More from the PI Sampler

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  • September 25, 2008

Here’s the second installment from last year’s Poetry International sampler: “The War Works Hard,” by Dunya Mikhail which originally appeared Poetry International Five;  “Mourning and Other Activities,” by Raza Ali Hasan, which originally appeared in Poetry International Six; “Tankas for Toraiwa,” by Seamus Heaney which originally appeared in Poetry International Seven/Eight; and “Homecoming: Anse La Raye,” by Derek Walcott which originally appeared in Poetry International Seven/Eight.  Issue 7/8 is an action backed double issue that, as with most of our back catalogue and the fabulous new Poetry International 12, can be ordered from our website.

The War Works Hard

How magnificent the war is
How eager
and efficient!
Early in the morning
it wakes up the sirens
and dispatches ambulances
to various places
swings corpses through the air
rolls stretchers to the wounded
summons rain
from the eyes of mothers
digs into the earth
dislodging many things
from under the ruins
some are lifeless and glistening
others are pale and still throbbing
it produces the most questions
in the minds of children
entertains the gods
by shooting fireworks and missiles
into the sky
sows mines in the fields
and reaps punctures and blisters
urges families to emigrate
stands beside the clergymen
as they curse the devil
(while the poor remain
with one hand in the searing fire).
The war continues working, day and night
it inspires tyrants
to deliver long speeches
awards medals to generals
and themes to poets
it contributes to the industry
of artificial limbs
provides food for flies
adds pages to the history books
achieves equality
between killer
and killed
teaches lovers to write letters
accustoms young women to waiting
fills the newspapers
with articles and pictures
builds new houses
for the orphans
invigorates the coffin makers
and gives grave diggers
a pat on the back
paints a smile on the leader’s face.
It works with unparalleled diligence!
Yet no one gives it
a word of praise.

–Dunya Mikhail
Translated by Liz Winslow


Mourning and Other Activities

You take faith and a horse –
Reasonably Arab looking one – feed him
Rusgullas and milk for a year.
While you fatten him you terrorize him
With different Asiatic techniques
Into mildness and meekness.

Then you take a procession or
Two out in the month of June
With the horse leading
Properly bedecked with buntings and ribbons.
You mourn and cry your heart out in the heat,
And those of us who have faith
Then crawl under the belly of the horse
Whenever it comes to a stop.

And between the four brown hooves
Take refuge from the sun.

–Raza Ali Hasan


Homecoming: Anse La Raye

Whatever else we learned
at school, like solemn Afro-Gods eager for grades,
of Helen and the shades
of borrowed ancestors,
there are no rites
for those who have returned,
only, when her looms fade,
drilled in our skulls, the doom-
surge-haunted nights,
only this well-known passage

under the coconuts’ salt-rusted
swords, these rotted
leathery sea-grape leaves,
the seacrabs’ brittle helmets, and
this barbeque of branches, like the ribs
of sacrificial oxen on scorched sand;
only this fish-gut-reeking beach
whose frigates tack like buzzards overhead,
whose spindly, sugar-headed children race
pelting up from the shallows
because your clothes,
your posture
seem a tourist’s.
They swarm like flies
round your heart’s sore.

Suffer them to come,
entering your needle’s eye,
knowing whether they live or die,
what others make of life will pass them by
like that far silvery freighter
threading the horizon like a toy;
for once, like them,
you wanted no career
but this sheer light, this clear,
infinite, boring, paradisal sea,
but hoped it would mean something to declare
today, I am your poet, yours,
all this you knew,
but never guessed you’d come
to know there are homecomings without home.

You give them nothing.
Their curses melt in air.
The black cliffs scowl,
the ocean sucks its teeth,
like that dugout canoe
a drifting petal fallen in a cup,
with nothing but its image,
your sway, reflecting nothing.
The freighter’s silvery ghost
is gone, the children gone.
Dazed by the sun
you trudge back to the village
past the white, salty esplanade
under whose palms dead
fishermen move their draughts in shade,
crossing, eating their islands,
and one, with a politician’s
ignorant, sweet smile, nods,
as if all fate
swayed in his lifted hand.

–Derek Walcott


Tankas For Toraiwa

I loved to carry
Her violin case, its nose
In air, its back end
Nice and heavy, the balance
Factored in and factored out.

Every time she placed
Her two thumbs to the two snibs
And opened the lid
She couldn’t help a quick frown
(Disguised pleasure?) as she checked.

Then her brow would clear
And the sun disc of her face
Tilt up and brighten
At the tap of a baton,
At the tip of a baton…

In the baize-lined case
Emptied of the ingrown jut
Of the fiddlehead,
A lump of ancient resin
And a dirty chamois cloth.

The conductor’s hands –
Big and out of proportion
To his skinny wee
Professor’s body–always,
she said, “interested” her.

Fiddlehead ferns: why
do I think of them do I
Think: Toraiwa?
Because–surprise–he quizzed me
about the erotic life.

–Seamus Heaney