Translation (again): Translating Villon:
He lived 500 years ago, wrote in the conventional form of his day, and struck me as one of the greatest modern poets or our times. I started translating his "Ballad of the Hanged Ones", but it ran away after the first line, and this is what came out:
THE BALLAD OF THE HIGHWAY GALLOWS
Brother men who are living after us
and tread upon the shadow of our ropes
despise us not; for we now swing above
the courts of men, and face a higher justice.
Brief pendulums of everlasting time,
we turn and sway to the spruce crossbeam's creaking,
and know no rest; and the soft grey dust settles
upon the useless soles of our old shoes.
And when the night descends upon the road,
dark winds go prowling forth, and we are cold
in our old rags, so high above the ground.
There sometimes is a moon, more often clouds,
running before the wind, as if afraid
of some dread thing, or could it be of us?
We too had mothers once upon a time.
We too would press a cheek against a skirt,
and listen to the scary tales of old,
and watch the candle through the spinning wheel.
Life is no longer than a dagger blade,
no fuller than a little ball of dope;
and aren't there a dozen drearier deaths
than a flight at the end of a good rope,
out in the fresh wind and the rabble's cheers,
and penises erected to the last?
And here you see us, blackened by the sun,
dried by the winds, and washed again by rains.
Pray for us, or at least withhold your curse.
And the black crows grow fat on our remains
like critics on some long-dead poet's verse.
Flying scavengers again; probably Villon's influence:
WE ARE THE VULTURES
We are the vultures,
We are the crows,
Peering through rib cages,
Perched on skulls.
A body swinging from a rope,
a soldier dead in a war,
A cat run over by a car,
That's what we're looking for.
A still-born baby on a garbage heap,
a fledgling fallen from a nest;
It's all protein and vitamin A;
It's the best.
THE DESERT ANIMAL
The blinding and scorching sun has slunk back to its lair
(The two-legged ones sing hymns to it, then lose their way and die.)
There is the other one up, not doing much to the darkness,
Thin, curved, and sharp like one of my fangs.
Somewhere along this night, in the breath-holding desert,
There are females and food, and soft dark danger
gliding along like myself;
and here's a ghost of a movement,
a shadow within a shadow, hiding fresh juicy meat,
warm blood, and crunchy bones;
the soft fur of my belly
makes no noise on the sand;
a squeak and death.
The night goes softly on,
stepping along a thin trail of blood which the sun will dry tomorrow.
SLEEP MY LOVE
The nights have grown longer
outside and in my heart,
and the sun, when it finally rises,
rises smaller and farther away than ever.
Sleep my love,
at the bottom of the night,
under the cocaine powder of its stars;
The night is young like you,
and you still can't detect
the cancer of the morning in its breast.
Sleep; all the mornings are still far away,
and the golden spermatozoa of falling stars keep plunging
into the dark-blue condom of the night.
Petals drift through this orchard,
soft white microbes
of autumn leaves,
fruit rotting on the ground,
and frozen earth to take the winter dead.
Oh I could tell you
so many nightmares, but I won't.
Pearl teeth in the dark oyster of your mouth.
And look: your hair is taking root in the ground,
and the earth is sweating cold dew.
A large bat passes on wings semi-transparent against the night;
it's not a vampire, it feeds on fruit;
MR. FEITLOVICH BEATS HIS WIFE
It was late afternoon of a hot summer day
when Mr. Feitlovich from the second floor
(138, Bialik Street, Tel Aviv)
slapped his wife's face
and punched her in the shoulder
because she burned his toast.
He did not slap or punch her very hard
because he was not the athletic type
and was tired after a hard day at the office
and had felt like a very small sardine on the bus home
looking forward to that toast and coffee.
Still, because of the thought behind the deed
Mrs. Feitlovich cried, and wouldn't speak to him for two days
and slept on the sofa in the living room
and on the second day went to borrow a cup of sugar from the widower on the third floor
and was unfaithful to Feitlovich to punish him.
Otherwise the widower was nothing special
it was not the first time Mrs. Feitlovich did such a thing
although the first time with this particular neighbour
because it was not the first time Mr. Feitlovich beat her
after a hard day at the office when she did something stupid.
It must be said at once that Mr. Feitlovich did not beat his wife very often
and that she did not particularly enjoy the adulteries
so perhaps they don't really count.
Lasciate ogni speranza
old Hitler with a bullet through his head
Himmler with a cyanide capsule between his teeth
Goering with another
Wasted lives, wasted dreams,
a thousand-year-reich that lasted a decade
and the country cut in two for the next half a century
like Solomon and that baby.
so many manly voices:
"Jawohl, mein Führer"
and not a single tiny one
And time passes
and even that Frenchman they say was your illegitimate son
is dead by now, of age and natural causes.
One could almost feel sorry for you
because long-rangewise, an Israeli citizen beating his wife because she burned his toast
that's even worse than the fall of Berlin
They do remember you, although perhaps not as often as before
and here, in Israel (Palestine in those days) which Rommel almost reached
they do their best to keep the hate alive
but hate comes hard after a hard day at the office
with the memory of crematory chimneys
faded to a wisp of smoke from the toaster.
They do remember you, but perhaps not right after a hard day at the office;
later, after the night has fallen and a cool breeze comes in through the open window
(they don't have such stars in Europe)
and Mrs. Feitlovich is weeping into the night.
Nothing much wrong with this one
except the intifada and so on
but of course over there they've got the IRA
and the Basques and the Mafia and the Red Brigades
and the new Nazis and the old Nazis
and the Balkans and what used to be Soviet Russia
and cultural revolutions and the third world
famines AIDS civil wars pollution
so this one isn't so bad.
There's only this occasional longing
for a quiet cigarette on a small bridge over a stream
watching a trout immobile in the lee of a submerged rock
knowing how it lives and what bait it would take
and sometimes waiting out a small friendly rain
under the bridge or a tree.
Being a wandering Jew wasn't all holocaust and war
some of us got away with Siberia
and a few years of hunger.
Leaving, one took along
instead of picture postcards
(not always available)
poets in their own language, learned by heart.
Rather like different schools you went to
and most of your old schoolmates must still be living there
probably remembering you from time to time
and wondering what happened to you.
And now, in the Promised Land, it is the golden path
between a wandering Jew and a Massada suicide
always interesting and a challenge
Only sometimes this longing
for a quiet cigarette on a small mossy bridge
INTIFADA, HIGH TIDE
Jews, Arabs, settlers, Palestinians, cool it,
take it easy, relax, give yourself a break;
You've waited 2000 years for this country which 80% of your people
consider a nice place to visit but wouldn't want to live here;
you've waited 40 years for yours which 80% of your people
might not want to live in either if you make a mess of it;
it's on the way now, it's OK, relax.
Go back to your devaluations,
dig for some oil,
kill each other on the roads like you used to,
have stomach ulcers instead of bullet holes,
have nervous breakdowns instead of broken heads,
throw fits not stones,
burn calories not tires,
cheat income tax not the Geneva Convention,
make love between wars,
support your friendly divorce lawyer and your accountant,
watch with hawk eyes what they're doing to your car in the garage,
take a vacation, try to be a little more normal;
all the doctors recommend it when they are not on strike.
THE MATHEMATICS OF INDEPENDENCE
Independence is the lowest common denominator
of a nation, whether it makes a success or a mess of it,
as a locust is the lowest common denominator
of a grasshopper.
Whoever said that it was sweet and noble to die for one's homeland
may have been right
the only credibility problem being
he was still alive when he said it.
When you go out to fight for independence, remember
that two times two always makes four,
and even if it doesn't you shouldn't rely on it;
and if you bought 10,000 dollars' worth of weapons
out of a bank account of 5,000
the manager is going to have a word with you
unless somebody bails you out
in which case you should know why he is doing it.
It's very easy to stop at the lowest common denominator
without checking whether true nobility and sweetness
do not hide somewhere higher up, among the logarithms.
Every mob is frightening
and the same.
they are men or women
young or old
black white yellow or red
intelligent or stupid
quiet or loud
gentle or cruel
happy or miserable
of that country/ language/ religion or another.
they are all grey
and all potential killers.
Perhaps it would be enough
to outlaw any crowd of more than, say, a hundred people,
the town square
You can manage all right
with up to a hundred friends,
up to fifty lovers,
even up to a hundred enemies.
More than that will tear you apart.
AN OLD FREEDOM FIGHTER
When freedom finally comes
It will come too late for me.
When you're not free to live much longer,
What worth all other freedoms?
BEFORE AND AFTER
If you disregard the time between your birth and death
(Sometimes easy to do, in the vanity of vanities mood)
and consider, philosophically, what you were before and what will be left of you,
it's like this:
you could have been a wet stain
when your father masturbated or practiced coitus interruptus
or when your mother had her period.
You would dry out within a few hours and be removed at the dry cleaners
and the mattress or the pillow would have been thrown out years ago.
And if you did get born and afterwards died
(many years later, I wish you with all my heart)
then you're a lovely clean skeleton underground
(don't go into cremation and scattering the ashes; don't
begrudge the earth an extra skeleton; it collects them)
with a straight spine and nice curved ribs and skull
maybe only some teeth missing or sporting gold crowns or bridges (but not if you were Jewish; the burial society removes them so as not to lead grave robbers into temptation)
No, the value of graveyards lies above the ground,
in all those marble blocks,
accumulated over the years like a coral reef
user-friendly for the invading barbarians to build with.
Knowing it's a Jewish cemetery they'll leave your skeleton alone
until Messiah comes and you will rise from your grave,
wondering what it's going to be like now.
Women have multiple orgasms
while men have problems with multiple erections
so women must be enjoying it more.
Tiresias even calculated the ratio
Something like ten to one
and Hera blinded him for leaking the information.
Stones crumble and form crow's feet. Under today's sun
old Jaffa sleeps the senile sleep of bygone centuries,
and the municipality's efforts to preserve it
reach no deeper than embalmers' needles.
And the sea by its side is always young
with rolling water and silver fish and breasts of waves;
Like a young wife nudging an old man's flank
to no avail.
DRY LEAVES IN THE GARDEN
Dry leaves in the garden
and grey hair in the mirror.
At our age we should start thinking about immortality.
And I remember
the first time you looked old.
©1997 Zygmunt Frankel - All Rights Reserved.
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