Poetry: Jason Roush

First Lesson

In the middle of the mess hall at Camp Kern
stood a miniature model of Camp Kern

and in the middle of the model
loomed the Camp Kern chapel

with its tall, slender steeple
whose sharp wooden tip came half an inch

from poking the top of the Plexiglas box
in which the model was encased.

One night after dinner,
I stood beside the model

and when no one was watching
pressed hard on the top of the plastic box

just above the steeple’s tip.
There was a terrible crack.

I jumped back. Other campers
turned away from their trays

and stared. The mess hall
grew very quiet.

In the middle of my palm,
blood pooled around a small hole.

Outside, the late sun spiraled over the grass.
Not knowing how or why,

I’d brought down the sky, pierced it,
and it hurt.

To Joseph Cornell

I can’t remember which box, of course,
nor its title, only that I felt a pair of eyes
had swum up suddenly from my past,
too fast at first to recognize.

How dizzy and inexplicably grateful I was,
carried back to childhood terrariums
and shoebox dioramas by your
blue backgrounds of planets and stars.

I think perhaps there were three,
near the great door of the museum’s
front gallery. Accidental and blessed,
each piece spoke only to me.

It was a weekday afternoon,
the room grew quiet and empty, only
a slow rhythm of the guard’s black shoes,
guard with one eye lazily

adrift, and the barely audible
clicking of the temperature control.
I was nineteen, on the verge of first love.
Each box a separate universe, untouchable.

Manche Freilich…

Manche freilich müssen drunten sterben,
Wo die schweren Ruder der Schiffe streifen,
Andre wohnen bei dem Steuer droben,
Kennen Vogelflug und die Länder der Sterne.

Manche liegen immer mit schweren Gliedern
Bei den Wurzeln des verworrenen Lebens,
Andern sind die Stühle gerichtet
Bei den Sibyllen, den Königinnen,
Und da sitzen sie wie zu Hause,
Leichten Hauptes und leichter Hände.

Doch ein Schatten fällt von jenen Leben
In die anderen Leben hinüber,
Und die leichten sind an die schweren
Wie an Luft und Erde gebunden:

Ganz vergessener Völker Müdigkeiten
Kann ich nicht abtun von meinen Lidern,
Noch weghalten von der erschrockenen Seele
Stummes Niederfallen ferner Sterne.

Viele Geschicke weben neben dem meinen,
Durcheinander spielt sie alle das Dasein,
Und mein Teil ist mehr als dieses Lebens
Schlanke Flamme oder schmale Leier.

—by Hugo von Hofmannsthal


Some, of course, must toil below
where hard oars scrape the ship,
while others rest above, at the helm,
know flights of birds, continents of stars.

Some lie always heavy-limbed,
tangled in the roots of fever dreams,
while others find their seats arranged
among sibyls, among queens,
and are comfortably at home there,
graceful of head and hand.

But sunrise casts a shadow
across the lives of the ones below,
and light and dark are bound
as the air to the earth:

the weariness of the forgotten
will not lift from my own eyelids,
nor can my soul disregard
the silent falling of faraway stars.

Many fates intertwine alongside mine,
existence braids them all together,
and my part must be more than this
thin flame, this slender violin.

—Translated from the German

Terzinen über Vergänglichkeit

Noch spür ich ihren Atem auf den Wangen:
Wie kann das sein, daß diese nahen Tage
Fort sind, für immer fort, und ganz vergangen?

Dies ist ein Ding, das keiner voll aussinnt,
Und viel zu grauenvoll, als daß man klage:
Daß alles gleitet und vorüberrinnt

Und daß mein eignes Ich, durch nichts gehemmt,
Herüberglitt aus einem kleinen Kind
Mir wie ein Hund unheimlich stumm und fremd.

Dann: daß ich auch vor hundert Jahren war
Und meine Ahnen, die im Totenhemd,
Mit mir verwandt sind wie mein eignes Haar,

So eins mit mir als wie mein eignes Haar.

—by Hugo von Hofmannsthal

On Transience (in Terza Rima)

I still feel their breath on my face.
These last few days, why were they meant
to fade and forever vanish, traceless?

It’s something no one fully understands
and far too painful to lament:
that everything slides by us, rushes past,

and that my own self, not yet pinned down,
glided over to me out of a child’s hands
like a stray animal—ignorant, disowned.

A hundred years ago, I too was there,
and my forebears in their death gowns
are close to me as my own hair,

as much a part of me as my own hair.

—Translated from the German

JASON ROUSH, a 1998 graduate of the Master’s Program in Creative Writing at Boston University, currently teaches writing, literature, and cultural studies at Emerson College. His first book of poems, After Hours, is available from Windstorm Creative, and his second collection, Breezeway, will be published in 2007. He can be found online at www.jasonroush.com.