Tuesday, December 8, 2015

by Yang Wan-li (translated by Jonathan Chaves)

I don't feel like reading another book,
and I'm tired of poetry--that's not what I want to do.
But my mind is restless, unsettled--
I'll try counting raindrop stains on the oilcloth window.

I finish chanting my new poems and fall asleep--
I am a butterfly journeying to the eight corners of the uiverse.
Outside the boat, waves crash like thunder,
but it is silent in the world of sleep.

Friday, December 4, 2015

"I'm wealthy..."
by Bashō

I'm wealthy--
going into the new year
with 20 pounds of old rice

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

by C.P. Cavafy (translated by Keeley & Sherrard)

What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

      The barbarians are due here today.

Why isn’t anything going on in the senate?
Why are the senators sitting there without legislating?

      Because the barbarians are coming today.
      What’s the point of senators making laws now?
      Once the barbarians are here, they’ll do the legislating.

Why did our emperor get up so early,
and why is he sitting enthroned at the city’s main gate,
in state, wearing the crown?

      Because the barbarians are coming today
      and the emperor’s waiting to receive their leader.
      He’s even got a scroll to give him,
      loaded with titles, with imposing names.

Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
Why are they carrying elegant canes
beautifully worked in silver and gold?

      Because the barbarians are coming today
      and things like that dazzle the barbarians.

Why don’t our distinguished orators turn up as usual
to make their speeches, say what they have to say?

      Because the barbarians are coming today
      and they’re bored by rhetoric and public speaking.

Why this sudden bewilderment, this confusion?
(How serious people’s faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home lost in thought?

      Because night has fallen and the barbarians haven't come.
      And some of our men just in from the border say
      there are no barbarians any longer.

Now what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
Those people were a kind of solution.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

by Ruth Dallas

You ask me
     What I am saying
     In my poems.
What am I saying?
     That everything
     is falling from us,
     We, too, are falling;

And so this day, this
     Hour, with the sun shining
     in its customary fashion
     And the wind blowing the trees,
     You and I,
     Sitting behind windows
     Discussing poems,
This moment, every moment, falls,
     Is falling.

More precious
Than any fiery diamond
Is the flowering human heart,
     Opening like a poppyhead
     And like a poppy falling.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Night. A streetlight, a drugstore,
A street. A vacuous shadowy light.
Live five, ten, fifteen years more --
Nothing will change.  There's no way out.

Die, you only start all over
And it's all the same as before:
Night, ice in the dark gutter,
The street, the street light, the store.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Every Day
by Ingeborg Bachmann

War is no longer declared,
merely perpetuated. The outrageous
has become commonplace. The hero
stays far from battle. The weakling
is transferred to the firing zone.
Patience is the uniform of the day,
the order of merit a wretched star
of hope stuck to the heart.

It will be awarded
when the action has ceased,
when the drumfire dies down,
when the enemy has receded from view
and the shadow of eternal amazement 
enshrouds the sky.

It will be awarded 
for deserting the flags,
for bravery in the face of a friend,
for the betrayal of ignoble secrets
and the disregard of every command.

Monday, July 13, 2015

by Pablo Neruda

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

by Nissim Ezekiel

I met a man once
who had wasted half his life,

partly in exile from himself,
partly in a prison of his own making.

An energetic man, an active man.
I liked his spirit
and saw no hope for him.

Yet, he had the common touch;
he could, for instance, work with his hands.

To others, all attentive.
To his own needs, indifferent.

A tireless social human being,
destined always
to know defeat
like a twin-brother.

I saw him cheerful
in the universal darkness
as I stood grimly
in my little light.
by R. Meenakshi (translated by Martha Ann Selby)

Red cassia flowers
are a forest fire,
or so they say.
It's an April event
called a summer fire.
Anarchy in green.
An explosion of buds.
Fire in the snow.

On the head of Lord Shiva
of the snow mountains
there are red matted locks,
          gleaming cassia flowers,
          and the Ganga.

In his red hand,
          a small drum,
          a deer.

And the snake at his throat.
That snake
won't strike the deer.
The fire in his hand
won't burn the Ganga.

But in our street
even flies
will swarm to hot flowers.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

by Wang Chiu-ssu (1461-1551) (translated by Jonathan Chaves)

This crazy man has escaped the world,
with his messy hair and bare feet!
His body sleeps among the clouds of Cold Mountain,
his mind is like the moon in an autumn pond!
He enjoys the company of the monk Feng-kan;
sometimes he visits the Cowrie Palace.
He looks up to heaven, and laughs out loud:
an ocean bird crying in the cool shade!
Flourishing his brush, he inscribes mountainsides:
dragons and snakes writhe in the lofty heights!
Handed down for thousands of years,
his fame will never die out.

Floating, floating, the river waters,
naturally forming patterns in the wind,
Beautiful, the jade of Ching Mountain:
carve it, cut it, and it loses its true nature.
Men of talent, striving for fame,
write too much poetry, and damage their souls!
They are like the parrot:
he is able to talk, but he just is not a man!
Where can we find a real recluse
who locks his door to keep out all the dust?

Saturday, January 31, 2015

I have stolen a man
but never a thing of value
I roll up the bamboo blind

-- Suzuki Masajo
a great big cat
flooped out asleep
on a round paper fan

-- Issa

Monday, January 26, 2015

"now the trip is over..."
by Mayuzumi Madoka

now the trip is over --
my summer holidays
start their B-side

Monday, January 12, 2015

In Praise Of Feeling Bad About Yourself
by Wislawa Szymborska

The buzzard never says it is to blame.
The panther wouldn't know what scruples mean.
When the piranha strikes, it feels no shame.
If snakes had hands, they'd claim their hands were clean.

A jackal doesn't understand remorse.
Lions and lice don't waver in their course.
Why should they, when they know they're right?

Though hearts of killer whales may weigh a ton,
in every other way they're light.

On this third planet of the sun
among the signs of bestiality
a clear conscience is Number One.