Tuesday, January 19, 2016

"Two Trees" by Don Paterson

Two Trees

One morning, Don Miguel got out of bed
with one idea rooted in his head:
to graft his orange to his lemon tree.
It took him the whole day to work them free,
lay open their sides, and lash them tight.
For twelve months, from the shame or from the fright
they put forth nothing; but one day there appeared
two lights in the dark leaves. Over the years
the limbs would get themselves so tangled up
each bough looked like it gave a double crop,
and not one kid in the village didn’t know
the magic tree in Miguel’s patio.

The man who bought the house had had no dream
so who can say what dark malicious whim
led him to take his axe and split the bole
along its fused seam, then dig two holes.
And no, they did not die from solitude;
nor did their branches bear a sterile fruit;
nor did their unhealed flanks weep every spring
for those four yards that lost them everything,
as each strained on its shackled roots to face
the other’s empty, intricate embrace.
They were trees, and trees don’t weep or ache or shout.
And trees are all this poem is about.

Source of the text – Don Paterson, Rain: Poems.  New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009, p. 3.

TJB: Two couplet-stanzas personify arranged marriage & forced divorce—like Frost but with a punchline; like Marvell but with a real estate sale.

"The Thread" by Don Paterson

The Thread

Jamie made his landing in the world
so hard he ploughed straight back into the earth.
They caught him by the thread of his one breath
and pulled him up.  They don’t know how it held.
And so today I thank what higher will
brought us to here, to you and me and Russ,
the great twin-engined swaying wingspan of us
roaring down the back of Kirrie Hill

and your two-year-old lungs somehow out-revving
every engine in the universe.
All that trouble just to turn up the dead
was all I thought that long week.  Now the thread
is holding all of us: look at our tiny house,
son, the white dot of your mother waving.

Source of the text – Don Paterson, Landing Light.  Saint Paul, MN: Graywolf Press, 2005, p. 8.

TJB: The Kindly Ones leave unsnipped the poet’s son’s life-thread in this balled-up-action sonnet which surprises with multiple aviation motifs.

Friday, January 15, 2016

"The Husband's Message," anonymous Anglo-Saxon lyric

The Husbands Message

[Text of the poem in the original Anglo-Saxon]

Nu ic onsundran þe     secgan wille
. . . . . . treocyn
     ic tudre aweox;
in mec æld . . . sceal
     ellor londes
settan . . . . . .
     sealte streamas

. . . sse.     Ful oft ic on bates
. . . . . . gesohte
þær mec mondryhten
     min . . . . . .
ofer heah hofu;
     eom nu her cumen
on ceolþele,
     ond nu cunnan scealt

hu þu ymb modlufan     mines frean
on hyge hycge.
     Ic gehatan dear
þæt þu þær tirfæste
     treowe findest.
Hwæt, þec þonne biddan het
     se þisne beam agrof
þæt þu sinchroden
     sylf gemunde

on gewitlocan     wordbeotunga,
þe git on ærdagum
     oft gespræcon,
þenden git moston
     on meoduburgum
eard weardigan,
     an lond bugan,
freondscype fremman.
     Hine fæhþo adraf

of sigeþeode;     heht nu sylfa þe
lustum læran,
     þæt þu lagu drefde,
siþþan þu gehyrde
     on hliþes oran
galan geomorne
     geac on bearwe.
Ne læt þu þec siþþan
     siþes getwæfan,

lade gelettan     lifgendne monn.
Ongin mere secan,
     mæwes eþel,
onsite sænacan,
     þæt þu suð heonan
ofer merelade
     monnan findest,
þær se þeoden is
     þin on wenum.

Ne mæg him worulde     willa gelimpan
mara on gemyndum,
     þæs þe he me sægde,
þonne inc geunne
     alwaldend god
. . . . . . ætsomne
     siþþan motan
secgum ond gesiþum
     s . . .

næglede beagas;     he genoh hafað
fædan goldes
. . . d elþeode
     eþel healde,
fægre foldan
. . . ra hæleþa,
     þeah þe her min wine . . .

nyde gebæded,     nacan ut aþrong, 
ond on yþa geong . . . . . . sceolde
faran on flotweg,
     forðsiþes georn,
mengan merestreamas.
     Nu se mon hafað
wean oferwunnen;
     nis him wilna gad,

ne meara ne maðma     ne meododreama,
ænges ofer eorþan
þeodnes dohtor,
     gif he þin beneah
ofer eald gebeot
     incer twega.
Gecyre ic ætsomne
     ᛋ ᚱ geador

ᛠ ᚹ ond      aþe benemnan, 
þæt he þa wære     ond þa winetreowe
be him lifgendum
     læstan wolde,
þe git on ærdagum
     oft gespræconn.

[Modern English translation by Michael Schmidt]

The Husbands Message

To you far away     I carry this message
I remain true     to the tree I was hacked from
Wood I am, bearing     the marks of a man
Letters and runes     the words of his heart
I come from afar     borne on salt currents
Hiss . . .     in a hull I sought and I sought you
Where would I find you     my lord despatched me
Over fathomless seas     I’ve come, here I am
Do you think of him still     my lord in your dear heart
Do you recall him     or is your mind bare
He remains true to you     true and with fixed desire
You try his faith     you’ll find it stands firm

But hear me now, read     what is scratched on my surface

You, cherished treasure, dear     you in your youthful
Your hidden heart, dear     remember your vows
Your heart and his heart     when together you haunted
The lovely hamlets     the mead hall, the promise
To perform your love

                                             Well, all of that ended
In feud and in flight     he was forced from that place
Now he has sent me     to ask you come to me
Cross the seas, come to me     come here with joy
When to your listening     on the steep hillside
First comes the cuckoo’s voice     sad in the trees
Don’t pause don’t linger     come at that calling
Don’t stay or delay     come at that call

Go down to the shore     set out to sea then
To the tern’s chilly home     go south go south
Over the ragged sea     south find your lord
Come to him, there     he waits for you wedded
To your sure arrival     no other wish
But only the wish of you     You’re in his mind
Almighty God’s there     his power rebind you
One to the other     again as you were
Able to rule then     able to raise up
Your people, comrades     and endow you with jewels
Bracelets and carcanets     collars and combs
He has set aside for you     fair gold, bright gemstones
In a land far away     among foreign folk
A handsome mansion     hectares and cattle
Faithful retainers

                                  though when he set out
Pursued and a pauper     he pointed his prow
Out to the sea     alone set out sailing
Lost in his exile     yet eager to go
Weaving the currents     time in his veins

Now truly that man     has passed beyond pain
He has all he wants     has horses, has treasure
The great hall’s warm welcome     gifts the earth yields
Princess, Princess     you too are his portion
Remember the promises     each of you vowed
The sealing silences     he made and you made
A letter, a syllable     nothing is lost
What seem erasures     are kisses and praying
Are runes that keep counsel     a promise in touch
A promise in looking     how staunch he has stayed to you
Above him the heavens     the earth under foot
A man of his word he is     true to your contract
The twining of wills     in those days gone in time

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, pp. 53-56.

TJB: Treemail. Riddlelike, burnmarked, devotional, ironic & earnest as hell, this lyric stresses its textuality beyond the grave & ends in runes.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

"Traddutore, Traditore" by Fred Chappell

Traddutore, Traditore

Uncle Barber’s tangled tongue
           Turns his words to mush;
Vowel, consonant, diphthong
           Thicken into slush.

We know that he’s intelligent;
           The expressions of his face
Give us a hint, more than a hint,
           Dementia’s not the case.

Aunt Hannah interprets his every word,
           Yet as we follow along
Some things she says are so absurd
           She must have got them wrong.

We cannot avoid a dark suspicion:
           Isn’t there more than a tinge
In her tone of caustic, mocking derision?

           That would be her perfect revenge.

Source of the text – Fred Chappell, Family Gathering.  Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2000, p. 39.

TJB: In ballad stanzas, galloping iambs, & unmetrical last line, the mistranslation is due to a wife’s ancient anger—but why misspell the title?

Untitled Lyric by Sappho

Untitled Lyric by Sappho

[Text of the poem in the original Greek]

[Prose translation by David A. Campbell]

Hither to me from Crete to this holy temple, where is your delightful grove of apple-trees, and altars smoking with incense; therein cold water babbles through apple-branches, and the whole place is shadowed by roses, and from the shimmering leaves the sleep of enchantment comes down; therein too a meadow, where horses graze, blossoms with spring flowers, and the winds blow gently . . .; there, Cypris, take . . . and pour gracefully into golden cups nectar that is mingled with our festivities.

Source of the text in Greek and prose translation - Greek Lyric with an English Translation by David A. Campbell, Volume I: Sappho Alcaeus.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982, p. 56-57.

[Translation by Mary Barnard]

You know the place: then

Leave Crete and come to us
waiting where the grove is
pleasantest, by precincts

sacred to you; incense
smokes on the altar, cold
streams murmur through the

apple branches, a young
rose thicket shades the ground
and quivering leaves pour

down deep sleep; in meadows
where horses have grown sleek
among spring flowers, dill

scents the air. Queen! Cyprian!
Fill our gold cups with love
stirred into clear nectar

Source of the text – Mary Barnard, Sappho: A New Translation.  Berkeley: University of California Press, 1958.

[Translation by Anne Carson]

here to me from Krete to this holy temple
where is your graceful grove
of apple trees and altars smoking
            with frankincense.

And in it cold water makes a clear sound through
apple branches and with roses the whole place
is shadowed and down from radiant-shaking leaves
            sleep comes dropping.

And in it a horse meadow has come into bloom
with spring flowers and breezes
like honey are blowing
            [                     ]

In this place you Kypris taking up
in gold cups delicately
nectar mingled with festivities:

Source of the text – Anne Carson, If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho.  New York: Alfred A. Knopf: distributed by Random House, 2002.

[Translation by Willis Barnstone]

Afroditi of the Flowers at Knossos

Leave Kriti and come here to this holy
temple with your graceful grove
of apple trees and altars smoking
             with frankincense.

Icy water babbles through apple bracnehs
and roses leave shadow on the ground
and bright shaking leaves pour down
             profound sleep.

Here is a meadow where horses graze
amid wild blossoms of the spring and soft winds
             blow aroma

of honey. Afroditi, take the nectar
and delicately pour it into gold
wine cups and mingle joy with
             our celebration.

Source of the text – The Complete Poems of Sappho, translated by Willis Barnstone.  Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 2009.

TJB: Booty call? Sappho qua priestess puts the come-hither on Aphrodite, tempting her with springtime sights, sounds, & smells of Sappho’s hood.

"The Rare Birds" by Amiri Baraka

The Rare Birds

for Ted Berrigan

     brook no obscurity, merely plunging deeper
for light.  Hear them, watch the blurred windows tail
the woman alone turning and listening to another time
when music brushed against her ankles and held a low light
near the tables edge.  These birds, like Yard and
Bean, or Langston grinning at you.  Cant remember the shadow
pulled tight around the door, music about to enter.  We hum
to anticipate, more history, every day.  These birds, angular
like sculpture.  Brancusian, and yet more tangible like Jakes
colored colorful colorado colormore colorcolor, ahhh, its about
these birds and their grimaces.  Jakes colors, and lines.  You
remember the eyes of that guy Pablo, and his perfect trace of
lifes austere overflowings.

                                               Williams writes to us
of the smallness of this American century, that it splinters into worlds it
cannot live in.  And having given birth to the mystery
splits unfolds like gold shattered in daylight's beautiful hurricane.
(praying Sambos blown apart) out of which a rainbow of anything you need.
I heard these guys.  These lovely ladies, on the road to Timbuctoo
waiting for Tu Fu to register on the Richter scale.  It was called
Impressions, and it was a message, from like a very rare bird.

Source of the text - Nice to See You: Homage to Ted Berrigan, Edited and with an Introduction by Anne Waldman. Saint Paul, MN: Coffee House Books, 1991, p. 174.

TJB: Feint praise; memory-of-art as art. Baraka remembers Berrigan by placing him in company of the greats: Bird, Trane, Hughes, Picasso, & more.

"Coal" by Audre Lorde


is the total black, being spoken
from the earth’s inside.
There are many kinds of open
how a diamond comes into a knot of flame  
how sound comes into a word, colored  
by who pays what for speaking.

Some words are open like a diamond
on glass windows
singing out within the passing crash of sun
Then there are words like stapled wagers
in a perforated book—buy and sign and tear apart—
and come whatever wills all chances
the stub remains
an ill-pulled tooth with a ragged edge.
Some words live in my throat
breeding like adders. Others know sun
seeking like gypsies over my tongue
to explode through my lips
like young sparrows bursting from shell.
Some words
bedevil me.

Love is a word, another kind of open.
As the diamond comes into a knot of flame
I am Black because I come from the earth's inside  
now take my word for jewel in the open light.

Source of the text – Audre Lorde, Undersong: Chosen Poems Old and New.  New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1992.

TJB: Interlocking similes—words as poetic, mercantile, or hateful—power this poem, which mines many dualities. But who holds the mineral rights?

Friday, January 8, 2016

"Caedmon" by Denise Levertov


All others talked as if
talk were a dance.
Clodhopper I, with clumsy feet
would break the gliding ring.
Early I learned to
hunch myself
close by the door:
then when the talk began
I’d wipe my
mouth and wend
unnoticed back to the barn
to be with the warm beasts,
dumb among body sounds
of the simple ones.
I’d see by a twist
of lit rush the motes
of gold moving
from shadow to shadow
slow in the wake
of deep untroubled sighs.
The cows
munched or stirred or were still. I
was at home and lonely,
both in good measure. Until
the sudden angel affrighted me—light effacing
my feeble beam,
a forest of torches, feathers of flame, sparks upflying:   
but the cows as before
were calm, and nothing was burning,
                nothing but I, as that hand of fire   
touched my lips and scorched my tongue   
and pulled my voice
                                 into the ring of the dance.

Source of the text – Denise Levertov, Breathing the Water.  New York: New Directions, 1987.

TJB: Farmboy, interrupted. In short, Anglo-Saxonish half-lines, the poem dramatizes not the hymn itself but the moment of cowherd becoming poet.

About Me