Richard Jackson is the author of ten books of poems, most recently Resonance, the 2011 Hochner Award Winner; Unauthorized Autobiography: New and Selected Poems; and Half Lives: Petrarchan Poems. Jackson’s translation of Aleksander Persolja’s Journey of The Sun appeared in Slovenia in 2009, and his translation of Giovanni Pascoli’s Last Voyage appeared in 2010. He is the winner of Fulbright, Guggenheim, NEA, NEH, and Witter-Bynner Fellowships and has been awarded the order of Freedom Medal from the President of Slovenia. He is on the faculty at the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga.
1. LETTER FROM SLOVENIA
for my granddaughter, Anna Marie Thomson
I once stepped into the same river twice.
That was when I had a constellation stuck
in my throat. You were waiting on one of those
stars to be born. Today a bee’s wing creates
enough wind to drench the planets. The moon
begins to untangle the shadows which
the mountain tries to tie to its cliffs. Each beat
of your heart shakes a few other stars awake.
I hope you never have to know the horrors
that cover the newspaper I am trying to write
over. Even the river pauses to listen to its own
reflections. All the children are Angels, the taxi driver
said in Baltimore last month quoting the Koran,
but in the first few weeks we all look
like the same kidney bean. I can see you
chasing butterflies and pigeons the way
your mother did. This is how my skin can hold
the memory of your touch though you should not
arrive for another week now which is exactly when
the sky will have to borrow another color
if it wants to still be the sky. You will know
your own mother as the sound of running water,
your father as the fallen petals that show
which way the water flows. When I touched
the statue of Madonna dell’Orto in Venice
for you the other day, a white chalk stuck to my hands
and I held my own clouds to the sky. What holds
the clouds up so effortlessly? Now the moss
breaks loose from the river’s stones. Clouds drift
away from their roots. The river thinks
it can run uphill. Someday, when there are
only my words for you, you will hear them
as the timpani of stars. Today a hawk
flew next to the car before darting out
across the fields. I thought it was you. Each
word, each gesture, is a feather for our wings. Later,
I ran down that mountain and landed in your name.
2. LETTER FROM TUSCANY
for my granddaughter, Emily Frances Thomson
Inside you, a dream has begun to ignite the stems
Of flowers. Now that you have arrived, this Tuscan
Sky seems full of seeds. Where you are, I watched,
With your sister, a shadow that seemed to promise your shape.
The tree above me is tattooed with swallows. A few
Dart around this table. I think they are memories
From your future. I think the train in the valley below is
Searching, like me, to find a world that doesn’t
Exist yet. By then, there will be no need
To worry about the wars and tortures, the drizzle
In our hearts from this tangle of hours you’ll hear about
Later on. Now, even the rocky light holds
The hills in its hands. The clouds are stroking
Their bald crests. I can almost slip my own arms
Into the sleeves of the wind—it smudges the slender
Olive leaves. Now the dark is folding the hills up
For the night. I am this happy: my pockets full of
Butterflies, each breath setting off on its own
Road. There’s a distant smoke waiting for its fire.
The whistle is waiting somewhere for the train. I will
Have to learn the language of roots. The moon’s
Flour covering the trees. Your words for mother,
Father, sister, light, swallow, love.
The life you have before you have a life.
Copyright (c) 2011 by Richard Jackson. All rights reserved.