The Philosophy Student

Translated from Italian by Stiliana Milkova


the philosophy student
dreams she has insomnia

her hair grows at night
spilling from her bed

even-numbered strands
sprout into serpents’ heads
odd-numbered strands
splice into steel scissors

serpents and scissors battle
while the student sleeps

each bladed pair chops a head
cleaves a bifurcated tongue

each venomous mouth
swallows steel points

shredded flesh
metal rotting from the venom

the philosophy student
knows every exact point
of all her afflictions

each of those strands
is where a thought ends






Tiziano Scarpa was born in Venice, Italy in 1963. He is a novelist, poet, and playwright. Scarpa’s third novel, Stabat Mater,  was awarded the 2011 Strega Prize, Italy’s most prestigious literary honor. His acclaimed Venice is a Fish: a Sensual Guide is known throughout the world as an idiosyncratic celebration of Venice.

Stiliana Milkova teaches comparative literature and literary translation at Oberlin College. She has translated from Italian works by Antonio Tabucchi, Alessandro Baricco, Roberto Carretta, Anita Raja, Andrea Raos, and Dario Voltolini.



read next: Bart Schaneman, “Cyclones


“The Philosophy Student” appeared in TLR: Contents May Shift (Summer, 2020)