Poems

The Cranes Migrate

Demoiselle cranes journey from the Russian steppes
to Rajasthan, a journey of three thousand kilometres
in a week. They wing above the Himalayas, overflying
Everest. Within the cohort, family groups sustain
each other: parents, fledgelings, knowing they must
flee the northern winter or else perish there,
breathing air so thin they starve for oxygen.

Golden eagles hunt in pairs, targeting the weakest
birds - the old, the young, the less robust
no match for predators whose pinions
span eight feet, and can attain three hundred kph
in bursts that zero in relentlessly, then plummet
earthward with their freight.

Somewhere in the leaders' memory banks loom distant
images - a settlement amid the desert, villagers
awaiting them with joyous cries, flute-eloquent,
of kuraj, from the ancient koonj; grain they've hived
for this arrival ready to dispense. 'Cranes have come':
the children pipe a clarion of welcome.
'Our friends are back. Our village is the best.' 

For six months the villagers will shelter them,
hoarding precious water for six thousand
feathered guests, quintals of wheat
they've harvested from meagre, semi-arid fields.
They hear the homecoming krok-krok
before the living cloud descends, and one by one,
the grey and slender birds fold in their wings, touch earth,
wanderers returning to the family hearth.

 

Imeros

In the pomegranate grove
I recognised your face;
in the attar of untimely bliss
my eyes caressed your lips.

Our cheeks rested
against each other,
butterfly to petal;
eyelash ensnared eyelash;
for an instant,
an eternity,
time turned blind eyes
and checked the granules
flowing through the hourglass,
but then the sand
ran faster
to make up for this
anomaly.

I don't know
if your mouth was laced
with aftertaste of pears.
I couldn't tell:
my lips did not
touch yours.

But in the pomegranate
groves of Hades,
if we chance to meet,
we shall not be strangers,
I believe.

 

Ανθοδέσμαι

Άψινθος, δάτουρα, και υποκύαμος,
ακόνιτον, ελλέβορος, και κώνειον -
όλ' αι πικρίαι και τα δηλητήρια -
τα φύλλα των και τ' άνθη τα φρικτά θα δώσουν
δια να γίνουν αι μεγάλαι ανθοδέσμαι
που θα τεθούν επί του φαεινού βωμού -
α, του λαμπρού βωμού εκ λίθου Μαλαχίτου -
του Πάθους του φρικτού και του περικαλλούς.

Konstantinos Kavafis (Constantine Cavafy 1863-1933)

Floral Tributes

Wormwood, haricot, thorn-apple,
Wolf's-bane, hellebore and hemlock -
all the bitter, deadly-poisonous flora's
ghastly leaves and blooms - may they be
gathered into heavy sheaves
and laid as tribute on the splendid altar -
ah, that gleaming slab of malachite -
to Passion, the abysmal, the sublime.


Translated from the Greek of Constantine Cavafy
 by Jena Woodhouse

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