It’s fears slow and fascinating that enter life each morning at coffee time while she wonders if tomorrow there’ll be war and brusquely as she does each morning slices bread and cheese. It’s gestures of uncontrollable avidity that proliferate in the throng and its worldly febrility, its parquet fever on the trading floor and stage. It’s hesitations, heart cries that crisscross broad avenues full of shade and dust that attract and make us think of our legs and elbows, our knees too when desire bumps and bounces words and feelings upward, it’s simple things with prefixes like cyber or bio that hold thoughts fast, float them a moment till we believe them aquatic and marvellous. It’s certainties that in tiny increments of dust and light are soon mixed with our tears. It’s inexplicable feelings made of small hurts strung over long years and vast horizons, it’s blues ideas that settle in where the happiness of existing threatens to take the breath away or to lodge itself in the throat like an instrument of fervour. It’s glimmers of intoxications impossible to look at for long, thoughts so precise that engage us beyond shade and wind, far beyond crude words, so noisy so terribly close to silence that the world all around seems suddenly engulfed in high seas and continual rustling like the music in our heads that in one stroke of the bow dislodges all that resists torment. It’s underlined passages, fragments of happiness that traverse the body and raise bridges all around because elsewhere and in the wild blue yonder they say there’s euphoria. It’s written down with bruises, abundance of life burst to fullness in a world and its niches of worn paths that lick at the shadow of bones.
They beat me even though I did nothing
I don’t know what day it was
But they beat me on the beach
They beat me with iron paws
The mayor ordered the police superintendent to beat me
The police superintendent ordered an officer to beat me
The officer ordered his dogs to attack me
Then someone beat me with iron paws
Then someone kicked me with iron boots
Then someone shot me
Then someone buried me in the sand
Then someone scooped me out of the sand and dumped me
And I was dead
But I could feel the sand on my body
I could feel the sand filling my mouth
I could feel the sand in my eyes
There was an earthquake in my eyes
There was a tornado in my mouth
But after the storms passed it was peaceful and I was dead
And they beat me even though I did nothing
They said I was illegal
They said I was an immigrant
They said I was an illegal immigrant who roamed the streets in a gang
They said I raped people
They said I killed people
They said I smuggled drugs in my gastrointestinal tract
They said I didn’t speak the right language
They said my boss exploited me and I tried to kill him
They said my boss treated me well and I tried to kill him
They said my heart was dark
They said I peddled in blood
They said this is only war and that I had the audacity to think
my body could resist the state
Let death come quickly I asked
Let death be easy
But I did not know how long it would take
I did not know I would be under the sand forever
I did not know that in Chicago the bodies do not die when they
have been strangled or riddled with bullets
A journalist asked the mayor why they killed us
I am not responsible said the mayor
There will be an inquest said the mayor
We will bring the perpetrators to justice said the mayor
He was wearing a slim fitting suit and he looked handsome as
the hurricane entered his mouth
He was wearing a slim fitting suit and he looked handsome as he
pretended he did not live in a city of state-killed cadavers
He had gel in his hair and his shoes were nicely polished
I died and I died again and a voice said something about hope
Another voice said you pay a big price for hope
I dragged myself around the sand and I tried to make it to the
water because I thought the water might carry me away but each
time I took a step closer to the water the water moved farther
from my body and there were faces in the water and they were
calling to me and I was trying to get to them
It’s what you do when you are dead
But every time I took a step toward the water the water drew
And the faces in the water were murmuring and their murmurs
grew louder and louder as I moved nearer and farther
And it is only war a voice said by way of explanation as
he photographed my dead body on the sand
And I was dead though I was still breathing when I finally made
it to the water
And in the water there was another war going on in the waves
It was only the beginning of the war that would kill me again
I’ve always liked reading poetry in translation. In fact, I prefer it that way.
Poetry is the sound one language makes when it escapes into another.
Whatever you think you’ve missed is, as the saying goes, better left to the imagination.
It gives even a mediocre poem an ineffable essence.
Greater involvement on the part of the reader leads to greater enjoyment.
A bad translation, a clumsy one, is especially charming.
The poem is whatever cannot be killed by the translator.
Its will to survive, its willingness to be uprooted and flee its homeland is admirable. I almost want to say virile.
An untranslated poem is too attached to its author. It’s too raw.
An untranslatable poem that hordes its meaning, whose borders are too guarded, is better unsaid.
For years, I copied authors from around the world. Then one day it occurred to me, perhaps it’s the translator I imitate, not the poet. This idea pleases me and makes me want to write more.
It would be great to learn French in order to read William Carlos Williams.
Translators are the true transcendentalists.
I saw a Ghost pass in the mirror.
Someone whispered something in my ear.
I said a word, and left.
Graves were scattered with mandrake seeds.
A bleating sound entered the assembly.
Gardens remained hanging.
Straw was scattered with the words.
No fruit is left.
Someone climbed on the shoulders of another.
Someone descended into the netherworld.
Other things are happening
I don’t know what they are—
This is everything.
the sun came out at night
to go for a stroll and the divine crossed
the room. the windows
writing comes from a dialogue
with time: it’s made
of a mirror in which thought
is stripped and no longer knows
in Palermo men are as
strictly trained as horses; or
else they have the shining violence of
it’s more bearable to think of
death than of love
Greek thought explored
all things the way it
explored the islands
when men no longer have
power over women, over whom
will they have it?
all Sicily is painted
by the planting
the shards of grief that a teapot
transforms into inexpressible joy
the Barbary figs ripen
on brilliant mornings, with firm flesh,
with certain steps
The enemy’s dead think mercilessly of me in their eternal sleep
while ghosts take to the stairs and house corners
the ghosts that I picked off the road and gathered like necklaces
from others’ necks and sins.
Sin goes to the neck… there I raise my ghosts, feed them
and they swim like black horses in my sleep.
With the energy of a dead person the last blues song rises
while I think of jealousy
the door is a slit open and breath enters through the cracks, the river’s
respiration, the drunks
and the woman who wakes to her past in the public garden
and when I fall asleep
I find a horse grazing grass
whenever I fall asleep
a horse comes to graze my dreams.
On my desk in Ramallah there are unfinished letters and photos of
a poetry manuscript of a young man from Gaza, a sand hourglass,
and poem beginnings that flap like wings in my head.
I want to memorize you like that song in elementary school
the one I carry whole without errors
with my lisp and tilted head and dissonance
the little feet that stomp the concrete ground with fervor
the open hands that bang on the desks
All died in war, my friends and classmates…
and their little feet, their excited hands, remained
stomping the classroom floors, the dining tables and sidewalks,
The backs and shoulders of pedestrians…
Wherever I go
I hear them
I see them.
The dead without faces
run out like patients
when the door of the intensive care unit opens
carrying pouches of heart, pouches of urine
The dead running toward the path to the underworld
turn into stone pillars when they look back and their eyes meet
The dead in their sacks look out with eyes brimming with salt
The dead become pillars of water as their tears melt their bones
The dead, gone forever, departed before you,
pull amniotic sacs over their heads and get in line to be born
and say that they need to learn their mother tongue all over
You’re not there when they awake or even when they eat
When the dead swarm down the mountain
like children who pour out of the door of the first-grade room
carrying their notebooks and shoe bags
a four-ton bronze bell with a thousand names of the dead
engraved on it dangles from the helicopter
The helicopter flies over a tall mountain to hang the bell at a
temple hidden deep in the mountains
Black hair like youth
Runs wild in March.
Dark papery leaves fly
Black hair in March
Is gentle, strangers’ eyes
A feast on offer. Youth,
Born of the primordial sea—
Embrace me. Drape my skin
Old as clouds
In something suppler.
Blown free, rootless,
Wanders the desert’s
Countless tombs, sways
Across a vacant sky,
Whips at fresh mud in rain.
Days blaze past. I have
Lost sight of my own black hair
In the mirror. Let me
Watch it now
For the next thousand years.
Black hair weedy
In dirt-poor soil.
Squandering its spoils.
Black hair has no idea.
The story of black hair
Is my story.
When I die, let me drift
Like a dandelion
Of black hair.
Like holy water
No way, there is no way
To be saved except to die.
When black hair cries,
Itsw tears snuff themselves out
So will my life cease to flicker.
Exhausted brush fire
Fanned by misery
Through the last century.
Black hair, ?Shredded black flag
Of a women’s glory
Ragged and battered
In March wind.
Absolved of chastity
With its pride in knots
Black hair smiles easily
If waterfall, it will plummet.
If cloud, it will scatter.
Eyes plaintive, wide,
Black hair waits to be spun
By hardened hands
March 25, 1987
The moon temple ghosts, swinging on heavy doors.
They ride rabid dogs in the alleys of ill repute.
They decipher the language of crows at dawn
in ancient trees, the blueness of a god’s skin.
They tiptoe power lines, rope bridges around the city.
They throw stones at the ambassador’s sedan.
When afternoon prayers begin, they grown silent,
Lying in each other’s arms, dreaming of clemency.
The monkeys are no rounding up street boys.
At least, at first, it seems this is true, but in no time
The boys learn to single out a monkey in the throng
& wrestle him to the ground. He may try to bite
& to scratch, to howl, & cry ceremoniously, to plead
with the one word he knows, but then the fight
goes out of him when the rest of his great clean
returns to jabbering & the sacred picking of lice.
The boys zap him with a small laser gun.
A garnet of mute bells is tossed into the dust,
& chants go aeons back to the beginning & die.
The fearless illumination goes out of his eyes.
The boys tag him. He rises to wander freely.
As naked unholiness crawls into the night,
they’re wrestled one by one to the ground
& castrated for the music of coins jangling in a pocket.
At metro Joliette with my jolicoeur,
we walked to the depanneur,
discussed dasein while buying
a Perrier and a block of beurre.
Outside, minus twenty-three,
with windchill it’s real fuckery,
your back pockets warm my fingertips,
your cherry ChapStick so summery.
Take me to the everglades,
a place where flowers never fade,
but pans inside your basement wait
to fry us scrambled eggs, real buttery.
Blue sunrise on my palms, a peignoir,
a neighbour grows peonies in a baignoire,
I dreamt a homeless peintre
revealed Hochelag in a Renoir
Make love inside these old maisons
until condos sail across the St-Laurent,
The vieux-accent is extinct,
And the cordonier’s window plein noir.
Morning flurries, très légère,
someone’s shovel scrapes fragile air,
a chasse-neige is herding cloud,
The hunched man salts his spiral stairs.