Underneath all of this there’s a song

Three poems by Luis Chaves, translated and introduced by Julia Guez and Samantha Zighelboim

Every Sunday for the last twenty-four months, our task as translators has been to keep up with the hyper-caffeinated imagination of Costa Rican poet Luis Chaves, rendering each image in his remarkable new collection of poetry in a way that orients the reader and provides a moment’s stasis and clarity before “the waves come and the waves erase it.”

In Equestrian Monuments, dialogue from The Exorcist co-exists with lines from the Latin Kyrie, Rex. The stately figure of a former president, Leon Cortés, is counterbalanced by a cast of mock-heroic or non-normative foils: a transvestite, a cripple, a singleton, homunculus, thief and gardener.  Sweeping statements about entire generations, continents and genres find a basis in the most intimate details of home-life.  The intersections are uncanny, sometimes hilarious, often sad and unsettling.

In the original, Chaves contains complex thoughts and feelings with the simplest diction.

La maleza crece
cuando dejamos de mirar.
Los años se acumulan
mientras nos ocupamos de la maleza.
Aprender esto nos tomó
más tiempo del que hubiéramos querido.

Economy of syntax and style is something we’ve worked hard to maintain, while keeping with the ease, colloquialism and play of the Spanish. At the same time, we’ve liberally modulated some of the music in the translation to mirror what is happening in the shape-shifting original.  That’s often a question of controlling the cadence of a line by way of enjambment or punctuation.

The weeds grow
when we’re not watching them.
Years accumulate
while we worry about the weeds.
Learning this took
longer than we would have liked. 


Luis Chavez

Monumentos Ecuestres was a gift, given to Guez the first time she and Chaves met for Imperial and espresso at the Hotel Costa Rica, sitting on the patio across from the Teatro Nacional, before making their way to the Librería Duluoz nearby.  She was in the country on a year-long grant from The Fulbright Commission. This allowed her to spend half of her time in Vargas Arraya—where she and her fiancée rented a small white-walled room in a guest house across from a grocery called Perimercado (which, for years after the name had officially changed, everyone still called Super Cindy).  So close to the Universidad de Costa Rica in San Pedro, she wasn’t far from some of the presses—Lanzallamas, Espiral and Germinal—whose work she was there, in part, to research.

After taking in as many readings, salons and festivals in and around the capital as she could, Guez spent the rest of her time living in the small town of Delicias where, half-way up a massive hill, she rented the second story of a house overlooking the Gulf of Nicoya.  It was there, on the balcony, that she made the first of three attempts to translate Equestrian Monuments on her own.

She would tinker with individual words and phrases for days.  Once satisfied with the literal rendering of a line, weeks and months were then spent bending the overall tone of the translation closer to the original’s.

The project of successfully re-creating the experience of reading Luis Chaves really began to come together when, over drinks at Mercadito in New York City’s East Village, Guez invited Zighelboim into the process of co-translating the collection.

Guez-Roeder-2013 (Color) - Smiling

Julia Guez

Our paths crossed for the first time at Columbia University’s School of the Arts. A handful of conversations about poetry we exchanged in 2010 set Guez up to introduce Zighelboim’s work at the annual Thesis Reading that spring.  It also gave us a window into one another’s sensibility, what we were reading, writing and translating at the time, and the extent to which we could trust and admire one another’s eye and ear.  Most importantly, that small-scale collaboration hinted at the kind of ambition, humor, integrity, persistence and care that would allow us to do some extraordinary work together on a much larger-scale.

Ever since that drink at Mercadito, we have been meeting at one of our two apartments or a café close by almost every week.  Beginning with the literal translation, we engaged in a five-part process with each piece.

In the first phase, our aim was simply to be generative.  We wanted to come up with as many counterfactuals as we could.  All of the options we could create for a given word or phrase were lined up, one after another, separated only by a back-slash.  This was our divergent phase, and it was the most playful one.

In our second phase, we wanted to narrow the options down.  The trimming would literally halve the size of our drafts.  This was our convergent phase, and, of them all, it was the most straightforward.

Then, the goal was to narrow the field of our focus even further (and, at this point, we weren’t tinkering with any of the options we had come up with before). If something didn’t work—even if it was completely accurate, and even if we couldn’t put our finger on why it didn’t attain what Kierkegaard (by way of Walter Lowrie’s translation) called a “primitive lyrical validity” in English—it was highlighted and removed from the list we had bracketed-out before.


Samantha Zighelboim

In the fourth phase of our work, the aim was to create enough distance between ourselves and the text, enough time and space to be able to come back and see everything with new eyes. Sometimes a few minutes—to prepare another gourd of mate or smoke a cigarette outside—would be sufficient.  Then we could come back to a passage we had been struggling through, or toggle over to another piece in the collection.  Other days, we would take several hours off—to pick up a bottle of wine for dinner, eat, drink then begin again.  Several weeks and months would pass between drafts of the trickiest poems in the collection.

In the final phase of our work together, our aim was to dilate moments in the text that simply didn’t sound right to us.  Unsatisfied with the options we had generated so far, we gave ourselves greater permission vis a vis inserting or eliding something in the English to protect the flow of a line (without altering its meaning and, likely, only adding to its plausibility).

“The waves come and the waves erase it” is one example.  We repeated the word, “waves,” to maintain the lilt of the phrase, (“y las olas vienen y la borran”), and to convey the sense of ritual and repetition that is at the heart of this particular section of the poem. At this phase of the process, raindrops were finally “veining” the window.  The crickets “came on,” after “the fog cleared.”  And “the sky’s own white stone path” was chosen in lieu of cloud-like rolling stones (which, every way we attempted to render up to this point, was clichéd, distracting and allusive in the English in a way the Spanish didn’t mean to be).  By the end of this phase, we had worked through the most important decision-points in the text.  Everything we had pressure-tested, memorizing, reciting and tinkering with for months, still pleased us; it still worked, even though it didn’t always feel perfect.

In the introduction to Madame Bovary, Lydia Davis explains that she didn’t read any other translations until after she finished a first draft of her own.  “In the second draft, I had ten others on hand, eventually an eleventh, the most recent.  I made extensive comparisons in difficult passages, curious to learn what ingenious solutions might have been found to the various cruxes.”

Our admiration for one another as writers and as people, the trust we have for one another as co-translators and friends, our commitment to question every choice we have made, to consider and reconsider it almost compulsively, has allowed us to do what Davis was doing (in virtual conversation with other translators) in real-time.  And it has helped us land on solutions to the various “cruxes” we’ve encountered in the course of co-translating Equestrian Monuments that neither one of us could have come up with on our own.

In our own translations then “provincia” has become “suburb”, and “Acetaminofén” is “Tylenol.”  “La Virgen Criolla,” however, is still “La Virgen Criolla.”  There are slippery, strange or foreign references in the original, and we attempt to make them feel the same way in our translation.  That is part of a mystery we don’t, in any way, intend to clarify or solve for in this text: a necessary strangeness.

—Julia Elizabeth Guez & Samantha Zighelboim


by Luis Chaves



Si vieras.

Dos semanas de temporal

borraron la huella ocre

de las macetas.


Revuelta en la lavadora,

ropa blanca y de color.


Una casa reducida a cajas de cartón

la tarde que gira sobre el eje de la lluvia.

El mentolado falso

de un Derby suave + una Halls.


Ese color de la plasticina

cuando se mezclan todas las barras.




El mundo da tantas vueltas

que parece no moverse.

Pensé decirlo

pero preferí, de copiloto,

verte manejar en círculos

por el estacionamiento.




Las hormigas vinieron

en las cajas de la mudanza.

El apartamento nuevo

empieza a parecer una casa. 

De otro, pero una casa.




En el departamento nuevo,

el albañil pica la pared buscando

dónde está la fuga de agua.


No es desorden lo que se ve,

es un orden disparejo.



Bolsas plásticas,

cartones con cursiva en pilot

Cocina / libros / baño

Si otro, en este momento, entrara,

no sabría si alguien llega o se va.




Envuelto en la nicotina

de la inmovilidad,

se ablanda el cerebro

y se endurece el corazón.


Sin camisa me veo más viejo,

pensé decirlo pero preferí

recordar la vez que fui tu copiloto

y manejabas en círculos

por el estacionamiento.




Francisca, silenciosa,

se mueve por cada ambiente.

Para allá con la escoba,

para acá con el balde.

Dentro de esa boca,

siempre cerrada,

brilla un diente de oro.




Un pausa que amenaza

con convertirse en otra cosa.


La ropa sin tender,

el gusto del falso mentol,

el espacio libre

donde finalmente parqueaste.




Rodeando latas de cerveza,

los amigos discutían

cuánto dura la juventud.

Pensaste en voz alta

“qué me importa, si nunca fui joven”.


Luego se agitó el borrador de la niebla.

Luego irrumpieron los grillos.




Aquí tendría que ir una frase decisiva

pero se destiñe la camiseta

de la tarde que hablábamos

mientras crecía el pasto

y sin darte cuenta

usabas mis muletillas

cada seis palabras.


Lo que no se va a secar,

lo que brilla sin elección,

un período equivocado para la mudanza,

el cerebro: masa de plasticina,

el corazón: dos puertas de carro

que sólo saben cerrarse.




Debajo de esto hay una canción,

aunque no se escucha ni se ve.


Las promesas de la casa nueva

quedaron en la casa vieja.


Del temporal va quedando ese color

de todas las barras de plasticina

que se mezclan se mezclan,

el martilleo que silencia

la tenacidad de una fuga, 

esas gotas de lluvia

como las venas de la ventana.

Y el canto de los grillos

crece como otra niebla.


Debajo de esto hay algo mejor.



by Luis Chaves



Picture this:


How two weeks of rain

have washed away all the flower pots’

ochre rings.


The whites and darks mix

in the same washing machine.


A house reduced to cardboard boxes.

The afternoon spinning on the rain’s axis.

The false menthol

of a Derby Light + a Halls.


The color plasticine bars make

when they’ve been kneaded together.




The world is turning so fast

it appears to be standing still.

I thought about saying so

but, as your copilot, preferred

to watch you circle

the parking lot.




Ants came in

the moving boxes.

The new apartment

begins to feel more like a home.

One belonging to someone else, but still—a home.




In the new apartment,

the handyman hollows out a wall

searching for the leak.

This isn’t disorder per se,

but order of another kind.


Plastic bags, Sharpie

on boxes, in cursive:


If someone else were to walk in at this moment,

they wouldn’t know if we were moving in or out.




Inert, enveloped

in nicotine,

the brain goes soft;                        

the heart hardens.


I look older without a shirt on.

I thought about saying so, but preferred

to remember the time I was

your copilot as you kept

circling the lot.




Without a sound, Francisca

moves through each space—

here with the bucket,

there with the broom—

inside that mouth,

always closed,

the glint of a gold tooth.




A pause that threatens to become

something else entirely.


Clothes we haven’t unpacked,

the taste of false menthol,

that spot where

you finally parked the car.




Over a few rounds

some friends argue about

how long we can keep calling ourselves young.

What does it matter,

you think aloud,

if I was never young to begin with.


Then the fog clears. Then

the crickets came on.




Here’s where a decisive phrase should go

but the t-shirt I was wearing

that afternoon we’ve been talking about

fades while the grass grows,

and without realizing it,

you begin to use some of my own verbal tics

every six words.


What in this weather will never dry;

what shines whether we like it or not;

the wrong time of year to move—

the brain: a lump of plasticine,

the heart: two car doors

that only know how to close.




Underneath all of this there’s a song,

even if it can’t be seen or heard.


The promise of a new house

stayed behind in the old one.


What remains of the rainy season is a blend

of all the plasticine bars—

what will be kneaded together is kneaded

together, hammering that quiets

the tenacity of a leak,


veining the window.

And the crickets’ song

swelling like another fog.


Underneath all of this there is something better.

translated from Spanish by Julia Guez & Samantha Zighelboim

Playa Santa Teresa, 2006

by Luis Chaves

Unos días con sus noches en Malpaís y Santa Teresa. Vi los pelícanos, los cocos asesinos, vi pizotes, ballenas, iguanas, garzas y unos peces azules minúsculos y fosforescentes nadando en las pozas que se forman en las rocas cuando baja la marea. También las gaviotas que nos seguían en la terraza del ferry para que las alimentáramos con snacks ultraquímicos. Vi amigos, vi a los hijos de los amigos. Vi a los amigos y a los hijos de los amigos encender una fogata en la noche y así cumplir con ese ritual que nos acompaña desde no sabemos cuándo. Vi el mar cada noche antes de dormirme y lo vi también cada mañana al despertarme. Vi una cometa multicolor inmóvil contra el cielo limpio, vi que la cuerda invisible que la sostenía llegaba hasta mis manos. Vi caricacos de todos los tamaños rodeándome mientras meaba en la arena. Vi, en el fondo de la mochila, el lomo de la novela de Dos Passos que ni siquiera llegué a abrir. Vi los objetos que el mar deposita en la orilla: una piedra con forma de cassette, una rama con forma de linterna, una lata de birra con forma de lata de birra. Una tarde cerré los ojos y vi muchos viajes ya borrosos del pasado e imaginé paseos futuros en esta misma costa. Es así, la vida se puede reducir a una lista breve.

Santa Teresa, 2006

by Luis Chaves

A few days and nights in Malpaís and Santa Teresa. I saw the pelicans, the threat of falling coconuts, I saw coatis, whales, iguanas, herons and some fish—blue, miniscule and phosphorescent—swimming in pools that form among the rocks at low-tide. Also the seagulls who followed us onto the deck of the ferry so that we’d feed them highly-processed snacks. I saw friends, I saw friends’ children. I saw friends and friends’ children light a bonfire in the night and fulfill this ritual that’s been with us for who knows how long. I saw the ocean each night before I’d fall asleep and I saw it each morning when I’d wake up. I saw a multi-colored comet still against the clean sky, I saw the invisible string that seemed to sustain it reach almost to my own hands. I saw hermit crabs of all sizes surrounding me while I pissed on the sand. I saw, in the bottom of the backpack, the spine of a Dos Passos novel I hadn’t even gotten around to opening. I saw objects the sea deposits on the shore: a stone in the shape of a cassette tape, a branch in the shape of a lantern, a beer can in the shape of a beer can. One afternoon I closed my eyes and saw the blur of so many past trips, imagining future visits to this very coast. This is how it is. Life can be reduced to a short list.

translated from Spanish by Julia Guez & Samantha Zighelboim

Falsa Ficción

by Luis Chaves

Pero hay un intento de reconstrucción

con pocos elementos,

una sombra que sale de escena,

el olor a laca y el rótulo

–pero es otro– de gaseosa Goliat

atrapado con el rabo del ojo

desde el bus que se adentra

en la masa maleable

de julio del 2004.

El de aquel invierno sudaca

sin calefacción.


Se cuenta hasta diez

con los dedos,

empezando por el meñique

o el pulgar.

No es lo mismo aunque parece,

ni es lo mismo, a las 3 a.m.,

afuera de la cantina, parqueado,

nuestro carro con el árbol de navidad

atado al techo.


Aquí pasó agua debajo del puente,

huimos de un lugar

que apestaba a World Music,

que hedía a New Age.

Aquí no hay cuatro estaciones:

por encima de la línea del Ecuador /

por encima de la línea de flotación.

Nueve meses de lluvia

nos han enseñado a nadar

a consumirnos de cabeza,

en el confort del verso libre.


Un ejemplo,

por toda la casa me siguen

mi hija, la gata y la perra.

Son mi sombra buena.


Huele a gas también,

y trabajan a full los aleros.

El metrónomo del goteo

divide el día en fracciones.


El año va dando señales:

esto casi mejora,

la perra se enrosca

con la calma de la evolución.


Es fácil saberlo,

para terminar lo que falta

no nos necesitan.

False Fiction

by Luis Chaves

Here’s an attempt at reconstructing

everything with only a few elements:

a shadow leaving the stage,

the smell of lacquer and the ad

—not the same one—for Goliat soda

caught out of the corner of my eye

from that bus entering into

the malleable masa

of July, 2004.

The one from that South American winter

when we didn’t have heat.


You count to ten

on your fingers,

beginning with the pinky

or the thumb.

It’s not the same although it would seem to be,

nor is it the same, at 3am,

outside the bar, parked, our car

the one with the Christmas tree tied on

to the roof.


Here’s where it was all water under the bridge,

when we abandoned a place

infested with World Music,

reeking of New Age.

There aren’t four seasons here:

above the equator

above the waterline.

Nine months of rain

have taught us to swim,

to lose ourselves,

in the comfort of free verse.

For example, all over the house

I am followed

by my daughter, the cat and the dog.

They are my good shadows.


It smells of gas again,

and the eaves are working overtime.

The metronome of that slow drip

divides the day into fractions.


The year goes on giving signs:

this almost gets better.

The dog curls up

with evolutionary calm.


It’s easy enough to see,

they don’t need us

to figure out the rest.

translated from Spanish by Julia Guez & Samantha Zighelboim






Here in this house of angles
I’ve chosen one imperfect thing


Five poems by Berta Dávila translated from Galician by Neil D. Anderson.

[Son os remendos quen nos restitúen]

by Berta Dávila

Son os remendos quen nos restitúen,

as cicatrices as que fan fogar.

Entre todos os vértices desta casa

escollo o único imperfecto,

o devir do zurcido polas liñas do día,

a poética muda do calcetín azul

rachado sempre polo calcañar.




[It’s the mending that restores us]

by Berta Dávila

It’s the mending that restores us,

home is made of scars.

Here in this house of angles

I’ve chosen one imperfect thing,

the slow becoming of the darn,

the silent poetry of one blue sock

always holey in the heel.



translated from Galician by Neil D. Anderson

[Hai un paxaro mudo]

by Berta Dávila


Hai un paxaro mudo espreitando o silencio como un mapa,

como un delirio dondo, unha muralla,

ou un destino tráxico por dentro dos barrotes.


Eu, que nunca tiven nada que asexar en secreto,

que inventei o arrepío e a ansiedade

para abrazarme a eles pola noite,


que non souben de entre-visións

nin de velenos que me devorasen,


comprendo agora:

que non quedan paredes que derrubar aquí

nin hai feridas que sandar coa urxencia

que noutrora fixo do incendio un dogma.


Podo salvarme desta casa tomada:

porque non hai lugares

nos que vivir felices para sempre.

[A quiet bird watches the silence like a map]

by Berta Dávila

A quiet bird watches the silence like a map,

like a soft swoon, a wall,

or a tragic fate behind the window irons.


I, who never lay in wait,

who invented repulsion and anxiety

and held them close at night,


who never knew how to see between,

how to feel the poison gnawing at me,


understand now:

Here there are no more walls to tear down,

nor wounds to heal with that old urgency

that made of fire a dogma.


I can walk away from this specter house:

because there is no place

we can live happily ever after.

translated from Galician by Neil D. Anderson

[É fermosa a carencia]

by Berta Dávila


É fermosa a carencia

como é fermoso un deserto de xeo,

como os lobos son fermosos,

como son fermosos os velenos:


porque prenden por dentro

para que a luz se faga.

[Being without is beautiful]

by Berta Dávila

Being without is beautiful

beautiful like a desert of ice,

like wolves are beautiful

beautiful like poison:


because it starts a fire within

that brings light into being.

translated from Galician by Neil D. Anderson

[Cando te coñecín]

by Berta Dávila


Cando te coñecín fomos simétricos

como un cristal de neve,

con esa perfección sinxela das matemáticas.


Non houbo treguas nin na xeometría

das nosas formas, nin na perfección

dos inseparados, nin na virtude

da repetición.


Moitas noites tiven medo dos números

e doutras sucesións infinitas.

[When I met you we were symmetrical]

by Berta Dávila

When I met you we were symmetrical

like a snowflake,

with the simple perfection of mathematics.


We were unrelenting in our geometry,

in our inseparable perfection,


in our repetition.


Many nights I feared numbers

and other infinite series.

translated from Galician by Neil D. Anderson

[Eu terei para sempre]

by Berta Dávila

Eu terei para sempre como único oficio

a custodia dos derradeiros días deste outono,

aprender as palabras necesarias para chamar por ti,

para que volvas traducir os ruídos subterráneos da cidade.


E para que regresen

as camelias en flor,

unha vaga emoción da neve que está por vir,

o consolo furtivo dun abrigo de la

cando as primerias brisas do serán

caen xa violentas sobre os derrotados

[I will always have as my only duty]

by Berta Dávila

I will always have as my only duty

the keeping of these last days of fall,

learning the right words to call you with, so you might

return to translate once more the city’s subterranean sounds.


And so the camellia

might bloom again,

a quiet rumor of coming snow,

the furtive consolation of a woolen coat

when first breezes of evening

fall violent upon the vanquished.

translated from Galician by Neil D. Anderson

poured out to the world
and suddenly her mother refuses to forgive

A poem by Ronny Someck translated by Robert Manaster and Hana Inbar. Forthcoming soon in The Milk Underground.


by Ronny Someck

עַל  תָּוִית  גּוּפָה  שֶׁל  נ‘  רְשׁוּמָה  שְׁנַת  הַיִּצּוּר:

17 שָׁנִים  הִיא  שְׁפוּכָה  בָּעוֹלָם

וּפִתְאוֹם  אִמָּא  שֶׁלָּהּ  מְסָרֶבֶת  לִסְלֹחַ.

נִפְתַּח  לָהּ  הַחֹר“, הִיא  אוֹמֶרֶת, “נִסְגַּר  לָהּ  הַמֹּחַ“.

עֵינֵי  הַזְּכוּכִית  שֶׁל  נ‘  מַבְרִיקוֹת  מִדְּמָעוֹת,

בַּלֵּילוֹת  הִיא  מַצְלִיבָה  עַל  כִּסְּאוֹת  בָּרִים 

רַגְלַיִם  שְׁבוּרוֹת  מֵרִקּוּד, רוֹאָה

אֵיךְ  הַפְּקָק  הַצָּרְפָתִי  מִתְעוֹפֵף  מִפִּי  הַשַּׁמְפַּנְיָה,

אֵיךְ  הַמֶּקְסִיקָנִי  חָבוּשׁ  כְּסוֹמְבְּרֶרוֹ  עַל  רֹאשׁ  הַטָּקִילָה                 

וְהַגֶּרְמָנִי  מְחֻדַּד  הַשִּׁנַּיִם  נוֹגֵס  אֶת  צַוַּאר  הַבִּירָה.

אִמָּא, בּוֹאִי  תִּרְאִי, הִיא  רוֹצָה  לִצְעֹק  וּמְדַמְיֶנֶת  מִיָּד

אֶת  הַתְּשׁוּבָה: “זֶה  לֹא  סְתָם  פְּקָק, הַבְּתוּלִים  הָאֵלֶּה,

זֶה  הַנְּדוּנְיָה  שֶׁלָּךְ“.


נ‘  חוֹזֶרֶת  הַבַּיְתָה  וּמַנִּיחָה  אֶת  נַעֲלֵי  הָרִקּוּד 

לְיַד  הַמִּטָּה  כְּמוֹ  שְׁתֵּי  נְשִׁיקוֹת  עַל  לְחִי  הָרִצְפָּה. 


by Ronny Someck

On the label of N.’s body, the vintage year is written:

17 years she’s been poured out to the world

And suddenly her mother refuses to forgive.

“Her hole got opened,” she says, “her mind got closed.”

N.’s glassy eyes are shining with tears.

At nights, she crosses her dance-weary legs

While she sits on bar stools, watching

How the French cork flies from the champagne mouth,

How the Mexican is worn like a sombrero over the tequila’s head

And the German with the sharpened teeth is biting the beer’s neck.

“Mom, come see,” she wants to cry and imagines instantly

The answer: “This is not just a cork, this virginity.

This is your dowry.”


N. returns home and sets her dance shoes down

Near the bed like two kisses upon the floor’s cheek.

translated from Hebrew by Robert Manaster & Hana Inbar

And if you loved me—
I thought—wouldn’t there be more tomorrow?

Umberto Saba photoPaula Bohince photoThree poems by Umberto Saba translated from Italian by Paula Bohince.



Principio d’estate

by Umberto Saba

Dolore, dove sei?  Qui non ti vedo;

ogni apprenza t’è contraria.  Il sole

indora la città, brilla nel mare.

D’ogni sorta veicoli alla riva

portano in giro qualcosa o qualcuno.

Tutto si muove lietamente, come

tutto fosse di esistere felice.

Start of Summer

by Umberto Saba

Pain, where are you?  Invisible here;

each vision contradicts you.  The sun

gilds the city, shines on the sea.

All sorts of sea-bound cars

carry something or someone.

Everything moves cheerfully, as if

the meaning of life was to be happy.

translated from Italian by Paula Bohince

Un ricordo

by Umberto Saba

Non dormo.  Vedo una strada, un boschetto,

che sul mio curore come un’ansia preme;

dove si andava, per star soli e insieme,

io e un altro ragazzetto.


Era la Pasqua; I riti lunghi e strani

dei vecchi.  E se non mi volesse bene

—pensavo—e non venisse piu domain?

E domain non venne.  Fu un dolore,

uno spasimo fu verso la sera;

che un’amicizia (seppi poi) non era,

era quello un amore;


il primo; e quale e che felicità

n’ebbi, tra I colli e il mare di Trieste.

Ma perché non dormire, oggi, con queste

storie di, credo, quindici anni fa?

A Memory

by Umberto Saba

I don’t sleep.  I see a road, a grove

making my chest tight, anxious;

where we went to be alone and together,

another boy and I.


It was Easter; the rites long and strange

and old.  And if you loved me—

I thought—wouldn’t there be more tomorrow?

And tomorrow never came.  It pained me,

like the ache of evening;

that was not (I later learned) friendship,

it was love;


the first; a happiness

had between the hills and the sea of Trieste.

But why can’t I sleep tonight, because of

a story from, I think, fifteen years ago?

translated from Italian by Paula Bohince


by Umberto Saba

Primavera che a me non piaci, io voglio

dire di te che di una strada l’angelo

svoltando, il tuo presagio mi feriva

come una lama.  L’ombra ancor sottile

di nudi rami sulla terra ancora

nuda mi turba, quasi ancho’io potessi


rinascere.  La tomba

sembra insicura al tuo appressarsi, antica

primavera, che più d’ogni stagione

crudelmente risusciti ed uccidi.



by Umberto Saba

Spring, I don’t like you, I want

to say on the street, even the premonition

of trees under your spell hurts me

like a razor-cut.  The shadow of still thin

bare branches on ground

still naked troubles me, as if I too

might have to

be reborn.  The graveyard

trembles when you come, ancient

Spring, which more than any other season

cruelly resurrects and kills.

translated from Italian by Paula Bohince

Mummies are a method, not the result.

Five poems by Meta Kušar translated from Slovenian by Ana Jelnikar & Barbara Siegel Carlson.


by Meta Kušar

Grk oživlja z mesečevo vodo.

Ljubezen ne pozna trupel, čeprav je mrtvo telo usoda.

Pesmi ne zavržeš.

Ljubezni ne zavržeš.

Pesem srka drobljivost.

Delčke zloži v belo luč obdano z lupino.

Pingvini z majhno nesmrtno dušo naredijo enako.

Njihova vera je jajce pri nogah narave.


by Meta Kušar

A Greek will revive you with moon water.

Love knows not of corpses, although a dead body is fate.

You don’t throw away poems.

You don’t throw away love.

The poem absorbs fragility.

Composes the small parts into the white light of a shell.

Penguins with their small immortal souls do the same.

Their faith is an egg at nature’s feet.

translated from Slovenian by Ana Jelnikar & Barbara Siegel Carlson


by Meta Kušar

Dróbci so kost.

Ni ženske brez moškega in njegovega sveta.

Ni moškega brez ženske in njenega sveta.

Ljubezen je edina garancija za duševno obnovo.

Kadar pridem iz goreče hiše molčim.

Uveljavljati se začno grozni stvori in nakaze,

Heraklit že tipa za piščalko in kliče izravnavo.

Vojaki in samostalniki so takoj pepel.

Tintni svinčnik drsi po dolgih spiskih strahu.

Zapisuje mrtve in dolžnike, ceno in trpljenje.  

Od vekomaj oživljamo mrliče.

Mumije so metoda, ne rezultat.

Španski vetrc drži skupaj konec in začetek.

Kadar zavržeš del, ne moreš več sestaviti celote.


by Meta Kušar

Fragments are bone.

There is no woman without a man and his world.

No man without a woman and her world.

Love is the only warranty for the soul to revive.

When I come out of the burning house I’m speechless.

Hideous freaks and monsters begin to assert themselves.

Heraclitus is already feeling for his flute and calling for balance.

Soldiers and nouns turn to ashes.

The grease pencil slides down the long lists of fear.

It makes note of the dead and the debtors, the cost and the suffering.

For ever we bring the dead back to life.

Mummies are a method, not the result.

Meringue cookies hold the end and beginning together.

When you reject a part, you can no longer assemble the whole.

translated from Slovenian by Ana Jelnikar & Barbara Siegel Carlson


by Meta Kušar

Prvi ima njegove oči,

drugi njegove lase,

tretji njegov glas.

Dvajseti njegove stavke,

dvestoti njegov posluh,

tisoči njegov smeh,

tristo tisoči njegov jezik.

Imam jaz njegovo srce?

Nisem si izmišljevala.

Nič prirejala. Nič čakala.

Samo pričakovala.

Okušam domišljijo starih in novih dni.

Kakšen vesel študij.


by Meta Kušar

The first has his eyes,

the second his hair,

the third his voice.

The twentieth his sentences,

the two hundredth his ear for music.

The thousandth his laughter,

the three hundred thousandth his tongue.

Do I have his heart?

I wasn’t imagining things.

Embellishing anything. I never waited.

Only expected.

I taste the imagination of days old and new.

What a happy course.

translated from Slovenian by Ana Jelnikar & Barbara Siegel Carlson

Zakaj ne pišem ljubezenskih pesmi?

by Meta Kušar

Popek sredi doma je resnična večna lučka.

Vsaka celica telesa se prebudi z enim samim dotikom.

Presvetli vse od Ahilove tetive do medulle oblongate,

od levega mezinca do desnega kazalca; sredica je zraven.

Objemi in poljubi zbujajo večno željo,

da bi bil vsak delček telesa prežet s svetlobo.

Presvetljeno telo! Ne zapušcaj ga. Jaz ga ne zapustim.

Kaj bi z ljubeznijo, ki je dovoljena ali prepovedana!

Vse je zamena za ogenj in ogenj je zamena za vse.

Razsvetlí jetra in oči in nos.

Obraze, ki jih pogledaš, zagledaš.

Črka naredi besedo in beseda naredi vrt

in vrt naredi toploto in toplota posuši dušo.

Suha duša je Kneipp. Vse ozdravi z vodo.

Kos brez postanka smisel žgoli.

Rožnata ni manj resnična od Hudiča, ki razbija puščavo.

Človeka ne, če ne pusti. Ljubezen sveti kot Hánuka,

kot diváli, kot sv. Lucija. V šotoru zastane.

Za mrtve in žive gori. Zveri zadrži. Strela je ogenj kovač.

V glasu ga slišim, ko še nisi skovan.

V glasu ga slišiš samo podkovan. Ves isti, a drug.

Iskra takoj preobrazi. Ogenj gori, da smrt ne pride zraven.

Najtanjša folija, brezsnovna, odceja zlo.

Nič sem in tja. Nič tja in sem in spet nazaj.

Oči odgrnem! Zora je resnicna mana. Pozobljejo jo ateisti.

Why don't I write love poems?

by Meta Kušar

A bud in the middle of home is a true eternal flame.

At a touch every cell of the body awakens.

Illuminating everything from the Achilles heel to medulla oblongata,

from the left little finger to the right index finger; the rest accordingly.

Hugs and kisses ignite the eternal desire

that every inch of the body were shot through with light.

Illuminated body! Don’t leave it. I won’t.

What do you do with love that’s permitted or forbidden!

It’s all a substitute for fire and fire’s a substitute for all.

Illuminating the liver, the eyes and the nose.

The faces that you look at, see.

A letter makes a word and the word makes a garden

and the garden creates warmth and the warmth dries the soul.

A dry soul is Kneipp. Water heals everything.

Without pause, the blackbird chirps meaning.

The rose is no less real than the devil swirling storms in the desert.

But not in the man unless he lets him. Love lights up like Hanukkah,

Diwali, and St. Lucia. In the tent it pauses.

Burns for the dead and the living. Holding the beasts at bay.

A lightning bolt is the blacksmith’s fire.

In my voice I hear him not yet minted.

In your voice you hear him only just shod. All the same, only different.

A spark transforms on the spot. The fire burns so death can’t come close.

The thinnest foil, immaterial, strains evil.

No back-and-forth. No forth-and-back and back again.

I draw open the eyes! Dawn is the true manna. Pecked at by atheists.

translated from Slovenian by Ana Jelnikar & Barbara Siegel Carlson

Prva miza

by Meta Kušar

Temno modra smokva zori.

Mladiči lastovic še poznajo rdeče sladkosti.

Zgarana lastovka jadra v vročini in pôje,

ko mladiči že sami lové.

Prehraniti dve legli je skoraj umreti.

Noga ene mize stoji na izviru.

Zarana pobiram verze z nje.

Sonce jo nagne in sadeži zdrsnejo, ne vem kam.

Z rokami na kolenih poslušam,

kaj mizica hoče. Zahodna je morska, ležerna.

Pisma že devet let nisem prepognila.

Besede materializiram z juga na sever.

S severa na sever? Ne vem, kje sem.

Iz srca v srce je najkrajša pot.

Z roko napisati pismo je prelepo.

Najprej zakroži med zvezdami.

Netopirji ga ubranijo vseh pasti.


Kako brez papirja položiti glas na dlan?

First Table

by Meta Kušar

A dark blue fig tree ripens.

The swallows’ young still know of red sweet things.

The worn-out swallow sails in the heat and sings

while its young already catch on their own.

To feed both nests is almost to die.

One leg of the table stands at the source.

At the crack of dawn I pick the verses off.

The sun tilts it, the fruits slide off, I don’t know where.

With my hands on my knees I listen

to what the little table wants.

The western one is the seaside one, the leisurely one.

I haven’t folded the letter for nine years.

I materialize words from south to north.

From north to north? I don’t know where I am.

From heart to heart is the shortest path.

To handwrite a letter is lovely.

First it does a round among the stars.

Bats ward off all the traps.


How to lay your voice in the palm without paper?

translated from Slovenian by Ana Jelnikar & Barbara Siegel Carlson

the self had use
for the self

Mesandel Virtusio Arguelles    KristineOngMuslim

A poem by  Mesándel Virtusio Arguelles translated from Filipino by Kristine Ong Muslim. 


by Mesándel Virtusio Arguelles

Dahil sa natuklasang hindi sa iyo

ang daigdig, gumuho


ang iyong daigdig. Ang iyong daigdig


na dahil hindi sa iyo

gumuho hindi dahil sa iyo


Hanggang tumindig ka sa ngayon

sa daigdig na sa wala nakatindig




Nais mong magpatuloy

pagkaraan ng lahat, pagkaraang lahat


ilahad. Ngayon


mahinahon ang mga tinig, wala na

ang nagsasalitang salitang minsan


mayroong sariling silbi. Mayroong silbi


ang sarili, nais mong masabi, sa sarili

sa huli, bilang pagtanda sa inaakalang buhay




Isusulat mo

ang sarili. Isusulat mo


sa bawat salitang pipiliin


upang maiharap ang sarili

sa bawat salitang tatalikuran


upang muli lamang mabigo

sa bawat pagtalikod




Sa araw na kailangan mo

nang magpaalam, hindi mo maiiwan


ang iyong silid. Sa huling sandali


ipapasya mong isilid ito sa iyong bulsa

Naroon ang iyong kama, mesita, ilaw


sa pagbabasa. Maglalakbay ka


mula roon nang hindi iniiwan

ang iyong silid. Sa muli’t muling pagpasok


dito, kailangan mong laging magpaalam


Bawat araw, hindi mo maiiwan

ang iyong silid. Sa iyong bulsa


bawat huling sandali, ito ang iyong isinisilid




Sa sandaling ito, muli mong isusumpang mabuhay

para sa sining



by Mesándel Virtusio Arguelles

Because you discovered that

the world was not yours, your world


crashed. Your world


that just because was not yours

crashed but not because of you


Until you stand up now

to a world that stands on nothing




You want to continue

after everything had come to pass, after everything


was made known. Now


the voices are calm, no longer

one utters a word that once


had its use. The self had use


for the self, you wished to say

in the end to commemorate what passes for life




You will write

yourself. You will write


on every word you will choose


in order to submit yourself

to every word you will renounce


in order to once again fail

in every renunciation




On the day you need

to say goodbye, you cannot walk away from


your room. At the last moment


you will decide to slip it inside your pocket

There’s your bed, small table, lamp


for reading. You will travel


from thereon without leaving

your room. In your frequent reentry


into it, you need to always ask for permission


Each day, you cannot walk away from

your room. Inside your pocket


every last moment, you slip it in




At this moment, you curse once again having lived

for art

translated from Filipino by Kristine Ong Muslim

your big house, your america


Two poems by Zhu Zhu, translated by Dong Li. 

朱朱Zhu Zhu肖像,2013年,摄影:范西 李栋Li Dong


by Zhu Zhu

— 致L.Z.











































new jersey on the moon

by Zhu Zhu

— to l.z.


this is your tree, river, lawn,

your big house, your america.

this is your life on another planet,

you slow down the car to lead me through foothills,

like a documentary of private life on the wide screen.


reprints by impressionists hang on the living room wall,

your daughter’s toys piled high on the floor,

daytime when your husband goes to manhattan,

and your child to kindergarten, the streets fall silent

except for conversation between vacuum and lawn mower,

on the treadmill, like a toy train

on its oval track you go around and around…


here i am surprised by a sense of strangeness,

not that you have already changed your nationality

or become someone’s wife, i am

surprised that your wanderings have so soon come to the end—

the dreamed-of happy land of our youth

already abbreviated into a comfort cage,

and on the thick velvet couch,

once we speak of china, your mouth curls in a smirk.


i am saddened that you have missed an epic change in time,

a myth of time upended amid reality;

every one of your years here,

is a day that we have spent back home.

twilight, i return to the hotel in queens,

put my coat on the back of the chair, before my eyes

that wild girl floats by, loving

freedom more than carmen depicted by mérimée, walking

among marchers in a parade, like a goddness painted by delacroix.


…memory retains nothing but the kite’s spool,

i know i can no longer take you home,

even blessings seem unnecessary.

no one to entrust a mission, deep in the night

i dream of myself one step over the pacific,

back to fire-bright smoke-thick battlefields,

loading crossbows and shooting down those toxic suns. 

translated from Chinese by Dong Li


by Zhu Zhu




























passing by

by Zhu Zhu

not a drop last night, yet i woke

feeling hung over—at a hotel

before a steamed mirror, in shock, i

listened to the city’s river of traffic. here

i know a friend, who brushed his gifts aside

and scurried to capture cheap praises; a

classic literature professor, who loved his words more

than he did others; a girl, a music school grad

lost a love yet fell in love with this place,

had three jobs and precious little sleep,

—sadder than this was the passion drained away

from several generations in a flash, all of them

rushing ahead, cursing, complaining,

like countless rusty swords impelled to stick together—

a usual spring day, who amongst them

could discern my exacting wishes?

let them keep the best face on the past.

let me pass by without a visit and continue my journey—

throat dry, tongue scorched by soldering iron,

words swirl in dazed mind, so slow to come,

thus the need to pray year after year,

embrace rain showers repeatedly, landscapes and forked roads.

frail like tree shadow, in the puddles of the road

i feel the pain of being rolled over by wheels;

i am cold, because there is no light on the other side,

when people meet, lanterns are turned down low. 

translated from Chinese by Dong Li

a pilot dodging wood and granite crosses

Mestre. Foto Alejandro Gonzalez Puras.2Processed with VSCOcam with m5 presetTwo poems by Juan Carlos Mestre translated by Patrick Marion Bradley. 


Jardín Muerto

by Juan Carlos Mestre

Mientras paseo por el cementerio, el lugar más apropiado

para pensar en un currículum vítae, trato de recordar
qué carta del tarot me tranquilizaría. Sé que volveréis de nuevo

amores por los que se mueve el hombre ajo el hardware de

          las estrellas.
Y sin embargo estoy aquí, viéndoos tras la ventanilla de los tranvías,

camino de la historia siguiente. Como cuando era un niño
leo tus poemas apoyado en el alma de la noche y te oigo
como a un piloto que esquivara las cruces de madera y granito.

Estamos solos desde entonces, nadie ha venido a acompañarnos
y este día vacío de viento es la única recompensa.
Se han ido, eran las palabras que ya no pueden hablar
y las ardillas que, si se diera el caso, corren entre los robles.
Tened piedad, digo a las luces que brillan tras el estanque
y las tórtolas que duermen en el saúco salen a despedir
al cabello del carpintero, mi amigo, como a un ser en lo oscuro.

En el pedregal crece a su manera la flor de los lobos
el reino de los amantes desciende sobre las casas abandonadas
y las fresas de junio. Apenas duró un momento la iluminación,

pero brindo por ti, corazón de corazones, en la jaula de la

          Emperatriz y del saltamontes.

Dead Garden

by Juan Carlos Mestre

Walking through the cemetery, the most fitting place

to think over a résumé, I try to recall the tarot card

that could calm me down. I know you all will return again

for the love that moves men beneath the stars’ clockwork.

And yet I’m here, seeing you all beyond the tranvía glass,

the chain of these events. Like when I was a boy,

I read your poems nestled in the night’s soul and I hear you

like a pilot dodging wood and granite crosses.

Since then we’ve been alone, no one’s shown up to join us,

and this squall, hollow day is the only consolation.

They’ve gone, the words I still can’t speak

and the squirrels that, given the chance, scamper among the oaks.

Take pity, I tell the lights glimmering beyond the pond

and the doves sleeping in the elderberry, bidding farewell

the carpenter’s hair, my friend, like someone lost in the dark.

From the craggy earth a wildflower grows in its own way.

The reign of lovers descends over abandoned houses

and June’s strawberries. The flash hardly lasted a minute,

but I shine because of you, my heart of hearts, in the cage

of the Empress and crickets.

translated from Spanish by Patrick Marion Bradley

La Presencia

by Juan Carlos Mestre

En cuanto a nosotros, encendidos bajo la misión del diluvio,

          haga la noche un canto para la intimidad de los infelices.

Oscuros como están en la marmolería del guardabosques,

          déjelos la noche hablar ya que han viajado al perdón de

          los que no se encuentran.

Elijan allí los panes del mandato, pues una cosa te darán,

          belleza, si cumples con ellos como personas verdaderas

          y de sus plazos apartas la ira como se retiran las aguas.

Están con Dios, le atan los cordones de las zapatillas, imagínate

          la pena, darles ahora una patada hacia qué precipicio.

Solo, para menos aún de lo que pide, sale el carrizo del Arca

          y regresa con un anzuelo en el pico.

Vuelve el armisticio de las viudas a la casa del sastre desde el otro

          lado de las inundaciones.

Nada cambiará bajo el peso de la advertencia tras el parimiento,

          en esto nos hemos convertido.

Da trabajo pensar dónde estuvo lo que no estuvo, cómo se

          las arreglará para convencer al portero de cada noche

          la Presencia.

Hierve el agua para ambos, para ambos cae la helada sobre

          los olivos y los que cosen, cosen hasta el amanecer.

The Presence

by Juan Carlos Mestre

As for us, afire with the mission of the Flood,

make the night a canto for bluest affections.

Dark as they are in the nightwatch marblework,

leave them the evening to speak the forgiveness

they’ve sought from those they could not find.

Choose there thy daily bread, they will give you

one thing: beauty, if you find them truly human,

and divorce like ebbing tides the anger from the terms.

They’re with God, they tie his laces; imagine it,

the shame, to boot them over the edge now.

Alone, for even less than asked, the dove leaves the Ark

and flies back with a hook in its mouth.

The widows’ truce returns to the tailor’s home

from the far edge of the floodwaters.

Nothing changes with the weight of precaution,

this is what we’ve come to believe.

It’s tough to consider where what wasn’t was,

how he will sort them out to persuade

each night’s gatekeeper of the Presence.

Boil water for both, for both the frost settles

over the olive trees and those that sew, sew until sunrise.

translated from Spanish by Patrick Marion Bradley

to measure the body
or to neglect it

Gola04Two poems by Hugo Gola translated from Spanish by Hugo García Manríquez.



by Hugo Gola

         los objetos

 su presencia


      su forma huidiza

 o su sombra

 medir el cuerpo

 o descuidarlo


 Morandi recorre los bordes

 navega en un campo

 de violetas silvestres

 y sube hacia las cosas

   el jarrón

       la botella

         la taza vacía

             una y otra

           y otra vez

 caen de la sombra

       a la luz

 lucen en el espacio

   y tiemblan

       porque la mano


 y el ojo


 ante el vasto


 del mundo

To Paint

by Hugo Gola

        the objects

their erect


     their flickering form

or their shadow

to measure the body

or to neglect it

Morandi walks along the boundaries

navigates a field

of wild violets

and rises toward things

        the vase

            the bottle

               the empty cup

               again and again

        and again

plunge from shadow

     into light

glow in the open

and tremble

        for the hand


and the eye


before the vast


of the world

translated from Spanish by Hugo García Manríquez

Sin Conocer

by Hugo Gola

        No puede

                 el ave


 ¿O sí puede el ave?

 Cantar no es


        un sol


        el ave

        de su sol?

 ¿Saber versa


        lo que el ave


                 no puede?

 Pero igual

        el ave


        sin saber

 ¿Qué  es

        entonces saber?

 Si el ave

        sin saber


 el rio

        sin saber ríe

 el viento sin saber


        su suave sonido

        entre las


 ¿sobre que versa el saber?



        el ave

 de dónde sube

            el sonido?




 ¿sabe el que aprende?


Without Knowing

by Hugo Gola


                 the bird


        Or can it –– the bird?

 Singing is


        a sun


        the bird

        know its sun?

 Is knowing versed

        in what the bird




        the bird


        without knowing


        then is knowing?

 If the bird

        without knowing


 the river

        without knowing laughs

 the wind without knowing


        its sweet sound

        among the


 In what is knowing versed in?

 Does the bird



where sounds

        come from?




 Does the learner know?

translated from Spanish by Hugo García Manríquez

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.