Little Street for Sex

LITTLE STREET FOR SEX

I live in the shopping center of the world, it’s open 24 hours. There are, for example, streets for luminous bodies, and there’s no end to the lights, lace lampshades, chandeliers, bulbs of every breed; then a street of screws and nuts, and an endless line of fish restaurants, a side street where you can buy sheep heads and organs you’ll never see in the anatomy books. Not far is a black-and-red street with jazz clubs, then carpets, kilims, kilims, and all of them flying, alleys of baklava and lokum, shop windows dripping with meat and honey and it continues thus until your feet start hurting, and thoughts cease.

The street for sex is an unsightly descent, one of many that lead to the water and the docks with moored ships for the Bosphorus and Asia. On the left side of the street, bulk boxes gape with condoms. Men, mostly young, sit in groups, on walls and in stairways, smoke and talk, wait their turn. On the right side there are no windows, just a massive metal door, half open. Beyond, a little gatehouse can be seen: two cops ID and pat down the customers before they let them into the brothel.

Women don’t really pass by around here, except if they get lost, except for the two of us.

T. tells me: Don’t stare like a hayseed, and no, don’t take pictures, a cop could come out. And if you could see it the day after Ramadan, the line of men is longer than the street.

Why wouldn’t I stare, I say? They stare too.

I mention Flaubert, who spent a few weeks here, visited a brothel, right here in Galata. At the time he noticed—Flaubert wrote to his friend Bouilhet—seven sores on his penis, aiee! (The start of syphilis he contracted, probably, in Beirut, but that, sources say, didn’t really stop him from whoring. For more information, consult the slightly biting O. Pamuk’s Istanbul, V&R, pg. 313.)

On the way out, toward the Galata Bridge, where the Sea of Marmara collides with winds from the Black Sea, and countless men net sardines or some similar fish, we run into a line of covered Turkish teens and little ladies under hijabs: they carry banners and Palestinian flags. While we watch them, the eyes of fishermen sail over the naked back of some tourist girl who just now crosses the bridge.

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MALA ULICA ZA SEKS

Živim u shopping centru svijeta, radi od 0 do 24. Postoje, na primjer, ulice za rasvjetna tijela, pa kad to krene nikad kraja svjetiljkama, čipkastim abažurima, lusterima, žaruljama svake fele; zatim ulica vijaka i matica, pa beskrajan niz ribljih restorana, jedan sokak gdje se mogu kupiti ovčje glave i iznutrice kakvih nema ni u anatomskim atlasima. Nedaleko je i crveno-crna ulica sa jazz klubovima, pa ćilimi, ćilimi, ćilimi, a svaki leti, aleje baklava i lokuma, izlozi po kojima curi meso i med i tako redom, dok ne zabole noge, a pamet stane.

Ulica za seks je neugledna nizbrdica, jedna od mnogih kojima se može spustiti do obale i dokova uz koje su privezani brodovi za Bospor i Aziju. S lijeve strane ulice otvorene su kutije prepune kondoma rinfuzo. Muškarci, uglavnom mlađi, sjede u grupicama, po zidovima i ulaznim stubištima, puše i ragovaraju, čekaju svoj red. S desne strane nema izloga, samo ogromna metalna vrata. Jedno krilo je otvoreno i vidi se kućica na kapiji: dva policajca legitimiraju i pregledavaju mušterije prije nego što ih puste u kupleraj.

Žene ovuda baš i ne prolaze, osim ako ne zalutaju i osim nas dvije.

T. mi kaže: Ne bulji tako ko seljanka i ne, nemoj ih fotografirati, mogao bi izaći policajac. E, da vidiš kako je dan nakon Ramazana, muški red je duži od ulice.

Što ne bih buljila, kažem, bulje i oni u nas.

Spominjem joj Flauberta koji je ovdje proveo nekoliko tjedana, pa posjetio i neki bordel, ma baš ovdje na Galati. A otkrio je tih dana — piše Flaubert svom prijatelju Bouilhetu — sedam ranica na penisu, ajme. (Početak sifilisa koi je zaradio, valjda, u Beirutu, ali to ga, navode izvori, nije osobito sprječavalo u kurbarluku. Za više informacija konzultirati pomalo zajedljivog O. Pamuka, “Istanbul”, V&R, str. 313)

Na izlazu, prema mostu Galata, gdje se sudaraju vjetorovi s Crnog i Mramornog mora, a mnoštvo ribara lovi srdele ili neku sličnu ribu, naletimo na kolonu pokrivenih turskih tinejdžerki i mnogih gospođa pod hidžabima: one nose transparente i palestinke zastave. Dok ih pratimo pogledom, oči ribara plove na golim leđima neke turistkinje koja upravo prelazi most.

Translator’s Note

Translation is a kind of role-playing. You go into it because the experience of temporarily ‘being’ someone else—in this case, another artist—is mentally stimulating. I think that as writers we need to get comfortable with shedding our skin, our identities, so that we can cultivate the ability to understand different perspectives, to refine authentic linguistic sensitivities, and to create emotionally true, no-nonsense work. Also, the process of translation feels nowhere near as solitary as writing one’s own work. But I approach both in a similar manner: with a pitcher of black coffee, some album on an endless repeat, and lots of time alone. I work for weeks at a time on batches of poems. “Little Street for Sex” is from Olja’s collection Mamasafari, a book at the heart of which is a series of poems about Istanbul. I translated the book, and this is one of my favorite poems in it.

Why Olja’s work? My inspiration comes from the fact that there is a lack of recorded narratives about our people (both Olja and I are Croatians), and about South Slavs in general—narratives that dive into both our primitivism and collective emotional scars. Also, except for Charles Simic’s The Horse Has Six Legs (an anthology of Serbian poetry), the literary talent of our linguistic region has not had much serious exposure to American readers. I am also interested in how individual identity gets expressed through one’s sexuality and as a part of a collective identity. And I gravitate toward those authors who are honest in that exploration but also whose use of language demonstrates a kind of brilliance, ambition, understated domination of it—those authors who break our expectations of literature, and then renew them. Olja does exactly that. Hers is an understated voice that carries immense strength. It’s like a whispered command. Also, her use of Croatian language is traced with dialect in a very individual manner. And I love that variety of sounds and flavors, and the challenge it creates in translation. Those dialectic shades of a language create a textual tension that often helps heighten that blood-thrashing we experience when reading a good poem.

Olja_headshotOlja Savičević Ivančević is a Croatian author whose work has been translated into German, Czech, Italian, Spanish, French, Macedonian, Polish, Ukranian, Lithuanian, and Zulu, among other languages. Her collections of poetry include: It Will Be Tremendous When I Grow Up (1988); Eternal Kids (1993); Female Manuscripts (1999); Puzzlerojc (2005); House Rules (2007), winner of the prestigious Croatian award Kiklop; and Mamasafari (2012). Her collection of short stories, To Make A Dog Laugh (2006), and her novel, Adios, Cowboy (2010), won several Croatian literary awards. Adios, Cowboy is forthcoming in English by McSweeney’s in 2015.

A_Jurjevic_headshotAndrea Jurjević is a native of Croatia who lives in Atlanta. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Journal, Harpur Palate, Raleigh Review, Best New Poets, The Missouri Review, and elsewhere. She is the winner of the 2013 Robinson Jeffers Tor Prize and the 2014 Der-Hovanessian Translation Award.

The Child Who Had No Wings

“Once upon a time, many moons ago, people didn’t have wings.”

All the stories my mother used to tell me when I was a child started like that: harking back to an ancient and perhaps mythical time when people had not yet acquired the ability to fly. I used to love listening to those stories, and I would ask her to tell them over and over again, even though I already knew them by heart. There was the one about the eager hero who, lacking wings of his own, made some out of wax and bird feathers; but when he flew too close to the sun, the wax melted and he fell into the sea and drowned. And that other hero who invented a contraption out of wood and canvas so that, by launching himself from the tops of mountains, he could glide over the valleys of his country, taking advantage of the warm air currents—something that all of us do instinctively nowadays, but which, when told as a story, struck me as new and unusual, as if I myself had just discovered a phenomenon which nowadays seems so ordinary that it attracts no attention whatsoever.

What never occurred to me while I was listening to my mother’s stories was that one day, I would feel the lack of wings so immediately and so intimately, and that the story about those handicapped people would end up being a part of my life.

I never had a strong yearning for motherhood. I remember that, as adolescents, many of my friends eagerly anticipated the time when they would become mothers; it seemed that they had no other vocation in life, and their little shrieks of joy, their expressions and contortions whenever they saw a baby, used to irritate me profoundly. They positioned themselves around the cradle or pram, started making cooing and billing sounds like doves, and ended up asking the mother if she would please, just for a moment, let them enfold the little creature in their wings. And when, permission granted, they placed the infant on their chest and wrapped their wings around it, they assumed such an air of happiness that I didn’t know whether to slap their faces for being so silly and so dense, or slap mine for being so detached and so insensitive. The sight of them so full of illusions about something that left me cold made me ill.

In time, I came to understand that there was no obligation to be a mother. That was why, not far short of forty, happily married and well placed professionally, I had abandoned the idea of having children, but in an almost automatic way; quite simply, maternity didn’t enter into my plans. It was then I discovered that I was pregnant.

From the outset, my husband and I were surprised by my doctor’s solicitous concern, his insistence on subjecting me to tests and analyses, on repeating some of them on the grounds that the results were inconclusive. It seemed that something wasn’t quite right, and in fact, he was absolutely correct. I was at the start of the third month when the doctor called us into his office and gave us two pieces of news. The first, that the baby was a girl; and the second, that in all probability she would be born without wings.

I was offered the option of an abortion, but I refused. I, who had never felt attracted by the idea of being a mother, already loved that unknown little girl despite being aware that she would be a burden for life. But she was already my daughter and I would not give her up for anything in the world.

The birth went well, and was surprisingly easy. It was almost as if that poor mutilated little baby had arrived bursting with the desire to live, and all the strength, which would normally have been contained in her wings had been transferred to other parts of her body, especially her extremities. Already during the pregnancy, the power of her kicks in my womb had surprised me, and all the staff who assisted during the birth could see the strength that the infant had in her arms and legs.

When they brought her to me, still covered in blood and vernix, and put her on my chest, I clasped her in my tired wings and noticed how warm her naked skin was. I thought her the most beautiful little girl in the world, all pink and clean, without the cold and tangled feathery down which newborn babies usually had. That nakedness moved me so much that it occurred to me at that moment that ever since the human race had acquired feathers, it had lost that warmth generated by skin-to-skin contact, because the rough, dusty feathers always got in the way. And who can tell if the acquisition of feathers hasn’t caused us to lose many other soft and tender things, like unprotected skin.

From that day, the child was the centre of my life. The first months didn’t present any problems—after all, the wings of a normal baby are so weak that it cannot fly or use them for anything else, so my daughter seemed almost normal. She ate well, slept when she should, and began to recognise us, smile, and babble very early on. Whenever she saw me approaching her cradle, instead of spreading her wings, she would reach out her arms, begging me to pick her up. Apart from that small detail, there was nothing to distinguish her from any other little girl of her age.

Naturally, with each passing month, the difference became clearer. Between eight and ten months, it’s normal for a child to start squatting or kneeling, to unfold its wings and start to flap them in preparation for the first flight. Instead of that, my daughter would sit down and rock back and forth, or support herself on her hands and knees and try to walk on all fours like a cat or a dog. My husband felt ill when he saw her doing this; he said she looked like an animal. Other members of the family suggested I should tie her to the cot to rid her of the habit. I absolutely refused to do this: I defended her right to be different, to express herself and to move in a way that differed from ours, from that of all the other children. “If she has no wings, she has to move somehow, doesn’t she?” I’d say to everyone. But no-one understood: they told me I should get her used to moving about like other children, so that when she was older, she might be able to compensate for her handicap by acquiring some prosthetic wings. That if she was different, we should do nothing to encourage it. The confrontations with everyone became more and more violent: with my husband, my family and my friends. No one wanted to understand that if the child was different, then it was logical that she’d do everything differently.

One day, I discovered something new and wonderful. I’d noticed in old engravings and paintings that in pre-wing times women used to hold their children in their arms, instead of sheltering them between their shoulder blades and wings as we do nowadays. I remember it was a winter’s afternoon, I was alone with my daughter, and the little girl was crawling on the living room carpet. At a particular moment, she sat down on the floor and stretched out her little arms to me. And I, guided by a spontaneous impulse, also stretched out my arms to her and took hold of her, picked her up and put her on my lap. I can’t find the words to express the tenderness that came over me at that moment: I was holding my daughter in my lap, and my arms embraced her completely; and, what was even more surprising was that she imitated me, linking her little arms around my body. And that’s how we stayed, the two of us together, for a long time, locked in this new and previously untried position, face to face, bodies touching, she without wings, I with mine folded back, united solely by our intertwined arms.

As of that moment, I acquired the habit of always picking her up like that. Initially, I did it in secret, partly out of shame and partly because I didn’t want to provoke any more arguments with my husband, who was less and less accepting of our daughter. But soon I began to pick her up like that all the time at home, and eventually I didn’t mind doing it in public. The first few times, it took a great effort to lift the tiny infant onto my lap, but gradually, my arms became stronger from the constant repetition of the movement, and I’m even tempted to say that it reached a point where they rotated differently, as if some of the muscles had developed and adapted themselves to accommodate that pose. During the long hours spent with my child in my arms, I came to understand why those ancient pictures, which portray the theme of motherhood, convey that tenderness which we find inexplicable, and do not repel us in the way that images of disabled people normally do. The mother who holds her child in her arms communicates with it as intensely as the one who enfolds it in her wings, perhaps even more so. Naturally, though, the few times that I dared to express such an opinion in public, people lowered their eyes and maintained the sort of silence which always arouses pity for someone else’s misfortune.

I stopped working and dedicated myself more and more to my child. Or perhaps it was she who gave herself to me because, without a doubt, she was revealing a new world to me, an earthbound world. Instead of flying, she crawled along the floor; then she began to stand up and take little steps, advancing by holding onto the furniture, and in this way, she was able to get around the room. When she had nothing to hold on to, she’d fall onto her tummy and support herself on the palms of her hands. It was so unlike what other children do. They learn to fly first and then, when their wings are strong enough, they begin to walk; in this way their wings act as a parachute for their first steps and, when they sense that they are falling, they simply unfold them. By comparison, my little girl learnt to walk much sooner than normal and, even more surprising, learnt how to do it without the aid of her wings. It was amazing to watch her find ways of keeping her balance in an extremely difficult posture, her back straight and with no counterbalance apart from her arms and her head. It was incredible to see her hold herself upright like this, watch her wobble forward without falling, and save herself whenever she stumbled by thrusting out her hands to soften the fall.

I became used to getting down on the floor to be with her. My husband would become angry when he saw me like that, face down on the carpet, with my wings folded like those of a butterfly, propped up on my elbows so I could play with my daughter. But I liked to see things from down there, as she did, without the possibility of taking flight and coming to rest on top of the wardrobe or looking at the room from a corner of the ceiling. And bit by bit, I got used to not flying.

Family and friends told me to fly, to lead a normal life, to go outdoors more, because this was a living death. But I wouldn’t hear of it: I was totally happy.

My husband went through several phases, from indignation to boredom. By the time our daughter turned two, we were scarcely talking to each other, and we were hardly ever at home at the same time. He was always very busy and only turned up, in a foul mood, on the weekends; weekdays he got home so late that he would slide between the sheets in the dark, believing me to be asleep already. Soon he began to go to work on Saturdays and then to take weekend business trips. Then he went back to being in a good mood, and I knew what was going on, but I didn’t say anything: I wasn’t prepared to have my daughter grow up without a father figure, even if it was merely symbolic. A child like that needs all the protection she can be given.

At two she spoke almost without faltering; she was an extraordinarily bright little girl and I felt proud of her. But a short while later, my anguish began.

I had the first hint one night while I was giving her a bath. I was soaping her back and suddenly noticed a little rough spot at the level of her left shoulder blade. I examined it, thinking that perhaps she’d hurt herself: all I could see was a little redness, and I didn’t give it a second thought.

A few days later, there were two red patches, located symmetrically on either side of her shoulders. I could feel a miniscule lump under the skin. It frightened me, but I refused to take her to the doctor and did nothing more than apply some ointment. A week later it was worse: the lumps had grown and were now two little boil-like knobs, swollen and seemingly painful to the touch, because she complained when I brushed my finger over the top of them.

I covered them with a dressing and more ointment, but it didn’t help. I changed the dressing twice a day and still the knobs kept growing. Next I got hold of some bandages and sticking plaster, and I bandaged her entire upper body, making sure that the bandage was firm but not too tight. Fortunately, it was winter and nobody noticed the bandages hidden under the layers of clothing.

That didn’t work either. The knobs were growing bigger and harder, like a protruding bone threatening to pierce the skin. I didn’t know what to do or whom I could turn to for help.

Until what had to happen finally happened. One morning, I went in to get her out of bed and found her lying face down, something she usually didn’t do. There was the outline of a suspicious lump under the bed sheets and I knew what it was even before I’d lifted the sheets.

There they were, just starting, but well formed enough to leave no room for doubt. They had sprouted during the night, breaking through the skin, and lightly staining the small bottom sheet with blood. My world came crashing down around me.

I knew there was only one thing I could do. I lifted my daughter up in my arms, I removed the clothes from her upper torso and I bit with all the power of my anger and desperation. A revolting taste of dust and mites filled my mouth: it’s incredible how much dirt wings can accumulate in just one night.

It didn’t seem to hurt the child. She probably only felt slight discomfort, because she cried a little, and then she calmed down right away. I took her to the bathroom, attended to her quickly, and managed to stop the bleeding, disinfect the wound and dress it.

She wore the bandages for a few days and I changed them frequently. Each time I took them off I checked the state of the wound. I was relieved to see that it was healing quickly and well, and within a few weeks it had healed completely.

There’s scarcely a trace of it now. She just has a barely visible scar, which you can only see if you look closely or know what you are looking for. She’s back to being the little girl she was, and I continue to devote all my time to her. To those who tell me that I’m burying myself alive, that I should return to work, that I’ve lost my husband, that I mustn’t attach myself to my daughter in this way, I reply that I’m happy with what I’m doing, and that it’s a mother’s duty to sacrifice herself for her daughter.

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«Había una vez un tiempo en que los hombres no tenían alas.»

Así empezaban todos los cuentos que me contaba mi madre cuando yo era niña: remitiéndose a una época antigua y tal vez mítica en que los hombres no habían adquirido aún la capacidad de volar. A mí me gustaba mucho oír aquellas historias, y le pedía que las repitiese una y otra vez, aunque ya me las sabía de corrido: la de aquel héroe desalado que, a falta de alas propias, se construyó unas de cera y plumas de aves; pero, al volar cerca del sol, la cera se derritió y el cayó al mar y se ahogó. 0 aquel otro que inventó un artilugio de lona y madera para, arrojándose desde lo alto de las montañas, planear sobre los valles de su país aprovechando las co­ rrientes de aire cálido: una cosa que hoy en día todos hacemos de forma intuitiva, pero que así contada me parecía nueva e inusual, como si yo misma acabase de descubrir un fenómeno tan cotidiano que hoy nos pasa inadvertido.

Lo que jamás pensé mientras oía los cuentos de mi madre es que alguna vez yo misma llegaría a sentir como propia y cercana la carencia de alas y que aquel mito de los hombres mutilados acabaría habitando junto a mí.

Nunca tuve un.a gran vocación por la maternidad. Recuerdo que, de adolescentes, muchas amigas mías hacían planes ilusionados con respecto al momento en que se convertirían en madres; parecía que no tuviesen otra vocación en el mundo y a mí me irritaban profundamente sus grititos de alegría, sus mohines y morisquetas cada vez que veían un bebé: se apostaban junto a la cuna o el cochecito, empezaban a proferir gorjeos y arrullos de paloma y acababan pidiéndole a la madre que, por favor, les dejase arropar un momentito a la criatura entre sus alas. Y cuando, obtenido el permiso, se colocaban al niño sobre el pecho y lo envolvían entre sus plumas remeras, ponían tal cara de felicidad que yo no sabía si emprender­ la a bofetadas con ellas, por bobas y pánfilas, o conmigo misma, por despegada e insensible. Verlas tan ilusionadas por alga que a mí me dejaba fría me hacía sentir mal.

Con el tiempo fui comprendiendo que ser madre no era ninguna obligación. Por eso, al filo de los cuarenta años, felizmente casada y situada profesionalmente, había renunciado a tener hijos, pero de una forma casi automá­ tica: sencillamente, la maternidad no entraba en mis pla­ nes. Entonces supe que me había quedado embarazada.

Desde el principio, a mi marido y a mí nos extranó la solícita preocupación del médico, su insistencia en someterme a pruebas y análisis, en repetir algunos de ellos alegando que no veía claros los resultados. Parecía que algo no iba bien y, en efecto, así era: estaba ya en el inicio del tercer mes de embarazo cuando el doctor nos convocó en su despacho y nos dio las dos noticias. La primera, que el bebé era una niña; la segunda, que con toda probabilidad nacería sin alas.

Me ofrecieron la posibilidad de interrumpir el embarazo, pero no quise. Yo, que nunca me había sentido atraída por la idea de ser madre, amaba ya a aquella nina desconocida, aun a sabiendas de que sería un lastre para toda mi vida. Pero era ya mi hija y por nada del mundo quería renunciar a ella.

El parto se dio bien, fue sorprendentemente fácil. Parecía como si aquella criatura mutilada llegase llena de ganas de vivir y como si la fuerza que debería tener en sus alas inexistentes se hubiera localizado en otras partes del cuerpo, especialmente en las extremidades: ya durante el embarazo me sorprendió el vigor de sus patadas en el vientre y todo el personal que asistió al parto pudo notar la fuerza que hacía la criatura con brazos y piernas.

Cuando me la trajeron, envuelta aún en sangre y grasa, para ponérmela sobre el pecho, yo la estreché entre mis alas cansadas y noté lo cálida que era su piel desnuda. Me pareció la niña más hermosa del mundo, toda rosada y limpia, sin el lanugo de plumón frío y enmarañado que suelen tener los recién nacidos. Aquella desnudez me conmovió tanto que pensé por un momento que la humanidad, desde que tiene alas, ha perdido la calidez del contacto de piel sobre piel, porque siempre se interponen las plumas ásperas y llenas de polvo. Y quién sabe si al ganar alas no hemos perdido otras muchas casas, dulces y suaves como la piel desprotegida.

Desde aquel día, la niña fue el centro de mi vida. Los primeros meses no resultaron problemáticos: al fin y al cabo, un bebé normal tiene las alas tan débiles que no puede volar ni servirse de ellas para ningún otro menes­ ter, así que mi hija parecía casi normal. Comía bien, dormía a sus horas, empezó muy pronto a conocernos, a sonreír y hacer gorjeos. Cuando veía que me acercaba a su cuna, en vez de extender las alas me echaba los brazos, pidiéndome que la cogiera. Salvo por ese detalle, en nada se diferenciaba de cualquier otra niña de su edad.

Naturalmente, el paso de los meses fue poniendo de manifiesto la diferencia. Entre los ocho y los diez meses lo normal es que un niño ya se ponga en cuclillas o arrodillado, despliegue las alas y comience a batirlas, preparándose para el primer vuelo. En vez de eso, mi niña se sentaba y se balanceaba adelante y atrás, o se apoyaba en las rodillas y las palmas de las manos e intentaba· andar a cuatro patas, como los perros o los gatos. Mi marido se ponía enfermo cuando la veía hacer eso: decía que parecía un animal. Otros familiares me sugirieron que la atase a la cuna para quitarle ese vicio. Yo no quise de ninguna manera: defendí su derecho a ser diferente, a expresarse y moverse de forma distinta a como lo hacemos nosotros, a como lo hacían todos los demás niños. «Si no tiene alas, de alguna forma tiene que moverse, (¿no? >> , les decía yo a todos. Pero nadie entendía: me decían que debía acostumbrarla a moverse como los otros niños, que de mayor quizás podría suplir su carencia con unas alas ortopédicas, que si era distinta no podíamos fomentar que lo fuese cada vez más. Los en­ frentamientos se hicieron progresivamente más violentos con todo el mundo: con mi marido, con los familiares, con los amigos. Nadie quería entender que si la niña era diferente, resultaba lógico que lo hiciera todo de diferen­ te manera.

Un día descubrí algo nuevo y maravilloso. Yo había visto en grabados y cuadros antiguos que, en los tiempos de los hombres sin alas, las mujeres solían tomar en brazos a sus hijos, en vez de acogerlos entre las escápulas y las plumas remeras, como hacemos hoy. Recuerdo que era una tarde de invierno, estaba sola con mi hija y la niña reptaba por la alfombra del salón; en un momento determinado se sentó en el suelo y me tendió los bracitos. Y yo, guiada por un impulso incontrolado, también exten­ dí los brazos hacia ella y la tomé, la levanté en vilo y me la puse sobre la falda. No puedo explicar la dulzura que me invadió entonces: tenía a mi hija en el hueco de mi regazo y mis brazos la enlazaban por la derecha y por la izquier­ da; y, lo que resulto más sorprendente, ella me imitó, enlazó sus bracitos en torno a mi cuerpo y así estuvimos las dos mucho tiempo, en esa postura nueva y nunca usada, una frente a otra, cuerpo contra cuerpo, ella sin alas y yo con las mías apartadas hacia atrás, unidas única­ mente por nuestros brazos entrecruzados.

Desde entonces, adquirí la costumbre de cogerla siempre de aquella manera. Al principio lo hacía a escondidas, en parte por vergüenza y en parte porque no quería provocar más discusiones con mi marido, que cada vez aceptaba peor a nuestra hija; pero pronto empecé a to­ marla de aquella forma en cualquier momento, en casa, y luego no me importó hacerlo en público. Las primeras veces me costaba muchísimo trabajo alzar a la criatura hasta mi falda, pero poco a poco mis brazos se fueron fortaleciendo a fuerza de repetir ese movimiento, e inclu­ so yo diría que llegaron a tornearse de forma diferente, como si algunos de los músculos se desarrollasen y mol­ deasen para adecuarse a aquella postura. En las largas horas con mi niña en brazos entendí por qué los cuadros antiguos que representan el tema de la maternidad ema­ nan esa ternura para nosotros inexplicable y no nos susci­ tan el rechazo que sería normal, al tratarse de escenas entre seres mutilados: la madre que sostiene a su hijo en los brazos se comunica con él tan intensamente o más que la que lo arropa entre sus alas. Aunque, naturalmen­ te, las pocas veces que me atreví a manifestar semejante opinión todo el mundo bajó la cabeza y guardo el silencio que siempre suscita la lástima por una desgracia ajena.

Dejé el trabajo y me volqué en la niña cada vez más. O tal vez se volcó ella en mí, porque lo cierto es que me descubrió un mundo nuevo, un mundo a ras de tierra. En vez de volar, reptaba por el suelo; luego empezó a poner­ se de pie y a dar pasitos, avanzaba agarrándose a los muebles y lograba desplazarse de esa manera por toda la habitación; cuando le faltaba un punto de apoyo, caía de bruces y se apoyaba en las palmas de las manos. Algo muy distinto a lo que hacen los demás niños, que aprenden primero a volar y luego, cuando ya tienen las alas lo suficientemente fuertes, comienzan a andar; de esa mane­ ra las alas les sirven de paracaídas en sus primeros pasos y, cuando se sienten caer, no tienen más que desplegarlas. Mi niña, en cambio, aprendió a andar mucho antes de lo habitual y, lo que era más sorprendente, sabía hacerlo sin ayuda de las alas: era asombroso ver cómo se las ingeniaba para guardar el equilibrio en una postura difici­ lísima, con la espalda recta y sin más contrapeso que los movimientos de los brazos y la cabeza. Parecía inverosí­ mil verla sostenerse así, avanzar bamboleándose pero sin caer y salvarse, cada vez que tropezaba, echando adelante los brazos para amortiguar el golpe.

Me acostumbre a echarme en el suelo para estar con ella. Mi marido se indignaba al verme así, tumbada boca abajo sobre la alfombra, con las alas plegadas como las de una mariposa, apoyándome en los codos para jugar con mi hija. Pero a mí me gustaba ver las cosas desde allí abajo, como ella las veía, sin la posibilidad de alzar el vuelo y colocarse en lo alto del armario o mirar la habita­ ción desde una esquina del techo. Y poco a poco me acostumbré a no volar.

Los amigos y la familia me decían que volase, que hiciese vida normal, que saliese más a la calle, que me estaba enterrando en vida. Pero yo no les oí: era comple­ tamente feliz.

Mi marido pasó por varias fases, de la indignación al aburrimiento. Cuando la niña cumplió dos años apenas nos hablábamos, casi ni coincidíamos en casa: el siempre tenía mucho trabajo y sólo aparecía, malhumorado, los fines de semana; los días de diario volvía a casa tan tarde que se deslizaba a oscuras entre las sabanas, creyéndome ya dormida. Pronto empezó a tener trabajo también los sábados. Y luego, viajes de negocios los fines de semana. Entonces volvió a estar de buen humor y yo supe lo que pasaba, pero no dije nada: no estaba dispuesta a que mi hija se criase sin la figura de un padre, aunque fuese meramente simbólica. Una niña así necesita toda la pro­ tección que se le pueda dar.

Con dos añitos casi hablaba de corrido; era una niña extraordinariamente despierta y yo me sentía orgullosa de ella. Pero poco después empezó mi angustia.

El primer indicio lo tuve una noche, mientras la bañaba. Le estaba enjabonando la espalda y de repente note una pequeña aspereza a la altura del omoplato izquierdo. La examiné, pensando que quizás se había herido: sólo vi una pequeña rojez y no le di mayor importancia.

A los pocos días, las rojeces eran dos, colocadas simétricamente a los dos lados de la espalda. Al tacto se notaba una minúscula dureza bajo la piel. Me asusté mucho, pero no quise llevarla al médico y me limité a aplicarle una crema cicatrizante. Al cabo de una semana la cosa iba peor: las durezas habían crecido y eran ya dos bultitos como dos flemones, hinchados y al parecer dolo­ rosos al tacto, porque la niña se quejaba cuando yo pasa­ ba el dedo por encima de su superficie.

Le puse un apósito con más crema cicatrizante, pero no surtió efecto; le cambiaba los apósitos dos veces al día y los bultos seguían creciendo. Entonces tomé vendas y esparadrapo y le vendé todo el tórax, procurando que estuviese firme pero no demasiado apretado. Por fortuna era invierno y nadie notó los vendajes, ocultos bajo las ropas abrigadas de la niña.

Tampoco esto surtió efecto. Los bultos eran cada vez más grandes y más duros, como un hueso saliente que amenazase con rasgar la piel. No sabía qué hacer ni a quién acudir.

Hasta que sucedió lo que tenía que pasar. Una manana fui a levantarla de su cama y la encontré boca abajo, en contra de sucostumbre. Bajo las ropas de la cama se marcaba un bulto sospechoso y supe lo que era antes de levantar las sábanas.

Allí estaban: incipientes pero lo suficientemente bien formadas como para que no hubiese ninguna duda. Du­ rante la noche habían brotado, rasgando la piel, y la sabanita de abajo estaba ligeramente manchada de san­ gre. Se me vino el mundo abajo.

Supe que solo podía hacer una cosa. Levanté a mi hija en brazos·, le desnudé el torso y mordí con toda la fuerza que me daban la rabia y la desesperación. Me llenó la boca un sabor asqueroso a polvo y ácaros: parece mentira la cantidad de porquería que pueden acumular unas alas en sólo una noche.

A la niña no pareció dolerle. Quizás sólo sintió una ligera molestia, porque lloró un poco y se calmó ense­ guida. La llevé al cuarto de baño, le hice una cura rápida y logré cortar la hemorragia, desinfectar la herida y ven­ darla.

Estuvo unos cuantos días con los vendajes, que yo cambiaba con frecuencia. Cada vez que se los quitaba, examinaba el progreso de la herida. Vi con alivio que cicatrizaba pronto y bien y a las pocas semanas estuvo cerrada del todo.

Ahora no se le nota apenas. Únicamente tiene una ligera cicatriz invisible, que sólo puede apreciarse al tacto si se pone atención o se va sobre aviso. Ha vuelto a ser la niña que era y yo sigo entregada a ella. A quienes me dicen que me estoy enterrando en vida, que debería vol­ ver a trabajar, que he perdido a mi marido, que no puedo atarme a la niña de esta forma, les contesto que estoy contenta con lo que hago y que la obligación de una madre es sacrificarse por su hija.

Translator’s Note

“La niña sin alas” was originally published in a 1996 collection of short stories by Spanish women writers titled Madres e hijas (Mothers and Daughters), edited by Laurea Freixas. I find the collection fascinating because of its varied portrayals of the mother-daughter relationship. Many of the relationships are fraught, several of them—including this one—are presented from an unusual perspective, and all of them examine and question the expectations that (Spanish) society has regarding this relationship. My interest in the stories was in part provoked by my academic research in the work of contemporary Spain’s women writers, and of how their work reflects both their own experience of their world, and Spain’s changing attitude to women, and to their place and role in society.

The main challenge in translating this story was to capture and portray accurately the narrative voice, the tone and character of the narrator-mother. This is a woman who clearly loves her child despite the baby girl being born “different” and despite the criticism, anger—and subsequent indifference—of her husband, her family, her friends, and her society generally. She is a woman who is open to the discovery of the many new experiences her “wingless” child brings her, in particular, physical closeness and touch. She is prepared to defend her child from the attacks she will endure from her community, and willing to accept the cost this has—and will have—to her own life.

And yet the ending of the story—the mother’s final act of love?—may well leave the reader (and translator) of the story wondering whether this act owes more to selfishness  than to love. Does the mother in fact behave as she does because she does not want to lose the relationship, the physical contact and new outlook on life experiences she has acquired with her earthbound daughter, or is she truly motivated by selfless love for her daughter? Conveying the mother’s dilemma and the potential uncertainty about her true motive was a key aspect of my translation of the story.

Photo: Carlos Mota

Photo: Carlos Mota

Paloma Díaz-Mas (Madrid, 1954) is a research professor at the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC) and was for eighteen years professor of literature at the University of the País Vasco. She has published studies of oral and Romance literature, Medieval Spanish literature, and Sephardi culture. At the age of only nineteen she published her first book of short stories (recently re-published as an e-book under the title Ilustres desconocidos). At Anagrama she has published the novels El rapto del Santo Grial (runner-up for the 1st Premio Herralde de Novela 1983), El sueño de Venecia (Premio Herralde de Novela 1992), and La tierra fértil (Premio Euskadi 2000 and runner-up for the Premio de la Crítica); the book of stories Nuestro milenio (1987), the autobiographical tales Una ciudad llamada Eugenio (1992), and Como un libro cerrado (2005), and a book of nonfiction narrative, Lo que aprendemos de los gatos (2014). She also worked on two collections of stories edited by Laura Freixas, Madres e hijas (2002) and Cuentos de amigas (2009).

L_Thwaites_headshotLilit Žekulin Thwaites is a literary translator and an Honorary Fellow in Spanish at La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia, where she formerly coordinated the Spanish Program. She specializes in the society, cultures, and literatures of contemporary Spain, and in particular, the work of women writers. Her translation of Tears in Rain by noted Spanish author, Rosa Montero was recognized by World Literature Today as one of the 75 Notable Translations of 2012. The Immortal Collection: A Saga of The Ancient Family (Eva García Sáenz), was published in April 2014. She presents sessions at writers and film festivals, organizes visits by writers from Spain and Latin America, and is also a media commentator on matters Spanish. For further information, see www.latrobe.edu.au/humanities/about/staff/profile?uname=LMThwaites

New York Kaleidoscope

(excerpts from the essay collection Petit éloge des grandes villes (Small Praise for Big Cities)© Gallimard 2007)

From JFK airport, Queens; the middle of an October night

Rain lacerates the taxi windows. Between two sudden downpours, water runs in rivulets, blurs my view already dulled by sleep. It’s 9 p.m. (3 a.m., Paris time). Car headlights set the gathered raindrops afire—fragmented, reconstructed, tiny roundabout rivers in tawny colors I press my forehead against. The Caribbean cab driver talks into his cell phone in an unknown language, his voice muffled by the sliding plastic door that separates us. Green road signs outlined in white jump out of the night and disappear again: “Jewel Av.,” “Lindens,” “the Bronx,” screaming neon signs, Jamaica Hospital Medical Center, HSBC, grassy zones, persimmon trees still leafy and full of heavy mist. I shiver, my forehead frozen from contact with the window. The radio’s playing Celine Dion, “My Heart Will Go On.” A green sign, “Queensboro Plaza.” The Greek part of town. The streetlights melt under the storm in long pink streaks, blinking stoplights, neon signs; I fall asleep.

 

5th Avenue, corner of 59th Street

I pull the little plastic tab in the notch. I press my lips against the boiling hot opening. I swallow a mouthful of café au lait. I’m waiting for someone who’s not coming, or maybe I’m just early. I walk, the air is golden at this time of the morning, it’s November, the blurry contours of towers emerge from the blinding fog, their grey masses barely distinguishable. I can’t see the road or the passers-by, there’s only me on the sidewalk vibrating with light, my cheeks frozen, my palm gripping a cardboard cup, soft, smooth, lukewarm, giving off steam, and the sun flashes, makes stars, snakes of light on the facades, they ricochet under my eyelids. I’m cold. I’m waiting for someone who’s not coming. I squint my eyes, I drink some more. The hot liquid goes inside. I walk, eyelashes full of tears; a provisional warmth inside me.

 

Washington Square, Halloween

Dozens of dogs have come to walk their owners. I check out the humans’ ring fingers, idiotic reflex, in the end, it seems to be their way of keeping themselves close together, pheromones and odors mixing, jackets, elbows, hairdos grazing each other in gestures meant for the dogs, which reassure me of their single status. Not one Labrador, German shepherd, or mutt of respectable size. Apartment dogs the size of a newborn, a doll, easy to put away, to feed and dress according to one’s whim, to cuddle in front of the television. Ground-level beasts that force you to bend over, collars pop open, necklines plunge, fabric stretches across buttocks, over crossed legs. The black gates of Washington Square’s dog park are studded with orange balloons, jack o’lantern masks, purple witch faces. Someone’s plugged in a CD player—Michael Jackson’s “Bad,” “Thriller”—there’s fruit juice and special dog nuggets. The dog owners in Halloween costumes aim their cameras at the ground, flashes going off, and exchange digital exposures of miniature ghosts, canine Draculas, I see a poodle in a pink tutu and a basset hound wedged into a felt hot-dog, a Chihuahua princess wearing the same mauve tulle dress with sequins that I bought for my daughter at FAO Schwarz. Women are hanging on the men’s necks, their eyes fixed on the viewfinders of little liquid-crystal screens; they are liquid, smiling and cooing, shoulders touching, fingers mingling in dog fur. In the background, New York University, its nude red brick, its slow-moving students wearing baggy pants, grey and black cotton sweats; off to the side, the children’s playground with its slides, merry-go-rounds, bang-your-bum see-saws, log cabins with suspension bridges or real Supermen, Snow Whites, plush teddy bears chase each other around, sweating, scaring each other, crack up laughing, make faces for their parents’ cameras, soon to be framed above the marriage bed.

 

Central Park South

I’m stretched out on a rock. I smooth out the hollow of my kidneys, uncurl my spine to match the shape of the stone, its irritating irregularities, in order to feel the rock grating against my skin. The bumps and ridges prevent me from being elsewhere in a dream, somewhere other than here, in the middle of Manhattan. I close my eyes. I hear nothing but syrupy soul music pumping out of speakers somewhere down there, the light scraping of skates on iceI can imagine the very fine, melting powder deposited on the surface after the skaters pass by, the laughter that accompanies each tumble. All I see is a red glow behind my eyelids. It’s the noontime sun, and all the background images imprisoned in my pupils before drowsiness sets in: Indian-summer trees, orange and yellow, ultramarine sky, the white oval of the skating rink, pointy buildings still concealed by the leaves, transparent blue-glass cylinders still under construction, the scaffolding veiled by purple mesh, the red ESSEX House sign perched on a roof. I carry them far away with me, in my sleep, tiny sensors of softness, of giddiness and light, and when other images crop upme tidying the empty kitchen, sponging the crumbs off the table, striking out whole paragraphs from my students’ papers, tracing their faces between the pale blue lines in red indelible ink, tearing out the pages of a Moleskin notebook where I write down every perceptible scrap about New York that I have no idea what to do withI align my vertebrae with the spine of the rock; the mirrors of the skyline, the skating rink, the fiery leaves fiercely unfurling under my head, they eat away at anything that might disrupt my peace of mind.

 

Kiko and Ted, West Village

I never go to jazz clubs. But I know New York well now, so I dig underground and there it is, I’m in a real basement, orange spotlights making sparks on the horns hanging on the dark green walls. At the Village Vanguard, Lou Donaldson, Coltrane’s old sax player, calls Kiko, the organist, who hails from Alabama, to the stage. Donaldson’s gravelly voice and the presence of the word “Alabama” bring to mind a woman with rugged, suntanned skin, the same image I have of Sook, Truman Capote’s guardian during his early childhood, with a huge, warm body and the fingers of a masseuse. Kiko appears, beaming and frail. I stupidly tell myself that she has a lot of teeth for an Asian. In my preconceived notions, Japanese musicians wear long black robes in satin or silk, velour sheaths and flowing dark hair, a discreet piece of jewelry, ear pendants, thin necklace, they have a pale and powdered complexion, pink lips, barely shiny when they’re made up, and more often colorless, barely marked. They belong to the Salle Pleyel, the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, they’re pianists, violinists, lyric opera singers like my friend Yumiko, I only see them in front of red curtains, gilded moldings, dark lacquer, they have a last name and never come from Alabama. Kiko is dressed in black, a low-cut dress, bland of mouth and jewel-less, or maybe, if I’m remembering correctly, just a shiny drop on her throat held by a transparent string, a little white stone on white skin. Not only is she smiling at the whole room, she’s playing free jazz and the little stone skips furiously at her neck. I can feel my heart skipping at the same time. Her embroidered slippers dance over the organ’s pedals, reminding me of the soft foot movements of my mother at the weaving loom, and then I lift my gaze, Kiko laughs, her hands travel across, wring out the keyboard, creating waves of notes, broadside loops around the sax, sticky spots, sharp bursts on the drums. It makes light, voilà, light.

It’s the same with Ted Curson at the Blue Note the next day. Light. At first, his asthma in the microphone, his enormous belly, lungs compressed by phlegm and fat, he can’t possibly play. He can’t even sit down. He’s not going to play. But he does. He blows in the trumpet, at first you’d think it was a toy, it’s barely bigger than his hand. I see his cheeks puff up, his belly, his fingers, such a sound can’t be coming from this body. But it is. And I notice everything that shines, scintillates and gives off light this evening: his blue satin jacket, its lucky silver dragons embroidered on the front, his really white devil’s beard, frizzy and riddled with specks, his black forehead covered with sweat, the brass, the horns, the waltzing cymbals, the valves, the monumental signet ring on Ted’s left hand, the flutes of champagne full of yellow sparkles, the bubbles inside and out that tickle the mouth, the stomach, the gilded letters on the piano, Bösendorfer, the pink reflections on the record signed by Ray Charles embedded in my table; the bits of multicolored neon in the slivers of mirror stuck to the walls,  ew Yor, ork Cit,  ty Jazz,  zz-Club, the blood-red EXIT sign over the door; the opalescent ghosts downing glasses of whisky; Georgia, Georgia he sings. I tell myself that he’s going to die, there, suffocated by his own voice, Ted Curson, but he’s shimmering too, like Kiko, their auras visible right up to the end.

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New York kaléidoscope

De JFK , aéroport, au Queens, pleine nuit d’octobre

La pluie lacère les vitres du taxi. Entre deux rafales, l’eau ruisselle, brouille ma vue engourdie par le sommeil. Il est 9 pm (trois heures du matin). Les phares des voitures incendient les gouttes agglutinées, éclatées, recomposées, petites rivières obliques aux couleurs fauves contre lesquelles j’appuie mon front. Le chauffeur créole parle en langue inconnue dans son téléphone portable, la voix étouffée par la porte coulissante qui nous sépare. Des panneaux verts cernés de blanc surgissent de la nuit, s’y replongent : « Jewel av. », « Lindens », « the Bronx », des néons criards, Jamaica Hospital Medical Center, HSBC, des zones herbeuses, des arbres kaki encore feuillus et pleins de brume lourde. Je frissonne, le front glacé par le contact avec la vitre. La radio diffuse Céline Dion, My heart will go on. Un panneau vert, « Queensboro Plaza ». Le quartier grec. Les lampadaires fondent sous l’averse en longues traînées roses, les feux clignotants, les enseignes lumineuses ; je m’endors.

 

5th Av. corner 59th St.

Je coince le petit rabat de plastique blanc dans l’encoche. J’appuie mes lèvres contre l’orifice brûlant. Je bois une gorgée de café au lait. J’attends quelqu’un qui ne vient pas, ou bien je suis en avance. Je marche, l’air est doré à cette heure du matin, c’est novembre, les contours flous des tours émergent de la brume aveuglante, leurs masses à peine grisées. Je ne vois pas la route, ni les passants, il n’y a que moi sur le trottoir vibrant de lumière, les joues glacées, un gobelet en carton serré dans ma paume, doux, lisse, tiède, fumant, et le soleil fait des éclairs, des étoiles, des serpents de lumières sur les façades, ils ricochent sous mes paupières. J’ai froid. J’attends quelqu’un qui ne vient pas. Je plisse les yeux, je bois encore. Le liquide chaud entre à l’intérieur. Je marche, des larmes plein les cils ; en moi une chaleur provisoire.

 

Washington Square, veille d’Halloween

Des dizaines de chiens sont venus promener leurs maîtres. Je regarde leurs annulaires, réflexe idiot, c’est finalement leur façon de se tenir serrés, phéromones et parfums mélangés, vestes, coudes, cheveux qui s’effleurent dans les gestes adressés aux chiens qui m’assurent de leur célibat. Pas un labrador, un berger allemand, un bâtard de volume respectable. Des chiens d’appartement de la taille d’un nourrisson, d’une poupée, faciles à ranger, à nourrir, à vêtir selon sa fantaisie, à cajoler devant la télé. Bêtes à ras du sol qui obligent à se pencher, les cols s’ouvrent, les décolletés s’échancrent, les tissus se tendent sur les fesses, sur les cuisses pliées. Les grilles noires du parc à chiens de Washington Square sont constellées de ballons orange, de masques de Jack o’Lantern, de visages de sorcières violettes, quelqu’un a branché un CD player, Bad, Thriller de Mickael Jackson, il y a du jus de fruit et des croquettes de fêtes. Les maîtres en costumes d’Halloween font crépiter les flashes en direction du sol, s’échangent des vues numériques de fantômes miniatures, Draculas canins, je vois un caniche en tutu rose et un basset coincé dans un hot-dog en feutrine, une princesse chiwawa qui porte la même robe en tulle mauve et paillettes que j’ai achetée pour ma fille chez FAO Schwarz. Les femmes se coulent dans le cou des hommes, les yeux fixés sur les clichés des petits écrans à cristaux liquides, elles sont liquides, leur sourire et leur langue qui déroule des rires de colombe, les épaules se touchent, des doigts se mêlent dans le poil des chiens. Au second plan, l’Université de New York, ses briques rouges et nues, ses étudiants à pas lents glissés dans des pantalons trop grands, des sweats en coton gris et noir ; sur le côté, le parc pour enfants avec ses toboggans, tourniquets, balançoires tape-cul, cabanes en rondins avec pont suspendu où de vrais Superman, Blanche-Neige, oursons en peluche et satin se poursuivent, transpirent, se font peur, éclatent de rire, grimacent devant les appareils photo de leurs parents, bientôt encadrés au-dessus du lit conjugal.

 

Central Park South

Je suis allongée sur un rocher. Je lisse le creux de mes reins, je déroule ma colonne vertébrale pour épouser la forme de la pierre, ses irrégularités agaçantes, pour les sentir écorcher mon dos. Elles m’empêchent d’être ailleurs dans le rêve, ailleurs qu’ici, sur mon rocher, en plein Manhattan. Je ferme les yeux. Je n’entends rien que la soul sirupeuse diffusée par les baffles plus bas, le crissement léger des patins sur la glace – j’imagine la poudre très fine et fondante qui se dépose à la surface après le passage des patineurs, les rires qui précèdent ou suivent les chutes. Je ne vois rien qu’une lueur rouge derrière mes paupières, c’est le soleil à midi, et toutes les images du décor emprisonnées dans mes pupilles avant la somnolence : arbres orange et jaunes de l’été indien, ciel outre-mer, ovale blanc de la patinoire, immeubles pointus encore dissimulés par les feuilles, cylindres transparents verre-bleu en construction, leurs échafaudages voilés de maillage pourpre, l’enseigne rouge ESSEX House accrochée à un toit. Je les emmène loin avec moi, dans mon sommeil, petits capteurs de vertiges, de douceur, de lumière, et quand d’autres images affleurent – moi qui range la cuisine vide, éponge les miettes sur la table, efface les traces de vie, moi qui biffe des paragraphes entiers sur les copies de mes élèves, qui raye leurs visages entre les lignes bleu pâle au stylo rouge indélébile, moi qui déchire les feuilles du carnet Moleskine où je note tout fragment sensible sur New York et ne sais quoi en faire – j’aiguise mes vertèbres aux arêtes du rocher ; les miroirs de la skyline, de la patinoire, des feuilles chaudes se déploient férocement sous mon crâne, elles mordent toutes interférences avec ma quiétude.

 

Kiko et Ted, West Village

Je ne vais jamais dans les boîtes de jazz. Mais je connais bien New York, maintenant, alors je creuse sous le sol et ça y est, je suis dans une vraie cave, des spots orange allument des étincelles sur les cuivres accrochés aux murs vert foncé. Au Village Vanguard, Lou Donaldson, le vieux saxo de Coltrane, appelle Kiko, l’organiste, qui vient d’Alabama. A cause des cailloux dans sa voix et du mot « Alabama », j’imagine une femme à peau hâlée, rocailleuse, l’idée que je me fais de Sook jeune, la cousine tutrice de Truman Capote dans sa petite enfance, avec un corps énorme et chaud et des doigts de masseuses. Kiko apparaît, hilare et frêle, je me dis bêtement qu’elle a beaucoup de dents pour une asiatique. Dans mes images familières, les musiciennes japonaises portent des robes longues en satin ou soie noire, des fourreaux de velours avec coulée de cheveux sombres, un bijoux discret, pendentifs d’oreilles, collier mince, elles ont le teint pâle et poudré, des lèvres roses, légèrement brillantes lorsqu’elles sont maquillées, et le plus souvent incolores, à peine marquées. Elles appartiennent à la salle Pleyel, au Théâtre des Champs-Elysée, elles sont pianistes, violonistes, chanteuses lyriques comme mon amie Yumiko, je ne les vois que sur fond de rideaux rouges, moulures dorées, laque obscure, elles ont un nom de famille et ne viennent jamais d’Alabama. Kiko est vêtue de noir, une robe décolletée, la bouche fade et sans bijoux, ou peut-être, si je me souviens bien, juste une goutte brillante sous la gorge retenue par un fil transparent, une petite pierre blanche sur peau blanche. Seulement elle sourit d’un mur à l’autre, elle joue du free jazz et la petite pierre tressaute furieusement à son cou. Je sens bien que mon cœur tressaute en même temps. Ses mules brodées dansent sur les pédales de l’orgue, je me rappelle les mouvements doux des pieds de ma mère sous le métier à tisser, et puis je lève les yeux, Kiko rit, ses mains traversent, essorent le clavier, ça fait des vagues de notes, des volutes en écharpe autour du saxo, des taches collantes, des éclats aiguisés sur la batterie, ça fait de la lumière, voilà, de la lumière.

Ted Curson, au Blue Note le lendemain, pareil. De la lumière. D’abord, son asthme dans le micro, son ventre énorme, les poumons compressés par les glaires et la graisse, il ne peut pas jouer. Il ne peut même pas s’asseoir. Il ne va pas jouer. Si. Il souffle dans la trompette, la première, on dirait un jouet, elle est à peine plus large que sa main. Je vois ses joues gonflées, son ventre, ses doigts, un tel son ne peut pas venir de ce corps. Si. Et je retiens tout ce qui brille, et scintille et produit de la lumière ce soir : son gilet de satin bleu, ses dragons porte-bonheur argentés brodés sur le devant ; sa barbe du diable très blanche et crépue et criblée de paillettes, son front noir couvert de sueur ; les chromes, les cuivres, les cymbales valseuses, les pistons, la chevalière monumentale à la main gauche de Ted ; les coupes de champagne traversées d’éclats jaunes, les bulles dedans dehors qui chatouillent la bouche, l’estomac, les lettres dorées sur le piano, Bösendorfer, les reflets roses sur le disque signé Ray Charles incrusté dans ma table ; les bouts de néons multicolores dans les lames de miroir plaquées aux murs, ew Yor, ork Cit, ty Jazz, zz-Club, le rouge sang EXIT au-dessus de la porte ; les fantômes opalescents surgis des verres à whisky ; Georgia, Georgia, il chante, je me dis qu’il va mourir, là, étouffé par sa propre voix, Ted Curson, mais il chatoie lui aussi, comme Kiko, d’une aura bien visible, jusqu’à la fin.

Translator’s Note:

As I was wrapping up the translation of a cookbook for the parents of young children—my first foray into the land of parsnip purées and metric conversions—an old friend handed me a well-worn copy of Petit éloge des grandes villes by Valentine Goby. “Enough baby food,” she said. “Read Valentine’s work. You two have led parallel lives.” Discovering Goby’s essays (many of which unfold in cities I too have loved and called home), I couldn’t help jotting down rough translations in the margins. By Chapter 3 I was unable to keep reading without translating what had come before. So instead of fighting the impulse, I went with it. My brain was unwilling to let me simply read the text: it wanted to bring Goby’s words into English, right then and there.

Charlotte Mandell describes a similar process in her approach to translating Jonathan Littell’s The Kindly Ones. “I have chosen to translate right from the start of the text: I do not read ahead. I don’t read the book before I translate it. I don’t want to know what it means before I go through the actual formation of its meaning word by word. In that way, I not only try to keep the reader in mind (so that if I come to a puzzling passage I can guess the reader will be puzzled too, and I’ll try to find the best words to make the passage clear), but I also have the tremendous experience of, so to speak, accompanying the author in the act of composition.” In this spirit I present excerpts from Goby’s interior voyage to my hometown New York, which I left behind for Goby’s native France.

With my next pet project, Goby’s ninth novel Kinderzimmer, I’m forcing myself to digest the text before I translate. It’s 1944 at the German concentration camp of Ravensbrück. Amid the destruction, an anomaly: the kinderzimmer (nursery), a rare point of light in the shadows. It is here that Mila, a young French political prisoner, will give life and find a reason to keep living.

Biographical notes

V_Goby_Headshot_photo_credit_Fanny_Dion

Photo: Fanny Dion

Valentine Goby is a French writer, born in Grasse (French Riviera) in 1974. After studying at Sciences Po in Paris, she spent three years in Hanoi and Manila, where she worked with humanitarian organizations helping street children. Goby published her first novel, The Sensitive Note, with Gallimard in 2002. For eight years she taught French literature and theater in secondary school before dedicating herself to writing and various book-related projects: workshops, talks, conferences, writing residencies at schools, libraries, and universities. She currently teaches literature and writing workshops at Sciences Po. Her ninth novel, Kinderzimmer (Actes Sud, 2013) has won seven literary awards including the prestigious Prix des Libraires (Booksellers Prize) and is being translated into Spanish, Dutch, Italian, and Danish. She is also the President of the French Authors’ Council (Conseil Permanent des Écrivains).

C_Buckley_headshotChristine Buckley is a writer, editor, and translator born in New York and based in Paris after several years living in Vietnam. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Best Women’s Travel Writing, LA Weekly, and National Public Radio. The co-author of Slave Hunter: Freeing Victims of Human Trafficking (Simon & Schuster, 2009) and the translator of Bébé Gourmet (The Experiment, 2013), Buckley has earned Associated Press, LA Press Club, and Maggie awards as well as fellowships to the Poynter Institute and the Omi International Arts Center. She currently edits news at France 24, teaches at L’École Nationale des Arts Décoratifs, and is working on a memoir entitled People From an Outside Country. Her translation of Valentine Goby’s “Hanoi, Silences” recently appeared in Asymptote. She is seeking translation projects from Vietnamese. Twitter: @christibuckley

From the Diary of Madame Mao

Just Following Orders

With its forelegs a mantis pins down its prey

there are circumstances
just following orders

a strip of rabbit fur
by the incense burner
releases the wood’s fragrance

how can I warm the hearth
when all the cranes fly over to the north
without stopping to drink water

 

If You Raise Crows

I am left
at the mercy of the mob

where are my guards
those handsome young men
with their fish eyes

they used to eat from my hand
now they deny knowing me

beyond the sharp blade
caressing my throat

the buzz of the swarm

 

My Daughter Nah’s Visit

There was a time when I loved deeper than I suffered
a time when from every man I desired a child

as a girl I’d hunt rabbits
roast them on a crude fire
then clean their bones and string necklaces

nothing’s left of that girl but a faint penchant
for setting traps

daughter help me
save me from a bullet to the head

why are you ashamed of me?
a widow is a bird with just one wing

when you come to say goodbye bring cellophane
to wrap my heart tender and throbbing

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Sólo obedecía órdenes

Una mantis extiende sus patas y presiona la presa

hay atenuantes
sólo obedecía órdenes

junto al incensario
un resto de piel de conejo
hace a la madera despedir fragancia

cómo puedo calentar el hogar
si todas las grullas pasan hacia el norte
sin detenerse a beber agua

 

Cría cuervos 

Me he quedado
a merced de la turba

dónde está mi guardia
esos hermosos jóvenes
con ojos de pez

comían mendrugos de mi mano
ahora me desconocen

detrás del filo cortante
que acaricia mi garganta

el zumbido del enjambre

 

La visita de mi hija Nah

Hubo un tiempo en que amé más allá del dolor
un tiempo en el cual de cada hombre deseaba un hijo

de niña cazaba conejos
los asaba en un fuego rustico
después limpiaba sus huesos y los hacía collares

de esa niña sólo queda un ligero impulso
por armar trampas

ayúdame hija
sálvame de una bala en la cabeza

¿por qué te avergüenzas de mí?
una viuda es un ave con un ala

cuando vengas a despedirte trae papel celofán
y envuelve mi corazón que aún palpita

Translator’s Note

We initially got to know Ogliastri’s work several years ago, when a mutual friend brought us a copy of her previous book, Polo Sur, a sequence of poems relating her father’s imaginary journey from the Amazon jungle to the South Pole. We fell in love with her distinctive poetic voice and translated the book (South Pole/Polo Sur, published by Settlement House, 2011). When she told us that her next book of poems would tell the story of the Mao era in China through the voice of his wife, Jiang Qing, we were immediately eager to translate it.

From the Diary of Madame Mao emerged from the author’s extensive research on the lives of both Jiang Qing and Mao, as well as Chinese history, culture, and literature. Thus, before we could embark on the translation, we had to become familiar with the subject matter. We believe that translating poetry requires the translator to “become” the author, as we are tasked with writing the poems in a new language. We have to be able to put ourselves into the poet’s mind, to visualize the same images. So we started out by reading a biography of Jiang Qing, as well as a historical novel (Becoming Madame Mao, by Anchee Min), recommended by Ogliastri.

Because of the multi-layered nature of the project—where the language is Spanish, but all the cultural references are Chinese—the translation process was also multi-layered. First, we applied the collaborative process that we had developed in translating Ogliastri’s previous book (South Pole), which involves “identifying the essential elements” of the author’s style so that we can maintain consistency in the voice of the translations, regardless of who is working on a particular poem. For Ogliastri, the key elements are concise language, using line/stanza breaks in lieu of punctuation, and a strong emphasis on imagery. In fact, with Ogliastri’s poetry, the image often takes precedence over the words, so that the process requires translating “image by image” rather than line by line. (A fuller description of our approach can be found in our essay “One Poet, Two Translators: Toward a Single Voice.”)

The second, added layer in the Madame Mao collection involved researching the historical, biographical, or cultural references to ensure that we were representing these accurately and using the appropriate English terminology. An example is the first line of “My Daughter Nah’s Visit,” which literally could be translated, “There was a time when I loved beyond pain/hurt.” But we knew from our reading that Jiang Qing’s childhood had been traumatic and involved a great deal of suffering: poverty, domestic violence, social humiliation, and then abandonment by her mother. Thus, we decided that Ogliastri’s dolor would be best be captured by “suffering” and that más allá in this case implied the depth of emotion and passion rather than distance, hence we chose “deeper” rather than the standard translation “beyond.”

We hope you find these poems as compelling as we do.

Maria Teresa OgliastriMaria Teresa Ogliastri was born in Los Teques, Venezuela, and lives in Caracas. She is the author of five collections of poems: Del diario de la señora Mao (From the Diary of Madame Mao2011), Polo Sur (South Pole, 2008), Brotes de Alfalfa (Alfalfa Sprouts, 2007), Nosotros los inmortales (We, the Immortals, 1997) and Cola de Plata (Silver Tail, 1994). She has been featured at poetry festivals throughout Latin America, and her poems appear in several anthologies of contemporary Venezuelan poetry.

 

Yvette Neisser MorenoYvette Neisser Moreno is the author of Grip (2011 Gival Press Poetry Award), co-translator of Ogliastri’s South Pole/Polo Sur (2011), and editor of Difficult Beauty: Selected Poems by Luis Alberto Ambroggio. She co-directs the DC-Area Literary Translators Network (DC-ALT), teaches at The Writer’s Center, and works as an international research analyst.

 

 

 

Patricia Bejarano FisherPatricia Bejarano Fisher, originally from Colombia, is a multidisciplinary language professional who has worked as a translator, teacher, and learning materials developer in both government and academia. She began her poetry translation career in 2007. In addition to Ogliastri’s South Pole/Polo Sur, her work has appeared in several poetry journals.

Antecedentia

Page 17

Don’t let me leave with little Jamie Bulger, he’s so puny and so scared. Don’t let me let go of little Jamie Bulger, he screams for his mum and wants to go home. On the guard’s monitor we are small jointed dolls in grainy black and white. Two thwarted explorers. Two embalmed children. To the police I say: If I wanted to kill a little boy I’d have picked my own little brother. To God I say: You can’t be everywhere at once. That’s why you created shopping centres. If anyone asks I say he’s my brother.

Page 45

1.
High up there in the cabin of the tallest crane, he sees himself being found in a park, sees himself taking the way of the window, or however it’ll come to him in the end. It is coming to him. He comes out into the daylight with a jack of hearts in the band of his hat, a politician in exile, a treat for ornithologists. Time to wake up now. There, lift your head. I asked you a question. When he was five years old they opened his heart. He thinks he knows what they found inside

Page 46

2.
The low tones in long phone conversations while autumn loads its barrel. His clothes heavy with darkness and prison life. He is a rare insect under the tweezers he himself holds in thin fingers. He is also a child, a boy abandoned in the woods to the night and the wolf, a baby forgotten outside the shopping centre. This is a reconstruction

Page 47

3.
Everything that every single time resulted in a thwarted explorer, sleeping in the anarchists’ café. Believe nothing a woman says, but everything she sings. I hold back the empty space: a chalk outline of a body on the sidewalk. You hold a bouquet of carnations in the May sunlight and turn to look at people you know. Your children too will die in rooms like his

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Side 17

Ikke la meg gå med lille Jamie Bulger, han er så pytteliten og så redd. Ikke la meg slippe lille Jamie Bulger, han roper sånn på mamma og vil hjem. På vaktas monitor er vi små leddstyrte dukker i kornet svarthvitt. To stansede oppdagere. To balsamerte barn. Til politiet sier jeg: Hvis jeg hadde villet drepe en liten gutt hadde jeg vel tatt min egen lillebror. Til Gud sier jeg: Du kan ikke være alle steder på én gang. Derfor skapte du kjøpesentrene. Til mennesker vi treffer sier jeg at han er lillebroren min.

Side 45

1.
Høyt der oppe i førerhuset på den største krana ser han seg selv bli funnet i en park, ta vindusveien eller hvordan det kommer til å komme til ham. Det kommer til ham. Han kommer ut i dagslyset med en hjerterknekt stukket i hattebåndet, en politiker i eksil, en godbit for ornitologer. På tide å våkne nå. Sånn ja, løft hodet. Jeg spurte deg om noe. Da han var fem år gammel åpnet de hjertet hans. Han tror han vet hva de fant der

Side 46

2.
Det lave toneleiet i timelange telefonsamtaler mens høsten tar ladegrep. Klærne hans tunge av mørke og fangeliv. Han er et sjeldent insekt under pinsetten han selv holder med smale fingre. Han er også et barn, en gutt satt ut i skogen for å møte natta og ulven, en baby glemt igjen foran kjøpesenteret. Dette er en rekonstruksjon

Side 47

3.
Alt som alltid endte med en stanset oppdager, sovende i anarkistenes kafé. Tro ingenting en kvinne sier, men alt hun synger. Jeg holder igjen tomrommet, en kritta kropp på fortauet. Du holder en bukett nelliker i maisola og snur deg etter kjente. Dine barn skal også dø i rom som hans

Translator’s note:

My older sister took out Niels Fredrik Dahl’s Antecedentia from the library when it came out in 1995 and showed me the untitled poem about Jamie Bulger on page 17. I was fourteen at the time, and of course I remembered Jamie Bulger, who was three when he was abducted from a shopping center by two ten-year-olds in Merseyside, England two years earlier. They tortured and killed him on a railway line and became Britain’s youngest murderers, causing fervent debate about how to understand children as killers. Considering how disturbing and ugly this case was, the poet’s choice to enter the head of one of the killers was shocking to me. As far as I can remember, this is the first poem that truly fascinated me.

When I had to pick a translation project for a workshop at Columbia University’s MFA program, Antecedentia was a natural choice. I was a complete novice, but I’d been working in the territory between English and Norwegian ever since I started writing as a young teenager. Like everyone else in Norway, I grew up with TV and pop music in English, and started honing my knowledge of American idioms and slang early on. I spoke English with parts of my family, and it felt more intimate than Norwegian did. Writing felt natural in this English, which was full of satisfying, cool phrases. I felt free to pour out things that were too painful or embarrassing to express in Norwegian. I think I share this sensation with many Norwegiansalmost all Norwegian pop stars, for example, write their lyrics in English. Later, I would translate my writing into Norwegian. When exposed to the bright light of my native tongue, these pieces curled into themselves and tightened up, until only the strongest and smallest possible structure of terse Norwegian remained. This became my modus operandi for years. I was primarily a poet until I switched to fiction and left Norway to pursue my MFA in America. Attempting to bring the no-nonsense clarity of the Norwegian language into English via Dahl’s poems has been a very interesting experience.

Antecedentia is Dahl’s third collection of poetry. The book has big themes: love, time, suffering, ill fortune, and humanity’s dark sides. But it’s also filled with the local and specific: references to places, news events, pop culture, and real people, done in an elegant and sometimes humorous way. It has always given me a feeling that the world is large and rich with hurtful detail that one can access through poetry.

Translating poetry can be frustrating, so I try to consider anything I can manage that carries over a little bit more of the original’s unnamable qualities a bonus. Dahl uses punctuation sparingly, changes verb tenses and tone midway through a poem, and generally keeps things interesting. Translating his tightly packed sentences without losing even their most straightforward meaning is sometimes challenging. I hope I’ve been able to do the poems justice.

Niels Fredrik DahlNiels Fredrik Dahl, born in 1957, is one of Norway’s most well-known writers, poets, and playwrights. His international breakthrough came in 2002 with his second novel, På vei til en venn, which was sold to several countries, including Germany, Italy, France, and Holland and received the Norwegian Brageprize. Dahl has since published two more novels I fjor sommer (2003) and Herre (2009). His latest work is the critically acclaimed collection of poetry Vi har aldri vært her før.

 

 

Karen HavelinKaren Havelin is a writer and translator from Bergen, Norway. She attended Skrivekunst-akademiet i Hordaland, and has a Bachelor’s degree in French, Literature, and Gender Studies from the University of Bergen and University of Paris Sorbonne. She completed her MFA in Fiction from Columbia University in May 2013. Her poems have been published in Norwegian literary magazines. She currently lives in Oslo, Norway and is working on a novel about themes of the body, such as illness, pain, and sexuality. An excerpt from this novel is published on NarrativeNortheast.com.

 

Three Poems

Navigating wind in the chest

I walked the path between two solstices
with a swarm of angels
a flock of insects, miniature jaguars
and the rattle of day still reverberating.
Those seminal forces
luring me to the honeycomb
where the hummingbird and winter cicada whirred.
Navigating toward high seas
dad and mom
are two coasts
glued on the scorched edge of the map.

I wonder what language I will speak
++++++++++++++++ion my deathbed.

 

Flock of one

…your sheep that were wont to be so meek and tame, and so small eaters, now,
as I heard say, be become so great devourers and so wild, that they eat up, and
swallow down the very men themselves.
Thomas More, Utopia

It was so white. Freshly shorn
seemed as if they had removed
++++++++++++cottony clouds
and about a foot of him had fallen
defeated           by its own weight.

In his view
a lake               surrounded by reeds
++++++a body of water
embedded in the gentle hand of evening.

But they came, mostly women.
No one                        noticed
when the fluffy tail grew a stinger
the bleating tongue split in two
++++++and the snowy fur
began to grow scales
between misty tangles of hair.

No one                        noticed.

 

Letter to Khaled

Khaled, I carry your people on my back like a stone. Will we be condemned to this long climb, Sisyphus of red pearls encased in their box, you inside me like marrow in bone, fire in the sun, silver in the moon? And sand from all the world’s hourglasses would not be enough to cover the dead in Gaza cemeteries.

Khaled, if only I had beautiful enough words, and an angel to whip me with his quill, words as luminous as dawn, caress, petal, quetzal feathers, so the stone might roll off my back, plummeting lead that sinks to the dregs where your dead have ended up.

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Navegación viento de pecho

Recorrí el camino entre dos solsticios
con un enjambre de ángeles,
una parvada de insectos, jaguares en miniatura,
y la sonaja del día que no ha dejado de tañer.
Aquellas fueron fuerzas seminales
para atraerme hacia el panal
donde zumbaría el colibrí y la cigarra de invierno.
Navegación hacia alta mar,
papá y mamá
son dos litorales
pegados en la orilla chamuscada del mapa.

Me pregunto qué idioma hablaré
++++++++++++++++ien mi lecho de muerte.

 

Rebaño de un solo miembro

Los corderos que tan mansos y dóciles acostumbraban
ser y de tan poco apetito, dícenme ahora que se han
convertido en  devoradores tan grandes y feroces que
se  tragan y engullen incluso a los propios hombres.
Tomás Moro, Utopía

Era tan blanco. Recién trasquilado,
parecía como si le hubieran quitado
+++++++++++inubes algodonosas,
y hubiesen caído a un palmo de él,
vencidas            por su propio peso.

En la mirada tenía
un lago             rodeado de juncos,
++++++un cuerpo de agua
incrustado en la mano dulce del atardecer.

Pero llegaron, la mayoría mujeres.
Nadie                       se dio cuenta
cuando la cola espumosa desarrolló un aguijón,
la lengua que balaba se partió en dos,
++++++++iy el pelambre nevado
empezó a cultivar escamas
entre marañas de pelos neblinosos.

Nadie                      se dio cuenta.

 

Carta a Khaled

Khaled, llevo tu pueblo a cuestas como una piedra. ¿Seremos acaso condenados a este largo ascenso, Sísifos de perlas rojas encerradas en su caja, tú en mí como la médula al hueso, el fuego al sol, la plata a la luna? Y todos los relojes de arena del mundo no alcanzarían a cubrir los muertos en los cementerios de Gaza.

Khaled, quisiera palabras tan hermosas, y el ángel me latiguea con su cálamo, palabras tan luminosas como alba, caricia, pétalo, pluma de quetzal, y la piedra rueda de mi espalda, plomo que se hunde en picada hasta la hez donde tus muertos han ido a parar.

Translator’s Note

Robert Bly’s eight stages of translation is a fair representation of my general technical approach to translating a poem. However, before I begin translating, I like to read as much work by the poet as possible—even if I am translating a single poem. If the poet also writes essays or prose, I like to marinate with those as well. I like to build a personal relationship with the poet. I’ve been told that translating poets long dead is safer because you don’t have to fear them hating the translation, but I enjoy building a relationship with a living, breathing (and often under-represented) poet. I don’t know the mechanism, nor can I provide any empirical evidence as to how it makes me a more effective translator, but listening to the way a poet speaks, how she forms logic or expresses passion, knowing how she likes her coffee, etc. all help form a poetic intuition unique to her work. Of course, with poets who have already passed, you can do research, listen to recordings, etc., but that artery for feedback won’t be there to nourish you. What intrigues me about Françoise’s work is how it reflects her background in and love for the biological sciences and natural history. Given my B.A. in Environmental Science, it isn’t surprising that Françoise’s work speaks to me, but studying how she draws upon these inspirations helps me contemplate new ways to do so in my own work. I appreciate how Françoise shares her success with me. For example, she recently shared that she had taken my English translations of her poems to a literary festival and workshop in China where they were explored in a common language. Hearing that the work I have done has helped her challenge borders and boundaries too—that is empowerment. I like that this process allows us to empower each other as artists and women. Approaching translation with gratitude and amazement is also essential—after all, becoming part of another artist’s process is an inimitable experience and privilege. Discussing with a poet her intentions and choices is such an intimate way of learning about poetry and language. And isn’t that why translation is such a good investment? I’ve had peers and colleagues ask why I spend as much time on my translations as I do on my own work. The two are interconnected—the immersion into someone else’s mind and expression influences my ability to express myself and benefits my work. It’s miraculous how another artist’s poetic nuances, once experienced and analyzed and savored, become part of my own poetic DNA. I am grateful for every opportunity to translate because not only do I build relationships with new members of my ever-increasing poet-family, but also, translation provides an ideal occasion to produce work that both crosses and questions boundaries of language, culture, and politics. And beyond the intellectualism and gifts of translation, I very simply find translating poems to be fun (think syllable Sudoku for the language-obsessed) and meditative.

Françoise RoyFrançoise Roy was born in Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec, Canada, in 1959. She has a Master’s degree in Geography with a Certificate in Latin American Studies (B.S., University of Maryland; M.A., University of Florida; as well as a Certificate in Translation from English to Spanish (O.M.T., 2000)). She has worked as a free-lance interpreter and translator, and as an editor, apart from having been a French and English teacher. She has also given writing workshops. In 1997, she was awarded the National Literary Translation Award in Poetry (INBA, Mexico). In 2007, she was awarded the Jacqueline Déry-Mochon Award for her novel Si tu traversais le seuil (L’instant même, Quebec City, 2005). That same year, she also won the Alonso Vidal National Poetry Award in Mexico. She has published one novel in Spanish and one in French, a book of short stories, one plaquette and eight poetry books, most in Spanish, two of them being bilingual (Spanish-French). She has translated close to fifty books, mostly in poetry. In 2002, she co-founded Tragaluz, a monthly art and culture magazine, where she worked as an editor until it ceased to exist in 2007. She lives in Guadalajara, Mexico.

 

Amanda FullerAmanda Fuller is a native San Diegan who has circumnavigated the earth via ship. She is a poet, translator, and co-founding editor at Locked Horn Press who currently teaches at San Diego State University. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Poetry International, Serving House, San Diego Poetry Annual, BlazeVOX, Fugue, and elsewhere.

 

No Voy a Forget

No Voy a Forget

Mi amor, espero que
Yo recuerde the way
You sound with three
Buttons undone, tu voz
Baja, cariñosa.
Will I remember the feel
De tu nombre the first time
I wrapped my lips around it?
When I made the exception
To my rule that yo sólo
Me casaría con un hombre
Si sabía cocinar
So I could marry you?
No quiero olvidar pues
I will sear into my memory
El sabor de tus besitos
And the way you held my tears
El día que murío Joan.
Cuando yo soy una mujer
Vieja y cascarrabias, I will
Remember watching ducks with you,
Los noches cuando me hacía
Cosquillas to wake me,
Your face of untameable ardiente love.

Author’s Note

“No Voy a Forget” is my very first bilingual poem. I didn’t set out to write bilingual poetry in the beginning, it was more of a happy accident. I set out to write a love poem, and I hated the result. I had a few Spanish phrases rolling around in my head so I threw them in as an experiment and it turned out well.

I love the rhythm and pace of Spanish, and I love how it dances with the rhythm of English. Spanish quickens the pace of the whole poem, like in the lines “To my rule that yo sólo / Me casaría con un hombre / Si sabía cocinar.” The natural cadence of Spanish is much faster than English and it is especially evident in this section of the poem leading up to a shift. On the other hand, in some places the English slows the pace of the poem down, emphasizing certain words’ significance. This is important in the beginning to set the mood with the words “the way / You sound with three / Buttons undone” and to emphasize the determination in the line “I will sear into my memory.”

I tend to follow the path of the poem when deciding which words should be in which language based on what sounds the best and which words in which language pack the most punch and convey the most meaning. I also consider how quickly I want the poem to move. I try to have enough lines in English to make sure readers can understand the overall tone and subject of the poem, but my main goal is more for readers and listeners to engage in the music of the languages.

Recently, my work has focused in on exploring the dance of the two languages in combination, often embracing more Spanish than English and Latin American cultural themes as well as my own everyday life.

Chelsea RisleyChelsea Risley is pursuing a BA in English Creative Writing and Spanish at Berry College. She won the Southern Women Writers Student Writing Contest in Poetry in 2012 and her work has appeared in Berry College’s literary magazine. She currently lives in Rome, Georgia with her husband.

Coiffure / Hair-do, Deficit Spending, Pouf Tossed Salad

Coiffure / Hair-do

The beautiful American word hair-do
lacks the élan of the French word coiffure.
Hair-do is flat-footed & matter-of-fact.
It does what it says it does; Americans adore that.

I could run hairstylist up the flagpole as a word
to salute—that’s as Cadillac as our idiom gets.
But Cadillac looks suspiciously French—about
as Yank as Yangtze or American as freedom fries.

The strange but beautiful French word pouf,
if given two o’s, stands for fag in British slang.
Also note that in pouf—when said by the French—
lurks the inimitable Ouf! of Gallic lips pursed to rue

gauche American gaffes—like the war in Iraq . . .
Gaffes which my mom tried not to make, studying
French in Paris that summer and shopping every day,
quite patriotically, at Les Galeries Lafayette.

At the beauty salon near L’Opéra, they couldn’t
get her beehive quite right. Your air-dew, Madame,
eet iz not verry moderne! they said with hauteur.

Air-dew?—That’s the beautiful American word for my mother.

 

Deficit Spending

Chasing luxury is buying a trompe l’œil eternal life:
Like that set of miniature Parisian landmarks done as jewelry—
minus the burning banlieues, street barricades
or mounds of dog poop. These fantasy gems

are meant to distract. They’re perfect for
the economic downturn, when fine things are so cher
that only someone as rich as the Duchesse of Windsor
could purchase the Palais Royal made of amethyst.

Deficit spending demands caution: if you have to
check the dollar-to-euro exchange rate,
this kind of luxury is beyond you & forget it.
If you do take leave of your senses, buy

the cheapest bauble—the one spelling out Á Bas l’État!
Or, go ahead & get that citrine fleur-de-lis, or that
“Let Them Eat Cake” necklace of marquise diamonds.
Wear it to the Hotel Ritz in honor of the late Princess Diana.

Or blow all you’ve got and get the ring inspired by Notre Dame’s
rose windows, remembering how Marie Antoinette gave her
hand-me-down gowns to the priests there.
Then say a (guilty) prayer, like my mother in Paris—

modest of means, but still shopping: “You’ll have to
forgive me,” she wrote to my father. In Vogue, she read
that “women have been spending their last sou
here for hundreds of years!” It made her feel less alone.

 

Pouf Tossed Salad

Its body is of Bibb & frisée lettuces

garnished with pearl onions, Crimini

mushrooms & julienned carrots.

A craze for simple food

began when the ladies-in-waiting

saw the queen trying a new régime

ridiculously lean of meat.

Cornucopious display of bio- 

logique got tossed with tomatoes

and the house piss-&-vinaigrette.

I’ll never wear anything but vegetables

again! one duchesse said, catching sight

of the pouf Salade Composée.

It’s better to have vegetables in

the puff-pastry of one’s headdress

than to be dull as a turnip at table,

or pea-brained as a trophy queen.

Author’s Note

I was monolingual until I took French in college to fulfill a language requirement. My mother had gone on a kick to have me learn French when I was about 10, but I hated it and must have been a pill about it because her campaign didn’t last very long. Then I took a trip around Europe the summer I finished college. My first stop was Paris, and though I’d had a year of French, hearing it spoken on the street as a living language was a coup de foudre, but what I fell in love with was a language.

I returned to Paris and took classes at the Alliance Française. In order to ramp up my learning curve, I decided to speak only French as much as possible and even to make myself think in French. This intensive, mental effort grooved the French I practiced so deeply into me that sometimes French words actually came to mind and mouth before the English.

Even when I was back in the U.S., French appeared most insistently when I wrote. Sometimes my prose got so studded with French that it read like “Coiffure / Hair-do.” This effectively limited my potential readership to French-English bilinguals, but I’d made friends who’d also studied in Paris, and a kind of idiopathic, belle-lettriste franglais became our lingua franca. It was perhaps just a snooty way of setting ourselves apart, but it also kept that immersive cultural and linguistic experience of cultureand language-learning alive for us.

A few years later, I returned to Paris with my mother. This time she was the one studying at the Alliance Française, as recounted in the poem. Watching her tangle with the language, I finally really understood that what I’d thought of as English is, yes, “suspiciously French”—even if a twang-mangled, excessively dipthonged and diffidently ungendered French.

I think that once someone who’s monolingual becomes conscious of all the different linguistic ways to skin un chat, the more French (and German and Arabic and Spanish and Iroquois, etc.) one finds in one’s English. It’s a decentering experience that can’t come soon enough for those of us who haven’t been compelled by colonialism, migration, geography, or violence to know that our way of saying and doing things isn’t the alpha and omega of anything. Being even serviceably bilingual provides mind-altering new lexicons, tastes, and tonal registers. It puts two sides on every coin. Bilingual, one has more real and faux amis; more poetries, more worlds in which to think.

Coco OwenCoco Owen is a stay-at-home poet in Los Angeles. She has published in the Antioch Review, 1913, The Journal, Rio Grande Review, and CutBank, among other venues. She also has a mini-chapbook with Binge Press and has been a finalist in several recent book contests. Owen serves on the board of independent publisher Les Figues Press in Los Angeles and more of her work can be found at: www.cocoowenphd.com.

Papeles / Papers

Papeles

No tengo papeles.

Así, tengo papeles
En el carro en la silla.
En la casa en la mesa
En el cuarto en la cama.

Papeles de la corte,
Papeles del avogado,
Papeles del estado,
Papeles de la migra.

Papeles que me notan,
Papeles que me representan,
Papeles que me llaman y
Papeles que me dicen ir.

¡Tantos papeles tengo yo!
Una fábrica de papeles,
Un bosque de papeles,
Un montón de papeles, sólo porque

No tengo papeles.

 

Papers

I don’t have papers.

And so I have papers
In the car on the seat,
In the house on the table,
In the bedroom on the bed.

Papers from the court,
Papers from the lawyer,
Papers from the state,
Papers from la migra.

Papers that take note of me,
Papers that represent me,
Papers that summon me and
Papers that tell me to go.

So many papers!
A factory of papers,
A forest of papers,
A mountain of papers, just because

I don’t have papers.

Author’s Note

I live in two languages. As a bicultural individual, I go between Spanish and English all the time.

This particular poem was written after unsuccessful attempts to keep a friend from being deported. I was amazed at how much red tape surrounded his life, and “Papeles” emerged from that observation. I wrote “Papers,” the English version of the poem, shortly after completing “Papeles.”

I have read these poems many times at literary and community events. I think it’s important for people to hear the beautiful language of an ever-growing part of the US population, and to hear about the harmfulness of US immigration policies.

Mariana McDonaldmariana mcdonald’s work has appeared in numerous publications, including poetry in The Anthology of Southern Poets: Georgia, Les Femmes Folles, Fables of the Eco-future, Southern Women’s Review, Sugar Mule, and El Boletín Nacional; and fiction in Up, Do: Flash Fiction by Women Writers, and So to Speak.

Six Minutes

Six Minutes

One night, walking along the sidewalk that coasts a little park that is not enclosed, a park with wooden benches covered in sentences written in permanent marker, a swing on the edge of a very protective silence, in an almost residential area, enveloped (I) in the damp of an autumn that had just begun, ten seconds after a car passes me on the road (inside, I can hear the echoes of Wish you were here), the pavement almost wet, twenty minutes after I say good-bye to a friend with a kiss on both cheeks (the smell of peppermint chewing gum, tired eyes, and a bye, see you tomorrow) and to my boyfriend too, with a light kiss on the lips (not a word, just a conspiring glance), one Saturday in September, in my grey coat, light, too light, beneath a black sky, twelve minutes after observingamazedthat there are no clouds in the sky, thirsty, a book by Roth in my bag, a red bookmark, Feltrinelli, stuck in page 122 (at the point where the Swede is thinking that his daughter is probably a terrorist, but still isn’t sure), at five past one, six minutes after noticing there is someone behind me, one hundred heartbeats a minutefifty diastolic, sixty systolic pressurean almost empty packet of crackers next to the book in my bag, my cell-phone in the right-hand pocket of my coat next to a white handkerchief with pink geometric lines, hair in a pony-tail, and a hand pulling it, my head snapping back, all at once, at six minutes past one, in Italy, my right leg lifted off the ground one kilometer from my house, on the dark edge of a little public park, as I try to run (a surgeuselessof epinephrine in the adrenal medulla, and the sudden synthesis of glucose and glycogen), my right arm crushed at the humerus, pressure from his fingers on the muscles, exactly three minutes after quickening my step, dragged one meter into the park, twenty seconds after opening my cell phone to call my boyfriend, fifteen seconds after noticingdesperatethere is no coverage, three hundred meters from the kindergarten I attended when I was little, lying on the ground, at exactly seven minutes past one, under the weight of his body, the word “anthropometry” that pops into my head for no apparent reason, the tastecigarettes, urine, something that reminds me of motor oilof the fingers of his right hand on my mouth, my face pushed to the right, the unbearable pressure on my jawbone, dilated pupils staring into nothing, the weight of our bodies on my right arm pressed behind my back but still the certainty that all this will be over soon, stockings torn, panties almost torn, the sound of a text message (my cell phone or his?), the scratches burning on my legs, the smell of the damp earth near my nose, a light that goes on in a window in the building that looks onto the park, the cold on my left cheek as the saliva evaporates, the sensationdevastatingthat all this will not be over soon, at eight past one, on the edges of the park, my legs open, crooked hearts drawn on a wooden bench I think I see now, my watch unbuckled, his penis in my vagina (an even stronger burning sensation), beer on his breath, a light that goes off in the window in the building that looks onto the park, more and more difficulty breathing, the fingers of his left hand behind me, inside me, and the fear my perineum is ripping apart, hair in the mud, my right cheek in the dirt, blades of rotted grass between my lips, two hours and a half after having dinner with my boyfriend and a friendpear stuffed ravioli, fillet steak marinated in Barolo, one bottle of wine between the three of us, a shot of Amaro (on the label, simply: Nocino 40°home-made), panna cottapraying he will hurry up, his rhythm convulsive, my anxiety out of control, the beginning of asphyxiation just when the clock strikes nine past one, and his smell, and the absolute silence in a park that is not enclosed, at ten past one, one hundred and twenty diastolic and one hundred and twenty systolic pressure, my right wrist which feels broken, the fingers on my right hand that I can no longer feel, while all the world is stillthe only sound, a scooter fading into the distanceSeptember 26, at eleven past one, the moment I give up trying to learn his main anthropometric features for future identification, nose pressed to the ground, the taste of blood in my mouth, one night, in 2009, I just keep thinking one thing: if I die, will it be enough for him then?

prose_section_divider

Sei minuti

Una notte, camminando lungo il marciapiede che costeggia un piccolo parco senza recinzione, con le panchine in legno ricoperte da frasi scritte con l’uniposca, l’altalena verso il bordo di un silenzio molto protettivo, in un quartiere quasi residenziale, avvolta (io) dall’umidità dell’autunno appena iniziato, dieci secondi dopo che una macchina è passata sulla strada (dentro ascoltavano I wish you were here), il terreno quasi bagnato, venti minuti dopo aver salutato un’amica con due bacisulla guancia (un profumo da chewing-gum alla menta, gli occhi stanchi, un ciao ci sentiamo domani mattina) ed aver salutato anche il mio ragazzo con un bacino molto dolce sulle labbra (nessuna parola ma solo uno sguardo pieno di complicità), un sabato di settembre, con un cappottino grigio troppo sottile, sotto un cielo molto scuro, dodici minuti dopo aver constatato – stupita – che non ci sono nuvole, sete, un libro di Roth in borsetta, il segnalibro rosso della Feltrinelli a pagina 122 (proprio quando lo Svedese sta scoprendo che la figlia probabilmente è una terrorista, ma non ne ha ancora la certezza),all’una e cinque, sei minuti dopo che ho notato qualcuno dietro di me, cento pulsazioni al minuto – cinquanta diastole,cinquanta sistole – un pacchetto di cracker quasi finito vicino al libro in borsetta, il cellulare nella tasca destra del cappottino assieme ad un fazzoletto bianco con una geometria dirighe rosa, i capelli raccolti, e una mano che me li tira, la testa che si torce all’indietro, di scatto, all’una e sei, in Italia, la gamba destra sollevata da terra a un chilometro da casa, nel bordo buio di un piccolo parco pubblico, mentre tento la fuga (l’aumento – inutile – di produzione di epinefrina nel midollo surrenale, e la sintesi improvvisa del glucosio dal glicogeno), il braccio sinistro stretto all’altezza dell’omero, la pressione delle sue dita sul muscolo, esattamente tre minuti dopo aver accelerato il passo, trascinata un metro dentro al parco, venti secondi dopo che ho iniziato ad aprire il cellulare per chiamare il mio ragazzo, quindici secondi dopo aver constatato – disperata – l’assenza di campo, a trecento metri dall’asilo dove andavo da piccola, distesa per terra, all’una e sette in punto, sotto il peso del suo corpo, la parola “antropometria” che mi viene in mente senza sapere perché, il sapore – sigaretta, urina, qualcosa che mi ricorda l’odore del motore di una macchina – delle dita della sua mano destra che tengono chiusa la mia bocca, il mio viso costretto a guardare verso destra, la pressione insostenibile sull’osso della mandibola, le pupille dilatate sul nulla, il peso dei nostri corpi sul mio braccio destro schiacciato dietro alla schiena e intanto la certezza che tutto finirà presto, i collant strappati, le mutande quasi strappate, il suono di un sms (il mio cellulare o il suo?), il bruciore delle gambe graffiate, l’odore della terra umida vicina al naso, la luce di una finestra della casa davanti che si accende, il freddo sulla guancia sinistra per la sua saliva che evapora, la sensazione – devastante – che invece tutto questo non finirà, all’una e otto, ai bordi del parco, le mie gambe aperte, i cuori storti disegnati sul legno di una panchina che ora mi pare di intravedere, il mio orologio che si è staccato, il suo pene nella mia vagina (un bruciore ancora più forte), l’alito di birra, la luce della finestra della casa davanti che si spegne, la fatica sempre maggiore a respirare, le dita della sua mano sinistra dietro, dentro di me, con il terrore che il perineo si stia lacerando, i capelli nel fango, la guancia destra nella terra, alcuni fili d’erba marcia tra le labbra, due ore e mezza dopo aver cenato con il mio ragazzo e la nostra amica – tortelli ripieni alla pera, un filetto al barolo, una bottiglia di vino in tre, l’amaro (l’etichetta scriveva solo Nocino, 40° – fatto in casa), la panna cotta – pregando che lui faccia veloce, il suo ritmo convulso, il panico che non gestisco più, un principio di asfissia quando scatta l’una e nove, e il suo odore, e il silenzio assoluto del parco privo di recinzione, all’una e dieci, centoventi diastole e centoventi sistole al minuto, il polso della mano sinistra che sembra spezzato, le dita della mano sinistra che non sento più, mentre tutto il mondo tace – si sente solo il suono di un motorino morire in lontananza – il 26 settembre, all’una e undici, proprio mentre ho rinunciato ad individuare le sue principali caratteristiche antropometriche per un futuro riconoscimento, il naso schiacciato per terra, il sapore di sangue in bocca, una notte, nel 2009, pensavo solamente una cosa: ma se muoio, gli basterà?

Translator’s Note

Once, as a kid, I replied to my drama teacher’s proposal to perform The Doll’s House at school with: Ibsen? How can we perform Ibsen if he didn’t write in English. Someone made Ibsen possible for me to understand then; I am eternally grateful.

Translation opens doors, opens minds, makes communication possible: it unbabels the babel, so to speak. Translators embrace two or more languages, enjoying books, ideas, and friendships in each. They work to make this possible for others. This is what I thought when I first read “Six Minutes:” I just wanted to share it.

I met Paolo Zardi’s work through a friend, fell in love with his characters immediately, and when I expressed my desire to share them in English, he was kind enough to let me. It was not an easy task.

“Six Minutes” is brutally realistic. The events echo the seconds on the clock, deafening. The story unravels with every heartbeat, and that made translating it trying, both emotionally and professionally. A wonderful short story can envelop the reader in its folds; translating a wonderful story can lose the translator to friends and family for days, weeks, months.

So many things have been written about translation. So many studies have been done. Each translator has his own personal method. Every method is a valid one, I think. For me, the actual words come first, I suppose. Individual words, nouns, verbs that mean the same thing (Paolo Zardi is an engineer, and has his own world of words, which is not necessarily my world). I take the text apart, translate the words and set them on the table to pick from, like a puzzle. I lay them in front of me and then start putting the sentences back together.

Sound is next, because it’s a crazy kind of puzzle I’m putting together: it’s both visual and musical.

Because “one Saturday in September” slips off your tongue just like “un sabato di settembre”, easy, but what if the author had opted for “un lunedì di luglio” in the original? What then? “Monday in July?” Fine. But where’s the alliteration? Is it really important to the author? It depends on the text. “Six Minutes” is very rhythmic. So I move the pieces of the puzzle around again. Find synonyms when I can, add new pieces to the puzzle. I mix and match as best I can again.

So finally the sound of the words is good and the translation seems right too. I let it sit. I forget about it for a day or two. When I go back to the text, I find all kinds of mistakes, funny sounding things. Not-so-English sounding things, because being inside another language changes yours sometimes. Therefore distance is important. You must pretend the original does not exist.

It is true that you really can’t see the forest for the trees sometimeswhere the trees, in this case, are the words, the syntax, the punctuation. So I step back and read the translation again. I read it out loud. I clap the beats of every line. Often. Like in music class as a kid.

When it finally sings the emotions it originally provoked in me, then I’m finished.

Paolo ZardiPaolo Zardi is an engineer, a writer, and a traveller. His short stories have been published in numerous magazines and newspapers. In 2010 he published his book of short stories Antropometria (Neo Edizioni), then La felicità esiste (2012, Alet Edizioni), and Il giorno che diventammo umani (2013, Neo Edizioni). His work has appeared in: Giovani cosmetici, (2008, Sartorio), Storie di martiri, ruffiani e giocatori (2012, CaratteriMobili), Il futuro che non c’era (Psiconline, 2013), Cronache vere (Piano B, 2013), ESC – Quando tutto finisce (2013, Hacca). His latest work is the novella, “Il signor bovary” (Intermezzi, 2014). He blogs at http://www.grafemi.wordpress.com

 

Matilda ColarossiMatilda Colarossi is a freelance translator and teacher, and a lover of good books. Every now and then she is lucky enough to run into a writer she would love to share with the English world. And she does. Born in Italy, raised in Canada, adopted, as an adult, by the city of Florence, she reads, writes, translates, teaches, and scouts for new Italian voices. She blogs at http://www.paralleltexts.wordpress.com