Friday, October 08, 2010

The Circling of Quick Bohemians

Photo by Carl Bernard Schwartz

—Carl Bernard Schwartz, Sacramento

Out in the barn rests a step ladder
folded and leaning, with the latent
energy of a sensei sitting with
eyelids drooping down, legs
casually crossed, fingers merged
together calmly, and purposefully
meditating about all the powers
over which he has and doesn’t
have control.

Ready at a moment’s notice to
easily lift human hands higher
than grown men can reach on
their own, to transcend the rude
realities of ground and gravity,
and finally to elevate both the
body and the spirit,

Now that you are past that
hardest first step, cleaning
those rain gutters should be
a breeze.


—Betti Alver
Yesterday in drizzling rain
on the road,
depression came
with its scissors open.

He put unhappy shirts
around the necks 
of children,
and stitched black markings
on the lives
of the others.

Around the red faces
the tailor called sorrow
let a cloth with death silk
in it
and mingled white basting thread
in their hair.


—Betti Alver

On the ground are my sketches of the contours
   of the restless beast.
My eyes glare like a drunk at the waving colors
   of its mane.
I mix the paints. Out of this cage
I won't get a single drawing.

If I am lucky enough to slip loose from its claws
I will think of it as an understanding friend,
yet never will be saved from the majestic brute
I drew myself.


—Betti Alver

Don't suppose that the weightless phantom
will disappear.
It is lurking in the other world like a huge angel
or beast,
waiting to return.

Passion floats away. Bile is vaporized
in a defenseless larva that is bleaching the soil.
We long.
But this is only an instant
in the circling of quick Bohemians.

Behind the circling planets the kingdom of giants
floats lucidly,
but in the legend
of the inquisitive child of man,
the Titans are back on earth, in prison.

If the earth blows up, they won't come here again,
exiled from heaven.

Yet some blazing hand will remake the chaos
of earth, people, and death.


—Betti Alver

Today I saw a place no one has seen:
The Heaven of the damned.
No one—proud or worried—goes
unharassed by it.
It keeps going endlessly. No one
escapes. No drought
can kill the coagulated petals
of its flowers.
Its horror
is that what we did or longed
to do
is perfect there.
On its seas of glass no storm
ever ages,
no pestilence rots its vineyards.
Only the eternal, fixed form
is open
to our glance, everywhere.
My iron soul sobs and finds the gold
of Heaven.
Now, with no pride or worry,
it wants to shiver with the passion
of the earth
and feel its wings of weakness.


Today's LittleNip:

Originality is unexplored territory. You get there by carrying a canoe—you can't take a taxi.

—Alan Alda



(Betti Alver's poems were translated from the Estonian by Willis Barnstone and Felix Oinas.)

—Photo by Carl Bernard Schwartz