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Brent Armendinger

Translator’s Note
This is an excerpt of Peripatetic, an experimental translation project. I created a set of procedures to follow Diana Bellessi’s poem through the streets of Buenos Aires, exploring how each word might be an echo of the city itself. To begin, I made a rough translation of her poem without a dictionary. I then went looking for the “definition” of each word I didn’t know, walking the number of blocks corresponding to the line in which it appeared. Once there, I would try to ask a stranger about their own associations with that word, and then take notes about our conversation. I also wrote down raw descriptions of the physical surroundings and my emotional impressions. At my desk, I began to collage these notes into a series of poetic definitions. A selection of these appear as "Street Gloss," following the original poem in Spanish.

What the Wind Carries in its Rumor

Inside, or outside
the gaze impoverishes
or regenerates. Minor
art, what the wind
carries in its rumor
What goes on transforming
its essence and leaves, imprints
to be repeated
in variation. Finally
seed, nothing outside
the frame the landscape
offers I would like
for myself, for you
my voice of minor art

Then, perhaps yes
I could say no
to every monument
to let us go
after weaving rugs
with the fragile fibers
of the heart. Rugs

upon which others will dream
the incessant dream
of being in order to let go
of being so sweetly
that it cradles the sleep
of those who will become
What will come. What for?
To better the world
with minor art, in part
trying to erase
that pain it suffers
and bestows. History
where our error
reposes. Which one? Not knowing
we only exist in that
which we let go. Backwards
face of uncertain
surplus, stare
of the little girl that follows us,
a lessening of pain
Goldsmithing where
today, I would like to leave you,
minor voice of art

Lo Que Se Lleva el Viento en su Rumor

Adentro, o afuera
la mirada empobrece
o regenera. Arte
menor, lo que se lleva
el viento en su rumor
Lo que va transformando
su ser y deja, huellas
para así repetirse
en variación. Semilla
al fin, nada afuera
del marco del paisaje
ofrece yo quisiera
para mí, para ti
mi voz de arte menor

Entonces quizás sí
podría decir no
a todo monumento
para dejarnos ir
después de urdir esteras
con las frágiles fibras
del corazón. Esteras
donde otros soñarán
el incesante sueño
de ser para dejar
de ser tan dulcemente
que acune el dormir
de aquellos que vendrán

Lo que vendrá. A que?
A mejorar el mundo
en arte menor, parte
intentando borrar
aquel dolor que sufre
y otorga. Historia
donde reposa nuestro
error. Cuál? No saber
somos sólo en aquello
que dejamos ir. Cara
inversa de incierta
plusvalía, mirada
de niña que nos sigue,
un menos de dolor
Orfebrería donde
hoy, quisiera dejarte,
voz de arte, menor

Street Gloss

Rosario y Avenida La Plata

I cannot bring him with me, to this city, my him, all verticality dissolves when my open mouth, looking up at him, my love, which is the name for this month when I am gone. I sleep beside a pile of books equal to the weight of him, chosen for me by him. I walk the city with my paper colander, my cartographer. The pen is a deficient eye. My open mouth, dissolving. When I develop this photograph, I will see what I do not see originally. Looking dissolves. The same is true of poetry. The I is a deficient eye, a colander. Waiting for the bus, a boy becomes a woman. To be waiting is a palimpsest. She is mouth-reading the newspaper in her hands and his lips are moving, involuntarily, a language equal to the weight of him. She holds her left elbow with her right hand and she swings her arms back and forth in the air. For me, a child equal to the weight of me. He makes his way to his seat. Dissolving into the city, the open mouth between us.

Venezuela y Fortunato Devoto

If I look up, a power line traces these migrations. This noun is larger than a window but it fits inside the glass. It helps them to touch each other, this side of the street and its double. Touching peels the tree down into adjective, into window, and so I mistake this – the word for this – for the breath of that on me. The old man cups his ear, and when he opens his mouth, the T becomes a P – it means you have to wait. Hay que esperar. There is having to wait. There is no indicated pronoun, there is only the having to wait. If I were to translate his translation, if I were to take one hundred photographs, I would choose the moments where his mouth were closed, tape them together, and feed them into the projector. I wait until my errors start breathing. There is only the slow procession of light, rectangle after rectangle rising.

The girl wants to provide the perfect definition. I try to reassure her. There is crawling across the mind. She says to put a blanket down. In the soul. She says to take the time to reflect on something. She says that’s what it means to me. I don’t want to use quotation marks. I want to put down the mistake, like a blanket, in the soul. My blanket starts breathing. Why is the proof of winter an artifact of previous weather? From this side of the street, there is a leaf curled in on itself. There is no indicated pronoun. There is blotting out the opposite wall in the shape of a leaf curled in on itself. Why is the proof of winter. There is no discernible ending. If I were to remove it, could I see through the other side of the street to the sky behind it?

Mario Bravo y Avenida Díaz Velez

My cartographer skins his knee on the mortality of strangers. He collapses the city between one word and another into the museum of broken sirens. I arrive at the seventh block, where a vine curls around and around this tree, threatening to choke it, like a name. I hold my breath. My cartographer is eating language. My cartographer skins his knee. Etymologically, a parasite is a person eating at someone else’s table, but we have seen that writing and wood become inseparable. Etymologically, I hold my breath. The name I cannot swallow is spreading, like a vine, into the absence of a window, crowding out the etymology with its unrelenting green. I collapse, I arrive, I cannot swallow, I do not possess. I ask a teenage boy what it means. He makes of his body a pivot. He bends to the ground to put his hand in imaginary concrete. He puts his hand in my hand, and I lower my cartographer into that goodbye, into that wet hollow where he continues walking upside down.

Luis Maria Drago y Lavalleja

The sun goes off like a faucet and the city, suspended from its wire, spills into the intersection. I hold my open palms in front of me, the echo I cannot otherwise. When the blank pages touch inside my dictionary, the city begins to curve. I think about sex, an equals sign between the body and its zero. The words start crawling out from their hollows. A young man tells me it makes a sound in him, a question mark that recognizes him, but he doesn’t know how to describe it. He is the echo I cannot touch, a precious metal. I am the blank page leaking. The light lodges itself, like gold, in the folds of plastic, the vertical assemblage of oranges erasing gravity.

My cartographer erases graffiti. I set my alarm and return, just before dawn, to paint the wall as best as I can from memory. When I finish, I wait for the stranger who tells me it’s a very old word, one part heat and one part hollow. He wants to know where I come from – he has a cousin who lives on Staten Island. Between the echo and where I come from, he makes a gesture, an equals sign between the worker and the act of shaping fire. It hangs in the air, a precious metal, long after he returns his hands to his side.

Otamundi y Bogotá

The bookseller tells me there’s a saying, Él que calla, otorga. Along Calle Bogotá, the recently felled branches are piled around the trunks of their trees. One who remains silent makes an offering. The yellow caution tape, a slack perimeter: Haciendo Buenos Aires. The city wraps each injury around itself until it grows into a limb. One who makes an offering. My cartographer begins to remove the books from their encasements. He folds the edges back in place, as if the language were still inside, and returns the cellophane husks to the shelves. Lo que no dice con las palabras, lo dice con ese silencio. Two women are sweeping what is not said with words, the sawdust, into the street. My cartographer hangs the books from ghost branches with yellow caution. I graft my silence to my translation, where slack perimeter becomes a limb.

Parque el Centenario

I begin my translation before I know what I am looking for. I am walking away from the little digital pool in which my solitude can’t get wet. I am walking with my new friend, between the windows we can’t see through and the fucking. The first word he teaches me is the opposite of winter. He leads me here. The opposite of solitude cuts all the pockets off my clothes and tosses them into the lake. Ten months pass and he is gone and I fall into the concentrated light.

I have never seen it like this, the park with arrows of dusk moving across it. The neighborhood lifts off the ground a little. I ask a stranger what it means. To him it is a Marxist concept, the difference between what a person earns and their labor. The space between the solitudes get smaller. They start referring to themselves as us. The night with arrows of not me moving, before time teaches me to be anything. A colder city is memory. I know I should be going now, my hands are getting numb. The drinking fountain is broken, but there’s a piece of bread inside it. I recognize my mouth on the part that’s chewed away. I’m thirsty. It must be my translation.

Venezuela y Quintino Bocayuva

My failure becomes a dictionary. In retrospect, I want to offer an eraser to every stranger. I ask them to run it over me until the bricks have fallen away. A tall man with long hair, in his left hand a cigarette, approaches me. He is so kind to me. It means to make a plan in secrecy, he tells me, and then he tries to bury that airlessness by pushing down his hands. Across the street, there are broken bottles stuck into cement to keep intruders out. I cut my fingers on my dictionary. I am an eraser, burning. Inside the locked and rusted newsstand, the only light in winter is erasing the city and copying it over again from memory. When I get home, the tall man will send me an email, telling me the word – he’s been holding it up to the light of his computer – more closely resembles weaving. I cut his message into long strips of fire, the only light in winter, and begin to interlace them.

Diana Bellessi
was born in Zavalla, Santa Fe Province, Argentina in 1946, and is considered one of the most prominent poets to emerge in the years immediately following the dictatorship. She is the author of many books of poetry, including Crucero equatorial (1981), Eróica (1988), El jardín (1992), La edad dorada (2003), La rebelión del instante (2006), and Pasos de Baile (2015). A feminist poet, she was one of the founders of the influential Revista Feminaria, and she has translated the work of poets such as Denise Levertov, Adrienne Rich, and Ursula LeGuin. In 1993, she received a Guggenheim fellowship, and in 2004 and 2014 she received the Konex Award in Argentina.

Brent Armendinger
is the author of The Ghost in Us Was Multiplying (Noemi Press, 2015), a finalist for the California Book Award in poetry, as well as two chapbooks, Undetectable (New Michigan Press, 2009) and Archipelago (Noemi Press, 2009). His work has recently appeared in Aufgabe, Bloom, Colorado Review, Denver Quarterly, and Web Conjunctions. He is a recipient of fellowships from Headlands Center for the Arts and Squaw Valley Community of Writers. He lives in Los Angeles and teaches creative writing at Pitzer College.