Take a book outside

And the sky might read over your shoulder. It has a color and a voice that can show you more of the poet’s intention.

Yesterday I brought Adonis: Selected Poems, translated by Khaled Mattawa to a friend’s house to share in evening light, just at the edge of a storm front, taking the risk of rain-spattered pages. The frontispiece of this book was obeyed by the steep clouds:

Live and be radiant.

Create a poem

and go away.


the expanse of the earth.

Adonis, translated by Bassam Frangieh

This tells me that poetry is a hopeless case of hopefulness. Even as the verses lay down unsolvable, intractable sufferings in exquisite detail. What I love in this poet’s work and the translator’s selection is the clear strength of the questing intelligence, through observations on relationships with other and with self.

In the summer when the sky cleared I used to read the stars by interpreting the lines in my palm. And I had a friend who opposed me, who read the lines in his palm according to the stars:

We did not ask which of us was more scientific. We asked, which of us was more poetic?

He used to say: Poetry is nature.

I used to say: Poetry is the unknown dressed up in nature.

The difference between us was unsolvable, but we remained friends.

Adonis, from “The Stars at Hand”

This, just before describing the pathos of a river dried up in a drought. Is this happening right now? “River, where is the horizon that stretched in your embrace?”

Look at how the unknown comes dressed. What color silks, and what diamond beliefs? The sky, while leaning over your shoulder might breathe on your hair. Rain, then the cloud moved out into the river and over the other shore.

This is the path I walked, coming and going

to the river.

Adonis, from “The Stars at Hand”

That’s the best description I’ve seen of what a poem is.

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