Translated from the Finnish by the author
Muistan vain miten auto suistui ja joutui veden varaan. Sisarukset ovat merkillisiä. ”Haluatko oluen?”. ”Eiköhän ole liian aikaista?”. Aina kun tyhjennän yhden, hän tuo eteeni uuden. ”Älä väitä, ettei se ole käynyt mielessäsi?”. Ihan kuin tämä olisi jotain leikkiä. Hän avaa kylpytakkinsa – niitä muotoja ei arvaisi takki päällä. ”En halua sinua enää kotiin.” Nukkuisit kunnolla. Ehkä se ajaja on tullut tunnontuskiin. Se hullu soittelee koko ajan. Kalat vaan ui ja paskantaa. Lähdittekö pois sateen takia? Virtuaalitodellisuus on siis totaalisesti totta. Ei kai hän soittele sinulle? Tuntisitko äänen? Hän halusi insestipuhelun 4-vuotiaan kanssa. Tuollainen voi pilata elämäsi. Niistä puheluista saa rahaa. Löysimme sieltä alastoman ruumiin. Ei siinä ollut paljon tekemistä. Alkoi tulla pimeä. Menimme sinne kalastamaan. Hän myy enemmän kuin luuletkaan. Olin tänään alastonmallina. Mahtavaa jos Alex Trebek ostaisi kuviani. En kestä loputtomia hyväilyjä. Rakastan rankaisevaa suudelmaa. Pidemmälle meneminen tietää vaikeuksia. Se raha olisi ollut tosiaan tarpeen. Jätinkö tänne marisätkän? Vihaan Losia. Kaikki vaan vetävät kokaa ja lässyttävät.
I remember only how the car bounced off the road and ended up in the water. Sisters are strange. "Do you want a beer?" "Is it not too early?". Then, soon as I empty one, she brings another. "Don't say you haven't thought it." Is this some kind of game? She opens her bathrobe - you would never have imagined she had a figure like that with the robe on. "I don't want you to come home anymore." You should sleep properly. Maybe that driver has qualms. That lunatic keeps on calling all the time. Fish just swim and shit. Did you go away for the sake of the rain? Virtual reality is then completely true. He doesn't call you? Would you recognize the voice? He wanted to have an incest call with a 4-year old. That can ruin your life. I get money from those phone calls. We found a naked body there. There was not much to do. It started to become dark. We went there fishing. He sold more than you think. I was a nude model today. Triffic if Alex Trebek would buy my pictures. I cannot stand being endlessly caressed. I love a punishing kiss. Getting further means difficulties. That money would really be necessary. Did I leave a joint here? I hate L.A. Everyone does coke and keeps on babbling.
(collage poem based on Robert Altman’s Shortcuts)
• • •
Translated from the Finnish by the author
Translated from the Portuguese by Alexis Levitin
Entre folhas secas ou verdes
canta ao balcão da janela
um pássaro estrangeiro.
Tal o olhasse sem enxergá-lo
conheço-lhe o passarês
sem jamais decifrar-lhe a voz.
Não é hoje que me aflige
essa terrível surdez
a vedar-me sua mensagem.
Céus, são tantas as linguagens
que sempre me deixam à margem
cega ao que pássaros sabem.
Among some green or dried out leaves
there sings upon the window sill
a foreign bird.
Just as I gaze at him and don’t quite see him clear
I know his Birdish
yet cannot quite decipher it.
It did not begin today
this dreadful deafness that afflicts me
blocking out what he would say.
Heavens, how many languages there are
that leave me on the outside
blind to what all birds must know.
• • •
Alexis Levitin's translations have appeared in well over two hundred literary magazines, including Partisan Review, Grand Street, Kenyon Review, and, of course, Osiris. He has published twenty-four books of translations, including Guernica and Other Poems by Carlos de Oliveira, and Soulstorm, by Clarice Lispector.
"Birdish" is part of a selection of poems from Jaula (Cage) by Astrid Cabral that will be published in Calque 4, due in April 2008.
These three texts are from Alejandra Pizarnik’s final book of poetry, El infierno musical, published in 1971, shortly before the author’s death. The source texts come from the latest anthology of Pizarnik’s complete poetry, edited by Ana Becciú, who claims the “new” versions to be more faithful to the poet’s original manuscripts. I chose to translate them as a group, because they are formally and thematically related. First, they are the only poems in the El infierno musical to present the same formal structure: three double-spaced sentences lacking cohesion among them. Then, they seem to complete each other as far as content is concerned. To my knowledge, they have not yet appeared together as a triptych in English.
The first text, Signos, shares strong thematic links with the second, Fuga en lila. The love that the body remembers in the second line of Fuga en lila seems to refer to the first line of Signos, where “Everything makes love to the silence.” The mention of como encender la lámpara (like lighting a lamp) seems to be linked both to the silencio como un fuego (silence like fire) in the second line of Signos and to the light which becomes a drum in the last line. The last line of Fuga en lila clearly summarizes the first two of Signos, which is mostly about silence and how it is both a temptation, a sexual attraction (“Todo hace el amor con el silencio“), and an expected gift or a promise (“Me habían prometido un silencio como un fuego, una casa de silencio”).
In Signs, I preferred to translate hace el amor as makes love to instead of makes love with, because this act of love felt intrusive. It does not happen between two equals, but rather between an overwhelming everything and a little nothing, silence. I decided to translate the definite article el in order to keep the contrast between the actual silence (as opposed to silence in the abstract sense) and the one that the lyrical I was supposed to get as promised. Finally, I understood the segment “Me habían prometido” as an impersonal formulation quite common in Spanish, and translated it into English as a passive structure. This enabled me to put more emphasis on the lyrical I by making it appear right at the beginning of the line, as in the original.
As the word fuga suggests, the second poem is both a sort of escape and a musical composition. As for the Spanish word lila, it can refer both to a color and to a flower, and its ending evokes the note “la,” which strengthens the musical connotation of the title. Unfortunately, this wordplay is bound to be lost in English, since the word lilac does not end with the syllable “la.” Furthermore, English speakers tend to call this note “A,” referring to the diatonic scale instead of the fixed-do system. The first line of the poem has a repetitive structure: sin para quién echoes sin para qué. This creates a fugue-like rhythm. It is thus important to keep the repetition. Here, Pizarnik plays with linguistic categories: para qué and para quién are question phrases, but Pizarnik uses them in a nominal context, as synonyms for razón (reason) and destinatario (addressee). I chose to translate the uncanny effect of the words instead of focusing solely on their meaning. As for the second line of the poem, it is grammatically ambiguous, mainly because of the infinitive, encender (to light or to turn on). Usually, one would expect the second verb of the comparison to share the same subject as the first one, el cuerpo. Yet here, because the second verb is not conjugated, it is impossible to know for sure who or what the subject of encender is. Once more, Pizarnik seems to be playing with grammatical categories, treating encender like a noun, as in “el hecho de encender.” I have chosen to recreate Pizarnik’s ambiguity by using a present participle, which permitted me to evacuate the subject.
As for the third text of the series, Del otro lado, its thematic connection with the other two seems to depend mostly on the musical theme. In Signs, there are silences and a drum. In Fuga en lila, there is a fugue and a silence, and in Del otro lado, the word música (music) appears four times, and the word voz (voice), twice. In this third poem, the silence desired by the lyrical I, both its temptation and its promise, has disappeared. Only music and voices are left, which could explain why the lyrical I is sad. While light was present in the first two poems (fuego and luz in Signos; lámpara in Fuga en lila), it has faded away in Del otro lado, which takes place during the “night of a wolf’s fangs.” Thematically, the first two poems seem to be both “on the same side,” while this third one, is “on the other side,” as its title indicates. As for the structure of Del otro lado, it is interesting to observe how close it is to that of a musical fugue. Indeed, the theme (or exposition) stated at the end of the first line,“cae la música en la música is repeated word for word at the beginning of the third line, and then altered to produce a variation on a theme (como mi voz en mis voces). Thus, it was important for me to reproduce this fugue-like movement in the English translation.
According to Pizarnik, only the reader can “complete” her poems, make them “whole” and meaningful by reading and interpreting them:
“Únicamente el lector puede terminar el poema inacabado, rescatar sus múltiples sentidos, agregarle otros nuevos. Terminar equivale, aquí, a dar vida nuevamente, a re-crear”.
This is without a doubt a wonderful invitation not only to read and interpret her poetry, but also to translate it and give it a new life.
Québec City, March 2, 2007
Rebecca Crocker: Aline, describe a bit about your personal background, where you were raised and with whom. Who were the principal influences in your childhood?
Aline Desentis: I grew up in southern Mexico City, in the neighborhood of Los Reyes, Coyoacán, along with my parents and my three older siblings (two sisters and one brother). Almost since I was a baby, I have been in love with the written word and thanks to my father's support, I learned to read very young, at age 2. Ever since I can remember I have been surrounded by reading and I made up stories to entertain my cousins. During the fifth grade, I began my learning process by writing stories about extraterrestrials and an essay in which I imagined what would happen if people had tails like animals. Later during my adolescence, I began writing poetry, although I won a contest in 1984 when I was in middle school for a surrealist story entitled "The River of Smoke." My main influences included my mother and my grandmother, assiduous readers, and later on my sister Carla. But my primary influence was my friend and teacher Alonso Lujambio who encouraged me to write since childhood and gave me serious critiques, first of my extraterrestrial stories and later of my poetry. He recommended readings for me (The Old Man and the Sea, A Happy World, Benedetti) but down the road I leaned more toward my grandmother's passion: magical realism and García Márquez.
RC: When did you begin to write, both as a hobby and also professionally? Where did you study when you were in school?
AD: For me, writing has always been a hobby and a medicine. I never think "Okay, I am going to write something now," but rather it's as if small demon was dictating me images, sentences and whole stories. I completed my professional studies at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico (ITAM) where I studied Social Sciences, but I must admit that what I enjoyed most about my time there was the creative writing workshop.
RC: Who are the primary writers who have inspired your work, and why?
AD: Generally speaking, it's been the Latin American writers, because they describe realities that are similar to mine: Jorge Amado, García Márquez (he's a monster of a narrator), Elena Garro. Recently I read Celso Santajuliana and I loved it. Lastly, Bruno Traven and Alfredo Bryce Echenique, but I can also say that I have other special authors: Herman Melville, Michael Ende, Umberto Eco, and Tolkien.
RC: Explain to us what's in the background of "Dead Dog." Why did you write this story, how is it related to your life? The environment described in the story, is it something that you believe actually exists to a certain extent in rural Mexico, or is it rather a metaphor, or something that you fear for the future?
AD: You're not going to believe this, but I lived in the neighborhood of "Perro Muerto" for three and a half years, and after everything I saw there and lived through, I can tell you that honestly, the story has few exaggerations. My son got sick with fright when, at age 2 1/2, he first discovered a dead dog in the street. And, well, I've always been interested in writing about these neighborhoods on the edge of highway, with their brightly colored announcements for town dances and the stench of road kill. Marginalization is a constant factor in almost any human settlement in Latin America.
RC: In your opinion, what are the primary challenges that Mexico faces today? And could you speak specifically about Oaxaca?
AD: I think that the primary challenge facing Mexico is its lack of autonomy, as much in economic terms as politically and culturally. We are always copying models rather than creating our own model. In Oaxaca we face the culmination of this lack of autonomy: a crisis in which those who have always governed refuse to leave their seats of power, while new forces are trying to seize those seats of power. And the people are in the middle of all this, struggling as always for their autonomy and their own forms of organization.
RC: What do you have planned for the near future?
AD: I am preparing a book of stories based on popular legends and myths called "Historia de todas partes" (Story of All Places). It's slow going because each story is like a small birth, but it's going. In terms of plans for the immediate future? Finding a job!
RC: And finally, is there anything you would like to communicate to your new North American readers?
AD: Well, just that they should read the work of writers from underdeveloped countries so that they can truly understand other realities, and I hope they enjoy "Perro Muerto."
Mi rostro hierve en las manos del escultor ciego.
En la pureza de los patios inmóviles él piensa dulcemente en los suicidas; está creando la vejez:
ayer y hoy son ya el mismo día en mi corazón.
* * *
El animal de llanto lame las sombras de tu madre y tú recuerdas otra edad: no había nada dentro de la luz; sólo sentías la extrañeza de vivir. Luego venía el afilador y su serpiente entraba en tus oídos.
Ahora tienes miedo y, de pronto, te embriaga la exactitud: la misma fístula invisible está sonando bajo tu ventana: ha venido el
Oyes la música de los límites y ves pasar al animal del llanto.
* * *
La infección es más grande que las tristeza; lame los parietales torturados, entra en los dormitorios del sudo y del láudano y luego tiembla como un ala fría: es la humedad de los agonizantes.
Viene despacio la paloma impura, viene a los vasos llenos de sombra
y la ceniza capilar se extiende sobre vestigios de mercurio y llanto.
La lente anuncia la mendicidad pero su luz procede del abismo. Ante las córneas abrasadas penden los hilos del silencio. Luego
las desapariciones bajan el corazón.
* * *
El animal que llora, ése estuvo en tu alma antes de ser amarillo;
el animal que lame las heridas blancas,
ése está ciego en la misericordia;
el que duerme en la luz y es miserable,
ése agoniza en el relámpago.
La mujer cuyo corazón es azul y te alimenta sin descanso,
ésa es tu madre dentro de la ira;
la mujer que no olvida y está desnuda en el silencio,
ésa fue música en tus ojos.
Vértigo en la quietud: en los espejos entran sustancias corporales y arden palomas. Tú dibujas juicios y tempestades y lamentos.
Así es la luz de la vejez, así
la aparición de las heridas blancas.
* * *
Hay un muro delante de mis ojos.
En el espesor del aire hay signos invisibles,
hierba cuyos hilos entran al corazón lleno de sombra,
líquenes en el residuo del amor.
Incesto y luz. Piensa en la lente que precedía a la piedad, piensa en las aguas:
si yo pudiese atravesar la inexistencia se abrirían las fuentes de la misericordia
y habría ciegos cuyas grandes manos trabajarían dulcemente,
pero la cobardía es bella en los cabellos de mi madre y en ese muro está escrito el silencio.
Llanto en la lucidez, verdades cóncavas:
« No vale nada la vida, / la vida no vale nada ».
Recordad esta canción antes de mirar mis ojos;
mirad mis ojos en el instante de la nieve.
* * *
Tu nombre fue sólo viento en los labios de los suicidas.
Tu rostro fue labrado por la lluvia: sobre la ciega máscara aparecían surcos miserables y párpados y una boca amarilla, pero siguió lloviendo y, un instante, bajo las hebras transparentes, tu rostro fue posible y su belleza se confundía con la luz, pero siguió lloviendo y se perdió como la tierra desgastada por el llanto.
Indescifrables son tu nombre y tu rostro; quizá no has existido,
sin embargo, has llegado a la vejez y haces gestos impuros, también indescifrables.
* * *
Estoy desnudo ante el agua inmóvil. He dejado mi ropa en el silencio de las últimas ramas.
Esto era el destino:
llegar al borde y tener miedo de la quietud del agua.
* * *
El animal perfecto es feliz en los claustros y su lengua es melodiosa en el llanto.
Es feliz en la noche: entra en hembras amarillas que lloran sobre la nieve,
hembras amarillas entre los colectores y las tumbas.
Paz en mis ojos.
Veo el cal del corredor sin habitante (aquel anciano que describía suavemente su muerte).
En otros días, grandes en otra luz, del corredor desciende un torrente de lilas (de éstas, algunas son blancas y su perfume no nos pertenece),
la hierba aumenta ante las ménsulas (en otros días, los que suceden a la lluvia y son verano en las higueras hondas, sombra de tábanos azules roncos en su escritura transparente)
y huyen claras serpientes (las desovadas en letrinas fértiles, altas sobre las más lentas, las que agonizan en las uñas del animal perfecto).
Aquí, en los patios eclesiásticos, he mirado el fluir de los pájaros
y ahora es sábado en la nieve.
Paz en las tapias inmóviles. Hay noticias de monjes giratorios, altos in la imbecilidad hasta encontrar a Dios en la mirada del lagarto y en el olor de la adormidera;
paz en el balcón del miedo (esa quietud que hienden los gemidos): ya se producen las desapariciones y se vacía el corazón.
Está vacío, ciertamente, el corazón ante este patio en la noche
y la memoria de otros días, lentos en las sustancias que eran rencor en la dulzura (negra en la boca de los amantes, negra en las axilas de las madres), cesa
y cae Dios (máscara antigua; no de ese hueco de tu corazón sino del que hay delante de tu rostro).
Nada es veloz en tu memoria salvo los ojos del suicida, el que encendía árboles con sus manos expertas en la pobreza y en la ira;
nada es verdad y los presagios atravesaron en vano tus oídos, ah miserable ante la nieve.
Baja a la eternidad de las letrinas blancas hasta que sientas el silencio y su pureza te confunda,
oigas campanas y el huracán de las alondras,
veas el rostro inútilmente amado.
Has llegado al gran sábado de la vida.
En la blancura avanza el animal perfecto, ávido en la quietud, con su brasa amarilla.
Cesa en su llanto melodioso y, suavemente, orina.
My face simmers in the hands of the blind sculptor.
In the purity of quiet courtyards he thinks with sweetness about suicides; he is creating old age:
yesterday and today are already the same in my heart.
* * *
The weeping animal licks the shadows of your mother; you remember another time: there was nothing inside the light; you only felt the strangeness of life. Later the knife grinder came and his snake penetrated your ears.
Now you are afraid and, suddenly, precision intoxicates you: the same invisible fistula resonates under your window: the knife grinder has arrived.
You hear the music of limits and you see the weeping animal approach.
* * *
Infection is larger than sadness; it licks tortured partitions, it penetrates the bedrooms of sweat and laudanum and later it shakes like a cold wing: it is the dampness of people who are dying.
The impure bird arrives slowly, comes to the cups full of shadow
and capillaries of ash spread over remnants of mercury and tears.
The lens reveals mendacity but its light comes from the abyss. In front of the scorched corneas hang threads of silence. Later
the disappearances depress the heart.
* * *
The animal that cries, the one in your soul that used to be yellow;
the animal that licks pale wounds,
that one is blind with compassion;
the one who sleeps in light and is miserable,
that one is dying in the lightning storm.
The woman whose heart is blue and who feeds you without rest,
that one is your mother inside her wrath;
the woman who does not forget and is naked in the silence,
that one was music to your eyes.
Vertigo in the stillness: corporal substances penetrate mirrors and doves burn. You describe judgments, tempests, and laments.
So is the light of old age, so
the appearance of pale wounds.
* * *
There’s a wall in front of my eyes.
In the thick air, there are invisible signs,
weeds whose threads penetrate the heart full of shadow,
lichen in the residue of love.
Incest and light. Consider the lens that comes before piety, consider the waters:
if I were able to cross nonexistence fountains of compassion would have opened
and there would be blind men whose big hands worked sweetly,
but cowardice is beautiful in my mother’s hair and on this wall silence is written.
Crying with a clear mind, concave truths:
“life values nothing / nothing values life.”
Remember this song before looking in my eyes;
look at my eyes the instant it snows.
* * *
Your name was only wind on the lips of the suicides.
Your face was irrigated by the rain: on the blind mask miserable furrows appeared and eyelids and a yellow mouth, but it continued raining and for an instant under the transparent sinews, your face materialized and your beauty was confused with the light, but it continued raining and it was lost like the earth spent by crying.
Your name and your face are indecipherable; maybe you have not existed,
still, you reached old age and make indecent gestures, also indecipherable.
* * *
I am naked in front of still water. I left my clothes in the silence of the final branches.
This was destiny:
to reach the edge and fear the quietness of the water.
* * *
The perfect animal is happy in the cloister and his tongue is melodious in lament.
He is happy at night; he penetrates yellow females who weep in the snow,
yellow females between the sewers and the tombs.
Peace in my eyes.
I see the whitewash of the uninhabited corridor (that old man who gently described his death).
On other days, large in another light, a torrent of lilies pours down the corridor (of these, some are white, their perfume unfamiliar),
the weeds multiply before the cantilevers (on other days, those summer days after rain on the dark figtrees, cloud of blue gnats hoarse in their transparent scriptures)
and transparent snakes flee (eggs laid in fertile latrines, high above the slowest, those who are dying under the nails of the perfect animal).
Here, in the ecclesiastic courtyards, I watched the flood of birds
and now it is Saturday in the snow.
Peace in the steady walls. There are notices about whirling monks, steeped in stupidity until meeting with God in the gaze of a lizard and in the scent of a poppy;
peace on the balcony of fear (that quietness split open by moaning): already disappearances occur and the heart is emptied.
Surely, the heart is empty at night in front of this courtyard
and the memory of other days, slow with substances that mixed rancor in sweetness (black in the mouth of lovers, black in the armpits of mothers), it stops
and God fell (ancient mask; not from that hollow of your heart but the one in front of your face).
Nothing is fleet in your memory but the eyes of the suicide, he who burned trees with his hands expert in poverty and rage:
nothing is true, the portents cross your hearing in vain, oh miserable one facing the snow.
Descend into the eternity of pale latrines until you feel silence and its purity confuses you,
you hear the bells and the hurricane of larks,
you see the face haplessly loved.
You have reached the big Saturday of life.
In the whiteness the perfect animal advances, avid in the quiet, with his yellow ember.
He stops his melodious crying and gently pisses.
• • •
Recently awarded the Cervantes Prize, as well as the Premio Reina Sophia, the poetry of Antonio Gamoneda (1931) is not currently available in English. In 1975, Gamoneda emerged from a long period of censorship, silence and depression, with the publication of Descripción de la mentira (León 1977). “Saturday” is the fifth poem in Libro del Frío, a distinctive collection, deeply marked by the dark years of the Franco dictatorship. Compromised integrity and deep-sympathy with fellow human suffering are contradictory aspects of the poem’s fabric of allusion. The poem conflates loss and terror, love and alienation, drawing narrative threads from the poet’s childhood and early adult years, his marriage and friendships. Among his several “suicides,” those who “disappeared” and those who passed prematurely, Gamoneda mourns the early loss of his father, also a modernist poet, who passed when Antonio was less than a year old. The landscape of Libro del Frío is the countryside around Léon, Gamoneda’s home since childhood. The images include hospitals and the affections and fears shared by a haunted people. The figure of a tormented animal, who appears and reappears in several verses of “Saturday,” combines a variety of male personas, intimidating presences to a child’s eye. The mother’s presence is also central to a narrative that seems to be woven from inexpressible substance. Gamoneda has asserted that in several senses the poem knows more than the poet. Composed in chains of verse paragraphs, employing a highly melodic prose, Gamoneda’s poetry is now collected in Esta Luz, (Barcelona: Galaxia Gutenberg, 2004).
Living in New Hampshire where he teaches cultural studies and writing at Daniel Webster College, Donald Wellman is a poet, translator and essayist. Fields, a selected poems appeared in 1995 (Light and Dust). An electronic broadside, drawn from his Notebook: Cuaderno de Costa Rica is scheduled for release by Mudlark. Other collections include Prolog Pages, Diario mexicano, and Oaxaca. Excerpts from these projects can be found in various on-line and print media: Eratio Postmodern Poetry, There, and Fascicle. Wellman has translated from French, German, and Spanish. Currently he is working with the Spanish poet, Antonio Gamoneda. For 12 years, he was the editor of O.ARS, a series of anthologies devoted to postmodern poetics and practices. Recent essays include “Creeley’s Ear” in Jacket Magazine 31 and “Aleatory displacement,” a review of Anne-Marie Albiach's Figured Image, tr. Keith Waldrop in Jacket Magazine 32 (April 2007). His “Prose on Uxmal” is in the current Absent Magazine. His translations from Yvan Goll have appeared in Circumference and in Calque.
Translated from the Turkish
Gülten Akın, Ağıtlar ve Türküler 1972-1983 (p.30)
ANNESİ ÇALIŞAN ÇOCUĞUN AĞIDI
Attım. Boyalar ne işe yarayabilir
Yalnızlık için karadan başka
Hangi rengi kullanabilirim
Kuru masa, donuk tavan, somurtuk halı
Solgun durmalı resimlerim
Pencerem kuşları çekmiyor
Soluğu azaldı nergislerin
Üç tarak olsa taranmaz Yuku-Lili’nin saçları
Ben annesi çalışan bir çocuğum
Yollarda damlarda eski yazdan kalma
Mavi çizgileri kar gelir kapatır
Sustum. Sevincin sesleri de
Bir iki deneyip susacak
Duvar diplerinde kedisel çığlıklar
Bahçelerde çirkin kasımpatları açmalıdır
Lament of a Working Mother's Child
I threw them out. What good are paints
For loneliness, apart from black
What colour can I use
Dry table, dull ceiling, sulky carpet
My pictures should look pale
My window no longer attracts birds
Daffodils are losing their breath
Even with three brushes, you still can’t comb Yuku-Lili’s hair
I am the child of a mother who goes out to work
Snow on the road and the roof veils
The blue lines left over from last summer
I say nothing. Trying once or twice
The sound of joy will also say nothing
Cat-like wails at the foot of the wall
In the gardens, ugly chrysanthemums should be blooming
• • •
Gülten Akın, Kuş Uçsa Gölge Kalır
Çağın en karmaşık yerinde durduk
biri bizi yazsın, kendimiz değilse
kaba günü yonttuğumuz ince bıçak
nerde onlar, her kımıldayışta
çakan tansık, ışıldatan büyü
bir gün daha görülmedi
bir gün daha geçti otları soldurarak
öğrendik de körmüş, sanki yokmuş
ne yol ne bir geçip giden
ne kaydını tutan geçip gidenin
onları kilitle, anahtarı eski yerine bırak
utanılacak bir şeymiş, öyle diyor Camus
tak başına mutlu olmak
sesler ve öteki sesler, nerde dünyanın sesleri
leke dokuya işledi
Here we stand at the messiest point of our time
someone should write us, if we don’t
the more silence kept, the duller became
the fine knife we used
to carve out raw day
where are they, the flashing miracle
and the shining magic in every motion
one more day unseen
one more day passed withering the grass
so we learn it was blind, as if there were
no alley no passerby
no one to record the passerby
lock them up, leave the key in its old place
but the truth is
it’s a shameful thing, as Camus says
to be happy on your own
voices and other voices, where are the world’s voices
the stain invaded the tissue
saying nothing saying nothing
• • •
Arzu Eker teaches English and translation at Boğazici University. She is currently working on her PhD thesis on Orhan Pamuk’s translations into English at the same university.
Mel Kenne is a poet and translator who teaches in the American Culture and Literature Department of Kadir Has University in Istanbul, Turkey. He has published three volumes of poetry and translated the work of a number of Turkish writers, most recently the novel Swords of Ice, by Latife Tekin.
Sidney Wade is a poet and translator. Her new collections of poems forthcoming from Persea Books in January 2008 is called Stroke. She teaches at the University of Florida.
These two poems by Gülten Akin were translated at the Cunda Workshop for Translators of Turkish Literature in June 2007.
Translated from the Vietnamese by Linh Dinh
Người độc thoại với cột đèn ở đường Bolsa
Ông đứng trên đường Bolsa với những cột đèn vàng
từng cột đèn là bạn của một người lưu vong,
ông đến đây chỉ màu vàng là bạn
màu vàng cao và rộng.
Mỗi ngày ông ngước lên và nói
“Tôi về sớm nấu một nồi cơm,
hôm nay có lẽ chúng ta ra khỏi bóng đêm của rượu.”
“Một phần xứ này quả thật thuộc về màu vàng
của nước đái bò và của những bụi cỏ cháy khét,
có quá nhiều những miếng thịt bò đã chết trong miệng,
có miếng da bò Mỹ đã làm ra thứ ánh vàng đắng nghét."
Mỗi ngày ông ngước lên và nói
“Mà vì sao tôi
không thuộc về đâu cả
màu mỡ bò ở quán phở Hạnh
màu âm nhạc ở cà phê Ly Ly
không gì khác vẫn màu Mỹ vừa ngon vừa dễ chán.
Mỗi sáng tôi bước khỏi giấc mơ
co rúm và khô,
cái điện thoại không thể gọi người đàn bà ấy
chỉ có thể gọi màu vàng.
Mỗi tối tôi bước vào mùi rượu
tiếng tôi say trong đêm không thể gọi cô gái làng chơi,
tôi chỉ có thể nói chuyện với màu vàng và
sau câu chuyện rất dài
màu vàng trên đường Bolsa lại trải ra cái chăn rất dầy.”
“Tôi từng tưởng tượng một màu vàng lạ,
nói cách khác tôi từng tin màu vàng là đôi cánh
đôi cánh bắt đầu từ nỗi đau ở phía đông
đôi cánh là nắng xoa dịu bao nhiêu chuyện buồn
mà vì sao tôi vẫn ngước lên.
Nỗi đau và chuyện buồn không xóa tan được nỗi sợ.
Tôi sợ mùi cộng sản, tôi sợ mùi bơ Mỹ.”
“Tôi đứng đây cạnh cột đèn đường Bolsa
dang rộng tay như một con đại bàng,
không một loài đại bàng nào ở Mỹ có màu lông gà.
Tôi vẫn ngước lên.
Tôi vẫn yêu những con gà mà tôi lỡ bóp chết và vẫn
khóc thương số phận gà con.
Tôi vẫn yêu cái màu vàng máu đã khô và linh hồn ngơ ngác ấy.”
“Tôi vẫn ngước lên đây.
Không một loài đại bàng Mỹ nào có lông của loài gà.
Tôi sợ màu Mỹ, tôi sợ màu cộng sản.”
“Tôi đứng đây trên đường Bolsa từ ngày cho tới đêm,
không một chút ảo tưởng
ở ngoài chính thể Mỹ
ở ngoài sự săn đuổi của cộng sản.
Nỗi sợ của tôi nhìn thấu hết mọi thứ trừ màu biển.”
“Tôi đến đây từ biển.
Biển là miệng một loài quái vật là đôi cánh tự do.
Tôi đứng đây với những cột đèn Bolsa
sợ nơi chốn dung chứa sợ nơi chốn trốn đi.
Tôi đứng trong bình minh biển
đối diện với nỗi sợ không bao giờ bị phân huỷ.”
Monologuist with Light Pole on Bolsa Avenue
He stands on Bolsa Avenue with the yellow light poles
each light pole a friend of the exile,
he came here with only yellow as a friend
a tall and wide yellow.
Each day he looks up and says
“I’ll go home early to cook up a pot of rice.
perhaps today we’ll escape from the liquor’s shadow.”
“A part of this land truly belongs to the yellow
of cow piss and scorched clumps of grass,
there are too many pieces of beef dying inside the mouth,
a piece of American cowhide creating a bitter yellow glow.”
Each day he looks up and says
“But how come I
don’t belong anywhere
the color of beef fat in the pho restaurant Hạnh
the color of music in the Ly Ly café
nothing but the American color both delicious and tedious.
Each morning I step out of a dream
Shrivelled and dry,
the telephone cannot call that woman
only a call to yellow.
Each night I step into the liquor’s fume
my drunken voice at night cannot call the hooker,
I can only talk with yellow and
after a very long story
yellow spreads again a thick blanket on Bolsa Avenue.”
“I used to imagine a strange yellow,
in other word I used to believe yellow was a pair of wings
a pair of wings originating from a torment in the East
a pair of wings as sunlight soothing so much sadness
but why do I still look up.
Torment and sadness cannot rub out fear.
I fear the smell of Communism, I fear the smell of American butter.”
“I stand here next to a light pole on Bolsa Avenue
spread my arms wide like an eagle,
there’s no America eagle with the color of chicken feathers.
I still look up.
I still love the chickens I’ve accidently squeezed to death and still
mourn the fate of chicks.
I still love yellow blood already dry and that bewildered soul.”
“I still look up there.
There’s no America eagle with the color of chicken feathers.
I fear the American color, I fear the color of Communism.”
“I stand here on Bolsa Avenue from day until night,
with no illusion
beyond the American system
beyond the Communist hunt.
My fear sees through everything but the color of the sea.”
“I came here from the sea.
The sea is a monster is a pair of free wings.
I stand here with the Bolsa light poles
fearing the place of refuge the place escaped from.
I stand inside the sea dawn
facing an everlasting fear.”
• • •
Linh Dinh was born in Vietnam in 1963, came to the US in 1975, and has also lived in Italy and England. He is the author of two collections of stories, Fake House (Seven Stories Press 2000) and Blood and Soap (Seven Stories Press 2004), and four books of poems, All Around What Empties Out (Tinfish 2003), American Tatts (Chax 2005), Borderless Bodies (Factory School 2006) and Jam Alerts (Chax 2007). His work has been anthologized in Best American Poetry 2000, 2004, 2007 and Great American Prose Poems from Poe to the Present, among other places. Linh Dinh is also the editor of the anthologies Night, Again: Contemporary Fiction from Vietnam (Seven Stories Press 1996) and Three Vietnamese Poets (Tinfish 2001), and translator of Night, Fish and Charlie Parker, the poetry of Phan Nhien Hao (Tupelo 2006). Blood and Soap was chosen by the Village Voice as one of the best books of 2004. His poems and stories have been translated into Italian, Spanish, Dutch, German, Portuguese, Japanese and Arabic, and he has been invited to read his works all over the US, London, Cambridge and Berlin. He has also published widely in Vietnamese.
En un cuarto apestoso
El viejo esparce la baraja
Y a través del humo
Me señala tu imagen
Junto a un hombre
Que no soy yo
In a molding room
The old man
Lays out the deck
And through the smoke
Points to your figure
Next to a man
Who is not me
Triunfo Arciniegas is a fantastically prolific Colombian author. If he were American he'd be labeled a "fabulist" or something else in that vein. Not a Magic Realist, but certainly not not one, Arciniegas sees the world always slightly refracted through his irony glasses. Below is translated a poem Arciniegas posted to Letralia, a website that serves as a good introduction to his work, including poetry, prose, and essays.
Steve Dolph edits this journal. He is currently translating a short story collection by Arciniegas, The Unicorn Garden and Other Places for Lonely Men.
Zoltán Böszörményi is Hungarian, born in Romania. Back in the early 80’s he had an adventurous escape from communist Romania and has been all over the world, now often back in Transylvania, his homeland, where he has a small publishing empire. More info available on his website: boszormenyizoltan.info
[A note on the presentation: Because Blogger and the Internet in general are mechanistically and aesthetically opposed to publishing free verse, we've uploaded PDFs of the poems alongside their translations below. Just click on the image to blow it up and enjoy.]
Other than being extremely ugly, Francisco de Quevedo (1580 - 1645) had every chance in the world to make something respectable of himself. Born of a good Madrid family, he was sent to university at a time when perhaps 1% of Europeans could so much as sign their own name. There, he was more noted for his satirical pamphlets than for his academic achievements. Not long after graduating he became involved in a scandal that led to a duel which led to him leaving the country, bound for Italy. He served in Sicily and Naples before getting tangled up in a political conspiracy which forced him to leave Italy and return to Spain.
After years of this sort of thing, he somehow managed to land a post at the court of the Spanish king, Philip IV. Quevedo, however, was not well suited to life at court, to say the least. When he found himself unable to win over the king’s favorite courtier, a man named Olivares, Quevedo said some awful things about him. In response, the king had Quevedo, who was 59 at the time, thrown into an underground dungeon. This was in 1639, which assures that conditions in the dungeon were at best uncomfortable. Quevedo languished there for four years. When he was finally released he was the classic “broken man.” He died two years later, at the age of 65, having lived a remarkably long life for a poet with so little skill at navigating the “real” world.
What remains is his work, which shows where Quevedo‘s mind must have been while he was doing all of that biographical bungling. He is, along with Lope de Vega and Luis de Góngora (both of whom he hated intensely), one of the pillars of the so-called Spanish Golden Age’s late period.
Primarily known as a satirist in life, he certainly had satiric skill, and wrote a great deal of satire that was not to be equaled in Europe until the coming of Voltaire, but he was much more than a mere wisecracker. The intervening centuries have revealed a poet of much greater emotional range and depth than his contemporaries may have suspected. He is a superb poet of nostalgia and despair, as well as just plain funny when he wants to be, usually at his own expense.
The poems presented here attempt to display something of that range in the space available. In the Spanish they are all sonnets of the Petrarchan variety, the usual form at the time in Spain, considering the immense influence of Italian vernacular poets on Spanish poetry beginning with Garcilaso de la Vega in the early 16th Century. A quick glance at my translations will of course reveal that they do not even attempt to be English sonnets. I imagine there will be those who hesitate to dignify my work on Quevedo with the term “translation.” This is fine with me. Let us call them “versions.”
In translating Spanish Golden Age poets, the first problem you have is the usual one with rhyme. Romance languages have, because of the uniform endings applied to verbs in the same tense and adjectives in the same gender, a much larger amount of possible rhymes than English. This has caused translators no end of difficulty from time immemorial. Because of this rhyme-differential, forms like the strictly rhymed sonnet get badly mangled in the attempt to retain the rhyme.
There is also the problem of datedness. Many translators, knowing that these Spanish poems are very old, attempt to make their versions sound like very old English poems, with results that are usually reminiscent of Shakespeare or John Donne. This would seem to make sense, given that Quevedo and Shakespeare were contemporaries, but it is actually nonsense, for two reasons.
The first is that the modern reader of Spanish has a much easier time reading 16th and 17th Century poetry than does the modern reader of English. The English poetry of the period was written at a time when the grammar of the language was still very open and spelling was only loosely standardized. Add this to a large amount of antiquated words and concepts and the English reader has real problems. The Spanish reader, by contrast, finds poets writing in a much more recognizable language. The result is that the Spanish Golden Age poets simply seem more alive to the Spanish reader than the Elizabethans do to the reader of English. Indeed, it has long been a source of wonder to the Spanish-speaking world why, since everyone all over the world loves Cervantes, no one outside the Spanish language has much regard for the poets of the same period. The answer is because they have rarely if ever been translated in a way that brings them across to the English reader in the right way.
This brings us to the second reason, which is that these are translations for the modern reader. It makes no sense to translate Quevedo, or any other poet, for readers who have been dead four hundred years. If the idea were valid we would all still be reading Chapman’s Homer.
So, I have made my versions they way they are. I have been no more strict with the exact meaning of the individual word than I have with the individual line. At times I have added or subtracted things for the sake of clarity of meaning or the accentuation of some poetic quality that seemed to matter.
My guides have been Ezra Pound and Paul Blackburn, in their versions of the Provençal troubadours, George Economou’s “Test of Translation” essay from The Caterpillar Anthology, which examines Pound’s and Blackburn’s results in excellent detail. Essentially, Pound put the troubadours into free verse and Blackburn put them into open field verse. I have followed that example while trying especially to maintain something of the strong rhythms these poems have in the Spanish. Each of these versions, hopefully, has a noticeable pulse, and while it may change from stanza to stanza within a poem, while also varying from poem to poem, I have tried to get it into every poem. Such were my intentions, and I would prefer to be evaluated on that level than on my ability or inability to make a Spanish mummy dance the way an English mummy dances.
un psalm al lui Popescu
De ce nu iei, Doamne, odată și-odată, o inițiativă d-aia, d-a lu’ Matale, ca să-i angajezi pe toți bătrînii ăștia anchilozați, paralitici, ăștia de nu mai pot să umble decît cu scaunu’, să-i angajezi acolo, la Tine, la ,,Țăndărică“, la teatrul de păpuși?! Să-i prinzi cu sfori. Să le miști și capul, și mîinile, și picioarele… Să umble și să transpire, să-și trăiască și ei viața de unde li s-a oprit, săracii… Să facă și ei acolo la Tine ce-ar fi făcut pe-acasă dac-ar mai fi putut… O cafeluță, o ceartă, o cumpărătură… Și după aia și ,,Scufița roșie“… Păi ăștia și-ar da și sufletul pentru Artă, Doamne! Nici nu le-ar păsa! Ar putea să și doarmă în timpul pieselor, ca spectatorii… Le-ai trage Matale la toți pînă și visu’ pe sfoară… Ce mai: Artă mare, ca-n viață! Păi, acum, spune și Dumneata, spînzurații ăia de pe vremuri, nu erau ei cele mai grozave marionete? Nu le țineai Matale c-o mînă sforile de-acolo, de Sus, de se-aduna lumea să-i vadă cum bîțîie din mîini, din picioare și scot limba? Se-aduna sau nu se-aduna lumea? Striga ea sau nu striga fericită bis?! Păi vezi, Doamne?! De ce nu iei Matale o inițiativă d-asta d-a Ta, o dată pentru totdeauna?…
A Psalm by Popescu
Just this once, O Lord, why not simply follow through on one of Your initiatives and hire all the sclerotic, paralytic old-timers, who can’t get around except with a wheelchair, to perform at Your puppet theater, “Pinocchio”?! Hook strings to them. In order to move their head, their hands, their feet… Let them strut and work up a sweat, let them resume their lives from the point they had to stop, poor wretches… Have them do there for You what they would have done at home, if they could have… A cup of coffee, a spot of bickering, a bit of shopping… And after that, it’s curtain time for “Little Red Riding Hood”… Why, they’d be offering up their souls for Art’s sake, Lord! No way would they raise a stink about it! They could even sleep during the plays, like the audience… You might as well pull a string or two in their dreams, too, couldn’t You do that, Lord?… All the better: great Art, like in real life! Now tell the truth, own up to it, the hanged in the bygone days, weren’t they really Yours, Your most extraordinary marionettes? Wasn’t it Your hand yanking their strings from on high, wasn’t it You who gathered together the multitudes to watch them jerk their arms and legs, stick out their tongues? Well, did those mobs flock together to watch, or didn’t they? And did they keep yelling loudly for an encore, or didn’t they? Well, then, You see my point?! So why can’t You follow through on one of Your initiatives, just this once and for all?…
• • •
Cristian Popescu (1959–95), a unique poetic voice, published three books during his lifetime, almost entirely prose poetry: the chapbook The Popescu Family (Familia Popescu, 1987), Foreword (Cuvânt înainte, 1988), and The Popescu Art (Arta Popescu, 1994). A commemorative volume of manuscript reproductions was published in 1999 as issues 1-4 of the review Manuscriptum in Bucharest, and other volumes of his oeuvre are planned. His works have appeared in English in Adam J. Sorkin’s co-translations in Green Mountain Review (one poem won a Pushcart Prize nomination), The Prose Poem and The Best of the Prose Poem anthology, Poetry Daily, Brevity, Prague Literary Review, Respiro and Mississippi Review, as well as in Adam J. Sorkin’s anthology with Bogdan Ștefănescu, Speaking the Silence: Prose Poets of Contemporary Romania (Paralela 45, 2001) and in Born in Utopia: An Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Romanian Poetry, ed. Carmen Firan and Paul Doru Mugur with Edward Foster (Talisman House, 2006). Cristi – as he called himself in the poems, and as his friends always still speak of him – suffered from schizophrenia. He died a few months shy of thirty-six on 21 February 1995 from a heart attack induced by a mixture of medications for schizophrenia and depression and of vodka. A book of three Romanian prose poets including Popescu, entitled Memory Glyphs, is forthcoming from Twisted Spoon Press, Prague.
Adam J. Sorkin’s recent volumes of translation include three 2006 books: Magda Cârneci’s Chaosmos, translated with Cârneci (White Pine Press), Mihai Ursachi’s The March to the StarsPaper Children, done with various collaborators (Ugly Duckling Presse). Other books include Daniela Crăsnaru’s short stories translated with the author, The Grand Prize and Other Stories (Northwestern UP, 2004), and Marin Sorescu’s The Bridge, translated with Lidia Vianu (Bloodaxe Books, 2004)—the winner of the 2005 Corneliu M. Popescu Prize for European Poetry Translation of The Poetry Society, London. Sorkin is Distinguished Professor of English at Penn State University, Delaware County.
Bogdan Ștefănescu is an associate professor in English at the University of Bucharest who currently teaches courses in British Literature and Critical Theory. A journalist, editor and professional translator, he taught as a Senior Fulbright Lecturer at Penn State and has received research grants from the British Council, the University of London, the University of Stuttgart, and the New Europe College. He has published books and articles on literature, education, nationalism, translation theory, etc., as well as many translations from and into English.
Не думаю, не жалуюсь, не спорю.
ни к солнцу, ни к луне, ни к морю,
Ни к кораблю.
Не чувствую, как в этих стенах жарко,
Как зелено в саду.
Давно желанного и жданного подарка
Не радует ни утро, ни трамвая
Живу, не видя дня, позабывая
Число и век.
На, кажется, надрезанном канате
Я - маленький плясун.
Я - тень от чьей-то тени. Я - лунатик
Двух темных лун
I do not think, or argue, or complain.
I long for neither sun, nor moon, nor sea.
I do not feel the heat amidst these walls,
Nor garden’s green,
Nor do I long for your desired gift,
Neither the morning gladdens nor the trolley’s
I live, forgetting date and age
And daylight sun.
I am – a dancer on a tightrope slashed
I am – a shadow’s shadow: lunatic
Of two dark moons.
Летят они, - написанные наспех,
Горячие от горечи и нег.
Между любовью и любовью рaспят
Мой миг, мой час, мой день, мой год, мой век.
И слышу я, что где-то в мире - грозы,
Что амазонок копья блещут вновь…
А я - пера не удержу! Две розы
Сердечную мне высосали кровь.
They fly – quick-wrought and quickly written,
Still hot from all the bitterness and bliss.
My moment, hour, day, year, lifetime – smitten,
Twixt love and love lie on the crucifix.
And I hear word of thunderstorms a-rising;
Spears, Amazonian, again flash through the sky…
Yet cannot hold my pen back! These two roses
Have sucked my heart’s blood dry.
• • •
Marina Tsvetaeva (1892-1941) is considered to be one of the most original 20th Century Russian poets. Her extremely eccentric personality and difficult character found release in her poetry writing. Tsvetaeva’s perfect control of language is one of the key elements of her poetry, as are the striking images her short, full-throated poems practically overflow with. Themes of love, female sexuality and the private, many times inexpressible (though not by Tsvetaeva) emotions of the feminine mind and heart rise to dizzying heights of tenderness and then plummet down into the blackest forms of despair a never-ending rollercoaster ride of insight and emotion. But it is the rhythm and cadence of Tsvetaeva’s language that makes her poetry truly unique - changing pace and musicality to match her images and her meaning, Tsvetaeva’s fluid, “ring-singing” lines reflect the depth, accuracy and emotional capacity of the Russian language, which presents quite a challenge for translation, as the meaning of her poetry is intertwined with its musicality to form a single organism, which is lost to the reader when one of these components is left out. At times soft and lilting, like a trilling folksong, at others – short and breathless, as though ripped from the heart, Tsvetaeva’s rhythms incarnate the vast boundlessness of her homeland. Tsvetaeva did not accept the 1917 Revolution and thus emmigrated to avoid persecution, spending an emotionally and financially devastating 17 years in exile. Her return to Soviet Russia in 1939 was a forced flight of evacuation following the Nazi invasion, and her suicide coupled with her exile made her a prohibited poet for most of her life. Only in the 1960s was her work was brought back into the literary sphere.
Ekaterina Rogalsky was born in Moscow, Russia and has been writing poetry since the age of twelve in both Russian and English. She has lived in America since the age of six. Currently, she continues her literary and cultural development in both languages, retaining her fluent Russian and majoring in Literature at the College of Creative Studies at the University of Santa Barbara. Her work has been published in several literary magazines in Russia, including Literaturnaya Ucheba (Vol.6, 2003), the Anthology of Yunost, “Teny Strannika”(Vol.12, 2003), Cosmos and Man (Vol.24, 2004) and Profsoyuzy (Vol.7, 2004), and has had several publications in English, including the Colors of Life Anthology of Poetry and Colors of the Heart Anthology of Poetry in 2004. Ekaterina is also a member of the Yunost Literature Association, and has published two books of poetry, Pervyie Kapliy Dozhdya (First Drops of Rain) in 2004 and Spolokhi (Gleamings) in 2005. Her experience with poetry has raised her awareness of the importance of sound and rhythm within a poem, and in her translations, Ekaterina draws on that awareness to preserve, as nearly as possible, the sound patterns, rhythms and cadences of the poetic original. Ekaterina has been translating both prose and poetry since 2001, and sees translation as the natural synthesis of creativity in both Russian and English, a bridge of language linking the two cultures.
"Pour faire le portrait d’un oiseau"
A Elsa Henriquez
Peindre d’abord une cage
avec une porte ouverte
quelque chose de joli
quelque chose de simple
quelque chose de beau
quelque chose d’utile
placer ensuite la toile contre un arbre
dans un jardin
dans un bois
ou dans une forêt
se cacher derrière l’arbre
sans rien dire
sans bouger . . .
Parfois l’oiseau arrive vite
mais il peut aussi bien mettre de longues années
avant de se décider
Ne pas se décourager
attendre s’il le faut pendant des années
la vitesse ou la lenteur de l’arrivée de l’oiseau
n’ayant aucun rapport
avec la réussite du tableau
Quand l’oiseau arrive
observer le plus profond silence
attendre que l’oiseau entre dans le cage
et quand il est entré
fermer doucement la porte avec le pinceau
effacer un à un tous les barreaux
en ayant soin de ne toucher aucune des plumes de l’oiseau
Faire ensuite le portrait de l’arbre
en choisissant la plus belle de ses branches
peindre aussi le vert feuillage et la fraîcheur du vent
la poussière du soleil
et le bruit des bêtes de l’herbe dans la chaleur de l’été
et puis attendre que l’oiseau se décide à chanter
Si l’oiseau ne chante pas
c’est mauvais signe
Signe que le tableau est mauvais
mais s’il chante c’est bon signe
signe que vous pouvez signer
"To Paint a Bird's Portrait"
to Elsa Henriquez
Paint first a cage
with the door open
something of use
to the bird
then put the canvas near a tree
in a garden
in the woods
or in a forest
hide behind the tree
Sometimes the bird comes quickly
but it can just as well take many years
Don’t be disheartened
wait years if need be
the pace of the bird’s arrival
bearing no relation
to the success of the painting
When the bird comes
if it comes
keep very still
wait for the bird to enter the cage
and once it has
gently shut the door with the brush
paint out the bars one by one
taking care not to touch any of the bird’s feathers
Next paint the tree’s portrait
choosing the loveliest of its branches
for the bird
paint likewise the green leaves and fresh breeze
the sun’s scintillation
and the clamor of crickets in the heat of summer
and then wait until the bird decides to sing
If the bird does not sing
that’s a bad sign
A sign the painting is no good
but if it sings that’s a good sign
a sign you can sign
• • •
Jacques Prévert (1900-1977) was a French poet whose poems are often about life in Paris after the Second World War. He also wrote several classic screenplays for film director Marcel Carné, the most famous of which, Les enfants du paradis (The Children of Paradise, 1945), is considered one of the greatest French films of all time.
Jacqueline Michaud’s poems have appeared in New England Review, New Laurel Review,Florida Review, and American Letters and Commentary, among others. Her recent work includes translations of Francophone poets, as well as a major collection of poems by Prévert.