like fog three fingers

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First came morning London fog, thickening
curtains beyond the door that your husband

just left from. Then a curious rapping
at your kitchen door. In all of England:

you, from Mumbai, I, an exchange student,
became neighbors. You giggled (thirteen-years

older than me, ex-doctor, now pregnant
housewife) then let me in. Rejection, fear,

isolation — the gloom of the soul — stirs
queer sides in us all. “You’ll call me Aunty,”

you said, rising from your knees, your boredom
gone, your grin gone wet like fog, three fingers

running across your cheek, nose, the bindi
moon on your forehead, all splattered with cum.

ch’iu chin: i die unfulfilled

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autumn rain/ autumn wind/ i die unfulfilled

Poetry translation is never an exact science. Taking a concept, rich with metaphors, from one language and somehow then discovering a similar meaning in another has challenges. How does one find that original essence – the core of what the poet was trying to say – in an alien tongue? I have always found translation to be a synthesis of everything that has been done before my attempt and then a smoothing out of all the rough bits into something that sings to me. If there was a philosophy to this it’d go: be illiterate in all languages, just resonate with the soul of what is being said. I suppose that is the difference between professionals and amateurs. I will always be an amateur. To misquote the Japanese haiku poet Issa: “there will always be farmers/ laboring in the fields/ I don’t feel guilty.”

Today I turn my attention to the Chinese radical feminist, revolutionary and martyr, Ch’iu Chin (better known through modern translation as Qiu Jin). If you’ve never heard her name before just know this: she was a lesbian poet who tried to overthrow the Qing dynasty in 1907 and then was executed, beheaded. One day someone will translate all her poetry, essays and speeches into English and that will be a blessing. Just now I am only looking at her last words, her death poem. They’re simple, they look like this:

秋风秋雨愁煞人

Technology fails us. According to Google Translate we get, “Autumn autumn rain sad people.” which are at least English words strung together in some sort of order. And yet they fail to capture any meaning of these words. First let me reprint the best translation that I’ve found:

Autumn rain, autumn wind/ I die of sorrow.
[from the documentary, Autumn Gem]

Now let me tell you why this is so good. Ch’iu Chin’s name literally translates into, “Autumn Gem,” and the ‘autumn’ is the metaphor that works in this poem. By the time of her capture she was burned out, depressed and had realized that her revolutionary goals would never happen. She let herself be captured and executed so that she could become one of the Chinese heroines of myth who rose up to fight for women during times of oppression.

As one says, there are no bad translations, just different interpretations. I point out these simply because they were faithful to the words on the page but the translators did not seem to know why the words were written:

O Autumn Winds chilly, O Autumn Rains chilly, (Why you are spilling)
Frank C Yue

Autumn wind autumn rain makes one gloomy
Lu Yin, from Imagining Sisterhood in Modern Chinese Texts, 1890–1937

For whom does the autumn rain and wind lament?
Sjcma

All of which, out of context, still works. Getting executed would make one gloomy. Then there is the fact that Ch’iu Chin became a symbol for the 1911 Revolution and her words were used to express the woes of other people, and thus we get the royal ‘we’

Autumn wind and rain have brought overwhelming grief to many
Albert Chan

The sorrow of autumn wind and autumn rain kills
China Heritage Quarterly

Again, this is all just a matter of interpretation of what comes before. Like I said, I can’t read Chinese, I can just guesstimate from the works of others. If I’m wrong … then I’m wrong and this was just a curious post won’t mean anything. Still, I love the poetry of Qiu Jin and if I can be part of helping her find an English audience then my day is good. Two translations that I think are kind of marvelous:

Autumn wind and autumn rain often bring forth unbearable sorrow
Alan Cykok

The autumn wind and autumn rain agonize me so much.
Badass Women of Asia

boreas’ curse

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The gods are rabbits in burrows, sleeping
below the crunching feet on snow. The worst

time to conjure a spirit is during
the tree-dead months, when Boreas’ Curse

lays on the land. October is laughter
for fun; there’s still tree sap. But for the us,

because all the earth sleeps good, the wonder
comes that we roused something in this coldness.

Your jeans pulled down … call this a … revival.
Fingers curled in a C, stroking shocked fur.

Your mouth opens … spiritual agonies …
or ecstasies … they’re the same when knuckle

deep. Let the gods slumber through dead winter.
All I ask: “if you want to cum say please.”

faith and deceit

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Records of the soul: that is erotic —
between rapture we all keep fucking up

(all these bodily fluids) Be vulvic/
phallic/ the space between: cork-screw, scallop,

fingers in the deep dark. When the dead cheat
on you do you cheat back? The dead don’t care

and so you write about faith and deceit
which is piety, but nothing like prayer.

Faith means that you’ll put up with anything
just to be heard. Prayer touches, that’s what matters.

You are beloved and you are everything.
You’re god-talk. Erotica. The answers.

For them: procreation is the sinkhole.
For the rest of us: rapture is our soul.

tía

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Defiled, bent over, your pucker glistened
as I pushed in deeper; little maelstroms

ran all through your thighs. That night your husband
was out of town, your son was at your mom’s;

I slept over only once. “Sé cuánto
quieres follarme el culo,”
you joked

on the phone. All week you’d used a dildo
to stretch yourself out, and now, panting, soaked,

you groaned, “¡Dámelo duro!” so I did.
None of this lasted. The pillows loathed us.

The birds woke us. I went home. That was it.
Your taste, laugh, the inked Aztec pyramid

above your ass: all gone. I was anxious,
so young, you were my «Tía» so brilliant.

][][
Notes:
I use several phrases in Spanish in this poem. “Tía,” is the simple word for aunt. The best that I can do with, “Sé cuánto quieres follarme el culo,” is, “I know how much you want to fuck my ass.” Finally, “¡Dámelo duro!” translates into, “Harder!” or, “Give it to me hard!” All matters of the heart are bittersweet.

afterglow (galata)

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Say what is true: the sky darkened. Your name
was Yu Na, hand on your neck, pressed against

your back, hard deep fast enough, hips became
bruised; your parents slept in the next room. Tensed,

you bit my arm as you quaked. Tomorrow
you’ll be gone with your parents on the next

leg of your holiday. In the afterglow
I could not read your face: content? perplexed?

mesmerized by the rain against the pane?
Once you’re gone I shall walk through Istanbul

in the Old Quarter. Do you still recall
all that we did: kisses, pleasure, cocaine?

Now what is true: sky storm, I was sick-ghoul
thin and you tasted of grief and menthol.

][][

Notes:
So let’s say that you take a big red autobus from Yerevan to Istanbul (back in 1997) then you’ll pass through the mountains of Georgia and all along the Turkish coast of the Black Sea (which looks surprisingly like the coast of Baja Mexico, except all the towns have minarets in them). The bus, filled with Armenian merchants with their wares to sell in the markets, ends up at a curved street near the Spice Bizarre and the Blue Mosque in the Old Quarter of the city. The hotel that everyone uses, The Golden Horn, has people from all around the world. Next to my room was a family from Seoul. Across the street was a restaurant that specialized in pilaf and curry. I spent two weeks in Istanbul during my winter holiday while in Peace Corps. I crossed over the Galata Bridge that spans from Europe to Asia every day. Hrant Dink was still alive. I wasn’t healthy and when I finally returned to the city of Gyumri, Peace Corps administration had me “psycho’vac’d” to Washington DC. I would arrive in back in America, damaged, on March 10, my 27th birthday.

santorum

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I like the wet, the sweaty, the ones dank
and moist after a workout. You come home

from the gym; it’s 9 and I’m drunk. I yank
your shorts down; spread you wide. With tongue I roam

around your core. “No, it’s dirty,” you bleat —
pressed against the wall, fingers scratching paint.

I’m not a scholar; you’re not an athlete;
but we make do. “Auntie Peg” — holy saint

of the fifth base, fecking and gaped starfish —
“Let me clean the kitchen.” Neither of us

are strong but I fill you with a fat slish
until all else becomes superfluous.

You are ill and I’m a freakin’ drunk —
you and I are bareback: post-rage, post-punk.

][][
note:
If you’re trying to write gender-neutral erotica anal sex makes a logical path, especially in a world that does not reward gender-neutral, but we make do. Auntie Peg is both a reference to Juliet Anderson, who passed away in 2010 and also to the act of using a strap-on on a male partner.

potheadette

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Words that rhyme with grunt: we’ve been friends so long,
forthright, strong: rumble of vowel. I’ve throat-

fucked you so much that we’ve made your diphthong
skip groove. That noise that you make, that keynote.

It’s odd when the only thing in-between
me and our stranger is a ribbed condom.

Because we lured, with hash cakes, with obscene
talk, your new neighbor over. A threesome

when you should’ve been at school. By the third
bite you bit her neck, her clit, called her aunt.

You might call yourself a potheadette nerd
in a niqab, we both know what you want.

That sound that you make; unfettered, sloppy
with joy; my best friend, soaking wet, gushy.

-m-e-s-s-m-e-u-p-

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Sunk in you, three knuckles deep. Palms pounded
on the car’s roof. Each hoarse, “Fuah! Aah!” Telltale

stains on the seat, your jeans, a pad with blood.
That night my mixtape and the winter’s gale

drowned out your croaky cries. You arched your spine,
sprayed down my wrist and arm. We had nowhere

to go so we drove downtown as the whine
of the blizzard led us to a daycare

parking lot, now abandoned. Friday night.
Our third date. “Mess me up inside,” you said.

You had to be home soon. I kissed the scar
on your inner thigh, rubbed you with delight,

then stuck my fingers, all cum-soaked and red,
in your mouth. The taste of going too far.

apocryphal thing

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Fruit flies drift around my glass-pipe. Cheeba
spirits — perhaps? A friend sends me ink flow

pix, thick thighs, spandex and short-shorts, extra
around the belly. I love my friend, though

we’re a world apart. Ghosts are everywhere,
like love. Dr. Teeth told us to, “Begin,

Believe, Begat.” But to start an affair
is an apocryphal thing with a friend.

Everything will change. I brush away specks.
On the laptop, Ganjasaurus Rex, plays.

I feel that heavy cold spot when I’m not
doing right but that need for friends, love, sex

leaves me low. To be appeased with just praise;
to have someone who might quell my distraught.