Swan Song

from the Persian of Mehdi Hamidi Shirazi

They say when the time comes for a swan to die,
it goes where other swans have gone to die.

They say as the last night begins to fall,
it trails behind the setting sun to die.

And it sings ghazals, as though it wished between
the pages of its own diwan to die.

They say a swan loves only once and will
return to where its love was won to die.

Making its deathbed where it first made love,
it can forget it has withdrawn to die.

Sappho Asks a Favor of a Friend

Immortal Aphrodite on your throne
So richly ornamented, hear my prayer:
Don’t overwhelm my spirit with despair,
…………Nor leave me here alone;

Sly daughter of great Zeus, in my distress
Spring into action as you used to do
When you would have my distant call put through
…………And swiftly acquiesce;

Leaving the golden palace in your car,
Your sparrow-powered chariot at speed
Brought you to earth in answer to my need,
…………From heaven through mid-air;

And with a smile on your immortal face,
You’d ask, “Oh, dear, what can the matter be
This time; this time, why do you call on me,
…………And how may I erase

Giuseppe Ungaretti: San Martino del Carso

Of these houses
there remain
only a few
pieces of wall

Of so many
who resembled me
there remains
even less

But in my heart
each has a cross

My heart is the most
broken country

Lone Tree Gully, August 27, 1916

San Martino del Carso

Di queste case
non è rimasto
che qualche
brandello di muro

Di tanti
che mi corrispondevano
non è rimasto
neppure tanto

Ma nel cuore
nesssuna croce manca

È il mio cuore
il paese più straziato

Valloncello dell’Albero Isolato il 27 agosto 1916

from This Broken Symmetry

(Marmot)

And so for a figure of the creature consider the marmot,
Clawed probing forepaws more accomplished than pickaxes
At parsing stones from earth, carting each off in its teeth,

Rock pile like a mound builder’s where its burrow tunnels
Under, spread mat of grass at the entry, in the “living rooms”
Where only one family lives, where the generations follow

There on the high meadows with the other families together
Slowly expanding underground their lone itinerant systems
As one stands sentry: whistles, chatter, a warning beat of tail.

The Osprey

High water sucked the beach clean of debris.
High winds downed boughs and the high osprey’s nest.
She perches on a driftwood log, half-dead,
eyes on the tide, without her fledglings now.

All June she dropped fish in the crowded aerie,
its crown of twigs topping a patchy pine:
the racket then, like bagpipes on the sea
blown by a piper still drunk in the morning.

We wondered if without her nest she’d go.
She was our bird, her cry our intimate,
a siren-wail each time we crossed the beach.
Rebuild, poor mama bird, we thought. But no.

Sinkhole Oracle

after a line by Wallace Stevens

I, bummed, looping my tinny beat,
alone by my mud pit, into big men,
numbly begin to empty an idiom.
I’m playing Me, bound not by time
but type—moody, benign, minimal—
implying I’m done, but maybe not.
I’m a dim bulb, empty, tying one on,
but I’m beyond my longtime pain.
I may begin numbed in to my plot,
a poet in limbo, but end mymying,
bumping my one byline to admit
I AM TOO DUMBLY IN MY BEING PENT.

When We Were the Queen

We were next level.
We reversed decrees.
We skewered the press.
We bejeweled the deer
then let them be pets.

Wherever we went,
we sexted shepherds.
We hedged the best bets.
We pretended well
when we felt regret.

Were there experts? Yes,
they were rejected.
Between TV screens,
we helter-skeltered.
We deleted scenes.

Were messes left? Yes.
We egged the temple
then yelled, “WE’VE BEEN EGGED!”
News crews descended.
“Let’s help me,” we begged.

Lycanthrope

I’d say the werewolf is a lucky guy.
He gets to read the moon and memorize it,
howl out the lunar text in fluent lupine,
and when the lyrics pall and the moon grows old,
he reverses himself—but reserves his second self,
leaving his fur in a spot at the edge of the wood.
His latent talent’s a two-sided coin—
except that, heads or tails, both sides are downsides:
the werewolf enterprise is either/or,
where neither option wins the day (or night).