For Maxime du Camp
When we were children, in love with maps
and stamps, the universe seemed enough.
Ah! how clear and large the lamp-lit world
that in memory’s eyes was small.
One morning we set out, our minds aflame,
our hearts rancorous and bitter,
to follow the rhythm of the waves
that rock our infinities on finite seas.
Some, happily escaping their infamous country;
others, the horrors of the crib, and a few,
Astrologers, death by drowning in a woman’s
eyes, some Circe of dangerous perfumes.
So as not to turn into beasts, they drink–
space and light and fiery skies–
as the stinging cold and bronzing suns
erase, slowly, the kisses from their skins.
But the true voyagers are the ones who leave
for its own sake; their hearts light as balloons,
these never force their fates, and, without
knowing why, say always: Allons y!
The desires of these are like clouds,
and they dream, the way a conscript dreams
of guns, of sensualities, vast and shifting,
that no man has ever named.
Astonishing travelers! What noble histories
we read in your eyes, as deep as the sea!
Show us the case of your rich memories,
those wonderful jewels, made of air and stars.
We’re yearning to travel without steam or sail!
To illumine the ennui of our prisons,
Show us, as if stretched across canvas,
your recollections in their horizons’ frames.
Tell us, What have you seen?
We have seen stars
and waves, we have also seen sand;
and, despite shocks and unforeseen disasters,
we were often bored, as we are here.
The glory of sunlight on a violet sea,
the glory of cities in the setting sun,
lit a restless impulse in our hearts
to dive into the alluringly-reflected sky.
The richest cities, the grandest landscapes,
will never have the mysterious allure
that chance makes from clouds.
And always, desire renders us uneasy!
—Yet enjoyment fortifies desire.
Desire, old tree whom pleasure fertilizes,
however hard and thick your swollen bark,
your branches will still reach for light.
Will you grow forever, great tree more vital
than cypress? No matter; we have carefully
chosen some sketches for your album, voracious
brothers, who find beauty in all from afar!
We have kowtowed to fraudulent idols;
to thrones studded with glittering gems;
to palaces awash in fantastic pomp
that would be for you bankers a ruined dream;
to costumes that are rapture for the eyes;
to women who paint their teeth and fingernails,
to knowing jugglers, caressing snakes.
And then? And then?
Not forgetting the main thing,
we’ve seen, everywhere, without effort,
up and down the fatal ladder,
the dull spectacle of immortal sin.
Woman, low servant, proud and stupid,
self-adoring without humor or disgust;
Man, grasping tyrant, bawdy, hard and greedy,
slaves to slavery, rivulets in the sewer;
The hangman who loves his work, the sobbing martyr,
the fête that flavors and perfumes the blood,
the poison of the power that saps a despot’s strength,
the amorous users of the brutalizing whip.
So many religions similar to our own,
climbing towards sainthood and heaven,
the way the sybarite wallowing in her feather-bed
takes pleasure from horsehair and nails.
Babbling Mankind, drunk on his own genius,
as stupid now as he was jaded before,
cries out in fierce agony to God,
Oh my likeness, my master, be damned!
Meanwhile, the less dim, bold lovers of insanity,
flee the milling herd hemmed in by fate
to take their ease in clouds of opium!
—So reads the eternal dispatch from the world!
It’s the bitter savant, who goes traveling!
The world, so monotonous and small today,
yesterday, tomorrow, forever, forced to see itself:
an oasis of horror in a desert of ennui.
Must he leave? Stay? Stay if you can;
leave if you must. The short, and otherwise,
crouch to fool the vigilant, always fatal enemy.
Time! Alas! Some flee him without stopping,
like apostles or wandering Jews,
for whom no wagon or ship will suffice
to escape the infamous net; others know
how to kill him without leaving their cribs.
And when, finally, his foot’s on our necks,
we can still hope, shout Onward!
and, as we once set out for China, our eyes wide,
our hair blowing in the wind,
we embark on the darkening sea
with the joyful hearts of the young.
Do you hear those charming funereal voices
singing Here, come here if you’d try
the fragrant lotus! And here we offer
miracle fruits for your hungry hearts;
come here, drink in the strange sweetness
of this afternoon that never ends.
From his familiar accent, we recognize the spectre,
our Pylades, who is stretching out his arms;
To refresh your heart, swim towards your Electra!
says the one whose knees we kissed long ago.
Lola Haskins’ translations have appeared in Subtropics, Blue Lyra and Rowboat. Her own poetry has appeared in The Atlantic, The Christian Science Monitor, The London Review of Books, Georgia Review, Prairie Schooner, Rattle and elsewhere. Her most recent collection is The Grace to Leave (Anhinga, 2012). Among her awards are two Florida book awards, the Iowa Poetry Prize, four Florida writing fellowships, two NEAs, two narrative poetry prizes, and the Emily Dickinson/Writer Magazine Award from The Poetry Society of America. Retired from teaching Computer Science, she is now on the faculty of Rainier Writer’s Workshop, a low residency MFA program. She will be Writer in Residence at Zion National Park in March, 2015. For more information, please visit her at www.lolahaskins.com.