Sunday, November 24, 2013

A. P. and E. D.

Charles Wright

Merle Travis's "I Am a Pilgrim" from the late forties (first recorded by him in 1946), country gospel, white soul, was my introduction to one branch of the subgenre of music I heard constantly on the radio in east Tennessee and western North Carolina in the forties and early fifties. God-haunted, salvation-minded and evangelical, the storyline seldom varied: change your life or heaven won't be your home. My initial interest came from the orchestration, the instruments, the rhythm, the "song" itself. The lyric, the human theme, remained the same, whether it was a coal-mining song, love song, wandering song or gospel song: death, loss, resurrection, salvation, leaving, leaving: an ultimate inability to cope with life, a life we all lived, unavoidably, in this world. "Dark as a Dungeon," "Let's All Go Down to the River," "Dust on the Bible" . . . .
          WCKY, Cincinnati 1, Ohio, was the power station in my area, the late-night music brought in with a Zenith Trans-Oceanic portable radio. This was the gene pool I later drew from in the more fleshed-out articulation of The Carter Family, one of the two seminal acts in the history of country music. They came from outside Gate City, Virginia, in the Clinch Mountains, across the Holston River from my hometown of Kingsport, Tennessee. They had finished performing when I became aware of them on records, but their mountain origins, their insistent reference to these origins in their songs, the ballad and hymn meters that A. P. Carter consistently wrote his gospel songs in, the song lyrics themselves, traditional and oddly surreal at the same time, drew me easily into the intimate circle their music projected: one of interiors, the point of view of someone watching, from inside, the world go on outside, and always aspiring to something beyond that world that waited as surely as sunrise. And written as though the songs had been to that place already and come back with their messages: "Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone," "Farther On," "Higher Ground," "Going Home." Coming, as they did, from my area, articulating, as they did, its native tongue and values so inescapably, and synthesizing, as they did, so brilliantly its bedrock beliefs, I find it not surprising that I listened so many years, and listened closely, to what they had to say, and how they said it.
          Nineteen sixty-one, the year I first began to study poetry in an organized way, the year I first met Miss Dickinson, the poet who, to this day, remains the only one who has ever "spoken" to me, the only poet who, when I read her, I feel as though I understand, I know, and have heard before, somewhere, what she is trying to tell me. . . . And why. I admire and revere and am awed by a good many writers; I have been in thrall to several. But Emily Dickinson is the only writer I've ever read who knows my name, whose work has influenced me at my heart's core, whose music is the music of songs I've listened to and remembered in my very body. Part of that, of course, is her genius. But another part belongs to another kind of genius, and goes back to country music, and especially to The Carter Family's licks and spins, the white soul of the mountains. Emily Dickinson's poems, in their surreal simplicity and ache, are without question the artistic high ground, the city of light, in this uniquely American landscape. But I like to think A. P. Carter's songs from his side of the river did not fall on deaf ears when he, too, was called back to join the writer of this hymn:

                              Just lost, when I was saved!
                              Just felt the world go by!
                              Just girt me for the onset with Eternity,
                              When breath blew back,
                              And on the other side
                              I heard recede the disappointed tide!

                              Therefore, as One returned, I feel
                              Odd secrets of the line to tell!
                              Some Sailor, skirting foreign shores--
                              Some pale Reporter, from the awful doors
                              Before the Seal!

                              Next time, to stay!
                              Next time, the things to see
                              By Ear unheard,
                              Unscrutinized by Eye--

                               Next time, to tarry,
                               While the Ages steal--
                               Slow tramp the Centuries
                               And the Cycles wheel!

--from Charles Wright, HALFLIFE: IMPROVISATIONS AND INTERVIEWS, 1977-87 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1988), pp. 53-55

Friday, November 1, 2013

Dear Death

David Hernandez

Cool cloak. So goth. I dig how the pleats
ripple like pond water when you move,
and the hood shadows the absence of your face.
Sweet scythe, too. The craftsmanship
of the wooden handle, how smooth the slow
curve. I had to look it up--it's called
the snath (rhymes with wrath), or snathe
(rhymes with bathe). I prefer the latter, the long
a. Snath sounds like an infectious disease
I might've caught if my mother wasn't there
to steer me from the gutter, from large
puddles marbled green, mosquitoes
scribbling above. How many times
do mosquitoes do your dirty work anyway?
Versus fleas? Versus gunpowder?
How bone-tired were you in Tohoku?
The previous year in Haiti? Have you ever felt
the sepia wind of remorse? I have 77 more
questions for you, give or take, you're often
in my thoughts. Yesterday, while grinding
coffee beans. While cleaning the lint trap.
Dicing cilantro. Buying ink cartridges.
Clipping my beard. I could go on and on,
you're that legendary in my head.
It works this way: I'm running the knife
across the cutting board, the cilantro
breaks into confetti, I remember my mother
scattering the herb over a Chilean dish, then
her voice on Monday, "numbness in my leg,"
"congestive heart failure," and it fails,
my mind fast-forwards to when it fails,
I can't help it, you grip her IV'd hand, pull her
over, and it is done, her silence begins
blowing through in waves, icing the room--
the thought seized me so completely, the knife
hovered still above the wooden board.
Seriously though, cool cloak. Sick black
fabric. I heard if you turn it inside-out,
the whole worlds embroidered on the lining.

--in Field: Contemporary Poetry and Poetics, number 89, Fall 2013, Oberlin College Press, pp. 44-45

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Many of Our Waters: Variations on a Poem by a Black Child

Delivered as the Phi Beta Kappa poem, College of William and Mary, December 5, 1969

          to my brother Jack


from my journal, March 8, 1969: Garnie's whisper to me, while we were watching a construction operation near Radio City. The operation had reached that early stage at which the workmen had dug extremely deep into the intended foundation of the building, obviously therefore to be a new skyscraper. As Garnie watched the working men, they were far below, and, to his eyes, as to mine, they appeared very small. About a third of them were Negroes.. And this is exactly what he whispered to me. It has to, and it can--only it can--speak for itself:

You know,
if a blind boy
ride his bicycle
down there
he might fall into that water
I think it's water
but I don't know
they call it acid
and if that poor boy
drive his poor blind bicycle
into that acid
he drown
he die
and then
they bury him


to the Ohio

Along Aetnaville, where I was born,
I want to spend my eternity
In hell with you.
And the moment I'm off, I'm off
Back home to my own river.

My rotted Ohio,
It was only a little while ago
That I learned the meaning of your name.
The Winnebago gave you your name, Ohio,
And Ohio means beautiful river.

In this final dawn
Of my life,
I think of two lines by the unhappy and half-forgotten
American poet H. Phelps Putnam.

He was writing about a lonely girl's lovely place.
He cried out, "That reeking slit, wide, soft, and lecherous,
From which we bleed, and into which we drown."

Oh, my secret and lovely place, up shore from the railroad,
My bareass beach,
This is not a poem.
This is not an apology to the Muse.
This is the cold-blooded plea of a homesick vampire
To his brother and friend.
If you do not care one way or another about
The preceding lines,
Please do not go on listening
On any account of mine.
Please leave the poem.
Thank you.

Oh my back-broken beloved Ohio.
I, too, was beautiful, once, 
Just like you.
We were both still a little
Young, then.
Now, all I am is a poet,
Just like you.
This morning I feel like that old child
You gathered so often
Into your rinsing arms,
And bathed, and healed.
I feel lonesome,
And sick at heart,
And I don't know



learning from MacDiarmid

The kind of poetry I want to write is
          The poetry of a grown man.
The young poets of New York come to me with
Their mangled figures of speech,
But they have little pity
For the pure clear word.

I know something about the pure clear word,
Though I am not yet a grown man.
And who is he?

The long body of his dream is the beginning of a dark
Hair under an illiterate
Girl's ear.

And everybody goes on explaining to us
The difference between a nutmeg and a squirrel,
The grown man plows down.

He longs for the long body of his dream.
He works slowly day by long day.
He gets up in the morning and curses himself
Into black silence.
He has got his guts kicked in,
And he says
Nothing. (Reader, I am a liar. He says plenty.)
He shuts up.
He dies.
He grows.


This morning
My beloved rose, before I did,
And came back again.

The kind of poetry I want is my love
Who comes back with the rain. Oh I
Would love to lie down long days long, the long
Down slipping the gown from her shoulders.

I got to go to work.

Work be damned, the kind
Of poetry I want
Is to lie down with my love.

All she is
Is a little ripple of rain
On a small waterfall.

What do you want from me?


on the way to the planetarium

That bright black boy whom I love
Came out of the grocery
On the other side of the street.

If you don't know that street,
84th and Amsterdam,
Be proud and true to yourself if you go there.
Otherwise, get through it
Fast as you can.
He'll catch you.
He's the gingerbread man.

That lithe white girl whom I love
Stood on the one side of 84th  
And Amsterdam.

That bright black boy whom she loves
Yelled from the other side of the street:

Can Kinny come too?
Kinny's my brother.

I yelled: Garnie,
The light's changing.
Get the HELL over here.

Can Kinny come too?
I ain't got nothing but my brother.

Garnie, you and Kinny get the hell over here.

I ain't got nothing but my brother.

Neither have I, get the hell over here.

And then my lithe proud love, a little darker
Than Kinny, lifted
The baby Gemela into her long and lonely arms,
And left her back home because
Outside it was raining.



Small fawn edging through the underbrush,
Small fawn secret,
My love, my love"s
Secret fawn
Fell asleep on my love's white shoulder because
It was raining,
And she couldn't go with us
To raise cain on the way to the planetarium
And brood on the stars there.

Gemela face down the Hudson River
Where even the rats drift
Belly up.
Aren't they cute little pickaninny fawns
Drifting face down the Hudson with the rats
Belly up?


A Message from the Mountain Pool
Where the Deer Come Down

My love and I went swimming naked one afternoon
When mother and daughter came down and watched us and went
In their own good time.
For once in our lives we did not frighten
The creation. It never occurred to them
What we might be.

I have a little time left, Jack.
I don't know what you want.
But I know what I want.
I want to live my life.
And how can I live my life
Unless you live yours?

All this time I've been slicking into my own words
The beautiful language of my friends.
I have to use my own, now.
That's why this scattering poem sounds the way it does.
You're my brother at last,
And I don't have anything
Except my brother
And many of our waters in our native country,
When they break.
And when they break,
They break in a woman's body,
They break in your man's heart,
And they break in mine:

Pity so old and alone, it is not alone, yours, or mine,
The pity of rivers and children, the pity of brothers, the pity
Of our country, which is our lives.

--James Wright
(New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1990), pp. 210-16

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Adam's Curse

by William Butler Yeats

We sat together at one summer's end,
that beautiful mild woman, your close friend,
And you and I, and talked of poetry.
I said, 'A line will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment's thought,
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.
Better go down upon your marrow-bones
And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones
Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather;
For to articulate sweet sounds together
Is to work harder than all these, and yet
Be thought an idler by the noisy set
Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen
The martyrs call the world.'
                                           And thereupon
That beautiful mild woman for whose sake
There's many a one shall find out all heartache
On finding that her voice is sweet and low
Replied: 'To be born woman is to know --
Although they do not talk of it at school --
That we must labour to be beautiful.'

I said, 'It's certain there is no fine thing
Since Adam's fall but needs much labouring.
There have been lovers who thought love should be
So much compounded of high courtesy
That they would sigh and quote with learned looks
Precedents out of beautiful old books;
Yet now it seems an idle trade enough.'

We sat grown quiet at the name of love;
We saw the last embers of daylight die,
And in the trembling blue-green of the sky
A moon, worn as if it had been a shell
Washed by time's waters as they rose and fell
About the stars and broke in days and years.

I had a thought for no one's but your ears:
That you were beautiful, and that I strove
To love you in the old high way of love;
That it had all seemed happy, and yet we'd grown
As weary-hearted as that hollow moon.

--from In the Seven Woods, 1904

Friday, March 22, 2013

Homage to Miguel Hernandez

                    y ahi te quedas, al mundo le diria / and you stay here, I say to the world

For so much suffering from love
Of your wife's sweet olive breasts
And the halo of salty air
Around the head of your son
Whom you never saw,
You retched in your cell seven years
And groped along the shit-littered floor
For the lost pulse of Spain,
And when your last fit of coughing began,
Spitting out the scraps of your lungs,
You sent down to us, in your death,
Your poems smuggled between bars
And out under the noses of the Civil Guard,
Into hands that did not want to go on.

                    --Floyce Alexander

                    (first published in The Nation,
                    collected in Bottom Falling Out of the Dream, Lynx House Press, 1976)

Monday, March 4, 2013

from Sebastiao Salgado, TERRA: Struggle of the Landless

                                        Preface by JOSE SARAMAGO:

May the idea never enter God's sublime head to journey one day to this land to see for himself whether those people who survive here on the brink between life and death are satisfactorily serving out the punishment that at the beginning of the world he handed out to the father and mother of us all. Just because they wanted to find out why they had been made, they were condemned--she to give birth in pain and travail, he to earn his family's bread by the sweat of his brow, and their final destiny was to return (dust to dust) to that selfsame land from which, by divine whim, they had been expelled. Of the two transgressors, let it be said, it was the woman and her daughters who came to bear the heavier load, for after having to suffer and sweat to give birth, as had been determined by the ever-merciful will of God, they also had to sweat and suffer working at their husbands' sides, had to exert themselves as much or more than the men, because for long millennia life did not enable married women to stay at home idle like queen bees, their only obligation that of laying eggs from time to time lest the world become a desert, leaving God with no-one over whom to rule.

If, however, that same God ignored the recommendations and counsels and insisted on coming here, he would surely recognize how unimportant a god is after all since, despite his famed attributes of omniscience and omnipotence, a thousand times exalted, in every language and dialect, so many errors of foresight (and errors so gross) were committed in the creation of humanity, such as that, unpardonable in any view, of providing human beings with sweat glands and then denying them the work that would make them (the human beings and the glands) function. In the light of this, it is meet to ask whether the pristine innocence that led our first mother and father to taste of the tree of knowledge of good and evil did not merit reward rather than punishment. The truth, let authorities--ideological, civilian or military--say what they will, is that strictly speaking they did not eat it; they only bit into it, which is why we are as we are, knowing so much of evil and so little of good.

A sense of shame and of contrition for errors committed is what is expected of any well-born person from a solid moral background, and God, having indisputably been born of himself, was clearly born of the best there was in his time. For these reasons, because of both the guilt he was born with and that which he acquired and after having seen and understood what happens here, he had no alternative but to cry out mea culpa, mea maxima culpa and recognize the enormity of the mistakes he had made. It is true that, to his credit, and so that this does not turn into one unending criticism of the Creator, there is the irrefutable fact that when God decided to expel our first mother and father from their terrestrial paradise for their disobedience, our first mother and father, despite their imprudent shortcomings, were to have the whole of the earth at their disposal, where they might sweat and work as they chose. Unfortunately, however, a second error in divine foresight was soon to reveal itself, this one much more serious than all those that had gone before.

It came to pass that the earth was now abundantly peopled with the children, the children of the children and the children of the grandchildren of our first mother and father. Some of these people had forgotten that because death belongs to all, so too should life, and they began to draw lines in the ground, to hammer in stakes and to erect walls of stone. Then they declared that from that moment on, it was forbidden (a new word) to enter the land thus demarcated, on pain of punishment that, depending on the times and the customs, could be death, or prison, or a fine, or again death. To this day no-one has ever learned why this happened, and there are those who affirm that the responsibility cannot be put onto the shoulders of God, since our ancient forebears, although they had witnessed the despoliation and heard the unprecedented warning, not only did not protest against the abuse whereby public property had become private property, but also believed that such was the incontestable natural order of things. It was said that if the lamb came into the world to be eaten by the wolf, as could be concluded by simple verification of the realities of pastoral life, then it is because of the desires of natural order that there be servants and masters, that the latter give commands and the former obey them, and that everything that is not so should be called subversion.

Faced with all these men, all these women, all these children (be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth, for thus have you been told), whose sweat was borne not of the work they did not have but from the agony of not having it, God repented of the evils that he had carried out and had permitted, until in an outburst of contrition he tried to exchange his name for a more human one. Speaking to the multitude, he announced, 'From this day forward, ye shall call me Justice.' And the multitude answered him, 'We already have Justice, and it heeds us not.' Then God said, 'If it be thus, I shall take the name of Law.' And again the multitude answered him, 'We already have Law, and it knows us not.' And God said, 'In that case, I shall have the name Charity, which is a pretty name.' The multitude replied, 'We have no need of charity; what we want is a Justice that is fulfilled and a Law that holds us in respect.' Then God understood that he had never truly possessed the world, although he had judged it his own, nor had he held the place of majesty that he had imagined, and that in the end everything had been an illusion, that he too had been the victim of deception just like that of which the women, men and children were complaining. In humiliation, he withdrew to eternity. The penultimate image that he saw was the rifles pointed at the multitude, the penultimate sound that he heard was the shots, but in the final image there were fallen bodies bleeding, and the final sound was a cacophony of cries and tears.

An 17 April 1996, in the Brazilian state of Para, near a town called Eldorado dos Carajas (Eldorado: how ironic the fate of certain words can be . . . ), 155 military policemen, armed with rifles and machine guns, opened fire on a demonstration of peasants who were blocking the roadway in protest against the delay in the legal proceedings to expropriate land. The proceedings concerned the rough draft or facade of a supposed agrarian reform in which, amid minimal steps forward and dramatic steps back, fifty years had already gone by without ever sorting out the grave problems of subsistence (it would be more correct to say survival) of the farmhands. That day, nineteen dead and fifty-seven wounded lay scattered on the ground at Eldorado dos Carajas. Three months after this bloody event, the Para state police, arrogating to itself the role of judge in a case in which obviously it could only be the defendant, declared publicly the innocence of its 155 soldiers, alleging that they had acted in self-defense, and, as if that were not enough, they brought criminal charges against three of the peasants for contempt, injuries and illegal possession of weapons. The protesters' arsenal consisted of three pistols, rocks and farm implements which were more or less capable of being brandished. We are all too well aware that long before firearms were invented, rocks, scythes and harpoons had been considered illegal in the hands of those who, obliged by necessity to demand bread to eat and land to till, found themselves facing the military police of their time, who were armed with swords, lances and halberds. Contrary to what we are usually asked to believe, there is nothing easier to understand than the history of the world, which many enlightened folk still insist on deeming too complicated for the doltish comprehension of the people. 

Around 3am on 9 August 1995, in Corumbiara, in the state of Rondonia, 600 landless peasant families in an encampment on the Santa Elina plantation were attacked by police troops. During the siege, which lasted the rest of the night, the peasants fought back with hunting rifles. At daybreak, the police, with uniforms and helmets, their faces painted black, with the help of a group of professional killers hired by a large landowner in the region, invaded the encampment, sweeping it with gunshots, knocking over and burning the shack where the landless were living. Ten peasants were killed, one of them a seven-year-old girl, shot in the back while trying to flee. Two policeman also died in the battle.

The total area of Brazil, including the lakes, rivers and mountains, is some 2,100 million acres. Roughly half of this area, some 980 million acres, is generally considered suitable for agricultural use and development. But currently only 150 million of those acres are regularly being used for growing grain. The rest, except for those areas that have come to be used for large-scale cattle ranching (which, contrary to the conclusions of an initial and hasty examination, actually signifies an inadequate application of the land), remain in an unproductive state, abandoned, fallow.

Peopling in dramatic fashion this landscape and this social and economic reality, drifting between dreams and despair, are four and a half million rural homeless families. The land is there, before their eyes and their arms, the immense half of an immense country, but these people (how many all told--fifteen million? twenty million? even more?) cannot enter it to work, to live with the simple dignity that only work can confer due to the voracious descendants of the men who first said 'This land is mine' and found others like them ingenuous enough to believe that saying it was enough. They surrounded the land with laws to protect them, with police to guard them, with governments to represent and defend them, with gunmen paid to kill. The nineteen dead at Eldorado dos Carajas were merely the latest drop of blood in the long martyrdom that has marked the persecution suffered by the farm workers, a continuous systematic and merciless persecution that cost 1,636 lives between 1964 and 1995, causing misery for the peasants of every state in Brazil and particularly for those in Bahia, Maranhao, Mato Grosso, Para and Pernambuco, where more than  a thousand have been murdered.

What about agrarian reform, the reform of usable Brazilian land, which has been in laborious and irregular gestation, with hope alternating with dejection ever since the Constitution of 1946? Following the redemocratization movement that swept Brazil after the Second World War, the Constitution adopted the precept of social utility as being fundamental to the expropriation of lands. At what stage today do we find that humanitarian marvel that was to startle the world, that work of thaumaturges so often promised, that banner for elections, that enticement of votes, that delusion of the desperate? Without going beyond the last four Brazilian presidents, it is enough to recall that President Jose Sarney promised to settle 1.4 million families of rural workers and that, at the end of his five years in office, less than 140,000 had been placed; it is enough to recall that President Fernando Collor de Melo promised to settle 600,000 families, and not a single one was; it is enough to recall that President Itamar Franco assured that he would settle 100,000 families and stopped at 20,000; it is enough to mention, finally, that the current president, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, has determined that agrarian reform will grant awards to 280,000 families in four years, which means that, as a simple calculation shows, if such a modest objective is carried out and the same programme continues to be repeated, it will take seventy years to settle the almost 5 million families of rural workers who need land and who have none, land that for them is a condition of existence, an existence that can no longer aspire to anything more. Still, the police absolve themselves and condemn those they murdered.

Christ's statue on Corcovado Hill has disappeared. God removed it when he retired to eternity, for having it there served no useful purpose. Now there is talk of putting in its place four enormous panels turned to the four corners of Brazil and the world, all saying in large letters the same thing: LAW THAT RESPECTS, JUSTICE THAT IS SERVED.



                                                Poetry by CHICO BUARQUE:

                                                        BREJO DA CRUZ

                                                             The news  
                                                        In Brejo da Cruz
                                                        Is that the children
                                                        Are feeding on light

                                                        Children are turning blue
                                                        And giving up the ghost
                                                        There in Brejo da Cruz

                                                        They cross the skies of Brazil
                                                             At the bus depot
                                                        They take on thousands of shapes 

                                                             Some peddle grass
                                                             Some have seen Jesus
                                                        Lots of blind accordionists
                                                             Singing the blues

                                                             Some are homesick
                                                             And dance maracatus 
                                                             Some throw stones
                                                        Others wander around nude

                                                        But there are millions of these beings
                                                             All so well disguised
                                                             That no one asks
                                                        From where such people come    

                                                             They're gardeners
                                                        Housekeepers and guards
                                                             They're bus riders
                                                        They're plumbers and nannies

                                                             They no longer remember
                                                        That there's a Brejo da Cruz
                                                        That they used to be children
                                                             And once fed on light

                                                        They wash dishes, do cleaning
                                                             They sway on girders
                                                             Sell tickets to shows
                                                        Or gumdrops or wait on tables
                                                             They  no longer remember
                                                         That there's a Brejo da Cruz
                                                         That they used to be children
                                                             And once fed on light



                                                 He loved that time as if it were the last
                                                      Kissed his wife as if it were the last
                                                 And each child as if it were the only one
                                                      And crossed the street with timid steps
                                                 He climbed the building as if he were a machine
                                                      Raised on the landing four solid walls
                                                 Brick by brick in a magical design
                                                      His eyes enfeebled by cement and tears

                                                 He sat down to rest as if it were Sunday
                                                      Ate rice and beans as if he were a prince
                                                 Drank and sobbed as if he were a castaway
                                                      Danced and laughed as if hearing music

                                                 And he tripped in the sky as if he were a drunk
                                                      And floated in the air as if he were a bird
                                                 And landed on the ground like a flaccid package
                                                      Lay agonizing in the middle of the public walk

                                                 He died in the street disturbing the traffic

                                                 He loved that time as if it were the last
                                                      Kissed his wife as if she were the only one
                                                 And each child of his as if it were the prodigal
                                                      And crossed the street with drunken steps

                                                 He climbed the building as if it were solid
                                                      Raised on the landing four magic walls
                                                 Brick by brick in a logical design
                                                      His eyes enfeebled by cement and traffic
                                                 He sat down to rest as if he were a prince
                                                      Ate rice and beans as if it were the best
                                                 Drank and sobbed as if he were a machine
                                                      Danced and laughed as if he were the next one

                                                 And he tripped in the sky as if hearing music
                                                      And floated in the air as if it were Saturday
                                                 And landed on the ground like a timid package
                                              Agonizing in the middle of the walk like a castaway

                                                 He died in the street disturbing the public

                                                 He loved that time as if he were a machine
                                                      Kissed his wife as if it were logical
                                                 And each child as if it were the only one
                                                      And crossed the streets with timid steps
                                                 Raised on the landing four flaccid walls
                                                      Sat down to rest as if he were a bird
                                                 And floated in the air as if he were a prince
                                             And  landed on the ground like a drunken package
                                                 He died in the street disturbing Saturday


                                                           RAISED FROM THE GROUND

                                                           Ripped from the land? What then?
                                                                Raised from the ground? How so?
                                                                As beneath our feet the ground
                                                           Like water slipping through your hand?

                                                           Like running the road in a dream?
                                                                Slipping in a single spot?
                                                           Like losing your footing in a dream
                                                                And falling to the hollow earth?

                                                           Ripped from the land? What then?
                                                                Raised from the ground? How so?
                                                                Or under your feet the earth
                                                           Like water in the palm of your hand?

                                                                Living in bottomless mud?
                                                                Like lying in a bed of dust?
                                                      In a hammock swinging without a hammock
                                                                Seeing the world upside-down?

                                                                Floating farmer? Is that it?
                                                           Heavenly pastures? A celestial corral?
                                                                A flock in the clouds? But how?
                                                                Winged cattle? Ethereal stallions?

                                                                So odd a tillage! But how?
                                                           Ploughed fields in heaven? Can it be?
                                                           What orange, what apple will rain down?
                                                                Buds? Nectar? Hail? Manna?
                        (This poem's verses were set to music by Milton Nascimento)


This book is dedicated to the thousands of landless Brazilian families who survive in makeshift encampments along the highways, struggling and hoping one day to win a piece of land on which they can be productive and live in dignity.
                                                                      Sebastiao Salgado


Translations of Jose Saramago and Chico Buarque, from Portuguese to English,  by Clifford Landers.
London: Phaidon Press Ltd., 1997. Copyright 1997 by Sebastiao Salgado and Lelia Wanick Salgado.

Friday, January 25, 2013


I love to speak with Leonard
He's a sportsman and a shepherd
He's a lazy bastard
Living in a suit

But he does say what I tell him
Even though it isn't welcome
He will never have the freedom
To refuse

He will speak these words of wisdom
Like a sage, a man of vision
Though he knows he's really nothing
But the brief elaboration of a tube

Going home
Without my sorrow
Going home
Sometime tomorrow
To where it's better
Than before

Going home

Without my burden
Going home
Behind the curtain
Going home
Without the costume
That I wore

He wants to write a love song

An anthem of forgiving
A manual for living with defeat

A cry above the suffering
A sacrifice recovering
But that isn't what I want him to complete

I want to make him certain
That he doesn't have a burden
That he doesn't need a vision

That he only has permission
To do my instant bidding
That is to SAY what I have told him
To repeat

Going home
Without my sorrow
Going home
Sometime tomorrow
Going home
To where it's better
Than before

Going home

Without my burden
Going home
Behind the curtain
Going home
Without the costume
That I wore

I love to speak with Leonard

He's a sportsman and a shepherd
He's a lazy bastard
Living in a suit

--Leonard Cohen

(THE NEW YORKER, January 23, 2012)