The poetry of Micheal Cuanach

Month: June, 2011

Sister, My Love

After a lost ghazal by Jalal Ad-din Rumi              


Dear one, in the households

women are preparing the evening meal.


I once knew your thoughts.


Your love is eloquent

but silent. I listen for your voice.


You are somewhere in the world.


I see you in your absence.

My sister, my love.


Your memory destroys my heart.




Translated from a Letter Sent from Vladivostok by a French Officer, 1919

Canadian soldiers in Siberia in 1919

Some years ago a friend  who works in the field of gentrifying old neighborhoods in New York  found some letters, written in French, in an abandoned apartment building and asked me to translate them.  My French, however, is not very good…

At a Russian barracks called the Riviera near Vladivostok

March 19, 1919

Dear everyone,

It is finally ….to give you my news in a certain fashion… As I said in my letter of February, the (Name of boat – Tomax?) is already at the dock.

This embarkation is going to happen immediately.

There was nothing yesterday but then all our baggage and our gear….

to the Riviera and…a train.. will carry us there in an hour. I have had a pleasant surprise!

The immense barracks lie in a valley with stations and diverse stores. The …who dominate the seaside and the bay… in the village can all be found within twelve kilometers

I have no fear of finding barracks life… I would say it is perfect but…

I have the feeling that we are at the beginning of a (constitutional?) drive…important militarily and internationally.

It is a true novel but an actual situation and the Allied organization   (blurred) !  Something in our newspapers does not give good sense here and the need will be there

the need is great for a unique order and …I believe by the Japanese!

The Americans are content to do business. (Business is business.)

And we…. too much of the world.

The French are near us in Omsk and same plus less or organize a badly defined front on the coast of the Aral Sea.

They are all more active than the British who are not as bad as the Canadians.

The town presents a curious aspect with the (Tajiks?), the Italians, the free Russians…

I find these races almost as curious as the Japanese and the Chinese.

The police are assured by the international detachment and all is calm.

Up to fifty kilometers from the city.

The cannon (or trucks) of the Allied fleet inspire great respect.

In this fashion all regard them as watch dogs (literally earthenware dogs)

and regret the trading of one for the other…

The population appears to be majority Bolshevik but not able to say because the Allies provide them with food and without them, they will be in a famine.

Life is made very simple for the Europeans and Americans who have a beneficial exchange rate.

The ruble goes at this moment …eleven… one hundred fifty francs is worth more than 300 rubles.

We are rich gentleman in this court here…and the high life is for us very cheap.

Diverse rumors circulate and are all about the situation in general.

In all cases elementary precautions border on preventing an attack on the city but not far….

Near Karbine but further than Omsk(?)

The security of the railroad is confronted by small detachments that get on the train in a hunt for loot.

Those people disperse when they pass through (blurry)

they arrive and wait for rear attacks on the food or the munitions trains.

Because of this it is necessary to escort them all.

The travel service is organized almost all the way to Karbine but not quite that far.

The scheduling is irregular and …..

The biggest job of the soldiers who preceded us is to protect these trains and their passengers.

Others drive the trucks and the autos that come from America.

I ignore in this fashion absolutely that which lies ahead…stay here for now at first.

Here it may not be interesting but it is peaceful…

To go to Vladivostok or depart from Omsk but again it is necessary to arrive in order to leave for France.

If I am here, there are two routes, the Orient Express to Marseille and the return via San Francisco, going backwards.

If I am in Omsk the return will be via the Black Sea and the Mediterranean after leaving from Odessa.

One way or another, it will take me at least 45 to 50 days and it is impossible for me to foresee where or when from here.

In any case, don’t worry about me.

The temperature is that of a normal winter at home.

Yesterday there was a little snow but today the weather is clear and dry.

Good food.

Good lodging.

Heat and warm clothes.

I am able to await the return with patience.

I hope this letter finds you all in good health, Papa, Mama (or Emma?), Emmanuelle, Lea, and the little ones. In any case, I send to you all my greatest affection and despite the distance, the greatest kisses from your son and brother.

(Signature illegible)

It is clear that the writer was serving in the Allied forces sent to Russia to suppress the Bolshevik Revolution, and may be a French Canadian.  He knows the mission is a failure. He is eager to return home. There is no way of knowing if he ever did.

The University of Victoria has a good introduction to Canada’s Siberian Expedition.

The Lady Tibors to her Husband, Bernard de Baux


My beautiful husband, I tell you truly:

since the summer morning

when you rode into Serignan,

I have desired you without ceasing.


I have one regret:

that we did not kiss

in the courtyard at Grasse

when the snow was falling.



Little is known of the Lady Tibors, said to be born in 1130 and married to Bernard de Baux, who may have died in the Holy Land. She was one of the few women troubadours and wrote in Provencal. A lombard chansonnier in the Vatican Library says this of her:

Na Tibors si era una dompna de proensa dun castel d’En Blancatz que a nom sarrenom. Cortesa fo et enseignada. Auinens e fort maistra e saup trobar. E fo enamorada e fort amada per amor, e per totz los bos homes daquela encontrada fort honrada, e per totas las ualens dompnas mout tensuda e mout obedida. E felz aquestas coblas e mandet las al seu amador. Bels dous amics ben uos puesc en uer dir.[1]

Na Tibors was a lady of Provence, from a castle of En Blacatz called Sarenom. She was courtly and accomplished, gracious and very wise. And she knew how to write poems. And she fell in love and was fallen in love with, and was greatly honored by all the good men of that region, and admired and respected by all the worthy ladies. . .


Her only surviving poem was not to her husband:



Bels dous amics, ben vos posc en ver dir

que anc non fo qu’ieu estes ses desir

pos vos conven tene per fin aman;

ni anc no fo qu’ieu non agues talan,

bels dous amics, qu’ieu soven nous vezes;

ni anc no fo sazons que m’en pentis,

ni anc no fo, se vos n’anes iratz,

qu’ieu agues joi tro que fosetz tornatz;

ni [anc]. . .

Four haiku that mention snow by Kobayashi Issa

snow is a blessing

drifting onto my bed –

from Amida’s heavenly land![1]




is this to be

my grave –

under five feet of snow?[2]





on her straw hat  –

morning snow![3]




the snow melts and

suddenly the whole town –

is full of children![4]




[1] arigata ya fusama no yuki mo jodo yori

[2] kore ga maa tsui no sumika ka yuki goshaku

[3]o kiku no sandara-bushi ya kesano yuki

[4] yuki tokete mura ippai no kodamo kana