April 18 Poetry: Translation

My poetry choices, at this point have been fairly white and American. I can almost promise that they will continue to be so; reflecting, after all, the point of view of the chooser. It makes sense that is the kind of poetry that I am more likely to find myself in. But of course, I want to still challenge myself to more, explore, and be shaped by many perspectives. We will see. . .

A friend, Jami, gave me this book last year and the words of this author have filled my imagination. Today's choice from Kim-An Liberman, who is a Vietnamese Jewish American from the Pacific Northwest strikes a nice balance between connecting with what I understand and challenging me to think beyond. I think this poem...again about the relationships between women...captures the tension of being in between cultures beautifully! I also think every doctor or future doctor should keep this in mind...


I take my grandmother to the doctor each weekend.
My Vietnamese is fair enough, the basics at least:
I have to get creative with "hematocrit" and "uterus."
The doctor, pale blue scrubs and a half-smile
always addresses my grandmother by her first name
though he is 30 years her junior. He briskly nods his head
as I explain, the best I can, each phrase he assigns.
Sometimes he stops me short: Just translate my words.
Don't add personal interpretations. Just say what I say.

Appointment over, I take the keys and drive us
home through the usual stretch of street signs.
What's that one, my grandmother asks me mile after mile
and, like some proud traffic-law expert, I say,
"Stop," "Yield," "Caution speed bump," "exit ahead."
But the truth is I have no idea whether my words
connect, if my translations are knowledge or nonsense.
This language engulfs us in separate oceans,
long and louder than anything I know how to name.

Lieberman, Kim-An, Breaking the Map, (Blue Begonia Press, Yakima, WA 2008.)


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