Bob Hicok, from Words for Empty and Words for Full
translated by Joseph Cadora
There within: the languid, silent pace
of their paws lulls, almost bewilders you,
then one of the cats quickly turns its face
and captures your gaze and its straying view
violently in its magnificent eye,
and as if seized in a maelstrom’s clasp,
it swims for a while, but by and by
abandons itself, slips from its own grasp,
as this eye with its apparent stillness
suddenly opens, then shuts with a roar
and snatches the gaze into its own red blood,
just so one time, out of utter darkness,
the cathedral’s soaring rose window tore
a heart and plunged it deeply into God.
Byzantium was once a city on the Bosporus
famous for talking fountains.
World War I made everything evaporate.
At the time, it was the saddest thing,
men limped around London and Berlin
with shards of it sticking out their movements.
Some came back with idiotic ditties
trapped in their hippocampus. Others
strolled around for hours in wet dresses,
fleeing at the lowest possible speeds.
This was before television so folks
just looked into the fire and said
what they saw there for entertainment.
Lots saw Hell.
Did they have it better than us?
When a woman smoked, it was like
she was naked so that must have been fun.
Certainly they were accustomed
to death having done so much of it.
Their doctors spent all their time
figuring out what was killing you
then killing you with something else.
No need for a lawyer.
The rat was huge.
Into the breach stiff upper lip was huge.
When a doughboy missed his sweetheart,
he couldn’t just write,
I miss your muffin,
because of the censors. Apollo,
who ate the most pussy of all the ancient gods,
was out. The Holy Ghost was in.
Everyone knew where the Holy Ghost stood on cunnilingus
even though he was ineffable.
The invention of the telephone, machine gun, typewriter,
great strides in plastic surgery
before there was any plastic.
Funny thing is,
while just about everything was blown up,
nothing much changed,
so in 20 years they’d need bigger bombs.
A dog’s grave: mound of concrete
with a cross pressed in.
We are full-on sinful,
unbuttoning our Levi’s,
crouched behind a slash pile
in the Rathbone’s woods.
Scott pisses on it first,
then Harris, Owen, me. Steam fountains up
and forms sastrugi, greeting our faces
like sheer tongues,
like the dead who cannot bring
themselves to tell us, what you’ve feared is true.
None of us wonders
if there’s something worse
than Judgment: the years we’ll spend unmarried
to any home, praying in Potosi, Fayetteville, Batavia,
afraid that God
won’t care, afraid he will.
The worst thing we can think of, we’ve done,
then we walk home, grateful that the streetlights float
on darkness, indifferent as distant boats.
I am trained to perch in the crooks of trees.
I watch my petticoat flutter up there,
I tug the bodice of my corset with one hand
and set the rifle into my clavicle
with the otherand then I wait.
The pines above shed needles and feathers
and below, the rattlesnake is beautiful enough
to skin, if only I could catch him between my thumb
and forefingergentle enough between my thumb
and forefinger. I could save him for later,
sew his scales to my booties.
“Grow tired with me,” I call to him.
“Grow tired with me. I charm you.”
I tip the barrel over the picket fence. Aim
for venison, the white flash of fur. In the thickness
of night, I steady myself on the limb,
fix the ruffles of my dress.
Only two geese at midnight, only one within my range.
The love rose in my heart has wilted
The love bug
The news on the transistor
A nice man with a ponytail says
If you wanted to leave here for there
They were burying the evidence
Boys in prison cells
And outside the kids play stretcher
One of them was dying
Between my hands you think
Commands injections things
To make the time pass
As hope or action
She used to chase love bugs after school
To make them alight on her
She wanted not to have
Walked with naked men chained to a tank
In the houses she entered
A lemon an olive an apricot
translated by Robert Bly
The onion is frost
shut in and poor.
Frost of your days
and of my nights.
Hunger and onion,
black ice and frost
large and round.
My little boy
was in hunger’s cradle.
He was nursed
on onion blood.
But your blood
is frosted with sugar,
onion and hunger.
A dark woman
dissolved in moonlight
pours herself thread by thread
into the cradle.
you can swallow the moon
when you want to.
Lark of my house,
The laughter in your eyes
is the light of the world.
Laugh so much
that my soul, hearing you,
will beat in space.
Your laughter frees me,
gives me wings.
It sweeps away my loneliness,
knocks down my cell.
Mouth that flies,
heart that turns
to lightning on your lips.
Your laughter is
the sharpest sword,
conqueror of flowers
Rival of the sun.
Future of my bones
and of my love.
The flesh fluttering,
the sudden eyelid,
and the baby is rosier
How many linnets
take off, wings fluttering,
from your body!
I woke up from childhood:
don’t you wake up.
I have to frown:
Keep to your cradle,
feather by feather.
Yours is a flight so high,
that your body is a sky
If only I could climb
to the origin
of your flight!
Eight months old you laugh
with five orange blossoms.
With five little
With five teeth
like five young
They will be the frontier
of tomorrow’s kisses
when you feel your teeth
when you feel a flame
running toward your gums
driving toward the centre.
Fly away, son, on the double
moon of the breast:
it is saddened by onion,
you are satisfied.
Don’t let go.
Don’t find out what’s happening,
or what goes on.
On the scales of desire, your absence weighs more
than someone else’s presence, so I say no thanks
to the woman who throws her girdle at my feet,
as I drop a postcard in the mailbox and watch it
throb like a blue heart in the dark. Your eyes
are so green – one of your parents must be
part traffic light. We’re both self-centered,
but the world revolves around us at the same speed.
Last night I tossed and turned inside a thundercloud.
This morning my sheets were covered in pollen.
I remember the long division of Saturday’s
pomegranate, a thousand nebulae in your hair,
as soldiers marched by, dragging big army bags
filled with water balloons, and we passed a lit match,
back and forth, between our lips, under an oak tree
I had absolutely nothing to do with.
This is how I am summoned from nothingness:
in faded cut offs, moonlighting at Connie’s Bakery
where I keep reading Rilke to Jenny, the pastry chef,
who rolls her eyes, & blows flour into my tired face.
Beneath my limp baker’s hat & stained white smock
I still wear my favorite Hawaiian shirt, the color
of bubble gum, absinthe & night. We are permitted
to choose but one companion for the great journey,
so Garcia Lorca is here with me;—we arrived last week
as “guest worker summer help.” You’ll be happy
to know that our work continues, as before, in Death.
Last night we finally had that conversation about
the moon, & mirrors—why they can’t tell us
everything they see. We stood at an ivy-lined gate
two summers too late to deliver Stanley Kunitz our best
vermouth & news of Roethke and the other immortal poets
whose ranks by now, at long last, he’s joined. Instead,
our poet of black notes took off his white tuxedo shirt
&, facing Stanley’s last masterpiece, his front yard
garden, which still revises itself in preparation
for his return, Garcia Lorca revealed thumb-sized
lavender crescent moons, the eerie constellation
across his chest above the heart, the scars of bullet holes
from Franco’s Guardia Civil; he told me everything—
from the faces of the firing squad to digging his own grave.
He says the landscape of his dreams has already drifted
from the Alhambra’s gardens, wading pools, & almond groves
to the salt marsh at Black Fish Creek & the starlit wisteria
he affectionately calls, “These endlessly creeping vines
of strumpet braids!” And the delicate braids of challah
we braid each day rise like old lovers awakening to our touch
restored. You should see the lean, aristocratic
hands of Garcia Lorca—they’ve never been so strong!
I didn’t think such mortal progress was still possible for us.
Or that I would again be permitted access to the knowledge
that comes in a love amplified by the stirrings of the world.
And then I recognized something in the insistent, winding
taproot of an oak, which pierced me with the recognition
that is holy, & I felt the tug of gravity’s widening spell.
So that even if Garcia Lorca and I are just scraping by
with all the others working for peanuts in high season,
to be alive again and living in a hot seaside town
is good as any afterlife
& probably our best chance at happiness.
I saw a great teapot
I wanted to get you this stupendous
100% cotton royal blue and black checked shirt,
There was a red and black striped one too
Then I saw these boots at a place called Chuckles
They laced up to about two inches above your ankles
All leather and in red, black or purple
It was hard to have no money today
I won’t even speak about the possible flowers and kinds of lingerie
All linen and silk with not-yet-perfumed laces
Brilliant enough for any of the Graces
Full of luxury, grace notes, prosperousness and charm
But I can only praise you with this poem—
Its being is the same as the meaning of your name
Spring comes early and completely to the South.
So many forget-me-nots, with their white centers,
scattered, you’d say, if there weren’t
so many everywhere, as many as the stars
last night in between the branches
on the porch in the side yard next to the house.
Was it an argument or were there just
things they had to say?
I could have faith in so many creatures—
the old setter from the neighbor yard
who follows me around the corner
and no longer, the chick with its new beak
just past breakable whose lighter topfeathers
have a bit of flight, any mother bear—
you say things and the next day
it’s like they don’t matter, we want our faces
to alter though we don’t want to get older, neither
do we want to get younger, repetition
with less knowledge is ridiculous,
just ask the Greeks, you get to keep
being a tree but without the branch
that showed the sky your starlike shape?
I don’t think so. Steadiness can be useful,
but my loyalty loves a form
that will follow me through changes.
At a diagonal the dark woods
on the backslope have enough space
to walk between, not enough to hide.
He looks into them
and writes notes to his mother, she
looks into them and finds alignment,
or looks for what she wants.
She has a human skeleton on her desk.
He has a protractor. I had wishes
for both of them yesterday
but the weather has since become so kindly,
so temperate, I forget what blessings
they don’t think they have.
I am a guest in this house. I didn’t go inside
until I heard the ending of the argument.
When the medication she was taking
caused tiny vessels in her face to break,
leaving faint but permanent blue stitches in her cheeks,
my sister said she knew she would
never be beautiful again.
After all those years
of watching her reflection in the mirror,
sucking in her stomach and standing straight,
she said it was a relief,
being done with beauty,
but I could see her pause inside that moment
as the knowledge spread across her face
with a fine distress, sucking
the peach out of her lips,
making her cute nose seem, for the first time,
a little knobby.
I’m probably the only one in the whole world
who actually remembers the year in high school
she perfected the art
of being a dumb blond,
spending recess on the breezeway by the physics lab,
tossing her hair and laughing that canary trill
which was her specialty,
while some football player named Johnny
with a pained expression in his eyes
wrapped his thick finger over and over again
in the bedspring of one of those pale curls.
Or how she spent the next decade of her life
auditioning a series of tall men,
looking for just one with the kind
of attention span she could count on.
Then one day her time of prettiness
was over, done, finito,
and all those other beautiful women
in the magazines and on the streets
just kept on being beautiful
everywhere you looked,
walking in that kind of elegant, disinterested trance
in which you sense they always seem to have one hand
touching the secret place
that keeps their beauty safe,
inhaling and exhaling the perfume of it—
It was spring. Season when the young
buttercups and daisies climb up on the
mulched bodies of their forebears
to wave their flags in the parade.
My sister just stood still for thirty seconds,
amazed by what was happening,
then shrugged and tossed her shaggy head
as if she was throwing something out,
something she had carried a long ways,
but had no use for anymore,
now that it had no use for her.
That, too, was beautiful.
Let your skin find solace, nestling into sun-
warped sand. Locate salvation in an army boot
or maneuver down a Tucson wall, hackles
poised. Stinger craned into claw. Dedicate
your whole body to leaving the light that blinds
that great exoskeletal eye, ultraviolet eddies
along your pincers. When scientists come
to bleach your glowing bones, tell them you clung
to the tumbleweed. Crawled to center and fought
centrifugal force the whole ride home.