Michael Pagán

Why I Can Understand Thanos’ Quest for the Infinity Gauntlet

“No one on Titan – be it you, our mother, or our father – understands who I am, Eros.” ~ Thanos (Earth-616)

Imagine if you knew you were
                                             a direct descendent
of the Eternals?
                              Yet despite this, you were labeled
a Deviant?
                               “To turn aside.”
Alienated,
                           while your younger
(White, apple-polished, classically handsome)
                              brother
is fawned over,
                                            but not you.
Their eyes preoccupied by everything
                                            other than knowing about
your emptinesses. //

Then she came,
                                 Death.
“That’s a feeling,” she says,
                                                        sounding like dreams
printed on card stock.
                 “Come stay with me,” she says.
“Stay with me like
                                               a long-distance train.”
This is what she tells
                                                   you
& you were both so
              in love
                                           then.
It makes one unafraid
                                           to die.
She reminds you
                                           of your birth name
& how it means:
                                    “Undying.”
How we all love
                                to believe
that no words matter.
                                         How we slightly rearrange them
with care,
                     in hopes of protecting our bodies from
the splashing mud & rocks
                               kicked up
& yet
                                     when the time comes to try & forget
reality, all we tend to remember
                                                                 is just the words. //

These treacheries of
                                           the body & how
the world, with its crowded
                                               rules, test the logic
of the body;
                               the body, which is
supposed to be a safe house,
                                                                now replaced by
something else:
                                  your skin, where they
only see darkness.
               Where they only see a dark room half-
filled with furniture,
                            a dark, bulging, throat-swallowing
of a room,
                      walls swallowing in big
swallows, in-retaliation
                                          swallows with
mouthfuls of appetite
                                        in the shapes of shadows,
shadows that do not smile
                                                     because they know too much
of the world.
                                Because you see everything when
the world never wants
                                               to see you. //

She tells you she knows.
                                                  “I know,” she says.
How your skin was designed
                                                          to capture & absorb all
the cosmic energies
                                          of the universe, all shining
& suffering.
                         She tells you about the imbalance in the fabric
of the universe: how there had always been
                                                                                        more people alive
than had ever died up to that point
(though you disagree)
                                            & how she’d like you to balance it
since it was she
                               who gave back to you
your life &
                       it was she who told you
about the gauntlet & its power
                                                               to make you a God.
“Love me,” she says. //

& how can anyone possibly resist
                                                                     something so powerful?
If Captain America’s shield
                                                                  can’t hurt you,
nor Thor’s hammer,
                                              nor Wolverine’s
adamantium claws, nor
                                              the Hulk’s brute strength;
if Tony Stark’s money can’t
                                                             just be thrown at you
until you’ve been grounded
                                                             down into dust
then a bullet can’t kill you
                                                             either.
Death now becomes a way
                                                             for you
to have more space
                                         to live. //

Unfortunately, we spend so much
                                               of our lives

chasing
                 death,
                                never realizing
                                                               that it was actually us
who gave birth to it.

The first time I watched Mami put on her peluca: A play in 3 acts

I
[She jokes: “At least I won’t have to show my dirty grey hairs
to the world anymore. & I can also stop thinking about men
]

& I ain’t know any better [Don’t use ain’t. No seas tonto, she says to me]
I didn’t know how vital a mother’s hair would be            years later
to a child’s memory      Which explains why I can’t          remember it
anymore          Just that cheap fucking plastic oscillating fan’s swinging back
& forth clicking its tongue like them schoolgirls on the block        distracting
the silence [Mami always wishing past the silence] of our single bathroom
because our apartment was always ¾ my mother       while the rest was everything else
we didn’t care about        like everything our bodies take for granted
like gravity & atmosphere & oxygen & body temperatures            & bones
All things once considered problems       by us          that needed to be
solved        forgetting there were still moving images of          our bodies living
across these walls         piece by piece            [“Bones without memory are
nothing more than bones hiding in the filthy corners of flesh,” she say
s]
& all we ever had to do          was just place          our hands up
against them & trace their outlines          before writing:
I can no longer see the fear in my breathing

II
[She slaps me after laughing at how her bald head resembles
a cheap, white opal ring. Her fingers are loud
]

[Quieres mas? She asks, thumbing her knuckles]      & she had no reason to defend
herself         she was woman still       even though part of her ancestry was gone
with her hair      the peluca lying at the edge of the sink looking      dead &
I wondered if I knocked it over      would it just float down to the ground?
[Questions are their own prisons, she says]
Wondered if I stole it & buried it in some secret place       would someone hundreds
of years from now think:      This      is from a woman who once lived       Who once
moved the way a dancer’s shadow moves inside a spotlight           while protesting her
death at every step       Who built things      Who healed      Who forgave       Our
very own bronze anthropomorphic god      Eyes like islands of explosion
though her last name was always      shorter than the island it came from     Tongue
her own mango tree      She who filled the roots out of everyone’s      lives
cojonuda enough to tell      God himself      to take his elbows
off el maldito table carajó!       & he’d obey        & smile because he’d already stolen
enough wick         & could no longer give it back.

III
[“Let me just put my hands on you,” she says. “Let me feel your pulse,
since we can no longer trust our mouths nor our memories
]

because the only things      we      really know are our mouths      & how
they only count       for us       For our yesterdays      For our tomorrows      For
that place where we get a chance to see     who we are     who we’ve never seen
before but always knew      was there all along     Waiting alone      Those same
hands that once shoed my naked feet      Her voice that tiny hotel:
“Dios te bendiga, mijo,” she always said       Are we all so predictable?       The way
we all crumble       in the exact same way?

[She places her hand inside my palm. & that’s when I notice the white ring
of skin around her finger after she’d pawned her wedding ring for rent money
]

“Mijo, men can’t live anywhere they only visit,” she said      “We’ll fix these things
after, but for the time being       just be       quiet now”      though it was all a lie
like a grave        just to keep me      here      standing like a scar      waiting
for the time after      her        where I’m left to only love a small, half-eaten piece
of when.

ghosts

In the United States in 1944, an experiment was conducted on forty newborn infants to see if they could survive without any affection or physical contact.
The experiment only lasted four months. By that time, half the babies had given up and died.

it’s strange. i think i see                   him
on the street.        sometimes.            even if i know
it’s         not him. but still.
i picture him.      with his gold anchor
chain      & all of that god         in his face
all of that          god         in his shoulders. all
of that         god       within the contours of his chest.
all of that          god-given talent         but couldn’t
make up for all that           emptiness        in his
guts.        hollower            than a winter rain
barrel.

even still.            i want to              talk to him.
about fathers          & sons           & how filthy
fathers can be             as gods         to their sons
& how we love them          still. because
the freedom to be        cruel           is one of man’s
uncontested freedoms.

///

when are you supposed to confess to someone that you’re haunted? should you tell them at all? in america, some states require a seller to disclose if their property has been “psychologically” or “paranormally impacted” in some way. but what if your scars originate from even before? before time’s arrow began its run? what if they began before america? before your time even knew of america? or does time move so fast that it eventually, inevitably, overtakes you? & we always the slower runners? always running. even though we’re free to run anywhere else? even if we’re not actually free? we still run to meet each other to deliver gifts. because no one digs out the dead unless they personally knew them from before.

///

which is why i feel the need to confess. why I came
here to confess: a need to ask questions. a need
to fuel dreams. you were television to me before
television when television was just a chair framed
by the light of an open window where wishes were
being made. where i held my tiny fingers high up
against that light like rye-colored knobs glad to be
alive. eyes squinted just enough to keep away the world.
turning that light into strings as if to say “i hope.”
& that’s how you ultimately taught me how foolish
i’ve been. not knowing at the time that loving you
was nothing more than the exuberance found in
the middle of “can’t seem to love.”

 

Born and raised in Miami, FL, Michael J Pagán spent four years (1999-2003) in the United States Navy before (hastily) running back to college during the spring of 2004. He currently resides in Lake Worth, FL, with his wife and two daughters where he continues to work on his poetry, short fiction and nonfiction. A graduate of Florida Atlantic University’s Creative Writing M.F.A. program, he keeps a running history of his published work at his blog, The Elevator Room Company, as well as across social media. He is also a co-founder of 100 Miles & Running – A Collective.

 

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Sara J. Grossman

House of Body

Girl, the ends of you
are dramatic—:

Listen, I’m not trying to be rude
but can I ask does it hurt?

It must be so hard to do
normal things, you know?

Girl, you’re so strong,
Girl, can I touch it?

Ok

watergrain
pacific-bleeding heart
rivulet               runnet                  driftwood tideway
body was all about the deadwood, bog—


shudder hour       nocturne of soot

arson of fawn lilies
bog of rust              hemlock cock
of another’s guilt and nettle—

in the backland, body wades half-sunken in the loam
radiated, limbless

where do you go, my one
now love, dressed
in throngs of bitter rock
to the empty station?

SCENE:

In a bikini
at a pool party

everyone will love you, Girl
Girl, you’re an inspiration

Girl, the broken
Girl
[hide the body]

nothing was said
to happen:

the boundaries of body were escaping
in lowlands unaware
so that the modest of lines would crumble fairly
without thought

weather of abundant appendages
I was never this remote:

how
The House
crumbles
for lack—

Sara J. Grossman’s poems and essays have appeared in Cincinnati Review, Verse Daily, Guernica, Louisville Review, Omniverse, American Literature, and elsewhere. She has received fellowships from Hedgebrook, The MacDowell Colony, and the Smithsonian. Her first book of poems, Let the House of Body Fall, will be published by New Issues Poetry & Prose, Fall 2018. She is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at Bryn Mawr College and lives in Philadelphia.

 

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Nicole Connolly

I Joke That Poets Will Be Some of the Last People Replaced by AI Because We Don’t Trust Robots Enough to Give Them Bipolar Disorder Quite Yet

for torrin a. greathouse

                                                                                               how inexpensive
a robot’s death will need / to be               before their creators / are willing
                      to admit they made them              all harsh glare & all harsh rust //

they will not build                            the robots until replacing them
              costs less / than either                     of our funerals // how cheaply
we will burn / how too tight                    with gasoline all these
              vessels feel even on us / born                          to carry them //

the robots // they will not      need / to burden themselves with     rocks
before they walk            into the ocean / to die //              until then
                  they will write           about bathtubs      they are not allowed
to have /           their feelings toward                    the Delivery Drone
& how like a bird she           is made        light enough to fly by
                            the hollowing / out                   of everything unnecessary //

no one will blaspheme             their hands on these robots          until no one
needs / to be      forgiven          for anything // what they could have
                                done differently will fit                   next to checkboxes //
no one will              have to change out        of their neutral blue
              polos       on a Sunday // on Monday maybe          someone will turn
                  a penny-sized dial                                  a bit to the left //

no one will bother /      with the bipolars until               these creators can go
                scuba diving / take pictures            of themselves
in a new kingdom / resurrected coral             grafting the self-drowned
robots a new           neon skin // if our bones

                                                                               end up sunk   there / no one
                     will notice them / so tight they will be
with tedious barnacles // these pictures          will accompany
Christmas-       in-July cards // these were my bodies /
               they will say /                                                 thumbs up & shutter /
                   I gave them up

  

Mania is a Trust Fall into the Arms of an Unloving God Wherein I am the Fallen & the God

why else that passage in psych-soc-anthro-101                    “some cultures revere
the mentally ill etc         for their connection etc             to the divine etc” / anyway

isn’t that why you’re              wary? / yes anyone could be                a first-born son
in my egypt / & confession                there were years         it seemed the world

was a forlorn riverbed                  yearning for the return            of its lava & studly
horsemen /              & wasn’t it my revelation /                  I left a grilled cheese

to smolder overnight &           rose unignited              to never get so drunk again /
even if they do call it praying               to the porcelain god / anyway             I can

humble myself small         enough for anyone to fit            their arms around me
& call it a halo / yes                    I am anyone’s good wife / even if              scientists

feed mice pcp to make them          act like me / o it’s why              they call it angel
dust /     it’s just there are barbs        from a seraph’s wing                  where my dna

should be /           it’s just that there is no weather                          except a brass band &
sometimes I am followed                by an army of shine only                    I can see / it’s not

the pearls             I dream of anyway / it’s the sin of turning                      wine to water

 

I Don’t Know Why My Internet Algorithms Suggest Articles About How to Keep Teens in the Faith

even a church this old keeps                  an immaculate bowl of holy water
one way to remind us               every tradition measures its success
in the count of living + dead // these days my father face & holy spirit
shoulders                             repel such damp & blessed fingers
                                                        when I was younger, my father supervised
each application like a prescription // yes ritual-by-ritual
he cauterized the little devil                             jigging & hoofing within me
masses & bible studies & youth groups                       the whole nine yawns

child of darkness                 I crossed my fingers under the table
during grace // I wanted God to know                      my portion
of the prayer was useless                    as seawater to the stomach

               it is perfectly common to say God is fire                            yet stupefying
to watch one’s father burn up         in the gasoline of his faith // every day
after church                      we thought he might kill us
with his hollers & bloodface & car pedals           a terrible angel song
only the dead                  or nearly dead                           can hear

child of darkness               I trained my sister to become a fireman
by dressing her in all her clothes at once                             getting her
used to the heat                              it was always my turn next           & never
my turn // she learned something I didn’t
                                                               coal walking       or tricking the church
out of checking its wristwatch                 & telling her when
to ash away         her own boyfriend or solstice feast        or name

grown-up of darkness                   even now religious chatter illuminates
a macabre              stained-glass window in my heart // a spear of light
keeps Jesus’s red side                        always bleeding

 

Nicole Connolly lives and works in Orange County, CA, which she promises is mostly unlike what you see on TV. She received her MFA from Bowling Green State University, and her work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in such journals as Drunk in a Midnight Choir, Waccamaw, Pretty Owl Poetry and Glass: A Journal of Poetry. She currently serves as Managing Editor for the poetry-centric Black Napkin Press.

 

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Jennifer Sperry Steinorth

[let the patient describe a door]

[ let the patient describe a door ] in the dark I am not going to I do not know if I am going to I am certainly not going to lay down I will have to pull back the blanket I pulled back of course I would not say yes of course the blanket was tightly pressed between the mattress & the boxspring such is the weight of a mattress a spring a spring such is its lumber it was the room that required sleep sleep ing is how one can slip into no one wants to sleep alone atop a boxspring sound as a drumbeat beat beat   beat beat   beat


[ let the patient describe a door ] what does not open can be a relief or a blemish there were tchotchkes for every season & pillows stitched w/messages it takes time to stitch a message I don’t like to come here he likes me to come here to come is the message game a secret I’m not ready let’s start again resend the message do you prefer color or texture I want to choose I came in my dress my dress should know better don’t you agree say please I’ll do better I will I must he won’t tell what’s in my hope chest anyway who says it’s mine


[ let the patient describe a door ] in the dark is a fan not turn ing if there is sound it is not out loud I said it’s true then I’m not him he said I’m sorry dark too dark to move too close to see in his eyes a mild poison mild ordinary want some coffee dark so dark there is no laundry there is no counter blessed w/ crumbs what do they say I said in the spinning darksome stars our sheets turn colors it’s like humidity dark but dry it is not love but still it holds us tight as shadow that’s not what I said

Jennifer Sperry Steinorth is a poet, educator, collaborative artist, and licensed builder. Her
poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly, Beloit Poetry Journal, The Colorado Review, Four Way Review, The Journal, jubilat, Michigan Quarterly Review, Mid-American Review, Poetry Northwest, Sixth Finch, Quarterly West and elsewhere. She has received grants from the Sewanee Writers Conference, The Vermont Studio Center, and Warren Wilson College whence an MFA in poetry. She was recently a [email protected] Poetry Fellow and won The Connecticut River Review Poetry Prize. She lives in northern Michigan. Find her at JenniferSperrySteinorth.com.

 

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Karla Cordero

BISABUELA MARRIED A SPANIARD

twenty years older than her palms         & my hands slice        the necks
of marigolds     offer their afro-petal heads to ask       did sun between
corn husk bath in the warmth        of your cheek first                  did he
offer leather          the dead deer shot by       the greed covered bullet
                    offer red meat                           what part of my bones belong
to the ship                   that broke the sea        that broke your tongue
                                 did he lace every birthed child in silver             
spoon fed a language unknown                               to half the blood they
own     choked on each letter         i give these thoughts many names:
clipped wings       
                                                 wind         as myth       
                                                                       the acrobat who lives in this flesh

  

HOW TO BE A GHOST ON EARTH

Using sections from Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera

definition for ghost-mouth

I remember being caught speaking Spanish at recess—

that was good for  three licks on  the knuckles with    a

sharp   ruler. I remember being sent to the corner of the

classroom for “talking back” to   the  Anglo     teacher

when all I was      trying  to do was tell her how to

pronounce   my name.    you want       to be American   

speak  American. If you don’t like it go back to Mexico

where you belong.



Karla Cordero is a descendant of the Chichimeca tribe from northern Mexico, a Chicana poet, educator, and activist, raised along the borderlands of Calexico, CA. She is a Pushcart nominee and has been offered fellowships from CantoMundo, VONA, Macondo, The Loft Literary Center, Pink Door Women’s Writing Retreat. Her work has appeared and forthcoming in The Boiler Journal, The Cosmonauts Avenue, Tinderbox, Word Riot, Poetry International, among other anthologies and publications. Karla’s chapbook, Grasshoppers Before Gods (2016) was published by Dancing Girl Press and her first book is to be published by NOT A CULT. Publishing (Fall 2018).

 

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Brandon Melendez

How to Write the Quantum Mechanics Uncertainty Principle into a Promise to Return Home

The further you drive north / from the southern California border / the more the desert simmers / in your throat / rock & ember cool to ice / coyotes lie coiled / beneath barbwire / with blood matted in their fur / The further you drive / east from your abuelo’s gravestone / the more the light refracts off its epitaph / Keep driving / until all you remember is diamond / cut against the teeth of rattlesnakes / & how the rattlesnake’s body evolved muscle / strong enough / to swallow whole animals / & countries / & that kind of power / dissolves skin / faster than any choleric or vengeful summer / even when California hasn’t spilled / anything but blood / in years / The further you travel / from home / the more you realize / you’ve been hurtling towards home / this whole time / & it’s all a trick of language / Anything can be a field / if you walk through it / Anywhere can become you / once you forget / how you got there

The further you walk across New England / from rose garden / to snowlit harbor / the colder your father’s voice becomes / gentle / fading echo / housed in the wind chill / along the Charles River / it shouts your name / into the water / & then freezes over / & all you want / is to live a life that makes your father / mistake his hands for emeralds / He carried you / across Los Angeles / to give you the type of home / songs are written about / & the further you flee from his arms / the more you forget / what empires he’s toppled / & turned pathway / what ghosts he’s given shelter & names / now when you say home / you think dead language / dead coyotes / dead embers / If you return / when you return / tell him / how you stood knee deep / in Boston winter / & the snow peeled its skin from your feet / salt rose from gravel / until verbena flowers bloomed / like busted lips / you brought the desert with you / & you can’t shake it / no matter where you go


Note on Demisexuality

perhaps, I am broken. machine rotten
with rust & pink moss. emptied furnace
in place of each organ & everywhere in me:
coal & copper wire & an engineer’s severed arm
trapped inside bent gears. what I’m saying
is, often, I wonder why I am incapable of performing
the most basic function of a body: take hunger.
someone says open & a dam breaks, a gated neighborhood
is set on fire. someone asks what do you want?
& I show them a perfectly set dinner table, a lake
with a single floating lantern among the lilies. I say
don’t touch. I say, like anyone I want nothing
more than to feel desired
. I want to desire like the rest
of them, to jump out a building or into bed & be happy
with whatever hand catches me, because hands are good
enough. but when it’s time to undress,
when I’m supposed to prove this flesh is worth the price
of teeth, I unbutton my shirt & reveal nothing
but thin wire & a path through me. perhaps, I am not broken,
I just need someone who understands when I say machine
I mean be patient with me. I mean, don’t be surprised
if you go to touch me & I’ve already left out the back window.
perhaps, someone snuck in one night & replaced my bones
with fire escapes & that’s why I understand the world best
as an exit.

  

The First Time I See My Father Cry He Is Pulling Me from the Water to Explain Alcoholism

son, not all gods
deserve to be prayed to.

this god of salt, of serrated
tooth, god of sea

turtle gored by ragged hooks.
god who makes the ocean

floor swell inside you. god of god-
less reef, insatiable in his lust

for pilgrimage, pillars
of sacrament & cirrhosis

bottle-necked through
a single throat. god of

your grandfather, of gutterwater
& gold. god who lives

in the aperture between
your body & it’s wreckage.

god of ships. god of sailors
caught in the rage

of a ram-headed sea. god
of desperation, who makes

saltwater shimmer & taste
like honeysmoke,

who makes you sing
of salvation while your mouth fills

with his name. song of rapture,
song of drowning. psalm

that holds dying men
in its belly, daring you

to come
save them.

 

Brandon Melendez is a Mexican-American poet from California. He is the author of ‘home/land’ (Write Bloody 2019). He is a National Poetry Slam finalist and two-time Berkeley Grand Slam Champion. A recipient of the the 2018 Djanikian Scholarship from the Adroit Journal, his poems are in or forthcoming in Black Warrior Review, Ninth Letter, Muzzle Magazine, the minnesota review, Sixth Finch, and elsewhere. He currently lives in Boston & is an MFA candidate at Emerson College.

 

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Anthony Seidman translating Rodolfo Hinostroza

(fragment) from Hommage à Vasalery

O & beauty is love
          vers l’admission
                time is filled
with crystalline structures
element element element
as thus:--------------------------------------------
idea
which permeates the things
I am moist
my pores sublimate delicate saltpeter crystals
within and without once again
it was not the vibration of the protoplasm
not a shapeless thing not a swamp
confused libraries yellowing beneath the sun
but
une autre jeunesse des choses
towards the inexhaustible shape that purifies inexhaustibly.

Origins of Sublimation

 Beauty = Yearning
of the lost paradise
the womb in which you experienced perfect silence
only the gurgle of warm and gooey liquids
gurgle of comets / peace and nourishment
a part of something
not the body’s solitude
the mystical harmony
the precise site of the clairvoyant before the universe
lost
forever.


II

And the bird-bell says:
“During the ascension towards the perfect conjunction
things follow this order:
a) Opacity:
thing with shape or shapeless thing
not irradiation
faces in the Metropolitan Art Nouveau
vagueness of material
does not allow that bodies pass through it / does not present
evidence
b) The Definition:
                                             that which is termed as beautiful or ugly
with / without character
a mangy dog & sparkling white teeth,
where both co-exist and one explains the other
the bearded hangman, the
Cover Girl
scream / death
c) Ambiguity: 
  negative synthesis
things annulling other things and therein an unexpected sparkle
delicate nuance
immersed in Grand Guignol
inside & out
matter which is suspended yet
still comes and goes
and d) Grace:
unobtainable by will
illumination without choice
image which pauses the fluency of Time
a lightning-bolt strikes your forehead
evidence evidence!”
& that’s what the bird bell said
from a point in mid-air
where every labyrinth reveals itself and explains itself.


III

L’Utopie aussi:
a paradise lost proposes
a paradise anew 
thus Beauty = Mediation 
between the visible world and the possible world
/ anamnesia of the uterine world /
and thus the clairvoyant
 does not ossify
between
does not lose the absolute
between
he stands here
cf. the Bodhisattvas p.ex
in transparent meditation
& the still humility before the gathering
with your eyes you shall gaze upon it with your hands you shall touch it
and it will assume a shape
love makes visible the invisible
and makes invisible or visible
cf. Ariosto 
the fountain of youth
which doesn’t age.

Love’s Body

A body destroys the blind autonomy
d’un autre corp
it abandons
your body like the river or the sea
the art of seeing the world and living it
resides in the encounter
no fear of death
Oh abolition
the return of the mystical couple
  you were never one body
you were 2 before being born
from thence you saw the stations of the eclipse
one body only = terror of death
half of a face half of truth
2 orientate themselves towards the magnetic center of the Universe of Leibniz
they perceive the ecstasy the end of the era
in which death reigns over
beauty & life.


II

& the scream continues and the terror of being only one body
no world forthcoming
no perfect love perfect harmony
liberty in exchange
privation is infinite dix. Estagirita
endless search for what was lost
chucked into Time that fills itself
with incoherent things anguished fluency
but derrière la fin de la conscience
there’s a place of peace greater than peace
lake of the homecoming
    they began the light
legends myths emissions
which create and propose another life.


III

Cathars = pure
& the world was a prison
the solitude of the body, the powerful
      au bout de l’angoisse
among the need for destruction
crazy
shattered from the four sides
no way for the object no way for love
& someone adopted the fetal position
squatting arms crossed
hands half-closed
powerful veil warm placenta between him and the others
distant thrum of the stars revolving
imperfectly conjuring the superhuman terror
catatonic 
  pure
obscure poetry not assent the opacity
      but
the bitter love’s mystery.


IV

& thus the reverse of opacity
it both resembles and differs from
the sweet love’s mistery
the couple in their bed
celebrating Vatsyayana
  it was not love for one’s body nor for another’s
bliss exchanged
bite yum flesh of apple yum mouth another mouth
duality against death
mystical homecoming
a sole body in two   divine duality
the perfect couple
space responds to the movements
they create waves towards Pegasus & The Phoenix
Thou art & Thou art.

Translator’s Note

I discovered Hinostroza’s poetry by way of Medusaurio (1996), an anthology edited by Roberto Echavarren, José Kozer, and Jacobo Sefamí. The anthology was in the university stacks, and it was a major moment for me. The book can be likened to Cuesta’s Antología de la poesía mexicana moderna (1928) for its brilliant reassessments and rediscoveries, its shifting of canonical expectations, and, perhaps most importantly, for its heralding the importance of the Neo-Baroque in Latin American Poetry, with Hinostroza as one of the movement’s leading voices. I was enrolled in the bilingual MFA program at the University of Texas at El Paso, crossing on foot into El Paso every morning via the international bridge starting in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. The Creative Writing department boasted a healthy amount of younger poets from Latin America, as well as Mexican and Latin American professors. Over beers at El Recreo or The Kentucky Club, younger poets like Paolo De Lima of Peru or Gaspar Orozco of Mexico spoke with perception and enthusiasm about the legendary Hinostroza, confirming my initial readings of this difficult yet electrifying vates. Just prior to my leaving Ciudad Juárez in 1999, UTEP professor Miguel Ángel Zapata published the anthology Nueva poesía latinoamericana (UNAM), and therein I discovered another selection of Hinostroza, revealing a celestial landscape: the logic of the stars melded with political commentary, poetry from antiquity, chemistry, collages of political propaganda, which Hinostroza critiqued and juxtaposed with lyrical passages celebrating Eros and unflinchingly defying Thanatos, and praising the transformative powers of the Verb. Hinostroza’s net of readings, concerns, and allusions was cast as wide as Pound’s or Zukofksy’s, but his aim was love and physical union as an escape from history’s labyrinth. Indeed, what set this poet apart from most of his contemporaries in the Anglo-Saxon world is that his Muse always reminded him to sing of love. Yes, Hinostroza can be “difficult,” but his poetry urges the reader along with the beauty of the lyre. In this, Hinostroza’s art faintly resembles the Octavio Paz of “Piedra de Sol,” a longish and demanding poem that nevertheless manages to inspire readers of diverse capacities, casting their gaze on the delights of coitus. (One of the poem’s most celebrated lines celebrating love was even served as the title of a Mexican pop group’s most popular album.) Hinostroza accompanies the reader, as his vast and arcane cosmography and lexicon rotate in corymbulous explosions. The reader who opens Contra natura touches no mere book, he touches a man, as well as an original poetry relating the world via the “logic of metaphor.”

Anthony Seidman’s most recent collection of poetry is A Sleepless Man Sits Up In Bed, released in 2016 by Eyewear Publishing. His book-length translations include Confetti-Ash: Selected Poems of Salvador Novo (The Bitter Oleander) and Smooth-Talking Dog (Phoneme Media), poems by Roberto Castillo Udiarte, a poet recognized as “the Godfather of Tijuana’s counterculture.”


Rodolfo Hinostroza (Peru, 1941-2016), was a celebrated poet. Hinostroza’s groundbreaking collection Contra natura (1971) won the 1972 Maldoror Prize for Poetry given in Barcelona with none other than Octavio Paz as the judge. At the time of his death, Hinostroza was singled out as the leading poet of his generation. His open sequences, mixed registers of language, interest in history, astronomy, literary history, politics etc., make for a demanding and brilliant poetry.

 

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Simon Rogghe translating Louis Aragon

II. PRAYER TO MAKE IT RAIN RECITED ONCE A YEAR AT THE THRESHOLD OF BROCÉLIANDE AT THE CURBSTONE OF THE FOUNTAIN OF BELLENTON

May the water of the sky shake up
The dust on our locks
And the drought too where graze
Our burnt flocks
May the water of the sky chase the anguish
That gnaws away the grain
The great heart of the oars
May the water of the sky say
May the water of the sky say I want thus
To wait makes people nervous
The time the time just sloughs
And night is never dark enough
She will return the dawn
The horror of broad daylight
Like a furnace the world is alight
Where the stone yearns for the steps of the moon
Where the stone bursts apart at the feet of the sun
Where the stone is like a heart in the terrible hand of a child
And what then could I say about my unhappy human heart
The times the times are tough
To what gods would I pray with you suppliants in sweat
Under your felt hats
To what gods who aren’t deaf as is our age-old disbelief
Who are the gods that keep the water gates
Who let the barges of misfortune pass through at their behest
The heat has been scorching ever since ever since
I dare not say ever since how much time
Who are the gods that open the windows
And chase away the summer’s dreadful plague
This chamber of fire full of soldiers and boots
Pull away the flaming wicks that incessantly fall on my face
But you are all woolly as if it were winter
Your eyes look so black it’s like a funeral
Don’t you hear the rasps that the grasshoppers make
Future skeletons grind in the grain
I can’t get used to living on close terms with death
It is hell unless you show me a cloud
You I don’t know who maybe a demon or maybe just people like you and I
Because a day will come that may be near
Where rain and nice weather will be in the fickle hands of the first man who comes along
Man man precisely by this power over the sky
Then it will be over with drought and with dust
Then there will be no more place for thirst in the parched throats of plants
There will be no more place for the sun to bring sunshine
There will be no more crickets under the fiery straw and no more blight either
Then no longer will anyone tell you strange words to control your steps
You’ll no longer fear getting burned touching the door to your house
You’ll no longer be a footman to a master who can’t pronounce your name
The earth you turn over will no longer be inexplicably sterile
No longer inexplicably fleeting like a lascivious woman
She will no longer lie to Jack Peter or Jane
May it rain may it rain by the signals we make on our hills
May it rain up a thunderstorm with the generosity of iron
Drops so large they drown our old bile
Drops so close rank and file the sky’s arrows advance
Oh scatter you rain from torrential hands
Rain with fingers of music
Rain scented with bubbles and death
Scatter the fields overcome in your watery comb
Let your crystal spill out in blue furrows where like a disease
Boiled the parasite spirit of weeds
Oh rain rain oh rain and fill the cup of the horizon to the brim
Champagne of my beautiful cloud festive drink
Rain dear to my face as it is to the earth
And don’t mind if I stand in your way you can pierce me
Adorable rain rain as gentle as love
We are all hoping for with our eyes to the sky
Reaching our palm and the back of our hand
To feel the first drop of the blessing of tears

IV. OF THE FALSE RAIN THAT FELL ON A STONE TOWN NOT FAR FROM BROCÉLIANDE

Here comes the cloud cried the child with a celluloid swan on his heart
Here comes the cloud repeated the women at the bluest end of the washing stone
Here comes the cloud and the cornettes of the nuns at the hospice
Turned to the windows of fire hoping that it was just a flock of migrant birds
The men stumbled out of the shadowy bars with their drinks turning pale
Their shoes too shiny and their decorations all black
And in the alleys where the violent stench ran amok a whole throng of kids who played with animal flesh over bone
Looked to the roofs seeing nothing yet and yelped
Here comes the cloud

It arrived on the horizon weary as a sleepless eye
Not much bigger than a fly it arrived
It arrived like an ink stain on the retina
A tourist plane on a Saturday night’s suspense drama
It arrived like two images superimposed
It arrived the cloud arrives like a big giant fly with a buzz made of steel
It arrives with sharp scissors that fill our ears
With the cries of the grinders from the days of our youth
The entire sky grinds its teeth

What kind of rain does it bring
This cloud summoned unwisely what kind of rain
Already the summer is turning its face from the suffering looks
Already the rye-colored land is tracked down for its light
What kind of rain is it then that rattles as if to alert to the coming of lepers
The earth creaks and the dried-up tree trembles
Hail it is hail Oh misfortune
On the grain on the flowers on the harvest on the windows on the awnings on the wanderers
Sharp diamonds rain down from the spears of maledictions

Beasts with greased joints
Sleek dragons starving for food
Hybrid monsters astride their horses of iron and the cruelty of man
Animals made of noise and devastation
Their simple names in the moment elude the ones they kill
Cheating the sky with giant blue eyes on their green flapping wings
Locusts that’s what they called them in Egypt
They are locusts swarming down on us how terrible
When tangled up in their wings flesh is torn
The hum of the bee announces the thunder
And others and others with the cracking of bones in the crosshairs
With the breaking of skulls at the sting of their rays
Yes it is hail and the magicians on the mountain
Will be rent to pieces for having summoned the plague

Where man made his home and his comfort of living
Where hung the hammock of old age and sang the kettle on the furnace
Where painted flowers on the wall made for the spells of reverie
Where slept the child of future and of memory
There is now hail the snorts of wind the mincing claws
The grating of murder and the grimace of death
The grinding of the town that disintegrates and the stone cried out for grace
Hail grace
And the hail laughed out loud through its grainy teeth
The hail sank its teeth into a chunk of happiness
Raised its pockmarked beak with crushed hope in its jaws
Shook its grainy mane over the growling graves
Scratched into the soil with its grinding paws to pluck out the dead that sleep below
And like a cat cuts through a pillow
It scattered man into a whirl of feathers on his torn-out heart

We spoke of hail just now
Hail doesn’t have this color

I’m telling you in Egypt that’s what they called locusts

II. PRIÈRE POUR FAIRE PLEUVOIR QUI SE DIT UNE FOIS L’AN SUR LE SEUIL DE BROCÉLIANDE À LA MARGELLE DE LA FONTAINE DE BELLENTON

Que l’eau du ciel mette en déroute
La poussière de nos cheveux
Et la sécheresse que broute
Un bétail brûlé
Que l’eau du ciel chasse l’angoisse
Qui ronge de ces charançons
Le grand cœur des blés
Que l’eau du ciel dise
Que l’eau du ciel dise Je veux
Attendre fait les gens nerveux
Le temps le temps dure
Et la nuit jamais n’est assez obscure
Il revient l’aurore
L’horreur du grand jour
Le monde est un four
Où la pierre aspire aux pas de la lune
Où la pierre éclate au genou du soleil
Où la pierre est comme un cœur dans la main terrible de l’enfant
Et qu’est-ce que je pourrais dire alors de mon malheureux cœur d’homme
Les temps les temps sont durs
Quels dieux prierais-je avec vous suppliants en sueur
Sous vos chapeaux de feutre
Quels dieux qui ne soient sourds comme notre incrédulité séculaire
Qui sont les dieux qui gardent les écluses
Qui font passer les péniches de la malchance à l’appel des bateliers
Il fait une chaleur à crever depuis depuis
Je n’ose pas dire depuis combien de temps
Qui sont les dieux qui ouvrent les fenêtres
Et chassent la pestilence épouvantable de l’été
Cette chambre de feu pleine de soldats et de bottes
Écartez ces mèches de flammes qui retombent sans cesse sur mon front
Mais vous êtes couverts de laine comme au gros de l’hiver
On dirait tant vos yeux sont noirs qu’on suit un enterrement
Est-ce que vous n’entendez pas le bruit de crin que font les sauterelles ?
Des ossements futurs grincent dans les céréales
Je ne peux pas m’habituer à vivre à tu et à toi avec la mort
C’est l’enfer à moins que vous ne me donniez un nuage
Vous je ne sais qui démons peut-être ou tout bonnement gens comme vous et moi
Car un jour viendra bien qui pourrait être proche
Où la pluie et le beau temps seront aux mains capricieuses du premier venu
Homme homme précisément par ce pouvoir sur le ciel
Alors il ne fera plus bon pour la sécheresse ni pour la poussière
Alors il n’y aura plus de place pour la soif dans le gosier des plantes
Il n’y aura plus de place au soleil pour l’insolation
Il n’y aura plus de cricris sous la paille ardente et plus de nielles Alors personne ne te dira plus des mots étrangers pour limiter tes pas
Tu ne craindras plus de te brûler en touchant la porte de ta propre maison
Tu ne seras plus valet des labours chez un maître qui ne sait pas prononcer ton nom
La terre que tu creuseras ne sera plus inexplicablement stérile
Plus inexplicablement fuyante comme une femme de mauvaise vie
Elle ne mentira plus à Jean-Pierre ou François
Qu’il pleuve qu’il pleuve aux signes que font ceux de chez nous sur les collines
Qu’il pleuve une tempête de pluie avec la générosité du fer
Des gouttes larges à noyer l’amertume ancienne
Des gouttes si proches l’une de l’autre qu’on ne puisse distinguer entre elles ces flèches du ciel
Crible crible ô pluie aux mains torrentielles
Pluie aux doigts de musique
Pluie à la bonne odeur de mousse et de mort
Crible les champs envahis dans ton peigne liquide
Fais couler ton cristal dans les sillons bleus où bouillait
L’esprit parasitaire des liserons
Ah pleus pluie ah pleus à pleins bords dans la coupe des horizons
Champagne de mon beau nuage boisson des jours de fête
Chère pluie à mon visage aussi douce qu’à ma terre
Et ne te gêne pas si je suis sur ton chemin Tu peux me percer
Pluie adorable pluie aussi tendre que l’amour
Que tout un peuple espère les yeux tournés vers le ciel
Et tendant alternativement le dos de sa main et sa paume pour voir
Si déjà vient de commencer la bénédiction des larmes

IV. DE LA FAUSSE PLUIE QUI TOMBA SUR UNE VILLE DE PIERRE NON LOIN DE BROCÉLIANDE

Voici le nuage a crié l’enfant qui tenait un cygne de celluloïd sur son cœur
Voici le nuage ont répété les femmes au plus bleu du lavoir
Voici le nuage et les cornettes des religieuses dans l’hospice
Ont tourné vers les fenêtres de feu leur espoir d’oiseaux migrateurs
Les hommes sont sortis des petits bars d’ombre où blêmissent les breuvages
Avec leurs souliers trop beaux pour l’époque et leurs insignes noirs
Et dans les ruelles où l’odeur violente sévit toute une marmaille jouant avec des bêtes amaigries
A regardé du côté des toits sans rien voir encore et glapi
Voici le nuage

Il arrivait de l’horizon fatigué comme un œil d’insomnie
Il arrivait pas plus gros qu’une mouche
Il arrivait comme un pâté d’encre une image de la persistance rétinienne sous les paupières
Un avion de tourisme un samedi soir des romans d’anticipation
Il arrivait sur nous à la façon des anaglyphes
Il arrivait le nuage il arrive comme une mouche énorme avec un bruit d’acier
Il arrive avec des ciseaux aiguisés plein nos oreilles
Des cris de rémouleurs dans un matin d’enfance
Le ciel tout entier grince des dents

Quelle sorte de pluie est-ce donc que ce nuage
Imprudemment appelé quelle sorte de pluie
Déjà le visage de l’été se dérobe à la souffrance des regards
Déjà l’immense pays couleur de seigle perd sa lumière traquée
Quelle sorte de pluie est-ce donc qui semble annoncer les lépreux avec la crécelle
La terre craque et l’arbre séché frémit
La grêle la grêle la grêle Ah malheur
Sur les graines la fleur la moisson les vitres les voiles les promeneurs égarés
Il pleut des diamants taillés des javelots des malédictions

Des bêtes aux articulations soignées
Des dragons maigres affamés de pâtures
Des montres hybrides à cheval sur le fer et la méchanceté de l’homme
Des animaux faits de rumeur et de dévastation
Dont le nom simple à cette minute échappe à ceux qu’ils tuent
Avec de grands yeux bleus dans leurs ailes vertes afin de tromper le ciel
Sauterelles voilà comment on les appelait en Égypte
Ce sont des sauterelles qui s’abattent épouvantablement sur nous
Et la chair se déchire aux enchevêtrements des ailes
Le chant de l’élytre annonce au tonnerre qu’il est bien arrivé
D’autres d’autres au craquement des os dans les croisées
A l’écrabouillement des crânes dans le pétrin des poutres
Oui c’est la grêle et les magiciens sur la montagne
Seront écharpés pour avoir appelé le fléau

Où l’homme avait fait sa demeure et la douceur de sa vie
Où se balançait le hamac des jours et chantait sur le feu la bouilloire
Où les fleurs peintes faisaient aux murs le vertige des rêveries
Où se berçait l’enfant d’avenir et de mémoire
Il y a la grêle il y a le groin du vent vert il y a la griffe labourante
Il y a le grincement du meurtre et la grimace du martyre
Et le gréement de la ville se désagrège et la pierre a crié grâce
Grêle grâce
Et la grêle a ri de toutes ses dents de grêle
De toutes ses dents de grêle a mordu le bonheur à pleines dents
Relevé sa gueule de grêle avec de l’espoir broyé dans les dents
Secoué ses cheveux de grêle au-dessus du grabat grondant
Creusé la terre de ses mains de grêle pour en tirer les morts qui dorment dedans
Et comme un édredon qu’un chat lacère
Fait de l’homme une dispersion de plumes sur son cœur arraché

Qui parlait de grêle tout à l’heure
La grêle n’a pas cette couleur

Je vous dis qu’en Égvpte on appelait cela des sauterelles

Translator’s Note

Aragon’s poetry collections written during World War II bear the unmistakable imprint of the Resistance, but what makes them stand out in Aragon’s repertoire is that each collection is accompanied by a theoretical essay with considerations on verse, rhyme and poetics—all within the framework of an overarching literary-historical perspective. In Brocéliande in particular, Aragon tries to bridge the gap between the poetry of the past (the legends of the Grail and of Merlin imprisoned in the enchanted forest of Brocéliande) and modern poetry. Whereas this connection with medieval poetry should definitely be placed within the framework of the Resistance, as an attempt to reconstitute a unified French poetic heritage, it is also inspired by the surrealist idea that the poetic voice does not obey the laws of time and space, that it unites past and present within the realm of poetic creation itself. 

It is precisely this idea of a past that is still active in the present that makes Aragon’s poems relevant today. Although the collection Brocéliande should be seen as single poem made up of seven individual poems to be read in consecutive order, I have chosen to excerpt two free-verse poems, because the tone and themes strongly pertain to the current state of affairs. The notion, for example, that soon “rain and nice weather will be in the fickle hands of the first man who comes along” resonates with alarming intensity not only with climate change and the ineptitude of politicians to address this issue, but also with modern dictatorship and the accompanying threat of nuclear war.

These poems, moreover, are chant-like, rendering visible the double-edged sword of incantation: a magical tool for the regeneration of nature (a prayer to make it rain), but also a tool used by false magicians to swindle the (often fickle) masses. This is shown in the connection between the two poems: in the first poem, the people, discontented by the drought, turn to their magicians to make it rain; in the second poem, the people get what they asked for, and rain falls down in the form of a torrent of artillery from enemy planes, causing these very same magicians to “be rent to pieces for having summoned the plague.” 

It is perhaps this awareness of both the effectiveness and the futility of poetry as a political tool (in the first case, as rhetoric and propaganda; in the second case, as poièsis, an action for its own sake) that prompts Aragon to fuse the mythical past of medieval tales to the urgency of the Resistance, in a poem that is both hermetically turned inward while vociferously calling for action. Still influenced by the surrealist quest for a “point of the spirit” where all contradictions cease to exist, in Brocéliande Aragon writes on the cusp of external reality and a surrealist, magical unconscious.

Simon Rogghe is a poet and fiction writer. He was born in Philadelphia and grew up in Belgium. After traveling in the US and Europe competing at horse shows as a professional rider, he found a home in the Bay Area. When not working on his PhD in French literature, he also translates French surrealists as well as contemporary fiction. He is the author of Green Lions, a collection of poetry and artwork in collaboration with Zarina Zabrisky (Numina Press, 2014). His work is published in over twenty literary journals, including 3:AM Magazine, Gone Lawn, Lunch Ticket, and Inventory.

Louis Aragon (1897-1982) was one of the founding members of the French surrealist movement, known in particular for his experimental work Le Paysan de Paris (1926). Aragon authored numerous novels and poetry volumes throughout his life, always with a keen awareness of the (at times porous) boundaries between prose and poetry, due to the fact that Aragon’s aspirations as a novelist were at odds with the more dogmatic surrealist principles stipulated by André Breton. Aragon joined the Communist Party in 1927, was immobilized during World War II and received a medal for acts of bravery.

 

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Lida Nosrati translating Ahmad Pouri

Chapter One
Tehran

1

 The tall, curly-haired young man makes it seem like he’s ready to help me. I tell him I’m looking for a book I spotted on the sales rack just a few days ago. A book with a brown jacket featuring a picture of the Kremlin Square and a silhouette of Anna Akhmatova on it. He squints his eyes, furls his eyebrows, letting out an ‘Anna Akhmatova’ through his sealed teeth. 
You can tell he doesn’t recognize the name. I come to his rescue, ‘There’s no mention of Akhmatova’s name on the cover. The title is something like An Encounter …’
An Encounter With the Poet, ’”a deep scratchy voice interrupts me. And then gives out the full title in English. 
I turn around and see a man standing behind me. Slender, a bit shorter than medium-height, almost sixty. I hadn’t noticed him. ‘The account of Anna Akhmatova and Zoshchenko’s meeting with foreign students in Leningrad, am I right?” he goes on. 
He was right. That’s exactly why I’m interested in the book. I didn’t have enough money on me to buy it the other day. ‘There was only one copy. And I bought it,” he says playfully. 
The young man is happy he doesn’t have to solve any problems anymore. The look in his eyes begs me to let him off the hook so he can attend to other things. I do. The man continues, “The much-sensationalized meeting of November 1954, a year after Stalin’s death.”
He talks with such confidence you can tell he knows much more about this. He has a strange accent, hard to pin down to any particular region in Iran. More like a foreign accent. 
“Have you read the book?” I ask. 
“Yes, I finished it. It was good. Contained almost all the questions and answers. The author, himself a student in those years, was present at that meeting. He was a bit displeased with Anna Akhmatova and how conservatively she answered the questions but praised Zoshchenko. You must remember that a few years before this meeting they were both dismissed from the Writer’s Union. All of this engineered by Zhdanov. He was the one who called Akhmatova ‘the whore nun’.”
I tell him I’ve read some on this. The depth of his knowledge intrigues me. “I’m translating a collection of poetry by Akhmatova. So I’m reading every book about her I can get my hands on.”
“May I ask your name?”
He gleams at hearing my name and reaches out to shake my hand, “Yes, I’ve read your translations of other poets. Pat on the back!”
Which leaves me wondering if he liked them or not.  I’m glad we’re now in that familiar terrain where it feels appropriate for me to ask something, or to ask for something.  I’m barely done when he says, “Sure. The book is all yours. I’ve read it already. Seems like you need it more than I do. By the way, which language do you translate Akhmatova from?”
“English. But I know enough Russian to compare it with the original.”
“You know Russian?”
“I wouldn’t say I know it. I’ve taught myself, with books and Linguaphone cassettes. But I stubbornly try to read the Russian text, with the help of dictionaries.”
“That’s great,” he laughs. “So, you haven’t taken any courses?”
“No, Russian is not as popular as English, you know. Earlier on, I had a teacher from Baku who worked in an import-export company. I took a few lessons with him in introductory Russian. But then he left Tehran and I continued on my own. It’s a difficult language.”
“It’s not difficult at all,’”he shook his head. “Depends what you compare it with. If it were, you wouldn’t have learned anything at all, given the limited means there are.”
I have a feeling he knows Russian. 
“How about you? Do you know Russian?”
“Russian is my mother tongue.”
Mystery solved. He was not Iranian. 
“But you speak Persian perfectly well.”
“My English and French are better than my Persian.”
He must have seen my jaw drop. He laughed, “I’ve lived a few years in each. And I’ve been living in Iran for over ten years now.”
I decided this was not the time to curb my curiosity, “If I may be so bold to ask, you work as a…?”
“Researcher. Of history, contemporary history to be more precise. That’s why I came to Iran.”
I thought getting to know him might help me with my translation of Akhmatova, and nervously suggested, “It would be great to have a chat if you have an hour to spare.”
“Gladly!’”he replied. “Let me pay for these books and we’ll go chat over a cup of coffee somewhere.”
I’m over the moon. I have lots of questions. Outside the Book City on Hefaz Street, at the foot of the steps, he asks if I know anywhere around here and already has a thought while I’m still wondering, “There’s a cozy little café around the corner, on Sana’ee Street. Not too far from here. We can walk there. The owner is Armenian. The coffee and the cakes are the best.”
I readily agree and we start walking. Were it not for the particular interrogative intonation he ended his sentences with, it would be impossible to think of him as non-native speaker of Persian. He must have quite a knack in learning languages. One of those people who don’t put too much effort into it. 
The café on Sana’ee Street is a fairly small room with a dozen square tables for two or four and an aged wooden counter behind which stands an old man of medium height with a full head of grey hair and a bony rectangular face. The shelf above him is lined with bottles of fizzy drinks and juices of all kinds. 
Between the counter and the wall, on his right, a small display cabinet lined with fluorescent light contains a variety of cakes on a glass shelf. To his left, is the coffee machine with a few sugar bowls, coffee and cocoa powder canisters and a milk jug on top. The owner knows my companion. He greets him warmly. We sit at one of the tables by the window, facing the street. 
“You’d like some coffee?”
“Sure.”
“Great!” he smiles, “but allow me to pick the cake because the one I pick is to be found nowhere in Tehran. It’s homemade by his wife. He says he’s been carrying this cake for forty years and the recipe is top secret.”
He talks about Akhmatova in such great detail it’s as if they’d lived together for years. 
“Have you done any research on Akhmatova?”
“No, no!’” he corrects me in a rush, “Akhmatova is one of my most favorite poets. I knew her personally and followed her work closely. I was even about to publish one of her poetry collections under her own supervision.”
“You must have been quite young then.”
“No, I was about the same age as I am now,” he replies casually. 
He is silent. I look at him, perfectly puzzled. He doesn’t seem like he’s joking. He’s looking down, playing with the sugar bowl on the table, and doesn’t feel like he owes me any explanation. 
He notices my shock, and changes the topic, “The encounter the author talks about in this book occurred a year after Stalin’s death. Murmurs of dissent could be heard here and there, but the air of terror among people, especially artists like Akhmatova, still prevailed. Those days, Akhmatova’s son was arrested again, and her third husband, Punin, had died in the forced labor camp. For fear of his son being persecuted even more, Akhmatova did not appear much in literary circles and talked rarely when she did. Meeting with the students would have been dangerous for her. Later she said somewhere, ‘The students, especially the English ones, wanted me and Zoshchenko to criticize the party and our dismissal from the union. Zoshchenko did this very softly and he received a warm applause form the audience. When came my turn, one of the students asked what I thought of the party’s decision and Zoshchenko’s statements. I said I thought both the party and Zoshchenko were right. And no one applauded.’ ’’
The slender man shakes his head, “Those were horrible days. The kids in the hall could not understand Akhmatova. She said to someone later, ‘in those three hours, I saw the storm brewing. I thought my beloved Lev will be taken for another interrogation the day after.’ ’’
“Lev?”
“Her son. Lev Gumilev. As I said he was imprisoned in the camp those days.”
I was getting impatient with all this curiosity building up, “You knew Akhmatova personally?”
“Yes. Her second husband, Shileiko, and I were classmates at the university. We studied history together. I got to know Anna Andreuevna through him. Although I knew her poetry before.”
My breath catches. On Sana’ee Street in Tehran in 1994 sits a man before me who claims he was friends with Anna Akhmatova who’s been dead for over thirty years now. He notices my disbelief but pretends he hasn’t. He lets my mind swing from one side to another in utter confusion. 
“This is the second time in my life I am so shocked,” I say, “the other time was when I saw Dr. Jalal Sattari in a publisher’s office …”
“Jalal Sattari who writes on myths?”
“Yes. When he heard I’d translated a book by Nazim Hikmet he casually said, ‘He’s a great poet. I met him in Germany. His personality was as fine as his poems.’ ’’
The slender man laughed aloud, “What’s so strange about meeting a famous person?”
“Famous people are part of history,” I explained. “One thinks they only live in books. Now, Sattari’s meeting with Nazim Hikmat, as strange as it may seem, could be plausible. But your friendship with Akhmatova is quite bizarre. We’re talking forty, fifty years ago. How old were you back then?”
“I told you, I was the same age as I am now,” he says in a serious tone.
He completely ignores my confusion. And you can’t tell from his face if he’s joking or not. I don’t know what to say. I’d rather talk to him some more, hoping we get somewhere. I go back to Akhmatova. 
“Maybe Akhmatova wouldn’t have had much fame outside the Soviet Union, had it not been for the Cold War years.”
He stares into the void outside the window.
“For many in the West,  Akhmatova enslaved in Stalin’s chains took more prominence than Akhmatova the poet. But the truth is she was a great poet. The world is rediscovering her, now that many things have changed. One of the few people who talked about Akhmatova in those days was Isaiah Berlin.”
“The British philosopher you mean?”
“Not so much a philosopher,” he corrects me gently, ‘as a thinker. And also not British, but Russian. Berlin was in Russia until the age of fifteen. He then immigrated to England with his parents and became a naturalized citizen.”
“Really? I didn’t know Berlin was Russian. Now that you say that many things are starting to fall into place for me. His writings on Pasternak and Akhmatova, his book Russian Thinkers.”
“Seems like you’ve done a thorough reading of his works,” he says with an air of content. 
“Actually no. I haven’t read any of his philosophical or political works. But I’ve read everything he’s written on literature. I know he’s written quite extensively on music as well. He’s an interesting man. I read somewhere that he was at some point one of the high-ranking officials of the British Consulate in Moscow and met Akhmatova too.”
He looks me in the eye for a second and whispers, “November 1945, in Fontanka, Leningrad.”
The café owner who seems to function as a waiter too approaches us with a beautifully delicate wooden tray. Two cups of coffee sit on two flower-patterned saucers, and next to them are two elaborately patterned plates with a knife and fork on the side and a chocolate cake in each. He waits for the slender man to move his arms so he could put the plates and coffees on the table. My companion reaches out to get the coffee cups from him and takes a good whiff with his eyes closed before putting them on the table, “Wow! Thank you so much.”
Noosh-e jan!”, says the owner as he puts the rest of the items on the table. “Can I bring you anything else?”, he asks with the same friendly smile. 
“No, thank you very much!” says the slender man gently tapping on the owner’s arm. 
I pick up where we left off. 
“You must have known Isaiah Berlin too.”
“In fact, I somehow arranged that infamous meeting. That same day, I saw him in the Writers Bookstore on Nevsky Prospect in Leningrad. The bookstore was a hub for people looking for old and rare books. That day I was looking for a history book. I overheard someone asking the store clerk about Soviet authors. Among the authors, he was particular about Akhmatova. He wanted to know whether she was still alive. The bookseller knew about my friendship with Akhmatova. So he sent him over to me and basically freed himself from the burden of a headache. Talking to a foreigner, particularly about Anna Andreyevna, was not the wisest thing to do. I told him Akhmatova was still alive and was a friend of mine. 
“I asked his name and realized he’s the famous Isaiah Berlin whose essays I had read in the journals friends brought from abroad from time to time. He was really eager to meet Akhmatova. I called Akhmatova right then and asked for a time to meet. She was reluctant for a moment. Her son, Lev, had just been released from prison. She didn’t want to get into trouble yet again. But when she heard the man was Russian and was more interested in her poetry than the political stories surrounding her, she agreed to meet with him that same afternoon. That day, I took Berlin to Anna myself.”
He raises his cup and cautiously brings it to his lips. Takes a small sip and puts it back on the saucer. I’m confused. I don’t know why he has started this game. I say in complete distrust, “Interesting! You take Isaiah Berlin to Akhmatova in Leningrad half a century ago and are now telling me the story in Iran.”
“What’s wrong with me being friends with Akhmatova and bringing a guest to her?”
I’m almost losing it. 
“In that case, you must be a hundred and something years old now.”
He laughs aloud. “Don’t be so hung up on time and years. When I met Berlin in London some years ago he spent a whole hour trying to sort out the dates and figure out why I’ve stayed so young. Poor Berlin was even more stunned than you are because he said I hadn’t changed a bit since the time he saw me at the bookstore. He insisted this must be a miracle of nature. Berlin is a rationalist. For him, everything must pass through the filter of logic. That’s why I don’t blame him too much. But why you? You are a man of letters and into poems and poetry. You of all people should take it more easily. What is time after all? An arbitrary line, with past on one side going all the way back to darkness. And future on the other, ending up again in darkness in a step or two. We’ve all somehow accepted this and keep going on with our lives. Sometimes, one of us deviates. We slip to this side of the line being the past, or to the other side being the future. This happens all the time. Look around you. You sure have seen completely unnatural things. A baby born with two heads, or another born with a tail. I don’t know, thousands of such examples. Or a man who dreams of his long-dead father. In the dream, the father gives him directions to a chest full of the money he had saved. The son goes right to the chest and becomes rich overnight.” He laughs playfully. 
I take a sip of my coffee. It’s thick and bitter but tasty. 
“Isn’t it delicious?”
I agree. 
“I told you, no one serves a coffee as good as Monsieur’s in Tehran. And the cake. Try some.”
The cake is delicious too. Who is this man? Is he mad? Doesn’t seem to be. I remember a few years ago I was at home on a weekend when I heard Vangelis on TV for the first time. The tune always broadcast a few seconds before the news. I suddenly had a strange feeling. A very clear image conjured up before my eyes. I saw myself seated on a chair in a sidewalk patio of a café in a city in Europe waiting for someone. The image was so detailed I could have sketched every bit of it on paper had I been an artist. Even the narrow cobblestoned street on my right winding uphill seemed so real, as if I had walked on it a hundred times. The music was cut and all the images evaporated. A few days later I heard the tune again and the same images reappeared with the same clarity. 
I must have thought all these aloud because the slender man said, “You don’t believe it so you try to somehow justify it.”
“Exactly! I thought maybe I’ve seen the street or the café years ago in a movie with this soundtrack and now I’m pulling those images out from the back of my mind.”
The man lets out a short sigh and stares at his half full cup of coffee smiling.
“It’s always been like that. Humans have always wanted to find answers to their questions. And when that becomes impossible, they try to somehow convince themselves with a made up answer. Basically they explain things. The reason is very clear. When we get to a point where we can’t understand existence we get nervous. We look for a ray of light in a dark endless desert and at the end we somehow try to hold on to even a flicker of light, heave a sigh of relief and go on with our lives.”
He looks like he’s talking to himself. He doesn’t look at me and speaks in a half-voice. Suddenly he looks into my eyes. 
“So what happened in the end, to your music and dream?”
What happened really? Nothing. It’s still with me and every time I hear it I am transported to the same café, same street, same clear images. I feel brave. It’s the first time I’m talking about all this with no fear of being ridiculed. I’m not holding back anymore. Whenever I tell these things to people around me, especially Guity, I waste no time to say I don’t believe in any of it before they start lecturing me. But the slender man has opened the door of a house for me, into which I can step without trepidation and peek into its rooms and back closets. 
I share another secret with him. 
“Years ago, a couple of friends and I were going to a pub in Edinburgh, Scottland. I’m sure you know what a pub is. Something like our own qahveh khaneh, coffee houses. One of them suggested we go to the ‘End of the World’ on Cannon Gate street. He said the pub is 200 years old. He asked if I’d been there before. I said I hadn’t. Down the slope on Cannon Gate on our way to the pub, I suddenly remembered the rest of the street and the little shops on it. ‘Do you mean the pub next to the barber’s?’ I asked them.
“‘So, you’ve been there before,’ asked the friend who had suggested going there. I said no but I explained all the details of the building and pub’s interior to them. They were in disbelief. Everything was correct down to the last detail. Eventually they believed me when I said I had never been there. One of them said, ‘Sometimes these things happen. The French call it déjà vu.’ And the other joked, ‘The pub has been engrained in mankind’s collective subconscious. God bless Jung’s soul!’ and we all laughed.”
The slender man stared at me without smiling. You could tell he was thinking about a distant thought. There was a moment of silence. I ate the rest of the cake. Suddenly as if startled awake he says, “so you too slip to this side of the line sometimes.”
He looks serious but I jokingly say, “I try not to slip in any direction.”
He ignores my flippant tone. “This is beyond our control. We all do.”
“So you must have slipped to the other side. The future.”
He doesn’t smile. He agrees. Everything seems complicated all of sudden. I can’t read the situation. “By they way, I don’t know your name yet,” I say. 
He blinks absentmindedly and says, “Oh, of course. I’ll give you my card.”
He reaches into his pocket for an old leather wallet, pulls out a card from one of the small folds, and hands it over to me. It’s a simple card. One side is in Russian and the other side in English. In the middle of the card in fairly large font is written “V. N. Orloff.” With the name underlined, and two words underneath: “Historian, Literary Critic.” At the bottom of the card, on the Russian side, there’s a Leningrad address and a London address on the English side. No phone number. No other words. I thank him. 
“Can I have your phone number?”
“Of course! I’ll give you my phone number and address,” he says eagerly. “I’d be very happy if you’d visit me. I live by myself and have many books on Akhmatova, even her poetry books. You may find them useful.”
“I’m sure I will. I would love to see you again,” I say. 
He looks for a piece of paper on which to write his address. I pull out a small notebook from my bag and rip out a page and give it to him with a pen. In very nice handwriting, in Persian, he writes, “Sohrevardi Jonoubi, South of Russel Pharmacy, Aqiq Alley, No. 53, 2nd floor, third bell from the bottom.”
And writes his phone number underneath. 

Translator’s Note

Early in my path as a literary translator in Iran, I became familiar with Ahmad Pouri’s translations of Nazim Hikmet, Nizar Qabbani, Pablo Neruda and Anna Akhmatova. Reading Pouri’s masterful translations was nothing short of a directed reading course, an encounter with the translator. In one of my visits to Tehran a few years ago, I chanced upon a novel entitled Two Steps This Side of the Line [Do Qadam Invar-e Khat], this time not translated but written by Pouri. I picked it up and finished reading it in the few remaining days of my stay. 

Two Steps this Side of the Line is a novel in seven chapters. The story set in Tehran, London, Baku and Leningrad, centers on Ahmad, an academic who is translating the poems of Anna Akhmatova. One day in a bookstore, he runs into a strange man who claims to be a close friend of the noted Russian poet. The man tells Ahmad that he can arrange a meeting between him and Anna, who has died nearly fifty years ago, but that first he needs to fly to London to collect a love letter Isaiah Berlin has written her and take it to Anna in Russia. To the surprise of Ahmad’s wife and friends, he is dragged into this maze, almost entirely willingly. 

That the novel has as its protagonist a literary translator made the decision to translate it an obvious and immediate one. Two Steps this Side of the Line is a story in which poetry and politics intertwine. It is a narrative of many layers: the love story involving Anna and Isaiah, the loveless married life Ahmad is leading, and his inner recollections. History, philosophy and psychoanalysis delicately coalesce in this book.

In another, more recent visit to Tehran, I had the fortune of meeting with Ahmad Pouri and discussed the translation of the work into English. He said he had delayed the thought until now because he wanted whoever translates the novel to ‘own’ the language. I cannot lay claim on owning either of the two languages at play here: my mother tongue, Farsi, or the tongue of my second home, English. With owning, comes proprietorship and with that comes the entitlement to profits and the responsibility for losses and liabilities.  All that at the individual level. And language is but a collective act. So I hope I have taken a step to ‘hold’ these two languages with care, here in this translation and beyond. The way one holds a fragile object or entity, like love. 

Lida Nosrati is a literary translator. Her poems and translations of contemporary Iranian poetry and short fiction have appeared in The Capilano Review, The Apostles Review, Words Without Borders, Dibur, and Lunch Ticket, among others. She has been awarded fellowships from the Banff International Literary Translation Centre, Yaddo, and Santa Fe Art Institute (as a Witter Bynner Poetry Translation Fellow). She lives and works in Toronto as a Legal Aid Worker in Refugee Law. Photo by Setareh Delzendeh.

Photograph by Mohamad Tajik

Ahmad Pouri was born in Tabriz, northwestern Iran, in 1953. He has translated more than 25 collections of poems and prose narratives including Letters of Chekov and Olga, and Politically Correct Bedtime Stories. His first novel, Two Steps This Side of the Line, was nominated for ‘Once Upon a Time Literary Award’ as well as the top prize of Golshiri Foundation for first-time novelists. His second novel, Behind the Mulberry Tree, failed to get the green light for publication from the Ministry of Culture. He is currently working on his third novel.

 

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Julia Bohm translating Catullus

XLVI.

Now spring brings back
not cold warms.
Now the rage of the spring sky
grows silent with the gold west wind
of Zephyr. 
O Catullus,
let the Phrygian plains be 
left behind 
& fertile (heated) fields of Nicaea;
let’s fly to the great cities of Asia.
Now my anxious mind 
wants to go,
now my happy feet 
become anxious.
Goodbye
sweet meetings of friends
whom different roads 
in different directions
take back 
having set out 
far from home
at the same time.

OR:

Now spring brings back
not cold warms.
Now the rage of the spring sky
grows silent with the gold west wind
of Zephyr. 
O Catullus,
let the Phrygian plains
be 
left behind 
& fertile (heated) fields of Nicaea;
let’s fly to the great cities of Asia.
Now my anxious mind 
wants to go,

now my happy feet 
become anxious.
Goodbye
sweet meetings of friends
whom
different roads 
in different directions
take back 
having
set out 
far from home
at the same time.

OR:

Now spring brings back 
warm 
Now the rage of the
sky grows silent


west wind
O
be 
left behind




now 


different roads set out
far from home

Translator’s Note:

I first came across this poem my junior year of high school. My school required we take three years of a language, which was how I ended up in Latin IV with Mr. Allen, an old man with a ponytail and a beard—exactly who you’d expect to be teaching a Latin class. We translated Catullus and Ovid, two ancient Roman poets. Both covered controversial subjects in their poetry; Ovid even got himself exiled from Rome because of it. Catullus, a great influencer of Ovid, wrote mainly about love and hate—as made apparent by one of his more famous couplets, Catullus 85. 

The poem I have translated is Catullus 46. It is not about love or hate. The lack of such content is anomalous for Catullus, whose work tends to focus more on the gritty, the dirty, and on Lesbia, his lover. I’ve often felt that Latin poetry translation has become convoluted over time. Whether through its syntax, word choice, or the ancient contexts most readers are not aware of, Catullus’ work seems to have lost its beauty. There are three parts to this translation because I didn’t want content to cloud meaning. I hoped to get at the heart of this poem by leaving only its bare bones.

Julia Bohm is a writer from Ann Arbor, Michigan. Her work can be found in Winter Tangerine, Public Pool, and Drunk in a Midnight Choir.




Catullus is a well known Roman poet. He lived from 84-54 BC. His work influenced many other famous Latin writers such as Ovid and Virgil. 

 

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