Saturday, January 25, 2020

Plastic Death

Plastic Death

By Dunya Mikhail

Translated by Karem James Abu-Zaid
In my childhood
in Baghdad
we played dead:
we killed each other
with plastic weapons.
We lay on the floor,
still as corpses,
for a minute
or two.
Then one of us laughed,
exposing our plastic death,
we held each other
as the dying might life itself,
but rose to play another game.
The years turn over like lotto numbers,
and Baghdad recedes
with our childhoods into exile.
From afar, we see children
who look like we did.
They kill each other,
lie motionless
on the floor.
But none of them laugh
or hold life
and rise 

Dunya Mikhail was born in Iraq in 1965. While working as a journalist, she faced increasing threats from the Iraqi authorities and fled first to Jordan, then to the United States. In 2001, she was awarded the UN Human Rights Award for Freedom of Writing and in 2013 a Kresge Artist Fellowship. Her first book of poems in English, The War Works Hard, was named one of the twenty-five books to remember by the New York Public Library in 2005. Her second collection, Diary of a Wave Outside the Sea, won the 2010 Arab American Book Award for poetry. She currently lives in Michigan and works as an Arabic instructor for Oakland University.

This is a powerful poem . With a subtle simplicity and disquieting humor reminiscent of Wislawa Szymborska and an unadorned lyricism wholly her own, Mikhail shifts between her childhood in Baghdad and her present life in Detroit, between Ground Zero and a mass grave. What was just a joke jolt as reality with the passage of time .The metaphoric shift from sportive to sanguinary, from plastic to  real death is brilliantly portrayed in this poem.

Friday, January 3, 2020

A White Turtle Under a Waterfall

A White Turtle Under a Waterfall

By Wang Wei

Translated by Tony Barnstone, Wilis Barnstone and Xu Haixin

The waterfall on South Mountain hits the rocks,
tosses back its foam with terrifying thunder,
blotting out even face-to-face talk.
Collapsing water and bouncing foam soak blue moss,
old moss so thick
it drowns the spring grass.
Animals are hushed.
Birds fly but don’t sing
yet a white turtle plays on the pool’s sand floor
under riotous spray,
sliding about with the torrents.
The people of the land are benevolent.
No angling or net fishing.
The white turtle lives out its life, naturally.

Wang Wei (701-761 C.E.) is often spoken of, with his contemporaries Li Po and Tu Fu, as one of the three greatest poets in China's 3,000-year poetic tradition. Of the three, Wang was the consummate master of the short imagistic landscape poem that came to typify classical Chinese poetry. He developed a nature poetry of resounding tranquility wherein deep understanding goes far beyond the words on the page―a poetics that can be traced to his assiduous practice of Zen Buddhism. But despite this philosophical depth, Wang is not a difficult poet. Indeed, he may be the most immediately appealing of China's great poets.

How beautifully the poet delineates the movements of flora and fauna in a landscape near a waterfall! Finally, the white turtle, like the eye of a storm, steals the show and remains unperturbed. It even enjoys the turbulence around it. Sometimes you have to be that  white turtle in life.

Laughing Lost in the Mountains: Poems of Wang Wei .
University Press of New England Paperback – January 15, 1992.
by Wang Wei (Author), Tony Barnstone (Translator), Willis Barnstone (Translator), Xu Haixin (Translator) 

Thursday, January 2, 2020

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

 The Lake Isle of Innisfree

By William Butler Yeats

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

2020 is a year I am expectantly looking forward to. I plan to retire in 2020 after 38 years of corporate life. May be that is why reading this poem today weaved a mini paradise in my mind where leaving the hustle bustle the corporate world, I yearn to be in the quietude of an isle full of serenity and simplicity.

Yeats love to return to nature and lead a self-sufficient and sedate life in this poem. For him, ‘‘nine bean rows'' and ''a hive for the honey-bee’ ‘are enough to survive. The poet's vision is of a romantic, idyllic, timeless way of life. Yeats imagines living in peace and solitude; he says he will ''live alone in the bee-loud glade.'' The only sounds will be of nature. There is no hint of the modern world in Yeats' vision.

He tells us that ''peace comes dropping slow,'' and ''midnight's all a glimmer''. He moves through each stage of the day, bringing his vision to life for us with his vivid descriptions and beautiful imagery. In the morning, the mist is like veils thrown over the lake; at noon, the purple heather (a flower ) blazes under the sun; the evening is full of the whirr of the linnet's wings (the linnet is a small songbird) and at night, the stars fill the sky: ''midnight's all a glimmer''. The sounds in this stanza are soft and slow, creating a sense of peace and calm.

In the third stanza, Yeats brings us back to the opening lines in this stanza, beginning again with the words ''I will arise and go''. The solemnity is reinforced and emphasised by this repetition, as is the strength of his longing. The alliteration and assonance in the line, ''I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;'' emphasize the tranquility of the scene Yeats is describing. In contrast to this timeless, magical, colourful place, we are reminded of Yeats' reality at thViewe time of writing: ''While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey''. The colourless grey of the pavements seems dreary and depressing and we can empathize with Yeats' yearning for the lake isle of Innisfree, a yearning he feels in ''the deep heart's core.''

Standing on a roadway viewing an arid landscape, I too am hopeful to spend the evening of my life in such mini paradise reading poetry and listening to Chopin or Schubert. I hope you too will wake up to the call of the poet and spend a solitary sojourn in a ‘bee-loud glade’ once in a while to rejuvenate your tired soul.

I wish all my friends a very joyful, peaceful and blissful New Year

Painting : Henri Rousseau