Poetry in translation is a trust exercise; reader must rely on
translator to turn words into other words, while preserving the larger
meaning of the original. Jonathan Stalling’s book is for those readers
less inclined to trust, and/or for those more fascinated by the
playfulness of language(s). In Lost Wax, Stalling presents a
sequence of poems about his wife’s work as a sculptor. Those poems are
translated into Chinese and back into English by members of a “workshop”
of eight fellow translators. Each poem is then presented in a) the
original; b) the Chinese; c) the new English version. An additional
workshop page illustrates choices made by translators on both sides of
the English/Chinese divide. Lost Wax is a marvelous book of
poems that also presents an argument for translation as process, as
variation. This book, as well as Stalling’s fine introduction, will
prove of interest to readers of contemporary American poetry, poetry in
Chinese, as well as readers and practitioners of translation.
These bloody characters are too dim to let me read it. When
in doubt, say settler colonialism. When in doubt, feel guilt. Blood
is as much fiction as fiction is. Now
that he's knows he's Spanish, he asks what this means. Those
late nights dancing salsa in the bathroom, watching
your teeth fall out. I am adopted to myself, my scattering impulses
gathered like a clutch of birds: Ahuimanu. What would you do with a
woman who had no papers, no relatives? How would you run your gas
station in the States? Embassy
cage or fortress. The narratives were all myths of abandonment and
finding, of ditches and roads and an orphanage that
had been a
palace. Rooms pulsed with infant cries. Children in school uniforms
played soccer. Blood is thicker than blood. It runs in the city of
your being found. The news shifts to Bruce Jenner.
The body is fiction; soul is not. What we see cannot be defined, but
what we are is.
O that I could taste it beneath the gall and vinegar! “Deux
gaules,” in the secret language of resistance, whispered
the fisher of men. He spoke so slowly I understood his French. When
bore her litter of kittens, he drowned them in a bucket. Kittens
wrestle at my feet, soft and sharp, like alternating currents.
Cardboard on concrete makes a Chinatown bed. Her grandparents dealt
in vegetables and porno. What to do with all those reels? Why am I
surprised at their white hair? We're told too many penalties will
render the laws void, so go
easy on those who live in
tents by the canal. The homeless are pure cost, lines heavy with
gravity. One man sweeps the sidewalk beside his tent; I am leaving a
Thai restaurant, where I
talked to the author of
“The Bodhissatvas of Thrown Away Things.” Mother and aunty carry
a pole laden with old clothes and a bunch of bananas. My student asked
me what I think “the the” means. A politics of person not idea,
of love without absorption, of the simple word. Good night, men;
good night, kittens.
All transient things are permanent in God.
Whether or not this is good news, I cannot say. It gets harder to
meditate on the secular value of love when Tom's
every sentence includes a
higher power. Find and
replace. God's farm team eats corn, plays sandlot ball, rides the
bus. Was his
high slide dirty? Is “dirty” not a strange word in this context?
High spikes bite ankles, as kittens do. Their
original sin is joy, not harm. His mother called the cops, as he was
clutching his Bible and a knife. The cops shot him dead. A row of
black men's faces stares
at us in the stairwell. We do
not see their mothers there. This is the last mistake
you're allowed. Turn-about is
not fair play, is not play. Dead
serious is not a dead metaphor.
Here you learn all patience, love, and contempt of the world.
Bryant said Santa
comes to houses in Hawai`i through the toilet vents. The meditation
box requires pipes; anger is a vortex the equator reverses. Men live
in boxes under bridges. The bridge is a structure that connects,
is also roof to rooms marked by tents or cardboard. A
homeless man under the El noted my
Cards cap. El is not God, but offers some measure
of mercy. Humans refer to them as the “plague,” but not the steel
and stone. Privatize his box,
charge him rent, take his papers and his cigarettes. It's illegal to
feed him, so slip a burger under his blanket.
I take suffering to be
counter-miracle, subtraction. Empathy crosses the police
tape; the fines add up. Put
Jesus in handcuffs, else he might love you.
A tree set on fire with invisible flame. The
in- before visible is not the in- before flammable. In case of fire,
break glass, also invisible in its way. Glass fronts the memory box.
One laughed to hear the phrase “glass student.” As a child, I had
a see-through plastic woman I
She was like my wooden map of the states when I put each in its
place, except they refused my
Livermore labs and Heart Mountain were
left for later on. He snapped
at my “philosophizing,” said he couldn't bear one more minute of
like documents, come in boxes. I have records of emails, attempts at
blackmail. You say you have a match, but I have fire retardant. The
poem is glass; its edge can frame or it can cut a
It is the most
exalted of all objects. Her name
was soul, without the e. She hated it, for it proposed abstraction in
lieu of a street address. The philosophical lyric suffers from a
lack of smarts embedded in what the
little boy calls “road bacon.” Or from an inability to spell, in
the sense of spelling a teammate when he cannot breathe. My notes are
breaths, the musician says, an interval of air above the line.
Upwards of seven teen suicides in Palo Alto, where men in orange
vests stand guard. When you
lie across parallel train
tracks, you make crosses.
underbellies of affluence. What we want for them is not to be them.
The climates—economic, actual—are in free fall. Where sacred
comes out as scared, you
can't see beyond the
scrim of your adrenaline. Because
he couldn't sleep, he read about the shroud of Turin.
The coroner knew he'd been on the can
just before he died. A
beautiful head emerges from
the dark pool like a flower. If only his selfie told us where to look
for him. The mountains love to death sometimes.
My books include Aleatory Allegories (Salt), And Then Something Happened (Salt), Memory Cards & Adoption Papers (Potes & Poets), Dementia Blog (Singing Horse), Memory Cards: 2010-2011 Series (Singing Horse), A Poetics of Impasse in Modern and Contemporary American Poetry and edited collections on John Ashbery (Alabama) and on multiformalisms (Textos), the latter with Annie Finch. Tinfish Press recently published Jack London is Dead: Euro-American Poetry of Hawai`i (and some stories), which I edited (2013). My newest book is volume two of Dementia Blog, "She's Welcome to Her Disease" (Singing Horse Press, 2013). Tinfish Press can be found at tinfishpress.com