In the third line of this poem, lehekuiselt (nom. lehekuu) could be translated simply as “May.” But its root meaning (lehe, leaf + kuu, moon, month) is “the month of leaves.” Similarly, in the last line, the root meaning of küünlakuu, February, is “the month of candles”: (küünlal, candle + kuu, moon, month).
Aleksis Rannit (poet) was born in 1914 in Kallaste, Estonia, and served as curator of Slavic and East European collections at Yale. He is the author of seven poetry collections as well as numerous essays on poetry, art, and comparative aesthetics. His selected poems, Valimik, appeared shortly before his death in 1985.
Henry Lyman (translator) has published his translations from Rannit’s work in Poetry, The Nation, and other periodicals, and in two selections brought out by The Elizabeth Press. A collection of his own poems, Late Fire, Late Snow, was published by Open Field Press in 2016.
Winter with no trees.
as a month of leaves
would bless a month
of quiet candles.
vaikinud küünlakuu auks.
I was as surprised as many readers of poetry to find that Rainer Maria Rilke had written a large body of poems in French. It was 1994; an earthquake in southern California had just dumped my books onto the floor and I sat down among them, hoping to find some comfort in their pages. At random, I opened Rilke’s French poetry in translation, with the original on the left-hand page. I knew French well; I had just returned from living in France and Morocco for four years. So when I compared the English with the original, I was not satisfied. I wanted poems I could chew on, learn by heart, poems I could love and use as a mirror for my life. I especially wanted poems that didn’t sound like translations.
Gingerly I began replacing a word here, a phrase there, until re-translating these poems became the project of my life. Why did Rilke write in French? A partial answer may lie in Rilke’s particular love for a handful of French words he considered untranslatable, at least in sound, rhythm and spirit. One of them was verger, orchard. The title poem of the series called “Orchards” begins thus:
Perhaps, dear borrowed language, I’ve been
so bold as to write you because
of the rustic name whose unique domain
has taunted me forever: Verger.
He was fluent in French, having learned it as a child. Still, it was his second language, which may explain the fact that the French oeuvre is syntactically simpler and more straightforward than the German. That’s not to say they are easy to translate. They simply present a less ornate doorway into the same complex, paradoxical ideas as those in Rilke’s German poems.
It is important to note that Rilke wrote the 325 French poems during the last four years of his life. His health was deteriorating and the French poems, especially “Orchards,” serve as a farewell letter to his beloved world and the audience that had become so loyal to him. Because of his fear of doctors and hospitals, he sought medical help only when it was too late. A rare form of leukemia was diagnosed only days before his death on December 27, 1926. He was just 51 years old. Many of the French poems were found among his papers and published posthumously. “My Body,” a poem from “Orchards,” was published by Gallimard in 1926.
Rainer Maria Rilke (poet), born in 1875 to a German-speaking family in Prague, was a prolific poet, essayist, critic and correspondent who never did anything but write. Well-known for his restlessness, he often became dissatisfied with his current “home” sometimes only days after moving there with his custom-made standing desk. Among many other places, he lived in Paris, most notably in 1902-03 when he worked for Auguste Rodin. Inspired by the great sculptor, he began to look with an artist’s eye at objects, developing a new lyrical style in his so-called Dinggedichte, “thing poems.” During the last years of his life he lived mostly in Muzot, Switzerland where he wrote over 325 poems in French. Rilke died of leukemia in December, 1926.
Susanne Petermann (translator) graduated with a B.A. in German and French from Macalester College in 1979. She spent almost a decade traveling in Europe and teaching English in Morocco before returning to the USA. After discovering Rainer Maria Rilke’s French poems in 1994, she began to re-translate them, while also writing original poetry and essays on the relationship between healing and writing. Her translations have appeared in Transference, Agni, Epiphany, Solstice, Jung Journal of Culture and Psyche, Inventory, and Rhino, among others. Her forthcoming book When I Go (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR) is a selection of 125 translations of Rilke’s French poems. She works as a personal organizer in southern Oregon.
How sweet sometimes to agree with you,
O my body, my elder brother,
how sweet to be strong
with your strength,
to feel you, leaf, branch and bark
and all that you are still becoming,
you, so close to the spirit,
so free, so at one
with the obvious joy
of being this tree of gestures.
You slow heaven down
for a moment, and give it
a place to call home.
Qu’il est doux parfois d’être de ton avis,
frère aîné, ô mon corps,
qu’il est doux d’être fort
de ta force,
de te sentir feuille, tige, écorce
et tout ce que tu peux devenir encor,
toi, si près de l’esprit.
Toi, si franc, si uni
dans ta joie manifeste
d’être cet arbre de gestes
qui, un instant, ralentit
les allures célestes
pour y placer sa vie.
Anna Akhmatova (poet) was a leading Acmeist whose poems were sensationally popular during the early twentieth century. After the Bolshevik revolution, her personal life and public career went from crisis to crisis. She was effectively barred from publishing. She continued to write “for the bottom of her chest” as she said. Her third husband and adult son were imprisoned and sent to Siberia during the Stalinist purges of the 1930s. Her great poem “Requiem” reflects this experience. It circulated among friends and later in samizdat, but was not published in the Soviet Union until the “thaw” of the 1950s. In 1942 she began her long masterpiece Poem Without a Hero, which occupied her for much of the rest of her life. After Stalin’s death, she was gradually rehabilitated and her work was again widely published in the Soviet Union.
Domenic Scopa (translator) is a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee and the 2014 recipient of the Robert K. Johnson Poetry Prize and Garvin Tate Merit Scholarship. He holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. His poetry and translations have been featured in Poetry Quarterly, Reed Magazine, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Reunion: The Dallas Review, Belleville Park Pages, and many others. He is currently an adjunct professor for the Changing Lives Through Literature program at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and at New Hampshire Technical Institute. His first book, Walk-in Closet (Yellow Chair Press), is forthcoming in 2017. He currently reads manuscripts for Hunger Mountain and Ink Brush Publications.
The Heart’s Memory of Sun…
The heart’s memory of sun fades.
Some snowflakes blow in the wind,
The narrow stream no longer flow?
They’re frozen over.
Nothing ever happens here?
In the empty sky a willow spreads
Its bare-boned fan.
Maybe it’s better that I’m not
The heart’s memory of sun fades.
I don’t know. This night unravels
Context is helpful in reading the poem. This poem refer to the war currently taking place in the Donbass region of Ukraine. Thousands of people have been killed, displaced and otherwise traumatized by the armed conflict, as Russia prefers to call it, between pro-Russian separatists, who are backed by Russian troops and the Ukrainian armed forces. Russia denies its involvement in the war.
Born in 1982, Anastasia Afanasieva (author) lives in Kharkiv, Ukraine, and writes poetry and prose in Russian. She is the author of six books and the winner of numerous major literary awards and prizes, including the Debut Prize and the Russian Award. Her poetry has been translated into English, German, Italian, Ukrainian and Belarusian. In the US, her poems in translation have appeared in Cimarron Review, Jacket Magazine and Blue Lyra Review. She is the translator of Ilya Kaminsky’s book Music of the Wind (Ayluros, 2012). Afanasieva’s poem “Untitled,” in English translation by Oksana Maksymchuk and Max Rosochinsky, won First Place in the 2014 Joseph Brodsky / Stephen Spender Prize Competition.
Olga Livshin (co-translator) holds a PhD in Slavic Languages and Literature and taught Russian at the University of Alaska Anchorage and Boston University. Her poetry and translations are published in Mad Hatters’ Review, Jacket Magazine and Breakwater Review, among other journals. They are included in Contemporary Russian Poetry: An Anthology, The Anthology of Chicago and the Persian World Anthology of Poetry (in Persian translation). She lives in Philadelphia.
Andrew Janco (co-translator) is a Digital Scholarship Librarian at Haverford College. He holds a PhD in History from the University of Chicago. With Olga Livshin, he has translated a number of Russian poets. His translations are published in Contemporary Russian Poetry: An Anthology and several journals.
I’m fed up with my own fear
Tired of living in a pigsty
Garbage trucks don’t come anymore
They fear gunfire
So much trash
It’s just not right
Brown rusty cans on white
Who will take them away if not us?
Are we supposed to live in a landfill?
We walk across the field like living targets
Picking up cans,
Putting them in trash bags,
The crows’ black bodies
These bodies our own
Fed up with my own fear
Fear also reaches some kind of limit
After which something begins
It’s something else
Dances with rusty cans in a white field
Snuggling in our sleep
Up to a certain moment
When time flares up like paper
Then crumbles into bits of ash
But there’s no more fear
Never again will there be
She speaks, lit by winter sunshine,
The picture smears, disappears
Now only static remains,
Her words peck me like crows,
Peck at my heart, fed up with my own fear
Fed up with my own fear
Fed up with my own fear,
In a field
By shell craters
As if by smallpox
With a shovel
And a bag
Full of trash
A blue microphone
Fed up with my own fear
Life beyond fear
Fearlessness on the verge of death
“I Used to Like…”
I used to like
the way time holds a note,
the way leaves play adagio,
the tired way a man unbuttons his shirt,
his hands seem to plod through the sluggish air.
I used to like
imaginary camel caravans trekking sleepily,
yellow like sand, endless,
like the desert.
I used to like
how gradually morning develops,
how new light, seemingly a new chance,
rises above the horizon,
I used to think,
I’ll be adagio too
I’ll be holding a note
next time I, too,
will be without error
like the perfect mechanisms
of sand and leaves
and everything else
Although this is the first time his work has been translated into English, Marat Baskin is well known and much loved by his readers. His work has been compared to that of Isaak Babel, a great Russian-Jewish short story writer, who was killed during the Great Terror (Stalinism).
Born in Belarus in 1946, Marat Baskin (author) writes short stories about people he knew in his home town, one of the few remaining Jewish shtetls in the former Soviet (now Belarusian) territory. In 1992 he emigrated to the US. His short stories have been published in numerous Russian and Belarusian-language periodicals in Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, etc.
Moscow-born, Nina Kossman (translator) is an artist, writer, poet, and playwright. The recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, a UNESCO/PEN Short Story Award, grants from Foundation for Hellenic Culture and Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation, she is the author of two books of poems in Russian and English as well as the translator of two volumes of Marina Tsvetaevas’s poetry. Her other publications include Behind the Border (HarperCollins,1994) and Gods and Mortals: Modern Poems on Classical Myths (Oxford University Press, 2001). Her work has been translated into several languages, including Japanese, Dutch, Greek, and Spanish. She lives in New York.
The Mad Trumpet Player’s Wife
In memory of my mother
Every self-respecting Jewish town had a violinist. Some even had two. Krasnopol was no exception to the rule. But now in addition to the violinist Honi, who played at all Jewish weddings in the county, Krasnopol suddenly got itself a trumpeter. Monya, son of Itzik, the town blacksmith, ran away from home with a Red Army detachment passing through Krasnopol. For three years no one heard anything from him, and Krasnopol folks lost hope that he would ever come back. Shadhen* Shloyme started talking with Chaim, the father of Hanochka, Monya’s bride, hinting that Monya might never come back, and even if he did, then he would come back with a shiksa*, while he, Shloyme, had some nice grooms lined up for her. And while Hanochka was still tsymus*, it was necessary to find a good hosun* for her. Hanochka did not want to hear this kind of talk; at the sight of Shloyme she would run to the other side of the street. She had forbidden her dad to talk to her about suitors — she was waiting for Monya. And finally she got what she was waiting for.
Monia appeared in Krasnopol right before the Jewish New Year. He wore a budyonovka and a long ankle-length coat. In addition, he had a saber scar on his head and a hiking bag with a trumpet, half a loaf of stale bread, and earrings with blue stones for Hanochka: this was a trade he made in Berdichev for half a loaf of bread.
“Was that enough war for you, Zunale*?” Itzik greeted him.
“Yes, enough for me, Tatunyu*. I got tired of waving my sword around, so now I’ll stay home and help you in your smithy.”
Monya didn’t say anything else about his time in the army, not on that first evening, nor later. Only once did Monya say to his bride Hanochka:
“I thought I was fighting so my tate* would live like Moishe Bragin, but it turned out that I fought so Moishe Bragin would live like my tate. And was it something worth fighting for?”
Itzik did not ask his son about anything, and Monya fielded neighbors’ curious questions with quick replies, like hammer blows on his anvil:
“I don’t remember anything… I’m shell-shocked …”
And as though in confirmation of these words Monya started a strange habit of playing the trumpet in the morning. The first morning, after returning home, Monia woke up early, before the first roosters, took the trumpet out of his bag and went into the yard to play reveille. In the frosty autumn morning air the loud sound of the trumpet rang through Krasnopol, waking up the sleeping shtetl. Hope, faith and love of neighbor were in those sounds. Haim Belitser, Itzik’s neighbor and Monya’s future father-in-law, who always sat with his book at that time, said that one should always start the day with a clever thought and where do you find it if not in books. So Haim, woken up by Monya’s trumpet, looked out into the yard and, seeing his future son-in-law playing the trumpet, said,
“Ale Shlofun, du shpilst*! Everyone is asleep, and you play? So finally we the Krasnopol folks got us our own troubadour ?! But I want to tell you that Hanochka can’t hear your music, she is still asleep. It looks like she sold her hemp at the market, because yesterday she stayed up till midnight cooking something tasty. And I’ll tell you why she cooked it. Because today she wants to invite you to a pretty good mincemeat! But this is between you and me. I did not say anything, and you did not hear anything!”
It’s hard to say who could have heard Chaim’s words, but by the end of the day everyone in Krasnopol knew that Monya was a troubadour. Nonik the shoemaker explained it to everyone:
“What is there to understand ?! Haim is a learned man, he took two words, truba and dur(ak) (fool), and put them together! And there, we got a troubadour!”
Hanochka, who was as smart as her dad, heard that they were calling her fiancé a fool, so she tried to explain to them that a troubadour was a poet and musician in the Middle Ages, not a fool, but no one believed her, just as they didn’t believe her that there were Ages that were called Middle.
“Tate,” she asked Chaim, “tell them that Monya is no fool. They’ll listen to you!”
“But what for?” Haim said philosophically to his daughter. “Maybe in our time it is better to be a fool?” Then he added, “Leiba Trotsky also wanted to be the smartest one, and what came out of that? You want that kind of thing?”
Hanochka didn’t want that kind of thing, so she resigned herself to the fact that Krasnopol folks thought of Monya as a bit crazy. And after they got married, the Krasnopol folks gave her a nickname to match his: Troubadurochka.
Out of respect for Chaim they didn’t mention it face to face with her, but behind her back this was the only name they had for her. Hana started working as an accountant in the nearby collective farm, named after Kaganovich, while Monya worked in the smithy with his father. Life went on as usual – they had their fill of joys and sorrows; first Itzik went to the other world, then Chaim, then Monya was awarded a two-year old farm cow for good work, then they repaired the house, then they expected a baby son.
“And what if it’s a daughter,” Hana said.
“It’s a son,” said Monya confidently. “I know.”
After the awarding of the cow, the local authorities tried to draw the former Red Army man into their ideas of doing great deeds to transform the world. They requested that he come to meetings, they asked him to speak to students, but Monya firmly refused to take part in their great deeds, citing, as always, a bad memory, so they let it go – what can you do with a fool, let him sit in his smithy.
But Monya didn’t manage to stay in his smithy – his love for playing the trumpet every morning got him into trouble. Although the folks of Krasnopol were already used to waking up at dawn to the sound of his trumpet like to the chiming of the clock on the Spassky Tower, the new Commissioner of the NKVD*, Jacob Pritzer, son of a Krasnopol water carrier Nohema, who had been transferred either to a lower or a higher position from Krichev to Krasnopol, did not quite fall in love with the sound of Monya’s trumpet.
“Who plays at dawn?” he asked, as though he had never before been in Krasnopol.
“A former Red Army guy,” they explained to him. “He was shell-shocked at the front.”
“And does he have any documents, your Red Army guy? – The commissioner chuckled, and with that chuckle he changed him from Monya the Red Army man into Monya the White Army man.
They arrived for Monya at night. A special team was sent for him from the center, like for a dangerous enemy of the people, a former White Army man and a spy.
“Good bye, Hana,” Monya said and added, “I leave you my trumpet. You must play reveille every morning. I will hear it and know that you’re waiting for me. Wherever I am…”
That same night, Hana gave birth at seven months, to Itzik-Haim, and the next night, she got up from her bed, lifted the trumpet with her trembling hands, and went out into the yard.
The NKVD Commisioner flew into a rage at the sound of the trumpet.
“Who’s playing this time?” he asked.
“It’s Trubadurochka, the shell-shocked man’s wife,” was the explanation he got. “Maybe she went crazy too.”
“We will cure her,” said the NKVD Commissioner, grinding his teeth. “Our professionals are very good at curing such diseases.”
And maybe Hana would have been taken the following evening too, but it so happened that the war broke out in the morning. And the NKVD Commissioner was too busy to be bothered with Hana and her trumpet.
Most Jews were leaving Krasnopol, but Hana stayed.
“Where can Itzik and I flee?” she said. “Monya will come here to look for us.”
And the trumpet continued to wake the people of Krasnopol.
The Germans entered Krasnopol on the tenth day of war. All the Jews were moved from the center to the outskirts. They were not allowed to take anything with them. Yet Hana took the trumpet, and she continued to play. Someone explained this to the Germans: Let the crazy girl play her trumpet, it’ll be easier to keep the calm this way, the people of Krasnopol were used to these sounds, Jews as well as Belarusians .
There were only three Germans stationed at Krasnopol, so the killing of Jews was given to the local police – the polizei. To strengthen the polizei they gathered them in Krasnopol from all over. In the evening, before the execution, the Jews were herded into collective farm stables. At some point in the morning, another Jew was dragged in.
“Havausya, Yid*,” said the policeman and kicked the bloody body.
Hana started: for a second it seemed to her that it was Monya. But it was Yasha Pritzer, beaten, bloodied, half-dead. He was moaning and asking deliriously for water. But no one had water. And then Hana, unable to bear his groans, came up to him, leaned over him, pulled out her breast, swollen with milk, and squeezed some milk onto Yashka’s dried lips. Feeling moisture on his lips, he opened his eyes and saw Hana.
“Forgive me,” he whispered.
Hana asked, “Where is Monya?”
“There was an order to destroy all the arrested enemies of the people”, he whispered. “I myself read the order. So they wouldn’t fall into the hands of the Germans.”
After dark the Jews were brought out from the stable and led to a pit behind the village, near the drying plant. Hana was lagging behind, dragging her feet at the end of the crowd, with Itzik in her arms, and police hurried her with constant shouts. But she did not pay attention to these shouts, she did not hear them. Dawn was coming, the time when she had to play the trumpet.
When the first ray appears, Monya will hear the trumpet, she thought. And he will know that I am waiting for him.
The sun flew out from behind the clouds, and for a moment it blinded Hana. She closed her eyes. And she began playing.
Everyone turned at the sound of her trumpet, the Jews and the polizei.
At the same moment they saw a rider rushing towards the crowd. He held in his hand a huge hammer from his smithy and brandished it like David’s sling. It was Monya. He raced straight to the polizei, and they, in fear and surprise, scattered, taking rifles off their shoulders and aiming at him as they ran. Monya, like a fabulous hero swinging his hammer, swept past them all, picked up Hana and Itzik and put them into his saddle and, raising a cloud of dust, sped toward Vydrenka. The polizei caught on and started firing at random, but the rider was already far away.
“And then what happened?” I asked my mother.
“I don’t know,” she said. “We were told this story when we returned from the evacuation. Monya and Hana did not return to Krasnopol after the war. And why would they – Monya would have been arrested again. Monya’s trumpet no longer resounded through Krasnopol in the mornings, but many in Krasnopol would wake up at night from its sound. The sound of Hope, Faith and Love …”
I did not understand my mother’s last words. I was still too young to understand them. But now, in New York, far from Krasnopol, I wake up in the middle of the night from a long and lingering sound of the trumpet playing reveille. I hope, I believe, I love …
shadhen – matchmaker (Yiddish)
shiksa – a woman who is not Jewish (Yiddish)
tsymus – a treat, something sweet
hosun – bridegroom (Yiddish)
Zunale – son (Yiddish)
Tate, Tatunyu – father, dad (Yiddish)
Ale Shlofun, du shpilst – Everyone is asleep, and you play (Yiddish)
NKVD – a precursor of the KGB, the dreaded Soviet secret police
Havausya, Yid – You were hiding, Yid (Belarussian). “Yid” is a slur for “Jew” in Eastern Europe.
Elhanan Nir (author) has published three books of poetry: Begging for Intimacy (2008), The Ordinary Fire (2011) and He Who is under the Rubble (2014). He has been awarded a number of international and Israeli literary honors including: the Wertheim Prize (2008), the Ramat Gan Poetry Prize (2010), the Prime Minister’s Prize (2011), Isaac Leib and Rachel Goldberg Prize from the Jewish National Fund (2014), the Posen Prize (2014), and the Haim Kugel Prize (2016). He is a Rabbi and teacher at Yeshivat Yitzhak Siach and Machanaim, and editor at M’kor Rishon. Elhanan lives in Jerusalem with his wife and four children.
Ross Weissman (translator) recently completed a master’s degree from Harvard University, where he now works as a Teaching Fellow. His poetry and its translation are published and forthcoming in the Caliban Magazine, Ezra, and Lunch Ticket. Ross was born and raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia, PA.
This winter I need a mom
and there are many reasons why,
I only understand a few.
This winter I shiver like every winter
and I really must have a mom on days
the whole orphan in me shakes
and I have no prayer-walls
to shield me from the downpour of loneliness
Eduardo Milán (author) is a quintessential outsider. He was born in 1952 in Rivera, on the Brazil/Uruguay border, to a Brazilian mother and Uruguayan father. He left Uruguay in 1979 one step ahead of the death squads and has lived in Mexico for nearly four decades. However, Milan is an outsider to both the Uruguayan and Mexican poetry scenes. Milán’s concerns are political and epistemological. Uniquely vulnerable to language, his reverberations off-message offer risky freedom to the translator. Eduardo kindly insists that my translations are better than his originals: “lo que suena en español de locura, suena en inglés de poesía.”
John Oliver Simon (translator) is one of the legendary poets of the Berkeley Sixties who has grown by steady dedication to his calling. Published from Abraxas to Zyzzyva, he is a distinguished translator of contemporary Latin American poetry, and received an NEA fellowship for his work with the great Chilean surrealist Gonzalo Rojas (1917-2011). He is Vice-President of California Poets In The Schools, where he has worked since 1971, and was the River of Words 2013 Teacher of the Year. His ninth full collection of poems is Grandpa’s Syllables (White Violet Press, 2015). For his lifetime of service to poetry, the Mayor of Berkeley, California proclaimed January 20, 2015, as John Oliver Simon Day. In May 2016, the Berkeley Poetry Festival will present him with its Lifetime Achievement Award.
Undress Your Language
Undress your language
now the man’s not around.
Stop talking to see who you are,
take it off now there’s no one there
or fog the window so no one
can see you. Language:
take it all off. Leave your myrrh
on the moors for the Moors, fine.
Right here? Lose
the incense, over the top.
Language in language out.
Destiny? Origin? Hair in the wind.
Quítate el lenguaje
Quítate el lenguaje
ahora que el hombre no está.
Deja de hablar para ver quién eres,
quítate aquí, ahora que nadie es,
o sea, estría en la vidriera para que nadie
te vea. El lenguaje:
quítatelo. Allá en los morros,
déjate la mirra, está bien.
¿Pero aquí? Pienso, déjate
el incienso, que es demasiado.
A lenguaje dado lenguaje devuelto.
¿El destino? ¿El origen? El pelo suelto.
René Agostini (poet) is a poet and a percussionist and a professor at Université d’Avignon, France.
June Sylvester Saraceno (translator) is author of two full poetry collections, of Dirt and Tar (Cherry Grove Collections, 2014), and Altars of Ordinary Light as well as a chapbook of prose poems, Mean Girl Trips. Her work has appeared in many journals including American Journal of Nursing, The Pedestal, Silk Road, Smartish Pace, Southwestern American Literature, Tar River Poetry, and Worcester Review. Her work has been anthologized in several journals including A Bird as Black as the Sun, Cradle Songs, Tahoe Blues, and others. She is a professor and English Program Chair at Sierra Nevada College, Lake Tahoe, and founding editor of the Sierra Nevada Review.
Walking along the Rhone
“I am the god
that forges the fire
in the mind”
(Anonymous – Ireland, no date)
the city stands
by the flowing water
it is hard, solid, but
its image in the water contests its permanence
drowned as it is in the reflection of the sky
(reflections twice shifting
by the wind in the clouds
by the flow of water)
the world calculates its longstanding vertigo
and its dissolution
the only permanence is what passes:
water, wind, clouds
the city stands
by the edge of the water, under heaven
it is hard, solid, but
its reflections in the water
mixed with those of the sky
are more true than its walls, streets
its flickering reflections
are even stronger, more lasting
than its tallest buildings
the city stands
but its walls, streets
squares, facades –
all are demonstrations
of nothing …
water runs and deploys its surfaces
mirrors the well of heaven
the water passes, running water
with wind and clouds
that reveal the city –
the empty space of our lives …
(from Source and Thirst)
Promenade au bord du Rhône
« je suis le dieu
qui façonne le feu
dans la tête »
(Anonyme –Irlande, indatable)
la ville tient debout
au bord de l’Eau passante
elle est dure, solide, mais
ses reflets dans l’Eau contestent sa permanence
noyés qu’ils sont dans les reflets du Ciel
(reflets deux fois mouvants
et par le Vent dans les Nuages
et par l’écoulement de l’Eau)
le monde depuis longtemps calcule son vertige
et sa dissolution
l’unique permanence est celle de ce qui passe
L’Eau le Vent les Nuages
installent leur passage…
la ville tient debout
au bord de l’Eau et sous le Ciel
elle est dure, solide
mais ses reflets dans l’Eau
mêlés à ceux du Ciel
sont plus vrais que ses murs, ses rues
ses places, ses façades
ses reflets tremblotants
sont plus durs, plus solides
que ses plus hautes constructions
la ville tient debout
mais ses murs, ses rues
ses places, ses façades
toutes ces démonstrations
ne sont rien…
l’Eau déroule et déploie sa surface
miroir du puits du Ciel
l’Eau passante, l’Eau courante
avec le Vent et les Nuages
nous révèlent la ville -et le rien de nos vies…
(extrait de Source et Soif)
Anna Akhmatova (poet) was a leading Acmeist whose poems were sensationally popular during the early twentieth century. After the Bolshevik revolution, her personal life and public career went from crisis to crisis. She was effectively barred from publishing. She continued to write “for the bottom of her chest” as she said. Her third husband and adult son were imprisoned and sent to Siberia during the Stalinist purges of the 1930s. Her great poem “Requiem” reflects this experience. It circulated among friends and later in samizdat, but was not published in the Soviet Union until the “thaw” of the 1950s. This was followed by a second long political poem “The Way of All the World.” In 1942 she began her long masterpiece Poem Without a Hero, which occupied her for much of the rest of her life. After Stalin’s death, she was gradually rehabilitated and her work was again widely published in the Soviet Union. In 1998, Ellis Lak Publishers began a comprehensive collected edition of her works including, drafts, sketches and variant. The eighth and final volume came out in 2005. It supersedes all previous editions both in the West and in Russia.
Don Mager (translator) has published chapbooks and volumes of poetry including: To Track the Wounded One, Glosses, That Which is Owed to Death, Borderings, Good Turns and The Elegance of the Ungraspable, Birth Daybook Drive Time and Russian Riffs. He is retired with degrees from Drake University (BA), Syracuse University (MA) and Wayne State University (PhD). He was the Mott University Professor of English at Johnson C. Smith University from 1998-2004 where he served as Dean of the College of Arts and Letters (2005-2011). As well as a number of scholarly articles, he has published over 200 poems and translations from German, Czech, and Russian. He lives in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Noor and I were interested in translating this particular book of poems for a few reasons. The first, of course, is that we genuinely admire the poems and feel they have important things to say about love, and relationships, and the hard work of being human. We were also interested in what these poems from this young poet could contribute to the portrait being offered to the world of Arabs in general, and of Arab women in particular. We were looking for poems that went beyond the political to the personal, poems that allow a reader to see a whole, complex person rather than a sort of paper doll.
Shatha Abu Hnaish (poet) was born in 1987 in Nablus, Palestine and earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Al-Najah National Universtiy. She has written poetry since childhood, and her work has been widely published in journals throughout the Arab World.
Francesca Bell (co-translator) poems appear in many journals, including B O D Y, New Ohio Review, North American Review, Poetry Northwest, Prairie Schooner, Spillway, Tar River Poetry and Zone 3. Her work has been nominated eight times for the Pushcart Prize, and she won the 2014 Neil Postman Award for Metaphor from Rattle. Her translations appear in Berkeley Poetry Review, Circumference | Poetry in Translation, The Global Journal of Literary Studies, and Laghoo. She is the Marin Poetry Center’s Events Coordinator and the Poetry Editor of River Styx.
Noor Nader Al Abed (co-translator) is Jordanian. He teaches English to 11th and 12th grade boys at a secondary school outside Amman. He earned his bachelor’s degree in English Language and Literature from Zarqa Private University and his master’s degree in English Literature from Arab Open University. His translations appear in Berkeley Poetry Review, Circumference | Poetry in Translation, The Global Journal of Literary Studies, and Laghoo.
This lonely wooden bench
is a branch
from a tree
Rasool Yoonan (poet) was born in 1969 in Urmia, Iran. His first poetry collection, Good Day My Dear, was published in 1998. Other collections include Concert in Hell, I Was a Bad Boy, Carrying the Piano Down the Stairs of an Icy Hotel, and Be Careful; Ants Are Coming. With his poetry drenched in minimalism, suspense and wit, Yoonan is currently the most widely read living poet inside Iran. Good Day My Dear, was published in 1998. Other collections include Concert in Hell, I Was a Bad Boy, Carrying the Piano Down the Stairs of an Icy Hotel, and Be Careful; Ants Are Coming. With his poetry drenched in minimalism, suspense and wit, Yoonan is currently the most widely read living poet inside Iran.
Born and raised in Iran, Siavash Saadlou (translator) is a writer, literary translator, editor, and interpreter. He is the authorized translator of the minimalist Iranian poet Rasool Yoonan, and his translations have been published or are forthcoming in Washington Square Review, Indian Review, Visions International, and Asymptote. Saadlou is currently an MFA Creative Writing candidate and a teaching fellow at Saint Mary’s College of California.
Fire and human
is an incongruous collocation.
I, for one,
from this flaming fire,
amidst dreams and affections,
won’t make it back in one piece.
is going to be melancholic.
I wish I were like naan.
How gloriously it returns
from the journey of fire.
Footnote: Bakeries in Iran have a big, round oven in which there is a flaming fire. After the dough is flattened and prepared, it is put inside the oven for one or two minutes, and the result that comes out is a freshly-baked naan.
to come to terms with everything.
Don’t run away.
is stupidly round.
Jóanes Nielsen (poet) is a former dockworker turned political activist and writer. He is one of the leading figures in contemporary Faroese* literature. Nielsen has published seventeen books including the novel Brahmadellarnir that was nominated for the 2013 Nordic Counsel’s Literary Prize and is forthcoming in English from Open Letter.
Matthew Landrum (translator) is the translation editor of Structo Magazine. His translations have recently appeared in The Michigan Quarterly Review, RHINO, and The Notre Dame Review. Landrum lives in Detroit.
Burnt Out Light
Moths flit around burnt out lightbulbs.
In the same way
We, ourselves, are searching.
Flugan leitar eftir sløktu peruni
Leita vit sjálvi
*Faroese is a North Germanic language spoken as a native language by about 66,000 people, 45,000 of whom reside on the Faroe Islands and 21,000 in other areas, mainly Denmark. The language is descended from Old West Norse spoken in the Middle Ages.
A translator is like a mirror. The translator reflects the strengths and weakness of a poem, as well as the light within the poem. When I translate, I first read the poems out loud in Spanish to get the tone and the sound. I read the rough English translation Ivonne provides. Then I research the topic she is writing about and explore the English language to bring her words to life. I write the poem in English. Then I return to the Spanish and her English renditions to make sure I am saying what she meant. I have had to cut some lines because they are not what she is saying. It’s a dance between meaning, sound, and mood. Ivonne’s voice is different from my own poetic voice. I enjoy getting into her head and exploring her world. The perspective is fresh for me. She is an amazing poet. It’s a challenge and fun to bring her work to life in a new language. It’s fun to get together to hear her read the poem in Spanish and then I read the translation for the first time.
Ivonne Gordon Carrera (poet) creates art and writes in San Bernardino, CA. She brings myth to life in contemporary context. Cindy is the author of Quiet Lantern (Turning Point), spider with wings (Jamii Publishing), Breathe in Daisy, Breathe out Stones is forthcoming (FutureCycle Press), and she co-authored Speaking Through Sediment with Michael Cooper (ELJ Publications). Her poem, “Mapping” was nominated for the Liakoura Award by Pirene’s Fountain. She is a translator. Cindy is a founding member of PoetrIE, an Inland Empire based literary community. Her poetry appeared or is forthcoming in Driftwood Press, The Honest Ulsterman (Ireland), Naugatuck River Review, The Whirlwind Review, Birds Piled Loosely, and others. www.fiberverse.com
Cindy Rinne (translator) creates art and writes in San Bernardino, CA. She co-authored with Michael Cooper Speaking Through Sediment (ELJ Publications). Cindy’s book, Quiet Lantern, is forthcoming (Turning Point) and spider with wings is forthcoming (Jamii Publishing). Her poem, “Mapping” was nominated for the Liakoura Award by Pirene’s Fountain. Cindy is a founding member of PoetrIE, an Inland Empire based literary community. Cindy is an editor for “Tin Cannon” by PoetrIE. She is a translator. Her fiber art has appeared in Ghost Town Literary Magazine. Her poetry appeared or is forthcoming in Naugatuck River Review, Zoomoozophone, Indiana Voice Journal, Young Ravens Literary Review, Eternal Haunted Summer, Cactus Heart Press, The Wayfarer, Dual Coast Magazine, Artemis Journal, Meat for Tea, The Valley Review, and others. www.fiberverse.com
The tiger owned all the letters of the primordial
alphabet. The tiger placed his lips on top of mine.
An unexplainable grammar sprung up. I entered a world
of sleeping mirrors. I hesitated between dangerous curves,
I saw myself without looking, I entered the tiger through my eyes.
I felt his heart roar the bellowing of all prophets.
The rain has no body, nor face. All is peeled off
leaving silence, hidden from nothingness. The tiger did not roar,
no drums nor quaking. My cupped hands savant omens and trances
as I caressed his face. An alphabet of circular signs seared
my senses. I was born from the tiger’s eye and my own.
I swallowed the rain of primordial letters. And in the center of the arcane,
I return without pausing to germínate in the midnight hours.
El tigre posee todas las letras del alfabeto
primordial. El tigre posó sus labios sobre los míos.
Una gramática inexplicable surgió. Entrar en un mundo
de espejos dormidos. Vacilar en curvas peligrosas,
mirarme sin mirarme, entrar por mis ojos al tigre.
Sentir su corazón rugir el bramido de los profetas.
La lluvia no tuvo cuerpo, ni cara. Todo se volvió
silencio oculto de la nada. El tigre no rugió,
tambores, ni temblores. Con mis manos llenas
de augurios y huellas acaricié su rostro. Un abecedario
de signos circulares mugieron mis sentidos. Nací
de mi ojo, del ojo del tigre. Bebo lluvia de las letras
primordiales. Y en medio de lo arcano vuelvo
a germinar sin cesar en el centro de la noche.
Sastrería (Tailor Shop) revolves around memory. In these three poems that I am submitting, Cesarco Eglin delves into the negotiations that pertain to being the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors–negotiations that have to do with languages, generations, as well as remembering and forgetting. Translating these poems and working closely with Cesarco Eglin, I came to understand what it means to be a Holocaust survivor, a third generation Holocaust survivor.
Cesarco Eglin (poet) is one of the most unique voices in contemporary Uruguayan poetry. She is the author of three collections of poetry, Llamar al agua por su nombre (Mouthfeel Press, 2010), Sastrería (Yaugurú, 2011), and Los brazos del saguaro (Yaugurú 2015), as well as of a chapbook of poems, Tailor Shop: Threads (Finishing Line Press, 2013), co-translated into English by Teresa Williams and the author. Eglin’s work has been published in the US, UK, Mexico, Spain, and Uruguay, including such journals as Puerto del Sol, The Acentos Review, Columbia Poetry Review, Timber, Tupelo Quarterly, Coal City Review, Periódico de Poesía, and Metrópolis. Her poems are also featured in the Uruguayan women’s section of Palabras Errantes, Plusamérica: Latin American Literature in Translation. Eglin’s poetry will aslo appear in América invertida: An Anthology of Younger Uruguayan Poets (University of New Mexico Press, 2016). Eglin’s work has been twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
Scott Spanbauer (translator) is an editor and translator and teaches Spanish at the University of Colorado at Boulder. His translations of Laura Cesarco Eglin’s poems appeared in Coconut Magazine, Boundless (the anthology of the seventh annual Rio Grande Valley International Poetry Festival), Pilgrimage, Hiedra Magazine, and LuNaMoPoLiS.
When someone says campo
I don’t automatically think of a meadow
where I can rest my head, forget
about the city and have a picnic
When someone says campo
the images are held back, nothing
comes. The wind
sweeps me head-on into silence
A pause like the one I impose on myself
so I make sure when faced with
to pronounce it with more than just my mouth
Campo is wrapped up in the black
and white of your voice testifying
to memories that haunt me in photos
videos in my viscera
If I say campo now, I might see
green pastures, gray this time around
and disturbing amidst life unraveled
the image, in the highway car window
cows grazing, green all the way to the border and more
uniforms covering bones, with no more name
than the number on the arm
like an eternal lottery of postponed prizes
Those campos now choked with grass
brush up against Uruguayan meadows
they coexist in a dictionary that insists
upon separating them with numbers
Cuando se habla del campo
no tomo por sentado una pradera
donde descansar la cabeza y olvidarme
de la ciudad en un picnic
Cuando se habla del campo
se frenan las imágenes, no viene
nada. Al silencio
me arrasa el viento de frente
Una pausa parecida a la que me obligo
para tomar impulso ante la
pronunciarla con más que sólo la boca
Campo se envuelve en un blanco
y negro de tu voz testimoniando
recuerdos que me persiguen en fotos
videos en mis vísceras
Si ahora digo campo, puede ser que vengan
los pastizales verdes, esta vuelta grises
inquietantes entre la vida deshilachada
la imagen, en la ventana del auto en carretera
vacas pastando, verde hasta la frontera y más
uniformes sobre huesos, sin más nombre
que el número en el brazo
como una lotería eterna de premios pospuestos
Esos campos ahora atracados de hierba
rozan los campos de praderas uruguayas
conviven en un diccionario que insiste
en separarlos con números
Pablo Neruda (poet) was a Nobel Prize winning Chilean poet who led a politically and poetically charged life. He served as a diplomat and as a honorary consultant for many countries. After he joined the Communist Party, he began writing poems contrary to the contemporaneous political climate and had to go into hiding. He died in 1973, just twelve days after the fall of Chile’s democratic regime.
Domenic James Scopa (translator) is a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee and 2014 recipient of the Robert K. Johnson Poetry Prize and Garvin Tate Merit Scholarship. His work was selected in a contest hosted by Missouri State University Press to be included in their anthology Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors, volume 3. He is a student of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA Program, where he studies poetry and translation. He is also a staff writer for the literary journal Verse-Virtual, a book reviewer for Misfit Magazine, and a professor of literature at Changing Lives Through Literature. His poetry and translations have been featured in Reunion: the Dallas Review, The Bayou Review, The Más Tequila Review, Boston Thought, Poetry Pacific, Stone Highway Review, Diverse Voices Quarterly, Malpais Review, and Empty Sink Publishing.
We must tear down the past
and as one builds
floor by floor, window by window,
and the building rises,
so do we go throwing down
first broken tiles,
then pompous doors,
until from the past
as if to ram
against the floor,
as if to catch fire,
and each new day
like an empty
there is nothing, there was nothing:
it should be filled
with new nutritious space,
as in a well
falls yesterday’s water,
into the cistern
without a voice or fire.
to teach bones
how to fade away,
to teach eyes
how to close
we do it
everything was all alive,
alive, alive, alive
like a scarlet fish
passed by in rags and darkness
and the heartbeat of the fish
water, water, water
the past continues falling
although it’s gripping
it has been, it has been, and now
memories mean nothing:
and now the heavy eyelid
covers the light of the eye
and that which lived
no longer lives:
what we were we are not.
And words, although the letters have
the same transparencies and sounds,
now change, and the mouth changes:
the same mouth is another mouth now:
they changed, lips, skin, circulation,
another being has occupied my skeleton:
what was once in us is no longer:
it has gone, but if they call, we answer
“I’m here” knowing we are not,
that what once was, was and is lost,
was lost in the past and does not return.
Gili Haimovich and I are fortunate to have developed a creative collaboration in which I translate her poetry to English and she translates mine to Hebrew. The process is engaging and dynamic. Part of the pleasure of translating Gili’s poetry from Hebrew is discovering the complexity within its simplicity. One of the challenges is to capture the emotional impact and musicality of her straightforward language and often short lines (“Something has to break”). I attempt to convey the “voice” of her poems – a voice that is at once observational, confessional, conversational, and witty. These poems, from the 2014 book Tinoket (Baby Girl), explore the dual roles of wife and mother. The poems offer a satisfying confrontation with shades of life experience – from the light (the baby girl is a “small sun”), to the dark (“I show you in pantomime I’m hurting”), and all that’s in between.
Gili Haimovich (author) is an internationally published poet. She has five volumes of poetry in Hebrew and a collection of poems in English titled Living on a Blank Page (Blue Angel Press, 2008). Her work appears or is forthcoming in journals and anthologies such as Poetry International, International Poetry Review, LRC – Literary Review of Canada, Asymptote, Recours au Poème (with translations to French), Poetry Repair, Bakery, TOK1: Writing the New Toronto, Ezra Magazine, Deep Water, Bridges: A Jewish Feminist Journal, Women in Judaism, Lilith, and other journals. Gili works as a translator as well as an interdisciplinary arts therapist and educator.
Dara Barnat (translator) is a poet with poetry, translations, and essays appearing in The Cortland Review, Poet Lore, Ha’aretz, Lilith, Los Angeles Review of Books, Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, and elsewhere. Her collection of poetry In the Absence is forthcoming from Turning Point in 2016. Dara holds a PhD from Tel Aviv University where she is currently teaching. darabarnat.com
Signing a Place
Something has to break,
we just don’t know what.
No, just not the child.
So then what?
All that’s left between us are gestures.
I massage you
you sign it’s pleasant.
Sometimes I don’t see your signs,
you’re with your back to me.
I show you in pantomime I’m hurting.
You assign that to be phantom pain.
What Lights Up the Sky
I am solar powered,
but now I have you and our baby girl.
I have to pull you all
outside, on my back,
just to be charged.
And our baby girl, she is a small sun,
I am a slightly larger sun,
and you are the moon.
These alone light up the sky.
None other than them but darkness?
I need to carve my way outside,
through the dark corners of the house,
labyrinths of laundry,
waterfalls of milk and tears,
to be charged by solar power
that will go through me
to our baby girl,
but not scorch you.
These alone light up the sky,
none other than us but darkness.
Kurt Drawert (author) was born in 1956 outside East Berlin (Hennigsdorf). He studied at the Joachim R. Becher Institute for Literature in Leipzig. He is a member of the Free Academy of the Arts in Leipzig and P.E.N. Germany. He has received many of the most important literary awards, such as Ingeborg-Bachmann-Preis (1993), the Leonce-und-Lena-Preis (1989), and has been invited to residencies, for example, in New York City, Istanbul, Bordeaux, Cracow, and Rome (Villa Massimo). His work is characterized by a keen analysis of the process of reunifying East and West Germany and is highly political and controversial in nature. His collected poems are titled »Idylle, rückwärts« (Munich, 2011). Foto Credits: Ute Döring
Paul-Henri Campbell (translator) was born 1982 in Boston, Massachusetts. He is a bilingual poet of German and English. He studied Catholic Theology and Classical Greek at the National University of Ireland and the Goethe-University in Frankfurt am Main. He is the author of four volumes of poetry, including ›Space Race‹ (Munich 2015) and ›Am Ende der Zeilen‹ (Leipzig 2014).
The usage of the third person,
of the personal pronoun,
is on the rise. The occasions are increasing,
the results are good. Nobody
creeping after your private diaries
into your inner monologues, nobody eying you,
no further indications of contrived sections
in a history that you
believe to be yours.
Why not be flat out alone
in the more intimate interiors, with the laundry
that can finally be strewn about unwashed,
to be alone with the fish and the depths—
the reasons for a self-inflicted
The German original was recently published in: Kurt Drawert »Idylle Rückwärts«, C.H. Beck Munich 2011.
Louise Dupré (author) is a major figure on the contemporary literary scene in Quebec. She has an international reputation as a poet, novelist, essayist, feminist theorist, and literary critic. Among her countless awards and distinctions are the Prix Ringuet de l’Académie des lettres du Québec, the Grand Prix Quebecor du Festival international de Poésie de Trois-Rivières (2011), and the Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry (2011). The Governor General’s Literary Awards are Canada’s oldest and most prestigious awards for English- and French-language Canadian literature. Having been twice before a finalist for the Governor General’s Award, Dupré was the recipient of the award in fall 2011 for her most recent volume of poetry Plus haut que les flammes (Éditions du Noroît, 2011).
Dupré’s many publications include ten volumes of poetry, two novels (La memoria and La Voie lactée), two plays (Si Cendrillon pouvait mourir and Tout comme elle), a collection of short stories (L’été funambule), a memoir (L’Album multicolore), a volume of critical essays, as well as numerous critical articles, edited anthologies, livres d’artistes, and literary translations. Her work has been translated into several languages. In 2005 Guernica Editions published an anthology of her poetry, The Blueness of Light, translated by Antonio D’Alfonso, and in 2014 they published Beyond the Flames, D’Alfonso’s translation of Plus haut que les flammes. In winter 2009, the literary journal Voix et images published a special issue devoted to Dupré’s work. Her play Tout comme elle (2006), staged by award-winning director Brigitte Haentjens, was performed in Montreal, Quebec City, and Ottawa, and in its English translation by poet Erin Mouré, at the 2011 Luminato Festival in Toronto.
Karen McPherson (translator) is a poet, literary translator, and editor in the Airlie Press collective. She us also a Professor of French at the University of Oregon. She has published poems and translations in many journals and anthologies. Her chapbook, Sketching Elise, came out in 2012 and her translation of Louise Warren’s Delft Blue and Objects of the World was published by Guernica Editions in 2013. Her first full-length volume of poems, Skein of Light, was published in fall 2014 by Airlie Press.
Stone Hands of the Tomb Figures
See how each evening your city rolls up its sidewalks, giving them a rest from all the wayward steps, while you’re filling your mind with ghosts, with wounded images, and words snatched hastily in passing. For you love the ghosts who come haunt you at the stroke of midnight, you watch for them at the window and when they appear behind the muslin curtains you sometimes take them for angels, you sometimes want to say your prayers as if to beg forgiveness for misdeeds that you don’t even remember having committed.
For the earth is stronger than you are, it seeks you out, it breathes you into its greedy mouth, and you fight every day against death, every day so your words may grow like a sturdy plant that nothing will be able to crush, not the scorching sun, not the desert caravans, not the desolation you push away beneath fine sentiments. Your desolation is stronger than you are, in the evening it coils around your sack of skin and it seems to you that it will never tire, even were you to find the ancient star that marched ahead of the three kings.
You no longer remember just when you finally laid down your weapons in a cranny in the rocks and ran away. And the river suddenly looked old and wrinkled to you, like the skin of a woman whom no spark wakens any longer in the night nor any caress in the small of her back. You saw yourself then in your mother’s calm eyes, and you found the courage of a time no longer accustomed to waiting, a time veiled as if by a curtain of sand lifting in the desert.
You could never picture it, the other side of the earth, the thirsty, dried out, petrified earth, when you knew it only through tales of travel, when you hadn’t yet bitten into the sand, red and hot under your teeth. You were for so long locked away in caves where you found no welcome. And here you are now pondering the infinite space that lacks nothing because there is nothing, at least nothing but the extreme silence of your face, forgotten there, right in the middle of things, soothed, as if you should never again have to unlock your lips to ask for alms.
Where has your faith wandered? You can no longer find unshadowed skies, a safe haven in the bulging ground, beyond the shattered, suffocating heat, beyond the heart and its reasons. Skies stretching out above our heads like a country fair. We wait, three short knocks, but in vain. The party is elsewhere, in the bowls embellished with leaves and birds, on the transparent lace of a petticoat, within the walls of a room that we still must leave each morning. So then you imagine all-powerful eyes that would protect you despite their perfect immortality.
You no longer know how to ask. How to ask someone to open her arms to you in the evenings when the clouds are so low they chase away the night, how to ask for that perfect word that holds the memory of the ancient prophecies in the ruined temples. For all around nothing resists, around you people are ripping out lives and you keep throwing ropes and knives into the trash, you keep seeking out faces capable of holding onto the light. Human lips on which you might still leave a kiss.
In the angle that the light takes at noon, you glimpse souls abandoning themselves to the churning waves, and that calm hanging over the city, and the emanations escaping from the earth and mixing with the fragrance of fuel oil and flowers. And your depleted, dying name. Standing on the bank next to your shadow, you talk to it as if it were you, as if aging changed the echo of your words, you talk to it right up to the beyond, with a voice shorn but still clear despite the menacing heavens.
Poem, yes, you try to understand how certain words take shape in your mouth. You think about sorrows that remain strange to you, surging from a spirit you no longer recognize as yours, but that keeps reminding you of the countryside swamped under the melancholy of cities, that unclamorous simplicity of children smiling even in their coffins, a life stubbornly fixed in the restful tranquility of a land rich with flowers that are hardier than summer.
Poem, poem when nothing comes to you but regrets.
You begin to get used to the idea of the seasons’ return, these winds that place pebbles on your eyelids. You begin to know how to settle into your own fright, to stand up straight when your body gives way on nights of extreme night. You do not rebel, you see the sand running through its glass shell as if it could spread the holiness of the desert across your days. You are once again able to face the monotony of sleep.
You have come to confuse your dead with the earth under the tombstones, the red earth digging out lamp-lit chambers. You forget the rotting of decomposing corpses, you want not to believe in the underground streams that are carrying residues of hair and nail and blood out into the arms of the sea. And you are no longer troubling the countryside where the river, already far behind its cry, keeps running confidently into waters that are far less certain.
Your city, from afar, looks as large to you as the islands lost at the end of summer seas, those islands where ships are forever landing in search of towns slumbering under heavy clouds of smoke, your city looks rich enough to incite cravings, and you could almost believe you are returning to the gleamings of a night without sorrow, before the day that diminishes faces, while the traveler no longer empties his pockets to offer the old folks something with which to tend their wounds.
And so you seek the key to your house.
From the steep slope of your rock, in your drowned dreams you call to the boats. And so, when day comes, it is easier to make out by waterlight the hardened stone hands of the tomb figures. You take up your satchel and you light out again, for you have nothing more to say to the untouchable silence that is mirrored in your silence. Once again death has become for you just a tilted crucifix at the crossroads, you pass by without flinching, you do not share the earth’s concern for the corpses it is hiding, you are treading a soil whose truth you do not want to know.
One could dive from an attic window into your house, your house is no longer the one you knew as a child, but it has not disavowed a grandmother’s rosaries or the voices that made the guests dance at holiday dinners. And it is toward this house that you always return when, tired of pondering the wisdom of the waves, you seek in yourself an impossible hospitality. For no other place seems to you open enough to give you welcome.
Louise Dupré, “Les Mains des gisants” [Tout près. Éd. Du Noroît, 1998)
Vois, le soir elle roule ses trottoirs, ta ville, pour les reposer de tous les pas perdus, tandis que toi, tu remplis ton âme de fantômes, d’images blessées, de mots arrachés à la vitesse des passages. Car tu aimes les fantômes qui viennent te hanter aux douze coups de minuit, tu les guettes à la fenêtre, et quand ils apparaissent derrière le rideau de mousseline, il arrive que tu les confondes avec les anges, il arrive que tu veuilles dire tes prières, comme si tu implorais le pardon de fautes que, pourtant, tu ne te souviens pas avoir commises.
Car la terre est plus forte que toi, elle te cherche, elle t’aspire dans sa gueule avide, et tu te bats chaque jour contre la mort, chaque jour pour que ta parole pousse comme une plante grasse que rien ne pourra écraser, ni le soleil brûlant, ni les caravanes, ni la désolation que tu repousses sous de belles piétés. Ta désolation est plus forte que toi, elle s’enroule le soir autour de ton sac de peau, et il te semble que jamais elle ne s’épuisera, même si tu trouvais la vieille étoile qui a cheminé devant les trois couronnes.
Tu ne te souviens plus à quel moment tu en es venue à déposer tes armes dans un trou de rocher, puis à t’enfuir en courant. Et le fleuve tout à coup t’est apparu vieilli, ridé, peau de femme que ni lueur ne réveille plus la nuit ni caresse au creux des reins. Tu t’es vue alors dans les yeux calmes de ta mère, et tu as trouvé le courage d’un temps déshabitué de l’attente, un temps comme voilé par une levée de sable dans le désert.
L’autre côté de la terre, la terre assoiffée, desséchée, pétrifiée, tu ne pouvais l’imaginer quand tu le connaissais par les seuls récits de voyages, quand tu n’en avais pas encore mordu le sable, roux et chaud sous la dent. Tu as été si longtemps enfermée dans des grottes où tu ne trouvais aucun accueil. Et te voilà maintenant à contempler l’espace infini auquel il ne manque rien parce qu’il n’y a rien, sinon l’extrême silence de ton visage, oublié là, au beau milieu des choses, apaisé, comme si tu ne devais plus jamais avoir à desserrer les lèvres pour demander l’aûmone.
Ta foi, où s’est-elle égarée? Tu ne sais plus trouver de ciels sans ombre, à l’abri du sol, dans son renflement, derrières les touffeurs étoilées, derrière le coeur et ses raisons. Des ciels qui s’étirent au-dessus de nos têtes comme un spectacle champêtre. On attend, trois coups brefs, mais en vain. La fête est ailleurs, dans des coupes brodées de feuilles et d’oiseaux, sur la dentelle transparente d’un jupon, entre les murs d’une chambre qu’il faut pourtant quitter tous les matins. Tu imagines alors des yeux tout-puissants qui te protégeraient à travers leur parfaite immortalité.
Tu ne sais plus réclamer. Ni qu’on t’ouvre les bras les soirs où les nuages sont si bas qu’ils chassent la nuit, ni la justesse d’une parole qui se souviendrait des anciennes prophéties dans les temples en ruines. Car autour rien ne résiste, autour de toi on s’arrache la vie, et tu n’en finis pas de jeter aux ordures les cordes et les couteaux, tu n’en finis pas de chercher des visages capables de retenir la lumière. Des lèvres humaines sur lesquelles tu pourrais encore déposer un baiser.
Dans l’angle que prend à midi la lumière, tu entrevois des âmes qui se laissent entraîner par le bouillon des flots, et cette sérénité suspendue au-dessus de la ville, et les effluves s’échappant de la terre pour se mêler aux parfums de mazout et de fleurs. Et ton nom achevé. Debout sur la berge à côté de ton ombre, tu lui parles comme si c’était toi, comme si le vieillissement changeait l’écho de tes paroles, tu lui parles tout près de l’au-delà, avec une voix dépouillée, mais claire encore malgré la menace des cieux.
Poème, oui, tu essaies de comprendre comment se forment certains mots dans ta bouche. Tu penses à des tristesses qui te restent étrangères, propulsées depuis ton âme quand elle n’est plus la tienne, qu’elle se rappelle les campagnes englouties sous la mélancolie des villes, cette simplicité sans vacarme où les enfants sourient jusque dans leur cercueil, une vie qui s’entête même dans le repos d’une terre nourrie de fleurs plus vivaces que l’été.
Poème, poème quand il ne te vient que des regrets.
Tu commences à te faire au retour des saisons, à ces vents qui déposent des cailloux sur tes paupières. Tu commences à savoir t’installer dans ta propre frayeur, à te tenir debout quand ton corps se dérobe, les nuits d’extrême nuit. Tu ne te révoltes pas, tu vois couler le sable dans sa coquille de verre comme s’il pouvait répandre la sainteté du désert sur tes jours. Tu redeviens alors capable d’affronter la monotonie du sommeil.
Tes morts, tu en es venue à les confondre avec la terre sous les pierres tombales, la terre rouge qui creuse des salons pour y allumer des lampes. Tu oublies la pourriture des cadavres quand ils se décomposent, tu veux nier les ruisseaux cachés qui charrient les restes d’ongle et de sang jusqu’aux bras des mers. Et tu n’inquiètes plus le paysage où le fleuve, déjà loin derrière son cri, n’en finit pas de courir avec assurance dans des eaux pourtant peu certaines.
Ta ville, de loin, te semble grande comme les îles perdues au fond des mers d’été, ces îles où depuis toujours les navires accostent à la recherche de cités recouvertes de fumées dormantes, ta ville te semble assez riche pour attiser l’envie, et pour peu tu croirais retourner aux miroitements d’une nuit sans chagrin, avant le jour qui amoindrit les visages, alors que le voyageur ne se dépouille plus pour offrir aux vieillards de quoi panser leurs plaies.
Tu cherches alors la clef de ta maison.
De l’escarpement de ton rocher, tu appelles les barques dans tes rêves noyés. C’est ainsi, le jour venu, on distingue mieux au clair de l’eau les mains durcies des gisants. Tu reprends ton petit bagage et tu te remets en route, car tu n’as plus rien à répondre au silence intouchable qui se mire dans ton silence. La mort n’est redevenue pour toi qu’une croix penchée au carrefour des chemins, tu passes à côté d’elle sans broncher, tu n’as pas le souci de la terre qui dissimule les cadavres, tu foules un sol dont tu ne veux pas connaître la vérité.
Ta maison, on pourrait s’y jeter d’une lucarne, ta maison n’est plus celle que tu as connue enfant, mais elle n’a pas renié les chapelets d’une grand’mère ni les voix qui faisaient danser la table aux repas de fêtes. Et c’est vers elle que tu reviens toujours quand, lasse de contempler la sagesse des flots, tu cherches en toi une impossible hospitalité. Car aucun autre lieu ne te semble assez offert pour t’accueillir.
These are literary translations of poems 1 and 3 from Moyshe Kulbak’s sequence “Songs of a Poor Man.” The poems are rich in rhyme and the anti-hero spirit that runs through much of Kulbak’s work. Poems 2, 4, and 5 of the series are translated by Leonard Wolf in The Penguin Anthology of Yiddish Poetry. I worked with versions of the poem published in Vilna in 1929 and Buenos Aires in 1976. The spelling below reflects the 1976 version’s standardized Yiddish.
Moyshe Kulbak (author) was born in 1896 in Smorgon. He moved among Minsk, Vilnius, and Berlin before settling in Minsk in 1928. He taught, translated, and composed Yiddish poetry, plays, and prose, including the long poem Vilne (1926) and the satirical Soviet novel The Zelmenyaners (vols. 1931, 1935). In 1937, he was arrested with other artists in a Stalinist purge of Jewish intellectual society. He was executed on October 29th at the age of 41.
Allison Davis (translator) is the author of the chapbook Poppy Seeds (KSU Press, 2013). These translations were possible thanks to Raya Kulbak, the Severinghaus Beck Fund for Study at Vilnius Yiddish Institute, the Yiddish and English departments at Ohio State University, the Yiddish Book Center, and the Wallace Stegner Program at Stanford University.
from Songs of a Poor Man
At night without noise I shined
the heart to a diamond-coldness
in case a man needs to hide
in his well-known, well-worn darkness.
My bright lack will radiate
through the final, flung-open gate,
and I’ll smile with happy despair—
what I’ve had to bear and bear …
I scraped myself of selfhood
by the light of falling tears.
Oh, how good it is to have nothing
and wander here under the stars.
Who doesn’t trample his life
will never drive out strife.
I’m a bright paper here in the shade
on which God will write.
At thresholds I started digging
and struck joy in strange mud.
Oh, how good it is to have nothing
and to want none.
In the Autumn 2013 Issue of The Poetry Review, A.E. Stallings remarked that Kotoula belongs to the younger generation of Greek poets born after the Greek military Junta. She then says ”Kotoula subtly and masterfully transforms …private demons into a public resonance.”
Kotoula employs an array of vehicles and forms—ranging from the lyrical, the elegiac, to the ars poetica—to lament the current socio-economic crisis in Greece, to hearken back to the ancient times when Greek society was thriving, and to envision a spiritually-brighter future.
I chose to translate Kotoula not only because she is among this unique generation of poets, but also because of her work’s delicate tonal balance. My biggest challenge throughout the translation process was remaining true to both meaning and music without compromising the poems’ political sensibility.
The “Case Study” series inhabits the ars poetica form to demonstrate the healing power of poetry for Modern Greek society during these difficult times. “Case Study V” is one example of Kotoula’s tonal modulation. The poem not only contrasts Modern Greek culture with the Ancient civilization; the narrator also calls for a higher state of moral consciousness.
Dimitra Kotoula (author) is the author of Three Notes for a Melody published by Nefeli Editions, Athens. Her poetry, essays and translations have appeared on line as well as in poetry anthologies and journals in Greece, Europe and the Balkans. Her poems have been translated in English by A.E. Stallings, Fiona Sampson, and David Connolly. Currently, she works as an archaeologist and lives in Athens, Greece with her daughter.
Maria Nazos (translator) is the author of A Hymn That Meanders, (2011, Wising Up Press). She earned her MFA in Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Her work has received fellowships from the University of Nebraska, Vermont Studio Center and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Her work is published or forthcoming in The Florida Review, The Southern Humanities Review, The New Ohio Review, Poet Lore, The New York Quarterly, The Sycamore Review, Main Street Rag, Tar River Poetry, and elsewhere. She is a doctoral candidate in English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Her site is www.marianazos.com.
Case Study V
 Refers to an indigenous Greek plant, which appears in Plato’s “Politeia.” Also mentioned in Yiorgios Sepheris’ poem “Over Aspalathus Bushes,” the plant represents afterlife punishment of tyrants, who, according to Plato were drawn through the road while the flower’s thorns tore them apart.
With only 3.4 million people, Uruguay is the smallest Spanish-speaking country in South America, but it has always been well-populated with poets. On most nights in Montevideo, there are poetry readings at multiple venues ranging from the national library to neighborhood bars. This poem is one of many works selected for América invertida: An Anthology of Younger Uruguayan Poets which is forthcoming from the University of New Mexico Press.
Javier Etchevarren (author) was born in Montevideo, Uruguay in 1979. He is the author of the poetry books Desidia and Fábula de un hombre desconsolado. His poems will appear in América invertida: An Anthology of Younger Uruguayan Poets,forthcoming from the University of New Mexico Press. His poems have appeared in Palabras errantes and the Notre Dame Review.
Don Bogen (translator) is the author of four books of poetry, including his most recent book An Algebra. His versions of the work of contemporary Spanish poet Julio Martínez Mesanza have appeared in Boston Review, Pleiades and other journals. He is the Nathaniel Ropes Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Cincinnati and the poetry editor of the Cincinnati Review.
the worn-out arteries of the city
there are families who live off that death
they live in the toxic cloud
with no more protection than their skin
the metallic smoke strips away their profiles
a toxic shout deafens their sense of smell
and they live off that death
near a blaze of tires and rags
it’s their job to gather up wire
at sunset other twilights take their toll
living off that death
they cough in their dinner plates when night comes
they’d like to remove
the copper that accumulates in their lungs
because it’s worth eleven pesos a kilo
and these folks live off that death
las arterias caducas de la ciudad
hay familias que viven de esa muerte
habitan la humareda tóxica
sin más resguardo que la piel
el vapor metálico les desagarra los perfiles
un grito tóxico ensordece los olfatos
y viven de esa muerte
con un fuego de neumáticos y harapos
obligan al cable a reunirse
tributan al ocaso otros crepúsculos
viviendo de esa muerte
llega la noche y tosen frente al plato de comida
el cobre que se acumula en los pulmones
porque lo pagan once pesos el kilo
y ellos viven de esa muerte
I first discovered “Tristesse d’une Étoile” through another translation, and was captivated by it. Later, armed with a semester-long course in French grammar, I decided to find the original and produce my own rendering. I felt that, while rhyme would have to be conceded, a version that preserved Apollinaire’s voice needed to be based on a metrical scheme. The poem is written in twelve-syllable alexandrines, a form that seldom appears in Anglophone literature; I chose iambic pentameter as the closest equivalent.
Guillaume Apollinaire (author) (1880-1918) was born in Rome to parents of Polish descent. In his late teens, he moved to Paris, where he became involved in avant-garde artistic circles. He fought in World War I, suffering a head injury from which he never fully recovered, and later died in the flu pandemic of 1918.
Rebekah Curry (translator) lives in Austin, where she is a graduate student at the University of Texas. Her chapbook of original poetry, Unreal Republics, is available from Finishing Line Press, and her work has also appeared in journals including Antiphon and Mezzo Cammin. Find her on Twitter @rebekah_curry.
Sadness of a Star
Minerva’s beauty sprang out of my head
A bloody star forever is my crown
Deep down my reason and above it sky
There goddess you were taking up your arms
So this was never worst among my pains
This all but deadly wound was graced with stars
Yet I am fevered with a secret grief
Much greater than what any heart could hide
And I bear with me this fierce agony
Just as the glowworm holds itself aflame
As soldiers’ hearts that beat on fire for France
As fragrant pollen at the lily’s core
Tristesse d’une Étoile
Une belle Minerve est l’enfant de ma tête
Une étoile de sang me couronne à jamais
La raison est au fond et le ciel est au faite
Du chef où dès longtemps Déesse tu t’armais
C’est pourquoi de mes maux ce n’était pas le pire
Ce trou presque mortel et qui s’est étoilé
Mais le secret malheur qui nourrit mon délire
Est bien plus grand au’aucune âme ait jamais celé
Et je porte avec moi cette ardente souffrance
Comme le ver luisant tient son corps enflammé
Comme au coeur du soldat il palpite la France
Et comme au coeur du lys le pollen parfumé
With only 3.4 million people, Uruguay is the smallest Spanish-speaking country in South America, but it has always been well-populated with poets. On most nights in Montevideo, there are poetry readings at multiple venues ranging from the national library to neighborhood bars. This poem is one of many works I selected for América invertida: An Anthology of Younger Uruguayan Poets which is forthcoming from the University of New Mexico Press. For that anthology I matched 21 Uruguayan poets under 40 with American poets who were also translators. Agustín Lucas is the poet I translated.
Agustín Lucas is an Uruguayan poet and author of three books, Insectarios, No todos los dedos son prensiles and Club. He also a professional soccer player. His poems have appeared in The Collagist and Diagram are included in América invertida: an anthology of younger Uruguayan poets which is forthcoming from the University of New Mexico Press.
Jesse Lee Kercheval (translator) is the author of 13 books of fiction, memoir and poetry including the novel My Life as a Silent Movie and the poetry collection Cinema Muto. She is the editor of América invertida: an anthology of younger Uruguayan poet forthcoming from the University of New Mexico Press. Her translations have appeared in The New Yorker, American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, Agni, the Boston Review and other magazines.
General Flores without Flowers
Avenida General Flores is beautiful in the nights so late they are early Monday mornings, with traffic lights red, then green, with the customary desolation and mystery in its side streets.
General Flores in watchfulness, watching autumn hesitate with dead leaves on this paradise of cement and stone, of plastic and wood furniture for sale.
The corner with Blandengues is entangled with the wind in a relentless whirl of one way streets; the bus terminal, abandoned, transformed, melancholic: the melancholy that lies alone, forgotten, incapable on the platforms occupied last Sunday by drums and boys, competing with litany of seven o’clock.
The Terminal Goes, Marcelino Sosa street covering its back: quick, attentive, dark; the community center and library, the posters, the sidewalks, the wind revolving in the bars.
Transients take short strolls along the sidewalks, characters that remain nameless for all time, and from the city buses, faces shout against sleep, blinking at the stops, they miss the rain or leave a dirty image to be washed away by the drops on the windows. The transients outside also get soaked.
The dirt of some flowerbed splashes mud on the clay pots. The desolation is implacable, and is not disturbed by the lost whistle that warns of who comes or goes, feels or thinks, sings or hums the sadness of a tango with dark circles under his eyes. Then the novelty dance happens, the loneliness that sings in the instant when lovers are left at their doors. Not engines, nor the horns when a 169 and a 505 cross, not the bottles that roll, not the bells, not any of these sonorous events, not what will be seen falling down on the inhospitable street, will disturb the inclement desolation of the avenue, home of whores and transvestites, of worker and neighbor, of dealer and crack head on the corners.
The transients sleep, children of the street, with one eye obviously open, the proprietors of the stairs and of the railing, of the glass, of the bottle, of the remains of noodles and the heels of bread, of the blanket and the flip-flops, of the size extra large, or of the toes sticking out. Prisoners of winter, free of the calendar and of the clock, heroes of the tranquility, friends of the dogs.
Transients stroll, return, leave, transients buy, sell, leave, transients keep watch, transients rave, stop, begin again, leave, transients believe, transients steal, leave, transients create, cry, deceive, transients lose, win, leave.
General Flores walks in its sleep, and the furniture and the prices quiet down even more, and the beds cool down even more, the plazas and seductive shop windows lower the voltage of the lights, until it is sparkling, dry, free of shadow plays.
General sin flores
Es tan bella General Flores en las altas madrugadas de los bajos lunes, con sus luces rojas y ahora verdes, con la corriente desolación y el misterio en sus bocacalles.
General Flores en vigilia, vigila lo que vacila el otoño con las hojas muertas del paraíso de cemento y piedra, de plástico y madera de muebles en venta.
La esquina con Blandengues se enreda con el viento en un implacable remolino del calles flechadas; la terminal de ómnibus, abandonada, transformada, melancólica: la melancolía sola, olvidada, yace incapaz en los andenes ocupados por tambores y gurises del ayer domingo, lidiando la letanía de la hora 19.
La terminal Goes, Marcelino Sosa cubriendo las espaldas: rápida, atenta, oscura; el comunal y la biblioteca, los afiches, las veredas, el viento revoleando de los bares.
Transeúntes se pasean escasos por las veredas, personajes innominados por el tiempo, y desde el transporte capitalino las caras vociferan contra el sueño, guiñan las paradas, se extrañan ante la lluvia o se dejan mojar la imagen sucia que gotea las ventanas. Los transeúntes afuera, también se mojan.
La tierra de algún cantero salpica de barro los ladrillos de la maceta. La desolación se vuelve implacable, y no la perturba el silbido perdido que avisa que viene o que va, que siente o que piensa, que canta o tararea la tristeza de un tango con ojeras. La novedad bailable que acontezca, la soledad que canta al instante cuando se dejan los enamorados en las puertas. Ni los motores, ni la bocina que cruzan en un 169 y un 505, ni las botellas que ruedan, ni los timbres, ni estos sonoros aconteceres, ni los que verá caer la inhóspita calle, perturbará la inclemente desolación de la avenida, morada de putas y travestis, de obrero y vecino, de transa y latero en las esquinas.
Los transeúntes duermen, hijos de la calle, con evidente ojo abierto, dueños del escalón y de la reja, del vaso, de la botella, del resto de fideos y el codo del pan, de la frazada y la chancleta, del talle grande, o de los dedos para afuera. Presos del invierno, libres del calendario y del reloj, héroes del sosiego, amigos de los perros.
Transeúnte pasea, vuelve, se va, transeúnte transa, vende, se va, transeúnte campana, transeúnte delira, cesa, vuelve, se va, transeúnte trata, cree, transeúnte roba, se va, transeúnte crea, llora, engaña, transeúnte pierde, gana, se va.
Gral, Flores reposa deambulada, y se aquietan aún más los muebles y los precios, y se enfrían aún más las camas, las plazas, y se bajan las tensiones de las luces vidrieras seductoras, tintineantes, secas, sin juego chino de sombras.
Translator’s Note on Marcel Lecomte’s Work:
Marcel Lecomte (1900-1966) is one of the forgotten fathers of Belgian surrealism. While he would go on to publish several collections of poetry in his lifetime (and two more post-humously), Lecomte is best known as a journalist and critic, writing a large number of essays, art reviews, and political columns and pamphlets throughout his life. Born in Brussels, he was raised during the turbulence of the Great War and, as a student, witnessed the birth of the dada movement launched by Tristan Tzara. By the 1920s, surrealism, and its rejection of traditional modes of thought and forms of art, was reaching its apex. A young Lecomte followed suit publishing a poetry collection entitled Demonstrations in 1922. Two years later, he would attempt to lead a sect of the movement, founding a group named Correspondence with Paul Nougé and Camille Goemans; the group would publish pamphlets critiquing art, literature, and politics. Although he was expelled from the group in 1925, that same year Lecomte would see the publication of his second book of poems, Applications, a work that showcased two drawings from his friend, artist René Magritte. For the remaining forty years of his life, Lecomte would remain productive, dipping into a variety of projects and genres, but largely focusing on essays, which appeared in journals such as Le Rouge et the Noir, Synthèses, Le Journal des Poètes, and Le Journal des Ingénieurs, and writing for his weekly column in La Laterne.
The selection of poems here shows Lecomte’s connection to the surrealists, but they also demonstrate where he diverges from the group and reveal his interests in the metaphysics of the every day and his acute awareness of his physical surroundings. Moreover, they accentuate the poet’s sense of humor, both light and dark, and his play with language and the perception of both reality and the language of it. The flexibility (and sometimes brokenness) of language—and the perceptibility of a particular moment in life itself—is further stressed in Lecomte’s use of line breaks, sometimes odd syntax, and often random punctuation (when it appears at all). The slippery effect of awkwardness and intimacy present here is what makes Lecomte’s poems not only memorable but also resonant, familiar, to his readers.
Marcel Lecomte (author) was a Belgian writer (1900-1966) who was a member of the Belgian surrealist movement. Although he published several collections of poetry including Démonstrations (1922) and Applications (1925), a work that showcased two drawings from his friend, artist René Magritte, Lecomte is best known as a journalist and critic. He wrote widely on art and literature and maintained weekly political columns in Le Rouge et Noir and La Laterne.
K. A. Wisniewski (translator) is editor of The Comedy of Dave Chappelle: Critical Essays. His poetry and translations have appeared in dozens of magazines, most recently in The Chariton Review, Bluestem, The Chiron Review, MAYDAY Magazine, CAIRN, and the Sierra Nevada Review. His critical work has appeared in Genre, Alphaville: Journal of Film and Screen Media, The Maryland Historical Magazine, and the anthology Kidding Around: The Child in Film and Media (2014). He is a PhD Candidate at the University of Maryland Baltimore County and is currently translating Swiss writer Julian Burri’s novella Poupée into English.
He alone is able to tell us about the objects of the Universe,
in such a way to surprise us, to surprise them.
He knows the inner space that stirs them.
(Yes, immersed, engaged in the back-story of the world,
these objects become the secret distance from his gaze to
Usher, to the first row quickly so that I may sit
to watch the clowns boldly play with death
in paleness and in silk
Le maître d’école
Il est seul à pouvoir nous parler des objets de l’Univers,
de manière à nous surprendre, à les surprendre.
Il connaît l’espace interne qui les anime.
(Oui, plongés, engagés dans l’arrière-histoire du monde,
ces objets deviennent la distance secrète de son regard à
Ouvreuse, au premier rang vite que je m’assoie
Pour regarder les clowns jouer avec la mort
Surpassant en audace en pâleur et en soie
Les jockeys, les toreadors.
Imanova Günel, (author) writes under the pen name of Günel Mövlud. As a translator of Russian to Azeri, she she has translated Victor Pelevin’s Amon Ra and extant Russian translations of Marquez and Stendhal. Born in 1981in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan on the Armenian border, at the age of 12 she had to leave Karabakh with her parents because of the conflict. She studied theater arts at Baku University and has worked as an journalist for local newspapers on Azerbaijani societal issues. Her first book of poems Darkness and Us was printed in 2004. Most recently the books 5 xl and Response to the Late Afternoon appeared.
Günel’s joining a movement to end anti-Armenian propaganda in Azerbaijan elicited the attention of authorities and religious activists. She is currently based between Georgia and Germany, where she lives with her husband and child and is a journalist for the Baku chapter Radio Liberty and MeydanTV.
Arturo Desimone (translator) is currently based between Buenos Aires and the Netherlands. His poems and short fiction pieces have previously appeared in The Missing Slate, The New Orleans Review, Hamilton Stone Review, Counterpunch Poet’s Basement, Hinchas de Poesía and Acentos Review. The Spanish translation of his book of poems About a Lover From Tunisia is forthcoming from Audisea, an Argentinean publishing house for poetry and translations.
With special thanks to Nijat Qarayev for his support in the translation process and for explaining the historical and cultural references in Movlud’s poetry.
In this country I consider myself begrimed with so much guilt
that I must reject a small child’s embrace
If I could only show you one single reason to love me
perhaps you would tear your fingers
from the dark buttons of this computer
and embrace me
I ask only that you crush me in your embrace
as a forest serpent presses its prey,
but now I stand before you, waiting, and neither of us lift a finger
If we are to adapt, and develop a strange happiness here,
amidst the new skyscrapers–
we must then learn to exist without needing to hear the grasshoppers’ noise
from my rooftop, from a place close-by
If I cannot lose this night-spell and be contented
No one can love here
Translator’s Note on Cyrille Fleischman’s Work:
I fell in love with Fleischman’s work the first time I read it, probably twenty years ago, while perusing short story collections for possible use in my undergraduate French courses. I loved his light touch, unpretentious style, and the humorous compassion with which he treats his characters, who exhibit human foibles which we have all experienced. For me, they also brought to life the Jewish Marais, a neighborhood in which I had lived while doing research in Paris. Individually, Fleischman’s stories seem at first anecdotal; then suddenly, with a twist of a phrase, they rise to embrace the universal. When read collectively, themes of being and identity and their fragility emerge. One of the reasons that “M. Lekouved’s Revolt” appeals is that it is such a joyful affirmation of being. A great challenge in translating Fleischman’s work into English is maintaining the delicate humor, tenderness, and subtle depth; in other words not letting his stories become merely comic in translation.
Cyrille Fleischman (author) was born on February 3, 1941, in the 4th arrondissement of Paris, home to a large community of Ashkenazi Jews. Fleischman studied law, but while practicing, began writing short stories portraying Yiddish characters of the Marais in the 1950s. He published his first collection of short stories in 1987, but is best known for the three volumes centered on the neighborhood of the Saint-Paul metro station. The focus of his thirteen short story collections, like their author, would always remain in the Marais. Fleischman has been compared to Isaac Bashevis Singer, even Marc Chagall for his portrayal of Yiddish culture in the Marais. In 1995, he was awarded a Prix d’Académie by the French Academy, and in 2002, the Max Cukierman award for the promotion of Yiddish language and culture. He died in 2010 after a long illness.
Lynn Palermo (translator) is an associate professor of French at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania. She has published the translation of another story by Cyrille Fleischman in World Literature Today (Sept/Oct 2010), as well as academic translations. She recently translated four academic essays for a special issue of Dada & Surrealism focusing on the Romanian surrealist movement (to appear in 2015). She is collaborating on a translation of one of Fleischman’s short story collections, while working solo on a novel by a contemporary French author and short stories by other writers of the Francophone world. Her research focuses on the literature, art, decorative arts, world’s fairs and cultural politics of period between the World Wars.
Monsieur Lekouved’s Revolt
Alexander Lekouved gave a big, friendly wave, as the waitress deposited two slices of meat on his plate, next to the mashed potatoes.
–Who are you saying hello to? asked the waitress, looking around, Nobody’s here yet at this hour.
–I’m greeting this veal roast! I think it’s the same one as yesterday. And the day before. Maybe even last month. I feel like we’re old friends by now.
The waitress shrugged and went back to the kitchen.
Alexander Lekouved had been taking all his meals at this restaurant since becoming a widower. He always arrived around eleven-thirty, a habit that predated his retirement, when he used to eat lunch at home before traveling out to a suburb to tutor students in philosophy—students who had failed the high school graduation exam. And despite maintaining a friendly rapport with this waitress for weeks, he had just become her enemy. He acknowledged this without regret.
The waitress brought him the next course—fruit compote—which she practically threw onto the table, and before he could order coffee, she had already scribbled his bill on the paper tablecloth. He had barely paid before she cleared the table, tossing the paper tablecloth into a big wastebasket over near the counter. When he left, she did not say au revoir.
The weather was lovely. Monsieur Lekouved slipped a hand into his vest pocket to check his watch. Still not yet noon and the whole day stretched before him with nothing to do. He breathed deeply in the breeze and decided to cross the street to a café with sidewalk terrace.
He would take his coffee there.
He chose a table, sat down, and stretched out his legs. A waiter hurried over to him. Since he was only ordering coffee, could monsieur please take a seat inside the restaurant? At this hour, the terrace was reserved for customers ordering a meal.
The waiter looked like one of Monsieur Lekouved’s former students, the type who repeated the last year of high school several times without ever graduating. Lekouved tilted his head back to take a better look at him.
–Are you telling me that I have to sit inside when I prefer to have my coffee out here, on the terrace?
–Oui, said the waiter, growing annoyed and snapping the white cloth on his shoulder toward the front door, Inside!
Lekouved raised his hand for quiet.
–Tell the owner that I’d like to speak to him.
–Perhaps we should put our policy in writing, and have it stamped and notarized for you, snorted the waiter. I’m telling you, the tables on the terrace are reserved for people having a meal.
–That’s the problem. I’ve already eaten. Across the street. So, just bring me a cup of coffee.
–I said, no! Now move! The waiter was downright aggressive.
Alexander Lekouved did, indeed, move. He rose to his feet and grabbed the waiter’s right ear. Slowly, calmly, he twisted it until the waiter tore himself from his grip. Then Monsieur Lekouved sat back down.
–Bring me a coffee, please!
People passing on the sidewalk had stopped to stare. The waiter rubbed his ear, stammering, “I don’t believe it, I don’t believe it…”
Lekouved insisted gently, “A coffee, if you please.” Then roared, “Bring me a coffee, or else I’ll take care of your other ear, too, the one that’s so big you could blow your nose on it!”
The waiter was thunderstruck. He retreated into the café to tell everyone sitting at the counter. Five minutes later, the owner himself strode toward Lekouved, a cup of coffee in hand, which he set on the table in front of him.
–You had no right to…
–Yes, I certainly did have the right to! interrupted Lekouved. Don’t you know the stipulations of the paragraph of the statute of the municipal law governing the sale of coffee on café terraces?
The owner argued no further. This pain-in-the-neck might have connections down at city hall. He just shrugged.
The people who had been watching the scene, wandered off. Lekouved drank his coffee, glanced at the cash register receipt left by the owner, and left a few coins on the table.
He felt good. He even had a revelation: it felt good to rebel!
He stood up, did a few calisthenics to get his blood circulating and, since this was a day of revolt, decided to go visit his brother-in-law who owned a clothing shop not far away. Three years earlier, his wife’s brother had borrowed two candlesticks that he had never returned. Alexander hadn’t needed them since his wife died. He no longer hosted family reunions at the holidays, but still, that was no reason…
He walked slowly, deep in thought, but before he knew it, he was standing in front of his brother-in-law’s shop. Which made him think maybe he should spruce up his wardrobe. Upon entering the shop, the first words that flew out of his mouth were, “I stopped by to say hello and buy a few shirts. At the same time, you can give me back those candlesticks you never returned.”
The brother-in-law, who had smiled upon seeing him, stiffened.
–The two candlesticks that you borrowed from your sister, three years ago when she was still alive.
His brother-in-law laid his hand on Alexander’s shoulder.
–You mean the candlesticks that your wife had inherited from my mother?
–Of course! I’m not talking about chandeliers from the Opera House!
The brother-in-law frowned. “Forget it. They’re a memory of my sister.” He changed the subject. “What kind of shirts are you looking for? Solids? Stripes?”
–I’m not sure if I understood you correctly, interrupted Lekouved. Are you saying that you are not going to return my candlesticks?
Without even waiting for an answer, Lekouved went behind the counter, glanced up and down the rows of shirts organized by size, and calmly removed ten white shirts, size 39, and ten fancy vests. Whatever he could reach. Alexander Lekouved put the ten shirts and ten vests into two large plastic bags from a stack on the counter and walked out of the shop. His brother-in-law, at first spellbound, chased after him out to the sidewalk.
–Where are you going with those? You’ve got a fortune in clothes there, not even counting the shirts!
Alexander Lekouved stopped, his two plastic bags dangling. “When you return my candlesticks, then maybe I’ll return the vests. But I’m keeping the shirts!”
Lekouved left his dumbstruck brother-in-law standing on the sidewalk. Happiness welled up inside him. As he walked away, several people nodded to him. Acquaintances, probably, he wasn’t sure. He had done so much for this neighborhood! Rendered service to so many people! Before becoming a teacher in the suburbs, he’d worked in one or two private schools not far from here, he’d acted as secretary to a politician in the arrondissement, he’d been copy editor at a Yiddish publishing house. He’d…he’d… above all, he’d been polite and affable. Yet, in none of those capacities had he felt as much satisfaction as he did today.
With his two plastic sacks full of clothes, Alexander Lekouved strolled along, humming under his breath. He wasn’t far from home, now. He raised his eyes to the blue sky. For a moment, he was tempted to give thanks. But at his age, one no longer bothered to thank the heavens for so little. He continued down the sidewalk in the sun, a little spring in his step. At seventy-two years of age, Alexander Lekouved, retired school teacher, honorable but not honored, belated but enthusiastic rebel, felt that at last he was going to start having fun.