Sweetness and Light

by David R. Slavitt

Nut clusters, caramels, jujubes,
and icing squeezed from pastry tubes
in neat iterations of rosettes
on confectioners’ work tables: it gets
no better than this, or even as good.
Our mouths water before such food,
and, during, enjoy, but then, quite soon,
it cloys, as we reach our limit, where
such goodness is too much to bear,
denying as soon as it asserts
in a lesson that chastens us and hurts.

The Black Panther

by Leconte de Lisle. Trans. by David R. Slavitt

A pink glow suffuses the cumulus,
tricked out with a delicate fringe of lace at the far
horizon in the east.  A spectacular
flash undoes night’s necklace. Superfluous,

its pearls shatter and fall into the sea.
The sky’s peignoir, fastened by the bright
clip at its top, modifies the light
to fleck the water’s green.  There appears to be

a rain of flakes of fire. Bamboo trees
rustle, and the purple lychee fruit
dazzles in the dew in absolute
voluptuousness that cannot fail to please

the most demanding connoisseur.  From the wood
there comes a rich mélange of sweet perfumes
we cannot find in any drawing rooms.
Nature here seems luxurious and good.

Tangled grasses steam in the morning heat
of the virgin forest in which, half-hidden, run
paths no man has ever walked upon
that were made by the quiet passage of animal feet.

Comes then the Queen of Java, the huntress, black
and sleek, returning to feed her small cubs where
they play among gnawed bones.  She drags to her lair
what’s left of the deer she has killed and is bringing back.

She undulates along, and with her pale
yellow eyes peers into the underbrush
and the branches overhead.  There is a hush
as she passes.  The deer’s blood leaves a crimson trail.

Butterflies dance above.  Industrious bees
hover on their way to the flowers that grow
along the track to perfume the air.  There is no
end to the dense forest’s felicities,

except for the curious python that now rears
its flat head from a scarlet cactus bed
to watch the panther’s progress with the dead
deer she drags until she disappears,

a dark phantom gliding into the deep
ferns and mossy tree-trunks.  Gone from sight,
she leaves a changed silence beneath the bright
blue sky as if the forest were asleep.





Une rose lueur s'épand par les nuées ;
L'horizon se dentelle, à l'Est, d'un vif éclair ;
Et le collier nocturne, en perles dénouées,
S'égrène et tombe dans la mer.

Toute une part du ciel se vêt de molles flammes
Qu'il agrafe à son faîte étincelant et bleu.
Un pan traîne et rougit l'émeraude des lames
D'une pluie aux gouttes de feu.

Des bambous éveillés où le vent bat des ailes,
Des letchis au fruit pourpre et des cannelliers
Pétille la rosée en gerbes d'étincelles,
Montent des bruits frais, par milliers.

Et des monts et des bois, des fleurs, des hautes mousses,
Dans l'air tiède et subtil, brusquement dilaté,
S'épanouit un flot d'odeurs fortes et douces,
Plein de fièvre et de volupté.

Par les sentiers perdus au creux des forêts vierges
Où l'herbe épaisse fume au soleil du matin ;
Le long des cours d'eau vive encaissés dans leurs berges,
Sous de verts arceaux de rotin ;

La reine de Java, la noire chasseresse,
Avec l'aube, revient au gîte où ses petits
Parmi les os luisants miaulent de détresse,
Les uns sous les autres blottis.

Inquiète, les yeux aigus comme des flèches,
Elle ondule, épiant l'ombre des rameaux lourds.
Quelques taches de sang, éparses, toutes fraîches,
Mouillent sa robe de velours.

Elle traîne après elle un reste de sa chasse,
Un quartier du beau cerf qu'elle a mangé la nuit ;
Et sur la mousse en fleur une effroyable trace
Rouge, et chaude encore, la suit.

Autour, les papillons et les fauves abeilles
Effleurent à l'envi son dos souple du vol ;
Les feuillages joyeux, de leurs mille corbeilles ;
Sur ses pas parfument le sol.

Le python, du milieu d'un cactus écarlate,
Déroule son écaille, et, curieux témoin,
Par-dessus les buissons dressant sa tête plate,
La regarde passer de loin.

Sous la haute fougère elle glisse en silence,
Parmi les troncs moussus s'enfonce et disparaît.
Les bruits cessent, l'air brûle, et la lumière immense
Endort le ciel et la forêt.



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.