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Jon Pineda's The Translator's Diary

Unexpectedly, I came across Jon Pineda's The Translator's Diary (Western Michigan University, 2008) on my school library's New Books shelves this morning and decided to read through the slim volume of poetry after classes.



I was quite taken by Jon Pineda's prose in his new memoir, Sleep in Me, that I mentioned in an earlier post. A big chunk of the poems in The Translator's Diary treads the same territory of grief and loss that the memoir traveled. In fact, many of the poems reference or seem to take as a departure the difficult emotions of Pineda's sister's accident. For example, the title poem, "The Translator's Diary," is a poem in fifteen numbered parts that sketches out images of the ocean, waves, seagulls, and other scenes of the trip that the sister took that ended with the tragic car accident.

My favorite poem is a four-part poem titled "Broken Images" that captures really well the kind of imagistic poetry that Pineda offers. The fleeting quality of the images in his poems is very intriguing, as if we are getting snippets of images in passing while our attention is otherwise engaged or distracted. The third part of the poem begins:
Because we sometimes take each other's stories
for our own, I want to believe I am part of this one,
one where a stray splayed under the crawlspace
of a new building. Tenants were complaining
that all they could hear was a dog whimpering,
the pathetic lilt building like waves from the
ground up until their rooms were filled with it,
nothing but pain, someone said it sounded like,
their small apartments only full of this one sound.
What is amazing is that it went on all day until,
in the story, they call the fire department,
The weaving of a story in this snippet is interesting because it is someone else's story, borrowed as one's own, that takes center stage. Of course, I am also fascinated by the presence of the dog as embodiment of pain. The poem goes on to relate how the fire department arrives. A rookie goes under the building to figure out what is going on while the veterans sit in the truck joking with each other. There is a sense that they are having a laugh at the expense of the rookie. But then the rookie comes out with the dog, pregnant with a litter of puppies. And then the section ends:
When he rests her on the ground, he
looks up at us, this kid, this look about him that
says he was prepared for anything, and I love him.
These images are wonderful, filled with a kind of beauty and love in the face of pain and suffering. They are reminders of how humans constantly surprise each other with their ability to show compassion for animals and for each other.
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