Can Anyone Think Why

Once individuals have the motivation to do something different, the whole world can begin to change.

Esther Cameron

a’ anit Ester, id est
The Fast of Esther

By Esther Cameron

Can anyone still hear my people’s cry,
Even they themselves? Can anybody stand
In the blown-apart heart of the Holy Land,
Can anybody see with shattered eye
All that is done? Can anyone think why,
Marshal a shredded brain to understand?
Can anybody grasp a severed hand,
Can a cut-out tongue still stammer of Sinai?
O GOD, restore the image of Your Law,
Restore the sacredness of human form,
If not for Israel’s, for your sweet earth’s sake.
Send us a sign, send forth a ray to draw
Love’s faithful in against the hateful storm,
To uphold the norm, and face down Amalek!”

 


 

Chopsticks

by Esther Cameron

On the old upright piano in the gym
short fingers jangle out the clanking Hymn
to Anarchy the children always know. 
Where do they learn it? Players come and go,
but it survives, jumping form span to span
of their quick generations. Peter Pan
must have composed the thing. Though surely he
would have put into it more revelry,
more reverie or more rhodomontade – 
something, anyway, other than this odd – 
angled insouciance.  Here you hear no dream
of islands, crocs, clocks, pirates. Aimless meme,
It asks only to cause a small annoyance
before relapsing into dumb compliance.
Nothing will change, tink tink.  Anyone care?
Clank clank. Indifference, older than despair. 

Meteors To Streak The August Sky

Julia Kasdorf

Nothing but blackness above And nothing that moves but the cars…. God, if you wish for our love, Fling us a handful of stars!

Louis Untermeyer

 

Landscape with Desire

by Julia Kasdorf​

Next month maples along this lake will rage
orange and scarlet. Firs we barely discern
on that far shore will state their dark shapes,
so we are torn between taking it all in
from the porch and taking a swim. At night
we pull on sweatshirts, lie down on the dock,
heads nestled in life preservers, and wait
for meteors to streak the August sky
like runs in the blackest stocking against
the whitest thigh. With each plummeting light,
our voices rise like love cries, more urgent
and louder than any solitary loon or coyote
calling to its mate. Only we conflate
longing and loss like this; only we wait


 

Infidelity

By Louis Untermeyer 
 
You have not conquered me—it is the surge
Of love itself that beats against my will;
It is the sting of conflict, the old urge
That calls me still.
 
It is not you I love—it is the form
And shadow of all lovers who have died
That gives you all the freshness of a warm
And unfamiliar bride.
 
It is your name I breathe, your hands I seek;
It will be you when you are gone.
And yet the dream, the name I never speak,
Is that that lures me on.
 
It is the golden summons, the bright wave
Of banners calling me anew;
It is all beauty, perilous and grave—
It is not you.

Let Us Make Haste

Gunter Grass (1927 – 2015)

Homeland is something one becomes aware of only through its loss.

Gunter Grass

Remembering Agnes Over Boiled Cod

by Günter Grass

Over the codfish,
which today I simmered in white wine
and thought about the days
when Baltic cod was still cheap—
Fresh cod! Fresh cod! Straight from the Baltic!—
I laid the fish in the pan, lowered the heat, and cooked it
until the fish eyes went milky and white, rolling backwards
and empty like scrolls of paper from the fever-ridden Opitz:
bright green gherkins, cut into tidy strips,
then, pulling the broth from the heat,
finish the dish with dill.

I season the poached cod with shrimp tails,
which our dinner guests—two men, strangers to each other—
had worried between their fingers while the fish was cooking,
through small talk and their anxiety about the future.

Oh, my cook, how you look over me,
watching as I flake the tender meat of the fish with a flat spoon,
helping it to give up its bones,
remembering you, Agnes,
remembering you.

By this time, our dinner guests
have gotten acquainted,
and I tell them,
When Opitz was our age, he died of the plague.
We talk about art
and the price of codfish.
No stirrings of politics.

After supper, there is sour cherry soup.
Back in the old days,
we counted out our lots with the cherry stones:
rich man beggar man working man priest….

Bei Kochfisch Agnes erinnert

by Günter Grass

Auf den Kabeljau heute,
den ich in Weißwein und Gedanken an Dorsch,
als er noch billig — Pomuchel! Pomuchel! —
auf schwacher Hitze gekocht habe, l
egte ich, als sein Auge schon milchig
und Fischaugen weiß dem fiebrigen Opitz
übers leere Papier rollten,
grüne Gurken in Streifen geschnitten,
dann, von der Hitze genommen, Dill in den Sud.

Über den Kochfisch streute ich Krabbenschwänze,
die unsere Gäste — zwei Herren, die sich nicht kannten —,
während der Kabeljau garte, gesprächig
und um die Zukunft besorgt,
mit Fingern gepult hatten.

Ach Köchin, du schaust mir zu,
wenn ich mit flachem Löffel
dem zarten Fleisch helfe: willig gibt es die Gräte auf
und will erinnert, Agnes, erinnert werden.

Nun kannten die Gäste sich besser.
Ich sagte, Opitz, in unserem Alter, starb an der Pest.
Wir sprachen über Künste und Preise.
Politisch regte nichts auf.
Suppe von sauren Kirschen danach.
Mitgezählt wurden frühere Kerne:
als wir noch Edelmann Bettelmann Bauer Pastor…


Martin Optiz is considered the father of modern poetry in Germany.   Optiz was a translator as well as poet, he translated Petrarch’s sonnets into German.   I rather enjoyed Grass’ shout out to Opitz in the poem above and it made me seek out an English translation of one of Opitz’s more famous poems. 


Ode VIII

by Martin Optiz (1597 – 1939)

Oh, beloved, let us make haste,
We have time,
But to tarry will injure
Both of us.
The noble gifts of beauty
Flee step by step,
And everything we have
Must pass away.

The ornament of your cheeks pale,
Your hair turns gray,
The fire of your eyes passes,
Your chest turns to ice.
Your little lips of coral
lose their shape,
Your hands melt away like snow,
As you grow old.

So let us now enjoy
Youth’s bounty,
Before we follow
With the flight of the years.
As you would love yourself,
So love me.
Give to me, so that when you give,
I will share your loss.

 

Ach liebste laß vns eilen
Wir haben Zeit:
Es schadet das verweilen
Uns beyderseit.
Der Edlen schönheit Gaben
Fliehn fuß für fuß:
Daß alles was wir haben
Verschwinden muß.

Der Wangen Ziehr verbleichet
Das Haar wird greiß,
Der Augen Fewer weichet,
Die Brunst wird Eiß.
Das Mündlein von Corallen
Wird vngestalt,
Die Händ’ als Schnee verfallen,
Und du wirst alt.

Drumb laß vns jetzt genießen
Der Jugend Frucht,
Eh’ als wir folgen müssen
Der Jahre Flucht.
Wo du dich selber liebest,
So liebe mich,
Gieb mir das wann du giebest
Verlier auch ich.

This Is Totally True

Richard Nixon (1913 – 1994)

The political lesson of Watergate is this: Never again must America allow an arrogant, elite guard of political adolescents to by-pass the regular party organization and dictate the terms of a national election.

Gerald R. Ford

The Position

by Richard Milhaus Nixon

The position is
To withhold
Information
And to cover up
This is
Totally true.
You could say
This is
Totally untrue.

 


Together

by Richard Milhaus Nixon

We are all
In it
Together.
We take
A few shots
And
It will be over.
Don’t worry.
I wouldn’t
Want to be
On the other side
Right now.

Wild To Hold

Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503 – 1542)

Rome was a poem pressed into service as a city.

Anatole Broyard

 

The Heart and Service

By Sir Thomas Wyatt
 
The heart and service to you proffer’d
With right good will full honestly,
Refuse it not, since it is offer’d,
But take it to you gentlely.
 
And though it be a small present,
Yet good, consider graciously
The thought, the mind, and the intent
Of him that loves you faithfully.
 
It were a thing of small effect
To work my woe thus cruelly,
For my good will to be abject:
Therefore accept it lovingly.
 
Pain or travel, to run or ride,
I undertake it pleasantly;
Bid ye me go, and straight I glide
At your commandement humbly.
 
Pain or pleasure, now may you plant
Even which it please you steadfastly;
Do which you list, I shall not want
To be your servant secretly.
 
And since so much I do desire
To be your own assuredly,
For all my service and my hire
Reward your servant liberally.
 

Whoso List to Hunt

by Sir Thomas Wyatt

Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind,
But as for me, helas! I may no more.
The vain travail hath worried me so sore,
I am of them that furthest come behind.
Yet may I by no means, my worried mind
Draw from the deer; but as she fleeth afore
Fainting I follow. I leave off therefore,
Since in a net I seek to hold the wind.
Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt,
As well as I, may spend his time in vain;
And graven in diamonds in letters plain
There is written, her fair neck round about,
“Noli me tangere, for Caesar’s I am,
And wild to hold, though I seem tame.”

 

Some Calculus Takes Centuries To Read

The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.

W. B. Yeats

The Artist

by Erin Redfern

The discovery of lapis lazuli in the dental calculus of an 11th-century religious woman is without precedent in the European medieval archaeological record and marks the earliest direct evidence for the use of this rare and expensive pigment by a religious woman in Germany.*

She kisses the bristles to a fine tip,
dips her brush in cerulean dust. Brings her skill
to bear on the letter, its lobe soon gravid

with blue. Blue pigment nestles in her teeth.
Some calculus takes centuries to read.
One historian guessed she was there to clean

the room. Or was she there to kiss the book?
Scrub, smooch––aren’t these the things that women do?
Let’s ask her:  are you Woman, or Master?

If woman, votary of ink, with which
I net the numinous. If master, the same.

Bowed to the body of the word, she prays
bowl, serif, ligature, head
until she, too, is illuminated.

 


Lapis Lazuli

By W. B. Yeats 

(for Harry Clifton)

I have heard that hysterical women say
They are sick of the palette and fiddle-bow,
Of poets that are always gay,
For everybody knows or else should know
That if nothing drastic is done
Aeroplane and Zeppelin will come out,
Pitch like King Billy bomb-balls in
Until the town lie beaten flat.
 
All perform their tragic play,
There struts Hamlet, there is Lear,
That’s Ophelia, that Cordelia;
Yet they, should the last scene be there,
The great stage curtain about to drop,
If worthy their prominent part in the play,
Do not break up their lines to weep.
They know that Hamlet and Lear are gay;
Gaiety transfiguring all that dread.
All men have aimed at, found and lost;
Black out; Heaven blazing into the head:
Tragedy wrought to its uttermost.
Though Hamlet rambles and Lear rages,
And all the drop scenes drop at once
Upon a hundred thousand stages,
It cannot grow by an inch or an ounce.
 
On their own feet they came, or on shipboard,
Camel-back, horse-back, ass-back, mule-back,
Old civilisations put to the sword.
Then they and their wisdom went to rack:
No handiwork of Callimachus
Who handled marble as if it were bronze,
Made draperies that seemed to rise
When sea-wind swept the corner, stands;
His long lamp chimney shaped like the stem
Of a slender palm, stood but a day;
All things fall and are built again
And those that build them again are gay.
 
Two Chinamen, behind them a third,
Are carved in Lapis Lazuli,
Over them flies a long-legged bird
A symbol of longevity;
The third, doubtless a serving-man,
Carries a musical instrument.
 
Every discolouration of the stone,
Every accidental crack or dent
Seems a water-course or an avalanche,
Or lofty slope where it still snows
Though doubtless plum or cherry-branch
Sweetens the little half-way house
Those Chinamen climb towards, and I
Delight to imagine them seated there;
There, on the mountain and the sky,
On all the tragic scene they stare.
One asks for mournful melodies;
Accomplished fingers begin to play.
Their eyes mid many wrinkles, their eyes,
Their ancient, glittering eyes, are gay.
 

My Unhappiness Comes From Too Much Thinking

Love wants everything without condition, love has no laws.

Pierre de Ronsard

O Flush, My Dog

An Excerpt

By Elizabeth Barrett Browning 
 
 
LOVING friend, the gift of one,
Who, her own true faith, hath run,
Through thy lower nature ;
Be my benediction said
With my hand upon thy head,
Gentle fellow-creature !
 
 
…….
 
 
And because he loves me so,
Better than his kind will do
Often, man or woman,
Give I back more love again
Than dogs often take of men, —
Leaning from my Human.
 
Blessings on thee, dog of mine,
Pretty collars make thee fine,
Sugared milk make fat thee !
Pleasures wag on in thy tail —
Hands of gentle motion fail
Nevermore, to pat thee !
 
Downy pillow take thy head,
Silken coverlid bestead,
Sunshine help thy sleeping !
No fly ‘s buzzing wake thee up —
No man break thy purple cup,
Set for drinking deep in.
 
Whiskered cats arointed flee —
Sturdy stoppers keep from thee
Cologne distillations ;
Nuts lie in thy path for stones,
And thy feast-day macaroons
Turn to daily rations !
 
Mock I thee, in wishing weal ? —
Tears are in my eyes to feel
Thou art made so straightly,
Blessing needs must straighten too, —
Little canst thou joy or do,
Thou who lovest greatly.
 
Yet be blessed to the height
Of all good and all delight
Pervious to thy nature, —
Only loved beyond that line,
With a love that answers thine,
Loving fellow-creature !
 
 

Les Amours de Cassandre
LXXVIII

By Pierre de Ronsard

Little water dog, how happy you are,
If you could only understand your luck,
To be able to stretch your body out between her arms,
And to sleep on her lovestruck breast!

Whereas I live on weak and languishing,
Because I understand my fortune too well.
Alas! For having wanted in my youth to learn
Too many reasons, I’ve made myself unhappy.

I wish I were a village roughneck,
An idiot, without intelligence, without understanding,
Or a woodcutter working out in the fields:
Then I would have no feeling for love.
Too much mind causes my sorrows,
And my unhappiness comes from too much thinking.

Les Amours de Cassandre, LXXVIII, 1552

Petit barbet, que tu es bienheureux,
Si ton bon-heur tu sçavois bien entendre,
D’ainsi ton corps entre ses bras estendre,
Et de dormir en son sein amoureux !

Où moy je vy chetif et langoureux,
Pour sçavoir trop ma fortune comprendre
Las! pour vouloir en ma jeunesse apprendre
Trop de raisons, je me fis malheureux.

Je voudrois estre un pitaut de village,
Sot, sans raison et sans entendement,
Ou fagoteur qui travaille au bocage:
Je n’aurois point en amour sentiment.
Le trop d’esprit me cause mon dommage,
Et mon mal vient de trop de jugement.

Being Not Unloveable

G. K. Chesterton (1874 – 1936)

“Without education, we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.”

G. K. Chesterton

For A War Memorial

by G. K. Chesterton

The hucksters haggle in the mart
The cars and carts go by;
Senates and schools go droning on;
For dead things cannot die.

A storm stooped on the place of tombs
With bolts to blast and rive;
But these be names of many men
The lightning found alive.

If usurers rule and rights decay
And visions view once more
Great Carthage like a golden shell
Gape hollow on the shore,

Still to the last of crumbling time
Upon this stone be read
How many men of England died
To prove they were not dead.


The Convert

By G. K. Chesterton

After one moment when I bowed my head
And the whole world turned over and came upright,
And I came out where the old road shone white.
I walked the ways and heard what all men said,
Forests of tongues, like autumn leaves unshed,
Being not unlovable but strange and light;
Old riddles and new creeds, not in despite
But softly, as men smile about the dead

The sages have a hundred maps to give
That trace their crawling cosmos like a tree,
They rattle reason out through many a sieve
That stores the sand and lets the gold go free:
And all these things are less than dust to me
Because my name is Lazarus and I live

I Shall Walk Straightly

Gwendolyn Brooks (1917 – 2000)

One reasons cats are happier than people is they have no newspapers.

Gwendolyn Brooks

Hunchback Girl: She Thinks of Heaven

by Gwendolyn Brooks

My Father, it is surely a blue place,
And Straight. Right. Regular. Where I shall find
No need for scholarly nonchalance or looks
A little to the left or guards upon the
Heart to halt love that runs without crookedness
Along its crooked corridors. My Father,
It is a planned place surely. Out of coils,
Unscrewed, released, no more to be marvelous,
I shall walk straightly through most proper halls
Proper myself, princess of properness.




Court Musicians

by Joyce Kilmer

As when in summer-scented days gone by
The court-musicians, dressed in velvets gay
And golden silks, would on their gitterns play
And blend their voices with the strings’ love-cry,
So that the princess from her tower on high
Might through the rose-framed window hear their lay,
And make more splendid the resplendent day
By leaning out, her choristers to spy;

So now, with weary voice and violin,
Two court-musicians rend the dusty air.
Their shrill notes pierce the elevated’s din,
And thrill a girl’s heart with a pleasure rare.
For her has sweeter music never been;
They never saw a princess half so fair.