Working on a German-English Dictionary
Staring at the words for days, for weeks
they lift off like little black angels
waltzing into space.
The embrace of odd bed-fellows
thrown together by their alphabetical proximity.
Words like Kesselschlacht, Kristallnacht,
how can you translate them with a single word?
Battle of encirclement, Crystal Night,
the night the Nazis burned down synagogues
and broke the windows of Jewish shops
throughout Germany in November 1938.
Too recent in history to say just pogrom.
The glass is ground into the soil
and the stones don’t sing anymore.
The words stop dancing
freeze on the page in their threadbare lettering
fearful of their own fate.
From Friendly Street No. 13 and Tuesday Night Live
For weeks they did nothing. They lay in hot rooms on whose
ceilings, at night, the streetlamps contrived strange patterns.
Lilies, moons, star-cores.
They read books whose expansive style embraced whole worlds
particularly their uncertainties. Read without dreaming. Outside
the landscape brooded. People scratched hay together, bundled it
into squares. Olives ripened, and grapes.
Motionless they lay in the upper rooms. The window showed
cloud at night, towards morning they saw fog over the river-bed.
At noon, the overclear landscape. No dreams, only details. A
landscape hiding its valleys and showing up distance only with a
paling of colour.
One morning they painted. Slowly they drew up pink walls and
battlements, banners waved from the tower. And in front of the
pale red walls they put tents. Beautiful striped tents with
golden piping and braids and tassels where roofs and sides met.
A might field of red and white stripes.
But there was dust around the tents, a martial glistening of
spears and lances. The dust of noon had caught up with them.
the shutters would have to be closed, the pot of basil shifted into
In the half darkness of room and wine they designed the inner
courtyard. He put in a fountain carried by strong animals’ backs,
arranged tiles in intricate patterns. She brought fig and
pomegranate trees which grew with the falling of water until
their fruit would give in to ripeness and thud on the hot stone.
A revelation of the beauty of inner wounds.
They went up to their beds in the upper rooms. Lilies, moons,
star-cores: their Courtyard of Lions, their cloister, their
From Friendly Street No. 8 and Tuesday Night Live
Siena Me Fe’: Disfecimi Vento Maremma
The wind lasted three days and three nights;
first it behaved like a guest,
carrying scent from the Tyrennian Islands.
Rain, it whispered, on the first night;
but did not bring it, blew up more dust
than the boots of the Ghibelline army.
On the second day people saw signs;
doors were opened by uninvited hands,
and at night the stars pointed a different way.
The wind had sharpened the ear for the finest noise;
it had sharpened the mind for the slightest rumor,
the chains of shutters banged against the wall all night.
On the third day the baron had come down from his tree;
the ladies of peace had stopped dancing for fear
that their hems might be lifted above their thighs.
The Medici, the Piccolomini and the Aldebrandini,
all stopped in their way and listened. The wind
left no doubt. A change of politics was in the air.
From Friendly Street No. 14