Now that the streets are empty and you press a compass to your chest

Let’s wind down National Poetry Month with this poem by Nathalie Handal (1969-). Her border-crossing life (she’s French-American, was born in Haiti to a Palestinian family and has lived around the world) emerges in her collection Poet in Andalucía, which explores otherness and togetherness so beautifully.

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“Now That”

Ahora que está tan sola la soledad
Joaquín Sabina, “Ahora que”

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Now that we’ve counted
the seasons for exile
and stopped wondering
if it’s us or the birds who weep

Now that the canvas is wet
and paint drips on our bodies
now that we have crossed
the borders of hearts
and know what’s real
now that disappearance
can’t be understood after all

Now that we stay in bed
and I lay you out inside of me
now that the streets are empty
and you press a compass to your chest
stack a sorrow after a wound
and measure the map of want

Now that two people run inside of you
one searching for its lost head
while the other watches
now that we have learned
to love each other
the way we are told we should

Now that I say goodbye
and write about leaving
I feel alive
now that nothing is urgent
and everything is here
now that waiting keeps us away
from a forest of thorns

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I sharpened knives all night

A striking flash of verse by the acclaimed Serbian poet Radmila Lazic (1949-).

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“Love”

I sharpened knives
All night.
To welcome you
In the brilliance of their blades,
And among them,
My love sparkles
For your eyes only.

Translated by Charles Simic 

Let me drink in your newly found river of sighs

If you’ve never read any Yusef Komunyakaa (1947-) , reconsider and find your way to his work if you can. You will not regret it.

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from “Love in a Time of War”

Tonight, the old hard work of love
has given up. I can’t unbutton promises
or sing secrets into your left ear
tuned to quivering plucked strings.

No, please. I can’t face the reflection
of metal on your skin & in your eyes,
can’t risk weaving new breath into war fog.
The anger of the trees is rooted in the soil.

Let me drink in your newly found river
of sighs, your way with incantations.
Let me see if I can’t string this guitar

& take down your effigy of moonlight
from the cross, the dogwood in bloom
printed on memory’s see-through cloth.

There are not enough jam jars to can this summer sky at night.

I learned this year that a haibun is a poetic form that originates in Japan and combines prose and haiku. This haibun from Aimee Nezhukumatathil and her fourth collection, Oceanic, took my breath away when I came across it last summer.

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“Summer Haibun”

To everything, there is a season of parrots. Instead of feathers, we searched the sky for meteors on our last night. Salamanders use the stars to find their way home. Who knew they could see that far, fix the tiny beads of their eyes on distant arrangements of lights so as to return to wet and wild nests? Our heads tilt up and up and we are careful to never look at each other. You were born on a day of peaches splitting from so much rain and the slick smell of fresh tar and asphalt pushed over a cracked parking lot. You were strong enough—even as a baby—to clutch a fistful of thistle and the sun himself was proud to light up your teeth when they first swelled and pushed up from your gums. And this is how I will always remember you when we are covered up again: by the pale mica flecks on your shoulders. Some thrown there from your own smile. Some from my own teeth. There are not enough jam jars to can this summer sky at night. I want to spread those little meteors on a hunk of still-warm bread this winter. Any trace left on the knife will make a kitchen sink like that evening air

the cool night before
star showers: so sticky so
warm so full of light

The privacy of them had a river in it.

Every year I realize there are a few enduring contemporary poets who have somehow escaped my attention. Linda Gregg (1942-) is a luminous writer I can’t wait to explore more deeply.

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“The Weight”

Two horses were put together in the same paddock.
Night and day. In the night and in the day
wet from heat and the chill of the wind
on it. Muzzle to water, snorting, head swinging
and the taste of bay in the shadowed air.
The dignity of being. They slept that way,
knowing each other always.
Withers quivering for a moment,
fetlock and the proud rise at the base of the tail,
width of back. The volume of them, and each other’s weight.
Fences were nothing compared to that.
People were nothing. They slept standing,
their throats curved against the other’s rump.
They breathed against each other,
whinnied and stomped.
There are things they did that I do not know.
The privacy of them had a river in it.
Had our universe in it. And the way
its border looks back at us with its light.
This was finally their freedom.
The freedom an oak tree knows.
That is built at night by stars.

from All of Its Singing 

Tell me the things I see fill the table between us

Before I begin posting work from many poets who haven’t appeared on this blog before, let’s start with this intricate gem by the magnificent writer and activist, June Jordan (1936-2002), who I just love so much.

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“Not Looking”

Not looking now and then I find you here
not knowing where you are.
Talk to me. Tell me things I see
fill the table between us or surround
the precipice nobody dares to forget.
Talking takes time takes everything
sooner than I can forget the precipice
and speak to your being there
where I can hear you move no nearer
than you were standing on my hands
covered my eyes dreaming about music.

My love for you is a monolith of try.

To put it simply: I love this love poem by T.C. Tolbert from his/her collection, Gephryomania.

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“What Space Faith Can Occupy”

I believe that witness is a magnitude of vulnerability.
That when I say love what I mean is not a feeling
nor a promise of a feeling. I believe in attention.
My love for you is a monolith of try.

The woman I love pays an inordinate amount
of attention to large and small objects. She is not
described by anything. Because I could not mean anything else,
she knows exactly what I mean.

Once upon a time a line saw itself
clear to its end. I have seen the shape
of happiness. (y=mx+b)
I am holding it. It is your hand.