translated by andrew wachtel
He broke up the sky on the square and gave it like bread crumbs to birds.
Then he cut it in pieces and threw it to the beggars,
the crazies, the blind, and their companions.
But I got an end, smashed like a cup thrown to the ground,
lying on its back like a wounded soldier,
uncomplaining, as a harem wife
hiding her gaze behind a black veil.
The plains’ bed is spread with houses, and everyone
beneath it ages like a slave chained in bondage;
save his high-cheek-boned face.
Tensing my voice I started to refuse my free portion.
But I stayed mute, the sky’s mouth was filled with lead.
The voice one has when
talking to small children
and large dogs
is not the same
as that at the barber’s
or from the lectern.
It comes from another life
from far, far away
one that maybe never existed
whereas the voice
when caressing a woman’s breast
is a third voice
that comes from a third world
(green warm moist shadow under
huge ferns, marshland, and
huge birds that fly up).
And there are many, many more.
Not my own voice—
and not exactly that of anyone else.
Is there such a thing as
the voices in between?
I recall your foot
still warm with morning.
they must be like that.
And if one could hear
all the voices at the same time
one would get the impression
of a men’s choir
a breakneck series of dissonances.
Yesterday, against admonishment,
my daughter balanced on the couch back,
fell and cut her mouth.
Because I saw it happen I knew
she was not hurt, and yet
a child’s blood so red
it stops a father’s heart.
My daughter cried her tears;
I held some ice
against her lip.
That was the end of it.
Round and round: bow and kiss.
I try to teach her caution;
she tried to teach me risk.
The brief sum of life forbids us the hope of enduring long. –Horace
They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate:
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.
They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.
And they will gather by the well,
its dark water a mirror to catch whatever
stars slide by in the slow procession of
the skies, the tilting dome of time,
over all, a light mist like a scrim,
and here and there some clouds
that will open at the last and let
the moon shine through; it will be
at the wheel’s turning, when
three zeros stand like paw-prints
in the snow; it will be a crescent
moon. and it will shine up from
the dark water like a silver hook
without a fish–until, as we lean closer,
swimming up from the well, something
dark but glowing, animate, like live coals–
it is our own eyes staring up at us,
as the moon sets its hook;
and they, whose dim shapes are no more
than what we will become, take up
their long-handled dippers
of brass, and one by one, they catch
the moon in the cup-shaped bowls,
and they raise its floating light
to their lips, and with it, they drink back
our eyes, burning with desire to see
into the gullet of night: each one
dips and drinks, and dips, and drinks,
until there is only dark water,
until there is only dark.
There was one summer
that returned many times over
there was one flower unfurling
taking many forms
Crimson of the monarda, pale gold of the late roses
There was one love
There was one love, there were many nights
Smell of the mock orange tree
Corridors of jasmine and lilies
Still the wind blew
There were many winters but I closed my eyes
The cold air white with dissolved wings
There was one garden when the snow melted
Azure and white; I couldn’t tell
my solitude from love—
There was one love; he had many voices
There was one dawn; sometimes
we watched it together
I was here
I was here
There was one summer returning over and over
there was one dawn
I grew old watching
They say, in writing, to start where you are.
I have no clean forks. The laundry creeps like kudzu
from the basket. Outside green buds fatten on trees
and night slips in. This is my poem. This is the white glow
of the page, the black clack of keys, three dozen dead roses drinking
nothing in a thick glass vase. A crusty yogurt cup. A spoon. Paper
everywhere: tissues and bills, a phone number
on the back of a birthday card. A magazine
I haven’t read. My notepad. An avalanche of drafts,
their proud little letters marching nowhere.
Somewhere tonight hearts break, young men
shoot metal at each other in the red desert. A hand
touches a new face for the first time. Babies
slide into the world like sirens.
This is my poem. From my desk Wonder Woman stares flatly,
armless and plastic on her Pez dispenser. She wants truth, offers candy.
Learn more about Jaclyn Friedman