The Long Lean
Tara Betts

I used to have people that I called after midnight,
a sway of voice into voice, steady breath trekking
deep into the night. I pray for sleep until daylight.

Dispel dark solitude and hear traces of waking life
as its absence ebbs in the sun. I deserved a cradle
into closed lids with the deep rise and fall of chest

into dawn, the occasional clutch out of nightmares
that jar more than any horror movie. In a space
where unrolled tapestries drifted me into sleep,

I break sharp corners of dreams, watch chunks
crumble into ether within the cosmos of skull.
The people who love you send cards, text, call

during the day. I avoid staring into computer
screen bent on insomnia. My job entails sleep,
making it through the long lean of the night.


Evening
Translated by Tara Betts

To My Absent Husband

Night is queen in our blessed home,
tropical, clean, serene, night
that maddening spirit
raising feeling to infinity.

The sky is without clouds
without colorful clouds lit, diaphanous air,
and the breeze, in gracious flight
refreshing the land you stroll
with elegant grace, when suave impulse
sways the leaves of the plantain.
Meanwhile the flower bows
already casting a shadow nearby.

All breathe in our calm home;
all is peace and quiet; only my soul
embarrassing bitterness of alienating heartache,
and you turn to humble longing thought
into bitterness
with the sad emotion of life
for the first time feeling
so anxious from the absent affection.

Where, where are you?
The heart struggling with anxiety,
you search ceaseless, hour after hour;
the house the breeze, the interrogating sky.
The home of the orphaned is an asylum;
yes, orphaned of your presence now;
that and the soul of it shaking enthusiasm,
of arrogant awe.
The hanging finery
of different Dominican villages and houses
Traveling, studying the future
germs of progress and life
that latently sleeps
in deeply felt straights to your zeal
the walls of the native city,
and on wings of these tempting dreams,
ardent in anxious living,
the praising home of pleasure
You throw your smiling abandon
to the masses and countrysides.

Return, return to tell me
how much the pen does not reveal at a given moment:
the thousand fatigues of the rough road;
your new impressions as traveler;
of your firm criterion
the judgment, always upright, never erroneous;
how you see and deserve decency
with attractive magic
attention to your severe spirit,
admiration for your haughty enthusiasm.

They come to tell me alone
if my memory accompanies your trip
when you cross the moving waves;
When the sun of ardent flashes
tired traveler, the proud countrysides
give you shelter.

Already the torrid light
once and again and again on fire
from the ethereal mountaintop
sent from the zone of your watering love,
from the distant day
in which I’m guided to the happy, calm sea
a vessel lost in the distance,
you arrive far from my vista.

Oh, how long the hours, what moments
of sad absence!
They are centuries of sad sorrow that pass slowly
that ignore how the heart holds on.

Oh boundless anguish! Who gives me
saving spaces and your anxious side
to arrive on my course!
And in this sweet and happy hour
and to that sparkling friend
the sun pales
the suspended creation sets its mind
of solemn peace, majestic boasting,
see you, feel you, and breathe with you
the calm benefactor of the night…

January 1881.

Vespertina
Salomé Ureña de Henríquez

A mi esposo ausente

Reina la tarde en nuestro hogar bendito,
la tarde tropical, limpia, serena,
que el ánimo enajena
alzando el pensamiento a lo infinito.

Sin nubes está el cielo,
sin celajes la lux, diáfano el aire,
y de la risa, que en gracioso vuelo
refrescando la tierra se pasea,
al suave impulso, con gentil donaire
el plátando sus hojas balancea,
mientras la flor se inclina
presintiendo la sombra ya vecina.

Todo respira en nuestro hogar la calma;
todo es paz y quietude; sólo mi alma
de extraño sinsabor la hiel apura,
y a su pensar rendida
suspira en su amargura
con la triste emoción del que en la vida
por vez primera del cariño ausente.

¿En dónde, en dónde estás? Así intranquilo
con su ansiedad el corazón luchando,
te busca sin cesar, hora tras hora;
la casa, el aura, el cielo interrogando.

Huérfano del hogar está el asilo;
huérfano, sí, de tu presencia ahora;
que, el alma en su entusiasmo sacudida,
y de admirar ufano
la galas del pensil dominicano
y sus pueblos y villas difrentes
recorrer, estudiando los futuros
gérmenes del progreso y de la vida
que allí duermen latentes,
sentiste estrechos a tu afán los muros
de la ciudad nativa,
y en alas de esos sueños tentadores,
ardiendo en ansia viva,
el bendecido hogar de los amores
sonriendo abandonaste
y al lose mares y campos te lanzaste?

Torna, torna a decirme
cuanto a la pluma revelar no es dado;
la mil fatigas del camino rudo;
tus nuevas impresiones de viajero;
de tu criterio firme
el juicio, recto siempre, nunca errado;
de cuanto viste y merecerle pudo
con mágico atractivo
atención a tu espírítu severo,
admiración a tu entusiasmo altivo.

Ven a decirme a solas
si mi recuerdo acompaño tu viaje
cuando cruzabas las movibles olas;
cuando del sol a los ardientes lampos,
cansado viajador, lo patrios campos
te dieron hospedaje.

Ya la tórrida lumbre
una vez y otra vez y otra en fuego
desde la etéra cumbre
envió a la zona de su amor el riego,
desde el lejano dia
en que guiado por feliz bonanza,
perdiéndose el bajel en lontananza
te llevó lejos de la vista mía.

¡Oh, qué largas las horas, qué momentos
los de la ausencia triste!
Son siglosde dolor que pasan lentos,
que ignora el corazón cómo resiste.

¡Oh angustia desmedida! ¡Quien me diera
salvar espacios y a tu lado ansiosa
llegar en mi carrera!
Y en esta hora en dulcísima y dichosa
en que al destello amigo
del sol que palidece
suspena la creación hacer parece
de paz, solemne majestuoso alarde,
verte, sentirte y respirar contigo
la bienhechora calma de la tarde….

Enero de 1881.


Tara Betts is the author of Break the Habit and Arc & Hue and the chapbooks 7 x 7: kwansabas and THE GREATEST!: An Homage to Muhammad Ali. Tara’s writing has appeared in POETRY, Essence, Gathering Ground, Black Nature Poetry: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, Bum Rush the Page, and The Break Beat Poets. Tara Betts holds a Ph.D. from Binghamton University and an MFA from New England College. She currently teaches at University of Illinois-Chicago.

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