Poems


MAY

Let me look at those eyes.
I want to know how you are.
-RAINER W. FASSBINDER

Look. May has come in.
It’s strewn those blue eyes all over the harbor.
Come, I haven’t had word of you in ages.
You’re constantly terrified,
Like the kittens we drowned when we were little.
Come and we’ll talk over all of the old same things,
The value of being pleasant,
The need to adjust to the doubts,
How to fill the holes we’ve got inside us.
Come, feel the morning reaching your face,
Whenever we’re saddened everything looks dark,
When we’re heartened, again, the world crumbles.
Every one of us keeps forever someone else’s hidden side,
If it’s a secret, if a mistake, if a gesture.
Come and we’ll flay the winners,
Laughing at our self leapt off the bridgeway.
We’ll watch the cranes at work in the port in silence,
The gift for being together in silence being
The principal proof of friendship.
Come with me, I want to change nations,
Change towns. Leave this body aside
And go into a shell with you,
With our smallness, like sea snails.
Come, I’m waiting for you,
We’ll continue the story that ended a year ago,
As if inside the white birches next to the river
Not a single additional ring had grown.

THE RIVER

There was a time a river ran through here,
there where the benches and the paving start.
A dozen rivers more underlie the city
if you believe the oldest citizens.
Now it’s a square in the workers’ quarter,
that’s all, three poplars the only sign
the river underneath keeps running.

In everyone here is a hidden river that brings floods.
If they are not fears, they’re contritions.
If they are not doubts, inabilities.

The west wind has been shaking the poplars,
people barely make their way along on foot.
From her fourth-floor window a grown woman
is throwing articles of clothing.
She’s hurled a black shirt, a plaid skirt,
the yellow silk scarf and the stockings
and the black-and-white patent-leather shoes
she wore the winter day she came in from her town.
In the snow they looked like frozen lapwings.

Children have gone racing after the clothing.
The wedding dress exited last,
has been clumsy and perched on a branch,
too heavy a bird.

We’ve heard a loud noise. The passersby have been startled.
The wind has lifted a poplar out by its roots.
They could be an old woman’s hand
awaiting any other hand’s caressing.

VISIT

Heroin had been as sweet as sex
she used to say, at one time.

The doctors have been saying now she won’t get worse,
to go day by day, take things easy.
It’s been a month since she failed to wake up
after the last operation.

Still and all, we go every day to visit her
in Cubicle Six of the Intensive Care Unit.
Today we found the patient in the bed before hers
in tears, no one had come to visit, he’d said to the nurse.

An entire month and we haven’t heard a word from my sister.
I don’t see my whole life stretching before me the way I did,
she used to tell us.
I don’t want promises, I don’t want repentance,
just some sign of love is all.

Our mother and I are the ones who talk to her.
Our brother, with her, never said too much,
and here doesn’t make an appearance.
Our father hangs back in the doorway, silent.

I don’t sleep nights, she used to tell us,
I’m afraid to go to sleep, afraid of the bad dreams.
The needles hurt me and I’m cold,
the serum sends the cold through every one of my veins.

If I could only escape from this rotten body.

Meanwhile take my hand, she implored us,
I don’t want promises, I don’t want repentance,
just some sign of love is all.

THE CUCKOO

To Aitzol

He heard the first cuckoo at the beginning of April.
Because he’d been feeling on edge, maybe,
from an inclination to order the chaos, maybe,
he wanted to know which notes the cuckoo sang.

He sat waiting with his pitch pipe
next afternoon: When
would the cuckoo sing?
He finally achieved it:
The pitch pipe told no lies.
Si-sol were the cuckoo’s notes.

The discovery shook the countryside.
Everyone wanted to prove whether truly those
were the notes that the cuckoo sang.
The measurements were not in harmony.
Each had his or her own truth.
One said it was fa-re, another mi-do.
No one managed to agree.

Meanwhile the cuckoo went on singing in the forest,
not mi-do, not fa-re, not si-sol, either.
As it had a thousand years before,
the cuckoo sang cuccu, cuccu.

WAY OFF THERE

My father and uncle were six years old when they first
went out with the boats, and learned seamanship on the Bustio.
The captains of the time were tough,

on stormy days set to raise a fist and stare down God,
“If you’ve got a beard on your face, come on in!”
Ready to threaten Heaven, that kind.

When they were boys, the four oldest had to take turns
going to Mass: only the one suit in the house.
One would come back from church,

take off the suit, hand it on to the next
and that’s how they went to Mass,
each at his own hour, each in his own shoes.

When we were kids, on the longest jetty in port,
the day Dad came in from sea we would wait and wait,
watching out to the west. Even if in the beginning

we all saw nothing at all, soon
someone glimpsed off there on the horizon cloud
a black dot, which slowly turned into a boat on the sea.

At the end of an hour the boat reached the jetty
and wheeled before us to enter the port.
Dad waved his hand in greeting.

As the boat passed by, we’d race
to where they were about to moor it.
Even when Dad was in bed at the last,

he was singing the praises of life,
saying the day has to be lived. The moment
you start to worry, life escapes you.

And invariably: Listen up, you-all, you’ve got to
head farther north, the net doesn’t have to go out
where you know for sure the fish are,

you’ve got to search way off there,
not settle for what you have.
“Death shall have no dominion,”

wrote Dylan Thomas, but it wins
a dominion now and again,
and Dad’s life ended that way, too,

heading way off to the west
a boat gotten lost on the clouds’ edge,
sketching its reminders in its wake.

Translations into English: Elizabeth Macklin