the leathery leaves

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This poem in its simplicity gets me every time. It cuts right to that vaguely poignant but pity-filled realization that dawns when some variation of the following occurs. Invariably, some character from the long-distant past, about whom one was whipped into a frenzied lather so very many years ago but whom one has almost entirely forgotten in life’s ensuing whirlwind, reappears. In the ‘old days’, this character had been aloof, cool, compartmentalizing. I belonged only to one sliver of his life, for example. And I would agonize. This character never really cared, or at least never showed it then.

This character appears again long after being rinsed away, eroded from conscious memory. And suddenly in this twilight between the last moments of clinging to some semblance of youth and the outer edges of middle age, this character remembers me in alarming detail, which I can only regard with some curiosity and dispassionate distance. I’ve never believed in living in the past or revisiting it, although the way this poem is written cleverly ignites mild nostalgia without making its narrator succumb to it.

A Woman Meets an Old Lover
Denise Levertov

‘He with whom I ran hand in hand
kicking the leathery leaves down Oak Hill Path
thirty years ago

appeared before me with anxious face, pale,
almost unrecognized, hesitant,
lame.

He whom I cannot remember hearing laugh out loud
but see in mind’s eye smiling, self-approving,
wept on my shoulder.

He who seemed always
to take and not give, who took me
so long to forget,

remembered everything I had so long forgotten.’

between dog and wolf

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I have read this poem a million times in the original and translation without ever giving much thought to the expression “entre chien et loup”. It suddenly hit me this time; ever the wonder of translation. (Incidentally also led me to read Sasha Sokolov’s book of the same title.)

Waiting
Christiane Baroche
Waiting
savagery of love just lent

Waiting
divert it and at once no longer love
so much.

Tumble from loss to loss
moments occupied in being occupied elsewhere
Great chasms where love remains
at the edge
shivering
guard-rail of impatience

Wait ah
open up to minutes weighed down
to longings gone gluey
to blunted desire
like an old frayed sail thinning
with time…

I hurt in this man I’ve ceased
waiting for
he’s dying
in the murky light
backing slowly away
unfaithful memory abrasion of his features.

And you, you don’t yet know
that drab mounting-up of defeats
when no one waits for you any
more.

Original

Attente
Attente
sauvagerie de l’amour juste prêté

Attente
la divertir et déjà ne plus aimer
autant.

Tomber de perte en perte
de moments occupés ailleurs
Grands vides où l’amour reste
au bord
frileux
Garde-fou de l’impatience

Attendre ah
s’ouvrir aux minutes alourdies
aux envies qui s’empoissent
au désir émoussé
comme un vieux gréément s’ébarbe
au temps qui passe…

J’ai mal à cet homme qui j’ai cessé
d’attendre
il meurt
entre chien et loup
il recule à pas lents
mémoire infidèle abrasion de ses traits.

Et toi tu ne sais pas encore
la morne addition des défaites
quand on ne vous attend
plus.

out of time

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Time Reminded Me
Julia Uceda
To remember is not always to go back to what was
for memory holds seaweed dragging up
wonders,
alien objects that never floated.
A light racing through chasms
lights up earlier years I’ve never lived,
which I recall like yesterday.
About 1900
I was strolling in a Paris park… it was
enveloped in fog.
My dress was the same color as the mist.
The light was the same as now
after seventy years.
Now the brief storm is over
and through the pane I see people walk by
near this window so near the clouds.
A time that is not mine
seems to rain inside my eyes.

Original

El tiempo me recuerda

Recordar no es siempre regresar a lo que ha sido.
En la memoria hay algas que arrastran extrañas maravillas;
objetos que no nos pertenecen o que nunca flotaron.
La luz que recorre los abismos
ilumina años anteriores a mí, que no he vivido
pero recuerdo como ocurrido ayer.
Hacia mil novecientos
paseé por un parque que está en París -estaba-
envuelto por la bruma.
Mi traje tenía el mismo color de la niebla.
La luz era la misma de hoy
-setenta años después-
cuando la breve tormenta ha pasado
y a través de los cristales veo pasar la gente,
desde esta ventana tan cerca de las nubes.
En mis ojos parece llover
un tiempo que no es mío.

Birthdays

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Birthdays
Hilde Domin
1
She is dead

today is her birthday
that is the day
on which she
was disgorged
in that triangle
between her mother’s legs
she
who disgorged me
between her legs

she is ashes

2
I always think
of the birth of a deer
how it sets its legs on the ground

3
I’ve forced nobody into the light
only words
they get up
at once
and go

Original

Geburtstage
1
Sie ist tot

heute ist ihr Geburtstag
das ist der Tag
an dem sie
in diesem Dreieck
zwischen den Beinen ihrer Mutter
herausgewürgt hat
zwischen ihren Beinen
sie ist Asche

2
Immer denke ich
an die Geburt eines Rehs
wie es die Beine auf den Boden setzte

3
Ich habe niemand ins Licht gezwängt
nur Worte
Worte drehen nicht den Kopf
sie stehen auf
sofort
und gehn

Is it you?

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The Only One
Elizaveta Bagryana
Was it you yesterday?
Is it you now?
Will it be you with me tomorrow?

That face I see
against my closed eyelids,
that silhouette with a changing shadow
walking with me always,
that voice at the morning
Wakening me, making me sing,
that name I call you by –
are they yours? are they yours?

Is it you or is it
the image and name
of my thirst,
that waits trembling
like the thirst of the fruited earth
for a rainbearing cloud?

Is it you or is it
the image and name
of my grieving
for that one,
eternal,
faithful companion –
as the moon is to earth.

Is it you?

let it be hard and bloody

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If I’m to Live
Julio Cortázar

If I’m to live without you, let it be hard and bloody,
cold soup, broken shoes, or in the midst of opulence
let the dry branch of a cough jerk through me, barking
your twisted name, the foaming vowels, and let the bedsheets
stick to my fingers, and nothing give me peace.
I won’t learn to love you any better this way,
but abandoned by happiness
I’ll know how much you gave me just by sometimes being around.
I think I understand this, but I’m kidding myself:
there’ll need to be frost on the lintel
so the one taking shelter in the vestibule feels
the light in the dining room, the milky tablecloths, and the smell
of bread passing its brown hand through the crack.

As far apart from you
as one eye from the other,
out of this affliction I’ve taken on
will be born the gaze that deserves you at last.

Original

Si he de vivir sin ti, que sea duro y cruento,
la sopa fría, los zapatos rotos,
o que en mitad de la opulencia se alce la rama seca de la tos,
ladrándome tu nombre deformado, las vocales de espuma,
y en los dedos se me peguen las sábanas, y nada me dé paz.

No aprenderé por eso a quererte mejor,
pero desalojado de la felicidad
sabré cuánta me dabas
con solamente a veces estar cerca.

Esto creo entenderlo, pero me engaño:
hará falta la escarcha del dintel
para que el guarecido en el portal
comprendala luz del comedor,
los manteles de leche,
y el aroma del pan
que pasa su morena mano por la hendija.

Tan lejos ya de ti como un ojo del otro,
de esta asumida adversidad nacerá la mirada
que por fin te merezca.

o, my arctic eyelid

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The Tear
-Marin Sorescu
I weep and weep a tear
Which will not fall
No matter how much I weep.

Its pang in me
Is like the birth of an icicle.

Colder and colder, the earth
Curves on my eyelid,
The northern ice-cap keeps rising.

O, my arctic eyelid.

Original

Lacrima
Tot plâng o lacrimă
Care nu vrea să pice,
Oricâtă opintire.

Mă doare
Ca o naştere de ţurţur.

Pământul se răceşte
Pe pleoapa mea,
Creşte calota nordică.

Ah, pleoapa mea nordică.