Maria Teresa Ogliastri

Translator’s Note on Maria Teresa Ogliastri’s work:
From the Diary of Madame Mao is a poetic journey into the heart and mind of Jiang Qing, the wife of Mao Zedong, who is known for her pivotal role in China’s Cultural Revolution. The 48 poems in the book are written in Jiang’s voice and represent, in the author’s words, “fragments of memory recorded in an imaginary journal tossed long ago in a forgotten corner somewhere … [whose] pages fly with the wind and fall into the hands of the poet.” Some poems evoke intimate moments in Jiang’s life, some revolve around historical events, and others reflect on Chinese society.


OgliastriMaria Teresa Ogliastri was born in Los Teques, Venezuela, and lives in Caracas. She is the author of five collections of poems: Del diario de la Señora Mao (From the Diary of Mme. Mao2011), Polo Sur (2008), Brotes de Alfalfa (Alfalfa Sprouts, 2007), Nosotros los inmortales (We, the Immortals, 1997) and Cola de Plata (Silver Tail, 1994). Polo Sur was translated into English and published in a bilingual edition, South Pole/Polo Sur, in 2011. Ogliastri has been featured at poetry festivals throughout Latin America, and her poems have been selected for publication in several anthologies of contemporary Venezuelan poetry. The selection here is from From The Diary of Madame Mao.


Yvette N. MorenoYvette Neisser Moreno’s (translator) first book of poetry, Grip, won the 2011 Gival Press Poetry Award, and in 2012 she was the first runner-up for the Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award. Moreno is co-translator of South Pole/Polo Sur by María Teresa Ogliastri (Settlement House, 2011) and editor of Difficult Beauty: Selected Poems by Luis Alberto Ambroggio (Cross-Cultural Communications, 2009). She is the founder of the DC-Area Literary Translators Network (DC-ALT) and serves on the Program Committee of Split This Rock Poetry Festival. With a specialization in the Middle East, she has worked as an international program coordinator, writer, editor, and translator, and has taught at The George Washington University, Catholic University, The Writer’s Center, and elsewhere.


Patricia B. FischerPatricia Bejarano Fisher (translator) is a multidisciplinary language professional who has worked as a translator, teacher, and learning materials developer in both government and academia. She was born and raised in Colombia and has lived in the United States for the past 30 years. She began her poetry translation career in 2007. Her co-translation of Venezuelan poet Maria Teresa Ogliastri’s South Pole/Polo Sur was published in 2011 and her work has appeared in several poetry journals. 


To Be Empress

To be empress
the jade seal
wasn’t enough
nor raveling our scales
on the imperial bed
I needed an armor of rock
the heart of a lizard
and to swallow things whole

but the taller the tree
the longer its shadow

when you live so close to danger
you must prepare your grave
with bear skins
terracotta soldiers
and jade amulets

when you live so close to danger
you must learn the way
to the Spirit Path
and hope for mercy from the gods

when you live so close to danger
you must not take shelter
in the tree’s shadow


Alfalfa Sprouts

My mother was made of bamboo
whenever the breeze moved her skirt
I saw the marks on her thin legs

my father would grab her willowy waist
and shake her like a stringless marionette

the last concubine
would do all the housework
if she didn’t have a son

my mother’s feet were a wheelbarrow
going going going
never tiring

I remember her sprawled on the grass
by the small pond
where the ducks always swam

with a porcelain jug I’d draw water
then go over to where she lay
and sprinkle every toe
every alfalfa sprout

that was the only time I saw her smile
it is my oldest memory of love



Para ser emperatriz

Para ser emperatriz
no bastaba
el sello de jade
ni entrelazar las escamas
en el lecho imperial
necesitaba una armadura de piedra
un corazón de lagarto
y engullir entero
pero cuanto más alto es el árbol
más larga es su sombra
cuando se vive tan cerca del peligro
debemos arreglar la tumba
con pieles de osos
soldados de terracota
y amuletos de jade
cuando se vive tan cerca del peligro
debemos conocer el camino
a la Vía de los Espíritus
y esperar la bondad de los dioses
cuando se vive tan cerca del peligro
la sombra del árbol
no debe arroparnos

Brotes de alfalfa
Mi madre era de bambú
cuando la brisa movía su falda
veía las marcas en sus piernas delgadas
mi padre  tomaba la cintura de sauce
y la zarandeaba como una marioneta sin hilos
la última concubina
haría todo el trabajo de la casa
si no tenía un hijo varón
los pies de mi madre eran una carreta
andaban      andaban     andaban
sin cansarse
la recuerdo tumbada en la hierba
cerca de la pequeña alberca
donde nadaban los patos
con una jarrita de porcelana recogía agua
y me acercaba hasta donde ella estaba
para regar cada dedo
cada brote de alfalfa
fue la única vez que la vi sonreír
ese es el recuerdo más antiguo que tengo del amor

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