Problems of Translation: Problems of Language

By June Jordan 1936–2002 June Jordan

Dedicated to Myriam Díaz-Diocaretz


I turn to my Rand McNally Atlas.   
Europe appears right after the Map of the World.   
All of Italy can be seen page 9.   
Half of Chile page 29.   
I take out my ruler.   
In global perspective Italy   
amounts to less than half an inch.   
Chile measures more than an inch and a quarter   
of an inch.   
Chile is as long as China   
is wide:   
Back to the Atlas:   
Chunk of China page 17.   
All of France page 5: As we say in New York:
Who do France and Italy know   
at Rand McNally?


I see the four mountains in Chile higher   
than any mountain of North America.   
I see Ojos del Salado the highest.   
I see Chile unequivocal as crystal thread.   
I see the Atacama Desert dry in Chile more than the rest   
of the world is dry.   
I see Chile dissolving into water.   
I do not see what keeps the blue land of Chile   
out of blue water.   
I do not see the hand of Pablo Neruda on the blue land.


As the plane flies flat to the trees   
below Brazil   
below Bolivia   
below five thousand miles below   
my Brooklyn windows   
and beside the shifted Pacific waters   
welled away from the Atlantic at Cape Horn   
La Isla Negra that is not an island La   
Isla Negra   
that is not black   
is stone and stone of Chile   
feeding clouds to color   
scale and undertake terrestrial forms   
of everything unspeakable


In your country   
how do you say copper   
for my country?


Blood rising under the Andes and above   
the Andes blood   
spilling down the rock   
corrupted by the amorality   
of so much space   
that leaves such little trace of blood   
rising to the irritated skin the face   
of the confession far   
from home:

I confess I did not resist interrogation.   
I confess that by the next day I was no longer sure
of my identity.   
I confess I knew the hunger.   
I confess I saw the guns.   
I confess I was afraid.   
I confess I did not die.


What you Americans call a boycott   
of the junta?   
Who will that feed?


Not just the message but the sound.


Early morning now and I remember   
corriendo a la madrugada from a different   
English poem,   
I remember from the difficulties of the talk   
an argument   
athwart the wine the dinner and the dancing   
meant to welcome you

you did not understand the commonplace expression   
of my heart:

the truth is in the life
la verdad de la vida

Early morning:
do you say la mañanita?
But then we lose   
the idea of the sky uncurling to the light:

Early morning and I do not think we lose:   
the rose we left behind   
broken to a glass of water on the table   
at the restaurant stands   
even sweeter   
por la mañanita

June Jordan, “Problems of Translation: Problems of Language” from Directed By Desire: The Collected Poems of June Jordan (Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2005). Copyright © 2005 by The June M. Jordan Literary Trust. Used by permission of The June M. Jordan Literary Trust,

Source: The Collected Poems of June Jordan (2005)

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Poet June Jordan 1936–2002

Subjects History & Politics, Social Commentaries

 June  Jordan


One of the most widely-published and highly-acclaimed African American writers of her generation, poet, playwright and essayist June Jordan was also known for her fierce commitment to human rights and progressive political agenda. Over a career that produced twenty-seven volumes of poems, essays, libretti, and work for children, Jordan engaged the fundamental struggles of her era: over civil rights, women’s rights, and sexual . . .

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SUBJECT History & Politics, Social Commentaries

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