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


by Nadia Anjuman



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

تا بیکران خالی

by Nadia Anjuman


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



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


eternal pit


Sawr 1380Spring 2001

translated from Dari by Diana Arterian & Marina Omar


by Nadia Anjuman



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

ناز دخترانه

by Nadia Anjuman


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


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

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

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


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

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


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.


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


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



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


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



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



Bizi burda fazla—gö


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



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


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.


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


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

Five poems by Christoph Meckel, translated by Roy Scheele. 


by Christoph Meckel



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.





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.


by Christoph Meckel



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.





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


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.


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

[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

[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

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

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


by Wang Xiaoni









































Train Passing Through a Moonlit Night

by Wang Xiaoni


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.



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.



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.



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.



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


by Wang Xiaoni







































1985·3 长春



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


the smell of the eyes of a beast

Two poems by Kim Kyung Ju, translated by Jake Levine and Jung Hi-Yeon.

김경주Kim Kyung Ju is a poet, playwright, essayist, and conceptual multi-media artist. He is also an accomplished translator. His versatility and breadth as a writer extends to pornographic novels and ghost written autobiographies. Not yet 40, he is considered to be one of Korea’s most influential and popular young writers. The poems found here are from his debut collection, I Am A Season That Does Not Exist In The World. Published originally in 2003, the collection has gone on to sell more than 10,000 copies and is one of the most successful books of contemporary Korean poetry.

정희연 (1)jake headshotThese poems are representative of KKJ’s use of the surreal gesture in order to approach topics of self negation and spiritual resurrection. His poems embody a poetic state, rather than coming from a particular place in the world. In “State of Absence,” the speaker embodies fragmented narratives like “time filling an empty room.” Like “Braille,” images stack like a map he uses to navigate the world. Before becoming a writer, Kim studied philosophy at Sogang University. His interests in contemporary and 20th century philosophy ring heavy throughout his work. But more importantly, instead of discussing obvious French influences, it is necessary to note how recent translations of contemporary Korean poetry are reshaping preconceived ideas people have about Asian literature. KKJ’s use of the mythical, grotesque, fable, drama, and other transgressive and hybrid modes represent the frenetic psychological and spiritual state of contemporary life in Korea—a life and culture which is often represented as simplified and hollow by popular and mainstream media.  

—Jake Levine 



by Kim Kyung Ju


물소리를 듣고 겨울을 예감하는 새들의 장기는 깊다 젖은 새가 지나갔던 바람의 냄새를 맡다가 나는 약간의 체온이 더 필요했다 인간이 해안선(海岸線)을 따라 걸으며 밤의 물들이 말아 올리는 채색이 된다 밤들이 바람을 버리고 우수수 떨어진다 풀 속에 누워 있던 짐승의 눈알 냄새가 번져온다 빛이 벗기고 간 갈대의 뼈들이 차다 구름은 새벽이면 비명보다 투명한 색으로 뜬다 그러나 우수의 사각(四角)에서 신경은 생의 속도로 흐르는 법이 없다 수년이 흐른 뒤에도 저 풀들은 불보다 더 짙은 바람의 수분을 태우며 마음을 유산해버리곤 했을 것이다 그때 가만히 타버린 몇 장의 바람과 그늘들을 주워 올리며 나는 풀에게 흉터를 남기는 것은 바람이 아니라 제 속의 열이라는 것을 알게 되리라 점점 색을 띠며 눈보라 몰려온다 눈의 켜켜마다 바람의 분진(紛塵)들이 매달려 있다 어떤 정신이 저 몸에 불탄 발바닥 하나 올려놓을 수 있을까 새들이 손금처럼 널린 하늘, 무엇을 물은 것인가 나 잠들 곳을 찾지 못해 공중에서 잠든 바람의 늑막까지 차오르는 눈[雪]을 본다 겨울 열매 속의 시원한 물소리를 듣는다 눈[眼] 속의.

White Night

by Kim Kyung Ju

listening to the sound of water, having the premonition of winter, the insides of birds run deep /

while I smelled out the wind, the wet birds came and went in and I needed more heat in my body /

humans walking along the shore become the color that the water of night rolls up / night throws

away the wind, night rustles / the smell of the eyes of a beast that lies inside the grass aspirates / the

light peeled the reeds and its bones are cold / at dawn the cloud rises more transparent than a

scream / our nerves don’t flow like the speed of life inside a perfect square / after several years

passed on the grass / burning the moisture on the wind proved heavier than fire / and the grass

miscarried its heart / just then I quietly pick up the shadow of some wind that burnt / I will know it

is not the wind that leaves the scar in the grass but the fever inside myself / little by little / the color

of the coming snowstorm appears / hanging in every snowflake are flecks of wind / what mind

would put down one burnt foot on that body ? / the sky is split with birds like lines in the palm—

so what is the question then? / I can’t find a place to sleep and I witness the snow filling up the

ribcage of the wind sleeping in air / I hear the sound of cool water inside eyes, inside winter fruit

translated from Korean by Jake Levine & Jung Hi-Yeon


by Kim Kyung Ju


말하자면 귀뚜라미 눈썹만 한 비들이 내린다 오래 비워둔 방 안에서 저 혼자 울리는 전화 수신음 같은 것이 지금 내 영혼이다 예컨대 그 소리가 여우비, 는개비 내리는 몇십 년 전 어느 식민지의 추적추적한 처형장에서 누군가 이쪽으로 걸어두고 바닥에 내려놓은 수화기를 통해 흘러나오는 댕강댕강 목 잘리는 소리인지 죽기 전 하늘을 노려보는 그 흰 눈깔들에 빗물이 번지는 소리가 들려오는 것인지 아니면 카자흐스탄에 간 친구가 설원에서 자전거를 배우다가 무릎이 깨져 울면서 내게 1541을 연방연방 보내는 소리인지 아무튼 나 없는 빈방에서 나오는 그 시간이 지금 내 영혼이다 나는 지금 이 세상에 없는 계절이다 충혈된 빗방울이 창문에 눈알처럼 매달려 빈방을 바라본다 창문은 이승에 잠시 놓인 시간이지만 이승에 영원히 없는 공간이다 말하자면 내 안의 인류(人類)들은 그곳을 지나다녔다 헌혈 버스 안에서 비에 젖은 예수가 마른 팔목을 걷고 있다 누워서 수혈을 하며 운다 내가 너희를 버리지 않았나니 너희는 평생 내 안에 갇혀 있을 것이다 간호사들이 긴 꼬리를 감추며 말한다 울지 마세요 당신은 너무 마르셨군요 요즘은 사람들의 핏줄이 잘 보이지 않아요 우산을 길에 버리고 고개를 숙인 채 예수는 빗속을 떨면서 걸어간다 죽은 자들이 다가와 우산을 씌워준다 곧 홍수가 나겠어요 성(成)으로 돌아가고 있지 못하고 있군요 나는 나의 성(星)을 잃어버렸네 성(性)을 중얼거리는 것은 우리들도 마찬가지예요 자신을 기억해내려는 그들은 비 맞으며 자신의 집으로 저벅저벅 문상 간다 생전에 신던 신발을 들고 운다 발광(發光)한다 산에 핀 산꽃이 알토끼의 혀 속에서 녹는다 돌 위에 하늘의 경야(經夜)가 떨어진다 예수가 내 방의 창문 앞에 와서 젖은 손톱을 들어 유리를 긁는다 성혈이 얼굴에 흘러내린다 나는 돌아온다 말하자면 이 문장들은 生을 버리고 성(聲)의 세계로 간 맹인이 드나드는 점자들이다

State of Absence

by Kim Kyung Ju


You could say rain the same size as a cricket’s eye drops. Inside a vacant room now my soul is a ring tone ringing alone for a long time. That sound, for instance, a sun-shower, gentle rain falling in a colony several years back, getting feet stuck in the mud of the executioner’s square, maybe that sound is someone here vibrating on the floor from the phone I dropped, the chop chop hacking a man’s throat, or maybe that sound is listening to rain blur the whites of a man’s eyes that say motherfucker to the sky just before death strikes, or maybe it is a friend in Kazakhstan learning to ride a bike in the frozen waste, crying with scraped knees over collect calls ringing continuously, continually here— in any case, I am a season that does not exist in the world and my soul is time filling this empty room. Peering into the empty room, bloodshot raindrops like hanging eyeballs in the window. The window is time placing a moment into this life, but in this life a window is forever absent space. You could say that inside myself humankind has passed by. Inside a blood donation bus, Jesus wet with rain pulls up a poor man’s sleeves and reveals his thin wrists. Lying down and giving blood, he weeps. Jesus says, I didn’t refuse you. You shall be locked within me my whole life. The nurses nearby hide their long tails and say don’t cry. You are too thin. These days people’s veins are hard to stick. Throwing his umbrella in the road and bowing his head as he crosses the street, Jesus shivers in the rain. Dead men approach him and offer an umbrella. The flood will come. To the palace you cannot return. But I lost my star. Murmuring, both genders are the same as us. Trying to remember themselves, they offer their condolences. Receiving the rain, to their houses they clump their feet. They grab and lift the shoes they wore in life and cry. Mountain flowers blooming on the mountain melt on the tongue of a rabbit hatched from an egg. On the stone, the sky’s vigil falls. Jesus appears outside the window of my bedroom. His wet nails scratch the pane of glass. The blood of Christ pours down his face. I return. Casting life away, the blind man gone to the world of sound. Coming and going, these sentences are like Braille.

translated from Korean by Jake Levine


They don’t alliterate October
with gold falling from the fragile trees

Three poems by Juan Antonio González-Iglesias translated by Curtis Bauer.

Octubre, Mes sin Dioses

by Juan Antonio González-Iglesias

Los japoneses piensan que éste es el mes-sin-dioses.

Lo celebran así. No aliteran octubre

con oro desprendido de los árboles frágiles,

ni con revoluciones que cambiaron la historia.

Octubre como tregua. Como ausencia de todo

lo que excede los límites. Así para nosotros

sea: liberación. Porque ya no se exhiben

los implacables dioses desnudos del verano, 

los demasiados dioses, y falta todavía

mucho para que nazca el niño del invierno,

y más allá no alcanza la vista, desde este 

mes de distancias, mes de lejanías,

imperfecto, logrado, fortuito. Que así

sea para nosotros. Sin los ocho millones

de dioses que se esconden en la ciudad o el bosque,

las escalas coinciden con nuestras estaturas.

Dejémonos llevar por los presentimientos.

Escribamos las cosas con las letras minúsculas.

Celebremos octubre por su ausencia de dioses.

Disfrutemos su nombre porque sólo es un número

de una serie truncada. Y olvidada. Es octubre.

Tenemos treinta días sólo para nosotros.


October, Month Without Gods

by Juan Antonio González-Iglesias

The Japanese think this is the month-without-gods.

They celebrate it this way. They don’t alliterate October

with gold falling from the fragile trees,

or with revolutions that changed history.

October, like a truce. Like an absence of everything

that exceeds limits. May it be for us 

liberation. Because now they don’t exhibit

the relentless naked gods of summer,

the too many gods, and so much remains

for the child of winter to be born, 

and our sight doesn’t reach any further, from this 

month of distances, month of far aways,

imperfect, attained, fortuitous. If only it would be

like this for us. Without the eight million

gods that hide in the city or in the forest,

the scales coincide with our statures.

Let us be carried away by our premonitions.

Let us write things with small letters.

Let us celebrate October for its absence of gods.

Let us enjoy its name because it is only a number

in a truncated series. And forgotten. It is October.

We have thirty days all to ourselves.

translated from Spanish by Curtis Bauer

Arte de Traducir

by Juan Antonio González-Iglesias

Debemos celebrar las traducciones afortunadas.

Como el Précis de décomposition

de Cioran, convertido

en Breviario de podredumbre.

En momentos de máxima inseguridad cultural

el arte de traducir se erige

en última forma de conocimiento.

Ahora que la torre de la historia

sufre asedios que pueden ser los definitivos,

hemos de recurrir a los especialistas

y a quienes los traducen

sin prisa y con audacia

intuyendo el sentido final de los escritos.

Para comprender todo

lo que ocurre estos años,

basta con este libro

de Arnaldo Momigliano

que trata de otra época:

The Alien Wisdom, que alguien bellamente

ha traducido La sabiduría

de los bárbaros.

The Art of Translation

by Juan Antonio González-Iglesias



We should celebrate the fortunate translations.

Like the Précis de décomposition

by Cioran, turned into

Breviary of Putrefaction.

In those moments of maximum cultural insecurity

the art of translation extends

into the ultimate form of knowledge.

Now that the tower of history

suffers sieges that can be definitive,

we should appeal to the specialists

and to those who translate them

slowly and boldly

intuiting the essential meaning of the writing.

In order to understand everything

that has happened these years,

it’s enough to look at this book

by Arnaldo Momigliano 

which is about another time:

The Alien Wisdom, which someone 

translated beautifully into La sabiduría

de los bárbaros.

translated from Spanish by Curtis Bauer


by Juan Antonio González-Iglesias


El oráculo dijo

que para ser feliz

debería vivir en una casa 

levantada sobre un lugar que no

estuviera ni dentro

ni fuera 

de la ciudad.


Yo he cumplido mi parte.


by Juan Antonio González-Iglesias


The oracle said

that in order to be happy

you should live in a house

raised above a place that is

neither inside nor


the city.


I’ve done my part.

translated from Spanish by Curtis Bauer

Eternity, though, never blinks.

Three poems by Perundevi, translated by N Kalyan Raman.


by Perundevi

அதிகாலை எழும் சுசித்ரா
ஒவ்வொரு மணி நேரத்தையும்
ஹேப்பி மணமஹால்
பேருந்து நிறுத்தத்தில்நின்றால்
அலுவலகம் தொடங்கும்போது
ஓர் இரவு
தட்டில் கூடகொஞ்சம் சப்ஜி
கணவனை ரெண்டு
எண்களின் பரப்பில்
மூன்றில் நான்கில்
ஆறில் ஏழில்
ஒன்றையாவது உடைக்க


by Perundevi

Rising at dawn, Suchitra

scales every passing hour,

panting for breath.


If she waits at the

Happy Wedding Palace

bus-stop, she can reach

her office on time.

One night,

when her husband asked for another

helping of vegetable on his plate,

she abused him, mouthing

a couple of swear-words.



she wants to break

at least one of the two

hands that loom close

between eight and two

in the sprawl of numbers –

at three, four,

five, six

and seven –

to wring her neck.

translated from Tamil by N. Kalyan Raman

68வது பிரிவு

by Perundevi

கந்தசாமிக்கும் லதாவுக்கும் இது
68வது பிரிவு.
முதல் 2 தடவை
முயல நினைத்தார்கள்
அடுத்த 8 தடவை
வாழ்த்துகளோடு குட்பை சொல்லிக்கொண்டார்கள்.
1 முறை தன் உள்ளங்கையில்
அவன்பார்க்க பிளேடால் கீறிச்சென்றாள் லதா.
இருவருக்கும் சங்கேதமான
பாடல்காட்சிவந்த டிவியை
குத்தி உடைத்தான் கந்தசாமி 1 முறை.
கண்ணீர் நனைத்தகண்ணாடி
பிரிவின் தடயச் செல்வத்தை
லதா துடைக்கவில்லை 1 தரம்.
அவள் ஈஷிய சட்டையை
எரித்துப்போட்டான் கந்தசாமி 1 தரம்.
4 தடவைலதாவும் 1 தடவை கந்தசாமியும்
தொலையுறவில் கதறியழுது அவரவர்முன்பிருந்த
லேப்டாப்களை நனைத்துக் கெடுத்ததும் உண்டு.
கந்தசாமி அவளைப்பார்க்காமல்
ஈமெயில் மட்டும் போட்டுக்கொண்டிருந்தான்
அது 1/2.
லதா அவனைப்பார்த்தபடியே
அவனைப் பார்க்கவேயில்லை, அது இன்னொரு 1/2.
3 முறை லதாகந்தசாமியையும்
3 முறை கந்தசாமி லதாவையும்
பரஸ்பர அன்பில் சந்தேகித்துப்பிரிந்தார்கள்.
(அவன் கனவில் அனுஷ்கா அரைகுறையாய் வந்ததும்
இவள் தன் கனவில்அதை முழுசாய்க் கண்டதும்
இதில் அடக்கம்)
சந்தேகத்தை மனதில் வைக்காமல்
கந்தசாமிக்கு பிரிய 1 வாய்ப்பு.
அப்படி அவன்பிரிந்ததால்
லதாவுக்கும் சண்டைபோட 1 வாய்ப்பு.
சேர்ந்திருந்தபோதே லதாவோடு
7 தடவை
பிரிந்துதான் இருந்தான் கந்தசாமி.
அவ்வளவு மோசமில்லை லதா.
1 தடவை இன்னொருவன்
2 முறை தானாகவேபிரிந்து
கந்தசாமியைத் தண்டித்தாள் மாதர் சிரோமணி.
லதா ஒரு கவிதைஎழுதியதற்காக
கந்தசாமி அவள் கவிதைகளைப் படிக்காததற்காக
ஒரேவழியாக அவள் தொல்லை ஒழிய
சாமியிடம் நின்றுபுலம்பினான் கந்தசாமி 1 நாள்,
அன்றிரவே சாமியாடி
லதா அவனைமீட்டுக்கொண்டாள்.
ஸ்தூலத்திலிருந்து சூட்சுமமாய் உறவு பயணிக்க
யாஹூ கணக்கை (அவளுக்கென தொடங்கியது)
7 முறை கந்தசாமி மூடிப்போட்டான்
போட்டிக்கு லதாவும் 6 முறை லிஸ்டில்
அவனை நீக்கி முறித்துக்கொண்டாள்.
இன்னும் சிலபிரிவுகள்
அவர்களுக்கே நினைவில்லை.
68 பிரிவுக்கு ராசியானஇலக்கம்,
நவக்கிரக ராசிக்கல் சோசியர்
சொல் மட்டுமே நினைவில்இருத்தப்
பிரயத்தனப்படுகிறான் கந்தசாமி.
தேடுவதாக இல்லை லதா.

69, 77, 88
பொறுமையாகக் காத்திருக்கின்றன.
நிற்கும்மரணம் மட்டும்
முந்தத்துடிக்காமல் இருக்கட்டும்.

68th Parting

by Perundevi

For Kandasamy and Latha,

this is their 68th parting.

The first two times

they had individually


attempting suicide.

The next eight times

they said goodbye to each other

with lots of good wishes.

Once, as he was looking on,

Latha cut her palm with a blade.

Once Kandasamy smashed and broke

the TV set when a song they had used

as their private code came on.

Once Latha did not wipe

a treasured trace of their parting:

her glasses wet with tears.

Once Kandasamy burnt to ashes

the shirt to which she had glued

herself during their first kiss.

Latha (four times) and Kandasamy (once)

had also sobbed and wept during their long-distance liaison,

drenching and damaging their laptops.

Without meeting her at all, Kandasamy

only sent her emails – that was one half.

Latha failed to see him while

she was looking at him –

that was another half.

They had each parted from the other, suspecting

the other’s fidelity to their mutual love:

Latha thrice and Kandasamy thrice.

(These include the time

Anushka appeared in his dreams half-naked,

a scene that Latha witnessed

in its entirety).

Because Latha blurted out her suspicion

without keeping it in her heart,

Kandasamy got one chance to part.

Because he left her in that fashion,

Latha got one chance to start a fight.

Even when they were together,

Kandasamy had stayed away

from her seven times.

Latha was not so bad, after all.

Because another man had wooed her


that woman of exemplary virtue left  twice on her own,

to punish Kandasamy.

They parted in their hearts too –

once because Latha wrote poetry

and eight times because Kandasamy

did not read her poems.

One day, to get rid of her nuisance once and for all,

Kandasamy stood before god and complained.

That very night, dancing possessed,

Latha won him back.

When their relationship went from gross

to subtle, he closed his Yahoo! account

(opened especially for her sake) seven times.

To compete, Latha deleted him from her list

and cut him off six times.

A few more partings elude

even their own memories.

“68 is a lucky number for partings” –

Kandasamy is trying hard to retain

these words of the astrologer, renowned for

picking lucky gemstones from planetary positions,

in his memory. This time, Latha does not look for

even a worm or an insect

to be her emissary.



69th, 77th and 88th

partings await them


May death, slated

for their 90th parting,

be not in a hurry

to jump the queue.

translated from Tamil by N. Kalyan Raman

காலம் இக்காலம்

by Perundevi

பெருங்காலத்தில் துளிக்காலங்கள்
புதையலைக் கண்ட

விபத்தைக் கேட்ட
முத்தத்தின் முதல்எச்சிலைச் சுவைத்த
கணத்துளிகளின் தொகுப்பாய்

ஆயுளின் ஒரு கையால் ஆசிர்வதித்தபடி
வாழ்க்கையின் மறுகையால் தரதரவென
இழுத்துச் செல்கிறதுநம்மை.
நல்லெண்ணங்களின் திருவிழாக்களில்
நோயாளியாக வேண்டப்படாதவராக
தேசங்களின் வர்க்கங்களின்பாலினங்களின்
அகதியாக மீட்டெடுக்கிறது.

களங்கமற்ற துளிக்காலங்கள்அயர்ந்துவிடுகின்றன அவ்வப்போது
மாளாவரம் வேண்டிய கில்காமேஷ்
தன்வரத்தைத் தொலைத்ததைப் போல
இழக்கிறோம் நாம்அப்போதெல்லாம்.
பெருங்காலமோ கண்ணிமைப்பதே இல்லை
அது தூங்கிய கில்காமேஷின் காலடியில்
நாளுக்கொன்றாய் வைக்கப்பட்ட ரொட்டித்துண்டுகளாக
நம் அடி ஒவ்வொன்றையும்கணக்கிடுகிறது.

கொடுமையின் ஈகையின் துரோகத்தின் நேசத்தின்
ஏதோ ஒருகூரியமுனையால்
நமக்குள்ளே நம்மை வரையப்பார்க்கிறது

Time This Time

by Perundevi

Though fleeting moments lie

hidden, always, within

eternity, let us not

know eternity as a collection

of moments when we

found the treasure,

heard of the accident or

first tasted the saliva of a kiss.

While blessing us with its one hand

of lifespan, with its other hand


drags us forward


After losing us amid festive celebrations

of goodwill, it retrieves us later

as sick or unwanted persons,

as refugees in flight from

nations, classes and genders.


Innocent specks of time nod off to sleep every now and then; and

whenever that happens, just as Gilgamesh who sought

the boon of immortality lost it

in uncontrollable sleep, we lose all.

Eternity, though, never blinks.

It reckons our every step

as pieces of bread offered daily

at the feet of sleeping Gilgamesh.


With some sharp and deadly point

of cruelty, charity, betrayal or love,

this tiny speck of time tries

to draw us inside ourselves.

With eternity, though,

we lost the battle

right when we were born.

translated from Tamil by N. Kalyan Raman

We are planets
with personality flaws

Francesca_Pellegrino_foto_@paola_aloisio_-1Six poems by Francesca Pellegrino, translated from the Italian by Adria Bernardi.

Francesca Pellegrino, by profession and training, is a geometra, which could be described as something similar to engineer-architect-and site foreman, not exactly one of these, but one whose work corresponds with the work of each, a designer-constructor of buildings and go-between to the real world of permits and codes — in her case with a specialization of roadways and bridges.  

Adria_Bernardi__photo_credit_Tammy_Gentuso--April2013--10The velocity of these poems, from her collection, Chernobylove—il giorno dopo il vento (The Day After the Wind) divert the eye and the mind from a kind of mathematical logic with which they are constructed; it’s the logic of a poet who is always unconsciously measuring spatial relationships in a kind of rigorous echoing of that evaporates when you try to apply a formula. Her poems follow the course of a glamorous heyday of love-and-prosperity to the train-wreck of Italy’s economic collapse and the rupturing of institutions after the big party: “The principle partner / was seen on a tropical island / sun always / wearing a suit / made with my hide. Completely hand stitched.”  (“My bank is different”)  These poems also represent particular poetic inheritances: the lyric poet engaged in the searing, relentless, self-examination and the exploration of Bitter-Love becoming something else.  In addition to Chernobylove—il giorno dopo il vento (Kimerik 2010), Francesca Pellegrino has published Dimentico sempre di dare l’acqua ai sogni (Kimerik 2009), Niente di personale (Samizdat 2009); and a chapbook, L’Enunciato (Libraria Padovana 2008).  Francesca Pellegrino is a coordinator of the literary magazine LibrAria.  These poems appear in Chernobylove—The Day After the Wind Selected Poems 2008-2010 Selected, Edited, and Translated by Adria Bernardi (Chelsea Editions).  Born in 1974, Pellegrino lives in Taranto.

– Adria Bernardi

La mia banca è differente

by Francesca Pellegrino

Il mio cuore è un rosso fisso


tra crediti mai risarciti d’amore

ed interessi di mora

da pagare sull’unghia.

Al portatore.


. . .


Sono l’ultima della fila

al banco dei pegni.

Spero che l’omino sia buono con me

che mi dia almeno due centesimi

ho da pagare una bolletta

per tutte le ore

che ho nella borsa

investite in quelle azioni

che sono poi andate.  Fottute.


Il socio capogruppo

lo hanno visto su un’isola tropicale

sempre il sole

che portava un vestito fatto

con la mia pelle.  Tutto cucito a mano.

Gli stava da Dio, così come

l’ho amato

ma sapendo la poca cura

che ha avuto di tutto il tempo mio

resterà nudo, prima che faccia notte.

E freddo.

My bank is different

by Francesca Pellegrino

My heart is a fixed red


between debts of love never repaid

and interest on defaults

to be paid on the nail.

To the bearer.


.   .   .


I am last in line

at the pawnshop counter

and I hope the small fellow will do right by me,

grant me at least two centimes

I have to pay a bill

for all the hours

I invested in the market in those shares

that were then lost.  Fucked.


The principle partner

was seen on a tropical island

sun always

wearing a suit

made with my hide.  Completely hand stitched.

He wore it divinely, just the way

I loved him

but knowing the slipshodness

he used with all my time

he will remain naked, before it gets dark.

And cold.

translated from Italian by Adria Bernardi

Il diavolo azzurro, di famiglia nobile

by Francesca Pellegrino

Era un grand’uomo, lui

c’è da dirlo.  Impettito di tutto spillo e

mi portava a spasso al braccio

sempre che io non parlassi troppo

o troppo poco.  Potevo fare pipì

ma solo se non avevo esagerato

a saziare la sete. E l’amore sulle unghie.

E potevo baciarlo

solo se asciugavo bene bene

la bocca coi silenzi

respirando il giusto, senza

esagerare, come stare con l’anima

in mezzo ai ferri—stretta di morsa stretta

la lingua.  Che neanche una preghiera

si poteva.  Neanche una preghiera.

Era un grand’uomo.  Davvero davvero

lui, che si pettinava i capelli

all’ultimo grido mio, per ore e ore e ore.

E poi, una cosa buona, anzi due,

la fece una sera, quando andò via,

brav’uomo, lui

che aveva altre fiche da marcire

senza dimenticare lasciarmi il figlioamoremio

e prendere lo shampoo.

PrinceHarming, of noble origins

by Francesca Pellegrino

He was a very important man, he was,

no two ways about it.  Walking tall, slim,

and he always ushered me around by the arm

provided I didn’t talk too much

or too little.  I was permitted to pee but only if

I hadn’t exaggerated

satiating thirst.  And love

on the fingernails. And I could kiss him

only if I dried my mouth

very well with silences

breathing appropriately

without exaggerating, like having the soul

in fetters—tongue cinched

with cinched grip.  Not even a plea was allowed.

Not even a plea.  He was a very important man. Really

and truly.  Really he was. He would comb his hair

in the latest crazy craze, for hour upon hour upon hour.

And then, one good thing, two, actually

one evening, he did this, when he went away,

he was a good man,

who had other cunts to let rot

without forgetting to leave me

the sonloveofmylife and take the shampoo.

translated from Italian by Adria Bernardi

Nella pentola non c’era il sugo
e neanche il coperchio

by Francesca Pellegrino

Non sapevo che le tempeste

intorno avessero sempre e solo

tempeste. Non lo sapevo.

E così vanno anche i minuti

uno dietro l’altro

di fretta

a mozzicare i culi delle persone

coi denti intartarati.

E so di qualcuno

che si era pure inventato

un gioco nuovo

qualcosa come una parentesi che apriva

e dentro c’era una bambola

che aveva un figlio di pezza pure lui.

Ma facevano le lacrime vere

con gli occhi.

Poi, quando si era fatta una certa

chiudeva la parentesi

e tornava a girare il vuoto

nel vuoto, di tutto il niente del niente

che era.



Nothing in the pot,
Not even a lid

by Francesca Pellegrino

I didn’t know that storms

were always and only surrounded

by storms. I did not understand that.

And in this way even the minutes follow

one right after the other

in a rush

ass-biting people

with entartared teeth.

And I know of someone

who even invented

a new game

something like a parenthesis that opened up

and inside there was a ragdoll

which had a ragdoll baby that was part him.

However they cried true tears

from their eyes.

Then, when it got late

he closed the parentheses

and returned to spinning the void within

the void of all of the nothings of nothings

that were.

translated from Italian by Adria Bernardi

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