The HyperTexts

Terese Coe

Terese Coe's poems and translations have appeared in The Times Literary Supplement, Ploughshares, Threepenny Review, Poetry, Agenda, New American Writing, The Cincinnati Review, 32 Poems, Orbis and Smartish Pace, among others. Her first collection of poems, The Everyday Uncommon, won a Word Press publication prize in 2005. She has traveled widely and given readings in the US, Australia, England, and Nepal as well as in the US, was a 2000 and 2002 recipient of Giorno Poetry Systems grants, and a 2004 and 2009 finalist in the Willis Barnstone Translation Prize. She won first prize in the 2008 Schaible Sonnet Award. Her work appears in several anthologies and she has published both metrical and free verse.

“It’s clear to me that she knows what she’s doing, she’s doing what she wants to do, and she does it well.”—Hayden Carruth

“She domesticates and humanizes the exotic without robbing it of its strangeness, just as she reveals the inherent strangeness in everything looked at closely, however much we persuade ourselves that we already know it intimately.”—Rhina P. Espaillat

“Intensely curious, and even more intensely observant, Coe uses wry good humor and considerable formal dexterity to keep the reader turning the pages of her album.”—R. S. Gwynn

The Enigmas

Translated from the Spanish of Jorge Luis Borges

I who am the one who sings this song now
tomorrow will be the mysterious dead,
the inhabitant of a magical and deserted
world without before or after or when.
So the mystics say. I believe I am
myself unworthy of either hell or glory,
with nothing to predict. Our winding history
shifts and tilts like the shapes of Proteus.
What vagrant labyrinth, what blinding whiteness
will come to be my fate when I am delivered
into the final fragment of this adventure,
the curious experience of death?
I long to drink its clear oblivion,
always to be, but never to have been. 

Where to Now?

Translated from Heinrich Heine’s “Jetzt Wohin?”

Where to now? To Germany,
my dumb feet want to say—
but shaking no, my head says
Let’s go the other way:

They say the war is over now,
but martial law’s a fright;
they say your writing’s reckless,
and Germans shoot on sight.

Quite true, quite true, and firing squads
are dirty, smug and rank.
I couldn’t bear the guillotine,
not even for a prank.

I’d gladly cross to England
if it weren't for the damp—
and then the smells alone suffice
to make my stomach cramp—

Perhaps an ocean voyage
to America, where I’d
see daring freedom fighters
and their feats of homicide.

It’s just that countries frighten me
where cowboys take a chaw,
they bowl without a kingpin,
and spittoons are not the law.

Then there’s Russia, Czarist Russia!
Just the place to skip. 
It’s doubtful I’d survive
the year-long winter and the whip.

I look up to the heavens
where a billion stars are bright,
but where’s my constellation?
Obscured by too much light.

In the labyrinth of starlight
it’s mislaid itself, as I
have mislaid myself in tumult.
So on Earth as in the sky.

Café Noir

He turned her bedroom into a garage,
just ripped a hole in the wall and gutted it.
He never could hold on to a parking space,
you said. That month we suffered a barrage
of demolition noise; Annette had split.
Then one day he pulled up in a beat-up Lexus
with inanition chiseled on his face.
He said Annette was somewhere in West Texas.

I dreamt I wrote this living in a canyon
outside Malibu. Pacific waves
sent salt in through the trees; a massive banyan
stood near a fresh-dug grave.
At breakfast we were drinking café noir.
You said we wouldn’t always need a car.

First published in Threepenny Review


Translated from the Spanish of Jorge Luis Borges

Suddenly afternoon turns clear as rain,
already falling, falls, meticulous rain.
It is falling or it fell. Rain is a thing
that doubtless occurs in a time already gone.

Whoever hears it fall recovers an era
when circumstance and luck revealed a flower
someone named the rose, and a peculiar
blood-red color.

In lost suburban towns this rain that turns
the windows blind will plump the blue-black grapes
on a vine in a certain yard no longer there.

At night the drenching brings his voice inside,
the longed-for voice of my father
who has now come back again, and who never died.

First published in New American Writing

Imitation of Martial

Translated from the French of Pierre de Ronsard

You want me to perform as slave
in every service you require;
to clear the path of gnome and knave
when you parade in silk attire;
to grovel every time you twitch
and burst with pride if you should snort,
to bitch and backstab when you bitch—
enough! I do not care to court
your trifling whims, nor do I owe
a duty to your odd pursuits.
Your menials rushing to and fro
can't hope to match my attributes.


Translated from the French of Pierre de Ronsard

Spring has not the flowers
nor autumn such a squall
nor summer heat the power
nor winter cold the pall—
nor Beauce the cornucopia,
nor all the seas the fish,
Bretagne no utopia,
Auvergne no springs like this—
nor has the night the torches,
nor have the woodlands trees,
as I, the scars and scorches
you've burned there by degrees.

First published by Leviathan Quarterly (UK)

And This Is What We Have

And this is what we have:
a rakish slated rooftop,
the aging tambourine,
a page of eggshell foolscap,
a flap of barkentine.

And this is what we lack:
a penny saved for madness,
a penny saved for pain,
a measure for our gladness,
a box to fill with rain.

And this is what we know:
a summer birth will flourish,
Orion's stars will shift,
the love of love will nourish,
the scent of death will drift.

And this is what we don't know:
the reason for our living,
the price we pay for chance,
the sacredness of giving,
the grace of our own dance.

Will O’ the Wisp

Translated from the German of Rainer Maria Rilke

We have an ancient dealing
with those lights out on the moors.
They seem to me great-aunts, revealing …
things I fathom more and more:

We share the kind of family quirk
no power can suppress—
a bounce, a bow, a swing, a jerk
the others don’t possess.

I too am there, where no roads go,
where clouds put men to rout;
and I have seen myself below
my eyelids, going out.

First published in Orbis (UK)

Apology from Fiji

Come all you surfers with your boards
and hunters on safari;
we’ve buried our ancestral swords
and we are truly sorry.

We offer this belated rite
for Reverend Thomas Baker;
our folk had never seen a white
who wasn’t a troublemaker.

In Fiji’s simple habitat,
it was and is tabu
to touch a Fiji chieftain’s hat—
one slip, and barbecue.

First published in Light

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