by Víctor Terán
like a red-hot coin
lifted from an oven, hung.
From time to time a white veil
shadows her face,
like me, when I lose you.
like a round
of freshly-made cheese, hanging.
A thousand shafts of her light
cast cool across the earth
like me, when I look at you.
The literal translation of this poem was made by David Shook
The final translated version of the poem is by The Poetry Translation Workshop
We were really fortunate to have Victor with us when we translated his beautiful poem about the moon. Although he doesn't speak English, he listened very carefully to our translation and told us that he thought it was better than his own translation into Spanish!
Victor was especially pleased with the way we'd managed to capture the rhythm in the Zapotec of the opening lines of each stanza: 'Cá' and 'Nanda', which we rendered as 'Hung' and 'Hanging'.
The real struggle was managing the opening image. A footnote in Spanish (see Notes on the Literal Version) explains that the (red, harvest) moon is compared to a tradition in Zapotec society whereby people leave coins on the tops of their special ovens which then get red and covered with ash. After lengthy discussion about how to render this Zapotec oven into English (tandoor was suggested), we realised that, in this instance, an oven was an oven, and that 'a red-hot coin / lifted from an oven' would convey that image perfectly.
We were also pleased with the 'white veil' image which conveys the notion of passing clouds so well. And the fortuitous notion of 'a round / of freshly-made cheese' that exists in English. Again, Victor appreciated the sound of 'cast cool across the earth'.
As with 'Frog', the other poem of Victor's we translated together, he declared he thought our translation was better than his own into Spanish!
© Poetry Translation Centre 2004-2015