Translated by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra
Brother, I’ve seen some
A lion keeping watch
Over pasturing cows;
A mother delivered
After her son was;
A guru prostrated
Before his disciple;
A cat carrying away
Driving a bullock-cart;
A buffalo going out to graze,
Sitting on a horse;
A tree with its branches in the earth,
Its roots in the sky;
A tree with flowering roots.
This verse, says Kabir,
Is your key to the universe.
If you can figure it out.
The astonishing reality of things
Is my discovery every day.
Each thing is what it is,
And it’s hard to explain to someone how happy this
And how much this suffices me.
All it takes to be complete is to exist.
I’ve written quite a few poems,
I’ll no doubt write many more,
And this is what every poem of mine says,
And all my poems are different,
Because each thing that exists is a different way of saying this. Sometimes I start looking at a stone.
I don’t start thinking about whether it exists.
I don’t get sidetracked, calling it my sister.
I like it for being a stone,
I like it because it feels nothing,
I like it because it’s not related to me in any way.
At other times I hear the wind blow,
And I feel that it was worth being born just to hear the wind
I don’t know what people will think when they read this,
But I feel it might be right since I think it without any effort
Or any idea of what people who hear me will think,
Because I think it without thoughts,
Because I say it the way my words say it.
I was once called a materialist poet,
And it surprised me, for I didn’t think
I could be called anything.
I’m not even a poet: I see.
If what I write has any value, the value isn’t mine,
It belongs to my poems.
And this is absolutely independent of my will.
— For Detroit
There are birds here,
so many birds here
is what I was trying to say
when they said those birds were metaphors
for what is trapped
and buildings. No.
The birds are here
to root around for bread
the girl’s hands tear
and toss like confetti. No,
I don’t mean the bread is torn like cotton,
I said confetti, and no
not the confetti
a tank can make of a building.
I mean the confetti
a boy can’t stop smiling about
and no his smile isn’t much
like a skeleton at all. And no
his neighborhood is not like a war zone.
I am trying to say
is as tattered and feathered
as anything else,
as shadow pierced by sun
and light parted
by shadow-dance as anything else,
but they won’t stop saying
how lovely the ruins,
how ruined the lovely
children must be in that birdless city.
If you come as softly
As the wind within the trees
You may hear what I hear
See what sorrow sees.
If you come as lightly
As threading dew
I will take you gladly
Nor ask more of you.
You may sit beside me
Silent as a breath
Only those who stay dead
Shall remember death.
And if you come I will be silent
Nor speak harsh words to you.
I will not ask you why, now.
Or how, or what you do.
We shall sit here, softly
Beneath two different years
And the rich earth between us
Shall drink our tears.
Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It’s the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars
burning so extravagantly those nights that
anyone could tell you they would never last.
Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph.
We want solid words
that resist in the middle of the night
the new winds of the world
words born of foundations
words born of building foundations
Words not for the prepared speech
on our pressing world
but for getting to the bottom of the thirst,
the proclaimed “Enough” of the hungry
mestizos through the darkness of the exploitation
and the light of their rage.
Words for the song of the conscious.
In the midnight bar
your breath collapsed on me.
I balanced on
the tip of your smile,
holding on to your words
as I climbed the dark steps.
your furniture neatly arranged for death,
you sharpened the knife
on the moon’s surface,
polished it with lunatic silver.
You were kind,
reciting poetry in a drunk tongue.
I thought: At last!
Now I loiter in and out
of your memory,
speaking to you wherever I go.
I’m reduced to my poverties
and you to a restless dream
from another country
where the sea is the most expensive blue.
My finger, your phone number
as its tip, dials the night.
And your city follows me,
its lights dying in my eyes.