Definitions

The Road to the Northern Light

It weeps tar from tender parts like frogskin. Thin, mobile

muscles squirm under your soles as it bears you across the

Hill Dyke on  a current of cool air, the bed of an invisible

river.  It has heath and tormentil, not dandelion but catsear.

It has a creep over a precipice; it has sorrel, parched and tiny.

It carries you above the white and lilac sea; it switchbacks,

and turn you before the sun like a sacrifice.

 

Jen Hadfield

(From Byssus)

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Each flower is a little night

Each flower is a little night

pretending to draw near

 

But where its scent rises

I cannot hope to enter

which is why it bothers me

so much and why I sit so long

before this closed door

 

Each colour, each incarnation

begins where the eyes stop

 

This world is merely the tip

of an unseen conflagration

 

Philippe Jacottet

Trans. Derek Mahon

The Gate

I had no idea that the gate I would step through
to finally enter this world
would be the space my brother’s body made. He was
a little taller than me: a young man
but grown, himself by then,
done at twenty-eight, having folded every sheet,
rinsed every glass he would ever rinse under the cold
and running water.
This is what you have been waiting for, he used to say to me.
And I’d say, What?
And he’d say, This—holding up my cheese and mustard sandwich.
And I’d say, What?
And he’d say, This, sort of looking around.
Marie Howe

Having a Coke with You

is even more fun than going to San Sebastian, Irún, Hendaye, Biarritz, Bayonne
or being sick to my stomach on the Travesera de Gracia in Barcelona
partly because in your orange shirt you look like a better happier St. Sebastian
partly because of my love for you, partly because of your love for yoghurt
partly because of the fluorescent orange tulips around the birches
partly because of the secrecy our smiles take on before people and statuary
it is hard to believe when I’m with you that there can be anything as still
as solemn as unpleasantly definitive as statuary when right in front of it
in the warm New York 4 o’clock light we are drifting back and forth
between each other like a tree breathing through its spectacles

and the portrait show seems to have no faces in it at all, just paint
you suddenly wonder why in the world anyone ever did them
I look
at you and I would rather look at you than all the portraits in the world
except possibly for the Polish Rider occasionally and anyway it’s in the Frick
which thank heavens you haven’t gone to yet so we can go together for the first time
and the fact that you move so beautifully more or less takes care of Futurism
just as at home I never think of the Nude Descending a Staircaseor
at a rehearsal a single drawing of Leonardo or Michelangelo that used to wow me
and what good does all the research of the Impressionists do them
when they never got the right person to stand near the tree when the sun sank
or for that matter Marino Marini when he didn’t pick the rider as carefully
as the horse
                               it seems they were all cheated of some marvelous experience
which is not going to go wasted on me which is why I’m telling you about it

 

Frank O’hara

They Were Burning Dead Leaves

They were burning dead leaves.  Must oozed with scent,

tar bubbled and blew.

The moonlight glow behind the thistle bent

like a torn rainbow.

 

The street was a forest, night slid into the heart

of deepest autumn.

A guilty music blew the house aprt

with its fife and drum.

 

To have this again, just this, just the once more:

I would sink below

autumnal earth and place my right hand in your

hand like a shadow.

 

Zsuzsa Rakovszky

 

The High Hills

The high hills have a bitterness

Now they are not known

and memory is poor enough consolation

For the soul hopeless gone.

Up in the air there beech tangles wildly into the wind –

That I can imagine

But the speed, the swiftness, walking into clarity,

Like last year’s bryony are gone.

 

Ivor Gurney (1954)

Possessions

Sand has the ants, clay ferny weeds for play

But what shall please the wind now the trees are away

War took on Witcombe steep?

It breathes there, and wonders at old  night roarings;

October time at all lights, and the new clearings

For memory are like to weep.

It was right for the beeches to stand over Witcombe reaches,

Until the wind roared and softened and died to sleep.

 

Ivor Gurney (1934)

To His Love

 

 

He’s gone, and all our plans

are useless indeed.

We’ll no more walk on Cotswold

Where the sheep feed

Quietly and take no heed.

 

His body that was so quick

Is not as you

Knew it, on Severn river

Under the blue

Driving our small boat through.

 

You would not know him now…

But still he died

Nobly, so cover him over

with violets of pride

Purple from Severn side.

 

Cover, cover him soon!

And with thick-set

Masses of memoried flowers –

Hide that red wet

Thing I must somehow forget.

Ivor Gurney

The Reproach

You have betrayed me, Eros.

You have sent me

my true love.

 

On a high hill you made

his clear gaze;

my heart was not

so hard as your arrow.

 

What is a poet

without dreams?

I lie awake; I feel

actual flesh upon me

meaning to silence me –

Outside, in the blackness

over the olive trees,

a few stars.

 

I think this is a bitter insult:

that I prefer to walk

the coiled paths of the garden

to walk beside the river

glittering with drops

of mercury. I like to lie

in the wet grass beside the river,

running away, Eros,

not openly, with other men,

but discreetly, coldly –

 

All my life

I have worshiped the wrong gods.

When I watch the trees

on the other side,

the arrow in my heart

is like one of them,

swaying and quivering.

 

Louise Gluck

It’s This Way

I stand in the advancing light,

my hands hungry, the world beautiful.

 

My eyes can’t get enough of the trees –

they’re so hopeful, so green.

 

A sunny road runs through the mulberries,

I’m at the window of the prison infirmary.

 

I can’t smell the medicines –

carnations must be blooming nearby.

 

It’s this way:

being captured is beside the point,

the point is not to surrender.

 

NÂZIM HIKMET

translated from the Turkish by Randy Blasing & Mutlu Konuk