Translation

Carolyn Forché

For Daniel

In a café near the entrance to the catacombs

you wrote your English versions of poems

composed in the voice of a thrush in a cage:

winter trees, plane trees, iron benches, bocci in snow.

This is where I found you most afternoons:

cigarette lit, stack of books, folded-up Le Monde,

writing into the past with your oldest pen,

unraveling your script then rolling it up again,

music turned back into ink on paper,

a symphony floating on the table face-down.

I was a young mother pushing a carriage then,

the little one trying to free himself (as he now has done),

while behind the glass door of an armoire

armies of paper soldiers fought themselves,

bells ringing like stones through the clouds,

an army of graves upright. How to be still

as you were, to keep quiet as one language enters another?

Leaving everything all usual worlds behind.

Because fog is not the same as violin! Fog is flute.

And opera in time of war is still sung to the applause of silence.

You wrote like a mole in its tunnel dreaming of stars.

Carolyn Forché is a poet, memoirist, translator, anthologist, and professor at Georgetown University. Her books include In the Lateness of the World, finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and winner of the American Book Award, and the memoir What You Have Heard Is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance, finalist for the National Book Award for Nonfiction and winner of the Juan E. Mendez Book Award.
Originally published:
December 6, 2022

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