The Guest #22
By Robin Myers
In The Guest, poet and literary translator Robin Myers explores poetry translation as process, practice, vocation, meditation, and craft. Drawing both on her own projects-in-progress and the work of other translators, The Guest is a kind of diary, a thinking-out-loud about the pleasures, challenges, and decisions required—and invited—by bringing poems into another language. To do them justice and to make them new.
A Cell in Silent Communication
Most of what I want from poetry is what I want from life in general: to find connections amid the disparate, the disjointed, the haphazard.
To feel the roots straining ardent underfoot.
transformations of substances into sonorousness and chance.
They engage, the poems I love most, in this search for kinship and tension. They jolt unexpectedness into intimacy with the swerve of a metaphor. They rasp smooth memories into unfamiliar surfaces. They dare to pull big questions whisper-close.
They grieve and praise.
shared breath and dreams of cells becoming cells.
I’ve been reviewing the proofs for an upcoming translation: The Dream of Every Cell, by Mexican poet Maricela Guerrero. It’s a book that marvels at the inextricability of living things and explores the ecosystems of language we use to engage with the natural world.
Every book, every poem is an ecosystem in itself. Translation is a way to study what lives there and try to act in synchronicity with it.
Then I perceive all the metabolic reactions of the billions of cells inside the she-wolf who nestles us onto her back and carries us up the mountainside. We breathe together and anguish is an animal that curls up next to us and sleeps.
Last month, the mother of my dear friend Ezequiel Zaidenwerg died in Buenos Aires. Her name was Indiana Dib and she was luminous.
How do a mother and her pups communicate in liquids and breath:
carrying her pups on her back: becoming.
The Dream of Every Cell features a recurring character, a beloved teacher named Ms. Olmedo who once taught the speaker how to collect, protect, and classify plant species. Maricela’s poems veer back and forth in space and time: from childhood lessons in taxonomy and wonder to the speaker’s present-day horror at environmental destruction and the desire to follow joy as a vocation.
And they do so in language that feels connected to, inviting of, everyday conversation. Maricela once told me that this was important to her: to make poems that would be hospitable to her children, her parents.
And one day she told us that the dream of every cell is to become more cells, and millions of them take part in this: our breath.
Ezequiel, a poet and translator, was my teacher before he was my friend: I took a workshop with him in college, where I tried my hand at translating poems for the very first time. In the years since, he has been an essential presence in my life as a poem-writing, poem-translating person, but also as a friend and friendship-nurturer. He has a strange and special gift for kindling affinities, for starting conversations and letting others continue them.
A couple of times, visiting Ezequiel in New York, I got to be Indiana’s roommate for a bit: she’d sleep on an air mattress on one side of the living room, I’d sleep on an air mattress on the other. She’d make fruit smoothies in the morning. She had a lightness and a gentleness and a shining sense of humor. A way of letting others unfold accompanied.
It’s raining harder than we expected and I’m still embracing fear.
An animal that curls up next to me and breathes and sleeps.
In the present-day part of Maricela’s book, Ms. Olmedo, older now, is sick. The speaker thinks about her from a distance. About the helplessness and mystery of illness, and about a living body’s extraordinary dance and struggle with what threatens its continuation.
Ms. Olmedo’s cells debate between becoming cells or sleeping deeply: we can’t be with them.
It’s a terrible thing, the inability to be with, be it imposed by distance or contagion, protocol or time. The helplessness of it.
I see fear in your eyes I feel fear in my knees: we hold it close and hum a lullaby until we fall asleep.
When someone you love is grieving, you try to be with however you can. Sometimes, I remembered while Indiana was in the hospital, the accompaniment is oblique. I treasured being in touch with other beloveds in Ezequiel’s ecosystem to share updates and concern: Eliana and Daniel and Mariana, friends I met through him, poets I first read through him and translate now. All of us tending our affection and our worry, near or far, doing some of it together.
Are spearmint leaves in tea for stomach pain a form of love?
We love each other spearmintily in times of rage and poor digestion.
Much of what I love about poetry is what I love about living in general: it’s a mess. It’s messy, I mean, it’s all tangled up, impossible to unravel, the words used to compare one thing to another, the shortcut through the underbrush between one time and another, the fact that I came to Maricela’s poems along a path that started for me in Ezequiel’s workshop, the likelihood that reading them now will always make me think of him and Indiana.
I’d like to be a bacterium: a cell in silent communication.
How to be small enough (but here)? How to be silent enough (but speak)? How to honor who we love (and who they love)?
I’m speaking here in what I’ve got because breathing with you is a breath-producing transformation.