Category: Issue 14

White News

 

I watch the market, rooting for my stock

like a child at a ballpark, wearing the colors of his team.

Bernanke has done well within the system,

protecting all the right players from shock.

But others infect our dreams, flickering over screens

as we eat pasta and watch the pundits scream

about lines being crossed as we speak, portals broken

to our inner cultural selves, the American dream

filled bottom up with grits. Pundits forget the universe

in a grain of sand. A girl on a wire fence

without food or drink, sent home without trial,

returned to scrub our sinks and bath tiles

clean. Clean is what they think they need

when they see themselves on the screen.

But the market goes up and we are pleased.

We hire a nanny from the south and buy

a barbie in dark hue. We learn to read

Neruda in his tongue while Juan Rulfo’s ghost

haunts visitors that never meet their hosts.

Borges has written us into a stylish labyrinth

of desire, with no Grecian thread to lead us out.

A monster of our own making prowls the plinth,

eating ideas of purity until we are born again, minotaurs.

One half climbs the market. The other climbs the fence.

 

***

Rimas Uzgiris is a poet, translator, editor and critic. His work has appeared in Barrow Street, AGNI, Atlanta Review, Kin, Quiddity, Per Contra, Hudson Review and other journals. He is translation editor and primary translator of How the Earth Carries Us: New Lithuanian Poets (Vilnius, 2015). He holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and an MFA in creative writing from Rutgers-Newark University. Recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Grant and a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Translation Fellowship, he teaches literature, translation and creative writing at Vilnius University.

Fifteen

 

Counting backwards from ten, I’m lost

at one:  it was meant to calm me down, like

an apology or shaking the snow globe,

but I have to start again, replaying the song

that speaks to my reverie. I drift

from my wish, the candles, a burning forest

now. The pearl in the box, a piece of that

burning. Will I always be the sum

of my poverty? Last night, I woke

to that, from the dream of hammering

a copper star in a whitewashed room.

I hadn’t washed my hair for weeks. I guess

from the despair. It’s amazing:  after so little,

or so much, I think of the possibilities.

 

***

 

Nicole Greaves holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University, and a certification in secondary English from Bryn Mawr College. Her poetry has appeared in The American Poetry Review:  Philly Edition, Jacaranda, Calliope, Cleaver Magazine, Acentos Review, and Friends Journal, and she was recently a finalist for the Coniston Poetry Prize held by Radar Poetry. Her work has also been awarded prizes by The Academy of American Poets and the Leeway Foundation of Philadelphia. In 2003, she was the poet laureate of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. Much of her work explores themes relating to tensions around acculturation, gender roles, and class. She teaches at The Crefeld School in Philadelphia.

 

Upper East Side, 2017

 

She looks out on the ruins of her rooftop garden, remembering it as it was: her late husband, immaculate, whiskey tumbler in hand, stands beneath the grape-covered pergola hung with Chinese lanterns, schmoozing, cutting deals with hedge fund investors and CEOs; beside her favorite Asian Pear tree, their daughter, tall, blond, precociously elegant, flirts with the handsome Yale-bound neighbor boy; their son, dark, unfathomable, skulks alongside the jasmine covered wall, uncomfortable in his blazer and tie, wishing he were anywhere else. She blinks and they are gone: in their place lay broken pots filled with parched stubble, splintered lounge furniture, cracked Italian tiles covered in sunburnt husks—her water shut off months ago.

She sets her teacup down, the tartness of the cinnamon wanting, the aroma weak, the tea leaves in their third or fourth steeping. She studies her chaffed hands and bare fingers, the imported creams and oils that once lined her bathroom shelves untouchable on her austere budget, her rings and other jewelry sold for a pittance. “Austerity.” She whispers the word, and her mouth turns up in a bitter smile—she’d always presumed it was meant for other people, never her kind.

She crosses her pale legs and considers what she will do today. Read, she imagines, as she does each day—it passes the time, allows her to forget—until the words swim across the page and she realizes she has understood nothing for some time. Then she will close the book and gaze out again on her garden. It was her refuge, a place to feel the sun on her shoulders, dirty her hands, be lost in a moment of potting or pruning. Much of their family and social life took place amongst the dogwood and ivy, marigold and wisteria she’d planted and nurtured: birthdays and anniversaries; celebrations of her husband’s deals and bonuses; that final Independence Day barbeque, the four of them arm-in-arm admiring fireworks above the Manhattan skyline. Inside her apartment it is different, her memories darker, more complex: sparring with her husband over his drinking, his infidelities; he countering with complaints of her profligate spending, her remoteness, their deft jabs escalating to verbal roundhouse rights and lefts. It’s been nearly a year since he jumped (was pushed?) from the firm’s top floor, one of hundreds in his profession to do so at the time. The “Wall Street Lemmings” the media dubbed them

Lunch today will be peanut butter on crackers; perhaps a little broth. Then a nap; she sleeps often. It keeps at bay the memories she can’t control: her sixteen-year-old daughter, whom she has not seen or heard from since, announcing on Thanksgiving Day that she was leaving with the greasy-haired, tattooed youth milling about their vestibule. Her son, picked up five months ago on some vague charge of participating in a demonstration, obstructing justice, before vanishing into the labyrinthine penal system.

At night her sleep is fitful; home invasions are not uncommon. Helicopters crisscross the evening sky like fireflies, awakening her with the sounds of their rotary blades, their sweeping searchlights. Sirens wail from the streets below; shouts and gunshots fill the intervals.

The President has assured the nation that all of this is temporary, that law, order, and prosperity will soon return, but first every citizen must sacrifice, stay calm, do as they are told. She wants to believe this, but at times doubts his words, and then worries her thoughts are unpatriotic.

In the morning, Jesús, her co-op’s former doorman, will bring her food and water. She is fast running out of money, a bag of groceries now costing as much as the first-class flights she once took to Paris, London, or Barcelona. Jesús has hinted at other ways she might pay. She is still young and attractive—a currency untouched by the ravages of hyperinflation.

Suddenly she is sleepy; the tablets she took earlier having effect. She dozes.

The afternoon air chilly on her skin, she soon awakens. She opens her eyes, reaches for a sweatshirt. She pulls the opening over her head, shakes her hair free. Standing, she walks to the far end of her garden. She leans over the garden wall and gazes down on the shuttered boutiques and cafés; a few pedestrians scurry along the sidewalks like roaches; tinted-windowed cars crawl past blasting out throbbing baselines, menacing lyrics—her Upper East Side street no longer part of a network of blue-blooded arteries knitting moneyed zip codes together, but a testament to the cessation of a way of life and her own helplessness. She stands at the precipice looking down, the wind blowing cool and dry through her hair, her hands gripping the rail along the wall. How easy it would be, she thinks. Over in seconds.

Lost in thought, a faint riffle of voices—or is it pigeons? … rats?—reaches her on the breeze and breaks the spell; she releases her hold, and once again time moves forward. On the far side of the garden, something green and leafy catches her attention. Startled, she ventures over to investigate. As she draws closer, she sees that it is only a weed. Canada thistle, she thinks. She sighs, strides into the apartment and a moment later comes out with a half-full bottle of water. She unscrews the cap and pours the precious contents onto the prickly growth, watches the sunbaked earth suck it in.

 

***

Born in Oakland, E.K. Allaire now lives outside Barcelona, Spain. His short stories have been published in Passages North, The MacGuffin, Big Muddyand selected as a finalist in the Third Coast Fiction Contest.

 

Barbed Wire Nest

They are dropping smart bombs on the glue factory.
They are sending saber-toothed drones into the bakery.
They are inseminating the migrant seamstress
And repopulating the mountain states
With mutant jackals and polyethylene waterfalls.
They are selling our skin cells to the cosmetic surgeons.
They are dismembering nude mannequins
And stacking the spikey limbs in the courtyard
So you can climb the pile and peek over the barbed wire
For a glimpse at the newly upholstered boardroom
Where they are declawing the help staff
And drafting the bill to outlaw the law.
They plan to kick us with steel-tipped boots
Then they’ll stuff us with arsenic and gag us
With clumps of hot tar. They’ll assassinate the cartoonists
And fuck each other on hardbacks in the library
Before incinerating the archives with antique flamethrowers.
They’ll arm the snowmen with Uzis
And bury the bookkeeper under the mossy rocks
In the backyard with the beekeeper
And the beehive’s desiccated hull.
They’ll take a breath, have a smoke,
And paint our eyelids shut with golden honey—
So while I still have a face inside my face
I try to look at them with the most objective eye
And hold the breath inside my breath
Until a flood of light washes over my body
And when the body has been consumed
The server brings back my debit card
And the thin slip of paper and the almost inkless pen
And when I turn to sign the paper
The strap of my dress falls over my shoulder.
The pendant nest suspends the breeze.
The flower in the vase swirls out of itself.

 

***

 

Nathan Hoks’ books include Reveilles (Salt, 2010) and The Narrow Circle (Penguin, 2013), which Dean Young selected for the 2012 National Poetry Series.  He currently teaches poetry writing as a lecturer at the University of Chicago, and Convulsive Editions, a micro-press that produces handmade editions of chapbooks and broadsides.

 

 

 

 

Resurrection Nest

When the windshield-splattered gnats are reborn
They’ll want to dismantle our automobiles
And tear up the roads and parking lots.
They’ll trip up the pedestrians and tip over the strollers.
They won’t even forgive the cyclists.
They’ll want to fly in our ears
And stitch together great clumps of wax.
If you listen, you can hear them plotting
Beneath the radio silence. If you listen
You can feel their looping flight patterns
Knotting the clouds to our pockets
So I sit in a dark room with my eyes closed
And I plead with the creature to go back inside
And I try to remember a song about a shadow
That swallowed the suburbs.
But even in the self-referential loop
The simplest connotations go haywire.
The woven grass tightens its hold.

 

No matter how hard you look, you won’t spot the gnats coming.
Instead you may see someone’s straw bonnet
Blowing off in the wind, and someone else’s bayonet
Stabbing through the curtains, while
Someone’s snow blower spews mud on the sidewalks
And the superhighways sprout skeletons
So someone unscrews the doorjamb
And someone pulls out a roll of bandages
And someone awkwardly mentions the president
Shouldn’t he be making a speech?
Shouldn’t he explain the new exit strategy,
How we’ll build a museum and hide in the diorama?
So someone paints his face on the brick wall.
Under the benevolent gaze
A father hands his briefcase to his baby.
The hummingbirds suck down the airwaves.
The impossible animal emerges.
The impossible animal emerges, but no poem
Will clean the cages or perfume their unholy odors.

 

***

 

Nathan Hoks’ books include Reveilles (Salt, 2010) and The Narrow Circle (Penguin, 2013), which Dean Young selected for the 2012 National Poetry Series.  He currently teaches poetry writing as a lecturer at the University of Chicago, and Convulsive Editions, a micro-press that produces handmade editions of chapbooks and broadsides.

 

Disconnection Notice

Someone says “let’s set the world on fire” and the Gaza sky

turns white with children’s kites militants struggle to the surface

of the bracken water my girlfriend has lace on her ankles fine

and a flask with a tiny rose embossed on it she has a conscience

that wakes her in the middle of the night with its fingers to her lips

it is the red death she tells me over the phone (but all I

hear are white orchids tumbling out of her mouth and filling my apt

to the brim) a headline tells me “Khmer Rouge jail chief floats

toward New Zealand” a sparrow warbles a dog barks a bee refuses

me even its sting my favorite show ends with the chemist slumped

lovingly over a barrel of methylamine it’s 2015 and stairwells

have become impossible “ each one of them claimed by another unarmed

black corpse and a police officer returning to the scene rinsed in blue light

“questions may be asked after the performance” the nurse whispers

and on the street a sign says have no heart haha

please help and another need money to fix wolf and another one

and another one have you met the rat tribe living in Beijing’s

underground city it’s a mistake to think

this world isn’t addressed to you it’s a mistake

to think it is

 

**

 

 

Russel Swensen’s work has appeared in Black Clock, Quarterly West, Pank, Better, Third Coast, The Collagist, and elsewhere. He is the author of Santa Ana  (Black Lawrence Press 2012) & The Magic Kingdom  (Black Lawrence Press 2016).

Victims of the Sun

Flashing a thumbs up for the camera

a girl before body a candied twelve year old

twirl with the grave running off her in black

rivulets. One of hundreds and one in a million

take your pick the wind says bored already

putting her back into its delicate clear hands

tossing her into the sky and still nothing

in this pink tumble has any knowledge of what

happened next (the fire running its fingers through

her hair, the rock and shale they’ll find her

lungs stuffed with, breathe deep, make a wish,

take the fragment that pierced her brain out

put it back). The sun is everything that happens

under it and another thing it is what happens

inside it and I think the sun is sick now in NYC

in Los Angeles in Gaza the sun so bright it could

break a limb so bright as if something larger

something darker were within it at the very heart

pushing the brightness outward a million spears

of sun in a million girls lying in dry fields their

strong brown arms.

**

Russel Swensen’s work has appeared in Black Clock, Quarterly West, Pank, Better, Third Coast, The Collagist, and elsewhere. He is the author of Santa Ana  (Black Lawrence Press 2012) & The Magic Kingdom  (Black Lawrence Press 2016).

Poet for Hire: Christine de Pizan & the Economy of Writing as a Woman

 

. . . language may be one of the many elements that allow us to make sense of things, of ourselves.

—Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak

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This is a story about trading in language, a story of sale and purchase, acquisition and acquiescence. It’s a story knit of female voices, past and present, each creating (and recreating) the other in turn. It begins with words found in history, and continues in a telling that plays for keeps. This is a story earned from wanting. Translation is its purveyor; invention, its currency.

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To sell in French is vendre, and the vendition of the Middle Ages was a lyrical form in dialogue, in which the first line begins with the speaker offering something for sale. The partner then improvised a versified answer, rhyming with the object sold.[i] The exchange was intended as an amusing game of clever flirtation.

 

Some time around 1400, an Italian-born woman living in France composed a sequence of nearly seventy venditions, titled Jeux à vendre in the still-definitive 1886 volume edited by Maurice Roy.[ii] Jeux à vendre translates as “Games for Sale,” but for Christine de Pizan, money was no game. Known as the first woman in Europe to earn a living though writing, Christine well understood the desperation of financial hardship.

 

The daughter of a court astrologer, Christine was of a noble class, but after the deaths of her father and husband, the 25-year-old widow undertook sole responsibility for supporting her mother and three young children.[iii] A niece was also left in her care. Christine might have married again, but she chose not to. As was the case with most unattached women of her historical time and place, Christine’s security––both financial and sexual––was precarious.

 

She was left with a wealth of unscrupulous creditors and no protection against reputation-blackening rumor.

 

The 1405 prose work, Christine’s Vision, provides a astonishingly candid first person account of Christine’s dire straits following the untimely death of her husband, who had earned a steady income as a notary for the king: “Then troubles arose from all sides, and as is the common fare of widows, lawsuits and legal disputes came to me from everywhere. . . . “[iv]

 

Likening herself to a “captain of a ship lost in the storm,” Christine writes of the lengths required to keep her fledgling family afloat. She writes of betrayed trust. Of the shame of being found in want. Of the humiliation of asking for help.

 

Christine writes with surprising modernity about the bitterness of material loss, but perhaps most surprisingly, she openly confides the high cost required of female discretion:

 

“Oh God, how many annoying remarks, I had to listen to; how many stupid looks, how many jokes from some fat drunkard did I suffer; and because I was afraid of putting my case at risk and was so dependent on its outcome, I hid my thoughts and turned away without answering, or else I pretended that I did not understand, and that I took it all as a light joke.”

 

Whatever bargain she struck with politic silence to avoid personal bankruptcy, Christine publically expresses her outrage in her Vision. She censures systemic silences that lead to gendered inequities and needless suffering. And she takes to task an entire country of “worthy and valiant men” who do nothing to intervene with unjust laws and harassment “by the powerful.” Quoting from her own early poetry, Christine summarily faults nobles, clerks, princes, knights, prelates, judges, and officials as she exercises the only recompense that can not be taken from her: her voice.

 

Six centuries after Christine, financial disparity remains endemic across nations. There remain deep inequities of education, of opportunity, of choice. This is true across gender, race, class, country, and language.

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“Yet language is not everything. It is only a vital clue to where the self loses its boundaries.”

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In her 1993 ground-breaking essay, “The Politics of Translation,” Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak reworks Walter Benjamin’s 1923 terminology to propose that “The task of the feminist translator is to consider language as a clue to the workings of gendered agency.”[v]

 

For Spivak, this task includes facilitating a “love between the original and its shadow, a love that permits fraying,” whereby “the translator earns permission to transgress from the trace of the other—before memory—in the closest places of the self.”

 

It’s not the reader who is solicited in translation then, but the text—its language and the limits of that language, which “point at the silence . . . the absolute fraying. . . .” In translating the Middle French of Christine’s venditions, these silences and frayings are where a new voice emerged. I called her Sylvie at first, but knew I hadn’t yet earned the right to name.

 

In the lineage of Christine, a greater investment would need to be made.

 

In the language of Spivak “surrender to the text” is the charge for such privilege. “If you want to make the translated text accessible,” she advises, “try doing it for the person who wrote it.”

 

Across history, country, and language, Christine and I shared a deep desire for words we did not yet own. If we were dealing with love, access seemed a bargain.

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As did Christine, I acquired all the books available in the vast library, not of a king, but of the university that funded my apprenticeship. As collateral I offered good-faith effort, resolute perseverance, and countless hours, all very un-billable. I scoured borrowed tomes of war, schism, upheaval; ran my fingers along foreign branches of royal family trees, pricked my thumb on a porcupine needle, symbol of Louis d’Orléans, murdered by order of his cousin, the John the Fearless. I pledged surrender not only to a text, but to Christine’s time, place, and culture. I undertook the long-ago language in which she wrote, so that I might gain entrance to the treasure— Spivak’s “right to become [an] intimate reader.” Only with such preparation might Christine’s pages yield to love’s fraying. Only then might the un-silenced voice reveal her true name.

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Christine earned her living, finally—and the reputation by which we still know her—by setting upon an intensive course of study and producing her own manuscripts, which in the manner of medieval economy, she offered as gifts to those wealthy enough to reward her with monetary compensation. By her own reckoning, Christine “compiled fifteen major works . . . contained in seventy large-size quires” between 1399 and 1405, when she records the account in her Vision.

 

One of those works, The Book of the City of Ladies, remains among her most famous. In it, Christine catalogues estimable women through the ages, relaying tales of female virtue and honor “to confront head-on the tradition of literary misogyny . . . that pervaded her culture.”[vi] She revises longstanding notions of good and evil, and recasts familiar stories so that formerly discredited female subjects might receive their long-due merit. Even the steep price Eve paid for knowledge gains new value under Christine’s balance sheet: “Humankind has now become one with God which never would have happened if Eve hadn’t sinned.”[vii]

 

Another woman refunded the full measure of her contribution in Christine’s City of Ladies is the Cumaean sibyl, Almathea. Ovid’s version, with which Christine was familiar, reduces the sibyl to perpetual deterioration in an ampulla prison after the prophetic virgin dares spurn the advances of a god. It’s the same story I know from Charles Martin’s 2004 prize-winning translation of the Metamorphoses. Without such translations, I wouldn’t know the story at all, but Christine’s telling is the first I ever read of a prophet who burns her own books because she is not given fair payment for their worth. Such does language allow Christine to avenge those whose greed left her and her children in want.

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In translating Christine’s venditions, I was greedy with want. I wanted words to yield riches, afford more than one meaning, revel in ambiguity; I wanted the agency of fluency, an abundance of language born of surrender to reading. Christine’s sibyl burns her books when a king does not pay her asking price. I almost stole a book to translate Christine’s verses—a dictionary, a very expensive one, loaned from another university’s library. The loan was up, and I still needed the book, and I thought I might say the book was lost, pay only the fine, which was less than the cost of the book, even with the breath of others marking the pages.

 

At first, the lie was in good faith—the book was lost; I had left it in the backseat of my car for weeks—work hours given over to paid employment, no time remaining to revel in words, an unequal transfer of resources. Then I went on a trip, emptied the car, placed the book somewhere I no longer remembered.

 

The book came due, and I thought to pay the fine quickly, have done with the guilt. Then, as if by a magic trick, the book appeared, a shiny penny on the sidewalk others pass, but only you see. I thought to steal it still, but knew Christine would never condone such a theft. My own university’s librarian ordered a copy for keeps. I may keep it forever. I have it still.

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Christine made frequent mention of her mother in her writings, and in her Vision, this “worthy” and “dignified” woman is noted as the first Christine’s greatest treasures: “[N]ever was she overcome by any tribulations, nor did impatience ever break her courageous heart. . . . Just think what a great favor God is doing you by letting such a noble woman, so filled with virtue, live to old age in your company.” If Christine had been discontented at the start of her Vision because she could not “provide for her [mother] as is fitting,” by its conclusion, she arrives at an understanding that “this desire, when coupled with patience, is commendable for both of you [Christine and her mother].” It’s not the fulfillment of desire that holds value, Christine’s Philosophy seems to counsel, but the value we hold for those we love. Or, more precisely, for those who have earned our love through the values they uphold, no matter how poor the cards Lady Luck doles out. To desire the best for the steadfast yields its own reward.

 

Early in my inquiry my own very worthy (and ever-practical) mother had asked, What did Christine do when a person who promised to pay for a manuscript didn’t? I hadn’t yet read about the sibyl’s incendiary act of rebellion, but I did learn this: Jean the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy, was repeatedly late with payment, and when Christine needed to secure a placement for her son’s future, both Burgundy and his cousin, Louis of Orléans proved less than forthcoming.

 

In fact, both royals failed to assist Christine in the safe return of her son, Jean de Castel, from England after she entrusted him to the care of the Earl of Salisbury. The Earl lost his head in a royal coup, and when the new king, Henry IV, desired not only that Jean remain at court but entreated Christine “with generous promises” to join them, she was required to use all her bargaining savvy: “I dissembled and thanked the king, saying that I was at his command, all this in order to get my son back. . . . I went to great trouble and sent some of my books so that my son finally got leave to come and accompany me . . . a trip which I have not yet made.”[viii]

 

Christine never did leave the country she adopted as her own, even as its rulers abandoned her and countless others suffering from foreign invasion and civil violence. She wrote in its language and quite probably translated into it. She might not have rendered her own translations of Ovid’s tales into French, but she certainly altered the terms of the exchange.

 

The woman who risked all she had—and all she didn’t—so that she might collect the rightful inheritance of her voice fulfilled the contract of her own desire through steadfast patience and tremendous effort. She educated herself and then wrote write publically in a time, place, and culture where other women had not—could not. Christine could, and she did. She wrote not only for herself, but for those who might have wanted to. She wrote of virgins, wives, widows, princesses, and prostitutes. She wrote of saints and prophets.

 

More than that, Christine frayed the stories that had always been told, “gradated into speaking,” as Spivak might say, “of intimate matters in the language of the original,” thereby transforming the language she undertook as a young girl more profoundly than if she had translated it into her mother’s Italian. She transformed, too, the physical manifestation of that language, producing her own manuscripts and employing a female artist to illuminate them.[ix] Rather than burning her work, Christine took her “tools and hammer on the anvil . . . durable as iron . . . to forge [books that] will for all time to come keep [her] memory alive before the princes and the whole world. . . .”[x] We are still reading the gifts of that labor, those gambles in language.

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In modern French, the word jeu translates as a game, or, if we are speaking of the theater, to act. It can also refer to gambling. « Cacher son jeu » is to keep one’s cards hidden or conceal one’s hand. En jeu points to what’s at stake.

 

For Spivak, what’s at stake in “The Politics of Translation” is not a single equivalency of meaning, but agency, “the production of identity as pluralized as a drop of water under a microscope.” My greed had not been simply a poet’s greed for words—for multiplicity—but a promissory note for the task ahead. As translators with a vested interest in restoring agency in and around language, “[w]e must attempt,” as Spivak notes, “to enter or direct . . . [the staging of the agent], as one directs a play, as an actor interprets a script. That takes a different kind of effort from taking translation to be a matter of synonym, syntax and local colour. ”

 

In the dictionary I almost stole, the jeu of Old French also translates as a game or sport. If you follow the game all the way through, jeu leads to jou, which arrives, finally, at je, as in the singular pronoun I. I’m for sale, whispers Christine’s title, not unlike Cole Porter’s down-on-her-luck singer, advertising her wares.

 

In the dictionary I almost stole, jeu is defined, expectedly, as a “love poem in dialogue form,” but jou also renders the following: yoke, bond, and join. Exactly who is doing the joining remains in play. Jousting and sex are also in the entry’s mix, as if in struggle with jest, as if to resist any notion that these verses are just a game.

 

In surrendering to the text, in reading as a translator, part of the task, according to Spivak, is to uncover “a history of that refusal and resistance. . . It is therefore only appropriate that its conclusion should gesture towards the limit, risk the re-inversion of the boundary by speaking from the other, refusing silence to what is unsaid.”

 

In the dictionary I almost stole, jeu can also mean: to propose an alternative.

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Threatened by increasing violence unchecked by rulers with a greed more corrupt than ardent, Christine fled Paris and her public writing life for monastic sanctuary, where she remained in self-exile until her death. While sequestered, Christine wrote what is believed to be the first poem to relay the triumph of Joan of Arc. With the exception of one other manuscript, no other writing from these last twelve years of Christine’s life are thought to exist.

 

The scholar part of my (pluralized) identity isn’t particularly interested in disproving this claim. The poet part, however, aches when she imagines a woman who paid such a steep price for her voice remaining silent the last decade of her life. And the secret agent who acts as translator for a poet who acquired a life of words when all seemed lost refuses to interpret white space as evidence of silence.

 

In any of these identities, I wanted language “to make sense of things,” as Spivak says, which is also to say, that in surrendering to Christine’s text, I wanted to make sense of myself and the world I share with 7.3 billion fellow humans. I’m nearing the age Christine was when she entered her long passage of silence. Fortune, fate, or maybe God, has let my mother live into old age, if not directly in my company, within a morning’s airplane ride. Six centuries after Christine’s Vision, there remain deep inequities of education, of opportunity, of choice. This is true across gender, race, class, country, and language. What’s at stake? As a global citizen, as a poet, as a mother’s daughter, it seems to me: Everything.

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In The Book of the City of Ladies, Christine tells the story of a young woman named Marina. To remain with her widowed father, who has taken holy orders, Marina dresses as a male novice and assumes the name Marinus. After the father dies, Marinus lives alone in her cell, “leading such a holy existence that . . . the monks praised her piety. None of them suspected she was, in fact, a woman.”

 

When a local inn keeper’s daughter becomes pregnant and Marinus is accused of being the father, the devout maiden chooses to accept blame rather than prove her innocence by revealing her true identity. In this way, she restores some measure of honor to the innkeeper’s daughter, who gives birth to a son.

 

Banished from the monastery, Marinus undertakes the infant’s care, feeding the child beggar’s crusts. Five years pass. Still disguised as a male penitent, Marinus dies. When the monks go to wash the body, they discover, “that ‘he’ was in fact a woman, [and] are horrified to see the terrible wrong they had done to such a holy and innocent creature.”

 

At Marina’s burial mound, a blind man’s sight is restored. The young mother who had lied out of fear and gone out of her mind is restored to her senses. “Many other miracles occurred on this site,” writes Christine, “and still do today.”

vvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvv

So does surrender to Christine’s text yield the name of the one who scribes at the limits of  language. I yoke myself to her, Marina. Translation as the most intimate act of reading. We enter now the fraying.

 

 

 

[i] The Distaff Gospels: a first modern English edition of Les évangiles des quenouilles, translated and edited by Madeleine Jeay and Kathleen Garay (Ontario: Broadview Editions, 2006), 24-25, n.3.

 

[ii] Christine de Pizan “Jeux à vendre,” Œuvres Poétiques de Christine de Pisan, ed. Marice Roy (Paris: Librairie de Firmin Didot et Cie, 1886), Vol.1. Available online through Project Gutenberg: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/18061/18061-h/18061-h.htm

 

[iii] Charity Cannon Willard’s remains the definitive biography: Christine de Pizan: Her Life and Works (New York: Persea, 1984).

[iv] Christine’s Vision in The Selected Writings of Christine de Pizan, trans. Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski and Kevin Brownlee (New York: Norton, 1997), 173-201.

[v] Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Outside in the Teaching Machine (New York: Routledge, 1993), 179-200.  Thanks to Samantha Pious of the University of Pennsylvania for bringing my attention to Spivak’s work.

[vi] Christine de Pizan, The Book of the City of Ladies, trans. Rosalind Brown-Grant (London: Penguin, 1999), xvii.

[vii] Ibid., 23.

 

[viii] Christine’s Vision, 195.

 

[ix] Christine’s illuminator, Anastasie, is identified in Nadia Margolis’ An Introduction to Christine de Pizan (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2011), 74.

 

[x] Ibid., 193-194.

Studies for Street Slogans

Saito 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saito 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saito 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saito 4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saito 5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Google's Endgame

Outer text: “Demand artificial intuition.” Inner Text: “Google’s endgame: Auto-completing your thoughts.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lens of Smart Bomb

“The lens of the smart bomb eye.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

M1 Abrams

Outer text: “Demand a data bill of rights.” Inner text: “The M1 Abrams rolling down the street: it’s your body.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saito 11

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

***

Saito Group is an Eyebeam/BuzzFeed fellow. It is a group of writers, artists and hackers in support of a data bill of rights, drone law, emergent cities and cyborg citizens. Keep up with Saito’s latest interventions on Twitter and Instagram @SaitoGroup and atwww.saitogroup.info.

 

 

Patriarchy

Father’s dying ceased,

when he refunded this ours

for fused hands plaster-coated

ffffffffffin a glottal stop’s brief paralysis.

 

Pinpricked holes for eyes,

reversible teeth hemmed in copper thread,

polished browbone swiveling

through trimmed hedges—

nnnnnnhe atrophies this aftermath,

nnnnnnnnnnnnits highest frond withering on maps

nnnnnnnnnnnnthat dreamed our shadows waterlogged.

 

He then moans a constellation of anchors

flung at blue birds pausing mid-flight

where pewter wind

nnnnnnnnnnnncreaks shut over the raft’s hesitation.

 

He explains the sun—

not carried by horse,

but a ceiling lamp

flickering on our computer screens.

 

***

 

Sherwin Bitsui is the author of Flood Song (Copper Canyon Press) and Shapeshift (University of Arizona Press). He Diné is of the Bįį’bítóó’nii’ Tódi’chii’nii clan and is born for the Tlizilłani’ clan. He is from White Cone, Arizona on the Navajo Reservation. His honors include the 2011 Lannan Literary Fellowship, a Native Arts & Culture Foundation Fellowship for Literature, a PEN Open Book Award, an American Book Award and a Whiting Writers Award. Bitsui lives in San Diego, California and teaches at the MFA writing programs of both San Diego State University and IAIA MFA in Creative Writing in Santa Fe, New Mexico.