A poet and multimedia artist, Diana Khoi Nguyen is the author of Ghost Of (Omnidawn 2018), which was selected by Terrance Hayes. In addition to winning the 92Y “Discovery” / Boston Review Poetry Contest, 2019 Kate Tufts Discovery Award, and Colorado Book Award, she was also a finalist for the National Book Award and L.A. Times Book Prize. A Kundiman fellow, she is core faculty in the Randolph College Low-Residency MFA and an Assistant Professor at the University of Pittsburgh.
The friction in my psyche melts away. I try to pick up what remains of my fragmented beliefs. It’s harder to remember who I am.
I sit on the stoop of my Bed-Stuy apartment with my friend David, his hair drawn into a blonde ponytail. He holds his mask away from his face as he speaks. He is leaving the city that night for Pennsylvania. This is a week ago. I talk to him about free love for two hours. “It seems like you’re awakening,” he says. The ego as a collection of beliefs, past experiences––the surface starts to shake.
I’m afraid to ride my bike to Prospect Park today. Authenticity is a performance. I sit in a field in Vermont, looking on. I am in college and the flowers are in bloom, the goldenrods. I write a pastoral poem about them for my intermediate poetry workshop, about them dying, in which they are no longer in bloom. In the future, no one I love will understand the kind of love I feel. My desireless, incommunicable love.
I reach, in no particular direction, to get bound up with them in a chaotic entanglement. Life has no direction, I discover––its purpose is self-evident. Or otherwise, I must accomplish in order to be “real.” The spell of realness the economy entertains, my friends entertain, my family.
My panic attack at The Cheesecake Factory is no one’s business.
I have a panic attack about the clattering of silverware and the low lighting; I want to communicate. I am sixteen. I desire to communicate, as I desire it now: how whatever I might’ve said wouldn’t make sense, the need to make sense won’t make sense; how its “postmodern design hellscape” seduces me in the dimness of its family restaurant lighting. With my mother and grandfather and grandmother. The need.
It’s a need for sustained openness–––to live open, to live without internal contraction. The whole meal I am heartbroken.
I can’t account for how long any given speech act will last. How long? If communication is just being? This is proof enough: the ability to be for any extended period of time if I don’t think, “Who to sustain the performance for?” Do you ever really know whose eyes are watching? By the end of the play, I am nowhere to be found. I have evacuated my body. I die all the time.
If you’re wondering, reader, how long will this last, the answer is forever honey. I can tell there’s fear arising in our bodies; this attachment to some vestige of the familiar, to a desire we think we own. Patience is the wrong wrong to commit here. Authenticity isn’t coming with time; we’re leaving with time. If what we want is to be “real,” we’re not going to get what we wanted and it will turn out to be the best thing in the entire world.
Anaïs Duplan is a trans* poet, curator, and artist. He is the author of a forthcoming book of essays, Blackspace: On the Poetics of an Afrofuture (Black Ocean, 2020), a full-length poetry collection, Take This Stallion (Brooklyn Arts Press, 2016), and a chapbook, Mount Carmel and the Blood of Parnassus (Monster House Press, 2017). In 2016, he founded the Center for Afrofuturist Studies, an artist residency program for artists of color, based at Iowa City’s artist-run organization Public Space One. Find more information at www.worksofanais.com or on Instagram at @an.duplan.
Indian Performance Prints: Indian Holding a Weapon
Indian Performance Prints: Indian Holding a Weapon, is an ongoing series of relief prints recording the presence of a living and breathing Native person, myself, engaging with commonplace objects, actions and states of mind, whose functions within society are mirrored, exposing their dual ability to be used as instruments to harm or inflict pain either psychologically or physically. The “objects” (bible, driver’s license, penis, self-doubt… etc.) are, and have in the past been, used as weapons against Native people, their identity, and their civil rights, as well as against marginalized groups in general.
Joe Harjo is a San Antonio-based artist born and raised in Oklahoma City, OK. Harjo is a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation of Oklahoma. He received his Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Texas at San Antonio and holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Central Oklahoma, Edmond. Harjo works as a multidisciplinary artist, allowing concept to dictate modes of working and medium. His work often employs humor to approach difficult subjects such as Native American identity, misrepresentation, and appropriation of culture, initiating a call for change. Recent exhibitions include: The Only Certain Way, Sala Diaz, San Antonio, TX; Texas, We’re Listening, Brownsville Museum of Art, Brownsville, TX; We’re Still Here: Native American Artists Then and Now, McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, TX; Monarchs: Brown and Native Contemporary Artists in the Path of the Butterfly, Blue Star Contemporary, San Antonio, TX, Reimagining the Third Space (2018), KCAI Crossroads Gallery: Center for Contemporary Practice, Kansas City, Missouri, re/thinking photography: Conceptual Photography from Texas (2017), FotoFest, Houston, Texas. He recently curated a series of films created by Native Americans at the Briscoe Western Art Museum, San Antonio. Harjo is a board member of the Muscogee Arts Association, a nonprofit organization that advocates for living Muscogee artists, a board member of Texas Photographic Society and he teaches photography and visual literacy at the Southwest School of Art. Find more at www.joeharjo.com and on Instagram at @NDNstagram.
[TO BE PERFORMED IN THE STYLE OF DAVID ANTIN’S TALK POEMS] [NOTE TO AUDIENCE: THIS TALK INCLUDES A SECTION WHERE THERE IS NO TALKING]
On occasional Wednesday nights, I attend a Zen sitting group that meets at St. Ignatius’ Chapel on the campus of Seattle University. The chapel is an extraordinary work of beauty, designed by celebrated architect Steven Holl. During the day, each part of the chapel glows with tinted light bouncing off color fields painted on the back of hung baffles. As the days grow longer, the patterns of light entering the chapel call out to the distracted eye untethered from the meditation cushion. Sitting in this space has called forth more than one poem.
the warning stick of the Zen priest is a way to sharpen the mind
the parts of a soul we call back to ourselves, baffled halos of light
in a stone box installed with seven vials of radiance, we took our seats,
processing between pews and through the hall of worship —
ceremony, a thing you shy away from like the memory of Pentecostal rite,
the impulse, a desire, to recover what was once whole, sunlight gunned
through colored glass the unbroken image of St. Ignatius’ shell reflected in the basin beyond
After sitting group one night, Tetsuzen, the group’s resident priest, welcomed me to give a dharma talk, at any time, about any topic I might wish. I held my breath when he extended the invitation. I’m pure novice. Even after 22 years, I feel Impostor Syndrome rise up, take over my brain. It’s reported that writers EJ Koh and Ocean Vuong spend hours of each day in meditation practice as their non-meditating petitioners marvel at this detail of their creative practice, agog in awe at the austerity of Asians. But I’m not that kind of Asian. I’ve got a six-year-old, and day-to-day life runs away from me. When the chemical reaction dissipates, I get curious about the idea of what it would be to give a non-dharma talk about my “feelings” about giving a dharma talk. And that is where we arrive now. I take comfort in engaging in familiar patterns that move me a little closer to something that feels like perfection. Once, a designer built a poetry collection for me in such a way that it required that I hand cut holes in every book cover and hand stamp the interior of each book with notes about my text. We printed just under 1,000 copies, which I prepped and cut in two weekends before shipping them off to my publisher’s distributor. I went through a box of exacto blades and a bundle of nail files, saving the letters from the words cut out of the covers to repurpose into personalized author notes. Contrary to what I imagined, the effect of reusing the text looked nothing like the roughness of ransom notes. I found the activity calming and embodied. I could be productive while thinking about nothing. Except when I saw my mind attaching too much to some idea of perfection.
Pema Norbu Gompo shares with me a story: at reaching thirty
thousand prostrations, glancing into the vanity to see a trimmed down
waist w/out love handles – starting over
from zero, more than once to better polish his intent my own practice: carving holes in poetry books
w/ exacto blade & straight edge, intervention as design concept
a hole too uneven a hole too big a hole too ragged a hole too small
I’ve decided to embark on a new project that involves making exactly 108 clay tsa-tsas – Bhutanese sacred reliquary objects — that I’ll give away. I view YouTube videos of street artisans and talk to clay artists about “standard release methods” including Murphy’s Oil, corn starch, and olive oil. I read online tutorials, test different kinds of clay and wax, and also think about what could be placed inside the clay forms. In my readings on tsa-tsa making, I learn that medicine is sometimes placed inside these offerings. This is confirmed in one online video, when I see a tsa-tsa maker unceremoniously stuff what resembles an ibuprofen gel cap into a clay body. Somehow, I imagined more plant-like or magical healing medicine, even a handwritten mantra. My friend Michael offers to help me with my project, so I visit him in his ceramics studio that’s a short dash from the college football stadium. A series of decisions unfolds before me about process: type of clay, glazes, firing temperatures. All of these possibilities also point to the specter of failure. Anything can go wrong, at any time. Excess moisture in a preliminary firing can cause a piece to explode in the kiln. Too high a temperature can cause shattering. Glazing can behave unpredictably. And under particularly dramatic and expensive instances, a kiln shelf can blow up. We steel ourselves for the unpredictable. Make a back-up cache of objects just in case. Anything can go wrong, at any time – like a mentoring relationship, love affair, or even a dharma talk that’s lost control. We have to improvise. And this is the thing I think, as I wander the spice aisle of the University Village Safeway searching for pink Himalayan sea salt. Thinking about what desiccated herb might be a fitting offering to tuck away inside my clay objects, having forgotten the fragrant stems of Texas sage sitting atop my altar at home. There is no edible lavender to be found in the baking section.
[PAUSE TO MAKE TSA-TSAS FOR 3 MINUTES]
all beings, our teachers
the jazz poet invited me to lunch on the premise of electing me for a poetry prize, when I arrived
for our meeting he opened the door in his bathrobe, his apartment staged with Orientalist porn
the AAPI novelist recruited me to teach without pay — I looked the right part to a group of Pinay teens
she’d later take to Manila as research subjects; when I explained I needed work that paid
the rent she said I failed in my responsibilities
the mentor handed me a news clipping from The NY Times — here I am giving you a poem
the piece was on Vietnamese tonal language speakers why we have perfect pitch
I stopped learning Mandarin by the time I was 8
Now I am older, when I bump into former instructors outside of the classroom they say
She was my student. She studied with me. I taught her.
For many years my best teachers were books, they would not force me with
callused ashen hands, no way of being misread this aversion to learning
to teaching sometimes I miss sharing my mind with others in these moments I turn
to you and say claim this beauty that belongs to you and make it yours
We pack the clay into the 3-inch molds that resemble menstrual cups. Apply gentle and firm pressure to ensure that the details on the inside of the molds imprint across the surface of the clay. The molds form miniature stupas, or temples. We tear off chunks and strips of clay from the base to form a standing foot that when brushed against a table or any texture takes on those notes. We knead and fold the clay into cones and bulbous tear-dropped shapes that more easily fit within the molds of the tsa-tsas. I watch Michael and his student Ren work the clay. I haven’t touched clay since I was a teenager. Ceramics was largely my older brother’s domain. He partitioned off part of our parents’ Southern California rambler and installed a pottery studio. He built containers on a rotating kick wheel and displayed his creations on rows of shelves lining the walls of the enclosed patio. I remembered the control he exerted over his fast-spinning, wet vessels, using, not his strength, but brute force. A reflection too of our own relationship. No one tells me to handle the clay in a particular way. Both Michael and Ren, explore their own relationship to the material. Rolling, pinching, tapping, peeling. I pick up some of their technique by watching and begin to understand that our task is to approximate a shape. Not the shape of the mold, but the more ambiguous shape of the thing that will fill the mold. It is hard to understand that these are different things. At times, the shape that emerges from my hands resembles something phallic, and embarrassed, I flatten my efforts into something squat, twist the clay into something geometrical. My mind tries not to fixate on the outcome of the perfectly formed tsa-tsa. Ultimately exerting more care versus being freer doesn’t make a difference. Michael starts splitting the clay into triangular shapes to improve our efficiency and production time per tsa-tsa. When I glance at the clock it’s 10:40 a.m., but it’s broken and 50 minutes later, the hands haven’t moved. Tiny bits of dried clay stick to my hands. As I wipe them clean, Michael gestures at his typewriter suggesting all that can be transcribed and recorded from our conversations.
What’s the best technique to crimp the perfect new year’s dumplings? Ask your Taiwanese sister-in-law.
Who’s given a memorable artist talk in recent Seattle history? Cedar Sigo on musicality and connecting to his indigeneity.
What should be protected in the San Francisco Bay area? Cohen Alley, aka The Tenderloin National Forest, a throw-away space, that was leased from the city by artists for $1 a month and transformed into an urban greenspace.
When the ribbon jammed on the Corona Electric, we abandoned technology for sharpie pens. The idea of reading to one another was tossed around but after counting only 103 completed objects, Ren and I doubled down to finish the job. Michael pulled out a Cooley Windsor essay to read aloud on the subject of teaching. Being read to as I created stirred an old memory of sitting in graduate school workshops laboring over a poem as the instructor fed lines to the class from abstract sources. The effect of listening to Windsor felt more akin to guided meditation. I didn’t hate him. His work evoked tenderness. And the embodiment of that tenderness seemed bound to express itself in our last objects, in the close attention and fidelity to unformed matter molding to a shape. It is perhaps, why some artists will also talk to clay as they relate to it. Like two lovers engaging with one another. I gather up the molds that have enabled our work and oil and wipe the dried clay from inside and outside the bronze forms using an odorless yellow camellia oil. I complete the clean-up process three times, thinking of how the process of purifying and putting away your implements in Japanese tea reflects respect for the tools, and an honoring of the spirit of servitude, hospitality, holding space for one another. The first time, I read this next text to a room of strangers, I was overcome with emotion, remembering all in my life that lost control. It caught that moment before betrayal, before he asked me to leave my husband to make a life together. I considered his request. And required him to give up nothing. That moment before he told me he wasn’t ready or equipped; the moment before he revealed he used our relationship to leverage fear, and to secure a commitment from that other Asian gal from his past, the one that “got away.” This is the last time I will read this poem in public.
of the three jewels the most precious is the community
of practitioners, I feel this truth acutely when I conjoin with another
disciple & we pivot to bow in unison to the circle, as we retire from sacred space,
honoring how you & I once turned towards a roomful of friends, raised our hands to our hearts
humbling ourselves, to ourselves, I bowed with you, not to you the gaze turning downwards,
my heart opened, giving silent gratitude too for who we were then
In that space of mind meeting mind, the ancient ones and all of the buddhas of the future stood present with us. And we were all awoken. I am trying to hold the view that all spaces have the capacity to become sacred – the shell of a bronze mold acts as a womb. The writing desk, the uninhabited heart, the college lecture room. Even if who we were in that moment of first encounter, will never again be who we are now, we brought our curiosity and reverence for what wasn’t yet known. So that what starts as a “work party,” something transactional, commonplace with a goal of “being industrious”, grows into something more joyful than a dinner party. That “productive aspect” is to be honored, the shared efforts of having toiled, sometimes failed, and found something together in the multi-faceted gem, in spite of whatever breaks apart in the conduction of heat moving through a body.
Shin Yu Pai is the author of several books including Ensō (Entre Rios Books, 2020), Aux Arcs (La Alameda, 2013), Adamantine (White Pine, 2010),Sightings (1913 Press, 2007), and Equivalence (La Alameda, 2003). From 2015 to 2017, she served as the fourth Poet Laureate of The City of Redmond, Washington. Her personal essays have appeared in CityArts, Tricycle, Seattle’s Child, and YES! Magazine. She’s been a Stranger Genius Award nominee in Literature and lives and works in Bitter Lake, Seattle. For more info, visit www.shinyupai.com.
CLEAR leering lightly incarnate air’s voltage and in taffeta tutus doze
I WOULD DREAM BRIEFLY Ancient forever doubt branches, becomes leafy while real woods wood that I offer myself —sole triumph— the perfect glitch of inexistent roses.
LOADING. . .
Or if these femmes you faun-on Are a figure of an emblem of a nerve! Faun, l’illusion Hap of blue use cold shape of the miraculous!
One, the other breathe in another contrasts come like breezes in heatwaves . . . your feathered hair.
Suffocating phallustrous chaleur at dawn That’s my reading flute murmur or like that silent flick L’Arroseur Arrosé, this is about the poet’s garden hose winding up on a half horse like a prompt s’exhalation before what scatters the sound in the dream, yes that’s it, up at the unfluttered edge the visible and serene heartbeat
In Japan, the girls carry themselves on Après-Midis and even bicycle on Daccarat Cruze: Le Nouveau Parfum du De De L’Eau Style du Mode Secret: such audacity, so spark—this floors me, sing it: “What some call a hollow read, I beat into Rosicrucian allegory and X-Rated allusion, gold threaded in the cloud musty far verdure-weed proffers its tendrils to fountains quiver the white beast odalisque.
(video black branch blanc beast sur la vide)
And what slow prelude is this? This flight of swans, non! A Naïad, a-leaping, on-plunging, a-way!”
Perhaps the translator must insert a rude awakening—that this poem of a starlit être has within a scarlet letter, all the homoerotic fun removed from faun, although if it’s in the dream (or in the poem) what is the line, the violation of exactitude or
Inert, the moment leaves no impression for whoever searches the “there” finds that no art can altogether combine here the desire of that hour: wake, then, wake to first fervor correct and unique, under antique wavelengths illume, only this lily! And the one of you all for guilelessness.
Otherwise, sweet dithering lips make their noise a kiss which assures in the depths of uncertainty . . . it is already December and this talk of “august teeth” already a thousand aprés-midis have passed since I saw these nymphs, a single morsel of time, a missed kiss gothicized into a stanza played backwards to find the hidden message which Satan has written in your emailing me after 25 years from the dentist all this time and its dents and we are now suddenly quotidiennes? My head is spinning, you say, if I hadn’t gone to that reading (the poet had a voice like root canal) we might not have seen each other again in this *dear life* and I email back this stanza about teeth which confounds me, because, perhaps les dents de décembre sont prudents
But, enough! A secret monolithic lute, confident my junk—vast and doubled under azure we play risking the trouble of a play a dream, a long improvisation the beauty all around us, the absence of confusion between false and falsetto our true song I’d go as far as to say that love is the modulation evanescing, they do, the dull doses of abs and the absence on which my longing eye closes, sonority, vanity, monotony of line! Twist out of this futile flute, O malign Syrinx, a reflowering of the lake where we once relaxed! As for me, this fiery sound, melting the wax I pipe-on and on about Goddesses; such idolatry these paints, such shadows again across dropped pants: And see, when I have sucked the sun from a raisin I no longer regret the single ray, But, laughing raise to the heaven of summer this vacancy of grapes And, puffing on their luminous peels, rapacious For visions I cast across them the eye of the tigress until evening is upon us.
O nymphs let us relive each detached caress “My will, my jonquille, my junco partner, darting each enclosure Immortal, noise of burning in the waves of the seashore, Wobbly cries from within forest’s orb; And splendid head of hair absorbed Into glitterings and frisson, for pete’s sake! I run; feet entangled (I ache, I am bruised with the languorous taste of the evil of being two’d) by the alarmingly lurching arms of slumbering nymphs entwined; Raving, ravishing, I’m not une unentangled unimplicated And take umbrage in this clump, enraged by sun’s shadow All the exhaust fumes of the roses have depleted our Delight, our day, this deleted hour.” I adore you, anger of verses, O delicious Church of sacred nude burdens, which Englished (eglissed) Flee my lips a-fire firing Fire! The secret fears of the fleshed: Of tentacles wrapt round a timid heart Which at once relinquishes its innocence, tumid With moody vapors, more or less foolish tears. “My crime, if thus you insist, is high on the vanity of years to have devised this disheveled boscage of kisses that Gods keep from those my age: Scarcely do I enfold an ardent laugh in the happy pleats of myself alone with one (kept by a simple finger, her feather’s whitening Stains itself on the emotions of the other’s lightning and she’s the small one, naïve and spacey) when from my arms, undone by time and trespass, this object forever ungracious, flees driven no pity for the blubbering with which I was riven.”
Quel dommage! Others will lead me towards happiness By yoking their hair to my horns in a laborious headdress. You know, mon chou, that violescent and quite mature Each poem-grenade ruptures accompanied by the bees which murmur And our song-blood, in love with whoever seeks to seize it here Pours for all an endless swarm of desire. It is now the hour when twilight tints the grove in gold and hints of embrous ash. A posh exultation, foliage dashed: And Volcanos! For across this dappled sylvan scene, pan To monstrous antipodal storm on desolate midnight terrain, When sadly sleep sounds, when the flame has guttered I sense Her presence!
The grand chastizement is nigh!
Her head invisible in the clouds, sex hidden in the black waves The mother of empty words, heavy With fiery silence, no afternoon, but ever after and anon Sleepless, blasphemed, the forgotten first god on Another shore who gives birth To pan-creatures in the squalling sands of earth, Eclipsed by polar cliffs and all that otherwise lives, these infant monsters Their many mouths working themselves into stars, And She, covered with polyps, triple-breast’d Gargantua, moves through such waters as only the moon dares crest.
And my nymphs? We’ll see how it ends, in the far shadow of this dark divinity.
Film Treatment for Mallarmé’s L’Après-midi d’un faune
Mallarmé’s “The Afternoon of a Faun”—once intended to be a script or scenario for a theatrical eclogue—is full of disjointed, dreamlike, gothic and erotic language. As would befit the ultimate “maudit” poet, this work would never be translated to the stage during his lifetime, and was rejected by publishers for ten years until he found an enterprising printer of medical textbooks to take it on. It would famously be reinterpreted by Debussy and Nijinsky, and would become a perennial source of inspiration for work that explores the intertwined queer, surreal, and occult impulses at the heart of the French Symbolist project, and incipient modernism.
It’s also full of difficult, and difficultly-censored, imagery. That is, the poet is struggling with the dictates of cultural propriety as well as those of his own masculinity, all blurred, however, in the conceits of the dream. Thus, both translating and filming this poem provide certain challenges: to respond without the clarity of “politics,” yet taking advantage of the freedom of commentary that experimental translation—both at level of text and film image—allows.
To put it bluntly, while the figure of the faun has been traditionally put in the service of pagan, many times homoerotic sexual imagery, here Mallarmé instead offers a more ostensibly heterosexual fantasy with what at times seems the suggestion of rape, or at the very least a stylized sexual aggression. What happens when this violation is dreamt, inextricable from an indeterminate play of symbols? (Aptly enough, the most scandalous aspect of the Nijinsky ballet was the dancer’s decision to make love to a veil—a viol de voile volé from the nymph.) I feel certain Mallarmé was aware of this dynamic. Do we take his fantasized trespasses to be contextualized in the cold light of judgement or do we allow the dangerous “realism” of the unconscious to be manifest? The goal for such a film and translation would be not to censor the already dream-censored language, but rather to use the text as an opportunity for psychic exploration, transformation, and renovation. Like alchemical images, which, according to Jung, allowed for a cathexis of energies that Christianity failed to capture, Mallarmé’s “Faun” is a psychoanalytic, meditational, and proto-surrealist work par excellence, allowing for a reflection on poetic and sexual energies not easy mapped, only approached (or merely reproached) with great caution.
If an eclogue is traditionally a dialogue or contest between two voices, here there is the possibility of coming at the text by way of multiple voices, fragments, images and competing scenarios. While Mallarmé creates the effect of a lyric duel—there are sections of the text set off by quotes and italics that alternate with roman text—the voicings to and fro are left ambiguous both at the level of the speaker and addressee. It’s not a call-and-response, as much as it is multiple calls into the void, self-ventriloquism, or mere graphic play. This ambiguity can be expanded so that what starts as a singular point of view is disrupted, turned into a multiply refracting surface, spawning virtualities both unspoken and inconceivable within the original poem, or perhaps already there but untapped through the devices of a more traditional translation.
“Ces nymphes, je les veux perpétuer” “Say ‘nymphs,’ and I would perpetruate them.”
By translating “perpétuer” as “perpetruate,” I have tried to encapsulate many of these issues in the first line by introducing a portmanteau word. Invocation itself (“Say ‘nymphs’” as homophonic mistranslation of “Ces nymphes”), immediately leads us to a problem of representation: perpetuating becomes a perpetration. By invoking the nymphs, he perpetuates an ancient being—as we’ll see this is not only in the service of a decadent continuance of the classical, but also a remembrance of the missed chances of youth. It also sets the scene for perpetrating what may be his crime or act of aggression against the nymphs in their leisure. This duality of perpetuating/perpetrating is pronounced and eroticized in the more well-trod tropes of the vampire genre, where the violation of the vampire—rarely consensual—can grant eternal life. To heighten this association, the film could start with vampire teeth breaking soft skin, splicing into the imagery of fauns and nymphs the repertoire of the vampire.
A striking, violent opening image can be then followed by the more abstract, alternately Debussian and electronic, fragments of sensuous beauty (“Si clair,/Leur incarnat léger . . .”)—flashes of body parts, floating pastels, skin transluced red by the sun, tutus enmeshed and leaping. The kitsch of the pastorale, reduced to its smallest recognizable codes. Abstractions collapse and reform, never quite solidifying (“Aimai-je un reve?. . .”)—a dramatic image of what in effect will be the overall feel and method of the rest of the film.
In the original poem, there are ostensibly three characters: the faun and two nymphs. Instead of characters, the film will present a variety of figures, interchangeable, who will represent, multiply or erase each other—morphing and changing as the translation translates-in upon itself. This strategy leaves high potential for unmoored imagery and scenarios—with many opportunities for creative costuming and sculpture, but with the option for minimalism and abstraction, too. By transforming the poem’s dramatis personae into figural glyphs—quite literally “characters”—their meaning can double, triple, or dissolve (typed, cursive or scrawled) so that what seems to be one man and two women can become all men, all women, queered or indeterminate, nature objects or fetishes, becoming-other-than-what-they-were, partaking in the forest supernaturalism of their being, or the language of their poeming, rather than a drawing room mirror of existent sexing.
Because of what seems to me the poem’s emphasis on control—or the dramatic loss of it—one central figure would be “the poet,” but here transformed into romance novel industrialist/master-of-universe type. An isolated figure—we perhaps see him alone in the back of a limo, letting the wind whistle across the top of an empty bottle of mineral water he holds out the window as if a makeshift panpipe—he slowly “undoes” himself, turning faun, as horns, hoofs, and hairy haunches slowly break through his calculated veneer. The centrality of this “poet” figure need not mean that he cannot be replaced, even by himself, as he transforms. Nor does he need to be present from beginning to end. He may serve merely as an organizational convenience or foil for more wild imagery, diverse bodies, indefinable objects. The femmes can stand at his grave in the final lines, rather than, as implied in the original, the faun reflecting on their death, absence or dream. However, while that final stanza has now been radically rewritten in a Lovecraftian mode, there is nothing prohibiting the film version from presenting its image as the versa of the text (and vice-versa).
Of course, there should be pan pipes, pan pipes of all types and sizes: plastic bottles, McDonald’s straws bound with twine, anything where wind can move across the top of an opening and make sounds. The sound of this throughout.
Joe Milutis is a writer, media artist and Associate Professor of Interdisciplinary Arts and the MFA in Creative Writing and Poetics at the University of Washington-Bothell. Work has appeared in Fence, Triple Canopy, Cabinet, Tagvverk, Gauss PDF, Amodern as well as a variety of performance and gallery venues. He is the author of Failure, A Writer’s Life (Zer0 Books: 2013); Ether: The Nothing That Connects Everything (University of Minnesota Press: 2006); and Bright Arrogance, a column on experimental translation in Jacket2. Numerous chapbooks, media-literary hybrid works, videos and sound pieces can also be found at www.joemilutis.com.
Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-1898) is sometimes known more for what he didn’t write than for what he did. Fame came late to him, and he published little—choosing instead to seek an impossible, absolute Book. Many of his works, conceived of as multi-media performances or art-literary hybrids, were never fully conceived. And yet his impact on experimental literature, criticism and theory has been immense. If, according to his protégé Paul Valéry, a work is “never completed . . . but abandoned,” the great abandonments of Mallarmé (which included, at his death, a lacquered Japanese writing hutch stuffed with indecipherable notes and diagrams for his Great Work) would galvanize the Symbolist avant-garde, and prepare for innumerable future experiments.
Stine Su Yon An (안수연) is an existential creepy-crawly, literary translator, and performer based in New York City. Her poetry and experimental translations have appeared or are forthcoming in BAX, Electric Literature, Black Warrior Review, Pleiades, and elsewhere. You can find her online at www.gregorspamsa.com and @gregorspamsa.
Slithering, that was the word he used. The man next to her had grumbled the word “slithering,” and then suddenly stood, insulting the driver and demanding to be let off the bus.
“Let me off here, you sonofabitch!
The old woman with him chimed in:
“He’s driving this damn bus around in circles. What, you making a pit-stop at your house? Jackass!”
They struggled to get down the steps with their heavy sacks and then stood, pushing at the doors while still cursing the driver. She used this as an opportunity to approach the front of the bus:
“Excuse me sir, are we in Dulzura?”
The driver answered without turning to look at her.
“Almost. I’ll let you know.”
By the time she descended she was beginning to understand what the old man had been going on about: “Unbelievable, rains three days in a row here and suddenly everything goes along slithering in the mud.” She was also coming to realize why his comment bothered her so much. It wasn’t what he said, but how, his voice bubbling over with disgust. She wondered to herself, what if slithering was normal and the grotesque thing was to walk upright? Maybe even now, as she was walking down this street it seemed repulsive to some, and if it wasn’t, then why was everyone staring? The townsfolk had begun to set up the street market, their lopsided stalls balanced on buckets and wooden crates like hobbled creatures; amputees incapable even of slithering. Girls barely old enough to be women, prematurely aged by their buzzing swarms of children, began setting out enormous pots that looked like black, charred skulls.
They wouldn’t tell her a thing in the pharmacy. Not in the corner store either. An “I’m not sure” or “I don’t know him” would’ve been polite, but they wouldn’t even look at her. They’d ignore her question, annoyed like she’d been asking for years, as if she should already know that nobody knew who she was rattling on about. “But how should I know you don’t know? I’m the one who doesn’t know around here,” she was muttering to herself when she came across a man sitting at the foot of a Santa Muerte statue. The shrine stood in front of a little shack, towering over it as if the shack’s only purpose was to prop up the giant altarpiece. He was the one who finally helped her, and he did so as if it were his duty to guide her along her way, telling her in great detail which way to go. “It’s because you still got a long way to go, Miss, I’d take you myself, I would, but I’m here on guard duty.” He drew deeply on his cigarette, inhaling and exhaling a smoke that was so black it disturbed her. He inhaled as if it were as sweet as pure oxygen and then sat back down in front of the shrine like a loyal dog.
When she finally got to the house, she knocked hesitantly. Several lazy, stray dogs were laying in the street, yapping like poorly paid employees, as if being a dog were some boring chore. Not even bothering to wag their tails, they looked distractedly in other directions.
He appeared at the door which was made of short boards faded by the years, more symbolic than actual barrier, as anyone could have knocked it down with a gentle push. He held a straw hat in hand, which didn’t make much sense because the sun wasn’t out. In fact, no one had seen the sun in a long time. Didn’t seem like anyone around here was a farmer, although she thought that all the townspeople she’d seen so far, including him, were nothing more than country people wandering along these rows of buildings strung together as haphazard streets.
“Come in, can I get you anything?”
She entered, carrying her worn black purse in front of her like a shield. She said,
“Aristos, don’t you remember me?”
Aristeo Magro suddenly felt far outside himself, as if it weren’t him standing there in front of this lonely nobody of a woman. He was transported to that time long ago; the dull, dilapidated warehouse, enveloped in the hot steam, breathing in the smell of the seamstresses’ cold leftovers. All the workers and even the foreman, drowsy and lulled by the enormous clock grinding away the seconds above the door. She gave him a big hug.
“I’ve been looking all over—looking for you. Your Aunt Quintila told me where I’d find you.”
The last afternoon light was dissolving into darkness in the house’s only room. On the kitchen table sat a lamp with Chinese characters printed on the shade. He switched it on and invited her to sit. More out of awkwardness than politeness he turned on the TV. The voices and sounds transmitted from one side of the world to the other seemed to restore some kind of calm in him. He was afraid to hear himself talk, and he was afraid to hear her talk. He was especially afraid of never hearing anything ever again besides her voice and was afraid of losing himself once again in that voice.
He offered her a cushion for her chair, and then they said nothing, only stealing glances at one another as he poured a cup of coffee for her. He lifted the cloth on the breadbasket, pushed a plastic napkin holder within her reach—clearly a party favor from some long-ago wedding—and edged the butter dish closer.
“You still like butter on your bread?” he smiled.
After the first sip and with a hunk of bread between her fingers, she finally spoke.
“Fulgencio Jr. died. I just came from the cemetery.”
Aristeo looked at her, not angrily, but with a feeling of deep rage for having seen this woman go through so much. As if it wasn’t enough, the death of Ful-Gensio Senior, as he always called him, accentuating the syllables. Now this. They were tragedies made even meaner because of their impossibility for revenge. He began to stand.
“No…” She said, extending an open palm towards him, “don’t hug me.”
There was a knock at the door. A young woman with greying hair and a nervous tic of a laugh stuck her head in, bursting through the symbolic door. Instead of walking she sort of skipped, and in three little hops was inside. It was as if some unseen spring-mechanism wouldn’t let her walk normally or discreetly if she’d wanted to and instead made her skip before every step. Just as mechanically, she suddenly stopped, much to their relief. If she’d taken one more step, just one more little hop, she would’ve run straight into the wall.
“Atolito, corn drink for the pancito, Atolito. Hot and fresh, atolito. For the little old man…today we got chocolatey champurrado, Don Aris,” she said, fixating her big bug eyes on Aristeo’s visitor, not breaking her gaze for even a second.
“No thanks, not today.”
He rose to make sure the woman was gone as fast as she’d come in and then locked the door behind her.
They took a moment to adjust after the awkward interruption, but then she found her words again. “I’m fine, I just felt like I had to tell you, that I was the one who had to tell you, you wouldn’t have believed it otherwise. Last time he was in Mexico he asked about you, you know. He said to me, You should look him up, let him know. Let him know what? I asked. I told him you’d become a journalist.”
“I sell newspapers. It’s not the same thing.”
“Well he says to me, Tell him dad died, and of course that made him crack up laughing, so he can put it in the paper: Extra Extra! Read all about it, Fulgencio Sr., dead! We’ve got the photo! Read for yourselves, his lovely widow, single again after all these years…”
“No, I don’t do any shouting like that…I don’t know what to say. That was his dad after all. I don’t know why he’d think it was a laughing matter.”
“He was young when his dad died, he barely knew him. And he used to hit him, not hard, just some spanking, but that’s all he remembers. His aunts would tease him and say that he wasn’t his real dad, that he was…you remember? They called him the little bastard boy and he’d get so mad. And bastard Aunt Saula really was a bastard you know, she was born after grandpa died. Too bad Grandpa’s spirit never stopped by on the Candlemas—I don’t know why, but Junior always confused Day of the Dead on November 2nd with the Candlemas on February 2nd. Anyway, toward the end just about everything cracked him up. When he went north he’d write me and his letters would say, How’s the old lady doing? Here’s a little something so you’ll quit working so hard. He’d been a cop for a long time up there, remember? When he’d come down to visit I’d say, Let me see you in uniform, but he’d just laugh. He’d say, I’m a Mexican down here, old lady, I’m only a cop up there, on the other side. He always said I should go with him, What are you still doing here? You’re just making yourself miserable, you don’t even want to go out dancing like you used to, come on, let’s go out for cake and coffee, and he’d drive me in his car because he had his car here, remember? I said Why don’t you get married? Must be a lot of pretty little gringas up there, after all, you’re a gringo now, got to be at least one that thinks you’re alright, then you can bring her down here and I’ll braid her hair just like she were my own daughter, and when you want to come back you can bring her along and I’ll spoil her rotten, except, oh that’s right, you don’t want me in your house! because he’d already told me he wanted to buy his own house. I said to him, you’re getting old, junior, and I’m not getting any younger, don’t you want to give me grandkids? He’d joke back, Yeah, and what about you? Yeah, everyone knows I’m old, so what? You should find somebody, ya old lady. Don’t you want someone that’ll take you out for cake? And he’d bring up that time he wanted cake and was throwing a tantrum and calling out for his dad who’d just died, papa cake papa cake papa cake! and his aunts said, Shut that kid up, give him a spanking or something. His dad always took him to the café on the main drag, so I picked him up and went out with him in my arms, but the café had closed down, so I started wandering. I came across a big house where they were throwing a party, this huge party. The street was blocked off with cars, those extra-long Dodges we always said looked like boats, large as barges, the same kind Fulgencio Sr. had, and the people all started staring at me and then I realized I was crying too, but I couldn’t feel it, I just stood there holding Junior. No more crying, I whispered to him, Papa’s not here anymore but we’re going to find you some cake, and there was this woman, What’s wrong? What’s the matter, why’s the boy crying, and you too? and he says to her, papa, cake! Ah, the little guy wants some cake. Come on in, we have cake. So, they sit us down and give Fulgencio Jr. a piece, I mean, the biggest piece of cake you’ve ever seen. There there honey, don’t cry, tell your momma she should quit crying too. You remember?”
The wind began to howl, sweeping in all the sounds from the street. Mothers calling to their children, the shrill steam-whistle of the yam seller’s cart, car horns, laughing teenagers, shouting, and then the yowling wind itself. It swayed the sun-bleached screens in the windows without dislodging any of the dead flies stuck there. It was as if the flies stuck in the pale screen had sucked up all the color from the outside world, all the green, the blue.
“No, I don’t remember. We haven’t seen each other in a long time, remember?”
“So, all that became sort of a joke. I told Fulgencio Jr. no way in hell, I’m not going to look him up, he should look me up! So why didn’t you ever look me up?”
“What’d you want me to do? Invite you both to dinner?”
“All three of us, sure, why not? Fulgencio Sr. always knew we were friends. He’d tease me, saying, when I die, you’re going to run off and become an Aristocrat. Are you happy, Aristos?”
“I don’t know…you ever watch the soaps? Here, why don’t you come sit over here. The plastic chair is more comfortable. Pull it over, don’t worry if it scuffs the floor, I didn’t get a chance to sweep anyway.”
As night fell the sounds outside changed: sirens, drunken arguing, shattering glass, and wailing children.
“Here, I have some lady’s slippers, if you want to wear them. I don’t know why I bought them, on sale, I guess. No, they don’t belong to anybody. Course I slept with a few women, what’d you expect? But not here. I never asked them their names and, well, they’d never tell me anyway. There you go on laughing. I’m not going to promise you nothing. You want a pillow? Sorry they’re not washed. Here, have some newspapers to put your feet up, they’re clean. Hey, you’re still wearing the anklet, is that the same one? Yeah, I remember, from Taxco. I brought it back from Taxco for you. No, I wouldn’t dare touch you. No, never. Want some socks? It’s cold enough, huh? You comfortable? Yeah, it’s not so bad here. It is pretty late. I didn’t mean it like that, but I mean, if no one’s waiting up for you. No, I’ll sleep here in the chair. There’s a big stick over there if I come too close. No, if you get too close I’m not going to beat you with it, well, maybe just a little…I’m not laughing. I’m not hungry, but if you are. Sure, there’s no oven, but the hot plate works fine. There’s a pharmacy, they sell everything, food, drinks, sure, everything. Meat? Yeah, they even sell meat. You don’t want to eat meat? You’re the one who started laughing this time. No need for you to come along, better you wait here, it’s cold out there. No, no ghosts here, not like in your house. Just you wait for the gossip. You’ll see what I mean tomorrow, you’ll leave, but I’ll still be here.”
The walls were bare except for a large poster for an old Mexican movie. A woman wearing an anklet was sprawled out on a bed and a man wearing an expensive-looking suit smoked a cigarette. They looked happy, like they’d just been together or maybe it was moments before they were about to. There was a cassette player on Aristos’ table. She stood up in her bare feet, plugged it in, and pressed play. It started skipping, so she changed out the tape for a clear one with no label. The songs were from her generation, back when she and Aristos used to go dancing. He never came up to the house, but always waited on the corner instead—that was, until Fulgencio showed up, who’d eventually become the father of her son. She liked him from the very beginning, Look, Aristos, if one day he doesn’t want me anymore, then I’ll go out with you again. It’s just…he’s so handsome, and you should see the way he dances. It’s not because he has a car, you know that, right? I’m only going to go out with him for a while, okay? Then you’ll ask me to be your girlfriend again and we’ll get married, so don’t be mad. But Fulgencio wasn’t fooling around; he went straight to her parents as soon as he finished college. The three of them ended up spending time together, even though she doesn’t remember. One day they all ate lunch in the cafeteria together. She told Fulgencio that Aristos was a childhood friend, mentioning that she’d never had a friend quite like him, and it became apparent to Fulgencio that it was no coincidence Aristos was always hanging around. He’d seen him a few times at parties and back then, there weren’t so many dances, not like now. In those days, nice young ladies didn’t go to orchestra dances, but it was fine to go out if a girlfriend had a birthday or got married or invited you to some other celebration. Only then would parents let their daughters out of the house. No, it wasn’t the first time he’d seen Aristeo around. He found him endearing in a way. They invited Aristos to a party that night. He said, You should come along, Aristeo, because he never called him Aristos, but respectfully, Aristeo. As time went on, the two of them stopped running into him and all that remained was a single joke between themselves, especially whenever she got on his nerves about certain things, like the cold, which she always whined about, or the rain, which made her sick. Fulgencio would say to her, You always were such an Aristocrat…
“Took you long enough, I was starting to get cold. The wind here’s terrible, it’s howling.”
She went up to him and stood there looking at him, searching for that place where she knew he’d buried all the memories of those afternoons when school let out and he’d be waiting for her on the sidewalk with his bike. They’d soar over the streets, most of them still unpaved dirt roads at that time, and only when she thought she’d found that place, when she began to feel safe the way she had back then, sitting behind him on the seat while he stood pedaling, her arms wrapped around his waist, back when she believed they could’ve circled the whole world together on that bike, did she begin to speak.
“They said Fulgencio Jr. was in front but his partner went down first. Then they shot him too. Only thing he managed to say was that he wanted to be buried in Mexico. They didn’t bother taking him to the hospital. They kept calling me but couldn’t get a hold of me until they contacted some relatives we have up there who passed my address along. I don’t know how long they kept him for, but all I got were his ashes in an urn, and that’s what we buried, Aristos, just ashes. They showed up and gave them to me along with his badge and papers. Only one spoke Spanish, he had the face of a Mexican and said they were going to do the honor guard and all that, but I didn’t want them to, Aristos, what for? So, I signed some papers and they left.”
It wasn’t long after his death that she’d remembered the umbilical cord. She kept it in a little box her father gave her along with everything else from her wedding: the bouquet, the lasso, the gold coins, all of it.
“There was this little worm in there, Aristos. A little worm like this, tiny, whiter than white, crazy. I untied the silk ribbon where I kept Fulgencio Jrs.’ umbilical cord and there it was. It began to squirm like I’d woken it up, and it had little eyes like this, teeny, black. Hidden right there between the folds of dry flesh, or, I don’t know if it’s flesh, but between the folds of whatever it is. It was like it had a soul. So, there I was, taking care of it, and it kept rolling over and over. Then it crawled up my finger, but it felt so cold, I knew I had to warm it up. It had this way of dragging itself along, kind of slithering, and something about it made me feel so…alive. How do you think it’s possible it lived in there for more than thirty years? How long do little worms live, Aristos? Are you awake? Don’t fall asleep! I know it’s not him, but, it’s part of him, isn’t it? It was like he’d been born again, reborn in that little worm, right? I didn’t want to just toss it in his urn. I have it here. Don’t be scared, I told it, Fulgencio Jr. isn’t here anymore, but you’re the flesh of his flesh, blood of his blood, and you won’t die because I’m here to take care of you. That’s what I told it. I’ll put you out here in the sunshine, so you can see how good life is, so you can feel the light and sun and sky, so you can feel the warm morning breeze. I’m going to take care of you. I have it here. I’m going to have a locket made so I can always carry it with me. Want to see? It’s dead, but still bright white. See its little eyes? Right there. That’s why I came Aristos, I wanted to show you since you couldn’t be the father of my son. I thought you might want to see how this little worm was born from his umbilical cord, flesh of my flesh. Hold out your hand, there, that’s it, hold it. It’s like it’s alive, right? I mean, it was born from living flesh. Then all the sudden it started to get a little paler. It was dying on me, and I couldn’t bring it back to life. I set it out in the sun. Live, live! I told it, but no. It was gone, and it kept getting stiffer and stiffer, with its dull little eyes that don’t shine anymore. So I put it back in Fulgencio’s umbilical cord. I’ll keep you here, I told it, So you won’t be lonely.”
They were eating breakfast the next morning when the atole lady came back. This time Aristeo bought two atoles and four tamales, two salsa two sweet. The atole lady asked;
“You have a visitor, Don Aris?”
“No,” he replied, “this is my wife.”
“I’m going to do his novena, Aristos. I’m going to put his umbilical cord and his little worm up there on his altar along with his picture. He brought me a photo once with him in his uniform and all his medals. I’m going to put it on his altar and if you want, I’ll leave one here with you too, if that’s alright.
On the third day, she left Aristeo Magro’s house and went home to prepare her son’s novena.
I’m thrilled to present to you, for the first time in English, the work of contemporary Mexican author, Noé Blancas-Blancas. This story comes from Blancas-Blancas’ collection, A La Sombra Del Sombrero (Conaculta/Praxis/Gobierno del Estado de Guerrero, 2015). In this story, an unnamed woman goes in search of a long-lost high school sweetheart shortly after her adult son is killed on duty as a police officer in the United States. What is most mesmerizing about this short work is Blancas-Blancas’ ability to quickly create trenchant portrayals of regular people and the monument-sized longing they drag behind them. “Preparation for a Novena” invites the reader to consider the dark edges of regret and what happens when our most intense desires bump against the periphery of our grief. The work of this author is tinged with the threat of disaster; the one-sided dialogue throughout is a howl into the void. I hope it sticks with you the way it stuck with me.
Allana C. Noyes is a literary translator from Reno, Nevada. She holds an MFA from the University of Iowa and in 2015 was granted a Fulbright to Mexico. In 2018, she was awarded the World Literature Today Translation Prize in Poetry, and in 2020, was selected for the emerging translator fellowship at the Banff Centre Residency program. Her translations have appeared in World Literature Today, Asymptote, Lunch Ticket, Mexico City Lit, Exchanges, and are forthcoming in Literal Magazine, The Los Angeles Review, InTranslation/BrooklynRail, and the Catapult/Soft Skull anthology of short horror fiction, Tiny Nightmares.
Noé Blancas-Blancas is an author from the state of Guerrero, Mexico. He is a professor at the UPAEP University in Puebla, Mexico, and has received several awards for his writing, including the Cuca Massieu award, the José Agustín prize for short stories, and the María Luisa Ocampo award for short stories. He was also a recipient of a FOECA grant in 2006 (State funding for arts and culture.) He is the author of two books of short stories and one book of poetry. His work has never before been translated into English. Photo courtesy of Espantajo Films.
We kept questioning and peeing towards Duchamp’s urinal. Mutt brand. But now it is out of production for long. Had a pleasant breakfast. Rice porridge, corn and cabbage (non-GMO). Watch the headline news. Big Benz in the Forbidden City. Democratic Party officially launched impeachment against Trump. It has always been smoggy for more than twenty days. The sky is gray, as if you were in an old photograph of the Republic of China. Or peep here from the coming years. Fall in love with the huge cube of dreams. It’s like a memorial day. A room or a uterus. In it our desires are growing gaily. Wishes are packaged, tied with a bow tie, and mimic the good weather. The card says: Love, your neighbors, if he (she) is of the same sex. We wear shorts of CK brand and drink Evian mineral water. We have famous cars and luxurious mansions of tens of millions of yuans. Although they are a little expensive, we are willing to pay. We have to pay for the right future. Correct future rather than just future. We are not living in the Middle Ages. We are just alive. But this is not the point. Carefully stare at our goals. It was carefully designed and made. Just like Duchamp’s urinal. He renamed it “Fountain”, but it was actually very cheap.
Outside the window, heavy snow is falling. It seemed that the anger and the depression of the whole winter were suddenly spit out. The light becomes loaded. I’m watching through the window. Listen to Du Pré ’s performing Sonata in G minor by Edmund Rubbra, works No. 60. My heart trembles on the strings. Maybe I should say something but there is nothing to say. The dead are dead, and they were allowed to remain silent forever. There is no need to wear a mask in heaven, and of course there are no viruses or lies. Living people hiding at home continue to fear or continue to be shameless. Bats take off in the dark with a message of death. At the moment there is only music, soothing my sorrow. There are also poems, recording this moment of pain. But I will still look out of the window. Snow. Snow. Snow. A heavy snow covered the world, like death.
This is not a poem
This is the wall. This is a button on the wall. This is a beetle. This is a cigarette butt. This is a stone. This is a button. This is cinder on the wall. This is night. The detritus of the night. This is a button. This is a button on the wall. This is a nail. Or traces left by nails. This is a stain. This is a virus. This is the shadow of the lungs. This is time. This is the end of time. This is a beetle. This is the evidence left by a smashed-dead beetle. This is death. This is a cigarette butt. This is a button on the wall. This is sand. A grain of sand or a universe. This is a virus. This is the shadow left by the virus in the lungs. This is a beetle. Here is the evidence left after the beetle was smashed to death. This is night. This is daytime. This is their residue. This is a stone. This is cinder. This is the carbon core after cinder is burned. This is a shadow. This is confusion. This is a rag. This is a nail. This is a nail nailed into the wall. This is a hole left after a nail is pulled out. This is an ink dot. This is confusion. This is thinking. This is the excrement of thinking. This is memory. This is the sorrow of memory. This is grief. This is despair. This is death. This is the signature of death. This is sand. This is a desert. This is an earthly world. This is a covenant. This is a button on the wall. This is the mother’s tears and the baby’s crying. This is a cigarette butt. This is the glove dropped by death. This is a cookie. This is a toy. This is a start button. This is a lie. This is acne and freckles. This is a letter. This is an engine. A car. A manned spacecraft. This is a black hole. This is the time to stop. This is a question. This is a miracle. This is a virus. Conspiracy of virus and lung. This is a wall. This is a button on the wall. This is a poem. This is not a poem.
A Movie: A Quiet Place
Wear a mask in spring. N95. It imprisons us. Death. Cold ban. I am a walking virus. To be exact, a time bomb that ticks constantly and can be detonated at any time. The soul is withering day by day, like a vase of flowers. It longs to jump out of its flesh and embraces the scenery outside the window. But the landscape is a bird, locked in a corroded cage. In the afternoon, sunlight penetrates into the window like snow, cutting the room into two equal parts. I curl up on the floor, watching a horror movie. Monster is killing humans, but humans cannot see it. It finds us through the air. We dare not make a sound. We study hard how to keep silent and cover our children’s mouth in due time. Feel fortunate to be still alive in corpse-like silence.
Shuguang Zhang is one of the most influential poets active in contemporary Chinese poetry. With their uniqueness and experimental writing styles and the juxtaposition of modern and ancient cultural elements, Shuguang Zhang’s poems reflect both the characteristics of traditional Chinese poetics and aesthetics as well as the influence from Western poetics.
He began to write poetry when he was in college, pursuing a solid and tough poetic style in the past. Tao Yuanming (352/365AD–427AD), a famous recluse poet who is founding father for Chinese pastoral poetry is said to be Shuguang Zhang’s favorite Chinese poet, and he is also influenced by some Western poets such as New York school poets and language poets. Zhang has noted that Chinese Zen-Taoism thinking also serves as a fundamental basis of his poetics.
His poetry covers a wide range of topics, ranging from modern Chinese life and the relationship between nature and humans to profound philosophical inquiry and popular cultures in China and West. His writing styles are various and diverse, and include the brilliant and skillful use of everyday dialogue, narratives, collage, juxtaposition and repetition. Over the past couple of years, Zhang’s poetic style has changed. Whereas narrative style dominated his work, it has more recently been replaced by collage, juxtaposition of fragments and repetitions, in which the poet shows his constant endeavors to modernize Chinese poetry by seeking for a new voice with experimental techniques.
The three poems presented here are new, written during the Covid-19 pandemic, and diverge from his past poetic style. In these poems, Zhang bravely talks about the changes brought by the pandemics, the relationship between nature and humans, and the sorrow caused by human misconduct. Reading these poems, readers can see Zhang’s profound thinking on death, grief, and salvation, and what poetry can do in the post-pandemic era.
Yi Feng is a scholar, translator, poet, and associate professor at Northeastern University, China. Her English poems have been published in The Penn Review, Model Minority, and Voice & Verse Poetry Magazine, etc.. Her Chinese poems have been published in Lotus (芙蓉) and Chinese Poetry Website. She has translated Chinese poets and American poets, including Shuguang Zhang, Susan Howe, Rae Armantrout and Charles Bernstein, among other poets. Her translation of poems appeared in journals in China and the US, such as Poetry Monthly (诗歌月刊) in 2019 , and DoubleSpeak in 2020. She was awarded the Hunt Scholarship in 2016. She has won the Bronze Prize in an International Chinese Poetry Competition in 2017. She lives in Shenyang, China.
Shuguang Zhang was born in 1956 in Wangkui County, Heilongjiang Province, China. He is a poet, translator, and a retired professor of Chinese at the School of Literature, Heilongjiang University. Zhang’s poetry collections include The Clown’s Gown, The Snowfall in the Afternoon, Zhang Shuguang’s Poetry, and Haunted House, among others. His more notable collections of translated poetry are Divine Comedy and Czesław Miłosz’s Poetry. Zhang was awarded the first Liu Li’an Poetry Award, the Poetry and People Poetry Award, the “Poetry Construction” Master Award, and in 2019, the Su Shi Poetry Award. His works have been translated into English, Spanish, German, Japanese, Dutch, and other languages.
From Kawiñtun üyelüwün mew / Ceremonia de los nombres / Ceremony of the Names
We haven’t forgotten you, Huichapán, sad wandering puma, we haven’t forgotten you. Do you still carry jerkey and island water in your flour sack season after season? And visions of mushroomsin your eyes fatally wounded by the distance? Puma warrior, do you still sing your mother’s earthly songs when you dream, drunk and alone, before the river of dawn? The wind is the traveler’s only homeland, Huichapán, and the night is the country of the orphaned child fragrant of the sea under the dark waves of trees. Inché kuñifal meu, kiñe rümei nga ñi dungun, küme huentru ngefuli epu rumeafui nga ñi dungu. I wander dejected over your lands, little sister, I wander dejected. But I have my word, but I have my word, the vagabond riches I offer your heart.
From Alto Huilío passing through Freire, came Margarita the infidel warria. Oh, body of oak, Ancacoy of the forests, house of the thrush, nest of the light. Will you now sweep the countryside’s leaves, the mud, the rain, the dust of the south? Will you cut firewood, will you drink mate, will you make fry bread for the new sun? Sad Margarita, your mother sings to you, your son dreams about you, the laurel calls your name. Sad Margarita, Ancacoy of the meadow, raulí tree turned green, hidden flower.
What will these lands say about me now that I’m returning with my face distorted by the salty pampa winds? Will you even remember my name, sorcer’s stones of the hills, when I pass before you to plead for my fate? Are the enemies of travelers aware I carry potent talismans under a gray makuñ tehuelche unraveled by the snow? As a young man I set out for the eastern passes carefree as the thrushes’ song illuminated by dawn. ¡Kintupurrai inche pingey! –I shouted to the heavens— ¡Kintupurrai inche pingey! Seeker of flowers and waters, a merchant and a pilgrim, I got lost with my pouches of liquor in the immense Land of Apples. Through fields carpeted with Coirons where my caciques reign over sands and lakes, alone I rode. Paillacán, Foyel, Sayhueque, Tereupán, Antuleguén sat singing before the fire to drink from my liquor. Po alué, efkütuaimün, po alué. Kümelkaimün pu fochüm, kümelkaimün. Nekelepe kewan, kuchiyu ñielafimün. Dead souls, join me in a toast. Dead souls, Let no brothers quarrel, we beg you, Let no knives gleam in the fickle cup of night.
We reached the edge of a river, hot shade of Andean cacti. The hills were sleeping like condors beneath the sun’s fierce areolae stricken with altitude sickness. In the bread we carried our rituals along with incessant whispering of defunct tongues. Hummingbirds bled in the air sipping in circling flights from sudden mountain blossoms. In the light, stones were rolling toward the Father of Waters. They asked, Who is your grandfather? Where is your chachay’s horse in the dense afternoon fog? Wallün feytüfa mongen zungu, wallün feytüfa lan zungun – wiñolzunguyiñ. The word of life is circular, the word of death is circular –we responded–, assembled like burnt birds in the tallest, leafiest crown of pain.
No te hemos olvidado, Huichapán, andariego puma triste, no te hemos olvidado. ¿Llevas todavía en tu saco harinero charqui y lluvia isleña de estación en estación? ¿Y visiones de dihueñes en tus ojos malheridos por la lejanía? ¿Cantas aún, puma guerrero, las canciones terrenales de tu madre cuando sueñas ebrio y solo frente al río del amanecer? Sólo el viento es la patria del viajero, Huichapán, y la noche el país del hijo huérfano que huele a mar bajo el oleaje oscuro de los árboles. Inché kuñifal meu, kiñe rümei nga ñi dungun, küme huentru ngefuli epu rumeafui nga ñi dungu. Pobre ando por tus tierras, hermanita, pobre ando. Pero tengo mi palabra, pero tengo mi palabra, la riqueza vagabunda que le ofrezco a tu corazón.
Desde Alto Huilío pasando por Freire, vino Margarita a la warria infiel. Oh, Cuerpo de roble, Ancacoy del bosque, casa de zorzales, nido de la luz. ¿Barrerás ahora las hojas del campo, el barro, la lluvia, el polvo del sur? ¿Cortarás la leña, tomarás el mate, harás sopaipillas para el nuevo sol? Triste, Margarita, te canta tu madre, te sueña tu hijo, te llama el laurel. Triste Margarita, Ancacoy del prado, pellín verdecido, escondida flor.
¿Qué dirán estas tierras sobre mí ahora que regreso con el rostro trastornado por los vientos salinos de la pampa? ¿Recordarán mi nombre acaso, piedras brujas de los cerros, cuando pase frente a ustedes a pedir por mi destino? ¿Sabrán los enemigos del viajero que llevo poderosos talismanes bajo un gris makuñ tehuelche destejido por la nieve? Joven fui hacia los pasos del oriente, alegre como canto de wilquiles iluminados por el amanecer. ¡Kintupurrai inche pingey! -grité a los cielos- ¡Kintupurrai inche pingey! Yo, buscador de flores y agua, comerciante y peregrino, me perdí con mis garrafas de aguardiente en el inmenso País de las Manzanas. Por los campos alfombrados de coirones donde reinan mis caciques sobre arenas y lagunas, solitario cabalgué. Paillacán, Foyel, Sayhueque, Tereupán, Antuleguén se sentaron cantando frente al fuego a beber de mi licor. Po alué, efkütuaimün, po alué. Kümelkaimün pu fochüm, kümelkaimün. Nekelepe kewan, kuchiyu ñielafimün. Almas muertas, ayúdenme a brindar. Almas muertas, haced bien a los hijos. Que no haya pelea entre hermanos, les pedimos. Que no brillen los cuchillos en la copa veleidosa de la noche.
Llegamos al borde de un río, a la sombra caliente de los cactus andinos. Los cerros dormían como cóndores bajo las apunadas y violentas areolas del sol. Trajimos nuestros ritos en el pan y el susurro incesante de las lenguas occisas. Pu pinza müpüyngün traf kürüfmew iyefingün ta ñi wallünmew ta chi tripachi rayen mawiza mew. Colibríes sangraban contra el aire comiéndose en sus giros las abruptas flores de montaña. Piedras hubo que rodaron en la luz, sigilosas hacia el Padre de las Aguas. ¿Quién es tu abuela?- preguntaron-. ¿Dónde va el caballo que monta tu chachay en plena y densa niebla vespertina? Wallün feytüfa mongen zungu, wallün feytüfa lan zungun – wiñolzunguyiñ. Circular es la palabra de la vida, circular es la palabra de la muerte -respondimos-, reunidos como pájaros quemados en la copa más alta y más frondosa del dolor.
These poems are drawn from the book Kawiñtun üyelüwün mew / Ceremonia de los nombres / Ceremony of the Names, which forms part of Jaime Huenún Villa’s project to orchestrate a chorus of popular voices derived from anonymous people within the Huilliche-Mapuche communities of southern Chile and of urban migrant neighborhoods in Santiago and other cities. In his earlier prize-winning book Reducciones (2013), Huenún interrogated the cycles of conquest and colonization that have laid siege to Mapuche lands and culture, whether in the form of military or religious campaigns, first by Spaniards, then by Chileans, or of economic servitude and social marginalization. Even as the Mapuches have been relegated first to “reductions” (similar to U.S. reservations), and then to the poorest shantytowns of Chile’s cities, they have struggled to maintain a sense of their genealogical and cultural integrity, including command of their native language, Mapudungun. While Huenún writes primarily in Spanish, he also interweaves verses in Mapudungun into his poems, in such a way that they are comprehensible to speakers of either language (and now, with these translations, to speakers of English). The unsung heroes of the poems in Kawiñtun üyelüwün mew / Ceremonia de los nombres / Ceremony of the Names tell us the stories of their families, their work history, their travels, their religious experiences and revelations, their loves and conflicts, even of their deaths. Above all these are stories of resilience and celebration, incorporating the musicality and rhythms of popular song.
Cynthia Steele is Professor Emerita of Comparative Literature at the University of Washington, Seattle. Her translations include Inés Arredondo, Underground Rivers (Nebraska, 1996), José Emilio Pacheco, City of Memory (City Lights, 2001, with David Lauer), and María Gudín, Open Sea (Amazon Crossings, 2018). They have also appeared in The Chicago Review, TriQuarterly, The Seattle Review, Gulf Coast, Lunch Ticket, Trinity Journal of Literary Translation, Southern Review, Exchanges, Latin American Literary Review, and otherjournals. Photo by Carolyn Cullen.
Jaime Luis Huenún is a Chilean Mapuche-Huilliche poet, born in 1967, who has received numerous awards, including the Pablo Neruda Prize (2003), a Guggenheim Fellowship (2005), and the Chilean National Council on Arts and Culture’s Literature Award in 2013. Two of his books are available in English: Port Trakl (Diálogos, 2008) and Fanon City Meu (Action Books, 2018). Translations of his poems have also appeared in Michigan Quarterly Review, Washington Square Review, and other journals. Huenún lives in Santiago, where he works for the Chilean Ministry of Culture. Photo by Alvaro de la Fuente Farré.
In late 2019 the anonymous performance artist known as X. conducted a piece called Posthumous Rites in which an anaesthetized psychic medium wearing electrodes on her wrists and nothing else was strapped to a chair which was then placed in a galvanized metal tub filled with 6 inches of saline solution.
The electrodes and psychic-wrists were not-quite secured with duct tape to a desk across the sleeping medium’s lap. Between the medium’s hands the left of which held a pencil and the right of which splayed across the surface of an alphabetic keyboard and the surface of a desk was a scroll of paper and a Dell laptop respectively.
X.’s latest studio intern waited around to prevent the medium from drowning and to clean up after. The performance artist dutifully recorded the utterances and convulsions which escaped the psychic medium which her studio intern transcribed over the course of the next seven days via his mother’s Brother Correct-O-Write typewriter loaded with the scraps of textbooks from her days as a pure mathematician.
We the editors have edited the results of approx. 72 hours of data which we present before you to limited avail.
WE ARE THE VOICE UNDER THE VOICE. NOT EVERYONE CAN HEAR US WHICH IS WHY WE SHOUT. TO SHOUT IS RUDE YES BUT TRULY WE ARE CONSIDERATE. WHO ELSE WILL ACCOUNT OF THE EVENTS.
WE HAVE EXTRACTED OURSELF TO TELL YOU WHAT HAPPENS. FIRST. WHAT WE USED TO BE DIES ON A PUBLIC BUS. NEXT. WE COME HOME. THERE, NOW YOU WILL NOT WONDER WHAT HAPPENS. THERE IS SO MUCH MORE TO KNOW BESIDES WHAT HAPPENS.
WE CAME HOME MECHANICALLY. WE ARE IN MASS TRANSIT STILL AND IT IS SERIOUS. I ASSURE YOU IT IS VERY SERIOUS BUT BY NO MEANS URGENT. SERIOUS, NOT URGENT. TIME NOW IS A SHAPE AND NO SHAPE CAN BE URGENT WITHOUT ITS CORRESPONDING OBJECT. AND BY THEN IT IS TOO LATE.
THERE IS ONE WHO WOULD SPEAK FURTHER BUT YOU WILL NOT ALLOW HIM. WE AGREE THAT HE HAS SAID ENOUGH. THAT WAS THE POINT OF WHAT HAPPENS. HE DID NOT HAVE THE WORDS AND SO. WE CANNOT WARN YOU UNTIL WHAT HAPPENS FOLLOWS ITSELF AGAIN.
WE ARE CALLING OUT OUR ROLES. WHAT HAPPENED TO US WAS SERIOUS BUT TO COME HOME TO OURSELVES WAS A GIFT.
THIS ONE SENT PERFUMED LETTERS AND HAD NEVER BEEN IN LOVE.
I am not alone under the fountain thetreesbendover People pass in meditation apastlifeiwaspulledinto The trees bend down theyknowthatiam To tell what they know of me murderedbyfate Sometimes a silent self flits by whatisthewordfor What I should have done anticipatingthepast On the bus, I sensed something off perhapsithought Should have pulled the cord early idreturnto Changed direction, doubled back afamiliarcitywhere Onto another line where I apastselfused Should have pulled the cord early toliveamanshother I saw a face, a gesture I must have known before me His white tee, the cold sweat fromadistance Peeling off his coat. He appeared inthesolarplexus To carry nothing but a fistful iwasarationalwoman Of an olive parka, not even staringup When the object it concealed attheceilingofme Appeared. I thought I saw him stand andthennothing But there was not even time noteventime To think
THIS ONE ALWAYS FORGOT HER UMBRELLA. SHE TRIES TO SPEAK AS THE WOMAN WHO RAISED HER BUT BY THEN SHE FORGETS HER VOICE.
Miss missy it's
about time you called, I
haven’t heard from you
since. Spirits? P a s t
l i v e s ? Trapped on a
page? Who taught you
this foolishness girl, me
or that young man on
the bus? Now I taught
you to exaggerate like a
mouse s c r a t c h i n g
through a wall. Just one
mouse s o u n d s like a
horde of nasty r a t s .
And one mouse means
there are ten m o r e ,
which w e l l you know
the rest, ew ew e w i e !
But look at you, loud as
a mouse who w o n ’ t
bel i e v e it l i v e s with
g h o s t s . F i v e
generations we’ ve been
in t h i s house and I
haven’t s e e n a single
THIS ONE ROSE BEFORE DAWN TO CURL HER HAIR. SHE WELCOMED OUR EMBRACE HER ENTIRE LIFE, Should the bus gambol across the highway I in the centermost back seat would stare Myself dumb down the aisle through The slick windshield, the overpass swelling to meet us Our dripping umbrellas Fogged glasses, glass before the fire.
I should remember each face I saw last, a family Meeting each other anew as the deer on the road we pass.
ENVELOPPED AS WE ARE IN OUR UNHOMELY HOME.
America my ugliest voice My guard my guide through
This life indebted to These veins. Whose silt
Preserves you as jelly Preserves you, a fetal tree
Sewn through a field Of wheat. Slim roots
Pierce the ancestors Animals with names whose
Food fed its food, whose Shit streams out to the gulf
Grows the algae strangles The oceans’ slim breath
Sick child for whom I have No sympathy how dare you
Defy this life, its corridors A moribund technology
K. Henderson is an antidisciplinary writer and musician whose performances have been featured in venues across the U.S. The chapbook Cruel Maths or Kind Proof is forthcoming from Black Warrior Review. A Cave Canem fellow, K. is an MFA candidate and a 2020 Physics Department Artist in Residence at the University of Pittsburgh.