The Dream Masters
Friend, if you want wine, it comes from vats
where the dogs are drowned
if you ask for bread, they slaughter a goat
and serve you the horn
if you need light, they cut off a small piece of
the moon and burn it in a grave cup
if you wish for oblivion, they put a pack of cards
in your hands with photographs on the back
if you ask for a pen, a candle drips its scald
between your fingers
if you ask for paper, snakes and onions
couple on the table
if you need a woman, the squint-eyed crone with
the brass foot that rings on the cobbles leers through the pane with coins for teeth
if you require solitude, you get it
if you crave dice, a small box of gecko
bones rattles in the drawer
if you call for a priest, they send a nun with
a platter of apples and a paring knife
if you hunger for company, bats hang from
the windows and squeak into your ears
if you need a home, they show you the three
white villages in the hills and no road
to get there
if you beg for mercy, they will sell it for a profit,
but never to you
I have committed the one betrayal for which there is no reprieve or absolution. Women do not understand this kind of treachery, which has nothing to do with cowardice or infidelity. I am speaking of the transgression inherent in the document, the unforgivable duplicity of turning love into literature, imprisoning the demon who is our salvation in the twists and fibers of the scroll from which he can never escape. When the flesh is made word, the world fades. I should rather write nothing, say nothing, but only listen to her voice, she who makes the language beautiful by speaking it.
Letter to a Young Poet
Open your mouth and let the flies swarm in.
Desperate, you need never go hungry.
Look at the spiders: they fatten off dust,
candle smoke and particles of air.
On the jetty fishermen sort the catch,
clean the nets: they leave behind a feast
of russet cucumbers and red scorpions
which also delight the eye. On lean days
you can work the chapels for lamp oil
(who knows? you might find a barley cake).
And there's always an abandoned hive
you can sack for honey corks. On good days
you can chew artichoke and cactus pear.
Complain, you'll get no sympathy from me.
Just open your mouth as wide as your eyes.
I am the one who speaks,
a voice become your voice
as you read, aloud or silently,
tracing a course with your finger.
Yet I am spoken by another
whose voice I cannot hear,
whose recitation escapes me,
whose language is adrift
in dark uncharted waters
even the shark and dogfish avoid.
I am the channel
between one I cannot hear
and one I cannot see.
I am the exile
in the desolate margins,
the sentinel on the coast.
I stand by the broken jetty.
The sun turns me to salt.
Poets know nothing
of this desolation
which no longer even resembles us,
which resembles only itself.
Not even the country
which hurts you
wherever you may travel
is like this
place that records
in its parchment of dust
the shattering of the pool's cool surface,
the myth that might have saved us.
To force the lemon or the apricot
from this stony-hearted earth
we must create
something out of nothing,
make green assumptions.
We are completely on our own.
This is Saracen Island.
No one answers our letters.
When the wind started
a week ago, two weeks, a month perhaps,
we did all the usual things-
nailed the window shutters tight,
planed the grooves and flanges
of the door planks,
placed chimney pots upon the roof tiles.
Now the very shape
of the mountain has changed.
The earth is bare,
its skin of red dust
flayed from its bones of ore.
The village is a heap of stones.
We take whatever shelter we can
in the caves by the sea
or in the dried-up watercourse.
I record everything
with the doggedness of the tamarisk tree,
with the memory of the heavy stone,
to keep what is left
from blowing away
in this endless, anonymous wind.
Translated by David Solway
(Copyright retained by David Solway)