PEN America is thrilled to showcase the work of recipients of the 2016 PEN/Heim Translation Fund. Each week through the fall, we’ll feature excerpts from winning projects along with essays by the translators on what drew them to a particular piece and why their work matters now. The Fund, which awards grants of $2,000-$4,000 to promote the publication and reception of translated world literature in English, received a total of 171 applications, spanning a wide array of languages of origin, including Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian, Chinese, Czech, Hindi, Yiddish, and more.

Since 2009, the Fund’s annual contribution for grant awards has been augmented by support from Amazon.

Juana I is translated from the original Spanish. Read Amor’s essay on translating Arzoumanian here

What I need is a mouth.

*      *     *     *     *

I need a mouth the enamel of teeth your saliva.

Blood stops flowing to your lips.

I kiss the air, the locks of hair, the Virgin Mary; I kiss the right foot of Saint Peter.

I run ropes through the gates of your body. I pull on a rope to open your pupils and let in the light.

She is mad.

They murmur among themselves. Staring at the nakedness over my clothes. My two tongues. The sharp knot of my hands.

My tongue-eyes, my nose. Tongues embroidered on the sheet. As though your mouth were the heraldic rumble of the sheet that carries you (dead).

Fish never dry out in the water. They feed themselves by sucking; they do not have tongues. I have two tongues because I am outside. And outside is Spain, is Belgium, is Portugal. Outside is the box I leave open. All the outsides of all the cities in the world where I do not bury him (dead).

I clean you. Licking muscle joined to bone joined to skin. I don’t sleep. I hear dogs howling; I cover my ears. If I do sleep, an orgy of flowers, lighthouses, precious stones. Fruits in the horizontal thickness of your mouth. If I fall asleep, down here, there will be a ruckus, the scream of spinning shovels or shoving spades, row after row, with the intensity of water.

Where did they put your hands? The bed widens; the shovels reach my clavicle. I leave my child curled up against your chest.

Now my bed is of furrowed glass and I do not sleep and I cannot cry. Now my bed is all the places where I do not have you with me. Silence. Cold.

I am not mad.

My nipple will not stay put on the tissue surrounding the base of your teeth.

Time has stopped. Only your body, larger or smaller. That body, larger or smaller, which is not present and will not become larger or smaller inside. And I am looking for you outside. Looking for you. Larger or smaller. Nothing could be worse. Today is today is tomorrow and I keep looking larger or smaller.

One law dictates matters forever.


*      *     *     *     *

It’s a change of color. A tad whiter where once there was red or brown. The lethargic blues of cities, of palaces, running down the walls. White. White over black, the festering red wound; white. Lumpy, jiggling white. I roll my head. I turn it from side to side as if I were a girl dreaming on a white pillow. I move my head on bolsters of air and I do not dream. I move my head as though my head were all mouth wanting to reach a certain something that gets washed and washed.

You, redolent of bread.

Thus (dead) your thin smell of flatbread dissolves in my bowels and tightens. I do not bite.

I am not mad.

I lift my dress. To gallop. The soft rise and fall of the mount, like wings flapping, and me drinking-in the wind. A passage that floats above sand storms. Arching my neck, stretching my cheekbones. Touching your face, shaking my hands in a circular motion, just to know where it ends. Where the pubic hair becomes clouded, the groin. Lifting my dress, seeing you in the reflection of the galloping herd. Lifting my dress, comforted by the knowledge that you have been transformed into hail, into rusted iron. Transformed into agate amethyst coral. Rose silica that I rub to gauge a color.

Lifting my dress, seeing you made of stone.

I cannot bear it. I search high and low for you in the cornices of the sky, that place where a cat walks and jumps. Or I look up to see what lies behind. And, once again, your hands. A fist inside. Your fist or the expanse of the sky plowed by the seas. Or the inside, and your leg that I cannot bear. Why does he not speak? I would say that he loves me. I would say he loves me, you love me; me too.

I am not mad.

Pressed up against the wood. The edge. Underskirt after underskirt after underskirt; bundles of fabric against the wood. I tighten. My heartbeat. The skirt, fabrics and one finger. I touch the iron crowbar that is in my throat. I touch myself, the crowbar, your throat, my finger. On the edge the fabrics my heartbeat against the wood: push. What should I do with my eyes? What should I do when I smell things from a great distance?

Could I be covered in ants? From two to twelve millimeters. Lots of them. Between their head and thorax is a narrower section. And the large head, nearly triangular, and long, long legs. In corridors: a swarm, a hotbed. They move more quickly now; they are everywhere. From one end it looks like a chalk line that someone has traced on the ground. Rows of ants. In their wake a half-inch furrow. And they bite. And it itches so much that it hurts.  

In trunks, in barks, in hollow stalks. That’s where they are. And they fly. The sugary fluid in their abdomen bloats their bodies. Hundreds of thousands of blind workers advance, guided by a hole they themselves make. (My finger, the wood, the edge.) And they push (my finger, the wood; on the edge). They are agile; they dig funnel-shaped ditches. A rusty red or yellowish brown or dusty pink more or less (on the edge the wood my finger). They spew acid. Tiny bites appear and disappear suddenly on my legs. It is then that I say to you, lovely, lovely. And I open my eyes, although it is dark and it is night and I see better at night than in the daytime. Heavy, my heartbeat my finger and the small pile of membranous sweat. And lovely, lovely.

I do not wash myself again.

She is mad.

*      *     *     *     *

I want what I want what everyone calls god for me

a mouth

*      *     *     *     *

This court finds that there is no doubt that Her Majesty is mad.


Publishers and editors who wish to express an interest in any of these projects are invited to contact PEN Literary Awards Coordinator Arielle Anema ([email protected]) for the translators’ contact information. 

Gabriel Amor was born in Spain and has lived in New York since the age of five. He has an MA in English (University of Chicago) and an MFA in Creative Writing in Spanish (New York University). In addition to translating works by Spanish-language authors, Gabriel has published his own poetry (Spanish and English) and performed it in collaboration with other artists. He has also co-produced an Emmy-nominated documentary. Gabriel is currently at work on a novel, written in Spanish and Galician, and concurrently self-translated into English.