…you can sleep without stretching your legs; / you can live never lifting your head.
An excerpt from the Egyptian novelist’s prison journal, translated by Robyn Creswell.
I have written this poem on the theme “To the post-3.11 world, as I see it,” but this is just the prelude.
The prolific translator talks with Guernica’s poetry editor about her work ethic, contemporary Morocco, and what connects poetry with journalism.
What was I going to do when I saw her? It was a question I had asked myself a thousand times. Slap her? Scream insults? Demand she give my husband back?
I wish there were simpler words for this—to reach a point zero or the limit, to write: “It was so hard without you.”
But the girl is still asleep. Perhaps, thinks the prince, he kissed her too lightly. He stoops down again and kisses her a second time, this time a touch more vigorously.
My fishhook snagged two catfish / three squid on the zangareio
The literary legend on his new book of poetry, about a personal evolution, and those he’s published; MFA’s and prizes; and the ongoing river of language.
I imagine what Janneke and Karin would say if they saw us together: Oh, she’s lost it now.
It was the sound of an historical wrist, of resistance
Their bodies converse. They forget that very soon one of them will be burned alive on Place de Grève.
Soon / she’ll let the rodent go / and give you the best thing she knows
Sam Lipsyte on being an American writer in translation and the venerable tradition of masturbation in literature.
Never again will men be treated as things.
With his sea-goat ready / for departure the mythologist / beholds once again / the shattered world egg
A member of the public complained that the settee was getting overheated. And he was right.
In a razor sharp buzzing they come to haul me / from my bat-infested nightmare-time—
“Tell me a story,” the bearded man sitting on my living-room sofa commands. The situation, I must admit, is anything but pleasant.
Tomorrow morning I will take a shower, / nothing else is certain but this.
Strum a song I can whistle to—
China’s imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize winner asks what a TV miniseries can teach us about the direction of the new China. From his new book of essays.
do not worry so much, Madame, / here, it will never happen, / you will see, / never here.
It will be the night of sirens, of police searching / empty apartments for a starfish, / of the bird that wanted to be a girl.
“What attracts you to the Jews?” Blanca asked her.
You don’t take out your horses / your madmen and whales / you don’t tidy your seagulls / in the seagull drawer
death keeps its eyes open / and looks into my right pocket
War is no longer declared, / it is continued.
Say—die quietly—I’m a poet and poets / don’t speak the truth.
unlike potatoes I do not want /
to be stirred.
For his guest-edited issue, Ilya Kaminsky chooses nine far-flung writers who attempt to answer the question, “What are poets to do in this moment of uncertainty?”
irrelevant things which we’d / never do unless /
they were written down.
They sit down in an orderly, patient manner, packed together in the belly of the beast. The smell of varnish lingers on inside and intoxicates them all.
I have seen a woman transform into a garden and a garden become increasingly more of a woman.
“Every man is limited to a certain number of words in his lifetime… Some of these words might also be words that you whisper in a foreign language that you don’t even know, in a dream, for example”: ten micro-fiction pieces.
They are the same worms / four billion years old, but fatter.
It’s the oldest cry resounding from earth to heaven / The solemnest lament, “I won’t let you go!”
It is nowhere near impossible for somebody who loves her husband to also love her co-wife.
Like a nation’s bulk that has started / to make the earth sweat, / the dust-encrusted armada / of the herd
[T]he observatories beneath the moon of Jaipur and Delhi, the black ribbon of migrations, the eels in the middle of the street or in the stalls in a theatre…
What are the recently depressed accused of?
The Ministry of Hot Water / has posted an opening: Director. / Well, why not, we can take that on.
because I hate your every-now-and-then anthems, / because I hate the smell of your socks in the stone mihrabs.
An excerpt from Manuel de Lope’s first novel to be translated into English.
Nobel Prize-nominee Bei Dao uses travel as a metaphor for life.
…there / was always a lucky one, who carried with him / the mistakes of others, what a burden / it must have been that pushed him down, / but he was pleased by all this pushing.
Men suddenly become meek. / Damn, we all needed it badly.
Why were there only 8 women on the Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels of the Twentieth Century? Why is only 3% of the literature Americans read in translation?
Too bad for you men who do not see who do not see anything
Around Friday heaven arrives; they no longer supply / hell (it stays on the shelf too long), but I’ve got / hell at home, as well as heaven and the saints.
You take a vacation, you take a plane, and now this. You are running away from knowing this information. This is how things are these days.
The Arab is so stunned, he doesn’t move. Just stands there with his certificate and his rusty key. Not breathing.
To the country dug into our lives like a grave, / to the country etherized, and killed, / a sun rises from our paralyzed history / into our millennial sleep.
Back in our day there wasn’t anyone who didn’t know Albania / who didn’t know it was the bright light of European Socialism / or that the other bright light was us.
we imagine rose tintedly because his hands are in his lady
…fir on a barren rock-sharp wall, the kind / the shepherds around here talk and sing to /
before felling when someone young and single dies.
Night and horses— / is this what history is all about?
The first thing you notice are his eyes.
With these five bones, human bones, / Doctor Chanca makes me a cannibal / by arranging feathers from the hand / of another cannibal
Poor us, we are all kings / when we gaze at the starry sky.
The whole time he tells you what to do. / His voice is chocolate candy filled with hysteria. // He is a loving blackmailer. An owl blind in one eye.
It’s as if for a man battered by the wind, /
blinded by snow—all around him an arctic /
inferno pummels the city— /
a door opens along a wall.
Five rounds passed, without pain or glory. Nothing happened in the ring to excite the sparse crowd.
To enter the state of being a tree it’s necessary / to begin with a gecko’s amphibian torpor /
at three in the afternoon in the month of August.
let me go don’t be a dog / my very dear cage / haven’t we agreed
Space is full of mental rooms where we can go / Like a hunter unleashing his dogs, I freed my spirit into them
I am a poisoned well, / I told the ram / as he flared his nostrils. / Everything in me is poisoned.
No matter the time or place, I’ll always grow for the one who is the sea. / With one thin finger cut in half. / That is why I’m the oldest recipient of your on-again, off-again love.
How it rises out of waves in the bay / and shudders like a gentle thrust / of the sea, which sooner forgives /
than punishes, doomed as it is to feckless birth.
I am given ten cubic meters of darkness / every night I pace over them obediently
In the name of his own history, / in a country mired in mud, / when hunger overtakes him / he eats his own forehead.
We make Buddha ride an elephant like the way a village boy rides on a man’s shoulder, and we let Buddha run and play, then make him cry, and we make him couple blissfully with a buttery woman and call it Tantra…
I’ll give you a roll of barbwire / A vine for this modern epoch / Climbing all over our souls / That’s our love, take it, don’t ask
Yes, that’s right, maybe I’ve run out of / patience, we have certainly run out of cigarettes / and the later, as Cioran used to say // hold more fire than the Gospels in our blessed country.
I HEAR THE AXE HAS FLOWERED, / I hear the place can’t be named
Her tears drop on the mirror / and around the guttering lamp insects swirl.
A few horses returned with torn flags we couldn’t make out. / I would have a ceremony for you, but what if you are alive?
I don’t know you personally, but I saw your photo in the paper / and I feel deeply offended
Night—a twelve-wheeler / goes by making the dreams of / the inmates shiver
If I were fire, I’d burn the world down;
By this glass of wine so dark it brims / Like rising nightfall, with a heart whose deepest faith / Is insatiable thirst
This is sanity—when love comes—/to offer a bed, a chair,/sustain and raise it like a pet
perhaps that agate’s circular gaze was your gaze, / which from water in the air unfolds itself
Under pines these riders halt beside a brook / calm like them, yet like them close to sobs
Cowering behind an almost idiotic silence, I avoided looking into his eyes, gripped by the same fear that must have gripped Odysseus as he ran from the singular gaze of the Cyclops.
The sorrows of the world are truly abundant; but wine is abundant too.
Her parents were naked, one on top of the other. Their eyes were closed, their faces contorted; they were breathing loudly and moaning. She watched them for a few moments, terrified; then she walked quietly back to her cot and covered her face with the pillow.
A blue glow / Streams out from my clothes. / Midwinter. / A clinking tambour made of ice. / I close my eyes. / Somewhere
You could look from one end to the other, but for me there was only Castro’s hand, it held me in a hypnotic grip.
The sweetest thing in the soul is the fire / Of your love; still sweeter is the fire / Leaping out of the soul from your love
It happened 31 years ago, / I can’t forget it, / in Singapore, the rain / falling / hot like blood / on the ancient white walls
Like bugs in a bowl / we all day circle, circle / unable to get out.
History may even forget that tonight / I determined who would live / And who would die
“Yes, I think we have to be faithful to the context,” says the translator of the Quijote. “But it’s very important to differentiate between fidelity and literalness.”
to look for a lifesaving buoy in the flood / the destruction of the last drop of man
But your eyelids hold such flowery perfume, / that they breed inside my mind the bastard’s doom
in which city do I want to be? / I want to be in the face / between the realms
Are your recollections really recent or do they reflect a remote past? You feel as if time is not time on the clock, and an aura of unreality surrounds you.
So I hear you’re going around saying you sold your soul to the devil . . .
Since it is very hot out at sea, sometimes someone comes down with a little fever.
We sleep in sleeping bags on the beach, so in order to get close to you I have to slip out of mine first, then slip you out of yours.
We went to a cafe I knew near the bookstore. I tried to please him by saying, they have excellent coffee here.