Lesson plans, readings, and resources to inspire your students.
Enrich your classroom with The Common magazine: poems, essays, stories, and images that provide fresh, global perspectives on place and placelessness, home and belonging, migration and exile.
Living with an Author and a Translator
Adapted from Curtis Bauer, The Common’s Translation Editor, and Director of Creative Writing Program and teacher of Comparative Literature at Texas Tech University.
In this exercise you will explore the multidimensionality of a poem, essay, or story by “living with” the author and translator: reading and thinking about their work every day for a week. This is a multi-step assignment so read carefully and make sure you plan in advance.
Before I left to study abroad in Galway, Ireland, in the winter of 2020, I’d stumbled upon a lively online discussion amongst first-generation, Black Irish immigrants. From the comfort of my bedroom, I came upon a comment that stuck with me for quite some time: I have never experienced outright racism here, an anonymous poster said. It’s because the racists here are cowards. They will never say anything to your face.
“Your teeth hurt because you have some recession,” says my dental hygienist. I’m leaned back in the chair, gritty-mouthed from a cleaning. I’ve never had this problem before, so it takes me a minute to get what she means.
From across the Atlantic, I’m helplessly, compulsively watching videos on the BBC and other news sites. It’s early February 2014, and an unusually powerful storm—in truth a sequence of fierce winter gales—has been raking the south coast of Devon, like a wave of marauding bombers. The storm has conspired with the moon and spring tides (nothing seasonal in the term—these “spring forth” each lunar month), to batter a path of old stone and brick known as the Goat Walk. The path runs south from the small town of Topsham and along the bank of the River Exe, a distinguishing feature here for generations.
I fell in love and became like those men in Plato’s Republic who heard music for the first time and began singing,
and sang beyond reason, beyond dinner, beyond sleep,
and even died without noticing it, without wavering.
Marzouka? She’s carrying a bundle wrapped in a cloth on her back, and her earrings sparkle. Marzouka comes closer, and I move closer to her. The sun is scorching, and her large earrings are blinding. Should I greet her? I kiss her hand, so she kisses me on my forehead. I kiss her cheek, red like the late-afternoon sun. “Let me be your son,” I say to her. “And carry me like that bundle on your back.”
I’d started a strength training class ($25 a pop)
after my mom’s hands no longer worked, after her arms
hung weak by her sides and she didn’t have the power
to pull up her pants. For two years I’d thought
Kimberley didn’t know that her estranged father, Mr. H, cloth magnate, up-and-coming politician, had been shot. While he was in Trinidad, sliding from the leather backseat to become a heap on the floor of his car, she was still in self-imposed exile in Barbados, her tongue traveling down the ripples of her “roommate” Rachel’s sculpted stomach.
I looked at my wristwatch. Was it time for a surprise trip, or nearing an appointment? I approached one of the coffee shop’s customers and peered at the cup of black coffee and the glass of water—at the time, it would’ve cost the Ministry of Interior Affairs forty billion to quench the citizens’ thirst. This was therefore the most expensive glass of water I never drank!