NEA Literature Fellowships

Michelle Gil-Montero

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(2012 - Translation)

from The Annunciation by María Negroni

[translated from Spanish]

In the dream, Humboldt, El Bose came, tanner than ever, in his swimming trunks, with his whistle, and his green eyes and that clanging laughter. It was that simple. He sat beside me in the Caffè della Pace and took a blue notebook from his pocket. Un caffè latte, he said. Or, fuggire, fuggire. In any case, I know he has come to see what I have made of my life. When you, out of nowhere, show up and say you taught history from the novel Bomarzo. And I want to show him my poems, but as much as I insist, as much as I rummage for them, there is nothing in my bag, and I'm practically in tears when El Bose hands me his notebook, it's a gift, he says, I smuggled it here just for you, and I open it, and from underneath some miniscule letters come, one by one, Humboldt, I swear to you, alive and intact, El Negro Fassano, eyeing me like a benevolent crow, Duck, the very minute he arrived at Ezeiza, Toni, dealing out blows like crazy, Susanita, blushing, as always, on only one side of her face, The Brains, claiming he never bought a word of Socialist Peronism, Mouse, hunched like a little Duke of Orsini, and next to him, Penguin, The Mute, Cripple, Filly, and Chester, a veritable Sacred Forest of Monsters, the whole lot of them higher-ups, privy to a lot of information, and Evita, who dropped out of Literature -- remember that? -- because in the meetings, she said, the party members always strayed off topic, debating whether the universe is a finite series of concentric spheres or a totality of worlds in eternal exile and so, tell me, how the hell can you take any kind of concrete action that might have an impact on the masses, and she is a practical woman, she says, not like Victoria who stuck with Lit and therefore never managed to discern the difference between the immeasurable and the minimal, and The Dead Ringer too, Humboldt, who'd keep on doing what he did, and The Indian, who didn't do a damn thing, and The Lieutenant, who was a cadet in Military School and never had a Vespa or carried a helmet through the Campo del Fiori.

Don't be afraid, El Bose said, there is more. And I saw myself, Humboldt. I saw myself as if in a sequence of photograms, arranged in what seemed a magical merry-go-round showing life for what it is, an illusory mechanism following its own rules, bringing us what it had to bring, so much, so much coming and going and beginning again, perpetually reinventing everything, your name, your biography, your dreams, and all to what end, and then El Bose looks at me, and facing the whole world, Humboldt, facing the tourists and the carabineers and the swallows of Rome, he, shamelessly, takes one step into the air and begins to sing, quite cheerfully, The waves, and the wind, zucundún zucundún.

Excerpt in Spanish

About María Negroni

The Annunciation is the second novel by Argentine writer María Negroni, author of eleven volumes of poetry and three collections of essays. Insofar as it marks her most direct treatment of Argentina's Dirty War, the definitive trauma in her national and personal history, it is a landmark work in her distinguished literary career.

For Negroni, the Dirty War is above all a moment when "reality asserts itself as inaccessible." The novel struggles to comprehend the incomprehensible facts of dictatorship and the loss of the disappeared. Meanwhile, like much of Negroni's work, it wrestles with the limitations of art and explores the inventive power of language.

Michelle Gil-Montero translates contemporary Latin-American poetry, fiction, and criticism, most recently Poetry After the Invention of América: Don't Light the Flower by Chilean poet Andrés Ajens (Palgrave MacMillan, 2011). She earned a BA in English at Brown University and an MFA in poetry from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, where she studied on a Dean's Merit Scholarship. Her poems and translations have appeared in numerous journals, including ConjunctionsColorado Review, Words Without Border, Hudson Review,and Jacket, as well as in the anthology The Oxford Book of Latin American Poetry (Oxford University Press, 2009). She is an assistant professor of English at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.

Photo by Laura Mustio

Translator's Statement

I like to think of The Annunciation as a novel by a poet. My translation attempts to capture its lyricism, the cadences of its language and thought, and the shifting structure that generates the surprise I usually associate with poems. Here, the novel genre bends to the spirit of Negroni's poetry, what Edward Hirsch has called "the spooky sense of a woman traveling in many directions, journeying through shadows and mirrors, navigating the mysteries by shuttling between life and death" (Poet's Choice, 190).

Many novels have been written about Argentina's Dirty War, but few have managed to explore its atmosphere of contradiction so imaginatively. The narrative traverses dream and reality. For characters, Negroni breathes life into concepts; the cast includes figures such as "The Word House," "My Private Life," and "Longing," as well as the poet Vicente Huidobro and the 17th-century monk Athanasius. Meanwhile, as she claims, "the main character is language itself" ("Writing and Disobedience").

Such a focus on language makes this novel a delectable, while challenging, text to translate. NEA support comes as an extraordinary vow of confidence in the project, and I'm immensely grateful.