Watch a Poem Grow! February 2013 “another day another woman’s body”

Draft 1

Another day, another woman’s body found
bound, they report, and strangled and set ablaze.

Bound, they report, sharpening the gruesome details
with every repetition, adding the rope around the neck

and with the rope around the neck they add
that the body was still smoldering when the dogwalker found it.

The body, the it, that the dogwalker found while looking for
the woman, the woman who had had a life,

the woman who had had a life and a dog, and a dogwalker
whose own life will never be the same

for whose life could be the same after going to look for a woman
and finding a body strangled and bound and burned?

Strangled, bound, burned—how the pornography of violence
substitutes the description of the body for the depth of the life,

how the details of the body’s death become more glamorous than the life,
how the news staff knows the ratings will spike with certain lead-ins,

how certainly the lead-in body bound ablaze stay tuned will spike
interest in seeing what pictures might follow. Admit it, aren’t you curious?

Curious, how we learned to want to see the pictures, how after the camera
came along we learned to require photographic evidence of our bodies

This is what it feels like to be made to want to die

At the ice cream parlor, reading the local paper, Sandusky trial all over the front page.
I want to die. I just want it all to go away. Please, just let me die.

At the computer, reading and reading and reading trial coverage.
There’s no way out. Please just let me not wake up.

In the kitchen.
What if I cut my arm, would I die?

In the car.
What if I just drove into something very very fast?

In the yard.
Would the poison hurt if I drank it, or would I just die?

The bathroom.
How many pills?

In the everywhere anywhere nowhere nowhere nowhere of the hell of being a child trapped, held down, no way out. In Sandusky’s basement, where no one can hear you scream.

All those weapons, all those ways of thinking how to be dead, but somehow one thought not allowed:
How can I make him die? Or Please, God, just make him die.

Which is also what it means to be a child raped by an adult who sometimes says he loves you, sometimes opens to you a world of desperately wanted Things, a Wonderland of special privileges, sometimes threatens to kill your family.

The logic here is so simple: Something bad, wrong, awful is happening. If something bad is happening, someone must be to blame. The rapist gives gifts, is like a father (or is a father), and also terrifies you, so you can’t blame him. Ergo, the one to blame must be you. Ergo, the way out is for you to die.

Anyone who doesn’t get that, who refuses to get that, who dares ask, Why didn’t these young men stop this, or tell someone? is either a perpetrator masking crimes, or so dangerously ignorant as to be a direct threat.

In either case, I wouldn’t let anyone who asks such questions anywhere near any child. Would you?

understanding my connection to Shez’s poetry

As I’ve been doing final (for now) edits on my translations of Shez’s poems, I keep feeling a kind of haunting—some of her words could be my own; I could definitely interweave the translations and my poems into a single, unified text. Sometimes I even dream about having my work translated into Hebrew and then doing a combined work in both languages, of letting our voices flow together like that.

The project, after all, is definitely the same—to replace the silence of the terrified girl with words that are strong, forceful, even violent enough to break the choke hold that sexual terrorism imposed on her. Which is why, even as I struggle with most of the subtleties of her Hebrew, I understand the poems, feel them deeply inside of myself, and know how to give them new voice in English.

With this always in my thoughts these days, I started reading Edith Grossman’s why translation matters, and came upon this quotation from a letter William Carlos Williams wrote to Nicolas Calas:

If I do original work all well and good. But if I can say it (the matter of form I mean) by translating the work of others that also is valuable. What difference does it make?

There is a silence that must be ended. At the end of my long sequence of poems called “Wanting a Gun” I declare: “I am writing, writing, writing.” In a poem addressed to her father, Shez declares, “You will not erase me off the page.”

The difference that is made is that now I know Shez. And soon all of you can know her, too. And hey, my hard work has made that difference. Rare enough that I let myself celebrate my own work, but today, after a couple of weeks of being trapped in some dank and musty emotional cave, I’m feeling celebratory.

NaPoMo April 5th “you don’t believe in god, but”

(Warning to casual blog readers – this is really explicit about violence against girls. Don’t read on if, right now, you just can’t go there)

you don’t believe in god, but

run down the hall
     dart in the room
          close the door
          block it with your whole body
run down the hall
     dart in the room
          close the door
          block it with your whole body

not like it could’ve mattered he always opens the door
slowly so you can keep hoping you might be able to stop this so he
can drink in every subtle taste of your hope

not like he won’t let you go saying your litany of no no no no no an aperitif
so delicious he orders another: Quiet! If they hear you I’ll have to hurt them
which is so brilliant, really, such rhetorical concision, so few words
yet able to make you complicit and make you hope anyone who could hear
might care, then

Oh, go ahead. Yell all ya want. Everyone knows I’m here.

Has anyone stupid ever become a truly successful sadist?

Then he reaches around the door, grabs your arm, just like scene 4
of every slasher movie (need you ask where they get
their formula?) and you (the babysitter who was dreaming of kissing,
the head cheerleader, the loose girl, the bookish girl with glasses, the jock,
the any-other-stereotype of a girl who has it coming) feel your green
and growing bones compress, your shoulder wrench and you go
(     )
(     )
(          )

you don’t believe in god but somehow
you grew up and you’ve never done this to a child, never fucked,
never mind-fucked, never lied, never twisted or broken, never fed
from hope or pain, never dislocated an arm
or a soul and how
outside of some supernatural
compassion can you account for how you get to live each day knowing
you’ll never have to account?

The first Shez translations have been published!

The Spring 2012 Issue of Trivia went live today, including the first four Shez translations to ever appear in English! I’m so happy! And, when I asked that the Hebrew be included, the editors worked hard to find a way to make that happen. Go read ’em, and stay to take in the other great writing and photography in the issue:

Trivia Spring 2012 Shez translations

Poets on Poets

Vladimir Khodasevich writing about Marina Tsvetaeva:

Poets are not born in a country. Poets are born in childhood.
What, then, is Russian about Marina Tsvetaeva?

Tsvetaeva understood audial and linguistic work that play such an enormous role in folk song. Folk song is for the most part a litany, joyful or grieving. There is an element of lamentation, an element of tongue-twister and pun, there are echoes of spell, incantation, even exorcism in a folk song—there is a pure play of sounds—it is always partly hysterical, near the fall into tears or laughter, and partly zaum (refers to the pure play of language, “beyonsense” ).

National Coming Out, 1987

National Coming Out, 1987
Elliott batTzedek

Swallowing charcoal swill
I,I,I, couldn’t say why she took the pill
bottle instead of the pill,
only that I
didn’t mean to die.

She, the smart girl, always so smart,
oh how she burst apart
heart’s juice run thin
mopped up off
the kitchen floor

with unused tickets for the bus to DC.
Instead she’d agreed to see
my parents. Why? I,I,I
didn’t want to die, talked us out
of the ER,

while she was still vomiting bile. I found
my rigid back, my prescribed smile, checked
us out to watch the marchers on the mall
chanting Come out, come out,
wherever you are!

For 25 years I’ve been a dyke, still hiding
what makes me queer, playing sleight
of hand so she and I,I,I will disappear,
folding them inward
and inward again.

Shez: Literary Alibis

more translating work. There’s an earlier version of this, from when I started in May. I’ve learned a lot in the last few months, and know I have still have so much more to learn. So “Yeah!” for step 2, knowing there’ll be plenty more steps to celebrate along the way…

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.

Shez Dance of the Lunatic page 86
Literary Alibis
translated by Elliott batTzedek
July 8 2011

When the day of judgment arrives, none of you—you fathers who rape—
will say even one word
finally you will sit, your silence
making at last the place where the terrorized girl can weep

but until that day of judgment, you’ll continue gagging me,
you’ll go on smiling graciously,
you’ll refuse to allow my words to be printed
      anywhere you are
you’ll go on with the alibi of literary value

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