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.

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.

Letter to Daniel G. Hoffman

by John Ridland

Dear Dan,

There are dead poets I would never dare
               to write a letter to:
“Dear Mr. Frost?” “Dear Mr. Eliot?”
               But your last book,
optimistically titled: next to last 
               words, seems to invite reply.
I’ll try no critical reading, even appreciation,
               poem by poem. That would be
fun if you were still around––not that you’re not
               around still, with this book
atop the pile of thirteen others, plus
               eight prose, and plus
some edited others: you were one hell of a
               productive poet!
Now writing you a letter seems familiar,
               since we conversed
only in letters, after one brief hello,
               introduced by Natalie Anderson
of Swarthmore College, where you
               had taught, and I a student
you could have taught if decades had not
               held us apart. So what
can I now have to say? I hope you’re happy
               in the good name
Fame’s giving you. And your next to last words
               are messages to us
from where you are––the Future Present Tense
                  where we will all
be sentenced in the same last paragraph.
               [This may continue.]
                                                Briefly your friend,
                                                                                   John Ridland

Mushrooms

by David R. Slavitt

The poison in a mushroom does it no good. 
It doesn’t know, nor does the fellow who eats it,
but he will find out.  And maybe he will tell
others about the mushroom and even describe it,
a Death Cap, say.  Others of that species
are beneficiaries, and others also,
because people will hesitate unless

they know exactly what they are doing.  The death
of the one (mushroom, I mean, not the man)
may save the others.  And what greater love
than to lay down one’s life to save another?
Or, no, that’s not necessary; take into account
the sweet revenge the mushroom anticipates
jouncing along in the basket.  Destroying Angels

could take the same satisfaction—but that is assuming
mushrooms can think and are self-aware.  Unlikely,
so we are forced to look up to a practical-joker
God who, having thought of this intricate business,
couldn’t resist.  Mushrooms seldom laugh
but He does, often, at his own cruel jokes.

Pythagoras in Crisis

by Lee Slonimsky

It’s just a mood, perhaps, but he stands stunned,
the densest woods so asymmetrical:
gnarled trunks and twisting branches, splashing sun
that here collects in pools, and there slants straight.

He likes the orderly but in a lull
the random overwhelms him.  One tree white,
the others mossy brown; a stream misshaped
by boulders, broken logs. 

                                                Woods demonstrate
confusion’s reign, if one’s astute: the loops
a swallow swoops seem odd, math-free.  He’s fooled
himself these many years with phantom rules:

to prize his abacus, to calculate,
have been his life, but now he sees it all:

stormstrewn chaos.  A maple’s sudden fall. 

Pythagoras’s Broken Abacus

by Lee Slonimsky

To disentangle chaos is his task
this morning in deep woods.  Secluded glade,
where birdsong is intense.

                                                 But overlapping calls
can’t be identified,
nor numbered, nor remembered,
and he can’t
find logic in unhinged asymmetry–

a swirl of chirps, high flutes,
doves’ coos, caws’ taunts–

the congregation’s maniacal.  Sounds
that can’t be measured: no place for his math.

He shrugs, continues on his wandering path.

Sheb Wooley

by R. T. Smith

         Don’t try to understand them, just throw and rope and brand them.

The teenaged groom leading my long-toothed
rental mare has the lope of Pete Nolan,
a savvy scout with Gil Favor’s Rawhide herd
for several seasons and portrayed with witty grit
by Sheb Wooley, who blends easily
with the decency of Eastwood’s callow Rowdy,
wry drover Jim Quince and the ornery
cook Wishbone, as they drive the beeves over
desert, through Comanche and rustlers,
tick fever, stampede, the staggers,
to far-away Sidalia to feed the eastern swells
and spend their wages on rigged roulette wheels
and women called Dallas or Dolly.

I also recall Sheb as a country guitar
picker with  a novelty gift who hit it
almost rich in ’58 with “Purple People Eater,”
which as a boy I loved to caterwaul and yodel.
He also gave us Hee-Haw’s theme,
“White Lightning” and “Hoot Owl Boogie,”
but I liked him more as a wrangler, puncher,
scrappy cowpoke with tooled boots and kerchief,
the battered hat and a knack with a rifle,
just like the riders of the Purple Sage.  I admired
the way he sat the saddle and dismounted
at a gallop, a stunt he’d picked up riding rodeo
and managed without breaking a sweat.

Pete was lean and sideburned, quick with a quip
or pistol, the one I wanted to mimic
on Uncle Ike’s pasture nag Cinder, who walked
in her sleep and woke to buck me every time
I sneaked a halter on and scrambled aboard,
headed, I guess, to Dry Gulch or
some flooded gorge with swollen steers floating.

And while I’m drifting into rider’s reverie,
full of prime time fantasies – beans
and coffee, mouth harp whine, sidewinder or stars
wheeling to the growl of a famished panther –
the groom tilts back his Hokies cap, hands me
the reins and asks, “Need a leg up, mister?”
his superior grin fenced with braces
brighter than Mexican spurs.

In honor of Sheb and his cadre of savvy buckaroos,
the whole history I missed and yearned for,
not to mention sweaty Stetsons and home-plaited lariats,
I grab the horn, throw a leg over the cantle,
then point my Colt index finger to squeeze
the trigger, like any badlands jasper inclined
to keep his thoughts from strangers
but still mulish to have the last word.

Slapping the animal’s croup with braid-leather,
I hit the trail, growling, Head em up, move em out,
with two hours of freedom and a fistful
of Aleve ahead.  I can nearly hear Frankie Laine’s
raucous theme, its whip cracking percussion.

Now I don’t care who hears me laughing,
content for the moment to be a yodeling fool
on scout for water with old Pete Nolan, Sheb Wooley,
whatever alias will suffer my company,
the pair of us easy on spirited ponies
traipsing across the dusty prairie, happy, so happy,
to be galloping saddle trash again.

Sergeant John Ordway’s Journal, Last Entry

by R. T. Smith

Captain Lewis now dead by some assassin’s
hand, all the clouds blow ashen and black,
but I remember storming snow, wild artichokes,
prickley pear and how the lark woodpecker flew,
the black horn antelope and dog stew delicious
in the bleak times.  Gass, Shannon, the Fields
brothers all cussing some Mandan weather
god, our Captain Clark by turns taciturn or
shaken with laughter.  The undiscovered
country opened for us, but not without labor,
fevers worse than this, mutiny in the wilderness,
our need to learn quickly how to forgive.
We found time daily to praise our Maker.
Ghost weed grew on the shore, feathered
native men danced, and the keel boat foundered.
Venison or thin broth, I doled the rations daily.
Cruzet’s fiddle by the round fire warmed us
after the maps were almost lost.  The bird girl
saved us often.  Bratton, Labiche, York –
every soul equal at work and celebration.
Nightly I dreamed of my beloved betrothed
Gracy Walker and wished the ordeal over,
yet it was a thrill, despite the rattling snakes,
silver-tip bears like monsters.  Looking back,
I am satisfied I saw enough for one mortal,
man, especially the devilish mosquitoes.
Red sky at morning, currents like a whirling
dervish – the trials of Odysseus with no goddess
close at hand.  We survived by Clark’s dead
reckoning and chance, which Captain Lewis
insisted was just another word for providence.
Once was enough for me, cold faces of compass
and pocket watch – what’s time but a shiftier
form of distance?  There was no passageway
by water.  We had to settle for survival, science
and wonder.  Finally home, I married, savored
after lovemaking the taste of my wife’ shoulder.
Four years hence she was lost while with child.
Since then, phantoms and voices in the mist.
What best do I remember from the journey?

Taste of fresh meat after hunger, and high over
the swollen river a sky salt-white with herons.
Maybe they were angels going where Gracy
now abides and I hope to be bound very soon,
if our Maker will allow me this one last mercy.

Summoning Japan

by Elaine Terranova

Instruction, what I sought. Not from the beginning as would require study, reading, deep thought, the string of something you follow until it’s exhausted, but no, only scatter shot. Knowing by looking around corners. Stepping like a spy along the emperor’s Hall of Nightingales. Steps even barefoot he can hear as he sleeps.

             armed guards assemble
             in the dark antechamber…
             a lost kitten’s tread

And after the cancer was cut out of my breast, after treatment, equally intrusive, this I wanted, to be far, far away.

Shin meaning new, Shinjuku. The grid of high buildings. The American hotel with its Japanese breakfasts. Windows where light breaks. Where I watch the subway riders at evening spew out from underground like erupting lava. 

To think, all these people live here, here, where I’d never have seen them if I hadn’t come.
             leaving the airport
             Tokyo Road traffic jam—
             at my back, Fuji

On the bus that has transported me, traffic never lessening, I study the white lace antimacassars which protect the passenger seats. For cleanliness, as well, the driver wears white gloves. As do taxi drivers, I will learn, and even operators of department store elevators, the latter, pretty young women, whose beanies and Brownie-style uniforms are a smiting red.

And I find myself twenty-one hours later than the east coast of America. I’m only three hours off, plus a day, which is lost forever.

In Tokyo, I will venture onto the subway platforms where guards shoehorn you in at rush hour. Each ku or neighborhood has its own pattern of tones that rings when you arrive, a lovely reception, like a programmed wind chime.

I will stop at Harajuku, the “in” neighborhood. Clothing verging on the pornographic, cut-out nipples and crotches. Omotesando, wide Parisian boulevard, that intoxicating name. Takeshita-dori, smoky alley leading to a flea market. I wander off to a nearby garden.
             overpowering
             to walk beside the full moon,
             fenced-in jasmine’s scent

Another day’s outing. Fantastic kimonos hang in glass cases in Oeno Park museum, robin’s egg or raspberry, embroidered with birds and flowers. Grand, not a size for women. Later I’ll see like ones in the kabuki worn by players of mighty men, under their angry, cross-eyed stares. Kabuki players, it is said, act with the pupils of their eyes.

On the tour I take, Mayumi is our guide: My (pointing to herself), you (pointing to her charges), me (back to herself). She can give statistics on how many Japanese have western-style toilets. Facts: how Japanese wives control the family finances, how much allowance they allot to their businessmen husbands to drink and entertain themselves each month.

Our bus takes us to a shrine. 
             in my photo
             the stillness of stone lanterns—
             passersby in mid-step

I watch. I see what to do. First, purify yourself with holy water: Using the long-handled wooden spoon, cleanse left hand, right hand, pour water in left palm to rinse the mouth. Gather around the incense burner, which is like a black, cast iron head on the ground. Bend, waft fumes, which are pleasant if a bit overwhelming, from its orifices toward the part of your body which needs divine aid. I draw them to my chest and cough, cough out my natural breath as I breathe in sweet smoke.
             a sip of holy water…
             lost in the smoke of incense
             unanswered wishes

After, you can take a paper fortune—you’re allowed to throw it back and try again—or leave a paper prayer.

All around, unfamiliar trees that bear the familiar odor of camphor.

Instruction now on how to enter the wooden pavilion: First, take off shoes. Don’t step with them onto the clean wooden platform or people will come with a mop immediately to wipe away your footprint. Approach. Bow twice. Clap hands to get the attention of the kami (god of the river, mountain, agricultural crop) who protects the premises. Make your request: Health, once more, health. Again bow twice, back away.

At a temple you don’t have to clap because the image or statue is already visible. It awaits you. You needn’t attract its attention as in a shrine to call it out.

Shrines on streets, in parks, on temple grounds. Cedar trees are good for building them.
             off a busy street
             red cloth strung along a line—
             clothes for the kami

The tour bus next day takes us to Nikko Toshu-go, the Shogun’s shrine, a five-story pagoda. Each Chinese tower on the second level, presided over by a guardian figure. The one on the left is saying ah, indicating birth. The one on the right, mmm or om, for death. Ah and om, which stand as well for the drum of birth and the bell of death and for the first and last letters of the sacred Sanskrit alphabet. The Hall of 36 Poets nearby is protected by mythical beasts, the tapir who eats nightmares and Ran, a phoenix-like bird with a lifespan of 360 years.

The Tokagawa Shogun’s crest is upside down because perfection will attract evil spirits.
             Nikko morning mist
             and you can barely make out
             bright-eyed snow monkeys

On a ferry to Hakone, Myumi tells us Lake Ashi is very deep. The bodies of the drowned never rise to the surface because of water pressure and the impenetrable hard mud.

Is it here that in a temple garden, a pine has taken on the shape of a treasure ship? It began as bonsai, which can last for centuries, but then was planted so it found feet in the earth and will die sooner.

Elsewhere, under clear-weather clouds, we enter gardens where even the dirt is swept.
             poor flowering pear
             shivers in a lacy shawl…
             fool of the false spring

So many sights. So many vehicles transporting us. Wooden houses, paper windows. Loose, fluid. All of it could collapse and be gone in the morning, beds, doors, walls. I come from more solid housings and furnishings. They wait to receive me, firm and in place even if it is a matter of doubt—will I sit or stand, might I change my mind?

But sometime I must return home. Folded within myself, the knowledge that I have come from my life, desiring new sky and moss, new mountain water to gaze at. Her waist smaller than mine has ever been, the pretty ocarina player in the park repeating over and over with great optimism Brahms’ Variations on a Theme of Paganini, who could heal me, or the vague smoke of the incense burner I wafted over my breast. A paper prayer I left. A paper fortune I took away.                                           

Canto V: The Forest of Humbaba

by Lewis Turco

Gilgamesh   
                 and Enkidu strode
Forth from the grand   
                                  gate of the city,
Enkidu leading    
                         the way from Erech
Toward the forest   
                             of fearsome Humbaba.
They marched many   
                                 leagues until
At last they approached    
                                        the verge of the woodland.
They stood and stared
                                 at the cedar forest,
stunned by the stature
                                    of the spiring boles.
Their eyes searched
                                for a trail through the trees,
for Humbaba’s track –- 
                                  “Here!” cried Enkidu,
“See where the ogre
                                has trampled his way
through the wood
                            toward his mountain
where the gods 
                        and goddesses dwell!”
                                                  Laughter
                                                 and revelry resounded
                                                       in the effulgent air,
                                                  echoed and rebounded
                                                       about the heroic pair!

The cedars grew
                           in groves and rows
casting shadows
                            cool and cloistered.
The forest floor
                        was thickly thorny,
ballukku trees
                        tangled with cedars
that fathered herds 
                                of cedar saplings.
The elder trees
                        seeped sap
that drizzled like rain
                                  and dried to scabs
until true rain
                        washed it away.
Throughout the wood
                                  birds called and cried,
till all was noise, 
                            cacophonies!
A cricket’s call
                        became a chorus,
a mourning dove
                           made subtle moan
until a turtle
                      replied in kind.
At the stork’s call
                            the forest rejoiced;
the francolin’s voice
                                 made the forest sing!
Monkey matrons
                            called their offspring
who replied 
                    with apelet shrieks,
drumming praise
                              before Humbaba.
The cedars’ shadow
                                fell on the King
Instilling terror,
                          Gripping his limbs
and enfeebling him.
                               Gilgamesh felt
Fear at the thought   
                                of the forthcoming fight.
He lay for a day   
                          and then another,
Prone on his pallet.   
                               He did not rise
Till twelve    
                days had passed,
And then he called   
                               His friend Enkidu,
“Comrade, you hate me   
                                      because in Erech
You were afraid   
                          of the coming combat,
Because you said, ‘friend,   
                                         let us not go
Down to the depths  
                                of the Forest of Cedars!’
My arms are weak now,   
                                      hands stricken
With palsy, Enkidu!”

                                  “Shall we be cowards?”   
 Enkidu replied.
                          “You shall surpass
All those who battle.   
                                 You are cunning
And shrewd in the fray.   
                                      Be brave and resist
Both trembling and weakness.   
                                                Have no fear
Of Death, nor terror   
                                 of what may come.
You have led the way   
                                   here from Erech
And have not flinched   
                                   in duty or friendship.
You have guarded me   
                                   and I will guard you.
Let it be so!”   
                     Enkidu said
unto his sovereign,
                               “Have no fear!
                                                           Let us raise
                             our pennants and banners high
                                       and sing boldly, in praise
                             of honor, our battle-cry!
                                     These are our city’s ways!”

Gilgamesh replied,
                                “Indeed, my friend.
“Why to we tremble 
                               here like weaklings,
We who strode 
                        over mountains?”

Entu the treeherd    
                             stood sentinel
At the sylvan    
                       entranceway.
Enkidu lifted    
                      his eyes and spoke
Unto the guardian   
                              who seemed
Himself a cedar:   
                           “Sentinel of the Forest,
For forty leagues   
                           I have admired
This timberland   
                          until I sighted
The towering cedar.   
                                The wood has no peer.
Six gar your height,   
                                two gar your breadth.
Your branches pivot   
                                 and interlock –
They were fashioned   
                                  in the city of Nippur!
If I had known   
                         that such was your grandeur
I might have sensed   
                                trouble no matter
Wherever we went!”   
                                Enkidu arose
And the heroes stood   
                                   staring abroad
At the height of the cedars,   
                                            scanned the avenue
Past Entu   
                  into the wood where
Humbaba dwelt.   
                           A path appeared,
Straight as a spear.   
                                Its passage was clear.
They could see in the distance   
                                                the Mount of the Cedar,
Home of Immortals,   
                                the shrine of Irnini,
The cedars’ pride,   
                              raised on the mountain.
The shade was fair,   
                                full of delight.
Bushes spread there   
                                  with the incense of cedar.

Enkidu said,    
                      “While I lay ill
I had a dream   
                        in which I saw
The two of us    
                       standing together
High on a peak   
                         and the peak crumbled
Beneath our feet.   
                             We were left standing
Alone in a desert.   
                             The mountain is
Evil Humbaba.   
                         We’ shall confront him
And throw down his carcass,   
                                               leaving his corpse
Abased at our feet   
                             upon the morrow.”

The morrow dawned   
                                 and they broke their fast,
Eating a morsel,   
                           then hollowed a pit
In the warm sunlight.   
                                    Enkidu stood
Above it and poured   
                                 a meal for the Mountain.
Then a chill wind blew,   
                                     the breath of Humbaba;
It passed over   
                        the King and caused
Him to cower and sway   
                                              like corn in a field.
Enkidu bent
                     to grasp and support
The King’s hips.   
                            The firmament roared,
Poured out lightning.   
                                  Earth resounded,
Quaking beneath them.   
                                      Smoke rose
Out of the mountain   
                                  dimming the day.
Flames flew   
                            from the throat of the cone
And molten stone   
                             flowed down its sides
As it gorged itself,   
                             the fires faded
And the hot brands   
                                turned to ash
                                                      as they fell glowing,
                                hastened by the breeze 
                                     like seeds of lightning flowing
                                into the forest of trees
                                     where fires began growing.

Gilgamesh took   
                          his great axe
And stepped forward,  
                                   the first to set
Foot upon   
                  the forest path,
And as he began   
                            to pass Entu,
The treeherd reached   
                                   down with his limbs
From above,   
                             grasped the King,
And raised him into   
                                 a tangle of branches,
Holding him tightly.  
                                 The sudden attack
Took Gilgamesh   
                           unawares.
The King gasped   
                             and dropped his axe
From a great height.   
                                 It fell at the feet
Of Enkidu the Hero   
                                who, unthinking,
Picked it up   
                    and swung it mightily
Against the trunk   
                             of the cedar monster.

The sharp blade   
                           sliced through

The massive bole   
                            and Entu dropped
Gilgamesh   
                  before itself 
Fell to the earth.   
                           The King also
Plummeted, howling   
                                 with pain, upon
The forest floor, 
                          his bones broken.

Enkidu lifted   
                       his arms aloft
To Shamash,   
                       God of the Sun,
And cried aloud,   
                            “Lo, on that day
In Erech the City,   
                              before we left,
I heard you swear   
                              an oath to the King
That you would aid   
                                this great assault 
On the Forest of Cedars.”   

                                        Shamash hearkened
And raised mighty   
                               winds against
The ogre Humbaba,   
                                 a wind from the North,
A wind from the South —   
                                        yea, a tempest,
A wind of  Evil,    
                         from East and West –
Eight winds in all:   
                              a chill wind, 
A hot wind,   
                    a whirlwind spinning
Which seized Humbaba   
                                       before and behind,
That he might go   
                                neither forward nor backward.

Humbaba surrendered,   
                                      whereupon
He spoke to the King   
                                 but not to Enkidu,
“O Gilgamesh,   
                        I pray you stay
Your hand and be   
                              my master now,
And I will be   
                     your own vassal.
Disregard my threats   
                                   against you,
For I will lay down   
                               all weapons before you.”

Enkidu said   
                     to his twin and comrade,
“Pay no attention   
                             to these lying oaths
Humbaba spreads    
                             before us here.
You dare not accept   
                                 his specious offer.
Humbaba must not   
                                 remain alive.”
Before the King   
                         could quickly reply
Enkidu lifted   
                        his monstrous axe
And with one blow   
                                      cut off the head

Of the horrid ogre.  
                                       It rolled upon
                                                             the ground, one eye staring
                                                into the sky, the other
                                         open and balefully glaring
                                                into Earth the Mother
                                      with neither sight nor caring.

 
 
 
 
 


Note from Lewis Turco:
After my version of the epic appeared in book form a lost portion of the canto in my book titled “The Forest of Humbaba” was translated and published on-line in October of 2015 by Elizabeth Palermo, Associate Editor of Livescience in an essay titled “Lost ‘Epic of Gilgamesh’ Verse Depicts Cacophonous Abode of Gods” (www.livescience.com/52372-new-tablet-gilgamesh-epic.html). I then turned the translation of the new material into Anglo-Saxon prosody and revised my Humbaba canto by inserting my new material. This required some revisions elsewhere in the text, which I also carried out. The version of “The Forest of Humbaba” included here is the revised version. Here is my rewritten version of Humbaba.