The Brooklyn Rail

NOV 2017

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NOV 2017 Issue



I have had to create my own ancestors.

I dumped the Eshlemans decades ago, never met the Spencers.

Intuiting that it was impossible to ignite sacred fire off oneself,

                                                                  I went to Powell,

     Vallejo, Coatlicue, Yorunomado.

These eidola I placed around me, a cromlech of mouth stones,

     Orphic beheadeds—

Once the self is constellated, meaning comes with it.


With a seriously sick beloved

the temptation is to worry like a wasp queen missing her nest

or a Seibel lord who’s lost his spirit jaguar.

I have been going not crazy but dull nutty for nearly a year.

I translate to keep my mind alive.

I must organize my ogre, let him express what I cannot divine.


O ogre, deal Caryl a decent hand!

Caryl who has lived her own life in the context of ours 40 years,

& she is a fine drawer & made beautiful jewelry.

She has enabled me, in exercising my charnel grounds, to make the most of them.

How much I owe to her, how much I owe to myself spurred on by her.


Going over worksheet after worksheet with me, at the table in the morning after

coffee, asking me thousands of questions: what did I mean by this, why did I write

that, helping me to narrow down the infernal discrepancy between what I thought I

had written & what I did write. While I went into the labyrinth on my own &

sometimes emerged, at the center you were the companion providing resistance,

neither Minotaur nor Falconress.


Your assemblage in the dining room corner: on an old ironing board a wooden

skateboard holding up your sculpture of my head in unfired clay, flanked by a

stuffed rabbit lady & a photo of a white gorilla. Beyond, at each end of the

skateboard, a tanuki with ground-length balls, sake jug, & chin-tied straw hat—&

a pot-bellied Balinese wood frog with a leaf parasol. Scattered about on the ironing

board: a clay Oaxacan lady holding a duck & a squash with a cut watermelon on

her head by Joséfina Aquilar, many little pigs (falling on their backs, doing head

stands), a 19th century iron that used coal, a rabbit with a carrot candlestick, & a

salt and pepper set of two little fat rabbits. This is our ofrenda.


Your gold ring which you designed & cast, with its undulant creased leaf base

mounted with a rosette encased with a garnet & a half-moon of seven tiny

diamonds; across the diamondless third of the rosette, a furrowed sweep of gold,

carotene river as close to me as the Styx.


I look for words for what being inside of you is, the thought makes me shake.

Empty quivers like Songs of Songs volley about. To place myself inside you & not

hurt you, to be at the heart of your life, to slightly know you where only you know

yourself, to have this billygoat extension encased, a warm oar as if in the first the

very first waters.


The fullness of life—as set against the void—how to measure it?


During a spring 1963 Kyoto party, Gary Snyder dancing with the host while

throwing the guy’s shoji screens out into the creek behind the house.


I’d also like to honor Antonin Artaud strolling Blvd Montparnasse, 1947, his arm

around 16 year old Florence Loeb, offering her avuncular advice about virginity!


Or the expression on Aimé Césaire’s face as he scurried across a trafficked street

near the Sorbonne, 1978, while accompanying me to a café where he would

respond to my list of translator questions.


                    Such moments are so rich, so close to

         a dear kiss,     life swells,     percolates…


                                                           4 December 2010



Clayton Eshleman

CLAYTON ESHLEMAN is the author of numerous books of poetry, including, in 2008, The Grindstone of Rapport / A Clayton Eshleman Reader, Clayton Eshleman / The Essential Poetry 1960-2015 and most recently Penetralia (all from Black Widow). Eshleman has published sixteen collections of translations, including Watchfiends & Rack Screams by Antonin Artaud (Exact Change, 1995), The Complete Poetry of César Vallejo with a Foreword by Mario Vargas Llosa (University of California Press, 2007), and Aimé Césaire: The Collected Poetry (co-translated with Annette Smith, University of California Press, 1983). Most recently, Wesleyan Press brought out a 900 page bilingual edition of The Complete Poetry of Aimé Césaire, co-translated with A. James Arnold Eshleman also founded and edited two of the most innovative poetry journals of the later part of the 20th century: Caterpillar (20 issues, 1967-1973) and Sulfur (46 issues, 1981-2000). Doubleday-Anchor published A Caterpillar Anthology in 1971 and Wesleyan in November 2015 published a 700 page Sulfur Anthology. His website is


The Brooklyn Rail

NOV 2017

All Issues