M. A. ISTVAN JR., although a university professor, actually makes most of his money now as a method translator of AAVE. In light of his extreme efforts to ensure sincere and emotionally expressive translation, Jet Magazine has in fact dubbed him the Daniel-Day-Lewis of his craft. For instance, he might sip Tempranillo from a Burgundy glass when translating to Standard English and swig Boone’s Farms from a brown-bagged bottle when translating the other way. Visit his page at https://txstate.academia.edu/MichaelIstvanJr.
Twenty-Three Angles on Wonder
Insecurity about being too inexperienced for her--
and yet did you ever wonder if she, in her life now,
looks no longer for those men (but for one like you)?
Wondering, some days, whose life this is.
Wondering whether the kid is going on and on
simply because he is a kid, or because he senses
our need for the distraction of his voice.
Looking back and forth, from object
to seer’s face, trying to intersect
the thread of wonder.
Wondering whether marital affairs
disappear from the record
after a certain length of time.
Armageddon on the horizon, the God-teen
wonders whether she should practice going without
TV and cookies or enjoy them while the last.
Passing things down being such a primal joy,
no wonder the insane lengths gone by parents
of those who accept only the host culture.
Wondering whether it would seem prudish
to drop-cloth the place in plastic and have
gift bags of lube for each orgy member.
Stutterers wondering whether
they are so shy because they stutter
or that they stutter because they are so shy.
Stealing the offerings to the gods
all these years, you start to wonder
whether you might be a god.
When our delight in something grows
past a point, is there much wonder why
delight withers in those around us?
Alone and wondering
if anyone is thinking
of you right now.
How much of our advances in knowledge
is born less from wonder than from a wickedness
in seeing people stripped of naïve beliefs?
What do we let slip (into the) past
with all our time wondering how we let
things—weekends, vacations—slip past?
Spring cleaning wonder
at how you could have been
the child in the photo.
Wondering whether the family priest
was contributing to your son’s confusion
as he tried to ease yours: “He’ll grow out of it.”
Unable to reach around himself so far,
the mom wonders who—which friend--
helped tape the bomb to her son’s chest?
Mothers wondering, not whether
you had a good time, but whether
you were the prettiest at the party.
Wondering how to get the beloved
out of your house, not knowing
what to do or say next.
Watching the one next to you sleep
wondering how such a face
might one day break your heart.
Wondering whether you were liked because of your race or in spite of it.
Is that regular mode of life following a great victory
a chance to reflect and reenergize, or one to wonder
why you did not simply kill yourself in the climax?
Wondering why you have lived so long.
Townhouse Community Jobsite
Legs hang from the back door,
the deck yet to be built.
Salami sandwich warm
with summer, mayo clear.
Skin and clothes and air one
in dampness. Speckled hands
on a painter’s lunch break.
Declawing the Poet
Why do we so widely tolerate the poetry
that is purposely obscure, weird and inane
for its own sake, when we hate poetry so much?
Why do we keep around the poetry
that is intentionally incomprehensible
when we are at war with the art, a war
now simply to prevent its support and efficacy?
We need such poetry—cryptic and private,
untranslatable and inaccessible—for our identity
as enemy of poetry. Unworthy of study, it
is the Jew for the antisemite. It reminds us
why we hate poetry. Shelves stay stocked
so that our disgust and our mocking never dies.
The obscurantists paint themselves as radicals,
the most committed to the fight, failing to see
that they are the chief fuel of their enemy.
Of course, they need their enemy too. That, plus
the formula always enticing for the indolent--
the more incomprehensible the more profound--
is perhaps what keeps them going. But their role
is more than providing fuel for their enemy.
It is also to ensure that they themselves remain
disempowered. For to glorify the obscure
is to glorify flabbiness of mind. And what is best
for us? That our enemies stay declawed, especially
when they do not need us to do the clipping.
Some phenomena, the obscurantist might say,
are not so clear, and the expressions about them
reflect that. This sounds like a good comeback.
It seems reasonable to say that it is best
for language to match the phenomena it describes.
But you can be clear, succinct, and organized
when describing how the phenomena is so rich
in complication that rendering it in language
will always leave something behind.
And you can be clear, succinct, organized
when describing what you do end up describing
of that phenomena. Fancy polysyllables, forced
deviations from ordinary speak, can be avoided.
Once I was the little boy
lunging to hug my father
as he growled and contorted
low in a demonic pose.
Now I wait around the corner
for my son, squatting hunched
with claws up, baring teeth
in my monster breathing.
The lunging hug and pouting
are meant to knock the father
from whatever force appears
to have overtaken him.
Mixed in there as well is hope
to avoid prolonging the terror
in some vain chase if, indeed,
the father has been taken over.
He tries to handle threats to his goodness,
his virtue, by regarding such threats,
such temptations, as confirmation
of his virtue. And so he says to his heart,
“Goodness is a comfortless state.
These new temptations are flooding in
not because my resolve is petering out.
Virtue is a lodestone for temptation.
Mine is so big that much is being drawn
from quarters previously unknown.”
The pride he shows in his achievement
is not a boasting to others; it is not vanity.--
The will to stay good itself might be, though.