This is the last in my end of summer round-up of posts from my archive. I post it again today in memory of finding Sarah Maguire’s magnificent My Voice anthology two years ago this week. I was sitting around in my friend Naomi’s flat in Amsterdam and there it was on the coffee table. It completely knocked me over.
(On Monday we will return to The Book. I have no idea what it has been up to).
I am at a thing.
Canals are there. Sunlight on them, the last tourists, a shifting of the seasons. ‘Soon it will be autumn…’
Hellos are happening, old ones, catching up on five year’s of news; and goodbyes, too. Kissing ‘take care’ in a foreign land. A test for all of us, of trust, of hope, of what will happen to a child when we are no longer there.
It does not get easier.
Softening the blow is the view. I mean, maybe the view, all of humanity passing below us, others’ lives fluidly within reach, beautiful, passing, never the same twice.
Into this rich space we drag our tired bodies and minds. We have buried a friend. We have sat in silence. And now we are here.
At which precise point, there on the coffee table, from out of the corner, my eye catches this, a fat and handsome volume I feel I should know but Don’t. On its pale cover buzz transparent scripts from languages I (mostly) do not recognise. My Voice. Edited by Sarah Maguire. ‘A Decade of Poems from the Poetry Translation Centre’.
Ignoring the blurb (always ignore the blurb), I plunge in randomly and find this waiting for me, its pulse leaping to greet me:
Before You The Rain
Before you the ancient rain
warmth on your back, you stand and think
how few the words
a man needs in life
You think of him who sees all this, and him
whose face is the wind, and the falling of the leaves, and rain
tapping the glass
Tuvya Ruebner, Israel [Translated from the Hebrew by Oded Manor and the Poetry Translation Centre Workshop]
That’s it. Everything I need to know, in one seven line lyric poem by a man I have not heard of, from a country I have not visited.
Later I discover he was 90 in 2014. But I do not know this now. All I have before me is my grief, my hunger, my tired limbs, the prospect of another goodbye, the rain at the window.
I turn the page and before I know what is happening another poet is reading me:
Time lets it subtle depths
shielding one another; pushing open, one to another; the spoors
and traces of the sea.) This autumn
of kindling wood, drifts of leaves…
[from ‘In the Heart of Time’ by Coral Bracho, Translated from the Spanish by Katherine Pierpoint and Tom Boll]
Gratitude swells in my veins. Not the forced, remember-to-say-thank-you of my training when I was six, but the devouring teenage gratitude of coming home and being given sausage casserole, or finding a pile of laundry pressed on my bed. Grace, unlooked for, in these tiny bombshell poems, their fragments exploding and mending sense in my fractured mind.
How many years since you were a girl
flat out on the grass
superfluous poetry books in your hand
observing their miracle in the sky…
[from ‘On Time’ by Karin Karakasli, Translated form the Turkish by Canan Marasligil and The Poetry Translation Centre Workshop]
Maybe it is to do with tiredness.
Maybe with travel.
Maybe there is such a thing as the right book at the right time (for all time?).
Whatever, whoever, you say thank you, to it, to her, to him.
A voice you do recognise (not well, but still) seals the deal:
Gripping wires like clothes pegs,
small seagulls made of wood,
agile and tiny against the brutal blue,
bound to midday, they fall, one then another,
moving clothes, arms, smiles,
white breasts, black hoods,
pointed wings aligned, minimal agitation,
until they all fly off but one –
[from ‘Swallows’ by Pedro Serrano, Translated from the Spanish by Sarah Maguire and Gwen MacKeith]
I know what to do.
First published, March 5, 2015