For this week’s Translation Tuesday, Anastasia Afanas’eva constructs a world of shapes, shadows, and sensations that thematize dread and longing. The poem raises up images from the page in a maelstrom—a deluge of realizations that impress themselves on the reader like a flood. But the images’ actions are unreal; they are strung together in uncanny ways. In this poem, language acts absurdly, mirroring the unmistakable confusion of loss and of reckoning. The Hedgehog and its shadow are central, and show, in verse, how the most innocuous of things can become sutured with the weight of the universe.
About the dead, we cannot speak / for they are completed.
Eventually, at the edge of his vision, where the fog begins to thin, a figure of a person emerged.
This week’s Translation Tuesday features the work of Badai—an indigenous Taiwanese writer. “Homecoming” probes at themes of reunion, service, and loss through the eyes of a young man torn between the traditional ways of his family and the projects of the nation-state. Juxtapositions between the mountains where the protagonist lives and the flatlands with the military bases, government projects, and different linguistic groups are drawn into tension. This tension is extended for the protagonist as roads, schools, and parks show the growing homogeneity of the national culture. Pride in one’s service—to family and to the state—are complicated things for young men and women. Moments like those expressed here show the complex interrogation that the short story form provides. Here, the interrogation revolves around one’s implication in the changing social fabric of Taiwan.
A young man was on a bus, heading home. His name was Dumasi. Dumasi had already transferred buses once; this was the second leg of his journey, and he was forcing himself to nap because he still had the final leg ahead of him. The bus would drop him off at the last stop, and then he would hike for two hours up mountain trails. Not that he felt the slightest bit tired. Every inch of him was bursting with the excitement of returning home. Nonetheless, he shut his eyes to rest.
A voice said: “Hey, mister bus driver, this is my stop!”
Dumasi opened his eyes: there was a middle-aged man walking unsteadily up the aisle, laden with bags and bellowing good-naturedly in the direction of the driver’s seat. For Dumasi, the sight and sound of this man was deeply familiar, comforting even—from his broad shoulders to the way he spoke Mandarin with a thick, mountain-man accent.
Dumasi reached down to his luggage and ran his hand along a bulge in the bag. Good—the two bottles of sorghum liquor he’d bought for his homecoming were intact—all was in order. Father will be so happy, he thought to himself. READ MORE…
He recalls darkness: changes in earth over hundreds of millions of years / It astounds him: black, plummeting, set in motion eons ago
This week’s Translation Tuesday features two labour-centric poems by Du Ya. “The Coal Miner” could be construed as a multivalent metaphor aligning the work of a coal miner with an unbearable lack of clarity regarding one’s position in the world. On another register, however, “The Coal Miner” shows how one’s occupation and environment can be written on and in the body, as well as the mind. “Copper” looks at the quality of the sub-strata itself. It is an homage to the hidden beauties and forms that underpin all that happens upon a surface. Copper’s stability, its cycles, and their accumulations might be related to translation itself, a conceptual attitude that recalls the archaeological cultural exercises of Walter Benjamin and the re-working of source materials to gain new insight or expression. Time can be read in the changes in striation and the different iterations of copper, constantly moving beneath the surface and in the hands of artisans, as a poem or thought too changes—and stays the same—as it moves.
The Coal Miner
He means to tell people about the light
but each part of his body revolts
disobeys the center, speaks only of darkness
Having gnawed so long on that mighty seam, he has no idea
that his lungs, liver, and intestines are now made of coal
The textbooks teach this: “change in quantity leads to change in quality”
His body is such a fitting exhibit, it needs no explanation
It wears pitch black shadowless silk
like a government official donning a tailored uniform
Yet he still speaks of light—and for light
he daily lowers himself underground (and time flows unchanging)
Not even the nightfish has seen such darkness
Sometimes, in the subterranean depths, he is frightened
He recalls darkness: changes in earth over hundreds of millions of years
It astounds him: black, plummeting, set in motion eons ago
Since then, everything has filled me with wonder. I dumped my entire fortune into this company, which doesn’t produce any more than it sells.
This week’s Translation Tuesday features the work of Régis Jauffret, a French writer working since the 1980s. “Basketball, Tennis, and Swimming” is a micro-fiction that takes a look into the lived experience of depression—specifically a depression borne under a lack of inspiration and connection. Deep colors, sweeping juxtapositions, and a certain simplicity of thought feed into a narrative that questions schedules, labor, and purpose. An anti-capitalist vision of work opposed to melancholic states gives purpose to the purposeless. Uplifting narratives do not always have to be grand, this story shows, and the structures of neoliberal life worlds and traditional values can be tweaked with the help of a proper and poetic angle (and some odd desires!).
The staff have access to basketball hoops, three tennis courts, and a big pool with a sunroof, allowing them to enjoy some fresh air over the summer. It matters to me that everyone’s happy. I didn’t create this company to earn money, but to let the hopeless reacquire a taste for life.
I myself have known periods when I’ve risen at five in the afternoon, only to immediately lie back down after drinking some orange juice and eating a slice of bread. Those were the only times I saw my children, when they weren’t with their soccer team or at school. I came in contact with my wife’s body whenever she’d happen to be in bed, but I spent whole weeks without seeing her face in broad daylight. Medications in every color were piled up on the bedside table. I swallowed them without counting, and recognized them by their shape or their taste. I had gray dreams, without peaks or valleys, without sea, snow, night, or sun. Dreams like landscapes so flat, so desolate, that to my eyes nothing like them exists on our planet. I didn’t even think about death, it was too desirable for me to think possible. I slowly sank into the mattress, which cradled me like a cockle shell cast around my imprint.
because there is no economy / of pain / nothing but thunder
These poems by Quebecois luminary Normand de Bellefeuille take the swelling rhythm of the sea as their guide. Translator Hilary Clark skillfully brings out the crash of waves beneath the verse, and this pulse of continuity is used to mirror the throbs of pain—and the bursts of poetry that spring from it. The tension between pain in life and the recording of pain is brought to the surface—a surface that is both the broil of the sea and the page, which covers and gives evidence to the drownedness of silence and the forgotten excesses of speech and sexuality that the poem can only trace. The impossibility of poetry to reify the body in pain is a hopeful one, though: as the poems give evidence of the subject, distilled, the inability to ever truly capture the depths of the body becomes the poem’s “inadmissibility.” The reader is tasked with trying to uncover the shining positive of that deficit.
There are other pains
even on the rivers
one thinks of Dante’s boat
or of the little crabs
in Ophelia’s hair
of the blind one’s swim
against the heavy wave
there are other pains
even under the sea
the seahorses’ grotesque gallop
the drowned women amorous
dead, still amorous
with breasts opened by the narrow teeth
of fat monkfish
for there are other pains
without screams, under the sea
one thinks of the children under the sea
lead at the ankles
mouth full of seaweed
anus full of seaweed
for there are also pains
that are unspeakable.
Soft, dark, infant-faces. Secret fox-faces. The faces of a tiger, who had just killed a buffalo and was stripping it to the bone.
This week’s Translation Tuesday features a befuddling slice-of-life translation from the Telugu Writer Tripura. The movement of the dialogue is through a flow of floating statements and people that occurs over an hour in the dining room of a hotel. As if the hotel itself is listening, snippets of conversation drop readers into mid-century southern India. The effects of modernism inform the layout of this story, and the semi-public space of the hotel demonstrates the use—and imposition—of English in speech, as well as the untranslatable cultural particulars of the Telugu. It is a statement to the density of subjectivity and the messiness of codes. Sparse narration and memorable voices place the reader well within the confines of a time of great change and exploration in this genre-bending piece.
At the Hotel
Eight in the morning. The patter of rain above. Wet inside.
“My pop said he’d bury me if I did shit like this. Brainless.”
“That’s old people, ra. These old hags need to be shot by a firing squad, like Hitler
massacred the Jews.”
Empty cups in front, cigarettes at the ends of lips.
“Have you guys read Dharma Bums?”
“Leave it. These Beatniks are just rootless fellows. The Angry Young Men seem better.”
In the cups, coffee getting cold.
“Fucking idiot. Said there was no touching the file if I didn’t give him a tenner. And a kid, an upstart to boot. Got him to sign it after throwing the ten at his idiot face. What to do. Can’t die, no.”
“Idiots nowadays are like that only. Work’s done only if the money’s in their hands.”
Empty idli plates on the table. The first man’s pockets are searched for a beedi. READ MORE…
Lion heads are not that strange a buy in Dugbe.
This week’s Translation Tuesday features a poem in the Yoruba language by Moyosore Orimoloye, a beacon of Yoruba language revival. A product of self-translation, the English version of this poem presents a condensed sound-system that captures the digressions and rhythm of the original. The poem demonstrates the disjunction between a slogan and the material reality that subtends it. The precinct or region as an ideal becomes parallel with the lofty axiomatic that support it, but the reality of the place, the city, the precinct, never quite squares with its regarded name, and, under the cover of the quotation, material misdeeds are perpetrated. This is a sociologically minded poem and a political one; its power lies in its succinctness as it asks to be read again and again.
Within the Precincts of the Cliché
“Mother is priceless gold which cannot be bought with money”
Except in Dugbe,
where everything is up for sale.
Lion heads are not that strange a buy in Dugbe.
In the year that just passed,
the thieves who sought to be elected
as crafters of law shared-
five loaves of bread and two fish
to my goons in Dugbe.
They looked left, and then right,
and sure they were in the clear,
sold the country.
Translated from the Yoruba by the poet
Moyosore Orimoloye is a poet from Akure, Nigeria. His poems have been featured in the following online literary journals: The Ilanot Review, Transition, The Kalahari Review, Brittle Paper, The Rising Phoenix Review, Afridiaspora and Arts and Africa. His poem, “Love is a Plot Device and your Insecticide is Not” co-won the Babishai Niwe Poetry Award in 2016 and his chapbook of poems, Love is a Plot Device, was published in 2019. Moyosore believes that the most potent antidote to the decay of languages is continuous use, not just in everyday conversation but also in the creation of art—song, poetry and drama. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Agbowo, an afrocentric literary and visual arts journal.
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Beneath them, oh living things, / wander / as you dance.
This week for Translation Tuesday, Asymptote is pleased to present the lush poem “Gold Dust’s Sleep (Seven Fragments).” These fragments from Japanese luminary Yonezawa Nobuko revel in the fusion of concept and image in miniature. Inspired by the Symbolist tradition, Yonezawa’s poetry seems to refract the very words that make it up, allowing for subjective particulates to surface from the flow of experience and conspire with the reader. In this skillful translation, the concrete style of the original is maintained, so that the form of the stanzas themselves seem to impress a visual coherence and solidity to the movement of the language. As if struck with an afterthought, the poems end with suspended lines that evoke a response and an elaboration. With movement and the quotidian electrified, they breathe.
Gold Dust’s Sleep (Seven Fragments)
That moment, like the blind,
at full speed,
gold dust was sleeping
faded color of dreams.
just a flower planted in a beaker.
Spotted as if with falling blood,
gladiolus. READ MORE…
I fell in love like you fall in love with silence / and darkness (fears I’ve never conquered)
This week’s Translation Tuesday features the work of the Indigenous/Queer poet Manuel Tzoc. “I fell in love with a poet” comes from Tzoc’s theatrical poetry El jardín de los infantes locos y la escafandra de oro (The Garden of Insane Children and the Golden Diving Helmet). The poem, imbued with a strong, imaginative voice that comes through even in translation, is a love address to a poet—a poet that exists only within Tzoc’s address itself. This imagined lover/poet is a pastiche of Guatemalan and international attributes, past and future stories, and complex desires. Identity is woven together from what the addressed poet does and does not do, what he wears. To a certain extent, the poet as the subject of address in Tzoc’s poem is an ideal subject, but not an idyllic or stereotypical one. Desire is expansive, and by imagining and versifying the poet/lover, Tzoc is able to birth the ideal made possible in poetry to encompass the specificity and the variety of a intersectional Indigenous Central American/urban/Queer poetics.
I fell in love with a poet
a boy poet
with the attitude of a horrible little prince
I fell in love like you fall in love with silence
Standing up alone in a nearly empty daladala, every passenger could see me. Those majambozi rascals had turned me into a public one-man show!
This week’s Translation Tuesday features the Swahili-language writer Mlenge Mgendi. “Comfort Is Expensive” comes from Mlenge Mgendi’s self-published collection Mama wa Jey: Hadithi za Uswahilini (Jey’s Mother: Stories of Swahili Life). Nathalie S. Koening’s nuanced translation captures the different registers of speech in this scatological tale, which weaves indispensable Swahili terms with well-timed slang that, in some ways, feels universal. The speaker captures the anxiety of youth squeezed under community expectations and bureaucratic pressure. Sober, infused with wry humor, and laced with charming off-beat metaphor, “Comfort is Expensive” shows a slice of life that points to the atmosphere of a place and the dispositions that form under specific pressures there.
That day, I was coming from school. My stomach, jeopardizing the love, unity and cooperation that had reigned in my bowels for centuries, was causing me real trouble. I had no choice but to hurl myself into a daladala bus and get home in a hurry. Don’t you know? Since our schools have no money for healing all that ails us, students get a “discount” when they ride the bus?
When I got to the stop, a daladala was waiting. It was totally empty, having been outsmarted by another bus that, zipping past like a toothbrush, had plucked up all the fares. As I was climbing in, the konda boy grabbed hold of me. “Hey, you! Stoo-denty! You taking up an actual seat coz you’re gonna pay full price?” The bus pulled away brush-empty, but even then, he wouldn’t let me sit. READ MORE…
The more I studied the unbelievable curve of the ball, the more I found it sublime.
This week’s Translation Tuesday features work by Greek writer Vassilis Alexakis, who is known for his self-translation work: translating his own work from Greek to French and vice-versa in order to study the lived experience of moving through cultural and linguistic boundaries that recalls Beckett’s experimentation. “Platini’s Free Kick” offers a vision of a man obsessed with event and form. As the story twists on, the free kick is stripped of its content as it becomes the focal point for the speaker, a movement of concentration on an object that invokes idolatry and addiction. Rebecca Dehner-Armand’s apt translation brings out the mundane terror of Alexakis’ story, which offers a critique of the persistence of an object and the effects of transfer, wear, and social tension on the way that objects create meaning for the viewer and how that meaning can change and dissipate over time. This dissipation and wear hint at the anxiety of a text or concept being used and reused. Alexakis’ story forces us to ask: Can the original effect of an event or form hold its sway over an individual without both the viewer and the viewed dissolving?
Michel Platini scored the most beautiful goal I’ve ever seen in my life with a free kick against the Dutch team. I’m almost certain that it was the team from the Netherlands: on the videotape, there are still a few traces of orange, the color of the Dutch jerseys. It was not merely a magnificent goal: it seems, in fact, that it ensured the French team’s qualification for the World Cup, which must’ve been held that year in Mexico, or in Argentina. Or in Italy, maybe. No matter. It would not be an exaggeration to say that this historic goal changed my life.
I saw the match at home. I didn’t even regret not finding a ticket for the Parc des Princes, because some goals are shown exclusively on TV in slow motion. Fortunately, I thought to record the match, as if I’d sensed that it would be exceptional. I watched the match alone, because neither my wife nor my daughters like soccer. Was it during the first period that Michel scored? Actually, I think it was during the second half, I would even say during the last fifteen minutes, because things had grown very tense and anticipatory as much on the field as in the stands, as is always the case at the end of a game.
your evening battles with a certain angel / until stars become bones
This week’s Translation Tuesday proffers a poem by Chinese poet Song Lin. This poem, “Untitled,” translated with a certain sublimity by Dong Li, offers a haunting vision that places the reader into a fleeting and gilded world, where the symbols of poetry invert and exhaust themselves upon being observed. Within this short poem, a whole lifetime quivers under the strain of thought and composition. “A belated meeting beckons” to the readers of the poem who become themselves the poetic voice, simultaneously offered and denied the splendor of traditional lyric. Dong Li’s translation captures the sparsity of language and the depth of tableau expected of traditional Chinese lyric poetry, while also capturing a sense of alienation from these stereotypical themes and imagery. The language of this poem leaves a lasting impression as it ignites and etches feelings and impressions. We are glad to be able to feature this innovative and compelling translation.
The night sings in my arms. / It’s bedtime, flesh-and-blood.
The newest issue of Asymptote is coming out this Thursday, and in anticipation of our special Yiddish Poetry Feature, we bring you three poems from poet and translator Zackary Sholem Berger. Translated from the Yiddish, these poems are inventive and playful even as they explore serious and philosophical themes.
This bird in town
Eyes me up and down:
My sin is known
There is Love in the world, they say. / Love—what is it?
This week features the Hebrew language poetry of Haim Nachman Bialik, a poet and cultural leader who influenced twentieth century Hebrew and Yiddish poetry like few others. Bialik’s commitment to innovation in stylistic Hebrew comes across in these skillful translations, which carry emotion upon a poignant succession of nouns that cover a stirring breadth of emotion in relatively few words. Verdant religious language is foiled by a personal lack. Yearning, the language evokes a sense of constantly thwarted arrival met with evacuation. Yet, the poems brim with hope for the future, foregrounding the hope which gives meaning to the barren condition of the present. Bialik remains the national poet of Israel.
Drops a Sprig in Silence
Drops a sprig in silence
To the fence.
I’m mute. Shorn of fruit,
Estranged from branch and tree.
Shorn of fruit, the flower
The leaves do sway,
Sure victims for the gale to slay.
Then the nights do come.
I thrash about in the dark,
I knock my head against the wall.
And spring will come.
To me, a barren twig,
Which bringeth forth
No fruit, nor flower, nor nill.
Take Me Under Your Wings
Take me under your wings,
Be to me sister and mother.
Let your bosom shelter my head,
Nestle my banished prayers.
Then in twilight, the hour of mercy,
Bend down to me, my anguish I’ll tell thee:
There is Youth in the world, they say.
My youth—where is it?
And another secret I’ll tell:
My soul, it is all burnt out.
There is Love in the world, they say.
Love—what is it?
The stars have all deceived me.
There was a dream, it too has passed.
I have not a thing in the world now.
I have nothing, at last.
Take me under your wings,
Be to me sister and mother.
Let your bosom shelter my head,
Nestle my banished prayers.
Translated from the Hebrew by Dahlia Ephrat
Haim Nachman Bialik (1873-1934), recognized today as the national poet of Israel, wrote in Hebrew and Yiddish. Born in the former Russian Empire, Bialik, who wrote passionately about the persecution of the Jewish people in Russia, moved to Germany and then to Tel Aviv. He had a relationship with Ira Jan, a painter and writer who followed him to Tel Aviv. After his untimely death in surgery, a massive funeral procession mourned down the street which now bears his name, showing his importance as an icon of an emergent Jewish literary movement and a significant cultural leader. During his productive career, Bialik wrote extensively, and his poems are well known to the Israeli public. On top of his poetry and essays, which have now been translated into more than thirty languages and set to music, Bialik translated a book of Talmudic legends called Sefer Ha’agada (The Book of Legends).
Dahlia Ephrat lives in Tel Aviv, where she was born. She began writing poetry at a young age, and began work as a translator at eighteen. She has translated scores of English language poetry into Hebrew. She remains interested in Hebrew, and embarks on linguistic studies of Hebrew etymology and thought.
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