Martial 2016

BOOK  I, 16

You’ll find good, middling, then bad in spades
among these pages: So, dear reader, books get made.

BOOK I, 23

Bathtime, that’s your banquet’s subtext:
Feasting, soaking, double portions of beef.
My guess why I never got be your guest?
Undressed, I’m not your type. What a relief.

BOOK  I,  28

Acerra stinks of drink from last night on the town:
Not true. He’s been knocking them back since dawn.

BOOK I, 33

For your late dad not a sob when you’re alone;
enter a guest and boohoo, tears gush like rain:
One who fishes for compliments is not in pain;
bona fide suffering proceeds unseen.

BOOK I, 37

Excretion first, Basso’s value system stinks:
His potty’s gold, mere glass the cups from which he drinks.

BOOK I, 47

An undertaker, formerly you were a surgeon—
Career development, the two in your case turn one.

BOOK I, 118

You know people who’ve read these 100 epigrams yet pine
for more? Ring a.) a psychiatrist or b.) 999.


Nosy Parker asks after the profits from my farm out of town.
My answer: Not having to see a certain face, his own.


‘Quintus loves Thais.’ ‘But which?’ ‘The one-eyed one.’
‘Ah, I see. Still Thais has one eye working, he none.’


A pie was being passed round for the second course,
so hot it scalded all hands that touched it.
Salsido’s greed was roused more than before;
One, two, three, four: emitting gases galore,
he puffed downward. The pie cooled for sure,
but nobody touched a piece. It had turned to . . .


With every haircut, the younger you grow;
Yesterday’s swan has become a crow.
You may fool some, but Proserpine’s in the know
and to rip away your mask is waiting below.


Aufidia’s ex-husband, you’ve now become her lover;
her husband now is your ex-rival, the role reversed.
Cuckold cuckolder, so others’ women outdo your own?
Or without thoughts of being caught you cannot get it on?


Young friend’s got an ache in one end, you in the other:
No need for a diviner, Mr. White-as-Snow, to blow your cover.


Only ladies of a certain age can get your mojo
working; girls, however beautiful, turn it off. A stark
raving headcase are your hormones. What libido
ever preferred granny Hecuba to nubile Andromarque?


‘Heaven’s empty, the gods do not exist,’
brays Segius. You want proof of his hypothesis?
How, the gods denied, he’s grown rich.


You chide me, dear Thais, for my each advancing year:
Then kiss me high or, better, low; you’re my elixir.


You pour for us guests the choicest wines,
albeit rumor begs to disagree:
You’ve outlived, they say, your wife four times.
Benefit of the doubt, but I’m not thirsty.


Our beakers are glass, yours of agate. Please explain:
Might it be that the wines are not the same?

BOOK V, 13

Okay, Big Shot, I am a perpetual pauper;
That’s not to say I too haven’t been made a ‘Sir.’
Its own currency, my verse gets quoted world over.
What the grave gave few, life itself on me confers.
Your mansion may rest upon a hundred pillars;
add a safe which heaves, estates in the Middle East,
those flocks near Parma raking in a golden fleece:
Where does that leave us? To equal you lies in reach
of any Tom, Dick or Harry. Soon we’ll both be dead,
but you’ll stay so, period; at least I shall be read.

BOOK V, 18

‘But I never dine at home,’ such is Philo’s boast.
Invite friends? When to himself he won’t play host?

BOOK V, 34

I commend—genetrix Flacilla, Fronto pater—
this girl who was lately my delight;
of the shades below may she have no fear,
neither of Cerberus nor his bite.
From reaching the winter of her sixth year
she was cut short by as many days too few.
Among patrons of yore let her now play,
chirruping my name in pastures new.
Spare, insensate clods, her tender bones. Clay,
weigh as gently on her as she weighed on you.

BOOK V, 45

‘Sono bello,’ boasts Berlo, ‘and vigorous and youthful.’
If you say so, but anything but truthful.

BOOK V, 64

Pour me, Callistus, a flagon of Falernian red;
you, Alcimus, cool it with summer snows.
Anoint, while it’s still there, my hair
then weave soft roses around my head:
Augustus’s Mausoleum just down the road
urges ‘carpe diem’: even gods can end up dead.

BOOK V, 73

Theodore, you’re a drill with no off switch,
imploring that I forward you my every booklet:
Why then do I refuse? Talk about just cause
It is lest, in return, you send me yours.

BOOK V, 83

You chase me, I flee; you flee and I give chase
Both ways willy-nilly here in cupid’s maze.


Life and soul of the party, a god-sent right
to crack jokes at anyone’s but your own expense
in your mind a star, guest par excellence?
Thus a certain Calliodorus, 95 AD

2013, the ‘Pink Viper.’ One comment from me

c.f. yours truly, that table would take flight.


One of your goblets comes engraved with serpents
which would be worthy of a Michelangelo
A pity, though, as regards the contents
Half ‘plonc’, half venom, a snake’s hello.


Re. you gifts: Now I’m broke, living in a shack,
any chance you might kindly buy them back?


Across the backside of official paper Picens pens verse,
then gets offended when Apollo turns arse-first.


Here, as barber, you were top of the heap. Then bingo!
Lady’s legacy and you’ve snatched up a knighthood.
To flee a court-case common among the Great and the Good
you hotfoot it down to Nowheresville, Sicily:
Which skill will now see you through the years?
Draughts? Cards? Dog-eared Gazzettas dello Sport?
Umpteenth coffee or amaro out in the piazza?
Imitating Etna by lighting one more cigarette?
No rector, you, not even a poor language teacher.
Stoics, Cynics alike boast some crumbs of comfort;
In your booklet, they could both be soccer teams.
Better head back to Rome, its napes, pates, beards.




Sunt bona, sunt quaedam mediocria, sunt mala plura
quae legis hic: aliter non fit, Avite, liber.


 Invitas nullum nisi cum quo, Cotta, lavaris
et dant convivam balnea sola tibi.
Mirabar quare numquam me, Cotta, vocasses:
iam scio me nudum displicuisse tibi.


Hesterno fetere mere qui credit Acerram,
fallitur. in lucem semper Acerra bibit.


Amissum non flet cum sola est Gellia patrem,
si quis adest iussae prosiliunt lacrimae.
Non luget quiquis laudari, Gellia, quarit,
ille dolet vere qui sine teste dolet.


Ventris onus misero, nec te pudet, excipis auro
Basso bibis vitro; carius ergo cacas.


Nuper erat medicus, nunc est vispillo Diaulus:
quod vispillo facit, fecerat et medicus.


Cui legisse satis non est epigrammata centum,
nil illi satis est, Caediciane, mali.


Quid mihi reddat ager quaeris, Line, Nomentanus?
Hoc mihi reddit ager: te, Line, non video.


‘Thaida Quintus amat.’ ‘Quam Thaida?’ ‘Thaida luscam.’
Unum oculum Thais non habet, ille duos.


Circumlata diu mensis scribilita secundis
urebat nimio saeva calore manus;
sed magis ardebat Sabidi gula: protinus ergo
sufflavit buccis terque quaterque suis.
Illa quidem tepuit digitisque admittere visa est,
sed nemo potuit tangere: merda fuit.


Mentiris iuvenem tinctis, Laetine, capillis,
tam subito corvus, qui modo cycnus eras.
Non omnes fallis; scit te Proserpina canum:
personam capiti detrahet illa tuo.


Moechus es Aufidiae, qui vir, Scaevinie, fuisti;
Rivalis fuerat qui tuus, ille vir est.
Cur aliena placet tibi, quae tua non placet, uxor?
Numquid secures non potes arrigere?


Mentula cum doleat puero, tibi, Naevole, culus,
non sum divinus, sed scio quid facias. 


Arrigis ad vetulas, fastidis, Basse, puellas,
nec formonsa tibi sed moritura placet.
Hic, rogo, non furor est, non haec est mentula demens?
cum possis Hecaben, non potes Andromachen!


Nullos esse deos, inane caelum
Adfirmat Segius: probatque, quod se
Factum, dum negat haec, videt beatum


Quid me. Thai, senem subinde dicis?
Nemo est, Thai, senex ad irrumandum.


Tu Setina quidem semper vel Massica ponis,
Papyle, sed rumor tam bona vina negat:
diceris hac factus caeleps quater esse lagona.
Nec puto nec credo, Papyle, nec sitio. 


Nos bibimus vitro, tu murra, Pontice. Quare?
Prodat perspicuus ne duo vina calix.


Sum, fateor, semperque fui, Callistrate, pauper,
     sed non obscurus nec male notus eques,
sed toto legor orbe frequens et dicitur “Hic est”;
     quodque cinis paucis, hoc mihi vita dedit.
At tua centenis incumbunt tecta columnis              
     et libertinas arca flagellat opes,
magnaque Niliacae servit tibi gleba Syenes,
     tondet et innumeros Gallica Parma greges.
Hoc ego tuque sumus: sed quod sum non potes esse;
     tu quod es, e populo quilibet esse potest.  


Numquam e cenasse domi Philo iurat, et hoc est :
non cenat, quotiens nemo vocavit eum.


Hanc tibi, Fronto pater, genetrix Flaccilla, puellam
     oscula commendo deliciasque meas,
paruola ne nigras horrescat Erotion umbras
     oraque Tartarei prodigiosa canis.
Impletura fuit sextae modo frigora brumae,              
     uixisset totidem ni minus illa dies.
Inter tam veteres ludat lasciva patronos
     et nomen blaeso garriat ore meum.
Mollia non rigidus caespes tegat ossa nec illi,
     terra, grauis fueris: non fuit illa tibi.


 Dicis formonsam, dici te, Bassa, puellam.
Istud quae non est dicere, Bassa, solet.


Sextantes, Calliste, duos infunde Falerni,
tu super aestivas, alcime, solve nives,
pinguescat nimio madidus mihi crinis amomo
lassenturque rosis tempora sutilibus.
tam vicina iubent nos vivere Mausolea,
cum doceant ipsos posse perire deos.


Non donem tibi cur meos libellos
oranti totiens et exigenti
miraris, Theodore? Magna causa est:
dones tu mihi ne tuos libellos


Festive credis te, Calliodore, iocari
Et solum multo permaduisse sale.
Omnibus adrides, dicteria dicis in omnis;
Sic te convivam posse placer putas.
At si ergo non belle, sed vere dixero quiddam,
Nemo propinabit, Calliodore, tibi.


Quod tam grande sophos clamat tibi turba togata,
non tu, Pomponi, cena diserta tua est.


Aera domi non sunt, sperest hoc, Regule, solum,
Ut tua vendamus munera: numquid emis?


Scribit in aversa Picens epigrammata charta,
et dolet a verso quod facit illa deo.


Qui  tonsor tota fueras notissimus urbe,
et post hoc dominae munere factus eques,
Sicanias urbes Aetnaeaque regna petisti,
Cinname, cum fugeres tristia iura fori.
qua nunc arte graves tolerabis inutilis annos?
quid facit infelix et fugitiva quies?
Non rethor, non Grammaticus ludive magister,
non Cynicus, non tu Stoicus esse potes,
vendere nec vocem Siculis plausumque theatris,
quod superest, iterum, Cinname, tonsor eris.

Translator’s Note

Leave myth, legend, and related heroics to others. In Martial’s work, life-as-it-is-lived is the thing. Hence the title “Martial 2016,” for the effect is often astonishingly modern: rent boys, escorts, mutton dressed as lamb, plagiarists, corrupt gladiators’ (cf. footballers’) agents; scroungers, drunkards, barbers retired or practicing, gold-diggers galore; then the perennially struggling poet: they’re all here. Having lived in Rome for fifteen years, I can vouch that the Romans’ acerbic streak is still intact, making Martial one of the most readand pertinentof Latin poets.

Martin BennettMartin Bennett lives in Rome, where he teaches and proofreads at the University of Tor Vergata while contributing occasional articles to Wanted in Rome. He was the 2015 winner of the John Dryden translation prize.

Hailing from distant Spain, Martial casts a cold, now wry, now scurrilous eye on the pretensions and foibles of “Caput mundi.” Arriving in the capital at 24, he hoped to use the Spanish connection with the philosopher Seneca, among others, to get on in the world and avoid becoming just another  lawyer. After Seneca’s forced suicide, Martial was left without support. Forced to seek patronage to survive, he became the archetypal struggling poet, acquiring some support under emperor Titus, only to have it snatched away under the paranoiac Domitian. Eventually he returned to Spain. His friend, Pliny the Younger, paid Martial’s expenses while sniffing that his work “would not endure.” Martial’s place on Parnassus long since secured, one can envision this poet as the ultimate underdog made good, penning a couplet on the same theme, while translators—this one included—throng the lower slopes, only too happy to receive it.

All My Bones / The Morning After

All my bones will say woman.
All my bones say woman.
Why do you curve.
Why do you adapt.
Why do you embody pity.
Lips rounded
Your streets are lucid smiles
Your palate candied.
Your bones are bleached deep
Your lips two weekdays sealed
With golden twine.
Your lakes are ancient dreams
Crucified with primordial blue
Like two aged warriors of wisdom
Your blessings are borders that burst
Your roses archived,
Your timing revealed,
Suspended, graceful as deer
Freed from the bridle,
Alienated from the python.
Look not upon me
because I am,
because I was.
I am
White as the abyss of snowy mountains,
Scorched by honesty,
My womanhood cast
Into shattered cisterns of interpretation.


The Morning After

The next morning
An imitation of a poem is written
Without waiting for words,
Its language giving tone to letters,
Probing syllables
Deep in their beginning.
She who follows
Buries her head in lower case.
The end deduces the beginning
All the syllables are a treasure
All the treasures are hidden
All the syllables are stored
Each breath disrupts thought
Each combination entering the world
Is the next one.


כל עצמותי

כּלָ עַצְמוֹתַי תֹּאמַרְנָה אִשָּׁה
כּלָ עַצְמוֹתַי אוֹמְרוֹת אִשָּׁה
מָה לךְָ מִתְעַגֶּלֶת
מָה לךְָ מִסְתַּגֶּלֶת
מָה לךְָ מְרֻחֶמֶת
מָה לָךְ
אַגְּנוֹת שְׂפָתַיִם
רְחוֹבוֹתַיִךְ חִיּוּכִים זַכִּים
חִכֶּךְ מַמְתַּקִּים
עַצְמוֹתַיִךְ לֹבֶן בּוֹהֵק מַעֲמַקִּים
שִׂפְתוֹתַיִךְ שְׁניֵ יְמוֹת חֹל חֲתוּמִים
בִּשְׁנִי הַזָּהָב
אֲגמַַּיִךְ חֲלוֹמוֹת עַתִּיקִים
צְלוּבִים בִּכחְוֹל הָרֵאשִׁית
כִּשְִׁניֵ לוֹחֲמֵי חָכְמְָה עַתִּיקִים
בִּרְכוֹתַיִךְ סְיָגיֵ גּבְוּל מִתְפַּקְּעִים
שׁוֹשַׁנּיִַךְ גּנְוּזיִם
עִתּוֹתַיִךְ גּלְוּיוֹת
תְּלוּיוֹת, לוְִיוֹת חֵן, אַיָּלוֹת
שְׁלוּחוֹת רְסָנִים
.מִתְנַכְּרוֹת לִפְִתָנִים
אַל תִּרְאוּנִי שֶׁאֲנִי
לְבְָנָה כְּמוֹ תְּהוֹם הֲרָרִים מֻשְׁלגָיִם
כּיִ שְׁזָפַנִי הַיֹּשֶׁר
אֶת נָשִׁיּוּתִי הַבּוֹהֶקֶת
לְבֹארֹת נִשְִׁבָּרִים

בבוקר הבא

בַּבֹּקֶר הַבָּא
.שִׁיר חִקּוּי נִכְתָּב
בְּלִי לְחַכּוֹת לְמִלִּים
שְׂפָתוֹ מַצְלִילָה אֶת הָאוֹתִיּוֹת
וְטוֹמֶנֶת אֶת הַתֵּבוֹת
.עָמֹק בְּרֵאשִׁיתָן
כָּל הַמִּתְחַקֶּה אַחַר הָרֵאשִׁית
טוֹמֵן רֹאשׁוֹ בְּתֵבָה
– סוֹפוֹ מַקִּישׁ לְרֵאשִׁיתוֹ
כָּל הַתֵּבוֹת הֵן אוֹצָר
כָּל הָאוֹצָרוֹת טְמוּנִים
כָּל הַתֵּבוֹת אֲצוּרוֹת
כָּל נְשִׁימָה פּוֹרַעַת מַחְשָׁבָה
כָּל צֵרוּף
הַבָּא לָעוֹלָם
הַבָּא הוּא

Translator’s Note

I am deeply attracted to poetry that is open to the world, but also holds secrets. This is especially pertinent to the act of translation, in which words are filtered through the delicate prism of language, culture, and history. The poetry of Michaela Lamdan lends itself so beautifully to this. Her words are simple yet complex, the meaning hovers beneath the words, waiting to be discovered. Michaela Lamdan’s poetry weaves a delicate and often whimsical message that is layered through time and history. Her work delves into Jewish mysticism but never forgets the here and now of the world we live in.

Joanna ChenJoanna Chen’s poetry, essays, and literary translations have been published most recently in Guernica, Mantis, Poetry International, and Asymptote, among others. She authors a column in The Los Angeles Review of Books. In 2016, Less Like a Dove, a collection of translated poetry, was published by Shearsman Books.

Michaela LamdanMichaela Lamdan is an Israeli poet and literary editor. Her first collection of poetry, Between the Clothing and the Body, was published in 2009. She is the recipient of the 2009 Sheindel Yizraeli Prize and the 2016 Weizmann Institute Prize for the Encouragement of Creativity, among others. Lamdan teaches creative writing at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design. She is a member of the Israeli Film Writer’s Association and is presently working on a second book of poetry and a film script. She lives in Jerusalem.

The Revenant

Like a prodigal son, Lufuluabo returns. He returns from a long and difficult journey. He will have to get used to the new manners and new names of the avenues and principal squares of the city: Avenue Mobuto [1] is now L. D. Kabila [2] Street; the images of President Mobutu have been replaced by bigger and more numerous ones of President L. D. Kabila; the little market once known as “Soko ya Bazungu” because of the wares that were displayed there has moved, and is now L. D. Kabila Market. The people usually call it “the market of Mzee.” The governor, Kyungu wa Kumwanza, [3] for reasons of his own, has also renamed certain areas and avenues: the road that leads to the working-class district Katuba now bears his name. The Place de L’Étoile has become Place Moïse Tshombe; [4] Avenue Kasai has become Avenue Munongo, [5] and the Katuba Kananga [6] neighborhood has become Katuba Kaponda [7].… So many changes! The contradiction is great. The public places and roads are full of potholes, mud, and pools of filthy water, but this matters less than the worthy names they bear.

He returns, he who left the country as a very young man to study in Grenoble, swearing he would never come back. After a first round of coursework in different fields, he married a Frenchwoman who later on fled with her West African lover, a marabout who was living in France under the protection of one of the big guns in French politics. In hunting them down, he ended up homeless in Paris, a fixture of certain Metro entrances: Barbès–Rochechouart at first, then Réaumur–Sébastopol, and finally La Motte-Picquet–Grenelle.

Like the prodigal son, he returns heavy with memories of the paternal home. In his mind’s eye, he again sees the zoo and the big chimney of the state mining company, Gécamines, puffing bluish breath from its lungs with arrogance and pride, a symbol of the company’s historic ascent and Abel’s offering giving glory to his Creator.

His father had been an executive officer in the company and his older brother—his only brother, an engineer from the Official University of Congo—was one, too, but posted to Kolwezi, that tiny city of pleasure! Nothing but pleasure there, let me assure you!

Luano International Airport is a far cry from Roissy Charles de Gaulle, from where he had caught his plane only a few hours before. An old man, shabbily dressed, greets him with joy:

“Wako! Wako! Wako!”

He translates the Swahili expression mechanically as “yours,” and says in reply, “wako,” as if to affirm “I am one of yours.” He doesn’t understand that the old man refers to his origins to obtain some favor…. How much has changed!

Despite all the marvels he saw in France, the memory of the zoo has never left him. His child’s mind was really marked by that space. The big public buses no longer exist. They have been replaced by vans called “taxi-buses,” inside of which mothers-in-law and sons-in-law shamelessly scramble their legs. A taxi-bus pulls up while he is looking for the stop. The conductor hails him, shouting out his destination:


He takes his seat. He is the last to pile in. A woman looks at him and says, with a smile:

“Wako! Wako! Wako!”

“Wako!” he answers back.

Everyone turns around to stare at him. He doles out an easy smile while nodding his head.

At the zoo’s entrance, the ticket seller is nowhere to be found but the gate is wide open. After a moment of hesitation, he decides to enter. A loudspeaker plays some song or other by Wenge Musica at full blast. Such loud noise, he thinks, must disturb the animals.

He stops himself from admonishing a young man in his twenties who practices dance moves in front of the loudspeaker instead of going to work. He makes his way to the crocodile pond.  An old couple of caimans—seemingly starving—warm themselves in the sun, waiting to see which will be the first to die. The reptile cage, which once took his breath away with an upwelling of admiration and fear, is empty. The way to the den of the black bear—that gigantic, impressive hulk—is impassable. He retraces his steps. Almost all of the paths are deserted. The few people he meets say pathetically:

“Wako! Wako! Wako!”

What a surprise!

He decides to visit the former office of his late father to pay his respects. The building looks dilapidated. The parking lot is empty even though it’s ten a.m. He mounts the flight of steps in an athletic burst. In the begrimed waiting room, an old security guard in a faded uniform drowses behind a broken secretary desk. She starts, and says, in a shrill voice:

“Wako! Wako! Wako!”

This time he goes past without answering. From a window on the other side of the room, he notices the unmown grass and straggly flowers. Falling to his knees, he looks out at the dead chimney that no longer emits anything at all, raises his hands toward the sky, and cries out in desperation, “Mother, we have sinned against you; we are no longer worthy to be called your children!”


All footnotes are the author’s.

[1] Mobutu: the second president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, he ruled for thirty-two years as a dictator.

[2] L. D. Kabila: the third president, who led the so-called “War of Liberation.”

[3] Kyungu wa Kumwanza: Katangan leader who initiated the ethnic cleansing of Kasaians in Katanga during the 1990s.

[4] Moïse Tshombe: Katangan leader who led the Katangan secession.

[5] Munongo: former associate of Moïse Tshombe, also known as “Kifwakiyo” or “The Broom.”

[6] Kananga: capital city of Kasai-Occidental province.

[7] Kaponda: traditional chief of the Bemba people from the southern DRC.

Translator’s Note

A combination of Aimé Césaire’s Notebook of a Return to the Native Land and the biblical parable of the prodigal son, Kayembe’s short story narrates the anguished return from diaspora of one of Congo’s native sons. The matter of place—real and remembered—is central to the effect of this story set between metropolitan France and the mining city of Lubumbashi in the southeastern section of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Clocking in at just a tick under 1000 words, Kayembe’s compact narrative succeeds in conveying the despair of a no longer young man returning from France to find his country bereft of the landmarks of his childhood.

When I translated “The Revenant,” I was serving as a pro bono French-language translator and interpreter at the Program for Survivors of Torture at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. Owing to this work, I became increasingly drawn to Francophone African literatures of conflict and migration. Kayembe’s story seized my attention because it is a cri de cœur, a story that refuses the balm of hope. An editor I showed it to observed that it “feels like the beginning of some larger action, which then just cuts short.” Rather than as a lack of completion, I see this “cutting short,” or refusal to develop into narrative fullness, as a mark of the story’s stance toward personal and political futurity. Packed with allusion to the harsh history of Belgian colonialism and decades of postcolonial strife, in its final lines, the story abjures the moral function of the parable it at first appeared to be. The uninstructive affliction of the character returning to his homeland offers neither hindsight nor optimism.

Along with its brevity and parable-like qualities, the story’s tone of bitter understatement and its mobilization of the Swahili word “wako” as a central motif were interesting features for the translator. The footnotes in the story appear in the French edition. Transliteration of African proper nouns has been changed, where necessary, to reflect standard English spelling.

J Brett ManeyJ. Bret Maney is an assistant professor of English at Lehman College, The City University of New York, where his areas of interest are American literature and culture, the practice and theory of translation, and the digital humanities. He is a past recipient of a grant from the PEN/Heim Translation Fund as well as several other translation awards. He translates from the French and Spanish.

chroniques-du-katanga-cover-lin-lieu-of-author-headshot_optChristophe Kayembe was born in 1955 in the copper-mining city of Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He is the author of stories, plays, and a novel, and has won various African literary prizes. “The Revenant,” which was published in the French-language anthology edited by Dominique Ranaivoson, Chroniques du Katanga (Sépia, 2007), is his first work to be translated into English. The story appears here with permission of the copyright holder, Éditions Sépia.

Fables of Purgatory: III. A Horizontal Job

L’Angoisse qui fait les fous.
L’Angoisse qui fait les suicidés.



++++Poor Miguel Ángel. I’ve always said he had the worst
luck. There are lucky dogs—but he’s one unlucky dog.
++++He had looked for work. The offices emery-polished
and the banks full. He had looked with the utmost sadness.
++++One day he crossed an avenue—Corrientes, I believe,
or 9 de Julio—and disappeared.
++++That is to say, his vertical motion disappeared. For the
line of passing cars was so long he was submerged in the
asphalt. All that remained in sight were his eyes, his mouth,
his hands.
++++The asphalt has waves with which to defend Miguel
Ángel’s face and hands from the wheels of cars.
++++Once informed, the Mayor paid him a visit to offer him
the position of Talking Traffic Light.
++++Poor Miguel Ángel, I say. He had to end up drowned in
asphalt in order to get a job.
++++Of course now he no longer does anything he likes. He
only shouts traffic rules and even so the people scorn him.
Yesterday someone—unintentionally, but still—stepped on
his hand.
++++What a world. What shadows. Surely now he will never
die by the sea.


L’Angoisse qui fait les fous.
L’Angoisse qui fait les suicidés.



++++Pobre Miguel Ángel. Siempre he dicho que tuvo una
suerte perra. Hay perros que tienen suerte; pero él es un
perro perro.
++++Buscaba empleo. Las oficinas esmeriladas y los bancos
llenos. Tristísimamente buscaba.
++++Un día cruzó una avenida, creo Corrientes o 9 de Julio y
++++Es decir, desapareció su andar vertical. Porque fue tal la
fila de coches que pasó, que lo hundieron en el asfalto. Sólo
quedaron a la luz sus ojos, su boca, sus manos.
++++El asfalto tiene olas, con ellas defiende de las ruedas de
los autos el rostro y las manos de Miguel Ángel.
++++Enterado el Intendente, lo visitó para ofrecerle el puesto
de Semáforo Parlante.
++++Pobre Miguel Ángel, digo. Hubo de quedar ahogado en
el asfalto para conseguir empleo.
++++Claro que ya no hace más nada de lo que le gusta. Sólo
grita reglas de tránsito y aún así la gente lo desprecia. Una
ayer, sin querer pero igual, le pisó una mano.
++++Qué mundo. Qué sombras. Ciertamente ya no morirá
junto al mar.

Translator’s Note

“A Horizontal Job” belongs to the series “Fables of Purgatory” from Fragmentos fantásticos, Miguel Ángel Bustos’s third book of poems published in 1965. This book marks his departure from the predominant aesthetic of the Argentine generation of 1960 toward a more narrative, epic poetics. Still, the conversational tone and center in Buenos Aires for which that generation is known enlivens this poem and makes it fun to translate. “A Horizontal Job” describes a predicament familiar to any poet, yet it is darkened by an awareness of the widespread disenfranchisement and unemployment of young Argentines at the time—and now. The poem opens with an untranslatable pun on “suerte perra,” an expression meaning bad luck that uses the word dog. Bustos’s identification with dogs is picked up later on in the series, in poems where he uses the animals metaphorically. In order to capture Bustos’s comic timing, I’ve relied on punctuation and fragment, stripping away any extraneous words to create clipped, punchy lines. While Bustos hopes to die by the sea, the language of the poem—“waves,” “drowned”— suggests that the asphalt is a man-made ocean, and part of the poet’s pain comes from his bitter recognition of the subjugation of nature.

Lucina SchellLucina Schell works in international rights for the University of Chicago Press and is founding editor of Reading in Translation. Her translations of Miguel Ángel Bustos appear in Ezra Translation Journal, The Bitter Oleander, Drunken Boat, and Seven Corners, and her literary reviews appear in Ezra and Jacket2.

captureMiguel Ángel Bustos (1932-1976) was a major poet of the Argentine Generation of 1960, an illustrator, and a literary critic. Among his five published books of poetry, Visión de los hijos del mal, with a prologue by Leopoldo Marechal, earned the second Buenos Aires Municipal Prize for Poetry in 1968. Bustos became an early victim of the military dictatorship, which ushered in decades of censorship of his poetry. His collected poetry was republished in 2008, the first time it had appeared in print in more than thirty years. Bustos’ remains were identified in 2014 by forensic anthropologists.

Who Cut the Tribe in Half

— The sea is so blue, the valley so deep. That’s why sadness goes far and wide. But you must stare it in the eye. Only by braving it will you outgrow the child and be an adult. To the children at Gangkou Elementary School, Hualien County, Taiwan.

Ina often calls my name on this side
and asks me to buy betel nuts from Pilaw the grocer on the other side.
An impolite mountain road cuts through the entrance of my house.
It has a number like my seat number at school.
Its number is eleven. Mine is nine.

Last year, on the way to my house to play,
Kacaw’s dog was hit on the road and died.
Ina said,
“After all, it was a doggie, not a person.”
Since then, a new curved mirror appeared
at the intersection of our neighborhood—
facing Pilaw’s betel nut counter.
We thought Pilaw loved looking at herself in the mirror
and even laughed at her in secret. But
only us the children would go up to the mirror,
watch our faces change shape, grow big, turn funny.
Ina said the road hadn’t existed before;
the tribe had been a single whole, boundless to run.
The beach used to be our path.
Grandpa walked along it to preach, all the way to Shuilian Village.
The sea waves recorded his footprints and kept him from drowning.
Now, the mountain road brings in lots of city folks
and takes away our betel nuts and whitebait.
The beach has slowly disappeared
in a swamp of sticky rice dumplings
where Kacaw and I would climb up,
play hide and seek, and catch kalang.
As our road enters the mountains,
it goes across two peaks and reaches my house.
On the opposite side are a grocery store and a church.
Many elders, thinking it’s no different from the past,
cross the road as if taking a stroll.
The cars would roll down their window,
shouting ma la sun in our face.
But Grandpa won’t go to a padawsi in a suit.
He’s going to the church over that ………… side.
The road isn’t wide, only cars are fast.
So we form a line to see God.




ina 常常在這邊呼喊我的名字
它是11號  我是9號

ina 說:
還躲起來偷偷笑她     但其實
ina 說以前才沒有這條馬路
整個部落都是連在一起   可以跑來跑去
海浪會記得他的腳印   不會把他淹沒
我跟Kacaw 都會爬在上面玩躲貓貓
還可以抓 kalang1

  1. 阿美語「螃蟹」之意。
  2. padawsi,阿美族人在家庭、朋友團聚的場合,喝酒、唱歌、聊天的行為。

Translator’s Note

Among Taiwan’s predominantly Han Chinese population, about two percent, or 550,000, are aborigines from more than twenty tribes. The largest of these tribes is the Amis, whose life and culture are explored in “Who Cut the Tribe in Half?”

Albeit in many ways assimilated, the Amis preserve their traditions in everyday life. Yet they face increasing challenges brought by the dominance of the Han Chinese majority and the impact of land development, as depicted in “Who Cut the Tribe in Half?” Through the innocent voice of the anonymous child speaker, the poem describes a literal division of the tribe by external forces. Jade G. Huang dedicates the poem to the students at Gangkou Elementary School, where she taught in 2012. The school has a very small student population totaling thirty to forty per year, and almost all students are from the Amis tribe. In the poem, kalang means “crab” in the Amis language. Ma la sun is a Sinicized term for “drunk,” originally from the Amis. Padawsi means a party or get-together among families or friends.

I first met Huang at a poetry festival in Taiwan in summer 2016. She read a poem about a fatal accident of a boy studying at Gangkou. The deep feelings that Huang, a Han Chinese teacher, had for her Amis student, expressed subtly in that poem, were part of her core concern for the Amis’ future. Huang’s poems engage readers with questions that ultimately pertain to pangcha, an Amis term by which the tribe address themselves, meaning “human being.”

Elaine WongElaine Wong received a PhD in English at the University of Texas at San Antonio. She translates literature from Taiwan and researches visual poetry while teaching Linguistics at Trinity University in San Antonio. Translating poems from Taiwan helps her reacquaint with a birthplace of which she has little memory. Her poems, translations, and scholarly essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Exchanges, Grey Sparrow, International Poetry Review, L2, Modern Poetry in Translation, Reunion, TAB, The Taipei Chinese PEN, Transference, and others.

jade-g-huang_optJade G. Huang lives in Hualien, Taiwan. She recently obtained a Master’s degree at the Graduate Institute for Social Research and Cultural Studies at Taiwan’s National Chiao Tung University. Her thesis is titled “The Reproduction of Hualien Urban Space Under Capitalism.” Huang’s first poetry book, Who Cut the Tribe in Half?, received the inaugural Yang Mu Poetry Award in 2014. The poem “Who Cut the Tribe in Half?” won the first prize of the Lin Rongsan Literary Awards in Poetry in 2012. Huang was a Santa Fe Art Institute Fellow in 2015 and gave her first performance art and poetry presentation at the Institute.

10 Poems

The evening flares, the cat naps on a beam.
Someone is praying: “Lord Jesus.”

The twilight blazes, the fog kindles;
There is a scarlet curtain over the ornate window.

Spider webs stretch from the golden toolshed.
Somewhere a mouse is scratching in a closed cage…

By the forest meadow—bundles of wheat.
Firs, like spears, rest against the sky.

The dew-covered groves have started to smolder…
In the heart, only silence and relics.

*     *     *

How good, in the freshness of fall,
To let the wind shake the soul’s apple tree
And to watch the plough of the sun
Cut through water above the river.

How good to strike out of one’s body
A nail that turns songs red-hot,
To put on festive white clothes
And to wait for a guest to knock on the door.

I am learning, I am learning in my heart
To shield the color of cherry trees in my eyes.
Only austerity lets feelings survive
When the ribcage threatens to crack open.

Wordless, the belfry of stars is booming,
Every leaf is a candle for the dawn.
I won’t let anyone in my room.
I won’t let anyone through the door.

*     *     *

The rude are destined for joy;
The tender are destined for sadness.
I pity nothing;
I pity no one.

I pity myself a bit;
I pity stray dogs.
This path has led me straight
To a tavern.

Why are you yelling, you devils?
Am I not my country’s son?
Everyone here has pawned
His pants for a drink.

Hazy-eyed, I look out the window;
My heart is heavy and hot.
The street in front of me,
Wet from sunlight, rolls on.

There is a boy in the street.
(The air is fried and dry.)
The boy is so happy
And picks his nose.

Go right ahead, my dear,
Get your whole finger in there,
Just don’t burrow into your soul
With the same force.

I’m toast… My courage is failing…
Look at my host of bottles!
I collect corks to plug
The holes in my soul.

*     *     *

Even now, little by little, we are departing
For that land of silence and grace.
Pretty soon I too may have to pack
My measly belongings.

My dear birch thickets!
Earth! And you, sands of plains!
Faced with the throng of departing
I cannot hide my anguish.

I care too much for everything
That clothes the soul in flesh.
Peace be with aspens that have forgotten themselves
Staring into pink waters with open branches.

I’ve thought many thoughts in silence;
I’ve composed many songs of myself;
And on this grim earth
I’m happy to have breathed and lived.

I’m happy to have kissed women,
Crushed flowers, rolled in the grass,
And never hit beasts on the head,
Since they’re our lesser brothers.

I know woods don’t bloom over there,
Swans’ necks don’t ring out in the wheat.
That’s why I always tremble
When I face the hordes of the departing.

I know that other land won’t have
These cornfields, gold in the dark.
That’s why I love the people
Who live on this earth with me.

*     *     *

One dawn calls out to another,
Smoke blows over smooth wheat…
I’m thinking of you, my dear,
My senile mother.

Walking up the hill, like you used to,
Clutching your crutch in hand,
You look at the stump of the moon
That drifts down the somnolent river.

And I know you’re thinking bitterly,
Restlessly and very sadly,
That your son’s soul doesn’t ache at all
Over his native lands.

Then you walk up to the graveyard
And, staring point blank at a stone,
You sigh so sweetly and simply
Over my brothers and sisters.

Yes, we grew up knife-fighting,
And my sisters grew up like May—
Still, don’t raise your vivid eyes
So sadly to the sky.

Enough grieving! Enough!
It’s time for you to notice
That even an apple tree is sad
To lose its copper leaves.

Joy is a rare occurrence,
Like a morning murmur of spring.
And instead of rotting on branches,
I’d rather burn out in the wind.

*     *     *

I’m walking through the valley. A cap on my head,
A dark-skinned hand in a suede glove.
In the distance, the pink steppes are glowing,
The calm blue river stretches far and wide.

I’m a carefree fellow. I don’t need anything.
I just want to listen to songs, sing along in my heart.
As long as the weather stays light and cool,
As long as my young posture doesn’t bend.

I’ll walk beyond the road, walk under the cliffs—
I see so many vibrant men and women!
The rakes are whispering, the scythes are whistling…
“Hey, poet, do you have what it takes?

It’s lovelier on the ground. Quit swimming in the sky.
If only you loved labor the way you love open space.
Were you never a villager? Were you never a peasant?
Swing a scythe, show us what you’ve got.”

Ah, a plume is not a rake; ah, a scythe is not a pen—
But a scythe can come up with some excellent lines.
Under a spring sun, under a spring cloud
People read them every year.

To hell with my English suit. I get rid of it.
Come on, give me a scythe, I’ll show you—
Am I not your kind? Am I not your kin?
Don’t I cherish the memory of my village?

I don’t care about pits, I don’t care about bumps.
How nice it is, in the morning mist,
To trace lines of grass with a scythe in the field,
So that a horse and a sheep can read them.

These lines are songs, these lines are words.
That’s why I’m so happy when I think of no one at all,
Because every cow can read those thoughts,
Paying me back with warm milk.

*     *     *

Life is a lie with enchanting anguish,
And that’s what makes it so powerful:
With its crude hand it writes
Lethal letters.

Every time I close my eyes, I say,
“Let the heart be disturbed.
Life might be a lie, but even life, sometimes,
Garnishes its deception with pleasures.

Turn your face to the gray-haired sky,
Try to read your fate in the moon;
Calm yourself, mortal, and don’t demand
The truth you can’t use.”

How good it feels, in the blizzard of cherry blossoms,
To think that life is a road.
Let frivolous darlings lie.
Let frivolous friends betray.

Whether a tender word caresses me
Or a tongue cuts sharper than a razorblade,
I’m ready for anything,
Ruthlessly used to it all.

I feel a chill from these heights.
The fire of stars carries no heat.
Those I loved have denied me.
Those I lived for have forgotten me.

Even so, repressed and persecuted,
I greet the dawn with a smile
On this earth, so close and so beloved,
And thank life for everything.

*     *     *

For my sister Shura

Ah, so many cats in the world,
You and I could never count them.
The heart dreams of sweet peas,
And a blue star is ringing.

Whether awake, delirious, or just waking up,
I remember this from long ago—
A kitten was purring on the couch,
Looking at me with indifference.

I was still a child then,
But at hearing grandmother’s song,
He leapt up like a young tiger cub
At the ball of yarn she had dropped.

All has passed. I lost my grandmother.
As to the cat, several years later
They made a hat out of him,
And our grandfather wore it out.

*     *     *

Ah, hell, what a blizzard!
It’s hammering white nails into the roof.
But I’m not afraid—it’s in my fate
That my hapless heart nails me to you.

*     *     *

Snowy plain, white moon.
Our land is draped in a shroud.
Dressed in white, the birches cry in the woods.
Who perished here? Who died? Could it be me?


Задымился вечер, дремлет кот на брусе.
Кто-то помолился: «Господи Исусе».

Полыхают зори, курятся туманы,
Над резным окошком занавес багряный.

Вьются паутины с золотой повети.
Где-то мышь скребётся в затворённой клети…

У лесной поляны — в свяслах копны хлеба,
Ели, словно копья, уперлися в небо.

Закадили дымом под росою рощи…
В сердце почивают тишина и мощи.

*     *     *

Хорошо под осеннюю свежесть
Душу-яблоню ветром стряхать
И смотреть, как над речкою режет
Воду синюю солнца соха.

Хорошо выбивать из тела
Накаляющий песни гвоздь
И в одежде празднично белой
Ждать, когда постучится гость.

Я учусь, я учусь моим сердцем
Цвет черёмух в глазах беречь,
Только в скупости чувства греются,
Когда рёбра ломает течь.

Молча ухает звёздная звонница,
Что ни лист, то свеча заре.
Никого не впущу я в горницу,
Никому не открою дверь.

*     *     *

Грубым даётся радость,
Нежным даётся печаль.
Мне ничего не надо,
Мне никого не жаль.

Жаль мне себя немного,
Жалко бездомных собак.
Эта прямая дорога
Меня привела в кабак.

Что ж вы ругаетесь, дьяволы?
Иль я не сын страны?
Каждый из нас закладывал
За рюмку свои штаны.

Мутно гляжу на окна,
В сердце тоска и зной.
Катится, в солнце измокнув,
Улица передо мной.

А на улице мальчик сопливый.
Воздух поджарен и сух.
Мальчик такой счастливый
И ковыряет в носу.

Ковыряй, ковыряй, мой милый,
Суй туда палец весь,
Только вот с эфтой силой
В душу свою не лезь.

Я уж готов… Я робкий…
Глянь на бутылок рать!
Я собираю пробки —
Душу мою затыкать.

*     *     *

Мы теперь уходим понемногу
В ту страну, где тишь и благодать.
Может быть, и скоро мне в дорогу
Бренные пожитки собирать.

Милые берёзовые чащи!
Ты, земля! И вы, равнин пески!
Перед этим сонмом уходящих
Я не в силах скрыть моей тоски.

Слишком я любил на этом свете
Всё, что душу облекает в плоть.
Мир осинам, что, раскинув ветви,
Загляделись в розовую водь!

Много дум я в тишине продумал,
Много песен про себя сложил,
И на этой на земле угрюмой
Счастлив тем, что я дышал и жил.

Счастлив тем, что целовал я женщин,
Мял цветы, валялся на траве
И зверьё, как братьев наших меньших,
Никогда не бил по голове.

Знаю я, что не цветут там чащи,
Не звенит лебяжьей шеей рожь.
Оттого пред сонмом уходящих
Я всегда испытываю дрожь.

Знаю я, что в той стране не будет
Этих нив, златящихся во мгле…
Оттого и дороги мне люди,
Что живут со мною на земле.

*     *     *

Заря окликает другую,
Дымится овсяная гладь…
Я вспомнил тебя, дорогую,
Моя одряхлевшая мать.

Как прежде ходя на пригорок,
Костыль свой сжимая в руке,
Ты смотришь на лунный опорок,
Плывущий по сонной реке.

И думаешь горько, я знаю,
С тревогой и грустью большой,
Что сын твой по отчему краю
Совсем не болеет душой.

Потом ты идёшь до погоста
И, в камень уставясь в упор,
Вздыхаешь так нежно и просто
За братьев моих и сестёр.

Пускай мы росли ножевые,
А сёстры росли, как май,
Ты всё же глаза живые
Печально не подымай.

Довольно скорбеть! Довольно!
И время тебе подсмотреть,
Что яблоне тоже больно
Терять своих листьев медь.

Ведь радость бывает редко,
Как вешняя звень поутру,
И мне — чем сгнивать на ветках —
Уж лучше сгореть на ветру.

*     *     *

Я иду долиной. На затылке кепи,
В лайковой перчатке смуглая рука.
Далеко сияют розовые степи,
Широко синеет тихая река.

Я — беспечный парень. Ничего не надо.
Только б слушать песни — сердцем подпевать,
Только бы струилась лёгкая прохлада,
Только б не сгибалась молодая стать.

Выйду за дорогу, выйду под откосы —
Сколько там нарядных мужиков и баб!
Что-то шепчут грабли, что-то свищут косы…
«Эй, поэт, послушай, слаб ты иль не слаб?

На земле милее. Полно плавать в небо.
Как ты любишь долы, так бы труд любил.
Ты ли деревенским, ты ль крестьянским не был?
Размахнись косою, покажи свой пыл».

Ах, перо — не грабли, ах, коса — не ручка,—
Но косой выводят строчки хоть куда.
Под весенним солнцем, под весенней тучкой
Их читают люди всякие года.

К чёрту я снимаю свой костюм английский.
Что же, дайте косу, я вам покажу —
Я ли вам не свойский, я ли вам не близкий,
Памятью деревни я ль не дорожу?

Нипочём мне ямы, нипочём мне кочки.
Хорошо косою в утренний туман
Выводить по долам травяные строчки,
Чтобы их читали лошадь и баран.

В этих строчках — песня, в этих строчках — слово.
Потому и рад я в думах ни о ком,
Что читать их может каждая корова,
Отдавая плату тёплым молоком.

*     *     *

Жизнь — обман с чарующей тоскою,
Оттого так и сильна она,
Что своею грубою рукою
Роковые пишет письмена.

Я всегда, когда глаза закрою,
Говорю: «Лишь сердце потревожь,
Жизнь — обман, но и она порою
Украшает радостями ложь».

Обратись лицом к седому небу,
По луне гадая о судьбе,
Успокойся, смертный, и не требуй
Правды той, что не нужна тебе.

Хорошо в черёмуховой вьюге
Думать так, что эта жизнь — стезя.
Пусть обманут лёгкие подруги,
Пусть изменят лёгкие друзья.

Пусть меня ласкают нежным словом,
Пусть острее бритвы злой язык.
Я живу давно на всё готовым,
Ко всему безжалостно привык.

Холодят мне душу эти выси,
Нет тепла от звёздного огня.
Те, кого любил я, отреклися,
Кем я жил — забыли про меня.

Но и всё ж, теснимый и гонимый,
Я, смотря с улыбкой на зарю,
На земле, мне близкой и любимой,
Эту жизнь за всё благодарю.

*     *     *

Сестре Шуре

Ах, как много на свете кошек,
Нам с тобой их не счесть никогда.
Сердцу снится душистый горошек,
И звенит голубая звезда.

Наяву ли, в бреду иль спросонок,
Только помню с далёкого дня —
На лежанке мурлыкал котёнок,
Безразлично смотря на меня.

Я ещё тогда был ребёнок,
Но под бабкину песню вскок
Он бросался, как юный тигрёнок,
На оброненный ею клубок.

Всё прошло. Потерял я бабку,
А ещё через несколько лет
Из кота того сделали шапку,
А её износил наш дед.

*     *     *

Ах, метель такая, просто чёрт возьми!
Забивает крышу белыми гвоздьми.
Только мне не страшно, и в моей судьбе
Непутёвым сердцем я прибит к тебе.

*     *     *

Снежная равнина, белая луна,
Саваном покрыта наша сторона.
И берёзы в белом плачут по лесам.
Кто погиб здесь? Умер? Уж не я ли сам?

Anton YakovlevBorn in Moscow, Russia, Anton Yakovlev studied filmmaking and poetry at Harvard University. He is the author of poetry chapbooks Ordinary Impalers (Aldrich Press, 2017), The Ghost of Grant Wood (Finishing Line Press, 2015), and Neptune Court (The Operating System, 2015). His poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The Hopkins Review, Prelude, Measure, Amarillo Bay, The Stockholm Review of Literature, and elsewhere. His book of translations of poetry by Sergei Esenin is forthcoming from Sensitive Skin Books in 2017. He has also directed several short films.

A prominent twentieth-century Russian poet, Sergei Esenin (1895-1925) was one of the founders of the short-lived but influential Imaginist movement. From a peasant background, Esenin spent most of his adult life in Petrograd (now St. Petersburg), but his poetry focused on nature and rural life. In 1921 he married Isadora Duncan, but their marriage was stormy and short-lived. Esenin initially supported the Bolshevik regime but became disenchanted with it, criticizing the encroaching effects of Soviet industrialization. According to the official version, on the night of December 27, 1925, he hanged himself after writing his final poem in his own blood.