Writer in Residence · 02/17/2011

morning on the mountain

Translated by Michelle Bailat-Jones

Listen to “morning on the mountain”


Heavy feet, cold dark field. Husssh. Stiff boots, stamping steps. Shhhh.


Open the barn door. Scattering hooves. Stumble foot and sleepy rustle. Stomp, stomp, stomp. Light the lantern and… swish the switch. His sleepy herd, waking, hesitant. Out now, all of you. You, too. Go on, go. He taps his stick —taps, taps, taps on the door frame. Out. Out. Out, out, out, out… into the silent black morning.


Everyone off and trot. Hoof and rocks and grass. Stutter steps and sleepy goats. Walking stick, bam, tap, wham. Legs tramp, tramp and beat. Ah, ah, wait now, here’s the gate.


A first path. Well-beaten, all climb slowly. Watch them go. Hop, jump. Easy, easy. Hoof clack on uneven stones. Tramp, climb, step and… bam. Whoa my beauties, gentle now over the cattle grate. One after the other.


Awake, awake, walking, and leaps and jumps. Animals racing forward, darting back. Yes, that’s our path now. Everyone push in. Keep in line. Hustle, jostle, hustling, bounding, run and running, running little little feet. Whoosh of wind. Whoa, now, don’t stray. HUSHing… Quiet, quiet now into the solemn wood. Land rising, rock climbing into the silent dark. Pass the trees into an open clearing. Shimmy goats. Leap and trot, circling his feet. Wait, feet stop. Catch your breath, one step, quick step and…


Now go! Off into this morning. Foot and hoof. Foot and hoof. This, our morning ritual. Stamp and cough and bleat. Beards atremble. March, run. Gallop. Gallop along on our path. Jingle, jingle, collars ring. Tumble and knock of hooves and striding legs. Shepherd legs. Little goat legs. Up and up, away from the farm, up and up, into the mountain. Count the trees — pine, pine, oak and aspen, ash, pine. Now, a startled thrush. Morning song. Flit and flight. March and run. Hoof it. March it. Stamp and move it. Foot and hoof. Boughs above, needles below. Leaves crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Jingle, ring. Swish, jump, stride, leap. March and march. Ring and sing. Flap of wing, squawk and cry. Legs warming. Goats leaping. Shepherd man, step, step. Step it, stride it. Behind the goats. Beside the goats. Keep them going. Move, move, leap, jump. Stamp and stride, tread and stop. Hoof leap, hoof scatter. Stomp. Leap. Skid, skip, bound, tramp. On and up and tramp and jump.


Ah, hear it? Rush, rush, mountain stream. Icy cold. Hoofs splashing, rocks clacking. Leap the water. Water gurgling. Slippery stones and sliding feet. Stamp shepherd. Jump shepherd. Stick, stick, stick the ground. Walking staff. Thump, thump, march, run. Foot and hoof. Keep up, now. Run now, rush now. Hoof it. Up and up and further. Leaves swish, arms swing, foot down, foot over, foot and hoof among the rocks and sticks.


Now slowing, slow. Narrow into the gorge. Darker now. Steep walls of stone. Dark. Quiet. Single file. Keep your speed. But careful. Hoof picking. Gentle. Tight stepping. Speed again. Step, step, stepping. Hooves slide, here, there, quick jump. Little goat, move aside. Whoa, there. Watch it now. Ring. Stamp. Ring. Ring. Trotting, trot and step. Picking, moving, limber hoofs. Boulders, now. Bolder, now. Bound, bound. Shepherd, watch their backs. Count your goats.


Out now, beyond the gorge. Legs burning, land rising. Sparse trees and crumbles of stone. Morning opening. Goats slide and tumble, faster, up, up, up and higher, air fresher. Colder. Higher now. Eagle cry, swoop. Still walking, large rocks. Skip, hop, scramble, tumble. Skip. Up and up. Nearer now, just a little further now. Hop goats, jingle goats.


Ah, the sun. Peaking now. Coming warmth. Stamp to get there, jump. Bleat. Push feet, hardy knees. Big rocks. Staff against the rocks. Steep hill, up hill, driving, driving. Heads down little goats. Breathe. Clamber, scramble. Clamber, scramble. Climb and driving. Up, now, up, up. Around the corner and…


Pasture! Leaping goats, open field. Dashing forward. Dashing outward. Now, shepherd, slow shepherd. Face tilting up. Sun, sun, beaming down. Sun and light and sunlit bright. The day has begun.


Note: This piece obviously pushes the boundaries of translation but in that extreme it does speak to one element of a translator’s task: rhythm. Trying to find a way inside the “language” of a drum solo brought me to consider the beat and tempo of English words in a way I’ve never had to do for a traditional translation. Drums have little need for prepositions and they use a jerky, cut-and-dash-away kind of grammar, which meant the translation had to take an experimental form. But the drum solo itself was cohesive as a whole; it flowed, had transitions, emotions and momentum. In its own way, it presents a clear and unified vision. Finding a way to do that using experimental prose, which can lend to abstraction and ambiguity, was a real challenge.

A further note: Both this piece and Margaret Fletcher’s Saine’s St. Tropez raise the question about a translation’s ability to exist on its own. Ideally (or perhaps, arguably), a translation should be so seamless and intact that it can stand without the original. Many traditional translations do this well enough. But I think because these two pieces use languages (photography, music and prose) that everyone can access, they show that together, the translation and the original, have a combined effect that can be startling and meaningful on its own.


Claude Bailat is a physicist by training and drummer by desire. He currently plays with the jazz quartet OMC2.


posted by Michelle Bailat-Jones