Saturday, May 02, 2009

the road we are taking

My friend, John, passed along the following poem to me.

He has been reading of my travails with Professor Jiggs. Because he knows both the dog and me very well, he knew that I would appreciate the poem.

Poems are usually blog death. They should not be. Well-executed poems rely on conservation of language to tell us something about the human condition -- whether new or old.

Though this is a Romanian poem about oxen, the application to the universal human condition strikes me as obvious.

Thanks, John. The poem means more than you can know -- as my perro viego lies next to my feet breathing hard in the tropical air, dreaming of when he could run.


by Ileana Malanciouiu, translated from the Romanian by W. D. Snodgrass

I walk on a dark road so that I won't see
The way my young oxen limp so much;
The horseshoes gouging into their hooves,
They're frightened at the earth's least touch.

Time to time, they kneel down in their yoke;
I'd prod them on but I'm too weak at heart.
They look at me mildly, yet, on their own,
As if at a signal, struggle up then and start.

Only at midnight I bring them to a halt,
Untie them for a while, then stand and wait
With the village dogs all barking at me
Outside the old blacksmith's gate.

With both arms I hold their legs up, one by one,
Pressing my palm to their hooves, finding
Which side they have been limping on,
And where the bones, worn down, need binding.

Through the fire, the old man passes nails,
Settles each into its place, pounding it in then;
And when the nails bend, stabbing into the flesh,
Pries them, blood-stained, back out again,

Hammers them straight, then drives them in.
He asks me who I am and where I'm bound.
And then, deciding if I can get that far,
He makes the team stand on solid ground,

Helps yoke them up and get them on the road.
They trudge along, limping at first and slow.
The dogs keep barking a while, then let us be.
And the wounds heal themselves as on they go.


Anonymous said...

Good poem. We watch the journey.


glorv1 said...

That was a great poem. Mr. Jiggs would love to have it read to him. Have a great weekend.

Laurie said...

I may weep. Speaking of which, try out The Weepies. Great band to listen to when you are depressed.

Anonymous said...

So glad you like this translation. My husband worked hard at rendering Malancioiu's simplicity and quiet melancholy.
Kathy Snodgrass

Steve Cotton said...

Mrs. Snodgrass -- Thank you for your comment. Your husband's translation catches the very essence of this marvelous poem. I wish I could thank him in person, but I understand he died on 13 January. Please accept my condolences. I would have enjoyed discussing the poem with him.

Horst -- Thanks. I concur.

Gloria -- Strange that you say that. I did read it to him. Whether it was the cadence of my voice or the fact that he had my full attention, Jiggs sat rapt.

Laurie -- My mother had the same reaction.

Theresa in Mèrida said...

Steve, this is a lovely poem. Ordinarily I skip poems, I am much too sensate for most symbolism, but this one strikes a cord with me.
Maybe the Prof is just resting up from the trip? It was probably hard on him. Remember that dogs and cats are conservative by nature and it takes them a while to adjust to new surroundings.
I hope that the vet gets off his tail and takes good care of Jiggs.

glorv1 said...

That's because he loves the sound of your voice and at that time your full attention was on him, so he knew it was important to be a good boy (of course he always is a good boy) and listen intently. I bet he slept good. Take care.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Steve.

Did you know that before De became ill we spent our winters in San Miguel de Allende? He wrote several poems about life there, including a satiric one called "Grindolandia."

Anonymous said...

Sorry--make that "Gringolandia"!

Steve Cotton said...

Theresa -- I agree with you. This poem is not only good poetry, it is a reflection of what I am feeling these days.

Gloria -- The one thing that Jiggs does well these days is sleep. But he deserves every moment of it.

Kathy -- I was not aware that De lived in San Miguel de Allende. I will search out "Gringolandia."

The friend who passed on "The Road" to me just sent me a note that I would like to share with you.

"If you can respond to [Kathy] for me, please tell her that I think this poem is one of the most moving and true poems I have ever read, and that I want it read at my wake. As far as I am concerned, the two poets -- writer and translator -- managed to compress the compassionate suffering of this life into a few short stanzas which read almost like a prayer."

I fully concur with his analysis.

Steve Cotton said...

Kathy -- John has expanded on his thank you to your husband's work on "The Road:"

"What I would like to say Mrs. Snodgrass, if I could, is that hera husband's translation has touched me more deeply than any other poem I have read in the last 45 years. The poem has become for me a kind of anthem for life. I wish to have to have the poem read at my wake, and I want people to know that I came to care deeply for the driver, the farrier, and the oxen -- all of them bound in a web of necessary suffering which they chose to mitigate by care and a deeper understanding of the necessity of suffering in this life. The poem has given me so much pleasure and reassurance, reading it, and sharing it, and talking about it. If her husband were still alive, I would simply say to him: thank you, thank you, thank you."

Anonymous said...

I can't thank you all enough.

Steve Cotton said...

I am now doubly happy that John shared the poem with me and that I shared it here. Otherwise, we would not have had the pleasure of meeting you, Kathy.

Anonymous said...

It's been such a pleasure.

I should have mentioned that "Gringolandia" is included in De's last book, Not for Specialists: New and Selected Poems. Just a few days ago there was a fine review in The Guardian of the British edition of the book: