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Room 54  Poetry Hotel

Six Poems / Art Beck

 

MARTIAL, EPIGRAMS V, 34

 

Hanc tibi, Fronto, pater, genetrix Flaccilla, puellam

   oscula commendo deliciasque meas,

parvula ne nigras horrescat Erotion umbras

   oraque Tartarei prodigiosa canis.

impletura fuit sextae modo frigora brumae,

   vixisset totidem ni minus illa dies.

inter iam veteres ludat lasciva patronos

   et nomen blaeso garriat ore meum.

mollia non rigidus caespes tegat ossa, nec illi,

   terra, gravis fueris: non fuit illa tibi.

 

 

Father Fronto, mother Flaccilla, protect this child

   who was my lips’ delight. Don’t let the darkness

and the snapping mouths of Tartarus’ monstrous

   hound panic Erotion’s shivering little shade.

She almost survived her sixth chilly winter.

   She lived just that many days too few.

Let her play and work her mischief on you, old

   guardians, and chatter away and garble my name.

Soft grass gently cover these gentle bones. Please

   earth, rest as lightly on her as she scampered over you.

 

tr. Art Beck​

-------------------------

 

MARTIAL, EPIGRAMS V, 37

 

Puella senibus voce dulcior cycnis,

agna Galaesi mollior Phalantini,

concha Lucrini delicatior stagni,

cui nec lapillos praeferas Erythraeos

nec modo politum pecudis Indicae dentem

nivesque primas liliumque non tactum;

quae crine vicit Baetici gregis vellus

Rhenique nodos aureamque nitelam;

fragravit ore quod rosarium Paesti,

quod Atticarum prima mella cerarum,

quod sucinorum rapta de manu gleba;

cui comparatus indecens erat pavo,

inamabilis sciurus et frequens phoenix:

 

adhuc recenti tepet Erotion busto,

quam pessimorum lex amara fatorum

sexta peregit hieme, nec tamen tota,

nostros amores gaudiumque lususque.

et esse tristem me meus vetat Paetus,

pectusque pulsans pariter et comam vellens:

“deflere non te vernulae pudet mortem?

ego coniungen” inquit “extuli et tamen vivo,

notam, superbam, nobilem, locupletem.”

quid esse nostro fortius potest Paeto?

ducentiens accepit et tamen vivit.

 

 

A child with a voice as sweet as the fabled swan’s,

gentler than a Galician lamb, delicate as a Lake Lucrine

oyster shell. Who you wouldn’t trade for Red Sea pearls

or polished Indian ivory. A lily shimmering in new snow.

Her hair glowed like golden Baetic fleece, like German

curls, like a hazel dormouse. A girl whose soft breath

was as fragrant as damask roses, or Attic honey

fresh from the comb, or amber warmed in the hand.

Next to her, peacocks were crude, tiny squirrels

unlovable and the Phoenix nothing much.

 

Now Erotion lies still warm in the grave. The bitter

edict of brutal fate took her before even completing her

sixth winter. Our love and delight, my merry playmate.

And Paetus, my friend, forbids me to weep, beats his

own breast and tousles his hair: “Aren’t you ashamed

to lose it over the death of a little house slave” he says.

“I buried my wife -  but I got on with my life. And she

was a socialite from the old nobility, proud and wealthy

in her own right.” Who can set a braver example than our

Paetus? He collects twenty million and gets on with his life.

tr. Art Beck​

-------------------------

MARTIAL, EPIGRAMS X, 61

 

Hic festinata requiescit Erotion umbra,

   crimine quam fati sexta peremit hiems.

quisquis eris nostri post me regnator agelli,

   Manibus exiguis annua iusta dato:

sic lare perpetuo, sic turba sospite solus

   flebilis in terra sit lapis iste tua.

 

Here rests Erotion’s hurried shade, robbed

   of life by fate and her sixth winter. Whoever

owns this little plot after me, make an offering

   to her small ghost each year. Then, may your

household endure, safe and untroubled.

   Let this stone be the only sorrow on your land.

 

tr. Art Beck

-------------------------

WHAT I THINK I HEARD AL FRANKEN SAY

Here I stand, a man whose profession

was once outrageous comedy; now my

outraged colleagues won’t even smile.

And nothing can help the heartbroken

 

clown, grimacing inside his stupid grin.

It’s no consolation I won’t be the last

to get the hook and stumble from

the stage, pretending to dance.

 

We live in an occupied country with

all the shame that implies, where

spring and summer hate each other

 

in a sour, nervous year. Praise be the resistance.

But remember, as with Orwell’s rebel animals,

the wily swine play by different rules.

 

-------------------------

REINCARNATION

 

In earliest childhood, in the crib still

digesting the fear of your lingering last death –

did you scream? When she weaned you from

the nipple and led you to the table

 

did your mother have any idea

how much terror still lurked in the devouring

little mouth you could only appease

with a new, un-clotted language?

 

Now, just once in a while, at night

in those dreams your lovers report –

dead to the world but talking bolt upright:

 

What is it you’re so urgently describing

in what strange tongue, not in the slightest

aware that no one understands?

 

-------------------------

ALTAR BOY: OUR LADY HELP OF CHRISTIANS, CHICAGO, 1954.

 

What was there about being thirteen

and serving the wedding mass? The grinning

groom posing in the sun for his buddies,

hoisting his crotch then solemnly swaggering

 

through the dark church-door. The bride

- more secretive - whispering – but

every bit as hungry to come out on top.

A lifetime of fucking and being fucked.

 

No wonder the merry accordions

danced everyone to drink. No wonder

I rushed home to masturbate, the host

 

barely dissolved on my tongue, my

innocence eagerly rehearsing

its loss. Life coiling for the trap.

-------------------------

 

The poems, essays and translations of Art Beck have appeared in numerous literary journals, anthologies, small press volumes and chapbooks for over

four decades.  Luxorious Opera Omnia, his versions of the 6th century Latin epigrammist (Otis Books | Seismicity Editions, 2012) was awarded the

2013 Northern California Book Award for poetry in translation. His newest collection of Martial translations, Mea Roma  was published by

Shearsman Books (2018), and was a finalist for the Cliff Becker Book Prize in Translation. 

 

Acknowledgements: Epigrams V, 34; V, 37 and X, 61 previously appeared in Mea Roma by Art Beck (Shearsman Books, 2018). 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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