FEATURED POEM OF THE WEEK: Jude Hoffman – “Translation”



There are some things that just don’t translate.
Some truths just don’t move
from one space to another
without losing some of their original taste.
When you translate, you risk dropping some parts of it
that made it someone’s truth in the first place.

The concept of linguistic relativity
is something anthropologists have debated
for decades.
It’s the idea that thought doesn’t produce language,
but the other way around.
You cannot think without the words guiding your thoughts.

Can you think of anything without having the words to describe it?
The theory predicts that having words for something is what gives us the ability to understand it.

An anthropologist once said The Inuit had 30 different words for white.
Because they had so many words,
they were able to see the subtle differences in the shades.
We never had that many shades of white.

During translation,
some truths don’t keep the same color.

If I love you in a different language
will we both still ache?
Will my veins still sit on the table
in the perfect shape of my body
pleading to be with yours?

Will the slow dance of French
make the veins smooth out?
Will biting tongue Russian
make a beating heart somehow appear
more alive than it is?
Will rolling Spanish
to American ears
make this feeling seem
somehow less legitimate?
Love is not the only thing that does not translate.

When someone speaks in the language of pain,
somewhere, it is lost in the language of shame
that men dance to the tune of.

Somewhere, there simply isn’t a word
that speaks in white spaces
the note of accountability.

When a people sing
or cry
or scream
or die
or sing
or march
or sing
all of their words
about their identities
translate into
how they are angry,
ignoring the why.
The rest of their message is lost.

When you are being strangled,
and the words are not able to come through your throat,
will your truth be heard
by people who do not share your language?

If language drives our thinking
what a good way to control thoughts
by restricting the language
that is allowed to be used.

When we try and translate the word “liberation,”
there are a few key problems with finding the best meaning.
When one group uses the term liberation, why does the other think it means they are losing privilege?
When one group uses the term liberation, what are they liberated from? That is to ask, what are they liberated in to?
When does liberation mean “the act of setting someone free from imprisonment, slavery, and the oppression of everything white colonization brings, except a Jesus”?

An anthropologist once said Eskimos had 30 different words for white.
Because they had so many words,
they were able to see the subtle differences in the shades.
We never had that many shades of white.
Except when we were scared of the Irish,
then everything was a shade of white
except them.
Except when we were scared of Jews,
then everything was white
except them.
Except after some Brown people killed some civilians,
much like our government has done all around the world,
then everyone was white
except them.

Some things do not translate perfectly,
but there is a language to describe the many shades of white,
like colonizer
or supremacy
or violence
or fragile
or deaf
The space of a body.
The man in that space.
The history that tells the man
it is ok for him to own that space.
Where is the translation for that,
so that the weight of the word
is not so easily avoided?

During the translation,
the tongue sleeps with the exposed nerve of a broken tooth,
and pretends the pain is from something other than its own doing.

Language is a strange thing
how it dances,
every step was put there on purpose
until, through translation,
it’s meaning is lost.
And the truth gets erased.

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