RAISING THE TITANIC

I spent the winter my father died down in the basement,
under the calm surface of the floorboards, hundreds

of little plastic parts spread out like debris
on the table. And for months while the snow fell

and my father sat in the big chair by the Philco dying,
I worked my way up deck by deck, story by story,

from steerage to first class, until at last it was done,
stacks, deck chairs, all the delicate rigging.

And there it loomed, a blazing city of the dead.
Then painted the gaping hole at the waterline

and placed my father at the railings, my mother
in a lifeboat pulling away from the wreckage.

from At the Great Door of Morning: Poems and Translations
(Copper Canyon Press, 2016)


"With is ability to transform individual experiences into spiritual acts, poetry creates a sacred language, one whose intent is to change life, as Rimbaud reminds us, not through embellishment but through consecration."

~ Robert Hedin


MY MOTHER'S HATS

She kept them high on the top shelf,
In boxes big as drums—

Bright, crescent-shaped boats
With little fishnets dangling down—

And wore them with her best dress
To teas, coffee parties, department stores.

What a lovely catch, my father used to say,
Watching her sail off into the afternoon waters.

from The Light Under The Door
(Red Dragonfly Press)


"A good poem breaks through the numbing, stultifying voice of our mass culture to successfully articulate, in all its breadth and meaning, a landscape of conviction, a deeper circuitry that helps give life its necessary shape and substance."

~ Robert Hedin


THE GREATEST

What I remember most about Muhammad Ali
Are not the fast hands and loose, graceful footwork.
Or Manila or Zaire. Or even what came after—
The slurred speech, the sad slow shuffle.
No, what I remember is a boy somewhere
In the foothills of the snowy Zagros Mountains,
A small Kurdish boy in a long blue robe
Who gave us directions that day we were lost,
And how he knew nothing of America
But two syllables he sang over and over
In the high unbroken voice of a girl—
Ali, Ali—then laughed and all at once
Began to bob and weave, jabbing and juking,
His robe flaring a moment like a fighter's.
Ali. One word, two bright syllables
That turned to smoke in the morning air.
And he pointed down the long dusty road
To Hatra and Ur, the ruins of Babylon,
And the two ancient rivers we had read about,
Their dark starless waters draining away into fog.

from Poems Prose Poems
(Red Dragonfly Press)


"In the process of writing, the poet becomes caught up in the playful joys of discovery, of the imagination, in the immemorial spirit of the journey itself. Every poem is a gift, a grateful giving back of what has been found on that journey."

~ Robert Hedin


THE OLD LIBERATORS

Of all the people in the mornings at the mall,
It's the old liberators I like best,
Those veterans of the Bulge, Anzio, or Monte Cassino
I see lost in Automotive or back in Home Repair,
Bored among the paints and power tools.
Or the really old ones, the ones who are going fast,
Who keep dozing off in the little orchards
Of shade under the distant skylights.
All around, from one bright rack to another,
Their wives stride big as generals,
Their handbags bulging like ripe fruit.
They are almost all gone now,
And with them they are taking the flak
And firestorms, the names of the old bombing runs.
Each day a little more of their memory goes out,
Darkens the way a house darkens,
Its rooms quietly filling with evening,
Until nothing but the wind lifts the lace curtains,
The wind bearing through the empty rooms
The rich far off scent of gardens
Where just now, this morning,
Light is falling on the wild philodendrons.

from The Old Liberators:
New and Selected Poems and Translations

(Holy Cow Press)


"Poetry is too generous, its capabilities too great and liberating, for it to be reduced to a simple tool of self-expression. A good poem works toward the recovery of a fundamental ground, a place composed of shapes and contours, patterns and moments, that are common to us all, a shared property where we are able to regain a certain communality of spirit."
~ Robert Hedin


TORNADO

Four farms over it looked like a braid of black hemp
I could pull and make the whole sky ring.
And I remember there falling to earth that night
The broken slats of a barn, baling wire, straw and hay,
And one black leather Bible with a broken spine.

I think of the bulls my father slaughtered every August,
How he would pull out of that rank sea
A pair of collapsed lungs, stomach,
Eight bushels of gleaming rope he called intestines,
And one bucket of parts he could never name.

In the dream that keeps circling back in the shape
Of a barn, my father has just drained
His last bull. Outside it is raining harder
Than I've ever seen, and the sky is about to step down
On one leg. And all through the barn,
As high as the loft, the smell of blood and hay.
All night, as long as the dream holds,
He keeps turning the thick slab of soap over and over,
Building the lather up like clouds in his hands.

from County O
(Copper Canyon Press)


"Poetry forges a compassionate pact with the world and, like all enduring pacts, it is one that in the end sustains and confirms–the poet's life, ours, and the great healing powers of language."
~ Robert Hedin


THE WRECK OF THE GREAT NORTHERN

Where the Great Northern plunged in
The river boiled with light, and we all stood
In the tall grass staring at a tangle
Of track, and four orange coaches
And one Pullman lying under the current,
Turning the current clear. We stood staring
As though it had been there all along
And was suddenly thrust up out of the weeds
That night as a blessing, as a long sleek hallway
Dropping off into fields we'd never seen,
Into the pastures of some great god
Who sent back our steers too heavy to move,
All bloated and with green seaweed strung down
Their horns. And we all looked down
Into the lit cars at businessmen
And wives, already back to breathing water,
And saw in the cold clear tanks of the Pullman
A small child the size of my son, a porter's
White jacket, a nylon floating gracefully
As an eel. What the train and the river
Were saying, no one could understand.
We just stood there, breathing what was left
Of the night. How still the cars were,
How sleek, shimmering through the undertow.
And I saw the trees around us blossomed out,
The wind had come back and was blowing
Through the tall empty grass, through the high
Grain fields, the wind was rattling
The dry husks of corn.

from At the Home-Altar
(Copper Canyon Press)


"Like all translators, I work in two linguistic landscapes at once, and much of my time is spent trying to reconcile the conflicting demands of both. It is not always a pleasant task, never an easy one, and more often than not it involves a great deal of patience and deference. In many ways I act as a mediator in a constant tug-of-war, with each language trying to dominate the other. Certain sacrifices invariably have to be made, and each language must surrender some of its territory.

Ultimately, all translations must survive on their own merits and possess the necessary critical elements that drew us to poetry in the first place. As a translator, my task is to render the inner life of the original poem, without losing sight of the humbling, rather unnerving fact that I am articulating the intimate and powerful tool of another human's voice in all its varied fullness."

~ Robert Hedin


–WHEN THEY SLEEP

All people are children when they sleep.
There's no war in them then.
They open their hands and breathe
in that quiet rhythm heaven has given them.

They pucker their lips like small children
and open their hands halfway,
soldiers and statesmen, servants and masters.
The stars stand guard
and a haze veils the sky,
a few hours when no one will do anybody harm.

If only we could speak to one another then
when our hearts are half-open flowers.
Words like golden bees
would drift in.
—God, teach me the language of sleep.

Rolf Jacobsen, translated from the Norwegian

from The Roads Have Come To An End Now:
Selected and Last Poems of Rolf Jacobsen

(Copper Canyon Press)


NOT BY CAR, NOT BY PLANE

Not by car,
not by plane—
by neither hay sled
nor rickety cart
—or even by Elijah's fiery chariot!

You'll never get farther than Bashō.
He got there by foot.

Olav H. Hauge, translated from the Norwegian

from The Dream We Carry:
Selected and Last Poems of Olav H. Hauge

(Copper Canyon Press)


THE CODFISH

Despite what marine biologists say, the codfish is not all that ravenous or tough. It doesn't devour everything that comes in its path, and it doesn't like desolate waters any more than the next fish. For thousands of years it's patrolled the seams between warm and cold ocean currents and, rather recently, showed the Europeans the way to America. The trouble is, the codfish can't remember a thing. It might swim to Labrador or Lofoten for twenty straight years and not recall any of it. On good days, its memory lasts maybe three seconds. Say, is that a herring or a lure? When mistaken, it won't put up a fight; it won't even try to slip off the hook. It's had enough and throws in the towel. Life's just not fair. Or is it? The codfish really can't remember.

Dag T. Straumsvåg, translated from the Norwegian

from The Lure-Maker from Posio: Prose Poems of Dag T. Straumsvåg
(Red Dragonfly Press)