Smoke by Len Krisak


—translated from Theophile Gautier’s Emaux et Cemées, 1852-1872

Down there, under sheltering trees:
A hunchbacked hovel of the poor—
Walls crumbling; roof down on its knees.
Moss blots the threshold of the door.

The window’s shutter is its mouth.
But like a tepid winter breath
Exhaled from some living mouth,
This hovel shows it’s far from death.

It stands there shabby, closed-in, shut.
But smoke is spiralling. A corkscrew’s
Thin blue thread curls from that hut:
Its soul, which carries God the news.



Original French

Là-bas, sous les arbres s’abrite
Une chaumière au dos bossu;
Le toit penche, le mur s’effrite,
Le seuil de la porte est moussu.

La fenêtre, un volet la bouche;
Mais du taudis, comme au temps froid
La tiède haleine d’une bouche,
La respiration se voit.

Un tire-bouchon de fumée,
Tournant son mince filet bleu,
De l’âme en ce bouge enfermée
Porte des nouvelles à Dieu.





The mobile unit speeding up our street
(Past Go Slow. Children) comes on Channels 5
And 4, already there. Three mikes compete
To milk my kindly elder neighbor of
The facts: “You found this baby still alive?”
Just so. Half Rhea’s stone, half Marner’s love,
The cast-off thing in warm, clean swaddling clothes
Lay on the stoop. The bell rang. Trick-or-treat
With just one child in sight, no Arnold’s Wragg
To charge. A puling, and my neighbor froze
Before he bent and scooped it, took it in,
Dialed 9-1-1. That night, he would not brag:
“You know, it’s just a sin. It’s just a sin.
And yet how scared she was, God only knows.”

Len Krisak
Len Krisak’s most recent books are Afterimage (Measure Press) and the New Poems of Rilke (Boydell & Brewer). With work in the Hudson, Antioch, and Sewanee Reviews, he is the recipient of the Richard Wilbur and Robert Frost Prizes, and a four-time champion on Jeopardy!.

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