A wager, a wager, and an eclipse

Peretz Markish was one of the brashest Yiddish poets of his day. The Forty-Year-Old Man (Der Fertsikyeriker Man), Markish’s long poem comprised of 80 sections with precisely 12 couplets in each, underscores his modernist aesthetics and avant garde stylistic techniques.

To read The Forty-Year-Old Man is to experience an exercise in contradictions: the style is at once radical and conventional, experimental yet contained. For example, Markish inverts linguistic norms, often by truncating words, so that they transmute into something new, something fabricated. Or the word remains recognizable, but its function within the sentence is transformed, so that a verb may turn abruptly into an adjective, or a noun into an adverb – though the same word may switch back to its regular function in the next line or section, creating a sort of inverted mirror effect. All this is emblematic of Markish’s bold experimentalism. Imagine what this does to a translator!

Yet one need only skim the pages of the poem to notice its conservative bent. The poem is contained. Every section features the exact same number of lines, and most of the lines rhyme. Although the rhyme can be sloppy (the words refuse to be as contained as they’re meant to be), the meter is precise — the entire poem written in tetrameter. Daring as Markish may have been, he was still cognizant of the realities of Soviet conventions. Writing in tetrameter, with perfectly spaced stanzas, placed him within the acceptable parameters of Soviet poetry of his time, which in turn, allowed him the freedom of experimenting with words, syntax, and imagery.

Indeed, his imagery can be astonishing, particularly his anthropomorphizing of objects or nature. Consider:

 The day walks bowed yet firm on the road / Flies bite into it for nourishment

 The hands are screws, they bolt themselves / to the mountain of joy, to the mountain of pain

 A day like a watermelon split in half / Juice and light spilling from it 

Much of the imagery, like much of the poem itself, is esoteric and enigmatic, presenting a particular challenge for the translator of his work. Markish makes no attempt to elucidate his reader. He drops the image onto the page, and there it is intended to operate both as a discrete object and as part of the larger structure of the poem. Translating Markish’s work, therefore, involves decision-making not only of the caliber that typify the work of any literary translator—remaining faithful (or not) to the text, finding the mot juste, etc.—but also about how much to attempt to understand. Must the meaning of the poem’s symbolism and imagery in the text be penetrated and interpreted, or is its music on the page sufficient? What’s more, do the words’ enigmatic quality enrich the poem’s beauty, rendering any interpretation or explanation unnecessary, or worse, detrimental to the text?  

As a translator, I have struggled with all these questions. In the end, I’ve attempted to understand Markish’s symbolism and imagery—particularly those alluding to Jewish and Biblical concepts, which the poem is rife with—to the degree I was able. Although I have mostly selected to allow the imagery to do its own work on the page, much as in the Yiddish original, my understanding of what the metaphors represent (wherever I was able to decipher them) can only, I believe, add depth to Markish’s rich artistic achievement. 

–Rose Waldman 


by Peretz Markish

.עס לייכטן די שייבלעך אין דערפער ביינאכט

.ביי יעטווידן שייבל – א יונגלינג פארטראכט


.שלאפן די דערפער, נאר ס’רוקט זיך די צייט

.אויף ארעמען טישל – דאס ארעם געצייג


.נידריק די סטעליע און נידריק די שוועל

.אויף יעטווידן יונגלונג – די גאנצינקע וועלט


,אין שטילקייט פון נאכט, אין שטילקייט פון טאל

.דערקענט זיך א יונגלינג מיט הארטקייט פון שטאל


,אין שטילקייט פון סטעפ, פון קיינעם געשטערט

.דערקענט זיך א צווייטער מיט טיף פון דער ערד


,אין טשאד פונעם קאניעץ, אין טשאד און אין רויך

.דערקענט זיך א דריטער מיט ליכט פון די הויכן


.און עס ציטערט דאס הארץ, און דאס הארץ איז דערוועקט

.אויף ארעמע שייבלעך באוועגט זיך די וועלט


.און דאס מויל איז אין דארשט און אין פיבער פארזוימט

:וועל איך אויפגיין צו דיר און דיר זאגן אזוי


פון קלייניקע שטיבלעך אין ריזיקן לאנד

.גייט-אויף אין די ווייטן דער דרייסטער פארלאנג


פון ארעמען קאניעץ פארטשאדיעט מיט רויך

.אנטפלעקן און פיקן זיך שטערן אין דר’הויך


און ס’טראגן זיי יונגלינגען – בארוועס און הויל

.אין דארפן-פאטשיילעס פארוויקלט, פארקנוילט


אן אל”ף אין מויל, נאר מיט טרויער פון שוועל

.צעטראגן זיי בארוועס די שטערן דער וועלט


by Peretz Markish

The village windows are aglow at night

At each window sits a youth, pensive, dreamy


The village is asleep, but time crawls on

On the poor little workbench – meager little tools


The ceiling is low and the doorstep is low

Oh, the heft of all the world on each youth.


In the quiet of night, in the quiet of the valley,

There! See that boy, hard as steel.


In the quiet of the steppe, undisturbed by anyone

See another, deep as the earth. 


In the charcoal fumes, the smoke of night’s light

See a third, bright as the heavens. 


And the heart quivers and the heart awakens

On poor little windows the world stirs, shifts.


And this time, with a mouth parched, bound by fever

I will rise up to you and say this:


From tiny meager rooms in this mammoth land

The bold demand rises in the distance.


In the poor night’s light fuzzy with smoke

Stars reveal themselves, flicker in the skies. 


Youths carry them – barefoot and naked—

Rolled up and wrapped in village women’s kerchiefs


An aleph in the mouth, but with sorrow they carry

From doorsteps, barefoot – the stars, the world. 

translated from Yiddish by Rose Waldman


by Peretz Markish

עס פיבערט דער ים פארן אנקום פון נאכט

,און די ווייט איז פארקלערט, און די ווייט איז פארטראכט


,א שטילקייט א בלויע, א שטילקייט  אזא

.עס האט זיך א זעגלשיף ערגעץ פארזאמט


– א זעגל – א וויגל מיט קינדישן שלאף

און ס’הענגט דארטן שטיל אויפן מולד זיך אויף


און הוידעט אזוי זיך און וויגט זיך אזוי

.אויף זילבערנעם ראנד און אויף זילבערנעם זוים


אין א זילבערנער דרעמל דארט דרעמלט עס איין

.און ס’ווארפט זיך א שטערן אין וויגל אריין


און דער ים ווי א זילבערנע בעט איז געגרייט

,און ס’לייגן זיך שטערן פארכישופטערהייט


,אז ס’לייגט זיך דער מולד א וועג איבער ים

,א שפיגלנעם וועג איבער שטילקייט פון ים


– און צויבערט און כישופט און וועקט און פאררופט

?איז ווער ווערט נישט שיכור? און ווער ווערט ניט אויף


איז ווער וועט מיט שטערן אין מיטן דער נאכט

?אזוי זיך א גליטש טאן אויף זילבערנעם וואך


אזוי זיך א גליטש טאן אויף שפיגלנעם ראנד

,מיט שטערן צוזאמען, מיט שטערן ביינאנד


,און קומען א זילבערנער, קומען צום מולד

?און צוטאן צום וויגל דאס דארשטיקע מויל


אז ס’טריפט אזא שיין פון באגער און באגין

איז ווער וועט מיר שטערן צו זיין דארט א קינד


by Peretz Markish

The sea fevers for night’s arrival

The distance is pensive, lost in thought


A blue stillness, such a stillness

Somewhere a sailboat has tarried


A sail – a cradle with childish sleep

And stillness swings up onto the new moon, dangles


And swings like that and rocks like that

On the silver rim, on the silver edge.


In a tiny silver nap, it dozes off

And a tiny star drops into the cradle.


The sea is set out like a silver bed

And stars lie there, spellbound


If the new moon lays a path over the sea,

A mirrored path over the stillness of the sea,


And charms and enchants and wakes and calls—

Well then, who doesn’t become intoxicated? Who doesn’t get stirred up?


So in the middle of the night who will skate

With the stars on the silver wake? 


Skate like that on the mirrored rim

Together with the stars, side by side,


Come as a silver one to the new moon

And put to sleep the parched mouth in the cradle? 


If such sparkle of passion and desire keeps trickling,

Who there will prevent me from being a child?  

translated from Yiddish by Rose Waldman


by Peretz Markish

– און ס’קומט ניט קיין שטילונג, און ס’קומט ניט קיין זעט

!אויף וווקס און אויף ווידערוווקס א געוועט


 – א געוועט, א געוועט און אן איבערשטייג 

.די ווייט זאל נאר קלעקן, די הויך זאל נאר סטייען


.איז דאס הארץ ניט דערפילט, איז דער מוח ניט זאט

.דער פויער אין פעלד, דער געזעל אין ווארשטאט


.פיטערט דאס פעלד אין חלומות פארהילט

,עס שלאפט ניט דער פויער, ער וואכט און ער וויל


,אז שווער זאל דאס קארן און פול זאל עס זיין

.און זיבן פארשוין זאלן טראגן א זאנג


,א שטער איז קיין שטערונג, און מי שטעלט ניט אפ

.און ס’לעשט זיך ניט אויס – ניט דאס הארץ, ניט דער קאפ


 – די אויגן אין פאספאר פון דר’הויך און פון טרוים

:ביים ראד פון מאשין איז א יונגלינג פארטרוימט


,און דארט ווי אן איינס – זאל איצט זיבעציג זיין

.און פרייד זאל זיך מערן פאר שווייס און פאר פיין


.נאר דאס מויל איז אין דארשט און אין פיבער פארזוימט

:וועל איך אויפגיין צו דיר און דיר זאגן אזוי


,ס’איז טייער אזוי יעדער זאם פון דער צייט

!אבער ניט צום פארקויף, נאר אויף פלאנצן דאס זיין


,און דאס לאנד איז פרילינג צעאקערט און גרין

.איז פארקלענער די צייט און פארבעסער דעם מין


– און דאס לאנד איז פון אויפגאנג און גיין אזוי מיד

!איז פארמער דאס געוועט און פארמינער די מי


by Peretz Markish

And no calm is coming, no plenitude—

On growth and on regrowth a wager!


A wager, a wager, and an eclipse

If only distance and height will suffice.


The heart isn’t filled, the brain isn’t sated,

The farmer in the field, the craftsman in the workshop


Feeds the field concealed in dreams.

The farmer doesn’t sleep, he wakes and he wants


The rye to be ample, abundant

Seven persons shall carry a grain.


A hindrance is no hindrance, labor doesn’t thwart

Neither heart nor head snuffs itself out.


Eyes phosphor from heights and ideals

At the wheel of a machine a youth is a-dream:


And where there’s one – let there be seventy now,

Joy should multiply for sweat, for pain.


But the mouth is parched, bound by fever.

So I’ll rise up to you and tell you this:


Each seed of time is expensive, so dear

But not for sale – no, for planting!


In the spring the land is plowed and green,

So reduce the time and improve the ilk


Increase the wager and reduce the toil—

The land is so tired from rising and moving.

translated from Yiddish by Rose Waldman

Note: In the penultimate line of Section #5 below, there’s the intriguing phrase “an aleph in the mouth.” When I initially read the phrase, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Then, to my delight, I found a wonderful explanation in an essay by Harriet Murav:

“Peretz Markish in the 1930s: Socialist Construction and the Return of the Luftmensh.” According to Murav, the phrase refers to the “legendary Golem, most famously associated with the sixteenth-century Rabbi Judah Loew of Prague. On its forehead is inscribed emes, the Hebrew and Yiddish word for truth, spelled alef-mem-sof [אמת]. Every night the letter alef [א] must be removed, thus turning the Golem into a mes, a corpse, spelled mem-sof [מת], lest the Golem overpower his human creators. Every morning the alef must be reinscribed in order to bring the Golem back to life. In contrast to the silent Golem of Jewish legend, Markish’s Soviet Golem says his alef out loud, proclaiming his freedom from the past and from his rabbinic creators.”

In Section #5 of The Forty-Year-Old Man, it is the youth that demands and implements change. It is they—holding the aleph in their mouth and the stars of the sky in their homespun kerchiefs—who proclaim their freedom from the past, thus helping to usher in the Utopian life Markish was so sure was coming. 

under a red regime I find a self as yet unnamed

Two poems by Ya Shi translated by Nick Admussen.


by Ya Shi

在梦中     我把那面孔模糊的人

醒来     身边就聚集了许多俊美的人;
扭断奔跑的膝盖     像扭断
鲜花     轻轻掩埋裂开的灵魂


by Ya Shi

In a dream       the man with the indistinct face

I praised him three times, beat on him three times

On waking       near me had assembled many beautiful people;

I am coarse, I am tender

when you rush at the horizon’s flowing clouds, giggling like an idiot

twisting your sprinting knee till it snaps       like twisting

a sparrow’s neck till it snaps…where we stop

we remember some things that once bloomed

fresh flowers          buried shallow in the split-open soul

translated from Chinese by Nick Admussen


by Ya Shi

长星照耀州府   野草堆积身躯
他的贫乏   正如他的细腻
他在晚上睡不着觉   睡着了
月影向西   盗贼酣睡在他的梦里!


by Ya Shi

Have I ever been content? Have I ever renounced hostility?

Have I ever trembled in love without reason or cause?

An old star lights the provincial government     heaped bodies in the weeds

under a red regime I find a self as yet unnamed

he is precisely as incomplete              as he is exquisite

At night he can’t get to sleep            when he sleeps

he opens the eyes of the owl so wide —  

the moon’s shadow goes west           the thief has fallen asleep in his dream!

translated from Chinese by Nick Admussen


We agreed, the smoke and I,
to leave love’s memory in the ink-black Tigris

A poem by Bissan Abu Khaled translated from Arabic by Francesca Bell and Noor Nader Al Abed.

مدار الصدفة

by Bissan Abu Khaled

 وأنت  تفتش عن أي شيءٍ 

 سيجعلني كل هذا أفتش عنك َ

 و تهرب من خطوتي كالسرابْ

 تحنط شوقي بهذا الغياب ْ

وتترك أمتعتي فوق هذا الرصيف ِ

 أضيُّع ذاك القطارْ

 لعلك تأتي

 أضيُّع أشرعتي في البحارْ

 لعلك ريح ستأخدني نحو مينائنا  

تمر القوافل عبر المحطات ِ

هم يعرفون إلى أين تذهب أحلامهم ْفي نعوش الحديد ِ

 و أبقى على الارض أنسى مآل الرحيلْ

 و أعرف أن الصحارى يفاجئها كل عام بزوغ النخيلْ

 لعلك تأتي..

 أؤجل عمري أؤجل حربي

 وأترك للوقت أن يسفك الآن دهري

 ولا يعرفون لماذا النساء يمتن على شفق الانتظارْ

 لماذا الرجال يموتون في رغبة الاغتيال ْ

 ونبقى نحب تصالب دربين في الحافلة ِ

 و تعرف أنك سوف تجيء الى حلكة الارصفة ِ


وقد أصبح القلب خلف نوافذ هذا القطارْ

 تلوح لي في الثواني الاخيرة ِ

لا أستطيع الترجل لا تستطيع التوغل َ

 نعرف أن الذي حال بيني و بينك برهة ٌ

 ولا حق للقلب أن ينبض الانَ

 أني استويت على مقعدي

 يصادفني كل هذا الغريب ليشهد أني وحيدة ..

ويشهد أني تبادلت تبغاً مع العابرين

وتملأ حجرتنا سحب من دخان يسافر عكس اتجاه القطارات شرقا ً

 تناول أمتعتي عنوة و اتفقنا

 بأناسنترك ذاكرة القلب في كحل دجلة َ

 هوالحب يأتي و يرحل صدفة

 فلا شأن للقلب أن ينبض الان

لا لن أفتش عن وجهك الغر في مهرجان الدخان

 سألقي برأسي على كتف المستحيل

ولن أتنازل بعد انتظارك عن عنفوان الرحيل …


The Orbit of a Possibility

by Bissan Abu Khaled

While you search for something

everything makes me search for you

but you slip my pursuit like a phantom.

You mummify my longing with this absence

and leave my bags on the platform.

I abandon this train.

I had hoped you might come to me

but now I unfurl my sails

hoping you will be a wind to take me, perhaps to our port.

Caravans of travelers caught on layover

realize their dreams are shut up in an iron coffin.

I remain on land forgetting departure

knowing the desert is stupefied every year by the burgeoning palms.

Wishing you would come

I postpone age. I postpone my struggle

and let time butcher me in my prime.

No one knows why women die waiting for twilight.

Why men die murderous in their desire.

Yet we live to love, as two strangers long to cross paths on a city bus.

You know that you will come to the platform’s darkness

where my heart appears behind the train’s windows,

and you’ll wave to me in the last seconds.

I cannot step off. I cannot step in.

Eventually we will know what happened between us.

The heart will have no right to beat anymore.

I repine on my seat

and a strangeness passes over me, certifying my solitude,

certifying the many cigarettes I shared, stranded, waiting long with others.

Clouds of smoke filled our room, flying easterly against the westbound trains

and snatching my baggage as required. We agreed, the smoke and I,

to leave love’s memory in the ink-black Tigris.

It is the heart that comes and goes suddenly

no matter its beating now.

No, I will not hunt for your childish face in this billowing smoke.

I will just lay down my head on the shoulder of impossibility

and, after waiting for you, refuse to relinquish departure’s roughness.

translated from Arabic by Francesca Bell & Noor Nader Al Abed

Can any of us save ourselves? Save another?

“A Single Woman’s Room” by Yi Lei, translated from the Chinese by Changtai Bi and Tracy K. Smith

Yi Lei photoChangtai Bi photo JPGTKS (c) rachel eliza griffiths

Yi Lei’s poems are expansive. In her many long sequences, the reader encounters a number of ruminations that spring associatively from one another and that work to create an unswerving emotional insistence—a fidelity to feelings of love, longing, memory and loss. She is a poet of passion and surprise, a master of quick shifts in energy, imagery and dramatic pitch. In “A Single Woman’s Room,” her most famous poem, Yi Lei creates an extended portrait of a speaker whose relentless availability to love remains undiminished, even in the wake of betrayal. Such urgency speaks not solely to the private realm; the passion, courage, resilience and resistance alive in these poems delineate a conscience and a consciousness deeply committed to freedom of all kinds, and to pushing against the limitations of convention.

–Tracy K. Smith

[Pictured from left: Yi Lei, Tracy K. Smith, & Changtai Bi.]


by Yi Lei































第一, 存在主义
第二, 达达主义
第三, 实证主义





























① 《浮士德》中浮士德最后的话
② 一半没有眼的椰子:神话传说中鬼把一半没有眼的椰子分给活人,活人就看不到它。

A Single Woman's Room

by Yi Lei

1. Mirror Trick


Of course I know her.

She is one and many,

A multitude flashing on, then

Blinking off—on, off—

Watching out from the tidy blank

of her face. She is silent, speaking

With just her mind. She is flesh, a form,

but also flat, a mute screen.

What she offers you, by no means

Should you accept.  She belongs to no-one,

sitting like a ghost beyond her own reach.


And yet, she’s there—I mean me

Behind glass, as if the world has been cleaved,

Though something whole remains,

Roving, free, a voice with poise and pitch.


She’s there—me—snug in the glass,

The little mirror on the bedside

Doing its one trick

A hundred times a day.

You didn’t come to live with me.



2. Turkish Bath


The room is choked with nudes.

Once, a man barged in by mistake

Crying, “Turkish bath!” He had no idea

My door is always locked in this heat,

No idea that I am the sole guest and client,

The chief consort, that I cast my gaze

Of pity and absolute pride across

The length of my limbs—lithe, pristine—

The bells of my breasts singing,

The high bright note of my ass,

My shoulders a warm chord

The chorus of muscle that rings

Ecstatic.  I am my own model.

I create, am created, my bed

Is heaped with photo albums,

Socks and slips scatted on a table.

A spray of winter jasmine wilts

In its glass vase, dim yellow, like

Despondent gold. Blossoms carpet

The floor, which is a patchwork

Of pillows. Pick a corner sleep in peace.

You didn’t come to live with me.



3. Curtain Habit


The curtain seals out the day.

Better that way to let my mind

See what it sees (every evil under the sun),

Or to kneel before the heart, quiet king,

Feeling brave and consummately free.

Better that way to let all that I want

And all I believe swarm me like bees,

Or ghosts, or a cloud of smoke someone

Blows, beckoning. I come. I cry out

In release. I give birth

To a battery of clever babies—triplets,

Quintuplets, so many all at once.

The curtain seals in my joy.

The curtain holds the razor out of reach,

Puts the pills on a shelf out of sight.

The curtain snuffs shut and I bask in the bounty

Of being alive. The music begins.

Love pools in every corner.

You didn’t come to live with me.



4.  Self-Portrait


The camera snaps. Spits me out starkly ugly.


So I set out to paint the self within myself.


It took twelve tubes, blended to a living tint,


Before I believed me. I named the mixture Color P.


The hair—curious, unlikely—is my favorite,


The same fluff of bangs tickling my niece’s face.


And my eyebrows are wide as hills. They swallow everything.


They were a feat.  They do not impress me as likely to age.


They are brimming with wisdom. Neither slavish nor stern.


Not magnificent, but not the kind made to crumple in shame.


Not prudish.  Unwilling to arch and beckon like a whore’s. 


They skitter away from certainties like alive or dead


My self-portrait hangs on the narrow wall,


And I kneel down to it every day. 


You didn’t come to live with me.



5.  Impromptu Party


The little table is draped with a festive cloth, and

Light blurs out from a single lamp, making us fuzzy.


A sip of red wine, and I rise to my feet. We are

Dancing, my guests and I, like kids in a ballroom.


We don’t smile or even speak.  We’ve had a lot to drink.


To a single woman, time is like a scrap of meat:

Nothing you can afford to give away. I want


To hold it in my lap, Time, that sneak, that thief already

Scheming to break free.  Please—I beg


Upon the magnificent extravagance of my beloved stilettos,

I want the world back.  I’ve been alive—could it be?—


Near a century. My face has closed up shop. 

My feet are a desolate country. 


For a single woman, youth is a feast that lasts

Only until it is gone.


You didn’t come to live with me.



6.  Invitation


When it arrived, I was interrupted by relief,

Sitting in my rattan chair, feeling the wind ease in

Through the hole in my life.


I only said yes because of his dissertation. Friends,

Nothing more. We talked—he talked—about modernism,

Black humor. But always at a distance from reality.


Why didn’t he ask anything of me?

Tender and petulant, he struck me as cute.

But at heart, only a very well-behaved boy.


He offers his arm. Elegant, decent, gallant.

But how can I prove myself a woman

If he is a child? What can come of that union?


Can any of us save ourselves? Save another?


You didn’t come to live with me.



7. Sunday Alone


I don’t picnic on Sundays.

Parks are a sad song; I steer clear.

But I dug out all my sheet music,

I lolled about in the Turkish Bath

Singing from breakfast to tea.

With my hair, I sang Do

And my eyes, Re

And my ear sounded Mi

And my nose went after Fa

My face tilted back and out rose Sol

My mouth breathed La

My whole body birthed Si

Like my cousin said, famously—

Music is the soul sighing.

Music pushes back against pain.

Solitude is great (but I don’t want

Greatness). My eyes slump

Against the walls. My hair

Hurls itself at the ceiling like a colony

Of bats.

You didn’t come to live with me.



8.  Dialectic


I read materialist philosophy—

Material ispeerless.

But I’m creationless.

I don’t even procreate.

What use does the world have for me

Here beside my reams of cock-eyed drafts

That nick away at the mountain of

Art and philosophy?

Firstly, Existentialism.

Secondly, Dadaism.

Thirdly, Positivism.

Lastly, Surrealism.

Mostly, I think people live

For the sake of living.

Is living a feat?

What will last?

My chief function is obsolescence.

Still, I send out my stubborn breath

In every direction. I am determined

To commit myself to a marriage

Of connivance.

You didn’t come to live with me.



9.  Downpour


Rain hacks at the earth like an insatiable man.

Disquiet, like passion, subsides instantly.

Six distinct desires mate, are later married.

At the moment, I want everything and nothing.

The rainstorm barricaded all the roads. Sandbags.

Isn’t there something gladdening about a dead-end?

I canceled my plans, my trysts, my escapes.

For a moment—I almost blinked and missed it—the storm

Stopped the clock that chases me. The clock of the heart, maybe.

It was an ecstasy so profound…

“Ah, linger on, thou art so fair!”

I’d rather admit despair. And die.

You didn’t come to live with me.



10. Dream of Symbolism


I occupy the walls that surround me.

When did I become so rectilinear?

I had a rectilinear dream:

The rectilinear sky in Leo:

The head, for a while, shone brightest.

Next the tail.  After a while

It became a wild horse

Galloping into the distances of the universe,

Lasso dragging behind, tethered to nothing.

There are no roads in the black night that contains us.

Every step is a step into absence.

I don’t remember the last time I saw

A free soul. If she still exists, fire-eyed gypsy,

She’ll die young.

You didn’t come to live with me.



11. Birthday Candles


They are like heaps of stars.

My flat roof is like a private galaxy

That stretches on stubbornly forever.


The universe created us by chance,

Our birth a tidy accident.

Should life be cherished or lavished?

Showered with confetti or pelted with rocks?


God announces: Happy Birthday.

Everyone raises a glass and giggles audibly.

Death gets clearer in the distance. Closer by a year.


Because all are afraid, none is afraid.

It’s pity how fast youth sputters and burns,

Its flame like the season’s last peony.

A bright misery.


You didn’t come to live with me.



12.  Cigarette


I lift it to my lips, supremely slim,

Igniting my desire to be a woman.

I appreciate the grace of the gesture,

Cosmopolitan, a shorthand for beauty,

The winding haze off the tip like the chaos of sex.

Loneliness can be sweet. I re-read the paper.

The ban on smoking underway

Has gotten a bonfire of support. A heated topic,

Though I find it inflammatory. A sputtering drag.

A contest between low-lives and sophisticates,

Though only time knows which is which.

Tonight I want to commit a victimless crime.

You didn’t come to live with me.



13.  Thinking


I spend all my spare time doing it.

I give it a name: walking indoors.

I imagine my life is a melodrama

In which I possess all that I lack.

I flesh-out storylines. What never

Happens becomes a waking dream,

The kind that gets revealed at season’s end.

It’s impossible to think of everything.

Thinking of what I am afraid to say

Keeps my better judgment at bay.

I lose track. I look up, allowing thoughts

To collect.  It is like having a garage

Full of props from a period movie.

It is like a republic with exacting rules

Regarding departure and re-entry. My visa’s

In-process. I want to settle, though like anyone,

I worry it’s overpopulated already.

You didn’t come to live with me.


14.  Hope


This city of riches has fallen empty.

Small rooms like mine are easy to breech. People

Have taken to bodyguards, guardians. Still,

I come and go, always alone, fat with fear.

My flesh has forsaken itself.

Strangers’ eyes drill into me till I bleed.

I beg God: make me a ghost.

Something invisible blockades every road.

I wait for you night after night with a hope beyond hope.

If you come, will nation rise up against nation?

If you come, with the Yellow River drown its banks?

If you come, will the sky blacken and bleed?

Will your coming decimate the harvest?

There is nothing I can do in the face of all I hate.

What I hate most is the woman I’ve become.

You didn’t come to live with me.

translated from Chinese by Changtai Bi & Tracy K. Smith

He whispered to me:
Beautiful Beaklet! Black fairy! Little one!

Three poems by Radek Fridrich translated from the Czech and with an introduction by Jonathan Bolton.

Bolton photo CircumferenceFridrich photo CircumferenceAlthough his 2011 collection Krooa krooa won the Magnesia Litera for poetry, one of the Czech Republic’s major literary prizes, Radek Fridrich stands somewhat apart from the literary culture of Prague. His hometown of Děčín, on the Czech-German border, is closer to Dresden than to Prague, and his verse draws closely on its local legends and landscape – the area is well-known for its phantasmagoric sandstone rock formations, like the ones where the narrator of “Vogelbird” wanders. Fridrich’s poetry also reflects the mixed Czech-German culture that existed there for centuries, until World War II and the expulsion of Germans from Czechoslovakia. Fridrich covers this territory with great passion and energy, drawing on ballads, incantations, and folk legends (he has also published a book of folk tales collected in Děčín and its environs) to create a powerful voice that mixes the impish and the oracular.

A translator himself, Fridrich speaks German and his verse is sprinkled with German words, as well as with neologisms that mix Czech and German etymology. For his 2001 collection The Speech of the Dead, he first fashioned German poems drawing on the memories of German-speaking inhabitants of a village near Děčín, and then published them alongside Czech versions (which he called “textual variants” rather than literal translations). The “ghost” of the German language haunts much of Fridrich’s Czech verse, with effects that are not always translatable. For example, the “drop of mourning” at the end “The Old Church Path” is, in the original, kapka traurigu, “a drop of traurig” – the German adjective traurig (mournful, sad) here declined as a Czech noun, with the genitive ending -u, in a multiple displacement that will nevertheless be immediately understandable to most Czech readers. I thought it would be too clumsy to recreate this in translation, since a German word in an English poem would feel far more foreign than in the Czech original; I hoped the German names in the previous stanzas would do the work of locating this poem in a Czech-German cultural landscape. Fridrich’s verse is full of such effects – another is the title “Vogelka,” adding the Czech feminine ending –ka to the masculine German noun Vogel, “bird,” in a construction that would colloquially mean “Vogel’s wife,” but here more strongly suggests simply a nickname – “Bird” or “Birdie” – that encompasses both Czech and German roots.

Another fascinating challenge in translating Fridrich was registering his sudden shifts from the mundane to the magical, from the literal to the grotesque, from impassioned intensity to playful humor – and maintaining the careful balance among these different registers. “The Old Church Path,” once we have overcome our initial confusion and delighted in the poem’s central trick, modulates skillfully from anaesthetized beauty through slapstick to the pathos of the final (and first) stanza. A mood of confused tragedy underlies the whole; as so often in Fridrich, the effect is not to undermine feeling but to strengthen it, with the reversal of stanzas reminding us of the fragility of genuine pathos.

Fridrich ranges freely over lyric, epic, and dramatic genres. He is particularly at home in the dramatic monologue, whether prose poem or verse. But many of his dramatic monologues, like the two I have translated here, have a ballad at their core. In “Snow-Covered House,” the balladic action – a violent death, whether murder or suicide – is refracted through the eyes of a schoolgirl, who seems almost abandoned in a world of absent and surrogate parents. The poem is about her loss of innocence, but at its horrifying climax, there is a moment of simultaneous distraction and intense focus – “To this day I remember every groove and knot in the wooden door.” It’s a fine instance of aesthetic displacement that takes us out of a ballad into the more “psychological” world of the monologue, without losing the force of a balladic world where violence is drastic and sudden. In “Vogelbird,” a romance with undertones of anger and violence again reminds us of the ballad, as do traces of the supernatural; but unlike the ballad with its elemental psychology and unclear motivations, we see into the mind of the heroine and her contradictory impulses. Fridrich thereby relativizes the mysterious pathos of a ballad, but still preserves a sense of wonder and passion – he helps us see the speaker in all her confusion without letting us feel superior to her.

– Jonathan Bolton

Stará kostelní cesta

by Radek Fridrich



Víko, již tak lehce uvolněné pádem na zem,

se nahnulo na levou stranu a pak se celé sesulo.

Tvář mrtvé Theresie Kleinpeter zírala

do šedomodrého zimního nebe.



S pěnivým hřmotem padala do jejích drobných vln

a vzápětí plula po proudu,

nabrala rychlost a narazila na kámen

vypouklý v zrcadle řeky.



Rakev se dala v nejužší části rokle do pohybu,

řítila se skalnatým tobogánem,

jela po čistém a zledovatělém sněhu

přímo do srdce nezamrzlé divé řeky Kamnitz.



Snad uklouzl Anton Dinnebier,

jenž nesl rakev vpředu vlevo, snad zakopl o zmrzlou větev

Franz Hieke a Franz Kessler s Karlem Hegenbergerem

již nestačili situaci zachránit.



Zima, smuteční procesí, mráz a pláč, ženy zahaleny

do černých plédů a kabátců, muži

v kabátech havraních, schoulení, vousatí, sehnutí,

z šedých očí občas odkápne kapka traurigu.



from Molchloch (Newttown, 2004)

The Old Church Road

by Radek Fridrich


The lid, already loosened by the fall to the ground,

flopped to the left and then broke off completely.

The face of the dead Theresie Kleinpeter gazed

up into the blue-gray winter sky.



Into its rippling waves it fell, with a frothy rumble,

and then floated off with the current.

Picking up speed, it hit a rock

bulging from the river’s mirror.



In the narrowest part of the ravine, the coffin began to move.

It rushed down the rocky slide, 

racing over the clean and icy snow

right into the heart of the Kamnitz, the wild, unfrozen river.



Maybe it was Anton Dinnebier who slipped

as he carried the coffin’s front left corner, maybe a frozen branch tripped up

Franz Hieke, and Franz Kessler and Karel Hegenberger

could not rescue the situation.



Winter, the funeral procession, frost and tears, the women draped

in black woolen scarves and jackets, the men

in raven coats, huddled, bearded, hunched,

a drop of mourning dropping, now and then, from their gray eyes.



from Molchloch (Newttown, 2004)

translated from Czech by Jonathan Bolton

Zasněžený dům: Mluví Amalia Richter

by Radek Fridrich

Otce odvedli do války a starší bratry taky. Zima byla třeskutá, nad střechami domů se vznášely rovné stuhy dýmů, do školy jsme každý nosili jedno polínko do kamen, abychom se zahřáli. Učitel byl hodný, moc nás nemlátil, ale rákosku měl po ruce pořád. Jednou padal celé dopoledne sníh a já se vracela na oběd. Cestu k našemu domu jsem poznala jen podle zpola zavátých planěk plotu, došla jsem ke dveřím, vzala za kliku a … byly na závoru. Bouchala jsem a křičela: Mami! Otevři! Mami!

    Dodnes si pamatuji všechny rýhy a suky na dřevěných dveřích, i to, jak matku vynášeli sousedi celou od krve z domu a pokládali ji na vůz. Odnesli mě v mdlobách, hladovou a zmrzlou k tetě na noc, u ní jsem pak zůstala, dokud se otec nevrátil z fronty.





from Nebožky / Selige (Departed Women, 2011)

Snow-covered house: Amalia Richter is speaking

by Radek Fridrich

They took my father off to the war, and my older brothers too. The winter was bitter cold, ribbons of smoke rose vertically over the roofs of the houses, each of us carried a log for the school stove to keep ourselves warm. The teacher was kind and didn’t beat us much, but he always had his cane to hand. Once it had been snowing all morning and I was coming back for lunch. I recognized the path to our house only by the rough-hewn fence posts, half covered in snow. I reached the door, pulled on the handle and … it was bolted shut. I pounded and screamed: Mama! Open up! Mama!

    To this day I remember every groove and knot in the wooden door, as well as the neighbors carrying out my mother, she was covered in blood, and placing her on the wagon. They carried me off, dazed, hungry, frozen, to spend the night at my aunt’s. I stayed with her until my father came back from the front.



from Nebožky / Selige (Departed Women, 2011)
translated from Czech by Jonathan Bolton


by Radek Fridrich

Mám orlí nos a úzký obličej

a říkají mi – Vogelka.


Můj manžel nic od života nechtěl,

byl hodný a němý,

ale dvě děti jsem s ním měla.


Courala jsem s nimi ve skalním městě.

Děti prolézaly lochy skal,

sbíraly klacíky a šnečí ulity.

Já hledala bludný koření,

avšak místo něj se zjevil on,

uhrančivý krhavec,

který zlomil mé zpustlé srdce.


Scházeli jsme se v noci,

když manžel spal,

a milovali se ostřicí pořezaní po celém těle.

Křičela jsem tak šíleně,

že ptáci vyplašeně poskakovali

na okolních stromech.


Šeptal mi:

Zobáčku! Černá vílo! Maličká!


Měla jsem vždy lesklou mázdru

kolem svých hnědých očí,

když jsem se s ním ráno loučila.


Jak to tak bývá u ohnivých znamení,

vášeň brzy vystřídala

Jakou silou mě k sobě


Jakými čáry uhranul?

Jakým právem si mě


A do skal jsem už nešla.


Často jsem pak slyšela jeho táhlé,

kvílivé volání.

Uši si zacpávala

láskyplnou hrůzou

a ve svém těle uzamkla

zurčivý pramen,

který ve mně probudil.


Navěky však budu slyšet

ta šeptaná, skalnatá slova:

Zobáčku! Černá vílo! Maličká!



from Nebožky / Selige (Departed Women, 2011)


by Radek Fridrich

I have an eagle’s nose and a narrow face

and they call me – Vogelbird.


My husband demanded nothing from life,

he was kind and mute,

but I had two children with him.


I wandered with them among the sandstone cliffs.

The children crawled through holes in the rocks,

gathering up sticks and snail shells.

I was looking for a Root of Bewilderment,

but he appeared instead.

His watery, bewitching eyes

broke my abandoned heart.


We would meet at night

while my husband slept,

and we made love, our bodies covered in cuts from the sharp sedge.

I cried out so madly

the frightened birds hopped about

in the surrounding trees.


He whispered to me:

Beautiful Beaklet! Black fairy! Little one!


A shiny glaze always

covered my brown eyes

when I parted with him in the morning.


As tends to happen with fiery signs,

passion soon gave way

to wrath.

With what force did he

bind me to him?

With what enchantments did he bewitch me?

By what right did he

take possession of me?

And I stopped walking among the rocks.


Often I would hear his drawn-out,

howling call.

I plugged up my ears

with a loving horror

and locked up in my body

the bubbling spring

he awakened in me.


Forever will I hear

those whispered words of stone:

Beautiful Beaklet! Black fairy! Little one!



from Nebožky / Selige (Departed Women, 2011)


translated from Czech by Jonathan Bolton

The entire dead ocean, emptying itself



Two poems from The Country of Planks / El País de Tablas by Raúl Zurita, translated by Daniel Borzutzky. Available now from Action Books. 


Prisión carguero Lebu

by Raúl Zurita




-El país de tablas-



Cristo Rey, recuerdo que era algo

así: arriba la escotilla dejaba ver

el primer morado del cielo y

alguien maldecía el ronroneo de

los generadores. Adentro, otros

cuerpos; nubes de carne tiradas

como sacos. Afuera el nombre

del barco recostado contra el alba






Todo el océano muerto vaciándose



Y el océano se partía al medio vaciándose y los peces se 

amontonaban en la noche como cerros resecos 


Y el tajo del mar se hacía cada vez más hondo y la noche 

se iba pariendo para adentro como un pez que se traga a 

sí mismo   sí: como peces tragándose


Como marejadas tragándose   cuando arrastrados por la 

resaca vimos el país de tablas venírsenos encima   Son 

las resacas de la noche: grita mi compañero mirando las  

pesqueras como ciudades    Somos la pesca   le replican 

los prisioneros   mutilados de piernas y brazos   como 

montañas de peces contorneándose en la asfixiada noche




Cargo Ship Lebu Prison

by Raúl Zurita




-The country of planks-



Christ the king, I remember it was

something like that:  the sky’s first 

purple could be seen through the  

hatchway and someone cursed

the purring of the generators. 

Inside,  other bodies; clouds of flesh

scattered like sacs.  Outside the name 

of the ship leaned against the dawn






The entire dead ocean, emptying itself 



And the ocean parted in the middle emptying itself and the fish

piled up in the night like dried up hills


And the open wound of the sea each moment deepened and the 

night was birthing inwards like a fish that swallows itself    yes:

like fish swallowing themselves


Like sea swells swallowing themselves    when we were dragged by 

the undertow we saw the country of planks come on top 

of us   They are the undertows of the night:  my compañero 

screams as he looks out at the fishing boats that are like cities      

We are the catch reply the prisoners   legs and arms mutilated   

like mountains of fish twisting in the asphyxiated night  

translated from Spanish by Daniel Borzutzky

Prisión carguero Maipo

by Raúl Zurita




-Empalizados farellones-



El bramido del inmenso Pacífico

resonaba como si quisiera decir

algo mientras que más abajo,

amontonados como sacos en la

bodega del buque carguero Maipo,

yo abrazaba el dolor de un otro y

aún me parecía sentir los pájaros

sobrevolando la playa. Sí, yo oí

al otro en las rocas y la arena

muerta caía sobre ellas como

tus ojos jamás vistos cubriéndolas


- Bahía de Valparaíso/

  1973. Prisiones



Y así seguía el descenso   encallado entre sus muertos el 

carguero Maipo reaparecerá en el desierto 


Y al lado los mismos farellones rugientes del mar   uno 

frente al otro   altos   tempestuosos   mostrando arriba la 

angosta franja del cielo 


Cuando todo el frente de la muerte entró en el mar como 

un continente en las furiosas aguas   Son las mareas 

golpeando los empalizados farellones de Chile   repiten 

los prisioneros del Maipo mirándolas   Los cargamos 

replica la escuadra de tablas arrastrándolos entre los 

acantilados del Pacifico   nudosos   ciegos   llevándoselos


Maipo Cargo Ship Prison

by Raúl Zurita




-Palisaded crests-



The bellowing of the immense Pacific 

resonated as if it wanted to say 

something while further down we were

piled on top of each other like sacs

in the bodega of the Maipo cargo ship.

I embraced the pain of an other and

I thought I still sensed the birds flying 

over the beach.  Yes, I heard the other in 

the rocks and dead sand fell over them 

like your unseen eyes covering them  


Valparaiso Bay/

1973. Prisons



That’s how the descent continued    shipwrecked between  

its dead the Maipo cargo ship will reappear in the desert 


And next to it those same roaring crests of the sea    one

in front of the other    tall    tempestuous    revealing  

above the narrow strip of the sky


When all of death’s front entered the sea like a continent 

in the furious waters    They are the tides pounding the 

palisaded crests of Chile    repeat the prisoners of the

Maipo as they look at them    We carried them replied

the plank squadrons dragging them between the cliffs

of the Pacific    knotted    blind     taking them away 



translated from Spanish by Daniel Borzutzky
 Cover design by Andrew Shuta.

Your breath bright with presence is origin.

Three poems by Pilar Fraile Amador, translated from the Spanish by Lizzie Davis. 

PilarBN 8x5_1470. pequeu00F1aldavisPilar Fraile Amador is one of the most innovative of the generation of poets to come of age in post-Franco Spain. She writes in a voice beyond the constraints of self-isolating, institutionalized Spanish poetry, creating work that is non-linear, multi-vocal, and disjunctive. Poems from her collection Larva & Hedge move with stark grace and invite the reader to enter into an imaginative coexistence, a world at once surreal and imbued with a sense of déja vu. Within this unearthly province, poet and reader alike must consider the play between the intimate and the collective, the past and the present, the human and the animal.

Larva, the section in which the following poems appear, explores an undercurrent of unnoticed correspondence that exists between human beings, a wellspring of the collective subconscious. Here, individual and communal memories intermix and alter one another, and the living are able to communicate with objects and the dead. Inherited memories both enable and limit a speaker struggling to articulate her difference.

Fraile Amador investigates the destruction of the name as one means to strip selfhood from context. Names, these poems posit, allow us to recognize and to be recognized but can just as easily function as cages: they distance us from all within us that cannot be articulated. In Larva, the name–bestowed by mother and father, a bridge between two halves–is set on fire. The first lines of the volume show that this act is simultaneously generative and destructive: “I make tinder of my name / and wait for the seed.”

–Lizzie Davis

Read full article

Podcast #8: Lawrence Venuti

by: Montana Ray

Venuti.Credit Karen Van Dyck


In this episode, Montana Ray interviews historian, theorist, and translator Lawrence Venuti on how, by way of theory and practice, he has come to view translation as an interpretive, figurative act. Approaching the question of “what kind of figure do you want to create?” Larry discusses how the hybridity of his own mother tongue is registered in his translations; how he strives to create readerly fluency using a writerly translation technique; and the intertexts he has created for various translation projects (Antonia Pozzi, IU Tarchetti, Ernest Farrés) by sampling from a variety of relevant English(es) in an experimentalist approach first practiced and discussed by Pound. With original poems and music by Ernest Farrés, Lluís Llach, and the Stepping into Catalan Music Project, as well as translations by Lawrence Venuti of poems by Ernest Farrés and J.V. Foix.

Lawrence Venuti has translated over 15 books, including Edward Hopper by Edward Farrés (Graywolf Press, 2009), selected by Richard Howard for the Robert Fagles Translation Prize. He is a professor of English at Temple University, the editor of a foundational anthology in translation studies, The Translation Studies Reader (Routledge, 2000; 2nd ed, 2004; 3rd ed., 2012), and a theorist in the same field, most recently authoring Translation Changes Everything: Theory and Practice (Routledge, 2013).

Picture by Karen Van Dyck. 


They knocked my teeth out.
I became a member.

Two Poems by Ma Lan translated from Chinese by Charles A. Laughlin.




by Ma Lan







刷出阳光,刷出微笑。 现代工业社会讲究微笑。










饭后刷牙。使用电动牙刷, 。刷牙不宜用力过猛.。








人们应该熟知而深刻体会牙齿的先进精神,每颗恒牙的萌出有一定的时间和顺序,并且左右侧同名牙是成对 萌出的。其中,第一颗恒磨牙大约在六岁左右萌出,所称“六龄牙”。















Writing a Love Poem for a Tooth

by Ma Lan
1. I want to knock out my molars. There are eight ways to knock them out.
Knock them out lightly. Knock them out hard. First lightly then hard. First hard then lightly.
2. As I am the freshly minted 2003 Poet Laureate of Bent-Neck Village, my dentist is a Yale PhD.
He insisted that I do a deep cleaning.
He stands on the Himalayas teaching Nepalese children to brush their teeth.
Brushing in the sunshine and smiles—modern industrial society takes smiling seriously
The snowy mountains flow downward.
3. I joined a tooth club, the dues were 300 Bent-Neck dollars.
My sponsors’ names are secret, there are only two. One witness.
They pulled me off my bed and beat me up. I picked up my application. They beat me again.
They knocked my teeth out. I became a member.
4. The purpose of a toothbrush. The correct method of brushing your teeth.
Brush after eating. Use an electric toothbrush. Don’t use too much force as you brush.
Cosmetic dentistry has three categories: stain removal, capping, and enameling.
If your goal in brushing your teeth is not pure, your teeth will not get white.
If you do not have the correct toothbrush method, your teeth will not have a proper attitude.
5.  According to legend, there are two sets of teeth in our lives; we must make a transition from baby teeth to permanent teeth, or we become inhuman
We must familiarize ourselves with and deeply understand the progressive spirit of teeth
The emergence of each permanent tooth adheres to the time and order of its elders—in the moonlight each tooth and its comrade emerge on the left and right
The first permanent molars emerge at about age six, and so are named “six year molars”
6.  One of my right teeth suddenly fell out.
No explanation, and I could not find the instructions.
7.  I clenched my teeth. Teeth bite people, bite dogs.
No wonder the tooth wanted to fall out. Heaven and earth changed color because of it.
8.  “Of 65 tongue cancer victims surveyed between ages 26 and 39, 56 have teeth tilted toward their tongues.”
This could be a sign of the cause of international political conflicts: implicit agreement disturbed from left and right; advantage gained from both sides.
9.  The knocked-out tooth is swallowed down. Then it grows out of the stomach.


translated from Chinese by Charles A. Laughlin

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Evening comes into our house –
a little bitter and very clean


Amanda Aizpuriete Inara 25 poems by Amanda Aizpuriete translated from Latvian by Inara Cedrins.


[Tālu aiz pilsētas krītošu raķešu gaismā]

by Amanda Aizpuriete

Tālu aiz pilsētas krītošu raķešu gaismā

Kareivja māte izkravā manu maisu.


Tur purva, nakts un nāves smarža visam.

Māt, vai mēs uzvarai ticam?


Pulkstenis, šķiltavas, dzeltējošs meitenes smaids.

Papira driskas. Pēdējais sveiciens? Vaids?


Dzeja. Par nakti, purvu un nāvi.

Tālāk par naktīm, purviem un nāvēm –


Par pilsētu. Par pieneni. Par mums.


[Far beyond the city in the light of falling rockets]

by Amanda Aizpuriete

Far beyond the city in the light of falling rockets

The soldier’s mother loaded a sack with objects.


There was a grove, night and the smell of death on everything.

Mother, do we still believe in victory?


Clock, cigarette lighter, the golden smile of a girl.

Tatters of paper. A last greeting? A wail?


Poetry. About night, the grove and death.

Further than nights, groves and deaths –


About the city. About a dandelion. About us.

translated from Latvian by Inara Cedrins

[Simtiem reižu sacīts: baidies miera.]

by Amanda Aizpuriete


Simtiem reižu sacīts: baidies miera.

Ilgi baidījusies, nu vairs nebaidos.

Attek migla – manu namu

Baltiem karodziņiem post.

Nāve papļāpāt ar mani nekautrējas.

Vienas cilts mēs esam,

Vienas dzejas,

Naktīs klausos tos, kas elpo tālu

Puķu, klusuma un drupu zemē.

[A hundred times it’s been said: fear peace.]

by Amanda Aizpuriete

A hundred times it’s been said: fear peace.

Long having feared, I no longer fear.

Fog flows in – my house

attacked by white flags.

Death is not shy of chattering to me.

We are of one tribe,

one poem.

Nightly I listen to those who breathe, distant,

in the land of flowers, silence and ruins.

translated from Latvian by Inara Cedrins
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