To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Toward a Poetry & Poetics of the Americas (5): Víctor Terán, Six Poems from “The Spines of Love”

Translation from Isthmus Zapotec by David Shook 


The north wind whips through,
in the streets papers and leaves
are chased with resentment.
Houses moan,
dogs curl into balls.
There is something in the afternoon’s finger,
a catfish spine,
a rusty nail. 

Someone unthinkingly
smoked cigarettes in heaven,
left it overcast, listless.
Here, at ground level, no one could
take their shadow for a walk,
sheltered in their houses, people
are surprised to discover their misery. 

Someone didn’t show,
their host was insulted.
Today the world
agreed to open her thighs,
suddenly the village comprehends

Who can divine
why I meditate on this afternoon?
Why is it birthed in me
to knife the heart
of who uncovered the mouth
of the now whipping wind,
to jam corncobs in the nose
of the ghost that pants outside? 

The trees roar with laughter,
they split their sides,
they celebrate
that you haven’t arrived at your appointment. 

Now bring me
the birds
that you find in the trees,
so I can tell them
if the devil’s eyelashes are curled.


From the palm of my hand
the afternoon eats its meal:
lean horse abandoned for being old,
nagging horse, dirty horse. 

There is a trail
behind the hill
you see there.
In the open sky
three white tissues distance themselves,
saying goodbye.
Nostalgia has hung
its hammock in my heart
and my grudges
hastily sharpen their weapons. 

Here the earth is broken,
land of acacias and stones.
In the sky smoke and clouds are visible,
clouds, smoke, and grief. 

The footpath that zigzags
behind that slope
leads to your house.
The long cloud that extends across the horizon—
maybe you are looking at it,
maybe you look at it now.
My love for you is not the size of that cloud,
not that size.


You will not manage to hurt me.
You will not break my existence.
The cathedral of light that you left me is immense,
warm and joyful. 

You scented my existence for a long time.
You introduced me to paradise
with your warm and naked body. 

My hands still shake at the memory
of your fleshy ass.
My lips still tremble
when I remember the taste of your nipples. 

With these memories, how can I feel hurt?
Though you left me, how can I abhor you?
You left me with an ocean of dazzling fish,
an ocean of incessant fish.


I know your body,
entirely I know you.
If you were a city
I could give perfect directions
to wherever they asked me.
I like all of your body,
I like to see you talk, laugh,
move your head. Your two well-rounded hills
are the honey of bees, where my lips celebrate to the gods.
I would have liked to continue storming your forest,
lodgings made deliberately for a nice death.
You were created with love,
your body is worthy of praise. What an honor to have lived,
to have been. I am no longer bothered
when men turn to look at you,
I am no longer impatient when you undress.
You are a stag in the air. A raft of flowers
that snakes across the river by morning. 

There is no part of your body that I do not know, there is no
part that I do not like. I want to keep being
the light stunned at the look of your white
roundness of flesh. I want to keep
       in the beautiful city
                             that you are.

                              For Víctor Yodo 

did you kidnap
a man whose word is as true
as a thorn,
who yearns for
my flowered Juchitan? 

what grievance did he commit against you?
did he stomp
on your family’s necks?
did he sic his dogs on
flowered dreams? 

tell me,
don’t bite the words
that come
to your tongues. 

open your mouths.


Moon. Sweet white moon
like the gleam in the eye of an unlucky hunter
who chases a rabbit across the mountain. 

Emptied and moldy cachimbo shell moon.
Pregnant belly moon.
Delirious moon
like a colander that dreams of overflowing with water. 

Deformed egg moon.
Ripe rubber-fruit moon:
give me a slice of your joy
to refresh life in my town.
Ceremonial huipil moon
that adorns the Zapotec’s head:
give me the fireflies that live in your heart
to light my people’s paths.
Intact moon, full moon.
Moon happy to die laughing
slapping its ass. 

[note.  A significant array of stateless languages & cultures, while positioned outside the reach of dominant nation-states, has begun more recently to create new literatures as vehicles for those outsidered by the ruling powers.  In Latin America alone, writers in indigenous or subaltern languages & creoles have appeared from multiple directions – Mapuche, Mayan, Mazatec, Nahutal, Quechua, Zapotec, among others.  Like others so engaged, & perhaps more than most, Víctor Terán begins from a base in the Zapotec spoken & now written on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and in Oaxaca, & pushes outward to merge & become a part of the poetry & literature of the world at large.  Writes David Shook as Terán’s translator: “Víctor Terán may live on a small isthmus in Southern Mexico, he may write in a language with a mere 100,000 speakers and even fewer readers, but he is a world poet. His most recent personal project attests to that: an anthology of forty poems by forty world poets, from Basho to Cavafy to Hikmet, Shakespeare to Whitman to Eliot, all translated for the first time into Isthmus Zapotec by Terán himself, who uses Spanish cribs.  The Spines of Love, Terán's first selected poems in any language, and the first ever trilingual Isthmus Zapotec-Spanish-English book that I know of, proves that he belongs in those esteemed poets' company.”  The importance of these poetries for a new poetry & poetics of the Americas is by now irreversible … or should be.  Terán’s forthcoming publication by Restless Books in Brooklyn is but another step in that direction.  (J.R.)]

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Michael Davidson: Four Poems from Bleed Through, plus one other


            Suddenly all is / loathing (John Ashbery) 

and there’s plenty to be unhappy about
if I can just get the reception area festooned
in time for their arrival, paper cups
and those little plastic whatsits so that,
gorged on meaning,
they troop through the glass doors
seeking interpretation, first floor
mildly historical, second floor
desire matrix, parents accompany
their indiscretions straight
to the penthouse, and someone
hands them a phone, “turtles”
they’re called, heads bobbing
as though they had a choice
to be party favors, deep structure
on your left, follow the clicking
to a white cube, we only work
part time, the other part
we illustrate profound malaise,
I like these cream filled versions
so unlike what we get at home,
having said which
we re-wind the tape,
slip it through a slot marked “aha”
and take the El home,
the smell you smell afar
is something boiling over. 


When the rotor hums for a long time
among the gawkers
I fall into a ghost trance
and become a white man again,
nothing must penetrate this history
because nothing can be distinguished
from itself, down
on Midway Plaisance, amidst the lights,
the dark beauties offer darkness, the eyes
go there while the will stands still,
in the Hall of Dynamos
the dead warriors will return
in a language no one remembers,
they have a stall in the Pavilion of Silence,
the ears go there
searching for treaties, tales of the elders,
from up here
the land is all parcels
like one of the new paintings,
nothing penetrates this illusion, prose
covers the brown earth
and in the hum of its scroll
can be heard a crowd of the visitors
clamoring at the entrance
with their tickets
to the white city.



            the Garden of Allah is unknown to the senses 

Douglas Fairbanks Sr.
flies over minarets
you can almost see the wire, 

he smiles while looking down,
she’s having the ride of her life,
later, as Susannah

at the Well
her alabaster will startle
cigar smoke in Secaucus 

produce a sense of height
the sense of money and the other
brocades that assist intimacy, 

an artist on Hudson
paints the Holy Land
as it stretches to Poughkeepsie 

sun gilding the Berkshires
like light on an odalisque,
these arabesques make one almost 

intimate, as the night comes down
drawn by camels,
the explosion could be heard 

as the absent one
raised his glass
and the building fell on children 

and the dust blew across the street,
by these slaves naked in the bazaar
we have entered the modern 

the capitol dome
sports a fez
the Shriners wave from a float. 



We’re between rationalism and whatever is left out,
stuff caught in the drain, sex in the park
where it threatens to rain, the war
drains the state of excess
and leaves a hard residue of cash on the sill,
we spend it in spectacular restaurants
with nothing not green, nothing but grass,
the new owner greets us with something amber
and amuses on a plate, there’s Kant
in the corner, wave to him honey,
it makes the trip from the Valley
seem a minute in a mall; 

there was the Dual Monarchy
but that didn’t last, then came the partition
and the annexations, new colonies
that became the old estates
and they brought out new epaulettes
and paraded them in the renamed square,
it’s hard to catch up once you’ve begun
the long division, I remember now
we’re between civilization and discontent
there’s one of them now, turning his fork
through a reasonable salad; 

if it weren’t for the password
no one would enter paradise, there are so many
passwords I forget how to bludgeon myself
into a primitive hut in the name of something
once flame-like, insistent, piercing
the heart, passing a window in a moving train
we see ourselves as our fathers
no wonder we reach for the red handle
and send cars screeching into the ravine,
anything to avoid this inexorable motion
and the docent who appears
to explain it. 



I look in the box marked “save”
and find the file “inutile”
for which I appear to have been searching
since the last dream of leaving, 

I am perpetually late
and write my address
on an envelope to be enclosed
in a second envelope, there are no stamps 

no pen, we are celibate
in a world at war, intimacy
has been ruled ineffective
or perhaps “inoffensive,” the Court 

has a ruling somewhere
in a language no one is allowed
to learn, I hate to be obtuse
but what is a flagellant 

for? I saved the receipts
for our trip to the desert,
you set up the tent in the wind
while I boiled water, 

we shared a language, read Stendhal
in the rain, now
I tie my shoes, wincing
over a body that has learned to live 

without time, the mirror
time proffers and a little dog
trotting along at my heels,
it must be 

time to roll up the sky
and alphabetize the Gods
according to their ability to sanction grace,
we who were once chosen 

must file a request
to speak with the concierge,
there are no more rooms
and the passage is vacant 

at the Hotel Chopin,
but the city is based on a map
and each night we enter the labyrinth
untutored in acronyms 

that may refer to us,
in the park
portals of memory can be seen
through the mist, 

on the opposite side of the lake,
a small boat with a red sail
is on its way
into the present.

[note.  Bleed Through, now published by Coffee House Press, is a long awaited “new & selected poems” by a poet who has influenced & interacted with many & has slowly come to a visibility of his own among the most lucid & critical/poetic voices of our time.   The testament of Ron Silliman, for one: “Michael Davidson’s poetry has always been a push-pull experience between total courage and exacting care, as if a fine Swiss watchmaker had suddenly taken up skydiving.  It’s a heady ride, dedicated at once to both risk and precision, and the pleasures of vertigo, thrill, speed, and terror are never very far.  At the end of it, you find yourself surprised at how quiet it all was, up there in the clouds, or just how solid the ground now feels.”  Or Michael Palmer for another: “Across a lifetime in poetry, Michael Davidson has plumbed the relationship between the ordinary and the uncanny, and the timeless and the timelessly amusing, within this all-too-mortal coil.  His welcome ‘new and selected’ is rich with those swift turns and exploratory revelations poetry, at its most dynamic, is singularly designed to offer.  It is a pleasure indeed to hail his accomplishment.”]

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Four Poems by Heriberto Yépez translated by Nathaniel Tarn (redux)

An untoward alliance
of words.
A prosti-code of our time
(an era which is scarcely maternal). 

An age pusillanimous or absurd 

What would Homer have said
had he seen this movie? 

Would he have been anguished by this rape? 

Or would he not even have been restored
by the very existence of Virgil?


inhabitation. The night of history
will mix its mists
with the night of your life. 

Mammalian technology.
Emetic vulva, mine. 

In the underworld, the sole of your foot
is looked on with terror.
(Horror pedal of the sycophantic god) 

Every monad, sarcastic, sings
its farewell. Obscure

Before, you separated from the beast.
Now you separate from the human. 

Don’t add to your problems.
You will fit into the new ironic uterus. 

You are not far from yourself.
You don’t need to shout. 


You’re speaking a belated language. 

                          The interminable is impossible for you now. 

Talking to you of a wood would be talking to you of a wilderness.                                                                              

) It’s a reference to a decade (
/// The tree you can’t tell from the universe because it occupies an equal space
/// in its arborescent will
/// it immerges its leaves to the trunk’s core
/// turns its leaf veins a periplum of cortices
/// and from every dry leaf: planks that bury themselves in the depthless
/// like fruit turned to dry lumber
In a rubber sweat throws arms or opens breaches
(The spiral searches for a substantive, a whom so it can happen).
Do you know the sign of being lost in thought? The sign of the lumberyard which survives solidly, oxidized to its best red, until being struck [in its permanence] and made absolute black dust [in a single moment]?
Do you know the sign of the orange? (An orange which falls from no tree).
Any language is. a. belated. language. I’m telling you.
And languages are always humid, always parched (you tell me).
In the beginning neither were there rotten grapefruit, you add
Nor were there any translations or paraphrases.
                   What political gospel? What terrors?
What is the price of this absolute order, this path which (now) cannot be taken blind
You now speak a belated language, you repeat, you (“now”) speak a recognizable language.
You have become intelligible – like caverns.
Mystery has parted ways with you. Of the other you only know the one.
You pretend to escape from every text to another text. Consequently you love anamnesia.
The decade you refer to is reached intermittently. It is a decade which was interpolated so that some travelers (ulterior ones) could exist, could attach their lives to it, while in other decades (shipwrecks).
In the dialogue, Penelope –
Having wanted to make of the other voice a feminine one (latent)
Those voices we believed reached their targets (were predicates    we had no memory of).
When a fly insists on a face, it signifies a visit. Flies that are playful stones, paratactical humors, shards of a capricornian order.
Recent refugees from the intelligible. Peregrinations to the unresolved (for now) encountering non-rhythms.
They will create dialects whose use will be to be understood by one of their speakers.
Each time that two gestures coincide and a signified might arise, or a third speaker deduces some coherence, large black stones will seal three or four, who (‘the isness of their existences) will be condemned [prisoners] to keep silent [consciously – regarding what they knew].
[In total obscurity they will hide their construction of a communicable language]
[like the tide passes over its already millenary timetable]
Geometries exigent for those that surfeit has reciprocally [wiped out].
[And they wrote] the tribulationed [distanced from any community or seduction via shared signals] so as not to look like anything in their outlines [they wrote] in private codes, in scrawls directed to no language, but they provoked so many strange glances [oblique, slanting] that the tribulationeds’ outlines became ever more similar – and the secret of chesstongue died.
And whatever was unknown openly disseminated in its best color red, in its highest tower.
We are everything that is black on white.
And we become only the will to reply.
History is not cyclical but its form is scroll-like.



Between this moment and the other
a limbo occurred.

This limbo (both)
we call it “oblivion.”

Second step:

Situating oneself in “oblivion.”

Camp in no one’s zone
or shattering of time.

Methodological subsequence:

Once settled in (now solitary sun)
Realizes the most meticulous of studies
Next to the passage
Which governs existence

Now that you sit in your parenthesis,
I’m talking to you of the moment,
of the interval (infuriating)

In which a being (myself)
(He who laid on you                                                                

this errand)
Becomes (from one moment to the next) deplorable.

Parameters of the results:

Once written the report
Delineating, detailed, then,
Bring me your epilogue –
no hurry, time doesn’t run here –
(Here all is space)
Bring it to me in this meantime
where I now live (wary)
Bring it here // to me
in any case distant.
Explain to me, you who appreciate
Morosely, from outside, how
it happened that, from one moment to the next,
For you, for her, for the world
I became deplorable.
Once the job done, you’ll be able to proclaim
To the four corners of the universe
Posted in the pure center of the quincunx
That you have solved the mystery.

You managed to explain to a man
         what “oblivion” is.

[Heriberto Yepez has emerged in recent years as a major figure in contemporary Mexican writing. His poetry, fiction, & translations, as well as his critical & theoretical writings, are not easily confined within generic boundaries, & his collaborations with other artists & theorists reveal an intellectual & creative fluency in multiple artistic languages. His work, translated into English, has also reached into the United States, including previous postings on Poems &Poetics & in journals such as Chain, Tripwire, Shark, & XCP.  The poems translated here by Nathaniel Tarn, a senior & essential poet in his own right, appeared originally in El Organo de la Risa, published by Aldus Editorial in 2008.  Tarn’s latest major work, Ins and Outs of the Forest Rivers, appeared from New Directions in 2008, & Yépez’s latest book in English was The Empire of Neomemory, a challenging critique & appreciation of Charles Olson.]