Issue 8 Poems



Listen to Mark's digitally produced audio version here:


a folktale

You know that flabby sponge of thin-skinned land
where every soft heart has been swilled away?
Its Lord of Misrule
off on an irresistible job one night
mailed his caretaker to get in more drink.

But she dumped his car in a ditch and picked
a thick-skinned donkey to carry - not wine,
rum or gin. Her choice
was squash. The panniers sagged, the five hundred
kilo regional record pumpkin rode

pillion, sunk on its weight, bulging blue
veins netting its leather. Packed below, peltirregular
of squashes, striped
green, yellow, orange,
cratered, warts
sawing smooth-skinned
balls and stools

alongside faux squash, the Hand of Buddha
lemons poking claws at cuckoo melons;
these varieties
were rarely tasted in the Land of Misrule.
Buffalo moaned and spread their lips, wild goats

jumped fences. Now the caretaker - Lady
of Misrule - cooked the obscure feast. How each
forgotten name wept
its oedematous inner life: Sweet Dumpling,
Small Sugar, Munchkin. Gnarled osseous forms,

battered in their throes, hissed hard: 'It's heavy
hanging from stiff necks, texturing sun. We
mashed earth to hammocks
for our flesh.' Chartreuse, vanilla, beer-brown hidden
in the rigorous toughnesses moaned.

Midnight. A Court was scratched to call for wine
but the donkey whinnied his evidence:
'She knows I suffer
being stroked. He packs us so close in our pen,
we make plates of each other. We're patient

while other teeth take straws from off our backs.'
An acid smell, chewed hay, pushed Court muzzles
deep in the baked squash
till all was eaten. They were satisfied. Drink?
No one thought of it. The donkey hobbled

through offices braying out a new law:
No liquor here but tears of melted squash,
of Golden Acorn,
of Crown of Thorns, of Trumpet of Albenga.
Every essence in adamantine heard

and all soft-centred creatures petrified
and crystallised,
dragged their calluses
and shattered,
churned the argillaceous
land. At dawn when the Lord came home from work,

he found a capital of sludge and mud.
His rage fermented into speechlessness.
The caretaker gripped
her donkey's carpeted flanks with sober heels
and hasn't been seen in Damp Valley since.





Alfonso Reyes translated by Timothy Adès
River of Forgetting

Rio de Janeiro, Rio,
you were river, you are sea:
what runs rolling down to Rio
rolls back slow, so easily.

In your breast the daylight ripens
with eternity of calm:
for each hour your hand unfastens,
back an hour or more will come.

The cloudbanks filter your mountains,
sponges of clearest light;
you rarefy even the swansdown
that the tempest throws in the dirt.

What annoyance can withstand you,
if at every salty taste
your breezes are all sugar-candy,
your light pure, honest and chaste?

 Land runs into water, playing,
city touches on country ground,
darkness enters into evening,
equal friendship, open hand.

Next to the household's murmur,
song of your thrush, the sabiá;
woman and fruit, one aroma,
two emanations there.

Whoever once has known you
finds in you his solace,
whoever has rested in you
has forgetting of all else.

Let the soul in its disorder
seek your clear crystal calm;
let sleep rain down from the nodding
head of your royal palm.

As travellers do, I carry
in my baggage my hearth:
I am captain of a vessel
with no navigation chart.

All I ask, Rio de Janeiro,
your consent, in my time of test:
let me wander on your beaches
when my ship is wrecked and lost.

The hand went to the forehead
hoping to bring surcease.
Not the hand, it was the wind.
Not the wind, it was your peace.

To and Fro in Santa Teresa

Up in Santa Teresa
gadabout shuttle-blade
moon in the mesh of tree-limbs
weaves the trellis-shade.

Eyes, in the clamp of lashes
captive, and yet at large,
fleeing away to ashes,
inviting peace, wage war.

A youth, slim, small, swarthy,
hipped on his mandolin,
not ready to go steady,
thrills, clasps a little queen.

Woman grasped in the hour
freely yields, though another's:
all is transient, fluid,
leaving from where it lingers.

Drops of essence are oozing
from the trees' goblet-blooms:
another time is renewing
at the time it self-consumes.

The sea runs off beneath us
in the very light it delivers,
runs off but cannot leave
the land and its hands' embraces.

The horseman of the wind
goes by on his lively mare:
or not - he is in the shadow,
jabbing and jangling his spurs.

Something proceeds through life
pretending to disappear,
a coming and a going,                                                                                                                      both a coming and staying near.                                       

This being close to me
though she died years ago!
This fooling everyone
like a bolt from Zeno's bow!

Time entangles the word,
the song succumbs to sloth;
angels with delicate tread
deign to descend to earth.

- Noiseless moon up above,
heron, a prey self-caught:
through arabesques of leaves
it runs and rolls... or not.


A liar: below her eyes
the prickling heat like a wound;
and with a radiance
in her eyes, she importuned.

If in the teasing of talk
she was all insinuation,
her desire did not take after
her promising conversation.

Her hand forgot itself
in the course of a discussion,
but returned to her again:
no forgetting, no confusion.

Every bud that was crushed
burgeoned again in her bosom,
concealing and revealing,
wherever you looked, a lemon.

It was in mid-December,
greatest weight of the sun,
when suddenly the breezes
were contrary, meddlesome.

With the jingling of cicadas
all the air was a-quiver;
in the pauses of silence
the silence was the greater.

All I ask, Rio de Janeiro,
your consent, in my time of test:
let me wander on your beaches
when my ship is wrecked and lost.

The hand went to the forehead
hoping to bring surcease.
Not the hand, it was the wind.
Not the wind, it was your peace.

The earth was amassing honeys
in gentle fecundation.
Life lazy and abundant
lay low without expression.

I realised that the songbirds,
even as they were strewing
voices on voices on voices,
did not desist from singing.

I realised that the clouds
wandered without direction;
I realised that all things
repent of their intention.

That also the red of daring
ends in the red blushing face,
halted there, and in nature
temptation itself is chaste.

- I find now I enjoy her
and I handle her better;
I watch her, and let her talk,
no hustling, no dilating.

Contrast and Dream

Why seek a reviving elixir
- don't look for an answer from me -
in a cigar's asphyxia
and coffee's acerbity?

The ukulele is grieving,
they ask it for something cheerful.
Not having entails not giving:
it only knows how to be tearful.

One lover wants no more heart's-ease,
no more solace, than to have woven
and wept, in a lacework of tears,
the effigy of a woman.

Another is gasping, expiring,
but he doesn't go out to court her:
his one idea's to be steering,
blind drunk, to the red-light quarter.

 Let them put some music to passion,
fit the cat with a jangling clapper,
give time for a nimble evasion:
their quarry's a lucky escaper.

What a milksop disappointment,
what a dismal failure to fire!
What pusillanimous judgment,
not to seize what they claim to desire!

When daybreak has halfway broken
and the morning sky's half red,
the half-hearted man at one stroke can
be seen getting half out of bed.

He half knows what he is planning,
he half approaches his task,
and when night has halfway fallen,
what's done is done, and it's past.

Can it be that the water of dreaming
is that by which thirst is abated,
the one we hear covertly streaming,
the one that has never been sighted?

So among the wise he is wiser
who flees from the honey's caress,
seeking instead, for his pleasure,
a contrast, a bitterness.

Firm of purpose, by his unmoving
Achilles reveals his value;
Penelope, by her unweaving.

I forgot what I meant to tell you.

Lonely Longing

Gardener, what do you gain
destroying each nursery of seedlings?
You only sow and uproot
the bushes of good intentions.

How lonely you pass through life!
A hundred cities befriended:
In each you created loves,
but each of them, you abandoned.

From the Cerro de la Silla
to the foot of the Sierra Madre
runs the line of your familia,
an invisible thread, compadre!

Woven into the memories
of all the years you passed
is Madrid, the City of Palaces:
skies of Castile, so vast.

If there by the Guadarrama
your friendship left some traces,
you know what you can remember
from Sainte-Geneviève in Paris.

The River Plate's tawny water
- tawny with clay, not crystals -
that is the urn of your teardrops:
may it pity you and your sorrows.

May grief take the Corcovado,
where today your banner is planted,
for your hands outstretched and pleading,
and your bleeding heels abraded.

They say that in tropical waters
there wanders a straying vessel;
the sea has made her a lover,
she is aided by the breezes.

They say that a grain of sand
is lost among its fellows,
that foliage on a tree
is a muddle of lookalike faces.

Here a man has gone missing:
let any who find him say so.
He rowed his boat among men
and now there is none to trace him.

- Irony of remembrance,
one door to go out and in:
he wept for his hours that perished,
he thought they were flourishing!

Dark Lady

Swarthy nut of Brazil,
you chestnut of Marañón:
you are roasted with oil
anointed by the sun.

From mythology's algae
and the salt's attacking
in the crucible of the sea
your tint is of roasting.

Rich in oils, unharmed virgin,
lamp of brilliance profound,
you rise as day is quenching
to carbon from diamond.

Isn't the flower consumed
in the sweat of the sand?
No, not consumed, but the stem
swells and the bud is formed.

Mystery: fruit and ash;
ash with no bitter taste,
fruit rough with the harsh
scents of powders and paste.

On the arms, benzoin and myrrh;
savour of clove on the teat:
he gathers a spice superior
who travels the Indies route.

I'll surely set sail and follow,
feeling myself a discoverer,
a pupil of Marco Polo
or the Genoese Cristóforo.

'Land!' I cry: in the refuge
of the clay of your birth,
the caravel is attaching
its keel to the mooring-berth.

Land of the dark receives me
in silent germination,
where the trees are leaping
like rays of an explosion.

Thunder of God! In that hour
of God's thunder, I return,
that's my fortune and my venture,
to the shade where I was born.

Silver pieces, fall silent,
When you hear the cry:
'You daughters of Jerusalem,
The copper penny am I.'

Off Balance

The water's almost freezing
at seventeen, just over!
The norms are in confusion,
it seems I start to shiver.

It seems the light is ominous
as if in Scandinavia
because a great cloud's menace
coils on the Corcovado.

It seems the earth must suffer
full planetary terror
because a leaden ocean
suspended it in nowhere.

It seems that anger rattles
its quiverful of missiles,
because all in a twinkling
you'd had enough of smiling.

And though I breathe, it seems
I suffocate and weaken;
it seems I'm giving chase,
not nearing, not advancing.

Life lurched and swayed and tottered,
up on some higher levels,
vertiginous, constricted,
breathless in errant breezes.

And was it storm and tempest
or you, cloud-furrowed, frowning?
And was it you who brandished
the lash and flash of lightning?

So sensuous, so pampered,
the countryside was polar,
so very unaccustomed,
having no golden colour.

You were like bitter almonds,
your aftertaste was bitter,
accordingly dissolving
your sugar-coated flavour.

(An evening and a woman
were yielding, I'll admit, to me:
uneasy, shy, and solemn,
being ecstasy's epitome.)

- And with the fall of darkness,
when everything was silent,
what was it broke the silence?
The laughter of the drizzle.

Lucky Charms

'Take this and give it to no-one,
It's a secret all of your own:
let it hang on your bosom
for there it has to shine.

'From Mozambique and Angola
mysteries came to Brazil,
seven mysteries of hand-work
which I shall now reveal.

'This raceme is the wood
of the vine-stock of Salvador:
have a thought for the blood
in the earth's hidden store.

'They say this rattling pod
has laughter to banish sadness,
for inside it is the seed
of the tree of madness.

'This is the jacarandá,
wood of long life and years:
The race of our sisters and brothers
unceasingly endures.

'The hand on the charm: a latch
no-one knows how to open.
It closes the body to witchcraft
and to the subtlest poison.

'You must obtain your water
never having to plead:
with a bowl of hazel
you will find what you need.

'Here are the sun and moon:
these and Solomon's seal
and Don Pedro's gold-and-silver
are riches and sleeping well.

 'The bursting pomegranates
that grow up at your door,
if with these your life began, it's
with these you shall expire.

'You've heard all that matters:
I'll say it one more time.
Then, to be sure you know it,
you say it to me in turn.'

- The crone gave her these counsels:
she listened without a word.
I listened as well, unsettled,
couldn't laugh at what I heard.

Sound and Echo

Rounds of masks and of music,
hostelries dressed overall:
Mexico's Night before Christmas,
Rio in Carnival.

There, the rafts in the gardens,
rowers, the little guitar,
great round hats that are sunshades
tracking the course of the star;

here, in the dance on tiptoe,
pivoting wooden sole,
and the anklets are cobras
snaking up from the heel.

Brazil's inlaid Alagoa
coconut, craft of the dirk;
walnuts, San Juan de Ulúa,
Mexican openwork.

Bare-breast Recife mulatas
reap on the Mangrove Coast
bounty of avocados,
sapodillas too, Nature's best;

and I in a dream am seeing
pirogues along our Canal,
black tresses studded with roses,
wrapped in a handsome shawl.

Glimmering of two visions
that the crystal reflects and frees;
on my loom interlacing,
two skeins, two tapestries.

Where am I? Can't remember,
with any certainty:
lost in the street, I wander,
a shipwreck, in the great city.

May the patron saints protect me
in such a great confusion:
protect me La Guadalupe,
protect me St Sebastian.

Protect me! - but do they help me?
My delirium should be eased:
I flee it and I pursue it,
it has to be appeased.

- Sung by a simple fellow
connecting by ample toil
the Star and Southern Cross
with the Eagle and Nopal.

The Botanic Garden

King John the Sixth came bearing
a palm tree, palm of Cuba.
To kiss its feet in homage
The plants are all assembling.

The guards are Indian pikemen,
plumed helmets high as heaven:
the guards mark out the alley
that runs between the sedges.

High-born bamboos are flaunting
fine lace of samambaya.
The democratic cacti
trade touches with their prickles.

A water-lily carpet
lies covering the water:
the water shakes in terror,
knowing that it is naked.

The plumage of the parrot
permutes through many colours:
it flames in pomegranate
or weeps in pure snow-whiteness.

Camphor is born a noble,
rue is a countrywoman.
Breathe perfumes, don Alonso:
Aldonza, you are glowing.

Victoria Regia: cradle
of bronze to give to Moses.
There on the pond, a salver,
a white bloom, all of vapour.

Others, of Latin language,
like costly acts of worship:
girls of a hundred surnames,
unable to pronounce them.

Tail of a royal peacock,
the flora stands resplendent:
light moves among the goblets
as daylight shifts her posture.

Reclining on the mountain,
high-placed, a noble lady,
with all her loyal household
the night awaits and listens.

The birds call out the password
from one point to another.
The grilles are shut and bolted.
Nothing is left but moonlight.


My thanks, Rio, my thanks -
aloneness and company,
from all torment a haven,
from hardship, a relief.

And because I never thought,
and because I did not know
the world has a borderland
where the world is far away;

a zone in which the heart
is healed of every thorn,
and grief wraps round itself,
giving itself a caress;

and tears dissolve away
with the warmth of the view,
and I say nothing of memories,
which no-one can assuage.

In happy continuance
of surfeit of centuries,
history tints your face,
as your hopes tint your fan.

You play appearances
like a canny Creole woman
who puts her trust in Time
more than in amulets.

Enamels of butterflies,
flibbertigibbet, fine,
are enough to rip the sun
into seven sneaking blades.

You likewise with your charm,
your delicate courtesy,
clap all our wills in chains,
fetter them, and forgive.

Your streets run down to sea,
laden with living flesh;
and in your angel-waters
you are seeded, and baptised.

You noble, ample vessel,
St Elmo at your mast:
beat the shoals, clear the whirlpools!
be glorified at last.

- I'm at the end of my song,
it belongs less to me than to you,
and, Rio de Janeiro, I couldn't
tell you what I wanted to.

 © Fondo de Cultura Económica.