The Translator's Dilemma

To foretell an ordinary mission, with fewer words.
With fewer, more ordinary, words.
Words of one syllable, for example.

For example: step and sleeve.
These are two favorites, among many.
Many can be found if I look closely.

But even if I look closely, surely a word is not
necessarily here, in the foreground.
I see an edge of a paper, I see orange.

I see words and I see things. An old story,
nothing to foretell the ordinary mission.
I see “her winter” and I see

And even the Romans fear her by now.
Are these words in
translation or barriers to translation?

I see John and an open book, open to a day
in August. I am feeling defeated
among these sights, as if I will never find

either sleeve or step. These ordinary
pleasurable words, attached to
ordinary pleasurable things, as if

to find them is to say I am
announcing criteria. Step, sleeve,
you are invited to come up and be within

ordinary necessities. Staircase. Coat.


Copyright © 2013 by Ann Lauterbach. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on September 23, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

About this Poem

"'Translation' here refers to the essential motion, or action, between sight, objects, and words, as well as the more common idea of language into language; also, or maybe in particular, the dilemmas of interpretation and choice. (The line in italics is from the Greek poet C.P. Cavafy, translated by Daniel Mendelsohn.) The idea of the ordinary interests me in relation to a poetics of necessity, which is in turn connected to my long-standing delight in what George Oppen called 'small nouns.'" —Ann Lauterbach