by atosun

sunflowers (and two other poems)

February 11, 2020 in English, Poetry, Portuguese by atosun

Original by Michael Garcia Spring
Translated, from the English to the Portuguese, by Maria João Marques

sunflowers

it’s nearly impossible
to look at a sunflower and not think
of van Gogh

a bullet-shaped bee shoots past

and my mind takes off – a crow-black flame
over a golden field

 

girassóis

é quase impossível
olhar para um girassol e não pensar
em van Gogh

uma abelha em forma de bala passa por mim

e o meu espírito levanta vôo – a chama de um corvo negro
sobre um campo dourado

boxing gloves

they are still on
the table
where I left them
the day I refused
to fight my father

they are the color of dried blood
and resemble the torn
out hearts of bulls

when I visit
my father never talks about them
but they are always there

the somber smell of old
dust and leather

lumped and tied together
with a frayed shoelace

luvas de boxe

continuam
na mesa
onde as deixei
no dia em que recusei
lutar com o meu pai

são da cor do sangue seco
e parecem os corações
arrancados dos touros

quando o visito
o meu pai nunca fala delas
mas estão sempre lá

um sombrio odor a pó
e a pele de outros tempos

abandonadas e enlaçadas
por um frágil atacador

 path to the lighthouse

between the cragged rocks
and the molting ocean
a woman undresses and becomes
the beach

a crow above her
stumbles out of the wind
into a chorus of crows

and here you are
on the cliffside path to the lighthouse
among soggy pines
and dark ferns
wondering if this is the time
you too will finally lift out of your body
and become something else

you get lost in the walk to the lighthouse
your eyes catching every glint
of a gull’s wing or falling leaf

below you
in the soupy enclave of ocean
a sea otter is done playing in the waves

it rolls onto its back
coasting with a flat stone on its chest
and an oyster in its paws

but before it begins drumming
before the shell cracks open
and the milk
of salty meat oozes 

and before it devours the pearly flesh
it pauses

because it notices you
wading in a flow of fog
floating in a grove of scrub trees

your image clearly submerged
in the otter’s dark eyes

 

rumo ao farol

entre as paredes rochosas
e o oceano mutante
uma mulher despe-se e torna-se
a praia

sobre ela surge um corvo
cambaleando por entre o vento
na direcção de um bando de corvos

e aqui te encontras
na encosta do penhasco rumo ao farol
por entre pinheiros encharcados
e negros fetos
cismando se no momento presente
também te elevarás finalmente do teu corpo
e serás algo mais

perdes-te a caminho do farol
os teus olhos absorvendo cada brilho
da asa de uma gaivota ou folha cadente

abaixo de ti
no enclave caldo de oceano
uma lontra marinha pára de brincar nas ondas

põe-se de barriga para o ar
flutuando com uma pedra lisa no peito
e uma ostra nas patas

mas antes de lhe começar a bater
antes de a concha se abrir
derramando
o leite da carne salgada

e antes de devorar a polpa cor de pérola
ela detém-se

porque repara em ti
pairando numa corrente de nevoeiro
flutuando no emaranhado de arbustos

a tua imagem nitidamente submersa
nos olhos negros da lontra

Michael Garcia Spring is the author of four previous poetry books and one children’s book. He’s won numerous awards and distinctions for his poetry, including the 2004 Robert Graves Award, an honorable mention for the 2012 Eric Hoffer Book Award, the 2013 Turtle Island Poetry Award, a Luso-American Fellowship from Disquiet International, and an honorable mention for the 2017 Green Book Festival Award.  Michael is a poetry editor for the Pedestal Magazine, and founding editor of Flowstone Press. He currently lives on a mountainside in rural Oregon.

Maria João Marques is a graduate in Screenplay Writing from the Lisbon Theatre and Film School and MA in English and North-American Studies from Nova University of Lisbon. Her dissertation was distinguished with the JRAAS Quality Seal for outstanding achievement by the Centre for English, Translation, and Anglo-Portuguese Studies (CETAPS). Her translations of Michael Garcia Spring’s poems have appeared in Açoriano Oriental Arts & Letras (Portugal), Adelaide Literary Journal (Portugal/USA), Janelas em Rotação (Brazil), and The Portuguese Times (USA). These poems are part of a bilingual book set to appear in March, 2021 by Companhia das Ilhas, Portugal.

by atosun

Chocolat

August 1, 2019 in Crossgenre, English, Fiction, Poetry by atosun

Original by Siloh Radovsky
Adapted, from the Lasse Hallström film, by the author

Let’s pretend: 

I am the Chocolatier. 

Carrying colonial blood around in wooden vessels; also, the woman who refuses to stay, moving from place to place only to rescue restless souls from Christendom. Her father (my great- grandfather) was the one to collect the secret Cacao rituals with his ethnographic apparati— transcription, transmission, etc. But her professional peddling most closely mimics matrilineal survival strategies. 

Relocating to the tweed town full of broken marriages wrapped in wool jackets, Vianne began to foil the sweets. 

Finding the correct flavor unlocks the stuck blood portal due to chemical traces they crave. Though at the time what comes across is a hint of understanding—lumps of sugar which know the soul. 

She means it truly, wrapping her own self up in her woolen coat and visiting tropical sunshine upon citizens’ calcifications, agitating them out of daily abuse: “This delicious flavor filling your mouth means you deserve better—the best each day.” Hot cocoa for wayward boy-child, pastilles for his secretly diabetic Gran. But the danger lies not in the indulgence itself but the suggestion of pleasurability. 

Culturally, our broken sweet tooth soothed in but one way such that the Gremlin shirks off to its alternate enclaves leaving behind a slime trail of ethical hedonism interspersed with some badly- needed nutrients. 

// 

My grandmother was beholden to the brick & mortar, with all the trappings and covered in fog, castle-like, with some excessively repentant village mayor breathing down her neck about Catholicism. Back then, the 1950’s, the technology was social engineering. Things are different now but the same—the technology is still social engineering—except now I’m beholden to the app, freed and not freed from the constraints of physical place. The app is called Cafe. It says, Take this quiz, this personalized quiz regarding which category to place you in then the advice will algorithmically follow. We chocolatiers have been both aggregated and multiplied so I’ve been teleporting my emotional labor into the privacy of the home while the Developers work on building a market for us. The Developers say, Thanks for believing in the work we do every day! Only they’ve programmed that saying, and everyone gets the same message. Meanwhile, I play the roulette one-on-one, inviting my customers to dig deeper inwards. They take the quiz and I match them with a chocolate box; they receive the box in the mail after they spin the Plate and interpret it all Rorschach-like. 

Once and a while while that digitized relic blurs on-screen someone will say, “I see my employment prospects.” Ah, the hunger for financial security—I recognize and resonate but must uphold my position of transcendence. I tell them that if they master themselves as students of their own desire, they too can occupy this position, refracting their positivity and good taste; it’s a good side-hustle. We were not the first to digitize this highly-structured system of understanding, externalizing the pathways of our diagnostics, but we’ve learned to work within the constraints we were given. My lineage is a lineage of restless wanderers and we’ve always learned to make a place for ourselves in a less-than-ideal circumstance, while earning for ourselves a nominal fee. While clicking the buttons for cayenne pepper recipe (lacking-passion- dominant) and rose cream packet (needing-sweetness-dominant) I try to reconnect to my grandmother and think about how much more efficient our job has been made. She was so dressed up and ready for the show, in that dollhouse for chocolate she spruced up real good (the place was such a cave before) for the pleasure of the townsfolk. But now we can go ahead and wander around as we please, and we are even free to work other kinds of jobs, and develop other aspects of our personhood. Even so, as I assign chocolate boxes for my customers, I try to keep the spirit alive. I send out a little prayer for the renewed manageability of their daily lives, reminding myself that in the faintest personal realignment is the potential for an unquantifiable expansion. “Will it or will it not change the whole lonely city,” I wonder, while peering out the window of my apartment, wondering if I have earned enough that day to take myself to the cafe down the street for a little treat, squeezing my eyes shut to relieve the pressure of digital eyestrain. I think Damn, I sure could use some chocolate. 

_

Siloh Radovsky is a graduate student at UCSD in the Literature department, pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing. Much of her research and creative work concerns the contemporary landscape of self-care, its connections to the violence of colonization, and the perimeters between science and pseudo-science in medicine and health fadisms. On this adaptation: “I’m probing the ethics of the contemporary self-care trends that the film anticipates, applying its representation of magical commodities to the digitally-mediated context of the present.”
by

Book Review: Is the Gate Worth the Wait?

May 16, 2017 in Arabic, Book Review, English by

When it comes to revolutions and political uprising, the intention is that the result of the revolution will be better; that the resistance should change the status quo and validate the sacrifices that made the revolution possible. The multiple revolutions of the Arab Spring in the early 2010s did not entirely resolve as expected, as some of these nations are left questioning whether the resistance and sacrifices were worth it in the first place. Of the countries politically activated during the Arab Spring, Egypt is unique in that the Egyptian’s initial revolution intended to uproot and remove dictator Hosni Mubarak from office which allowed them to vote democratically. Mohammad Morsi—who represented the controversial party named the Muslim Brotherhood—was democratically elected only to be removed through a the second revolution that eventually returned Egypt to a Mubarak-esque status quo with Sisi. During the first revolution, the Egyptian people united regardless of religion or political party; it was not until a few years into Morsi’s term when a percentage of the Egyptian people, however, began to criticize his policies and the influence of his party. Specifically, some deemed the conservative politics of the Muslim Brotherhood to be too influential on the president’s decisions. Egyptians took to the streets after about two years of Morsi’s term, which resulted in the military ousting their democratically-elected president. Military forces cracked down and killed nearly a thousand Muslim Brotherhood protesters at pro-Morsi protests, making it clear that the political climate was one of uncertainty as the provisional government tortured and persecuted those critical of the military regime with an eerie resemblance, to say the least, to Mubarak’s regime.

Current day Egypt is a country of censorship as no citizen dares to criticize the government, and people do not have the full access to resources, like electricity and gas, to survive. They also do not, as they cannot, trust what is presented on the news. But Egyptians do not talk about it. It could be out of fear, it could be the normalization of the political climate, or it could be that the Egyptian people are exhausted. The military’s coup-d’etat has left the country in a time of uncertainty, surveillance, and a plummeting economy. Some say that the current state of Egypt is worse than it had been before the revolutions.

This uncertainty, dysfunctionality, and lack of trust in authority is the overwhelming sense of modern day Egyptian society, which has inspired the author of The Queue, Basma Abdel-Aziz, to write about the current atmosphere of Egypt, and especially the dystopian similarity to other countries in the Middle East that were politically active during the Arab Spring. This is the reason why Abdel-Aziz creates a nameless city in a nameless country: for it to be a common ground for all nations of the Arab Spring. The use of Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), the form of Arabic that formal Arabic literature and media employs, to write the novel—instead of the use of colloquial Egyptian Arabic, validates the neutralization of this being a narrative of all Arab countries involved in the Arab Spring.

Translated by Elisabeth Jaquette, who lived in Egypt through both political upheavals, into English, The Queue is described as a political dystopian novel with “Kafkaesque surrealism.”  A New York Times article by Alexandra Alter mentions how several Arab writers take to this genre, deserting the usual genres of realism in Arabic literary canon. Due to the unusualness of the atmosphere of Egypt after both political upheavals, this genre’s surrealism, per the use of speculative fiction, can be used to make sense of the ineffable post-revolution realities of these countries politically active during the Arab Spring.

Abdel Aziz uses code words to disguise and distance the specific events in relation to Egyptian political events, like “the First Storm” in reference to the ousting of Mubarak and the second ousting as “the Disgraceful Events.” As a reader, I understand that Abdel-Aziz’s intention to generalize setting and nationalities in the novel and of the characters to leave the novel open to interpretation and relation to the several countries who experiences political uproar during the Arab Spring. But in the end, I saw every event inextricably tied to Egyptian culture and politics. The challenge, however, is in recognizing that Egypt’s political history is one that is unique and individual, particularly because they removed two presidents while only a few of the other Arab Spring countries could oust just one.

The central character of Basma Abdel-Aziz’s The Queue is Yehya Gad el-Rab Saeed, a man who was shot by government forces during The Disgraceful Events, and due to the denial of such events carried out by the government, they have established laws specifically pertaining to the removal of bullets. Authorities from The Gate confiscate the x-rays and mandates it to be illegal to surgically remove bullets without a permit from The Gate. When Yehya returns to Zephyr Hospital, the nurses and Dr. Tarek deny ever admitting Yehya on that night and deny his situation—though they all know it to be true. The people in the queue in front of The Gate have no knowledge of when it will open. They stand there—each with a legitimate need of authorization. Soon enough, they seem to forget why they are there in the first place. There are many obstacles between them and the authorization they came for.

The mindful symbolism of the novel includes the bullet in Yehya; Violet Telecom, the cellular network company giving people free phones that records conversations; Amani and what happens to her; and the relationship between the High Sheikh and The Gate. The bullet symbolizes the disregarded and denied pain of not only the Egyptian people but also Egyptian society as a whole. Violet Telecom symbolizes the larger significance of technology and the detrimental effects that it has in terms of politics, authority, and connectivity of society. Amani symbolizes all those who question the authority and are harmed by the authority—mentally and physically. The High Sheikh clearly represents the Muslim Brotherhood and religious authority more broadly, which promotes and endorses the Gate—the major authority.

The major themes that run through the novel are fear and distrust, as well as uncertainty not only in authority but also among the community. There is much significance in the role of technology and censorship. There is also a sense of distrust of religious power, and a theme of existentialism. These are influences of George Orwell and Franz Kafka—authors who found political surrealism to best explain and describe political uneasiness and uncertainty.

The Queue, written in Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) instead of being scripted in colloquial Egyptian Arabic dialect, contributes to the idea that the novel is intended for all Arabs of countries active during the Arab Spring to relate to. The translation by Elisabeth Jaquette might be compared to Kwame Anthony Appiah’s notion of a “thick translation” which should reflect a learning experience of culture while being true to the original meaning of the text. Jaquette occasionally goes so far as to leave words in the original Arabic—a method not unlike that employed by Jerome Rothenberg and John Felstiner in their translations of Paul Celan’s “Todesfuge.” The words Jaquette leaves in their original are colloquial words, a choice that effectively transmits a lot of the culture and originality of the text. The novel, in Arabic—as written by Abdel-Aziz—does not have much description, but rather has a focus on narration which is what Jaquette preserves in the translation. Initially, this makes it harder to ease into the novel and forget that I am reading a book, but after reflection this made me realize that maybe this is the intended effect of the novel. We’re supposed to be like Tarek, a part of the omniscient authority that knows everything and causes us as reader to question their position in the novel. With this in mind, the translation, like the writing style, is quite effective. The political surrealism and defamiliarization of the novel is certainly portrayed in the translation, which makes it more or less a successful translation. The Queue suggests an uncanny unusualness, the uncertainty, and the dystopian nature of post-revolution countries. The use of speculative fiction by Arab authors like Basma Abdel Aziz makes readers question whether it was worth going through the revolution in the first place.


Aia Hawari is a Muslim American writer, poet, and community servant-leader from Southern California finishing up her Literature/Writing B.A. at UC San Diego. Her work has been published in Huffington Post, UC San Diego’s Common Ground, and UC Berkeley’s Threads (formerly known as Al-Bayan Magazine). Since Muslim women are often a hot topic that everyone and their mother has an opinion about, Aia recognizes that her voice and narrative has the power to dispel misconceptions and misrepresentations about her faith and what it means to be a visible Muslim woman. Currently, Aia is working with Alchemy, an academic journal of translation at UC San Diego as the Assistant Editor.