the audible threshold of happiness

 Four poems by Gemma Gorga translated by Sharon Dolin

  Gemma Gorga      Sharon Dolin

In place of a book of hours, Gemma Gorga has composed something much more modest: a Book of Minutes. Though these prose poems do retain the meditative quality of prayer, they also share with aphorism the urge to delimit by compression: how much density can be packed into a small space. Here’s what drew me to translate them: Each time I read these diminutive poems, they open up a world for me. In that sense, they are inexhaustible as all poems and prayers should be. 

— Sharon Dolin


[Les flors del jardí parlen]

by Gemma Gorga

Les flors del jardí parlen en veu tan baixa que es fa difícil endevinar què diuen. ¿Seran tal vegada diàlegs d’amor, diàlegs socràtics que mantenen amb els insectes de llargues barbes, pesants i taciturns damunt l’elasticitat dels pètals? S’ondulen les cordes vocals de la llum, els rínxols sonors de l’aigua. Però arriba la ronda del record i trepitja les flors amb rudes bótes de sentinella. I em deixa asseguda —trista venedora de mistos— fora del llindar auditiu de la felicitat.

[Garden flowers speak]

by Gemma Gorga

Garden flowers speak in such hushed tones that it’s difficult to parse what they’re saying. Could they be dialogues of love, perhaps, Socratic dialogues they hold with long-bearded insects, heavy and reserved, resting on swaying petals? Light’s vocal cords undulate, as do the sonorous curls of water. But the memory patrol turns up and treads on the flowers with its rough sentry boots. And I am left seated—sad little match girl—outside the audible threshold of happiness.

translated from Catalan by Sharon Dolin

[Sostens un bocí de vidre trencat]

by Gemma Gorga

Sostens un bocí de vidre trencat entre l’índex i el polze. A l’ànima estan tocant les dotze del migdia i algú mormola és l’hora de l’àngelus. El sostens amb paciència, fins que la llum, les campanes i les ales convergeixen en un únic punt sensible al dolor. I en l’aire s’incendia un ocell.

[You hold up a piece of broken glass]

by Gemma Gorga

You hold up a piece of broken glass between your index finger and thumb. It is chiming twelve-noon in your soul and someone murmurs, “It’s the hour for reciting the Angelus prayer.” You hold up the glass sliver patiently until the light, bells, and wings converge in one uniquely sensitive point of pain. And in the air a bird blazes up.

translated from Catalan by Sharon Dolin

[Té sis punxes, com una estrella]

by Gemma Gorga


Té sis punxes, com una estrella, però no és una estrella. La cullo i la deso a la bossa, al costat del pot de neules, vigilant que no prengui mal amb el groc lacerant de la pinya. Un cop a casa, trio un enlloc preferent on col·locar-la, que estigui ben invisible als ulls de tothom. De vegades, amb el silenci de la nit, se sent passar la llarga caravana de la set: palmeres mil·lenàries, camells foscos com dàtils, vells astròlegs de barbes enfarinades. I és que la realitat és així, o aixà, i no s’hi pot fer més, malcriada i enganyosa. Per aquest motiu hi ha qui ja no la busca, per aquest motiu hi ha qui encara la troba. Vet aquí un nadal incomprensible com la vida mateixa, explicat en sis ratlles, com si fos un poema, però no és un poema.

[It has six points, like a star]

by Gemma Gorga

It has six points, like a star, but it’s not a star. I pick it up and put it in the bag, next to the can of wafers, taking care it remains unharmed by the lacerating, yellow pineapple. Once home, I choose some preferred who-knows-where to keep it that’s practically invisible to all eyes. Sometimes, in the night’s stillness, you can hear the long caravan of thirst pass by: thousand-year-old palm trees, camels dark as dates, ancient astrologers with flour in their beards. Because reality is like this, or like that (what can you do), spoiled and misleading. For this reason, there are those who no longer look for it; for this reason, there are those who still find it. Here is an incomprehensible nativity like life itself, explained in six lines, as if it were a poem, but it’s not a poem.

translated from Catalan by Sharon Dolin

[El vent aixeca la faldilla a les margarides]

by Gemma Gorga

El vent aixeca la faldilla a les margarides i el món comença a rodolar cap per avall. És evident que les fades són totes rosses i viuen amagades a la punta del tacte —les margarides, que ho saben, han esclafit el riure—. Per què tanta resistència a la felicitat? D’acord. La llum, el gir, el vol: vet aquí els tres desitjos.

[The wind lifts the daisies' skirt]

by Gemma Gorga

The wind lifts the daisies’ skirt and the world begins to tumble upside down. Apparently, fairies are all blonde and live hidden at the touch of your fingertips—the daisies, knowing all about it, have broken into laughter. Why so much resistance to happiness? All right. Here are my three wishes: Light. Spin. Flight.

translated from Catalan by Sharon Dolin




root-orgies, parasites, moldering clouds

Two poems by N. B. Minkov translated by Jordan Finkin

אין אונדזערע טעג

by N. B. Minkov

.אַ בלויער וואַלד. אַ שטומער. שטומער נאָך פון אַלע הימלען

.גערוך פון וואָרצל-אָרגיעס, שימלענדיקע כמאַרעס, פּאַראַזיטן

.ביים ראַנד — אַן איינזאַם ביידל. בלינד און טויטלעך ווייס

.גרינע בליצן שטאַרבן אין פאַרפּרעסטע בליטן


אַ טיר אן אויפגעריסענע. אַ וועווריק גילדענער שפּרינגט אומשולדיק פאַרביי.

.בלייבט שטיין דערשראָקן. האָרכט דעם שטומען וואַנזין פונעם וואַלד

.די קילקייט איז א שאַרפע און אַ קראַנקע

.ליכט פון שכינה אויף דער שוועל. איבער אים אַ טיפער זקן אויפגעהאַנגען







In Our Days

by N. B. Minkov

A blue forest. Silent. More silent than the heavens.

The odor of root-orgies, parasites, moldering clouds.

On the edge, a lonely hut. Blind and deathly white.

Green lightning withers in blighted blossoms.


A door torn open. A gilded squirrel jumps innocently by.

Stands frozen with fear. Listens to the silent madness of the forest.

The coolness is acrid and sick.

God’s Presence lights the doorway.

Above it a deep old man, hanged.




translated from Yiddish by Jordan Finkin

דער לעצטער קנויט

by N. B. Minkov

וועט אויפגיין דיין פּנים? צווישן ריזיקע וואָרצלען

.זיץ איך — געהיט פון דער שלאַנג — און וואַרט

,דאָס טייכל גליווערט אין שוואַרצן דעמער

.און איך — ניט פאַרבלענדט — דאָך גענאַרט


.ניטאָ גאָר דיין פּנים? די שלאַנג דרעמלט רואיק

.איך ווער שוואַרצער. נט איך טראַכט. ניט איך רעד

.די נאַכט סמ’עט דעם וואַלד. דער וואַלד וואַקסט אָן אָטעם

.איך הער קלאָר, וואָס אומקלאָר געשעט


ביסט אַפילו קיין טרוים ניט געווען? און אַ נאָמען

.האָסטו. און כוהנים — און טעמפּלען געהאַט

.מיין שטרייט מיט דער שלאַנג — צוליב דיר דאָך געווען

?און געזיגט האָבן ביידע: איז דאָס ניט פאַרראַט


די נאַכט בלייבט שוין אייביק דאָ נאַכט. איך וואַרט שוין

.אויף קיינעם ניט מער. די שלאַנג לעבן מיר איז שוין טויט

.דאָס טייכל, וואָס אָטעמט נאָך, זע איך ניט מער

.פאַרזונקען אין חשכות פון בלוטן, לעשט זיך דער לעצטער קנויט 




The Last Wick

by N. B. Minkov

Will your face rise? The snake stands guard

As I sit among the giant roots, and wait.

The brook freezes in the black twilight,

And I, undeluded, am still deceived.


Is your face really gone? The snake’s napping restfully.

I grow darker. Neither thinking nor speaking.

The night poisons the forest. The forest swells without breath.

I hear clearly what unclearly happens.


Weren’t you even a dream? But you have

A name. And priests you had, temples.

My clash with the snake, it was for your sake.

And both were victorious. Is that not betrayal?


The night remains night here for good. I’m done waiting

For anyone. See how this snake is now dead.

The still breathing brook I can no longer see.

The last wick is quenched in the darkness of bloodshed.




translated from Yiddish by Jordan Finkin

the contrary to my virtue

Three poems by James Noël translated by Patricia Hartland

james noël

Les bruits du monde

by James Noël

tous les bruits

du monde

le roulement des pierres

dans le chavirement du jour

la rumeur du sang

dans le sexe des anges

déchus (pas tous

mais seulement ceux qui arrivent

sur la terre en parachutes)

les orgasmes

contrariés des volcans éteints

le cri des chats

qui baisent pile

dans un miaulement

en chœur des horloges


tous les bruits

du monde

roulent leurs tambour cassé

dans ma voix

Noises of the world

by James Noël

all the noises

of the world

rocks rolling

in the collapsing day

blood murmur

in the sex of angels

fallen (not all

but only those that arrive

on earth via parachute)

thwarted orgasms

of extinguished volcanoes

the moans of cats

that screw precisely

in a choral yowling

tuned to the clocks


all the noises

of the world

beat their broken drum

in my voice

translated from French by Patricia Hartland

La foudre

by James Noël

belle ta chevelure


rousseur d’éclair

gardant de graves orages

derrière la tète



qui avec moi rivalise

et m’avalise


comment sortir

s’il faut pour le sort

me libérer d’amour gordien

d’amour qui noue telle une cravate

bien par où l’on chante

quand on chante mal


dans la piscine

ce fond à forme liquide

cette forme fondue

par ce liquide que nous buvions sur mesure

en marge d’air

et du sot métier de se noyer


le soleil nous crible la face

en vrais gants de mariées sur les rayons

nous mourons comme deux chiens


femelle jusqu’à ton mal

moi l’opposé jusqu’à mon bien



by James Noël

beauty your mane


russet flash

harnessing solemn storms

behind your head


the cord that

rivals and

validates me


how to leave

if to leave

I must be liberated

from Gordian love

from love that knots

tightens such a tie

as one strains to sing

when one sings wrong


in the pool

depth in liquid form

this form dissolved

by that liquid we drank to size


beyond air’s margins

drowning’s a useless skill


the sun pierces our faces

the beams in true bride gloves

we die like two dogs


female to a fault


the contrary to my virtue

translated from French by Patricia Hartland

fleur de sang

by James Noël

pour grain de poussière

démord la vie

dévie la mort


le vent galope la corde au cou

en fracas d’élégie sur étrier

temps mis à mort au fil du temps

écartelé de feuilles mortes

de parenthèses à bras ouverts

pour des oiseaux en filigrane

d’attouchements à gants blessés

pour des baisers derrière la porte


rose effleure effleure

effleure bouquet de poings

très bien tendu du cannibale

hélant oye et halali


que par le bout de certitudes

ces affaires tranchées de cervelle d’homme

la honte puisse rendre

l’exquise couleur

d’une corolle de sang

blood flower

by James Noël

for dust speck

relinquishes life

deflects death


wind gallops cord-around-neck

an elegy ruckus stirrupped


time kills over time

quartered dead leaves

open-armed parentheses

for traces of birds

wounded-glove caresses

for behind-door kisses



caress caress

caress fist bouquet

the cannibal’s clenched

hoop and holler


these edged affairs of man’s mind

that by the end of certainties

shame might yield

the exquisite color

of a blood corolla

translated from French by Patricia Hartland

My body kept clanging like the tin of your house

Two poems by Geet Chaturvedi translated by Anita Gopalan


GeetChaturvedi   AnitaGopalanGeet Chaturvedi’s poems are inseparably connected with the cultural history of India and linguistic memories of Hindi, the language in which he writes. The filtration and the sensibility of ideas and imagination make him a delightful, different poet. In a career spanning over two decades with only two books of poems to his credit (the first, a collection of 72 poems published in 2010 and the second, a collection of 63 poems forthcoming this year), he is considered a major poet of present Hindi literature—and, the most imitated. The various adjectives that he has earned, like ‘professor’, ‘master’, ‘avant-garde’ and ‘most-read contemporary Hindi poet,’ reflect the unmistakable aura of his poetry, his strong voice, inner lyrical beauty, multitude of meanings and the ‘text-appeal’. 

The appeal is also of a distinct playfulness with the language that gives the reader immense synesthetic pleasure, and of extraordinary metaphors and unusual imagery. As he wrote in the poem ‘Style’, for example:

The style in which sleep limns
We call it— creases

Making my forehead her bed
Don’t know who’d slept all night

Geet Chaturvedi’s poetics have also been shaped by his high exposure to the world poetry and contemporary poetic designs of the post-modern European literature; at the same time, they give a sense of rootedness to the Sanskrit-Pali poetic tradition of ancient India. Intertextuality is his trait and his poetry is filled with regional plays, which makes translation particularly difficult. On top of that, Hindi and English are two languages that have very different sentence construction, and also, Indian culture is very different from the western culture. Hence, it requires, at times, great effort to retain the same simplicity and meaning and musicality. For example, in the poem ‘Monsoon is a Sip of Water’, words in Hindi like aashad and poos are the Hindu calendar months coinciding with rains and humidity, and of biting cold respectively. I equated them to monsoon and winter. Keeping the words simple yet effective, I constructed the two lines as:

Monsoon is a sip of water
And winter, a mound of dry cough in the chest

The poem ‘Style’ limns in a style that the poet calls an ‘incoherent poetic structure’, a structure that he has been practicing since long, where each line or stanza creates a world of its own; woven around the most mundane things with a deceptive casualness, an emotive and philosophical sublimity is reached, as, for example, in these lines:

On some nights before sleep, my name is Heart
Morning after waking up I find my name History

The poems raise existential, political or philosophical concerns that reflect the candour, the cadences, wit and erudition.

—Anita Gopalan



by Geet Chaturvedi

हृदय का अपना इतिहास होता है

हृदय की अपनी सभ्यता होती है


ऊपर की इन पंक्तियों में रिल्के ने

हृदय की जगह हाथ लिखा था


एक दिन इन हाथों को याद आ जाएगा

कि किसी ज़माने में ये पंख हुआ करते थे


किसी रात सोने से पहले मेरा नाम हृदय होता है

सुबह उठने के बाद पाता हूं कि मेरा नाम इतिहास है


प्रकाश के वृत्त में अंधेरे की त्रिज्या

दार्शनिक स्वतंत्रता है


हर सीढ़ी अंतत: खत्म हो जाती है

ऊपर बहुत सारी ऊंचाई चढ़े जाने से बच जाती है


मैं हमेशा चप्पल पहनता हूं

फिर भी जानता हूं गीली भूमि का स्पर्श


एक पेड़ मौन रह देखता है मुझे

चाहे कितना भी दूर क्यों न चला जाऊं


एक दिन मैं शाम को उठा, पौधों में पानी दिया

मैंने उन्हें कोसा जिन्होंने नींद में मेरे साथ बुरा किया था


मैं उन्हें भूल गया जिन्होंने यथार्थ में मेरे साथ बुरा किया

मेरी प्राथमिकताएं स्पष्ट हैं


नींद जिस शैली में रेखांकन करती है

उसे हम सिलवटें कहते हैं


मेरे माथे को बिस्तर बना

जाने कौन सोया था सारी रात


तुम्हारी स्मृति

मेरे नमक का निबंध है


जागने की मेरी शैली

मेरी अज्ञानताओं के कारण बनती है 


by Geet Chaturvedi

Heart has a history of its own

It has its own civilization


In the lines above, Rilke had 

Written hands in place of heart


These hands would someday remember 

That they at one time were wings


On some nights before sleep, my name is Heart

Morning after waking up I find my name History


The radius of darkness in a circle of light

Is philosophical independence


Every stairway going up eventually ceases

Above, considerable height remains unscaled


I always wear chappals

Yet understand the touch of wet earth


A tree silently watches me 

No matter how far I may wander


I rose one evening, watered the plants

I cursed those who had wronged me in sleep


I forgot those who have wronged me in reality

My preferences are obvious


The style in which sleep limns

We call it—creases


Making my forehead her bed 

Don’t know who’d slept all night


The memory of you

Is an essay of my salt


My style of waking 

Is shaped by my dark ignorance

translated from Hindi by Anita Gopalan

आषाढ़ पानी का घूंट है

by Geet Chaturvedi

तुम्हारी परछाईं पर गिरती रहीं बारिश की बूंदें

मेरी देह बजती रही जैसे तुम्हारे मकान की टीन

अडोल है मन की बीन


झरती बूंदों का घूंघट था तुम्हारे और मेरे बीच

तुम्हारा निचला होंठ पल-भर को थरथराया था


तुमने पेड़ पर एक निशान बनाया

फिर ठीक वहीं एक चोट दागी

प्रेम में निशानचियों का हुनर पैबस्त था


तुमने कहा प्रेम करना अभ्यास है

मैंने सारी शिकायतें अरब सागर में बहा दीं


धरती को हिचकी आती है

जल से भरा लोटा है आकाश

कौन याद कर रहा है उसे

वह एक-एक कर सारे नाम लेती है

मुझे भूल जाती है

मैं इतना पास था कि कोई यकीन ही नहीं कर सकता

जो इतना पास हो वह भी याद कर सकता है


स्वांग किसी अंग का नाम नहीं


आषाढ़ पानी का घूंट है

छाती में उगा ठसका है पूस

Monsoon is a sip of water

by Geet Chaturvedi

The raindrops kept falling on your shadow

My body kept clanging like the tin of your house

My heart’s music beat unrelenting unwavering


Between you and me, there was the veil of cascading droplets

For a fleeting moment, your lower lip twitched


You made a mark on the bole of the tree

And then shot at it right through

Shooters have an inherent finesse in love


But to love is a matter of practice, you proffered

I released all my grievances into the Arabian Sea


The sky is a potful of water

The earth hiccoughs

Who could be remembering her?

One by one she takes all names

Forgets mine

Nobody could perceive how close I’d been, how near

The one who’s so close so near could also remember


Pretence is not a name 

Of any limb or body part


Monsoon is a sip of water

And winter, a mound of dry cough in the chest



*When one hiccoughs, it is believed that someone is remembering that person.

translated from Hindi by Anita Gopalan