Johannes Punkt’s Flaskpost

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Tag: metaphors

NORTH OF REALITY TRANSLATION PROJECT: THE HELL CACTUS

Good $TIME! The laws of nature have shifted gently to the side, as though sidling closer to someone they like, causing untold destruction. It is Tuesday. I’ve got a translation for you today, and you can and should read Uel Aramchek’s original at this hyperlink: The Hell Cactus. What the hell, cactus.

As usual there are translation notes in a language you can read (provided you can read this sentence) at the bottom of the post. This is the twelfth piece, which is not a significant number in any real way as far as I can tell, in the context of this blog post series. All the same, you can read the other eleven pieces here: /tag/the-north-of-reality-translation-project/

~

NORR OM VERKLIGHETEN: HELVETESKAKTUSEN
    av Uel Aramchek
        översättning: Johannes Punkt

En kväll kom min rumskamrat tillbaks från ett svartspeceri i västra stan. Hon hade på sig en sån där tung militärjacka i bomullstyg, nyligen nerstänkt med nån slags indigoblå vätska som jag senare skulle få reda på var någontings blod. ”Kolla här.” Hon hivade upp en glasburk med båda händerna och smällde ner den på bordet. En varelse syntes därinne, täckt med tentakler och taggar utan någon urskiljbar egen kropp där den plaskade runt i samma blåa goja. ”Dom lät mig välja en från tanken helt själv.”

Det var inte första gången hon gjort en sån utflykt; för ett par månader sen hade hon tatt hem en gigantisk hög ätbara fyrverkerier som vi satte i oss under ett Vänner-maraton. Men det här var ett steg längre, att köpa en utrotningshotad art att hacka upp och tillaga levande, särskilt en som var alldeles i stånd till att döda oss bägge två. Den agarthanska helveteskaktusen var inget att skämta om – efter att man ryckt upp den från sina rötter kan den överleva hur länge som helst så länge den är nersänkt i syrebefriat blod med stadig tillgång till nytt; annars blir den uttråkad och börjar jaga nya källor att torka ut med sina blodtörstiga sländor.

Jag ville mest säga ”vad i helvete” men jag kunde inte säga nåt alls. Jag såg bara på när dess femtidollarrankor gned sig mot glaset och jag undrade om hon skulle ringa polisen ifall de började slingra sig runt min nacke, eller om hon ens skulle ha råd med hyran efter det här. I varje fall höll vi med varandra om att vi måste äta den förbannade saken färsk för att hon skulle få valuta för pengarna.

Vi grubblade över vad vi skulle göra med den under tre kvällar. Vi kom på en rad strategier i köket, sätt att försäkra oss om att vi dödade den innan den kunde klänga fast sig vid en av oss. Det var Rube-Golbergkombinationer av köttyxor, kokande vatten, en mixer, vadsomhelst vi hade i köket övervägdes. Varje gång den ena eller den andra av oss lade händerna på burken för att verkställa planen reagerade dock kaktusen på vår kroppsvärme och började piska och fräsa vilt, så vi drog oss undan.

Till slut började den skrumpna och hoppade inte längre mot oss när vi kom närmre; den bara rosslade dystert. Den kunde inte längre hålla uppe sitt våldsamma beteende. Den spenderade det mesta av sin tid med att försöka hålla sig varm med sina utlöpare ihopkurade inunder sig. När vi såg det kändes tanken av att äta den bara sorglig. Vi kastade ut burken ur fönstret, såg kaktusen kila iväg, och nämnde det aldrig igen.

~

Notes

I wanted to translate this one into less highbrow language than usual. It seemed to be a good idea, because of the more casual narrating in this story. I ran into a problem here with the word approach, however, which is best translated as nalkas. This is a delicious word that I use whenever I can justify it, although one should, alas, prioritize the flow of the piece over the individual delectability of any one word. Using it in this sense would really trip up readers and make everything sound like it was written in 1950.

Fun fact about the word for “something” in Swedish – there are three ways to write/say it, depending on how formal you want to be. Many other words of the some-family have similar variations, usually only a choice between two. I had some fun with the casual and serious levels in this one, afforded by the decision to translate into casual writing – especially in the first paragraph. Essentially, you can say “någonting” (formal or at least elaborate), “något” (neutral), or “nåt” (informal). In the opening I used “sån” (informal) instead of “sådan” (formal) and “nån” (informal) instead of “någon” (…not informal) to indicate the level of formality, but then I wrote “something’s blood” as “någontings blod.” This word choice indicates the slight panic and out-of-their-depth-ness in the narrator’s voice, or that’s what I hope at least. It has a powerful position (the end of a long sentence) in Uel’s English, so I tried to maintain that impact.

Uel describes the cactus spines as needles at one point, which is a nice difficult blur of meanings, calling on the function of a syringe and the cactusoidal shape of a pincushion. How to recreate this? The answer probably has something to do with Sleeping Beauty, who is known as Törnrosa in Swedish. This version of Sleeping Beauty’s name seems to be rendered as “Briar Rose” in English, which I think explains it rather well. Thornrose doesn’t sound very feminine, I guess. My translation evokes Törnrosa and her thorns without mentioning her.

In fact, the translation that I went with obscures the imagery much more than in Uel’s version, but I feel it is justified. One of the most rewarding things about short, well-crafted stories like this is that they reveal more when you investigate them. So the bloodthirsty needles became spindles, ”sländor” – a word that first and foremost means a type of flying insect of a particular shape, think mayflies, stoneflies, dragonflies. Those meanings are noise for this use, but they’re a good noise, I feel.

Perhaps, if I had thought of it at a time before right now, five minutes before posting this piece, it would have been a good idea to prime the sewing connotations by using a phrase connected to needle and thread. All the ones I can think of at the moment don’t fit as synonyms for anything in the same paragraphs. But it’s a good thought and so I’m writing it down.

Because I’ve picked a much more oral version of Swedish to write in here than I usually do, I could use less correct-seeming phrasures, such as rendering “spend time” literally. (See last week’s notes on why some people are irked by this.)

The word “appendage” caused me some headache, because as far as I can see there is no equivalent word in Swedish that can imply both plant and animal “limbs” at least not in this context. You can say armar, “arms,” but that seems wrong. So I went with an all-plant word, utlöpare, suggested to me by a botany friend. A good thing about this word is that it means “offshoot” and thus suggests/collaborates the nice violent draining process already hinted at in the piece.

Next week’s piece is “Vanishing Point”!

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Pitch Drop

It is a misnomer to say that they have buried the hatchet, as that would imply an intention of keeping it in the ground. The tell-tale thing beats under the floorboards, right below their bed, while the air is thick with taciturnity. The hatchet is the only thing willing to spill guts. They sit about one body’s width apart, sinking into the mattress.

“I’m sorry,” she says, stroking a lock of hair back so she can look at him without turning her head. Her mouth is dry. Her words come like molasses,

but his are a pitch drop. “I know.”

Freeverse Smiles

Our metaphors fuck like we do. My poetry leers and wants to know what it can do to yours. There is a smile on your face that is both innocent and not at the same time. Coy, devious. A soft purr hangs in the air, poise of a cat ready to pounce. You smirk, and you lean against me, and you move your leg an inch more; that is a pounce. I kiss you progressively: cheek, corner of mouth, lips. You beam. There is an innuendo in here, somewhere. There is want. There is a stupid grin on my face.

Thunder across Deck

Rain! Thunder across deck, woman the harpoons! The night this is, this is. This is the night, the night. Toss and turn all you want, vengeful sea, but you will never sink this ship. There he is, the whale, the whale! Take aim, breathe out, draw tight, release. Wrap the lace around the bait, sink the net into the ocean. Dip it in, pull it out, dip it in, scream. The rope won’t hold, won’t hold. Do you think he’ll take us back, us back? We don’t want his meat, his meat, we just want to sink him, sink him.

Knossos, Crete

Annelie’s cunt was a labyrinth and she didn’t know how to respond when guys told her they couldn’t figure her out. She felt she was a straightforward person.

Sometimes, Annelie would time them, but it turned out that ”three hours, 15 minutes” wasn’t the right way to respond either. There was no monster at the heart of the labyrinth, but they all acted like it. They all acted like she was the labyrinth, like her emotions were as mazelike.

The solution, obvious in hindsight, was a woman named Liz. Her fingers were deft, and she was not prone to metaphor.

Landmine

This is a landmine, but it is unloaded for you. When you feel bad you should open it and you can tell that others feel like you. You can see the traces of their survival on the little bomb’s skin, and you can feel the texture of being so close to defeat, if you run your fingers along the edge, but be careful. The bad stuff will collect in it until it is brimming with it, and that is when you must walk away. Give the insidious little bomb away, because it can only hurt the one who loaded it.

Symphony

I sat down at the piano with no plan in mind and sad things started pouring out of it. I tried to catch them, but I had to keep playing. The things fluttered and screeched like animals who know they are about to become extinct. My bookshelves vibrated like hesitant trigger fingers. And a song started to rise in my throat, like the sea, just as wordless. I wondered whether the sad things came from the piano or me, and then the song ended. Perched on my shoulder, one of the sad things tilted its head and stared at me.

Toothed Beaks and Mountains

The five million of us sat in the same place at the same time, awaiting the meteor strike. We thought we could last through it. There was not much grass around us, just sand and time, which aren’t entirely different, but we didn’t let it dirty our hands.

We amateur astronomied, I stabbed two sharp telescopes into the backs of our heads. There was hindsight to be had, and there we saw the meteor strike.

This is where we point out that that was a million years ago and sand and grass have taken the place of the bones and neverending ashes that ended. The fire had shadowed itself, masked to something more devious.

The four million and nine hundred ninety nine thousand nine hundred ninety nine of us waited for the meteor strike. One of us took up studying the way the comet’s surface crackellated from the heat. “Perhaps,” you (I) said, “we can learn from this.”

There was another one who wasn’t us who tried to drag us away, but provided corners when the meteor struck, this other one I don’t know where they are now.

We didn’t learn from your crackellology. Out of the four million and three thousand five hundred sixty eight that are left one grabs a shovel. One – still the same – fills himself with water and walks wobbly to the hole he just dug, to where the meteor landed a million and nine hundred and ninety six thousand four hundred thirty one years ago (back when we wasn’t sick, or so many).

He lets the water fill up the hole and waits for the meteor to strike. He (I) waves at it with flags that mean come, come, I sigh and watch another one of me wiped out. Unless you’re counting like I am you could not have known how many me have gone up from the spot where I’m sitting.

“Why do you need to stop the meteor?” I ask myself.

“Look, it’s a bit less now? Do you see? There is a town” (two million and five hundred thousand eight hundred fifty two years ago) “that now has one house standing.”

“That is a new house, not an old house,” says a version of myself which has a number that is five million, minus the number of years since the meteor strike, plus one. I think that’s it.

~

Timestorm, I get dust in my eyes.

~

A pebble lands by my feet.