Wine is rain in translation. And corkscrews are lines in translation. And glasses are sand in translation, sometimes on stems. How cool would it be if we could plant them, watch them turn and lean toward the sun?
I’ve been thinking about translation on and off for about a month, ever since Terrain.org published four Icelandic poems. There was something about the way they fit on the screen so you couldn’t see the English without scrolling down, and I decided I didn’t want to. Not until I’d tried my own “translations” first.
My friend Rick suggested this years ago: working out approximate versions in English based solely on the way another language looks . . . the pattern of letters, and how you might pronounce them, and so on. Having no clue about the original was his only rule.
I definitely didn’t.
To me the title of the first poem looked like “Origami Journey,” assuming you could flip the adjective the way you would in Spanish. I dug that idea (What’s an origami journey?), but the opening line, which looked like “Kari’s grandmother,” hooked me more, so that’s where I started. Then the second line had something close to “put some scribbles here.” And a long word (a kenning?) in the fourth line looked a lot like “it’s-spring-again” all run together. It didn’t matter that none of this was going to be right. Not literally. Literally, as you can see yourself, the poem is about not stepping on beetles. That wasn’t the sort of translation I was up to though, and I can’t imagine Magnús Sigurðsson would mind. He might even see it the same way I do: Sometimes it’s not bad to bend things. The first slam dunk bent the sky and the future. Billie Holiday bent songs. And bending a straight line around and around amounts to something that can uncork wine. All of us ought to try bending more. So I did:
“Art is Such a Good Journey”
Kari’s grandmother used to tell us, “Put some scribbles there—
a million begonias. And now it’s spring again, blooming. Yes.”
Not scuba, not yoga,
not for her, but she could make you young-eyed
when teaching you to paint. “Orange pinwheels, try it,
that’s sunlight, that’s Mama Eggs.” And my favorite,
what I’ll never forget: “Don’t ever put your vision on
like shoes, my darlings. We’re traveling, not making doormats.”
Rob Carney’s fourth book, 88 Maps, was published by Lost Horse Press (distribution by University of Washington Press). Previous books and chapbooks include Story Problems and Weather Report, both from Somondoco Press.