IT'S ALL ABOUT UNDERSTANDING

Babel Fish


Vol.61 Issue 02
Babel Fish front cover


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TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

Editor’s Letter by Minna Zallman Proctor

For those who aren’t familiar with Douglas Adams’s 1979 novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (originally conceived as a radio play for the BBC), a babel fish is a universal translator in the form of a small fish that you stick in your ear …read the letter

 

FICTION

Elisa Albert
Assholes

We refused to give up on either parenting our young child or reaping the benefits of an artists’ colony. We weren’t going to choose. We rejected the idea of that choice

 

Frank Chen, translated from Chinese by Jennie Chia-Hui Chu
Two Yellow Titmice

My big brother Da Ge, who was the son of my father’s first wife when they were still living in the country, was much older than me. We weren’t close. He spoke to my father in a country dialect—even though his mother was long gone—just to show that he was the firstborn. ...read the story

 

Kwame Opoku-Duku
Bossa Nova

I sat at an all-night diner on Broadway, drinking green tea, jotting down some notes that I would later use to write a sestina. There was a security guard at the table next to me reading a pocket-sized version of the New Testament, and I was thinking about everything.

 

Rebecca Hazelton
Second Person

You do not like the second person. You find the second person indulgent, and co-optive of the reader. You walk down the street, you buy a croissant and then—well, thinks the reader, joke’s on you

 

Leyla Khalil, translated from Italian by Allison Grimaldi-Donahue
In a Land Strange to Us

We saw each other in a land that was strange to you, the first time: me on the other side of that metal detector, hoping you would make it sound.

 

Kristen N. Arnett
Succor

It’s still too many, but she can’t decide. Joanna wants to pick the loaf that the least amount of people have handled. No telling what’s been done to them—

 

John Vurro
My Mother’s Brain

The ER nurse squints at the X-ray. “Here,” she says. She flicks her wrist and the celluloid sheet stiffens with a thwack. “Her lobes. They’re swollen, see?” But what are lobes?

 

Hilary Steinitz
Lessons in Metafiction

I followed Janie to Sarah Lawrence, though what I told the guidance counselor who wrote my letter of recommendation was that I wanted to go for the excellent creative writing program.

 

Tomás González, translated from Spanish by Andrea Rosenberg
From The Storm

In the flashes of lightning, the father saw that there were no more fish or anything else in the boat. He asked where the coolers were, assholes, the jugs of water, his backpack, but the sons didn’t even answer.

 

Leonid Yuzefovich, translated from Russian by Marian Schwartz
From Horsemen of the Sands

It was summer when I met Boliji, and in September I was sent from our regiment’s permanent post on a mission to Ulan-Ude. The amulet brought from Hara-Shulun lay in the suitcase under my cot in the officers’ lodgings, and I admired it less and less often

 

Miles Coleman
Freaks

Tuesdays are chest days, the best days. I start with bench press and push out six sets. Then I move to incline and dumbbell flys, work curls to keep the blood mobile.

 

Emily Lackey
We Were Together

Because our mother was going through the upstairs bathroom in Aunt Kelly’s house, bagging up hand towels and half-used bottles of conditioner, my sister and I got ready for the funeral together.

 

Moshe Sakal, translated from Hebrew by Jessica Cohen
From My Sister

My sister is three years older than me. She’s a quarter of a head shorter, her figure is curvier, she has long brown hair, and the skin on her face is not entirely smooth.

 

POETRY

Matthew Rohrer
To Make Sense of This Poem
The Leader

All you need to know to make sense of this poem
   is that
   in the previous century some parrots read the poem

 

G.C. Waldrep
White Deer
To Give Evidence Against the Master
A Courier’s Tale
Anchor Poem

I saw the white deer in the clearing. I lowered my bow. That planets don’t collide on a more regular basis is one of the wonders of, say, sleeping through the night.

 

Heather Christle
Up Up
I Make Up a Metaphor I Think You Should Try It
Sleep Baby Sleep

The elocution lessons have been a great success!
It is a matter of biting and swallowing.
Clean bites and frequent sorrows.

 

Eric Amling
Lost Art

When I need a moment, I try to face in the direction of the nearest ocean—like I’m new to this planet and reality is only a means to prepare for a second chance

 

Cal Freeman
The Answer to Your Question Is, In the Sackler Wing
The Answer to Your Question Is, History, the Non-Canine Gnashing
At Evergreen and Brace

The falling snow reacquaints you
with your bathetic interior life

as you stock up on the act of breathing

 

Will Schutt
Bush v. Gore
Rembrandt
Away from My Desk

It sounds like just another slogan now, a song
the words of which you’re iffy on, yet clear
enough to touch a nerve or send you back

 

Nikki Wallschlaeger
On Fortune
Crying

Once you shuck off the fur coats of many colors you find out most people just want to be good obedient citizens. To dress yourself for what the past says is the right side of history

 

Kelsi Vanada
Good for You
What Not

today a group of men was squatting
drunk in the ped mall at two pm one called out
how ya doin’ hon

 

Catherine Barnett
Still Life
Lore
The Light from Across the Fields
The Skin of the Face Is That Which Stays Most Naked, Most Destitute
Beckett on the Jumbotron

To think, to swear, and to jaywalk I learned from my father,
who even now curses me if, his hand in mine,
I want to wait at the crosswalk.

 

W.E. Pierce
Orbital Surfaces

is vacuum fingers global reach
a running joke an octopus

 

Greg Casale
AIDS Reliquary
The Grace House Oak

The angel stationed at my roots
won’t speak to the dog who stares 
upward

 

Kip Zegers
Here

As I walked up the hill to see the great
red oak, I thought of my grandfather, Pastor
Petrus Swarz, and I began to laugh

 

Samn Stockwell
First Period

Brave Mrs. Kenley turns her back on the first grade, ...read the whole poem

 

Amrit Lal “Ishrat” Madhok, translated from Urdu by Karan Madhok
When we spoke of your eyes in the sher
Why do you walk alongside the distressed?

But why in a sher, you ask forthright?
First listen to what we cried in the sher.

 

Deborah Landau
from Soft Targets

Into the sheets we slipped, a crisis
affixing us to each other again and again.

 

Tristan Tzara, translated from French by Andrew S. Nicholson
Drugstore-Consciousness

I seek its roots paralytic lord paralytic lord
why then yes you will learn
coming in spiral to the useless tear

 

Susan Briante
To Erasures, Erasures

Salt in the mouth, multitudes of mouth in the Palo Verde trees, buzzing emergency
circulating poisonous flags and their flowering green,

 

Angelo Nikolopoulos
from The Body Archive

The problem with nomenclature is that it’s regional.
I can’t name any of the wildflowers

 

Alexander Blok, translated from Russian by Eugene Serebryany
Twelve

Black night,
White snow—
The wind—what a wind!—

 

Sean Singer
Burnt Plastic
Antivenom

Today in the taxi I picked up a Wall Street type on Park Avenue near 48th Street. He was going to Montclair, New Jersey. His house was on fire

 

Tanya Grae
Mall at Millennia
Why Not Minot

The welcome arch read Only the Best Come North & my parents laughed tongue-in-cheek at another cross-country Air Force move. ...read more

 

Duo Yu, translated from Chinese by Fiona Sze-Lorrain
In One’s Own Name
Discussing Our Current Condition

Today, in the name of a flu, the sun takes sick leave
and hides into the clouds. At a gust of wind, the sky
is enhanced by sea aura.

 

Richard Hoffman
Shelter
That Water

Mercury and Regulus below bright Venus
rise an hour before the dawn when no one,
or few, are awake to see them fade:

 

Danny Burdett
Golden Resta

Vocal rises from the glittery Naugahyde
city states comingle, seem conducted;

 

PROSE

Piers Gelly
Proust Springsteen

On February 21, 2015, my brother and I had a rare musical experience: we watched a band that we love perform a song in an otherwise empty room, which is as close as you can get, in life, to how a song seems inside your head…

 

Curtis J. Graham
Romance: An Essay

I watched her from the doorway of the living room. She had one hand in her hair, her fingertips buried inside dark curls. She held the phone and stared at our small television, but didn’t speak.

 

Evan Rehill
The Garden or the Empire

She comes from New York, New Jersey—that’s how all her trouble started, and where it still lies. Can she begin this story again?

 

CONTRIBUTORS

Elisa Albert is the author of two novels and a short story collection.

Eric Amling is the author of From the Author’s Private Collection and editor of the small press, After Hours Ltd.

Kristen N. Arnett is a queer fiction and essay writer. She won the 2017 Coil Book Award for her debut short fiction collection, Felt in the Jaw, and was awarded Ninth Letter’s 2015 Literary Award in Fiction. She’s a columnist for LitHub and her work has either appeared or is upcoming at Gulf Coast, TriQuarterly, Guernica, Electric Literature, and elsewhere. Her debut novel, Mostly Dead Things, will be published by Tin House Books in 2019.

Catherine Barnett is the author of three collections of poems: Human Hours, The Game of Boxes, and Into Perfect Spheres Such Holes Are Pierced. Her honors include a Whiting Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets. Barnett teaches at New York University, is a distinguished lecturer at Hunter College, and works as an independent editor.

Susan Briante is the author of three books of poetry: Pioneers in the Study of Motion, Utopia Minus, and The Market Wonders. She is an associate professor of creative writing at the University of Arizona, where she serves as faculty liaison and educational facilitator for the Southwest Field Studies in Writing Program. The program brings MFA students to the US-Mexico border to work with community-based environmental and social justice groups. Briante also produces and hosts the radio program Speedway and Swan on KXCI 91.3 Tucson.

Danny Burdett has had poems published in Mudfish, Cape Rock Poetry, Off the Coast, and The Midwest Review. He’s also the author of the film and road trip blog, Pictureland. Mr. Burdett works as a librarian in the Chicago area and can frequently be found wandering the city’s alleys reciting the works of better poets.

Greg Casale is an award-winning writer and journalist who has written for the Washington Blade, Lambda Literary, and the Phoenix New Times, among others. Poetry publications include Origins Literary Journal, Bayou Magazine, Arkana, HIV Here & Now, and Under A Warm Green Linden.

Frank Chen was born in Tianjin, China. He is a well-known Chinese American novelist, poet, short story writer, and columnist who writes under the pen name Chen Jiu. He has won the 14th Bai Hua Literature Prize, the 4th Yangtze River Literature Prize, and the First Sun Yat-Sen Literature Prize. Chen currently lives in Queens and works as a database administrator for New York City government.

Heather Christle is the author of four poetry collections, most recently Heliopause. She lives in a small village in Ohio.

Jennie Chia-Hui Chu is a writer and translator based in Boston. Her work has appeared in print and online, with publications including The Christian Science Monitor, The Boston Globe Magazine, Brevity, Asymptote, and Pathlight. Two of her essays were recorded by NPR’s All Things Considered.

Jessica Cohen is a literary translator born in England, raised in Israel, and living in Denver. She shared the 2017 Man Booker International Prize with David Grossman, for her translation of A Horse Walks Into a Bar. Her translations include works by major Israeli writers including Amos Oz, Etgar Keret, Dorit Rabinyan, Ronit Matalon, and Nir Baram, as well as Golden Globe-winning director Ari Folman. She is a past board member of the American Literary Translators Association and has served as a judge for the National Translation Award.

Miles Coleman is a writer from Vancouver, BC. He lives in New York. This is his first publication.

Born in rural Shandong in 1973, the award-winning poet, essayist, literary critic, and editor Duo Yu co-founded the prominent Lower Body movement based in Beijing during the 2000s. Among his multiple books of poetry and prose are Meanings Annoy Us, Chasing Butterflies, and The Last Darkness. One of the signatories of the Charter ’08 led by Liu Xiaobo, Duo Yu is still living under surveillance. He divides his time between Tianjin and Beijing.

Cal Freeman was born and raised in Detroit. He is the author of the books Brother of Leaving and Fight Songs. His writing has appeared in Southword, Passages North, Commonweal, Drunken Boat, and The Poetry Review. He is a recipient of the Devine Poetry Fellowship and winner of Passages North’s Neutrino Prize. He regularly reviews collections of poetry for the radio program Stateside on Michigan Public Radio and serves as music editor for The Museum of Americana: A Literary Review.

Piers Gelly is a Poe/Faulkner Fellow at the University of Virginia. This is his first publication.

Tomás González was born in 1950 in Medellín, Colombia. He studied philosophy before becoming a barman in a Bogotá nightclub, whose owner published Primero estaba el mar (In the Beginning Was the Sea), his first novel, in 1983. After twenty years in the US, he returned to Colombia, where he now lives. His books Temporal (The Storm), La luz dificil, Niebla al mediodia, El lejano amor de los extrañosare, and Abraham entre bandidos—have been translated into six languages.

Tanya Grae is the author of the forthcoming collection Undoll, a National Poetry Series finalist. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in AGNI, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, Post Road, The Massachusetts Review, and elsewhere. Grae teaches at Florida State University while finishing her doctorate.

Curtis J. Graham is a writer from New England and a veteran of the war in Afghanistan. His essay “Valor” was excerpted by New Hampshire Humanities and featured at the presentation “To Tell What They Can’t Say.” Curtis is a Candidate in the Mountainview MFA program, where he writes essays and short fiction. He works at Southern New Hampshire University and is a contributor to Assignment.

Allison Grimaldi-Donahue is a writer and translator whose work has appeared in Words Without Borders, Electric Literature, Gramma Poetry, The Brooklyn Rail, and Cosmonauts Avenue. In 2016 she published her chapbook Body to Mineral with Publication Studio Vancouver. She has been an NEA Fellow at the Vermont Studio Center and a Bakeless Fellow at the Bread Loaf Translators’ Conference. She is fiction editor at Queen Mob’s Teahouse and associate editor for translations at Anomaly. She is a PhD candidate at the European Graduate School and teaches writing at John Cabot University, Rome.

Rebecca Hazelton is the author of two volumes of poetry: Fair Copy and Vow. Her work has been published in the New Yorker, Poetry, and Best American Poetry.

Richard Hoffman has published four collections of poetry: Without Paradise, Gold Star Road, Emblem, and Noon until Night. He is also author of the memoirs Half the House and Love & Fury, as well as Interference and Other Stories. He is senior writer in residence at Emerson College, and an adjunct assistant professor in the graduate writing program at Columbia University.

Leyla Khalil is an Italian writer and social worker of Lebanese origin. In 2015 she published Piani di fuga, her first novel. She won the Slow Food Prize Mother Tongue Competition with her story “Ricordi Congelati.” She currently works in a shelter for asylum seekers.

Emily Lackey’s work has appeared in Prairie Schooner, Hobart, and The Rumpus, among others. She lives and writes in western Massachusetts.

Deborah Landau is the author of three collections of poetry: The Uses of the Body, The Last Usable Hour, and Orchidelirium. In 2016 she received a Guggenheim Fellowship. The Uses of the Body was featured on NPR’s All Things Considered and included on “Best of 2015” lists by the New Yorker, Vogue, BuzzFeed, and O: The Oprah Magazine. Her poems have appeared in the New Yorker, The Paris Review, Tin House, The New York Times, and Best American Poetry. She teaches in and directs the NYU creative writing program. Her fourth book of poems, Soft Targets, is forthcoming in 2019.

Amrit Lal “Ishrat” Madhok (1930–1989) was an Indian poet, professor, and historian. He published nearly a dozen books in his lifetime, focusing on subjects of Iranian history, literary criticisms of well-known poets such as Ghalib, and the history of Urdu shayari in Varanasi and beyond. He published several ghazals in Urdu literary magazines, and a collection of his most popular were published in both Urdu and Devanagari in Yaadgar-E-Ishrat (“Memories of Ishrat”) in 1994.

Karan Madhok is an Indian writer based in Washington DC. He is from Varanasi and lives between India and the United States. He is currently working on his first novel.

Andrew S. Nicholson is an assistant professor-in-residence at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and the author of A Lamp Brighter than Foxfire. He is assistant editor at Interim: A Journal of Poetry & Poetics. His poetry has appeared in magazines and journals including Colorado Review, Western Humanities Review, and Bitter Oleander and has been anthologized in New Poetry from the Midwest 2014.

Angelo Nikolopoulos is the author of Obscenely Yours. His poems have appeared in Best American Poetry, Boston Review, The Los Angeles Review, PANK, Tin House, and elsewhere. He teaches creative writing at New York University.

Kwame Opoku-Duku is the author of The Unbnd Verses. His work is featured or forthcoming in BOMB, the Massachusetts Review, Bettering American Poetry, Booth, BOAAT, and other publications. Kwame lives in New York City, where he is a teaching artist, and along with Karisma Price, he is a founding member of the Unbnd Collective.

W.E. Pierce is a writer and journalist living near Chicago. This is his first publication.

Evan Rehill’s work has been published in American Short Fiction, No Tokens, Little Star, and Open City. He teaches at Pratt Institute and Rutgers University. His curations include the Picasso Machinery performance series happening underground in NYC.

Matthew Rohrer is the author of nine books of poems, most recently The Others, which won the 12th annual Believer Book Award. He lives in Brooklyn and teaches at NYU.

Andrea Rosenberg is a Spanish and Portuguese translator and an editor of the Buenos Aires Review. Among her recent and forthcoming full-length translations are Inês Pedrosa’s In Your Hands, Aura Xilonen’s The Gringo Champion, Juan Gómez Bárcena’s The Sky over Lima, and David Jiménez’s Children of the Monsoon.

Moshe Sakal is the author of five Hebrew novels, including The Diamond Setter, the best-selling Yolanda, and My Sister. Sakal was born in Tel-Aviv into a Syrian-Egyptian Jewish family. He has been awarded the title of Honorary Fellow in Writing by the University of Iowa, the Eshkol Prize for his work, and a Fulbright grant. He currently lives in Jaffa.

Will Schutt is the author of Westerly, winner of the 2012 Yale Younger Poets Prize, and the translator of My Life, I Lapped It Up: Selected Poems of Edoardo Sanguineti. The recipient of several awards and fellowships, including an NEA Literature Translation Fellowship and the Amy Lowell Poetry Travelling Scholarship, he lives with his wife in Baltimore, MD.

Marian Schwartz has translated over sixty volumes of Russian classic and contemporary fiction, history, biography, criticism, and fine art. She is the principal English translator of the works of Nina Berberova and translated the New York Times bestseller The Last Tsar by Edvard Radzinsky, as well as classics by Mikhail Bulgakov, Ivan Goncharov, Yuri Olesha, and Mikhail Lermontov. She is the recipient of two National Endowment for the Arts translation fellowships and is a past president of the American Literary Translators Association.

Eugene Serebryany was born in Moscow, Russia, and moved to Massachusetts as a teenager. He is a scientist and translator. His translations of twentieth-century Russian poetry have appeared in AGNI, Cardinal Points, Inventory (Princeton), and Modern Poetry in Translation. He is currently a postdoctoral fellow in chemistry and chemical biology at Harvard University. His scientific interests include protein folding, protein aggregation, and cataract disease.

Sean Singer is the author of Discography, winner of the Yale Younger Poets Prize; Honey & Smoke; and and two chapbooks, Passport and Keep Right on Playing Through the Mirror Over the Water. He drives a taxi in New York City.

Hilary Steinitz has published fiction in the New England Review, the Southwest Review, and Zoetrope: All-Story. “Lessons in Metafiction,” her second story to appear in TLR, has been culled and adapted from her novel The Fitting Room. She lives with her family in Charlottesville, VA, where she is a psychotherapist in private practice and a yoga teacher.

Samn Stockwell has been widely published, and her two books of poetry, Theater of Animals and Rascals, won the National Poetry Series and the Elixir Press Editor’s Prize. Her poems have been published by AGNI, Mudlark, Salamander, and Poet-Lore, among others. She has taught poetry and English at the New England Young Writer’s Conference and Community College of Vermont.

Fiona Sze-Lorrain’s latest collection is The Ruined Elegance, a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Poetry and one of Library Journal’s “Best Books 2015: Poetry.” She lives in Paris where she works as a zheng harpist and an editor.

Tristan Tzara (1896–1963) was a Romanian poet and one of the founders of Dadaism. His Dada manifestos were key to the development and dissemination of the movement. Tzara’s tumultuous relation with Andre Breton led to Breton breaking from Dadaism and founding Surrealism. Tzara would later write the long poem “Approximate Man” and assist the French Resistance during World War II.

Kelsi Vanada translates from Spanish and collaboratively from Swedish. Her poems and translations have been published most recently in the Iowa Review, the Massachusetts Review, and Columbia Poetry Review. Her first translated book, The Eligible Age by Berta García Faet, was published in 2018.

John Vurro’s story “Turnkey” was chosen for Carve’s One to Watch feature in their 2015 summer issue. His story “Carmine’s War” won Harpur Palate’s 2013 John Gardner Award for fiction. His stories have been published in Ars Medica, Slush Pile, Molotov Cocktail, and elsewhere. He lives with his family in New Jersey.

G.C. Waldrep’s most recent books are feast gently and the long poem Testament. Recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in APR, New England Review, Yale Review, Iowa Review, and Colorado Review. Waldrep lives in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, where he teaches at Bucknell University and edits the journal West Branch. From 2007 to 2018 he served as editor-at-large for The Kenyon Review.

Nikki Wallschlaeger’s work has been featured or is forthcoming in The Nation, Georgia Review, Brick, Witness, Poetry, and others. She is the author of the full-length collections Houses and Crawlspace, as well as the graphic chapbook I Hate Telling You How I Really Feel. She lives in the Driftless region of Wisconsin with her family.

Leonid Yuzefovich, a historian and writer, was born in Moscow in 1947 and spent his childhood and adolescence in the Urals. He served as an officer in the Soviet Army in the Trans-Baikal region from 1970 to 1972 and for many years taught history in high school and college. Yuzefovich was awarded the Big Book Prize for his novel Cranes and Pygmies in 2009, and has been shortlisted twice for the Russian Booker Prize.

Kip Zegers is from Chicago. He was a VISTA volunteer living and working in central Harlem from 1966–67, attended Union Theological Seminary, and applied for and received Conscientious Objector status. He has three full-length volumes and six chapbooks, most recently The Poet of Schools and The Pond in Room 318. He taught at Hunter College High School, a public high school for gifted students, for thirty-three years.