Two Poems

After a Night in the Alley of Worshippers

The point is not the frayed light of six a.m.
or the barking of dogs, half-crazed by the scent
of blood, who we had to drive away.
Nor the fatigue from a night spent deep
in death, the network that only now falls
silent, the shouts from the platoon above, identifying
bodies, the sense that all this was to be expected.
The point is not how they lay there, after
the dogs lunged into them, their faces
distorted, their wounds festering, strewn together,
black-garbed, the dirt of the road stained darker
by their blood. One held the trace of a smile,
not wicked or revengeful, just lost.
The point is, I volunteered, and Vish, the officer,
was my friend. But when we got there I could not,
I simply could not. To this day I see Vish and a soldier,
shoving them into the armored truck. They are dropped,
are dragged, I don’t have a better image for all this:
the bodies dragged, dropped,
over and over.

 

Unity

We travel the silk road of evening,
tobacco and desire flickering
between our hands. We are warm travelers,
our eyes unfurled, traveling in psalms,
in Rumi, in the sayings of the man from the Galilee.
We break bread under the pistachio tree,
under the Banyan tree, under the dark
of the Samaritan fig tree. Songs of offering rise up
in our throats, wandering along the wall of night. We travel
in the openness of warm eternity, celestial voices
announcing a coupling as the quiet horse gallops
heavenward. We travel with the rest of the world,
with its atrocities, its piles of ruins, scars of barbed wire,
traveling with ardor in our loins, with the cry of birth.
We sit crossed-legged within the rocking
of flesh, the quiet of the Brahmin, the bells
of Mass, the tumult of Torah. We travel
through the eagles of death, dilution of earth in rivers,
in eulogies, through marble we travel, through the silk
of evening, our hearts like bonfires in the dark.

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אחרי הלילה של סמטת המתפללים

הָעִנְיָן איננו באור האפֹר וְהַמְרֻפָּט של
שש בָּבֹּקֶר, או הנביחות
של הכלבים, מְטֹרָפִים מריח הדם,
שנאלצנו לגרש. גם לא הָעֲיֵפוּת
של לילה בתוך הַמָּוֶת,
הַקֶּשֶר שרק עכשיו שתק, הצעקות
בפלגה למעלה, זִהוּי הגופה,
התחושה שכל זה היה צפוי.
הענין הוא לא שהם שכבו שם, אחרי
שהכלבים נגסו בהם, פניהם הגלויים
מְעֻוָתִים לגמרי, הָרָקָב הִסְתָּמֵּן
בפצעים, קרובים אחד לשני, לבושים
שָחֹר. העפר סביבם היה כהה יותר,
לאחד מהם היה סוף של חיוך,
לא מְרֻשָּע, לא נקמני, אבוד.
הָעִנְיָן הוא שהתנדבתי, וְשֶוִּיש, הקצין,
היה חבר שלי.
אבל כשהגענו לשם לא יָכֹלְתִּי,
פשוט לא יָכֹלְתִּי.
עד היום אני רואה את וִיש וחיל שעבר שם
מעלים אותם לספארי, הם נשמטים להם, נגררים.
אין לי דמוי יותר טוב לכל הספור הזה:
הגופות נגררות, נשמטות,
שוב ושוב.

אחדוּת

נוֹסְעִים בְּדֶרֶך הַמֶּשִי של הָעֶרֶב,
סחורות טבָּק ותשוקות מְהַבְהֲבוֹת
בין ידֵינו. נוסעים חמִּים,
עֵינֵינוּ פתוחות לראות, נוסעים בתהילים, אצל רוּמי,
בדברי האיש מן הגליל.
בוצעים לחם תחת האלה, תחת עץ הבַּניאָן,
תחת תאנת השומרון הכֵּהָה, מנחות שירה עולות
בגרוננו, מטילות על קיר הלילה. נוסעים
בְּנֶצַח פתוח וחם, בנות קול מכריזות זִוּוּגִים,
הסוס השקט מנתר לשמים. נוסעים עם
כלל העולם, עם הזְּוָעוֹת, עם עִיֵּי הָחֳרבוֹת,
עם צלקות התיל, נוסעים בלהט הַחֲלָצַיִם
ובכי הלידה. דרך שכול הרגלים, דרך נדנוד
הבשר, דרך השקט של הברהמינים, דרך פעמוני
המיסה, דרך המֻלת בית המדרש.
דרך נשרי הַמָּוֶת, דרך מהילת האפר בנהר,
דרך ההספדים, דרך השיש, נוסעים בדרך
המשי של הערב ולבנו מדורה בָּאפלה.

Translator’s Note

Translation involves a deep reading of words. I hold each one up to the light, I turn each one around in my mind until it twinkles and shines. Yonatan Berg’s words began shining for me the moment I read them in their original Hebrew. I was attracted by their quietness but also by their power. The steady diction beckoned me to follow each poem through to the end, a lyric journey into the mind of Berg. His poetry relates strongly to his upbringing on a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, to his service in the Israeli army and the questions he asks while looking back at these moments.

Berg stares unflinchingly at life in Israel today, way beyond the cliches and the headlines. His voice is one that deserves to be heard in other languages.  Cynthia Ozick wrote that “a translation can serve as a lens into the underground life of another culture,” and my wish while translating was to create this lens for readers of English.

Yonatan BergYonatan Berg is an Israeli writer and the youngest recipient ever to win the Yehuda Amichai Poetry Prize. He is the author of two books of poetry, Hard Sails and Hours Next to the World, and one novel, Five More Minutes.

 

 

 

Joanna Chen-translator-of-Yonatan-BergJoanna Chen’s poetry, essays, and literary translations have been published most recently in GuernicaWild Age Press, Poetry International, and Asymptote, among others. She authors a column in The Los Angeles Review of Books.  

[In the white of my poems] / [Dans le blanc de mes poèmes]

 

[In the white of my poems]

In the white of my poems
I’m dying

Dressed by alphabet letters
I escort myself to the grave

The word I write
becomes another word

How its cry inscribes
the page

My teeth of wildcat
grinding

Each poem
is a mark of my claws

Evening
death approaches

But on the table
bread invites us
to exist

I consumed my father
and my mother
my lovers

One gesture per century
was enough
to devour them

My dead mother does not rest––
she walks in my body
she wrestles me
so like Jacob and his angel

I sing for her––
for all that passes by
as nothing more will

Through her kisses
my mother breathes me
into her abyss

She guards
my lost part

She whitens my words
and my hair

My guiding star never arrived––

While my dead mother’s comet
blazes

It annihilates me
and all around me

I draw myself up on the earth
with the tree

I see my death
among the trunks that fall
like brothers

And your body––
earth to live
to die

By my word you became
by my suffering

Let me comprehend
what I don’t understand––

at the river’s edge
death polishes me
with stones

The rain does not extinguish me

If it succeeds
to lay me on the soil
like a too-ripened field

I rise up again
savaged grass
along the roadside

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[Dans le blanc de mes poèmes]

Dans le blanc de mes poèmes
je suis en train de mourir

Habillée par les lettres de l’alphabet
je m’escorte jusqu’à la tombe

*

Le mot que j’écris
devient un autre mot

Comment coucher son cri
sur la page

Mes dents de fauve
grincent

Chaque poème
est une marque de mes griffes

*

Le soir
la mort s’approche de nous

Mais sur la table
un pain nous invite
à exister

J’ai usé mon père
et ma mère
mes amants

Un geste par siècle
a suffi
pour les anéantir

*

Ma mère morte ne se repose pas––
elle marche dans mon corps
elle lutte avec moi
tel Jacob et son ange

Je chante pour elle––
pour tout ce qui passe
car rien ne passera plus

*

A travers ses baisers
ma mère m’aspire
dans son gouffre

Elle y garde
ma partie perdue

Elle blanchit mes mots
et mes cheveux

*

Mon astre n’est jamais arrivé––

Tandis que brille celui
de ma mère morte

Il m’anéantit
et tout autour de moi

Je me dresse sur la terre
avec l’arbre

Je vois ma mort
parmi les troncs qui tombent
comme des frères

*

Et ton corps––
terre pour vivre
pour mourir

Tu est devenu par ma parole
par ma souffrance

*

Que je comprenne
que je ne comprenne pas––

au bord du fleuve
la mort me polit
avec les pierres

*

La pluie ne m’éteint pas

Si elle réussit
à me coucher par terre
comme un champ trop mûr

je me relève
herbe ensauvagée
au bord du chemin

(Voice credit: Alain Borer)

Translator’s Statement

While the patient work of translation is very often a solitary endeavor, the practice itself depends on what Paul Ricoeur names linguistic hospitality: “the act of inhabiting the word of the Other paralleled by the act of receiving the word of the Other into one’s own home, one’s own dwelling.”

The idea of writing in a language other than the one in which one has lived her entire life took on new significance when I found myself in a new country, surrounded by words I did not know. The temporary inability to rely on the very capacity that typically connected me with others was confounding, and often isolating. With no language to tether me to another, I assumed a kind of invisibility. Pleasantries became stripped to a minimum for fear of malapropism, humiliation, or worse—of giving offence.

And yet, as I lost words, I gained language. Initially, it was the language of the body—eyes, hands, face—that opened (or closed) communication. Such careful attention the language of physicality requires! How I fell into my bed each night, exhausted! As I began to gain linguistic fluency, others took notice and addressed me. I began to speak, new words growing less strange on my tongue. Isolation began to melt, diminishment turning to freedom, embarrassment to laughter. Such does a giving up of words open us to new language, language anew.

The language of Anise Koltz was introduced to me by French writer Alain Borer, who suggested we meet. Born in Luxembourg, Koltz wrote for years in one language until she could no longer bear its words. Now 87, Koltz continues to write in the language we both discovered when we forfeited the words of the language we had always known.

The sequence here was found via research through the University of Southern California’s online library resources, appearing in a journal cited as Europe and dated April 1, 1995. While the layout replicates as closely as possible its original publication, the translation trades solid dots for asterisks, as English seemed to ask.

Anise Koltz is one of Luxembourg’s major contemporary authors. Born in 1928, Koltz began writing in German, but the death of her husband—he never fully recovered from the Nazi occupation—compelled her to work in French. Koltz is a recipient of several major awards, including the Prix Apollinaire and Prix de littératire francophone Jean Arp. Since 2007 Koltz has published seven new collections in French. That she continues to be celebrated well into her 80s speaks to the continuing urgency and relevance of her work.

Marci Vogel and Anise Koltz

Left-to-Right: Marci Vogel, Anise Koltz

Marci Vogel is the author of At the Border of Wilshire & Nobody, winner of the 2015 Howling Bird Press Poetry Prize. Her poetry, essays, and translations have been published in FIELD, Plume, Jacket2, The Critical Flame, and Drunken Boat. Currently a Provost’s fellow at USC, Vogel was awarded a 2014 Willis Barnstone Translation Prize. She has received invitations to share her work at the Conservatory of Flowers in San Francisco, L’école des beaux-arts in Tours, France, and the Université catholique de Louvain in Belgium.

Éster Terracina

From the translator’s note: The biographies that make up this collection are a blend of history and fiction. They all contain events and people that have existed, or could have existed.  They are not easy; Davide uses a challenging and unconventional vocabulary . . . The stories in Città distrutte: Sei biografie infedeli deal with difficult themes: loss, failure, love and worlds with immigration, war, dictatorships but they do not lose their sense of humor. When a character like Éster exaggerates, when she holds a funeral for Che Guevara, as readers, we can smile, not laughing at her, but understanding her radical heart.

from Città distrutte: Sei biografie infedeli: 

Éster Terracina (1951-1976)

I love the words of the philosophers. So here is a chance to use them: Patrice Vuillard calls them “strings of coincidence” (Dynamique des abandons, Paris 1983, p. 54). Words so powerful they push those stories deserving a place in history into memory. They are bound with an “invisible glue” (Id., Regles, Paris 1992, p. 123) or better yet a series of “hidden chains” similar to “psychohistoric seeds” (Jakob Daniel Wegelin, Briefe uber den Werth der Geschichte, Himburg, Berlin 1783, pp. 127-128) connected to human actions, apparently intertwined unwittingly in a meaning that could only have been established in hindsight. Oppressed by the misfortune of having happened, the story begins like this: and no one would call it “chance!” In the past century, on the last day of ’51, Ernesto Guevara commences his journey while in an apartment in Once, a neighborhood in the center of Buenos Aires, Éster Terracina lifts herself up from a velvet pillow and takes her first steps.

I looked all around wondering: who will come to destroy my elation? Today little Éster walks. Another reason to be happy: to have put a woman on this earth.

Her mother notes in her diary: “I looked all around wondering: who will come to destroy my elation? Today little Éster walks. Another reason to be happy: to have put a woman on this earth. Alberto came home and embraced us. Will I be able to sleep tonight?” The euphoria that Norma Terracina would experience from the first elections in Argentina because of universal suffrage was a mere month away; it explains the exuberance in her writing. I would like to thank historian Guillermo Viera of the Universidad Nacional de Jujuy for having suggested this interpretation of the text. Like many of her compatriots at the ballot for the first time Norma has no doubts: she leaves the nation in the hands of the Perón matrimonial alliance. Her sister-in-law Graciela writes about her in a letter addressed to their cousin Iginio Malinverno. The message reads (preserved at the private archives of the Malinverno family in Rosario): “The idiot voted like she said she would. She’s infinitely grateful. All she talks about is Evita. It gives me a headache. Fortunately the slut will die.” Graciela’s political sympathies for the Unión CÍvica Radical of Balbín and Frondizi, for which her husband Fernando is an activist, motivate and spur her crude words. Who really knows if rancor can also incite affection. Is hate contagious? If there is a scientific answer it ought to be made public. As for me, I cannot stop thinking of little Éster who on that last day of ’51 took her first quick-footed steps. I wonder to what extent her aunt’s sentiments, along with Guevara’s journey, had an influence on the following events.

Those who have preceded Éster guide her onto a new path. She is immediately master of her actions, though her blood is impure. An inheritance. A memory. A distant, antiquated sling holds her upright.

Those who have preceded Éster guide her onto a new path. She is immediately master of her actions, though her blood is impure. An inheritance. A memory. A distant, antiquated sling holds her upright. Her gait recalls the memory of strolls through her grandfather, Giacomo Terracina’s, books. Bruna’s husband, Alberto’s father, the man who had a premonition one year before Mussolini’s Race Laws went into effect. He closed the legal bookshop in San Pantaleo, their neighborhood in Rome. The event didn’t go unnoticed but Terracina had made up his mind, he took the family and decided to leave. In Napoli they boarded a steam liner. In ’39 the port of Riachuelo awaited them, as did a row of shacks. Years of thankless toil. In ’44 he opened a printing press in Corrientes, in ’46 he handed it over to his son in order to dedicate himself to his true passion: botany. His soothsaying powers, however, are transmitted only in part to Éster: when ’76 arrives she will stay in Buenos Aires.

When at nineteen Alberto arrives in Buenos Aires he is already someone else, melancholy is now part of his genetic code. He works construction, he works on the Jose Amalfitani Stadium, opened for Velez in ’43; in ’44 he begins working at his father’s printing press and marries Norma Reyes, in ’46 they have their first son Mario Roberto and in ’51 Éster. Alberto likes to fall asleep in his chair with his daughter in his arms, he reads about Italy in the papers, he pines for his native land. His wife describes him in her diary as “somewhere between indignant and nostalgic;” so as not to contradict her, he also supports Perón.

And what of Norma Reyes, born and raised in the Liniers neighborhood amongst the shops of the old station and the stops of Rivadvia. Alberto met her recovering at the Hospital de Agudos after a shoulder injury he procured while working on the stadium. (Norma, on the other hand, was there visiting an aunt.) From her very first months Éster reproduces her mother’s exuberant voice along with many other characteristics, but it is the voice that stands out. Norma and Alberto date for a year and then marry. Norma converts to reform Judaism and the bourgeois ways of the Terracina family. Despite all of this there is an unpredictable pulsing in her womb, passed down from her mother María Teresa Reyes Sulewski, militant of the Federación obrera argentina, close friend of Radowitzky and in-demand explosives expert. Éster would find refuge with her grandmother when it was her turn to fight.

Secretly her classmates fall in love with her, the girls offer either friendship or envy (at that age no feeling comes watered down).

This is Éster’s gift, which only grows with time. The rapidity of this development is thanks to the marvel of narration. The first thing to go is the velvet cushion. Arms and legs lengthen, in ’59 while Guevara enters Havana she climbs atop a magnolia tree in Plaza San Martín and falls, passes a month in a cast, in 1960 she gets the chickenpox, in ’61 the measles, a scar remains on her forehead, then her “swan neck” grows long (as her mother comments in her diary in ’62), her breasts bud, her hair grows long, her face seems sculpted from soft caresses, freckles from the fingertips of a god who has shown her favor, her voice blushes a bit, the look in her eyes is touching. It all happens suddenly. In ’63 she passes through the gates of the Colegio Nacional where no one dare give her bad marks. Secretly her classmates fall in love with her, the girls offer either friendship or envy (at that age no feeling comes watered down). In ’66 she joins the Perónist Youth, her mother, disheartened by Perón’s fall approves the choice in her own political sadness, but her aged father looks upon her with caution and suspicion. On June twenty-eighth of that same year she discovers with her own eyes the meaning of a coup d’état and writes to her friend Penelope Di Castro while on vacation in Mar del Plata, (Di Castro has preserved the letter): “So finally I have seen it: the liturgy of the uniforms, the violence of the words. The lies found therein! Onganía gagged on them and spoke of revolution! Listen to me Penelope: we must stand up. Remember our conversations from last summer? Let’s begin from there, from Cuba and General Perón. I am not sure how to explain it, but I believe those two paths must meet.” “They don’t seem like the words of a fifteen-year-old girl,” comments Penelope Di Castro in her memoir Calle azul. Una vida entre revolucion y repression (Buenos Aires 2002, p. 34).

A month later there are military raids at the university, a friend loses an eye in the fighting and Éster’s anger hardens. A year from then Guevara is killed, she sees a photo of him dead in the newspaper, the stupor of the mouth agape and the puffy eyelids, as if the corpse were still in protest asking: this is what you do to me? Éster organizes a wake at her grandmother’s house, where no one present can hold back tears.

A family dinner: the elderly parents caressing their daughter who they haven’t seen in over a year and lavishing the young man, who could be her boyfriend, with attention.

The following year she enrolls at the university where she meets Julio Mattucci, bartender by night and student by day, obstinate at the desks of the bourgeois. Julio sympathizes with the Partido Revolucionario de los Trabajadors of Mario Roberto Santucho, whose collected works he gives to Ester; thus Éster moves closer to Guevarism and to Julio. But really, what brings them together is the bed. On Julio’s mattress, in a one room apartment in Barrio Sur. Éster will write to a friend who wishes to remain anonymous: “It was like we had discovered a new continent.” From that night forward they are inseparable, together they participate in the Marcia silenziosa in ’69. The federal police break up the crowds and Julio gets a rubber bullet to the stomach; seeing him collapse to the ground, Éster, standing beside him, learns what it means to be close to death. A few months later they marry, they go to live at Villa Soldati; marriage does not placate Éster’s rage.

In 1970 Giacomo Terracina dies (he was strolling through the garden when he collapsed at the foot of a palm tree). Alberto closes the printing press, sells the house in Once and moves to the countryside with Norma.

In the summer of ’71 Julio and Éster leave for Misiones. One day in San Ignacio Mini, treading on the rust-colored earth that inters the Jesuit city, Julio confesses to her that he has become a guerilla fighter. Éster tells him he’s crazy; she ponders suicide. They return to Buenos Aires where they face days of violence.

She takes refuge in the country with her parents, a wrinkle forms on her cheek, it crosses vertically and like a curse appears only when she laughs…

Éster and Julio pass many hours at home lavishing one another in tenderness. After a long hibernation I add new soil and manure to a peach tree I keep, the pot is filled to the brim: Julio accepts Éster’s overflowing attention and yet, he saddens. At the beginning of June he leaves without saying where to. A few weeks pass. Éster learns that his group has been massacred; Julio does not return.

She takes refuge in the country with her parents, a wrinkle forms on her cheek, it crosses vertically and like a curse appears only when she laughs; she spends time with her father’s citrus trees and takes hot baths. Because of psoriasis she cuts her hair short, she wears long-sleeved men’s shirts and white cotton underclothes, she has lots of time to read and falls in love with the work of Mario Benedetti. She sleeps long hours, twelve a night; getting out of bed is tiring, she laments the cruelty of never having given Julio a child, but that is the savagery of time. We look again to the diaries of Norma Terracina, which I quote here: “She didn’t rise all day from that chair in the garden, not even to eat or use the toilet. She seemed dead, a seated cadaver; she stared at the leaves of lackluster laurel trees. In the kitchen I found Alberto crying, he passed those tears to me.” She lives a year in mourning only broken by her deep desire for danger. “During those months, along with her suffering, a new path to militancy emerged,” explains her friend Penelope Di Castro. “I know it may seem callous, but it was as if each of her actions and thoughts were the product of exacting calculation.”

She sleeps long hours, twelve a night; getting out of bed is tiring, she laments the cruelty of never having given Julio a child, but that is the savagery of time.

She returns to Buenos Aires in ’72, she studies to become a teacher and makes a living as a substitute, she lives in a single room in the Barracas neighborhood. Éster serves in the PRT-ERP. She isn’t a guerilla fighter but works at El Combatiente, the party’s secret newspaper, printing and paginating, embracing the trade her grandfather brought from Rome. Again Penelope remembers: “We distributed the paper in the factories and poor neighborhoods; if they found a copy on you there was the risk of prison or worse. But this didn’t scare Éster, actually, it seemed like she looked for danger; she went around with a whole stack of the Combatiente under her arm! That’s what makes me say she wasn’t quite human.”

She satisfies any sexual needs that arise with party comrades but she never gets attached to anyone and can’t even recall their names. Anyhow, regarding these matters I haven’t any testimonies, only assumptions.

In October of ’73 Éster returns to her little ones at Villa Soldati and starts her language courses again, in January of ’75 she participates in the robbery of a supermarket in Guaminí; in June they show her the remains. Amongst the dark, clay covered scraps found in the earth they dig up a skeleton and she recognizes the lily-printed handkerchief of Julio Mattucci there in the dirt. A few days later Perón dies, they watch the funeral on television, her mother sits beside her, speechless; she has another attack of psoriasis that forces her to hide behind a mask of cotton, she will only defeat it later, in the first months of ’75.

She, who had always had the most transparent prose, now alludes to “lost love” and “unhealed wounds,” she justifies her escape by claiming “an urgent need to reflect” yet she juxtaposes it with a “definitive need for action.” Penelope Di Castro would state that now she was humanized.

Of this next period there remains only a series of confusing traces, she falls into an abyss along with the country she inhabits, leaving only the echoes of a biography. Éster leaves her job and her room in Barracas, she writes her mother a senseless, unclear letter. She, who had always had the most transparent prose, now alludes to “lost love” and “unhealed wounds,” she justifies her escape by claiming “an urgent need to reflect” yet she juxtaposes it with a “definitive need for action.” Penelope Di Castro would state that now she was humanized. For some Éster has vanished while others claim to see her in various locations. For example her former colleague Horacio Pucet maintains that she went to work in a cafeteria in Balverana. By another account ERP militant Arturo Coloccini swears to have run into her in Salta: “She worked in the café at the Hotel Continental,” writes Coloccini. “I remembered her from Buenos Aires and I recognized her immediately. We chatted for a few minutes without going into who I was or who she might be, never taking the rules of militancy for granted. I asked her if she had enough to eat and she said yes. I offered her a beer which we drank sitting at a table in the open square, where she told me she loved Salta because each day was sunnier than the last” (Arturo Coloccini, Cartas desde el norte, La Plata 2006, p.134). The policeman Arturo Corrente, however, has verbally contradicted these reports in his testimony, arguing that he arrested the beggar Éster Terracina Mattucci only a few meters from the Obelisk, smack in the middle of Buenos Aires, on the fifth of September in ’75, and to have kept her in a holding cell overnight.

She reappears in Buenos Aires during the first days of ’76, shortly after the dismantling of the ERP in Monte Cingolo, but nothing links the two events. She finds hospitality with her grandmother María Teresa Reyes Sulewski who immediately tells her own daughter, though Éster has explicitly told her not to do so. She contacts the few comrades that remain. At the Confitería Ideal she encounters one of them, Aurora Maturáno. Éster asks her if she can join her faction and the other responds that she will need to talk to her superiors. She refuses to meet with her parents. On the 30th of March, six days after the coup d’état, she receives a telephone call, not from Aurora Maturáno but from a friend who warns her: Aurora has been abducted, she will be tortured. She might give them names. It could be a false alarm but she decides to hide in a closet in the wall, deep behind the winter coats and sweaters.

One afternoon, exhausted, she sneaks into a wake, she sits beside the grieving women to rest, but her eyes, instead of closing, swell with tears. The women, who do not recognize her, look at her sobbing but feign normalcy and pretend that she is part of the family, like this Éster can finally grieve.

Grandmother Sulewski brings her food twice daily, she has a basin and a plastic container for feces; before sunrise, and no more than once a week she leaves the closet to bathe. When she presses her ear against the piles of garments to listen for what his happening outside she hears nothing. She fears everyone is dead, that a cloud of poisonous gas has exterminated all of Buenos Aires save only herself, and she asks herself if she ought not to go out and look around if only to be certain (for Éster’s impressions during the days in the closet see the interview with Elena Tamburini in ¡Habla Argentina! 2 June 2011). Her grandmother has a coughing fit that startles and assures her: life goes on. But so do the killings. One night there is a break-in, Éster hears everything: they tear the house apart looking for her, they threaten her grandmother, she hears Sulewski’s cries, then a man’s voice, full with pummeling violence. Who knows why they don’t open the closet but they go. The next morning she decides to leave, even if her grandmother begs her not to; she wanders for days between cafés and shopping malls, she sleeps in a movie theater, between the docks of Puerto Madero, behind the bushes of the Recoleta, she is startled by every uniform she sees. One afternoon, exhausted, she sneaks into a wake, she sits beside the grieving women to rest, but her eyes, instead of closing, swell with tears. The women, who do not recognize her, look at her sobbing but feign normalcy and pretend that she is part of the family, like this Éster can finally grieve (again refer to the interview with Elena Tamburini for the full episode).

They sequester her during a routine check on a bus, exhausted she trusts the soldiers, she claims she just wants to sleep while they take her to the Centro Piqué detention facility where she will meet her torturer: Juan Guzzetta. The criteria of subjection are included in the proceedings at Piqué and they are not particularly different from methods used elsewhere. That said, I will not elaborate further on the combinations of electric shock with barbed hooks, of asphyxiation and drowning in fecal liquid, or go into the endless inventory of psychological cruelty that is well known to everyone. Guzzetta tortures her himself while simultaneously feeling a certain attraction (he will admit to this at the tribunal); it is this very reason that keeps him from killing her. He rapes her often, demanding silence in exchange for her life. He speaks to her as one would a lover. He says that in his family he feels misunderstood, given that his wife is an idiot only good for reading fashion magazines and his sons are two imbeciles; it is only with Éster that he is able to speak in a common language. During Guzzetta’s visits inexplicable things happen. It is difficult to judge the feelings that develop in the torturer, whether to catalogue them into the vast index of monstrosities or to extract a fossil of affection: one day he brings her flowers and therefore owes it to himself to tie her to the bed and spread open her thighs. Another day, knowing that she loves Benedetti, he gives her a collection of his stories, but it is not an unconditional gift, the minutes that follow the literary offering go to show that.

Weathered and chiseled she makes even more of an impression: the years of sacrifice on her shoulders and full knowledge that more would lie ahead, wasted blood from every wound and scare, lessons learned, landscapes that live only in memory, the body’s emotions, she annuls the very act that gave her life, she sacrifices her mother and her father.

On the tenth of August in ’76 he brings her new clothes and make-up, he informs her that she has been admitted into a rehabilitation program and she will be able to leave the Center. Éster asks to visit her parents. Guzzetta decides that he will accompany her himself. On the eleventh of August, as the magnolias and Chilean pines along the access road begin to blend into the evening sky, Juan Guzzetta’s car stops in front of the Terracina family home. “I feel like I can trust this young man with kindness in his eyes,” notes Norma Terracina in her diary. “After dinner I took him aside and explained how Éster had always been a good and polite girl. An idealist cannot do damage to the fatherland. He agreed with me, and when he asked to see her old photo album, I knew he would bring her back to us. Alberto said he had the same impression: Éster is in good hands.” A family dinner: the elderly parents caressing their daughter who they haven’t seen in over a year and lavishing the young man, who could be her boyfriend, with attention. Éster didn’t give them anything to be suspicious about, her clothing hid the bruises, her smiles disguised the rest, Guzzetta behaved like someone else completely; after dinner they have a drink by the fire, upon leaving Guzzetta receives hugs and handshakes, as though touching his body were a stamp of faith. They kiss Éster, her mother scolds her for cutting her hair so short. Norma and Alberto Terracina watch the car as it drives down the road. Back at Piqué, Guzzetta beats Éster with more unseemliness and violence than usual. Can one speak of passion? When he leaves the cell Éster crouches over shivering.

A family dinner: the elderly parents caressing their daughter who they haven’t seen in over a year and lavishing the young man, who could be her boyfriend, with attention. Éster didn’t give them anything to be suspicious about, her clothing hid the bruises, her smiles disguised the rest.

The first of October in ’73, “due to guilt and a desire for justice” (his own words as spoken at the trial) Guzzetta informs Éster that he has obtained her transfer to the prison at Villa Devoto, which for her was like passing from darkness into light, from non-existence to visibility, by earning habeas corpus her parents could demand a trial and get her a lawyer: salvation. An extraordinary decision for a torturer and it deserves a bit of elaboration: for a month Guzzetta had stopped beating Éster, he allows her body to heal, inflicting her only with sexual abuse (the only abuse, of course, which could never heal) taken methodically every other day. Searching for any desire for justice within Guzzetta will bring us off track. To find the actual truth one need only look a few cells down from Éster, where the ERP fighter María Ines Caciotti had recently arrived, not just any militant but one of the orchestrators of the revolution and therefore a priceless victim for the oppressors. Not only that, but she is beautiful, famous in fact for her beauty “that paralyzes you just walking by her, if you make eye contact you’re set ablaze” (Osvaldo Perlizzi, Recuerdos de la voluntad, Barcelona 1993, p. 44). So Guzzetta decides to personally attend to her and the cries that come from María Ines’s cell, alternating cries of refusal and then suddenly the silence of shock, attest to the torturer’s new commitment. Éster is no longer the favorite: herein lies her salvation. Guzzetta decides to send her off in surprisingly bloodless fashion and here we can accept the thesis that his guilt was mixed with some mysterious element, that “unexplainable, remote yet present seed” (Wegelin, op.cit.) that lies in the subconscious of human behavior.

Éster’s new cell-mate is unable to sleep, instead she consecrates the night with her cries and by day she bears the tortures as a pittance, when they are alone she thinks of her son aloud in quivering yelps. Éster is unable to calm her and perhaps witnessing her torment leads to her next move.

And now the end. (Arbitrary and unnatural, considering Éster’s age.) The twentieth of October ’76 they bring a her a cell-mate, Elena Tamburini, who looks like her in surprising ways (same size, identical haircut, even the voice and the eyes). She carries, of course, her own painful story, not coincidentally she passes hours crying and scratching at the walls: not the weary resignation that so many militants and their friends and family often have after they’ve been captured. Elena seems like an insect snatched up by a sparrow at the edge of a flower; unexpected. She howls. What happened to her? It is she herself who explains it all in a letter to the military Junta and from the very beginning oozes with naivety. Addressed to the “illustrious President Jorge Rafael Videle, the compassionate General Ramón Agosti and the generous Admiral Eduardo Emilio Massera,” she clarifies immediately to her eminent readers who they are dealing with: “It is a mother who writes to you,” she explains and adds: “I do not know what I am doing in prison” and she asks for “clemency” from her oppressors and defends her innocence, never having been implicated in political activities, simply taken from her work as a hairdresser and from caring for her six-year-old son, now abandoned, at home with neither his mother nor his father. Then the story of her capture: September fifteenth, as usual at work in Carlos Encinas’s shop, Elena has the misfortune to find herself washing the hair of a wanted woman (an aside: the woman is María Ines Caciotti). She had just washed out the shampoo when the oppressors burst in and sequester both of them, the hunted and bystander. Taken away by violent and dark individuals, strapped in the car for hours, she will recount on the television program ¡Habla Argentina! in 2001, I was shaking and I could only think of my little Raúl who I had left at home. They bring her to Piqué and they torture her in an underground cell, afterwards when they don’t know what to do with her they transfer her into Éster’s unit. During the pauses between the terror she wrote to the Junta, but I doubt if her letter ever gained much attention. (The text is cited from a conference on prison letters recently published.) Éster’s new cell-mate is unable to sleep, instead she consecrates the night with her cries and by day she bears the tortures as a pittance, when they are alone she thinks of her son aloud in quivering yelps. Éster is unable to calm her and perhaps witnessing her torment leads to her next move.

Here I will pause to examine Éster’s decision. Weathered and chiseled she makes even more of an impression: the years of sacrifice on her shoulders and full knowledge that more would lie ahead, wasted blood from every wound and scare, lessons learned, landscapes that live only in memory, the body’s emotions, she annuls the very act that gave her life, she sacrifices her mother and her father. I don’t know how to explain it. Willfulness does not leave marks on history, it only has effect, but for whatever memories of that time are worth, after all those years, Elena remembers it as such: She was always smiling, she offered me part of her food rations and consoled me, I could not imagine the gift she was to give me, but she had already begun to save my life.

Elena becomes Éster and Éster, Elena. The exchange is remarkable, the neon light bouncing through the darkness helps, the rashness of the action gains plausibility by the mere fact it has occurred in this place where everything is permissible and reality unravels.

Everything rushes forward. The twenty-third of October Juan Guzzetta learns of his own transfer, the new torturers arrive, the destination of Guzzetta and his group is unknown, he has forty-eight hours to tie up loose ends, he dedicates that time to Caciotti and ascertains Éster’s move. On the twenty-fifth they communicate that they will soon be picking her up and she should be ready, but on the twenty-sixth it is Guzzetta who is the first to leave, he finds within himself the decency to depart without a farewell. The night of the twenty-sixth, awaiting Elena’s usual havoc, Éster proposes that they switch clothing and therefore identities, that way Elena will be closer to freedom and to her son. Here is the choice. Without reflecting I said yes, remembers Elena, and we began to undress. They slide out of their paltry dirty clothes and stand there naked before one another, breasts bare in the shadows. A passage by the poet Julia Koenigsberg translates the intimacy of those two bodies into words: “So love has features! Our nudity its outline, we have nothing else to offer” (Enchangted Days, Edinburgh 1950, p. 75). For the first time since they have arrived at the center they strip of their own free will, not encased in violence. Éster raises an arm and passes her clothes to Elena who is about to do the same, but she stops: Only then did I realize it and I asked her why, but Éster responds only with a nod of the head and shakes the clothes at her. They dress. Elena becomes Éster and Éster, Elena. The exchange is remarkable, the neon light bouncing through the darkness helps, the rashness of the action gains plausibility by the mere fact it has occurred in this place where everything is permissible and reality unravels. The change is complete, Éster Terracina has given to Elena the only gift she has. Elena remembers having embraced her and having cried into her neck, then Éster stops her: now she lies down on the cot—also switched—and she doesn’t move from there, they should retreat to their respective corners, not speak a word, wait.

She gave of herself, she saved a child that was not her own, she watched the future and waited: the only traces that remain of Éster. Even if there had been something else (some bones, a skull) she would have remained anonymous: there were no surviving relatives.

Through the night they pretend to sleep. Elena upset by thoughts she will recall with furor over the course of her lifetime. Éster is already fixed in the trade (Elena claims to have heard her crying, but it is possible that in the exchange of identities she had also mixed up some ideas, thoughts: from whom did that cry come, the true or false Éster.) At dawn the next morning three soldiers come in and ask for Éster Terracina, Elena looks at her cell-mate on the bed: she is immobile, as if her name no longer belonged to her. Elena rises, they take her away, they guide her to a courtyard yet untouched by the morning sun, they push her onto a truck. That same day I was at Villa Devoto, my mother and son came to visit me, that way they knew I was safe, then I had a lawyer and I was granted freedom. Still today (looking directly into the television camera, in tears) I am so grateful to that woman.

She gave of herself, she saved a child that was not her own, she watched the future and waited: the only traces that remain of Éster. Even if there had been something else (some bones, a skull) she would have remained anonymous: there were no surviving relatives. Her story has become legend, which has been damaging in reconstructing the facts. There are those who say they have seen her in the center of La Cacha but it’s hard to believe. In fact, others even claim she lives in Catalonia. Illusions of hope. What really happened is that she died brutally. They discovered her deception, they took revenge.

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Translator’s Note

An editor friend asked me to read one of Davide Orecchio’s short stories and share my opinion.  She was looking for new Italian writers to feature in translation.  I remember reading that first story and feeling an immediate excitement, a connection with a new author I had never read before.  From that one story I wanted more and I read Davide’s other work and began soon after to translate his collection of stories, Città distrutte: Sei biografie infedeli.

The biographies that make up this collection are a blend of history and fiction. They all contain events and people that have existed, or could have existed.  They are not easy; Davide uses a challenging and unconventional vocabulary; translating his work has widened my understanding of the possibilities of the Italian language.  In fact, I don’t believe there is anyone like him writing in Italian today—he reminded me of some of my favorite writers: Borges, Calvino, Kiš, Sebald, while also being nothing like them.  The stories in Città distrutte: Sei biografie infedeli deal with difficult themes: loss, failure, love and worlds with immigration, war, dictatorships but they do not lose their sense of humor. When a character like Éster exaggerates, when she holds a funeral for Che Guevara, as readers, we can smile, not laughing at her, but understanding her radical heart.

“Éster Terracina” exemplifies the biographies in this collection.  She is the daughter of immigrants, a revolutionary, a poet, and she doesn’t always find success.  I admire Davide’s ability to deal with failure, to show triumph of character in strange ways throughout these stories.  This quality appears within the narrative and plot but also within Davide’s style.  Éster leads a life of passion and violence, interspersed with tenderness and pain; the rhythms of these emotions are found within the prose itself.  Translating this sense of urgency in the story-telling was a challenge and a goal in each draft.

I’ve always enjoyed the analogy of translation to a conversation and I’ve been in conversation with Davide Orecchio’s brilliant book for about two years now.  “Éster Terracina” is full of particular life experience and historical knowledge that I had to study in order to better understand and translate. These are stories that I would never have written and that is part of the beauty of translating.  I think this may be one of the main reasons I was drawn to translation in the first place: it is a form of extreme readership and I consider myself lucky to inhabit these stories and words, these phrases and characters, and bring them to new readers.

orecchio photoDavide Orecchio is a writer and journalist. He spent more than ten years studying history between Rome, Berlin, and Milan. In 2012, he published his first work of fiction: Città distrutte. Sei biografie infedeli, SuperMondello Prize. 2014 saw his new novel, Stati di grazia (il Saggiatore). He’s a member of the lit-blog Nazione Indiana.

 

 

Allison Donahue author headshotAllison Grimaldi Donahue is a writer and translator whose work has appeared in The American Reader, The New Inquiry, tNY Press Eeel, Omega Metatron, and The Diner Journal.  She has been an NEA fellow at the Vermont Studio Center and a Bakeless fellow at the Bread Loaf Translator’s Conference. She is the fiction editor at Queen Mob’s Teahouse. Allison lives and writes in Bologna, Italy.

Three Japanese Poems

April Grammar

That night

We promised

Each other apart

Like artichoke hearts

Then quickly

Cleared the table

And into chairs we

Fell

 

You

Bundled up the afternoon

And went to climb Mount Sinai

From the bottom of the dark

Stairwell

Up to your room

Hemmed in by dark

Windows

Into the utterly

Laughable futon you

Then fell

 

The side dish of soaked natane

And grated radish we ate

On your birthday

At dusk

Were the

Botanical adverbs

Of our relationship

We drank sake

In solemn sips

To what we had

The camaraderie of inanimate objects

And the emptiness of

Travel

Piccolo mondo antico

 

I watched as

People dressed for battle

Walked the wide flat road

Of the Kōshū Kaidō

In my mind

As I woke to

Love in a different era

With nobody around

Just parents

Sitting cross-legged

Grilling rice cakes

With long metal chopsticks

And afterwards

A deaf man forgetting

How to comfort his wife

His wife who was pregnant

I still had plenty of time

To die piece by piece

By checkout time

(Tomioka [1967] 1968: 96-98)

 

Again Tonight

Everyone has gone home

The winter gathering is over

In no uncertain terms

You lock the door

In no uncertain terms

You wash your hands

The day after tomorrow

All children born

Of woman will die

You break

Everything around you

Starting with

The dishes

(Tomioka [1967] 1968: 95)

 

Bread

Don’t misunderstand me

If I talk of roses

Instead of bread

I don’t take bread for granted

I simply cannot help myself

It is my disorder: compelled to eat roses

It is because roses are more real

To me than bread

 

I will eat bread

To keep from starving

I will eat roses

The day before that happens

I can hold out longer than anyone

 

Don’t blame me for having bread

Blame me for eating roses

(Yoshihara [1964] 1973: 67-68)

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四月の文法 [April Grammar]

その夜
われわれは約束した
朝鮮アザミのように
バラバラに
それからいそいで
皿をかたづけ
椅子のなかに
おちた

きみは
ひるまの感覚をたたんで
シナイの山をのぼるのだと
くらい
きざはしをのぼった
くらい
窓にとりかこまれた
部屋の
ちゃんちゃらおかしい
フトンのなかに
それからおちた

うまれた日にたべた
夕ぐれの
菜種のオシタシと
だいこんおろし

きみの関係の
植物的な副詞である
もう云うことのない
物質の友情と
ハカナイ
旅行のための
儀式に
酒をすすった
ピッコロ   モンド   アンティコ

起きぬけのアタマで
眺める
平面の
甲州街道を
いくさの装束をした
ひとびとがいく
だれもいない
時代の恋愛
ひとの親だけが
あぐらをかいて
カキモチを
かね火箸でやいている
それから
ツンボのおとこが
おんなをあやす術をわすれて
おんなは孕んだ
あたしが帰るまでには
バラバラに死ぬひまが
まだあった

 

では今夜また [Again Tonight] 

みんな帰った
冬のひとびとのあつまりはおわった
きみは具体的に
ドアのカギをかけ
きみは具体的に
手を洗った
あさって
女のうむコドモは
みんな死ぬだろう
きみはまず
手もとにある
食器から
こわしはじめた

 

パンの話 [Bread] 

まちがへないでください
パンの話をせずに わたしが
バラの花の話をしてゐるのは
わたしにパンがあるからではない
わたしが 不心得ものだから
バラを食べたい病気だから
わたしに パンよりも
バラの花が あるからです

飢える日は
パンをたべる
飢える前の日は
バラをたべる
だれよりもおそく パンをたべてみせる

パンがあることをせめないで
バラをたべることを  せめてください–

Translator’s Note

Tomioka Taeko (b. 1935) and Yoshihara Sachiko (1932-2002) produced some of Japan’s most memorable post-war poetry. Their sophisticated and stunning use of stylistic effects, along with their candid treatment of gender and sexuality, set their work apart from their male contemporaries, yet they remain conspicuously under-translated writers (particularly Yoshihara). It is tempting to suggest this is due to the unusual form of their poetry. Tomioka and Yoshihara both created highly idiosyncratic poetic worlds in which the incompatible is commonplace. Their poems are often confessional in nature, which no doubt explains part of their emotional impact. However, they also draw much of their power from being able to implicate older poetic forms, like the uta, with its fixed poetic vocabulary, while at the same time incorporating modernist influences like free verse and stream-of-consciousness. (It is perhaps no surprise that Tomioka once translated Gertrude Stein).

“April Grammar” is one of several Tomioka poems in which “grammar” is a force with physical consequences. In this dislocated reality, “grammar” takes over the reins from fate. Grammar is responsible for the unexpected, odd twists that a sentence (or an event, or a relationship) must sometimes take in order to make sense. Other Tomioka poems give us the disconcerting feeling that there is no external world at all—that there is just language—and there is no stepping outside of it. Nowhere is this claustrophobic sense stronger than in “Again Tonight,” with its closing of doors and closing of possibilities. The poem also has an important function within Tomioka’s wider body of work, in which she uses a full complement of distinctly gendered personal pronouns, prompting the reader to ask time and again: Is this another speaker? A splinter of the self? A new identity with more expressive potential?

If there are surprises waiting in between Tomioka’s poems, the reader of Yoshihara’s works is liable to feel like he is waiting for and experiencing surprise alongside the poet. There is the distinct sense of something incredible being improvised. The fact remains that Yoshihara yields a lot of the page, by bits and pieces, to the performance of hesitation. A glance at virtually any page of her poetry reveals conspicuous gaps between words, like holes punched out of the text. The effect of reading these pauses is to feel that even the poet is surprised at the word she came up with next, and decided to memorialize that indecision in the structure and typographical look of the poem. “Bread” is a poem in the same vein, but with one crucial difference: the breaks she puts between words and lines are not a record of hesitation or discovery, but a sight guide for how to perform the poem to achieve full rhetorical impact.

TomiokaTomioka Taeko (b. 1935) began her prolific literary career as a poet, publishing five critically acclaimed volumes between 1957 and 1970, after which she gave up poetry for fiction and other genres. A respected critic, she is also known for her work on the script for the 1969 film Double Suicide. The same year, she translated Gertrude Stein’s Three Lives into Japanese. A native of Osaka, she often incorporates Osaka dialect into her writing. (Work cited: Tomioka, Taeko. Tomioka Taeko Shishū. Tokyo: Shichōsha, 1968.)

 

Yoshihara SachikoYoshihara Sachiko (1932-2002) published her first collection of poetry in 1964 to critical acclaim. Its themes of motherhood, death, love, and betrayal would continue to inform her work in the years that followed. In 1983, along with fellow poet Shinkawa Kazue, she founded the influential poetry journal Gendai-shi La Mer. The recipient of numerous awards throughout her career, Yoshihara was also an accomplished essayist. (Work cited: Yoshihara, Sachiko. Yoshihara Sachiko Shishū, Tokyo: Shichōsha, 1976.)

 

James GarzaJames Garza is a freelance translator and writer living in Japan. His work has appeared in Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, tNY.Press, and Wild Quarterly, among other places. He holds an MA in Japanese studies from the University of Arizona.

Poetry from Hábitat del Camaléon

Folklore is Not the Original Music

[The light must be turned on to see the day.
The wind will carry away the body’s shell.
And all will continue on its course.]

You once wished for a god to come to your gathering.
But you are a common man, a son of the earth.
A black eye in the asphalt.
Your town’s song was composed from the remnants of a
++++++primitive hymn.
You are a common man:
the moronic stain on the swollen buttock of the equinox.
You once came upon a woman sprawled on the sidewalk,
and did not have the heart to stop.
You drank in the burning of the outspread marrow,
the sensitive prohibition of silence
and life’s hypocritical candor.

Ten years you have waited.
Ten years like crosses around the trunk of childhood.
Forgiveness.
You have an obsession with asking for forgiveness.
You are guilty of yourself. Guilty of being alive.
Guilty of being Indian, of being Jewish
Oh, Devil!
Ten years like crosses around the pollen of the night.

You cried so much as a child that it is difficult for you to remember that
++++++you were a child.
You cried so much that your grandmother drowned your little body in a
++++++filthy tub of wash water.
Your father beat you once because you had been drinking.
The city and its tenuous smile beat you, as well.
Now you cannot give up alcohol or the city because you are
++++++afraid.
When your father was atop your mother they were not making love.
You wanted to die.

 

sickly pre-dawn loner

once again, sickly pre-dawn loner,
you have birthed a blind child upon your own tomb
do you still feel the skin of your eyelids burning?

The cawing of birds awakens you:
vagrant cry of sea,
taciturn dock,
violent relic of men’s dew.

I am the monster who drives you.
oh, oblique line of life,
curved stage upon which death excites.

I, once again, sickly pre-dawn loner,
zephyr’s vomit,
abandoned beside the doomed ship,
I am the chant’s biped tongue.

I, snood, head,
coiled serpent,
crystal-clear water into which these nymphs bleed,
I say to you
“the voice awaits the silence of the ice which petrifies a cadaver and
++++++leaves it intact.”

do not speak to me of smiles or pedals in the shadows,
don’t look further,
the words have abandoned you.

sickly pre-dawn loner,
your woman is the mute significance,
the deaf palate of the tongue.
I say to you: “a dog slobbers a wall and a cry is heard.”

I am the monster that hides,
the motherland that exiles you,
observe the pathos of your music.
I am the poem, coward!

I decapitated your mother to give birth to myself
and yet you flee
and you grow sick
so as not to hear my weeping.

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El folclor no es la música original

[Hay que encender la luz para mirar el día.
El viento se llevará la caracola del cuerpo.
Y todo seguirá su rumbo.]

Quisiste alguna vez que un dios viniera a tu encuentro.
Pero eres un hombre vulgar, un hijo de la tierra.
Un ojo negro en el asfalto.
Los retazos de un himno primitivo formaban la canción de
++++++tu pueblo.
Eres un hombre vulgar:
la mancha mongólica en la nalga hinchada del equinoccio.
Alguna vez hallaste a una mujer tirada en la vereda
y no tuviste el corazón de detenerte.
Bebías el ardor de la médula extendida,
la sensible prohibición del silencio
y el candor hipócrita de la vida.

Llevas diez años esperando.
Diez años como cruces alrededor del tronco de la infancia.
Perdón.
Tienes la obsesión de pedir perdón.
Eres culpable de ti mismo. Culpable de estar vivo.
Culpable de ser indio y de ser judío.
¡Oh, Demonio!
Diez años como cruces alrededor del polen de la noche.

Lloraste tanto cuando niño que te es difícil acordarte de que fuiste
++++++un niño.
Lloraste tanto que tu abuela ahogaba tu cuerpo enano en una sucia
++++++lavandería.
Alguna vez tu padre te golpeó porque habías bebido.
También te golpeó la ciudad y su tenue sonrisa.
Ahora no puedes dejar el alcohol ni la ciudad porque tienes
++++++miedo.
Cuando tu padre estaba sobre tu madre no hacían el amor.
Querías morirte.

solitario enfermo de la madrugada

otra vez, solitario enfermo de la madrugada,
has parido un hijo ciego sobre tu propia tumba.
¿sientes todavía que fumas la piel de los párpados?

el graznido de las aves te despierta:
atorrante grito de mar,
muelle taciturno,
violento vestigio del rocío de los hombres.

yo soy el monstruo que te empuja.
oh, línea oblicua de la vida,
curvo escenario donde la muerte se excita.
yo, otra vez, solitario enfermo de la madrugada,
vómito del céfiro,
abandonado a un lado del buque del desahucio,
soy la lengua bípeda del canto.

yo, escofión, cabeza,
culebra enroscada,
clarísima agua donde aquellas ninfas se desangran,
te digo:
“la voz espera el silencio del hielo que petrifica un cadáver y lo
++++++deja intacto”.
no me hables de la sonrisa ni del pétalo en penumbra,
no busques más,
las palabras te han abandonado.

solitario enfermo de la madrugada,
tu mujer es el significante mudo,
el sordo paladar de la lengua.
te digo: “un perro babea una pared y se oye un grito”.

yo soy el monstruo que se esconde,
la patria que te exilia,
observa el patetismo de tu música.

yo soy el poema, ¡cobarde!,
yo decapité a tu madre para darme a luz,
y sin embargo huyes
y te enfermas
para evitar oír mi llanto.

Translator’s Note

When asked about my choice to become a translator, I often respond that it allows me to write vicariously through the words of others, while keeping whatever literary talent I may or may not possess safely hidden from critical eyes. The truth, however, is that translation often leaves one just as terrifyingly exposed as writing does. This is in no case truer than in the translation of poetry: a rarified and somewhat academic genre, often plagued by a discussion of what has merit and what does not based on upon obscure references meaningless to a wider audience. Critics allude to twisted threads of subtle detail which are nigh impossible to follow without careful study and training.

That said, poetry arises out of an innate human need to mold and dominate language in a particular way, and the translation of poetry is a uniquely satisfying endeavor. Well crafted, a single line in a poem can have more power than an entire novel. Vizcaíno’s work possesses a raw, unencumbered, nakedly confessional style not commonly seen in current American poetry; with lines such as “When your father was atop your mother they were not making love. / You wanted to die.,” the reaction created verges on the physical. Part of this is a result of the aforementioned tendency in the United States towards poetry as an academic realm, an Ivory Tower pursuit, while another part is cultural. In Latin America, 500 years of suffering and injustice are woven into the fabric of daily life, class and race are potent markers, and machisimo and a colonialism-instilled tradition of domestic abuse and alcoholism continues to be passed from generation to generation. It is also a place where unabashed expressions of emotion are commonplace—where there is a sense that life is precarious and should therefore be lived to its fullest.  Vizcaíno’s work is a reflection of all of this: passionate and visceral, often imbued with a profane version of biblical imagery and cadence, obsessed with death and decay, and yet ultimately, profoundly humanistic.

I have been working on the translation of these and various other poems from Vizcaíno’s new collection, Habitat del cameléon, on and off for around two years, and the process has been a journey: from coming to know and understand Vizcaíno’s poetic voice and obtaining a clear visualization of the threads which underpin his work and the emotional and structural universe in which he writes, to feeling as though I had mastered the ability to convey this with force and precision in my translations.  There were many moments of self-doubt, of worry that I was not doing justice to the original, not achieving the combined sense of rawness and wit, but the power of Vizcaíno’s work—poetry as art, but also as supplication, as death and resurrection, as confession, as lifeline—survives the transition between languages mostly unscathed, and very much deserving of a wider audience.

Santiago VizcainoSantiago Vizcaíno (1983) is an accomplished young writer and poet from Quito, Ecuador. His works –currently amounting to three books of poetry, a book-length study on the poet Alejandra Pizarnik, and a short story collection–have received numerous recognitions, including the Ecuadorian Ministry of Culture’s National Literary Projects Prize and the Second Annual Pichincha Poetry Award. In translation, his poems have appeared in The Bitter Oleander Review, Chattahoochee Review, Connotation Press, Eleven/Eleven, eXchanges, and Ezra, among others, and there are bilingual editions of his poetry collection Destruction in the Afternoon (Lavender Ink Press, 2015) and his book of short stories Matar a mamá/Matricide, (La Caída Press, 2015).

 

Kimrey Anna BattsKimrey Anna Batts (1983) grew up in rural East Tennessee and went to the University of Michigan, where she studied Anthropology and Latin American Studies. She moved to Ecuador in 2006, and her lifelong love of literature and language gradually blossomed into a career as a translator. In 2011 she went to Barcelona to pursue a MA in Literary Translation at University Pompeu Fabra, before returning to Quito in 2013. Her literary translations have appeared in The Brooklyn Rail (one of which was nominated for a Pushcart Prize) and will be seen in future editions of Ezra and The Bitter Oleander Review.  She also translated Santiago Vizcaíno’s short story collection Matricide/Matar a mamá (La Caída 2015).