Translations

Translation Tuesday: An excerpt of “Embrace on Brooklyn Bridge” by Ezzedine C. Fishere

She was a victim of her own mythmaking about the mysterious Orient.

Shortlisted for the Arabic Booker when it first appeared in 2011, Ezzedine C. Fishere’s Embrace on Brooklyn Bridge has already been reprinted eleven times. Ahead of its English publication on 1 April, we collaborated with exciting new publisher Hoopoe to present the excerpt below. Brimming with observation, this vignette provides a searing glimpse into the life of Egyptian diaspora coming to terms with a hyphenated identity.

Though he had spent five years in London writing up his doctoral thesis, he hadn’t met Jane there, but in Cairo, which surprised their small circle of friends. Jane was tall, slim, shapely, and beautiful, with long chestnut-brown hair, which she would either let hang around her shoulders or pin up with whatever was to hand, normally a pencil. She had come to Cairo for a year to learn Arabic, on some scholarship or another. She grew to love the city in all its chaos and ended up settling there. They gradually got to know each other, and grew closer until they ended up more or less living together in an apartment in Giza, behind the zoo.

The thought of marrying Jane had occurred to him early on: she had many of the qualities he sought in a partner. But something about her unnerved him, so he didn’t tell Leila or Youssef about her until he was sure of their relationship.

He traveled with her to Britain to visit her parents, who lived on the outskirts of Glasgow. They walked to the riverbank where she had played as a girl, gazing across the endless pastures. She took him to the local pub, where throngs of young men had pestered her as a teenager. And they met all the neighbors who wanted to see “this Egyptian Jane has fetched back.”

Jane was a good-hearted, decent sort of person, but her relationship with Egypt was confused. She told Darwish when they first met how much she loved the Egyptian people’s good-naturedness, and their warmth and humanity. She found something in them that she had felt lacking from her life in Britain. He laughed to himself, being someone who actually loved the cool standoffishness of the British, finding in their respect for privacy something he lamented as sorely missing from Egyptian life. They found themselves in reversed positions, as he criticized she defended Egyptian life and people: “Yes, she is lying. From a legal point of view, she’s lying. But it’s not a real lie”; “This is not a weakness, it’s caution”; “No that’s not nepotism, it’s really just an expression of gratitude”; “It’s absolutely not a class thing; it’s a different view of roles and responsibilities.”

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Translation Tuesday: Two poems by Moon Taejun

The things that she called upon spiralled in orderly circles and soared into the glistening winter sky.

As the editor of a world literature journal who’s read submissions across all genres for more than six years now, I’m always on the look-out for a certain cosmic echo when one piece of writing rhymes with another from a different continent, as if confirming our shared humanity. Last week’s poem by Portuguese poet Ana Luísa Amaral, addressed from mother to daughter, is perfectly answered by these elegiac verses by Korean counterpart Moon Taejun mourning a departed mother, and capturing a magnificent stillness. 

—Lee Yew Leong, Editor-in-Chief

My Mother’s Prayer Beads

One day my mother sat blankly as she fingered her cold prayer beads.

My mother lowered her head as though mending some frayed clothes. She mustered the flowers, thunders, grasshoppers, and snowstorms; she also called upon my dead granny, me who was ailing, and my maternal uncle who lived afar. Silently, she bound up small scraps of cloth. Then she called upon the terrifying darkness, the valley fog, the roaring fire, and the stars on high. A faint, lengthy song arose from my mother’s bosom like it did when she used to sing me to sleep. She hummed the simplest song that all – the stag beetle, the puny bird, the eight-year-old child, the ninety-year-old granny, the parched verdure, the flock of sheep and its meadow, and creatures with menacing teeth – would know. The song my mother sang was fettered by her cold prayer beads while the things that she called upon spiralled in orderly circles and soared into the glistening winter sky.

A Faraway Place

Today the air teems with words of goodbye.
A handful, a handful at a time, I breathe the words of goodbye.
A faraway place comes forth.
As it pushes me little by little, a faraway place comes forth.
I would bring with me the first newly sprouted leaf, her lips, her crimson
cheeks, and her beaming eyes that make me shy.
The air raises my heart, like a fragile piece of ice, and passes me by.
The barren tree sheds and sheds its leaves and the rock governs the dim
light of the stone’s shadow.
The bench sits at the same spot all day long with a frame on which nobody
is seated even now.
Hands quivered, eyes damped, and at a loss for words.
When everybody speaks of farewells,
a faraway place comes forth,
somewhere we can hardly fathom.

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Translation Tuesday: “Testament” by Ana Luísa Amaral

if I should die on a plane and be…a free-floating atom in the sky

To commemorate International Women’s Day coming up tomorrow, I’m thrilled to present the following poem by award-winning Portuguese poet, Ana Luísa Amaral, translated by the brilliant Margaret Jull Costa. Addressed to the narrator’s daughter (and, it seems, the daughter of that daughter), these words celebrate the hidden potentiality inside every woman—and the spontaneity of life itself, even in its contemplation of sudden death.

Testament

I’m about to fly off somewhere
and my fear of heights plus myself
finds me resorting to tranquillisers
and having confused dreams

If I should die
I want my daughter always to remember me
for someone to sing to her even if they can’t hold a tune
to offer her pure dreams
rather than a fixed timetable
or a well-made bed

To give her love and the ability
to look inside things
to dream of blue suns and brilliant skies
instead of teaching her how to add up
and how to peel potatoes

To prepare my daughter
for life
if I should die on a plane
and be separated from my body
and become a free-floating atom in the sky

Let my daughter
remember me
and later on say to her own daughter
that I flew off into the sky
and was all dazzle and contentment
to see that in her house none of the sums added up
and the potatoes were still in their sack forgotten
entire

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Translation Tuesday: Two poems by Kim Ki-taek

Bewildered by the odd familiarity of unfamiliarity, I couldn’t take my eyes off him.

The award-winning poet Kim Ki-taek has been described as “an observer of minute and microscopic details” with a rational but compelling style of description that pulls you into his universe, where no encounter is ever mundane. The art critic John Berger, who gave us Ways of Seeing, would have found much to commend about the two poems presented below.

My Eyes Met His

My eyes met his for a moment.

His face was familiar,

but I couldn’t remember who he was.

Bewildered by the odd familiarity of unfamiliarity

I couldn’t take my eyes off him.

He, too, seemed to ponder who I was.

He was rummaging through a garbage bag.

He was inside the skin of a cat.

As if he were used to standing upright,

to walk with four feet appeared awkward.

As if complaining to me, who had disturbed his ransacking,

Meow, he let out with feeling.

But the strange sound like a baby crying unexpectedly

seemed unbearable for him to hear and

immediately he shut his mouth.

He didn’t run away like other cats.

As if angry over his own sad figure being caught,

he lowered his head, turning slowly, back arched,

and moved off into the distance for a long time.

READ MORE…

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.’

READ MORE…

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

READ MORE…

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.

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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.

 *****

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