Thursday 23 February 2017

Bellyache Jake

Yesterday, while out scouring the beach,
I bumped into Bellyache,
looking happier than I’d ever known him,
strolling hand in hand
with an orangutan in a floral dress
who he introduced as Helena.
They wore matching Panama hats,
‘Just Married’ printed on the bands.
The hair on Helena’s stocky arms and legs
glowed a dark vivid red
in the early evening sun. Her eyes
were a pair of freshly roasted coffee beans.
Bellyache recognised me, telling Helena,
‘This is an old classmate of mine…’
but then, having trailed off awkwardly,
he obliged me to offer my name
as I stooped to shake her hand. 
Her fingers were long and leathery,
her grip disconcertingly firm. 
For a moment I considered kissing
her cheek, but refrained,
unsure how she’d take it.
We’d given Jake the nickname ‘Bellyache’
because of how relentlessly
he’d grumble about everyone and everything,
making him colicky company
and notably noxious to the ladies.
I suppose time changes all
of us in one way or another.
I, for example, make my living
collecting the droppings of sea birds,
can no longer play the harp,
and am lonely enough to covet
the orangutan bride of
a man I once thought of
as understanding nothing.

This poem was commended in the The Interpreter's House Poetry Competition and published in issue 62 of their magazine.

Saturday 12 November 2016

Sleepless City (Brooklyn Bridge Nocturne)

(Translated from the Spanish of Federico García Lorca)

In the sky, no one sleeps. No one, no one.
No one sleeps.
Moon creatures sniff and prowl about their cabins.
Iguanas will come and bite the dreamless men
and the brokenhearted one who flees will meet, on corners,
the incredible crocodile, calm beneath the tenderly protesting stars.

On Earth, no one sleeps. No one, no one.
No one sleeps.
A corpse in the farthest graveyard
complains for three years
because his knee is a desert;
and the boy they buried this morning cried so hard
they had to call the dogs to shut him up.

Life is not a dream. Beware! Beware! Beware!
We fall down stairs to eat moist earth
or climb to the edge of snow with the choir of dead dahlias.
But there's no forgetting, no dreaming:
raw flesh. Kisses bind mouths
into a tangle of fresh veins
and those pained by wounds will be pained ceaselessly
and those afraid of death will carry it on their shoulders.

One day
horses will live in taverns
and the furious ants
will attack the yellow skies that hide in the eyes of cows.
Another day
we’ll see the resurrection of the desiccated butterflies
and, still walking through a land of grey sponges and silent ships,
we’ll see our ring sparkle and roses spill from our tongue.
Beware! Beware! Beware!
To those still marked by claw and rainstorm,
to that boy who cries because he hasn’t heard about the invention of the bridge
or that corpse who has nothing but a head and a shoe,
they must be taken to the wall where iguanas and snakes are waiting,
where the bear’s teeth are waiting,
where the child’s mummified hand is waiting
and the camel’s hair bristles with a violent blue chill.

In the sky, no one sleeps. No one, no one.
No one sleeps.
But if somebody closes their eyes,
whip him, my boys, whip him!
Let there be a scene of opened eyes
and bitter ulcers burning.
On Earth, no one sleeps. No one, no one.
I’ve said it already.
No one sleeps.
But at night, if somebody has too much moss on their temples,
open the trapdoors so they can see, beneath the light of the moon,
the false cups, the poison and the skull of theatres.

Ciudad sin sueño (Nocturno del Brooklyn Bridge)

No duerme nadie por el cielo. Nadie, nadie.
No duerme nadie.
Las criaturas de la luna huelen y rondan sus cabañas.
Vendrán las iguanas vivas a morder a los hombres que no sueñan
y el que huye con el corazón roto encontrará por las esquinas
al increíble cocodrilo quieto bajo la tierna protesta de los astros.

No duerme nadie por el mundo. Nadie, nadie.
No duerme nadie.
Hay un muerto en el cementerio más lejano
que se queja tres años
porque tiene un paisaje seco en la rodilla;
y el niño que enterraron esta mañana lloraba tanto
que hubo necesidad de llamar a los perros para que callase.

No es sueño la vida. ¡Alerta! ¡Alerta! ¡Alerta!
Nos caemos por las escaleras para comer la tierra húmeda
o subimos al filo de la nieve con el coro de las dalias muertas.
Pero no hay olvido, ni sueño:
carne viva. Los besos atan las bocas
en una maraña de venas recientes
y al que le duele su dolor le dolerá sin descanso
y al que teme la muerte la llevará sobre sus hombros.

Un día
los caballos vivirán en las tabernas
y las hormigas furiosas
atacarán los cielos amarillos que se refugian en los ojos de las vacas.
Otro día
veremos la resurrección de las mariposas disecadas
y aún andando por un paisaje de esponjas grises y barcos mudos
veremos brillar nuestro anillo y manar rosas de nuestra lengua.
¡Alerta! ¡Alerta! ¡Alerta!
A los que guardan todavía huellas de zarpa y aguacero,
a aquel muchacho que llora porque no sabe la invención del puente
o a aquel muerto que ya no tiene más que la cabeza y un zapato,
hay que llevarlos al muro donde iguanas y sierpes esperan,
donde espera la dentadura del oso,
donde espera la mano momificada del niño
y la piel del camello se eriza con un violento escalofrío azul.

No duerme nadie por el cielo. Nadie, nadie.
No duerme nadie.
Pero si alguien cierra los ojos,
¡azotadlo, hijos míos, azotadlo!
Haya un panorama de ojos abiertos
y amargas llagas encendidas.
No duerme nadie por el mundo. Nadie, nadie.
Ya lo he dicho.
No duerme nadie.
Pero si alguien tiene por la noche exceso de musgo en las sienes,
abrid los escotillones para que vea bajo la luna
las copas falsas, el veneno y la calavera de los teatros.

Poem by Federico García Lorca
Translation by Benjamin Palmer

Saturday 15 August 2015

The Entertainers

We found a clown in the woods
and brought him home.
Now he lives in our chicken coop.
We give him corn to peck.

At first we encouraged him
to lay us some eggs,
but all he’d yield
were brittle little jokes
that crumbled
as they left his lips.

We let him out
from time to time
and he helps us in the garden,
watering the plants
from the plastic sunflower on his lapel,
which appears to never run dry.

At night we hear him trying to lift
the spirits of the poet
we keep hog-tied in the pigpen,
dancing on his hands,
smacking himself in the face with a spade,
mock-bawling like a babe…

But it’s a hopeless task –
the poet’s been dismal
ever since we fished him 
out of that filthy old river.

One day we’re hoping
to get a real pig
and some genuine,
egg-laying chickens.

Then we’ll take the clown
and the poet
back where we found them
and they’ll have to fend
for themselves.

This poem was first published by New Welsh Review 

Saturday 1 August 2015

Joseph Cornell’s Untitled (Great Horned Owl with Harvest Moon)

The owl who wears the moon like a halo
considers himself saintly, and indeed,
compared with many he’s an upstanding fellow,
if something of a voyeur. Not the seedy
kind, you understand – he merely savours
the healthy stare; likes to know what folk
get up to when we think we’re under cover,
blind to the bird on the branch, eyes like egg yolks.
‘When not glutting your relish for scandal,’ he exclaims,
‘you’re drunk on, and drowning in, a tidal wave of farce.’
‘True,’ I reply, ‘there’s plenty to make us ashamed,
but virtue’s a cinch when you’re stuck behind glass.’
He says nothing to this, though his halo glows brighter
and his toes grip the perch just a little bit tighter.

Poem by Benjamin Palmer

This poem was first published in the New Welsh Review

Tuesday 30 September 2014

A Wolf

(Translated from the Spanish of Jorge Luis Borges)

Furtive and grey in the final gloaming
he treads, leaving his tracks along the bank
of this nameless river, which has sated
the thirst in his throat and whose waters
reflect no stars. Tonight,
the wolf is a solitary shadow,
seeking his mate and feeling the cold.
He is the last wolf in England.
Odin and Thor know him. From his towering
stone house, a king has decided
to be rid of all the wolves. The solid steel
of your death has already been forged.
Saxon wolf, you have bred in vain.
It is not enough to be cruel. You are the last.
A thousand years will pass and, in America,
an old man will dream about you. It is no
use to you, this distant dreaming.
Today those men, following the trail you left
as you crossed the forest, are closing in on you,
furtive and grey in the final gloaming.

Un lobo

Furtivo y gris en la penumbra última,
va dejando sus rastros en la margen
de este río sin nombre que ha saciado
la sed de su garganta y cuyas aguas
no repiten estrellas. Esta noche,
el lobo es una sombra que está sola
y que busca a la hembra y siente frío.
Es el último lobo de Inglaterra.
Odín y Thor lo saben. En su alta
casa de piedra un rey ha decidido
acabar con los lobos. Ya forjado
ha sido el fuerte hierro de tu muerte.
Lobo sajón, has engendrado en vano.
No basta ser cruel. Eres el último.
Mil años pasarán y un hombre viejo
te soñará en América. De nada
puede servirte ese futuro sueño.
Hoy te cercan los hombres que siguieron
por la selva los rastros que dejaste,
furtivo y gris en la penumbra última.

Translation by Benjamin Palmer