(1909 – 1997)



"Waiting there were poems for me, poems I'd learned in class: Olga Cabral had a poem I haven't found since, "Lillian's Chair," and a poem called "Dog Hospital," by Peter Wild. I tried, as a sort of prickly numbness took over my lower half, to recite the poems in my head. I moved my lips. "

Alice Sebold, Lucky, Chapter One, ISBN: 0316096199







...Olga Cabral, the daughter of Portuguese parents.  Born in 1909 in the West Indies, she was taken as a child to Winnipeg, Canada, and shortly thereafter to New York City where she lived for the rest of her life.  She was married to the Yiddish poet Aaron Kurtz.  She began publishing poetry in the magazines in the 1930s but her first volume of poetry, Cities and Deserts, did not appear until 1959 when it appeared under the aegis of Roving Eye, a press directed by Bob Brown of American expatriate fame.  Next appeared The Evaporated Man in 1968, followed by Tape Found in a Bottle (1971), The Darkness Found in My Pockets (1976), Occupied Country (1976), In the Empire of Ice (1980), and The Green Dream (1990).  In 1993 there was a collective volume titled Voice/Over: Selected Poems (1993), which offers a sample of the poetry she published in book form for over four decades.






Lillian's Chair

for Lillian Lowenfels                                                            

Lillian has just arisen from her chair.
She has gone into her garden to commune with snails
to answer the birds' questions.
She has left her shawl and her cane
and that iron leg brace.
Won't she need her shawl in the garden?
Won't she be feeling the cold?

And she has forgotten her sling
thrown it carelessly aside -
the crumpled black satin
in which she cradled her dead arm
for seventeen years.
In one hand she took her straw basket
in the other her pruning shears:
"That bush needs seeing to," she muttered
and went looking for red clover, queen anne's lace.

What is she doing so long in the garden?
Where has she gone with her red hair?
She just grew tired of sitting and watching.
A vivid light pulled her into the leaves.
Woolen shawl, satin sling, iron brace -
she just walked out on them all.

Left us this empty chair.

from the book The Darkness in My Pockets published 1976 by Gallimaufry.


The Music of Villa-Lobos


Someone is speaking a lost language.

It is the music of Villa-Lobos.

I try to remember: where was I

born?  And from what continent

untimely torn?  I might have been

a priestess among the caymans

guarding the eye-jewel of the

crocodile god.  I might have sailed

orinocos of diamonds, seas of coconuts,

leased the equator for life and learned

my ancestral language.


But I have only some old sleeves of rain

in a trunk with spiders

to remember my ancestors by.

They have left me

nothing, and I have forgotten

that island of my birth

where the sun in his suit of mirrors

was seen once only with my vast fetal eye.


But in the music of Villa-Lobos

a god with a tower of green faces

comes striding across cities

of permafrost, and I am summoned

once again to the jaguar gardens

guarded by waterfalls

where the hummingbird people are at play

far from the cold auroras of the north.


       from the 1971 collection Tape Found in a Bottle




An Ancient Alphabet


- for Aaron                                                


Because you were writing your poems backward

an ancient alphabet

from right to left as in mirrors

because the letters resembled doorways

of cedar beams

letters like pillars

in rows like walls or palisades

because they rose like cities on the page

because they danced in black gabardine

because they were the strong black birds of prophecy

that flew out of the fires of immolation

because I saw these letters resembled commandments

commandments to live

because they stormed across the page

an ancient alphabet

like brotherly armies with linked arms

I knew your poems sere strong and beautiful

I knew they were invincible

because you were writing your poems backward

I loved you then and forever

for one and twenty years.


         from the book The Darkness in My Pockets published 1976 by Gallimaufry.





Tree full of birds


I had thought the tree

was alive with birds

hearing the fury

of so many small wings

but it was only the leaves

wanting so much to fly


And there was no wind at all

but the storm from the tree

the leaves lashing and flailing

hundreds of leaves together

wrestling with gravity


Then a noise like a great river

and airborne at last

the tree flew off into the sun

borne by constellations

of green birds

all its leaves come alive.



from VOICE/OVER Selected poems of Olga Cabral – West End Press, 1993  ISBN 0-931122-73-2




Woman Ironing


I am ironing the dress in which I ran from the prom
I am ironing my favorite dresses of long ago
I am ironing the dresses I did not have
and the ones that I did have, stitched so finely of fog
I am ironing the dress of water in which I met you
I am ironing our tablecloth of sun and our coverlet of moon
I am ironing the sky
I am folding the clouds like linen
I am ironing smoke


I am ironing sad foreheads and deep wrinkles of despair
I am ironing sackcloth
I am ironing bandages
I am ironing huge damp piles of worries
I am smoothing and patting and folding and hanging over chairs to air out and dry
I am ironing the tiniest things but for whom or for what I cannot imagine
I am ironing my shadow which is ironing me.


from VOICE/OVER Selected poems of Olga Cabral – West End Press, 1993

ISBN 0-931122-73-2



III. Poem of Wednesday


Somehow or other
I'm stuck in Wednesday
and can't get out.
You say it isn't bad
this Wednesday? Well, consider
if you've nowhere to go
but Wednesday
if the borders have been sealed
and your passport to the next
24 hours
has been lifted


I am looking for Thursday
on Wednesday
Thursday a way out
to Friday.
But I'm still here in Wednesday
a country of dolts and smugglers
Wednesday's cares the color of
gray phlegm.


Wednesday when the week sags
like a wet washline
Wednesday with its clocks
always turned to the walls
Wednesday when the bus arrives
to get you our of there
but passes you by
the Chief Smuggler waving from the driver's seat
leaving you at the curb
in the middle of Wednesday.


Wednesday with its sullen hotels
and rundown cafes
always full
no reservations
waiters pushing you out


Wednesday when nobody has met you
and you have met nobody
but clerks and smugglers
all day
and Friday
Friday with its metallic
blue butterflies
a far-off country
across sealed borders
of perilous time zones.


from the book The Darkness in My Pockets published 1976 by Gallimaufry.



O The White Towns


O the white towns with picket fences,
and the green lawns, in the blue hills –
the courthouse bells are tolling, tolling
as for a pestilence:
and schoolbells ring an hour late,
a century late, to empty halls,
and the schoolhouse fortress stands besieged, ringed round with bayonets.


O the white towns with white courthouses
under oaks that stand for a hundred years –
who is the enemy? Where is the stranger?
Why do the lock-lipped people stand
under the oaks in the courthouse square,
with ashen jaws and haunted air?
Show us, good folk, the enemy
that has come to despoil the September sun,
rot the white fences of your trim towns
and rock your cardboard pillars down –
show us, good folk, the enemy
that has brought you here at bay.


Low hang their heads. . . tight clench the fists.
A smell of fear, rank as a beast's
runs through the crowd – and fingers lock
on primeval club: an empty bottle: a hidden gun
snatched from its rusted mausoleum
on an ancestral wall:
and a man on the steps points – there!
And the crowd breaks with a yell
as the last floodgates give
and the full roaring tide of hate
sweeps onward to the schoolhouse gate.


There, in his strength, is the dreaded enemy:
two black children, clean and scrubbed
as the new September morning:
a child of ten and a child of eight
hand in hand at the schoolhouse gate:
two black children, very small
to face that shouting, dreadful wall
of faces chalk-white, paper-white,
obsessed with storm.

Children, children – why do you come
this dangerous road, this forbidden road
this morning in September?
Today's the day I came to learn.
Took a notion to go to school
and teach white folks the Golden Rule.
And if they slam the door
and lock me out, there's more of me, and more.


O you white towns with picket fences,
with your green lawns and you blue hills –
nothing will ever be the same!
Look behind the cardboard porches:
peer through the slits in the tight drawn shutters:
in the ancestral gloom
fear sifts, like a thin gray ash
staining the polish, staining the air –
but a man sits alone with his shame
and a woman sobs to herself.
The mindless mob is running outside,
the sick of soul are jeering at children,
but behind the shutters is anger and shame –
and nothing will ever be the same.


from the book “Voice/Over (Selected Poems)” 1993, West End Press

  ISBN 0-931122-73-2



What a Soldier Feels


I have to,
I have to defend my country,
I have to liberate my people,
I have to fight for my people,
I hate
I hate to see what I see,
I hate to see people dying,
I hate to see blood,
running everywhere as if it were water.

I feel,
I feel compassion,
for everyone that has to suffer in
the horrible war.

I'am just
I'am just a soldier,
it doesn't mean I
like to see violence,
blood, smoke, and hurt people,

I'am just
I'am just a soldier
who feels sad when
children cry
because of the horrible war,

I'am just
I'am just a soldier,
please forgive me.




The Breathing Night

Chin on paws the night sleeps
a huge dark animal breathing
as earth keeps time breathing
as sleeping birds respire
breathing softly in and out
wrapped in their folded wings
as fish at rest in dark waters
breathe darkness through their gills
as trees and grasses breathe
each leaf and blade together
and the whole planet turns
upon its side inhaling exhaling
dreaming its green dream.

From the book The Green Dream, Contact II Publications, 1990.


This morning the sun



This morning the sun

for the first time in 7,000,000 years

reported late

for work.

A major disaster was declared,

the mayor crawled underneath Manhattan

with his Mark Cross survival kit,

governments in Saigon

chased each other through revolving doors,

molten metal fell from the eyes of Bartholdi’s Statue

which went public and was sold at noon

on the Stock Exchange.

         Leaving our dinosaur footprints through

                   the streets of cities,

         what future tarpits will reveal our


         What amber of that eye

         preserve this age?



Sheriff Rainey shifted his plug

of Red Man tobacco

and spat clear to Washington,

staining the White House and the white walls of the


with dark runnels of derision.

Whose blood? Whose Blood

on the Lincoln Monument?

Chaney’s. Goodman’s. Schwerner’s.

They are dragging Walt Whitman through the streets

         of Mississipi.

(Bearded Jew from Brooklyn.)

They’ve got a rope around Abe Lincoln’s neck.

(What’d we do that’s wrong if we

killed two Jews and one Nigger?)


         Then all the ovens of Maidanek

         opened their mouths.

         I saw the enemy, a seven-year-old boy.

         O heard him screaming for his cooked


         I saw the granny blazing like a bundle

                   of reeds,

         heard the infant wailing in a winding-sheet

                   of flame

         in a village of thatched huts

         hit by napalm.


The stones hate us.

The eyes are bitter

Every tree is out to strangle us.

The grass mistrusts us.

We are strangers here at a million bucks a day

They say the richest man in the world has just

foreclosed Fort Knox.

A million bucks a day can buy

a President.  A war.  A world.

         But not one hair of the head of the

                   seven-year-old boy

         in a village that went up in napalm.


                   (ANOTHER LATE EDITION)


From: “Poems of Protest Old and New” Edited, with an Introduction, by Arnold Kenseth, The Macmillan Company, New York, 1968.




          To Spain


Jarama, Teruel, Guadalajara –

who does not remember?

Their sounds tap on the mind’s window

toll memory wakes and the air is hollow with knocking –

the urgent hands of a hunted brother outside in the dark…

Badajoz, Manzanar, Santander –

who does not remember?

Who has forgotten holy Guernica?


Sun, and the blood of the brigades soaked your battlefields.

They came, the brigade brothers

and left their young bones on your ancient soil.

The brigades died, and the land died with them –

but you went down fighting.


My forefathers too were Iberian,

a people gentle and proud,

like your people dark-browed, dark-souled

speaking the same tongue.

In my bones I know your sun-scarred hills

wrinkled brown and dry like the face of an old woman;

there grows the scraggly olive, covered with a fine gray dust.

in my veins I know your untamed rivers

born amid steep and lifeless crags,

dancing a wild jota down to sunbaked plains

and sudden green groves of citron and of lemon.

And in my mind I know your vast uplands,

bleak and harsh as the fate of your people,

where never the song of a bird is heard –

it is too lonely there, too windswept, too naked of trees.

Old is your land, old

with the wine-grapes of Carthage and the silver olives of the traders from Tyre.

Often have I pondered the classic names of your cities:

Toledo, Zaragoza, Valladolid;

Granada, Cordoba, Castille.

O cities of Lorca, your nightingales are silent now, your bells are stopped with dust!

O cities of El Greco, you stand on a harsh and lonely plain,

Bathed in the green light of storm!


People of Lorca -

I remember how you were learning to read.

Between battles, with your bayonets,

you scrawled the letters of the alphabet in the dust.

As the war progressed, the day came when you could write your name entire,

and proudly you signed the post-card to the Ministry of Education:

Today for the first time in centuries, I Sancho Panza, soldier of the Republic,

was able to write my name.

Thank you, dear Republic,

for not keeping me ignorant.

But now it has all been taken from you,

They want you ignorant as animals,

Your work-twisted hands must know neither pen nor bayonet.


And they want you poor,

poor with the poverty of centuries.

A heavy cross pf gold, laid on your backs, crushes you to your knees.

For the tearing cramps of hunger you are given incense no eat.

The droning of parish priests drowns out the vast groaning

from cell and dungeon-keep.

The Caudillo struts in his leather boots –

his paramours long since lie

under the Reichstag, in a criminal’s grave in Italy;

yet, with mincing steps, he tramples on your dreams.

And still, while the parish priests drone orisons,

while leather jackboots click on cobbled streets,

and eye speaks to an eye;

a heart turns over its treasure on the deep and lonely night:


They say

El Caudillo knows –

there are men in the hills who have never surrendered!

They live there as the eagles do,

they bide their time as Boabdil…


Dear land

your children are scattered far:

from Perpignan

where welcoming arms of barbed wire awaited them

to far-flung continents.

But deep underground are the shoots of the dream,

In the high pinnacles of your hearts you have never surrendered,

And eagles soar there still in lonely flight.


Our is an age of exiles,

of lands bereft and hunted men.

Yet, from the high Pyrenees, as from the mountains of Macedonia,

the unconquered shall return.

The children of Perpignan shall have their land again.

Ibarruri – you shall embrace your beloved miners.

And from far continents, from lands of friendship and from hostile lands,

from all the island abattoirs

that dot the fair Aegean,

from all the barbed-wire hells –

salud, my brothers! We shall meet again!

We shall all come home!



At the Jewish Museum

("Kaddish for the Little Children", an
environment, consisting of a room 28 x 17 x 8 ft.,

by the sculptor, Harold Paris).


Only what I bring to this room will exist here.

For the room is empty.
Empty as the inside
of a cold oven.
Narrow passageway in.
Narrow passageway out.
At the entrance, bronze scrolls.
the alphabet of mysterious
May words guide me through this place.



Did I expect to find
Did I hope for blindness?
Worse than absence of light this
gloom and evil glint of some
metal object. Is it
a box?
a receptacle for —
An artifact
of a door in the mind?
(Metal door that
clangs, clangs —.)
Walls bare.
Naked brick.
Nothing to see.



In this room there were never clocks or calendars

or daily lists of little things to be done.
No one ever had any birthdays.
No one ever put on a hat.
Neither star nor spider came here.
Nor mouse nor cricket.
There is no trace of the memory
of a swirl of dust
of a fly
crawling on the wall.


A room without history of furniture

of broken plates or cups
of diaries
lost buttons
of shreds of cloth
of colors.
A room filled with absence
a room filled with loss
a room with no address
in a city in a country
unknown to mapmakers.


Once and only once
a trembling old man leaning on a cane

passed by but did not dare
look in.


Perhaps the black metal object
is a box with names.
Perhaps nobody had a name.
It was all done with numbers.
It meant less that way.
Perhaps the box is filled with numbers.

Perhaps the walls and ceiling —
shadow walls and shadow ceiling

bulging with emptiness
are receding rapidly to the edge

of the visible universe where objects

tend to disappear



where all the names have gone

the diminutives
the sweet
beyond reach of our most cunning

and nets to catch the whispers
of the stars.