Monday, November 30, 2015

"Chillen Get Shoes" by Sterling A. Brown

Chillen Get Shoes

Hush little Lily,
    Don’t you cry;
You’ll get your silver slippers
    Bye and bye.

Moll wears silver slippers
    With red heels,
And men come to see her
    In automobiles.

Lily walks wretched,
    Dragging her doll,
Worshipping stealthily
    Good-time Moll;

Envying bitterly
    Moll’s fine clothes,
And her plump legs clad
    In openwork hose.

Don’t worry, Lily,
    Don’t you cry;
You’ll be like Moll, too,
    Bye and bye.


Source of the text - Sterling A. Brown, The Collected Poems of Sterling A. Brown, edited by Michael S. Harper.  Evanston, Ill. : TriQuarterly Books, 1996.

TJB:  Floozy shots. In this family tragedy clothed in nursery rhyme, the poet comforts a young girl on a trajectory to join the oldest profession.

"Mariana Trench" by Joanna Klink

35,827 feet

Palpable, principal, unearthly, is alive. Marianas, a stillness gathering

in the unrecognizable deep, cumulative, pressured, like pleasure again and

again ripped from a body. A look you give me, broken understanding,

and you know it will take hours, networks of words to begin again,

kettle and tray, pull of the pupil as it takes in my protests, hopes,

span of shoulders, the gauze of heat and oil on these arms, birds grazing

sheets of surface burning over the trench, as if to trespass for seconds into

the blackness below, an endless inwardness beneath the bright explosions

of their wings, now gliding in some far sense of air, a limit bathed in dusk

leaning beachward, some trust in coast at the end of day when the sweater

pulled over skin still pulses with sun, flowers set in sills to gather light

as a hand passes over the serrated stems, bending and diving

in the summery breeze, sorting through conflict or simply given to motion,

my body shut in your arms, refusing conclusion, feeling the bones spread

beneath skin, an apology forming near the boundary, tense, lost, veins

full of salt-vapor, the story undisclosed, descending in the blue-grays

of your eyes, the slow spread of depth toward some unfelt soundless

sediment, and unraveling toward sea, in need, in everything we can spare.

Author’s note: The Mariana Trench is the deepest spot on earth.  “Of all the worlds the abyss alone remains unaltered.  It is the one place on the planet where conditions remain as they have been since the beginning, where the five-mile pressures have not altered, where no suns have ever shone, where the cold is the same at the poles as at the equator, where the seasons are unchanging, where there is no wind and no wave . . . This is the sole world on the planet that we can enter only by a great act of the imagination.”—Loren Eiseley, “The Great Deeps,” The Immense Journey

Source of the text – Joanna Klink, Circadian.  New York: Penguin Poets, 2007, p. 25 and 67.

TJB: Abyssopelagic lyric. The poet uses a famous trench as metaphor for the me-myself under thousands of feet of superego, gestures, words, etc.

"Little Book 138 Pedro April 30 79" by Hannah Weiner

Source of the text - Hannah Weiner, Little Books / Indians.  Originally published by Roof Books, 1980.  Published online by /ubu editions, 2002.

TJB: Righter’s block. Does it force us to confront our biases about the murders & Peltier’s trial; or hear speech as politicized & constructed?

"Introduction" by Hannah Weiner

Source of the text - Hannah Weiner, Little Books / Indians.  Originally published by Roof Books, 1980.  Published online by /ubu editions, 2002.

TJB: Reader as redactor. The clairvoyant poet gives us fragments as if spoken and fragments with the potential to become many finished products.

from "The Arrivants: A New World Trilogy" by Edward Kamau Brathwaite

from The Arrivants: A New World Trilogy

from Islands, Part IV: Possession




Every Friday morning my grandfather
left his farm of canefields, chickens, cows,
and rattled in his trap down to the harbour town
to sell his meat.  He was a butcher.
Six-foot-three and very neat: high collar,
winged, a grey cravat, a waistcoat, watch-
chain just above the belt, thin narrow-
bottomed trousers, and the shoes his wife
would polish every night. He drove the trap
himself: slap of the leather reins
along the horse’s back and he’d be off
with a top-hearted homburg on his head:
black English country gentleman.

Now he is dead. The meat shop burned,
his property divided. A doctor bought
the horse. His mad Alsatians killed it.
The wooden trap was chipped and chopped
by friends and neighbours and used to stop-
gap fences and for firewood. One yellow
wheel was rolled across the former cowpen gate.
Only his hat is left. I ‘borrowed’ it.
I used to try it on and hear the night wind
man go battering through the canes, cocks waking up and thinking
it was dawn throughout the clinking country night.
Great caterpillar tractors clatter down
the broken highway now; a diesel engine grunts
where pigs once hunted garbage.
A thin asthmatic cow shares the untrashed garage.


Source of the text – Edward Kamau Brathwaite, The Arrivants: A New World Trilogy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973.

TJB: Après moi le déluge: the poet elegizes the utter dismantling of his grandpa’s world—hard, rural, colorful—replaced by progress or whatever.

"King Alfred's Epilogue to the Pastoral Care of Gregory the Great," translated by Maurice Riordan

Metrical Epilogue to the Pastoral Care

[Original text in Anglo-Saxon]

ðis is nu se wæterscipe       ðe us wereda god 
to frofre gehet       foldbuendum. 
He cwæð ðæt he wolde       ðæt on worulde forð 
of ðæm innoðum       a libbendu 
wætru fleowen,       ðe wel on hine 
gelifden under lyfte.       Is hit lytel tweo 
ðæt ðæs wæterscipes       welsprynge is 
on hefonrice,       ðæt is halig gæst. 
ðonan hine hlodan       halge and gecorene, 
siððan hine gierdon       ða ðe gode herdon 
ðurh halga bec       hider on eorðan 
geond manna mod       missenlice. 
Sume hine weriað       on gewitlocan, 
wisdomes stream,       welerum gehæftað, 
ðæt he on unnyt       ut ne tofloweð. 
Ac se wæl wunað       on weres breostum 
ðurh dryhtnes giefe       diop and stille. 
Sume hine lætað       ofer landscare 
riðum torinnan;       nis ðæt rædlic ðing, 
gif swa hlutor wæter,       hlud and undiop, 
tofloweð æfter feldum       oð hit to fenne werð. 
Ac hladað iow nu drincan,       nu iow dryhten geaf 
ðæt iow Gregorius       gegiered hafað 
to durum iowrum       dryhtnes welle. 
Fylle nu his fætels,       se ðe fæstne hider 
kylle brohte,       cume eft hræðe. 
Gif her ðegna hwelc       ðyrelne kylle 
brohte to ðys burnan,       bete hine georne, 
ðy læs he forsceade       scirost wætra, 
oððe him lifes drync       forloren weorðe. 

[Translation into modern English by Maurice Riordan]

King Alfred’s Epilogue to the Pastoral Care
of Gregory the Great

Here is the water which the Lord of all
Pledged for the well-being of His people.
He said it was His wish that water
Should flow forever into this world
Out of the minds of generous men,
Those who serve Him beneath the sky.
But none should doubt the water’s source
In Heaven, the home of the Holy Ghost.
It is drawn from there by a chosen few
Who make sacred books their study.
They seek out the tidings they contain,
Then spread the word among mankind.
But some retain it in their hearts.
They never let it pass their lips
Lest it should go to waste in the world.
By this means it stays pure and clear,
A pool within each man’s breast.
Others pour it freely over all the land,
Though care must be taken lest it flow
Too loud and fast across the fields,
Transforming them to bogs and fens.
Gather round now with your drinking cups,
Gregory has brought the water to your door.
Fill up, and return again for refills.
If you have come with cups that leak
You must hurry to repair and patch them,
Or else you’ll squander the rarest gift,
And the drink of life will be lost to you.

Source of the text – The Word Exchange: Anglo-Saxon Poems in Translation, edited by Greg Delanty and Michael Matto.  New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011, p. 426-427.

TJB: Instream flow. From a dark age of metaphor, this extended metaphor-parable instructs us to avoid flood irrigation & store it in reservoirs.

"The Death of Alfred," translated by Robert Hass

The Death of Alfred

This poem is found in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle entry for 1036.

[Original text in Anglo-Saxon]

Her com Ælfred, se unsceððiga æþeling, Æþelrædes
sunu cinges, hider inn and wolde to his meder, þe on Win-
cestre sæt, ac hit him ne geþafode Godwine eorl, ne ec oþre
men þe mycel mihton wealdan, forðan hit hleoðrode þa
swiðe toward Haraldes, þeh hit unriht wære.
Ac Godwine hine þa gelette      and hine on hæft sette,
and his geferan he todraf,       and sume mislice ofsloh;
sume hi man wið feo sealde,       sume hreowlice acwealde,
sume hi man bende,       sume hi man blende,
sume hamelode,       sume hættode.
Ne wearð dreorlicre dæd      gedon on þison earde,
syþþan Dene comon      and her frið namon.
Nu is to gelyfenne      to ðan leofan gode,
þæt hi blission      bliðe mid Criste
þe wæron butan scylde      swa earmlice acwealde.
Se æþeling lyfode þa gyt;       ælc yfel man him gehet,
oðþæt man gerædde      þæt man hine lædde
to Eligbyrig      swa gebundenne.
Sona swa he lende,       on scype man hine blende,
and hine swa blindne      brohte to ðam munecon,
and he þar wunode      ða hwile þe he lyfode.
Syððan hine man byrigde,       swa him wel gebyrede,
ful wurðlice,       swa he wyrðe wæs,
æt þam westende,       þam styple ful gehende,
on þam suðportice;       seo saul is mid Criste.

[Translation into modern English by Robert Hass]

The Death of Alfred

1036. In this year Alfred, innocent prince, son of King Æthelred, came
into the country and wished to go to his mother who was living at
Winchester, but Godwin did not permit him to do this, nor the other
barons, because—wrong as it was—sentiment had swung to Harald.

So Godwin seized the young prince and put him in prison.
The retinue he destroyed; he found various ways to kill them:
Some were sold for cash, some cut down cruelly,
Some put in fetters, some were blinded,
Some hamstrung,    and some of them scalped.
No bloodier deed was ever done in this land,
Not since the Danes came and made peace here.
Now it’s to be believed that the hands of God
Have put them in bliss with Jesus Christ,
For they were guiltless and wretchedly slain.
The prince was kept alive,    set about by every evil,
Until, under advisement, they led him
As they had bound him to Ely-in-the-Fens.
As soon as he landed, he was blinded,
Right there on shipboard, and, blinded,
He was brought to the good monks
And he dwelled there as long as he lived
And afterward he was buried, as befitted him,
Very worthily, for he was a worthy man,
At the west end of the chapel, very near the steeple,
Under the church porch.  His soul is with Christ.

Source of the text – The Word Exchange: Anglo-Saxon Poems in Translation, edited by Greg Delanty and Michael Matto.  New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011, p. 118-119.

TJB: Wag hagiography. A biased chronicler turns poet—apposed, part alliterative, part rhymed—to matter-of-factly relate a prince’s wretched end.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

"Juan's Song" by Louise Bogan

Juan’s Song

When beauty breaks and falls asunder   
I feel no grief for it, but wonder.
When love, like a frail shell, lies broken,   
I keep no chip of it for token.
I never had a man for friend
Who did not know that love must end.   
I never had a girl for lover
Who could discern when love was over.   
What the wise doubt, the fool believes—
Who is it, then, that love deceives?

Source of the text – Louise Bogan, The Blue Estuaries: Poems 1923-1968.  New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1968.

TJB: Mostly trochaic, somewhat misogynist: epigrams of a sex addict, in the parlance of our times. Answer to the rhetorical question? Everyone.

"Cementerio de Punta Arenas" by Enrique Lihn

[original poem in Spanish]


Ni aun la muerte pudo igualar a estos hombres 
que dan su nombre en lápidas distintas 
o lo gritan al viento del sol que se los borra: 
otro poco de polvo para una nueva ráfaga. 
Reina aquí, junto al mar que iguala al mármol, 
entre esta doble fila de obsequiosos cipreses 
la paz, pero una paz que lucha por trizarse, 
romper en mil pedazos los pergaminos fúnebres 
para asomar la cara de una antigua soberbia 
y reírse del polvo.

Por construirse estaba esta ciudad cuando alzaron 
sus hijos primogénitos otra ciudad desierta 
y uno a uno ocuparon, a fondo, su lugar 
como si aún pudieran disputárselo. 
Cada uno en lo suyo para siempre, esperando, 
tendidos los manteles, a sus hijos y nietos.

[poem translated into English by David Unger]


Not even death could make these men alike
who give their names to different gravestones
or shout them into the sun’s wind that rubs them out:
some more dust for a fresh gust of wind.
Here, by the sea that is just like marble,
between this double row of bowing cypresses,
peace rules, a peace struggling to shatter itself,
ripping the burial parchments in a thousand pieces
to reveal the face of an ancient arrogance
and to laugh at the dust.

This city had yet to be built when its first
settlers raised still another empty city
and, one by one, they settled deep into their places
as if anyone would even try taking it away from them.
Each one forever in his own place, waiting,
the tablecloths laid out, for his sons and grandsons.

Source of the text – Enrique Lihn, The Dark Room and other poems.  New York: New Directions, 1978, p. 32-33.

TJB: Uneasy peaces. In this arctic-graveyard lyric-essay, the dead are not alike so much as all frozen in time in different struggles & sorrows.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

"The Grauballe Man" by Seamus Heaney

The Grauballe Man

As if he had been poured
in tar, he lies
on a pillow of turf
and seems to weep

the black river of himself.
The grain of his wrists
is like bog oak,
the ball of his heel

like a basalt egg.
His instep has shrunk
cold as a swan’s foot
or a wet swamp root.

His hips are the ridge
and purse of a mussel,
his spine an eel arrested
under a glisten of mud.

The head lifts,
the chin is a visor
raised above the vent
of his slashed throat

that has tanned and toughened.
The cured wound
opens inwards to a dark
elderberry place.

Who will say ‘corpse’
to his vivid cast?
Who will say ‘body’
to his opaque repose?

And his rusted hair,
a mat unlikely
as a foetus’s.
I first saw his twisted face

in a photograph,
a head and shoulder
out of the peat,
bruised like a forceps baby,

but now he lies
perfected in my memory,
down to the red horn
of his nails,

hung in the scales
with beauty and atrocity:
with the Dying Gaul
too strictly compassed

on his shield,
with the actual weight
of each hooded victim,
slashed and dumped.

Source of the text – Seamus Heaney, North.  London: Faber and Faber, 1975, p. 28-29.

TJB: Left a goodlooking corpse. After a great 1st sentence, the poem posits a bog full of gorgeous tragic bodies as a metaphor for the Troubles.

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