Agha Shahid Ali, Snow on the Desert

“Each ray of sunshine is eight minutes old,”
Serge told me in New York one December
night. “So when one looks at the sky, one sees

the past?” “Yes, Yes,” he said, “especially
on a clear day.” On January 19,
1987, as I very

early in the morning drove my sister
to Tucson International, suddenly
on Alvernon and 22nd Street

the sliding doors of the fog were opened,
and the snow, which had fallen all night, now
sun-dazzled, blinded us, the earth whitened

out, as if by cocaine, the desert’s plants,
its mineral-hard colors extinguished,
wine frozen in the veins of the cactus.

Agha Shahid Ali, Snow on the Desert

W. H. Auden, Look Stranger

Look, stranger, on this island now
The leaping light for your delight discovers,
Stand stable here
And silent be,
That through the channels of the ear
May wander like a river
The swaying sound of the sea.
Here at a small field’s ending pause
Where the chalk wall falls to the foam and its tall ledges
Oppose the pluck
And knock of the tide,
And the shingle scrambles after the suck-
-ing surf, and a gull lodges
A moment on its sheer side.

Far off like floating seeds the ships
Diverge on urgent voluntary errands,
And this full view
Indeed may enter
And move in memory as now these clouds do,
That pass the harbour mirror
And all the summer through the water saunter.

W. H. Auden, Look Stranger

Wisława Szymborska, Psalm

How leaky are the borders of man-made states

How many clouds float over them scot-free,
how much desert sand sifts from country to country,
how many mountain pebbles roll onto foreign turf
in provocative leaps

Need I cite each and every bird as it flies,
or alights, as now, on the lowered gate?

Even if it be a sparrow—its tail is abroad,
thought its beak is still home. As if that weren’t enough—it keeps fidgeting

Out of countless insects I will single out the ant,
who, between the guard’s left and right boots,
feels unobliged to answer questions of origin and destination.
If only this whole mess could be seen at once in detail
on ever continent

Isn’t that a privet on the opposite bank
smuggling its hundred-thousandth leaf across the river?
Who else but the squid, brazenly long-armed,
would violate the sacred territorial waters.?

How can we speak of any semblance of order
when we can’t rearrange the stars
to know which one shines for whom?

Not to mention the reprehensible spreading of fog
Or the dusting of the steppe over its entire range
as though it weren’t split in two

Or voices carried over accommodating air waves:
summoning squeals and suggestive gurgles

Only what’s human can be truly alien.
The rest is mixed forest, undermining moles, and wind”

Wisława Szymborska, Psalm

William Shakespeare, Orpheus

Orpheus with his lute made trees,
And the mountain tops that freeze,
Bow themselves when he did sing:
To his music plants and flowers
Ever sprung; as sun and showers
There had made a lasting spring.
Every thing that heard him play,
Even the billows of the sea,
Hung their heads, and then lay by.
In sweet music is such art,
Killing care and grief of heart
Fall asleep, or hearing, die.
William Shakespeare, Orpheus

Marina Tsvetaeva, Poems for Blok

Your name is a—bird in my hand,
a piece of ice on my tongue.
The lips’ quick opening.
Your name—four letters.
A ball caught in flight,
a silver bell in my mouth.
A stone thrown into a silent lake
is—the sound of your name.
The light click of hooves at night
—your name.
Your name at my temple
—sharp click of a cocked gun.
Your name—impossible—
kiss on my eyes,
the chill of closed eyelids.
Your name—a kiss of snow.
Blue gulp of icy spring water.
With your name—sleep deepens.

Marina Tsvetaeva, Poems for Blok