~This poem originally appeared in a chapbook print to accompany the Call & Response Exhibit at the Hamiltonian Gallery in Washington, DC (2009)
You accused me of consuming too much
with my calm, sad face. I couldn’t stop,
so I didn’t feel remorse. I began to rot
from the inside. I understand what happened.
To save yourself you came to view me
without care or doubt, another bug
closed in on the porch, dead against the window.
To go back, even one step, is impossible
and imperfect. Beyond love is mercy,
and beyond mercy, oblivion.
You look at me now as a project
turned unrecognizable to you,
just as God cringes at the bitter taste
of the rivers and the seas.
~This poem originally appeared in Big Lucks (2010)
In the hours when there are no footprints
on the carpets, I can hear the gears of the world sighing.
People do their part, pushing the buttons
to arrange the colored lights in a pattern
that pleases them. I contribute too,
growing white flowers for caskets.
We can unmake what we have made,
but not the other way around. We wear down
imperceptibly slow, like the moving of continents,
and crumble. Strands of light bulbs hang
from the trees and sway in the wind. Light
doesn’t have the option of staying; neither do we.
In the quiet moments, I can be content knowing
that I’ll die and there will be flowers to cover my grave.
~This poem originally appeared in Dark Sky Magazine (2011)
My first love was made of marble:
And so, in the end, soft.
I’ve grown since then.
New conclusions eclipse old assumptions
and love adjusts between sorrow and sorrow.
Growing just means growing older.
Faith would be the easy answer to loneliness,
to leave old joys behind and watch the stars unfold,
but belief is predicated on existence,
and existence on belief. God wants love
and truth to be renewed so that He
can be renewed. I’m the only obstacle
and my foundation is chipping.
I want love now, even if it is false.
THE STORY BEHIND THE POEMS
When Elizabeth Barrett Browning published Sonnets from the Portuguese in 1844, she was quite all right with readers having the impression that these sonnets were translations. Of course, in fact, they were not, but rather very personal love poems written for Robert Browning. The veil of translation created a productive distance between the poet and the poem’s speaker in both the work and Browning’s life I’d imagine.
To create Sonnets to E——, I took EBB’s Sonnets and ran them through an unreliable internet translator into Portuguese and then back into English. The resulting raw material, a mess of jumbled language, was re-shaped into this sequence. You can compare them side-to-side with Browning’s sonnets and see ghosts of the poems in their counterparts, though the context and meaning of the carried-over phrases are often completely different.
A few interesting things happened in that mistranslation process. The speaker became a bragging, somewhat pretentious man rather than Browning’s demur though passionate persona, certain homographs switched their meanings (i.e. the tears you cry became the tears where something is ripping apart), and a new love story emerged, that of a talented musician hungry for fame, lustful in every way, but anchored (or dragged down by?) his longtime on-again off-again love interest, the steadfast and faithful E——.
That rock star love story isn’t showcased much in this group of poems, but I think you can see the struggle going on in the speaker’s mind between chasing a burning-bordering-on-burnt-out ecstasy and the belief in something more fulfilling. The gulf between those two points, like the distance between speaker and poet, is what I’m interested in exploring here.
ABOUT DAN BRADY
Dan Brady is is the author of two chapbooks, Cabin Fever / Fossil Record (Flying Guillotine Press, 2014) and Leroy Sequences (Horse Less Press, 2014). Poems from the Sonnets to E—— series have appeared in Artifice, Big Lucks, Gargoyle, Shampoo, So & So Magazine, and elsewhere. He is the poetry editor of Barrelhouse and lives in Arlington, Virginia with his wife and son. Learn more at danbrady.org.