Issues /  / Translation

Translated by Jeanne Bonner


We were living in a small city called Bamberg, not far from Nuremberg, when my father left us after a few days of much-deserved furlough. He’d been given leave for his excellent performance as a senior officer in the Third Reich. I don’t recall my father staying with us for long in those days. In fact, not once did I see him out of his pristine uniform, which so thrilled my mother.

I never counted for much in our household, and even less since my brother had received Father’s blessing to join the Hitler Youth. After that, my mother could barely contain the pride she had in the two of them.

We were a well-known and admired family in our small city. At church on Sundays, everyone paid respect to the Schultz family. I was the only one who felt embarrassed, useless as I was between two strong men like my father and my brother, both of whom walked with sharp, precise strides, practically a march. It was as if a melody emerged from within, one only they could sense. No matter how hard I tried, I always got it wrong when I attempted to copy their goose steps. I had to run to catch up to them like a lamb that had lost its flock. They pointed to my brother as an example, repeating that I had never been able to get the steps right.

On the rare occasions we were together in that period, my mother always took the long way to church, seeking out routes where neighbors would bow to her, greeting us warmly.

“You’re almost twelve now but you just don’t want to grow up,” my mother would say to me. “Look at Mrs. Hass’s son. He’s your age but you seem like his little brother.”

I wished my father and brother could remain at home with us. When I saw them happily leaving for the front, it felt like they didn’t love me. Tall and bony, my mother was submissive by nature. When we brought them to the station, it only took one look from my father for her to swallow her tears. My mother, though, was strong. On nights when she couldn’t sleep, she’d clean the floors or polish the silver that she kept in two large suitcases above the wardrobe in her bedroom.

“Why don’t you let Hilde help you?” I would ask.

I thought she was trying to save our elderly housekeeper the trouble. She was the only servant who’d remained with us during the war years.

“Oh, poor thing, she’s tired,” my mother would say. “I can do it myself. Besides, I might as well since I’m not tired.”

“Why are you putting that stuff away? Are we leaving, too?”

“Robert, we’re at war. Anything can happen in the blink of an eye. We might even have to stow our most precious things.”

“Tell me about the war,” I would say to my mother. “Something that’s really happening, not folktales. When we’re alone, you treat me like a little child.”

“There are duties in life,” my mother would reply. “Duties for men. When you’re older, you won’t fail to carry out your duty.”

“What duties?”

“You must love country above all else. You must be proud of your father and your brother and not whimper every time they have to leave. You hang on your father’s neck like a sack of potatoes.”

She went on. “We love each other deeply, but it’s the hope of winning that gives us the strength to be apart. The war isn’t only about victory, you know. It’s about earning glory. And we will prevail, Robert.”

“I wish you would sleep next to me, Mother, when I hear the planes overhead at night. I never told anyone that I’m scared because none of you seem scared.”

“You’re a big boy now, Robert,” she said.

But that night Mother slid in bed beside me. It was one of the happiest moments of my childhood. It was like the time I played chess with my father and my mother whispered to him that he should let me win at least once. He got mad, insisting that one must be deserving of victory and that to win, one had to want it and be willing to learn.

“You’re right, Papa,” I said.

That made my father’s blue eyes light up and he began stroking his gorgeous brown hair, which he wore parted down the middle. He was short and muscular, with pale skin, rosy cheeks and large hands, like a farmer. I remember once, my mother dared to raise her voice while referring to his rural upbringing. At that, he shut himself off from everyone, falling into a deep silence to show his aristocratic roots more clearly.

Our house felt cavernous. There was no one left sleeping upstairs. Since the start of the war, we’d been sleeping down below in case an alarm sounded in the middle of the night. It would be easier that way to reach the bunker that my father had built under the garden. My toys were still all lined up in my room on the upper floor but I rarely went up there because the sad warren of abandoned rooms frightened me. I didn’t really feel like playing, anyway, so for fun after school, I would race to the railroad crossing to watch trains, which I would later draw at home. I loved walking alongside the tracks, waving at the strangers on the trains. I often hid in the woods near the tracks and made snowballs to throw at the train cars, hoping to hit the windows. Some of the people would laugh or get mad. These trains never stopped at the signal master’s station. But one time, the sound of a passenger’s wails could be heard and Mother locked me in Hilde’s quarters, a tiny dark room with an iron-frame cot where I eventually fell asleep. She let me out the next day; Hilde was forced to spend the night in the kitchen sitting by the stove. She complained more than usual, saying she was a burden to everyone. She would often pray that she would die soon, and she did so even more after my mother had begun suffering from insomnia and would rise in the middle of the night to clean the floors.

It was the signalman who played the spy, so I learned to stay clear of him and hide myself better in the woods where I felt myself master of the tracks and could observe the little white house and the well by the railroad crossing. One day when I was once again trying to balance on a rail, I felt the tracks vibrate beneath my feet as if a train were coming. I didn’t see any lights or signals, nor did I hear a warning whistle. Yet I was sure a train was approaching. It was a dark, cloudy afternoon and I stepped off the tracks just in time to see a black transport train with two locomotives arriving. It stopped at the signalman’s station. I threw myself into the snow and looked up to see a train car opened by an armed soldier. Two men exited, carrying pails in each hand while the soldier pushed them with the butt of his rifle, saying “Schnell! Schnell!”

From a distance, the soldier looked like my father and I ran out of the woods to get a better look. The man had a short, massive body and he wore the same uniform. I couldn’t decipher the face, but the way he walked and his demeanor made me call out, “Papa! Papa!” as I jumped up and then sank into the snow.

“Go home!” the signal master shouted while the soldier who resembled my father grabbed me by the arm with a brusque sweep and pushed me toward the edge of the woods, cursing. I wound up neck-deep in the snow but still, I couldn’t take my eyes off the train car. Dozens of arms were sticking through the window grates and from inside you could hear the voices of men, women and children, moaning while they begged for help. “Bitteschon,” they said again and again. “Wasser, wasser, bitte.”

The snowball remained in my fist but I couldn’t feel the cold. I considered throwing it at one of the windows for a second but then I hesitated and the train moved on, slowly disappearing into the fog.

All alone, I could hear the voices buzzing in my ears, growing louder, fearfully doubling in intensity as if an entire town was weeping inconsolably. I felt my wet hands burning. I was ashamed for not throwing the snowball for fun as I had the other times. Scrambling out of the hole, I swayed as I started off for home, mumbling my mother’s name.

When I arrived, I no longer wanted to see anyone, not even my mother, and I slipped into the house like a thief.

“Is that you, Robert?” my mother asked from the kitchen.

Standing in the middle of the living room, I had one thought only: to hide behind a piece of furniture. The voices still echoed in my head, begging for water.

“Oh Robert, look at the puddle!” my mother yelled. “You’re getting my carpet all wet. Your shoes are covered with snow and look at your hands. My God, what a state you’re in!”

My mother then began to remove my wet clothes. After Hilde fetched a hot water bottle and a wool blanket, they put me to bed where I lay delirious the whole night. They watched over me for several days but dodged my questions about the train’s true purpose. Mother reacted severely, threatening to slap me and report it all to my father. She then took to alternating between threats on the one hand, and entreaties and kisses on the other. In those days, my mother wore pants because she said it was cold and besides, in wartime, it didn’t matter how one dressed. But it made her seem severe, like a man.

I couldn’t bear it so I decided to escape. One morning, I jumped out of the window into the snow covering the backyard and instinctively began running to the signalman’s station. The railway worker was asleep on a cot. He wore a green uniform that was different from my father’s. And he had a rifle propped up against his large belly, which rose and fell as he snored. I didn’t dare take a breath as I stood there staring at him for a long time. I feared waking him and preferred he wake up on his own. Eventually he did, and shaking himself, he shot up off of the cot and grabbed the rifle.

“Who goes there?” he shouted.

“I’m Colonel Schultz’s son,” I said.

He didn’t relax even when he realized I was just a boy.

“I’ve already chased you off once so what in the devil are you doing, coming back?”

“I want to know who those passengers were.”

He looked at me with hostility then sat down, but this time he leaned the rifle against the wall.

“I don’t know anything,” the signalman said. “I do my duty, whatever my superiors like your father order me to do. I am a hard-working soldier, I follow my orders…”

I interrupted him to ask a question. “Are you a soldier or the station chief?”

“I am a railway worker in soldier’s uniform. I’ve always wanted to be station chief and now that they built this, the only trains that come through here are those cursed trains. And they’ve confused my home for a latrine.”

He spit out the extinguished butt, which had been resting on his lower lip, along with brown jets of saliva.

Then he began again: “If you could smell the stench! They’re having me serve as a soldier but I would prefer the front to cleaning up the shit from these animals, which I have to do twice a day. It’s humiliating.”

“So two trains come by here a day?”

I must have looked at him with apprehension because he responded immediately: “That’s when I bury it, but there are many other trains.” Then he remembered himself, “Go home instead of asking all these stupid questions. I’m a soldier and I am ordering you to stay away from here for good. Understood? Now marsch.”

Suddenly there was the sound of a train from outside. After jumping to his feet, the man grabbed his rifle and opened the door. He had me go out first, pushing me with a little shove of his hand.

But instead of going home, I ran back to the spot in the woods where I watched as the same scene as the day before was repeated. This time there were two armed soldiers, one of whom stood by the train windows, hitting anyone who dared reach for water with the point of his bayonet.

I scooped up some snow and rolled it into balls, throwing them against the barred windows of another train car that wasn’t being patrolled. But the guard noticed. He raised his rifle in my direction, he took a few shots, sending me tumbling down the snowy slope. Trembling with fear, I crouched there for a long time with my face and body half-buried in the snow, unable to move. It seemed as though it wasn’t only the train wailing, but the whole woods.

When I finally lifted my head again, the train had left but the sobbing continued. Sometimes faint, sometimes loud. Was I the one crying?I touched my wet cheeks but I didn’t know whether to blame tears or the snow so I began walking, surrounded by the utter silence of the woods. The groans began again, even fainter but real. I went in the direction where the voice seemed to be coming from, and as I ran, I tripped over a mound of snow; the weeping was coming from underneath.

“Who’s there?” I shouted.

No one answered, but the snowy little mound moved and I saw a slender arm laboring to poke out, followed by one tiny hand waving, then another. I bent down to touch the arms and to shake them with all of my strength just to be sure this wasn’t a nightmare.

Digging furiously, I found a small girl who was wrapped in a coat that like her hair and eyelashes was covered in icy snow. I wiped her face but her frozen tears had become like droplets of candle wax and they wouldn’t budge. I helped her stand up, and removing my coat, scarf and gloves, I covered her with my clothes. This nice little girl who was somehow still alive could only stare at me with wide eyes.

“What’s your name?” I asked her. “Where are you from? Who are you? Why can’t you speak?”

She stood there stiffly, without moving. I began rubbing her arms and blowing my hot breath on her face to warm her up.

“Come with me,” I said. “Come home with me. I have to go because my mother is waiting for me.”

She began looking around, her eyes tearing up, but she didn’t say anything. I picked her up and held her in my arms; she was as light as a feather. Although my coat weighed more than she did, I wasn’t strong enough to carry her all the way to our house. I could feel my heart beating in my chest while my teeth chattered from the cold. Before placing her back on the ground, I smiled and explained we still had a bit farther to walk. Only a few more steps, I said, we would be somewhere warm.

She looked at me with frightened eyes. Worried she’d try to escape, I took her hand and I pulled her along the icy path through the woods. She tried to break free but the sudden movement, hampered by the heaviness of the two coats on top of her, made her fall on the ice. While I tried lifting her up again, I heard my mother’s voice and then Hilde’s. They were looking for me.

“We’re here,” I yelled. “Come quick, Mamma!”

When my mother saw the girl, she went pale and seemed about to faint.

“Robert,” she said, her voice weak, “who is this child wearing your clothes?”

“I don’t know,” I replied. “I found her in the woods. She hasn’t said a word. Maybe she’s deaf.”

“You’ve gone insane,” she shouted. “Do you want to ruin your father and our whole family? Come inside quickly. We must not be seen.”

As she spoke, her trembling hands unbuttoned the two coats the girl was wearing but opening the first was enough to reveal what she was looking for. She tore off the yellow star that had been sewn on the girl’s tiny overcoat, and before I could even complain, she crumpled up the yellow piece of fabric, digging a hole in the snow with her heel to bury the star as she did so. Then she stomped on the snow for what seemed like a very long time. It was as if she were a dog burying his waste. She looked so funny, I almost laughed.

“You’ve always wanted a little girl,” I said to Mother who stared at me without moving. “Here’s a daughter for you and a little sister for me.”

“Oh, Robert,” my mother said under her breath. “Robert, Robert.” Then she burst into tears.

We went in the house to the room where I’d decided the girl should stay. Hilde was going back and forth between my room and the kitchen to refill the hot water bottle and bring soup and sweetened fruit. I begged my mother to feed her, to spoon something into her mouth, but she had a faraway look. I began doing it myself while Hilde grumbled, but in a voice that was uncharacteristically kind.

A spoonful at a time, we fed the girl, who now appeared to be smiling at me while she swallowed the food in ever bigger bites. As she ate, I explained how and where I’d found the girl, adding that she couldn’t be deaf because I’d heard her wailing, just as I’d heard the people on the train.

“She needs a doctor,” I kept saying. “She’s not deaf. She’s sick. We need to help her talk. Isn’t that right, Hilde?”

“The young lady will be our special guest, if that’s what you wish.”

That evening, I was as happy as someone who’d discovered gold. Even Hilde seemed more energetic. Mother was the only one who couldn’t understand. Suddenly she jerked me away from the bed, yelling, “Get away from her! Don’t touch that animal!”

“You mustn’t talk that way, Mother,” I replied. “She’s little. Can’t you see she’s already fallen asleep? You always said you wanted a little girl named Silvia. From now on, we’ll call her Silvia.”

Leaning over the bed where Silvia slept, I pronounced loudly, “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, I baptize you Silvia Schultz.”

“You’ve become deranged,” Mother said, sobbing. “Do whatever you want. Have your little toy. But only until your father comes home.”

After that, I stopped going to the signal master’s station, and I no longer heard the wails of the passengers ringing in my ear. My love for Silvia only grew stronger as she learned to say a few words in German, although she could not -- or would not -- speak in any other language. It seemed like she had forgotten her native tongue. She was growing up nicely and becoming quite lively, too. She knew how to write her numbers from one to 10, and she’d even confided in me her age: she was six. We played all day in the room upstairs, which I’d reopened after she arrived. We slept there in twin beds and I even convinced Mother to wish Silvia goodnight.

We weren’t allowed out of the house; I’d promised as much to Mother so she would be kind and considerate to Silvia. There was nothing, however, that I could do about the disgust Mother felt when she touched Silvia. In fact, Hilde was the one who dressed her every day and put her to bed at night.

After a while, Silvia began walking around the house by herself. Every now and then, she would stop to touch a piece of furniture or an object, almost as if she were looking for something. She stroked Mother’s furs, burying her little hands inside of them. She even liked to try them on, running to the mirror to see how she looked.

“Tell her to stop,” Mother would say. “She’s ruining my furs. She’s making them dirty.”

“Why don’t you ask her yourself?” I would say. “She understands everything.”

My little sister was plumping up nicely, and every so often a quick smile would flash across her chubby cheeks. But at night, when she was alone with me, she often cried and I would hold her close to console her. Once she hugged me and gave me a kiss in front of Mother.

“Give Mother a kiss, too,” I said to Silvia.

My mother stiffened and she looked at the child with contempt but she didn’t move. Then putting on her fur coat, she said she had to go to the post office to send a telegram to Father. I ran after her. Meeting her at the door, I said, “Silvia must stay with us until the war is over. Then we’ll look for her parents.”

“If you can find them,” my mother replied in a strange tone.

A few days later, my father returned from his post at the front.

“You had to call for me now when they need me most? With the Russians and the Americans closing in on the Third Reich?” he said.

Mother clearly hadn’t the courage to tell him the real reason for the telegram.

He didn’t appear at first to notice Silvia, who stood, frightened, in a corner of the room, her eyes coldly trained on my father’s boots.

“The rug, dear,” said my mother. She was also staring at his boots, so covered in melting snow that two dark water stains began spreading across the rug.

My father looked up, his gaze traveling to where Silvia stood staring at him. Both my mother’s eyes and mine were glued to the carpet where the stains were growing larger.

“Who is that child?” he yelled suddenly. “What’s happening here in my house, Grete? Is this turning into a synagogue? A dump? A scrapheap?”

“I’m the one who found her,” I said to Father who seemed intent on thrashing my mother. “She was in the woods, near the railway tracks where you see the trains – those trains that…”

He didn’t let me finish my thoughts. Instead with a blow to my face, he sent me flying across the room to where Silvia stood, so petrified by him that she was frozen in place, like a rabbit facing a hunter’s rifle.

“Don’t touch her, Papa,” I said, in tears. “You are not her father. Beat me instead.”

He raised his hand to strike me again but mother came between us, and he attacked her with a savage hand, unloading all of his rage upon her.

“Forgive me,” my mother begged, “if we took her away from him, we would have lost Robert – maybe forever. Calm down, Fritz. Let’s try to discuss this.”

“Did you know she was Jewish?” my father asked, speaking in a calm tone again.

“Of course, I knew,” Mother replied. “I knew as soon as I saw them walking out of the woods together, even before I hid the yellow star. Who else would be in the woods? They must have lost her or her parents pushed her from the train to save her. But she hasn’t said anything.”

My father motioned to the child to come closer but Silvia didn’t move.

“You two go upstairs,” he said to Mother and me. Turning to Hilde, he said, “You stay in the kitchen.”

Mother and I stood outside the door to the cellar, motionless, awaiting anxiously to see what would happen.

I could hear my father interrogating Silvia, demanding her name, age and hometown as if she were a soldier.

“Are you Polish? Hungarian? Romanian?” he asked angrily. “Which train brought you?”

“I don’t remember,” she mumbled.

“You must remember and answer me fully if you want to see your parents again.”

After an unbearable silence, my father’s voice exploded in the air. “What, have you lost your tongue? May the devil snatch you up!” shouted Father. “Follow me. I’ll send you where your parents are.”

The door was suddenly thrown open and my father appeared, holding Silvia by the collar of her dress. She hung in the air like a kitten.

“I don’t remember,” Silvia kept saying.

“I’ll bring you down to the bunker where you’ll have to get your memory back by tomorrow morning.”

I threw myself against my father. “I’ll report you!” I shouted. “You’ll never see me again.”

He dragged her into the underground bunker and then immediately came back upstairs, smiling. His irritation appeared to have disappeared completely. He looked at us almost tenderly now that the source of the tension was no longer right in front of our eyes. I understood he wanted to forget about it just then and was trying to be accommodating with my mother and me.

“Grete, get me the chess set,” my father said. “Come on Robert, let’s see who’ll win.You’ll need to guard your pieces well.”

He gazed out, daring me to beat him but not without a touch of admiration because for the first time, my will to win was equal to his. Mother poured him a glass of cognac and sat down on a chair next to us. But she didn’t watch our match. Instead she read the newspapers my father had brought.

I had to win. I concentrated all of my energy on the match, as if the stakes were Silvia’s life.

After a long silence, my mother asked about my brother, Helmuth. “When his regiment is back in Germany, couldn’t he perhaps come home? He is after all just a boy.”

“You want him to come home now? Are you giving up, too?” my father replied, without looking away from the chess board. After a moment, he said, “Did you put provisions in the bunker?”

Hearing my mother assure him she had, I was secretly happy for Silvia.

That night, I went back to sleeping in my own room after a long absence. I felt at ease there because Silvia was safe and my father was home with us. I fell asleep quickly, filled with the satisfaction that I had beaten my father at chess.


That night, I had a terrible dream; it was as though the earth trembled, shaking my bed and causing the trees in the woods to fall, blocking the train tracks. I woke up suddenly. Through the window, now thrown wide open, I could see the pale sky while a deafening noise made me feel disoriented.

Jumping out of bed, I yelled, “Papa!” In the next moment, a sudden flash blinded me and the room was plunged into darkness.

When I came to again, I heard loud banging on the wall. A lot of time must have gone by, and I wasn’t sure where I was. A weak light entered the room, filtered by a tangle of ceiling beams and debris from the broken wall plaster. I heard a voice at intervals that sounded mechanical; it was speaking in a foreign language, repeating the same words over and over. I wanted to move, but I was like a prisoner, my legs squeezed by something with a jaw-like grip. Confused, I began crying and yelling in a bid for help.

With my hands, I began digging myself out of the rubble of bricks and dust where I had fallen. The banging on the wall began again, with the sound sometimes close, sometimes far. I could hear the picks and the shovels at work and the foreign voices that seemed to guide them. Finally, the sky above me opened up and I saw a pair of heads and then two soldiers in uniform and a man in a white lab coat. They were talking to me but I could only understand their gestures and their encouraging smiles. The man with the lab coat was the first to lean into the opening above where I was buried. After he freed me from the rubble that had pinned me down, he took me in his arms and we walked out into the sunlight.

I was still blinded for a long time. My eyes were wide open now but they refused to see. In front of me, there was only smoke and debris. My house had been swallowed up in a crater of ashes. All around me were voices coming through loudspeakers and sirens from Red Cross vehicles. I babbled, “Where am I? Mother? Mother?”

Through the many incomprehensible voices talking over each other and giving what sounded like orders, I heard someone call me, “Robert!”

I turned around and saw Silvia standing in front of the bunker, which had emerged unscathed, except the door was no longer attached to the hinges. She ran toward me. Holding her hand was a young nurse. She had a sign hanging around her neck by a cord that read: “Miryam Lewy, Born 1939, Budapest.”

Breathless, I looked at her closely to make sure it was really Silvia.

“It’s me, Robert! It’s me,” she assured me.

“Where’s Mother?” I yelled, sobbing. Then lowering my voice instinctively, I asked, “And where’s Father? Where are they?”

“They found me in the bunker,” Silvia said. “I was alone.”

“Where are they?” I shouted. “I want to look for them.”

I thought about breaking free from the arms of the stranger who held me. Looking alternately at me, then at Silvia, the soldiers and the nurse were discussing the situation. Full of fear, I began trembling. I was afraid of everything – and everyone – and I couldn’t manage to say my name even as the nurse, holding a sign and a pencil, asked me yet another time.

“What is your name?” The foreign woman spoke to me in English.

I looked at Silvia, silently imploring her for help. She removed the sign from her neck and asking the nurse for a pencil, she crossed out her name and changed it to Silvia. Now all of them were laughing, amused by what she had done. She smiled, too, and looked at me sweetly.

“What’s your name?” the young woman kept repeating in English as she walked us toward the Red Cross vehicle. “What’s your name?”

Silvia answered for me. “Robert.”

“Robert?” she repeated in English. “Robert, just Robert?”

The nurse handed me a piece of chocolate and waited for my answer.

“Robert Lewy,” Silvia replied, smiling. Then she turned to me and said in German, “You’re my brother, right?”

Edith Bruck, a 2021 finalist for the Strega, Italy's most prestigious literary award, was born in Hungary in 1931 but has been writing in Italian for more than half a century. She is the author of more than a dozen novels, short story collections and works of nonfiction. Bruck is also a prolific poet. In addition to her prodigious literary output, she is a committed Holocaust witness who visits Italian schools to share her experiences.

Jeanne Bonner is a writer, editor and literary translator. Her essays and reporting have been published by The New York Times, Brevity, the Boston Globe, Catapult, Longreads, Marketplace, NPR and CNN. She is a 2022 NEA literature fellow in translation; her project consists of translating short stories by Edith Bruck, a transnational Italian writer who frequently writes about her experiences as a survivor of the Holocaust.

Translated by Carmela Ferradáns


They call me Island, but because of what I have endured, I look more like a reef. My father used to call me al-Jazeera although my name is Zuhara or al-Zuhara; that’s what my grandmother calls me, and I like being a bright star. Being so reserved, my father must have said that I was very isolated: “This girl is so isolated that she looks like an island,” according to my mother’s account. And he continued calling me by that name.

I am going to tell everything like it is, because I am going to die when my child is born, dead or alive, and just in case Allah, in his immensity, will listen to me. Besides, with where I am at the moment, I take comfort in talking to the walls. When I left my neighborhood in Khenifra, I did not doubt that Allah would protect me. Now, being here, there is a strong musty smell that makes me dizzy. The sunlight hurts me more each time I go out in the mornings. I prefer the complete darkness to the rest of the day. Darkness calms me down, and I think that the twilight is good for both of us, him and me.

I am not sure of the day I was born. My friend Fatima Sora, who went to school, said she was seventeen years old; I think I am the same age. My mother, in her silence, told me once that the day she had me, the King began to build the largest mosque in all of Morocco. She remembered this very well, because when she went into labor, they delivered the news on the radio. Of all my life, what I remember best is when she died. I was very young, and I hit or got hit very hard with the corner of the table. I know I lost consciousness. My brothers say that after I was born she was sick all the time. Omar, who is just a little older than me although he thinks he is a grown man, thinks that if I hadn’t been born, our mother would still be alive. I have always had to hear this from my brothers, and even now they are screaming at me that I will die soon, like my mother did.

I also remember the day I left my house in Khenifra. My grandmother did not stop crying; I smiled, but she already seemed to know what was ahead of me. At that moment, I felt that if she had not been so old, she would have come with me. At that moment, I felt relieved to see her so old. I imagine her here, standing up to my father and protecting me. Surely, she would have died of grief. It makes me angry not knowing how to write: I would tell her about the darkness and the sadness that I feel, about the night, so long…I would send her the letter with Karim, the neighbor-boy. Every afternoon, Karim knocks three times on the wall, and I answer him. It seems to me that everybody in the plantation knows that I am here, locked up, but nobody says anything. Each father at home with his children does what he wants. It has always been like this. Now I feel like vomiting, but I am not going to because it stinks up the room, and they don’t come to pick up the peppers until very late.

The day I left home I was wearing a European-style dress with flowers: I had kept it for important occasions like this one. In the red, white, and blue bag, a gift from a friend of my father who migrated to France—according to him, he had plenty of everything—I put two scarfs, one from my mother, another a gift from my grandmother, and almost all my clothes. It weighed a lot. I had little money, because my father had already paid for the trip from Spain. My grandmother, angry, said that with so much money she would never have left. She would have bought an orchard, we all would have enough to eat, and above all, there would have been peace and quiet. She said that my father was pig-headed, that he always had been, and she didn’t understand his determination that all his children had to be with him in Murcia picking peppers in the fields. Me, he should have left me behind with her.

The bus ride, although they say it is a ten-hour ride, went by quickly through my window, as quickly as the rain falls at home in Khenifra.

I could have never imagined a city as big as Tangier, with so many cars and houses so high. If Mustafa doesn’t wait for me—he says his name is Mustafa and that he is friends with my father—I will get lost. Khenifra is big, but I have never left my neighborhood which I know so well. Cars don’t go there; the few that do immediately get covered in our red dirt.

Mustafa behaved affably. With him, I was not afraid. I was looking at the cars: so many people together and so many tall, black people. The hostel where he took me was big, it stunk of fried food, and it was full of people who wanted to be kind. He left me there. He came back seven days later to tell me that I was not to go out in the street and that the boat we were taking for our trip was being repaired. At that moment, I didn’t understand anything. Until today.

The day he returned, he beat me up without even talking to me. He found out through the errand-boy snitch who doesn’t look like Karim. I was just trying to look for the door, look for the exit, breathe in a different air without the smell of fried food. I came back quickly: I was thinking about Mustafa. In the city, the old walls were mixed up with the King’s palace, and in a vantage point overlooking the sea somebody said that you could see Spain very well because it was sunset.

Mustafa hit me hard. He was yelling about the problem he had with me, shouting that if it were not for what my father had paid him, he would not have gotten into this kind of trouble. I understood half of it, and although the pain lasted a long time, he soon stopped hitting me.

Two days passed. An upset Mustafa unlocked my door, and told me, “Let’s go child.” In an instant, I picked up the red, white, and blue bag and followed him. Once again, he seemed kind, although his mouth was a grimace of unfiltered tobacco. We went down a cliff towards the beach. I had never seen the sea until the day of my escape. At that time, it seemed immense and of a beautiful blue. The night was as dark as fear: the cesspit of fear that I feel now as I speak.

On the gloomy and windless beach there were silhouettes of very young men, no women. Next to them a gray barge with an outboard motor. Everybody was silent except for the echo, the resonance of each breath. Mustafa takes me by the hand: “You sit here, next to the engine, and if you move, I will throw you out into the sea.” The tremor inside me began right there, out of control, which still continues. Without realizing how, the barge was moving in the middle of the sea and my bag, my bag was forgotten on the beach. I learned how to cry without tears.

Hours passed.

It was pitch-black, and the unknown cold made me vomit even my veins. The man next to me comes closer to my ear asking, “What’s your name?” “Zuhara,” I yelled, and he took my hand.

The terror of the sea, of Mustafa, and the fury of them both, was holding my nausea. The vomit was kneading at my throat. The man next to me was my anchor, slowing down the anguish, like Karim and his knocks: his hand squeezed mine. The waves were punches of cold that swallowed the barge and the memory of my mother. The threat felt like this constant pain near my belly, at the corner of the most absolute solitude. The waves were vomiting saltpeter again, and Allah was too far away. There was no wind. Mustafa, nervous, stopped the engine and, now with no waves and in total darkness, in front of a nearby beach, he howled: “Go! Jump off! Run, run!”

Totally wet, soaked in saltwater like an ancient sponge, I looked back, and the barge was not there: it was now a point in the sea, and its gray mouth was just a gesture of irony in my memory. The man who was holding my hand took it again and lured me saying, “Let’s go, Zuhara! Run, run!”

I run. I run. And my father, and my brothers, where are they? Why aren’t they at the beach? Wasn’t Mustafa his friend? My legs are crying. I can’t breathe, but I run, run… At last, a road, and in front, the gas station. The man who is taking me by the hand speaks to me in between gasps: “Don’t worry. The Spanish civil guard is not going to catch us. Now we hide here, and we wait. They will soon come to pick us up.” I breathe. I am already seeing my father’s face. The cold disappears.

Suddenly, a cold and suffocating sweat squeezes me again. “Go, go! May Allah protect you!”

Covered by the bushes, I look at the policemen pushing the silhouettes into their cars, every man, and, in the terror, I just go with them. In a hurry, without lights, and almost in silence, they disappeared. Crouched and trembling, I am no longer breathing.

Up the mountain, I run as if somebody were breathing at my heels. Later, paralyzed by a thirst like that of Khenifra, with the dry fountains and the empty carafes, I try to think of death.

The hot August dragged on a worn out man as tall as my father and my older brother’s age, clinging to a big donkey. He came slowly, like a big solitary mass. “What are you doing here?” I suppose he said to me. Without a way out, my wet lips felt the water, and the day of my mother’s death came back to my memory.

Trying, I suppose, to sit me up, his avid and toothless mouth wavered between piety and desire. My silent eyes did not invoke Allah, and the hot coffee at his house triggered the contained vomit. In bed, I didn’t have time to fear: a tiredness older than my grandmother’s took over my dreams. I couldn’t go back to Khenifra.

My voice was left at the vomiting spot, and his avid body sometimes gave out tenderness. Each day I would wait for him and his donkey, remembering my father watching over my brothers.

That morning, the east wind seemed to be crying between the cracks. A different fog startled me in the middle of the night; the loud bark of the dogs drowned the nightmares. My father, in silence, in a long and dusty silhouette, was advancing very slowly along the charred road. The forgotten sensation came back suddenly together with the waves, the barge, and Mustafa’s grimace.

Veiled by the door, I see them screaming, bellowing, howling my name like vultures claiming their prey. My belly, crushed, begins to cry as my father, menacingly, throws the bills that are coming out of his pocket on the table. My owner, raging mad, cries out for his property.

Hours passed.

The night came and a familiar chill welled up in my veins. They take time to get to know each other as they drink. At last, my father, with a conciliatory gesture, invites him to sit down and pointing to the window, shows a syrupy and threatening smile. My owner, with an assuring gesture, picks up the bills one by one, slowly, with the parsimony of the defeated. “She is yours.” And they shake hands.

Then, my father, tired, invades the house to give me the beating of my life, without mercy, with the relief contained for such a long time, losing his soul, invoking the Prophet. There, I broke down, and in a lost corner, I found Omar on the day of my mother’s death.

In absolute silence, panting, he dragged me to a car hidden in the oleanders. A Moroccan with blue eyes was driving. My father locked me up here, where I am now, in a room in his house, without light and without windows, waiting for my child to be born alive or dead, with a musty smell and without a tear. Only Karim, the boy-neighbor, knocks three times on the walls in the afternoons, and I answer him.

I have told all this to the walls and to Allah, because the child is being born, and I am going to die with his first cry.

Carmela Ferradáns holds a Ph.D. in Spanish from the University of California, Irvine. She teaches all levels of the Spanish language, literature, and cultural history of Spain in the department of World Languages, Literatures, and Cultures at Illinois Wesleyan University. She also teaches regularly for the IWU Writing Program, the Humanities, and the International and Global Studies program where she serves as director. Her critical studies on the poetry of Ana Rossetti are well known, particularly her intertextual reading of the Calvin Klein advertising campaign of the eighties. She is the editor and translator of Incessant Beauty: A Bilingual Anthology (New York: 2Leaf Press, 2014) which offers a wide range of Rossetti's poetry in dual language, Spanish/English. Her latest interest in migration and border studies lead her to the English translation of Nieves García Benito's short story collection Por la vía de Tarifa/ By Way of Tarifa. The first story in the collection, titled Cailcedrat, has been published in issue eleven of The Arkansas International. Ferradáns is also a poet in her own right. In 2006 she published a poetry chapbook, My Right Breast & Other Poems, with eight poems engaging directly with the aftermath of breast cancer and radiation.

Translated by Nancy Naomi Carlson


The town is a tongue the sea takes by storm
the town is an overburdened tongue at the story’s border.
At the border of the border
the town overflows
its tongue is swollen.

You position yourself at its tip, at the place where
restless verbs turn up.


the tip against the sea swells up
the sea against the tip chills your pulse
the pulse of the swelling tongue
the sea against the tip of your tongue calls out
the tongue against the sea unburdens itself.

My body sways
on the southern axis
it loses the North
it sways.


Vertigo lies in wait
dust lies in wait
car horns lie in wait
wheels, wheels
wheels in all sizes
lie in wait for me
and the gutters!

The gutter lies in wait for me!

My body sways, evades, head wedged under the barely
unbearable weight, I bend just enough to avoid erasure,
no erasure of my curve, I don’t waddle, I cut a fine
figure, I sway just enough to avoid the wheel, the small
wheel, the large wheel and the gutter that lies in wait for
me, that still lies in wait for me,
it’s my preference.


On the southern axis, vertigo skims past
I will not reach the tip
I will not unburden myself any time soon.

My hands sway
neither left nor right
their movement is more complex
did you think that I came from an assembly line?

Oh! If you stayed there staring at me…
If you had that patience, in the burning southern axis, you
would see how far my hands sway into your pupils.


La ville est une langue prise d’assaut par la mer
la ville est une langue chargée au bord du récit.
Au bord du bord
elle déborde la ville
sa langue est tuméfiée.

Tu te tiens à sa pointe, à l’endroit où remontent les verbes


la pointe contre la mer enfle
la mer contre la pointe refroidit ton pouls
le pouls de la langue qui enfle
la mer contre le bout de ta langue appelle
la langue contre la mer se décharge.

Mon corps se balance
sur l’axe de midi
il perd le Nord
il se balance.


Le vertige guette
la poussière guette
les klaxons guettent
les roues, les roues
les roues de toutes les dimensions
me guettent
et les caniveaux !

Le caniveau me guette !

Mon corps se balance, il esquive, tête calée sous le
poids tout juste insupportable, je courbe juste assez
pour éviter la rature, pas de rature sur ma courbe, je ne
me dandine pas, j’ai fière allure, je me balance juste
assez pour éviter la roue, la petite roue, la grosse roue
et le caniveau qui me guette, qui me guette encore,
il a ma préférence.


Sur l’axe de midi, le vertige me frôle
je n’arriverai pas à la pointe
je ne me déchargerai pas de sitôt.

Mes mains se balancent
ni gauche ni droite
leur mouvement est plus complexe
me croyais-tu sortie d’une chaine mécanique ?

Oh ! Si tu restais là à me regarder…
Si tu avais cette patience, dans l’axe de midi brûlant, tu
verrais jusqu’où mes mains balancent dans tes pupilles.

—Samira Negrouche


Rowboats sway against the tongue.

Under the rowboats, there are footsteps.
There are trunks rooted under the tongue, there are trees
floating on the tongue, walls for diving into memory. There
are movable bridges and white routes, water routes
overloaded with footsteps, immobile gestures, immobile
thoughts, painless whacks.

There are immobile civilizations planted there, on the crest
of a dormant coliseum.


Arcs sway in the shimmer passing through
gestures repeat themselves
fingers repeat the refrain
the southern axis dozes off
sleep dives between two lines.

There are shadows all around you, swaying when you see
through the trees, the trees of sacred wood.
In this optical illusion, there is that endless moment.


Des barques se balancent contre la langue.

Sous les barques, il y a des pas.
Il y a des troncs enracinés sous la langue, il y a des arbres qui
flottent sur la langue, des murs où plonger dans la mémoire.
Il y a des ponts mobiles et des voies blanches, des voies
d’eau chargées de pas, des gestes immobiles, des pensées
immobiles, des claquements indolores.

Il y a, plantées là, des civilisations immobiles sur la crête
d’un colisée en dormance.


Des arcs se balancent dans le scintillement qui traverse
les gestes se répètent
les doigts répètent le refrain
l’axe de midi pique du nez
le sommeil plonge entre deux lignes.

Il y a autour de toi des ombres qui se balancent quand tes
yeux traversent les arbres, les arbres du bois sacré.
Il y a dans cette illusion d’optique, cet instant sans limites.

—Samira Negrouche

Samira Negrouche was born in Algiers where she continues to live and work. Author of seven poetry collections and several artists’ books, she is a poet and translator, as well as a doctor, who has decided to pursue her literary projects over the practice of medicine. Involved in various multidisciplinary projects, she frequently collaborates with visual artists, choreographers, and musicians. Negrouche’s books include A l’ombre de Grenade (Marty, 2003), Le Jazz des oliviers (Le Tell, 2010), Six arbres de fortune autour de ma baignoire (Mazette, 2017), and Quai 2I1 partition à trois axes (Mazette, 2019).

Nancy Naomi Carlson is a poet and translator whose translation of Khal Torabully’s Cargo Hold of Stars: Coolitude (Seagull, 2021) won the Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize. Decorated with the French Academic Palms and twice awarded NEA literature translation grants, she’s the author of An Infusion of Violets (Seagull Books, 2019), named “New & Noteworthy” by The New York Times. Her third full-length poetry collection, Piano in the Dark, is forthcoming from Seagull Books next year.

Translated by Julia Conrad

My Name is Not Najira

I promised myself I wouldn’t talk to anyone anymore. I was sick of it. Done. In this country, no one wants to help you unless you tell your story. They call those people “my Committee,” but no one ever told me who these people are, or what they want from me.

“Help you,” the women who work at the Immigration Shelter said. But this wasn’t help. This was a slap in the face.

The first time I got to Italy by boat, they took me to a shelter. It was a giant tent, the biggest I’d ever seen. Inside it people, lots of people, were all held there waiting to be touched, measured, catalogued. I had to wear a sort of gold grocery-bag. I told the whites in uniforms I didn’t need it. I’m sure I said it to them in English, and correctly. They didn’t even look at me. Like I was invisible. I took my tray of pasta and went back to eat it on my cot.

They said I needed to be ready to tell my story in a few weeks. The only thing I had to do was not be too nervous and recite from memory all the places that ruined my life before coming to Lampedusa.

I told them no. I won’t do it. I’m done.

They did everything to convince me. They said if I didn’t tell the story of what happened before getting there, I would be sent back to Libya. But I still kept telling the same story. The story from the port, a story like anyone else’s. The story they teach you when you’re hungry, or they’ve beaten you enough to make you forget when it didn’t make your mouth hurt to pronounce your own name.

The stories that they choose for you at the port, when you get off the rubber raft—those stories can’t change. Ever. If they give you one you have to hold onto it, and that’s that.

Then one day they took me to this place. It was big, the room stunk like a police station, there were people all around, mostly well-dressed whites. Jackets, ties, nice black shoes. But not all of them were important, or put on airs like a president. The social workers all had to stand up the whole time. Badly dressed, rings around the eyes, all trying to save their asses and get out of that endless room with its high ceilings. I thought to myself: they don’t want to be here just as much as I don’t. I have to admit, the thought was comforting.

At a certain point one of the men in official uniform lit a cigarette. He was talking on the phone, the quiet voice of someone who discusses important things with heaps of useless people nearby all the time. You couldn’t have heard a full sentence even by splitting your ears open, but everyone still seemed terrorized by his pale eyes, which closed at every “Yes,” “Of course,” “We’ll try to wrap it up quickly.”

He seemed to be the boss. The supreme boss running the barracks. I thought: he must be the one in charge of making scribbles on paperwork that would decide, or wouldn’t, about my repatriation. A man that bland, ugly, and pale. A man who didn’t even have time to shave his beard or wash his hair. A man like that would decide whether to send me back to Libya or leave me in this shithole hoping to see the sun again one day. Everyone’s gaze in that room managed to move through me without looking at or noticing me. The black rings around their eyes, the rings of someone who only sleeps when forced, rolled past my head, hitting the white wall I’d been forced to sit in front of, hold still and keep quiet.

My legs were closed tight around a tornado. Who knows if they could all see it. Who knows if they saw the evil spirit tied to me with a witchdoctor’s blood. It happened in Libya. They do it to all the girls and boys. These spirits destroy your life. I don’t even believe in it so much. I went to school, I know how to read and write and I’ve even read a lot of European books, but you can’t escape these fears just by reading, or because you graduated high school. It doesn’t matter to the spirits if you believe in them or not. They do what they want, and they win. They always win. All I wanted was for everyone to see it, for someone to get it off me. I thought, okay, now they’ll see, yes. They’ll finally see, and they’ll know I’m not crazy, or alone. Maybe one of their priests could drive it away and I could go live in Switzerland. I’ll ask to speak to a priest.

I thought it. I asked for it. Also a bottle of water. They didn’t say yes, but they did give me two bottles of sparkling water.

I’d have to drink right away. The interview was beginning.

“These people all came here for you, Najira. You already know your situation didn’t fully convince the judge. They’re here for you. They’re good people. Kind people who’ve come down from Rome for you.”

“I already told the story. What didn’t they like?”

I really couldn’t understand what was wrong with my story. My friends had all gotten their documents. One had been beaten, one kicked out of her house, one assaulted, one tortured. All the girls told the same story, for years now, and even if it wasn’t true, the Committee wanted to hear them say it. They only let you into their country if you suffered in the correct way and showed it to them.

My story was perfect. I’d spent two weeks coming up with it. It had all the things that whites like to hear from blacks. That when I was little, I’d been sold, that my father was poor and there were too many of us at home, and the future felt short, short every time I breathed in Nigeria, and that I needed new air but you could only make it in Europe if you were a prostitute. If you wanted money you could only tell them stories about prostitutes. But then I switched ideas. If someone found out I was going around telling people I was a prostitute, my parents would have cried for three days and three nights. So I changed the story.

“I’m not a whore, I’m Christian.”

I told it to them again.

“And I’m afraid of a denial sending me back home because my fiancée is Muslim. I’m Christian, got it? His family doesn’t want us to be together. They’ll kill me. That’s the story. My story,” I repeated out loud, directing all my energy towards the back of the elegantly dressed white man’s neck, the one with dirty hair and unshaved beard.

Oh yes, he was the boss. He didn’t want to listen to me—he was looking kilometers away from me. For a second I became afraid that I’d be stuck forever in that room with high ceilings and people with dark-circled eyes.

I remembered my grandmother always saying, “pray when you’re afraid.” I said, “Dear God, please let me out of here.”

I think God heard me. Sometimes he does. “Dear God, listen to me!” I said, and he did. He heard me loud and clear and suddenly all those whites went into a frenzy like ants on a money’s cadaver, fidgeting with their pens and trading nervous looks and papers on a scratched black plastic desk, thinking it gave them an important air, trying to threaten me. They read, and they stamped, and that whole time no one said a thing to me, and said nothing about that man, the Boss of the world who had the right to preside over my life’s decisions. It must be wonderful to be God. Only God creates what is true, by deciding what is false. Except he wasn’t God. He was just an un-showered man dressed like God.

“And so, do you confirm that you have never been to Lagos City?” the lawyer asked me, holding a pink folder between his red fingers.

“Yes,” I said flatly. “I never went to Lagos because I don’t like it. There are only problems in Lagos. Problems and hick villagers.”

“Najira, we want to help you. We’re here to help you, but your story…with all due respect, it’s not enough for us. We need something more powerful.”

“Why?” I asked him.

I truly wanted to know why my story was never acceptable for those people. My lawyer was always an idiot with a face like a snake. I didn’t even want someone like that, with that devil-face.

If I had been allowed to, I would have picked better. Maybe a fat one with a big gut. Yes and of course I would have chosen one who actually believed me, full-stop, not asking too many questions, the way I’d seen other lawyers do many times with other girls.

Those ones believed you. They adjusted the story, and they actually wrote it with you, adding in all the things a Commission wants to hear.

But the Commission didn’t want to believe me, and even after three and a half hours standing on locked legs they didn’t want to believe my story.

At a certain point the hardened face I had worn even before I ever saw the sea got tired, softer. When you’re that tired and your enemies start winning against you, you barely even notice. It’s the sweetest defeat, like dying in your sleep before realizing you’ve traveled elsewhere. I didn’t keep my voice tense and clear anymore, or my neck poised, or legs locked.

I had a husband somewhere. I had written where but I lost his number in the wet-rotted jeans they made me change when I got to this country. A curse on me for taking them off. A curse on me for every day that passed, without my husband or his jeans.

I was caving in, I felt it. Every question felt like a torture of spit shot from the thin lips thirsty for my truth. My stomach was devouring itself. It’s incredible how hunger always comes before a surrender. When soldiers stop fighting it’s for hunger, not because their war is wrong. Stop feeding your army and the first thing they’ll do is eat your head.

I was dreaming of the fried rice my aunts made with red pepper andpalm oil. Spicy rice that burned your nostrils just to smell it, and fried plantains with onion and black pepper. Oh, that rice’s flavor, was I hallucinating? I could almost smell the scent, sliding from the pot with a raging puff, pinching your mind, filling your throat.

“Denied,” I heard the woman with nails painted purple murmur. But I was distracted right away. Just the thought of that hot rice had crushed my body and soul. Denied. Soon I’d see that rice cooked traditionally again, whether they considered me victim of the trade or no.

It had been a mistake to accept food from my father’s wife. She wasn’t even my real mother. She was the one who’d done the juju on me. I was supposed to bring food back from the witchdoctor, but I hadn’t, and now here I was trying to convince these foreigners to give me a new life. Maybe they would have believed me once and for all if I had told them that story. I wasn’t sure if it had been my father’s wife, or my husband’s mother to damn me, but even if in church the Pastor always says lying is an abomination, God would have pardoned me for that.

I began to talk about the belt, and the fact that it had been cursed, that a witchdoctor had tied me to a demon so I’d suffer like I was in hell, that sometimes I felt driven to do things I didn’t really want to, and so on. I seemed to be convincing them more with that story. They were liking it. The boss-commander-master-elegant-suit-man had just hung up his telephone and now he was listening to me too.

“I took the boat and came here. There were other girls too.”

“And you had all been cursed?” the boss commander asked.

I told him yes, that not all of them had been cursed by my Muslim mother-in-law obviously, but yes, we were all in the same situation. That even if they didn’t believe us, “it’s true!” I said, adding all the emphasis I could.

I waited on a chair for another four hours. Everyone else had left, they had left me alone. The office wasn’t so bad now that people weren’t hovering all around us. I pictured my house. The room I lived in with my brothers and sisters, it was more or less the same size as that piece-of-shit place. With the difference that, where I was from, the Pastor never let us keep crosses hanging. Showing Christ that way was wrong. I thought the same thing in that moment too, with a festival of sufferingon the cross all around me, bloody hands nailed to the posts. One Jesus on the cross was more than enough. Why would they hang up so many?

I heard a sound. The door clicking.

A disheveled-looking boy came in alone. His shirt tucked into black pants.

So I asked him:

“Why hang so many? One isn’t enough?”

“Hi Najira. Nice to meet you.”


“To what?”

“You put up all these pictures of Jesus Christ on the Cross. While he suffers and dies. Why?”

He didn’t respond. He didn’t know what to say. From under his dirty hair a long stripe of sweat dripped down to keep his stare company. He seemed so worried and uncomfortable that I started to be satisfied. Not that I liked seeing him suffer, but now I could understand why those people liked their jobs so much. Investigating. Waiting. Asking further.

It was like showing up and being nailed to the ugliest part of your life, with one finger pointed at your forehead and another stuck in your mouth. There was no need for actual hands, it was enough to ask a question and say, “I don’t believe you” to whore-fuck your entire life. Now I was getting worked up. The boy wouldn’t respond to me and I felt powerful, in a way that I never had until that day. I wanted to hear his story, but he wasn’t responding.

If I didn’t like the response, I would have said “Denied,” and stamped all my doubts in the human species on his face with a signature that read “go back where you came from.”

“What happened to the others?” I asked him.

“They’re in a meeting.”

“The new Committee?”


“But you didn’t respond to my question yet. Do you believe in God?”

The boy smiled. “No, I don’t.”

“You should. Today God gave me a hand. They believe my story, after all that.”

“I believe in it too, Najira. I read your papers. But you have to help me if you want me to help you.”

“You can’t respond to a simple question, but now you say you want to help me? You’re still a kid, go back to school.”

“Your papers say that we’re the same age. I know your case.”

I knew it. I knew from the beginning that he was just a kid. God had sent me a child to resolve the problems of grownups. I didn’t understand what was happening. But the shadow on his skin was the color of an adult man’s.

“The Commission is assessing part of your story. They sent me to you to help them understand how to help you. Do you understand?”

I didn’t reply. I knew what he was getting at.

“You whites don’t believe in anything, not even the threat of evil spirits. But they exist. I really have one, following me. It’s ruining my life.”

“I believe you, Najira.” He took a chair and dragged it over to face me, settling into it just a step from the tip of my toes.

“I want to understand. How is this spirit tormenting you?”

“Jesus!” I yelled, jumping up in my chair, beating my feet, smacking my tongue. I cried out. I laughed. I even beat my hands together because God had opened this man’s heart. He’d opened his ears and now he was opening my mouth like an old dam to a river.

“My name is not Najira. My name is Korra. Najira is the name of a whore I met. It was when my father threw me out of the house without even any money to eat. Najira was a whore, and she gave me something to eat. When I was good again and moved to another city, Najira went away. But every time things started to go bad, and the city became smaller and hungrier, Najira came back. To feed me. I’m Korra, I’m not Najira.

When hunger came back and I was too far to go back home. My mouth was dry, things were good for everyone when they went away and I wanted things to be good for me too, like them. Najira told me to go to Europe. I got married, but when my husband’s family found out that Najira was helping me live, they told me to get out of their house. My husband loves me, but he doesn’t like Najira. He told me he’d work so I could live well, and that then Najira would never come back into my life. There wasn’t any work though. I was hungry again and Najira said “There’s a woman who’s like a mother to me. Go visit this woman and ask her to help you go to Europe, so you can help your husband. I’ll take you to her.” Dear God, I should never have listened to her. She was an agent of evil. Sent a curse to my family and brought shame on my head, but I was hungry that time too.

I came to Europe and Najira brought me something to eat every day. By being a whore, by letting herself get beaten, by getting herself arrested. Just for me. One day I realized I needed to stop her. That my husband would never come here if she was still with me. I called a Pastor and told him get this witch away from me. Let me have prosperity. Let me have documents. Let me have a happy marriage with my husband. I told the Committee that I left home because my husband was Muslim and I was Christian. I said that in Africa I couldn’t find work. Here I changed named and became Najira, everyone changes their names as soon as they get here anyway. But then I regretted it—the demon told me to do it. And since then, this evil spirit has been following me. I don’t know who sent it. That’s Najira’s story. They only want Najira to give me documents. They say they want the same story I told my lawyer, when I told him about Najira.

But I don’t want to. Because I’m not her. And now, please, tell me my name. And let me out of here.”

The boy stood up. He finished filling out the form and smiled at me. Again. Who knows if he was smiling at the evil spirits sitting on my back. We stayed alone in that room. There were four crosses, one for each wall. I got up to look at them from up close. They had badly-painted blood on the feet and hands. I took one down and squeezed it against my chest until it started to hurt. I had killed Korra.

Korra was dead, buried under a heap of photocopied papers. An unregistered corpse of ink. I said a single prayer, for the girl I’d just martyred.

Dear God, get me out of here.

My name isn’t Najira anymore, I swear.

Djarah Kan is an Italo-Ghanaian writer and activist. Her short stories and essays are in Jacobin Italia and Gli Asini, and have been translated into English in Words Without Borders and 91st Meridian. Her collection of short stories Ladri di Denti was published by People in 2020, and this story was originally published in the anthology from the Women's Creative Mentorship Project (WCM), sponsored by the International Writing Program and the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Kan is a contributor to L'Espresso.

Translator's Note:

The most high-stakes moments of storytelling happen in translation at borders all over the globe. In this short story, Kan's narrator references the ongoing practice of human traffickers using juju curses to bind thousands of Nigerian women into sex slavery.

Julia Conrad is a writer and Italian translator. She holds dual MFAs in Nonfiction and Literary Translation from the University of Iowa, and has received fellowships from Vermont Studio Center, Kimmel Harding Nelson Arts, the Fulbright Program, and others. Her work is in Asymptote, The Millions, The Massachusetts Review, the anthology Choice Words: Writers on Abortion (Haymarket Books), and others.

Translated by Marzia D’Amico

All that you can.

All you can eat
without limits all that you can, that one can.
Then forget and start again
all that you can, that you know
all that is possible.
The predatory feeling is everywhere,
in and outside the house
which outside is experienced as inside where you don't eat.
Travel-induced hunger is a snack with no mother.
Delighting in the taste : sitting, facing the bite.

Tutto il possibile

All you can eat
senza limiti tutto quello che puoi, che si può.
Poi dimenticare e ricominciare
tutto quello che riesci, che sai
tutto il possibile.
La sensazione predatoria è ovunque,
dentro e fuori la casa
che fuori è vissuta come dentro dove non si mangia.
La fame indotta dal viaggio è uno snack senza nessuna madre.
Dileguarsi nell’assaggio da seduti, davanti al pezzoal boccone.

Lidia Riviello was born in Rome. Author and presenter of radio and TV programmes (Radiotre, Radiodue, La7, Sky), she collaborates with newspapers, magazines and blogs. She conceives, curates and organises poetry and art events and festivals in Italy and abroad. In 1998, she published her first book, Aule di passaggio (NOUBS, 1998), followed by L'infinito del verbo andare (2002, preface by Edith Bruck), Rum e acqua frizzante (2003, note by Carla Vasio), Neon 80 (ZONA, 2008, note by Edoardo Sanguineti), Ritorno al video (2009) and Sonnologie (ZONA, 2016, introductory note by Emanuele Zinato).

Marzia D’Amico (they/she) is an academic and poet. Their prose, poetry, translations, and cultural contributions featured on radio, on stage, on paper, and online. They collaboratively run a monthly newsletter on transnational feminisms (Ghinea). You can find them online as @atamarzia (

Translated by Guillermo Rebollo Gil

perhaps all that remains is the shadow of a seed projected on the wall at sundown

a blooming bromelia in the drought
the line of ants sliding by the cracks
and this street cat still playing with fallen leaves

quizá sólo quede la sombra de una semilla proyectada en la pared al atardecer

una bromelia florecida en la sequía
la fila de hormigas deslizándose junto a las grietas
y esta gata de la calle que aún juega con las hojas caídas

they say that what is not named does not exist

but the real is the unspeakable

perhaps the originating pain is not loss
but the desire to name that loss in silence

dicen que lo que no se nombra no existe

pero lo real es lo indecible

quizá el dolor originario no sea la pérdida
sino el anhelo de decirla en silencio

I never learned the rules of poetry

it’s not pride
but devotion

in these isles fences wear down doors
iron bars protect the ruins

nunca aprendí las reglas de la poesía

no es orgullo
sino devoción

en estas islas las verjas desgastan las puertas
y las rejas protegen las ruinas

I want to open more windows

but I can’t find them

I’ll have to widen
the slits

quiero abrir más ventanas

pero no las encuentro

habrá que ensanchar
las rendijas

Beatriz Llenín Figueroa: Writer, compañera, friend, comrade, gestora, walking body, and lover of live arts and animals. She holds a PhD in Literature from Duke University. Associate editor at Editora Educación Emergente since 2009. She is also a freelance editor and translator.She is the author of Puerto Islas: crónicas, crisis, amor (EEE, 2018) and Affect, Archive, Archipelago: Puerto Rico’s Sovereign Caribbean Lives (Rowman and Littlefield, 2022).

Guillermo Rebollo Gil (San Juan, 1979) is a writer, sociology professor, translator, and attorney. Recent, and forthcoming, publications include poetry in Second Factory, Poetry Northwest, Pacifica Literary Review and HAD ; literary criticism in Annulet; scholarly articles in Journal of Autoethnography, Latin American and Caribbean Ethnic Studies, and Liminalities. Book-length translations include I’ll Trade you this Island (2018) by Cindy Jiménez-Vera and Recetas Naturales para el Mundo Fenomenal (2017) by Sommer Browning. He is the author of Writing Puerto Rico: Our Decolonial Moment (2018) and the forthcoming Whiteness in Puerto Rico: Translation at a Loss. He belongs to/with Lucas Imar and Ariadna Michelle. Happily so.

Translated by Kira Josefsson

From Husk, A Novel by Pooneh Rohi

DAY ONE, 02:22

A brief shimmering. White light. The taste of vomit in her mouth, and a curve of gleaming steel, dazzling and sharp. Mona registers it, then feels her eyes burn. It’s sharp and blinding. She blinks in an attempt to focus, but the light gets in the way. The first wave hits her with red-hot force. Her body seizes as the blackest pain washes over her, again and again.

DAY ONE, 02:24

She looks up and blinks the darkness from her eyes. Breathes. The pulsation is suddenly gone, abruptly ceased. In its place there’s a dull ache pressing against her, protracted and discreet. She opens her eyes wide, trying to fix her gaze on something: the sink, the rag, the bottles.

There’s the next wave. It hits her hard and without mercy. Has her entirely in its thrall, trembling as the seconds replace one another. She sinks again, sinks into the body, into her own depths. Waiting there, she tries to focus on the quivering patches on her eyelids, but can’t. The pain holds her constant, extends the moment until it’s stretched and unbroken. Then suddenly the burning sensation falls off, cools. And she inhales, once, then once more. A respite before it hits her again, this time with increased force, so hard that her arms go rigid. And it lingers, hot and superior.

DAY ONE, 02:48

She listens. The waves have flattened and lost their edge. She looks for the pulses, slowly and cautiously probes the body so as not to wake them again. The pain is still there, but more immutable now, uniform and steady. And there’s the damage, the tearing, fetid and warm. She lowers her shoulders and lifts her head from the pillow to look around. Sees a blouse stretched over a pair of breasts. Thick, durable cotton. Pearls of sweat lined up along the hairline, a muted reflection of light in the perspiration. A hand with a needle coming closer. She jolts and the woman looks at her with a smile. Creases multiply around her eyes as she passes her hand over Mona’s thighs, leaving goose bumps in its wake. Mona meets her gaze in the hopes of something to hold on to, but the woman has already turned away.

Where am I? The work station behind the woman, the counter along the wall. The sink. Gray and white lined up against the tile. A crumpled towel tossed there, covered in a pattern of red stains. Mona looks at the folds, the red seeping into the cloth like wiry branches.

The woman lifts her hand to the lamp and creates a waft that cools the flesh that’s been torn open. A half-second of blinding light before the lamp is angled down. But the room remains bright, flooded by the gleaming, sharp whiteness that finds its way into every corner. That light, if someone could just soften it.

There’s a large painting on the wall, a woman and a child in shades of orange, faceless and soft, pressed together in a supple mass. She looks at the stripes by the sink again and spots a pair of bloodied plastic gloves. My blood? Did that blood seep out of her, before the waves and the pulses of pain?

The woman shifts in her seat and there’s a brief squeaking as the wheels of her chair move against the floor. Mona blinks. She needs to think, focus. The room, the woman. The pain earlier, the black waves. And the seconds prior. She tries to reach for them, makes an effort to think back in time to what happened before. But her mind is silent, blank, no shapes to hold on to.

Suddenly there’s a movement, a squirming of something slick on her chest. A small and wrinkled bloody pile with wispy hair and eyes shut. The little naked body is so close to her that she hadn’t noticed. She lays a hand on the slippery skin, cupping the vague shape. Puts the other hand on the back, feeling the vertebrae under a thin layer of skin. The raised bed ends at her elbows. There are no side rails. The floor: hard and bare. She makes an effort to stop her racing thoughts, to push through the flickering and toward something less muddled, some graspable structure .

The woman now moves to the side and puts something on a little steel table, picks up a different object and keeps working. Mona glances at the table: a syringe, dark-red at the tip. Suddenly she’s aware that the pain is gone. She can still feel the hands moving down there, but the stitches don’t sting. Like dull strings that make no sound.

She looks at the child again. Purplish pink and swollen with marks in red and white on the skin. She doesn’t want to move. That face, full of creases, twisted. Spongy, swollen. Long legs bent under a curved, bare back. The skin porous, blotchy, with white fat sticking to the place where hair and skull meet in uneven roundness. The baby has fallen asleep mid-scream. Plunked down over her bare breasts. A heap of flesh piled on top of her.

The woman’s hands keep moving, frictionless and smooth. She doesn’t want to see, doesn’t want to be in this room. Tries to push it away so she can have a moment of peace along with her thoughts, make some order. Space to think in the midst of all that’s going on around her.

The woman changes her position again, slides back a few feet with the chair, fetching an object from the steel counter. On her way back her gaze falls on Mona and Mona tries again to hold on, tries to find something in her eyes that might bring clarity, something she can understand. Something to help her sort the impressions that keep crowding her, help them fall into place and create meaning. But the woman just smiles before she turns her attention back to her body, where it remains.

Out of nowhere another movement, a shadow in the periphery, far to her left. Mona feels herself tense up as something cold plummets in her chest. She turns her head and sees a pair of smiling eyes. Everything stops right then, in that moment, a quiver of stillness. A little smile, no eyes on her. Full focus on the child on her breast. She manages to resist an impulse to shut her legs, cover up. Feels her heart beat hard in her chest. One beat. Then another one.

DAY ONE, 05:17

It’s almost like an extension of the mattress, the bulge between her body and his. A red face, the depression of the cheek on the linen. An oval lump of arms and legs with two straight lines for eyes. A little heap, almost shoulderless.

And the flickering, the constant flickering. It’s like something is always buffering in the background, interfering with her thoughts. She can’t get past it, can’t get it to quiet down and let the mind get in order, distinguish and separate. There’s also the smell of the meaty opening that stings whenever she moves. She tries to roll onto her back but her body is stiff with pain.

Her heart is pounding in her chest. How did I get here? Fear swells under her skin. She closes her eyes and inhales, trying to slow down her pulse, loosen the tension. She probes her memory for an image, a smell, an incident, something that was before that room, before the woman and the child and the red-hot pain. She waits, but there’s nothing. Listening, she explores her body for anything with clear outlines, but all she finds is the beating heart. Time and time again it thumps against the ribs.

The folds of the curtain are stained by a pale light that’s so thin it’s powerless. She watches it fall over the cloth, creating shadows in the pleats. When she adjusts the sheets the rawness of the opening comes welling up, a smell mixed with hand soap and urine. It’s warm and sharp, a note of salt. She tries to avert her face but it follows, saturating the air.

He is on her other side. His chest moves up, then down, lifting the large body in small increments. Gingerly, she tries to get up again, and this time she’s able to prop herself onto her elbows. She looks at him, at the sharp lines at his forehead where the hair begins. The crimson spots on his skin, little black dots on the wings of his nose. The fleshy shape of his mouth, the short, coarse hairs on his cheek, and the loose skin under the chin. Suddenly she feels the room lurch ever so slightly, and she grabs the covers, hard. The walls and the door and the window shudder for a moment. Then they stop. She has no other pictures of him than the recollections from the bed. And she’s aware that this must be wrong; there should be more, other memories. The room lurches once more. Parallel contours appear around the objects and she shuts her eyes with the feeling that she’s falling, that everything around her body is dropping with furious speed, plummeting toward a bottom she can’t see.

DAY ONE, 08:05

The toilet seat is freezing cold against her skin. She crouches with her hands on the support rails. First there’s nothing. But when it starts to trickle it hurts so bad that she’s forced to stop. Inhale, then exhale. A moment later she hears the sounds of lumps tumbling out of her; thick, heavy, and viscous they land in the water, one by one. She flushes and swallows down a wave of nausea.

There are pink marks all over her arms and her hands are full of pale stains that have almost rubbed off. Something has trickled down her leg and smeared the skin where it’s now dried and cracked. She wraps the toilet paper around her hand before she tears it off and then wipes, just once, warily, trying not to touch the body as she moves the hand down toward the water. The pain is so sharp it burns her eyes.

Slowly she gets up, bracing herself on the rails, blinking tears from her eyes. Leaving her clothes on the floor she walks a couple of steps to the shower, where she steadies herself with the assist bar. As she turns around she spots a mirror on the wall and stops to look at the reflection. Eyes, their shape beneath the eyebrows where the curve of her eyelids slopes down. Mouth, the straight nose, the lashes that rest on the cheek. She lifts a hand and runs it through her hair, the small collection of white strands in the front. Under the head are the breasts, heavy and with swollen purple areolas, and the folds of the sunken belly, bulging and quivering. She touches the skin there. It’s like holding water, a wrinkled balloon filled with liquid.

She looks herself in the eye and her own gaze penetrates her, settles inside the chest at heart-level, slows down the hammering. Is this me? This skin, this body, these eyes? This, the flesh that encases the thoughts?

A curl dangles at jaw-level and gleams in the mirror. She touches it, letting it coil around her pointer finger. She tightens her hold, pulls at the strands and tests the roots, their steady resistance. She pulls harder, so hard that the pain is on par with the throbbing between the legs, then harder still, so that she creates a different, more intense pain, one that trumps the other, like a shield against the pounding pulses in her.

She allows her eyes to close for a moment. The whooshing flickering is louder now. Behind it, another sound, a barely audible clanging as steel hits steel.

DAY TWO, 8:45

Listen to the words. Focus on what she’s saying. Not the inches, not the skin, not the coarse contact where his fingers graze her hand. They’re cold and dry. She makes an effort to keep her hand still. To keep from trembling or jolting. She keeps her hand where it is and listens to what the woman is saying. There’s the sound, the melody, the pitch that goes up and down, but the words, she needs to listen to the words too.

The child lies in the transparent wheeled basin, level with the bed. Something comes from the woman’s hand and grazes her legs: a stack of papers. Mona lets go of the man and reaches for the pile with both hands. Is this how you do it? Both hands?

An assortment of brochures. She flips through them, trying to focus on the picture of a breastfeeding baby on the cover. He asks a question and the woman responds, again with that same sing-song quality. Mona keeps thumbing through the pamphlets, back and forth, starting back over multiple times.

There’s the gaze of a mother breastfeeding in a yellow room decorated with gray furniture and green frogs on the wall. Her breast is large and full, a willing mouth on a willing breast. She moves on to the next leaflet. Opens to a page with a woman on her back, knees bent and feet on the ground. Arrows curl around her body, and there are little boxes with writing at the base.

Suddenly something shifts, a pressure on her ear drums. The room, the sound. She looks up. They’re waiting for her.


“If you’d like to try to nurse now.”

The woman smiles. Mona looks at the basin. The way it’s on its side, pressed against the mattress. She looks at the woman and the man, blinks a couple of times and tries to figure out how to say what she needs to say. The seconds pass, too many of them, ticking. Lines of concern appear in their faces.

“I don’t want to wake the child.”

Her voice is more quiet than she’d intended. Thin and small. The woman looks at the basin, tilts her head, and turns back to her again.

“That’s okay, let’s try it.”

Why did it grow so dark, her tone, now that she commands her? When just before there was that sing-song melody; conciliatory, a warm embrace. But she can’t get up. Can’t make herself propel her legs to the basin.

“It’s important that you get it right from the beginning.”

The midwife has her pinned with her gaze, and she senses his eyes on her too, boring into her. Stomach and breasts, the cold on her skin. She nods, aware that it’s expected of her to show that she understands. She looks at the child and puts her hands on the mattress, but she still can’t push herself up.

“Let me help.”

The man stands. Picks up the child with one hand to support the head. The woman looks at the child. It moves, and then there’s a little scream, so tiny it’s barely audible. The face distorts and the mouth opens wide, baring the toothless gap.

She has no choice now, she’s going to have to do it. And she feels something settle over her, hot and suffocating like a plastic film over her body. It blocks every hole and pore, shuts out the air and the breeze and leaves her with only streams of yellow and white light, washed-out but strong. The others, are they able to see it? Can they feel its weight, the way it fills out all the contours? She can’t tell, can’t make sense of it, can’t push through and beyond herself, can’t inhabit the gaze of the others.

She lets the light lift her upwards to the ceiling, where she finds herself positioned in a corner with her back pressed against the wall. She allows the light to turn into a casing around her, so she becomes a pair of eyes, observing without sensation. She can see the arm move to the waist where it lifts up the shirt. She can see the woman pull her chair close and put out a hand to pull the shirt even higher, exposing the entire breast and the large nipple that pokes straight out. The casing doesn’t sting; nor does the small of her back. She is so far, so high, that she can’t feel any of it. The woman moves the cart to give the man better access to her and she bends and puts the child to the bare breast. And she can see her body move, can see herself shifting the arm so that the head can rest on it. She can see her body bend forward to let the lips touch the nipple.


A voice in water. The mouth probes the air with closed eyes before it grabs onto the nipple and starts to suck. In that moment there’s a burning feeling like needles, all the way down to her shoulder blade on the other side. Mona is aware of it, she sees it, but there’s no sensation.

“Wait. The mouth needs to be more open. Here.”

The woman displays her pinky finger and shoves it into the corner of the child’s mouth, causing it to drop the nipple. The child gapes again, mouth wide-open; it’s disproportionately large, a black hole in the middle of the face. The woman puts an arm around her shoulders and moves her body forward so that the child’s mouth covers the nipple and the entire areola. It looks like it’s going to suffocate, but it only snorts and moves its head back and forth, grabbing and sucking, breathing while keenly bobbing. Awkward, forced.

And the two of them turn to her and bow their necks to get even closer. And that woman is not her, that body is not her. There’s no need for her to say anything, no need for her to open her mouth and scream and flap her arms. No need to cover up her body. That heart is not beating in her chest and that pain is not her pain.

The midwife leans even closer and moves the baby against her belly so that the entire length of the child is glued against her skin. Then she puts Mona’s arm around the body, moves the head up, makes another adjustment, until there’s not even a hair’s breadth of space between her and the child. The body follows without resistance in a quiet flow. The woman looks at the man and tilts her head. Then she turns to the child. Both of them are smiling, their focus on the breast.

DAY TWO, 13:55

Warm yellowish patches over black. The light bears down on her face, weighs on her eyes. From where she’s lying she’s able to see the windows and the tall treetops if she squints, a streak of cloud over a large, blue sky. Bright blue contrasting against white and emerald and brown. She pulls the covers over her shoulders and shuts her eyes again.

“I didn’t mean to wake you.”

She turns, too fast, and has to fold her lips hard into her mouth against the pain.

“Oops, careful.”

The woman smiles at her. In her arms, the child. A plunging sensation, so sudden that her vision goes black. She wants to say something but holds back, lets the body throb, lets the heaviness land in her, settle deep in the pelvis where it mingles with the burning that’s pulsing down there.

Slowly, Mona gets up to a seated position, blinking as she surveys the room. Flowers on the table; those are new since yesterday. The woman is walking around, swaying. Blue jeans and plump thighs, a loose-fitting white blouse. She cautiously moves to face her. The pulsing is still intense and the air thickens in her throat, grows sticky and greasy. She makes herself look at the woman.

“Are you in a lot of pain?”

“Not too bad.”

She stops. The tone at the end of the sentence, strange somehow. Too high, too forceful, too much pressure in the mouth? She touches the dry palate with her tongue, feeling the pattern, the ridges. The woman keeps moving through the room, quietly singing as she lulls the baby over the floor. She leans closer with her lipstick-covered mouth. Her voice is small, sugary, eyes glittering. Mona’s bare shoulders are stiff and chilly. She regards the sunlight while she gathers the covers over her stomach. Her gaze roams the space before it lands on the woman again.

“The others went down to the café when we saw that you were sleeping.”

The others? Suddenly there’s a strange sweet taste in her mouth. Her heart keeps thumping against the ribs, every pulse a drumbeat under the skin. The woman rocks the baby across the floor.

Mona gazes at the flowers. A large vase with tall, round blooms in pale pink, surrounded by ferns. Sun hits the vessel from the side, illuminating a surface made uneven by a pattern of jagged lines that break and turn inwards until they’ve reached all the way around. It doesn’t show the shape of the stalks, but takes on their pale-green color.

How many of them were in here, fiddled with the flowers and the vase, filled it with water, tiptoed around and whispered while she was asleep? The light that filters through the window is thick and golden. It must be late afternoon.

“Did you decide on a name already?”

She slowly shakes her head. The woman doesn’t take her eyes off her. There’s a different kind of sparkle in her gaze now. Mona observes the gray-blue of the iris in contrast against the white, watches as the woman looks for something, an opening. Mona looks down and lets the seconds pass. Time stretches. It’s all that there is between them. Now she has to look up, it’s what’s expected of her, what the passing of the seconds is for. So she raises her head and meets the gaze. Holds the room right there, still in the thick light. The woman tilts her head a little, her pupils moving quickly back and forth. Focused, controlling. Mona is immobile, stuck in position. The woman inhales and moves closer.

“I bet you’re tired. It’s very demanding, this. And it’s only going to get more intense in the near future.”

A broad smile cracks her face. Those blue-gray irises and the mouth painted red. The lipstick has smeared ever so slightly above the lip line, a barely visible clot of blood-red. And suddenly she realizes that the man is right there, in thetilted head and the round shape of her eyes. And something loosens inside of her, something gummy that’s been stuck, something she didn’t even know was there before it comes undone itself. His mom, she thinks. The woman is the man’s mom.

DAY TWO, 16:22

“Can I get you anything? Water, or a sandwich maybe?”

The midwife smiles. Her face is in the shade, bringing out her wrinkles. Yet another person Mona has not seen before. She shakes her head and tries to reciprocate the smile. The woman keeps looking at her, but her expression is different, not like the man or his parents. There’s something of a question in her eyes, more hesitant; they don’t flash with something that vanishes as soon as Mona tries to get a grasp of it.

“And is everything going well, generally? Do you feel like things are moving along nicely?”


“Breastfeeding, for example?”

“Yeah, I think so, yes.”

“You’re able to nurse?”


Stars come out around her eyes when she smiles. She jots a couple of words on a piece of paper.

“And you’ve showered?”

Mona nods.

“You have no issues going to the bathroom?”



She checks off another box on her form. Then theyy sit in silence. There’s something about her voice, it’s so calm and gentle. It makes her sleepy just listening to it. The man is off somewhere with the child, some kind of appointment. It would be nice to sleep a little, to take the chance now that they aren’t here.

“You know you can always talk to us if anything comes up.”

Mona nods. She’s not sure what she means but she doesn’t want to ask.

“About how you’re doing, for example. Both mentally and physically.”


The room is flooded with light. She can hear the birds outside. She knows that the sky is bright blue and she yearns for bed, to lie down and let sleep overtake her.

“It’s natural that there are a lot of feelings during these first days. All kinds of feelings.”

Mona nods again. Gives a little smile too. The woman is probably expecting a smile at this point.

“Feelings both positive and negative.”

She pauses, but she’s not done—it’s as if she’s waiting.

“A lot of people might feel a little depressed, or not fully alert, or happy. They might have anxiety. They might worry about the future, for example.”


“That’s absolutely okay, and absolutely normal.”

Depressed, anxious? No, that’s not it. Mona can’t quite put it into words. The room, the place maybe. Beyond what the woman is describing is something Mona can’t grab onto, is unable to touch, explore.

“You can always reach out if something comes up.”

“Okay. Thanks.”

Mona takes the pamphlet offered to her. A phone number has been underlined. She feels her pulse speed up. The body is anticipating something, getting ready. Why am I so anxious all of a sudden? She pretends to flip through the brochure and then gathers her courage.

“I’m a bit tired, actually. I think I’d like to get a bit of rest.”

The woman gets up and rubs her thighs.

“Absolutely, you should definitely do that. That’s important for you as well, to try and get a lot of sleep.”

The door shuts and she removes the covers and gets into bed, turning to face the window. What if she’d try to get out, now that the man isn’t here? Just take the jacket that’s hanging on the wall, and walk toward the exit? The sun is warm on her face. She hears the wind rustle the treetops as her body grows heavy. The sound of the woman’s calm voice follows her as she pulls the covers past her ears and allows her eyelids to close.

Pooneh Rohi (1982) is an author and linguist, born in Iran and raised in Stockholm. She made her debut in 2014 with Araben (The Arab), for which she received the City of Gothenburg Literature Prize and SmåLit's Migrant Prize. Hölje is her second novel, and was shortlisted for the European Union Prize for Literature and Swedish Radio's Literature Prize.

Translator's Note:

I read Pooneh Rohi's Husk (Hölje, published in 2021) with a racing heart, fingers gripping the cover, unable to look away even as the claustrophobia of these pages sometimes approached the unbearable. Rohi's portrait of a woman in postpartum crisis is ruthless in its intensity. The book continues the author's exploration of alienation, which began in her debut The Arab, a story about rootlessness bred by immigration to a monocultural welfare state. In Husk, that same emptiness is taken to an extreme when the calamity of birth strips a woman of all personal history. The child is clearly of her, wholly dependent on her for survival, but she recoils before its lumpy mass and the way it binds her to the father and his parents, their probing blue eyes–and, as we might surmise, their whiteness. If it is of them it cannot also be of her, but it is, and in that impossible bind her own self has vanished.

It is not necessary to have given birth to find resonance in Rohi's body horror. Anyone whose body has ever found itself at odds with or slantwise to the state or the dominant culture that state represents–for instance as immigrant, as queer person, as woman, as trans person in a United States increasingly bent on clamping down on bodily autonomy–can recognize the paranoia at full throttle in these pages.

Kira Josefsson is a writer and literary translator working between English and Swedish. The winner of a PEN/Heim grant for her work on Pooneh Rohi's The Arab, she translates contemporary Swedish voices like Hanna Johansson, Quynh Tran, and Ia Genberg. Based in Queens, New York, she serves on the editorial board for Glänta, a journal of arts and politics, and regularly writes on US events in the Swedish press.

Translated by Shara Kronmal

Four Larcenies from “J’entends des regards que vous croyez muets” by Arnaud Cathrine © Editions Gallimard, Paris, 2019


I spend my time stealing from people. In the métro, in the street, in the café, on the beach. For reasons that are obscure to me, I stalk them, sometimes successfully, sometimes in vain. My gaze lands on a woman, a man, a teenager, a child a group, a couple…I always have a notebook and a pen with me. I try to figure them out, no one should be a stranger to me, I want to keep them, I end up inventing them, which I call stealing. To make of these portraits a book is a shameless thing because I add to them much of myself. But this is a path I’ve been trying to take for many years; the path on which I venture, slowly but surely. It is possible that this book will exhaust the joy that I find in these larcenies. Perhaps, that is the purpose of it. Why I write it. Or will I, to the contrary, have to put an arbitrary end to it, lest I never finish it.

Father and Son

An organic restaurant, not far from the towers of the Francois Mitterrand library. Light wood tables. Tartes, pies, salads, chic and healthful. To my left, a father and his son. The first: a stylish 50-something, well-tailored navy-blue suit; bearing and face still youthful. The other: bushy hair, dressed like any other 20-year-old student, backpack at his feet; before him, an orange soup he scarcely touches (he came here to please his father). He explains what he is studying: “Introduction to ethnology.” “Methods and challenges of sociological enquiry.” I’ll skip the other titles. And to do what? asks the father (without skepticism, he just finds that this isn’t at all his area). The son replies: many things—demographer, statistician, data analyst. And in what type of organization? In survey agencies, design offices…They speak like people who don’t see each other very often. There is an affectionate interest on the part of the father but, equally, a curious lack of familiarity as if he rarely played his role (unwittingly exaggerating it), and as if the young man didn’t know his part any better. Let’s say that he lives with his mother since his parents’ divorce which happened when he was very young. Perhaps, there were several years without much news. The father had left his wife and child, pursuing a lucrative job abroad. They see each other a little more after his return to France, meaning, intermittently. And too much time passes between each meeting so that the father loses touch. Such that he speaks to his adult son like a godfather taking out the godson that he barely knows. And then, chance (or intuition) inspires me. I glance down and I see under the table: their shoes that seek, that find, the ankles that embrace. Looking at their faces, I notice nothing other than what I’ve already seen: the younger man grudgingly eating his soup and the older waiting for him. Nonetheless, there are these limbs, if not in love, at least engaged in a relationship entirely different than the evidence would have suggested. Soon they get up. One puts on his down jacket, the other his overcoat. Have they already made love or are they on their way to do so now?

Journal of a Thief

Everything compels me to steal. As much as my fellow passengers expose themselves on the Internet (I’m not immune either), so too do they hunch over, refusing literally to see for themselves: in the métro, all riveted by their screens. Perhaps they send a message, but not to you; perhaps they even receive one, but not yours. So that the possible fictions grow scarce. One must go steal them. I’m grateful to my seatmate for reading The Myth of Virility (which I’ve set aside at home to read soon). Yes, I thank her silently for offering me a hint, a precious morsel rather than a regard aimed at an indecipherable device. She is just beginning her reading (I catch sight of page 13: “The woman doesn’t exist”) and I interrupt mine to take these notes. Because she is only a few centimeters from me, it is difficult for me to observe her. My gaze descends to her Dr. Martens, but it impossible to describe her face. I only distinguish a silhouette at the edge of my blind spot: brunette, curly-haired, gray overcoat. At one point, she turns her head in my direction. My fingers freeze in the middle of a sentence; I close my notebook hurriedly. She would have quickly guessed that I stole from her if her eyes chanced on one of the words I had underlined: “myth,” “virility.” (The thief and the delicious risk of being apprehended). But already the métro arrives at Quai de la Rapée and it’s there that she is getting off. She gets up. Brunette, curly-haired, gray overcoat: I’ll never know more because the daylight prevents me from seeing her features in the reflection on the glass. Who is this girl who asks if virility is a myth? She exits and walks away. I feel thwarted, like a child who has been abandoned in the middle of a game of Clue.

The Psychoanalyst

Small in stature, around 70 years old, glasses, a clothing style resolutely sober and classical, just like his apartment, their apartment, I should say, because he’s married. (I’ve only seen her silhouette through the opaque glass of a door). Doilies on the dressers and on the varnished wood tables, beige-painted wallpaper, no curtains—rather blinds, a smell of polish, a few knickknacks, little there. Sometimes I trace the extraneous object, the detail which would add nuance to the impersonal: a box of Legos (he has one or more grandchildren), the Tripode edition of Vie? ou Théâtre? by Charlotte Salomon, a painting of Freud in vivid and fanciful blues. He puts a paper napkin on the pillow, sits at the head of the couch, I lie down, and my curiosity vanishes into my session. I often stare at the same sconce rather than the bookshelves which might entertain me. I have been seeing him once a week for around ten years. It’s curious not to have a more precise date in mind. No, not curious: that history is written in another, parallel, time that has its own arithmetic. Ten years, it will have been that: ten years, they’ve passed so quickly, ten years, a little more, a little less. He knows everything about me. Well, it’s quickly said: no one knows everything about anyone, a fortiori in this context. We’re both feeling our way. The format means that everything can be said. And that’s what I’m paying him for: to be allowed to say everything. I’ve been paying for it for ten years because I struggle, because I want to fight it out; I owe to this courage (and it is one) that I am more upright and alive than I would be without it. My body forced me, it sent me signals that I could no longer ignore, in the end life is so much more tolerable, and even exhilarating, thanks to the analysis. For all this I have to pay; without this, the debt would crush me. I know nothing of him. That’s the point. To be entirely honest, I only know what he has revealed in his publications (which I’ve read of course). I know: his father deported. I know: his professional career (former psychologist in the psychiatric field, former lecturer at the university, psychoanalyst now). And not much else. I observe the area where he lives, the space where he sees me. I wonder what he reads; I furtively cross the yellow line, but I never get to the goal of my theft, because that’s not what it’s about. It isn’t about that. I abide by the strict boundaries he has for us, the words that he has chosen to begin the session (“I’m listening”), and to end it (“Good, let’s finish there: it’s important.”) I am left confounded by the rare snippets emerging from ordinary conversation: “Don’t forget your umbrella.” I don’t want to know if he’s heard me on the radio, if he reads my books. How would he appreciate them? I unravel them in his presence, literally dissect them. It’s an autopsy. It’s the dressing on a wound. (Interesting this word “dressing” which comes to me spontaneously; I check its definition: “bandage.”) In the end, no matter how much he appears in this book, he is one of those I can’t (and don’t want to) steal from. This providential being who has saved my life and whom I will never fully know.

Arnaud Cathrine is the prolific author of fiction, theatrical, children’s and nonfiction works in French including "Pas exactement l’amour" which won the short story prize of the Académie française. Despite his well-known status in France, only a single short story of his has appeared in the English language. Cathrine cites the work of Annie Ernaux as one of the inspirations for his essay collection.

Translator's Note:

Susan Sontag wrote that Walter Benjamin has said (and this might be a paraphrase as it is hard to find the original): “One never really understands a book unless one copies it, as one never understands a landscape from an airplane but only by walking through it.” Of course, Benjamin’s words were originally in German which brings us to the act of translation. After all, what could be a more in-depth copying of a book than translating it?

In translating excerpts from Arnaud Cathrine’s J’entends des regards que vous croyez muets I have felt intimately involved with the author and his words, at times paying more attention to them than I do to my own writing. Even the title posed challenges. What does “I hear the looks that you think are mute” mean? An internet search led me to a quote from French playwright Racine whose character, a jealous lover, states that he will hear the amorous looks between the woman he loves and her true love. In Cathrine’s work, the author “listens” to those around him, inferring their thoughts, feelings, their stories.

As a result of another translation puzzle, I made a brief foray into 19th century medicine to translate “charpie” (which is not the French word for a black indelible marker), a word which was a curiosity to the author himself and a puzzle for me to solve. Charpie means lint, but in the context of the text became a dressing on a wound, and the word “pansement” Cathrine used as a synonym became bandage.

The more I puzzled over meaning, wrestled with turning long, naturally convoluted French sentences into an English that was readable but felt faithful to the original text, the more I fell in love with Cathrine’s style. Much has been said of the challenges and pitfalls of translating. Perhaps translation itself is another way of listening to that which is ultimately silent.

Shara Kronmal is an emerging translator and CNF writer. Her essays appeared in the journals JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) and Please See Me. She is also an editorial assistant and CNF reader for CRAFT Literary. This will be her first published translation. A physician by trade, Shara has a degree in French Studies from Stanford University and is a dedicated Francophile. Shara can be found on Twitter as @SKronmal.

Translated by Fortunato Salazar

Holosteon (Pliny, Natural History, 27.63-65)

All-bone, a plant w/ nothing hard about it
.grows on dry rock, ears at the top of a
slender straw .aristas habet in cacumine
.slender roots draw a curve and rove
crevices where sustenance would be if
only all would jell, roots slender as the
fine filaments of rain that doesn’t fall
doesn’t reach the meat won’t feed the
needy can’t regenerate the barley .this
plant, nothing hard about it, when tied
around the head or attached to an arm
if all goes well if the ear isn’t too deeply
lodged hasn’t been drawn too far into
tender flesh heals or at least relieves by
drawing out the splinter, i.e. ear, one ear
drawing out another .educit e corpore
aristas .the opposite of opposites attract
.for which reason, some persons give this
plant the name aristas, this plant which
if one slice of boiled meat won’t fasten
to another if the recipe calls for them to
bond is used as solder .carnes conglutinat

63. Holcus in saxis nascitur siccis. aristas habet in cacumine, tenui culmo, quale hordeum restibile. haec circa caput alligata vel circa lacertum educit e corpore aristas. quidam ob id aristida vocant.

64. Hyoseris intubo similis, sed minor et tactu asperior, vulneribus contusa praeclare medetur.

65. Holosteon sine duritia est herba, ex adverso appellata a Graecis sicut fel dulce, radice tenuis usque in capillamenti speciem, longitudine IIII digitorum, ceu gramen foliis angustis, adstringens gustu. nascitur in collibus terrenis. usus eius ad vulsa, rupta in vino potae. volnera quoque conglutinat, nam et carnes, dum cocuntur, addita.

Gaius Plinius Secundus, aka Pliny the Elder, born 23 CE; descended from a prosperous family; began a military career by serving in Germany, rising to the rank of cavalry commander; returned to Rome, where he possibly studied law; became procurator in Spain; returned in 69 CE to Rome and assumed various official positions; last assignment was that of commander of the fleet in the Bay of Naples; died on August 24, 79 after going ashore to ascertain the cause of an unusual cloud formation, later found to have resulted from an eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

Fortunato Salazar’s translations from ancient Greek and Latin are at or forthcoming at Plume, Asymptote, Harvard Review, Notre Dame Review, and elsewhere; other work is at The Atlantic, Ploughshares, Conjunctions, Guernica, Chicago Review, VICE, and elsewhere. He lives in Los Angeles.

Translated by Sam Simas

Frederico Paciência

Frederico Paciência… it was in the gym. We were about the same age, he a little older than I—fourteen, perhaps.

Frederico Paciência was a scandalous luminosity. He had large, dark eyes, a wide mouth, a squarely muscled chest, particularly enormous hands, a frankness, an aura of health, a conspicuous absence of ulterior motives. And that head of thick, wild, raven curls. Son of Portugal and Rio de Janeiro. He was not merely beautiful, but triumphant. It was impossible not to adore him, not to agree with whatever he said.

It did not take long for me to develop a dazzling fondness for Frederico Paciência. I drew toward him frankly, imagining I did so out of friendliness. But if I connect the insistence with which I clung to him to other spontaneous acts that had inspired feelings of manliness within me, I think my feelings began as a healthy longing, accompanied by the noble aspiration to behave well—at least for the benefit of my friends and family. I loyally admired the moral and physical perfection of Frederico Paciência with sincerity and envy. Even now, my envy cannot resolve into hatred, not even into animosity: it produces, instead, the amusing, playful bravado that had lead me to imitation. You see, I wanted to act like Frederico Paciência. Wanted to be him, to become him, to lose myself in his splendor, and become his friend.

I was a weakling. An ugly boy who lacked courage and the slightest spontaneity. I had a haughty tendency towards vice and laziness. Incessantly intelligent, but mostly difficult. What’s more, nothing ignited my passion. My family whispered that I was a lost cause. My siblings were flourishing while I was withering. While they were distinguishing themselves in class with awards and honors, I was failing.

One episode became famous, turned into a shouting match at home, and my father, resolving to put me on the straight and narrow, accompanied me to school to meet the director. We were called into his office—that Marist, Brother Beak we called him—was holding a cheatsheet on Virgil in French. It was familiar enough. I had slipped up, but it didn’t phase me. I said arrogantly:

— And how are you going to prove that I cheated?

Brother Beak didn’t even look at me. Trembling with rage, he opened the sheet and forced it in front of my father:

— Your son translates Latin very well, he said, but he doesn’t know how to translate French!

My father, poor man. He paled, then started:

— Father, forgive me.

We spoke no more of it and left. Silence fell over us on our return. He couldn’t even bring himself to look at me. It was a relief when the conductor came to take our tickets on the tram. My father absentmindedly took the nickels from his pocket, but he stared hard at the money, paralyzed, staring, lost in inscrutable thoughts. He appeared to be deciding my fate. I heard, or almost heard, him saying, No, I won’t pay for this boy’s ticket anymore. But, in the end, he paid it anyway.

Frederico Paciência was my salvation. I surrendered to his friendship, for his friendship was everything. He did not enforce boundaries or harbor reservations; he didn’t even entertain the concepts as part of human nature. Maybe, as a result, or as an instinct for self-preservation, he felt a simple camaraderie for all men, but didn’t prefer one group over another, much less as friends. Only I perceived, with annoyance, that he was distantly kind with everyone, but there was no doubt that he was pleased with me—unalterably happy to see and speak with me. And, with him, I couldn’t be discreet.

After school, on the small stretch of road we followed to Largo da Sé, I brought up the subject of our classmates and ended up, quite awkwardly, confessing that he was my only friend. Frederico Paciência paused and stared at me in silent astonishment. He quickened his pace to close my small lead and I, in my shameful frenzy, no longer knowing myself, felt alleviated by my sincerity. We reached the corner where we usually separated and stopped together. Frederico Paciência was marvelous, grubby from soccer, sweaty, blushing, spilling life, looking at me with a tender smile. Maybe he pitied me a little. He offered me his hand in parting, which I almost could not bring myself to shake, for that common wordless farewell defeated me. I ran away, humiliated, sprinting home to hide my shame. But Frederico Paciência was running with me.

— Don’t go home yet!

— I… I’d like to go with you.

Those were fifteen of the most sublime minutes of my life. Maybe for him, too. In the street, violently busy and packed with people, we exchanged glances as we navigated the flow of passersby so we could always be side-by-side. Seeing only our synchrony, our choreography, divine phantasmagorias, reveries, and escapades filled my head. Only at the door of the house did we separate, awkward again, uttering the first words of our crooked new friendship, “See you later.”

And Frederico Paciência’s life changed, bringing him closer to me. He shared everything about himself with me—me, who didn’t know how to do the same. I’m sure it would have embarrassed my father to see me acting like such a child. But when my friend confessed to me that his parents had married only two years ago, I found it sweet. Why marry? That’s right! The worst is that Frederico Paciência had placed such confidence in me, made so many confessions about nascent instincts that constantly required me to maintain a sophistication of thought. Some days I almost hated him. I was clearly beating back any intention to end that “childhood.” Life was so sweet.

His Sundays belonged to me. After mass, we took long walks. One day, we went as far as Cantareir on foot. He came with me up to the door of my house. One time he came inside. But I hadn’t wanted to see him with my family. I detested the thought of my mother together with him. They were all so dull. But I became familiar with his home, it was only his parents, hollow people, hasty and distracted, giving excessive liberty to their son, blatantly proud that he had a friend from a “good family.”

I remember well that not long after, maybe five days, my declaration of friendship, Frederico Paciência was looking for me after dinner. We went out. And so began our habit of taking long walks in the wooded silence of the neighborhood. Frederico Paciência spoke about his ideas, that he wanted to be a doctor. I warned him that it would mean he’d have to study in Rio—that he would leave me behind. I started doing the calculations of how soon my friend would be rid of me. But the idea of separation consumed him. He made propositions: go with him, study medicine, or be a painter since I was already drawing caricatures of priests.

I was so fixated on fitting myself into his aspirations, so as not to be left behind, that I was ready to lie, even to him. And I did, once. The pleasure of the deceit transported me as if into a novel, where everything took place with quiet discretion so the dishonesty would not show and where the most beautiful thing was my soul. Frederico Paciência then looked at me with wide, dewy, divine eyes. He believed me. He believed everything. To not have believed would have been worse. And it was this, the best gift that I kept from Frederico Paciência, because an enormous part of the good and the helpful person I have become arose from the courage I needed to give myself so he and I could love each other frankly.

In the gym, our life became one life. Frederico Paciência taught me, breathed encouragement to me in moments of weakness, swearing after with a smile that it would be the last time. His tolerance of me compelled me to reciprocate by conjuring the motivation to study, that abortive regime of studying that, without even realizing I was wrong, revolted me. One day, he surprised me while I was reading a book. I was horrified, but a type of perverse curiosity, which I explained away with the false hope that I would never end up having to end that “silly friendship,” made me unable to deny what I read. It was “The History of Prostitution in Antiquity,” one of those discrete little Portuguese books that circulated so often at the time. Still nervous, I tossed the book to him. He leafed through the pages, examined the chapters and index, and stared at the cover for a long time. Then he gave me the book.

— Be careful the priests don’t see.

— I hide it inside my notebook. They won’t see it.

— What if they look inside?

— Let them look!

All day, we disguised our discomfort well in class. But, once we got to Largo da Sé, Frederico Paciência said he needed to go home, choking on the lie. I watched him carefully, distracted to see how awkwardly he lied, and he clarified that he needed to go out with his mother. And as we drifted apart from one another, he asked me for the book, to read. I had a horrible desire for him not to ask me for the book, not to read it, to swear that it was vile. Inside, I was a storm. All day, the threat of this request had filled my head with cynical thoughts, but I convinced myself he wasn’t capable of it. And to say now everything I had been wanting to say but couldn’t crushed me. After all, the book revealed the truth. If I didn’t give it to him, well, he could have imagined worse things. I moved as if to take the book from my bag casually, but I was screaming inside that there was still time, enough time to say that I hadn’t yet finished reading, even though I had…and he would declare the book useless, immoral. He would tear it up. This emboldened me, but the storm raged. Until then, the hope that Frederico Paciência would have certain revelations… and somehow the book was delivered to him naturally, without any obvious hesitation. Frederico Paciência laughed, but I couldn’t join him. Fatigue overwhelmed me. Pure. And impure.

I spent that night by the river. And that night, all those thrilling ideas, startled instincts, curious desires, inhuman dangers, stung me with such a harsh clarity that they swept away all sense. I wanted to die. If Frederico Paciência released me… If he grew closer to me… I wanted to die. It was good to give him the book, it was sincere, at least to allow him to know me better. But it was wrong, for I could harm him. What hell! He can’t continue this “childhood.” I wanted to sleep, I fought sleep. I wanted to die.

The following day, Frederico Paciência arrived late, and classes had already begun. He sat as he usually did next to me. He wished me good morning, but I imagined he seemed melancholy, preoccupied. I barely answered, afraid I might burst into tears. It was as if a sun had risen between us, blinding us to one another. I made a show of whispering to the classmates on my side of the room. He did the same, on his side. But it was he who managed to darken the sun.

At recess, all of a sudden, I couldn’t keep my eyes off him, and he left the group in which he was talking and came straight to me. I left my group and meandered across the yard so our meeting would seem an accident. We stopped in-front of one another. He lowered his eyes, then raised them with effort. My god! Why didn’t he speak? His eyes, I sought his eyes and locked them to mine, but looked at him with such anxiety, with all my innocence, begging myself to become sincere, honest, dignified, begging him to admit that he had sinned. He lowered his eyes again, rocketing us far from one another, then murmured:

— Keep that book in your backpack, Juca. I think it’s better not to read such things.

I understood that I wouldn’t lose anything, and a wild lightness filled me. He was looking me in the face again, serene, generous, and I lied to him. I lied with such a grand shamelessness, and with such a warm sincerity, that I didn’t even realize I was lying at all. I had launched into an explanation, and when it was clear that Frederico Paciência was no longer listening, I stopped. We rejoined our classmates. It was sadness, yes sadness that I felt, but also with a bit of joy to see him disheartened, hiding that he didn’t believe me, without courage to reproach me, humiliated at his own insincerity. I felt superior!

But that afternoon, while we went out on our walk, and with the firm intention of making fun of Frederico Paciência for not saying how he felt, I carried a beautifully wrapped package with me. When he asked me what it was, I laughed at him with only my lips, a friendly mockery, and glanced at him without saying anything. I started unwrapping the paper, savoring how it came undone. Of course, it was the book. I walked, still watching my friend, a laugh on my lips, joking, conciliatory, absolved. Then, in one sudden jerk, I tore the book in two. I gave half to my friend and began ripping it apart, sheet by sheet. Here Frederico Paciência fell into my trap. His face shone with all the irritated happiness he had hidden for our two days of discomfort, and we stopped laughing. The streets were littered with the irremediable wreckage of decades of depravity and prostitution. I knew that it had been a poison for Frederico Paciência, but it didn’t worry me any longer. He, totally surrendered, was confessing, now that he was free of the book, that to read certain things, weighed horribly and “lent a strange feeling, Juca. I couldn’t put it down.”

Faced with such a demanding friendship, there was no lack of gossip. Frederico Paciência, when it became clear that our classmates’ jokes left no doubt what they thought of us, lost his mind. Crime tainted our friendship, and he became blind with rage. He sought out the person who started the rumor, grabbed him by the collar, and beat him with stony hands. I stood by, impassive. The scoundrel deserved it. The others tried to free the boy from those hands that had contorted with fatal rigidity. I was afraid, shocked. They pleaded with Frederico Paciência, shook him, hit him, but nothing woke him from his frenzy. It was the priests, running across the yard, and the athletics instruction who managed to separate the boys. The bastard had passed out, and Frederico Paciência grumbled, “He insulted me. He insulted me.” Of course, everyone had already taken our side, of course, pitying Frederico Paciência, convinced of our purity — only one sentence from our classmates made clear for the priests what had happened. The punishment was severe, but no one mentioned expulsion.

I was not punished. I said nothing. I did nothing. I stayed silent. Then the next day, the boy didn’t come to school, and the others invented horrible rumors: He was gravely injured; he was dead, and the police had arrested Frederico Paciência. No one had courage to look at me, except to tell me the essentials, and I too felt forsaken, like him.

Fortunately, we didn’t see each other as school let out, he was detained to write five hundred lines a day for a week—the usual punishment. But on the second day the scoundrel showed up in class. A little wary, it's true, but completely composed. My turn had arrived.

I looked at two of my classmates, and their expressions confirmed that it was me he was eyeing. Everyone would soon say that, although he and I were about the same size, he seemed visibly shaken. I invented a headache to leave early, but everyone’s eyes followed me, anticipating the spectacle to come. As we left the end of the day, and in the presence of several onlookers, he paled, saying loudly that if I messed with him, then he wouldn’t be afraid to use his pocketknife on me. Others had started gathering around us, so I invited him to meet me in the nearby floodplain. I must have been pale, too. I felt it, but I was not afraid. On the contrary, in the cold light, I was imagining the right way to hit rather than be hit. But the boy hesitated, and I took my chance to end his stupid little game with a punch to his face. The blood coursed from his nose, and he threw himself at me as if possessed. I froze, then I hit him again in the nose. He desperately tried to grab my torso, to bend me over, but my arms were free, and I rubbed his face, enjoying the blood staining my hands. He let out a feeble “ow.” I don’t know, but even his suffering filled me with disgust. I couldn’t stand it: with a burst of strength that surprised me, I smashed my elbow into his chin then shoved him away from me. The others grabbed me. The boy, wild and terrified, fled to the road.

The reproaching looks of the others didn’t even bother me. My sudden power immunized me to their judgments. Whatever uncertainty, whatever hesitation born within the roiling turmoil inside me, was overshadowed by the mere image of Frederico Paciência—the only unique reality in all of this. I had avenged Frederico Paciência! With the utmost calm, I took my backpack, which a classmate had held for me, and, didn’t even say goodbye to anyone. I left. A golden sun shone over me. A brilliant sun, different than the one that had separated me from my friend in light of the book. It was neither glory nor vainglory, nor the voluptuousness of having won—none of that. It was a rare balance, the invaluable moment when a boy understands what it is to be a man. Pure. And Impure.

I searched for Frederico Paciência that night and told him everything. At first, I let my vanity get the better of me and didn’t tell him anything, acted superior, pretending not to care about the fight. Let the others tell him what happened. But I was too proud, too dramatic for such meanness. So, I told him everything, detail by detail. Frederico Paciência devoured everything I fed him, not letting even my smallest breath pass unsavored. I started as a hero. I ended as an artist. The beauty of the dream inspired me to touch up the descriptions with fantasy, hoping that they would be simple and inconspicuous. When I stopped, Frederico Paciência couldn’t speak, not approving, not disapproving. A sadness descended over us, a sadness happier than my entire life. How beautiful it was, almost sensual, that the two of us could be so sad together…

But all of that, the book, the gossip, our revolt, birthed between us our first awkward coolness. It was born of fear of the calumny of others, it was an undamming of unspoken hopes, a delusion, a bitterness of knowing we could no longer hold back. On the other hand, this feeling of being two against the rest of the world served as our foundation, bringing us closer, much closer, than before. Embraces became commonplace. A hug was our way of saying hello, of saying, See you later.

We began speaking insistently of our “eternal friendship,” schemes of how we could see one another every day for the rest of our lives. We pledged to close our own eyes after whoever died first. We remarked openly on our friendship, as if we were looking to prove to ourselves that the world could not bring us any harm—that it could not condemn us, for we had already done so enthusiastically. It was a mind game we played while sitting together to study, always holding hands, and sometimes, although more rarely, arms interlaced while taking our nightly walks. Then it was the kiss I placed on his nose after, actually no, in the middle of our heated debate about whether Bonaparte was a genius. I swore that he wasn’t, but he thought he was. He was a beast, I said. You’re the beast, he told me. And I kissed him. I don’t even know why! Then we jumped apart from one another, staring at each other with hate. He recoiled, knocked over the chair. The noise echoed our inner storms. He approached me, embraced me hungrily, kissed bitterly, kissed full on my lips. Soon, our shame exploded between us, blasting us apart. Our eyes locked. I began to laugh, and the laughter calmed us. Finally, we were being honest. We loved each other as friends again; we desired each other, exultant in our ardor, resolute and strong and healthy.

— We need to be more careful.

Who said this? I don’t know if it was me or him. I hear that sentence rushing from us. Never had I felt so large in my own life.

We were already too close, already our conviviality fed us, so that the only solution for us to be careful was to separate. But we continued to be inseparable, although we were taking care. It was no longer a game of hand holding or mind games. And when one of us distractedly leaned upon the other’s shoulder, one would immediately jump back, feigning rancorous detestation, but the disappointment between us was real.

The discussions were the worst. Each time more and more numerous and, perhaps, more and more sought after. In the heat of an argument, one would shout, “You’re a beast,” and the other would say, “You’re the beast!” And our hearts would race, conjuring the memory of that kiss. Our sudden muteness rerouted us and we continued on, dazzlingly faithful to our friendship. But everything, the distances, the corrections, the discussions stopped short, only left us desolately aware, in our generous hypocrisy, that this would either lead us to hell or signaled the beginning of the end.

With graduation approaching, we finally discovered a pretext for the disintegration, now unimaginable, of our friendship. I say that it was a “pretext” because it seemed to me that there were other, more important reasons. Frederico Paciência insisted on taking the hardest exams for our final year. I couldn’t bring myself to more serious pursuits, especially in a school year when it was common for the proctors to be condescending. On the surface, we had never understood one another that well, as much as I accepted his devotion to his studies, he came to understand my aversion to the rigors of school.But our differing pursuits kept him cooped up and had me galavanting alone. We became restless.

There were other bitter reasons, too. There were the dances. And there was Rose, who appeared on the horizon, formless and unpredictable. If a little less convinced than a year prior, we still understood together what a woman should mean to us, only now, our sixteen years, my sexual life had taken on a mind of its own. Frederico Paciência seemed to no longer want to spend time with me. Sometimes, he followed me, pouting. He was contrary and sensitive, which, after a while, bored me. I stopped inviting him along. This would insert itself as an important topic between us, but even on this we held opposing views. I continued to classify his indecision and chastity as childishness. Frederico Paciência, for his part, listened graciously and sometimes with curiosity to my sexual discoveries—told to him almost always with hungry attention to the most minute details and the intention to hurt him, for I had felt once again, that he was growing tired of my stories, losing himself to mysterious and grave melancholy. And I stopped speaking. He didn’t ask me to continue. We became uncomfortable in a brutal, physical solitude.

And yet there were still other, even more profound preludes to the subtle breakdown—breakdown, I insist—of our friendship, which we had ignored. We had been too preoccupied with the problem of the friendship, that we always treated as an object, as if it were external to us. That in two years, the entire adventure of budding friendship, with its challenges and audacity, the serene pleasure of mundane friendship became all consuming. And that, during our necessarily unstable boyhood, hardly mattered. We loved with perfect honesty, but without curiosity, without the voluptuous sensuality of fire, without learning more about one another or our pleasures. Out of defense for our friendship, even as it was changing the… the act of manifesting. And this act, carried out with distance and patience, in the face of black and white truths, was a small, voluntary and unimaginable breakdown. In the manner that we had acquired our false conviction that we were growing apart as a result of incapacity or, better, out of fear that we would examine our own degradation honestly, and see that what everyone else claimed was true. In school, we were hardly classmates. At night, we didn’t see one another anymore. He was always studying. But what sublimely quiet Sundays now, when even an invitation to picnic with him, which I accepted with spectacularly false pleasure, could not quell my desire to be left alone. Yet, that Sunday meeting brought me unquantifiable happiness—so much frankness, so much abandon, so much passing between us—that we sank into like wide, old, caress. Sometimes, we lived in silence, and our spirits, our souls found each other, understood one another, and united.

I am fighting against the looking directly at these explanations about the beginning of our breakdown, for a reason that, I believe, I may have realized while I was writing—I wanted to shield myself from the story. But I won’t resist any more. It is becoming clearer to me that the most covert of causes was a type of shared resentment. If at first I envied Frederico Paciência his physical beauty, his kindness, his spiritual perfection, and if, even now, I miss all that he was, it is certain that this same envy very soon led me to abandon whatever aspiration I had to be exactly like my friend. After all, I only tried to imitate him for a very short time—some three months. Then, I stopped. And it wasn’t because I recognized the impossibility of being anything like him, because I—honestly, I don’t know why. I suppose I just didn’t want to be a “Frederico Paciência.”

I still admire everything about him. Each time I think of him, I find him more and more admirable, there was something special even in his commonness. But, for me, for the person to whom I wanted to give myself, I, well, I corrected Frederico Paciência. Obviously, I didn’t correct him in the sense of having perfected him. I sincerely considered Frederico Paciência perfect. It was more in the sense of having another conception of being, for sometimes perfection diminishes us. His energy, his serene assurance, more than anything his inability to err and that absence of errors, weren’t interesting enough for me. I surprised myself by imagining that, if I possessed the same qualities, I would feel boring.

I can’t help but ask myself, to what end, not only for myself, but for him, too, had I intended to “correct” Frederico Paciência into being the kind of ideal person that I myself wanted to be. Hadn’t he had been the starting point? Certainly, he was always, for me, more generous, accepted me how I was, although privately, I was sure that he wished I were better. If he accepted me as a friend, he lost interest in me very early on as something else. Thus: our familiar distance, which I wrongly called, with certainly, a breakdown, was more representative of our true friendship. I would go so far as to say we were perfecting our friendship, because nothing interested us more than the other as he was. In our meetings alone, we loved each other for who we were, just as we were, unselfishly, gratuitously, without the imperialist instinct of conditioning the companion to our own interior fictions. I am convinced that we would have remained friends for the rest of our lives, if life had not robbed us of that grace.

Shortly after graduating, a year of apprehension for us, I had set my sights on studying painting, but “that was not a career.” He became a doctor and started a practice in São Paulo. Then a misfortune brought us closer: His father died. I sent him sincere condolences. Inside me arose, for the first time, a strange experience—yes, a critical fatherliness into which Frederico Paciência could lay bare his apprehensions without reserve.

My friend suffered terribly. But, without indicating a true callousness in him (in fact, it was natural that he didn’t seem to love a father who had been so bland), it seemed to me that Frederico Paciência’s greatest pain was not losing his father, but rather the disappointment in the intensity of his own grief. That first time he faced death shocked him. Whether disappointment or love, he suffered greatly. It was left to me to console him. I also managed to give myself over to muteness as a form of sacrifice. The best relief from the unhappiness of death is to have within oneself the silent solitude of a sister shadow. Make a gesture, and the shadow guesses that you want water and goes to get it. Or, all of a sudden, you reach out, and it picks the lint from your black clothes.

Two days after his death, still marked by the painful scenes of the funeral, Frederico Paciência’s mother was crying in the next room, allowing herself to talk in a group of old women, when we heard:

— Rico! (with a weak r, my friend’s family nickname).

We went in and, standing in front of the poor woman, was a man in mourning, wearing a plastron, waiting for us. She, anguished, said:

— Go see what he wants.

He had come to offer his condolences.

— I knew your late father very well, poor thing. A noble character. But, seeing as your beautiful mother may have need of someone, I came to offer her my services. I’m proud to represent the best clientele in São Paulo. To rid ourselves of the formal inventory (he began to unfold a paper), and so that your mother may…

I don’t know what overcame me:

— Get out!

The man looked at me with contempt.

— Get out, I said!

He was stubborn. I shooed him, he backed away. But at the door, he changed his mind and tried to come back toward us, so I punched him, we punched him, and he fell down the stairs, out into the garden. Back in the room, everything was quiet, everyone was amused, and we had to hold back our laughter to respect the dead, but it was impossible not to smile at the memory of the man on the stairs.

— Lie down and rest a little.

And he did, exaggerating the fatigue, enjoying being obedient. I sat on the edge of the bed, as if I were going to take care of him, and looked at him hard. His face was illuminated by a sliver of afternoon light piercing the window. His beauty enraptured me. He started slowly, quietly, and with the voice of a boy, reaffirming plans we had made. We would go to Rio as soon as possible. He wanted to go to college. Rio… Mom is from Rio, didn’t you know? I have relatives there. His lips reddening into ruby in the swell of that forced speech. I only stared back at him. He noticed this and suddenly stopped talking, staring back at me. I understood his silence. I understood why, but I couldn’t wrest my eyes from his beautiful mouth. And when our eyes met, I was almost startled that he was looking at me as I was looking at him, with despair, bare, confessing everything. It was a second tragedy, so uniquely unhappy. But the image of death rose up between us with such an enormous presence, too recent, dominating. Maybe at that moment we weren’t able to fall away from the reminder of mortality inside of which we were already stuck. Death had won.

After two months of preparations came the separation. The last week of our friendship (have no doubt: the last. Every else was idealism, shame, abuses of prejudice), the last week was practically our engagement, filled with caresses, warmth. But we didn’t want it, we were afraid of provoking a similar moment from which death had saved us. We didn’t exchange a word about what had happened, and we tried to prove to one another the non-existence of that thunderous reality, which had kept us such unreasonable but such perfect friends for more than three years. Nothing was worth pulling back the veil of our illusion (and wasn’t the veil more necessary, more real than what hid behind it?). It is only now that the inevitably of our separation justified our animosity. We didn’t leave his house, ashamed of showing an ignorant public our impatient longing. Silences, often times embraces, heads inclined, sitting together on the sofa brought in from the living room as if it had never been anywhere but beneath us. When one of us said something, the other quickly agreed because, more than the threat of parting, we were frightened by the danger of arguing. And only one time did Frederico Paciência, maybe having forgotten, threw himself across the bed, and I stood there stiffly, excessively petrified, looking at the floor with such desperate fixity that he noticed. Or he didn't notice and the same fierce memory overwhelmed him. He drew up his defenses. And suddenly, almost shouting, he said:

— What is wrong with you, Juca?

Tears filled my eyes. He sat and said no more. This was how we spent those exaggeratedly brief goodbyes. Then an immaterial figure of a woman, shaking her head, trying to smile, sadly said to us:

— Boys, it’s eleven o’clock!

Frederico Paciência came to bring me home. We had suffered so much that it seemed impossible to suffer from such happiness. And that entire night was like that: mouth smiling, eyes filled of tears. I managed to hold back until after he left me, then I threw open the door, and ran to catch up to Frederico Paciência and walked him home again. And then we were embracing, desperate to shamelessly confess to the universe what would never exist between us. But it was as it had been in our homes, mourning in anticipation of the venerable drama of a miracle, and we escaped into the night, then the early hours of the morning so that even passers-by and drunk revelers, looked at us, said nothing, and let us go.

Finally, the farewell came. Short, drawn out, very unpleasant, with that train taking such a long time to pull away, and both of us were already very indifferent to each other, as if we were phantoms, memories without presence, which we neither understood nor could be interested in. His famous smile that wanted to smile, but that was instead crying, crying so much, about everything that hadn’t been released. “Now? Bye?”; “We’ll see each other soon!”; “Are you really coming back?”; “I promise I will!” His sob, which choked on the joyful laughter of his departure—free at last! The train leaving. The clear sense of relief. You walk along, see a girl, and you are already back in reality. You bump into a group leaving the station, “Sorry!,” and they look at you, one of the men laughs. It could be a new friendship. Under the miraculous lights, the street belongs to everyone.

Cards. Loving letters proclaiming eternal friendship. An interest in literary things had awoken in me: I wrote literature on cards. Unguarded letters lying around, forming piles, then thrown out by the maid. Letters violently demanded because the argument with the thoughtless maid, arguments knowingly provoked because she was so damn fat. Very uninteresting letters. What we told each other about what was happening in our lives—Rico, the doctor, and me, a musician, writing verses—irritated me. Yes, I’m certain that he was also annoyed with me. The letters became infrequent.

Then the telegram came telling me that Frederico Paciência’s mother had died. She hadn’t been able to endure her husband’s death. I burst into indescribable excitement, it was a dazzling sensation—a fantastic hope exploded in me. I was so stunned that I floated down the street. I couldn’t keep my head on straight: the reality was there. Rico’s mother, what did I care about Frederico Paciência’s mother? What’s even more terrible to imagine: he did not even care. Death had incited his desire of me. We loved each other over cadavers. I understood that it was horrible. But even though it was horrible, more so for him than me, it was decisive. And I was screaming inside, with the most intentional cynicism, pretending and knowing that I was pretending: Rico is calling me, I'm going. I will go. I need to go. I will go.

This time, the corpse would not be a hindrance. It would help. What saved us was the distance. I had no way to get to Rio. I was a family friend, I had no money. Still, I asked him to go, and he said no. And when he said no, I know, I was happy, happy! I knew that he had to deny me, but it was not enough to know. How I wanted to take responsibility for my own salvation! Even becoming aware of my moral poverty, I was happy, happy! I sent him “Sincere Condolences” in a telegram.

It was a brutal end, a wall. I still remember writing a beautiful card, which he would show to all the people who admired me. “How well he writes,” they would say. But that message was a formal refusal. I know I always yearned for that desperate refusal, but the fact that it felt so formal proved to me that it was all over between us. I did not write it after all. And Frederico Paciência never wrote to me again. He didn’t even thank me for the condolences. His image grew more and more distant until it became what I have tried to fix here.

I remember that once, given his enormous irritation over a my commenting that a girl had tried embracing with him at dance, I said, without the slightest pun intend:

— Patience, Rico.

— Patience is my name!

I didn’t save this detail for the end to have a literary effect. No. From the beginning, I wanted to describe him honestly, but I found no suitable way. So, I added it here because, well, I don’t know. This confusion with the word “patience” has always made me sick. It burns me like joke, an allegory, a hungry and unsatisfied ghost.

Mário de Andrade (1893-1945) was one of the most influential writers and artists of the Brazilian modernist movement. He rose to prominence after organizing Semana de Arte Moderna (1922) and continued to develop his unusual style, which drew upon the tension between formal, colonial European Portuguese and spoken, colloquial, often locally inflected, Brazilian Portuguese. His novel Macunaíma (1928) exemplifies this effort as an attempt to recreate spoken Brazilian. Known as a champion of art, music, literature, history, and Brazilian folk heritage, Mário de Andrade wrote stories, poems, essays, novels and other works, both scholarly and creative. Ten years before his death, he founded São Paulo's Department of Culture.

Sam Simas is a queer writer and translator. His work has recently appeared, or is forthcoming, in Copper Nickel, Carve, Puerto del Sol, Sycamore Review, and other literary magazines. His writing has won the Copper Nickel Editor’s Prize for prose and other awards. He works and lives in Rhode Island.

Translated by Wally Swist

Ode to the Apple

by Pablo Neruda

You, apple,
I want
to celebrate you,
filling me up
with your name
in my mouth,
eating you.
you are new like nothing
or no one else,
recently fallen
from Paradise:
and pure
flushed cheek
of the dawn!

What is difficult
the fruits of the earth
to you,
the cellular grapes,
the brooding
the bony
plums, figs
like submarines:
you are pure ointment,
fragrant bread,
of the vegetation.

When we bite
your round innocence
we return
for an instant
to being
also newly created creatures:
we still have some apple remaining.

I want
an abundance
that is total, the multiplication
of your family,
I want
a city,
a republic,
a Mississippi River
of apples,
and on its shores
I want to see
the population
of the world
united, reunited,
in the simplest act on earth:
biting into an apple.

Oda a la manzana

A ti, manzana
con tu nombre
la boca,
eres nueva como nada
o nadie,
recien caida
del Paradiso:
y pura
mejilla arrebolada
de la aurora!

Que dificiles
los frutos de la tierra,
las celulares uvas,
los mangos
las huesudas
ciruelas, los higos
tu eres pomade pura,
pan fragrante,
de la vegetacion.

Cuando mordemos
tu redonda inocencia
por un instante
a ser
tambien recien creadas criaturas:
aun temenos algo de manzana.

Yo quiero
una abundancia
total, la multiplication
de tu famila,
una ciudad,
una republica,
un rio Mississippi
de manzanas,
y en sus orillas
quiero ver
a toda
la población
del mundo
unida, reunida,
en el acto mas simple de la tierra:
mordiendo una manzana.

Ode to the Orange
by Pablo Neruda

Like you,
in your image,
the world was made
around your sun,
surrounded by shells of fire:
the night constellates
with orange blossoms
on your course and your ship.
So it was and so were we,
oh, earth,
discovering you,
orange planet.
We are the spokes of a single wheel
like gold bars
and with trains and with rivers we reach
the unusual unity of the orange.

of mine,
autumn’s sword,
I return
to your light,
to the desert zone
of lunar saltpeter,
to the cliffs
of Andean ore,
when it penetrates
your contour, your waters,
I praise your women,
I look at the forests,
sacred birds and leaves,
the wheat spills into the barns,
and the ships sail
through dark estuaries,
I comprehend
what you are,
an orange,
a fruit of fire.

are united
in your skin
like sections of a single fruit,
and Chile, by your side,
switched on
the blue foliage
of the Pacific,
is a long enclosure of orange trees.

be the light
of every
and the heart of man,
and its clusters
be sour and sweet:
spring of freshness
that you possess
and that preserves
the mysterious
of the earth
and the pure unity
of an orange.

Oda a la naranja

A Semejanza tuya,
a tu imagen,
se hizo el mundo:
redondo el sol, rodeado
por cascaras de fuego:
la noche conselo con azahares
su rumbo y su navio.
Asi fue y asi fulmas,
oh tierra,
planeta anaranjado.
Somos los rayos de una sola rueda
como lingotes de oro
y alcanzando con trenes y con rios
la insoliti unidad de la naranja.

espada de otono,
a tu luz retorno,
a la desierta
el salitre lunario,
a las aristas
del metal andino,
tu contorno, tus aguas,
tus mujeres,
miro como las bosques
aves y hojas sagradas,
el trio se derrama en los graneras
y las naves navegan
por oscuros estuaries,
comprendo que eres,
una naranja,
una fruta del fuego.

En tu piel se reiunen
los paises
como sectores de una sola fruta,
y Chile, a tu costado,
los follajes azules
del Pacifica
es un largo recinto de naranjos.

Anaranjada sea
la luz
de cada
y el corazon del hombre,
sus racimos,
acido y dulce sea:
manantial de frescura
que tenga y que preserve
la misteriosa
de la tierra
y la pura unidad
de una naranja.

Ricardo Eliécer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto (1904 – 1973), better known by his pen name and, later, legal name Pablo Neruda was a Chilean poet-diplomat and politician who won the 1971 Nobel Prize in Literature. Neruda became known as a poet when he was 13 years old, and wrote in a variety of styles, including surrealist poems, historical epics, overtly political manifestos, a prose autobiography, and passionate love poems such as the ones in his collection Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair (1924).

Don’t run, go with care,
wherever it is that you go, you go alone!

Go slowly, don’t run,
because that child of yours, just born
can’t follow you.

No corras, ve espacio,
que adonde tienes que ir es a ti solo!

Ve despacio, nor corras,
que el nino de tuyo, recien nacido
no te puede seguir!

—Juan Ramon Jimenez

Light and Water

The light beyond—gold, orange, green—
among the vague clouds.

Oh, trees without leaves,
roots in the water,
branches in the light!—

Below, the water—green, orange, gold—
amid the smoky mist.

Among the vague mist, amid the smoky clouds,
water and light—; how magical—they vanish.

Luz Y Agua

La luz arriba—oro, naranja, verde—,
entre las nubes vagas.

Ay, arboles sin hojas;
raices en el agua
ramajes en las luz!—

Abajo, el agua—verde, naranja, oro—,
entre la vaga bruma.

Entre la bruma vaga, entre las vagas nubes,
luz y agua—; que majicas—se van.

—Juan Ramon Jimenez

Momentary Return

What was it, my God, what was it?
Oh, false heart, undecided mind—
Was it like the passing breeze?
Was it like the flight of spring?

So light, so fickle, so feathery,
what summer villain . . . Yes! Imprecise
like a smile lost in laughter . . .
floats in the air, like a flag!

Flag, smile, winged tuft,
spring in June, pure wind! . . .
How crazy was your carnival, how sad!

All your tricks change into nothing
—blind memory, bee of bitterness!—
I don’t know what you were, I just know you were.

Retorno Fugaz

Como era, Dios mio, como era?
—Oh, corazon falaz, mente indecisa!—
Era como el pasaje de la brisa?
Como la huida de la primavera?

Tan leve, tan voluble, tan lijera
cual estival vilano . . . Si!Imprecisa
como sonrisa que se pierde en risa . . .
Vana en el aire, igual que una bandera!

Bandera, soneir, vilano, alada
primavera de junio, brisa pura . . .
Que loco fue tu carnaval, que triste!

Todo tu cambiar trocose en nada
—memoria, ciega abeja de amargura!—
No se como eras, you que se que fuiste!

—Juan Ramon Jimenez

I would like to stop
at every beautiful thing
until I die in each one.
And in that, in the eternal, be reborn.

Yo me quisiera detener
en cada cosa bella 
hasta que morir en ella
Y en ella, en lo eterno, renacer.

—Juan Ramon Jimenez


The ship, slow but quick, at the same time, rushes ahead of the water,
but not the sky.
The blue remains, opened in living silver,
and is ahead of us again.
Fixed, the mast always rocks and turns
—like a clock’s hand always
synchronized at the same hour—
to the same stars,
hour after hour blue and black.
The body goes on, dreaming,
towards the earth that it belongs to, from the other earth
always towards its eternal dominion.


El barco, lento y raudo a un tiempo, vence el agua
mas no al cielo.
Lo azul se queda atras, abierto en plata viva,
y esta otra vez delante.
Fijo, el mastil se mece y torna siempre
—como un horario en igual hora
de la esfera—
a las mismas estrellas,
hora tras hora azul y negra.
El cuerpo va, sonando,
A la tierra que es de el, de la otra tierra
siempre por su domino eterno.

—Juan Ramon Jimenez

Juan Ramón Jiménez (23 December 1881 – 29 May 1958) was a Spanish poet, a prolific writer who received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1956 for his lyrical poetry, which in the Spanish language is exemplary of the precision of the image and a deep lyrical quality. One of Jiménez's most important contributions to modern poetry was his advocacy of the concept of "pure poetry."

Translator's Note:

A Sense of Order in the Disorder of the World: On Translating Jimenez, Lorca, and Neruda

Translating Juan Ramon Jimenez’s poem, “Fruita de mi Flor”/”Fruit of my Flower,” began some years ago when I read the poem aloud to my partner, Tevis, one afternoon after lunch, sitting opposite each other in the living room, each of us sitting in one of her armchairs upholstered in gold colored cloth, which is truly somewhat felicitous for reading a poem by Jimenez. It is one of the most spiritually accomplished of any other poem I’ve read, and is among Jimenez’s best poems. However, Jimenez has written several astonishing poems regarding “higher consciousness,” so what is the difference? There is a difference between spirituality and higher consciousness—Jimenez particularly writes memorably of both. What makes the most difference, in my mind, is that Jimenez lends “higher consciousness” to his poems, such as “Fruita,” which then makes them more integral and not just only poems regarding spirituality, especially since spirituality sometimes can certainly lack any sense of “higher consciousness.” Jimenez knew this and his practice and craft was exacting, passionate, and refined.

I had not thought I would translate my favorite poems of my favorite Spanish poets. I had come to age in an era, as a bookseller, when translation was in what I have termed a golden age. W. S. Merwin’s translation of Pablo Neruda’s Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair was issued in the late sixties, and I memorized these poems by heart. There were many fine translators of Neruda, such as Donald D. Walsh, that I read early on, but I particularly admired and enjoyed the translations of Stephen Mitchell, whom I knew when he was a graduate student at Yale.

Robert Bly was an inspired translator and someone whom I found early direction from by reading his translations of Juan Ramon Jimenez and Federico Garcia Lorca in the early 1970s. However, I found Lorca earlier than that, as I recount in an essay I wrote regarding an early teacher of mine, for whom I had to memorize verses from Lorca’s “Romance Sonambulo.” The teacher’s name was Frank Aguilera, a graduate of Bowdin College, who made a significant impression on me by his tone and style, and certainly by his passion for Lorca. If I took anything away from my studies in Spanish it was my own love for Lorca. And it was a thoroughly different experience than that with my last Spanish instructor, a virago of a woman, who derailed my love of the language by her insensitivity and belligerence as a teacher that it was for some years after my taking that class with her that I had lost interest in Spanish as a language and a culture. Although I still can claim I once read Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote in the original Castilian, I can still hear her high heels echo imperiously past my desk when she walked the row of desks past mine.

Although I was guided by my interest in poetry – guided back to Lorca first by my reading of Alan Brilliant’s translations of some of the Andalusian songs that he issued in a beautiful letterpress edition, Tree of Song, from his Unicorn Press in 1973. The selection has always just sung to me; however, I did lose sight of the chapbook for some years, only to remember that I had given my own copy away so many times that I needed to obtain another copy for myself – which I did. I propped the copy up near my writing table, and although I didn’t get to it for at least a year, when I eventually did, I heard the poems differently than in Brilliant’s translations, and began to make my own translations. This then lead to my rereading some of the work other translators had done, including and especially Bly, who despite introducing so many worthy poets to so many readers also takes, in my observation, such liberal interpretations of his own, which I believe do disservice to the poets he translates, especially Jimenez, whose purity of form, content, integrity of image, and his precision in what is elemental and sublime require a non-egoic interpretation.My translating became not only a practice but an ardor and I pursued it with zeal. After translating Lorca, whom I would return to again, I also returned to Jimenez, after translating “Fruita,” which became not only a kind of beacon but a lighthouse that also became a lodestar shining many beacons. Along the way I remembered the mystic St. John of the Cross, the superb imagistic Antonio Machado, and one of my favorite poems from any language, “Canciones de cuna de la cebolla”/”Lullabies to the Onion,” a political poem with human overtones by Miguel de Hernandez. I will always be glad that Peter Thompson, editor of Ezra: An Online Journal of Translation, asked me if I had “any de Hernandez” after reading three of my translations of Neruda’s Odes in The Montreal Review. I said I did, sent him the poem, and Peter wrote back that it was “in the file” for a future issue of Ezra. Sometimes alchemy actually does transpire.

What has happened to me, further and more deeply, is that I have come to appreciate the nuances in the authors I have translated. Jimenez’s sense of order in the disorder of the world, expressed by his predilection for perfection of image, sound, and word. Lorca’s deep roots in the “guitar” and in Duende, the mysterious dark creative force which predicates some, if not much, of Spanish poetry and song, and his nearly inimitable penchant for fairy tale. If anything in Lorca’s work that appears to be overlooked to me it is his love of the mythological but especially of what is considered to be folk tale, fable, or romance. These worlds that open out for him, and then for us, are more real for him than what most of us consider life itself. Lorca lived his life within the bounds of the extraordinary, and we can see this opacity clearly in his work – and not just the magic of it but in the alchemical aspects of it that are able to transport us to realms that are more real and impossibly more beautiful. All of that is heard in his rhythms and in his sense of song, rooted in the deep image.

Of course, there is Neruda, and the egalitarian stride of his poems, the international Whitman that emerges, the poet for everyman and everywoman. How could I pass up and not translate some of my favorite odes of his? With his breadth and depth, his sensibilities towards the sentience of life and the fullness of living, his odes, I believe, more than any of his other poems, leave their resonance in a reader’s mind, and like light shining up through the page they not only charm us but leave us spellbound with a new sense of gratitude for what I call finding the numinous in the commonplace. To realize what is right in front of us all the time and for us not to fully appreciate it is just part of the gift of the legacy of Neruda’s odes, and among their nourishment we discover the astonishment of the awareness of living. It is my own intuition and belief that the three books of odes he composed in the 1950s was possibly one of the happiest periods of Neruda’s life.

May the translations I’ve made be as rewarding to any reader as they have been for me in my making of them. If you are aware of some of these poems in other translations may mine be lanterns that might light up other corners of them for you to conceivably see and appreciate. If you are not aware of some of these poems may they be felicitous first encounters, serendipities to be savored, as I still savor them. May the music and song in these poems leave you as enraptured, in many instances, as they have left and still leave me. May they reward you with the appreciation of what it means to be human and to be fully alive – in all senses and in every way you can possibly imagine.With respect to arrangement, the poems appear largely in chronological order, as in the publication of each poet’s work, except the opening poem, which I thought best to lead the collection with, and except when juxtapositions proved to be more optimal.

May my efforts as a translator possibly come to fruition within these translations in a similar spirit in which so many years ago a vital young man from Bowdin, named Frank Aguilera, taught a Spanish class and asked his students to memorize these lines from Federico Garcia Lorca’s “Romance Sonambulo;” and introduced to especially one of them, thus equipping an improbably shy boy, with his fateful meeting with what would prove to be immemorial, and that would, as the great American metaphysical poet Jack Gilbert might say, be something that would haunt him “importantly.”

Green I want you green.
Green wind. Green branches.
The boat over the sea
And the horse on the mountain.
With a shadow along her waist
She dreams on the balcony,
Green flesh, green hair,
With eyes of cold silver.

Wally Swist (b. 1953) is the author of Huang Po and the Dimensions of Love (Southern Illinois University Press, 2012), which was selected by Yusef Komunyakaa as co-winner in the 2011 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Open Competition. He was the 2018 winner of the Ex Ophidia Press Poetry Book Prize, by a unanimous decision of the judges, for his collection A Bird Who Seems to Know Me: Poetry and Haiku about Birds and Nature (Ex Ophidia Press, 2019). Recent books include Awakening and Visitation (2020), Evanescence: Selected Poems (2020), and Taking Residence (2021), published by Shanti Arts.

His translations have been published in Abel Muse, Asymptote, Chiron Review, Chicago Quarterly Review, DASH Literary Journal, Eureka Street, Ezra: An Online Journal of Translation, The Montreal Review, Poetry London, The Ravens Perch: Adding Breath to Words, Solace: A Magazine of Diverse Voices, Transference: A Literary Journal Featuring the Art & Process of Translation, (Western Michigan University Department of Languages), and Vox Populi.

A new book, A Writer’s Statements on Beauty: New & Selected Essays & Reviews was published with Shanti Arts (2022).

Four Dates

By thirty-two, Kirill earned three times the average Moscow salary. He had a gym membership, a Hyundai Sonata, and 600 square foot apartment which he’d be able to purchase outright within the next fifteen years. He could have paid off a smaller place more quickly, but he planned to get married and have at least one kid. For a family man, Kirill reasoned, there’s no such thing as unnecessary square footage.

Kirill’s personal life, however, was stuck in a rut.

Last spring he’d broken up with Anya. They’d lived together for a year and a half, and they had been comfortable. Anya worked remotely, so she greeted him with a warm dinner every night, and regular sex suppressed the need to go after other women, making it possible to concentrate on important things. True, a couple of times Kirill had taken advantage of certain opportunities—it would have been foolish to pass them up.

When Kirill got his current position—department director at a leasing agency—and realized that he could comfortably take out a mortgage, he suddenly found unbearable Anya’s cellulite, blemish-prone skin, habit of singing along to music on her headphones, and, most of all, her absolute lack of athleticism.

Kirill was honest. He didn’t cultivate an argument as pretext for breaking up as so many people do, but said straightforwardly over dinner:

“Anya, listen, we need to break up. I know you can’t afford the rent here, so you don’t have to move out until you find another place.”

Anya put her empty fork on her plate, closed her eyes, and chewed her spaghetti for a long time. Finally, she said: “I’m so glad you said something first! It’s such a weight off…And to be honest, I had a kind of…opportunity come up. I didn’t know how to tell you.”

At first Kirill was sure this “opportunity” was a total bluff, but the next day, when Anya cheerfully gathered her things and took off in a mysterious black Camry, he was so distressed that he only managed to fall asleep late into the night after imagining her alone in a cramped, rented room.

Since then a year had passed. Everything pointed towards family life: his age, his married friends that he saw less and less, and his apartment, which didn’t lend itself to division.

Girls in bars weren’t made for serious relationships, the cute girls at the gym were all taken, and workplace romance wasn’t encouraged at his company.

Kirill understood that for an adult man who oversaw a team of ten people, read Esquire, and could do fifty pull-ups, the best way to meet someone was Tinder.

It was the end of May. In Moscow it was already possible to leave the house without a jacket, and it only started getting dark after eight p.m. Kirill booked a photoshoot in Vorontsovsky Park. He dressed to look respectable, but not boring: a light blue dress shirt, sleeves rolled up to the elbows, the two top buttons undone; slim-fitting green slacks, chestnut Top-Siders and a khaki belt. As accessories, he wore classic Wayfarers and a sports watch.

Once the photographer sent him the finished photos, Kirill downloaded Tinder and started working on his page. He sat in a catamaran in his primary photo, a carefree smile directed at the camera. His dark glasses reflected the afternoon sun. The background was sufficiently blurry that the park was unrecognizable.

Next he uploaded a few photos from the last two years that showed off his lifestyle: in one picture he rode down a ski slope; in another he raced a bike along a difficult path; in the third he flew a paraglider over Dubai; in the fourth he pet a Chow Chow on a green lawn. It wasn’t his Chow Chow, but Kirill didn’t see any deception in this—he loved dogs, and he wasn’t opposed to getting his own.He entered his height (6’1”), weight (198 lbs), and job. He didn’t bother to add anything else.

During his lunch break he didn’t go out with his colleagues. Instead, he set out for a café not far from the office. While the server put in his order for the lunch special, he opened Tinder and added his desired age range: 25 (women younger than this he considered immature) to 30 (no explanation necessary; he simply feared, as the saying goes, “a woman in her fourth decade”).

The thought of looking through every profile was appealing, but Kirill understood he needed to practice good time management. Therefore, he only read the first name to flash on the screen, “Lera, 26,” and almost automatically, as if he’d done this all his life, swiped right. Let the girls interested in him reach out first, then he’d take his pick.

When the server returned with a full tray, Kirill had already swiped through all the profiles. He had 12 matches. He stabbed some mozzarella and tomato with his fork and opened the first.

Patimat, 25. Lawyer. Graduate of Kutafin Moscow State Law University. Height: 5’8”, weight: 115 lbs. Professional studio photos, tight jeans and turtleneck. She looked like a model; even the bump on her nose didn’t spoil her looks! But…Patimat… Better not to get involved with people from the Caucasus. Even if she grew up in Moscow, undoubtedly somewhere she had bearded cousins with pistols in their pockets. Next.

Lena, 30. Realtor. To put it gently, a bit plump. And holding a doughnut in one photo… Moving on.

Diana, 26. She’d had her lips done, her chest and butt too.Carrying a shopping bag from TsUM. Occupation unclear. “I’m looking for an attentive and generous man.” Should’ve just written, “kept woman.” Nope.

Kirill chased his salad with a swig of lemonade, then started on the pasta.

Alisa, 27. Web designer. First photo: headshot. Green eyes, straight nose, freckles. Red hair gathered into a bun. Second photo, taken from above: lying in the grass. Third: on a mountain bike. Judging by her sinewy legs, it wasn’t her first ride. Another head-on photo of her riding a Vespa. In front of the Coliseum.

Kirill wrote to Alisa: “Who took the pic of you in the grass?” Alisa wrote back immediately: “My cat.” Kirill: “I thought you hacked a satellite.” While Alisa answered, he looked through a few more profiles.

Yulia, 29. Personnel Manager. …wearing heels in the mountains, yikes…..

Tatiana, 28. Analyst. Analyst of what, exactly?

Darya, 25. Eyebrows like Cara Delevingne. Snowboard grab. Nice.

Yulia, 30. Sberbank. What position at Sberbank? Chariman Graf?

Katya, 27. Aren’t you a little old for blue hair?

Marianna, 29. Black bobbed hair. Clinical research something or other…Interesting.

The girls ran out. Kirill finished eating and payed his bill. He spent the rest of the work day engrossed in chats, and by evening he had scheduled three dates over the next two days.


Alisa agreed to meet as soon as Kirill was free. She suggested Gorky Park. At first Kirill felt uncomfortable that he hadn’t chosen the place, but he was calmed by the thought that it landed him a date so quickly.

In the car Kirill took off his tie, unbuttoned his collar, rolled up his sleeves, and rumpled his hair.

He recognized Alisa immediately. This made him happy, because he’d heard that in real life girls often don’t look like their pictures on Tinder. She was wearing a colorful dress, cardigan, and white sneakers. Over her shoulder hung a laptop bag.

“Hi,” said Alisa, extending her hand. “I’m Alisa.”

“Nice to meet you. Kirill,” he shook her soft, warm hand which fit fully into his own.

They walked from the main entrance towards the pond.

“Did you come straight from the office?” asked Alisa, glancing at Kirill’s white dress shirt.

“Is it that obvious?” Kirill made a grimace.

“Not really. Just judging by the time.”

“Then yeah. I came from the office. And you,” he nodded at her laptop. “Also came from work?”

“I’m a freelancer. I was sitting with my computer here in the sculpture park.”

“Did you ever work in an office?”

“I did, yeah.”

“What’s better?”

“I like being remote. At first I thought that if I didn’t need to start work until ten, I’d sleep till lunch time then spend half the day lazing around. But I’ve got a schedule worked out. I’m up by eight to go for a run no matter the weather, then I shower, have cacao, and set to work. And after five p.m., if the project isn’t urgent, I go out.”

“Great self-discipline,” said Kirill.


“And you studied to be a designer?”

“I’m an architect by education. Initially I made a site just for myself, but then I realized that I could earn money doing it.”

They approached the Pioneer Theater, and Kirill asked: “Have you seen ‘Summer?’”

“Mhm. The usual biopic. And the actor who plays Tsoi…” She fell silent and looked straight at Kirill. “I’m an idiot. You shouldn’t tell a guy who invites you to see a film that you’ve already seen it. Nastya wouldn’t be pleased.”

“Who is Nastya?”

“My roommate.”

Kirill looked at her round green earrings and said:

“Don’t be silly. Why go and see a film a second time if you didn’t like it?”

“You’re really not offended?”

Kirill jokingly raised an eyebrow and they left the Pioneer Theater behind them.

“So you live with a friend?”

“We’re not friends. I found her through a listing. We coexist well. But we see things differently.”

“In the sense of whether or not you’d go with a guy to see a film you don’t like out of politeness?”

“Exactly.”Alisa looked into the distance and squinted. She looked like she was thinking of something, something that had been on her mind earlier. “Hey, maybe you’d like to go to The Garage? But don’t say ‘yes’ just to be polite.”

Kirill had often looked at the angular, polycarbonate covered Garage Museum, but he’d never been inside. He told Alisa as much and eagerly agreed.

Classical music played at the entrance.Drums hung from the ceiling, played by sticks that moved all by themselves. Alisa stopped under the drums for a minute or two, allowing Kirill to find the cashier and buy tickets.

“Oh, thank you.” It seemed to Kirill that she was genuinely pleased and surprised. “Let’s go in.”

They went to the second floor. Krill saw three large photographs of concrete blocks on a seashore. On the floor in front of them lay rumpled clothing: jeans, coats, t-shirts. The exhibit was titled “The Dead Sea.”

Alisa explained that it was about Libyan refugees.

“These barriers have been erected so that they can’t escape by sea. Look at how the clothing seems to have been taken from dead bodies. By the way, the entire exhibition centers on the theme of clothing.”

Kirill looked at the photograph and the clothing again. The piece was really unsettling.

In the next room stood a few dresses, layered one on top of the other. They were specifically standing, not hanging. They must have been supported by some internal frame. A screen on the wall showed a woman dressing herself in dress after dress, almost resembling an onion. Then she pulled off all of the dresses at once.

Kirill read the description. The dresses belonged to different women and symbolized the social roles imposed upon them. Kirill looked at Alisa:

“What’s the artwork here—the dresses or the video?”

“Both. The video is performance, and the dresses are sculpture.”

“How is it sculpture? She certainly didn’t sew these dresses herself.”

“So what? Michelangelo didn’t make blocks of marble either.” Alisa’s smile sparkled with delight in her off-the-cuff aphorism.

Kirill didn’t know whether she was being serious or facetious. “Well, it’s not really the same thing.”

“Of course. Art can’t be the same thing in the sixteenth century and the twenty-first century.”

“But isn’t an artist someone who creates something?”

“Exactly. It’s possible to create not just new things, but new concepts, too.”

“So, I could do it?”

“Technically, yeah. But usually even conceptualists have artistic training.”

“Why though if they’re not drawing, but instead, pulling a bunch of dresses into a bunch?”

“‘Why’?” Alisa’s voice, already high, climbed an octave: “To distinguish art from non-art.”

They walked further. Kirill saw a panel as big as a wall made of t-shirts, embroidered bomber jackets hung on aspen branches, a stuffed fox with shirts in its teeth, an elephant tusk with intriguing Indian carvings (the only exhibit that he actually enjoyed), and a slideshow with photographs of people in common street clothes: down-jackets, leopard print tops, cargo pants, and so on.

“Oof,” Kirill stopped before a crucifix made of fashionable brand name bags. “This breaks the anti-blasphemy law.”

“The anti-blasphemy law is nonsense,” Alisa sighed. “And this, by the way, doesn’t offend me.”

“Are you religious?”

Alisa nodded. After a few pointed questions Kirill extracted the following: She was Orthodox Christian, but didn’t attend Russian Orthodox Church and went instead to some independent Bulgarian Orthodox Church. Alisa spoke slowly, either because she was embarrassed or because she was trying to explain something new to Kirill. It turned out this group didn’t even have a church: services were held in the priest’s home. Alisa’s departure from the Russian Orthodox Church had something to do with the way the Moscow patriarchate acted against the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

“I’m an atheist,” Kirill blurted out, completely flummoxed. “Does that bother you?”

Alisa smiled. “It’s a personal matter.”

After the museum they wandered around the park. Alisa didn’t want to go to a café, but she didn’t object to Korean steamed buns from a kiosk. They talked about the cities they’d visited. Alisa said that she liked Rome and that Venice was depressing, though it had good museums. Kirill agreed with respect to Rome and tried to defend Venice, though not too zealously; he didn’t want to let on he’d been there with his ex.

“Can I give you a lift home?” asked Kirill when Alisa suggested they make their way to the exit.

“Just to the metro.”

Alisa sat in the passenger seat and adjusted her skirt. They drove all of two minutes.

When Alisa left, he knew he wouldn’t write to her. She wasn’t his type. Didn’t she understand—all these art installations and performances are just hype, a con? Critics had turned art into garbage, and people were afraid to call it what it was: garbage. And her church was weird. If you’re Orthodox, why not just go to a Russian Orthodox church? Sure, the priests gorged themselves on gold, but they have thousands of years of history behind them. Hers was some sort of cultish sect or something. How’d they get that apartment for their meetings? And what if he and Alisa got married, had kids? Would she drag them away to some bunker in Siberia? Better to keep his distance.


With Darya Kirill acted more assertively.He suggested they go to SnezhKom, the indoor ski center in Krasnogorsk.

At noon on Saturday he pulled up to Darya’s building and sent her a text. She answered “Coming down” and, a few minutes later, out of the entrance door popped a neon green snowboard. Kirill slid out of the car.

“Hi,” he took the snowboard from her hands. “I’m Kirill.”

“Hi. I’m Dasha.”

She was wearing canvas sneakers, shorts, a green hoodie, mirror-lens Aviators, and on her back, a large duffel bag.

Kirill secured the snowboard on top of the car next to his skis and set her bag in the backseat. He opened the front passenger door for Darya, then returned to his place behind the wheel.

“That’s some serious equipment,” Darya said once they were on the road.

“I bought the car for skiing,” replied Kirill. “Gotta transport all this stuff somehow.”

“For sure. That’s why I chose the board, so I didn’t have to lug around with me four, wait…what four? Six things! And you skiers, you have those boots that are impossible to move in.”

Kirill smiled and nodded. He was flattered by the expression “you skiers,” how it stressed his membership in the brotherhood of ski-enthusiasts.

“By the way, can I see them?”

“Of course.”

Darya unbuckled her seatbelt, climbed onto her knees in the seat and turned around to face the back.

“In this bag?” she asked.

“Mhm,” Kirill noticed her taut abdomen peeking out from under her hoodie. Darya turned back with the bag in her hands, unzipped it, and removed a shiny dark blue ski boot.

“This is what I’m talking about.” She turned the boot around and snapped the fastenings. “Geeze, they’re heavy. I tried them on once. I felt like Optimus Prime.”

Kirill laughed. He liked how happy this girl was, liked her figure, liked that she was touching his things.

They pulled up to SnezhKom.Darya leaned down to get a better look at the shiny building sliding towards the sky.

“So you’ve really never seen this before?”

“Dude, I’ve been in Moscow for less than a year. I’ve only gone snowboarding in Sparrow Hills.”

“You’re from…?”


“Really? You don’t sound like it.”


“Nothing.” Kirill understood he’d made a mistake. “I was just saying.”

Getting out of the car, Darya, it seemed, had already forgotten the offense.

“It looks cool,” she said before throwing her head back and giggling. “I mean, not cool, but cold…well, you get it.”

“Yep, very punny,” Kirill smiled as he pulled the snowboard and bags out of the car.

“I’ll take mine,” said Darya. Kirill handed over her bag: “I’ll give you your board when we’re inside.”

Darya returned from the dressing room in a pink and white jumpsuit and replaced her aviators with snow goggles. They rested on her forehead over her beanie, so Kirill could finally see her thick eyebrows.

“I don’t think you’ll need the goggles,” he said. “It’s not very bright up there.”

They entered the ski area. There wasn’t much of a crowd, or snow, either. They sat in the lift chair. Darya looked around.

“It’s so weird to see summer through the window.”

At the top she said, “It’s not a very difficult run.”

“Well, yeah,” Kirill admitted. “It’s not Tyrol.” He took a deep breath of cold air. “Shall we?”

“You first. I want to watch you from up here.”

Kirill pushed off with his poles and confidently, but without any flair, set off down the slope. At the bottom he turned to face the summit, waved to Darya, and watched how she swiftly came to meet him.

They traded compliments, noted imperfections in the course (in a few places the snow gave way to ice), then sat once more on the lift.

“I should confess,” said Darya, “That grab in my picture took me ten tries.”

“Well, skiing isn’t my field of expertise either.”

“Well, which sport is your field of expertise?” asked Darya. “Track?”

They both laughed.

“Actually, it’s basketball. I played for my university team.”

“Which school?”


Darya raised her eyebrows as if to say, “very nice…”

The second time down Kirill did the slalom run.

“Ooh la la,” said Darya, sitting at the bottom in the snow. “Hey, there’s something I’ve been wondering for a long time…Is it a… problem if you run into them? The flags I mean.”

“Believe me,” said Kirill, “Everything down below is just fine.”

Darya laughed as she climbed to her feet, and once again they headed for the lift.

“And so, your strong suit?”

“Meaning?” Darya didn’t immediately recall the interrupted conversation. “Oh, right. Well, probably rock climbing. And it’s proven really useful in my life. I earned money as a university student doing cable installation. Fiber optics, stuff like that. And once I scaled a wall to get out of a crowd.””

“What crowd?”

“The rally on Pushkinskaya. When the storm troopers arrived I got up on a ledge, scaled a pipe and, well, climbed out of there. I pulled my friend out, too.”

“Why were you there?”

Darya raised, then furrowed her brows.

“I went to protests even when I lived in Chelyabinsk. I was an election observer, too. It’s social activism.”

They jumped off at the top.

“Ok then, miss observer,” he said. “Let me observe you from here.”

Darya didn’t admire the word play. She silently clipped into her board, started down the slope, launched herself off a ramp and, after flipping through the air, landed smoothly. Kirill followed her and likewise successfully landed his jump.

“And so, you like our current government?” Darya restarted the conversation.

“Not really. It’s corrupt, sure, but isn’t that the case everywhere? I don’t think protests will make it better. We’ll have our own Maidan situation, chaos—the country will fall apart. At least now we have some stability. Let them keep stealing. At least they don't interfere in people's lives.”

“How are they not interfering?” Darya spluttered and grew red. “What about the repression?”

“Who are they repressing?”

“Those who are against them.”

Kirill bent over and stretched.

“Look,” he said, “You say that the ruling party is bad for people, that it represses the people who go against it, and these people are against it because it’s bad… It’s a vicious cycle, you know? A logical fallacy.”

“It doesn’t need to be vicious. Complaints against the government aren’t frivolous. The war on Ukraine—”

“Ah, c’mon. It’s natural for countries to act in their own geopolitical interest. And NATO was threatening military action.”

Darya opened her mouth, but instead of words, all that left her lips was the steam of her breath.

“Do you want some hot chocolate?” asked Kirill, tiring of their argument.

“No,” Darya moved towards the lift. Kirill knew the date was a failure. Well, fine. The last thing he needed was to bail her out of jail. And if he went to a protest to look after her, they could take him in, too. What would it do to his career? His company was private, but the top boss was a loyalist—he had a picture of the president in his office.

Kirill went down the slope first. The course was pleasantly predictable. Darya remained behind, buckling into her snowboard.


The restaurant was in the Novinsky Passage shopping center. Marianna arrived at almost the same time as Kirill. She wore jeans, burgundy patent leather brogues, a white t-shirt, and a dark blue blazer. She carried her car keys in her hand, tucking them into her pocket as she approached the table. She didn’t have a purse.

Kirill stood up from the cushioned bench.



Kirill shook her outstretched hand, then moved towards the chair.

“Are you leaving to go somewhere?” Marianna held the back of the chair.

“I thought you’d want the bench.

“Sit,” Marianna shook her head. “It’s ok. I like the chair.”

They sat.

“I’ve never been here before,” said Marianna, looking at the plush alpacas on the wall.

“I’ve been once. It’s Latin American, but they have sushi.”

“In Moscow you can get sushi even in a pizza place,” Marianna smiled.

Kirill ordered tuna with avocado, and Marianna—lemon sole ceviche. They drank herbal tea, since they were both driving.

“I Googled ‘clinical research associate.’ As I understand it, you look for irregularities in medicines that are still in clinical trials.”

Marianna nodded.

“So tell me, as someone in the pharma business…”

“I’m listening,” Marianna leaned forward.

“Does homeopathic medicine work?”

Marianna inhaled.

“Not any better than a placebo, even when discounting that it’s fake. There are no active ingredients.”

“And so what’s sold to us then?”

Marianna waved a packet of sugar in the air.

Kirill smiled. Marianna took a sip of tea and wiped her lips with a napkin. “So, what are you reading right now?”

“Tony Robbins,” answered Kirill. “Awaken the Giant Within.”

“Okay,” Marianna moved her tongue over her teeth under her lips. “What was the last work of literature you read?”

“A couple of months back I read The Romantic Egoist.”

“Ah, Beigbeder. I liked his phrase that went something like, ‘If your dream easily comes true, then it’s nonsense, and not a dream.’”

Marianna was pleasant and inviting. Kirill wanted to be next to her, not across from her.

“And you? What are you reading right now?”

There Was No Adderall in the Soviet Union by Olga Breininger.”

“Don’t know it.”

“She’s a contemporary Russian authoress who grew up in Kazakhstan, lived in Germany …”

Kirill’s ears were ringing as if a microphone had been placed next to a speaker. He interrupted Marianna. “A contemporary what, you said?!”

The ringing stopped. Marianna froze.

“That is,” Kirill said a bit more calmly, “What did you call her? This Veininger.”

“Authoress,” answered Marianna, looking straight at Kirill.“I know it sounds unusual. But after you say it or hear it fifty times or so, you get used to it.”

“But why get used to words like those?”

Marianna straightened and drew her elbows to her sides. The fork in her hand was raised like a trident.

“Because of equality. The majority of professions only have masculine names. It suggests that women in these roles are there accidentally.”

“So, by profession you are a…” Kirill looked to either side, rolled his tongue around his mouth and said at half volume: “‘doctoress?’”

Marianna nodded.

“But it’s so ugly!”

“Why? We have the word ‘laundress.’ But no one says ‘launderer’ because men weren’t doing the washing.”

Kirill no longer felt like sitting next to Marianna. Before him was one of those women whose existence he’d barely believed in; he gazed at her with curiosity and apprehension.

“So you’re a feminist or something?”

“It’s time I put it in my profile.”

“Why do we need feminism in the twenty first century?” he asked. “To think up new words?”

“What a question.” Marianna waved her fork. “Feminists fight against workplace inequality, sexual harassment…”

“Workplace inequality? Discrimination is illegal.”

“How many employees do you have?”


“And how many of them are women?”


“See. And you are the boss.”

“You mean to say, I’m the boss because I’m a man?”

“I don’t know how you built your career. But the fact remains that it is harder for women to attain leadership positions, even where they are the majority. Take my profession, for example. The majority of those who enroll in medical school are women, yet the head doctors are almost exclusively men. Strange, isn’t it?”

“Maybe these girls are less focused on professional success? They’re thinking about family, kids.”

“Certainly not all of them. And this, by the way, is a separate problem—girls are told from childhood that the most important thing for them is to get married and have children.”

Kirill grimaced internally.

“Fine. But what’s this about sexual violence? That’s also a crime.”

“Yes, but how often does it get to court? Victims fear speaking up because society blames them, not their attackers.”

“Hold on. It seems we have a different understanding of sexual assault. If a girl is walking alone on a dark street and some guys come out of the alley—that’s rape, no argument. But if she goes out drinking, then later says what happened to her was unexpected, I just don’t believe it.”

Marianna exhaled so strongly that it extinguished the candle on the table. She fished around in the pocket of her jeans and her blazer for a few seconds before finding a thousand ruble note and laying it on the table.

“You know, Kirill,” she said as she stood up. “It’s best if I go. I wouldn’t want to lead you on by drinking tea with you.

Kirill watched as Marianna crossed the restaurant with quick steps, turned at the bar and disappeared. A few of the neighboring tables glanced at him, but he was calm, even cheerful. Marianna was, no question, the worst of them. Good thing they didn’t even have a one-night stand—she likely didn’t shave her legs.


On Sunday morning Kirill went to the gym, worked on his back and his biceps, came home, ate some fat free cottage cheese, then looked through Tinder again.

He didn’t like multiple profiles in a row anymore. Instead he carefully studied the girls who caught his eye. He Googled quotes in their profiles, and he swiped left if it was a Bible verse. He avoided lawyeresses and chairwomyn (though he only encountered them twice), and recoiled from anyone with an artistically inclined profession. He rejected even the most attractive girls if their Instagram had political memes.He enlarged their summer photos, rigorously inspecting them for leg or armpit hair (to his satisfaction, he never found any). He didn’t like a girl’s profile even if he found everything about her attractive but she didn’t have at least one photo in a skirt.

After an hour he liked just five girls and only matched with one. Her name was Irina. She was 28. She worked as an acquisitions manager for a chain of shoe stores. She was a suntanned brunette with blue eyes and dimpled cheeks. Her Instagram was full of short travel videos, gym selfies, professional photos, and still life shots in cafes.

Kirill left his car in the parking garage of the Arcadia shopping mall and walked to the corner of Klimentovsky and Ordynka. Irina was 20 minutes late, giving him time to come up with questions that he planned to slip into their conversation unexpectedly. It was crowded. To help Irina find him, Kirill messaged: “I'm wearing a blue sweater.”

Irina turned up in a little black dress, collarbones exposed, and black pumps. In her left hand she carried a square silver clutch.

“Well, hello.” As they shook hands, she stood on tiptoe and gently turned her head. Kirill immediately understood her gesture and symbolically kissed her on the cheek.

“Coco Mademoiselle,” he said.

“You’re good. Oh, I forgot to apologize for being late.”

“It’s ok. Who expects a woman to be on time?”

“True. So, where to?”

“Let’s walk over to Pyatnitskaya, and there we can pick a spot for dinner.”

They slowly walked down the lane.

“Hey,” Kirill started. “It didn’t bother you, what I said about women?”

“What specifically?”

“Well, that they, that is, you, are always late.”

“Of course not. It’s true.”

“Some might call it sexism.”

“Feminists, you mean?”


“I don’t like feminism. What woman in her right mind would reject her feminine privileges? I want my extra 20 minutes to twirl in front of the mirror.” Irina waved the hand not holding her clutch. “Feminists want all women to be like coal miners.”

Kirill gave a murmur of approval.

“So, you won’t be calling yourself a ‘manageress’?”

“Ugh, where did you get that horrible word?!”

The bells of Saint Clement began to ring. Kirill seized the opportunity and asked: “Do you go to church?”

“I went with my grandmother when I was little. And you?”

“Not even remotely religious.”.

They wandered around Pyatnitskaya, then returned to Klimentovsky and stopped at an Italian café where a table had just opened up.

“Shall we drink?” offered Irina.

“I’m driving.”

“Where did you park?” Irina turned to look down the alley and flipped the hair covering her neck over her shoulder.

“There,” Kirill nodded in the direction of the Arcadia.

“Well, I don’t have a car yet, so I’ll have a glass of wine.”

Irina ordered a glass of chardonnay and mushroom risotto. Kirill had ravioli and fruit juice.

During a pause in the conversation Kirill complimented Irina on her tan.

“Thank you,” Irina stretched out her arms and gazed at them.“I’ve just come back from Cyprus. The birthplace of Aphrodite.”

“You do look like you’ve just stepped out of the seafoam.”

Irina adjusted the top of her dress, and the conversation turned to the topic of the beach.

“In our country the only decent beaches are in Crimea,” said Kirill, seizing the opportunity.

“They’re nice.” Nothing in Irina’s voice or actions suggested protest. Kirill beamed inside.

It was chilly when they left the café, so Kirill draped his sweater over Irina’s shoulders. On the walk to the car he told her about an amusing thing that happened to him in this part of town during the World Cup. Kirill was watching the Mexico-Germany game with some Germans in a local bar and wound up speaking Spanish with a Tadjik whom he took for a Mexican. As Kirill talked, he acted it out, infusing the story with German and Spanish phrases. Irina laughed. At one point, to stop a fall, she grabbed his hand.

“So, where do you live?” asked Kirill when they were seated in the car.

“On Alekseevskaya,” answered Irina. “But I have roommates.”

Kirill arrived at work two hours late. His position allowed for this, but he was disappointed that no one thought to ask what held him up. Of course, he wouldn’t have launched into detail, but he’d have eloquently narrowed his eyes and nodded his head so his male colleagues, knowingly, could wink in approval.

While he waited for the computer to warm up, Kirill’s memory replayed details from the previous night: a bottle of Sauvignon from the wine shop, Irina’s hand on the TRIANGLE speaker, Chris Rea-Mark Knopfler-Joe Cocker, black ivy on her lower back… In the morning Kirill woke to a kiss by his ear and the smell of fried eggs floating in from the kitchen. Irina was barefoot, but happy she hadn’t found any women’s slippers in the house. She said that her schedule was open, she wasn’t in a rush, she wanted to go to Cappadocia in September, and Kirill’s fridge was rather empty and the living room needed a plant or two. Then came a shower, a quick detour to Irina’s office, and one more kiss on the lips.

Kirill opened the window, then sat down and reclined in his chair. After the coffee Irina had made for him that morning, his mind was clear: he wouldn’t invest in this relationship. If a girl goes home with a man on the first date she can’t be a good wife. But—for now at least—he’d keep her around, just in case….

Kirill answered a few work emails, then opened Tinder. He knew finding a wife in Moscow wouldn’t be easy. He should prepare for a lengthy search. And of course, better not to plan more than two dates a week, otherwise he’d go broke.

Azamat Gabuev was born in 1985 in Vladikavkaz. He has been living in Moscow since 2015, where he works as a lawyer. His stories have been published in Russian literary journals including Darial, Oktiabr, and Druzhba Narodov, as well as Russian Esquire. He has been longlisted for two literary prizes in Russia: in 2009, the Neformat prize, and in 2011, the Debyut prize. In 2018, EKSMOpublished his first book A Cold Day in the Sun, which was shortlisted in 2019 for the Fiction35 literary prize. One of his stories was published in English translation in Another Chicago Magazine in 2020. In 2021 he was the Fulbright visiting Scholar at Cornell University. During this visit he wrote his second novel, which is being negotiated now.

Translator's Note:

Civil rights in Russia have a long and complicated history that reaches well into our current moment. While abroad Putin’s regime wages war on Ukraine, at home it wages war on its citizens: The LGBTQ+ community has neither rights nor recognition, and any entity that does not fully align with the regime may be said to be “under foreign influence,” subject to fines and shut down. Even pro-Putin citizens are not safe; domestic battery was decriminalized in 2017, leaving victims without legal recourse. Since that time, Russian citizens have been fighting against the legal protections afforded to abusive partners. This is only one aspect of a crucial, earnest struggle for representation and equal participation in a deeply patriarchal society. In the story “Four Dates,” Azamat Gabuev targets Russian patriarchal culture with his satirical prose.

Gender equality is an issue of great importance everywhere, and while its urgency is equal the world over, linguistic strategies to address it are not. The primary challenge in translating this text was negotiating the opposing linguistic conventions of Russian and English feminism. In English, a language practically devoid of grammatical gender, feminine suffixes have been phased out in favor of gender neutral options. For example, ‘waitress’ has been replaced by ‘server.’ In Russian, a language heavily inflected with grammatical markers, women seek to assert and amplify their presence and value in male-dominated industries—and society at large—by leaning in to feminine suffixation. Though gendered endings are common for words such as ‘student’ or ‘athlete,’ many professions, and especially positions of prestige and power, are exclusively marked as male. Consequently, feminists assert themselves via the insertion of the feminine substantive (noun) suffix (most commonly ‘-ka’) where it does not naturally occur, and thus advokat (lawyer) becomes advokatka.

My challenge lay in maintaining the element of neologistic feminine self-reference without folding in a sense of kitsch. It would be a disservice to misrepresent the linguistic practices of Russian feminists—their goal is to take up more space through feminine suffixation, after all—but the Moscow setting of the story isn’t sufficient support when, to the English reader, these suffixes can sound old fashioned. My solution was fusion of traditions: I tried to lay claim to traditionally genderless professions through endings that rendered them both female and ‘new,’ as in the Russian style, while the spelling of a gendered post—chairwomen—assumed the orthography of English-language feminism, replacing ‘-men’ with ‘-myn.’

The dates take place in and around Moscow, yet the exchanges between Kirill and the women he meets could very easily take place in the United States and elsewhere. Unlike grammatical conventions, confident women look very much the same no matter where they are.

Elaine Wilson is a literary translator and PhD candidate in the Department of Slavic Languages at Columbia University. Her translation of Azamat Gabuev's short story, "Son," was published in Another Chicago Magazine, and her translation of Ukrainian poet and dancer Anton Ovchinnikov's poetry has been published with the Movement Research Performance Journal. In the Fall of 2022Elaine was invited to serve as a translator for the PEN/Penn "Your Language My Ear" RussianPoetry Translation Project in Yerevan, Armenia. Her translations of selected poems by the participating poets Ruthie Jenrbekova and Konstantin Shavlovsky are forthcoming in a special issue of World Literature Today. Elaine lives in New York City.

Translated by Elaine Wilson

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