Marigloria Palma is known for her mystery…
Photograph of San Juan by Bryce Myhre.
From The New York Times:
I didn’t grow up speaking much Spanish. My father doesn’t speak it, and in California, my mother was some 3,500 miles away from her Puerto Rican family. I knew nursery rhymes and the sound of my grandmother on the telephone: “¿Como estás? ¿Bienytú?” But my first word, they say, was in Spanish: “más,” meaning “more,” which I guess is what I’ve always wanted. I remain childlike and hungry for a world I don’t know how to name.
I used to be ashamed of my hand-me-down, stitched-together Spanish, but I’m learning (as Freud advises) to embrace my symptom. As a poet, I know that words always have the potential to exceed what we intend for them, even when we’re all speaking the same language. It’s impossible to account for every possible meaning in a poem, so the labor it takes to translate one does not come as a surprise. Translation makes my struggle with Spanish seem natural, even tender. Even if your relationship with another language is strained, translation can transform your anxieties — doubt, dependence, hypervigilance — into the virtues of an artist. And the person whose words you’re translating will keep you company through it all.
It’s telling that the Puerto Rican poet I’m drawn to most — Marigloria Palma — is known for her mystery. Here is my translation of Norma Valle Ferrer’s account of seeing her on the streets of San Juan: “We were nearly neighbors and I used to see her walking the old city: tall, slim, almost always dressed in a black pencil skirt and bright patterned blouse, and shoes with very low heels. … It pains me that I never approached her, but she always seemed so ensimismada.”
In every process of translation, there’s always a word — or 10 — I don’t really want to translate.