On First Arriving at Huang-chou by Su Tung-p’o

Funny–I never could keep my mouth shut;
it gets worse the older I grow.
The long river loops the town–fish must be tasty;
good bamboo lines the hills–smell the fragrant shoots!
An exile, why mind being a supernumerary?
Other poets have worked for the Water Bureau.
Too bad I was no help to the government
but still they pay me in old wine sacks.

translated by Burton Watson

On a Boat, Awake at Night by Su Tung-p’o0

Faint wind rustles reeds and cattails;
I open the hatch, expecting rain–moon floods the lake.
Boatmen and water birds dream the same dream;
a big fish splashes off like a frightened fox.
It’s late–men and creatures forget each other
while my shadow and I amuse ourselves alone.
Dark tides creep over the flats–I pity the cold mud-worms;
the setting moon, caught in a willow, lights a dangling spider.
Life passes swiftly, hedged by sorrow;
how long before you’ve lost it–a scene like this?
Cocks crow, bells ring, a hundred birds scatter;
drums pound from the bow, shout answers shout.

translated by Burton Watson

lately, once again

I find the night
does not end
quite as quickly
as before
and sleep
my wayward friend
is vacant
from my bed
I read
put the headphones on
drift off
to somewhere long ago
nibble on cheese
have a shot
or two
of the Irish
chase it down
with ice cold water
and long
yes, long
for being useful
once again

There’s Something I Have Learned from What I’ve Lived by Ataol Behramoğlu

There’s something I have learned from what I’ve lived through:
If you’re to live something, live it to its fullest
Your beloved should fall exhausted from your kisses
You should fall exhausted from smelling a flower

One can watch the sky for hours
Can for hours watch the sea, a bird, a child
To live on earth is to mingle with it
Growing roots that cannot be eradicated

When you hug a friend you should hug him vigorously
You should fight with all your muscles, body, passion
And once you stretch out on the hot sand
You should rest like a grain of sand, a leaf, a stone

One should listen to all the beautiful music on earth
So as to fill all his being with sounds and songs
One should dive into life as if
Diving from a rock into an emerald sea

Distant lands should lure you, people you do not know
You should burn with the desire to read all the books, to know all the lives
You should not exchange for anything the pleasure of drinking a glass of water
All the joys should fill you with the yearning to live

And you should know grief also, with honor, with all your being
For grief also, like joy, matures a person
Your blood should mingle with the great circulation of life
In your veins must circulate the eternal fresh blood of life

There is something I have learned from what I’ve lived through:
If you’re to live, live big, as if you are mingling with the rivers, the sky, the whole universe
For what we call a life span is a gift to life
And life is a gift to mankind

translated by Suat Karantag

on what’s at the end of rainbows


I’m not looking for that pot of gold or the Land of Oz or even that promise of home and the fulfillment of whatever dreams are still floating inside my head and heart, wistfully evoked by Judy Garland and so many other singers over the years in song, no, not looking anymore. Or at least that’s what I thought not so long ago. But the sight of one in the sky on a morning after a long rain, well it does do something to everyone, causing smiles, sighs, that glaze over the eyes when one is transported somewhere other than where one is. And I spent a minute or two staring pensively out the window at that sky, that rainbow stretching across it in a corner of my universe, and I couldn’t help but think I’m not through journeying just yet. The years have crept up on me and slowed my ability to leave the comfort of the bed in the morning but not the aching in my heart that longs for rainbows, a few true companions, and possibly a flask or two of lubrication to help propel me down that road, whether made of yellow bricks, asphalt, clay, trodden grass, or dirt, to look for something not found where I am. Something that never seems to be found wherever it is I am. Rainbows, roads, journeys.  And a voice whispering in my ear saying not done yet, old timer. Not now or ever, or at least not till you finally get to the end of some rainbow in the sky and can lay your head, close your eyes, and rest on whatever waits for you there.

Muezzin by Cemal Süreya

You hopped into bed,
But your hymen is on the table.
Never mind, Allah be praised.
There is more than one way to skin a cat.
Peel an orange and feed its slices to me.
I have a minaret, get hold of its charms,
Be my muezzin,
While the rain
Is pouring out in the street
And folks are keeping indoors
For their prayers.

translated by Murat Nemet-Nejat