gran frè

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Water laps against the hull, against swells,

against ebbing. In times of fight or flight

this tricked-out catboat has served very well;

enough room for us to curl up, out of sight,

in its bottom. Slow hours; your back pressed

against my chest, your bottom pressed against

my cock, my fingers pressed against your nest

of curls. Each time your nipples and clit tensed.

Each time you groaned, “Wi, gran frè!” Paul Gauguin

would have loved seeing you squirt up sea spray;

your blue-coral hue soaking my fingers ––.

When we sail back to Jacmel, your cousin

will frown at these new stains, at how you sway

as you walk, at how your smile now lingers.

][][

Notes:

In Haitian Creole, Gran Frè translates into, “Big Brother.” Jacmel is a port city on Haiti’s southern coast. A catboat has a single sail set well forward in its hull. Winslow Homer’s 1870s painting, “Breezing Up (A Fair Wind),” features a catboat riding into the wind. Paul Gauguin was a French Post-Impressionist artist whose work featured Polynesian women in various stages of undress. 1900s Paris couldn’t get enough.

this

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Now words are rare. Whatever synapses

let in the Divine are misfiring. ––

Neurons fail. Neural pathways do not please.

Now words are a struggle. I’m struggling

just to write this. Once I said I’d go turn

a tramp steamer into a library. ––

Sail from port to port, sharing that stubborn

love of books with all who live by the sea.

Now I’m struggling just to write this. Now

I sit in my chair and –– stare. There are no

books here. Words, like the water, turn brackish

each time I go down. Let me drown, somehow,

instead of this decline. Instead I know:

first I floundered, now flail and soon perish.

pestilence

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Rise as the nightly scourge of a sanguine

people—Illusive as a ghostly stroke

across one’s cheek. Not a spring-heeled villain;

be that other sort of pestilence—smoke

smitten, unfettered, the Azalea Crypt

of quick caresses that makes flesh quiver.

I think of the moon bent; how cum once dripped

from your smile. A conked smile that grows fainter

in my mind as all memories grow faint

when you’re no longer haunted by a bent

figure pressed to the window. I know why

you’re gone. A scourge would need to be a saint

to slake my passions. For nightmares hellbent

on wet dreams I am where they go to die.

umbral

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Hecate. Mother of the Moon. Hear me.

3 Fates. 3 Faces. Nighttide-bellower.

Thrice-voiced. Beloved of the Cemetery.

Mistress of Corpses and Fire. Bewitcher.

You, who Cronus gave the Underworld to.

You, who feasts among the graves; with this knife

I cut my flesh. 3 drops of blood might do.

Lover of Erinyes and Afterlife;

you face 3 Paths. Show me the 4th. Crossroads

form an X, show me the 5th. Blood umbral.

Mother mine. I am blind from Right-hand light;

from saints that rot, from angels that corrode.

Hecate: show me what’s veiled, nocturnal,

lustful; all that cavort in the moonlight.

serpentine

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Yes, let all dried pied things that hunt beneath

hueless meringues, that kink about and crawl

upon claws or stunted feet in the heath,

let them all come. Let the dead things that brawl

with the living come, too. The fell things cast

out who walk in the wild woods by their wild

lones. I want them all. Every downcast ghast;

woebegone eidolon; every reviled

wild child. My bed is big. My appetite

curious and my hunger fabulous.

Mortal hordes bore me. Nations of grundy

prigs priss want away. But passion, delight

bred, its fire stirred by Lilith and Eros,

is worth it. Here, serpentine lust, take me.

thunderhead

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Half a mile high. Book open. Pen drooping

in one hands; the hand that writes secret words.

Just as the in-flight drinks are served something

enters. “Sounds like dementia. It’s absurd;

ghosts and gods and stuff.” I’ve done deep damage

with my drinking; taken blows to my head.

Who knows? Half a mile high and a mirage

enters me. Shadows? The dark thunderhead

out my window? “Sounds like that Twilight Zone

Gremlin.” On Thursday I’ll be fifty-two.

Vo’chinch,” my pen writes. Nothing? Good enough.

Good? I’m a half-assed conduit. I’ve grown;

not wiser, just … vaguer. Just … the one who,

miles high, mumbles of ghosts and gods and stuff.

][][

Note:

Armenian, an ancient language I am forever butchering when I try to talk, has the most useful word in the world, “Vo’chinch,” (Ոչինչ) an expression that literally means, “Nothing,” but is used in the same way that the French use, “Comme ci Comme ca” — neither good nor bad, it just is.

“in fair verona, where we lay our scene”

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I am working on a translation of the Shakespearian sonnet that opens the play Romeo and Juliet.

Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;
Whose misadventur’d piteous overthrows
Doth with their death bury their parents’ strife.
The fearful passage of their death-mark’d love,
And the continuance of their parents’ rage,
Which, but their children’s end, naught could remove,
Is now the two hours’ traffic of our stage;
The which if you with patient ears attend,
What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.

Since it’s impossible to translate the English rules of what makes a sonnet into Armenian I have simply used prose and so far this is what I have:

Վերոնա կոչվող գեղեցիկ քաղաքում կային երկու մեծ ընտանիքներ, որոնք իրար հետ հին վիճաբանություն ունեին, որը հավերժ պահեցին՝ նոր ոխը դնելով հին վնասվածքների վրա, ձեռքերը թաթախելով միմյանց արյան մեջ։ Այս թշնամիների դժբախտ արգանդից մի զույգ ծնվեց չար աստղի սիրահարվածությամբ, որի վիշտն ու մահը վերջ դրեցին այս դինաստիաների հին ատելությանը: Այս սիրահարների հանդեպ սիրո սարսափազդու անցումը, իրենց խեղճ երեխաներին մահ տված ծնողների կատաղի ոգին մեզ երկու ժամ նյութ է տալիս, որ եթե համբերատար լսեք պակասը, այն կփոխարինեք մեր ջանքերով ու պատրաստակամությամբ։

It is difficult finding people who can or will comment or critique my poor attempts at translation, though I keep hoping that if I post enough attempts someone, somewhere, might read it and offer their own suggestions. Fingers crossed.

irrumabo

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Before the Great War poets saw Gnostic

gibber everywhere. “Hark! The voice of Dawn!”

they’d write and then Dawn would say some stomach

turned tripe about Divine will and Bygone

virtues. After great wars and great horror

the shit got real. “Make it new,” had no place

for, “Lord’s sweet orbs of night,” or whatever

passed as gritty for those sad fucks. “Embrace

vulgar and speak truth,” Catullus charged us.

Brother, even now they still don’t get it;

if those hard sibylline K’s in Cunt, Cock

and Cum offend how will they bear witness

to real horror? –– “Irrumabo?” Shit,

time to go Orphic on your priggish schlock.

][][

NOTES:

When the subject of wretched poetry comes up my first thought is of those slushy, inbred Victorians, who gave us some of the worst doggerel to be found in the English language. Full of pomposity, being grandiloquent without humor or irony, they seemed entirely unwilling or unable to write about anything without heaping bathos all over it: “Theirs not to make reply,/ Theirs not to reason why,/ Theirs but to do and die.” Yes, please put this schmaltz out of its misery. It’s no surprise that the artists who survived WWI quickly realized that their forebears were altogether useless when describing the horrors that they themselves had just witnessed. Burning it all down and salting the earth after was the only logical way to go. Thus, “Make it new,” became Modernism’s imperative and we’ve been following that maxim ever since … with mixed results. I lay claim to the Roman poet Catullus (84-54 B.C.) as poetic progenitor (that’s approximately 84 generations back). He’s a clean old man; though these days Catullus is chiefly remembered for a line of verse considered so obscene that a complete English translation of it wasn’t even published until the 20th century. “Pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo,” which translates as: “I will sodomize and face-fuck you” (best opening line to one’s critics ever). That is the, “vulgar truth,” that I look for in poetry.

gauche

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We all bleed; I’m just ill-bred about it.

Of the twenty-seven holes so far bored

through my flesh all were amateurish, split

seconds of poor choices. There’s no reward

for a gauche childhood other than blatant

bleeding while your betters smirk. Oscar Wilde

never tripped on rusty farm equipment.

No one in Bronski Beat had such reviled

puncture wounds. Jinkies! I hear their peevish,

Tsks,” each time I must take off my trousers.

Tsks and, “If you call that mutilating.”

Twenty-seven scars and not one foppish

gaffe; just crackups, buckshot, brass knucks, a spur.

–– Redundant wounds. –– Tedious hemorrhaging.

bootchy

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The Camellia tree would leave its place/ By the gateway,/ And wander up and down the garden,/ Trailing its roots behind it.” ~ Amy Lowell.

Fetch the axe, the poet said. But when you swung,

and bit deep, dark blood spouted, and when you

bent down to tear out the stump, the ground hung

open, “like a wound.” That you could, then threw

the foul thing ten feet, was lost on Lowell.

It was her ghost tale; as if a lewd tree

using lewd roots in lewd ways made a hell

better tale than you. Bull-dagger, Bootchy

-bitch, she called you. Boon-butch. Why the poet

of, “Two Speak Together,” shunned you, dunno,

but you swaggered like a boss. That macabre

bit of wood could only spew sap: scarlet

juice. You rose, aflame, but found your hero

didn’t notice, the one you called heartthrob.

][][

Notes:

This poem began with a line from the American poet, Amy Lowell, in, “The Camellia Tree of Matsue,” a curious little tale about a haunted tree. It ends with an anonymous gardener digging up said tree and finding it hemorrhaging blood. For whatever reason the gardener got my attention so I began doing research about Lowell and that led me to this asshole: Ezra Pound. Truth be told, taking Pound to task for his treatment of Lowell is the least of his crimes. As a fascist collaborator he ignored the massacres of Italian Jews and Gypsies in 1943, he ignored the Risiera di San Sabba extermination camp in Trieste, he ignored the Nazi occupational forces and Fascist militias running amok throughout all of Italy. However, much like with Gertrude Stein in Vichy France, when Pound’s name comes up there are still apologists who will hand-wave all this away by saying, “Yes, yes, the Holocaust was unfortunate but that was all Germany’s fault, all Mussolini wanted was for the trains to run on time.” I bring this up because long before he was Benito’s boot-licker he spent his time between Cantos attacking Amy Lowell in the way so many men do when talking about their betters: he ridiculed her for her weight, her “mannish” appearance, her love of other women. She wasn’t an Imagist poet, Pound wrote, she was a, “Hippopoetess … who wore pince-nez glasses and smoked cheap cigars.” Why there is still a cult of personality around this man to this day baffles me, except that it takes a fascist to love a fascist, I suppose. If you’ve never read Lowell before I highly suggest, Pictures of the Floating World (1927) which contains numerous erotic poems written to her lover and muse, Ada Dwyer Russell.