Poetry Translations

with Susan McLean

Susan McLean 2019-06-08 cropped.jpg

The Shawl


The wind that strips the last leaves from the trees

drops a calling card in the bedroom window.

It’s winter, as usual, just passing through.

Yolanda, in fact, says: “Today

I want to put something on. You feel the air?

It’s getting chillier.” The smell

of mothballs rises from the drawer

as she fishes out her red shawl.


“We met when I was wearing this same shawl,

remember?” Yolanda asks. And as she speaks

drapes the shawl tightly around her shoulders.

“The color hasn’t faded in the least —

not even the shadow of a single moth!

I wish someone would find a way

to preserve love against decay . . .”


Yolanda laughs, feigns indifference

but I can hear the tremor in her voice.


I sit in the yellowing of the storm

copying out my little poems

in an old school notebook. For you.

My soul is flattened, trapped

between present and past

like the flare of a withered poppy —

a souvenir from some forgotten idyll

pressed into the pages of a guidebook.

Marc Alan Di Martino is a Pushcart-nominated poet, translator and author of the collection Unburial (Kelsay, 2019). His work appears in Baltimore Review, Rattle, Rust + Moth, Tinderbox, Valparaiso Poetry Review, and many other journals and anthologies. He lives in Italy. His website is www.marcalandimartino.com.

Lo Scialletto

Cor venticello che scartoccia l’arberi

entra una foja in cammera da letto.

È l’inverno che ariva e, come ar solito,

quanno passa de qua, lascia un bijetto.

Jole, infatti, me dice: — Stammatina

me vojo mette quarche cosa addosso;

nun hai sentito ch’aria frizzantina? -

E cava fôri lo scialletto rosso,

che sta riposto fra la naftalina.


— M’hai conosciuto proprio co’ ‘sto scialle:

te ricordi? — me chiede: e, mentre parla,

se l’intorcina stretto su le spalle —

S’è conservato sempre d’un colore:

nun c’è nemmeno l’ombra d’una tarla!

Bisognerebbe ritrovà un sistema,

pe’ conservà così pure l’amore . . .—


E Jole ride, fa l’indiferente:

ma se sente la voce che je trema.

Trilussa (Rome, 1871-1950), the pseudonym of Carlo Alberto Salustri, was a popular Romanesco — or Roman dialect — poet known for his “remodernized” Aesopian fables showcasing razor-sharp social satire.


Nel giallore temporalesco

Le mie poesiucole

ricopiate su un quaderno di scuola

per te.

L’anima s’appiattisce

tra passato e presente

come un’avvinazzata corolla di papavero

— a ricordo di un idillio di viaggio —

fra le pagine di una guida turistica.

Antonia Pozzi (Milan, 1912-1938) was an Italian poet known for her terse lyrics and arresting imagery, often featuring the jagged Alpine landscapes she loved. She took her own life.

Riddle 1: Storm on Land

from the first Storm Riddle of the Exeter Book

Which is the warrior    so sharp of wit

he can speak the name of    what spurs me on

when I rumble upward?    At times, terribly

I wring out thunder;     at times raging

I fare over fields    setting fire to folk-halls,

blasting buildings.    The smoke of that burning

rains ash on roofs    — everywhere, the roar

of the slaughter of men.    When I slash the woodlands,

the fruit-filled trees,    I topple their trunks.

Roofed with water,     by the wrath of heaven

driven to wander,     blown out wide,

I bore on my back     the bodies robing

those first land-dwellers,    live flesh and spirit

still cleaving together     in the Flood. So who cloaks me?

Or how am I called,    who heave such freight?

Maryann Corbett is the author of five books of poems, most recently In Code (Able Muse, 2020). A sixth book, The O in the Air, is forthcoming from Colosseum Books. Read more about Maryann’s work at maryanncorbett.com.

from First Storm Riddle

Hwylc is hæleþa þæs horsc    ond þæs hygecræftig

þæt þæt mæge asecgan     hwa mec on sið wræce

þōnne ic astige strong     stundum reþe

þrymful þunie     þragum wræce

fere geond foldan,    folcsalo bærne

ræced reafige?    Recas stigað,

haswe ofer hrofū    Hlǐn bið on eorþan

wælcwealm wera    þōn ic wudu hrere

bearwas bledhwate     beamas fylle

holme gehrefed    heanū meahtum

wrecan on waþe    wide sended

hæbbe me on hrycge    þæt ær hadas wreah

foldbuendra,    flæsc ondgæstas

somod on sunde.     Saga hwa mec þecce

oþþe hu ic hatte     þe þa hlæst bere.


Original, as printed in The Exeter Book, ed. Krapp and Dobbie (Columbia Univ. Press, 1936.)

Anonymous. These lines, which open the first set of riddles of The Exeter Book, one of the most famous sources of poems in Old English, appear near the top of folio 101a. The manuscript probably dates from the tenth century; the poems may be much older and are probably from various sources and authors.

Yesterday, As You Were Reading

“Are you feeling cold?” you asked me.

I couldn’t deny that I was:

you’d detected it in my countenance

and possibly even my voice.


You were also feeling cold.

I could tell, though not by your face;

it’s as if your soul were kept on display

to mine in a crystal vase.

“Close the door!” you commanded.

I thought: what we ought to close

instead is that book of yours . . .

That book was the source of the cold.


   This evening it’s raining as it’s never rained before;

and, love, I don’t much care to go on living.


   The evening’s sweet. Why shouldn’t it be sweet?

It’s dressed in grace and grief; in women’s clothes.


   This evening, it’s raining in Lima. And I remember

the callous caverns of my ingratitude;

my block of ice set over her poppy flower,

drowning out her “Now, don’t be like that!”


   My violent black blossoms; the savage blitz

of massive stones; the frozen no man’s land.

With blazing holy oil, her dignified silence

brings it all to a decisive end.

   That’s why this evening, more than ever before,

I let the owl lead, heart guide me on.


   And others passing by, on seeing me

so sad, make this or that of you their own

in the sharp groove etched by my deep distress.


   This evening it’s raining, raining hard. And, love,

I honestly don’t care to go on living!

Brittany Hause lived in Bolivia, the USA, and South Korea before moving to the UK to pursue a degree in linguistics. Their verse translations and original poetry have appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, Star*Line, NewMyths.com, and elsewhere.

Ayer, cuando leías

¿Sientes frío? me dijiste.

No te lo pude negar:

lo leías en mi rostro

y hasta en mi acento quizás.


Tú también sentías frío.

Pude verlo no en tu faz:

tu alma está para la mía

como en urna de cristal.

¡Cierren la puerta! ordenaste.

Yo pensé: lo que cerrar

debiéramos es el libro...

Era aquel libro el glacial.

Blind from early childhood, Argentinian poet Vicenta Castro Cambón (1882-1928) gave special attention to senses other than sight in her writing, homing in on truths that can sometimes, paradoxically, be obscured by the visible.


    Esta tarde llueve, como nunca; y no

tengo ganas de vivir, corazón.


    Esta tarde es dulce. Por qué no ha de ser?

Viste gracia y pena; viste de mujer.


    Esta tarde en Lima llueve. Y yo recuerdo

las cavernas crueles de mi ingratitud;

mi bloque de hielo sobre su amapola,

más fuerte que su “No seas así!”


    Mis violentas flores negras; y la bárbara

y enorme pedrada; y el trecho glacial.

Y pondrá el silencio de su dignidad

con óleos quemantes el punto final.

    Por eso esta tarde, como nunca, voy

con este búho, con este corazón.


    Y otras pasan; y viéndome tan triste,

toman un poquito de ti

en la abrupta arruga de mi hondo dolor.


    Esta tarde llueve, llueve mucho. ¡Y no

tengo ganas de vivir, corazón!

Peruvian writer César Vallejo (1892-1938) has a dedicated following not only in his home country, but around the world. His verse is widely considered a monumental example of poetry that reaches across cultural and temporal divides.

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