I offer you that kernel of myself that I have saved

These gorgeous incantatory love poems from the one and only Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) render me speechless. Totally and utterly speechless.

“Two English Poems”

I.

The useless dawn finds me in a deserted street-
corner; I have outlived the night.
Nights are proud waves; darkblue topheavy waves
laden with all the hues of deep spoil, laden with
things unlikely and desirable.
Nights have a habit of mysterious gifts and refusals,
of things half given away, half withheld,
of joys with a dark hemisphere. Nights act
that way, I tell you.
The surge, that night, left me the customary shreds
and odd ends: some hated friends to chat
with, music for dreams, and the smoking of
bitter ashes. The things my hungry heart
has no use for.
The big wave brought you.
Words, any words, your laughter; and you so lazily
and incessantly beautiful. We talked and you
have forgotten the words.
The shattering dawn finds me in a deserted street
of my city.
Your profile turned away, the sounds that go to
make your name, the lilt of your laughter:
these are the illustrious toys you have left me.
I turn them over in the dawn, I lose them, I find
them; I tell them to the few stray dogs and
to the few stray stars of the dawn.
Your dark rich life …
I must get at you, somehow; I put away those
illustrious toys you have left me, I want your
hidden look, your real smile — that lonely,
mocking smile your cool mirror knows.

II

What can I hold you with?
I offer you lean streets, desperate sunsets, the
moon of the jagged suburbs.
I offer you the bitterness of a man who has looked
long and long at the lonely moon.
I offer you my ancestors, my dead men, the ghosts
that living men have honoured in bronze:
my father’s father killed in the frontier of
Buenos Aires, two bullets through his lungs,
bearded and dead, wrapped by his soldiers in
the hide of a cow; my mother’s grandfather
–just twentyfour– heading a charge of
three hundred men in Peru, now ghosts on
vanished horses.
I offer you whatever insight my books may hold,
whatever manliness or humour my life.
I offer you the loyalty of a man who has never
been loyal.
I offer you that kernel of myself that I have saved,
somehow –the central heart that deals not
in words, traffics not with dreams, and is
untouched by time, by joy, by adversities.
I offer you the memory of a yellow rose seen at
sunset, years before you were born.
I offer you explanations of yourself, theories about
yourself, authentic and surprising news of
yourself.
I can give you my loneliness, my darkness, the
hunger of my heart; I am trying to bribe you
with uncertainty, with danger, with defeat.

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Let me kind you in two tongues

The political becomes personal, and powerfully so, in Philip Metres’ amazing new book Sand Operawhich he describes as a “collection of poems that sets in counterpoint the experience of becoming a father on the home front and the War on Terror abroad, and meditates on what it means to celebrate the body, raise children, and write poetry in a terrifying world of war and violence.” In addition to Metres’ new collection, (and his other ones, which I’m just now reading), I highly recommend this recent interview in the Los Angeles Review of Books with the also fantastic poet Fady Joudah.

Love Potion #42

Before you, I slept on a bayonet,
Bided my time in clothing. Neither experience
nor innocence kept me

from bleeding. Before you, I held
an invisible sign: please touch this abyss.
How pleasing to have you sieve me

through your lungs, leave me essential
dregs and seeds. Since there’s no place
a grain of sand cannot hide, deserts

and strands now travel the world
with us, in shoes. Let me kind you in two
tongues, Habibti, two decades ago,

we fell off a cliff, each holding a wing,
each holding a hand, and have yet to land.

I’m looking for the face I had

Two poems from the famous Irish poet, Yeats (rhymes with crates). He had a pretty fascinating life–you should look it up. I would give you a taste but I’m not quite in the blogging mood tonight. The line “But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you” has always moved me; I don’t know what it is about the idea of a pilgrim soul that really gets to me. But it does.

“Before the World Was Made”

If I make the lashes dark
And the eyes more bright
And the lips more scarlet,
Or ask if all be right
From mirror after mirror,
No vanity’s displayed:
I’m looking for the face I had
Before the world was made.

What if I look upon a man
As though on my beloved,
And my blood be cold the while
And my heart unmoved?
Why should he think me cruel
Or that he is betrayed?
I’d have him love the thing that was
Before the world was made.

“When You Are Old”

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim Soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.