Post Road Magazine #9

Translation: Four Short Poems by J.V. Foix -Translated by Susan Lantz

Translator's note: I translated these poems from Catalan starting with some rules meant to keep me from inserting myself into the poems: I had to translate each word as directly as possible, using only a Catalan-English dictionary (and the bit of high school Spanish I retained). I couldn't rewrite to make anything more elegant in English; the only changes I allowed myself to make were to change “the house of Susan” constructions into English-style possessives “Susan's house,” and to ignore articles, not always translating them into “the.”

These were fun to do—like opening a present a bit at a time. Originally I thought this would make an interesting dadaesque exercise, and I expected to end up with nonsense verse that would be poetic in its own right. But the translations came out making more grammatical sense than I'd expected. Definitely a Ouija board kind of effect.

I still had to do things like decide which English meaning to use when several were listed for a Catalan word and guess which conjugations went with which root verbs, since only root verbs were listed in the dictionary. So there was plenty of room for my subconcious to mess around with things.

Then I thought it would be fun to find English translations by credible translators and compare my results with theirs, but there don't seem to be any out there for the poems I chose. I might never know whether it's J. V. Foix or me who is obsessed not only with the passage of time, but also with meat and evisceration. That's a little unsettling.

1. Fossil? Or Fossils?

I don't know what's behind this door
Or behind the spines of these books
Or beneath the net of these frightful threads
But I know of shadows behind the lilacs
Voices behind the shadows
The noise of water between stars
What sound? When? Where?
For how many thousands of years will Earth be a fossil?

2. Epigram

The flautist has coffee with cinnamon and rum beneath a pine tree
Her wristwatch descends
the first flight of stairs

Birds commence the song of charioteers
Ringworm of sleep in hair
Knickers arranged on a roof

The red apron of the butcher
Gertrudis's infant child first slept well here

The Red Cross cures a faun

The sun!

A gap is opened

3. Dim Chasms

Not brown channels in wet ash
Not, in fire, the unamenable, the night;
Not misty peaks (tarry sea, zenith):
Not the lewd bud of most people, tender,
There are no sweetnesses for you-oh mirage!-
Shadow! Shade!-Don't grieve for me:
Show me that time is the abyss, and the destiny
Of crystal sounds and rooms of carnage
In these dark chasms clocks fragment.

4. For Joana Givanel de Ventallo, Today as Years Ago

So many cross over these peaks
-Whenever the rose of the church rises-
But I try a different rhyme
-Because antique verse does not tempt me-
Or if I taste one drop
From the vine that no one mentions,
I'm not sure what I will have left:
It will be the ruin of me,
and between the shellfish and the crème de menthe,
I'll remember the evisceration;
At the moment I fall from the summit,
-Oh Dear Joana d'en Quim!-
I'll be confused by the smell of scorching.

Original poems: © 1997 by heirs of J.V.Foix © 1997 by Quaderns Crema, S.A

Susan Lantz is learning ropes and climbing them daily. The ropes are in Baltimore.

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