Saturday, July 4, 2015

I Am Your Waiter Tonight And My Name Is Dmitri

I Am Your Waiter Tonight And My Name Is Dmitri
Is, more or less, the title of a poem by John Ashbery and has
No investment in the fact that you can get an adolescent
Of the human species to do almost anything (and when adolescence
In the human species ends is what The Fat Man in The Maltese Falcon
Calls, “a nice question, sir, a very nice question indeed”)
Which is why they are tromping down a road in Fallujah
In combat gear and a hundred and fifteen degrees of heat
This morning and why a young woman is strapping
Twenty pounds of explosives to her mortal body in Jerusalem.
Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori. Have I mentioned
That the other law of human nature is that human beings
Will do anything they see someone else do and someone
Will do almost anything? There is probably a waiter
In this country so clueless he wears a T-shirt in the gym
That says Da Meat Tree. Not our protagonist. American amnesia
Is such that he may very well be the great-grandson
Of the elder Karamazov brother who fled to the Middle West
With his girl friend Grushenka—he never killed his father,
It isn’t true that he killed his father—but his religion
Was that woman’s honey-colored head, an ideal tangible
Enough to die for, and he lived for it: in Buffalo,
New York, or Sandusky, Ohio. He never learned much English,
But he slept beside her in the night until she was an old woman
Who still knew her way to the Russian pharmacist
In a Chicago suburb where she could buy sachets of the herbs
Of the Russian summer that her coarse white nightgown
Smelled of as he fell asleep, though he smoked Turkish cigarettes
And could hardly smell. Grushenka got two boys out of her body,
One was born in 1894, the other in 1896,
The elder having died in the mud at the Battle of the Somme
From a piece of shrapnel manufactured by Alfred Nobel.
Metal traveling at that speed works amazing transformations
On the tissues of the human intestine; the other son worked
construction
The year his mother died. If they could have, they would have,
If not filled, half-filled her coffin with the petals
Of buckwheat flowers from which Crimean bees made the honey
Bought in the honey market in St. Petersburg (not far
From the place where Raskolnikov, himself an adolescent male,
Couldn’t kill the old moneylender without killing her saintly sister,
But killed her nevertheless in a fit of guilt and reasoning
Which went something like this: since the world
Evidently consists in the ravenous pursuit of wealth
And power and in the exploitation and prostitution
Of women, except the wholly self-sacrificing ones
Who make you crazy with guilt, and since I am going
To be the world, I might as well take an axe to the head
Of this woman who symbolizes both usury and the guilt
The virtue and suffering of women induces in men,
And be done with it). I frankly admit the syntax
Of that sentence, like the intestines slithering from the hands
Of the startled boys clutching their belly wounds
At the Somme, has escaped my grip. I step over it
Gingerly. Where were we? Not far from the honey market,
Which is not far from the hay market. It is important
To remember that the teeming cities of the nineteenth century
Were site central for horsewhipping. Humans had domesticated
The race of horses five thousand years before, harnessed them,
Trained them, whipped them mercilessly for recalcitrance
In Vienna, Prague, Naples, London, and Chicago, according
To the novels of the period which may have been noticing this
For the first time or registering an actual statistical increase
In either human brutality or the insurrectionary impulse
In horses, which were fed hay, so there ways, of course
In every European city a hay market like the one in which
Raskolnikov kissed the earth from a longing for salvation.
Grushenka, though Dostoevsky made her, probably did not
Have much use for novels of ideas. Her younger son,
A master carpenter, eventually took a degree in engineering
From Bucknell University. He married an Irish girl
From Vermont who was descended from the gardener
Of Emily Dickinson, but that’s another story. Their son
In Iwo Jima died. Gangrene. But he left behind, curled
In the body of the daughter of a Russian-Jewish cigar maker
From Minsk, the fetal curl of a being who became the lead dancer
In the Cleveland Ballet, radiant Tanya, who turned in
A bad knee sometime early 1971, just after her brother ate it
In Cao Dai Dien, for marriage and motherhood, which brings us
To our waiter, Dmitri, who, you will have noticed, is not in Bagdad.
He doesn’t even want to be an actor. He has been offered
Roles in several major motion pictures and refused them
Because he is, in fact, under contract to John Ashbery
Who is a sane and humane man and has no intention
Of releasing him from the poem. You can get killed out there.
He is allowed to go home for his mother’s birthday and she
Has described to him on the phone—a cell phone, he’s
Walking down Christopher Street with such an easy bearing
He could be St. Christopher bearing innocence across a river—
Having come across a lock, the delicate curl of a honey-
Colored lock of his great-grandmother’s Crimean-
Honey-bee-pollen. Russian-spring-wildflower-sachet-
Scented hair in the attic, where it released for her
In the July heat and rafter midsummer dark the memory
Of an odor like life itself carried to her on the wind.
Here is your sea bass with a light lemon and caper sauce.
Here is your dish of raspberries and chocolate; notice
Their subtle transfiguration of the colors of excrement and blood;
And here are the flecks of crystallized lavender that stipple it.

--- Robert Hass

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Night After Night

Only a virgin can enter by a closed door
her own bedroom
in which everything that is called assurance
has long smelt of masturbation's sheets,
of violence, of spittle in a well or wreath of resin
flung voluntarily on the tower of man.
If he is a poet, all will be ruined,
if a murderer, then nakedness will reign here
and there will be an applauder,
an applauder hired from the marble quarries of Aeschylus.

---Vladimír Holan

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Who are they and who are we?

Who are they and who are we?
They are the princes and the Sultans
They are the ones with wealth and power
And we are the impoverished and deprived
Use your mind, guess…
Guess who is governing whom?
Who are they and who are we?
We are the constructing, we are the workers
We are Al-Sunna, We are Al-Fard
We are the people both height and breadth
From our health, the land raises
And by our sweat, the meadows turn green
Use your mind, guess…
Guess who serves whom?
Who are they and who are we?
They are the princes and the Sultans
They are the mansions and the cars
And the selected women
Consumerist animals
Their job is only to stuff their guts
Use your mind, guess…
Guess who is eating whom?
Who are they and who are we?
We are the war, its stones and fire
We are the army liberating the land
We are the martyrs
Defeated or successful
Use your mind, guess…
Guess who is killing whom?
Who are they and who are we?
They are the princes and the Sultans
They are mere images behind the music
They are the men of politics
Naturally, with blank brains
But with colorful decorative images
Use your mind, guess…
Guess who is betraying whom?
Who are they and who are we?
They are the princes and the Sultans
They wear the latest fashions
But we live seven in a single room
They eat beef and chicken
And we eat nothing but beans
They walk around in private planes
We get crammed in buses
Their lives are nice and flowery
They’re one specie; we are another
Use your mind, guess…
Guess who will defeat whom?

---Ahmed Fouad Negm, trans. Walaa Quisay

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

--- Derek Walcott

Friday, May 1, 2015

वह बुड्ढा

खड़ा द्वार पर, लाठी टेके,
वह जीवन का बूढ़ा पंजर,
चिमटी उसकी सिकुड़ी चमड़ी
हिलते हड्डी के ढाँचे पर।
उभरी ढीली नसें जाल सी
सूखी ठठरी से हैं लिपटीं,
पतझर में ठूँठे तरु से ज्यों
सूनी अमरबेल हो चिपटी।

उसका लंबा डील डौल है,
हट्टी कट्टी काठी चौड़ी,
इस खँडहर में बिजली सी
उन्मत्त जवानी होगी दौड़ी!
बैठी छाती की हड्डी अब,
झुकी रीढ़ कमटा सी टेढ़ी,
पिचका पेट, गढ़े कंधों पर,
फटी बिबाई से हैं एड़ी।

बैठे, टेक धरती पर माथा,
वह सलाम करता है झुककर,
उस धरती से पाँव उठा लेने को
जी करता है क्षण भर!
घुटनों से मुड़ उसकी लंबी
टाँगें जाँघें सटी परस्पर,
झुका बीच में शीश, झुर्रियों का
झाँझर मुख निकला बाहर।

हाथ जोड़, चौड़े पंजों की
गुँथी अँगुलियों को कर सन्मुख,
मौन त्रस्त चितवन से,
कातर वाणी से वह कहता निज दुख।
गर्मी के दिन, धरे उपरनी सिर पर,
लुंगी से ढाँपे तन,--
नंगी देह भरी बालों से,--
वन मानुस सा लगता वह जन।

भूखा है: पैसे पा, कुछ गुनमुना,
खड़ा हो, जाता वह घर,
पिछले पैरों के बल उठ
जैसे कोई चल रहा जानवर!
काली नारकीय छाया निज
छोड़ गया वह मेरे भीतर,
पैशाचिक सा कुछ: दुःखों से
मनुज गया शायद उसमें मर!

--- सुमित्रानंदन पंत

Friday, April 24, 2015

Wretched exiles, rare survivors

Wretched exiles, rare survivors

Of a brave and martyr race,

Children of a captive mother,

Heroes with no resting place,

Far from home in squalid hovels,

Sick and pale from lack of sleep,

See them drink to drown their sorrows,

Hear them sing and singing, weep!



Drink… For drunkenness erases

Former troubles, present woes,

Bitter memories effaces,

Gives a broken heart repose.

Heads grow heavier, a mother’s

Look of anguish disappears

And a son’s appeal is smothered,

For the mind no longer hears.


Winter winds intone a descant,

Terrifyingly they swirl,

Whirl and lift the song rebellious,

Carry it across the world.

Fouler still the sky is seething,

Chillier the frowning night,

Ever louder the Armenians

Sing, the storm attains its height…



Thus they drink and sink… Survivors

Of a brave and martyr race,

Children of a captive mother,

Heroes with no resting place.

Far from home, barefoot and ragged,

In slum squalor shorn of sleep,

See them drink to ease the agony,

Hear them sing and, singing, weep!

--- P. Yavorov (1900)

Saturday, April 18, 2015

What’s Wrong With Our President?

I never fret, and will always say
A word, for which, I am responsible
That the president is a compassionate man
Constantly, busy working for his people
Busy, gathering their money
Outside, in Switzerland, saving it for us
In secret bank accounts
Poor guy, looking out for our future
Can’t you see his kindly heart?
In faith and good conscience
He only starves you; so you’d lose the weight
O what a people! In need of a diet
O the ignorance! You talk of “unemployment”
And how conditions have become dysfunctional
The man just wants to see you rested
Since when was rest such a burden???
And this talk of the resorts
Why do they call them political prisons??
Why do you have to be so suspicious?
He just wants you to have some fun
With regards to “The Chair”
It is without a doubt
All our fault!!
Couldn’t we buy him a Teflon Chair?
I swear, you mistreated the poor man
He wasted his life away, and for what?
Even your food, he eats it for you!
Devouring all that’s in his way
After all this, what’s wrong with our president?

--- Ahmed Fouad Negm; trans. Walaa Quisay

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

लम्हे-लम्हे की सियासत पे नज़र रखते हैं

लम्हे-लम्हे की सियासत पे नज़र रखते हैं
हमसे दीवाने भी दुनिया की ख़बर रखते हैं

इतने नादां भी नहीं हम कि भटक कर रह जाएँ
कोई मंज़िल न सही, राहगुज़र रखते हैं

रात ही रात है, बाहर कोई झाँके तो सही
यूँ तो आँखों में सभी ख़्वाब-ए-सहर रखते हैं

मार ही डाले जो बेमौत ये दुनिया वो है,
हम जो जिन्दा हैं तो जीने का हुनर रखते हैं!

हम से इस दरजा तग़ाफुल भी न बरतो साहब
हम भी कुछ अपनी दुआओं में असर रखते हैं

---जांनिसार अख्तर

Friday, April 3, 2015

Lord’s Prayer

Our Father which art in heaven
Full of all manner of problems
With a wrinkled brow
(As if you were a common everyday man)
Think no more of us.
We understand that you suffer
Because you can’t put everything in order.
We know the Demon will not leave you alone
Tearing down everything you build.
He laughs at you
But we weep with you:
Don’t pay any attention to his devilish laughter.
Our Father who art where thou art
Surrounded by unfaithful Angels
Sincerely don’t suffer any more for us
You must take into account
That the gods are not infallible
And that we have come to forgive everything.

--- Nicanor Parra [translated from the Spanish by Miller Williams]

Saturday, March 28, 2015

And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
Dead man naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
Under the windings of the sea
They lying long shall not die windily;
Twisting on racks when sinews give way,
Strapped to a wheel, yet they shall not break;
Faith in their hands shall snap in two,
And the unicorn evils run them through;
Split all ends up they shan't crack;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
No more may gulls cry at their ears
Or waves break loud on the seashores;
Where blew a flower may a flower no more
Lift its head to the blows of the rain;
Though they be mad and dead as nails,
Heads of the characters hammer through daisies;
Break in the sun till the sun breaks down,
And death shall have no dominion.

---Dylan Thomas

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