Monthly Archives: March 2018

Monday’s Verse 3/26/2018

Dear readers,

I’m not sure yet if Badr Shakir al Sayyab (1926-1964) is my kind of poet, but he’s my kind of guy. In his life, he was a teacher, a date-taster, a security guard for a road-paving company, a civil servant, and a poet. He died young of complications from ALS.

Sayyab was one of the most influential modern Arabic poets. His volume The Rain Song revolutionized the use of myth in a modern idiom, a strategy that can be seen below. He was an advocate and translator of T.S. Eliot, whose mythophilia he shared. Enjoy, and have a great week. -ed.


Day has gone.
See. Its wick has died
on a horizon glowing, fireless,
and here you sit, waiting
for Sindbad to return.
Behind you the sea cries out
in tempests, in thunder.
He will not return.
Haven’t you heard? The sea gods
have imprisoned him in a black castle,
in islands of blood, of oyster shells.
He will not return.
Day has gone
so go now, go.
He will not be back.

The horizon – forests of swollen clouds, of thunder.
Their fruits breed death, breed a handful of day’s ashes.
Death rains down from them, breeds a handful of day’s ashes.
Their threatening colours spell fear and breed a handful of day’s ashes.
Day has gone.
Day has gone.

As though your left wrist,
as though your left arm were waving
behond his hour of death,
as if it were a lighthouse
on some shore, reserved for death,
a shore which dreams of ships
always in wait.
Day has gone.
If only time would stop, but no.
Time’s little steps are heard
even in the grave,
even by the stones.

Day has gone.
Day has gone.

The horizon – forests of swollen clouds, of thunder.
Their fruits breed death, breed a handful of day’s ashes.
Death rains down from them, breeds a handful of day’s ashes.
Their threatening colours spell fear and breed a handful of day’s ashes.
Day has gone.
Day has gone.

Sinbad could not ward off ruin
from your golden hair.
Your locks reached down and drank the brine.
The ocean salt turned gold to white,
and all your love letters are washed away,
the glitter of vows dissolved.
And here you sit waiting,
dazed, with whirling thoughts:
"He will come back. No, his ship has gone down headlong.
He will come back. No, the wailing winds have detained him.
O Sindbad, will you ever come back?
The time of my youth has almost run out.
Lilies have wilted in my cheeks.
So when will you come back?

Stretch out your hands –
The heart will use them to fashion its new world.
It will destroy the world of talons,
of frenzy and blood.
It will, if only for a while,
build its own universe.

Oh, when will you come back?
Will you know, I wonder, when daylight fades,
how much the fingers’ silence knows
about the flashes of the unseen
in life’s darkness?
Oh, let me have your fists.
They fall as snow falls,
no matter where I look,
as snow descends upon my palms
and falls headlong into my heart.
How often have I dreamed about those fists,
as two flowers growing by a stream
unfolding where my loneliness wanders, lost."
Day has gone.
And the ocean, empty, vast,
no singing save the roar of waves.
There appears only one sail
inebriated by the lashing winds.
Nothing flutters on the water’s face
except your waiting heart.
Day has gone
So go now, go.
Day has gone.

Trans. Adnan Haydar and Michael Beard

Monday’s Verse 3/12/2018

Dear readers,

some of you may have noticed a cool obituary-editorial effort last week in the New York Times, commemorating historical women who should have been, but never were, subjects of a NY Times obituary. The link to the project there introduces Qui Jin (1875-1907) better than and cut-and-past summary by me could, so I’ll say check it out.

Briefly, she was: the daughter of a government official, a wife in an arranged marriage, a poet, a teacher, a foreign student in Japan, a feminist journal founder/editor, a revolutionary, and a martyr. She was ultimately captured, tortured, and beheaded by imperial forces after her colleague assassinated a Manchu superior. Government soldiers killed the colleague, Xu Xilin, and attempted to wipe out his associates as well.

Unhappy in her marriage, she wrote these lines as she left to study in Japan, a trip that fuelled her revolutionary aspirations.I’m sorry I don’t have access to the original or translator info for this one… feel free to supplement in reply. Have a good week, -ed.


Sun and moon have no light left, earth is dark,
Our women’s world is sunk so deep, who can help us?
Jewelry sold to pay this trip across the seas,
Cut off from my family I leave my native land.
Unbinding my feet I clean out a thousand years of poison,
With heated heart arouse all women’s spirits.
Alas, this delicate kerchief here,
Is half stained with blood, and half with tears.


Monday’s Verse 3/5/2018

Dear readers,

Yesterday was the birthday of one of the great American Yeats inheritors, James Merrill (1926-1995). The entry at Poetry Foundation for Merrill explains a lot; you should go read it there than listen to my summary. But I will paste in one great quote about the way Merrill mined his own personal experience for poetic achievement: He believed, like in this Yeats quote, that "all that is personal soon rots; it must be packed in salt or ice." What a profound metaphor, and itself packed in incisive imagery. It says something understandable about the poetic process at the same time.

We only have another 26 days or so until National Poetry month. Here’s a teaser, a short one that Merrill wrote in the year of my own birth. Have a great week! -ed.


The panes flash, tremble with your ghostly passage
Through them, an x-ray sheerness billowing, and I have risen
But cannot speak, remembering only that one was meant
To rise and not to speak. Young storm, this house is yours.
Let our eye darken, your rain come, the candle reeling
Deep in what still reflects control itself and me.
Daybreak’s great gray rust-veined irises humble and proud
Along your path will have laid their foreheads in the dust.