Joe Milutis translates Stéphane Mallarmé


Say nymphs, and I would perpetruate them. 

leering lightly
incarnate air’s voltage
and in taffeta tutus doze 

                                             I WOULD DREAM BRIEFLY
Ancient forever doubt
branches, becomes leafy
while real woods wood
that I offer myself
—sole triumph—
the perfect glitch
of inexistent roses. 


                           Or if these femmes you faun-on
Are a figure of an emblem of a nerve!
Faun, l’illusion
Hap of blue use
cold shape of the miraculous! 

One, the other
breathe in another
contrasts come like breezes in heatwaves . . .
your feathered hair. 

Suffocating phallustrous chaleur
at dawn
That’s my reading flute murmur
or like that silent flick
L’Arroseur Arrosé, this is about
the poet’s garden hose
winding up on a half horse
like a prompt s’exhalation before
what scatters the sound in the dream,
yes that’s it, up at the unfluttered
edge the visible and serene heartbeat 

In Japan, the girls carry themselves on Après-Midis and even bicycle on Daccarat Cruze: Le Nouveau Parfum du De De L’Eau Style du Mode Secret: such audacity, so spark—this floors me, sing it: “What some call a hollow read, I beat into Rosicrucian allegory and X-Rated allusion, gold threaded in the cloud musty far verdure-weed proffers its tendrils to fountains quiver the white beast odalisque. 

                                                                      (video black branch blanc beast sur la vide)  

And what slow prelude is this?
This flight of swans, non!
A Naïad, a-leaping, on-plunging,

Perhaps the translator must insert
a rude awakening—that this poem
of a starlit être has within a scarlet
letter, all the homoerotic fun removed
from faun, although if it’s in the dream
(or in the poem) what is the line, the
violation of exactitude or 

                            Inert, the moment leaves
no impression for whoever searches the “there”
finds that no art can
altogether combine here
the desire of that hour:
wake, then, wake to first fervor
correct and unique, under antique wavelengths illume,
only this lily! And the one of you all for guilelessness. 

Otherwise, sweet dithering lips make their noise
a kiss which assures in the depths of uncertainty . . .
it is already December and this talk of “august teeth”
already a thousand aprés-midis have passed since I saw these
nymphs, a single morsel of time, a missed kiss gothicized
into a stanza played backwards to find the hidden message
which Satan has written in your emailing me after 25 years
from the dentist all this time and its dents and we are now suddenly
quotidiennes? My head is spinning, you say, if I hadn’t gone
to that reading (the poet had a voice like root canal) we might not
have seen each other again in this *dear life* and I email back
this stanza about teeth which confounds me, because, perhaps
les dents de décembre sont prudents 

But, enough! A secret monolithic lute, confident
my junk—vast and doubled under azure we play 
risking the trouble of a play
a dream, a long improvisation
the beauty all around us, the absence of confusion
between false and falsetto our true song
I’d go as far as to say that love is the modulation
evanescing, they do, the dull doses
of abs and the absence on which my longing eye closes,
sonority, vanity, monotony of line!
Twist out of this futile flute, O malign
Syrinx, a reflowering of the lake where we once relaxed!
As for me, this fiery sound, melting the wax I pipe-on
and on about Goddesses; such idolatry these paints,
such shadows again across dropped pants:
And see, when I have sucked the sun from a raisin
I no longer regret the single ray,
But, laughing raise to the heaven of summer this vacancy of grapes
And, puffing on their luminous peels, rapacious
For visions I cast across them the eye of the tigress
until evening is upon us. 

O nymphs let us relive each detached caress
My will, my jonquille, my junco partner, darting each enclosure
Immortal, noise of burning in the waves of the seashore,
Wobbly cries from within forest’s orb;
And splendid head of hair absorbed
Into glitterings and frisson, for pete’s sake!
I run; feet entangled (I ache,
I am bruised with the languorous taste
of the evil of being two’d)
by the alarmingly lurching arms
of slumbering nymphs entwined;
Raving, ravishing, I’m not une 
And take umbrage in this clump, enraged
by sun’s shadow
All the exhaust fumes of the roses have depleted our
Delight, our day, this deleted hour.”
I adore you, anger of verses, O delicious
Church of sacred nude burdens, which Englished (eglissed)
Flee my lips a-fire firing
Fire!  The secret fears of the fleshed:
Of tentacles wrapt round a timid heart
Which at once relinquishes its innocence, tumid
With moody vapors, more or less foolish tears.
My crime, if thus you insist, is high on the vanity of years 
to have devised this disheveled boscage
of kisses that Gods keep from those my age:
Scarcely do I enfold an ardent laugh
in the happy pleats of myself alone with one
(kept by a simple finger, her feather’s whitening
Stains itself on the emotions of the other’s lightning
and she’s the small one, naïve and spacey)
when from my arms, undone by time and trespass,
this object forever ungracious, flees driven
no pity for the blubbering with which I was riven.” 

Quel dommage! Others will lead me towards happiness
By yoking their hair to my horns in a laborious headdress.
You know, mon chou, that violescent and quite mature
Each poem-grenade ruptures accompanied by the bees which murmur
And our song-blood, in love with whoever seeks to seize it here
Pours for all an endless swarm of desire.
It is now the hour when twilight tints the grove in gold and hints of embrous ash.
A posh exultation, foliage dashed:
And Volcanos!  For across this dappled sylvan scene, pan
To monstrous antipodal storm on desolate midnight terrain,
When sadly sleep sounds, when the flame has guttered
I sense Her presence! 

                                                       The grand chastizement is nigh! 

Her head invisible in the clouds, sex hidden in the black waves
The mother of empty words, heavy
With fiery silence, no afternoon, but ever after and anon
Sleepless, blasphemed, the forgotten first god on
Another shore who gives birth
To pan-creatures in the squalling sands of earth,
Eclipsed by polar cliffs and all that otherwise lives, these infant monsters
Their many mouths working themselves into stars,
And She, covered with polyps, triple-breast’d
Gargantua, moves through such waters as only the moon dares crest. 

And my nymphs? We’ll see how it ends, in the far shadow of this dark divinity. 

Film Treatment for Mallarmé’s L’Après-midi d’un faune 

Mallarmé’s “The Afternoon of a Faun”—once intended to be a script or scenario for a theatrical eclogue—is full of disjointed, dreamlike, gothic and erotic language.  As would befit the ultimate “maudit” poet, this work would never be translated to the stage during his lifetime, and was rejected by publishers for ten years until he found an enterprising printer of medical textbooks to take it on.  It would famously be reinterpreted by Debussy and Nijinsky, and would become a perennial source of inspiration for work that explores the intertwined queer, surreal, and occult impulses at the heart of the French Symbolist project, and incipient modernism.

It’s also full of difficult, and difficultly-censored, imagery.  That is, the poet is struggling with the dictates of cultural propriety as well as those of his own masculinity, all blurred, however, in the conceits of the dream.  Thus, both translating and filming this poem provide certain challenges: to respond without the clarity of “politics,” yet taking advantage of the freedom of commentary that experimental translation—both at level of text and film image—allows.

To put it bluntly, while the figure of the faun has been traditionally put in the service of pagan, many times homoerotic sexual imagery, here Mallarmé instead offers a more ostensibly heterosexual fantasy with what at times seems the suggestion of rape, or at the very least a stylized sexual aggression.  What happens when this violation is dreamt, inextricable from an indeterminate play of symbols? (Aptly enough, the most scandalous aspect of the Nijinsky ballet was the dancer’s decision to make love to a veil—a viol de voile volé from the nymph.)  I feel certain Mallarmé was aware of this dynamic.  Do we take his fantasized trespasses to be contextualized in the cold light of judgement or do we allow the dangerous “realism” of the unconscious to be manifest?   The goal for such a film and translation would be not to censor the already dream-censored language, but rather to use the text as an opportunity for psychic exploration, transformation, and renovation.  Like alchemical images, which, according to Jung, allowed for a cathexis of energies that Christianity failed to capture, Mallarmé’s “Faun” is a psychoanalytic, meditational, and proto-surrealist work par excellence, allowing for a reflection on poetic and sexual energies not easy mapped, only approached (or merely reproached) with great caution.

If an eclogue is traditionally a dialogue or contest between two voices, here there is the possibility of coming at the text by way of multiple voices, fragments, images and competing scenarios.  While Mallarmé creates the effect of a lyric duel—there are sections of the text set off by quotes and italics that alternate with roman text—the voicings to and fro are left ambiguous both at the level of the speaker and addressee.  It’s not a call-and-response, as much as it is multiple calls into the void, self-ventriloquism, or mere graphic play.  This ambiguity can be expanded so that what starts as a singular point of view is disrupted, turned into a multiply refracting surface, spawning virtualities both unspoken and inconceivable within the original poem, or perhaps already there but untapped through the devices of a more traditional translation.

Ces nymphes, je les veux perpétuer
“Say ‘nymphs,’ and I would perpetruate them.”

By translating “perpétuer” as “perpetruate,” I have tried to encapsulate many of these issues in the first line by introducing a portmanteau word.  Invocation itself (“Say ‘nymphs’” as homophonic mistranslation of “Ces nymphes”), immediately leads us to a problem of representation: perpetuating becomes a perpetration.  By invoking the nymphs, he perpetuates an ancient being—as we’ll see this is not only in the service of a decadent continuance of the classical, but also a remembrance of the missed chances of youth.  It also sets the scene for perpetrating what may be his crime or act of aggression against the nymphs in their leisure. This duality of perpetuating/perpetrating is pronounced and eroticized in the more well-trod tropes of the vampire genre, where the violation of the vampire—rarely consensual—can grant eternal life.  To heighten this association, the film could start with vampire teeth breaking soft skin, splicing into the imagery of fauns and nymphs the repertoire of the vampire.

A striking, violent opening image can be then followed by the more abstract, alternately Debussian and electronic, fragments of sensuous beauty (“Si clair,/Leur incarnat léger . . .”)—flashes of body parts, floating pastels, skin transluced red by the sun, tutus enmeshed and leaping.  The kitsch of the pastorale, reduced to its smallest recognizable codes.  Abstractions collapse and reform, never quite solidifying (“Aimai-je un reve?. . .”)—a dramatic image of what in effect will be the overall feel and method of the rest of the film.

In the original poem, there are ostensibly three characters: the faun and two nymphs.  Instead of characters, the film will present a variety of figures, interchangeable, who will represent, multiply or erase each other—morphing and changing as the translation translates-in upon itself.  This strategy leaves high potential for unmoored imagery and scenarios—with many opportunities for creative costuming and sculpture, but with the option for minimalism and abstraction, too.  By transforming the poem’s dramatis personae into figural glyphs—quite literally “characters”—their meaning can double, triple, or dissolve (typed, cursive or scrawled) so that what seems to be one man and two women can become all men, all women, queered or indeterminate, nature objects or fetishes, becoming-other-than-what-they-were, partaking in the forest supernaturalism of their being, or the language of their poeming, rather than a drawing room mirror of existent sexing.

Because of what seems to me the poem’s emphasis on control—or the dramatic loss of it—one central figure would be “the poet,” but here transformed into romance novel industrialist/master-of-universe type.  An isolated figure—we perhaps see him alone in the back of a limo, letting the wind whistle across the top of an empty bottle of mineral water he holds out the window as if a makeshift panpipe—he slowly “undoes” himself, turning faun, as horns, hoofs, and hairy haunches slowly break through his calculated veneer.  The centrality of this “poet” figure need not mean that he cannot be replaced, even by himself, as he transforms.  Nor does he need to be present from beginning to end.  He may serve merely as an organizational convenience or foil for more wild imagery, diverse bodies, indefinable objects.  The femmes can stand at his grave in the final lines, rather than, as implied in the original, the faun reflecting on their death, absence or dream.  However, while that final stanza has now been radically rewritten in a Lovecraftian mode, there is nothing prohibiting the film version from presenting its image as the versa of the text (and vice-versa). 

Of course, there should be pan pipes, pan pipes of all types and sizes: plastic bottles, McDonald’s straws bound with twine, anything where wind can move across the top of an opening and make sounds.  The sound of this throughout.

Joe Milutis is a writer, media artist and Associate Professor of Interdisciplinary Arts and the MFA in Creative Writing and Poetics at the University of Washington-Bothell.  Work has appeared in Fence, Triple Canopy, Cabinet, Tagvverk, Gauss PDF, Amodern as well as a variety of performance and gallery venues. He is the author of Failure, A Writer’s Life (Zer0 Books: 2013); Ether: The Nothing That Connects Everything (University of Minnesota Press: 2006); and Bright Arrogance, a column on experimental translation in Jacket2.  Numerous chapbooks, media-literary hybrid works, videos and sound pieces can also be found at

Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-1898) is sometimes known more for what he didn’t write than for what he did. Fame came late to him, and he published little—choosing instead to seek an impossible, absolute Book.  Many of his works, conceived of as multi-media performances or art-literary hybrids, were never fully conceived. And yet his impact on experimental literature, criticism and theory has been immense. If, according to his protégé Paul Valéry, a work is “never completed . . . but abandoned,” the great abandonments of Mallarmé (which included, at his death, a lacquered Japanese writing hutch stuffed with indecipherable notes and diagrams for his Great Work) would galvanize the Symbolist avant-garde, and prepare for innumerable future experiments.

Photos by Joe Milutis, feat. Truong Nguyen.




Allana Noyes translates Noé Blancas-Blancas

Preparation for a Novena

Slithering, that was the word he used. The man next to her had grumbled the word “slithering,” and then suddenly stood, insulting the driver and demanding to be let off the bus.

“Let me off here, you sonofabitch!

The old woman with him chimed in:

“He’s driving this damn bus around in circles. What, you making a pit-stop at your house? Jackass!”

They struggled to get down the steps with their heavy sacks and then stood, pushing at the doors while still cursing the driver. She used this as an opportunity to approach the front of the bus:

“Excuse me sir, are we in Dulzura?”

The driver answered without turning to look at her.

“Almost. I’ll let you know.”

By the time she descended she was beginning to understand what the old man had been going on about: “Unbelievable, rains three days in a row here and suddenly everything goes along slithering in the mud.” She was also coming to realize why his comment bothered her so much. It wasn’t what he said, but how, his voice bubbling over with disgust. She wondered to herself, what if slithering was normal and the grotesque thing was to walk upright? Maybe even now, as she was walking down this street it seemed repulsive to some, and if it wasn’t, then why was everyone staring? The townsfolk had begun to set up the street market, their lopsided stalls balanced on buckets and wooden crates like hobbled creatures; amputees incapable even of slithering. Girls barely old enough to be women, prematurely aged by their buzzing swarms of children, began setting out enormous pots that looked like black, charred skulls.

They wouldn’t tell her a thing in the pharmacy. Not in the corner store either. An “I’m not sure” or “I don’t know him” would’ve been polite, but they wouldn’t even look at her. They’d ignore her question, annoyed like she’d been asking for years, as if she should already know that nobody knew who she was rattling on about. “But how should I know you don’t know? I’m the one who doesn’t know around here,” she was muttering to herself when she came across a man sitting at the foot of a Santa Muerte statue. The shrine stood in front of a little shack, towering over it as if the shack’s only purpose was to prop up the giant altarpiece. He was the one who finally helped her, and he did so as if it were his duty to guide her along her way, telling her in great detail which way to go. “It’s because you still got a long way to go, Miss, I’d take you myself, I would, but I’m here on guard duty.” He drew deeply on his cigarette, inhaling and exhaling a smoke that was so black it disturbed her. He inhaled as if it were as sweet as pure oxygen and then sat back down in front of the shrine like a loyal dog.

When she finally got to the house, she knocked hesitantly. Several lazy, stray dogs were laying in the street, yapping like poorly paid employees, as if being a dog were some boring chore. Not even bothering to wag their tails, they looked distractedly in other directions.

“Good afternoon.”

He appeared at the door which was made of short boards faded by the years, more symbolic than actual barrier, as anyone could have knocked it down with a gentle push. He held a straw hat in hand, which didn’t make much sense because the sun wasn’t out. In fact, no one had seen the sun in a long time. Didn’t seem like anyone around here was a farmer, although she thought that all the townspeople she’d seen so far, including him, were nothing more than country people wandering along these rows of buildings strung together as haphazard streets. 

“Come in, can I get you anything?”

She entered, carrying her worn black purse in front of her like a shield. She said, 

“Aristos, don’t you remember me?”

 Aristeo Magro suddenly felt far outside himself, as if it weren’t him standing there in front of this lonely nobody of a woman. He was transported to that time long ago; the dull, dilapidated warehouse, enveloped in the hot steam, breathing in the smell of the seamstresses’ cold leftovers. All the workers and even the foreman, drowsy and lulled by the enormous clock grinding away the seconds above the door. She gave him a big hug.

“I’ve been looking all over—looking for you. Your Aunt Quintila told me where I’d find you.”

The last afternoon light was dissolving into darkness in the house’s only room. On the kitchen table sat a lamp with Chinese characters printed on the shade. He switched it on and invited her to sit. More out of awkwardness than politeness he turned on the TV. The voices and sounds transmitted from one side of the world to the other seemed to restore some kind of calm in him. He was afraid to hear himself talk, and he was afraid to hear her talk. He was especially afraid of never hearing anything ever again besides her voice and was afraid of losing himself once again in that voice.

He offered her a cushion for her chair, and then they said nothing, only stealing glances at one another as he poured a cup of coffee for her. He lifted the cloth on the breadbasket, pushed a plastic napkin holder within her reach—clearly a party favor from some long-ago wedding—and edged the butter dish closer.

“You still like butter on your bread?” he smiled.

After the first sip and with a hunk of bread between her fingers, she finally spoke.

“Fulgencio Jr. died. I just came from the cemetery.”

Aristeo looked at her, not angrily, but with a feeling of deep rage for having seen this woman go through so much. As if it wasn’t enough, the death of Ful-Gensio Senior, as he always called him, accentuating the syllables. Now this. They were tragedies made even meaner because of their impossibility for revenge. He began to stand.

“No…” She said, extending an open palm towards him, “don’t hug me.”

There was a knock at the door. A young woman with greying hair and a nervous tic of a laugh stuck her head in, bursting through the symbolic door. Instead of walking she sort of skipped, and in three little hops was inside. It was as if some unseen spring-mechanism wouldn’t let her walk normally or discreetly if she’d wanted to and instead made her skip before every step. Just as mechanically, she suddenly stopped, much to their relief. If she’d taken one more step, just one more little hop, she would’ve run straight into the wall.

Atolito, corn drink for the pancito, Atolito. Hot and fresh, atolito. For the little old man…today we got chocolatey champurrado, Don Aris,” she said, fixating her big bug eyes on Aristeo’s visitor, not breaking her gaze for even a second.

“No thanks, not today.”

He rose to make sure the woman was gone as fast as she’d come in and then locked the door behind her.

They took a moment to adjust after the awkward interruption, but then she found her words again. “I’m fine, I just felt like I had to tell you, that I was the one who had to tell you, you wouldn’t have believed it otherwise. Last time he was in Mexico he asked about you, you know. He said to me, You should look him up, let him know. Let him know what? I asked. I told him you’d become a journalist.”

“I sell newspapers. It’s not the same thing.”

“Well he says to me, Tell him dad died, and of course that made him crack up laughing, so he can put it in the paper: Extra Extra! Read all about it, Fulgencio Sr., dead! We’ve got the photo! Read for yourselves, his lovely widow, single again after all these years…”

“No, I don’t do any shouting like that…I don’t know what to say. That was his dad after all. I don’t know why he’d think it was a laughing matter.”

“He was young when his dad died, he barely knew him. And he used to hit him, not hard, just some spanking, but that’s all he remembers. His aunts would tease him and say that he wasn’t his real dad, that he was…you remember? They called him the little bastard boy and he’d get so mad. And bastard Aunt Saula really was a bastard you know, she was born after grandpa died. Too bad Grandpa’s spirit never stopped by on the Candlemas—I don’t know why, but Junior always confused Day of the Dead on November 2nd with the Candlemas on February 2nd. Anyway, toward the end just about everything cracked him up. When he went north he’d write me and his letters would say, How’s the old lady doing? Here’s a little something so you’ll quit working so hard. He’d been a cop for a long time up there, remember? When he’d come down to visit I’d say, Let me see you in uniform, but he’d just laugh. He’d say, I’m a Mexican down here, old lady, I’m only a cop up there, on the other side. He always said I should go with him, What are you still doing here? You’re just making yourself miserable, you don’t even want to go out dancing like you used to, come on, let’s go out for cake and coffee, and he’d drive me in his car because he had his car here, remember? I said Why don’t you get married? Must be a lot of pretty little gringas up there, after all, you’re a gringo now, got to be at least one that thinks you’re alright, then you can bring her down here and I’ll braid her hair just like she were my own daughter, and when you want to come back you can bring her along and I’ll spoil her rotten, except, oh that’s right, you don’t want me in your house! because he’d already told me he wanted to buy his own house. I said to him, you’re getting old, junior, and I’m not getting any younger, don’t you want to give me grandkids? He’d joke back, Yeah, and what about you? Yeah, everyone knows I’m old, so what? You should find somebody, ya old lady. Don’t you want someone that’ll take you out for cake? And he’d bring up that time he wanted cake and was throwing a tantrum and calling out for his dad who’d just died, papa cake papa cake papa cake! and his aunts said, Shut that kid up, give him a spanking or something. His dad always took him to the café on the main drag, so I picked him up and went out with him in my arms, but the café had closed down, so I started wandering. I came across a big house where they were throwing a party, this huge party. The street was blocked off with cars, those extra-long Dodges we always said looked like boats, large as barges, the same kind Fulgencio Sr. had, and the people all started staring at me and then I realized I was crying too, but I couldn’t feel it, I just stood there holding Junior. No more crying, I whispered to him, Papa’s not here anymore but we’re going to find you some cake, and there was this woman, What’s wrong? What’s the matter, why’s the boy crying, and you too? and he says to her, papa, cake! Ah, the little guy wants some cake. Come on in, we have cake. So, they sit us down and give Fulgencio Jr. a piece, I mean, the biggest piece of cake you’ve ever seen. There there honey, don’t cry, tell your momma she should quit crying too. You remember?”

The wind began to howl, sweeping in all the sounds from the street. Mothers calling to their children, the shrill steam-whistle of the yam seller’s cart, car horns, laughing teenagers, shouting, and then the yowling wind itself. It swayed the sun-bleached screens in the windows without dislodging any of the dead flies stuck there. It was as if the flies stuck in the pale screen had sucked up all the color from the outside world, all the green, the blue.

“No, I don’t remember. We haven’t seen each other in a long time, remember?”

“So, all that became sort of a joke. I told Fulgencio Jr. no way in hell, I’m not going to look him up, he should look me up! So why didn’t you ever look me up?”

“What’d you want me to do? Invite you both to dinner?”

“All three of us, sure, why not? Fulgencio Sr. always knew we were friends. He’d tease me, saying, when I die, you’re going to run off and become an Aristocrat. Are you happy, Aristos?”

“I don’t know…you ever watch the soaps? Here, why don’t you come sit over here. The plastic chair is more comfortable. Pull it over, don’t worry if it scuffs the floor, I didn’t get a chance to sweep anyway.”

As night fell the sounds outside changed: sirens, drunken arguing, shattering glass, and wailing children.

“Here, I have some lady’s slippers, if you want to wear them. I don’t know why I bought them, on sale, I guess. No, they don’t belong to anybody. Course I slept with a few women, what’d you expect? But not here. I never asked them their names and, well, they’d never tell me anyway. There you go on laughing. I’m not going to promise you nothing. You want a pillow? Sorry they’re not washed. Here, have some newspapers to put your feet up, they’re clean. Hey, you’re still wearing the anklet, is that the same one? Yeah, I remember, from Taxco. I brought it back from Taxco for you. No, I wouldn’t dare touch you. No, never. Want some socks? It’s cold enough, huh? You comfortable? Yeah, it’s not so bad here. It is pretty late. I didn’t mean it like that, but I mean, if no one’s waiting up for you. No, I’ll sleep here in the chair. There’s a big stick over there if I come too close. No, if you get too close I’m not going to beat you with it, well, maybe just a little…I’m not laughing. I’m not hungry, but if you are. Sure, there’s no oven, but the hot plate works fine. There’s a pharmacy, they sell everything, food, drinks, sure, everything. Meat? Yeah, they even sell meat. You don’t want to eat meat? You’re the one who started laughing this time. No need for you to come along, better you wait here, it’s cold out there. No, no ghosts here, not like in your house. Just you wait for the gossip. You’ll see what I mean tomorrow, you’ll leave, but I’ll still be here.”

The walls were bare except for a large poster for an old Mexican movie. A woman wearing an anklet was sprawled out on a bed and a man wearing an expensive-looking suit smoked a cigarette. They looked happy, like they’d just been together or maybe it was moments before they were about to. There was a cassette player on Aristos’ table. She stood up in her bare feet, plugged it in, and pressed play. It started skipping, so she changed out the tape for a clear one with no label. The songs were from her generation, back when she and Aristos used to go dancing. He never came up to the house, but always waited on the corner instead—that was, until Fulgencio showed up, who’d eventually become the father of her son. She liked him from the very beginning, Look, Aristos, if one day he doesn’t want me anymore, then I’ll go out with you again. It’s just…he’s so handsome, and you should see the way he dances. It’s not because he has a car, you know that, right? I’m only going to go out with him for a while, okay? Then you’ll ask me to be your girlfriend again and we’ll get married, so don’t be mad. But Fulgencio wasn’t fooling around; he went straight to her parents as soon as he finished college. The three of them ended up spending time together, even though she doesn’t remember. One day they all ate lunch in the cafeteria together. She told Fulgencio that Aristos was a childhood friend, mentioning that she’d never had a friend quite like him, and it became apparent to Fulgencio that it was no coincidence Aristos was always hanging around. He’d seen him a few times at parties and back then, there weren’t so many dances, not like now. In those days, nice young ladies didn’t go to orchestra dances, but it was fine to go out if a girlfriend had a birthday or got married or invited you to some other celebration. Only then would parents let their daughters out of the house. No, it wasn’t the first time he’d seen Aristeo around. He found him endearing in a way. They invited Aristos to a party that night. He said, You should come along, Aristeo, because he never called him Aristos, but respectfully, Aristeo. As time went on, the two of them stopped running into him and all that remained was a single joke between themselves, especially whenever she got on his nerves about certain things, like the cold, which she always whined about, or the rain, which made her sick. Fulgencio would say to her, You always were such an Aristocrat…

“Took you long enough, I was starting to get cold. The wind here’s terrible, it’s howling.”

She went up to him and stood there looking at him, searching for that place where she knew he’d buried all the memories of those afternoons when school let out and he’d be waiting for her on the sidewalk with his bike. They’d soar over the streets, most of them still unpaved dirt roads at that time, and only when she thought she’d found that place, when she began to feel safe the way she had back then, sitting behind him on the seat while he stood pedaling, her arms wrapped around his waist, back when she believed they could’ve circled the whole world together on that bike, did she begin to speak.

“They said Fulgencio Jr. was in front but his partner went down first. Then they shot him too. Only thing he managed to say was that he wanted to be buried in Mexico. They didn’t bother taking him to the hospital. They kept calling me but couldn’t get a hold of me until they contacted some relatives we have up there who passed my address along. I don’t know how long they kept him for, but all I got were his ashes in an urn, and that’s what we buried, Aristos, just ashes. They showed up and gave them to me along with his badge and papers. Only one spoke Spanish, he had the face of a Mexican and said they were going to do the honor guard and all that, but I didn’t want them to, Aristos, what for? So, I signed some papers and they left.”

It wasn’t long after his death that she’d remembered the umbilical cord. She kept it in a little box her father gave her along with everything else from her wedding: the bouquet, the lasso, the gold coins, all of it.

“There was this little worm in there, Aristos. A little worm like this, tiny, whiter than white, crazy. I untied the silk ribbon where I kept Fulgencio Jrs.’ umbilical cord and there it was. It began to squirm like I’d woken it up, and it had little eyes like this, teeny, black. Hidden right there between the folds of dry flesh, or, I don’t know if it’s flesh, but between the folds of whatever it is. It was like it had a soul. So, there I was, taking care of it, and it kept rolling over and over. Then it crawled up my finger, but it felt so cold, I knew I had to warm it up. It had this way of dragging itself along, kind of slithering, and something about it made me feel so…alive. How do you think it’s possible it lived in there for more than thirty years? How long do little worms live, Aristos? Are you awake?  Don’t fall asleep! I know it’s not him, but, it’s part of him, isn’t it? It was like he’d been born again, reborn in that little worm, right? I didn’t want to just toss it in his urn. I have it here. Don’t be scared, I told it, Fulgencio Jr. isn’t here anymore, but you’re the flesh of his flesh, blood of his blood, and you won’t die because I’m here to take care of you. That’s what I told it. I’ll put you out here in the sunshine, so you can see how good life is, so you can feel the light and sun and sky, so you can feel the warm morning breeze. I’m going to take care of you. I have it here. I’m going to have a locket made so I can always carry it with me. Want to see? It’s dead, but still bright white. See its little eyes? Right there. That’s why I came Aristos, I wanted to show you since you couldn’t be the father of my son. I thought you might want to see how this little worm was born from his umbilical cord, flesh of my flesh. Hold out your hand, there, that’s it, hold it. It’s like it’s alive, right? I mean, it was born from living flesh. Then all the sudden it started to get a little paler. It was dying on me, and I couldn’t bring it back to life. I set it out in the sun. Live, live! I told it, but no. It was gone, and it kept getting stiffer and stiffer, with its dull little eyes that don’t shine anymore. So I put it back in Fulgencio’s umbilical cord. I’ll keep you here, I told it, So you won’t be lonely.”

They were eating breakfast the next morning when the atole lady came back. This time Aristeo bought two atoles and four tamales, two salsa two sweet. The atole lady asked;

“You have a visitor, Don Aris?”

 “No,” he replied, “this is my wife.”

“I’m going to do his novena, Aristos. I’m going to put his umbilical cord and his little worm up there on his altar along with his picture. He brought me a photo once with him in his uniform and all his medals. I’m going to put it on his altar and if you want, I’ll leave one here with you too, if that’s alright.

On the third day, she left Aristeo Magro’s house and went home to prepare her son’s novena.

translator’s note:

I’m thrilled to present to you, for the first time in English, the work of contemporary Mexican author, Noé Blancas-Blancas. This story comes from Blancas-Blancas’ collection, A La Sombra Del Sombrero (Conaculta/Praxis/Gobierno del Estado de Guerrero, 2015). In this story, an unnamed woman goes in search of a long-lost high school sweetheart shortly after her adult son is killed on duty as a police officer in the United States. What is most mesmerizing about this short work is Blancas-Blancas’ ability to quickly create trenchant portrayals of regular people and the monument-sized longing they drag behind them. “Preparation for a Novena” invites the reader to consider the dark edges of regret and what happens when our most intense desires bump against the periphery of our grief. The work of this author is tinged with the threat of disaster; the one-sided dialogue throughout is a howl into the void. I hope it sticks with you the way it stuck with me.

Allana C. Noyes is a literary translator from Reno, Nevada. She holds an MFA from the University of Iowa and in 2015 was granted a Fulbright to Mexico. In 2018, she was awarded the World Literature Today Translation Prize in Poetry, and in 2020, was selected for the emerging translator fellowship at the Banff Centre Residency program. Her translations have appeared in World Literature Today, Asymptote, Lunch Ticket, Mexico City Lit, Exchanges, and are forthcoming in Literal Magazine, The Los Angeles Review, InTranslation/BrooklynRail, and the Catapult/Soft Skull anthology of short horror fiction, Tiny Nightmares

Noé Blancas-Blancas is an author from the state of Guerrero, Mexico. He is a professor at the UPAEP University in Puebla, Mexico, and has received several awards for his writing, including the Cuca Massieu award, the José Agustín prize for short stories, and the María Luisa Ocampo award for short stories. He was also a recipient of a FOECA grant in 2006 (State funding for arts and culture.) He is the author of two books of short stories and one book of poetry. His work has never before been translated into English. Photo courtesy of Espantajo Films.




Yi Feng translates Shuguang Zhang

Three Poems

Beautiful New World

We kept questioning and peeing
towards Duchamp’s urinal. Mutt brand. But now it is out of production for long.
Had a pleasant breakfast. Rice porridge, corn and cabbage (non-GMO).
Watch the headline news. Big Benz in the Forbidden City. Democratic Party
officially launched impeachment against Trump. It has always been smoggy for more than twenty days.
The sky is gray, as if you were in an old photograph of the Republic of China.
Or peep here from the coming years.
Fall in love with the huge cube of dreams. It’s like a memorial day.
A room or a uterus. In it our desires are growing gaily.
Wishes are packaged, tied with a bow tie, and mimic the good weather.
The card says: Love, your neighbors, if he (she) is of the same sex.
We wear shorts of CK brand and drink Evian mineral water.
We have famous cars and luxurious mansions of tens of millions of yuans.
Although they are a little expensive, we are willing to pay.
We have to pay for the right future. Correct future rather than just future.
We are not living in the Middle Ages. We are just alive.
But this is not the point. Carefully stare at our goals.
It was carefully designed and made. Just like Duchamp’s urinal.
He renamed it “Fountain”, but it was actually very cheap.

Outside the window, heavy snow is falling.
It seemed that the anger and the depression of the whole winter were suddenly spit out.
The light becomes loaded. I’m watching through the window. Listen to Du Pré ’s
Sonata in G minor by Edmund Rubbra, works No. 60.
My heart trembles on the strings. Maybe I should say something
but there is nothing to say. The dead are dead, and they
were allowed to remain silent forever. There is no need to wear a mask in heaven, and
of course
there are no viruses or lies. Living people hiding at home
continue to fear or continue to be shameless. Bats take off in the dark
with a message of death. At the moment there is only music, soothing my sorrow.
There are also poems, recording this moment of pain.
But I will still look out of the window. Snow. Snow. Snow.
A heavy snow covered the world, like death.

This is not a poem

This is the wall. This is a button on the wall. This is a beetle.
This is a cigarette butt. This is a stone. This is a button.
This is cinder on the wall. This is night. The detritus of the night.
This is a button. This is a button on the wall. This is a nail.
Or traces left by nails. This is a stain. This is a virus.
This is the shadow of the lungs. This is time. This is the end of time.
This is a beetle. This is the evidence left by a smashed-dead beetle.
This is death. This is a cigarette butt. This is a button on the wall.
This is sand. A grain of sand or a universe.
This is a virus. This is the shadow left by the virus in the lungs.
This is a beetle. Here is the evidence left after the beetle was smashed to death.
This is night. This is daytime. This is their residue.
This is a stone. This is cinder. This is the carbon core after cinder is burned.
This is a shadow. This is confusion. This is a rag. This is a nail.
This is a nail nailed into the wall. This is a hole left
after a nail is pulled out. This is an ink dot. This is confusion. This is thinking.
This is the excrement of thinking. This is memory. This is the sorrow of memory.
This is grief. This is despair. This is death. This is
the signature of death. This is sand. This is a desert.
This is an earthly world. This is a covenant. This is a button on the wall.
This is the mother’s tears and the baby’s crying. This is a cigarette butt.
This is the glove dropped by death. This is a cookie.
This is a toy. This is a start button. This is a lie.
This is acne and freckles. This is a letter.
This is an engine. A car. A manned spacecraft.
This is a black hole. This is the time to stop. This is a question. This is a miracle.
This is a virus. Conspiracy of virus and lung. This is a wall.
This is a button on the wall. This is a poem. This is not a poem.

A Movie: A Quiet Place

Wear a mask in spring. N95. It imprisons us.
Death. Cold ban. I am a walking virus.
To be exact, a time bomb that ticks constantly and can be detonated at any time.
The soul is withering day by day, like a vase of flowers.
It longs to jump out of its flesh and embraces the scenery outside the window.
But the landscape is a bird, locked in a corroded cage.
In the afternoon, sunlight penetrates into the window like snow, cutting the room into two equal parts.
I curl up on the floor, watching a horror movie.
Monster is killing humans, but humans cannot see it.
It finds us through the air. We dare not make a sound.
We study hard how to keep silent and cover our children’s mouth in due time.
Feel fortunate to be still alive in corpse-like silence.

translator’s note:

Shuguang Zhang is one of the most influential poets active in contemporary Chinese poetry. With their uniqueness and experimental writing styles and the juxtaposition of modern and ancient cultural elements, Shuguang Zhang’s poems reflect both the characteristics of traditional Chinese poetics and aesthetics as well as the influence from Western poetics.

He began to write poetry when he was in college, pursuing a solid and tough poetic style in the past. Tao Yuanming (352/365AD–427AD), a famous recluse poet who is founding father for Chinese pastoral poetry is said to be Shuguang Zhang’s favorite Chinese poet, and he is also influenced by some Western poets such as New York school poets and language poets. Zhang has noted that Chinese Zen-Taoism thinking also serves as a fundamental basis of his poetics.

His poetry covers a wide range of topics, ranging from modern Chinese life and the relationship between nature and humans to profound philosophical inquiry and popular cultures in China and West. His writing styles are various and diverse, and include the brilliant and skillful use of everyday dialogue, narratives, collage, juxtaposition and repetition. Over the past couple of years, Zhang’s poetic style has changed. Whereas narrative style dominated his work, it has more recently been replaced by collage, juxtaposition of fragments and repetitions, in which the poet shows his constant endeavors to modernize Chinese poetry by seeking for a new voice with experimental techniques.

The three poems presented here are new, written during the Covid-19 pandemic, and diverge from his past poetic style. In these poems, Zhang bravely talks about the changes brought by the pandemics, the relationship between nature and humans, and the sorrow caused by human misconduct. Reading these poems, readers can see Zhang’s profound thinking on death, grief, and salvation, and what poetry can do in the post-pandemic era.

Yi Feng is a scholar, translator, poet, and associate professor at Northeastern University, China. Her English poems have been published in The Penn Review, Model Minority, and Voice & Verse Poetry Magazine, etc.. Her Chinese poems have been published in Lotus (芙蓉) and Chinese Poetry Website. She has translated Chinese poets and American poets, including Shuguang Zhang, Susan Howe, Rae Armantrout and Charles Bernstein, among other poets. Her translation of poems appeared in journals in China and the US, such as Poetry Monthly (诗歌月刊) in 2019 , and DoubleSpeak in 2020. She was awarded the Hunt Scholarship in 2016. She has won the Bronze Prize in an International Chinese Poetry Competition in 2017. She lives in Shenyang, China.

Shuguang Zhang was born in 1956 in Wangkui County, Heilongjiang Province, China. He is a poet, translator, and a retired professor of Chinese at the School of Literature, Heilongjiang University. Zhang’s poetry collections include The Clown’s Gown, The Snowfall in the Afternoon, Zhang Shuguang’s Poetry, and Haunted House, among others. His more notable collections of translated poetry are Divine Comedy and Czesław Miłosz’s Poetry. Zhang was awarded the first Liu Li’an Poetry Award, the Poetry and People Poetry Award, the “Poetry Construction” Master Award, and in 2019, the Su Shi Poetry Award. His works have been translated into English, Spanish, German, Japanese, Dutch, and other languages.




Cynthia Steele translates Jaime Huenún Villa

From Kawiñtun üyelüwün mew / Ceremonia de los nombres / Ceremony of the Names


We haven’t forgotten you, Huichapán,
sad wandering puma,
we haven’t forgotten you.
Do you still carry 
jerkey and island water
in your flour sack
season after season?
And visions of mushrooms in your eyes
fatally wounded by the distance?
Puma warrior, do you still sing
your mother’s earthly songs
when you dream, drunk and alone,
before the river of dawn?
The wind is the traveler’s 
only homeland, Huichapán,
and the night is the country
of the orphaned child
fragrant of the sea
under the dark waves of trees.
Inché kuñifal meu,
kiñe rümei nga ñi dungun,
küme  huentru ngefuli
epu rumeafui nga ñi dungu.
I wander dejected over your lands, little sister,
I wander dejected.
But I have my word,
but I have my word,
the vagabond riches
I offer your heart.


From Alto Huilío
passing through Freire,
came Margarita
the infidel warria.
Oh, body of oak,
Ancacoy of the forests,
house of the thrush,
nest of the light.
Will you now sweep
the countryside’s leaves,
the mud, the rain,
the dust of the south?
Will you cut firewood,
will you drink mate,
will you make fry bread
for the new sun?
Sad Margarita,
your mother sings to you,
your son dreams about you,
the laurel calls your name.
Sad Margarita,
Ancacoy of the meadow,
raulí tree turned green,
hidden flower.


What will these lands say about me
now that I’m returning
with my face distorted
by the salty pampa winds?
Will you even remember my name,
sorcer’s stones of the hills,
when I pass before you
to plead for my fate?
Are the enemies of travelers aware
I carry potent talismans
under a gray makuñ tehuelche
unraveled by the snow?
As a young man I set out 
for the eastern passes
carefree as the thrushes’ song
illuminated by dawn.
¡Kintupurrai inche pingey!
–I shouted to the heavens—
¡Kintupurrai inche pingey!
Seeker of flowers and waters,
a merchant and a pilgrim,
I got lost with my pouches of liquor
in the immense Land of Apples.
Through fields carpeted with Coirons
where my caciques reign
over sands and lakes,
alone I rode.
Paillacán, Foyel, Sayhueque,
Tereupán, Antuleguén
sat singing before the fire
to drink from my liquor.
Po alué, efkütuaimün, po alué.
Kümelkaimün pu fochüm, kümelkaimün.
Nekelepe kewan,
kuchiyu ñielafimün.
Dead souls, 
join me in a toast.
Dead souls,
Let no brothers quarrel,
we beg you,
Let no knives gleam
in the fickle cup
of night.


We reached the edge of a river,
hot shade of Andean cacti.
The hills were sleeping like condors
beneath the sun’s fierce areolae
stricken with altitude sickness.
In the bread we carried our rituals
along with incessant whispering
of defunct tongues.
Hummingbirds bled in the air
sipping in circling flights
from sudden mountain blossoms.
In the light, stones were rolling
toward the Father of Waters.
They asked, Who is your grandfather? 
Where is your chachay’s horse   
in the dense afternoon fog?
Wallün feytüfa mongen zungu,
wallün feytüfa lan zungun 
– wiñolzunguyiñ.
The word of life is circular,
the word of death is circular
–we responded–,
assembled like burnt birds
in the tallest, leafiest crown
of pain.


No te hemos olvidado, Huichapán,
andariego puma triste,
no te hemos olvidado.
¿Llevas todavía en tu saco harinero
charqui y lluvia isleña
de estación en estación?
¿Y visiones de dihueñes en tus ojos
malheridos por la lejanía?
¿Cantas aún, puma guerrero,
las canciones terrenales de tu madre
cuando sueñas ebrio y solo
frente al río del amanecer?
Sólo el viento es la patria del viajero, Huichapán,
y la noche
el país del hijo huérfano
que huele a mar
bajo el oleaje oscuro de los árboles.
Inché kuñifal meu,
kiñe rümei nga ñi dungun,
küme  huentru ngefuli
epu rumeafui nga ñi dungu.
Pobre ando por tus tierras, hermanita,
pobre ando.
Pero tengo mi palabra,
pero tengo mi palabra,
la riqueza vagabunda
que le ofrezco a tu corazón.


Desde Alto Huilío
pasando por Freire,
vino Margarita
a la warria infiel.
Oh, Cuerpo de roble,
Ancacoy del bosque,
casa de zorzales,
nido de la luz.
¿Barrerás ahora
las hojas del campo,
el barro, la lluvia,
el polvo del sur?
¿Cortarás la leña,
tomarás el mate,
harás sopaipillas
para el nuevo sol?
Triste, Margarita,
te canta tu madre,
te sueña tu hijo,
te llama el laurel.
Triste Margarita,
Ancacoy del prado,
pellín verdecido,
escondida flor.


¿Qué dirán estas tierras sobre mí
ahora que regreso
con el rostro trastornado
por los vientos salinos de la pampa?
¿Recordarán mi nombre acaso,
piedras brujas de los cerros,
cuando pase frente a ustedes
a pedir por mi destino?
¿Sabrán los enemigos del viajero
que llevo poderosos talismanes
bajo un gris makuñ tehuelche
destejido por la nieve?
Joven fui hacia los pasos del oriente,
alegre como canto de wilquiles
iluminados por el amanecer.
¡Kintupurrai inche pingey!
-grité a los cielos-
¡Kintupurrai inche pingey!
Yo, buscador de flores y agua,
comerciante y peregrino,
me perdí con mis garrafas de aguardiente
en el inmenso País de las Manzanas.
Por los campos alfombrados de coirones
donde reinan mis caciques
sobre arenas y lagunas,
solitario cabalgué.
Paillacán, Foyel, Sayhueque,
Tereupán, Antuleguén
se sentaron cantando frente al fuego
a beber de mi licor.
Po alué, efkütuaimün, po alué.
Kümelkaimün pu fochüm, kümelkaimün.
Nekelepe kewan,
kuchiyu ñielafimün.
Almas muertas,
ayúdenme a brindar.
Almas muertas,
haced bien a los hijos.
Que no haya pelea entre hermanos,
les pedimos.
Que no brillen los cuchillos
en la copa veleidosa
de la noche.


Llegamos al borde de un río,
a la sombra caliente
de los cactus andinos.
Los cerros dormían como cóndores
bajo las apunadas y violentas
areolas del sol.
Trajimos nuestros ritos en el pan
y el susurro incesante
de las lenguas occisas.
Pu pinza müpüyngün traf kürüfmew
iyefingün ta ñi wallünmew
ta chi tripachi rayen mawiza mew.
Colibríes sangraban contra el aire
comiéndose en sus giros
las abruptas flores de montaña.
Piedras hubo que rodaron en la luz,
sigilosas hacia el Padre de las Aguas.
¿Quién es tu abuela?- preguntaron-.
¿Dónde va el caballo que monta tu chachay
en plena y densa niebla vespertina?
Wallün feytüfa mongen zungu,
wallün feytüfa lan zungun 
– wiñolzunguyiñ.
Circular es la palabra de la vida,
circular es la palabra de la muerte
reunidos como pájaros quemados
en la copa más alta y más frondosa
del dolor.

Translator’s Note:

These poems are drawn from the book Kawiñtun üyelüwün mew / Ceremonia de los nombres / Ceremony of the Names, which forms part of Jaime Huenún Villa’s project to orchestrate a chorus of popular voices derived from anonymous people within the Huilliche-Mapuche communities of southern Chile and of urban migrant neighborhoods in Santiago and other cities. In his earlier prize-winning book Reducciones (2013), Huenún interrogated the cycles of conquest and colonization that have laid siege to Mapuche lands and culture, whether in the form of military or religious campaigns, first by Spaniards, then by Chileans, or of economic servitude and social marginalization. Even as the Mapuches have been relegated first to “reductions” (similar to U.S. reservations), and then to the poorest shantytowns of Chile’s cities, they have struggled to maintain a sense of their genealogical and cultural integrity, including command of their native language, Mapudungun. While Huenún writes primarily in Spanish, he also interweaves verses in Mapudungun into his poems, in such a way that they are comprehensible to speakers of either language (and now, with these translations, to speakers of English). The unsung heroes of the poems in Kawiñtun üyelüwün mew / Ceremonia de los nombres / Ceremony of the Names tell us the stories of their families, their work history, their travels, their religious experiences and revelations, their loves and conflicts, even of their deaths. Above all these are stories of resilience and celebration, incorporating the musicality and rhythms of popular song. 

Cynthia Steele is Professor Emerita of Comparative Literature at the University of Washington, Seattle. Her translations include Inés Arredondo, Underground Rivers (Nebraska, 1996), José Emilio Pacheco, City of Memory (City Lights, 2001, with David Lauer), and María Gudín, Open Sea (Amazon Crossings, 2018). They have also appeared in The Chicago Review, TriQuarterly, The Seattle Review, Gulf Coast, Lunch Ticket, Trinity Journal of Literary Translation, Southern Review, Exchanges,  Latin American Literary Review, and other journals. Photo by Carolyn Cullen.

Jaime Luis Huenún is a Chilean Mapuche-Huilliche poet, born in 1967, who has received numerous awards, including the Pablo Neruda Prize (2003), a Guggenheim Fellowship (2005), and the Chilean National Council on Arts and Culture’s Literature Award in 2013. Two of his books are available in English: Port Trakl (Diálogos, 2008) and Fanon City Meu (Action Books, 2018). Translations of his poems have also appeared in Michigan Quarterly Review, Washington Square Review, and other journals. Huenún lives in Santiago, where he works for the Chilean Ministry of Culture. Photo by Alvaro de la Fuente Farré.