Arlene Kim and Martha Silano Poem Translations

 

 

Translations: Meryl DePasquale and Molly Sutton Kiefer

 

As part of our ongoing series, two poets exchange work and create interpretations of each other's poems.

 

 

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1. DePasquale to Sutton Kiefer

 

 

 

What’s the hickest thing you’ve seen so far? by Meryl DePasquale

 

Dogfight in a former logging town. Damp earth too soft

                  with moss, brown needles, leaves

curled with cold. A mouth begins to foam.

 

Could happiness come even here, dressed like a wood stove

                                          and a man who compliments your cooking?

Another distant pickup truck. Songbirds

                prepare to swallow the morning.

Railroad tracks still slick with frost, not yet dew. The bum

                                                        hums beneath his tarp, a noise

to confirm he’s there. I don’t intrude.

 

Home in a land of coffee stands and lawn signs for Jesus,

             I can’t remember the last time I split wood, built a fire

just for watching. Every building here is aluminum,

                                                             basementless. Heat blasts from above.

 

Have you guessed yet that happiness could find you here alone,

                                                 dressed like a dog

snug in its own warming blood?

 

 

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What Wild Spectacle, a translation by Molly Sutton Kiefer

 

A dog finds quarry in each held breath, its own tail,

another's.  We aren’t here to stay, this wild western coast,

 

the earth softer when it is wet.  Loam-building with the feet

of pine, the weather leavening, moss on the damp side of the tree,

 

spores shot at ankles, well-tracked.  This earth boasts

coffee-fed lawns, Jesus for President, the distant howl

 

of a roving train.  Not far from here, the bucking of a truck.

Mornings I left behind, where snow froze the internal nostril;

 

here, the tracks are speckled before dewmelt.  We are turning tin,

long from home.  The forests are thick:  maple, buckeye, larch, juniper. 

 

I think of the yew, clean with its pearly fruit, the risk of suck

and bowing to earth.  My hands are without callous, long since

 

I’ve met axe with raw wood.  When was the last time we sat

in front of a roiling fire?  I am temporary; you are—  It’s night

 

in this furnace, my hair singed.   See the sleeping dog,

fleas fatted on satisfied blood.

 

 

Commentary by Molly Sutton Kiefer

 

I do feel as if there are some friendships in one's life that can transcend typical social constructs and enter the realm of "made family," where you know, somewhere in your torso, your heart and your gut, that this person will be a part of your life, your growing old, and, in my case, my children's growing old too, and that it can withstand an immense amount of change.  That's my friendship with Meryl, flexible, and also built on a foundation of deep respect and admiration.  When I met Meryl, in 2009, she walked into our poetry workshop in graduate school fresh from teaching, and immediately I was impressed at how dedicated she was, how she could sit across the room with such serious concentration.  And then she gave us her first poem to consider.  And thus, my poetry crush.  To think how far along we've come since those first days in that smelly physics classroom, the roar of buses on Washington Avenue punctuating our reading:  she's come bearing vegan goodness immediately after the birth of my two children (and witnessed the private sorrow of infertility treatments), and how beloved she and her husband are by those children; she's moved halfway across the country and I've already vowed to make a deep trench of a trail in visiting her, and now, we're members of the same poetry collective producing work that has truly energized me. 

We've also seen each other through many manuscripts—she's read each of my chapbooks and my full-length drafts in so many versions and so many lives, so I think there's a kind of deep knowing when we sat down to translate one another's work.  I know the backstory of "Hickest Thing," of her trip to Oregon with her husband, of her hikes outdoors as he tattooed his way through a guest spot in a smallest town, the isolation and pleasure of it.  Finding a way to take her landscape and to make it into my own language was keenly strange, though.  She'd already said it, and said it well.  But her poetic appetite is different from my own, has influenced it in other ways, in ways to approach the line, scattershot, in ways to bring in a kind of sensuality that has always felt tentative to me in my own work.  A love poem, to me, is about my husband as a father, and for her, there's--well, the word appetite just seems so fully fitting, all hungry mouths and a keenly balanced sense of longing. 

Her poem is fierce, just as she is.  I wanted to find a way to open and close with the same (similar) words:  dog, blood.  I wanted to paint the landscape of this place she inhabited and was interpreting.  I've always thought of my own poems already as translations—of personal experience, of scientific discovery, of natural geography, of documentary.  So I went in doing what I thought of as a line translation, changing the form to something I wear more often.  Making mine what wasn't mine?  Perhaps.  I wanted to make it feel more like a possession than an alteration.  An inhabiting. 

 

 

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2. Sutton Kiefer to DePasquale

 

 

The Cape by Molly Sutton Kiefer

 

 

My mother told me I would call it beach brushing,

that endless search of nicks in the sand.

 

I wanted a fine collection of shells

the color of welts, like the glass jar full

 

she kept in the master bathroom.

I’d count them in my palm, fertile plenty. 

 

Instead, in the clefts left by slow waves,

we find chips of bone-white, the stuff

 

picked over by gulls and salted wanderers.

She spotted it first, the black hump

 

like a distorted helmet, and nudged it over,

ten legs spindling out.  Already dead and fetid,

 

not the prize, the sand dollar I desired,

coin of a puzzle, but its armored foil,

 

the horseshoe crab. This living fossil

may have tumbled to shore to mate

 

in the spit of the sea, book gills keeping damp

the driest span, spiraling sand-circles to entice,

 

her partner climbing onto her back, scudding

into the tide. She didn’t make it out, this one, her tender

 

insides exposed to the wind.  My mother

scooped the arthropod into a sack, brought it

 

to the house, wanted to boil its guts

out, wanting the empty shell, but even dead,

 

thought too cruel, and instead,

forgot it drying on the clothesline.

 

 

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Jaws: A Parable, a translation by Meryl DePasquale

 

 

As a child, I played on beaches where a blockbuster had been filmed. This was before rich people had completely taken over the island. In the movie, a shark with welt-colored skin ate a woman who swam alone at night, a boy on an inflatable raft, a fisherman with a dirty mouth.

 

On the beach, the sea snail shells were speckled pink. Healthy gums. My sister refused to wear sunscreen; her bony shoulders became two matched shells. I think it was the texture she hated, too smooth and slimy. We never saw a shark, but we felt salt water brush our skin and we knew to be afraid.

 

The rich people, they eat fucking everything. They taste sunscreen in the water and nuzzle in for a bite. They taste blood and go wild. They buy up all the property and bowls of clam chowder. I can’t blame them. Sharks are solitary swimmers; eating is how they interact.

 

My sister and I spent hours stacking the shells into fertile piles that we could never bring home. Leave them so other children can play, too. Then I’d scramble over the rocks to find the ones with tender insides, feel them unstick and restick in the sea spit. I’d study the gray bodies missing from the shells on shore.

 

Before the forest where our family camped was swapped for a golf course, the neighbors’ scuba equipment—left drying on a clothesline—disappeared. I didn’t know what scuba was yet, but I explained to them (in a careful, grown-up voice), that raccoons came through the campsites every night. Any food not secured could be carried away in their tiny jaws.

 

I doubt the golf course has raccoons, but it definitely has sharks, gliding over the seabed in their little carts, nicking the sand with their white scraps.

 

 

 

Commentary by Meryl DePasquale

 

The Poem as Container

 

As Molly mentioned, she and I have done a lot of collaborative writing in the past. When approaching this project, I was particularly keen to understand what made a translation different from a collaboration. I decided to solve this problem by focusing on form and language; I would translate my own writing style into Molly’s. The structured nature of this approach would be much different from our collaborations, where we’d use any words of the other’s that served as a creative launch pad. The collaborations were about inspiration and improvisation. In translating “The Cape,” I would be excited about couplets and syntax.

 

However, as often happens when one gives oneself a clearly defined task, the mind rebels. Instead of the polished couplets I had conceived of, I produced a prose piece whose status as a poem is questionable at best. Post-rebellion, I realized that “Jaws: A Parable” is a translation, not of form, but of content. I wanted to meet Molly’s childhood memories of Cape Cod with my childhood memories of Martha’s Vineyard. Molly’s work has always been a powerful reminder to me that a poem should be essentially a container for our experiences, both real and imagined.

 

Each poem contains a girl combing the sand for shells, though her discoveries are different. Molly’s image of the crab left drying on the line is translated in my poem into the neighbor’s scuba gear. I clung to certain words: nicks, welt, spit. These beaches were, for both of us, places of scarcity and abundance. For Molly, they contained lessons about the natural world, fertility and infertility. For me, they were the beginnings of an evolving class-consciousness.

 

I’ll confess that the narrative impulse is strong with me. A lot of the work of writing a poem involves deciding how much I’ll resist or indulge this impulse. “What’s the hickest…” shows the resistance at its strongest, “Jaws: A Parable” the indulgence. But I like the strange symmetry of these opposites, and I especially like the way our translated poems span both Coasts, even as we currently occupy the West and Midwest.

 

 

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Meryl DePasquale lives in Fort Collins, Colorado. She is the author of the chapbook Dream of a Perfect Interface (Dancing Girl Press, 2013). Her poems have appeared in DIAGRAM, Handsome Journal, Interim Magazine, Paper Darts, Taurpaulin Sky Literary Journal, and The Offending Adam, among other places. In collaboration with her husband, tattoo artist and illustrator Shawn Hebrank, she makes letterpress broadsides, mail art, and artist books under the name Four-Letter Press. She is a member of the Caldera Poetry Collective and volunteers at Wolverine Farm Publishing. More information, including a portfolio of her letterpress work, is available at: meryldepasquale.com.

 

Molly Sutton Kiefer is the author of the hybrid essay Nestuary (Ricochet Editions, 2014) and the poetry chapbooks The Recent History of Middle Sand Lake (Astounding Beauty Ruffian Press, 2010) and City of Bears (dancing girl press, 2013). Her work has appeared in The Collagist, Harpur Palate, Women’s Studies Quarterly, WomenArts Quarterly, Berkeley Poetry Review, you are here, Gulf Stream, Cold Mountain Review, Southampton Review, and Permafrost, among others.  She is a founding editor of Tinderbox Poetry Journal, is a member of the Caldera Poetry Collective, serves as poetry editor to Midway Journal, reviews for PANK, and runs Balancing the Tide:  Motherhood and the Arts | An Interview Project.  More can be found at mollysuttonkiefer.com

 

 

 

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