Rachael Daum translates Natalia Rubanova

Scherzo: Romka and America

Romka discovered America. America discovered Romka. So, continent after continent, Romka and America discovered one another.

America was born on October 12, 1492: she was much older than Romka, true, though she had no reason to suspect it. To Romka, America was formed by two mainlands—North and South. She drew a border: with the Dariensky Isthmus and the Panama Canal she separated herself from those pesky outsiders.

“You are My New World!” Romka often told America.

“What are you copying Vespucci for? He would call me that.”

“You’re My New World!” smiled Romka, and pushed aside the book about the seafarer who christened the southern part of her America his New World. Romka was happy that it was, at least, only a part, because she’d claim something for herself and no one would dare stop her.

“Do you also dream of finding the shortest sea route to India? Do you wish to be a Columbus as well?” wondered the undiscovered part of America, Not-North-Not-South. “Do you have three caravels? Will you sail the Atlantic on three ships?”

“I don’t know,” smiled Romka. “Do you need me to do that too?”

“Once there was a man, his name is somewhere in the reference books now, who discovered me. He had three caravels—Santa Maria, Pinta, Niña. He reached the Sargasso Sea, and then the Samana Cay on my birthday.”

“When is your birthday?”

“October 12, 1492. But I’d like to change the date. I want to change it to today—I’ve been born again! No, I’ve been born alive…”

“How ancient you are.”

“Who are you?” America melted under Romka’s gaze. “Why is it so easy, so good, for me to be around you? Where did you come from? Your name holds half the world—Roma, Rome, Roman de la Rose, Romantism, romance, Romanche…”

“What’s Romanche?” asked Romka.

“A trench in the Atlantic, not far from the equator. It’s an abyss. Do you want to see?” America had already opened a fat book before Romka had the chance to stop her. “Look, I found it! 190 miles long, 12 miles wide, 25,463 feet deep! But you… You’re—bigger. Wider. Deeper! I can’t go on without you. You are my eternal city, my Rome! You stand upon me like the Tiber! Your struggle for infinite freedom is boundless. Though your dream is far from reality…”

“You are my dream. You are real,” Romka took America in her arms, forgetting about the isthmus separating the North and the South: Romka’s America was Not-North-Not-South, and so—was her own. She was the one that Romka alone had discovered.

“You know,” America stretched out dreamily, “you know, I just can’t understand why—” but the Atlantica wind drowned out her words; Romka nuzzled back-to-back with America, and whispered ardently:

“I discovered you, you hear me? Dis-cov-ered! I discovered you like no one before ever had: they couldn’t! And no one will ever be able to again! You’re the most real of all the Americas, the only one! Not-North-Not-South!”

“Do you want some rum?” America suddenly asked Romka. “Sometimes we need this fermented sugar juice more than water.”

“I want everything with you,” Romka answered simply. “Everything. How could I live without you? It’s already been long enough.” Romka raised the steel mug to her lips.

“I was born the first time on October 12, 1492,” whispered America, looking away.

“That’s just records. You were really born on February 22, 2003.”

“And you?” America’s cheeks flushed.

“And I…”

All roads in America lead to Rome. All roads in Rome lead to America.

And so they lived: Romka and America.

translator’s note:

When renowned Russian theater director, founder of the Moscow School of Modern Drama, and dissident Joseph Raihelgauz was asked to describe the impact of Natalia Rubanova’s writing, he had the following to say (in my translation): 

Nothing is real, except music. Or rather, not even music, but the elements, form, devices, genres of music. First a musician, Rubanova thinks musically. And the relationships between the characters line up precisely like this, not like that, not because they’re a girl and a boy, or love one but not another, or one remembers and the other has forgotten. But because they are, for instance, separated by a tritone—a musical interval, a sharp dissonance. 

Natalia Rubanova’s writing is informed by so many different factors, but musicality—and the breaking of musicality in her collection Karlsson, Dancing the Flamenco—is a great one of them, as Rubanova is a classically-trained pianist. (I myself played the French horn for six years, which is a long time to be bad at a heavy instrument.) This collection is fashioned as a symphony, each piece named for a movement (cante hondo and so on), which has laid out its own set of challenges. But when I was introduced to Rubanova, I couldn’t resist the urge to take up this challenge: How to navigate the musical intervals of her work, how to render the dissonance? As I have been translating these stories, I am confronted over and over with the question of how to strike the dissonant chord in English without it just sounding like a bad translation? How to make it weird, without it sounding wrong? I admit this is something I continue to struggle with in translating her stories, but it’s a challenge I’m eager to continue. 

There is a lot of playfulness in Rubanova’s writing, and it is this playfulness that sets the tempo of her writing—this is a struggle to bring into English and requires much mulling, letting a note play out as long as it might. The breaking of traditional Russian form, queering her text musically within a queer text—music as queerness, and queerness as musical dissonance—as Raihelgauz points out above, is a delicious defiance that deserves to be read by a wider audience. Especially as a queer woman, and so a queer translator, myself, I am drawn to using my platform to translate the really brilliant works of a woman who is now barred from publishing them because of their open LGBTQ+ content in a regime that prohibits the spreading of queer and homosexual works. For Rubanova, space is irrelevant and malleable. It is the invisible—music, sound, and love—that is irreplaceable, fluid and yet stable, fleeting and yet permanent. It is the inconvenience of the love of people for others despite what might seem physically permanent that makes these stories unsettling, striking a beautiful dissonance in tone and content.

Rachael Daum works as the Communications and Awards Manager of the American Literary Translators Association. She received her BA in Creative Writing from the University of Rochester and MA in Slavic Studies from Indiana University, and received Certificates in Literary Translation from both institutions. Her original work and translations have appeared or are forthcoming in the Los Angeles Review, Words Without BordersTupelo Quarterly, Two Lines, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, and elsewhere. She translates from Serbian, Russian, and German, and currently lives and works in Cologne, Germany. You may find her on Twitter @rclouisedaum.

Natalia Rubanova lives and works in Moscow, Russia. She studied piano at the Ryazan Musical College in the 1990s, and received her bachelor’s from Moscow Pedagogical State University. She has published four books, and her short stories have been published in over sixty anthologies. Her plays have been performed in Russia, and most recently in London at the SOLO International Festival, where she was awarded the prize for Best New Writing. In 2019 she was awarded the Turgenev Prize for her short story “Don’t Cry, It Doesn’t Matter,” and the Hemingway Prize (Toronto) for her cycle of critical journalism articles. 




Michelle Quay translates Bijan Najdi

pool of nightmares

After twenty years away, Morteza was arrested his very first day back in his hometown on charges of murdering a swan (they’d seen him holding a dead swan by the feet, its long neck hanging down, beak dragging in the white snow). Neither of the town’s two police officers cuffed Morteza on their way to the station. The dirt path was covered in a thin layer of ice, which occasionally broke, filling the officers’ boots with water.

The police station courtyard evoked a prison, though it didn’t smell like one. An old, toothless woman with red gums was yelling, “Where are you? Mash Isma‘il?” 

Morteza stopped to examine the woman more closely.

“Move along,” one of the officers said. “She’s off her rocker.” 

“Is Mash Isma‘il still alive?” the other officer asked. 

“If Mash Isma‘il were alive…” she replied. “If Mash Isma‘il…” 

Morteza reached into his coat pocket and fished out a pack of cigarettes. He lit one in the hallway, sitting down on a wooden bench. Now the officers cuffed him. Just to take a drag from his cigarette Morteza had to bring both hands up to his scruffy, smoky-black moustache. By the time he had finished it, the snow was falling again. The sergeant went out to the steps so he could escort the head officer across the yard under a plastic sky (that is, he was holding an umbrella). The lieutenant brushed the umbrella aside and took off his hat. Flakes of snow were melting in his hair. 

“That woman here again?” he said. 

“She went to the coffee house and was telling people, ‘If you give me ten tomans, I’ll show you my ears.’”

“She really did that?” the lieutenant asked, taking the stairs three at a time. 

“Yes, sir,” the sergeant said from behind him. 

“Leave her be,” he said. 

The lieutenant was so tall the sergeant practically had to run to keep up. Walking through the entrance, the lieutenant asked, “What’s the deal with this murdered swan?” 

“Over there, sir,” the sergeant replied. 

The lieutenant stopped and looked around for the corpse of a swan: “Where?” 

The sergeant pointed to Morteza on the bench and said, “Get up, let’s go.”

Morteza was staring at the radiator, thinking a heater without a flame wasn’t worth a damn thing.

The lieutenant came in. He laid his hat on the table and ran a hand through his hair as he stood next to the window, which looked out on the pond. The pond was so far away only the vague blackness of a bridge – which looked nothing like a bird – stretched from the near side of the pond to the far side. 

The swan report was lying on the glass desk, while on the pink shelf the fan had its back to both window and winter. 

The lieutenant sat behind the desk and scowled like old times at the sound of the squeaky chair. He stared at the ringing phone so long that eventually the sergeant picked it up.

“It’s the mayor, sir.” 

The lieutenant took the receiver. “Yes, it’s me. Of course…. No … Yes, he’s been arrested… It’s just as you say. That swan belonged to all of us… We’ll dispatch officers to patrol the pond immediately… Rest assured… You too.” 

As soon as he hung up he yelled, “Sergeant! Bring him in.” 

Morteza came into the room with all the buttons on his coat undone. He held his handcuffed palms out like he was trying to offer someone a handful of air. His eyes, it seemed, had adjusted to the darkness around him, or perhaps he’d been looking at a lot of bright lights at once. He opened and closed his mouth like a freshly-caught fish, or like someone asleep, breathing noisily. 


Morteza sat on the nearest chair. 

“Hungry?” The lieutenant asked.

“No… I mean, well, now that you mention it, I think I am.” 

The sergeant opened the swan file. Morteza listened as an ambulance in the distance turned on its siren and faded even further away. 

“So? You were saying,” the lieutenant prompted. 

“Me? No, I wasn’t saying anything,” Morteza replied.

“Did you mean to sell the swan? Or… eat it?”

“Sell the swan? Eat it?” 

“You were seen,” the lieutenant said. “Let’s be civilized, now. Didn’t you kill the swan?” 

“Yeah… I mean, I guess so. I killed it. It just happened. How can I explain? All of a sudden I saw the body in my hands.” 

That morning, just as Morteza had stepped off the bus in his hometown after twenty years away, the smell of the tea gardens hit him, wafting up from the open collar of his coat. Even though the weather was cold and tasted like rain, Morteza headed towards the hostel on foot. He entertained himself by reading the flyers on the walls. A young soldier was smiling in a funeral announcement. The sound of a man praying emanated from the window. Morteza arrived at the hostel and rang the bell. He was extending his finger to press the button again when a sleepy old man opened the door and said gruffly:

“Yeah? What is it?”

“Do you have any rooms available?” Morteza asked.

“Rooms? What kind of rooms?” 

Morteza looked up at the sign above the door which read, “Iran Hostel.”

“Is this not the hostel?” he asked. 

“It was, son… it was. It definitely was, once.” And he closed the door. The clink of washing glasses and plates was coming from across the street. Morteza went into the coffeehouse.

The lieutenant asked, “How did you end up by the pond?”

“I wasn’t trying to go to the pond, I was headed to pay my respects at Aseed Hosayn’s resting place. They’ve paved over some of the roads and I couldn’t find it. I asked a woman I bought some bread from…”

The woman pulled some sangak bread out from under her veil and pointed him towards the glossy white at the end of the street, where snow and morning seemed to merge into one. That was where Morteza heard the sound of the swans, on the corner of that street. He turned and saw lights encircling the pond, still on for no reason, as if they imagined there was still a bit of night left. The pond was the same size and shape it had been twenty years ago, except now there was a fence around it. They had gotten rid of the roses and heather, and nothing was reflected in the water but the image of the light posts. Well, except for the sky, but it was so cloudy you couldn’t see it anyway. 

“So where were the swans?” asked the lieutenant. 

“On the other side,” Morteza said. “I was on one side, they were on the other.”

The pond was so deserted only Morteza’s footprints walked on the snow. The water was silent. Step by step, he moved to go sit on a bench beside the pond. It was so buried in snow, you couldn’t tell if it was made of wood, stone, or cement. Morteza quickened his pace. He even ran a few steps. 

“Why did you run?” the lieutenant asked.

“Because the sound of my footsteps was behind me…. I liked it. It had been years since I’d walked in front of myself like that, let alone run a few steps. It might have been the distance from your desk to the window there. You can hardly call that running, can you?” 

He looked at the sergeant, who was taking notes.

“Sir, should I record that too?” the sergeant said. 

“These days you can’t understand what people are saying, or what they want,” the lieutenant replied. 

Morteza turned toward the window and said nothing. The window was sweating. You could write a note in the condensation and put the date under it. The lieutenant was so quiet Morteza turned back around to look at him. In the interval he’d been thinking, “If this old guy had been killed (how old was he again?), there’d be a swan sitting on the chair across from me instead of this skin and bones in a coat.”

“It’s so much easier to talk to swans,” he said. 

“What?” said the sergeant.

Morteza heard the sound of a door opening. He saw a white teacup on a tray, headed for the lieutenant. Just as the tray was set down on the desk, the lieutenant motioned for it be put in front of Morteza. The teacup was lifted from the desk, and the scent of the tea gardens circled the room. Morteza’s throat was like sandpaper; there was a cough tickling it. With the promise of a hot cup of tea and cigarette before him in a few moments’ time, he completely forgot about the pond, the swan, and cuffs tight around his wrists. 

“Uncuff him, Sergeant,” the lieutenant ordered. 

The ceiling lamp lay upside down in his teacup. Even after the sugar dissolved in Morteza’s mouth, it was still white. As the hot tea went down, Morteza could feel the warmth tracing down his throat, through his chest, and into his belly. Leaving his tea unfinished, Morteza struck a match for his cigarette and closed his eyes with the first drag. 

“What did they do with the swan?” the lieutenant asked the sergeant. 

“They put it in the parking lot, in a plastic bag,” he replied. 

“What did you kill it with?” the lieutenant asked. “Hey, I’m talking to you!” 

From behind a cloud of smoke, Morteza said, “With an oar. At least I think it was with an oar, I don’t know.” 

“What do you mean you don’t know?” said the lieutenant. 

“It was full of oil out there,” he said. “Gasoline.” 

To see the swans up close, Morteza had to walk half way around the pond. There was a boat overturned in the snow. Between the path and the pond, a man was kicking the tire of a semi cab and occasionally blowing on his hands. The open hood of the truck had spilled the guts of a big box of wrenches onto the snow. A broken bottle (it looked like brake fluid) was face down in the water up to its neck. Gasoline was being spewed into the pond like vomit from the tipped-over plastic gas cans next to the fence. The water was greasy; the oil moved slowly with the lapping waves. Patches of gasoline, grey and purple, continually grew larger. When Morteza looked out at the mess on the water, he could see the swan too. The lieutenant thought of a bird he’d seen on the news that scrambled out of the mire after an oil spill on the Persian Gulf and dragged itself on its belly across the sand, but the lieutenant couldn’t recall its name. 

Morteza said, “Then I…” 

“Wait!” cried the lieutenant. “Hold on just a minute. Don’t say anything.” 

He turned his back to the room and looked out the window at the long bridge which straddled the pond. The sergeant paused to look at the lieutenant’s thin shoulders, or at Morteza, or at the shiny brim of the hat sitting on the table. The warmth of the room didn’t match the snow falling outside. The lieutenant undid one of the buttons on his uniform and without turning around said, “So?”

Morteza pointed his finger to his chest and quietly asked the sergeant, “Is he talking to me?” 

The sergeant nodded. 

Morteza continued, “I waved my arms at the swan and yelled out, ‘Don’t come any closer! Please, for the love of God, don’t come closer.’ But it’s like swans can’t hear or something. Or at least this one couldn’t. It didn’t see me at all. That was when I went towards the boat…” 

As Morteza turned the boat over, put it in the water, and rowed toward the swan, the lieutenant paced back and forth across the room, back and forth, and the sergeant tried to take down Morteza’s every word. 

“I was approaching the swan, and the oil and gas were closing in on it. By that time, I’d completely forgotten I’d wanted to visit the grave. My fingers were around the oar, but I couldn’t grasp it. I was frozen. With the paddle, I pushed the swan so it would move away or turn around. It had its neck bent over the water like a person… like a person looking down at a photo album. ‘It hasn’t seen me,’ I thought. I hit it with the paddle, then hit it again. It moved slightly away from the oily, nasty water, but then the gasoline surrounded the boat. Then… then the gasoline slid under the swan’s belly. Now I, the boat, the filth, and the swan were all mixed up.”

The lieutenant was pacing. The sergeant had fallen behind in his notetaking. The oar came out of the water and went back in. The swan was flapping wildly in the water. Morteza leaned over the edge of the boat and stretched his arms out towards the swan. 

“Suddenly I grabbed it and dragged it into the boat. I don’t remember if I grabbed it by its wing or its neck. I pulled it onto my leg. It flailed so frantically my clothes got soaked. My coat still smells like oil…. I mean my entire body smells like an oil wick!”

The lieutenant stopped walking. He stood over Morteza, and Morteza said with his hands outstretched, “That’s when I saw it lying in my hands; the body was in my arms and its head was lying on the floor of the boat… the floor of the…  the floor…”

It was raining outside the police station. Morteza’s face was wet. Beside the pond, a boat was filling up with water. 

“Why are you crying?” the lieutenant asked.

“I’m not crying,” said Morteza. “I have cataracts. It’s been happening for a while.”

The phone rang, and the sergeant picked up.

“Hang up that phone, Sergeant,” said the lieutenant harshly.

Morteza wiped his face with his hand. In the station parking lot, the swan in the plastic bag had no idea it was dead. The pond didn’t realize one of its swans was no more. The lieutenant said something under his breath.

“What did you say?” the sergeant asked.

“I said let him go.” 

Morteza left the room. Outside the town, a semi – one of those eighteen-wheelershonked at some ducks that were crossing the road. They scattered, terrified.

Translator’s Note:

In the very first sentence of Bijan Najdi’s “A Pool of Nightmares,” we are informed that our protagonist, Morteza, has done the unthinkable – he has accidentally murdered a swan. While at first blush a comical satire on small-town life in provincial Iran, Najdi’s tale develops with unhurried fascination into a meditation on everything his country has lost between the Iranian Revolution of 1979, through the devastation of the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), and the narrative’s present, circa 1994. Among those things lost are a sense of order, and a sense of the individual’s ability to take action in the face of slow-moving, inevitable disaster. Najdi’s stealthy narrative device of shifting between past and present highlights the gaping chasm between the town of his recollection and the reality of the present moment.

The greatest challenge in translating this piece came in attempting to render Najdi’s unique style of description, which is often purposefully indirect and presents as a bit of a puzzle. For example, the description of a lamp reflected in a cup of tea is described as though it were ‘[lying] upside down in his teacup.’ I attempted to retain the intriguing style of circuitous description without making it impossible to follow the action.

Michelle Quay is currently Assistant Instructional Professor in Persian at the University of Chicago. She has taught Persian at Columbia University and the University of Cambridge. As a Gates Cambridge Scholar, she undertook her Ph.D. research on Classical Persian Literature, and was awarded her doctorate from Pembroke College, University of Cambridge, in 2018. Her literary translation work has appeared in such publications as Asymptote JournalWorld Literature Today, Exchanges and others.

Bijan Najdi (1941-1997), from Lahijan, Iran, was an experimental poet, fiction writer, and pioneer of postmodernism and surrealism in Iranian literature in the 1990s. He had a late-blooming but very successful literary career, and his collection Cheetahs That Have Run with Me (1994) in particular generated considerable popular and critical acclaim for its fresh use of modern literary techniques in Persian. 




Ken L. Walker translates Georg Herwegh

To the Surrounding Deceased

The armor, your armor, 
turn to your music, our music. Turn 
to your armor—diced quadratus—
thousands if not smashed, flattened—

used in the reductions 
of police piles, despite 
your body as heraldic bearing, 
here’s a brunoise, small coins squeezed

from our throats like egg yolks, 
char themselves onto the cobblestone.    
Dear armor, you’re unscrupulous, 
reprobate. We’re gathering scarves 

to choke each leatherneck—off rope, 
de-sequencing the veil, burning its tassels
to broach the knuckles of succulence. 
Our flame is playing the air 

as if it were a violin, dear armor, 
dear armor, your caboulot rooms 
sink into the cataracts of the horizon,
out where forests act as bankrupt estates, 

dear armor, you are within 
our wrists, in hocks and jowls, 
dear armor, all these smith-smoked hammers,
rebuke-eyed, manually steered conveyors 

that forget all these ruffle-fats 
watching you from inside our gut castles. 
Dear armor, we hear you and see the opus 
in your daguerreotype instance, the opera

in all your motionless tongue. You’re our music. 
We’re still and foaming at the mouth 
without your crépine. Make us more music. 
Dear armor, it’s horrendous you’re unable 

to notice yourself. The asterisk of the waterfall 
is the thunder. Dear armor, divine unattainable 
loins on loins, scorned bodies as shards 
of hail, dear armor, the asterisks of your lances, 

pikes, mêlée ensuing your loneliness, 
a grain of sand on a wave of salt, 
accumulating back into your home 
like a melted seed turned soap.

Dear armor, our desire for your preparation
leaves us alone with complete plates 
licking all the butter, all the Speyer
as if our armor depended upon its evaporation.

Duffel Bag

My drunk singing loosens me 
from the fibers of reality, sleuthing
the caverns of ossuaries 
for inspiration, the kind of conniving

one gets from biased acceptance. 
I am not a flea on a hawk’s wing. 
I am not a wing on a sky’s ear.
I am singing, trusting my phlegm

converts to coins, a mere diversion
to this stranded division
you call being elected. My drunk
song tightens loins, whistling

where the bight meets its former self.
All I have is in the composition
of this Collins. I’ve loved
trollops on mountains

and made a chorus with their
foregone imploring. As I was 
summoned, I sang all I have. My song
loudens with my wallet. My drunk 

singing loosens the sun, becomes
a bloodless diamond. I collect
the spit of trees as they render
cushions in batches to these 

free benders. You went down
on your slaves without asking. 
I climbed the mountain to drop
fools gold bricks on your arched

spine. My drunk singing
untangles what was never there. 
You pierced your slaves
without asking, melting rose petals

in a batch of light so buoyant
you falsified your floating
in gratified parties that bulged
like your gut as its own statue.

My drunk singing loosens
the streets into palaces
and they become trails of the crumbs
of palaces now as choruses.

Body of Civilians: Glowing in the Alps 

Highlands and massifs so stacked— 
flames, candles, pyres collected—
we make up our own sun, volcanic
undoing smoothed, glowing into
the dayless. We zero in on the everything
of starving lions. We invert the hero, 
choke the king in smoking mud-pit. 
This haze in front of my eyes, frozen, 

shouting: Body of civilians, never skeletons!
Look down on the wheat fields.
Somersault between the snow drops.
These fields, ours, no one’s, anyone’s. 
The air at the gorge, that ballet
a stabbed canyon of dimensions—
That, now, in the Swiss Quarter

You monarch, we monarchs, 
body of people, never extinct!
Our assemblage decentralized,
unwavering on the varying velocities 
of meandering destinies. We measure
the mountains, incapacitate 
of civilians, flourishing!

Emulating messiahs we show
our teeth, wrap your prison wire
around our foreheads, 
climb your crowns, mocking
power in our playgrounds
tip toeing across 
your chalet lakes burning
your doors with your own wreaths!

Enjoy your stiff Swiss dance 
as you avoid bending.
Body of civilians, here unending!
Your tables filled with rinds, 
chandeliers ready weaponry, 
broken glass reassembled
for your church portals. Body
of citizens—we are the bridge!

An den Verstorbenen

O Ritter, toter Ritter,
Leg deine Lanze ein!
Sie soll in tausend Splitter
Von mir zertrümmert sein.
Heran auf deinem Rappen,
Du bist ein arger Schalk,
Trotz Knappen und trotz Wappen,
Trotz Falk und Katafalk!

Ich steh nicht bei dem Trosse,
Der räuchernd vor dir schweigt,
Weil du ein Herz für Rosse
Und fürs Kamel gezeigt;
Baschkire oder Mandschu –
Was schiert mich deine Welt?
Ich schleudre meinen Handschuh
Dir in dein ödes Zelt.

Dem Reich der Mamelucken
Weissagst du Auferstehn
Und sähest ohne Zucken
Dein Vaterland vergehn;
Doch wiegtest unter Palmen
Du dein Prophetenhaupt,
Wenn nicht aus unsern Halmen
Du erst dein Gold geraubt?

Du steuerst nun so lange
Im Weltmeer aus und ein,
Und ward es nie dir bange,
Daß du so klein, so klein?
Ist er dir nie erschienen,
Der Fürst von Ithaka,
Wenn deine Sündermienen
In seinem Reich er sah?

Und sprach er nie mit Grollen:
Fort aus dem freien Meer!
Wirf nicht in seinen Schollen
Dein Lügenkorn umher!
Zieh heim an deine Pleiße,
Zieh heim an deine Spree;
Nicht jede Fürstenreise
Ist eine Odyssee.«

Wohl ist er unerreichbar
Der göttliche Ulyß,
Doch du bist ihm vergleichbar
Am wenigsten gewiß.
Im Saus nicht und im Brause
Hat er die Zeit verdehnt,
Er hat sich stets nach Hause
Zu Weib und Volk gesehnt.

Für deines Volkes Rechte

Wie fochtest du so schlecht!
Du standest im Gefechte
Ja, für das Türkenrecht;

Du stirbst auch auf dem Schilde,
Ja, auf dem Wappenschild;
Klag nicht, daß deine Gilde
Fortan bei uns nichts giltl

Den Marmor bringt Karrara
Noch nicht für den hervor,
An den der Niagara
Den Donner selbst verlor,
Der nur in alle Fernen
Zu seiner Schmach gereist,
Und noch vor Gottes Sternen
Auf seine Sternchen weist.

O Ritter, schlechter Ritter,
Leg deine Lanze ein !
Sie soll in tausend Splitter
Von mir zertrümmert sein.
Laß ab, laß ab und spähe
Nicht nach der Wüste Sand!
Dich setze in der Nähe
Dich in dein Vaterland.

Leicht Gepäck

Ich bin ein freier Mann und singe
Mich wohl in keine Fürstengruft,
Und alles, was ich mir erringe,
Ist Gottes liebe Himmelsluft.
Ich habe keine stolze Feste,
Von der man Länder übersieht,
Ich wohn ein Vogel nur im Neste,
Mein ganzer Reichtum ist mein Lied.

Ich durfte nur, wie andre, wollen,
Und wär nicht leer davongeeilt,
Wenn jährlich man im Staat die Rollen
Den treuen Knechten ausgeteilt;
Allein ich hab nie zugegriffen,
So oft man mich herbei beschied, I
Ich habe fort und fort gepfiffen,
Mein ganzer Reichtum ist mein Lied.
Der Lord zapft Gold aus seiner Tonne

Und ich aus meiner höchstens Wein;
Mein einzig Gold die Morgensonne,
Mein Silber all der Mondenschein1
Färbt sich mein Leben herbstlich gelber,
Kein Erbe, der zum Tod mir riet;
Denn meine Münzen prägt ich selber;
Mein ganzer Reichtum ist mein Lied.
Gern sing ich abends zu dem Reigen,

Vor Thronen spiel ich niemals auf;
Ich lernte Berge wohl ersteigen,
Paläste komm ich nicht hinauf;
Indes aus Moder, Sturz und Wettern
Sein golden Los sich mancher zieht,
Spiel ich mit leichten Rosenblättern;
Mein ganzer Reichtum ist mein Lied.
Nach dir, nach dir steht mein Verlangen,

O schönes Kind, o wärst du mein !
Doch du willst Bänder, du willst Spangen,
Und ich soll dienen gehen? Nein!
Ich will die Freiheit nicht verkaufen,
Und wie ich die Paläste mied,
Laß ich getrost die Liebe laufen;
Mein ganzer Reichtum sei mein Lied.

Vive la République! Beim Alpenglühen gedichtet

Berg an Berg und Brand an Brand
Lodern hier zusammen;
Welch ein Glühen! – ha! so stand
Ilion einst in Flammen.
Ein versinkend Königshaus
Raucht vor meinem Blicke,
Und ich ruf ins Land hinaus:
Vive la république!
Heil’ge Gluten, reiner Schnee,
Golden Freiheitkissen,
Abendglanzumstrahlter See,
Schluchten, wild zerrissen –
Daß im Schweizerlandrevier
Sich kein Nacken bücke!
Kaiser ist der Bürger hier;
Vive la republique!
Eine Phalanx stehet fest,
Fest und ohne Wanken,
Und an euren Alpen messt
Euere Gedanken!
Eurer Berge Kette nur
Ward euch vom Geschicke;
Auf die Kette schrieb Natur:
Vive la république !
Blumen um die Schläfe her
Steigen eure Höhen,
Frisch, wie Venus aus dem Meer,
Auf aus euren Seen;
Daß aus deinem Jungfernkranz
Man kein Röschen knicke,
Schweizerin, hüt ihn wohl beim Tanz!
Vive la république!
Auf die Felsen wollte Gott
Seine Kirchen bauen;
Vor dem Felsen soll dem Spott
Seiner Feinde grauen!
Zwischen hier und zwischen dort
Gibt’s nur eine Brücke.
Freiheit, o du Felsenwortt

Translator’s note:

I first encountered Georg Herwegh’s name as I read through Mary Gabriel’s Love and Capital. I had long been obsessed with the details of the life of Karl Marx—his friendship with Engels, the Economic & Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, then volumes of Capital, etc. I went on to graduate school studies in Marxism in a philosophy program but it wasn’t until MFA in Poetry school at Brooklyn College that Gabriel came out with her book  which put me onto Herwegh. Sure, Heine and Freiligrath have always been the more well-known, more accomplished German poets. But it was Gabriel’s book that hinted at Herwegh being at the center of a whole slew of radical philosophers. Bakunin was his best man at his wedding. Arnold Ruge was starting a commune with Herwegh and his wife, Emma, etc. Their lives became more fascinating than their theory. 

Then I went to the Brooklyn College library to see if they had any Herwegh translations but they didn’t; however, there was a copy of Gedichte Eines Lebendigen in German, on the shelves, from the 19th century, able to be taken home. I checked it out. For 3 years straight. I used it to begin translating all of Herwegh’s work. My time studying Hegel and Marx made me familiar with written German. And it did. Once I started to read through Herwegh’s letters and diary entries, he came to full life. He was quite the scoundrel and was exiled nearly as many times as Marx. 

I am using minimal formal frameworks throughout the poem translations. Mainly, I adhere to his line structure and use my own sound and rhythm structure. Herwegh mostly wrote anthems (which, at the time, were incredibly radical and now read more like church hymnal excerpts). So to stray from the potential boredom of a slightly archaic anthem, I am infusing sound mechanisms that spill the explosion of sound from the inside-out. I also use the constraint of not utilizing a word that would be too modern for Herwegh’s years of writing. Basically, if it didn’t exist in or before 1865, then it won’t be in the poem conceptually. While I have translated poets from Mexico, Colombia, and Spain, it’s been the complete project with Herwegh’s work that I turn to the most when I am not writing my own poems. 

Ken L. Walker lives in Kentucky, is the author of Twenty Glasses of Water (Diez, 2014) and Antworten (Greying Ghost, 2017). Additional work can be found in Boston Review, Hyperallergic, The Poetry Project Newsletter, The Brooklyn Rail, The Seattle Review, Atlas Review, Lumberyard, and Tammy


Georg Herwegh was born in 1817 in Stuttgart, and died in 1875 in Lichtental. He was a revolutionary poet, friend to Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, and poet in the Vormärz—a period of history beginning in the early 1800s with a literary movement of the same name centered around sociopolitical topics leading to the 1848 revolution. Herwegh is considered, along with Heinrich Heine and Ferdinand Freiligrath, one of 19th century’s the most popular German-speaking male poets, after writing Gedichte Eines Lebendigen




Anna Blasiak translates Joanna Fligiel


I am six years old and I find out about the apple
passed on from parents to children like a gene,
unfortunately. Fortunately I have Jolka.

Jolka’s mum keeps a little bottle in her bedside table
filled with holy water. It makes warts disappear,
not to mention the invisible sin.

I am six years old and I haven’t been christened.
I worry that I will die and go where
there are more fathers (like mine).

Jolka is six years old too.
She’s been to six christenings
of her six cousins, so she knows.

I lie on a wooden floor,
feeling all the contents of the bottle on my skin.
Jolka makes the sign of the cross and then

we quickly fill the bottle with tap water.
And only Jolka’s mum wonders
why the warts have stopped disappearing.


Children may hide, pretend not to hear
shouting, cries, threats and begging. Escape in their minds,
create a friend, an enemy. Tear his arms out,
his legs, his head, bite into his torso, nails, lips.
They may wet their pants.

Eventually they leave wardrobes. They decide they need to
do something. Defend her. But they never succeed.
They don’t know whom they hate more: themselves
or him? Themselves or her? Themselves. No matter, they’ll grow up
when they start believing that all women are whores.


I don’t need your ears to talk to you.
Mrs. Danka from the top floor caught me first and straightaway
told our mum that nothing good would come out of me talking to myself.
I remember things like our neighbours’ names from forty years ago,
and what we ate on a particular day of the week, but those German words,
them I can’t memorize.

Remember this story? We were at Granny and Grandad’s together,
and Mum stayed away for so very very long, that you stopped asking after her,
and every day, literally every day we went to the woods, first to pick wild strawberries,
then blueberries, mushrooms, raspberries and finally the time came for picking blackberries,
and our hands bled like Jesus’s.

And then in the woods we saw our Mum. Running towards us, waving hello.
She was so light, so cheerful, as if she had never forgotten us. I wanted to run
towards her, to scream my longing out, “Mum, Mum”, but you held me
back so hard, you gripped me as if in the meantime somebody had turned your soft four-year-old body into a thorny blackberry shoot.

Translator’s Note:

I was first introduced to Joanna Fligiel’s poetry by a mutual friend, also a poet, Wioletta Greg, who compared Fligiel’s writing to Anne Sexton’s.

Indeed, I was immediately taken by Fligiel’s verse.

Fligiel was at work on these poems for a long time. I was delighted when the book containing them took its physical form – Rubato was published in 2018 by a small literary independent press in Poland called K.I.T. Stowarzyszenie Żywych Poetów.

Rubato is brave and moving; it is stark and at times shocking. Fligiel uses deceptively simple, almost factual language, which is bare, completely devoid of surplus, to the point that it may seem dispassionate. This language contrasts strongly with the themes she discusses (domestic abuse, sexual abuse, death, illness, also loneliness of a child, growing up in communist Poland). But then perhaps this is the only language that can be used to effectively present such themes? Perhaps the language must be free of anesthesia? Whichever way, Fligiel’s poetry provides a very powerful reader’s experience.

As a translator I was immediately drawn to her writing and the challenge it posed—the apparent simplicity of the vocabulary paired with a heavy emotional load, the fact that the language is so stripped, that there is nothing to hide behind.


Anna Blasiak is a poet and translator. She has translated over 40 books from English into Polish and some fiction and poetry from Polish into English. In addition to her book-length translations, her work has appeared in Best European Fiction 2015, Asymptote, The Guardian, B O D Y Literature, Modern Poetry in Translation and York Literary Review. Anna writes poetry in Polish and in English. Her bilingual collection Café by Wren’s St James-in-the-Fields, Lunchtime is out now. She has worked in museums and a radio station, run magazines, written on art, film and theater. annablasiak.com.

Joanna Fligiel is the founder and editor of Babiniec Literacki and the former editor of Śląska Strefa Gender (2010-2020). The great-granddaughter of a Ravensbrück and Auschwitz prisoner, born in Katowice, raised in a tuberculosis sanatorium in Bystra near Bielsko, she lives in Bielsko-Biała in Poland and in Neuss and Bengel in Germany, constantly traveling between her three homes. She has worked as a bookseller for most of her life. As a child she was a victim of domestic abuse and initially this theme dominated her writing. She has published three volumes of poetry, but wrote more. She is a grandmother, mom, wife and feminist.




Omar Qaqish translates Sadaa al-Daas

Fourteen Winters Old

When we lived at home, winter used to be my favorite time of the year. It was almost like a personal accomplishment that I wanted to show off. I remember bragging about the weather on Facebook like it was something I owned. I would post photos of our charming city with its bustling streets and write something like, “Who cares about Swiss snow when the snow here is alive with the hustle.”

I would take photos of neighborhood kids having snowball fights and upload them next to photos of dreary European cities overflowing with unfriendly snow, their empty streets occupied only by snow plows. I’d add some poetic line like, “Snow visits our streets and sidewalks just long enough for us to take photos in our special winter gear before melting away and revealing the old gray and green colors of the landscape beneath.” 

Winter used to be my favorite time of the year. I spent those months celebrating online with posts about how “winters at home were the most magical winters of all.” 

I had no idea winter could be just as cruel as humans. Then again, everyone else betrayed us, so why would winter be any different?

We were drowning in fear. We wandered, lost, through vast spaces. And all the while, winter’s rains poured down on us, as if we needed more obstacles in our way. We had no idea where we would end up. The constant bombardment left us without options. The attacks banned us from seeking the temporary shelter of awnings and the rain denied us access to God’s exposed streets. Through the thunder and lightning, the confusion and disorientation and madness became worse.

It stopped raining for about two nights, enough to make room for bitterly cold weather that left the women and children crying. We wandered endlessly and chaotically in search of a place without bombing. 

Soon after that, my favorite time of the year revealed its sharpest weapon yet. Snow came down on us like nails from the heavens that blanketed the streets and sidewalks, penetrating our feet and eating at our decaying flesh like the jaws of hunting traps.

My cherished winter didn’t care that we left our houses barefoot, stumbling down staircases to escape the collapse of ceilings pockmarked with signs of unrelenting shelling. Winter was demanding repayment for all those childhood delights, savoring our misery. Not a single scene of our exodus drama went by without winter’s guiding hand.

Our limbs decayed. Our throats dried up like wood. Our lungs filled with turbid dampness. Walking was like cowering through shelling, maybe worse. Every footstep started to feel crueler than a bullet.

In that great wandering epic, children tried out for every role. They played every trick they could to gain the comfort of an arm to carry them. But my body was fourteen years old. I couldn’t play the role of the child.

I remember how I waited for the day when I’d dress like a fourteen-year-old girl, when I’d put on the right kind of make-up and start walking like a woman.

My mind was a pink box full of teenage love stories, dreams that ranged from the pangs of first love to the joys of illicit adventures.

I had been learning the language of maturity, the words to use in the face of constraint, the secrets of the art of charm.    

From the time my father had called me a young lady on my thirteenth birthday, I had been weaving my dreams from the yarns of womanhood and preparing my body for that new chapter.

A few months later, I found myself in an open-air prison, surrounded by flames from every direction. There were no markets to explore and no friends to meet in my new feminine outfits.

I had barely enjoyed being that young lady for a few days before I discovered the bliss of childhood when my mother chose to give my younger sister the last scrap of bread.

With the entire city under siege, we had been holed up inside for days. We lived according to the whims of factions whose loyalties and masters were unknown to us. Finally, the earth itself erupted as the unending deluge of bombardment turned the city into flowing lava. So we decided to leave.

The heaviness would only get worse as my body grew. That was the reality I came to see as I wavered from hunger and weakness among the exiled masses. 

No one carried me. I alone carried my body as I found myself and my family living in a war-torn city where siblings killed each other, supposedly for love of the homeland, leaving me without one.

I sat in the corner of the tent, folding my body onto itself, trying to infuse it with some warmth, and I whispered to my favorite time of the year.

“I hope you leave us forever. Your presence is death. Wind coming in from every side. No blankets. How stupid was I to spend my childhood thinking you were beautiful, my executioner in this naked place between places?

I closed my eyes, my last defense against the cold and hunger and loneliness. I don’t know why I remembered my Facebook page then after months of forgetting. I remembered the last photo I uploaded. It was one of those about the beauty of winters at home. I smiled and wondered.

What’s really surprising about this betrayal — it’s not like anyone cares. Didn’t we spend our childhoods memorizing songs about a homeland that in the end turned out to be a tent as cold as a coffin?

translator’s note:

“Fourteen Winters Old” is a condensed history of displacement and exile told in the voice of a fourteen-year old refugee. The narrator laments being betrayed by her favorite time of the year, winter, through fragmented recollections of the end of her childhood and the arrival of womanhood. In this compact account, Sadaa Al-Daas juxtaposes the innocent nostalgia for childhood experiences of snow and the adult shock of nationalist disenchantment.

If the young narrator’s voice appears markedly poetic in English, it is much more so in Arabic. The speaker resorts to a high literary register in narrating her experience as if to distance herself from her lived reality, as if to write a tragedy into which she can escape from her even more tragic abandonment. In doing this, her voice becomes that of a generation of children stripped of their innocence and forced to reckon with the world of adults. 

Instead of trying to make the narrator’s language seem more plausible or realistic for her age, I preserved much of Al-Daas’s vivid descriptions, similes, and ostensibly mixed metaphors in order to call attention to the unnaturalness of the child-narrator’s forced maturation through the incongruity of her speech. Similarly, I read the narrator’s frequent mixing of metaphors and exaggerated use of alliterative diction as a reflection of her struggle to find ways to describe and process her incomprehensible reality. And so, I resisted the urge or expectation to achieve, by way of flattening out the diversity of metaphor, greater realism in tone. 

I suspect that I have accidentally introduced an allusion in my reliance on words like “wandering” and “exile” where one did not exist in the Arabic, but I chose to leave it in nonetheless as it helped demonstrate the narrator’s recognition of the communal extent of her calamity.

In the story’s final section, where the speaker sits in her tent mourning the hostile reversal of her fortune, folding in on herself in search of some comfort, I tried to recall the complexity of the Arabic’s image. There, the speaker describes her body as a separate being, reminding us of her psychological displacement from her corporeality. I therefore tried to personify the body and show the speaker’s powerlessness over it.

In the child’s final words, we see a heartbreaking and shockingly mature cynicism that registers the certainty of a gruesome fate that brings with it no reprieve, for the coffin is not a final resting place, but the everyday place of shelter.

Omar Qaqish teaches English at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York and is a doctoral candidate at McGill University. He teaches and researches literature by Arab authors writing in English, Arabic, and French (and sometimes Italian). He has also translated al-Daas in World Literature Today.


Sadaa al-Daas is an award-winning Kuwaiti playwright, author, and literary critic. Her works include Li’anni aswad (2010, Because I Am Black) and the short story collection, Ma la ta‘rifahu ‘an al-ameerat (2017, What You Don’t Know about Princesses.) She heads the Department of Criticism at the Higher Institute of Dramatic Arts in Kuwait.




Clara Burghelea translates Ștefan Manasia

The Taste of Cherries. Where Irina Shows Up

The Shadow is eating your face.

The knife plunges into the chest. It comes out followed by a comet tail: metallic green fish, ultramarine otters, orange anemones, yarns of purple worms.

You said her name and she left.

Before you uttered the last letter, she had already betrayed you.

You are wearing a striped sailor t-shirt. Dark blue, cadet shorts. You count things. You count trees. You make coffee. She comes along in a floral blue beach dress. She has Anatolian blue eyes. She is a superb Angora cat. Does she like to swim? Is she mute like an Angora cat? You make coffee. You wash dishes. You feast on jam. You get diabetes. You are young again. You make love.

You withdraw to an abandoned trailer. Nippon post rock /tantrism /velvet.

Hic sunt telciones.

You live on blackberries and mushrooms. You drink wine from unlocked cellars. They will forget your names. In the evenings, you swing in the rocking chair covered with a fishing net. Twisted like eels. Gazing into each other’s blue eyes like mirrors.

This is the superpower.

They will forget your names.

Crave for them to forget your names.

Have the same shadow nibble your face.

Have the same knife stab you. Then pulled back with a convoy of fire station trucks and mustangs and monarch butterflies and pages torn from the volumes of the Beats and wooden Prague dolls.

You make it.

Translator’s Note

To my mind, a translation is, first of all, a very close reading. Even before it ends up on paper, in the other language, the original text has already been filtered through the reader’s mind, thus altered according to their own understanding and sensitivity. Every translation is an interpretative act, much as it is a creative one. It requires a deep understanding of the original text and making certain linguistic choices meant to preserve the poet’s thoughts, feelings and ideas and have them rendered in an imaginative manner. It is a constant battle between what it is meant to be kept and what must be sacrificed, discarded in the process. 

As a translator, I pay a great deal of attention to the quality of words and the way their layered meanings can be preserved in English. Romanian is more musical than English and has a ripeness that at times, has a hard time finding its place within the English language. When poetry is the game to play, moving through the original text is even so more challenging. Articulating the thought process of the poet first requires a close reading of the text and then, a familiarity with their language, artistic credo and manner of juggling with words. 

The Clear Sky is Stefan Manasia’s fifth poetry collection and it stands out as a fresh, curious journey of the urban poet into the biosphere and ethnosphere of the resilient world. The collection has a circular form that begins and ends by paying homage to another exceptional Romanian poet, Ion Stratan, whom Manasia held dear. Stratan’s verse “The truth is the clear sky” allows the reader to magically enter and exit the collection and gives the book its title. At the same time, this line is the quintessence of the volume, addressing the poet’s wonder and acknowledgment of the sky as the gateway between the real and the oneiric. Similarly, it addresses the volatile, unearthly nature of the truth that eludes the human mind and any human certainty. For what we know, these poems are grounded into the various layers of human nature, yet striving to reach the absolute clearness of the sky above. 

Ștefan Manasia is an incredibly skilled language puppeteer. His poetry is visually striking, and it begins in the mouth as it should. As a translator, I am always afraid I might fail to communicate the particular beauty he brings to the language. I want to make sure the translation encompasses my excitement as a reader, as well as the richness and potent style of his poems. Written in a seemingly simple manner, his poems, resonant and fragrant, require subordinating my own instincts as a poet, to the original poet’s instincts, thus preserving Manasia’s stylistically distinctive voice. His poems navigate mundane anxieties and his constant reference to cultural landmarks creates a sweet juxtaposition. 

One pitfall in translating his poetry comes from the fact that I am a poet myself and therefore, cautious about not having my own poetic ego interfere with Manasia’s poetic message. I consciously seek accuracy and keep reminding myself it is my duty to make his poetry accessible and switch my creative voice from poet/writer to translator. The reader, though, never steps back. 


Clara Burghelea is a Romanian-born poet with an MFA in Poetry from Adelphi University. Recipient of the Robert Muroff Poetry Award, her poems and translations appeared in Ambit, Waxwing, The Cortland Review and elsewhere. Her collection The Flavor of The Other was published in March 2020 with Dos Madres Press. She is the Translation/International Poetry Editor of The Blue Nib.

Ștefan Manasia is a poet and journalist, editor of Tribuna cultural magazine. He founded Thoreau’s Nephew Reading Club in Cluj in 2008, alongside Szántai János and François Bréda, which became the largest Romanian-Hungarian literary community in Transilvania. He published 6 volumes of poetry and had his poems translated in Hungarian, French, German, Polish and Modern Hebrew. He is also the author of a collection of essays and literary chronicles published in 2016 called The Aroma Stabilizer. His poetical credo is “Man, this mystic bug”.




Hodna Nuernberg and Koen De Cuyper translate Lamis Saidi

from Like a Dwarf Inching Toward Legend

in that country, they say the calm sea is like oil
and when the temperature rises
they dive carelessly 
in leaping
like hunks of potato
cut roughly by a mother
so as not to swallow the children, it comes and goes caressingly
sometimes poor men cast off across it in small, narrow boats
like they cast off bad luck, spilling bad-omened blood
they abandon their bodies there, offerings
they know the sea is easy and undemanding
you need not be a princess or a beauty
it gladly accepts men with chronic coughs
in their throats, heartbreak, phlegm, an Adam’s apple
their teeth rotten


the invaders are gone
they left their blue eyes
affixed to buildings as white as their skin
to watch over the new residents
to wink at the sea, making its waves bow down before the prospect of invaders
the villagers never found user’s guides to these houses
no instructions to help them repair the damages
so they resorted to old ancestral ways
they started to tear out those eyes
eye after eye
replacing them with wooden eyes, the color of their eyes
sometimes hiding them
behind the washing or thick curtains
like a pirate hiding his own missing eye


on the roof across the way, a green sofa
(for a king who lost his throne long ago)
turns its back to the sea and to the crumbling city
no one ever sits on it
surrounded by satellite dishes clinging
like pawns hesitating to put themselves to death
in front of it, a swath of pale red tiles
(and a blind chimney)
to its right, an elegant glass roof
to remind it of old glories
nobody remembers how it got up there
the building’s stairs are reliably narrow
the wooden elevator fits only two slender people
but it is, no doubt, like the thrones of that city
(dropped down by angels, planes, or pigeonbacks)
never to go back down


the woman who told him the elevator wasn’t working, wasn’t good for anything
doesn’t know that same elevator was the inspiration for a poem
“the elevator is stuck
between floors
it no longer remembers
where it was going
when the director decided to replace
its silent motion
with the sound of tenants’ feet”
he imagines a hanged body
that no one dared to bury
a testimony to the dead’s descent
and the mourners’ ascent
and the familiar ghosts rising from them
unfulfilled dreams and disappointment
and because its body is made all of wood
it took on, over time, a delicious odor
the woman who paused beside his door to rest
doesn’t know that if it weren’t for the broken elevator
I wouldn’t remember all those years
panting up the stairs 


that city’s balconies sag
the way old breasts sag
weightlessly (and wrinkling)
till they graze bellies molded by time
old men die
either from boredom
or from some disease that strikes after seventy
but sometimes it’s a balcony that kills them
those men who raise their eyes (surreptitiously)
or glance at bosoms passing by
when they were little gods with their legs dangling down
they’d hurl water at passersby
who’d hurl insults and curses back up at them
and sometimes after making love
they’d go out to smoke a cigarette
and let out a long sigh


the city loses its whitewashed buildings
one after the other
like an old woman loses teeth
its residents shoot off fireworks in broad daylight
when specters of success or marriage come to haunt them
or when they tire of sharing their balconies with pigeons
those residents nested in their whitewashed buildings
like rot in a wisdom tooth
aren’t blind
but still, they stare into the sun and shoot off fireworks
clapping, cheering, jubilating
like cavemen
who know the reign of the night is long gone


Translators’ Note:

Like a Dwarf Inching Toward Legend is a cycle of thirty-five poems by Lamis Saidi. Taking Algiers as its protagonist, the collection explores the postcolonial city.

Describing Algiers’s colonial-era ville nouvelle, the poet sees a universe created in the image of the European settlers and adapted to their small nuclear families and peculiar way of life. When Algerians appropriated these buildings after 132 years of colonial rule, they were confronted with the concrete legacy of France’s mission civilisatrice. But instead of simply adopting the lifestyles imposed by the city’s colonial architecture, these new inhabitants superimposed their domestic habits onto a foreign infrastructure. Like a Dwarf Inching Toward Legend explores this process of reverse settlement as the inhabitants of Algiers reclaim spaces while simultaneously subverting the ideological positions staked out by their very architecture. 

Algiers, with its crumbling kasbah rising above wide colonial boulevards (now rebaptized after Algerian revolutionaries), is emblematic of the postcolonial city. Using vivid imagery and an Algerian-inflected Arabic, Like a Dwarf Inching Toward Legend develops an evocative series of snapshots of daily life, offering a nuanced reflection on what it means to be Algerian today.

Working collaboratively on the translation has allowed us to balance out each other’s translatory idiosyncrasies and to engage deeply with the poems’ many-layered meanings. Of course, most translations are collaborations anyway: to negotiate meaning, the translator often must call upon others to fill in the unsaid or simply for a second opinon. And indeed, our collaboration has been much more than a two-person affair. We’d like to thank Zin Ali Gharsallah-Nuernberg and Ouardya Ammour for generously reading and re-reading our drafts and for sharing Algerian idioms, historical anecdotes, and cultural insights with us. We’d also like to thank Lore Baeten for her invaluable assistance negotiating the intricacies of formal Arabic’s grammar.

KOEN DE CUYPER earned an MA in translation from the University of Leuven, during which time he spent a year in residence at the Cadi Ayyad University in Marrakech. He currently lives and works in Rabat where he is the scientific information specialist at the Dutch Institute in Morocco (NIMAR). De Cuyper’s translations from the Arabic have appeared in Asymptote, Two Lines, and elsewhere. 

HODNA BENTALI GHARSALLAH NUERNBERG holds an MA in francophone world studies and an MFA in literary translation, both from the University of Iowa. Her translations from the French and the Arabic have appeared in Anomaly, Asymptote, QLRS, Poet Lore, Two Lines, and elsewhere. Nuernberg lives in Morocco, where she serves as an editor-at-large for Asymptote and works as a translator for film and TV. Her co-translation of Raphaël Confiant’s Madam St. Clair, Queen of Harlem was published by Diálogos in January 2020.

LAMIS SAIDI is an Algerian poet and translator. She has published four poetry collections, including [As Usual, I Forgot My Suitcase] (2007), [To the Movies] (2011), [As a Ravaged City] (2017), and [Like a Dwarf Inching Toward Legend] (2019), as well as one biographical work [Room 102] (2015). Her writing has been translated into Dutch, French, and Spanish. She has also translated many poets, including Rabah Belamri, Emily Dickinson, Anna Gréki, Yamina Méchakra, Henri Michaux, and Pier Paolo Pasolini. Fluent in both Arabic and French, Saidi’s translation work seeks to redefine Algeria’s literary canon while bringing the country’s Francophone and Arabophone literary traditions into dialogue. Learn more at her website.




Jeannine Pitas and Jesse Lee Kercheval translate Silvia Guerra

Below, a Lagoon

Off on a tangent, the rest of shape
swaggers, Zigzagging in the foam
that lends its greenness. The Aquatic
stems, fluid on the tide,
move as a coordinated mass
Removed by an earlier quake,
by a shadow. You Want and Do Not
Want that shadow, Everything. What
he knows is so little, tiny crystals In the
sleeping palm. In the open
palm. The garden asphalt
exudes Serenity, the mother
flies over the rooms and the past
Sometimes dissolves. A tree gets
cut blacker than night, and the
Sound of the leaves seems like
stems that stirring en masse
touching Shadow bronzing on that
blanket the Prisms of bliss.
To be Overwhelmed There, in dailyness
the infinitesimal of deterioration. That since
its appearance argues in harmony
this time passes, tomorrow passes. The
episode hanging by a thread, from a
tree, in summer.

Millais’ Ophelia

The bed is a dark and green bed that seems transparent. Here lies the lovely one half-closed eyes that take note of a thousand-year-old glass. The flowers scattered in the water are as fresh as if they were alive, and it’s not clear whether or not some of the flower-covered branches have fallen from the bushes on shore. There are stones in the back and the dress is embroidered in gold with foliage and with tassels that are also flowers filling the surroundings with an unparalleled spring. The greenness is disrupted by a light Prussian blue, as if underneath, that grazes the scene offering a patina of dusky air. What time is it in this depiction? The light, oblique as a willow, also dyes its aquatic sprigs and the face of the dead woman, wrapping all of it in an atmosphere extended toward that same light which illuminates it. In what suspended moment of leaves and flowers and exposed face is this vision revealed? The mignonette face, the half-open lips, the light eyes, the hands facing upwards, palms extended. There is a slight cut in the line of the arm that stands out over the water line. The palms extended in this way – are they requesting, hoping to receive, asking? The metallic dress – of embroidered gold – the hair extended on both sides of the body that, drenched, hints at itself and appears in parts; the face, as much of silk and wax around which a color still grazes, a blush of life a trifle of air between the lips, the white neck, the torso just hinted at below the breasts; the waist and pelvis lost under the water. And over the legs her dress is floating – a little inflated with air and water, easily mistaken for the river’s bottom or shore – over the gold grow leaves and some roses that have abandoned their wreath. There is a communion between the light, leaves and flowers, Ophelia dead – her hands facing up, her eyes and mouth half-open– the water. There is something expectant that spreads, disturbed by the light and patina of air, by the living and the dead, by the suspended instant that offers itself and the prolonged escape that the half-open eye tells.

Abajo, una laguna 

Tangente por el resto de figura
corcovea Zigzaguente en la espuma
que deja su verdor. Los tallos
Acuáticos vellosos en marea se
mueven como masa conjunta
Removidos por un sismo anterior,
por una sombra. Quiere y No
Quiere por esa sombra, Todo. Lo que
sabe es tan poco, cristalitos En la
palma dormida. En la palma
entreabierta. Serenidad trasunta El
macadam del fondo, la madre
sobrevuela las estancias y el pasado
A veces se disuelve. Un árbol se
recorta más negro que la noche, y el
Ruido de las hojas se parece a los
tallos que en masa se remueven
sobando Sombra curtiendo sobre esa
manta los Prismas de la dicha.
Apabullarse Ahí, en lo cotidiano lo
infinitesimal del deterioro. Que desde
la apariencia y en coro se discute
pasa esta vez, mañana pasa. El
suceso prendido con un hilo, de un
árbol, en verano. 

La Ofelia de Millais

El tálamo es un agua oscura y verde que parece que tiene transparencia. Aquí yace la bella entrecerrados ojos que dan cuenta de un vidrio milenario. Las flores esparcidas por el agua están tan frescas como si estuvieran vivas, y no se aprecia bien si algunas de las floridas ramas no caen de los arbustos de la orilla. Hay piedras en el fondo y el vestido se borda dorado con ramaje y con borlas que también son flores empastando el entorno de una inigualable primavera. El verdor se trastoca hacia un azul de Prusia leve, como bajo, que campea por la escena dando una pátina de aire oscurecido. ¿Qué hora será en esta descripción? La luz, oblicua sobre un sauce, también tiñe unas varas acuáticas y el rostro de la muerta envolviéndolo todo en una atmósfera extendida hacia esa misma luz, que lo ilumina. ¿En qué momento suspendido de hojas y de flores y de rostro expuesto se expone esta visión?  Metálico el vestido –de oro recamado– el pelo extenso a ambos lados del cuerpo que empapado se esboza y sobresale en partes: el rostro, tan de seda y de cera por el que todavía campea un color, un rubor de la vida una minucia de aire entre los labios, el blanco cuello, el torso hasta los senos insinuados; la cintura la pelvis, se pierden bajo el agua. Y sobre las piernas vuelve a flotar el vestido –un poco inflado de aire y agua, se confunde con fondo o con orilla– sobre el oro crecen hojas y unas rosas abandonadas de guirnalda. Hay una comunión entre la luz, las hojas y las flores, Ofelia muerta –las manos hacia arriba, los ojos y la boca entreabierta– el agua. Hay algo de expectante que se extiende e inquieta por la luz y la pátina del aire, por lo vivo y lo muerto, por el instante en suspensión que se ofrece y la fuga pertinaz del que el entreabierto ojo da cuenta.

Translators’ Note:

As translators, we have both dedicated ourselves to the sharing of work by women poets from Uruguay, South America’s smallest Spanish speaking country. Starting with early poets such as Delmira Agustini (1886-1914), Uruguay has a long tradition of poetry by women that continues in an unbroken line, generation to generation, down to the present. Silvia Guerra’s poetry engages deeply with what it means to be Uruguayan and to be a woman in Uruguay. She was raised on the coast in Maldonado and her poems that draw many of their images from its beaches and the countryside, not in a simple, narrative way, but rather as symbols of the exploration of her own consciousness. Indeed, her poems are a form of continual meditation which play continually with the transformation and transmutation of words and through all her work runs a hunger for meaning, for a reason to exist. 

About Guerra’s work, the critic María Rosa Olivera Williams has stated,  “[Guerra’s] writing, aware that it enters language from a female body exiled from language, does not permit a gentle, joyful flight; instead, the author must explore the contours of that body again and again through words to the point of fragmentation, decomposition; when that body has turned into memory, it becomes the platform from which she observes and speaks. In this way poetry becomes knowledge.” 

We suggest that Guerra’s writing – which is always challenging – is in itself a translation. As Virginia Woolf and the other early twentieth century modernists attempted to translate the flow of human consciousness into their writing, as Hélène Cixous urged women to transform their subjectivity into language for écriture féminine, Guerra shatters clichés, breaks through grammatical and stylistic conventions, and digs as deeply as she can into the shifting sands of language to seek the truths that lie beneath. But as it turns out, these truths are just as amorphous and fleeting; images or emotions appear before the reader like an exquisite piece of driftwood before being swept back to sea.    Her marvelous poetry deserves to be known and read widely and we are delighted to have these poems in Anomaly.

Jesse Lee Kercheval is a poet and writer as well as a translator, specializing in Uruguayan poetry. Her translations include The Invisible Bridge/ El puente invisible: Selection Poems of Circe Maia for which she was awarded an NEA Fellowship in Translation and the forthcoming Poemas de amor/ Love Poems by Idea Vilariño both from the University of Pittsburgh Press. She is the Zona Gale Professor of Poetry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. More information at jlkercheval.com.

Jeannine M. Pitas is the author of the poetry collection Things Seen and Unseen. She is the translator of the Uruguayan poet Marosa di Giorgio including I Remember Nightfall and The History of Violets, both published by Ugly Duckling Presse and Carnation and Tenebrae Candle, forthcoming from Cardboard House Press. Her latest translation, We Do Not Live In Vain by Uruguayan poet Selva Casal, was just published by Veliz Books. She lives in Iowa and teaches at the University of Dubuque.

Silvia Guerra (1961, Maldonado, Uruguay) is an Uruguayan poet, critic and editor whose books include Un mar en madrugado (2018); Pulso (2011), and Estampas de un tapiz (2006); Nada de nadie, (2001); La sombra de la azucena, (2000); Replicantes Astrales (1993), Idea de la aventura (1990); De la arena nace el agua (1986) and Fuera del relato (2007), a fictionalized biography of Lautréamont. She is a member of the executive boards of both the Mario Benedetti Foundation and the Nancy Bacelo Foundation. In 2012 she was awarded the Morosoli Prize in Poetry for her career.




Mark Tardi translates Robert Rybicki


             fuck the letters

             dazzle my frazzle

             sk(r)ew the course of association 
             with a different notion

             the dance of directions
             the bent axles
             secant of light
             the photon flare

             letters only






When will I stop dreaming
about the fucks from Greek mythology?

And when will I remember the words
that ran off into oblivion?
                             (It’s cool, clever, intense
                              like a glass of ginger water
                              or a volume with a B&W cover)
This washing machine has lost its fucking mind
                          while he ran across the city
                          & portals to other worlds opened up.

Why did I dream of a villa                                                   And on the other side, another villa
full of American poets?                                                        full of British poets?

A yawning face in sharp chiaroscuro is a reflected glass pane.
Who gave you a designate?
Do you assume anything?

The sea glued to bread.

A plain of stupidity.

Insert and eject verses like drawers
full of flies or poppy seed—
                                                                                                                      with a thunderbolt inside.

Here’s an estate of vacant wall-less prefabs.
Smile to a flower, get your lollypop & go there. 

A Nobody waits there. Next to him, a red diode
    splattered across the shiny crossroads             

                                                      of metal structures,

that float like balloons—
                                                        your eyes like blimps
                                                                          on towers’ spires.

The highway covered with blackened sunflowers.

A man with a beard like thistle. Buddy-buds.
Lanucy. Nocho. A Gummi bear bites at the camra.
Faith makes the deuterium. Sodium lamps
of consciousness. What the fuck are you talking about,
sheepman, a howler of sound. Feces
worth its weight in gold & truth.
Rattle me up, swing my bits. 
Click me in the ground, bone against
the stone, a pigeon falls down, speechless.
The coughing date keeps unclipping like a skyscraper 
keyring of a kid’s bawl. Crying
has a talent. Blood rumbles & shines,
gets reflected on the beat-up
film of memory, scratched up photographic
membrane, the mucosa of horror, 
the numbered telephones linger, three 
hours a day, eight hours 
a day, the week is burning, give it
magnesium, give it light, not
the nightlight, not the sun or the moon,
though it’s in full, not the eye, has
anyone seen an invisible light,
concealed by knowing, a light
from a different dimension, has
anyone seen it, it pours inside the self,
Nobody sees, the name disappears, the word
recedes, the rhythm is suspended,

                                         the dreams about nows, the idea in
                                         the light, the end, purity, unity,
                                         flight is no longer needed,
                                         plight is no longer needed,
                                         there’s no shape,
                                         no contour,           
                                         no matter,
                                         no text.

                                         Like a hand without a signature,
                                         the Mannequin of Gravitas
                                         opens its mouth to you.






To Swallow a Shadow—

                                                    these words are
                                                    nothing more than
                                                          tobacco specks 
                                                    on a sheet of paper
    (a mouth full of skeletons);
                me, out of my head,
                like a ball rolling towards the pocket.

               A dog’s tongue, 
               saliva; the trace 
               of existence.

    So many thoughts,
    over & over,   
    until he holes up in his head, 
    as if he were dreamed up by his tongue.

    From reproduction to contemplation:
    steppes & mountain ranges.

    Words, devoured
     by intention
     lose their dignity;

     a thought 
     chewed over
     till you’re chucking, tho still steady
                   in intersecting
      gales of snow                                  snów
      slow                                                  słów

       & this poor I,
       excluded from its power,

       standing at the gate
                                        OF THE GREAT CONTAINERYARD
       which used to have a name & form






                                        la palabra el 
                                        Cimo ni mo 
                                        bunco beardo
                                        maybe baby can-
                                        do nicely
                                        dolphin doobie
                                        en paradiso 
                                        & a face 
                                        so sprightly
                                        in solidarity
                                        let him come 
                                        to the N1 &
                                        she said, lesen
                                       & electro
                                       warm wine
                                       all the time 
                                       & Socrates
                                       Schwamm und Sprache







Preason. Swamingo.
Wristulla between pincers, in the chackles. 
out of nowswhere, down with it.
With the human rea

A knownot, fraction. Tuny. 

    Gim your hand. Bow brow
    to another, the other—


The inverted songpits
Agh awashed with mo. Of lamps. 

Mothness. Unspokement. A block.
It’s an unbreakon lan. Break

yoursell. Yell. Where’s he
fromm. An unvile

tongue unobtained from the viscera, 
ununfound, flashy, fleshy,
reckless in the extracts from its nature,
feckless in the descriptions of the blind,
though kind, inclined and refined;

in the prosody of perdition
in the music of martyrdom,

secretly give yourself 
an answer. Without experti.



of glass.

apartment buildings.

At the feet
& from up high.

    On the side of the road, 
    in the woods,

    all the same.


A blue 
signpost in sleepy ivy, 
when twilight lays a shadow 
on an orange 
                       & the month 
was violent, like an avalanche, 
while it could have been like a waterfall, 
steady. The journey became a mound 
& in its inertia:

in prison from sentences; at the same time 
I found a muzzle in the gazebo,

when a pigeon pressed into asphalt
                                     took off 
into asphodels.






Różewicz Akbar

beggars asking for alms 
test our humanity

by saying nothing, I proclaim my existential fall
the thought of modern man must break thru the roar of information

there’s something on the windowsill
that looks like mouse shit

there was no conversation that would lead somewhere
at the end of the boiled self

the age of the horse has run its course



translator’s note:

Robert “Ryba” Rybicki is a one-person cosmopolis and, over the past two decades, his status within his native Poland has grown to near-mythic proportions. A self-described “happener,” Rybicki creates poetic events as he works at the intersection of performance and disruption, theatricality and confrontation going back to figures such as Rolf Brinkmann, Tadeusz Kantor, and Stanisław (“Witkacy”) Witkiewicz.

His award-winning book The Squatters’ Gift is a poetic travelogue through numerous languages and locales, both real and imaginary. Like Miron Białoszewski, Paul Celan, and Tristan Tzara before him, Rybicki excavates syllable and song, mind and muck, to invent a transnational poetry that is pointedly unapologetic and utterly unique. Not unlike American poet Michael Palmer, contradictory impulses animate Rybicki’s poetics, as he continuously toggles between the epistemic and the somatic. As he writes in The SquattersGift, “Thought clamps the body / like a barrel rim.” These competing modes allow Rybicki at one moment to offer poems that are reminiscent of Czesław Miłosz while at another embodying the wide-reaching iconoclasm of Peter Handke’s “Offending the Audience on Purpose.” Antoni Zając observes that being uncompromisingly anti-dogmatic “is perhaps the essence of Robert Rybicki’s poetry.”

The Polish language has a much more acrobatic and elastic syntax than English, which is one of the challenges of translating Rybicki’s work. But perhaps more pressing is the fact that his poems so actively resist stasis and are buttressed by myriad neologisms and elisions, which make getting a stable feel for the writing all the more difficult. Polish poet and critic Adam Wiedemann suggests that it’s as if Rybicki begins each poem “at the zero point of poetry” and continues “without respecting sacred literary rules and especially ‘culture.’” The poems shift locations, languages and layouts at breakneck speed, or the speaker can slow down to marvel at polygons or puke. Buckminster Fuller once wrote, “We’re all astronauts on a little spaceship called Earth,” to which Rybicki could retort “the heavens aren’t silent / if you have them in you.”

Mark Tardi’s books include The Circus of Trust (Dalkey Archive Press, 2017), Airport music (Burning Deck, 2013), and Euclid Shudders (Litmus, 2004). Prologue, an award-winning cinepoem collaboration with Polish multimedia artist Adam Mańkowski, has been screened at film festivals throughout Europe and the United States. He was a writer-in-residence at MASS MoCA in January 2020 and will be a research fellow at the Harry Ransom Center in 2021. A former Fulbright scholar, he is on faculty at the University of Łódź.

Robert ‘Ryba’ Rybicki was born in Rybnik in 1976. A poet, translator, squatter (at times) and self-described ‘happener,’ Rybicki is the author of nine books of poetry, including Epifanie i katatonie [Epiphanies & Catatonics], Masakra kalaczakra [Kalachakra massacre], and Podręcznik naukowy dla onironautów [A Scientific Handbook for Oneironauts]. He served as the former editor of the artistic magazine Plama in Rybnik as well as the Polish weekly Nowy Czas [New Time] in London. His collection Dar Meneli [The Squatters’ Gift] was the winner of the Juliusz Upper Silesian Literary Award in 2018. He currently lives in Kraków and organizes literary events there.

K.E. Knox translates Vergil

An Excerpt from The Aeneid of Vergil: A New Prose Translation

BOOK I: Ira (Rage)


I am going to tell you about a war and a man.

He was the princeliest of the Trojan survivors who fled to Italy, Fate’s refugee driven to Latium’s shores. Along the way, certain Olympian forces conspired to drag him down through the dirt and deep, and the long memory of ruthless Juno’s rage persecuted him. He suffered without end, tested in war, until, at last, he established a city, resurrected his gods in Latium, sired the entire Latin race from whence sprang Alba’s founding fathers, who raised the walls of mighty Rome…

Stop, Muse! Wait! Mihi causas memora. Remind me, Muse, what started it all? Wasn’t there some crime committed against divinity, some reasonthat the Queen of the Gods herself struck down this famously godly hero? Tell me how the adventures of one man set so much in motion. Does so much rage lurk in the hearts of goddesses?

Urbs antiqua fuit—There was an ancient city controlled by Tyrian colonists situated opposite Italy and the Tiber’s yawning mouth: Carthage. Politically powerful, rich, and hawkish in the arts of war, Carthage was said to be cherished by Juno above all other nations, including her beloved Samos. She stored her armor there. Her chariot, too. If the Fates allow it, she grew accustomed to thinking, Carthage will be the seat of power for all humanity. For a long time, the goddess clung to this belief and nurtured it. Then, she heard the prophecy.

“One day, a mighty nation of men supreme in war will be born from the blood of Troy and seek absolute power throughout the world. They will rise up and rip down your Tyrian towers. For thus it is written: They will bring cataclysm to your Libya,” the three Parcae churned.

This future horrified Juno. And yet, somehow, the past goaded her even more. The last war, the one waged at Troy on behalf of her beloved Argos, still lingered in her mind. Rage and vicious sorrow had not yet been carved out from the soul of Saturn’s daughter. Her heart hoarded each and every offense: the indignity of Paris slighting her divine image; her hatred for the entire Trojan race—descendants of Dardanus (one of her husband’s many bastards); what to speak of the offensive honors Jove was still lavishing on Ganymede, that boy-prince of Troy, whom, in the guise of an eagle, the King of the Gods—her husband—had carried off and raped in mid-air.

Time passed, but wounds like these do not heal. They rot. Now, tormenting the Trojan survivors atomized by Greek victory and that psychopath Achilles was Juno’s only consolation. Like playthings, she tossed the Trojans on the high seas and kept herself busy by keeping them a long way from Italy. For many years, the traumatized sailor-soldiers succumbed to what they thought were Fate’s motions, stumbling aimlessly around vast swaths of sea.

Tantae molis erat Romanam condere gentem. Monstrous task, wasn’t it, Muse, founding the nation of Rome?


With Sicily’s bluffs barely out of sight, the Trojans spread their sails to the unknown. On keels of solid bronze, they ride the rushing brine. The voyagers’ spirits are resilient as Juno, still nursing the wound deep in her heart, glimpses their progress.

“This is it, then?” she wails. “Their beginning is my end? Am I utterly incapable of preventing the Trojan prince’s arrival in Italy? Obviously, yes, the Fates forbid it, but didn’t Athena incinerate the Argive fleet and plunge its crews into watery graves? And for what? The belligerence of Ajax, son of Oileus? To punish one mortal criminal, Pallas was allowed to load up Jupiter’s lightning bolts and rain down His missiles from the clouds. She smashed the Greek ships and churned up the sea with squalls. I remember it well: Ajax was battling the flames, desperate to suck one final breath into his skewered lungs, when that daughter of Jove snatched him up in a whirlwind and impaled his corpse on a sharp crag. So how can it be that I, who step among the gods as their queen—Jupiter’s sister and wife—am forced to make war on a single people for years on end? How can anyone be expected to worship the power of Juno or pile offerings on Her altars now?”

Burning with rage, the Queen of the Gods speeds toward Aeolia. The storm-cloud kingdom is home to Austris, the raging south wind. She seeks King Aeolus, regent of the winds, who presides alone inside a sprawling cave.

Here at ocean’s end, the Wind King incarcerates the invisible, shackling the thrashing gales and thundering tempests. Unseen but not unheard, the inmates’ fury foments round the bars of the cells as they howl loudly to the mountain above. On the summit sits a fortress where Aeolus squirrels away, scepter in hand, attempting to curtail the prisoners’ passions and dampen their rage. The warden’s failure to maintain order would mean unprecedented disaster. Just the slightest slip, and the oppressed winds would launch themselves, hauling off sea and land and the vastness of sky into deep space. This doomsday scenario even terrifies the almighty Pater Omnipotens. Long ago, He drove the blusters deep underground and secured the secret silo by heaping a mass of mountain on top of it. Then, he appointed Aeolus to sit there and supervise as proxy-ruler—forever. The tenured Wind King was invested with just enough power to release and recall minor squalls, but only at Olympus’ command.

Now, Juno comes to Aeolus and pleads in the voice of a lowly lobbyist: “The Father of Gods and King of Men, my husband, Jupiter, entrusted you with the power to smooth and stir up waves with wind. You know that I hate the Trojans. As we speak, they’re zipping across the Tyrrhenian Sea trying to bring Ilium to Italy. Even their debunked household gods are coming along. Please, I beg you, whip up your gusts. Bury their sterns! Tear the fleet apart and scatter sailor-corpses on the sea. In return, Aeolus, I have fourteen girls—nymphs of unimaginable beauty. For your loyalty, I will bless you with Deiopea, the most striking. May she be forever willing and unwavering and live all her years with you, dear friend, and make you proud father to beguiling offspring!”

 “My queen, you must but seek what it your heart desires; my only God-given duty is to fulfil your command,” replies the storm lord. “Whatsoever power I wield over this place is only mine thanks to you. To you, I owe my scepter (and, of course, your husband’s favor…), but it is you, dear lady, who first invited me to recline at Olympus’ tables. It was you, not your husband, who truly anointed me Lord of Cloud and Storm.”

With that, Aeolus swings round his spear and smashes the flank of the hollow mountain. The winds rush out like a military column marching beyond a brand-new breach or a hurricane hurtling toward catastrophic landfall. They bear down on the sea and stir the ocean from its deepest ravines. The high-winds of east and south converge to become Africus, the south-west wind, thick with storm-rains and swollen waves that surge for shore. Aboard the Trojan decks, crews clang and cables shriek. Suddenly, bands of clouds rake over the blue sky, shredding daylight from the Trojans’ sight. A dark night broods over the deep. It thunders axis to axis, and bolt after bolt lights up the sky. For the panicked sailors, everything portends the encroach of death.

Aeneas freezes. Fear paralyzes him, but only for a moment. He groans, presses his palms toward the stars, and cries out, “My friends! You who died beneath Troy’s high walls with your fingertips tracing your father’s chins are four times more blessed than I’ll ever be! If only I’d met my end at your hands, Diomedes, son of Tydeus, bravest of the Greeks! My life should have been poured out on the battlefield at Troy, where ferocious Hector lies in pieces, torn apart by Achilles’ ash-spear, and powerful Sarpedon, too. I belong in the River Simois, swallowed alongside the rest of Troy’s brave dead. My bones swirling around countless other helmets and shields…”

Aeneas spits out these bitter words, and an icy gust from the north screams back at him. All at once, the full force of the winds bear down on his sails, whipping the water to the sky. Oars splinter and prows thrash as the Trojan fleet broadsides the deep, their decks smashing into steep faces of liquid mountain. Some of Aeneas’ men dangle from the surge’s summit. Others, trapped between swells seething with sand, glimpse the terrestrial chasm waiting for them on the ocean floor. Africus snatches three of Aeneas’ ships and spins them across crags hidden nearby. It is a monstrous spine of stone slitting the surface of the sea, which the Italians call Arae, the Altars. Meanwhile, the East-Wind corrals three more vessels from the safety of open water and drags them toward the perilous Syrtian shoals. It is a cruel sight, galley after galley shattering in the shallows, entombed in bulwarks of sand.

A sprawling surge ambushes the ship piloted by Orontes Fidus, The Faithful, last living leader of Troy’s loyal Lycian allies. All his surviving troops are on board. But Aeneas, helpless, watches as the vessel is struck on its stern and its crouching helmsman is hurled overboard headfirst. A whirlpool gapes. Three times, the ship twirls around it, until, finally, the aqueous throat gulps her down. Her crew can still be seen, though, strewn here and there across the watery wasteland. Bodies bob alongside weapons, splintered pieces of ship, and treasures rescued from Troy. Next, Ilioneus’s sturdy galley goes down, followed by the ships captained by brave Achates, Albas, and old Aletes. The entire fleet, decimated. Down to every last loosened joint and fissured plank, the tempest vanquishes all.

Meanwhile, Neptune, god of the sea, senses the unrest in his realm. A storm has been unleashed. My standing depths are summoned from their ocean beds. Greatly disturbed, but nonetheless serene, the sea god lifts his gaze, breaching the water’s boundary with his crown and surveils the depths of his kingdom from above. Scattered before him is Aeneas’ fleet. Trojans entombed by waves and a ruinous sky. His sister’s handiwork does not elude him. Juno.

At once, Neptune summons the East and West Winds. “Children of Astraeus and Eos, your confidence in your privilege is misguided,” booms the god of the sea. “How dare you commingle Heaven and Earth without my permission and wreak such havoc! Why I ought to—No. Better to reconcile the rebellious waters first. But, next time, you will be punished for your disobedience. Now, go! Fly away to that lord of yours and tell him: Rule of the sea and the fearsome trident do not belong to him. They are mine. It was all assigned by lot, long ago. That savage rock is your home, so tell Aeolus to throw his tantrums there, in his own godforsaken cave. And for Jove’s sake, remind him to keep that blustery prison on lockdown!”

While Neptune rebukes the winds, the swollen seas are placated, the huddled clouds disperse, and the sun returns. His son, Triton, and the nereid Cymothoë begin peeling the ships off the jagged rocks. The god of the sea finishes the job himself. He uses his trident to forklift the fleet to freedom then slits open a course for them through the dangerous shoals. As he returns equanimity to the sea, Neptune’s chariot runs over the surface, smoothing the waves with its nimble wheels. The scene is not unlike when sedition erupts, as it so often does (even among the best of people, anger furnishes its own violence), and the silent majority vent the fury in their souls by sending torches and rocks soaring through the air. Then, by chance, they catch sight of some man, whose public record of piety and distinguished service endow him with that certain gravitas. All hush and stand still with their ears outstretched while his words restore their minds to order and their hearts to complacency. Just so, the din of the waves simply fades away the moment their leader cruises by, gazing out beneath the clear skies that once again stretch over his realm.

Satisfied that he has restored order, Neptune loosens the reigns, and his chariot flies obediently on.


Aeneas’ exhausted men set a desperate course for the nearest shore. They steer toward the Libyan coast where a secluded island waits for them. Its opposing sides fasten a harbor, a natural barrier where the deep slams in, and the hollow reclaims the cleaved waters as its own. Enormous boulders and twin crags on either side warn off the heavens. Beneath these broad peaks, the sea takes refuge and falls silent. Overhead, a shimmering woodland screens the land that lies beyond. The trees flick their sinister shadows down into a cove on whose far side a cavern roofed with dripping rocks dangles from the cliff’s brow. The freshwater pooling inside eats into the living rock, signaling that this place is home to nymphs. Here, the battered fleet can moor safely without ropes, anchors, or hooks.

Aeneas guides the survivors into the cove. A mere seven ships. The Trojans spring from their decks, lusting for land. They snatch at the sands and stretch their brine-soaked limbs on the shore. Achates picks up a piece of flint and strikes a spark. He fans the newborn fire with dead leaves, nourishing it with brushwood until flames seize in the dry tinder. The men, already fatigued with destiny’s latest twist, set out what little food remains. Ceres’ loaves and a few, scattered utensils. The grain is soaked with seawater. They parch what they can over the flames before grinding it on stone.

Aeneas, meanwhile, has slipped off toward the nearby crags. He scrambles up, hoping to glimpse a sign of his men that the storm has ripped away: Antheus, the Phrygian galleys, Capys, or Caïcus, with weapons piled high on his galley’s stern. But there’s not a ship in sight. Instead, in the distance, three stags comb the beach. The entire herd trails behind in a long column, grazing in the vale. Aeneas seizes his bow and loads it with his quickest arrows, the ones Achates carries for him, always. First, he dispatches the leaders. Three noble heads crowned with branching antlers are instantly laid low. Then, he turns on the multitude. His shots scatter the herd, forcing the victims into the verdant woods, but Aeneas does not stop shooting until the earth is triumphantly bathed with the blood of seven corpses—one for each of his lost ships.

He rushes back to the harbor to share the kill with his men. What remains of the wine that Acestes, the good Sicilian king, insisted on stashing away in casks the day they sailed from Trinacria, is divvied up. Aeneas is eager to ease his men’s long-tormented souls and stands to make a toast.

“My friends, none of us are strangers to calamity. To you who have suffered ordeals even worse than this, I say: To this, too, God will grant an end. You who have crept close to rabid Scylla’s innermost crags, which howl with her hysteria, and survived the Cyclops’ canons, summon your courage one more time! Shake off your heartbreak and terror! One day, we will recall all of this fondly. No matter how much misery and horror hunts us now, we must press on for Latium. There, Destiny waits for us, offering us asylum—a new home. In Italy, Troy will rise again. So, endure, men, endure! Save your strength for what comes next.”

Though the words are undaunted, and the countenance feigns hope, Aeneas is sick with a hellish anxiety. He suppresses an immeasurable grief, packing it deep within his soul. But his men take heart. Enough, at any rate, to gird up for dinner.

First, they strip the hide from the stags’ ribs and slide out their vital organs. Next, they carve up the animals and skewer the flesh, still quivering, on spits. Bonfires are lit along the beach, and the men tend to the make-shift grills. Then, they feast. They stretch out along the beach-grass, brimming with well-aged wine and tender venison, and their old vitality comes bounding back. When their hunger is sated and the boards cleared away, at last, the topic they’ve all been avoiding is broached. Whispers back and forth vacillate between hope and despair.

Still alive?

Maybe, even now, suffering the last?

No, he no longer hears when called.

Most bitterly of all, their quiet leader mourns. Orontes! What cruel fates for Amycus, Lycus, brave Gyas, and even braver Cloanthus

But all the men hear is pious Aeneas, sighing occasionally to himself.


Soon, the feast is finished, and the mortals collapse into a dense sleep. From the firmaments, Jupiter Omnipotens surveils the sail-winged sea, rolling lands, coasts, and sprawl of nations. At Heaven’s summit, He stops and fixes His awareness on Libya. The immortal broods over what He sees. Always, the suffering of mortals.

Suddenly, Venus flashes to her father’s side. She appears unusually despondent. Heartbreak shines in her eyes as she implores the king of gods and men, “O qui res hominumque deumque aeternis regis imperiis et fulmine terres. Tell me, You-Who-Reign-Eternally-And-Terrify-The-World-With-Your-Thunder, what could my Aeneas, my Trojans, have possibly done to You? All this butchery, and now the world clamps shut against them? Don’t tell me it’s because of Italy. Father, remember what you promised: ‘The Roman race shall spring forth, restored from Teucer’s blood. Eons shall pass, but our people will be restored to power. One day, as sole lords of the earth, they shall rule, and dominion over all lands and seas shall be theirs!’

“Unless, of course, something has changed Your mind? How dare You! Leveraging Destiny against Fate was my only consolation for Troy’s ruin. So much death! So much destruction! Even now, those hideous Fates still hound my boys…My poor boys! Haven’t they suffered enough? When will You put an end to it?

“Even the traitor Antenor squeezed right through the Greek siege. That wizened turncoat waltzed safely through the Illyrian gulfs and across the innermost Liburnian lands. He made it all the way to the Timavus’ headwaters and was permitted to settle where the river’s nine mouths gush down the mountainside and drown the nearby fields. There, he set up a city for his Trojans, gave it a Trojan name, and put his armor on display. In Troïa this very moment, Priam’s old counselor sinks into senility in serenity, but us—your own flesh and blood, to whom you vowed to deliver the very bulwark of Heaven—our galleys go missing. It’s a disgrace, Father! Because of one goddess’s anger, you have betrayed us all. For too long, you have diverted Destiny from Italy’s borders. Is this the reward for piety, then? Is this how you press power’s scepter back into your children’s palms?”

Jove smiles. It is the same expression that He uses to placate the skies and storms. He kisses His daughter on her pretty mouth, then replies, “Put away your worries, my Cytherea. The destiny of your progeny remains as it was. You will see Lavinium’s promised walls and exalt your gracious Aeneas to the stars. Nothing has altered My will. Your son…”

Here, the King of Men and Gods pauses. If He speaks, His words will further unwind the scroll of Fate, setting dark, arcane things in motion. But her cares are so heavy. For so long now, they have consumed her.

 “Your son will wage a huge war in Italy,” Jove continues. “He will pulverize defiant tribes, build cities, and lay down laws and customs for his people. However, just three summers will see Aeneas rule as governor of Latium, and only after he pushes back the Rutulians and huddles for three winters in makeshift camps. But Aeneas’ boy, Ascanius—Ilus, he was called when Ilium was sovereign—he will take the name of Iulus, and his reign will be long. Thirty magnificent cycles of whirring months. At the height of his rule, he will transfer the seat of power from Lavinium to Alba Longa and build a wall. There, for three hundred years, Hector’s descendants will govern, until Mars impregnates the priestess-queen Ilia, and she gives birth to twins. Then, Romulus, proudly draped in the tawny pelt of the she-wolf that nursed him, will claim sovereignty of his ancestors’ descendants, shut them fast within Mars’ walls, and name them after himself. On these Romans, I place neither limits of space nor time: I grant them an empire with no end. Even my prickly Juno—who is now consumed with harassing sea, earth, and sky—will eventually come around to My better counsel. Alongside Me, she will cherish the Romans, and they will be the toga-wearing masters of the world.

“Long years will glide by, and an age will come when the House of Tros, the great-great-great-grandchildren of Aeneas’ grandfather, will dominate Greece and enslave Achilles’ Phthians and Agamemnon’s once-bright Mycenaeans. Then, the Trojan Caesar will be born. His empire will end only at the ocean, and his fame among the stars! Julius, they’ll call him, a name passed down from his great forebear, Iulus. And you, Cytherea, you will be rich. Carefree and loaded with the spoils of wars in the East. The day will come when you welcome your mortal offspring into Heaven. On earth, he will be worshipped as a god. At last, the bitter eons of war will soften, and those grey-haired virtues, Fides and Vesta, will help write Rome’s laws. Then, Remus and his brother, Romulus…

“In any case, the Gates of War, a terrible iron thing forged of locked bars, will be closed— eventually. Furor Impius, Impious Rage, will be imprisoned inside, squatting above her arms stockpile with her hands secured behind her back by one-hundred knots hard as bronze as, from her blood-smeared lips, she roars and roars.”

Omnipotens has spoken, but. Just in case Queen Dido (who, naturally, is ignorant of What-Has-Been-Spoken) decides to refuse the Trojan guests soon to arrive at her gates, He summons His messenger, Mercury.

Go to Carthage, jump right down through its brand-new towers. Ensure that the Trojans are properly welcomed.

Mercury takes off that instant, rowing hard through the vast sky with wings for oars until he touches down on Libya’s shore. He executes the orders at once, and one by one, fierce Phoenician hearts unknowingly acquiesce to the will of Jove.

Most of all, the queen is implanted with a tender disposition. A certain softness, that is, for men from Troy.

Translator’s Note:

In joining the slender ranks of women translators of Vergil’s Aeneid, my aim is not to offer a definitive edition of the textfrom a female perspective’ but an alternate one that diverges from the tradition in two ways.

The first is style. Verse translations of the Aeneid can sound archaic to the modern ear, while prose renditions are often dense and agonizingly literal. This version, therefore, styles the verse in prose recognizable to readers of contemporary fiction. For instance, ‘focalizations’ are rendered as thoughts using italics, sub-sections modernize pacing, and programmatic words and phrases that are ‘impossible to translate’ are retained in Latin. Rather than using syntax and form to compress meaning, the Latin’s inherent ambiguities are preserved, leaving uncomfortable questions open for the reader to decide. 

The second is women. Vergil’s women are not Homer’s, and their anger drives much of the narrative action. Yet centuries of critical interpretation and translation have filtered Juno, Dido, Amata, and Venus’ explosive passions and pathos through the lens of St. Augustine’s 4th century review: a most delightful spectacle of vanity. The ‘spectacle’ these women create is the one Vergil’s men dare not; they insist on bringing the brutalism of the ‘Roman Dream’ into the forum for all to see. Far from casting Vergil as ‘proto-feminist,’ this translation aims only to convey the complexity and resilience of the ancient epic heroines who first spoke so closely and clearly to me as a young girl. Today, I hear them louder than ever. From the Sibyl’s cave, they warn us about ideology’s consequences: the collapse of representative government, civil war, dictatorship. “Woman, man, or deity,” they whisper, “we all lose.”

While there is so much more that I could say about my translation, it’s not what I say about the Aeneid and its place in our society that’s important. What matters is bringing Vergil’s ancient Latin verse to a new generation of English readers so that they can decide for themselves. Dux femina facti.

K.E. Knox is a writer and editor based in New York City. She completed her M.Phil. in Classics at the University of Oxford then left academia to work in fashion. She is the author of Genius of a Generation: Alexander McQueen and Culture to Catwalk: How World Culture Influences Fashion. Her translation of the Aeneid is a labor of love in progress.


Publius Vergilius Maro (‘Vergil’) was born in 70 BCE near Mantua, Italy. He is considered ancient Rome’s most famous poet and an early pillar of Western Literature. At the time of his death in 19 BCE, Vergil felt that the Aeneid was unfinished and ordered the manuscript burned. The twelve-book poem, however, was not destroyed and went on to become Rome’s national epic. He is also the author of the Eclogues and the Georgics