Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Three Poems for Isaac: for Every One That Heareth

וַיִּקְרָא אַבְרָהָם אֶת־שֶׁם־בְּנֹו הַנֹּולַד־לֹו אֲשֶׁר־יָלְדָה־לֹּו שָׂרָה יִצְחָק׃
And Abraham called the name of his son that was born unto him, whom Sarah bore to him, Isaac.

וַתֹּאמֶר שָׂרָה צְחֹק עָשָׂה לִי אֱלֹהִים כָּל־הַשֹּׁמֵעַ יִצְחַק־לִי׃
And Sarah said: 'God hath made laughter for me; every one that heareth will laugh on account of me.'

Sometimes it's the end of a poem, the punch-line, that starts us.  If you will, it starts us off laughing (even making us ashamed at ourselves for something, like listening in the first place, and then laughing involuntarily in public, or as if in private, desiring that we be different somehow). What if hope, change, our conversion - not just to "being better" but to "being together better beings" - came from this listening, translating process? A few days ago, Rachel Barenblat, Anne Carson, and Paul Celan started this process, for me anyway. Today, it seems, we continue with them. Listen (but please only listen if sexual language -- "the seed of Abraham" -- and the laughter it -- "Rebecca's Isaac" -- might invoke doesn't offend you):

PULLING THE STRINGS by Rachel Barenblat

Trickster Rebecca, I wish you'd known better
than to pit your sons one against the other

like Isaac and Ishmael, jostling and angling
for the lone blessing in their father's hands.

If you had taught your bookish son, the one
who stayed in the tent weaving stories

and your rough red-bearded hunter
whose heart chafed against being indoors

to see one another as sides of the same coin
think how much drama we could have been spared!

Then again, blind Isaac may have seen more
than we know. He tried twice to shame Jacob into truth.

God must have told you we need this tension
to shape the Israel we're meant to become.

GOD'S NAME by Anne Carson

God had no name.
Isaac had two names.
Isaac was also called The Blind.

Inside the dark sky of his mind
Isaac could hear God
moving down a country road bordered by trees.

By the way the trees reflected off God
Isaac knew which ones were straight and tall
or when they carried their branches

as a body does its head
or why some crouched low to the ground in thickets.
To hear how God was moving through the universe

gave Isaac his question.
I could tell you his answer
but it wouldn't help.

The name is not a noun.
It is an adverb.
Like the little black notebooks that Beethoven carried

in his coatpocket
for the use of those who wished to converse with him,
the God adverb

is a one-way street that goes everywhere you are.
No use telling you what it is.
Just chew it and rub it on.

HAUT MAL von Paul Celan

von den Goettern Befleckte:

deine Zunge ist russig,
dein Harn schwarz,
wassergallig dein Stuhl,

du fuehrst,
wie ich,
unzuechtige Reden,

du setzt einen Fuss vor den andern,
legst eine Hand auf die andre,
schmiegst dich in Ziegenfell,

du beheiligst
mein Glied.

HAUT MAL translated into English by Nikolai Popov and Heather McHugh

O irredeemable
beloved, sleep-attacked,
tainted by the gods:

your tongue is sooty,
your urine black,
your stool a bilious liquefaction.

like myself,
you use
foul language;

you put one foot before the other,
lay one hand atop the other,
burrow into goatskin,

my cock.

HAUT MAL translated into English by Niko Boris and Heather McHugh

. . . .

my dick.

HAUT MAL translated into English by Rochelle Tobias

. . . .

my virile member.

HAUT MAL translated into English by Brian Lynch and Peter Jankowsky

. . . .

my phall.

1 comment:

rbarenblat said...

Once again I'm honored to be in such august company. Thank you.