Karen Kovacik

Poets as Translators - Karen Kovacik



(1) The Bird People
(2) Means of Flight
(3) During the Sorties over Baghdad

Translation from the Spanish:


(1) Medea Has Forgotten How to Cry
(2) Tenant
(3) Babes in the Woods



Karen Kovacik

The Bird People

Up here the sky appears flat, marbled
as the endsheets of an old book, a gray
bas-relief worn smooth. Birds
of every size and color circle us in a blur:
our cloaks and caftans, our lack of feathers
surely curious to them. We are learning to fear

what they fear:
this bare, nestless branch, the marbled
visage of the raccoon, wings without feathers,
the unblinking world in shades of gray,
one of us being cast from the flock in a blur
of anger or scorn. We must band together as birds

do when hunted or when shoved into bird-
cages, those ghettoes of unrelenting fear
and flightlessness. We must be content with the blurry
comfort of each others' company: Ephraim in his marbled
shawl, Judith with a baby on her back, the gray
lethargy of Samuel, Simon with his feathery

whiskers. Nights are the worst. Even a feather
falling can stutter us awake, and the nightbirds'
lonely vowels remind us that this gray
branch is our only home. They banished us out of fear,
corralled us in this tree, though our children's faces were marbled
with cold. Up here the nights are one long blur.

Do they despise our alien language, the throaty blur
of our consonants, the feathery
prayers we offer up to the marble
ear of God? Yahweh! Teach us to live like birds.
Reward us with claws. Banish our fear.
Prove to us that heaven is not gray!

Ah, the gray light of morning floats over us like feathers
and around us the blurred carnival of birds.
Yahweh, we breakfast on fear, let us not sup on marble.

(After Goya's "Disparate ridïculo")


Karen Kovacik

Means of Flight

I am Cro-Magnon, he is Bonaparte
and we are flying, flying, flying.
We are afraid that if we nod off
we won't wake up.
What if the land below us
vanishes? What if
strapped and wired to these great bat wings
we are
and we have to stay
crouched and flapping forever?

(After Goya's "Modo de volar")


Karen Kovacik

During the Sorties over Baghdad

A woman works with lace panels.
     Under and under again: that is the beauty
          of French seams. First to flatten with steam

back and forth back and forth.
     Then to stitch the unwavering rows
          the perfect parallels, all measures metric

all precise. To pinpoint the trajectory
     to plant the staccato thread under and under.
          This is the music of a thousand nights:

curtains scattered with trellises and roses
     scalloped along the valance and edges. Curtains
          fit for a window without flaw:

Eight glass polygons, caulked, soldered
     fringed with the January frost, overlooking
          a city that has never been bombed.


Katarzyna Borun-Jagodzinska

Medea Has Forgotten How to Cry

Only bunches of poisonous herbs
and hearth smoke
call forth a trickle of tears.
Clumps of salt
crust her lashes.
Nothing remains
of those distant sins
but the finger of her little brother
in the pocket of her robe.
It's wrapped in a scrap of letter
telling her she need wait no longer.

(Translated from the Polish by Karen Kovacik)


Katarzyna Borun-Jagodzinska


This big guy went crazy.
He wears ribbed stockings with silver threads,
says Kiss me hard, and holds out his hand.
He has smooth skin and firm muscles.
Love knows no bounds of sex and species.
You're so soft, says the hard mattress.
You're so good, says the white wall.
You're faithful, whispers the keyhole.
You're faithful, repeats the boxsprings.
I love your kisses, says the old teacup--
In those four walls, so many innuendoes, protests.
Faithfully the guy cleans the room.
The room rubs his dusty eyes, holds him tight,
touches nerves, bones,
takes him in more fully than anyone.
This big guy went crazy.
And again he refuses to leave the house.

(Translated from the Polish by Karen Kovacik)


Katarzyna Borun-Jagodzinska

Babes in the Woods

Every murmur of the night
still scares us,
every flutter of sleepless birds.
Rustling noises disturb our slumber,
cause our dreams to flee.
The city howls in voices
neither human nor animal,
but from birth we learned
to tame that monster.
We tamed it,
but one false step, one alien scent--
and the beast leaps to our throats.

(Translated from the Polish by Karen Kovacik)





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