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With or Without Music, Bent Orbit, Found in Translation

With or Without Music

A man snatches
off his glasses like a brazen
murder suspect
willing to let us see
his identity.

A girl holds
a cheap umbrella
stiffly aloft.

A thumb
points behind.

just an extension
of the fast moving shirt.

A man walks
with a towel slung
over his shoulder — fresh from a shower.

A woman
gestures widely,
swimming past.

A family of four
forms a procession and files into a store.

a shirtless man
sits on a step —
leaning back
as if on a throne.

A woman
crosses her arms
daring anyone to speak.

Two women
huddle close —
share a secret nipple to nipple.

Like an elegant dragon,
a man in evening dress
blows smoke
from his nostrils.

A woman
rubs her lips
as if some words
had stuck there.

A girl kicks
a bag of potato chips
in anger.

A man with white hair
swings his arm
like a vine.

Bent Orbit

I wind my way across a black donut hole
and space that clunks.
Once I saw on a stage,
as if at the bottom of a mineshaft,
the precise footwork
of some mechanical ballet.
It was like looking into the brain
of a cuckoo clock and it carried
some part of me away forever.
No one knows when they first see a thing,
how long its after image will last.
Proust could stare at the symptom of a face
for years, while Frank O’Hara, like anyone with a job,
was always looking at his watch.
My favorite way of remembering is to forget.
Please start the record of the sea over again.
Call up a shadow below the pendulum of a gull’s wing.
In a city of eight million sundials, nobody has any idea
how long a minute really is.

Found in Translation

I’ve always liked reading poetry in translation. In fact, I prefer it that way.

Poetry is the sound one language makes when it escapes into another.

Whatever you think you’ve missed is, as the saying goes, better left to the imagination.

It gives even a mediocre poem an ineffable essence.

Greater involvement on the part of the reader leads to greater enjoyment.

A bad translation, a clumsy one, is especially charming.

The poem is whatever cannot be killed by the translator.

Its will to survive, its willingness to be uprooted and flee its homeland is admirable. I almost want to say virile.

An untranslated poem is too attached to its author. It’s too raw.

An untranslatable poem that hordes its meaning, whose borders are too guarded, is better unsaid.

For years, I copied authors from around the world. Then one day it occurred to me, perhaps it’s the translator I imitate, not the poet. This idea pleases me and makes me want to write more.

It would be great to learn French in order to read William Carlos Williams.

Translators are the true transcendentalists.


Elaine Equi

Elaine Equi is the author of many books including Ripple Effect: New and Selected Poems, and most recently, The Intangibles, from Coffee House Press. She teaches at New York University and in the MFA Program in Creative Writing at The New School.


The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 04-JAN 05

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