Nguyen Quang Thieu: Chapter 4 (from Slaughterhouse)

He thinks it is the road that leads to hell.

The road runs from the city to the suburban field
Where a row of houses is dark, dim and agitated.
Where in his dream he saw a placard made of cow’s hide:

The station: Life – Death

Where every night the roar of killed cows resounds,
The sound of blood pouring into the terracotta jars
Where glittering and gentle eyes
On the severed heads of cows
Lined up on the cold floor
Like the exact sequence of numbers
Of the chief accountant in The Death Bank.
And from throats still bleeding,
The most powerful words of the world
Make warm the breaths of the brilliant, yellow field’s memory.

Csenger Kertai: Mercy

Slow attention has raised in you
a child who doesn’t ask for things,
just sits before his father, quietly.

You wait.
For a bird.

From amidst the foliage the sun
sticks out its head and lights up a bare,
lichen-soaked tree.

Like a wire sending power
through the monitor’s blue
to the eye.

Like mercy
flying through the open window.


Kertai Csenger: Irgalom

A lassú figyelem kinevelte benned
a gyermeket, aki nem kér,
csak ül az apja előtt, csöndesen.

Egy madárra.

A lombok közül kidugja a fejét
a nap, és megvilágít egy csupasz,
zúzmarától ázott ágat.

Csenger Kertai: Constant Slashing

To slash holes into the rose arbor,
so that I can see you just as
I have always remembered you.

There is no other way to render
you who swing with a girl’s
gentleness through the arbor
so that our hands touch for a few instants
when I cut down one large branch or other.

We have met somewhere before,
but the thorns scratch the air so
that I can’t look straight into your eyes;
I just sense your motion toward me.


Kertai Csenger: Folyton metszeni

Lyukakat metszeni a rózsalugasba,
hogy olyannak lássalak,
ahogy mindig is emlékeztem rád.

An Aeneid in New York: Rachel Hadas interviewed by Paschalis Nikolaou

Rachel Hadas is a poet, essayist, memoirist, and translator whose most recent books include Poems for Camilla, Piece by Piece, and Love and Dread, as well as the forthcoming Pandemic Almanac. Interviewed here by translator and scholar Paschalis Nikolaou, Hadas discusses the ongoing relevance of ancient texts, the relationship between the past and present in her work, and the act of translation as a pathway to discovery on and off the page, among several other topics. Thanks are due to the Fulbright Program and Fulbright Foundation Greece for the grant that enabled the interview to take place. We are pleased to present this rich and wide-ranging conversation between Paschalis Nikolaou and Rachel Hadas in Literary Matters.


A seed is lots
wider inside
than it looks.
Consider the less
than ample
starting size
of popcorn,
or touch-me-nots:
in each example
secrets to hide
without circumference
to keep the seal.
Consider what means
mother nature has
to disclose at the seams.
What certain books,
rank offenses are
about, the smell
of this, a touch
of that, the puff
of fear you feel
jackknifing a cloud.
A skin so thin
will not contain
its sense. Just
get it hot enough
& listen: once
its inside’s out
you’ll never stuff
the stuff back in.

False Elegy Beginning with the Moon

A blurred beam floated face down on the river—
crumpled, discarded, daylight’s IOU.
From your darkened hospital room this was the view
that night the doctors gave you waning odds.
The priest gave you last rites, but it wasn’t over,
your body defying medicine and God

to make a limited recovery.
You lived yet have kept little of what you called
your life, a garden still nearby but walled
off now from view. In your new home at the home,
you struggle with life’s basics day-to-day,
needing help to brush your teeth or comb

In the Dream You Are Alive

A park, and so: a carousel, a man
walking three dogs. He wears a tie
and carries a plastic bag.
I’m trying to place the music,
which reminds me: A prophet
is bursting into flames by the silver maple.
A woman brushes dirt off
her daughter’s knee, and the dog-walker
shakes out his bag. The flutes keep fluting.
The painted horses lap themselves.
I need to tell you something about the music.

—based on a painting by Lauren Cline


After Monet, “Woman with Parasol” 1875

In the springtime of her breath
she stands in an Argenteuil field
where a breeze twirls and lifts her skirt
while the undying sky unfurls.

With her toe, she teases her shadow,
faithfully fluttering at her side.
Some steps apart, on their family stroll,
her boy has paused to watch and wait.

She grips her parasol for shade
and surety, and slowly she turns,
and turning she can almost see
that straw-brimmed hat and those pink cheeks.

And I, caught up in sky-blue strokes,
the swirling stasis of Monet,
cling to the Elysian field
alive with wild lavender

Letter from Paul Celan

All gladness, dear Nelly, all light!

Paris to Stockholm. My dear Nelly,
After that which happened, the no-longer,
your father’s hand gripped through barbed wire

then let slip away, your lines still glow
cool as white roses in rain. Fellow survivor,
brother, remember the sudden flash

when we two first met, dazzling the lake?
You, a disbeliever, looked for cause;
I knew it was divine, and prayed

for that gold to come back, as a sign
that we may breathe again in smokeless air.
The fires you saw burn on in my mind;