Mark Tardi translates Kacper Bartczak


the organism undertakes a reading 
reading rattles the entire organism

a record of stone 
skin saliva excrement

if titanium or nail they too would be 
recorded or the marrow of its name

describes the skin the lip soaks up the ink 
a morpheme will pass a transplant

in a tube of glomeruli a phoneme
the oxolate will exude a graph

a lymph into alighted autograph
breathed into print

the meat syllable-sliced
& the nail will grow

the song will build hair 
horn collagen sebum

the print will deposit detach 
correction current on the beam


Neophyte refined

the poem searches beyond 
the poem that corrodes
doesn’t code nor clap 
algorithmically doesn’t buy 
a billboard of bullshit 
doesn’t fund slush nor skeeze 
doesn’t intercede
digests thru concrete & ice

says: “capital
is dead I gleam
over a dead billboard
I crush the neon sign into hoarfrost 
let gasoline run thru me 
over the ice I bind
dead gas into a bundle
that’s how I loved you”


Translator’s Note:

If the material substance of our world—minerals, plants, residual tissues, organic and inorganic matter—is alive and agentive, why shouldn’t it express its fears, beliefs, and dark energies? This is a pivotal question Polish poet, translator, and critic Kacper Bartczak has explored in a recent series of interlocking books: Wiersze organiczne [Organic Poems], Pokarm Suweren [Food Sovereign], and Naworadiowa [Radionaves]. On scales as vast as the cosmological or geological or as minute as the molecular, Bartczak considers how cultural dynamics rife with alchemical dangers or polluted delusions have fed contemporary Polish political discourse and reality.

Because these three collections can be read as a triptych, they open up a translational opportunity to think both latitudinally and longitudinally about relationships between poems: if “the poem searches beyond /the poem that corrodes,” how might a word, phrase or line leap or mutate across stanzas or books? With the example of “nie kręci nie mrozi lodu” from “Neofita rafinata” (“Neophyte refined”), a poetic gene can mutate midline. Here the poet takes the Polish idiom, “ktoś kręci lody”—which would literally be “somebody makes ice cream” but is normally used to describe self-interested schemers or those running sketchy side-hustles—and puts the phrase through a sort of mitosis, splitting, stretching, and negating the terms so that it retains the nucleus of the idiom but becomes part of a larger, more expansive critique of late capitalism within the poem. Since there is no obvious English equivalent to the idiom, my solution, “doesn’t fund slush nor skeeze,” signals both the icy elements of the original and the “I-Me-Mine” myopic behavior common on Wall Street.

Bartczak’s poetic organisms breed syllables that cut through meat while “the song will build hair / horn collagen sebum.” His is a lyric on return from deep space, a kind of 21st-century Copernican catechism that sifts through “a record of stone /skin saliva excrement” to read a bundle of gas collapsing in on itself as expression of love.


Kacper Bartczak is a Polish poet, scholar, and translator. Recent poetry volumes include Czas Kompost [Time Compost] (2023), Widoki wymazy (2021), Naworadiowa [Radionaves] (2019), Pokarm suweren [Food Sovereign] (2017), and Wiersze organiczne [Organic Poems] (2015). He has translated and published volumes of poetry by Rae Armantrout, Charles Bernstein, and Peter Gizzi, and many other poets into Polish. In English translation, his poetry has appeared (or is forthcoming) in Poetry, Denver Quarterly, Interim, Berlin Quarterly, Aufgabe, Jacket2, and Lyric. He is an associate professor and department chair at the University of Łódź. Photo by Grzegorz Wołoszyn & Biuro Literackie.

Mark Tardi is a writer and translator whose recent awards include a 2023 PEN/Heim Translation Grant and a 2022 National Endowment for the Arts Translation fellowship. His most recent books are The Circus of Trust, and translations of The Squatters’ Gift by Robert Rybicki and Faith in Strangers by Katarzyna Szaulińska. His writing and translations can be found (or are forthcoming) in Poetry, Conjunctions, Denver Quarterly, Interim, Guernica, Cagibi, Tupelo Quarterly, Full Stop, and elsewhere. Viscera: Eight Voices from Poland is forthcoming from Litmus Press in 2024. He is on faculty at the University of Łódź. Photo by Joanna Głodek.




Mordecai Martin translates William Gropper

Translator’s Note:

As an anti-Zionist Jewish writer working translingually in Yiddish, English, and Hebrew, I am struggling with how to respond to the ongoing genocide in Gaza. Like many Jews throughout history, my first instinct when confronted with tragedy and horror is to turn to the past. I began a disorganized search through the Yiddish Book Center’s archives to find texts I had previously bookmarked as interesting reads that I wanted to explore further. I felt somewhere in the archive of European and American Ashkenazi Jewish culture, I would find the raw materials for a piece that would help me begin to address the questions, swirling inside and outside of me, that I faced as an American Jew against Israeli and Zionist violence. When I came upon the anti-Zionist and anti-imperialist political cartoons by William Gropper for the leftist newspaper Morgn Freiheit reprinted in his collection Di Goldene Medine, This Golden Land (1927), I saw a beginning.  I have attempted to collapse translation, historical contextualization, and commentary into one piece of writing. My success in this attempt I leave the reader to decide.


Figure 1

A woodblock print style cartoon by the artist William Gropper depicts a man feeding a cow a large bag labeled with a dollar sign. Underneath the cow’s udders are several smaller bags labeled with dollar signs. Behind the cow, who appears to be defecating small coins, an impoverished looking bearded figure wearing a kippah and holding a prayer shawl catches the coins and looks surprised and disappointed. The overall cartoon is labeled in Yiddish “Zionist activity for the Jew in Exile”, while the small bags of money under the cow are labeled in Yiddish “For the Zionist Machine and also for Palestine.” The small coins the cow is defecating are labeled in Yiddish “For the Jews in Exile”

1. This shitty cow!
2. This shitty cow is eating all the money!
3. This shitty cow isn’t doing shit for me!
4. The joke is that this shitty cow is marked Zionist organizations!
5. This shitty cow is standing with its back to a Jew marked the Jew in Exile, or maybe the Jew in Diaspora!
6. This shitty cow eats money and gives money milk!
7. All the money milk flows into Palestine and the Zionist political machine!
8. They don’t even call it Palestine anymore! The shitty cow renamed it Israel! The shitty cow has prohibited us from calling it Palestine!
9. So much for Zionist activity for the Jew in Diaspora! The Jew in Diaspora doesn’t get anything!
10. I’m a Jew in Diaspora! I’m standing behind the shitty cow marked Zionism and all I get is cow shit!


Figure 2

A woodblock print style cartoon by the artist William Gropper depicts two men of similar stature and in the same position, one next to the other, striding forward, head turned over the shoulder, shouting something. The man on the right is wearing a military uniform and has a big moustache and wears a sash that has written on it in Yiddish, “Polish Antisemite”. The man on the left has a pointy beard and a top hat and striped pants and tuxedo jacket and his shirt reads in Yiddish “Gruenbaum”. Beneath the word “Gruenbaum” is a six-sided star. The caption over the cartoon says in Yiddish “They speak one language.” Underneath, there is a caption that reads “Polish Antisemite: There are too many Jews in Poland!” and then “Zionist Gruenbaum: Too many Jews are in Poland!”

1. The joke isn’t funny if it needs explanation.
2. The joke isn’t funny unless I tell it to you.
3. The joke isn’t funny, it’s a satire.
4. The satire is in the picture.
5. In the picture, two men are waving their fists.
6. The two men look identical and are both Polish, in a sense.
7. In another, more important sense, one is a Jew and the other doesn’t exist.
8. The other exists but he’s many, many people.
9. All of these people who are one person in the picture are antisemites, they’re Polish antisemites. They wear a patriotic uniform and have a big mustache.
10. They say there are too many Jews in Poland.
11. The Jew is named Yitzhak Gruenbaum, and he’s very important in Israel.
12. In Israel, he signed the Declaration of Independence. In Israel, he was the first minister of the interior.
13. In the picture he’s not just some Jew either. He wears a top hat, he wears spats, his Van Dyke beard is slightly overgrown.
14. In Poland, before Israel, when the satire in the picture is drawn, he might be just some Jew, but he works at a newspaper, he’s an editor for a newspaper, several newspapers, in Hebrew and Yiddish. He gets elected to the Sejm, he forms a Jewish bloc, he says the Jews need a homeland in Palestine, over and over and over again.
15. He says that we need more Jews in Palestine.
16. He says there are too many Jews in Poland.
17. The Polish antisemites and the Jew, they speak one language.
18. The language only has one sentence. The sentence is “There are too many Jews in Poland!”
19. But even here they can’t agree. The Polish antisemites are saying “There are too many Jews in Poland!” and the Jew is saying “Too many Jews are in Poland!”
20. What does the difference mean? What does it matter?
21. If Yitzhak Gruenbaum is from Poland and he says there are too many Jews in Poland, is he a Polish antisemite, even though he’s a Jew?
22. Do they speak the same language?
23. Are they the same?


Figure 3

A woodblock print style cartoon by the artist William Gropper depicts a caricature of Abe Cahan, an older man with a mustache and glasses, in a prayer shawl and kippah, standing in front of a wall. Cahan has a newspaper tucked under his arm, labeled in Yiddish, “Bintel Brief” and his head is bowed in prayer. In the dirt at his feet are various trash like objects, including a torch and an arm, as if from a statue of Liberty. Written in Yiddish amongst the trash are the words in Yiddish “Socialism” “Idealism” and “The worker’s interests.” The caption says “Abe Cahan is grateful at the Western Wall.”

1. The pope is praying.
2. The pope is betraying the workers.
3. The pope is Jewish, that’s why he’s the pope.
4. Let me explain the joke. Let me, a Jew in Diaspora, explain the satire in the picture.
5. Abe Cahan was the editor of the Forward.
6. The Forward was a Yiddish newspaper.
7. The Forward was ideologically Socialist and supported the interests of working Jews.
8. It encouraged them to Americanize in the Bintel Brief, an advice column.
9. The Forward is still a Yiddish newspaper.
10. It is also a Jewish newspaper.
11. Yiddish means Jewish.
12. The Jewish newspaper the Forward publishes in English now as well as Yiddish.
13. One time I, a Jew in Diaspora, got into a fight at a party with an editor of the Jewish newspaper the Forward who told me Yiddish is not a language.
14. She said it was technically a dialect.
15. I said, it’s a language. It’s a language called Yiddish.
16. This was before I spoke Yiddish, but I knew.
17. Anyway, Abe Cahan was the first editor of the Forward, and the Forward was so important they called him the Pope of the Lower East Side.
18. When Abe Cahan went to Palestine in 1925, he was very impressed. He was so impressed that the Forward took a strong Zionist turn.
19. When I, a Jew in Diaspora, lived in Israel for three years, I got very sick. I got so sick, I took a strong turn away from Zionism after leaving Israel.
20. Because I took a strong turn away from Zionism, I stopped reading the Forward in 2017 or so, around when I got into a fight with the editor of a Yiddish newspaper who believes that Yiddish is not a language.
21. When the Forward took a strong Zionist turn, it convinced many American Jews to take a strong Zionist turn.
22. They believed the Forward because the Forward was ideologically Socialist and had supported their interests as working Jews.
23. In the picture, where the satire is, Abe Cahan, the Pope of the Lower East Side, is praying at the Kotel, the Wailing Wall, in Palestine. He holds an edition of the Bintel Brief. At his feet, discarded, are idealism, Socialism, and the interests of the workers.


Figure 4

A woodblock print style cartoon by the artist William Gropper depicts a large, rough looking man with cruel and angry eyes in a Marines uniform walking through a door, looking over his shoulder suspiciously. He carries a rifle with a bayonet on it. The picture is captioned in Yiddish, “Yankee imperialism through a back door”

1. The marine could be going anywhere.
2. The marine is walking through the backdoor, gun drawn, bayonet raised.
3. The marine is marked Yankee Imperialism.
4. He could be going anywhere.
5. I, a Jew in Diaspora, really mean that.
6. I researched all these drawings, all these satire in pictures, and I can’t figure out where the Marine is going.
7. When I looked up “US Marines deployed 1920s” and the range of dates when this cartoon could have been drawn, it was impossible to know where the Marine is going.
8. He could be going to Nicaragua or China.
9. He could be in Micronesia or Guam or the Dominican Republic.
10. The Marine goes through the backdoor, and who knows where he’s going?


William Gropper (1897-1977) was a radical leftist Yiddish and English language American cartoonist, muralist, lithographer, and painter. Gaining recognition in his early twenties for his remarkable drawing style, he went on to have a successful career in a variety of newspapers and publications, including the New York Tribune and Vanity Fair, as well as many notable left-wing publications, such as the Masses, the Liberator, and Morgn Freiheit. His WPA and Treasury Relief Art murals endure in some historic federal buildings. More information about Gropper and his estate can be found at

Mordecai Martin is a 5th generation Ashkenazi Jewish New Yorker, a psychiatric survivor/Mad person, an aspiring translator of Yiddish poetry and prose, and a writer. He lives in Washington Heights with his wife, child, and Pharaoh-Let-My-People-Go the cat. His work has appeared in Peach Magazine, Catapult, Honey Literary, the tiny magazine, and Longleaf Review. He is pursuing an MFA at Randolph College, blogs at, and is on social media @mordecaipmartin.




Marietta Morry and Walter Burgess translate Anita Harag

Magnolia Estates

We were the first to move into the building. We pressed the elevator button for the third floor, the buttons were smooth, no one had yet carved their names or phrases on the elevator door. We looked at ourselves in the mirror, we were also smooth, two people, a man and a woman, we tried to see if they suited each other. The man is somewhat taller than the woman, his hair darker, his eyes darker, he looks like an engineer, someone comfortably off; the woman is pale, has good posture, she is, perhaps, a tired lawyer. We stop on the third floor and go to apartment 34. It is larger than we remembered, the walls are glaringly white, our heels clatter against the tiles. We enter each room, the doorknobs feel strange in our hands, the doors don’t open the way we expect. We turn on the tap, the water splatters as it comes out. We go out on the balcony, look at the fenced off yard, at the red swings, the wooden playground climbers, at the garden with its multi-colored flowers, at the empty windows of the apartments in the other wing of the building across from us, there are no clothes drying on the balconies nor chairs with tables holding ashtrays. We like the balconies and the idea that we will be sitting here in the evenings, light up and watch the people behind the windows. We go back to the bedroom and lie down, start kissing but the floor is too cold and hard. We brush our hands over the floor’s pattern, a slight coating of dust remains on our fingers. We don’t lock the door but then, out of habit, go back and lock it anyway.

The dog didn’t find his place for weeks. We put his bed beside the sofa, then beside the dresser, then at the kitchen door. He didn’t lie down in it even once. He stood beside the entrance door, then got tired and lay down, got up again and stared at the door.  We thought he wanted to go for a walk but once downstairs in front of the building he didn’t move. We carried him to the park in our arms, there he sniffed at the ground, he sensed the familiar smells and ran around in the grass. He’ll get used to it, we kept saying. Our furniture looked old in the apartment, the yellow sofa, the scratched desk, the white picture frames seemed yellowish or grey. The pictures became blurry or were not even visible from 9 to 1:30 because of how the light fell on them. You could only make out the shapes from a certain angle, from the left and below, the faces were unrecognizable because of the light when we looked at them close up. The plants suddenly started to grow, their stems got tangled; the day after watering them, new shoots appeared. Every week we brought new pots and we transplanted the plants into them on the balcony, sweeping the leftover soil down into the yard.  Even the first plant we bought together showed new life, although for years its leaves were yellow and we never knew whether it needed more water or less. 

We bought new furniture so the apartment wouldn’t seem so empty. There was less and less of an echo in the rooms when the dog barked. Sometimes after work we set off in the wrong direction to go home and only when we were halfway to the old apartment did we figure out that that was no longer the right way. The concierge smiled when we told him the story, smiled when we said good evening, smiled when the elevator door closed behind us, when he said good morning, good-bye, and “you’ve got a parcel”. He tried to guess whether the box contained a lamp or a coffee machine. We shook our heads and lied when we said that is was an electric kettle. We placed the salt lamp in the bedroom, a few days ago one of us woke up choking and said it was because of the air. We are standing in the middle of the room taking deep breaths, there is a faint odor of paint, something we can’t tolerate. 

When we arrive home one day we find the apartment empty, our furniture has disappeared, so have the plants that covered the balcony door, and the dresser, the small chest beside the entrance, and the bowl we bought by the ocean. We call for the dog, he doesn’t dash out from the bedroom where he was sleeping on the bed even though that was forbidden. The apartment echoes with our steps, neither of us says how relieved we are. There are no picture holes on the walls, the protective film is still on the windows. Everything is exactly as it was on the first day. We finally figure out that this is the fourth floor. We close the door, look at each other and go the next door. Our key opens four more apartments. 

We had the sofa cleaned but it still seemed filthy and so bought a new one and had been planning on getting a new desk for quite a while. The stems of the Komodo philodendron reached all the way to the floor, we hammered nails into the wall and let it climb on those. It will soon reach the first picture on the wall. One of us takes long walks with the dog every evening to be able to smoke pot, the other detects the odor but doesn’t ask about it. Sometimes we sit out on the balcony and share a cigarette. We watch the windows of the other wings, it seems as if something was moving in the dark, but there is nothing there, only darkness. How about over there, we ask, isn’t that a curtain? No, it’s only the window frame. There’s someone sitting on the swing; it’s only the shadow of a bush. Then some people start arriving looking for an apartment. We laugh about how keen they are. They don’t know yet how empty this building is. That the bathrooms are too small and the hallways too large. There are no radiators to stand in front of to warm up. The concierge accompanies them to one of the apartments, never on our floor, we watch from our window as they go out on the balcony, scan the courtyard, and when they look in our direction, we retreat behind the curtain. We watch as they walk around the courtyard, they resemble the figures on the poster that is still in front of the building.  Men and women are walking in the courtyard, children are on the swings, scrambling on the climber, a dog licks the hand of a girl.  Sometimes we imagine we are the couple walking snuggling up to each other or the ones sitting on the bench, but the more we look at the poster, the more we are convinced we are not on it. The potential buyers leave and don’t come back. Then, after a while, no one comes.

We hide different things in the building for the other one to find. One of us is in the front, the other following. Very cold, we say, or lukewarm, you’re getting warmer. Is it in the B wing we ask, the B wing is very cold. We head for the D wing, lukewarm, go to the second floor, cold, the fourth floor, getting warm, we say, and notice how the corridor echoes, we open the door of the apartment 46, hot, we find the theatre tickets on the kitchen counter. Apartment 46 is five square meters larger but it only has two rooms. The living room is like ours, with windows all around. We open the balcony door, the balcony is larger, a hibachi could fit in it. We would barbecue here, one of us says, there could be a hammock here, the other says. Once a month we would invite the neighbors over, if we run out of barbecue spice, the neighbor can hand it over the balcony railing. I would have an affair, one of us says. What do you mean? Here, I would have an affair, it’s that sort of apartment. Would you have an affair here? Not here. Then where? Somewhere else. I would have an inkling but I wouldn’t dare ask about it. We go back to our apartment. The dog is so happy to see us as if we had been gone for several days. 

Every evening at 8:00 the concierge checks out all the corridors. He arrives at our floor at 8:10, he slows down in front of the door, walks gingerly and goes down to the second floor.  He knows when we leave for work, when we get home, and when we go shopping. He asks if everything is all right when we take the dog for a walk more often than usual. He also knows that sometimes one of us goes up onto the roof and watches the street, anxious that the other one may not come home. The concierge could tell if we had a fight, at such times he gives us a wider grin. The tooth behind his eye-tooth is missing. He watches us take the elevator and go along the corridor. We look around in our apartment, check the lamps, pat the walls, we are convinced that there is a camera somewhere in the apartment so that he can watch us. For weeks we behave as if there was a third person in the apartment, we walk differently, we wrap a towel around ourselves in the shower stall, we touch each other differently, we pat the dog more often, but we don’t let him up on the sofa, as if we had borrowed it and had to be careful. Then we get used to the idea that the concierge is watching us, we get used to him having the tooth behind his eye-tooth missing, and then we find it hard to get used to the fact that now he only comes twice a week when he has to put out the trash. 

We are playing a game. We imagine that the man in apartment 13 is restless. He cannot replace the bulbs because they are all working; he cannot fix the doorknob because it turns easily; the kitchen cupboard door doesn’t creak, nor is the faucet dripping. We imagine that he opens the cupboard as if looking for something, closes it, opens it, closes it, what are you doing, his wife asks him. The man improvises that he is looking for a mug because he would like a coffee. You never drink coffee in the evening. I have a craving for it. But it’s almost 8 o’clock. The woman is fifteen years younger but mature for her age. She is sure that she knows everything about the man, she guesses if he would like to soak up the sauce of the tuna pasta with bread, she is already slicing bread when he puts his fork down and reaches for it. I always know what he needs. We decide that they are the ones sitting on the bench, it’s hard to make out their faces because the poster has gotten dirty in the past month. My husband married me because I can make the same pound cake with a chocolate glaze that he used to eat in kindergarten, I keep kidding him about it. Most of my stories have to do with my husband, he is the protagonist or he is the one who said something that I need to repeat to others. In these stories my husband is self-assured and strong, he knows exactly what needs to be done in all situations, while I am a likeable minor character who smiles even when she is not in the mood to smile. My wife appreciates my sense of humor. My husband has a great sense of humor. We imagine that we run into them in the lobby, the man is aloof, the woman is more polite than congenial, as if afraid that we will ask something that they will have to answer. 


We are sitting in the car listening to the radio. If we pay close attention we each can hear the other’s breathing. We notice a cat at the side of the road, there’s a cat there, we say. We like the same kind of music, we listen to the same radio station. Or rather one of us, the other doesn’t admit not listening to the radio except to the one in the car. We turn up the volume when our favorite announcer reads the news. The announcer’s voice resembles that of an actress but it is definitely not her because she always drags out the last vowel at the end of a sentence. We imitate her and try to drag out the vowel at the end of our sentences. We find the dragged out ee-sound the funniest, it makes us laugh out loud, our eyes meet as we laugh and stop at the same time. We slide our hands down our thighs, we no longer remember who copied this gesture from the other one. Two cats, we say and look at them but only for a second and look back at the road. On hearing the word “cat”, the dog raises his head on the back seat. We don’t like it when the highway is busy, we don’t like having to pass cars and merge back into the lane, having to watch when there is someone behind us who wants to pass and honks the horn if we make any sudden moves. We don’t admit that the honking startles us and we also worry that the honking would startle another driver who would jerk the wheel and cause a dangerous situation for us, just when the announcer drags out one of the vowels. 

We sat in this same car when we both had the same thought and one of us asked how does one know when one is in love, we had already crossed the third border and for the last half hour we were in a country neither of us had ever visited before, we were self-assured, curious and excited like those going on vacation who have accommodations 200 m from the seashore, 300 m from a department store, have GPS and internet, they couldn’t get lost even if they wanted to, isn’t that sad, and we came up with the same idea that it is about disgust, that is how ones knows. We both pretended that it was a difficult question that took a lot of pondering. We couldn’t picture each other’s face even though sitting side by side, that was another reason that we knew that we were in love, not only the fact that we were not at all disgusted by the other’s snot.  

We arrive home tired, we can’t talk about the trip for days. If our friends ask what it was like, all we say is fine, if they ask about the weather, we say warm. What was it like to sleep in the car, don’t we have backaches. Five cities in seven days, did we see anything of those cities at all, would we recognize them if we returned there, which one did we like the best. Can we imagine settling there. How much is a coffee, a kilo of bread, a liter of milk, are buns truly cheaper there. Several of our acquaintances moved there, it’s close yet it’s not here.  How busy was it at the seashore, is it as pretty as the Italian or Greek coast. And did we swim. We tell the same stories at least six times until we get bored with them, and instead of remembering them what we remember are the words we used to tell the stories. 


Now to apartment 25. My wife is sad today, as well, and once again I don’t ask her what is the matter. I was already in bed, my wife had gone to bed earlier, I forgot something that I tried to figure out and that’s when I remembered my wife. I decided to ask her the next morning, I will stroke her face or her arm, perhaps put my hand on her shoulder and ask her. I was awake. Were you awake? I couldn’t sleep. And why are you sad?  You can ask right now but I won’t answer because I will pretend to be asleep. I think you’re asleep but I ask in the dark what the matter is in case you might answer. I whisper the question so that if you’re asleep I won’t wake you. I don’t react. I don’t ask again, I will wait for morning instead. I have trouble falling asleep, the rain knocks against the window sill, I think you don’t hear this anymore and think how lucky you are to be already asleep. So why are you sad? Are you stroking my face or my arm? Your face. At first I say that I’m not sad at all. I say your name and look at you for a long time. There are so many things one can be sad about. Pick one. I am sad because I cannot have a child? Is it because I would like one but it is not happening? But I would know about that and it would make me sad too.  Am I sad because you are cheating on me? Maybe, but that is apartment 46. Then it occurs to me, what happens if you want to leave me again. Why did you have to bring this up now? Yes, I think that’s the reason. You ask about it and I don’t say anything. I just keep repeating that I’m not sad. Finally I say that I’m tired, probably that’s what’s showing, I’ve got a lot of work or something like that. Let’s go to an outdoor spa on the weekend and get a rest. They’re all closed already. Then let’s go for a hike. I nod, let’s go. But wait a minute, I’d prefer that there is no reason why I’m sad, there are a lot of people who are sad without any reason. As you wish. 

We remember less and less what our life was like before this building. We couldn’t tell what the entrance to our old apartment was like, whether we put a pine wreath on the door at Christmas time, what the view was like from the bedroom window, there must have been a draft by the window, we don’t know if the light in the bathroom was the cool or the warm type. We had a lot of neighbors, two per floor, we saw them often, talked to them, asked how they were doing, we helped them carry down their heavy furniture they wanted to get rid of when it was time for that. Yet we couldn’t recall their names. We seemed that we talked to each other differently in that apartment, we touched each other differently, and coming home we often focused on the other person, slicing tomatoes or reading the newspaper on the sofa, we lived in a bachelor apartment at the time but were uncertain whether there was another room in it somewhere, for example a bedroom, perhaps by the bathroom. We don’t understand how there was enough space for the plants, and if there was enough for the plants, how was there enough for us. The sun would only shine through one of the windows, that’s where we positioned the chairs, we turned toward the light like plants, we sat down and closed our eyes, put our feet on the window sill, the sun burnt our soles. 

The areca palm grew too big for its pot, we had a hard time transplanting it on the balcony, it was too tall. It’s getting increasingly more difficult to move the plants around, it is hard to get a good grip on them, it takes more and more time to water them. We put some of them in the corridor, they block the entrances to the neighboring apartments, and even there they grow so fast that after a while we can’t even find the doors. The sun fades the photos, the faces cannot be made out even when the light doesn’t fall on them. We get more and more confused who is who on the photos, we can’t picture their faces, as if we were in love with every one of them. Our friends come over less and less often because they do a lot of overtime or have a second job. We are sent back home from our workplace because the heating costs too much.  Days go by without us seeing anyone, or we only see them from a distance when we take the dog for a walk. Now to apartment 46. One of us has a lover. I don’t ask about it, just watch for the signs. That today you didn’t look back from the street when you left for work. You didn’t hear when I said that I missed you, or if you heard it, you pretended not to, so that you didn’t have to reply in kind. That I spent all afternoon writing something on a piece of paper that I left on the kitchen table, and yet you didn’t look at it when I went into the bedroom. That we hadn’t had sex for weeks, before when that happened you were ready to climb the walls and in bed you pressed your hard cock against my back, but you didn’t do it this time. I know there’s no point, as far as you’re concerned, we could just as well sleep in separate beds. Then that’s why you’re cheating on me. I guess so. Let’s look at apartment 13 instead. What are they up to?  I’m about to break the faucet so that you can fix it.

Sometimes we don’t talk to each other for days. We walk along the corridors, enter the apartments, take the elevator to the fifth floor, stand on the rooftop, and look at the other one on the opposite side. We don’t nod when we look at each other, then turn away, look at the building entrance, watch the street, the concierge hasn’t shown up for weeks to bring the bin back to the courtyard. A cat moved into one of the apartments, we must have left the balcony door open, and it had a litter in a kitchen cupboard. Five kittens were meowing when we squatted down close to them, their mother let us pet them, we must have the same odor as the building. We bring them milk, bologna, a blanket, we keep the dog away from the apartment, when we get back from visiting he sniffs our feet and follows us everywhere. One of us doesn’t come home one evening, sleeps in the cats’ apartment leaning against the wall surrounded by purring kittens. The other one notices being alone while half asleep but cannot keep alert enough to go looking.

  We brush our teeth, get dressed, make coffee and mix the muesli. One of us dreamt that the plants had disappeared from the corridor, got up a dawn, opened the entrance door, the other one didn’t wake up because the door opens so quietly, the floor doesn’t creak either, looked outside, turned on the light in the corridor, could see the plants, touched the leaves, felt their softness, stayed until the light went out then turned it on again, and when the light went out for the third time, returned to bed. We keep apart in the morning, pet the dog, check if the window is closed, and leave the apartment and lock the door behind us. We listen for sounds coming from inside. We walk along the white corridor, stop at the staircase, look down, then up, but we don’t see or hear anyone, we are alone. We want to say a name or any word to see if there is still an echo in the corridor, but in the end we don’t say anything because we worry that someone might hear it. 


A short excerpt of this story, not identified by title, appeared in the pamphlet “New Hungarian Books 2024 (Petőfi Literary Agency, Budapest, 2024).


Translators’ Note:

The Hungarian language is gender neutral in the third person. Writers in that language usually give their characters names or traits that make it clear who is being referred to. By contrast, in “Magnolia Estates,” Anita Harag revels in the ambiguity. In our translation, various mechanisms are used to avoid third-person pronouns where the author intends the reader to be unaware of which of the two main characters is the subject. 

This intended lack of clarity fits in well with a story in a sort of parallel universe. “Magnolia Estates” does not exist in a real world but rather in one that could exist if a universe had branched off at the moment when the couple moved in to the new apartment building. As the real world drifts away from theirs, even their individual identities lose substance.


Anita Harag, the author of the short story “Magnolia Estates,” was born in Budapest in 1988. After finishing her first degree in literature and ethnology, she completed graduate studies in India Studies. Her first short stories that appeared in magazines earned her several literary awards. In 2020, she was the winner of the Margó Prize, awarded to the best début fiction author of the year for her first volume of stories. Her second book of stories, including “Magnolia Estates,” was published in September 2023. Photo by Dóra Baranyai.

Marietta Morry and Walter Burgess are Canadian. They translate contemporary fiction from Hungarian. In addition to stories by Anita Harag (seven have been published), they translate short fiction by Gábor T. Szántó, Péter Moesko, Zsófia Czakó, András Pungor, and Anna Gáspár-Singer. Many of these stories have appeared in North American literary journals. Photo by Péter Moesko.




Kristina Andersson Bicher translates Hanna Riisager

The triumph of venus

I.                       (Boucher)

The lines dissolve

the day rises
in a swirl towards the shell’s center
a dream
in mother-of-pearl and silk ribbon    ornament
is crime

It is a cone it is a stiff sea
that towers up with white geese
dry, cloudy
a plug

overexposed from the side in slanted
with love’s white
wedged between the thighs
– a third

carrying        Want
with a chisel
into the picture deeply
into the white, goose flesh hole
which arches around the want


when you, oh when you
swim with the doves

when you freeze all this
                          freezes in your body

II.                       (Gillette)

So beautiful
it is
beautiful in my mirror the tiles
the floor’s
black seams drain trap

drifts, vertigo
drifts of hair

drive it out
the pelvis’
walled spiral
in a
maelstrom of soapsuds
the memory
the head’s rounding
grooves          form follows function

with ironic and straw-scented

is it really the clean lines
I seek
to carve reality
are really

shaved clean, pain

I’m on my knees  I stand atop
the sun     secreting
                        repeating a slogan
(gesture) out of memory

the best you can get
That is the best a man can get

III.                       (Hild)

Under the water
is an enormous pressure.
I’m not looking for a kernel.
There are no pearls here: nothing.
The body and its reward systems,
a void that’s flesh.
A sinew that wraps itself around

A massive internal pressure.

You are born out of this, your clarity,
your apparition, your criminal
beauty, spinal, elongated.
An illegal infatuation
this ascetic amor ornamenti

                       where does it come from?

The underground river’s wild
deep darkness. Upended white,
colossal, down to the bone
which blows itself around in a macabre dance.
The shell’s sandblasted surface, inside me,
the flesh’s compliance. The obstruction in me
is love (a battle)

remnants, ashes, tiny tiny shells


      I.              Hanna

You are only sound. Your voice
is beautiful and fills me with its darkness.
You open your mouth to call out for me,
and all the stars jingle in an electric space.

You dress up as an angel,
thunder your steps of grace at the marble sky
like an echo inside my tender skull.
I dress up as a tear. Quiver.

Then the angel takes out a large knife
and pokes my hairless crown.
Pokes a hole, this big.

A this-big naked cry
that gapes and swallows its own voice.
Gurgles and vomits silence, tears.

      II.              Han (He)

Halves me. Disappears into my face.

            A severe obsession:
I must go back to that place,
            the memorial park.
I must lay down in the odorless         
            municipal grass
and let the weight of the thundersky press me against
            the earth.

na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na na…

Do I wake up undressed in your bed?
            Do I not recognize myself?
            Do I not recognize you?

I lose myself in stupid narcissistic plunges into the mirror.
You smile at me with a fake-tan ambiguity.

In the park’s leaf-tunnel, leaf-forgetfulness
                         I hold up my name like a lamp
against the distance. Your face blazes with a white sheen,
                         broken profile. Scent of jasmine, drizzle.

      III.              You

You know one slash is enough for me to cut you in half.
It’s so dark
in the morning, it never gets light.
I dream of gunmen every night.
Mute men with weapons, masked as me.
I shoot a hole in your stomach, this big.
Slip around on your intestines, like on a plowed
autumn field, glossy gray. Clay turned up –

Jackdaws lighten in flocks. Bullets, poems,
the shooting down of the poem, lead-grey
hail showers. You,
hovering around for a while.

      IV.              Me

One of the many names you dress in, beaming.
The edge of this world
that surges hard against your white lip.
An optical illusion.
It is called skin but means phoneme.
An aspirated cry. As if
my vocal chords ached from my signature.
Or from the mirth you swallowed. Ha –
Here I place a nest
in your gaping throat. You sit quietly
with your beautiful word on the tongue.
Alveolar collapse. Declaring
my boundless scope.

Translator’s Note

When Hanna Riisager’s debut collection För Kvalia was released in 2015, a reviewer described it as “a distinctive collection of poems that taps into philosophical theories about perception… a playful and straightforward book, worth discovering for those who dare to see the world in other than black and white.” Svenska Dagbladet deemed Riisager among “Sweden’s 20 most important young poets” in 2016.

This book – in which these two poems appear – is both exploration and ode. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines qualia as a concept that seeks to “establish that conscious experience involves non-physical properties. It rests on the idea that someone who has complete physical knowledge about another conscious being might yet lack knowledge about how it feels to have the experiences of that being.”

As a translator, these were thrilling poems to dig into. With only loose narrative threads, the poems are borne along on drifts and rivers of imagery and language which (to extend the metaphor) both surge and ebb or trickle/waft away. Word pile-ups alternate with buckets of white space. The book draws upon classical poetic traditions such as epithalamions and ekphrasis.

The multi-part poem “Triumph of Venus” published here refers not only to famous paintings but also brings in commercial products from the beauty industry that employ language seeking to re-define the self. The poem “Hanna” is such an exploration of the self. How the self interacts with others and the self of the world. How the self experiences the self:

     You dress up as an angel,

     thunder your steps of grace at the marble sky

     like an echo inside my tender skull.

     I dress up as a tear. Quiver.

These poems left me in wonder.

Hanna Riisager is a Swedish poet and critic living in Stockholm. She has an MA in literary studies from Stockholm University. She is one of the founders of the feminist publishing house Dockhaveri förlag, which published her first full-length poetry collection, För Kvalia (2015). För Kvalia was short-listed for the Swedish Authors’ Association debutante prize (Katapult prize) in 2016. Excerpts from För Kvalia have previously been translated into Romanian (Poesis International), French (La Traductiére) and Greek (Vaxikon). Work translated into English appear in Four Way Review and Asymptote.

Kristina Andersson Bicher is a poet, translator, and essayist. Her work has been published in AGNI, The Atlantic, Ploughshares, Colorado Review, Brooklyn Rail, Harvard Review, Hayden’s Ferry, Plume, Narrative, and others. She is author of the poetry collection She-Giant in the Land of Here-We-Go-Again (MadHat Press 2020) and Just Now Alive (FLP 2014), as well as a translation of Swedish poet Marie Lundquist’s I Walk Around Gathering Up My Garden for the Night (Bitter Oleander Press 2020). Her second full-length collection is slated for publication in 2024.




Marina Veverec translates Monika Herceg

The Body

I gave birth to a son and dreaded his nature,
bore holes in plates,
day after day I overspilled meals with prayers
Converted, bone by bone loudly
slipped out of some other god’s fist
You hear me? My son will never set a cat on fire

Still a cat is merely a structure of agility,
nothing in her paws drives the day
at least not enough for her to survive the last war
Irradiated she’ll grow three heads
and her kittens will glow like bulbs
Filled with radioactive meaning
she’ll be a predator lurking from a distance,
a tenderness that yields a slow death
The neighborhood boys will light cat tails like firecrackers,
shove the firecrackers in cats’ anuses watching as their guts
outshine the spring explosions of flowers
The blazing cats will come jumping into our beds
like Molotov cocktails
for the final cuddle

In days to come, closing their eyes to the nature of boys,
all the neighborhood women will burn like the cats

I don’t understand why you get so distrustful
You know I bore us a son bold enough
to turn into a girl
when you’re not looking

She must’ve grown up that day
the puss put on the boots,
took away the clarity of her sex
There was nothing to be done


The Antibody

This borrowed body is
A skyscraper surprised by the persistence of doves,
off its façade flakes the brushing of neighbors,
in the heart of the elevator
the bill collector had a sudden sympathy attack

We’ve given up defining love as a newborn,
aware we could easily be fooled by a cactus of similar shape
Our mothers, all excelling in motherhood,
said the emptiness had to do
with my perception of reality
as the volume of a poem
Said it certainly had nothing to do with you

I’ve been diagnosed with an abyss
In the park I sit calling out to imaginary girls

They already talk like grownups
and when they ask me mommy why have you been crying,
I tell them frankly
that indifference is
the first degree of dying,
and we are alive, so alive
What I don’t tell them is that I’ve already forgotten
how old they are,
all about their childhood crushes
I don’t tell them that in your presence
I never utter
their unborn names


Translator’s Note:

In 1959, in her poetry collection Nestvarne djevojčice (Imaginary Girls), Marija Čudina wrote: “giving birth to little sufferers is a divine duty / of all women, of the young ones and girls even / but let them beware once they deliver / not to find themselves rejoicing by the window […] for it is of grave importance that a child cries once presented / with the mad forest that echoes with the pounding of fists / and that it be miserable coming to know the world / and the true pain leaving the body at night in vapor.” 

Writing in a time when existentialism dominated poetry in Croatian and Yugoslav literature, Čudina was conscious of the societal restrictions posed on bodies, almost as a force against which there is no recourse. More than a half century later, Monika Herceg grapples with the same norm-imposing structures in her writing. The first poem presented here, “The Body,” opens with a vivid expression of the subject’s anxiety as it projects onto the newborn child the gender norms of masculinity, which culminates in the abrupt and decisive statement: “My son will never set a cat on fire” even at the price of renouncing any ‘higher’ authority, in this case symbolized by the unnamed ‘god.’ 

Throughout Herceg’s collection, Lovostaj. (Closed Season.), femininity takes various symbolic forms. In this case, cats represent a “structure of agility” adaptable to the conditions set by the masculine power structures which have systematically removed them from dominant discourses, be they social, political, medical etc., and thus have accumulated “radioactive meaning,” which becomes slowly released, or “a tenderness that yields a slow death.” The feminine/masculine contrast persists throughout the poem, most strikingly in the image: “The neighborhood boys will light cat tails like firecrackers, / shove the firecrackers in cats’ anuses watching as their guts / outshine the spring explosions of flowers.” Ultimately, the ‘son’ is bold enough to metamorphosize into a ‘girl’ and there is nothing ‘patriarchy’, embodied in the ‘father’, can do about it. By exploring the bodily transformations in this vein, the poem resonates quite well with Carol Ann Duffy’s “Mrs Tiresias.”

And while “The Body” subverts the necessity of bearing a male child, rooted in European aristocratic traditions, “The Antibody” is its antithesis: the inability of woman to conceive at all, or possibly, a terminated pregnancy. The layering of female experiences with regards to traditional gender roles is what Herceg often aims at, implying there is no single nor fixed definition of what it means to be woman and challenging the romanticized images of motherhood rooted in patriarchal representations in literature of Western societies. Subsequently, what gives the human body significance varies across temporal and spatial contexts, and poetry, with its marginal position among other political discourses, is a place of endless possibilities for exercising subversive power and challenging the dominant norms.


Monika Herceg is a Croatian poet, playwright, and editor at Fraktura Publishing and Poezija, a poetry journal published by the Croatian Writers’ Society. She is the author of three poetry collections, including Početne Koordinate (Initial Coordinates, SKUD Ivan Goran Kovačić, 2018; Sandorf Passage, 2022), Lovostaj. (Closed Season., Jesenski & Turk, 2019), and Vrijeme prije jezika (The Time Before the Tongue, Fraktura, 2020). Her work has been recognized through many awards and honors, most notable of which are the Goran Award for Young Poets, the Fran Galović Prize, and the Macedonian Bridges of Struga Award, and translated into more than fifteen languages, among them English, French, Italian, Greek, and German. She is the 2024 European Poet of Freedom laureate, juried, among others, by the Nobel laureate Olga Tokarczuk..

Marina Veverec (Đakovo, 1995) studied literary translation at the University of Zadar, Croatia, and is also an alumnus of the BCLT Summer School. Her translations have appeared in [sic], Denver Quarterly, Exchanges, Poetry International Web, Asymptote, VerseVille, Literary Hub, and Harvard Review. In 2022, her translation of Monika Herceg’s Initial Coordinates was published by Sandorf Passage. She lives in Zadar where she co-organizes the LITaf Literary Festival and holds the role of a language editor at [sic] – a Journal of Literature, Culture and Literary Translation, as well as at SPONDE. She works as a special education paraprofessional at a local elementary school.




Khaled Mattawa translates Saadi Youssef

Sad Nights of the North

In the North it’s night all the time.
No day is day,
and no night is night.
The sun’s cloak tore the river’s water,
a statue that hides its laugh
with mounds of hair.

The cries of the weepers rose
and the dead are an audience.
People dress in black,
but the day is not for mourning,
neither is the month
nor year.

In the North
there is a river of eyes,
locks of burnt grass,
and the water is red.
A flute, sword, and gun,
sword and gun,
a shy moon
frightened like a victim.
Panic is the god of the North
and fear is a god too.
No one knows anything—
everyone, even God, is misguided.
What’s to happen will happen—
blood, river, time, and death—
so says the prophecy.
Whenever chaos breaks out in the South
war breaks out in the North.
Language is lost there—
the pen sword,
not the sword pen.

Writing in the North does not follow any direction,
not upward
or downward,
or left,
or cursive,
flowing on the line
or below.

Poetry cries out in the North.
And God
has lost his way.



The blood on the road
does not evaporate.

The plants don’t know 
the difference between
them and water,

don’t know the color of the horizon.



It’s as if God has decided 
to be in our village as water!
For two days, God kept raining, 
flooding us with himself
until the channels overflowed,
rooms flooded,
people imprisoned in their homes.
We missed the birds, the squirrels, and the children.
Thank you,
Lord Master.
We get the message.
Come Sunday morning, we’ll be in church.
We won’t miss your hour,
Lord God.


Translator’s Note:

I’m delighted to see that publications are picking up on Saadi Youssef’s work and that his poetry is drawing perhaps even more interest now than it did when I began translating him more than three decades ago. 

I can’t recall exactly when I first heard of Saadi. I left Libya as a teenager and did not start writing until late in a meandering undergraduate career. It wasn’t until I began walking the Borgesian book stacks of Indiana University’s graduate library that I began to read Arabic literature again. If my memory serves me right, it was in a year that I spent in Cairo, midway through my MFA, that I first saw Saadi Youssef’s name in print. But why did I recognize it as the familiar name of a poet?

Perhaps Saadi too would have been surprised that I, a prodigal removed from his language, would discover him. When Saadi left Iraq in the mid-sixties to take up teaching in newly independent Algeria, as an Arabic language teacher, he was walking away after a stint in prison for being a member of the Communist Party of Iraq. A decade before that he’d escaped the secret police of the Iraqi monarchy to Kuwait. In Algeria, he began sending his poems to the great journals and magazines of Beirut. In the first instance he was anthologized, he was included in a volume on poetry from Algeria, where no one knew he was even a poet. But word was getting around that there was a poet named Saadi Youssef, embraced by no regime or movement, although his political sympathies were clear. Saadi’s name traveled in almost the same manner that he read his poems out loud: quietly, forcing readers to lean in closer to the verse, whether they heard it in person or holding his books in their hands. Back in the U.S., I needed the quiet of a grand library to hear his verse, and voice it out in English.

Saadi’s descriptive, and unassuming, style was uncommon when he started out. His poems drew on his life in the marshlands of southern Iraq, an Edenic setting of water and greenery with great movable houses, and even mosques, made out of reeds. His poverty as a child oriented his sympathies, and his travels from a semi-primordial setting to the world’s capitals made him a nimble soul who could make a home anywhere, knowing that exile is not a political wound but the poet’s stance in the world, a gift not a curse. 

A keen observer of the world, Saadi can best be imagined with pen and paper looking through a window and taking down what he sees. As in all great poetry, the extroverted eye is almost always seeking metaphors for what remains muddled and muted inside. So intimate was his verse, his readers in the Arab world never shouted his name out loud. Yet his name has been an open secret, or an open sesame, to a remarkable poetic sensibility that has powerfully widened the breadth of the region’s poetry.


Saadi Youssef (1934-2021) is considered one of the most important contemporary poets in the Arab world. He was born near Basra, Iraq. Following his experience as a political prisoner in Iraq, he spent most of his life in exile, working as a teacher and literary journalist throughout North Africa and the Middle East. He is the author of over forty books of poetry. Youssef has also published two novels and a book of short stories, and several books of essay and memoir. Youssef, who spent the last two decades of his life in London, was a leading translator to Arabic of works by Walt Whitman, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, and Federico Garcia Lorca, among many others. 

Khaled Mattawa is the William Wilhartz Professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Michigan. Mattawa’s latest book of poems is Fugitive Atlas (Graywolf, 2020). He is the editor-in-chief of Michigan Quarterly Review.




Janet McAdams translates Jeanne Karen

The Blue Glass of My Window

This poverty’s a persistent stain of motor oil I try to get off the way dogs shake water from their fur. Happiness has become a new flower on my desk and shows up each day like a notebook or an achingly cloudy sky or a snail on the blue glass of my window. The street fades away as I proceed toward nothingness. I turn the world’s last corner and the verses of Pessoa come to me just as I’m passing the Buena Vista Social Club, now out of business. Then the water spills, the chocolates are stale and metaphysics just boarded the city bus. A cab driver lets me cross, I’m getting to class early. We’ll listen to music today. Meanwhile, I’m thinking of the water jug, of the heart that seems empty or that child-god who needs love, if he were with me, I’d buy him an ice cream as if it were the only possibility for happiness, the only sure thing in his universe.


Cézanne’s Flowers

Dreams are also words. Twisted words dropping from a train, bringing my ghosts back from the future. The first comes down: black suit, breasts bare, metallic tulips the color of peaches to cover her head. And the next: long skirt, a sort of tent with curtains from different kinds of fabric, many textures for a single outfit. Another also wears a black suit and little prints of colorful seahorses travel across her back, she wears shoes that are dark and light for hurrying to the next platform. An aerial ice rink outlined by the halls’ windows. The atmosphere’s freezing but bodies bear whatever temperature. Happiness is a park of oil paintings, Cézanne’s flowers. The afternoon takes shape among muddy blues against a yellow, red, and sea-colored background. Memories of sun. Loose petals, pieces of burst, phosphorescent roses white as the naked bodies of women closing. Brown eyes blur light through the haze. Coffee shops are underwater. Traveling by sphere is enough—a couple of minutes, nothing more. Out of nowhere, a shopping mall appears, they sell coffee beans from all the islands still in existence, you don’t have to drink it: you have to feel it through your skin, varieties ranging from little electric shocks to the tongue, even an all-night entry into the special capsule, a room covered in purple tapestry where you can talk to a god who combs his hair in bed.

The garden closes early because at night everything changes: flowers might be some predatory, devouring animal, a little firefly or a family of frogs. To take away a souvenir of the place, you must have faith and space on your skin, because you can ask for a tattoo of the sun to light up your room for a week. Or maybe you’d want to get one of those sweets you put under the tongue so you regret nothing.

Backlit, the ghosts of the future are slender and change voice and body, because at some point in their civilization they realized one is never what others see, but an idea made manifest, the other’s desire. They don’t know war. Their cosmogony says they were born from a moon and in their world there’s no conflict, only creation. In their time I’m a murky figure, a state of the soul, an apparent mood, living, shining. In another mirror’s dream, I’m a mechanical sparrow, reconstructing itself. Winter’s my home. Sea eye, aperture to the life of water men. Their tears are stars from the night I died.


Translator’s Note:

These two dreamy prose poems are characteristic of the arc and themes of Jeanne Karen’s 2022 collection La vida no es tan clásica [Life’s Not So Remarkable], which I feel fortunate to be in the process of translating. Like much of Karen’s lyric poetry, these poems catalog an invented and inventive landscape, one rife with transformation, with novel logics of color, image, and sign. Where they depart is in their greater attention to narrative and storytelling, in their subtle and intricate blurring of genre lines. There’s a sense of the tale in these poems, the archetypal clever-girl-hero making her way through an uncanny landscape whose events she must decode and learn from.

Karen revises those archetypal forms by putting them into conversation with the clutter of contemporary urban existence, something evident in “The Blue Glass of My Window.” In the poem, the speaker-narrator is headed to work, bombarded by the visual tangle of city life, one in which stale chocolates and metaphysics are weighted equally, where a moment of courtesy from the cab driver who “lets me cross” and the beautiful blues of the sky and window are notable, held alongside what grounds the speaker: “that child-god who needs love,” who is with her even when he is not.

The landscape of “Cézanne’s Flowers” is much more askew, reminiscent of the territories we make our way through in nighttime dreaming. Its deft mixing of the built and the natural is extraordinary—there are coffee shops and frogs, a shopping mall and a little firefly. Karen has, in her poetry, a knack for rendering tenderness so utterly it becomes vulnerability, so much so there’s even a hint of violence. “Loose petals, pieces of burst, phosphorescent roses white as the naked bodies of women closing,” she writes, in a particularly layered and complex string of images in what is already an especially layered and complex poem. As I worked my way through this capacious and rich poem, I sought to balance its well-populated beginnings with the surprising direction the final paragraph takes—beautiful spare language from a single, decidedly solitary speaker: “Winter’s my home. Sea eye, aperture to the life of water men. Their tears are stars from the night I died.”


Jeanne Karen Hernández Arriaga, born in San Luis Potosí, Mexico, is a poet, editor, journalist, cultural activist, and columnist. Her fifteen books include, most recently, La vida no es tan clásica (Editorial Zeta Centuria de Argentina, 2022), a new edition of her 2007 collection El gato de Schrödinger (Instituto de Física de la Universidad Autónoma de San Luis Potosí, 2023), Púrpura Nao (Editorial Grito Impreso, San Luis Potosí, 2018), and Menta (Editorial Ponciano Arriaga, 2019, San Luis Potosí), which won the 20 de Noviembre Prize. Among her many honors are a grant from the Fondo Estatal para la Cultura y las Artes, the Manuel José Othón Award, and the Salvador Gallardo Dávalos Award.

Janet McAdams is a writer, translator, and scholar. A bilingual edition of her new and selected poems, Buffalo in Six Directions / Búfalo en seis direciones, (trans. Hedeen and Rodríguez Núñez) was recently published in Mexico City (Editorial Aldus) and in Patagonia (Espacio Hudson). Her translations of Bolivian poets Paura Rodríguez Leytón, Mónica Velásquez Guzmán, and Melissa Sauma have appeared in Anomaly, Kestrel, Poesía en Acción, and Poetry. In 2024, she was awarded an NEA Fellowship in Translation. She lives in Mexico.