‘An Infusion of Violets’ by Nancy Naomi Carlson: An Excerpt
Using the same musical sense of language she applies to her translations, Nancy Naomi Carlson masterfully interprets herself in An Infusion of Violets. Filled with striking images and sensuous language, this book is an evocative mix of formal and free-verse poems.
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I’m a brass-bellied Buddha’s dream,
an evening of gauze, stars blue
and windswept, the quicksilver moon
tangled in the limbs of a lone banyan tree.
Oh, rub me to a blinding sheen!
I am the sitar’s ragged throat,
pitched between here and when,
caught in quartertones, worlds bewitched.
Why these four arms so long unkissed?
Am I not your goddess?
My five mouths roll their uvulas,
guttural as high winds crossing desert dunes.
Is there not a stopping place for us,
adrift, two souls who speak in tongues?
Landscape with Figure in Blue
Too early for full light, yet the wrens
have been calling an hour now, mate to mate,
while within walls subdued in pale golds
as in a painting by Hopper, a neighbor’s hands
calm her cat on the windowsill.
The cat, sensing a boy or man or deer
in the shared yard, tracks the dog
at the end of my leash.
The dog seems blasé, but for the twitching ear,
and ignores me, too, on the side porch
in my terry robe—a man’s terry robe
with hood, blue, or what years of rinse
and spin render what was blue something less—
the robe I bought for chilled days
of late thaw when the dog must go out
and no man here for the robe,
none for the dog,
though any one of three husbands,
here and gone, might have left such a robe,
and each might disagree about who
did the leaving, but not what was left:
the Japanese maple burning
orange-red at the curb;
a small dog that jumps like a deer or boy,
or man, vanishing into the early light.
That blessing of salt—
chlorine and sodium ions bound
like bodies in love.
A desert I held in my hands.
Once I sprinkled salt on a magpie’s tail
to keep it from flying, but fooled
by its mournful, mirrored, lake-lit self,
it gathered away on a current of wind,
song hurled against a hunter’s moon.
If you want a lover back,
it’s said,burn salt for seven days.
If it flares into flames, you’re doomed
to pick every grain out of hell when you die,
like Persephone, feeling the pull of spilled
and broken things, or Lot’s wife,
from whose tears,
I believe—not the pillar—the Dead Sea arose,
Sodom and Gomorrah below,
so much salt a body floats away,
really no effort at all.