t give itself the milk the tomcat lives on
because even in a pond there isn’t enough moon
to feed a carp with a tomcat on its head.

Tr. Marit MacArthur & Barbara Kopec-Umiastkowska (from Polish). I don't know if the original reads this brilliantly: the translation is a near-perfect mix of fairy-tale mystery and fairy-tale doggerel.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Sonia Greenfield: River Dolphin

I thought I was going
to tell you about that ship
in the Yangtze, how upturned
hull sat on the rusty surface
like an iceberg

in that the better part
of the boat hung beneath
the churning like muddy
catacombs. I thought I was
going to tell you about men

in orange vests pressing ears
to cold metal, listening
for pings and knocks. Thought
I was going to admit relief
to learn it was pensioners

and not a school trip,
thought I’d admit how easy
to accept motherless child over
childless mother. I thought I’d say
how the weather lashed,

thought I’d picture a whip
of rain wrapped around upper-level
rails, how it snapped the top
under. Instead I want to say
all the Baiji are gone.

Fishermen plucked them
from a river, which makes its
bodily exchange. Rocks along
shore are heartless, and the endless
coursing absorbs all the rain.

Published 2016. Rightly despairing beneath its touristic impressionism.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Louis Johnson: Magpie and Pines

That dandy black-and-white gentleman doodling notes
on fragrant pinetops over the breakfast morning,
has been known to drop through mists of bacon-fat,
with a gleaming eye, to the road where a child stood, screaming.

And in the dark pastthe secretive trees have boys
harboured their ghosts, built huts, and buried treasure,
and lovers made from metallic kisses alloys
more precious, and driven the dark from pleasure.

A child was told that bird as his guardian angel
reported daily on actions contrived to displease;
stands petrified in the sound of wings, a strangle
of screams knotting his throat beneath the winter leaves.

Look back and laugh on the lovers whose white mating
made magpie of dark; whose doodling fingers swore
various fidelities and fates. They found the world waiting,
and broke the silence. A raven croaks 'Nevermore'

to their progentive midnight. The guardian is aloof
on his roof of the small world, composing against morning
a new, ironic ballad. The lover has found small truth
in the broken silence, in faith, or the fate-bird moaning.

Published 1952. The poet packs too much in: too much story, too much formal structure. A small poem still emerges, even if over-narrated. At its centre is the child standing petrified (and with good reason, if the guardian angel is a magpie).

Friday, 11 November 2016

Petra White: Woman and Dog

A woman and a dog walked all day
beside the non-moving canal.
People who walk dogs displace themselves:

the dog sniffs and leads, harnesses
a human soul, spirit and flesh
willing or not. Its human-dog eyes

cradle the walkable world a happy place
and brimming here-and-yet. The canal
neither followed nor lagged behind.

There was the simplified world, on either side, green
fields and red houses. There was the little pub
they always got to.

So long they trudged, two bodies and one
soul, so many miles,
the paws began to bleed.

Little flecks of ruby blood glittered the black
rubbery pads, as if the dog was inking out
all the sadness of the woman.

And the woman, being just strong enough,
gathered up the dog (not a small one)
and carried it all the way home, wherever that was.

From The Simplified World (2010). There's a real dog here and the black dog of depression. I find most haunting the "non-moving canal" and the dog's bleeding paws: the reader can choose to read these as symbols of something specific, but they reverberate at an even deeper level.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Ada Limón: Torn

Witness the wet dead snake,
its long hexagonal pattern weaved
around its body like a code for creation,
curled up cold on the newly tarred road.
Let us begin with the snake: the fact
of death, the poverty of place, of skin
and surface. See how the snake is cut
in two—its body divided from its brain.
Imagine now, how it moves still, both
sides, the tail dancing, the head dancing.
Believe it is the mother and the father.
Believe it is the mouth and the words.
Believe it is the sin and the sinner—
the tempting, the taking, the apple, the fall,
every one of us guilty, the story of us all.
But then return to the snake, poor dead
thing, forcefully denying the split of its being,
longing for life back as a whole, wanting
you to see it for what it is, something
that loves itself so much, it moves across
the boundaries of death, to touch itself
once more, to praise both divided sides
equally, as if it was almost easy.

Published 2013. I wanted this poem to work but it falls aside exhausted: there's too much thinking going on and not enough inspiration. The dying/dead snake, with its burden of associations, is almost an image for the poem itself.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Jane Hirshfield: My Species

a small purple artichoke
in its own bittered
and darkening
grows tender,
grows tender and sweet

patience, I think,
my species

keep testing the spiny leaves

the spiny heart

It’s Trump day. This is an American poem by a very non-Trumpian poet (born in Manhattan, educated at Princeton, Zen Buddhist). Published 2015.