The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Scott Cairns


                 —after Zoé Karélli


They made packages of the human presence,
in order—one presumes—to return
whatever remained of him to native land.
I daresay that the clay from which those
sallow bones were drawn just may have proved every
bit as native to their flesh as any clay—
maybe even more so, now that this
young man’s flesh had been infused so completely
into its shallow grave. Like the poet whose lines
have hurt me efficaciously, I
will lament, but nonetheless observe how such
beauty bides despite attendant grief,
how this particular beauty must
rise only from the ache of just such deep grief.
From the earth, into the earth, comprised of earth,
all our circular journeys attest
to this most compelling of confusions.



Scott Cairns

Matter of Translation

                 Καθώς εργάζονταν το σχήμα,
                εργάτης σε υαλουργείο,
                κατάλαβε πολύ καλά τον έρωτα
                για την ύλη,
                όπου φυσούσε την πνοή του.
                    —Ζωή Καρέλλη (1901-1998, Thessaloniki)


All morning I have mulled, have pored
over both the curious Greek,
the more curious translation.
Of what Zoé Karélli wrote
I dare to shape the following:
            As the figure worked,
            the worker in glassblazery,
            he understood very well the love
            for matter,
            which blew the breath.

Her late translator, however,
has offered what seems a lovely,
if yet inexact replacement:
            As he wrought the shape,
            a worker, a blower of glass,
            felt his love profoundly
            for the material
            into which he blew his breath.

No lover of Gnostics, I too
share with Kimon Friar the joy
in honoring the matter ever
at hand, but I would say I miss
the subtle gesture our Zoé
has shaped suggesting it is love
proves agent of the shaper’s breath,
while all the while the willing
artificer but bears witness
to its inspiring agency.




SCOTT CAIRNS  has published eight poetry collections, a book of translations/adaptations, a spiritual memoir, and a book-length theological essay. He is recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and of the Denise Levertov Award. He is Curators’ Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Missouri, and directs the low-residency MFA program in creative writing at Seattle Pacific University.



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