At the Turn of the Road

by R. K. Biswas

Is it dusk already? The doves
on the electric pole must have gone home.
In here, your heart is bleeding away
into the pool of your unbearable solitude.
When did the eggs crack open?
When did their wings become dry?
The sun had laughed at you from behind his screen
of clouds. You had turned to face the wind
once, twice, thrice.
But the answers were always the same.
And now, it doesn’t matter anymore. Nothing
takes away the sharpness
of knives whittling down bones.
Soon, they will be gone. You will not
know the hour of departure when it comes,
even after the door has closed behind them.

Wake up

To the grass bending to receive
its daily pint of dew. To the road lying quiet
beneath the stampede of day. To last
night’s embers that still harbour
a spark or the hope of a spark. It’s time
to go back to that last full moon, when
you had an urge to pluck the orb
fresh off the sky and place it on
your warm sticky tongue. White
as the flavour of spearmint gum,
and as cold as a slice of arctic ice,
melting slowly, radiating

                                         its aura around you.

This is the taste of solitude.
Its sweetness is divine. Its touch thinner
than a dove’s eggshell. Its scent
more delicate than a damselfly’s wing. And,
its harmony is one that can never be known
in the company of constant love. 

Oriental Darter Birds

by R. K. Biswas

Something disturbs.   
There is a movement
in the rushes and waterweeds. And you
see them rise
as one. They dive
upwards
into paling air. Black
flap of wings dropping dew-like
globules
returning water to the marsh beneath
them. They dive upwards.
Their necks snaking
towards sky. Smoke
from scud scatters at a touch
of their webbed feet. Light swims
from wing
tip to wing tip.     
Into the waiting blue
they go. Become dots like pock
marks on sky-skin. And then,
downward bound again
they swoop
to where the minnows
beckon, and frogs play
dead among the unhurried pace
of water snails.  Intense-eyed they seek
only that
which their bodies can keep.
Unlike man.  Unlike
man’s ceaseless greed.

Petrichor

by R. K. Biswas

A few days before she leaves, she teaches me
a new word. Petrichor. And when I forget
its shape and sound, remembering only
the taste, touch and smell of it, she points
to the moist evening outside, inhaling from
the soaked earth, asphalt, flower pots, car tops,
anything that rain cared to visit. Petrichor,
she repeats. I murmur after her. A chant
that I will wear like a talisman in the barren
months ahead. Dread spread by newspapers.
Fear from TV channels. More than what
I had ever dreamed of. At her age I had been
almost foolhardy… But now my heart is wet.
Horses thunder past my bed
when I lie down at night. Their clean animal scents
linger on. I can see the meandering pathway
from her school stables. I see her going
to the most solitary place on earth. Grass pitch
they call it. Her mates and her. Serene. Empty
of everything but the gentlest of beings. Where grass
meets bog meets clear water meets sky meets
slender steep eucalyptus trunks. She comes here
I know. And not always on horseback. She comes here
alone to gather silence. I do not fear this place.
The ones I do, are closer home. I am so
powerless. I cannot compress the world
she inhabits now. I cannot return her
to my womb where petrichor is eternal.

Hormonal Snares

by Astrid Cabral.
Translated by Alexis Levitin.

You turn the corner
and no lascivious gaze
envelops you from breast to thigh.
On the peopled street no one
to arouse your instincts
and take an x-ray of your body.
You have gone from woman to person.
The mirror never lies.
For your part, you feel
disengaged from all entanglements
safe from passion and the jeopardy
of those hormonal snares.
But liberation does not bring exhilaration.
You are far still from an angel.

Death By Water

by Astrid Cabral.
Translated by Alexis Levitin.

The first time
no one saw the danger.
Even her mother smiled thinking
how dramatic that child is
and saw her once again beneath an acacia tree
swooning in pretended death.
How lucky that, responding to her cries,
an angel suddenly appeared among the leafy branches
to snatch her from the river’s navel.

The second time
the wall of the sea came crashing down
a shroud upon a mermaid’s silhouette.
But it was a time of courtly love and valorous
gestures. Without delay
two chivalric gentlemen rose from the sand
and astride the backs of waves
conquered the marine monster
in service to the damsel fair.

The third and last time
upon a breast shaken with sobs
eyes unleashed a flood.
It was her soul that died departing
with her son’s dark skiff headed back to clay.
This time there was no escape from foundering.
When her body floated up from
the abyss, it was a drifting corpse,
soul severed by the razor-edge of pain.

Familiarity

by Astrid Cabral.
Translated by Alexis Levitin.

No sooner do you touch the trophy
than the brightness dims.
Seize a star
and you will find between your fingers
a skeleton of battered tin.
Take the beloved from the castle
both crown and scepter will be lost.
Better leave the trophy
on the shelves of Olympus.
Let the star stay in its galaxy.
And let the loved one dwell among the clouds.
Familiarity defiles
and corrupts all things.
With the divine, distance
plays its part. Only the impossible
partakes of the celestial breath.

Ancient Scenario

by Astrid Cabral.
Translated by Alexis Levitin.

The outizeiro tree beside the wall
has only grown a bit.
There is more rust on the gate
and the house has gathered moss
along with streaks carved
by the plowshare of the rains.
In fact, nothing has changed.
But where are the tender words
(I thought eternal)
the caresses still timid
the ecstasy of discovery?
It is as if everything has
gone down the drain
and what we lived was nothing
but a dream or imagining.
You went away and now come back
like an afflicted soul,
one of those that prowled
the terrors of my childhood.
And so I say, get away from me, nostalgia,
leave no trace of me,
that bud blossoming beneath caresses.
Beside that wall, I now discover:
the heart is not mere muscle.
More than anything, it is a sepulcher.

BRAMBU DREZI, Book III

by Jack Foley

                        “Am I speaking to anyone but myself?”

 

heaven is near
I spent a few hours last night
re-reading Brambu Drezie Book III
(the Book I know least well)
heaven is near
how is it possible
that something I do NOT understand
should appear to be so abundantly clear
I think
the beauty of the language has
something to do with this—
the many stories, the images (strange,
disturbing), the rambling, “subjective” passages—
all have the feeling
of a vast piece of music
heaven is near
It is no more to be understood
than music
and no less—
“Nietzsche, like Saint John of the Cross, knew that night too is a sun”
“I hear animal shapes in the song”
“I’m tore open raw and clean”
If the poem is like anything
it is like Eliot’s Waste Land
except that Eliot’s Waste Land
has spawned an industry of “explication”
an industry of “understanding”
which I don’t think can be done with
Berry’s great work
The poem is no more to be understood
than life is to be understood
though it is
heaven is near
(like life)
to be experienced
“I came here,” Jake writes,
“to speak to the dead
and found them alive
and possessed by a green fire—
branches and leaves
grew from their shoulders”
that green
heaven is near
is Whitman’s color
and the color of life
“I fold my hands on my lap and study
the raw nerve trees burning
I move in their fever”
the lines
move in my heart

Protest

by Stephen Gibson

                         Italy

1.
It was a sperm whale in the center
of the piazza being hauled up by a boy
pulling a rope over his shoulder,

a kid in shorts and polo, and nearby
hung three narwhales from a gallows
erected just for them. The hanging narwhales

and the boy in blue shorts and striped polo,
and the huge, black whale behind him
that was tethered to him by a thick cable

of hemp, were only illusions—
life-size figures made out of fiberglass
by some artist in Pietrasanta, where I’d gone

to see a decommissioned church
I’d heard about, which had been converted
into a meeting space for social protests,
but I hadn’t heard about this.

2.
But that’s what I saw turning the corner;
no hint of anything earlier at the train station
I’d just walked from, not even a poster,

which, for a public art exhibition
like this, you would have expected
some flyer or brochure, some mention

of it somewhere, to attract tourists; instead,
nothing. When I got out at the train station
a girl was lying on the hill, arm behind her head,

sunning herself on the grass, as a dozen
men, like me, looked up her skirt (not hard
since one leg formed a T over the other one

with her sandal foot tapping). An ear bud
was held in place by an orange-polished
fingernail.  She was listening to her iPod

as men filed past looking up her dress.

3.
I found out some protest was going on,
some Earth-Day-Global-Warming-Climate-
Change event, all about extinction

and doing something before it’s too late.
That sort of thing—boy hauling a sperm whale,
narwhales hanging from gallows—while people ate

pizza and drank Peroni at the outside tables.
The restaurants were packed. I ate at one later,
and by then the narwhales’ shadows, like a sun-dial’s,

had moved across to the other side of the piazza.

4.
I followed the corpse of the sperm whale
up the piazza, staring at its massiveness
as if the thing were real, as if the brown cable

tied around its bulk was nothing less
than real hemp and that the kid bent ahead of me
was really straining to haul that corpse

up to where the church was.  Why he
wanted to haul that corpse to the other end
of the piazza to the church was a mystery

to me, like my first seeing that grandstand
of narwhales after seeing that girl as she
was listening to her iPod, her hand

holding the ear bud in place, showing everyone her panties.

5.
Everything must be protected—it is a duty—
even though nothing lasts
that’s the translation an Italian woman gave me

when I looked at the banner over the church’s
entrance and asked her. The woman was feeding
her toddler some yogurt and fruit mix

on the steps, but she didn’t miss a thing,
wiping the excess off of her kid’s lip,
looking back at the banner hanging

over the church entrance, holding the cup
under the kid’s chin, and answering
some stranger who stood at the bottom step

and who had asked her something
while her kid tried to get out of the stroller
to retrieve a set of plastic key rings

that he dropped. I thanked her.   

6.
Inside, all of the murals were defaced—
methodically—like you’d score adhesive
on the back of a tile to stick it to a surface;

every human figure was vandalized; beehives
of chisel marks sat on human shoulders; no faces—
no more graphic novels of saints’ lives

for the medieval illiterate;  no altar, just space—
but space that clearly left evidence
of something removed not to be replaced—

like the pews: all over the marble floor were dents.

7.
That’s what the decommissioned church
looked like; it was also dark and smelly like a stable;
at least, this church was, and my hunch is

that was intentional because of the exhibit: multiple
environmental concerns symbolically addressed
through papier-mâché gorillas, elephants and other animals

with future extinction dates—and a petition to sign in protest.

8.  Coda
For the girl on the hillside showing
her panties, listening to her iPod;
for the waiter who went back to bring

me my check; for the courtyard
I passed where this old man sat at a table
by himself; for the god

who no longer exists in the receptacle
built for him eight centuries ago;
for the fiberglass boy and whale

and especially the artist; for the faces in the windows
of the gift shops, and the faces of those waiting in line
at the restaurants; for the woman feeding her kid yogurt—

for all of our extinctions—this protest is mine.