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Three Filipino poems: John Iremil Teodoro and Rebecca T. Añonuevo

April 25, 2011 1 comment

translated by Luisa A. Igloria

Umaga, Sa Puerto del Mar, Isla Guimaras

by John Iremil Teodoro

Palaging may nakatagong dalampasigan
Sa aking dibdib
Kung saan buong taon ay tag-araw
At iniimbitahan lamang
Ang tag-ulan kapag ako’y nalulungkot.
Subalit ngayong umaga
Nasa totoong tagong dalampasigan ako,
Lumalangoy mag-isa sa tubig-dagat
Na may linis ng pinakamagandang binalaybay.
Siguro ang tarangkahan ng langit
Ay isang dalampasigan
Na simputi ng mahahabang damit ng mga anghel.
Siguro ang koro ng mga anghel
Ay sinlamig pakinggan
Katulad ng dalisay na lagaslas
Ng maliliit na alon.
Kaysarap sigurong malagutan ng hininga
Habang nakahiga ako sa dagat
At ninanamnam ang yakap
Ng kasisikat pa lamang na araw.
Ang kaso maraming tula pa akong
Dapat sulatin.
Mga tula ng pag-ibig.
Pag-ibig na katulad ng dagat,
Makulay at malalim
Ang mga misteryong iniingatan.

*

Morning, Puerto del Mar, Isla Guimaras

Always, there is a hidden cove
in my heart
where all year it is summer
and the rain visits
only when I am desolate.
But this morning,
I am truly at the sea,
swimming by myself in waters
whose lines are clean as a poem.
Perhaps, heaven’s jetway is a shore
with sand as fine and white as the long dresses of angels.
Perhaps the chorus of their voices
is cool and pure as the lapping tongues
of the smallest waves.
How blissful it would be to take my last breath
reclining in the arms of the sea,
wrapped in the warm rays
of a just-risen sun.
But I have many more poems
that I must write.
Poems of love.
Love like the sea,
deep and color-changing,
custodian of such mysteries.

* * *

Simbang Gabi

by Rebecca T. Añonuevo

Si Nanay talaga.
Ipinaalala niya kagabi na simula na ulit
Ng siyam araw na nobena ngayong adbiyento,
At kung mabubuo ko raw iyon ay matutupad
Ang anumang hihilingin ko sa Diyos.
Alam ko ang gusto niyang hilingin ko
Na hinihiling niya para sa akin kahit mangitim
Ang tuhod niya sa pagkakaluhod
Araw-araw kahit hindi Pasko.
Simple lang ang sagot ko, pigil ang pagsinghal,
Habang pinaiikot-ikot ang bilog sa mata:
Kung ibibigay ng Diyos, ibibigay Niya. Sa isip ko’y
Hanggang ngayon ba’y kaliwaan ang areglo sa langit?

Ang totoo’y di sinasadyang sinasadyang buuin ko
Ang simbang gabi ngayong taon nang di inaamin sa ina.
Hindi ko alam kung ang mundong kasabay ko
Ay dumadagsa dahil may mga hinihiling din sila
Katulad ni Nanay para sa hindi nag-aasawang anak,
O may ipinagdarasal na maysakit, kaaway, kapatid,
Lumubog na negosyo, petisyon para sa Canada o Australia,
Pagtama sa lotto, o kahit man lang sa cake raffle sa parokya
Na nagpapamigay ng pulang scooter at mga bentilador.
Sa pugad ng mga Heswita ay nahabag ako
Sa puto bumbong dahil ang pinipilahan ng mga bihis na bihis
Ay ang churros con tsokolate at donut sa magkabilang tabi.

Gusto kong sabihin kay Nanay na ang pagsisimbang gabi ko
Ay tulad ng panalangin ng puto bumbong habang sumasagitsit
Sa nagtatanod na buwan: salamat, ulit-ulit na munting salamat
Sa pagkakataong maging payak, walang inaalalang pagkalugi
O pagtatamasa sa tangkilik ng iba, walang paghahangad
Na ipagpalit ang kapalaran pati ang kasawian sa kanila.
Salamat sa panahon ng tila matumal na grasya,
Sa sukal ng karimlan, sa budbod ng asukal ay husto na,
Ang di pagbalik ng malagkit na puhunan
Sa kabila ng matapat na paninilbihan at paghahanda
Sa anino ng Wala, luwalhating kay rikit! Tikom-bibig.

*

Simbang Gabi

You’ve got to hand it to my mother.
Last night she reminded me
that the nine-day simbang gabi masses begin this advent,
and that if I manage to do the whole thing,
any wish I have will be granted by God.
I know what it is she wants me to pray for—
It’s what she constantly implores,
not caring that her knees have darkened from
her daily supplications, and not just at Christmas time.
I held my tongue and rolled my eyes
but answered simply:
If God means to give me something, He will. Could it be
that after all this time, slanted deals are still made in heaven?

To tell the truth, I did not mean to complete
the nine-day masses this year without eventually letting Mother know.
Could it have been because I felt in the crush
of people around me, the weight of a whole world’s
requests: including Mother’s prayer for her still
unmarried daughter to please find someone, including those
praying for the sick, for their enemies, their siblings,
for a business gone bankrupt, for petitions to migrate to Canada or Australia;
prayers to win the lottery, to win even just the parish cake raffle
(which also gives away red scooters and electric fans as door prizes).
But then, in the Jesuit compound my heart went out
to the lowly puto bumbong, because well-dressed churchgoers
were making a beeline for the stands selling churros con chocálate and donuts.

I wanted to tell Mother that my going to simbang gabi
was like the little puffs of steam exuding heavenward from the puto bumbong,
as the moon, austere, kept perfect watch: manifold in even its smallest aspect,
such gratitude as the chance to feel part of the whole, without thought
of having been short-changed, without regret for the concern that others did not show,
without wishing to swap fortunes or even the pains one has been given.
I give thanks for such finitudes that are nevertheless imbued with grace,
for the powdery cone of darkness and its just-enough dusting of sugar,
for the succulent body that will soon disappear.
Faithfully we serve, preparing the feast presided over
by the shadow of Death. And yet, how beguiling! The promise of fullness cupped
and brimful in the mouth.

*

Translator’s notes: Simbang gabi (literal trans., “night masses”): in the Philippines, nine-day masses celebrated at dawn, preceding Christmas. Puto Bumbong: a rice cake traditionally prepared at Christmas time, associated with simbang gabi. People coming from the dawn masses buy them to eat from vendors who set up makeshift stands by the church. The rice cakes are steamed in cones or tubes of bamboo over hot coals; they are dusted with a mixture of coconut flakes and sugar, or sugar alone. 

* * *

Anumang Leksiyon

by Rebecca T. Añonuevo

Nagpapantay ang araw at dilim
sa pangangalumata ng isip—
ano’t may di-inaasahang panauhing
dumadalaw at pumapasok sa mga sulok
na kahon-kahong salansan ng mga mortal
na pangarap at paninimdim.

Wala iyon sa layo o lamig na nakabalot
sa paligid. Wala sa pagtigil o pagtakbo
ng oras. Wala sa pagkapagod ng katawan.
Wala sa pag-iisa o dahil naliligid
tayo ng mga bata at halaman, o may babala
ang hangin, o umaalimuom ang lupa.

May panauhin pagkat nakikinig
ang labi ng mga rosas, buko sa buko;
nabubuhay ang pagkain sa mesa,
halos magsayaw ang mga kutsara at plato;
nililinis ng huni ng butiki ang agiw sa bintana;
sumisigid ang ulan sa mata ng buong bahay.

Maaari nga nating hamunin ang tadhana
para magbiro sa tulad nating parating lango
at sala-salabid ang hakbang sa pagsuyo:
dagdag na mga tanong na walang kasagutan,
kaliwa o kanan, munti o labis, isa-isa,
sabay-sabay, sa bakuran ba o kusina.

Magpapantay pa rin ang dilim at araw.
Gigising ang liwanag na bagong hangong tinapay.
Mag-aantanda ng pasasalamat, susuong sa siyudad.
Muli, uuwi sa tahanan, maghahain para sa hapunan.
Ang panauhin ay nakabantay at nangungusap
sa kanyang katahimikan. Gayon ang kagalakan.

*

Whatever Abides

Consider how the mind holds
daylight and darkness now with the same
regard, ever since the unexpected guest’s
arrival, its unbetokened entrance– How
it’s come to take up residence in your inner
life, its series of boxes nested and full
of such mortal longings and fears.

None of this is an effect of distance, or the cold
that begins to enfold everything in the landscape in its embrace.
It has nothing to do with the stasis or movement of the hours, nothing
to do with the body’s arrival, exhausted, at the limits of anything
it has had to endure.  It has nothing to do with being alone, or being
surrounded by the clamor of children and growing things, or whether or
not the wind is listing its warnings, or the earth its humid and dark
glimmerings.

You know the Beloved has arrived, because even the mouths
of roses are shaped to listening, moving from epiphany
to epiphany. As if miraculously, food appears on the table,
and the cutlery and dishes could just as well dance, suffused
with a sense of grace. The lizard’s tiny call is enough to banish
cobwebs from the windows, and rain washes clean the house’s many eyes.

It’s true, we tempt the fates to take
a capricious delight in the ways we are so bent on walking,
magnetized, in the wake of our own longings.  Mumbling our endless
questions without answers, how do we know whether to go right
or left, take smaller or larger steps, take one step at a time, or rush
headlong, all at once, into the yard or back into the kitchen?

There is a moment when even darkness and light are allowed to touch
at their edges. Then light breaks new like warmly risen bread, offering
itself like gratitude or a blessing over the whole city, only to return
home at evening, as if obeying the call to prepare the evening
meal.  And between this passing, night and day, the Beloved waits
patiently, speaks to you even in the silence which is its gift,
mysterious joy.


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John Iremil E. Teodoro is a Filipino writer, university professor and freelance journalist. He is also a multi-awarded poet and playwright, one of the country’s leading pioneers in gay literature and the most published author in the Karay-a dialect to date. Born to a middle class family in the province of Antique, among Teodoro’s first distinctions were the Literature Grant of the Cultural Center of the Philippines and Gawad Ka Amado in 1993 for his early attempts in Filipino poetry. His first full-length play in Filipino Ang Unang Ulan ng Mayo (The First Rain of May) won 2nd Place in the 1997 Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature. He writes in four languages, English, Filipino, Hiligaynon and Karay-a. He is a member of the Alon Collective and the Tabig/Hubon Manunulat Antique. His poetry book Kung ang Tula ay Pwedeng Pambili ng Lalake (If Poems Could Buy Men) was shortlisted for the 2007 Manila Critics Circle National Book Award.

Rebecca T. Añonuevo is a poet and author of five collections of poetry, the latest being Kalahati at Umpisa (UST Publishing House, 2008). Other titles are Saulado (UP Press, 2005), Nakatanim na Granada ang Diyos (UST Publishing House, 2001), Pananahan (Talingdao Publishing House, 1999) and Bago ang Babae (Institute of Women’s Studies, 1996). All collections have won numerous awards for poetry from the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature. Her study on Philippine literature titled Talinghaga ng Gana: Ang Banal sa mga Piling Tulang Tagalog ng Ika-20 Siglo (UST Publishing House, 2003) won the Gold Medal for Outstanding Dissertation at De La Salle University-Manila and the National Book Award for Literary Criticism from the Manila Critics Circle. She also writes children’s fiction, essays, and reviews. She teaches literature and writing in English, and chairs the Filipino Department at Miriam College in Quezon City. She resides in Pasig City.

Luisa A. Igloria (website) is the author of Juan Luan’s Revolver (2009 Ernest Sandeen Prize, University of Notre Dame, Trill & Mordent (WordTech Editions, 2005) and eight other books. Luisa has degrees from the University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila University, and the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she was a Fulbright Fellow from 1992-1995. Originally from Baguio City, she teaches on the faculty of Old Dominion University, where she currently directs the MFA Creative Writing Program. She keeps her radar tuned for cool lizard sightings. 

The Man in the Yellow Coat/L’Homme au Pardessus Jaune

April 21, 2011 4 comments

by M.J. Fievre

 

The Man in the Yellow Coat

For years, her grandmother had warned her: They will take your money; you will give them your soul. Now, as she waited for the man, Mathilde’s muscles ached with weariness, and the monotonous tick-tock of the massive mahogany clock raised her tension to the point of panic. Strange designs were drawn on the walls and a hideous sculpture of Jesus hung upside down beside an altar laden with dozens of talismans and potions. On a small table stood grotesque figurines made out of cloth scraps and dots of paint on old wood.

“I’m here,” a voice suddenly said.

It belonged to a man with an oblong face and mutable eyes. At times, they looked colorless but, more often than not, his pupils took on a golden, almost reddish shade. He wore a big yellow overcoat that contrasted with his dark skin, a gray hat that obscured his forehead, and grimy boots.

As he lit the enormous pipe that hung from his mouth, Mathilde’s throat swelled tightly, her heartbeat drowning out the ticking of the clock. She felt slightly numb as apprehension crept over her.

“Well,” the man said, a devilish smile spreading across his face. He held out his hand to her without taking off his gloves, and the handshake felt like quicksand. “You can call me Maître Octave.”

 I could run, she thought. And yet, she stayed. No one else would help her. All I need is one friend, she thought. Just one friend. One. Mathilde’s feverish hands grabbed her necklace as she thought again about her grandmother’s warning, about stories of houngan and mambos bringing good fortune and healing through their “white” magic.

“Be careful,” Grandma had cautioned.  “If the voodoo doctor that you visit is a bòkò who performs evil sorcery, he will steal your soul.”

With a shiver, Mathilde positioned herself in the armchair that was the most distant from her host.  She saw her reflection in a mirror — her brown hair was dull; her jeans and tee-shirt worn and unclean. No wonder no one wants to be my friend. A furious wind burst the window open and whistled on a threatening note through the foliage of the trees.

Mathilde’s lips were dry as she thought about the way the other ninth graders at school laughed at her, sticking “kick me” signs on her back. Once, at lunch time, a girl had poured chocolate milk on her uniform.

 “I’m new in the neighborhood — and I feel very lonely.  I need friends. Jenny has lots of them. You must help me. Please, help me.” One friend, that’s all I need. To laugh and hang out with and talk to and do normal things with.

As flashes of electric blue ignited the sky, Maître Octave took off his hat and scanned the room around him with strangely piercing eyes. In a forbidding painting, Baron Samedi, Guardian of the Grave, was portrayed in his traditional garb-top hat, undertaker’s coat, bow tie, cane, and dark glasses with right lens missing. There was no electric switch. Only black wax candles, laid out in every nook and cranny of the room; their flames danced like rubbery snakes in the gloom. The rain moaned and whispered to Mathilde who was engulfed by a disgusting odor. She could not pinpoint the source, but it was both nauseating and familiar.

Maître Octave spoke, and for a moment she caught a glimpse of the strange gleam that shined occasionally in his eyes.

 “Who is Jenny?” he asked.

 “She’s my twin sister, but we’re not very close. We’ve been living with our grandmother since our parents died.”

While Jenny was going to parties and school dances, and hanging out with friends, Mathilde stayed home and watched TV. She just didn’t belong.

“Jenny is ashamed of me,” Mathilde said. “She ridicules me in front of her friends. I would like it to be different. I do like her even though she’s shallow. I don’t exactly want to be as popular as she is. I just wish I had more friends; that’s it.”

“Does she really have that many friends?” the houngan asked.

“Oh, yes!” Mathilde exclaimed. “She is quite popular. She drives all the boys crazy! She couldn’t wish for more. If I had only one tenth of Jenny’s friends, I would have everything I could wish for. Her best friend, Francesca, is devoted to her.”

Maître Octave relit his pipe. Mathilde’s glances kept returning to the sorcerer’s hands. The man was wearing gloves, Mathilde thought, just like a murderer. Her head rang with anguish. She’d sneaked out of the house. Nobody knew where she was.

Maître Octave was smiling again. “You are rather reasonable. You’re only asking for one tenth of Jenny’s friends. To satisfy you will be child’s play for me.”

How could one doubt the words of a man with that diabolic glance? It seemed to Mathilde that nothing could resist Maître Octave.

“What do you want in return?” she asked.

He looked acquisitively at her neck. “Give me your necklace.”

Mathilde’s chest tightened and she struggled to draw a breath. Her right hand reached for her necklace. It was a memento. She had received it from her mother, only a few weeks before the terrible car accident. It was made of brass and copper and shaped like a hexagram with triple acorns.

“My necklace?”

The man stared at her, waiting.  How far was she willing to go? The wind opened the window with rage and drops of rain lashed her face. Mathilde jumped at the dull rumbling of the storm. She shivered violently. It’s worth it, she thought. And as she gave him the necklace, she imagined the name-calling that would stop in the hallways. No more ketchup in her book bag.

He extended his gloved hand to her once more, and again the devilish fire in his eyes left Mathilde startled.  “My dear child, your dreams will soon become reality.”

She stood up, careful not to knock the candles over. A wooden bird with a hooked beak stared at her with gloomy eyes. She looked away, but the sculptures were everywhere, scoffing at her.

He did not walk Mathilde back to the door but, with each step she took, she felt his eyes on her.

“You will hear from me soon,” Maître Octave said.

She left the house in a hurry, running in the blinding rain, the wind ripping through her clothes, the earth grabbing her feet. She felt hollow inside.

 

The next day, when she sat in front of her breakfast, it seemed that the ham and eggs were giving out a strange smell… That smell… It was the smell of the morgue when she had been asked to identify her parents the previous year… The smell of the hougan’s house. Mathilde pushed back the plate abruptly, knocking over her glass of milk. She soon realized that her imagination was playing dirty tricks on her. The food was just fine.

When the doorbell rang, long and insistent, she hastened to the door.

She shuddered when she saw the yellow overcoat, the hat and gray boots. What was he doing here?

 “Ma’am?” a reedy voice said.

She realized that she was staring at a young man. He was wearing a yellow overcoat, but it was not Maître Octave. It was simply a delivery boy.

“I have a package for Miss Mathilde Rochas.”

“I’m Mathilde,” she said.

The boy handed her an envelope that she tore open hastily. She took out a small piece of paper and read the meticulous writing:  “My very dear Mathilde, your wish is now reality. Real friends are rare and difficult to find.

Mathilde signed and grabbed the package. The box was extremely long and rather heavy. The girl had difficulty carrying it into her room. It seemed to her that she could smell that horrible odor again… She was going to open the package when she heard sobs coming from Jenny’s room. Mathilde put the box down and ran to her sister.

“Jenny?”

After a brief hesitation, she entered the room, sat beside Jenny and wrapped comforting arms around her. Surprisingly, Jenny did not push her back.

“What’s the matter, Jenny?” Mathilde asked.

 “It’s Francesca,” Jenny said with a strained voice. “She’s dead. I just got the phone call. She was killed last night. A dreadful crime. She was cut in pieces. The police say that her legs are missing.”

 Jenny grabbed Mathilde’s hand. “You know, Francesca was my only true friend.”

Suddenly, snatches of sentences jostled together in Mathilde’s head: “You are a reasonable girl… You wish for only one tenth of your sister’s friends… She was cut in pieces… The police say that her legs are missing…”

Horrified, Mathilde thought about the oblong box left on the bed, and also about the horrible smell it was releasing.

*

L’Homme au Pardessus Jaune

Mathilde frissonna, lançant un regard anxieux vers la grande horloge en acajou.  Le tic-tac monocorde ne faisait qu’accentuer cette sourde angoisse qui l’avait assaillie au moment même où elle avait franchi la grille de la vieille maison. Elle se mit à arpenter la pièce de long en large pour essayer de se calmer. Il y avait cette horrible odeur… Mathilde n’aurait pu dire de quoi il s’agissait. Elle en avait simplement la nausée. Et puis ces curieuses statuettes qu’elle n’osait approcher de trop près… Dans la pénombre, elles semblaient lui lancer quelque défi. Aucun interrupteur électrique. Seule des bougies de cire noire, disposées dans tous les recoins de la pièce, dansaient dans le clair-obscur.

« Je suis là, » fit soudain une voix qui fit sursauter Mathilde. Il lui sembla un moment que les battements accélérés de son cœur couvraient de loin le tic-tac de l’horloge.

Elle ne l’avait pas entendu arriver et Maître Octave, décidément, était loin de lui plaire. Le visage oblong, les pupilles d’une couleur indéfinissable… Par instants, ils semblaient gris mais le plus souvent, les yeux de l’homme prenaient une teinte dorée, presque rouge. La jeune fille eut un mouvement de recul lorsqu’il s’approcha d’elle. Il portait un énorme pardessus de plastique jaune qui contrastait avec sa peau d’ébène. Un chapeau gris et des bottes de la même couleur complétaient sa tenue.

Il alluma l’énorme pipe qui pendait à sa bouche puis tendit la main à Mathilde sans prendre la peine d’enlever ses gants. Après avoir hésité, Mathilde lui tendit la sienne, réprimant tant bien que mal son envie de s’enfuir. Ce n’était guère le moment de reculer. Il lui fallait aller jusqu’au bout.

Mathilde se rongeait nerveusement les ongles. Agée de dix-sept ans, elle n’était pas jolie. Loin de là! Ses cheveux bruns étaient ternes, son teint fade, son nez un peu trop retroussé. De plus, Mathilde ne semblait accorder aucune importance à sa tenue vestimentaire.  Son jean et son T-shirt, tous deux élimés, étaient d’une propreté fort douteuse.

Après un long moment, la jeune fille sortit enfin de son mutisme. «Je me sens très seule, » expliqua-t-elle. « J’ai besoin… d’amis. » Elle respira un bon coup avant de reprendre: «Ma cousine Serena… elle en a plein!»

Maître Octave hocha la tête. Un vent furieux entrait par la fenêtre ouverte. Il sifflait dans le feuillage des arbres sur une note menaçante.

La tristesse de Mathilde prenait le pas sur sa peur. « On m’a dit que vous étiez un magicien… Vous devez m’aider. Je vous en prie, aidez-moi! »

Maître Octave ne répondit pas tout de suite. Il enleva son chapeau qu’il se mit à caresser du bout des doigts. Il promenait autour de lui son regard perçant lorsque l’orage éclata. Des éclairs d’un bleu électrique zébraient le ciel.  La pluie semblait déchaînée. Une véritable rafale. Maître Octave ferma les fenêtres. Lorsqu’il prit place sur son canapé, sa voix n’était plus qu’un désagréable murmure. Mathilde dut se pencher en avant pour entendre ses paroles. Elle crut entrevoir cette étrange lueur qui brillait par moments dans ses yeux.

« Je suis prêt à vous venir en aide, » dit l’homme. « Mais ce travail que vous attendez de moi n’est pas des plus simples. Qui est Serena?»

La pluie frappait violemment contre les carreaux de la fenêtre. Fuis cet homme! Fuis cet homme! semblait-elle crier.

« Serena? » balbutia-t-elle. « C’est ma cousine. J’habite chez elle depuis la mort de mes parents. Nous fréquentons la même école, nous avons le même âge. Néanmoins, nous ne sommes pas très proches l’une de l’autre. » Mathilde hésita avant de continuer: « En fait, elle n’arrête pas de me traiter de tous les noms et de me ridiculiser devant ses amis. Je l’aime bien, moi. Elle est tellement jolie! Franchement, je l’envie. Elle a un tas d’amis! »

Maître Octave gardait un air impassible, hochant la tête pour montrer à son interlocutrice qu’il l’écoutait attentivement. « Etes-vous sûre qu’il ne s’agirait pas plutôt de simples camarades de classe? Les amis—dans toute l’acception du terme—sont rares, vous savez. »

«Elle est très populaire! Grâce à sa grande beauté, elle possède une cour étendue d’admirateurs, tous prêts à risquer leur vie pour elle! Que désirer de plus? Si je possédais seulement le dixième des amis de Serena, je serais une fille comblée. Sa meilleure amie, Francesca, lui est toute dévouée… »

Maître Octave ralluma sa pipe. Le regard de Mathilde revenait sans cesse aux mains du sorcier. Elle tremblait de peur. Des gants… Pourquoi des gants? Cela lui faisait penser à un meurtrier. Et si quelque chose lui arrivait? Personne ne savait où elle était, ni ce qu’elle faisait. La tête de Mathilde bourdonnait. Une terrible angoisse la tenaillait.  La pluie était loin de s’être calmée. Fuis cet homme! Fuis cet homme! sifflait-elle.

Maître Octave avait recommencé à sourire. Ses yeux étaient presque tout à fait rouges.

« Vous êtes plutôt raisonnable, » fit-il. « Vous ne demandez que le dixième des amis de votre cousine Serena. Remettez-en vous à moi.»

Comment pourrait-on douter des paroles de cet homme au regard diabolique? Il semblait à Mathilde que rien ne pouvait résister à Maître Octave.

« Comment devrais-je payer? » demande-t-elle.

« Ne vous en faites pas pour l’instant, » dit-il.

Elle se sentit soulagée. Elle se demandait de quelle manière Maître Octave allait s’y prendre pour lui procurer ce bonheur tant convoité lorsque le vent ouvrit la fenêtre avec rage. Fuis cet homme! Fuis cet homme! Elle sursauta au grondement sourd de l’orage.

Maître Octave lui tendit sa main gantée: « Ma chère enfant, vos rêves seront bientôt réalité. »

Encore cette étrange lueur dans son regard. Mathilde tressaillit. Une statuette représentant un oiseau au bec crochu paraissait la fixer de ses horribles yeux jaunes. La jeune fille détourna le regard, mais les sculptures étaient partout autour d’elle. Toutes semblaient la narguer.

Quand elle quitta la maison, il pleuvait des cordes et un épais brouillard enveloppait Port-au-Prince. Des ombres surgissaient de nulle part. Les mots de Maître Octave la poursuivirent: Vous avez frappé à la bonne porte… Vous êtes une fille raisonnable… Vous aurez un dixième des amis de Serena. Sa voix résonnait, tel un écho: Un dixième… Un dixième…

 

Au petit jour, une peur inexpliquée assaillit Mathilde et quand elle s’installa devant son petit déjeuner, on aurait dit… On aurait dit qu’une étrange odeur émanait des œufs au jambon. Cette odeur… L’odeur que dégageait la morgue de l’hôpital général lorsqu’elle avait dû aller identifier ses parents l’année dernière… L’odeur du vestibule de la maison du sorcier. Mathilde repoussa l’assiette d’un geste brusque, renversant son verre de lait. Au même moment, la sonnette de la porte d’entrée retentit.

Mathilde tressaillit en découvrant le visiteur. Un pardessus de plastique jaune… Un chapeau et des bottes grises… Elle claqua la porte avec un petit cri et se laissa glisser le long du mur. Que venait-il faire ici? La sonnerie retentit de nouveau, longue et insistante.

Puis la jeune fille vit avec horreur que l’homme tournait la poignée de la porte.

« Je suis pressé, mademoiselle, » fit une voix fluette.

Mathilde dévisagea le garçon qui venait d’entrer. Il portait un pardessus jaune, mais ce n’était pas Maître Octave. Il s’agissait simplement d’un garçon-livreur.

« J’ai un paquet pour mademoiselle Mathilde Bicho. »

Le garçon lui tendit une enveloppe qu’elle déchira précipitamment. Elle en sortit un petit bout de papier sur lequel se lisait une écriture méticuleuse: Très chère Mathilde, votre vœu est désormais réalité. Vous possédez un dixième des amis de votre cousine Serena Bicho.

« Je suis pressé, mademoiselle, » fit de nouveau le garçon-livreur.

Lorsque Mathilde leva les yeux vers lui, elle se rendit compte qu’il tenait une énorme boîte dans les bras. Curieuse, elle signa et s’empara du lourd paquet.

Elle eut quelques difficultés à la transporter jusqu’à sa chambre. Il lui semblait de nouveau prendre l’horrible odeur… Elle allait ouvrir le paquet lorsque des sanglots lui parvinrent de la chambre de Serena. Mathilde déposa la boîte et courut à la pièce voisine.

« Serena? »

Elle n’avait jamais vu Serena dans un état pareil. De grosses larmes coulaient sur son visage rouge.

« Que se passe-t-il, Serena? » lui demanda-t-elle.

Elle ne répondit pas tout de suite. Mathilde dut beaucoup insister.

« C’est Francesca…, » dit-elle enfin d’une voix étranglée. « Elle est morte. Elle a été assassinée la nuit dernière. Un crime affreux. On l’a découpée en morceaux. Les policiers avancent que ses deux jambes ont été emportées. »

Mathilde en fut bouleversée.

« Qu’est-ce que je vais devenir? » ne cessait de répéter Serena. « Francesca était ma seule véritable amie. »

A ces mots, Mathilde resta interdite. Des bribes de phrases s’entrechoquèrent dans sa tête: Vous êtes une fille raisonnable… Vous ne désirez que le dixième des amis de votre cousine… Comme prévu, vous possédez désormais un dixième des amis de votre cousine Serena Bicho. On l’a découpée en morceaux… Les policiers ne retrouvent même plus ses deux jambes…

Une expression horrifiée que Serena, aveuglée par les larmes, ne remarqua pas, se peignit sur le visage de Mathilde. La jeune fille pensait à la boîte oblongue posée sur le lit, et à l’horrible odeur qui s’en dégageait.


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*

The Place of Audience in the Translation of One’s Own Work

I first started working as a translator when I moved from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to Miami, Florida, in 2002. At twenty-one, I was fluent in four languages and, as a full time student pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Education, I needed the extra cash. Once or twice a week, after my field experience hours in some of Miami’s toughest public schools, I offered my services at lawyers and car insurance offices, interpreting in French, Haitian Creole, and English. At home, once my college assignments completed, I spent tedious hours translating audio files from the Broward County Police Department, listening to suspects claiming their innocence in child sexual abuses cases. The file usually ended with these men breaking down and confessing their vicious crimes.

After a while, I grew weary of the macabre aspect of the job and considered quitting translation altogether. That is, until I got the opportunity to translate a few literary pieces. As a writer myself, I enjoyed the task of carefully rendering the meaning of intricate stories. I decided to revisit L’Homme au Pardessus Jaune, one of my short stories, which had been workshopped and edited while I was still living in Port-au-Prince. My translation would be addressed to an American audience.

During the translation, my writer’s instincts kicked in and The Man in Yellow Coat took a life of its own, primarily because it aimed at entertaining a different audience.

Reader’s Openness to the Supernatural. Take the first line of the story, for instance. In Haiti, the supernatural is always lurking in the back of people’s minds and the intent of a fantastical story easily grasped. Because life in Haiti is laced with mystery and superstitions, only a few words were needed to draw the Haitian audience into the magic world of Maître Octave in the original piece. In the English version of the story, however, I felt the need to add the grandmother’s warning in order to help with the set-up and cater to the American audience, which is more matter-of-fact and doesn’t expect the supernatural, unless hints are given in that direction.

P.O.V. Audience also affected the point of view of the narration. While the omniscient P.O.V is admissible in Haiti, a country known for its oral tradition, it was frowned upon in American literature. For this reason, omniscience wasn’t used in the English version. I opted, for instance, to use the old mirror trick to introduce Lily’s physical appearance (Third person attached).

Specific Details. A different audience justifies other choices throughout the translation. Some of the details have been changed. An example: While the gloves are mentioned right away in the French version because it is peculiar to wear gloves in Haiti, they are only mentioned later in the English version. Also, to help build on the urgency of Lily’s request, examples of bullying were added in The Man in Yellow Coat.

Characterization. In the French version, the other female character is Lily’s cousin. Her name is Serena, which I found suited a character who was idolized and envied. In the English version, Serena became Lily’s sister Jenny. Because she’s meaner in that version (there are actual images of the bullying of Lily), I felt that somehow the name Serena was no longer fitting. The fact that Jenny is Lily’s sister makes her behavior even more despicable. As for the character of Maître Octave, just because he is a sorcerer, he’s automatically seen as evil by a Haitian audience. In the American version, though, I decided that Maître Octave would not accept money, but something much more valuable to Lily, which helps set him up as even nastier character once we reach the denouement and learn of the request’s outcome.

I’ve enjoyed the translation of L’Homme au Pardessus Jaune tremendously, particularly because of the liberties I was able to take. I’ve never had one of my own stories translated by someone else. I would be very interested to see what the final product would look like.

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Born in Port-au-Prince, M.J. Fievre (website) is an expat whose short stories and poems have appeared in numerous publications, including Haiti Noir (Akashic Books), The Southeast Review, The Caribbean Writer and The Mom Egg. She is currently a regular contributor for The Nervous Breakdown and a graduate student in the Creative Writing program at Florida International University. She loves coconut shrimp, piña coladas, her dog Wiskee, and a good story. Anton Chekhov is one of her favorite writers.

Categories: Translation Tags:

Two erotic poems by Carlos Drummond de Andrade

April 20, 2011 4 comments

translated with original music by Tim Kahl

 

The Girl Reveals a Thigh

The girl reveals a thigh,
the girl reveals an ass cheek,
only she doesn’t show me that thing
— conch shell, beryl, emerald —
which blossoms, with four petals,
and contains the most sumptuous
pleasure, that hyperboreal zone,
a mixture of honey and asphalt,
a door sealed at the hinges
with a giddiness held captive,
a sacrificial altar without
the blood of the rite, the girl
doesn’t show me that thing.
And she is torturing me, this virgin
with her modesty making me dizzy
from the sudden blow struck
by a vision of her luminous breasts,
her pink and black beauty
that winds itself into a ball,
wrinkled, intact, inaccessible,
that opens, then closes, then takes flight
and this female animal, by laughing,
dismisses what I might have asked her about,
about what should be given and even beyond
given, what should be eaten.
Oh, how the girl kills me,
turns my life into one in which
all hope is consumed
by shadow and sparkle.
Rubbing up against her leg. The fingers
discover the slow, curving,
animal-like secrets, yet
they are the greatest mystery,
always crude, nocturnal,
the three-pronged key to the urn,
this concealed craziness, it doesn’t
give me anything to go on at all.
Before it never would have provoked me.
Living didn’t have a purpose,
the feelings walked around lost,
time wasn’t set loose
nor did death come to subject me
to the light of the morningstar,
which at this hour is already the first star,
violent, rising up like nausea
in the wild beasts at the zoo.
How I might know her skin,
where it is concave and convex,
her pores, the golden skin
of her belly! But her sex
has been kept a secret of the state.
How I might know the cold, dewy
meadow of her flesh,
where a snake rouses from sleep
and traces its path
back and forth, among all the tremors!
But what perfume would there be
in an unseen cave? what enchantment
what tightness, what sweetness,
what pure, pristine line
calls me and leads me away?
It might offer me all its beauty
and I would kiss or bite
and draw blood: I would.
But her pubis refuses me.
In the burning night, in the day
her thighs come together.
Like a deserted inn
closed on the inside by a latch,
her thighs seal themselves,
seclude themselves, save themselves,
and who said that
I could make her my slave?
I could debate this possibility
without a glimmer of hope for victory,
already her body erases itself,
already its glory tarnishes,
already I am made different by that thing
which wounds me on the inside,
and now I don’t know for certain
if my thirst was more ferocious because of
that thing of hers that I might have possessed.
There are other fountains, other hungers,
other thighs of other animals: the world is
vast and the forgetting profound.
Maybe today the girl in the daylight . . .
Maybe. For certain it never will be.
And if it hides itself away
with such fugues and arabesques
and such stubborn secrecy,
on what day will it open?
What would need to change for it to offer
itself to me on an already cold night,
its pink and black blossom in the snow,
never visited by me,
that boat carrying incense that I can’t board?
Or is there no boat carrying incense at all . . .

* * *

In the Sentimental Little Museum

In the sentimental little museum
the strands of hair are tied up again
in very slight knots of ribbon;
they are all that remains of the mounds
visited by me, the mounds of Venus.

I examine by touch, I fondle the dark flower
and the darkness continues into the complete
whiteness of time that is lost forever
in which I, poor shepherd, used to herd
perfumed curls of hair, the dark locks,
and the serpents of Christ’s Passion, brought together in
the mirror, well-suited for each other beneath this clear sky.

The lively movements in the past
get tangled in these strands that I spoke about
of those who are lost, panting,
born again with kisses that glide over
the abyss of flowers and resins.

I will be kissing the memories of these kisses.


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Editors’ note: We were unable to contact the current copyright holders of the Brazilian Portuguese originals, “A Moça Mostrava A Coxa” and “No Pequeno Museu Sentimental”. We will of course be happy to accommodate their wishes should they ever decide to contact us.

Carlos Drummond de Andrade statue

Carlos Drummond de Andrade statue in Itabira, Minas Gerais (public domain photo)

Carlos Drummond de Andrade (Wikipedia page) was born in Minas Gerais in 1902 to a family of farmers. He attended a Jesuit College in Belo Horizonte where he was expelled for “mental insubordination.” Eventually, he obtained a degree in pharmacy at the insistence of his family. In 1934 he moved to Rio de Janeiro where he decided on a career of public service and became the chief of staff for the minister of education. After that he worked as the director of history for the National Historical and Artistic Heritage Service of Brazil. He was a major influence on modern Brazilian poetry in the middle of the 20th Century, who experimented with poetic form and laid the foundation for the concrete poetry movement in Brazil. The two pieces here were taken from O Amor Natural [The Natural Love], a collection of erotic poetry that he did not wish to share with the public while he was alive. The book was published after his death in 1987.

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Tim Kahl (website) is the author of Possessing Yourself (Word Tech, 2009). His work has been published in Prairie Schooner, Indiana Review, Ninth Letter, Notre Dame Review, The Journal, Parthenon West Review, and many other journals in the U.S. He appears as Victor Schnickelfritz at the poetry and poetics blog The Great American Pinup and the poetry video blog Linebreak Studios. He is also editor of Bald Trickster Press and is the vice president of The Sacramento Poetry Center. He currently teaches at The University of the Pacific.

The Spoken Glyph

April 19, 2011 4 comments

by Steve Wing

Click on images to see larger versions.

Steve Wing - Mayan poster

Poster for heiroglyph translation at the Academia Municipal de Lengua Maya in Merida, Yucatán

 

Steve Wing - trilingual tablet

Translation Spanish / Mayan / English at Labná, Yucatán

 

Mayan ruins by Steve Wing

The Mirador, Labná, Yucatán

 

Mayan glyphs by Steve Wing

glyphs from Kabah, Yucatán

 

In my travels in Guatemala and the Mexican states of Yucatan, Tabasco, and Chiapas, while visiting the Mayan ruins I have been struck by the silent omnipresence of glyphs. These ghosts are reminders of a once vast and now seemingly vanished civilization, and yet there are Mayans living everywhere in the region. And in many places the culture is so strongly preserved and felt that it is like a nation (many nations really) within a nation. The guidebooks tell you that in some villages Spanish is not the predominant spoken language. It is a living and highly visible culture. Many, even most, of the places still bear their Mayan names. It seems impossibly contradictory that the Mayan cities were abandoned and yet the culture remains. That is what one experiences in these places. There is a sort of mental disconnect; how to understand that these builders of mighty cities have transitioned and yet are same as the people living today?

Walking in Merida one day, wandering into a neighborhood, I was attracted by a very old looking church there. Opposite it was a Mayan language school. Seeing the poster at the entrance to the school was as a Eureka! to me. There it was, a connection between the mysterious ancient Maya and the largely colonial Spanish city of today, and the young students learning to read the glyphs that they may translate the old symbols into a spoken language, themselves the concrete sign that the Mayan culture remains vibrant today, their heritage a direct connection to the the pyramids.

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Steve Wing is a visual artist and writer whose work reflects his appreciation for the extraordinary elements in ordinary days and places. He lives in Florida, where he works at an academic institution. A regular contributor to BluePrintReview and qarrtsiluni, his images also have appared in Cha, Lantern Review, Melusine, and Counterexample Poetics.

Categories: Translation Tags:

Azalais

April 15, 2011 3 comments

by Kit Fryatt

from “Erscotz,” a cycle of translations from Old Occitan into a synthetic and artificial dialect using elements of Scots and Middle English

& we hae cam tae the cauld.
snaw, haar & sleet
wee brids mute
sang unheard
buss bare nu
unbud there nu
nae jug-jug saul-reveille
as aince in May.

Ma hert’s deranged
estranged from ilka mate
we are in retreat
rather than we advanced
true words fail me
dreich pains assail me
frae nations adjacent
nae comfort.

I ca hir misled
whaes cap is set
at sic as a magnate,
unco daft, gey unred.
We say at hame
luve for meed is shame
a gowddigger
founds hir ain dishonour.

Ma leman is a canny lad
hicher than maist o em.
He does me nae trahaison
& the boss o ma bodie gud.
Ma luve is his o richt
& whae woud contradict
draws doon malhaison
I’m siccar neuth his blazon.

Bels amics, in aa dutie
I’m yirs i treuth, at ilka turn
couthy, & sheenen lik the mune
gin ye dae naething ootrie.
We’ll pit ye tae question;
I’ll tak yir protectioun.
Ye’ve gien yir promise
tae dae naught amiss.

Dryhten keep Beauregard
& he that int resides
& aa the bastides
o his laird
whae fares nu weel?
honour whummlt─
he’s deid, maikless make:
his saul save, min take.

Gleg makar, gie this rattle,
this scrip o rime tae hir
whae’s gouerned oor
by wheteir’s kittle.

*

untitled poem by Azalais de Porcairagues (fl. c.1175)

Ar em al freg temps vengut
que-l gels e-l neus e la fanha
e l’auzelet estan mut
qu’us de chantar non s’afranha
e son sec li ram pels plais
que flors ni folha no-i nais
ni rossinhols no-i crida
que am s’en mai me reissida.

Tant ai lo cor deceubut
per qu’eu soi a totz estranha
e sai que l’om a perdut
mout plus tost que non gazanha
e s’eu falh ab motz verais
d’Aurenga me moc l’esglais
per qu’eu m’estauc esbaida
e-n pert solatz en partida.

Domna met mout mal s’amor
que ab ric ome plaideia
ab plus aut de vavassor
e s’ilh o fai ilh foleia
car so ditz om en Velai
que ges per ricor non vai
e domna que n’es chauzida
en tenc per envilanida.

Amic ai de gran valor
que sobre totz senhoreia
e non a cor trichador
vas me que s’amor m’autreia
eu dic que m’amors l’eschai
e cel que dis que non fai
Deus li don mal’escarida
qu’eu m’en tenh fort per guerida.

Bels amics de bon talan
som ab vos totz jors en gatge
cortez’e de bel semblan
sol no-m demandetz outratge
tost en veirem a l’essai
qu’en vostre merce-m metrai
vos m’avetz la fe plevida
que no-m demandetz falhida.

A Deu coman Bel Esgar
e plus la ciutat d’Aurenga
e Gloriet’e-l Caslar
e lo senhor de Proensa
e tot quan vol mon ben lai
e l’arc on son fag l’assai
celui perdei qu’a ma vida
e-n serai totz jorns marrida.

Joglar que avetz cor gai
ves Narbona portatz lai
ma chanson ab la fenida
lei cui jois e jovens guida.


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Azalais de Porcairagues

Azalais as depicted in a 13th-century illuminated manuscript

“Ar em al freg temps vengut” was composed by the trobairitz (female troubadour) Azalais de Porcairagues (Wikipedia page), probably in the last quarter of the 12th century. It exists in variant versions in manuscripts of the following century. Azalais’s thirteenth-century vida (biography) claims that she loved Gui Guerrejat (d.1178). The speaker of the poem refers to a living lover (“ma leman is a canny lad”), so the text may have been composed before this date. The song may also allude to the death of Raimbaut d’Aurenga (c.1147-1173), in which case (though the vidas are not always to be trusted) we can date it quite precisely to the mid-1170s. The lady (“hir/ whae’s gouerned oor / by whateir’s kittle”) to whom she instructs the jongleur (“makar”) to take the poem may be Ermengarda de Narbonne (c.1127-1197), a celebrated patroness.

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Kit Fryatt lectures in English at Mater Dei Institute of Education, Dublin. With colleagues there she co-ordinates the activities of the Irish Centre for Poetry Studies. She also runs the Wurm im apfel series of poetry readings and its associated small press, Wurm Press.

Categories: Translation Tags:

Two Poems by Blaise Cendrars

April 14, 2011 11 comments

translated by Dick Jones

 

Chinks

Sea vistas
Waterfalls
Trees long-haired with moss
Heavy rubbery glossy leaves
Glazed sun
High burnished heat
Glistening
I’ve stopped listening to the urgent voices of my friends discussing
The news that I brought from Paris
On both sides of the train close by or along the banks of
The distant valley
The forest is there watching me unsettling me enticing me like
a mummy’s mask
I watch back
Never the flicker of an eye.

* * *

Journal

Christ
There goes another year in which I haven’t thought about You
Since I wrote my penultimate poem Easter
My life has changed so much
But I’m the same as ever
I still want to become a painter

Here are the pictures that I’ve done displayed here on the walls this evening.
They reveal to me strange perspectives into myself that make me think of You.

Christ
Life
See what I’ve unearthed

My paintings make me uneasy
I’m too passionate
Everything is tinted orange.

I’ve passed a sad day thinking about my friends
And reading my diary
Christ
A life crucified in this journal that I hold at arm’s length.
Wingspans
Rockets
Frenzy
Cries
Like a crashing aeroplane
That’s me.
Passion
Fire
A serial
Diary
No matter how much you try to stay silent
Sometimes you have to cry out
I’m the other way
Too sensitive


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Editor’s note: In four months of trying, we were unable to contact the current copyright holders of the French originals (“Trouees” and “Journal”). We will of course be happy to accommodate their wishes should they ever decide to contact us.

Cendrars' portrait by Amadeo Modigliani (1917)

portrait of Cendrars by Amadeo Modigliani (1917)

The iconoclastic poet and novelist Blaise Cendrars (Wikipedia page) was born Frédéric Louis Sauser in Switzerland in 1887. After fighting in the First World War he travelled extensively, drawing on (and embellishing considerably) the experiences that he had around the world for his surreal documentaries in verse and prose. Cendrars’ best-known poem is the epic La Prose du Transsibérien et de la Petite Jehanne de France, which documents in vivid, sometimes dreamlike detail his journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway at the time of the Russian Revolution. His two novels Sutter’s Gold and Moravagine have been translated into twenty languages. Blaise Cendrars died, celebrated throughout France, in 1961.

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Initially wooed by the First World War poets & then seduced by the Beats, Dick Jones (blog) has been exploring the vast territories in between since the age of 15. Fitfully published in a variety of magazines throughout the years of rambling, grand plans for the meisterwerk have been undermined constantly either by a Much Better Idea or a sort of Chekhovian inertia. So Dick Jones has no prize collection to his name; he has masterminded no radical creative writing programmes in a cutting edge university department; he has edited no recherché poetry magazines with lower case titles. However, work has been published in a number of magazines, print and online, including Orbis, The Interpreter’s House, Poetry Ireland Review, Qarrtsiluni, Westwords, Mipoesias, Three Candles, Other Poetry, Rattlesnake and Ouroboros Review.

A Cold December Night by Mu Dan

April 13, 2011 3 comments

translated by Huiwen (Helen) Zhang

 

在寒冷的腊月的夜里

 

在寒冷的腊月的夜里,风扫着北方的平原,
北方的田野是枯干的,大麦和谷子已经推进了村庄,
岁月尽竭了,牲口憩息了,村外的小河冻结了,
在古老的路上,在田野的纵横里闪着一盏灯光,
一副厚重的,多纹的脸,
他想什么?他做什么?
在这亲切的,为吱哑的轮子压死的路上。

 

风向东吹,风向南吹,风在低矮的小街上旋转,
木格的窗子堆着沙土,我们在泥草的屋顶下安眠,
谁家的儿郎吓哭了,哇——呜——呜——从屋顶传过屋顶,
他就要长大了渐渐和我们一样地躺下,一样地打鼾,
从屋顶传过屋顶,风
这样大岁月这样悠久,
我们不能够听见,我们不能够听见。

 

火熄了么?红的炭火拨灭了么?一个声音说,
我们的祖先是已经睡了,睡在离我们不远的地方,
所有的故事已经讲完了,只剩下了灰烬的遗留,
在我们没有安慰的梦里,在他们走来又走去以后,
在门口,那些用旧了的镰刀,
锄头,牛轭,石磨,大车,
静静地,正承接着雪花的飘落。

*

A Cold December Night

A cold December night, the wind sweeps the northern plains,
The northern fields wither; wheat and corn are wheeled into the village,
Months and years end, mules and oxen fall asleep, the river outside the village freezes,
On the ancient road, amid the field’s crossing patterns, a lamp sparkles,
A thick, wrinkled face,
Thinking what? Doing what?
On this trusted road, pressed to death under the groaning wheels.

The wind blows to the east, the wind blows to the south, the wind swirls over the sunken narrow streets, 
The paper pane of the wooden lattice window piled with sand, we sleep calmly under the muddy grass roof,  
Whose boy is crying out in fear? wa—wu—wu—, roof to roof,
He is about to grow up and, with time, just like us, lie down, just like us, snore
Roof to roof, the wind
So wide and months and years so long,
We cannot hear, we cannot hear.

Is the fire out? Is the red coal flame quenched? A voice:
Our ancestors are already asleep, somewhere close to us,
All the stories are already told, only ashes left behind,
In our disconsolate dreams, once they’ve come and gone, 
At the gate those tired-out scythes,
Hoes, yokes, millstones, and carts
Quiet, treasuring snowflowers as they fall.

1941


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(thanks to Vic Udwin for the English reading)

Mu Dan 穆旦(1918-1977) is widely considered one of the most significant Chinese poets of the 20th century. He was driven by a passion and a talent for poetry since the age of 13; compelled by the Cultural Revolution to cease at 40, he was reborn as a poet at 57. During the war, he walked a circuitous 3000 miles from Peking to Kunming to attend the provisional wartime university, and joined the Chinese Expedition Army to Burman (now Myanmar). T.S. Eliot and W.H. Auden were strong influences on his early work. He translated poetry from Russian and English, developing a Chinese voice for Pushkin, Blake, Byron, Keats, and Shelley.

Huiwen (Helen) Zhang 张慧文 (website, blog) is a curious mind wandering in search of every possible experience and adventure from China through Germany to the United States; a limber voice rendering Chinese, German, and English into one another in quest of the seemingly unattainable congenial; an unyielding spirit striving in the wilderness of philosophy and poetry; and a faithful soul writing under the sign of blue flower and red coral. This translation is a companion to her earlier piece in the issue, “Meditation on the Road: Chinese Wartime Sonnets by Feng Zhi,” which were also written in 1941.

BEOWULF: A Retelling With Children In Mind

April 12, 2011 5 comments

by Joshua Gray

For Zachary, whose fantasy world sent me on a quest of my own

Here, let me tell you of the time Hrothgar,
king of Denmark, built a hall in his castle.
When it was complete, he named it Heorot.
Heorot was a hall where the people in the palace
ate supper and then slept when it was time for bed.
Nearby there lived a beast who lurked in the dark.
He was called Grendel, and was grand and gruesome.
Grendel abhorred Heorot (no one knows why);
one night he went to the hall, broke through a wall,
and found many men to feast on. Grendel growled
ferocious and loud, and his red eyes glared in the dark.
The noise awoke all who slept in the hall
and the knights were poised for battle. But the beast
Grendel showed his horrible teeth and grabbed
the first knight he found and gnashed him
with one big bite. The monster roared
and everyone ran, leaving Grendel loudly laughing
as he went back to his lair where he soundly slept.

The monster managed to raid Heorot for eleven years.
Finally it became clear King Hrothgar needed help
killing the beast in battle, because his warriors were dying
one by one in this gruesome Grendel War. The Danes
prayed to the gods to keep the monster from preying on them.
Their prayers were answered when a ship sailed to their shores.
Beowulf was aboard the boat, and he came from across the sea
to help Hrothgar from the terror of Grendel’s teeth. Beowulf
announced himself to Hrothgar, and the King welcomed him
with open arms. Hrothgar fed his guest a feast in his hall,
and Beowulf announced he planned to fight Grendel with his fists.
Unferth, Hrothgar’s bravest knight, questioned Beowulf’s skill.
Unferth asked, “Are you the legendary Beowulf, who took part
in a swimming contest with a friend in the ocean? As I have heard
the story, you both challenged each other and the sea for seven nights,
swimming as far out as you could, beating the cold and angry waves,
but in the end your friend won the race, you fell behind humiliated.”
Beowulf bawked. “You’re right brave Unferth, I am that Beowulf.
But you have heard wrong. For five days and nights
we swam shoulder to shoulder against those cold and angry waves.
I was pulled under by a sea-monster. Armed with a sword,
I killed the sea-monster and eight others after it. It was a hard fight
under water with those terrible beasts, and I was weakened
but I swam to the surface and made it to the other shore.
Not since my fight with the sea-monsters have my people perished
at the mouths of them. I lost, but I was honored, not humiliated.”

When the feast was over, it was bedtime for the brave
Beowulf. He laid in bed awake, waiting for Grendel to strike.
Grendel stormed through the stone wall, grabbed
a startled soldier with his cruel claws and bit him to the bone.
The monster moved toward Beowulf, and lifted him
out of bed. But before the beast could open its mouth,
Beowulf put Grendel in an arm lock no man or beast
had ever witnessed, and the monster let out a horrible howl.
The two tumbled about the hall until the sound of the scream
from the loser lifted everyone out of their beds. The monster
had been manacled from a man stronger than him,
and the beast ran recklessly back to his den to die.
Grendel’s arm was torn off by Beowulf’s grasp and
he could not live much longer. Beowulf picked the arm off
the floor, evidence of the fight, and stood among his men victorious.

The next day word got around that the beast had been beaten
by Beowulf. The damaged wall in the hall was repaired,
and Hrothgar gave Beowulf gifts for his courage.
A victory feast was served for supper, and everyone
was the happiest they’d been since Grendel started
running his raids. That night as they settled in for sleep,
it felt great to not worry about Grendel again.
Beowulf went to bed elsewhere. But as soon as
everyone was asleep and silence swept the night,
a second terror lurked in the moonlight. Grendel’s mother
had come to Heorot to avenge her son’s death.
She was just as gruesome as Grendel. The sleeping were startled
awake, and they all went for their swords. Grendel’s mother
killed a counselor, Hrothgar’s right-hand man. She grabbed
Grendel’s arm, gave an angry growl, and disappeared.

After her attack, Beowulf was brought to Hrothgar’s hall.
The crowd in the castle knew Grendel’s mother
lived under the mere, so Beowulf decided to go to her instead
of waiting for her to come back to him. He brought a boat
to the wet mere, even though the waters were infested
with all sorts of beasts. He took a crew with him, and
on their way, through the dark moor, they found her footprints,
and followed them to the water. In the water and on the rocks
they found reptiles of all kinds: they found snakes and sea-dragons,
monsters and wild things. They waded through them
to where Grendel’s mother lived below the waters.
Beowulf wore a wet suit and prepared for battle.
A special sword was given to him by Hrothgar’s men,
and he placed it in his holster. Beowulf told the men
to wait for him; he would be back victorious. With that,
he dove into the deep waters, and descended to the monster’s den.

Grendel’s mother sensed Beowulf approaching.
She waited for him, hungry. When he came close,
she captured him and dragged him down to her den.
Beowulf searched for the special sword,
heaved it out of his holster, and struck his opponent.
But the sword failed to do damage. The blade broke
off the handle and Beowulf was left using his two bare
hands. He attempted another arm lock, but the beast’s
strength was too brutal. Beowulf managed to break free,
and fought bare-handed against the furry beast. But Beowulf’s
bare hands were no match for the monster’s might.
And for a moment he thought he had lost. Right then,
Beowulf saw a mighty weapon, a sword of some sort,
hanging on the cave wall, glistening with gold.
He raised the heavy sword and with one swift blow
Beowulf killed the beast. As he stopped to rest, he realized
Grendel himself laid in the lair, lifeless. His arm
was placed neatly next to him by his mother. Beowulf
grabbed Grendel’s arm, and swam back to the surface
of the water, leaving his special sword in the lair.

Beowulf returned to Hrothgar and told the king Heorot
was free once again of those monsters in the night.
Hrothgar thanked Beowulf, praised his strength
and courage, but warned him that his strength and courage
could also endanger his life. “Do not give way to pride,”
said Hrothgar to Beowulf, “your strength is in bloom,
but blossoms only a short while. Grendel was king
of this country for eleven years, even though
I wore the crown, because I didn’t bring my pride to battle
against him. I knew better. I laid low instead, and prayed
for someone with courage to fight him. The day you arrived
on my shores I knew my prayers were answered.
I say this because you are fit to be King, and will be, someday.”
Beowulf thanked him for the fatherly advice, and told him
it was time to sail the seas again, to go back home.

He gathered his men, prepared his ship, and said goodbye
to Hrothgar and Heorot. When Beowulf and his ship arrived
at shore, he was welcomed at once by his Uncle Hygelac.
Hygelac was king of this country, ruler of the Geats.
He ruled the Geats well, and years later when Hygelac
died of old age, Beowulf himself became king.
For fifty years Beowulf ruled his kingdom well,
but in his old age, Beowulf was faced with another terror
of the night. A dragon, which lived in a cave on a nearby cliff,
awoke angry, because someone came into his cave
while he soundly slept, and stole some treasure
off his treasure pile. It happened not once, but twice.
The dragon found footprints the second time,
and he flew over the kingdom like a living torch,
burning buildings down to their bones.
Beowulf believed the dragon performed these deeds
because of something he had done. So the king
decided to fight the dragon himself. He gathered
an army of men and made for the cave, the dragon’s den.

With his men waiting outside, Beowulf entered
the cave and called for the dragon, who responded
with a breath of fire. Beowulf, the old king,
raised his shield and sword and the two battled.
The heat inside the cave made it hard for the old king
to focus. He stabbed the dragon’s scales with his sword,
and the dragon cried in pain. But the puncture
wasn’t deep enough, and it upset the dragon even more.
Outside the army heard its cry, and all but one ran
for safety. Only Wiglaf ran inside the cave to help
Beowulf, who was fighting without his sword.
The dragon turned and sunk its teeth into Beowulf’s neck.
The dragon focused on Beowulf so the battle was easier
for young and strong Wiglaf, who gave the dragon
a deadly blow. The dragon cried in pain once again,
blew his last fiery breath, and fell hard on the floor.

Wiglaf ran to Beowulf’s aid, and attempted to treat his wound.
“Wiglaf,” said Beowulf, “bring me some treasure, so I can see
what I’ve been fighting for.” Wiglaf ran around the fallen dragon,
and fetched a piece of treasure, something simple he could carry.
Beowulf’s eyes fell on it. “Ah,” he said, “Wiglaf, I name you
the new king of the Geats, you have shown your courage. I will die
of my wound.” And soon, the old king closed his eyes,
breathed his last breath, and peacefully passed away.


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Joshua Gray lives just outside Washington DC with his wife and family. He writes monthly articles for Zouch Magazine on the culture of poetry and is a contributor to the blog for 32poems. His own poetry Web site is joshuagraynow.com, where he explains the sympoe, a poetry form he created.

Categories: Translation Tags:

A and B, from Pastoral Emergency (with Romanian translations)

April 11, 2011 1 comment

by Gene Tanta

 

A

all that glitters is ax
across arbor
in approximate action
authoring another
anybody ancient
as the ABCs accordion

at half-past Ann Curry
aroused by the rainwater ahem
air announces
almighty sniffing arches
Arafat combs astral
alone he emigrated abroad

 

 

asking heard anything
the adjusted bells long adieu
anchormen see anchorwomen
asses aching
atomic strawberries dance angels on TV
applesauce feels like applause

Attila with his head addling
afterwards he all
apologies amen
Art folded her arms
anyone for awhile
a book opened up by asterisks

 

 

apprentice avoid cigarette butts
ammo around
to ante up awake
at every achoo
a chip off the old axiom
Autumn to ash

alphabet uncovers ah-ha
abracadabra arrowheads
a time ago
ahead anyway of the clouds
aiming at us the bright rent
as far as the atlas

 

*

 

A

tot ce străluceşte este topor
asupra arborelui
într-o acţiune aproximată
un alt autor
un orcine antic
ca şi acordeonul ABC-ului

la şi jumate după Andreea Esca
stârnit de apa de ploie hmm
aerul anunţă
atotputernicul adulmecând arcuri
Arafat pieptănînd astral
singur a emigrat peste hotare

 

 

întrebând s-a auzit ceva
un adio lung al clopotelor ajustate
aliaţii si aliatele
frecându-şi cururile
căpşuna atomică dansează îngeri la TV
aplauzele sânt compot de mere

Attila cu capul lui aburit
după toate el plin
de scuze amin
Arta şi-a pliat braţele
orcine o vreme
o carte facută lată de asteriscuri

 

 

ucenicule apără-te de mucuri de cigară
amuniţia pe-aproape
a plusa deştept
la fiecare hapciu
o aşchie nu sare departe de axiomă
tomna spre cenuşă

alfabetul descoperă aha
abracadabra vârfuri de săgeată
cu ani în urmă
înainte oricum de aceşti nori
ţintind către noi o crăpătură de lumină
până la atlas

 

* * *

 

B

balance of power wait on the bus
brushed and braided
beardless like a bridegroom
budding into breath
bowed over a broomstick
back and forth of nobody’s business

burning she lowers where hearts blink
back room bounce
bold as beasts
all bring-bring and brooding
bam bam
blast that tunnel bang

 

 

bragging of roughshod beauty
boo-hoo bombers
beige to beige
and bones to bury
the poor get bleeped blending details
boneyard under the bridge

bonk that striker in your bell
blazing belfries
burry the hatchet by that
and begin to pronounce with a bolt cutter
beer-loud beerhouse
blanking on the brand name

 

 

bluebirds and whiskey babble
budging your buttery
backwoods still bobbing away
begging blah
buzz off in the blink
beak stiff in the news because

Burt Reynolds in a film blooper
bowwow Belgian
Dom DeLuise brandishes his better angels
barking dogs seldom bite
bite as beforehand
bracketing fat from believe me

 

*

 

B

balanţă de putere stai cuminte-n banca ta
bântuită şi împletită
fără barbă ca şi-un mire
cu suflarea îmbobocită
băbită peste o coadă de mătură
înainte şi înapoi de traba nimănui

arzând aplecată unde inimile fac cu ochiul
ţopăiala din spatele casei
curajos ca dracu-n patru
tot cling-cling şi întunecat
poc poc
aruncă in aer tunelul bumm

 

 

laudându-se cu o frumuseţe potcovită
îhî îhî bombardierule
bej pe bej
şi oase de-ngropat
cei săraci devin editaţi mai mult sau mai puţin
grădina de oase sub pod

trage limba aia de clopot băi
clopotniţa în flăcări
îngroapă securea lîngă aia
şi începe să pronunţi cu târnăcopul
berărie bere tare
bocind numele de marcă dacă nu l-ai fi uitat

 

 

păsările albastre îmi bombăneau de wisky
clintindu-ţi untul bătut
într-un codru nemişcat băgat departe
cerşind gură-spartă
zboară din clipă în clipă
ciocu mic în ştirile de seară ca şi

Dem Rădulescu într-un film scurt de gafe
ham ham Belgianul
iar Birlic îşi flutură în aer cei mai buni îngeri
câinii care latră nu prea muşcă
muşcă ca şi înainte
pun în paranteză grasimea de pe cuvântul meu


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Gene Tanta is a poet, visual artist, and translator of contemporary Romanian poetry. His two poetry books are Unusual Woods (BlazeVOX 2010) and Pastoral Emergency (unpublished). Tanta earned his MFA in Poetry from the Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop in 2000 and his PhD in English from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2009 with literary specialization in twentieth-century American poetry and the European avant-garde. His journal publications include: EPOCH, Ploughshares, Circumference Magazine, Exquisite Corpse, Watchword, Columbia Poetry Review, The Laurel Review, and Drunken Boat. Currently, he teaches creative writing online for UC Berkeley Extension.

Categories: Translation Tags:

In Other Words

April 8, 2011 3 comments

by Marina Hope Wilson

Desembocar: to take
the mouth out,
to make wordless.
As in you ripped
the mouth out of me.
Peeled away my lips, loosened
and unhinged my every
tooth, severed and wrenched
my tongue until not even
its heavy, muscular base
remained.
This is what I wanted
it to mean.
But not so violent, see.

More like you took
the words from me.
I had no need for words
or I swallowed them—
they were useless.
Meaning slid away from each
and every attempt at stringing
the pieces of language together.
You took
the mouth out of me.

But that’s not it at all.
It has its own meaning.
To flow, to lead to, to culminate.
If you follow
this road, this river, this line of thought,
you somehow arrive in a new place—
You are in the mouth of
something new.


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Marina Hope Wilson’s poems have appeared in small-press journals, including Coconut, La Petite Zine, MiPoesias and FourW. She lives in Brooklyn.

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