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June 2006

Beyond Urban Legends: Contemporary Fabulism

Some may consign fables and folklore to ages past, but these versatile forms still have magical attraction for great writers around the world. Carmen Boullosa portrays a masterly Spanish artist who conjures the world with his brush in Lepanto's Other Hand. In Costa Rican Jacques Sagot's "Enigma of Ursa Major," an astronomer trains his lens on the dazzling heart of reality. Bitite Vinklers's translations of Latvian folksongs make maps of the heavens. Pierre Michon's "Sorrow of Columbkill" converts a warrior to a monk while his "The Madness of Suibhne" transforms a madman to a beast of prey. The underwater realm of Francisco Mendez's "Water Cathedral" becomes a metaphysical temple where children are baptized into wonder and death. And Luminita Cioaba's two cautionary tales, "Queen of the Night and Stone Flower" and "Birch Grove" impart traditional Roma knowledge. And if your taste in fables runs more toward sports legends, join us as we tune in to the World Cup with Alvaro Enrigue's "Readymade."

I Found a White Bean
By Anonymous
I found a white bean: where did I plant it? In the middle of a garden on a white sandy hill. Strong and tall, the beanstalk grew all the way to the sky; up the stalk, branch by branch, I climbed until…
Translated from Latvian by Bitite Vinklers
I Had a Brindled Cow
By Anonymous
I had a brindled cow, sheltered in the byre. What became of the brindled cow? I traded her for money. What became of the money? The river swept it away. What became of the river? Black bulls lapped it…
Translated from Latvian by Bitite Vinklers
The Sorrow of Columbkill
By Pierre Michon
Adomnan writes that Saint Columba of Iona, still known as Columbkill, Columbkill the Wolf, of the tribe of the O’Neill of the North through his grandfather, Niall of the Nine Hostages, was a brutal…
Translated from French by Robert Bononno
The Madness of Suibhne
By Pierre Michon
In the Annals of the Four Masters it is told how Suibhne, king of Kildare, had a taste for the things of this world. He was a simple man. His happiness and pleasures were simple. He was heavy and coarse,…
Translated from French by Robert Bononno
The Pomegranate Lady and Her Sons
By Goli Taraghi
Mehrabad Airport, Tehran. Air France, flight 726 I hate this life of constant wandering, these eternal comings and goings, these middle of the night flights, dragging along my suitcase, going through…
Translated from Farsi by Karim Emami & Sara Khalili
By Álvaro Enrigue
He was apt to score unbelievable goals whenever he could keep his balance on the field, something that didn't always happen: occasionally he fell over while fighting for the ball and couldn't get back up again because he was too drunk.
Translated from Spanish by Anna Kushner
The Birch Grove
By Luminita Mihai Cioaba
When the winds sweep away winter’s dreaming, March dresses up in flowers and grass and, on long wings, ushers in the spring. Then, without ever knowing why, trees raise their naked arms to the King…
Translated from Romany by Adam J. Sorkin & Cristina Cirstea
The Enigma of Ursa Major
By Jacques Sagot
Poetry peers over the shoulders of science. –Antonio Machado The astronomer of that kingdom had been honored with the difficult charge of figuring out the meaning of Ursa Major. The king, who had…
Translated from Spanish
The Water Cathedral
By Francisco Méndez
On sunny mornings the walls are white wine, the columns are ginger ale, the towers are immense bottles of beer, the high steeples drip amber. Down in the naves you feel the freshness of orange-water and…
Translated from Spanish by Kristin Bengtson Mendoza
from “Leyla”
By Feridun Zaimoglu
My teacher was standing at the entrance to the schoolyard, watching me as I walked away. Now finally I can hide the front part of me from him, and I unbutton my white smock collar, holding the ends together…
Translated from German by Margot Bettauer Dembo
Queen of the Night and Stone Flower
By Luminita Mihai Cioaba
On the souls of those who live life free under the skies—with the blades of grass, at the edge of the forest, on hills bedizened with bright flowers of the field—it is written that they must…
Translated from Romany by Adam J. Sorkin & Cristina Cirstea
from “Lepanto’s Other Hand”
By Carmen Boullosa
The story of the Juan Latino's portraitist, Esteban Luz, who enters this story when Don Juan of Austria visits Granada during the Alpujarras War (1568-70), otherwise known as the Civil War.Near the…
Translated from Spanish by Samantha Schnee
To Marina Tsvetaeva
Many a one has sunk in the abyss of horrid silence, and you among them, slender ghost whom I evoked with tools that are improbable, a little pile of grammars and of dictionaries, or now, with more urgency…