My father teaches ethics at a university. My mother teaches ethics at a university. They save. Their money. Buy a large bungalow in Connecticut. They continue. Saving. Enough to support the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and their baby. They read the news and wish kindness into our laws. One of them will say Sweden hasn’t been to war since 1812. The other says you can start a business in Sweden and get free healthcare. They’re excited. About my arrival. They remain. Calm. When midnight cries wake them. My father waits. For my mother to heal. Before asking for sex. She’s good. At saying no. She throws meditation and exercise and intense therapy at her trauma. Still goes to AA. When wrong. She promptly admits it. Every night she arrives home from the university. Her soft. Low voice. Builds a replica in my throat. She wears minimal. Makeup. Cuts her nails down because who needs the fuss. When I walk. Into a room. And see my father. I continue walking in. When my father and I leave. The house. Lots of women introduce themselves. When we get back he tears. Their numbers over the trash. On weekends my father and I dig in the dirt. I watch him plant lilac bulbs around the spruce. He lets my small hand pack the ground. Affirms it as help. When my father puts. me to bed with true stories of him sewing clothes for new mothers in Ukraine. I fall asleep fast.
Nariman Youssef speaks to managing editor Emily Everett about her work translating three short stories from Arabic for The Common’s portfolio of fiction from Morocco, in thespring issue. In this conversation, Nariman talks about the conscious and unconscious decisions a translator makes through many drafts, including the choice to preserve some features of the language, sound, and cadence that may not sound very familiar to English readers. She also discusses her thoughts on how the translation world has changed over the years, and her exciting work as Arabic Translation Manager at the British Library.
Podcast: Nariman Youssef on Arabic Translations from Morocco
Leaving behind the clamor of Mexico City, I catch a bus and cross the wide altiplano. Behind the tinted windows are strewn the blackened remains of trees and cactus, upon which perch large, dark birds. Half asleep on the silent bus, which plows like an ocean liner across the prairie, I think about the birds outside, peering into passing vehicles from their watch-posts. I fall asleep and dream that the birds standing aloft the cacti are truly enormous, and that they have a name that no one can pronounce. Even the local people are confused because they cannot utter, or even remember, the names of these birds, which means, in their language, “those whose croak inspires terror.” It is not known, the people in my dream tell me, whence the name originated, nor have any of the birds been heard to croak; they all remain implacably silent. If one of the birds were to call out, it would signal the end of the current universe, the death of the sun, and the whole terrible process of regeneration would begin once more, following the previous cycles of destruction by (i) tigers, (ii) the winds, (iii) rains of fire, and (iv) water. The inhabitants of the plain, when they die, are roasted in a clay pit and eaten by their relatives and friends. Their livers and other inner organs are eaten by their closest kin. Their feet are cut off and left out for the birds whose name no one can remember, as it is believed that this will prevent them from making their dreadful sounds. Mictlantecuhtli, Lord of the Dead is in there somewhere, hovering in the debris of my dream.
There are books of poems that in their creation seem, for the poet, to rise out of a sheaf like an oasis, something unknown, unmapped, to be discovered in all its vivifying magic. Then there are books of poems that the poet always seemed to know the map to, where a central insight or trope allowed the book to unscroll itself in the poet’s tongue and brain and heart.