• Hollynd Karapetkova

Issue 151 - Women in Translation

Updated: Jan 30

In this special Women in Translation issue edited by Hollynd Karapetkova, we feature work by

  • art by Maigi,

  • poetry by Gemma Gorga translated from Catalan by Sharon Dolin,

  • poetry by Sharron Hass translated from Hebrew by Marcela Sulak,

  • poetry by Rasha Omran translated from Arabic by Phoebe Bay Carter,

  • poetry by Inna Kabysh translated from Russian by Katherine E. Young,

  • poetry by Thilini N. Liyanaarachchi translated from Sinhalese by Chamini Kulathunga,

  • poetry by Suzanne Dracius translated from French by Nancy Naomi Carlson,

  • poetry by Li Cheng'en translated from Chinese by Ming Di, and

  • poetry by Zheng Min translated from Chinese by Ming Di


 


Hollynd Karapetkova


Introduction to the 2021 Women in Translation Issue


We Americans are notorious for our insular reading habits; only about 3% of all books published in the U.S. are works in translation, and if we look particularly at literary fiction and poetry the number shrinks to less than one percent. Furthermore, fewer than a third of the 3% are books by women. In an increasingly global society, our lack of access to (and demand for) literature from other languages leaves us unable to participate in the incredibly rich and essential international conversation about literature. It leaves us less culturally aware and closes off the kinds of creative exploration and innovation that cross-cultural reading can provide.


While there are many discussions about the lack of available translated literature, particularly by women, Women in Translation Month provides us with a practical solution: a chance to showcase some of the powerful work being written by women around the world and made available to us by translators and publishers who believe in the necessity of this work. This issue offers just a small glimpse into the kinds of rich and original poetry available in translation. If you like what you read in this issue of ArLiJo—and I hope you do!—please support these authors by seeking out more of their work and by spreading the word to other poetry lovers. Many of the poems featured here are from books that are currently available or forthcoming, and I encourage you to buy copies to support the writers, translators, and publishers who make this work available.


About the editor

Holly Karapetkova is the Poet Laureate of Arlington, Virginia. Her poetry, prose, and translations have appeared recently in Prairie Schooner, Southern Review, The Nashville Review, and many other places. She is the author of two books of poetry, Towline, winner of the Vern Rutsala Poetry Prize from Cloudbank Books, and Words We Might One Day Say, winner of the Washington Writers’ Publishing House Prize for Poetry. She teaches at Marymount University.



Maigi


Copyright by Maigi.




Gemma Gorga

Translated from Catalan by Sharon Dolin


The Meal


Death is emptying us out with the flat teaspoon

of minutes, bit by bit, without being excessively

voracious. Sometimes it opens the fridge and contemplates us

in the chilled, bluish light, like someone who gets up

at midnight, half-wanting something, without really knowing what.

In the street, someone is lowering the restaurant gate

with a useless gesture. Seated between empty tables and chairs,

Death reviews the menu for the umpteenth time,

repeats our names between its teeth,

unraveling them, as if scouring for

morsels of meat hidden in the cartilage

of this hopeless bird that we are.

Every morning we pack our bags

and take flight with the first swallows,

but the mouth that devours us

ends up being larger

than the parabola

of our flight.



L’àpat


La mort ens va buidant amb la cullereta

plana dels minuts, mos a mos, sense excessiva

voracitat. A voltes obre la nevera i ens contempla

a la llum blavosa del calfred, com qui es lleva

a mitjanit, a migdesig, sense saber ben bé què vol.

Al carrer, algú abaixa amb gest inútil la persiana

del restaurant. Asseguda entre taules i cadires

buides, Ella repassa la carta per enèsima vegada,

torna a dir els nostres noms entre les dents,

esfilagarsadament, com si escurés

les molletes de carn ocultes entre els cartílags

d’aquest ocell sense remissió que som.

Cada matí fem l’equipatge i fugim

amb les primeres orenetes,

però la boca que se’ns empassa

acaba sent més gran

que la paràbola

del vol.


Appeared in Guernica and forthcoming in Late to the House of Words: Selected Poems of Gemma Gorga, translated by Sharon Dolin (Saturnalia Books, 2021).



Kaleidoscope


I turn the capricious kaleidoscope

of the dictionary

between my fingers.


Sometimes

a poem appears, radial and symmetrical,

carrying my frame of mind.


Sometimes

I wonder if it won’t be the other way around:

if it won’t be my frame of mind

to adapt symmetrically

to the words

received

deceived

retrieved

to say.



Calidoscopi


Giro entre els dits

el calidoscopi capriciós

del diccionari.


A voltes

apareix un poema radial i simètric

amb el meu estat d’ànim.


A voltes

dubto si no serà a l’inrevés,

si no serà el meu estat d’ànim

que s’adaptarà simètricament

a les paraules

trobades,

torbades,

tornades

a dir.


Appeared in ACM: Another Chicago Magazine and forthcoming in Late to the House of Words: Selected Poems of Gemma Gorga, translated by Sharon Dolin (Saturnalia Books, 2021).



Direction of Growth


Flowers

fedoras

fingernails

and doors


grow outward.


If they ever grew inward

it would pierce

earth's tunnel

of pain.


Pain known by

caverns

roots

ears

and women,


who have learned how to grow

inward.



El sentit del creixement


Flors

i barrets

i ungles

i portes


creixen enfora.


Si mai creixen endins

és perforant

el túnel terrós

del dolor.


Un dolor que coneixen

coves

i arrels

i orelles

i dones,


que han après a créixer

endins.



Appeared in World Literature Today and forthcoming in Late to the House of Words: Selected Poems of Gemma Gorga, translated by Sharon Dolin (Saturnalia Books, 2021).



About the author

Gemma Gorga was born in Barcelona in 1968. She holds a Ph.D. in Philology from the University of Barcelona, where she teaches Medieval and Renaissance Literature. She has published seven books of poetry since 1997, most recently Mur (Barcelona: Meteora, 2015) and Viatge al centre (Barcelona: Godall Edicions, 2020).


About the translator

Sharon Dolin is the author of six books of poetry, most recently Manual for Living (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2016). A recipient of a 2021 NEA Fellowship in Translation and the winner of the inaugural Malinda A. Markham Translation Prize, her translation of Late to the House of Words: Selected Poems of Gemma Gorga is forthcoming from Saturnalia Books in the fall of 2021. She is also the author of a book of translations from Catalan, Book of Minutes by Gemma Gorga (Oberlin College Press, 2019) and a prose memoir, Hitchcock Blonde (Terra Nova Press, 2020). She is Associate Editor at Barrow Street Press and directs Writing About Art in Barcelona.



Sharron Hass

Translated from Hebrew by Marcela Sulak


Three poems from “Shelter Poems


My beloved, no book / contains our story / for hours I sit behind the mountain / (a

place my face isn’t seen) / an old spinner and a young warrior / (as has been written before

by poets, not necessarily ones I love) / nevertheless / threads and plots / attempting to dream to give an account that burnishes the biographical to the anonymous giving another body / to a time that is passing / the words will again be / an offering, the possible splendor / and wish that when I return/ from that place that isn’t a place / where the writing life a somewhere / gathers around the source, / it is difficult to know /if it is darkness or light / the little house gods / will peek from behind the kettle, the books / to look upon years, and we draw nearer still / the stalactite sun / under which the ghosts /of us hold hands / in great bitterness too / next to the radiant oranges



Who / who will open the door for me / I lift my head from a pillow a book or dishes / the plain sprawls, sloping slightly at an almost imperceptible angle across great distances/ brutal bias/across the long years / —here you are dropped, for now / before the splendor of the subjects / two morning birds / one light blue, one grayish / the gaiety of giving voice to flight / and what is more dear to the dying/ if not the light in the leaves / and who is dying? / the bias seems to straighten slightly/ again you walk the beloved plain and the mind calms /relaxes from the antics of the all-at-once— the fear and the love of fear / the fret of being content with so little / and the ecstasy of crumbs



(Golden thread)


These are the last pages that come before the first pages. These pages are whiter than the first white pages. These pages are the death of a voice and the forgetting of the birth. In the street below a god is twisting and about to shed its skin. Be prepared. A kind of murmur. A mouse among dry leaves. How to sip and what to move to the other side, symmetrical but not identical how do you pass to the first white pages and not to the last pages, three, four at most beyond any ink that has dried. From what does one sip.



About the author

Sharron Hass was born in 1966, and is a graduate of the Classics Department of Tel Aviv University, and holds an M.A. degree in Religious Studies. She lectures on literature and poetry at the Alma Institute in Tel-Aviv, the Tel-Aviv Museum of Art, and teaches in the Creative Writing Program at TAU. Four of her six books of poems are prizewinners: The Mountain Mother is Gone (1997, the Hezy Leskly Award and the Art Council Prize), The Stranger and the Everyday Woman (2001, the Israeli Prime Minister's Prize for Poetry), Daylight (2011, The Bialik Prize), Music of the Wide Lane (2015, The Dolitsky Prize in 2017).


About the translator

Marcela Sulak is the recipient of a 2017 National Endowment for the Arts Translation Fellowship for the current work on Sharron Hass. Her translations from the Czech include Karel Hynek Macha’s May and K. J. Erben’s A Bouquet of Czech Folktales, from the Hebrew Twenty Girls to Envy Me. The Selected Poems of Orit Gidali, nominated for the 2016 PEN Award for Poetry in Translation. From the French, she has translated Mutombo Nkulu-N’Sengha’s Bela-Wenda. Voices from the Heart of Africa. Sulak has published four collections of poetry, most recently, City of Skypapers, and the lyric memoir Mouth Full of Seeds. She’s co-edited the 2016 Rose Metal Press title, Family Resemblance. An Anthology and Exploration of 8 Hybrid Literary Genres. Sulak is an Associate Professor of English at Bar-Ilan University in Israel.



Rasha Omran

Translated from Arabic by Phoebe Bay Carter


Ordinary Life


I do nothing but wait

I write, catching words as though I were in a field filled with colorful butterflies fleeing from me

I read what others write and am impressed by their excessive eloquence in saying what they want

I invent a love, and call a charming man my lover, and I really do love him

I am overcome with passion and ecstasy

I clean my house daily, covering the walls with paintings so as not to live alone in a too-large house

I go to sleep, wake up, watch cheesy romantic films, cook, punish myself with a greasy meal

I walk and take my pills regularly and make plans with friends and dance, often

I do everything that indicates that my life is ordinary, like the life of so many others

except that really, I do nothing but wait for some moment, though I don’t know which

not Godot’s arrival, as you might be thinking

a moment that concerns me alone

and I do all of the above, just to know what it is



حياة عادية

.........

لا أفعل شيئا سوى الانتظار

أكتب وأنا التقط الكلمات كما لو كنت في حقل مليء بفراشات ملونة تهرب مني

أقرأ ما يكتبه الآخرون وأعجب من قدرتهم على قول ما يريدون بأناقة مفرطة

أخترع حبا، وأسمي رجلا رائعا حبيبي، وأحبه فعلا وأموت من الشوق والوجد

أرتب بيتي كل يوم ، وأغطي الجدران باللوحات كي لا أعيش وحدي في بيت شبه واسع

أنام وأصحو وأشاهد أفلاما عاطفية سخيفة وأطبخ وأعاقب نفسي على وجبة دسمة

أمشي وأتناول دوائي بانتظام وأواعد الأصدقاء وأرقص أحيانا كثيرة

أفعل كل ما يشي بأن حياتي عادية، تشبه حياة الكثيرين

غير أن الحقيقة أنني لا أفعل شيئا سوى انتظار تلك اللحظة التي أجهل تماما ماهي

ليست لحظة قدوم غودو كما قد يخطر لكم

لحظة تخصني وحدي

أفعل كل ما سبق لأعرف ماهي



You Didn’t Come


I wanted to tell you today when you came that I love you

I got dressed, as usual, in a black, low-cut dress

and wore my silver earrings

then wrapped my heart in a silk handkerchief

and placed it on the doorstep to let you know I was here

and waited…

A day went by

then two

a whole month

or maybe much more

and I kept wearing the same dress and those earrings

but you never came

someone passed by and took away the doorstep

someone else came and carried off the front door

others came for my life and left

I wet the threads of the handkerchief around my heart

I could no longer remember how to say the words “I love you”

you never came

and the cat swallowed my silver earrings

then hid under my black dress

and went to sleep.


أنت لم تأت

.....

أردت أن أقول لك اليوم حين تأتي أنني أحبك

لبست، كعادتي، ثوبا أسودا مكشوف الصدر

وضعت قرطي الفضي

ثم لففت قلبي بمنديل حريري

وضعته عند عتبة باب البيت كي يدلك على مكاني

وانتظرت ....

مضى يوم

مضى يومان

مضى شهر

وربما أكثر بكثير

أنا ما زلت أرتدي نفس الثوب والقرط

وأنت لم تأت أبدا

مر أحد حمل العتبة ومضى

ومر آخر أخذ معه باب البيت

ومر آخرون أخذوا حياتي ورحلوا

بليت خيوط المنديل الذي يلف قلبي

ولم أعد أعرف كيف ألفظ كلمة ( أحبك )

أنت لم تأت أبدا

القطة ابتعلت قرطي الفضي

ثم دخلت تحت ثوبي الأسود

ونامت .



I Have No One


says the green plant in the corner of the room before curling up her small leaves to keep them from falling,

I have no one

says the man walking in the Bahram Hajou painting as he carries his wife on his head, preparing since forever ago to arrive

I have no one

says the Bach symphony, left repeating itself for the past two days in the tape player with no one to listen to it

I have no one

cries Alberto Manguel as he sticks his head out of a book that hasn’t been moved from its spot on the bedside table for a month,

I have no one

a blue dress pokes its head out of the closet, protesting against the darkness it’s been living in for more than a year,

I have no one

says the dry skin of a woman, howling like a parched wolf in a far-off desert,

I have no one

murmurs a human heart as it turns somersaults like a lonely acrobat

I have no one

say the people in a house like a window one of them stole from an old wall to hang in the emptiness of the world, making sure to lock it up tight.


ليس لي أحد


تقول النبتة الخضراء المركونة في زاوية الغرفة ثم تلتف على أوراقها الصغيرة لتحميها من التساقط،

ليس لي أحد

يقول الرجل الماشي في لوحة بهرم حاجو وهو يحمل امرأته على رأسه ويستعد منذ أبد للوصول،

ليس لي أحد

تقول سيمفونية لباخ متروكة منذ يومين تكرر نفسها في جهاز تسجيل لا يوجد من ينتبه إليه،

ليس لي أحد

يصرخ البرتو مانغويل وهو يمد رأسه من كتاب لم تتغير وضعيته منذ شهر على طاولة في غرفة النوم،

ليس لي أحد

يمد فستان أزرق رأسه من خزانة الملابس محتجا على الظلام الذي يعيش فيه منذ أكثر من عام،

ليس لي أحد

يقول جلد امرأة ناشف وهو يعوي كذئب عطش في صحراء بعيدة،

ليس لي أحد

يتمتم قلب آدمي وهو يتقلب كبهلوان في هوة نفسه،

ليس لي أحد

يقول الجميع ذلك في بيت يشبه نافذة سرقها أحدهم من جدار قديم ثم وضعها في فراغ العالم وأحكم إغلاقها جيدا .



About the author

Rasha Omran is a Syrian poet born in Tartus in 1964. She has published six collections of poetry which have been partially translated into several languages and regularly publishes opinion pieces in the Arabic press. She currently lives in Cairo.


About the translator

Phoebe Bay Carter is a translator from Arabic and Spanish and a graduate student in comparative literature at Harvard University. Her translations have appeared in Brooklyn Rail’s InTranslation, Action Books’ Poetry in Action, ArabLit Quarterly, and elsewhere.



Inna Kabysh

Translated from Russian by Katherine E. Young


Dacha: hot strawberry childhood”


Dacha: hot strawberry childhood,

pluperfect, near Mesozoic;

the genius boy with the evil gene

stalks a dragonfly, predatory.


An archaeopteryx twitters briefly

on a branch beside the red-haired hunter,

and two pears settle in the hammock

just like they would in Mama’s sack.


At night the dacha floorboards creak,

an old woman shivers in her chair-

bed, teenage misses are whispering,

currents ferment in their red pail.


At night the joints and vertebrae grow;

like plumping apples, breasts swell up;

train cars depart for far-off spots,

for youth—until the bluing plums,


until September, start of torment—

dacha season: sea and sun.

Our home, our golden mean. Southern

exile: Pushkin, Ovid Nazon.



Translation first published in Notre Dame Review.



[“Dacha: hot strawberry childhood” text—original poem is untitled]


Дача: клубничное жаркое детство,

плюсквамперфект, почти мезозой,

гений: ребёнок с геном злодейства

хищно охотится за стрекозой.


Археоптерикс щебечет на ветке

с рыжим охотником накоротке,

и преспокойно, как в маминой сетке,

груши-двойняшки спят в гамаке.


Ночью на даче скрипят половицы,

зябнет старуха на кресле-одре,

шепчутся девочки-отроковицы,

бродит смородина в красном ведре.


Ночью растут позвонки и суставы,

грудь набухает, как белый налив,

в дальние страны уходят составы,

в юность, и до посинения слив,


до сентября, до начала мученья:

море и солнце - дачный сезон.

Это наш дом золотого сеченья.

Южная ссылка: Пушкин, Назон.



“This is life: the summer house”


This is life: the summer house,

rain and sun, work and more work.

I wake a second before the baby,

the wailing, before bowing and scraping.


This is a bowl full to the top,

and trough, and tub, and chamber pot,

mishmash mix-up, yakkety-yak,

goddammit, short end of the stick.


This is the twitter, babble and coo,

laughter and tears, “halloo,” “goochie-goo,”

and the swallow builds a nest of her own

by day, double-quick, on the run.


This is the view, nothing simpler,

with an anthill close by a stump,

field, clearing, apiary, tree clump;

life—the divine bustle and fuss.


And grass grows between the stones,

and the poet writes between washloads.

This is a stitch, needle, pin,

this is happiness, of which there’s none.



Translation first published by the Stephen Spender Trust.



[“This is life: the summer house” text—original poem is untitled]


Это жизнь, то есть лето и дача,

дождь и солнце, труды и труды.

Я проснусь за секунду до плача,

до дитя, до травы и воды.


Это доверху полная чаша,

и корыто, и таз, и горшок,

печки-лавочки, каша-малаша,

ёлки-палки, вершок-корешок.


Это гулинье, щебет и лепет,

смех и слёзы, ау и агу,

и гнездо своё ласточка лепит

на свету, на скаку, на бегу.


Это вид, нету коего проще,

с муравейником около пня,

поле, просека, пасека, роща:

жизнь — божественная колготня.


И растёт между плитами травка,

и меж стирками пишет поэт.

Это строчка, иголка, булавка,

это счастье, которого нет.



“September was ending—leaving cigarette butts”


September was ending—leaving cigarette butts,

apple cores, drifts of leaves. Used to bad news,

I lived. Love always left without saying

goodbye, strolled regally along its way.


I followed it with my eyes. And lived. Expecting

cold, famine, plague, and civil war, and Judgment,

amid collapse, on the doorstep of hell

I lived, never hoping to make it till spring.


I wrote words, I read words, I wrote; in words

I escaped, but as in a child’s game, “One, two, three!”

rang out in me—then nothing saved me: after

each “three!” I blew myself up from within.


And then collected another self from what

had been. After that—in two words, “I lived”…

Life’s greater than autumn, homeland, love, the word…

Life encrusts everything: that’s why it’s so hard.



Translation first published in Tupelo Quarterly.



[“September was ending—leaving cigarette butts” text—original is untitled]


И кончался сентябрь - оставались окурки, огрызки

и сугробы листвы. К не-благим привыкая вестям,

я жила. А любовь уходила всегда по-английски

и брела королевской походкой по русским путям.


Я смотрела ей вслед. И жила. В ожидании хлада,

в ожидании глада, чумы, и гражданской войны,

и Суда, посредине распада, в преддверии ада

я жила, всякий раз не надеясь дожить до весны.


Я писала слова, я читала слова, вновь писала:

я спасалась в словах, но как в детской игре:

"Раз, два, три!"-

раздавалось во мне - и тогда ничего не спасало:

после каждого "...три!" я взрывала себя изнутри.


А потом собирала: другую себя из былого.

А что после потом - в двух словах говоря: "Я жила"...

Ибо жизнь больше осени, родины, больше любви,

больше слова...

Ею всё покрывается: то-то она тяжела.



About the author

Inna Kabysh has published eight collections of poetry in Russia. She has been awarded the Pushkin Prize of the Alfred Toepfer Fund, the Anton Delwig Prize, the Moskovsky schet Prize, the Anna Akhmatova Prize, and the Deti Ra Prize. Two chapbooks are available in English: Blue Birds and Red Horses and Two Poems; individual poems have appeared widely in English translation. Several of Kabysh’s poems have been made into short films; many have been set to music.


About the translator

Katherine E. Young is the author of Woman Drinking Absinthe and Day of the Border Guards and editor of Written in Arlington. She is the translator of prose by Anna Starobinets and Akram Aylisli, as well as poetry by Inna Kabysh and numerous Russophone poets; she was named a 2020 Arlington County Individual Artist Grant recipient, a 2017 National Endowment for the Arts translation fellow, and a 2015 Hawthornden Fellow (Scotland). She served as the inaugural poet laureate for Arlington, Virginia. https://katherine-young-poet.com



Thilini N. Liyanaarachchi

Translated from Sinhalese by Chamini Kulathunga


Lofty Treetops


There are treetops

of lofty proportions

that just breathe

lying parallel

entertaining less conversation

betraying no outward affection

not even competing

to get hold of the sun


Nobody would question

their age and lineage

only a random breeze

would make them touch each other

causing minimal interaction

yet when wild storms gatecrash

twisting all treetops

even the baby plants and frail stems

know they could rely

on their lofty friends



To be a Queen is a Sin


Venerating the kings with concubines

turning the pages of history books

they laughed at you, saying

“she’s an erotic being”

Could you come back once more

dear queen Anula1

to tell us

if you really poisoned

every man you married?


Was it their masculine auspices

that allowed them to be at play?

Was every nameless woman the kings brought

in love with them?

They say being a man is a merit,

was it why copulation only their right?

Was it why they pointed at you?

Was it to erase their sins from history?


In a country like this

being a queen itself is a sin

and once a woman climbs the ladder

she is but a genital that unites with another

I wish I could listen

to all your stories

for it’s you who knows

the truth of them all.


[1 The first female ruling queen in the recorded history of Sri Lanka. History books describe her as a woman who allegedly poisoned four of her husbands to remain in power as well as a woman with amorous qualities.]

Originally published on Project Plume (2020).



Shall We Ask Time to Stop?


Mother speaks slowly now

breathes tranquilly

hardly ever nags

cooks the same dishes

only eats a handful

often lost in thought


Mom,

shall we stop here

here at this very moment

and ask Time to stop with us

so we can remain

nestled in each other?


Originally published on Project Plume (2020).



About the author

Thilini N. Liyanaarachchi is a contemporary Sri Lankan female poet. Her debut poetry collection අප්‍රකාශිත ප්‍රේමය (Unrequited Love as it appears in the collection) was published in March 2020. Her Facebook page “unwritten poem” was one of the first literary pages in Sri Lanka to reach one-hundred- thousand followers. Liyanaarachchi’s poetry often brings into focus a range of topics from human connections to historical female figures to cultural restrictions from a female point of view.


About the translator

Chamini Kulathunga is a Sri Lankan translator. She is a graduate of the Iowa Translation Workshop and a former visiting fellow at Cornell University's South Asia Program. She is a recent recipient of The Global South Translation Fellowship awarded by Cornell University’s Institute for Comparative Modernities. Chamini is currently working as Asymptote’s Editor-at-Large for Sri Lanka and as an Associate Editor at The Song Bridge Project, a non-profit publisher of literary translations based in Iowa City. She was the former blog editor and a staff editor at Exchanges: Journal of Literary Translation. During her time in Sri Lanka, she has worked in the corporate sector as an Editor-in-Chief in a news platform and as a visiting scholar at three Sri Lankan universities. Her writings, interviews, and translations have appeared and are forthcoming in The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Los Angeles Review, The Massachusetts Review, The World Literature Today, Asymptote, Project Plume, and elsewhere. More of her work can be found on chaminikulathunga.com



Suzanne Dracius

Translated from French by Nancy Naomi Carlson


Women's Fantasies

for Susanne Rinne


It pleases me to straddle a horse and ride

like women do in the frescos of Pompeii

in the Roman way, the Andromache way.

Then you would bear my mark

sweeter than brands made

from the red iron of lovely servitude, now banned.

Great joy for a woman as well!

You’ll have no cause for complaint.

You’ll be sated

doing all these things you say

to the gray kingbird, to the singing cock,

without end,

all these forbidden things

in theory

as they say:

a woman’s fantasy,

fantastic ride

of mighty Amazon warriors, female soldiers of Dahomey,

like Penthesilea, spirited queen.

After all, what’s the danger

in doing these things that you say—

if by chance we should do them—

as long as we do them

while wildly insane?

For an upright woman today

will not, for all that, be defamed.


Oh understand how I waver!

What is this feminine sense

of decency, its tight reins?

I’m well aware I must refrain

from doing these things you say

ill-bred,

ill-fated…

Believe me, I am dismayed

that these are forbidden things.


Now it is I inviting you

in melody,

in harmony.

Must we really be drunk to make

our living flesh rejoice?

Must we slowly drift away

in fairy tales,

in barbaric ways,

extreme in our rage

as in our cravings,

crazed,

convulsed?


Ah, to be able to ride

like women do in the frescos of Pompeii

like Andromache, in the Roman way,

straddling my proud horse

to Hell’s Road in Saint-Pierre

just below the volcano, Rise-to-Heaven Street

under Mount Pelée,

doing all these forbidden things

in paradise,

to allow myself all these positions you say

in mystic cries,

Yé mistikri!

To allow myself all these forbidden positions

and krik and krak

and krik krak.

No, the court will not sleep,

still hand to hand, filled with cries

of hedonistic poetry,

Philosophy,

sweet Philosophy!

I took off

and worse, untamed

and running, I escaped

as a chestnut brown

Caribbean gourmet.

Martinique, 2003



Translator’s notes: Hell’s Road refers to rue d’Enfer, the name of a street in Saint-Pierre, Martinique, destroyed by the volcanic eruption of Mount Pelée in 1902. Rise-to-Heaven Street refers to rue Monte au ciel nearby. Krik krak is part of a Caribbean storyteller’s ritual of warming up the audience by asking “Krik?” and encouraging the collective response “Krak!” The storyteller then says, “Yé mistikri!” and the audience responds, “Yé mistikra!” Finally the storyteller asks, “Is the court sleeping?” and the audience responds, “No, the court is not sleeping.”



Fantasmes de femmes

à Susanne Rinne


Il me plaît de chevaucher aussi

comme sur les fresques de Pompéi

à la Romaine, à l’Andromaque.

Alors vous porteriez ma marque

plus suave que marquage au fer rouge

d’exquise servitude abolie.

Pour une femme aussi, grand plaisir !

Ainsi n’aurez-vous rien à redire.

C’est comme ça que vous serez comblé

à faire toutes ces choses que vous dites

au coq chantant, au pipirit,

à l’infini,

toutes ces choses interdites

en théorie

comme on dit :

fantasme de femme,

en fantastique chevauchée

de haute guerrière, d’Amazone du Dahomey,

telle une fougueuse Penthésilée.


Après tout, qu’est-ce que l’on risque

à faire ces choses que vous me dites

– si d’aventure nous le faisions –

pourvu que nous le fassions

en douce folie ?

Car une femme debout d’aujourd’hui

ne sera pas pour autant maudite.


Oh, comprenez combien j’hésite !

Mais quelle est cette pudeur dite

féminine

qui me retient aux abords ?

Je sais bien qu’il faut que j’évite

de faire ces choses que vous me dites

en malappris,

en malfini…

Croyez bien que cela m’irrite

que ce soient choses interdites.


Maintenant c’est moi qui vous invite

en mélodie,

en harmonie.

Faut-il vraiment que l’on soit ivre

pour faire exulter nos chairs vives ?

Faut-il que longuement l’on dérive

en féerie,

en barbarie,

extrêmes dans nos emportements

autant que dans nos engouements,

en frénésie,

en malcadi ?


Ah ! Pouvoir chevaucher aussi

comme sur les fresques de Pompéi

à l’Andromaque, à la Romaine,

ma fière monture enfourchant

à la rue d’Enfer à Saint-Pierre

juste au-dessous du volcan

sous la Pelée rue Monte au ciel,

faire toutes ces choses interdites

en paradis,

m’offrir toutes ces poses que vous dites

en mystique cri,

Yé misticri !

M’offrir toutes ces poses interdites

et cric et crac

et cric crac.

Non, la cour ne va pas dormir

encore à corps et à cris

en hédoniste poésie,

Philosophie,

la Philo !

J’ai pris l’envol

et pis j’ai pris

courir

marronne en

caribéenne épicurie.

Martinique, 2003



Fantasm Fanm


Pou fanm tou sé bèl plézi

Di monté adada osi

« À la Romaine, à l’Andromaque »

Sé pousa ou pé di hak

Sé konsa ou ké kontan

Fè tout sé bagay ou ka di

O pipiri

Tout sé bagay ki intèwdi

An téyori

Kon yo ka di

An fantasm fanm


Sa ki pé rivé nou davré

Di fè tousa ou ka mandé

A sipozé ki nou ka fèy

Dépi nou fè sa épi

Ti bren foli

Puis fanm jodi

Pé ké modi


Mwen ka espéré kou pé konpwann

Sa ki sé kalté pidè fanm

Lè man noz fè

Sa ou ka di-a

Mèm si man sav

Ki fo pa fèy

An jèntifi

De bonnfanmi

Kon yo ka di


Atjolman sé mwen ki bandi

Ek sé mwen ké mandé-w li

An mélodi

An narmoni

Kon yo ka di

An fantasm fanm


Es fok tèt an mwen pati

Pou nou pwan titak plézi

An vakabonnajri

Kon yo ka di

An féyéri

An barbari

Pichonnaj ki pa té ka fèt an gran lari

Dousinaj ki nou ka vwè jodi

An pitènri

Kon yo ka di

An frénézi

An malkadi


Pou an fanm sé bèl plézi

Di monté adada osi

Kon sou lérwin Ponpéyi

Alabodaj an bèl péyi

« À l’Andromaque, à la Romaine »

Pa an sèl wozé pijé grènn

An mannyè pakoté Senpyè

An mannyè a lari Lanfè

Fè tout sé bagay intèrwdi

An paradi

Fantasm fanm


Fè tout sé bagay man ka di

An mistik kri

Yé mistikri

Fè krik krak

Kon yo ka di

Yé krak yé kri

An filozofi

Pou lakou pa domi

An poyézi

An malapri

An malfini

Lafilo !

Lavol an pri

Épi kouri

— Caribéenne épicurie —

Atè Matnik, dé mil twa


Originally published in Calazaza's Delicious Dereliction, Tupelo Press (2015).



From Hell's Road to Rise-to-Heaven Street


The fellow went down to Saint-Pierre,

Martinique, Martinique of cinders and ash,

in February 1902,

drifted along for somewhere to moor,

found no Johnny cakes nor demijohns,

only winks from ladies named Jeanne ad libitum,

was ogled from head to toe

by the lady lost in the clouds

with fire in her womb,

Venus’ bald mount.

At the foot of Mount Pelée,

from the rim of Hell’s road

as far as Rise-to-Heaven street,

he was lured by the brothels’ beguines.

From the water’s shores to the heart

of Le Mouillage and its harbor’s abyssal depths,

he relished the taste of sea-soaked hair,

feasted on rums and women in all shades and hues,

toured fire-filled wombs,

passed two or three zombies with grins

crazily bound

for Creole Saturnalia,

sultry, fantastic rides,

nights of orgy in Saint-Pierre.


With good will,

aroused,

he groped with chocolate-smeared hands

a crowd of little devils from Saint-Pierre

bedecked with red

and big-breasted matadors, stiletto-heeled,

tickled chabines with derrières high and round,

a calazaza adorned with a pair of fanciful horns,

lavished caresses and hickeys on a half-naked capresse,

a callipyge with buttocks jutting out like masts on a ship,

without cause, for his part, to dismast

until his tail should come undone,

saluted masks and bergamasks,

spirited skeleton brides raised from the dead,

a three-legged horse, crazed in heat,

languid women disguised as Marianne,

men disguised as old bodies astride one another’s backs

bound for Carnival

where the morituri live well,

the supreme,

the sublime

which never will rise

from cinders and ash

with bacchanal splendor restored.


In this short span of time,

intense and compressed,

in this lapse of bygone days,

a mere nothing of time,

barely, hardly

had he dispersed his seed,

remembering his wife

who was waiting for him in Fort-de-France—

a domestic pillar of strength

in the midst

of wedded restraint—

he retraced his steps just in time

to avoid the Disaster.


Le Mouillage, Saint-Pierre, 2001



Translator’s notes: References in this poem to the finely calibrated racial distinctions on the black/white continuum found in Martinique include the calazaza (light-skinned, bi-racial person with red or blond hair and very few black features), the chabine (light-skinned, bi-racial woman with red or blond hair and some black features), and the capresse (half-black, half-mulatto woman with darker skin than the chabine’s and with black hair). Marianne la peau-figue refers to a major Carnival caricature dressed in dry banana leaves. Figue is the Creole word for banana, and Marianne represents the fruit’s fragility.



De Rue d'enfer à Rue Monte au Ciel


Le bougre est descendu à Saint-Pierre,

Martinique, Martinique des cendres,

en février 1902,

a drivaillé en plein Mouillage,

n’y a pas trouvé de daubannes ni nulle dame-jeanne

mais des oeillades de dames Jeanne ad libitum,

s’est fait toiser par la dame

qui a la tête dans les nuages,

le ventre en feu,

le mont de Vénus pelé.

Au pied de la Montagne Pelée,

de rue d’Enfer en bordée

jusqu’à la rue Monte au Ciel

driva de biguine en bordel.

En bord d’eau au fond du Mouillage

et des abyssaux mouillages

goûta des chevelures océanes,

dégusta des rhums et des femmes de toutes couleurs,

visita des ventres de feu,

croisa deux-trois gais zombies

en folle partance

pour de créoles Saturnales,

de fantastiques et voluptueuses chevauchées,

des nuits d’orgie à Saint-Pierre.


A chocolaté

bon enfant,

tout excité,

un lot de diablotins

pierrotins

et de matadors mamelues,

chatouillé des chabines fessues,

une calazaza biscornue,

prodigué suçons et caresses à une capresse à demi nue

au callipyge bonda maté

sans démâter de son côté

jusqu’à ce que sa queue se dévisse,

honoré masques et bergamasques,

masques-la-mort en émoi,

cheval trois-pattes en grand rut,

Marianne la peau-figue alanguie,

vieux-corps vifs à califourchon

en partance pour un Carnaval

de morituri bons vivants,

l’ultime,

le sublime

qui jamais

ne renaîtrait de ses cendres

en telle splendeur bacchanale.


En ce petit temps

court et lourd,

en ce laps d’antan,

en un rien de temps,

à peine à peine

eût-il exonéré ses graines,

songeant à sa légitime

qui l’espérait à Fort-de-France

— poteau mitan

au beau mitan

de l’austérité conjugale —

retira ses pieds juste à temps

pour éviter la Catastrophe.


Le Mouillage, Saint-Pierre, 2001


Originally published in Calazaza's Delicious Dereliction, Tupelo Press (2015).



By Course and Discourse

for Jean-Charles Brédas, award-winning chef from Martinique, whose creations combine

ingredients from cuisines around the world


Such a delicious trip

To take by course and discourse,

Gluttony for crew,

Jean-Charles Brédas in the furnace room.

There, where the White River flows,

Our frank Creolity pours forth:

The Chief’s face is august,

Agamemnon’s proud mask of gold,

Brédas in his fief, Creole,

Not in narrowness—no!—

In beautiful universality.

Of haute cuisine,

Jean-Charles is a Chevalier, heroic

And gifted master cook.

By synesthesia so sweet,

His art makes our senses reel:

Juiciness we see,

Refinement we breathe in,

Subtle nuances perfume

And fill our taste buds with bliss.

To feast on one of Jean-Charles’s meals

Is not a joy of which we speak

Lightly, but rather we enjoy

In reverence, tuned in

To the most refined “Carpe diem!”

Chef Brédas, this is why I love you,

Master-at-arms of the mouth,

Who pays innovative hommage

To matrimonial heritage

Of our poto-mitan, pillars of strength, from days gone by—

Grands-manmans, grandmas and upright wives—

From a coulis of passion fruit, arousing

The taste of foie gras, of fish,

You know how to concoct so many delights

To design with a delicate touch

In devotion worthy of myth,

Celebration with no end,

The fête of flavors of mixed descent.

Rivière Blanche, 2007



Par Mets et par Mots

pour Jean-Charles Brédas


Il est un délicieux voyage

À faire par mets et par mots,

Gourmandise pour équipage,

Jean-Charles Brédas aux fourneaux.

Là où coule la Rivière Blanche

S’épand la créolité franche :

Noble est la figure du Chef,

Fier masque d’or d’Agamemnon

Créole, Brédas en son fief

Pas dans l’étroitesse, oh que non !

En belle universalité.

De la haute gastronomie

Jean-Charles est Chevalier, le preux,

Le talentueux maître-queux.

Par une suave synesthésie

Son art met nos sens en émoi :

Des succulences que l’on voit,

Délicatesses que l’on hume,

Nuances subtiles parfument

Et comblent nos papilles en joie.

S’asseoir à la table de Jean-Charles