A Series of Palimpsests

John Donne Palimpsest


As virtuous men pass mildly away

And click ‘delete’ on their life’s file,

Messaging their FB friends to say

I’m checking out, but with a smile:


Let’s not freak out and make a scene

Cuz if we do, we’ll lose all cred;

Stop blubbering like a silly teen

Who’s just been told her puppy’s dead.


Like when someone pulls a fire alarm—

A dickish move, though no one died;

But a real fire does way more harm

Than making people wait outside.


We’re better than those fools who just

Want to get laid and can’t deal

With being apart, because lust

Is the only thing they really feel.


I feel you, baby; we’re secure

Enough in our love that absence

Makes the heart grow fonder, more sure

Of each other despite the distance.


So, by that logic, even though

I have to ghost, it’s like I’m here;

In fact, the farther away I go

It’s like, the closer I draw near.


Your kiss is like a tweet gone viral

That gets retweeted endlessly

Trending #love; it spirals

Around the world, and back to me.


And even though – stay with me, now—

That tweet (your kiss) is everywhere,

I’ll give it the emoji ‘Wow!’

And that, my dear, I’ll never share.


You are to me a perfect piece

Of code that nobody can hack;

Your algorithms give release

To me, but keep me looping back.


Milton Palimpsest


When I consider how my light is spent

Playing stupid games like Mafia Wars

Shooting perps and going for high scores

In a dark and damp room in the basement

While the landlady yells at me for rent

And upstairs neighbors stomp around the floors

Making noise while doing Sunday chores;

I’m all: SIGH — Whatever — at that moment

My guy gets killed and the deep, empty black

Seems to whisper: “Chill out. It’s no big deal.

Everyone’s got to figure out their own

Path, and life goes on, insane and out of whack;

So even if this war you fight’s not real:

It’s also cool to sit and play alone.”



Emily Dickinson Palimpsest


Because I could not stop for Death

I texted my friend Marcie

To grab him and we hooked up later

At Club Immortality.


We slow-danced — grooving

To a soft tune

That made us sway until

It jammed hard – Suddenly–


We whirled past the Pit

Where kids like to Grind

And Strobes flashed — so hot

We couldn’t tell


What was What — shivering

With sweat my dress

about to slide off — Dizzy

Death said — Let’s Chill


We paused at the Bar

Kind of a bummer — crowded

No room to sit or even

Put down your Drink–


Since then it’s been ages — but–

Just today Death texted me

And said Let’s try this

New dive called “Eternity”




Pound Palimpsest


And then went down to the ship. Then

became Men’s Rights Activists,

set queer keel to breakers,

then played the $1.5 billion powerball

27 times and lost, sat down

in a daze of tickets feeling numb-

ers falling around us, then got confused

about apostrophes, divots in green

earth filling with blood, then established

domains like “Circe.com” and “Odysseus.org”

fighting for words among cybersquatters, then

voted for Donald Trump, quoting erroneously

from the Constitution, “a man of no fortune…”

“And I stepped back” “ill-starred”

“Lie quiet Divus,” “I mean”…


So that:



H.D. Palimpsest (These Walls Don’t Fall)


On April 6, 2016, an Iraqi college student flying from L.A. to Oakland was removed from a Southwest Airlines flight after another passenger heard him speaking in Arabic on his cell phone.


An ‘inshallah’ here and there,

some threats sent (and retweeted)

through your (and my) feed:


terror of Muslims — no offense–

causing the wheels to halt, the passengers

to disembark from the plane


in hijabs, thawbs, prayerbeads

clicking, the prophecy scrawled

on a paper napkin:


there, as here, bombs resound

in the market, temple, mosque; then

as now, an ambiguous sin:


sudden death from below or

falling from the sky, here,

there, puffs of sand


mark an absence, an open room

where a wall was, or

a stump for a hand:


so in the devastation

a drone strikes, collateral damage haunts us

in the gloom:


unaware, the satellites zoom

in on the craft, ‘Reaper’

or ‘Predator’ we know not:


we type furiously on our devices;

fighting, arguing

in comment streams — we’ve got


too much to say, we post to our walls

where ‘likes’ proliferate,

hieroglyphs of modern affect;




Iraq has nothing to teach us,

we see ourselves in a funhouse mirror,

slow faces melting in hate,


letting the pressure build until

bile bursts from our fingers

(what people will say online!):


inside, mediated pathos,

outside, the whirl of a virtual floor

throws off our footing


and we scroll down, drunk,

searching for a door

that is not there:


the body was made for

no such long sitting without moving,

yet the eyeballs cling to the screen:


the ass? it has grown numb,

the heart sinks down, dead weight,

joints, muscles atrophied, skin gone sallow,


yet the dream holds:

we share the meme: we wonder

who made it? what for?



Andrew Marvell Palimpsest (“The Grower’s Song”)


Used to be I had the world by the tail–

The lush buds fresh and sticky,

Green and kind behind the house

All of it, with me, a giant selfie

Till this babe Julie came and she

What I do to the pot, does to my head and me.


Like, for real–but somehow even while

That happened the buds grew bigger

And toking ’em, you got an even better

Buzz than before, no doubt–

Since Julie hit the scene and she

What I do to the pot, does to my head and me.


Ungrateful custies — how could you

Quit buying your dank from my stash?

And hang out smoking strange bongs

While I sit here, short on cash?

Cuz Julie came around and she

What I do to the pot, does to my head and me.


And tho we once were buds (get it?)

I’ll have my revenge — I’ll pack

Us all in a great big bowl

And light it up, smoke the whole

Damn thing — Julie’s in the house and she

What I do to the pot, does to my head and me.


And so, my plants, who’ve been

More like me than myself, I’ll go

Up in a giant puff of smoke,

Forgotten like a stale old joke,

Since Julie’s here, and she

What I do the pot, does to my head and me.







Translator’s Note


These “translations” – or “adaptations,” “remixes,” etc. – of canonical poems in English resulted from the confluence of scholarly and creative pursuits, both of which continue to inform my evolving idea of translation. I had long been working on a translation of Virgil’s Aeneid (books I-VI were published by Shearsman Books in 2015) that at times wanders far afield of the verse structure and sense of the Latin, and more recently, an even freer take on the Eclogues had seemed like a way-station for further experiments. In spring 2016, I had the opportunity to teach a class on poetry and poetics, and circumstances required that I use the Norton Anthology of Poetry for the textbook. Without recourse to my usual trove of small-press volumes, chapbooks, and alternative collections of verse, I was forced to engage – and guide my students through an engagement – with a large number of poems I hadn’t spent a lot of time thinking about in many years. A sort of semester-long march through some of the “greatest hits” of poetry in English, attempting to elucidate the difficulties of the poems and enjoying the students’ sense of wonder at the boldness of John Donne, the courage of H.D., the mysterious power of Emily Dickinson … A sense of wonder I had felt once upon a time, and now found myself feeling again. Applying some of the creative, discursive techniques I’d been developing in my Latin translation work seemed a natural thing to do – a fun way to “pop the hood and see how the poem worked,” as I was constantly challenging my students to do in classroom discussions – and indeed I learned a lot about the construction of these classic, canonical poems, technical issues of rhetoric and rhythm I never would have thought about if I hadn’t attempted these versions. More importantly I discovered possibilities; as Chris Piuma has written, a “queer mode of translation” is “one that overflows, overjoyed, overcome
 with potentials.” Joy and potential is what I found in the originals, and what I aspired to with these translations.



David Hadbawnik is a poet, translator, and medieval scholar. His Aeneid Books 1-6 was published by Shearsman Books in 2015. In 2012, he edited Thomas Meyer’s Beowulf (Punctum Books), and in 2011 he co-edited selections from Jack Spicer’s Beowulf for CUNY’s Lost and Found Document Series. He is the editor and publisher of Habenicht Press and the journal kadar koli, a co-editor of eth press, which focuses on creative interactions with medieval texts, and associate director of punctum books. Recent poems and translations have appeared in Blackbox Manifold and seedings.
 Original Artwork by Michael Welsh. He is an artist, writer, and curator living and working in Brooklyn, NY. He is a founding member of GWC Investigators, a paranormal research group and publisher of New World UNLTD. Welsh's work has been exhibited throughout the United States at High Desert Test Sites, Joshua Tree, CA; American Medium, Brooklyn, NY; Printed Matter, New York, NY; Appendix Project Space, Portland, OR; Bric Arts Media, Brooklyn, NY; GCA, Brooklyn, NY; Katherine E. Nash Gallery, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN;  Helper Gallery, Brooklyn, NY; among others. His artists books can be found on the Publication Studio and Social Malpractice Publishing labels.



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