An Eon of Thirsts

My haunt my drinking place was
there, lit by a moon
I was not there.
My intoxication
personified, was there
Not I.
On the slippery slope to
that bar, lips craving wine
I was not there
An eon of thirsts
tottering, was there
Not I.

 

 

Maikada

mai-kada thā chāñdnī thī maiñ na thā
ik mujassam be-ḳhudī thī maiñ na thā
mai-kade ke moḌ par ruktī huī
muddatoñ kī tishnagī thī maiñ na thā

 

Translator’s Note:

Translating poetry is not just about fidelity to the words but to the essence of the words. In my approach to translations, I look beyond the words for the meaning, the central play in the original poet’s mind. Where possible, and especially in Urdu ghazals, where there is a strict rhyming and syllabic count sequence, I try to recreate a rhyme.

 

Ajit S. Dutta

Ajit S. Dutta is a Sikh-American author and published poet with an MFA from UC Riverside. In his professional career, Dutta managed a management consulting business with several offices in Africa, Haiti, and India, which brought him in touch with several cultures and countries. Mr. Dutta published a book, A Father’s Poems, in 2000. His poems are also part of an anthology of published poetry in India. In addition to his poetry, Mr. Dutta translates poems from Urdu and Braj Bhasha into English. Dutta currently lives in Oakton, VA.

Photo by: Ajit S. Dutta

Abdul Hameed Adam started writing poetry in his teens and was a master of poems written in clear, simple and, even, pithy words which, nonetheless, touch your heart. He was a career accountant, retiring as the Deputy Assistant Controller of Military Accounts in Pakistan in 1966. He was a heavy drinker which ultimately led to his death.

Excerpt from The Very Troubling Confession of the Man Who Took Down the Greatest Son of a Bitch the Earth has Borne*

© Éditions Inculte (2014)

*or who shot him first
or who shot him second
or who is the first to have seen him dead
or who is the one who in the helicopter sat on his body

or who made it all up
to have a story to tell

 

Based on real facts and first-hand accounts.

1/ He is not Argentinian he is American he is not Belizean he is American he is not Bolivian he is not Brazilian he is not Canadian he is not Colombian he is not Costa Rican he is not Ecuadorian he is United Statesian he is American him

he is white he is American he has light brown hair he is American he has Prada sunglasses ($350) he is handsome he is brawny he is wearing shorts here on an American base here in Afghanistan

he is unshaven he is wearing a Ralph Lauren polo shirt ($135) he is sweating he is six-foot-two-inches tall he is solid he is thirty-five years old he is a sharpshooter he smells of hot sand he has tattoos on his arms and his neck and his back and his leg he is holding an American football he is American he is tall he is American

he is the one in battle gear with night-vision glasses with his flask on his belt who is going to fire

two shots in the forehead

then one shot in the forehead

who is going to shoot down

this son of a bitch

he is the one in battle gear with night-vision glasses and his flask filled with piss who is going to fire two shots

then one shot

right in the middle of the forehead

of this dirty son of a bitch

he is an American he is not a Guatemalan he is not a Honduran he is not a Nicaraguan he is not a Panamanian not a Paraguayan not a Peruvian but an American a real American a real American

He is thirty-five years old

he is the one who is going to shoot down the greatest son of a bitch on the earth

the next day

three bullets in the forehead of the greatest son of a bitch that the earth has borne

—with his flask filled with piss

fuck

 


2/ He is in the middle of other Marines

other guys around ten twenty thirty

on an American base in a desert in Afghanistan here in the heat of a desert and all of them are in this stone desert here they are

tattooed as well solid as well virile as well handsome as well strong as well terribly appealing as well enough to bring the girls to their knees the queers too all getting hot in front of the males in uniform

He plays ball with other Marines on this advance base of the United States of America in an Afghani desert

wearing a Ralph Lauren polo shirt wet with sweat that outlines his muscles out here in the stone desert in the middle of bunkers of sheds of soldiers of helicopters of fences and under the American flag

that is waving

the colors red white blue of the American flag the banner of the free world

Woah

It’s Saturday

they have been waiting here for two days under the banner of the free world in the middle of helicopters of sheds of barracks they play ball they throw horse shoes around a post they sweat their muscles glisten their polo shirts wet and their movements terribly aesthetic they wait they are unshaven they are handsome they straddle chairs they get up they sit down they play they walk they straddle they wait

Sean (his name has been changed) Sean he has his iPod Nano ($149) in his pocket with the song blasting in his ears by the band Game singing Red Nation of red blood Satan

to shoot down

and to fuck the world

until a slut

in Louboutin heels

makes him come in his sorbet-colored Ferrari

the sluts on their knees the males standing the sluts on their knees in front of the males

I make the blood run I make the blood squirt and

it sets the tempo the desert and the stones and the terribly aesthetic movements of the Marines sitting standing playing and not playing and they’re waiting the longest is waiting for something to happen

for the green light

to put their terribly aesthetic bodies

into action

 


3/ They are ready

to go to attack to fight to kill to fuck to take out this fucking bastard of a motherfucker like all the other bastards they have already brought down—making blood run

enemies they are always fucking assholes

they don’t count them anymore these terrorists these bastards these sons of bitches that they have brought down

it’s their job—go inside a house clean it out

leave

they are trained to do that they are always ready and ready from the start almost from birth

twenty-three guys who like action they have that in common that and living on the fringes

always on the edge

they could have ended up in the slammer they know this they say

it’s evening

they could have ended up in a gang and tattooed with sluts on their knees wearing Louboutin heels they laugh but they chose Good

yes

Good

and making blood run to defend the free world that is why they are here why they are hot why they are sweating why they are tense why they are concentrating why they are preparing

Brad (his name has been changed) he inspects his weapon—my gun is my best friend

he oils his weapon—my weapon is human

he cleans the cannon of his weapon—my gun and me we will pretend

he checks his cartridge clip—this is how it is until America’s victory

he’s chewing here—in the middle of the guys and the helicopter rotors eating up the sand

a piece of nicotine gum because he gave up smoking three years ago

 


4/ It’s evening

there are individual rooms it’s basic like in a motel individual beds and individual bathrooms and a common room and the television and all the cable channels and a kitchen to heat up pizza in

they are wearing T-shirts with the veins on the arms shining when they lift the cans of soda they are sitting on the sofas in the common room

they are watching cable they are talking they are really worked up

watching Entourage they like Entourage and watching The Shield they like The Shield and watching Sons of Anarchy now they’re talking about Kip Epps aka Half Sack in the series because he says he had a testicle ripped out in Iraq so he went to war and that already

that’s something

and Half Sack he says in the series that having one less ball turns the girls on the girls who to be patriotic lick the skin of the empty sack thinking they’re being patriotic it makes them makes the guys laugh but at the same time it makes them think about all the guys they’ve lost during assignments

so they talk more about the testicle so that they don’t think about the guys they’ve lost and losing a testicle is really annoying it doesn’t stop you getting hard but still it’s ugly it’s weird I’d rather die even if they’ve seen dead guys completely mangled shreds coming out of shreds

fluids organs

it’s a hell of a fucking machine when you’re alive your body

and they don’t want to think about that even if they’re thinking about it as well

and they talk about testicles so that they don’t talk about the assignment because it’s dynamite this mission it’s dynamite so don’t talk about it

me I’d rather be totally dead and in pieces than walk around with a half a nut sack and you what do you think

me so long as I can get hard that’s the main thing

me if I’ve only got one ball fuck that must be weird what do you do to grab to hold your balls in your hands if you’ve only got one imagine the emptiness in your hands instead of two you’ve only got one it must feel like something’s missing

just in terms of weight

And they eat pizza

Which is a vegetable in the United States of America

 


5/ It’s a game

Life—a gamble every day’s a fucking gamble

Lil Wayne says that in Red Nation

either you win or you lose

it’s always been like that they say with their legs crossed on top of the table and their thigh muscles nice and tight in their shorts either you win or you lose

blood like lace it’s red just like when you die and the chicks they’ll only suck off the victorious

they’re waiting for the guy the one who will protect them with his pants around his ankles there the girl she feels protected it’s all well and good using fancy words for it’s always been like this right from the start look at Gemma in Sons of Anarchy she’s not just a slut even if she’s put out a lot she’s a mother and she’s a grandmother as well

and they laugh with their legs crossed on top of the table saying do you get it do you realize we’re going to screw this son of a bitch

this fucking bastard

and Gemma even though she tries to kill her daughter-in-law she does it for her family even though she’s not sure the kid’s actually viable since his mother’s high as a fucking kite you don’t know if the kid’s viable and if he’s got all the right brain cells to make his head work you don’t know if he’ll be normal but you don’t care it’s your blood so you have respect for that your blood you have respect and she’s a fucking good woman a real one because she does everything so that her family stays together even if the kid’s going to be a retard it’s your flesh you understand

they say and they nod their heads all you’ve got is family

yes

that’s what family is it’s the foundation it’s the glue you have to do everything you need to do for your family you have to do everything you need to it’s all you have in the end nothing else is sure nothing else is your blood blood it’s the only thing that means it all counts the blood you come from the blood you give your kids through your sperm

you don’t have anything else for sure

nothing

Only your family

—And the guys as well

sure

the guys as well

they say while eating pizza

which is a vegetable because of the tomato sauce

 


6/ That’s what it’s like for boxers

or sportsmen

there are different theories about what you should do the night before a battle

jerk off

or not

Everyone has evidence about that it’s better

that it’s more effective to jerk off

or not to

to blow off energy or to conserve energy it’s up to you thinking of a slut wearing Louboutins when you jerk off you think of a slut in red heels with a nicely filled bra and wet panties and she’s there she’s hot and you’ve got a tissue or a sock around your cock like it’s a cunt

not your wife’s cunt you don’t think of your wife’s no your wife you respect her

There’s also the question of the trip the night before a battle and since it’s always the night before a battle you ask yourself the question

every day

because it’s happened to everyone it’s happened at least once that they shit in their pants during a raid or a parachute jump or in the middle of the bullets you shit yourself you’ve got shit right down to the inside of your socks that’s what the reality is that’s what it’s like there’s shit inside

So there are guys who say right I’m going to take a shit or who say right I’m going to go polish the jewels and who come back saying that’s it I’ve taken a shit or that’s it she screamed the slut fuck she would’ve gotten off on it

and all the guys laugh

That way they sleep better the ones who jerk off and the ones who don’t and the ones who take a shit or the ones who don’t and the ones who take sleeping pills or the ones who don’t because you have to deal with the fact that you’re a machine with an ass with a cock everyone has their own strategy

 


7/ He’s not going to bed yet

he’s too on edge sitting on the sofa Don (his name has been changed) he’s with a guy who is his battle brother but really his brother because he’s the one he lost his virginity with meaning that both of them on the same day at the same time in the same place

in Ramadi in Iraq

killed their first man so that creates a strong fucking bond that you remember as much as if not more than your first fuck

it’s really powerful

Don and his brother they’re sitting there in the common room both of them the others have all gone to bed it’s night

the dog is at their feet

a five-year-old Belgian shepherd whose name is Cairo—like the city

it goes with them on missions

dogs are useful they intimidate they keep people at bay they disturb they surprise they paralyze and they’re there to pick up the scent of women behind a burqa to find out if they’re really women and not men hiding

with a Kalashnikov

With the dogs at night they arrive they go inside they leave they’re so quick you might think you dreamed them

And people

afterward they’re out of their mind

they say they were attacked by

ninjas

that have lions with them

So they’re here Don and his brother on the sofa legs spread over the mutt

they’re playing video games

playing Call of Duty 4

 


8/ This kind of mission it’s 100% good to go it’s 100% in my genes

it’s like mowing the lawn he says

Fucker he says

the other one

laughing

 


9/ They’re sleeping they’re not sleeping they’re on the lookout all the time even when they’re sleeping they toss and turn in their beds they sweat in these corrugated iron shacks they’re wearing briefs or boxers with their battle gear ready to slip on it’s night it’s morning they get up they take a shower they dry themselves they put on their shorts they eat cereal they drink coffee they wait for Obama to say OK now’s the time guys go for it you have the green light to bring down this fucker of a

son of a bitch

because it’s this here fucker this son of a bitch that they’re going to bring down there’s more than a 60% chance that it’s The Most Infamous Terrorist of Our Time that they’ve located there in Pakistan in Abbottabad in a fortified residency in a crazy fucking complex with walls ten meters high barbed wire chicanes a real entrenched camp even if he’s not

The Number One Star of Evil

he’s a fucking important guy and he’s worth the trip

and the chick from the CIA the one who tracked him and who is with them her in the entrenched camp in Afghanistan she’s sure she’s 100% sure that it’s The Most Infamous Terrorist of Our Time that it’s not fucking intuition she tells them she’s sure that it’s him that it’s him this fucking bastard

and that they’re going to shoot him down

And at the same time it’s exciting to think to themselves that they’re going to shoot him down

Him

that they’re the ones who are going to bring down the greatest son of a bitch that the earth has borne and at the same time it’s a mission like any other every night they’re taking out assholes some more important than others so it’s the same thing so much so that before they knew it would be Him

the target

it was a joke before each mission to bet that it would be Him I swear this time it’s Him

yeah like fuck it is

no I swear

stop it

I’m not joking says Clint (his name has been changed) just before they’re told that it’s Him

I swear it’s Him he says

and the guy from the team he says OK buddy

if it’s Him I swear I’ll suck your cock

and Clint he says OK buddy you’re on

 


10/ It’s morning it’s Sunday morning they’re concentrating they’re exercising they’re running on the treadmill their body is crucial it’s what allows them to run to track to work to fuck to take out anyone

in any conditions

so they train they do push-ups they struggle among themselves they know that each exercise is a wild card for the future each movement that prepares for movement for ready oiled practiced action all the way all their muscles and their poses can do

they’ve got knee pads and gloves for the hot sharp stones of the desert and for the stupid scrapes they get just before a mission that stop them from being 100% operational so they exercise slowly in slow-motion in the dust that forms a halo it’s golden

obviously

or sepia

they practice killing softly nimbly graphically

twenty-three guys in the dust intertwined separate sweating

and it’s beautiful as all hell

like a clip by the band Game with skull scarves around their heads skull scarves that are really classy impressive it’s beautiful as all hell

yes

these guys with their trained tattooed nervous impatient bodies ready to kill with their skull scarves on their heads making them anonymous

and dangerous

They stop they breathe they wipe their brows they drink soda they talk about their trip about its consistency right I’ve got ten hours ahead of me

I’ll go just before I will

but that’s not it’s not right

to hold back

they play a round of poker

they fuck around

they listen to music

 


11/ In Iraq and in Afghanistan

before the interrogations

brawny

they loosen up the prisoners

In Iraq in the beginning

they use music by Metallica

turned up loud

for hours and for days

to loosen up the prisoners

they use music by Metallica AC/DC Pantera

it works well

it disorientates

it creates fear

But Metallica has got wind of this and they say

Hey guys

you’re nice and everything but please don’t use our music

because we here we don’t want to incite violence

that’s what they say

Fucking shit right

But they stop using their music

Then the band Demon Hunter contacts them and says

guys we here we’re completely behind what you’re doing

100%

they send them CDs

And Keath (his name has been changed) he listens to one every mission

 


12/ Operation code-name

Neptune Spear

 


13/ They eat cereal pizza vitamin bars chocolate bars nutrition bars sitting on seats

out in the stone desert

they say do you really think it’s him

they drink soda

they say fucking dynamite if it’s him

they chew gum

they say my ass we’re going to run into shit

they look at their watches

they say we’re going to find some tail

they look at the helicopters

they say fuck me if there’s any tail there

they laugh

they say hot Arab chicks wearing little G-strings

they laugh

they say I’ll tap that straight away I will

they say your cock’s too small

they say they’re used to better

they laugh

they say remember Bin Siffredi

(Bin Siffredi it was in Afghanistan one night

they walk into a barracks and there are three guys inside and they take them down

after they have to cut their clothes off to make sure they’re not wearing explosive belts

They undress the first two guys

They undress the third guy

only his cock goes all the way down to his knees)

they laugh

 

La Très Bouleversante Confession de l’homme qui a abattu le plus grand fils de pute que la terre ait porté*

selected extracts © Éditions Inculte (2014)

*ou qui lui a tiré dessus le premier
ou qui lui a tiré dessus le second
ou qui est le premier à l’avoir vu mort
ou qui est celui qui dans l’hélicoptère s’est assis sur son cadavre

ou qui a tout inventé pour
avoir une histoire à raconter.

 

Tiré de faits réels et de témoignages de première main.

1/ Il n’est pas argentin il est américain il n’est pas bélizien il est américain il n’est pas bolivien il n’est pas brésilien il n’est pas canadien il n’est pas chilien il n’est pas colombien il n’est pas costaricien il n’est pas équatorien il est états-unien il est américain lui

il est blanc il est américain il a les cheveux châtains il est américain il a des lunettes de soleil Prada (350 $) il est beau il est musclé il est en bermuda

là sur une base américaine là en Afghanistan

il est mal rasé il est en polo Ralph Lauren (135 $) il transpire il mesure 6 pieds 2 pouces il est solide il a trente-cinq ans il est tireur d’élite il sent le sable chaud il est tatoué sur les bras et le cou et le dos et la jambe il a un ballon de rugby américain à la main il est américain il est grand il est américain

c’est lui en tenue de combat avec des lunettes de vision nocturne avec sa gourde à la ceinture qui va tirer

deux coups dans le front

puis un coup dans le front

qui va abattre

ce fils de pute

c’est lui en tenue de combat avec des lunettes de vision nocturne et sa gourde remplie de pisse qui va tirer deux coups

puis un coup

en plein milieu du front

de ce sale fils de pute

c’est un Américain ce n’est pas un Guatémaltèque ce n’est pas un Hondurien ce n’est pas un Nicaraguayen ni un Péruvien mais un Américain un vrai Américain un vrai Américain

Il a trente-cinq ans

c’est lui qui va abattre le plus grand fils de pute que la terre ait porté

—avec sa gourde remplie de pisse

Putain

 


2/ Il est au milieu d’autres Marines

d’autres mecs autour dix vingt trente

sur une base américaine dans un désert d’Afghanistan là dans la chaleur d’un désert et tous ils sont dans ce désert de cailloux là ils sont

tatoués aussi solides aussi virils aussi beaux aussi vigoureux aussi terriblement esthétiques aussi à faire craquer les filles et les pédés qui chauffent devant les mâles en uniforme

Il joue au ballon avec d’autres Marines sur cette base avancée des États-Unis d’Amérique dans un désert d’Afghanistan

en polo Ralph Lauren humide de sueur qui dessine ses muscles là dans ce désert de caillasse au milieu de hangars de casemates de soldats d’hélicoptères de grillages et sous le drapeau américain

qui flotte

les couleurs rouge blanc bleu du drapeau américain la bannière du monde libre

Waouh

C’est le samedi

ils attendent là depuis deux jours sous la bannière du monde libre au milieu d’hélicoptères de hangars de baraques ils jouent au ballon ils envoient des fers à cheval autour d’un piquet ils transpirent leurs muscles sont luisants leurs polos humides et leurs mouvements terriblement esthétiques ils attendent ils sont mal rasés ils sont beaux ils s’asseyent à califourchon sur des chaises ils se lèvent ils s’asseyent ils jouent ils marchent ils s’asseyent à califourchon ils attendent

Sean (son prénom a été modifié) Sean il a son iPad Nano (149 $) dans la poche avec à fond dans les oreilles le tube du groupe Jeu qui chante la Nation Rouge de sang rouge Satan

à abattre

et baiser le monde

jusqu’à ce qu’une salope

en talons Louboutin

le fasse juter dans sa Ferrari couleur sorbet

les putes à genoux les mâles debout les putes à genoux devant les mâles

je fais couler le sang je fais gicler le sang et

ça cadence le désert et la pierraille et les mouvements des Marines terriblement esthétiques assis debout jouant et ne jouant plus et ils attendent le plus long c’est d’attendre qu’il se passe quelque chose

qu’ils reçoivent le feux vert

pour mettre ces corps terriblement esthétiques

en action

 


3/ Ils sont prêts

à partir à l’assaut au combat à tuer à niquer à buter ce putain d’enculé de sa mère comme tous les autres enculés qu’ils ont déjà butés—à faire couler le sang toujours des putain de saloparts des ennemis

ils ne les comptent plus ces terroristes ces enculés ces fils de putes qu’ils ont butés

c’est leur boulot – entrer dans une maison la nettoyer

repartir

ils sont formés à ça ils sont toujours prêts et prêts depuis le début presque depuis la naissance

vingt-trois mecs qui aiment l’action ils ont ça en commun et les marges

toujours sur le fil

ils auraient pu finir en taule ils le savent ils disent ça

c’est le soir

ils auraient pu finir dans un gang et tatoués avec des putes à genoux en talons Louboutin ils rigolent mais ils ont choisi le Bien

oui

le Bien

et faire couler le sang pour défendre le monde libre c’est pour ça qu’ils sont là qu’ils ont chaud qu’ils transpirent qu’ils sont tendus qu’ils se concentrent qu’ils se préparent

Brad (son prénom a été modifié) il inspecte son arme – mon fusil est mon meilleur ami

il huile son arme—mon fusil est humain

il nettoie le canon de son arme—mon fusil et moi on fera mouche

il vérifie ses chargeurs—ainsi soit-il jusqu’à la victoire de l’Amérique

en mâchant là—au milieu des gars et des rotos des hélicos qui malaxent le sable

un chewing-gum nicotiné parce qu’il a arrêté de fumer il y a trois ans

 


4/ C’est le soir

il y a des chambres individuelles c’est sommaire comme dans un motel des lits individuels et des salles de bain individuelles et une salle commune et la télévision et toutes les chaînes du câble et une cuisine où faire réchauffer les pizzas

ils sont en tee-shirt avec les veines qui sillonnent bien les bras quand ils soulèvent les cannettes de soda ils sont assis sur les fauteuils de la salle commune

ils regardent le câble ils discutent ils sont vraiment excités

en regardant Entourage ils aiment bien Entourage et en regardant le Bouclier ils aiment bien le Bouclier et en regardant Les Fils de l’Anarchie là ils parlent de Kip Epps alias MonoCouille dans la série parce qu’il dit qu’il s’est fait arracher un testicule en Irak alors il a fait la guerre et ça déjà c’est quelque chose

et MonoCouille il dit dans la série que sa couille en moins ça fait grimper les filles qui pour être patriotes lèchent sa peau vide d’une couille en pensant être patriotes ça les fait rigoler les gars mais en même temps ça les fait penser à tous les gars qu’ils ont perdus dans les missions

alors ils parlent plutôt du testicule pour pas penser aux gars qu’ils ont perdus et perdre un testicule c’est vraiment chiant ça n’empêche pas de bander mais quand même c’est moche ça fait bizarre moi je préfère crever même s’ils ont vu des gars morts carrément déchiquetés les morceaux qui sortent des morceaux

les liquides les organes

c’est une putain de machine ton corps quand t’es en vie

et ils veulent pas penser à ça même s’ils y pensent aussi

aussi

et ils parlent de testicules pour pas parler de la mission parce que c’est de la bombe cette mission c’est de la bombe alors ne pas en parler

moi je préfère être complétement mort en morceaux plutôt que de me balader avec un demi-sac de burnes t’en penses quoi toi

moi si je bande c’est ça qui compte et toi

moi si j’ai qu’une couille putain ça doit faire bizarre comment tu fais pour te soupeser les burnes si t’en as qu’une t’imagines le vide dans ta main au lieu de deux t’en as juste une ça doit manquer

juste au niveau du poids

Et ils mangent de la pizza

qui est un légume aux États-Unis d’Amérique

 


5/ C’est un jeu

la vie—un pari chaque jour est un putain de pari c’est Lil Wayne qui dit ça dans Nation Rouge

ou tu gagnes ou tu perds

ç’a toujours été comme ça ils disent avec les pieds croisés sur la table et les muscles des cuisses bien tendus dans les bermuda ou tu gagnes ou tu perds

avec des dentelles le sang est rouge pareil quand tu crèves et les meufs elles sucent que les vainqueurs elles attendent le mec celui qui les protège avec son froc aux chevilles là la fille elle se sent protégée t’as beau mettre des beaux mots autour c’est toujours comme ça depuis le début regarde Gemma dans Les Fils de l’Anarchie elle c’est pas qu’une pute même si elle s’est bien donnée c’est une mère et c’est une grand-mère aussi

et ils rigolent les pieds croisés sur la table en disant tu te rends compte putain tu réalises mec on va niquer ce fils de pute

ce putain d’enfoiré

et Gemma même si elle essaie de tuer sa belle-fille c’est pour sa famille qu’elle fait ça même si elle est pas sûre que le gamin il est viable au final avec une mère dopée à donf qu’est-ce que t’en sais que le gamin est viable et qu’il a tous les neurones qui font marcher la tête t’en sais rien s’il sera normal mais tu t’en fous c’est ton sang alors tu respectes ça ton sang tu respectes et c’est une putain de vraie bonne femme elle parce qu’elle fait tout pour que sa famille elle tienne même si le gamin ça va devenir un débile c’est ta chair tu comprends

ils disent et ils hochent la tête la famille t’as que ça

oui

c’est ça la famille c’est la base c’est le socle tu dois faire tout ce qu’il faut pour ta famille tu dois faire tout ce qu’il faut c’est tout ce que t’as ça au fond tout le reste c’est pas sûr c’est pas ton sang le sang c’est le seul truc qui fait que ça compte le sang dont tu viens et le sang que tu donnes à tes gamins par ton sperme

t’as rien d’autre de sûr

rien

Que ta famille

—Et les gars aussi

sûr

les gars aussi

ils disent en mangeant de la pizza

qui est un légume à cause de la sauce tomate

 


6/ C’est comme pour les boxeurs

ou les sportifs

il y a plusieurs théories quant à ce qu’il faut faire la vielle d’un combat

se branler

ou pas

Chacun a des preuves que c’est mieux

que c’est plus efficace de se branler

ou pas

d’évacuer l’énergie ou conserver l’énergie ça dépend de chacun en pensant à une salope en Louboutin quand tu te branles tu penses à une salope à semelles rouges avec le soutif bien rempli et la culotte humide elle est là elle est chaude et t’as le mouchoir en papier ou la chaussette autour de la queue comme une chatte

mais pas celle de ta femme tu penses pas à celle de ta femme ta femme tu la respectes

Il y a aussi la question du transit à la veille d’un combat et comme tu es toujours à la veille d’un combat la question du transit c’est tous les jours que

tu te la poses

parce que c’est arrivé à chacun c’est arrivé au moins une fois de chier dans son froc dans un raid ou lors d’un saut en parachute ou au milieu des balles tu te chies dessus t’as de la merde jusque dans tes chaussettes t’as beau fermer ton cul t’as tout qui lâche c’est comme ça le réel c’est comme ça y a de la merde dedans

Alors il y a les mecs qui disent bon je vais chier ou qui disent bon je vais me secouer le manche et qui reviennent en disant ça y est j’ai chié ou ça y est elle a gueulé la salope putain elle aurait pris son pied et tous les gars rigolent

Comme ça ils dorment mieux ceux qui se branlent et ceux qui ne se branlent pas et ceux qui chient ou qui ne chient pas et ceux qui prennent des somnifères ou qui n’en prennent pas parce qu’il faut gérer le fait que t’es une machine avec un cul avec une bite c’est chacun sa méthode

 


7/ Il se couche pas encore

il est trop sur les nerfs là sur le canapé Don (son prénom a été modifié) il est avec un gars qui est son frère de combat mais vraiment son frère de combat parce que c’est avec lui qu’il s’est fait dépuceler c’est-à-dire qu’ils ont chacun le même jour au même moment au même endroit

à Ramadi en Irak

tué leur premier homme alors ça crée un putain de lien ça tu t’en souveins autant sinon plus que de ta première baise

c’est très fort

Don et son frère ils sont là dans la salle commune tous les deux les autres sont allés se coucher c’est la nuit

il y a le chien à leurs pieds

un malinois belge de cinq ans qui s’appelle Le Caire—comme la ville

qui les accompagne dans les missions

c’est utile les chiens ça impressionne ça tient en respect ça inquiète ça surprend ça paralyse et ça sert pour flairer les femmes sous la burqa pour savoir si c’est vraiment des femmes et pas des mecs cachés

avec une Kalachnikov

Avec les chiens la nuit ils arrivent ils entrent ils repartent c’est tellement rapide qu’on peut croire qu’on les a rêvés

et les gens

après ils délirent

ils disent qu’ils ont été attaqués par des

ninjas

accompagnés de lions

Donc ils sont là Don et son frère sur le canapé pattes écartées au-dessus du chien

c’est la nuit

ils jouent sur la console

à l’Appel du Devoir 4

 


8/ Ce genre de mission c’est tellement rodé c’est tellement dans les gènes

c’est comme tonde la pelouse il dit

Enculé il dit

l’autre

en riant

 


9/ Ils dorment ils ne dorment pas ils sont aux aguets tout le temps même quand ils dorment ils se retrouvent dans les lis ils transpirent dans ces baraquements en tôle ils sont en slip en caleçon avec la tenue de combat prête à être enfilée c’est la nuit c’est le matin ils se lèvent ils se douchent ils se sèchent ils mettent leurs bermudas ils mangent des céréales ils boivent du café ils attendent qu’Obama dise ok c’est pour maintenant les gars vous y allez vous avez le feu vert pour descendre cet enfoiré de

fils de pute

parce que c’est cet enfoiré-là cet enfoiré de fils de pute qu’ils vont descendre il y a 60% de chances que ce soir Le Plus Infâme Terroriste de Notre Temps qu’ils aient localisé là au Pakistan à Abbottabad dans une résidence fortifiée un complexe de dingue avec des murs de dix mètres de haut des barbelés des chicanes un vrai camp retranché et même si ça n’est pas

La Star Numéro Un du Mal

c’est un putain de mec important et ça vaut le déplacement

et la nana de la CIA celle qui l’a traqué et qui est avec eux là dans le camp retranché d’Afghanistan elle est sûre elle à 100% elle est sûre que c’est Le Plus Infâme Terroriste de Notre Temps que c’est une putain d’intuition elle leur dit qu’elle est sûre que c’est lui que c’est lui ce putain d’enculé

et qu’ils vont l’abattre

Et à la fois c’est excitant de se dire qu’ils vont l’abattre

Lui

que c’est eux qui vont descendre le plus grand fils de pute que la terre ait porté et à la fois c’est une mission comme une autre chaque nuit ils butent des salopards plus ou moins importants alors c’est la même chose au point qu’avant de savoir que ce serait Lui

la cible

c’est devenu une blague avant chaque mission de parier que ce serait Lui je te jure cette fois c’est Lui

et mes couilles

non je te jure

arrête

je déconne pas il dit Clint (son prénom a été modifié) juste avant qu’on leur confirme que c’est Lui

je te parie que c’est Lui il dit

et le gars de l’équipe il dit ok mec

si c’est lui je te jure je te suce la bite

et Clint il dit ok mec pari tenu

 


10/ C’est le matin c’est le dimanche matin ils se concentrent ils s’exercent ils font du tapis de course le corps c’est capital c’est ce qui leur permet de courir de pister de bosser de niquer de buter n’importe qui

dans n’importe quelles conditions

alors ils s’entraînent ils font des pompes ils luttent entre eux ils savent que chaque exercice est un joker pour l’avenir chaque mouvement qui prépare au mouvement de l’action rodée huilée exercée jusqu’au bout du possible des muscles et des postures

ils ont des genouillères et des gants pour la caillasse chaude du désert et coupante pour les écorchures débiles qu’on se fait juste avant la mission et qui t’empêchent d’être à 100% opérationnel alors ils s’exercent lentement au ralenti dans la poussière qui fait un halo doré

évidemment

ou sépia

ils s’exercent à tuer doucement agilement graphiquement

vingt-trois gars dans la poussière imbriqués séparés transpirant

et c’est carrément beau

comme un clip du groupe Jeu avec sur la gueule les foulards têtes de mort qui sont vraiment classes impressionnants c’est carrément beau

oui

ces mecs aux corps entraînés tatoués nerveux impatiens prêts à tuer avec cette tête de mort sur la gueule qui les rend anonymes

et dangereux

Ils s’arrêtent ils soufflent ils s’épongent le front ils boivent du soda ils parlent de leur transit de sa régularité bon j’ai dix heures devant moi

moi j’irai juste avant

mais c’est pas bon ça

de se retenir

ils font un poker

ils déconnent

ils écoutent de la musique

 


11/ En Irak et en Afghanistan

avant les interrogatoires

musclés

on assouplit les prisonniers

En Irak au début

ils utilisent la musique de Metallica

à plein volume

pendant des heures et des jours

pour assouplir les prisonniers

ils utilisent la musique de Metallica AC/DC Pantera

ça marche bien

ça désoriente

ça crée la peur

Mais Metallica a vent de ça et ils disent

Hé les gars

vous êtes sympas mais s’il vous plaît n’utilisez pas notre musique

parce que nous on ne veut pas inciter à la violence

c’est ça qu’ils disent

Grosse merde oui

Mais ils cessent d’utiliser leur musique

Puis le groupe Chasseur de Démon les contacte et leur dit

nous les fars on soutient totalement ce que vous faites

à fond

Et Keath (son prénom a été modifié) il en écoute un à chaque mission

 


12/ Nom de code de l’opération

Trident de Neptune

 


13/ Ils mangent des céréales des pizzas des barres vitaminées des barres chocolatées des barres diététiques assis sur les banquettes

dehors dans le désert de caillasse

ils disent tu crois vraiment que c’est lui

ils boivent du soda

ils disent putain la bombe si c’est lui

ils mâchent du chewing-gum

ils disent mon cul on va tomber sur de la merde

ils regardent leurs montres

ils disent on va trouver de la meuf

ils regardent les hélicos

ils disent baise-moi si y a de la meuf

ils rigolent

ils disent de la bonne rebeute en string ficelle

ils rigolent

ils disent moi je l’enfile direct

ils disent t’as une trop petite bite

ils disent elles sont habituées à mieux

ils rigolent

ils disent souviens-toi de Ben Siffredi

(Ben Siffredi c’est en Afghanistan la nuit

ils entrent dans une baraque il y a trois mecs dedans qu’ils butent

après il faut découper leurs vêtements pour s’assurer qu’ils ne portent pas de ceintures d’explosifs

Ils désapent les deux premiers mecs

Ils désapent le troisième mec

juste il a une bite qui descend jusqu’aux genoux)

ils rigolent

 

Translator’s Note:

In The Very Troubling Confession of the Man Who Took Down the Greatest Son of a Bitch the Earth has Borne, Emmanuel Adely relates the assassination of Osama bin Laden from the perspective of the twenty-odd US soldiers involved in the epic mission. These men watch Sons of Anarchy, listen to Lil Wayne, and play Call of Duty as they wait to be called to complete their duty: to locate and destroy the person they refer to as the “greatest son of a bitch the earth has borne.” Bubbling with testosterone, Adely’s book reads like an extended piece of slam poetry, without punctuation, as he attempts to penetrate the minds of the soldiers, adopting their mentality and way of speaking to communicate their fears, doubts, and aspirations in their quest for victory and for revenge.

Adely sought inspiration for the content of his novel through various first-hand accounts published in American magazines, and he presents the soldiers’ story in his own chilling and compelling words. He offers an insider’s perspective from an outsider’s point of view, linguistically, culturally, and geographically, pointedly translating all cultural references without using a single word of English in his French text. The force of his language, in its arrangement, vulgarity, and rawness, provide a challenge for the translator, who must attempt to identify the most powerful solutions to convey in English the same vigorous energy of the innovative and skillful flow of the French text. This is not always a straightforward process, since much of the power of the original text relies on the way in which certain words and ideas are emphasized through transitions and follow-throughs achieved via constant line breaks. The same transitions are often impossible in English, largely due to the syntactic differences between the two languages, and this impossibility requires the translator to identify creative solutions that ensure the reader of the English text is not jarred by incongruous transitions nor deprived of the vigor communicated through the novel’s style.

The extracts chosen for publication here represent the first thirteen of the novel’s eighty-one vignettes.

 

Born and raised in country Victoria in Australia, Tiffane Levick has been based primarily in Paris since 2009. She is currently in the second year of her PhD at the Sorbonne Nouvelle University, where she writes about issues related to the translation of slang and of rap. Alongside her research, she leads translation workshops, encouraging students to think about the relationship between theory and practice, and translates books.

Emmanuel Adely’s work has been offered in French to readers by a number of publishers and journals (Minuit, Seuil, Gallimard, Stock, Argol, among others). It is malleable, political, and reverberating, discarding the “language of books” and thriving alongside the literary field and the media. For Adely, words in all their forms provide matter for creation: articles, investigation reports, speeches, the list goes on. He harnesses dates, facts, and hours, and molds them into a language that is unique in terms of flow, rhythm, and sense. His work has yet to be translated into English.

Photo by Enna Chaton

Friends of Friends

Violet and Sydney Schiff were an extremely sophisticated English couple, rich, cultured and cosmopolitan, who moved between London and Paris. He was a translator and writer, using the pseudonym Stephen Hudson, but first and foremost he was a patron of the arts, on friendly terms with Modernism’s greatest talents. She was an elegant and captivating Jewish woman, a friend of Katherine Mansfield and T.S. Eliot. On 18 May 1922, the couple organised an evening that looked likely to go down in history as the dinner party of the era, an event that would bring together the two greatest novelists of the twentieth century: Marcel Proust and James Joyce. The entourage of guests setting the scene for this extraordinary meeting lived up to the occasion: a gala evening in one of the Hotel Majestic’s private rooms, to celebrate the première of Le Renard, the ballet created by Igor Stravinsky and Sergei Diaghilev. As well as the Russian composer and choreographer, other guests included Pablo Picasso, the art critic Clive Bell—Virginia Woolf’s brother-in-law—and the cream of Parisian society. The Schiffs were friends and passionate admirers of Proust. The French writer, whose first four volumes of À la Recherche had already come out, was at the height of his fame: he had won the Prix Goncourt and was published by Gallimard, the most prestigious firm in France. The second volume of Sodom and Gomorrah had appeared a few days before, and in fact Proust had dedicated it to the Schiffs, the soirée’s hosts. The author was very ill: he was abusing a variety of drugs and lived only for his work, shutting himself away to write in his Rue Hamelin apartment and only going out at night after an injection of adrenalin and caffeine to keep him awake. Joyce was the younger by ten years—he had just turned forty—but in Paris, where he had moved as part of his self-imposed exile from Ireland, he was already an idol, the new star of world literature. Ulysses, banned for obscenity in the United Kingdom, had been printed in the French capital just over three months earlier by Shakespeare and Company, the little publisher-bookstore owned by the American Sylvia Beach. Although Joyce was always short of money, he spent freely. He was a heavy drinker and notoriously difficult. Like Proust, he was not in good health: he had iritis as well as heart trouble and was suffering from depression. And like Proust, he thought everything in the world existed only to fill the pages of a book.

Proust arrived shortly afterwards, wrapped in a fur coat, pale and haggard, with the furtive air of a nighthawk or perhaps even a sleek rat, as one of the more malicious guests remembered him.

Those who were friends with both writers were convinced that the meeting between them would be perfect. They had imagined it for a long time and now the moment had finally arrived. Like all self-respecting stars, both guests of honour arrived seriously late, after midnight. Joyce was the first to turn up, already drunk and not wearing evening dress. As soon as he was seated, the Irish writer set to drinking an inordinate amount of champagne, perhaps partly to hide his awkwardness and his dislike of the moneyed, mondaine environment. He sank into his usual silence, occasionally snorting or dozing off. Proust arrived shortly afterwards, wrapped in a fur coat, pale and haggard, with the furtive air of a nighthawk or perhaps even a sleek rat, as one of the more malicious guests remembered him. The Schiffs welcomed him with all honours and gave him a seat next to Joyce, as planned. Everyone thought that the meeting between the two geniuses would lead to urbane and cultivated discussions, unmissable exchanges of ideas and opinions, perhaps disputatious scuffles and skirmishes, and certainly enough material to feed the Parisian gossip columns for who knows how long. But it didn’t turn out at all as expected.

To break the ice, Proust asked Joyce if he knew the Duke of so-and-so, and Joyce replied tersely that he didn’t. Then he asked him if he liked truffles, and Joyce replied that he did. After that the conversation petered out. Violet Schiff, hoping to fire it up again, asked Proust if he had read Ulysses and Proust said “No, I regret I don’t know Mr. Joyce’s work.” And Joyce immediately countered with: “I have never read Monsieur Proust.” In the end, they both started complaining of their ailments: Joyce was tormented by migraines and a burning sensation in his eyes, while Proust grumbled about his stomach ache. “I really must leave,” said the French writer at last. “I’d go too,” replied Joyce, “if I could just find someone to prop me up.”

This is, more or less, all there is to say about the meeting. A meeting that soon became legend, but which culminated in an exchange of wretched remarks about truffles and stomach ache.

*     *     *

There are two photographs showing Anton Chekhov and Leo Tolstoy together at Gaspra, where the author of War and Peace had moved in 1901, to recuperate from a succession of illnesses in the warm sun of Crimea. Chekhov, who lived nearby in Yalta, heard Tolstoy was there and went to visit him, even though his own state of health was very precarious. Chekhov always became anxious before a meeting with Tolstoy: in his insecurity, he would try on different clothes and spend a lot of time getting ready. You can see it in the photographs: one of them shows the two writers sitting side-by-side on a white divan on the terrace, and Chekhov’s submissive deference towards the great old man is immediately obvious from their different poses. Chekhov is dressed in a dark suit and matching hat, a white shirt and tie and a pince-nez. Sitting hunched, with his legs tightly crossed and his hands clasped around his knee, he looks as though he wants to take up the least space possible. Tolstoy, on the other hand, looks very relaxed: wearing a loose cloak, long riding boots and a wide-brimmed white hat, he is leaning back on his elbow, one leg curled up under his other thigh. In the other photograph, Tolstoy is sitting at a little table, on the same terrace. They’re taking tea together, but Chekhov’s posture is, if anything, even more rigid and subservient: sitting some way from the table, he doesn’t meet Tolstoy’s eyes, but sits with his head bowed, his legs once again crossed and his hands folded in his lap. He appears almost contrite.

During this meeting, Tolstoy spoke a good deal, as usual, addressing a wide range of subjects. When the moment came for them to part he asked his friend to give him a farewell kiss. As Chekhov leaned forwards to embrace him, Tolstoy whispered earnestly in his ear: “You know, I hate your plays. Shakespeare was a terrible writer, but your plays are worse than his.”

Knowing Tolstoy and his idiosyncrasies, Chekhov can’t have been all that surprised. In any event, it wasn’t the first time that the ageing writer had criticised his plays. Once before he’d said: “A playwright should lead the spectator by the hand and take him where he wants him to go. And to where can I follow your characters? To the sofa in the drawing room and back again, because they’ve got nowhere else to go.” They laughed together about this, but Tolstoy had inadvertently put his finger on the originality of Chekhov’s dramatic concept, which would revolutionise twentieth-century theatre. Yet he continued to regard the lack of action in such plays as an unforgivable defect. Chekhov, on the other hand, worshipped Tolstoy like a god. On 11 December 1891, he wrote in a letter to his publisher, Alexei Suvorin: “Oh, Tolstoy, Tolstoy! These days he’s no longer a man but a superman, a Jupiter.” His adoration was such that he even derived some form of pleasure from being disparaged by his god. Actually, what he admired most about Tolstoy was the regal contempt he showed towards all writers. And even though sometimes Tolstoy admitted to appreciating Chekhov’s skill as a writer of short stories, describing him as “an incomparable artist”, technically superior to anyone else, the younger writer could never bring himself to believe that his work really pleased him: “It might seem that from time to time he praises Maupassant, or Kuprin, or Semenov, or even myself, but why does he praise us? It’s simple: because he sees us as children. And indeed, compared with his work, our stories and novels are all just children’s games.”

There was much that was Oedipal in Chekhov’s ambivalent attitude towards the grand old man of Russian literature.

Yet before he got to know Tolstoy, Chekhov had published an anonymous article in the newspaper New Times in which he attacked the writer for his condemnation of modern society. And in a later letter to his publisher he literally damned to hell “the philosophy of the great men of this world”, with particular reference to Tolstoy. There was much that was Oedipal in Chekhov’s ambivalent attitude towards the grand old man of Russian literature. One moment he was being hostile towards him, the next he was lavishing extravagant praise on him. The truth is that since a very young age, meeting Tolstoy had been not only Chekhov’s greatest desire, but also a source of terror. (Incidentally Tchaikovsky also admitted, years later, that he had felt “an incredible sense of panic” before meeting Tolstoy, who apparently frightened the life out of everyone.) When at last mutual friends succeeded in persuading Chekhov to go to Yasnaya Polyana, their first encounter took place in almost surreal circumstances. It was 8 May 1895 and Chekhov arrived at the very moment when the count was about to go and bathe in the river Upa, as he did every morning. As soon as he saw him, Tolstoy invited his new visitor to join him. Chekhov didn’t dare refuse and was obliged to undress in front of his Jupiter, whose long white beard bobbed majestically in front of him while they sat naked together in the water.

The meeting was far from disappointing. Tolstoy, in a letter to his son a few months later, described Chekhov as a gifted man with a kind heart. From then on, he remained friendly towards him, charmed by his humanity, his reserve, his calm manner and his “girlish” walk. Chekhov too came away from that first encounter with a “wonderful impression”. He described in a letter how he had felt at ease, as though in his own home, and had conversed freely with Lev Nikolayevich. I don’t know how truthful he was being. Looking at the Crimea photographs, it’s hard to imagine Chekhov feeling at ease while bathing naked with Tolstoy in the river. In fact, I can’t believe he ever really felt at ease with him, because he was cowed by him until the very end. And he certainly can’t have felt comfortable the next time they met, two years later, when Tolstoy went to visit him in a Moscow hospital. Chekhov had been taken there as an emergency after his first serious pulmonary haemorrhage, which had happened over dinner in a restaurant. Diagnosed with advanced tuberculosis, he was confined to bed and a regime of silence for several days. Only his closest relatives were allowed to visit him and then only for a short time. But when Tolstoy arrived, wrapped in his enormous bearskin coat, no one had the courage to turn him away. He sat down beside Chekhov’s bed and talked to him at length about the immortality of the soul. “All of us,” he said, “animals as well as men, will continue to live on in some principle (reason or love), the essence and purpose of which are a mystery to us.” But to Chekhov the principle described by Tolstoy seemed a “shapeless gelatinous mass” rather than a mystery. However, sentenced to silence, he was unable to explain himself better, though he later remarked in a letter to a friend: “I have no use for such immortality, I don’t understand it, and Lev Nikolayevich was surprised that I didn’t understand.”

*     *     *

As a boy, convalescing after a long illness, I happened to read a story by Henry James called “The Friends of the Friends,” which recounts the repeated and vain attempts by the narrator to introduce a male and a female friend to each other. These two had in common a private supernatural experience that had marked both their lives: the sudden, very vivid but fleeting apparition of a parent—her father and his mother—at the exact moment of their deaths, though both had died far from where the apparitions occurred. For years, despite the most favourable circumstances for a perfect meeting, every plan to bring them together comes to nothing, foiled by a series of hitches, misunderstandings and unexpected events. But at last the death of one the two—the woman, who had heart disease—achieves what had never proved possible in life. That very evening, the man is at last brought face-to-face with the dead “friend of his friend,” who comes to him in an ephemeral but telling apparition: they both gaze at each other silently for twenty minutes or so, in a prelude to becoming definitively united around six years later when the man dies, giving in to a “long necessity,” as though answering “an irresistible call.”

Deep down, we have a fear of bonding, of fusing with someone else. Perhaps that’s also why, in ordinary life, so many meetings that ought to be perfect are doomed to founder.

For a long time, I was obsessed by this story. Perhaps it was partly as a result of the illness I associated with it (like Mahler’s Fifth, which I heard for the first time during that same convalescence: since then I’ve always felt there’s something slightly febrile about its splendid opening and that trumpet fanfare in C sharp minor). I used to encourage everyone to read it and I even tried to get a screenplay and a reworking of the narrative out of it. I wrote a story called “Friends,” whose protagonist was a broker of elective affinities, a master of matchmaking, a man who had spent most of his life engineering perfect meetings between friends in common, manipulating destinies from the shadows, with a particular flair for weaving invisible webs of allusions, associations, and flattery. I even came up with a surprise ending that shifted into the supernatural, just like the Henry James story, but then I threw the whole thing away, concluding that the task was beyond my capabilities. Yet I still couldn’t stop brooding on the story: I kept wondering what the author was trying to tell us in this brief tale, so subtle that it verges on the abstract. A man and a woman who seem to be made for each other, but who never manage to meet except as ghosts. Perhaps he was trying to tell us that two human beings can never really meet? That you can only truly connect with someone else in absentia? That we must all surrender to the solitude of the soul? I don’t like to sound so pessimistic, but surely, we have all felt such a sweeping awareness at least once in our life. Perhaps this is what I was feeling in those years when the story obsessed me. After all, there’s no doubt as to what James was doing with the traditional ghost-story format: his ghosts are always and only phantoms of the mind, projections of the unconscious. Impossibilities, obstacles, hindrances—they’re all mostly within us, affecting our readiness to accept others, to receive them as though they were a part of us, even though we feel so similar, such kindred spirits, or perhaps precisely because of that. Deep down, we have a fear of bonding, of fusing with someone else. Perhaps that’s also why, in ordinary life, so many meetings that ought to be perfect are doomed to founder. Something always goes wrong: crossed wires, an indisposition, a misunderstanding, an act of reciprocal sabotage.

*     *     *

One of the most interesting aspects of the meetings between Chekhov and Tolstoy is that communication between them was almost always indirect, in letters or diary entries, and especially through other people. They met rarely and almost always in the presence of others: Tolstoy’s children and relatives or “friends of friends,” who then also expressed their opinions in diaries and letters about the meetings and about the relationship between the two writers. But did they ever truly meet? Unlike Proust and Joyce, they saw each other more than once and they didn’t talk about truffles or stomach aches, but exactly what we might expect two such giants of literature to discuss together: life, books, the immortality of the soul. Yet incomprehension pervaded their meetings. They were friends, they liked each other, but they didn’t understand each other because they were so different. Chekhov’s modesty before Tolstoy was almost embarrassing when you think how great a writer he was, while Tolstoy probably believed even more strongly than his friend that he was an immortal god. Tolstoy couldn’t bear doctors and preached a new gospel, while Chekhov, a doctor and an atheist, had no inclination for Tolstoyism—although he flirted with it for a few years—and in general didn’t lean towards any “clearly defined political, religious or philosophical point of view.” One was a count, son of a princess of ancient lineage, who idealised the peasant world and dreamt of becoming poor; the other was the son of a small shopkeeper, descended from a family who had once been serfs, a man who had known poverty and abuse as a child and believed in progress. Their paths led in opposite directions. I’m not sure that they really had anything in common, except for the fact that they both put the human condition at the centre of their work. Perhaps, without wanting to admit it, they felt threatened by each other. Tolstoy thought Chekhov as a man was “simply wonderful,” but perhaps thought less of him as an artist. In his diaries, he compared Chekhov’s importance as a writer to Pushkin, but the compliment only went so far. As with Pushkin, he deplored the “lack of content” in his friend’s work. Chekhov, for his part, never relinquished his Oedipal attitude towards Tolstoy. He never forgave the conservatism of his artistic judgements nor did he share his moral condemnation of modern society. And yet he thought him the greatest of all. Once he confessed that he had “never loved anyone as much as him.”

*     *     *

Some time after the disastrous dinner at the Hotel Majestic, James Joyce said he regretted the missed opportunity, even though his relationship with Proust remained ambivalent. He put it about that he had never had the time to read Proust’s work, and missed no opportunity to express opinions that were lukewarm, or indifferent, or downright negative about “a certain Mr Marcel Proust of here,” as he wrote dismissively to his friend Frank Budgen shortly after arriving in Paris, when the intellectual milieu of the capital was apparently seeking to match him against his rival. On one occasion he described Proust’s writing as “analytic still life.” The fame of À la Recherche probably nettled him, but he was even more irked by the fact that its author could write in “a comfortable place at the Étoile, floored with cork and with cork on the walls to keep it quiet,” while he had to write Ulysses in an apartment that was so noisy he might as well have been working in the street.

But when Proust died, on 18 November 1922, six months after the meeting at the Majestic, Joyce went to his funeral. Perhaps, like the character in the story by Henry James, he too felt a “long necessity,” an “irresistible call.” The same call that a month earlier had prompted him to write to his publisher/bookseller, with something between irreverent wit and belated tribute, that he had read the first two volumes recommended by Mr. Schiff of “À la Recherche des Ombrelles Perdues par Plusieurs Jeunes Filles en Fleurs du Côté chez Swann et Gomorrhée et Co. par Marcelle Proyce et James Joust.”

As though in that cryptic reference to an imaginary parody of À la Recherche written by four hands, whose authors’ names were welded together from their own two names, Joyce and Proust had finally got to meet through the acrobatics of language, redressing the famous failure of their meeting on 18 May 1922.

 

 

Gli amici degli amici

Violet e Sidney Schiff erano una mondanissima coppia di ricchi, colti e cosmopoliti inglesi che viveva tra Londra e Parigi. Lui era un traduttore e uno scrittore che usava lo pseudonimo di Stephen Hudson, ma era soprattutto un mecenate che conosceva i più grandi artisti e talenti del modernismo. Lei era un’elegante e affascinante signora ebrea, amica di Katherine Mansfield e T.S Eliot. Il 18 maggio 1922 i due organizzarono quella che doveva restare nella memoria storica come la cena del secolo, una serata dove far incontrare i due più grandi romanzieri del Novecento: Marcel Proust e James Joyce. Il parterre di ospiti che avrebbe fatto da corteo all’eccezionale incontro era consono all’evento: l’occasione era una serata di gala da dare in una sala riservata dell’Hotel Majestic per festeggiare la prima di Le Renard, il balletto di Igor Stravinskij e Sergej Djagilev. Oltre al musicista e al coreografo russi, erano stati invitati anche Pablo Picasso, il critico d’arte Clive Bell, cognato di Virginia Woolf, e la crema della nobiltà parigina. Gli Schiff erano amici e ammiratori fanatici di Proust. Lo scrittore francese, con i suoi primi quattro volumi della Recherche già pubblicati, era all’apice della sua gloria, aveva vinto il premio Goncourt ed era stampato da Gallimard, l’editore più prestigioso di Francia. Pochi giorni prima era uscito il secondo tomo di Sodoma e Gomorra, che l’autore aveva dedicato proprio agli Schiff, gli anfitrioni della serata. Proust era molto malato, faceva abuso di svariate droghe e viveva per la sua opera: si era autorecluso per scrivere nel suo appartamento di rue Hamelin e usciva solo di notte, dopo un’iniezione di adrenalina e caffeina, che gli permetteva di restare sveglio. Joyce era più giovane di dieci anni—ne aveva appena compiuti quaranta—ma nell’ambiente parigino era già un idolo, il nuovo astro della letteratura mondiale. Censurato per oscenità nel Regno Unito, il suo Ulisse era stato pubblicato poco più di tre mesi prima con una piccola casa editrice-libreria, la Shakespeare and Company della statunitense Sylvia Beach, proprio nella capitale francese, dove Joyce si era trasferito scegliendo l’esilio volontario dall’Irlanda. Seppure sempre a corto di denaro, lo scrittore spendeva senza ritegno, era un forte bevitore e aveva un carattere notoriamente difficile. Anche lui, come Proust, non stava bene in salute: aveva problemi di cuore e di irite, e soffriva di depressione; e anche lui, come Proust, pensava che tutto al mondo esistesse per far capo a un libro.

Gli amici in comune giuravano che l’incontro tra i due sarebbe stato perfetto. Lo sognavano da tempo e ora l’occasione era finalmente arrivata. Entrambi gli ospiti d’onore, come ogni star che si rispetti, arrivarono con notevole ritardo, dopo la mezzanotte. Prima Joyce, che si presentò già ubriaco e sprovvisto di abito da cerimonia. Lo scrittore irlandese, appena seduto a tavola, continuò a bere champagne in modo esagerato, forse anche per nascondere il proprio disagio e l’insofferenza per l’ambiente troppo ricco e mondano. Si chiuse nel suo abituale silenzio e ogni tanto sbuffava o sonnecchiava. Poco dopo arrivò Proust, che apparve avvolto in una pelliccia, pallido e smunto, con l’aria furtiva di un rapace notturno o perfino, come sembrò a qualcuno dei presenti più malevoli, di un “viscido topo”. Gli Schiff lo accolsero con tutti gli onori e lo fecero sedere accanto a Joyce, come previsto. L’incontro tra i due geni dal quale tutti si aspettavano dovessero scaturire dialoghi colti e raffinati, imperdibili scambi di idee e di punti di vista, magari scontri dialettici e divergenze, e in ogni modo materiale sufficiente ad alimentare le cronache mondane parigine per chissà quanto tempo, andò in maniera del tutto inaspettata.

Proust, per rompere il ghiaccio, chiese a Joyce se conoscesse un certo duca, e Joyce rispose di secco di no. Poi gli domandò se gli piacessero i tartufi e Joyce rispose di sì. A quel punto la conversazione languì. Violet Schiff, nella speranza di rianimarla, chiese a Proust se avesse letto l’Ulisse e Proust disse: “No, mi dispiace, non conosco l’opera di mister Joyce”. E Joyce, di rimando, contraccambiò: “Neanche io ho mai letto monsieur Proust”. Infine entrambi si lamentarono dei loro malanni: Joyce dell’emicrania che lo stava tormentando e del bruciore agli occhi, Proust del suo mal di stomaco. “Devo proprio andare” disse, alla fine, lo scrittore francese. “Lo farei anche io—rispose Joyce—se solo trovassi qualcuno che mi sorregga”.

Questo, più o meno, il resoconto dell’incontro fra i due. Un incontro che divenne presto leggenda, ma che si concluse con un misero scambio di battute sui tartufi e sul mal di stomaco.

*     *     *

Due foto ritraggono insieme Anton Čechov e Lev Tolstoj, a Gaspra, dove l’autore di Guerra e pace si era trasferito nel 1901 per riprendersi da una serie di malanni al caldo sole della Crimea. Čechov, che viveva nella vicina Yalta, quando lo venne a sapere lo andò a trovare, benché anche le sue condizioni di salute fossero molto precarie. Prima di un incontro con Tolstoj, Čechov entrava sempre in ansia: si provava diversi vestiti ed era insicuro, perdendo molto tempo nei preparativi. Lo si capisce anche guardando le foto: in una i due scrittori sono seduti insieme su un divano bianco senza schienale, in terrazza, e dalle pose diverse si nota subito la deferenza e la soggezione di Čechov nei confronti del grande vecchio. In abito scuro, camicia bianca e cravatta, cappello intonato al vestito e pince nez, se ne sta curvo, con le gambe rigidamente accavallate e le mani intrecciate al ginocchio, quasi come se volesse occupare il minor spazio possibile. Tolstoj, invece, appare molto disinvolto: indossa un’ampia mantella, stivaloni da cavallerizzo e un cappello bianco a falde larghe, con una gamba piegata sotto la coscia e il gomito appoggiato al bordo del divano. Nell’altra foto Tolstoj è seduto a un tavolino, sulla stessa terrazza: i due stanno prendendo il tè insieme, ma qui l’atteggiamento di Čechov è, se possibile, ancora più rigido e remissivo: siede distante dal tavolo e non regge lo sguardo di Tolstoj, ma tiene la testa abbassata, le gambe ancora accavallate e le mani conserte in grembo, con un atteggiamento quasi contrito. Durante quell’incontro Tolstoj, come di consueto, parlò molto, affrontando vari argomenti, e quando si avvicinò il momento del congedo chiese all’amico di dargli un bacio di addio. Mentre Čechov si chinò su di lui per salutarlo, Tolstoj gli sussurrò all’orecchio, con tono energico: “Tu lo sai, io odio i tuoi drammi. Shakespeare era un pessimo scrittore, ma i tuoi drammi sono peggiori dei suoi”.

Conoscendo Tolstoj e le sue idiosincrasie, Čechov non deve essersi stupito più di tanto. Del resto, non era la prima volta che il vecchio scrittore criticava il suo teatro. Una volta gli disse: “Un drammaturgo dovrebbe prendere uno spettatore per mano e condurlo dove lui vuole. E dove posso seguire i tuoi personaggi? Dal divano al soggiorno e ritorno, perché non hanno altro luogo dove andare”. Ne risero insieme, ma senza volerlo Tolstoj aveva colto in pieno la novità del teatro di Čechov, la sua concezione drammaturgica che avrebbe rivoluzionato la scena del Novecento. Eppure si ostinava a considerare la mancanza di azione di quei drammi come un difetto imperdonabile. Čechov, da parte sua, venerava Tolstoj come un dio. In una lettera al suo editore, Aleksej Suvorin, l’11 dicembre 1891, scriveva: “Oh, quel Tolstoj, quel Tolstoj! Egli, oggi, non è un essere umano, ma un superuomo, uno Zeus”. La sua adorazione arrivava al punto che perfino nell’essere denigrato dal suo dio trovava una forma di piacere. Ciò che ammirava di più in Tolstoj, infatti, era proprio questa regale forma di disprezzo che nutriva nei confronti di tutti gli scrittori. E anche se a volte Tolstoj non gli nascose la sua ammirazione come autore di novelle, definendolo “un artista incomparabile”, tecnicamente superiore a chiunque altro, Čechov non osò mai credere di piacergli davvero: “Si può pensare che, di tanto in tanto, egli elogi Maupassant, o Kuprin, o Semënov, o me stesso—disse—ma perché ci elogia? È semplice: perché ci considera come dei bambini. I nostri racconti, i nostri romanzi, in confronto ai suoi lavori, sono infatti tutti dei giochi da bambini”.

Eppure, prima di conoscere Tolstoj, Čechov aveva pubblicato un articolo anonimo sulla rivista “Il Tempo Nuovo” dove attaccava lo scrittore per la sua condanna della società moderna. E in una lettera successiva al suo editore, aveva mandato letteralmente al diavolo “la filosofia dei grandi di questo mondo”, includendovi soprattutto Tolstoj. C’era molto di edipico in questo atteggiamento ambivalente che Čechov mostrava nei confronti del vecchio padre della letteratura russa. La sua ostilità verso l’uomo si alternava alle sperticate lodi che elargiva all’artista. In realtà incontrarlo era stato, fin da giovanissimo, il suo più grande desiderio, ma ne era anche terrorizzato (e del resto, anche Čajkovskij confesserà, anni dopo, di aver provato un “incredibile senso di panico” prima del suo incontro con Tolstoj, che a quanto pare metteva paura a tutti). Quando finalmente gli amici in comune riuscirono a convincere Čechov a recarsi a Jasnaja Poljana, il primo incontro avvenne in una situazione quasi surreale. Era l’8 maggio 1895 e Čechov si presentò proprio nel momento in cui il conte stava andando a farsi il bagno, come ogni mattina, nelle acque del fiume Upa. Vedendolo, Tolstoj invitò il nuovo arrivato a unirsi a lui. Čechov non osò contraddirlo e fu costretto a spogliarsi davanti al suo Zeus, la cui lunga barba bianca, mentre se ne stavano entrambi nudi nell’acqua, galleggiò solennemente per tutto il tempo davanti a lui.

L’incontro fu tutt’altro che deludente. Tolstoj, in una lettera al figlio qualche mese dopo, definì Čechov un uomo “pieno di talento” e dal “cuore buonissimo”, e da allora non smise mai di volergli bene. Era incantato dalla sua umanità, dalla sua riservatezza, dai suoi modi tranquilli e dalla sua “andatura da signorina”. Anche Čechov ricavò da quel primo incontro un’“impressione meravigliosa”. Confessò, in una lettera, di essersi sentito a suo agio, come se fosse stato a casa sua, e di aver conversato liberamente con Lev Nikolaevič. Non so fino a che punto fossero sincere queste parole. Mi sembra difficile, vedendo le foto della Crimea, immaginare Čechov a suo agio con Tolstoj mentre facevano il bagno nudi nel fiume. Credo invece che a suo agio con lui non lo sia mai stato, perché continuò ad averne soggezione fino alla fine. E di sicuro non lo fu nel successivo incontro, due anni dopo, quando Tolstoj lo andò a trovare in clinica a Mosca, dove Čechov era stato ricoverato d’urgenza dopo la sua prima grave emorragia polmonare, avuta durante una cena in un ristorante. Gli diagnosticarono una tubercolosi avanzata e per vari giorni fu costretto al letto e al silenzio. Solo i parenti più stretti erano autorizzati a fargli visita e per poco tempo. Ma quando si presentò Tolstoj, avvolto nella sua enorme pelliccia d’orso, nessuno ebbe il coraggio di mandarlo via. Si sedette accanto al letto di Čechov e gli parlò a lungo dell’immortalità dell’anima. “Tutti noi, uomini e animali—disse—vivremo in un principio (ragione, amore), l’essenza e il fine del quale costituisce per noi un mistero”. Più che un mistero, però, a Čechov questo principio di cui parlava Tolstoj pareva una “informe massa gelatinosa”. Ma, ridotto al silenzio, non riuscì a spiegarsi meglio, salvo poi commentare in una lettera a un amico: “D’una simile immortalità non so che farmene, non lo capisco, e Lev Nikolaevič era sorpreso ch’io non capissi”.

*     *     *

Da ragazzo, durante la convalescenza da una lunga malattia, mi capitò di leggere un racconto di Henry James, intitolato Gli amici degli amici, che descrive i ripetuti e vani tentativi da parte della narratrice di far incontrare il suo fidanzato e un’amica uniti da una segreta esperienza soprannaturale che aveva segnato il loro passato: l’apparizione, vividissima e improvvisa, ma subito svanita, di un genitore—il padre di lei e la madre di lui—nell’attimo stesso in cui moriva, in realtà molto lontano dal luogo di quell’apparizione. Nonostante le migliori premesse per l’incontro perfetto, per anni si riveleranno inutili tutti gli appuntamenti organizzati, puntualmente falliti a causa di continui imprevisti, malintesi e ostacoli. Finché la morte di uno dei due—la donna, malata di cuore—renderà possibile ciò che in vita non era mai avvenuto. L’uomo, infatti, quella sera stessa finalmente incontra la defunta “amica dell’amica” in un’apparizione fugace ma rivelatrice: i due si guardano in silenzio per una ventina di minuti, preludio a quell’unione definitiva che avverrà dopo cerca sei anni, quando anche l’uomo cesserà di vivere, cedendo a una “prolungata necessità”, come se avesse risposto a un “irresistibile richiamo”.

Per molto tempo sono stato ossessionato da questo racconto. Parte di questa ossessione era dovuta forse alla malattia a cui lo avevo associato (come la Quinta di Mahler che ascoltai per la prima volta durante quella stessa convalescenza, il cui splendido attacco, con la fanfara della tromba in si bemolle, ha conservato per me da allora sempre un che di febbrile). Consigliavo di leggerlo a chiunque e provai perfino a ricavarne una sceneggiatura e una rielaborazione narrativa. Scrissi un racconto intitolato Amici, che aveva come protagonista un sensale delle affinità elettive, un artista degli appuntamenti concertati, un uomo che aveva impiegato la maggior parte della sua vita a organizzare incontri perfetti fra amici comuni, a manovrare destini rimanendo nell’ombra, con una capacità particolare nel tessere una rete invisibile di allusioni, riferimenti, lusinghe. E mi inventai pure un finale a sorpresa, che sfociava nel soprannaturale, proprio come il racconto di James, ma poi buttai tutto, considerando il compito al di sopra delle mie capacità. Eppure non smisi di rimuginare su quel racconto: continuavo a chiedermi che cosa avesse voluto raccontarci l’autore con questa novella di una sottigliezza che rasenta l’astrazione. Un uomo e una donna che sembrano fatti l’uno per l’altra, ma che non riusciranno mai a incontrarsi, se non come fantasmi. Forse voleva dirci che nessun incontro reale è mai possibile tra due esseri umani? Che solo in absentia si può entrare davvero in contatto con qualcuno? Che siamo, noi tutti, votati alla solitudine dell’anima? Non vorrei essere così pessimista, ma certo ciascuno di noi, almeno una volta nella vita, deve aver provato una consapevolezza così radicale. E forse devo averla provata anche io negli anni della mia ossessione per questo racconto. Del resto, è noto quale uso James ha saputo fare della tradizione anglosassone del ghost-novel: i suoi fantasmi sono sempre e solo fantasmi della mente, proiezioni dell’inconscio. L’impossibilità, l’ostacolo, l’impedimento, sono dunque soprattutto dentro di noi, nell’idea di poter accettare qualcuno, accoglierlo come parte di noi stessi, benché lo si senta così simile, così affine, o forse proprio per questo. È, in fondo, la paura di amalgamarsi, di fondersi con l’altro da sé. Forse è anche questo il motivo per cui molto spesso nella vita ordinaria gli incontri che si prefigurano perfetti sono destinati a naufragare. C’è sempre qualcosa che non funziona: un equivoco, un’indisposizione, un misunderstanding, un atto di reciproco sabotaggio.

*     *     *

Uno degli aspetti più interessanti degli incontri tra Čechov e Tolstoj è che i due hanno comunicato quasi sempre indirettamente, in lettere o pagine di diario, e soprattutto attraverso altre persone. I loro incontri furono pochi e avvennero quasi sempre in presenza di testimoni: figli e parenti di Tolstoj o “amici degli amici”, che a loro volta hanno raccontato in diari e lettere il loro punto di vista su questi incontri e sul rapporto tra i due scrittori. Ma s’incontrarono mai realmente? A differenza di Proust e Joyce, si videro più di una volta, e non parlarono di tartufi o mal di stomaco, ma proprio di ciò di cui ci aspetteremo che parlino due giganti della letteratura come loro quando si incontrano: la vita, i libri, l’immortalità dell’anima. Eppure gli incontri tra id due furono pieni di incomprensioni. Erano amici e si volevano bene, ma non si capivano, perché troppo diversi. Čechov nei confronti di Tolstoj era di una modestia quasi imbarazzante se si pensa alla sua grandezza di scrittore, mentre Tolstoj con molta probabilità era convinto anche più dell’amico di essere un dio immortale. Tolstoj odiava i medici e predicava un nuovo vangelo, mentre Čechov, che era medico e ateo, non aveva nessuna predisposizione per il tolstoismo—nonostante un’iniziale infatuazione durata qualche anno—e in generale non ne aveva per nessun “punto di vista politico, religioso e filosofico ben definito”. L’uno era un conte, figlio di una principessa d’antica stirpe, idealizzava il mondo contadino e sognava di diventare povero; l’altro, figlio di un piccolo bottegaio, discendeva da una famiglia di ex servi della gleba, aveva conosciuto miseria e maltrattamenti da bambino, e credevo nel progresso. Le loro strade seguivano sentieri opposti. Non sono sicuro che avessero davvero qualcosa in comune, salvo il fatto di aver entrambi posto al centro della loro opera l’uomo. Forse, senza volerlo ammettere, si sentivano minacciati l’uno dall’altro. Tolstoj considerava l’uomo Čechov “semplicemente meraviglioso”, forse superiore all’artista. Nei suoi diari paragonò la sua importanza di scrittore a quella di Puškin, ma era un complimento fino a un certo punto. Come in Puškin, condannava infatti nell’opera dell’amico la “mancanza di contenuto”. Čechov, da parte sua, non smise mai il suo atteggiamento edipico nei confronti di Tolstoj. Non gli perdonava il suo conservatorismo nei giudizi artistici e non condivideva la sua condanna morale della società moderna. Eppure lo considerava il più grande di tutti. Una volta confessò di non aver “mai amato nessuno come lui.”

*     *     *

Qualche tempo dopo la disastrosa cena all’Hotel Majestic, James Joyce espresse rammarico per quell’occasione mancata, anche se il suo rapporto con Proust fu sempre ambivalente. Andava dicendo di non aver mai avuto il tempo di leggere la sua opera, e non mancava occasione per dispensare apprezzamenti tiepidi o indifferenti o decisamente negativi sul suo collega rivale, quel “certo Marcel Proust di qui”—come scrisse sprezzante al suo amico Frank Budgen poco dopo essere approdato a Parigi—che l’ambiente intellettuale della capitale pareva volesse mettere contro di lui. Una volta definì la scrittura proustiana una “natura morta analitica”. La fama della Recherche, probabilmente, lo infastidiva, ma ancor di più lo infastidiva il fatto che il suo autore potesse scrivere in “un posto comodo all’Étoile, col pavimento e le pareti imbottite di sughero perché nulli turbi la sua tranquillità”, mentre lui era stato costretto a scrivere il suo Ulisse in un appartamento così rumoroso che era come trovarsi per strada.

Eppure, quando Proust morì, il 18 novembre 1922, sei mesi dopo l’incontro al Majestic, Joyce andò al suo funerale. Forse anche lui, come il personaggio del racconto di Henry James, cedendo a una “prolungata necessità”, a un “richiamo irresistibile”. Quello stesso richiamo che appena un mese prima gli aveva fatto scrivere in una lettera alla sua editrice-libraia, tra l’arguzia irriverente e l’omaggio postumo, di aver letto i primi due volumi consigliatigli da Mr Schiff della “Recherche des Ombrelles Perdues par Plusieurs Jeunes Filles en Fleurs du Côté de chez Swann et Gomorrhée et Co. par Marcelle Proyce and James Joust”.

Come se in quel criptico riferimento a una immaginaria parodia della Recherche scritta a quattro mani, coi nomi degli autori composti dalla fusione dei loro due nomi, Joyce e Proust avessero finalmente realizzato, attraverso le funambolerie del linguaggio, quel famoso incontro mancato del 18 maggio 1922.

 

Translator’s Note:

“Friends of Friends” (Gli Amici degli Amici) is an extract from Fabrizio Coscia’s book Soli Eravamo (“We Were Alone”), originally published in Italian by Ad Est dell’Equatore in 2015. Soli Eravamo is a collection of twenty-one essays/stories which examine moments in the lives of some of the great figures of Western art, literature, and music, including Kafka, Joyce, Proust, Dante, Hopper, Vermeer, Caravaggio, Mozart—and Radiohead. Coscia probes the humanity of these luminaries, making connections between them and creating surprising juxtapositions, drawing the threads together with his own personal reflections on life, art, and the relationship between the two.

In “Friends of Friends,” Coscia explores the disastrous meeting between Marcel Proust and James Joyce, the unequal relationship between Chekhov and Tolstoy, and Henry James’ story about a woman’s failed attempt to introduce two mutual friends. Each of these episodes is fascinating in its own right, but Coscia finds their common ground, a starting point for his own questions as to whether human beings can really ever meet on the same terms.

 

Emma Mandley had a long career in broadcasting and the arts before discovering that what she really loves is translation. She was born and lives in London, and translates from French as well as from Italian. A Friend in the Dark, her translation of a French novel for children by Pascal Ruter, has recently been published by Walker Books. She also translates regularly for the website Books in Italy, where she first came across Fabrizio Coscia’s work.

Photo by Joe Williamson

Fabrizio Coscia was born in Naples in 1967 and is a teacher, writer, and journalist. Among other newspapers and periodicals, he has for many years written for the arts-pages of the daily newspaper Il Mattino. His publications include the novel Notte abissina (Avagliano, 2006), the short story “Dove finisce il dolore,” in the anthology Napoli per le strade (Azimuth 2009, Girulà Prize 2009), as well as Soli Eravamo (Ad Est dell’Equatore, 2015), from which the submitted text is taken, and La bellezza che resta (Melville, 2017).

Photo by Sergio Siano

Night and Your Memory

Night, and your absent memory crept into my heart
As in a wasteland, spring blossoms quietly
As in a desert, the zephyr sways gently
As to a dying man, relief comes, unexpectedly.

 

 

Rubai

Raat yuuñ dil meñ tirī khoī huī yaad aa.ī
Jaise vīrāne meñ chupke se bahār aa jaa.e
Jaise sahrāoñ meñ haule se chale bād-e-nasīm
Jaise bīmār ko be-vaj.h qarār aa jaa.e

 

Translator’s Note:

Translating poetry is not just about fidelity to the words but to the essence of the words. In my approach to translations, I look beyond the words for the meaning, the central play in the original poet’s mind. Where possible, and especially in Urdu ghazals, where there is a strict rhyming and syllabic count sequence, I try to recreate a rhyme.

 

Ajit S. Dutta

Ajit S. Dutta is a Sikh-American author and published poet with an MFA from UC Riverside. In his professional career, Dutta managed a management consulting business with several offices in Africa, Haiti, and India, which brought him in touch with several cultures and countries. Mr. Dutta published a book, A Father’s Poems, in 2000. His poems are also part of an anthology of published poetry in India. In addition to his poetry, Mr. Dutta translates poems from Urdu and Braj Bhasha into English. Dutta currently lives in Oakton, VA.

Photo by: Ajit S. Dutta

Faiz Ahmed Faiz

Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1911-1984), one of Urdu poetry’s most read poets, started off his poetic career writing light-hearted poems about love and beauty. Soon, though, his poems became more political, assumed more revolutionary themes reflecting his belief in communism; in several poems, he rues the fact that beauty’s attraction cannot hide the ugliness of poverty and social ills. His bold writing got him thrown in Pakistani prisons and, after the death of his benefactor, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, he went into self-exile in Beirut. Faiz has been nominated several times for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Photo by Daily Pakistan

A Lesson in Translation

A sin of beauty is a toy forever:
I transgress; I jumble up words,
fumble for the right age, mislabel
Keats for Yeats, bumble between
the present tense and the past tense.
For elegance, for beauty,
for my inflexible desire, I dismiss
faithfulness and disable meaning.
I mistranslate flyable twilight as
an unshakable rock in the shade.
My trembling heart turns gullible; I
bungle because I dread crumbling
my invaluable self to fulfill
something noble. I scramble parts of
speech and stumble over the nature
of a lost pitch or peach. I nibble at
the peach, nuzzle its scent, gobble its
color, but have trouble pitching
its flavor. I juggle my translation:
A sin of beauty is
a toy for adults forever——

Beauty forever is a toy for—
a sin of—adults.

 

 

翻譯課

美的罪過是永恆的
玩具:我有罪,我
背錯單字,我記錯
年齡,分不清濟慈
葉慈,現在式過去式
我為了雅,為了美
為了達我所欲達
而背信,毀義
我把稍縱即逝的飛霞
誤譯為樹蔭下的磐石
我粗心因為驚心,我
大意因為不敢大義滅親
除三害,除至親的自己
我弄錯詞性,把握不住
迷逃或蜜桃的本質
我咬了一口又一口桃
聞到它的香,吃了它的
色,始終沒有把味道
翻出來。我重修翻譯:
美的罪過是永恆的
成人玩具——

A sin of beauty is
a toy for adults forever.

 

Note: The first line references “A thing of beauty is a joy forever” in John Keats’s “Endymion.”

 

Translator’s Note:

Chen Li is one of the most prominent and prolific contemporary poets writing in Chinese. He and I first met when I interviewed him for my field research of Taiwan visual poetry in 2014. Having a strong penchant for word play, sound play, and visual creativeness, Chen Li is a key player of Chinese-language concrete poetry. His best-known work in the West is arguably the concrete piece, “A War Symphony,” which can be found in Poetry (March 2010), along with a commentary by the poet.

Intrigued by the “magic in language and form that characterizes Chen Li’s poetry,” to borrow the words of The Cambridge History of Chinese Literature, I began to translate some of his poems. An avid translator himself, Chen Li reads my translations with enthusiasm, patience, and understanding. His feedbacks and suggestions are often sources of inspiration that could extend both ways, as in “A Lesson in Translation.” According to him, the poem was stimulated by our discussions of my translations.

Opening with a reference to “A thing of beauty is a joy forever,” from John Keats’s “Endymion,” Chen Li’s poem depicts the translator’s “crime” of transgression due to his (or her) own aesthetic principles, leading to a series of bafflements. To highlight the idea of translator as traitor, I attempted a meta-translation (i.e., a self-reflexive approach to translation). As translator/traitor, “I transgress” by cramming the translation with assonance to an almost farcical effect. While the assonance echoes the homophony in the Chinese characters 大意   (dàyì, “carelessness”) versus 大義   (dàyì, “righteousness”), and 迷逃   (mítáo, “to lose one’s way”) versus 蜜桃   (mìtáo, “peach”), the formal hyperbole created by the assonance contrasts with the notion of eternal beauty that frames the original poem. I problematize the notion with another transgression; namely, a “juggle” or an intra-lingual transposition of the English translation that Chen Li has done for the last two lines of the Chinese poem.

Through the meta-translation, I hope to draw the reader’s attention to how translation can say something more, something other than the original. I also hope to foreground the role of translation in trans-lingual exchange, less as a proxy than as a site of dynamic linguistic encounter experienced by not only the translator but also the reader.

 

Elaine WongElaine Wong received a PhD in English at the University of Texas at San Antonio. She found her way to literary translation through her doctoral dissertation on the poetic creativity of written signs. Besides translating, she is a part-time linguistics lecturer at Trinity University, San Antonio. Her poems, translations, and scholarly essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Asymptote, Exchanges, Grey Sparrow, International Poetry Review, InTranslation, L2, Metamorphoses, Modern Poetry in Translation, Reunion, TAB, Transference, Two-Thirds North, and other publications.

Chen LiChen Li lives in Hualien, Taiwan. He has published fourteen poetry books and has been a recipient of Taiwan’s National Award for Literature and the Arts, the Taiwan Literature Award, and other literary prizes. While his poems have been translated into English, French, Spanish, Dutch, German, Croatian, Japanese, and Korean, Chen Li has translated, in collaboration with his wife Chang Fen-ling, more than twenty poetry volumes into Chinese, including the works of Robert Hass, Seamus Heaney, Brenda Hillman, Pablo Neruda, Octavio Paz, Sylvia Plath, and Wisława Szymborska. Chen Li participated in the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program in 2014.

 

Selected Poems from Blackbird

Gravedigger

The song of the factory’s fans and the telephone that
announces: life is so fragile like this state in which one
writes. There’s a reason the trees shake at the bottom of this
painting, as if somebody had opened a door through which
the wind is expelled, house distorted by memory.
But like a branch hangs, shaking off the hunger of
falling, the blackbirds that will lose their nests this winter do
what’s possible to prevail over the tumult. It’s probable
that out of all these fights, something more than a tomb
will remain where the water streams off and rises once again.

 


Tesla

To Juan Ignacio

I, who had hoped to invent everything
sleep and let my socks convince me
that the void opens into the void
and further out from this fabric
lies the man exhausted from screwing
hitting the offices
naked like an antenna
or an idea that sails the sea
until resting in your window
capable of leaving the world in a locker
I keep the bolt I tamed in the shade,
archive it, put it to sleep, make it run circles
inside my hat
and I feed myself with this March sun
under which I stay the intensity of my step
I open the bag of bread
and from that nothing I conjure
the crumbs with which I feed
my pigeons.

 


Sarajevo

In memory of Rubén Jacob

The lost pianists in Sarajevo
and all the rest who succumbed
like children
at the bottom of a pit
will learn later than ever
that The Boston Evening Transcript
will one day tell all its debacle
the life that they lost living
on the corner or on a street
where a poet peeks out
to hear snipers
asking himself
why his friends don’t write him anymore
or reliving the luck of that morning
having not lost his legs
in the breadline
but night falls
and he would like to read that evening paper
in some restaurant on the coast
place the napkin on his lap
tulip lampshades lit
sea tumbling
foaming against the rocks.

 


VI

The Buddha is all compassion
Montreal is all compassion
in Chile the night is eternal
lotus flowers close beneath her
the sound of the train like spores
the wind hardens our skin
reality is a touchscreen
the sobriety of its icons
the mantra of the river wakes us every morning
the carpenters spall their hands
energy flows toward industry
all possession is deception
you and I wanted to have personas
collect their gestures and objects
I knew her for four years without getting anywhere
not getting anywhere Jeanne is a vital impulse
the minimalism in which love leaves us
Bertolt Brecht sat on his bed to write
old books explain wisdom:
depart from worldly fights
let elapse without concern the brevity of time
liberate yourself from violence impart good not evil
don’t satisfy desires forget them
and we want to live under a grape arbor on Sundays
have a lake house like hers
see whole summers in dust wrap the thistle
the blackbirds perch on them to trill
their cars enter private land
the road turns to cobblestone
their boats relax on the docks
one time she escaped from those lunches
rounding the banks until falling in with a parade
she ate empanadas staining her suit
while kites plummeted into the willows
now I only find her in dreams
I sleep a little a lot maybe almost never
and I tried to learn tarot to see if she thinks of me
and yet we should nullify all thoughts
let the voice resound to the spine
squint eyes and repeat words without understanding them
discover the veil before the void
science is useless at these points
that’s why I ask you Jeanne forget Buenos Aires
breathe in a regular rhythm
do not force reality
be as the curtains sway in the lake.

 


VIII

Forty years could pass
the sea lions drying their fur on the rocks
and in spite of that I couldn’t say anything new
I think about a crab that breaks to pieces
the sand glistens under the movement of waves
because we were on those beaches so many times
letting the wind shake out our worries
and all of that time passed behind your dark lenses
as one who thinks of the word they withhold
from the depths the dead speak in a language of sand
Dante’s purgatory was also a beach
souls guided by something as a ridiculous as an angel
the train schedules are announced by the speakers
because forty years could pass
form an ellipsis with the names that are still missing
or cross the school’s hallway toward the chapel
the smell of flowers the seats arranged correctly
writing lines of poetry as punishment in the afternoon or the hate born toward verse
but we escaped on bicycles on the gravel
and little pebbles got into our shoes
that was youth Jeanne
afternoons of bread and mashed avocado video games
the valley closing on itself with the movement of the mountains
all the blue poster board for the mes del mar
and the original image fading in photocopies
or the altered depths after the earthquake
the subsequent waves against the breakers
although there was a time that we were in love with each other
the townships turned to dust and the sound of the earth woke us
we knocked down a house to see the river
blackbirds live in a sound that has lost its origin
the English movies we watched can be disposed of
summer heat shine on your face
many times we imagined ourselves at forty
the sea’s language spooning dreams on eight-millimeter film
to arrive at the cabin at night to wash feet.

 

 

Sepulturero

El canto de los ventiladores de la fábrica y el teléfono que
anuncia: la vida es tan frágil como este estado en que se
escribe. Por algo se sacuden los árboles al fondo de esta
pintura, como si alguien hubiese abierto una puerta por la
que el viento se desplaza, casa curvada por la memoria.
Pero así como una rama cuelga despistando el hambre de
caer, los tordos que perderán sus nidos este invierno hacen
lo posible por predominar sobre el tumulto. Es probable
que sobre todas estas luchas quede algo más que una
tumba donde el agua resbale y vuelva a ascender.

 


Tesla

A Juan Ignacio

Yo, que lo quise inventar todo
duermo y me dejo convencer por mis calcetines de
que el vacío se abre hacia el vacío
y que más allá de esta tela
yace el hombre agotado de atornillar
golpeando las oficinas
desnudo como una antena o una
idea que surca el mar
hasta descansar en tu ventana
capaz de echar el mundo en una gaveta
Guardo el rayo que domé en la sombra lo
archivo lo acuesto lo hago circular dentro
de mi sombrero
y me alimento de este sol de marzo
en que detengo la intensidad de mi paso
Abro la bolsa de pan
y hago surgir desde esa nada las
migas con que doy a comer a mis
palomas.

 


Sarajevo

In memoriam Rubén Jacob

Los pianistas perdidos en Sarajevo y
todos aquellos que sucumbieron
como niños
al fondo de una fosa
sabrán más tarde que nunca
que The Boston Evening Transcript contará
algún día su debacle
la vida que perdieron viviendo en
la esquina o en una calle donde un
poeta se asoma
a oír francotiradores
preguntándose
por qué los amigos ya no escriben
o reviviendo la suerte de esa mañana al
no perder las piernas
en la fila para el pan pero
la noche cae
y desearía leer ese vespertino
en algún restaurant frente a la costa
posar la servilleta en las rodillas
encendidas las lámparas de tulipas el
mar revolcándose
espumando contra las rocas.

 


VI

El Buda es toda compasión
Montreal es toda compasión en
Chile la noche es eterna
bajo ella se cierran las flores del loto el
sonido del tren como esporas
el viento curte nuestra piel
la realidad es una pantalla táctil la
sobriedad de sus íconos
el mantra del río nos levanta cada mañana
carpinteros astillan sus manos
la energía fluye hacia las industrias toda
posesión es engaño
tú y yo quisimos tener personas
coleccionar sus gestos y objetos
la conocí por cuatros años sin llegar a nada llegar
a nada Jeanne es un impulso vital
el minimalismo en que nos deja el amor Bertolt
Brecht se sentaba en su cama a escribir los viejos
libros explican la sabiduría:
apartarse de las luchas del mundo
transcurrir sin inquietudes la brevedad del tiempo librarse
de la violencia dar bien por mal
no satisfacer los deseos olvidarlos
y quisiéramos vivir bajo un parrón los domingos tener
una casa en el lago como la de ella
ver veranos enteros el polvo envolver al cardo los
tordos se posan en ellos a trinar
sus autos entran a terrenos privados
el camino se adoquina
sus lanchas descansan en los muelles una
vez se escapó de esos almuerzos
rodeando la orilla hasta mezclarse en un desfile
comió empanadas manchando su vestido
mientras volantines se desplomaban en los sauces
ahora solo me la encuentro en los sueños
duermo poco mucho tal vez casi nada
y he intentado aprender las cartas del tarot para saber si me piensa
y sin embargo debemos anular todo pensamiento
dejar que la voz retumbe hasta la espalda
entrecerrar los ojos repetir palabras sin sentirlas
descubrir el velo hacia el vacío
la ciencia es inútil en esos puntos
es por eso te pido Jeanne olvida Buenos Aires
respira con ritmo regular
no violentes la realidad
se como las cortinas sacudirse en el lago.

 


VIII

Podrían pasar cuarenta años
los lobos secar su pelaje en las rocas
y así y todo yo no podría decir nada nuevo
pienso en un cangrejo que se despedaza
la arena brilla bajo el movimiento de las olas porque
estuvimos tantas veces en esas playas dejando que
el viento sacudiera las preocupaciones y todo el
tiempo pasó por sus lentes oscuros
como quien piensa la palabra que esconde
del fondo los muertos hablan con un lenguaje de arena el
Purgatorio para Dante era también una playa
las almas guiadas por algo tan ridículo como un ángel
de los altavoces indican el itinerario de los trenes
porque podrían pasar cuarenta años
hacer una elipsis con los nombres que faltan o
cruzar el pasillo del colegio hacia la capilla
su olor a flores asientos correctamente ordenados
el castigo de copiar poesía por la tarde o el odio parido al verso
pero escapábamos en bicicletas por el ripio
y piedritas entraban en los zapatos
esa fue la infancia Jeanne
tardes de pan con palta videojuegos
el valle cerrándose con el movimiento de las montañas
todas las cartulinas azules del mes del mar
y las fotocopias desgastan el rostro original
o como la profundidad alterada tras el terremoto
las olas sucesivas en la rompiente
aunque un día estuvimos enamorados uno del otro
los pueblos se volvían polvo y nos despertaba el sonido de la tierra
derribamos una casa para ver el río
los tordos habitar un sonido que perdió su origen
las películas inglesas que vimos pueden eliminarse
el calor de un verano dar en tu cara
nos imaginamos varias veces a los cuarenta años
el idioma del mar acurrucando sueños en ocho milímetros
llegar por la noche a la cabaña a limpiarse los pies.

 

Translator’s Note:

Growing up in a bilingual household, I’ve been acquainted with translation throughout my life. For the most part, English was a public language and Spanish a language of the home, more hidden away. When I lived in Santiago, Chile, the opposite was true, and poetics further expanded the roles of both languages as I began translating Neruda, Parra, and Mistral as a hobby. A year ago, I made a serious decision to translate a poet who is around my age and currently publishing in South America. As a publishing poet myself, I am very interested in proliferating work by South American poets in similar stations of their careers to encourage a more global dialogue among literary cultures. While I mostly read poets in translation who have already established themselves as heavy hitters in their respective cultures and continents, I want to contribute to a push for literary presses and journals to be more internationally driven as a means of promoting more current and expansive contemporary voices.

This particular selection of translations represents the opposing styles found in the larger work. In Blackbird, Palma writes in two distinct voices, demarcated by the two sections of the collection. The first voice is concise, cerebral, and shrewd in its construction, the second more expansive, romantic, and beat-influenced. In the poems, we see the collision of the natural world with that of the invasive and urban; between real and void, human with animal, spiritual and scientific, each dichotomous notion explored on personal and political planes. While the two halves differ greatly, there is a clean sense of awareness and dependence between the two, without offering it obviously or cheaply to the reader.

 

Lucian Mattison is an Argentinean-American poet and author of Peregrine Nation (The Broadkill River Press, 2014) and Reaper’s Milonga, forthcoming from YesYes Books in 2017. He is the winner of the 2016 Puerto Del Sol Poetry Prize and his poems appear or are forthcoming in The Adroit JournalThe Boiler, Hinchas de Poesia, Hobart, Muzzle, Nashville Review, Pinwheel, and elsewhere online and in print. His fiction appears in Fiddleblack, Nano Fiction, and Per Contra. His poetry translations are forthcoming in Hayden’s Ferry Review and Newfound. He works at George Washington University and is an associate editor for Big Lucks. To read more, visit Lucianmattison.com; Twitter: @luciannumerouno

Diego Alfaro Palma (Limache, Chile, 1984) is a poet and editor. He is the author of two poetry books: Paseantes (2009, Ediciones del Temple) and Tordo, winner of the Santiago Literary Prize 2015 (Ediciones del Dock, Argentina, 2016 | Editorial Cuneta, Chile, 2014). He edited Homage to Ezra Pound (Universitaria, 2010) and the Collected Poems of Cecilia Casanova (Universidad de Valparaíso, 2013). His forthcoming work Litoral Central, recently won publication in 2017 by the National Book Fund in his native Chile. He is the founder of publisher Limache250 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he currently resides.

Excerpts from A Stone for Life, A Stone for Death: A Long Poem

1

The ogre is bad-tempered
He throws a fit
Hurling rotten stones
Giant stale rocks, to be more precise
The ogre wants fresh stones
And the dream doesn’t leave him alone:
I want stones
Timely stones
My exhaustion wants them
Living stones
Stones that break away from your seconds fall over me
Stones that pour out of your mouths and cross your minds lie heavily on me
Your stones aren’t healthy
I want newborn stones
Child stones
Stones whose stoniness hasn’t been tested or proven yet
The ogre pulls up the trees by the roots
Demanding stones from them
He yells at their trunks and leaves
Begs them
To show him the stones they have swallowed
The ogre looks for a massive stone
To fill the void of his father’s death
The ogre wants special stones
To put on top of shadows to stop them from moving
The ogre goes as far as threatening his inner-ogre
Demanding from him stones that can be applied to
Life and death alike.

 


3

His manner was far from ordinary
So was his gaze
Devastating storms of silence
Nested in him, always:
He housed in his body a disintegrated planet
with all its particles, history, and inhabitants

He could pick your star from the sky, eat it,
And spit out the seeds in the form of your
Distant and not-so-distant relatives
—at different stages of their lives.
Don’t take offense but
Where in this picture are you?
I am reporting back in a clear voice
But can’t see a trace of you anywhere
Wait! I bet you are the one who in the process of translation
Lost so much color
That you look almost dead in the other language
and only people like me
Appreciate you, even when you’re dead

If I list here the names of all of you that I’ve lost
Will we be together in one place, in silence?
Often I feel you,
Yes, I mean you!
Show me where you are in these images:
In harsh winters
He perched up on your rooftops
Hugged the square brick chimney and
Fell asleep.
Out of all the light and heavy notions of life
This was the only warmth
That made him drunk with joy.

He thinks from below the belt
Not his brain
He always carries a handful of human seeds that he can plant on a whim
They grow at the speed of light, stand up and move.
None of them surprised to see the others
All fixated on the time within their brains
Not even noticing who’s sitting next to them
Unless one recognizes the other and calls out their names inadvertently
To breach the air between them
To make them both alive.
They find each other
But what’s there to talk about on night zero?

When they come and sit on the edge of your shadow
One of them suddenly dives into it, falling back to his personal time
The rest stay away from it and return to where they were
Until the time comes for the shadow to form again, to be complete
I too have stood many times at the razor edge of these photos, smells, and memories until my knees gave out
Or until my heart was filled with temptation
At times I’ve even plunged into dreams
Pitch black throughout
Falling until there was no more end to my fear
The more my head hit the rocks,
The less I woke up
I was capable of dying twice
Three times
Over and over actually
This was my revenge on immortality
Only death could be alive
With no claim to wisdom, no pretension
If one day my face appears next to yours
Be kind to it so
It can fall asleep
Technically, it’s dead but sometimes gets playful and craves to come back amongst you
But like I said, it’s dead

A boy from behind a window sees it and asks his father:
“Daddy, when someone dies, does he take his shadow with him?”
“No, my little girl.”
“But I’m a boy, Dad!”
“No, my little boy.
Shadows don’t know what dying means.”

 


11

Death had on several occasions
Sniffed him up close
That’s why the texture of his words had changed
And he smiled constantly and his eyes were
Elsewhere
Not with us.

 


23

The given: family, city, school, university, geography, army, borders, wars, Heraclitus, Xenon, rabbits, turtles, Hegel, Marx.
The taken: belt, shoelaces, watch, pants, shirt, photos, writings, personhood,individuality, identity, memory, tomorrow, time.
Mother! How I need you!

What the current order of things is:
Behind bars, covered in the dust of all these listed below you don’t know what meaning means any more: Pills, 11-o’clock shocks, 2-o’clock shocks, guffaws of the male and female prostitutes, files, your beard growing at the same speed as your madness, and the grass under your feet. The game is over.
Shoot!
Nothing like being screwed over, especially on an overcast day.
Shoot!

.    .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .

What the rain brings: misery, curse, blood, ashes, suffering, hatred, First, Second, Dachau, Auschwitz, Vietnam, Korea, Iran, Sarajevo, Afghanistan
(And there’s no ocean even in dreams to wash away a corner of this madness so
We can get lost without even remembering we’re dead)
We die
They die
They keep dying
And death is no doubt a profanity to name all the above.
Shoot!

 


28

Weight of one month of flying on our wings, our eyes
This is the first night we fall asleep next to each other, collectively.
“I’m young. It’s my first year of landing here, being with the other migrants.
My senses are so untouched, so fresh
Maybe that’s why—unlike others,
I can’t fall asleep. I don’t want to.”

He doesn’t know he’s experiencing
The happiness of happiness of happiness.

 

 

1

غول عصبی بود
سنگهای بیات را
صخره های عظیم بیات را پرتاب می کرد
غول سنگ های تازه ای می خواست
و از این رویا بیرون نمی آمد
من سنگ می خواهم :
سنگ زمان هایتان را
خسته گی من سنگ می خواهد
خسته گی من صخره های زنده لازم دارد
سنگ هایی که از ثانیه هاتان جدا می شود، می افتد روی من
سنگ هایی که از حرف هایتان  بیرون می ریزد روی من است
سنگ هایی که از افکارتان می گذرد در من سنگینی می کند
سنگ های شما سالم نیست
سنگ های تازه متولدشده
سنگ های کودک
سنگهایی که سنگ بودنشان اثبات نشده
من از این سنگ ها می خواهم.
غول درخت ها را از جا می کند
و از آن ها سنگ می خواست
بر سر ریشه آن ها، تنه و برگ هاشان فریاد می زد
التماس می کرد
که سنگ هایی را که بلعیده اند
چرا نشانش نمی دهند
غول برای مرگ پدرش دنبال سنگی عظیم می گشت
که بگذارد جای آن
غول سنگ هایی می خواست  سنگ هایی مخصوص
که بگذارد روی سایه ها تا حرکت نکنند
غول غول بودن خود را تهدید می کرد و از آن سنگ می خواست
سنگی که برای زنده گی و مرگ یکسان باش

 


3

رفتاری روزمره نداشت
چشمانی روزمره نداشت
گردبادهای ویران گر سکوت بود
:که دائما در او می چرخید
سیاره ای از هم پاشیده در او جا گرفته بود
با همه اجزا و تاریخ و موجوداتش

ستاره ات را از آسمان می توانست بچیند و بخورد
و هسته هایش را در هیئت اقوام دور و نزدیکت
-در سنین مختلفشان-
در اطرافت بپاشد
!جا نخور
تو کجای این تصویرهایی؟
من با صدایی رسا دارم گزارش می دهم
اما اثری از تو نمی بینم
نکند تو همانی که در اثر ترجمه به زبانی دیگر
گاهی رنگت چنان می پرد
که در زبانی دیگر مرده ای و آدم هایی مثل من است که
!مرده ات را احساس می کنند؟
اگر نام همه شماها را که از دست داده ام
این جا دخالت دهم، بیاورم
آیا یک جا و در سکوت باهم خواهیم بود؟
خیلی وقت ها حست می کنم
!آهای با تو ام
:جایت را در یکی از این تصاویر روشن کن، نشان بده
در زمستان هایی سخت
بالای شیروانی هاتان بود
دودکش های آجری مربعتان را بغل می زد و
به خواب می رفت
و از تمامی زنده گی و چرخه های سنگین و سبک مفاهیم
این تنها گرمایی بود که به او باز می گشت و
با تمام وجود مستش می کرد

او با زیر شکمش فکر می کند
نه با مغزش
بذر اسکلت آدم هایی را دارد
که هر آن بخواهد یک مشت از آن ها را روی زمین می پاشد
و آن ها با سرعت برق می رویند و بالا می آیند و حرکت می کنند
هیچ کس از وجود دیگری در عجب نمی شود
هر کسی در زمان مغز خود می پوید و
کسی هم کنار دستی اش را نمی بیند
تا تو یکی از آنها را بشناسی و بی اختیار داد بزنی و صدایش کمی
و این هوا را بشکافد و هر دو زنده شوید و
هم دیگر را بیابد
اولین شب ها از چه ها می شود حرف زد؟

آن ها می آیند و بر لبه سایه ات می ایستند
و یکی شان به ناگاه شیرجه می زند در سایه
به زمان شخصی خود باز می گردد
بقیه از سایه کناره می گیرند و باز می گردند
تا زمانی دیگر و تکمیل شدن دوباره سایه و صدا کردن هایش
من هم بسیار بر لبه تیغ های این عکس ها، بوها و خاطره ها ایستاده ام و
زانوهایم اختیار از کف داده اند
یا دلم را وسوسه ای یک پارچه فراگرفته
یا اصلا، پریده ام
در خواب هایی یک سر سیاه
که پایین می افتادم و پایین می افتادم و وحشت تمامی نداشت و
سرم هرچه به سنگ ها می خورد
دیگر بیدار نمی شدم
توانایی دوباره مردن را یافته بودم
سه باره مردن را
مدام مردن را
این هم انتقامی بود که از جاودانه گی ها می گرفتم
فقط مرگ می توانست زنده باشد
بی شعاری، بی دانایی ای در آن

روزی اگر صورتم پیشتان آمد
یا بسیار نزدیک به صورت من بود
با او مهربانی کنید
تا آرام آرام به خواب رود
او مرده است اما گاهی می زند به کله اش و برمی گردد میان شماها
او مرده است
:پسربچه ای از پشت پنجره می بیندش و از پدرش می پرسد
بابا! کسی که می میره-
!سایه شم با خودش می بره؟
!نه دخترم-
!من پسرم بابا-
.نه پسرم! سایه ش نمی دونه مردن یعنی چی-

 


11

مرگ چندین و چند بار
او را از نزدیک بو کرده بود
که جنس حرفهایش عوض شده بود
که مدام می خندید و چشم هایش
دیگر با ما نبود

 


 23

به تو معنی داده اند خانواده شهر مدرسه دانش گاه –جغرافیا ارتش مرزها دشمنی ها
به تو معنی داده اند رودخانه هراکلیتوس زنون خرگوش لاک پشت هگل مارکس
از تو این ها را گرفته اند   کمربند بندکفش ساعت شلوار پیراهن عکس ها نوشته ها
!شخص فرد هویت حافظه فردا زمان  مادر!! چه قدر به تو نیاز دارم-
قرار این است
:پشت میله ها گرد این همه آن قدر بپاشد رویت تا چیزی دیگر در تو نتواند معنی شود
قرص ها شوک های ساعت یازده شوک های ساعت چهارده  خنده های
روسپی های مذکر و مونث و پرونده ها و ریشت]
که دارد سرسام آور سبز می شود چمن ها سبز می شوند علف زیر پایت سال ها
بازی تمام شده است
!شلیک کن
به گا رفتن در هوایی ابری
!شلیک کن

     .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .

باریدن لعنت و لعن و نفرین و خون و خاکستر و زجر و نفرت و اول و دوم و
داخائو و آئوشویتس و ویتنام و کره و ایران و سارایه و و افغانستان و
اقیانوسی پیدا نمی شود حتا در رویا]
که بتواند گوشه ای کوچک را بشوید گورمان را چنان گم کنیم
که حتا یادمان نیاید مرده ایم و می میریم مرده بودند و می مرند و مرگ
بی شک نام کثیفی برای این چیز هاست
!شلیک کن

 


28

سنگینی یک ماه پرواز در بال هامان چشم هامان
.و نخستین شبی که کنار هم دسته جمعی به خواب می رویم
من جوانم، اولین سالم است که با گروه مهاجر»
.در این جا فرود آمده ام
و آن قدر حسم بکر است و نو و شفاف
-که شاید به خاطر همین –بر خلاف همه که خوابیده اند
«.اصلا خوابم نمی آد

او نمی داند که دارد
.خوش بختی خوش بختی خوش بختی را تجربه می کند

 

Translator’s Note: 
This is by far the most fragmented translation project I have worked on. Fragmented in time, text, and paratext. I was introduced to the poetry of Shahram Sheydayi through A Stone for Life, A Stone for Death, his very last book. In March 2014, I received a package in the mail from a dear friend in Tehran who was once a close friend of Shaydayi’s. The note on the title page said: “For Lida. I hope you like Sheydayi’s poetic experience in the form of this long poem, so immeasurable, so mournful.” The lack of biographical context was unnerving, yet intriguing enough to lead me into reading the entire body of Sheydayi’s work. He was a very private person who chose to live a hermitic life in his last years, partly because of his illness, but mostly because he did not want to associate and be associated with many of his contemporaries, whose definition of literary modernism was reduced to formal gestures and swung more to a kind of rhetorical and linguistic extremism. This was against the ethos of Sheydayi’s work. Perhaps he could be best described as a conservative modernist who believed in poetry in the archetypal sense of the word. Sheydayi is a poet whose narratives are devastatingly honest, and that is why I wanted him to be heard and read.

A note on the story behind omitted lines in poem 23: these omissions also appear in the original poem. When I first translated the poem, I thought the ellipses were a formal or stylistic decision by the poet. However, I later discovered via the author’s website that these were words or phrases deemed inappropriate or immoral by the “momayyezi” (review board) of the Iranian Ministry of Culture, and hence removed. The publisher decided to put them up on the website, and so, in my next edit of the translation, I put those words back in. In subsequent edits, however, I decided to stick to the “original,” i.e., the censored version. I thought if the Farsi-speaking readers at home have access only to this version, why afford the privilege to the readership of the translated text?

 

Lida Nosrati is a refugee legal worker in Toronto. Her translations of contemporary Iranian poetry, short fiction, and plays have appeared in Words Without Borders, Drunken Boat, and TransLit, among others. She was a 2014 Witter Bynner Poetry Translation fellow at the Santa Fe Art Institute

Photo by Setareh Delzendeh

 

Shahram Sheydayi (1967-2009) was a contemporary Iranian poet, writer, lexicographer, and translator. In 2004, he founded White Crow publishing house, which featured original and translated works of poetry and short fiction by him and other writers. A Stone for Life, A Stone for Death: A Long Poem, was published posthumously in 2013.