Before I get to the literal heart, I’ll first say one thing: I am living tonight by Everywhere and His Nasty Parlor Tricks. Too short but stupendous.
And then there is the matter of one amazing poet, Cesar Vallejo, who Ron Padgett suggested I turn to in all of my adolescent angst not so long ago … I believe I am still in the throes of such nonsense. But you’ll forgive me all the hokey things (like liking the film “Elizabethtown” and eating up my free time by being too social and less studious than one might hope…) in favor of practicing universal compassion and imbibing in his wonderous poetry. ¿Si?
I’ve had lunch alone now, and without any
mother, or may I have, or help yourself, or water,
or father who, over the eloquent offertory
of ears of corn, asks for his postponed
image, between the greater clasps of sound.
How could I have had lunch. How served myself
these things from such distant plates,
when my own hearth has surely broken up,
when not even mother appears at my lips.
How could I have had a nothing lunch.
At the table of a good friend I’ve had lunch
with his father just arrived from the world,
with his white-haired aunts who speak
in dapple-grey tinkle of porcelain,
mumbling through all their widow alveoli;
and with generous place-settings of lively tootlings,
because they’re in their own home. What a snap!
And the knives on this table
have hurt me all over my palate.
Viandry at such tables, where one proves
someone else’s love instead of one’s own,
turns into earth the mouthful not offered by
makes the hard swallowing a blow; the dessert,
bile; the coffee, funereal oil.
Now when my own hearth has broken up,
and the maternal help yourself does not leave the tomb,
the kitchen in darkness, the misery of love.
THE BLACK MESSENGERS
There are in life such hard blows . . . I don’t know!
Blows seemingly from God’s wrath; as if before them
the undertow of all our sufferings
is embedded in our souls . . . I don’t know!
There are few; but are . . . opening dark furrows
in the fiercest of faces and the strongest of loins,
They are perhaps the colts of barbaric Attilas
or the dark heralds Death sends us.
They are the deep falls of the Christ of the soul,
of some adorable one that Destiny Blasphemes.
Those bloody blows are the crepitation
of some bread getting burned on us by the oven’s door
And the man . . . poor . . . poor!
He turns his eyes around, like
when patting calls us upon our shoulder;
he turns his crazed maddened eyes,
and all of life’s experiences become stagnant, like a puddle of guilt, in a daze.
There are such hard blows in life. I don’t know!
–Cesar Vallejo (trans. Clayton Eshleman)
PARIS, OCTOBER 1936
From all of this I am the only one who leaves.
From this bench I go away, from my pants,
from my great situation, from my actions,
from my number split side to side,
from all of this I am the only one who leaves.
From the Champs Elysées or as the strange
alley of the Moon makes a turn,
my death goes away, my cradle leaves,
and, surrounded by people, alone, cut loose,
my human resemblance turns around
and dispatches its shadows one by one.
And I move away from everything, since everything
remains to create my alibi:
my shoe, its eyelet, as well as its mud
and even the bend in the elbow
of my own buttoned shirt.
–Cesar Vallejo (trans. Clayton Eshleman)
“The looks are drawn because they know I’m willing to embrace and tame, however slightly, uncertainties they fear daily. My distinction lies in that: I am willing to hold it, calm it, and hand it over in palatable ways. I’ve nothing to lose except this fleshly compound, which weighs less than the value of uncertainty.”
Amy King is the recipient of the 2015 Winner of the Women’s National Book Association (WNBA) Award. Her latest collection, The Missing Museum, is a winner of the 2015 Tarpaulin Sky Book Prize. She serves on the executive board of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts and is co-editing with Heidi Lynn Staples the anthology Big Energy Poets of the Anthropocene: When Ecopoets Think Climate Change. She also co-edited the anthology Bettering American Poetry 2015 and is a professor of creative writing at SUNY Nassau Community College.