Language: Danish

In Conversation: Susanna Nied

Acclaimed translator Susanna Nied on polymath author Inger Christensen and their parallel lives

A giant in world poetry and experimental text, much of Inger Christensen’s influence can be seen cascading to many generations of writers, in several languages. Her book-length poem, Det (1969) shook the foundations of Danish poetry, and in its translations, continues to startle and affect readers profoundly. Her essays have been translated into English and collected into a volume for the first time. To mark this literary event, poet and former Asymptote team member Sohini Basak spoke via email to Susanna Nied, who has translated into English Christensen’s poetic oeuvre as well as the forthcoming book of essays The Condition of Secrecy (New Directions).

SOHINI BASAK: For those of us bound by the English-language, it is because of you that we’ve come to know of Inger Christensen’s poetry. And as you’re the translator of her complete poetic oeuvre, it’s very interesting that you started with her first book (Light), and then the sequence almost coincides with the order in which the original collections were published … although not entirely. How did you decide your working order?

SUSANNA NIED: I actually didn’t do anything like choosing a working order. When I started on Light, in the 1970s, I didn’t know Inger had written anything besides Light and Grass. I didn’t even know who Inger was, and I certainly didn’t know that I was going to become a translator, much less her translator. I was just a university student browsing the library stacks for something Danish to read for pleasure, and I happened upon this little bibliography of contemporary Danish poets. When I got to “C” I found “Christensen, Inger”.

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Winter 2015: We Almost Didn’t Make It

Asymptote was giving—and continues to give—voice to languages and regions across the globe without ever lowering the curatorial bar.

If you’re just joining us, we invite you to revisit our first 16 issues via our #30issues30days showcase here. In honor of our milestone 30th edition, we’ll shortly be launching a contest giveaway with a top prize of $200, so watch this space!

2015 was a milestone year for Asymptote: We won a London Book Fair award and partnered with The Guardian. But only Asymptote staff back then know we almost didn’t make it past January. On 15 December 2014, despairing of the lack of progress in fundraising, I wrote the following (lightly edited) email: 

“Hello team, I’ve been reassessing the situation. It seems I underestimated the support for the magazine and it doesn’t look as if we’re going to hit our campaign target by December 19. Therefore, we’ll be extending the deadline to January 29, 2015. Our January issue will be pushed back to January 30, the very date of our debut in 2011, four years ago, so that we’ll have come full circle. If we don’t hit the target on January 29, we will announce in the editorial that the Jan 2015 issue will be our very last. Social media and blog activities (including the podcast, very sadly) shall cease with effect from 1 Feb. The magazine will fold. Planning for all activities after January should be halted with immediate effect. Please respect this. Section editors, please do not communicate any more acceptances, and please be prepared to rescind your acceptances for anything after the January issue on the event of our closure, if it does come to that. As promised, we will break for the holidays. (I’ll hold the fort on social media during this time.) In January, we will prioritize work on the January edition as well as the two January events. As for those who are willing to help, we will keep publicizing the IndieGoGo campaign and sending out appeals. We’ll see if the magazine can be saved. (During a recent discussion with the senior editors, the question did arise about whether to shield all of you from the hard reality in front of us. But I don’t think it’s good to keep mum, for morale’s sake; also, I would not be so cruel as to ask you to continue working on projects that may not see the light of publication, or events that have to be cancelled. The reality is that I am simply out of funds, and also depleted in other ways. If we don’t hit the IndieGoGo target, I would prefer to end on a high note and move on.)”

Here to introduce our Winter 2015 issue, released one day after 287 supporters brought us past the finish line of $25,000, please welcome Assistant Editor Victoria Livingstone. 

“I am always trying to push the market very hard,” David Damrosch told Asymptote contributing editor Dylan Suher in an interview included in the Winter 2015 issue. The Harvard professor of comparative literature explained that he strives to bring so-called minor literatures into the canon of world literature by translating, anthologizing, and teaching works from underrepresented regions and languages.

Asymptote has been similarly pushing against the market since Lee Yew Leong founded the journal in 2011. When the Winter 2015 issue was published, I was finishing my doctoral work, which focused on connections between political contexts and translated literature. As I was immersed in the work of critics such as Damrosch, I was also reading Asymptote, and I recognized then that that the journal was doing something different. Rather than reproducing the inequalities of what Pascale Casanova calls “the world republic of letters,” Asymptote was giving—and continues to give—voice to languages and regions across the globe without ever lowering the curatorial bar.  READ MORE…

Fall 2014: Interlinked Dimensions of Spacetime

The Fall 2014 issue of Asymptote demonstrates an exceptional thematic cohesion across genre, language, location, and time.

Around this time, equipped with a new legal advisor (the extremely efficient Win Bassett), a small group is formally set up within our team to look into the feasibility of Asymptote becoming a non-profit organization in the USA. This makes most sense for tax-deductibility, since our largest readership, outnumbering the second largest demographic by a ratio of three to one, is American. It would take one and a half years for me to reach a definitive decision, but I decide in the end not to take the plunge. To become a non-profit, a board would first have to be formed, and all major decisions about the journal’s direction would have to be run by this board (which would mostly comprise Americans). Had I worked so hard for the magazine’s survival only to surrender its reins to others? Aren’t there already more than enough American mediators of otherness? I’m also wary because of what one board member of another online magazine has told me in confidence: being bound to a board has held that magazine back from reaching its full potential. We do, however, thanks to Win Bassett, Erin Stephens-North, Lynette Lee, and Eric M. B. Becker, succeed in acquiring fiscal sponsorship with Fractured Atlas on August 26, 2014. This is a breakthrough: For the first time, we are tax-deductible for American donors, removing one more barrier standing in the way of support. Here to introduce the Fall 2014 issue is Assistant Editor Erik Noonan.

Published in sync with the release of the inaugural episode of the Asymptote Podcast—whose producer Emma Jacobs suggests that the mythical stories we tell ourselves are really signs of “our inability to map our own minds”—the Fall 2014 issue of Asymptote sets the reader afloat through a tesseract located among the interlinked dimensions of spacetime.

In Shi Tiesheng’s “The Year of Being Twenty-One,” that mapless place masquerades in public life as a monotheistic deity: “I did see God, one day—but he went by a different name, and that name was the mind,” Shi writes. “In the hazy patches of science; in the chaos of destiny; you can only turn to your own mind. Everything we believe in—no matter what that might be—comes from the promptings and the guidance of our minds.”    READ MORE…

In Conversation: Ursula Andkjær Olsen and Katrine Øgaard Jensen on Third-Millennium Heart

International literature famously offers a window on the world—a much-needed window, these years.

‘I want to buy my way to everything’: halfway through Ursula Andkjær Olsen’s Third-Millennium Heart (excerpted in the Asymptote Fall 2015 issue), the shape-shifting, double-tongued voice declares yet another sweeping and futile desire. Translated from the Danish by Katrine Øgaard Jensen, this collection is a text much like the many-chambered place that is third-millennium heart, with intersecting meditations on the human body and its connection to the natural world, which evolve into a solid critique of late capitalism, especially in relation to reproduction. Throughout, there is a disconnect between necessity and excess, the architecture of human consumption, a tussle between the body’s need and desire for more. During this email interview, Olsen makes me a list of Danish words for the parts of the body, and the etymology is fascinating. Moderkage, Danish for ‘placenta’, would literally translate into ‘mother cake’; livmoder, the word for ‘uterus’, into ‘life mother’. Following is the interview between Ursula Andkjær Olsen and her English translator, Katrine Øgaard Jensen.

Sohini Basak: I want to begin with names and naming and the body, because that’s where the book (and our language, for that matter) begins. When you were young, Ursula, what language did you learn about the body? Science, especially medical science, uses the English language (and Latin, for nomenclature), so I’m curious to know . . . what were the first names you learnt for the heart, its ventricles, chromosomes, all of which form the structure of this collection?

Ursula Andkjær Olsen: My mom was a doctor, so I think the naming of the body for me was a mix of Danish and Latin. I was always very fascinated with the scientific approach to the body (in fact I studied medicine for almost two years before changing to musicology and philosophy), and I remember, as a little girl, poring over a book of photographs of the body’s insides, beautiful pictures by Swedish photographer Lennart Nilsson. And doing it again and again. All these cavities, canals, soft corners, bridges, chambers! It was a kind of architecture, in fact.

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The Nobel’s Faulty Compass

After all, it seems hard to believe that the magnetic north of the literary lies in Europe or in the languages that have emerged from it. 

In the will he signed in Paris on November 27, 1895, Alfred Nobel established five prizes in the fields of physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and the promotion of peace. In the sciences, the key characteristic of a laureate’s contribution to the larger field was that it should be the “most important” discovery or improvement, while the peace prize was intended to recognize “the most or the best work” performed in pursuit of fostering what he called the “fraternity between nations.” Yet when turning to the award for careful work with language, Nobel would distinctly modify his own: he specified that the literary prize should go to whichever writer had produced “the most outstanding work in an ideal direction.”

From 1901 to 2017, women have exemplified that ideal direction a mere fourteen times. Although that dismal distribution has somewhat improved in recent years, it is nothing to brag about: only five women have won since 2004, and only six in the past twenty-one years. Such disappointing diversity continues when we turn to languages: of the 113 laureates in that same period, twenty-nine have written in English. That number does not even include three laureates who each wrote in two languages, one of which was English: Rabindranath Tagore, the songwriter who won a century before Bob Dylan and who also wrote in Bengali; Samuel Beckett, whose most famous work is titled En attendant Godot in the original French; and Joseph Brodsky, whose poems appeared in Russian and whose prose was written in the same language as the documents certifying the American citizenship he had acquired a decade before winning.

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In Conversation: Natasha Wimmer on Teaching Translation

Teaching translation feels like I’ve been lifting weights, and then I go to my own translation and it's like, whoa, these weights are so light!

What does it mean to teach translation? Many translators are self-taught, having honed their skills in careers as writers or editors, academics or language experts. But some universities in the United States also offer seminars in the craft of translation. The teacher-translator, then, takes on the unique challenge of developing new pedagogy for a field in flux, one that exists at the intersection of language study, theory, and the instructor’s own experiences in the creative practice of translation.

Today, translator Natasha Wimmer sits down with her former student and Asymptote Editor-at-Large in Brazil, Lara Norgaard, to discuss her approach to teaching translation. 

Lara Norgaard (LN): How did you begin teaching translation? What made you interested in education?

Natasha Wimmer (NW): Princeton approached me, actually. I had never taught a class. Not only that, but I also only have an undergraduate degree, so I had never even taken a graduate class. I was a little bit nervous about taking the job. A few years later I started at Columbia. In that case, I did a panel discussion with the other Bolaño translator, Chris Andrews, and the department heads enjoyed the discussion, so they asked me to teach.

LN: Was there a particular class you took or text you read that influenced the way you approached teaching for the first time?

NW: I actually imagined the course as the class I wish I’d taken before I became a translator. I had no formal education in translation at all. I had never taken a translation class and, in fact, I hadn’t even read anything about translation until about eight years into my translation career. When I was asked to give a talk about translation, I realized I had avoided reading about translation because I was afraid that I would discover that I had been doing it wrong, or that maybe I would mess with the instinctive approach that had somehow been successful so far. But then I found reading about translation really stimulating. I discovered that, not surprisingly, there was a conversation about the questions I had and about the things that I hadn’t articulated but had been working through as a translator.

I worked really hard the first year I taught the Princeton class. I spent a few months just reading translation theory and translation essays for material that I thought was interesting and put together a reading list. The first semester I taught at Princeton was very experimental. In retrospect, I’m surprised I survived. The format of the class changed a lot from the first year to the second.

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Blog Editors’ Highlights: Fall 2017

Our blog editors pick their favorite pieces from the Fall 2017 issue!

Each issue, our blog editors choose some of their favorite pieces to showcase. The Fall 2017 issue is extra special for us, since we get to introduce two new assistant blog editors: Sarah Booker, who translates from Spanish, and David Smith, who works with Norwegian. Together with Stefan Kielbasiewicz, they make up the Asymptote blog team. Enjoy these highlights! 

Ricardo Piglia’s piece, “On the Threshold,” is a philosophical, melancholic meditation on the art of reading and the construction of the autobiography. Composed of a series of diary entries in which the narrator muses on his grandfather’s life and on the practice of writing, this text poses fundamental questions about the practice of writing: How do you write an autobiography? What moments really matter when considering a lifetime of memories? How do you begin to write? The realization that experience “is a microscopic profusion of events that repeat and expand, disjointed, disparate, in flight” is what finally allows the narrative to unfold and the pieces of these two men’s lives to come together.

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What’s New in Translation? February 2017

Asymptote reviews some of the best new books from French, Kannada, and Danish.

 

Goblet_cover_for_web_1024x1024

Pretending is Lying by Dominique Goblet, tr. Sophie Yanow, New York Review Books

Review: Sam Carter, Assistant Managing Editor

Dominique Goblet’s Pretending is Lying, translated by fellow cartoonist Sophie Yanow in collaboration with the author, immediately recalls the best work of those figures like Alison Bechdel, Adrian Tomine, and Chris Ware, who have done so much to insist on both the relevance and elegance of the graphic narrative form in the Anglophone world. Fortunately, New York Review Books is dedicated to showcasing the many voices contributing to an ongoing, worldwide comic conversation, and its latest contribution is this Belgian memoir. Originally titled Faire semblant c’est mentir, it centers on the experiences of Dominique—a fictionalized version of the author herself—as she navigates fraught relationships with her parents, including with her looming lush of a father. Also sketched out is a romantic relationship where Dominique attempts to grapple with that most fundamental question of heartbreak: why did he leave me?

A certified electrician and plumber, Goblet clearly understands a thing or two about the necessary connections running through structures to make them work, and her illustrations carry this skill into Pretending is Lying, her first work to appear in English. Image and text perform an intricate choreography, reveling in an aesthetic that frequently slips between the easily imitated and the utterly remarkable. If the easy analogy for reading comics is the process of examining a series of film stills—and even if we might be tempted to label parts of the construction of this work cinematic—I would instead suggest that Goblet offers something that more closely resembles a well curated series of photographs, each of which could easily stand on its own, given each frame’s clarity of vision and attention to detail.

In illustrations that move from Rothko-like explorations of pure color to nuanced collections of penmanship that gradually reveal a series of ethereal forms, the melancholia that we often find in other works emerges here as well—maybe there’s something about the form that lends itself well to expressions of such emotions in its ability to match words with alternatively visceral and measured strokes. The muted color palette of Pretending is Lying is also remarkably expressive. READ MORE…

Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

This week's literary news from the Nordic countries, the UK and Israel.

The week is nearly over, which not only means it’s the weekend but also that it’s time for our literary catch-up! For this edition, Blog Editor Hanna Heiskanen shares updates on the upcoming awards season, among other news from Scandinavia. Editor-at-Large Julia Sherwood then reports on literary happenings from the UK. Rounding it all up is our correspondent for Israel, Alma Beck, currently residing in New Orleans, where she teaches philosophy for children.

Obligatory reminder: After you’ve caught up with all the news, head over to our just-launched Fall 2016 issue here!

First up, Blog Editor Hanna Heiskanen has the latest from the Nordic countries:

Lars Huldén, the Swedish-speaking Finn poet, has passed away at the age of 90. Born in Pietarsaari, Finland, Huldén was a much loved and highly regarded writer, scholar, translator, and recipient of the Swedish Academy Nordic Prize in 2000. He grew up among a tradition of oral storytelling in the local Swedish dialect and worked tirelessly throughout his adult life, publishing a large collection of poetry, prose, plays, and sonnets, among other works. He also produced Swedish translations of Finnish and English classics, such as the Finns’ national epic, Kalevala, and Shakespearean texts.

Finnish Literature Exchange (FILI) is accepting applications for grants until November 1. If you are a publisher, translator, author, or event organizer interested in working with Finnish literature, FILI has a handy guide on their site to guide you through the options. FILI, founded in 1977, hands out approximately 700,000€ worth of grants annually, in addition to hosting translator residencies and maintaining a database of translations of Finnish literature.

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What’s New in Translation? December 2015

So many new translations this month! Here's what you've got to know—from Asymptote's own.

Mark Kongstad, Am I Cold (Serpent’s Tail, November 2015). Translated by Martin Aitkenreview by Beau Lowenstern, Editor-at-Large Australia

41YeCnEusDL

Am I Cold throws you into a world of hedonism and extravagance. It is Danish author Martin Kongstad’s first novel to appear in English, and his second body of fiction after 2009’s  short story collection Han Danser På Sin Søns Grav (He Dances on his Son’s Grave). The story follows Mikkel Vallin, a recently-divorced, recently-unemployed writer who—toeing the line between unreliable narrator and protagonist—takes the reader through the moonlit halls of Copenhagen’s artistic elite as he attempts to find existential clarity through a lens of sex, alcohol and debauchery. Loosely held together through Mikkel’s polemic, endeavoring to destroy “coupledom” and the trappings of monogamy, the novel endures in a pre-2008 micro bubble of Denmark and seductively draws you into a chilling, often hilarious world that somehow exists in spite of itself.

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New Podcast Episode

In this month’s podcast, storytelling—from the factual to the fractured

In this episode, we look at divergent forms of storytelling in translationfrom the fact-centered world of literary reportage to the poetic proclamations of a third-millennium heart. Beatrice Smigasiewicz brings us coverage from Krakow’s Conrad Festival, where she caught up with one of Poland’s most prominent writers of literary nonfiction, Mariusz Szczygieł, and his award-winning translator, Antonia Lloyd-Jones. They discuss the legacy of 20th century reportage in Polish literature and the power of storytelling in dealing with the country’s wartime experience and postwar Communist era. Katrine Øgaard Jensen presents new translations of poems from Ursula Andkjær Olsen’s Third-Millennium Heart, an explosive collection that pushes story to the limitbreaking every rule of storytelling and yet bringing us a character who feels real. Olsen won the prestigious literary award Montanaprisen in 2013 for the book, excerpted here in its original Danish along with English translations.

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Translation Tuesday: from The Atlantic Grows by Julie Sten-Knudsen

"Two moths have gone into the trap, their bodies are stuck to the paper, their wings are still flapping."

The Atlantic Grows investigates notions of family, colour and race, and specifically the relationship between two sisters who share the same mother and yet are divided – by their different fathers, by the colour of their skin, and by the Atlantic Ocean that separates their continents.

***

In the light of the desk lamp
that is yellower than the daylight
the skin of my hand looks almost green,
almost red, with a golden wash.
It is not white.
The wall is white.
The used tissues
and the unpaid bills are white.
My hand has a different colour. The colour has a name.
I learned it when I was small. I used it
in the kindergarten, in the recreation club after school
when I needed a felt tip
in that indeterminable shade of pink
to draw a fleshy arm or a face:
I need the skin-coloured one.
There was no other use for that felt tip.

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Translation Tuesday: from Godhavn by Iben Mondrup

"I think we’ve got the origin of the world here. I have it in the cup.”

Knut stalks along the mountain. René should be here by now. Since his father had to work, his family stayed in Godhavn instead of going on vacation. Didn’t he see that Knut was back? He would’ve heard the helicopter, at any rate, as it flew over town.

They’d written to each other throughout the summer; a vacation is interminable without one’s friend around. Every day Knut ran to check the mailbox his father had installed next to the road when they reached the summer house in Denmark. Three letters, that was it. Thick envelopes, three or four pages each. Both boys used unruled paper, competing to see who could write the straightest lines. They’d never acknowledged it. Nonetheless, they both knew what was happening. René always won. READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: Multilingual Poems by Peter Wessel

Translated by Elena Feehan.



Select translation:

Bedstefar

 

Ma petite fille,

Salome, mit barnebarn,

mi nieta

para ti soy “Bedstefar”,

tu única palabra en danés.

Le meilleur père, père

de ta mere,

ton grand-père danois

en danois.

 

Cubana de padre, francesa

de madre

y yo, tu raiz nórdica.

doce por cien

y medio, lo que hay de danés

en mi poesía

ou d’alcool

dans une cépage de bonne qualité.

 

De moi t’as déjà herité

Plus que ta mere:

un mot, an

heirloom du nord:

“Bedstefar”

avec tout ce que celà

veut dire

y con todo lo que tu dirás

cuando me llames,

quand tu m’appelles.

 

When you call my name.

 

Blodets bånd, siger vi.

Barnebarn, grandchild, petit en–

fant,

blood of my blood

a bond which cannot be severed.

Más que un vincula, plus que un lien,

yet nada

nothing

rien

unless we invest it with meaning.

 

So, what sense

qué sentido tuvo para mí

tu nacimiento?

Hvad betød din fødsel for mig,

en far

der aldrig er blevet kaldt, har

hørt sig kalde

far

og kun sjældent

rarement

a pu agir, actuar,

como père?

 

¿Qué tal te sientes como abuelo?,

me preguntaban,

and I was at a loss, no supe contestar

comment je me sentais.

I didn’t feel any different, no notaba

ninguna diferencia

and could not see why I should have changed.

 

Pasaron cinco años, cinq ans

sans practiquement se voir

y solo ahora me doy cuenta,

only now,

gazing back at a gap of five years,

do I realise how you, ou plutôt

ta presence,

changed the perspective of my life,

gav mit liv

et dybere perspektiv

making both past and future unfold.

 

Probablement, je n’ai jamais occupé

la place du père,

dans la vie de tu mama.

Like a fool I offered her up

as a sacrifice for my love to her mother

y su abuelo, mi suegro, me la arrancó.

 

That man, tu bisabuelo, now dead,

rife with heirs and hardly mourned

stole my daughter and supplanted me

leaving me,

dejándome,

a childless, self-deceitful

papa chatré.

 

Salomé, nieta mía,

para ti soy todavía poco más

que una palabra, but a word which,

ahí dedans,

contains,

esconde,

gemmer et løfte, a

meaning and promise

that we both must explore:

 

din “Bedstefar”,

la meilleur père

de ta mere.

***

Offering

 

The pain,

el dolor de esas dulces disonancias.

Le ton aigu, den skærende

intonation

pa nippet til… a breath

from keeling over.

 

Et smertefuldt, jublende skrig.

 

Like Coltrane

we must squeeze the reed, estrujar

nuestra alma

hasta que la nota se quiebre, indtil

kernen spaltes, permitiéndonos

seguir fluyendo

 

indtil

sjælen kælver

og døden os skiller

 

until we cave in

and death do us part.

 ***

Django’s Lullaby

 

Toutes les chansons d’amour,

todas las flores de primavera y los

colores de otoño

que je t’aurais cueilli

se me han marchitado.

 

The songs that my thoughts of you

stirred in the wind

are now a dry rustle, an autumn lullaby

perhaps.

Fugle som trækker mod syd,

pájaros,

birds of passage.

 

Que venga la nieve, la

neige, la manta suave y blanda,

the sweet, forgetful snow

that will cover all the wounds

calmará el ardour de las heridas

and the broken stems

with its cool whiteness,

su fría blancura.

 

La neige de noviembre,

november

sur les petals bleus de mes pensées

de nous.

Bedstefar

My granddaughter,

Salomé – ma petite fille,

mit barnebarn,

mi nieta –

for you I am “Bedstefar”,

the only word you know in Danish.

The best father”, your mother’s

father,

the Danish for

your Danish grandfather.

 

Cuban on your father’s side, French

on your mother’s

and me, your one Nordic root.

12.5%:

like the Danish in my poetry;

or the alcohol content

of a fine wine.

 

You’ve already inherited

from me

more than your mother ever did:

a word, a Northern heirloom:

“Bedstefar”

and all that word means

and all that you mean

when you call me,

when you call me it.

When you call my name.

 

Blood ties, we call them.

Barnebarn, grandchild, petit en-

fant,

blood of my blood

a bond which cannot be severed.

More than a bond, more,

yet nothing,

nada,

rien

unless we invest it with meaning.

 

So,

what did it mean for me,

your birth?

What did your birth mean for me,

a father

who has never been called,

never heard himself called

father,

and has only

rarely

been able to act

as a father?

 

How do you feel about being a grandfather?

people would ask me,

and I was at a loss, I didn’t know how to answer,

how I felt.

I didn’t feel any different, nothing

tangible,

and could not see why I should have changed.

 

Five years passed

and we scarcely saw one another,

and only now do I realise,

only now,

gazing back at a gap of five years,

do I realise how you, or rather

your presence,

changed the perspective of my life,

made that perspective deeper,

making both past and future unfold.

 

I suspect I never really fulfilled

the role of father

in your mother’s life.

Like a fool I offered her up

as a sacrifice for my love to her mother,

and her grandfather, my father-in-law, tore her from me.

 

That man, your great-grandad, now dead,

rife with heirs and hardly mourned

stole my daughter and supplanted me

leaving me,

dejándome,

a childless, self-deceitful

papa chatré ­– a castrated father.

 

Salomé, little one,

for you I am still scarcely more

than a word, but a word which,

deep inside,

contains,

conceals,

holds a

promise and a meaning

that we both must explore:

your “Bedstefar”,

the best father

of your mother.

 

***

Offering

 

The pain,

the pain of this delicate discord.

The pitch set high, the intonation

cutting,

on the verge of… a breath

from keeling over.

 

A painful, joyful cry.

 

Like Coltrane,

we must squeeze the reed, wring out

our souls

until the note cracks, until

its core is cloven, so we can

keep on flowing

 

until

our souls cave in

and death do us part.

 

***

Django’s Lullaby

 

All the love songs,

All the spring flowers and

                  autumn colours

I gathered for you

have withered in my heart.

 

The songs that my thoughts of you

stirred in the wind

are now a dry rustle, an autumn lullaby

perhaps.

Birds that fly south for winter;

birds of passage.

 

Let the snow come,

its soft and tender blanket;

the sweet, forgetful snow

that will cover all the wounds,

soothe the stinging cuts

and broken stems

with its cool whiteness.

 

November snow,

on the blue petals of my thoughts

of us.

 

***

Illustration by Dinah Salama.

******

Peter Wessel is a Danish-born poet who has divided his life between his homes in Madrid and the Medieval French pilgrim’s village of Conques-en-Rouergue (which he considers his second birthplace) since 1981. He teaches a university course titled “Rooted in Song—the Role of African Americans and Immigrant Russian Jews in the Creation of the American Dream” and defines himself as a musician who expresses himself through poetry. Peter’s last two books Polyfonías (2008) and Delta (2014) are multilingual poetry collections both of which include recordings of his readings in dialogue with the musicians from Polyfonías Poetry Project. He blogs at www.pewesselblog.com.