My Poem, “The Language of Poetry,” In Esperanto

La Lingvo de Poezio

Edukita viro, Ngo Dinh Diem,
kredis je la povo de vortoj
okazigi ŝanĝon en la mond’
d’ aferoj. Do, laÅ­ poezia gest’

li renomis la danĝerajn provincojn
okcidente de lia ĉefurbo, vokante ilin
Hứa Nghĩa, literatura kliŝaĵo kiu signifas
/promeso je lojaleco/. Li vokis

la urbocentro Khiêm Cường,
/modesta sed vigla/, anstatauxigante
la malnovan nomon Bầu Trại, /ronda bieno/.
Je la somero de 1963 la vort’

fariĝas karnon. La prezidanto celis
trompi la spiritojn de l’ aer’ kaj la ter’
kiu dumlonge loĝis en tiu loko,
sed ili ne trompiĝis, eĉ per poezio.
Note: “The Language of Poetry” appeared first in Field & was the included in my book Magical Thinking (Ohio St. Univ. Press, 2001). I was going through old files recently & came across this translation. I wish I knew who translated it, but all I know is that it was someone who contacted me online & that it appeared on an Esperanto website.

Some Autobiographical Notes: A List of Six

  1. I spent the formative years of my childhood about halfway between the Mystery Spot (Santa Cruz) & the Winchester Mystery Houseâ„¢ (San Jose), so it is no wonder that I developed–& have held onto over decades–a feel for the occult. Add to these the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum  & you have a recipe for addle-headed New Age bunkum I feel lucky to have escaped.

2. Looking back, I can’t imagine why my step-father, a fundamentalist Christian of the restricted type, took me to such places. His brand of Christianity has a terror of the occult that goes back to the burning of “witches” & continues into the present with Jack Chick’s manichæan vision of the supernatural battle between God & Satan as it plays out among human beings: they were–& still are, I guess–very big on the doctrine of original sin, especially as it applies to children. Chick’s tracts were all over the church we attended, but they failed to take hold of my spiritual imagination. Even aged 10, something told me not to be taken in.

Rest Home santa cruz
The house where the author spent the formative years of his childhood

3. But that makes my resistance to my parents’ fundamentalism appear more heroic & far more coherent than it was. As a child, I was often filled with fear.1 It didn’t help that we lived in a large Victorian house–not the Mystery House by any stretch of the imagination, but big & old enough to contain spooks. The place had been converted to a “rest home” for the ambulatory elderly & my mother had been hired by some Christian organization to run the place. We lived upstairs, though I spent a lot of time in the kitchen, the only place my mother ever seemed happy.

4. There was a stained glass window on the landing of the main stairs that depicted an abstract floral design & beneath the flowers, a scroll with the name Elsie. The local lore–passed along by a neighbor when we first moved in–was the man who built the house had given the window to his young bride on the occasion of their wedding. The story grows dark, though, as the owner is increasingly jealous. First, he locks Elsie upstairs & tells the neighbors she is ill. Eventually, he grows so possessive that he restricts her to the master bedroom. She refuses to eat & dies–she dies in the room where I sleep from age 6 to 12. There is reason the believe, then, that the house was haunted–at least in the imagination of an anxious child.

5. I had a precocious vocabulary & saying my prayers at night, I would run through the standard list of praying for my mother & father, but would always end by praying that “no catastrophes befall us in the night.” I was afraid of Elsie’s ghost, afraid the place might burn down, afraid of burglars, & just blankly afraid, especially at night.

6. They say that the Winchester Mystery House is haunted–& well it may be. It was built by the widow of William Wirt Winchester, the treasurer of the eponymous manufacturer of firearms. William was the second generation of the family to work for the company founded by his father. After William’s death, his wife Sarah built the Mystery House, which, some say, is haunted by the ghosts of all the people killed by Winchester firearms. That would be a lot of ghosts, but being incorporeal beings, perhaps a million of them could walk up & down the staircase that led only to a blank wall.

Show 1 footnote

  1. In retrospect, I think that composing &/or distributing those tracts to children should count as a form of child abuse.