Letter from the Editor


It’s hard to believe more than a year has passed since I started working as Editor of Alchemy. One of the most important goals when I took on this role was to continue the legacy of the journal. Namely, to grow as a venue for student writers to publish rigorous literary translations, to provide readers with a space where they could find fiction and poetry from around the world, to open a window. And now that I’m coming to the end of this period, it’s with a certain level of pride and sadness that I write my last letter as Editor.

But let me first tell you what we have in store for Issue 5. We have Leah House presenting her translations of contemporary Chinese poet Wu Ang. Ming Holden offers her renditions of Juan Soros’ poetry, the pseudonym Chilean writer Edmundo Condon used for his second book of poems. Kristina Helena Reardon presents her translations of awarded Slovenian fiction writer Lili Potpara. And our cover art showcases Eve Survillo’s work, a Bay-Area-to-Brooklyn transplant currently studying art at NYU.

Also in Issue 5, Jennifer Croft shares with the readers of Alchemy some of the results of her ongoing collaboration with Lucas Mertehikian, one of Argentina’s most interesting younger writers. And we always like to receive international submissions; this time around we have Charlotte Yiu, from the University of Hong Kong, presenting her translation of “The Drunkard” by Liu Yi-Chang. And rounding out Issue 5 we have Claudio Sansone from Trinity College, Dublin, who offers two poems from Boris Vian and one from Pedro Salinas.

I would like to take a moment to extend my gratitude to Alchemy’s Editorial Staff. It has been a pleasure to work alongside Bella Brody, Monica Yimeng Geng, Adrianna Wu, Tipkretar Sirisarnsombat, and Jacob Valadez. And it would be impossible not to mention Mika Kennedy’s immense contribution to the growth of the project. This journal would not be possible without the commitment and perseverance of the Alchemy team.

Finally, I would like to thank Prof. Amelia Glaser, creator of the Alchemy project, for her ongoing support and patience. I would also like to extend my gratitude to the Faculty Advisory Board and the Literature Department at UCSD, as well as to all of our contributors during the last year. It takes a whole community of people devoted to literary translation to inject life into a student journal. I’m happy to have been a part of the process.

And now, a new period. Entering Editors Paola Capó-García and Pepe Rojo come with exciting and innovative ideas, and are already working on Issue 6. I can’t wait to see the results. The future looks good. Our window is still here.

Welcome to Issue 5.

Jose Antonio Villarán, Editor

I am twenty-three years old


1.
I am twenty-three years old
but today I played in the sea
like I was ten, eleven
at best.
I blasted through the waves until I reached the shore
and then I went back in
leaping over the foam.
More than once I stumbled
upon some pits of sand
that stretched out underwater.
The sea here is tepid
and if I was completely underwater I could escape
the wind from the coast.
Dad stayed on the shore
without taking off his shirt,
with his black glasses on.
He was standing with his legs apart
at the width of his shoulders
and his hands together behind his back,
on his belt.
Every so often he would move his arms
to give me signals that I come up.
The sea was rough, and when I wasn’t trying,
the current, very slowly,
carried me out.

2.
Two kids hide
underneath the waves
from their dad’s sight.
One is a teenager, and the other is
less than twelve years old.
When the sea foam retreats
they barely lift their heads
to breathe and see the man
getting anxious on the beach.
From his lounge chair, blocking the sun
with the palm of his hand,
he tries to see them
on the horizon.
I did it too,
one summer in Pinamar
before I started junior high.
Dad got upset and I was grounded
for the three days we had left of our vacation,
stuck in an apartment
that didn’t have A.C.
My parents and the girls would get in at noon
to eat on the balcony.
We would all have lunch together, and they
would go back to the beach.
On my headphones the noise of the water
gets tangled up with a song by the Beatles,
but I can’t remember the name.
McCartney’s soft voice tells someone to please
step inside his house.
Now the guy comes running into the water,
darting around the people on the shore.
The two kids laugh
just on the other side
of where the waves break.

3.
It’s winter, and although it’s hot
it gets dark early.
Today at four o’clock in the afternoon the sun
had already quit shining on the coast.
The only person left in the sea was a surfer girl
sitting on her board.
She had her legs in the water
up to her knees.
Her blond hair slicked back, damp,
looked like it was glued
to her wetsuit.

4.
At night we go out for a walk
along the coastal highway.
It’s hot, and on the beach side
there’s not even any breeze.
The stones on the ground are white, and they’re decorated
by circles in colored paving stones.
They’re on vacation here,
And the pedestrian area fills with people
all the way to the part with the restaurants.
There are also artisans and painters
that sell their prints on the street.
On the sea they always sketch
little wooden boats
but so far while I’ve been here
I haven’t seen a single one.
Other people sell tours
to go and see the sand dunes
or go swimming with the dolphins.
In among the electric wires in the sky
bats flutter.
“It’s because of the heat,”
Dad says.
“I never saw so many of them
as that time in Seville,”
Mom says.
I walk faster
without looking up,
and my sister asks further on
what the price is of a bracelet.

5.
While we wait for a flight
that’s been delayed to land
the Argentines start to gather
in front of Gate Eight.
Behind me, a man notes
with astonishment
that he saw costing eighty pesos
the wine that he buys in Buenos Aires
for thirty-five per bottle.

6.
We came thousands of kilometers
to get away from the cold.
And we did it. What do we take away from this?
We have sunburns
and highlights in our hair.
I packed two kilos of cashews
covered in caramel.
We can still
look each other in the eye.
Talking over dinner I expounded heatedly
upon an idea for a doctoral dissertation
that I am never going to write.
Mom was listening to me attentively and Dad
asked several questions when I got done.
The plane that brought us back
passed through a large area of turbulence.
Outside it was dark, and out the window
you couldn’t see anything but the intermittent light
of one of the wings.
Next to me a guy started reading
the safety precautions that the airline provides.
My little sister muttered, glancing at him out of the corner of her eye,
what an idiot.


By Lucas Mertehikian
translated, from the Spanish, by Jennifer Croft


 
Jennifer Croft is a translator, writer, and literary critic. She is a Founding Editor of the Buenos Aires Review.

Lucas Mertehikian is a poet, translator, and editor from Buenos Aires, Argentina. He is Associate Editor of the Buenos Aires Review and Managing Editor of Dakota Press.
 

In a tomb I build my house, and in the dark


I.

In a tomb I build my house, and in the dark
I make my bed; I have made a pact
with my eyes, “The eyes of those who see me
will see me no more: your eyes
will be on me, and I
will cease to be.”

(To See)

The promise is usually
to condemn. Worship, fallen to the earth,
about my ripped cloak, shorn and naked
as I left my mother’s womb cloaked in blood
and crying; as I return
stumbling over the dark, groping
at midday.

Percussion of air, a stowaway
arrives – the guide
does not remember the morning
in which he found Tiresias abandoned
on the road – until the Soul
in the hearing.

Closed, from birth,
First Door
of comprehension, ache and light.

The vague sound articulated
without matter, existing
in the middle of time, enters

into the potency of the soul
that holds the past, this clear part
of the intelligible world, one
of the two unequal sections;

Your home and your echoes
for the rumor that is echo,
in each of the tempest’s breaths,
in each breathe of mine, your water
always changes, the river
remains.

It only persists in memory or on paper, persists
like the souls of my dead ones within my soul,
and that is enough.

II.

Scar of embers surrounding
these basins,
where the saliva in your hand does not encounter
tears, is the spare word
caressing.

O sancta simplicitas: John in flames,
bring logs back to my pyre;
because now I see the men, I see them like trees,
but they walk.

More sticks, more fire, more
light for these eyes.

Bring the hand once again
to the face of this stranger, Vexed
with God, again and again. Who could
stop the voices? Who would want
to stop them? Paroxysm of sound,
anxious, eager for spells, speeches,
words, more.

Man of Hus,
bring wood back to my pyre;
don’t bring weeds, which burn so quickly and smoke,
go and come back again, go once more,
because I see bodies, they look like tombs,
but they walk.

More sticks, more fire, more.

The demons form flames, tongues
of fire, tearing my skin with words
and the meat does not want cover any longer.

He who inflicts the wound is
he who tends to it; sore
from the sole of the foot
to the crown of my head, and a fang
to scratch (out) the scab, which is renewed. The air
sings of the flesh, the blood cools and I cannot
avoid the sticky ashes. I walk
without cease around the landfill.

(I don’t need a mirror to see
the prosecutor among my embers
of purging, and hear his voice
like an echo)

To stumble while roaming under
the seizure threshold, sweating,
and in the reflection of a column
polished by the mouths of pilgrims, I see
the one addicted to light.


By Juan Soros
translated, from the Spanish, by Ming Holden


 
Ming Holden is an international development worker and writer whose first book, a nonfiction work about a theater group she founded in Nairobi for refugee women called The Survival Girls, came out in 2013.

Juan Soros (1975-) is an industrial engineer and a Ph.D. candidate in Hispanic American literature at the Universidad Complutense in Madrid. He has published the poetry volumes Tanatorio (2002), Cineraria (2005), and Tarsis (2010). He is the director of the Transatlántica/Portbou poetry collection.

Honeymoon


One whole September
I was never without him
So much so I frequently turned my head to look around
for fear there was a shadow following me
Waves lapping on the island
schools of fish in the water
we gradually grew bored with looking
sunrises and sunsets were nothing unnatural
the restaurant’s owner treats us
like his long lost friends
each time pretending so
must be difficult for him

I say: Noodles
He says: Rice
there’s also a shared bowl of soup
during this honeymoon we should treat each other as honored guests
so I ladle him some soup
he also ladles me some

In the forest is a peculiar bird
That at midnight starts to trill
I think: That’s another day over with
What is he thinking
I don’t know

Endless honeymoon
that bird still sings in the forest
it thinks nobody knows
but I’m in the forest listening closely
I don’t dare turn my head to look around
for fear that behind me
he has replaced my shadow


By Wu Ang
translated, from the Chinese, by Leah House


 
Leah House is majoring in Asian Studies with a concentration on Chinese language at the University of Michigan. She also studies Spanish Literature.

Wu Ang is a female contemporary Chinese poet born in China’s Fujian Province in 1974. She later attended Shanghai’s prestigious Fudan University, and proceeded to attain a postgraduate degree in contemporary Chinese fiction at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Her writing is recognized by its simplicity in vocabulary which she says is because she feels complicated words take away from a poem’s main ideas.
 

There Were Two Sleepless Nights


There were two sleepless nights
that carried the sound of imaginary footsteps
little by little
I sat up in bed
I opened the door
I saw you
your hair was damp
the unripe flavor of tree leaves
are you my olive tree
or are you my pigeon
are you my
straw hat forgotten in Spain
or the unpronounceable name of Roman airport

Where were you grown, carrot
what flavor of coffee are you
are you the water in sugar?
Do you stay here
for the sake of moonlight underfoot
or for sunny cliffs

Here
Beijing has brightened
its alleyways
for me
are a freshly spread map
I seem to not have a reason
to feel depressed over you

Because you
are brighter than they
Your ordinary love
is brighter than all of them
and it hurts my eyes

There is nothing I can do to make you fade away
if you do not agree
I am unable to make you nod or shake your head
Like a naughty student put in the corner
I willingly
accept your damp kiss


By Wu Ang
translated, from the Chinese, by Leah House


 
Leah House is majoring in Asian Studies with a concentration on Chinese language at the University of Michigan. She also studies Spanish Literature.

Wu Ang is a female contemporary Chinese poet born in China’s Fujian Province in 1974. She later attended Shanghai’s prestigious Fudan University, and proceeded to attain a postgraduate degree in contemporary Chinese fiction at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Her writing is recognized by its simplicity in vocabulary which she says is because she feels complicated words take away from a poem’s main ideas.
 

In an African city


I.

In an African city,
   In Cartagena where I live,
In the small and narrow street,
   So narrow you can barely believe it;
I can reach with my hand the balcony
   Of the neighbors across the street.
There, the lovely daughter sits
   Blossoming with youth,
So rich, powerful and fiery.
   Now the Mother loosens her braid
Of the long, coal black hair;
   It reaches down to her feet.
Her shoulders are like the antique,
   And her eyes like lightning bolts;
It is almost not possible
   To endure this sight.
From Africa the air burns
   And my blood contains fire; –
Now I will extinguish the lamp
   And every word with it.

II.

With castanets they dance,
   their only music;
They gaze at each other in the eye,
   It is an intoxicating drink.
They whirl about as if Maenads,
   everything gracefully adept;
O what infinite beauty
   is there in the human race!
Both flowers: one a carnation, the other a garnet!
   In the dance they live and grow.
You two, who became the chosen subjects of art,
   are overcome in this dance.

III.

How the heaven shines with stars! Each one I know;
Friends from home, how they sparkle here!
They send a breeze, so fresh and so mild,
A cool drink in the midst of burning fire,
A puff of wind over the glowing sand,
Seems like a kiss from the Danish land!

IV.

How my thoughts fly to tomorrow!
Eternal life is uncertain;
My body will become a sunken wreck,
But a drop in Eternity’s fount,
My life is on earth! A blink and it’s over!
My thoughts have fought a battle so great,
In it Our Lord was present.
– My childhood’s sacred “Lord’s Prayer”
Be now my resting comfort.
I close my eyes to eternal rest,
And to clarity in God and faith.


By Hans Christian Andersen
translated, from the Danish, by Arendse Lund


 
Arendse Lund is a writer and translator. Her current endeavor is to translate Hans Christian Anderson’s lesser-known works and make his poetry accessible to an English-speaking audience.

Hans Christian Andersen (1805 – 1875) was a Danish author best remembered for his fairy tales, though he also wrote novels, plays, travelogues, and poems.
 

In Order to Live I Do Not Need


In order to live I do not need
islands, palaces, towers.
What a great joy it is:
to live among pronouns!
Take off the costumes, already,
the gestures, the portraits;
I don’t want you so,
unmasked by others,
always someone else’s daughter.
I want you pure, free,
irreducible: you.
I know that when I will call to you
among all the people
of the world,
only you will be you.
And when you ask me
who it is that is calling you,
who wants you for his own,
I will bury the titles,
the labels, the history.
I will go breaking all
that which they threw onto me
since before I was born.
And already turned to the eternal
anonymity of the nude,
of stone, of the world,
I will say to you:
“I love you, it is me.”


By Pedro Salinas
translated, from the Spanish, by Claudio Sansone


 
Claudio Sansone is a Foundation Scholar in English Studies at Trinity College Dublin. He has published a number of poems, academic articles, and a short story. He is currently the editor of Icarus (Ireland’s oldest creative writing publication) and the Trinity Journal of Literary Translation. He will be starting his PhD research in the U.S. in the coming academic year.

Pedro Salinas y Serrano (1891 – 1951) was a Spanish poet, a member of the Generation of ’27.
 

Fins


The Siren is a beast, usually blonde
That chooses a corner for herself in a much-frequented sea
And spreads herself upon a great rock
On the lookout for hardy sailors
With intentions that are beyond nautical.

The siren yells like a polecat
Apparently, to reel in the men
But in reality, with the end of also proving
That she is not really a fish.

In spite of this inferiority complex
She never hesitates to make advances on fat, hairy captains
But the Siren is not vain
For following Monsieur Dufrenne
She knows that sailors face (inevitably) awful deaths.


By Boris Vian
translated, from the French, by Claudio Sansone


 
Claudio Sansone is a Foundation Scholar in English Studies at Trinity College Dublin. He has published a number of poems, academic articles, and a short story. He is currently the editor of Icarus (Ireland’s oldest creative writing publication) and the Trinity Journal of Literary Translation. He will be starting his PhD research in the U.S. in the coming academic year.

Boris Vian (1920-1959) was a French writer, engineer, and musician who was an extremely importance influence within the French jazz scene.
 

Desert Island


The children of today
When they are between fifteen and twenty
Are sad and quiet
Afraid of of vicious old men
They get bored in cafés
And nothing makes an effect on them
And when you speak softly to them
At first they are still afraid
And after, little by little they open up
And they dare reply to you
The young men they say
There are no jobs
We cannot accept
To work for our food
And then there will be war
And we are sick of waiting
The trees are green with tender eyes
The sun is out, and in fifty years
We will have skin so thick
That it will not be crossed again
And to what end, to what end
We will have become old or crippled
And will no longer gain from it
And the women
They will not love the men
A man can hurt them
Can buy them, leave them, can have his child with them
We must work, they are so pretty
We will sink ourselves
The unattractive women don’t have any problems
Or at least their problems are resolved
They think of other things: those that pass by
They are waiting for their bus
How would you live with
People that are interested in their bus
It doesn’t stand to reason
And so, brothers? Shall we go
Live on a desert island?
There is no desert island
But one can always hope
Without engaging one’s engagement
That we will build one
That, then, that makes it all easier
But the desert island takes on water
For after we are no longer making it
Just like for the three violent old men
The secret is lost to us.


By Boris Vian
translated, from the French, by Claudio Sansone


 
Claudio Sansone is a Foundation Scholar in English Studies at Trinity College Dublin. He has published a number of poems, academic articles, and a short story. He is currently the editor of Icarus (Ireland’s oldest creative writing publication) and the Trinity Journal of Literary Translation. He will be starting his PhD research in the U.S. in the coming academic year.

Boris Vian (1920-1959) was a French writer, engineer, and musician who was an extremely importance influence within the French jazz scene.
 

Through The Window


Anka was sitting by the window, looking into the yard. There, sitting on a bench, were Neža and Karmen, giggling, leaning in together in laughter. It seemed to her that they were, from time to time, peering up at her window. Anka pursed her lips and her light blue eyes darkened until they almost became a little bit black. “I hate Neža and Karmen,” she thought, but apparently she thought it out loud, so that Oma heard it, who was just then bringing clean laundry into the room.

“What is it, my little Anka? Why don’t you go down to the yard? And what did you just say?”

“I’m not going outside! I won’t go out there anymore!” she said, tight-lipped, again thinking out loud what was becoming a gigantic thought, one too big for her small head.

Oma was a true grandmother, and she’d been around for a long time in this world. She went to the window, as if she wanted to adjust the curtain, and quickly glanced outside. When someone has seen much of the world, they can see very quickly what is happening in a small yard, even through she had spectacles resting on her nose and complained every day that her vision was getting worse every day.

“Come to the kitchen, little Anka, I’ve baked you something!”

“No, no, I’m just fine where I am now!” Anka stubbornly replied and pressed her nose up against the glass.

The smell of fresh apples and dough was already wafting through the apartment, and her tummy began to rumble.

Oma didn’t say anything else. She left the room, but Anka for some reason followed against her will.

In the kitchen, Oma was cutting the fresh, sweet-smelling strudel. And then she put pieces on three small plates.

“Who is that for, Oma?”Anka asked, surprised.

“Neža and Karmen are also coming, aren’t they? Go call them in. Last time Neža’s grandmother baked cookies, you told me how good they were—remember?”

Anka pictured Neža’s kitchen: the table with cookies, plates, juice, and her grandmother, along with the three girls—how they are munching on their cookies, how they are laughing and are the best friends in the world. Her dark thought wanted to stifle this picture but couldn’t, and somehow it became grey and then completely faded.

Anka ran to the window and opened it wide. The girls looked up in surprise when they heard their names, and then their mouths stretched into sunny smiles. “Oma baked strudel? Of course, Anka, we’re on our way!”

Anka pushed the button that opened the door below, and then she thought: we are up on the third floor, and there are a few too many stairs and no elevator.

“Why didn’t you come down?” they asked, panting, as they walked through the door. “It would be so much fun to play Chinese jump rope, and you jump the highest, Anka!”

The three girls were eating the strudel and giggling, drinking juice and leaning in together in laughter as Oma quietly left to finish hanging the laundry.


By Lili Potpara
translated, from the Slovene, by Kristina Zdravič Reardon


 
Kristina Zdravič Reardon is a PhD candidate in Literatures, Cultures, and Languages at the University of Connecticut. After earning an MFA in creative writing from the University of New Hampshire in 2010, she was awarded a Fulbright grant and spent a year in Ljubljana translating fiction. Her work has been published in World Literature Today, Words Without Borders, and Slovene Studies.

Lili Potpara is a Slovenian writer and translator. In 2002, her collection of short stories, Zgodbe na dušek (Bottoms up stories), won the Prize for Best Literary Debut from the Professional Association of Publishers and Booksellers of Slovenia.