We are two part-time academics. Ellen teaches in the English department and Jim in the IT program at George Mason University.

Poetry for Tuesday: Ruth Padel · 31 May 05

My dear Fanny,

Here are two superbly controlled poems by Ruth Padel. Each word is a nugget of pure gold:

"The Forest, the Corrupt Official and a Bowl of Penis Soup"

How can I painter Winter Landscape with Temples
and Travellers, or Five-Colour Parakeet

on Blossoming Apricot Tree?
The oracle boxes are empty

and the Minister with a Brief for Charming Explanation
has signed a licence to the army for the forest to be cut,

ordered satin linings to his red kimono
and is drinking with the General

in what he says is the best restaurant in town,
attended by two 15-year old girls;

hand-picked, translucent brown jade.
Black tree-stumps cool on the mountain,

sawmills slide out planks a hundred an hour
and white ash blooms over the river

while the courtier treats the General
to tigre penis soup, five hundred linu a bowl.

I’ll paint the barren burnt mamillated plain,
Flame of the Forest in its white and scarlet,

jack fruits and jararanda, the stars in the sky
and the naming of stars, the three definitions of twilight

in Yannan province where white-handed gibbons
used to sing their love duets.

I’ll paint the truth of illusion, a glossary,
or atmosphere optics,

And Guanyin, Guardian of Compassion.
I’ll pay particular attention to her smile.



She’s in Persia now, but she’s remembering us
As we used to be
When you were her goddess. When your songs
Were the songs she loved best. She’s new – Minted, I know, in the East among Lydian girls – A new moon, a full moon, no less, while the dew licks
The earth and the slick sky curls up its trousseau
Of sunset and rose; turning on
All available stars, scattering electric

Largesse, her well-loved razzle of gold, on the skin
Of that shivering ocean
Plus meadows of soft-eye hibiscus – But it’s a dead cert,
Darling, she’s anxious and restless.
Soft belly, soft navel
Tattooed with her longing, she’s pacing
Those plum-scented avenues thinking of you,
Your face

Through the twilight. Listen:
She’s crying for us.
The rude-petalled night has airwaved an alert,
ONE WETSILK BODY ON FIRE, distress signals racing
Through seaspray and air, the fanfare and cirrhus
Of all the hurt
Cities in their complicated dusk,
That whole impossible
Space between her – between her and us.


For "SOS" the blog software does not permit me to retype the lines with the original spacing.

Ruth Padel has written a couple of terrific books, one based on her classical scholarship, Whom the Gods Destroy (I used her analysis of madness in the chapter in my book on Trollope’s He Knew He Was Right), another, In and Out of the Mind: Greek Images of the Tragic Self. She used to be "Visiting Professor in the Modern Greek Program" at Princeton; that euphemism means she didn’t have a tenure-track position and quit or was let go after a few years of (possibly very hard) work. She was described as "a free-lance writer and prize-winnning poet" in the London Review of Books a few years ago, but maybe she has gotten a niche since. A recent volume of poems is entitled The Soho Leopard.


Posted by: Ellen

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