My backpack, breathing
moonlight, sags with poems.
Getting schooled in magic
economy: is that a waste?
Ho Xuan knew how to hide
the surplus of meaning
in pickle jars of double entendres
as if only poems were a currency
to enrich a country’s GNP. She knew
how to unlock the season with a pen
and let the others run for office.
From Hanover Germany to
New Hanover County to Hanoi:
a single syllable becomes a pun
I can hardly grasp.
We travel and our destinations multiply.
Her name in translation
is the essence of spring.
Mine – snow seeping like flour.
Sibilants pour out and out.
(The two opening lines are by Ho Xuan Houng, trans. by John Balaban)
for my brother
As you send images
of waves crashing against
the shore in Porto, the surf
hurtles even larger here,
all the way across the ocean.
I wonder what it took
for the last schmuck to shed his belief
that there’s a rift in the middle,
meridian-long, splitting the Atlantic,
where Poseidon emerges
with his trident and pushes the water
in two opposite directions.
Endearing, isn’t it,
how we people the unknown
with the divine?
Gods are the index cards we keep
in cabinets curved like question marks.
When we played pirates,
we climbed on grandma’s kitchen table
shouting: vidim kopno!
I see the land! We make it across
the rift over and over again,
the cirrus crystals.
My Dad's Lens, Borovo Naselje, 2004
In English you shoot guns and you shoot pictures;
I.Z. doesn’t know that, as familiar as he is
with Howard Hawks. There’s that language barrier.
Then there’s the draft dodging.
A mysterious kidney infection waived
I.Z.’s mandatory army service at nineteen.
Chronic phobia of guns did the trick
for him at forty-two. That Balkan war
went on without him. At fifty-five, he took a picture
of wild ducks descending upon icebergs. He stood
on the Danube’s right bank, next to
the ruin of the Workers Club
and clicked. Low-res, ducks like specks,
but the ice was mighty. More so than
the Orthodox steeple, than the Catholic steeple
within I.Z.’s vision. Behind him and the birds
stood one large silo, one factory, apartment buildings,
one harbor, construction cranes. One thing
he’s always known, being a duck in the hawks’ domain
is no cowardice. Further up the river,
and sixty years back,
his father spent the entire World War Two
as a civilian, neutral like a one-man Switzerland
in the bull’s eye of the Third Reich, when
Vienna was laden with meaning.
In winter ‘04, wild ducks
invented a game only they could play:
float on an iceberg a bit, fly back, float a bit,
fly back, or so did I.Z. report.
When they got tired, they flew into the marshes
on the river’s other bank, which was (and still is)
another country. Border patrol sat tight in the harbor,
binoculars and revolvers at hand. Their speedboats docked,
waiting for the ice to melt.