The Gipsy Camp
The snow falls deep; the Forest lies alone:
The boy goes hasty for his load of brakes,
Then thinks upon the fire and hurries back;
The Gipsy knocks his hands and tucks them up,
And seeks his squalid camp, half hid in snow,
Beneath the oak, which breaks away the wind,
And bushes close, with snow like hovel warm:
There stinking mutton roasts upon the coals,
And the half roasted dog squats close and rubs,
Then feels the heat too strong and goes aloof;
He watches well, but none a bit can spare,
And vainly waits the morsel thrown away:
‘Tis thus they live – a picture to the place;
A quiet, pilfering, unprotected race.
. . .
With careful step to keep his balance up
He reels on warily along the street,
Slabbering at mouth and with a staggering stoop
Mutters an angry look at all he meets.
Bumptious and vain and proud he shoulders up
And would be something if he knew but how;
To any man on earth he will not stoop
But cracks of work, of horses and of plough.
Proud of the foolish talk, the ale he quaffs,
He never heeds the insult loud that laughs:
With rosy maid he tries to joke and play,–
Who shrugs and nettles deep his pomp and pride.
And calls him ‘drunken beast’ and runs away–
King to himself and fool to all beside.
* * *
John Clare (1793-1864) was an English poet active mainly
in the 1830s and ’40s. Coming from a poor rural
family in Northamptonshire, he spent most of his life as
a field hand, hired labourer, and observant vagabond.
Except for one excursion to London, where briefly he
was flavour-of-the-season – “The Peasant Poet” –
(an inaccurate, sentimental moniker) – he stuck close
to his county, covering many miles on foot, even
wandering “back home” from Northborough Asylum
where he would spend the last twenty years of his life.
INSPIRED BY JOHN CLARE
The beggar keeps his coarse hair in a braid:
A bell-rope length of several colours made.
and grey or sunburnt are his torso’s hues,
and lady’s sandals make the soundest shoes.
In season’s heat he trails around a coat
Of winter’s weight; he’s pungent as a goat.
His voice is dumb, his body fairly hums;
He’s like a monk, avoids the other bums.
His fingers tabulate a host of fears;
He quivers with the ringing in his ears.
The patient few observe him after dark
and see he takes old cig’rette butts apart;
and twists them up into a grimy page
and sucks upon the thing a pleasant age.
Beggar he is, though never asks a penny.
About his life are strange opinions many.
. . .
As summer’s end progresses, so do they:
The Great-Lakes Dragonflies at duty play.
By hundreds in tall grass they mate and sun
and shimmer in the sex act till it’s done.
and some are luminescent, slim as pins;
Enamel drops of life poise at their ends.
and male and female grip — the shape’s a heart;
As if to silk the frankness of this earth.
Though Love in Nature’s not one minor role
— it’s breadth: orchestral movement of the whole.
and in the list’ning heat they do their thing;
They reproduce their kind, to grasses cling.
and mower’s blade ne’er touched this place all year;
T’was man’s neglect brought gorgeous insects here.
He lives for life’s caprice and easy mood,
Constructing selves that seem of solid good.
and when he lands a job, works hard enough,
and loves the toiling group, the hearty laugh.
Then shirks his people, culprits “buddy”, vents;
and frigs off, scores, and does whate’er he wants.
Is slow to answer mother overwrought
and quick to anger, should the lover doubt.
Invents some fine excuse — a reg’lar fiend;
Can always trust the trusting, stupid friend.
He squanders all his gifts; the wallet takes;
Then shrills his hurt when later brung to task.
Discov’ry of his stealth’s a stunning sting,
Oh, loveliness and charm — his very being.
The tether’s end he’ll reach — a noose, ere long?
and lies and cheats and still he carries on…
. . .
I always fear they’re vanquished till I hear them…
Then, halting in my tracks, I know I love them.
For several frozen months their voice is silent
— it’s tough, you see, for they’re my psychic pilot.
In winter’s final days they start their talking
And by their dialogues is summer’s clocking.
At first their “caw” is bluntest proclamation:
We are the overseers of tarnation.
Come warm spring afternoons and much of summer,
They speak like castanets and make me slumber.
With comic delicacy they “clippety-clack”
And always keep their distance, handsome-black.
If crows came close, would people in pursuit…
With rocks and pellet-guns and steel-toe boot.
What is it ’bout this bird inspires hate?
The proud and practised crows, black-handsome, great,
Stand highest up of buildings, stroll and call
Then something puts them silent in the Fall.
. . .
There’s solace in the knowledge: I am here;
This open-air “enclosure” gives me scare.
Who hacked these limbs, who hid the foot-shaped paths?
I crane my neck, I scratch and spit; swear oaths.
A satchel’s on the ground, inside’s a blade;
My Heart is wild, a poison’s in the blood.
I’ve clutched at straws and thatch, fistfuls of grass;
Will weeds apply to choke the gap and gush.
And slow my ’motions, feelings hot run cold.
( I hardened all my hopes as best I could. )
And sorrow is the marrow of my being;
Tomorrow is a narrow road I’m steering.
My love’s a Way that now is lost to me;
At last, the poet swallowed by his theme…
. . . . .
In these poems I have tried to look upon Man and Nature
in 21st-century urban life with the same keen eye and
sensitivity as John Clare’s poems of rural life did in the 1830s
“Enclosure”, while here representing the confusing state of
doomed or hopeless love, is also a reference to the fencing-in
of common pastures (The Enclosures), the removal of
ancient paths and the felling of old tree-groves – upheavals in
England’s countryside during The Industrial Revolution –
traumatic for Clare, who felt a deep communion with the land.
A Dream Deferred
What happens to a dream deferred ?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun ?
Or fester like a sore –
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat ?
Or crust and sugar over –
Like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
Like a heavy load.
Or does it explode ?
Un Sueño Diferido
¿Qué pasa de un sueño diferido?
como una pasa en el sol?
¿O se encona como una llaga –
y entonces corre?
¿Apesta como carne putrida?
¿O endurece y se vuelve dulce –
como un postre con jarabe?
Tal vez solo se hunda
como una carga pesada.
Gracias al Super Forero de Sevilla, España,
por su traducción al español
Langston Hughes (1902-1967) was a Black-American
poet and novelist at the forefront of The Harlem
Renaissance. Born in the small town of Joplin, Missouri,
he would later capture in his poems the vibrancy of his
adopted home – New York City.
Written in 1951, the minute-long “A Dream Deferred”
is perhaps the most famous American poem of the
Langston Hughes (1902-1967) fue un novelista y
poeta Negro, de Los Estados Unidos.
Nació en el pueblo pequeño de
Joplin, Missouri, pero Hughes se hizo en la vanguardia
del Renacimiento de Harlem. Abarcan sus poemas la
vitalidad y la urgencia de su ciudad adoptiva
– Nueva York.
“Un Sueño Diferido” (escrito en 1951) es, quizás,
el poema de Los Estados Unidos el más famoso del siglo XX.
Naked he lies in the blinded room,
chain-smoking, cradled by drugs, by jazz,
as never by any lover’s cradling flesh.
Miles Davis coolly blows for him,
oh pena negra *, sensual flamenco blues!
The redclay foxfire voice of Lady Day,
Lady of the pure black magnolias,
sobsings her sorrow and loss and fare ye well,
dryweeps the pain his treacherous jailors have
released him from for a while.
His fears and his unfinished self await him
down in the anywhere streets.
He hides on the dark side of the moon,
takes refuge in a stainedglass cell,
flees to a caulkless country of crystal.
Only the ghost of Lady Day
knows where he is, only the music, and he
swings those swings beyond
complete immortal now.
* pena negra – black sorrow/struggle
. . .
Él, desnudo, está tendido en el cuarto con persianas,
fumando cigarillos, uno tras otro, acunado por la droga,
por el Jazz, como nunca por la piel de ningún amante.
Miles Davis* “toca” frescamente por él, ¡ay, pena negra, el
La voz arcilla-rojo – fuego-zorro, de Lady Day**,
Dama de las magnolias puras-negras,
solloza-canta su dolor y pérdida y
seca-llora la pena de cuál cosa
él está liberado por sus carceleros traicioneros.
Sus miedos y su ser incompleto
le esperan bajo en las calles de alguna parte.
Se esconde en el lado oscuro de la luna,
busca un refugio en una celda de cristal de colores,
huye a un país cristalino.
Solo sabe donde él está el espíritu de Lady Day,
solo sabe la música, y él
columpia el columpio,
danza el “swing”
más allá de
* Miles Davis: Trompetista negro-americano del jazz “cool”
** Lady Day: Billie Holiday – Cantante negra-americana del jazz, blues y pop
Traducción al español: Alexander Best
Robert Hayden (1913-1980) was a Black-American poet
born in Detroit. His first book, Heart-Shape in the Dust,
from 1940, is based on life in the “Paradise Valley” slum.
In 1944 he joined Fisk College where he taught for more
than twenty years as professor of English, followed by
a decade at University of Michigan.
Hayden’s 1971 poem, “Soledad” (Loneliness, Solitude), is
about a friend – and drug addiction.
Dialogue # 3: Old Man (to the Squatter)
– Listen here, son. Did you think this were gonna work ?
Were you fool enough to think this were gonna work ?
They ain’t gonna let us put nothing up like that and
leave it. They don’t intend to let us git it back. You
ain’t a place. Africville is us. When we go to git a
job, what they ask us ? Where we from … and if we say
we from Africville, we are Africville ! And we don’t git
no job. It ain’t no place, son. It were their purpose to
git rid of us and you believed they done it – could do it !
You think they destroyed something. They ain’t. They
took away the place. But it come’d round, though. Now that
culture come’d round. They don’t just go out there and
find anybody to talk about Africville, they run find us,
show us off – them that’ll still talk, cause we Africville.
NOT – NO – SHACK – ON – NO – KNOLL.
That ain’t the purpose …fer
whilst your edifice is forgone destroyed, its splinters
will cry out: We still here ! Think on it, son. You effort
will infix hope in the heart of every peoples. Yet,
let’s see this thing clearer. If our folk see you in the
suit, we may git the idea we can wear it. The suit might
fall apart, but, son, it be of no notice. We need the
example. Now go back …and put you dwelling up again.
Frederick Ward has been described as “the most
undeservedly unsung poet in all of English-Canadian
literature” (Arc Poetry Magazine).
Born in 1937 in Kansas City, Missouri, the Black-American Ward
came to Canada in 1970 – just passing through Halifax – and
ended up staying. There he me met Black Nova Scotians recently
turfed out of their old community – Africville – which was
bulldozed by the city to make way for a dumpsite. Their stories
became the basis of his 1974 novel, Riverlisp: Black Memories.
The poem above is from Ward’s 1983 poetry collection,
The Curing Berry.
Ward now lives in Montreal where he is a theatre teacher at
Photograph: Young boy with, in the background, Ralph Jones’ house boarded up for demolition
(Africville, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada – photo by Bob Brooks – year: 1965)
¡ Xoloitzcuintle soy !
Xoloitzcuintle am I !
The Original Dog of The Americas
The Royal Dog of the Aztecs !
I am famed for my smooth skin, my energy,
a playful mind and affectionate nature.
I have lasted to this day…
No other animal has stood – sunburnt –
atop the temple of Teotihuacán.
I have quivered beside immense, reclining Chac-Mool,
when his belly-bowl was full of fresh blood.
I have splashed in Xochimilco with royal maidens;
I have floated in salty Zumpango with wrinkled old priests.
I have tried to snatch the gold pellets tossed by my Master
when He plays patolli; I have leapt for the ball
when it bounces off the buttocks of nobles engaged in
games of tlachtli.
I have licked the copal-xocotl from His divine ankles,
when Moctezuma emerged from His temazcal;
I have nuzzled His armpits inside His bed-chamber,
wearing my collar of quetzal plumes.
I have pricked my paws on metl thorns,
trying to sniff out chinicuiles to eat; singed them
while stealing tlaxcalli off the comal.
I have lapped up pulque from my Master’s cup
– wobbled then fell down; been bitten by nimble Coyote.
I have suckled pups at my own teats;
and my seed has reached the womb of
The Royal Bitch (La Perra Real).
¡ Soy Xoloitzcuintle !
For centuries I throve at the pinnacle.
I am the youthful spirit of the ancient world,
and though the centre has shifted,
neither do I dance at the periphery…
Escúchame – whoever you may be –
Let me teach you to live in the modern world…
Italicized words are in the Náhuatl (Aztec) language:
Xoloitzcuintle – lean, hairless dog, native to Mexico
– in Aztec religion, a gift to mankind from the god Xolotl
to guide the dead on the journey to the AfterLife.
“Xolos” were much-loved companion dogs, but
some were raised separately and plumpened
to be served at Aztec banquets.
patolli – board game involving gambling, played by the
Aztecs and the Mayans
tlachtli – skilful ballgame played on a stone court where
players bounce a natural-rubber ball weighing at least
5 lbs. (invention of the Olmec people) off their hips or
rear-ends – it is still played in the 21st century
copal-xocotl – the plant ‘saponaria americana’, the
root of which provided a sudsy soap
temazcal – stone sauna bath, often the size of a small house
quetzal – forest bird of Central America and Mexico, with
iridescent green (or green-gold) feathers
chinicuiles – highly-nutritious edible caterpillars
(still eaten in Mexico) that infest metl plants
tlaxcalli – flat maize bread, a daily staple of the Aztecs and
Mayans, still eaten in Mexico and called by its Spanish
name, ” tortilla ”
metl (maguey or agave) – Mexican plant of the “succulent”
family, used in the making of both pulque and tequila
comal – clay earthenware griddle placed over an open fire
– in use to this day – there is also a cast-iron skillet-like
version for the modern kitchen
pulque – milk-like alcoholic drink derived from fermented
sap of the metl plant – a ritual beverage of the Aztec
nobility and later a popular drink of the Mexican masses