Fourteen Daydreams through Spanish Translation
The wind rotates in the sky’s blue socket.
I wish Ryan would love me.
Okay, notice me. Look at me, even.
But not when I’m smiling with my braces showing.
‘Turn over your tests. You may start.’
Ode to Sunday.
Oh yellow sun, lonely armadillo,
cancel your gut’s groans
with a spade
under the sober trucks
a zap of cheese.
What? Starving. Skipped breakfast. Want cheekbones though.
My sandwiches cat-nap in my lunch box
all fat white stomachy with family love
big and bricky as awful school shoes.
In the cities
the dearness, the world,
agonise us, peg us
in the egg yolks
of the pulverised chicken.
That can’t be right
but the clock’s got hysterics, the minutes
are spilling down its face, gotta crack on with it …
We are suddenly gulping gold
with piety pie
and cactus spines
with hot stones
and the mouth
Rotorua. Smelly eggy air. We went there.
Dad was relaxed for once. Funny that it stunk.
More than all the gifts:
it has salt, the throat, the teeth,
the lips and the language
Ryan hardly speaks, but I’ve seen the soft hairs
on his upper lip and I haven’t minded them at all,
so do I smile too wide? Feelings coated all over me
in oily sheen? Do I clip my hair too tight?
Is it my ugly yellow school bag that cries out, gormless?
I know it is. I’m so ashamed. And of how near my breasts
the gap between my shirt-buttons pouches
on plump skin white as baby scorpions.
But Ryan, he’s café au lait calm,
he’s a cool bronze casting
We want to drink cataracts
the blue night, the poles
and then, crucifying the sky,
the coldest of all the planets,
the round, the supreme,
the heavenly sanity.
Oh what? Change the title, quick! ‘Ode to Sanity’?
It is the fruit of the tree of salt.
It is the ballerina of green truth.
The ballerina of green truth!
Ryan — sanity is the ballerina of green truth.
Do you like that, would you agree?
I’ve heard your mother is very strict
she hasn’t been well, people say she isn’t coping
and I don’t really know what that means.
Could I help, like, somehow? With the dishes?
Is it hard to be so much older than your brother?
You shouldn’t be embarrassed; it makes you seem wiser,
the way you walk him in his carriage, your face so I don’t know,
iron of jawbone, so soccer-practice-serious,
looking like science somehow,
upright, serious science. But your baby brother:
that you have to be another father to him,
and your mother doesn’t like you to be with girls…
If I were thinner, if I were a dancer,
would you fall at my feet so I could laugh,
flick back my hair like some Follyfoot filly,
(‘Grow, grow the Lightening tree …’)
then say, Ryan, no! Stand up! Please don’t!
So you could say, ‘You are even worth asphalt scrape-holes
on my school uniform knees…’
It is the dry universe
all of a sudden stained
by this fresh heaven
Yes, yes, yes, Ryan when I see you,
it is the dry universe
all of a sudden stained
by this fresh heaven
Quiet water coffin
of the fruit stall
(What? That’s a compliment?
I thought they said this poet was romantic.
If only Ryan would say,
my golden colt, my blazing girl,
my ballerina of the heart, my zap of cheese
it doesn’t matter that you are fat,
you are not fat to me ….)
earthly bistro of depth, moon.
Oh pure one
in your abundance
of undressed rubies.
Well that’s just rude.
blah, skip, skip, skip.
If I could see his soul … pink, glowy,
like when the sun shone through his ears
yesterday at the bus stop
and it wasn’t even geeky somehow, it was ….
We divide you in the soft salt
like a mini mountain
of splendid food
Oh crap, is this about FOOD?
Skip skip skip
blah blah blah
we haven’t even been given half this vocabulary
this test SUCKS.
Oh hell, the bell! I can’t revise, that was way too fast.
‘Papers to the front. Pack your bags.’
Oh my GOD my skirt’s side zip’s undone. Please don’t tell me Ryan saw that today. Shit-shit. He would have. It’s been undone all day. You can see the gap between where my shirt tucks in and — God my school regulation underwear. I hate my parents for buying them. I am going to pass out from shame. That’s why he looked away and hardly spoke. Thinks he’s so superior. I’m giving up boys forever. My big fat watermelon hips. My big fat watermelon belly. I’m skipping lunch. I’m throwing myself into my schoolwork from now on. Oh yellow sun. Oh lonely armadillo.ª
ª Fourteen is struggling with ‘Oda a la Sandía’ (‘Ode to the Watermelon’) by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. The version set for the test (‘No dictionaries allowed. You have forty-five minutes, starting from now’) is reprinted in The FSG Book of Twentieth Century Latin American Poetry, edited by Ilan Stavans. The translation here is entirely her own.
© Emma Neale
Author note: I’ve been working and reworking this adolesecent girl’s monologue for a couple of years. I’ve submitted it elsewhere once or twice, immediately sticking my fingers in my ears as if waiting for an explosion (of distaste or mockery, etc.). As the two modes it uses are quite far apart – the teenager speaker’s bad translation, and her internal thoughts – it stretches the container of the poem so far it might split. Perhaps that feeling of excess is okay, though, for an adolescent voice. Young people can be so receptive, sensitive, energetic, inventive, critical, vulnerable, wise and yet also wildly unknowing, there’s a symphonic orchestra of emotions competing on any ordinary day during these years, it seems to me. And each emotion is such an intensely coloured version of itself, what single poem could contain them all, even if it limited itself to one class test, on one day?
Emma Neale‘s most recent poetry collection, Tender Machines, was long-listed in the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards 2016 and her latest novel, Billy Bird, was short-listed for the Acorn Prize at the same awards in 2017. She works as a freelance editor.
From Paula: For Poetry Shelf’s Winter Season, I invited 12 poets to pick one of their own poems that marks a shift in direction, that is outside the usual tracks of their poetry, that moves out of character, that nudges comfort zones of writing. It might be subject matter, style, form, approach, tone, effect, motivation, borrowings, revelation, invention, experimentation, exclusions, inclusions, melody …. anything!