Translations

Spotlight on Indian Languages: Part VI

she will continue her quest / for a world bereft of homes.

We’re thrilled to present the sixth and final installment of our Indian Languages Special Feature here at the blog. This time, Assistant Managing Editor Janani Ganesan gives us an inside look at the life of the featured poet via the following interview. Thanks for sticking with us on our tour of the language-rich Indian subcontinent! 

Images of writer Salma receiving honours and awards from Chief Ministers and Presidents line the living room walls of her Chennai flat. It’s the home of an acclaimed public figure, but she has fought to be able to declare this success as a writer, even to herself. Having grown up in an orthodox Muslim community in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu and married at nineteen into a conservative family, Salma had to hide her identity as a writer. Her years of struggle as an imprisoned woman are well recorded, including in an award-winning documentary by Kim Longinotto. Her poems, short stories, and novels are deeply melancholic reflections on life as a woman in her culture. “I don’t think I have ever felt happy. Not even when I receive recognition for my work. I always feel a sense of sorrow, having lost a lot,” she said during our interview.

“How did you reach my apartment? Did you take a taxi?” she asks. My scooter gets a nod of approval. “Parava illaye!” [“Not bad!”] A woman must have mobility. She sits down with a newspaper upon which she cleans and removes spinach leaves from their stems to prepare lunch, while we speak about her life and art. Later, she takes a picture with me and the spinach as a rebuke to Tamil writer B. Jeyamohan, who once insulted a bank teller, suggesting she was not capable even of picking spinach leaves.

Below is an edited transcript of the interview, translated by the interviewer and Asymptote’s Assistant Managing Editor, Janani Ganesen, as well as one of Salma’s poems, translated by N Kalyan Raman.

Janani (J): Your life and struggle has been widely recorded. Yet, for the sake of our readers, I hope you wouldn’t mind answering a few questions. You grew up in a cloistered environment. How did you access books?

Salma (S): There was a library in my town that I liked going to. It wasn’t big, but I read as much as I could. In those days, New Century Book House used to bring out translations of Russian writers. I read Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and others. I read and admired Tamil writers like Balakumaran. But it is from these Russian greats that I got a sense of what literature is about. I also read Periyar and wondered, “Why am I not being allowed to go to school or do the things that my brother is allowed to do? How am I different?” I felt angry.

J: When did you start writing?

S: Although I wrote my first short story when I was in class seven, I wouldn’t look at it as my beginning. It was about a woman, whose husband abandons her and yet she goes back to help him when he is in need. I was influenced by the movies I watched and what older people told me: “Kallanalum Kanavan.” [“A husband remains a husband even when he is hard like a stone.”]

I would say my writing career began with the publication of the poem “Swasam” [“Breath”] in a little magazine called Suttum Vizhi Chuddar, when I was seventeen.  I received a lot of reviews only after that poem.

J: What is “Swasam” about?

S: What is my identity? Things were happening around me without my being aware of it. My breath should be mine. Somebody else can’t breathe on my behalf. But that was how it was. Everybody else was deciding the course of my life. My education, my activities, my movements, my marriage, all of this was decided by someone else. That’s what the poem is about. The poem became controversial in my village. “How could you let a girl who has attained puberty let her name be printed? It’s a disgrace for her to show her face outside. A disgrace to the family. A disgrace to her society,” they said. I didn’t understand this then. Why could you not print my name? A girl’s name is printed in a marriage invitation; is that a disgrace too? But I couldn’t argue with them.

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Translation Tuesday: Excerpts from “His Name is David” by Jan Vantoortelboom

All I want to do is milk the cows and work the land. So why do I need to know the capitals of Europe, or who Napoleon was?

Newly translated into English, Jan Vantoortelboom’s His Name is David, a Dutch-language bestseller, is a tale of forbidden love set in World War I Flanders. Consisting of vignettes, the narrative unfolds as memories of a young Belgian school teacher as he faces a firing squad for desertion. Presented here are just two scenes from the classroom, showing how he tries to transform the minds of his students, “the boys of Year Six.”

‘But sir, why do we have to cram all these things into our heads?’

Roger interrupted my lesson about the capital cities of Europe. His way of constantly questioning everything drove me up the wall sometimes.

‘Neither my father nor mother have ever been further than Ypres or Poperinge, and on Sundays, my mother goes straight home to milk the cows after Mass and my father only ever gets as far as the pub for a pint.’

‘Quite a distance, if he has to crawl home,’ Jef said.

We ignored the remark.

‘Well, Roger. Maybe you will travel further than your parents one day, and see the whole wide world,’ I said.

‘Who, me? Why? Whaffor?’

‘To look at churches and castles in other countries, perhaps. To see how people live there. Or to observe the wildlife.’

I thought of my childhood. Of the books Father brought us. Of the cupboard full of skulls and bones in my room. Of my brother.

‘But I won’t have the cash for that. And anyway, I don’t give a damn about those things.’

Judging by the way his eyebrows twitched, he knew he should be watching his words.

‘Honest, sir. All I want to do is milk the cows and work the land. So why do I need to know the capitals of Europe, or who Napoleon was? And on Sundays, I want to go drinking, like Dad!’

I needed all my creativity to come up with an answer that would have a motivational effect on the obstinate lout.

‘Well, Roger. Imagine that one day, you take over your father’s farm …’

He interrupted me enthusiastically.

‘Oh, I will, sir! Cos luckily, I’m the oldest!’ He laughed, sneering at Jef and Walter, who both had elder brothers.

‘All right,’ I continued. ‘And now imagine you do, as you say, also take over that genial habit of your father’s, namely drinking on Sundays.’

‘Yes, naturally. Sometimes, I’m already allowed…’

‘That’s enough, Roger,’ I cut him short. ‘As you know, however, no one on this planet is immortal. I’m sorry I have to say so, but one day, your parents will die.’

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Spotlight on Indian Languages: Part V

trying to befriend the strange / waiting for time to pass / to get ourselves to come to terms with it

In our penultimate iteration of this special feature on Indian poetry, we bring you the beautifully spare yet charged verse of Gurpreet, from the northern-most region of India, translated from the Punjabi by Monika Kumar. 

The sold out house and that sparrow

In our sold out house
we are here for the last quarter of our stay

Why was this house sold
how come it was sold
it has to be explained to everyone

My wife, sister and younger brother
were packing things
and that’s how my mother is rather packing us all including herself
in a fist of courage

Father is getting the things loaded
affectionately
arranging things in a row
attentively
stretching his wisdom
to rise up to the need of the moment
that’s how he saves our heart
that’s how he saves his own heart
from the heartbreak

I give up on the clichéd reasoning
and mother’s wet eyes
father’s rambling heart
wife’s false smile
the flabbergasted face of my son
I try to console everyone including myself
no idea where I muster courage from

Bidding farewell to the sold out house
I discovered
the places, walls, doors and windows breathe too
I was reminded of the sparrow
the sparrow I wove many stories around
to narrate to my son Sukhan

It is the first time
we are living in a rented house
trying to befriend the strange
waiting for time to pass
to get ourselves to come to terms with it

Parents think of taking a dip in holy waters
to pray for clemency
I bow my head before the doorstep of Muse

And there is chirping
the sparrow
The same sparrow

Listen to the poem in Punjabi:  The_sold_out_house_and_that_sparrow

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Translation Tuesday: “Made in Denmark” by Mohammad Tolouei

We lived in a world in which people followed certain ideologies even for how to grip a racket.

On the subject of the travel ban, much of the rhetoric coming out of Trump’s administration has focused on the dangers posed by immigrants. This devastating but ultimately heartwarming story by Iranian writer Mohammed Tolouei, told from the point of view of a four-year-old, conveys to us what it is like from the other side, that may not be so readily apparent to those who’ve never been forced to flee their countries. To be reckoned with, above all, in any decision to migrate, is the pain of uprooting from one’s homeland.

This short story marks the first of many in an extensive showcase we hope to bring you, spotlighting new writing—and new translations—from the seven countries Trump intends to ban. If you’d like to see more of this showcase, there’s still a week left to pitch in to our fundraiser here. If you are an author who identifies as being from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen (or someone who translates such authors)—and would like to submit work for consideration, please get in touch at editors@asymptotejournal.com.

We lived in a house of closed doors. The door to the veranda was closed. The third room’s door was closed. The bifolding doors to the hall were closed–we had placed an American sofa in front of them. The door of the big bathroom was closed. The basement’s door was closed. The door of the toilet in the yard was closed. The door opening to the ridge roof was closed. And so was the door of the large hall all over the springs and falls and winters because we never had enough oil to heat up the whole place. Only in summers the doors opened and I could play ping pong with my mother with the ping pong table in there. She put a bedstead below my feet so that I could reach up the table and then she tried not to strike hard returns. My mother was Iranian Girls’ Schools Champion and fond of penhold grip of the racket, while I favored shakehand. We lived in a world in which people followed certain ideologies even for how to grip a racket, and from the very beginning I sided with the Western party.

Our styles were totally different. My mother used to hit short, tight topspins while my hits were rather long and loose. I was more at ease with sidespins while my mother made better topspins. Yet in spite of all the trophy cups Mother had received, I won because of my playing style—the victorious western style. Mother still followed Eastern methods, yet Father wanted to take us to Denmark, a place in the West that ironically paid living subsidies, unemployment compensation and allowance for the children like most socialist countries. And in order to convince my mother to leave, each day he locked up more and more doors of our house.

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Spotlight on Indian Languages: Part IV

Our suffering / turned into / bruises on our backs

The ongoing blog feature on Indian poetry, tied to our Special Feature in the Winter 2017 Issue of Asymptote, has reached its fourth installment. This time, we present a poem by Gujarati Dalit poet Priyanka Kalpit. She is one of the very few women writing Dalit poetry in Gujarat today. Her text below was translated by Gopika Jadeja.

 

Bitter crop

Our ancestors
sowed their sweat

In return
we reaped
bonded labour

Our suffering
turned into
bruises on our backs

At times, that searing pain
turns into a firefly
and burns

For a little while
the horizon of the soul
turns burning red.

READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: An excerpt of Kruso by Lutz Seiler

If he were lucky, no one would take exception to his disappearance.

Today, we’ve partnered with Scribe Books to introduce the majestic German Book Prize winner Der Spiegel calls “the first worthy successor to Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain to appear in contemporary German literature.” It is also the debut novel of Lutz Seiler, a major German poet we’ve published in our pages before. In the novel excerpt below, our protagonist has just arrived at a seaside town after an unspeakable tragedy. The true subject of this chapter is revealed to be Ed’s unsettled inner state—dive in and read all the way up to its heart-stopping end.

He smelled the sea even before he got off the train. From his childhood (memories of their only trip to the Baltic Sea), he remembered the Hotel am Bahnhof. It lay directly across from the station, a big, beautiful attraction with oriels built as round towers, and weather vanes in which the numerals of the years crumbled.

He let a few cars pass and hesitated. It wouldn’t be wise, he thought, especially as far as money was concerned. On the other hand, there was no point in arriving on the island in the afternoon, since there probably wouldn’t be enough time left to find a place to stay—if he could find one at all. He had about 150 marks on him; if he were careful, he could make it last for three, maybe even four weeks. He had left ninety marks in his bank account for rent transfers, enough until September. If he were lucky, no one would take exception to his disappearance. He could have fallen ill. Summer holidays would begin in three weeks. He had written his parents a card. They believed he was in Poland, in Katowice, for the so-called International Student Summer, as he had been the year before.

The reception desk was built unusually high and looked as if it had been swept clean, no papers, no keys; but what did Ed know about hotels? At the very last moment, the heads of three women appeared, rising like the pistons of a four-stroke motor in which the fourth spark plug has failed to ignite. Impossible to discern from exactly which depths the receptionists had suddenly surfaced; maybe the high shelf of the desk was connected to a back room, or maybe over the years the women had simply got used to staying under cover as long as possible, quiet and still, behind their dark veneered barrier.

READ MORE…

Spotlight on Indian Languages: Part III

Tell these sons of the earth / That we are all bothers.

This week, as part of our ongoing feature on Indian poetry, tied to our Special Feature in the Winter 2017 Issue of Asymptote, we present two writers of the Miyah poetry movement, both translated here by Shalim M Hussain. Like Siraj Khan, featured in the new issue, they advocate the use of language to defend the rights of the marginalized Bengal-origin, Assamese Muslim community to which they belong. Miyah is a term used interchangeably to mean illegal immigrant or Bangladeshi, and is targeted at the Muslims who live in the Char Chapori region of Assam.  In the spring of 2016, members of the Char Chapori community began reclaiming the term Miyah via poetry posted on social media, and a movement was born. 

My Mother (1 May 2016)
by Rehna Sultana

I was dropped on your lap my mother
Just as my father, grandfather, great-grandfather
And yet you detest me, my mother,
For who I am.
Yes, I was dropped on your lap as
a cursed Miyah, my mother.

You can’t trust me
Because I have somehow grown this
beard.
Somehow slipped into a lungi
I am tired, tired of introducing myself
To you.
I bear all your insults and still shout,
Mother! I am yours!
Sometimes I wonder
What did I gain by falling in your lap?
I have no identity, no language
I have lost myself, lost everything
That could define me
And yet I hold you close
I try to melt into you
I need nothing, my mother.
Just a spot at your feet.
Open your eyes once mother
Open your lips
Tell these sons of the earth
That we are all bothers.
And yet I tell you again
I am just another child
I am not a ‘Miyah cunt’
Not a ‘Bangladeshi’
Miyah I am,
A Miyah.
I can’t string words through poetry
Can’t sing my pain in verse
This prayer, this is all I have.

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Translation Tuesday: Two Prose Poems by Ghayath Almadhoun

Massacre is a dead metaphor that is eating my friends, eating them without salt.

In solidarity with the refugees and citizens of seven Muslim countries recently barred from entering the US, we spotlight today the work of Syria-born Ghayath Almadhoun, the poet to whom Jazra Khaleed dedicated his “The War is Coming” poem three weeks ago in this very showcase. Especially in the second poem, “Massacre,” the stark and brutal reality of war is driven home.

Shaken by the developments coming out of America in the past few days, we at Asymptote have been working around the clock to try to fundraise for a Special Feature spotlighting new writing from the seven banned countries in our next issue, in an attempt to offer a high-profile platform for those newly affected by the fallout of those developments. If you are an author who identifies as being from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen (or someone who translates such authors)—and would like to submit work for consideration, please get in touch at editors@asymptotejournal.com.

How I became…

Her grief fell from the balcony and broke into pieces, so she needed a new grief. When I went with her to the market the prices were unreal, so I advised her to buy a used grief. We found one in excellent condition although it was a bit big. As the vendor told us, it belonged to a young poet who had killed himself the previous summer. She liked this grief so we decided to take it. We argued with the vendor over the price and he said he’d give us an angst dating from the sixties as a free gift if we bought the grief. We agreed, and I was happy with this unexpected angst. She sensed this and said ‘It’s yours’. I took it and put it in my bag and we went off. In the evening I remembered it and took it out of the bag and examined it closely. It was high quality and in excellent condition despite half a century of use. The vendor must have been unaware of its value otherwise he wouldn’t have given it to us in exchange for buying a young poet’s low quality grief. The thing that pleased me most about it was that it was existentialist angst, meticulously crafted and containing details of extraordinary subtlety and beauty. It must have belonged to an intellectual with encyclopedic knowledge or a former prisoner. I began to use it and insomnia became my constant companion. I became an enthusiastic supporter of peace negotiations and stopped visiting relatives. There were increasing numbers of memoirs in my bookshelves and I no longer voiced my opinion, except on rare occasions. Human beings became more precious to me than nations and I began to feel a general ennui, but what I noticed most was that I had become a poet.

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Spotlight on Indian Languages: Part II

Do not sing sad songs, O wind

This is the second installment in a five-week spotlight on Indian languages, to complement the Indian Poetry Special Feature in the new Winter Issue of Asymptote. For the next few Thursdays, you can discover a spectrum of new voices translated from different regional languages. These writers, in many cases, have never been featured on the blog or in English before. This week’s poem is Kshetri Prem’s translation of Arambam O Memchoubi’s Manipuri text “O wind, do not sing sad songs”. 

 

O wind, do not sing sad songs

O wind, do not sing sad songs
Look at the falling leaves
One after another, scattered
On a distant
Straw-strewn Jhum field
Look at the deserted pigeon
Sitting alone, sitting in agony
On a branch of a leafless oak tree
Don’t you hear
The plaintive song
Of a lifeless ravine
And, the reddened morning sun
From a night spent in tears.
Do not sing sad songs, O wind,
Do not tell sad stories any more
Tell me instead
How you spent the dreadful night
How you resurrect yourself on your grave again.

From Tuiphai O Ningthibi, (2012)

READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: Three poems by Choi Seung-ja

Last night’s dreams, sins of the past, unlivable dreams, the sin of living incompletely.

Relentless time is the subject of these poems by Choi Seung-ja, an iconic figure in Korean literature, so influential that she was called “the common pronoun of the 80s’ poets.” But the existential despair captured in broad bravura strokes here transcends both culture and era.

 

Two Kinds of Death

Like a rumor or drifting cloud
the lodger in Cheongpa-dong passes away
and morning’s black phone call rings.
Suddenly at the edge of the dining table
the species of mothers and fathers
melt into the longing spirit of water and fire
the rice and soup in a chorus
recite the deceased’s prehumous words:

Wishing to die
yet going mad

A black boat appears from the blue sky.
Full of cosmic humidity
transmitting an extraterrestrial Morse code
on and off
Death sends us a message.

Someday in Manhattan
John Lennon dies and
the voice of the dead is floating.

Mama don’t go
Daddy come home

 

At the End of the Deserted Street

The smell of sin, the smell of sin, ruins of sadness,
still lingering in my soul.

Every day I wake up at the end of the deserted street.
Last night’s dreams, sins of the past,
unlivable dreams, the sin of living incompletely.
In the dark of last night
the clock that measured all of me
keeps ticking in the same countdown.

Run, time, run
putting on my frail weight
made of only dream and sin
speed like a bullet.
I want to watch my bones shatter.
I want to snigger in the windblown
dust of my bones.

 

Fearful Green

The earth emits mysterious heat.
The chirping of birds withers midair.
While the ashen sky retreats
aching leaves turn.
The thirsty verdure grows by degrees.
At last green’s fearful chaos pours out.
Everything will be over.
Time will come to rest.
In the air, the sneer of green afire.

Into the deep, deep earth, the sap drains.
The barren background sways.
The sun comes to a halt forever.
Like a ghost only green remains in the world.

 

Translated from the Korean by Lei Kim

 

Choi Seung-ja was born in 1952 and made her literary debut in 1979. Shortly afterwards, she became the icon of youth and freedom in Korean literature. She lived through the 1980s, the Dark Age in modern Korean history, both in political and social aspects, and she was called “the common pronoun of the 80s’ poets.” For her the time was “time… feeding me shit / yet ruthlessly leaving me alive” (“Unforgettableness or Oblivion”) and “never-ending period.” She declared herself “the priest of void” and executed poems that manifested the indignity of the period. Among her poems, the expression of assumed evil, masochism, self-contempt, and stark vulgarism signal the advent of a new style of poetry. Women in the patriarchal society are bound to live with self-abuse as a pathetic defense to overcome the crisis of self-existence. Her works show how far she has pushed the bar set by the male dominant system, and in some point, she made her own escape from the conventional women’s poetry. In consequence, she is reputed to have started “feminist poetry” for the first time in the history of Korean poetry, so it is nonsense, without consideration of her impact on others, to talk about Korean women’s poetry. Her works include The Love Of This Age, A Merry Journal, The House Of Memory, My Green Grave, and Lonely And Faraway.

Lei Kim is a literary translator. She has translated Lee Jangwook’s poetry collection, Request Line at Noon (Codhill Press, 2016), and received the Modern Korean Literature Translation Commendation Award.

 *****

Read More Translation Tuesdays:

 

 

Spotlight on Indian Languages: Part I

The entire city was a river—impossible to find a shore.

We’re thrilled to present the first installment in a five-week spotlight on Indian languages, to compliment the Indian Poetry Special Feature in the new Winter Issue of Asymptote. For the next few Thursdays, you can discover a spectrum of new voices translated from different regional languages, which, in many cases, have never been featured on the blog or in English before. To kick things off, we have Niyati Bhat’s translation of Naseem Shafaie’s Kashmiri poem, “Tale of a City,” for you today. 

Tale of a City

Those who lived by the river Vyeth, now naked,
are drowning in their shame today.
They, who wrapped themselves in Shahtoosh and Pashmina
and wore silk brocades from head to toe everyday.
A delicate thread of that vanity
slowly came apart.
The skies, too, loosened the reins, a little.
King Nimrod would’ve fled
at the sight of this spectacle.
It took one moment, just one
to wipe out the entire city.
Those who lived by the river Vyeth, now naked,
were stupefied.
No pillar, no mud wall to hold on to,
No one lending their arms across the window sill for rescue,
No one at the doorway to quench their thirst.
They were flooded over their heads,
The entire city was a river—
impossible to find a shore.
They, with empty hands and empty pockets,
had no coins to pay the ferryman
to take them across.
Nor any murmurs to console each other.
Those who lived by the river Vyeth, now naked,
used to be rich until yesterday.
Those who lived by the river Vyeth, now naked,
lived in palaces until yesterday.

READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: Two poems by Shubham Shree

I know this poem is really weak—just like a menstruating woman.

Our Winter 2017 issue, hot off the presses yesterday, celebrated our six years of publishing world literature with new work from 27 countries by authors such as Colm Tóibín, Cesare Pavese and Monika Rinck, alongside a Special Feature on Indian poetry focusing on marginalized voices. Here, via acclaimed translator Daisy Rockwell, we present two works from this Special Feature by 2016 Bharat Bhushan Agrawal Prize winner Shubham Shree—who recently caused great controversy with her bold use of slang and English words, considered a desecration of the tradition of Hindi poetry.

My Boyfriend

(An essay proposed for the Grade Six Moral Education Curriculum)

My boyfriend is a two-legged boy human
He has two hands, two feet, and one tail
(Note—I’m the only one who can see his tail)
My boyfriend’s name is Honey
At home, he’s Babloo, on his notebooks, Umashankar
His name is also Baby, Sweetie-pie, and Darling
I call my boyfriend Babu
Babu also calls me Babu
Babu has dandruff in his hair
Babu crunches when he eats
Babu slurps when he drinks
When he’s annoyed he packs a 440 volt punch
He has vaccine scars on his arms, twin half-lemons
If you poke them he screams
My Babu also cries
in a hiccupy sort of way
And he laughs with his eyes closed
He loooves salty food
When he sleeps, he snores from his nose and mouth
I am a good girlfriend
I swat away the flies trying to sneak into his mouth
I even smacked a mosquito on his belly
I always start laughing when I see him
He has very nice cheeks
If you stretch them out they get five centimeters bigger
He gave me a teddy bear named Kitty
We are the world’s best couple
Our anniversary is the 15th of May
Please congratulate us

*What we learn from my boyfriend
Is that you should smack mosquitos on your boyfriend’s belly
And swat flies away from his mouth
READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: “The War is Coming” by Jazra Khaleed

“On the 7th of January 2014, the United Nations stopped counting Syria’s dead.”

In this sobering poem, Chechnya-born Greek poet Jazra Khaleed vividly depicts a war “so trite and pedestrian, filled with similes and ornate adjectives, its history is written in the font Comic Sans.” For most of us in the settled world unable to imagine what it is that Syrian refugees go through, these words encompass a different but now less unknowable spectrum of the human experience.

 

The War is Coming

For Ghayath al-Madhoun
and his million Arab poets

1.

I decided to leave Syria the day a stray bullet passed in front of my eyes. That day I realized my homeland was not my homeland, my blood not my blood, and my freedom belonged to a freedom fighter who didn’t think to ask my permission before he shot me: a lack of courtesy we encounter often in war time.

2.

If they are going to kill me, better to kill me in a foreign language.

3.

On the road from Damascus to Berlin I met an old soldier from Dara’a who couldn’t carry his nightmares anymore. I wrapped them and put them in my suitcase; at the airport I paid the fine for excess baggage.

4.

Whoever is not afraid to cross the border carries the war on his back.

5.

Swap your best shirt for a bulletproof vest, your poems for the first chapter of the Koran and your house in Athens for a throne atop Mount Aigaleo so you can survey from on high the coming war.

6.

This war is trite and pedestrian, filled with similes and ornate adjectives, its history is written in the font Comic Sans, violence so limitless the war doesn’t know where to put it, one grave for every thousand corpses, one shadow for every thousand survivors, it’s an indelicate war, barrels vomiting explosives, steel cylinders filled with accessories for washing machines and car parts, the death that disseminates is an earthy death, this war is rightfully ours because in it we have buried all our loved ones.

7.

On the 7th of January 2014, the United Nations stopped counting Syria’s dead. This decision certified mathematics as the science of quality, not quantity, of living labor, not shapes, of time, not space—in other words, mathematics is the science that studies the material relations among all countable objects.

8.

By the end of 2015, according to Facebook, 311 friends of mine had died since the start of the war. I decided to shut down my account: death must have a beginning, middle, and end. I can’t spend my life in its wake.

9.

I, Ahmed, son of Aisha, although nothing more than a humble migrant, wish to apologize on behalf of the Syrians to Greek men and women for filling their televisions with our deaths as they eat their dinners and wait for their favorite shows, I wish to apologize to the municipal authorities for leaving our trash on their beaches and polluting their shores with tons of plastic, we are uncivilized and we have no environmental awareness, I wish to apologize to the hotel owners and tour operators for damaging the island tourist industry, I wish to apologize for shattering the stereotype of the miserable migrant with our mobile phones and clean clothes, I wish to apologize to the coast guard who have the thankless task of sinking our boats, to the police for standing in disorderly lines, to the bus drivers who have to wear surgical masks to protect themselves from the diseases we carry, I also wish to make a most humble apology to Greek society for exceeding the capacity of their detention camps and for sleeping in their squares and parks—finally, I wish to apologize to the Greek government who had to request additional funds from the European Union in order to pay the purveyors who stock the detention camps, as well as the bus drivers, the police, the coast guard, the tour operators, the hotel owners, the municipal authorities, and the television stations.

10.

“Don’t worry,” said the bullet, “I’ll go in and out.” I explained to her that I couldn’t allow it since when she left she was bound to take some of my memories—like the face of the girl I loved in the fifth grade, the voice of the imam the first time my father took me to pray, the smell of the freshly baked bread in my grandmother’s house, the fingers of my teacher as she taught me to write the word الحرب and Van Basten’s final goal in the Euro of ’88.

11.

It’s well known that no organization can buy arms on the black market without American authorization. This is one of the reasons I never managed to understand the difference between enlightenment and genocide.

12.

If you don’t want to be canon fodder, if you don’t want the war to catch you with your pants down, put on that thinking cap, double down the class struggle, get organized, triple down the class struggle, fight, fill your pockets with rocks, stick to your guns.
Out with the Left! Bring back the Spartacists!
Out with the NGO’s! Bring back Garibaldi’s brigades!
Out with the Humanists! Bring back the Italian Autonomists!
The slaughter is about to begin.

Translated from the Greek by Karen Van Dyck

For more perspectives on the refugee crisis, we suggest Jan Dammu in the current issue of Asymptote, and Theophilus Kwek on reading the refugee crisis at the Asymptote blog.

Jazra Khaleed (Born Chechnya, 1979) lives in Athens, writes exclusively in Greek, and is known as a poet, editor, and translator. His works are protests against the injustices in contemporary Greece, especially the growing xenophobia and racism. His poems have been widely translated for publications in Europe, the US, Australia, and Japan. As a founding co-editor of the poetry magazine Teflon, and particularly through his own translations published there, he has introduced the works of Amiri Baraka, Keston Sutherland, Etel Adnan, and many other political and experimental poets to a Greek readership. His debut collection Grozny was published in spring 2016, while his newest short film “Gone is Syria, Gone” has been selected for the Internationale Kurzfilmtage Winterthur, the Kasseler Dokfest, and L’Alternativa . His poetry blog can be found at jazrakhaleed.blogspot.gr.

Karen Van Dyck is Professor of Modern Greek Literature in the Classics Department at Columbia University. She writes and teaches on issues of gender, diaspora, and translation. Her books include Kassandra and the Censors (Cornell, 1998), The Rehearsal of Misunderstanding (Wesleyan, 1998), The Greek Poets: Homer to the Present (Norton, 2009), and The Scattered Papers of Penelope: New and Selected Poems by Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke (Graywolf, 2009). Her bilingual anthology Austerity Measures: The New Greek Poetry (Penguin, 2016), a New Statesman Book of the Year pick, will be published by the NYRB in the US in March. She discusses the anthology as well as this new poem by Jazra Khaleed in her essay “What’s Found in Translation” (forthcoming, PN Review 234).

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Read More Translation Tuesdays:

Translation Tuesday: “Le Rouge et le Noir (Moving House and Farewell)” by Zsófia Bán

As we were leaving the paralyzed city and the country, we too were facing a journey, though rather than flight, it turned out to be a return.

An award-winning fiction writer, essayist, and critic who grew up in Hungary and Brazil and now teaches American literature, Zsófia Bán is no stranger to forking paths; the roads not taken. Her beautiful essay below segues quickly from house-moving to the broader and richer philosophical theme of derailment against the backdrop of the ongoing refugee crisis. We hope you like it as much as we do.

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In memory of Svetlana Boym

 

Tumultuous, yes, tumultuous is what the summer of 2015 was. An unruly, riotous, tempestuous, bewildered summer, ravaged by the lack of order. Only the weather would not stir, hellbent on keeping up the atmospheric conditions prevalent since the beginning of summer. All heat records were broken, with temperatures close to 40 degrees recorded in July and August. We were clearly making meteorological history in Europe. The dull blanket of heat paralyzed our reason just enough to keep us from realizing the obvious until it was too late: history was being made, quite apart from the weather. In fact, the masses, the tumult of refugees pouring through the southern border, then the large families stranded in railway stations in the heart of our city, the gathering of desperate, exhausted people robbed of almost all their possessions warned us clearly enough, that this was the time, here and now, of fateful events. As we were leaving the paralyzed city and the country, we too were facing a journey, though rather than flight, it turned out to be a return: the compulsive, perpetual return to memory, to absence, to the relentless rigor of facts.

On August 3 we packed the car and set out for Berlin. With an ingenious space-saving trick we packed the child’s plush animals into plastic bags shrunk with a vacuum cleaner, so even the plumpest specimens were docilely flattened to two dimensions.

1vacumedanimals1

Photograph by Zsófia Bán

Once taken out of their plastic bags upon arrival, they slowly regained their original dimensions: the breath of life gradually returned into them. Zserbó, the giant owl was the first to come to, then Dr Czuki-Czukermann, the anteater and finally Menyus, the ferret, Pöpe, the parrot and the rest, the whole sizeable coterie. The child greeted each miraculous resurrection with a dance of joy: her friends were saved, we had outwitted Archimedes or one of those types. The death news that came the day after our arrival flattened us to two dimensions the same way, except we held no hope of ever regaining our original shape. Remembrance, however alive, is inevitably flatter than the tumultuous nature of presence, the noisy, confusing, disorderly and yet, by virtue of the senses, coherent presence which only one word fits: the person’s name. The name that refers to the single being who is the sum of her traits: the voice, the gait, the colorful fabric of her mind, the fears and desires, the betrayals of the body, the dreams, and the loneliness. Her name is a message inscribed in stone, the imprint of sea-waves on prehistoric geological strata.

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