Are You Looking For Me? by Kabir

Are you looking for me? I am in the next seat.
My shoulder is against yours.
You will not find me in stupas, not in Indian shrine rooms, nor in synagogues, nor in cathedrals:
not in masses, nor kirtans, not in legs winding around your own neck, nor in eating nothing but vegetables.
When you really look for me, you will see me instantly–
you will find me in the tiniest house
Kabir says: Student, tell me, what is God?
He is the breath inside the breath.

translated by Robert Bly

Sonnet XIV from The Sonnets To Orpheus by Rainer Maria Rilke

We are involved with flower, leaf, and fruit.
They speak not just the language of one year.
From darkness a bright phenomenon appears
and still reflects, perhaps, the jealous glint

of the dead, who fill the earth. How can we know
what part they play within the ancient cycle?
Long since, it has been their job to make the soil
vigorous with the force of their free marrow.

But have they done it willingly? we ask. . .
Does this fruit, formed by heavy slaves, push up
like a clenched fist, to threaten us, their masters?

Or in fact are they the masters, as they sleep
beside the roots and grant us, from their riches,
this hybrid Thing of speechless strength and kisses?

translated by Stephen Mitchell

the heart of Italy: for Carl

there is your sense of empathy
a deep understanding
of the foibles of the human race
reached no doubt
from your reading
your advanced degrees
your close contact with people
your ability to listen
as well as discuss
a wide variety of subjects
it always amazes me
the range of your knowledge
and though at times
your voice takes on the tone
of the classroom
and the professor in you
begins to instruct all
within the sound of your voice
it is never dull
and the warmth in your eyes
speaks volumes of your background
from the soil
of Italy
we were raised
and you embody all the qualities
that country stands for
compassion
intelligence
an aesthetic sensibility
you had strife in your life
an ex-wife who tried
though unsuccessfully
to poison your daughters
against you
and now you stand
a widower
mourning a wife you helped nurture
to academic success
a vast emptiness now
you are still struggling to fill
and you will
for women love you
you emit a musk
that they find intoxicating
it’s not charm like Chuck
but a sweetness
mixed with intellectual prowess
a safe zone to breathe
and you like to be the gardener
helping the women
you become involved with
to blossom, to grow
fulfilling their dreams
with your unconditional support
a Henry Higgins with heart
not a selfish bone
in your body
we had Chuck in common
who introduced us
and though I think the three of us
were only in the same place
at the same time
once
we always speak of one
when we speak to the other
my most cherished memories of you
are the dinners we had in The Village
at Hasaki
the sushi and sashimi
the bottle of saki
green tea ice cream for dessert
wandering the aisles of the Japanese grocery
up the street
afterwards
Rita and Barbara getting lost
among the rice bowls and tea sets
the food items
browsing among the shelves
at St. Marks Book Shop
which is not on St. Marks
but the corner of 9th Street and 3rd Avenue
recommending titles to each other
sharing poetry
bumping into Ren Weschler
tea at a tea house on 2nd Avenue
the conversation
the laughter
the warmth of friendship
the heart of Italy
in the smile
in your eyes

The Frog by Francis Ponge

When rain like metal tips bounces off the sodden pastures, an amphibious dwarf, an Ophelia with empty sleeves, barely as large as a fist, rises at times from around the poet’s feet, and then hurtles herself into the nearest pool.
Let this nervous one flee. How beautiful her legs are. A glove impermeable to water envelops her body. Barely flesh at all, her long muscles in their elegance are neither animal nor fish. In order to escape from my fingers, the virtue of fluid allies in her with the battle of the life force. She puffs, widely goitered. . .And this heart that beats so strongly, the wrinkly eyelids, the old woman’s mouth, move me to set her free.

translated by Robert Bly

Just As The Winged Energy Of Delight by Rainer Maria Rilke

Just as the winged energy of delight
carried you over many chasms early on,
now raise the daringly imagined arch
holding up the astonishing bridges.

Miracle doesn’t lie only in the amazing
living through and defeat of danger;
miracles become miracles in the clear
achievement that is earned.

To work with things is not hubris
when building the association beyond words;
denser and denser the pattern becomes–
being carried along is not enough.

Take your well-disciplined strengths
and stretch them between two
opposing poles. Because inside human beings
is where God learns.

translated by Robert Bly

the spiritual aristocrat 1: for Zhihua

this is the hardest one to write
since what we are
keeps changing
these 20 odd years
but you have been a presence
in my life
since that day before class
when you stood in front of the room
arms folded
head cocked to the side
listening to the questions
and then at the board
demonstrating the meaning of Chinese characters
so confident
it was a surprise
for you sat so quietly
listening to the others in the seminar
not bored like me
but intent
and now
many years later
I value that ability of yours
to listen as well as speak
and wish I had listened more
to the advice you gave
for you can be more objective
though sometimes too judgmental
at least in the past
but you are
after all
an aristocrat in spirit
and thus tend to bestow advice
kernels dropping from your mouth
you are so knowledgeable
about so many things
literate and cultured
you embody the classic Chinese concept
of an eclectic mind
of values and principles
how upset you would become
with people who did not know
the history of countries they visited
or who couldn’t appreciate
the beauty of a vase
people who see us
know us
think of us as a couple still
but though looks are deceiving
we are more than that
family
we have become that
and though I continue to go
stubbornly down a path
of my own choosing
you have grown accustomed
to my absence
the hole that is left
a hole I feel too
for you are missed more
than anyone else
the theatre we went to
Off and On Broadway
the shared opera season
the Bolshoi Ballet
concerts at Carnegie Hall
those late night movies
once, twice a week
driving into Manhattan
hunting for a parking space
then catching a 10pm show
tea afterwards at your house
the bottle of wine you always opened
just for me
the slices of fruit
the mooncakes
the food you put aside
for me to take home
like my mother would do
you were constantly feeding me
your cooking is something I miss
almost as much as the conversation
and the food I associate with you
Peking Duck
and Szechuan style scallops
seaweed salad with sashimi
watching you browse in gourmet food markets
who knew there were so many cheeses
in this world
and remembering your curoisity
still makes me smile
we would have to stop
in every gift shop in Bar Harbor
or try pastries in countless cafes
in Vienna
and I still miss the Chinese markets
the frogs in plastic tubs along the wall
the eel slithering in water
the fresh fish laid out on ice
and rows of vegetables
star fruit and lechee nuts
and dim sum in Flushing
chicken feet and shrimp dumplings
how every waiter seemed to know you
we always got special desserts
you cooked spaghetti with tomato sauce
my last night in New York
and when I drove away that night
I felt an era close
more than Johnny crying
or Steve’s farewell embrace
leaving you in Bayside
was like losing a part of my history
even now
on the phone
it’s hard to hang up
and when I do
I sit in silence
mourning the bridge I burnt
the life I left behind
or at least the part of it
that you occupied

Staircase by Ahmet Hasim

Slowly, slowly will you mount this staircase
–A heap of sun-tinged leaves upon your skirts–
And for a while gaze weeping at the sky. . .

The waters darken and your face grows pale,
Look at the scarlet air, for evening comes. . .

Bowed towards the earth, the roses,
Flame-like the nightingales bleed upon the boughs;
Has morning turned to bronze, do waters burn?

This is a secret tongue that fills the soul
Look at the scarlet air, for evening comes. . .

translated by Bernard Lewis