The Sun’s Taste

Ekeko

Ancient Musical Legend

Excerpts from Poems from My Diary

The Clay of Time has Grown Soft

The clay of time has grown soft. The kneading of sunset
after sunset has made it rise. A tiny grain of sand
has suddenly split open in a dream to dispel a mystery,
and only the owl weeps from a silver lock of tangled hair.

The dead have been upright now for quite some time!
They hastily escaped here from the other world, from their heavy load,
and are doing yoga, playing chess and are free and intellectual,
laying siege to the opera and pecking out its box office.

Does anyone still remember who tore their limbs apart?
With weak and unsound teeth one should chew with extra care.
These dead love abstract art and being at loggerheads,
instead of the mark of Cain, Cain wears a mark of Abel.

And only a blind seer, flayed down to the bone,
a prototypical prophet who has never died
and no one knows he rolls away the darkness, could he be the sun?—
He runs from abyss to abyss rescuing the smiles of the sacrificed.

 


Those Green Eyes From Long-Long-Long Ago…

Those green eyes from long-long-long ago are gone. That fir-tree
forest green. Still, as I do just barely see the eyes, it’s a sign:
They see me. And fir-branch-green is also my envy
of starved ghosts, of sounds and of voices.

If God would only recreate their green, that dark green,
He would truly be God. How could they vanish?
I’m wandering in a forest: the sun burns through a cobweb,
green tears rush from green caves among roots.

If that green set of eyes would shut for all time,
worm-eaten seconds would take the place of eternity.
I wander in a forest: it is night. A root pulses, still believing,
after all, the sun through the cobweb here has not gone away.

They see me, that dark green, they wait for a sign,
they shiver side by side with their face opposite mine.
And from the green caves, rushing tears swim
into my visions and leave me their shine.

 


In Memory of Uri Tsvi Greenberg

When all had scattered from the Mount of Olives
and only one remained within the broken stone,
each had gone toward home, as always, alone,
and he, from the burned-out cliff, accompanied them in silence.

And just then a white flame of soul from his deceased breath
reduced the wreath that he had hated during life to ash.
For if he had been covered in scorpion-like thorns—
his deceased fingers would have drawn them to his skull.

And two thin, small voices, and in both exalted tears
came near, settling in like a candle in sand
at grave’s head: his mother’s mournful tears,
and the blooming tears from the trees in his garden.

And just then Jerusalem also approached, in a sunset
that never fully sets, never sets over times and eras—
and she, in the armor of her never-setting twilight,
kissed her pious poet through the face of rock.

 


A Face in the Window

A face in the window. It’s my neighbor with the blue glasses,
resembling flashes of blue lighting in rain: “Take pity
and come quickly to my doorstep, you will hear a mystery
of weeping and perhaps be able to explain it for me.”

We come to his doorstep. My neighbor in the blue glasses
rises on his toes to reach the mezuzah and bring it to his ear,
as if it were the fiddler in a seashell: “Is it my creator
weeping there, my child, or my wife, who was burned to ashes?

The door is open. Yortsayt candles with red peyes are burning.
I become a brother to my neighbor’s fate, and my ear
detects more clearly, like him, the weeping from his mezuzah:
Weeping from his wife of ashes, his child, or his creator?

The yortsayt candles with red peyes are drowning in the room.
The door slams behind us. Outside plays the fiddler.
“I will tell you the truth, as good neighbors do:
The weeping comes from all three separately, all three of them together.”

 


Our Terror Is the Terror of Ponar and Majdanek

Our terror is the terror of Ponar and Majdanek,
Their grass and chamomile—our bread until death.

Our hands will feel shame, though we’ll raise a glass:
To whom? To our savior? To the bliss of a glance?

Our breath belongs to a different kind of society:
To a mother, a grandfather, a snow-buried baby.

We’ll mine the earth the sun has snuffed out, to dig down
all the way to our language of hearth and hometown.

With a flash of iron lightning—with a pen instead of a shovel.
Twenty-two the number of strings on the fiddle.

Our blood will still feed string after string,
we’ll play them with a faith that’s complete.

We’ll play them like so, until the remembrance
splits open within us: for a world full of people.

 


It Drew Us Both Here….

It drew us both here, both the seashell and me,
to bring us together on the seashore in Yaffo,
so that within the seashell that being could send me
a greeting from its creator in the grottos.

The shell around the small pink body is still tender in immaturity,
and warm: a shell-child born in a woman’s head covering.
Still reflecting the caress of its distant arm
and the anguished parting with faultless form.

If I could be the smith of such a seashell,
with the phantom weeping sea and struck up bit of feeling,
with its armor speckled with tiny rainbow rings
and within the rain also rushing, a half shell or a whole:

I would tear myself away from syllables and thoughts—
the ribs of the soul—and like nothing in my nature,
lift the sea onto my shoulders in thanks
and gleam like its gull.

 

די ליים פון צײַט איז ווייך געוואָרן. ס’גייט שוין אויף די קנעטעניש
פון זונפאַרגאַנג נאָך זונפאַרגאַנג. עס ווערט שוין באַלד געשפּאָלטן
אַ זעמדעלע אין חלום צו צעטרייבערן אַ רעטעניש,
און בלויז די סאָווע פּלאַנכעט פון א זילבערלעכן קאָלטן.

די מתים זענען לאַנג שוין אויפגעשטאַנען! זענען האַסטיק
אַנטרונען דאָ פון יענער–וועלט, פון הויקערדיקער משׂא
און מאַכן יאָגאַ, שפּילן שאַך און זענען פרײַ און גאַסטיק,
באַלעגערן די אָפּערע און פּיקן אויס איר קאַסע.

געדענקט נאָך עמעץ ווער עס האָט צעריסן זײַנע גלידער?
צו וואַקלדיק און שוואַך די ציין מע זאָל אַזוינס צעקײַען.
די מתים האָבן ליב אַבסטראַקטע קונסט און קידער–ווידער,
אַנשטאָט אַ קַין–צייכן טראָגט אַ הבל–צייכן קַין.

און בלויז אַ בלינדער זעער ביזן אָפגרונט אַ צעשונדענער,
אַ קדמונדיקער נביא וואָס איז קיין מאָל ניט געשטאָרבן
און קיינער ווייס ניט: קײַקלט ער דעם חושך, איז די זון דען ער? —
לויפט אויסלייזן פון תּהום צו תּהום די שמייכלען פונעם קרבן.

 


ניטאָ די גרינע אויגנפּאָר פון לאַנג–לאַנג–לאַנג. די גרינע
ווי יאָדלעוואַלד. נאָר קוים איך זע די אויגן, איז אַ סימן:
זיי זעענ מיך. און יאָדלע–צווײַגן–גרין איז אויך מײַן קינאה
צו גײַסטער אויסגעהונגערטע, צו קלאַנגען און צו שטימען.

ווען גאָט וואָלט בלויז באַשאַף זייער גרין דאָס טונקל–גרינע,
ער וואָלט געווען דער זעלבער גאָט. ווי קאָנען זיי ניט–ווערן?
איך בלאָנדזשע אין אַ וואַלד: עס ברענט די זון אין פּאָוועטינע,
פון גרינע היילן שורשען צווישן וואָרצלען גרינע טרערן.

ווען די אָ גרינע אויגנפּאָר וואָלט אונטערגיין אויף אייביק,
אַנשטאָט אַן אייביק וואָלטן זײַן צעווערעמטע סעקונדן.
איך בלאָנדזשע אין א וואַלד: ס’איז נאַכט. אַ וואָרצל שלאָגט נאָך גלייביק,
די זון אין פּאַוועטינע איז נאָך אַלץ דאָ ניט פאַרשוווּנדן.

זיי זעען מיך, די טונקל–גרינע, וואַרטן אויף אַ סימן,
זיי ציטערן בײַנאַנד מיט זייער פּנים וויזאַווי מיר.
און שורשענדיקע טרערן פון די גרינע היילן שווימען
אַרײַן אין מײַנע זעונגען און לאָזן זייער גלי מיר.

 


לזכר אורי–צבי גרינבערג

ווען אַלע זענען זיך צעגאַנגען פונעם הר–הזיתים
און איינער איז אין אויסגעהאַקטן פעלדז פאַרבליבן,
אַוועק איז איטלעכער אַהיים אַלייניקער ווי תּמיד
און ער, פון אויסגעברענטן פעלדז, באַגלייט האָט זיי אַ שטומער.

און יעמאָלט האָט אַ ווײַסער ליכטזײַל פון זײַן טויטן אָטעם
געמאַכט צו אַש די קרענץ וואָס ער האָט פײַנט געהאַט בײַם לעבן.
אַז אויבן וואָלטן אים באַדעקט סקאָרפּיאָנענדיקע דערנער —
די טויטע פינגער וואָלטן זיי אַ צי געטאָן צום שאַרבן.

און צוויי קול–דממה–דקהס און אין ביידע הויכע טרערן
דערנענטערט האָבן זיך צו אים, געשטעלט זיך בײַם צוקאָפּן,
ווי ליכט אין זאַמד: לוויהדיקע טרערן פון זײַן מאַמע
און בליִענדיקע טרערן פון די ביימער אין זײַן גאָרטן.

און יעמאָלט האָט זיך אויך צום פעלדז דערנענטערט אין אַ שקיעה,
וואָס גייט ניט אונטער, גייט ניט אונטער איבער צײַט און צײַטן —
ירושלים, און זי האָט אין פּאַנצערדיקער שקיעה,
וואָס גייט ניט אונטער, דורכן פעלדז אַ קוש געטאָן איר פײַטן.

 


אַ קאָפּ אין פענצטער

אַ קאָפּ אין פענצטער. ס’איז מײַן שכן אין די בלויע ברילן
געגליכן צו אַ רעגן מיט אַ בלויע בליץ אין איינעם:
‘‫’דערבאַרעם זיך און קום געשווינדער צו מײַן שוועל, וועסט הערן
אַ רעטעניש–געוויין און אפשר קאָנען עס באַשיידן.”

מיר קומען צו זײַן שוועל. מײַן שכן אין די בלויע ברילן
דערלאַנגט זיך אויף די פיספינגער אַ הייּב צו דער מזוזה
און שעפּט זי אָן אין אויער, ווי דעם פידלער אין אַ מושל:
‘‫’צי וויינט עס מײַן פאַרברענטע פרוי, מײַן קינד, צי מײַן באַשעפער?”

די טיר איז אָפן. ס’ברענען יאָרצײַטליכט מיט רויטע פּיאות.
איך ווער אַ גורל–ברודער צו מײַן שכן, און מײַן אויער
שעפּט אָן העלהערעריש, ווי ער, ס’געוויין פון זײַן מזוזה:
געוויין פון זײַן פאַרברענטער פרוי, זײַן קינד, צי זײַן באַשעפער?

די יאָרצײַטליכט מיט רויטע פּיאות טרינקען זיך אין קאַמער.
ס’פאַרהאקט זיך הינטער אונדז די טיר. דער פידלער איז אין דרויסן.
‘‫’איך וועל דיר זאָגן אמתדיק, ווי צווישן גוטע שכנים:
דאָס וויינען אַלע דרײַ באַזונדער, אַלע דרײַ אין איינעם.”

 


אונדזער שרעק איז די שרעק פון פּאָנאַר און מײַדאַנעק

אונדזער שרעק איז די שרעק פון פּאָנאַר און מײַדאַנעק,
אונדזער ברויט ביזן טויט — זייער גראָז און רומיאַנעק.

מיר’ן הייבן אַ כּוס, נאָר די האַנט וועט זיך שעמען:
פאַרן גליק פון אַ בליק? פאַרן גואל? פאַר וועמען?

אונדזער אָטעם געהערט צו אַן אַנדער מין עדה:
צו אַ קינד אונטער שניי, צו אַ מאַמע, אַ זיידע.

מיר’ן גראָבן די ערד וואָס די זון האָט פאַרלאָשן
צו דערגראָבן זיך צום עיר–והיימישן לשון

מיט אַן אײַזערנעם בליץ — מיט אַ פּען אַנשטאָט רידל.
צוויי און צוואַנציק די צאָל פון די סטרונעס בײַם פידל.

אונדזער בלוט וועט נאָך אָנקאָרמען סטרונע נאָך סטרונע,
מיר’ן שפּילן אויף זיי מיט אַ פולער אמונה.

מיר’ן שפּילן אַזוי, ביז עס וועט זיך צעשפּאַלטן
דער זכּרון בײַ אונדז: פאַר אַ וועלט מיט געשטאַלטן…

 


געצויגן האָט אונדז ביידן דאָ

געצויגן האָט אונדז ביידן דאָ, סײַ מיר און סײַ דער מושל,
מיר זאָלן שליסן קאַנטשאַפט אויפן ים–ברעג אויפן יפוער,
אָז יענע זאָל פון וואַסערהיילן ברענגען מיר אין מושל
אַ גרוס פון איר באַשעפער.

נאָך קינדיש–ווייך דאָס פּאַנצערל אַרום דעם ראָזן לײַבל
און וואַרעמלעך: אַ מושלקינד געבוירן אין אַ הײַבל.
נאָך שפּיגלט זיך די צערטלעניש פון אָפּגעשיידטן אָרעם
און פּײַנלעכע געזעגעניש מיט שלמותדיקער פאָרעם.

ווען קאָנען וואָלט איך זײַן דער גאָלדשמיד פון אַזאַ אָ מושל,
מיט קיינעמסדיקן ים–געוויין און אויפגעשפּילטן חושל,
מיט רעגן–בויגן–רינגעלעך געשפּרענקלטע אין פּאַנצער
און וווּ עס רוישט אַ רעגן אויך, אַ האַלבער צי אַ גאַנער:

אַרויסגעריסן וואָלט איך זיך פון זילבן און געדאַנקען —
די ריפּן דער נשמהס; און ווי גאָרניט אין מײַן טבע,
אַ הייב געטאָן דעם ים אויף מײַנע אַקסלען אים צו דאַנקען
און בלאַנקען ווי זײַן מעווע.

 

Translator’s Note: 

Though these six poems are all taken from the same collection—the expanded edition of Abraham Sutzkever’s Poems from My Diary, published in 1985—writing a forward for all of them as one is difficult, as I have something different to say about each. “The Clay of Time has Grown Soft” strikes me as a work of social criticism. I suspect it may have been influenced by the decline of the social movements of the 1960s, combined with the after-effects of the wars Sutzkever had survived as a European and an Israeli, particularly the then-recent Six Day War of 1967, and the Yom Kippur War of 1973.

Uri Tsvi Greenberg, whom Sutzkever eulogizes in one of these poems, was a towering figure in Yiddish and Hebrew poetry, but, also, in some ways, Sutzkever’s opposite, a reality far from evident in Sutzkever’s respectful poem. While Greenberg’s poetry is widely respected across spectrums, Greenberg took what many would characterize as extreme political positions. Greenberg’s views were influenced by his unlikely survival of the brutal 1918 pogroms in Lvov; by the 1929 pogroms in Hebron, which shaped his outlook on the Israeli-Arab conflict; and by the Holocaust, which he foresaw in his writing and in which he lost his entire family.

While both Greenberg and Sutzkever had initially written poetry in Yiddish and Hebrew, Sutzkever settled on Yiddish early, refusing to switch after he arrived in Tel Aviv in 1947. Yiddish was still his language of “hearth and hometown,” as he writes in “Our Terror is the Terror of Ponar and Majdanek,” and he wanted it to be part of Israel’s future. Greenberg, on the other hand, published his first books in both languages, but eventually abandoned Yiddish decisively, convinced that Hebrew embodied the only path forward for Jews. He felt the same about Israel, and viewed any Jewish desire to remain in Europe as dangerously misguided. Though Sutzkever believed in Zionism, he also continuously expressed longing for his European hometown, Vilna, and his elegy for Greenberg is followed in the Diary collection by poems in which that yearning is particularly acute.

Before the Holocaust, before his migration to Israel, and despite the heavily political atmosphere of his native Vilna, Sutzkever began his poetic career as a poet of nature and this preoccupation remained with him throughout his life. In his work, nature embodies a creative force in and of itself, as evidenced in “Those Green-Green Eyes” and “It Drew Us Both Here.” The first of these two poems recalls the forests of Eastern Europe, while the second takes place in what may have been Sutzkever’s favorite part of Tel Aviv: Yaffo, known more commonly in Arabic as Jaffa. He often wrote in a café there by the sea.

Lastly, a “Face in the Window,” features a character who has appeared, with some variation, in Sutzkever’s short fiction as well as his poetry. The ideal of neighborliness is one that Sutzkever often returned to, no doubt influenced by having survived a tragedy in which neighbors turned on one another—a fellow survivor of the Vilna Ghetto once described hearing the anthem of the Nazi party being sung by the Lithuanians who lived next door.

 

Special Guest Judge, Piotr Florczyk:

I was immediately struck by the visionary undertow of these poems, their author wearing a mask of “a blind seer” and running “from abyss to abyss rescuing the smiles of the sacrificed.” While translators are rarely afforded heavenly powers, technically speaking, their work is no less salutary. “A root pulses,” the poet writes, “still believing, / after all, the sun through the cobweb here has not gone away,” and so do we, the readers, thanks to the translator Maia Evrona’s deft hand, as we discover with each new line a home for own hopes and fears. These timeless poems—“the ribs of the soul”—remind us of the need to praise our world in chorus with those who came before and those who are about to take our place.

—Piotr Florczyk is a poet, essayist, and translator of Polish poetry. His most recent books
are East & West, a volume of poems from Lost Horse Press, and two volumes of
translations published by Tavern Books, My People & Other Poems by Wojciech
Bonowicz and Building the Barricade by Anna Świrszczyńska, which won the 2017
Found in Translation Award and the 2017 Harold Morton Landon Translation Award.
Florczyk, a doctoral candidate at the University of Southern California, lives in Los
Angeles with his wife and daughter. For more info, please visit: www.piotrflorczyk.com

 

Maia Evrona’s poems, as well as excerpts from her memoir on growing up with a chronic illness, have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Valparaiso Poetry Review, and elsewhere. Her translations of Abraham Sutzkever were awarded a 2016 Translation Fellowship from the NEA and have appeared in Poetry Magazine, The Kenyon Review online and other venues. She also loves to sing. Her website is http://www.maiaevrona.com/.

Abraham Sutzkever, born in 1913 in modern-day Belarus, is a legendary figure of the Yiddish literary world, with a poetic oeuvre numbering well over 1,000 pages. A survivor of the Vilna Ghetto and a former partisan, he immigrated to Mandatory Palestine just before the founding of the State of Israel and passed away in Tel Aviv in 2010, at the age of 96.

Wulf & Eadwacer

Gabo Finalist Winter/Spring 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Translator’s Note:

We know the Old English poem “Wulf ond Eadwacer” due only to its survival in the Exeter Codex, the largest existing anthology of Anglo-Saxon poetry, which dates back to the 10th century. Since no original manuscript for the poem exists, the date of its composition, its provenance, and even the identity of its composer are all unknown.

Even within the poem itself, ambiguities abound: the identity of the speaker is unknown, while the relationship of the speaker to both Eadwacer and Wulf, the poem’s setting, and its narrative content are all subject to conflicting interpretations. The prevailing interpretation of the poem’s narrative is as a love triangle in which the unnamed speaker (who is represented as “&” in my translation) is separated from her lover, Wulf, by threat of violence from Eadwacer, who is commonly viewed as either her husband and/or captor. It is also ambiguous in this interpretation if the “cub” to which the speaker refers is her and Wulf’s lovechild or her and Eadwacer’s legitimate son. However, the poem has also been interpreted as a riddle, a ballad, a wen charm, an elegy, and a beast fable. As Peter S. Baker notes in “The Ambiguity of Wulf and Eadwacer,” half of the poem’s nineteen lines “pose lexical, syntactical, or interpretive problems.” [1]

But the challenge of interpreting the poem is only part of what makes “Wulf ond Eadwacer” an anomaly. The poem is also formally radical, both for its departures from Anglo-Saxon prosody, and for its inclusion of elements like repetition, and refrain, which were uncommon in Old English poetry. For this, and other reasons, some scholars even believe that this compellingly mysterious lyric poem might itself be a translation from the Old Norse [2] .

As the act of translation cannot be divorced from interpretation, the highly enigmatic nature of “Wulf ond Eadwacer” would seem to begird the translator, to restrict the approaches, the strategies, and the outcomes available to her. Indeed, it seems sensible to decide what a thing is and what kind of effect it should have on the reader before translating it. But the reader should not have to pay for the translator’s convenience, and perhaps the least faithful translation of this enigmatic, polyvalent anomaly of an Old English poem that might have been born Scandinavian in the first place would be to present it in the absence of its complexity, to pin the poem down to a singular, definitive interpretation, to lock it into a linear narrative that it never loved.

The translation at hand aims to release the poem back into its radical complexity—to restore the lacunae, the indeterminacy, and the strangeness that makes the Anglo Saxon version of “Wulf ond Eadwacer” so haunting. Wulf & Eadwacer uses fragments of the original Old English both to re-acquaint the reader with her etymological roots and to make her a bit of a stranger in her own language. Code-switching between Old English and Modern English, Wulf & Eadwacer embraces the proto-feminist, disjunctive voice of the original poem so that its enigmatic nature and plurality can fully be explored for the first time.

 

[1] Baker, Peter S. “The ambiguity of ‘Wulf and Eadwacer.’” Studies in Philology, Vol. 78, No. 5, Texts and Studies, 1981. “Eight Anglo-Saxon Studies.” University of North Carolina Press.

[2] Danielli, Sonja. “Wulf, Min Wulf: An Eclectic Analysis of Wolf-Man.” Neophilologus, Vol. 91, Spring 2007: 505-524.

 

M.L. Martin is a prize-winning poet and translator whose experimental translations of Old English can be found in ANMLY (f.k.a. Drunken Boat), Arkansas International, Brooklyn Rail In Translation, The Literary Review, and Waxwing. Her poetry has appeared in Denver Quarterly, DIAGRAM, EVENT: poetry & prose, The Fiddlehead, The Massachusetts Review, PRISM international, and many other Canadian and American literary journals. She is the recipient of the Theresa A. Wilhoit Fellowship, the Bread Loaf Translators’ Fellowship, and the Inprint Verlaine Prize in Poetry. She currently lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she is a Tulsa Artist Fellow. Find more of her work at www.M-L-martin.com.

An Anonymous pre-10th c. Anglo-Saxon Feminist

What we know of the poet who composed the Anglo-Saxon text commonly referred to as “Wulf ond Eadwacer” is very limited. Though unnamed in the poem, we can discern from the feminine inflection on the words “rēotugu” and “sēoce” that the speaker is a woman. It is possible, though perhaps implausible, that the poet is male, but even so, because the poem describes and laments a forbidding set of circumstances foisted onto the female speaker by a patriarchal Anglo-Saxon culture, the poet—who may have been Scandinavian or Anglo-Saxon and lived some time before the 10th c.—was undoubtedly a feminist, an outsider, and a radical poet, who mixed forms from both Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian, subverting the literary conventions of each language culture in sophisticated and surprising ways.

Selected Poems from Our Ghosts and How We Talk to Them

Gabo Winner Summer/Fall 2018

[translated poetry]

I drank coffee with your devastated parents
or something we called coffee:
were you already different
when we sat across from each other in my kitchen
and you didn’t want to eat anything
except a piece of chocolate,
did you already have an eye on the reeds?
I can’t tell .. was that your way
of saying goodbye, impossible to know
if it was more than this exhaustion
I came to recognize
over the years .. the thing in your head
that breaks your bones
whenever it feels a hankering
like you for a piece of chocolate
I don’t know .. I only know
I was much calmer with you at the table
than I am now .. with your parents
who are devastated
where I can hardly breathe
where every sip
from my water glass
makes me cough, so that I, unlike you,
won’t disappear
in the water—

 


you shocked me more than dr. benn
and dr. benn really shocked me
with words that carved through corpses
like small blades until all flesh
hung from the bone
and nothing remained
except a poem

now you are stranded at dr. benn’s
in the middle of a poem, on a table
where they open you methodically
because you lay in the reeds
for two days in your favorite lake
with your clothes on,
and I ..

I stand next to you, to your lungs
which have grown too big for your body
and dr. benn, my analytical demon,
tries to find something
with his mind dull as lead
maybe you wanted to breathe in
your favorite lake

or your favorite lake you

and even when
we pull the skin down a little
from your brow to your nose
and dare to peek into your skull
and the summer sunlight cascades in,
we are in the end—dr. benn and me
and us—my friend

a piece of paper
that is left over—
nothing more.

 


we read the newspaper for five days
and sensed nothing, you spent five days
in the newspaper as “the drowning victim
the unidentified body in the sommersee
5’7”–5’9,” male, thin, a set of keys
in the pants pocket, or jacket
it said: you had your clothes on, even shoes
and your face: olive toned.
as if you were from southern climes!
the ice was your homeland, an iceberg
of crystal and loneliness … you were
not even reported as missing—
we didn’t miss you for almost a week
blissful monsters; you were too distant
for us to miss you after seven days ..
we were afraid for you too often
and became tired
like you did, and we fell asleep
like you—whole on the outside,
you lay in the reeds for two days, nights
stars over you, your shell
three pictures can be found online:
a boat that brings you ashore
two ambulances, a fire engine
as if you were only sick or injured
or alight .. in one picture
they are bent over you, two men
smoking, looking at you calmly
as if you were a rare fish—

 


twenty photo albums all of you
your bare bottom all over the place
a stack of pain on a table
in an apartment house, 11th floor
only child.

august first, eleven thirty
almost all birds quiet in the heat
while you were being buried
three buckets of dirt into a small hole
and a luncheon still to get through.

old friends of your parents
who order steak
and beer and begin to enjoy
and talk about vacation
on another plane than you ..

and your parents who order steak
without knowing what to do with it—
as if they themselves had been forked up
by you .. and were now staring at you,
into your open mouth—

 


you’d been dead three weeks
I was camping in the woods, asleep
when you stopped by, cheerful
in the night, to tell me
you may appear three more times
don’t worry anymore
it’s really
really good here ..
and you had to laugh
because you sounded like
the brothers grimm on valium.

I didn’t wake up,
your words were simply in my head
like diamonds the next day, then for weeks
for months, a year .. but now
they’re tin, with the hollow ring
of a selfie-dream .. a visit from you?
that can’t be: don’t be a fool
you stopped by dressed like him
to visit yourself, I’ve too often
 
thought and thought and thought ..

I tore the dream up myself
don’t wor
it’s rea
rea ood
 

 

ich hab mit deinen verwüsteten eltern kaffee getrunken
oder irgendwas, was kaffee heißt
ob du schon anders warst vielleicht
als wir uns gegenüber saßen, in meiner küche
wo du nichts essen wolltest
außer einem stückchen schokolade
ob du schon schilf im auge hattest?
kann’s nicht sagen .. ob das schon deine art
von abschied war, fast unbemerkbar
ob da schon mehr als diese müdigkeit
gewesen ist, die ich schon kannte
all die jahre .. das ding in deinem kopf
dass dir die knochen bricht
wann immer es die lust verspürt
wie du auf schokolade
ich weiß es nicht .. ich weiß nur noch
ich war viel ruhiger dort, mit dir am tisch
als jetzt .. mit deinen eltern
die verwüstet sind
wo ich kaum atmen kann
wo jeder schluck
aus meinem wasserglas
mich husten lässt, um nicht wie du
in diesem wasser
zu verschwinden—

 


du hast mich mehr erschreckt als dr. benn
und dr. benn hat mich mal sehr erschreckt
mit worten, die wie kleine messer
durch leichen fuhren, bis alles fleisch
vom knochen hing
und nichts mehr übrig blieb
nur ein gedicht

jetzt bist auch du bei dr. benn gestrandet
mitten im gedicht, auf einem tisch
wo man dich öffnet, schritt für schritt
weil du im schilf gelegen hast
zwei tage, in deinem lieblingssee
noch alle sachen an
und ich

ich steh jetzt neben dir, vor deiner lunge
die viel zu groß geworden ist für dich
und dr. benn, mein analyse-wicht
versucht noch irgendwas zu finden
mit seinem verstand stumpf wie’n kamm
ob du deinen lieblingssee
einatmen wolltest

oder dein lieblingssee
ganz plötzlich dich

und selbst
wenn wir die haut von deiner stirn
ein wenig runterziehen, bis zur nase
und einen blick in deinen schädel wagen
und alles sommerlicht reinfällt
sind wir am ende, dr. benn und ich
und wir, mein freund

ein stück papier
das übrig bleibt—
sonst nichts.

 


wir haben zeitungen gelesen, fünf tage lang
und nichts gespürt, du warst fünf tage lang
in allen zeitungen „die wasserleiche“
„der unbekannte körper aus dem sommersee“
1.70 – 1.75, männlich, schlank, mit einem schlüssel
in der hosentasche, oder jackentasche
dort stand: du hattest alles an, auch schuhe
und dein gesicht: südländisch.
als ob du aus dem süden wärst!
du kamst vom eis, vom eisberg
aus kristall und einsamkeit .. du warst
nicht mal vermisst gemeldet—
fast eine woche haben wir dich nicht vermisst
glückliche monster; du warst zu fern von uns
um dich nach sieben tagen zu vermissen ..
wir hatten angst um dich, zu oft
und wurden müd dabei
so müd wie du, und schliefen ein
wie du—von außen unversehrt
hast du im schilf gelegen, zwei tage, nächte
sterne über dir, der hülle
drei bilder, die jetzt online weiterleben:
ein boot, das dich ans ufer bringt
zwei krankenwagen, eine feuerwehr
als ob du immer noch ein kranker wärst
und brennst .. auf einem bild
beugt man sich über dich, zwei männer
rauchend, die dich ruhig betrachten
wie einen seltenen fisch—

 


zwanzig fotoalben nur für dich
dein nackter kinderpo in allen posen
ein stapel schmerz auf einem tisch
in einem hochhaus, 11. stock
einziges kind.

erster august, halb zwölf
fast alle vögel still vor hitze
als man dich eingegraben hat
drei eimer erde in ein kleines loch
und noch ein mittagessen in der nähe.

die alten freunde deiner eltern
die sich steaks bestellen
und bier, und langsam lustig werden
und von urlaub sprechen
ganz parallel zu dir ..

und deine eltern, die sich steaks bestellen
ohne zu wissen, was man damit tut—
als wär’n sie selber aufgespießt
von dir .. starr’n sie dich an
in deinen mund—

 


du warst drei wochen tot
ich schlief im wald, auf einem campingplatz
als du vorbeikamst, nachts
fast gut gelaunt, um mir zu sagen
du könntest dreimal noch erscheinen
hab keine sorgen mehr
hier ist es wirklich
wirklich gut ..
und musstest selber dabei lachen
weil das wie grimm auf valium klingt.

ich bin nicht aufgewacht
hab nur deinen satz am nächsten tag
wie diamant im kopf gehabt, noch wochenlang
noch monate, ein jahr .. doch jetzt:
wie blech ist er geworden, hohler klang
von einem selfie-traum .. besuch von dir?
wohl kaum. mach dich nicht lächerlich
du hast dich selbst besucht
geschminkt als er
 
hab ich zu oft gedacht gedacht gedacht ..

ich hab mir selbst den traum zerhackt
hab kein sor
hier ist es wirk
wirk ut

 

Translator’s Note:

Carl-Christian Elze began writing poems as a way to deal with bouts of anxiety that began unexpectedly in college and often prevented him from going to class. He discovered that forming his thoughts into musical, poetic structures was both soothing and empowering. In a sense, he sang songs with the ghostly voices in his imagination so they’d become harmonious. As we grow older, we gather more and more specters: parents and friends die, we start families, past selves emerge as experience changes us. When Elze’s childhood best friend committed suicide by drowning, he sat down to write his fifth book, diese kleinen, in der luft hängenden, bergpredigenden gebilde (Berlin: Verlagshaus Berlin, 2016), an exploration of what it means to live in the face of death. Who are we in relation to the ones we love? In relation to the universe? How should we live? Where do we go wrong in our attempt? In the book these poems come from, Elze talks it out with a good number of his ghosts as conversation partners.

A sense of openness, and even more so, the ability to marvel are the keys to Elze’s world—I aspire to make them mine also. Perhaps this is why I was attracted to this book and these poems to begin with. The voice shifts from chapter to chapter, much as the style and content of our conversation changes depending on who we are talking to. When speaking with the deceased friend, the poems mimic the disjunction in their relationship. Other poems in the book sound like a Sunday afternoon phone call with a parent. Elze speaks anxiously to himself at times, and at other times, the poems seem to come from the universe itself to remind us of our sense of wonder. Throughout the work, however, Elze’s poet voice presses through, and I have worked carefully to listen, convey, and respond.

I have my own accumulation of ghosts that I speak with often, and now I can add Elze to their numbers as one who rises up through the page. What translator hasn’t tried out a phrase and then thought, Oh, they would never say that, and deleted it? Falling into each of Elze’s modalities as his translator has been like finding new ones in myself, new ways of speaking where it’s not distinguishable anymore who is doing the talking. Me? Elze? Or perhaps, only a collective conversation on a universal piece of paper and “nothing more—”


Special Guest Judge, Tiffany Higgins:

In “you’ve been dead three weeks,” Caroline Wilcox Reul maintains the speaker’s consistently casual, sometimes humorous tone when addressing the person who’s come back from the dead to speak: “you sound like / the brothers grimm on valium.” A succession of metaphors is rendered rhythmically: “your words were… / like diamonds…but now / they’re tin, with the hollow ring / of a selfie-dream.” I love that the poet and translator have brought into English this concept of a selfie-dream. Throughout [her] translations of Carl-Christian Elze’s poems, Reul keeps us in this quirky, ghostly world. There’s comedy in the last stanza, when the speaker has to “tear up” this intrusive visitation; the first stanza’s reassuring statement gets slurred and shredded: “don’t wor/ it’s rea/ rea ood.” 

 

–Tiffany Higgins is the author of And Aeneas Stares into Her Helmet, selected by Evie Shockley for the Carolina Wren Press Poetry Prize; The Apparition at Fort Bragg, selected by Camille Dungy for the Iron Horse Literary Review contest; and Tail of the Whale (Toad Press, 2016), translations from the Portuguese of Rio poet Alice Sant’Anna. Her poems appear in Poetry, Kenyon Review, and elsewhere. She’s translating the work of Brazilian writers, including Itamar Vieira Junior and Lívia Natália. Her article of narrative journalism, “Brazil’s Munduruku Mark out Their Territory When the Government Won’t,” is forthcoming in Granta’s May 2018 online issue.

 

Caroline Wilcox Reul is a freelance lexicographer and translator. She has a MA in computational linguistics and German language and literature from the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich. She is the translator of Wer lebt / Who Lives by Elisabeth Borchers (Tavern Books, 2017) and co-editor of the poetry anthology, Over Land and Rising (9 Bridges, 2017). She is currently the poetry editor for the Timberline Review. Her translations have appeared or are forthcoming in the PEN Poetry Series, the Broadsided PressLyriklineTupelo Quarterly, and Poetry International.

Photo Credit: Nina Johnson Photography

Carl-Christian Elze lives in Leipzig and writes poems, short stories, plays, and libretti. Recent awards for his work include residencies at the Künstlerhaus Edenkoben (2017) and the Deutsche Studienzentrum in Venice (2016), as well as the Joachim-Ringelnatz Prize (2015). His most recent books include langsames ermatten im labyrinth: poems (Verlagshaus Berlin, forthcoming in 2018), diese kleinen, in der luft hängenden, bergpredigenden gebilde: poems (Verlagshaus Berlin, 2016), and Oda und der ausgestopfte Vater (kreuzerbooks, 2018), a book of short stories about growing up with the animals at the Leipzig Zoo where his father was head veterinarian.

Photo Credit: Sascha Kokot

A Glazier

Gabo Finalist Summer/Fall 2018

[translated poetry]

He was the same as other people

who know nothing about the white gray glass:

about the flat drop of sameness

in a frame

of white-lacquered window

like a gray block of longing

lying in a day rectangle of colored dough of encounters.

 

He has installed the window panes

in a gray house with white window frames,

in a white house with gray shops.

The first window pane. Second. Tenth.

 

The panes are flat and still, like rectangles.

The panes are colorful tears:

The glass is the color of watery joy.

Glass has a rhythmical smile

like a person after seven years of waiting.

 

Now his face is a transparent glass pane

which takes into itself

streets. Houses. Circulating bodies.

And a flat drop of sameness,

which smiles measured with watery joy:

everything should always be as is.

 

דער גלעזער

 

ער איז געװען גלײך צו אַנדערע מענטשן

װאָס װײסן גאָרנישט װעגן גראָ־װײסן גלאָז׃

װעגן דעם פֿלאַכן טראָפּן גלײכקײט,

װאָס ליגט אין אַ רעם

פֿון װײס לאַקירטע פֿענצטער

װי אין אַ טאָג־רעכטעק פֿון לאַקירטן טײג פֿון באַגעגנישן

ליגט דער גראָער בלעק פֿון דער בענקשאַפֿט.

 

ער האָט אַרײנגעשטעלט שױבן׃

אין אַ גראָען הױז מיט װײסע פֿענצטער־רעמען,

אין אַ װײסן הױז מיט גראָע לאָדענס.

ערשטע שױב. צװײטע. צענטע.

 

די שױבן זענען פֿלאַך און שטיל, װי רעכטעקן.

די שױבן זענען טרערן־קאָלירטע׃

ס’איז דער קאָליר פֿון װאַסעריקער פֿרײד.

גלאָז שמײכלט ריטמיש

װי אַ מענטש נאָך זיבן יאָר װאַרטן.

 

איצט איז זײַן פּנים אַ דורכזיכטיקע גלאָז־שױב

װאָס נעמט אױף אין זיך

גאַסן. הײזער. קרײזנדיקע גופֿים.

און אַ פֿלאַכער טראָפּן גלײכקײט,

װאָס שמײכלט אָפּגעמאָסטן מיט װאַסעריקער פֿרײד׃

ס’זאָל תּמיד אַלץ זײן װי ס’איז גראָד.

 

Translator’s Note:

Debora Vogel’s language could be best described in terms of its plasticity. We may think of plastic as stiff but it’s also a pliable material. It is the material that best exhibits the fact that form is constantly being transformed. The poem “Glazier” from Day Figures poetry collection (1930) is an example of an author’s stylistic play with linguistic malleability and rigidity. The poem is executed in the aesthetic of Constructivism; it is “constructed” as an artwork from the material of words mirroring the preoccupation with materiality of existence in this avant-garde artistic movement. Glass as material fascinated artists, designers, and architects because of its qualities of transparency and opacity, and the possibilities it presented for modern urbanism. Vogel utilizes glass as a “plastic” material, it is both “watery” and angular, voluminous and flat, clear and opaque. Her vocabulary is minimalist, the color palette is sparse (with white and gray colors predominating), yet repetition and lack of color engenders rhythm and colorfulness. The mood oscillates between stasis and dynamism, sameness and difference. The world of circulating bodies and encounters is fitted into a rectangular frame of a window-pane. There is a certain sense of wonder which arises out of monotony and everydayness in this synesthetic creation. These are the elements that my translation strives to reflect, or perhaps, it would be fitting to say, to mirror.

 

Anastasiya Lyubas is a PhD candidate in the Department of Comparative Literature in Binghamton University where she is currently at work on her dissertation “Language and Plasticity in Debora Vogel’s Poetics.” Lyubas is a 2017-2018 translation fellow at the Yiddish Book Center, and a Max Weinreich research fellow in YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York. Her translations of Debora Vogel’s work appeared in The InTranslationat the Brooklyn Rail, The Stockholm Review of Literature, Pakn Treger, and are to be published by The Odessa Review. Lyubas is working on a full collection of Debora Vogel’s essays, reviews, polemics, and correspondence, which she translated from Yiddish and Polish into Ukrainian, to be published by Dukh I Litera publishing house in Kyiv, Ukraine.

Debora Vogel (1900-1942) was a Polish-Jewish writer, philosopher, art critic, and translator. She was a “wandering star” of Polish and Yiddish Modernisms in Eastern Europe and North America. Her writing is comparable to Gertrude Stein’s in its striking originality. Born in Eastern Poland (now Western Ukraine), she was educated in Vienna and Kraków, and travelled extensively in Paris, Berlin, and Stockholm, which is reflected in her work. Given her engagement with visual arts and avant-garde movements, her highly experimental texts challenged every notion of writing in Yiddish in her own lifetime. Her poems are examples of Cubist-Constructivist experimentation in a language that is at once lyrical and philosophical.

After Winter, Intrinsic Silence

Gabo Finalist Summer/Fall 2018

[bilingual poetry]

The first cable-car ride
brings him before tourists,
far above the daily concerns,
where a trail climbs and winds
in the shades of ancient woods.
A trunk and moss can be heard,
but many a tree leaf is gasping,
when the largest deer on earth
stops at six yards, watching.
From top to toe it forgot:
there are walking beings
who will gape and freeze.

In a mist over the waters,
an eagle breaks the prism:
above glistening grasslands,
almost still, it reaches no one.
The air extends an empty sigh.
Unnoticed, the distance is close
and returns colors to the world.
Nobody is getting in their way.
The molehill thinks it’s Mount
and a high oak muses light-footed.
I’m sure all is safe, says a young reindeer,
and weasel explores the absence of moving humans.

 

 

Oerstil
na de winter

De eerste kabelrit
brengt me vóór toeristen
tot ver boven beslommeringen.
Daar klimt en kronkelt een paadje
door de schaduw van een grillig bos.
De stronken en mossen zijn hoorbaar,
maar elk boomblad hapt naar adem,
nu het grootste edelhert op aarde
pal voor me staat, waarneemt,
van top tot teen vergeten was:
er zijn wandelende wezens
die staren en verstenen.

In de nevel boven water
breekt een arend het prisma:
over de glinster van het grasland
reikt het bijna roerloos naar niemand.
De lucht spreidt en zucht zich leeg.
De verte komt hier onmerkbaar
om weer een kleur te geven.
Niemand houdt iets tegen.
De molshoop waant zich Berg
en een hoge berk mijmert lichtlijvig.
Klein rendier denkt: volgens mij is het veilig,
en wezel verkent de afwezigheid van een mens in beweging.

 

Arno Bohlmeijer is a bilingual author in English and Dutch. He is the winner of the National Charlotte Köhler Prize and a finalist for the Gabo Prize and the 2018 Poetry Matters Project. The BBC calls his work “Consistently original. Evocative. Strongly atmospheric, very distinctive and interesting.” He holds an MA in English literature and a BA in French. Visit his website for more information www.arnobohlmeijer.com.

Selected Poems from Black and Blue Partition: ‘Mistry 2

[translated poetry]

V

Fresheur and life

“Same current, waters always new”
The voice runs over the waters
++++++++++speeches crossed from god to god
+++++sorcerous heritage, seaswells burgeoning
+++++with careful lightness
++++++++++same as
+++++same as grass crown, thatch, lalang;
water crystalline, upslope downslope harmony,
+++++++++++++++that the spirits’ good humor won’t cloud.
Begone-become, begone as foam
+++++++++++++++leaving home
+++++++++++++++++++++++++doors and windows opened,
+++++++++++++++Beauty seated legs akimbo:
+++++++++++++++++++++++++nest fledgling
+++++++++++++++++++++++++dirtmouse wings
+++++++++++++++++++++++++lalang grass tufts     spit
+++++++++++++++++++++++++shark mouth agape.

Let frogs renew and multiply

+++++++++++++++++++++++++Chârme
+++++Ô, the quivering like a sliver of moon
+++++the red red erythrina
+++++++++++++++and below the chirruping cantations of the initiated
the little antelope climbingclimbing toward the palm divinity,
Let humidity be that venerable weave, omnipresent
+++++++++++++++witchgrass, springside presages,
Let fresh water trickle anoint drum and bullock,
Let the serpent’s carcass burrow through the sand
+++++++++++++++head and tail python enclosure-held
+++++++++++++++ring the bells to empty them;
“The great swamp waters flow downriver”
+++++++++++++++++++++++++behind the mornes
+++++++++++++++++++++++++secret
+++++++++++++++++++++++++among the leaves,

Let home be of fresheur, walls smooth
did she rattle the lightning, that little silken thing?
did she cut the flesh deep, that millstone, did she gash open the ribetting of those gounouy?
did he wash his flesh from the river,
Did he prostrate at the threshold of the city Abydos,
Did he pass through the thorns,
Did he take concession?

+++++++++++++++Is he proud, impatient?
+++++++++++++++The charm:
+++++++++++++++++++++++++at first simple millet cake,
+++++++++++++++++++++++++at first mixed millet cake
+++++++++++++++++++++++++liana leaves licorice crushed
+++++++++++++++++++++++++then millet cake, leaves liana licorice
+++++++++++++++++++++++++and honey follewz;
+++++++++++++++++++++++++and yãmn-leaffes for collecting water.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++Then charm e’jaculatoire in hushed tones (three times)
+++++++++++++++++++++++++Three times ‘round the items,

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++in the crossing.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++And obscene chanting,
+++++++++++++++++++++++++Ouaïe—Ouaïe
+++++++++++++++++++++++++Man kèy lélé-é-y
+++++++++++++++++++++++++Man kèy lélé kalalou-a
+++++++++++++++O the law of enclosure!

And open let the way be, of overflowing, of fertility,
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++Vitamtènam
+++++++++++++++++++++++++in the light of the ark of the waters of the world.

 


IV

The child who birthed the mother

compass of winds, its rhombuses
+++++++++++++++the hill, its three palm trees,
the beauty named “Beauty”
+++++++++++++++below, rivers and lagunes.
In the water the child birdstares, the child who birthed the mother,
+++++the sixteen quarters of the sky
+++++++++++++++Yémaya’s divine body,
Grace of chills, of charms,
+++++figures carried by chance
+++++as the banks of Enjillé’s jetties, open to signs,
+++++coquillage and kola nuts
++++++++++++++++++++fem-mules.

The beauty named “Beauty” birdstares, sways,
+++++++++++++++reflective mask, peaceful, grave
+++++abandoned to the flood, the swell,
+++++++++++++++the famous hill where three palm trees grow
+++++the famous, and below d’lo,
++++++++++void approves, baptizes.
Shimmers sway, go
++++++++++one bank the other
+++++the Far-off is never far “all weighed and measured”
++++++++++the gods exist in the water
++++++++++the sky is in the water
in the water paradise,
+++++++++++++++under the leaves, basins of flood,
Refresh and appease the vestibules of pleasure,
from saliva the fecundant charm
++++++++++and above, the sorceries,
+++++the mouth where “la Belle” sways
+++++from one bank to the other
++++++++++the two banks, the waters, their depths
+++++from one bank to the other, the slicing grasses
++++++++++the copious wild leaves
+++++the riverbank rebuffs the waters sloshing to the other side,
+++++here the crouching-god, here the sacred beast,
++++++++++the hunchback opens the true path through the leaves.

Forged up the watercourse:
++++++++++in the mirrorment the paradise,
+++++the subtle game of reflections,
++++++++++reflections inebriated,
+++++the sounds enchantment,
+++++++++++++++absolute lightness,
++++++++++++++++++++++++Appear-disappear
++++++++++++++++++++++++the mask,
++++++++++++++++++++++++the showing
+++++++++++++++unity of all
+++++++++++++++piety in all.

Forging up the rivercourse,
++++++++++little shards of clay, the fat ram,
++++++++++maternal breast,
+++++peace in the body, peace in the courtyard.

 


Copyright: Partition noire et bleue: (Lémistè 2) (Obsidiane, 2016)

V

Fraîcheur et vie

« Même fleuve, eaux toujours nouvelles ».
La voix court sur les eaux
++++++++++paroles transmises d’un dieu à un dieu
+++++héritage magique, commencement des flots
+++++avec légèreté soyeuse
++++++++++même que
+++++même que graminée fanée du lalang ;
Eau limpide, harmonie grave aigu,
+++++++++++++++que n’assombrisse la bonne humeur des esprits.
Disparaître-devenir, disparaître comme l’écume
+++++++++++++++laissant maison
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ouvertes portes et fenêtres,
+++++++++++++++Beauté assise jambes écartées :
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++nid oiselet
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ailes solsouris
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++touffes herbe lalang      salive
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++gueule requin béante.
Que grenouille renouvelle et multiplie

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++Châme
+++++Ô, cela qui palpite comme brin de lune
+++++la rouge rouge érythrine
+++++++++++++++et dessous le gazouillis de l’initié
La petite antilope qui grimpe grimpe au divin palmier,
Qu’humide toujours soit la natte vénérable,
+++++++++++++++le chiendent, les prémices près de la source,
Que tambours et taurillons soient aspergés d’eau fraîche,
Que la caresse du serpent creuse le sable
+++++++++++++++tête et queue python dans enclos
+++++++++++++++agite grelots qu’ils se vident ;
« L’eau du grand marais coule dans la rivière »
++++++++++++++++++++derrière collines
++++++++++++++++++++secret
++++++++++++++++++++parmis les feuilles,
Qu’elle soit fraîche la demeure aux parois lisses,
+++++a-t-elle ébranlé la foudre, la petite chôye soyeuse ?
+++++A-t-elle couvert la gounouille de plaies, la pierre de meule ?
Lui a-t-on enlevé sa peau sur le fleuve,
S’est-il prosterné devant la porte de la cité d’Abydos,
A-t-il passé entre les épineux,
Est-il entré dans la concession ?

+++++++++++Est-il fier, impatient ?
+++++++++++Le charme :
+++++++++++++++d’abord simple gateau mil,
+++++++++++++++d’abord gateau mil mélangé
+++++++++++++++feuilles liãne réglisse crasé
+++++++++++++++puis gateau mil, feuilles liãne réglisse
+++++++++++++++et miel ensouite ;
+++++++++++++++et fèuille-yãnm pour aller puiser l’eau.
+++++++++++++++Puis charme jaculatoire à voix basse (trois fois)
+++++++++++++++Trois fois près les affaires,
+++++++++++++++++++++++++tout au bord mait’ zaffai,
+++++++++++++++++++++++++dans l’entre-jambe.
+++++++++++++++Et des chantés obscènes,
+++++++++++++++Ouaïe—Ouïe
+++++++++++++++Man kèy lélé-é-y
+++++++++++++++Man kèy lélé kalalou-a
++++++++++Ô la loi de l’enclos !

Et qu’ouverte soit la voie de l’abreuvage, le chemin de fécondité,
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++Vitamtènam
+++++++++++++++dans la lumière de l’arche les eaux du monde.

 


IV

L’enfant qui enfanta la mère

Rhombes de la rose des vents,
++++++++++++++++++++++++++belle colline aux trois palmiers,
La belle surnommée « la Belle »
++++++++++++++++++++++++++au-dessous, fleuves et lagunes.
Dans l’eau miroise l’enfant qui enfanta le mère,
+++++les seize quartiers du ciel
++++++++++++++++++++++++++sur le corps divin de Yémaya,
Grâce du saisissement, charmes,
++++++++++figures amenées par le hasard
++++++++++comme aux rives d’Enillé jetées ouvertes aux signes,
++++++++++coquilles et noix kola des femmes-mules.

La belle surnommée « la Belle » miroise, se balance,
+++++++++++++++masque réfléchi, grave, paisible
+++++abandonnée au flot,
+++++++++++++++la fameuse colline où poussent trois palmiers
+++++la fameuse, et au-dessous l’eau,
++++++++++vide qui agrée, fonts baptismaux.
Le reflet se balance, va
+++++++++++++++une rive l’autre
+++++le Lointain n’est jamais loin « tout bien pesé »
+++++++++++++++les dieux existent dans l’eau
+++++++++++++++le ciel est dans l’eau
+++++dans l’eau le paradis,
+++++++++++++++sous les feuillages, bassins d’inondation,
Rafraichissent et apaisent les vestibules du plaisir,
De la salive le charme fécondant
++++++++++et par-dessus, les sortilèges,
+++++la bouche où « la Belle » se balance
++++++++++d’une rive à l’autre
+++++++++++++++les deux rives, les tréfonds des eaux
+++++d’une rive à l’autre, les herbes tranchantes
+++++++++++++++les feuilles sauvages bien frues
+++++la berge qui rabroue vers l’autre berge les eaux clapoteuses,
+++++ici le dieu-accroupi, l’animal sacré,
+++++++++++++++le bossu qui ouvre le bon chemin parmi les feuilles.

Remonté le fil de l’eau :
dans le miroisement le paradis,
+++++le jeu subtil des reflets,
l’ivresse du reflet,
+++++l’ensorcellement des sons,
++++++++++++++++++++++++++l’absolue légèreté,
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++Paraître-disparaître
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++Le masque,
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++Le laisser-apparaître
++++++++++++++++++++++++++L’unité de tout,
++++++++++++++++++++++++++La piété en tout.
Remonté le fil de l’eau,
+++++++++++++++petits morceaux de glaise, le bélier gras,
+++++++++++++++le sein maternel,
+++++la paix dans le corps, la paix dans la cour.

 

Translator’s Note:

For Monchoachi, language is a site of both play and resistance, a rhizomatic system of becomings, origins, and renewals. As fellow writer Patrick Chamoiseau describes, “[Monchoachi] has completely renewed our vision of the Creole language—the way we read it, practice it, defend it. He has reshaped the relationship of this language to French, and has explored the blossoming of an unheard speech, its explosion into life, which we become witness to in Lémistè.”

My translation strives to reflect/refract this performative [re-]visioning, which Monchoachi so adeptly applies to his seemingly meandering (but always intentional, and sometimes instructive) narrative. In these poems, he is reaching into an oceanic sub-terrain—emerging here into ancient Yoruban spiritual practice, there becoming a Martinican river becoming a man becoming sacred—and all of it oscillating at the tip of his tongue. By extension, these poems strive to oscillate on the tips of the readers’ [multiple] tongues, to disorient and subvert the limitations of language in order to open and influence it with magic, the mysterious. The power of these poems is found in their physical and spatial integrality; they reside in the body, in the land and in the water. As a result, although the reader is carried through the intangible into the cantatory, we remain grounded, with a taste of the air in our mouths. With these translations I hope to showcase/carry Monchoachi’s linguistic project in a way that propels both the craft of translation and the presence of Creole literature in the Anglophone world.

Special Guest Judge, William Rodarmor:

Patricia Hartland set herself a major challenge in translating Monchoachi, a poet prolific in both French and Martinican Creole. Monchoachi is the pseudonym of André Pierre-Louis, who was born in Martinique in 1946. Hartland calls his work “a site of both play and resistance… of becomings, origins, and renewals.” Patrick Chamoiseau says Monchoachi has completely renewed the relationship of the Creole language to French. This means that a vigilant translator must look in two different linguistic directions while plotting her course in a third.

Hartland brings impressive skills to the task. An MFA candidate for poetry at Notre Dame, she focuses on post-colonial, linguistically hybrid, francophone texts. And she lends a deft touch to her Monchoachi translations. Here is a sample from “The child who birthed the mother”:

Forged up the watercourse:   
                        in the mirrorment the paradise,
            the subtle game of reflections,
                        reflections inebriated,
            the sounds enchantment,
                                    absolute lightness,
                                                            Appear-disappear
                                                            the mask,
                                                            the showing
                                                            unity of all
                                                            piety in all.

 

—William Rodarmor is an editor and French literary translator in Berkeley, California. He has translated some forty-five books and screenplays in genres ranging from serious fiction to espionage and fantasy. In 1996 he won the Lewis Galantière Award from the American Translators Association for Tamata and the Alliance, by Bernard Moitessier. In 2016, he won the Northern California Book Award for fiction translation for The Slow Waltz of Turtles, by Katherine Pancol.

 

Patricia Hartland is a candidate for the MFA in poetry at the University of Notre Dame, and a recent graduate of the Iowa Translation Workshop. She translates from French, Martinican Creole, and Hindi, with a special interest in Caribbean literature. Her translations of prose, poetry, and theatre have appeared or are forthcoming in Asymptote, Circumference, Drunken Boat, Two Lines, and elsewhere.

 

Born in 1946 on the island of Martinique, Monchoachi is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Prix Carbet de la Caraïbe and the Prix Max Jacob. In 2007 he founded the Lakouzémi Project, an annual gathering of writers, dancers, performers, and activists: together they vivify history and generate meaningful, actioned community.

 

Excerpt from The False Note

[translated fiction]

“The wolf tone is a musical paradox.
An atonality we suffer
in the name of harmony.”

One of the trees has bloomed early. In the park in front of the conservatory. Dabs of pink along a dark core. What are they called?

Cherry blossoms, you’d say. You’re all grown up now.

Later I put on my black coat, the one with the silver buttons. My steps whisper through dry fallen leaves. You run on ahead. It’s October, maybe November. I pluck a leaf from a low branch of the flaming chestnut tree.

You paste the leaves on a sheet of white paper. I tuck you into bed.

God nat, I say. Gute Nacht, you say. Buenas noches, I say. Good night, you say. And I say buonanotte.

And then you say it: welterusten. You snigger, your green eyes suspect I don’t know what they expect, but this happens every time we get as far as welterusten.

Bon nuit, I smile. Your mouth is hidden behind the covers now, only your eyes are visible. Bon nuit, you whisper.

 

FREDERIK

—When the piano was invented it was believed that we had found a way to track and emulate variations in pitch that were tuned by means of a scientific system. It’s just like mathematics, she says.

She always says that. She knows he’s good at maths.

English is like maths. The piano is like maths. Even his grandmother is maths.

He’s better at maths than she is.

Keeping her eyes on his, Zoe plays a few chords.

He rests his fingers on the keyboard and strikes the same keys, two octaves higher up. His hands follow hers, slowly, confidently over the keys. Swift as an echo he sounds the right note.

—But we couldn’t reproduce the original sound, for there is a natural… falsity that would disrupt the logic of harmony if we were to include it. —Here, she says, resting two fingers on the keyboard. —Right after this key.

It doesn’t sound false to him.

—We call it the wolf tone, she says, because it sounds like a horrible choir of howling wolves.

He’s not sure he can hear what she wants him to hear.

She lifts her hands off the keys and reaches for her glass of red wine that she has placed on top of the piano. She swirls the liquid in her glass.

—Pretty neat, don’t you think?

She puts the glass to her lips and takes a sip.

He nods.

‘When you compose a score of music you have a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea: You can resort to the original system, embed the false note in the seventh tone and deliberately compose around it. You simply don’t create it, and we don’t even hear it anymore.’

She returns the glass to its perch on the piano and starts to play a piece that he knows, but he can’t remember what it’s called. She can do that. Pick up any old tune and make it sound good.

He gets himself a glass of juice from the kitchen and puts it down next to her glass on the piano. When he was little he wasn’t allowed to do that, but now she doesn’t mind.

—Before the new system was invented all you had to do was avoid the wolf tone, she says, her hands jump up an octave. —You couldn’t include it without ruining your composition; the tone is natural, but false. It’s very frustrating.

—So new tuning methods were developed. The system we use today dates back to the sixteenth century. A plan was devised to spread this natural atonality—the wolf tone—over the maximum number of piano notes; you could juggle the note, stretch it, but never eliminate it completely. This means that every composition we hear is ever so slightly off-key, she says, still playing her sedate melody.

—But we can’t hear it anymore. Our ears have become accustomed to the aberration. It’s just like a cabal, Frederik. A tuning system can never be cracked.

She looks pleased with herself. She likes the idea of a system that cannot be cracked.

—It is possible to crack a cabal, he says.

—Ah. In that case, imagine the sort of cabal that cannot be cracked, she says.

This he can very well imagine. He looks at her. She has a special way of meeting his gaze when she’s playing the piano; seeing him without seeing him at all.

—So, Frederik. Her fingers have stopped moving over the keys.

She picks up her glass of wine, gulps it down.

—When you compose a score of music you have a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea: You can resort to the original system, embed the false note in the seventh tone and deliberately compose around it. You simply don’t create it, and we don’t even hear it anymore. It’s extinguished by dint of choice, just as we would choose to stop creating the colour… olive green; after a while we simply wouldn’t see this shade of green anymore. If you choose to compose according the modern principle however, you can spread the wolf note evenly across the scales. One could argue that we’re masking an innate link between music and nature, and, in effect, making everything we play false—which we don’t hear either.

She stares at the keys for a moment.

—Do you understand, Frederik?

He nods.

—It’s just something we’ve come to accept. The price we pay for creating a sound that is all but perfect. It’s the paradox of music that we can cheerfully, imperfectly recreate a false world.

She stands up and goes into the kitchen.

—It’s just like pi, don’t you think? she calls after her. —Or a leap year. We have leap years so the calendar will add up nicely. Isn’t that so?

He’s not sure this is true. He stares hard at the keys. Narrows his eyes, tries to see them in a different light, identify some kind of veneer. She’s opening a bottle of wine. There’s a pop of a cork from the kitchen. She comes back with her glass and sits down on the piano stool next to him. Plays one of her melodies.

—You can also think of it in terms of the dial of a watch, she says, lifting her left wrist so he can see the face on hers.

—There are twelve musical tones on a piano, and there are twelve numbers on the face of a dial. If the space between each number were a tone, then a complete rotation would end one second beyond the twelve; you would never strike dead on twelve. It just wouldn’t work, would it? Because with every rotation we’d edge a little further past the twelve. A little further every time.

Frederik looks at her watch and nods. It is five minutes to midnight.

—So, we cheat a little. We falsify each tone, just a tad, to make sure that we strike the number twelve. Dead on. Every time. People like to relate things to something else that they understand.

She looks at him. The corners of her mouth curl into a smile.

—It’s a symphonic problem, not a melodic one, she says finally. —We want to create great symphonies, rather than meek melodies. So we bend the rules of nature to suit our own. Rather than the reverse. Does that make sense to you, Frederik?

He nods.

—That’s a very abstract conception, don’t you think. Thomas’ voice cuts into the room. He’s standing in the lounge doorway wearing his coat. He must have arrived only moments before. Neither of them had heard the front door.

—If we had bowed to the rules of nature, man would have ceased to exist as a species, he says.

His voice sounds brittle. —Why aren’t you in bed yet, Frederik?

*     *     *

Frederik goes to the bathroom to brush his teeth. He washes his hands. The voices coming from the lounge are rising. He knows it’s very late. He opens the window to air the room.

If all manmade instruments were invented so we could play nature’s music, which instrument could sound like fresh air flowing into the bathroom?

He knows now is not a good time to ask.

He goes to his room and pulls on his pyjamas. Smooths down the sheets, shakes out the duvet, and crawls in under the covers.

He cannot make out the words, but he can hear that his father is cross. That rumble in his throat. He knows he’s stayed up too late. He can hear her going into the kitchen.

—Why do you have to ruin everything, Thomas.

—You’re drunk, Zoe.

He can hear the fridge being opened. The kettle clicks on.

—You’re drunk, Zoe, she repeats after him.

—He hasn’t a hope in hell of understanding what you’re saying. It’s twelve o’clock at night, for Christ’s sake, and you open a fresh bottle of wine. He’s nine years old, Zoe.

His dad is really mad now. So is she. The door into the lounge bangs shut.

—You underestimate him, she yells after him.

A little later his dad comes into his room. He sits down on the edge of the bed, tucks the duvet around him. He stays sitting there for a while. Sighs deeply.

—Nobody has to be that smart at twelve o’clock at night, he says, touching Frederik’s cheek.

—But I do understand, he whispers.

Thomas sits completely still for a moment longer.

—Then you’re a very clever boy, he whispers back. —Sleep well, sweetheart.

He lies in the dark for a long time. Waits for her to come. She always does.

[…]

 

FREDERIK

He knows he shouldn’t call his grandmother. It would only make matters worse.

He can always turn up the volume. So he does.

But he can still hear it, the muffled sounds; as if wrapped in a blanket.

He has his phone in his hand. The battery is charged.

He thinks he’s about to fall asleep, but it’s almost impossible not to hear the smashing of glass. He turns up the volume even more, but the sound was there only a moment before. He’s fresh out of ideas. He turns off the music. It’s quiet downstairs. He listens. He knows he’s heard it again.

Some kind of banging noise. He’s not sure which. Maybe it’s nothing.

He sees the tangled mess where Bear, Chicken, and Duck used to be. The snapped rods. They spin round when a breeze blows in from the window. He takes it down. He should’ve kept his mouth shut.

He listens. Thinks he can hear something else, but it’s probably just the rustle of leaves outside.

He checks his timetable. He’s got double periods in English and maths. Followed by two single periods in science and IT.

He’s done all his homework.

He rolls over onto his side. Rests a hand on the wall; cool to the touch, its rough surface comforting on his palm.

*     *     *

He must have slept. She’s come into his room. His hand still on the wall, he listens to her breathing. He stays lying still.

She lies down on the bed next to him. She’s not touching him, but he can feel the warmth of her body. It feels nice. He stays quiet and tries to fall asleep.

*     *     *

When the alarm goes off she’s gone. The room is empty and the sun is slanting through the white curtains. He stares at the socks on the floor. Seven in all.

He thinks he’s about to fall asleep, but it’s almost impossible not to hear the smashing of glass. He turns up the volume even more, but the sound was there only a moment before.

He gets out of bed and goes for a pee, as quietly as he can, careful to aim for the sides of the bowl. Then he goes down the stairs and into the kitchen. He opens the fridge. Takes out the milk. Fetches the cereal from the cupboard. A bowl. He lays everything out on the dining table. His forgotten a spoon. He pulls a chair up to the kitchen counter and reaches for the sugar in the cupboard. Goes back to the dining room table and sits down. What could that noise have been all about? Maybe it was all in his mind. He puts his phone on the table next to his bowl and starts spooning cereal into his mouth. He didn’t have to prep anything for English period.

*     *     *

He searches for the eighth sock. Looks under the bed. He finds it—covered in fuzz. He shakes the sock and picks off the remaining bits of fluff. Sorted. Now he’s got a matching pair that he likes. He sits down on the edge of the bed, and pulls them on.

He knows that the door to the lounge bangs all the time. Little knocks against the wooden doorframe.

He looks outside. The sun is shining. He puts on his sandals.

There’s no packed lunch in the kitchen. He cuts himself a slice of bread, a chunk of cucumber. He deposits his sandwich in a plastic freezer bag.

He tiptoes to the lounge and opens the door, as if it’s been waiting for him all this time; he lets himself get sucked in. It’s the pane of the terrace sliding door. Splinters of glass are scattered everywhere. A cold wind is blowing through a big hole in the pane. She’s lying on the sofa. Wrapped in a blanket. He’s not sure if she’s asleep.

He backs out the lounge. Grabs his satchel in the hall. He clicks the front door closed behind him.

*     *     *

At ten minutes to two ‘o clock he climbs up the tree in the schoolyard and prepares to wait. The pupils from Third Grade are playing charades far below. His perch feels like a nest. Nobody can see him up here.

It’s already gone four minutes past two when it rings.

—Hi, Freddie, says his dad.

—Hi.

—How’s it going?

—Good, he says.

—What are you doing?

—I’m playing charades.

—That sounds like fun?

—Yes.

—Is Mom home?

—I’m not sure.

—Right, you’re not home right now, are you. Is everything okay?

—Yes.

—What did you have for lunch today?

He hesitates:

—Pizza?

—I’ll be home day after tomorrow.

—Okay.

—Shall I call again tomorrow?

—Yes.

—Right-y ho. Keep well, says his dad.

—Wait. What time are you going to call tomorrow, he says. But the line is already dead.

*     *     *

He goes round the back to the garden gate. It’s locked. There’s no hole in the sliding door. And he can’t see her in the lounge. He goes back to the front door and unlocks the door. She’s not home. The sofa is empty. The blanket is lying in a heap on the floor.

He sets up his computer on the dining room table. Jonas from Sweden is online. They’re on the same team.

*     *     *

He hears the keys in the front door. He doesn’t turn round, but he can hear the rustle of bags. She’s packing stuff into the fridge. Pulls open the bottom drawer. Fills the kettle with water from the tap and switches it on. Now he turns his head. She’s holding a tea tin in each hand.

—Hej, she says.

—Hej.

She’s not home. The sofa is empty. The blanket is lying in a heap on the floor.

—Would like some tea?

—Yes, thanks, he says.

She comes over, thrusts each tin under his nose in turn.

—Uhmm, he says. —That one.

He knew she’d be back to normal.

She lays the table, and sits down opposite him, her face sticking up over the edge of the screen. She’s bought some cake. She slides a plate over.

—Shall I put this off? he asks.

—No, you don’t have to.

They sit at the table together. A string of his teammates are mowed down in an ambush from the rear.

*     *     *

She fetches the tea as soon as it’s had a chance to draw. Pours them both a cup. She fetches the bowl of sugar and puts it in front of him. She’s remembered to bring a teaspoon.

She sits down at the table.

—I’m sorry, Frederik, she says.

She’s peering over the edge of his screen. Blinks. It looks as if she wants to say more. She picks up her mug. Her hand is trembling.

—That’s okay, he says, glancing up briefly. He sees two snipers on the roof. He fires.

—I haven’t been feeling well, she says. It will pass.

—Yes, he whispers, making a dash for another sniper on the roof.

 

Ulvekvinten
Copyright © Trisse Gejl 2016
Copyright denne udgave © People’s Press 2016

„Ulvekvinten er et musikalsk paradoks.
En falskhed, vi er nødt til at leve med,
ellers går stemningssystemet ikke op.“

Et af træerne blomstrede tidligt det år. Det stod i parken foran konservatoriet. Små, lyserøde pletter med en mørk kerne. Hvader det, de hedder?

Kirsebærblomster, vil du sige. Du er voksen nu.

Senere har jeg min sorte frakke med sølvknapper på. Mine skridt hvisler gennem de tørre blade. Du løber foran. Det er oktober eller måske november. Jeg plukker et lavthængende blad fra en flammenden kastanje.

Bladene klistrer du op på hvidt papir. Jeg putter dig.

Godnat, siger jeg. Gute Nacht, siger du. Så siger jeg buenas noches. Så siger du good night. Så siger jeg buonanotte.

Så siger du det: welterusten. Du fniser, og dine grønne øjne forventer, jeg ved ikke, hvad de forventer, men sådan er det, hver gang vi når til welterusten.

Bonne nuit, smiler jeg. Din mund er gemt bag dynen nu, kun dine øjne er tilbage. Bonne nuit, hvisker du.

 

FREDERIK

– Da man opfandt klaveret, troede man, at det endelig var lykkedes at forklare og genskabe alle naturlige lyde i verden. Man stemte simpelthen klaveret efter et meget præcist system.

Det er fuldstændig som matematik, siger hun.

Det siger hun altid, fordi han er god til matematik.

Engelsk er som matematik. Klaveret er som matematik.Selv hans farmor er som matematik.

Han er bedre til matematik end hende.

Zoe slår et par toner an, mens hun ser på ham.

Han sætter fingrene på tangenterne og slår de samme toner an nogle oktaver oppe. Han følger hendes hænder, der flytter sig langsomt og sikkert rundt. Som et hurtigt ekko finder han de samme toner og slår dem an.

– Men det viste sig, at man aldrig kan efterligne naturens klange helt. For der findes en slags … naturlig falskhed, der ødelægger hele systemet, hvis man prøver at integrere den. Her, siger hun, – efter denne kvint, og hun sætter to fingre på tangenterne.

Det lyder ikke falsk, synes han.

– Man kaldte den ulvekvinten, siger hun. – Fordi man syntes, den lød lige så rædselsfuld som ulve, der hyler i kor.

Han er ikke sikker på, han hører det, hun vil have ham til at høre.

Hun slipper tangenterne og rækker ud efter sit rødvinsglas, der står på klaveret. Hun holder det svævende foran ansigtet.

– Det er ret fint, ikke?

Så sætter hun glasset til læberne.

Han nikker.

Hun sætter glasset fra sig og spiller et stykke, han kender, men ikke kan huske, hvad hedder. Det er sådan noget, hun gør. Lige spiller noget, der lyder godt.

Han henter et glas saftevand og sætter det på klaveret. Detmåtte han ikke, da han var mindre. Nu siger hun ikke noget.

– Når man så komponerede musik ud fra systemet, skulle man bare undgå ulvekvinten, siger hun og hopper en kvint op. – Den er ubrugelig, den ødelægger ethvert stykke musik. Den er naturlig, men falsk. Det er meget frustrerende.

– Så lavede man nye stemningssystemer. Det, vi bruger i dag, stammer helt fra 1600-tallet. Nu forsøgte man at fordele denne falskhed, ulvekvinten, over så mange kvinter som

muligt. Du kan altså godt flytte rundt på den falske kvint, du kan udtynde den, men du kan aldrig komme af med den. Med det resultat at al musik, vi hører i dag, er en lille smule falsk, siger hun, mens hun fortsætter en langsom melodi.

– Men vi kan ikke længere høre det, for vi har vænnet os til det. Det er ligesom en kabale, Frederik, stemningssystemer kan aldrig helt gå op.

Hun ser glad ud. Hun kan godt lide, at det ikke kan gå op.

– Kabaler kan godt gå op, siger han.

– Nå ja, siger hun. – Men så forestil dig en kabale, der ikke kan gå op.

Det kan han godt forestille sig. Han ser på hende. Hun ser altid tilbage med et særligt blik, når hun spiller samtidig. Som om han både er der og ikke er der.

– Så Frederik, siger hun og standser.

Hun tager vinglasset igen og tømmer det i en hurtig slurk.

– Når vi gennem mange hundreder af år komponerer efter klangsystemer, må vi vælge mellem pest eller kolera. Enten komponerer vi efter det ældste princip, der samler falskheden ved syvende kvint, og sørger for at komponere udenom den lyd. Vi skaber den ikke, vi hører den ikke længere, vi udrydder den på samme måde, som hvis vi ikke længere brugte farven … olivengrøn. Så ville vi til sidst ikke kunne se den. Eller også komponerer vi efter det nyeste princip, der fordeler den falske kvint over hele klaveret. Man kan sige, at vi så har valgt at sløre et umiddelbart link mellem musikken og naturen. Alt, vi spiller, er derfor en smule falsk, men heller ikke det hører vi længere.

Hun sidder lidt og ser på tangenterne.

– Forstår du det, Frederik?

Han nikker.

– Og det har vi slået os til tåls med, det er prisen for at have en klang, der er næsten perfekt. Det er musikkens paradoks. Nu genskaber vi glad og uvidende en falsk verden.

Hun rejser sig og går ud i køkkenet.

– Er det ikke ligesom pi? råber hun. – Eller skudår, ellers går tiden ikke op?

Det ved han ikke. Han ser på tangenterne. Prøver at klemme øjnene lidt sammen for at se dem anderledes, for at se den lille falskhed. Hun åbner en flaske vin, han kan høre suget fra proppen. Så kommer hun ind igen og sætter sig ved klaveret. Hun spiller en lille melodi.

– Du kan også tænke på urskiven, siger hun og viser ham sit ur.

– Der er tolv kvinter på klaveret, der er tolv tal på urskiven. Hvis mellemrummet mellem hvert tal var en kvint, ville kvinterne først stoppe et sekund efter tolv. Du vil aldrig ramme tolv helt rent. Det duer jo ikke, vel? For hvis vi bare fortsætter, så bliver klokken næste gang lidt mere over tolv. Og næste gang lidt mere.

Han ser på uret og nikker. Klokken er fem minutter i tolv.

– Så vi snyder lidt og laver alle kvinterne en lillebitte smule falske, så vi rammer tolv rent hver gang. Vi kan bedst lide, at tingene passer til det, vi kan forstå.

Hun ser lidt på ham. Så smiler hun.

– Det er et symfonisk problem, ikke et melodisk, siger hun så. – Og mennesket vil gerne lave store symfonier, ikke bare små melodier. Så vi har været nødt til at bøje naturen mod os i stedet for at bøje os for den. Forstår du det?

Han nikker.

– Det er godt nok abstrakt det der, lyder Thomas’ stemme. Han står i døren ind til stuen med frakke på. Han må lige være kommet hjem. De har i hvert fald ikke hørt ham.

– Hvis vi havde bøjet os for naturen, havde vi ikke overlevet som art, siger han.

Hans stemme er irriteret. – Hvorfor er du ikke i seng, Frederik?

*     *     *

Frederik går ud og børster tænder. Vasker hænder. De taler hurtigt derinde. Han vidste det jo godt. Så trækker han ud i toilettet.

Hvis alle instrumenter er lavet i et forsøg på at kunne spille naturens toner, hvilket instrument skal så lyde, som når man trækker ud i toilettet?

Han ved godt, det ikke er nu, han skal spørge.

Han går ind på sit værelse og tager nattøj på. Han glatter lagenet og ryster dynen, før han lægger sig ned under den.

Han kan ikke høre, hvad de siger, men hans far er sur. Han taler med den der brummen. Han ved godt, han er kommet for sent i seng. Nu går hun ud i køkkenet.

– Derfor behøver du ikke ødelægge det, siger hun.

– Du er fuld, Zoe, siger Thomas.

Han kan høre køleskabet blive åbnet. Elkedlen tændt.

– Du er fuld, Zoe, efteraber hun.

– Han har jo ikke en chance for at forstå det der. Klokken er tolv om natten, og du sidder dér med ham og har lige åbnet en ny flaske vin. For fanden, han er ni år.

Han er rigtig vred nu. Det er hun også. Døren ind til stuen smækker med et brag.

– Du undervurderer ham, råber hun.

Lidt efter kommer Thomas ind. Han sætter sig på kanten af sengen og stopper dynen ned om Frederik. Han sidder lidt. Så sukker han.

– Så klog behøver man ikke være klokken tolv om natten, siger han og stryger en finger over Frederiks kind.

– Jeg kan altså godt forstå det, hvisker han.

Thomas sidder lidt.

– Så er du en meget klog dreng, hvisker han tilbage. – Sov godt.

Han ligger længe i mørket og venter på, at hun skal komme. Det gør hun altid.

[…]

 

FREDERIK

Han ved godt, at han nok ikke skal ringe til farmor. Det vil gøre det hele meget værre.

Man kan også bare skrue op. Det gør han.

Han kan stadig høre det. Men nu er det, som om det er inde i en dyne.

Han har mobilen i hånden. Den er fuldt opladet.

Han tror, han er ved at falde lidt i søvn, men det er næsten umuligt ikke at høre rabalderet af glas. Han skruer op, men det var der stadig lige før. Nu ved han ikke rigtig, hvad han skal gøre. Han slukker for musikken. Der er stille. Han lytter. Han ved, at det var der.

Måske er der en lille lyd nu. Men han er ikke sikker. Måske er der slet ingen lyd.

Han ser op på uroen, hvor Bamse og Kylling og Ælling var. Nu er der kun de hvide pinde tilbage, men de drejer stadig en gang imellem i trækken fra vinduet. Hun hev dem af. Han skulle ikke have sagt noget.

Han lytter. Tror, han kan høre lidt, men det er vist bare en raslen i bladene udenfor.

De skal have engelsk og matematik i to timer og så natur og teknik.

Det har han lavet.

Han vender sig om. Lægger en hånd på væggen. Den er kølig. Den nubrede overflade er rar at mærke i håndfladen.

*     *     *

Han har sovet. Han kan mærke, at hun er kommet ind i værelset. Han kan høre hende trække vejret. Han ligger helt stille. Hånden mod væggen.

Så lægger hun sig ned i sengen. Han kan mærke varmen fra hendes krop, selvom hun ikke rører ved ham. Det er rart. Han ligger stille og prøver at sove igen.

*     *     *

Da vækkeuret ringer, er hun der ikke mere. Der er tomt, og solen skinner ind gennem de hvide gardiner. Han kigger på syv sokker på gulvet.

Han står op. Han tisser, så stille han kan. Han styrer strålen op ad kummens sider. Så går han ud i køkkenet. Åbner køleskabet. Tager mælk ud. Henter havregryn. En tallerken. Han sætter det hele på bordet. Så går han tilbage og henter en ske. Trækker en stol hen for at nå sukkeret. Så sidder han der. Han ved ikke rigtig, hvad det var. Måske var det ikke noget. Han lægger mobilen ved siden af sig og spiser. Han havde ikke noget for i engelsk.

*     *     *

Han leder efter den ottende sok under sengen. Han finder den fuld af nullermænd. Ryster den. Piller det af. Nu har han to ens, han godt kan lide. Han sætter sig på kanten af sengen og tager dem på.

Han ved godt, at døren til stuen går op og i hele tiden. Små bump mod karmen.

Han ser ud. Solen skinner. Han tager sandaler på.

Der er ikke nogen madpakke. Han skærer en skive brød og et stykke agurk og kommer det i en frysepose.

Først nu skubber han døren til stuen forsigtigt op. Det er, som om den har ventet på ham, lader sig suge indad. Det er en af ruderne i terrassedøren. Der ligger glasskår over det hele. En kold vind står ind. Hun ligger i sofaen. Hun har et tæppe over sig. Han ved ikke, om hun sover.

Så tager han sin taske og lader hoveddøren falde i med et lille klik.

*     *     *

Klokken ti minutter i to klatrer han op i træet og giver sig til at vente. Dem fra tredje klasse spiller rollespil nede på legepladsen. Det er som en hule heroppe. Man kan ikke ses nedefra.

Først fire minutter over to ringer den.

– Hej, Frede, siger hans far.

– Hej.

– Går det godt?

– Ja, siger han.

– Hvad laver du?

– Jeg spiller rollespil.

– Er det sjovt?

– Ja.

– Er mor hjemme?

– Det ved jeg ikke.

– Nåh nej, du er jo ikke hjemme. Går det godt?

– Ja, gentager han.

– Hvad har I fået at spise?

Han tøver.

– Pizza? siger han så.

– Jeg kommer hjem i overmorgen.

– Okay.

– Skal jeg ringe igen i morgen?

– Ja, siger han.

– O.k., hav det godt så længe, siger hans far.

– Hvornår ringer du? spørger han, men forbindelsen er

allerede afbrudt.

*     *     *

Han går rundt om huset, om til havedøren. Den er lukket, og der er ikke hul i nogen rude mere. Han kan ikke se hende derinde. Så går han om til hoveddøren og låser sig ind. Hun er der ikke. Han ser den tomme sofa. Tæppet ligger på gulvet.

Han sætter sin computer på spisebordet i stuen og tænder den. Jonas fra Sverige er online. De er på hold sammen.

*     *     *

Senere hører han nøglen i døren. Han vender sig ikke om, men han kan høre poser. Hun sætter ting i køleskabet. Ryster poserne og folder dem sammen. Lægger dem ned i nederste skuffe. Hun fylder vand i kedlen, tænder den. Så tager hun tedåser ned. Hun stiller sig i døren ind til stuen. Nu vender han sig om. Hun har en tedåse i hver hånd.

– Hej, siger hun.

– Hej.

– Vil du have te?

– Ja tak, siger han.

Hun kommer hen til ham og holder først den ene og så

den anden dåse under hans næse.

– Uhm, siger han, – den der.

Han vidste, hun ville blive almindelig igen.

Hun dækker op på bordet og sætter sig overfor ham. Hendes ansigt stikker op over computerskærmen. Hun har også købt kage. Skubber tallerkenen hen mod ham.

– Skal jeg slukke nu? siger han.

– Det behøver du ikke.

Så sidder de der. En masse af hans medspillere er blevet skudt i et bagholdsangreb.

*     *     *

Hun henter teen, da den har trukket. Skænker op til dem begge to. Hun henter sukker til ham. Og en teske.

Så sætter hun sig igen.

– Undskyld, Frederik, siger hun.

Han kigger op over skærmen og blinker. Hun ser ud, som om hun vil sige noget mere. Så tager hun tekruset i stedet. Hendes hænder ryster lidt.

– Det er okay, siger han og ser ned og skyder to på taget.

– Jeg har det ikke så godt for tiden, siger hun. – Det går

over.

– Ja, hvisker han og forfølger en snigskytte.

 

Translator’s Note:

Some say that the act of translation is, in itself, impossible. How does one express what cannot be verbalized? How do you record the disintegration of a mind? Perhaps it is impossible, but the first time I read The False Note I had a very real sense of what it might feel like to lose your mind, and, being a translator, I was intrigued by the way Trisse Gejl imagined how this language of loss—a void of madness—would sound: the nuanced language of music forms the central conceit of the novel; the relative veracity of a tone, as and when it reaches the ear. Frederik has the innocence of a child, but the gift to identify the relative “falsity” of a voice, and this novel invokes the irresistible challenge to translate certain tones of discord into English. When I read the original, it is often the silence, a pause in speech, which resounds.

 

Lindy Falk van Rooyen is a Danish literary translator and holds an LLM in commercial law from the University of Stellenbosch and an MA in Scandinavian and English literature from the University of Hamburg. Her translations have appeared in Blue Lyra Review, Asymptote, and The Missing Slate. Recent translation publications include The Last Execution by Jesper Wung-Sung (Simon & Schuster, 2016) and What My Body Remembers (Soho Press, 2017) by Agnete Friis.

Photo by Elfriede Liebenow

Trisse Gejl is a Danish author and journalist who made her debut with the critically acclaimed novel Where the Dandelions Grow in 1995. She holds a Cand.mag in aesthetics and cultural studies from the University of Aarhus. Her novels have been nominated for several literary awards, including Danish Radio’s Literary Award in 2007 and 2012. The False Note is her most recent novel and was short-listed for the prestigious Blixen Literary Award in 2016.

Photo by Les Kaner

The Last Ones

[translated fiction]

The first thing he recognized were José Luis’s mannerisms. He remembered
the way he’d sit on the bench and chew the little pink eraser on his pencil. Maybe
if he tried hard enough he’d be able to remember every part of the school: the sticky
hallways, the fossilized gum stuck under the long benches, the scratchy, pinching sleeves
of the uniforms. He could feel it all come rushing back at once in El Feeling nightclub, which was doused in fluorescent lights that danced on the tables and soaked in the bitter stench of urine that ran down the walls. Giovanni tried to light a cigarette, but his hands were shaking. When he finally got it lit, he distracted himself by looking at the artificial light diffused through the smoke he pushed from his mouth. His coworkers were off dancing in a private room. They’d all pretended to be drunker than they really were so someone might dare to suggest ending their bender at El Feeling.

Giovanni laid his head down on his hands, on top of the food-flecked tablecloth. He had a headache, and from somewhere through the pulsing murmur of the club he was able to make out a man’s booming metallic voice. The man was gigantic, monumental, even, with round legs and violet heels, and if he hadn’t been dressed as a woman, Giovanni thought, he would’ve made a handsome man. Giovanni was never really that way, but he’d had a few partners. He remembered how one had fallen in love with him, Gabriela? Or Jenny? He’d kissed her eyelids as she shivered underneath him and he ran the warm tip of his tongue over her thighs—those wide thighs like the woman’s at the table in front of him now, with her purple-painted lips and platinum hair past her waist. It was then, as she was chewing at the curve of her fake nails, that he recognized her furtive expression—as if she was waiting secretly for something inevitable. The first thing that made him recognize José Luis were his mannerisms. Besides that, she looked just like any heavily made-up woman leaning back on a Corona-brand plastic table.

The first thing he recognized were José Luis’s mannerisms. He remembered the way he’d sit on the bench and chew the little pink eraser on his pencil. Maybe if he tried hard enough he’d be able to remember every part of the school: the sticky hallways, the fossilized gum stuck under the long benches, the scratchy, pinching sleeves of the uniforms.

José Luis looked at Giovanni for a second, stunned and stuck in his seat in the middle of the dark club, his dress speckled with crumbs and beer. He let out a cackle as he clumsily got up from his table.

“Giovanni? Ideai! Well, look who it is.” She sauntered up to him and her hair covered her breasts as she crisscrossed one leg in front of the other. She leaned on the table. Giovanni invited him to sit down, but instead she hugged him, clinging to his shoulders. He found José Luis’s scent hidden under the perfume and then Giovanni was back in the hallways of the school—that evening alone on the bathroom floor, surrounded by all that blinding-white sadness. “Luisa, I’m Luisa now. Check it out, Papi, I got my chin and tits done. Although look… I still need work on my booty and dick.” She bit her lip. “But you know how it is, some guys like it, it’s a real pain in the ass! But I have my very own boy-toy now! Can you believe it? One of those for-real real boyfriends. Oh, and I have my salon, which is super successful, over on First. It’s called ‘Zielo.’ Sounds like some high-class stuff, right? You know I always liked exclusivity, because of my aunt. You remember her? What do you mean no! Yeah, she was the wife of a congressman, one of those real legit-lady types, with her roots always touched up, and my family—we were poor, I mean poor, but we all turned out cute and pretty feisty. And you? What’ve you done?”

Giovanni poured her a beer without being able to shake the memory of how José Luis had come into the bathroom that afternoon and said, “I’m a woman in the body of an ugly man.” He took out a little tube of lip gloss from his backpack and edged up close to the mirror. He must’ve seen Giovanni by then, sitting on the floor next to the urinals, his gaze drilled into the intricate blue pattern in the tile floor. Giovanni had just learned that his father finally died and had been sitting there a long time. To be honest, it was a relief for everyone—it was a relief for Giovanni. No more mopping up the black vomit, no more spending every night at the hospital, no more holding his icy yellowed hand and pretending not to be tired and pretending that they still loved him. He didn’t remember how long he’d been sitting there, looking at the line of filth collected in the grooves between the tiles, or how many boys had come in and asked if he was all right. He couldn’t remember if he’d answered them. It was then that José Luis had come into the bathroom, swinging his hips just like he was now, here in this fag nightclub.

Giovanni looked at him. He looked like a woman, and his lip quivered when he spoke. Luis was barely recognizable, but Giovanni recognized in him his familiarity, his caring nature, same as that day when Luis had stood in front of him with his backpack hanging off one shoulder and his hand on his hip. Giovanni remembered Luis’s instinctive need to comfort him. The water from the sink had been leaking towards the drain in the floor like a bitter cold comet-tail of clear water. José Luis had crouched down at his side, touched his shoulder, and called him by name in his fake and effeminate voice. Giovanni pushed him over. He remembered the sound of him falling down on the freezing-cold tiles. José Luis got up, but instead of leaving, he sat there next to him, watching the light pour in through the tiny bathroom window.

Giovanni could feel the close heat of his body. He intuited the weight of his clothes and searched for José Luis’s skin, the wetness of his tongue, his lipstick viscous with glitter, the tickling of his eyelashes against his cheek, his false scent. Giovanni shook with fear. He saw Luis now, transformed into a mass of curves with a bough of yellow roses tattooed on his wrist, and he thought about that day on the bathroom floor. How he’d forced his tongue into his mouth, and how they’d fooled around, fighting each other until the disgust and feverish trembling of his body overcame him. He’d thrown up right there, right on the pants of José Luis’s uniform.

No more mopping up the black vomit, no more spending every night at the hospital, no more holding his icy yellowed hand and pretending not to be tired and pretending that they still loved him. He didn’t remember how long he’d been sitting there, looking at the line of filth collected in the grooves between the tiles, or how many boys had come in and asked if he was all right.

“I’m not mad about the puke thing, Gio.” Luisa placed a hand on his thigh and batted her long fake lashes. “But make sure to tell your lady to go to my salon. Ugh, my Gio, don’t act all surprised. Yeah, I know all about it. It even showed up in the newspaper with all those fancy-ass people, right? Yeah, she’s pretty. I saw that it said ‘Mirta Diaz de Macuspanni,’ and I said to myself, what other Macuspanni is there in Tuxtla besides you, and I saw the photo of the baptism of your kid—what a cutie that little pichi of yours! So cute! I’m so damn happy to know you’re doing good. You were… like, the first guy I fell for. Oof, if you couldda seen me, the moment you stepped into that classroom, just seeing you made me wanna chew on the end of my pencil.”

“His name is Enrique, like my dad, he’ll be one next month. My wife is planning a party with her sisters—can you believe it, they want to make the local front-page news.” Giovanni didn’t know why he felt the need to mention this, maybe because he liked to imagine Luisa lifting up that little magenta dress, touching herself while looking at the photo in which he appeared with his wife, carrying his baby, in the house they’d just moved into.

He saw Luisa’s lipstick on the rim of her Styrofoam cup. He saw the fake breasts squeezed into her dress. He thought about his wife’s, also fake, but Luisa’s were glistening with sunflower oil. He felt suffocated by the music, by the time. He took off his blazer and sighed several times for all the lives he’d never live. He knocked the table as he stood and the beers rolled off and shattered on the floor. Luisa got up with him, and they tried to maneuver their way out between the club-goers. It was like a carnival with all the bodies convulsing to the music, and the singing queen on stage started to intone a tango. Someone threw a bottle at her that exploded into a thousand dazzling pieces around her heels.

As they walked along the street it smelled even more like urine than it had inside. They ducked around the corner to stay out of sight. Giovanni lit another cigarette, leaned against an unlit lamppost, and Luisa rested against his shoulder, whistling a little tune.

“You know, Gio, the other day I had a dream. I was dyeing a client’s hair, I think maybe it was the chemicals, because I dreamt about a man who was dying. I thought it was my dad, ’cause it’s been a super long time since I’ve seen him; but no, he’s still alive and kickin’. But the dream was so real. I dreamt about a man dying and puking up black stuff, and then I was the puke. I was your puke on my pants in the bathroom, which I hope you remember, Hum!”

“I don’t know, I don’t really dream, José Luis. I don’t have much time for that anymore.” Giovanni leaned against the wall. He didn’t want to go home, and he stroked his wallet in his pocket and then his keys. A key for the locked house where a woman slept with a child, in a room clouded by the sugary scent of vanilla candles.

“In my dream there was a city, I don’t know if you know much about dreams, I do, maybe it’s because I’m a Gemini and I feel drawn to the mystic and change, it’s on account of my cosmic ascendant: but anyways, in my dream there’s a city and I was out there workin’ it you know, just a broke-ass ho, but I was still just a little high-school brat, and I had a key that opened all the houses in town. I went into this old house and started making the bed. You know how? Like how they make the beds in hotels, like, tucking the corner of the blanket under the mattress.”

Giovanni loosened his tie. His coworkers would already be fucking someone by now. He bit his lip and let his cigarette butt fall to the ground. It bounced against the concrete, once, twice; its restless little light still glowing. He was like that cigarette, carrying inside himself a tiny ember that consumed him, small, but incandescent.

“Mmmm, so check it out, you’re not even listening! In my dream, it was like when I was still doing my show. They used to call me La Garoputa, but I actually went by Garota, which is like ‘girl’ in Brazilian. I was in high school when I did my show here, but before it was El Feeling it had another name, it was owned by don Iván and it was called… Butterflies! Ooh, I must’ve been about sixteen. I started out singing Emmanuel, but I really liked singing that one song, El Día que me Quieras. Oh, and hey, by the way, I lied to you earlier, the truth is I don’t have a boyfriend, well, I mean… not a for-real real one, anyway.” Luisa stepped a little closer and her platinum hair wound around the buttons of his shirt. She smelled like peanuts and onions, and Giovanni put his arm around her waist. “But in my dream, I was La Garoputa again, and I had a house and a crib with a baby in it and you opened the door and you said to me, you said…”

He imagined his father again, alone and facing that paradoxical clarity of death, and without even closing his eyes very tight, Giovanni could really remember it. He squeezed Luis and pulled him nearer until he held him so close he could see his wrinkles and eyeliner. He listened to the thick murky sound that escaped from El Feeling and the hissing of the few cars that crossed the avenue. He leaned his head on Luisa’s shoulder and rested his lips on her skin. He could hear her breathing, and her voice took on another quality, manly and cavernous. Giovanni felt her body come undone as he ran his hand along, stroking her uncovered back. The gritty sidewalk under the soles of her shoes, the icy slick floor of the bathroom, the smell of bar food on her breath, the locked door of his house, his child inside wrapped in a star-patterned blanket, twisting like unburying himself from the sheets, like his father in the starry blankets of the hospital. He wound his arms around José Luis tighter and tighter until he heard his stilted breathing and masculine voice that whispered in his ear, “So in my dream, you have my voice and I have yours, and you tell me, ‘El día que me quieras, baby, we’re gonna fuck this world right up its ass,’ and you look at me, just like you’re lookin’ at me now, and you tell me your blood woke you up this morning, boiling.”

 

Los últimos

Lo primero que reconoció de José Luis fue su gesto. Recordó la forma en que se sentaba en las bancas y cómo masticaba la cabecita rosada de su borrador. Quizá si lo intentaba, recordaría cada uno de los lugares de la escuela: los pasillos pegajosos, el chicle fosilizado debajo de los mesabancos, el escozor de las mangas del uniforme. Sintió todo de nuevo en el Feeling, rodeado por las luces fluorescentes que bailoteaban sobre las mesas y el hedor agrio de las marcas de orines que escurrían de las paredes. Giovanni intentó prender un cigarro, le temblaba la muñeca. Cuando por fin pudo encenderlo, se entretuvo viendo la luz artificial difuminada por el humo que expulsaba de su boca. Sus compañeros de trabajo estaban bailando en un privado; todos habían fingido estar más borrachos de lo que en realidad estaban, para que alguno propusiera ir a terminar la borrachera al Feeling.

Giovanni descansó la cabeza sobre las manos que posaba en el mantel moteado por las sobras de comida; le dolía la cabeza, pero en medio del murmullo, alcanzó a distinguir la voz metálica de un hombre que retumbaba en el antro, era monumental, con piernas redondas y zapatos púrpuras, de no estar vestido de mujer, pensó, hubiera sido un hombre apuesto. Giovanni nunca lo fue, pero había tenido varias parejas. Recordaba que alguna se enamoró de él ¿Gabriela? o ¿Jenny? Le besaba los párpados, mientras tiritaba debajo de él y Giovanni recorría tibiamente sus muslos con la punta de su lengua, esos amplios muslos como los de la mujer de la mesa de enfrente, que tenía los labios pintados de púrpura y el cabello plateado por debajo de la cintura. Fue entonces cuando reconoció ese gesto furtivo como el de esperar algo inminente a escondidas, mientras mordisqueaba la curva de sus uñas postizas. Lo primero que reconoció de José Luis fue su gesto; por lo demás, daba la impresión de ser sólo una mujer con mucho maquillaje, reclinada sobre una mesa de Corona.

José Luis lo observó por un segundo: perplejo y clavado en su silla en medio del antro oscuro, con la camisa salpicada de comida y cerveza; comenzó a carcajearse mientras se levantaba ruidosamente de su mesa.

— ¿Giovanni?, ¡ideai! —, se acercó a él, su cabello le cubría los pechos, caminaba cruzando una pierna frente a otra, se reclinó sobre su mesa. Giovanni lo invitó a sentarse, pero ella lo abrazó colgándosele un poco de los hombros; sintió el olor de José Luis debajo del perfume de mujer que lo enmascaraba. Giovanni volvió a los pasillos de la escuela, a la tarde en la que se quedaron solos en el baño sobre el piso, rodeados de toda esa blanquísima tristeza.

—Luisa, ahora soy Luisa. Velo papi: me puse mentón y me implanté las tetas. Aunque mirá… me faltan las nalgas y el pito —se mordió el labio—. Pero ya sabes, a algunos les gusta, ¡es un estorbo! Ahora tengo un cola, ¿tú crees? Uno de esos novios de deveritas. Ah y ya tengo mi salón, es de éxito, ahí en la primera. Se llama “Zielo” suena como de ricos ¿no? Ya sabes que a mí siempre me gustó lo exclusivo, era por mi tía, ¿la recordás? ¡Cómo que no! Si era la esposa de un diputado, una señorona de aquellas, con las raíces siempre pintadas, y eso que mi familia era pobre, pobre. Pero salimos chulas todas y tantito arrechas. ¿Y vos qué hicistes?

Giovanni le sirvió un vaso de cerveza, sin poder olvidar cómo José Luis había entrado al baño diciendo “soy una dama en el cuerpo de un hombre feo”, había sacado un tubito de brillo labial de la mochila y se acercó al espejo, debió ver entonces a Giovanni sentado detrás suyo, junto a los mingitorios, con la mirada clavada en los azulejos del piso. Había estado mucho tiempo ahí, desde que supo que su papá había muerto por fin. En realidad era un alivio para todos; en realidad, era un alivio para él: no más trapear sus vómitos negros, no más esperar hasta tarde en el hospital, no más agarrarle la mano amarillenta y gélida y fingir no estar cansado y que aún todos lo amaban. No recordaba cuánto tiempo había estado sentado ahí: observando la línea de mugre acumulada en la zanja que separaba los mosaicos, ni cuántos chicos habían entrado y le habían preguntado si estaba bien, no sabía tampoco si había respondido. Recordaba que José Luis había entrado al baño contoneándose como ahora en el antro de putos.

Giovanni lo observó. Era lo más parecido a una mujer, pero le temblaba el labio cuando hablaba, apenas podía reconocerlo. Identificaba su cercanía, su consuelo, tal como ese día cuando se había quedado de pie frente a él, con la mochila colgándole de un hombro y una mano sobre la cintura, observando su insaciable necesidad de consuelo. El agua de un grifo se escapaba por la coladera, una estela transparente de agua helada. José Luis se hincó a su lado, le tocó un hombro y lo llamó por su nombre con su voz artificiosa y afeminada. Giovanni lo empujó. Oyó cómo cayó sobre el mosaico helado y límpido. Él se incorporó, pero en lugar de irse, se quedó junto a él, observando la luz que entraba por la pequeña ventana del baño.

Giovanni sintió el cercano calor de su cuerpo, intuyó el peso de su ropa y buscó la piel de José Luis, la humedad de su lengua, el labial viscoso con diamantina, el cosquilleo de sus pestañas sobre su mejilla, su olor falso, tembló de miedo. Lo observó ahora, transformado en un bulto de curvas, con el tatuaje de un ramillete de rosas amarillas en la muñeca y pensó en ese día en el piso del baño, en cómo había arrasado su lengua dentro de su boca: juguetearon, batallando hasta que lo sacudió el asco y el temblor febril del cuerpo; había vomitado ahí mismo, sobre los pantalones del uniforme de José Luis.

—No te guardo rencor por lo de la vomitadita, Gio —Luisa le colocó una mano sobre el muslo y parpadeó con sus largas pestañas postizas.

—Pero decíle a tu mujer que vaya a mi salón. Uuuy mi Gio, no te sorprendás, si yo todo lo sé. Además aparece en el periódico con la gente nice ¿no? Está chula, es que vi que decía: Mirta Díaz de Macuspanni y qué más Macuspanni en Tuxtla que vos, eso me dije, y vi la foto del bautizo de tu niño, ¡qué pichi tan chulote! ¡reeechulo! me alegró harto saber que te va bien. Fuistes…como el primero del que me enamoré. Uuuy si vieras, desde que entraste al salón, de puro verte mordisqueaba mi borrador.

—Se llama Enrique, como mi papá, cumple un año el mes que viene. Mi mujer le prepara una fiesta con sus tías, imagínate, quieren un reportaje de primera plana. — Giovanni no sabía por qué tenía que mencionarle eso, quizá porque le gustó imaginar que Luisa se masturbaría levantando ese vestidito magenta, viendo la revista en la que él aparecería junto a su mujer, cargando a su hijo, en esa casa a la que se acaban de mudar.

Observó la marca de labial de Luisa en el vaso de unicel. Vio los pechos falsos apretujados en su vestido, pensó en los de su esposa, también operados, pero los de Luisa estaban rociados con brillantina tornasol. Se sintió asfixiado por la música, por el tiempo, se quitó el saco, resopló varias veces, por todo lo que no viviría jamás. Se levantó de la mesa, la golpeó al pararse, las cervezas rodaron hasta quebrarse en el piso. Luisa se levantó con él, intentaron salir entre la gente excitada. Le pareció un carnaval, los cuerpos estaban convulsionados por la música, aunque el mampo que cantaba había comenzado a entonar un tango, alguien le arrojó una botella de vidrio que estalló en miles de pedazos resplandecientes cerca de sus tacones.

Caminaron sobre la avenida, pero olía más a orines que dentro, doblaron en la esquina, para que no pudieran verlos. Giovanni encendió otro cigarro, se reclinó en un farol fundido y Luisa descansó en su hombro silbando una tonadita.

—Vieras Gio, que el otro día tuve un sueño, había estado tiñéndole el pelo a una clienta, yo creo que fue el líquido del tinte, porque soñé a un señor que se moría, pensé que era mi papá, como hace harto que no lo veo; pero no, ese anda aún vivo. El sueño fue bien real, soñé un hombre morir vomitando negro, y luego el vómito era yo. Yo era tu vómito en mi pantalón en el baño. Bien que te acordás ¡hum!

—No sé, yo no sueño José Luis. Ya no tengo tiempo para eso. —Giovanni se reclinó en la pared, no quería llegar a casa, palpó su cartera en el pantalón y las llaves. Una llave de una puerta cerrada, en una casa donde dormía una mujer con un niño, junto a un buró donde se consumía el olor dulce de unas velas de vainilla.

—En mi sueño, hay una ciudad, yo no sé si sabés de eso de los sueños, yo quizá porque soy géminis me siento inclinada a lo místico y al cambio, es por mi ascendente cósmico; pero bueno, en mi sueño había una ciudad y yo estaba ahí de puta perdida, arrecheando, pero aún era cuatito de la prepa y tenía una llave que abría todas las casas. Entré a una y me puse a hacer la cama de una casa vieja. ¿Sabés cómo? Como se hace en los hoteles, metiendo la punta de la cobija debajo del colchón.

Giovanni se aflojó la corbata, sus compañeros debían estar cogiendo ya con alguien, se mordió el labio, dejó caer la colilla de su cigarro, rebotó sobre el concreto: una, dos veces, con esa lucecita intranquila aun brillando. Él era como ese cigarro, cargaba una brasita pequeña pero incandescente que lo consumía.

—Mmm vélo, pues, ¡vos ni me estás pelando! En mi sueño, yo era como en los tiempos de mi show. Me decían “La Garoputa”; bueno, yo me hacía llamar “Garota” que es como “chamaca” en brasileño. Ya en la prepa hacia mi show aquí, pero esto antes de llamarse el Feeling tenía otro nombre, era de don Iván y se llamaba…Butterflies ¡Uuuuy! Yo tendría mis dieciséis. Entré cantando al Emmanuel pero a mí me gustaba más cantar esa de “El día que me quieras”. Oí, te mentí hace rato, la verdad es que no tengo novio, bueno no de deveritas. —Luisa se acercó más a él, sus cabellos plateados se enredaron en los botones de su camisa. Olía a cebolla y a cacahuate, Giovanni la rodeó por la cintura.

—Pero en mi sueño, yo era de nuevo la “Garoputa” y entonces yo tenía una casa y un bebé en la cuna y tú abrías la puerta y me decías, me decías…—Giovanni imaginó de nuevo a su padre, solo, ante la claridad inverosímil de la muerte; pero ni aun apretando muy fuerte los ojos, podía realmente recordarlo. Estrujó a Luis, lo jaló hasta tenerlo tan junto que podía verle las marcas del delineador y las arrugas de los ojos. Oyó el sonido brumoso que escapaba del Feeling y el siseo de los pocos coches que transitaban la avenida. Reclinó la cabeza sobre el hombro de Luisa y descansó los labios en su piel, podía oírla respirar; su voz tenía otro timbre, una voz cavernosa y varonil. Giovanni arrastró su mano acariciándole la espalda descubierta. Sintió su cuerpo deshacerse: el piso grumoso debajo de sus suelas, el piso helado del baño, el aliento a comida del bar, la puerta de su casa cerrada; su hijo dentro, envuelto en cobijas celestes, retorciéndose, como desenterrándose de la ropa, como su padre entre las cobijas celestes del hospital. Rodeó a José Luis con más y más fuerza, hasta oír cómo su respiración se entrecortaba y su voz de hombre le susurraba en el oído.

—Entonces, en mi sueño, tú tienes mi voz y yo la tuya y me dices: “El día que me quieras, chula, vamos a clavarle la verga al mundo” y me ves, así como me estás viendo ahora, y me decís que amaneció la sangre rabiándote.

 

Translator’s Note:

“The Last Ones” posed several fascinating challenges on both narrative and socio-linguistic levels during my translation process. This story takes place in a nightclub in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Chiapas, Mexico, and follows the narrative memory of Giovanni, a closeted man who is recalling his first romantic encounter with someone of the same sex. These memories, which are deeply entangled with the memories of the death of his father, are brought back to life after running into Luisa, who has since transitioned into a woman. Luisa’s dialogue was a particular challenge when translating this story, as the voices of Giovanni and Luisa are quite distinctive in the original Spanish. Luisa uses the second-person vos form, which is typical of countries in Central and South America, but also sometimes present in the state of Chiapas, which borders Guatemala. Their register is also quite different. As I was translating, I worked hard to maintain these speech patterns while being conscious of the risk of creating a caricature of transgendered women.

Another challenge this story presented is that it is written as a close third-person narrative. Because of this, the reader is often presented with perspectives that come from the point of view of Giovanni, who is a deeply closeted man. Giovanni’s internal narrative only acknowledges Luisa as a woman about half the time, through the use of feminine pronouns. Because Giovanni often refers to Luisa as “he,” there are some instances when the actions of the two main characters seem to be indistinguishable. This narrative technique beautifully portrays some of the internal conflict that Giovanni is experiencing in this story, such as the painful longing for a life distinct from the one he is currently living, the confusion and shame of being queer in a highly masculine society, and the nostalgia of reuniting with a schoolyard love. The last paragraph of this story wonderfully captures the heartbreak of being able to peer into the window of what could have been. It also provides crucial commentary on the life of queer and transgendered people, and the societal repression they face around the world.

 

Allana C. Noyes is a literary translator and writer from Reno, Nevada. She is currently an MFA candidate in literary translation at the University of Iowa. She translates from Spanish and French, and her literary and journalistic translations have been published by Mexico City Lit, the Trans-Border Institute, and Solis Press.

 

Claudia Morales (b. Chiapas, Mexico, 1988) holds a BA in Spanish language and literature from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, and she is currently a PhD student at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Morales is the author of the book, Hospitalidad (2014), and her first novel, No Habrá Retorno (forthcoming) received the Rosario Castellanos National Award for short novels in 2015.

Quotidian Blues

Sister

My sister is sitting
on the bank of a ploughed field,
catching the last grains like fish.
The black earth is agitated,
spattering poisonous salt
throwing foam beneath the blackthorn bush.

I go up to her, bent and old,
sobbing, so she pities me,
saying,
“Look, I’m cold, I’ll die.”
And she answers me,
“You were never alive,
you haven’t been born.”

I cry to her,
“Look at the clouds in the sky!
Here comes a storm!”
She furrows her brow,
doesn’t move,
watching the minnows of corn.

 


On the twelfth day   

On the twelfth day I met the one
who had talked to me.
He lay ill, wrapped in the Milky Way like a blanket.
He didn’t surprise me by this,
but he was not how I had imagined.
He washed down the medicine, with difficulty holding the glass,
whilst his other hand groped about in a silver dish,
then he handed a button to me and said:
Here’s the ocean—take it and show it to people.

Just then rained a meteorite shower,
it soaked me from crown to hem,
and the button dissolved like a handful of salt.
You know, of course, it is happiness,
When an ocean splashes in the lap of your dress.

 


Blok Capsule 

Here is my body, weighty, a simple protein,
going through customs, but through the window it’s all the same:
the night, the gloom of the station, the street and the street light,
the slow border guard in a white shirt, oh god,
here’s my bag, I’m trembling like a creature,
what if he discovers that under my skin
hidden in a box is Alexander Blok,
asleep like a puppy covered with a sack.

Go away, border guard, I’m still young,
if you don’t believe me, I’ll repaint my name,
a capsule of Blok is active in me
I’m starting to be confused by my pseudonym.
You should know, border guard, all my chatter
will be short, like a shot of adrenaline,
will be underground, fanciful, like water
with a smell of the north, with the tang of Ukraine.

 


A Dead Cat

I walked along the pavement and saw a dead cat in the gutter.
A woman drew near with a broom and scoop.
She shovelled the corpse into a bag and said:
“It’s my cat, I’m going to bury it.”

But then I went into a coat shop,
and soon forgot about the cat.

Light music was playing in the store.
A dead man wore a scarf and coat.
I said to the shop assistant:
“Give me a broom and scoop.
It’s my cat, I’m going to bury it.”
He replied:
“It’s not a cat, it’s a plastic dummy.
Please leave our shop.”

Then watching me go, he pointed a finger
and said something to another shop assistant.

I returned home.
Entering the lift I saw a pool of blood.
I got to the tenth floor with difficulty.
I felt bad.
I went out.
But coming towards me was my neighbour with a cloth and bucket.
I said to her:
“There’s blood there. A cat died there.
I’m going to bury it.”

She answered:
“It’s not blood. It’s just that I spilt tomato sauce.
I’m going to wash the lift.”
Then watching me go, she pointed a finger
and said something to another neighbour.

I went into my apartment.
I looked into the mirror and saw a dead cat.
It’s my cat.
I’m going to bury it.

 


Quiet is the molten night

Quiet is the molten night
on the steppes of Eastern Ukraine
you can’t surpass it, can’t overcome,
can’t fly up to the middle.

But a rock tears itself away
floats off, like a lonely sail
flows down in the mist of the sea
to find in a distant land

a house, that blooms on the boulders,
grows and reaches above,
all the while a liquid moon
seeps down from the tiled roof.

 


Like the word “flowerbed” 

I’m constantly rushing somewhere, for my troubles.
So today I went for bread and saw something white
flash past my feet and dart under a table in the summer café.
I follow the white thing. Suddenly I think it’s a rabbit.
I sit and wait, like the fool at the station,
twisting the menu in my hands, I order a beer.
And from under the table this white thing leapt out,
bounced like a ball and turned into a bird.
But I didn’t leave the café,
I sat at the table, leafed through the menu.
And on the last page in this book
next to the prices for Italian pizza
are three faint and roughly drawn arrows
“right,” “left” and “ahead.”
Under the “right” arrow it says “how you live,”
under the “left” arrow it says “how you die.”
Why did I sit at the table? Why did I stay looking at this menu?
Why did I come into this café at all?
I would choose the arrow “ahead,” but the inscription below is erased.
And for a long time that white bird flew over me,
as if I needed it, as if it was somehow interested in me.
Then it suddenly sat on the pavement not far from the night club,
and turned into something in bloom, like the word “flowerbed.”

 


Get lost

I approached
that is
I stood alongside
Russian literature
but she is proud
unbending
not paying attention

and I position myself
not giving way
clicking my heel on the asphalt
counting the crows

and suddenly she condescended
turned her gaze
saying what are you here for?
what do you need from me?
don’t stand alongside
fuck off from me
get lost

I tell myself to fuck off
and stand further off
not giving way
clicking my heel on the asphalt
counting the crows
in my memory
tying knots

 


I see almost nothing

my arms became branches
my legs lengthened like roots
I don’t know what to do now
how will I go to work
how will I open the green umbrella
how will I strike the keyboard
I see almost nothing
except the birds
sitting in the palms of my hands

 


 

Сестра

Сидит сестра моя
на берегу вспаханного поля,
как рыбку, ловит последние зёрна.
Чернозём волнуется,
брызжет отравленной солью,
выбрасывает пену под куст тёрна.

Подхожу к ней, старая и кривая,
рыдаю, чтоб вызвать жалость.
Говорю:
– Видишь, мне холодно, я умираю.
А она мне:
– Ты не жила ещё,
не рождалась.
Кричу ей:
— Сейчас будет буря!

Взгляни, заволокло небо!
Она брови хмурит,
не двигается,
глядит на мальков хлеба.

 


на двенадцатый день

А на двенадцатый день я встретила того
кто со мной говорил.
Он лежал больной в млечный путь завернут как в одеяло.
Не то, чтобы он этим меня удивил,
но я не таким его себе представляла.
Он запивал лекарство с трудом удерживая стакан,
другой рукой что-то нащупывая на серебряном блюде,
потом протянул мне пуговицу и сказал:
Вот океан – возьми и покажи его людям.
В этот момент пошел метеоритный дождь,
и я промокла от макушки до платья,
а пуговица растворилась как горстка соли.
Знаете, наверно, это и есть счастье,
когда океан плещется в твоем подоле.

 


Капсула Блока

Вот мое тело, важный, простой белок,
едет через таможню, а за окном все то же:
ночь, привокзальный морок, улица и фонарь,
медленный пограничник в белой рубашке, боже,
вот моя сумка, я трепещу как тварь,
вдруг обнаружит, что у меня под кожей
спрятан в коробке сам Александр Блок,
спит как щенок, прихлопнув себя рогожей.

Уйди, пограничник, я еще молода,
если не веришь, я перекрашу имя,
капсула Блока действует на меня
я начинаю путаться в псевдониме.
Знай, пограничник, вся моя болтовня,
будет короткой, как выброс адреналина,
будет подземной, вычурной, как вода
с запахом севера, с привкусом украины.

 


Мертвая кошка

Я шла по тротуару и увидела на обочине мертвую кошку.
К ней приближалась женщина с лопаткой и веником.
Она сгребла труп в пакет и сказала:
— Это моя кошка, я буду ее хоронить.

Но я шла в магазин верхней одежды,
поэтому вскоре забыла про кошку.

В зале играла легкая музыка.
И стоял мертвый человек в пальто и шарфе.
Я сказала продавцу-консультанту:
— Дайте мне веник и лопатку.
Это моя кошка, я буду ее хоронить.
Он ответил:
— Это не кошка, а пластмассовый человек,
выйди из нашего магазина.

Потом он смотрел мне в след, показывал пальцем
и что-то говорил другому продавцу-консультанту.

Я вернулась домой.
Зашла в лифт и увидела лужу крови.
Я с трудом доехала до десятого этажа.
Мне было плохо.
Я вышла.
А навстречу мне соседка с тряпкой и ведром.
Я сказала ей:
— Там кровь. Там умерла кошка.
Я буду ее хоронить.

Она мне ответила:
— Это не кровь. Я только что пролила томатный сок.
Иду мыть лифт.

Потом она смотрел мне в след, показывала пальцем
и что-то говорила другой соседке.

Я вошла в свою квартиру.
Посмотрела в зеркало и увидела мертвую кошку.
Это моя кошка.
Я буду ее хоронить.

 


Тиха расплавленная ночь

Тиха расплавленная ночь
в степи восточной Украины,
не превзойти, не превозмочь,
не долететь до середины.

Но отрывается скала,
плывет, как парус одинокий
в тумане моря и стекла,
чтобы найти в стране далекой

дом, что цветет на валунах,
растет и делается выше,
покуда жидкая луна
стекает с черепичной крыши.

 


Похожее на слово “клумба”

Я постоянно куда-то бегу, у меня заботы.
Вот и сегодня пошла за хлебом, вижу белое что-то
под ногами мелькнуло и юркнуло в летнее кафе под столик.
Я — за этим белым, думаю, а вдруг это кролик.
Сижу и жду, как дурочка на вокзале,
покрутила в руках меню, пиво себе заказала.
А это белое из-под стола взметнулось,
как мячик подпрыгнуло и птицею обернулось.
А я из кафе уходить не стала,
сидела за столиком, меню листала.
И в этой книге на последней странице
рядом с ценами на итальянскую пиццу
три стрелочки “прямо”, “налево”, “направо”
нарисованы неотчётливо и коряво.
Под стрелкой “направо” написано — “как бы жизнь”,
под стрелкой “налево” — “как бы смерть”.
Зачем я села за столик? Зачем стала это меню смотреть?
Зачем вообще я в это кафе припёрлась?
Я бы выбрала стрелку “прямо”, но под ней надпись стёрлась.
А та птица белая ещё долго надо мной летала,
будто я ей нужна, словно я чем-то её заинтересовала.
А потом вдруг села на тротуар недалеко от ночного клуба,
и превратилась во что-то цветущее, похожее на слово “клумба”.

 


Иди отсюда

подошла
это я значит
к русской литературе
стала рядом
а она гордая
неприступная
вниманния не обращает
а я стою себе такая
с места не двигаюсь
каблуком об асфальт постукиваю
ворон считаю

и вдруг она снизошла
взор обратила
че говорит пристала?
че тебе от меня надо?
не стой рядом
отвали от меня
иди отсюда

сама говорю отвали
и стою себе дальше
с места не двигаюсь
каблуком об асфальт постукиваю
ворон считаю
узелки на память
завязываю

 


Я почти ничего не вижу

мои руки стали ветвями
мои ноги длинны как корни
я не знаю что теперь делать
как я пойду на работу
как открою зеленый зонтик
как ударю по клавиатуре
я почти ничего не вижу
кроме птиц
на ладонях сидящих

 

Translator’s Note

In translating these poems from Ganna Shevchenko’s first poetry collection, Домохозяйкин блюз, I wanted to retain their freshness and apparent simplicity. The spirit of the book is vital, with a fairy tale or dreamlike quality to some poems. I wanted to convey Shevchenko’s distinct, lively voice and—as the poet Arkady Shytpel commented in his 2016 review in Novyy Mir— the “strangeness and charm” of these poems.

I translated the title of the collection (literally Housewife’s/ Househusband’s Blues), as Quotidian Blues to convey the sense of lived experience, banality, the everyday. The connotations of the word “housewife” in English seemed too limited.

As much as possible, I have followed the structure of each poem. Rather than duplicating rhyme schemes, I have used half-rhyme, internal rhyme and consonant rhyme to preserve the formal integrity of each stanza in relation to the whole poem.

In Shevchenko’s poems, ordinary situations become fantastic as she meets with a dead cat, a dead poet (Charles Bukowski), her sister who tells her she doesn’t exist, someone “wrapped in the Milky Way as if in a blanket,” a bird which “turned into something in bloom, like the word “flowerbed.”

The poet Marina Galina in her preface to the book, describes some of the poems as “dark like the Ukrainian night with shining, terrifying stars, glowing through the cherry orchard close to the house.” This quotation is from Taras Shevchenko (1814-61), whose literary works form the basis of modern Ukrainian literature.

Shevchenko was asked in an interview in 2015 whether she was a Slavophile or a Westerner. She replied, “Actually I’m a transcendentalist. Like Henry Thoreau, who wrote Life in the Woods. If there was the hypothetical opportunity, I would be living right now somewhere on the outskirts of civilisation, in a hut on chicken legs, with my backside to the city, facing the woods.”

 

Special guest judge, Carolyn L. Tipton

“Anne Gutt has brought alive for us the strange and magical world of Russian poet Ganna Shevchenko. Though the collection of poems is titled ‘Quotidian Blues,’ the poet’s vision is anything but ordinary; she, herself, says she ‘see[s] almost nothing / except the birds / sitting in the palms of [her] hands.’ Through Anne Gutt, we enter a wonderland where the poet, following a white rabbit, goes into a café where, ‘next to the prices for Italian pizza / are three faint and roughly drawn arrows / “right,” “left” and “ahead.” / Under the “right” arrow it says “how you live,” / under the “left” arrow it says “how you die.” / … / I would choose the arrow “ahead,” but the inscription below is erased.’ We leave these poems with our minds slightly altered. It is Gutt’s particular skill to render this fantastical world in lucid English; the odd images come through with clarity; no ‘translation murkiness’ adheres to them. Moreover, the translator has given us English poems which, like the original poems, are musical, but whose music is subtle, and thus, more pleasing to most English readers; for example, rather than giving us full rhyme, she has used half-rhyme and assonance. I am so grateful to Anne Gutt for producing poems which feel as if they have been written in English, but which bring us not only a foreign world, but a quirky and original perception of this world.”

-Dr. Carolyn L. Tipton is a poet, translator, and teacher. She has been awarded both an N.E.H. and an N.E.A. Her first book of translations of the poetry of Rafael Alberti, To Painting (Northwestern University Press), won the National Translation Award. It was also a finalist for the PEN West Award in Literary Translation and was selected by Poet Laureate Robert Hass for Poet’s Choice. Her latest translation of Alberti, Returnings: Poems of Love and Distance (White Pine Press), is the recipient of the Cliff Becker Translation Prize.

 

Anne Gutt

Anne Gutt is a poet and artist living in the UK, working under the heteronym seekers of lice. She has books in many public collections, including ten in the collection of Artists’ Books at the Tate, London. She learnt Russian in order to read Russian poetry in the original. She is currently translating the poetry of Nina Iskrenko (1951-1995).

Photo by Franck Skyscape

Ganna ShevchenkoGanna Shevchenko is a poet and prose writer, born in Yenakiyevo, Donetsk, Ukraine. Her work has appeared in many literary journals in Russia, including Arion, Interpoezia, New Youth, People’s Friendship, October, and Siberian Lights, and in anthologies of poetry and prose. She won the International Contest of Contemporary Drama from the Belarus Free Theatre in 2010 for her play Iron, and was a finalist for the Moscow Account poetry prize in 2012 with Quotidian Blues; her novel Deep Miner (2015) was on the longlist for the Российская национальная премия (“National Bestseller” award). She has published three books, Cranes (2009), Quotidian Blues (2012), and The Inhabitant of the Crossroads (2015), and Window, Wind (2017). She is also a member of the Writers’ Union of Moscow.

  Photo by Andrey Tarasov

Sunday


“Tell your father not to stay out there in the chill; it’ll make him sick.”

Actually, it was warm on the patio. The sun already hung low in the sky, but it was still two hours until dark. And the fence around the house shielded don Antonio Nemiña from the winds loaded with dust and dry leaves, bringing more warmth, not coolness.

“Tell him to come in. It’s cold,” his mother repeated.

Ignacio had just come home from the movies. On Sundays, he always went to the movies. It didn’t surprise him to see his old man there, seated in his rocker at the far end of the patio, smoking a cigar. But it must have surprised his mother. She didn’t know how to express why it worried her, so resorted to the excuse that it was chilly. She couldn’t say that directly to her husband because they had not spoken for years. If they wanted to communicate, even if they were in the same room, facing each other, they sent the message through one of their children. And now, that meant only Ignacio.

“Didn’t you hear me?”

Don Antonio didn’t even turn to look at them on the other end of the patio. His face empty of expression, he contemplated the smoke that came out of his mouth in thick ropes to become tangled between the branches of the tamarind. The gray at his pale temples shone with ruddy afternoon light. Seeing him like that, Ignacio felt the hatred he’d harbored in recent days ebb. Instead, he now pitied his father.

“Come inside yourself, Mamá. He must want to sit there.”

“He’s going to get sick. And then you’ll be left with all the work.”

“Leave him alone. You and I will go in. I want a coffee.”

If they wanted to communicate, even if they were in the same room, facing each other, they sent the message through one of their children. And now, that meant only Ignacio.

She had aged too. Pride and rancor had managed to keep her young for years, but now even those passions were beginning to decline. Ignacio took her arm and led her to the living room. He left her seated on the sofa and went to make the coffee. On the way to the kitchen he glanced at the photo of his sister hanging on the wall. It was from her wedding. She was alone, wearing her wedding gown, but alone, her hand resting on a marble pillar. Their parents hadn’t wanted her to marry the guy, resisted to the very end. In that, they had been in complete agreement. So, they had asked for a photo of Marina by herself, not with that mestizo. And so, she didn’t visit them. She had made her own life. She’d had the courage Ignacio lacked. You couldn’t tell that in this portrait—so sweet, even smiling, her fair complexion, her honey-colored eyes full of light.

Ignacio wondered what she would think if she found out what had happened here. She had always loved her father a lot. And he had loved her.

The kitchen smelled like canned fruit. He turned on the gas and lit the burner with a wooden match. The room was already gathering gloom and the ring of blue flames dispelled it a bit.

While he was making the coffee, his mind returned to the furniture store, to his father and the girl. Bibiana had the habit of spitting on the ground. She did it constantly: when she had the feeling that something was stuck in her throat, when she smelled something strange, when she heard dirty talk or thought of something nasty. He heard a dry hack and there it was: a gob of white spittle that she then squelched with her foot.

She’d made a bad impression on Ignacio the moment she came to ask for work at the store. She seemed vulgar, aggressive and dangerous. He was disgusted by her thick silver eye shadow, her smoker’s voice, the pride with which she bared her cleavage and flaunted her breasts. But he didn’t dare say anything because his father had looked at her with pleasure and Ignacio already knew: once he’d decided about something or someone, any word to the contrary only aroused his anger. For her part, Bibiana also took Ignacio’s measure, kept looking him up and down with her poisonous cat eyes until it was obvious that they’d never be friends. She took two steps out the front door and sent the first spittle to the sidewalk. Don Antonio didn’t say anything. As if he was going to say anything when, thanks to this act, she turned her back to him for an instant and he could get a good long look at her butt. The decision was made then. What followed was a formality: the supposedly careful reading of the job application, his comments on certain points, the admonition about the mistakes her predecessor had made—tardiness, sloppy dress—for which he’d been fired. Finally, while Ignacio attended to a woman who came in to ask if they still made Philco televisions, his father explained the job to Bibiana and came to an agreement about what he would pay her.

*     *     *

All this had happened before ten in the morning, almost six months ago. When the girl went to eat at three in the afternoon, don Antonio was already in the best mood Ignacio had seen him in for years. He and his wife avoided each other as much as possible. They slept in separate rooms and ate at different times. Perhaps with the goal of making the solitude he must feel less obvious, don Antonio had developed the habit of taking his afternoon meal at the furniture store. At four p.m. on the dot, when the employee returned, he shut himself in the small office at the back and spread his newspaper, the Galician Mail, on his desk so he could read it while he dipped slice after slice of black bread in olive oil. He closed the store at eight and walked home. Always in silence, always sealed up in himself, as if the punishment of not talking that he’d imposed on his wife had extended to include the whole world. He didn’t complain. He seemed to have accepted his fate: to be married for forty years to a woman he didn’t love; to live in a small city without plazas or trees, buried among dry hills, a place whose people he disdained; to communicate only through letters with the few relatives that he had sprinkled around the world. One day a week—Sunday—he closed the furniture store early and shut himself in his office to smoke a cigar and drink two bottles of wine. Never more, never less. He sat in there alone. Once in a while, Ignacio saw him leave around ten at night, and walk to his house: an enormous figure, solid and at the same time ghostly, elusive, as if it weren’t his father but a blurred memory of his father.

When he heard the water begin to boil, he walked back to the door and turned on the kitchen light before shutting off the stove. He poured the coffee, put two porcelain cups on a tray and carried it to the living room. His mother waited for him with the same suffering face as before. She raised her legs to the footstool and began to massage them. It wasn’t that they hurt, she said; it was a habit she’d picked up, nothing more.

“Have there been problems at the store?” she asked Ignacio.

“No.”

“Then what’s bothering your father?”

“I don’t know.”

“Just yesterday he was happy.”

“The employee left,” he was going to say, but he thought that wouldn’t comfort his mother. She’d have more questions. And he didn’t want to answer more questions. He’d come from the movies, his only vice and the only thing that made him happy. His father hadn’t let him go to the university. He didn’t read, didn’t participate in any sports, had no friends or girlfriend—when he was young his father had forbidden him to associate with the town’s children—they’re not our kind, he said. Ignacio only went to the movies. And whenever he really liked a film, he would think about it for hours, review the scenes that moved or excited him, even after he was home, alone in his room. So, he kept quiet now. In the dusk, he put the tray with the coffee on the side table by the sofa where his mother sat and remained standing, as if awaiting an order or permission to leave.

“Turn on the light, son.” Still the suffering voice, the shushing of her rough hands kneading her white legs through wool stockings.

The light dazzled them a little, at first. He sat in the smaller armchair, resigned. He stared again at the photo of his sister. What if he had talked to her by phone and told her? It would do the old man good to talk to her, if his shame wasn’t too strong. No. Surely, he’d refuse.

“Hasn’t Marina called, Mamá?”

“You think she’s going to call? Only if she needs something from your father.”

Ignacio let a deep, weary sigh escape. Sometimes he missed his sister a lot. He envied her. Of all who had inhabited this house, she seemed to be the only one who was truly alive. He remembered the day when his father discovered she was engaged to “that guy.” It was also on a Sunday, like today. In those days, they had Sunday breakfast together: his father and mother, Antonio his older brother, Marina and him. Antonio had a hangover, as he always did after his weekend drinking bouts, and that had put the old man in a bitter mood. Besides, someone at the furniture store had already told him about Marina, although he still hadn’t confirmed it; he thought she would deny it if he asked. But it didn’t turn out that way. The maid had finished serving the hot chocolate when the phone rang. Marina jumped from her seat and went to answer it, but don Antonio stopped her. He answered it. Rudely. Then she couldn’t stand it anymore.

“They’re calling for me,” she told him. “Give me the phone.”

Her father ignored her.

He stood staring her in the eye, defiant. She, equally defiant, said, to end it: “It’s my fiancé.”

Ignacio escaped his anger. He always escaped because don Antonio didn’t think it was worth the trouble to get mad at him.

Then everything exploded. Her father restrained himself with her because he loved her very much. He only threatened to put a bullet in her boyfriend. But he used his fists on Antonio for not taking better care of his sister. And likewise, her mother. Ignacio escaped his anger. He always escaped because don Antonio didn’t think it was worth the trouble to get mad at him. He was useless, nothing more than a shadow.

“Turn on the television for me, son?”

“Yes, Mamá.”

Ignacio obeyed, knowing that after a few minutes he would have to get up again to turn it off. It was Sunday and there was nothing on that his mother liked, just sports and a musical program. She already knew that. Why then did she bother with it? He wanted to think about the movie he’d just seen, a story set in the Amazon jungle, about a black man who escapes from the Cayena prison and after walking forever and overcoming all kind of dangers, is captured by some savages who offer him a beautiful woman.

“The woman selling egg bread hasn’t come?” his mother asked, pensive.

Ignacio didn’t answer.

“And we don’t have a single slice left, do we?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Why don’t you go see if at least there’s a bit? I really feel like having some.”

Ignacio went to the kitchen. From the living room, his mother called: “If you don’t find anything, bring me some fig cookies, please, son.”

Through the window, he looked toward the patio. Although it was now dark, he could still make out everything: the tamarind, the pomegranate, the two fig trees with the hammock hanging between them. Don Antonio was no longer smoking, but he still sat there, immobile. Ignacio envisioned a high waterfall, surrounded by tropical trees. The black man fell, caught by the current. He lost consciousness. The savages found him shortly afterwards, downstream.

In the living room his mother was watching a baseball game, although it was evident she was thinking of something else and what happened on the screen didn’t matter to her.

“Thanks, son.”

Ignacio felt sad looking at her. But also a certain satisfaction, because in the end, in spite of his father and two dead sons and everything else, there she was: healthy. Sustained by her manias.

Next to the photo of Marina hung a small one of Antonio. He couldn’t handle it, thought Ignacio. Antonio had been the chosen one since he was small. His father expected a lot from him. Because of that, of the three of them who survived to grow up, Antonio was the one who hated his father the most. That’s why he got drunk so much and squandered his money on whores. He suffered, but in the midst of his suffering he took satisfaction in frustrating the expectations don Antonio had forced on him. Then he was shot to death in a bar brawl. It was then, immediately after the burial, that the two old folks stopped talking to each other. In silence, with a deaf, unending rancor, they blamed each other for Antonio’s death. His father had driven him to vices with his punishments and hardness; his mother had spoiled him rotten with so much pampering.

“Just yesterday he seemed very happy.”

“Yes, Mamá.” This fixation of hers bothered him. Why worry about someone you no longer care about?

“It isn’t about some woman? At his age!”

“I don’t think so, Mamá.”

“He’s a dirty old man.”

Yes. As soon as Bibiana began to work for him, don Antonio had given her the eye. Even though at first, she had wanted to flirt with Ignacio. But Ignacio disliked her. It repulsed him to watch her spit. Since she couldn’t do it there, on the floor of the store, she went out to the street or to the bathroom. Besides her odor, the odor of her body… Ignacio felt like it lingered, clinging to his nostrils. At night he woke suddenly, throwing aside sheets soaked with sweat, and felt like Bibiana was there, spying on him, lying in wait in the darkness, naked and oozing lust. She lifted her arms as if they were wings and released the odor of her body, the odor Ignacio carried with him like an infection. And perhaps, yes, his father was a dirty old man. He began to talk to her, to give her privileges Ignacio didn’t have. He gave her authority. If anything didn’t go well, it was Ignacio’s fault, not hers. Bibiana made the best sales, attracted clients. The furniture store became those two: don Antonio and Bibiana.

“Close the door, son. Mosquitoes will get in.”

Ignacio obeyed. He got up to close the door and on the way turned on the outside passage light. From there he could see the obstinate figure of his father.

“Is he still there?”

“Yes.”

“I think you know something and don’t want to tell me.”

Why, whenever he thought of her, did he see her spitting? Or hear her saying “yeah.” She said “yeah” instead of “yes.”

“No. I don’t know anything.”

“Do you have an employee at the furniture store?”

“No. We’re alone.”

It was true. What a relief not to have to lie. Why, whenever he thought of her, did he see her spitting? Or hear her saying “yeah.” She said “yeah” instead of “yes.” A half answer that to Ignacio meant it was not a real affirmation, as if she didn’t want to promise anything. It was all the same to his father, but to him it was disgusting. “Yeah.”

They began to make him feel like he was in the way. So finally, one afternoon, Ignacio decided to leave them alone. The next day he realized his father hadn’t wasted the opportunity. He saw it in his eyes, in the way he passed by Ignacio, practically pushing him, without saying excuse me. Bibiana came late and wasn’t reprimanded. Ignacio began to leave them alone more and more often. He walked through the city, that horrible city. He climbed the steep streets, heavy with heat. Not a single tree along the road, not a single bench to sit down on. Almost no one walked the sidewalks. Suddenly a door opened to a long patio, full of dark sweaty people: shirtless men holding cans of beer, women who danced and laughed around tubs full of wet clothing, children who urinated in any corner, among panting dogs.

Ignacio reached the highest hill and then turned, hoping to see an agreeable landscape, if one of those gusts of wind didn’t arrive to throw fistfuls of dust in his eyes. But he only saw the city spreading from the little valley to climb the nearby hills with its factories and miserable houses. Only downtown was dabbed with notable bits of color: the orange towers of the church, the banana trees and jacarandas that tried to give the hotels a touch of the exotic, the fruit trees that still grew in the orchards of some older houses. And the movie theatre: a tall building like a giant shoebox painted yellow.

Only downtown was dabbed with notable bits of color: the orange towers of the church, the banana trees and jacarandas that tried to give the hotels a touch of the exotic, the fruit trees that still grew in the orchards of some older houses.

There, one afternoon when things between Bibiana and the old man seemed certain and don Antonio had realized that Ignacio knew everything, he saw her. He saw Bibiana. With a boy her age. They were leaning against a wooden arch covered with withered flowers, leftover from the last religious fiesta. The smelly gusts of wind brought dust that muffled everything and was everywhere like a plague from God, but in spite of that, the two young people looked as fresh and free as if they had been on a beach or in a meadow or in some equally beautiful place and not that atrocious city. It was too late for Ignacio to take another street. Bibiana, cornered against the arch’s post, had sensed him. She raked him with a look so intense it made her companion turn also. And she stuck out her tongue, as if she were going to spit, but she didn’t do it. That time she didn’t do it. She only wet her lips a second before clinging to the boy who had her wedged in that corner. An evil smile sketched across her face, a smile of defiance, of triumph. A gust of wind came. Ignacio walked on and didn’t see them anymore.

He thought again with pleasure of the movie he’d enjoyed this afternoon.

“I’m going to bed, son. Help me.”

At last, he thought. Ignacio got up and shut off the TV, offered his mother his arm.

“Who knows how late he plans to stay out there,” his mother said. “Take him a blanket.”

They went down the passage loud with the noise of insects. At the end of it was his mother’s room: a big room with high ceilings. Her door opened, creaking.

While he waited for her to get a blanket from the wardrobe, Ignacio looked at the bureau covered with family portraits, including one of his youngest brother, the fourth child, who had died soon after he was born; the recliner nearby, the rosary hanging on the headboard of the bed. He thought again about his brother Antonio. Perhaps he would have been satisfied to see his father like this. To see him at last with his head hanging, sucking his balls, alone. Yes, if Antonio could see them from whereever he was, if his soul wandered around the house, he would be satisfied. He would be able to rest in peace.

“Until tomorrow, son. May God and the Virgin tend your sleep.”

Ignacio kissed her crossed fingers and closed the door after him. He went to the patio with the blanket. He was going to lay it across his father’s legs, but the old man’s hairy hand grabbed his arm. He grabbed it forcefully, as if Ignacio were a child again and he could hurt him and make him cry. He looked at Ignacio with eyes brimming with bitterness and spit on the ground. Something he’d never done before: he spit on the ground. The spittle of his rancor was lost in the darkness of the night. Then he got to his feet and walked toward his bedroom on the other side of the house.

Ignacio felt a rush of cool wind and thought, with pleasure, of the Amazon.

 


Domingo

—Dile a tu padre que no esté en el fresco: le va a hacer daño.

En realidad hacía calor en el patio. El sol ya estaba bajando, pero aún faltarían por lo menos dos horas para que se ocultara. Y las bardas de la casa protegían a don Antonio Nemiña de los ventarrones, que venían cargados de polvo y hojas secas, pero no traían frío sino más sofoco.

—Dile que se meta. Hace frío —repitió su madre.

Ignacio venía de la calle, del cine. Los domingos iba al cine. No le sorprendió ver al viejo ahí, al fondo del patio, fumándose un puro sentado en su mecedora. Pero a su madre sí debió de sorprenderle y no sabía cómo expresar que estaba preocupada. Por eso había recurrido a aquello de que hacía fresco. No se lo decía directamente a su marido porque ella y él hacía años no se hablaban. Si querían comunicarse algo se lo mandaban decir por medio de los hijos, aunque estuvieran uno enfrente del otro.

—¿No me oyes?

Don Antonio ni siquiera se volvía a mirarlos. Con el rostro vacío de expresión, contemplaba el humo que salía de su boca en gruesos cordones para ir a enredarse entre las ramas de un tamarindo. Las canas de sus sienes brillaban con la luz de la tarde, rojizas. Al verlo, Ignacio sintió que se desvanecía el odio que le había tenido en los últimos días. Le dio lástima.

—Métete tú, mamá. Él ha de querer estar ahí.

—Se va a poner malo. Y te va a dejar a ti todo el trabajo.

—Déjalo. Vámonos adentro tú y yo. Quiero un café.

Ella también se veía envejecida. El orgullo y el rencor habían logrado mantenerla joven durante muchos años, pero ahora hasta eso comenzaba a declinar. Ignacio la tomó del brazo y la condujo a la sala. La dejó sentada en el sofá y fue por el café. Al pasar hacia la cocina echó una mirada a la fotografía de su hermana, que colgaba en la pared. Era de su boda. Estaba sola, vestida de novia pero sola, con la mano apoyada en una columna de mármol. Sus padres no habían querido que se casara; se resistieron hasta lo último. En eso sí estuvieron de acuerdo. Por eso habían pedido para la casa una foto donde Marina estuviera sola, no con el mestizo ese. Y por eso ella no los visitaba. Había hecho su vida. Había tenido el coraje que a Ignacio le faltó. Quién la viera en ese retrato: tan dulce, sonriendo apenas, con sus ojos color miel llenos de luz.

Mientras ponía el café, Ignacio se preguntó qué pensaría ella si se enterara de lo que había pasado acá. Siempre quiso mucho a su padre. Y él a ella.

Abrió la llave del gas y luego, con un cerillo de madera, encendió el quemador. Las llamas azules salieron por los orificios iluminando un poco la habitación ya en penumbra. Olía a frutas en conserva.

Su mente volvió a la mueblería, a su padre y a la muchacha. Bibiana tenía la costumbre de escupir al suelo. Lo hacía constantemente: cuando le venía la sensación de que algo se le había adherido en la garganta, cuando le llegaba algún olor extraño, cuando oía hablar de algo sucio o pensaba en ello. Se oía un chasquido y ahí estaba: un copo de espuma blanca que luego ella misma aplastaba con el pie.

Desde que llegó a pedir trabajo a la mueblería le causó mala impresión a Ignacio; le pareció vulgar, agresiva, peligrosa. Le disgustaron sus párpados pintados de plateado, su voz de fumadora y el orgullo con que sacaba el pecho luciendo sus tetas. Pero no se atrevió a decir nada porque su padre la había mirado con complacencia y ya lo conocía: una vez que se hacía una idea de algo o de alguien, cualquier palabra en contra despertaba su ira. Por su parte, Bibiana también lo midió a él; se le quedó viendo de arriba abajo con sus ojos de gata envenenada y con eso tuvo para saber que nunca serían amigos. Dio dos pasos en dirección a la puerta de la calle y aventó el primer salivazo a la banqueta. Don Antonio no le dijo nada. Cómo le iba a decir algo si fue gracias a ese acto que ella le dio la espalda, un instante, y él pudo mirarle el culo. La decisión estaba tomada. Fue mero formalismo lo que siguió después: la lectura supuestamente cuidadosa de la solicitud de empleo, los comentarios sobre algunos puntos, la advertencia sobre los errores que había cometido su antecesor—impuntualidad, descuido en su presentación— y por los cuales había sido despedido. Finalmente, mientras Ignacio atendía a una mujer que llegó a preguntar si todavía se fabricaban televisores Philco, su padre le explicó a Bibiana en qué consistiría su trabajo y se puso de acuerdo con ella respecto a cuánto le iba a pagar.

Todo esto sucedió antes de las diez de la mañana, hacía casi seis meses. Para cuando la muchacha salió a comer, a las tres de la tarde, don Antonio ya estaba de un buen humor que no se le había visto en años. Él y su mujer se evitaban lo más posible. Dormían en habitaciones separadas y comían a distintas horas. Quizá con el fin de hacer menos obvia la soledad que pudiera sentir, don Antonio había dado en tomar en la mueblería su comida de la tarde. A las cuatro en punto, en cuanto volvía el empleado, se encerraba en el pequeño despacho del fondo y extendía en el escritorio el Correo Galego para estar leyendo mientras sopeaba en aceite de olivo rebanada tras rebanada de pan negro. Cerraba pasadas las ocho de la noche y se iba caminando a su casa. Siempre en silencio, siempre encerrado en sí mismo, como si el castigo de no hablarle que le había impuesto a su mujer se hubiera extendido a todo el mundo. No se quejaba. Parecía haber aceptado su suerte: estar casado desde hacía cuarenta años con esa mujer a la que no amaba, vivir en una pequeña ciudad sin plazas ni árboles perdida entre cerros áridos, comunicarse ya sólo a través de cartas con los escasos parientes y amigos que tenía regados por el mundo. Un día a la semana —los domingos— cerraba temprano la mueblería y se encerraba en su despacho a fumarse un puro y a beberse dos botellas de vino. Nunca más, nunca menos. Se encerraba solo. Alguna vez, Ignacio lo vio salir, ya como a las diez de la noche, y tomar el camino de su casa: una figura enorme, sólida y al mismo tiempo fantasmal, inasible, como si no fuera su padre sino un recuerdo borroso de su padre.

Cuando oyó que el agua comenzaba a hervir, dio unos pasos hacia la puerta y encendió la luz de la cocina. Luego apagó la estufa. Sirvió el café, puso las dos tazas de porcelana en una charola, y volvió a la sala. Su madre lo estaba esperando con la misma cara de sufrimiento de hacía rato. Subió las piernas al taburete y comenzó a darse masaje sola. No era que le dolieran, decía; era una maña que se había cogido, nada más.

—¿Ha habido problemas en la mueblería? —le preguntó a Ignacio.

—No.

—Entonces, ¿qué le pasa a tu padre?

—No sé.

—Todavía ayer estaba muy contento.

“La empleada se ha marchado”, iba a decir Ignacio, pero pensó que eso no tranquilizaría a su madre. Haría más preguntas. Y él no quería contestar preguntas. Venía del cine, que era su único vicio y la única cosa que lo hacía feliz. Su padre no lo dejó ir a la Universidad. No leía, no practicaba ningún deporte, no tenía novia ni amigos —su padre le prohibió desde niño que hiciera amistad con los muchachos del pueblo—. Sólo iba al cine. Y cada vez que le gustaba mucho una película, se ponía a pensar en ella durante horas, a revivir en su mente las escenas que lo habían conmovido o excitado, aun ya en su casa, solo en su cuarto. Por eso se quedó callado. En la penumbra, puso la charola con el café en la mesita que había a un lado del sofá donde estaba su madre y permaneció de pie, como si esperara una orden o el permiso para retirarse.

—Enciende la luz, hijo—otra vez la voz de sufrimiento, el rumor de las manos rugosas sobando las piernas sobre las medias de lana.

La luz lo deslumbró un poco, al principio. Se sentó en el sillón más chico, resignado. Volvió a mirar la foto de su hermana. ¿Y si le hablaba por teléfono y le contaba? Al viejo le haría bien hablar con ella, si no era más fuerte su vergüenza. No, seguramente no lo haría.

—¿No ha llamado Marina, mamá?

—¿Tú crees que va a llamar? Sólo que necesitara algo de tu padre.

Ignacio dejó escapar un suspiro hondo, viejo. A veces la extrañaba mucho. La envidiaba. Le parecía el único ser vivo que había habitado alguna vez esa casa. Recordó el día cuando su padre descubrió que andaba de novia con aquél. Era domingo también, como ahora. En esa época, los domingos desayunaban todos juntos: su padre, su madre, Antonio el hermano mayor, Marina y él. Antonio andaba crudo, como siempre después de sus borracheras del viernes y el sábado, y eso había puesto de mal humor al viejo. Además ya le habían contado en la mueblería lo de Marina, aunque todavía no lo confirmaba; pensaba que ella iba a negarlo si la interrogaba. Pero no fue así. La criada acababa de servir el chocolate cuando sonó el teléfono. Marina saltó en su silla y fue a contestar. Pero don Antonio la detuvo: contestó él. De mal modo. Entonces ella no se aguantó más.

—Me hablan a mí —le dijo—. Dame el teléfono.

Su padre no le hizo caso. Se le quedó viendo a los ojos, desafiante. Entonces ella, igual de desafiante, le dijo para terminar:

—Es mi novio.

Ahí explotó todo. Su padre se contuvo con ella porque la quería mucho. Sólo la amenazó con meterle un tiro al muchacho. Pero a Antonio se le fue a golpes por no cuidar bien a su hermana. Y a su madre. Ignacio escapó de su ira. Él siempre escapaba porque a don Antonio ni siquiera le parecía que valiera la pena enojarse con él. Era un inútil nada más, una sombra.

—¿Me enciendes la televisión, hijo?

—Sí, mamá —Ignacio obedeció, sabiendo que después de unos minutos tendría que volver a levantarse para apagar el aparato. Era domingo y no había nada que le gustara a su madre: sólo deportes y un programa musical. Ya lo sabía. ¿Por qué entonces lo molestaba? Él quería pensar en la película que había visto: una historia en la selva del Amazonas, acerca de un negro que escapaba de la cárcel de Cayena y, después de caminar mucho y sortear toda clase de peligros, era capturado por unos salvajes que le ofrecían una mujer hermosa.

—No ha venido la señora del pan de huevo —dijo su madre, pensativa.

Ignacio no le contestó.

—Y ya no nos queda ni una pieza, ¿verdad?

—Creo que no.

—¿Por qué no vas a ver si hay por lo menos un pedazo? Tengo mucho antojo.

Ignacio caminó hacia la cocina. Desde la sala, su madre le gritó:

—Si no encuentras nada, tráeme unas galletas de higo. Por favor, hijo.

Por la ventana miró hacia el patio. Aunque ya estaba oscuro, todavía alcanzaba a distinguirse todo: el tamarindo, el granado, las dos higueras con la hamaca amarrada de una a otra. Don Antonio ya no fumaba pero seguía ahí, inmóvil. Ignacio pensó en una cascada muy alta, rodeada de árboles tropicales. El negro caía arrastrado por la corriente. Perdía el sentido. Los salvajes lo encontraban poco después, río abajo.

En la sala, su madre miraba un partido de béisbol, aunque era evidente que estaba pensando en otra cosa y no le importaba lo que sucediera en la pantalla.

—Gracias, hijo.

Ignacio sintió tristeza al verla. Y también cierta satisfacción porque finalmente, a pesar de su padre y de los dos hijos muertos y de todo, ahí estaba: sana. Apoyada en sus manías.

Junto al retrato de Marina, más pequeño, colgaba uno de Antonio. Ése sí que no pudo, pensó Ignacio. Antonio había sido el hijo predilecto, cuando niño. Su padre esperaba mucho de él. Por eso, de los tres que llegaron a grandes, fue el que más llegó a odiarlo. Por eso se emborrachaba tanto y se gastaba el dinero con mujeres públicas. Sufría, pero en medio de ese sufrimiento le quedaba la satisfacción de ver frustradas las esperanzas que don Antonio había puesto en él. Hasta que lo mataron a balazos en una cantina. Fue entonces, inmediatamente después del entierro, cuando los dos viejos dejaron de hablarse. En silencio, con un rencor sordo e infinito, se culpaban uno al otro por la muerte de Antonio. Que porque el padre lo había orillado al vicio con sus castigos y su dureza; que porque la madre lo había echado a perder de tanto solaparlo.

—Todavía ayer se veía muy contento.

—Sí, mamá —le molestaba esa actitud de ella. ¿Por qué preocuparse por alguien a quien ya no quiere uno?

—¿No será cosa de alguna mujer? ¡A su edad…!

—No creo, mamá.

—Es un viejo sucio.

*     *     *

Sí, desde que Bibiana entró a trabajar, don Antonio le echó el ojo. Y eso que ella primero había querido coquetear con Ignacio. Pero a él le desagradó: le daba asco verla escupir. Como no podía hacerlo ahí, en el piso de la mueblería, se salía a la calle o iba al baño. Además su olor, el olor de su cuerpo… Ignacio sentía que se le había quedado metido en la nariz. En las noches despertaba de pronto, aventaba a un lado las sábanas empapadas de sudor, y le parecía que Bibiana estaba ahí mirándolo, acechando en la oscuridad, desnuda y ahíta de lujuria. Levantaba los brazos como si fueran alas y dejaba salir el olor de su cuerpo, que Ignacio llevaba consigo como una infección. Y tal vez sí, su padre era un viejo sucio. Empezó a hablarle, a darle privilegios que Ignacio no tenía. Le dio poder. Si algo salía mal era culpa de él, de Ignacio, no de ella. Bibiana hacía las mejores ventas, atraía a los clientes. La mueblería era ellos dos: don Antonio y ella.

—Cierra la puerta, hijo. Se van a meter los zancudos.

Ignacio obedeció. Se levantó a cerrar la puerta y de paso encendió la luz del corredor. Desde ahí se veía, obstinada, la figura de su padre.

—¿Ahí está todavía?

—Sí.

—Se me hace que tú sabes algo y no me quieres decir.

—No. No sé nada.

—¿Tienen empleada en la mueblería?

—No. Estamos solos.

Era verdad. Qué alivio no tener que decir una mentira. ¿Por qué cada vez que la recordaba la veía escupiendo? O la oía diciendo “ei”. Decía “ei” en lugar de “sí”: una respuesta a medias, que a Ignacio le parecía no era una verdadera afirmación, como de alguien que no quiere comprometerse. A su padre le daba lo mismo, pero a él le disgustaba. Ei. Empezaron a hacerlo sentir que estorbaba. Por eso, finalmente, Ignacio decidió dejarlos solos una tarde. Al día siguiente se dio cuenta de que su padre no había desaprovechado la oportunidad. Se lo vio en la mirada, en la forma como pasaba junto a él casi empujándolo, sin decir Con permiso. Bibiana llegó tarde y no fue reprendida. Ignacio empezó a dejarlos más y más tiempo solos. Se iba a caminar por la ciudad, esa ciudad tan horrible. Subía las calles empinadas, humeantes de calor. Ni un solo árbol en el camino, ni una banca donde sentarse. Casi nadie andaba por las banquetas. De pronto alguna puerta se abría a un patio largo, lleno de gente acalorada: hombres sin camisa, mujeres que bailoteaban y se reían alrededor de los lavaderos colmados de ropa mojada, niños que orinaban en cualquier lado, entre perros jadeantes. Ignacio llegaba así a lo alto de los cerros y entonces se volvía, esperando ver algún paisaje agradable, si no venía alguno de esos ventarrones que le aventaban a los ojos puñados de tierra. Pero sólo veía la ciudad extendiéndose desde el pequeño valle hasta cubrir de fábricas y casas miserables todos los cerros vecinos. Únicamente hacia el centro destacaban algunas notas de color: las torres anaranjadas de la iglesia, los platanares y las jacarandas que trataban de dar a los hoteles un toque de exotismo, los distintos árboles que crecían todavía en los huertos de algunas casas viejas. Y el cine: un edificio alto como una gran caja de zapatos pintada de amarillo.

Allá, una tarde cuando ya las cosas entre Bibiana y el viejo parecían muy seguras y don Antonio se había dado cuenta de que Ignacio sabía todo, la vio. Vio a Bibiana. Con un muchacho de su edad. Estaban recargados contra un arco de madera cubierto de flores marchitas, rastro de la última fiesta religiosa. El aironazo traía embozadas de polvo que se metían por todos lados como una plaga del Cielo, y sin embargo los dos jóvenes se veían frescos y libres igual que si hubieran estado en una playa o en un prado o en cualquier lugar igualmente bello y no en esa atroz ciudad. Era demasiado tarde para que Ignacio tomara otro camino. Bibiana, arrinconada contra el poste del arco, lo había sentido. Lo barrió con una mirada tan fuerte que hizo que su acompañante se volviera también. Y sacó la lengua como si fuera a escupir, pero no lo hizo. Esa vez no lo hizo. Sólo se mojó los labios, un segundo, antes de aferrarse al cuerpo que la tenía atrincherada en ese rincón. En su cara se dibujó una sonrisa mala, de desafío, de triunfo. Vino el viento, otra vez. Ignacio no los vio más.

Pensó otra vez, con placer, en la película que había disfrutado esa tarde.

—Ya me voy a acostar, hijo. Ayúdame.

Ignacio se levantó y le ofreció el brazo a su madre. Por fin, pensó.

—Quién sabe hasta qué horas pensará quedarse ahí —le dijo ella—. Llévale una manta.

Salieron al corredor lleno de ruidos de insectos. Al fondo se encontraba la recámara de la madre: una habitación muy grande, de paredes altas. La puerta de madera rechinó al abrirse.

Mientras esperaba a que su madre abriera el ropero y sacara la manta, Ignacio observó la cómoda cubierta de retratos de familia, incluyendo uno de su hermano más pequeño, el cuarto de la familia, que había muerto casi recién nacido; el reclinatorio, el rosario colgado en la cabecera de la cama. Pensó otra vez en su hermano Antonio. Quizá él se habría sentido satisfecho de ver así a su padre. De verlo por fin con la cabeza doblada, mordiéndose los huevos, solo. Sí, si Antonio podía verlos desde algún lado, si su alma andaba rondando la casa, estaría satisfecho: ya podría descansar en paz.

—Hasta mañana, hijo. Que Dios y la Virgen cuiden tu sueño.

Ignacio besó los dedos en cruz y cerró la puerta tras de sí. Cruzó el patio con la manta. Iba a ponérsela a su padre en las piernas, pero el viejo le cogió el brazo con su mano velluda. Lo apretó con fuerza, como si Ignacio fuera otra vez un niño y él pudiera lastimarlo y hacerlo llorar. Lo miró con ojos brillantes de rencor y escupió al suelo. Lo que nunca había hecho: escupió al suelo. La espuma de su rencor se perdió en la oscuridad de la noche. Luego se puso de pie y echó a andar hacia su habitación, en el otro extremo de la casa.

Antonio sintió un golpe de viento fresco y pensó, con placer, en el Amazonas.

 

Translator’s Note

Agustín Cadena’s English is excellent and our working relationship is a pleasure: I send him a penultimate draft of a story and he sends me copious praise. (Well, he’s a Mexican gentleman, after all.) His critical comments and notes follow, and are always pertinent. I revise one more time and we’re good to go.

I have translated sixteen and published twelve of Agustín’s stories. Translating a writer more than once or twice results in familiarity with such things as vocabulary, style, syntax, and subject matter. Translating “Domingo” (Sunday) felt familiar, but with a density of tone new to me. It is older than the other stories I’ve translated. Agustín’s comment: “I don’t write like that anymore.”

Still, I was confident I’d captured the story’s essence. Here was a bitter old man living in a dry, featureless town, unable to forgive or forget, who’d kept his children from fulfilling their lives. The first response from Agustín was effusive. Then he gave it to his partner to read—English is the language they share—and discovered she didn’t get an aspect of the story that a Mexican reader would have understood immediately.

In the beginning, we learn the old man is don Antonio Nemiña, a surname Mexican readers would recognize as Galician. Galicians weren’t among the conquistadores or even 18th and 19th century immigrants. They arrived mostly in the 20th century, missing several hundred years of integrating and acquiring local blood along the way. When don Antonio calls his daughter’s boyfriend a mestizo, the Mexican reader already knows that don Antonio considers himself above the people among whom he lives.

Don Antonio smokes cigars, drinks wine, and eats black bread with olive oil. The people of the town smoke cigarettes, drink beer, and eat tortillas. He owns a furniture store, a business typical of Galician immigrants in Mexico, and reads the Galician Mail, a newspaper only available by subscription. He came here in hopes of a better life, but in isolating himself and his family, destroys any chance of that.

Rereading the story with that information, I thought of retired Americans I met in San Miguel de Allende long ago. They had lived there for years and never learned Spanish, associated only with other ex-pat Americans, and had no Mexican friends. That’s another version of this story.

It needed light touches. I don’t like to resort to footnotes. Although I’ve used “stealth glosses” when they fit snugly, “Nemiña, whose name was Galician,” was not acceptable. I added beer to the Mexican family we see briefly, hoping that will recall the contrast of don Antonio’s wine; emphasized the family’s fair complexion and amplified why Ignacio is forbidden to make friends with children of the town. “It’s enough,” Agustín decided. I agree. But it still may be a story that resonates in a way for the Mexican reader that we who are not Mexican cannot fully access.

 

Patricia Dubrava

Patricia Dubrava chaired the creative writing program at Denver School of the Arts, where she also taught Spanish, and currently teaches writing at the University of Denver. She has two books of poems and one of stories translated from the Spanish. Recent translation publications include flash fiction by Agustín Cadena in Café Irreal, 2013 – 2015 and stories in Mexico City Lit, Fiction Attic, and Numéro Cinq in 2016. Dubrava also translates Mónica Lavín and blogs at www.patriciadubrava.com

Agustín CadenaAgustín Cadena was born in Ixmiquilpan, Hidalgo, México, and teaches at the University of Debrecen, Hungary. Essayist, fiction writer, poet and translator, Cadena has won numerous national prizes for fiction and poetry. His 26 books include collections of short fiction, essays and poetry, novels and young adult novels, most recently Fieras adentro, 2015. His work has been translated into English, Italian and Hungarian. His recent publication is Dibujos a lápiz (Pencil Sketches) a collection of flash fiction, 2016. Cadena blogs at elvinoylahiel.blogspot.com

Photo by Roberto Garza

Janin Cycle


The Fetus of the Dream

Dream fetuses.
And in the fetus dream,
like a growing amplified silence—
like ivy around nothing:

I dreamed last night.
I dreamed of wet ivy—
wet like water
and rapidly growing—
water that smells like old wine
in the deepest treasure beneath the earth,
where the spider danced the figure of its intelligence in the air.
I don’t know if I’m drunk or crazy.
In my head, he calls perpetually:

“Oh no, son!
We haven’t reached the garden.
We sank in shit.”

My wounded soul talks like this.
You don’t know what my unwounded soul would say.
This soul rises on the farthest bank of the sky
in the early evening.

Now that I write this,
it is sunset.
On the white expanse of the page
the lines dissolve in grey.
On the flying shadow of my hand
the sun descends.
I will dream—
dream of wet ivy everywhere.

 


The Fetus of the Text

Breathing on the window
between a frozen without and a hot within.
The glass does not permit light to pass with this breath
It colors with this breath.
Have you seen white days? The sun no longer gives light. It splashes white.
Just as white,
the window turns into a page for writing a name
for writing with fingertips on this fire within.

You have written something between without and within.
On the unseen glass a name is seen.
You have written something that can be read from without and within.
From without it reads backwards.
What happens when reading a text written on breath?
Little by little, breaths go away and take your text.
Ambiguity goes away and the text is lost in lucidity.

 


The Fetus of the Marginalia

I don’t inscribe marginalia
with my body
on your soul.

 

 

جنین خواب

خوابْ جنینْ می‌دید
و در جنینْ خوابْ همچون
سکونِ مشدّدِ رویایی بود همچون
پیچکی دورِ هیچ :

-‌ خوابْ دی‌شب دیدم
خوابِ یک پیچکِ خیس تر
مثلِ آب
و بسیار رویان
که بوی شراب کهنه می‌داد
در دنج‌ترین گنجِ زیرِ زمین
آنجا که عنکبوت در هوا نقشِ نبوغِ خویش را رقصیده بود .
نمی‌دانم
سرم به سنگ خورده یا مستم
که در سرم یکی مدام صدا می‌زند :
« وای ! نه ! پسرم ،
ما به باغ نرسیدیم
ما به گه فرو رفتیم … »

و حالا که این را نوشتم
غروب بود و
خطوط در خاکستری تار می‌شدند
و بر پهنه‌ی سفید کاغذ
و سایه‌ی پرنده‌ی دستم
شب می‌شد
و من خواب خواهم دید
خوابِ یک پیچکِ خیسِ در‌همه‌جایی .

 


جنين متن

ها و ها كردن‌هايِ رويِ شيشه‌ها
ميانِ درونِ گر گرفته و بيرونِ يخ‌زده
شيشه ديگر گذرگاهِ نور نيست با اين ها
با اين ها رنگ مي‌گيرد
روز هاي سفيد را ديده‌اي ، انگار آفتاب نور نمي‌دهد ديگر ، سفيد مي‌پاشد
– همان قدر سفيد
صفحه‌اي مي‌شود براي نوشتنِ اسمي
با نوكِ انگشت
بر اين ها، آتشِ درون، نوشتن :

تو در ميانِ درون و بيرون نوشته‌اي.
شيشه، چون نامرئي است، مي‌شود جايي كه نامي را روي نامرئي مرئي كني
و نامرئي ‌ها هميشه با جاودان ‌ها هم‌پايه‌اند.
چيزي نوشته‌اي که هم از درون خواندنی‌ست و هم از بيرون
ولی از بيرون بر‌عكس خوانده مي‌شود.
در خواندنِ متن نوشته شده روي ها چه اتّفاقي مي‌افتد . ها كم‌كم مي‌رود ، متنِ تو را با خود مي‌برد. ابهام مي‌رود، متن گم مي‌شود در وضوح.

 


جنین حاشیه

با تنم
بر تنت
چه حاشیه‌ها که نخواهم نوشت

 

Translator’s Note: The Poems of Kayvan Tahmasebian

Born in the year of Iran’s Islamic Revolution, Kayvan Tahmasebian has lived through the eight-year Iran-Iraq war, reformist political unrests, and over two decades of sanctions. The poems in the Janin cycle bear witness to each of these political upheavals. Together, they have shaped the author’s aesthetic response to the state of emergency that has become a norm for his generation within Iran, across the Middle East, and around the world.

Initiated in 2007 and now nearing completion, the Janin cycle consists of a series of mostly prose poems centered on the concept of janin (the Persian word for “fetus,” derived from the Arabic root that associates “concealment” and “genie”). These fetuses are people (historical and imaginary), objects, places and ideas. Moving between the “poetry of ideas” and the “idea of the poem,” the poems call on the reader to grasp poetic experience by absorbing the original idea in its most in-formed, fragmentary and unborn state. These poetic fetuses resemble poetic fragments that have either been aborted by the flow of history, or which are yet to be fully born. Like fetuses, the Janin poems abound in potentialities. Formally, they resist the hardening of language that accompanies birth. Seeking freedom from the restrictions of verse conventions, the Janin poems also resist conventional versification even as they engage with classical norm.

Poetic experiments in prose are rare in Persian modernism, but not unprecedented in Persian literature. In fact, prose poetry is a major part of the Persian classical mystic literature, as witnessed by the provocative poetics of Ruzbihan Baqli (12th century), Ahmad Ghazali (11th century), Attar of Nishapur (12th century), Rumi (13th century), and Shams Tabrizi (13th century). The prose poems of modernist French authors such as Francis Ponge and Edmond Jabès, whom Tahmasebian translated into Persian, have also influenced his literary experimentations. His translations of Ponge were published alongside three of his Janin poems in the 2007 volume of Jong Pardis, an important yearly anthology of Isfahani poetry that has helped to define Iranian literary modernism.

The Janin poems turn the act of reading into a form of poetic creation that balances thought and image. By proposing poetry as a commentary on creation, the complete Janin cycle serves as a prolegomenon to the author’s second major poem cycle, “Marginalia,” which consists of literary-critical fragments delivered in poetic language. Whereas the Janin cycle bears witness to a cyclical statement of emergency, “Marginalia” follows Walter Benjamin in seeking to restore poetry to its ideational substance and critical prose to its figurative origins.

Rebecca GouldRebecca Gould is a writer, critic, and scholar of the literatures of the Caucasus. She is the author of Writers and Rebels: The Literature of the Insurgency in the Caucasus (Yale University Press, 2016), and the translator of Prose of the Mountains, by Aleksandre Qazbegi (Central European University Press, 2015), and After Tomorrow the Days Disappear: Poems of Hasan Sijzi of Delhi (Northwestern University Press, 2015).

 

 

Kayvan TahmasebianKayvan Tahmasebian is an Iranian poet, translator, and literary critic based in Isfahan. He is the author of Isfahan’s Mold (Sadeqia dar Bayat Esfahan, 2016), on the fiction of the short story writer Bahram Sadeqi, and a forthcoming volume on the Iranian modernist poet Bijan Elahi.

Danica Mae and other poems


Danica Mae

The President’s helicopter will never land
near your barangay. He will never walk
up to your mother’s house, dust his shoes
off before stepping through the door.

He’ll never look around where you kept
your toys. His eyes won’t linger on your clothes
as they hang or lay folded, now separate
from the family laundry. He won’t ask

what your favorite ice cream
flavor was, or how you held a crayon
in your hand, or whether you covered
your mouth whenever you laughed.

Whatever I say won’t matter,
not to you. Not even as I declare that bullets
did not end your life, words did.
The bullets were nothing but bits

of metal that could have been
a door to your toy car,
or the buttons of a dress
you will never now wear.

 

Standing in Tagaytay

He crumples
his plastic cup
in his fist, this boy
with a toy gun.

Then he hurls the cup.
Like his father, he laughs
as it misses
the garbage bin.

They move to the woman
who has just dropped
a coin into the telescope.
“Ma, it’s my turn!”

The woman does not budge.
The boy gives a nudge
at his mother’s elbow
and, with his gun,

hits the metal body
of the telescope. It echoes
like a wailing baby.
As the woman surrenders her place

the man lifts the boy.
Happy, he clings to the cold
metal and takes a peek
at the stillness of the volcano

and the lake
that seem only a picture
misted in time.
For a moment

the woman watches her family
before turning back
to the vast world embracing
all who are there.

She stares into the distance
at the only boat moving,
moving as if forever
without reaching shore.

Tagaytay is a popular destination for Manila’s population because of its proximity and elevation. It offers a magnificent view of Taal Volcano which is surrounded by a lake; but inside the volcano is another lake which surrounds the center of the collapsed volcanoan eye-within-an eye if seen from the heavens.

 

The Long and Brief History of the Bald Old Man and the Busted Pot

coal darkens then goes
red at the fervent groans
and gripes of this man, all
skin and bones, boiling rice
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Danica Mae

Hindi kailanman lalapag malapit sa iyong barangay
ang helikopter ng Presidente. Hindi siya kailanman
maglalakad patungo sa bahay ng iyong ina, o magpapagpag
ng alikabok sa sapatos bago humakbang papasok ng pinto.

Hindi kailanman hahagurin ng kanyang tingin kung saan mo
dating itinatabi ang iyong mga laruan. Hindi magmamabagal
ang kanyang mga mata pagtanaw sa mga damit mong nakasabit o tiklop na
nakahimlay, ngayon ay hiwalay sa labada ng pamilya. Hindi niya tatanungin

kung ano ang pleybor ng paborito mong ays krim,
o kung paano ka humawak ng krayola,
o kung tinatapakpan mo ng palad
ang iyong bibig tuwing matatawa.

Walang halaga ang ano pa man na aking sabihin,
lalo na sa iyo. Kahit pa man tukuyin kong hindi mga bala
ang kumitil sa iyong buhay, kundi mga salita.
Mumunting piraso lamang ng bakal

ang mga bala na maaari sanang naging pintuan
ng laruan mong kotse, o mga butones
ng damit na hindi mo na maisusuot
mula sa araw na ito.

 

Nakatayo sa Tagaytay

Pakuyom na pinalalagutok
ng batang may baril
na laruan ang plastik
niyang baso.

Inihagis niya matapos
sa basurahan sabay tawa
nang hindi pumasok
tulad ng sa kanyang ama.

Pinuntahan nilang dalawa
ang babaeng kahuhulog pa lang
ng bayad sa teleskopyo.
“’Ma, ‘ko naman!”

Hindi tuminag ang babae.
Tinabig ng bata
ang siko ng kanyang ina
at pinagpapalo ng baril

ang bakal na katawan
ng teleskopyo. Umalingawngaw
na parang uha.
Pagsuko ng babae

binuhat ng ama ang batang
tuwang-tuwa sa pagkapit
sa lamig ng bakal at pagsilip
sa bulkang walang tinag

at sa lawang tila
larawan lamang na dinapuan
ng hamog ng panahon.
Sandaling pinagmasdan ng babae

ang kanyang pamilya
bago bumaling muli sa lawak
ng daigdig na yumayakap
sa kanilang lahat na naroon.

Tinitigan niya ang mala-palitong bangka
na mag-isang naglalakbay,
para bang habang panahong
maglalakbay bago makadaong.

 

Ang Mahaba’t Maikling Kasaysayan ng Matandang Kalbo at ng Butas na Kaldero

naninimdim ang uling
sa taimtim na daing
at hinaing ng butu’t
balat na tagasaing

Translator’s Note

The Philippines can claim to have the most abundant linguistic heritage in the world, largely due to its geographic features and its long trade and colonial history. Yet this heritage has not been given proper attention even within its own borders. With the continued dominance of English and Filipino in the local popular culture, this poor situation can only continue. These days, though, there are far more tragic things taking place in the country.

I myself can only claim fluency in Filipino (or Tagalog, from which it is largely drawn) and English, as taught by Jesuits from America. My father was from the Ilocos region in the north (where the remains of Marcos, the former dictator lies, and his wax image displayed like a museum piece). It is home to one of the few surviving pre-colonial epics of the country, Lam-Ang. I should have learned from my grandmother who spoke only Ilocano (or Iluko), but all I picked up were the words relating to water and food, as well as a few curses (which I learned from my over a dozen cousins).

Although Filipino is my mother tongue, I started trying to write poetry in English first. Those attempts, way back when I was in my last year of high school, were awkward and artificial, but I didn’t know better. When I got to university I realized how hollow my attempts were. So I forced myself to write in Filipino after being told by a teacher that my work would sound more authentic. Indeed I noticed how I felt each poem came about more naturally instead of something I had to labor over. I did not, however, give up writing in English. They just seemed like separate worlds to write in, one warmer than the other.

Then my first mentor, the bilingual poet Danton Remoto, taught me how to identify weaknesses in my own poems by translating them. It was an exercise in looking at one’s own creation as if it were someone else’s. Being able to use two languages meant greater creative freedom. I could figure out how to improve a poem, or in which language the images and ideas would work better. It was like each piece had the possibility of having two lives, or two skins, sometimes with alternative levels of meaning.

For instance, the first images of a poem might arrive in Filipino. But then if I got stuck I would translate it to English and keep working on it almost instantly. Once I felt satisfied with the completed piece, I would then go back to the original Filipino and “transfer” the ideas and images in the vessel of my home language.

This transfer, though, often feels more like recreating a new life altogether. Sometimes it would be the other way around, with English acting as the first vessel. Eventually I grew accustomed to this way of writing. I saw then that each language had its own unique way of capturing an idea, an image, or an entire experience.

When we write we are merely trying to grasp the images from our minds, hoping we can share them with others by placing them in the vessels we have, the shape of whatever language(s) we are bound to use.

“Danica Mae” is a response to the terrible recent events in The Philippines under current President Rodrigo Duterte, and supposedly endorsed by U.S. President-elect Trump. In the last six months, under Duterte’s brutal anti-drug campaign, police have killed over 2,000 people. Additionally, the New York Times reports in that same time period over 3,500 unsolved homocides.

I started writing the poem in Filipino, but I stopped because I found the lines exhaustingly long. They needed to be shorter and less direct, almost detached, so I tried to translate the initial skeleton of the poem—or re-wrote it, to be more precise—in English. The more controlled tone in the English version gave the poem a less hysterical treatment of such a tragic subject matter. I then went back to try and bring that same feeling to the Filipino version, but the long lines proved unavoidable. That is the fate of the Filipino version, it seems.

The two other poems in this set were written many years ago. They were far easier to translate, as they rely on clear and simple, everyday imagery. I believe these two poems would be fairly easy to translate to other languages as well.

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Special Guest Judge, Mark Statman

“There is something beautifully and sadly dense about these poems, which the poet, Jim Pascual Agustin, himself has translated. I found myself returning to them because I found them at once mysterious and ordinary, describing what I can only think of as tragic events (in “Danica Mae,” the actual death of one child, in “Standing in Tagatay,” the learned careless callousness in the life of another). The final short poem, “The Long and Brief History of the Bald Old Man and the Busted Pot,¨ presents the reader with a different kind of tragedy, a view of a long life at its unhappy end. Not easy to want to read, these poems nonetheless demand it. That demand is what I think I want most from a poem.”

– Mark Statman’s poetry collections include That Train Again (Lavender Ink, 2015), A Map of the Winds (Lavender Ink, 2013) and Tourist at a Miracle (Hanging Loose, 2010). Other books include Black Tulips: The Selected Poems of José María Hinojosa (University of New Orleans Press, 2012), the first English language translation of the significant poet of Spain’s Generation of 1927, and, with Pablo Medina, a translation of Federico García Lorca’s Poet in New York (Grove 2008). His next translation collection, Never Made in America: Selected Poetry of Martín Barea Mattos, will appear with Lavender Ink/diálogos in April 2017. Statman’s poetry, essays, and translations have appeared in twelve anthologies, as well as such publications as Tin House, Hanging Loose, Ping Pong, and American Poetry Review. A former Associate Professor in Literary Studies at Eugene Lang College, The New School, he lives in Oaxaca, MX.

Jim Pascual AgustinJim Pascual Agustin writes and translates in Filipino and English. Born in the Philippines, he moved to South Africa in 1994. His poetry has appeared in Rhino, World Literature Today, and Modern Poetry in Translation. University of Santo Tomas Publishing House in Manila published five of his seven books of poetry, including his most recent, A Thousand Eyes (2015). In 2016 USTPH released his first short story collection in Filipino. He won Third Prize in the Sol Plaatje EU Poetry Award in 2014 and 2015. Jim wishes to draw the world’s attention to the despicable war on drugs pursued by Philippine President Duterte. www.matangmanok.wordpress.com

Meat


“The stench was awful again.” I hear her talking in bed as I shave.

“I might have gotten used to it. I’m not sure.”

“I don’t understand how someone can get used to something so disgusting and unbearable.”

I believed that the unbearable stench in the apartment was affecting our sex life. We were making love with much more passion since that stench found its way through our nostrils to irritate our brains. I’m sure that I would not have been able to muster so much ardor were it not for that unusual smell. Ever since the stench began, I’d been fucking her somehow, well, epically, as if the world depended on it. After the first fuck with the stench she said as much: Since the stench started, you’re fucking me somehow, well, epically, as if the world depended on it.

There are other details connected to that smell. For instance: I come out of the bathroom and find her in bed naked, sweaty, wrapped in a thin sheet down past her knees. Her face is green, and her body is again covered in big red spots. She feels under the bed, pulls out a metal basin and brings it to her lips. She fills the basin with two or three quarts of liquid. She says it’s due to the stench. I tell her that I don’t feel like I’m going to throw up. I suggest we go to the doctor. She refuses and again grabs the basin and expels the contents of her intestines and I don’t know what else as the basin travels from the floor to her gradually less green face.

It wasn’t always like this. Her illness, her nausea, started when the smell first appeared. That’s when the problems started.

The part of town we live in was orderly and quiet, no worse than any other neighborhood. A few years ago a butcher shop opened in the storefront of our building. Then a second one opened. The butcher shops had a fair number of customers, but there was always more meat than demand. We watched from our balcony as the workers took out boxes of veal carcasses and pig guts and shoved them into the garbage bin just a few stories below our window. Thus began the sweet smell of decay phase. That’s what I called it. And really, it would be an exaggeration to say that the stench was stronger than the usual unpleasant smell of the dumpster in which the dead animals were decaying.

Then came the dogs, and with them phase two. The dogs that moved into our neighborhood were attracted by the smell of meat from the dumpster. The skinned bodies of the animals with torn and exposed arteries and ligaments made us think of human bodies. But only at first. Later we got used to them. Occasionally we’d hear a shriek, and we knew that it was just someone passing through the neighborhood for the first time.

Scraps of cooked meat from residential trashcans, fruit rinds and moldy heels of bread had been the diet of the dogs who hung around the entrance to our building. And then one of them bit into the neck of a dead animal. From the moment the hungriest of them tasted raw flesh, the corpses in the dumpster became the one and only entree on the menu of our neighborhood dogs.

The butcher shop workers continued carrying out the remains.

The first unfortunate incident wasn’t serious. An impatient dog attacked the meat before it was tossed into the dumpster, and the butcher shop employee came away with a few scars. The next incident was more severe. A dog pounced and sunk his teeth into the man’s leg. With one bite it found the femoral artery and sent the employee to the hospital. After that, they didn’t carry the meat to the dumpster anymore. They tossed it out onto the street, into the pack of stray dogs that waited for their meal.

Over time, all of us in the neighborhood became vegetarians. No one wants to carry a bag full of fresh, bloody meat if he lives in or passes through a neighborhood occupied by dogs. The butchers lost all their customers, but it was ordered that they continue working so that the dogs would have regular meals. They were trying to protect the residents from animal attacks.

And that’s how a full complement of meat from two butcher shops ended up on the street just a few floors below our balcony. And so began the next phase and the barely tolerable stench. We suffer. We get used to it. She throws up from time to time, changes color and gets big red spots. But her misery is short-lived. She went out one day to take out the trash and still hasn’t come back. She was the first in the neighborhood to disappear. I believe that my beloved met her unfortunate demise in the jaws of a dog.

Since then I haven’t left the apartment. I’m afraid of more attacks. They closed off our part of town after a few more disappearances. We get our food and supplies from the air. And it’s the same with the meat. They don’t throw it out onto the street anymore; now they attach it to steel cables and lower it from the air. Because of that, the dogs are even hungrier. They won’t leave. And we, the residents of Dog Town, live in fear that wild dogs will soon break down our doors and force their way into our apartments, attracted by the smell of unwashed bodies.

Every day I contemplate carcasses suspended in air. They pause for a moment at the level of my balcony as if they want to taunt me. The sound I have been listening to for years is a variation on the theme of dogs barking, whining and howling. Ever since the meat started being lowered down and pulled up from above, from the sky, I’ve been trying to remember a saying I read somewhere a long time ago. Into the mouth of a bad dog flies many a good bone, if I’m remembering correctly.

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Meso

– Smrad je ponovo bio užasan – čujem je kako govori iz kre­veta dok se perem.

– Ja sam se možda navikao. Nisam siguran.

– Nije mi jasno kako neko može da se navikne na nešto odvratno i nepodnošljivo.

Vjerovao sam da nesnosan smrad u stanu utiče na tok našeg seksualnog čina. Vodimo ljubav sa mnogo više žara od kad nam smrad kroz nozdrve iritira mozak. Siguran sam da ne bih bio u stanju da izvučem iz sebe onoliku strast da nije tog neobičnog mirisa. Od kad je smrada, jebem je nekako, sudbinski. Poslije prvog jebanja sa smradom izgovorila je to: Od kad je smrada, jebeš me nekako – sudbinski.

Postoje detalji vezani za taj miris. Na primjer: izlazim iz kupatila i zatičem je u krevetu golu, oznojenu, prekrivenu tankim čaršavom preko koljena. Lice joj je zelenkasto, a tijelo ponovo napaduju crveni pečati. Ruka prodire ispod kreveta, izvlači me­talni lavor i približava ga ustima. Puni posudu sa dva-tri litra tečnosti. Kaže da je to zbog smrada. Kažem joj da ja ne osjećam mučninu. Predlažem da posjetimo ljekara. Odbija i ponovo hva­ta lavor i ispušta sadržaj crijeva i ne znam još čega dok posuda putuje od poda do njenog sve manje zelenog lica.

Nije oduvijek tako. Njena bolest, njene mučnine, počele su kad se pojavio miris. Tako su počeli problemi.

Dio grada u kojem živimo bio je uredan i tih, ništa lošiji od drugih kvartova. U prizemlju naše zgrade prije nekoliko godina otvorena je mesara. Nakon prve otvorena je još jedna. Mesare su imale određen broj mušterija, ali mesa je bilo više nego što je potrebno. Sa terase smo posmatrali radnike kako u kutijama iznose teleće trupine i svinjske utrobe i guraju ih u kantu za smeće, nekoliko spratova ispod našeg balkona. Tako je počela faza kiselkastog vonja truleži. Ja sam je tako nazvao. I zaista, pre­tjerao bi onaj ko kaže da je smrad bio jači od neprijatnog mirisa kontejnera u kojem se raspada uginula životinja. Onda su došli psi, a sa njima i druga faza. Psi koji su naselili naš kvart bili su privučeni mirisom mesa iz kontejnera. Odrana tijela životinja sa otkinutim arterijama i tetivama podsjećala su na tijela ljudi. Ali samo u početku. Kasnije smo se navikli. Povremeno se čuo vrisak, a mi smo znali da je to još jedan prolaznik kroz naš kvart.

Komadi kuvanog mesa iz malih kanti, ostaci voća i krajevi buđavog hljeba bili su hrana za pse iz naših prolaza. Onda je neko zagrizao vrat mrtve životinje. Od trenutka kad je najgladniji među psima progutao živo meso, lešine iz kanti za smeće postale su glavno i jedino jelo na jelovniku naših pasa. Radnici mesare iznosili su ostatke.

Prvi nesrećan slučaj nije bio težak. Nestrpljivi pas nasrnuo je na meso prije nego što je prebačeno u kantu, a radnik mesare dobio je nekoliko ožiljaka. Sljedeći slučaj bio je teži. Pas je skočio i uhvatio čovjeka za nogu. Jednim ujedom zakačio je arteriju u butini i poslao radnika u bolnicu. Nisu više iznosili meso do kanti. Izbacivali su ga na ulicu, među podivljale pse koji čekaju svoj obrok.

Vremenom smo svi u kvartu postali vegetarijanci. Niko nije želio kesu punu svježeg, krvavog mesa ako živi ili prolazi kroz kvart naseljen psima. Mesare su izgubile mušterije, ali bilo je naređeno da ne prestaju sa radom da bi psi imali redovne obroke. Pokušavali su da zaštite ljude od napada životinja.

Tako je kompletan kontigent mesa iz dvije mesare završio na ulici, nekoliko spratova ispod našeg balkona. Počinje sljedeća faza i teško podnošljiv smrad. Trpimo. Navikavamo se. Ona s vremena na vrijeme povraća, mijenja boju i dobija crvene pe­čate. Ali ni njene muke nisu trajale dugo. Ona je jednog dana izašla da izbaci smeće i još je nema. To je prvi nestanak u ovom kvartu. Vjerujem da je moja draga nesrećno skončala u psećim čeljustima. Od tada ne izlazim iz stana. Plašim se novih napada. Zatvorili su naš dio grada nakon još nekoliko nestanaka. Namir­nice i hranu dobijamo iz vazduha. Isto je i sa mesom. Više ga ne izbacuju na ulicu, sad ga kače za sajle i puštaju u vazduh. Zbog toga su psi još gladniji. Ne napuštaju naše ulice. Mi, stanovnici psećeg kvarta, živimo u strahu da će podivljali psi uskoro da probiju vrata naših stanova privučeni vonjem neumivenih tijela. Svakog dana posmatram životinje u vazduhu. Zadržavaju se na trenutak u visini mog balkona kao da hoće da mi se nacere. Zvuk koji godinama slušam je varijacija psećeg laveža, cviljenja i zavijanja. Od kad meso odnose prema gore, ka nebu, pokušavam da se sjetim rečenice koju sam nekad negdje pročitao. Psi laju a karavan odlijeće, ukoliko se dobro sjećam.

Translator’s Note

Ilija Đurović writes stories that are surprising, disturbing, real in an unreal kind of way. Reading them, I feel as if I am walking in on a scene in progress—like entering a movie theater where the film has already begun or pausing by the door of an apartment that has been inadvertently left ajar. I have to listen for a moment to figure out who is speaking, what is going on, what is the relationship between the characters…

Like the experience of reading Đurović’s stories, my process of translation is also a process of discovery. My first contact with a text is usually reading for pleasure or out of curiosity: what is the author like, what does he or she write about, does it grab me? I am not translating in this first read—I am reading for the story, picking up images, getting a sense of tone and rhythm. And if the story stays with me, I take another look. I read it again to confirm my first impressions. Did he really describe meat rotting in the streets? What was that about being a prisoner in his own apartment? And why does the title now bring to mind an image of a dangling cow carcass? I pay more attention to details in the second read, sometimes stopping to ponder how I would render a particular phrase. At this point I usually know if I want to attempt a translation.

Even after two read-throughs, though, there is still more to discover. Now the linguistic issues kick in. How does the narrator express himself and, stepping into his shoes, how do I approximate that in English? Does he play with language, use uncommon words instead of common ones, speak in slang, make literary allusions? And what is left unsaid?

The danger of translating in discovery mode—working your way from beginning to end—is that you might encounter the most difficult challenge in the very last sentence. In “Meat,” for instance, the story’s punch line is a common saying in Montenegro and other countries of the region. The saying, “Psi laju, a karavana prolazi,” is commonly translated, “The dogs bark, but the caravan passes.” The narrator, in his stressed out state, twists that to “The dogs bark, but the caravan flies away.” But the dog/caravan saying is not a common expression in the United States (a few documented utterances substituting stagecoach or wagon train for caravan notwithstanding). I had to find an English expression that could be twisted in a similar way, preferably featuring dogs, barking, and, most important, motion that could become flight. The search led me through the internet and into the stacks of my public library, through a handful of proverb dictionaries and hours pondering the origins and meanings of the sayings I found. True discovery mode. Trying to solve these kinds of puzzles is one of the pleasures of translation.

Paula GordonPaula Gordon’s work as a literary translator encompasses drama, short stories, memoir, poetry, and archival material. Her translations have appeared in Words without Borders and Copper Nickel. Her translation of Otpad [Refuse] by Montenegrin playwright Ljubomir Đurković was commissioned and published by the Montenegrin National Theatre in 2003. She posts “current event” translations (from Bosnian, Croatian, Montenegrin, and Serbian) of news articles, essays, and Facebook and blog posts at https://dbaplanb.wordpress.com/aktuelnost/.

 

Ilija Đurović

Ilija Đurović (Podgorica, Montenegro, 1990) has been writing since he was a teenager. “Meso” is taken from his short story collection Oni to tako divno rade u velikim ljubavnim romanima, published by Žuta kornjača (Podgorica) in 2014. Another collection, Crne Ribe, is forthcoming from the same publisher. A story from this new collection, “Djelovi grada,” was one of three equal prize winners in the “VranacBest Short Stories of 2016” competition held by the Odakle Zovem festival (Knjižara Karver, Podgorica). His story “The Five Widows,” translated by Will Firth, appears in Dalkey Archive Press’s Best European Fiction 2016 (London, November 2015). Đurović also writes poetry, plays, and personal essays. He lives in Berlin. (Photo credit: Ivan Čojbačić)

5 Poems


The Drafting Teacher  

I’ll tell you all a story about three pencils.

The first pencil went to war.
Sketched tanks and ravens on the battlefields.

The second stayed in town on Roundup Street.
Slight and short, it snuck into a hiding place.

The third was carried in a pocket to a meadow.
There it drew wildflowers, weeds.

And then what, then what, dear teacher?

The three pencils never met up again.
The three pencils, what a sweet refrain.
The three pencils. With no erasers to be had,
the pictures they created will remain.

But where? Teacher, tell us where.

 

Addresses

Mostowa 19.
A bare bulb beams
in the heatwave.

Plac Nowy 27.
That striped gooseberry,
an underlit
tart lantern,
marks a holy day
that passes unnoticed.

Miodowa 72.
Suspended
at the synagogue’s entrance:
violet stalk
of the Kaddish.

Thoughts of you
soothe
like a shade
against the glare
of those blinding
addresses.

 

Empathy

Let’s meditate
on God’s suffering, the rabbi suggests
at the Holocaust conference.
Let’s do that instead of trying to explain
how it could happen.

Cinnamon cookies
with slivered almonds
are served.

Near the camp
children dig up
the shattered head of a Madonna
from a local church.
The plaster body’s some ways off.

In the crematorium
a tourist poses for a photo.
Let’s share in God’s suffering, the rabbi urges.
In ten minutes we’ll meet back
at the bus, the tour guide says.
We’ve got to keep to the schedule.

 

Hiding Place

He went missing.
Maybe he was kidnapped.
Though I had my suspicions

I was not allowed to look for him.

Once I heard
human voices from behind the curtain.
I felt that someone was hiding there.

I took advantage of the commotion
when they broke the Christmas wafer
and exchanged wishes at the table.

I slipped in through
a narrow window.
Tense, I glanced around.

Then I gathered my courage
and lifted the curtain
to the ark of the Torah.
In the niche—

curled up—
he lay there
sleeping.

I lowered
the faded parochet
and fled
down the spiral staircase.

 

They’ll decide

The little gate
to the Remuh Graveyard
has a handle
only on the inside.

So the dead will decide
whom they’ll let in.

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NAUCZYCIEL ROBÓT RĘCZNYCH

Opowiem wam bajkę o trzech ołówkach.

Pierwszy ołówek poszedł na wojnę.
Rysował czołgi i kruki na pobojowiskach.

Drugi został w mieście, na ulicy Łapanka.
Wąski i mały, przemknął się do kryjówki.

Trzeci zaniesiono w kieszeni na łąkę.
Tam rysował polne kwiaty, chwasty.

I co dalej, co dalej, panie profesorze?

Trzy ołówki nigdy już się nie spotkały.
Trzy ołówki, jaki to miły refren.
Trzy ołówki. Zabrakło gumek do mazania.
Obrazy, jakie stworzyły, zostaną.

Ale gdzie? Panie profesorze, prosimy jaśniej?

 

ADRESY

Mostowa 19.
Świeci się naga
żarówka w upał.

Plac Nowy 27.
Agrest w paski,
podświetlony,
kwaskowy lampion
na niezapamiętane
święto.

Miodowa 72.
U wejścia do bożnicy
zawieszono
fioletową szypułkę
kadiszu.

Myśl o Tobie
działa
jak kojący abażur
na jaskrawych,
oślepiających
adresach.

 

EMPATIA

Kontemplujmy
cierpiącego Boga, zaproponował
rabin na konferencji o Zagładzie.
Róbmy tak, zamiast wyjaśniać,
dlaczego do tego doszło.

Podano ciasteczka
z cynamonem
i płatkami migdałów.

Dzieci wykopały
z terenu przy obozie
pogruchotaną główkę Madonny
z pobliskiego kościoła.
Gipsowy korpus osobno.

W krematorium
turystka pozuje do zdjęcia.

Dzielmy mękę Boga, ciągnął rabin.

Za dziesięć minut zbiórka
przy autokarze, woła przewodnik.
Musimy zmieścić się w programie.

 

KRYJÓWKA

Zaginął.
Może został porwany.
Nie wolno mi go było szukać.

Miałam swoje podejrzenia.

Kiedyś usłyszałam
ludzkie głosy za zasłoną.
Czułam, że ktoś się tam ukrywa.

Skorzystałam z zamieszania,
gdy przy stole
łamano się opłatkiem.

Wczołgałam się
przez wąskie okno.
Rozglądałam się nerwowo.

Zebrałam się na odwagę
i uchyliłam zasłonę
Aron ha-kodesz.

We wnęce –
zwinięty w kłębek –
był tam.
Spał.

Zasunęłam
spłowiały parochet
i uciekłam
spiralnymi schodami.

 

DECYDUJĄ

Furtka prowadząca
na kirkut Remu
ma klamkę tylko
od wewnątrz.

To umarli decydują,
kogo wpuścić.

Translator’s Note

We often think of translation as a one-way street, moving from the source to the target language. But for Ewa Elżbieta Nowakowska, the highway of writing—and translation—moves in at least two directions. She has brought fifteen books into Polish, including a novel by Alice Munro and a book of essays and poems by Thomas Merton, and she has co-translated into English a volume of Ewa Lipska’s poetry with Robin Davidson. In fact, I first encountered Nowakowska through her translations of Lipska, seven of which I included in Scattering the Dark, an anthology of Polish women poets that White Pine Press issued in 2016.

But this summer I delved more deeply into Nowakowska’s own work, particularly Trzy ołówki (Austeria, 2013), where the five originals in this selection first appeared, and an earlier work, Merton Linneusz Artaud (Forma, 2012). In both books, Nowakowska’s taut, resonant language allows her to spotlight people, places, or relics from a disappeared past. Her fragmented syntax and short line put each phrase, each word under pressure. As I tried to replicate that intensity in English, I remembered Peter Constantine’s brilliant translation of Isaac Babel’s story, “Guy de Maupassant,” which itself happens to be about bringing a work from one language into another: “When a phrase is born. . . [t]he secret of its success rests in a crux that is barely discernible. One’s fingertips must grasp the key, gently warming it. And then the key must be turned once, not twice.”

Trzy ołówki [The Three Pencils] is dedicated to the Margel family, Kraków Jews imprisoned in the city’s ghetto and in the local concentration camp, Płaszów, during World War II, who had been close neighbors of the poet’s great-grandparents before the war. Much of the book catalogues images from the past and present of the Kazimierz district, where synagogues stand close to Gothic churches. In “Addresses,” for instance, we get the names of streets still extant in Kraków: Mostowa [Bridge], Miodowa [Honey], and Plac Nowy [New Square]. Like those addresses, Nowakowska is alert to other traces—a striped gooseberry resembling a lantern, the “violet stalk” of the Kaddish—organic images that still live.

But other poems in the collection move beyond Jewish Kraków to contemplate Polish Galicia, a multicultural part of the country under Austrian control from the late eighteenth century through World War I, which was home to a large Jewish population. “The Drafting Teacher” refers to a parable that the writer Bruno Schulz is said to have told his students when he was working as a shop teacher in the Galician village of Drohobycz before World War II. By personifying the three pencils, Nowakowska suggests some of the different fates that Polish Jews and Catholics met during the war and also the ability of art to preserve vestiges of the past. Movingly, she also hints at the limits of art—how it freezes the past at a certain moment, after which, bound by the span of human life, it cannot follow.

Reading these lyrics by Ewa Elżbieta Nowakowska, you might experience what I did: returning to my own world, I felt transformed by the most ordinary things—a pencil, a lamp.

Karen KovacikKaren Kovacik has published translations of contemporary Polish poetry in American Poetry Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Boston Review, Crazyhorse, Colorado Review, West Branch, Mid-American Review, and Southern Review. In 2011, she received a fellowship in literary translation from the National Endowment for the Arts for her translations of Agnieszka Kuciak’s work. In 2013, White Pine issued her translation of Kuciak’s Distant Lands: An Anthology of Poets Who Don’t Exist, long-listed for ALTA’s National Translation Award. She is editor of an anthology of Polish women poets, Scattering the Dark (White Pine, 2016); author of the poetry collections Metropolis Burning, Beyond the Velvet Curtain, and Nixon and I; and recipient of, among other awards, the Charity Randall Citation from the International Poetry Forum.

Ewa Elżbieta Nowakowska is a poet and translator (of Alice Munro, Thomas Merton, Ewa Lipska, among others). She has been awarded the Baczyński Prize for her work, and has published four collections of poetry, most recently Trzy ołówki (Three pencils) from which these poems have been excerpted. Her previous collection Merton Linnaeus Artaud features a conversation among those three thinkers. She lives and works in Kraków. With Robin Davidson, she translated Ewa Lipska’s The New Century (Northwestern, 2009). (Photo credit: Jan Wertz)

The Jaguar / About Writing / Spell to Ward Off Fear of La Catrina

The Jaguar

I am leaving the earth
with a jaguar in my hand

a jaguar that carries
a heart in its hand

in the silent looms of Mitla
the Mexican night grows

like sharing bread
with a brother

I let the jaguar
eat my heart

jaguar with heart
in its hand

 

About Writing

this moment, if it is a coincidence
was already written

rebellion is not against a written destiny
but against the shackles of a single reading

dream or omen
the Word comes from Eve’s rib
the black bone carves hieroglyphics
on the skin of the moon

Oedipus doesn’t know his chimeric path
is the calligraphy left by smoke on retinas
the course of a crooked foot along the wrong streets

there are no coincidences
only confused pages
a library of pulverized adobes
monographs soaked in the vinegars of Canaan

the flames of Alexandria
the burning of Cuzco’s quipus
the imperial mandate of Qin Shi Huang
all for nothing

only we remain
armed with laughter
stripped of Nebrijas and Cartas de Jamaica

such is the road of the erudite ants

we who are barely
a handful of vowels and consonants

 

Spell to Ward Off Fear of La Catrina

like a lost child
touch her breast
let her
guide your hand
only then
will she give you everything

she will teach you
to write
on the rough hide of the night
on the ridges of the sea
on a child’s smooth forehead
in a language
of open wounds

let her guide your steady hand
explain to you
that to write
is to exercise
the vocabulary of silence
it is to redraw
the exact contour
the precise sorrow
of each scar

 

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EL JAGUAR

me voy de la tierra
con el jaguar en la mano

el jaguar que lleva
un corazón en la mano

en el silencio de los telares de Mitla
crece la noche mexicana

como compartiendo el pan
con un hermano

dejo que el jaguar
se coma mi corazón

jaguar con corazón
en la mano


SOBRE LA ESCRITURA 

este momento, si es coincidencia
estaba ya escrito

la rebelión no es contra el destino escrito
sino frente al eslabón de una sola lectura

sueño o augurio
el verbo sale de la costilla de Eva
su hueso negro talla jeroglíficos
en la piel de la luna

Edipo no sabe que su camino de quimera
es la caligrafía del humo en las retinas
el rumbo de un pie torcido por las calles equivocadas

no hay coincidencias
solo páginas que se confunden
una biblioteca de adobes pulverizados
las monografías remojadas en los vinagres de Canáan

el incendio de Alejandría
la hoguera de los quipus cuzqueños
el mandato imperial de Qin Shi Huang
no sirvieron de nada

quedamos nosotros
armados con la risa
desnudos de Nebrijas y Cartas de Jamaica

tal el camino de las hormigas ilustradas

nosotros que apenas somos
puñado de vocales y consonantes

 

CONJURO PARA NO TEMER A LA CATRINA

como un niño perdido
tócale el seno
deja que ella
guíe tu mano
sólo entonces
te lo dará todo

te enseñará
a escribir
sobre el áspero pellejo de la noche
en la rugosidad del mar
sobre la tersa frente de los niños
en un lenguaje
de heridas que no cierran

deja que ella guíe tu pulso
que te explique
que escribir
es ejercitar
el vocabulario del silencio
es dibujar de nuevo
el contorno exacto
el dolor preciso
de cada cicatriz

Translator’s Note

Alejandro Saravia’s work captured my attention from the very first time I read it. Soon after we met in 2007, he asked me to translate the poem that opens his first collection, Ejercicio de serpientes (Palabras prestadas, 1994). After several fledgling attempts to render “Hoy quizá llueva una ‘a’” into English, I agreed with him that it was impossible and set it aside. Recently, after many years spent dancing around it and translating several short stories, his first novel, and a good number of his poems, I revisited the poem and arrived at a version I felt confident enough to share with the author.

Saravia’s fascination with language is palpable throughout his prolific body of work. Writing and speaking are transformative acts—in that first poem, transmutation is enabled by a first, crucial step: writing the first vowel, the first letter of the alphabet, to realize the power and significance of language. The written word can soothe grief, alter mountains, bridge distances, spark creation itself. The three poems in this selection revolve around this axis, the all-encompassing generative process facilitated by the speaker’s engagement with language, silence, place, memory, and history. Maps are drawn. Pacts are made. Exchanges are negotiated.

As a poet and translator, I find in Saravia’s work an endless source of challenging encounters with the written word. But when is a poem finished? Poets know they must, at some point, consider a poem complete and let it go, even when they have more to say or strings of words could stand further refining to express a set of images and sensations. If writing poetry is an attempt to capture something essential, something felt but unknown and unsayable—if a poem is a snapshot, an approximation that can never fully convey that essence—if writing is a negotiated exchange mediated by language—what does translation add to the mix? One more pair of eyes to see, one more pair of feet to walk the same path, one more system of communicating vessels for the essence of the poem to flow through. The poem never stops.

This is a small sample from my humble, determined attempt to unearth, in the English language, the wondrous complexity of Saravia’s work. It is an honor to share my reading of these poems here. May these versions move, carry, and transmute you.

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Special Guest Judge, Jesse Lee Kercheval

“One of the moments I enjoy most in reading translations is when they introduce me to a new writer and, through the joint act of the writing and translation, to a whole world. These three poems,”El jaguar,” “Sobre la escritura,” and “Conjura para no temer la Catrina,” lucidly and effectively translated here as “The Jaguar,” “About Writing” and “Spell to Ward Off Fear of La Catrina,” brought me that very real pleasure. The poems are by the Bolivian-Canadian Alejandro Saravia who lives and works as a journalist in Quebec. I see in these poems Bolivia, but also a world widened by immigration and exile, by a writer’s life of reading and thought. In “About Writing,” Saravia writes “such is the road of the erudite ants/ we who are barely/ a handful of vowels and consonants.” And the translations, in another voyage, another act of immigration, effortlessly bring Saravia’s words across to us in English.”

– Jesse Lee Kercheval is the author of 14 books including the bilingual Spanish/English poetry collection Extranjera/ Stranger (Yaugarú, 2015). Her translations include Invisible Bridge/ El puente invisible: Selected Poems of Circe Maia (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015). She is also the editor of América invertida: An Anthology of Emerging Uruguayan Poets which is forthcoming from the University of New Mexico Press. She is the Zona Gale Professor of English and Director of the Program in Creative Writing at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

María José Giménez María José Giménez is a translator, editor, and rough-weather poet with a rock climbing problem. Recent work appears in K1N, Prelude, Rogue Agent, The Apostles Review, and Cactus Heart. Translations include poetry, short fiction, essays, screenplays, a mountaineering memoir by Edurne Pasaban, and Alejandro Saravia’s novel Red, Yellow and Green (Biblioasis, 2017), winner of a 2016 NEA Translation Fellowship. She is part of Montreal’s collective The Apostles Review and serves as Assistant Translation Editor for Drunken Boat.

 

 

Alejandro Saravia Alejandro Saravia was born in Cochabamba, Bolivia and since 1986 has lived in Quebec, where he works as a journalist. His publications have appeared in publications across Canada and the United States, including Quiebre, Tinta y Sombra, Mapalé, Alter Vox, The Fourth River, and Cactus Heart. In addition to the novel Rojo, amarillo y verde (2003), he has published six books of poems and a short fiction volume about the 40th anniversary of the Chilean coup d’état, Cuarenta momentos chilenos (2013). He is part of Montreal’s Hispanic-Canadian collective The Apostles Review.

 

 

 

The Horseshoe Finder / The age / January 1, 1924


The Horseshoe Finder 
            (A Pindaric fragment)

We look at a forest and say:
+++— Here is timber for ships and masts,
Rosy pines,
Free of hairy burden to their very tops,
They should screech in the storm
As lonely pines
In a raging forestless air;
The plumb-line fastened firmly to the dancing deck will endure
++++++++++++++++++++a salty sole of the wind,
And a seafarer,
In a frantic thirst for space
Drags through soggy furrows
A fragile instrument of a geometer,
To weigh a rugged surface of the seas
Against the attraction of the terrestrial bosom.

Inhaling the scent
Of tarry tears which exude through plaiting,
Admiring the clamped planks of bulkheads
Which were not riveted by a Bethlehem’s peaceful carpenter, but by another,
The father of sea-fares, the friend of a seafarer,
We say:
+++— They too stood on land,
Uncomfortable as a mule’s backbone,
Their tops were forgetting about the roots
In a famous mountainous ridge,
And rustling under freshwater torrents
Offered heaven in vain to trade their noble load
For a pinch of salt.

Where to start?
Everything cracks and sways.
The air trembles with similes,
No word is better than any other,
The earth drones with metaphors,
And light two-wheeled chariots,
Dazzlingly harnessed to flocks of birds strenuously flapping their wings,
Fall to fragments
Competing with snorting favorites of the races.

Thrice-blessed is he who puts a name in a song;
A song embossed with a name
Outlives the others —
It is set apart from her girlfriends by a head-band,
Healing from oblivion by a befuddling odor too strong to endure —
Whether caused by the imminence of a man
Or the smell of a strong beast’s fur,
Or just by the scent of thyme grated by the palms.

The air can be as dark as water, and all creatures swim in it like fish
Whose fins thrust the sphere,
Dense, pliable, slightly warmed —
A crystal, where wheels revolve and horses shy,
A soggy black soil of Neaira each night plowed anew
By pitchforks, tridents, hoes, ploughs.
The air is kneaded as densely as soil —
It is impossible to leave it, hard to enter.

A rustle rushes through the trees like a green bat,
Children play knucklebones with the vertebrae of extinct beasts,
The frail chronology of our era comes to a close.
I am grateful for what was given:
I myself was lost, made blunders, lost count.
The era was ringing like a golden orb,
Hollow, cast, supported by no one,
Responding “Yes” or “No” to each touch,
Thus a child answers:
“I’ll give you an apple” or: “I won’t give you an apple,”
While his face is an exact cast of his voice, which utters those words.

The sound is still ringing although its source has vanished.
The steed lies in the dust and snorts dripping with sweat,
But a steep turn of its neck
Still keeps the memory of a thrush-legged race,
Not a four-hoofed race,
But as many hooves as there were cobblestones
Renewed in four shifts
As many times as a steed foaming with heat
Hit the ground.

Thus
The horseshoe-finder
Blows the dust off it
And polishes it with wool until it shines;
Then
He hangs it on his doorway
Giving it rest,
So it won’t have to strike sparks from flint.

Human lips
++++++++which have nothing more to say
Keep the form of the last uttered word,
And a feeling of heaviness fills the hand
Though the jug
++++++++has been half-spilled
++++++++++++++++++++++while it was carried home.

What I am saying now is not spoken by me,
But is dug out like grains of petrified wheat.
Some
+++++++stamp lions on coins,
Others,
+++++++a head.
Various copper, bronze and golden lozenges
Are buried in earth with equal honor.
The age has tried to gnaw at them leaving the clench of its teeth.
Time cuts me like a coin,
And there is not enough of myself left for myself….

(1923)

 

The age

My age, my beast, who can try
Look straight into your eyes
And weld with one’s own blood
Vertebrae of two centuries?
Streams of building blood pour
From the throat of earthly things,
Only a sluggard who lacks backbone
Trembles on the brink of new days.

A creature, while still alive,
Should carry its spine on,
And the wave plays
With an unseen backbone.
Infantile age of earth
Is like tender baby’s bones —
The temple of life is again
Sacrificed like a lamb.

To tear the age from bounds,
To found a new world,
The knotty joints of days
Should be bound by flute sounds.
The age sways a wave
With a human sorrow that stings,
While the adder breathes in the grass
With a golden measure of things.

The buds will swell again
And a green shoot will burst,
But your backbone is broken, alas,
My wonderful wretched age!
A cruel and weak beast,
You gaze with a senseless smile
At the traces of your own paws,
Like a beast once strong and agile.

Streams of building blood pour
From the throat of earthly things,
And a warm cartilage of the seas
Sways searing fish ashore,
And from the bird’s height,
From azure wet rocks
Indifference flows down
Upon your mortal wound, beast.

(1922)

 

January 1, 1924

He who kissed time’s tormented temple,
With a son’s tenderness will recollect
How time lay down to sleep
Behind the window in a snowy mount of wheat.
He who raised time’s sickly eyelids —
Two enormous sleepy apples —
Will always hear the noise of roaring rivers
Of deceptive and deadly times.

A tyrannous age has two sleepy apples
And a beautiful mouth of clay,
But on his death-bed he will kiss
A drooping hand of his aging son.
I know that life’s breath
Grows weaker day by day,
They will soon cut off a simple song
Of clay wrongs and seal the mouth with tin.

Oh, life of clay! Oh, dying of the age!
I fear the only one who can
Grasp you is the one whose helpless smile
Reveals the man who lost himself.
It’s such a pain to look for a lost word,
To raise sickly eyelids
And gather night herbs for a foreign tribe
When one’s blood is thickened with limestone.

The age. The layer of lime hardens in sickly son’s blood.
Moscow sleeps like a wooden chest.
There is nowhere to run from a tyrannous age…
The snow smells of apple as in old days.
I long to run away from my own threshold.
Where to? It’s dark outside,
And as if a paved road sprinkled with salt,
My consciousness shines ahead.

Past lanes, past starling houses, wooden eaves,
Somehow going somewhere not far,
A regular rider covered in a threadbare fur,
I try to button up sleigh robe.
Street after street flies past,
Sleigh’s frozen sound crunches like an apple,
A tight loop would not give up and keeps
Slipping out of my hands all the time.

With what iron hardware does winter night
Jingle along Moscow streets?
It rattles with frozen fish, streams steam
Like silver roach-fish from rosy tearooms.
Moscow—it’s Moscow again. I say “Hello!”
Bear with me—let bygones be bygones,
As in old time, I respect the brotherhood
Of hard frost and pike’s court. [1]

Pharmacist’s raspberry burns in the snow,
An Underwood somewhere clinked,
Two feet of snow and a coachman’s back:
What else to wish? You won’t be hurt or killed.
Winter’s a beauty, and a goat-like starlit sky
Scattered around burns like milk,
With a horse’s hair against the frozen runners
The sleigh robe rings and rubs.

The lanes smoked with kerosene,
Swallowed snow, raspberry, ice,
Still remembering the year of twenty and nineteen,
Scaling off the Soviet sonatina like dry fish.
Can I betray to a shameful smear —
The frost smells of apple again —
The wonderful oath to the fourth estate
And the wows as great as tears?

Whom else will you kill? Whom will you hail?
What lies will you devise?
That’s the Underwood’s cartilage—tear out a key,
And you’ll find a pike’s bone underneath,
And the layer of lime in the blood of a sick son
Will dissolve, and a blessed laughter will burst …
But the typewriters’ simple sonatina is just
A shadow of those mighty sonatas.

(1924, 1937)

 

[1] An allusion to a satirical fable “Carp-Idealist” of the great Russian satirist  Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin (1826-1889). In the story, Carp was proclaiming ideas of equality, observing the laws, which were labeled as “socialist”, and in the end was called for a dispute with Pike, was later taken in custody and finally eaten, or rather, occasionally swallowed by the Pike.

prose_section_divider Нашедший подкову 

        (Пиндарический отрывок) 

Глядим на лес и говорим:
— Вот лес корабельный,мачтовый,
Розовые сосны,
До самой верхушки свободные от мохнатой ноши,
Им бы поскрипывать в бурю,
Одинокими пиниями,
В разъяренном безлесном воздухе.
Под соленою пятою ветра устоит отвес,
+++++++пригнанный к пляшущей палубе,
И мореплаватель,
В необузданной жажде пространства,
Влача через влажные рытвины хрупкий прибор геометра,
Сличит с притяженьем земного лона
Шероховатую поверхность морей.

А вдыхая запах
Смолистых слез, проступивших сквозь обшивку корабля,
Любуясь на доски,
Заклепанные, слаженные в переборки
Не вифлеемским мирным плотником, а другим–
Отцом путешествий, другом морехода,–
Говорим:
…И они стояли на земле,
Неудобной, как хребет осла,
Забывая верхушками о корнях
На знаменитом горном кряже,
И шумели под пресным ливнем,
Безуспешно предлагая небу выменять на щепотку соли
Свой благородный груз.

С чего начать?
Всё трещит и качается.
Воздух дрожит от сравнений.
Ни одно слово
+++++++++++++не лучше другого,
Земля гудит метафорой,
И легкие двуколки
В броской упряжи густых от натуги птичьих стай
Разрываются на части,
Соперничая с храпящими любимцами ристалищ.
Трижды блажен, кто введет в песнь имя;
Украшенная названьем песнь
Дольше живет среди других —
Она отмечена среди подруг повязкой на лбу,
Исцеляющей от беспамятства, слишком сильного одуряющего запаха,
Будь то близость мужчины,
Или запах шерсти сильного зверя,
Или просто дух чобра, растертого между ладоней.
Воздух бывает темным, как вода, и всё живое в нем плавает, как рыба,

Плавниками расталкивая сферу,
Плотную, упругую, чуть нагретую,–
Хрусталь, в котором движутся колеса и шарахаются лошади,
Влажный чернозем Нееры, каждую ночь распаханный заново
Вилами, трезубцами, мотыгами, плугами.
Воздух замешен так же густо, как земля:
Из него нельзя выйти, в него трудно войти.

Шорох пробегает по деревьям зеленой лаптой,
Дети играют в бабки позвонками умерших животных.
Хрупкое летоисчисление нашей эры подходит к концу.
Спасибо за то, что было:
Я сам ошибся, я сбился, запутался в счете.
Эра звенела, как шар золотой,
Полая, литая, никем не поддерживаемая,
На всякое прикосновение отвечала “да” и “нет”.
Так ребенок отвечает;
«Я дам тебе яблоко» — или: «Я не дам тебе яблоко».
И лицо его — точный слепок с голоса, который произносит эти слова.

Звук еще звенит, хотя причина звука исчезла.
Конь лежит в пыли и храпит в мыле,
Но крутой поворот его шеи
Еще сохраняет воспоминание о беге с разбросанными ногами —
Когда их было не четыре,
А по числу камней дороги,
Обновляемых в четыре смены,
По числу отталкиваний от земли пышущего жаром иноходца.

Так
Нашедший подкову
Сдувает с нее пыль
И растирает ее шерстью, пока она не заблестит.
Тогда
Он вешает ее на пороге,
Чтобы она отдохнула,
И больше уж ей не придется высекать искры из кремня.

Человеческие губы,
+++++++++++++которым больше нечего сказать,
Сохраняют форму последнего сказанного слова,
И в руке остается ощущение тяжести,
Хотя кувшин
+++++++наполовину расплескался,
+++++++++++++++++++пока его несли домой.

То, что я сейчас говорю, говорю не я,
А вырыто из земли, подобно зернам окаменелой пшеницы.
Одни
++++++на монетах изображают льва,
Другие —
++++++голову.
Разнообразные медные, золотые и бронзовые лепешки
С одинаковой почестью лежат в земле,
Век, пробуя их перегрызть, оттиснул на них свои зубы.
Время срезает меня, как монету,
И мне уж не хватает меня самого.

1923

 

ВЕК

ВЕК
Век мой, зверь мой, кто сумеет
Заглянуть в твои зрачки
И своею кровью склеит
Двух столетий позвонки?
Кровь-строительница хлещет
Горлом из земных вещей,
Захребетник лишь трепещет
На пороге новых дней.

Тварь, покуда жизнь хватает,
Донести хребет должна,
И невидимым играет
Позвоночником волна.
Словно нежный хрящ ребенка
Век младенческой земли —
Снова в жертву, как ягненка,
Темя жизни принесли.

Чтобы вырвать век из плена,
Чтобы новый мир начать,
Узловатых дней колена
Нужно флейтою связать.
Это век волну колышет
Человеческой тоской,
И в траве гадюка дышит
Мерой века золотой.
И ещё набухнут почки,

Брызнет зелени побег,
Но разбит твой позвоночник,
Мой прекрасный жалкий век!
И с бессмысленной улыбкой
Вспять глядишь, жесток и слаб,
Словно зверь, когда-то гибкий,
На следы своих же лап.

Кровь-строительница хлещет
Горлом из земных вещей,
И горячей рыбой плещет
В берег тёплый хрящ морей.
И с высокой сетки птичьей,
От лазурных влажных глыб
Льётся, льётся безразличье
На смертельный твой ушиб.


1922.

 

1 января 1924

Кто время целовал в измученное темя,–
С сыновьей нежностью потом
Он будет вспоминать, как спать ложилось время
В сугроб пшеничный за окном.
Кто веку поднимал болезненные веки —
Два сонных яблока больших,–
Он слышит вечно шум — когда взревели реки
Времен обманных и глухих.

Два сонных яблока у века-властелина
И глиняный прекрасный рот,
Но к млеющей руке стареющего сына
Он, умирая, припадет.
Я знаю, с каждым днем слабеет жизни выдох,
Еще немного — оборвут
Простую песенку о глиняных обидах
И губы оловом зальют.

О, глиняная жизнь! О, умиранье века!
Боюсь, лишь тот поймет тебя,
В ком беспомо’щная улыбка человека,
Который потерял себя.
Какая боль — искать потерянное слово,
Больные веки поднимать
И с известью в крови для племени чужого
Ночные травы собирать.

Век. Известковый слой в крови больного сына
Твердеет. Спит Москва, как деревянный ларь,
И некуда бежать от века-властелина…
Снег пахнет яблоком, как встарь.
Мне хочется бежать от моего порога.
Куда? На улице темно,
И, словно сыплют соль мощеною дорогой,
Белеет совесть предо мной.

По переулочкам, скворешням и застрехам,
Недалеко, собравшись как-нибудь,–
Я, рядовой седок, укрывшись рыбьим мехом,
Все силюсь полость застегнуть.
Мелькает улица, другая,
И яблоком хрустит саней морозный звук,
Не поддается петелька тугая,
Все время валится из рук.

Каким железным скобяным товаром
Ночь зимняя гремит по улицам Москвы,
То мерзлой рыбою стучит, то хлещет паром
Из чайных розовых — как серебром плотвы.
Москва — опять Москва. Я говорю ей: здравствуй!
Не обессудь, теперь уж не беда,
По старине я принимаю братство
Мороза крепкого и щучьего суда.

Пылает на снегу аптечная малина,
И где-то щелкнул ундервуд,
Спина извозчика и снег на пол-аршина:
Чего тебе еще? Не тронут, не убьют.
Зима-красавица, и в звездах небо козье
Рассыпалось и молоком горит,
И конским волосом о мерзлые полозья
Вся полость трется и звенит.

А переулочки коптили керосинкой,
Глотали снег, малину, лед,
Все шелушиться им советской сонатинкой,
Двадцатый вспоминая год.
Ужели я предам позорному злословью —
Вновь пахнет яблоком мороз —
Присягу чудную четвертому сословью
И клятвы крупные до слез?

Кого еще убьешь? Кого еще прославишь?
Какую выдумаешь ложь?
То ундервуда хрящ: скорее вырви клавиш —
И щучью косточку найдешь;
И известковый слой в крови больного сына
Растает, и блаженный брызнет смех…
Но пишущих машин простая сонатина —
Лишь тень сонат могучих тех.

1924, 1937

Translator’s Note

As Mandelstam said in the “Conversation about Dante,” poetical speech is heard in a very relative way because in a true work of poetry we hear many voices, one of which, a musical voice, is deaf without a word; another, narrative, is absolutely meaningless without music and images, and can be retold as a dull story (that is the best proof of the absence of poetry); the other voice, metaphorical, expresses nothing without poetical motive and meaning revealed in a definite context. This thought of the Russian poet coincides to some extent with Gerard Manley Hopkins’s definition of verse as “speech wholly or partially repeating the same figure of sound.” To name the phenomena of the world is to reveal them. Revelation is re-evaluation: re-veiling and unveiling something so palpable and fragile that when “rendered in a disdainful prose,” to quote Pushkin, it evaporates.

It is my contention that the word as such is untranslatable, even in prose. As George Steiner mentioned, there is no such a vehicle that can transport a word literally into another language. Even composing in one’s own language is an impossible task. Imitations, adaptations, or free translations, which are of no time as poetry itself, on the other hand, do not attempt to render the original poem as translation as such into another language. What one can try to render is what George Steiner calls in After Babel “a contingent motion of spirit” (Steiner 71).

Translating the poems of Osip Mandelstam is even more impossible, since his poetry is not only full of allusions and hidden and direct citations (as, for instance, allusions to Pindar in “The Horseshoe Finder”), but it is also esoteric, and the bridges / associations between metaphors are in most cases eliminated. Hence the translator of Mandelstam’s poetry has to do a lot of research, but then thoroughly “hide” the acquired knowledge between the lines, since translation differs from interpretation (although the latter is also implied).

In Mandelstam’s “The Horseshoe Finder” (1923), “unbridled passion for space,” a desire to sail “beyond the Gates of Hercules” erases the boundary between time and space. The sea is doubtless a metaphor of life while wandering, in my view, is a metaphor of a spiritual quest. Mandelstam’s seafarer may be Odysseus (since he is called “The father of sea-fares, the friend of a seafarer”), but the scholars of Mandelstam’s poetry, Steven Broyd and Clare Cavanagh, do not exclude Peter the Great, since he was also a shipbuilder, though not “a Bethlehem’s peaceful carpenter.” As was mentioned by a number of scholars, rhythm and imagery of the poem have allusions to Pindar as well as to Hesiod’s Theogony (915-917), in which the Muses and their mother Mnemosyne are crowned with frontlets. It is notable that in Mandelstam’s “The Horseshoe Finder,” oblivion (or amnesia) is caused by an overly strong, befuddling smell, the source of which might be the closeness of a male, or the smell of a strong wild beast’s hair, which is akin to Yeats’ “sensual music” (“Sailing to Byzantium”) of the dying generations; hence the vital power of procreation can lead to unbeing if not saved by the creativity or by the “monuments of unageing intellect.”

The image of time, which “has tried to gnaw” on ancient coins, reminds us of Bergson’s image of time where the past “is gnawing into the future.” (Matter and Memory, 52-53.) In Mandelstam’s poem, however, time “cuts me”–the lyrical hero, if not the poet himself, is literally cut by time. Thus, time for Mandelstam, who is alluding to Dezhavin’s (1743-1816) last poem, “The River of Time” [Reka vremyon] and to the theme of oblivion, is a fearful thing. The theme of Derzhavin’s poem is the flux of time which carries away all the human deeds and “drowns in the chasm of oblivion/ nations, kingdoms and kings.”

In “The Age” [Vek] Mandelstam refers to time as “a sick and dying beast,” while in “1 January 1924” the age is shown as a dying tyrant that will nevertheless “sink onto the numb arm of an aging son.” Mandelstam opposes sick time to the roaring rivers of deceptive and desolate times, alluding both to the bloody Soviet reality and to Derzhavin’s “The River of Time.” Hence, the necessity to heal or save sick time with music—even at the cost of the poet’s own life. Therefore, the theme of overcoming separation in time and isolation in civilization and culture, by thus healing or saving time, was inevitably connected in Mandelstam’s poetry with the theme of art. Here “a flute is a metonymy of art, poetry,” as was stated by the Russian scholar Etkind. Similarly, in “The Horseshoe Finder,” the theme of wandering and a spiritual quest is connected with the art of poetry.

Ian ProbsteinIan Probstein, associate professor of English at Touro College, New York, is a bilingual English-Russian poet and translator of poetry. He has published nine books of poetry and more than a dozen books of translation; in all, he has more than 450 publications credits, including work in Atlanta Review, The International Literary Quarterly, Brooklyn Rail: In Translation, and in An Anthology of Jewish-Russian Literature, 1801-2001: Two Centuries of a Dual Identity. Recently he published Spiritual Soil, a book of essays on Russian Poetry (Moscow: Agraph, 2014), two books of poetry: Gordian Knot (Milan: 2014), The Circle of Being (Vladivostok, Russia, 2015), and participated in the definitive edition of The Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas in Russian (Moscow: Rudomino, 2015).

 

Osip MandelstamA great Russian poet, Osip Mandelstam (1891-1938) led an unsettled life full of tribulations, wandering, and exile. After his Stalin epigram of 1934, for which the dictator, who used to say that “vengeance is best when served cold” (literally:“vengeance is a cold dish”), never forgave the poet, Mandelstam was first sent to Cherdyn’ in Siberia. Due to the protection of Bukharin, then a powerful Communist party functionary who was fond of Mandelstam’s poetry, the term was somehow softened: he had to live in the provincial town of Voronezh (deprived of the right to live in the capital and big cities) and finally was arrested again in 1937, sent to Vladivostok labor (virtually concentration) camp, where he perished in 1938. The exact date of his death is unknown; the poet has no grave of his own.

Symphony in Gray Major


The sea like a coarse mirror of silver
reflects a metallic sky of zinc;
distant flocks of cormorants tarnish
its polished bottom of pallid gray.

The sun like a glass, round and opaque,
paces to its zenith with a halting gait;
the ocean breezes settle in the shadow
making a pillow of a black clarinet.

The waves that heave their leaden bellies
under the dock all seem to moan.
Seated on a cable, smoking his briar,
a sailor is thinking about the beaches
of a vague, remote and foggy place.

He is old, that sea dog. His face is weathered
from the fiery rays of the Brazilian sun;
the rough typhoons of the sea of China
have seen him drinking his flask of gin.

The foam full of iodine and saltpeter
over time has known his ruddy nose,
his curly hair, his muscular biceps,
his cap of canvas, his shirt of drill.

There in the smoke from his pipe tobacco
the old salt sees the remote, foggy place,
where on an evening, fiery and golden,
the sails billowed on a vanishing brig.

The nap of the tropics. The sea dog dozes.
Now all is cast in the gamut of gray.
It seems a soft, enormous obscuring
of horizon could blot the boundary line.

The nap of the tropics. The old cicada
rehearses his hoarse and senile guitar,
and the cricket sings a monotone solo
on the singular string of his violin.

prose_section_divider

SINFONIA EN GRIS MAYOR

El mar como un vasto cristal azogado
refleja la lámina de un cielo de zinc;
lejanas bandadas de pájaros manchan
el fondo bruñido de pálido gris.

El sol como un vidrio redondo y opaco
con paso de enfermo camina al cenit;
el viento marino descansa en la sombra
teniendo de almohada su egro clarín.

Las ondas que mueven su vientre de plomo
debajo del muelle parecen gemir.
Sentado en un cable, fumando su pipa,
está un marinero pensando en las playas
de un vago, lejano, brumoso país.

Es viejo ese lobo. Tostaron su cara
los rayos de fuego del sol del Brasil;
los recios tifones del mar de la China
le han visto bebiendo su frasco de gin.

La espuma impregnada de yodo y salitre
ha tiempo conoce su roja nariz,
sus crespos cabellos, sus bíceps de atleta,
su gorra de lona, su blusa de dril.

En medio del humo que forma el tabaco
ve el viejo el lejano, brumoso país,
adonde una tarde caliente y dorada
tendidas las velas partió el bergantín…

La siesta del trópico. El lobo se aduerme.
Ya todo lo envuelve la gama del gris.
Parece que un suave y enorme esfumino
del curvo horizonte borrara el confín.

La siesta del trópico. La vieja cigarra
ensaya su ronca guitarra senil,
y el grillo preludia un solo monótono
en la única cuerda que está en su violín.

 1891

Translator’s note:

“Symphony in Gray Major” was suggested by Théophile Gautier’s poem “À Symphonie en blanc majeur.” Not only does the poem’s accumulation of images suggest a symphony of gray (a universal sadness and monotony), but its symbolist effect is augmented rhythmically, through the use of the unusual amphibrach foot which heightens the monotonous feeling that pervades the poem. In translating it, I have roughed my meter toward a four–beat line, and replicated the alternating rising and falling line endings. I’ve made free use of assonance, consonance, and even alliteration to recreate in English some similar or equivalent impact of Dario’s rhymes.


Steve Veck

Mark Wacome Stevick directs the creative writing program and the Princemere Poetry Prize at Gordon College. His plays include Cry Innocent and Goodnight, Captain White, which run seasonally in Salem, Massachusetts, and The Sheep Mysteries, which is performed regularly in New York City and in Orvieto, Italy—where Mark often gets to lead a month-long workshop on ekphrasis. His poems have recently won awards from Swink, Wild Plum, The Baltimore Review, Literal Latte, and The Shine Journal. Last summer he was a story slam winner at The Moth in Boston.

 

 

Ruben Dario

This is the centenary of the death of Nicaragua-born poet Rubén Darío (1867-1916), known as an early proponent of Modernismo. In 1888, he published Azul, and then in 1895, Prosas profanas y otros poemas, two of the most seminal works of Spanish-American modernism. His poems are still memorized by Central American children.

Three Poems by Anna Piwkowska

Iphigenia’s morning

Who recognized these crossroads, these poisonous bogs,
false lights of will-o’-the-wisps on succulent marshes?
Where are you today and what are you brewing
in your copper cauldrons—what new, sudden vision
of terrible fate led you to fulfill
a familiar prophecy, to spool the skeins of wool?

As usual, you are traveling. I am sitting in a flood
of transmissive lights, trying to read the verdicts.
Maybe it is better to pour olive oil on a wrathful fire
in the very heart of Athens, to throw Iphigenia’s shawl,
torn from her shoulders, onto the hissing essence
of sandalwood, onto its white flames.

Because the mornings were cold, because she shivered,
because she did not know whom to ask for advice.
So now what can I do, when I, descended
from her kind, suspect a similar betrayal?

Oh, all of us betrayed and sacrificed,
we commiserating nursemaids, Iphigenias,
towers of bone, Towers of Babel—
I believe in the unity of language,
soft whispers, alliance.

January 2005

 

Toward passage

Are these forgotten graves or buried animals?
How many years have they lain here, bleached, overgrown
with moss, deprived of breath, warmth, and happiness?
What destruction passed through this sweet ravine,
and on what misfortune did the fruit ripen?
The snap of a breaking branch and the eyes see
a small blot of dimmed magic in the pupil’s darkness.
Tired, scarred, grazed by love,
we depart through a meadow where once a man
might have killed a man, a hound an animal, and the darker-haired
sister drove her sharp knife into the fairer.
Is that dawn or dusk beyond the meadows, and what
are we walking on, where are we going, toward what annihilation?
But now the moon is rising and it lays its silver
across our bones, eyes, and sockets.
All drowns in this silver as in the sieve of time,
a dog howled, a red van shot by
as we emerged from the Dantean woods onto the road,
now prepared for further passage.

And with us our pots, dogs, foals, goats,
those small, lost, compromised,
an entire crowd of creatures, matted coats,
drowned pups, frightened eyes.

In a gray cap, by ferry, someone comes for us:
our Penates are packed, our Lares corrupt.

Nieborów, October 2009

 

Uncertain days

No one needs dreams any longer, winter is ending—
green bark on the trees, fragrant boxwoods,
new grass, and it’s probably almost time
for buttercups. A ray of sunlight
falls and wriggles down a red, faded roof.

These days are uncertain, and if we listen
by candlelight to Russian records,
to bows sawing silver cellos in the sky,
nostalgic melodies from southern seas,
or female voices, dense and operatic,
it is only for a moment,
and then we get in the car,
spattered with the greasy mud of March,
and drive impatiently down side roads,
watching the sky now clear, now dark, now a flash
that retreats like a mole to its subterranean bed.

Relentlessly we clean the attic, we buy seedlings
at the garden store, we begin to count
the days til spring and then the deep drifts come,
the dreams and snowstorms, a freezing draft from the windows.

Nieborów, March 2, 2007

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Poranek Ifigenii

Kto poznał te rozstaje, trujące moczary,
błędne ogniki świateł na soczystych bagnach?
Gdzie przebywacie dzisiaj i jakie wywary
w waszych miedzianych garnkach, jaka nowa, nagła
wizja strasznego losu kazała wam spełnić
znajomą przepowiednię? motać kłębki wełny?

Ty jak zwykle w podróży. Ja w powodzi świateł
transmisyjnych, próbuję odczytać wyroki.
Może lepiej oliwę w samym sercu Aten
lać na gniewne ognisko, na syczące soki
drzewa sandałowego i białych płomieni
rzucić zerwaną z ramion chustkę Ifigenii?

Bo ranki były zimne, bo drżała od chłodu,
bo nie wiedziała, kogo ma prosić o radę.
Więc co mam robić teraz ja, która z jej rodu
wywiedziona, podobną podejrzewam zdradę?

Ach, my wszystkie zdradzone, złożone w ofierze,
współczujące piastunki, Ifigenie, wieże
z białej kości słoniowej, wieże Babel, wierzę
we wspólnotę języka, cichy szept, przymierze.

styczeń 2005

 

Ku przeprawie

To zapomniane groby czy pochówek zwierząt?
Ile lat mchem porosłe, wybielone leżą
pozbawione oddechu, ciepła, i radości?
Jaka zagłada przeszła przez ten słodki parów
i owoce na jakim nieszczęściu dojrzały?
Trzask łamanej gałązki i oczy dojrzały
w ciemnej źrenicy plamkę przygasłego czaru.
Zmęczeni, naznaczeni, draśnięci miłością
odchodzimy przez łąkę, gdzie kiedyś, być może,
człowiek zabił człowieka, chart zwierzę, a siostrę
jasnowłosą, ta czarna pchnęła ostrym nożem.
Czy to brzask nad łąkami, czy zmierzcha i po czym
stąpamy, gdzie idziemy, ku jakiej zagładzie?
Ale już księżyc wschodzi i srebrem się kładzie
na kości, oczodoły i na nasze oczy.
Wszystko tonie w tym srebrze jak w durszlaku czasu,
czerwona furgonetka przemknęła, pies zawył,
gdy wyszliśmy na szosę z dantejskiego lasu,
na dobre już gotowi do dalszej przeprawy.

A z nami nase garnki, psy, kozy, źrebięta,
te, które niedorosły, chore, utracone,
cała gromada zwierząt, futra skołtunione,
i oczy przerażone, topione szczenięta.

Ktoś w szarej cyklistówce płynie po nas promem:
penaty spakowane, lary przekupione.

Nieborów, październik 2009

 

Niepewne dni

Nikt już nie potrzebuje snów, dobiega końca
zima, pachną bukszpany, zielenieje kora
na drzewach, wschodzi trawa i zapewne wkrótce
pojawią się zawilce, spadnie promień słońca
i spełznie po czerwonej spłowiałej dachówce.

Dni są niepewne i jeśli słuchamy
w te dni, przy świecach, z płyt rosyjskich smyczków
tnących wysoko w niebie srebrne wiolonczele,
albo nut nostalgicznych znad mórz południowych,
albo głosów kobiecych, gęstych, operowych,
to tylko krótką chwilę, a potem wsiadamy
w samochód opryskany tłustym błotem marca,
by jechać niecierpliwie bocznymi drogami,
i patrzymy na niebo raz czyste, raz ciemne,
błysk, który jak kret wraca w koryta podziemne.

Wytrwale strych sprzątamy, w sklepach ogrodniczych
kupujemy sadzonki, zaczynamy liczyć
dni do wiosny i wtedy przychodzą głębokie
zaspy, sny i zamiecie, mróz ciągnie od okien.

Nieborów, 2 marca 2007

Translator’s Note

I recently had the pleasure of doing a reading together with Anna Piwkowska, where we took turns reading her poems, she in Polish, and I in English. It was a fascinating experience to hear them side by side—the way she intended them, and the way I’d interpreted them. She told me the translations did justice to her poems, and I asked her how she knew that, since she doesn’t know English. She said it was partly because she could hear it in the way I read them, the way I felt them, in the rhythm. In the introduction to our reading, Anna cited another great Polish poet, Wisława Szymborska, who had said that poems ought to be read—and heard—in their native language, where they retain their essence and convey the magic of the poetry. On one hand, I agree, but by no means do they need to be read only in their native language. Translation gives a poem new life, expanding its depth, stretching its frame. In translating these poems, I wanted to stand by their essence and magic, but I also wanted to allow the poems to live in a second language as gracefully as they had in the first.

I have loved Piwkowska’s poetry for a long time, partly because the things she writes about are the things that also fascinate me: myths, relationships, the natural order of the world. The way she weaves mythological tropes with nature and the everyday concepts of modern life is lovely, and she continues to assert that myth, while shadowy or mystical or ancient, is also universal. The images in Piwkowska’s poems are striking—blends of Polish countrysides and forests with Mediterranean landscapes with surreal images of stars and skies and the underworld. Her poems are highly visual while also being highly aural. Their rhythm is pervasive, and rhyme is always lurking in the corners. I don’t write poetry myself, but I have found translating poetry to be a unique experience, where paying attention to the meaning is one thing, but paying attention to the sound is quite another. It makes me notice, and it makes me explore the English language in a way that I usually don’t.

These three poems, in particular, while never intended to stand side by side, work wonderfully together. All three dwell on the cusp of things, on imminent change, on an uncertainty about what comes next. They dwell on the mundane and the mysterious both. It’s an honor to be able to translate them and to be published here.

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Special Guest Judge, Tony Barnstone

“The best thing that translation can do is to extend the possibilities of writing in your home language. These translations of the Polish poet Anna Piwkowska bring over to English some absolutely gorgeous poems, but even more, they naturalize to English an aesthetic that is not native, and in the process they make English richer and make the possibilities for writing in English larger. How unexpected is the snap of a branch and the sudden vision of a small blot of dimmed magic in the pupil’s darkness in the violent woods. How gorgeous is the rising moon, laying its silver across our bones, eyes, and sockets. How surreal and emotional evocative are the bows sawing silver cellos in the sky. These are lovely poems, and they leave the reader with that hungry greediness that comes from eating something so delicious that you are left wanting more and more.”

– Dr. Tony Barnstone is a poet, translator, essayist, and the author of sixteen books, including Monster Verse: Poems Human and Inhuman (Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets, 2015), Beast in the Apartment (Sheep Meadow Press, 2014), and, most recently, Pulp Sonnets (Tupelo Press, 2015).

 Anna Piwkowska

Anna Piwkowska is a poet and writer and the author of nine acclaimed books of poetry, including, most recently, Farbiarka (2009), which won the Warsaw Literary Prize, and Lustrzanka (2012). She is also the author of a novel based on the life of Austrian poet Georg Trakl, two books about the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, and a young adult novel, Franciszka, which won the 2014 Polish IBBY Prize for best YA novel of the year. Her poems have been translated into English, German, Italian, Slovenian, French, Spanish, Catalan, and Slovak, and published in numerous anthologies. She lives in Warsaw.

 

Iza Wojciechowska received an MFA from Columbia University in 2012. She is the winner of PEN/Heim Translation award, and her translations of Anna Piwkowska’s poetry have appeared in A Public Space, Hayden’s Ferry Review, The Common, and The Massachusetts Review, which awarded her the Jules Chametzky Translation Prize. She works as a freelance writer and editor in Durham, NC.

The Rifle / Tüfek

On the wall hung a rifle. A brown rifle. Who knew how many years it had been there. From time to time, my father took it from between the deer, who seemed spooked, and cleaned it, blowing away the dust. He gazed at it, maybe daydreaming, maybe remembering old times, before getting up and hanging it back in its place. The direction of the rifle never changed. Its long eyes seemed to stretch beyond the window, scanning the faraway mountains, which rolled lazily over, their bellies in the air. A forest, wild and willful, swelled at the skirt of the mountains. The enormous trees stood arm-in-arm, their sprawling leaves warm and inviting like the tent of a nomad. The rifle focused on the red deer wandering the forest, their eyes glistening.

On the wall hung my mother’s youthful memory—a carpet she had woven from a million intertwining daydreams. Framing these countless silk reveries was an ornate border, its deep red and light brown rings gently embracing one another. This interlocking pattern gave way to the color of the night sky. A twilight hue. With its billowing clouds, it filled mere handfuls of space. Then a forest overtook the scene. No two leaves were alike in this strange wood—they were of all shapes, sizes and colors. I would get lost—amazed—in the sheer array and diversity of the forest.

Was I a guest in a strange house? Or had we invited in a giant mountain once upon a time? I had no way of knowing. Silently, the clouds moved in from the distance.

Evening descended upon the sky in this silk carpet of my mother’s girlhood dreams. Yet in the wood, daylight lingered, due possibly to the density of the immense trees, beneath which stood two crimson-eyed deer. They looked at one another. “The small one is her son,” said my mother. The fawn stood on still-puny legs in front of the doe.

I imagined my mother sitting at our foggy window for years weaving the carpet, her sad eyes reaching for the mountains. Along the teasing skirts stretched the forests, through which the red deer meandered easily. There lay her inspiration. Nevertheless, this intensive watching dug sad trenches in her face—from her own nature or perhaps from the weight of all these dreams. Melancholy pervaded the carpet, and each day a different expression passed over the faces of the doe and her son.

Even more so, it was fear residing in the faces of the deer and marring the human heart—a result of the rifle’s proud, menacing demeanor.

And only on their faces? In the curve of their knees, the arch of their backs, the crimson wag of their tails, in the moist black of their noses. The fear was embedded especially in their hooves, planted firmly in the bushes. Its traces grew deeper, little by little, every day, and became unbearable. And so would the dreadful vulnerability of the two. This vision emerged from the wall, seeping into the movements of each of us.

Many times my mother got up and left with a guilty feeling, as if the mother and fawn were at fault. The silence inhabiting the carpet then echoed throughout the house.

My father would sink into his chair, relying on his cap to block it out. He drifted to sleep.

These were the deep-blue hours of the sky. The faraway deer sought a leaf—one bigger than themselves—under which to pass the night.

I would on misty April evenings sit in the cool garden, my back to that foggy window, watching the mountains. But I couldn’t comprehend their childish game; how these enormous, fat-bellied lords of the forest hid from time to time. Was I a guest in a strange house? Or had we invited in a giant mountain once upon a time? I had no way of knowing. Silently, the clouds moved in from the distance.

When the mist sank like this, the peaks seemed higher than usual. They seemed to slice into the haze. And at the base of the mountains, the sage forests disappeared. The endless fields too, vanished in the mist. At times like these, my mother insisted we head inside.

Those misty April evenings. As I took in the distant scene, I knew that the rifle’s long eyes crept from our foggy window. Running along the arousing curves of my back, it looked on with longing. At me, and perhaps—who knows—the crimson eyes of the faraway deer. A cool, tingling feeling spread from my ears. The rifle fumed with rage, hanging there.

There. Over the silk carpet my mother wove from her dreams, where doe and fawn quivered—their minds locked in fear.

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TÜFEK

Duvarda bir tüfek dururdu, asılı. Kahverengi bir tüfekti, kim bilir kaç yıldır oradaydı. Zaman zaman onu birbirinden ürkek ceylanların arasından alır, temizler, üzerine yağmış tozu üfler, bir de bilmem eski zamanların anısıyla, bilmem dalgınlıkla bir zaman seyreder, sonra götürüp yerine asardı babam. Tüfeğin yönü değişmezdi hiç. Sanki bu mağrur tüfekti, evimizin bulanık penceresinden upuzun gözlerini uzatır, uzakta göbeğini devirerek oturmuş Tembel Dağları’na sıra sıra bu dağların eteklerinde büyümüş arsız ormanlara. Bunda kol kola sıralanmış devasa ağaçlarla bu ağaçların, her biri bir Yörük çadırını andıran kavisli yapraklarına. Bir de bu iri gölgelikte ışıl ışıl gözleriyle dolanan kırmızı renkli ceylanlara bakardı.

Duvar, annemin bir genç kızlık anısıyla örülüydü. Annemdi, birbirine geçmiş binlerce hülya ile örmüştü bu halıyı. Bu sayısız ipek hülyayı, bir zencerekti, çevreliyordu. Koyu kırmızı ile açık kahverengi halkaları bu zencereğin, birbirine geçmemişti de, sarılmıştı sanki. Sonra bu sarılma, bir koyu gökyüzüne bırakıyordu kendini. Bir lacivert. Gerçi bu akşam rengi gökyüzüydü, içinde köpük köpük bulutlarla, ancak birkaç karışlık bir alanı kaplıyordu, halıda. Sonra bir orman başlıyordu ki bu tuhaf ormanda birbirine benzer iki yaprak bulunamazdı. İrili ufaklı yapraklardı yani, her biri ayrı renk ve biçimde. Böylece ben bu rengârenk yapraklara şaşkınlıkla dalar, hayretle, ormanın çeşitliğinin hayretiyle kalakalırdım.

Annemin gençlik hülyalarının bu ipek halısında, akşam, gökyüzüne inmişti. İri, sık ağaçlar yüzünden olsa gerek, orman, gündüzdü.

Ağaçların altında, kırmızı gözlü iki ceylan vardı. Birbirlerine bakan bu iki ceylanın, ana-oğul olduklarını söylerdi annem. Yavru ceylan annesinin önündeydi, çelimsiz bacaklarıyla.

Annem sanki, yıllarını almış bu dokumada, pencerenin önünde oturmuş, evinizin bulanık bu penceresinden mahzun gözlerini uzatarak Tembel Dağları’nı sıra sıra dağların nazlı eteklerinde boy atmış devasa ormanları, bu ormanlarda aheste gezinen kırmızı ceylanları seyretmiş. Bu ipek halıyı böylece örmüştü. Yine de, onun uzakları bu tedirgin seyri, kâh kendiliğinden, kâh bütün bu hülyaların ağırlığından, tutup hüzünlü bir koca yüz gibi çizgi çizgi. Kaplamıştı halıyı. Da ana-oğul ceylanların yüzünde. Her gün bir başka şeydi.

Tabii, tüfeğin mağrur ve tehditkar duruşundan olacak, bu ceylan yüzlerinde daha çok, insanın kalbini çizen bir korkuydu sezilen.

Hatta, yalnızca yüzlerinde mi? Dizlerinin kıvrımında, sırtlarının ürperişinde, kuyruklarının kızıl salınışında, burunlarının ıslak karartısında. Hele tırnaklarının çalıya gömülmüş kınalı sertliğinde bu korkunun. İzleri her gün biraz daha artar, sonunda iyice dayanılmaz bir hal alırdı da. Bunların bu korkunç korunmasızlığı. Evimizin duvarlarından bir hayal olur. Kalkıp tek tek hepimizin hareketlerine sızardı.

Böylece çoğunlukla annemdi, ana-oğul bu ceylanların sebebiymiş gibi kalkar, bir suçluluk duygusuyla giderdi. Bununla halıya sinmiş sessizliğin bir benzeriydi, yayılırdı eve.

Babam da, kasketi onu bütünüyle kapatabilecekmiş gibi, oturduğu sedire iyice gömülür, uykunun müridi olurdu.

Gökyüzünün lacivert vakitleriydi, bunda uzak ceylanlardı, geceyi altında geçirmek için, kendilerinden büyük bir yaprak ararlardı ormanda.

Ben de nisan aylarının puslu akşamlarında, evimizin serin bahçesinde oturur, yani bulanık o pencereye sırtımı verir, dağları izlerdim. Ama, bu tuhaf, çocuksu dağların alayıyla bilmezdim; kimi zaman bu göbekli, devasa orman efendilerinin kendilerini sakladıklarıydı. Ki bir yabancı eve konuk mu olmuştum? Anlayamazdım. Uzak, usul usul bulutlanmaya başlardı.

Böyle zamanlarda bulutların yeryüzüne indiğini, dağlar yüksekti, ilkin dağların buluta kestiğini, eteklerinde bunların, ak sakallı ormanlar bulunurdu, sonra bu ormanların yittiğini, ardından uçsuz bucaksız şu tarlaların sisle görünmez olduğunu. Bu yüzden evimize girmemiz gerektiğini söylerdi annem.

Uzakta olup bitenleri izlediğimde, yani nisan aylarının puslu bu akşamlarında bilirdim ki tüfek, evimizin bulanık penceresinden upuzun gözlerini uzatmış. Seyretmektedir beni. Sırtımın iştahlı kıvrımlarında böylece, kim bilir, uzak ceylanların kırmızı gözlerini, özlemle. Kulaklarımdan yayılan ürpertinin serinliği ile bir de. Öfkeyle kudurmaktadır yerinde, asılı.

Orada. Annemin gençlik hülyalarıyla nakşettiği ipek o halının üzerinde. Ana-oğulun akla zarar korkularıyla titrek.

Translator’s Note

I was attracted Faruk Duman’s “The Rifle” because it haunted me. When I first read it, the final paragraphs of the story echoed through my mind as I drifted to sleep. The misty mountains, the carpet, the rifle—each are endowed with a unique energy, yet they cannot coexist in harmony. An eerie tension fills the house, sinks into the characters, and emanates from the page. As with much of Duman’s work, it relies heavily on objects to relate the conflict at the heart of a story. In this way, I like to think, his work shows the emotional osmosis that occurs between us and our surroundings.

Faruk Duman’s style walks a fine line between poetry and prose. It reminds me of something I once read about the Japanese art form of sumi-e, or brush painting. The key of this art form is to convey the mood of a scene with a minimal number of brush strokes. Its power lies in its simplicity, and the same goes for Faruk Duman’s spartan prose. His sentences in Turkish are unassuming and leave much unsaid. What was the mother looking for there in the forest? Why did she feel guilty? Why was the back of the narrator “arousing”? As a translator, I found this to be an interesting task; I would have to communicate what I believed to be the author’s intent while also leaving room for readers’ interpretation.

Rendering Duman’s cadence in English presented a challenge, as English sentences contain particles, articles and other elements that make them longer than Turkish sentences. The process required reading aloud countless times, testing each sentence to see if it had a resonance similar to the original. I marked up hard copies, printed new drafts, and marked them up again. Of course, a translation never works the same way as the original, but it’s my hope that this rendering ultimately has a similar effect on readers.

Faruk DumanFaruk Duman was born in Ardahan in 1974. He graduated from Ankara University Faculty of Humanities with a major in Library Science. Afterward, he worked as a librarian for a time. His stories have been published in a number of magazines. His first book Seslerde Başka Sesler was published in 1997. His book Av Dönüşleri received the Sait Faik Short Story Award in 2000, and his book Keder Atlısı was awarded the Haldun Taner Short Story Award in 2004. He was awarded the Mehmet Fuat Essay Award in 2011 for his book Adasız Deniz. His book İncir Tarihi won the Yunus Nadi Novel Award in 2011. He currently works as an editor at Can Publications. His short story collections include Nar Kitabı, Sencer ile Yusufçuk and Baykuş Virane Sever. His novels include Piri, Kırk, Ve Bir Pars Hüzünle Kaybolur and Köpekler İçin Gece Müziği. He has also written a collection of essays entitled Tom Sawyer’ın Kitap Okuduğu Kulübe.

Dayla Rogers first learned Turkish in high school as a participant in Rotary Youth Exchange. She continued language studies while earning a degree in history at the University of Michigan. After earning a master’s degree in education, she moved to Istanbul to pursue her dream of becoming a teacher trainer in Turkey. Over time she developed a passion for Turkish literature and translation. “The Rifle” is her first literary translation to be published. She currently teaches English at Marmara University.

The Funeral Pyre / Le Bûcher

(September 1884)

Last Monday, in Etretat, Bapu Sahib Khanderao Ghatgay died. He was an Indian prince, a relative of His Highness, the Maharaja Gaikwar, Prince of Baroda in the province of Gujarath,in the Bombay Presidency.

For about three weeks, we saw about a dozen young Indians passing through the streets: small, supple, with very dark skin, dressed in suits and wearing hats like English grooms. They were important dignitaries, come from Europe to study the military institutions of major nations in the West. The small army was made up of three princes, a nobleman friend, an interpreter and three servants.

The head of the mission had just died. He was forty-two years old and the father-in-law of Sampatrao Kashivao Gaikwar, brother of His Highness, the Gaikwar of Baroda.

The son-in-law accompanied his father-in-law.

The other Indians were Ganpatrao Shrâvanrao Gaikwar, cousin of His Highness Khâsherao Gadhav; Vasuded Madhav Samarth, interpreter and secretary. The servants include Râmchandra Bajâji, Ganu bin Pukâram Kokate, and Rhambhaji bin Favji.

Just as he was leaving his homeland, the man who died the other day was overcome with a terrible sense of grief; and persuaded he would not return, he wanted to cancel the trip but he had to obey the will of his noble relative, the Prince of Baroda. So he left.

They came to spend the end of summer at Etretat and, curious, we went to see them go swimming at Roses­ Blanches each morning. For five or six days, Bapu Sahib Khanderao Ghatgay suffered from sore gums, then the inflammation spread to his throat and became an ulcer. Gangrene set in, and on Monday, the doctors told his young companions that their relative was going to die. His final struggle began almost immediately, and as the unfortunate man could hardly breathe any more, his friends grabbed hold of him, tore him from his bed and laid him on the stone floor of his room, so that lying down on the earth, our mother, his soul could be released according to the orders of Brahma.

They then asked the mayor, Monsieur Boissaye, for permission to cremate the corpse the same day, in order to obey the formal requirements of the Hindu religion. Hesitant, the mayor telegraphed the Administrative Offices of the area for instructions. He added, however, that the lack of a reply would amount to consent. Since no answer arrived by 9 o’clock that evening, it was therefore decided, due to the infectious nature of the disease that had killed the Indian, that the cremation of the body would occur the very same night, under the cliff at the edge of the sea at low tide.

That decision by the mayor, who acted intelligently, decisively and generously, and who was also supported and advised by the three doctors who had monitored the disease and pronounced the Prince dead, is now being criticized.

There was dancing at the Casino that evening. It was an early autumn evening, a little cold. A strong wind blew in from the sea but without causing the water to rise, and some ragged, fraying clouds moved rapidly in the sky. They reached the edge of the horizon, dark against the horizon, then the closer they floated towards the moon, the paler they grew, veiling it for a few moments without hiding it completely as they quickly passed by. The large, high cliffs that formed around the beach of Etretat and ended in the two famous arches, called Les Portes, remained in the shadows and cast two large black patches in the softly lit landscape. It had rained all day.

The orchestra at the Casino played waltzes, polkas and quadrilles. A rumor spread suddenly through the crowd. It was said that an Indian prince had just died at the Hôtel des Bains and that the Minister had been asked for permission to cremate him. We believed nothing, or at least, we did not assume the event would take place quickly, since this practice is so foreign to our customs; and as it was getting late, everyone went home.

The moon could no longer be seen, leaving the muddy, empty streets dark, but the body on the stretcher appeared luminous in the radiance cast by the white silk, and it was a wondrous thing to see the clear shape of the body passing in the night, carried by men with skin so dark, that we could not even make out their faces, their hands or their clothing in the darkness.

At midnight, the man who lit the gaslights ran from street to street, extinguishing, one after the other, the yellow flames that lit up the sleeping houses, mud and puddles. We waited, waited for the time when the small town would be silent and deserted.

A carpenter cutting wood since noon wondered in astonishment: what was going to happen with all these pieces of small, sawn boards, and why would anyone waste so much good merchandise. The wood was piled in a cart that went by side streets to the beach to avoid arousing suspicion with the night owls they met. It moved forward on the pebble beach, to the very edge of the cliff, and having emptied its load on the ground, the three Indians servants began to build a funeral pyre that was long rather than wide. They worked alone, because no irreverent hand should help with this holy work.

At one o’clock in the morning, the dead man’s relatives were told they could carry out their task. The door of the small house they occupied was open and we could see the corpse wrapped in white silk, lying on a stretcher in the narrow, barely lit hallway. He was lying on his back, clearly outlined under that pale veil. The Indians, serious, standing at his feet, remained motionless. One of them, murmuring mysterious words in a low, monotonous voice, performed the required ceremony. He walked around the body, sometimes touching it, then taking an urn suspended at the end of three chains, he sprinkled him with sacred water from the Ganges for a long time, holy water that all Indians must always take with them, wherever they go.

Then the stretcher was lifted by four of them, who began walking slowly. The moon could no longer be seen, leaving the muddy, empty streets dark, but the body on the stretcher appeared luminous in the radiance cast by the white silk, and it was a wondrous thing to see the clear shape of the body passing in the night, carried by men with skin so dark, that we could not even make out their faces, their hands or their clothing in the darkness.

Three Indians followed behind the dead man, then a tall Englishman, a head taller than all of them. He was wrapped in a large, pale gray traveling cloak, amiable and distinguished, their friend, who guides and advises across Europe.

Under the foggy, cold sky of this small Northern beach, I felt I was witnessing a sort of symbolic image. It seemed there was, before me, the conquered spirit of India, followed, as the dead are followed, by the victorious spirit of England, dressed in a gray overcoat.

On the pebbly beach, the four bearers stopped a few seconds to catch their breath, then set off again. They took small steps now, bending under their load. They finally reached the pyre. It was built in a fold of the cliff, at its foot, which rose above it, very straight, a hundred meters high, all white but dark in the night.

The pyre was about one meter high. They put the body on it, then one of the Indians asked if we could point out the North Star. We showed it to him, and the dead Rajah’s feet were turned towards his country. Then they poured twelve bottles of oil on him and covered him entirely with pine boards. For nearly an hour longer, relatives and servants built up the pyre that resembled the piles of wood that carpenters keep in their attics. Then they spread twenty bottles of oil on it and emptied a bag of small wood shavings on the very top. A few steps away, a light flickered in a small incense burner, which had remained lit since the arrival of the corpse.

The moment had come. The relatives lit the fire. As it barely burned, they poured a little oil and suddenly a flame rose, illuminating the entire expanse of the great wall of rock. An Indian leaning over the incense rose, both hands in the air, elbows bent, and we saw suddenly a huge shadow emerge, the shadow of Buddha in his sacred pose, very black against the immense white cliff.  And the little pointed hat the man wore seemed an imitation of the God’s. The effect was so striking and unexpected that I felt my heart beat, as if some supernatural apparition stood before me. It was indeed the God, the ancient, sacred figure having hastened from the Far East to the furthest point in Europe, watching over her son, who we were about to cremate.

The vision disappeared. We brought the fire. The wood shavings lit up atop the pyre, then the wood caught fire and a fierce light illuminated the pebble beach and the foam of the waves crashing on the shore. The fire grew brighter by the second, lighting up the sea and the crest of dancing waves in the distance. The sea breeze blew in gusts, fanning the flames, which died down, whirled, then rose up again, throwing thousands of sparks into the air. The sparks wafted up along the cliff with extraordinary speed, disappearing high into the sky to mingle with the stars and increase their number. Awakened seabirds uttered their plaintive cry, and circling in long curves, their white wings extended, flew high above the bright light of the funeral pyre before disappearing into the night.

Soon the pyre was no more than a fiery mass, not red but yellow, a blinding yellow, a furnace whipped by the wind. And suddenly, in a stronger gust, it tottered, leaning toward the sea as it partly collapsed. And the whole body of the dead man could be seen, black on his bed of fire, burning amid long blue flames. And since the right side of the pyre had collapsed, the corpse turned over, like a man does in his bed. He was immediately covered with new wood, and the fire raged even more violently than before. The Indians, seated in a semi-circle on the beach, watched with sad, serious faces. And as it was very cold, the rest of us drew closer to the pyre, so close that smoke and sparks flew into our faces. All we could smell was the burning fir and oil.

The hours passed; it was dawn. About five o’clock in the morning, nothing but a pile of ashes remained. The relatives collected them. Some they threw to the wind, some to the sea and a little they kept in a bronze vase they would bring back to India. They then returned to their homes to grieve. Thus the young princes and their servants, with hardly anything they required at their disposal, were able to carry out the cremation of their relative perfectly, with singular skill and remarkable dignity. Everything was accomplished according to the rites, ­­­­according to the absolute requirements of their religion. Their dead man now rests in peace.

In Etretat, as day broke, we felt an indescribable emotion. Some people claimed we had burned someone alive, others that it was meant to hide a crime and that the mayor would be imprisoned; still others that the Indian prince had succumbed to an attack of cholera. Men marveled; women were indignant. A crowd of people spent the day where the pyre had been set up, searching for fragments of bone amid the still warm pebbles. They collected enough bones to make ten skeletons, for the farmers on the coast often threw their dead sheep into the sea. The gamblers carefully put away these various fragments in their wallets. But none of them had any real part of the Indian prince.

That same evening, a government delegate came to open an investigation. He seemed a man of intellect and reason in judging this exceptional case. But what will he say in his report?

The Indians said that if they had been prevented from cremating the dead man in France, they would have taken him to a more liberal country, where they could carry out their rites.

And so I saw a man cremated on a funeral pyre and it made me wish to disappear in the same way. That way, it is all over immediately. Man hurries the slow work of nature instead of further delaying it in a hideous coffin where one decomposes for months. The flesh is dead, the spirit has fled. Fire purifies and scatters what used to be a person within hours. It throws him to the wind, it turns him into air and ashes, not revolting rot.

Fire is clean and healthy. The putrefaction underground in that closed box where the body becomes pulp, black, stinking pulp, has something repugnant and atrocious about it. The coffin that descends into the deep mire fills the heart with anguish; but a flaming pyre beneath the sky is magnificent, beautiful and solemn.

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(1884)

Lundi dernier est mort à Étretat un prince indien, Bapu Sahib Khanderao Ghatgay, parent de Sa Hautesse le Maharaja Gaikwar, prince de Baroda, dans la province de Gujarath, présidence de Bombay.

Depuis trois semaines environ, on voyait passer par les rues une dizaine de jeunes Indiens, petits, souples, tout noirs de peau, vêtus de complets gris et coiffés de toques de palefreniers anglais. C’étaient de hauts seigneurs, venus en Europe pour étudier les institutions militaires des principales nations de l’Occident. La petite troupe se composait de trois princes, d’un noble ami, d’un interprète et de trois serviteurs.

Le chef de la mission était celui qui vient de mourir, vieillard de quarante-deux ans et beau-père de Sampatrao Kashivao Gaikwar, frère de Sa Hautesse le Gaikwar de Baroda.

Le gendre accompagnait le beau-père.

Les autres Indiens s’appelaient Ganpatrao Shrâvanrao Gaikwar, cousin de Sa Hautesse Kâsherao Gadhav; Vasudev Madhav Samarth, interprète et secrétaire; Les esclaves: Râmchandra Bajâji, Ganu bin Pukâram Kokate, Rambhaji bin Favji.

Au moment de quitter sa patrie, celui qui est mort l’autre jour fut saisi d’une crise affreuse de chagrin, et, persuadé qu’il ne reviendrait pas, il voulut renoncer à ce voyage, mais il dut obéir aux volontés de son noble parent, le prince de Baroda, et il partit.

Ils vinrent passer la fin de l’été à Étretat, et on allait les voir curieusement, chaque matin, prendre leur bain à l’établissement des Roches-Blanches.

Voici cinq ou six jours, Bapu Sahib Khanderao Ghatgay fut atteint de douleurs aux gencives; puis l’inflammation gagna la gorge et devint une ulcération. La gangrène s’y mit, et, lundi, les médecins déclarèrent à ses jeunes compagnons que leur parent allait mourir. L’agonie commença presque aussitôt, et comme le malheureux ne respirait plus qu’à peine, ses amis le saisirent, l’arrachèrent de son lit et le déposèrent sur les pavés de la chambre, afin qu’il rendît l’âme étendu sur la terre, notre mère, selon les ordres de Brahma.

Puis ils firent demander au maire, M. Boissaye, l’autorisation de brûler, le jour même, le cadavre pour obéir toujours aux formelles prescriptions de la religion hindoue. Le maire, hésitant, télégraphia à la préfecture pour solliciter des instructions, en annonçant, toutefois, qu’une absence de réponse équivaudrait pour lui à un consentement. Aucune réponse n’étant venue à neuf heures du soir, il fut donc décidé, en raison de la nature infectieuse du mal qui avait emporté l’Indien, que la crémation du corps aurait lieu la nuit même, sous la falaise, au bord de la mer, à la marée descendante.

On reproche aujourd’hui cette décision au maire qui a agi en homme intelligent, résolu et libéral, soutenu d’ailleurs et conseillé par les trois médecins qui avaient suivi la maladie et constaté le décès.

On dansait au Casino, ce soir-là. C’était un soir d’automne prématuré, un peu froid. Un vent assez fort soufflait du large sans que la mer fût encore soulevée, et des nuages rapides couraient déchiquetés, effiloqués. Ils arrivaient du bout de l’horizon, sombres sur le fond du ciel, puis à mesure qu’ils approchaient de la lune ils blanchissaient, et, passant vivement sur elle, la voilaient quelques instants sans la cacher tout à fait.

Les grandes falaises droites, qui forment la plage arrondie d’Étretat et se terminent aux deux célèbres arcades qu’on nomme les Portes, restaient dans l’ombre et faisaient deux grandes taches noires dans le paysage doucement éclairé.

Il avait plu toute la journée.

L’orchestre du Casino jouait des valses, des polkas et des quadrilles. Un bruit passa tout à coup dans les groupes. On racontait qu’un prince indien venait de mourir à l’hôtel des Bains, et qu’on avait demandé au ministre l’autorisation de le brûler. On n’en crut rien, ou du moins on ne supposa pas la chose prochaine tant cet usage est encore contraire à nos mœurs, et, comme la nuit s’avançait, chacun rentra chez soi.

À minuit, l’employé du gaz, courant de rue en rue, éteignait, l’une après l’autre, les flammes jaunes qui éclairaient les maisons endormies, la boue et les flaques d’eau. Nous attendions, guettant l’heure où la petite ville serait muette et déserte.

Depuis midi, un menuisier coupait du bois en se demandant avec stupeur ce qu’on allait faire de toutes ces planches sciées par petits bouts, et pourquoi perdre tant de bonne marchandise. Ce bois fut entassé dans une charrette qui s’en alla, par des rues détournées, jusqu’à la plage, sans éveiller les soupçons des attardés qui la rencontraient. Elle s’avança sur le galet, au pied même de la falaise, et ayant versé son chargement à terre, les trois serviteurs indiens commencèrent à construire un bûcher un peu plus long que large. Ils travaillaient seuls, car aucune main profane ne devait aider à cette besogne sainte.

Il était une heure du matin quand on annonça aux parents du mort qu’ils pouvaient accomplir leur œuvre.

La porte de la petite maison qu’ils occupaient fut ouverte; et nous aperçûmes, couché sur une civière, dans le vestibule étroit, à peine éclairé, le cadavre enveloppé de soie blanche. On le voyait nettement étendu sur le dos, bien dessiné sous ce voile pâle.

Les Indiens, graves, debout devant ses pieds, demeuraient immobiles, tandis que l’un d’eux accomplissait les cérémonies prescrites en murmurant d’une voix basse et monotone des paroles inconnues. Il tournait autour du corps, le touchait parfois, puis, prenant une urne suspendue au bout de trois chaînettes, il l’aspergea longtemps avec l’eau sacrée du Gange que les Indiens doivent toujours emporter avec eux, où qu’ils aillent.

Puis la civière fut enlevée par quatre d’entre eux qui se mirent en marche lentement. La lune s’était couchée, laissant obscures les rues boueuses et vides, mais le cadavre sur la civière semblait lumineux, tant la soie blanche jetait d’éclat; et c’était une chose saisissante de voir passer dans la nuit la forme claire de ce corps, porté par ces hommes à la peau si noire qu’on ne distinguait point dans l’ombre leur visage et leurs mains de leurs vêtements.

Derrière le mort, trois Indiens suivaient, puis, les dominant de toute la tête, se dessinait, enveloppée dans un grand manteau de voyage, d’un gris tendre, et coiffé d’un chapeau rond, la haute silhouette d’un Anglais, homme aimable et distingué qui est leur ami, qui les guide et les conseille à travers l’Europe.

Sous le ciel brumeux et froid de cette plage du Nord, je croyais assister à une sorte de spectacle symbolique. Il me semblait qu’on portait là, devant moi, le génie vaincu de l’Inde, que suivait, comme on suit les morts, le génie victorieux de l’Angleterre, habillé d’un ulster gris.

Sur le galet roulant, les quatre porteurs s’arrêtèrent quelques secondes pour reprendre haleine, puis repartirent; ils allaient maintenant à tout petits pas, pliant sous la charge. Ils atteignirent enfin le bûcher. Il était construit dans un repli de la falaise, à son pied même. Elle se dressait au-dessus, toute droite, haute de cent mètres, toute blanche, mais sombre dans la nuit.

Le bûcher était haut d’un mètre environ; on déposa dessus le corps; puis un des Indiens demanda qu’on lui indiquât l’étoile polaire. On la lui montra, et le rajah mort fut étendu les pieds tournés vers sa patrie. Puis on versa sur lui douze bouteilles de pétrole, et on le recouvrit entièrement avec des planchettes de sapin. Pendant près d’une heure encore, les parents et les serviteurs surélevèrent le bûcher qui ressemblait à ces piles de bois que gardent les menuisiers dans leurs greniers. Puis on répandit sur le faîte vingt bouteilles d’huile, et on vida, tout au sommet, un sac de menus copeaux. Quelques pas plus loin, une lueur tremblotait dans un petit réchaud de bronze qui demeurait allumé depuis l’arrivée du cadavre.

L’instant était venu. Les parents allèrent chercher le feu. Comme il ne brûlait qu’à peine, on versa dessus un peu d’huile et brusquement, une flamme s’éleva, éclairant du haut en bas la grande muraille de rochers. Un Indien, penché sur le réchaud, se releva, les deux mains en l’air, les coudes repliés; et nous vîmes tout à coup surgir, toute noire sur l’immense falaise blanche, une ombre colossale, l’ombre de Bouddha dans sa pose hiératique. Et la petite toque pointue que l’homme avait sur la tête simulait elle-même la coiffure du dieu.

L’effet fut tellement saisissant et imprévu que je sentis mon cœur battre comme si quelque apparition surnaturelle se fût dressée devant moi.

C’était bien elle, l’image antique et sacrée, accourue du fond de l’Orient à l’extrémité de l’Europe, et veillant sur son fils qu’on allait brûler là.

Elle disparut. On apportait le feu. Les copeaux, au sommet du bûcher, s’allumèrent, puis l’incendie gagna le bois, et une clarté violente illumina la côte, le galet, et l’écume des lames brisées sur la plage.

Elle grandissait de seconde en seconde, éclairant au loin sur la mer la crête dansante des vagues.

La brise du large soufflait par rafales, accélérant l’ardeur de la flamme, qui se couchait, tournoyait, se relevait, jetait des milliers d’étincelles. Elles montaient le long de la falaise avec une vitesse folle et, se perdant au ciel, se mêlaient aux étoiles dont elles multipliaient le nombre. Des oiseaux de mer réveillés poussaient leur cri plaintif, et, décrivant de longues courbes, venaient passer avec leurs ailes blanches étendues dans le rayonnement du foyer, puis rentraient dans la nuit.

Bientôt le bûcher ne fut plus qu’une masse ardente, non point rouge, mais jaune, d’un jaune aveuglant, une fournaise fouettée par le vent. Et tout à coup, sous une bourrasque plus forte, il chancela, s’écroula en partie en se penchant vers la mer, et le mort découvert apparut tout entier, noir sur sa couche de feu, et brûlant lui-même avec de longues flammes bleues.

Et le brasier s’étant encore affaissé sur la droite, le cadavre se retourna comme un homme dans son lit. Il fut aussitôt recouvert avec du bois nouveau, et l’incendie recommença plus furieux que tout à l’heure.

Les Indiens, assis en demi-cercle sur le galet, regardaient avec des visages tristes et graves. Et nous autres, comme il faisait très froid, nous nous étions rapprochés du foyer jusqu’à recevoir dans la figure la fumée et les étincelles. Aucune odeur autre que celle du sapin brûlant ou du pétrole ne nous frappa.

Et des heures se passèrent; et le jour apparut. Vers cinq heures du matin, il ne restait plus qu’un tas de cendres. Les parents les recueillirent, en jetèrent une partie au vent, une partie à la mer, et en gardèrent un peu dans un vase d’airain qu’ils rapporteront aux Indes. Ils se retirèrent ensuite pour pousser des gémissements dans leur demeure.

Ces jeunes princes et leurs serviteurs, disposant des moyens les plus insuffisants, ont pu achever ainsi la crémation de leur parent d’une façon parfaite, avec une adresse singulière et une remarquable dignité. Tout s’est accompli suivant le rite, suivant les prescriptions absolues de leur religion. Leur mort repose en paix.

Ce fut dans Étretat, au jour levant, une indescriptible émotion. Les uns prétendaient qu’on avait brûlé un vivant, les autres qu’on avait voulu cacher un crime, ceux-ci que le maire serait emprisonné, ceux-là que le prince indien avait succombé à une attaque de choléra.

Des hommes s’étonnaient, des femmes s’indignaient. Une foule passa la journée sur l’emplacement du bûcher, cherchant des fragments d’os dans les galets encore chauds. On en ramassa de quoi reconstituer dix squelettes, car les fermiers de la côte jettent souvent à la mer leurs moutons morts. Les joueurs enfermèrent avec soin dans leur porte-monnaie ces fragments divers. Mais aucun d’eux ne possède une parcelle véritable du prince indien.

Le soir même un délégué du gouvernement venait ouvrir une enquête. Il semblait d’ailleurs juger ce cas singulier en homme d’esprit et de raison. Mais que dira-t-il dans son rapport ?

Les Indiens ont déclaré que, si on les avait empêchés en France de brûler leur mort, ils l’auraient emporté dans une terre plus libre, où ils auraient pu se conformer à leurs usages.

J’ai donc vu brûler un homme sur un bûcher et cela m’a donné le désir de disparaître de la même façon.

Ainsi, tout est fini tout de suite. L’homme hâte l’œuvre lente de la nature, au lieu de la retarder encore par le hideux cercueil où l’on se décompose pendant des mois. La chair est morte, l’esprit a fui. Le feu qui purifie disperse en quelques heures ce qui fut un être ; il le jette au vent, il en fait de l’air et de la cendre, et non point de la pourriture infâme.

Cela est propre et sain. La putréfaction sous terre, dans cette boîte close où le corps devient bouillie, une bouillie noire et puante, a quelque chose de répugnant et d’atroce. Le cercueil qui descend dans ce trou fangeux serre le cœur d’angoisse; mais le bûcher qui flambe sous le soleil a quelque chose de grand, de beau et de solennel.

Translator’s Note

I have rekindled, in the past few years, a literary friendship with master writers I have enjoyed reading in the past and others I have recently discovered. This has led to an opportunity to investigate aspects of how they approach the process and craft of writing; essentially, of using language in ingenious combinations to convey human emotions, concerns and preoccupations (Bridglall, Beatrice. On Exploring Craft: Writers as Architects. University Press of America / Hamilton Books, 2015.).

In the midst of reading several novels by Gustave Flaubert (one of the authors featured in the book) and his biography, I became aware of Flaubert’s role in encouraging Guy de Maupassant to write. The world now benefits from de Maupassant’s six novels, 300 short stories, three plays, some poetry, and travel books; a stunning oeuvre that reveals a mind attuned to the complexities of culture, diversity, human behavior and emotions. This multi-faceted complexity can be seen in his short story, Le bûcher (The Funeral Pyre), which tells of the cremation of an Indian prince in Étretat, France. At its heart, it seems, is the narrator’s realization that the funeral ceremony he witnesses, which is imbued with a tradition that is unfamiliar, honors the dead in a way that preserves their dignity. And although a Frenchman in a culture with different burial traditions, he too wishes to ‘disappear’ in the same way. This wish however, is conveyed in a dignified, restrained manner, much like the quiet blaze of the burning funeral pyre.

It is my hope that my translation of de Maupassant’s short story preserves his subdued yet lyrical style evidenced in the source language, which is French. Additionally, this translation, my first, has been proofread by Sandra Smith, to whom I am grateful.

Guy De Maupassant (1850 – 1893); French novelist, travel and short story writer, and poet.

Beatrice Bridglall, Fulbright Specialist in Higher Education and Director, Office of Special Projects, Office of the Secretary of Higher Education, New Jersey, has a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Fairleigh Dickinson University and a Doctorate in Education from Columbia University.

Poetics of Resistance

The Nail that Sticks Out: On Vietnamese Poet Ly Doi’s Poetics of Resistance

Vietnamese Publishing Law lists the following subjects as taboo. If a writer chooses to publish a piece that crosses these vague restrictions, there’s a good chance he or she can expect a visit from the police, along with some combination of fines, job loss, surveillance, physical intimidation, or jail time. Since it is loaded language, I suggest substituting ‘writing’ for wherever ‘propaganda’ appears:

1. Propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam; destruction of the unity of all citizens.

2. Propaganda about or incitement towards war and aggression, causing rancor between the citizens and those of other countries; incitement towards violence; spread of reactionary ideology, depraved life styles, cruel acts, social evils and superstition, or destruction of good morals and customs.

3. Disclosure of secrets of the Party, State, military, defense, economics or external relations; disclosure of secrets from the private lives of individuals, and of other secrets as stipulated by law.

4. Distortion of historical facts; opposing the achievements of the revolution; offending citizens, great persons and heroes; slandering or harming the reputation of bodies and organizations or offending the honor and dignity of individuals.

Contemporary poet Lý Đợi regularly breaks all these rules, which is why his work is censored in Vietnam, and why for years he has been under surveillance and the victim of harassment by the Cultural Police. It is also why his poems are so interesting in contrast to most state-sanctioned work. Writing these poems has cost Lý Đợi jobs, a steady place to live, and freedom of movement. And yet, he still keeps writing.

These poems may surprise Western readers. They serve as a reminder that, as Louis MacNeice wrote, “World is suddener than we fancy it./ World is crazier and more of it than we think,/ Incorrigibly plural.” Lý Đợi challenges perceptions of Vietnamese poetry, both abroad and within his own country. Grouped together, the poems become a collage of contemporary urban life: communist doctrine rubs shoulders with Buddhist tracts, western commercial goods, corruption, scatological humor and an achingly deep connection to the land.

The series “Boiled – Steamed – Raw” serves as a perfect example of the sardonic leaps Đợi takes in his work. Each section begins with a symbolic dish, followed by appropriated structures that represent the three main regions of Vietnam. “Boiled” starts with that humble staple of the Hanoian dinner table, rau muông, a nutritious peasant dish, paired with a corruption of a communist chant. The central region, which is the heart of both Vietnamese Buddhism and the old Imperial Court with its fall via decadence, is evoked in “Steamed” with its sweet, sticky treat of cassava. Đợi takes a famous line from Vietnam’s literary hero, Thúy Kiều, a woman forced into prostitution in order to save her father from imprisonment by a corrupt ruler, and attributes it to a ‘contemporary performance artist.’ He then presents a Buddhist death meditationfrom the point of view of sperm. These small, steady (and taboo) jabs at revered texts and history remind his Vietnamese readers that, as Faulkner wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Finally, with “Raw” one visits the South, the rice bowl of the country, with its fecundity and western leanings portrayed in the form of a pseudo-scientific pamphlet. Thus in one poem the reader has traversed an entire country both physically and culturally, albeit satirically.

“The Beggar of Hanoi” and “Thinking without identity” show another side of Lý Đợi’s work, namely that he first found his voice through surrealism. The parallel conditions that produced this movement and its contemporary use in Vietnam are striking. Dadaism and surrealism responded to post-war anguish and the “rational thought” that took Europe down a dark path; for Spanish writers and artists, surrealism and extended metaphor provided a coded language that got around Franco’s censors during his long dictatorship. What worked in Europe almost 100 years ago is working in Vietnam today: artists there often resort to abstract painting, surrealism, and performance art as a response to the government-sanctioned socialist realism that cherry picks “good morals and customs” to glorify. As one friend of mine explained, “With abstract art I can tell the Cultural Committee ‘it’s just some feelings on paper,’ and they don’t know any better, so they let me show my work.” However, this practice has real risks, and many artists choose to self-censor instead.

The proverb “the nail that sticks out gets hammered down,” seems an apt description of creative life in Vietnam today; after all, Vietnam consistently ranks in the top 15 countries that imprison bloggers, journalists, and netizens. Lý Đợi’s body of work demands that his fellow citizens consider what lies on the other side of taboo: their daily lives. As my co-translator Nga notes, Vietnam’s urban centers are alive, frenetic with energy. Đợi’s poems are a splintered mirror doubling and throwing back reflections of this movement. The result is not pretty, but it is urgently real. Đợi is the nail that rips at the skin, reminding all who pass just what or who it is they are willing to walk over. He hasn’t been hammered down yet.

Kelly Morse

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The Beggar of Hanoi

Written in the memory and spirit of Max Jacob (1876-1944) and Hoàng Ngọc Biên

When I lived in Hanoi, by the door of the territorial headquarters where I worked was a beggar I’d toss some coins to before getting into my car with its tinted windows and imperial guard. One day, feeling that it was strange never to hear some ‘thank you,’ I looked carefully at the beggar. It was in this way, as I looked, that I realized the thing I’d mistakenly believed all this time to be a beggar was only a wooden pedestal, painted with care, upon which sat a bust carved in my likenessthe look crafty, the complexion ruddy and natural, the brain with termites eating holes through the rot.

 

Boiled – Steamed – Raw

 

First Course: Boiled

+ Prepared in the style of rau muống luộc, boiled river spinach from the North

Life in Vietnam is best eaten boiled.
They haven’t found anything yet that the Vietnamese can’t boil…

Repeat after me:
++++++Life in Vietnam is best eaten boiled.

From boiled Honda motorbikes, property deeds, degrees, courtier titles
From boiled food hygiene and safety, insurance
From boiled intelligence, esthetics, culture, humanity
From boiled human rights, liberty, ideology, spirituality

They’ve yet to find a word that Vietnam can’t boil

Repeat after me:
++++++Life in Vietnam is best eaten boiled.

From boiling to being boiled
All anyone thinks about is boiling
All households compete for Best Boilers
All professions boil with emulation…

The only reason why I myself am boiled: so as not to be boiled.

Repeat after me:
++++++Life in Vietnam is best eaten boiled.
++++++Boiling is best
++++++Boiling is best
++++++Boiling is best…

 

Second Course: Steamed

+ Prepared in the style of khoai mì hấp, steamed manioc with coconut and sugar from the Central region

Wish I could change my fate and be a man instead
Wouldn’t have to worry about this pillow-and-blanket career anymore
Eileen Over, contemporary performance artist

Read instructions carefully before use:

  • This literary work is adrift, caught in heaven’s net: vast, coarse and difficult to escape
  • I give and take, spending moments. This came during a bad season, the wind changing
  • That’s why it’s possible to wind up the center of a controversial lawsuit, etc.
  • All who re-use should be responsible and apply with care

1. Not allowed to go into battle for a long time: Bored to Death
2. Refrain all day long until at last given the okay to leave one’s post: Happy Ending
3. A hundred million poor brothers rushing up together: Death of a 1,000 Elbows
4. After charging ahead, find out the general only planned to liberate himself: Wrongful Death
5. Shot to the ground: Fallen Soldier
6. Shot against a wall: Rough and Ready Death
7. Wiped with toilet paper: Left Out to Dry Death
8. After a good polishing, to yet again be thrown away like garbage: Death Stinks
9. Last to officially to enter the fray, first to hit the target: Petit Mort Death
10. Show up each Monday knowing that you’re already one step behind: Death by Fury
11. Show up each Tuesday to find your favorite already in another’s grip: Green-Eyed Death
12. Absorbed in the view, one goes astray and starts running in circles: Death by Vertigo
13. When physical strength proves inferior to constantly battling to enter a busy street: Death by
++++++Exhaustion
14.  Hit the bulls-eye, but can’t find an egg: Death by Disappointment
15. Hit the bulls-eye, and find one egg: Job Well Done Death
16. Hit the bulls-eye, and find two eggs: Die Happy
17. Given one egg: Proud Papa Death
18. Given two eggs: Majestic Swan Dive Death
19. Refused by an egg: Walk of Shame Death
20. Because the correct safety procedure is to use a new rubber each time, o brothers of one
++++++house: Cabin Fever Death
21. The rubber is sealed too tightly: Death by Asphyxiation
22. If a hole appears in the rubber: Escape from Alcatraz Death
23. Scrambling in a rush for the exit, one suspects the rubber will be thrown away: A Watery
++++++Grave
24. Inside the water there are tadpoles that are my spitting image, but then again better to be all
++++++black than a broken piece of charcoal: Death before Dishonor
25. While laughing, the mouth opens too widely, swallowing innumerable brothers: Broken Belly
++++++Death
26. Second time entering the battle, every one gets covered in saliva: Dry Heave Death
27. Not disgusted enough with life yet to take an Acid Bath Death.
28. Responsible brothers are to be put in the freezer: Freeze to Death
29. Able to withstand the cold, but such a long time out of use: Waiting Room Death
30. The general runs after wealth all day long, slipping through slits in the law: Death by
++++++Depletion
31. The whole system is deceptive, it produces tricky dicks: Fake It Til You Make It Death
32. Decades of being intimidated results in being worried, worried and afraid: Scared to Death

Y32 …if calculated from 1975                                                                                                         
++++++And longer, if calculated from 1945
++++++And longer, if calculated from 1802
++++++And longer, if calculated from 938
++++++And longer, if calculated from around 43
++++++And longer, if calculated from the murky times of the Mongols

Subtract from one elite clique their headman, they will still refuse to die:

And sour as vinegar
And refuse to mix like vinegar
And life as vinegar

All “living a life of contemplation” and all the while thirsting after immortality like vinegar,
all in our ancient country of Xích Quỷ and naturally, all of ancient HMC, old Tây Cống,
shouting, “I will death defy! I will death defy!”

(Absolutely don’t say: I will testify! I will testify!)

 

Third Course: Raw

+ Prepared in the style of giá sống, raw bean sprouts from the South

 In order for a poetry fetus to develop to full term, bearers should not ingest the common foods below more than 2 times per day. They are not needed to provide a complete nutritional intake.

– Loss of liberty
Over the last few years, science has proven that in our country bearers of poetry fetuses increasingly need to be nourished with freedom. Moreover, this facilitates a large capacity for blood production and a lively spirit to boil up from withinboth necessary characteristics for a good poetry child’s development. However, the majority of the population still consider themselves to have already eaten a sufficient amount of liberty. This results in a pandemic increase of anemic poetry, in peril of being born premature and without enough influence to have any real weight when received. Talking like this is exhausting.

Principal Cause: Self-protection and Lack of Feeling

– Lack of Speech
Speech plays an essential role in a young student’s inner work to develop embryonic poetry. Lack of speech can lead to a danger of poetry being born weak, slowing its maturation. Multiple physical defects, especially to the spinal cord, can result, along with difficulties regarding sexual desire. This situation can be partially rectified with an immediate 30% rise in speech, several times a day, starting from the beginning of gestation. For this reason, one must take care to administer complete speech every day even before pregnancy. However, the majority of people still think that they already eat enough speech, and hang around with their mouths open. This isn’t really going anywhere.

Principal Cause: Self-Gagged and Censored

– Brainwashing
An important source of a poetry baby’s bone and muscle is large, frequent accumulations of independently examined sight and sound. During pregnancy, regular mind drills and a variety of information intake will help avoid a leeching out of morals. This will also grant relief from inner pressure applied by the savage and tyrannical judgment of the collective. We can provide complete minds in the form of fresh foodstuffs; that is to say, not yet ground up by censorship. However, the majority of people still like eating spoiled, blue-black stinking foodall while continuing to believe in a fresh new world.

Principal Cause: Cowardice and Lazy Thinking

-Blunted Esthetics
Esthetics form a large part in the growth of young poetry’s heart range and scope. Supplying a full esthetics during gestation and after is crucial. It enhances a brightness of ideology and the ability to be enlightened spiritually. Experts recommend eating fortifying books at least twice per week, along with partaking of oil paintings as much as possible. Nevertheless, most still think of Vietnam as a poetic, culturally rich country with several thousand years of civilization…this has resulted in clotting, along with severe aesthetic malnutrition. Damn, it leaves me speechless.

Principal Cause: Delusions of Grandeur and Pollyannaism

 

Thinking Without Identity

 

Along the hill running to the river
the flight path at arrival time

me: some end of the line station          café                  premixed gasoline

or an afternoon my thoughts crossed the line

may I pay gratitude to the pebbles        the flowers on the hill
feet slack in their step
bruised scent
and the rain and I remain to collect the rabbit’s moon cadences
alluvium on the mahogany field
those abundant crops
those lost flights       have now arrived
lonely stations or any moment I feel lost
I would leave…

me: some lost water buffaloes in an alley
and knives and cutting boards forgetting an old kitchen

me: a jatropha stake’s darkness and a returning bird tipped in light
my own identity        no time no date
unanchored thoughts

I have a game        bows and guns on the wall

or in the hands of strangers
memories medal and animal skin
the host’s daughter says with a mouth full of rice:
–three fish heads a thousand dead

prose_section_divider

 

 

Người ăn xin ở Hà Nội

Để nhớ gợi ý của Max Jacob (1876-1944) và Hoàng Ngọc Biên.

Hồi tôi sống ở Hà Nội, nơi cửa ra vào dinh lãnh đạo mà tôi làm việc lúc nào cũng có một tay ăn xin được tôi ném cho mấy đồng tiền trước khi lên xe có cửa kính đen và cận vệ. Một ngày nọ, lấy làm lạ là không bao giờ nghe được những lời cám ơn, tôi nhìn kỹ tay ăn xin. Thế mà, khi tôi nhìn, tôi nhận ra cái tôi cứ ngỡ là một tay ăn xin, chỉ là một bục gỗ sơn cẩn thận và trên ấy là một tượng bán thân tạc hình tôi – trông gian xảo, hồng hào và đương nhiên, não bị mối ăn đến mục thủng.

Món 1: Luộc

+ Theo kiểu rau muống luộc của Bắc kỳ

Sống ở Việt Nam ăn món luộc là tốt nhất
Chưa tìm thấy thứ gì mà người Việt không thể luộc…

Vậy nên:
Sống ở Việt Nam ăn món luộc là tốt nhất

Từ luộc xe honda, nhà đất, bằng cấp, chức tước…
Từ luộc vệ sinh, an toàn thực phẩm, bảo hiểm…
Từ luộc trí tuệ, thẩm mĩ, văn hoá, nhân tính…
Từ luộc nhân quyền, tự do, tư tưởng, tâm linh…
Chưa tìm thấy điều gì mà Việt Nam không thể luộc

Vậy nên:
Sống ở Việt Nam ăn món luộc là tốt nhất

Từ luộc cho đến luộc
Người người nghĩ chuyện luộc
Nhà nhà tham gia luộc
Ngành ngành thi đua luộc…
Duy chỉ có lý do tại sao mình bị luộc: là không bị luộc

Vậy nên:
Sống ở Việt Nam luộc là tốt nhất
luộc là tốt nhất
luộc là tốt nhất
luộc là tốt nhất…

 

Món 2: Hấp

+ Theo kiểu khoai mì hấp của Trung kỳ

Ví đây đổi phận làm trai được
Sự nghiệp chăn mùng đỡ phải lo…
Sướng Thì Bo, nữ sĩ đương đại

Đọc kĩ hướng dẫn trước khi sử dụng:
=> tác phẩm này trôi nổi trong lưới trời, lồng lộng, thưa và khó thoát,
=> tôi lấy về xài đỡ, lúc trái gió trở trời.
=> cho nên, rất có thể bị tranh chấp, kiện tụng…
=> vì thế những ai sử dụng lại, tự chịu trách nhiệm và cẩn trọng.

01. Lâu ngày không được xuất [t]binh, BUỒN chết
02. Nhịn cả ngày, cuối cùng được phóng ra, MỪNG chết
03. Trăm triệu anh em cùng xông lên, CHEN NHAU chết
04. Sau khi ra, phát hiện chủ nhân tự giải quyết, UẤT ỨC chết
05. Bị bắn xuống đất, chết
06. Bị bắn vô tường, đụng BỂ ĐẦU chết
07. Bị giấy vệ sinh chùi, KHÔ chết
08. Sau khi chùi xong, lại bị quăng vô thùng rác, THÚI chết
09. Cuối cùng cũng được chính thức lâm trận, đứa đầu tiên tới đích, ĐẮC Ý chết
10. Đứa thứ hai tới đích, biết đã trễ một bước, TỨC chết
11. Đứa thứ ba tới đích, thấy người ta cặp cặp đôi đôi, GHEN TỊ chết
12. Mải ngắm cảnh, lạc đường chạy lòng vòng, CHÓNG MẶT chết
13. Thể lực kém, trên đường xông pha, MỆT chết
14. Tới được đích, không tìm được trứng, THẤT VỌNG chết
15. Tới được đích, tìm được một trứng, MÃN NGUYỆN chết
16. Tới được đích, tìm được hai trứng, SUNG SƯỚNG chết
17. Được một trứng tiếp nhận, TỰ HÀO chết
18. Được hai trứng tiếp nhận, UY PHONG chết
19. Bị trứng từ chối, NHỤC NHÃ chết
20. Bởi vì sử dụng biện pháp an toàn, nguyên băng vô bao,
anh em một nhà ĐÈ NHAU chết
21. Bao bị cột lại, NGỘP chết
22. Phát hiện bao bị thủng lỗ, VUI MỪNG chết
23. Giành giật để xông ra, ai ngờ bao bị quăng vô nước, CHÌM chết
24. Ở trong nước thấy nòng nọc giống mình quá
nhưng lại đen thui như cục than, CƯỜI chết
25. Trong khi cười miệng há quá to, nuốt vô số anh em, BỂ BỤNG chết
26. Lần thứ hai xuất trận, thấy đứa nào đứa nấy toàn nước miếng, TỞM chết
27. Chưa kịp tởm, bị tắm dịch ACID chết
28. Những anh em có trách nhiệm, bị lạc quyên, bỏ vô tủ đông, LẠNH chết
29. Chống chọi được lạnh,
nhưng vì lâu không được sử dụng, CHỜ chết
30. Chủ nhân suốt ngày bôn ba lách luật, CẠN KIỆT chết
31. Bị toàn thể lừa dối nên bản thân cũng gian dối, DỐI chết
32. Mấy chục năm bị hù doạ nên phập phồng lo sợ, SỢ chết

 

N 32 … tính từ 1975,
và lâu hơn, nếu tính từ 1945
và lâu hơn, nếu tính từ 1802
và lâu hơn, nếu tính từ 938
và lâu hơn, nếu tính từ khoảng 43
và lâu hơn, nếu tính từ thuở chỉ có mông với muội…

 

Trừ một “đám” chóp bu độc quyền bị TỪ CHỐI chết,
và chua như giấm
và trộn trong giấm
và sống như giấm…

Tất cả, hiện “ giả vờ sống” và khát khao bất tử như giấm…
Tất cả hiện diện tại xứ Xích Quỷ và đương nhiên ở cả Tây Cống
“Ung hỉ! Ung hỉ!”

[Tuyệt đối không nói: Cung hỷ! Cung hỷ!]

 

Món 3: Ăn sống

+ Theo kiểu giá sống của Nam kỳ

Để giúp cho bào thai thơ phát triển, người mang thai thơ không phải ăn nhiều gấp 2 lần mà chỉ cần ăn đầy đủ dưỡng chất. Kiểu như:

– Mất tự do
Suốt nhiều năm qua ở nước ta, nhất là càng về sau này, khoa học chứng minh người mang thai thơ cần phải bổ sung nhiều sự tự do hơn nữa, để lượng máu hay ho của mình sôi lên và thai nhi thơ được phát triển tốt.Tuy nhiên, đa số vẫn nghĩ rằng mình đã ăn đủ tự do rồi nên kết quả là tình trạng thiếu máu thơ tăng, nguy cơ sinh non và ảnh hưởng tới cân nặng của thơ trẻ khi sinh ra là rất rõ rệt, thế mới mệt.

Lý do chính: thủ thân và vô cảm…

– Thiếu ngôn luận
Ngôn luận đóng vai trò chủ yếu trong việc phát triển phôi thai thơ. Thiếu ngôn luận cũng có thể dẫn đến nguy cơ sinh non, thơ chậm phát triển và đặc biệt là có những dị tật cột sống, những trục trặc tình dục về sau… Nhu cầu về ngôn luận tăng 30% ngay từ những ngày đầu của thai kỳ. Đó là lý do tại sao chúng ta cần phải chú ý cung cấp đầy đủ ngôn luận ngay cả thời gian trước khi mang thai. Tuy nhiên đa số vẫn nghĩ rằng mình đã ăn đủ ngôn luận, thế mới luẩn quẩn.

Lý do chính: bị bịt miệng và tự kiểm duyệt…

– Tẩy não
Trong quá trình phát triển xương cốt và cơ bắp, thai nhi thơ cần tích lũy rất nhiều trí não và huệ năng. Việc cung cấp đầy đủ thông tin và thao tác xử lý thông tin trong thời kỳ mang thai còn giúp tránh việc mất chất, hủ hoá và sự dã man, tàn bạo trong ứng xử cộng đồng. Chúng ta có thể cung cấp đầy đủ trí não với các thực phẩm tươi, nghĩa là chưa qua kiểm duyệt. Tuy nhiên, đa số vẫn thích ăn đồ ươn hôi, bị bầm dập… nhưng vẫn nghĩ rằng nó tươi nguyên, thế mới điên.

Lý do chính: hèn nhát và lười tư duy…

– Cùn thẩm mỹ
Thẩm mỹ đóng vai trò trọng yếu trong việc phát triển tim, tầm nhìn và tầm văn hoá của thơ nhi. Việc cung cấp đầy đủ thẩm mỹ trong thời kỳ mang thai là rất cần thiết và cả thời gian sau cũng vậy, nó thúc đẩy sự sáng sủa của tư tưởng và khả năng giác ngộ về tâm linh. Vì thế, mỗi tuần, chúng ta nên ăn sách vở an toàn vệ sinh ít nhất hai lần và sử dụng dầu nghệ thuật nhiều lần. Tuy nhiên, đa số vẫn nghĩ rằng Việt Nam là một nước thơ, giàu bản sắc văn hoá, văn hiến nhiều nghìn năm… nên kết quả bị suy dinh dưỡng về thẩm mỹ trầm trọng, thế mới hả họng.

Lý do chính: ảo tưởng và hoang đường…

 

Nếp nghĩ không căn cước

Dọc miền đồi dẫn ra triền sông
đường bay trong giờ đáp

tôi: những trạm lẻ                   café                  xăng pha sẵn

hoặc buổi chiều suy tư lấn tuyến

xin tri ân viên sỏi        bông hoa miền đồi
những bàn chân chùng bước
mùi hương tím bầm
và mưa và tôi tồn đọng nhịp thở
phù sa bãi xà cừ
những lương thực bội mùa
những đường bay lạc              giờ đáp trên sân
trạm lẻ hoặc bất cứ lúc nào kẹt lối
tôi sẽ ra đi . . .

tôi: vài con trâu lạc ngõ
và dao thớt lãng quên nhà bếp cũ

tôi: bóng tối cây cọc và cánh chim ánh sáng tìm về
căn cước riêng tôi                   không ngày tháng
nếp nghĩ không neo

tôi có trò chơi              những cung súng trên tường
hoặc trên tay những người chưa quen
hồi ức huy chương và da thú
con gái chủ nhà nói trong miệng bự cơm:
_ ba đầu cá một ngàn đã chết

Translator’s Notes

Kelly Morse: Toni Morrison said, “I wrote my first novel because I wanted to read it.” I started translating Lý Đợi’s poetry because I wanted to read something that reflected my experience in the face of so much that did not. I lived in Hanoi for two years in the late 2000s, yet when I returned to the USA I found that the majority of translations circled around the Vietnam-American War, or spoke of a romanticized rural life of subsistence farming that, while real, is not the Vietnam I engaged with on my daily motorbike commute with Hanoi’s other 3.5 million citizens. Thousands of people circle the lakes each night, where yes, there are lotus flowers in bloom if it is the right season, which also means parades of girls in traditional áo dài draped across wooden docks while men with expensive cameras take their pictures. However, once these sessions are done, the girls again don blue jeans and t-shirts, text their friends where to meet for coffee, and put on a helmet (often with a hole cut out for their ponytail) before zipping off on mopeds.

This was the Vietnam I wanted to see in translations, the one that pays homage to the past while never forgetting that most daily life involves haggling, cell phones, traffic jams, and trying to get a leg up in the midst of an industrial revolution and Market Leninism (aka capitalism). Instead, I found reconciliation projects. While these have great value, they are the vision of a generation that is not mine, nor that of most Vietnamese. Two-thirds of Vietnam’s current population was born after the war, which ended 40 years ago. It is a young and hopeful population that looks to the future, not the past.

Perhaps this is my failing, that poems filled with lotus and harmony do not match my preoccupations, whereas those populated with construction workers, motorbikes, and censorship do. After all, that is the Vietnam I mostly experienced. But one must be preoccupied, passionate even, if one is to go through all the trouble of translating a text. I’m so glad I found Lý Đợi’s poems, so happy to have a co-translator like Nga; with them I am able to have a hand in writing what I want to read.

 

Hiền Nga: Early morning and the sun has just slowly started to dip its pristine rays into a body of water (a lake, if it’s Hà Nội, or a river, if it’s Sài Gòn) when you’re woken up by the neighbor’s rooster or the honking of a banana seller on a motorbike. You throw open your window, letting in the mellow smell of phở broth from the stall across the street. You trot to the sidewalk and order a cà phê sữa đá. The condensed dose of caffeine and sugar kicks off your morning, and you know you’re gonna make a loud noise today. You know you’re gonna move walls and earth. You’re gonna make some trouble today. You must.

So it’s like what the cliché says, life in today’s Việt Nam is a living, breathing thing. It’s not stagnant, and it’s not sleepy. It’s anything but stuck in the past. It hurriedly churns like the inside of a hummingbird. The frame the society is built upon, the façade they put up, all the conventions, the norms, the established, all the things stifling the people, are gradually being transformed by the people from inside the country. By those like Lý Đợi, whose brave and powerful texts are the peaceful weapon fighting for freedom and progress in Việt Nam.

I moved back to Việt Nam after years of mindful wandering abroad not only because I want to witness history happening, but also because I want to be part of it. Furthermore, I want to take part in making it happen. Lý Đợi’s poetry shows one of the many ways the people of Việt Nam today are not quiet and timid but resilient and fierce, that they are creating changes on their own behalf. I would like the privilege of standing side-by-side with those like him in this fight. I’m here to see, live, and create a narrative where Vietnamese are not the victims of both history and contemporary development, but the actor of our present and the owner of our future.

Hiền Nga
Sài Gòn, 2015

Kelly MorseKelly Morse returned to Vietnam on a Robert Pinsky Global Fellowship, where she had the opportunity to meet Lý Đợi and write about her former life there as university faculty. Her translations with Nga L.H. Nguyen appear in Asymptote and M-DASH, along with her essays and reviews of Vietnamese poetry. Kelly’s creative work has appeared or is forthcoming in Gulf Coast, Brevity, Flyway, Linebreak, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA in poetry from Boston University, and is a Vermont Studio Center grant recipient. www.kelly-morse.com.

 

 

Nga Author Photo_optA development worker with an incurable crush on the arts, Nga L.H. Nguyen was seeded from Hanoi, Vietnam and lives across three continents. A graduate of Bryn Mawr College, she works for Save the Children with a focus on LGBTQ+ and women’s rights; she will pursue a GEMMA Erasmus Mundus Master’s Degree in Women’s and Gender Studies starting Fall 2015. Nga has contributed to several investigative articles for The Washington Post, and her translations with Kelly Morse have been featured on Asymptote and M-DASH. She believes in hummingbirds. http://hiennga.wordpress.com

 

Ly_Doi_headshotLý Đợi is a founding member of the underground Mở Miệng (Open [Your] Mouth) group, and has been published on webzines and in group samizdat. His own samizdat are Bảy biến tấu con nhện (2004; Seven Spider Improvisations), Trường chay thịt chó (2005; Dogmeat Vegetarianism) and Khi Kẻ Thù Ta Buồn Ngủ (2010; When Our Enemy Falls Asleep). A chapbook of his work has been translated into English by Vietnamese American poet Linh Dinh, and translations of his work have been published in Asymptote and Soft Targets.

Day of Rest

gabo-finalist_sf2015Day of Rest

Glass-fibred beings
under online drums
in the heat of the bits,
always a ringing in the ears,
more zero than one,
up tonine-one-one,
plug in the socket,
through the night, day in,
day out, night failure,
day failure

power failure.
Dead zone of the electrons.
Leave the cables where they are,
marvel at the video card of the world,
pull the plug of the scribbling,
brake the text messaging,
no yes and no, no veneer,
it’s fine to be
offline.

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Ruhetag

Glaszerfasertes Wesen
unter Online-Trommeln
in der Hitze der Bits,
stets ein Klingeln in den Ohren,
mehr null als eins
bis zum Eins-eins-null,
Stecker in der Dose,
die Nacht durch, tagaus,
tagein, Nachtausfall,
Tagausfall,

Funkloch der Elektronen.
Lass’ die Kabel liegen,
bestaune die Grafikkarte der Welt,
zieh’ dem Geschreibsel den Stöpsel,
bremse das Gesimse,
kein Jein, kein Schein, pikfein
offline
sein.

Translator’s Note

I love sound poetry and I believe in the musicality of the written wordwhich is language-specific to a large extent, certainly if it’s connected with a specific sense or content. Once a translator, a nice old lady, wanted to translate one of my poems. I considered it untrans­la­tab­le myself. I told her that and she was a little offended because she thought I was questioning her abilities. Later, she admitted I was right. Then another translator said my poems were untranslatable. That didn’t surprise me but I became upset because that meant I could not be part of an interesting project for a second time.

I started translating my poems myself. A large part of my poetry is so language-specific that I am the only one who actually has the freedom to “translate” it, which in my case means writing something similar in another language most of the times. To give an example, here’s a little excerpt of “Underpass”, one of my untranslatable poems: “Unnumbered undertones, unbarred unconsciousness, / underachievers, unfertilized unless / under umbrellas, uprising unknowingly, / underpass underdogs unfold unguardedly” (published in “Borderlands. Texas Poetry Review”, 39, 2013). There is a German two-egged twin of this poem with a very similar subject and a very similar atmosphere, but it’s not a translation actually. E.g., almost all of the words are different and the English poem is a little more optimistic.

The poem you will find on these pages is actually an example of my translatable poetry. To translate this one was comparably easy, the German predecessor is written in an unbound language, no metre, no strong sound elements stand between it and its translation. So this one could have been translated by a “real translator.” But once I started to translate my own poems, I continued to do so. I discovered it’s a good opportunity to actively use the English language. It refines my senses for poetry in all its forms in both languages. Moreover, I really have the last word regarding the results without annoying anyone and I have the opportunity to only hand out what I can sign with my name.

However, there also is a disadvantage: while my English becomes better with every poem and my “lectors” find less and less faults, it is still a foreign language to me. Thus, I have to give all of my poems to English native speakers, sometimes more than once because they discover faults or passages that do not really work, then I correct them and after that, I have to give the new version to another native speaker (I could give it to the same person again, I basically do that so share the burden). The poem you will find on these pages has been proofread by Harold Nash, the comment you are reading right now has been proofread by Lawrence Nicholas. Many thanks to both of them.

Alex DreppecAlex Dreppec, born in 1968 close to Frankfurt as “Alexander Deppert,” studied Psychology and Linguistics and went to Boulder, Colorado for his Ph.D. (finished 2001). German author with hundreds of publications (both poetry and science) in German journals and anthologies, both the most renowned (Der große Conrady—since 2008) and the best-sold among them. “Wilhelm Busch” Prize 2004. Numerous English poems were accepted by Borderlands Texas Poetry Review, Parody on Impression, English Journal, National Council of Teachers of English (USA), Orbis, The Interpreter’s House, The Journal (UK), and others so far.

Five Poems

My country,
why this crazy love for you?

You got me born
so I could be your wound.

Where can I hide
on the barren hill?

My verses dog me
like old murderers.

And deep in my ice
every night
something breaks.

 

 

With your name I’ll name

the curve you lean on
like light and shadow.

Your name I’ll call the robin
on the iced creek,

and the serpent that you saw
on the wind’s path
and the flowers you trod
in summer dark,
the burned out fires
on the bare hills,
the call of crows.

All the rains in the world
I’ll name with your name.

 

 

Of those dreams nothing remains
the houses stand locked-up for good.
Under the stones
you won’t even find a key;
they brought them along, the dead.

 

 

It rains constantly
in this
country.

Maybe because I’m a stranger.

 

 

I want the pages of my books
to be what starts a fire in the cottage
of two cold lovers.

*

To turn oneself into dust,
ashes,

To feel
a little bit oneself
a little bit the universe.

To live the silence.

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Mia patria,
perché quest’amore folle per te?

Tu mi hai fatto nascere
per essere la tua ferita.

Dove nascondermi
nella collina brulla

I miei versi m’inseguono
come vecchi assassini.

Ogni notte si rompe qualcosa
nel profondo del mio ghiaccio.

 

 

Con il tuo nome chiamerò

la curva dove ti affacci
come luce e ombra.

Anche il pettirosso
sul giaccio del ruscello,

anche il serpente che hai visto
nel sentiero di vento
anche i fiori che hai calpestato
al buio estivo,
anche i fuochi spenti
sulle colline nude,
il richiamo dei corvi.

Tutte le piogge del mondo
con il tuo nome chiamerò.

 

 

Nulla è rimasto di quei sogni,
le case sono serrate per sempre.
Sotto le pietre
non troverete neanche le chiavi,
le hanno portato con sé i morti.

 

 

Piove sempre
in questo
Paese.

Forse perché sono straniero.

 

 

Voglio che con le pagine dei miei libri
accendano il fuoco nella casa di campagna
gli innamorati infreddoliti.

*

Farsi polvere,
cenere,
oblio

Sentirsi
un po’ se stessi,
un po’ universo.

Abitare il silenzio.

Translator’s Note

We elude ourselves. Glancing in a mirror or hearing my recorded voice I think “but that’s not what I look like/sound like.” Worse, though I believe that home exists, I cannot seem to figure out where that home is. If this sense of dislocation is a side-effect of being human, then the figure of the exile is its highest expression. Hajdari’s mournful, limpid poems place us inside our divided lives and press on the tender spot of our own feelings of homelessness.

I moved to Italy to work with Gëzim Hajdari on the translation of his poems. Hajdari moved to Italy as a young man in flight from the oppressive communist regime of his native Albania. Hajdari traveled to make them, and I traveled to translate them; the poems themselves are the only native Italians. They stand between translator and writer, exile and ex-pat. In some ways, this atypical situation facilitated translation. Usually when I translate I must attempt to inhabit the mother tongue, the native instincts, and at times even the subconscious of the author. It can feel like trespassing. In contrast, Hajdari and I meet on borrowed ground in the fertile, liminal territory of a third language.

The special autonomy of these poems creates new kinds of translation challenges. Hajdari’s language is often deceptively simple. His poems contain many landscape elements; they evoke the earthy intimacy of his rural Albanian boyhood. But it is to a landscape remembered, not lived, that the poems speak. In Italian, the familiar names of trees and animals become strange, distant, and yet because distant perhaps even more longed for. How is it possible to convey that distance anew in a translation? What happens to nostalgiathe first languagewhen expressed in a second language?

Hajdari sometimes uses Italian to chastise his mother tongue and his country: “you got me born/so I could be your wound,” he says in one poem. There are moments in which he seems to feel permanently alienated by his existence in his second language; he and other exiles are “leaving for a country that calls not your name but your body.” In another poem he says “I’m living in place of myself now” as if the entire Albanian self were abandoned along with the country.

Yet these melancholy comments on exile are balanced by a kind of liberation (quite familiar to us as Americans I suspect) that comes with rootlessness. After he imagines, in one poem, that his books will one day start a fire in the house of two cold lovers, he says “To feel/ a little bit oneself/ a little bit the universe.” What a poignant articulation of one of the ways in which great happiness expresses itself; when that elusive, seeking self appears both within and without, present and distant. It is to remember this feeling, our human belonging and our human lostness, that I return again and again to poetry.

 

Gëzim HajdariBorn in Lushnje, Albania in 1957, Gëzim Hajdari was persecuted by the communist regime and fled to Italy in 1992 where he has since resided. He is a prominent member of the “Scrittori Migranti” movement in Italy, a group of writers who intentionally eschew their first language, choosing instead to write in Italian. Hajdari has earned acclaim both in Italy and abroad for his poems, winning the prestigious Montale prize among others. His work speaks to his experience as an exile, his deep-seated love and equally profound frustration with his native Albania, and the shifting, uncomfortable identity he inhabits.

 

Sarah StickneySarah Stickney received her MFA from the University of New Hampshire. She is a former Fulbright Grantee for the translation of Italian/Albanian poet Gëzim Hajdari. Her co-translations of Elisa Biagini’s selected poems, The Guest in the Wood, was chosen by the University of Rochester for its Best Translated Book Award for poetry in 2014. Her poems and translations have appeared both in the U.S. and abroad in publications such as La Questione Romantica, Rhino, The Portland Review, Drunken Boat, Cold Mountain Review, and others. She lives in Annapolis, MD where she teaches at St. John’s College.

Records of Rage

Over the winter of 2014, as Arctic air plunged the American Midwest into its cruelest winter in decades, my mother and I—both Thai immigrants—watched as our homeland’s political troubles reached a new low. In November of the previous year, thousands of civilians started occupying Bangkok’s streets in order to protest the government of then-prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, which attempted to pass an amnesty bill that would acquit a former prime minister—Yingluck’s older brother—of the corruption charges for which he was ousted from office in 2006. The demonstrators were met by zealous counter-protests from Yingluck’s supporters, gun violence that went frequently uninvestigated by authorities, intermittent bomb threats, and mostly condemnation from Western news media, who labeled them political elitists bent on toppling a government that, for all its flaws, was popular among the lower classes and, barring rumors of rampant vote-buying, had been democratically elected. Closer to home, state media portrayed the protestors as rabble-rousers and accused them of harboring weapons. Yet, among the thousands of people who were taking the streets, I had friends and colleagues, and these, I knew, were armed only with the conviction that they marched, despite the dangers, for a better Thailand.

As the winter dragged on and every morning became a struggle to leave the house, I watched as Yingluck resigned and a placeholder government was established; as new elections were scheduled and then boycotted when the opposition called for nothing less than the complete absolution of the interim government and a constitutional reform. The country was frozen in stalemate, and neither side was backing down. Finally, there came a thaw: on May 22, 2014, the military staged a coup—Thailand’s twelfth since 1936—absolving both the protests and the government in a final bid to wipe the slate clean and spare further violence.

Wipe the slate clean. Throughout its modern history, Thailand has run through a seemingly endless and self-engendering cycle of botched elections, controversial governments, violent street demonstrations, and military coups. And contemporary Thai poets have born witness to these chains of events, “recording,” in the words of Phaiboon Wongdesh, “times of rage/throughout the three worlds.” My interests in Thai poetry have always tended towards the classical and courtly, but over that prolonged winter of 2014 and into the flowering months, I couldn’t ignore the poems that Thai poets over the last forty years have “arranged in bright patterns” over our shared political woes.

Of the following poems, the first two were written in response to the events of October 14th, 1976, when demonstrators—many of them university students demanding open elections and a constitutional reform from the dictatorship of the day—clashed with police and military forces. Although they respond to events nearly forty years past, these poems could have been written about the struggles of the present—indeed, they seem almost prophetic. Naowarat Phongphaiboon foresees gunshots “ringing in the city’s midst,” while Phaiboon Wongdesh’s catalogue of natural elements in the traditional style evokes a sense of universal mourning for fallen demonstrators. The third poem, written by Chindana Pinchleo, who is known primarily for her horror novels, uses humor to make a statement about corruption and sexual hypocrisies in Thai society, and takes place in one of Bangkok’s infamous strip clubs.

The text for these poems was taken from an anthology of Thai poetry called Kred Kawee (“Pieces of Poetry”) edited by Eakarat Udomporn (Pathana Suksa Press, 2008).

Noh Anothai
St. Louis, Missouri
June 2014

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Merely a Movement
by Naowarat Phongphaiboon (1940-present)1

Merely the movement of a vulture’s wings
beneath a blaze of sun can disperse its heat.
Merely the shiver that runs from leaf to leaf
proclaims the presence of the wind.

Merely a ripple running over its surface
shows the pool water, not a pane of glass.
In eyes glossed-over, a mere glimmer
shows a heart still beating in the chest.

When the chains that hold gates shut are thrashed,
mighty is the clamor of suffering.
Merely a shimmer at the end of a pass
reveals an escape is still possible.

My fists have been clenched until drenched with sweat,
my flesh seared, my blood boiled within.
I have panted and fallen time and again—yet
good it is to have known that taste.

When a hand can still wriggle its fingers,
the strength hidden within is made known;
and when its blade-tips pierce through stone,
then is shown the might of a weed.

For forty years a torpor has held these reaches
and forty million have never stirred.
While soil became sand, wood stone, and all crumbled,
eyes and hearts remained fast asleep.

Birds inhabit the sky, but do not see sky;
in water the fish see water not.
Centipedes have no sense of the dirt they live in
and, to perceive filth, worms have no eyes.

For me disintegration and rot are certain:
birth, death, and utter inertia in due order.
Yet there bursts out of muck and detritus
a thing to be cherished: a lotus flower.

And at last a movement has begun
of grace and beauty, and not of ill.
It may be nebulous now, its form murky,
but at least a movement is taking shape.

When the daring-voiced drums boom forth from temple,
we know another holy day has arrived.
When gunshots ring in the midst of the city—
we know that for victory the people are reaching.

 

Homage to Heroes
by Phaiboon Wongdesh (?-?)2

The moon droops, stars drop, and birds weep.
Both trees in leaf and trees in flower wilt.
The whole face of heaven is hooded in cloud
and swirls of mist rising muddle the sun.

A towering gloom closes the curtain of air
and, sullied, the water in creeks and canals
and on valley-floors rear over their banks.
The mountains themselves look like they might break.

Grains of rice lie scattered, stripped from stalks
the wind has bent over and lashed about.
—Silence. Not a sound anywhere.
I light my candle, bowing in the dark

before the bones of my heroes.
The candle casts its golden light
as we cast your ash with the moon and stars.
As moist as this water, may your souls be

and float away for the sky’s furthest reach.
Close now, eyes; know trouble no more.
The river of night will not find any peace;
the stream is disturbed by droplets in downpour.

The current oozes away, bearing your remnants
far from the bank for earth’s utmost bourn.
The wind blows; the leaves in mortal hearts quake;
and in that same moment, my candle goes out.

Although it can snuff the golden-bright candle,
the wind cannot blur these stains out of being.
Tonight no sounds are heard whatsoever,
but tomorrow a cry will rise clear to the stars;

the stars light the land while the skies are obscured;
the moon blaze forth when the dark is audacious;
arranging the words poets compose in bright patterns,
recording times of rage throughout the three worlds.

Tonight, although there be no justice,
on the horizon shines a new dawn.
Whoever does ill—commits evils actions—
soon must requite it—must pay it in full.

 

To Shame
by Chindana Pinchleo (1942-1988)3

I was watching the floorshow when—Oh my…y…y…
that woman turning up the heat over there,
bouncing her breasts, her butt, flashing her thighs,
her eyes taunting me like a girl without care—

she dropkicked shame into the wastebasket,
then lay down and started her body to bare,
hailed as a star by the room’s sudden racket—
but virtue’s standpoint was one of despair.

“My living is honest—have I done something wrong?”
with a straight face, when I asked her, she said.
“But aren’t you ashamed dancing here in a thong?”
The woman shrugged. “If I were, I’d be dead.

I have an old mother; younger siblings, five.
If I didn’t strip to support them, they’d be long gone.
I finished grade 4. Who’d stick by my side?
It’s good enough that I’m not also a whore.

But, even so, though you say I’ve got nerve
to flaunt myself and give everybody a look,
it’s because I either do it or starve
and at least none of us here is a crook.

No, I’m not ashamed—in this day and age,
when corruption’s committed open air.
Even good folk are flaunting it center stage
and when they’re found out, they don’t seem to be scared.

If people like me knew shame, then men would be lonely,
and if men knew shame, they’d probably change their ways.
If even our leaders go on being phoneys,
of whom should a stripper be ashamed?”


1One of Thailand’s most respected living poets, Naowarat Phongphaiboon received a SEA Write award for his collection Merely a Movement in 1980, and was named a “National Artist” in 1992 by Thailand’s Department of Culture.
2Has Wongdesh fallen afoul of some Thai censorship bureau? I cannot find any biographical notes for this man on the internet, and none was given in the anthology used for the translation. This poem appears online in a collection of other October 14th-related poems by Chulalongkorn University, and Wongdesh’s books can be found for sale on Thai used book websites, but the details of his life are a mystery to me. I encourage anyone with more information to contact me.
3Known mostly for her horror stories, Chindana Pinchleo wrote under several pen names in various serials, for which she occasionally also composed poetry.

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เพียงความเคลื่อนไหว (Merely a Movement)
โดย เนาวรัตน์ พงษ์ไพบูลย์ (by Naowarat Phongphaiboon)

ชั่วเหยี่ยวกระหยับปีกกลางเปลวแดด
ร้อนที่แผดก็ผ่อนเพลาพระเวหา
พอใบไม้ไหวหลิกริกริกมา
ก็รู้ว่าวันนี้มีลมวก

เพียงกระเพื่อมเลื่อมรับวับวับไหว
ก็รู้ว่าน้ำใสใช่กระจก
เพียงแววตาคู่นั้นหวั่นสะทก
ก็รู้ว่าในหัวอกมีหัวใจ

โซ่ประตูตรึงผูกถูกกระชาก
เสียงแห่งความทุกข์ยากก็ยิ่งใหญ่
สว่างแวบแปลบพร่ามาไรไร
ก็รู้ได้ว่าทางยังพอมี

มือที่กำหมัดชื้นจนชุ่มเหงื่อ
ก็ร้อนเลือดเดือดเนื้อถนัดถนี่
กระหืดหอบฮวบล้มแต่ละที
ก็ยังดีที่ได้สู้ได้รู้รส

นิ้วกระดิกกระเดี้ยได้พอให้เห็น
เรี่ยวแรงที่แฝงเร้นก็ปรากฏ
ยอดหญ้า
แยงหินแยกหยัดระชด
เกียรติยศแห่งหญ้าก็ระยับ

สี่สิบปีเปล่าโล่งตลอดย่าน
สี่สิบล้านไม่เคยเขยื้อนขยับ
ดินเป็นทรายไม้เป็นหินจนหักพับ
ดับและหลับตลอดถ้วนทั้งตาใจ

นกอยู่ฟ้านกหากไม่เห็นฟ้า
ปลาอยู่น้ำย่อมปลาเห็นน้ำไม่
ไส้เดือนไม่เห็นดินว่าฉันใด
หนอนย่อมไร้ดวงตารู้อาจม

ฉันนั้นความเปื่อยเน่าเป็นของแน่
ย่อมเกิดแก่ความนิ่งทุกสิ่งสม
แต่วันหนึ่งความเน่าในเปือกตม
ก็ผุดพรายให้ชมซึ่งดอกบัว

และแล้วความเคลื่อนไหวก็ปรากฏ
เป็นความงดความงามใช่ความชั่ว
มันอาจขุ่นอาจข้นอาจหม่นมัว
แต่ก็เริ่มจะเป็นตัวจะเป็นตน

พอเสียงร่ำรัวกลองประกาศกล้า
ก็รู้ว่าวันพระมาอีกหน
พอปืนเปรี้ยงแปลบไปในมณฑล
ก็รู้ว่าประชาชนจะชิงชัย

 

บวงสรวงวีรชน (Homage to Heroes)
ไพบูลย์ วงษ์เทศ (by Phaiboon Wongdesh)

เดือนต่ำดาวตก นกร้องไห้
ไม้ดอกไม้ใบร่วงหล่น
โพยมพยับดับแสงสุริยน
หมอกเมฆมืดมนมัฆวาฬ
ทะมึนมัวม่านฟ้าฝ้าหมอง
ขุ่นน้ำลำคลองห้วยละหาน
หุบห้วยตรวยโตรกชะโงกธาร
เพิงผาปิ้มปานจะขาดใจ
รวงข้าวลู่ลมล้มคว่ำ
กิ่งท้อกอระกำสะเทือนไหว
สิ้นซึ่งส่ำเสียงสำเนียงใด
ประจงจุดเทียนไขชัชวาล
กราบกระดูกวีรชนหม่นหมอง
แสงเทียนสีทองทอสาน
ดาวเคลื่อนเดือนคล้อยลอยอังคาร
ขอวิญญาณเจ้าจงฉ่ำดังน้ำเย็น
เรื่อยไหลไปเถิดสุดขอบฟ้า
ดับเถิดดวงตาอย่ารู้เข็ญ
คงคาคืนค่ำคงลำเค็ญ
หยาดน้ำหยดกระเซ็นกระแสชล
ชลาลัยไหลเรื่อยเอื่อยอาด
อังคารเจ้าห่างหาดไปสุดหน
ลมพัดใบไม้ไหวในใจคน
เทียนก็ดับดาลดลในทันใด
แม้ดับเทียนสีทองส่องสว่าง
มิอาจดับรอยด่างให้เลือนได้
วันนี้ไม่มีเสียงสำเนียงใด
พรุ่งนี้เสียงจะใสถึงดวงดาว
ดาวจักเรืองแจ่มหล้าเมื่อฟ้าหม่น
เดือนจะโรจน์อำพนเมื่อมืดหาว
เรียงถ้อยร้อยกวีวะวับวาว
บันทึกคราวคับแค้นในแดนไตร
แม้ไม่มียุติธรรม์ในวันนี้
แต่ขอบฟ้ายังมีอรุณใหม่
ใครก่อเวรสร้างกรรมกระทำไว้
จักต้องรับชดใช้ชำระคืน

 

แด่ความอาย (To Shame)
จินตนา  ปิ่นเฉลียว (by Chindana Pinchleo)

ดูฟลอร์โชว์โก้แท้ อุแม่เจ้า!
หญิงร้อนเร่าคนนั้น อึ๋ยย์…ขวัญหนี
ย้ายสะโพกโยกทรวงดูพ่วงพี
ท้าตาที่จ้องวาวสาวไม่แคร์

เตะความอายใส่บี๊บแล้วถีบส่ง
เอนเอ้องค์เอาผ้าออกมาแก้
คนชมกราวดาวฟลอร์โชว์โก้แท้แท้
ดูในแง่ศีลธรรมแล้วช้ำใจ

“มันอาชีพสุจริตหนูผิดหรือ?”
หล่อนพูดซื่อเมื่อเราเข้าถามไถ่
“ไม่คิดอายชายมั่งหรือยังไง?”
หล่อนยักไหล่ “ขืนอายอดตายล่ะ

หนูมีแม่แก่หงำซำน้องห้า
ไม่แก้ผ้าเลี้ยงเขาก็เน่าน่ะ
จบปอสี่มีใครสนใจนะ
ที่ไม่พะโสเภณีก็ดีแล้ว

แต่นั่นแหละแม้ว่าหนูหน้าด้าน
กล้าทำร่านอวดใครได้ชัดแจ๋ว
ก็เพราะความจำเป็นมันเน้นแนว
แต่เชื้อแถวหนูไม่มีใครโกง

หนูไม่อายหรอกค่ะสมัยนี้
คนดีดีคอร์รัปชันกันออกโผง
ไม่อายใครใจชั่วตัวชูโรง
ถูกเปิดโปงเข้ามั่งยังไม่กลัว

คนอย่างหนูถ้ารู้อายชายคงเหงา
คนอย่างเขาถ้ารู้อายคงหายชั่ว
ตราบคนใหญ่ไม่ยั่นกินกันนัว
หนูเผยตัวอวดชายจะอายใคร?”

Translator’s Note

Why do I translate? When asked, I often say—it’s because I can’t come up with my own material, which is only half a lie. It’s the same reason I don’t write fiction: I’m terrible at coming up with plots and characters out of thin air or sieving and refashioning them from those in my own life. Likewise, with translation, the material is already in front of me; my task is “merely” to convey it in English. The real answer, though, is far more selfish: I translate because I come across a poem and wish I’d written it; I come across something moving, or funny, or entertaining, and I want to transmit those sensations to other people, other readers, to share something of my own experience with another.

Strangely enough, I did not want to learn Thai growing up; I routinely balked at my mother’s attempts at teaching me to read and write, throwing my spellers to the floor and stomping on them, before eventually growing to appreciate our native language. I also didn’t arrive at the desire to translate Thai literature in any serious manner on my own; instead, it took Robert Fitzgerald’s Odyssey in a high school English class to get me thinking about translation as an art. I began to wonder how I might produce a similar work. Both my ability and desire to translate has thus been the product of nurturing, though frequently vexing, external forces; and translation itself is an art in which you need another person (or, as in my case, many people) to inspire you to produce—not least of all the original authors you translate. It’s a collaborative act.

Publications like Lunch Ticket are an essential part in furthering such collaboration; by reading and publishing works in translation as well as multi-language texts, they create a nurturing atmosphere for art forms so frequently overlooked and make it possible for them to be transmitted to new minds and new readers as well. Thus, when I think of translation, I think of legacy: of handing things of value down (or over) from one language to another, from one person to another. As a translator, I thank Lunch Ticket for supporting that legacy.

Noh Anothai

Photo: Christopher Fleck

Noh Anothai was a Fulbright scholar in Bangkok between 2011-12. In that time, he hosted cultural events and translated programs for Thailand’s Ministry of Culture and College of Dramatic Arts. He has also written poems for the First Book Project, which benefits underprivileged Thai students. He has work forthcoming in The Raintown Review.

 

Five Poems

Aesop’s Language

The language of Aesop eludes me,
and it’s too late to be taught a new tongue;
whether they’re villains, reprobates, or robbers,
I’m used to calling the powers
that be—with no provisos, no thought
for rank or title—by their actual names.
I won’t thin complicity among the many,
or inflate an individual shame.

Passer-by, be advised: give me a wide berth!
Only your feet now can save you.
For it is not the earth’s verdict
I’m calling down here—it is God’s.
When the defense and D.A. conspire
together, one witness gathers Himself
to judge: see His face flame with righteous ire,
see His robes effulgent with truth.

From the tree of earthly fear I eat no seeds,
from the waters of fright I’ve not drunk,
for this is Caesar’s portion I spurn.
I’ve filled my belly with other things.
So you, little whimperer, flee now!
Hightail it out of here, make haste,
lest animals swathed in sermon silk attack.
Your heels will feel the hot breath of beasts.

 

Every Day

Each and every day, save weekends and holidays,
when there’s no reason or special occasion
to leave my apartment and head downtown,
the same underground train—racing at insane speeds, its
unbearable rattling and grinding, screeching

and shrieking, clanging and clawing that’s fit
to flay my eardrums to the bone—carries us past
the exact spot between two stations, Avtozavodskaya
and Pavelstskaya, where a friend, not my nearest
or dearest, but a quiet man and loving father,

the kind that’s daily more endangered, always willing
to go drinking and a book-lover to boot,
the kind whose hard work never won him a penny,
Borya Geliebter (speak his name in your prayers, ye who live!),
was blown to bits in that explosion on the sixth

of February, in the two thousand and fourth year
of our Lord, on a Friday, at thirty-two minutes
past eight, as he was commuting in the morning
rush hour, without the slightest notion that he—
the poor guy, just fifty-four days shy

of his forty-third birthday—was slated to land
(oh senseless fate!) in tragedy’s messy center; and then
a host of thoughts comes into my head, from furious
curses—“Let those who gave this sordid order,
and those who (aware of their actions) still acted,

find no peace in this life or the next;
whether they rest in cold graves or hot beds may they
get no response, for a special retribution awaits their souls!”—
to humble thoughts of heaven’s hidden works,
which reason can’t fathom nor human dimensions measure,

since our births as men, our lives and ends,
reside in the Creator’s hands, who always calls
his blessed back with “Blessed be those beloved to me!”—
to vague ruminations on things foreboding:
how, if the philosopher of the common task is correct

and the resurrection requires numerical data, here’s where
you’ll find it, thus proving (despite a certain thinker’s bitter claim)
that after Auschwitz and the Gulag, after bloody wars
and revolutions, after Hiroshima, Baghdad and New York, there can be poetry…
but what kind? Who’s to say, maybe this kind right here.

 

In Memory of East Prussia

I.

Everything here’s alien: storks in their nests—
habit led each one here—
the everyday earth, the air’s everyday breath,
++++++ithe everyday water.

Formed by some separate kind of god
there’s this heaven, the fields sliced just
right, and a sun to scorch these winding roads
++++++iand kick up their dust.

Here the roosters sing off key, crickets
chirr improperly, and strange is the screech
of foliage, growing thickest
++++++ion oak, lime, or birch branch.

Built by bellicose Teutons,
an antique castle’s a cast-wax skull.
However much its emptiness saddens
++++++iyou, it’ll never again be full.

Of everything around me, seen and unseen, the one
deep law cannot be known—
so too did barbarians, astride Rome’s ruins,
++++++ithink everything alien.

II.

The ruin’s tongue is unintelligible:
the Livonian’s no longer around—
these countless lacunae stand out,
bright against the black background.

Both first sketch and final signature
emerge from under the paint—
sad denouement that hunts
you out, no matter what you want.

On the orphaned pedestal
falls a lone shadow;
There are finer points and details
we’re too lazy to dig through.

Cobwebs now cover
the pond’s dusty mirror;
as a mother mourns her sons,
so the sons their father.

III.

“As for the truth that one day we’ll die,
the trees here wept clear amber,
back when nothing yet could portend
that those called out—i.e. you and I—
from the dark ether on God’s orders
would suit up for living…” The elegy’s begin-

ning is severed—but to prolong it, ah!
my head’s inspiration-less,
and I’ve not endeavored to drag line after line
for some time now. Gently a wave—
the Golden Fleece’s curly heiress—
floats the fossilized tears to the coastline.

IV.

For how many years has this clock-
face’s 5:30 been rusted fast—
++++++itime’s left the station.
Chronicler! Take up your coal and chalk
to mark the day more attentively. Dab your brow sweat.
++++++iAll other options

elude you. So quickly now, note this
little testament—just take it down, don’t
++++++itry to fathom it.
For the seagull’s shrill voice
greets everything that’s in the earth, or
++++++iby the earth begot.

V.

The sandy hills of the Curonian Spit,
seeded with dragon’s teeth, cleave
the sea’s elastic lap in two turbulent
halves; the Spit’s been seeded.

As usual the men arose bristling.
They awoke to discord, then strained
to straighten, like gnarled pines striving
against the frenzied elements; now they remain,

a thin strip of woods, overcast and sullen.
So it was, and so it shall be.
My blood freezes; I realize we’re kin.
I too was sown senselessly.

VI.

A bridge, nowhere-bound,
+++ispans a loathsome stream;
the waters ceased their babble,
+++ifeigning lethargy.

Not a single trail remains
+++isince there’s nothing to decide.
This spreading meadow’s still green,
+++iuncut by time’s sure scythe.

The shades take their leisure
+++iwith picnics in that vale;
wherever they gambol
+++ithey trample spring petals.

Memory and oblivion—two
+++ishores—make one.
I’ve not crossed the bridge,
+++ibut linger in-between.

VII.

An old photographer wanders, aluminum
tripod in tow, raking the beach vainly for one
who’d wish herself pictured against a horizon
of belted pines or crags of sand, but—as if to spite him—

no one’s to be found; nobody needs anything—
not the countless tourists, each equipped
with Polaroids and Kodaks—and it’s no staggering
aggravation, though regret, nonetheless, seeps

in. Shoeless, taciturn, he passes the trash-heaps
of people, dividing his feet between sand and surf.
He’s filled with sorrow, which is my sorrow,
leaving no tracks as he goes forth.

Of all gilded Apollo’s adopted sons
surely you’re the last and most beloved!
Abandon that tripod and photograph heaven—
the sea, the sun, radiating from its altitude!

 

“You Take Root in Earth”

You take root in earth; I trot blithely by,
humming some happy tune
++++++i(all by my lonesome) about how,
as your gold leaves fall, you grow
more irresistible, though you’re neither
++++++idead nor living.

You seek help, little misery’s daughter,
but what help, poor dear, might I provide?
++++++iThe death pangs attending
your final hour are just like high art, though
they refuse to be captured in sculpture,
++++++ispeech, pigment, or song.

You dwindle down to nothing,
while those buds, which bring no good
++++++ito fruition, sit fallow—
Are you the fig our Savior damned,
or the walnut that, well before Christ’s birth,
++++++iOvid cursed in a split verse?

 

“A Many-Throated, Many-Mawed, Many-Tongued Rumble”

A many-throated, many-mawed, many-tongued rumble
resounds, coming nigh, soaring high, casting wide,
to infuse each soul with horror, wrap it in fear like a shroud,
setting all, from the dead to the unborn, atremble:
What’s happening? What’s coming? What’s gone?

And the cosmos’ uncountable creatures now feel
a light on their transparent skin, transmitted
from an immutable mote, so tiny even a keen eye
can’t pinpoint it in the maelstrom of faces and events—
but it holds our questions’ answers, and our hope.

prose_section_divider

Языком эзоповым не владея

Языком эзоповым не владея,
потому что поздно учить язык,
нечестивца, вора или злодея
власть имущих – собственными привык
называть именами без оговорок,
невзирая на звания и чины,
сопричастности не деля на сорок,
не преувеличивая вины.

Обходи меня стороной, прохожий!
ибо только ноги тебя спасут, –
нет, не человечий на них, но Божий
постоянно я призываю суд,
где защитник и обвинитель слиты
воедино, свидетель – и тот один,
пламенеют гневом Его ланиты,
свет сияет истины от седин.

Я со древа страха земного зерен
не вкушал и не пил боязни вод
кесарю назло, как бы ни был черен
или бел, – иным наполнял живот,
посему, дрожащий, как можно прытче
от меня беги, не жалея пят,
а не то, напялив личины притчи,
за спиною хищники засопят.

 

Каждый божий день, кроме выходных и праздничных

Каждый божий день, кроме выходных и праздничных,
когда без надобности особой смысла нет
из дому выдвигаться в сторону центра,
с невыносимым скрежетом, скрипом, сипом,
визгом и лязгом, царапающим и дерущим насквозь

барабанные перепонки, на сумасшедшей скорости
поезд подземный привычно проносит меня
мимо того самого места, между “Автозаводской”
и “Павелецкой”, где моего приятеля, не из близких,
тихого человека и семьянина, каких ещё поискать,

собутыльника мирового и страстного книжника,
ни гроша не стяжавшего честным себе трудом,
Борю Гелибтера (помяни в молитвах имя его, живущий!)
разорвало в куски во время взрыва шестого
февраля две тыщи четвёртого года от Рождества

Христова, в пятницу, в тридцать две минуты девятого,
едущего на работу в утренний час пик,
не подозревая, что ему, бедолаге, за пятьдесят четыре
дня до сорокатрёхлетия в самое средоточье
угодить (о случайность бессмысленная!) суждено,

и приходят мне в голову то проклятия гневные:
“Тем, кто отдал, не дрогнув, страшный приказ, и тем,
кто, сознавая и ведая, что творит, исполнил,
пусть не будет покоя ни на том, ни на этом свете,
ни в холодных могилах, ни в жарких постелях телам

их не спится, а душам готовится кара сугубая!” —
то смиренные мысли о том, что непостижим
человеческому разумению небесный промысел тайный
и к нему подступаться с мерой земной бесполезно,
что рождение смертных, жизнь и кончина в руках

у Творца, всех блаженных Своих обратно зовущего:
“Да пребудет благословен возлюбленный мной!” —
то предчувствия смутные, мол, если общего дела
философ окажется прав и точнейших данных
для грядущего воскрешения понадобится цифирь,

можно будет её почерпнуть отсюда, и в опровержение
горьких слов иного мыслителя доказать,
что поэзия после Освенцима и ГУЛАГа, кровавых
революций и войн, Хиросимы, Багдада, Нью-Йорка
может быть, но какой? — кто знает, — возможно, такой.

 

ПАМЯТИ ВОСТОЧНОЙ ПРУССИИ

I

Здесь все чужое: аисты на гнездах,
привычкой занесенные сюда,
обычная земля, обычный воздух,
++++++iобычная вода.

Сотворены другим каким-то богом
и небеса, и дольние поля,
и солнце, по извилистым дорогам
++++++iпылящее, паля.

Здесь петухи поют не так, не этак
кузнечики стрекочут, странен скрип
густой листвой отягощенных веток
++++++iдубов, берез и лип.

Основанный воинственным тевтоном
старинный замок – череп восковой.
как ни тоскуй о безвременьи оном,
++++++iне сганет головой.

Всего, что зримо мне и что незримо,
таинственный закон непостижим, –
так варвару среди развалин Рима
++++++iказалось все чужим.

II

Язык руин не внятен:
ливон не вышел вон, –
немало белых пятен
легло на черный фон.

Проступят из-под краски
и надпись и чертеж, –
трагической развязки
дождешься – ждешь не ждешь.

Стоит на пьедестале
осиротелом тень;
в подробности, в детали
вникать, вдаваться лень.

Затянет паутина
зерцало озерца,
но матери без сына,
что сыну без отца.

III

“О том, что мы когда-нибудь умрем,
деревья здесь рыдали янтарем,
когда еще ничто не предвещало,
что вызванные из небытия
велением Господним – ты и я –
сберемся жить…” – Элегии начало

оборвано, – ее продлить, увы!
нет вдохновения, из головы
не тщусь тянуть по строчке и подавно,
пока выносит на берег волна,
курчавая наследница руна
златого, плач окаменелый плавно.

IV

Полшестого на проржавелом
циферблате который год, –
++++++iвремя выбыло.
Летописец! углем и мелом
дни, со лба утирая пот,
++++++iибо выбора

нет, прилежнее отмечай-ка,
не пытаясь понять, внемли
++++++iзавещаньице, –
то приветствует криком чайка
все, что в землю иль из земли
++++++iвозвращается.

V

Усеяны густо зубами дракона
песчаные горы на Куршской косе,
делящей бурливое надвое лоно
упругого моря, – усеяны все.

В урочное время по всем косогорам,
разбужены распрей, они прорастут,
согбенными соснами встав под напором
стихии безумной, – останутся тут

полоскою леса, угрюмой и хмурой.
Так было, так будет, – из жара да в дрожь
при мысли: на них несуразной фигурой,
на прошлых и будущих, сам я похож.

VI

Мост, ведущий в никуда
+++iчрез ручей смердящий:
говорливая вода
+++iпритворилась спящей.

Ни тропинки никакой,
+++iибо жребий брошен, –
луг, уверенной рукой
+++iвремени не кошен.

В праздник там, на том лугу,
+++iвеселятся тени,
разбивая на бегу
+++iчашечки растений.

Память и забвенье – два
+++iберега – едины:
мост не перейден едва
+++iмной до середины.

VII

Старый фотограф с треножником из дюрали
бродит по пляжу тщетно в поисках тех,
кто пожелал бы снимок на фоне дали
Бельта ли, гор ли песчаных, но – как на грех –

никого: никому ничего не надо, –
отдыхающих тыщи снабжены
кодаками, поляроидами – не досада
неимоверной, но сожаление – глубины.

Бос, молчалив, минуя свалку людскую,
он по песку одной, по волне другой,
полон тоской, которой и я тоскую,
не оставляя следов, ступает ногой.

Из сыновей приемных златого Феба
самый последний – самый любимый ты!
брось свой треножник, фотографируй небо,
море и солнце, блещущее с высоты.

 

Ты в землю врастаешь, – я мимо иду

Ты в землю врастаешь, – я мимо иду,
веселую песенку на ходу
++++++iсебе под нос напевая
про то, как – теряя златые листы –
мне кажешься неотразимою ты,
++++++iни мертвая, ни живая.
Ты помощи просишь, страдания дочь, –
мне нечем тебе, бедняжка, помочь:
++++++iтвои предсмертные муки
искусству возвышенному сродни,
хоть невпечатлимы ни в красках они,
++++++iни в камне, ни в слове, ни в звуке.
Сойдешь на нет, истаешь вот-вот, –
благой не приносящие плод
++++++iпускай не расклеятся почки,
поскольку ты – смоковница та,
которую проклял еще до Христа
++++++iОвидий в раздвоенной строчке.

 

Гул многоустый, многоязычный, многогортанный

Гул многоустый, многоязычный, многогортанный,
вширь раздаваясь, вглубь проникая, ввысь устремляясь,
души живущих ужасом полнит, страхом объемлет,
в трепет приводит всех от умерших до нерождённых:
что происходит? что исчезает? что возникает?

Вся во Вселенной тварь ощущает плотью сквозною
проникновенный свет, исходящий из ниоткуда,
из неподвижной точки ничтожной, зоркому глазу
неразличимой в круговороте лиц и событий,
но и ответы в нём на вопросы есть и надежда.

Translators’ Note

Our collaborative translations began as a novelty but became an extension of family. We started making them in 2009 when Anne—in Moscow on an NEH Collaborative Research Fellowship for three months—met Maxim Amelin, an “archaist innovator” of a poet, whose clever neologisms and classical leanings deserve to be better known in English. A scholar of Soviet literature by training, Anne had only ever translated prose. A poet and translator of Latin, Derek had no experience with Russian verse. And yet we were both game for a challenge, newly married and eager, we suppose, to attempt a union of literature to follow our union of love. So we set to work, slowly carrying one Amelin poem after another into English, using—in Jascha Kessler’s description of collaborative translation—a “method, which is really quite simple, and hardly a method at all.” Anne picked the poems, wrote the cribs, and glossed terms, tropes, and themes, festooning the poems like Spanish moss. Derek massaged the whole packet back into sonorous verse. And then we’d talk, and talk, and talk some more.

If this setup sounds like a test of marital communication, it was, at least for a time. While the Soviet satirical duo Il’f and Petrov, much translated by Anne, could complain that “writing together isn’t twice as easy, it’s ten times as hard,” how much more difficult is translating together, when there are three minds in the mix? Still, collaboration’s challenges are little different from those faced by any translator translating alone: what’s the line between sound and sense? There’s always going to be some nuance or artful consonance that will vanish, and as Joanna Trzeciak recently wrote, “translation is the art of choosing one’s regrets.” If we, as collaborative translators, are bound to admit and explain those regrets, we’re at least buoyed by a partner who comprehends and empathizes with the loss. And the final product benefits from two attention spans and two sets of eyes. To put it another way, we are the team of relay sprinters who’ve snuck into a marathon, pacing ourselves against life’s other exhaustions. In 2010, we became parents of a son. Now four years old, he speaks both Russian and English, hearing the former from his mother, the latter from his dad. If these translations are for anyone other than Amelin, they are surely for him.

D_Mong_headshotDerek Mong is the author of Other Romes (Saturnalia Books, 2011); the poetry editor at Mantis: A Journal of Poetry, Criticism, & Translation; and a doctoral candidate at Stanford where he’s finishing a dissertation on marriage in the lives and afterlives of Whitman and Dickinson. The recipient of fellowships and awards from the University of Louisville, the University of Wisconsin, The Missouri Review, and the Hopwood Program, he now lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife and young son. His poems, translations, and essays have appeared in The Cincinnati Review, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, The Southern Review, The Kenyon Review, Pleiades, Court Green, and (most recently) the anthology 99 Poems for the 99 Percent. Last summer, he and his wife—Anne O. Fisher—published the first English language interview with Maxim Amelin at Jacket2. He can be reached at www.derekmong.com.

A_Fisher_headshotAnne O. Fisher’s translations of Ilf and Petrov’s novels The Twelve Chairs and The Little Golden Calf, as well as their 1936 travelogue Ilf and Petrov’s American Road Trip, have been widely praised. She has also translated the prose of Margarita Meklina and Leonid Tishkov, and—with husband and co-translator Derek Mong—the poetry of Maxim Amelin. Their Amelin translations, supported by an NEA translation grant, have appeared or are forthcoming in The Dallas Review, Cerise Press, Big Bridge Magazine: An Anthology of Twenty-First Century Russian Poetry, and Chtenia/Readings. Fisher’s translations have also appeared, or will appear, in Cabinet Magazine, Squaring the Circle: Winners of the Debut Prize for Fiction, and Flash Fiction International. She has a PhD from the University of Michigan, and now lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and son. Her current favorite Russian children’s book is Vitaliy Bianki’s Сказки о животных (Fairy Tales about Animals).

M_Amelin_headshotPoet, critic, editor, and translator, Maxim Amelin is among the last generation of Russian poets to grow up in the Soviet Union. The recipient of numerous national awards, including the Moscow Reckoning Award, the Anti-Booker, the Novyi Mir Prize, and the Bunin Prize, his work has been translated into over a dozen languages. In 2013 Amelin won the prestigious Solzhenitsyn Prize for his contributions to Russian poetry. The author of three books of poetry, including Cold Odes (Холодные оды, 1996), Dubia (1999), and The Horse of the Gorgon (Конь Горгоны, 2003), as well as a collection of prose and poems, Bent Speech (Гнутая речь, 2011), he is also an accomplished translator of Pindar, Catullus, Homer, and other ancient and contemporary poets. He currently lives in Moscow. He is a member of the Russian PEN-Club and editor-in-chief at OGI, a leading publisher of contemporary literature.

Among the Trobairitz

Lady Maria,

+++++++++++ivalue and valiance,
joy and beauty and intelligence,
+++++ihonor, worth, and hospitality,
noble speech and pleasing company,
fine, sweet face and merry countenance,
+++++igentle gaze and loving glance—
all these, in you, and not the trickster’s art,
they draw me toward you with an honest heart.

I pray you, if it please you, fine amours
+++++iand jouissance and sweet humility
may bring the solace I’ve been longing for,
+++++iand grant me, lovely lady, if it please
you, the gift from which I’d draw all hope and happiness:
+++++iin you lie all my love and lust and liking,
through you I drink up all I taste of gladness,
+++++iand for you I’ve spent many hours sighing.

+++++iAnd since your valiance and beauty elevate
you over other ladies—none surpasses you—
I pray you, if it please you, in song I dedicate
+++++ito you:
+++++++++++iDon’t love a wooer who’s untrue!

Lovely lady, whom worth and joy exalt,
+++++iand noble speech, to you I send my song,
+++++++++++ifor gaiety and gladness are in you,
and all good gifts a man might choose among.

prose_section_divider

Na Maria, pretz e fina valors,
e.l joi e.l sen e la fina beutatz,
e l’aculhir e.l pretz e las onors,
e.l gent parlar e l’avinen solatz,
e la dous car’ e la gaja cuendansa,
e.l dous esgart e l’amoros semblan
que son en vos, don non avetz engansa,
me fan traire vas vos ses cor truan.

Per que vos prec, si.us platz que fin’ amors
e gausiment e dous umilitatz
me posca far ab vos tan de socors,
que mi donetz, bella domna, si.us platz,
so don plus ai d’aver joi e ‘speransa;
car en vos ai mon cor e mon talan,
e per vos ai tot so qu’ai d’alegransa
e per vos vauc mantas vetz sospiran.

E car beutatz e valor vos enansa
sobra totas, qu’un no.us es denan,
vos prec, si.us platz, per so que.us es onransa,
que non ametz entendidor truan.

Bella domna, cui pretz e joi enansa
e gen parlar, a vos mas coblas man,
car en vos es gajess’ e alegranssa,
e tot lo ben qu’om en domna deman.

Translator’s Note

I am interested in the original song less for its literary merit than for the fact that it composed by a trobairitz for a lady—in other words, from one woman to another. Although Bieiris’ original, and also my translation, may seem at first glance to be nothing more than a catalogue of attractive personality traits, these were the attributes which the troubadours and trobairitz deemed essential to the art of fin’amors, or perfect love (a phrase I’ve rendered, in modern franglais, as “fine amours”).

Are these verses a love song? Perhaps. Many scholars tend to view the poetry of the troubadours and the trobairitz as a literary means toward increasing the writer’s social and economic prestige, rather than as “authentic” expressions of romantic or erotic feeling. But I’m inclined to think—though this may be merely a personal hope—that this particular song was sincere.

I’ve translated the Old Occitan gausiment not as “rejoicing” or “enjoyment” but as a loan-word from French, “jouissance,” which corresponds more exactly to the religious—and sexual—ecstatic connotations of the original. In the case of the Occitan om, which can mean either “one” (like the Modern French on) or “man” (like the Modern French homme), I have opted for the latter translation because I would like to draw your attention to the tension between, on the one hand, the traditional masculinity of language, and, on the other, the challenge which lesbian/women’s poetry poses to that tradition.

Editions of the original may be found in Meg Bogin’s anthology The Women Troubadours (1988), together with Bogin’s facing-page literal translation, and in Oskar Schultz-Gora’s Die Provenzalischen Dichterinnen: Biographien und Texte (1975). Bogin lists the poem’s manuscript source as Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale Fr. 15211.

It’s difficult to write about translation when so much has already been said. I find myself resorting to adages and stock phrases: the notorious traduttore traditore, the one-liner about poetry mis-attributed to Robert Frost, or the idealistic (and exaggerated) claim that every human act, from breathing in air to placing one foot in front of the other, is an act of translation. And this is what drives me to translate in the first place: there is nothing new to be said under the sun. Why write when you can cite? Why compose when you can translate?

I would like to think that I follow Gayatri Spivak in pursuing an “intimate reading,” a “surrender to the text” that is “more erotic than ethical” and in which the self “loses its boundaries” and comes into close contact with something uncanny, something else both self and Other. If the Author is dead, then the translator may be compared to a medium channeling her spirit. (Sometimes, when I’m working late into the night, I take this comparison literally.) When translation becomes simply the breaking and re-making of a text in my own idiom, I know it is time to move on.

Samantha Pious is a Ph.D. student in Comparative Literature at the University of Pennsylvania. Some of her translations have appeared in Lunch Ticket’s Amuse-BoucheDoublespeak, ConstructionGertrude, and Rowboat.

Bieiris de Romans was a trobairitz (a woman troubadour) who composed at least one lyric in Old Occitan, presumably during the first half of the thirteenth century in the south of France. About her life or identity, nothing else is known.