Found in Translation

I’m a lover of poetry and work hard to include it in my life. The algorithms over at Evil Corp know this about me. When my insta account makes suggestions for me, alongside clips of old Friends episodes and, randomly, snippets of Family Guy – which I’ve never watched before – I am inundated by many various and beautiful pages dedicated to poetry. It almost makes me dislike our evil techno-overlords just a little less. Most of these pages are variants of Mary Oliveresque poetry. My favorite, by far, which I have actually started actively following and interacting with is an account called, ‘Mary Oliver’s Drunk Cousin.’ Here’s a selection from that account:

Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This

When I go to sleep at night
I count all of the Nicholas Cage movies
I can name by heart
I count the ideal number of
Chocolate chips in a cookie (9)

I count the times I said no;
Prioritizing my boundaries over politeness
And the times I said yes;
Prioritizing hope over the unknown
I count the number of freckles on your shoulder
And all the days since I first started counting them
I count every time I laughed
And then, as a bonus, I add in the times
I made my own self laugh

I tally up all of my wins
So I can beat the
Part of my brain that holds
The sum of my losses
At its own game

~Lyndsay Rush

I love the combinations of beauty and irreverence in this person’s poems and selections. There’s something humanizing about that tonal mixture.

In this time, in this season, I think it’s incredibly important to find these moments of poetry. I’ve linked to before, and I’ll do it again here, just as an aside. If you ever feel out of touch with what’s good in the world, Maria Popova will lead you back to the safe harbor of poetic history and the aesthetic mind.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about found poetry – little snippets of beauty written in the ways we write now. I have started thinking about my Wordle attempts as little haiku-like poems. The novelty of winning has given way to attempts to build the most interesting sets of five-letter words. I love the way my imagination, vocabulary, and the rules of the game come together to create these little poems. Here’s a recent one:


By far, my most favorite found poetry comes from an old friend, who happens to be Japanese. I follow her on Instagram, and she writes her posts in Japanese script, which, even in the digital form, I find to be as beautiful as it is unfamiliar to me. Like the rest of us, she has a tendency to post about the same three things – kids, food, and her personal hobby, which is a kind of body-building that I’m not familiar with.

Sometimes I can tell that she’s posting about something beyond just what’s happening in a day. I use the “translate” feature and have Instagram remake her posts in English. It’s always remarkable. Her translated writing hovers just beyond the horizon of understanding, but lands squarely in the continent of meaning. This is the province of poetry. Here’s a recent selection (line spacing is by me):

My son is in first grade and is using surface.
His homework is drop to the cloud
And make a power pole with the sound function.
We, the Showa generation,
Are thrown away by the rocks when we feel crisis.

I love how my friend’s heartfelt tone comes through in the translations. These are messages about the challenges and triumphs of mid-life: of being a mother, a wife, of wrestling with the gifts and restraints of growing up with a particular kind of heritage. They are humane and intimate. I sometimes wish I could participate in the original meaning. It’s kind of like looking at Plato’s shadows projected on the cave wall, or maybe it’s more like looking through a vaseline smeared camera lens. The true meaning of her words is softened, beautifully distorted. Here’s another:

Say no to can’t.
As a parent, you never want to be raised that failure is not acceptable.
Hoping but not expecting,
That’s the way to raise them.
I’ve been doing a lot of terrible things that I can’t even write on Instagram,
Not just martial arts.
I really just can’t say.
I walk naked all over the city is the first word.
Ever found out you’re trying to lie to a guy you like and make him fall.
It also caused a massive damage to the company.
(I can’t say this is about level 1 so I still have level 100 lol)
But I’m alive.
I regret nothing of it.
That’s why everyone should do it more.
Trying is challenging,
So I believe it’s justice even if I don’t break my tongue.
Aftermath ↓
Today I had a model interview for my son’s internal development.
I was not a cute kid who was fine and dignified because of gymnastics,
but my son is a man who doesn’t care about the world or anything.
What do you want to be when you become a middle school student?
“Are you shopping?”
Do you want to study hard?
I don’t think I’ll be able to do my best because I’m so tired of a son
Who can say this is amazing lol
I didn’t even think I said, “You’re amazing.”
As expected, I was told that I’d do better with my duties,
But I’m not feeling well in Shitomachi today,”
And my mother was depressed.
Everybody is different,
Can’t even say it

It’s time to talk about Station 11 – book or TV series. They are both lyrically beautiful epic poems dedicated to the part of us that reaches – grasping – for some kind of knowing what the heck it means to be alive. In these stories, the phrase, scrawled on a car, turned wagon, transporting a caravan of post-apocalyptic actors and musicians: ‘survival is insufficient.’

Things don’t have to be apocalyptic to need these moments. I am so grateful for these little quanta of meaning. They battle, like small slivers of light, kicking and slashing through the dense obfuscations of our drives to work, social media rabbit holes, in-law relationships, red-tape navigations, robocall deceptions, weekend working sessions, crowded Costco checkout lanes, hot water heater malfunctions, after school transportation schedules, popcorn in the couch excavations, identity thefts, construction season stops, and on and on. There has to be balance. We cannot exist merely to pay bills. Survival is insufficient.

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