Mudlark Flash No. 42 (2007)

Gabriel DeCrease  |  Short Retreats
and The Unsolved Language

Author’s Note | Trieste | Vienna | Budapest
Chihuahua | El Rey | Nusco | Madrid | Cairo

Gabriel DeCrease is a graduate of the Creative Writing/Poetry Program at Allegheny College and is currently a member of the MFA Creative Writing/Poetry Program at The University of Pittsburgh. He received The 2005 Mulfinger Award for Poetry and first-prize in the 2007 Edwin Ochester/Academy of American Poets competition for his poem “Iteration of a Funeral.” His poems and reviews have appeared in The French Creek Journal and Paradigm-3. He lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he works as a boxing trainer.

Author’s Note

There is some history I ought to share since it is not contained—directly or indirectly—in the poems that will follow. I will try hard to avoid explanation. Thankfully, there is no twist or revelation to give away—no surprise to spoil. If there is a moral, I do not know what it is. This work is what came of reading and re-reading the journal in which I copied down graffiti I encountered as I traveled as a very young man without any goal other than the acknowledgment of what I was not and where I had never been. The translations—rough, multiple, and presumably erroneous as they are—came from the strangers and acquaintances I met on my way. Many of the translations were attempted by people in districts, states, or countries far from the places where I discovered and copied the graffiti which they might never see. A turret lathe operator in Flint, Michigan, tried to correct what he thought were mistranslations of Mexican slang words. His qualifications were that he had taken two years of Spanish-language classes in junior high sometime in the early 1960’s, been on a five-day cruise to the Yucatan Peninsula once, and owned a volume of Lorca’s poems in which English and Spanish versions were presented on facing pages. His translations, some of which are included in this sequence, were the result of a conversation that came after I found him digging through my knapsack. He had emptied it onto the seat of a wooden chair to verify my claim that I had nothing of value to offer, then he opened the ox-blood journal. When he saw me looking in the doorway, he said, “What the hell is this?” These were the types of translations I sought—the ones that required no seeking other than the interest that came, time-to-time, without warning or reservation.


Multiple rough translations of a single graffiti inscription, Trieste

Perfection is not
of this world.

This is not
a perfect circle

Nothing perfect
has a long life.

Only this one—not the other—
is a perfect circle.

Nothing perfect
comes full circle.


Assembly of rough translations of graffiti inscriptions, Vienna

In America, a father begged
the Army to paint Solomon
on the belly of a bomb
and drop it on the city
where his son, Sol, was killed
in battle.
The Army indulged.
A year later, the father
weeps for the people that died
in the fire that burst
from the bomb he named. Regret
has never meant less.

* * *

This is my last will
and testament.
If I die in my sleep,
the man sleeping
next to me
under this bridge
should have all I own.
And if I own nothing
by then,
turn my pockets inside out
so he knows he is not cheated.
I was a professor
of mathematics
in Hamburg,
now I have no wife,
no money, and no
worries or pains.
This is good.

* * *

In the time you took
to read this,
someone died
and the people
who will mourn,
some of them,
will still be in love.

* * *

Certain death.
That is my best guess.

* * *

Something you see here
has already been seen
by someone
who will change the world.
I will not change the world.
Better or worse, someone will.


Multiple rough translations of single graffiti inscription, Budapest

Spiros loved giving
all his oversize spirit
to Athens, the beautiful
and untouched city.

Spiros put his massive
penis all the way
into the virgin,
beautiful Athena.

Spiros took his large
penis to Athens,
his first entry into
the beautiful city.


Multiple rough translations of single graffiti inscription, Chihuahua

Don’t you realize instinct overpowers reason?

Does an instinct come to power for a reason?


Assembly of rough translations of graffiti, El Rey

You will not outlive
the paint I sprayed
on this wall. Fuck you.

* * *

Vincente was here
on his way to the sea.
by the time you read
this message I,
Vincente, will have a line
in the white sea
and my old friend
Carlos will be salting
the fish I already caught
and drying them
under the sun.

* * *

A man is strong
if he can lose
the things he loves
and not lose his mind.
There is more to know,
but this can of aerosol paint
has almost run out.


Multiple rough translations of single graffiti inscription, Nusco

One cannot climb
out of a hole.

One can never
be whole.

One who is whole
cannot be in a hole.

Bury me alone
in a deep hole.


Assembly rough translations of graffiti, Madrid

This city is guarded
while it sleeps
by the ones
who—lived, died,
the factories, the roads—
and are buried here.
This is a city full
of ghosts.

* * *

This café is for
the Spanish people.
Go home fat day-trippers
from London and Belfast.
Our soccer clubs
are better than yours,
so are our women.
Go home rich pigs
from South Africa.
The blacks were the first
people on Earth
and you keep them
behind walls, and fear them.
End of April, 1981

* * *

I am Rodrigo from Madrid
I have gone to Trieste
and it is nothing like Madrid.
No one was impressed
by the fast car I rented
or these very good clothes.
People talked less.
They were content
or ill with sadness.
I have not decided
The cemeteries were prettier
than ours at home.
They were so quiet—
they still are,
I imagine—
that even the voice inside
me was silent
among the graves.


Imagined meaning of indecipherable graffiti, Cairo

I will let this graffiti stand for what I believe.
What I believe includes handicapping dog races,
coconut milk, South Chicago, the sad topless bars
in Granville, the spaghetti westerns I saw when I was young.
This is Sanskrit or Greek. I think. Honestly,
I do not have even a clue.
One-hundred forty-nine characters,
some seem to me like samurai-calligraphy, others Braille.
This is a rewriting of all the graffiti I have copied
and others like inked Braille.
This is a rewriting of all the graffiti I have copied from walls
and bathroom stalls, the things I have tried to decipher, or at least explain, after the fact.
There are crude vandal-scripts written on The Wailing Wall, something, I am told,
that says the damned have no future,
that Hell is retrospective.

                    If I have found something to stand in place of my convictions, my collections, and my devotions then it must also stand guard when I am asleep. Not guard, no threat, but lookout—in case someone has traveled and is knocking to be let inside. They should not have to wait until I wake and shake off my dreams and find my slippers. There is a watchtower before the prison cemetery—after the wall, after the shell casings, and Africa—where the unknowable graffiti can sit the night watch. Graffiti, if you can do this, I will ask you what you mean, let you be real as I suppose I am. I will listen, even when you tell me you do not have anything to do with my un-publishable private literature, plums, acorns, song, roses in the icebox, or the light from behind the cellar door.

If you are unlike the world as a lie,

                                                                  I will beg you to stand in place of my curiosities. Did anyone in Tijuana understand my broken Spanish? I came first at sixteen with only a book of poems, a black suit and black boots, and said I was going to be a boxing champion. Does Vienna recall my falls from its balconies? One broken by deep water of a fountain. The other my hand and collarbone broken by a stone table. What is there I cannot bear losing? I have been punched in the head 10,011 times and never had a concussion or seen stars, or the black lights. What luck?

                                                                  If my prayers will not take care of the people
                                                                  I used to know, I hope you will.

                                                                  I have lingered, or wanted to.
                                                                  I never stayed too long, and never meant
                                                                  my wandering as an invasion.

                                                                  I am sorry if I have done you wrong.
                                                                  The original desperation—to find a country
                                                                  where I do not exist—is now nearly lost.

Copyright © Mudlark 2007
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