“Sonnet of Power” and other poems

Tomaž Šalamun, tr. Brian Henry


Sonnet of Power

Let lips and flesh remember the arrival

of a bright and fresh empire. Let it

be squeezed into the eyes and memory: playing with wine

and the flight of bees is for Pilate, not for pathetic

craftsmen. Let this massaging of people’s hearts

and the dripping of stalactites on their wide,

unschooled intestines receive its stamp on the green

grass: obliteration. I thus had them

compose this diet of delightful and thrilling

reading. Let them also become little

schoolkids so that this impatient stomping on the ground

settles down and submits to the natural state of things.

The events really inspired me. So let

the board with my office hours be hung up publicly.


Now I’m standing among

a spruce, which is wrapped in a diaper,

and a larch, which is wrapped in a diaper,

and a fern, which is wrapped in

a miniature diaper. My flashlight

is shining because it’s night. I cough.

My cough reaches farther than the light

of the flashlight. I unfasten the diapers from the trunks,

my eyes hurt from the miniature diaper.

I wish a wolf would come and rip me apart.

Someone fragrant walked this path

to the cabin. I turn on the flashlight again

to see where I’ve come.

Moss is made for resting hands. We sleep

and wake up on the moss.

Baby Jesus is surrounded by sheets

of moss. Not only would I like to be ripped apart

by a wolf, I want to live because I want

to throw a greengage from the corner of the room

into a pool that is a sheet of glass.

But there’s no river in the desert!

They’ll also domesticate me like that.

Mamma Merda

Geniuses are nasty, monotonous, terrible and they

remind me of a turtle’s jaw.

Shits are for people.

Shit is kind if you excrete it.

It gawks and worries about nothing.

It’s smoking like some pig.

It reminds me of the white heights of amber mountains.

Of Gregorčič, for example, specifically

of me and the bloody Soča.

This can be justified to me only by divine frenzy.

That is, divine frenzy is a democratic

institution, the property of all, mostly

children and four-year-old cousins.

They arrive together at family celebrations and say

shit and are already overcome by divine joy,

they shake and roll from happiness and

divine rapture and you say sorry! this isn’t

fair, I’m the father, the parent,

I made meat instead of having fun

with them and if I enter the role of my

son, I supplant him, and so I’m backed against the wall.

You’re blameless as long as you’re

untouchable, so it’s better

not to linger around those blotting

papers that surround you—

shit is my brother, sin is terrible—

with sons.

Tomaž Šalamun (1941-2014) published more than 50 books of poetry in Slovenia. Translated into over 25 languages, his poetry received numerous awards, including the Jenko Prize, the Prešeren Prize, the European Prize for Poetry, and the Mladost Prize. In the 1990s, he served for several years as the Cultural Attaché for the Slovenian Embassy in New York, and later held visiting professorships at various universities in the U.S.

Brian Henry is the author of eleven books of poetry, most recently Permanent State (Threadsuns, 2020), and the prose book Things Are Completely Simple: Poetry and Translation (Parlor, 2022). He has translated Tomaž Šalamun’s Woods and Chalices (Harcourt, 2008), Aleš Debeljak’s Smugglers (BOA Editions, 2015), and five books by Aleš Šteger. His work has received numerous honors, including two NEA fellowships, the Alice Fay di Castagnola Award, a Howard Foundation fellowship, and the Best Translated Book Award.

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