Feeling the urge my mother
made for the privy at the far end of the courtyard
and strained strained with all her might
plagued by her painful constipation.
"It's like giving birth," she kept saying to herself
and strained strained harder
broad forehead dripping sweat
bluegreen eyes full of tears
veins swollen on the white neck
untouched by real or imitation jewels.
The kerchief slipped off
showing her dark hair;
with both hands she held onto the swollen belly with me inside.
To readjust her head-covering
like a good Orthodox Jew she let go of her belly
and kept straining straining.
The next thing was a cry a long-drawn-out wail:
my head almost grazed the pit full of excrement.
A busy neighbor woman
ran to her aid and that's how I was born.
According to the gypsies a lucky future was in store for me;
for my father I was another mouth to feed
for my mother an unavoidable calamity
that befalls poor religious couples who make love
as a gesture of peace after months of quarrels
for my five not seven brothers
(luckily two died young)
a real toy that squealed
sucked at the wrinkled nipples
clung to the skin of mama's empty breasts
a mother undernourished like the mothers
of Asia Africa India South
or North America of yesterday today and tomorrow . . .
(trans. from the Hungarian by Ruth Feldman and Brian Swann)
FLOWER ENSNARER OF PSALMS
There is a flower blossoming out of season
an ace of spades:
its hue a blade, its piercing scent
of nemesis impeding.
A thalamus, overflowing its border,
moans in rancor or in love,
swollen and brightly colored
like the hilt of an ace of spades.
One night a prophet
dreamt of it
saw it next morning:
it moaned aloud
close to his doorstep,
it was rooted in a heap of crumbling earth
like the rump of a running colt.
Few are given to see
the flower ensnarer of psalms:
blossoming when the season of flowers
is remote and forgotten
and only the holiest
hear it moan.
(trans. from the Italian by I.L. Salomon)
I AM TOO NEAR
I am too near to be dreamt of by him.
I do not fly over him, do not escape from him
under the roots of a tree. I am too near.
Not in my voice sings the fish in the net,
not from my finger rolls the ring.
I am too near. A big house is on fire
without me, calling for help. Too near
for a bell dangling from my hair to chime.
Too near to enter as a guest
before whom walls glide apart by themselves.
Never again will I die so lightly,
so much beyond my flesh, so inadvertently
as once in his dream. Too near.
I taste the sound. I see the glittering husk of this word
as I lie immobile in his embrace. He sleeps,
more accessible now to her, seen but once,
a cashier of a wandering circus with one lion,
than to me, who am at his side.
For her now in him a valley grows,
rusty-leaved, closed by a snowy mountain
in the dark blue air. I am too near
to fall to him from the sky. My scream
could wake him up. Poor thing
I am, limited to my shape,
I who was a birch, who was a lizard,
who would come out of my cocoons
shimmering the colors of my skins. Who possessed
the grace of disappearing from astonished eyes,
which is a wealth of wealths. I am near,
too near for him to dream of me.
I slide my arm from under the sleeper's head
and it is numb, full of swarming pins,
on the tip of each, waiting to be counted,
the fallen angels sit.
(trans. from the Polish by Czeslaw Milosz)
My husband is the same man
who first pierced me.
We knew long evenings wet with the moon.
Wind from the hills of Vindhya
was heavy with fresh jasmine.
I am the same woman
yet I long for the stream and its reeds
which knew us happy. Which knew us
in endless evenings of making love.
—Sila (between 700 and 1050 A.D., trans. from the Sanskrit by Willis Barnstone)
lifted from the earth,
higher than my arms reach,
you have mounted,
higher than my arms reach,
you front us with great mass;
no flower ever opened
so staunch a white leaf,
no flower ever parted silver
from such rare silver;
O, white pear,
thick on the branch
bring summer and ripe fruits
in their purple hearts.
Today is International Women's Day: see www.internationalwomensday.com/about.asp or one of the many other Web sites for info.
NorCal is full of woman poets, of course, and one of these is Connie Post, who writes to tell us of two happenings:
•••her new book of poetry, And When the Sun Drops, about having a severely impaired autustic child. Her book ships June 8 and can be pre-ordered from Finishing Line Press at www.finishinglinepress.com/product_info.php?cPath=4&products_id=704
•••March 23-25: workshop in Inverness to be given by psychologist Paul Watsky, entitled "The Challenges and Rewards of Practicing Your Creative Art". This weekend will explore issues of career identity, negative self-talk, isolation, motivation—all those difficult hurdles that impair a writer. Limited to 12 participants, the cost is $325 ($290 if postmarked before March 15), which includes lectures, written exercises, large and small group discussions, and the formation of an individual action plan. For info and to register, call 415-346-0253. Paul Watsky is a licensed clinical psychologist with over thirty years’ experience, an analyst member of the CG Jung Institute of San Francisco, and a widely published poet, whose debut collection, Telling The Difference (Fisher King Press) was published in 2010. Before becoming a psychologist he taught English literature full time as an Assistant Professor at San Francisco State University, and has continued to teach and lecture through the public programs of the CG Jung Institute and various other organizations.
Come, holy tortoise shell,
my lyre, and become a poem.
In gold sandals
dawn like a thief
fell upon me.
Like a mountain whirlwind
punishing the oak trees,
love shattered my heart.
—Sappho (trans. from the Ancient Greek by Willis Barnstone)