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Plastic 1: Embodied language materializes in the mouthmind in Divya Victor’s suite of poems excerpted from the book-length collection, KITH (Fence/Book Thug 2017).

The countertranslation below features translations of Divya’s work by fellow contributors to this folio. By making visible the multiple languages hiding in a mouth, and promoting translations that destabilize notions of mastery, countertranslation hopes to open possibilities of exchange beyond the frames of English and nurture a wider community of interpretation.

 

WATER
from KITH

Once they found a man made of distance— a coat of shells, a wig of weeds— and at his breast a suckling book made of salty skin, stamped on its chubble joints, its fatty folds— us, us— visas. Two webbed palms cupping the downy document. Motherless child, they said, let us buy you.

 
Once it saw the man— Was he waving or drowning? It matters not: what is of the water returns to water— Once it saw the man, the boat rowed itself from the shore, folding fins out like a manta ray breaching into red spray, cartilage and cartridge inked out, flared into an X: marking this location and the boat’s movement.

& then?

Once the man was finally harpooned and lanced to death, the boat towed him ashore, and, with small cranes sprouting from its fins, flensed his fat and boiled his bones clean to build a child up from flank to fo’c’sle; skull to stem; fore and aft.

& aft? What was aft?
 
 
That thing at the end, Child, this was everything that came after the boats came.
 
 
Aft was everything we became.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Child he said put out to deep water

and so we did

Child he said let down your net

and so we did

Child he said catch your fish

and so we waited.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

& they caught so many fish that their nets began to break

& so they cried to the others in other boats to come and help them

& so those others, they came to these others

& so they, together, filled both boats so full that they began to sink

& so the boats began to sink with fish

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

PEARL OYSTERS

The soft-tissue of a living oyster produces a pearl to protect itself against foreign substances. The things that don’t belong inside it become jewels to be strung up and hung. On some so and so’s neck. A womb so supple and so alien: a mother of pearl and a mother at peril.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

PEARL & PERIL

At a McDonald’s in the Fukushima prefecture
a child was injured by a piece of hard plastic
which was in her hot-fudge ice-cream sundae

At a McDonald’s in the Aomori prefecture
a customer found a piece of blue vinyl
lodged in the white meat of her chicken nugget

At a McDonald’s in the Osaka prefecture
a customer found a human tooth
chattering in her French fries

At a seafood restaurant in Tennessee
a woman biting into a fried oyster
pulled pearl after pearl from her mouth
fifty wet with grease and spit

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

MARINE SNOW

The bodies of dead animals pursued and eaten by predators sink slowly down to the sea floor. Life at the bottom is sustained by sinking flesh called marine snow. The vampyroteuthis infernalis, the “vampire squid of Hell” (neither vampire nor squid nor from Hell) pulses six hundred meters down in the lush ocean, demersal and blood flushed, wearing its own mouth around its neck like a velvet cape. Every day, it basks in marine snow; every day it eats the ocean. And at bottom, all depth is a kind of hell.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

SQUID BEAK

In the ocean, a rostrum is the cupped sharpness of the dorsal and lower mandibles of a squid’s piercing mouthpart. On a naval ship, a rostrum is a beak-like extension of bronze and iron designed to wreck the hull of an enemy ship. In the public forum, a rostrum is the pulpit that hides your body and lets you open your mouth to the world. And from which one will you speak— and in which one will you die—and for whom?

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

AMBERGRIS

A baleen whale’s gullet is too small to swallow a human. After a sperm whale sucks in a squid, it will vomit out its beak. If it does not, the beak will travel through three hundred meters of its digestive labyrinth. The crushing churn of the whale’s four stomachs will grind the squid’s funnels and collars, its eight arms, its three beating hearts. But it can’t break a squid beak. The whale’s hind stomach hoards thousands of squid beaks like a clacking library of bonemouths. To protect itself from the scrape and drag of the squid beaks, the whale’s intestines produce a waxy ambergris— grey, fatty, flammable— a carrier for a scent worn on your pulse.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

SALTED FISH

Look into its eyes; flip through its gills; scale it; cut off the head at the gills and place it aside; flip it so its belly faces you; open its belly from its anal fin to its gills; using your finger draw out the guts; find the egg sack and place it aside; flank the fish open; flense it; flatten it; fillet it and place it on the earth. Cover it with salt. Leave it be. Leave it be.
Call it and wait for it to answer.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

COUP D’ETAT

In France, this “blow against the state” refers to one thing. Among Indigenous North Americans a coup refers to the act of touching an enemy or grazing an object belonging to an enemy in order to claim it. And to claim him. You should imagine now a very small, chicken-necked girl with flat, soft knees wobbling on a black rock cupping the Indian Ocean in her hands— a blow of foam to part the states along the line of fate. When they read the palm of a girlchild, they read the fate line on the left palm— the illiterate hand, the hand used to wipe the ass clean of lunch.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

FATHOMS

At one time, this meant “to embrace with arms wide open.” At another time, this became a unit of measurement— a length of 6 feet. At yet another time, this came to mean “understanding” or “measurability,” or, its inverse: unfathomable depths were meanings that could not be reached by using one’s own body as a unit of measurement. You should imagine now a woman with arms wide open diving into the Pacific Ocean, measuring it with her own body—unfathomable phantom— she a pantoum, a pun

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A B C D

B E D F

E G F H

G I (or A or C) H J (or A or C)

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

this is how an ocean is told

what is done with wet
& when
an inheritance—

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Four interwoven quatrains

Three generations damp

Two oceans of wet

One boat

 
 
 
 
 
 
 



 

Notes for WATER

Portions of this section draw language from the Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of John, concerning the Miraculous Draught of Fishes, a narrative which allegorizes the shift in apostolic labor from harvesting natural resources to biopolitical headhunting.

“Water, water” is drawn from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (text of 1834).

 
PEARL & PERIL

I draw from multiple news sources, particularly “Human Tooth Found in McDonald’s Japan Fries: Fast Food Operator Reports Four Cases of Contaminated Food” by Megumi Fujikawa, The Wall Street Journal; “Woman at Franklin Restaurant” by Nick Calloway, News2 WKRN Nashville (ABC News).
 
 
MARINE SNOW

I am indebted to the work of Henk-Jan Hoving and Senior Scientist Bruce Robison of the Monterey Bay Aquarium on the feeding habits of Vampyroteuthis infernalis.
 
 
INTERLUDE

“this is how an ocean is told.” For this sentiment I am indebted to those living in the locale of Kanyakumari District, Tamil Nadu, who made their living from fishing until industrialized fishing staggered genealogy and trade in the 1960s.

 
 


C O U N T E R T R A N S L A T I O N


 

WATER
from KITH

Once they found a man made of distance— a coat of shells, a wig of weeds— and at his breast a suckling book made of salty skin, stamped on its chubble joints, its fatty folds— us, us— visas. Two webbed palms cupping the downy document. Motherless child 无妈子, they said, let us buy you 我们把你赎回来吧.
 
 
Once it saw the man— Was he waving or drowning 他在挥手还是在溺水呢? It matters not: what is of the water returns to water— Once it saw the man, the boat rowed itself from the shore, folding fins out like a manta ray breaching into red spray, cartilage and cartridge inked out, flared into an X: marking this location and the boat’s movement.

& then 然后呢?

Once the man was finally harpooned and lanced to death, the boat towed him ashore, and, with small cranes sprouting from its fins, flensed his fat and boiled his bones clean to build a child up from flank to fo’c’sle; skull to stem; fore and aft.

& aft 船艄? What was aft 船艄是什么意思?
 
 
That thing at the end, Child, this was everything that came after the boats came.
 
 
Aft was everything we became.

 



 

Child he said put out to deep water

and so we did

Child he said let down your net

and so we did

Child he said catch your fish

and so we waited.

얘야 그는 말했다 깊은 물로 가라

그래서 그렇게 했다

얘야 그는 말했다 그물을 던져라

그래서 그렇게 했다

얘야 그는 말했다 물고기를 잡으라

그래서 그렇게 기다렸다.



 

Water, water, every where,
물 물 어딜 가나
Nor any drop to drink
그런데 마실 방울조차 없다



 

PEARL OYSTERS

The soft-tissue kåtne of a living oyster tapon produces a pearl petlas to protect itself against foreign substances fino’lagu. The things that don’t belong inside it become jewels alahas to be strung up and hung. On some so and so’s neck aga’ga’. A womb fañagu so supple and so alien estrangheru: a mother nana of pearl and a mother at peril piligro.

 



 

It felt better in Chinese to turn let us buy you into a more explicit let us redeem you, and what was aft became what is the meaning of aft?

一Hao Guang

 



 

Korean can be immensely compact as a language, but in certain lines, the syllables unraveled in a way that I thought went against the intent of the original piece. To preserve sound, I had to sacrifice meaning, though in one instance, I was able to extricate it. In Korean, “water water every where” can mean “every where” or “where are you going?”

一Silvia Park

 



 

My process was to translate the main words from “PEARL OYSTERS”—mostly nouns—into Chamorro (the native language of the Chamorro people from the Mariana archipelago in the Western Pacific). I imagine the translated words as pearls. One “mistranslation” was my choice to (mis)translate “foreign substances” into “fino’lagu,” which means “foreign words,” in order to think about the process of translation as a kind of pearling.

一Craig Santos Perez

 



 

Divya Victor is the author of KITH (Fence Books/ Book Thug), a book of verse, prose memoir, lyric essay and visual objects; NATURAL SUBJECTS (Trembling Pillow, Winner of the Bob Kaufman Award), UNSUB (Insert Blanc), and THINGS TO DO WITH YOUR MOUTH (Les Figues). Her chapbooks include Semblance and Hellocasts by Charles Reznikoff by Divya Victor by Vanessa Place. Her criticism and commentary have appeared in Journal of Commonwealth & Postcolonial Studies, Jacket2, and The Poetry Foundation’s Harriet. Her work has been collected in numerous venues, including, more recently, the New Museum’s The Animated Reader, Crux: Journal of Conceptual Writing, The Best American Experimental Writing, and boundary2. Her poetry has been translated into French and Czech. She has been a Mark Diamond Research Fellow at the U.S Holocaust Memorial Museum, a Riverrun Fellow at the Archive for New Poetry at University of California San Diego, and a Writer in Residence at the Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibit (L.A.C.E.). Her work has been performed and installed at Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA) Los Angeles, The National Gallery of Singapore, the Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibit (L.A.C.E.) and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Divya Victor is Assistant Professor of Poetry and Writing at Michigan State University and Guest Editor at Jacket2. She is currently at work on a project commissioned by the Press at Colorado College.

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