May 292011

Poems from Microscope

by Maya Sarishvili

Translated by Timothy Kercher and Nene Giorgadze

These rare English translations of the Georgian poet, Maya Sarishvili, come to us through the work of Tim Kercher and his translation partner, Nene Giorgadze. Of Tim’s many translation projects (see another Kercher translation here on NC), I am particularly drawn to Sarishvili’s poems as her work creates a meticulously urgent consciousness—her writing reminds me of the startling humanity of Anna Swir’s poetry mixed with elements of the mysteriously resonate, vulnerable work of Mary Ruefle.

Tim Kercher and I became friends at Vermont College, having survived the famed Lasko pivo, DG-infused Slovenia residency of 2008. Originally from Colorado, Tim currently teaches high school English in Kyiv, Ukraine, his fifth overseas teaching appointment. Tim lived in the Republic of Georgia for the past four years, where he started editing and translating an anthology of contemporary Georgian poetry. His manuscript, “Nobody’s Odyssey,” was recently selected as a finalist for the John Ciardi Prize for Poetry and his poems and translations have appeared or are forthcoming in Iron Horse Literary Review, Quiddity, The Dirty Goat, Poetry International Journal, upstreet, The Minnesota Review, and others.

Co-translator Nene Giorgadze holds an MA in Georgian Literature from Ilia University (Tbilisi, Georgia), has lived in US since 1999, and speaks three languages: Georgian, English, and Russian. She has written poetry and prose since childhood. Her work is forthcoming or has appeared in Ann Arbor Review, Raleigh Review, Rhino, and others

Maya Sarishvili won the SABA Prize for Poetry, Georgia’s top literature award, for her collection, Microscope, which includes these three poems. She is the author of one other poetry collection, Covering Reality (2001), as well as three radio plays. She lives in Tbilisi, Georgia where she works as a third-grade teacher and is mother to four children, ages 5 to 12. Her work has is forthcoming or has appeared in Crazyhorse, Versal, Nashville Review, Los Angeles Review, Guernica, and others.

What a pleasure it is to grapple with and savor these poems.

-Martin Balgach



[Now, the storm has arrange the insane,]

Now, the storm has arranged the insane,
set down a different order.
Those at the end are children, like rhymes.
A lunatic poem started as a protest.
My smile is thrown down
like a wounded wing
—clumsy me—
I can’t lift it, can’t grip it.
A crowd tramples my lips—
it gets worse in the throng’s midst.
I look up—drops like mini-megaphones.
I chase them down and to each one,
read my poems.
It’s odd. Not a single drop lingers with me.
And I remember the sticky stage
in a packed-out house
where, once upon a time
as a child, I foolishly rose
when my mother was dying
and clumsily climbed up on the table
to make God better hear my prayers…

Continue reading »

May 272011

Herewith, a short excerpt from Tammy Greenwood’s novel, Two Rivers, from Kensington Press (2009).  Harper Montgomery’s wife has been dead for a dozen years. He’s raising a daughter on his own and still grieving the death of his wife.  He’s also hiding his involvement in a violent crime. Everything changes when a train derails in the fictional town of Two Rivers, Vermont.  Amidst the wreckage, Harper finds Maggie, a fifteen-year-old pregnant girl with dark skin and nowhere to live. Harper takes Maggie into his home and begins his journey toward redemption.  Howard Frank Mosher described Two Rivers as ‘the story that people want to read: the one they have never read before.”

This excerpt is from the novel’s prologue.  Read an interview with Tammy Greenwood here.


from Two Rivers

by T. Greenwood

1968: Fall

Blackberries. The man’s skin reminds him of late summer blackberries. The color of not-quite midnight. The color of bruise. This is what Harper thinks as he looks at the man they have taken to the river, the one who is half-drowned now, pleading for his life: the miracle that human skin can have the same blue-black stillness as ripe fruit, as evening, as sorrow itself. 

Of course he also thinks about what you might see (if you were here at the confluence of rivers). Three white boys. One black man, begging to be saved. The harvest moon casting an orange haze over everything: just a sepia picture on a lynching postcard like the ones his mother had shown him once. He’d had to look away then, both because the hanged man had no eyes, and because it was the only time he’d seen his mother cry. And he knows that if she were still alive she’d be weeping now too, but not only because of the black man about to die.

It was anger that brought him here. After he understood that Betsy was dead (not wounded, not hurt, but gone), everything else — the grief, the sadness, the horror — became distilled, watery sap boiled down into thick syrup. All that was left then was anger, in its purest form. It was rage that brought him here. But somehow, now, in the cool forest at the place where the two rivers meet, as the man looks straight into Harper’s eyes and pleads, the anger is gone. Swallowed up by the night, by old sadness and new regret.

“Please,” the man says, and Harper thinks only of blackberries.

He will see this color when he closes his eyes tonight and every night afterward and wonder what, if anything, it has to do with the most despicable thing he’s ever done.

May 272011

I first met Tammy Greenwood seven years ago. She was teaching a creative writing class at UCSD Extensions in San Diego and  I was living in the Mojave Desert.  This meant I drove 3 hours each way to attend her class.  I can think of few better testimonials to her as a teacher.

Tammy is the author of six novels and has a seventh novel in the works with Kensington.  (I’ve had the distinct pleasure of reading drafts of the new book, and it’s going to be a good one!) She has won numerous awards and grants for her writing and has taught in various universities and workshops.  I could go into specifics, but suffice to say, she’s living the dream!

Tammy combines a keen eye for details with a capacious heart, and yet somehow manages to push her stories into the gloomiest of places.   Her novels examine the tragedies of contemporary American life, with memorable characters who suffer from the curse of loving too much and being wounded by the flaws of desire and destiny.  Kids die in her novels; trains crash, families grieve over lost love and commit adultery; there are hoarders and cancer survivors and shoplifters.  Tammy’s characters hold a mirror up to the darkest corners of their being, and they never flinch from going deeper.

I’ve been fortunate to work closely with Tammy and another fine San Diego writer, Jim Ruland, in an intimate writing group we affectionately call “The Dub Club” (Dub standing for the letter ‘W’ and not the former president.)  It’s my pleasure to interview Tammy here on Numéro Cinq.

The Confluence of Rivers: An Interview with Tammy Greenwood

 by Richard Farrell


RJF: Place seems to matter a lot to you.  You’ve invented towns in Vermont in your novels.  Places you’ve lived seem to appear frequently in your work.  Could you talk about how you think about place, about landscapes, as you outline your writing?

Tammy Greenwood: I have described my work in the past as “auto-geographical.” What I mean by that, is that setting (for me) comes from a true place. I feel like that in order to create authentic characters, they must first inhabit an authentic world. Setting is one of the first decisions I make, sometimes even before character.

I grew up in rural Vermont, and (especially as a teenager), I was always trying to escape it. I think it’s funny, because now it is with tremendous longing that I return to Vermont again and again in my fiction.

Continue reading »

May 262011

It’s a pleasure to introduce the first play ever published on Numéro Cinq, God’s Flea by Diane Lefer (wise friend, former colleague at Vermont College of Fine Arts—in the mid-1990s, when I had a radio show, I interviewed her, still have that tape). God’s Flea is an uproarious piece of political folk theater. Set on the Arizona-Mexico border, it borrows from the tradition of carpa, a Mexican popular theatrical form something like vaudeville, full of stock characters, slapstick, broad comedy and topical comment. But it also draws plot inspiration from a 19th century Colombian short story which, in turn, draws its inspiration from folktale and legend. This is the kind of theater you don’t see on Broadway, but it makes you think about what theater is and should be. It speaks to the people, the impoverished (lots of those around these days) and oppressed; it speaks of miracles and saintliness; it tells a joke, reveals horrors, pronounces a moral lesson. Jesus and Death and Sheriff Arpaio are characters; the good man at the center of the story is a gambling addict. The staging is quick and breathless, using lighting to switch scenes; actors change costumes onstage, on-the-fly. It’s a treat. (And don’t miss Diane’s earlier contributions to the magazine: her story “The Tangerine Quandary” and her “What it’s like living here [Los Angeles]” essay.)


Tomás Carrasquilla Naranjo was a 19th-century Colombian author and his story “En la diestra de Dios Padre” (In the right hand of God the Father) became a classic. It’s about a humble and saintly man whose generosity to Jesus and St. Peter (in disguise, of course) earns him five wishes. I love it that the story is written in rural vernacular. I don’t relate to its piety. So when Fernando Castro asked me to create a contemporary adaptation in English, I was relieved when he agreed with my plan to transfer the action to the US-Mexico border, make the greedy sister the main character, and create a version atheists could accept while retaining the underlying values of Catholic social justice teachings. Instead of Sunday School lesson, my genre model was carpa, or Mexican vaudeville, a style known for using comedy, stock characters, and physical humor to address sociopolitical issues. In this case, immigrant rights—a movement I’ve been involved in for years.

—Diane Lefer


God’s Flea

a play by Diane Lefer



inspired by the classic Colombian short story,
“En la diestra de Dios Padre” by Tomás Carrasquilla Naranjo


DOÑA GOLOSITA, greedy middleaged woman, played by a cross-dressed male, and not an attractive sight in spite of her oversize chichis

PERALTA, her brother, humble and pious, played by a cross-dressed woman

Two INTERROGATORS in ski masks

Note: INTERROGATOR, played by female, also plays SHERIFF ARPAIO, JESUS, DEATH; the other, male, also plays ST. PETER, MARUCHENGA (the maid), DIEGO (the gardener), CABBIE, CONGRESSWOMAN

Time and Place: Today. The Arizona-Mexico border.

Set: A swivel chair (the torture chair). A trunk. A kitchen counter or shelf upstage.

Continue reading »

May 232011

Here are three poems from Ray Hsu in Vancouver that demonstrate wit plus a strange and beautiful talent for expressing mystery, vast spaces, ideas and ancient wisdom in a few terse lines. Ray is originally from Toronto but is currently a post-doc fellow at the University of British Columbia. His first collection, Anthropy, contained a poem on the death of Walter Benjamin (suicide on the Spanish border after his attempt to escape Nazi Europe, as he thought, failed) thus signalling at least in part Hsu’s aesthetic allegiance to the European mode of cerebral, critical, urban poetry of edgy juxtaposition as opposed to the North American penchant for lyric and nature imagery. Barbara Carey, writing in the Toronto Star, called him brainy and eclectic. She wrote: “It’s anthropology remade in the freewheeling, crisply detached style of postmodernism … Hsu’s work resembles that of Anne Carson, the celebrated Montreal writer and classics scholar who combines cultural references to the ancient world with a cool (in both senses of the word) contemporary voice.” His second book, Cold Sleep Permanent Afternoon, was published last year and continues his investigation into what he calls the “grammar of personhood.”



Three Poems

By Ray Hsu




Notes to the Border Guard


The man who would come to be called Confucius: I could see in his eyes that he
wanted something else out of the world.

As I began to move west from the vast plains to the borders of civilization itself into the
state of Qin, I would imagine him moving West too, away from sun behind him.

I told him about the other half of their souls and its depths. Sure, there was on one side:
the one of which Confucius knew, its intricate practicalities.

But on the other was a sprawling forest that sounded like an ancient poem.

When I look up I don’t see gods, but a different kind of order. He has one way of
comprehending this order, but it is among the bustle of this order that I sense another

It eludes the treasure hunters searching for wealth and luck.

When I spoke to the king, even with his warriors far below, I saw that he was afraid.

Or was it the warriors themselves that the king feared? They needed something to
believe in—a spirit or an idea—or else they were nothing to themselves.

I tell the king.

Then I see in the king’s eyes that he knows. Yes, he thinks. I thought that politics was
about me.

No one knows what will happen. But what I have told him is enough for now.

I know that he is a sensitive man, that he may already feel in the wind a hint of the blood
that is in his future.

At the gate, I resist the urge to turn and look back at the kingdom.

This government wants to be so much more. It dreams of all tongues speaking its

But it isn’t up for me to solve. Beneath my skin, I feel a readiness. It feels like an engine.



Stars in the blue sky before the night’s darkness


Before I start, you describe to me the brightness of the night sky. I am only an
amateur. Others supply facts, some bother with their points of view.
Some publish theirs as science, some make highly accurate predictions.

Somewhere light is not simply pollution. Different places, different skies: the
Texas Star Party, the Nebraska Star Party. Kitt Peak. The McDonald Observatory.
A sky with no clouds, as dark as it gets around here.

But you reach far out into the night to find me a dark sky. You remind me of Lao
Tzu: When darkness is at its darkestthat is the beginning of all light. What
colours do you find?

I turn on my red light. I put on my glasses, the mirrored kind you wear on
glaciers. No luck: the magnitude for tonight is less than before. It can only get so
dark. One more event horizon: the light we cannot escape. The sky brightens.
These lights are all too human.

You measure me a clear night so I can finally test my vision. Tell me where to



How to Be Awesome


“The internet’s completely over. … The internet’s like MTV. At one time MTV was hip
and suddenly it became outdated. Anyway, all these computers and digital gadgets are
no good.” — Prince, The Mirror

Week 1: Syllabus; Course Expectations

Week 2: How to Fake Your Way to the Top

Week 3: How to Spend the Day Playing Video Games

Week 4: Going to Events is More Fun Than Reading

Week 5: How Your Friends Can Get You Published

Week 6: How to Get Into Grad School

Week 7: Theft

Week 8: How to Avoid Professionals

Week 9: How to Predict the Future

Week 10: How to Teach at a Major University

Week 11: How to Become a Wizard

Week 12: How to Refuse a Prize

Week 13: Last Class

—Ray Hsu