Alex Niemi translates Laura Vazquez

How death creates a dead man and his image
A poem in 43 lines

a number of dead is a number
full of creatures during the news one morning 
we think of cemeteries in the sun
of people pouring small drops
on cracked lips of people cleaning the dead
the earth breathes between the dead the earth is long
a dead man greets the earth with his dead shoulder
the larvae the worms like a durable garment
to tamp down the earth go back to the darkness
like a fine powder on the bodies of the living
do the ears of the deaf open
in a coffin
light is transferred
we never see light we see
what it illuminates we don’t see what makes us see
maybe light has understood blood
is only a puddle inside the dead
bodies evaporate in the slowness the calm
then the ghosts go hide in the bricks
the cement the souls of the living
I wanted to hold your face on a single finger
the floor of the dead above our thoughts each
time a person dies another doesn’t die
the stomachs of the dead launder 
like the stock market I think of nothing in a single space
between seconds
some saliva a tooth a canine gathers the bones
the small creatures I distribute molecules
at random with my mouth I imagine maggots 
longer than me a hand owns nothing
a family of insects 
we bury the dead man with three thousand
two hundred shovels
the adult insects show the young ones
the proper way 
to eat a dead man
a piece of gravel stuck under a nail
an insect wing
in the cold
surrounded by frost
the dead don’t have a memory anymore each corpse
looks like a corpse each corpse
imitates a corpse


How bread gathers people
A poem in 66 lines

calm white
calm easy
and the evening

mix bread with bread
water with water
mix flour with an idea
the soul reeks

when I was younger I had a basket I put
everything I lost inside it my fingernails my old
strands of hair the scabs I pulled off I put
dead skin teardrops saliva I put 
everything I slept next to my basket I wished
it good night honestly sometimes I even kissed it 
sometimes I grasped my basket in the dark
the world started to overflow
stuck in a room with its substances
like living in a bag made of itself

I write the words WHITE BOAR
in the search bar
I think it looks like me
the hand sighs the bread sighs
as a kid I destroyed the walls of the house I scratched
with forks with a hammer I destroyed
I thought there must be something good
behind something else

imagine bread as a fetus
its eyelids hold themselves up
the world is simple and no one crosses paths

everything sleeps
everything is guided
I dream that I’m working
I dream that I’m cutting a body at work
I dream that I’m taking care of patients in my work
I cut 
in my dreams in my work the parasite
is long I open it up
stretch out your hands and something happens
in the flour my gestures were bathed in silence
my gestures bathed in darkness the gesture
in a density you can’t grasp
in silence you fumble you create a form
inside bread you find a feeling
the flour looks like the bodies the ghosts
it looks like almost everything it looks like a group
of nurses running around a patient

in reality things don’t speak bread
doesn’t speak
lick to learn
if you put a baby on a road it ends up licking
children lick the road the crumbs on
roads children suck on things
they gather children put substances
inside their bodies eyes assembled
into one inside their skulls
to carry things outside themselves

a woman walks around with her organs
in her hand
she carries her organs in a bag
in her hand
she says: I’m leaving soon
she says: I won’t be late
I’m not going to be late


Translator’s Note:

Vazquez published these poems in 2020 during the heights of the pandemic, and they explore the fear, anxiety, and isolation of that time. The cycle is comprised of ten poems, and these pieces are the fifth and sixth. The repeated elements of theses texts are representative of the whole series, which for me, explore an active mind in isolation and the potential of the anxiety spiral as a poetic form. The looping final lines of “How death creates a dead man and his image” present an example of Vazquez’s repetition as a vehicle for describing trauma: “the dead don’t have a memory anymore each corpse/looks like a corpse each corpse/imitates a corpse.” The repetition of the word “corpse” and the idea that each corpse is an imitation expresses a quality of alienation, a numbness at the sheer magnitude of death that the author has witnessed. 

As a translator who works with many different styles, I feel a particular frenetic intensity when I translate Vazquez’s work. The first draft of the English flies from my hands, and I am easily swept up in the rhythm of her lines. This is something I often sense in the work of poets, such as Vazquez, who are also performers. This physicality and musicality to Vazquez’s work vibrate in the translation experience, and I hope the readers of her work in English feel this energy as well.  


Laura Vazquez is a French poet and novelist who lives in Marseille. She has written five collections of poetry in addition to her novel, The Endless Week, and her poems have been translated into Chinese, English, Spanish, Portuguese, Norwegian, Dutch, German, Italian, and Arabic. In 2014, she received the Prix de la Vocation for her first collection of poetry, and she regularly gives readings around the world. Her work has been supported by many institutions, including the Michalski Foundation, and she gives masterclasses in writing at the International Poetry Center in Marseille, L’École supérieure d’art in Aix-en-Provence, and several other establishments in France and Belgium. Photo by Daniele Molajoli.

Alex Niemi is a writer and translator from French, Russian, and Spanish. She is the translator of For the Shrew by Anna Glazova (Zephyr Press, 2022) and The John Cage Experiences by Vincent Tholomé (Autumn Hill Books, 2020), as well as the author of the poetry chapbook Elephant (dancing girl press, 2020). Her poetry and translations have appeared in Asymptote, Columbia Journal, The Hopkins Review, The Los Angeles Review, and The Offing, among other publications.