First Flight; Walking in Cannaregio; The Oldest Love Poem; Metal Trees
The Oldest Love Poem
Neo-Sumerian, 2037-2029 B.C.E.
Here it is, in Istanbul, under glass,
The oldest love poem ever written down,
Stored with other terra cotta tablets
Inscribed with the Sumerian alphabet—
A school grammar, a verdict about murder,
Somebody’s longish letter to his mother,
Terse business letters, a book of proverbs.
Nobody’s paying much attention, this case
Dwarfed by big Assyrian monuments,
So I can lean here looking at the poem
As long as I wish, wishing it were translated.
But no, no, of course not—how disappointed
I’d be if I could understand these scratches.
Better to imagine what it felt like
To hold wet clay in your hot living hand
Free to write anything, every cliché
Fresh and unused. —”My heart’s breaking”—
The writer gasping at such a daring image.
“I love you.”—Never put so well before
At least on clay. “My turtledove, my honey”—
The first reader of the first poem trembled
As images uncoiled from the cooled clay
As she (or why not he?) gazed at the new words
Never put together in just this way.