Who’s the audience

1.
Peony silks,

in wax-light:

that petal-sheen,

gold or apricot or rose

candled into-

what to call it,

lumina, aurora, aureole?

About gowns,

the Old Masters,

were they ever wrong?

This penitent Magdalen’s

wrapped in a yellow

so voluptuous

she seems to wear

all she’s renounced;

this boy angel

isn’t touching the ground,

but his billow

of yardage refers

not to heaven

but to pleasure’s

textures, the tactile

sheers and voiles

and tulles

which weren’t made

to adorn the soul.

Eternity’s plainly nude;

the naked here and now

longs for a little

dressing up. And though

they seem to prefer

the invisible, every saint

in the gallery

flaunts an improbable

tumble of drapery,

a nearly audible liquidity

(bright brass embroidery,

satin’s violin-sheen)

raveled around the body’s

plain prose; exquisite

(dis?)guises; poetry,

music, clothes.

2.
Nothing needs to be this lavish.

Even the words I’d choose

for these leaves;

intricate, stippled, foxed,

tortoise, mottled, splotched

-jeweled adjectives

for a forest by Fabergé,

all cloisonné and enamel,

a yellow grove golden

in its gleaming couture,

brass buttons

tumbling to the floor.

Who’s it for?

Who’s the audience

for this bravura?

Maybe the world’s

just trompe l’oeil,

appearances laid out

to dazzle the eye;

who could see through this

to any world beyond forms?

Maybe the costume’s

the whole show,

all of revelation

we’ll be offered.

So? Show me what’s not

a world of appearances.

Autumn’s a grand old drag

in torched and tumbled chiffon

striking her weary pose.

Talk about your mellow

fruitfulness! Smoky alto,

thou hast thy music,

too; unforgettable,

those October damasks,

the dazzling kimono

worn, dishabille,

uncountable curtain calls

in these footlights’

dusky, flattering rose.

The world’s made fabulous

by fabulous clothes.
Couture

Mark Doty, 1953

My nights are rarely unruly

Not for me a youngman’s death
Not a car crash, whiplash
John Doe, DOA at A&E kind of death.
Not a gun in hand, in a far off land
IED at the roadside death

Not a slow-fade, razor blade
bloodbath in the bath, death.
Jump under a train, Kurt Cobain
bullet in the brain, death

Not a horse-riding paragliding
mountain climbing fall, death.
Motorcycle into an old stone wall
you know the kind of death, death

My nights are rarely unruly. My days
of allnight parties are over, well and truly.
No mistresses no red sports cars
no shady deals no gangland bars
no drugs no fags no rock’n’roll
Time alone has taken its toll

Not for me a youngman’s death
Not a domestic brawl, blood in the hall
knife in the chest, death.
Not a drunken binge, dirty syringe
“What a waste of a life” death.

Not for Me a Youngman’s Death
By Roger McGough

At home

POEMA A UN GATO

No son más silenciosos los espejos
Ni más furtiva el alba aventurera;
Eres, bajo la luna, esa pantera
Que nos es dado divisar de lejos.

Por obra indescifrable de un decreto
Divino, te buscamos vanamente;
Más remoto que el Ganges y el poniente,
Tuya es la soledad, tuyo el secreto.

Tu lomo condesciende a la morosa
Caricia de mi mano.
Has admitido,
Desde esa eternidad que ya es olvido,
El amor de la mano recelosa.

En otro tiempo estás.
Eres el dueño
De un ámbito cerrado como un sueño.

Jorge Luis Borges, El oro de los tigres, 1972

 

To a cat

Mirrors are not more wrapt in silences
nor the arriving dawn more secretive;
you, in the moonlight, are that panther figure
which we can only spy at from a distance.
By the mysterious functioning of some
divine decree, we seek you out in vain;
remoter than the Ganges or the sunset,
yours is the solitude, yours is the secret.
Your back allows the tentative caress
my hand extends. And you have condescended
since that forever, now oblivion,
to take love from a flattering human hand.
You live in other time, lord of your realm —
a world as closed and separate as dream.

Jorge Luis Borges (translated by Alastair Reid, 1977)

Aimless

Retrato de uma princesa desconhecida
Para que ela tivesse um pescoço tão fino
Para que os seus pulsos tivessem um quebrar de caule
Para que os seus olhos fossem tão frontais e limpos
Para que a sua espinha fosse tão direita
E ela usasse a cabeça tão erguida
Com uma tão simples claridade sobre a testa
Foram necessárias sucessivas gerações de escravos
De corpo dobrado e grossas mãos pacientes
Servindo sucessivas gerações de príncipes
Ainda um pouco toscos e grosseiros
Ávidos cruéis e fraudulentos

Foi um imenso desperdiçar de gente
Para que ela fosse aquela perfeição
Solitária exilada sem destino

Portrait of an Unknown Princess
For her to have such a slender neck
For her wrists to bend like flower stems
For her eyes to be so clear and direct
Her back so straight
Her head so high
With such a natural glow on her forehead
It took successive generations of slaves
With stooping bodies and patient rough hands
Serving successive generations of princes
Still a bit coarse still a bit crude
Cruel greedy and conniving

It took an enormous squandering of life
For her to be
That lonely exiled aimless perfection

© 1991, Sophia de Mello Breyner
From: Obra Poética III
Publisher: Caminho, Lisboa
© Translation: 2004, Richard Zenith