MARTIN VAN BUREN IS FOREIGN
It was late and close to a deadline to translate six lines of poetry, only I’m a not-a-poet convinced you have to be one to translate poems, or at least be very awake to possibility. I’m not a poet and I wasn’t awake despite the coffee so I turned to a rhyming dictionary online for help with the line after the one that ends with the word foreign. It offered me one five-syllable suggestion: Martin Van Buren, which rhymes with foreign only in the late-night, online, rhyming dictionary’s particular and algorithmic accent. Martin Van Buren has no place in Arabic poetry and did nothing audacious enough to substitute him into the poem as a kind of translated touchstone for American readers of Arabic poetry from the late eight century. Calling the emir Martin Van Buren wouldn’t help with the sense of the thing. He is the word he doesn’t rhyme.
Nothing compares to
a palm grown in Rusafa,
Martin Van Buren.*
* The haiku is adapted from a poem attributed to Abd al-Rahman the Emigrant, first Umayyad emir of al-Andalus
S.J. Pearce is a writer and translator who lives in New York City. Her poetry has appeared in Second Chance Lit and the anthology Strange Fire (Teaneck, 2021) and has been the finalist for the 2021 Laurel Review Midwest Chapbook Competition and the 2021 River Heron Review poetry prize. She is currently a member of the 2022 Brooklyn Poets mentorship program cohort.