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A good writer friend of mine, Ariell Cacciola, recently shared an experience she had as a writer and translator, an alumna of the Columbia University Translation Program in Leipzig, working with a friend of hers in Vienna. The exchange, as Ariell recounted it (and which I feel so brilliantly articulates the creative process), went like this:

“Here are the poems mentioned from last evening. To reiterate what we did. I wrote this poem after having lunch with [redacted] as well as after the sum of many different gatherings with different people. In the weeks since returning to NYC, I realized that so many of my friends were unhappy. I was and am unhappy (I have no real job or any money, I have no apartment or comfort, I am sleep deprived, I am essentially grinding my wheels) but I couldn’t believe how many people were unhappy and feeling like they were in ruts. Also, the weather has been quite shit lately with all of the wet snow. So, after lunch I started composing a poem in my head.

I am writing a collection called, “Untitled Portraits of an Imaginary City,” which has many dark and odd poems which I shall add this to. I hadn’t written a poem since last summer and had trouble anytime I sat at my computer but then all of a sudden I just wrote this little one. It’s not my best or favorite but I felt I needed to get it down. I sent it Erwin Uhrmann whose poetry I translate. He is also a very kind friend who is always asking to read my work. I had nothing new for him in regards to fiction so I sent him this poem. The next day, he wrote back with a poem of his own in reply to mine. Then I sent him back a translation of his poem.”

Ariell sent the following poem to Erwin in Austria:

 

In the World We are Unhappy

In the world we are unhappy
when we walk through the forest
we walk through the dark
which so many write about.

 

In the world we are unhappy
because we were left there
naked without berries or honey.

 

In the world we are unhappy
when we are without anything
giving us only anguish
and melancholy.

 

In the world we are unhappy
because our bodies fail us
as we scratch at the ground
pulling up earth in ample clumps.

 

The following day, Erwin responded with his own poem in German:

 

Ohne Titel

Auf uns lastet eine Schwere,
die es früher nicht gab.

 

Sie war
süß
pelzig
scharf
mit Bitter
wie zu lange erhitztes Karamell
oder Whiskey aus
Bourbonfässern.

 

Ist sie nicht mehr.

 

Diese Schwere haftet fest –

 

im Hals, im Bauch, am Knie,
kalt eingefasst,
ein dunkler Opal auf deinem Gewand,
dass alles nach unten zieht.

 

Von einem Einzelnen lässt sie sich nicht vertreiben.

 

Glaubt man, sie vertrieben zu haben,
schnellt sie zurück
ins Gesicht ein harter Gummiball.

 

Diese Schwere

liegt im Straßengraben, oft Tage,
springt auf, wenn du vorbeifährst,
kommt mit an deinen Geheimplatz.

 

Diese ist ein Pittbull,
der deine Fährte aufnimmt mit Schaum und Fletschen,
ein gequältes Tier,
dem du nicht entkommst.

 

Inne ist sie uns geworden, als hätten wir tausende Male von ihr gegessen,
sie kleidet uns aus, ist Quecksilber in unseren Zellen.

 

Im Traum wächst sie weiter wie ein Geschwür.

 

Sehen wir uns an, so sehen wir sie,
sehen das Tote in unserem Blick,
unsere Netzhaut, auf der das Licht bricht
ohne Reflex in unseren Pupillen,
wie Insassen einer Anstalt.

 

And to which Ariell responded by translating the German poem into English:

 

Untitled

 

On us rests a weight
which did not already exist.

 

It was
sweet
ascerbic
sharp
with bitterness
like caramel
heated too long
or whiskey
in Bourbon barrels.

 

Is it not more.

 

This weight sticks

 

in the throat, in the gut, to the knee,
coldly enclosed,
a dark opal on your vest,
that pulls everything down.

 

A lone soul cannot drive it away.

 

When you think you’ve driven it away,
it bounces back
a hard rubber ball to the face.

 

This weight
lays in a roadside ditch, most days,
 springing up, when you pass by,
coming with you to your secret place.

 

This is a Pit bull,
picking up your scent with foam and a snarl,

 

a tormented animal,
which you cannot escape.

 

Within, it is becoming us, as though we have eaten from it thousands of times,
it coats us, Quicksilver is in our cells.

 

In dreams, it still grows like an ulcer.

 

Let us see as we see it,
seeing the dead in our gaze,
our retina, from which the light bends
without the reflex of our pupils,
like patients in an asylum.