None of you know what it’s like to live with Matt Sweeney.

Two poems by Melcion Mateu translated from the Catalan by Rowan Ricardo Phillips and a musical composition by Alexis Cuadrado. 

Photo by Patricia Tagliari

Photo by Sue Kwon

The composer and bassist Alexis Cuadrado wrote music for “The Ballad of Matt Sweeney” that was performed and recorded as a part of POETICA, a collection of original compositions by Cuadrado based on my poems and the poems of Melcion Mateu [pictured on the left]. The collaborators were Alexis Cuadrado on bass, Andy Milne on keyboards, Miles Okazaki on guitar, and Tyshawn Sorey on drums; with Melcion and myself [pictured on the right] providing voice. The band performed during a four-night residency at SEEDS::Brooklyn and a two-night, two-set per night stay at The Jazz Gallery in Manhattan. The following is from a studio session (recorded at The Bunker in Brooklyn) for the forthcoming album. Listen and enjoy.

–Rowan Ricardo Phillips 

Balada De Matt Sweeney

by Melcion Mateu

I

Matt Sweeney, el meu company de pis,

és alt i és gras; podria,

si volgués, actuar en un musical.

I és que té un do (de pit) realment insòlit,

gairebé com el seu do

de donant –el seu do d’amant, volia dir.

El seu do i el seu re

i el seu mi. Matt Sweeney

ronca al quarto del costat.

 

L’hauríeu de veure quan es lleva,

amb la calba, amb el cap ple d’antenes retorçades.

Li hauríeu de veure els ulls verds de Heineken,

les ulleres i el nas d’intel·lectual

i la gota del nas, li hauríeu de veure

la boca i les dents i

la llengua i la papada i els pits i el cor

(tatuat damunt del cor), li hauríeu de veure

la panxa i l’esquena i el cul

guaitant-li per damunt dels calçotets.

 

Matt Sweeney només s’assembla a Matt Sweeney,

sobretot als matins

(sis llaunes de cervesa es beu totes les nits

davant la tele, mirant una soap-opera):

té un cert posat d’entertainer triomfador,

amb el cap embotit de marihuana i un somriure feliç de bon vivant;

Matt Sweeney s’enlaira com un globus,

em mira, obre la boca i diu:

«Good morning, dude!», talment com si acabés de tornar de Califòrnia.

«Mornin’», li responc.

 

II

Matt Sweeney, el meu company

de pis, és un poc especial.

Va tenir un amant filipí

que estava boig pels óssos.

L’abraçava i li deia teddy bear

i en Matt li responia I wanna be your teddy bear

movent el cul com n’Elvis.

 

Vosaltres no sabeu el que és viure al costat de Matt Sweeney.

(És un ofici tan difícil!)

Sweeney! Sweeney! Sweeney! Sweeney!

«Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd»,

alguns dies em canta.

Jo per ara us explico la vida de Matt Sweeney

i un poc de la meva. Permeteu-me per tant que desafini.

 

III

Realment és un porc:

deixa la pica del lavabo plena de pèls,

la tapa del vàter esquitxada

i sovint es descuida d’estirar la cadena.

No renta els plats fins que no són plens de verdet.

Deixa els calçotets bruts al damunt del sofà,

una sabata a sota,

restes de porro a terra.

Acumula diaris i revistes.

Va perdre un dia el seu raspall de dents

i em va demanar de fer servir el meu. Ni en broma!

 

Cada nit el sentia masturbant-se al seu quarto

i en acabat roncava fins l’endemà.

Per sota de la porta s’escapaven les xinxes.

Li vaig demanar sisplau

que abaixés el volum de tant en tant.

I em va dir, ben afaitat i fent-se el nus de la corbata:

«I got my hair I got my head I got my brains I got my ears

I got my nose I got my mouth I got my teeth

I-got-my-tongue…!»

I encara sense treure’s

els auriculars va afegir:

«Benvingut, fill meu,

a l’imperi de Matt Sweeney,

observa al teu voltant i sàpigues que algun dia, estimat»

–i aquí es va dur una mà al pit i l’altra a l’entrecuix–,

«tot això que veus, tot això que t’envolta (i el que no veus i ni tan sols

imagines) serà teu,

serà teu tot l’imperi –el meu imperi–,

l’imperi de Matt Sweeney!»

The Ballad of Matt Sweeney

by Melcion Mateu

I

My roommate, Matt Sweeney,

is tall and fat; if he wanted

he could be in a musical.

It’s that his High C is really extraordinary,

almost like his gift

Of giving––his gift as a lover, I meant.

His do and his re

And his mi. Matt Sweeney

snores in the room next door.

 

You should see him when he wakes up,

his bald-spot, his head full of twisted antennae.

You should see his Heineken-green eyes,

his glasses and his intellectual

nose and his runny nose, you should see

his mouth and his teeth and

his tongue and his chest and his heart

(tattooed over his heart), you should see

his belly and his back and his ass

jutting out from just above his underwear.

 

Only Matt Sweeney looks like Matt Sweeney,

especially in the mornings

(he drinks a six pack of beer in front of the TV

every night, watching a soap opera):

he has the assured air of a triumphant entertainer,

with his head stuffed with marihuana and a happy bon vivant smile;

Matt Sweeney rises like a balloon,

looks at himself, opens his mouth and says,

“Good morning, dude!,” as though he’s just gotten back from California.

“Mornin’,” I say back.

 

II

My roommate Matt Sweeney

is a little weird.

He had a Filipino lover

who was crazy for bears.

He’d hug him and call him teddy bear

and Matt would respond with I wanna be your teddy bear

shaking his ass like Elvis.

 

None of you know what it’s like to live with Matt Sweeney.

(What a pain in the ass it can be!).

Sweeney, Sweeney! Sweeney! Sweeney! Sweeney!

“Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd,”

he sings sometimes to me.

For the moment, I’m telling you about the life of Matt Sweeney

and a little bit about me. So don’t mind if I sing out of key.

 

III

He’s a real pig:

he leaves the sink full of hairs,

the lid of the toilet splattered,

he often forgets to flush;

he’s doesn’t wash the dishes until they’re covered in grime,

he leaves his dirty underwear on the sofa,

a shoe under it,

spliff ash on the floor;

he lets his newspapers and magazines pile up.

One day he lost his toothbrush

and asked to use mine and I said there was just no way.

 

Every night I’d hear him jerking off in his room

and when he finished he’d snore until the next day.

Bedbugs fled from under his door.

Once, I asked him nicely

if he could lower the volume once in a while

and, clean shaven and fixing the knot of his tie, he told me:

“I got my hair I got my head I got my brains I got my ears

I got my nose I got my mouth I got my teeth

I-got-my-tongue…!”

And then without taking off

his headphones he added:

“Welcome, my child,

to the kingdom of Matt Sweeney,

observe all around you and know that some day, my beloved”

––and here he placed one hand on his chest and the other on his crotch––,

“all that you see, all that surrounds you (and all that you neither see nor

imagine) will be yours,

all of this kingdom will be yours––my kingdom––

the kingdom of Matt Sweeney!”

translated from Catalan by Rowan Ricardo Phillips
more>>

Gap

by Melcion Mateu

Puc fondre el gel amb la Mirada,

puc esborrar una multitud amb un sol parpelleig.

Si m’ho proposés,

podria fer créxer la palmera més alta

al mig d’aquesta plaça.

Puc agafar un grapat d’aigua, palpar-lo i prémer-lo

fins que en surti una pedra.

Els guàdies m’aturen quan vaig pel carrer

i em demanen per mi:

sempre els indico la direcció oposada.

Al matí, en despertar-me,

és normal que el llençol m’arribi al sostre.

Puc veure alguns planets que han deixat d’existir,

i també les estrelles que no han sortit encara.

El meu horòoscop sempre s’acompleix,

el meu destí és el destí dels éssers immortals.

Puc decidir entre la vida i la mort,

entre el somni i allò que no gosem pensar.

Puc fer-te patir

o fer que et sentis l’ésser més feliç de la Terra.

 

El meu nom és antic,

sóc el rei de la llum.

Quan plou o quan fa fred, em torno una crisàlide.

Al meu costat les papallones sempre tremolen,

no puc fer res per evitar-ho:

el que els alters poetes escriuen,

el que els alters poetes diuen en els seus versos és només una part

––una part molt petita––del que dir i puc fer.

 

Gap

by Melcion Mateu

With just a glance I can melt ice.

I can wipe out multitudes with a single blink.

If I were to suggest it

I could make the tallest of palms rise

right here in the middle of this plaza.

I can grab a fistful of water, palm its surfaces and squeeze

until a stone ekes out.

The cops stop me when I’m out on the street

and ask me if I’ve seen me . . .

I always send them in the opposite direction.

In the morning it’s normal for me to wake up and discover

my tented bed sheet touching the ceiling.

I can see some of the planets that have ceased to exist

as well as the stars that still have yet to be.

My horoscope always comes true.

My destiny is the destiny of immortals.

I get to choose between life and death,

between the dream and the thing that we don’t like to think.

I can make you suffer

or make you feel you’re the happiest being on Earth.

 

My name is ancient:

I am the king of all light.

I become chrysalis when it rains or when it’s cold.

There are always butterflies trembling at my flanks.

I can’t do anything to avoid it:

what other poets write,

what other poets say in their lines,

it’s all only a part –– a very small part –– of what I can say and what I can do.

translated from Catalan by Rowan Ricardo Phillips
more>>

BESbswyBESbswyBESbswyBESbswyBESbswyBESbswyBESbswyBESbswyBESbswyBESbswyBESbswyBESbswyBESbswyBESbswyBESbswyBESbswy

Photos of Melcion Marteu and Rowan Ricardo Phillips by Patricia Tagliari and Sue Kwon, respectively.

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
more>>

Sonnet

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
more>>

 

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
more>>

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
more>>

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
more>>

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
more>>

Sombra de los días a venir

by Alejandra Pizarnik

A Ivonne A. Bordelois

 

Mañana

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*

 

Tomorrow

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
more>>

Out of the halls of books
Appear the butchers.

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

1940

by Bertolt Brecht

I

Das Frühjahr kommt. Due linden Winde

Befreien die Schären vom Wintereis.

Die Völker des Nordens erwarten zitternd

Die Schlachtflotten des Anstreichers.

 

II

Aus den Bücherhallen

Treten die Schlächter.

 

Die Kinder an sich drückend

Stehen die Mütter und durchforschen entgeistert

Den Himmel nach den Erfindungen der Gelehrten.

 

III

Die Konstrukteure hocken

Gekrümmt in den Zeichensälen:

Eine falsche Ziffer, und die Städte des Feindes

Bleiben unzerstört.

 

IV

Nebel verhüllt

Die Straße

Die Pappeln

Die Gehöfte und

Die Artillerie.

 

V

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.             

 

 

1940

by Bertolt Brecht

I

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.

 

II

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.

 

III

The engineers sit

Hunched over in the design rooms:

One wrong figure, and the enemy’s cities

Remain intact.

 

IV

Fog envelops

The street

The poplars

The farms and

The artillery.

 

V

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
more>>

Her hands planted the rootless sprig

Four poems by Afghan poet Nadia Anjuman, translated from Dari by Diana Arterian and Marina Omar.

Nadia Anjuman’s poetry startles. When considered in conjunction with the knowledge of her young age, it provokes something deeper, less easily pinned down. Her poems are in turns playful, hopeful, devout, despondent. She leans on imagery of the garden and the stars, as well as the body. Despite the difficulty of her life and the content of the poems, one of her most remarkable and consistent habits is her hopefulness. Many of Anjuman’s pieces show her coaxing herself into optimism and rationality.

As a teenager in Herat, Nadia Anjuman attended the Golden Needle School. Under the guise of practicing needlepoint (a pastime approved by the Taliban government), a group of women gathered to meet and discuss literature with local professors. In 2001, with Afghanistan’s liberation from the Taliban, Anjuman began attending Herat University and soon published a book of poetry entitled Gul-e-dodi (Dark Flower). In Gul-e-dodi, Anjuman portrayed the difficult realities of her life and thus her generation of Afghani women, those with few rights who had been raised during the reign of a violent and oppressive governmental power. Her readership was not limited to Afghanistan—Gul-e-dodi found readers in Iran, Pakistan, and beyond. As a result of her writing, Anjuman was awarded scholarships and fellowships. She continued to write poetry despite the objections of her husband and his family, and she was set to publish a second volume of poetry in 2006 entitled Yek Sàbad Délhoreh (An Abundance of Worry).

Anjuman was killed in November of 2005 at the age of twenty-five. While the particulars of her death remain unclear, it appears that it was the result of a physical struggle between Anjuman and her husband. In 2007, Anjuman’s complete works (entitled Divâne Sorudehâye Nadia Anjoman: The Book of Poems of Nadia Anjuman) were published by the Iranian Burnt Books Foundation. Gul-e-dodi has been reprinted three times and sold over three thousand copies. As I continue to work on translating Anjuman’s poems—sending them out for publication, applying for grants, talking to people about her—I hope to avoid trapping her in the common tropes of the young genius, the dead woman writer, and/or the oppressed Afghani woman. The details of her life do not eclipse the brilliance of her verse.

—Diana Arterian

پربار

by Nadia Anjuman

aa_4

Rich

by Nadia Anjuman

One day my thoughts, instead of a chill

will bring fireworks

One day my eyes will be wide open

such that

in seeing the shrunken leaves of the ocean, they continue flowing

One day my hands will become weavers

and upon life’s wasteland of a body

spin a gown with wheat and flowers

 

One day a lullaby

will bring sleep to the weary eyes of homeless children

One day I will sing praise

to the spirit of fire

with soothing songs of rain

On that day

I will write a rich and exalting poem

with the sweetness of a tree’s fruit and the beauty of the moon

 

Sarataan 1380 / Summer 2001

translated from Dari by Diana Arterian & Marina Omar
more>>

تا بیکران خالی

by Nadia Anjuman

aa_3

Eternal Pit

by Nadia Anjuman

Once she was filled with the familiar

Her hands planted the rootless sprig

with intuition—

so it would grow

 

Once, in the bright spring of her mind

ran many great thoughts

 

Once, at times

her hand tamed the trees

 

Once even her guts were obedient

perhaps they feared her power

 

But today

her hands are wasted and idle

her eyes burnt sockets

her bright thoughts are buried in a swamp

fading

 

She distrusts even her feet

They defy her

taking her where she doesn’t want to go

 

She sits in a corner of quiet

lost in a sea of darkness

emptied of the thought of time

That

eternal pit

 

Sawr 1380Spring 2001

translated from Dari by Diana Arterian & Marina Omar
more>>

شکست

by Nadia Anjuman

aa_2

Failure

by Nadia Anjuman

How sincere, how pure

You, with such faith in your blossoming

ready in your chamber of patience 

Spring did not come

and you with your airy dreams

only smiled

and looked with your heart toward the future

But sadly

spring never stirred within

and luck didn’t smile on you

and when you found love

the harsh trial of that storm

plucked your bud of hope and

      and you snapped before opening

 

Asad 1380 / Summer 2001

translated from Dari by Diana Arterian & Marina Omar
more>>

ناز دخترانه

by Nadia Anjuman

aa_1a

Girlish Heart

by Nadia Anjuman

 

Each morning my heart is restless –

it longs for night’s solitude

becomes weary and joyless

peeved by the day

And yet in the afternoon

it sings for sunrise

When night falls

the branch of my heart’s fantasy grows

innocent of itself

Facing the sky

it flies upward, infinitely

(If my hand reached the moon

If the night bought my relief from a star

If the sun did not rise…

I would cover the city of night with lights

to gaze forever, star-drunk…)

Oh, my dreaming heart

you drown my days

in fantasy

How long will this old woman of a heart

move like a girl?

 

Swar 1379 / Spring 2000

 

translated from Dari by Diana Arterian & Marina Omar
more>>

 

a failed defense against our common fate

 

Retrato_de_Sor_Juana_Inés_de_la_Cruz_(Miguel_Cabrera)Three poems by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, translated and with a note by Edith Grossman. 

My usual practice in translating poetry is to focus on rhythm and meter and give much shorter shrift to rhyme, not because it lacks importance (rhyme is actually an integral part of a poem’s rhythmic structure) but because for me it is extremely difficult to re-create in English the abundant rhymes, both assonant and consonant, that proliferate in Spanish and seem to be there for the taking. Not so in English. A poetic genius like Yeats makes rhyming seem a simple, natural matter, no more difficult than drawing breath, but for lesser mortals, moving from an easily rhymed language to one in which finding rhymes can best be described as arduous is an excruciating process. Even more discouraging is the sad fact that, more often than not, a translation that stresses the re-creation of rhyme begins to resemble not the source poem but doggerel plagiarized from a cheap greeting card. Then too, lines can become drastically convoluted in a translator‘s desperate effort to create rhymes and convey the sense of the original. Consequently, experience has led me to concentrate on the rhythm of the poem and take as my own the wisdom found in the Duke Ellington tune: “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.”  

—Edith Grossman

Sonetot 145

Procura desmentir los elogios que a un retrato de la poetisa
inscribió la verdad, que llama pasión

by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

Éste que ves, engaño colorido,
que del arte ostentando los primores,
con falsos silogismos de colores
es cauteloso engaño del sentido;

 

éste, en quien la lisonja ha pretendido
excusar de los años los horrores,
y venciendo del tiempo los rigores
triunfar de la vejez y del olvido,

 

es un vano artificio del cuidado,
es una flor al viento delicada,
es un resguardo inútil para el hado:

 

es una necia diligencia errada
es un afán caduco y, bien mirado,
es cadáver, es polvo, es sombra, es nada.

Sonnet 145

In which she attempts to refute the praises of a portrait of the poet,
signed by truth, which she calls passion

by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

This thing you see, a bright-colored deceit,

displaying all the many charms of art,

with false syllogisms of tint and hue

is a cunning deception of the eye;

 

this thing in which sheer flattery has tried

to evade the stark horrors of the years

and, vanquishing the cruelties of time,

to triumph over age and oblivion,

 

is vanity, contrivance, artifice,

a delicate blossom stranded in the wind,

a failed defense against our common fate;

 

a fruitless enterprise, a great mistake,

a decrepit frenzy, and rightly viewed,

a corpse, some dust, a shadow, mere nothingness.

translated from Spanish by Edith Grossman
more>>

Soneto 147

En que da moral censura a una rosa, y en ella a sus semejantes

by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

Rosa divina que en gentil cultura

eres, con tu fragante sutileza,

magisterio purpúreo en la belleza,

enseñanza nevada a la hermosura.

 

Amago de la humana arquitectura,

ejemplo de la vana gentileza,

en cuyo ser unió naturaleza

la cuna alegre y triste sepultura.

 

¡Cuán altiva en tu pompa, presumida,

soberbia, el riesgo de morir desdeñas,

y luego desmayada y encogida

 

de tu caduco ser das mustias señas,

conque con docta muerte y necia vida,

viviendo engañas y muriendo enseñas!

 

Sonnet 147

In which she morally censures a rose, and thereby all that resemble it

by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

O rose divine, in gentle cultivation

you are, with all your fragrant subtlety,

tuition, purple-hued, to loveliness,

snow-white instruction to the beautiful;

 

intimation of a human structure,

example of gentility in vain,

to whose one being nature has united

the joyful cradle and the mournful grave;

 

how haughty in your pomp, presumptuous one,

how proud when you disdain the threat of death,

then, in a swoon and shriveling, you give

 

a withered vision of a failing self;

and so, with your wise death and foolish life,

In living you deceive, dying you teach!

translated from Spanish by Edith Grossman
more>>

Soneto 164

En que satisface un recelo con la retórica del llanto

by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

 

Esta tarde, mi bien, cuando te hablaba,

como en tu rostro y tus acciones vía

que con palabras no te persuadía,

que el corazón me vieses deseaba;

 

y Amor, que mis intentos ayudaba,

venció lo que imposible parecía:

pues entre el llanto, que el dolor vertía,

el corazón deshecho destilaba.

 

Baste ya de rigores, mi bien, baste:

no te atormenten más celos tiranos,

ni el vil recelo tu quietud contraste

 

con sombras necias, con indicios vanos,

pues ya en líquido humor viste y tocaste

mi corazón deshecho entre tus manos.

 

Sonnet 164

In which she responds to jealous suspicion with the rhetoric of weeping

by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

This afternoon, my love, when I spoke to you,

I could see in your face, in what you did,

that you were not persuaded by mere words,

and I wished you could see into my heart;

 

and Love, assisting me in my attempt,

overcame the seeming impossible,

for among the tears that my sorrow shed

was my breaking heart, liquid and distilled.

 

Enough of anger now, my love, enough;

do not let tyrant jealousy torment you,

nor base suspicion roil your serenity

 

with foolish specters and deceptive clues;

in liquid humor you have seen and touched

my broken heart and held it in your hands.

translated from Spanish by Edith Grossman
more>>

 

On the table, to the side of the door, is my heart

 

Valerie Mejer FotoIMG_0656An excerpt from Valerie Mejer’s “Countryless,” translated by Torin Jensen.

 

[Señor mío,]

by Valerie Mejer

Señor mío,

            Este árbol que veo ahora es exacto en sus hojas. Es preciso el número de los que pasan por la calle, y justa la ventana que los coloca en un marco. Así el ojo que ha mirado la batalla librada por esa mente suya, una mente de lagos y libélulas y más abajo, al final de sus extremidades cuelgan sus manos de hombre. Señor, nada es mío, usted por encima de todo no lo es. Las mariposas innumerables de un recuerdo, donde usted aún no tocaba mi vida, ellas sí son mías, y están ahí cubriendo el cuerpo de una niña enana en el bosque. Yo la llevé en hombros hasta el santuario porque sus piernas ya se retorcían, al final nos recostamos, y la victoria fueron esos cuerpos de papel cubriéndonos de pies a cabeza. Una manta inquieta, que casi flotaba desde nuestros cuerpos hasta la mente que yo aún no conocía y hasta la mano que me llevaría por una camino semejante a ellas. A un paraíso de insectos. Nada es nuestro, usted lo sabe, ni siquiera el día en que sabremos cabalgar una misma yegua, o aquel en que pondremos en un cazo un par de papas. Ya estamos en la mesa de los otros, ya lo estamos, pero ese pensamiento no es nuestro señor mío, esa es una idea del sol que nos considera de momento. Es de usted lo que yo le doy, pero ha sido olvidado a la entrada de mi casa y ahora mismo esto que escribo es un recordatorio: En la mesa, al lado de la puerta está mi corazón. No duran vivos los órganos que se dejan afuera de un cuerpo. 

[My Lord,]

by Valerie Mejer

My Lord,

            This tree I see now is exact in its leaves. It’s precise the number of those that move through the street, and exact how the window places them in a frame. Like the eye that’s witnessed the struggle for your mind, Lord, a mind of lakes and dragonflies and further below, at the end of your limbs hang the ordinary hands of a man. Lord, nothing is mine; you above all. The innumerable butterflies of a memory, where you hadn’t yet touched my life, they, by all means, are there covering the body of a girl dwarf in the forest. I carried her on my shoulders to the sanctuary because her legs already twisted themselves. At last we rested, those bodies of paper, the victory, covering us from head to foot, and a tremulous blanket nearly floated from our bodies to the mind that I hadn’t yet encountered and to the hand that would take me to a similar path. To a paradise of insects. Lord, nothing is ours, you know, not even the day when we’ll know to ride the same mare, or when we’ll boil a couple of potatoes in a pan. Already we’re on the table of the others, we’re already there, but that thought isn’t yet ours, Lord, it’s an idea of the sun who considers us momentarily. It belongs to you, what I give you, but it’s been forgotten at the entrance to my house and now too what I write is a reminder: On the table, to the side of the door, is my heart. The organs left outside a body don’t survive. 

translated from Spanish by Torin Jensen
more>>

We look as we did when the lava was poured upon us.

Four poems by Behçet Necatigil, translated from Turkish by Chuck Sebian-Lander.

Tek_51Behçet Necatigil died in 1979; since the 1980s, his family and estate have sponsored an annual poetry competition to discover new Turkish voices. There is a similar mingling, within these poems, of past and present; whether the details are clear or obscure in the translation, I find throughout them a recognition that history always remains beneath any rebirth. Necatigil brings Pompeii into Turkey; he suggests a mythical connection between all communities that is forged in more than simple tradition. In the universe he creates, time circles as it progresses. New life will spring from the ash, but that life will feel the weight of its age.

Though he is best known in Turkey as a poet, Necatigil (a professor of literature) always considered himself an academic, and he treated his craft with due academic rigor. I admire his resulting attention to structure and detail, perhaps too much at times during this project: It took many variations and revisions to move from rough, difficult to parse literal translations (credit Esra Uzun, a native Turkish speaker and friend, with helping to form those rough initial translations) to this work. I repeatedly rebalanced the desire to match his poem’s structural integrity with the need to maintain both the clarity and the mystery of their meaning. Some linguistic patterns could be preserved with their magical, lingering effects (the variations on “unite” within “Without Buying,” for example), but others were simply impossible to keep without crafting stilted English or losing a coherent understanding of the central images.

Necatigil himself was a translator; fond of the many structures that language could build, he translated Ranier Maria Rilke’s poetry from German into Turkish and won awards in 1956 and 1964 for collections of translated works. I should have found that intimidating, but it turned out to be thrilling. To me, his work above all exudes love both for his own language and language in general. That’s reason enough to read him in English and in any other tongue that would have him.

–Chuck Sebian-Lander

Giz

by Behçet Necatigil

Parlayarak gözleri yaklaşırlar

Geçse ellerine diderler tiftik.

 

Karanlıska, dizilmişse ve kapkacaksa

Dolaşır ayaklara kutular

Bir sürü örtü kılıf ve hep korkulacaksa

Çekilen bir iskemle bir kötürüm olarak

Getirmişler, bırakmışlar ve gitmişlerse

Kim açıkça söyler bilerek, bilmeyerek

Sana, bana ve ona ettiği kötülüğü—

Taş taş uzaklaş kuyulara gidiyor.

 

Titrek mumlar dibinde birikmiş gölgeleriz

Yüzler, eşya ve kaplar bir görünüm olarak

Karşımızda değişmez bir ufuk adına

Kim, neyi ne kadar tanır karanlığında—

Taş taş uzaklaş hepsi yola gidiyor.

Hidden

by Behçet Necatigil

Her eyes approach a dangerous brightness:

Any brighter and devil’s hands would find them.

 

We lay here, trapped in the darkness together,

Pinned by boxes lined with pots and pans.

We cower under bedsheets, terrified together,

Pushed under, frozen in place as paraplegics.

Our torturers may have long since left, but how

Could we know unless we pull away our sheets?

Now the pain caused—your pain, my pain—

We cast it into the darkness, piece by piece.

 

Candlelit shadows spill out across the room,

Casting our silhouettes against the furniture.

The distant horizon can’t dim that new light:

Whatever horror remains in this darkness,

We cast them away, one by one.

translated from Turkish by Chuck Sebian-Lander
more>>

Yatak

by Behçet Necatigil

Bir yerde her şey Pompei’nin son günleri—

Nasıl dökülmüşse lav öyleyiz üstümüze,

Bir elbise mi ki çikar at eskileri.

 

Epeyce de uzaklarda—geriler

Düşünür: kim bunlar, geldiler, aldılar

Eski benim çul giysilerimi

Gene çul giyidirdiler.

 

Uyumak uzun bir süre, serdikleri döşekte

Çok başka görünmüştü–

Oysa hep aynı şilte.

 

Bir zaman belki güzel, değişen bir model–

Yeniler derken eski vitrinleri, çocukluk…

Ne kadar çevirseler yüzünü

Geriler.

Bed

by Behçet Necatigil

Everywhere we can see the last days of Pompeii—

We look as we did when the lava was poured upon us.

Can we wear new clothes? Get rid of those old things.

 

They remain so distant, those ancient

Memories: whoever they were, they took

All the clothing from my closets,

To make me wear their old clothes again.

 

They had slept for so long, spread upon mattresses

That seemed very different from mine,

But were the same.

 

Perhaps it would be nice to change all these patterns—

Rejuvenating old looks, like returning to our childhoods…

Until the circling of the church clock’s hands

Reminds us.

translated from Turkish by Chuck Sebian-Lander
more>>

Alirsiz

by Behçet Necatigil

Alırsız satarsız bu ne alışverişi?

Parçalardı bilmezdi parçaları

Tutturur birleş tirirler.

 

Sağında solunda boşluklar olan

Yuvarlak ya da yumurta biçimi

Kapları sevsem de yer az kaplar

Birleşmek yoksa bitiş

tirirler.

 

Buna benzer bir müzik terimi hatırlıyorum.

Çok canlı ve ritmik idi hatırlıyorum.

Takvimde şubatsa neden samanyolları

Temmuzdan bir geceyi takvimde şubat diye

Çok tenha caddelere ge

tirirler?

 

Bizi burda fazla—gö

türürler.

Without Buying

by Behçet Necatigil

Why must they shop without buying, without selling?

They shred the pieces without knowing the puzzle

Until the parts will never reunite.

 

At all their sides there are spaces,

Empty and round like eggs.

I long for the small things that could fill those gaps;

They may not anchor, but they can

unite.

 

There is a musical term similar to this, I recall.

So lively and rhythmic, as best as I recall.

If this is February, why has the Milky Way

Brought a July night into this calendar month,

And into these desolate streets—

to unite us?

 

We, who are here now, become

united forms.

translated from Turkish by Chuck Sebian-Lander
more>>

Kaknus

by Behçet Necatigil

Bu çocuk bu ipe böyle ne geçiriyor

Bir bir daha bir daha bir eli korkulukta

Başka elde bir eli bir köprüyü geçiyor

Durmadan bir zifiri içime çekiyorum

 

Bu şu o ve çocuklar bir vakti geçiriyorum

Bir yazıyı yavaşça önümde söküyorlar

İplere sırça ince boncuklar takıyorlar

Kopunca kırılınca düşünce

İçimi çekiyorum.

 

Bir yol ben sonra onlar geçiyor

Kanatlar–tutuşuyor karanlık

Güle güle geride

Küller kuştan artık.

Cygnus

by Behçet Necatigil

What is this boy stringing upon his rope?
He adds another, another, another, one hand on the rail,
His other hand in another’s grasp as they cross the bridge;
I keep watch, inhale my nicotine, and sigh.

 

In time, as I sit, the children reveal their secrets,
Bring their rope to me, to try telling stories
With small beads like words strung upon the line.
But their words slip, fall, and shatter;
I sigh.

 

Later, they follow me down a new path
Where wings ignite the darkness.
Farewell, the past;
Now the ash makes birds.

translated from Turkish by Chuck Sebian-Lander
more>>

 

And her answer: What does that mean
what do you mean by “rain”?

Five poems by Christoph Meckel, translated by Roy Scheele. 

Leiter

by Christoph Meckel

1.

 

Ein Holzdieb, der nachts

gestohlen hatte bei mir

brachte am Tag eine Leiter, ohne Sprossen.

 

Er sagte: ein gutes Stück Arbeit,

das beste, für dich,

Geduld, ich bring dir die Sprossen

einzeln, alle

im Lauf der Tage, wieviele brauchst du.

 

Aber er kam nicht, und ich

wartete nicht, erwarte ihn nicht.

 

 

2.

 

Holzstöße im Regen.

Er wittert, kommt und stiehlt

was er tragen kann, für seine Leiter.

 

Kurz und brüchig, aber er baut an

er schnitzt seine Sprossen,

er messert, schält, baut an

und stellt seine Leiter in die Luft.

 

Sie trägt ihn.  Er steigt

hoch hinaus in das Licht,

fliegt zu den Flügeln ins Unsichtbare.

Ladder

by Christoph Meckel

1.

 

A thief, who’d stolen

wood from me one night,

the next day brought a ladder without rungs.

 

He said: A good piece of work,

the best, for you.

Have patience, I’ll bring you the rungs

separately, all

in due course, as many as you need.

 

But he did not come, and I

did not wait, I do not expect him back.

 

 

2.

 

Woodpiles in the rain.

He sniffs the air, comes and steals

what he can carry, for his ladder.

 

The wood is short and brittle, but he cobbles it together

he carves the rungs,

plies his knife, strips the bark, slaps it together

and stands his ladder straight up in the air.

 

It bears his weight.  He climbs

high up into the light,

flies toward his wings up yonder, out of sight.

translated from German by Roy Scheele
more>>

Kind

by Christoph Meckel

Es zog den Schlüssel aus der Tür.

Es warf ihn in die Sonne und er schmolz.

Das Haus war leer, fort war das letzte Tier.

Es lagen bloß noch ein paar Steine hier

und nachts zum Feuermachen etwas Holz.

 

Der Morgen war von Tau und Asche kalt.

Es ging auf einem Weg in einen Wald.

Der Engel sah es und vergaß es bald.

Child

by Christoph Meckel

He drew the key out of the door.

It melted when he threw it in the sun.

The house was empty, to the last creature.

Only a pair of stones lay naked here,

and wood enough to make a fire from.

 

Dew and ashes in the morning cold.

Along a path into the woods he stole.

The angel noticed him—and let him go.

translated from German by Roy Scheele
more>>

[Die Ungewißheit wurde größer]

by Christoph Meckel

Die Ungewißheit wurde größer.

An einem Abend im Herbst

war auch der Regen nicht mehr gewiß.  Er zischte

im Wind von der Schwarzen Möhr

und schlug in die Bäume.  Er sagte:

Hörst du den Regen vorm Fenster,

ich liebe den Regen.

Und ihre Antwort: was heißt das

was meinst du mit Regen.

(Er schlug auf das Dach.  In die Nußbäume.

Rauschte. War Regen.)

[The uncertainty grew greater]

by Christoph Meckel

The uncertainty grew greater.

One autumn evening

the rain too was no longer certain.  It hissed

in the wind from the Black Moor

and struck at the trees.  He said:

Do you hear the rain outside the window,

I love the rain.

And her answer: What does that mean

what do you mean by “rain”?

(It beat down on the roof.  In the nut trees.

It poured.  It was rain.)

translated from German by Roy Scheele
more>>

[Vorsicht! Farbe! Himmel frisch gestrichen!]

by Christoph Meckel

Vorsicht! Farbe! Himmel frisch gestrichen!

  Von den Wetterwänden

rauscht und zischt es—Triefen, Sprühen, Klatschen.

   Sommergelächter des Regens in der Traufe.

Katzenhagel. Sindflut in Platanen.

  Regenbogen. Donner. Blaue Flecken.

Nasse Küsse.

 Fortgeschwemmte Kleider.

[Caution! Color! Freshly painted sky!]

by Christoph Meckel

Caution! Color! Freshly painted sky!

   It murmurs and whispers

from the turn in the weather—dripping wet, spraying, splashing.

Summer laughter of the rain in the eaves.

Cats and dogs. Deluge in the plane trees.

  Rainbow. Thunder. Specks of blue.

Wet kisses.

Clothes washed away.

translated from German by Roy Scheele
more>>

Die Kirschbäume

by Christoph Meckel

Das wissen wir: als Gott sich am Finger verletzte

schuf er die Kirsche aus einem Tropfen Blut.

Du hast es leichter als er, die Kirschen sind fertig

wenn du die Augen aufschlägst im grünen Juni.

Du kannst in die Kirschgärten gehn am Mittag

und zwischen den Blättern leben im offenen Himmel.

Die Sonne berührt dich mit warmen Fingern

und der Maulwurf im Loch hört deine Kerne fallen.

Mit purpurnen Lippen springst du vom Baum

und wer dich sieht, der möchte dich küssen.

Nachts hörst du den Regen.  Er wäscht die Kirschen

und zählt seine Tropfen bis zum Morgen.

The Cherry Trees

by Christoph Meckel

This we know: when God injured his finger

he created the cherry out of a drop of blood.

You have it easier than he did: the cherries are ready

when you open your eyes in the green of June.

You can walk through the orchard at midday

and dwell in the open heaven between leaves.

The sun touches you with warm fingers

and the mole in his tunnel hears your cherry pit drop.

You spring from the tree with purple lips

and whoever sees you must kiss you.

You hear the rain at night.  It washes the cherries

and numbers the drops until morning.

translated from German by Roy Scheele
more>>

I should have been born a giant bird

Two poems by Wang Xiaoni translated by Eleanor Goodman.

1-王小妮照片EG headshot 2014Wang Xiaoni is a poet of small gestures. The energy in her work comes not from grand pronouncements or abstractions, but from the details of daily life. She writes of trains and pockets, cold weather and potatoes, windows and the moon. Yet this poet’s daily life also includes ghosts, ancient scarecrows in dresses, and lotus ponds that bubble black. Translating her work involves maintaining the delicate groundedness that underpins even her wildest leaps into the metaphorical. For Wang Xiaoni, a peanut is always a peanut, even if it sometimes morphs into an infant. And a flustered train that eats iron is still just a train, after all.

–Eleanor Goodman

月夜里经过的火车

by Wang Xiaoni

之一

 什么经过,是什么,实在凄凉,实在是沉。

有个家伙长久地在钝物上拖铁索

载火的车,吃的铁,穿的铁,想的铁。

惊坐起来,我四处摸铁索。

 

之二

大地发白,月亮正在下葬

葬礼拖得无限长。

被那怪物吃进去的赶路者

漫长地忍受这冰凉的晚上一寸寸勒进肉。

大地蹦跳着迎接磨损

光亮就将耗尽,满天轰隆隆的都是黑。

 

 之三

月亮偶然睁开它的三角眼

夜晚翻滚。

正转弯的火车,屁股先亮了

拉满家书的邮政车,晶晶露白骨。

据说骨头不值钱,心情抵万金。

 

 之四

心啊,没什么可喜欢的

只能喜欢夜空背后黑汪汪的深。

火车慌不择路

用力抓紧镶金嵌银的土地

生怕被抛出去,生怕凌空倒坠。

蜈蚣在打滑,四脚朝天,呵呵,就在这淡月夜。

 

 之五

火车,在鬼影下挨家挨户敲玻璃

披白斗篷火车的,一个玩伴也不放过。

谁能跳出这游戏

拒绝和火和铁和过往的自己扭在一起。

时日都不多了。

玻璃里钻出石英,石英正拼命下雪

天下就要大白,嚯,火车都远了

为什么还要四处摸铁索。

 

2011,6,深圳

Train Passing Through a Moonlit Night

by Wang Xiaoni

I.

What is passed by, that’s what there is, desolate, silent.

And this thing, forever dragging iron chains over dull things

a train loaded with fire, eating iron, wearing iron, thinking iron.

 

II. 

Sitting up startled, I feel iron chains all around me.

 

The earth turns white, the moon is being interred

the funeral drags on forever.

 

The hurrying ones consumed by the monster

endure the endless frigid night that cinches inch by inch into flesh.

The earth jumps to welcome its damage

the light will be used up, everything that rumbles through the day is black.

 

III.

The moon happens to open its triangular eye

night churns on.

On the turning train, the caboose lights up first

the mail car stuffed full of letters from home flashes bone.

 

It’s said that bones are worthless, a state of mind is worth millions.

 

IV.

Ah this mind, there is nothing it likes

it can only like the boundless black depths behind the night sky.

 

The train is too flustered to pick a track

it grasps the gilded silver-inlaid earth

for fear it will be thrown off, or soar up and crash back down.

Centipedes slide about, landing legs in the air, haha, in the pale moonlit night.

 

V.

Under the shadow of ghosts, the train goes door to door knocking on glass

the white-cloaked train doesn’t let a single player off.

Who can quit this game,

refusals and fire and iron and the self that comes and goes all intertwine.

 

There isn’t much time.

Quartz burrows out from glass, quartz risks its life to make snow

the world is about to be exposed, all the trains are far away

and why do I still feel iron chains everywhere?

 

 

 

6.2011, Shenzhen

 

 

translated from Chinese by Eleanor Goodman
more>>

爱情

by Wang Xiaoni

那个冷秋天呵

 

你的手

不能浸在泠水里

你的外衣

要夜夜由我来熨

我织也织不成的

那一件白又厚的毛衣

奇迹般地赶出来

到了非它不穿的时刻!

 

那个冷秋天呵

你要衣冠楚楚地做人

 

谈笑

我们一天天走过来

谈笑,使好人和坏人

同时不知所措

迎着眼睛

我着拖着你的手

插进每一个

有良心的缝隙

 

我本是该生巨翅的鸟

此刻

却必须收拢翅膀

变一只巢

让那些不肯抬头的人

都看见

让他们看见

天空的沉重

让他们经历

心灵的萎缩!

 

那冷得动人的秋天呵

那坚毅又严酷的

我与你之爱情

 

1985·3 长春

 

Love

by Wang Xiaoni

Ah that cold autumn

 

Your hands

couldn’t soak in cool water

your jacket

needed to be ironed night after night

and that thick white sweater

I knitted and knitted in vain

was finished like a miracle

into a time when you’d wear nothing else!

 

Ah that cold autumn

you wanted to dress like a gentleman.

 

Talking and laughing

we passed the days

laughing and talking, we confounded

people both friendly and mean

in front of those eyes

I held your hand

and thrust it into every

crevice with a conscience

 

I should have been born a giant bird

but now

I must draw in my wings

and become a nest

let all those unwilling to raise their heads

see me

let them see

the heaviness of the sky

let them undergo

a withering of the soul!

 

Ah that autumn so cold it was poignant

that unyielding and bitter

love we had

 

3.1985, Changchun

translated from Chinese by Eleanor Goodman
more>>