Translation

by Randall Mann

We arrive at Piazza Mazzini.
Tonight, Sabina’s playing the role
of Girlfriend slash Translator,
and I the role of Hungry Poet.
It’s easier this way.

X opens his double-doors.
X, who wants to be a poet, of course,
Roman, rheumy, limited X.
This is my wife, Y, he says;
she’s pretty, or was, he says,
and pats her face.
It is still light out; they crawl
into their cocktails.

Y shows me the Picasso
without being showy.
Their Picasso.
So this is what it’s like,
Picasso in a dusty makeshift frame.

And brings the focaccia sfogliata,
the pepata di cozze.

I tell Y my day job, pharma.
Our firm makes Valium, I tell her.
I like—no, I love—Valium, she shouts, not a little
theatrical, and licks her hand.
Her skirt curiously hiked up by now.
Her handbag a Chanel knockoff, but handmade
at Del Guidice. Undetectable.

Meanwhile, X plays his very own songs, recorded
on a child’s cassette player. Hums along.
Squeezes between me and Sabina,
his hands on our thighs.

By now the new people have arrived.
Z, large in ermine, a known poet
here; and her mousy escort,
her publisher, lover, whatever.

What do you like, Z asks me, meaning
what poets. My mind is a lagged corridor.

I say, let’s start with A: Ashbery.
She says, in English, yes, this Ashbery. Continue.
I give her a secondhand line about anxiety
and the death of meaning. In English.
I don’t understand, she says.
You speak Italian? No.
You speak French?
Badly, I say, in French.
Tell me in French.
I tell her that Ashbery is already in French,
American French,
in English.
Sabina translates.

So, if you stay in our home by the sea,
Y interjects, the light in the distance
is no all-night party—
just the milking of the buffalo.

And, pointing to her massive,
muted plasma TV,
this persecution of Berlusconi—
it’s only getting worse.

I tell them why I’ve come here.
Sabina translates.
I don’t have to tell you why I’ve come here.
Sabina translates.

Read Q&A with Randall Mann on our blog.

About Randall Mann

Randall Mann is the author of two books of poems, Breakfast with Thom Gunn and Complaint in the Garden. A new collection, Straight Razor, is forthcoming from Persea Books in October 2013. His poems and prose appear in PoetryThe Paris ReviewThe Kenyon ReviewSalmagundi, and The Washington Post. He lives in San Francisco.

Randall Mann

Randall Mann is online at