‘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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An Excerpt

Sari-Covered Nights

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.

Looking Back

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,

still unnamed,

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.