Susan Thomas

Last Voyage: Poems of Giovanni Pascoli (Red Hen Press, 2010)


LYRICAL POEMS:

NIGHT-BLOOMING JASMINE

And the night-blooming flowers open,
open in the same hour I remember those I love.
In the middle of the viburnums
the twilight butterflies have appeared.

After a while all noise will quiet.
There, only a house is whispering.
Nests sleep under wings,
like eyes under eyelashes.

Open goblets exhale
the perfume of strawberries.
A light shines there in the room,
grass sprouts over the graves.

A late bee buzzes at the hive
finding all the cells taken.
The Hen runs through the sky’s blue
yard to the chirping of stars.

The whole night exhales
a scent that disappears in the wind.
A light ascends the stairs;
it shines on the second floor: goes out.

And then dawn: the petals close
a little crumpled. Something soft
and secret is brooding in an urn,
some new happiness I can’t understand yet.


PASSAGE

The swan sings. From deep in the marshes,
its voice chimes sharp and clear
like the striking of copper cymbals.

This is the endless polar darkness.
Great mountains of eternal frost
lean against the ice plates of the ocean.

The swan sings; and slowly the sky
fades into the darkness and tints itself yellow.
A green light rises from star to star.

The swan’s metal voice rings like a harp
caressed here and there; already the green
northern lights glaze the icy mountain peaks.

And in the deepening night,
an immense iridescent arc grows
into huge ladders that spread open the aurora.

The green and vermillion glow catches fire,
shoots rays, pulsates, subsides, rises again,
exploding, all in utter silence.

With a sound like the bell’s final
angelus chime, the swan shakes its wings:
the wings open, and lift, enormous,
pure white, into the boreal night.


NOVEMBER

The jeweled air: the clear sun:
you look for the flowering apricot tree,
and smell the bitter scent of hawthorn
in your heart.

But the thorn has dried out, and skeletal plants
weave black threads into the clear blue sky,
into the empty vault of heaven, and the hollow earth
rings with every footstep.

Silence, all around: from far away you hear
only the gusting of the wind, and from the orchards
and gardens, the fragile descent of leaves. It is
the cold summer of the dead.



POEMS FROM THE LAST VOYAGE:

XXIII. THE TRUTH

And there was a flowering garden in the sea,
in a sea glossy as the sky; and a song
of two Sirens did not resound yet,
because the meadow was distant.
And the old hero felt a strong premonition,
a current running in the calm sea,
pushing the boat toward the Sirens;
and he told the men to raise their oars:
“The ship turns away from them now, friends!
But don't worry that the roar of the rowing
disturbs the songs of the Sirens. By now
we should hear them. Listen to the song
calmly, your arms on the oarlocks.”
And the current running quiet and smooth
pushes the ship forward more and more.
And the godlike Odysseus sees at the top
of the blooming island, the Sirens,
stretched out among the flowers, heads
erect, upright on idle elbows, watching
the rosy sun rising across from them;
watching, motionless; and their long shadows
were stripes across the island of flowers.
"Are you sleeping? The dawn has passed
already. Already eyes under delicate brows
look for the sun. Sirens, I am still mortal.
I heard you, but I could not stop.”
And the current ran on, quiet and smooth,
pushing the ship forward more and more.
And the old man sees the two Sirens,
their eyebrows raised high above their pupils,
gazing straight ahead, at the fixed sun,
or at him, in his black ship.
And over the unchanging calm of the sea,
a voice rises from him, deep and sure,
"I am he! I’ve returned, to learn!
I am here, as you see me now.
Yes; all that I see in the world
regards me; questions me: asks me what I am.”
And the current ran on, quiet and smooth,
pushing the ship forward more and more.
And the old man sees a great pile of bones
men's bones, and shriveled skin near them,
close to the Sirens, stretched out,
motionless, on the shore, like two reefs.
“I see. Let it be. You may be innocent. But
how much this hard pile of bones
has grown. Speak, you two.
Tell me the truth, to me alone,
of all men, before I doubt that I have lived!”
And the current ran on, quiet and smooth,
pushing the ship forward more and more.
And the ship thrust itself high, and above,
the brows of the two Sirens with the fixed eyes looked on.
"I will have but a moment. I beg
you! At least tell me what I am, what I will be.”
And between the two reefs the ship was shattered.


XXIV. CALYPSO

And the blue sea loved him, swept him
far out for nine days and nights,
swept him to a distant island,
to the cave covered with leaves
of grape vines blooming to the edge.
And around it, a gloomy forest
of alders and pungent cypresses;
and hawks and owls and squawking crows
making their nests there. And nothing left alive,
neither god nor man, ever stepped there.
Then, among the leaves of the forest, the hawks
beat their noisy wings, chasing out
the owls from holes in the old trees,
and from branches, the squawking crows
flapped at the thing that came from the sea.
And Calypso wove a song inside herself,
near the fragrant blaze of a cedar,
astonished, hearing an uproar in the forest,
and, in her heart, said: “Oh, I heard omens,
the voice of the crow and the hoot of the owl!
And among the dense leaves the hawks are fluttering.
Is it because they have seen, on the crest of a wave,
some god, who, like a huge cormorant, dives through
the impossible whirlpools of the sea?
Or moves without footsteps, like the wind, over
the soft meadow of violets and white flowers?
But it seems too far away for me to hear.
There's a hatred the gods have for solitary
Calypso. And I know it well, from when
I sent the man I loved back to the sea
to his sadness. O can you see, owl
with your round eyes, and you, squawking crows?”
And so she left, gold spool in hand,
and kept watch. He lay on the earth, beyond
the sea, at the foot of the cave, just a man, sleeping
on the last journey’s wave: and he, white-headed,
knew that cave of hers very well,
and above him a vine shoot, trembling
a little, hung with long clusters of grapes.
It was Odysseus: the sea returned him
to his goddess: it brought him back dead
to the solitary Calypso, to the deserted island
that branched out from the navel of the eternal sea.
Naked, he returned, who once was clothed in garments
of plants the eternal goddess gave him;
white and trembling in death, he who once
wore the immortality of his youth.
And she wrapped the hero in a cloud
of her hair, and she howled across the arid
waves where no one could hear:
"Not to be! Not to be! More than nothing,
but less than dead, not ever to be again."

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Poetry
"Quick, open these pages and meet The Empty Notebook-the enduring nothingness out of which all is generated, the negative capability on which artists thrive, ecstatic world-wanderer, canny literary imitator, driven self-obsessive-as vivaciously, and audaciously, imagined by Susan Thomas. Pleasures await." .
-Jeanne Marie Beaumont
Incredibly original... by turns ironic, tragic, comic... paradoxical gusto of pathos
-Richard Jackson
Full of meaty poems and wry surprises... Thomas’ reach is broad and daring.
-Maxine Kumin
This delightful—and long overdue—collection shows Susan Thomas at her delicious best.
-Jane Shore
Poems in translation
“The major portion of this ambitious translation is devoted to Pascoli’s revisionist version of Homer’s epic; in it Odysseus does not return home, slay the suitors and embrace his wife. Instead, he falls into a deep sleep, sails past Ithaka and is forced to revisit his former route, complete with heart-stopping adventures and profound grief. The narration is deft, elegiac, and intensely lyrical, making this book a pleasure to read.” .
-Maxine Kumin