Flat White (20/20) by Anna Moschovakis

A compromised translation.
With, and for, Samira Negrouche.

Lindsay Burke Bomb 2

Lindsay Burke. Together, 2015, monoprint. Courtesy of the artist.


There are the pages that arrive without your writing them at the end of the night that an editor won’t expect that forge a path toward an imaginary book you watch recede as time goes by you prefer to think of it forever inside the dead memory of the computer.



I like to drink coffee with a cloud of fake cream I like coffee without anything without sugar I only like when the thick cloud of dawn I confront before sleep when it slides and collapses the valleys from the hills and in silence I like this trickle of cream it transports me / from breast unto nípple / from breast to breast.



She served me a watery cup in a bowl the color of earth she said I’ve written a novel but the diskette is broke she said look at my olive trees I have dreamed of an orchard /\ long I walk /\ down three steps I see weeds in the distance ablaze in the sun a lemon tree bent in defense like a blind forward /\ on the football field /\ I say it’s handsome your field /\ of olives try a new brand of diskette.



One two count the drops that fall from the sky on the insolent plastic that litters the balcony three four all thoughts are worth the pursuit when nothing will come not desire not sleep I look /\ sidelong for a cigarette \/\ I don’t even \ smoke.



Rue Didouche Mourad midnight thirty-five the two men walk up say we’ll walk til we get to the end til we become young til it’s the twenty-third century I say the poets are mad it’s a good thing these two exist we’ll go they say /\ on camelback /\ til in the desert while waiting I’ll be made to tránslate /\ make flesh /\ the turns—say virages—that have loaned me \/\ have taken me on loan.



Cats don’t need anyone to whisper in their ears they don’t circle their bowls they wait patiently then furiously on the disordered dresser they curl up with dexterous skill the perfect distance from the radiator you haven’t lifted your foot they know already if you’ll fidget or get up.



Again this hand that trembles that can barely put vulgar pen to crossword grid the piano still /\ shut and dusty the poet a scared shadow on a stripped easy chair that faces the extinguished streetlamp of a sleeping mosque and dreams of the day that wíll arrive without him.



I say that to write the most banal things you must first write of your birth of your mother of your father of the love of bodies of women of men of rapists and assassins of incest and night sweats and of the hunger of the desert of books of envy of suspicion of sex of ruins of the sea of trees of archaeology of the Greek and Pagan gods and of the stars I say all of this is almost banal before you write and after.


{ 1 }

Samira it’s dark outside and winter the branches are thick with snow I think where there are deserts and olives there can’t be snow but California my mother /\ land gives me the lie.


{ 2 }

Samira I have questions I’m afraid to ask like what does it mean je traverse du sein au téton which I translated first as from breast to tit like a girl coming out ontological shift the discovery of eros and then later as something /\ else I’m afraid to ask after the ratio of banal to dramatic in your day or your year /\ my fear \/ soft like a cat that swings its tail //\ in irritation while asking to be pet.



You have to multiply the word mountain by quick and avid breaths retain that which might resemble an oxygenic dizziness like a veritable frontier between the states of mourning and of resurrection.


{ 3 }

I have read that language / leaves \ that it leaves a trace // ok \ ‘I draw a /\ line’ Samira the security system of this translation has been compromised.



To slide between the dead leaves of a late winter and let yourself roll /\ your knees out of joint and muscles rusted deaf to all movement the animal mineral climbs and falls with a certain sensation of existing to kiss the horizon.


{ 4 }

I have a problem Samira with the title of your book in which I found this poem /\ Le Jazz d’oliviers /\ or Jazz of the Olive Trees I delete the ‘the’ but that doesn’t fix ‘jazz’ which although I’m quite sure you’re  referring to music  to the way your phrasings are improvisatory the way they necessitate quick and avid /\ breaths how if you were a wind player you’d do circular breathing or speak through your clarinet like Anthony Braxton but the problem with ‘jazz’ isn’t Braxton or the clarinet the problem is Broadway and fourth grade dance class have you never /\ heard of a thing called jazz hands—


{ 5 }

Samira you are my third Samira.



I like this place de la comédie where actors come and go from Line 1 of the tram I sip a glass of whatever liquid’s turned warm in my hands and await the fall of night I live my own little drama amidst silhouettes of the free and self-confident I blame /\/ culture shock and wish for a certain how do you say


{ 6 }

insouciance. Samira there’s no word for the word virage a bend turn curve or shift as in the language turn or the ethical turn or the turn we are in the midst of now or as I read in another window in an attempt to triangulate sense a road full of dangerous bends / to go into a bend / to take a bend / blind bend / about-turn and /\ finally /\ positive reaction.


{ 7 }

The first Samira was delivered somehow by the Shah was a straight-A student had the voice of an angel she taught me to eat burned-bottom rice we were twelve and thirteen how do you say assimilable she was cast against type in Bye Bye Birdie she belted ‘How Lovely to Be a Woman’ we studied chemistry drank coffee while I chain-smoked Camel Lights we read The Stranger we learned hell is other people we listened to Killing an Arab I think she was voted most friendly / now practices / law in the Bay I don’t know /\ I don’t know if she still goes /\ by Sam.


{ 8 }

Samira I await your response to my queries I am in the meantime translating interviews with Bresson he says things I /\ admire /\ he likes / to work with amateurs has coherent unpopular ideas says the value of an image is an exchange / value /\ an image a word in the grammar of a / scene / he says aim for the emotion you want to produce then do whatever /\ whatever /\ you veritably can.


{ 9 }

I want to tell you Samira how it is right now a small stack of books on my desk their covers all red by a happy coincidence one is yours In the Shadow of Grenada or In the Shade of Granada I haven’t worked on it yet but the top one was published in 1968 /\ Disease, Pain, & Sacrifice: Toward a Psychology of Suffering \/ and when I open it here in front of you across the world I see the word pain multiplied on the page /\ Pain as a Demand upon a Higher Telos and The Phenomenally Ego-Alien Nature of Pain and at the top The Paradox of the Function of Pain and we know that pain pronounced pan spells bread in \ one of your / extramaternal \ tongues // I read it \/ whose I is this anyway \/\ read it first as In the Shadow of the Grenade.



Sometimes I think I should cast off now take the first boat the first plane the first whatever just leave with swinging arms with solitary heart with the feeling that the world is immense I cross the boulevard of the port I hear the boat howl I try to distract myself I almost crush a passerby and I say to myself that Algiers is a whore I /\ mean by that /\ that she is a \ sacrée putain.


{ 10 }

The second Samira was in Baltimore she made mosaics of glass came from Tunisia via France was pregnant when I moved into the spare room she said she hoped it would be a son //\ I would like to believe a girl could win she said \ what I remember is all that I know \ and went on //\ but a girl’s life is nothing but pain \// the child was born male they named it Loul /\ Arabic \ for ‘one’ he crawled into my bed laughed himself to sleep when I left she was pregnant again with a girl they named \/ her Naila the name of the wife of the caliph Uthman who tried to prevent rebels from murdering her husband \/\/ whose fingers were cut off in the process \ who failed to prevent the murder of her husband /\ I look up the meaning of Naila /\/ ‘the one who wins.’



I would like to believe that the future will be bitter now that we need photos that fit to the millimeter on a pale crimson background to cross the Mediterranean and a stationary / bicycle to soften the Achilles /\ heel while waiting for lawns to be aerated in a yearly rotation and forests //\ cleared by the false /\ fires of July.



I would be happy in the fashion of Prévert to encounter the mysteries of New York and then the mysteries of Paris and why not make a lament of my small demons my large /\ my large / my even larger / caprices.


{ 11 }

I say that to write the most banal things you must first write of your [       ] of your [        ] of your [        ] of the love of [          ] of [          ] of [          ] of [          ] and [          ] of [         ] and [         ] [         ] and of the [         ] of the [     ] of [       ] of [       ] of [       ] of [       ] of [       ] of the [       ] of [        ] of [        ] of the [        ] and [        ] [        ] and of the [        ] I say all of this is almost [



Tomorrow is a day of which no one wants to think / anymore for tomorrow traverses \ the hours / takes up position at the window without /\ patienting for the moon to fall.



The painter tells me that books are signs for me they are nothing but the scrawlings of creatures in the space of my screen since I’ve divorced myself from Arabic calligraphy I’m afraid that the mountain of books will transform itself to a wave of indecipherable signs.


{ 12 }

In an email you list your languages only Kabyle until you were four then Arabic in school then French because you asked /\ you mention the posited relation between Kabyle and Greek /\ I look it up I find Sanskrit between them /\ I find /\ that among Kabyle speakers there is no consensus about which alphabet to use \//\ even /\ about the orienta- tion of the line /\/\ I find the alphabet called Neo-Tifinagh to be beautiful you say yes /\ it’s beautiful you say you find it /\ so.


{ 13 }

That which predisposes toward an encounter that which is meant by the argument against a private /\ language that which is presented as an argument against empathy that which joins the passions into a com /\ passion when I translate your words using nonhuman means into an alphabet whose calligraphy I don’t know I have reason /\ to question /\ the accuracy of the result especially words like sex and ruins like Pagan like incest like rapist and suspicion I am willing to be wrong I stand / corrected most of the time Samira I would prefer not to be wrong / about certain /\ terms /\ among them ‘night sweats’ with which I am \ familiar thanks to my / thanks to everyone’s /\ condition.


{ 14 }

first must  you things  banal  most  the  write to  that  say  I
the  of  //\/\/\  your  of   ////\/\   your  of   \/\/\/\/   your  of  write
\/\/\/\/   and    /\/\/\/\//   of    \/\/\/\\   of    /\/\/\/    of    \/\/   of   love
//\/\//\/  the  of   \/\//\//\   the  of  and  \/\/\/\/\/ \/\//   and   /\/\/   of
of  \//\  the of  //\/\/\  of  \/\/\///\/\  of  //\/\/\//\/\  of  \/\//  of  /\/\/  of
of   and   \/\/\/\/ //\/\/\    and   \/\/\/\\    the   of    /\/\////\/\/   of   \/\/
before  banal  almost  //\//\/\/\/\/\//\  is this of all say  I  \/\/  the


{ 15 }

I say the future will be bitter I did not say better say better 
/ Samira do you ever start writing \ one \ and end up /\ static / with another \/ other.



She makes the gesture for writing she says tell me what happened one day she says tell me this in the present and execute sound bites I say my memory is overloaded there is too much going on or not enough in a day how to peel the onion of Günter Grass how to press the alarm bell / to go in / the day that counts on words that / count / how to stare at the truth of this moment /\ that is /\ the birth of the abortion / \/\/\//\/ the abortion of language.



I too would like to know what happened one day in the present to relive all this but on this day / today \ I am really really tired.



There is when sleep abandons you something on the order of an injustice / of \ a madness.


{ 16 }

I woke up with night sweats and a realization /\ the second Samira wasn’t Samira at all \ but Samia / it’s been seventeen years no excuse \/ she is back in Tunisia with her family now does this \/ mean we can change things that things can change /\ Samira \ in Greek my father tongue the word for today is simera /\ I loved her forgot her \ name \/\ I guess \/ I too am tired \ really really tired.


{ 17 }

The Roma say feri ando payi stsholpe te nay nas /\ or /\ in the water one learns to swim /\ and the Greeks say δεν ντρέπεσαι \ aren’t you ashamed \ but in Greece this is meant affectionately \ a joke /\ this is religious /\ I call this religious difference.


{ 18 }

The title of your poem is Café Sans Sucre I tried Black Coffee I tried Coffee, Black I tried Milk No Sugar when I got to the reference to cream I remembered Australians make a flat white I tried Flat White /\ at a reading and somebody laughed /\ then I learned of the flat white economy in London \/\ flat meaning affect and white meaning White used metonymically if not intentionally for settlers /\/\ and as is often the case I don’t know which sense to keep.


{ 19 }

The number of olive trees uprooted by settlers has reached /\ 800,000 \/ the professor who coined the term ‘flat white economy’ has been charged / for attacking a prostitute / white //\ after smoking crack /\ which she tried to turn down \/ Samira I want your poem to flatten my \/ all of my veritable signs.


{ 20 }

They grow olives in California too / I order oil by the gallon when I don’t forget \ it’s labeled organic it’s limited /edition \/\ Samira / we are not perfect /\ friends by definition / not above /\ reproach / I stand / corrected /\ attempt to triangulate /\ the individual’s coordinates /\/\/\ amidst the group.



That which predisposes toward  an  encounter these  are sometimes the four winds that become confused / telescope / on an eagle’s nest and the instant /\ word of love will cancel \/ really cancels /\ all the forces of opposition.

Anna Moschovakis lives and works in the Catskill Mountains and in New York City.

“Flat White (20/20)” is the first part of an ongoing collaboration with Samira Negrouche, an Algerian poet and translator based in Algiers. It consists of Moschovakis‘s often-corrupt translations of Negrouche‘s twenty-part poem interspersed with twenty interjections in response to both the original and the act of translation itself. This work is part of They and We Will Get into Trouble for This, just released by Coffee House Press.

For more on artist Lindsay Burke, visit her website.

Individualism by Luke Williams Natasha Soobramanien
Create a Radical and Memorable Equivalent: Mary Jo Bang Interviewed by Sylvia Sukop

A new translation with contemporary allusions that reflect the boldness of the original.

I Will Erect the New Paradise: A Series of Mistranslations by Ursula Andkjær Olsen & Katrine Øgaard Jensen
Outgoing Vessel3

i will erect the new paradise / i will build and decorate it / LIKE a garden in an outgoing/incoming vessel / with ornamented walls / with a basin in the floor

One Poem by Alice Sant'Anna
Cover of Speak Love by Alice Sant'Anna

Translated by Eric M. B. Becker