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.
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
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).