Tuesday, September 2, 2014

TWELVE KINDS OF POEM by George Szirtes

from George Szirtes…
1. There are poems one feels a certain satisfaction in solving, but then the clues vanish in the snow and the rest is faultless snow.
2. There are poems that skip around like stoned goats: now you see me, now you don’t. Zap. Zowie. They come on goat feet and are goats.
3. There are poems with pain in their eyes. They haven’t slept for months. They need you. They are extraordinarily grateful to have found you.
4. There are poems with wrinkled brows and slow, hesitant hands. They point at sky, water, earth and suggest you kneel and pray with them.
5. There are poems that bare their painted breasts. These are my breasts, they declare! I painted them myself. I am proud, you hear. Proud!
6. There are poems so drunk on language they keep tripping over. That’s the point, you fool, they declare as they spill another drink over you.
7. There are poems that pretend they’re not poems. They smile ironically and ask: Did you think I was a poem? I am, but not the way you think.
8. There are poems that are genuinely angry. They grimace, snarl and threaten, but they’re awfully pally once you get to know them.
9. There are poems so quiet, so dreamlike, so full of whispers you think they are actually the ghosts of other poems lurking behind them.
10. There are poems so desperate for you to like them they keep offering you bouquets as though you had earned them. You haven’t.
11. There are poems that are spectacular disasters. They are very expensive. The sets are wonderful. It’s the make-up artists who win the Oscars.
12. There are poems that address you as though you were in a lecture theatre. They lose patience with you and throw their lecture notes at you. You lose them.

Monday, May 19, 2014

CAN YOU by Nicolas Guillen

Can You

                     For Lumir Civrny, in Prague

Can you sell me the air that passes through your fingers
and hits your face and undoes your hair?
Maybe you could sell me five dollars’ worth of wind,
or more, perhaps sell me a cyclone?
Maybe you would sell me
the thin air, the air
(not all of it) that sweeps
into your garden blossom on blossom
into your garden for the birds,
ten dollars of pure air.
                                The air it turns and passes
                                with butterfly-like spins.
                                No one owns it,no one.

Can you sell me some sky,
the sky that’s blue at times,
or gray again at times,
a small part of your sky,
the one you bought – you think –with all the trees
of your orchard, as one who buys the ceiling with the house?
Can you sell me a dollar’s worth
of sky, two miles
of sky, a fragment of your sky,
whatever piece you can?

                                The sky is in the clouds.
                                The clouds are high, they pass.
                                No one owns them, no one.

Can you sell me some rain, the water
that has given you your tears and wets your tongue?
Can you sell me a dollar’s worth of water
from the spring, a pregnant cloud,
as soft and graceful as a lamb,
or even water fallen on the mountain,
or water gathered in the ponds
abandoned to the dogs,
or one league of the sea, a lake perhaps,
a hundred dollars’ worth of lake?

                                The water falls, it runs.
                                The water runs, it passes.
                                No one holds it, no one.

Can you sell me some land, the deep night
of the roots, the teeth of
dinosaurs and the scattered lime
of distant skeletons?
Can you sell me long since buried jungles,
                                birds now extinct,
fish fossilized, the sulphur
of volcanoes, a thousand million years
rising in spiral? Can you
sell me some land, can you
sell me some land, can you?

                                The land that’s yours is mine.
                                The feet of all walk on it.
                                No one owns it, no one.

                                                                                Nicolas Guillen

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Li-Young Lee's: "Praise Them"

The birds don’t alter space.
They reveal it. The sky
never fills with any
leftover flying. They leave
nothing to trace. It is our own
astonishment collects
in chill air. Be glad.
They equal their due
moment never begging,
and enter ours
without parting day. See
how three birds in a winter tree
make the tree barer.
Two fly away, and new rooms
open in December.
Give up what you guessed
about a whirring heart, the little
beaks and claws, their constant hunger.
We’re the nervous ones.
If even one of our violent number
could be gentle
long enough that one of them
found it safe inside
our finally untroubled and untroubling gaze,
who wouldn’t hear
what singing completes us?

Thursday, January 30, 2014

HOUSE by Sumana Roy

My love,
my love is my forehead
on which you scatter grains
for pigeons every morning.
My smile is a courtyard,
my reclining shadow a cowshed,
my scalp the moon-skin’s song,
my throat an old mossy well,
my hands a windmill that crush scented air,
my ears the mauve flower
that begins to hear with the day,
my legs, my legs a canal
that bring the flow of anklets your way,
my mouth a betel leaf you fold and chew for taste,
my eyes a post box you steal letters from,
and my eyebrows – my eyebrows
a ladder you climb to pluck sleep
I was your house without a roof.
The birds saw me
shaping my nails every evening.
They dropped thin moons
on my lake-like nails.
You called them woks
and fried my smiles in them.
They smelled good – the smiles,
as they shrivelled
in scalding oil.
I wanted to smile
but was scared to show you
the one spare smile
I’d saved in the cow’s udder.
My nails were flags that I put out
to flutter and scratch the wind.
My bindi was a cowdung cake
slapped against your back.
I dried in the sun,
your finger marks stabbed and wrinkled
and grew old with me.
Sunlight was superstition.
I’d wither and weather
if you touched me
in the light, you said.
So darkness.
Its grassy smell,
its guilty moistness,
its uncertain sagging skin,
its tropical climate,
its humid love,
its sticky inconsequentiality.
You hid me in it,
like a dog does his bone.
My body became your family.
My shadow, changing
to the mood of your tongue,
your mohalla.
You spat betel leaf juice on my walls.
I bled.
And as the evening wringed the sky of light,
darkness seeped into my hinges.
Doors and windows.
Mouth and burrow.
You lit a kerosene lamp at my feet.
Fire grew to smoke,
water bubbled to a murmur,
tapped my lid,
I burst open.
The wick burned all night.
It sucked oil,
it smoked,
it smudged new glass.
It grew thin.
I was a log of wood.
I was kitchen.
I was clay oven.
I was coal.
I was roti –
dough pressed between your fingers
and flattened to smoothness.
I was roti,
breakfast and dinner,
I was roti,
swelling up with heat,
I was roti,
caught between your teeth.
I was so many other things besides:
Cup and plate, jug and glass, lock and key,
all pairs that hold a house in embrace.
My clay body,
drying with the wind,
melting in the rain;
you plastered clay on clay,
until only outside was my all,
and my inside was only a bamboo,
an axis around which men
left behind tattoos of their slaps.
All men are, in the end, only masons.
There were cowries on my skin,
half slit open. One eyed cowries
as if in a permanent wink.
I was a pagoda of fireflies,
I glowed in the light.
No one noticed me burn.
I was perfect, you said.
Only I had no hair on my head.
Yet you brought flowers for me
to wear in my hair.
For flowers made your dream woman –
a farmer’s wife.
Yellow mustard flowers,
sharp to the nose, ambitious,
a future granary;
Sthalapadma, lotuses of the land,
lotuses without sharp spouts;
You climbed trees for me,
from there you told me stories of the sea.
You saw what I couldn’t see –
you saw water, I saw distance.
For space was an alphabet
you hadn’t cared to learn.
You hung marigolds from walls.
I didn’t care for ceilings.
You didn’t want height.
Hair was false height, you said.
You were looking for depth.
You dug for wells.
You dug for ponds.
You wanted fish.
You wanted rod.
I was only a house.
How could I move?
I waited, I watched.
You held it like a curse.
You held it like a rope.
You held it like water.
You held it like hope.
The nose! The nose?
And the nose is all you missed?
You said you were looking for oars,
for sail, for mast, for air;
The nose is a ship?
The nose ring’s only a loop
that brings the cows home.
We had none, not cows,
not fragments of footprints
to sew on to our new history.
Why ships then? Why homecoming?
Why the quiet doodles of nose rings?
Why bird-bites on wood-carvings?
Why half-circles of summer foam?
Nose ring was a world with a pinch,
you said; it was the world’s boundary.
Life’s frame – round with a leak,
allowing death a peek.
You treated it, at first, like a fishing hook,
You wanted me to bite,
Then you wanted it to bite me.
You thought it was a waistband
you’d tie around your world,
You thought it was a snake
that would bite its own tail.
I was only a house.
You punctured my earlobes with it.
Buttermilk accusations ran like pus.
You gathered folds of skin with it.
The nose ring became pincers.
You sewed my blouse ends with it.
The nose ring became a door latch.
You pushed our fingers inside it.
The nose ring became our love’s wallet.
It became all you wanted it to be.
But you wanted more.
You were a man.
I was only a house.
And so you brought stone,
You brought hammer,
You’d tired of roundness, you said.
You hit it hard, you hit it strong,
The circle fumbled, then crawled,
It wanted its shape back.
You hit it hard again.
It became snail,
It became earthworm,
And then a match stick that wouldn’t light.
Even anthill bricks are round,
You sometimes say,
And earrings and bangles,
And necklace and rings,
Only roundness suits a woman,
Men wouldn’t have it any other way.
The world is a woman, and so the moon,
The plough is a woman, and so are stories.
You rolled the nose ring on my skin,
It became wheels and crushed me.
It became a ball at your feet.
You were a man,
Your feet found joy in roundness.
And I still wanted you.
What good is a house without snores?
All you wanted was my left,
My room and a wall –
The nose ring was a clothesline
You wanted to hang babies from.
But you loved its purdah the best:
Such neat divisions, you said,
A mucus-dark andar mahal,
locked from inside with a half-bitten key;
the man’s world, like land,
hanging, sloth-like, for all to see …
A nose ring was a mirror
that held the future of faith,
A nose ring was a summer day,
only a winter comforting thought.
You said such things and pierced my skin,
A nail on my wall, a crumbling chandelier within …
You are a man.
I’m only a house.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Professor by Nissim Ezekiel ( a satirical poem)

The Professor
Remember me? I am Professor Sheth.
Once I taught you geography. Now
I am retired, though my health is good.
My wife died some years back.
By God's grace, all my children
Are well settled in life.
One is Sales Manager,
One is Bank Manager,
Both have cars.
Other also doing well, though not so well.
Every family must have black sheep.
Sarala and Tarala are married,
Their husbands are very nice boys.
You won't believe but I have eleven grandchildren.
How many issues you have? Three?
That is good. These are days of family planning.
I am not against. We have to change with times.
Whole world is changing. In India also
We are keeping up. Our progress is progressing.
Old values are going, new values are coming.
Everything is happening with leaps and bounds.
I am going out rarely, now and then
Only, this is price of old age
But my health is O.K. Usual aches and pains.
No diabetes, no blood pressure, no heart attack.
This is because of sound habits in youth.
How is your health keeping?
Nicely? I am happy for that.
This year I am sixty-nine
and hope to score a century.
You were so thin, like stick,
Now you are man of weight and consequence.
That is good joke.
If you are coming again this side by chance,
Visit please my humble residence also.
I am living just on opposite house's backside.

Three things Enchanted Him by Anna Akhmatova (1911)

Three things enchanted him;
white peacocks, evensong,
and faded maps of America.
He couldn't stand bawling brats,
or raspberry jam with his tea,
or womanish hysteria. And he was tied to me.

The Old Playhouse by Kamala Das

The Old Playhouse
You planned to tame a swallow, to hold her
In the long summer of your love so that she would forget
Not the raw seasons alone, and the homes left behind, but
Also her nature, the urge to fly, and the endless
Pathways of the sky. It was not to gather knowledge
Of yet another man that I came to you but to learn
What I was, and by learning, to learn to grow, but every
Lesson you gave was about yourself. You were pleased
With my body's response, its weather, its usual shallow
Convulsions. You dribbled spittle into my mouth, you poured
Yourself into every nook and cranny, you embalmed
My poor lust with your bitter-sweet juices. You called me wife,
I was taught to break saccharine into your tea and
To offer at the right moment the vitamins. Cowering
Beneath your monstrous ego I ate the magic loaf and
Became a dwarf. I lost my will and reason, to all your
Questions I mumbled incoherent replies. The summer
Begins to pall. I remember the rudder breezes
Of the fall and the smoke from the burning leaves. Your room is
Always lit by artificial lights, your windows always
Shut. Even the air-conditioner helps so little,
All pervasive is the male scent of your breath. The cut flowers
In the vases have begun to smell of human sweat. There is
No more singing, no more dance, my mind is an old
Playhouse with all its lights put out. The strong man's technique is
Always the same, he serves his love in lethal doses,
For, love is Narcissus at the water's edge, haunted
By its own lonely face, and yet it must seek at last
An end, a pure, total freedom, it must will the mirrors
To shatter and the kind night to erase the water.
~Kamala Das