Mere Honor

by Salgado Maranhão.
Translated by Alexis Levitin.

losing my shine, I turned sober.
dry, alone with myself, left-over.
 
a bull, whose flesh is turned to bone.
a fruit whose rind is now its stone.
 
from light to lucidity—already stripped bare
I’ve got my steps but not the way.
 
I no longer need, I no longer care
I’m filled with the nothing of days.

The Poet and Things

by Salgado Maranhão.
Translated by
Alexis Levitin.

things want to flash through
the poem
with its crust of entanglements,

things want to dwell in
the poem
becoming toys.

it rains on the fibers
of some secret essence
and the poem tears apart
                                                         the poet
and his structure.

Instruments of the Home

by Salgado Maranhão.
Translated by Alexis Levitin.

the window of the apartment spies
on the home
expressing a language of within
printed on a horizon of beyond
allying itself with the grumbling of the furniture
dismantled, motionless.
in the room
                            objects
                                          pair up
in a wordless pact
singing their silence
mocking us mortals.

Moviement

by Salgado Maranhão. Translated by Alexis Levitin.

now it’s another landscape
written
         on the plasma
and in the mist
                      flowing
between one’s fingers
like eager birds
                      slipping through
the wind.
now it is another scaffold
of pieces playing chess
with chance:
the city and its clouded corneas.

mornings AR-15
afternoons AK-47
delinquents among rats
and big-shots’ shit.

the city in all its to-do
gulping down hot-dogmas,
sucking mint drops of death.

The Sign of Steel

by Salgado Maranhão. Translated by Alexis Levitin.

                                for Jean Claude Elias

the scar suggests
the struggle and the slash

in the drama of the gods,
the darting of a fine-honed blade.

(one almost disbelieves,
denying what is written,

the promissory note
underscoring pain)

the scar speaks
fingerprints of steel

the blade, the ball of lead,
and what remains unsaid.

Zip Street Blues

by Salgado Maranhão. Translated by Alexis Levitin.

the rage of diesel horses
rolls
to the trotting of
the tendoned days.

strays smashed to tin
beneath  the press of tires
                                       –and beastly human beings.

(all in transit
some not yet intransigent
others already late
accompanying their bodies to the wake.)

and the afternoon roars: rust
and the breeze burns: soot.

Review of Colette Inez’s The Luba Poems

by Alexis Levitin

The Luba Poems
Colette Inez, Pasadena, CA
Red Hen Press,
2015. 90 pp.

Fifty years ago, dining at the Eberharts in Hanover, New Hampshire, Robert Lowell leaned towards me like a stricken man and said, with painful gravity, “Macbeth is very, very dark. The only thing that saves it is the poetry.”

I would now like to add that whether we contemplate a tragic or comic vision, a realistic or fanciful one, in the end what saves all poetry is the poetry itself. Nowhere else in our efforts to communicate do the musical qualities of language contribute so intimately and inescapably to the so-called “meaning” of a text. In poetry, without the sound there is no sense. There is no salvation.

Colette Inez’ new book The Luba Poems dwells mostly in the realm of the capricious, the witty, the gaudy, the playful, the comic, the spritely, the joyous, the fun-filled, the exuberant. Mercurial Luba, her name the Russian diminutive for Love, bounces around the real world and the world of diction with the spontaneity of a puppy dog. However, all that effervescence, that undeniable joie de vivre, springs entirely from the language in which it is rooted. Without that language, Colette, Luba’s confidant and puppeteer, might be filled with an incredible élan vital, but we would never know it.

If I had to place Colette in the modern poetry scene, I would say she is a most mischevious kid sister to Wallace Stevens. Listen to this:

They sang to choristers        
Who swayed like trees
In the rush of huzzahs
Before rain crashed down 

Luba Quince at the Clavier, no?
We all have feelings. Only poets have words. In any case, here is a poet, armed with words, and delighted to fulfill her role as Homo ludens. Playful, delightful, and serious at the same time.

Let us watch and listen as the adventurous journey begins:

“When the name
                       Luba lifts away
like a leaf in hard rain
                       or goes missing
from its cage—
                       a parakeet not answering
or a scrap of light
                       snagged by a cloud…

How about the pure music of this lightly lilting phrase: “in a frangipani-scented mist,” drawn from a poem about poets called “Noting Names,” in which
“her known identity  [is] named
by the pull of the tide, the unlettered sun.”

Or, in “Din Spool, a Bibliophile,” the lively contrast between a harried world of “drill, whine,/buzz, bang,” from which she “longs to be soothed by anapests at the crest/ of the waves”—and there they are: anapests and waves together.

Often enough, the titles of her poems refer to music:  “Cadenzas for Johnny,” “Serpa Bell Song,”  “Luba Looks at a Menu and Thinks of Music,” and the concluding poem in the book “The Singers.” As for pure sound, here are just a few whiffs drifting among these poems: “Coco Chiroco,” “the moon/frazzled blue jazz in riffs     over    the river,” “disco, jazz, twist, funk…plunked bumpty-bump/from a neighbors whoopee room piano…,” “swerve on like the moon-June jackpot/ of dicey days in the mean meantime,” “in the freeze-grip-crunch of their last bang,” “hunters/ of springbok, dik-dik, antelopes,” “ hey hey di hay… glory wa wa… Doba dee da doba da dee.” Yes, the lady loves sound. And does she sing scat!

However, I would like to note that mixed in with the joyous life-affirming music, there are reminders of the grave side to the human condition. In a poem imagining an abandoned polar bear cub, she concludes “How can he know she, too, /has lost her mother/to blue infinities?” To readers familiar with Colette’s life work and life story those “blue infinities” suggest a poignant sorrow, never utterly healed. In “Luba Reads Merwin,” the conclusion is both valiant and philosophically rather desperate, as it portrays in lovely language our lovely, lonely pathos: “knowing words are tireless and travel/out of nothing to a vacancy of stars.” And in the important final poem of the collection, she concludes with a paean of praise to song and an acknowledgment of its dark source:

We sang
glory wa wa to the highest
bird lit by the sun
Stones applauded
from the stream
clouds leaned in
gathered that dark
where singing comes from
Doba dee da doba da dee

If we are saved, our salvation is both exultant and fragile, a salvation fresh with stream, sunlight, and song, but all in the moment.

Read this book. It is a book of love, as the title suggests: love for the world, love for language, love for us all in our painful, glorious human condition.

It was during a trip beyond the hills

by Rosa Alice Branco. Translated by Alexis Levitin

from Live Concert

 

It was during a trip beyond the hills.

There were paths in our words and the sound of flutes

creeping to the edges of the road. They came from the river,

everything came from the river or from our gaze lit by terraced vineyards

dropping toward their watery reflection. “If we go that way,”

you would say on the map, but we, assiduous, got ourselves lost,

for in each of us deep changes were occurring

and we didn’t want them to leave us.

In each map another one was happening, spreading

in our hands. The flowers beside the road were changing

colors and the fallen trunks were pythons, “don’t laugh, Joni,

I swear they were, laugh your heart out somewhere else.”

Later on you’d say the branch there in the middle of the road,

maybe it was the light, then again, you couldn’t say,

looked fallen from a still-life.

 

It was you who were no more, filling

all the spaces of your absence