Twelve Tables (in progress)

Twelve poems, after paintings by Harriet Backer.

Three poems in Blackbox Manifold.

Bygdeskomakere. Skisse

The Country Cobblers (1887)

You cried when born, then laughed.
When you opened your mouth,
it was as if the world were singing.
You sang a tune – I said so –
of facing the world with courage.
And the song was courage.
Nothing worth much is easy.

It’s why I can’t buy your success.
Love is fine conversation, but
not worth much. Not work.
Little Mary, from the next farm,
teases: Come, goat boy!
she sings. Come out to play!
But work is good. I say so.

Let us suppose a new-born mind
is blank paper, void of ideas.
How will it be furnished?
The paper is beyond my hand,
the table beyond the paper.
One cannot write or eat with
so much pleasure with no table.

Apply your hand to making
the necessary things: chair, table.
Walls of a room beyond the table.
A new old song: chin up, head
down. Unhappiness is for the weak.
Last is first, and old friends best.
Let us suppose a world. Let us say so.

Find fields beyond the room.
Say: tabula. (Good lad, good Latin.)
King James calls for his old shoes.
Marry the farm girl if you must.
The day we find love, we lose happiness.
Our absence does not annihilate it.
Sing: Killy killy killy the goat!

Tell her: unhappy love is for
the weak, the timid or sick,
those too smart for their own good,
the sensuous, who run and hide,
hit send and tremble at a word,
and finally mistake their fear for love,
become wretched and melt like sugar.

Tell peasant stories in ash veneer,
the particleboard of knowledge
among the world’s few comforts,
a stain which the busy and boundless
fancy of man has painted on it—
all tables and cupboards,
one word: experience.


This poem was originally published in VLAK.

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