George Franklin is the author of two poetry collections: Traveling for No Good Reason (winner of the Sheila-Na-Gig Editions competition in 2018) and a bilingual collection, Among the Ruins / Entre las ruinas (Katakana Editores), as well as a broadside, ‘Shreveport,’ published by Broadsided Press. Individual publications include: Sheila-Na-Gig Online, Into the Void, The Threepenny Review, Salamander, Pedestal Magazine, Cagibi, and The American Journal of Poetry. He practices law in Miami, teaches poetry workshops in Florida state prisons, and most recently is the co-translator, along with the author, of Ximena Gómez’s Último día/Last Day (Katakana Editores).https://sheilanagigblog.com/sheila-na-gig-editions/
In the kitchen, the refrigerator fan
Spins softly. Even piles of books
And papers on the dining room
Table seem to be resting. This is
The definition of solitude, the
House that quiet, the dog outside poking
His nose into opossum smells or
The pleasure of rotting leaves. In
The next room, my son is sleeping
Late, as he likes to do. I was the same
Way once. Now, I can’t help waking
Early. I make myself coffee and
Eat leftover pita bread with honey.
The news is full of shouting, but
I’m reading it, not listening or
Watching reporters with perfect hair
Try to convey intensity. They’re
Right, of course. The news is as bad
As it’s ever been, but today something
Feels different. Above the back fence,
The trees are barely moving. They
Listen, in the way trees listen, to the sap
That moves beneath their bark. The
November air has spoken to them
Without words. Their lifespans are
Long; they don’t anticipate illness
Or someone with a chainsaw cutting
Them down in pieces—the branches
First, then the trunk. “Future” is
A word too large for comprehension.
We say: “he never saw it coming” and
Feel wiser than whoever didn’t see.
The opossums who live under the
Toolshed, though, and the quick rats who
Nest in the palm trees don’t divide
Their lives that way, don’t sit in the
Morning thinking about history, news,
Politics, about how arbitrarily we
Separate what happened yesterday from
The day before, and how the future always
Ends in chainsaws. But, we’re not opossums
Or rats. History is the space we inhabit in
The meantime, the sounds of traffic that
Reach us when the back door is open,
Stories of people who’ve run out of
Choices, who’ve become part of the news.
That cup of coffee and the soft, white bread
Depend on being born here, not there. Then,
Not some other time. The refrigerator’s
Fan grows louder. An airplane passes
Over the house on its way somewhere
West of here. The dog doesn’t even look up.
The tree limbs don’t move either. I want
To say this is what matters: solitude, the
Silence of trees and opossums, but it’s
Not that easy. The noise of the world
Is always there, even when it’s quiet.
*When I wrote this last fall, no one
Was dying in my neighborhood except from
Clogged arteries or the occasional cancer.
A few months later, even the light has changed.
Afternoon sun burns through the window
The way kids set ants on fire with a magnifying
Glass, not quite believing their own power.
Today, the streets are quiet everywhere. In
New York, they’re burying the dead in mass
Graves, and in Miami we don’t know if we’re
On the upside or downside of the curve.
Ximena and I wear masks and gloves to go
To the supermarket, lose count of how many
Times a day we’ve washed our hands. Last night,
There was no moon. We went for an illegal
Walk through a closed city park, its field
Vacant except for us and a few stars. We were
Afraid to sit on the benches and walked quickly.
There were no passing cars or planes to break
The silence, and we didn’t speak.
The lights of the empty YMCA
Seemed possessed of a terrible sadness.
For Ximena Gómez
It’s a rainy afternoon in Miami. A lone crow
Calls from a palm tree. The light filtered by clouds
Is so blue that rooftops and fences look like
They’re underwater. The dog has no interest
In going outside. After lunch, we worked
On translating your poem, the one about
Bishop Berkeley and how uneasy we can
Become when no one is there to observe us.
You described being alone on a train platform,
And reading it, I was there with you, in a
Moment where we might or might not be real.
These nights when we walk together, the streets
Are empty, the way they are in your poem,
The lights of the shopping mall seem pointless.
I don’t know if the department store at the
Corner will ever reopen. From the other side of
The park, it looks like a white church (your phrase)
That no one visits. We stop for a minute to
Look down the canal. Even the ducks have gone.
Only a slick, black surface borders the houses
Like a medieval moat. A few backyard lights
Shine to deter the invaders, who never arrive.
The parking lots are empty. Even the night watchman
No longer makes rounds. I haven’t seen his white
Pickup in months. Last night, we heard a car go by,
Playing gospel on the radio. Maybe the rapture
Happened and no one knew it, and we live in
A world God gave up on or, like the Gnostics
Say, turned the job over to someone else. You
Can’t tell from these streets. They inspire thoughts
Of abandonment, not comfort. If I saw someone
Walking toward us, you and I would move to
The other side of the street. It doesn’t pay to take
Risks. One night a few weeks ago, we saw
The figure of a person sleeping on one of the
Benches in the park. We moved to the banks
Of the canal to avoid him. As far as I know, he
Hasn’t been back, and we never see stray dogs
Or cats either. Outside, the afternoon has already
Turned to evening. The sky is a dark blue behind
The darker silhouette of the tree limbs. You used
The word “silhouette” in your poem, and here I am,
Stealing it for mine. I would apologize, but you
Are still busy translating. It’ll be time soon to
Make dinner, then perhaps a walk.
April 26, 2020
Pull down thy vanity, I say pull down. — Ezra Pound, Canto LXXXI
He woke at dawn to bugled notes, voices
Shouted on tarmac, his blankets chilled with mist,
And smells of salt and seaweed, Pisan sun.
He’d dreamed of ships sailing the Ligurian Sea,
Passages of Vivaldi Olga played.
When they’d arrested him, they called him “Traitor.”
Of course, he didn’t think himself a traitor,
His thoughts surrounded by a wall of voices,
Confirming this was how the game was played.
Kung understood—his arrow never missed
Its distant target. Tradition was a sea
Filled with gray dolphins leaping beneath the sun.
By noon, he could no longer praise the sun.
He tried recalling if Kung had mentioned traitors;
The Florentine did: Judas, Cassius. See
Inferno XXXIV, and hushed voices,
Lucifer, three-faced, rising from the mist—
And Roosevelt between his teeth—well-played!
The doctors weren’t too busy. Two played
Chess in the medical tent. It was the sun,
They said, nerves—Aphrodite in a mist
Retrieving Paris—did that make him a traitor?
Loose canvas flapped in the breeze, the doctors’ voices:
“Check!” “Next, I’ll take your queen.” Goddess from the sea.
His speeches were made on the wrong side of the sea.
His speeches had been recorded, would be played
At trial. Already he could hear the voices.
Il Duce had found the poems “diverting.” The sun
Lit up that desk, his outstretched hand. “Traitor”–
He spat at a fly outside his cage and missed.
Evening, shirt soaked with sweat, a rancid mist
Of food smells, excrement, tide pools by the sea.
The war was nonsense. How could he be a traitor?
In Washington, he could explain. Taps played.
Dark now, the moon no substitute for sun.
Dorothy, Olga, the wind—so many voices.
The traitor’s vanity dissipates in mist.
At St. Elizabeth’s, he voiced the rumbling sea
And played with squirrels and peanuts in the sun.
*Pound spent World War II in Italy and made rather incomprehensible speeches on Italian radio. In 1945, he was arrested and imprisoned by Allied forces to be charged with treason. He was held for six months at a detention camp in Pisa, mostly confined in an outdoor cage improvised from landing-strip materials. Afterwards, he was brought back to the US, awarded the Bollingen Prize for The Pisan Cantos, and committed to St. Elizabeth’s, a psychiatric hospital in Washington, DC.