instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads

Meanwhile Take My Hand: Poems

By Kirmen Uribe

Translated from the Basque by Elizabeth Macklin

Recent news

Meanwhile Take My Hand was named a finalist for the 2008 PEN Award for Poetry in Translation. The award went to Rosmarie Waldrop’s translation of Ulf Stolterfoht’s Lingos I-IX, and the year's other finalist was Fady Joudah’s translation of The Butterfly’s Burden, by Mahmoud Darwish.

Praise for Meanwhile Take My Hand"

"...Uribe's voice speaks across cultures. He uses specifics from his homeland to articulate a vision extending beyond the Basque country. His poems may be rooted there, but they bloom outwards."—The Harvard Book Review.

"The language of the Basques—the oldest, as they are the oldest people, in Europe—doesn't have a large literature; this literature is merely 361 years old, a fraction of the people's age (for more about them, see Mark Kurlansky's marvelous The Basque History of the World, 1999). Perhaps because it is small, it is fully usable by a relative youngster like Uribe, who is 36. His poems recall writers of the sixteenth through nineteenth centuries, as well as the twentieth century, as casually as if they were neighbors only yesterday. He also recalls Raymond Carver in the same spirit. Writing of love and ordinary living, family history and the deep history of a place, superstition and technology, being native and being a bewildered alien (indelibly in the dramatic monologue 'Mohammed'), home and away, he sounds unusually wise for a young man, though not wizened; indeed, the very reverse, enough so to pen this haiku: 'Two naked bodies / in bed. The night's been mild, but / there's dew on their skin.'" —Ray Olson, Booklist
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

“Elizabeth Macklin is the first American poet to venture deep into Euskara, that unexplored territory, and she’s found there a contemporary ancient lyricist. Fishermen and modernists, history and eroticism, cuckoos and e-mails, fairy tales and newspaper clippings: Uribe’s olive tree 'lives two thousand years but tends to remember nothing.' His poems remind us that poetry tends to remember everything.”—Eliot Weinberger.

"Sharply alive, prolific of freshness, in Meanwhile Take My Hand no poem lacks its flash of discovery and verbal surprise. Here is new pleasure, access freely given to a deep culture unknown to most of us. A vivid inheritance, written and oral, comes over to us richly in these savvy, wry, and hope-filled lyrics. Uribe welcomes us with incursive thought and a ready diction, quick to strike home."—Marie Ponsot

Two poems by Kirmen Uribe


Though a favor to the feet, to the shoes
the sandals are bare skeletons.

An olive tree lives two thousand years
but tends to remember nothing.

Things that are perfect sow terror in me.
I don’t like them.

My handwriting’s skewed, my gait more so,
doing my best.


"The perennial distant memory
of the lost homeland. We don’t know
when we lost it: yesterday or tomorrow."
Sophia de Mello

In our desert there is no sand.
There are growing boys
who cross the steel barriers and
play soccer on the thruway.

There is no water in our sea.
The waves were a thousand blue horses.
Once, with a thousand soldiers
they were carried away.

In our desert there is no sand.
But there’s a giant wall of stone
which, though we can’t see it,
has encircled us; closed in, close.

There is no water in our sea,
or any wake from the past.
Our futures recline on the beach,
big with tears and broken mirrors.

There is no water in our desert.
There is no sand in our sea.


Remember to call home before too long.
To see the long reeds when they are in motion.
Not to punish myself as much as that again.
To miss the last train and wait for the next.

To wash off your injured hands in the creek.
Know there is no happiness without sadness.
Feel the glass caress of morning in the kiss.
Accept what the Devil offers once in a while.

Perhaps everything can in fact change.
Perhaps there’s any road at all somewhere.

Remember to tell what blocks you at every turn.
Not speak while watching the cormorants.
Hold out a hand to the doubts and fears.
Drive along alone without orientation.