Monday, May 22, 2017


By Henrik Nordbrandt

Translated by Thom Satterlee

In my dream I found the screw
that held everything together.
But in my search for the screw
the instruction book was lost
and when I finally found the instruction book
a cogwheel was missing
and a gadget, the name of which I've forgotten.
I knew that I was busy
but not why.
I knew also that I should return
but not where.
The instruction book was blue and illustrated
with a picture of a sleeping man
who smiled in his sleep.
The cogwheel was like normal cogwheels
and the gadget a regular old gadget.
The screw that held everything together
was naturally unusual,
but not as unusual, as you would expect.
When I'd finally gotten it set in place
and everything was assembled
I discovered that my wife had left me
and my children were grown up.
The bills for unpaid subscriptions
lay in a great heap on the table.
So I smashed everything and started all over again.

Long overdue for the Nobel Prize, the Danish poet Henrik Nordbrandt is the greatest among all the contemporary Scandinavian poets living today.
I love the above poem. In unusual metaphors, he conjures up a world where loss and fulfillment occur simultaneously. “The Screw,” begins with the speaker claiming: “In my dream I found the screw / that held everything together.” In the poem the speaker busies himself with figuring out how to assemble the gadget that the screw holds together, and once he completes the task he discovers that “my wife had left me / and my children were grown up.” At the conclusion acts of construction and deconstruction coalesce: “So I smashed everything and started all over again.”

Source : The Hangman's Lament: Poems by Henrik Nordbrandt
Painting by Salavador Dali

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Lullaby for my mother

By Blaga Dimitrova

Translated by Ludmilla Popova-Wightman

In the evening I smooth her sheets
Covered with deep wrinkles.
Her hand,
withered by giving,
pulls mine towards the night.

Half-asleep, barely able to speak,
she says in a childish voice
so naturally,
I become my mother’s mother.

A cataclysm, a reversal
Of the earth’s axis—
the poles flip over.
What was I doing? I don’t have time
for philosophical musings.

I dry her impatiently—
A skill, I've learnt from her.
“Mommy” she whispers guiltily,
remembering her naughtiness.
Cold air blows in the window.

The heating pad. The glass. The pills
I adjust the lampshade.
“Mommy, don’t go away!
I am afraid of dark! “
Who is losing her mind, she or I?

Heavy with pain and fever, crying,
she waits for me to take her 
in my arms. Two orphans cuddle
in the winter cradle.
Which am I?

Wake me up early tomorrow!
I am afraid, I’ll oversleep!
Dear Lord, is there something
I have forgotten?
Who will be late, she or I?

Mommy, my child, sleep!
my baby…

There is often a reversal of roles that takes place in life when parents age and previous relationships are reversed. Thus we find the famous Bulgarian poet Blaga Dimitrova eloquently writing in her "Lullaby for My Mother" of this poignant situation. 

I have been recently reading . "I Remain in Darkness" by the famous French Novelist Annie Ernaux , an extraordinary evocation of a grown daughter’s attachment to her mother, and of both women’s strength and resiliency. It recounts Annie’s attempts first to help her mother recover from Alzheimer’s disease, and then, when that proves futile, to bear witness to the older woman’s gradual decline and her own experience as a daughter losing a beloved parent. This poem somehow seems to complement that reversal of the roles I find in in Annie’s memoir.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Presented to Wei Pa, Gentleman in Retirement

by Tu Fu 

translated by Burton Watson

Life is not made for meetings;
like stars at opposite ends of the sky we move.
What night is it, then, tonight,
when we can share the light of this lamp?
Youth — how long did it last?
The two of us grayheaded now,
we ask about old friends — half are ghosts;
cries of unbelief stab the heart.
Who would have thought? — twenty years
and once again I enter your house.
You weren't married when I left you;
now suddenly a whole row of boys and girls!
merrily greeting their father's friend,
asking me what places I've been.
Before I finish answering,
you send the boys to set out wine and a meal,
spring scallions cut in night rain,
new cooked rice mixed with yellow millet.
Meetings are rare enough, you say;
pour the wine till we've downed ten cups!
But ten cups do not make me drunk;
your steadfast love is what moves me now.
Tomorrow hills and ranges will part us,
the wide world coming between us again.

It was with immense sadness I learned about the death of Professor Burton Watson. His "The Columbia book of Chinese Poetry” was my first introduction to Chinese Poetry. Notwithstanding many other later translators like David Hinton, this fine volume of Chinese poetry has remained as my all-time favourite anthology of Chinese Poetry. 

How beautifully has Tu Fu, one of the greatest Chinese poets of Tang Dynasty,  written this parting toast to his friend and how nimbly Professor Burton Watson has translated it! The passage of time, which is the theme of the poem, is captured with immaculate emotional intensity in this lovely poem. Rest in peace Professor Watson.