Jake Syersak translates Hawad

the squealing hinge of anarchy

Between the night and the moon,
slip the men needles
that the insomnia hones.
Between the moon and the tombs,
the men march.
Between the moon and the palm tree’s umbra
they slip, the men of the penumbra
of the men carrying rifles over their shoulders
and the tangles of byways and songs
of the men brambles of their dreaming
of the men footing the stony terrain
of the men reascending the night
over the countryside of the night,
of the men beard and revolt entwined,
arms of men,
they slip and sow the auroras,
whips whipping the days.
O men resistance fighters
traversing the twilight
already you are the arms of the aurora
and the tree of day
do not forget women,
roots and crown of the day.

Winch animal,
we extend the rope of the resistance
between the deserts and the mountains
across the lower back and the vertebrae
of the dunes and stony terrain.

You ask me what becomes of the well?
The well is our abyssal gaze.
Woe to every last city and prison
that would set themselves between our assailing
impulse of cheetahs
looting their own lightning-flight.

You, the engineer of I’m unsure which
now I know you!
It’s you, the brain without soul,
computers of the World Bank.
And you as well I see you
its double, its accomplice,
the key to the strongboxes of the IMF.
Oh you who capitalized from the expulsion
of the live skeletons of my brothers,
ripped away and thrown out by the excavators
like a pile of bone onto the landfills,
by monotonous decrees recited to the crowds
of Banana Republics and their cannibalistic
who observe them while salivating,
yes, you, do not fret.
You are going to drink us,
we the cancer and its AIDS thirsting
within the tempest of sand
and within the embers of our lands
which fear no hurricanes from the
Stock Exchange.
Hey you, the ex-colonial schoolteacher turned
and you, the ex-legionnaire, and you the ex-priest
of the pacification castration of ours,
and you the ex-flesh-peddler rehabilitated as
each an epoch of ex-inflatable sex organs,
we are on the verge of snipping the hocks and
of your virility.

Woe to you, brother of ours,
you, ear-throat of the parrot,
reduced to a mercenary’s lifestyle.
Yes, it’s to you that I speak,
apprentice chef to all the boiling sauces
where the tough tendons of your mother are simmering,
you, tomorrow, before even the pestle of the aurora
grinds the night away for birthing day,
we will be applying a plunger to your cranium
and will wed you to the enraged corpse
of an adolescent rebel.

And you over there,
in the markets of Timbuktu, of Agadez,
of Ghat, of Tamanrasset,
over the frayed ends of exoticism
and the shreds of barbed wires from defrocked States
by the concerto of rockets and machine-gun fire,
we will force you to dance this newly in-vogue tango,
the tango of all our swirling navels
the march of the combatants
swaying and sashaying
and falling and rising
and bending at the knees for another leap,
and, like a sling, twirling,
crying, stretching out and correcting,
spurts of blood and drool merged into bullets,
molten copper and bronze leaving grief in their wake,
work of your technicians.

Night and twilight,
noon and aurora,
otherwise hesitant palpitations,
epileptic blinks of day dying off
like a bird in our hands,
o desert,
through every facet of your view, you know
and we have drunk the light of your gaze
to the point of swallowing the projector of your pupils.
O sun, give life to our combatant mothers
who rear up in ululations, frenzies,
and burst the enclosure of their wombs, burden
by famine, thirst and sterility,
for treading the Adam’s apple of death.
Under the circling birds of prey,
the mothers, our mothers, horses of the dunes,
arch themselves across the slippery back of chaos.
O rebel mothers,
our mothers, pillars
underneath the storm of the vultures,
arms of our mothers stretched out toward the heavens
prolonging our assault.

Praise to the mothers,
our mothers with bare hands,
armed forces of the umbilical cord of abortions,
our ephemeral brothers
who dissuade the sky
from dissolving on the wind.
Wind groaning from the heights,
you as well, you have become ourselves.
See how we loot our armories
not only from the talons of the adversary
but also from the arms of our precocious brothers
who were unable to grow nine months
but who already, by their vigor,
oval burp of a cannon,
have burst from the cavities of the wombs of their mothers.
Straps and belts of our resistance fighters,
rough scrolls, offspring of our mothers,
o progenies, you who were
never able to not be enveloped
by either the bosom of your mothers,
or the womb of the earth,
haunted by the tirailleurs of Paris.
Comrade, you, echo of our groanings.
if tomorrow those from the BBC ask you
who arms the resistance of the south of Tamazgha
yell into the lobes of their ears:
Those who serve the administration of the IMF
and the Bank of France
above all as they force us to eat
the corpse of the elderly and infants
parents and brothers.

By the sanctity,
brain and manure of my jenny,
I swear to you my brother,
sad solitary owl, comrade,
I swear to you that there remains
fire enough in the teats of the word
to nourish the resistance
of the world’s causes
already lost.

I will accept no prophecy,
no light, shadows or colorlessness,
outside the red and furious gaze
of a broken resistance fighter
who continues to project their poison
on the eyesight of your deities.

A resistance to the abducted voice
is an atomic bomb.
I offer it to all those
who desire to wreck the brain of their deities.

Our corpses, several times worked over,
our corpses that the diktat
of the tanks and the decrees
did not permit return
to the placenta of the earth,
our corpses are explosives
and I lend them out to all those expulsed
from the inheritance of the world’s
banks here below.
Our corpses are explosives.

For every people assassinated on its earth,
there is no armory more sure
than the interdiction of restoring its martyrs
to the bosom of the earth.
All the other baggage of the resistance,
they are the ascensions of vultures
who disperse them on the wind
like the epileptic and contagious allergy
of violence.

You, good people,
imagine a whole people,
one people for whom their ghosts,
like ants,
work night and day.

Spun into one, en vrille, they march,
defecating blood,
bullet-lead, their souls,
but, like ghosts, they march,
gaze drawn and reddened
stretched between their faces and their lives
from the bottom of the void of their march,
they march,
they march in the semblance of the gaze,
outside the field of eyes,
they march, the exacerbated gait, terror,
they march and sing,
beyond the well over which was built
the prison of visionless windows
squinting through the uvula of machine guns.

Over there over beyond the void,
their gaze seeks a brotherly eye,
a twin echo
to their lamenting and laughter
ricocheting from their groaning.
Behind them, in front of them, the desert,
plains of pebbles and curved muscles of the dunes,
is transformed into fields
of cartridge casings and bullet shells,
regimes and rosaries of death
emptied into their chests,
shields of their bodies.

We are the near and the far,
the humanity ripening on the branches
high and low
of a single palm tree liberty,
pride and generosity
unified into a single orderly insurgence
measuring up to every view.
Tell me,
where are the free men
thirsting after its sap
and ensuing dates?
Are we the ones,
we who know how to let loose streams of urine
over the springs of gods
with clear waters
only to drink wrongly
the brackish sweats and tannins,
slime on the flayed face of the horizon
filthy rival that our heels a thousand times have planed.
O horizons!
curves of the gaze
dreams that squint
joined by the wilding of the march.

Around the environs of North America
over the tower of Wall Street
the rainbow affixes its rings
to forecast the lull of the storm.
But this is nothing more than pretense.
a vulgar elegance,
a game of Arab numerals.
The truth is something else,
the truth, our armory, strikes out
against the supercilious arcades of the sky.
Above Mexico,
the tempest stammers,
The Pacific Ocean vociferates,
the truth is our sword,
the thunder grumbles,
the lightning strikes,
this is the truth, our armory,
the earth trembles,
the mountains are avalanches and sands,
our truth,
the stones, swells and babbling lavas
of the cosmic fusion,
truth, our truth
sworn in by the vengeance of pebbles.
Vengeance ascends our truth once again,
jackdaw truth, cawing
ringworm, tuberculosis, and the plague
over the eagle of the U.S. Army.
While the woodpecker wears away NASA
and the Ariane’s rockets.
Oh Zapatistas, launchers of thistles,
rust from the Mayan Aztec Incan javelins,
here is our truth,
that which we have in common.
Zapatistas, fear not the rage
nor the metamorphosis of our truth.

And now for our truth,
reinforcement, solidarity, exchanging
of arms and sorrows,
between the splintered truths,
links of pupils torn out
and nerves knotted
into the view of the truth,
our truth.
Right here right here,
the two pillars,
lung and heart,
right here right here
the javelins,
the cries of combat and gazes
uprooted from the tombs of the great desert.
Right here, right here.
Take them,
gift of solidarity,
plant them beneath the theatre of the fight,
do not worry,
they are extremely sturdy,
they have drunk the marrow of the resistance
only to suspend
the gazes of your fighters,
our truth.

For the truth that we have in common
by the rope of sorrow,
right here,
these two honed meteorites,
two of our war cries,
right here in my hand,
quick, grasp them, seize them,
two passwords,
shove them into the wide open orbital-falsehood
of the world snoring on the shoulder
of our truth.

O you, Chicana,
stud and belt of the suburbs of Los
mash a bit of hamburger and ketchup
against the front of their television,
and it will eclipse their aurora,
Chicana Yasida,
listen and you will hear yet
another of our truths, our armory,
from the east of the European cold, Chicana,
over the Caucasian mountains,
recall the solitary cry of the Chechen
listen to them strip the feathers off the Kremlin hens.
What a mess of feathers, down and furs,
petticoats and tails of blonde hens
thrust into the air.
Long live the wolves
of Caucasia and Tartay,
hairs on end,
long live the insurrection,
the howling of the wolves of Caucasia and Tartary!
turn your gaze
toward the mountains of Kurdistan,
Chicana, wed the gaze of hopelessness
to this child condemned
by the United Nations
to be the manure of Mesopotamia,
the country of Cham and Eastern Anatolia.
It is, among thousands,
one of our lightning strike truths,
our truth.

All this wind is the truth, our truth.
However the evident truth of our truth
is to say no,
no to the yes of the truth of the enemy
of our truth.
Chicana, embrace the Amazonian toucan
which has just traversed the Panama canal
to slip hallucinogenic
into the heart of the Navajo and Apache
embrace it
embrace the toucan, Chicana,
it is the soul of the uncle of our truth,
the Apache Geronimo
reincarnated as the spirit of the Grand Canyon.

Chicana, every falsehood enflaming
a trampled people
is the truth, our truth.
Every fringe soaked in blood,
every dead-end where the already lost
dreams of other countries exhaust themselves,
all the bent gazes
are the nerve running up the apex of my broken nose.
Everything is I
outside of whose feet by their own free will
wear the boots of the army of Algeria,
of Bamako, of Niamey,
who rend the view of the Tuaregs,
simply because they see
further than their frontiers.


Translator’s note:

Hawad composes his work in his native Tuareg tongue of Tamazight, in Tifinagh script, which is then co-translated into French with his wife, Tuareg scholar Hélène Claudot-Hawad. Hawad’s work is unique for its deployment of what he has coined “Furigraphy” (a therapeutic poetics involving the frenetic repetition of words, gestures, sounds, and images to evoke a vertiginous and obsessional rhythmic trance), a means by which he achieves “Surnomadism” (a nod to both Surrealism and the nomadic heritage of the Tuareg people). Surnomadism, according to Hawad, is a literary transcendence of the self to encompass ubiquity and escape the superficial physical and mental constraints of time and space, to investigate the breach between the inner and outer self, the self and others, and the past, present, and future. Common themes of his poetry include anti-colonial resistance, Anarchism, exile, nomadism, and the prolongation of Tuareg heritage.


Jake Syersak received his MFA from the University of Arizona and his PhD in English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Georgia. He is the author of Yield Architecture (Burnside Review Press, 2018) and several chapbooks. He edits Cloud Rodeo, an online poetry journal, and co-edits the micro-press Radioactive Cloud.

Hawad is a visual artist and poet originally from the Aïr region in the central Sahara. He is the author of multiple collections of poetry, including the recent Furigraphie: Poésies, 1985-2015.




Marguerite Feitlowitz translates Ennio Moltedo

Four Poems by Ennio Moltedo, from La Noche (1999)


Birthdays, celebrations. I died when it was time to go to high school. Since then we’ve seen only exhumations and the ongoing examinations—legal and illegal, under water or lit by the moon—so today I’m asking for a little peace, a natural interval in which to behold the meager imagination deployed in observances for the dead.

Landscapes, communal feats and faces immortalized in bank calendars; traveling families and sports teams beaming for the comic camera; academics and diplomats holding a forum in the Republic of Cunaní.

But what, dear God, do you say if what matters most is the photo.
Never forget the photo.


I denounce him with this cup of tea, says the young woman, snuffing out the porcelain by closing her eyes. I denounce them with this toast to good manners, says the industrialist from his armchair, signaling for some to enter and others to leave, directing every detail.

The curtain is coming down—who would have imagined it after so many years of experimental theatre—the cups of tea, the have-a-seats, the make-yourselves-at-home, the slaps-on-the-back between ourselves—because, it seems, that all that art and love is history —and, however much, morning or night, it’s recollected or blamed—who?

At times, it becomes necessary to soften the drama, reach for consensus and set the table with glasses and cups and gold-leaf gilding—where did these lovely old things come from—so that in this act everything will again become clear and possible and the past will be forgotten and I, director or actor, will have no illicit present or principles or sad endings.

I remember nothing and no one and all these lights and electronics are powerless to bring any of it back.


Write me a law, write it by hand. A law that lays down a life sentence: to read and listen to poetry. Including the epic, with its pre-fab prosody and caterpillar cadence: rhymed gunshots and bared breasts to excite the listener, and then what happens, happens.

Write me a law with a gold-tipped pencil on a table in the burnt-out palace so I can legally—always legally—spend the rest of my life safe and snug and laughing at all the movies.

A law, a law so we can breathe! Or at least an ordinance, something simple and local that will let us live in some cranny while the wind carries off—or carries in?—the sound of guns.


Eternal past of the chichi present: it returns in the form of electric shocks to what remains of our country: wiring and bright statistics in the precincts of war—smoke and swagger—and moving parts that appear with just a touch of the finger, like packaged pudding, thanks to the science devoted to envelopes, lids, and tubes to the void; a similar specialty: inflated diving suits and trash bags and private-practice surgery until the last breath of hope that life’s rhythm will be eternal, a trademarked fantasy, available on shelves and in heaps and piles of discarded old knock-offs; family choruses of instructions and edifying stories for children; but the terror, bottled and placed on our path between gardens, is stronger, a preamble to war, persistent to this day in the trembling of the chin—do you remember the film-interview, just outside the garden, when the connection, at nightfall?—Eternal is the past of the chichi present.

translator’s note:

The Hollow Pillars of the Law: Ennio Moltedo’s Chilean Night

In one of his final interviews, carried out with the Chilean journalist and scholar Montserrat Madariaga, Ennio Moltedo recounted an anecdote that bears on the poems in this edition of Anomaly. He was strolling with a friend in the gardens of the Federico Santa María Technical University in Valparaíso and happened upon a large cube constructed as an architectonic homage to engineering. He drew close, knocked on the surface, and found, to his surprise, that it was hollow. This gave him some ideas. Not long after, he bade a friend to accompany him to the National Congress; you’re my witness, he called out, then strode up the grand steps that are flanked by two enormously imposing columns. Rapping on them with his knuckles, he found that they were hollow: the pillars of the law supported nothing.

And the scales of justice? What did they support—the licit or illicit; due process or its mere appearance? Moltedo often noted that during Pinochet’s dictatorship, Parliament was shuttered but the judiciary still functioned—as an arm of the military regime. Legal terminology abounds in Moltedo’s poems, and usually leads us into territory that is chillingly surreal.

Moltedo wrote four books of poetry during and about the Pinochet dictatorship. La Noche, excerpted here, won a major prize and is the book for which the poet is best known. Consisting of 113 prose poems, it is full of tightly-controlled rage, resistance, and mourning. Although the writing is concise, there is a range of registers: lyrics and miniature epics; high dramas and alternate realities; as well as precise renderings of the sea and coastline, old city streets and corners, and the blight of nouveau-riche construction. Moltedo can be marvelously grouchy about modernization, and funny into the bargain; but his moral compass never wavers.

Born into a family of Genoese immigrants, Moltedo was deeply rooted in the adjacent coastal cities of Valparaíso and Viña del Mar. The sea is ever present in his poems—as backdrop or screen, as an elusive texture, or in cadences that are subtly tidal. There is a Mediterranean quality to much of his writing; and he is often compared with Cavafy, whose work he revered. As touchstones, Moltedo also named Tagore (“from the beginning”); Neruda (especially Residencia en la tierra); Gabriela Mistral (especially Lagar, her correspondence and her criticism); and Huidobro. It seems perfect that the Chilean publisher of Moltedo’s La Noche is called Altazor Ediciones, in tribute to Huidobro.

After his first book, Moltedo never again wrote lineated texts. In fact, he de-lineated his early poems. He searched within prose for interior rhythm and texture, for tense concision, and lyric expanse. However strange, his prose was not the prose of fiction; it was, he insisted, the poetry of political truth.


Marguerite Feitlowitz teaches literature at Bennington College, where she is Founding Director of Bennington Translates. The author of A LEXICON OF TERROR: Argentina and the Legacies of Torture, Feitlowitz translates the four genres from Spanish and French. Her newest translation publications include poems by Ennio Moltedo (in World Literature Today and Asymptote,) fiction by Luisa Valenzuela, poetry by Liliane Atlan, and memoir and sonnets by Salvador Novo. New original fiction appears in PANK, and an essay on the more personal aspects of her translating life is found at Entropy. Website: margueritefeitlowitz.com

Ennio Moltedo (1931–2012) spent his life in the small Chilean coastal cities of Valparaíso and Viña del Mar. A revered “poet’s poet,” he published eight collections and won numerous prizes. As Director of the University of Valparaíso Press, he championed the work of experimental poets (such as Pablo de Rokha) and prose writers (including María Luisa Bombal). His work is only now being translated into English (in World Literature Today and Asymptote) by Marguerite Feitlowitz, who learned of his work from a Santiago bookseller. She is translating both La Noche and Las Cosas Nuevas.




Katherine M. Hedeen and Olivia Lott translate Raúl Gómez Jattin

May the Girls Forgive Rafael Salcedo

I’m both a woman and a man   Forced to fold
from a gentle virility     A femininity
made tough from art takes over my heart
Still I’ve always loved a friend more

I’ve had women I adore right next to me
I gave Tania my heart on the stage
And we spoke
on the Bogotá streets and under the Cali night
My bones rattled before the clearness
in Margarita Bermúdez’s honey-colored grape eyes
My poems in Beatriz Castaño’s voice and music
are the feeling of a heart like mine

But a friend is a friend and I hope the girls can forgive him
They don’t put up with all my boozing like Rafael Salcedo
Like my sweetheart Rafa Salcedo Castañeda
Harmonious in a soul masculinity
like the vast cool breeze of the Universe
They don’t put up with so much mooching like
good old Rafa friend for life
Ciénaga’s celebrated    Beautiful tragic
like a bird caught in the storm

The Prince of the Sinú Valley

His feelings lighter than heron wings
and still as strong as their flight   His virility
a proud masculine prince arrogant dreamer   Carries
himself like he can’t help but love  Inherits
the land   Mythical zebus white and reddish
A carriage of wood and dark violet metal
Like his eyes   Where he keeps the Damascus night
His voice thunder watered down by the whisper of a breeze
Elegant like a desert horse   His ways
vestiges of Eastern ancestors smoking
hashish    The blackest eyelashes flicker the air
purple depths under ancestral addict eyes
He lies down on a pistachio-green silk cushion
Feeds on almonds   Olives   Rice
Raw meat with onion and wheat   Unleavened bread
Raisins   Sesame   Coconut   Tart yogurt
His colors black   Blue and magenta
His elements air and land   His spirit
like a young peasant god pushing away the harsh winter
To grant his strength to the countryside’s weak   His intimate
essence the endless boy within
the poet’s illusion and his mad wanting to reach him
in his full short-lived journey towards manhood
well-known to unhappy habits
His sense uncontested an arrow a heart pounding
from the sorrow of erotic bliss   His pleasure a full spilling
of the self over my dreams forsaken in his hands
His forever in me like a long-desired love
at the heart of every moment   Of every poem

Lola Jattin

Beyond the night twinkling in childhood
Beyond even my first memory
Is Lola –my mother– in front of a wardrobe
powdering her face and fixing her hair
She’s already gone thirty years beautiful and strong
and she’s in love with Joaquín Pablo –my old man–
She doesn’t know I’m hiding in her womb for whenever
the strength of her own life needs mine
Beyond these tears running down my face
her immense sorrow like a stab wound
is Lola –dead– still vibrant living
sitting on a balcony to watch the stars
when the swamp breeze messes up
her hair and she once again combs it
with some sort of concerted laziness pleasure
Beyond this instant gone by not coming back
I’m hidden in the flow of time
that takes me far away and now I just know
Beyond this poem killing me in secret
is old age –death– everlasting time
when both memories: my mother’s and mine
are just a lonesome memory: this verse

translators’ note:

Raúl Gómez Jattin (Cartagena, 1945–1997) was one of Colombia’s most outstanding—and controversial—literary figures. Admittedly, his work is not easily summed up in a typical biographical or introductory note. He hasn’t won any major literary awards, virtually all of his contemporaries shun his work, and the few critics who have recognized him haven’t been able to neatly locate his poetics within established generations or movements. Simply put: Gómez Jattin wrote in a way no Colombian poet has ever written before. His writing deviates from his country’s tradition, which has largely been characterized by its conservatism and academic rigidity. It, instead, centers on “taboo” or “obscene” themes that rarely appear in verse: drug use, mental illnesses, homelessness, the expression of unauthorized sexualities, and, for the first time in the Colombian tradition, an openly queer poetic subject.

While such topics can be easily sensationalized, what we find here is a deep dialogue with literary traditions, in and beyond the poet’s region. In this way, Gómez Jattin’s work not only challenges the heteronormative, but also all manifestations of the normative more broadly conceived. As a queer man of Syrian descent with no formal education in poetry, writing in a way that challenged long-established beliefs about what poetry should be and what poets should look like, he was viewed as a threat to the sanctity of Colombian verse, and his rightful place at the forefront of his country’s tradition has long been denied.

These translations are from our in-progress bilingual manuscript of his work, Almost Obscene: Poems.

Katherine M. Hedeen is a specialist in Latin American poetry and has both written extensively on and translated contemporary authors from the region. Her latest translations include In the Drying Shed of Souls: Poetry from Cuba’s Generation Zero (The Operating System) and Prepoems in PostSpanish (Eulalia Books), a chapbook by Ecuadorian neo-avant-garde poet Jorgenrique Adoum. She is an Associate Editor for Action Books, the Poetry in Translation Editor for the Kenyon Review and a two-time recipient of a NEA Translation Project Grant. She resides in Ohio where she is Professor of Spanish and Literary Translation at Kenyon College.

Olivia Lott’s translations of Colombian poetry have most recently appeared in Brooklyn Rail In Translation, The Kenyon Review, MAKE, Río Grande Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, Waxwing, and World Literature Today. She is the co-translator of Soleida Ríos’s The Dirty Text (Kenning Editions, 2018) and the translator of Lucía Estrada’s Katabasis (Eulalia Books, 2020). She is a Ph.D. Student and Olin Fellow in Hispanic Studies at Washington University in St. Louis, where she is writing a dissertation on translation, revolution, and Latin American neo-avant-garde poetics. 

Raúl Gómez Jattin (Cartagena, 1945–1997) was one of Colombia’s most outstanding poets and the author of seven books of poetry. He spent most of his adult life between psychiatric hospitals and the streets. As a queer man of Syrian descent writing in a way that broke with his country’s tradition, his rightful place at the forefront of Colombian poetry has long been denied. In 1997, he was tragically killed by a bus.




Robert Smith translates Yasmin Nigri

I Like You

I like you
The way I like string theory
And white holes
Which are the opposite of black holes
And allow the universe to stay
In constant expansion
There is no practical
Proof whatsoever
That white holes exist
But did you know that a pair of
Particles like an electron and an antielectron
Act as though they were entwined
And all we would need is a computer
Bigger than the universe
And atoms of our body
Entwined with free atoms
For us to be able to teleport
Anywhere in the multiverse
I like you
The way I like the things
Man has yet to reach



co-translated with Yasmin Nigri

like birds
who in landing
amputate the trees
i have not come because you are
the only company possible
i have not come because i get up
where you lie down
and we can say slowly
for lack of leaves
or smaller covers
all that suffocates us
our dry sleep
nor for this will we forgive
a single drop of dew
nor have i come because we have
sixteen hands between us
clouding this vision
that overruns everything
i have come because i love you
whether you save me
whether you savage me


translator’s note:

These poems appear in Yasmin Nigri’s debut collection Anvils, published by Editora 34 (São Paulo) in 2018. The bookis dedicated to women, especially Yasmin’s mother, whom she quotes, “I raised you alone in a misogynist world.”

“I Like You” is the first poem from the first section of “Yesterday’s Street,” which is composed of confessional poems that integrate memes, a discussion between a pedestrian and a reckless driver, reflections on being twenty-something in Rio de Janeiro, Rilke, and breath mints.

“Arrival” appears in the third section “Malevich Woman,”comprising poems about a relationship between two women, as well as personal and social observations which arose therein. These poems range from lyrical to erotic and humorous to meditative, and they address the turbulence of contemporary Brazil without allowing any form of negativity to eclipse the wonder of human relationships.

Translating these poems has been an eye opening and poetic experience. Communication with the author has been indispensable throughout. From the beginning, Yasmin encouraged me to “have fun” rendering these poems into English and take care that they read organically and did not sound as though they had been written in “translationese.” At one point, commenting on a line from a translation not featured here, she informed me that my translation had completely changed the meaning of the original, clearly explained the intended meaning of the text in Portuguese, remarked that the translation was interesting, and concluded by inviting me to keep it exactly as it was.

Whenever I localized memes or slang expressions at the expense of literal meaning, Yasmin’s comments were overwhelmingly in approval, and when I was perhaps overly worried about a technical aspect of a tricky line, her suggestions frequently leaned toward Gordian-knot type solutions, focusing not on what might be “lost in translation,” but rather on what stood to be gained by an essentially new rendition. Translating these poems into English and exchanging ideas thereon with their author has helped me grow as a translator. The experience was as enjoyable as it was challenging, so I can also say that I succeeded in having fun.

The process of translating the last line of “Arrival” explains why I have chosen to credit Yasmin as co-translator of this poem. In Portuguese, the final lines read:

vim porque te amo
e estou entre o céu e a corda

A possible “literal” translation might be:

I have come because I love you
and I am between the sky and the cord         

Whether the “cord” is a tightrope, an executioner’s noose, or something else entirely is left open. In any event, the literal rendering above was my initial choice. When I shared the translation with Yasmin, she asked me to rethink the last line and look for an alternative that maintained the original effect, giving primacy to sound without focusing too much on the words present in the Portuguese. I was stuck. It was the first time an author had asked me to take that sort of creative liberty with their work, and no alternatives came to mind.

A few weeks later, Yasmin sent me an e-mail suggesting the two lines featured here as a solution. She told me they were from the song “Lioness” by Jason Molina, aka Ohia. My first step was to look Ohia up on Wikipedia. Like Jason Molina, I was raised in the Midwest Region of the United States. The record label Secretly Canadian, which released most of his recordings, is located in Bloomington, Indiana, where I happened to have completed my university studies, during which phase of my life I can say that I was “into” indie music. All that said, I’d somehow never heard of Ohia before.

I found the song on YouTube and listened to it a few times while re-reading the original text of “Arrival” in Portuguese. During this process, I sensed Ohia’s aesthetic approaching Yasmin’s (The final section of Anvils also contains a poem titled “Lioness”), and for a moment I found myself wandering around in that part of the mind where there are no borders between languages, experiences, and expression. In her e-mail, Yasmin told me she felt the lyrics were closer to the effect she wished to produce than the literal translation. And she asked my opinion. It was one of infinite solutions that would never have crossed my mind, and I loved it. Like all forms of art, this experimental practice in translation poses multiple beguiling questions, without necessarily answering or wanting to answer any of them.


Robert Smith’s translations of contemporary Brazilian poetry have appeared/are forthcoming in New Poetry in Translation, The Brooklyn Rail, InTranslation, and Two Lines. Photo by Luan Magno.

Yasmin Nigri (b. Rio de Janeiro, 1990) is a poet, visual artist, and essayist. Her first book of poems, Bigornas, was published by Editora 34 in 2018. Her works have appeared in literary journals in Brazil and Portugal and in the anthology 50 poemas de revolta (Companhia das Letras, 2017). She is currently completing a doctorate in Philosophy at PUC-Rio. She is a co-founder and member of Disk Musa, a collective of women poets founded in 2015, and a contributor to Revista Caliban. She also shares her video-poems and other experiments on her YouTube channel.




Sherilyn Hellberg translates Jonas Eika

Bad mexican dog

There’s something special about the beach because I’m a beach boy. Something’s supposed to happen down at the beach. I remember the beach in Essaouira, Marseilles, San Juan, where it didn’t happen, and every night I looked up at a sky so blue between power lines it made my face hurt. Not because there’s anything special about the sky, only that it’s sometimes a very hard blanket stretched tight over my head, and which makes me feel an impassable distance; if I was in heaven I’d look up at Earth, blue between power lines. I’m a fifteen-year old, thin and brown-haired boy with green eyes. I strut straight and tall with a little curve in my back like a panther, small and bashful because no one notices me. Now I’m in Cancún, Mexico, and I’ve been standing here in front of the counter for a while now without being seen. It’s early in the morning, and the owner is fighting with his wife about a boy who quit without notice just today. I picked this beach club because the lion on its flag reminded me of an English tourist with a full beard who gave a big tip in Essaouira, Marseilles, or San Juan. The owner turns to me with short-fuse eyes, but before he gets the chance to tell me off this is what I say: 

“Word is you need a boy?”

“We always need boys,” the owner replies, “but are you a real beach boy?”

I say yes, I’m made of the right stuff, and list my previous employments.

“Alright then, follow me,” he says and walks around to the back of the square bamboo hut which is also the club’s bar and reception. He opens the door to an elongated storage room. Towels, fans, sunscreen, and after sun. Half-liter bottles of naturel mineral water in a cooler. The morning sun makes spots on my skin through the holes in the thatched wall. The owner throws a pair of black swim trunks and a white undershirt on the bench and tells to me to get changed. Then he leaves the room, and while I sit down to undress I can see past the bar counter through a hole in the wall the sky and the ocean so blue between beach chairs it tickles my crotch. There’s something I’m here for, there’s something I have to do. In the sand in front of the bench, an elongated pool has been dug out and covered with pool-blue plastic. The water is full of small jellyfishy blobs swimming around like living water. My legs are too short to reach, but I can feel the slimy dampness under the soles of my feet.

“You know the deal?” shouts the owner and opens the door as I’m pulling the swim trunks up over my hips. “You keep your tips. The rest is mine.”

I agree, and he straps a fannypack over my swim trunks. That way you can keep the lotions in the pouch on the one side, and there are four round pockets that’ll stretch for the water bottles. I can feel the owner’s chest hair against my shoulder as he suits me up. He says the other boys will tell me everything I need to know about life on the beach.

There are 480 beach chairs total, 24 rows à 20, and we’re 6 boys, that’s 4 rows or 80 chairs for each. If you’ve got your own section under control, if none of your guests need anything—lotioning up, beverages, a little shade or face-fanning—then you can try your luck up by the entrance. It’s those twenty meters of boardwalk that stretch from the reception down to the beach chairs where you have to make the right impression. This is where I get to see the other boys in action, get to know their style. This is where I see Immanuel.

When the French lady in the sun hat is halfway down the boardwalk, he lifts one of his feet and takes aim with a decisive gait. But he’s cool when he does it, and the way he makes his hips tilt as he walks, long waves of bone and tawny brown skin pulling him across the sand, it happens in slow motion in front of me: Each step reveals all of its component parts, from the heel strike to the worming movement of the soles of his feet which finally reaches the pads of his toes, and the sand jumps little angel hops around his heel. My eyes slip up to his hips again, and I can see his pelvis tipping with each step from side to side, and I think of crustaceans and mottled fish swimming around inside the shell of his pelvis, in the light blue ocean lapping against his pubic bone. It’s very powerful, Immanuel’s groin, rocking up the boardwalk as everything else about him fades, his long black hair and tawny brown skin, and when he’s ten feet away from the lady in the sun hat there’s something ash gray about him like an old waiter at a French café.

“Welcome to the beach club, m’lady. What if I were your personal boy for the duration of your stay? Shade, sun, sunscreen, massage, and cold drinks, whatever you need, I’ll be at your beck and call?”

And the lady with the sun hat says thanks for the offer and hands her bag to Immanuel, and he winks at me as they walk by. He’ll make good money on her, it’s sure as the ocean is blue.

Then it’s my turn, and I strut straight ahead with a little curve in my back like a big cat towards the English couple on the boardwalk so they can’t not see me, but they don’t see me until we’re a few feet away from each other and I say:

“Good morning, what if I were Your personal boy…” but I’ve already missed my chance to make a natural break in their path and offer myself up, so they know they want me without knowing I want them, and anyway I didn’t hit the beat like Immanuel because the man waves his hand disapprovingly.

A side gig and some extra cash: You get one shot a day. So I trot restlessly up and down through my 4 rows à 20 and offer to lotion them up and fan their faces. I change their towels and adjust the umbrellas to follow the path of the sun in the sky, getting bored at the zenith. In the afternoon, the guests start to fry, and I spread sunscreen and after sun all over their bodies. As I’m straddling a Swedish man lying on his belly with two belts of flesh covering his loins, I see Ginger, the English boy, giving it a go up on the boardwalk. He’s whiter than the sand, even though the sand is as white as the coconut filling in a Bounty bar, and his hair shines like copper in the sun. He’s beautiful, Ginger, but his gait is a little too bovine, very thin knees, he doesn’t exude that supple and light-on-the-toes feeling you look for in a boy at all. A beach boy can’t seem too much like he’s obeying gravity, I think. The Swede’s flesh belts slip between my fingers. As I’m holding them tight and peeling them apart so I can rub the sunscreen deep down into his back, I see Jia, the Chinese boy, heading towards two German women, waddling in a careless way, as if his bones and joints aren’t fully formed. With his bulging round belly and little hips, he’s a real boy, maybe the most boyish of us all. The Germans take the bait right away. One of my hands has disappeared under the flesh belt wrapping around my wrist. I move around the organs inside, pull out a kidney and fling it across the sky, see myself trailing after it like a shooting star or maybe just a seagull, but I’m a beach boy. That’s the contract I signed.

Then it’s nighttime, and I’m sitting on the bench in the changing room next to Immanuel. His skin is hard and smooth like stained wood. He peels an orange and slices into the flesh with his knife, and orange fills the room. The sun is in front of me now because the sun is going down into the ocean. He feeds me the peeled-off flesh, brings the pieces to my mouth on the blade of the knife: a hard metallic taste beneath the fresh sweetness. In his other hand, he’s holding the sliced wedges together in a bouquet with the long, white string sticking up flaccid in the middle, held in a bunch by a little circle of peel. He loosens the wedges and spreads them into glistening tentacles, a coral, he says and pulls at the white string so it’s erect. “See, that’s the dick,” he says laughing, and I laugh too, and he shoves the whole thing into his mouth with juice dripping down his chin. Afterwards, we’re silent, and Immanuel takes my dick in his hand. I rest my arm across his arm and do the same to him up and down. Through the hole in the wall the sun makes a window of light on his stomach. I can see the ocean in it. It’s throbbing in my hand. A squirt of thick, white juice, first Immanuel and then me, turns orange in the sun lands in the pool-blue channel of water under our feet. As if the horizon is emanating from our groin, and for a second I can remember a room behind the ocean. There are things I have to do, things I have to get done while I’m here.

“Immanuel?” I ask.

“What’s up?” he says. “And hey, just call me Manuel, it’s so much with that first syllable.”

“Manuel, how do you do what you do on the boardwalk?”

“I take a guess. I guess where they’re from and how much money they have and then I try to act like the waiters they know from where they’re from. But you have to make yourself completely blank on the inside. If you want to look like their idea, you have to become the thing.”

“Does that always work for you?”

“If they’re old, anyway, then they like the comfort of it. But the ones in their thirties or forties, they’d prefer not to know you’re doing it for their sake…they don’t want you speaking English to them in their own accent and all that crap. So whenever I see them with, for example, SKINNY MEXICAN BOY in their eyes, then I say LET ME AUTHENTICATE THAT FOR YOU, but I just say it to myself and do it.”

So, the next morning I’m standing there looking at the beach with its 480 beach chairs, 24 rows à 20. They look like massive tapeworms, each chair is its own segment, or they’re running through the sand like rivers of melting water trickling into the ocean. They’re the ribs of the coast. Then I understand what Manuel meant, and I say it to myself up by the entrance when the German woman comes walking backlit down the boardwalk. I make myself blank and let her eyes wander over my front getting very hot while the wind cools my back, and when I greet her, it’s with a fresh Mexican accent on my tongue, and she says yes, certainly I can be her personal boy.

Over the next five hours I lotion her up and fetch her cold drinks from the bar. When she gets too hot, she raises her hand and points at her face: I get down on my knees and fan it. Then she shoos me away and tells me to come back in ten and as I’m walking away I can feel the cold on my back, as if that side of me has retreated, turning away from her and the sun. I jog up and down my 4 rows à 20 and tend to the other guests while I can. Fortunately, Jia and Ginger are helping out with my section. Manuel is taking care of the French lady with the sun hat. She asked specifically for him. When the sun is at its zenith we’re all really busy, everyone wants water and light breezes and sunscreen for their bodies. Ginger stumbles in the sand with both his hands full and lands on a young woman, his face between her ass cheeks. She screams and her boyfriend jumps up and grabs Ginger by the neck. He’s gotten up and is saying sorry with his hands over his face. I start running and scream it was an accident, but the boyfriend doesn’t hear me; he only sees PERVERTED BASTARD STICKING HIS NOSE BETWEEN MY GIRLFRIEND’S LEGS. He forgets Ginger is a boy and boys aren’t interested in that kind of thing. Ginger falls on his side with blood pouring out of his mouth, long, red squirt turns orange in the sun lands on white sand. The boyfriend straddles him and lets it rip on his face. In his rage he grabs a rock. Thick, red pool next to Ginger’s head. Then he gets up and turns around, flees along the water, and his girlfriend runs after him. Me and Jia hurry to get Ginger’s body up into the changing room before the other guests can see the hole in his head.

In the afternoon the rhythm of our work falls into sync with the sun and my sleepiness. My head is throbbing like it’s the temples of the beach, blood pumping under the sand. The German woman says goodbye and leaves a nice tip, but now the cold is crawling up my back, she couldn’t see it and now it’s turned into a hole inside me. During the last hours of the afternoon, I stop a bunch of times to look at things I think are beautiful: the beach chairs, 480 in 24 rows à 20. The umbrellas we move with the chairs following the path of the sun in the sky. The other boys wandering up and down along the rows in their sections offering themselves up. The ocean topped by waves, and it’s like the beauty of all these things goes into my body and turns into a pain that keeps the hole open. I think: the ocean is beautiful even though it can’t keep itself blue like a postcard all the time. It’s beautiful even though it doesn’t have the power to spare the ships sailing on it tonight. A massive liquid made of complete obedience. The contract it’s signed. But at the same time I know there are sides of the ocean that I can’t see, there are sides of the beach chairs and umbrellas that retreat and turn their backs to me, and there’s a hole in every boy.

When me and Manuel have gotten changed, orange in the room and the sun a window to the ocean squirt of thick white juice orange in the pool-blue pool, we carry Ginger’s body out to the beach. The sand, the ocean, and the sky are the same color black. The wind is cold against my face and makes the flag poles at the club groan, and things we don’t know make sounds that mingle with the ocean’s. The beach chairs come into view as we pass by them one by one. The sand hops around our bare legs. I’m holding Ginger’s arms, Manuel his ankles, and as we walk down with the body between us I get a strange feeling. It’s not romantic or tender because it’s not concentrated in any one place, my stomach or my crotch, for example, but spread all throughout my body. Like, I put on a nice leotard, an imperceptibly tight full body suit made of the knowledge that I’m here with Manuel and that I’ll see him again tomorrow.

We kneel and lay Ginger’s body down in the sand. A little while later, Jia and the other boys join us with six buckets of water from the pool in the changing room. We dig out the shape of a body in the sand where the boyfriend split open Ginger’s head with the rock, and fill it with water. Hundreds of small white squirts swim around in it like living water. We grab the arms and legs and lower the body down into the hole. The water ripples a little before it calms down and covers it all, a thin layer over his face and stomach. Steam rises in the cool air. In a pentagon around the hole, we plant five umbrellas upside-down in the sand, twist them down into the viscous layers. The last three inches of the shafts sticking up in the air, we lather them with after sun before getting on our knees and letting our assholes slide slowly down around them. We look at Ginger’s body while Manuel sings monotonously:

We believe in Ginger / working honestly and patiently / many hours in the hole inside ourselves / Our desire for Ginger breaks free / from Ginger / and travels through the hole over the greatest / distance / until it no longer belongs to us / We believe in Ginger …

Manuel repeats the verse, and we join in one-by-one, rocking on the shafts. We sing and look at Ginger’s body. This lasts for many hours. Once in a while the steam takes on colors, fluorescent blue, red, and purple. Now and then a squirt of thick, white juice that comes to life in the water. And when the after sun and our secretions run dry on the shaft, the pain and blood begins to run. The white squirts in the water gather around Ginger’s skin and coalesce into a suit of jelly: the lines of the body are blurred, the body flickers. I can’t separate my own voice from the others’ assholes from the hole deeper in me, where pain and foreign blood run down hollow umbrella shafts, soaking the sandy soil under the hole. A pool of color whirls at our knees. Then Manuel’s voice stands out from the choir like a dissonance. The rest of us join in cautiously, one sound at a time, until the words take shape and we sing in unison:

Desire for Ginger comes back through us / Desire for Ginger / as he is: the desire to create him / Ginger / as he is / to create him / The two become one.

The water lights up and changes color from blood red to purple to orange brimming with pink dots. A slimy fog in the same colors rises up and makes a vague outline of a body and a web of veins. A glowing creature is now visible hovering over the hole. Then suddenly it hits me that I’m thinking about dead Ginger, not that he should live again and the same second the creature becomes flesh and falls into the hole with a splash.

Later, we walk into one of the early morning spots with dirty tiles and white light where concrete workers and taxi drivers are drinking coffee. I like the night workers. We pour our tips into Jia’s hands, who goes up to buy eggs, toast, and orange juice with all the money. The drink is very cold in my throat with pulp. In a bowl on the table, there are wrinkly oranges, which Manuel cuts into little corals. “This one is Ginger!” yells Ginger and mashes one of them with the ash tray, squirt of thin, yellow juice turns gray in the electric light lands on the tiles. We laugh and stick our fingers between the tentacles of our corals, pull the long, white strings to see whose is the longest and laugh again. Afterwards, we play a game where we all take turns impersonating people from the club.

“Manuel?” I say into the darkness on our way back home.

“What’s up?” he says. “And just call me Manu, it’s so much with that last syllable.”

“Manu, how did we do that to Ginger?”

“Ginger was the one who decided to come back.”

“But how?”

“I don’t know, that’s just how it is. Most people want to come back, even though they forget everything they saw while they were gone. That’s the contact they signed…Anyway, this is me.”

He lays a hand on the back of my neck and gives it a squeeze before he turns down a dusty road with concrete buildings just like mine. He says goodnight and winks, and as he’s walking away with his back turned to me, he shrinks into a little cat and lopes away, and I want to run with him, then we could be two small cats lying together talking in his bed.

Afterwards, I keep walking and look up at the sky between power lines. It’s a very dark blue, and at the same time it’s lit up by a secret little light because the sun isn’t here yet, but whispers up over the sloping of the globe that it’s on its way. My face hurts a little. A thin memory of something important that’s supposed to happen on the beach. A room behind another room. I can’t make it all the way home anyway, so I find a bench near the club and fall asleep for an hour and half. I dream that night has fallen, but the guests haven’t gone home yet. They lie there still, unmoving, with closed eyes or their sunglasses on, as if they haven’t realized that the sun has gone down and it’s now very cold. Then all the big cats get a whiff of the fried skin steaming in the cool night, jump out of the trees on the boulevard along the beach and flay all the guests into little pieces. Streamers of flesh and guts hang over the beach chairs, 24 rows à 20.

I strut straight and tall with a little curve in my back like a panther, but it’s rare that I use it because I’m a beach boy. In a sense, I’ve replaced Manu because he’s taking care of the French lady with the sun hat, like he’s done for the last three weeks. She pays him a fixed salary every day, and they’ve started to develop what I think you would call a personal relationship. He learns ten new French words a day. She asks about his life, also about his time before the club. She’s like a pool in your backyard, says Manu, which you can’t use anyway, so you might as well throw your trash and old furniture in it. When the guests come walking down the boardwalk from the entrance, I make myself blank before I approach them. LET ME AUTHENTICATE THAT FOR YOU, I say if I see them, for example, with SKINNY MEXICAN BOY or SCANDIVANIAN SIMPLICITY in their eyes, but I just say it to myself and do it. I’m good now, maybe as good as Manu, and I know the owner’s noticed. He’s hired another boy and pulls me aside one night to ask whether I want to make a little extra. Obviously I say yea. He gives me a bag with a video camera and some official documents. He shows me pictures of a young couple and tells me play-by-play how it’s all supposed to go down. He’s even written it in typewriter font on a piece of paper, which I read over and over again in bed before falling asleep. The next day, when the couple shows up, I make sure I’m their personal boy, and I do it exactly like the owner said; it works, I get it all on tape.

When I get back at the end of the afternoon, there’s chaos at the club because Manu is curled up in fetal position on the belly of the French woman, so the new boy has to take care of two sections all by himself. I jump in right away, and the next hour I spread sunscreen and after sun into so much skin that my hands get tired from the impressions: Smooth, hard skin like stained wood. Elastic, suntanned skin with dots falling like curtains around my fingers. Or a gooey, vaguely greasy pelt, but it doesn’t mean anything to me. The skin is sticky, the sand burns, the woman’s foot tasted like an orange peel. My nerves are trembling and I don’t have the energy to respond to them. The other boys disappear behind umbrellas and suntanned hands hanging in the air and waving me over to them: I run around and fan faces, massage, and fetch drinks. I’m exhausted. The sun is shining.

As we’re sitting on the bench in the dressing room, glittering knife orange in orange sun fallen in wedges and the ocean, Manu gets up and pulls me down into the pool. There’s a different light, a fluorescent, blue fog that makes my skin tight and slimy.

“I’m not mad,” he says and hugs me from behind.

We spoon, the water covering half my face. Manu holds me, but at the same time he pushes against me in a small way, his face between my shoulder blades and knees against my thighs, so maybe I’m the one holding him. We stay there for a long time. I can’t make out the different parts of his body anymore, his chest, arms, feet, forehead, he’s just a little shrimp on my back. The other boys are somewhere in the pool too. We are all very small. I want to cry. I breathe in through my left nostril which is above water, and breathe out through the other one. I close my left eye and keep the other one open so that the surface of the water becomes a lid on the world. The bubbles of oxygen coming from my nostril look like cats jumping up and down, but exploding the second they hit the surface of the water. As if they only know how to exist at a distance. In there, however, they’re wild and agile, and also a little funny. Suddenly I get water in my left nostril; the water level has risen, I cough. I sit up and look at Manu lying there, crying silently.

“Manu,” I say.

“Manu, shouldn’t we go home, you and me, I’m so tired?”

“You go,” he says without looking at me, an eye on either side of the surface of the water. “I want to stay here a little longer.”

We were about to leave the club when the boy with the pretty green eyes, who had fetched us water and snacks and who kept asking us whether we needed anything, came running after us with a bag on his shoulder. He politely asked whether he might be able to tell us something from his heart and if we didn’t want to listen he would let us go. Obviously, we said yes.

In addition to his job as a beach boy⁠—which was just a way of getting byhe studied film here in Cancún and had a big exam coming up. He took some papers out of his bag, an ID-card, and some school documents, and said that if he did well, he could get a scholarship to one of the best film schools in the United States, apparently in Los Angeles or New York, I can’t remember which. Texas, maybe. He told us all about his final exam; he had to film a bunch of tiny scenes from everyday life and he was supposed to play the lead role himself, it would take an hour at most. He just needed some extras.

Lasse and I looked at each other and burst out laughing, “um, do we want to?”  he said. “No, of course we don’t. C’mon Lasse,” I said. “But what would Melanie say?” he asked. Melanie was the coolest woman, about thirty years old, who we had met on our trip, and who had made a strong impression on us. She didn’t have a job or a place to live, she didn’t do anything but travel. We were just so crazy fascinated by her life.

Then the boy said that of course he would understand if we were thinking: Why don’t you just get some of your Mexican friends to help you, but they’d just make fun of him. Westerners, on the other hand, are way more open to this kind of thing and they get it if you have a passion for something or other. I smiled and said yes, what’s the worst that could happen.

We followed him to the hotel on the other side of road. It didn’t look very inhabited, a large, cracked stone house with moisture in the walls, a little cold and desolate. I was actually pretty scared, but I didn’t want to say anything to Lasse, so I just giggled a little. Now I know that you should always trust your intuition, even when it’s made of fear, because otherwise you might end up getting into a car headed somewhere weird. And even though you can’t keep up, maybe you’re still standing there on the curb, even though your body is in the car, and then afterwards, every time you’re reminded of what happened, it feels like somebody else’s bad feeling, but you’re the one who has to feel it. You can never completely leave your body behind. So, we followed the boy up to the third floor and into his room. He went out on the balcony and set up two white plastic chairs with a view of the ocean. I was relieved that we were supposed to sit out there because I could just jump off and get away if the boy turned out to be dangerous. He took out his camera and positioned it on a chair a little inside the living room, so it could film me and Lasse through the sliding glass door.

The boy pressed record and got down in front of us on all fours. First, he was going to play the table, he said, we were just supposed to put our feet up on his back and talk a bit about our time in Mexico so far. We did so in English while looking at the ocean. Afterwards, he wanted to be a dog. He went behind the camera and said we should call him a dog’s name, Tikki, I think it was, and then he came in on all fours and crawled around between our legs. We were supposed to act natural, to push him a little with our feet and keep talking. Then we were supposed to call him again and ask him to clean the floor. He came in with a wet rag and rubbed our feet a little too, the tiles were shining.

None of the scenes lasted for longer than 24 minutes, and after each one he went back to the camera and told us what was going to happen next. Then he asked Lasse whether it was okay if he licked our feet, because that’s what dogs do to clean them. “Um, yea,” said Lasse, and the boy started to crawl again. First he licked Lasse’s feet, slowly up and down the arch of his foot, but when he got to me, it was like he was going to eat my whole foot! It was very hot and tickled between my toes, I couldn’t stop laughing and couldn’t stay in character either. He gave Lasse the camera and asked whether he wanted to give it a try. Next, I was supposed to walk him on a leash (made out of a t-shirt he had tied around his neck, and I was supposed to hold the other end) and make him do things, dog things. He kept licking my toes and sucking on them. The whole time I kept pulling my foot away and laughing to Lasse, but I couldn’t see him behind the camera. The lens looked like a peephole in a metal door. Now, the boy wanted me to use him like a table even though he was a dog. I was supposed to scold him and say all these mean things. “Bad Mexican dog.” I tried to get into character, but he stopped me and said I should kick him hard and say that I didn’t like Mexicans. I didn’t want to do that, and I was also on the brink of tears, so I said to Lasse: “Babe, I can do this anymore. Tell him we’re done.” Lasse kept filming for a few seconds more until he finally handed the camera over to the boy and said we had to go, and that the shot was probably good enough as it was. Lasse is about two heads taller than him and calmly laid a hand on his shoulder.  The boy said thank you very much, and that he would come join us in two minutes for a cup of coffee.

We got out of there as fast as we could. Lasse was laughing and said it was nice to have such clean feet. I said I felt a little violated and would rather not talk about it. In the lobby at our hotel, we ran into Melanie and actually didn’t want to tell her about any of it, but I couldn’t keep it to myself, so I said to Lasse, “Tell her what just happened to us.”

Melanie was totally shocked. She would never have done such a thing in her life!


Translator’s note:

After the Sun—the short story collection which includes “Bad Mexican Dog”—presents four apparently dissimilar but interconnected worlds: a divorced Danish IT-consultant travels back to Copenhagen and misses a meeting, a young boy working at a beach club in Cancún tries to make a little extra cash on the side, a love triangle between drugs, a pregnancy, and the city of London spirals out of control, and a man tries to attach himself to a strange object in the desert while his wife is at a concert in Las Vegas. Jonas Eika’s strange twilight universes hover between science fiction and poetic realism, presenting an opaque, oversaturated vision of our contemporary globalized world. The collection traverses gray cities in ruin and sky-blue beach skies, slipping into the cracks of derivative trading and the “flesh belts” of tomato-red Scandinavian tourists. Its bleak, pulsating depictions of consumer capitalism at times evoke the landscapes of Don DeLillo and Roberto Bolaño. Its sparse lyricism, at once humorous and poignant, brims with affect. Infused, even in the original Danish, with the global English of capitalism, Eika’s dark shadow-world is submerged in the strange workings of desire, oozing out of humans, objects, and landscapes alike.

There was something uncanny about translating “Bad Mexican Dog.” While the last part of the story is told from the perspective of a Scandinavian couple, this story, similar to the other three which comprise After the Sun, feels barely tethered to its Danish context. The economy and culture of international tourism which motivates the story is palpable in its language as well. The reader can almost feel the movements of global capitalism and the global English of tourism lingering under the surface of the original Danish. This meant that I often had the feeling—so rare in translation—that certain phrases, perfectly idiomatic in the original, had obvious English translations. It wasn’t so much that distinct English expressions had been translated into Danish in any straightforward way. Rather, a particular kind of international English seemed already to have infected the language. “Det siges at” (literally: It’s said that) slid easily into place as “Word is.” “Du kender aftalen” (literally: You are familiar with the agreement) was instantly “You know the deal.” My interventions—not always, but often—felt slight, superficial, a tweak as opposed to a twist. Like brushing the sand away, revealing the contours of what was hidden below all along.


Sherilyn Hellberg (b. 1991) is a literary translator and PhD candidate in the Department of Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley. She has a B.A. in Comparative Literature and Society from Columbia University and an M.Phil. in European and Comparative Literatures and Cultures from the University of Cambridge. She translates modern and contemporary Scandinavian literature by authors such as Tove Ditlevsen, Olga Ravn, Caspar Eric, and Ingvild Lothe. Her translations have appeared in Translation Review, NY Tyrant, and EuropeNow. Most recently, her translation of Johanne Bille’s Elastic was published by Lolli Editions in 2019.

Jonas Eika Rasmussen (b. 1991) is a Danish writer living in Copenhagen. He graduated from The Danish Academy of Creative Writing (Forfatterskolen) in 2015, and shortly after published his debut, Marie House Warehouse (Lindhardt og Ringhof, 2015), for which he was awarded the Bodil og Jørgen Munch-Christensens debutantpris for emerging Danish writers in 2016. In 2018, he published his first collection of short stories, After the Sun, which has won numerous awards, including the Michael Strunge Prize, Den svære Toer prize for second books, and the prestigious Montana Literature Prize.




Tiffany Higgins translates Lívia Natália


From my stomach are birthed
only useless letters
and some poems I’m imprisoning
at the foot of the desk.

In each word that’s sung
I evict a smooth ovum           
pregnant with light
and screams.

All the children I never had:
the dreamed-of ones,
the forgotten,
the stolen, slide

thick liquid
between my legs
in a sad ciranda dance,

Afterward, I become again
the smooth membrane of the word:
clear, chaste, calm.
Once again I possess
the uterus of the poet.


The Boats

Dawn. On the open sea, the shoals devour the smooth water
with their bodies of nothing.
Already high, the sun announces
through the open net on shore
that I’m not going to fish.

The shallow boat
is battered by the waves which,
like embittered whores,
seduce no clients.

I don’t get up—
small birds perch on the vessel,
shitting on the hull, pecking at its edges,
gnawing deeply the scents of the salty air.

The net sleeps sadly
like the useless sheets
after love’s passage:

they retain, impregnated in their flesh
scents and substances
like the stains of what happened.

Today there’s no reason for me to arise,
there’s nothing to search for in the beyond-me
there’s no Eros to restore my hunger and thirst:

the sea I thought immense
found its end.


My Dear Friend

“My dear friend, I really wanted to write you” 
Chico Buarque

This Nereid who captures you 
in the stories of her sheets
devoured you.          

She keeps you in the narrows
of her entrails,
and you became a ship, submerged
in the immense darkness

in water that’s violent
but has no tempests,

only your hands dancing
on this sea sewn of thick filaments.

Where you are, everything is brutish,
hidden creatures drink from your shadow.

Life passes through me and I can’t tell you:
that I got thinner and cut my hair
(now it’s growing, ringlets, small like yours,
bending back upon themselves.)

That I’m stronger.
That I almost know how to put up a fight.
That this week I found out I was pregnant—
a false positive.
That I cried.
That I’m the same as you: pure silence.

While this Nereid is combing
your hair
with her hands,

I keep on unlearning how to sing,
find that life has lost its allure,
and all the shipwrecks I made of myself
in order to find you

lick the fringes of the waves  
out of pure fear of the depths
that lie within the sea.


Freudian Woman  

In the farthest depths of the men I love
there is my father, his flesh with its ocean scent.
He draws himself in the skin of my men
as the sea inscribes scales in fish.

(Each body in which, absorbed, I source myself
has something of his rocky voice.)

In the black skins I bathe in         
floats his tidal existence:
pregnant with the shipwrecked.

At the feet of these delicate helmsmen
who think to speed their ships through my waters,
I am the Kianda mermaid,
a mirrored coral
I am the oyster who lingers in silence.

I am the eternally translucent water.
Dense precipice where these fish 
drink only 
a delicate silence


translator’s Note:

The Kianda mermaid is a figure with supernatural powers who appears in Angolan legends. A Kianda can inhabit any body of water. According to one story, one Kianda helped a poor fisherman with his catch, but when he turned rich, he got selfish. Ever since then, the Kianda resolved not to help men, instead using her song to lure fishermen to the bottom of the sea.


Abebé Omin  

Violent and beautiful dance
in the crest of my soul.

A sweetwater voice
whispers in my ears
in another language:
about maternity made of gold and mystery.

You tread on my judgment
with your feet made of fish,
shipwrecks, and fathoms.

Brutish and truthful, you dance on the ground of my soul,
prepare my body to be your abode.

I vomit annoyances and antipathies
and emerge again clean and innocent.

You wash my feet with your hair made of water,
wash my womb,                    
my hands…

You place yourself wholly before me
in the exact and necessary proportion,
filling everything with your crystalline brown.

You gave and will give me everything,
and I offer my golden red head to your feet,
that here you may walk,

dwell, remain, live
now and forever
inside this lake that’s both weak and deep
this river that runs from me through me.


translator’s note:

Used in candomblé rituals, an abebé is a gold or brass colored mirror decorated with symbols on the edges. When gold, it is used by the orixá Oxum. Omin represents fresh water, also governed by the divinity Oxum.


Osun Janaína

I discovered that, for me,
to be a woman is enough.
So that I might pull off veils,
lift skirts
paint nails with a ferocious red—
even if it’s only to say later: stop.

Or so that I might see your body’s discontinuous dance
on my own (or my opposite)
in the mirror that emancipates itself
from the walls of this room
and this delicate afternoon.

But to be a woman is always enough—
although it’s whole and futile,
a wave that strikes against the rock
and smashes into pieces
only to return whole again
in a sea of (in)differences
where each solitary,
unique droplet,
forms a jumbled speech,
even when I fling myself against this rock
that hurls me back.


translator’s note:

In candomblé, Osun represents the goddess of fresh water. Janaína is another name for Iemanjá, the goddess of the sea.


Tiffany Higgins is a poet, translator, and journalist writing on Brazil and the environment. Her longform narrative journalism appears in Granta, Guernica, and the Revelator. She is the author of The Apparition at Fort Bragg, And Aeneas Stares into Her Helmet, and a chapbook of translations from Portuguese of Alice Sant’Anna’s poetry, Tail of the Whale. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, the San Francisco Chronicle, and elsewhere. Her writing and translation have been supported by residencies at Canada’s Banff Centre. In 2020, she will be the Annie Clark Tanner Fellow in Environmental Humanities at the University of Utah.

A poet and professor at the Universidade Federal da Bahia, Lívia Natália is the author of five poetry collections: Água Negra (2011), Correntezas e Outros Estudos Marinhos (2015), Água Negra e Outras Águas (2016), Sobejos Do Mar (2017), and Dia Bonito pra Chover (2017). Her poem “Quadrilha,” which describes the grief of a woman whose lover was killed by Brazil’s Military Police, was censored throughout the state of Bahia in 2016. All copies of the poem—which had been displayed publicly on billboards as part of the Poetry in the Streets project in Ilhéus—were ordered to be destroyed.




Patricia Dubrava translates Agustín Cadena

The magic alphabet

I began to write creatively when I learned the alphabet and my Mom gave me the most beautiful Scribe notebook in the stationery shop. But I really began to write, trying to weave one sequence into another and bring them to a conclusion when I was ten years old.

That happened thanks to my neighbor Eugenia, who was the same age I was.

We had a small grocery store and I spent hours there every day, did my homework there. And she came to visit me there. A wooden bench sat beside the entrance. When Eugenia arrived, I came out from behind the counter and the two of us sat on the bench to tell stories. Well, actually, it seems I was the one who told them.

It was like this. Eugenia didn’t go to school. They didn’t admit her because “she was sick,” they said. She didn’t learn like the rest of the children, she didn’t remember, didn’t make generalizations. But the few days she had been able to go to classes were enough to implant in her an enthusiasm for notebooks and pencils and for those magic arts by virtue of which drawing lines on a sheet of paper was making “word pictures.” So said Eugenia and as of today, I still have not found a better definition of what writing is.

And so Eugenia began a passionate hobby. She took a grid-lined notebook and set herself to “paint” an ex on each little square. She began at the first page and didn’t stop until she’d filled the notebook with exes. This might take her an afternoon or an entire week, depending on her desire to write. It didn’t matter. Her parents bought her notebooks by the dozens, and they became the only gift she asked for.

When she finished drawing the ex in the last square on the last page of her notebook, she came running to our store. She brought me her notebook so I could read her the story that she’d written. I already knew what I was going to find, but I read those hundreds of exes as if they were sensible, connected sentences. And a real story began to take shape. I was inventing it or that’s what I thought at the time. Now I think maybe I invented nothing and those stories were really there, written in an alphabet of a single letter that I somehow had the gift of deciphering.

Eugenia watched me enraptured while she heard me read her own story. She never took the notebooks back. She left them all there with me so I could keep them safe. My papa had put a shelf in the back of the store that already contained dozens of volumes of my friend’s works. And she, who knows how, knew one from the other. When she liked one of the stories a lot, she asked me to read it to her again. And from among all those volumes that to my parents and I looked the same, she took out one: the story of the man with the head of a horse or of the pirates in love, or of the boy that a witch saved from drowning.

And me? I waited until she left and then set to writing from memory what I had just finished reading to her. I didn’t do it with all the stories, only those that I liked and really, they were very few. But in doing so, I began to cultivate the craft of telling stories.

One day, Eugenia’s parents decided to move to Mexico City, where it seemed she could go to a special school. They took her from me. They took Eugenia away from me. I never heard any more about her.

I saved her notebooks until an employee’s carelessness caused a fire in the store. Paper was the first to burn.

Now, when the condition writers call “writer’s block” threatens me, I get a grid-lined notebook and start filling the little squares with exes. I hear Eugenia’s voice telling me that they are word pictures. And my story that was jammed flows again.


translator’s note:

“The Magic Alphabet,” is set in a small city in Mexico, one in which working class people often have modest stores, such as we once had here. “Mom and Pop” shops, we used to call them. The town is small enough that it cannot provide services to a special needs child such as the one the narrator has as a friend. A translation issue arose at the end, when the narrator mentions “hipster” writers talking about creative block. We have hipsters, of course, but they are not the same thing. Cadena means a younger generation of writers in Mexico and implies that “creative block” is something they talk about, something older writers did not do as much. Our common usage is “writer’s block,” and I thought it best to leave the hipsters out of it. Sr. Cadena agreed with me.


Patricia Dubrava teaches writing and literary translation at the University of Denver. She has two books of poems and one of stories translated from the Spanish. Her translations of Agustín Cadena’s stories have appeared most recently in Mexico City Lit, Exchanges, Asymptote, Numéro Cinq, and Cagibi, Fall 2018. Her translation of a Cadena story was a finalist for Lunch Ticket’s Gabo Prize in 2017. Dubrava blogs at www.patriciadubrava.com

Agustín Cadena was born in Ixmiquilpan, Hidalgo, México and teaches at the University of Debrecen, Hungary. Essayist, fiction writer, poet and translator, Cadena has won national prizes for fiction and poetry. His books include collections of short fiction, essays and poetry, five novels, and eight young adult novels. His work has been translated into English, Italian and Hungarian. Cadena is currently on tour in Mexico to promote the 20th anniversary edition of his novel Tan oscura. He blogs at www.elvinoylahiel.blogspot.com




Hillary Leftwich


You are a guest on Dr. Phil. The theme of the show is “People Who Live Inside Dead Animals and the Partners Who Love Them.” You look down at yourself and see you are inside the carcass of a deer. Your hands and feet are its hooves. Your skin is warm hide. Your head has two giant antlers pointing in all directions. One of the antlers is pointing directly at Dr. Phil’s eye as he leans over to study you. You notice that he has not trimmed his nose hair in a very long time. He is telling the audience something is wrong with you and the other guests. He says this while sweeping one of his small hands in your general direction. You look to your right and see your partner smiling at you. Your partner is a beautiful white swan. Their wing reaches out and sweeps over your hoof in a gesture of pure love. You look to your left and see other couples: a red fox and a hound dog, a dolphin and a flamingo, a horse and a brown bear. The audience is scowling. They are shaking their heads in disbelief. Dr. Phil is talking in a loud voice but gradually becomes quieter. The audience leans in to hear him. You look at Dr. Phil and notice his nose hairs have started to take over his face. His small hands are becoming even smaller. After a few minutes of staring at Dr. Phil, you see he has been hiding inside the carcass of a hedgehog all along. He leans towards you and in a tiny voice says, I’ve always felt safe in small spaces.


Hillary Leftwich is the author of the forthcoming collection Ghosts Are Just Strangers Who Know How to Knock from CCM Press (Civil Coping Mechanisms) in 2019. She is the poetry and prose editor at Heavy Feather Review and organizes/hosts At the Inkwell Denver, a monthly reading series in Denver. Her writing can be found or is forthcoming in print and online in The Rumpus, Entropy, The Missouri Review, Hobart, Literary Orphans, Matter Press, and others. Find her online at hillaryleftwich.com. Photo of Hillary Leftwich by Jay Halsey.

“Cosplay” is forthcoming in Ghosts Are Just Strangers Who Know How To Knock (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2019).




John Colburn

Standoff at Café Phantom

The Atomic Learning Team was hungry. They had no money, as they were orphans, so they put rocks in each other’s cheeks to make eating impossible.

The three youngest wanted to visit a restaurant and beg for food. But Jane said, “We are not acting mature enough to visit a restaurant.”

So they sulked along through the afternoon, growing hungrier.

Finally Bee said, “Let’s put on a play to show how mature we are.”

“Show it to whom?” said Rufus.

“To ourselves,” said Jane. “It’s a wonderful idea!”

“I’ll be the great sickness,” said Chips. “And I’ll come down to earth from a space rock.”

Everyone laughed; they knew Chips didn’t understand good and evil.

The group began to hunt up costumes.

Bee found a puffy dandelion and said, “Look, I am the moon!”

Rufus made a giant hat from mutated lily leaves. He said, “I am important. I am acting like a very important man with this big hat. My hat is as tall as an arm!”

Chips found a puddle of dried white mud and fashioned himself a mask. “I think that I will also be the nuclear dead. I will die slowly onstage.” His eyes glowed with excitement.

Jane dressed herself in orange and red, all from rags and leaves and animal parts. She said, “I’m not telling what I am,” and grinned.

The Atomic Learning Team worked feverishly through the afternoon, making their script and practicing their lines.

With only a few grasshoppers and the spy planes of who-knows-what great army to witness them, the play began:

(bursting onto stage)

I am looking for a suitable companion.


I have no companion. I shall have no companion. But here I am.


Do you both hear the pounding of my heart?






I hear something.


What is it? I must know!


I hear space.


I hear that too! It has no sound, but I hear it all around.


I am in space. My heart is in space.


No, my friends, space is the space between. I do not hear the heartbeat. I hear the space between the beats.


Then you are not a suitable companion for me.


We are your companions!


But I am done with you.


I am too important to go with you, GS!
Laughter by all present.


But I will take you to a restaurant for tea and meat.




May we come?


I am hungry. Let’s go. (turns to the unknown) Will you join us?


I am always with you. I am between the spaces of things.




The play had been a success, they felt. It had stirred them. Rufus asked Jane about her character, The Unknown.

“Yes,” said Jane, “that is what I am. The unknown. I am like a far-off fire, unseen.” She smiled. Then she removed her costume and resumed her role as The Communist. She said, “Now that we are mature enough to visit a restaurant, let’s not waste time. Let’s be humble but purposeful.”

And soon they found themselves sitting in a pleasant room at a round table, trying to read a menu.

Rufus whispered, “But Jane, there is the problem of money.”

Jane thought about this and said, “We should be able to eat without using violence or money or trickery, now that we are mature thespians.”

Chips looked about the strange restaurant. “You seem so confident about commerce. How did you learn about it?”

Jane frowned. She simply said, “Marx. That’s all.”

Bee chimed in, “Maybe we could put on our play here, in exchange for food! They have fried squash blossoms as big as a human head.”

Chips said quietly, “I brought the Golden Apple. We could barter.” He showed them the small bag.

Bee replied, “I though your toy was in there.”

Chips looked frightened. He didn’t want to lose the glowing toy. It had become his companion.

Rufus laughed, “Your toy has been shown to have use value, Chips. Relax.”

Jane said, “We shall order cooked bread,” and when she closed the menu, she saw that it was attached to a small door in the wall, and when she opened the door, she saw that it was attached to a person—the waiter. He had heard everything.

He cleared his throat and proclaimed, “We do not permit theatrical revues at this restaurant. This is a family establishment.”

The Atomic Learning Team shifted uncomfortably and looked toward Jane.

But Chips broke in, saying, “Might we trade this golden apple for some food?” He held the bag open before the waiter, who smiled.

“Yes, of course. We take golden apples here.”

The Atomic Learning Team was happy to be rid of the golden apple and awaited their meal. No more rocks in their cheeks!

They crossed and uncrossed their legs in great shows of maturity. The bread arrived and they ate, and more bread arrived until they folded their hands over their stomachs, exhausted. They drank from a pitcher of iced tea that tasted of barley, and spread preserves onto the bread until it softened to a brilliant paste.

At the end of the meal, Chips handed the waiter the golden apple, and they all stood to congratulate him on a wonderful transaction. After they endured an awkward silent moment together, the Atomic Learning Team found an exit door and walked between rows of high wooden fencing back toward their clubhouse in the empty lands of the irradiated territories.

“Food is life,” said Jane.

“I am so happy,” said Rufus as he itched himself.

How far they had come. Sunlight spread over the grasses and the paths. Then they heard a familiar slithering.

They turned to see the old serpent, and Chips and Bee laughed with surprise. Jane frowned and asked, “Why have you tricked everyone?”

The serpent didn’t answer. Everyone knew the reason.

Chips asked the serpent if he would like to be a golden apple again, and when he said yes took out his carrying bag and commanded him to do so.

They walked home bearing their confusion. Had they had participated in a theft? Had they colluded?

Jane said, “Rufus, commerce may be too tricky for us. Or it may always, at its root, be crime. We must be more careful with it.”

Rufus merely nodded as he walked; he was dreaming again in his flowery mind. He took his delight in the circular quality of their adventure and watched it turning.

“I think we must shave our heads now,” said Jane. “We are in a time of revelation and cleansing.”

And the Atomic Learning Team walked slowly home, already rubbing their heads for what was to come.


John Colburn is the author of Invisible Daughter (firthFORTH Books, 2013), Psychedelic Norway (Coffee House Press, 2013), and dear corpse (Spuyten Duyvil, 2018) as well as three chapbooks of poetry. He lives in St. Paul, MN and is one of the publishers/editors in the Spout Press collective.




Julian Anderson

Birthday Dinner

What do you do with a ninety-two-year-old, almost-white lady in a quilted, pink bathrobe and tufted, Hello Kitty slippers, who rips into the crossword at seven in the morning, only to cast it aside to take a call from the Pentagon?  What do you do when this woman, who happens to be your mother, gestures over her man-sized readers that she needs a legal pad, pronto? What do you do when you bring it to her, and her favorite ballpoint, uncapped, and think you have a minute to stare at the cabinets in her apartment’s tiny kitchen and attend to your heartache while her coffee brews, when you hear her claim in her operatic tenor, “Their climate argument is—what? Completely disregards the phenology. Do you see Freely’s—?  Absolutely. I’ll send you my rebuttal—” – and at your back, two pieces of whole grain toast pop up, like a gun shot?

What do you do, as you bring her the plate of toast, buttered and topped with a dollop of honey, and wait while she carves out a Post-it note with twisted fingers and sticks it to a calendar square to keep track of her professional life?

You try to beam as you cry, “Happy birthday, Mother! Happy breakfast!”

“Thank you,” she says, as her wide mouth lunges at the toast, cracking it in half. She looks slightly cross-eyed with exasperation, telling you, “They can’t seem to grasp that hurricanes have changed!”

“Did they have to call so early?”

Her tongue flicks out to lick some butter off her wrist, and she says, as she’s said all your life, “You know, Gloria, if you get up, you get more done.” 

How do you answer that, when there is so little in your life to get up for, and the curtain of your day should rise in the evening, anyway? Only, the show has closed after two nights, to catastrophic reviews, which you have explained to her, shucking it off as if your sense of humor were not in ribbons, as if you were not aware that there is some kind of galvanized steel in her spine that makes it impossible to admit defeat, her own or yours, and hoping she might be slightly sympathetic if you accidentally cried a little, which you seem to be doing more and more in secret, but you really don’t want to talk about it because:

Because it was the first good role you’d landed in years—and might be the last, at your age, fifty-one, for God’s sakes, with good scripts for black women as rare as men on the moon, or men in general, so who could say,

Because you had poured your heart into that script, working months over the lines at the overly-pierced playwright’s grimy kitchen table, feeding him your home-made, gluten-free kale bread and honey-coating your suggestions to make it easier on his ego,

Because the overly-pierced playwright threw you over when the curtain dropped, though you had already suspected the low-cut, thirty-something entrepreneuress with the new sandwich shop on the corner of having too much interest in his egg croissant,

Because you can see that your mother’s mind, behind her shadowed smile, has already turned back to rising sea levels, the French response to a U.S. proposal—she is opening up her pen now—and her face with its shimmer of freckles shaken over her nose and her green eyes that gaze up at you—the legacy of an Irish-American mother that insisted on itself so strongly that she was able to pass as white, when it suited—is actually preoccupied and has no radar for your heartbreak.

Her iPad whistles. She remembers, “I’ve got to get dressed,” and pulls herself up on her walker. “Someone is coming at ten, to take my picture.” She rolls her eyes. “An exuberant photographer.” 

“For your birthday?”

“For the Times. A piece on my files.” She pulls a face, embarrassed that you might have forgotten. “I told you—”  

You remember. “Those old, manila things in the basement?” She is giving the records of her spy years to the Library of Congress. Her sudden celebrity feels like a rock in your chest. “Won’t that blow your cover?”

Her green eyes, shielded by cataracts, are searching your face, suspicious of your meaning. Only in the briefest conversations have you ever alluded to her passing. Maybe she thinks you hold it against her, having absorbed so much of your long-vanished biofather’s Nigerian tones. The most she ever said to you when you were bullied at suburban schools was, “Sticks and stones. Remember who you are.” If you cried, she’d quote, “Rain, rain, go away,” as if you were a cirrus cloud. Or perhaps because she could draw her metaphors only from the climate. Did she ever worry that you would judge her for her racial choice? Or blame her? Do you? No. Well, maybe. Maybe it is too complicated to know ever how to bring up, even to yourself. 

“I’m trying to declutter,” she apologizes, following her rolling walker toward the bedroom, pausing in front of the mirror, “like that new Danish philosophy. My papers are in such a mess—”

“They are invaluable,” you cry. This frail old person poking fingers into her thick hair is, after all, a national treasure. “Your papers date from before the war, don’t they?”

She corrects you impatiently, “May ‘43, Athens, to July ‘78, Rocky Mount.”

You are rebuked. Nineteen-seventy-eight? You are doubly rebuked. All that mattered to you that year was a role as a peanut in Willy Wonka, while fifty miles away, your mother was risking her life undercover at a clandestine, right-wing gathering. You feel the granite stone in your heart, blocking some doorway to admiration or remorse. What would rush out, when your whole life seems lived in her shadow? Today she is a year older, but the clock is ticking for you both. 

“It’s hard in theater,” you have overheard her say to friends. Sometimes she will explain, “Gloria is supporting herself as a nanny.” There’s a rueful laugh as she adds, “She must be a glutton for punishment.” Her friends have tactfully stopped asking about you, thankful their own daughters have found sensible careers.

Though she would never see it that way, doting on you, not caring what you do with your life. Which is a blessing. In a way. Probably. Isn’t it?

Squinting at the mirror, she pulls a gray strand of hair straight up and lets it drop with a hopeless smile. “I’ll need your help deciding,” she declares. “I have that new apricot jacket I bought on sale, but I thought I’d save that for tonight.”

“What would like to do for your birthday?”

“I thought we should go to the Rathskeller. They have excellent pizza.”

“Wonderful,” you say. What is she thinking? Neither of you likes pizza. You sense there is already an attempt afoot to undermine the dinner. “Can’t you wear the jacket for both,” you ask, “the photograph and the Rathskeller?”

She makes a face as she wheels herself toward her closet, which is the size of your entire Brooklyn apartment. “Clothes get tired,” she tells you. 

Your jeans, you consider, must be ready for burial. 

Breathing in, as if in a garden, she passes through the rainbow of her silk blouses, then, muffled by tweed, she calls, “I want you to try something.”

“Bring it on.” You are immune to her attempts to remake you. 

As you wait, you cannot avoid the wall mirror that has followed her from house to house. You used to look young in this mirror; now you don’t. Your waist is thick, your hair thin. The verdict is in:  You will not grow up to be your mother. You are built for character parts, such as exist for women of color, whereas she could have been Kathryn Hepburn’s understudy, with saluki slenderness and stubborn humor. Except she has a horror of acting. She backs out of a room if Charades is even mentioned. Your attraction to the stage is a phase she has been waiting decades to pass, and perhaps she is still waiting, though you’ll never crack the code of her to find out. And you could not bear it if you knew. 

She pokes her face around the closet door with a jaunty, blue-and-white print scarf around her neck. “Maybe apricot is rushing the season?”  

“It’s going into the 70s today,” you improvise.

“No. High of 65.” She waves something pink on a hanger at you. “Try this.” 

Obediently you slip on the boxy silk jacket and button up the frogs. You both study your bulk in the mirror. 

“I look like a retired dominatrix,” you say.

She offers with obvious tact, “I rely on foundational support.” 

“You mean, like the Ford Foundation?”

She smiles slightly, droops onto the edge of her bed, pale, and admits, “It was probably a mistake to buy it.” She tugs the Liberty scarf from her neck with a gesture like defeat.

“We’ll find something,” you declare, suddenly determined to help. Was it a mistake, you have wondered more than once, for her to have a child? She had to turn down postings because of you. Yet you were not the first nor unexpected, but the replacement for a brother, Raymond, stillborn, seldom mentioned. Sometimes you wonder if you would have grown up in his shadow, too, and you feel yourself resenting his brilliance and his male advantages, until you remember that Baby Raymond never even had a chance. 

You get her in and out of three different suit jackets before she finally decides. Then her jewelry box’s brass handles softly click as she tries on necklaces and discards them—too long, too gaudy, too formal. 

She opens and closes the drawers, searching. Months tick by. 

Rejection seems to have its own pleasures. She tired of her first husband, your father, briefly auditioned a second, then lived decades alone. Since moving into this retirement center, she has gently turned aside the overtures of at least two lonely widowers. Your mother wants ideas, news, facts, not company. Purgatory is a bridge game, she declares, Hades a cocktail hour. Her time is too precious for chit-chat. She finished her law degree while working in a geology lab and was poised for diplomatic service when baby you arrived. Did she ever regret having a girl so unlike herself? Short and stocky? Tornado-haired? So uncontrollable? She tells stories sometimes, full of exasperated affection, of how you would peel down to your chubby nakedness in public, how you mimicked strangers, and brought home fistfuls of wayward toads. If she sounds vexed, your wonderful mother has locked up regrets in a box and thrown away the key. You are, as she has declared on several public occasions, arm around your shoulder like a man, her Greatest Joy. These unexpected meltings of polar ice wrench at your heart, yet the truth is that she forgets to ask about your auditions, your new roles, your various, tedious day jobs. Her talk is riven with “fluorocarbons,” “permaculture,” and “particulate matter.” Climate insecurity claims her full attention—as it should be claiming yours.

At ten minutes to ten, so as not to be late, never to be late, in a navy-blue spring suit with white piping, and two-tone matching pumps, she is sitting up straight in the entrance hall, her lipstick pressed on and off again and her hair like a white shower cap. The suit brings out pink spots on her sunken cheeks, and she feels again for the silver, art-nouveau lily-of-the-valley, with seed pearls, that you have helped pin onto her lapel. It belonged to her mother, the Irish-Catholic rebel from whom only she seems to have descended.

“You look lovely,” you say, excited and invisible, and pick some lint off her sleeve like a little sister waiting for her date.

“Thank you,” she says stiffly. Her eyes are on the sliding entrance doors. 

“Mrs. Kelly?” A balding, middle-aged white man in jeans is limping short-legged through the doors. “Mrs. Adeline Kelly?” Black camera bags weigh down one shoulder. There are circles of darkness under his arms, and his brown eyes seem bright with exertion.  

Your mother rises on her cane and puts out a twisted hand, blue with veins. Her arm seems too long, as he has already come up too close. Don’t kiss her, you want to warn him, but it’s too late. She recoils stiffly. 

His name is Hugo. “Hugo De Groote,” he shouts, spotting the lump of her hearing aid. “Fabulous to meet you! Such an honor!” He glances around to include you in his smile, unaware of her discomfort. There is something foreign in his voice, the stocky build, balding dark hair, kind, dark eyes.

Hugo guides her by the elbow into the side parlor, scouting out where she should sit. At the piano in the corner, his walker parked nearby, one of her lonely admirers is tripping over a Broadway medley. 

She makes a show of wincing. “Maybe practice first?” she whispers too loudly.

Hugo settles her onto a bench in front of palm fronds that seem to sprout from her shoulders like wings. She allows Hugo to turn her face, right and left. He touches her if she were a saint. 

Watching, you remark, not quite truthfully, “She hates this.” 

He turns. “You look after her?” 

“I’m the daughter,” you say, in case he thinks you are the hired help. “Gloria.”

He flushes. “You are the aspiring actress!”

Aspiring.  It’s your mother’s word. “I act,” you acknowledge.

He is studying you with a heavy-browed earnestness. “Perhaps, you are free for dinner?”

“What?” Is this to compensate for his gaffe? “I’d have to ask my mother,” you say, then explain, “It’s her birthday.” 

He brightens, and you both glance over to where she sits straight-backed. One long arm is resting outstretched on the head of her titanium cane. She looks like Washington crossing the Delaware.

“May I take you both out somewhere?” Hugo whispers, as if you were the go-between, “Would she do that?”

“I’ll ask,” you promise.  

“Oh, go!” she exclaims in the elevator, chalky in its fluorescence. “You go!  You’ll have much more fun. I’ve had too many birthdays. A night on the town! If you don’t mind all that—”


“You know. Gallic. Is he married?”


She waves a hand, willing to wait out this phase.

You clear away her solo dinner on a tray, and wash the plate as she answers emails on her iPad. “I prefer to stay home,” she confesses as she rolls into her bedroom and starts buttoning on her pajamas. You line up her slippers, and she shuffles into them. “Rachel Maddow’s going to interview the Fiji ambassador.” 

You remember suddenly, “Didn’t you have to send off a report or something?” 

She hooks on her hearing aide. “Got it out before lunch.” Reaching for her legal pad, she apologizes, as you kiss her, “I don’t know why I don’t have the energy I used to.”

“You’re not ninety anymore,” you remind her and zip up your boots. 

“No,” she says. Her eyes, shielded by age, admire you as you wind a yellow scarf around your neck. She smiles sadly. “How is that possible?” 

You rarely go out on these visits, and the restaurant is unfamiliar and nicer than you expected. Hugo is waiting by the cash register. He has changed into a sleek, burnt-orange jacket and, rising as you enter, smooths his black tie straight, as if the evening matters. He helps you with your chair, surprisingly old-fashioned as he passes you the menu. He pours the sauvignon blanc into your glass, and it occurs to you that his expert twist might come from having worked as a waiter. 

“The cod is good,” he suggests. 

Your mother would remind everyone that cod is over-fished, one of the greatest threats to marine life. 

You say, “That sounds great.”            

The cod arrives flat on your plate, already made extinct for you. 

“You like to be in plays?” Hugo is starting to extract the bones, looking relaxed now that he thinks things are going well. 

You take a breath. 

“I have had a career in theater,” you say. “I’ve been acting and directing for thirty years—”

His knife wobbles on the fish’s spine. “Right,” he mumbles, head low. “I’m sorry—”

Suddenly your voice is thick with a sob. “Me, too,” you say, massaging your throat. “Why am I not an accountant? It would be so much easier.”

Theater,” he says, eyebrows merging, a hush in his voice that might be genuine. It seems this is the first time he has considered the subject. “I think it is difficult.”

You nod. “Sisyphus pushing the boulder.” 

“But still, you push. You are strong, like your mother.”

“She had advantages I didn’t. Roles for women of color—” 

Hugo sends you a strangely admiring, lustrous stare. There is a pause, and you wonder—are you going to talk about the thing that no one wants to talk about, that you understand and yet cannot forgive her for? You wait. 

He asks instead, “You have kids?”


He looks surprised, anxious. “You don’t want?”

“Want has nothing to do with it. To support myself, I used to be a nanny. Twins, a boy and a girl.” You remember your mother, claiming with optimism that the position would help work off your urge for offspring. You admit, “I loved it.” 

“But you are not a nanny now?” 

“They grew up.” He pours more wine into your glass, careful now, solicitous. 

To fill the silence, you ask, “Have you been in the U.S. a while?” 

“Seven years, working freelance.” He’s Belgian, he explains, and stayed on after a green card and his divorce from an American he’d met abroad, who’d come back home and then left him for her college roommate. “Our little girl, Mia, she’s six, lives mostly with them. Follow your heart, right?” he says, smiling at the irony. “You’re supposed to do that, yes?”

“It hasn’t worked for me.” 

He takes a breath. 

“Are you still following it?” you ask.

“Yes.” His jaw squares.  Is this a defense or a challenge? 

“You must be a good photographer,” you tell him, unnerved now, grasping at straws. “My mother looked relaxed with you. She’s not a relaxed person.”

In the candlelight, his fork trembles. “A spy. Crazy. For a woman, of her generation . . .”

You wait.

Hugo studies you. “You are different.” 

Not sure what he means, you say, “My dad was West African.” You pause, then you add what you have rarely told anyone, rarely said aloud. “Sometimes people think I was adopted.”

“But you have her eyes—” He is looking into them, and you are looking back, pleased he has noticed this one resemblance. “She is like a monument, made of marble. And you . . .” You brace yourself for where this is going. “You are a pond,” he decides. “With trees making shadows. And a rowboat.” His hand makes a gesture of slow bobbing, gentle curves and arcs.

“You think?” You are surprised, pleased, almost alarmed. 

He looks down at his plate. “She is very intelligent.” 

On firmer ground now, you reach for your wine and warm to the subject, your best monologue. “She was raised by a single mother in Baltimore, a hat-maker and hell-raiser. She’s tough, independent, but also respectable. Put herself through college, cleaning law offices. She started to read the memos and got the idea to go to law school. She’s nothing if not practical.” 

He glances up, alert to something. 

“And she’s good at keeping secrets,” you add.

He is not going to talk about it. He asks, “She got married?”

“Yes.  In the late ‘60s. It was brief and crazy. My father, Akin, was a grad student in Boston, in political science, and I guess it was a marriage of minds, but all I remember is a coffee cup flying. After the divorce, Mother took her maiden name, Kelly, but I still had his, Adeyemi – which was kind of strange. She hid her personal life when she was working. No one ever came to the house.”  You look at him, see if he’s paying attention. “After her stint with the CIA, she taught at Georgetown, political science, until she was eighty-three. By then, she was consulting on environmental issues. She wrote an analysis three years ago that was ground-breaking. Someone at the Pentagon phones regularly. She specializes in climate and security.”

Hugo’s chin is resting on his clasped hands. “Wow,” he says, gazing at you.

You sit up straight, adjust some pretend glasses, and declare in your mother’s tenor, “They’re disregarding the phenology. I’ll get you a memo on it tonight.” 

His laugh tips with delight. He sips his wine and asks, “Can you also sing?” 

You pause for a moment. 

“I’m not successful.” You feel obliged to say this, to explain, “I’m not like her.” You look at him and start to gulp air. 

He reaches across the table and touches your hand.  He holds it, his skin warm and merciful.

“You will be,” he says.  Perhaps this is a ridiculous remark, but he doesn’t know that. He lifts his glass, which is almost empty. His teeth are wide-spaced and uneven. “It’s her birthday, yes? To Mama. And to you. To you.” 

But you cannot raise your glass, though you try.  You sit with your hands in your lap, like a child. The moment lingers, and you have a sudden thought:  your mother, for all her talk, cannot grasp the climate change of her own personal planet. 

“Why can’t we stop time?” you say, your voice breaking a little. 

He gives you a minute, and says gently, “My mother, she is eighty-one. She lives with my sister, in Lyon. She worked all her life and now she has Alzheimer’s. She doesn’t know us.”  He takes a drink of wine, seeking your eyes. “But your mother—she had a happy life, I think.” 

You picture her, stretched out on her bed, in her pink bathrobe and Hello Kitty slippers, hearing aid secured, pen poised, her face pure fox. 

“Yes, she is happy,” you say, after a moment.

Hugo is pressing his elbows on the table as he leans in, determined to tell you, “You’re lucky. She doesn’t need help.” 

“No.” You sigh. “She’s very independent. An endangered species.”

You wonder if Hugo is a little in love with her. Her life has been a series of successes while yours a string of belly flops. You are ashamed to think you are envious. She faced worse odds, tougher opposition. And, now, she is running out of hours. It is something no one can give her. You, on the other hand. . . .  What are you going to do with your remaining time?

There is silence.  His eyes are glowing. A chill passes through you as you reach across the table, but you are filled with resolve.  

Hugo De Groote’s napkin is soft as you press it to your face, though it reeks of dead fish. He waits for you, not surprised but having nothing else to offer, and his brown eyes—like yours—seem to be filling with the salt water of a sea hell-bent on rising.


Julian Anderson grew up in North Carolina and now lives and works in Ohio. Since debuting in the Southern Review, her fiction has been published widely. A story in the Kenyon Review was awarded a Pushcart. Her first novel, Empire Under Glass, came out with Faber. The Ohio Arts Council has been generous in its support, and she has been a Fellow at both the Sewanee and Bread Loaf writers’ conferences. Besides fiction, she also writes book reviews, which can be found in Rain Taxi and FictionsWritersReview.