Snakes are building a nest/in a bed so I walk/ away/ My eyeliner is smeared / rain drops mix with tear drops & dried sweat/ my hair gains new curl before thickly falling/I swish swallow spit champagne and Chambord/ hit clubs so dark / I can’t tell—was that you was that me? / A rhythm pumps through my skin/ move towards/ body heat. / I’ve stopped trying to tell /what my feet are doing / I swim / gasp over water & find warmth/ in isolated spots of my body fingertips/ burn /my breasts/ I am lost/ in the strobes. /I want to stay here forever/ home is a far-gone prospect & the heat is out / in my car but here I can seek out moments of spotlight /No one follow me /because I step/ I bird/ I am a woman whose toes curl backwards/ break off When do neglect and indulgence become the same things? / My emotions suffocate /under dust. I find a section of earth & /pantone. I carry longing / in the scars on my thighs /& when I look in the mirror I wonder/ if my lover would recognize me? / I sparkle pearl & moscatto but break open pink / My thoughts unravel like ribbons / I swim silver skin in / diamond dark, my heart pierces through / the atmospherelight up/ under the moon & / dance shadow, the cool of it all. I hit up an abandoned / Ferris wheel/ redstains across my body & talk /selfsweet tonight climb/ My lungs icicle & /seagulls become discarded tissues behind me/ Mud slides between my toes/ I turn / to a stranger in the water below / whose face is mine but not mine/a cousin I never met / gatita, let’s jump/ she calls /& the ocean comes to me in an embrace, there—/
I Learn from History
The Queen of Versailles gave me lessons on scapegoating over tea, so tonight I lay down, and Every Man steps right over me. From the ground, I can see a squirrel bury a nut, but the future can’t be trusted to arrive.
Pat pat pat pat into the Earth: I haven’t left my kitchen floor in weeks, but I have a plan. Streetlights open up on every block: veins, saturating anything around them. I dream of a step forward each moment, and I will ask the questions that suffocate deep in my chest, the ones that I cough up when I’m alone: red, black, and green.
Why does my anger scare you? Are you afraid of me or are you afraid of what will happen if I stand beside you?
I want to purge this, circle the parking lot, salt the asphalt, grow whole universes in darkness.
But until then, I survive five miles under ice, with other extinct things.
There I indulge in morbidity, watch in silence as my flesh loses blood, stiffens, loosens from my body. The gap between cheek and cheekbone fills with slush water, I come apart under teeth like butter knives, but the fish assure me I am not feeling a thing.
Suzi F. Garcia is the daughter of an immigrant and has an MFA with minors in Gender Studies and Screen Cultures. She is an Editor at Noemi Press, and her writing has appeared in or is forthcoming from Fence, Vinyl, Apogee, the Wanderer, and more. You can find her on Twitter at @SuziG or at suzifgarcia.com.
i, too, have loved a queer body too brightly to see them husk me until it happened. have opened up the internet to escape and seen their virality spake psalm out of my friends’ mouths. have closed my eyes and wondered if this was worth a stranger’s jealousy. to wake up next to them and tell my friends what they look like. to mistake a naked swath of skin for vulnerability. to call it that anyway, even when their mouth scabbed and their hands twisted inside of me as though playing an un-tuned instrument. i, too, have spit all the teeth out of an ex-lover’s name and felt guilty for the blood of it. sometimes, when i hate myself the most, i wonder who will love the faggots if we can’t even love ourselves. and maybe it is my fault. for expecting someone to partake in me and not come away writhed and wounded. for finding someone whose gender mirrors mine like we wouldn’t shatter getting that close. o, god of fast music and neck muscles, show me a queer intimacy that does not end in a dawn that dreads what new bruises it will expose. give me a community that does not sing in octaves made of knives and other poignant garbage. sometimes, when i mourn the death of trust, i feel selfish in my ability to weep over something that is not actually a body. how many times will i get to hate an ex before they die and/or are killed, and then what? do i mourn for the loss of one less person to slander me? do i pity the dirt they will sink into for their contamination of it? do i praise the maggots that will eat their heart, and the obvious metaphor of a thing that once flustered against my hand now cooling from a hate-crime? am i, perhaps, a piece of shit, for imagining a funeral notice i do not even open before throwing out? o, god of first-dates and subsequent road-trips, please stop letting me be broken by people that have also been broken by someone like me. please stop giving me lovers so similar that we become reflections and stop seeing the difference. please please o god of queer idols, stop just fucking stop. there are so few songs we can sing in which we do not have to change the pronouns or mutter them under the baseline. o, god of shy violences, do you think if we told the not-faggots that the faggots also too barrel into us like car-crashes they will stop following us around parking-lots? i, too, have been grinded up against in the mostly-dark and felt my breath stop and still wished for them to leave tonight alive. i, too, have seen a friend swollen with a new abuse and wondered if i blessed their perpetrator’s belly with a bullet, if we are both trans and just pre-dead anyway, would the headline dead-name it a suicide?
Linette Reeman (they/them pronouns) is an Aries from the Jersey Shore, so they’re not sure what you mean by ‘speed limit.’ Their work appears in Blueshift Journal, Maps for Teeth, FreezeRay, Public Pool, and others, they are a multiple Pushcart Prize, Bettering American Poetry, and Best of the Net nominee, and have performed at venues like Busboys & Poets and the Bowery Poetry Club. Currently, Linette is attempting to survive in small-town America. // LINETTEREEMAN.NET
The truth of it is I don’t feel like a man or a woman so much as a Janus-faced alien
from a Ursula K. LeGuin novel; like a radish buried underground, plump,
both womanly and phallic; like a bearded lady king
on a fiberglass throne; like a symphony rather than a single note;
like my body is good—I mean, good enough
as any spare: there’s a pleasure in it,
in doubling, pleasure heady as helium, in being both inside and outside
a skin; in building a second skin
like a dam or hutch, a face to wear like a home
in molting whatever no longer serves me
when and if I feel like it. I may never
remove my breasts because in truth, I like them.
I won’t lie to prove music to you, music you can’t hear outside my skull.
I can only be my own permission.
Jason Phoebe Rusch has an MFA in fiction from the University of Michigan. Their stories, poems and essays have appeared in The Rumpus, Lambda Literary’s Poetry Spotlight, and Vice, among others. More of their work can be found at jasonphoeberusch.com
Sun drunk and bruised we stop for mango juice, so sweet it jolts the tooth Chickens scurry beneath legs, peck at cartilage and scraps of bone C and J laugh canibalismo Push cainito halves to the plate’s ledge, one for each of my palms Slow I thumb the pits loose, cradle the etymology thick and viscous in the valley of my tongue: purple star apple, golden leaf, abiaba, pomme du lait, estrella, aguay, milk fruit My little lobe glows warm and fat Mouth curled around an old blurred life Violet nights exhausting my dizzy tongue beside offerings: stiff petals moon blood and stone I’ve come here to clear a vision of myself and let it be true How useless imperial language with a mouth for hunger And thirst Ears pressed between veils, straining to hold some silver ephemera not mine to keep
Breakbeat Aubade with Anemones and Lucky Fish
Waiting and waiting, Death I kept waiting. Despite the world’s benevolent violence Wants rich and long, questions curled as cowrie.
See: a thousand lucky fish in the Grimoire of My Life. The wild language of air sucked between teeth and the sibilance we submit to. Is the body not for this If
black writhe of being alive. What steel-clap hand, drunk bones and premonition: sapid pelvis in translation, torso of trap and tropical bass I slither and bend into every note
I slip, maestro, between your thresh and breakbeat, sweat a sea of wild anemones. Salt, so a deep song. Chest warm with the heat of our need and the menthol to come.
High off echolocation, lights yellow the streets. Beneath green rooms, I slip off my thick flit.
Between floors cumbia mouths my name, says descend in and pay nothing.
Give up the veils between us. Ecstatic corona, I pierce through the shrill season, against shudder. Teem brink. Woman in line
with deliverance. Fever. And the February a body begs.
Aricka Foreman is a writer, editor and educator from Detroit, MI. Her work and curation have appeared in The Offing, Buzzfeed, Vinyl, RHINO, The Blueshift Journal, Day One, shuf Poetry, James Franco Review, THRUSH, and Please Excuse This Poem: 100 New Poems for the Next Generation (Viking Penguin), among others. Author of the chapbook Dream with a Glass Chamber (YesYes Books), she has received fellowships from Cave Canem, Callaloo, and the Millay Colony for the Arts. She currently lives in Chicago, IL.
what begins in a thigh. bending the knees appears as prelude to elevation. what begins in a thigh. “Nobody has ever mentored me, not even when I was a child!” (George Enescu)
beat(ing), positive or pejorative: in a wind’s blow, I’ll beat you to death, batt(u)allia, blowing up the lake to stir the fish, a time when mountain cocks flap their wings to mate, tapping the ground with your foot then jump etc
all possibilities came down to one: the inevitable. look at the hen tapping. hold it, hen, I’ll cut you: crescendo, tremolo, martellato, flageolet, pianissimo.
“as early as in 1669, Raoul Feuillet came up with the first choreographic notation. he proposes a basic notation of steps, the gait direction and the figure sequence. there are no indications regarding the movement of the arms or of the upper parts of the body.” (Dancing in the 20th Century, Isabelle Ginot, Marcelle Michel)
[Aurora sees the old woman’s knitting needles tapping a 2/4 measure. it gradually turns into a charming waltz in 3/4. break. a cry in pain. Aurora is bleeding. eight 4/4 measures, very wide. Aurora starts to dance and gets dizzy. people are amazed. Aurora twirls as if bit by a tarantula, then suddenly collapses.]
[and nothing could have come out of their cry. a coral reef formed around her neck, jewels, so precious any other necklace would be imitating its art. when she opened the mouth her teeth were blunt, like a sea mammal’s. only swans carry such defense camouflage.]
[swans – broccoli. in and out of water. neck under, they are like a silky bouquet. broccoli. who would touch a submerged swan.]
[she pulls the leash; the animal gets out. it wags its tail at her feet, moves around the fallen skin. devilish skin, a sea devil. she takes it in her arms. her body smell wakes the animal. the beast begins to wash her, unnervingly. she lays it down and heads to the horse. the horse’s huge head, eyelids half-closed. the smell is there. millimeter by millimeter, an eyelid opens. the horse chews the skin, then desires to be lifted. man positions himself under the animal and lifts it. they prance synchronously, then let the skins drop.]
[let’s turn our attention from legs to arms. (…) the art of gestures is crammed in between margins too narrow, for great effects. (…) what is lost at the level of legs will be found at the level of arms. (…) the body is no longer a way for the soul to escape; on the contrary, it gathers around it.]
“I wish I could fly, to see with my own eyes things hidden underground!” (George Enescu)
what helps you be in flight fly? air: a mixture of gases that form the lower layers of atmosphere, indispensable to aerobe organisms. under ground, memory contains every gesture.
for now, we limit ourselves to events on earth:
“We bind sheaves on fields,
with sweet wine in a jug
Tra la la la la la la la la la la la la la” (Romanian Rapsody no. 1, lyrics by Georgeta Moraru, music after George Enescu)
in an atmosphere of calm and normalcy, no horse touches ground, dead leaves are pulled out of their hooves daily. wherever they go, the grass they collect fills the stable. their muscles firm more and more every day and, if you touch them, you feel the warmth of a body in motion.
when they’re groomed, a rope is tied around both sides of their bodies. when they want to laugh, they raise their back hooves and keep them up in the air. you need to quickly sit them down and caress them. you ask something, they thump out a tune with their front hooves, until you stop talking. our heads touch in this silence. they lightly ruminate through my hair, the air they breathe out smells of hay. nothing is similar in getting close to them and other animals. what happens in the space where the huge muzzles breathe has no cognitive memory. thus, Green Beam is about to foal. she fell in love with a Hungarian horse. as a sign of appreciation, they put a Romanian flag in his stable.
it’s not an unnatural posture – the tips of the legs facing outside, in a rotating forward motion, that begins in the thigh, engaging the entire leg. with every song coming from the speakers, the horses keep the music going. they dream of treating it as a material, like lights, cinematic projection or dance.
“like the algae on the bottom of the aquarium, lunatics move in front of the world’s sad people, who notice them full of remorse.” (Bernard Castelli)
welcome to a storage space of gestures. they are collected from living bodies. one lies down, another jumps, a third twirls, then ideas start coming.
“at some point the author stops, angrily pounds the table and shouts at the singer: ʽc’est faux!’ ʽit’s out of tune!’”
the player retorts: ʽit’s not out of tune in the least bit.’
ʽisn’t it? I can see la here and you are playing sol!’
ʽit’s the same!’
ʽwhat do you mean?’
ʽit’s your chord that’s out of tune, it sounds dissonant! it contains both sol and la. it means I can choose. I prefer sol.’
ʽand yet, it’s la! the author insists hopelessly.
they left it at sol! and they went on. (Alex. Cosmovici, George Enescu, His Music and His Family)
you come out of a wound slowly. if you think of it, without it.
you bend your knee and force your foot over the tip.
your identity fuses with your parts.
your identity fuses with the group.
you come out of a wound slowly.
the exit gives the body a voice.
“a quote (cognate with quota) is a cut, a section, a slice of someone else’s orange.” (Anne Carson, Decreation)
she creates the things she hears
who controls danger
stepping in your own text, sliding into your own subject, without any clear proof about what is factual and what is fictional. who acts upon S? the horse, for example, must be helped. the actor has not become his character. the actor must be hit by the horse to really cry. the domesticated horse must be shoed.
the room is changing: the more an object lies inside itself, the livelier its outside throbs. I’m not changing anything, a hole deepens on its own. details get mixed up and frequencies become unstable. what can we believe in?
(id)entity of rain: if the rain stays where it falls, it would form a layer of a certain height
“it is not advisable to repeat art forms. each work must have its internal origin, free from the formalism
of a conception that we thought (or really was) successful on another occasion.” (George Enescu)
it is not nice to quote from a body.
you have captured: a finger
the rule is: to startle the palm
with one glance
I hold my self in all the elements that make me.
today: in the museum yard, Red comes out to onlookers in his funeral garment. an army of flies dance
around his head. his muzzle is closed for ever, sealed by black ashes. Red, Red – the programmatic character of its symphonic suite.
even the passers-by watch him with no reaction. Red is the most beautiful colour, “those odd sounds in nature, the swish of leaves, the tumult of swirling waters after a brief storm, the birds’ chirp, the larks’ concerto – it carries our thoughts to the house in the forest of Tescani.” (Enescu Today by Viorel Cosma)
in the afternoon, the one dead is resurrected by the indifferent passers-by, who lie about never having had any dead of their own. Red is deathless. Red, carried in a wheelbarrow and buried by the priest-guard-stoker-museographer-artist-friend-of-all-positive-and-negative-dead-or-alive. „Voix de la nature is a substance of unmistakable mioritic essence, a poignant Romanian ethos.” (Enescu Today by Viorel Cosma)
you can’t see those passers-by anymore, with their heads bent and fallen shoulders, their dull color, their stained color. Red hits the piano keys, using a “whole arsenal of musical means, from heterophony to modal climate.” Posthumous in Red! Posthumous in Red!
Anca Roncea, poet and translator. She is a recent graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is currently attending the University of Iowa’s MFA program in Literary Translation. She completed her undergraduate education at the University of Bucharest in Modern Greek and English followed up with an MA in American Cultural studies. In 2012-2013 she was a Fulbright visiting scholar at UC Berkeley. She was born and raised in Romania and now lives in Iowa City where she writes and translates poems, working on an experimental translation of Tristan Tzara as well as her first book of poetry. She explores the space where language can create pivots in the midst of displacement while incorporating the aesthetics of Constantin Brancusi. Her work can be found in the Berkeley Poetry Review, Beecher’s Magazine, and the Des Moines Register.
Monica Manolachi is a poet, translator, editor and lecturer at the University of Bucharest. She is the author of three poetry collections, Joining the Dots (2016), Fragaria’s Stories to Magus Viridis (2012) and Roses (2007). In 2016, Antologie de poezie din Caraibe received the Dumitru Crăciun translation prize at the Titel Constantinescu International Festival of Creative Writing, Râmnicu Sărat. In 2017, her study entitled Performative Identities in Contemporary Caribbean British Poetry was published by Ars Docendi, Bucharest. As a researcher and critic, she often delivers presentations at literary conferences in Romania and abroad.
The slow fish knocks
up the room
opening to the sky.
dwellnumerous ImpregnableGambrelsOccupation —
I saw myself going — not yet
of charge, of flame.
numerous Visitors — fairest — Occupation —
If I’d worn a better
number, washed my hands
of the judge’s robe.
Possibility — House numerous Superior — spreading To
I know you see me
& stay unaroused.
The day takes
a leak & I know you
see me empty of birds, absent
of any more days.
Lose something every
losing practice losing
meant travel disaster
losing have losing’s master
I did not wear thirst
in the end. I imagined
a river. No,
you laugh, look
& see—it is your misfortune.
closed myself fingers
In 2013, Pablo Neruda’s remains were dug up from his seaside grave in Chile. Scientists then asked his bones to tell the story of the day he died. Was it prostate cancer that killed him or had he been poisoned? This story fascinated me—that his bones, that all of our bones, carry hidden messages. This is when I began my own search for alternate voices within the very bones, the letters, of poems.
To create these experimental translations, I start by finding Spanish words living within poems written in English. For instance, a Spanish river (río) runs through the middle of “mysteriously” and the word “losing” contains the Spanish word for without (sin). I then select a constellation of these unintended Spanish words and translate them into English to compose new works. The three poems here arose from Emily Dickinson’s “I dwell in Possibility,” Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art,” and “somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond” by E.E. Cummings.
This process of re-creating poems continues to astound me with the images and sounds and connections that emerge. This sense of discovery and surprise fuels my obsession with locating alternate voices inhabiting well-known poems. At the same time, it feels incredibly important to me to show these two languages, English and Spanish, inhabiting the same page, coexisting within the same sentences, within the same words. I’ve lived in Arizona for the past decade, and this is my own small way of trying to unbuild the wall between us and our neighbors to the south.
There have been many influences along the way to arriving at these experimental translations, and here I’ll offer but two thank yous: to the editors of Found Poetry Review for their 2014 National Poetry Month challenge that introduced me to the text-altering techniques of Oulipo, and to Señor Ruiz, the Cuban exile who landed in a small town in New Jersey and taught Spanish at my high school. As for Neruda’s bones, the first round of scientists found no evidence of poison. Later scientists, however, found an unusual strain of bacteria they can’t account for. All of the stories collected in Neruda’s bones have not yet been told.
Kelly Nelson is a poet and anthropologist who teaches Interdisciplinary Studies at Arizona State University. Her experimental translations have appeared in Structo, Interim, Forklift, Ohio, Best American Experimental Writing and elsewhere. She is the author of two chapbooks and teaches ekphrastic and found poetry classes at her local library. More at kelly-nelson.com.
Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979) was an American poet whose first collection, North & South, was published when she was 35. She served as what we now call the U.S. Poet Laureate from 1949 to 1950 and won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1956, four years after her mentor Marianne Moore won the same prize. Bishop’s life and work were written about recently in the New Yorker.
e.e. cummings (1894-1962) was an American poet whose first book of poetry, Tulips and Chimneys, was published when he was 29. cummings’ poetry experimented with form, punctuation, syntax and spelling and he received many honors including two Guggenheim Fellowships, a Ford Foundation grant and the Bollingen Prize. cummings also published plays and an autobiographical novel based on his experience as a captive during World War I.
and all I wanted was to see the ocean in malaga. I had the pilgrim’s notion that you could see africa from its shores. qué huevón. I’d been in madrid for two days and I was scared. scared of the thousands of eyes appraising me from above like some rare breed. if there weren’t so much fucking ecuatorianito here I think it’d be different. I might even pass for a piece of folk art. but no. in madrid it starts to get cold, te cagas, and here I am in this shitty suit jacket like a cultured thief. better put, like a chinese-suit jacketed thief. because in ecuador everything they sell to you as “american” or italian or french is chinese. even what you get in the shoppings, the worst really: do not wash in washing machine. do not expose to direct sunlight. do not iron at high temperatures. how the hell do you pay $150 for a suit jacket if the mere act of donning it causes damage. to the jacket and to you. and so on.
in madrid you feel like a strange bird. scratch that: like a brown piece of shit on the royal palace sidewalk. and the cold isn’t the “achachay” of quito. no. here it stitches your skin together with an enormous “s” of mountain sickness. but the cold passes. the elegance of these huevones is so unbearable that you understand how moctezuma must have felt confronted by cortez’s lead. the worst is that it all sticks to you and in two hours you’re already saying macho and joder and que te den por el culo. saying, fuck you up the ass, like it was nothing. but in madrid you’re still the chinese-suit jacketed weirdo like a dead rat on a street in caracas. there in el callejón de la puñalada. what’s perhaps surprising is that an andean latino who ought to be cleaning tables is dressed this way: a sort of neo-baroque dandy. a unique specimen who sits down to eat 20 euro pork shoulder and potatoes. the fucking potatoes that they would never have eaten if they hadn’t raped my great-grandmother. everything I think is, of course, subnormal: sub-developed sub-terranean sub-urban. but the words escape my throat and I say them to a chilean immigrant who also gives me a look as though I had offended her.
the thing is it’s muy jodido to live in madrid. my entire scene is the following: hostel basement in san mateo number 20 in front of the museum of romanticism. high heels of spanish women who talk too fast and pass by too fast in their silken pantyhose. well-mannered children who say: que se ha machao, madre, mother, it’s stained! la puta que les parió, fuck the cunt who begat them. and once again I feel like the underdeveloped sudaka who thinks himself somewhat cultured but has no one to talk to about literature or film or music or about anything. that’s why it’s been such blessed relief that they put spanish porn on TV at midnight. my first time making love to a spanish woman. it’s a saying. because to quote fogwill, “the love was already made.” in ecuador it’s all youporn with swiss poles russians and rumanians. all that mass of blonds that must have come out of a flea market but so long as the end purpose is served, who really cares.
my uncle lives here. he’s a migrant. he rents out this cold basement and sublets it to a chilean and an ecuadorian who show up about twice per week. migration is an underworld. ecuadorians here are like a plague. they’re useful as well. they do what everyone knows how to do, what the spaniards don’t want to do, or what they do in accordance to their level of poverty. the ecuadorian here suffers from a vital schizophrenia: mind divided, living off of nostalgia. but they’ve also become used to the comfortable way of life offered by this strange so-called first world. when they return to ecuador they feel out of place. they speak differently. dress differently. they even regard their roots with contempt. this is a rematch. the racism they suffer here they bring back to take out upon their own, redoubled. the ecuadorian identity crisis transforms the immigrant into a cultural monster.
my uncle is a guy who works in hospitality. waits tables and washes dishes at a seafood restaurant. people stand in endless lines to get into the place. this means I’ve been able to eat odd things like razor clams and barnacles and brown crab. I’ve also tried callos a la madrileña, beef tripe stew; what we call guatita in ecuador. but the best by far is the wine. everyone knows that. for a euro you can buy a harsh, sour wine that would cost ten dollars in ecuador. everyone knows that.
I’ll be here three days. even so I’ve managed to grasp some idea of this world. I’m far more interested in the lives of the characters known as immigrants. the spaniards are highly predictable. extremely conservative. they’re smart about exploiting the tourists though. but that’s another story. south americans in general are a richer phenomenon. their condition has turned them into something more complex. their own language has mutated in an extremely odd way. it’s laughable to listen to them saying tío, joder, macho, que te den por el culo alongside their own cultural idioms. the ecuadorian and the bolivian stand out in this jungle. they’re savage drinkers. the few resting places they have are dedicated to drinking beer: whichever’s strongest. they take refuge in their apartments with a steadfast conviction for self-destruction. fights are thus frequent. and jealously. the sexual explosion in their (our) countries is sinful. oh spain remove your sex from me.
I’m no immigrant. I don’t want to be an immigrant. I regard them with ire. but I find myself obliged to enjoy their delirium. there are those who want to return and those who don’t. the former retain a sense of self out of nostalgia. the latter have mutated. they have no idea what they are. or they do. they’re not going back. in that resignation lies their conversion into spaniards. the others will never manage to adapt. they work themselves to the bone to send back money and forever think of ecuador as the promised land. for them it’s a struggle, a lucha. work is a sacrifice. those who gave up live for the day and day-to-day. they want to bury their past. generally they’re the younger ones. they want to be included. they go out with spaniards. dress like them. eat like them. generally they regard ecuador with distain. they’ve grown.
my uncle’s friends run the gamut from one extreme to the other. there’s one, for example, who’s from one of those ecuadorian coastal towns where poverty and violence wound the days and take over the nights. he lives with a bolivian woman in a study, a single room that serves as bedroom, living room, dining room and kitchen, normally occupied by students, in the center of madrid. the woman is fat and indianized and wouldn’t stop talking about the tragedy of her job with a smelly old man that she had to put up with all day. one of those unbearably racist spaniards. she’s fed up, but a good person.
we have ceviche for dinner. every good costeño knows how to make a good ceviche, he says. how long have you lived here, I ask. I came fifteen years ago and haven’t been back to ecuador, he responds. they don’t like me there, ñaño. if I show up, they’ll kill me. some sons of bitches swore it to me. I put three bullets in a careverga who was screwing my woman. so I stay here. I don’t want problems. I’m rehabilitated, my bróder. why don’t you have a drink; do you like wine? and he takes out a bottle of marqués de cáceres nipped from the restaurant he works at.
that’s what my uncle’s friends are like. all with sad stories to hide. they’ve buried their past. those who go back, only go for a few months because they’re not used to it anymore. their country, our country, is precisely an imaginary line, a space filled with abandoned women and children, or in the case of the women, with abandoned men. be in spain and long for ecuador, be in ecuador and long for spain. that mental divide turns them into acculturated cabrones.
I already know that two or three nights aren’t enough to perceive a way of life, but this has been my first impression. my first contact with what would be called “my own kind.” like the last night before leaving for the mediterranean. we went to a disco in south madrid. it was sunday. I couldn’t believe it. in quito sundays make you want to kill yourself. nothing’s open. people flee. here it’s the day the immigrant goes out on the town, because a lot of them have mondays off, blessed day of the hangover, the resaca, the chuchaqui, the guayabo, the ratón, the cruda. sunday nights fill with the scent of sudaka cologne. the women go out heavily made-up in snug dresses they’ve bought on sale. or with out-of-style fake leather jackets. it’s like being in the 80’s. even the music they dance to is about 30 years out of date. it’s living off of nostalgia. so fucked up, but such great fun. they dance pressed against their dance partners, while the tables fill with pails of beers and bottles of rum.
salsa, perhaps, then cumbia, then bachata, and to top it off some reggaeton or vallenato. they’re eating it up. it’s like a quinceñera party. the men always have gelled-back hair and colored shoes and flowered shirts to attract attention. almost always a gold chain gleaming against their bare chests. it’s like kusturica’s underground but with south americans. young and old, all sharing in the same tastes. there’s consensus. here no one has issues unless you look at their girl. or their guy.
the thing is there are three of us sitting here with an insatiable desire to drink because it’s my last day in madrid. my uncle insists that I ask a girl out to dance and take her with me. no problems here, loco, he says, it’s all easy. they’re all crazy to fuck. I laugh with enthusiasm and tell him to wait, be patient, that I’m not that fired up just yet. and we toast to the joy of seeing one another after all these years. we’re friends now, we’ve moved over and beyond blood ties. to that, cheers. come whenever you want, ñaño. my house is humble and it is yours. thank you, brother, I’ll be back. and so on.
then I see that one of the guys who’s with us, also ecuadorian, gets up and goes over to another table where there’s a girl alone and asks her to dance. he draws her against his body but clearly has no idea how to follow the rhythm. it’s Cantinflas-esque. she tries to pull away, pushes him a bit and he says something into her ear and she laughs. she’s brown-skinned, long-nosed, wearing a turquoise dress with some type of flower over her right clavicle. she has mid-forehead bangs that suit her quite badly. she’s terribly unattractive but her ass is terrific. the guy looks at us and winks. we laugh.
suddenly a man approaches our friend and shoves him to the ground. our friend picks himself up and the squabble begins. we stand up from the table to get a look at what’s happening and kicks and punches start flying every which way. I take shelter to one side to observe the action. I see my uncle in the middle of the dance floor defending himself with a beer bottle. I come up behind him, grab his shoulders to calm him down. the bouncers arrive and throw us out of the disco, shoving us roughly through the door. just like that. the night ends in the middle of madrid with a bottle of whiskey and laughter. it would seem that all is normal.
the nights’ immense din has fed my fleeting pleasure. I also drank a large quantity of its beer to gather courage. terrible, by the way: water with alcohol and a pinch of gluten. I recall that the worst swill in Havana—by way of example—was three thousand times better than this insalubrious ferment that I’m now drinking in malaga because I can’t sleep. it’s the jet lag said a german whose looks could get him whoever he wanted, the hijo de puta. while we’re on the subject.
and now in malaga matters have deteriorated. so many other well-dressed miserable drunks. of course I’m in the tourist sector all-paid for in a shitty dorm and I can’t complain. this is my way of complaining. I came for a scholarship and I’ve begun writing a tale of resentment, of complexes, of a mediocre ambition for literary self-improvement that is somewhat lacking in comas—their brief silences. the good thing is that here they don’t catch on to what I’m doing. they’ll probably never figure it out. what would they know, these zombies taking pleasure in those beautiful faces of theirs. the women from malaga are so gorgeous that it’d seem they don’t need to have bowel movements like normal folks do. that’s to say, like mestizos do. and if they do you have to ask yourself how they’d clean that gorgeous ass.
the malagueñas have faces like god’s mercy. they stare dissolutely to the front, encase their venom in dark miniskirts. their hair falls like a mass of varnished cherubs. blond by force, some, between the menace of their dark eyes. redheads by force, others, between the menace of their olive skin. by night they can be seen cornered by robust men in the doorways of old romantic purlieus. the discos become awash in the bottled-up scent of their sexuality. the malagueñas embellish themselves with sand from a sea in which they never bathe. touching them inspires fear, of sullying the blouse revealing their pale sternum. where do the women of malaga go to hide should they trip on the tip of their slender stilettos? and when they speak, ah, when they speak, it’s like a vampire who might suck your blood, devour your arousal-swollen artery. they chop their words short in order to maintain their restraint. the malagueñas copulate with themselves and have seething orgasms upon the carpet of the chasm. they hate and love one another like queen bees. but never, hear me—never—will they betray the sick passion that devours them when they stand in front of a mirror.
all I wanted was to see africa from the coast of malaga and here I am piss drunk and downcast. the desire to suffer is immense but the realization of my smallness makes me laugh instead. I live on duque de la victoria street number 9 floor four in front of a hospital. sometimes in the morning I watch women in the adjacent window nursing their newborns white like michael jackson I think and laugh to myself. here the women don’t look at me like a rare breed but rather like an exotic animal. something has changed. maybe one time they saw a movie about the conquest and think that I’m one of those actors that played the inca cacique. and they like me. I parade around with my long scarf. I stare at their creamy tits and envision a porn scene so decadent that henry miller would get horny but from shame. I don’t talk to them of course. I barely flirt and with a generous decency that I’ve developed from I don’t know where or out of what. he’s probably some actor or primitivist artist or folkloric music dancer they must think. that’s my illusion. because as I’ve already said a gaze can also be sidelong or construct an impression. what I am is vergüenza ajena, cringe-worthy.
now they’ve put roberto goyeneche on a local radio station. my joy is boundless. I feel more latin american than ever. because I’d never written so much before and I go back to drinking this disgusting beer and I step out on the balcony to contemplate the cathedral dome and the sea of enviable drunkenness below in which I can’t partake because I’m not of this world. I carry a bolaño novel as heavy as a bible. in my mind I carry the long night of the 16th century that I feel as though I’d lived. in my bag I have a pair of sandals to walk through malaga’s sands like a crab and gaze at the coast of africa. it’s hard to know if this semi-zombie will become someone. if someone will be able to read this other contemplating himself with wonder and disgust. accepting myself would be like returning to a kind of normalcy that doesn’t exist. accepting yourself is finding the unsought prize that mutes the penetrating voice of your consciousness. accepting yourself is allowing the face of the other to be what you desire and knowing you’ll never be what you want. because what you want is gone as soon as you want it.
I have so many quotes swirling around in my head that just now someone told me that it’s hard to believe that an ecuadorian has read so much. I laugh angrily because in my country there’s a load of idiots who’ve read far more than I and think themselves the literary crème de la crème. I met a writer once. I’d read a few not-too-bad stories of his in my university years. but I hadn’t seen him in person. and that would have been for the best. one of those types who thinks that they’re the nabokov of ecuadorian literature. one of those fat grey-jacketed types. one of those guys who calls up journalists to “grant” them an interview. one of those types who has a fawning boot-licking sect of mediocre writers trailing behind him. sometimes it’s better not to meet the person behind the book cover. almost always better. in summary, we were in caracas, at a writer’s conference organized by the venezuelan state. on one of those nights, I’d gone to have a drink in the hotel bar. I sat at one of the tables to contemplate the deformed landscape of intellectuals. a bit of everything: spiders, moles, leaches, dinosaurs…
one of the sorts who paid homage to the gordo loco recognized me and asked me to come sit with them, since the writer was alone—as though that was a terribly lamentable condition—and I made the idiot mistake of following him. in effect, we sat down around a table, as anyone does, except for a hideous reality: the second-rate nabokov was seated right in front of me.
and you qué, he said.
qué de qué, I replied.
what do you do, what’s your profession, why are you here?
nada. I drink, I said.
ah, another chumadito who thinks he’s a writer.
I remained silent, although not without the desire to spit in the drink that they were just starting to serve him. the waiter went around the table pouring tender streams of rum over the oh-so-cold ice in the glasses.
don’t go thinking this is free, he said to me. no one mooches drinks here.
then in a criminal impulse I grabbed the glass, tossed its ice-and-rum contents over his bust-like face, and left. one of his vassals, the one who knew me, insulted me, but his voice collided with the image of my erectile right middle finger, triumphant, like a penis.
important is that the avocado seller in the market laughs like my abuela. important is the joy of the dockworker who sighs when he thinks about the body of the colombian prostitute who he got to fuck once.
I don’t know if I could dance pegadito with a woman here because when they’re all done up they don’t let anything near them that might get a hair out of place. the beer, for the moment, swirls in the murky well of oblivion. everything I’ve left, everything that has withered into the sludge of memory is now a desert or perhaps better a cold and taciturn snow-capped volcano. I want to bury the image of myself but it comes now and shows me to myself from a shattered mirror and I see myself there, face cut, with the deformed mouth of one who can’t speak his own name. such are things.
they’ve always called me willy, since I was a kid. I hate coming from a spanish-speaking country and being “little willy.” it’s like being chinese and calling yourself eduardo. it doesn’t make sense, but sometimes it happens. that’s why people change names, or have to bear the weight of it their whole lives. willy, go do the shopping. willy, look at your sister. willy, clean your nose. willy, take out the dog. willy, don’t get drunk. willy, look me in the eyes, don’t hurt me. willy, vete de aquí, get out of here, I don’t ever want to see you again.
being called willy in ecuador is a huge joke. they deform your name until it becomes obscene. willy the kid I liked. willy the kid hates gringo movies dubbed in spanish by spaniards, he prefers subtitles. willy the kid in malaga is a parrot in a cage. you could have been called john or peter or walter. but not willy, por dios. you’re pitiful. vergüenza ajena. and yet you have to learn to laugh at yourself because if not they’ll break you. that’s why willy had to study and be the best, like his father said. but who thinks to study literature in ecuador, in an imaginary country? willy the moron, that’s who.
so, willy, who is me, is sitting in his dorm room with the window open smoking like a fat and lonely whore. up above, across the street, the illuminated dome of the cathedral, which they call the manquita, can be seen. in ecuador dawn must have already broken and thousands of mestizo bugs will be filling the streets like rats in a great flood. because they seem to reproduce in litters. I would happily fly over quito in a helicopter tossing out condoms. there’s no right to be so irresponsible. legions and legions of idiots birthing workers, just breakfasted, silently dreaming about a new pair of shoes. such are things.
most of what one writes isn’t worth it: inconclusive novels, decapitated stories, lines like ugly children that die because there’s no one to nurse them. you write because you can’t stand to see your sick mother in bed, because you you’ve grown horns instead of wings, because what you have to say is yours and therefore legitimate and varied; you write because you resent your parents, your condition, yourself; you write out of desire, the most beautiful expression of absence; you write because you want to give importance to the diminuta flecha envenada, César Dávila Andrade’s “tiny poisoned dart”; you write because you’re the persona non grata of your own life; you write because you’re a bookworm freeloader who feels pain just like the bank teller staring at you through the glass, face imprinted with the misery of your bank account. you write because you’re human and you suffer. y punto. I said.
it is however an act of surrender, a wager in which you risk life itself in pursuit of “salvation.” juan josé millás put it well when he said: “being a writer, at least a certain type of writer, means living in panic, sensing shapes that move from one compartment to another, with wet socks.” but there’s no romantic pretension in it, the writer can literally be burnt by the flame of their own insubordinate language. and that which is set upon the page begins to rebel against its father or mother like an angry child. I said.
one would think that conrad couldn’t have written heart of darkness without the vision, during six months, of a congo devastated by the belgian king leopold II. and one also realizes that such “motivation” is only commendable in accordance with its result. the fact of malcolm lowry’s having rewritten the same novel multiple times would be distinct if it were not the case that under the volcano is a masterwork. the examples, of course, exceed the reality—in the nietzschean sense—from which is taken the assumption that the writer is a good reader. but who legitimizes the literary deed as valid, or not? do we assume that there’s a subterranean consensus that ennobles the work at a determined moment? the factors are perhaps multiple. and perhaps therein it’s possible to make out a purpose: literature is an arduous exercise of language in which the writer confronts the firing squad of their own annihilation. I said.
from that also that every work, conceived as such, paradoxically attends a funeral and a birth. or only the former. when the two events occur, literature has begun, which is born out of the displacement of its creator, even when its content shows itself to be autobiographical. for a great number of authors, literature is a way to explain their circumstance, but between them and the object, language mediates, upending any original intent. language is not a means of expression, it is a means of implosion. that produced is a linguistic shattering of the senses. I said.
the senses allow for assimilation of the work as such. the mere conjugation of alternating words doesn’t produce the feeling. even in the most surreal or inscrutable forms there is a framework of meaning that makes the text accessible. that’s why literature is always masked, an unfaithful portrait of itself. in and of itself, it is playing with the translation of an intimately known language, which some call originality. and that is likewise a purpose, a quest that the author seems destined never to complete. if they do complete it, they never write again. I said.
as such, said framework of meaning is articulated by the pulse of a trade learned through effort and reading. and with that, the hypertextual relation is superior to the literary deed: every text makes reference to another text, and ad infinitum. that’s why literature in general is a form of plagiary, perhaps the most lovely of its forms, the most aesthetic. but don’t be confused: said plagiary has been devoured by the machinations of bibliophagy, which on the other hand may cause indigestion. I said.
It is no less true that the writer tends to deny, if not their writing, at least their motivation. it causes discomfort. the writer would rather go forward blind, know that the goal is más allá, just out of reach, but when this is named, it vanishes. the writer avoids the objective so as not to be broken. in the end, every writer is evasive. if it were direct it would be senseless. the writer arrives gropingly, blindly, as a drunk arrives home. but always knowing how to arrive. I said.
the ethical commitment with language or with discourse—over time—must also transcend the prose, mere accessory of literature. the fact of turning into a “writer” is also accessory; or perhaps the result, among other things, of the search. and yet, every writer believes that their scream or howl has some importance; yes, in some way appreciated, even in extreme cases like that of kafka. yes, the writer ennobles their ego, in irony, as language’s excess breaks it. forever paradoxical, literature is like a label that swathes a text in potential: a fixed object that drops its robes and places its wounds on display. multiple wounds that show us, in turn, the experience of the journey of a being, who, horrified by mortality, writes. I said. I was very very drunk.
This translation is an excerpt from the first part of Ecuadorian writer Santiago Vizcaíno’s debut novel Complejo (La Caída Press, 2017), a loosely autobiographical work drawn from the author’s time living and studying in Malaga, Spain. The story telling is somewhat non-linear and flows between the protagonist’s inner musings and tormented reflections on self, the writing process, and language, to a more traditional narrative of his observations and experiences while living abroad. The protagonist, Willy, is intentionally unlikable, but as the title suggests, he is multilayered enough, with a biting wit and a keen talent for observation, that the reader’s reaction is likewise mixed, their perception challenged. As the author himself put it:
“If you were to ask Willy who Santiago Vizcaíno is, assuredly he’d laugh. He’d respond that he’s a pot-bellied guy who doesn’t have the balls to leave behind poetry. Because Willy’s like that. He doesn’t have hair on his hands, sorry, tongue. I, Santiago Vizcaíno, would say that Willy, the character in this novel, is a bullying machine, a tender and brutal complex-ridden man obsessed with women. Willy uses Santiago and Santiago uses Willy and it’s as though they had sex between two men, the purest love, they say. At one point I confused Willy with myself but I erased that chapter. One is too boring and politically correct, domesticated by the utilitarian hypocrisy of adulthood, by the correctness of academia. Willy in contrast is a beautiful adolescent beast, a neo-baroque dandy…”
In the remainder of the novel, Willy meets and describes the other international residents in the University dorm, pursues various women, falls in love, and finds himself in a shocking and somewhat sickening predicament. Much has been made of Ecuador’s so-called “national inferiority complex,” and this work takes those issues and places them nakedly on display in the form of its central character.
In translating the novel, I was at times unsure how much to allow myself to use the resource of leaving certain words and phrases in the original Spanish; however, I felt that doing so lent a certain flavor and sense of place that would have otherwise been lost. I likewise hope that such inclusions will broaden and deepen the reader’s experience, and give them further insight into the language and culture of Ecuador.
Kimrey Anna Batts (1983) grew up in rural East Tennessee and went to the University of Michigan, where she studied Anthropology and Latin American Studies. She moved to Ecuador in 2006, and her lifelong love of literature and language gradually blossomed into a career as a professional translator. In 2011 she went to Barcelona to pursue a M.A. in Literary Translation at University Pompeu Fabra, before returning to Quito in 2013. Her literary translations have appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, Lunch Ticket, Bitter Oleander Review, Ezra, Cordite Poetry Review, Mantis, Asymptote and Exchanges, among others.
Santiago Vizcaíno (Quito, 1982) has a BA in Communications and Literature from the Catholic Pontifical University of Ecuador (PUCE). He was awarded a Fundación Carolina scholarship for study at the University of Malaga, where he completed an MA in Management of Literary Heritage. He is currently the Director of the PUCE Center for Publications. His works have received numerous recognitions, including the Ecuadorian Ministry of Culture’s National Literary Projects Prize and the Second Annual Pichincha Poetry Award. In translation, his poems and short stories have appeared in a number of journals including Bitter Oleander Review, Chattahoochee Review, Words Without Borders, Connotation Press, Eleven/Eleven, eXchanges, Lunch Ticket, The Brooklyn Rail and Ezra. His poetry collection Destruction in the Afternoon was published in translation by Dialogos Books in 2015. His first novel, Complejo, from which this fragment was taken, was released in 2017 (La Caída Press).
Lie down –facing up as if you were going to die or give birth to yourself.
the slope of the years
in the dark.
Arrive at the threshold pass through it / submerge yourself in the deep, narrow, stairway of oblivion.
Tell me what you see.
Confront it / confront
who you were even before memory.
Do you recognize yourself? Continue. Yes, now you recognize the road that has brought you here. Its clarity reveals it —a blue dream that is projected on the blue screen of time and begins making sense.
Do you see yourself?
Ask why and accept it
–whatever the answer is
–I have come to say goodbye to you –respond.
Don’t say more than this
without any rancor.
It will try to make you stay
to answer once again what you already know
what you have already heard it say
perhaps in another way.
Lower your eyes and create
–with the gaze only–
a path on the ground
–a groove of wet earth and ash.
You will see a fire rising a wall of fire –a cold fire– between you and your failure. Say goodbye. Turn your back to it. Resume the road –the same: the blue dream against the blue of time.
Ascend the steps of the deep, narrow stairway.
Arrive at the threshold
pass through it and descend
the dark slope of the years.
Return to your body
do you feel it? –a pain in your womb or in your chest
as if something of yourself has been torn from you
alerts you that you have beaten it.
The pain will go
you will remain with yourself.
(The memory of the hollow
will follow you wherever you go.)
Situación para romper un hechizo
Acuéstate –boca arriba como si fueras a morir o a darte la luz.
la cuesta de los años
en lo oscuro.
Llega al umbral traspásalo / sumérgete en la honda, estrecha, escala del olvido.
Dime qué ves.
Enfréntalo / enfréntate
a quien eras antes aun de la memoria.
¿Te reconoces? Continúa. Sí, reconoces ahora el camino que te ha traído hasta aquí. Su nitidez lo delata –un sueño azul que se proyecta en la pantalla azul del tiempo y va cobrando sentido.
Pregúntale por qué y acéptala
–cualquiera sea la respuesta
–He venido a decirte adiós –responde.
No digas más que eso
sin rancor alguno.
volver a responder lo que ya sabes
lo que ya le has oído
quizás de otra manera.
Baja los ojos y crea
–con la mirada solo un reguero en el suelo
–un surco de tierra húmeda y cenizas.
Verás alzarse un fuego una pared de fuego –un fuego frío– entre tú y tu fracaso. Despídete. Dale la espalda. Vuelve a tomar el camino –el mismo: el sueño azul sobre el azul del tiempo.
Remonta los peldaños de la escala honda, estrecha.
Llega al umbral
traspásalo y desciende
la pendiente oscura de los años.
Vuelve a tu cuerpo
¿sientes? –un dolor en el vientre o en el pecho
como si algo de ti te hubiese sido arrancado
te anuncia que has vencido.
El dolor se irá
tú quedarás contigo.
(La memoria del hueco
te seguirá adonde vayas.)
Avenida Paseo Colón y Cochabamba
F told me about this place, the night half-excavated underneath the autopista. The guidebook does not mention it. He’s in his studio, painting a boy he knows, the curse or spell of beauty. He waits for the face to dry and then paints over it with white. I hold a brush in my outstretched arm, a mirror or a magnifying glass. The guidebook falls asleep. I ask each passerby to pass it over me, until I’m gone enough. The paper bodies of the detained begin to climb the beams. What holds the traffic in place? There is no cover from the sound of it, the smell of diesel, the vibration of these passages. The light shocks them out of shadows and glues them to the wall. They are photocopies of photocopies. An officer is here to guard them. I ask him what it means. In his orange vest, he sways back and forth on the ground beneath his definition. It has something to do with magic, he says, like to get a girl to fall in love with you. There is a softness in his throat, but I sway on the uniform beneath his uniform, the half-excavated night. There is no cover from the sound of them, the curse or spell, plastered on the wall.
Perú y Cochabamba
A mouth opens in the concrete. I think of the rubble behind its grid of metal teeth, the words formed before they are spoken, the heaviness in direct proportion to the waiting. I want to give my gravity away. I ask a stranger what it means. It’s to put yourself up on something, he says, like a bicycle or a horse. I think of him, up there on his infinitive, throwing away the clocks and pronouns, covering the sidewalk like confetti. In the beginning, the first person climbed on top of the second hand. I think of this when I am alone at night. It is the only thing that keeps me from floating to the ceiling. He walks a few feet away and stops to look at me – in fact he is dismounting – in order to be here, as if the street unzipped itself.
Humberto 1° y Bolívar
She knows the sound but not the definition – maybe it’s a wall, like this one, covered in graffiti, the opposite of how to tell me. I run my hands over her shadow, hoping my skin will hear something. I want to stand all day, here against this wall, until someone offers to take my place. The color behind our stillness will change. Our collective refusal will be a painting. I want to stand against my scrawling, my ever almost happening. I want to throw it, this how, up against the wall, until it breaks, until it’s not a poem anymore. An older man walks by and I ask him what it means. He points to the flat rectangle of marble, chipped in the left hand corner, at the entry of a door. How can a door about to be written or erased be the same thing as graffiti? I want to walk through the hole inside the scratching, the aerosol. I want to walk through the blown-up photograph of a boy, his naked torso. A paper diamond, as if released only seconds ago, floats just above his howling. I want to stand inside the moment right before it leaves his lip, but I cannot get a foothold.
Humberto 1º y Balcarce
On the face of the no longer patronato, the word for childhood is covered with weeds. In the broken window hangs a photograph of ice. The elsewhere of a continent, a translucent advertisement. The word for Antarctica is Antarctica. It swings back and forth in the aftermath of glass. They say photography is the coldest continent, but I can tell that people are squatting here. Their clothing illuminates the string between the empty buildings. I pluck it with my question. A woman walks by and answers me with homophones. It’s a motorbike, she tells me, or that you and I, as if she knows me, we have good energy between us. Across the street is the Registro Nacional de las Personas. I empty my pockets in search of the breath of former inhabitants. A person is a string between the homophones. A person is a continent at the bottom of a continent, a window at the bottom of a window, broken from a name.
Avenida Independencia y Perú
What does it mean to walk between one word and another without stopping? The words I seem to know are see-through. Their letters fall from the dictionary, disappearing before they hit the sidewalk. Clarity, a stranger tells me – bien claro – and then what it’s not – oscuro – and some in-between word I do not know. Perhaps darkness is umbilical, perhaps forgetting is the first ingredient of memory. I am always looking across the street to see the ground where I am standing, as if the traffic were a camera in reverse. I want to see my body disappearing before it hits the photograph. There is a ghost falling out of the parking lot. Perhaps forgetting is the first architect. A fragment of continuous brick, a bruise that outlives the body. The color falls out of paint, leaving just the signature, Grupo Muralista del Oeste. There is evidence of circular scraping on the furthest wall, now exposed to the day. A tree grows out of its center, some in-between word, an umbilical cord.
Avenida Independencia y Perú
When tree is moving imperceptibly, tree appears to be tree. It presses into, and then disappears from, the wall outside this gomería. If I am still enough, I can see the names of the previous shops, paint beneath the paint. A worker steps out to light a cigarette. I tug on the smoke between us. It rises to the strips of cloth above me – just now I notice them, tied around the branches. Who put them here, the names and ages of who and why?
How like leaves they are, translucent, written on the day. A young man smiles and stops for me. I put the word inside his hand. Before he unfolds it, he asks my name. I appears to be I. Is my question a plea to be a name, evaporating in his hand? The sky inside the tree begins to shake. He tells me it’s an intervention. When the light is slow enough, it strikes me as a kind of writing. He says it refers to a truth that’s hidden, for example, something political. The names continue to shake. In my country, an activist from Code Pink stands up inside the Senate: “178 children killed by drones in Pakistan. And Mr. Brennan, if you don’t know who they are, I have a list. I have a list with all the names and the ages.” The sky unfolds its loneliness and sends it off to hover. It catches fire from the inside.
Avenida Independencia y Chacabuco
He puts his hands in front of his face, the little square he draws with his thumbs and index fingers, as if he is holding up the air, the us that floats between him and me. Us is not the sum of singular pronouns, only the between. The L of his left hand and its backwards brother seem to bow, and I think, which one of us is me? Closer than touching is the gap in which a word goes. If I were to actually look inside it, would I see the sound it makes? Accidentally, I give him two copies of this door I am trying to make out of someone else’s window. He returns with the extra one and what is the difference between translation and a screen. I put my hands where his had been. I lean my back against his before. I bow my head and the cracks in concrete appear to me as chlorophyll, a photograph holding its breath inside a tree.
The pigeons are still enough to be my shadow. It is winter here, after all, even if I am elsewhere. In what I call my elsewhere, I lean my back against the present tense, a season and its backwards brother. I want to tell you, dear reader, I get lost and lost inside the screen, inside the never ending elsewhere, but the truth is, I cannot enter it. There is no one here to hold it still for me. There is only the machine, and the tracelessness of the air between the pronouns. My cartographer says I should invite you to come and live with me. I can hold my breath, I can bow my head, I can be still enough to be your shadow. Closer than touching is the gap in which a word goes. I want to close my eyes and tell you this as you type it into my computer. I want to turn off the light so you unscrew the bulb and put it in my hand. I want to hold it there until it stops burning, the us that floats between us.
Avenida 9 de Julio y México
The seeds of the palo borracho fall through the notwithstanding winter. What is it to be prior? Like a tuft of fur, my friend who taught me how to say so. In the photograph, he is pointing to the tree in the park that autocorrect keeps turning into “lash eras.” I see him sometimes, a little green pulse on the screen, how to say so falling through the continent. I walk on cobblestones. They cover the former rails, where loneliness continues to dress up as the word I can’t define. Soon I will come upon the past tense. This is the lash era, the widest avenue in the world. How could this be fury? The out of place falls through the fact of me.
Avenida Independencia y Solis
It’s not a word, he tells me, so I push it back against the roof of my mouth. His face is a question I have rehearsed and repeated. I reach into my pocket for the poem and he unfolds it, still wet and fluttering, in his hands. He tells me his name, and then, do you like to read? Maybe it all comes down to this. A name leads one question to another, or the pattern of these bricks, an imprint that is not a word. It’s something on the ground but he doesn’t know for sure. Maybe it is this, an unmarked path between the tongue and paper. I cross the street to where the sun can warm me. The woman begging on the sidewalk and the blank pieces of paper, still wet and fluttering, in her hand. Currency, the little erasure that is not the sun. My face is a question she has rehearsed. I reach into my pocket, but not until I am through with my translation. I take it, the unmarked path between us, and let it dissolve inside my mouth.
Avenida Independencia y Avenida Entre Ríos
In my notebook I write young woman – a mark. Who slides across the hyphen? She says that’s what it means, and here I crank the clock into a corridor I can walk through, hands against the condensation on the wall. I ask her what kind. Like a mark on the road, a path, she says, pointing to the ground. Sometimes I feel that this city is written in invisible ink. How can I walk inside it if I go? I won’t remember the ground between us, only that it sinks and sinks until we can stand on it. At my desk, it spreads inside me. Like a lover, I beg and beg the mark to leave a mark on me, a groove, erasing me with sweat and teeth. A word floats on top of a word until the road becomes an alphabet. How can I land on what happens when I go? I take a photograph of a telephone pole, painted sickly green, the twine around it holding nothing but rust. I stick out my tongue and taste it, my translation, coming through.
Combate de los Pozos y Humberto 1°
When do all the things I discard become the street that holds me? There’s a strike going on. One summer vacation, I brought home a documentary for my father about his union, but I never set foot in the factory where he worked. When does the body become the body? I walk down the street, removing one piece of clothing at a time. My cartographer walks just a few feet ahead of me, and he gives me his coat when I am finally naked. I would like to choreograph this performance, the city through us moving through it in this way. I would like to walk the city from end to end, exchanging what is fleeting with every willing stranger.
I know what you’re going to say. Ever since the invention of the microscope, human touch began to flare. Still, my love for visible geometry, like the metal scaffolding holding up this billboard from the backside. More tender and ambiguous than advertisement or warning. A handsome boy approaches, his hands in his pockets, singing, or speaking to himself. When I ask him what it means, he offers me a sentence: Hoy fracasé en arreglar el auto. He says he can’t concretize it, he cannot find a synonym, it’s not poetry but… and then his voice trails off beyond the edges of my memory. What is mine is failure unless it is briefly. At the bus stop, two people get off as if there is no synonym, a choreography from different doors.
Combate de los Pozos y Avenida San Juan
I ask the cartonero what it means and he breaks the excess syllables into chau. What is the difference between goodbye and the instruction to say so? We carry our life around in a cardboard box that we empty again and again. It has this name – say goodbye – before we even fill it. Chau, a variant of the Italian, coils around the word for slave, schiavo. Not go with God but I am yours, forcibly. I walk toward the underpass, where pigeons flutter in their small round cages beside a makeshift tent. My cartographer frees them in the night and brings me their cages. Here I am, tossing my words into the metal hollows, trying to remember the shape of wings.
Avenida Pavón y Sarandí
On the concrete slab in front of the gate: Nadie es capaz no pueden cobrar mis recuerdos. The roots of the tree tilt the sidewalk, pushing grief’s white letters to the surface. Nobody is capable and then a vine eats away at the barbed wire fence. Nature multiplies the No: they cannot take away my memories. A boy from this housing project died in January. I take a photograph of the mural, his arm stretching towards me, thumbs up, his eyes open but somehow looking back into the wall. He was not yet twenty-one. Nobody is capable. Part of his face unpainted, as if the masonry contains him. The garbage strike is still going on, and everywhere the sun gets stuck in plastic. When I reach the intersection, there’s a furniture repair shop, chairs stacked upside down. A man steps out and I ask him what it means. He says it’s something that comes out of the wall, and he runs his fingers across the moulding. I’m trying to think of how to climb a stair for which there is no railing. The little cave where dust collects, the memory.
Subterráneo Linea E, Estación Pichincha
Below the pageantry of history, people try to make a living. They will put a question mark in your hand. It will likely be made of plastic. If you refuse it, you must feel the weight of all the hands that held and did not keep it. As the train jerks its way through the tunnel, a woman is tearing her medical condition into small pieces of paper. Into my hands, her otherwise geography, she places not her body but the splinter. I hold it, the fire of uncontrollably, a single piece of paper. Her doctor has signed a statement, affirming, on the opposite side, the pain of wrong division. What is a body if not a collection of the strangers who are torn from us? I am thinking of Felix Gonzales Torres’ portrait of his lover, Ross, an installation composed of 175 pounds of candy. I take the candy in my mouth, the fact of his weight diminishing. I hold the cellophane wrapper in my hands. I look through it. What is a body if not a broken window?
I first encountered Mercedes Roffé’s work at a bookstore on Avenida Córdoba in Buenos Aires. I was immediately drawn to this poem, “Situation to Break a Spell,” because of its haunting use of impossible instructions. I had begun an experimental project of translating Argentinian poetry through somatic ritual, and I knew at that moment I wanted to translate Roffé’s work. I was interested in how a poem might be an echo of the city itself. To begin, I made a rough translation of the poem without a dictionary. I then went looking in the streets of for the “definitions” of the words I didn’t immediately recognize. I started at a memorial to the disappeared underneath a freeway in the neighborhood of San Telmo. For every word I didn’t know, I made myself walk the number of blocks corresponding to the line in which that word appeared. Once there, I would try to ask a stranger about their own associations with that word, and then take notes about our conversation. I also wrote down raw descriptions of the physical surroundings and my emotional impressions. In this way, Roffé’s poem pulled me through the streets, into unpredictable encounters with the city and its inhabitants. At my desk, I began to collage these notes into a series of poetic definitions. A selection of these appear as “Street Gloss,” following the original poem in Spanish.
Note: “Situation to Break a Spell” has also been translated by Judith Filc in Talisman. Filc is the translator of Roffé’s book, Ghost Opera, published in 2017 by co-im-press.
Brent Armendinger is the author of The Ghost in Us Was Multiplying (Noemi Press, 2015), a finalist for the California Book Award in poetry, as well as two chapbooks, Undetectable (New Michigan Press, 2009) and Archipelago (Noemi Press, 2009). His poems and translations have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Asymptote, Aufgabe, Bloom, Colorado Review, Denver Quarterly, and Web Conjunctions. He is a recipient of fellowships from Headlands Center for the Arts and Squaw Valley Community of Writers. He lives in Los Angeles and is an Associate Professor of English and World Literature at Pitzer College.
Mercedes Roffé is one of Argentina’s leading poets. Widely published in the Spanish-speaking world, some of her books have been published in translation in Italy, Quebec, Romania, France, England, and the United States. In the UK, Shearsman Books has published the anthology of her poetry, Like the Rains Come (2008) as well as her poetry collection, Floating Lanterns (2016, translated by Anna Deeny). Translated by Judith Filc, her book, Ghost Opera, was published in the US in 2017 by co-im-press.
She is the editor of Ediciones Pen Press, specialized in contemporary world poetry. Roffé was awarded a John S. Guggenheim and a Civitella Ranieri fellowship.
The morning appeared like the barking of a distant dog—it flew past our neighbor’s house, arrived at our house, and crossed the garden where it collided with the lamp post– undeterred, it continued to march like a fearless tank until it reached the edge and almost fell—I dragged my body outside and tried to follow its footsteps, but I forgot to take my face with me and left it on the table, smiling stupidly like a dark dream. Although I was unafraid, the morning quickly passed like the barking of a distant dog—it flew past our neighbor’s house, arrived at our house, and crossed the garden where it collided with the lamp post—it continued to march until it reached the edge and almost fell—I dragged my body outside and tried to follow its footsteps, but I forgot to carry my face with me and left it on the table, smiling stupidly like a dark dream. Although I was unafraid, the morning quickly passed like the barking of a distant dog—it flew past our neighbor’s house, arrived at our house, and crossed the garden where it collided with the lamp post—it continued to march until it reached the edge… etc… etc…
My father rolls up his sleeves and digs into the night’s heart. As a smile falls off of his mouth and breaks like an old Babylonian god inadvertently fallen out of the archaeologist’s hand, he says:
Someone opens a gap in the magician’s book, and I’m afraid of being endlessly tormented by the secret.
At the time, I did not know the secret, and I did not pay attention to what it said. I was asleep next to the boat of Danish pirates and sailed with them to the other side of the world.
After I remove the rust from the mouth of the poet,
I can confide the secret to you
We are here—in this room—almost every day of the year. We mow the grass, and we mow it again when it grows tall. When our mothers delivered us, we were philosophers, but over time we became mere farmers whose only task is to mow the grass.
We are here almost every day of the year. We only leave this room on holidays, and when we do, we discover that in this wasteland nothing grows, nothing at all. The faces we see on our eternal march look exactly like our faces; when we talk to them, we realize that they babble in a foreign tongue, and to them, our tongue is foreign too. For entertainment we always give them 10-centimeter tall statues to take back to their rooms, and this is how they remember us when they mow the grass.
Often we find statues erected in our rooms, just like the ones we gave to the other philosophers, and it seems to me that it is the other philosophers, who speak in foreign tongues, who have given them to us.
A Disguise Party
While the king and the minister stare at a statue of Jesus, the minister suggests that the king wipe the virgin’s tears. He gives him the handkerchief, but the king trembles, and his hand stumbles by the tree that is painted on it. Jesus falls, but only breaks his nose. No one is saddened by the accident; it was a cheap statue.
This time we do not laugh at the clown. He is one of the invited, just like us.
Three Draculas compete next to the neglected fence. My girlfriend says: I saw the fourth one hide in the basement.
The mailman hands me a letter; he says it is from Mr. Noah. I open the letter and see an ark and flood. At the bottom of the letter, God watches what happens. I fold the paper and give it to my girlfriend. I tell her that we are at a disguise party. I assure you that this ark will never sink, Jesus will never break, Dracula will never hide in the basement. Everyone will go back to their homes, take off these clothes, and lay down naked on their beds, just like us.
A Life That Doesn’t Want to End
Baudelaire is actually Mr. Noah himself. Six hundred years ago, we used to call him Mr. Holago. A boy from Al-Thawra flips the pages of a book that says: “We were prisoners in a camp on the outskirts of Baghdad, but we were able to escape accompanied by Danish pirates to distant lands.” It also states: “During our stay in the cave, we have neither raised a prophet to guide us to the end, nor invented a new word for grandchildren, nor plucked a flower at the beginning of the year. We were incessantly counting our fingers the whole time until someone broke the secret to him; we found him right in front of us holding a kitchen knife. Terrified, we scattered across endless roads and houses. Now, we are writing our answers to philosophical questions; we are writing, attempting to persuade our British neighbor that we hardly escaped the wasteland safely.”
A Watch in the Stew Pot
A letter from Mr. Plato arrived; he says:
“Dear poet X,
After your absence, we have found a watch in the stew pot. It is as dead as the time that is empty of you. On your behalf, we buried it in the city cemetery, and on its grave we placed a toy as a headstone. As far as we are concerned, we live outside of time. What we really fear is that we won’t be born again.”
I wrote back to him:
“Dear Mr. Plato,
There are no poets in this room. No one among us bears that name. We are merely philosophers who look exactly like you. We are also waiting for another watch in lieu of the one we found in the stew pot.”
Chris George is a poet and translator who lives and teaches in Dallas, Texas. His work has been published in numerous journals, including The Arts United, Entropy, and Sarah Lawrence’s LUX. He has forthcoming translations in Asymptote and in Words without Borders‘ new podcast Play for Voices.
Salaiman Juhni is an Iraqi poet who left Iraq for Denmark in 1991. His poems, which are written in prose or free verse, have surprised readers through their use of fantasy and surreal worlds, where time and space are fluid, yet are defined by a keen sense of place and history. Memories of childhood in Iraq are mixed with events that happen in modern Copenhagen; nightmares of years of war and dictatorship are imbued with contemplations and dialogues between classic and modern thought, from Plato to Nietzsche. English translations of his poems are forthcoming in Asymptote.
Ali Kadhim was born in Iraq, but has lived and worked in the United States since 1998. His Arabic poems have appeared in many literary newspapers, journals, websites, as well as in two anthologies featuring Arabic poetry in exile. He published one poetry collection in Arabic in 2002.
For abdominal pain, malaise, or social decay, for a white collar, cramps, corruption, place a pot of water in the anafre until it comes to a boil. Add a handful of rue, marjoram, sweet acacia. Let it stand (time is measured differently, not by saying five minutes, not like dropping in an alka-seltzer or some pepto-bismol) before bringing it back to a boil. Now, letting it stand once more, serve while the person, well covered, reclines.
It seeps in you,
the plant’s murmur penetrates you.
Like smoke it wisps into your body, ideas, indignation, reflection.
When they reach your navel the plants, the concoction, will say a prayer or give an order, and the unease, the non-conformity will leave you. They expel it, whatever there is inside you, they’ll rid you of it.
We’ve known this always.
I feel a crackling inside,
for a long while, agitating inside me, it won’t stop from boiling.
She stands and it’s a saber in the glare. Delivering a spring of blood there. Stabbing. A network of veins. Again it charges and. In her face, a constellation of reds. The droplets wipe clean as if painting a mask. Open and the teeth. Eyes wide. White and white form that gaze and it’s hatred. The strips of glass flinch between her fingers, with the neck it swells until the scream is a hole. And she stands with fear. Sweat, sweat in her pillows and in the viscous blackness. But then it smells, smells like her husband, smells like the same nightgown as always. She finds her glass of water and drinks. She drinks it all. She wants to cast off her hair but her clinging hairs are tendons adhering to her neck. Blindly she guesses her feet into her slippers. Mangled, she mutters on tiptoes, like bound feet. She passes through the hall and her steps are swallowed in its walls. It’s not only in the darkness that we fumble blindly. Febe comes to the study to get a feel for the living. The heart never, never the heart, not even when we’re distracted, stays asleep. She turns on the light: the jar, the opacity of saturated tow-gray taupe. She grabs a book from the shelf. She reads, delves in, gets lost in a children’s story that Larca never liked. Now she understands it, everything is elucidated alone.
On this strange outing we’ve seen exotic plumage, strong shanks, their cunning eyes taking refuge in nests of hard earthen sticks, sculpted by dry feet. Beak sculptures of precious material, brilliant jade or coral, dying their necks when they eat it. Indifferent eyes fixed like the holes of masks. Binoculars fixed on eccentric worlds of birds flying in circles, of proud headdresses, warriors moving clumsily around their prey and dancing, the squawk from afar, drawing in on the snail. With their proud costume of feathers and stones, they fly in you, in this tunnel we wear from our eyes. Coming toward us, more present than ever, to eat snakes and grasses, what’s left of worms, or a museum’s data sheet. And in its elegant repose on the altar, we must see ourselves in its obsidian black. It picks at entrails, later to sing as if beckoning, the incomprehensible language, those songs, the distance we hear in our observation. Look, in their feathers the bright radiance of the water heralding markets and hatcheries. Look how strange it is, how it moves, how it prays, how it eats the little bit that it eats. And its hard skeleton. And its inner tension, ignoring you you know, snubbing you, that bird that’s very cruel, very cruel in its violence.
all of the time an all of the time seeing the sky
imagining imaginary beings
touched on the forehead accessories of war
strange technology unusual knowledge
all of the time an all of the time seeing the sky
and with the passing of the years discovering, firmament,
that in the sky there is nothing
that in the sky there is nothing
We’re damned, Moctezuma, condemned to disappearing. Your world and mine are marked for extinction. In you it was intuition, in us certainty, in you a hunch by way of a comet, in us the sign that it’s melting. Your world was consumed by an unfamiliar culture, mine by a culture without rival.
From here the volcanoes without snow are frightening. They’re the sight of the brigs approaching the coasts of Veracruz. They’re the beginning of the end of an era, an epoch, a civilization. From the height of a glen someone sees the stains of boats spreading in the sea. We don’t know what that person thought. What would they have felt?
From here the volcanoes without snow are frightening. Something stops short like a gallop, like a tangle, like a cold arrogance beginning to thaw.
Formol is the story of a family heirloom, a heart in a jar of formaldehyde. A metaphor for Mexico, the heart is often only a meeting place, a formal center out of which Faesler’s cross-genre exploration expands and contracts. The novel interweaves contemporary life and historical landscapes as it shifts between the poles of fiction and poetry. Themes of obsession and the diffusion of cultural history inform the story’s treatment of contemporary family life and adolescence. Our understanding of contemporary Mexico City cannot be separated from our understanding of Mexico’s historical past.
Formol is full of poems: prose poems, concrete poems, poems that resemble recipes or sets of instructions. These are not a departure from narrative. Rather, they often enact an interstitial space wherein thematic and narrative concerns meld, wherein voices converge or disappear.
The meeting of form and content in Faesler’s prose is perhaps best described as a pulsing, a contraction and expansion, a circulation that is both mimetic of the “human heart the size of a fist inside of a jar” and the productive overlap of the contemporary and the historical. I hope that the reader will occasionally feel the presence of the original text, not as something concrete but as a quiet “hidden pulse.”
Adam Greenberg is a recent graduate of Brown University’s MFA in poetry. His poems and translations have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Asymptote, Poor Claudia, Columbia Review, and Brooklyn Review, among others. Adam lives in Washington, DC and teaches writing at George Mason University in Virginia.
Carla Faesler’s poetry has often challenged genre descriptions, not only in the form of prose poetry but also as visual and conceptual art. She has written four books of poetry, Mixcóatl (1996), No tú sino la Piedra (1999), Anábasis maqueta (2003), and Catábasis Exvoto (2010), as well as the novel Formol (2014). She was awarded the Premio Nacional de Literatura Gilberto Owen for Anábasis maqueta. Carla Faesler was born in Mexico City, where she currently lives.