Daniel Khalastchi and Caryl Pagel Poems




Translations: Daniel Khalastchi and Caryl Pagel



Daniel Khalastchi Commentary


Meditations on an emergency: If you spend time with the poems or essays Caryl writes, you’ll see an attention to language/sound/form that many other writers avoid.  In truth, writing in this way is scary.  It’s not hip.  It’s not funny. It’s traditional and researched and whether or not it’s in fashion to say so, it’s impressively moving.  Caryl is a haunted, haunting, and ambitiously risky poet, and because of these things I was honored and humbled when KELR asked me to translate her poem, “Gyroscope.”  As you will see, our poems are dissimilarly similar.  Both are sonnets (hers traditional, mine fractured), both are driven by sound (hers by rhyme/meter, mine by breath/caesuras), and both seem to join in a parade of topical absurdity that may lead to more questions than answers.  But that’s fine. While my translation is more a re-imagining of Caryl’s thematic content than a line-by-line interpretation, I urge you to look at our pieces not as a concert of battling pop-punk garage bands, but rather as a low-fi symphony of banjos, bringing you variations on the same disillusioned reaction to the revolving calamity that is human experience.  In the end, writing this poem allowed me a specific sense of freedom I would not have thought to use otherwise.  It was a pleasure to work so closely with “Gyroscope,” and I’m thankful to Caryl (and the wonderful editors at KELR) for giving me the opportunity.    


Caryl Pagel Commentary


The poem I chose to translate, “One Stone, Three Birds,” comes from Danny’s first book, The Maturation of Man.


Because we are so often readers for each other’s work, I was able to approach the poem with new questions and a new purpose—but not without knowledge of the manuscript it comes from, or the important political and social concerns of the entire collection. The character in these poems in so many ways embodies pure disaster. He is terrified, manipulated, and hunted by an overwhelming combination of anxiety, bad economics, misinformation, bigotry, insanity, etiquette, and disease—and he is also always in the wrong place, at the wrong time, surrounded by wrong people, giving him bad news. And yet, because of the bizarreness of calamity, he endures—or because he endures, so does the ill world. Some might think the events surreal; they are not. Turn on your radio. While translating, I had in mind a few lines from another favorite poet, Inger Christensen, perhaps because of Danny’s tendencies toward repetition, cataloging, and detailing events graceful, wicked, catastrophic, and mundane. The Christensen lines follow, and they guided my translation of Danny’s work into a rough new accidental event.


Those in power are not evil/ but it will take

a wonder to make them see anything beautiful


in the foot they have standing on their table

            how can it be made into a vision/ how





1. Pagel to Khalastchi


Gyroscope by Caryl Pagel


Because I am the Gravedigger I can

no longer be the Mayor          Because I

chose the plains I won’t head for the ocean

Here we go again—around the square          My

two grey steeds send-weight the wrong direction

& the whole world narrows as a funnel

against another funnel split          Town-spin:

barbershop          bank          school (with no reversal)

Just barbershop          bank          school          Because I am

not the Mayor I live in the Boneyard

Nights when we pace back/forth before the black

angel all our souls hum Go…         They sound bored

Leaving hear: That’s how we wait—Imprisoned—

But exactly when—do Waking—listen?




Pagel to Khalastchi Translation


Absent Healing Sonnet: by Daniel Khalastchi


We climb into a    hole  you’ve      dug in the   

            lawn  and wait       for the   results    of our 

digressive national   consumption        poll.  Because  

                        you   are no   longer the   mayor,       we  have     

drugs    and     booze   and voter     intimidation  

            confetti  prepared for     a well    deserved

celebration,   but when   we  hear    the emergency

                        cannon fire at the courthouse, it’s   clear  we    didn’t   find

a  successful way to lose.  Over     the  next       seven    hours,    the towns-

            people    come   to our  Boneyard

headquarters    with  signs and shaved

                        genitals   to show    support    for your bold 

elemental       contrition.  One by       one we  

            help them   let    down.  The     barber.  The     banker.  The   

teacher, the          widow,          the   geriatric  Olympic 

                        water farmer  on dialysis.    Regardless of how   we

stand  impacted, our plot     is not   

            big enough    for the dishes or  the necessary

communal            ambulance   carrier.  You try     to hand

                        out shovels,  but I   hold back    your     

eyes and the     wrist of a          lawyer and   we all   

            together watch   our  sad breath   gnaw

against the     evening like a        band   of dark,

                        evil angels.  Everyone   else is    sleeping   when you finally

make your announcement.    Listen, you say, we

            are a small Japanese ocean     running    from the cops.  I know, I say.  Really,

you say, we are stiff wet     boards and our house    is not   collapsing.




2. Khalastchi to Pagel


One Stone, Three Birds: by Daniel Khalastchi


Because    crowd loss.  Because

empty.  Because   we   heard it

working three     counties

away.  Because       investors.  Because

marketing     plans.  Because     print ads,

interviews, because        lights of all

colors.  Because     murmur.  Because

talk.  Because      lines around

corners, because     tickets   sell

out.  Because    waiting.  Because no

time for      practice.   Because   opening

night crates       arrive from the     jungle.  Because

chair.  Because       whip.  Because    tied to

the chair, because      smothered with

meat.  Because     I wear the

mustache and    tall leather  boots.  Because

nobody    screams.  Because   children with

smiles they    let out the lions.






Khalastchi to Pagel Translation


Event Accident: by Caryl Pagel


New acts do not

trump the old/ because


the new

untamed and cold


draw meager audience/ New

acts do not amuse at all


because they attract less

profit/ see seams


undone or

lean ragged costumes/ because


the cold meat

rancid/ rancid


is the cold meat because it is

rotting muscle/ the muscle


of the last man standing in

the last act dragged


by hands

through teeth


and tongue a tragic

accident/ surely


no old act accepts defeat

because of rumor/ because of


just loss/ the cause

a manic accident/a jump


draws awe from crowds then falls to



The new act will not trump the old

because of wheel-on-fire/ net


worth/ last minute

pressed against applause





Daniel Khalastchi’s poems have appeared/are forthcoming in a variety of journals, including jubilat; Kenyon Review; Ninth Letter; Forklift, Ohio; Sixth Finch; and Thermos, among others. His first collection of poetry, The Maturation of Man, was awarded the Tupelo Press First Book Prize and will be published in 2011.


Caryl Pagel’s chapbook, “Visions, Crisis Apparitions, and Other Exceptional Experiences,” is available from Factory Hollow Press. Her poems, essays, experiments, and investigations appear or are forthcoming in 1913: A Journal of Forms, Denver Quarterly, Gulf Coast, the laugh child, and Thermos. She teaches at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design.



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