Packing my bags again. I made this trip months before the previous one. C. told me this should be the last time I leave for awhile, but all I can think of is that I should go away more often, and for longer amounts of time.

The last week has been all about unpacking, but it was mostly what’s inside my head. My bags remain unkempt, as if in a perpetual state of moving.

I almost said, I don’t belong here anymore, although I know I still have a place. And yet it doesn’t feel the same. If leaving truly changes you, then how dangerous it is—to leave home, but also to come back.

Caged Birds
Taigu Ryokan
Translated by John Stevens

Time and again
You, too,
Must long for
Your old nest
Deep in the mountain.

Was in an editorial meeting, and they were talking about tenses. Someone said, same as the timeframe of disappointment, and just like that I was paying attention. But not here—all of a sudden I was rifling through the rolodex in my head: this day, that day.

Was listening to Nina Simone, nodding my head, bare feet tapping lightly on the floor. Just in time, she croons. I was lost, the losing dice were tossed. I have been here in this moment several times—at the Village Gate in my mind, in the living room of someone I used to love, between rows and rows of books in the library, in transit, in bed. This day, that day.

Was a quiet week mostly. I mean, the demons in my head. I mean, I know some things have shifted—whether it’s the ground or the odds, I’ve yet to find out. But I’ll take what I can get: this day, that day.

Zazen on Ching-t’ing Mountain
Li Po
Translated by Sam Hamill

The birds have vanished down the sky.
Now the last cloud drains away.

We sit together, the mountain and me,
until only the mountain remains.

Lunch under the sunshine, singing in the afternoon, and conversations in the evening. It has been a good day, and too precious to share at the moment. Maybe tomorrow.

Juan Ramón Jiménez
Translated by Robert Bly

I have a feeling that my boat
has struck, down there in the depths,
against a great thing.
                   And nothing
happens! Nothing… Silence… Waves…

     —Nothing happens? Or has everything happened,
and are we standing now, quietly, in the new life?

I suppose we have days of questions with no answers.

Last night I came across a photo of lyrics on a brick wall: I am alive, I am alive, and that is the best that I can do. Coincidentally, that is the only Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s song I know.

I suppose we have days of questions with no answers.

Adam Zagajewski
Translated by Clare Cavanagh

Look, your longing swung from the trapeze.
The clown is you as well and the tame tiger
who begs for mercy calls someone to mind.
Even the tin-pot music
has its charm; it seems
you’re starting to make peace
with your times (everyone else has,
why not me?—you say).
So why then does the circus tent
rise above an ancient graveyard?

This is from Without End: New and Selected Poems by Adam Zagajewski, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002.

Things I want to teach myself: how to be transparent but not give away all the mystery, how to be honest but not be overwhelmed with vulnerability, how to be accepting without being defeatist, how to be here and be really here.

Things I am unlearning: how to be cruel. How to be empty. How to die.

Poetry Reading
Anna Swir
Translated by Czeslaw Milosz and Leonard Nathan

I’m curled into a ball
like a dog
that is cold.

Who will tell me
why I was born,
why this monstrosity
called life.

The telephone rings. I have to give
a poetry reading.

I enter.
A hundred people, a hundred pairs of eyes.
They look, they wait.
I know for what.

I am supposed to tell them
why there were born,
why there is
this monstrosity called life.

This is from A Book of Luminous Things, edited by Czeslaw Milosz, published by Harcourt, Inc., 1996.

Listen: if you are writing, then you are a writer. That’s it. That’s all there really is. It took me a long time to finally embrace the truth of it, but here I am. There is no true measure to what makes one a writer; don’t let anybody else define it for you. I believe that you just have to find yourself writing, is all. Is everything.

And if you’re not writing: it is a holy task that you must appoint to yourself, to make a space for it in your life. I say holy, because it is the closest thing I can get to peace—that place where who I am and what I do can meet, where will and purpose can sit side by side and not argue about semantics. I say task, because writing is work. It’s a gargantuan amount of work that would take your whole life. You are not a special snowflake for choosing to write. It was just what you were meant to do, so do it.

Listen: writing is both a noble pursuit and a thankless job, and yet I love it unabashedly because it’s saved me even when I didn’t want to be saved. I am tethered to it the way an old tree has dug deep its roots into the earth, unto itself.

About a month ago I met someone who has dedicated the past few years purely to writing and nothing else. He has given up and shifted a lot of things in his life just to be able to do it every day. I could tell, just by looking at his face, how right that decision was. I could tell that writing will always come first over everything. I could tell because I recognise in him parts of myself, although I’m not all the way there yet. I admired his courage, perhaps even envied him. He sat across from me and inhabited another world entirely, one that he created, and how amazing was that? I know it doesn’t make me less of who I am—just that we have different paths. Yet how amazing is it that our paths would cross, perhaps entwine?

Listen: do what you have to do. You have to fight for what you love any fucking way you can, but you can also take your time. You are a writer because you are writing, and you are a writer even if you are not writing. It is allowed. Forgive yourself. This is yours, the life you make. Nobody can take it away from you.

Listen: the new year is arriving in a few hours. The past twelve months have led you to this. It was rough, but you are alive. And now you are here. I love you wholly, and fiercely, as I have never loved before.

Guard Duty
Tomas Tranströmer
Translated by Robert Bly

I’m ordered out to a big hump of stones
as if I were an aristocratic corpse from the Iron Age.
The rest are still back in the tent sleeping,
stretched out like spokes in a wheel.

In the tent the stove is boss: it is a big snake
that swallows a ball of fire and hisses.
But it is silent out here in the spring night
among chill stones waiting for dawn.

Out here in the cold I start to fly
like a shaman, straight to her body—
some places pale from her swimming suit.
The sun shone right on us. The moss was hot.

I brush along the side of warm moments,
but I can’t stay there long.
I’m whistled back through space—
I crawl among the stones. Back to here and now.

Task: to be where I am.
Even when I’m in this solemn and absurd
role: I am still the place
where creation works on itself.

Dawn comes, the sparse tree trunks
rake on color now, the frostbitten
forest flowers form a silent search party
after something that has disappeared in the dark.

But to be where I am…and to wait.
I am full of anxiety, obstinate, confused.
Things not yet happened are already here!
I feel that. They’re just out there:

a murmuring mass outside the barrier.
They can only slip in one by one.
They want to slip in. Why? They do
one by one. I am the turnstile.

This is from Selected Poems: 1954-1986 by Tomas Tranströmer, edited by Robert Hass, published by The Ecco Press, 1987.

I feel good. And happy. The quiet kind of happy. You know this—that which sits beside you, like sadness, and holds your hand. Only this time it is not as dark out as it should be. You both know that there will be bad days, but good days—they’re not impossible.

How have you been? Is it snowing where you are? Are the days longer? Where are you in the world? I feel you here, and then I remember all the space between us.

I’m full of wine, and the stars outside. And laughter, so much laughter. The cores of our lives should always feel like this.

Here is a gift. Merry Christmas.

For The Moment
Pierre Reverdy
Translated by Kenneth Rexroth

Life is simple and gay
The bright sun rings with a quiet sound
The sound of the bells has quieted down
This morning the light hits it all
The footlights of my head are lit again
And the room I live in is finally bright

Just one beam is enough
Just one burst of laughter
My joy that shakes the house
Restrains those wanting to die
By the notes of its song

I sing off-key
Ah it’s funny
My mouth open to every breeze
Spews mad notes everywhere
That emerge I don’t know how
To fly toward other ears

Listen I’m not crazy
I laugh at the bottom of the stairs
Before the wide-open door
In the sunlight scattered
On the wall among green vines
And my arms are held out toward you

It’s today I love you

This is from Selected Poems by Pierre Reverdy, translated by Kenneth Rexroth, published by New Directions, 1969. This is the only translation that I am familiar with, although I found out via a quick search that it is also attributed to Ron Padgett (his translation), which appears in The Random House Book of 20th Century French Poetry, edited by Paul Auster, published by Vintage, 1984.