The body of water that runs by the neighborhood is in fact a river, but everyone used to call it longkau— a storm drain. The Hokkien word has a crispier edge than the Mandarin longgou. Calling it a river would require a proper name, a division into upstream and down. Nobody knew about that stuff, so we went with what was the easiest. Anyway, a name is just a name, and it was kind of endearing after you got the hang of it. The neighborhood does have a proper name: Dakota. There’s a place called Dakota somewhere up north in the States, but that’s not what we’re named after. No, our origin story is local and commemorates the crash of a Dakota DC-3 aircraft nearby. Maybe by giving the neighborhood a name tinged with disaster and exoticism, we were also foretelling its premature demise.
He is Risen signs go up in the neighboring yards, making sure I remember Easter.
On Easter in 1865, Union troops attacked Columbus, Georgia, the city closest to my current address. This was the Civil War’s last battle, and useless. The Confederates had surrendered in Virginia already, but, this far south, neither side knew.
Divided Heart: painting on slate, Jess Richards 2014.
Wellington, New Zealand
Stained light shines on breath-less angels
who occupy a stone heaven-on-earth without living for touch
without having felt another human enfolding them against soil.
Only the winged can lift themselves so high
but freeze half-way to the clouds
locked in cold bodies, solo-flight paused.
Spring Boulevard 50, in the heart of Bucharest’s former nomenklatura, currently bourgeois neighborhood, is where the former General Secretary’s one-story villa can be found. Împușcatu is what people sometimes call him around here, “the one who was shot,” or Ceașcă, “cup.” They were executed in winter: Nicolae Ceaușescu, and his wife Elena, who was also shot, but in people’s minds this was secondary to her being an insufferable pseudo-intellectual who loved fur coats. And their children, Nicu, Zoe and Valentin, spared during the 1989 Revolution.
Translation is home. Whenever I travel, I seek it either by reading translations, or by translating as a grounding exercise. Lately I have been translating into English poems from Jewish Latin American poets, specifically works by conversos or those written in Yiddish and Ladino by immigrants and their offspring. And—in a room of her own—Alejandra Pizarnik, whose life makes me think of Emily Dickinson. I recreated these two poems while visiting my mother, who has been suffering from Alzheimer’s. Pizarnik distills the fibers of existence so as to reveal the madness that palpitates underneath. Her poetry is contagious. The toughest part is to convey her silences. I wish I had met her.
Through mantle, earth, gender, air
through false stories and true
undistracted by pectin, pucker, time
scale, sugar, seed, dripped rainbow of
oil, prism, crushed berry residue, om of home, acid, oxygen song—
I grip jelly jars to my eyes
mock binocular my way to You—