I’ve come back from vacation to find my translation of a Latin poem on St. Benedict in the latest print issue of Spirit & Life, the magazine that the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration publish every couple months.
It’s a middle-length poem by a monk named Mark of Monte Cassino, and it’s the earliest attestation we have of St. Benedict’s existence—in plenty of time for his feast day on July 11th. The Latin is set in elegiac couplets, and I’ve translated them into alternating 12-syllable and 10-syllable lines modeled on French syllabic lines.
So, if you’re interested in arcane Benedictine texts (as you know I am), have a read here and a listen below if you like! Also: you can sign up for a free subscription to the magazine here.
Yesterday, the second issue of the new journal Bez & Co appeared, and it included my “Sketch for Desert Fathers.” It’s a short lyric set at New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur, California and features Paul the Hermit, St. Guthlac of Crowland, and an unabashed Stellar’s Jay. I don’t generally make “joke” poems, but I suppose this is as close as I come!
I’m delighted to (belatedly) announce that my translation of the Old English poem “The Ruin” appears in the newest issue of Presence, a great journal run by great people.
I read the poem in the audio file below, but here’s some basic context too:
“The Ruin” is a poem found in the tenth-century Exeter Book, which is the first anthology of English poems and a great treasure of English speakers’ literary inheritance. The poem is spoken by an Anglo-Saxon as he stands before what seems to be a Roman ruin in Britain, and he meditates on the transience of culture and human life as he marvels at what the ruin suggests about the creative energies that once existed where he stands. In my translation, I take this scene and “update” it to a Euro-American standing in front of a Middle Woodland burial mound in Milwaukee, WI’s Lake Park, with the same kind of brooding on transience etc.
The picture below shows the Lake Park mound (the green slope between trees with the stone marker on top) and the audio provides a reading of part of the original Old English and of the whole Modern English translation.
I hope you enjoy what was an immensely rewarding project for me.
To maintain sanity, encounter the natural world in my area, and keep the literary instincts moving if not honed, I’m going to start a new project here and on Twitter. (Yes, I’m on Twitter now at @riyeff–those who know me personally will be shocked, I’m sure!)
I’m going to visit the State Natural Areas of Milwaukee County and the four adjacent counties to practice social distancing but also maintain an intimate connection to the natural spaces around my neck of the woods. Then to try to forge some kind of virtual connection with anyone who’s interested, I’ll take a photo and make an impromptu three-line poem (not a haiku unless by accident), posting them here and on Twitter. Maybe other folks will share theirs from other natural areas?
A short poem for the weekend from my collection, Sunk in Your Shipwreck. Good tea has been one of the most constant companions thru-out my life, from early days going to the Teachery up in Madison, WI on Willie Street, to the long days and evenings I spent sipping at Dushanbe Teahouse in Boulder, CO over two years, to the visits to Red Blossom Tea in San Francisco, to everywhere else I’ve been. Good loose-leaf tea is it: the texture of its leaves, the color of its liquor against white clay, the smells that just don’t stop, the copious array of flavors is like nothing else. Black’s all right, but Dragon Well, Big Red Robe, Cloud Mist—that’s where it’s at.
Here’s a tiny suite of poems on tea culled from two lonely but beautiful nights from years past. (The text follows the audio file.) Happy long weekend—drink some tea!
I. Dushanbe Tea House—Boulder, CO 2001
The seats are strangely cool
tonight, the tea is not:
its yellow-green mass
coddled in white clay.
New sounds splash on the air,
and still there’s quiet inside.
II. 3rd Street and Highway 101—San Rafael, CA 2005
This is one of the more recent pieces collected in my first book of poems, Sunk in Your Shipwreck. The dominant trope of the collection is the archetypal movement of “pilgrimage,” and this poem falls directly in that ambit.
In 2006, my older brother and I went on a fairly random two-week trek around Ireland and Great Britain, focusing on southwestern Ireland, London, and Cornwall. We have ancestors from Cornwall (around Camborne), and we spent a good bit of our UK time in the western-most part of Cornwall, Penwith.
The poem’s text follows the audio file of my reading, and I hope you enjoy (and visit Penwith someday!).
We railed it from Holyhead to Birmingham,
sleeping splayed across three seats like vagrants,
a Welsh child crawling down luggage racks
to case us out, hills rolling by outside.
Eyelids like metal traps resisting peregrinations
but the world springs back to form and clarity
over trestles in mine-ruin Redruth,
downtown Camborne—and little did we suspect
ancestral hamlet Gwillanwarthas a stone’s throw away.
Our uphill tramp along Penzance soaked cement
to the wrong hostel almost too much to take.
Back down petunia-lined lanes of thatched roofs—
who knew they still took the time?
Bags thrown on bunks that make you sad
how wet they are—we’re told that’s just Cornwall, mate—
and our clothes, our shoes did not dry for four days’ time,
despite the hostel dryer’s heroic and repeated attempts.
The rock, the seabirds too many to number and shades of difference,
another car cramped and rented, sitting in inverted seats,
but the same stick: we had that.
And you drove up the curb off Alverton Street
to the horror of several Cornish folk passing by
to their morning papers and pasties.
We kept the sea to our left on our circumambulation
always moving, the next fountain, the next cairn
and dolmen and churchyard, the next pond with
white streaks of swan and springs swallowed up
by time, padding up the A-30 to Bodmin Moor,
making wrong turns down claustrophobic lanes
toLamorna Cove with housewives’ sidelong glances
as they potted plants with strangers driving slowly past
and tossing off the world, the forest strange in these parts and sopping.
Why did we careen down backways, narrow and hard as rock
to find standing stone rings in farmers’ fields,
searching miry paths hung with moss for baptistries
left standing since the Reformation? Why the restless
surge to moor and field and shore in damp and rain,
in hard grey midmornings and no food ’til teatime?
The cracked and bristling grass that welcomed our feet,
the draughts from Iron Age wells and flowering club moss?
How can we know? The last bleak
stretch of path down unknown woods, opening out into clearings
lined with mud and lichen, into centuries, then turning ’round,
was more than enough—circling Penwith into the dawn