that which flies, flaps, beats

Four poems by José Alfredo Escobar Martínez, translated by Wendy Call.


JAEM2011 (1)I first discovered the work of indigenous Zapotec poet José Alfredo Escobar Martínez in a Mexico City literary journal. I had lived for several years in the region he calls home, southern Mexico’s Isthmus of Tehuantepec, but had not encountered his poetry. In a special 2004 issue of Generación featuring more than a dozen Isthmus Zapotec writers, I found a single poem by Escobar Martínez. That poem flew off the page and followed me; it became the first poem I translated.

The Zapotecs have long been some of Mexico’s most celebrated writers, perhaps because their language was the first in the Americas to be written down. (The Maya probably got the idea of carving glyphs on stones from the Zapotecs.) Some anthropologists argue that the Zapotecs invented a complex iconography, not a complete writing system. Whatever it was, it arose about 2,500 years ago and endured until 800 CE. Linguists and archeologists are still trying to rediscover the mysteries of those glyphs, but Zapotec literary culture lives on, rendered in a transliterated Latinate script.

Four years after Escobar Martínez’s single poem in Generación entranced me, I finally made contact with the poet via ewendy callmail. Three years after that, we met in person for the first time, in his hometown of Espinal. Before that meeting, José Alfredo sent me a new cycle of poems, called Ripapa. Escobar Martínez writes in Spanish, including Zapotec words in his work. He explains the Zapotec title, Ripapa, as “que vuela, se agita, late.” In Mexican Spanish, as spoken on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, latir does not just mean “to beat” – as a heart or a pair of wings does, but also to have a hunch or a feeling about something. A sort of truth pulsing through one’s veins.

Translation is all about having hunches. Feelings about things. Just as I’d had about Escobar Martínez’s poetry from that first poem I saw on the pages of Generación.

His hometown, Espinal, is not a coastal village, but the image of the sea recurs in his poems. Only 120 miles separate the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans at the Mexican isthmus. This quirk of geography has impacted the region’s history and culture since long before the conquest. As with many Zapotec writers and artists, the relationship between the natural environment and the human psyche is paramount in Escobar Martínez’s work. In Zapotec cosmology, there is strong distinctions between the spheres of wild and tame. Human beings exist between the spheres of wild and tame, constantly feeling the tension between them

—Wendy Call



by José Alfredo Escobar Martínez


En el aire flota una sustancia

Que en el Istmo

Conocemos como ripapa

Da sustento a los pájaros

Y el que lo aspira le brotan alas.

A su solo nombre

Las muchachas casaderas se persignan

Ya que hace el corazon




*En zapoteco del Istmo: que vuela, se agita, late.


by José Alfredo Escobar Martínez


A substance floats in the air

That in the isthmus

We know as ripapa.

It sustains birds

And whoever inhales it sprouts wings.

Its mere name makes

Single young women cross themselves

Since it even migrates

To the heart.





*In Isthmus Zapotec : that which flies, flaps, beats.

translated from Spanish by Wendy Call

Palabras Hechas de Arena  

by José Alfredo Escobar Martínez


En la soledad de las dunas

No es tanto lo que la palabra dice

Sino lo que calla.

Cuando digo mar

Callo las clorofilas del azul

Y la sombra del pez que me guarece.

En esta soledad de arena que es el mar Muerto,

Me da miedo nombrar la palabra,

No sea que me espine la lengua. 

Words Made of Sand

by José Alfredo Escobar Martínez


In the solitude of dunes

It is not so much what a word says

But what it silences.

When I say ocean

I silence the chorophylls of blue depths

And the fishy shadow that shelters me.

In this sandy solitude that is the Dead Sea,

I fear naming the word,

For my tongue might sting me. 

translated from Spanish by Wendy Call

La Mar en Su Plenitud

by José Alfredo Escobar Martínez


La mar se desborda en sí misma.

Agobiada de su inmensidad

Procura desatar sus orillas

Y burlar el acecho de las olas

Y perderse,

Como aquel barco,

En el horizonte. 

The Sea at Its Apogee

by José Alfredo Escobar Martínez


The sea overflows its own shore.

Overwhelmed by its vastness

It strives to break past its shoreline

And mock threats of waves

And lose itself,

Like that ship,

On the horizon. 

translated from Spanish by Wendy Call

Enhorabuena la Luz

by José Alfredo Escobar Martínez



Dentro del ojo sucede la luz:

En esta hora del alba

Bucea en le agua salada del iris

Para arrojar al ahogado

En las orillas del día

Que se aproxima.

En las profundidades de su mirada

Penetra la aurora de los párpados

Asoman los anuncios

Que le dan vida a los sentidos

Y nos invitan

¿A qué?

A vivir.

Congratulating the Light

by José Alfredo Escobar Martínez


It’s true.

Light happens inside the eye:

At this dawning hour

It dives into iris brine

Casts out the drowned

Onto the fringes of day

Drawing near.

In the depths of its gaze

It penetrates the eyelids’ halo

Signs appear

Giving life to senses

And invites us

To what?

To live.

translated from Spanish by Wendy Call

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

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.

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

Read full article

A wild tiger’s excesses.
Or an ocelot.

Three poems by Macario Matus translated from Zapotec into Spanish by the author, with English translations and an introduction by Wendy Call.

MatusPhotoJuchitanIn Mexico’s southern state of Oaxaca, twenty miles north of the Pacific Ocean, the city of Juchitán has produced an enormous constellation of musicians, poets, storytellers, and painters. Juchitán’s traditional language, Isthmus Zapotec, was the first New World language to be written down, more than two thousand years ago. Over the last century, many bright lights of indigenous literature have come from Juchitán. Macario Matus was one of the most prominent; he influenced an entire generation of Zapotec storytellers and poets. One of those poets, Irma Pineda, said of Matus, one year before his death in 2009, “Macario Matus is in my life like water, like daylight. He exists, has always existed. I can’t pinpoint the date that we met; no one introduced us for the first time. And yet, every day I discover him, I recognize him, because every day he invents something new, something surges forth from that imagination—abundant, terrible, tireless, ferocious.”

Born January 2, 1943 in Juchitán, Macario Matus moved to Mexico City as a young adult to study; he continued to migrate between the two cities throughout his life. Matus published his first book at age 26, eventually producing more than twenty volumes of poetry, short stories, journalism, criticism, history, and translations. He founded Juchitán’s Casa de la Cultura, the cultural center where multiple generations of juchiteco musicians, painters, and writers—like Irma Pineda—took their first art classes. 

Matus passed away on August 6, 2009, at the age of 66. Three months after his death, a center for Isthmus Zapotec culture opened in Mexico City—a project of Matus’s for the last six years of his life. “Centro Cultural Yo’o Za’a Macario Matus” offers workshops taught by writers and artists who were students in Juchitán’s Casa de la Cultura under Matus’s leadership.

Unlike Irma Pineda, I never met Macario Matus in person. But like her, his work seems to have been around me, in the air and water, since my first visit to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in 1998. I discovered the bilingual poem “Bidóo Bacáanda / Dios del Sueño” (“God of Dreams”) in the Mexico City newspaper La Jornada, in June 2001. I don’t remember where I first encountered “Bidóo Gubéedxe / Dios de la Lujuria” (“God of Lust”) or “Cáa Bidóo Stíi Dúu / Dioses Nuestros” (“Our Gods”). All three poems appear in Matus’s 1998 collection Binni Záa (Los Zapotecas), but I’m sure that’s not the first place I read those poems. Books are still relatively rare and precious in Juchitán. By the time I borrowed a copy of Binni Záa, long since out of print, from Juchitán’s Casa de la Cultura, those poems were already familiar to me. In Juchitán, individual poems are passed around hand to hand, ear to ear. They flow through life like water, like daylight.  

–Wendy Call

Bidóo Gubéedxe

by Macario Matus

Guennda rigúu béedxe páa cáa guennda ranna xhíi

guláaqui cáa bée láa rigúu béedxe béedxe guíixhi.

Béedxe guíixhi, láani.

Guennda ráaca díiti máani stíi binni síica máni dúuxhu.

Xhiñée quíi gáaca núu síica béedxe guíixhi

páa láa núu gúule núu ndáani dúuxhu mée yáa.

Guennda ranna xhíi rudíi láa síica béedxe zée xpiáani.

Guennda ranna xhíi ngáa láaya béedxe náazi yanni.

Guennda béedxe ngáa ranna xhíi guiráa xhíixhe láaya binni,

guíidi láadi, bixhúuga náa máani, bixhúuga náa binni, guíicha

ruáa binni, guiée lúu béedxe ndáani yóo.

Guennda ranna xhíi née cúu béedxe ngáa ráaca binni máani née

binni guíidxi layúu.

¿Xhíi guiráa guíidxi layúu née cáa xpidóo lá?

guennda ranna xhíi née guennda rigúu béedxe zuzuhuáa cáa

huaxhíini, ridxíi.

God of Lust

by Macario Matus

Love or lust

they called a wild tiger’s excesses.

Or an ocelot.

Men shiver instinctively,

like ferocious animals.

How could we not be like ocelots

if born of their spirited viscera.

Love is mad cats in heat.

Love is eyeteeth threaded into your neck

Lust is loving with all your teeth,

skin, claws, fingernails, whiskers, cat’s eyes.

To love and be lustful is to be animal, or man.

To lust and to kiss is to be woman with sugared bile.

When the earth and its gods meet their end,

love and lust will preside over night, over day.

translated from Zapotec by Wendy Call

Dios de la Lujuria

by Macario Matus

La lujuria o el amor

lo llamaron excesos del tigre silvestre.

Ocelote, pues.

Estremecimientos instintivos

de los hombres como animales fieros.

Cómo no íbamos a ser como ocelotes

si nacimos de sus entrañas briosas.

El amor es entrega de felinos a lo loco.

El amor es colmillos ensartados al cuello.

Lujuria es amar con todos los dientes,

pieles, garras, uñas, bigotes, ojos de gato.

Amar y ser lujurioso es ser animal u hombre.

Lujuriar y besar es ser mujer con hiel azucarada.

Cuando se acabe la tierra y sus dioses,

el amor y la lujuria presidirán la noche, el día.

translated from Zapotec by Macario Matus into Spanish

Cáa Bidóo Stíi Dúu

by Macario Matus

Ndáani cáa guiée nabáani tíi bidóo stíi dúu,

ndáani tíi yáaga nabáani tíi bidóo stíi dúu,

xháa xcúu nabáani xpidóo dúu,

ndáani níisa dóo née níisa guíigu

nabáani cáa bidóo bizibáani láa dúu.

Níiza guiée xhúuba, béedxe, béeñe

náaca cáa xpidóo dúu, bixhóoze née bíichi cáa dúu.

Guidúubi guíidxi layúu ngáa jñáa dúu.

Our Gods

by Macario Matus

In every stone lives one of our gods,

in every tree dwells one of our gods,

our god lives under the roots,

within the water of river and sea,

dwell the gods who gave us life.

Rain, corn, jaguar, and lizard

are gods, fathers, brothers and sisters. 

All of nature is our mother.

translated from Zapotec by Wendy Call

Dioses Nuestros

by Macario Matus

En cada piedra vive un dios nuestro,

en cada árbol mora un dios nuestro,

bajo las raíces vive nuestro dios,

entre las aguas del mar y del río,

moran los dioses que nos dieron vida.

La lluvia, el maíz, el tigre, el lagarto

son dioses, padres y hermanos.

La naturaleza toda es nuestra madre.


translated from Zapotec by Macario Matus into Spanish

Bidóo Bacáanda

by Macario Matus

 Guúzi Góope síica Moctezuma guníi xcáanda

cáadxi binni quíichi née ruáa ráaxhi

zéeda yéete cáa lúu níisa dóo tíi quíiñe ntáa láa.

Née huandi, lúu cáa baláaga quée, déeche cáa máani quée veda

ndáa cáa binni guníi xcáanda xaíique quée.

Núu ndáani layúu stíi xaíique quée záa quée bíini núu xipiáani

riníi xcáanda cáa.

Rúuya cáa síica ráaca ridxíi níi chíi guizáaca lúu.

Cáa bacáanda quée, guníi zéeda quée, náaca cáa níi huandíi

néexhe náa.

Nguée rúuni quíi nucáa lúu cáa bée, bidíi cáa bée guíiba gúuchi,

layúu, née lúuna rizáaca.

Cáa bacáanda ngáa díidxa huandíi. Tíi gúuca huandíi guennda

ruziguíi stíi cáa binni quíichi.

Yanna láaga xhuxháale lúu núu riníi xcáanda núu huandíi ngáa


God of Dreams

by Macario Matus

Gúuzi Góope, like Moctezuma, dreamed

that some bearded white men

would come from the sea to dethrone him.

And yes, they arrived on huge ships, riding horses,

those men who the king had dreamed.

In the Zapotec kingdom there were wise men who dreamed.

They saw, clear as day, what soon would happen.

The dreams, they foretold, are waking realities.

And so they surrendered, handing over gold, land, and kingdom.

Dreams are real. The white men’s lie was real.

Now that we have awakened, we dream that truth is real. 

translated from Zapotec by Wendy Call

Dios del Sueño

by Macario Matus

Gúuzi Góope, como Moctezuma, soñó

que unos hombres blancos y barbados

bajarían de los mares para destronarlo.

Y sí, sobre unas barcazas, sobre unos caballos,

llegaron aquellos hombres que había soñado el rey.

Había en el reino zapoteca los sabios que soñaban.

Veían como si fuera de día lo que pronto sucedería.

Los sueños, predijeron, son realidades despiertas.

Por eso se entregaron, dieron el oro, su tierra, reino.

Los sueños son verdad. Fue verdad la mentira de los blancos.

Ahora que estamos despiertos, soñamos que la verdad es verdad. 

translated from Zapotec by Macario Matus into Spanish


Photo of the author courtesy of Irma Pineda.

the hurtling tornado
bears down on poplars

A poem by Pierre Chappuis translated from French by Tim Keane and Myriam Moraz.

Hommage ˆ la PoŽsie, Pierre Chappuis

Photo of Pierre Chappuis, 2010, Geneva, Switzerland, by G. Perret.

Tel un cri

by Pierre Chappuis

Tel un cri (d’où ? de qui ?), le tourbillon de la foudre s’allume. Nuit secouée, jetée à terre, reformée pour être ressaisie (étranger, hôte de passage tâtonnant entre les meubles), sauvagement prise et reprise. Dehors, champs, villages s’illuminent. Saillies, bondissements, nuit déhiscente (quel autre bruit plus lointain, plainte ou aboi ?), lueurs sur le pays déchiqueté, fractions englouties avant d’être aboutées, franchissement de l’abîme, dévalement de la tornade sur les peupliers, les jardins piétinés. Tel l’oiseau fabuleux (dormeur que le songe enveloppe de nouveau), la pluie, dans l’amorce grise du matin, ne viendra qu’une fois le calme rétabli.

Like A Cry

by Pierre Chappuis


Like a cry (from where? from who?), whirlwind from the lightning flash. Night is shaken, knocked to the ground, recovers to be steadied again (stranger, passing guest,  groping among the furniture), savagely seized and seized again. Outside, fields, villages, light up. Jutting, leaping, dehiscent night (which noise is further, the barking or the moaning?), glimmers over decimated earth, portions swallowed before coming to a head, clearing the chasm, the hurtling tornado bears down on poplars, trampled gardens. Like the mythical bird (sleeper wrapped in dream once more), the rain, in morning’s gray light, will only come once the calm’s restored.

translated from French by Tim Keane & Myriam Moraz

with no more authority or force
than pale, stripped branches

Two poems by the 16th century French poet Pierre de Ronsard, translated by Diane Furtney.

A La Royne Catherine de Medicis  

by Pierre de Ronsard

. . . L’autre jour que j’etois au temple à Sainct Denis,

Regardant tant de Rois en leurs cachottes mis,

Que n’agueres faisaient trembler toute la France,

Qui tous enflex d’orgueil, de pompe et d’esperance

Menoient un camp armé, tuoient et commandoient,

Et de leur peuple avoient les biens qu’ils demandoient,

Et les voyant couchez, n’ayans plus que l’escorce,

Comme buches de bois sans puissance ny force,

            Je disois à par moy:  Ce n’est rien que des Rois:

D’un nombre que voicy, à peine ou deux ou trois

Vivent apres leur mort, pour n’avoir este chiches

Vers les bons escrivains et les avoir fait riches. . .

To Queen Catherine de Medici  

by Pierre de Ronsard

. . . The other day, when I’d stepped inside

the church of Saint Denis and saw them, side by side


in their shallow niches, so many great

rulers lying in state


in stone, each inside a jail of death,

though everyone in France took a startled breath,


sometime, at the sight of his flying

colors—each leading out his armed camp, trying


for glory, and always receiving more

goods and help from his people than he’d asked for—


seeing them lying there, my lady,

on their backs, finally


unescorted, unhorsed,

with no more authority or force


than pale, stripped branches,

just rows and rows of impotence,


I said to myself, “There’s nothing

in here but Kings,


and quite a few of them.  No more than three

or two live on in anyone’s memory,


and only because it did not occur

—not to these monarchs—not to be meager


toward their writers, but rather make much

of them—even make them rich.”

translated from French by Diane Furtney


by Pierre de Ronsard


Les villes et les bourgs me sont si odieux

Que je meurs, si je voy quelque tracette humaine:

Seulet dedans les bois pensif je me promeine,

Et rein ne m’est plaisant que les sauvages lieux.


Il n’y a dans ces bois sangliers si furieux,

Ni roc si endurci, ny ruisseau, ni fontaine,

Ny arbre tant soit sourd, que ne sache ma peine,

Et qui ne soit marri de mon mal ennuyeux.


Un penser, que renaist d’un autre, m’accompaigne

Avec un pleur amer qui tout le sein me baigne,

Travaillé de soupirs qui compaignons me sont:


Si bien, que si quelcun me trouvoit au bocage,

Voyant mon poil rebours, et l’horreur de mon front,

Ne me diroit, pas homme, ains un monstre sauvage.

A Thought

by Pierre de Ronsard

The villages and cities

are so odious to me,


I feel myself dying

if I see even a sign


of a human being.  I stay

in the deep woods, away,


and nothing pleases me except extreme,

savage places.  And yet, no scream


of a boar is furious enough,

no boulder dense enough,


no stream or waterfall or tree

deaf enough to stop the grief in me


and this evil weariness.  A thought

brings up another thought,


and with them tears that wet

my chest, pushed out by sighs that


stay my only companions.

If any person


crossed my tracks and noticed,

through the twigs, this


tangled hair

and the horror


on my face, he’d say, “That’s not a man,

it’s a monster!  Monsters have come again!”



translated from French by Diane Furtney


the color of time on a ruined wall

 Five poems by Alejandra Pizarnik, translated by Yvette Siegert.

Pizarnik           Siegert photo

Mendiga voz

by Alejandra Pizarnik

Y aún me atrevo a amar

el sonido de la luz en una hora muerta,

el color del tiempo en un muro abandonado.


En mi mirada lo he perdido todo.

Es tan lejos pedir. Tan cerca saber que no hay.

A Beggar Voice

by Alejandra Pizarnik

And still I dare to love

the sound of the light in the hours of deadness

the color of time on a ruined wall.


In my eyes I’ve lost everything.

Asking is so far away. And so close, this knowledge of want.

translated from Spanish by Yvette Siegert

Los ojos abiertos

by Alejandra Pizarnik

Alguien mide sollozando

la extensión del alba.

Alguien apuñala la almohada

en busca de su imposible

lugar de reposo.

Eyes Wide Open    

by Alejandra Pizarnik

Someone sobs and measures

the lengths before dawn.

Someone punches her pillow

in search of an impossible

place of rest.

translated from Spanish by Yvette Siegert

Cuarto solo

by Alejandra Pizarnik

Si te atreves a sorprender

la verdad de esta vieja pared;

y sus fisuras, desgarraduras,

formando rostros, esfinges,

manos, clepsidras,

seguramente vendrá

una presencia para tu sed,

probablemente partirá

esta ausencia que te bebe.

Single Room    

by Alejandra Pizarnik

If you dare to frighten

the truth out of this old wall—

and its fissures, its gashes

that form shapes and sphinxes

and hands and clepsydras—

surely a presence

for your thirst will emerge,

and no doubt this absence

that drinks you dry will leave you.

translated from Spanish by Yvette Siegert

El corazón de lo que existe 

by Alejandra Pizarnik

no me entregues,

                tristísima medianoche,

al impuro mediodía blanco

The Heart of What Does Exist  

by Alejandra Pizarnik

do not hand me over,

            oh saddest of midnights,

to the impure whiteness of noon.

translated from Spanish by Yvette Siegert

Sombra de los días a venir

by Alejandra Pizarnik

A Ivonne A. Bordelois



me vestirán con cenizas al alba,

me llenarán la boca de flores.

Aprenderé a dormir

en la memoria de un muro,

en la respiración

de un animal que sueña.





Shadow from Days to Come

by Alejandra Pizarnik

For Ivonne A. Bordelois*



they’ll dress me in ash for the sunrise,

they’ll fill my mouth with flowers.

I’ll learn to sleep

inside the memory of a wall,

on the breath

of a dreaming animal.






* Bordelois is an Argentine linguist (PhD, MIT), writer, and scholar, and one of Pizarnik’s closest friends and literary interlocutors. 

translated from Spanish by Yvette Siegert

Out of the halls of books
Appear the butchers.

A new translation of Bertolt Brecht’s “1940,” by J.D. Knight.


by Bertolt Brecht


Das Frühjahr kommt. Due linden Winde

Befreien die Schären vom Wintereis.

Die Völker des Nordens erwarten zitternd

Die Schlachtflotten des Anstreichers.



Aus den Bücherhallen

Treten die Schlächter.


Die Kinder an sich drückend

Stehen die Mütter und durchforschen entgeistert

Den Himmel nach den Erfindungen der Gelehrten.



Die Konstrukteure hocken

Gekrümmt in den Zeichensälen:

Eine falsche Ziffer, und die Städte des Feindes

Bleiben unzerstört.



Nebel verhüllt

Die Straße

Die Pappeln

Die Gehöfte und

Die Artillerie.



Ich befinde mich auf dem Inselchen Lidingö.

Aber neulich nachts

Träumte ich schwer und träumte, ich war in einer Stadt

Und entdeckte, die Beschriftungen der Straßen

Waren deutsch. In Schweiß gebadet

Erwachte ich, und mit Erleichterung

Sah ich die nachtschwarze Föhre vor dem Fenster und wußte:

Ich war in der Fremde.             




by Bertolt Brecht


Spring is coming. The mild winds

Free the ridges from the winter’s ice.

Shivering, the people of the north await

The naval fleets of the house-painter.



Out of the halls of books

Appear the butchers.


Pressing her children close

The mother scans the sky, dumbfounded,

For the inventions of the scholars.



The engineers sit

Hunched over in the design rooms:

One wrong figure, and the enemy’s cities

Remain intact.



Fog envelops

The street

The poplars

The farms and

The artillery.



I’m living on the island of Lidingö.

But the other night,

I had troubled dreams and I dreamed I was in a city

And discovered the street signs

Were in German. I woke up

Bathed in sweat, and with relief

I saw the pine, black as night, outside my window and knew:

I was in a foreign land.



translated from German by J.D. Knight

Nicanor Parra:
Brand-new After 100 years

by: Iris Cushing


nicanor parraPhysicist, mathematician, artist, folk dancer, and (anti)poet Nicanor Parra turns 100 years old today. That he’s living to celebrate his own centennial could be a detail from one of his magnificently wry, aphoristic, self-mythologizing antipoems, which he has long characterized as a type of literary material analogous to antimatter. In her translator’s introduction to Antipoems: How to Look Better and Feel Great (New Directions, 2004) Liz Werner writes that “…antipoetry mirrors poetry, not as its adversary but as its perfect complement…it is as opposite, complete, and interdependent as the shape left behind in the fabric where the garment has been cut out.”

Parra has been cutting vivid shapes from the fabric of Latin American poetry and poetics since 1937, when his first book, Cancionero sin Nombre, appeared (Pablo Neruda’s book responding to the Spanish Civil War, España en el Corazón, appeared a year later). He went on to study physics and cosmology at Brown and Oxford, and teach those subjects at universities in Chile. Parra’s deceptively plain, deadpan voice has long confronted the various status quos of pop culture, literary canons, academia and politics. Having lived and written through the 17-year U.S.-backed Pinochet dictatorship, Parra has penned postcard-sized lyrics and drawings responding to situations as diverse in time and space as the U.S.’s embargo on Cuba and the war in Iraq. Throughout all his work runs a compassionate entreaty to consider poetry as a means for rethinking the world. “A poet is not true to his word/If he doesn’t change the names of things,” he writes in “Changes of Name” (trans. W.S. Merwin, in Poems and Antipoems, New Directions, 1967).

To celebrate Parra’s birthday, Chilean press Ediciones Universidad Diego Portales is releasing a long-lost long poem by Parra, titled Temporal. Written in 1987, the poem was lost by Parra in the chaos of the end of the Pinochet regime. However, Parra’s secretary, Adán Mendez, recently discovered cassette tapes of Parra in conversation with critic Rene de la Costa in which he reads the entire piece aloud. Mendez transcribed the poem from audio. The unlikely survival of a great poem in the body of a now-obsolete technology seems perfectly appropriate to Parra’s style.

Saludos a todos– “hi to everyone”–is the ninth and final “note” of Parra’s “Notes on the Lessons of Antipoetry,” translated by Liz Werner. Issued from the position of a theoretical physicist, rigorous social thinker, and poet, this greeting reads as something that could be inscribed on the Higgs boson particle: a beautifully purposeless joke at the center of the world’s great mystery. At 100, Parra is still laughing.