Sep. 29, 2009

Stadium Traffic

by Daniel Donaghy

You're on your way home
when a thousand cars
pour onto Broad Street:
the ball game's over.
No one's going anywhere soon.
It's mid-July: eighty and humid.
You smell like all the crappies in the Delaware,
wear the ache of dock crates in your back.
Your buddy lost two fingers tonight
to a jigsaw: boss said go home early,
stay late tomorrow night.
These people don't appreciate
what they have: time to go to ball games.
You get out among blaring horns
and hustlers hawking T-shirts,
walk the yellow lines like a tight rope,
arms out for balance,
all the way to the corner and back.
Broad Street still as a parking lot,
wound tight as a fist.
You pop the trunk, fish a beer
from your cooler, and pound it.
Back in your car, the radio's
recapping the game:
your team pulled one out
they would have blown last year.
You've blown the last year working
nights while your lady works days.
Night work means bad lighting,
and you've had enough close calls.
You've had enough overtime.
You've had enough.
Something has to give.
Somewhere in the distance a dog
is barking, a husband is coming home.

"Stadium Traffic" by Daniel Donaghy, from Start with the Trouble. © The University of Arkansas Press, 2009. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's what's believed to be the birthday of Miguel de Cervantes, (books by this author) born near Madrid, Spain (1547). He's the author of Don Quixote, written four centuries ago, which is considered to be the first modern novel. In 2002, one hundred writers polled overwhelmingly chose Don Quixote as the World's Best Work of Fiction. Votes for Cervantes' novel came from Salman Rushdie, John le Carré, Milan Kundera, Nadine Gordimer, Carlos Fuentes, and Norman Mailer.

Dostoyevsky wrote in his diary that Don Quixote was "the saddest book ever written … the story of disillusionment." American novelist William Faulkner reportedly read Don Quixote every year.

Don Quixote is about a middle-aged landowner named Alonso Quijano, from a village in La Mancha, who stays awake at night reading books about chivalry. He becomes obsessed with the stories, neglects to eat and sleep, and goes mad believing the tales to be true. He laments the demise of chivalry in the modern world and is determined to resurrect it through a heroic quest. He sets off on his skinny horse to begin performing heroic and gentlemanly feats. He recites poetry for prostitutes, believing they are princesses. He starts a fight with some merchants who accidentally insult his beloved lady (who does not know that she is beloved by him). The merchants beat him up, break his sword, and leave him lying in the dirt. He is noble but foolish. He's quixotic, an adjective — in many languages — to which his character gave rise.

The two volumes that constitute Don Quixote were actually published a decade apart. Soon after Cervantes published the first, different publishers were putting out pirated versions of his popular book, thereby depriving him of the royalties rightfully his. And just before he’d finished the second part of the book, when he was already about 50 chapters along, a man writing under the pseudonym Fernández de Avellaneda published an unauthorized continuation of Cervantes’ Don Quixote.  The unauthorized edition was very popular, and Cervantes was enraged that his brainchild character had been co-opted.

In the second volume, Cervantes weaves a diatribe against the author of the false knight, and writes a scene in which his "real Quixote" meets the "fake Quixote" — the one created by Fernández de Avellaneda. This meeting is one of translator Edith Grossman's favorite moments in the novel, one of the ways in which it is "positively post-modern," as she says.

When Edith Grossman published her translation of Don Quixote in October 2003, it was hailed as the "most transparent and least impeded among more than a dozen English translations going back to the 17th century."

Grossman has translated many living Latin American authors, and has done every one of Gabriel García Márquez's books since Love in the Time of Cholera. When García Márquez learned that Grossman was translating Cervantes, he joked to her: "I hear you're two-timing me with Miguel."

Edith Grossman's translation of Don Quixote begins:

''Somewhere in La Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember, a gentleman lived not long ago, one of those who has a lance and ancient shield on a shelf and keeps a skinny nag and a greyhound for racing.''

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