Posts Tagged: poem

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Poetry Feature: “The White-Haired Girl,” by Sally Wen Mao

1945

I will return your spurn with a curtsy
whipped in boiling water.
Cut the red ribbon from my hair,
what’s left of my youth. Lotus seeds slide
down your throat—does it taste chaste?
The fugue of winter casts shadows
on the furnace—how it glowers
like the limpets buried in my hair,
handfuls of which you pull
towards shore, toward stagnation.
My destination is not this village,
where boars shear off bad skin
in the river, dung and alderflies
thirsting for flesh. Am I maid
or mendicant? The unwrinkled bed
is not what sky aches for. I am no swooning
debt. Next I say escape and small gullies
bloom before me—dendriform paradise:
mountain, grotto, kindling. The lightning
in my temple wards off wolves. I bow
only to pick the ticks off my shoes,
brand them clean across your cheekbones.

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Online Feature: Translation from Wild Honey is a Smell of Freedom by Anna Akhmatova

Привольем пахнет дикий мед,

Пыль – солнечным лучом,

иалкою – девичий рот,

А золото – ничем.

Водою пахнет резеда,

И яблоком – любовь.

Но мы узнали навсегда,

Что кровью пахнет только кровь…

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Wild honey has a scent—of freedom

Dust—a scent of sunshine

And a girl’s mouth—of violets.

 

But gold—nothing.

Water—like mignonette.

And like apple—love.

But we have learned that

 

Blood smells only of blood.

 

1934, Leningrad

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(translated by Katie Farris and Ilya Kaminsky)

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This poem appeared in Indiana Review 33.2, Winter 2011.

Anni Liu (Poetry Editor): The equations that make up most of this spare, needle-like poem are ways of knowing. To link the dust to sunshine and the girl’s mouth to violets makes the world more tangible by performing an intimate epistemology. But, as the end of poem suggests, there is a limit to figurative language, especially when it comes to making images from brutality and oppression. I am grateful for this translation that connects us to Akhmatova, giving us the opportunity to sense what she and others of her time had to learn.

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Anna Akhmatova is considered a major twentieth century Russian poet, author of such recognized works of literature as Requiem and Poem Without a Hero. She was one of few Russian poets of that time who survived Stalin’s Terror, though both of her husbands, and her only son were persecuted.

Katie Farris is the author of BOYSGIRLS (Marick Press) and her fiction has appeared in various journals, including Hayden’s Ferry and Washington Squire. Her translations have appeared in TriQuarterly and Many Mountains Moving. She teaches at San Diego State University.

Ilya Kaminsky is the author of Dancing in Odessa (Tupelo Press). He is also the editor of Ecco Anthology of International Poetry (Harper Collins).