Guest Authors

Black-and-white photo of the end of a park bench with a wide open space behind it and a line of trees in the distance.

Today, crossing the scrap of Clapham Common
right by the tube entrance, this unappealing piece
with scanty grass and grubby benches shat upon
by crows and pigeons, I remember again a lanky,
windswept woman and glimpse the fading shape
of brassy wings. Here is where I’d often see her,
comfortably hunkered on one of these greasy seats
or stalking towards them, all flying silver mane
and lamentable, flapping coat, happy to hang out
alone or with the old homeless guys who favoured
this draughty and neglected corner of the common,
facing the statue of Temperance and Providence
from a safe distance. I used to stare, imagining wide-
eyed and shy the fabulous mechanics of her mind.

 

The British novelist Angela Carter died 25 years ago – such mixed feelings in remembering an amazing writer who died too young, and a time when we had great hopes for post-Cold-War peace and democratisation.
Angela Carter: official website and another lovely site with new publications, events and discussion.
Statue of Temperance and Providence on Clapham Common, 1884.

You can’t remember how many nights
or days or cycles you’ve picked yourself up
from countless falls.
Luisa A. Igloria, “Way Station

for my mother

before your attending doctors
could bore a hole in your throat
to attach tubes to a life-sustaining machine,
you waged your silent
protest by dying at the hour of
great mercy, the hour i was away
from your bed, the hour i chose
to indulge in a siesta elsewhere
to make up for days, some nights
i hovered over you like a dutiful
daughter, a role
alien to me

nothing in your sudden departure
in cruel May prepared me or those
closest to you for this dystopian
universe we now inhabit:
the cheapening of human lives,
killings to the right of us,
killings to the left, to the front
and behind us, duct-taped corpses
fouling the night, the bitter wails of
new widows and orphans, bald men,
bewigged men, their bald-faced lies,
their armies of trolls scrutinizing,
deciphering our increasingly secret hieroglyphics

they say this downward cycle of darkness
is but temporary, depending on
a leader’s term of office

if this churlish despot leaves
through a possible resistance,
will Enlightenment follow?

even you in your grave, Mother, would
chide me for clinging to a child’s naivete
but let me hang on to this belief, so written
in Ecclesiastes, that all things under heaven,
on this earth, serve a purpose

Let us not spend
these remaining days being experimental
and eating nothing
Luisa A. Igloria, “If these are the last days

Is this the end of days
or simply the end of the year?
Either way, we behave
the same: for breakfast, we eat
cookies full of butter and nuts.
We begin home repair projects unlikely
to be finished. We eat salad
for lunch, because we may survive
and need some nutrients.
In the afternoon, we meet friends
for tea and conversations that deepen
in the gathering dusk. During the evening lit
only by the table-top trees, we eat
the last of the cookies and await
the final answers.

We were always
Trying to run toward each other.
Luisa A. Igloria, “Landscape in an afterlife

Once again, you find yourself
on the old revolutionary road
with the houses that once hid
the asylum seekers.

The long road stretches
before you, overgrown
with brambles and struggling seedlings.
You see the fires
ahead, burning cities
or perhaps the lights
of fellow travelers.
Smoke hides the mountains.

The road is lined
with the suitcases of immigrants
who abandoned all the essentials
they once lugged to a new country.

You have kept your treasures
sewn into your hemlines, heirloom
seeds and the small computer chip
that holds your freedom papers.
Your grandmother’s gold hoops dance
in your earlobes and twinkle
around your fingers.

You hear the voices of the ancestors,
colored with both reason and panic.
Go faster, they urge.
You are needed up ahead.

I love the sound of snow… You can hear it even if you are only standing on a balcony. [The sound] is only minimal, not even a real noise: a breath, a trifle of a sound. You have the same thing in music: if in the score there is a pianissimo marked that ends in nothing. Up there you can feel this ‘nothing’. With an orchestra it is very difficult to achieve it. The Berlin Philharmonic manage(s) it sometimes.
Claudio Abbado

how can i love that which
has not been fully experienced
like the sight of snow falling on trees
stripped of leaves in the fall?

but fully imagined
i see snow falling and
shrouding bloodied corpses,
washing clean and clear of suspicions
these snuffed out lives

in a country that knows of
seasons of dust and of wet on wet,
i desire the benediction of snow,
a rest from the burst of bullets
and cusses

the arbitrary blankness,
the nothingness of
whitened landscapes
with a hint of resurrection
pushing out of sorrow’s
inhospitable ground

Manila, Philippines
Nov. 17, 2016

Not accepting, not rejecting
says the Buddha as the demons
elect to live with him
Hospitality for demons by Luisa A. Igloria

I think of the demons
that have kept us company
through the ages.

Now we have medications
that quiet the howling
of some of these demons.
But still some ask for stories
and a glass of milk.
Some make stronger demands,
and we struggle to deliver.

On the morning after the election
the seething wind finally silenced,
I startle from sleep, mistaking
the cat’s crying
for a larger weeping.
I listen for the call of the ancient
prophet or the modern Romero,
and hear the rustle in the palm trees.

On this holiday, the living
visit the cities of the dead…
Remembering the dead by Luisa A. Igloria

The dead do not want
your candles or your picnics,
all your attempts to stay connected.
The dead scoff
at your sugar skulls
and all the ways you try
to sweeten the truth.

You will join them soon
enough, so leave the dead
to their own devices. Conduct
your business in the land
of the living. Wear your baubles
because they are beautiful,
not because you hope
that they can protect
you from the malevolent spirits,
the ones your grandmother warned
you of, thousands of them,
keeping watch over every hour.

photo of weeping willows

My castle has a moat
bordered by weeping willows
and filled with tears.
Great blue herons pattern the sky
with dinosaur wings.
They land and line the bank,
erect and still as meditating monks
in grey-blue robes, no longer
prehistoric but eternal.
Happiness holds my hand as, slowly,
we walk to raise the drawbridge.

bust of Anna de Noailles by Rodin

I thought I was

So calm and sad I thought I was,
resigned to noble silence,
as befits a weary heart,
but evening, with its slipping,
sliding wind, its cooling,
vegetable smells,
this peaceful landscape
where desire lies dreaming,
seems determined to undo
my safe but joyless rest,
compelling me to face
these artful, airy games
that overwhelm and plunder
warming earth and fading skies
– ah, gentle, porous evening,
perfumed with vanilla,
why would you want to hurt
the ever hopeful girl
within my tense, half-open,
hesitating heart?

Je croyais être

Je croyais être calme et triste,
Simplement, sans demander mieux
Que ce noble état sérieux
D’un coeur lassé. Le soir insiste:
Avec les glissements du vent
Et la froide odeur des herbages,
Et cette paix des paysages
Sur qui le désir est rêvant,
Il défait mon repos sans joie,
Ce repos qui protégeait bien,
Il exige, hélas, que je voie
Ces rusés jeux aériens
Où tout s’enveloppe et se pille,
Du sol tiède aux clartés des cieux…
– Pourquoi, soir mol et spongieux
D’où coule un parfum de vanille,
Blessez-vous, dans mon coeur serré
Qui soudain s’entr’ouvre et vacille,
Cette éternelle jeune fille
Qui ne peut cesse d’espérer?

 

Tranquillity

Here in the wake of dazzling day
comes fine, devoted night.
It feels as if the sky is bowed
beneath a tranquil weight of stars.
The juddering breath of a train
sets even this calm hillside
beating to its hearty rhythm.
Here in the darkness every
shimmering sound – a voice,
a footfall or a shutter slammed –
gleams like a marble or a rosary bead.
Can this airy, empathetic
but mysterious night, so gentle
and attuned to all our thoughts,
really be built upon graves?
This evening, dear, your love,
your tenderness, is all I need,
my soul’s contented only
when I have no hopes or plans.
We talk so much of souls,
but sated with pleasures
all we need is languorous rest.
Our hearts cry out for nothing more
– content to live or die,
we’ve found this calm and ease.
Dearest companion, is it just
desire we suffer from?

Tranquillité

Après le jour luisant d’entrain
Voici la nuit, dévote et fine,
Il semble que le ciel s’incline
Par le poids des astres sereins.
Le soufflé saccadé d’un train
Transmet à la calme colline
Sa palpitation d’airain.
Dans l’ombre, les bruits qui scintillent,
– Bruits de pas, de voix, de volets –
Semblent polis comme des billes,
Comme les grains d’un chapelet.
– Ȏ Nuit, compatissant mystère!
Se peut-il, quand l’air est si doux
Et semble penser avec nous,
Qu’il y ait des morts dans la terre!
– Je n’ai besoin de rien ce soir
Grâce à ta tendresse amoureuse,
Une âme n’est vraiment heureuse
Que sans projets et sans espoirs.
Nous parlons sans cesse de l’âme,
Pourtant, après ce long plaisir,
Tout nous est paresse et loisir,
Plus rien en nos coeurs ne réclame;
Nous pourrions vivre ou bien mourir
Contents ainsi, calmes, à l’aise,
– Ȏ mon cher compagnon, serait-ce
Qu’on souffre que de désir?

 

Photo: Unfinished bust of Anna de Noailles – Rodin, 1906, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Anna de Noailles (1876-1933) was highly praised and acknowledged as a philosophical and aesthetic influence by Rilke, Proust and Colette. Prolific and beloved poet, novelist, patron, muse, she was heaped with honours and thousands lined the streets for her state funeral. Then she disappeared from the canon – surely mostly for the usual reason that she was a woman, but perhaps also because, written in iconoclastic times for European poetry, all of her poems rhyme.

I can’t help finding even the most sensitive and skilful rhymed translations of her poems rather wordy and distant from the originals – French rhymes so much more easily and lightly. But it’s also true that de Noailles consistently defended form and rhyme at a time when many poets were abandoning them, so these attempts to better capture her emotional intensity in unrhymed translations are very tentative.

mediums; the ones who never deign to tell us anything
about that future whose smell we already know.
Always, the women get their hands dirty” by Luisa Igloria

The wind changes direction, and we smell
the future, just a hint of iron
underneath the scent of oyster
beds at low tide.

I think of ancient ancestors
who could forecast the week’s weather
based on the wanderings
of each cloud. But I consult
the oracles through my computer.

My oracles will be silenced
tonight. The wind howls
around my closed hurricane shutters.
I can smell the distant miseries
that this storm has folded
into itself, the despair that threatens
to fill the house with sorrow.
I add extra spices to the pot of stew,
some peppers dried during a distant harvest.

Although I still have electricity, I light
the candles and turn off
every switch. I fill the lamps with oil.
I could live forever in this light
that hides the dust intent on colonizing
every surface.

I give the stew one last stir and tuck
towels at every entrance. I rock
in the chair carved long ago for a pregnant
bride. I open the antique
prayer book and let the ancient rhythms
cast their spell.