Adrienne Rich

The Art of Translation

To have seen you exactly, once:
red hair over cold cheeks fresh from the freeway
your lingo, your daunting and dauntless
eyes. But then to lift toward home, mile upon mile
back where they'd barely heard your name
—neither as terrorist nor as genius would they detain you—

to wing it back to my country bearing
your war-flecked protocols—
that was a mission, surely: my art's pouch
crammed with your bristling juices
sweet dark drops of your spirit
that streaked the pouch, the shirt I wore
and the bench on which I leaned.
It's only a branch like any other
green with the flare of life in it
and if I hold this end, you the other
that means it's broken
broken between us, broken despite us
broken and therefore dying
broken by force, broken by lying
green, with the flare of life in it
But say we're crouching on the ground like children
over a mess of marbles, soda caps, foil, old foreign coins
—the first truly precious objects. Rusty hooks, glass.

Say I saw the earring first but you wanted it.
Then you wanted the words I'd found. I'd give you
the earring, crushed lapis if it were,

I would look long at the beach glass and the sharded self
of the lightbulb. Long I'd look into your hand
at the obsolete copper profile, the cat's-eye, the lapis.
Like a thief I would deny the words, deny they ever
existed, were spoken, or could be spoken,
like a thief I'd bury them and remember where.
The trade names follow trade
the translators stopped at passport control:
Occupation: no such designation—
Journalist, maybe spy?
That the books are for personal use
only—could I swear it?
That not a word of them
is contraband—how could I prove it?