Anton Shammas
Anton Shammas
Three Poems


THIRTEEN WAYS OF LOOKING AT IT

1

Now it’s all too plain.
Now I know how
That blackbird got into the poem.
So many years have passed,
and I find it hard to believe
that so many years have passed
before I knew how
that blackbird got into the poem.

2

When it flew off our window-sill,
that’s when we knew
the blackbird was there,
on our window-sill.

The lost earring
tenderly drew
the fingertips
to the earlobe.

3

And we saw a desperate flock of birds,
rehearsing a penitence drill,
last fall.

4

Time and again – this infamous standing
in memory’s identification line.

Forgetting is nothing but sleep;
migrating birds on a nightly stop.

A bird is sleeping;
love is gone.

5

In the middle of the field,
near the High Commissioner’s Palace,
a nun squatted.

From where we stood,
it was none too clear,
whether she was really a nun.

Meditating, she wouldn’t budge.
To sleep, perhaps, she would yield.
But then again, beauty
is skin-deep.

The alleged Palace was to our right.

Did the Prince’s dog bark
on seeing Sleeping Beauty?

6

The ants that crept, then,
up your spine,
are chasing me now in my dreams –
gnawing at wood and stone,
gobbling up my home,
with that same chiming shiver.

7

“There’s a detour from here.”
But rain ignores
things like that.

Procedures are not the core;
what matters is the heart of the matter:
solitude,
the only detour.

Memory waits on the sly,
for the slightest mistake to happen
at any time:
memory’s return to the scene
of the crime.

8

The home of my childhood
gropes around inside me;
I grope around the empty house,
and keep telling myself:
You’re no longer a child.

 9

“I’ll leave you the key in the mail-box.”

The door is locked, then.

10

Back in high school we learned
a story in which there was
a grey cat
on a grey fence
in a grey backyard.
The teacher argued that the picture
stood for the loneliness of the character
who was looking at the grey cat.
We laughed.
Then the teacher wickedly said:
“He laughs best who laughs last.”

11

We knew the flower seeds
were sprouting in the garden.
But the smell which caught us
came from the basement.

The time which passes
between seed and sprout
is the time which putrefies
a dead cat.

12

The time which bulges me
with days
is the time which urges the bird
to give back
its earth mould.

13

The blackbird doesn’t imagine things,
does he;
the blackbird knows.
And since he knows,
that’s why he wouldn’t tell.

How could I know, if you don’t mind –
one language ahead,
another behind.
And here I am,
imagining things in my no man’s land.

1978

CEDAR RAPIDS AIRPORT, IOWA

Between two parallel lines of  blue lights,
morning is about to land;
I wish I could –
I wish someone could announce me mildly
hitting the ground, on time.
Through the windowpane, the airport
is being moulded in.
A ticketed passenger’s waiting, on the wane.
His parallel line is hardly a matter of light.

He’d even settle for a tip-off about the east –
home is where you know where,
in the dark skies,
the son is about to pop in.

1981

AT DON'S PARTY

I’m sitting on the upper stair, second floor.
The dog rubs his warm shoulder
against mine
(which is not warm at all).
Wagging his tail, looking toward the door –
“Please, let me in!”

I wish I could say that.

And for his own sake, I hope
the door leads somewhere,
and that there’s a room beyond it,
a solid floor.

1981


Translated from the Hebrew by the poet