by Gali-Dana Singer (Translated from Russian by Liza Michaeli)
And then everyone heard a voice:
stop talking about words
talk with words
But then (when?) everyone (who?) (did what?)
doubted in the heard (in what?)
Not under the question remain only conjunctions
All other unsatisfactory answerers of the question
agreed: having gone, sneaking away, with snail
to take refuge in the mouths of the source and to go deaf (whom?) to please
from pounding in the ears, from knocking doubled y, on a thread
to angle the paper ears of the wretched and ugly,
by the lips of the secluded ear, reproach of the ear is tired
the oyster of hearing will fade, fall asleep, slip away
the lullying sounds of the accountant and the pink glistening of fever
with scorched frills on the faces
we will not listen we shall not hear
And then dissolved the sea, like a big shell,
like soluble coffee, by blackness seduced,
and again the edges entwined. To drown for them it was not painful.
The sea siren wailed, taking out for them shabbos.
But then they went ashore with dyadka Chernomor,
on the shore they drove the wave, as across a field is driven a puck,
like a flock of sheep is driven into the mountains to the pasture,
so they drove the coastal lambs, like the Tatar-Mongolian yoke,
like enemies before you with batogs,
and returned there, where the clay for a long time they bent with their feet
and pressed the wine of the jug, so that ten drops on the book
spilled, on her pages, like a wanderer wipes sweat,
erase handwritten lines, may over them cry the wordsmith
and the accountant be perplexed.
(This is the image of perplexity – hidden within
and greedily with rosy womb, by flesh
the bend stretches out, splicing the ligature
the edges jagged and in pitiful gilding.)
And then, in order to see this, to the very bottom they sank
and by feeling they found the image of a scarlet red rose
and in the light observed it over, close to the eyes they brought it,
but then as a wormy cherry plum it seemed to them
golden folds joined together, the sea quieted, fell.
And then above themselves a pyramid they erected from silt
after thousands of years discovered a human hair,
in an overturned sky hut in the delta of the source of the Nile,
but then everyone heard a voice:
stop talking about words
speak with words
Is it possible
on the shore comes Katyusha
I don’t want to lie in a sarcophagus
but want to lie at the bottom of the sea.
Стратегия’s verse repetitiously resounds: <хватит>, which means both “enough” (“It is enough to talk about words / talk with words”) and “stop” (“Stop talking about words / talk with words”). Rhetorically, “about” and “with” announce a critical prepositional difference. Something significant is lost when the command to stop, made possible by this difference, is given up. That is why, without attempting to resolve the ambiguity over which this word presides, this translation is a dedication to the significance of the imperative held in the latter meaning of <хватит>: “Stop talking about words / talk with words.” Here is an uncompromising command to touch the “conscience of words” and to be open to a contact, an интимность (intimacy) with the condition, the texture of experience over and against what can be said.
What is it to talk with words? Why must we stop talking about words? What is regained in this word with that about holds at a distance? Is this distance, contained in the difference between “about” and “with,” critical?
It is strategic to talk about words. It is unstrategic to talk with them. This predicament of strategy, of which the obverse is vulnerability, is presented in the contact initiated by with.
To speak about is to maintain a merely tenuous link to what is said, the subject words take as their dead, or slowly dying, “matter.” To talk about words is to be entombed in the pincers of saying, in the sarcophagus of language. And it is to treat life as if it could be entombed there also. And what if there was a heartbeat there, in the “project” of the saying?
Lest we forget, Singer reminds us, that when we speak with words we also speak with and in the language we are using: we speak with the whole body.
The difference between usury of words and care with them, between strategy and vulnerability, is so subtle it is hardly visible. But this difference is critical. It is the difference of contact, the difference contact makes.
To speak with words is to speak with the whole of the body, to make a donation from a “part” of you for the possibility of contact. With is the immediacy of cadence, the “in” throbbing against the edges of the sarcophagus. It requires laying at the bottom of the sea (of meaning) to feel this significance.
To what may we oppose strategy, if not vulnerability? It is unstrategic to talk with, to lean into a saying which occurs in shared space. To talk with is to cut—and cut through—your performance and go to the center from which your words proliferate. It is to be vulnerable with the medium itself and to crawl through the compromises of the form. And to convey yourself there, with words hanging from the “lips of a secluded ear.”
In this dimension of speech, you are your words. At stake in them. And you are with, and responsible for, those whom your words attempt to reach.
To “stop talking about words” is not so much an invitation that can be accepted, as it is a phenomenal fact toward which words tend. What is inhabited from within cannot be spoken about. This proximity is costly, like “splicing the ligature,” like touching the larynx itself.
What is to be done when words are no longer worth saying? What is it to render in significant language, and not to betray, the плотность, density, of this world? Is it necessary to speak at all when to feel this weight is already a fact?
The poem, <Стратегия>, “Strategy,” written by Russian and Hebrew poet Gali-Dana Singer and translated here is an exploration of these questions.
The poem’s conflict, how to speak about the particular and the molecular, the delicate cartilage coating the earth, is also its achievement. The poem achieves the difficulty of its own reality. Its reality accumulates against its legibility.
As I deliver this poem, and the cultural phenomenon it is meant to “capture,” I wonder whether translating it into English is worse than not translating it at all. English is inadequate for the needs of this poem. That is why my translation is a tearing, a gestational delivery. I am limited by the fact of the unovercomeable difference between the feeling of Russian and the feeling of English, but I am also freed by the opacity through which I force the English to remain broken. The translation I present is not grammatically healthy. My single priority has been not to bury the feeling, not to translate the music.
It is through this literal заикание (stammering, stuttering) of words between the languages that I accept Singer’s invitation to participate in the poem’s “with.” To be “with” this poem has been, for me, to be unstrategic and vulnerable. It has been to be called to participate in the difficult, because most literal dimension of the word.
[The original poem, published in Russian by Двоеточие נקודתיים, may be found here: Гали-Дана Зингер: СТРАТЕГИЯ.]