Vox Populi

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Barbara Hamby: My Translation

 I am translating the world into mockingbird, into blue jay, 
	into cat-bombing avian obbligato, because I want
more noise, more bells, more senseless tintinnabulation, 
	more crow, thunder, squawk, more bird song, 
more Beethoven, more philharmonic mash notes to the gods. 
	I am translating the world into onyx, into Abyssinian, 
into pale blue Visigoth vernacular, because the bloody earth 
	is not one color, one stripe, one smooth mulatto 
café con leche cream-colored dream, no rumba, no cha-cha, 
	no cheek-to-cheek tango through the Argentine 
midnight stream, but a hodgepodge of rival factions 
	fighting over the borders of nothing. I am translating 
the world into blue, azure, cerulean, because there is a sky 
	beneath us as there is a sea above. O the fish soar 
like dragonflies through empyrean clouds; the mockingbird 
	swims through the ocean like a man-of-war. I am 
translating the heavens into Gutenberg, into Bodoni, 
	into offset digital karmic Palatino, every “T” a crucifix 
on the shrine of my lexicographic longing. I am reading 
	the archaic language of birches, frangipani pidgin of monsoon, 
Bali palm dialect of endless summer. I am translating the sky 
	into bulls, swans, gold dust, for a god is filled with such power 
that mortal husbands quiver in the shadow of his furious lust, 
	the bliss-driven engine of his thrumming mythopoesis. 
I am calling the world to take off its veils of fog and soot, 
	shed its overcoat of factories, highways, skyscrapers,
lay down its rocks, roots, rivers, and lie naked in my naked arms, 
	for I am translating the earth and all its dominions 
into desire, into flayed skin screaming abandon, all tongue, 
 	mouth, flesh-drunk erotic demonology, fiery seraphim 
mating with mortals, wings incinerated in the white heat 
	of love, Apollo turning Daphne into marble, into tree roots, 
into chlorophyll, scent of cut grass, a baby’s mouth sweet
	with milk, because this is my Cultural Revolution, 
my Mao Tse-tung, my Chou En-Lai, my attempt to go 
	without sin, to have it my way no matter what, for I am 
the way, the truth, the light, third empress of the seventh dynasty, 
	Madame Chiang, Madame Nu, Madame X, Madame 
Three Quarters of the Left Brain, poster girl of a million GIs, 
	Betty Grable to you, buster, Jane Russell, all gams, breasts, 
blond smiles, brunette tribulation, Betty and Veronica, 
	the last stop before Kiss-and-Tell, Texas, Fourth 
Shepherdess of confabulation, Calliope’s stepdaughter, Erato’s
	girl, it’s all Greek to me, for I am translating the world 
as if it were a bomb, a thief, a book. Chapter One: the noun 
	of my mother’s womb, verb of birth, adjectives of blood, 
screams, fluorescence. Chapter Two: explosions of words 
 	growing into sentences, arms, legs, tentacles. Chapter Three: 
voyages to unheard-of territories—here be monsters, two-mile 
 	waterfalls, portals to the underworld. Chapter Four: returns, 
for in all of us there’s an Odysseus ready to misunderstand the sky 
	and its garbled signs, rumble-thunder theater of missed cues, 
because this is our adventure, our calling, our do-or-die 
	mission, translating the world into the body’s bright lie.

From On the Street of Divine Love: New and Selected Poems (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2014). Included in Vox Populi by permission of the author and publisher.

Copyright 2014 Barbara Hamby

Barbara Hamby was born in New Orleans and raised in Honolulu. She is the author of seven books of poems, most recently Holoholo (Pitt, 2021). She has also edited an anthology of poems, Seriously Funny (Georgia, 2009), with her husband David Kirby. She teaches at Florida State University where she is Distinguished University Scholar.

Barbara Hamby

11 comments on “Barbara Hamby: My Translation

  1. Lisa Zimmerman
    March 19, 2023

    A tornado of a poem. Just wow.


    • Vox Populi
      March 20, 2023

      Yes, Barbara’s poems are a typhoon of words, sensations, images, concepts carried by the rhythm of her thought.


      Liked by 1 person

  2. Barbara Huntington
    March 18, 2023

    Did I just come out of that tangle, that rush, that wild fair ride? Wow! I’m buying more tickets and going again.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Rose Mary Boehm
    March 18, 2023


    Liked by 1 person

  4. Mary B Moore
    March 18, 2023

    An amazing tour de force, full of energy and life. Love it!


    • Vox Populi
      March 18, 2023

      Indeed it is. Barbara has many poems that take flight like this one.



  5. Robbi Nester
    March 18, 2023

    A wild romp of a poem!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Vox Populi
      March 18, 2023

      Yes, Barbara’s language is so rich that each poem is a universe unto itself. She is a national treasure, our Keats, our Spenser.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. vermavkv
    March 18, 2023

    very nice.

    Liked by 1 person

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This entry was posted on March 18, 2023 by in Humor and Satire, Opinion Leaders, Poetry and tagged , .

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