Featured Faculty Member: Poet Karl Kirchwey

Karl Kirchwey is the author of six books of poems, including most recently Mount Lebanon (Marion Wood Books/Putnam’s, 2011), as well as a translation of Paul Verlaine’s first book as Poems Under Saturn (Princeton University Press, 2011). His new collection is Stumbling Blocks: Roman Poems. Also the author of a verse play based on the Alcestis of Euripides entitled Airdales & Cipher, Kirchwey has served as the Director of the Poetry Center of the 92nd Street Y in New York (1987-2000), Director of Creative Writing at Bryn Mawr College (2000-2010), and Andrew Heiskell Arts Director at the American Academy in Rome (2010-2013). He is Professor and Director of Creative Writing at Boston University.

 

OCEAN GROVE

for Robert Pinsky

The onshore breeze this morning arrives unopposed
since Portugal and the Azores. I am the one
upright thing in the landscape. The broken tower
and Moorish pleasure dome at Asbury Park are
just vague shapes through the salt haze. It is written in
the Upanishads that all thought ascends by means
of a certain artery to that aperture
in the crown of the skull by which the spirit first
entered the body, then on the sun’s rays to the
sun itself, as warm air rises over the land
and the breakers hurl themselves up the beach and then
fall back, hissing Not this time but another time.

 

TWO TRANSLATIONS

1. THE OWLS

for Daniel Leonard

Under the black yews that shelter them,
all in a row the owls wait
like foreign gods on a tympanum,
and dart their red looks. They meditate.

They wait without motion
until the melancholy hour
when, pushing against the oblique sun,
shadows get a foothold there.

The wise man learns from their attitude
that in this world he must dread
commotion and movement;

the man drunk on a shadow who passes
forever bears the punishment
of having wanted to move in the first place.

— from the French of Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867)

 

2. THE GARDEN

for Tobi Earnheart-Gold

In what garden forever watered and blessed, where,
on what trees, from what calyces stripped and tender,
does the strange fruit of comfort ripen? Exquisite,
that maybe you find in the trampled meadow of your want.

You wonder over its size, its wholeness too,
over the softness of its skin each time,
that the thoughtless birds have not gotten to it ahead of you
or, underneath it, the jealousy of the worm.

Are there trees, then, the angels have overflown,
irregularly tended by slow gardeners who are hidden,
that bear for us without belonging to us?

Have we never been able, shadows and delusions, we
through our too-early ripening and our withering away,
even once to disturb the calm summer of that place?

–from the German of Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926)