Claire Hirsch translates Nicolás Poblete Pardo

the reunion

My mother had disinherited me, that’s the word she used. However she forgave me and came to my rescue upon learning of my return to Chile and reading in the newspaper what had happened to me. And she wasn’t repulsed when she saw me and realized that…

I had vague memories, not especially tender or good, of my mother. Her indifferent, or simple-minded, apathetic face. The rolls of fat on her back, her short legs. So surprised when she saw my bruised cheek (despite the thick layer of foundation that I had applied), but at least she didn’t notice my “new hairstyle,” outlandish bangs covering the left side of my face, a plastered down lock of hair covering my temple: a ruse. One of many.

“What happened to you?” Blinking with those hideous eyelashes. No matter how often she saw me sharpening a spoon to curl my eyelashes in front of the bathroom mirror, nothing; no matter how much I would attempt to communicate to her, “don’t let yourself go, Mom,” nothing.

However, now comes a sweet moment, an image that has unwittingly resurfaced. We were traveling in our car, on a drive, a picnic, my brother and me in the back seat. My dad drove and my mom, the co-pilot, had her arm stretched out behind my dad’s seat, her palm on the driver’s headrest. My dad driving and my mom holding the back of the headrest in her hand, as if supporting my father’s actual head. A family, a feeling of warmth, inclusion, protection. That is the image I now treasure. A legacy.

My mother is here. Her face is all weepy, glistening tears welling up in her eyes. Some droplets remain trapped in those thick and stubby eyelashes. “Daughter, how has this happened? You could have been killed. What is that wound you have over there? What ever happened to that guy you said you loved? And Eduarda? What happened to her? Such a pretty girl, my God, I remember that red dress, the spitting image of Raquel Welch. I don’t know what it is to be beautiful, I never had to please anybody. But you, both of you. It’s true that you resemble each other, you look so much alike, what happened? We have to look for the best doctor and we have to take steps, Conce. Maybe it’s for the best to no longer be so beautiful and to not have to satisfy anyone.”

I listen to my mother and I am a petal, I am a bird, I am very fragile and I cry heedlessly. Her tenderness hurts my soul and I take note of her “we have to.” It is my mother who includes me in this healing project, and I remember that lovely breeze, like in a movie, the drive, the picnic, and my mother’s left arm stretching out to rest her palm on my father’s curious seat cushion. Her “we have to” is similar to the arm that included us all.

“Daughter, what illness are you suffering from? What did they say?”

I cannot listen to that “daughter, daughter” which splits my soul and makes me cry even more, a profound sadness, from deep in my gut. “Daughter, daughter,” stabs that pierce me and knock me down.

“Daughter, you cannot imagine how much I have cried. There is a plague here, everything is falling apart. You don’t know it, but we have been helping here, we have to.”

My mother’s words bring solace, but at the same time they wound me, I cannot begin to fathom why.

“Do you understand me, daughter? You weren’t here and I had to do something, I was going to come unglued if I didn’t direct my energy to helping others. We mothers have stuck together. Waiting for our children, the missing, the drug addicts, the dying. And you? What about you, my love?”

I am lying on a gurney, on a mat; my mother and I are now together in the middle of a wasteland, or deep in a forest, it is a beautiful scenario, impossible. The bed has penetrated the forest, it has made its way among the trees and there is a white rectangle that stands out; dark trunks, almost black, cylinders that confine us; we are at the edge of a beach, the waves dodge our silhouettes as they approach; they pass us by, profiling our bodies; I see that my mother and I have defined contours. On the sand, lying on some towels. My mother is beside me, nearly stooped over, in a solicitous posture, ready to assist me, bent over to attend to me, and I am stretched out, I have been resting here for a long time.

“And you, dear?” repeats my mother.

I tell her after all this time. “I had a husband, yes, I did. I registered to study French… a teacher… But he wanted kids… I no longer could. Then those transfusions. And now this illness…”

I cry when I speak the word “kids.” No one understands this pain and I want something to drink, I need to take my pills. My mom knits, between her fingers a garment begins to take shape; there is a tangle of pink yarn covering her knuckles; I see a needle. She also has a sewing basket where she sometimes places her hand and, from it, she extracts a thimble, a needle. How sad, the pink yarn that may transform into a vest for a little girl, but I am not going to have any little girls, that I know… Or is it that my mother is thinking of a solution? But that’s impossible, I have nothing inside me. The others have perceived it. I understood as much when my mother and I crossed the square. I saw a group of grandmothers blowing soap bubbles into the air. The children watched them, they were learning. I passed by and I understood that they were looking at me as if I were nothing. And they were right; I was nothing. At another time I would have crossed the park, smug and disdainful, smiling to myself, you can’t imagine how much they paid me.

Not then.

Not now.

My mother knits, patient. She wants me to take my time and she needs me to transform what has occurred into a narrative. “Yes, Mom, this illness,” I resume. “It’s been worse than you can possibly imagine and I am grateful to be alive.”

“And Eduarda? What happened to Eduarda?”

I don’t know how to explain what happened, I cannot find the words and, in reality, I am terrified to tell her. I murmur a fragmented episode, because it is impossible to find a straight line in all of this. After losing the notion of time, of space, after spending who knows how many centuries in a basement with its own climate and changing my clothes a thousand times, after crossing an ocean and feeling that time will never be the same, there is little that I can articulate. I am a woman in the world, I have no country, I have no anchor, save my own blood. Eduarda? She said, “Do you think that I would fix myself up for that loser? This effort is for other men, for someone who might transform my life.” I laughed, but he looked at us with pity. And that was good, because if compassion and pity are extreme, then they might not blame you. Eduarda laughed too, saying that she was happy because she had started her “period,” in quotation marks, as she put it, as if it were a stupid term. And she concluded, triumphant, defiant, “Women are born to bleed, I bet you agree with that, don’t you?”

But of course there is a line. Follow the yellow line! My head down and my small fingers instantly enormous, as if I had taken LSD. Then in that place of horror. How to face up to that, there is no dress rehearsal, there is no Operation D.E.I.S.Y*, to prepare one for that. Operation “Daisy,” as we called it, and an undercover voice in the mouthpiece commanding, “Obey!”

The bogus call from some classmate absent from school that day, centuries before cell phones. Back then impossible to trace a number. An exciting game that we finally got accustomed to, even after the earthquake of ’85, an opportunity to miss classes, to hear another type of breathing among schoolmates, a distant scenario where you could even discern a slight terror in one eye or another. But for us there was no danger in the possibility of a tremor. We would not die in an earthquake, that was clear. St. Mary’s: the best education, high-quality facility. Ready to confront the highest number on the Richter scale. That’s what I thought when: “Follow the yellow line!” I wonder whether anyone, anywhere teaches about how to deal with the eventuality: Follow the yellow line?

What happened to Eduarda? What happened to Eduarda?

Sometimes I am able to see more. The pool of black ink: a lacquered table, a leather armchair, a cone of a light. No, not that last one. Your damp hair, your skull, my love, your head hidden, you do not want me to see your face, your eyes. I do not wish to see your face. What would happen if I should recognize your eyes? And the blood so bright, so red, maybe it’s artificial, hopefully it is, it was; fake blood, theater prop blood and that leg, a mannequin. I approach the glass table and the reflection is not my face, but hers, I swear to them. I cannot see your eyes, I think there are flies. Just a few flies, not many. It’s good that there aren’t many. But you resist turning your face, you don’t want me to see you. Then I understand that the worst has begun to occur.

My mother is still knitting. She asks me if I remember my first menstruation, when she went to look for me at school and I seemed extremely embarrassed, I didn’t want anybody to know what had happened and I made her promise me, I made her swear that this was a secret she would never reveal. She says that this day is etched in her memory. Me with my school sweatpants, hiding among the bushes at the entrance of St. Mary’s, near the gates, praying that no one would spot me, my sweatshirt tied around my waist, the sleeves hanging, and mortified from discovering the reddened fabric.

I don’t understand why my mother recounts that episode. My recollection is of having been with Eduarda, at her house, and everything was summarized in two words: “Thank goodness.” That was the key that marked the rite of passage. That and not my mother’s story. “Thank goodness,” that was the reaction of my friend/sister who had a hard time understanding me. However, days after that, “thank goodness” was a pet phrase that we were rolling around our tongues, accompanied by coughing, half-closed eyes and explosions of laughter. I smile recalling that day. My mother seems happy when she sees me smile. Conce, you have beautiful teeth, is what her smile says.

So many times, so many people. Many variations:
“Pretty teeth, natural.”
“A spontaneous smile.”
“Your teeth are so even!”
“I love it when you laugh.”
And more degrading, like that saying about the horse:
“Conce, what would you be without your teeth?”

What fury. How would it be to elevate myself, surpass those heels, a sword, the sharpest one in this city. To elongate the muscles in my arms, drawing circles in the air, to strike the fatal blow. To decapitate one after another, one head after another rolling on the floor. Eyes. Looking everywhere in search of those eyeballs. Unable to follow their trajectory, a film, and watching the horror with authentic shock, then with condemnation, finally with resignation. Murmuring, almost spitting out a couple of reproaches, and concluding: they had it coming. How could they think that nobody would punish them? Somebody has to pay. Justice for sins: someone.

“Mom, what happened to Dad?” I ask, craning my neck so that she understands that I am making an extra effort and that the question is not intended to offend her or to make her feel uncomfortable. This is a unique moment, I doubt that it will be repeated in this life. I need her to tell me, and even when she has no response, I need to try to find an explanation. However it is I who speaks: “Eduarda… crazy for the guys. I just think I remember it, so maybe my recollection is not even true. Yes, the same, the two of us. So similar. Crazy about that man who treated me like shit. High, I wanted to escape my body, to stop feeling it. At that time I was nothing, only what he saw. Whatever his eyes registered, that was who I was. But I felt a kind of cowardice and discomfort to notice the smell of the perspiration under my arms, and I tried not to raise them. It was sad to know that behind or beneath the perfume sprayed around my head was a poor camouflage, unsuccessful in masking the stink that emanated from my armpits. Terrified, thinking about how to prevent him from smelling me and then punishing me. He alone could dispense the appropriate punishment. Never ridicule him, because a man’s shame is the most dangerous; it is instantly converted into rage, transmuted into the need to inflict even more hurt, and in an irrevocable manner. They say that it is one’s own father for whom one looks. Hopefully it will be like that; hopefully I will find him.”

My mom says, “I’m sure that some day you will find him.”

Her response worries me because it reminds me of the past, years earlier, when I learned that when my mother said “I’m sure” it meant that she doubted, but that she had hope. A line crosses her eyes and like a reflex her lips synchronize with them. My mother remembers, with joyful longing, “It was a pretty day, that afternoon, when you went to the movies with your friends and you called me on the phone. You didn’t want to say what had occurred. I looked for you at the movie theater exit and you approached me, practically running. And crying. In the movie, you said, they had offered you some sanitary napkins. But you were a hopeless mess. Disconsolate, you left the dark theater to look for a pay phone, saying that you wanted to go home, that they shouldn’t worry. You managed to tell your friends that you would call them and that you wanted to know how the movie ended. But to me you insisted, ‘I don’t want anybody to know.’ Remember? I clearly recall that we stopped at a pharmacy and that I bought you some of those new disposable sanitary napkins. I felt so happy, I don’t know, almost proud, to be able to buy the latest thing for you, and also grateful, inside, that you didn’t have to use those infernal belts that we used when we were girls, to hold the napkin in place. How wonderful, an adhesive strip solved this tremendous problem. And when we got home you locked yourself in the bathroom, and then emerged, my beautiful, bleeding girl, yes, my anguished girl. And then I felt my heart break a little bit, desolation and a kind of vanity at the same time, because I knew that your childhood was gone forever. And, do you see, Conce? I kept your secret. I kept it.”

Thank goodness!

There is sadness in those eyes. And in mine, like holes in the sand and the water draining into them. We have to get up and get out of here soon. Before the tide comes up we have to escape. Yes, the water has approached, threatening to soak us. That is to say, the darkness has already descended on this forest; the edges of the sheets have darkened, the bed is barely visible among the darkening trunks. My mother says that she is going to take care of me from now on. She is going to heal and pamper me, she says. We’re going to take care of each other and she is going to be responsible for my well-being. She takes me by the arm, I stand up, summoning an external strength, and I shake off the sand. The moist crystals glisten, they are stones, quartz, pulverized glass. I slap them from my skin, like a macabre mermaid shedding scales. We walk on the particles like two zombies in an apocalyptic horror movie. From my hair my mother takes some eucalyptus leaves and fine green needles that the spruce trees have sprinkled on my head. It doesn’t take long to reach the street and my mother opens the door to her house and makes me enter. I feel sad and kind of embarrassed when my mother sees me dialing numbers on my phone, and she gently reproaches me, “Why are you ordering a pizza if I’m preparing rice and getting ready to bake a chicken breast?”

Like a historian, searching for a faithful account… Our paths have crossed. It’s one of those confusing moments in which I don’t know where I am and thus the past falls on me in the form of ancestors. But why does it have to be surprising or unexpected if the past has always been there? Our origins… A secret? I must sniff around. The need to investigate, to endow this insipid present with meaning. Those ancestors are all I have in order to endure what happens now, otherwise the only solution would be suicide. And no, I cannot follow you there, Eduarda.

The voice of the detective with the hawk-eyes whispers, “Does God know?

* an emergency drill

translator’s note:

The Reunion is a chapter from Concepciones, a novel published by Furtiva Editorial in 2017. The excerpt offers us a look at the complex relationship between a damaged young woman and her mother. As with much Chilean fiction, the story is set against the background of the Pinochet dictatorship, which had such a profound effect on all who lived through it. We get a glimpse of how reality is sometimes an individual’s invention, with memories either warped or fabricated. As a result of the trauma the two women experienced living through the Pinochet years, they now struggle with their conflicting memories as they try to find a way to move forward together.


Claire Hirsch is a graduate of Tufts University. She has translated several pieces of fiction, specializing in Chilean narrative. Along with the author, she tackled the translation of the avant-garde novel, No Me Ignores, which received critical acclaim in Chile (Publishing House Cuarto Propio). She also collaborated with the author on the bilingual translation of En La Isla/On The Island. Previous translations by Ms. Hirsch have been published in K1N Journal of Literary Translation (Canada) and The Stinging Fly (Ireland).

Nicolás Poblete Pardo lives in Santiago de Chile. He is a full-time professor at the Universidad Chileno-Británica de Cultura, as well as Coordinator of the Cultural Studies Area. Dr. Poblete has published numerous novels and short story collections. Additionally he frequently contributes La Panera, a cultural magazine, and the journal as a part of his very productive career. Dr. Poblete received his Masters and PhD from Washington University in St. Louis, where he also did a post-doctoral research project on the Latin American Gothic novel. He has received a number of honors and awards, including fellowships for his writing as well as teaching awards.




Jacob Rogers translates María do Cebreiro


The difference between slowness and speed
is a matter of degree. You could spend
your whole life at the threshold to your house,
watching the sun go up and down each day,
or you could spend your whole life
in a rush. The two lives aren’t so unlike.
The sun comes up for us all. We all need bread
and we all need roses. We never eat
roses and we braid bread to remember
wheat’s flower, which, in a way, remains
alive within. Roses prick and some people
still bless bread. The difference between
slowness and speed is a matter of degree.
The rush of roses and the tranquility of the sun.
The speed of bread and the slowness of wheat. 


His eyes were wet but he crossed
his arms as if to shield his
heart. She wanted to ask him:
have you ever thought how music
is like water? Once the first note
is played, it’s impossible to tell it apart
from the second. No one has ever found
the dividing line between a sandbank and
a grain of sand. And when it rains in
the ocean, all of its mouths become one.
In such a state of calm, not even
the truth can shock you. Bonds can’t
be made by force. A man
and a woman can go to bed together
and wake up apart. Heartbreak is never
love’s last act. We label as continuous
movement anything that’s unaware of
the lines dividing it. She wanted to tell
him all that but didn’t say anything.
That was when he opened his arms
and closed his eyes. All the arms
and all the eyes in the world were his.


translator’s note:

Both of these poems come from María do Cebreiro’s 2017 collection, A lentitude (Slowness). An accomplished poet with ten books to her name, this is one of her best (or at least, one of my favorites), dealing with themes of nature and the body familiar to poetry, and literature in general, but taking them and making them entirely her own. And while some of the poems are more anecdotal, using little bits of story and narrative to make meaning, the two here represent some of the more abstract, idea-bound pieces in the collection.

Still, for all that abstractness, Cebreiro uses very concrete, clear imagery, and even these “abstract” poems don’t read as confounded, esoteric philosophical treatises so much as conceptual vignettes. Many of them are also quite difficult to translate, at times quite frankly because simplicity can be hard to render well in another language. At other moments it’s because she uses repetition in a way that doesn’t always come off convincingly in English, but lends a forceful, reverential, hymn-like feeling to the poems, shrouding them in a veil of mysticism. That’s no accident. Almost every single one of the poems invokes nature, and almost every single one invokes the body.

Cebreiro does not always interrelate the two, but when she does, such as in “Dissolution,” the poems read like atheistic, pagan prayers, like the worship of something ethereal and sacred, yet simultaneously corporeal and mundane. If “Dissolution” reads like a prayer, “Slowness” feels more like the conversational wisdom of a down-to-earth priest. It’s a wonderful interweaving of the simultaneously religious, quotidian, and natural imagery of wheat, bread, and braiding it “to remember,” in a poem that acts as a reminder that time is relative, that however fast or slow a human life moves, it’s still just that: human.

Ultimately, I’ve tried to translate these poems in a way that maintains that spark, liveliness, and plain-spokenness of the language, while also keeping that rhythmic repetition alive where I can. This often required a bit of creativity in terms of finding syntaxes and word choices that lent themselves to repetition in English.  Though in the case of these two poems I didn’t have to veer too far from the original, there are times, though, where I found it less productive to force a repetition for the sake of “fidelity,” or for the sake of keeping the moving parts where they were in the original. So, in some cases, I attempted to shift those parts around a bit and re-create that force and power through rhyme and alliteration, losing, maybe, something of the original, but perhaps getting it back in a way more inherent to English, to my own poetic voice.


Jacob Rogers (Haifa, 1994) is a translator of Galician prose and poetry. He was selected as one of the winners of the Words Without Borders Poems in Translation Contest, and his translations have appeared in Asymptote, Best European Fiction 2019, PRISM International, Cagibi, Lunch Ticket, Your Impossible Voice, Nashville Review, The Brooklyn Rail InTranslation, and the Portico of Galician Literature, with work forthcoming in Columbia Journal, Asymptote, and Copper Nickel. His translation of Carlos Casares’ novel, HIS EXCELLENCY, came out from Small Stations Press in 2017. Photo by Danielle Rogers.

María do Cebreiro (Santiago de Compostela, 1976) is a Galician poet, translator, and critic. She has published over ten books of poetry, co-authored two, and has won several awards, most recently the Galician Critics’ Prize for her collection, O deserto (The Desert, 2016). Her collections, The Desert (tr. Keith Payne) and I Am Not From Here (tr. Helena Miguélez-Carballeira) have been published in English by Shearsman books, and her work has appeared in Asymptote and various anthologies. She holds a Ph.D in Literary Theory from the University of Santiago de Compostela and currently teaches in the Philology department at the same university. Photo by Laura Dalama.




Matthew Rinaldi translates Maria José Silveira

happy few

Maybe you’re not the type who’s particularly interested in what I’m about to say here.

It could be because you think it happened so long ago that it doesn’t concern you⁠—in fact, it never concerned you. Or you might think it happened so recently that it’s still too soon to talk about the subject with distance. Or maybe none of it ever interested you, not even when it was happening; or else it interested you so much that you became a part of it and therefore you already know exactly how it was, and talking about it makes you feel tired, so very tired. 

This is your right, of course, and any one of these alternatives is perfectly acceptable. Though I’d prefer you to be the type of person who is indeed interested in the subject and wants to know more, either to refresh your memory or to truly understand it. The kind of person who, like me, thinks this story⁠—whether big or small⁠—has not yet been fully told. Not even close.

Still, while I am the second type of person, the curious thing is that, contradictory though it may be, I don’t like to remember those days, let alone talk about them. But I have my own reason for this. I know exactly why I don’t like it, and I can even explain it at the end⁠—if we make it that far.

In any event, today, right here, right now, this is the story I have to tell.

A little story. One which takes place in a single day. A Friday.

A Friday much like any others in those years­­⁠—scarcely imaginable nowadays and yet so close in time⁠—when, as disconcerting as it seems, even for those of us who were right in the disturbed heart of that era, in this very city, São Paulo, there were bombs exploding in the streets, people robbing banks, police checkpoints stopping lines of cars at any time of day or night, soldiers fanning out across neighborhoods and at the drop of a hat mere passersby would unwillingly find themselves breathing in air contaminated with pure adrenaline and fear.

Those were the days of the dictatorship. The times of Garrastazu Médici.

A lot of things would happen that Friday.

The first thing to happen was a good thing: a small act of pamphleteering successfully pulled off at the break of a day that had started out dreary and overcast, but was now brightened by a sun that turned the air lightly golden, giving it the crystalline transparency of a São Paulo late-May morning.

Mara pulls up the collar of her jacket and smiles to herself. What a beautiful day!

Calm and collected, she has just exited the Estação da Luz train station, where she’d arrived a little earlier with three other companions in the 5 AM drizzle of the cold, still dark city. While two in their group acted as lookouts, one by each door at the main entrance, she and Clarice did some quick pamphleteering in the corridor to the stairways that led up from the train platforms.

They placed pamphlets denouncing the state of the nation into the hands of the workers who walked by, drowsy and barely aware of what was happening.

Some, the few who realized what those conspicuous young women in Lee jeans⁠—one in a black jacket, the other in a navy blue peacoat⁠—were up to, stopped for an instant and, startled, removed their chilly hands from their jackets and quickly grabbed the pamphlets extended to them, placing them immediately in their pockets, without looking left or right. Others passed straight by in a rush, late or else just frightened, barely raising their heads stuffed into their coat collars. They didn’t even look. Most of them, aloof, reached out their hands and took the piece of paper without the slightest notion of what it was. And they likely threw it away, crumpled and unread, at the first opportunity.

In a few short minutes, all the pamphlets that the girls brought in the bottom of their leather shoulder bags had been handed out. They head off in different directions like they don’t know each other. In the distance, a police car, its siren and lights off, approaches slowly like a black beetle.

Mara sighs in relief. She’s afraid, she always was, even when an action, like that morning’s pamphleteering, which was executed with care and respect for the norms of security, presented virtually no risk at all. She’d learned it as a student and it had become second nature. Somehow she’d gotten the hang of it, knowing more or less how to act. But she wasn’t a student anymore and the tenor of the repression wasn’t the same either. If she got caught, she’d be put in jail, and not as an ordinary young girl in trouble, but as a member of an urban guerrilla organization. She was scared; how could she not be? This sort of thing was no joke. So when everything worked out fine and was over with the relief was enormous.

She hurriedly climbs aboard the bus that runs to Duque de Caxias.

They were supposed to meet an hour later at the flower shop at Largo do Arouche.

Mara had time to have breakfast at a bakery nearby Avenida São João and that’s where she is now, seated on a stool at the counter. Without haste, she observes life around her preparing for yet another day. She feels a nice, familiar warmth spread inside her. The task accomplished without incident, the light of the morning, the yellow butter melting in the warmth of the crispy bread fresh from the oven and the taste of the coffee lightly burning her tongue.

She thinks of Alfredo who was still asleep when she left. In the early cold, before getting out of bed, she wrapped herself up in his warm body and he curled an arm around her, half asleep, pulling her closer.

As if it were possible to get any closer.

The alarm sounded the second time and Mara leapt from the bed. If she hadn’t done so immediately, she would have run the risk of surrendering to slumber, to laziness, and falling back asleep in the warmth of the body she loved.

She had no time for breakfast. She hardly had time to get dressed and rush out to catch the bus to the rendezvous where she was to meet the companheiro tasked with bringing the pamphlets.

Only now, at the bakery, does she have her coffee and milk with buttered bread.

She loves these calm motions of the day getting started. If she didn’t have such a soft spot for sleep, she would’ve liked to get up bright and early every day and watch the new sun in peace.  

She’s happy.

Sometimes all it takes is a little chemical reaction to make a person feel like this, the way she feels now⁠—this plain sense of well-being, her there with the morning sun rising over the city.

After the brief encounter with the others pamphleteering at Largo do Arouche⁠—everything okay, everyone safe⁠—they discussed the reaction of one guy, who must have been some kind of low-key weirdo. He took a pamphlet out of Mara’s hand and gave it to Clarice, and then went back to take a pamphlet from Clarice only to hand it to Mara. At that point the companheiros on lookout duty came over to tell them to wrap up the pamphleteering and leave the area, and the guy paused for a second, looking like he was considering whether to go back and do the same thing all over again, but he decided to go down to the platform, and take the train in meek alienation.

The shit you see!

Between chuckles, they confirm the rendezvous for the following day at 7 PM in front of the Belas Artes movie theater.

And as they’re saying goodbye, Clarice mentions:

– Hey Mara, I love that jacket of yours. What do you say we swap until Monday? You can have my peacoat.

– Sure, take it. 

They trade⁠—as they often did with blouses and dresses⁠—the black jacket, well crafted with fine trimming, a gift from her mother, for Clarice’s ordinary navy blue peacoat with the silver buttons⁠—and Mara heads to the newspaper where she works in the city center. It’s still early, the big elevator in the old building is empty. The silence is precious and cozy in the deserted corridors before the beginning of the beginning of the day, when the open spaces stretch out and hold their grip on the nocturnal shadows for as long as possible, while preparing to once again receive the daily routine⁠—the movement, the heat and noise conjoined with the light as it streams obstinately in through the Venetian blinds.

Mara takes off Clarice’s peacoat. She’s no longer wearing jeans and sneakers, she got changed in the office bathroom as soon as she arrived, putting them in a plastic bag which she then placed in the bottom drawer of her desk in the newsroom. She let down her black hair, formerly tied in a ponytail, and put on some light eyeliner and a little mascara. Now she’s wearing black pantyhose, a burgundy miniskirt, black high heels and the same white blouse she’d had on with the jeans. She’s ready for the workday.

She adjusts her pantyhose, takes a seat and reads the day’s paper.

“Médici inaugurates hydroelectric plant in Northeast.”

“National Intelligence Service presents civilians with medals.”

“Zagalo maintains third Cup title is just the beginning.”

At half past noon, she’s standing by the entrance of Almanara, another rendezvous to deliver the stencil for an article to be published in the organization’s next internal bulletin. The publications for discussion between militants are printed on mimeographs; the modern, recently-acquired off-set is used for the pamphlets and flyers distributed to the masses.

The encounter is quick.

The afternoon sun had heated up the streets and people walk by carrying their sweaters in the brief warmth of the early afternoon.

The day remains beautiful.

Mara has a lunch date with two friends, but the three of them decide to have a light sandwich and use the rest of their free time to browse the bookstores in the center; Livraria Francesa, Ciências Humanas, Brasiliense.

At Brasiliense, one of them opens a book by Nietzsche. She tells them how she once sat in on a class about the philosopher and the subject of happiness. If she had understood the professor correctly, according to Nietzsche, metaphysics and Christian morality⁠—dour, sullen and somber⁠—were unable to accommodate the laughter and spontaneity of joy. That joy, happiness, life are here on Earth and not in some transcendental world.

“It made me curious,” Mara’s friend went on. As they spoke in lively voices, she made one swift and natural motion perceivable only to the two girls, one standing to her side and the other in front, and placed the philosophy book inside her large shoulder bag.

 The three of them exited the bookstore like nothing had happened, happily discussing happiness according to Nietzsche.

Next they went to Livraria Francesa. Mara finds the latest issue of “Les Temps Modernes,” with articles by Frantz Fanon and Sartre.

She opens the magazine, reads a few paragraphs and wants more.

Displayed on a shelf at the back of the store, the paperback publication seems to be discreetly asking to be expropriated. Behind the human shield improvised by her friends⁠—who understood Mara’s subtle gesture perfectly⁠—she quickly extends her arm and slips the magazine inside her coat.

One of them then looks at her wristwatch, pretending to realize what time it is. “We’re late!” she says, and the three of them exit, absorbed in conversation, innocent.

They go to celebrate the spoils of their lunch outing with espresso at the galleria on Rua Barão de Itapetininga. They laugh loudly, content: they’re in their twenties, they just successfully engaged in two little adventures of cultural expropriation, and find the whole thing quite amusing.

The bookstores in the city are excellent. The espresso tastes good. Being twenty-something is joy in its purest state.

And, on top of it all, it’s a perfect day.

What else would they need to feel this little bit of euphoria? Ephemeral, it’s true, but is not the very essence of euphoria ephemeral?

What is it that Nietzsche said about this?

In the afternoon, Mara has a short pitch meeting.

Sometimes she wonders how she manages to lead this double life. A militant in a clandestine organization and a reporter for a bourgeois newspaper. Two opposites in a risky contradiction. But a legitimate job is fundamental in keeping up the facade of the clandestine life. Most militants have jobs and signed work cards, and their apartments are important as safe houses designated for the organization’s specific tasks. Mara’s apartment is one of these safe houses, and she finds two big advantages in her job: her work is reasonably interesting and the pay is enough to cover the bills for the two of them⁠—Alfredo is a “professional” in the organization, exclusively dedicated to militancy. Now and then, she has the good luck to work on some important stories. She’s able to live this contradiction without losing it, without any real schizophrenia. She likes her work; she likes her coworkers. She feels at home in the tense atmosphere of the newsroom. 

In the late afternoon, she takes the bus home. It’s moments like these that she’s able to examine, to observe the faces of the people, the faces of the multitudes. The lack of prospects, the exhaustion, the despondency. The sad poverty. This is what she sees at the end of every afternoon on the overcrowded buses. But she sees something else too, partially hidden among so many people, but if she looks closely she can see something else in those faces: a future. Something they all have a right to, just as she does. A much different future⁠—and she’ll do whatever she can for them to get there as fast as possible.

At what moment did she decide to participate in all this, she sometimes wonders. And she knows the answer is that there wasn’t one precise moment: it takes time to make this sort of decision. Years. In her case, it took high school and college. A period in which she asked herself certain questions to understand what was going on around her and found, collectively and individually, satisfactory answers in a determined way of thinking. In many books, a great many arguments, in movies, songs, plays, conversations, so many conversations. She is part of a time of effervescence, of ongoing transformations, just look⁠—see what’s happening in Paris, London, Peking with its Cultural Revolution, Prague, Berlin. And Brazil barred from experiencing this era of change by the repression of a dictatorship.

Mara feels a sort of physical reaction at the very thought of the word: ditadura. The most repulsive word in the Portuguese language.

As you can see, Mara is a romantic. She’s a romantic in that specific sense of an individual who thinks it possible to overcome the conditions put in place by the moment in which she lives, who believes that it is human nature not to accept what’s been imposed on you, to have the impulse to go beyond, to surpass, to transcend. This is the kind of romantic she is. This is her pedigree.

Mauro, a comrade from the Directory, is spending some time at the safe house where she lives with Alfredo, a small apartment with a single bedroom and living room in Lapa. It has a meager few pieces of second hand furniture: in the living room there’s a blue formica table and chairs, a small wood bookshelf and a standard bed with two mattresses and pillows that sometimes doubles as a sofa and accommodates guests on nights like this one. In the bedroom, a simple standing closet and another simple single bed where she and Alfredo sleep. In the kitchen, a stove with four burners, a new refrigerator and a small cupboard. In the bathroom, a small medicine cabinet and a hamper for dirty clothes. In the tiny service area, a second hand washing machine.

This sort of standard safe house decor doesn’t even allow a single poster on the wall, unless it’s something neutral like a landscape scene. If neighbors or strangers were to enter the apartment, they are to see nothing that would insinuate any sort of left-wing sympathy. That’s why the books by Marx, Engels, Lenin, Mao, Sergio Buarque, Caio Prado all had to be hidden. Only novels could left out in the open, and not all of them. On a wood bookshelf in the bedroom, a typewriter is hidden, one of the heavy ones, capable of cutting stencils.

On the shelves alongside the books are seashells collected on Tenório Beach during a holiday in Ubatuba, a caricature drawn by one of Mara’s coworkers in the newsroom, a present that aroused a certain jealousy in Alfredo, though he never said anything about it, a colorful straw fan bought at the market at Praça da República, a chessboard with a slip of paper which reads “Monthly Championship,” with two columns of marks – one labeled ME and the other HIM in capital letters. At the back of the closet and under the bed, documents from the organization, and the books by left-wing authors.  

On top, inside a white shoebox, are the guns⁠—two 38s, a 7.65 mm pistol⁠—and some ammunition.

Mara was no good with guns. She never got used to the sensation of holding one: it made her feel unreal. The actual weight of a gun was something she never knew how to calculate well and it always surprised her. In all the training sessions in which she participated since having joined the organization, she never managed to hit any of the targets, not even the big ones. And before anyone could tease her for her incompetence, she was the first to laugh and label herself the Renitent Pacifist. Still, she didn’t worry about it too much: she knew her work would be in the rearguard, not the front lines.

Next to the guns, in another white shoebox, are some family photos and letters. There’s also a small notebook. Not a diary, it would be reckless to keep a diary under those circumstances, but a notepad in which she wrote poems, little stories, texts with no beginning and no ending. It’s one of the rare personal things in the apartment. Aside from her and Alfredo’s few articles of clothing, a couple of necklaces, bracelets, Indian rings and earrings, which she couldn’t live without.

There’s also a braided rug on the floor in front of the closet. And a piece of paperboard on the bed headboard with elaborate letters written in Pilot pen:

“We must dream, but with the condition of making our dreams come true. ” —Lenin

I always liked that poster. I wish I had been like Mara: to have that romanticism, that goodness to believe that a phrase written on a paperboard tacked on the wall could provide some kind of power or inspiration. I wish I had been like that. Even more so, I wish I were like that now. To still have that lightness.

This was the apartment. These were the decorations. That was all.

And still, inside that “safe house” with its less than hospitable decor, there was something else, and that something was what dominated and united them and made them what they were. The indefinable feeling that was born out of an energy concentrated there, in the enthusiasm, in the sense of fulfillment and achievement. The unity that comes from fighting for something they believed in, with all the enthusiasm of youth⁠—against injustice, against exploitation. The fight for the construction of a different society.

An end and a beginning.

That is what made them a band of brothers.

On this Friday night, after spending the day in a meeting there in the apartment, Mauro made dinner. He’s an excellent cook: he made a roast with browned onions and sides of fluffy white rice and beans. He explains how to make the roast to Mara. It’s simple: just rub the eye of round with salt, fry it in a bit of vegetable oil until it’s browned on both sides and then put in the oven, nestled among whole, peeled onions. 

The meat sizzles as he cuts it into slices, the oil still seething. A tantalizing aroma spreads throughout the small living room.

They wrap the table in newspaper and serve themselves directly from the pot, campfire-style, eating the roast on top of the abominable headlines of the day.

The three of them had intended to go see a movie, Yellow Submarine. But Alfredo showed up with red eyes, irritated from the contact lenses he’d just started wearing. The lenses are new to the market, and they’re hard, cumbersome, difficult to adapt to. During the last action in which he participated⁠—the “temporary expropriation” of a car to be used to “expropriate” a bank⁠—he nearly got his glasses knocked off. From that point on, he decided to wear contacts. Now his eyes are burning and red; better not to strain them.

Furthermore, they had another special house guest aside from Mauro⁠—one who would have been unable to go with them to the movies. He’s obligated to lay low for a while: his picture is on wanted posters scattered all over the city. He spent the week there without setting foot outside, and he has a rendezvous later on that will take him out of town.

They’re staying in to keep him company and have a little farewell party.

Mara hadn’t known him before. That morning at Estação da Luz, she saw his face in an old photo on the wanted poster: bushy black hair, a beard, glasses, huskier. He’d asked that she buy some dye to lighten his hair, and when she got home from work at the end of the afternoon, the first thing she did was to sit him on a stool in the white-tiled bathroom. She placed a face towel on his shoulders and began applying the products to bleach and then color his hair, following the instructions. First she cut it. She was handy at these things and found herself pleased with the outcome: the hair, cropped short, bleached and dyed light brown, didn’t look fake. It looked like it had sprouted naturally on the head of that young man with the slightly dark complexion and chestnut eyes opening wide to a fate suddenly so far out of his control.

And there they are, conversing in the small living room that Friday night. They’re calm, they have a path forward. They feel good.

The danger is out there⁠—in the scent, in the cold, in the fragmented light of the night⁠—but it’s not in them.

The night is cold, moonless.

Alfredo goes down to the corner bar to buy some wine and cognac for the farewell party. He gets jug wine, “Sangue de Boi,” but they’re young enough for second-rate booze. The cognac is Dreher.

They tell stories. They laugh.

Mara draws closer to Alfredo and holds him tight. How she loves him! They’ve been together since their senior year of college and she hopes to spend the rest of her life like this, by his side, together, inside of something larger than the two of them.

She asks him in a whisper:

– Are you happy?

– You know I am, he smiles.

She teases him:

– Do you know what Nietzsche wrote about happiness?

– Nietzsche? He didn’t know. But it makes sense. Every great thinker has had to deal with it, the base of the great human question: why are we here, after all? To suffer, or to be happy?

They listen to Joan Baez, Peter Seeger, Chico, Caetano; they sing the lovely refrain, “El nombre del hombre es pueblo,” loud, over again and again.

The house guest has a nice voice and he drums a Mangueira samba on the table. Mauro accompanies him on the matchbox. The lyrics sing of dead leaves, dead leaves being stepped on. His voice goes down to some unknown depths, and from there it brings up a sweet inflection, a longing, a warm sentiment of something good.

The house guest doesn’t know it yet, but, in the early morning hours, he’s going to be arrested.

He’s going to be tortured. They’ll hang him upside down from a crossbar, the bleached hair dangling from his head, and apply electric shocks to his anus, his nostrils, his ears. They’ll shove his face into a tank of water and make him think he’s dying. This young man with the generous eyes will be torn apart. They will try to break him and conquer him. They will forever mark his youth and memory, darkening the unacceptable light in his eyes.

At the midnight rendezvous, he’ll be ambushed by the police.

Mauro will drop him off two blocks from the spot where he is to meet the companheiro who will take him out of town. He’ll walk around the block, waiting the ten minutes permitted in the event of a delay.

No sign of anyone.

He’ll start to wonder: might there have been a misunderstanding? Had the rendezvous actually been set for 12:30? The streets are quiet and, after so many days cooped up inside the safe house, the pure night air is more intoxicating than the wine he drank.

 He doesn’t go back to the spot where Mauro is to wait ten minutes for him. Disrespecting the norms of security, he decides to stay.

That’s when the police come for him.

And then, not too long after, just a few days later, Mauro, Alfredo, all of them are arrested, one by one.

And Mara is killed.

Armed police officers, strong, rough men, on the Sunday night after that Friday, another cold, moonless night, will invade the safe house where Mara and Alfredo live. They’ll throw out the shoebox containing their personal belongings. One of them will take her necklaces, earrings and bracelets for his girlfriend, wife, or mistress. Another will indifferently tear the small poster off the headboard, ripping it and sneering: these two must suffer from insomnia. Still another will stomp on the bed, splitting the wood base in two.

The books on the shelf will go on the floor, and also be trampled. The formica table, the furniture, turned upside down, as if to symbolize something. The pots and pans and dishes and utensils will be examined. If deemed worthwhile, they’ll end up in one of their homes.

The caricature of Mara drawn by her coworker in the newsroom will be stepped on several times.

They broke in guns blazing. Mara didn’t even try to go for the shoebox at the top of the closet. What for? She’d never hit a target, not even any of the big ones, remember? She couldn’t even calculate the weight of a gun correctly. She was totally inept at it. And even if she had been the greatest target shooter of all time, she still wouldn’t have made it. They’d arrived thinking they would find Mauro in the apartment, and they came in with fury as well as fear. They wanted Mauro wounded, ready to talk.

But it was Mara who was sitting in the chair in front of the door, who was startled to her feet, making her the perfect target.

I think now’s the time to tell you what I said I would at the beginning.

I’m Mara’s friend, the one who handed out pamphlets with her that Friday, the one who studied philosophy. I’m Clarice. That same Friday night, I got arrested, far from there and⁠—now I’m going to say it quickly and quietly⁠—iwastortured. Not too much, not to the point of near-death or madness, but enough, I’d say. Plenty.

I wanted, I tried, I wished⁠—for this story to be a beautiful one and to only have that first part, the part with the happiness. But I know it’s impossible to be so partial. Against my will, I find myself obligated to enunciate this obscenely ugly first-person statement in the Portuguese language.

On a beach one night after I got out of jail, there in the middle of the water that lapped against me and came and went and came again, the deserted beach, the mirror of the dark ocean on a night with no moon and no stars and yet with something of an iridescent silver in the reflection of the water, something of a bristly luster, a luster of oil and ash, I thought to myself I’m going to say it out loud, I’m going to speak it, and I said it and I spoke it and I screamed it out, I yelled that first-person statement many, many times until my voice went hoarse, until I felt exhausted and stupid, so very stupid. I once saw this movie⁠—I don’t remember the title⁠—where a girl stands beside some train tracks, waiting for a train to come so she could let out a scream and alleviate the pain she felt. And someone also told me that screaming with all your might could force part of the problem out and you lose some of the weight you have locked up inside you.

I didn’t.

I continue to avoid even thinking about the hideous enunciation as much as I can and when, for some reason, I have to remember it, like now, and utter it, I say it as quietly and as quickly as possible, but always with a tremor⁠—either a weak one, almost imperceptible, or very very strong, doubling my frame. A tremor that has never, ever left me.

The thing about torture is that it divides the tortured person in two: it pits your body against your mind. It uses your body so that your mind betrays your ideas, your companions, your beliefs. It tears a person apart: on one side, the thinking mind threatened, on the other, the wounded body in pain. And this person, the victim, can try to heal, to mend, to stitch the parts together afterward, but the seams remain. You can’t just rub an eraser over them and pretend this division never existed.

The stitches stay there forever.

I was lucky, in a way, very lucky, because, at a certain point, I had some kind of epileptic fit. I passed out. They got scared and had to stop before I reached my limit. The limit where I’d start to betray myself.

But before that, before I passed out, even before they asked me the first questions, gave me the first slaps, shocks and kicks, they took off the black jacket that I was wearing. Mara’s jacket. In the bottom of one of the pockets of the finely crafted jacket with the perfect trimming that her mother had given her, they found a slip of paper: the receipt for the final installment⁠—paid just days earlier⁠—of a new refrigerator.

After that, all they had to do was put two and two together to find her address .

They spent hours staking the place out. They saw Mauro, wanted in several states, going in. They saw Alfredo, whom they couldn’t identify but seriously suspected, going out to buy bread.

They broke in guns blazing.

Now you know why I don’t like talking about those days.

But if you asked me about that time, if you asked the question that you might feel tempted to ask after reading the story of that Friday like so many others in the lives of Mara and her companheiros, a simple question—were you happy back then?⁠—I would tell you clearly and sincerely and without hesitation that I was. Like Mara, Alfredo, Mauro and the house guest, I’d say yes. It was a time of friendship, solidarity and small joys that are perhaps only possible in such days.

And, still, almost all of them, almost all of us, one by one, were arrested or killed or forced into exile.

Were we beaten?

Who can tell?

Only life can say if by losing the battle, with it, we lost the hope and joy of being who we were and who we are.

This band of brothers.


translator’s note:

I met Maria José Silveira in early 2015. She got my number from a shared acquaintance after mentioning she was looking for an English teacher. And though I wasn’t a teacher, I had filled the role of conversation facilitator⁠—effectively giving people with working knowledge of English an opportunity to practice their language skills– off and on since moving to Brazil. And so it was with Zezé.

She and her husband Felipe welcomed me at their apartment behind Avenida Paulista. In the front room, they had a round, mosaic tile table overlooking the entrance to the Nove de Julho tunnel with its ever-flowing streams of traffic and the unmistakable sight of the São Paulo Museum of Art perched above it. As soon as I saw the view, I realized I’d been there before⁠—not in their apartment, but the one next door. On election night 2006, I was with a group of friends watching the vote count on TV and, once it was clear that Lula had been reelected, we all headed downstairs to join the multitude already celebrating and see the president give his victory speech on the avenue in front of the museum.

Aside from being one of the most distinctive buildings in the city, a Brutalist rectangular block of glass and concrete sitting on reinforced pilotis, MASP is also the go-to gathering point for every sort of political demonstration and protest. And in the two years that Zezé and I met there for class, there were demonstrations every single week, often more than one, and the mood on the streets was a far cry from what it had been nine years earlier.

We’d sit at the table and talk about whatever was on our minds– movies, TV, exhibitions we’d seen, writers we admired, those we thought were overrated, topics that interested us deeply⁠—and somehow our conversations always seemed unfinished due to time constraints. Sometimes Felipe would join us and they would give me advice on married life, my impending fatherhood and the particulars of bringing up children in São Paulo. We’d also talk about her work, of which I became an avid reader. When she showed me a collection of then-unpublished stories set during the dictatorship era, I offered to try my hand at translating them⁠—an offer Zezé accepted. In my first attempt at literary translation, I had the privilege of firsthand access to the author, who in turn was willing to help me come up with the best possible rendering of her work in my native language. Our classes turned into careful reading sessions and we’d sit at the mosaic-tiled table poring over over printouts of my translations, debating, arguing, flipping through dictionaries and jotting down shorthand notes of inadequately resolved phrases that would have to be revisited.

All the while MASP was right there across the way, crowds gathering, bullhorns blaring, chants and cheers erupting, drums pounding as the country careened off the rails, barreling toward places of ugliness and uncertainty, places one might have imagined were unreachable at that point in history.

When Felizes Poucos, that short story collection whose titular piece is translated here, came out in 2016, Zezé presented me with a copy and signed it “Dear Matt. I hope you never live through times like these.” I thought to myself, “Well, that’s a bit much,” naively assuming they were long gone.


Born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1979, Matthew Rinaldi earned a BA in English from Fordham University in 2002. The following year he relocated to São Paulo, Brazil, where he would reside for 15 years. During that time, he developed a career as a translator specializing in contemporary art and worked for the country’s most prominent museums and cultural institutions. Rinaldi also accumulated a scattering of writing credits, penning chapters for Jonathan Runge’s Rum & Reggae’s Brasil, articles on the FLIP literary festival for Gobshite Quarterly and a feature on urban farming in New York City for the Brazilian magazine RED Report. He is currently translating a survey of the history of photography and modern painting by Claudio Edinger.

Maria José Silveira is a Brazilian author and translator. Born in the state of Goiás in 1947, she studied communications at the University of Brasília, and relocated to São Paulo after graduation. In her twenties, Silveira was involved in the resistance against the country’s military dictatorship. After her husband’s arrest, she was forced into hiding and, upon his release, they went into exile in Peru where Silveira earned a degree in anthropology from Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos in Lima. Back in Brazil after the transition to democracy, Silveira founded Editora Marca Zero, working as chief editor for over a decade. Her first book won the 2002 APCA award for debut novel. It was published in English by Open Letter Books in 2017 under the title “Her Mother’s Mother’s Mother and Her Daughters.”




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:

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

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