The class hates when in one translation blue night ends in a lily,
and in the other a man goes into a bodega.Their suffering is great when faced with no correct translation.
A few hundred Venn diagrams overlapping
nowhere. Always a piece seems missing.Back in the times of silent trades
if two peoples did not speak a common language
one party left goods in a grassy area, the other waited, got closer, felt
how heavy the salt or beef was,
or picked the tool they needed, left pieces of gold.Students start to translate: Some argue the plums
in a poem should be plush, others fresh.In a poem, one thing is meant but that thing
is meant by the totality of all language,
the pure language that no one speaks.So we are left with a goose flying overhead,
But in place of its shadow,
a mallard swims.
Copyright © 2019 by Cynthia Arrieu-King
All rights reserved.
Reproduced by Poetry Daily with permission.
Cynthia Arrieu-King is associate professor of creative writing at Stockton University and a former Kundiman fellow. Her books include People are Tiny in Paintings of China (Octopus 2010) and Manifest, selected for the Gatewood Prize by Harryette Mullen (Switchback Books 2013). Her poetry book Futureless Languages (Radiator Press 2018) and Continuity (Octopus 2019) form a kind of double album about inherited war trauma and family lineages. She lives in the East Coast Megalopolis.
“Futureless Languages is a manual for you written in the sound of the wind, in the language ‘the air in the rock speaks.’ A mixed tape of things ‘beyond interpretation.’ Manifesto made all of questions and a very listening speech: ‘how did I get here? what should we do?’ King writes a poetry of now that bears out how language already accesses tomorrows: a simple switch of tense changes everything, like the time traveler who butterfly-effects their own birth. While they hold language’s paradoxes, these poems hold the world’s too. ‘Every time I watch the news I delete a few more poems.‘—but the ones that remain brim with the fragile power of the poet’s word. That power whose truth still get poets detained. King’s poems work as embodiments and records, laments and wishes: ‘To walk outside at/ midnight with zero fear.’ Locations, languages flow, revealing observation for translation, syntax for alchemy, and poetry to be ‘a toil and an art,’ time-spinning and thing-keeping. Futureless Languages is tender, brilliant play: read it aloud.”
“You have no future because you are in it. And so, what is now? What does it feel like, what is its real language? Is someone or something dying, going on, or gone? Cynthia Arrieu-King is a gifted, present poet, but I forget her, reading this (and it is hers) account of a world going more and more ‘off’ — off-base, out of kilter, not like some previously perceptible ‘normal’: it is real, and it is a dream. The souring world is a dream. But this is such an interesting book! The author is an honest tracker, so you never know, finally, what she’ll say, in her own futureless language.”