Finding time for some beauty and peace.
I have wished you something
None of the others would:
Not the usual stuff
About being beautiful,
Or running off a spring
Of innocence and love —
They will all wish you that,
And should it prove possible,
Well, you’re a lucky girl.
But if it shouldn’t, then
May you be ordinary;
Have, like other women,
An average of talents:
Not ugly, not good-looking,
To pull you off your balance,
That, unworkable itself,
Stops all the rest from working.
In fact, may you be dull —
If that is what a skilled,
Catching of happiness is called.
Pass the tambourine, let me bash out praises
to the Lord God of movement, to Absolute
non-friction, flight, and the scary side:
death by avalanche, birth by failed contraception.
Of chicken tandoori and reggae, loud, from tenements,
commitment, driving fast and unswerving
friendship. Of tee-shirts on pulleys, giros and Bombay,
barmen, dreaming waitresses with many fake-gold
bangles. Of airports, impulse, and waking to uncertainty,
to strip-lights, motorways, or that pantheon –
the mountains. To overdrafts and grafting
and the slow pulse of wipers as you’re
creeping over Rannoch, while the God of moorland
walks abroad with his entourage of freezing fog,
his bodyguard of snow.
Of endless gloaming in the North, of Asiatic swelter,
to launderettes, anecdotes, passions and exhaustion,
Final Demands and dead men, the skeletal grip
of government. To misery and elation; mixed,
the sod and caprice of landlords.
To the way it fits, the way it is, the way it seems
to be: let me bash out praises – pass the tambourine
After the clash of elevator gates
And the long sinking, she emerges where,
A slight thing in the morning’s crosstown glare,
She looks up toward the window where he waits,
Then in a fleeting taxi joins the rest
Of the huge traffic bound forever west.
On such grand scale do lovers say good-bye—
Even this other pair whose high romance
Had only the duration of a dance,
And who, now taking leave with stricken eye,
See each in each a whole new life forgone.
For them, above the darkling clubhouse lawn,
Bright Perseids flash and crumble; while for these
Who part now on the dock, weighed down by grief
And baggage, yet with something like relief,
It takes three thousand miles of knitting seas
To cancel out their crossing, and unmake
The amorous rough and tumble of their wake.
We are denied, my love, their fine tristesse
And bittersweet regrets, and cannot share
The frequent vistas of their large despair,
Where love and all are swept to nothingness;
Still, there’s a certain scope in that long love
Which constant spirits are the keepers of,
And which, though taken to be tame and staid,
Is a wild sostenuto of the heart,
A passion joined to courtesy and art
Which has the quality of something made,
Like a good fiddle, like the rose’s scent,
Like a rose window or the firmament.
‘A faire felde ful of folke’ (Piers the Plowman)
This long, low, and flat landscape is where Oxford goes all Dutch,
down to the kitsch January skaters whistling along
with hands neatly folded behind their backs, and little
summer sails almost below the horizon among
the slow clouds in a huge sky, suffused with a muted light.
The flora and fauna here are in a pared-down palette
of greys, browns, and sludge green; the horses, waterbirds, meadow
all conspire with the soft floodplain scene. It’s a peopled place
of course: painted landscapes often need, somewhere, a red smudge.
And we trace our own filmy overlays: the black rainbow
bridge is really chalky pink here, zigzags capping
a wild and tangled world, reflected in a fisheye
distorting lens; the flashbacks that frame family picnics
on the small beaches, barefoot avoiding cowpats; walks
from the Perch to the Trout; a friend playing a farting
sousaphone, lyrically, to curious cows; and the birthday
when we drifted low in early morning mist, transparent
paper-thin wisps over river, grass, the silence broken
only by the balloon’s gasps. Secular, we didn’t ascend,
instead there was a long sigh as the land fell away.
I’m thinking about you. What else can I say?
The palm trees on the reverse
are a delusion; so is the pink sand.
What we have are the usual
fractured coke bottles and the smell
of backed-up drains, too sweet,
like a mango on the verge
of rot, which we have also.
The air clear sweat, mosquitoes
& their tracks; birds & elusive.
Time comes in waves here, a sickness, one
day after the other rolling on;
I move up, it’s called
awake, then down into the uneasy
nights but never
forward. The roosters crow
for hours before dawn, and a prodded
child howls & howls
on the pocked road to school.
In the hold with the baggage
there are two prisoners,
their heads shaved by bayonets, & ten crates
of queasy chicks. Each spring
there’s race of cripples, from the store
to the church. This is the sort of junk
I carry with me; and a clipping
about democracy from the local paper.
Outside the window
they’re building the damn hotel,
nail by nail, someone’s
crumbling dream. A universe that includes you
can’t be all bad, but
does it? At this distance
you’re a mirage, a glossy image
fixed in the posture
of the last time I saw you.
Turn you over, there’s the place
for the address. Wish you were
here. Love comes
in waves like the ocean, a sickness which goes on
& on, a hollow cave
in the head, filling & pounding, a kicked ear.
The world is too much with us; late and soon;
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. –Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.
And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness:
there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The first bridge on Constitution. At my feet
the shunting trains trace iron labyrinths.
Steam hisses up and up into the night
which becomes, at a stroke, the Night of the Last Judgment.
From the unseen horizon,
and from the very center of my being,
an infinite voice pronounced these things–
things, not words. This is my feeble translation,
time-bound, of what was a single limitless Word:
“Stars, bread, libraries of East and West,
playing cards, chessboards, galleries, skylights, cellars,
a human body to walk with on the earth,
fingernails, growing at nighttime and in death,
shadows for forgetting, mirrors which endlessly multiply,
falls in music, gentlest of all time’s shapes,
borders of Brazil, Uruguay, horses and morning,
a bronze weight, a copy of Grettir Saga,
algebra and fire, the charge at Junin in your blood,
days more crowded than Balzac, scent of the honeysuckle,
love, and the imminence of love, and intolerable remembering,
dreams like buried treasure, generous luck,
and memory itself, where a glance can make men dizzy–
all this was given to you and, with it,
the ancient nourishment of heroes–
treachery, defeat, humiliation.
In vain have oceans been squandered on you, in vain
the sun, wonderfully seen through Whitman’s eyes.
You have used up the years and they have used up you,
and still, and still, you have not written the poem.”
Jorge Luis Borges
–Translated by Alastair Reid
El primer puente de Constitución y a mis pies
Fragor de trenes que tejían laberintos de hierro.
Humo y silbatos escalaban la noche,
Que de golpe fue el juicio Universal. Desde el invisible horizonte
Y desde el centro de mi ser, una voz infinita
Dijo estas cosas (estas cosas, no estas palabras,
Que son mi pobre traducción temporal de una sola palabra):
—Estrellas, pan, bibliotecas orientales y occidentales,
Naipes, tableros de ajedrez, galerías, claraboyas y sótanos,
Un cuerpo humano para andar por la tierra,
Uñas que crecen en la noche, en la muerte,
Sombra que olvida, atareados espejos que multiplican,
Declives de la música, la más dócil de las formas del tiempo,
Fronteras del Brasil y del Uruguay, caballos y mañanas,
Una pesa de bronce y un ejemplar de la Saga de Grettir,
Álgebra y fuego, la carga de Junín en tu sangre,
Días más populosos que Balzac, el olor de la madreselva,
Amor y víspera de amor y recuerdos intolerables,
El sueño como un tesoro enterrado, el dadivoso azar
Y la memoria, que el hombre no mira sin vértigo,
Todo eso te fue dado, y también
El antiguo alimento de los héroes:
La falsía, la derrota, la humillación.
En vano te hemos prodigado el océano,
En vano el sol, que vieron los maravillados ojos de Whitman;
Has gastado los años y te han gastado,
Y todavía no has escrito el poema.
I’m ten years away from the corner you laugh on
with your pals, Maggie McGeeney and Jean Duff.
The three of you bend from the waist, holding
each other, or your knees, and shriek at the pavement.
Your polka-dot dress blows round your legs. Marilyn.
I’m not here yet. The thought of me doesn’t occur
in the ballroom with the thousand eyes, the fizzy, movie tomorrows
the right walk home could bring. I knew you would dance
like that. Before you were mine, your Ma stands at the close
with a hiding for the late one. You reckon it’s worth it.
The decade ahead of my loud, possessive yell was the best one, eh?
I remember my hands in those high-heeled red shoes, relics,
and now your ghost clatters toward me over George Square
till I see you, clear as scent, under the tree,
with its lights, and whose small bites on your neck, sweetheart?
Cha cha cha! You’d teach me the steps on the way home from Mass,
stamping stars from the wrong pavement. Even then
I wanted the bold girl winking in Portobello, somewhere
in Scotland, before I was born. That glamorous love lasts
where you sparkle and waltz and laugh before you were mine.
Carol Ann Duffy