Issue 7 is sold out
Peter Orner on Governor Blagojevich; Saadat Hasan Manto on Bombay's lowlifes; Amy Leach in outer space; Tom Drury in LA; Fiction by Mary-Beth Hughes, Clare Wigfall, & John Haskell; Anne Carson's Variations on the Right to Remain Silent; Poetry by Mary Jo Bang, Arda Collins, Brandon Shimoda, & Tom Yuill; Translations by Walter Murch, Mira Rosenthal, & David Ferry; & much more.
Silence is as important as words in the practice and study of translation. This may sound like a cliché. (I think it is a cliché. Perhaps we can come back to cliché.) There are two kinds of silence that trouble a translator: physical silence and metaphysical silence. Physical silence happens when you are looking at, say, a poem of Sappho’s inscribed on a papyrus from two thousand years ago that has been torn in half. Half the poem is empty space. A translator can signify or even rectify this lack of text in various ways—with blankness or brackets or textual conjecture—and she is justified in doing so because Sappho did not intend that part of the poem to fall silent. Metaphysical silence happens inside words themselves. And its intentions are harder to define. Every translator knows the point where one language cannot be translated into another. Take the word cliché. Cliché is a French borrowing, past participle of the verb clicher, a term from printing meaning “to make a stereotype from a relief printing surface.” It has been assumed into English unchanged, partly because using French words makes English-speakers feel more intelligent and partly because the word has imitative origins (it is supposed to mimic the sound of the printer’s die striking the metal) that make it untranslatable. English has different sounds. English falls silent. This kind of linguistic decision is simply a measure of foreignness, an acknowledgment of the fact that languages are not sciences of one another, you cannot match them item for item. But now what if, within this silence, you discover a deeper one—a word that does not intend to be translatable. A word that stops itself. Here is an example.Continue reading
Focus: Saadat Hasan Manto
by Saadat Hasan Manto
We met exactly two years ago today at Apollo Harbor. It was in the evening when the last rays of the sun had disappeared behind the ocean’s distant waves, which look like folds of thick cloth from the benches along the beach. On this side of the Gateway of India, I walked past the first bench where a man was getting his head massaged and sat down on the second. I looked out as far as I could see over the broad water. Far out where the sea and the sky dissolved into each other, big waves were slowly rising and looked like an enormous muddy carpet being rolled to shore.
Light shone from the streetlamps along the beach, and its glimmering reflection raked here and there in thick lines across the water. Beneath the stone wall in front of me, the masts of sailboats were swaying lightly with their sails lashed to them. The sounds of the waves and the voices of the beach crowd merged into a humming sound that disappeared into the evening air. Once in a while the horn of a passing car would sound loudly, as though someone in the midst of listening to a very interesting story had said, “Hmm.”
I enjoy smoking at times like these. I put my hand into my pocket and took out my pack of cigarettes, but I couldn’t find any matches—who knew where I had lost them. I was just about to put the pack back into my pocket when someone nearby said, “Please, here’s a match.”Continue reading
The outer office was much the same as she remembered it. The thick neat oak desk of Mrs. Lanahan, a manageable stack of buff folders in the far right corner. A small boy in a blazer likely to be his older brother’s knocked unhappy heels against the chair leg. He’d been waiting for a while, a tear path nearly dry on his freckled cheek. Wide gray eyes skimmed Ann McCleary then let her go, no help. Someone’s grandmother dispatched to pick up a sick child, nothing positive. Nothing that could distract or cajole Sister Mary Arthur to leniency.
Ann McCleary had boys of her own, long grown, boys she’d left to stew in that very chair. Her line: If you got yourself there, you’d done something to deserve it. She’d made a single exception with Terry, age seven, when a polished oxford lace-up went skidding under the desks to catch the attention of a girl he favored. Even younger, even in nursery school, Terry had some tiny thing stilled to contemplation, to watching him. She smiled to think of him, not the handsomest of her boys, but the one, the one who lit up the room.Continue reading
I called my house from a pay phone
down the street before I went home.
I needed to check on the empty situation.
It was daylight,
My shadow looked large and unschooled.
The sidewalk was yellow in the sun.
I was thinking that I wasn't anyone
and that my future would be a trajectory
leading further away.
The lilacs were out. They looked like a detail
from a bucolic story or tableau
where people are naked, eating picnics,
grapes, kissing, and drinking wine
while playing musical instruments. It seems made-up,
but it's not. It must be based on a world
something like the one that's here while I'm walking.
Many houses are abutted by hedges.
I don't like this, but I wouldn't take them away.
The hedges are often surrounded by beds of wood chips.
The sight of them is a silent story about the dead.
I was filled with yearning
to sit against the side of a house
between two hedges.
I don't know how to pray but I would try.
I felt somber and excited, about to go into my house.
There is an altitude above every planet where a moon can orbit forevermore. In millions of miles of ups and downs, there is one narrow passageway of permanence. If a moon can reach this groove, it will never crash down like masonry nor drift away like a mood; it will be inalienable; it will circle its planet at the exact speed that the planet rotates, always over one site, like the Badlands or Brazzaville or the Great Red Spot, so that the planet neither drags the moon faster nor slows it down. Moons not locked into this synchronous orbit are either being perturbed up or down.Continue reading
Los Angeles has been called the City of Dreams; also the City of Angels; Jim Morrison called it the City of Lights, but to me it was just a city. I often say that I’m originally from New York, but that’s not true. Although I did live in New York for a number of years, I was born in California, near San Diego, and for that reason Los Angeles has never been a dream for me, just a city, a city to live in. Nathanael West called it the City of Death, and maybe it was for him, but for me, at the moment, it was something else. At the moment I was walking along Vermont Avenue, alive in a way I’d never been before, alive to my senses and the world streaming in through my senses. I’d detached who I was from the web that had organized my world, and although a sense of self is a wonderful thing, as I walked along the sidewalk that morning, listening to the sounds of the cars, and the birds, and the occasional voices, I didn’t need any mediation between me and the world.Continue reading
I have a crush on you. I have no experience with barnacles, fossils, or apes. I’m not a naturalist. I’m not even an atheist. My hobbies include eavesdropping, stealing, and legislating the words. I like to watch truTV and read your diaries. You didn’t write anything dirty in them so there’s no reason to be embarrassed. The red diary is my favorite. On the back you wrote, “RANGE OF SHARKS: Nothing for Any Purpose.” And that one isn’t about sharks at all. It contains epochs, volcanoes, quartz, and those big ideas of yours. I bet you wrote the shark business because you were afraid someone would put you under house arrest (like Galileo) or on the stake (like Basil the Physician). “Profoundly deep: a great fault or rather many faults,” reads one entry. I like to pretend you were defining how “deep” someone is based on how many mistakes he makes. “Try on globe” is another gem. In a few days, I will board a plane and try on Patagonia. Your old stomping ground. I hope to see the cave where you dug up the bones of the giant sloth and I hope to stay far away from those underground critters that shriek. I hope we cross paths.
I have to tell you: I’ve always been suspicious of science because it wants to explain everything. It wants to make the unknown known, the mysterious unmysterious, and now really, where’s the fun in that?Continue reading
When U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said the other day that "Lincoln would roll over in his grave" if he knew what Governor Blago was up to, I had to scoff at Fitzgerald's lame insight into Lincoln's character. Blago would have scandalized him? Lincoln wasn't such a prig. He's sleeping fairly soundly on his grave on the hill. And if he is awake he's worried about Iraq or Darfur or what will happen when GM implodes, but not Blago. Only Blagojevich himself would have the chutzpah to actually believe that.Continue reading
The silent south, the workers quiet.
Listen. The pictured environment: An anchor tattoo
In amber, and a cold face like an equally icy chandelier at the top
Of the cage. It's April again. It's October. That's what I said.
It's over, like a ghost in the going to go, Okay, here's the door. See
The trim around the rectangle. Let's walk around,
Get closer to the center. Come over here, sister. Line up
For the photo. It's August. You have on sunglasses. It's February.
It's snowing. I know it keeps changing. You're wearing a jacket.
You're going, Okay, here's the door. See the trim
Around the rectangle. Walking around getting closer to the center.
No rain and yet you're dead center of an eddy.
Listen: We interfere with our own wrath
From the completely unknown inside of a cardboard horse.
I.e., Objectivity is overestimated.