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  • Two translations: Little Birthday Cakes in the City of Tomis (Ovid), and: [Words carved in a limestone boulder] (Leonidas of Tarentum)
  • Reginald Gibbons (bio)

Two translations Little Birthday Cakes in the City of Tomis

Ovid, Tristia 3.13

(In the region on the Black Sea—the "welcoming sea"—called "Pontus," c. [bce] 9)

Look who's here!—the useless godling who's flown all this way      for my birthday. (Truly—what was the point of being born?)You little shit—why are you here to add more shitty years      of exile to my life? Long ago, you should haveput an end to them. If you'd cared about me, if you'd felt any shame      at all, you'd never have followed me here from home—where you were the first to know me as a doomed child,      and should've been the last. And when I was kicked outof Rome you should've given me a goodbye then, like my friends did—      and put some grief in it. What have you got to dowith Pontus, anyway? Did Caesar's fury at me mean you too      had to come to the farthest, freezingest hole in the world?

And now what?—you want the kind of coddling you usually get?—      a white robe over my shoulders? A pretty little smokingaltar surrounded by fresh flowers? Grains of sacred incense      crackling in the fire? And me making little birthday cakeofferings with my head bowed, moving my mouth in a prayer      to you to beg for something, something, good to happen?

Sorry—I've been put in a position where I absolutely can't feel      happy that you've shown up. For me, about right would bea funeral altar with cypress branches, and flames ready to jump up      and roar under the platform of my pyre. It's not a pleasure, [End Page 40] exactly, to offer incense that gets absolutely nothing from gods.      Nor do any nice little words come to me in this stinking place.

But if something really does have to be asked for on this day,      then this is what I'll pray: Do not, do not, come back againso long as Pontus—this farthest fucking possible place on the earth—      ridiculous that it's called "welcoming"!—is still holding me prisoner.

[Words carved in a limestone boulder]

Leonidas of Tarentum (Italy, third century [bce])

You—passing through on foot and alone—don't drinkthis sun-staled water, clouded with slime. Beyondthese grazing cows, much farther uphill, go underthat far pine, which all the shepherds know. You'll finda sweet clear spring gushing from deep in the rock.It's even colder than the snows far to the north of here. [End Page 41]

Reginald Gibbons

Reginald Gibbons's new book of poems is Last Lake (Chicago, fall 2016). His book How Poems Think (Chicago 2015) is a study of poetry, poetics, language, and poetic temperament, with example texts ranging from the ancient Greeks to Best American Poetry. With Ilya Kutik, he is completing a coauthored book of translations and essays on Russian poetry. BOA Editions Ltd. will publish his collection of flash fiction in 2017. He teaches at Northwestern University and volunteers with the Guild Literary Complex and American Writers Museum.