Katie Rhiannon Jones translates Emmy Hennings

Wor(l)ds in Flight: Three Poems


We lie in a sea-deep lake
Knowing nothing of sorrow and heartache
We embrace and encase ourselves 
And waterlilies circle us and draw
Rings – We strive and wish and want no more
We have no cravings.
Love, something’s missing still,
A wish that’s unfulfilled:
The desire for desire…  


Ein Traum

Wir liegen in einem tiefem See
Und wissen nichts von Leid und Weh.
Wir halten uns umfangen
Und Wasserrosen rings um uns her.
Wir streben und wünschen und wollen nichts mehr.
Wir haben kein Verlangen.
Geliebter, etwas fehlt mir doch,
Einen Wunsch, den hab ich noch:
Die Sehnsucht nach der Sehnsucht.



My flesh aches somewhere in a strange 
I no longer feel my body
Feet like lead—so heavy,
Breast hollow, burned-out and branded
I don’t hurt, and yet I’m full of pain.
I look into your eyes spellbound.
I fall into a sleep, candles flicker and flame,
They light my way into the unknown land.



Mein Leib schmerzt, irgendwo in einem fremden 
Ich fühle meinen Körper längst nicht mehr,
Die Füße sind wie Blei so schwer,
Die Brust ist hohl und ausgebrannt,
Mir tut nichts weh und bin doch voller Schmerzen,
Ich seh in deine Augen wie gebannt.
Ich fall in Schlaf, es flammen Kerzen
Sie leuchten mir ins unbekannte Land.


In hospital

All autumns pass over me. 
Lying ill in a white room,
Wishing dearly to be dancing. 
Always thinking of violin tunes
And a thousand flickering lights.
O, how pretty I am today!
Faces painted so brightly
Dancing past me so fast.
O, so many wilted roses,
carried home each night
crushed by caresses 
tenderly arranged in the morning.
And I remember the girls,
Vagabonds like me—love makers,
Singing of some mythic homeland
Through tears of laughter and heartbreak.
Yet now I lie abandoned—stranded
In a white room—a blank screen.
O, my sisters of the streets,
Come to me tonight in a dream!


Im Krankenhause

Alle Herbste gehn an mir vorüber.
Krank lieg ich im weißen Zimmer,
Tanzen möchte ich wohl lieber.
An die Geigen denk ich immer.
Und es flimmern tausend Lichter.
O, wie bin ich heute schön!
Bunt geschminkte Angesichter
Schnell im Tanz vorüberwehn.
O, die vielen welken Rosen,
Die ich nachts nach Haus getragen,
Die zerdrückt vom vielen Kosen
Morgens auf dem Tische lagen.
An die Mädchen denk ich wieder,
Die wie ich die Liebe machen.
Wenn wir sangen Heimatlieder,
Unter Weinen, unter Lachen,
Und jetzt lieg ich ganz verlassen
In dem stillen weißen Raum.
O, ihr Schwestern von den Gassen,
Kommt zu mir des Nachts im Traum!


Translator’s Note:

These poems are from Emmy Hennings’s first collection, Die letzte Freude / The last Joy (1913), a title that conjures a host of compelling allusions: the reference to last joy might evoke eschatological associations, implying the author’s interest in religion and renewal, as well as her historical context at the eve of the First World War.  However, these words—letzte Freude—might equally connote an orgasmic petite mort, and are highly suggestive of one of the collection’s leitmotifs—sex work and the life of Freudenmädchen, slang for women and girls who perform sex work. Hennings occasionally relied on sex work for money, and so it might be tempting to read these references autobiographically. Yet Hennings’s intervention in the (usually male-authored) “prostitute narrative” also gestures towards a critique of the economic and gendered mechanisms of exploitation, a theme throughout her oeuvre. Imagery relating to exploitation can be noticed in “Im Krankenhause,” in which the speaker remembers aspects of her life while convalescing from an illness implicitly related to sex work. While the blankness of the poem’s white room contrasts with the speaker’s colourful memories, the remembered scenes are also anti-romantic and inflected with imagery of (mis)use—the crushed roses, for instance. In Hennings’s German, she uses rhyme to pair streets (Gassen) with abandoned (verlassen). In an attempt to maintain these associations, I’ve inserted the word ‘stranded’ to echo abandoned and bring the relationship between topography and abandonment into sharper relief. 

The poetic I’s memories of singing Heimatlieder with her comrades ironically connects the figure of the sex worker with a nationalist myth of Germany. Through the subversive image of the so-called “fallen” women singing Heimatlieder, Hennings seems to critique the provincialized innocence suggested by the term Heimat/ homeland, instead associating Germany with the unsentimental exchange and exploitation that the sex worker figure might signify. In my translation of “Im Krankenhause,” I’ve inserted the word ‘vagabond’ to gesture towards this subversive element and toward another ‘whore and vagabond’ of German literature, Courage—the picaresque protagonist of The Life of Courage: Thief, Whore and Vagabond (1670) by Johann Grimmelshausen, part of his Simplicissimus series of books. Hennings met her future husband, Hugo Ball, at Café Simplicissimus in Munich—where she performed and discussed art and politics with many other budding (or established) avant garde artists of the early twentieth century. Together with Ball, Tristan Tzara, Sophie Taeuber-Arp and others, Hennings founded the infamous Cabaret Voltaire, which opened its doors in Zurich in 1916 with Hennings performing her poem “Gefängnis”/ Prison on the opening night. Indeed, Hennings was a full participant and instigator in the Dada movement, though she has not received as much attention as her contemporaries. Descriptions of Hennings by her fellow Dadaists are far from flattering, and Erika Biddle points out that ‘the men in her inner circle undermined Hennings’, noting the way some friends dismissed her as a drug addict, or as uncommitted to the Dada spirit (Biddle 2007: 275). A contemporary reviewer refers to her ‘hysteria’ (Siurlai qtd. in Rugh 1981: 2), and later writers interested in the movement considered her work a vehicle for understanding Ball’s art, as opposed to reading it in its own right. The performative elements of her work and interest in dolls and puppetry might reflect the gender politics within the group, despite the Dadaist (cl)aim to undo such hierarchies. While the poetry translated here predates the Cabaret Voltaire, suggesting a bold poetic voice, Hennings often recited poetry written by other members of the group, particularly Ball’s. Such details add texture to Hennings’s poem ‘”Hypnose” in which the self is hollowed out, like a puppet. The hypnotic, light and dark quality of Hennings’s poetry recalls linguistically the chiaroscuro techniques used in expressionist film, and one might put her writing into dialogue with the widespread interest in somnambulism at the fin de siècle and first decades of the twentieth century. Such imagery implies the poet’s interest in personal and mass manipulation by means other than brute force.

In these translations, I’ve aimed to tread the line between faithfulness to Hennings’s meaning as well as spirit—making small changes to preserve rhymes and rhythms where possible, and shuffling or inserting the occasional new word in the spirit of transformation and flight woven throughout Hennings’s largely ignored poetry. Feminist intervention and scholarship have sought to bring Hennings’s writing into focus—and I suspect Chris Kraus’s reference to Hennings and Ball in her autofictional hit I Love Dick (1997) brought this overlooked Dadaist to the attention of many contemporary readers. Henning’s interest in theatricality, puppets, and performance marks a desire to escape rigid boundaries of gender that speaks to us across time. Yet, while Hennings’s writing might be easy for some to dismiss as autobiographical or confessional, upon a closer reading less fettered by a hermeneutics that privileges certain topics for art, we can read Hennings’s interest in feminine roles in more expansive ways. In Die letzte Freude readers can find and be affected by Hennings’s suspicion of nationalism, her fascination with mysticism, and a nuanced and conflicted relation to the mechanisms of the sometimes brutal, sometimes sublime, economies of desire.


Biddle, Erika (2007). ‘Better a One-Legged Man Than a Woman’, in Realizing the Impossible: Art Against Authority. Josh MacPhee and Erik Reuland (eds.). Oakland & Edinburgh: AK Press, pp. 272-284.

Rugh, T. (1981). Emmy Hennings and the Emergence of Zurich Dada, in Woman’s Art Journal. 2: 1, pp. 1-6.


Emmy Hennings née Corsden (1885-1948) played a formative role in the Dada movement and was a founding member of the Cabaret Voltaire. She was a performer who published poetry and two semi-autobiographical fictions, Gefängnis / Prison (1919) and Das Brandmal / The Branding (1920), which fictionalise the life of vagabond women—both troubled and troublesome. Hennings was married twice. First, to Joseph Hennings, with whom she had a son who died in infancy, and a daughter named Annemarie. Hennings later married the Dadaist poet Hugo Ball in 1920—the same year she converted to Catholicism. After Ball’s death in 1927, she dedicated much time to the loving promotion of his work. Hennings died in Switzerland in 1948.

Katie Jones is an academic with a particular interest in women’s life writing, and is currently working on a book exploring this topic with the working title Improper Subjects. She also writes poetry, and some her poems and publications can be found online and in print. She lives and works near the sea in Swansea, Wales. Find her on Instagram and Twitter.




Alani Rosa Hicks-Bartlett translates Pablo de Rokha

from Los gemidos, “Mar” (The Groans, “Sea”)

The Girl

—Like in novels, like in melodies, or like in oleographs, you, imperial woman, you go saddening, you go saddening the marine sunsets…


Eternally you’re perched on the majestic rocks… a popular feuilleton lost in your skirts and your immense eyes, stunned, dark, in pursuit across the distances, across the most DISTANT, most DISTANT, most DISTANT distances!… 


Your name is Luisa, Inés, Julia, Maria, your name is Maria,—“like in the novels!”—and you are dressed as a bride, you are dressed as a bride, you are dressed as a bride always, always you are dressed as a bride. 


Oh! enormous female, little romantic, poetic woman, little enchanting woman, little woman: what does it matter, what does it matter that you DELIGHT IN reading Rovetta when your attitude, your attitude, your attitude alone, alone is just as definitive as the WORLD?.. !..


La niña

—Como en las novelas, como en las tonadas, o como en las oleografías, tú, mujer imperial, vas entristeciendo, vas entristeciendo los atardeceres marinos. . .  


Eternamente estás sobre las augustas rocas. . .  el folletín vulgar caído en las faldas y los ojos inmensos, alucinados, oscuros, persiguiéndose en las distancias, en las distancias más DISTANTES, más DISTANTES, más DISTANTES! .  . . .


Te llamas Luisa, Inés, Julia, Maria, te llamas Maria,— «como en las novelas! » —, y estás de novia, estás de novia, estás de novia siempre, siempre estás de novia. 


Oh! hembra enorme, mujercita romántica, poética, mujercita encantadora, mujercita: ¡que importa, que importa que GOCES leyendo à Rovetta cuando tu actitud, tu actitud, tu actitud sola, sola es tan definitiva como el MUNDO?. .  !. . 



Over the majestic oceanic voice, the sun, the agonizing sun sings, sings, sings the ephemerality of human things and the failing light…


Already the last candles are waning, are waning in the DISTANCE… …The philosophical tune of the fisherman and the sirens of the ocean liners, the submarines, the hydroplanes, the hydroplanes migrate with the first wandering swallows towards the old eaves of melancholy… … …


The bride and groom play around with burning kisses and the withered leaves with the tombs, and the withered leaves with the tombs.


Something distant, very distant, very distant weeps with us…oh! sensation of the old lives of ours, of ours

you emerge from the sea, you emerge from the sea, you emerge from the sea, like a vague and sad memory, MUTE, from the entrails of MAN… children of the sea, children from the sea we carry all the metaphysics of the eternal waters WITH US, WITH US, WITH US!.. !.. … …


(…The tremendous cows go on bellowing, go on bellowing, with the waves… …)



Sobre la augusta voz oceánica, el sol, el sol agonizante canta, canta, canta lo pasajero de las cosas humanas y la luz desteñida. . .  


Ya las últimas velas se diluyeron, se diluyeron en la DISTANCIA. . .   . . .  La tonada filosófica del pescador y las sirenas de los transatlánticos, los submarinos, los hidroplanos, los hidroplanos emigra con las primeras golondrinas viajeras hácia los viejos aleros de la melancolía. . .  . . .  . . . 


Los novios juegan con besos ardiendo y las hojas marchitas con las tumbas, y las hojas marchitas con las tumbas. 


Algo distante, muy distante, muy distante llora con nosotros… oh! sensación de las antiguas vidas NUESTRAS, NUESTRAS, 

                             tú vienes saliendo del mar, tú vienes saliendo del mar, tú vienes saliendo del mar, como un
                             recuerdo triste y vago, MUDO, desde las entrañas del HOMBRE¡hijos del mar, hijos del mar
llevamos toda la metafísica de las aguas eternas CON NOSOTROS, CON NOSOTROS, CON NOSOTROS!..
                             !. .   . . .  . . .   


(. . . Las vacas tremendas continúan bramando, continúan bramando con las olas. . .  . . .)



You are like the sound, you are like the sound of all undone lives. . .  Your voice is pregnant with possibilities! . . !. .


Just like a lugubrious dog you go on barking, barking, barking in my heart. . .


Your attitude seems to me, sea, it seems to me and yet it isn’t at all; great quantity of waters, of waters, great quantity of waters WITHOUT SENSE, light from obscure forms!. .  ? . .  . . . 


You are CREATING YOURSELF, like this, like this, oh! wandering, macabre, macabre cradle of the earth!. .  ! ..  


Your horizontal statues, the waves, fill up the public squares, the public squares with your indefinable ways, and you fit, sea, sea, and you fit in a seashell, good friend!… 



Eres como el sonido, eres como el sonido de todas las vidas deshechas. . . Tu voz está preñada de posibilidades! . .  !. .  


Lomismo que un perro lúgubre vas ladrando, ladrando, ladrando en mi corazón. . . 


Tu actitud se me parece, mar, se me parece y NO es ninguna; ¡gran cantidad de aguas, de aguas, gran cantidad de aguas SIN SENTIDO, luz de las formas oscuras!. .  ? . .  . . .    


Estás HACIÉNDOTE, así estás, así estás, oh! cuna errante, macabra, macabra de la tierra!. .  ! . .   


Tus estatuas horizontales, las olas, llenan las plazas públicas, las plazas públicas de tus maneras indefinibles y cabes, mar, mar, y cabes en un caracol, buen amigo! . . 


Translator’s Note:

In “The Ballad of Pablo de Rokha,” the opening self-referential poem of Los Gemidos, [The Groans, 1922], Pablo de Rokha’s poetic voice emphasizes poetry’s magnetic, elemental, organic, fated pull, and describes the creative process as an involuntary, inevitable capture within its folds: “I sing, I sing without meaning to, necessarily, irremediably, fatally, at the randomness of events, like a person who eats, drinks, or walks and because certainly; I would die if I didn’t sing, I would die if I didn’t sing….”  The musicality of these sentences in the original, the destabilizing repetition, and the bright percussive mark of uncertainty—“y porque si; moriría si no cantase” [and because certainly; I would die if I didn’t sing]—repeated in the original, are among the qualities that immediately caught my attention the memorable first time I read de Rokha’s poetry some years ago. Throughout Los Gemidos, de Rokha describes poetry and the human experiences built around it as integral components of an electrifying world, a soundscape of music and words that wash over the individual as part of a consuming, transfixing, and again, electrifying process where nerves are ablaze, where synapses sing, and where linear thought (should such a thing even exist) cedes before music, bellowing animals, and crashing waves. “Walking musically,” and holding “songs that have eyes and feet, eyes and feet” in their mouths, the individuals evoked in de Rokha’s poems are portrayed encountering climactic moments in which they are swept up in a maelstrom of cosmic, Dionysian sounds that pulse, shriek, creak, and groan while alternatively animating and conquering the body. 

It is this synesthetic saturation and this tension between the body and mind, between the elements and the individual, between the natural world of lowing cows and the frenetic thrum of machines, between a prodigious, universal darkness and intrusive flashes of technology and buzzing lights that I find thrilling to read and translate. Whenever I read and translate de Rokha, I pay special attention to the acoustic atmosphere that he creates, and I strive to “hear” the resonances located in and hovering through and around each poem. Most recently, I keep returning to the juxtaposition and sonoric clash between the “groans” prioritized in the collection’s title, and the ostensibly melodious ballad evoked in the collection’s first poem, in part because it is a clash that reverberates in numerous other poems, including the “song,” “hymn,” “elegy,” “harangue,” psalm,” “ode,” and “canticle” that help constitute Los Gemidos’s sonoric landscape and its various dissonant manifestations. 

Yet it should be said that de Rokha’s poetry offers far more than anything I could succinctly express here: his rich imagery, evocative symbolism, seething conclusions, and the acuteness of his voice make every experience of reading even just one of his poems vital and constantly new. The selections from Los Gemidos’s section on the “Sea” that are included here (“La niña,” “Atardeceres,” and “Invocación”), speak to de Rokha’s expansive eye and his capacious embrace. Yet, as I have suggested above, this capaciousness is paired with an exacting temporal dimension, an awareness that the things that we love, or that we use to find our bearings will eventually fail us, or fail with us… “Atardeceres,” for example, evokes the opening “I sing, I sing” of the first poem of Los Gemidos, but this time it is the “agonizing sun,” miraculously heard over the ocean’s expansive voice that “sings, sings, sings” its melancholic awareness of the passage of time and the fugacity of human experience.


Born in Licantén in 1894, Pablo de Rokha (pseudonym, Carlos Díaz Loyola; d.1968, Santiago) is known as a towering Chilean literary figure. Although he explored various genres, de Rokha was especially prolific in poetry and essays, publishing numerous volumes of both. He published a collection of avant-garde poems, Los gemidos (The Groans) in 1922, and received numerous awards for his work, including Chile’s prestigious Premio Nacional de Literatura, which he was awarded in 1965. De Rokha was married to the poet Luisa Anabalón Sanderson (pseudonyms, Winétt de Rokha and Juana Inés de la Cruz) from 1916 until her death in 1951.

Alani Rosa Hicks-Bartlett is a writer and translator who loves the invective genre, most of all, followed by lyric and epic poetry. Especially drawn to the premodern period, she is passionate about languages and enjoys translating from Catalan, French, Italian, Latin, Spanish, Portuguese, and Yiddish. She has won awards for her creative writing, including the University of California, Berkeley’s Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Lyric Poetry Prize, Dorothy Rosenberg Memorial Prize in Lyric Poetry, and the Emily Chamberlain Cook Prize. Her recent creative work has appeared in The Stillwater Review, IthacaLit, Gathering Storm, Broad River Review, The Fourth River, and Mantis: A Journal of Poetry, Criticism, and Translation, among others.




Maurice Rodriguez translates Vito Apüshana

To Live, To Die

We grow, like trees, inside
the footprints of our ancestors.

We live, like spiders, in the web
of the maternal corner.

We always love on the banks of thirst.

We dream there, between Kashii 1 and Ka’i2,
on the land of the spirits.

We die as if we were still alive.


Crecemos, como árboles, en el interior
de la huella de nuestros antepasados.

Vivimos, como arañas, en el tejido
del rincón materno.

Amamos siempre a orillas de la sed.

Soñamos allá, entre Kashii y Ka’i (el Luna y el Sol),
en los predios de los espíritus.

Morimos como si siguiéramos vivos.

Kataa ou-outa

Mioushii wayaa ma’akaa saain wunuu, sulu’upuna
Nouchikii na wapuulerua janakanat.
Kepiashii, wayaa ma’akaa saain aleket sakaa.
Einuushii sutuma wei.

Emejirashii wayaa sotpa wuñaasü.

Chashii wayaa a’lapuujain nakaa kashii numaa ka’i
suma’inru seyu wayuu.

Outushii wayaa ma’akaa katuule wouu.

1 The moon, a higher spiritual being of masculine gender, belonging to Wayuu mythology. Their rays originate female menstruation.
2 The sun, a higher spiritual being, belonging to Wayuu mythology.


The anthropologist with corn hair
has asked me to show her
a form of pülowi3.

By internal force I took her
towards the nocturnal Palaa4.

I don’t know if she understood
that pülowi was
in our hidden fear of seeing her.

Persona no wayuu

La antropóloga, de cabellos de maíz,
me ha pedido que le muestre
una forma de pülowi.

Por fuerza interna la llevé
hacia el mar (palaa)… nocturno.

No sé si comprendió
que pülowi estaba
en nuestro oculto temor de verla.


Tü antüropooloka, makalü ju’wala maiki,
juchuntüitpa tamüin te’iyatüin jümüin
wanee jukuwa’ipa pulowui.

Jüka tale’erujutu tatchin tamaasü
wanaa jümaa palaakaa… pi’uushe’e.

Nnojolü tatüjaain aa’u jiaawatüi jaa’u
eejetüin pulowui
jünain tü matüjaajukoo aa’u momoluin waya jeema

3 An entity that represents hidden feminine power. It takes shape as a woman with great physical beauty, nocturnal habits, and devours male travelers and recluses. Pülowi sites are mysterious and forbidden places (e.g., caves, lagoons, hills, etc.).
4 The sea, Mma’s (Mother Earth) twin sister.

Old Newcomers

On the way to Palaausain, close to Porshiina,
the rabbits dance a secret dance,
with the Kasiiwano’u5
and the shepherd children cup their hands
to invent whistles: ¡waawai! ¡waawai!

and the countryside is revealed in one hundred paths:
the one of the stone and the dust,
the one of the water and the shade,
the one of the dream and the laughter,
the one of the trap and the terror,
the one of the woman and the party.

On the way to Palaausain, close to Ouutsümana6,
the Wanülüü7 drink chicha
in the abandoned ranchos…
and the silence carries the hidden dialogue of the dead.

So we see that our ancient world
is, still, a smiling apprentice of life.

We are like eternal newcomers—

Antiguos recién llegados

Por el camino a Palausain, cerca de Porshiina,
los conejos bailan una danza secreta,
con las culebras Kasiiwanou
y los niños pastores ahuecan sus manos
para inventar los silbidos…: ¡waawai! ¡waawai!

y el monte se descubre en cien senderos:

el de la piedra y el polvo
el del agua y la sombra,
el del sueño y la risa,
el de la trampa y el temor,
el de la mujer y la fiesta.

Por el camino a Palaausain, cerca de Ouutsümana,
los espantos beben chicha
en los ranchos abandonados…
y el silencio trae el diálogo oculto de los muertos.

Así vemos que nuestro antiguo mundo
es, aún, sonriente aprendiz de la vida.

—Somos como eternos recién llegados—.

Sümaiwajee. walii e’iwaa antaa

Süpünalüü Palaausain, sü’ütpünaa Porshiina,
ayonnajüshii atpana’irua wane yonna ejejeraushi sümaa
wui’irua Kasiiwano’u…
otta tepichi’irua arüleejülii anoute’etshi najapü süpüla
akumajaa tüü ewiijaakalü…: ¡waawai! ¡waawai!

otta unaapüikalü kojuyatuasü ojutalain süjejerüin:

ejeechiki ipakalü sümaa tüü kalirashikalu
ejeechiki wuinkalü sümaa ayoolojokalü
ejeechiki lapükalü sümaa tüü asirajaakalü
ejeechiki emeeyaakalü süma kamüsheekalü
ejeechiki jietkalü sümaa tüü mi’iraakalü.

Süpünalüü Palaausain, sü’ütpünaa Ouutsümana,
asaashii uujolü wanüülüi’irua eekai miichi’irua oulaushi…
otta yüütüikalü alüüjasü tüü maüjaüshikalü süyoolo
Musüjaa werüüin sükuai’tpa wamaiwa sünain ayatüin
kulematüin ekirajai’kai katouwa’ain.
Mushiijaa wayaa maaka sain sümaiwaje’walii e’iwakalü

5 Nonvenomous savannah snakes or hunting snakes appreciated for their cleaning skills.
6 Another toponym like Palausain and Porshiina, where a place is named after a topographical feature. Here, the prefix ouutsü refers to a healing, knowledgeable, and spiritual woman, better known as a shaman.
7 A representation of evil spirits belonging to Wayuu mythology known to carry diseases and other misfortunes.


We are shepherds.
We are the men who live in the world of the trails.
We, too, graze,
return to a pen… and we are suckled.
We are milk of the dream, meat of the party… blood
              of the goodbye.

Here, in our environment,
life shepherds us.


Somos pastores.
Somos los hombres que viven en el mundo de las sendas.
Nosotros, también, apacentamos,
también regresamos a un redil… y nos amamantan.
Y somos leche del sueño, carne de la fiesta… sangre
              del adios.

Aquí, en nuestro entorno,
la vida nos pastorea.


Arüleejülii waya
Waya wayuu kepiakama wopulu’uwai.
Ekajitshii wayakanaya’asa,
ale’ejüshii waya sulu’umüin wane paüya’asa… Je
            achujeennüüshii waya.
Je süchira waya tü lapükaa, süsala tü mi’irakaa… Süsha
            tü apütawaakaa.

Ya’yaa wa’ato’upünaa,
sürüleejüin waya tü kataakaa o’u.


One afternoon, I happened to see two curlews running.
They passed swiftly by my canopy, singing:

              Leu, leu leu, ma. Leu, leu leu, ma.

There was moon over the red resting of the sun…and
I saw them get lost on the road that goes to the jagüey8 of
Late at night a dream occurred within me…filled with
I was Jierü-witush, the azulejo-woman, knitting with all
               the colors of time
Jierü-wawaachi, the dove-woman, was calling her children:

                             “Bring life here!
                             “Bring life here!

Jierü-shotti, the owl-woman, was stalking from the fire
               of her eyes the desired man
Jierü-chünü’ü, the hummingbird-woman, was restoring the flowers
               of the forgotten dreams…

many birds and many women

Jierü-kaarai, the curlew-woman, over there, swollen with
              omens in every beat of her heart
Jierü-wulu’ui, the turpial-woman, was sharing the cool water
              of laughter
Jierü-iisho, the cardinal-woman, was bearing the environment
              on her ash-red wings.
When I woke up, I told my mother about the dream…and she smiled
              without looking at me:
“Ah, she is a wainpirai9!”
And since then, I have been discovering the hidden feathers
of the women who shelter us.


En una tarde ocurrió que vi correr a dos alcaravanes.
Pasaron veloces por mi enramada, cantando:

              Leu, leu leu, ma. Leu, leu leu, ma.

Había luna sobre el rojo descanso del sol… y
los vi perderse por el camino que va hacia el jagüey de
Entrada la noche sucedió un sueño en mí… lleno de
estaba Jierü-witush, la mujer-azulejo, tejiendo con todos
              los colores del tiempo;
Jierü-wawaachi, la mujer-tótola, llamaba a sus hijos:

                            “¡Traigan la vida aquí!
                            “¡Traigan la vida aquí!

Jierü-shotii, la mujer-lechuza, acechaba desde el fuego de
               sus ojos al hombre deseado;
Jierü-chünü’ü, la mujer-colibrí, renovaba las flores de los
               sueños olvidados…
y muchas aves y muchas mujeres;
Jierü-kaarai, la mujer-alcaraván, allá, henchida de
presagios en cada latido de su corazón;
Jierü-wulu’ui, la mujer-turpial, repartía el agua fresca
               de la risa;
Jierü-iisho, la mujer-cardenal, sostenía el etorno en sus
               alas rojicenizas.

Al despertar, le conté el sueño a mi madre… y sonrió sin
“¡Aaa, ella es una wainpirai!… una mujer-sinsonte”.
Y a partir de entonces he venido descubriendo las plumas
ocultas de las mujeres que nos abrigan.


Shiasa’a so’u wanee ka’I aliikajatü te’rüin awanaajüin
             piamasü kaarai.
Alanuwaasü awataashaanainrua tepialu’upünaa, majüin
             shii’iran yaa:

                            Leu, leu leu, ma. Leu, leu leu, ma.
Ejetü kasha tü ishokoo neemeraaya ka’ikai… Je
te’rüin amoutalaainrua sulu’upünaa tü wopu
              eemüinjatkaa sülaashi Mariirop.
Shiasa’a joolu’u sa’wai eesü joolu’u wanee ta’lapüin…
              Jieyuule’eya-wuchiirua te’raka:
eejetü Jierü-witush, einna’alataain süka süna shipishuwa’a
              tü akaliaakaa;
Jierü-wawaachi, suunekajüin na süchonyuukana:
               “¡Jantira tü wakuwa’ipakaa yaamüin yaa!”
               “¡Jantira tü wakuwa’ipakaa yaamüin yaa!”
Tü Jierü-monkulunseetkaa, süpüleeruwain, sütchinru’ujee
tü so’ukoluirua, chi wayuu
sü’wayuusheekai amüin;
Jierü-chünü’ü, a’wanajüin süsiirua tü lapü motokoluirua
je watta saalii wuchiirua o’ulakaa müsia jieyuu;
Jierü-kaarai, chayaa, mainmain kasa sütijaakaa oo’u
sülatajatüin maya’awaisüsa’a atünülaain saa’in;
Jierü-wului, eitajüin tü saamatsükaa süinya tü asiraakaa;
Jierü-iisho, ajapulu’ujakaa kasa sa’ato’upünaajatü süka tü
sütünairua ishooitajakalü je pali’itatkalüirua.
Mayaashisa’a tatijiraain taküjain tü ta’lapüinkaa sümüin
                 tü teikaa…
sukulemeraaka sünain nnojolüin shiirakaain tamüin:
“Aaa, shiakaa wanee wainpirai”…
sünainje’eree tia tatüjaa tama oo’ulu tü me’raajukoo
soi tü jieyuuirua kasheinkalü waya akajee.

8 Traditional water ponds/wells used to store and distribute rainwater primarily used during periods of prolonged drought.
9 Singing bird, or mockingbird, greatly admired by the Wayuu.


We live between scarcity and abundance,

between the disturbed dream and serene wakefulness

… we are the smiling angst that prolongs life

… we are the knotted fabric in the environment’s loom,

the complacency of being earth and breath, indivisibly.


Vivimos entre lo poco y abundancia,

entre el sueño anunciador y la serena vigilia

… somos la angustia sonriente aumentadora de vida

… somos un tejido de nudos en el telar del etorno,

la complacencia de ser tierra y respiración, indivisibles.


Kepiashi wayaa sa’aka tü paliitka sumaa tü waimakat,

sa’aka tü lapükat aapirakat tü maintakat matunkuin

… wayaakanairua muliatakana kuleemata jemioulakat
            tü aa’in.

…wayakana wanee a’anuushi tü shisho’okaliüirua sau
            anütpalaka waütpunaka

tü anaa aa’in sumaa main wayakana asanala wain,

Translator’s Note:

The selected poems from Vito Apüshana’s Antiguos recién llegados (2019), offers a glimpse into the arid dreamscape of La Guajira, Colombia, where the Wayuu have preserved the spirit of the land and their way of life for centuries, historically resisting Spanish colonization and now fighting to endure the exploitation of their peninsula for its natural resources.

While Vito’s position as a cultural ambassador and human rights activist in the region focuses on Wayuu struggles, his poetic work primarily explores cultural practices, the natural world, and a spiritual/ancestral connection to this land. In fact, all the poems selected here refer to natural flora and fauna endemic to La Guajira, sites of spiritual significance, or cultural practices and beliefs. These references also share in the preservation of Wayuu language, which Vito actively retains even in his self-translations to Spanish.

The preservation of Wayuu in his self-translations not only signifies the resistant act of keeping indigenous languages alive, but it also becomes a metaphorical echo heard in the choral voice throughout all of Vito’s work, which hardly uses the singular I. Even in “Bird-women”, the I is enveloped in a dream cradled by the women who weave together the fabric of Wayuu life. The we repeated throughout most of these poems voices both ancestor and descendent collectively. While Vito is undoubtedly the author of this work, he’s the first to admit that these words aren’t only his own but also a blend of dreams, experiences, and stories echoed through time and space by those who guide him.

I’ve been honored to be able to continue this “echoing” through translation to a wider audience unfamiliar with his poetry and Wayuu culture. An integral part of these translations is the continued preservation of Wayuu language which is present throughout each poem and enhanced by the trilingual publication. As an American translator, I recognize the immense responsibility I carry to retain these indigenous references out of respect and admiration for the author, the Wayuu people, and the language itself. As you’ll notice, there are several footnotes attached to most of the featured poems, and I’m optimistic that they help balance the tense power dynamic between preservation and accessibility. For example, in the namesake poem “Old Newcomers” Vito explores the countryside of La Guajira through several different geographical sites, native fauna, and spiritual entities to express the longevity of the Wayuu and their inseparable connection to the land. Due to an abundance of Wayuu references in this poem, particularly of the terrain, I chose to footnote only the most integral location (Ouutsümana) because of its relationship to another Wayuu reference (Wanülüü). The prefix ouutsü refers to the presence of a female shaman, and Wanülüü is the manifestation of an ill-omened spirit known to carry disease. Although Vito preserved the former and not the latter in the Spanish, I chose to preserve both in my translation because English further erases the complexity of the relationship between each word within the poem. Considering our own relationship to the text as a predominantly English-speaking audience, I’ve also retained some of the Spanish in certain contexts as well to carry over another layer of cultural significance.

Overall, the experience of translating Vito’s work has been very enlightening. Although I’ve had access to the author throughout the process and have conducted my own research on particular Wayuu terminology, knowing that there’s an added distance between my own translation and the “original” source-text made for an interesting challenge. However, due to the multivocal nature of the work—exemplifying the disintegration of singularity—I felt welcomed to view my practice through the lens of a kaleidoscope. In other words, the act of translation becomes a means of revealing the myriad refractions of who we are in relation to each other. In my recent correspondence with Vito, he’s expressed his readiness to encounter more than his “two-skinned tongue” is surrounded by, so I hope these translations respectively welcome him and his people with warmth.


Vito Apüshana is a writer, human rights activist, and former professor at the University of La Guajira from the town of Carraipía, La Guajira, Colombia. His most recent collection of poetic work Antiguos recién llegados was published by Sílaba in 2019. His earlier works, Contrabandeo sueños con alijunas cercanos (1992), En las hondonadas maternas de la piel (2010), and others can be found online and in magazines like Número (Bogotá), Casa de las Américas (Havana), Le Poésie (Paris), Americas Quarterly (New York), and La Jornada (Mexico City).

Maurice Rodriguez is a writer and translator from Connecticut with an MA in English from the University of Connecticut, and is a prospective MFA student in Creative Writing at The New School. He also teaches writing at the University of New Haven. His most recent work can be found in HASH and Puerto del Sol. For more updates on his writing and translating, follow him on Twitter @yosoymojo




Sekyo Haines translates Cho Ji Hoon

Cave Dwelling Song

The more emaciated a body is 
the fatter a soul becomes. 
From a spring I drink the water,
crushed with moon and stars. 

Struck by the frosty knife,
my youth proffered me 
and injured by the war machine
I fled alone, nursing my wound.

Huge is the reward
for being alive!
So I pluck the weeds 
and cry.

O, my dream, today, 
again run through the wide plain.
The leaves fall
in the deep mountain valley. 



야외면 야월 수록
살지는 혼
별과 달이 부서진
샘물을 마신다

젊음이 내게 준
서리발 칼을 맞고
창이를 어루만지며
내 홀로 쫓겨왔으나

세상에 남은 보람이 
오히려 크기에
풀을 뜯으며
나는 우노라

꿈이여 오늘도
광야를 달리거라
깊은 산골에


The Road to Search for the Light

Walking on the mountain path with deer and coyote, 
as we drink the water springing from the cracks of a boulder,

we hear from a distant slop, the sound of reed-flute 
overflowing with the joy of life.

My eyeballs, resembling the sunflower each day,
are the bronze incense burner where plumes the lavender clouds. 

At the sunrise over the east of Eastern Sea, 
I will let out my bursting sorrows.

My feet, wounded from the sharp outcrops and thorn bushes, 
after healing, when they brush by the flower petals, 

picking the fruit in the green trees,
I nurture them with songs and dances. 

The song I sing on the road in search of the light 
becomes the wind that blow away the sad clouds.


빛을 찾아가는 길

사슴이랑 이리 함께 산길을 가며
바위 틈에서 어리우는 물을 마시면

살아 있는 즐거움의 저 언덕에서
아련히 풀피리도 들려오누나.

해바라기 닮아가는 내 눈동자는
자운 피어나는 청동의 향연

동해 동녁 바다에 해 떠오는 아침에
북바치는 설움을 하소하리라.

돌뿌리 가시밭에 다친 발길이
아물어 꽃잎에 스치는 날은

푸나무에 열리는 과일을 따며
춤과 노래로 가꾸어 보자.

빛을 찾아 가는 길의 나의 노래는
슬픈 구름 걷어가는 바람이 되라.


Translator’s Note:

Cho Ji Hoon (1920-1968) lived during the period of much violent political and social turbulence in Korea. From 1910 to 1945, Korea was ruled by the Japanese imperial power. After World War II, Korea became independent, and then tragically the country was divided into North and South. When the Korean War broke out on June 25, 1950, Cho Ji Hoon was 30 years old; a professor and father of two young children. Like many others, his experience of war was very tragic: his grandfather committed suicide over the atrocities, his mother and brother died, and his father and brother-in-law were taken to North Korea. The poems I have translated reflect the harsh realities of Cho Ji Hoon’s life.

During the Pacific War, Cho Ji Hoon received a medical exemption by the Japanese government because of a chronic illness. He was arrested by the Japanese police for collaborating with other scholars on a Korean dictionary project. After his release, he left Seoul for his hometown in the country, and built himself a little hut where he lived alone for a year. The poem “Cave Dwelling Song,” written during this period, reflects his reclusive mood. The title, “암혈(rock cave),”  evokes the historic resonance to Literates’ who chose to live a life of solitude. To young Koreans at the time, escaping the draft was a life and death issue. He states: “huge is the reward for being alive!” Yet, his way of rejoicing was to have fellowship with nature and humanity: “So I pluck the weeds, and cry.” For Cho Ji Hoon, connecting with nature is to be in touch with the primordial life force and its necessity.

The poem “The Road to Search for the Light,” published in 1959, opens with “Walking on the mountain path with deer and coyote.” How do you get a deer and a coyote to take a walk with you? This impossible situation is a metaphor for what the poet faced in the aftermath of the Korean War. Hostilities between the North and South continued, yet Ji Hoon’s beloved father was in the North while he remained in the South. His poetic imagination transcended that reality by “walking on the mountain path with deer and coyote.” This poem is a fine example of how he embraced the historic imperative of his time, fighting for the nation’s brighter future— “to search for the light.” It is a treacherous road with “sharp outcrops and thorns bushes,” he warns. The second stanza employs a paradoxical set of images, comparing his eyes to both sunflowers and a bronze incense burner. The poet’s eyes follow the sun every day “like sunflowers,” but also look back to history, to ancestors. Incense burners are used for ancestral ceremonies and almost every household in Korea would have kept this tradition in 1950s, at the time he wrote this poem. The incense pluming in the air is a way to summon the ancestral spirits to table. 

Translating this poem, I ran into an issue with word “coyote(이리).” Literally and scientifically, it should be “wolf.” Coyotes are not native to Korea. However, I chose to translate “이리” as “coyote,” for the following reasons. I remember in Vermont, where we summered in the Green Mountains, during the day we saw deer in the woods and at night heard coyotes howl. For American readers, it is easy to imagine the deer and coyote inhabiting the same space. To my ears, the “coyote” flows much better than “wolf” within the line. I take comfort in Lowell’s view of translation as an imitation.


Born in 1920, Cho Ji Hoon is a canonical poet of modern Korea and a renowned traditionalist of Korean aesthetics. Although his poetry is written in a modernist free-verse form, his poems are deeply rooted in the literary Sijo that began in 12th century and have an intense local flavor, imbued with the sounds, smells, and colors of pre-industrial Korea.  In 1939, Cho Ji Hoon’s first poem appeared in the literary magazine MoonJang.  In 1946, his poetry appeared in the collection, Cheongnok Jip (청록집) along with the works of Park Mokwohl and Pak Doo Zin. The three were known as “Cheongnokpa,” or the “Green Deer Poets.” A professor of Korean language and literature at Korea University for 20 years, Cho Ji Hoon served as the president of the Korean cultural society affiliated with the university and president of the Korean poet’s association. He received numerous literary awards and published five poetry collections, as well as many books related to Korean literature and culture. 

Born and raised in South Korea, Sekyo Nam Haines immigrated to the U.S. in 1973 as a registered nurse. She received her undergraduate degree in American literature and writing at Goddard College Adult Degree Program. She continued her study of English literature at the Harvard Extension school and poetry with the late Ottone M. Riccio in Boston, MA. Her first book, Bitter Seasons’ Whip: The Translated Poems of Lee Yuk Sa, was published in April of 2022 (Tolsun Books). Her poems have appeared in the poetry journals Constellations, Off the Coast, and Lily Poetry Review. Her translations of Korean poetry by Cho Ji Hoon have or will appear in Interim, Asymptote’s translation Tuesday blog, The Fourth River, Tupelo Quarterly The Tampa Rewiew, May Day, and Consequence Forum. Her translations of Kim Sowohl’s poetry have appeared in The Harvard Review, The Brooklyn Rail: InTranslation, Ezra, and Circumference. Her translation of “The Dire Pinnacle” by Lee Yuk Sa appeared in And There Will Be Singing /An Anthology of International Writing by The Massachusetts Review. Sekyo lives in Cambridge, MA with her family.




Will Morningstar translates Martha Riva Palacio Obón

Score for Fish Choir

If an air bubble breaks the surface, sends out ripples
then dark matter is the passing fish
—Rebecca Elson,
A Responsibility to Awe

The voices of the fish become waves on the smooth surface of the lake.

My best memories are memories of water. Hydrogen iceberg: a failed star plunging through the solar system. Sitting on the futon, unable to move my arms, I take stock of my broken bones: radius, humerus, scaphoid, ilium. The fractures match my mother’s, and my grandmother’s. Before the accident, I would have tried to find a common thread, a logical connection from one sentence to the next, but now I can only think in simultaneous fragments. Calcium precipitation, diatomic respiration, fish song. 

Bilateral radial fracture: still myself, but two minutes and thirteen thousand seven hundred million light years out of time. 


The fish sing in the style of creatures from other worlds. 

I was the one who found it. The goldfish had escaped its bowl and drowned in the air, mouth pulled wide on the kitchen floor. I was all too familiar with how that twisted little body must have felt as it suffocated. I was five then. For the first time in months I didn’t feel like I was on the verge of one of my asthma attacks that always ended with me in an oxygen chamber. It was less upsetting than it was strange, spending days inside one of those plastic capsules. Just one of the many things about living in a world whose atmosphere wasn’t entirely compatible with my makeup. I can still feel it to this day: a seven-millimeter membrane between me and everything I loved. 

Laplacian growth: the rifts etched in my arms follow the courses of riverbeds on Mars. 

Depression is like being underwater and forgetting the importance of returning to the surface before you run out of air. My grandmother, my mother, and I have all been submerged like this more than once, each at our own tempo. A flattening of feeling, an inability to make contact with the intelligent life of this planet. The hunger stones are revealed in times of drought, when the water level drops. “If you see me, weep,” says one of the oldest of these, in the Elbe River. 

 My best memories are memories of water; some of them make me cry. 


The fish are electrons gliding through the water. Their voices reach for the key of electric blue. 

When a neutrino bumps into an atom in a given medium (heavy water, for example), it sends the atom’s electrons flying apart faster than the speed of light: the products of annihilation, Cherenkov radiation. A blue glow signaling the presence of a ghost particle. 

Did she leave her luminous trace in the sea, too?

The first time I broke my left arm, she was still here. 

No one tells you that you fall in love with your friends too. That when you look at them your eyes will light up and you will find yourself marveling mid-conversation at how beautiful and smart they are, each in their own way. No one warns you, either, that when one of them dies you become the keeper of all your shared memories, the ones no one else knows.

She was the only witness to the night I sat crying on the sand because I didn’t know how to swim back up to the surface, to embrace a breaking body. There, on the beach, we gazed off at a strange light in the sky and talked ourselves dizzy about the possibility of life beyond our world.

I couldn’t go to her funeral but I was there for our last conversation. We’d had an argument and she called me one Friday to make peace. We agreed to meet the following Monday and said goodbye. Then I felt an urge to call her back. When she answered, I told her I loved her. 

She drowned the next day. 

Dark matter: millions of ghost particles coursing through my hand as I picked the phone back up without really knowing why.


The fish swim through Van Allen belts, singing hymns of praise to the sublime indifference of the magnetic fields. 

Water’s boiling point is so high because it holds the memory of being ice in its hydrogen bonds. If water boiled at a lower temperature, life on earth would be something else entirely. Molecular memory: rivers that never forget their place. Lapis lazuli sediment on the skull of a nun-scribe. 

A bilateral fracture, two fissures in space-time. 

I flit through different moments, none more relevant than the rest. A nostalgia for re-living what is to come: remembering when I see a strange light on the beach that one day I will follow the path of a river on Mars while in the tenth century I lick my pen and trace an ocean-blue line on the page of a manuscript.

A subterranean current links me to my mother’s body, to my grandmother’s body. My losses are theirs too. The lineage snaps. I can’t remember all of my great grandmothers’ names. Water carries away the calcium of our bones, bringing it back to the sea.

Our ancestors speak the language of fossils. 


The voices of the fish sustain their gentle tone through the aeons. They become waves on the smooth surface of a lake.

Anastomosis. Braided rivers, bronchial tree. Some fractures arise twenty years out of time. A hydrogen iceberg, the path of a failed star plying the universe: each of my memories a revision of the one that came before. 

The crunch of my broken arms and the cluster of periwinkle eggs I accidentally squashed one summer day as I dove between the pier pilings.  

I never swam there again, but the damage was done. 


Translator’s Note:

Martha Riva Palacio Obón’s work centers on the interweaving of the personal and planetary forces of being alive. She places herself on a continuum of geological time, in which each memory links her to the ebb and flow of her own history and future along with those of the natural world, asking the question of how these processes and entanglements make a person who they are. 

In Martha’s work we see (and hear, in the accompanying sound essay) these same deeply personal themes being interrogated through different images and media. A family history projected through the prism of the endless journey of the calcium in our bones, of the ripples of memory, friendship, lineage. Of the sound of a single cricket translated into different frequencies and rhythms to become the song of a school of fish. Both text and sound submerge the reader, the listener, in the eternal music of the planet: chirp, wave, glow, snap, bubble, gasp, crunch, weep, repeat. 

Translating an essay like this makes me think about the processes of change—breakage, replacement, loss, and growth. Martha’s work is already a translation of memory into image and sound. What new associations arise when a story is told in another language? What happens to metaphor, to memory? Are they the same? What new ripples and fractures are produced when images and memories are funneled through new linguistic pathways? At what point does a thing—an object, a feeling, a person, a story—become something else? Which version is more real?


Martha Riva Palacio Obón is a Mexican sound artist and author of novels, poetry, and stories for children and adults. She won the 2014 Premio Hispanoamericano de Poesía para Niños for her illustrated poetry book Lunática, as well as the 2011 Premio Barco de Vapor for Las sirenas sueñan con trilobites (which was also selected in 2013 for the White Ravens International Children’s Library Catalog and will be published in English by Bloomsbury in 2023). Her short story “Biography of Algae” was published by Strange Horizons in 2020. She is currently at work on a collection of personal essays.

Will Morningstar is a freelance editor and translator from Boston whose translation work has appeared in Two Lines, Latin American Literature Today, Strange Horizons, and the Massachusetts Review, as well as in museums and cultural institutions throughout Spain.




K.B. Thors translates Kristín Svava Tómasdóttir

from Herostories

a physician by nature

                the other hand of the district doctor

                                at once midwife and healer 

midwife and doctor

                midwife and healer at once

                                                the county physician


                at once midwife and physician in this country




Then there was no electric light from the windows
then strength and stamina mattered more
then much was different than it now is

now all you have to do is press a button
then light comes from all directions
sitting down at the dinner table
in a warm living room
driving a car on smooth roads
over bridged rivers
from one corner of the country to the other

young people
swimming in pools of modern coin
will hardly believe this to be true

the difficulty
the darkness of centuries   




the homestead certainly beautiful
in sunshine and summer glory

beautiful the bay
as the sun glitters on streams and islands

and majestic solid mountains   
stand firmfooted as storms rage

but everyone knows women like to go into labour
during the deadliest blizzards   

and usually at night




blizzard snowstorm fierce storm from the north and frost tremendous gale fierce storm northernblizzard and frost and dark of night northeastern blizzard fitful squalls from the northeast the blackest blizzard from the north and similar punishing harshfrost frost gale force winds and drivingsleet and rain skinstinging weather great storm snowstorms and foulweather snowthick air immense snowfall northern snowstorm snowfall foulweather the worst weather blizzard hardfrost snowstorm and darkweather northerlywinds and snowstorms northernblizzards with immense snowfall rok and rain windspeed so great the gable on the farm shook back and forth northern rok and rattling southwestern snowstorms roughweather with extremedark squalls wickedweather darkness and snowstorm furious gale and severe storm bitter frost penetrating marrow and bone harshfrost rough seas snowstorm cloudbank from the sea biting breeze and frost snowclouds blowing over the ridge gale force winds the weather above looking sinister the windshriek growing the snowstorm beating the frozensolid roof blindingblizzard frost and the snowdrift piled against the window southwesternsquall tremendous storm snowdump and thirteen degrees below freezing storms blindingblizzards and fourteen degrees below freezing blinding snowstorm darkweather and snowstorm major snowstorms cruel and ongoing northern snowstorms grand blizzards from the north with extreme weather and snowdump snowfall terrible snowfallingstillness great snowstorm and nightmurk with dark squalls                            




the horse wild with fear
the horse in the river
the horse in the impassable
the horse in the pit  
the horse in the peat bog
the horse in quicksand 
the horse in wetsand
the horse submerged in the river
the horse submerged in the river
the fleetcurrent rolling the horse in
the river the ice floe swaying under her feet

                                                 reciting the lord’s prayer in her mind
                                                 did not want to die so young




let nothing deter her                                     
let nothing deter her             
did not let herself be hindered by rough seas 
uncrossable waters nasty landslides snowbound mountains
weather nor roadlack
want nor struggle                            

ever prepared
ever ready
ever travel ready

                     in a quick moment                                       
                     a very quick moment

lit out at once                   
lived gearing up                                                                  
off into the snowdrift   


Translator’s Note:

The poems in Herostories are made entirely of text found in ​​Íslenskar ljósmæður I-III (Icelandic Midwives I-III), volumes of short biographical articles about Icelandic midwives, the earliest working in the late 18th century and the most recent working in the early 20th century. Some entries are memoir written by the midwives themselves, others are written by contemporaries or descendants who either knew the midwives or knew of them, and the remaining articles were written by the priests gathering the material. Given this intertextual nature, Herostories not only tells tale of these womens’ life work, but becomes a layered analysis of narrative and how cultural values are enacted in history and storytelling.

This translation is in many ways conservative. As the text is not only found but retrieved from and referring to bygone eras, the goal was to stay “true” to the original language while bringing out the poems—21st century creations merging appreciation and critique. While repetition played a key role in Kristín Svava’s previous poetry, in Herostories it is the words of others the poet arranges, highlighting what previous speakers have found worthy of mention and record. Through repetition, the poems examine questions around the historical overlap between midwife and doctor, the glorification of womanly virtue, and the value of feminine labor.

Tómasdóttir also uses repetition and form to drive home the sheer force of Icelandic weather. Many words found in the original poems are rather majestic yet very recognizable terms that happen to be compound words. Several of these compounds are reflected in the translation in an effort to preserve the immediacy of these sensory ingredients while steeping readers in a disorienting world of extreme conditions, and the linguistic structures describing such a world. Similarly, select Icelandic words have been carried over into the English, like “rok” in these poems. Familiar to Anglophone readers via myriad cultural references to ragnarok / Ragnarök, the sound and terrible efficiency of the word earns its keep. Intended as a nod to the lack of parallel in English and simpler than translation experiments that stretch beyond the “wiggle room” of found text, I hope that such inclusions, rather than keeping readers from experiencing a completely English poem, immerses them into a storm of mixed language that effectively brings to life the atmosphere of the complicated “original” poem.


Kristín Svava Tómasdóttir is a poet and historian in Reykjavík, Iceland. Her fourth book of poetry, Hetjusögur (2020), was awarded the Icelandic Women´s Prize for Literature. She has written on the history of pornography, the history of women voters, and the history of epidemics in Iceland.

K.B. Thors is a poet and translator from Treaty 7 land in Alberta, Canada. The author of Vulgar Mechanics (Coach House, 2019), her translation of Kristín Svava Tómasdóttir’s Stormwarning won the American Scandinavian Foundation’s Leif & Inger Sjöberg Prize and was nominated for the 2019 PEN Literary Award for Poetry in Translation. Her translation of Tómasdóttir’s Hetjusögur, Herostories, is forthcoming from Deep Vellum in 2023.




Scott Belluz translates Jonathan Bazzi

Tina’s Body

I pull on the thigh-high stockings in front of the bedroom closet mirror. 

Even with the latex bands, it’s a struggle to get them up with my hairy legs.

The wool tartan miniskirt hugs my thighs—can I move them?—and the zipper pulls a bit but still closes. I hook the bra in front and slide it to the right position.

I pull up the straps.

On top, a white shirt, then a jacket. 


Purple is better. This one, she’d just bought it. 

It still has the price tag: I hide it in a pocket.

I make myself up, hastily fishing through the cosmetic bag she keeps in the bathroom above the sink: concealer to cover the perennial dark circles, mascara after the eyelash curler, brick-red lipstick—Mother doesn’t like a bright red. Black eyeliner, not too much, otherwise even cleanser won’t take it off. Bronze eyeshadow up to the eyebrows. 

I fasten my hair with four black bobby pins like the presenters on Top of the Pops

I cram my feet into the high-heeled patent leather shoes, they’re square toed, professor-like. Mother is size 37, I’m 39, occasionally 40.

Only half my foot fits, no more. 

Quick, before they come back.

Quick, before it’s too late.

I turn the stereo up all the way, who cares if the neighbors hear. 

I jump back and forth, bouncing along to the bass of an Annie Lennox song, jumping from one room to the other, the fake terracotta floor a trampoline. I lift my arms towards the ceiling, arch my back: a siren like one of Milo Manara’s sexy creatures. I hold in my stomach as much as I can, squeezing my thighs until everything disappears behind them.

If I go en pointe I’m like Barbie.

Slim calves, bent knees, rubber and iron wire. 

There’s only the music.

I remove one item of clothing at a time: I start to undress, never looking away. Spectacle and spectator, I follow my reflection in the mirror—I have to watch it happen.

Striptease, I’m Demi Moore.

I’m my mother, I’m Tina.

Birth name “Concetta,” like her grandmother, but “Tina” to everyone else. 

Her body, mine: possession, invasion, I transpose myself onto her. I use her closet secretly for this genetic contraband all the time. 

With both hands I lower the bra: men in the audience, I hypnotize you with my little pink nipples.

I lift the skirt higher. 

You like that? 

I lift it up all the way and hear you scream, ravenous. 

Your arms outstretched towards me: I let myself be touched, but only so you can slip your tips under the elastic band of the only thing I’m now still wearing. I model my mother’s G-string for you, the one she keeps hidden in the lowest drawer, buried under the belts, scrunched up until it almost disappears. 

I stretch higher, turn my face to the side: does someone want to fuck me? 

She had me at eighteen. My father left when I was three, after cheating on her constantly. My maternal grandparents raised me. I was twelve when I moved back in with her on Via Giacinti, near the last stop of line 15, in the house where it all started. Still a hinterland commuter town on the extreme southern outskirts, still public housing. Addicts and dealers, our neighbors scare me. 

When I’m home alone, I put on her clothes and climb over to the other side of the fence, I make it happen.

I’m a woman, a singer.

A stripper, little slut. 

I stayed with my grandparents because my mother had to work. She wasn’t around so I would imagine her, a magnified projection, a shrine? 

Mother body-snatcher, mother heroine.

Phantom, hologram, ghost-mother. 

Mythopoeia instead of hugs, make your own mother into a work of art. Every thought comes back to her, a psychic evocation, a séance. 

The world is her domain—horsewoman, Valkyrie, conqueror—she goes out into it. 

I stay home.

Even today I don’t go out much.

But I’m here in Milan, Mother—you’re still there, you stayed in Rozzano. 

Confined body, suburban body. You’re even afraid of taking the metro: underground, where the dead go. 

The ideal mother, the regal woman.

Diana, Athena, Joan of Arc.

Batgirl, Storm, Cynthia Rothrock.

At the age of seven, my mother is the commander of my order of Knights.

And so her absent body becomes overextended, hyper-diffused, ubiquitous, omnipotent. Mother is out there in the world, everywhere. At work, with girlfriends, Mommy’s friend. I’m just here on via Verbene with your family, Mother: Grandma, Grandpa, your younger brothers. The daughter of Biagio and Lidia, but in reality, you’re the daughter of Gods, Mamma-Cash, Saint Tina, the keeper of the wallet. I was working for you, you told me, I worked all those hours for you—it’s so difficult to actually ask her for anything.

Out of guilt my mother growls, defends herself by attacking. Instantaneously. 

No, you can’t do that.

Why not?!

I said no. 

Saturnine Mother, judge and censor: there’s never a reason, a reasoning.

It’s not because we’re poor, we are not always poor: it’s just that the money is not for me.

There’s none for me.

When a family crumbles, priorities are reconsidered. 

There’s something else at the top of the list. 

To get her to buy me something I have to be feeling sick, really sick, have to be at risk of something, have to alarm her: like after the first time I got blood drawn, because I was crying, she took pity—stop it or you’ll make me cry—a little doll from the hospital newsstand, the only gift I ever received outside the holidays.

Your mother is so beautiful. 

She’s so young! 

Her long hair is dyed red, straightened with brush and hair dryer until its waviness becomes sleek. Puffy bangs like Lorella Cuccarini. Her white skin so delicate—every summer the protective measures to prevent sunburn, the monitoring of moles—a light tap is enough to leave a mark. 

Her eyes are green, mine are simply brown.


My mother loves shopping, really cares about her look. Her new boyfriend Tindaro takes her (he manages the cleaning company where she works) to the Conbìpel next to the ring road, to Orme and stores in Milan. A black tight dress, eyelashes caked with makeup, a silver heart in the center of her chest.

I’m fourteen years old when, faced with another of my unwanted requests, she finally says it: I’ve made my sacrifices. Sorry, but I’m not giving up a pair of shoes for you now. 

Even when it comes to food: I can’t eat her cereal in the morning. 

The same goes for all her things: no fusion, no confusion. 

Mother-Fence defends her living space, carefully constructs the picket fence between herself and others with her own bare hands. Then she stands guard, ready to shoot. 

Even at her son?

I made you and I’ll destroy you.

In Segatini’s painting The Bad Mothers are the ones trapped naked in the tree branches of a snowy heath—they end up wriggling in a frozen purgatory, forever expiating their guilt. 

Yet every mother is an inheritance, a task we are entrusted with. 

Maternal selfishness is terrifying and endearing, leaving the child to reclaim his due: the real woman behind the childhood ideal. 

Every mother carries a promise that endures, even beyond the contingent disposition of facts.   

It endures even when it is not maintained.

My mother’s body is the first threshold.

My fetish: her dream-body. 

Her fetishes? The rings, necklaces and huge pendants I give her.

The scent of white musk, her manicure kit. 

White gold, only the white kind (she hates yellow), she’s from the south—her people are from Mugnano, Napoli, and Aversa, Caserta—from gypsies. White gold, only white gold for my queen. I’m just like you, Mother: nothing but pale sheen, white splendor. 

Pure, we’re pure. 

My mother doesn’t talk about sex, she’s ashamed. 

Tina, Concetta, immaculate conception.

Neither do I, Mother: sex is a sin, if it happens you must do it silently. 

Sex is scary, should stay in the dark. Avoid it most of the time—sexual anorexia. Rather get sick, keep it hidden, keep it from becoming a subject of discussion or medical check-ups. 

Sex is a secret.

Ours, yours.

One Sunday afternoon I drive home with my mother and a family friend, Otello, the fiancé of Tindaro’s best friend. He’s tall with a mafioso’s face. He lights his next cigarette with the one still in his mouth. We’d been at the San Siro racetrack—he’s fond of betting, wagers his whole salary that way. Salary? The company’s money. His fianceé has a hotel, he helps her out. 

We go inside and they lock themselves up in the living room.

We’re going to watch a bit of TV, they say.

You go sleep over there, Jonny.

I lie in bed for a minute, I can’t sleep, I get up. 

I approach very slowly, one foot, then the other, only my toes touch the floor. 

I spy through the black plastic keyhole of the living room door. 

The TV’s light is intermittent, it takes a few seconds to make something out.

My mother and Otello on the blue sofa that I open at night to sleep on, the sofa-bed I’ve used my whole adolescence (I’ve never had a bedroom). The sand-colored blanket rises and falls, illuminated by the television, the volume a bit too loud. 

Up and down, a haunted mountain, a small living mountain rage. 

A momentary noise, a sound. 

A laugh.

Whenever we go out together Otello always says: your mother is really beautiful.

Mother and dad, Mother and Dino, Mother and Tindaro, Mother and Otello, then Mother and Alessandro. Tough, you’re an armored tank with everyone except for the men you choose. They can do anything to you, take you by the throat and make you pass out. 

Bitch, you’re breaking my balls.

No ambulance, there’s no need, I feel fine.

It has only happened twice—only twice, you like to point out.

The first time my sister was two years old, the last she was in middle school.

My mother says: every family has its problems, there are no perfect families.

Many years later, my sister says: Mother had an epileptic attack that day.

My mother’s flesh is not flesh—it’s armor, an empty carapace, a sacrificial body perhaps. We’re only interested in extremities.

My mother’s body, an ontological membrane. I was born male, on the wrong side: her body the esoteric vehicle to another dimension.

Mother, I copy you. Mother, I copied you. 

I tried. 

Bent, queer, screwed up. 

Faggot, fairy, poof. 

An astrologist told me she saw it in the symbolic circle of the zodiac: gender reversals in the natal chart, planets out of place, in fall as they say; feminine planets positioned in masculine signs and vice versa. Moon in Aries, Mars in Cancer, traditional identities compromised, altered: Amazonian women, inept or childish men, all of them emotional. Two-spirited the American Indians say, half and half: was I born to cross over, push boundaries, to be porous? 

To show you another possibility, that you can transition from here to there? 

The compactness of a wall is a story I have not assimilated. 

Even my mother now seems like a butch lesbian: short—almost never in heels—solid, compact, sweatpants, hoodie, platinum blonde buzz-cut, covered in tattoos.

Have we been mutual catalysts?

Mother was elsewhere, Mother the paradigm of desire.

Separate the real woman from the mother you dreamed of having, a psychologist at the family therapy center in Porta Venezia told me last year, the one where I only had to pay thirty dollars per session (after four initial freebies) because they were with a senior student and not an experienced therapist.

You forgive her for everything.

Really look at her, open your eyes, see her for what she is. 

Does she hate her? Does my psychologist hate my mother?

She says she manipulates me, keeps me within kicking distance so she can get antidepressant adrenaline from the anxiety I arouse in her. It’s true, I’m not objective. My mother, my father: double standards. Even in the novel I wrote.

I don’t have a father, a mother—I have a totem.

Fire or ice?

The sacred body of the Virgin Tina, bruised, half ruined: my mother’s body first disfigured by me, then thirty years of forced labor. She was covered in stretch marks after her pregnancy, then came the disc protrusions, the hernias, the endless operations on her wrists and hands, the physiotherapy, the bones that began to crumble like dry bread, the fifty-year-old fingers that have lost their strength.

She has to ask for help to open bottles and cans.

My mother is young but her body is already old.

Too much work, not everyone lives a life suited to their cellular make-up.

There are those who lose the use of their legs, but my mother the use of her hands?

My mother’s body—I’m not sure what it smells or tastes like.

It might taste like chamomile to me: like the tea I drank at home alone every time she was sick and they took her away on the stretcher. The steel teapot, my trembling body. Renal colic, tachycardia, hiatal hernia: they were always discovered later; at the time the pain was nameless, pain without a name.

And then one day: Mother has a lump in her breast.

At university, I can’t think about anything else while waiting for the biopsy results. I can’t see anything else. Mother in the bathroom vomiting after chemo: she becomes a long, thin, weighty rag that others carry around the house. An empty bag, emptied out. Suspended, in need of support. They’ll carry her to vomit.

Others will carry her—I’ll watch.

I’ll keep my position in the family ecosystem.

Mother’s body, a map on which to mark the constellations of metastases.

It’s too late, she’s full of it.

A short-lived colony, to be consumed quickly.

The mother who dies, the thing that can’t happen.

Every child’s nightmare. 

Fluoroantimonic acid poured into the heart. 

Make sure you take care of your sister.

But no, the tumor’s benign: the mother who lives.

Who still shines from afar.

My mother’s body is a prehistoric mystery, a comet star: invisible, I see it everywhere.

Mother, Father: this is why I write, maybe this is why I write.

Why wasn’t there the time—or the desire?—to live together.

To be people in a story with real relationships.

My parents: fictional hypotheses, foreign bodies in the vault of the imagination.

Myself, the Wild Boy of Aveyron, The Jungle Book—variations on a theme. 

I was raised by my characters.


Translator’s Note:

My experience of translating this text was akin to a fever dream: vivid and unsettling, yet somehow a necessary part of my own healing process. Could I possibly render a voice so tender, so bold? Could I re-create the alchemy of gritty urban poetry and indelible, oneiric imagery in Jonathan Bazzi’s prose?

I chose to accept the challenge, to find new poetry through translation. Once I overcame the urge to sanitize, to soft-pedal, the words began to rattle on the page as they do in the original Italian. Bazzi’s sentences both affirm and deny; translating them brought to mind Billie Holiday’s voice when she sings “Hush now, don’t explain,” her delivery simultaneously maternal and bitter. With scalpel-like precision, the author dissects a queer being’s lifelong obsession with their mother’s body, the personal paradigm of desire. “Really look at her, open your eyes, see her for what she is,” their therapist suggests at one point. Good advice, it seemed to me. 

Throughout the text, powerful metaphors stitch the Mother Wound shut so that healing can begin: “Yet every mother is an inheritance, a task we are entrusted with.” Translation is also a kind of inheritance—a task I’m grateful to be entrusted with. 


Jonathan Bazzi was born in Milan in 1985. Raised in Rozzano, on the extreme southern outskirts of the city, he graduated in Philosophy with a thesis on symbolic theology in the work of Edith Stein and is passionate about the female literary tradition and gender issues. In 2015, he began collaborating with various newspapers and magazines by publishing articles, short stories, and personal essays. His debut novel Febbre (Fever) was named Book of the Year by Fahrenheit, won the Bagutta First Novel Prize and was one of six finalists for the 2020 Strega Prize. He currently collaborates with Sette del Corriere della Sera and the newspaper Domani. His new novel, Corpi minori (Minor Bodies), was published by Mondadori in February 2022.

Of Italian descent, Canadian literary translator Scott Belluz is driven to provide English readers with opportunities to encounter vital and emerging Italian voices. His work has been published in journals such as The Italian Review, The Stinging Fly, Your Impossible Voice, and Mayday Magazine. He is currently collaborating with the Pirandello Society of America on their ‘Stories for a Year’ project. Scott holds a Master’s Degree in vocal performance from The Royal Academy of Music (London) and is a devoted interpreter of Italian baroque repertoire and contemporary opera.




Hannah Allen-Shim translates Salomé Assor

from Un (One)

not a day goes by without the belief that there 
is a prisoner of the desert, yes, the desert, a 
prison without barbed wire, an uninhabited 
stretch as far as the eye can see where every 
night the one i call prisoner goes to sleep, a 
lone man, surely the last one standing, sort of 
like the antithesis of god, the last man standing, 
condemned to oneness despite being the creator 
of absolutely nothing, detainee of the uninhabited, 
captive of no man’s land, of a vast stretch that 
never ceases to be at full stretch, the man i’m 
describing knows only solitude and its cacti, 
besides, we never find what we’re looking for 
between the dunes, only sand and our own foot-
prints, prisoners don’t know a whole lot of 
people, but mine surely knows me, 
why yes, surely
a strange sort of confusion that makes you say 
things twice, and perhaps my prisoner knows 
me from all the times i’ve asked about him in 
my prayers,

actually, i’ve never prayed

good lord what nerve

every day i push myself inwards, sort of like a 
pants pocket, closing in on this man, this student
of the innermost region of my being, what is he
doing during this heatwave, whose face does 
he picture to overcome the uniform color of the
sand, the uninterrupted sand, always the same 
color, indistinguishably tan without respite, 
and does he fall asleep despite the whisper of 
scorpions, does he suddenly feel the urge to 
speak to the cacti out of survival instinct, to sit 
before them and recount his days, my orphan of 
society, but what is there to discuss when your 
interlocutor is a cactus, i mean what topics are 
off-limits with deaf-mute succulents

anyway, i digress, the way we all digress in the
presence of our prisoners, they have a gift for
making us reevaluate everything, Monsieur, 
if there’s a reason i’m here today it is to pin 
my coloring pages to your bulletin board, i
thought i might sit down and draw for a while, 
the way children do when they aren’t allowed 
to spin in circles, they languish on a table and
eventually lose themselves, in all innocence i 
wanted to be like them, the clumsy liberty of an 
adult pouring her heart out on coloring pages, 
by that i mean succumbing to inertia, regression
is a minor sorrow in prose and adults ought to give
in to it, your childish whims resurface gasping
for air, adults are heartless for suffocating their
childhood memories, in the name of time you
might say, in that case, Monsieur, let me ask you 
this, why fight the return of your inner child, yes, tell 
me, why not just consent to his eyes, to the very 
being you embodied until he set fire to good 
manners and wandered off in mockery, grown-ups 
ought to let loose a little, even if it means losing 
what they think they own, in reality they have
nothing to lose, just some neckties and 
some green polka-dotted opinions, but i’m 
well aware that every night when you’re naked, 
when your old man suit finally dangles on 
its hanger like god, it’s the cacti you talk to, 
you show them your drawings of abandoned 
women and enslaved monkeys, but what can 
you possibly expect from a cactus that never 
answers you, they are just like adults, constantly
forgetting their lines when you confront them 
with childish questions, the cacti are deaf-mute, 
and later on you have the same dream over and 
over again the way kids do, i myself am one of 
them, all i had to do was betray the order of things 
by uncovering your inner child, i play a minor 
role in your dreams every now and then and 
there you have it,

when it comes to being humiliated,
two heads are better than one

for no matter how much i argue about marxist 
alienation and chat with men in suits and sweet-
talk in bars, i still go home alone and some-
times drink a big glass of milk and other times
i pee in bed,
don’t tell anyone
yes, i pee in bed as if to mock my philosophical 
façade, as if to return to the origin of my suffering,
deep down this place cuts you off in the middle 
of your speech, all you have to do is take the 
stage wearing a suit and get up in front of the
mic, and clearing your throat like the paralytic 
of the dialogue who never knows what to say 
in front of an audience of cacti, oh how he 
overflows with words and oh how he’d love to 
get rid of that mic and bury the cacti in his arms, 
but throwing yourself headlong into a sea of cacti 
and getting ripped to shreds and falling flat on your
face, come on, doctors would never prescribe that, 
those men in suits standing in front of a mic would 
still rather be prisoners than explode with their 
emancipated sand, yes, Monsieur, i swear, i’ve seen 
it with my own eyes, childhood cuts you off in the 
middle of your speech, it says everything for you 
and silences your future while slipping past the 
solemnity of your voice, childhood slips away the 
same way the moon eclipses the sun, besides, don’t 
you see that the circumference never dies out, at the 
exact moment of perfect alignment the glare of the 
sun encircles the lunar abyss, that’s when childhood
comes into focus, the second the elderly overshadow
it, their act of hostility backed by a cactus,
well there you have it, i wanted to wait before 
telling you about time but it’s already too late, 
that’s just the problem, with regard to
time i mean,
better never than late


for a long time i thought you were the imaginary 
friend who keeps kids company on rainy days, 
a shadow that follows children on their way to 
school, tumbling down the slope of morning with
conviction just to painstakingly pick itself back up 
around half-past four, when children have snack 
and grown-ups speed home to hit the sack, fine, 
and i tried to write to you on numerous occasions 
without really knowing where to begin or what i 
should tell you after this life worthy of abandon,
those centuries of silence that were really just a
few short minutes spent overthinking, suspenseful 
minutes when hands vanished into thin air and i 
desperately sought a table where i could finally 
meet you, finally, that time i never knew how to 
define since it isn’t much and, like you, evades 

from time to time a good old time, in other 
times just a pass-time, the light-dark
uncertainty that certain uncertain people call 

for a long time i traveled in another child’s 
locomotive, having found it ownerless on the
asphalt next to a hopscotch court, and though 
i remorselessly claimed it was mine, i never 
went anywhere since i was waiting for one last 
passenger to arrive before setting off, in fact i’m 
still waiting for him, he should be here any minute, 
good lord, may that child forgive me for neglecting
the princely plaything i stole from him, stealing 
useless things is a particularly striking gesture, 
who would have guessed that a species like ours 
would do such a thing, so there you have it,
burned everything in the name of time, in other 
words in the most impenetrable anonymity, yes, 
without a name i let everything go to waste, but 
that’s what kids do in their free time, let everything 
go to waste, especially their time

they claim ownership of hot-air balloons instead 
of going to school, smart cookies spared from 
society as they feign illness and simply languish 
by the skylight of a wall to poeticize the mediocrity 
of the streets, refusing to go to school is the only 
safe way to become a poet, but what would we 
say if an adult did that, Monsieur, what would we 
say if a tireless man in a tux was dispensed one fine 
morning on the pretext of symptoms, with nothing 
but his own four walls for protection, frozen before 
a desert of gesticulating men in tuxes, all on his own,
disoriented with such quietude, a smoky dreamer 
exiled from society,

dead poets society

what would we say about the poor man in a tux if 
we found out by misfortune he’d deceived the 
authorities with his prevarications, that he’d with-
drawn from the assemblies just to smoke his cigarette 
and sip his coffee with the sovereign laziness of a true

the turmoil the error the indecision, the culprit that 
is time, time wasted from being without you, for i 
never had the courage to write to you, even if it was 
such an obvious way to refuse to take action, even if
it was far too eloquent a language for my madness, it 
is what it is, i am the worst kind of unpunctuation, 
yes, the kind with an endless waiting period, that’s 
my alibi, but you mustn’t believe that pretexts are 
worth the science of truth, for in reality no one puts 
pen to paper in fear they won’t be read, the problem 
has just been articulated, yes, you would rather 
remain silent than sit on the reflections heaped up in 
your inner construction zone, after all, there is nothing 
more shameful than reflecting, reconstructing, and 
entering somewhere to ask for a table for one, nothing
more humiliating than asking for a table for one next 
to all those people gathered together for a meal, even 
though there’s no such thing as a table for one, for 
there are always two chairs surrounding a table, 
it’s a good thing for the one who pretends to 
wait for the other,

but secretly sits at the table alone

Monsieur, it’s a good thing this solitude 
pretends to be two, 
for the one who waits for the other is naïve, but 
the one who waits for nobody is a sickly loner, then 
again what’s the use of hiding what everyone hides, 
deep down those who wait for others know a thing or
two about the absent-minded little girl by the window,
and they too are well acquainted with tables for one 


i think of you who are my people but never present,

that must be the true purpose of an empty chair, 
to seat absentees, 

offer them some tea,

and sit there in silence

and back we go to our coloring pages, we keep 
them near us, right there, almost there, and forget 
them as long as we can, but forgetting absentees 
never lasts very long, for there comes a time when 
you suddenly lift your head and in the unexpected 
blink of an eye, with a somewhat foolish look burst-
ing out of nowhere, there comes a time when you 
must verify the assiduity of the absentee who hasn’t
moved a single inch, still right in place on his empty 
chair, drinking his tea, yes, despite our efforts to do 
something else, we end up regaining our composure 
just to ensure the punctuality of the other, he who stays 
silent with us and shares a bit of this weakness, a bit 
of this singular mediocrity, the unquantifiable almost-
nothing, a drop of the self above the immensity of a 
cup of tea too hot to drink, merely decorative and 
feigning the kinds of conversations people have over
a cup of tea, needless to say, much like dear god who 
feigns existence, for at the end of the day, Monsieur, 
what’s the difference between god and tea, it’s 
the worst kind of silence,

the absentee still sits on his empty chair, thinking 
about his own absentees, surely himself, too busy 
coloring to consider the case of others, and that 
very instant of the straightened face, the instant 
distress that fascinates me as it transforms into a 
presence of mind that should inexist, the sudden 
awareness of the non-being, there you have it, 
Monsieur, i am fascinated by this gesture that 
never gives warning, the worst kind of gesture, 
it shatters the reflex known as inattention and 
silences self-abnegation by violently interrupting 
the benevolence of negligence, the astonishing 
virtues of waiting shattered in one fell swoop,

all that for an empty chair, forever unable to 
liberate what seemed to be the other, all that 
for what, for whom, i honestly have no clue, 
for whom for what how should i put it, Monsieur,
just to submit an empty chair to the scrutiny of 
a gaze that makes nothingness burst forth from 
its abyss


i call you from my desert island, the absentees 
sneak off and persistently write to avoid 
completely disappearing, and i know this letter 
is a bit long, Monsieur, yes, fine, admittedly, 
sometimes i promise myself the last word, 
come on, after all, must i bring this dictatorial 
detour to a full stop, come on come on, let’s 
make this word the last of them all, in any event, 
here you will always have the last word, in all 
innocence i’m trying to find a kind word to put 
an end to my tyranny, rummaging through 
childish rhymes as a way to defy destiny, i 
know this letter is rather long, Monsieur, 
but remember your advantage, you can 
easily close these pages and go see what 
else is out there while i, pitiful me, must
persistently write with no choice but to sit
tight, this is where we go our separate ways,
Monsieur, you can close the debate by escaping
my voice while i have no other option than 
to correspond with the imaginary being that 
you are as a way to brave my solitude, you 
can silence me at any moment, and not even 
chatterboxes have this aptitude, for unlike my 
nonsense, your silence is truer to reality than 
any exactitude


Translator’s Note:

Salomé Assor’s debut novel One is a meditation on the unexpected and often unacknowledged violence of solitude. A book that defies genres and conventions, One stands somewhere between prose, monologue, and poetry. The text is narrated by a young woman who sits “at a table for one” and addresses a mysterious “Monsieur”—a figure who embodies various notions, including unrequited love, the reader, and the persistent absence of the other. As a statement on the male gaze and masculinity, the narrative avoids uppercase letters except for the “M” of the word “Monsieur.” Composed of a single phrase punctuated by commas alone, the text challenges the notion of time and resists the constant threat of endings.

I was first drawn to One by Assor’s innovative uses of language. The book is full of wordplay, and Assor frequently pushes the boundary between literal and figurative meanings. In the first passage I’ve included, Assor uses the phrases “voler en éclats” and “tomber à pic,” which are woven into the image of taking the stage and “throwing yourself headlong into a sea of cacti.” The former expression, “voler en éclats,” carries the meaning of being smashed to pieces in both a literal and figurative sense. I chose to translate this as “getting ripped to shreds” to recreate the blurred boundary between literal and figurative meanings, as the expression is fitting for the physical action of “throwing yourself headlong into a sea of cacti” and the more abstract idea of an actor getting severely criticized by “an audience of cacti.”

The latter expression, “tomber à pic,” means “to come along at the right time” as an idiom. When taken as the verb “tomber” (to fall), followed by the phrase “à pic” (sharply/vertically/abruptly), however, it can refer to the physical act of falling steeply. I decided to translate this as “falling flat on your face” because it is consistent with the imagery of being on stage and possibly tripping and falling, as well as the potential scenario of having an embarrassing performance.

One of my favorite passages to translate was “i am the worst kind of unpunctuation, yes, the kind with an endless waiting period,” derived from “je suis une imponctuée de la pire espèce oui, de l’espèce la plus mal en point,” which roughly translates as: “i am an unpunctuated (person, female) of the worst kind yes, the kind in the worst shape.” “[I]mponctuée” comes from Assor combining the negating prefix “im” with the adjective “ponctué” (punctuated). I chose “unpunctuation” to reflect Assor’s usage of a word that doesn’t officially exist. “(Être) mal en point” as an expression means “to be in a bad way.” Taken literally, though, the phrase can also signify “to be bad at (using) periods,” since “point” is the word for “period.” By employing “waiting period,” which can convey a specified delay or a punctuation mark whose absence is among One’s defining features, I aimed to capture the original’s multivalence and honor the playfulness and creativity that first inspired me to translate Assor’s writing.


Born in Montreal, Salomé Assor studies philosophy at the Université du Québec à Montréal. Her debut novel, Un, was published in 2019 by the Montreal-based press Les Éditions Poètes de Brousse. Assor was recognized as one of Radio Canada’s 10 Young Writers to Watch in 2020. She is currently working on her second novel and has published work in La Revue Zinc and La Voix Sépharade.

Hannah Allen-Shim studies Comparative Literature, French, and Harp Performance at Oberlin College & Conservatory of Music. She is a former recipient of the Marandon Fellowship from the Société des Professeurs Français et Francophones des États-Unis and an alumna of the Banff International Literary Translation Centre. Her translations are forthcoming from Pamenar Online Magazine and Reunion: The Dallas Review’s monthly feature, Reunion Online.




Conor Bracken translates Jean D’Amérique


the spot I’m from
the lot where wounds bloom
to pry open space

voice clenched inside the stone
and waiting for fresh water
my wind slinks out of the tree
to delta into vertigos
how can I arrive at different rivers
what weather can I yank the stitch of rain out of for my land

north-large-whole south-little-hole
noise-that-matters voice-in-tatters
piddling class
crossed this world that’s hacked into nations
have cut my paws to chuck

homeland I’ve looked for you with no luck
I’ll have to invent you
you rattle my arteries
are more present than the spliff at my lip
warmer than the lover against my skin
but the world walls up shudders
won’t raise the gate of your residence for me

neither more nor less advanced
in equal step with humanity
my country won’t reach the heights of the grand powers
but will share its ladder
red bird rage-lark
there will be blue sky for a river fresh cry for a mouth
a white season for weapons
I will be born in this country


pays mien

du point je suis
d’où fleurissent plaies
à fracturer l’espace

voix fermée dans la pierre
en attente d’eau fraîche
mon vent se détache de l’arbre
pour ramifier vertiges
comment atteindre d’autres fleuves
de quel temps extraire pluie pour ma terre

nord-grand-entier sud-petit-tiers
bruit-qui-compte voix-sous-bottes
basse moyenne
ai traversé monde que voici taillé en pays
me suis coupé les pattes

pays mien je te cherche en vain
il faut t’inventer
tu secoues mes artères
plus présent que le chanvre à ma lèvre
plus chaud que l’amoureuse contre ma peau
mais le monde mur autour des convulsions
me refuse où te domicilier

ni plus avancé ni moins avancé
à pas égal avec l’humain
mon pays n’ira pas aux sommets des grandes puissances
mais partagera sons échelle
oiseau rouge rage-allumette
ce sera bleu ciel pour rive cri frais pour bouche
saison blanche pour les armes
je naîtrai dans ce pays



deadended clouds
the frail dolls of morning latch on
to the airlift

each dive
drops the heart back into its childhood
what branch shudders
so ecstatically a wing will not devour it

the hanger I hang the flags from
so I can offer the alms of my hand

behind each being a sheet glows
here I am without markings
the sea is no mast

cyclonic gown
footing slipshod in your floods
in your rains I remain dry
what a revel
if I open my window
it’s because you are a pledge



nuages en impasse
poupées frêles les matins s’attachent
à la fuite

toute chute
ramène le cœur à son enfance
quelle branche jouit
si folle une aile ne la dévore

cintre où j’accroche drapeaux
pour donner ma main en offrande

derrière chaque être luit une voile
me voici sans empreinte
la mer n’est pas un poteau

robe au cyclone
perdre pied dans vos déluges
dans vos pluies m’étancher
quelle fête
si j’ouvre ma fenêtre
c’est que vous êtes une promesse


am I poor

burned up, my newborn blood
grew up inside a lack
limb too much for the body to lift

my mother chopped down sugarcane
bum harvest for the History
that played dumb in the scholarly account

my flesh still mulls the slash
the historian filed away in the void

nowadays am I poor
don’t reach for your abacus

every tax to keep me quiet settled
my shame fully paid up
and I’ve still got a couple gobs
to lob into the brimming evening of your capital


suis-je pauvre

brûlé mon sang nouveau-né
ai grandi dans le manque
membre trop lourd pour le corps

ma mère a coupé la canne à sucre
nulle récolte pour l’Histoire
foutue muette dans le conte scolaire

ma chair rumine encore l’amer
que l’historien a archivé dans l’oubli

maintenant suis-je pauvre
n’attrape pas ta machine à calculer

acquittée toute taxe de me taire
dépensée ma honte
il me reste ces quelques crachats
à jeter dans la nuit pleine de ton capital


finished off

coming for the lack
coming in pieces
hyphen closing the road
murk-made animal coming for sleep
throat slashed deep

sown in rafts at my feet
a strait the tributary limps into
my head the fogs skirt past
bowed the word grows brittle
the next step dust
the gardens darkness locks belong to me
I’m on my way to be finished off in daylight



viendrai pour l’absence
viendrai cassé
trait à fermer route
animal ténèbre viendrai au sommeil
gorge décapitée

semée en radeaux à mes pieds
étroitesse où s’épuise branche
contournent ma tête les brumes
arqué le mot s’effrite
poussière prochain pas
à moi jardins clos par l’opacité
je viendrai achevé au jour

Jean D’Amérique, Atelier du silence. Cheyne éditeur, 2020.
© Cheyne éditeur, all rights reserved.


Translator’s Note:

These four translations come from Jean D’Amérique’s third collection of poems, Atelier du silence or The Workshop of Silence. D’Amérique is a prolific writer with an exceptionally well-tuned ear (honed by his early years in the slam poetry scene) and a rigorous and unflinching moral outlook. It would be an oversimplification to say that his poems are about Haiti, the nation of his birth and upbringing, and the political, economic, and cultural situation therein, but it would be a disservice to pretend they are not deeply concerned with it. When we see a poem like “homeland,” where the speaker has to “invent” where he is actually from, a poem that makes a government out of the natural elements and beauty that surround him, we come close to understanding the aspect of Haiti that animate him—the land itself, the origins of its songs and sounds and scents: bulrushes, larks, mourning doves. 

In D’Amérique’s poetry, there is a dexterous ambivalence towards what others tend to take for granted—the kind of ambivalence that allows poetry to flourish. A nation, D’Amérique tells us, isn’t just its government, nor is it only its people. A language isn’t a simple tool but one inflected with history and still spattered with blood and injustice, as well as a material to be melted down, recast, wielded in new and surprising ways. The subject matter here is heavy—poverty, natural disaster, the first country to truly abolish slavery being shoved off the world stage for centuries—though the poems themselves are often unassuming and small on the page; we might go so far as to say that this is a kind of formal imitation of the nation’s geographic size and outsized historical/experiential weight. 

But just as Haiti is more than its history and its geopolitical status, and just as D’Amérique is more than his passport, these poems bristle with surplus—consonance and puns, tenderness and anger, meditations on the nature of poetry and music and scathing indictments of regimes. His poetry abounds, and in its abundance resists the kinds of shortsighted, divisive categorizations that seek to reduce the world’s complexity so it can be more easily fenced. 


Born in Haiti in 1994, Jean D’Amérique is a prize-winning poet, playwright, and novelist who splits his time between Paris, Brussels, and Port-au-Prince. He has published several collections of poetry: Petite fleur du ghetto (Atelier Jeudi Soir), Nul chemin dans la peau que saignante étreinte (Cheyne), Atelier du silence (Cheyne); and Rhapsodie rouge (Cheyne). Author of several plays, he has received the Prix Jean-Jacques Lerrant des Journées de Lyon des Auteurs de Théâtre for Cathédrale des cochons (éditions Théâtrales) and the 2021 Prix RFI Théâtre for Opéra poussière. His first novel, Soleil à coudre, is out now from Actes Sud. 

Conor Bracken is a poet and translator. He is the author of Henry Kissinger, Mon Amour (Bull City Press) and The Enemy of My Enemy is Me (Diode Editions), and the translator of Mohammed Khaïr-Eddine’s Scorpionic Sun (CSU Poetry Center) and Jean D’Amérique’s forthcoming No Way in the Skin Without This Bloody Embrace (Ugly Duckling Presse). He lives near Cleveland, Ohio. Translator photo by Lupita Eyde-Tucker.




Gustavo Pérez Firmat translates Luis Alberto de Cuenca


Here I am in Formosa, which isn’t Formosa yet
because the Portuguese haven’t named it.
A month ago I left Canton, skirted the coast,
and my junk anchored at the port of Zaiton,
one of Cathay’s most important cities, 
at least as big as one (or two) Bolognas. 
Here, my superior, John of Montecorvino, 
founded two of our order’s convents fifteen years ago.
In one of them I found lodging.
With me, the relics of four Franciscans who perished in Tana, near Bombay,
where Christians – I know this from personal experience – are cruelly persecuted.
To arrange for their remains to enjoy eternal rest, I meet with a lady
from Armenia, rich and devout,
who has erected a spacious and beautiful cathedral here.
The lady is older than I am (I won’t see sixty again), and very elegant.
She arrived in Zaiton when she was young, having just married a merchant from Erzurum
who’s been dead for many years and to whom she gave no children.
The impeccable old lady greets me simply and invites me to dinner.
Her maidservants bring large bowls of rice, and trays with duck meat
carved into nearly transparent slices, and vegetables and fruits of many colors. 
I eat with gusto while my hostess speaks to me of China’s false gods.
Suddenly, the main dish of our feast is announced,
thin fibers floating in the succulent sea of a dark and steaming broth
that seems to recreate the watery milieu from which life sprang
God-knows how many years ago.
“It’s pasta,” the widow says, “healthy, nutritious, invigorating food, 
and easy to digest. Don’t you eat it in Italy?”
“No, my lady, and I will confess, without fear of error,
that it’s the most savory delicacy that I have tasted in my life.”
We went on to discuss the conditions for the surrender of the relics
and the location of the sacred remains in the temple.
But since those fabulous fibers went from the table to my stomach,
my mind is elsewhere. I’ve lost my head. 



Only the sea, and this unquenchable 
thirst, and a heap of corpses on board,
and the absence of God.
                                             I don’t know why
these things have to happen to me. 
It’s true, I killed the albatross 
that loved me and that I adored, 
the snowy-white albatross who fed 
from my hand and told me tales of primeval 
giants, of goddesses with emerald tresses;
but it’s usually the case that one ends up
killing what one loves (Wilde said so).
It’s true, I have sinned gravely against 
you. Stuffing myself with books, reading 
myself blind with the experiences of others   
has provided the keys to your hatred of me.
But that’s what happens when you mix
oil and water, or put St. George and the dragon
into the same bathroom, or when you try
to stop violent lunatics from hitting each other.
It’s true, above all, that I am here, alone,
with this obstinate, mocking sea that laughs 
and tosses me about at its pleasure,
as if God had gone and left an intermediary
to punish me for my sins. It’s true, 
Coleridge’s albatross loved me and I killed it. 


A prolific, multifaceted writer and scholar, Luis Alberto de Cuenca possesses one of Spain’s most distinctive poetic voices. His poems, elegant yet devious, explore the expressive resources of the conversational register by making use of a variety of materials: classical antiquity, comic books, Hollywood movies, slang, urban culture. Perhaps more than any of his contemporaries, he has been a major influence on younger Spanish poets. Cuenca received Spain’s National Poetry Prize in 2015 for Cuadernos de vacaciones, and in 2021 he won the prestigious Federico García Lorca International Poetry Prize.

A writer and scholar, Gustavo Pérez Firmat is the David Feinson Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University. He has published several books of poetry in Spanish and English, including Sin lengua, deslenguado, and Bilingual Blues. His books of literary and cultural criticism include Saber de ausencia, Life on the Hyphen, and Tongue Ties.