Aaron Poochigian earned a PhD in Classics from the University of
Minnesota in 2006 and an MFA in Poetry from Columbia University in 2016. His
book of translations from Sappho, Stung With Love, was published by
Penguin Classics in 2009, and his translation of Apollonius’ Jason and the
Argonauts was released October 2014. For his work in translation he was
awarded a 2010-2011 Grant by the National Endowment for the Arts. His first book
of original poetry, The Cosmic Purr (Able Muse Press) was published in
2012, and several of the poems in it collectively won the New England Poetry
Club’s Daniel Varoujan Prize. His work has appeared in such journals as The
Guardian, Poems Out Loud and POETRY.
I heard the harmless maniac
who camps in front of my bodega
roar from his carton on the stoop:
“I am the Alpha and Omega,
the kick in the smack, the massive attack,
the zoom bah bah, zoom bah; whoop, whoop, whoop!”
Polychrome Christmas lights were blinking.
A white dove—well, alright, a pigeon—
posed on the guy’s cardboard façade.
I don’t go in much for religion
but, trust me, I could not help thinking,
“Lo, another son of God.”
I love you, vagrant, with my own self-love
because I see myself there sleeping rough
on rubbish under a construction scaffold.
Because I hear my future in your cough,
my voice among your five defiant voices,
I love you, vagrant, with my own self-love.
What crisis crazed you? Was it chance or choices?
Come summer, if my doom does not improve,
your landmark madness will be me unraveled.
So here’s a buck—a fiver? That’s enough:
I love you, vagrant, with my own self-love."
Ah, where the wind is ruffling
trash bags, and moonlight snags
on cracked façades: that shuffling
who glooms through shreds and drags
a shadow like a void.
The beards of the Unemployed
dissolve in the rags
and shag of night.
Mott Street, each time I walk it,
parades this mental case.
Last week he dredged his pocket,
flashed me a watch—no band,
just a smashed, digital face.
The time: Please Understand.
A whirlpool demand
from backward space;
a black-hole wound.
He always gives me this funny
feeling, a pity akin
to rage: should I toss money
into a bottomless bum?
Indulge my nagging twin?
Feed what I could become?
Here’s something, Mr. Mum,
but keep your grin—
I don’t want none.
It’s late and lost in tunnels that I find him—
Mr. Mirror Shades (the mufflered one),
his past the tentacles of pipes behind him,
his stature like a hunched harp made of bone.
A tarot card, a king of prophecy
enthroned on coats and rubbish, he sometimes
rattles his wicked little cup my way
and conjures up a mishegoss of rhymes:
One wave of poison, two of disease,
and a pulse will roast your phones and freeze
Rats, then, will rise through the sewer grates
as executors for the Fiend or Fates
and gnaw with a vengeance.
Sirens will sing the Apocalypse Blues
and, morning, noon and night, the news
will be static.
Why bother dialing nine-one-one?
Why dash for the drawer and get out the gun?
Why hide in the attic?
No one will be surviving this,
so go out and find somebody to kiss,
A blood tide creeping up our shores,
it’s time to get down with the dinosaurs
and passenger pigeon.
So he intones, out of his nose, his skull.
Chuckling, then, he scrunches for a bow,
and I give something to the oracle
for briefly making Armageddon now.
Our Modern Poetry
i.m. Charles Baudelaire
The childless auteur of our future Fun
died in an Old World August, so the few
grands noms who recognized what he had done
were off at Côte d’Azur or Cefalù
enjoying fizzes when his no-frills box
went creaking round to meet the pothouse priest.
A hat fell in the grave. The weathercocks
were still awhile, then swiveled north-north-east
where, worlds beyond the larks of trade and travel,
the ultimate expanding glacier ground
an ancient inch of granite into gravel
with a light, ruthless, chuckling sort of sound.
That winter, since the faubourgs had transgressed
too far into the forest, wolves moved in.
They shattered fences, gutted sows, obsessed
the streets like rebels. Each one wore a human grin.
All I did was ease
my eyelids and, Whoa, a lurking
art film had begun:
the Guide, the God, the One,
in top hat and opera cape,
his pointer finger jerking
through three hundred sixty degrees
of black-and-white desertscape,
and a hero stuck astraddle
an ostrich without reins—
halves of a warring whole
ungalloping the gains
they make toward no fixed goal,
and the dearth of depth and shadow
under eternal noon,
and the sandstorm soon
to expunge their preposterous quest
forever moving in
from north, south, east or west. . .
all started in the middle
and never rolled The End.
No Sphinx in the thing, no riddle,
just dunes and doom and and.
Stomping in winter boots across the square,
and Oona weeping. This would be the scene
where I refused, she ranted, and the glare
ice turned to slush beneath us. The wind was mean,
but I was brutal. She was all I had,
a wounded monster dying in the wild,
and Love had done it. Love had made us sad
crude halves that never would be reconciled.
One Too Many
My raucous ex, Alexa Glossolalia,
has up and made off with my mouth again.
Yep, yep, this yap, her pretty little Polly, a
megaphone for a mad comedienne.
Lord, may the spastic waggling of my tongue
strike all their earsies as divine. Amen.
My larynx laughs; I hear that laughter sung.
Oh God, Oh God, the music of a hen.
Why beef this freak ain’t me, my basso burr
would never have agreed to tweak like this?
My claque would roar the more if I charged her
with fucking up a good man’s drunkenness.
Nah, when ecstatic blab is holding sway,
it’s no use getting pissy. Best dismiss
this selfish business of a sober say
and, dummyhead, succumb to dummy bliss.
SAPPHO Translation of Fragment 16
Some call ships, infantry or horsemen
the greatest beauty earth can offer;
I say it is whatever a person
most lusts after.
Proving the point will be no trouble:
Helen surpassed all humankind
in looks but left the world’s most noble
coasting off to Troy where she
thought nothing of her loving parents
and only child, but led astray. . .
. . .and I think of Anaktoria
far away. . .
and I would rather watch her body
sway, her glistening face flash dalliance
than Lydian war cars at the ready
and armed battalions.