Grandma’s Poems: Sex in an Apartment Building

Grandma’s Poems: 5. Sex in an Apartment Building

“My neighbours make love every night!”
I complain, itching to give her all the juicy details.
The woman’s moans and the man’s grunts
sneak under my quilt stitched with maple leaves
of every colour,
hop along my penguin and iceberg-adorned pyjamas,
wet my skin intoxicated by cheap perfumes
bottled on ships and sold at a lower price in
convenience stores on Yonge street,
until my nipples harden, my marrow surges in my bones,
hotter and hotter.
“Good for them!” My grandma cuts me off, glancing at me
without a trace of sympathy
as if it were all my fault!

Maybe she didn’t understand me, but if I explain,
she’ll stroke my hair
full of pity
“My neighbours…”
Grandma shrugs and begins to rock
left to right, right to left,
a pendulum that measures how long we thirst for life
in a calendar year.
“Maybe they’re Asian, because the woman…”
Every night, I imagine that in the sixteen bedrooms
on the sixteen floors above
men and women go about making love
in every language on Earth.

“Building full of immigrants!” grandma shouts exasperated
but I still hurry to answer her.
“And what’s wrong with…” but the moment has passed
because suddenly she begins playing her harmonica
ignoring me.
My neighbours get louder and louder
and my breasts get harder and harder
until the man starts to cry,
maybe they’re both crying, maybe I’m fantasizing it.
Grandma has zoned out, staring at nothing
as if she’s remembering something important.
++++++Did you ever laugh the choked-off laughter of your dead?
Finally silence and a familiar feeling
like the memory of a hug from old times.


Poemele bunicii: 5. Sex la bloc

-Vecinii mei fac dragoste în fiecare noapte!
mă lamentez, dornică să-i dau toate detaliile.
Gemetele femeii şi icnetele bărbatului
se strecoară sub plăpumioara mea inocentă
garnisită cu frunze de arţar în toate culorile,
alunecă lasciv de-a lungul pijamalei cu pinguini şi gheţari,
umezindu-mi pielea intoxicată cu parfumuri
îmbuteliate pe vapor şi vândute cu preţ redus în magazinele
de mărunţişuri de pe Yonge
până când sfârcurile se întăresc, iar măduva
începe să tremure în oasele din ce în ce mai fierbinţi.
-Bravo lor! mi-o retează bunica, uitându-se la mine
fără nici o urmă de simpatie
ca şi cum ar fi numai şi numai vina mea!

Poate nu m-a înţeles, dar dacă îi explic,
o să mă mângâie pe creştet
plină de milă–
-Vecinii mei…
Bunica dă din umeri şi începe să se legene
stânga-dreapta, dreapta-stânga,
o pendulă care măsoară durata poftei de viaţă într-un an
-Poate sunt asiatici, pentru că femeia…
In fiecare noapte, îmi imaginez bărbaţi şi femei
care fac dragoste
în cele şaisprezece dormitoare de la etajele superioare
exact deasupra dormitorului meu
în toate limbile pământului.

-Bloc de imigranţi!, se răsteşte bunica exasperată
şi totuşi mă grăbesc să-i răspund.
-Şi ce e rău în…, dar am pierdut momentul pentru că
începe să cânte la muzicuţă ignorându-mă.
Vecinii mei sunt din ce în ce mai zgomotoşi,
iar sânii mei din ce în ce mai pofticioşi
pănă când bărbatul începe să plângă,
poate plâng amândoi, poate mi se pare.
Bunica a rămas cu privirea pierdută în zare ca şi cum
şi-ar fi amintit ceva important.
++++++-Te-ai auzit vreodată râzând cu râsul morţilor din tine?
In sfârşit linişte şi o senzaţie familiară
ca amintirea unei îmbrăţişări de pe vremuri.

Translator’s Note:

Traditionally, translators are said to be a writer’s closest readers, the sensitives who try to be in tune with in (though not necessarily to process intellectually, analytically) every word, root meaning, register of vocabulary and labyrinth of connotations, every figure of speech, the sounds and rhythms of the original, its stylistic texture, and so on. Then, impossibly, they aim to reproduce, evoke, approximate, create a parallel verbal universe, often in a disparate language family as in the case of English (Germanic) versus Romanian (Romance). These are heady goals, although to the translator of poetry, it would be an admission of defeat to aim for less. Worse, the translation process would be a lot less stimulating, challenging, enticing…fun.

I began translating blissfully unaware of any of this. In the spring of 1981, when I was a Fulbright lecturer at the University of Bucharest early in the last, worst decade of Romania’s communist dictatorship, a colleague there asked me to look at her versions of work by a poet from the city of Timișoara. What immediately struck me was how enjoyable the translation of poetry is, how creativeco-creative, or re-creative, if you will. Trans-creative? It brought back a younger self, a wannabe Beatnik undergrad who yearned to be a poet. As I reworked my colleague’s initial versions to improve and polish them, after we’d first gone over them together, I began to understand what it means to serve as the substitute voice, the living mask or performer in English of another person’s words. I became fascinated by not only the obligation to fidelity (fidelity to what? the words? the inner poem?) but also the wide range of possible interpretive solutions that reach inward so as to involve the translator’s imaginative resources and outward in contrary directions, ahead to the reader, of course, and simultaneously back somehow to the initial impetus, impossible to know yet seemingly near at hand—that is, hidden right there in the original text. I have been known to say that a translator of poetry is likely the last writer who truly believes in the Muse, because He or She is no ancient wispy figment but embodied on the page in black and white.

For a collaborative translator, this process, in everyday practice an isolated one, the translator alone at a desk, is also social. Unless writer and translator think, and email, poison darts at each other (that happens, and that’s social too, I guess), it’s a personal connection with a co-translator who, in my experience, frequently is the author as well. With Diana Manole, our relationship began a decade ago when she contacted me at the suggestion of a mutual friend. By now, there’s a freedom and intimacy in our exchanges. Though we’ve never met in person, I feel we’re close friends.

I asked Diana Manole for her perspective, and I’ll let her voice conclude these comments, just as it is her voice that ought in some way to come across in her poems that we have translated:

“For over 12 years after immigrating to Canada, despite many academic papers written in English, I’ve only been able to write poems in my mother tongue. Then, suddenly, in March 2013 poems began to ‘come’ to me in English. Two of them have already been published. Yet, trying to render in English the poems written in Romanian has remained more of a burden than a joy. After translating two of my collections of poems, I learnt one thing: I can’t do it alone!

Without Adam J. Sorkin’s help, my Romanian poems would have never found their way into English. He was the one who made my first rough translation drafts ‘sound’ like poems. He worked his magic and the lines started regaining the flavour, often the humour, the indefinable mystery I knew they had in Romanian. With slightly different words. A comma. A metaphor that was literally distant from the original but close in feeling. Sometimes, with words and idioms I didn’t yet know. With an in-depth understanding of what I wanted to say when I was paradoxically unable to see it for myself. Over countless emails and even more hours. For all of this, I can only be grateful. And hope that I’ll be able to publish and share with the English-speaking readers more and more of my poems. ”

Diana ManolePoet and playwright Diana Manole’s books include Angel with a Canadian Visa (2011); Oh, That’s Too Much! (2000); Evening Habits (1998); and Love on the Elevator (1997). Her work has appeared in English in The Nashwaak Review and Maple Tree Literary Supplement in Canada, Third Wednesday, and Poem (U.K.).




Adam SorkinAdam J. Sorkin’s most recent books of translation include, in 2012, Mouths Dry with Hatred by Dan Sociu, translated with Sociu (Longleaf Press), and The Flying Head by Ioan Flora (Toad Press), and in 2014, A Sharp Double-Edged Luxury Object by Rodica Draghincescu (Červená Barva Press).

His Last Word Was Silence

To S.B

If I’m not dead, if somebody isn’t dreaming or imagining me, then I’m rocking back and forth and it’s cold.

Back and forth. To the rhythm of the thing that for such a long time I’ve called heart. Back and forth. Without effort, to and fro.

The difficult part is departing, leaving the room, walking, step by step, synchronizing feet and cane, crossing the hallways, greeting the nebulous residents of the home, arriving at the huge picture window that faces the garden, imagining that it’s actually a painting, reaching the door, stepping onto the grass, feeling the happiness of the change in surface and arriving at the bench from which I can see the whole garden, and sitting down and starting to rock, back and forth; the only difficult thing is starting.

After a while the body is like a pendulum that swings on its own, tic-toc, back and forth, and you can let it be, and think that the movement will prevent your ancient body from stiffening, that at least this time the joints and bones won’t decide to fuse forever. Tic-toc, back and forth, and then to think that Sam hasn’t come out to the garden this morning, that he shouldn’t be long now.

Tic-toc. While he makes his way I can imagine him like the first time, scared, disconcerted, resigned, looking out on the garden from the door, observing everything with his owl-like eyes and later starting his walk to the bench, nervously supporting his legs on the grass, as though he were afraid he’d break it, long, ungainly, my friend, my companion on many mornings, cold and hot, the solid presence of a very wrinkly face, the stone-like calm that sat next to me on the bench, who rarely talked because, as old friends, we decided from the first look that it wasn’t necessary to talk, that we wouldn’t fill the garden with unnecessary words.

The days we woke up feeling loquacious we would exchange two or three words.

That’s how I learned about the passing of his wife last summer, about his decision to move his octogenarian body to this old folks home, about his now remote distance from the world. I think that was the day that he talked the most, that’s if I didn’t dream his words as he sat beside me, stiff, with that eternal expression like the beginning of a smile.

It took him a long time to confess to me that he had been a writer and it took me even longer to believe him. Him? Sam? Someone that eluded words had writing as a profession? It must be a mistake.

But the next morning he gave me a book. It was a weird book, nothing happened, just a long and monotonous voice that condensed its existence in words.

Then I understood why Sam didn’t talk to me. Everything he had to say to the world was there, on paper, and nothing else was missing.

After that he said very few words. I would await his arrival, his bird-like face peering out at the garden, his careful journey to the bench and his slow and uniform way of sitting down, of finding a position to immobilize himself, with his huge, bony hands over his knees, still, perhaps sad, showing signs of life with a muffled cough that gave away his presence.

I, in the meantime, would rock, back and forth, tic-toc, and I’d open the book and imagine to myself that it was him who was talking, that his voice was pronouncing those long threads of words, monotonous, sad, gloomy, purifying.

When I asked him the name of his last book he responded “Silence.” That was his last word.

I never knew if it was his answer or if he was just asking me to be quiet.

Tic-toc. It looks as if he won’t come. It seems that the rumors about his death are true, the ones I heard or imagined.

It must have been easy for him, he didn’t seem to have an excessive attachment to life.

Back forth.

I’m going to read him anyways, although this garden will miss his presence.

I will miss him too, this rocking hunger for certainty that I am.

That’s if I’m not dead, if somebody isn’t dreaming or imagining me.


a S.B

Si no estoy muerta, si no es que alguien me sueña o me imagina, me balanceo y hace frío.

Adelante y atrás. Al ritmo de aquello que por mucho tiempo he llamado corazón. Adelante y atrás. Sin esfuerzo, ir y regresar.

La única dificultad es comenzar, salir del cuarto, caminar, paso a paso, sincronizando pies y bastón, cruzar los pasillos, saludar a nebulosos compañeros del hogar, llegar al enorme ventanal que da al jardín, imaginar que es un cuadro, llegar a la puerta, saltar al césped, sentir con alegría el cambio de superficie y llegar al banco desde donde se ve todo el jardín y sentarme y empezar a balancearme, adelante y atrás, la única dificultad es comenzar.

Al poco tiempo el cuerpo es como un péndulo que oscila por su cuenta, tic y tac, adelante y atrás, y puedes desentenderte, pensar que el movimiento impedirá que tu anciano cuerpo se petrifique, que las coyunturas de los huesos por esta vez no podrán tomar la decisión de fundirse para siempre. Tic tac, adelante atrás, y entonces pensar que Sam no ha salido al jardín esta mañana, que no debe tardar.

Tic tac. Mientras llega puedo imaginarlo como la primera vez, asustado, desconcertado, resignado, asomándose al jardín desde la puerta, observándolo todo con sus ojos de lechuza y luego emprendiendo el camino hasta el banco, apoyando con recelo sus piernas en la hierba, como si temiera quebrarla, largo, desgarbado, mi amigo, mi compañero de muchas mañanas de frío o de calor, la sólida presencia de cara muy arrugada, la quietud de roca que cada mañana se sentaba a mi lado en el banco y rara vez hablaba pues, como viejos amigos, decidimos desde la primera mirada que no era necesario hablar, que no llenaríamos el jardín de palabras innecesarias.

Los días que amanecimos locuaces alcanzamos a cruzar dos o tres palabras.

Fue así como supe de la muerte de su esposa en el verano pasado, de su decisión de trasladar su octogenario cuerpo a este hogar de ancianos, de su ya remota lejanía con el mundo. Creo que ése ha sido el día que más habló, si no es que soñé sus palabras mientras permanecía a mi lado, petrificado, con ese eterno gesto parecido a un comienzo de sonrisa.

Tardó mucho en confesarme que había sido escritor y yo tardé aun más para creerle. ¿Él?, ¿Sam?, ¿alguien que eludía las palabras tenía por oficio la escritura? Debía tratarse de un error.

Pero a la siguiente mañana me regaló un libro. Era un libro extraño, no pasaba nada, sólo una larga y monótona voz que cifraba su existencia en las palabras.

Entonces comprendí por qué Sam no me hablaba. Lo que tenía para decirle al mundo estaba ahí, en el papel, y no hacía falta más nada.

Después de eso pronunció pocas palabras. Yo esperaba su llegada, su rostro de pájaro asomándose al jardín, su cuidadosa peripecia hasta el banco y su lenta y uniforme manera de sentarse, de encontrar una posición para inmovilizarse, con sus enormes y huesudas manos sobre las rodillas, quieto, quizás triste, dando señales de vida con una tos apagada que lo traicionaba.

Yo, mientras tanto, me balanceaba, adelante atrás, tic tac, y abría el libro y me imaginaba que era él quien hablaba, que su voz pronunciaba esas largas hileras de palabras, monótonas, tristes, lúgubres, purificadoras.

Cuando le pregunté el nombre de su último libro me respondió: “Silencio.” Ésa fue su última palabra.

Nunca supe si era su respuesta o sólo me pedía que callara.

Tic tac. Parece que no vendrá. Parece que son ciertos los rumores sobre su muerte, que escuché o imaginé.

Debió ser fácil para él, no parecía tener un excesivo apego por la vida.

Adelante atrás.

De todas maneras lo voy a leer. Aunque a este jardín le hará falta su presencia

Y a mí, a este balanceo ávido de certidumbres que soy yo.

Si no es que estoy muerta, si no es que alguien me sueña o me imagina.

Translator’s Note

The inspiration behind the translation of “Su última palabra fue silencio” is certainly multi-faceted and of personal significance. First and foremost, I was attracted to this text by my interest in the teaching and creative work of Colombian writer Gustavo Arango, as well as his role in the modern Latin American narrative. “Su última palabra fue silencio” belongs to a collection of short stories of the same name, originally published in 1993. Arango’s treatment of the themes of silence, solitude and the ambiguity of human existence are recurring themes in this collection of short stories, which represent the early stages of his literary career.

“His Last Word Was Silence,” set within the walls and garden of a nursing home also reflects key elements of my personal experience, as I was raised in a family-run elderly care home with kind, yet sometimes “nebulous” residents. As a child, I frequently gazed upon faces that spoke with expressions of silence which seemed to capture infinite ideas and condense them into seconds, much like the narrative voice of this story.

From a thematic standpoint this story includes the presence of writing and literary creation which can be observed as recurrent themes in Arango’s work. The transcendence of Sam’s existence through the act of writing and being read aloud in the garden inspire us to reflect on the process of writing and its lasting effects on both reader and writer.  My personal enjoyment and reflections as a reader have inspired my translation.

With my translation of “Su última palabra fue silencio,” I hope to make Gustavo Arango’s work available to English readers so that they might experience his treatment of the many facets of human existence. I am fortunate to enjoy a close personal relationship with the author, which helps to inform my understanding and appreciation of his work and which also impels me to make it available to the English-speaking public.

In addition to this text, Arango’s novella El país de los árboles locos (The Land of the Crazy Trees) has already been translated and scheduled for release. A complete translation of the anthology His Last Word Was Silence is scheduled for completion by Spring, 2015.

Sean Cook
Binghamton, NY
March 25, 2014

Gustavo Arango

Gustavo Arango is the author of several novels, including El origen del mundo, winner of the Premio Bicentenario de Novela (México, 2010), and La risa del muerto, winner of the Marcio Veloz Maggiolo Prize (New York, 2002), for the best novel in Spanish written in the United States. He has also published three collections of short stories and journalistic works, including Un ramo de nomeolvides, a biographical account of Colombian Nobel Prize winner Gabriel García Márquez, which chronicles the early stages of his writing career. He was the honored author at the 2013 Hispanic/Latino Book Fair of New York. He teaches Spanish and Latin American literature at the State University of New York, Oneonta.


Sean Cook

Sean Cook is an instructor and graduate student of Spanish and Latin American literature at Binghamton University in upstate New York. He completed his undergraduate studies in Spanish and Secondary Education at the State University of New York, Oneonta, where his love of literature and literary translation first began. He specializes in translation of contemporary Latin American authors, and also enjoys teaching, traveling, and creative writing.



You park in front of the restaurant where you’d agreed to rendezvous. You met him on the plane. How often such chats filled the space of the hours of flight, sometimes against your will, sometimes with it. You weren’t the one who started the conversation. It was almost never you. It was the man on the other side of the aisle who wanted to know what you were reading. His interest seemed genuine; he told you about his college. You thought he was interesting. He was older than you and unattractive, but you were clear that interest wasn’t synonymous with seduction, and you were even clearer that a guy like him, chatting from the other side of the aisle on the Buenos Aires-México City flight, could be useful for your projects. He was president of a university in the interior of the country; you sold cultural and educational videos. Like a ring on a finger. So you gave him your phone, your email, and your name. Your name last. Two weeks later he called when he happened to be in town. “This is Daniel Sánchez,” he said and you asked, “Who?” You’d forgotten his name. His card was buried in the bottom of your wallet. He had to identify himself as “the guy from the plane,” with whom you had talked. He very much wanted to continue the conversation. It seemed perfect. The bacon didn’t come home by itself: it needed projects, money. Money, the object of your scorn, was something you’d never been able to manage well or keep. You only chased after it. Fine, Daniel. You suggested the time and place. On arrival, you asked for his table; he was waiting for you with a Cuba already half-gone. To begin with, you were disgusted that he was drinking a Cuba. It wasn’t a proper apéritif. How ugly he is, you thought. Being seated on the plane had disguised his size, his lack of charm. You took a deep breath. You like to eat well and drink good wine but prefer to choose your company. He sat very close to you at the uncomfortable round table he’d picked. You defended yourself with square tables, whose corners fend off invasion of personal space, that bubble someone had explained to you we all have around us and within the boundaries of which it’s difficult to let anyone pass. But they also say everything’s in the eye of the beholder and while to you it was convenient to meet with someone who could buy your products, to him that encounter on the plane had been magical, and ever since, he confessed, he had been very agitated. You buried your face in the menu, seeking refuge between the garlic shrimp and tongue in green salsa, wished you could turn yourself into a dragon and exhale garlic as a repellant for certain kinds of men. You tried mentioning the videos that you’d produced, their themes, and the institutions that had purchased them, but the man from the plane looked at you without hearing your words. From his jacket pocket, he retrieved the poem he had written and you were grateful for the interruption of the waiter bringing the shrimp. The situation was beginning to oblige you to abandon your style. You thought of chewing with your mouth open, belching, but you still had hopes that the All Powerful would agree to some project; in an attack of practicality, even thought that you could use his veneration for your own ends. Machiavelli sat down on your shoulder to observe. Daniel began to read his poem that spoke of destiny and seats shared in an airplane row, above the clouds, in the air, in the firmament. You hated the word “firmament.” But you forced a smile between bites of tongue taco. You thought suddenly that it had been imprudent to order tongue: what if it occurred to this stubby man to ask if you liked tongue tacos? He handed you the paper while you wiped your mouth with the napkin and told you that he hoped that the next time you met, you would know it by heart. Your eyes widened. This guy assumed there’d be a next time and that you wanted to please him. You felt like a slave. I have a very poor memory, you stalled. But you just gave me such a resume of your work as few could recall, he retorted. Machiavelli was no longer listening. Daniel’s cell rang. You exhaled and seized the opportunity to hide his poem, which you’d trash when you got home. “I’m with some friends,” you heard him say. You already felt his boot on your back. You would stand and demand, “Who do you take me for?” But he hung up nervously and came back to the table with sheepish eyes. “This is so special, Gladys,” he told you. And you, who were not Gladys, who surely was waiting for him in front of the TV, believing her Adonis was conquering women harmlessly, you felt like a telenovela actress, but B grade (the telenovela and the actress) because you couldn’t complete your one-act farce nor stand abruptly, nor smack him with your purse nor tear that poem to pieces before his astonished face. You finished your tongue tacos and said goodbye with “thanks, Sergio, it was an enchanting evening.”


Te estacionas frente al restaurante donde han quedado de verse. Lo conociste en el avión. Cuántas veces esas charlas llenan el espacio de las horas de vuelo, a veces contra tu voluntad, a veces por tu voluntad. No fuiste tú quien comenzó diciendo algo. Casi nunca eres tú. Fue ese hombre al otro lado del pasillo quien se interesó en lo que leías. Te pareció genuino su interés, te habló de la universidad que él presidía. Te pareció interesante. Era mayor que tú y muy poco atractivo pero tú tenías muy claro que lo interesante no era sinónimo de seducción, es más tú tenías muy claro  que un tipo como aquel que te hablaba al otro lado del pasillo en el vuelo Buenos Aires-Ciudad de México podría ser útil para tus proyectos. Presidía una universidad del interior del país, tú vendías videos culturales, educativos. Como anillo al dedo. Por eso le diste tu teléfono, tu correo electrónico y tu nombre. Tu nombre al final. Te habló a las dos semanas pues casualmente estaba en la capital. Habla Daniel Sánchez, dijo y tú preguntaste ¿quién? Habías olvidado su nombre. Su tarjeta yacía en el fondo de tu cartera. Tuvo que identificarse como “él del avión”, con el que habías charlado. Estaba muy interesado en seguir la charla. Te pareció perfecto. El horno no andaba para bollos, se necesitaban proyectos, dinero. Ese dinero objeto de tu desprecio que no habías podido administrar ni guardar nunca. Sólo lo perseguías. Muy bien, Daniel. Sugeriste el lugar y la hora. Cuando llegaste, preguntaste por su mesa; te esperaba con una cuba a medio beber. De ante mano te disgustó que estuviera tomando una cuba. No te parecía un aperitivo.  Que feo es, pensaste. Sentado en el avión disimulaba su estatura y su poca gracia. Tomaste aire. Te gusta comer y beber buen vino pero prefieres las compañias de tu elección. Se sentó muy cerca de ti en aquella incómoda mesa redonda que había elegido. Abogaste por las cuadradas cuyas equinas defienden de esa intromissión del espacio personal, de esa burbuja que quién sabe quién te había explicado todos llevamos puesta y nos es difícil tolerar que alguien se acerque demasiado. Pero bien dicen que cada quien mira según el cristal y mientras a ti te pareció conveniente la charla con quien podía comprarte un proyecto a él le pareció mágico aquel encuentro en el avión, después del cual, confesó, se había quedado muy intranquilo. Tú hundiste la cara en el menú buscando refugio entre los camarones al ajillo y una lengua en salsa verde, deseaste volverte dragón y exhalar ajo como repelente para ciertos hombres. Intentaste mencionar los videos que habías producido, los temas, y las instituciones que te los habían solicitado, pero el hombre del avión te miraba ausente de tus palabras. Del bolsillo del saco extrajo el poema que había escrito y tú agradeciste que el mesero interrumpiera con el plato de camarones. La situación comenzaba a obligarte a perder el estilo. Pensaste en masticar con la boca abierta, en eructar, pero aún tenías esperanzas de que el todo poderoso se inclinara por algún projecto, incluso en un ataque de cordura pensaste que podías utilizar su reverencia para tus fines. Maquiavelo se sentó en tu hombro para observarte. Comenzó a leer el poema que hablaba del destino y los asientos compartidos en una fila de avión, sobre las nubes, en el aire, en el firmamento. Odiabas la palabra firmamento. Pero sonreíste forzada entre el mordisco al taco de lengua. Pensaste de golpe en lo imprudente de pedir lengua ¿y si al hombre bajo se le ocurría decirte que si te gustaban los tacos de lengua? Te entregó la hoja mientras te limpiabas la boca con la servilleta y te dijo que quería que en el próximo encuentro te lo supieras de memoria. Abriste los ojos. El hombre asumía un próximo encuentro y tu deseo de complacerlo. Te sentiste como una esclava. Tengo muy mala memoria, te defendiste. Pues me acabas de soltar una lista de trabajos que no cualquiera recuerda, te reviró. Maquiavelo se había mudado de oreja. Sonó su cellular. Respiraste y aprovechaste para ocultar aquel papel firmado por él, que tirarías al llegar a casa. “Estoy con unos amigos”, escuchaste pronunciar al hombre a boca de jarro. Ya sentías su bota sobre tu espalda. Te levantarías y dirías ¿por quién me tomas? Pero el colgó nervioso y  se volvió con ojos de borrego. “Esto es tan especial, Gladys”, te dijo. Y tú que no eras Gladys, quien seguramente lo esperaba frente a la television creyendo que su adonis conquistaba mujeres a mansalva, te sentiste actriz de telenovela, pero mala (la telenovela y la actriz), porque no pudiste hacer tu sainete ni levantarte de prisa, ni darle un bolsazo ni hacer cachitos el poema aquel frente a su semblante atónito. Acabaste tus tacos de lengua y te despediste con un “Gracias, Sergio, fue una velada encantadora.”

Translator’s Note:

The challenge on first translating any writer is becoming acclimated to her vocabulary, syntax, rhythm—all the things that make up individual style. Counting “Gladys,” I’ve translated ten of Monica Lavín’s stories. Many aspects of her writing have become intimately familiar, the way they only can if you’re translating them. There is no closer reading of a text than translation. As Simon Leys said, “Translation is the severest test to which a book can be submitted.” You start noticing phrases a writer likes, ways of putting a sentence together. You become better at rendering them, at being able to say, “I know what she means here and I can find the way to say it in English.”

“Gladys” is a second-person account with a clear-eyed view of a professional woman in a classic situation. The voice is brisk and no-nonsense. Our nameless heroine (who is not Gladys) is hoping for a sale but cornered into finding a way out of an awkward encounter. The menu at this restaurant offers “lengua en salsa verde,” a dish exotic to us, and a good reminder that what we’re reading in English is actually a contemporary urban Mexican story. And the sexual reference, which occurs to our heroine, since the dish is tongue, works fine in English, too. The chief translation challenge with “Gladys” was maintaining the rhythm and pace of the original. The story is one paragraph, no breaks, and has a punch line. It has to keep rolling right to that moment.

Mónica Lavín is one of Mexico’s important writers in this generation and deserves to be more available to readers in English.

As for translation in general, I’ve developed a reliable process:

Step 1: Read the story en español, usually twice. Do I like it enough? Translation is a commitment, much like signing a teaching contract: too much work to dedicate to something I’ll be tired of next week. Do I have a sense of what the problems will be and whether or not I can resolve them?

Step 2: First draft off the top of my head, at the computer with the original next to me. Do it like a free write: don’t stop, don’t think. Anything I can’t figure out as I’m typing, input in Spanish, often a word, sometimes whole sentences. Just get the draft done, no matter how ugly. As Raymond Carver said, you write first drafts so you’ll have something to revise.

Step 3: Begin the painstaking work of poring through dictionariesamong others, an old Velásquez, a Harper Collins, several Mexican slang dictionaries and a Larousse Ilustradoto work over the draft. Don’t discount online translators. Their renderings are often wrong, almost always awkward, but can provide a needed hint. Compile lists of possible alternatives for expressions that shouldn’t be translated literally. This phase takes hours, may require pacing, getting a headache, or giving up and doing the dishes instead.

Step 4: Enter draft two and repeat Step 3. Input drafts three and four, same process. Weeks go by. By draft four I’m ready for one or two English-only readers who will tell me if it “doesn’t sound right,” if I’ve missed some proofing, if there are oddities of phrasing or culture that haven’t quite made it into English.

Finally, I send the story to the writer. Responses vary. The author may not be competent enough in English to say much. Or just competent enough to suggest something that doesn’t really work. Or have very good English and give you great insights or corrections. Mostly, they are grateful.

Mónica LavínMónica Lavín is a Mexican writer with eight collections of stories and eight novels. She won the Gilberto Owen Literary Prize for her short story collection: Ruby Tuesday no ha muerto. Her 2009 novel Yo, la peor, won the Elena Poniatowska prize for fiction. Her latest book of stories is Manual para enamorarse, 2012.  Lavín lives in Mexico City.



Pat DubravaPatricia Dubrava’s translations of Lavín stories have appeared in Metamorphoses,  Reunion: The Dallas Review,  and the Canadian journal K1N. Others are forthcoming in The Norton Anthology of International Flash Fiction, The Dallas Reviewa second story—and Lunch Ticket. Dubrava lives in Denver, CO and blogs at

Death; Jebu Island, and also Rain



We shrouded Father’s body,
which could not wash itself.

We carried you to the church
where you used to step boldly inside for mass at dawn
everyday with your arthritic legs.

We carried you all the way to the grave
you couldn’t walk to by yourself
and laid you carefully inside your home.

We couldn’t help it even though
you so hated to owe anyone.


jebuisland1Jebu Island, and also Rain


It is

Somewhere on Earth,
someone has died standing

so rain falls as a single
standing column.

Returning from the funeral service,
I shower and darkness
seeps into my entire body.

One long night,
seamen that loved the sea with cut wrists
jebuisland2wobble, spilling the sperm of flowers.

Countless abandoned girls on the shore
clean their private parts without a sound.

The seashores are locked into a deep sleep.

At the point when rain and sea are inseparable,
sadness like a string of dark clouds
strangles my neck.

Screams freely
flow out into the world.


The root of my desire to translate, which is selfish, is the same thing that keeps me from the perfect translation. Translating Kim Myung Won’s poems, I wanted to break open my own memories of South Korea for the reader: washing dishes in a bucket out on the street, jumping on trampolines over the rooftops of neon buildings, tasting squid so spicy that I shove both nostrils full of mayonnaise. But inevitably, I got in the way of myself. I fixated on the words and how I rearranged them—for my own benefit as a Korean American poet. In the end, I realized her words were only ropes. And what I needed to translate, in fact, were not the ropes themselves, but what those ropes were tied to.

Last summer, my mother introduced me to her childhood friend Kim Myung Won, who was vacationing in the States during her professorship at Daejeon University of South Korea where she taught Korean Literature. Not only did I have direct communication with Kim Myung Won throughout the translation process, my father provided insight behind meanings that I often did not recognize. For instance, it is normal in Korean culture to follow ceremonies from Shintoism at birth, Christianity at the time of marriage, and Buddhism at death. Even more, what many of my colleagues were not privy to: I was reunited just last year with my parents after eight years of separation. Translating these poems with my family was the first thing we had done together, and somehow, we vanished the distance that had been wedged between us—from both verbal communication and cultural differences.

As Jorge Luis Borges said Don Quixote “wins posthumous battles against his translators and survives each and every careless version,” I hope Kim Myung Won’s poems survive me. Rather than override her subjects with impassioned verbosity, I hope to be a vessel for them. For me, my pursuit exists in the tonal, in creating something that sticks to the ribs, and I learned that could not happen with words alone. I aimed to translate her poems less with the mind, and though it took many years to learn, more with the heart.

Kim Myung WonKim Myung Won is a professor of Korean Literature at Daejeon University in South Korea. She earned her BA at Ehwa Womans University in Seoul and authored several books of poetry. Contact her at




EJ KohEJ Koh is a poet, translator of Korean poetry, and author of experimental novel Red (Collective Presse, 2013). Her poems have appeared in TriQuarterly, Southeast Review, Narrative Magazine, Columbia Review, among others. She has work forthcoming in The Anthology of Surveillance Poetics from Black Ocean Press (ed. Andrew Ridker Black Ocean 2014). Her work has been featured in Time Out New York, GalleyCat, Flavorwire’s 23 People Who Will Make You Care About Poetry, and others. She earned her Masters of Fine Arts at Columbia University in New York and was awarded a Kundiman fellowship for poetry. She blogs at


Each house I sleep in

becomes your grave.

I am always home, under it

it is always crowded December,

the day after Christmas.

I reduce light to the dark molasses

of every day after you

Κάθε σπίτι που κοιμάμαι

γίνεται ο τάφος σου.

Είμαι πάντα σπίτι, και κάτω από αυτό

είναι πάντοτε Δεκέμβρης, συνωστισμένος͘

η μέρα μετά τα Χριστούγεννα.

Πυκνώνω το φως στη σκούρη μελάσσα

όλων των μετέπειτα από εσένα ημερών



Translator’s Note:

This work represents an attempt at a true bilingual poem. There is no actual translation present.
When I attempt to write concurrently in my two native languages, I select wording that transfers
well across the cognitive-perceptual filters that languages create (which is something that only
multilinguals and linguists can truly grasp). English is always dominant over Greek in my
creative process. Through this approach however, they become co-dependent and offer the reader
a glimpse into the state of living with two languages in one’s mind.

Constantine Mountrakis HeadshotConstantine Mountrakis is an anthropologist and writer from New York City. He spent the last 8 years of his life in Athens, Greece, pursuing a doctorate and a really cool chick that he ended up marrying. His work has appeared in Punchnel’s, Red Fez, and Driftwood Press, among others.

xiii (from The Ep[is]odes: A Reformulation of Horace)

from The Ep[is]odes: A Reformulation of Horace


The sky is rough, fierce with sound, as Jupiter launches rain and snow. From woods to sea, nothing but northern winds. Let’s celebrate the occasion, friends, before our blooming knees are shrouded and broken by age. By my order, let’s open the wine pressed in that consul’s year. Submit another question to the gods, perhaps, or leave it in the back seat. I’d rather bathe in the orchard than worry over quicksilver. Let’s sing the warrior Achilles, as his centaur tutor did so long ago:

“Unconquered mortal
+stunning boy
+son of the goddess
the earth is little. Someday, you will go to Troy, split by cold, slippery rivers. Your stay will be long, for you won’t return. Fate, overlooking from the cliff, awaits you. Your greedy mother, who wants you all to herself, will never carry you to the blue house. There are many ugly realities in this world; smooth your pain with wine and song. Let them be your comfort.”


from The Epodes by Horace


Horrida tempestas caelum contraxit et imbres
+++nivesque deducunt Iovem; nunc mare, nunc siluae
Threicio Aquilone sonant. rapiamus, amici,
+++Occasionem de die dumque virent genua
et decet, obducta solvatur fronte senectus.
+++tu vina Torquato move consule pressa meo.
cetera mitte loqui: deus haec fortasse benigna
+++reducet in sedem vice. nunc et Achaemenio
perfundi nardo iuvat et fide Cyllenea
+++levare diris pectora Sollicitudinibus,
nobilis ut grandi cecinit Centaurus alumno:
+++‘invicte, mortalis dea nate puer Thetide,
te manet Assaraci tellus, quam frigida parvi
+++findunt Scamandri flumina lubricus et Simois,
unde tibi reditum certo Subtemine Parcae
+++rupere, nec mater domum caerula te revehet.
illic omne malum vino cantuque levato,
deformis aegrimoniae dulcibus adloquiis.’

From “Commentarium”: A Selection of Translator’s Notes for The Ep[is]odes: a reformulation of Horace


2.         Google software engineer Dmitriy Genzel co-authored “‘Poetic’ Statistical Machine Translation: Rhyme and Meter” for the 2010 Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing (EMNLP) Conference.

3.         Genzel et al. purport, “Statistical machine translation techniques, unlike their traditional rule-based counterparts, are in fact well-suited to the task [of translating poetry]” because line length, metrics, rhyme3, etc. can be treated as constraints to be fulfilled using a mashup of algorithms, modules, feature functions, and hierarchical systems.

4.         Alas!—we mere mortals cannot make use of the Google poetry engine because “[it] at present is too slow, and [the engineers] cannot make it available online as a demo.”

5.         “It seems,” say Genzel et al., “that at the present state of machine translation, one does indeed have to choose between getting either the form or the meaning right…however, we can already find good translations, as a sort of found poetry, by translating a large quantity of text, whether poetic or not.” [emphasis added]

6.         Poetic reformulations are not new, but digital technologies and the rise of remix culture have increased their significance and broadened community interest in such projects.

9.         I opted to run three translation iterations: Latin to English, with each poem converted to prose; one from Latin to English, with each poem retaining its lineation;5 and Latin to Romanian to Italian to Catalan to Spanish to French to English, with each poem retaining its lineation.6

10.       Google’s Latin translator is “not quite up to the same quality standards as [its] other languages.” As a result, my machine translations were often garbled and incomplete. I compensated by consulting several English translations7 and Latin dictionaries,8 but whenever possible, I gave preference to “good [machine] translations, as a sort of found poetry.”

3 The engineers chose a “weak definition” of rhyme based exclusively on end syllables “because [they preferred] to err on the side of over-generation and accept even really bad poetry.”
4 Mashup artist Ari Eckols’ 10 POEMS RUTHLESSLY MANGLED BY GOOGLE TRANSLATE, for example, strikes me as particularly relevant; Eckols has released the book into public domain and invites readers to tweet their reviews via a series of links on his Tumblr, thus exposing his work to hundredsif not thousandsof potential new fans.
5 Translations of individual epodes varied based on the inclusion of line breaks, despite the lack of poetry engine implementation. For this reason, I ran prose translations as a kind of control group, hoping to avoid contextual errors. This strategy was only partly successful.
6 If you’d like, think of this as a Romance-language fustuarium (gauntlet/gantlet).
7 A. S. Klein, C. Smart, Warren H. Cudworth, and both Untermeyer’s and “The Chandos Classics” anthologies.
8 John C. Traupman’s The New College Latin & English Dictionary, Charlton T. Lewis’ An Elementary Latin Dictionary, and The Perseus Project’s Word Study Tool.

Quintus Horatius FlaccusQuintus Horatius Flaccus, better known as Horace, was born in Italy in 65 BCE. After Rome’s transition to empire, he befriended Maecenas, an advisor to Emperor Augustus, and became a leading poet of the period. He is most well known for his Odes, but his satirical Epodes, a poetic experiment that recast the Greek epode form into Latin meters, have all but overshadowed its earlier Greek models. He died in 8 BCE, shortly after Maecenas, and left his estate to Augustus.



T.A. NoonanT.A. Noonan is the author of several books and chapbooks, most recently four sparks fall: a novella (Chicago Center for Literature and Photography, 2013) and, with Erin Elizabeth Smith, Skate or Die (Dusie Kollektiv, 2014). Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in West Wind ReviewReunion: The Dallas ReviewHobartNinth Letterspecs, and Phoebe, among others. A weightlifter, crafter, priestess, and all-around woman of action, she is the Associate Editor of Sundress Publications.




                                                                           the sculptor puts his hands on the red

                                                                           oak block before him,

                                                                           meant to be woman, eve,

                                                                           but jumps back, acrid scent

                                                                           infusing the plaster workbench


ars—dalta-ţi cade din mînă


                                                                           burnt the moment his calloused palms

                                                                           meet the wood. the oak, scarlet feathers

                                                                           tipped gold, wants to be carved expansive—

                                                                           she flies to touch the studio ceiling, says


sculptorule, nu te opreşte, vreau fiecare pană

din fiecare aripă şi fiecare gheară de la fiecare picior


                                                                           each in its place, don’t you stop—weary,

                                                                           the chisel slips, he hammers a finger, his blood

                                                                           stains the red wood. now she wants her eyes, so


rupeţi ia albă şi rasuceşte

bumbacul subţire, contură-mi

ochii întinsi şi iuţi


                                                                           he gouges out sockets deep as moons, whittles

                                                                           beans to tip her claws, points hard as marble


te văd în bucătărie—mititei, cartofi, varză

laptele ce să acreşte înspre iaurt

te văd privind fasolea—nu, ghearele

mele vor fi mult mai ascuţite


                                                                           —obedient, he steadies the knife against his thigh


însfărşit, voi mînca. îaţi cuţitul

ascuţit fiecare seară cu piatra de tocilă

şi taiem, te rog, dragule, nu prea mult,

o secţiune mică dreptunghiulară,

de carne din coapsa ta.




sculpteur,                                            where are

you going,                                           cu faţa

ta pictată?


Bleu, blanc,

et rouge                                              face divided

tricolor,                                                mirosul ascuţit

de vopsea.


Rassemblés comme

les pigeons                                          in the streets

and squares                                        zgomotoase cu

poporul francez.



pays                                                    will you

choose                                                astăzi, mâine,




patriotisme                                          do you

choose                                                 azi dimineaţă,

după-amiază, seară?


La France




Or—is it

not so simple                                      chiar o problemă

mai complicată                                    plus compliqué que

choisir un camp?

Author’s Note

I have lived over two decades outside of Romania, where I was born, but the country still frames and shadows my life. Romanian is the language of my family, of our history, and of our home. But that identity is an isolated one—I have never met another Romanian in my schools or workplaces, and my nearest relatives are now a continent away.

This compartmentalized living makes it difficult for me to write about my experiences with immigration and assimilation. Brâncuşi, one of the few Romanians well known outside Romania, has been a convenient vehicle for these conversations. Born in Romania, he lived and sculpted for most of his life in France. And he didn’t write about his experiences as an immigrant, so my interpretations of his emotional life (these two poems are part of a 35-page project) are based heavily in my own struggles.

“Brâncuşi and the Bird” was my first attempt at writing poetry in Romanian. The poem’s two halves are not translations of each other, but the text is meant to work for English, Romanian, and English- Romanian readers. The form was scribbled on the back of an envelope at 3am; I was struck with a compulsion to craft a poem that doesn’t prioritize English and that does treat a non-English language as an equal, not as quaint decoration to the main fare.

A collage of source materials influenced “Brâncuşi and the Bird”—I drew from Brâncuşi’s “Adam and Eve,” his numerous bird sculptures, photographs of his Paris studio, and accounts of his home from his contemporaries. The do-it-yourself aspect of the poem’s bird—beans for claws, fabric from a torn shirt for eyes—is influenced by traditional Romanian folk masks, which are crafted out of household items into celebratory animal heads. Finally, the poem’s ending references a Romanian fairy tale in which the hero-prince cuts a strip of meat from his thigh in order to satisfy the demands of a hungry magical bird.

The form of “Brâncuşi and Bastille Day” came out of a desire to illustrate cultural and lingual disconnects and the breakdown of these boundaries. In terms of languages, this poem is an overlap of mine and Brâncuşi’s—the French and Romanian are his, and the English and Romanian are mine. I don’t speak French, despite studying it for nine years in Canada. But luckily, French and Romanian are similar enough that I can stumble through a few phrases.

Writing in Romanian is also a struggle. My Romanian is conversational and heavily English-influenced. And though I do read and write in Romanian, it is a slow process: it can take as many as nine out-loud rereadings to catch a grammatical error. I go through this effort because writing in only English is a rejection of the complexity of my experiences. For me, to not write in Romanian is akin to forgetting the language or changing my Romanian surname—it is immoral and inauthentic. Had I not written these multilingual poems, I would be a liar.

Ilinca PopescuIlinca Popescu is a femme Romanian immigrant living in Oakland, CA. She studied creative writing at Warren Wilson College and believes in hot pink dinosaur earrings and feminist solidarity politics. Ilinca can be contacted at .

The Naked Man, The Girl in the Glass

The Naked Man

Naked, I run towards you. I’ve been through a lot but I’m no napalm-girl. There is something dangling between my legs. I’m in my mid-forties and overweight. You watch unmoved as I run in your direction. Try to distill at least a little compassionsome curious, tiny interest in me. Hug me, when I finally reach you, panting. Or, just forget it. Just open up an aisle and let me slide past. I have other options. Perhaps I’ll continue running, roll down the mountain slope behind you, bounce off the branches of an ash, grab a billy goat by the gruff, and ride across the pasture glen in glory. Should I whisper him my story, he’ll carry me to the next fork. And far away I’ll have many adventures unknown to you.

Translated by Eldon (Craig) Reishus


The Girl in the Glass

She wears a one-piece swimsuit, her pretty legs stretched upwards diagonally, the left placed on the right. Her feet rest on the inside of the cylindrical glass. She sits on brown plastic pebbles, supporting herself with her hands on the ground, her shoulder blades and the back of her head  pressed against the glass as well. This strongly twisted position seemingly doesn’t cause her discomfort. In any case, she smiles at me from inside when I bend over the glass. Then we talk about this and that. Her voice is quite thin, but I can understand her. She is twenty-two years old and five inches high. Why am I telling you all this? We are completely at ease with each other. She is not afraid of me. You see: how could one rape someone so small? When I work, I put the glass on the shelf. Then I know only from her lip movements, that she is talking to me.

Translated by the author


Der nackte Mann

Ich laufe nackt auf euch zu. Ich hab so vieles erlebt. Gut, ich bin kein Napalm-Mädchen. Zwischen meinen Beinen schlackert alles mögliche. Ich bin Mitte vierzig, übergewichtig. Ihr betrachtet ungerührt, wie ich auf euch zurenne. Versucht doch wenigstens, ein Minimum an Mitleid aus den Manschetten zu ziehen. Ein klitzekleines Interesse. Umarmt mich, wenn ich keuchend eure Mitte erreiche.

Oder eben nicht. Dann macht eine Gasse frei. Ich habe durchaus Optionen. Ich kann weiterlaufen, den Abhang hinter euch hinunterschweben. Buchenäste fangen mich auf, ich kollere genussvoll über Bergwiesen, hänge mich an die Zotteln von Ziegenböcken. Denen erzähle ich, was ich durchgemacht habe, und sie schleifen mit dafür zum nächsten Wegekreuz. Weit weg von hier werde ich neue Abenteuer erleben, und auch von denen werdet ihr nie erfahren.


Das Mädchen im Glas

Sie trägt einen einteiligen Badeanzug, streckt die hübschen Beine schräg nach oben, das linke über das rechte gelegt. Ihre Füsse ruhen an der Innenwand des zylindrischen Glases. Sie sitzt auf braunen Plastikkieseln, stützt sich mit den Armen hinten am Boden ab, ihre Schulterblätter und ihr Hinterkopf lehnen ebenfalls an der Glaswand. Die stark abgewinkelte Haltung scheint ihr keine Beschwerden zu bereiten. Jedenfalls lächelt sie zu mir herauf, wenn ich mich über das Glas beuge. Dann unterhalten wir uns über alles mögliche. Ihre Stimme ist sehr fein, aber ich kann sie gut verstehen. Sie ist zweiundzwanzig Jahre alt und zwölf Zentimeter gross. Warum erzähle ich Ihnen das alles? Wir gehen sehr unbefangen miteinander um, sie hat keine Scheu vor mir. Wie könnte man auch jemand vergewaltigen, der so klein ist? Wenn ich arbeite, stelle ich das Glas ins Regal. Ich erkenne dann nur an ihren Mundbewegungen, dass sie mit mir redet.

Translator’s Note:

Get up at 4 AM, like usual. Figure out at the computer next to your bed that it’s a bad day to work on your own stuff, nothing happening. Go downstairs and make a smoothie with banana, strawberries, Heiden Honig, Milch, Espresso. Come back up, slurp, slurp, and go into the Internet to find out what England’s been saying overnight about FC BAYERN and Guardiola. By now it’s 5 AM and the church bells are gonging nuts because this is the time for the local dairy farmers to start yanking udders. Uffdid you read that last sentence?totally bad morning for working on your own stuff. Check into your email and take a look at what Rupprecht sent you. Decide, okay, maybe I can work on these pieces…

Doing a translation is so much easier than working on one’s own stuff. An hour and a half and you’re finished. Whereas if it were your own stuff, that same amount of characters, that hour would be a day, and that half would be a whole. Not because you’re cheating any language, but because the person on the far end already has come up with meaning. Good translation is not original writing, it’s the transcription of meaning into one’s mother tongue. The magic of course lies in finding the right words. But at 6, 7 in the morning, with the foreign meaning already there…godsend.

Rupprecht MayerRupprecht Mayer lived 20 years in Taiwan, Beijing, and Shanghai. He translates Chinese literature into German and writes short prose. English versions have appeared in Atticus, Bicycle Review, Connotation Press, Frostwriting, Gravel, Hobart, Mikrokosmos/Mojo, NAP, Nano Fiction, Ninth Letter, Orange Quarterly, Postcard Shorts, Prick of the Spindle, theNewer York, Word Riot, Washington Square, and Watershed Review. See



Eldon ReishusEldon (Craig) Reishus entertains a growing, less intimate circle under the Alps outside Munich (Landkreis Bad Tölz-Wolfratshausen). He is an old-school Exquisite Corpse contributor (recent work has appeared at Word Riot, decomP magazinE, B O D Y, Anomalous Press, Corium Magazine, MadHatLit, Black Heart Magazine…), all-around print and web media pro, and the German-English translator of numerous films and books. He originates from Fort Smith, Arkansasif not Ytterboe at St. Olaf via Granite Falls. Visit him:



She walks by. Her gait grabs your attention. She is about to go onto the footbridge.

At the last moment, she changes her mind.

The speakers announce a train is about to enter the station. You look at the clock: almost nine pm. The train’s not yours. Time to kill. Nothing to read. The kiosk’s always open. You buy a paper, return to your bench. You sit back down and keep an eye on your belongings.

You try to read, unable to focus. The daily news is insignificant, anecdotes of no interest. You watch the people around, in search of something unusual.

Rain clouds fill the sky.


The same young woman walks by again. Pretty but disheveled. Something about her strikes you. It’s as if she just got out of bed.

Judging by her clothes, she looks like a young middle class woman. A local, perhaps. A white blouse half tucked inside her pants. Ballet flats, a handbagno doubt a brand nameof stiff leather. Her gaze fixes some indeterminate point on the horizon. She stays put against a pylon. She isn’t your type, although you find her charming.

A loud noise distracts you: a bunch of travelers. They sit down on the next bench: a couple with two rowdy kids. The man and the womanabout forty. They look almost identical. The boys: blond, probably tall for their age. They speak a foreign language. A lot of luggage. You think up their itinerary, imagine what could have brought them here.

There is a thickness in the air: heavy, suffocating.


Your train is late. You glance at the time board hoping it will tell you more. Nothing indicated. A decrepit advertisement boasts the advantages of life insurance. Abandoned trolleys waiting to be put to use. At the end of the platform a conductor informs passengers. You could consult him, but sudden laziness dissuades you. A memory returns: a friend who claimed to love train stations as places of inspiration, of reverie. Tonight, in this gloomy station, it perplexes you.

The young woman stands dangerously close to the tracks. You are about to react, to draw her back, to call out to her. She regains her composure.


You sweat. It’s not the heat.

She climbs up the footbridge that goes to the opposite platform. She stands there. Doesn’t descend. You notice that she left her handbag at the base of the stairs, not far from you.

The bag is open.

You are stunned, frozen.


More and more people are on the platform. A train comes in. At this moment, you feel as if a film is playing before you in slow motion. The young woman, still on the bridge above the tracks, walks up to the railing.

A quick analysis. You brain seizes the situation.

You understood but you didn’t want to accept.

Now you scream. It’s all you can do. Others do the same. With the siren of the train, this noise is like an unreal, outrageous cacophony.

She swings her leg over the railing, the train only a few feet away.

She jumps.


You will relive those few seconds: the train coming in, the cries, the jump.

Her body seems inanimate as soon as she crosses the railing. Maybe she lost consciousness at that moment. The strong current of air created by the locomotive launched her into the atmosphere.

She didn’t touch the train or the platform. After a soaring flight, she found herself stuck between the carriage and the edge of the platform, right above the ballast. One of her shoes came off and continued its course until it landed on a bench.

A lot of shouting. Not everyone has seen what happened, but the panic is contagious.

She fell, almost softly. The current of air slowed down her fall, landed her on the ground, like a floating leaf.


From now on, you will often have this dream: in the street, in public places, you see people who fly without warning. They take off for a moment, then touch the ground.


The conductor and police arrive on the platform. A throng begins to form. You are the first to reach the young woman. You lean over her. There is a crowd behind you.

Her clothes are intact. No blood. She breathes, opens her eyes, looks at you without seeing. You try to talk to her: she is conscious. A miracle.


The firemen have succeeded in pulling her out of the trap of concrete and metal. During this time the police have questioned you, as well as other people who witnessed the scene. It was hard to interrogate the couple. They only spoke Danish. The entire sector was closed off.

You spotted the handbag on the platform. They searched it and found a letter.

They took her to the hospital.

The small group that consists of you and the other witnesses, now gathered in the waiting room, speculates about the content of the letter. A broken romance. A series of professional setbacks. A family drama. Multiple rapes. Despondency. Uprootedness. No one knows.


Your train enters the station, as if it were on stand-by all this time.



Elle passe devant vous. Sa démarche attire votre attention. Elle s’apprête à monter sur la passerelle. Au dernier moment, elle change d’avis et revient sur ses pas.

Une voix métallique provenant des haut-parleurs signale qu’un train est sur le point d’entrer en gare. Vous regardez l’horloge : il n’est pas encore vingt-et-une heure. Ce n’est pas votre train. Vous avez du temps à tuer, et rien à lire. Un kiosque est toujours ouvert, vous achetez des journaux, puis vous revenez  vers votre banc. Vous vous asseyez, en prenant soin de bien garder vos affaires sous vos yeux.

Vous essayez de lire les nouvelles mais nous n’arrivez pas à vous concentrer, votre esprit est ailleurs. Les informations du jour vous paraissent insignifiantes, des anecdotes sans intérêt. Vous observez les gens autour de vous à la recherche de quoi que ce soit d’insolite.


La jeune femme passe à nouveau devant vous. Hagarde. Jolie mais la mine défaite. Quelque chose détonne en elle. C’est comme si elle venait de sortir du lit.

Ses vêtements pourraient être  ceux d’une jeune femme de la bourgeoisie locale. Un chemisier blanc à moitié rentré dans le pantalon. Des ballerines. Un sac à main, de marque sans doute, en cuir épais. Regard fixant l’horizon. Elle reste plantée là, sous un pylône. Elle n’est pas votre type, quoique vous lui trouvez tout de même du charme.

Il y a quelque chose dans l’atmosphère. De pesant, d’étouffant.


Votre train est en retard. Vous jetez un œil au tableau horaire dans l’espoir d’obtenir des précisions. Il n’y a rien d’indiqué. Sur le côté une publicité décrépie vante les mérites d’une compagnie d’assurance vie. Des charriots délaissés attendent de nouveaux utilisateurs. Au bout du quai un contrôleur informe des passagers. Vous pourriez le consulter mais une paresse momentanée vous en dissuade. Un souvenir vous revient à l’esprit : un ami qui prétendait adorer les gares. Pour lui des lieux propices à l’inspiration, à la rêverie. Ce soir, dans cette gare lugubre, voilà qui vous rend perplexe.

La jeune femme se rapproche dangereusement de la voie ferrée. Vous êtes à deux doigts de réagir, de vous lever ou de la héler.  Elle se ressaisit.


Vous transpirez. Ce n’est pas la chaleur.

Elle monte sur la passerelle qui mène au quai d’en face. Ne redescend pas.  Vous venez de remarquer qu’elle a laissé son sac au bord des escaliers.

Son sac à main, entreouvert, n’est pas loin de vous.

Vous êtes tétanisé.


De plus en plus de monde sur le quai. Un train à l’arrivée. A cet instant, vous avez l’impression de vivre un film au ralenti. La jeune femme, toujours sur la passerelle au dessus du quai, s’avance vers la rambarde.

Après une analyse rapide, votre cerveau a désormais saisi la situation.

Vous aviez compris mais vous n’avez pas voulu accepter.

Vous criez, c’est tout ce que vous êtes en mesure de faire. D’autres personnes font de même. Avec  la sirène du train, cela forme un brouhaha irréel, effarant.

Elle enjambe la rambarde. Le train n’est plus qu’à quelques mètres.

Elle saute.


Vous revivrez ces quelques secondes un millier de fois : l’arrivée du train, les cris, le saut.

Son corps semble inanimé dès qu’elle franchit la rambarde. Elle a peut-être tout de suite perdu conscience. C’est difficile à évaluer. Le souffle de la locomotive l’a propulsée en l’air.

Elle n’a pas touché le train. Ni la bordure de quai. Après avoir effectué un vol plané, elle s’est retrouvée coincée entre le wagon et le rebord du quai, au dessus du ballast. Un détail : une de ses ballerines s’est détachée et a fini sa course sur un banc.

Vous entendez des hurlements. Tout le monde n’a pas pu voir ce qui s’est passé mais l’effroi est contagieux.

Elle est tombée presque lentement, le souffle a ralenti sa chute, l’a posée sur terre – comme une feuille bousculée par le vent.


Vous ferez ce rêve souvent désormais : dans la rue, ou dans des lieux publics, des gens qui s’envolent sans crier gare, flottent un moment et se reposent sur le sol.


Le contrôleur, ainsi que le service de sécurité surgissent sur le quai. Un attroupement se forme. Vous êtes le premier à atteindre la jeune femme. Vous vous penchez vers elle. Il y a du monde autour de vous.

Vous constatez que ses vêtements ne sont pas abimés. Pas de sang. Vous l’examinez. Elle respire. Ouvre les yeux. Vous regarde sans vous voir. Vous tentez de lui parler : elle est consciente. Un miracle.


Les pompiers ont réussi à l’extraire du piège de métal et de béton.

Pendant ce temps des policiers vous ont interrogé, ainsi que d’autres personnes qui ont assisté à la scène. Le secteur a été fermé.

Vous avez signalé le sac à main abandonné sur le quai. Ils l’ont fouillé et trouvé une lettre.

Ils l’ont emmenée à l’hôpital. A priori elle est indemne.

Le petit groupe que vous formez avec les autres témoins, maintenant regroupé dans la salle des pas-perdus, spécule sur le contenu de la lettre.


Votre train entre en gare. Comme s’il avait attendu tout ce temps.

Translator’s Note:

I experience literary translation as something at once fluid, solid and extremely porouslikely a result of my background. Born in Philadephia but raised in Belgium, I spoke English in daycare, Dutch at home, and learned French early on. Because these three languages coexisted in myself, alternating, blending, I never considered that I had a native language. At times, I still forget in which language I am thinking or dreaming.

Initially, I became interested in literary translation because the authors who inspired my own work wrote in a foreign language. During my literary studies, I read Nietzsche, Baudelaire, Rimbaud in the original, but since I wrote articles in Dutch and my own creative work in English, the language barrier was never stable. It seemed that energy contained in one expression could easily float into another one, that there was no distinctionor, in any case, that it was possible to use one author’s style even when writing in a different language.

For this reason, I’m often drawn to non-formal, experimental workwriting that tends to be evasive, slippery. One of my favorite current translation projects are the aphorisms attributed to Marcel Duchamp’s muse Rrose Sélavy, but written under hypnosis by French surrealist Robert Desnos. To the naked eye, these anagrams and wordplays seem untranslatablebut once it becomes clear that they are just one channel through which pours the lava of a shared, expressive core, another voice is found, with different words, but in the same color and the same musical key.

I have a similar experience when working with Sven Hanson-Löve. I find his stories lend themselves to English translation because he often minimizes references to a specifically French context. In other words, his stories could take place anywhere, and not a few of them feature a mix of languages and cultures, without making the content any less universal. I especially appreciate the dialogue we carry on throughout the process of translation. I get a better understanding of his work because we share ideas about writing, life and our projects. Through translation, our lives don’t just run parallel, they intersect and sometimes mirror one another. This, to me, is what translation does. It is not a transposition of a language A into a language B, but it joins living things that are intrinsically connected.

“Takeoff” spoke to me because of the sparse language, which I often use in my own writing. With prose, I tend to translate without reading the piece first, because I believe that my translation should mirror the impact a story makes on the first read. In “Takeoff” there was a palpable tension and a sense of movementespecially the rhythm: short staccato sentences interspersed with the occasional sweeping juxtapositions. Rhythm is amplified by texture, so I tried to pick words that sounded and looked adequate. I’d still like to make changes, but I think the parts that translated a bit awkwardly in English help to create a slight derailing effect, which contributes to the story.

Simon Rogghe

Sven Hansen-LöveSven Hansen-Löve decided to focus on writing after being a DJ for more than 15 years in Paris and all over the world. His work has appeared and is forthcoming in Paris Lit Up, Crack The Spine, Left Hand Of The Father, all translated from french by Simon Rogghe. He has also co-written with his sister, the well-known French film director, Mia Hansen-Löve, a script for a feature film titled “Eden.” The shooting took place in New York and Paris. The film is in postproduction now.


Simon RoggheSimon Rogghe is a poet, fiction writer and translator of French surrealism and contemporary fiction. His work has appeared and is forth coming in 3:AM Magazine, Gone Lawn, Paris Lit Up, and other publications. After traveling Europe and the US competing at horse shows as a professional rider, he is currently earning his Ph.D. in French Literature at UC Berkeley.