Saturday, June 25, 2016

Philip Whalen

La Condition Humaine

makes Friedrich Schiller, his personal
Oeconomy almost overrun by tubercle bacilli
Proclaim joy out of Elysium
Joy and brotherhood also drive Schopenhauer,
And Nietzsche, to suicide
Sparks Wagner's megalomaniac theatricals
With humanity as "given"
Expect nothing but trouble: No omelet from rotten eggs
4:31 A.M. war, murder, misery,
But somebody recently arranged eggs without cholesterol
("O King, live forever!")
To take care of your plugged-up veins
Gibbon says, " . . . the wisdom and authority of the
Legislator are seldom victorious in a contest
With the vigilant dexterity of private interest."

San Francisco

fr. Enough Said: Poems 1974-1979
[San Francisco: Grey Fox Press, 1980]

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Philip Garrison . . .

The Stories


A small rain
a thin cold rain

clicks on the shake roof &
on miles & miles of valley.

        They came to the pine forest hills:
        "What a wonderful tree!
        "Look, it has eyes & hair!
        "Look, here is a quiver and a bow"
        & he followed them home.

We sit by the living room woodstove
& tell stories, dry
& warm in the high dark
Columbia Plateau winter.

And step outside only
to throw in more wood
the rough bark, tight grain
clattering into flame.


The people'd been hungry weeks
& a mangy old bull wandered by:
"Ah, don't kill him.
"Rub his back with firewood."

Next day a few buffalo
walked right into the traps:
"For a little while we are saved.
"We have a little meat."

Those people were Blackfeet
400 miles east, over
the Columbia River cliffs
                                     --the plains

snowed-in tonight
the buffalo killed off
& people gone into cities.

That is the story
we were telling.


Back outside
no moon.
I pick up the kindling.
Hooves scrape nearby
through snow, on wide
stiff frozen grassland.

A shape lurches into the firelight.
A weight falls from my hands.
The fire turns & tosses.

--Philip Garrison

fr. Monks Pond No. 4, Winter 1968
in Monks Pond: Thomas Merton's Little Magazine
[Lexington, Kentucky: The University Press of Kentucky, 1989]

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Miroslav Holub . . .


Li Po was glass.
Kant was glass.

We observe ourselves like transparent
sea anemones.
We see the dark purple heart
we see the grey lungs, wings
rising and falling,
we see the oligochaetic
worms of thought
gnawing under the cap.

Linnaeus was glass.
Mozart was glass.
Franz Josef was glass.

In the transparent belly
we see the tubular moon,
and behind the crystalline mouth
the swallowed words.

A prisoner is glass,
a policeman is glass,
sixty glass robots
reside in the castle.

Behind the swallowed words
we see the glass-wool
of incessant melody.

Only the dead
draw the curtain 
from within.

-- trans. David Young & Dana Hábová

fr. Miroslav Holub, Intensive Care [Oberlin College Press, 1996]

Monday, April 11, 2016

Gunnar Ekelöf . . .

Even Absentmindedness Is a Magnificent Landscape

Even absentmindedness is a magnificent landscape:
Fields where they plow with oxen, a dog who barks at 
a straw-thatched farmhouse whose well-sweep can be seen
blue hillsides with single pines and cypresses
a background to some absent Madonna
with an absent John and a child Jesus
who grasps at the breast in a gesture of emptiness--
Because not one of them is seen, except
in evening's own transparency--, which might be their
eyes seeing out over fields lying untouched and quiet
when all the visible birds already have left
and only the invisible ones are heard migrating, still,
               in flights by night.

--Gunnar Ekelöf

tr. Muriel Rukeyser and Leif Sjöberg

fr. Selected Poems of Gunnar Ekelöf
[New York: Twayne Publishers, 1967]

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Ernesto Cardenal . . .


                       That top secret flight at night.
We might have been shot down. The night calm and clear.
The sky teeming, swarming with stars. The Milky Way
so bright behind the thick pane of the window,
     a sparkling white mass in the dark night
with its millions of evolutionary and revolutionary changes.
We were going over the water to avoid Somoza's air force,
                    but close to the coast.
The small plane flying low, and flying slowly.
First the lights of Rivas, taken and retaken by Sandanists,
            now almost in Sandanist hands.
Then other lights: Granada, in the hands of the Guard
                                                (it would be attacked that night).
Masaya, completely liberated. So many fell there.
Farther out a bright glow: Managua. Site of so many battles.
(The Bunker.) Still the stronghold of the Guard.
Diriamba, liberated. Jinotepe, fighting it out. So much heroism
glitters in those lights. Montelimar--the pilot shows us--:
the tyrant's estate near the sea. Puerto Somoza, next to it.
The Milky Way above, and the lights of Nicaragua's revolution.
Out there, in the north, I think I see Sandino's campfire.
            ("That light is Sandino.")
The stars above us, and the smallness of this land
but also its importance, these
tiny lights of men. I think:  everything is light.
The planet comes from the sun.
                       "Let there be light."
There is also darkness.
There are strange reflections--I don't know where they come
      from--on the clear surface of the windows.
A red glow: the tail lights of the plane.
And reflections on the calm sea: they must be stars.
I look at the light from my cigarette--it also comes from the sun,
         from a star.
And the outline of a great ship. The U.S. aircraft carrier
sent to patrol the Pacific coast?
A big light on our right startles us. A jet attacking?
No. The moon coming out, a half-moon, so peaceful, lit by the sun.
      The danger of flying on such a clear night.
And suddenly the radio. Jumbled words filling the small plane.
The Guard? The pilot says: "It's our side."
                     They're on our wavelengths.
Now we're close to León, the territory liberated.
A burning reddish-orange light, like the red-hot tip of a cigar:
the powerful lights of the docks flickering on the sea.
And now at last the beach at Poneloya, and the plane is coming in 
           to land,
the stream of foam along the coast gleaming in the moonlight.
     The plane coming down. A smell of insecticide.
And Sergio tells me: "The smell of Nicaragua!"
It's the most dangerous moment, enemy aircraft
                     may be waiting for us over this airport.
And the airport lights at last.
We've landed. From out of the dark come olive-green-clad comrades
to greet us with hugs.
We feel their warm bodies, that also come from the sun,
that also are light.
                     This revolution is fighting the darkness.
It is daybreak on July 18th. And the beginning
          of all that was about to come.


trans. Jonathan Cohen

fr. Zero Hour and Other Documentary Poems
[New York: New Directions, 1980]

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

John Ashbery . . .

The Serious Doll

The kinds of things are more important than the
Individual thing, though the specific is supremely
Interesting. Right? As each particular
Goes over Niagara Falls in a barrel one may
Justifiably ask: Where does this come from?
Whither goes my concern? What you are wearing
Has vanished along with other concepts.
They are lined up by the factory balcony railing
Against blue sky with some clumsy white paper clouds
Pasted on it. Where does the east meet the west?
At sunset there is a choice of two smiles: discreet or serious.
In this best of all possible worlds, that is enough.

fr. Houseboat Days
[Penguin Books, 1977] 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

RIP James Tate

The Blue Booby

The blue booby lives
on the bare rocks
of Galápagos
and fears nothing.
It is a simple life:
they live on fish,
and there are few predators.
Also, the males do not
make fools of themselves
chasing after the young
ladies. Rather,
they gather the blue
objects of the world
and construct from them

a nest—an occasional
Gaulois package,
a string of beads,
a piece of cloth from
a sailor’s suit. This
replaces the need for
dazzling plumage;
in fact, in the past
fifty million years
the male has grown
considerably duller,
nor can he sing well.
The female, though,

asks little of him—
the blue satisfies her
completely, has
a magical effect
on her. When she returns
from her day of
gossip and shopping,
she sees he has found her
a new shred of blue foil:
for this she rewards him
with her dark body,
the stars turn slowly
in the blue foil beside them
like the eyes of a mild savior.

fr. Selected Poems
[Wesleyan Univ. Press, 1991]

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Paul Sampson

A Middle Manager, Newly Dead, Learns That Tibetan Buddhism Is True

Bardo, they call this. Jail is more like it.
"Don't worry," they tell me. "You'll be out in no time."
No time! Little joke there, eternity humor.
Very funny. "No time." Cute. I get it.

So this is the deal: you keep doing it over,
no telling how often. "Get it right, get it perfect,
you can stop, no more troubles." It doesn't sound likely.

And doesn't seem fair. Each "Life," as they call it,
you start over, pig-ignorant, misleading road map,
expected to learn what you missed on the last trip,
in spite of distractions, incessant annoyance,
orders from everyone, dozens of voices,
all claiming authority, threatening punishments,
always enough to keep you off balance.

Then on short notice, it's pack up, it's over.
The return trip is usually painful and scary,
and back in your cubicle at Bardo's Head Office,
you desk has been filling with karmic account books
that need straightening out. "So how was it?" they ask you.
"I scarcely remember. Too short, that's for damn sure,"
and you get down to business, reporting to demons
(this much seems familiar) until the next journey.

The end of it all? The retirement program?
"Nirvana," they tell you. No details to speak of;
"The End of Desire." It had better be worth it.

--Paul Sampson

fr. Dirge in a Resolutely Major Key [Unicorn Press, 2006]

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Rosmarie Waldrop . . .

The Grandeur of the Mountains

Could the grandeur of the mountains be inhaled by a village girl? How fraught the bond between warm-blooded animals. The governing classes had no intention of loosening their grip. The more snow piled up undenied on the snowbank the more shadows of clouds moved across "household slavery." What does it mean to put a word between quotation marks? Thanks to the discoveries of Darwin the structural plan of every species is laid down in two strands.

How wonderfully the air is laid down on shadows. She had left her widowed mother to discover the grandeur of the mountains. Above a certain solitude no trees grow. Snowballing denoted making few concessions to women. What is passed from generation to generation is a structure of detail like the lacing of boots. Whereas inverted commas take their distance from language.

Such as the accessories of light, heat, electricity, laced boots. Soon she was pregnant. The more rapidly commas were snowballing the harder the resolve to maintain symbols of order. For proper understanding use distance from language. Sometimes slight errors occur above a certain solitude. The sense has been shifted, but not cut into mouthfuls.

This air, then, those we call animals suck in by mouthfuls. In October, there was a severe storm among the symbols of order. This is what is known as genetic mutation. Solitude engulfed the accessories. The vast, shifting grandeur of the mountains. Sexual tolerance was confined within commas, suspended within its history, weighted and therefore thought.

The old woman knew her daughter was near her time. Air is decomposed in the lungs and therefore thought. But genes are grouped into larger units called history. The word enclosed within quotation marks is waiting for its moment of revenge. The governing classes did not confine covert storms, but fidelity to one's wife remained a warm-blooded option. No smoke rising in the public realm.

Part of what they inhale is distributed with the arterial blood (warm). The broken door banged backwards and forwards on its hinges. Only in exceptional cases does a mutation enable an organism to adapt more profitably to solitude. She wrapped her daughter in a quilt. The clergy showed themselves unprepared to overturn the institution of "household slavery." He who puts a word in quotation marks can no longer rid himself of it.

--Rosmarie Waldrop

fr. CrossConnect [Vol. 2, issue 3; Feb. 2007]

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Miroslav Holub

The Minotaur's Thoughts on Poetry

Certainly this thing exists. For
on dark nights when, unseen,
I walk through the snail-like windings of the street
the sound of my own roar reaches me
from a great distance.

Yes. This thing exits. For surely
even cicadas were once of gigantic stature
and today you can find mammoths' nests
under a pebble. The earth, of course,
is lighter than it once was.

Besides, evolution is nothing but
a long string of false steps;
and it may happen that a severed head
will sing.

And it's not due, as many believe, to
the invention of words. Blood
in the corners of the mouth is substantially
more ancient and the cores of the rocky planets
are heated by the grinding of teeth.

Certainly this thing exists.
a thousand bulls want to be
And vice versa.

--fr. Intensive Care (Oberlin College Press, 1996)
tr. Ewald Osers

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

On Comments

Comments on this blog page or any of my others are refused, or deleted if they haven't been refused, whenever I find them, if not signed with the commenter's full name: i.e. no first or last names only, no group or organization names, no anonymous. Please feel free to resend a comment if you find that it's gone or unpublished. Sorry to be so fussy, but . . . well, not really. Put your name on what you write.

Halvard Johnson

Friday, March 27, 2015

Alice Fulton

Trouble in Mind

A murdered body's shallow grave.
A ditch that shelters sniper fire.
Who says memory's a friend? Who'd grieve
to find their sleep unrifled, furred

by a select amnesia? Because I thought
recalling all turned all to sense,
I filed my life in pieces, all that
debris changed to meaning, all scenes to signs.

As soldiers dismember weapons to check
on their perfection, I broke the said
and done. Blame's the bullet you catch
between your teeth or worse, inside.

And if some angel dust or peace
pill, busy bee or killer weed
could turn the past to has-been, a poison
shot let bygones be, who wouldn't

try it? The stuff of Agent Orange,
which says the world's no matter, gutting
every ghost within its range.
A jungle of nothing. A forgetting.

fr. Powers of Congress (1990)

Monday, February 23, 2015

David Shapiro


In extreme pain
Q meets T
They walk into a house
And later a double-exposure is sent to S

Somewhere behind the curtains
Uncertainty is laughing
As you ask the yes or no questions
I am moving towards you by analogy

fr. David Shapiro, New and Selected Poems (1965-2006)
     [Woodstock & New York: Woodstock Overlook Press, 2007]

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Paavo Haavikko

fr. The Bowmen (1955)

Statecraft, sagacity
Gone to the mountain council
My lord has planted his banner
We must not go there

And clearly
Alone I am nothing
Come read it now --

Returning to Worms
I take my nail and hammer

The hand touches sky
The foot presses down on the ground
Henceforth may nothing divorce
The hand from the sky
The feet from the ground

On the mountains forever
Winds water and fire
Scorched earth
The elements bringing forth bloodshed
Rebellion war
Plague evil sudden death

Statecraft, sagacity
And also the men in black
Honour cries out for violence
Sagacity's foresight improves
When glasses are reddened by flames

We have not come here
To look into wisdom
But into our hearts
We have all of us come here
Not to display sagacity
But the willingness
To make sacrifices.

--tr. Anselm Hollo

Tomas Tranströmer



The train stopped far to the south. There was snow in New York.
Here you could go about in shirtsleeves the whole night.
But no one was out. Only the cars
flew past in their glare, flying saucers.


'We battlefields who are proud
of our many dead . . .'
said a voice while I wakened.

The man behind the counter said:
'I'm not trying to sell it,
I'm not trying to sell it,
I only want you to look at it.'
And he showed the Indians' axes.

The boy said:
'I know I have a prejudice,
I don't want to be left with it sir.
What do you think of us?'


This motel is a strange shell. With a hired car
(a huge white servant outside the door)
almost without memory and without ploy
at last I can settle on to my point of balance.

--fr. Sounding and Tracks (1966)
tr. Robin Fulton