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.
The end of romance was what the teenage girl
was telling you about on a bench in the Jardin
in San Miguel de Allende, giving you T.M.I.,
but you realized she might need a Father who is not in heaven.
She gasps: Tinder is even sleazier in Mexico, how could it be nostalgic? You listened, like your poems do when you write
them down in the cafes of Kerouac’s time here. You are Angelico
Americano with Instagram—troubled children of your own back home.
“There were moments when I didn’t need to tell my body how to move,” poet Marcelo Hernandez Castillo writes in the opening passage of his memoir, Children of the Land. He’s introducing a scene in which armed ICE agents arrive at his house. He’s a senior in high school. The agents are looking for his father, who isn’t there. They leave. Yet their presence, a longstanding threat finally realized, creates a shift. Hernandez Castillo can no longer act without thinking. He explains, “Even laughter required some kind of effort. I had to remind myself: this is funny, this is how you laugh—laugh now, laugh hard, spit out your food.”
Review: Children of the Land by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo
A, E, I, O, U. The rhythmic concatenation of these five vowels is the tachycardic pulse of Mario’s poetry, and it cannot be imitated in English. Feeling for correlative patterns in the jangle of our consonant-frontal idiom is something like transcribing the pitch values of a Max Roach drum solo for honkeytonk piano. I do what I can with alliteration but even the relatively long decay of the M or the out-hissing S does not match the multi-textured overtones of a hard O spilling through the rails of its word-cage when struck, trailing a foam of soft E’s across the rubble.
Mario Santiago Papasquiaro: Two Poems in Translation
Like many translators, I grow weary of talking about “faithfulness” and “betrayal,” about whether it’s “possible” to translate poetry, about what gets “lost” in translation. These queries quickly become platitudes, and platitudes are tiresome. But what’s always relevant, always urgent, and always exhilarating to me about translation is the idea of respect. The practice of care. One of my favorite translators, Sophie Hughes, recently said in an interview: “I approach a text that is already complete, mature, sure of itself, and it’s my responsibility to look after it, to respect it for what it is (its nature or essence), whilst protecting it from linguistic butchery, from translationese, from too many mistakes or outlandish mis- and reinterpretations.” And how can we respect anything for what it is until we truly listen to what it has to say about itself and how it sees the world?
We stayed with your mother in a tenement made of metal and painted stucco during the high holy days of August, the little chapel of La Virgencita a vision from our bedroom window. Flanked by powerlines and pigeons, its white façade projecting shadows on pedestrians as they strolled past. Each day we woke before dawn to sip bitter coffee and watch men in stiff robes ring the chapel bells, tracking their steps as they ascended the tower. Together they tugged the ropes to rouse the townspeople—to check they were alive.
Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, “Open Air, Relational Architecture”, 2012. Commissioned by the Association for Public Art, Philad
Twenty-four searchlights, all high-powered, were set on rooftops around Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway last September and October. They were programmed, however, to avoid shining their spotlights on any physical objects: no buildings, no naked windows, no trees. Instead, they glimmered straight up into the sky: twenty-four columns of light responding — here solid, there faint, twitching and beating and sweeping across the sky together, then separating — to the voices of Philadelphia residents.
People would tell us to go see the big tree, and finally we flagged ourselves into one of the cheap cabs that go between Santa Maria del Tule and Oaxaca de Juarez on a set route. It was getting dark early under an overcast sky, the remains from tropical storm Ernesto, who had petered out after making some news in the Yucatan.
We found the big tree, a knob made for the grip of some great giant who could use it to lift the entire town – the entire state – out of the Mexican ground. It seemed to squat between the mayoral offices and the church. All the nearby buildings clung to earth like the homes of dwarves.
1) Five Names: Before it was destroyed by Cortez, the Aztec city that stood where Mexico City is today was called 1) Tenochtitlan. In the late 18th century the city was known as the 2) City of Palaces because of the grand mansions built by wealthy nobles and merchants. Today it is 3) Ciudad de Mexico or, as the capital of the nation, the 4) Distrito Federal, or 5) Mexico, D.F. (like Washington, DC).