Saturday, April 6, 2024

Words by Anne Sexton

by Anne Sexton

Be careful of words,
even the miraculous ones.
For the miraculous we do our best,
sometimes they swarm like insects
and leave not a sting but a kiss.
They can be as good as fingers.
They can be as trusty as the rock
you stick your bottom on.
But they can be both daisies and bruises.
Yet I am in love with words.
They are doves falling out of the ceiling.
They are six holy oranges sitting in my lap.
They are the trees, the legs of summer,
and the sun, its passionate face.
Yet often they fail me.
I have so much I want to say,
so many stories, images, proverbs, etc.
But the words aren’t good enough,
the wrong ones kiss me.
Sometimes I fly like an eagle
but with the wings of a wren.
But I try to take care
and be gentle to them.
Words and eggs must be handled with care.
Once broken they are impossible
things to repair.

Thursday, March 14, 2024

Pablo Neruda / The Potter

by Pablo Neruda
Pablo Neruda / El alfarero

Your whole body has 
a fullness or a gentleness destined for me.

When I move my hand up 
I find in each place a dove 
that was seeking me, as 
if they had, love, made you of clay 
for my own potter's hands.

Your knees, your breasts, 
your waist 
are missing parts of me like the hollow 
of a thirsty earth 
from which they broke off 
a form, 
and together 
we are complete like a single river, 
like a single grain of sand.

Saturday, March 2, 2024

Agha Shahid Ali / From Another Desert



by Agha Shahid Ali


Cries Majnoon:

you are not here

It is a strange spring
rivers lined with skeletons

Wings beat
in the cages

    letting the wind hear
its own restlessness

    the cry of gods
    and prisoners

    letting me hear
    my agony



Each statue will be broken
if the heart is a temple. When

the gods return, from the ends
of the fasting sky, they’ll stand

in the rain and knock and knock.
They’ll force open the heart.

In the grief of ruins, they’ll pick
up their severed arms

and depart and depart and depart.



There again is memory
at my doorstep—

jasmine crushed under
departing feet.

The moon extinguishes
its silver pain

on the window.



Cries Majnoon:

Those in tatters
may now demand love:

    I’ve declared a fashion
    of ripped collars.

The breezes are lost
travellers today,

    knocking, asking
    for a place to stay.

    I tell them
    to go away.

All night they knock, asking
if the Beloved
had ever passed this way.

    All night I keep
    the heart shut.

I’m waiting for a greater madness:

    to declare
    to the Hangman.



Who now weeps
at the crossroads,

remembers the directions
that led so soon

to betrayal,
the disappearance

of all wayfarers
when it was almost

the morning?
Some went back,

folding breezes
in their wallets.

Some ran ahead,
the sun divided

among them, eclipses
hidden in their eyes.



Majnoon was again sighted
in the streets, intoxicated

as before, surpassing the rapture
of every mad lover.



In prison Majnoon weeps for Satan:

And Iblis bereft of dreams would still not bow to man Qais weep for Iblis a
lover like you lover of God that cruel Beloved Qais welcome the knives the
stones but never bow to man learn from Iblis survive somehow survive in Hell
each day this memory the echo of the Beloved’s voice telling one to go to Hell



The prisoners know they’ve been
eclipsed, that someone

greater than them is now
among them. For though they know

the rattle of bound ankles,
they’ve never heard

such sorrow before,
this pounding, this beating down of the floor,

this plaint,
all night, of feet in chains.



Ambushed in century after century by the police of God
the broken Ishmaels cry out in the blazing noons

welcoming the knives the stones rained down on them

again declared madmen by the government of Sorrow

And Majnoon also among them with bare hands
digs graves in the desert

crying out for his dead Laila

his back broken by a giant teardrop
inside it the ruins of Jerusalem or Beirut

or another rival to the garden of paradise
where his heart broke and broke centuries ago


*The Arabic love story of Qais and Laila is used—in Urdu and Persian literature—to cite the exalting power of love. Qais is called Majnoon (literally “possessed” or “mad”) because he sacrificed everything for love. The legend has acquired a political dimension.

Agha Shahid Ali is from Kashmir, India. His book, The Half-Inch Himalayas, is published by Wesleyan University Press. His second book, A Nostalgist’s Map of America, is forthcoming from W.W. Norton.


Friday, February 23, 2024

Five Poems by Roque Dalton


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Five Poems 

by Roque Dalton

El Salvador Will Be

El Salvador will be a beautiful
and without exception, a dignified country
when the working class and the people of the countryside
enrich it, bathe, powder and groom it,
when they cure the historical hangover
and add enough to it by a hundred fold
to reconstitute it
and start it moving along.

The problem is that today El Salvador
has a thousand incentives and a hundred thousand inequalities,
cancers, castoffs, dandruff, filth,
sores, fractures, weak knees and offensive breath.

A few machetes will be given it
also restored self esteem, turpentine, penicillin,
bathrooms with toilets and toilets with seats,
kisses and gunpowder.

Translated from the Spanish by Zoë Anglesey.

From Poesía Elegida, Guaymuras, Tegucigalpa, Honduras, 1981.


The New Schools

In ancient Greece
Aristotle taught philosophy to his disciples
while they walked across a large courtyard.

Because of this his school was called “the peripatetic.”

Fighting poets
are peripateticker than those Aristotelian peripatetics
because we apprehend the philosophy and poetry of the people
while traveling
through the cities and mountains of our land.

Translated from the Spanish by Jack Hirschman.

From The Dalmo’ma Anthology, Empty Bowl Press, Port Townsend, 1982.


No I Wasn’t Always So Ugly

The thing is I have a fractured nose
the tico Lizano gave me with a brick
because I said it was obviously a foul
and he said no, no, no
I’ll never again turn my back on a Guatemalan soccer player
Father Achaerandio nearly died of fright
since in the end there was more blood than on an Aztec altar
and then it was Quique Soler who hit me in the right eye
with the most perfectly thrown rock you can imagine
sure we were only trying to reenact the landing on Okinawa
but what I got was a ruptured retina
a month confined to bed (at eleven!)
a visit to Doctor Quevedo in Guatemala
and to Doctor Bidford who wore a red wig
that’s why I sometimes squint
and look like a dazed drug addict when I come out the movies
the other reason is the rum bottle blow
Maria Elena’s husband gave me
I really meant no harm
but then every husband is a world
and if we consider that he thought I was an Argentine diplomat
we have to say thank God
the next time was in Prague we never knew who did it
four thugs jumped me in a dark alley
two blocks from the Ministry of Defense
and four blocks from the offices of State Security
it was the night before the opening of the Party Congress
for which reason someone said it was an anti-Congress demonstration
(at the hospital I ran into two more delegates
who had come out of their respective assaults
with more bones than ever)
someone else thought it was the CIA trying to get even for my escape
from jail
still others that is was an example of anti-Latin American racism
and some of nothing more than the universal appetite for robbery
Comrade Sobolev came to ask me
if I hadn’t pinched the ass of some escorted woman
before protesting to the Ministry of the Interior
in the name of the Russian Party
there were finally no leads
and again we have to say thank God
that I continued as the offended party to the end
during an investigation carried out in Kafka’s homeland
in any case (and for what’s of interest to me here)
the results were
a double fracture of the lower maxillary
a severe cerebral concussion
a month and a half in the hospital
and two more months swallowing even beefsteaks as a liquid
and the last time
was when I was coming down a hillside in the rain
with an iron pipe in my arms
when suddenly a bull comes out of who knows where
I got my ankles tangled in the weeds and started to fall
the bull rushed by but since it was a huge prick
it wouldn’t turn around to finish me off
still it wasn’t necessary because
as I was saying I fell on the pipe
which didn’t know what else to do except spring back like a revolution
in Africa
and it broke my zygomatic arch (which is crucial
to the aesthetic quality of the cheekbones) into three pieces
That at least in part explains my problem

Translated from the Spanish by Robert Marquez The Massachusetts Review, 1974.

Poem of Love

They who widened the Panama Canal
(and were classified “silver roll” and “gold roll”),
they who repaired the Pacific fleet at California bases,
they who rotted in the jails of Guatemala,
Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua *
for being thieves, smugglers, swindlers, for being hungry,
they always suspicious of everything
("permit me to haul you in as a suspect
for hanging out on corners suspiciously, and furthermore
with the pretentious air of being Salvadorian"),
they who packed the bars and brothels of all the ports
and capitals of the region
(“The Blue Cave,” “Hot Pants,” “Happyland”),
the planters of corn deep in foreign jungles,
the kings of cheap porn,
they who no one knows where they come from,
the best artisans of the world,
they who were stitched by bullets crossing the border,
they who died of malaria
or by the sting of scorpions or yellow fever
in the hell of banana plantations,
the drunkards who cried for the national anthem
under a cyclone of the Pacific or northern snows,
the moochers, the beggars, the dope pushers,
guanaco sons of bitches,
they who hardly made it back,
they who had a little more luck,
the eternally undocumented,
the jack-of-all trades, the hustlers, the gluts,
the first the flash a knife,
the sad, the saddest of all,
my people, my brothers.

*Somoza’s era in Nicaragua.

Translated from the Spanish by Zoë Anglesey and Daniel Flores Ascencio.

Third Poem of Love

Whoever tells you our love is extraordinary
because it was born of extraordinary circumstances
tell him we’re struggling now
so that a love like ours
(a love among comrades in battle)
the most ordinary and flowing,
almost unparalleled,
love in El Salvador.

From The Dalmo’ma Anthology, Empty Bowl Press, Port Townsend, 1982.


Roque Dalton was born in El Salvador in 1935. He lived as a political exile in Guatemala, Mexico, Czechoslovakia, and Cuba. In his own country he was hunted and imprisoned several times. As an internationally prize-winning poet he also published books on literature, social science and political theory. He returned to El Salvador to join a revolutionary army. As part of a misdirected internal struggle later repudiated by all parties, Roque Dalton was killed in 1975.