My Wife / Ma Femme

My Wife

It was at the end of a dinner of men, married men, old friends who get together sometimes without their wives, boys as in the past. They would eat a long time; they would drink a lot; they would speak of everything. Old and youthful memories would move them; those warm memories that despite themselves, would bring a smile to their lips and a tremor to the heart.

One said: Do you recall, Georges, our trip to Saint-Germain with those two little girls from Montmarte?

Of course! Do I remember!

And they would recall those details, and this and that, one thousand small things that still brought joy today.

They came to talk of marriage and each one spoke with a sincere look: Oh, if it could be done over again!

Georges Duportin added: It is extraordinary how you fall so easily into it. You decide never to marry and then, at springtime you leave for the country; it is warm; summer follows. The fields flower; you meet a young girl at your friend’s house… wham! It is done. You return married.

Pierre Létoile exclaimed: Right! It is my story, only I have the particular details….

His friend interrupted him: As for you, don’t complain. You have indeed the most charming wife in the world, pretty, amiable, perfect; you are truly the happiest one among us.

The other said: That is not my fault.

How is that?

It is true that I have a perfect wife but I indeed married her against my will.

Come, come!

Yes… here’s the adventure. I was thirty-five years old and I thought no more of marrying than of hanging myself. Young girls seemed boring to me and I adored pleasure. I was invited in May to the wedding of my cousin Simon d’Érabel, in Normandy. It was a true Normand wedding. We put out a table at five in the evening and were still eating at eleven o’clock. For the occasion, they paired me with a young lady, Ms. Dumoulin, daughter of a retired Colonel, young, fair and particular, shapely, bold, and talkative. She cornered me completely the entire day, pulled me in the park, made me dance, like it or not, and annoyed me to no end. I said to myself: this is happening today but tomorrow, I go. This is enough. Around eleven o’clock that night, the women went into their rooms; the men stayed to smoke and drink or to drink and smoke, if you like that better.

Through the open window, we could see an open air dance. Country men and women were jumping in a circle and yelling in the air; a wild dance that was drowsily accompanied by two violinists and one clarinet seated on a stage that was a big kitchen table. The tumultuous singing of the country folks sometimes completely drowned the instruments, and the frail music, torn apart by the riotous voices, appeared to fall from the sky in tatters, in small fragments of scattered notes.

Two huge barrels, surrounded by burning torches, were given to the crowd to drink. Two men were occupied with rinsing the glasses or the bowls in a tub, which they held immediately under the tap from which flowed a stream of red wine or a stream of pure gold cider. The thirsty dancers, the old ones quiet, the girls sweaty, crowded, stretching out their arms in order to seize, in their turn, a container, then threw back their heads and poured down their throats, the drink they preferred. On a table, you could find bread, butter, cheese, and some sausages. Each swallowed a mouthful from time to time, and beneath the starlit sky, this party, healthy and vigorous, was a pleasure to see and inspired an urge to drink also from the belly of those enormous barrels and to eat the farmhouse bread with butter and a raw onion.

A mad desire seized me to take part in these festivities and I left my companions. I was maybe a little drunk, I have to confess, but I was soon completely so. I seized the hand of a strong, breathless country girl and I jumped wildly with her until out of breath. And then, I drank a bit of wine and seized another strapping girl. To refresh myself after this, I swallowed a full bowl of cider and I came back to life, like someone possessed. I was supple, flexible; the guys, delighted, noticed me while seeking to imitate me. All the girls wanted to dance with me and jumped about heavily with the elegance of cows.

Finally, round and round, from a glass of wine to a glass of cider, I found myself, at two in the morning, too drunk to stand up anymore. I was conscious of my state and tried to reach my room. The château slept, silent and subdued. I did not have matches and everyone was sleeping. Since I was in the hallway intoxicated, I prayed. I had lot of difficulty finding the banister; finally I found it by chance, groping, and I seated myself on the first step of the stairs to gather my thoughts.

“The tumultuous singing of the country folks sometimes completely drowned the instruments, and the frail music, torn apart by the riotous voices, appeared to fall from the sky in tatters, in small fragments of scattered notes.”

My room could be found on the second floor; the third door to the left. I was happy that I had not forgotten that. From the strength of this memory, I stood up again, not without difficulty, and I began the climb, step by step, my hands tight on the iron railing so as not to fall, absorbed in not making any noise. Only three or four times my feet missed the steps and my knees buckled but thanks to the strength of my arms, and the exertion of my will, I avoided a complete tumble. Finally, I reached the second floor and I ventured in the hallway, feeling the walls. Here is one door. I counted: One; but I lost my hold on the wall from sudden dizziness and made an odd, circular stumble that threw me against the other wall. I wanted to return to a straight line. The way was long and hard. Finally I found the way and proceeded anew with prudence and I found another door. To be sure that I did not make a mistake; I counted out loud again: Two; and resumed walking. I finally found the third. I said: Three, that’s me and I turned the key in the lock. The door opened. I thought, despite my trouble: Because this is open, it is indeed mine. And I advanced in the shadows after having closed the door softly. I collided with something soft: my easy chair. I immediately stretched out on it. In my situation, I must not insist on looking for my night table, my candlestick, and my matches. It would have taken me two hours at least. It would have taken so much time for me to undress; and maybe I would not have managed. I gave it up. I removed only my boots; I unbuttoned my vest, which choked me, I loosened my pants and I slept an impenetrable sleep.

That was for a long time, no doubt. I was abruptly awakened by a vibrant voice that said, quite close to me: What, you lazy girl, still sleeping?! You know it is ten o’clock?

A woman’s voice said: Already! I was still tired from yesterday.

Surprised, I wondered, who would say this? Where was I? What had I done? My mind floated, still wrapped in a thick cloud.

The first voice resumed: I am going to open the curtains.

And I heard steps approach me. I sat up, completely frantic. A hand was placed on my head. I made a sudden movement. The voice asked with force: Who is there? I did not answer. Two furious wrists seized me. In turn, I seized someone, and one horrifying struggle began. We rolled against the furniture and collided with the walls.

A woman’s voice shouted: Help, Help!

Some servants came, some neighbors, some panic stricken women. They opened the shutters, they drew the curtains. I was tussling with Colonel Doumoulin!

I had slept beside his daughter’s bed.

When we had all separated, I ran to my room, a surprised idiot. I locked myself in with the key and sat, my feet on a chair because my boots were still in the young woman’s room. I heard a big racket throughout the château, some doors opened and closed, some whispers, some quick steps.

After a half an hour, someone knocked on my door. I cried: Who is there? It was my uncle, the bridegroom’s father. I opened the door.

He was pale and furious and he treated me harshly. You conducted yourself in my house like a villain, do you hear? Then he added very softly: How, idiot guy, you let yourself be caught at ten o’clock in the morning? You were going to sleep like a log in this room instead of leaving her immediately… immediately after.

I cried: But Uncle, I assure you that nothing happened. I was drunk and made a mistake with the door.

He shrugged his shoulders: Let’s not say foolish things.

I raised my hand: I swear to you on my honor.

My uncle resumed: Yes, that’s good. It’s what you must say.

In turn, I was angry and told him the whole of my misadventure. He looked at me with astonished eyes, not knowing what to believe. Then he left to talk to the Colonel.

I learned that they had also formed a sort of court of mothers, which was to debate the various points of the situation.

He came back more than an hour later, sat with the demeanor of a judge and began: Be that as it may, I don’t see any way for you to get yourself out of trouble, than to marry Ms. Dumoulin.

I leaped up in horror: As far as that, never!

He asked thoughtfully: What do you want to do then?

I said simply: I will leave, when I have gotten my boots.

My uncle said: Don’t joke, please. The Colonel is resolved to blow your brains out when he finds you. And you can be sure he doesn’t threaten in vain. I spoke of a duel; he said: ‘No, I tell you that I will blow his brains out.’ Let us examine the question now from another point of view. If indeed you seduced this child, then, too bad for you, my boy, you shouldn’t speak to young girls. Or if indeed you made a mistake and were drunk, as you say, it is still too bad for you. You should not put yourself in foolish situations like this. In any event, the poor girl lost her reputation because no one ever believes the explanations of a drunk. The true victim, the only victim in there, is her. Think.

He left to go and I cried after him: Say what you would like; I will not marry her.

I stayed alone another hour. It was my aunt who came next. She cried. She used every rationale. No one believed my error. They could not accept that this young girl had forgotten to close and lock her door in a house full of people. The Colonel had slapped her. She has been sobbing since morning. It was a terrible, unforgettable scandal. And my good Aunt added: Ask for her hand in marriage; we can maybe find a way to get you out of it in discussing the conditions of the contract.

Her perspective relieved me and I agreed to write my request.

I left for Paris an hour later.

I was advised the next day that my request was accepted. So in three weeks, without being able to find a ploy, and defeated, the bans were published, the formal announcement of a wedding were sent, the contract signed and I found myself on Monday morning, in the choir of an illuminated church, next to a young girl who cried, after having declared to the magistrate that I consented to take her as a companion… until either of us dies. I had not seen her since my adventure and I looked at her from the corner of my eyes with a certain spiteful surprise. However, she was not ugly; not at all. I said to myself: There’s someone who wouldn’t laugh every day.

She did not look at me at any time until that evening, and she did not say a word to me. Around the middle of the night, I entered the bridal chambers with the intention of making known my resolutions because I was the master now. I found her sitting in an armchair, fully dressed as earlier, pale and with red eyes. She got up when I entered and said solemnly to me: Monsieur, I am ready to do what you want. I will kill myself if you desire it.

The Colonel’s daughter was ever so pretty in that heroic role. I kissed her, it was my right. I soon realized that I was not a thief. It is five years that I am married. I don’t regret it at all.

Pierre Létoile became silent.

His companions laughed. One of them said: Marriage is a lottery; one must never choose the numbers; the ones by chance are the best.

And another added in conclusion: Yes, but don’t forget that the God of drunks had chosen for Pierre.

 

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MA FEMME

C’était à la fin d’un dîner d’hommes, d’hommes mariés, anciens amis, qui se réunissaient quelquefois sans leurs femmes, en garçons, comme jadis. On mangeait longtemps, on buvait beaucoup ; on parlait de tout, on remuait des souvenirs vieux et joyeux, ces souvenirs chauds qui font, malgré soi, sourire les lèvres et frémir le coeur. On disait :

– Te rappelles-tu, Georges, notre excursion à Saint-Germain avec ces deux fillettes de Montmartre ?

– Parbleu ! si je me le rappelle.

Et on retrouvait des détails, et ceci et cela, mille petites choses, qui faisaient plaisir encore aujourd’hui.

On vint à parler du mariage, et chacun dit avec un air sincère : “Oh ! si c’était à recommencer !…” Georges Duportin ajouta : “C’est extraordinaire comme on tombe là-dedans facilement. On était bien décidé à ne jamais prendre femme ; et puis, au printemps on part pour la campagne ; il fait chaud ; l’été se présente bien ; l’herbe est fleurie ; on rencontre une jeune fille chez des amis… v’lan ! c’est fait. On revient marié.”

Pierre Létoile s’écria : “Juste ! c’est mon histoire, seulement j’ai des détails particuliers…”

Son ami l’interrompit : “Quant à toi ne te plains pas. Tu as bien la plus charmante femme du monde, jolie, aimable, parfaite ; tu es, certes, le plus heureux de nous.”

L’autre reprit :

– Ce n’est pas ma faute.

– Comment ça ?

– C’est vrai que j’ai une femme parfaite ; mais je l’ai bien épousée malgré moi.

– Allons donc !

– Oui… Voici l’aventure. J’avais trente-cinq ans, et je ne pensais pas plus à me marier qu’à me pendre. Les jeunes filles me semblaient insipides et j’adorais le plaisir.

Je fus invité, au mois de mai, à la noce de mon cousin Simon d’Érabel, en Normandie. Ce fut une vraie noce normande. On se mit à table à cinq heures du soir ; à onze heures on mangeait encore. On m’avait accouplé, pour la circonstance, avec une demoiselle Dumoulin, fille d’un colonel en retraite, jeune personne blonde et militaire, bien en forme, hardie et verbeuse. Elle m’accapara complètement pendant toute la journée, m’entraîna dans le parc, me fit danser bon gré mal gré, m’assomma.

Je me disais : “Passe pour aujourd’hui, mais demain je file. Ça suffit.”

Vers onze heures du soir, les femmes se retirèrent dans leurs chambres ; les hommes restèrent à fumer en buvant, ou à boire en fumant, si vous aimez mieux.

Par la fenêtre ouverte on apercevait le bal champêtre. Rustres et rustaudes sautaient en rond, en hurlant un air de danse sauvage qu’accompagnaient faiblement deux violonistes et une clarinette placés sur une grande table de cuisine en estrade. Le chant tumultueux des paysans couvrait entièrement parfois la chanson des instruments ; et la frêle musique, déchirée par les voix déchaînées, semblait tomber du ciel en lambeaux, en petits fragments de notes éparpillées.

Deux grandes barriques, entourées de torches flambantes, versaient à boire à la foule. Deux hommes étaient occupés à rincer les verres ou les bols dans un baquet pour les tendre immédiatement sous les robinets d’où coulaient le filet rouge du vin ou le filet d’or du cidre pur ; et les danseurs assoiffés, les vieux tranquilles, les filles en sueurs se pressaient, tendaient les bras pour saisir à leur tour un vase quelconque et se verser à grands flots dans la gorge, en renversant la tête, le liquide qu’ils préféraient. Sur une table on trouvait du pain, du beurre, des fromages et des saucisses. Chacun avalait une bouchée de temps à autre : et sous le champ de feu des étoiles, cette fête saine et violente faisait plaisir à voir, donnait envie de boire aussi au ventre de ces grosses futailles et de manger du pain ferme avec du beurre et un oignon cru.

Un désir fou me saisit de prendre part à ces réjouissances, et j’abandonnai mes compagnons.

J’étais peut-être un peu gris, je dois l’avouer ; mais je le fus bientôt tout à fait.

J’avais saisi la main d’une forte paysanne essoufflée, et je la fis sauter éperdument jusqu’à la limite de mon haleine.

Et puis je bus un coup de vin et je saisis une autre gaillarde. Pour me rafraîchir ensuite, j’avalai un plein bol de cidre et je me remis à bondir comme un possédé.

J’étais souple ; les gars, ravis, me contemplaient en cherchant à m’imiter ; les filles voulaient toutes danser avec moi et sautaient lourdement avec des élégances de vaches.

Enfin, de ronde en ronde, de verre de vin en verre de cidre, je me trouvai, vers deux heures du matin, pochard à ne plus tenir debout.

J’eus conscience de mon état et je voulus gagner ma chambre. Le château dormait, silencieux et sombre.

Je n’avais pas d’allumettes et tout le monde était couché. Dès que je fus dans le vestibule, des étourdissements me prirent ; j’eus beaucoup de mal à trouver la rampe ; enfin, je la rencontrai par hasard, à tâtons, et je m’assis sur la première marche de l’escalier pour tâcher de classer un peu mes idées.

Ma chambre se trouvait au second étage, la troisième porte à gauche. C’était heureux que je n’eusse pas oublié cela. Fort de ce souvenir, je me relevai, non sans peine, et je commençai l’ascension, marche à marche, les mains soudées aux barreaux de fer pour ne point choir, avec l’idée fixe de ne pas faire de bruit.

Trois ou quatre fois seulement mon pied manqua les degrés et je m’abattis sur les genoux, mais grâce à l’énergie de mes bras et à la tension de ma volonté, j’évitai une dégringolade complète.

Enfin, j’atteignis le second étage et je m’aventurai dans le corridor, en tâtant les murailles. Voici une porte ; je comptais : “Une” ; mais un vertige subit me détacha du mur et me fit accomplir un circuit singulier qui me jeta sur l’autre cloison. Je voulus revenir en ligne droite. La traversée fut longue et pénible. Enfin je rencontrai la côte que je me mis à longer de nouveau avec prudence et je trouvai une autre porte. Pour être sûr de ne pas me tromper, je comptai encore tout haut : “Deux” ; et je me remis en marche. Je finis par trouver la troisième. Je dis : “Trois, c’est moi” et je tournai la clef dans la serrure. La porte s’ouvrit. Je pensai, malgré mon trouble : “Puisque ça s’ouvre c’est bien chez moi.” Et je m’avançai dans l’ombre après avoir refermé doucement.

Je heurtai quelque chose de mou : ma chaise longue. Je m’étendis aussitôt dessus.

Dans ma situation, je ne devais pas m’obstiner à chercher ma table de nuit, mon bougeoir, mes allumettes. J’en aurais eu pour deux heures au moins. Il m’aurait fallu autant de temps pour me dévêtir ; et peut-être n’y serais-je pas parvenu. J’y renonçai.

J’enlevai seulement mes bottines ; je déboutonnai mon gilet qui m’étranglait, je desserrai mon pantalon et je m’endormis d’un invincible sommeil.

Cela dura longtemps sans doute. Je fus brusquement réveillé par une voix vibrante qui disait, tout près de moi : “Comment, paresseuse, encore couchée ? Il est dix heures, sais-tu ?”

Une voix de femme répondit : “Déjà ! J’étais si fatiguée d’hier.”

Je me demandais avec stupéfaction ce que voulait dire ce dialogue.

Où étais-je ? Qu’avais-je fait ?

Mon esprit flottait, encore enveloppé d’un nuage épais.

La première voix reprit : “Je vais ouvrir tes rideaux.”

Et j’entendis des pas qui s’approchaient de moi. Je m’assis tout à fait éperdu. Alors une main se posa sur ma tête. Je fis un brusque mouvement. La voix demanda avec force : “Qui est là ?” Je me gardai bien de répondre. Deux poignets furieux me saisirent. A mon tour j’enlaçai quelqu’un et une lutte effroyable commença. Nous nous roulions, renversant les meubles, heurtant les murs.

La voix de femme criait effroyablement : “Au secours, au secours !”

Des domestiques accoururent, des voisins, des dames affolées. On ouvrit les volets, on tira les rideaux. Je me colletais avec le colonel Dumoulin !

J’avais dormi auprès du lit de sa fille.

Quand on nous eut séparés, je m’enfuis dans ma chambre, abruti d’étonnement. Je m’enfermai à clef et je m’assis, les pieds sur une chaise, car mes bottines étaient demeurées chez la jeune personne.

J’entendais une grande rumeur dans tout le château, des portes ouvertes et fermées, des chuchotements, des pas rapides.

Au bout d’une demi-heure on frappa chez moi. Je criai : “Qui est là ?” C’était mon oncle, le père du marié de la veille. J’ouvris.

Il était pâle et furieux et il me traita durement : “Tu t’es conduit chez moi comme un manant, entends-tu ?” Puis il ajouta d’un ton plus doux : “Comment, bougre d’imbécile, tu te laisses surprendre à dix heures du matin ! Tu vas t’endormir comme une bûche dans cette chambre au lieu de t’en aller aussitôt… aussitôt après.”

Je m’écriai : “Mais, mon oncle, je vous assure qu’il ne s’est rien passé… Je me suis trompé de porte, étant gris.”

Il haussa les épaules : “Allons ne dis pas des bêtises.” Je levai la main : “Je vous le jure sur mon honneur.” Mon oncle reprit : “Oui, c’est bien. C’est ton devoir de dire cela.”

A mon tour, je me fâchai, et je lui racontai toute ma mésaventure. Il me regardait avec des yeux ébahis, ne sachant pas ce qu’il devait croire.

Puis il sortit conférer avec le colonel.

J’appris qu’on avait formé aussi une espèce de tribunal de mères, auquel étaient soumises les différentes phases de la situation.

Il revint une heure plus tard, s’assit avec des allures de juge, et commença : “Quoi qu’il en soit, je ne vois pour toi qu’un moyen de te tirer d’affaires, c’est d’épouser Mlle Dumoulin.”

Je fis un bond d’épouvante :

– Quant à ça, jamais par exemple !

Il demanda gravement : “Que comptes-tu donc faire ?”

Je répondis avec simplicité : “Mais… m’en aller, quand on m’aura rendu mes bottines.”

Mon oncle reprit : “Ne plaisantons pas, s’il te plaît. Le colonel est résolu à te brûler la cervelle dès qu’il t’apercevra. Et tu peux être sûr qu’il ne menace pas en vain. J’ai parlé d’un duel, il a répondu : “Non, je vous dis que je lui brûlerai la cervelle.”

“Examinons maintenant la question à un autre point de vue.

“Ou bien tu as séduit cette enfant et, alors, c’est tant pis pour toi, mon garçon, on ne s’adresse pas aux jeunes filles.

“Ou bien tu t’es trompé étant gris, comme tu le dis. Alors c’est encore tant pis pour toi. On ne se met pas dans des situations aussi sottes. De toute façon, la pauvre fille est perdue de réputation, car on ne croira jamais à des explications d’ivrogne. La vraie victime, la seule victime là-dedans, c’est elle. Réfléchis.”

Et il s’en alla pendant que je lui criais dans le dos : “Dites tout ce que vous voudrez. Je n’épouserai pas.”

Je restai seul encore une heure.

Ce fut ma tante qui vint à son tour. Elle pleurait. Elle usa de tous les raisonnements. Personne ne croyait à mon erreur. On ne pouvait admettre que cette jeune fille eût oublié de fermer sa porte à clef dans une maison pleine de monde. Le colonel l’avait frappée. Elle sanglotait depuis le matin. C’était un scandale terrible, ineffaçable.

Et ma bonne tante ajoutait : “Demande-la toujours en mariage ; on trouvera peut-être moyen de te tirer d’affaires en discutant les conditions du contrat.”

Cette perspective me soulagea. Et je consentis à écrire ma demande. Une heure après je repartais pour Paris.

Je fus avisé le lendemain que ma demande était agréée.

Alors, en trois semaines, sans que j’aie pu trouver une ruse, une défaite, les bans furent publiés, les lettres de faire-part envoyées, le contrat signé, et je me trouvai, un lundi matin, dans le choeur d’une église illuminée, à côté d’une jeune fille qui pleurait, après avoir déclaré au maire que je consentais à la prendre pour compagne… jusqu’à la mort de l’un ou de l’autre.

Je ne l’avais pas revue, et je la regardais de côté avec un certain étonnement malveillant. Cependant, elle n’était pas laide, mais pas du tout. Je me disais : “En voilà une qui ne rira pas tous les jours.”

Elle ne me regarda point une fois jusqu’au soir, et ne me dit pas un mot.

Vers le milieu de la nuit, j’entrai dans la chambre nuptiale avec l’intention de lui faire connaître mes résolutions, car j’étais le maître maintenant.

Je la trouvai, assise dans un fauteuil, vêtue comme dans le jour, avec les yeux rouges et le teint pâle. Elle se leva dès que j’entrai et vint à moi gravement.

“Monsieur, me dit-elle, je suis prête à faire ce que vous ordonnerez. Je me tuerai si vous le désirez.”

Elle était jolie comme tout dans ce rôle héroïque, la fille du colonel. Je l’embrassai, c’était mon droit.

Et je m’aperçus bientôt que je n’étais pas volé.

Voilà cinq ans que je suis marié. Je ne le regrette nullement encore.

Pierre Létoile se tut. Ses compagnons riaient. L’un d’eux dit : “Le mariage est une loterie ; il ne faut jamais choisir les numéros, ceux de hasard sont les meilleurs.”

Et un autre ajouta pour conclure : “Oui, mais n’oubliez pas que le dieu des ivrognes avait choisi pour Pierre.”

Translator’s Note

Guy de Maupassant’s Ma Femme, published in 1882, is, in essence, a celebration of friendship between middle-aged men who knew each other as boys. In the process of translating this delightful yet complex narrative, I was reminded of Aristotle’s suggestion that our relationships with people we regard as ‘friends’ are, at their core, relationships with other selves. Indeed, how we relate to our friends can be emblematic of how we relate to our selves—we may be critical and judgmental with our friends when we do not measure up to our own standards; likewise, we can be loving and altruistic when we perceive our own ‘world’ to be in reasonable order.

The gentle beauty of Ma Femme appears to derive from its pace, rhythm, and order; much like the confidences that occur between Pierre Létoile and his friends. This sort of camaraderie takes years to hone, and it is clear that the friendship between the men in the story is strong enough to withstand the ‘ribbing’ to which they subject each other. This story is also a quiet reminder to choose friends with care, perhaps because over time we can become who our friends are; that is, often without realizing it, we assume their opinions and habits. Can this ‘friend effect’ partially explain why Pierre Létoile chose to love and cherish his wife, rather than allow her to ‘kill’ herself if he desired it?

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.

Guy De Maupassant (1850—1893); French novelist, travel and short story writer, and poet.

 

Fantasma

Fantasma

Ghost (n.)
The soul of a dead person /
A disembodied spirit
Incapable of passing
Freely to a peaceful afterlife,
Usually imagined as wandering among living persons.

++++++From Old English gast “soul, breath, life; good or bad spirit”
++++++From Proto-Indo-European *gheis “to be excited, amazed, frightened”

La gente no cree que existo.
Paso por ellos todos los días—
Desapercibido. No lo creen, pero me
Presumen muerto, porque valoran
La paz, y soy
Inquietante.

Peace (n.)
A state:
Of mutual harmony between people or groups /
Of tranquility or serenity /
Of freedom.

++++++From Anglo-French pes “freedom from civil disorder”
++++++From Old-French pais “reconciliation, permission; quiet, silence”
++++++From Latin pax “compact, agreement, absence of war”
++++++From Proto-Indo-European *pak “to fasten, restrain”

La paloma / la bandera de tregua / la paz
Es blanca. Para que puedan tener
Su tranquilidad, no puede haber color.
Un fantasma no tiene color y aunque no
Soy uno de ellos, han silenciado el color en mí
Así que sólo soy blanco.

Freedom (n.)
A state:
Of being at liberty
Rather than in confinement
Or in restraint /
Of exemption
From external control / interference / regulation.

++++++From Old English freo “free, exempt from”
++++++From Proto-Indo-European from *prijos “dear, beloved”

La libertad de algunos requiere
La cautividad de los demás.
Sólo algunos son amados.
Hay libertad / violencia en el estado
De pasar por blanco. Pero, pasé desapercibido.
Y si trato de terminarlo / anunciarme,
Nadie va a escucharme
Porque la paz es tan importante /
Porque soy inquietante /
Porque soy un fantasma /
Porque nadie quiere creer.

Robert EsnardRobert Américo Esnard was born and raised in the Bronx, New York and studied Linguistics with Social Psychology at Dartmouth College. He has always been fascinated by the myriad ways he is read and obscured. It is this personal and academic experience with semiotics that motivates his work as a poet and a dramatist.

November / The Birth of Poetry

November

Bats circle amid the yellow withered plane trees
that hover above the old church cupola.
The sad singing of the flying cranes
grieves the meadow. Autumn toasts
white winter. The storm on the other side
has no pity, even for itself, and the fire
will melt the wind’s rabid song.
Twilight masters the soul—it’s Saturday.
Evening fog blankets the earth.
The priest has finished praying.
Melted prayers glimmer on his white beard.
The eye is blind. The wind-demon tears the world to rags.
My feet sink heavily into amber mud.
I drown in yellow leaves: please bury me.

1916

 

The Birth of Poetry

1.

Sky and earth
make a bridge on Mt. Elbrus.
The mountain’s ringing recalls
the giant who fought Prometheus.
You created the poplar tree
from a lovely Circassian women.
The mountaineer’s cloak
does not tear easily.

2.

Burgundy sky, mountain of wine,
the Black Sea soaks the earth.
Elbrus stands, an ancient guard.
The storm grows furious.
I have nothing to fear except the snow
that collects into an avalanche
and melts in my body beneath the sun.

3.

Sky and earth
make a bridge on Elbrus.
The mountain’s ringing recalls
the giant who fought Prometheus.
My heart is buried here.
We await the flood.
Our wings will stay the storm.
We share an abyss,
and wait for time to come.

1936

prose_section_divider

ნოემბერი

გაყვითლებულა, შეხმობია ფოთოლი ჭადარს,
მეღამურები ევლებიან თავზე ძველ საყდარს.
მიმფრინავ წეროთ სევდის მღერა ატირებს მდელოს
და შემოდგომა თეთრ ზამთრისას სვამს სადღეგრძელოს.
გაღმა ქარიშხალს თავისთავი არ ეცოდება,
ველურ სიმღერის ველურ ცეცხლში იწვის, ცოფდება.
მწუხრის ჟამისას შეეპარა სულს კაეშანი,
მწუხრის საღამოს ეფარება ნისლის საბანი.
გამოილოცა უკვე მამამ, – შაბათი არი
და თეთრ წვერებზე თითქო მოჩანს ლოცვა დამდნარი.
დაბნელდა, თვალი გარეშემო ვერაფერს ხედავს,
კუდიანივით ქარიშხალი მიდამოს სწეწავს.
ქარვის ტალახში ეფლობიან მძიმედ ფეხები,
ყვითელ ფოთლებში მე ვიხრჩვები და ვიმარხები.

1916

 

ლექსის დაბადება

1
ცისა და ქვეყნის შესაერთები,
შენ იალბუზი ხიდად გადევი;
საძირკველიდან დაიძრენ მთები,
როცა ამირანს შეაბი დევი.
მიეც ალვის ხეს ყალიბად ჩერქეზის ქალი ტანადი;
არ გაიჭრება ადვილად სარმათელ ლეკის ნაბადი.

2
ცა შვინდისფერი, მთაც შვინდისფერი,
შენამულია ევქსინის პონტი;
დგას იალბუზი, როგორც გრიფელი,
თუმცა ასტეხეს ზვავებმა შფოთი:
ეს არის მხოლოდ საფიქრი,
ანდა მას ფიქრიც არ უნდა;
გადნება მზეზე გაფენილ ფიფქად
ლექსების ზვავი, გულს რომ დაგუბდა.

3
ცისა და ქვეყნის შემაერთები
შენ იალბუზი ხიდად გადევი;
საძირკველიდან დაიძრენ მთები,
როცა ამირანს შეაბი დევი.
მხოლოდ ეს გულიც იალბუზია
უცდის ქარიშხალს ფრთებით რომ გასხლას,
ლექსები უფსკრულს მტრედათ უზიან
და ანიშნებენ წარღვნის გადასვლას.

1936

Translator’s Note

Over the course of over a quarter century (from roughly 1911 to 1937), the Georgian modernist Titsian Tabidze crafted a visionary poetics that was formally innovative and politically courageous in equal measures. While like many of the greatest poets of the Soviet era Titsian suffered for his disloyalty to the Soviet state, Titsian’s suffering has a more existential source in his love for his native culture and the pain induced in him by his alienation from it. The poignancy of this pain is intensified by his ties to Georgia’s affecting landscapes, as reflected in the poems translated here.

Writing in an age of atrocity, Titsian’s robust conception of his literary craft is an inspiration to readers interested in expanding the domain of poetry to the political realm. Across different genres and settings, Titsian reveals how the literary imagination effects political change in the world.

In “A Poem’s Pain,” Titsian writes: “Dear reader, if you want / to know me, listen to my
verse.” Although his verse is suffused with existential suffering, with each poem variously crafting a compelling authorial self, in the end Titsian’s primary subject is poetry. For this Georgian modernist, the pain inscribed into his poems resulted from being alive in an unjust world. Unfortunately for readers today, Titsian’s own existence was circumscribed when he was only forty-one years old by the power structures he contested and overturned in his work: after publicity siding with his friend, the modernist poet Paolo Iashvili who was targeted by the Soviet state, Titsian was then himself accused of working as a spy against the state. He was executed in 1937, and much of his writing was destroyed.

Rebecca Gould

Rebecca Gould is the author of Writers and Rebels (Yale University Press, 2016), which discusses Titsian’s poetry and life in depth. She is also the translator of Alexandre Qazbegi’s The Prose of the Mountains: Tales of the Caucasus (Budapest: Central European University Press, 2015) and After Tomorrow the Days Disappear: Poems of Hasan Sijzi of Delhi (Northwestern University Press, 2016). She was awarded an American Literary Translators Association Travelling Fellowship for her translations of Titsian Tabidze, and her translations of Qazbegi have been supported by the Georgian Literature in Translation Program, Georgian National Book Center, Georgian Ministry of Culture. She teaches translation studies at the University of Bristol.

 

Titsian TabidzeTitsian Tabidze (1895–1937) was one of most eloquent and innovative Georgian literary modernists of the twentieth century. Among his friends and translators, he counted Boris Pasternak, Osip Mandelstam, and Paolo Iashvili. Like many Russian and Georgian poets of his era, Titsian perished in a purge organized by Stalin and his subordinates. To date, Titsian’s work has only been systematically translated into Russian, but an interview with his daughter and granddaughter provides insight into the dangers he faced as an outspoken poet in a time of political oppression.

 

It’s morning, the hawks are hunting / Trash, straw, spring ice

It’s morning, the hawks are hunting.

It’s morning, the hawks are hunting.
Frightening are those other forms of life
which see no value in humanity:
the dark forest, the beasts of prey, the mafia, the extremist
movements for decent citizens, the enemies for all,
the neighbours, The Great Satan.
On the way home from the pub you are afraid of the ghosts,
the sneaking bushes, this is not Shakespeare.
You are afraid of the land, the fatherland for which your humanity
has no value. Of a yellow or pink star.
Of all the named stars, the naming
doesn’t tame them though it tames your unconscious.
Of the Milky Way’s cruel mistress’s voice.
Don’t suppose that everything is related
to everything else, by the way I have known people
who believed that and who thought it best
to take their own lives. I am not
afraid of you and don’t even miss you but love you,
just go on being, be the Lord’s star,
be on the water’s surface, be in the sky for God’s sake,
when I look up there, fortunately I don’t know
the stars, I name them all over again

after you and the child you are allowed to meet once a month
and your dying mother and your lonely friends and your broken
past. I stroke your head like a cracked pitcher, are you still saying
there’s no alternative. Thanks anyway
for thinking I’m a good person

 

Trash, straw, spring ice.

Trash, straw, spring ice.
The fields creak on their hinges
and fold open like a cargo hatch, for a moment
I can see straight into hell. There is nothing
down there. Just as I thought. Except bodies,
clean and smooth as porcelain, their surfaces tattooed all over
with those little blue flowers that people are encouraged
to paint on porcelain painting courses. Lies told to others
always have a reason, but the lies told to myself
make me ashamed. Nothing at all. In the nearby village
the roofs get goose-bumps from the rain’s touch and giant flowers
multiply. Chimneys wander to and fro
in their narrow spaces. The people sit in their wet coats
without moving, as if that way they get
less wet than the park benches and the chairs.
++++If now
you raise the hatch, lie down on the earth
and let the field slam shut on you,
you will never be able to come back. Trash. The remains
of last fall. Tales told to children.

Three jesting Fates, green-scaled,
bulge out from the roof shingles of the old church,
laughing, playing. There is no question of mercy
for a long time now. On the onion dome opposite
three golden archers blossom silently,
humourless, as if cast in metal. Ready
to stand with arrows in their bows for the rest of their lives.

A massacre? Once more, again, even later than
afterwards, how come it has never happened to me?
but I expect it happens to, among others, many
who are deeply guilty, unhappy, latent
self- or serial killers. All of this is rational
and identical with a certain paradigm, it fits
the ideal of Heavenly control. We have been told:
suffer the consequences of your actions, accept
the curse intended for you. No massacre. To the jungle
law will come only from illusions, strange interpretations
and the visions of seekers of transcendence.

Masses of nightingales, in distant souls
nightingales in their hundreds sing, in golden, green
ciphers. The dimensions are such that
the dimensions imagined by one are senseless
compared to the dimensions imagined by another.
Nothing. In that state of pain where one cannot pray
any more, one can still count, not forward, but backwards,
10, 9 , 8, 7… 0, and repeat it, 10, 9, 8, 7 and so on.

The end of the great rainbow is in a large
field. “There came two blue angels, slender
as the spines of books”—this too is someone’s vision. The howling
of the feet, in the tender crop.  The dead fish of the torso.
At the top of the head the world’s end. You gods
remember it, and can tell us, all we have left
is a rumour, a faded image of the past.
++++I lie down on the earth and let
the field slam shut on me. I hear
a bird’s faint cry, but it
is outside. Outside as always,
now it comes inside. I have never
really been observant, but I do have ears,
oh yes, even now as I tell myself the truth
about what was what. Those quiet little sisters
who have God spread like poison
in their eyelids. The pearls of the necklace crumble
with a quiet crunch, like breaking radial bones.
In the greenhouse palaces of dreams
silently nodding
on the water… In the bed another cockroach is
flattened. People anxiously tear bunches of
entrance tickets, trying to find an exit
from the present situation… The result of
time’s indecency, the weather, the individual crushed
by hurt feelings is charming—like a modern fresco—
who made it, I wonder? Death painted without hands.
I lie indignantly under the ground,  listening to
the springtime rumble of the dump-trucks.

prose_section_divider
On aamu, haukat metsästävät.

On aamu, haukat metsästävät.
Pelottavia ovat ne muut elämänmuodot
joille inhimillisyys ei ole minkään arvoista:
pimeä metsä, villipedot, villi mafia, kunnon
kansalaisille ääriliikkeet, kaikille viholliset,
naapurit Suuri Saatana. Pelkäät
mörköjä kotimatkalla kapakasta, hiippailevia
pusikkoja, tämä ei ole shakespearea.
Maata, isänmaata, jolle inhimillisyytesi ei
ole minkään arvoista. Keltaista tai vaaleanpunaista
tähteä. Kaikkia nimettyjä tähtiä, nimeäminen
ei kesytä niitä vaikka se kesyttää alitajuntasi.
Linnunradan raakaa emännänääntä.
Älä luulekaan että kaikki on suhteessa
kaikkeen, sitä paitsi olen tuntenut tyyppejä
jotka uskoivat niin ja silti pitivät parhaana
päättää itse päivänsä. En minä sinua
pelkää enkä aina edes kaipaa mutta rakastan,
ole vain olemassa, ole luojan tähden taivaalla
kun vilkaisen sinnepäin, onneksi en tunne
tähtiä, minä nimeän ne uudestaan

sinun mukaasi ja lapsen jota saat tavata kerran kuussa
ja kuolevan äitisi ja yksinäisten ystäviesi ja
sinun rikkinäisen menneisyytesi nimillä.
Silitän päätäsi kuin haljennutta kannua,
vai ei muka ole vaihtoehtoja. Kiitos silti
että pidät minua hyvänä ihmisenä

 

Roskaa, olkia, kevätjäätä.

Roskaa, olkia, kevätjäätä.
Pellot narisevat saranoillaan
ja kääntyvät kuin lastiluukku, hetken
näen suoraan helvettiin. Siellä ei ole yhtään
 mitään. Aivan kuten arvelinkin. Paitsi ruumiita,
sileitä ja puhtaita kuin posliini, pinta tatuoitu täyteen
sellaisia pieniä sinisiä kukkia, joita posliininmaalaus-
kursseilla kannustetaan maalaamaan. Muille kerrottuihin
valeihin on aina syynsä, mutta itselle kerrotut valeet
kyllä hävettävät. Ei mitään. Lähikylässä katot nousevat
kananlihalle sateen kosketuksesta ja jättiläiskukat
moninkertaistuvat. Savupiiput vaeltavat edestakaisin
ahtaalla tontillaan. Ihmiset istuvat märissä takeissaan
liikkumatta, kuin kastuisivat siten vähemmän
kuin puistonpenkit tai tuolit.
++++Jos nyt
nostat kannen, käyt pitkäksesi multaan
ja annat pellon pamahtaa kiinni päällesi,
et enää ikinä pääse takaisin. Roskaa. Viime
syksyn jäänteitä. Lapsille kerrottuja satuja.
Kolme vitsailevaa kohtalotarta, vihreäsuomuista,
pullistuu ulos vanhan tuomiokirkon kattopaanuista
nauraen, leikkien. Armo ei ole enää aikoihin
tullut kysymykseenkään. Vastapäisestä sipulikupolista
puhkeaa ääneti esiin kolme kultaista jousimiestä,
huumorintajutonta, kuin valettuina. Valmiina
seisomaan nuoli jänteellä loppuikänsä.

Verilöyly? Taas kerran, jälkikädenkin
jälkeen, miksei se ole vielä sattunut kohdalleni?
mutta arvaan, että se kohtaa muun lisäksi myös
monta syvästi syyllistä, onnetonta, latenttia
itse- tai joukkomurhaajaa. Tämä kaikki on
järjellistä ja identtistä tietylle ihanteelle, sopii
Taivaan hallinnan ideaaliin. Meille on sanottu:
kestä virheidesi seuraukset, ota vastaan
sinulle kohdistettu kirous. Ei verilöylyä. Viidakkoon
tulee laki vain harhoista, oudoista tulkinnoista
ja transsendenssin tavoittelijoiden näyistä.
Kasapäin satakieliä, kaukaisissa sieluissa
livertää satapäin satakieliä, kultaisin, vihrein
salakielin. Mittasuhteet ovat sellaiset että
yhden kuvittelemat mittasuhteet ovat järjettömät
verrattuina toisen kuvittelemiin mittasuhteisiin.
Ei mitään. Siinä kiputilassa, jossa ei pysty enää
rukoilemaan, pystyy vielä laskemaan, tosin ei
eteenpäin mutta taaksepäin, 10, 9, 8, 7,.. ja
uudelleen alusta, 10, 9, 8, 7 ja niin edelleen.

Suuren sateenkaaren loppupää on suurella
pellolla. ”Tuli kaksi sinistä enkeliä, kapeita
kuin kirjanselät” – jonkun näky sekin. Jalkojen
ulvonta, oraalla. Keskivartalon kuollut kala.
Päälaella maailmanloppu. Te jumalat, sen
muistatte, ja voitte kertoa, meille on säilynyt
vain huhu, menneen vaimea kuva
++++Käyn pitkäkseni multaan ja annan
pellon pamahtaa kiinni päälläni. Kuulen
jonkin linnun huutavan vaikeasti, mutta se on
ulkopuolella. Ulkopuolella niin kuin aina,
nyt se tulee sisään. Minulla ei koskaan ole
oikein ollut tilannesilmää, mutta korvaa on,
kyllä, nytkin kun kerron itselleni valehtelematta
mitä mikäkin oli. Nuo pienet hiljaiset sisaret
joilla on Jumala, kuin silmäluomiin siveltyä
myrkkyä. Nauhan helmet rapautuvat kaikkialla
hiljaa ritisten, katkeilevat värttinäluut. Unelmien
kasvihuonemaisissa palatseissa veden päällä
hiljaa torkkuen… Vuoteessa litistyy jälleen
torakka. Ihmiset repivät hädissään paksuja
pääsylipputukkujaan löytääkseen ulospääsyn
vallitsevasta tilanteesta… Ajan säädyttömyyden,
säiden, yksilön pahan mielen murskaama
lopputulos on viehättävä – kuin moderni fresko …
kuka senkin on tehnyt? Käsittätehty kuolema,.
Makaan kannen alla tuohtuneena, kuulen
maansiirtokoneiden keväisen jyskeen.

Poet’s Note on Translation

I am very proud of my translator, David McDuff. Indeed, to share the same translator with Fyodor Dostoyevsky is certainly something to be proud of: David has translated several novels by Dostoyevsky, among others, into English.

It’s also good to find someone who feels comfortable translating prose as well as poetry, because my poems are somewhat prosy. Typically, they are lengthy, complicated, meandering, and sometimes use the collage method. Somewhat surreal imagery is also characteristic for them. My native language, Finnish, is a linguistic isolate, almost—it is not even an Indo-European language. It belongs to a language group called Fenno-Ugrian languages, which only a relatively small number of people speak and read (there are approx. 5,000,000 Finnish-speaking people in Finland and abroad, including the Western part of Russia).

In Finnish, words tend to be long and loaded with vowels. There are no post- or prepositions, but a whole bunch of flexible case endings. In Finnish, the vowels can be very long: they shimmer, resonate, and rest echoing in the air, when pronounced (e.g. ”suomen ja saamen kielet” = Finnish and Sami languages)… and they gather together to form internal rhymes quite effortlessly. David has responded to the challenge of internal rhymes by using short, repetitive, rhyming words with one syllable, like “name,” “tame” (in Finnish “nimittää,” “kesyttää,”) or “know,” “own” (in Finnish ”tietää”, ”oma, omistaa”). I like this solution. The music of the language is of utmost importance, I think, even if one has to compose it anew of sounds quite far from the original ones.

David McDuffDavid McDuff (born in the United Kingdom, 1945) is an editor and translator. His translations include poems by Joseph Brodsky and Tomas Venclova, and the Fyodor Dostoyevsky novels, Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov, and The Idiot (all three in Penguin Classics). McDuff’s translation of the Finnish-language author Tuomas Kyrö’s 2011 novel The Beggar and the Hare was published in 2014.  Among literary awards, he has received the 1994 TLS/ George Bernard Shaw Translation Prize for his translation of Gösta Ågren’s poems, A Valley In The Midst of Violence, published by Bloodaxe, and the 2006 Stora Pris (“Great Award”) of the Finland-Swedish Writers’ Association, Helsinki, Finland. From 2007 to 2010, David McDuff worked as an editor and translator with Prague Watchdog, the Prague-based NGO that monitored and discussed human rights abuses in Chechnya and the North Caucasus. McDuff was honored with the Finnish State Award for Foreign Translators in 2013.

 

Anni Sumari Anni Sumari (born in Helsinki, Finland, in 1965) is a Finnish poet and author with 13 books (poetry, short prose, and a travelogue) published so far. She works as a freelance writer and translates fiction into Finnish, e.g. works by Samuel Beckett, Anne Sexton, Tomaz Salamun, and Mawlana Rumi. She has also edited several anthologies, including The Other Side of Landscape—an Anthology of Contemporary Nordic Poetry together with Danish poet Nicolaj Stochholm (Slope Editions, USA, 2006). Sumari was awarded the Best Poetry Book Award of the year in 1998 with her book Mitta ja määrä (Measure and Quantity). Her poems have been translated and published in literature magazines and anthologies in 24 different languages.

 

Three Poems from Mandelstam Street

I.

Winter sits heavy in our guts
and we can no longer chew
—in confident, elegant pride—
herbs, bark, and rocks
on the rough roads of the diaspora.
Poetry left
wrinkles around our eyes and tongue
a miniature egg wrapped in a cloth
and the smoke of a train leaving
for the gray snow of Revolution.
But to grow old is nothing new
and travel is only a way
—like so many others—
to imagine beautiful landscapes,
while tall guards escort us
through long, cold platforms
toward a new happiness.

 

II.

Patiently contemplate in your shacks
the snowfall covering a flock of storks,
chasing deep into the night
the eastern reddish firmament.
Listen to the mice of the tundra
procreate among frozen underbrush
igniting hope in their pupils
like suns devouring themselves.
Don’t fall asleep, prisoner,
stay up and sing in the plains of insomnia
to the future that lays like a fossil
under ice hardened by the light.

 

III.

We have talked enough
about death,
now we must let
the cemeteries thaw
and the light settle
among the leaves and graves.
We searched long years
for consolation,
for any sign
among the dismal flowers.
Swelled with memories
and tears
we hardly heard
of new births.
The boys grew up,
became men
and walked tirelessly
through the world’s ravines.
And suddenly they returned
looking for their place
in the deep root
of our eyes.
Our ancient memory
opened their doors.
We saw moss on the windows
horses grazing among the weeds,
the moon’s path
in frozen puddles.
Time revealed its compassion
and carved a new torrent
in the wide
mountain rapids.

prose_section_divider

I.

Sentimos el invierno en el estómago,
y no podemos, como antes, mordisquear
-con vano y fino orgullo-
hierbas, cortezas y piedras
en los ásperos caminos de la diáspora.
La poesía nos dejó
arrugas en los ojos y en la lengua,
un huevo diminuto envuelto en un pañuelo
y el humo del tren que parte
hacia la nieve gris de la Revolución.
Pero envejecer no es nada nuevo
y viajar sólo es un modo
-como lo son tantos otros de
imaginar bellos paisajes,
mientras altos guardianes nos escoltan
por largos y fríos andenes
hacia la nueva felicidad.

 

II.

Contemplad en las barracas con paciencia
la nevada que atraviesan las cigüeñas,
persiguiendo a altas horas de la noche
el rojizo firmamento del oriente.
Escuchad a los ratones de la tundra
procrearse entre yerbajos escarchados
encendiendo la esperanza en sus pupilas
como soles devorándose a sí mismos.
No te quedes dormido, prisionero,
vela y canta en las estepas del insomnio
al futuro que yace como un fósil
bajo el hielo endurecido por la luz.

 

III.

Ya hemos hablado demasiado
de la muerte,
ahora hay que dejar
que los cementerios se entibien,
que la luz haga lo suyo
entre las hojas y las lápidas.
Buscamos largos años
un consuelo,
un signo diminuto
entre las flores luctuosas.
Hinchados de recuerdos
y de lágrimas
apenas supimos
de nuevos nacimientos.
Crecieron los muchachos,
se hicieron hombres,
caminaron sin descanso
por los desfiladeros del mundo.
Y de pronto volvieron
buscándose un lugar
en la honda raíz
de nuestros ojos.
Nuestra vieja memoria
abrió sus puertas.
Vimos musgo en las ventanas,
caballos pastando en la maleza,
el paso de la luna
en los charcos congelados.
El tiempo sí tuvo compasión
y dejó un torrente nuevo
en los anchos y ligeros
ríos montañeses.

Translator’s note:

Mandelstam Street explores the relationship between art and exile by evoking the figure of Russian poet Osip Mandelstam (1891-1938), known for his defiance of Joseph Stalin’s repressive rule. What can a 21st-century indigenous South American writer and Mandelstam have in common? These poems speak of loss, political persecution, displacement, and the task of writing about such experiences, often silenced by oppression or fear. Through Mandelstam, Huenún takes us into the frozen Siberian Tundra, to the heart of silence, to reflect on creating art against all odds. Far from the lush forests of southern Chile, this scenario offers a metaphor for the problems afflicting many Mapuche artists and writers, forced to negotiate their identities between cultural heritage and the larger dominant society. In these poems Huenún evokes what it means to be an exile in one’s own country. The original poems were published in La calle Mandelstam y otros territorios apócrifos. (Santiago de Chile: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2016.) The book, set to go to the printers next week, gathers several full volumes of Huenún’s poetry.

This latest volume of poetry forms part of Huenún’s ongoing project to engage in dialogue with prominent intellectual figures from universal history, such as George Trakl and Frantz Fanon. In doing so, he writes poems that are charged with diverse experiences of language and politics, connecting local literary and social concerns with a wider context. Consequently, the original poems are also suggestive of the process of translation, since Huenún reads these authors translated from the Russian, German, and French into Spanish. Bringing this poetry into English, therefore, reveals the routes which language can travel over time and geographies, taking on new forms and meanings.

Thomas Rothe

Thomas Rothe (Berkeley, California, 1985) has published translations of poetry in Amerarcana, Jacket2, and The Brooklyn Rail’s  InTranslation. He is the author of several critical essays published or forthcoming in academic journals, including Sargasso (University of Puerto Rico) and Revista de Estudios Hispánicos (Washington University in St. Louis). He is currently pursuing a doctorate in Latin American Literature at the Universidad de Chile. He can be reached at .

 

Jaime Luis HuenúnJaime Luis Huenún was born in 1967 in Valdivia, southern Chile. He is a Huilliche-Mapuche writer and currently one of the most distinguished voices in contemporary Chilean poetry. His books include Ceremonias (1999), PuertoTrakl (2001), Reducciones (2012), Fanon City Meu (2014), and La calle Mandelstam y otros territorios apócrifos (2016). He has received numerous awards, including the Municipality of Santiago Poetry Prize (2000), the Pablo Neruda Prize (2003), a Guggenheim Fellowship (2005), and the Chilean Ministry of Culture’s Best Work of Literature 2013 for Reducciones.

 

Hanging Laundry / Last Fingers

Hanging Laundry

The eighties: a little boy
hangs laundry on a fourth floor
balcony in Jerusalem. He clips the clothes
on tight, diligent in checking that nothing dangles to the ground—
vests, white shirts for Shabbat, socks,
the little boy sees underwear and is embarrassed.
Today, his mother is no longer here,
the underwear is gone,
and his own son now giggles when he hears this word.

 

Last Fingers

Slowly you are loosening your grip,
leaving your last fingertips
like final moments of wakefulness
and the last glance.
Already, you won’t get to hold your grandchildren
on your lap and goodnight to Mommy, there are
no more mornings.

prose_section_divider

תולה כביסה

שנות השמונים ילד חיידר קטן
תולה כביסה בקומה רביעית בירושלים
מקפיד שלא יפל דבר ארצה
גופיות חלצות לבנות גרבים
ילד קטן רואה תחתונים ומתביש
היום אמא שלו איננה
התחתונים אינם
הילד שלו כבר מצחקק מהמלה הזאת

אצבעות אחרונות

לאט לאט את מרפה
עוזבת אצבעות אחרונות
כמו רגעים אחרונים של ערות
והמבט האחרון
וכבר לא תראי נכדים שוחקים ברחבותיך
ולילה טוב לאמאל’ה
אין עוד בקר


Translator’s Note: 

During this translation process, we shared drafts with several native Hebrew and English writers for review and feedback. Every draft led to a slight modification of the work. The translations’ potential, perhaps like all revision, has felt limitless—continually opening new angles with which to consider the writing. In these two poems, Nir refers to the Prophet Zechariah, to a Jewish mystical perception of death, and casually notes the presence of religious ritual in everyday life. He does all of this in great brevity, crafting expansive and imaginative room within the empty spaces of his language.

Ross Weissman_ResizedRoss Weissman’s translations of Elhanan Nir’s poetry are forthcoming in Blue Lyra Review and Ezra. He works as a Teaching Fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and studies the linguistic abilities of African gray parrots at Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences. He is also a teacher at Kevah and a consultant for OneTable. Ross was born and raised in Wynnewood, PA.

 

 

 

Elhanan Nir_ResizedElhanan Nir has published three books of poetry: Begging for Intimacy (2008), The Ordinary Fire (2011) and He Who is under the Rubble (2014). He has been awarded a number of international and Israeli literary honors including: the Wertheim Prize (2008), the Ramat Gan Poetry Prize (2010), the Prime Minister’s Prize for creative work (2011), Isaac Leib and Rachel Goldberg Prize from the Jewish National Fund (2014) and the Posen Prize (2014). He is a Rabbi and teacher at Yeshivat Yitzhak Siach and Machanaim, and editor at M’kor Rishon. Elhanan lives in Jerusalem with his wife and four children.