Translating: “In his love for me” by Shez

I’m working on an MFA in poetry in translation. My translation project is a book of poems by an Israeli Jewish lesbian who writes as Shez. She says of her own work that she writes about being an incest survivor, and wow, does she. Since this has been an important theme in my own work, I have some layer of callous built up such that I can focus on the language and art and not just be overwhelmed by the content, but sometimes, sometimes, what she’s written is so accurate and powerful and heartbreaking that even I stumble, have to step back and breathe.

This is one of those poems, in my most recent translation draft. I’m new at translating, and am still working on the best way to re-present the last line in English, but I think I’ve found the heart of the poem and now just have to fine tune it.

באהתו אותי

בְּאַהֲבָתוֹ אוֹתִי
הִיטְלֶר מַשְׁחִיל פְּנִינָה רִאשׁוֹנָה מֵהַשַׁרְשֶׁרֶת
אֶל תּוֹךְ גְּרוֹנִי – אַחַר כָּךְ בָּאָה
פְּנִינָה נוֹסֶפֶת, וְעוֹד אַחַת, נָחָשׁ
לָבָן מְאֹרָךְ מִשְׁתַּחֵל פְּנִימָה.

In his love for me
Shez, translated by Elliott batTzedek
July 7 2011

In his love for me
Hitler threads the first pearl of the necklace
down my throat – the second pearl follows
then another and always another, white snake
lengthening, squeezing in

Translation Revision – Shez’ “The Excuse of Literature”

See my most recent translation here

With input from poet and translator Ruth Artman-Breindler, with whom I might be working, a deep revision of my first attempt. I have to go back and re-do the learning I once did about verb forms, because I mistranslated as first person what was actually “to me” in second person. So the true sense of the poem is much more like this:

The Excuse of Literature
Shez, translated by Elliott batTzedek

On the day of judgment for fathers who rape,
you will not say a word
you will sit, mouth shut,
in this place where girls are allowed
to weep from the horror

But until that day of judgment, you go on silencing me
while smiling politely,
refusing to allow my words to be printed
in my hometown
behind the lie of their literary value

April 22 – Shez “Be rough, do not be indifferent”

Ok, this is where translating gets really really interesting. I used google translator first, as a way to get a very rough sense of the poem, and it translated the last line as “your glass sun attitude.” Huh? So then I started using a dictionary one word at a time, and still got only “attitude sunlight a cup/glass of you/to you.” Still not much sense to be had there.

THEN I switched dictionaries and learned that word being translated as glass or cup is also an Arabic word, course slang for “female sex organ.” OOOOOhhh. That makes much more sense, and of course Israeli Hebrew is full of Arabic words. In terms of my sense of the poem, I’ve put in the word “cunt,” but with much ambivalence because I love the word cunt, it is very positive for me, while here the sense is supposed to be insulting, demeaning. The work will go on.

But there is something really exciting happening here, a strength, directness, violence in the language that is incredibly powerful. I want to make this make sense because I want to deeply get what she is saying. And that’s where translating gets really really interesting, too.

This is a very early start on this poem. The first few lines might be the opposite of what I have here, “be” for “do not be” or the other way around. Right now I’ve stumbled on a combination that allows the poem to make emotional sense to me. Doesn’t translating always reveal the emotional live of the translator alongside that of the poet? I think it must.

תִּהְיִי גַּסָּה תִּהְיִּי קְצָת אֲדִישָׁה

תִּהְיִי קָשָׁה וּלְרֶגַע
תִּהְיִי כָּל כָּךְ רַכָּה
וְתֵלְכִי שֶׁאֲנִי
לֹא אוּכַל
בְּלִי הַמַּכּוֹת שֶׁלָּךְ
תִּבְעֲטִי בִּי
תִּצְעֲקִי עָלַי
תְּקַלְלִי אֶת הַיּוֹם שֶׁנּוֹלַדְתִּי
תְּקַלְלִי אֶת אִמִּי
תִּצְיֲקִי לְזכְרָהּ
תָּקִימִי גַּל אַשְׁפָּה לְיַד קִבְרָהּ
צוֹאַת כְּלָבִים תְּגַלְגְּלִי עַל מְרִיצָה
וּתְזַיְּנִי אוֹתִי שָׁם בְּרַגְלַיִם פְּשׂוּקוֹת
שֶׁאֶבֶן הַמַּצֵּבָה קָרָה קָרָה
וְיחֹם הַשֶׁמֶשׁ בַּכּוּס שֶׁלָּךְ

Be rough, do not be indifferent
Shez, translated by Elliott batTzedek

Don’t be hard right now,
be like this, all soft,
and I will go
It’s impossible
to live
without your blows
Kick me
Scream at me
Curse the day I was born
curse my mother
insult her memory,
erect a garbage pile on her grave,
roll in wheelbarrows of dog shit,
Fuck me there, legs spread apart
on the cold stone, cold tombstone,
let the sunlight arouse this cunt that is yours

April 20 – Shez “Literary Rationalizations”

UPDATE: see revision at The Excuse of Literature

תירוצים ספרותיים

כְּשֶׁיַּגִּיּעַ יוֹם הַדִּין לָאָבוֹת הָאוֹנְסִים
לֹא תַּגִּידוּ אַף מִלָּה
סוֹפְסוֹף תֵּשְׁבוּ בְּשֶׁקֶט
וְתִתְּנוּ מָקוֹם לְזַוְעוֹת בְּכְיָהּ שֶׁל הַיַּלְדָּה

אֲבָל עַד שֶׁיַּגִּיעַ יוֹם הַדִּין תַּמְשִׁיכוּ לִסְתֹּם לי אֶת הַפֶּה
וּלְחַיֵּךְ אֵלַי בְּנִימוּס
לֹא תַּדְפִּיסוּ אֶת הַשִׁירים שֶׁלִּי בִּמְקוֹמוֹתֵיכֶם
וְתַמְשִׁיכוּ עִם תֵּרוּצֵי סִפְרוּת.

Literary Rationalizations
Shez, translated by Elliott batTzedek

On judgment day for fathers who rape
I do not say a word,
finally sit, quietly,
in the place where the girl’s weeping from the horror
is permitted

But until that day of judgment, my mouth continues merely
to smile politely,
I do not print my words in my hometown
and continue with the stop-gap of literature

April 16 – back to translating Shez

the house didn’t have internet from Saturday night until this morning after I left for work, so the posting backlog continues…..

אמא 2

קְחִי אֶת הַיַּלְדָּה וּתְנַגְּבִי לָהּ
אֶת שְׂרִידֵי הַוֶּרַע מִסָּבִיב לַפֶּה וְעִם
מַטְלִית רְטֻבָּה בְּתוֹךְ חֲלַל הפֶּה וְהֵיטֵב
אֶת הַשִּׂנַּיִם הַקְּטַנּוֹת
וְתָשִׁירִי לָהּ שִׁיר-עֶרֶשׂ לַקְּטַנּה וְתַצִּיעִי לָהּ לַחֲלֹם
עַל דֶּשֶׁא – יָרֹק, שָׁמַיִם – תְּכלֶת, צִפֳּרִים – צִיּוּץ

Mother 2
Shez, translated by Elliott batTzedek

Take the daughter, dry off
the saliva from around her chafed mouth,
with a wet rag wipe thoroughly inside her desecrated mouth
The childhood years
Sing her a song – in the cradle of her childhood make a bed for her to dream
about grass (green), sky (blue), birds (chirping)

April 6th – Back to translating

Shez’ “It is possible the tree remembers”

אֶפְשָׁר שֶׁהָעֵץ זוֹכֵר: יְלָדִים שָׁבְרוּ עֲנָפָיו
אֲנָשִׁים נָעֲצוּ בּוֹ נְעָצִים כְּלָבִים
הִשְׁתִּינוּ עָלָיו – אֲבָל רֹאשׁוֹ אֶל הַשָּׁמַיִם
לִטּוּף נִשְׁמַת הָאֱלֹהְים בֵּין עָלָיו

and my first, rough translation:

It is possible the tree remembers
Shez, translated by Elliott batTzedek

It is possible the tree remembers: children shattering his branches,
people tacking in tacks, dogs
peeing on him – and yet his head rising up to the heavens
God’s breath caressing his leaves

Translating Shez’s “in the nights”

Translating, round two, after help from Ann Ellen Dichter and Eugene Sotirescu. This is complex stuff, translating. Which I knew, but I just keep knowing more and more. In theory, I’ll have an entire manuscript of at least 48 poems by next year. In theory…

First, the Hebrew original:

בַּלֵּילוֹת הָאַיָּלָה חוֹלֶמֶת עַל
נִמְרֹד גִּבּוֹר צַיִד
שֶׁתָּבוֹא כְּבָר לִתְקֹעַ חֵץ
שֶׁתַּעֲמֹד פְּשׂוּק רַגְלַיִם מֵעַל
גּוּפָתִי הַדּוֹמֶמֶת
שֶׁתַּעֲרִיץ אֶת הַבָּשָׂר הַזֶה

Eugene’s translation:

at night the doe dreams of
nimrod the hunter hero
let him come already to stick an arrow
into my insides
let him stand with spread legs over
my still corpse
let him admire this flesh

Here’s my revised translation, based on his literal translation.

In the nights, the fawn dreams
of Nimrod, the mighty hunter
Let him come, press an arrow
into and into me
Let him stand, legs spread,
over my unmoving body
Let him lord over this flesh

a few notes about my translation:

I chose “fawn” rather than “doe” because in the Hebrew the word ayalah is both a girl’s name and the word for “doe.” I think the sense of human and animal intertwined is essential to the poem, so I chose “fawn,” which can be a woman’s name in English. It’s not common, and I’m not sure the double meanings carry anything close to the same strength of the Hebrew, but it’s a start.

I chose “press” rather than “stick” because the word in Hebrew can also mean the meteorological term “bar” as a measure of pressure. Press also, I think, carries an intimacy that I think is there in the poem.

I chose “into and into” rather than “to my insides” because of how Marcia Falk uses “b’kirbi” in her morning blessing and translates as “heart of hearts” or “innermost being.” I’m not sure “into and into” captures the sense of being in the deepest part of oneself, although the sense of the act being repeated night after night is important.

And I chose “lord over” rather than “admire” because the Hebrew root carries a sense of being a despot or tyrant and thus a strong sense of control. “Lord over” in English carries both the sense of being the lord of the manor and of the slang “to lord it over someone,” both of which meanings are relevant here.

Or at least that’s what I’m thinking today. When I hear from some of my other Hebrew speakers, words and emotional meanings could shift again radically.