I was a translator at the Institute:
fair pay, clean work, and a bowerbird's delight
of theory and fact to keep the forebrain supple.
I was Western Europe. Beiträge, reviste,
dissertaties, rapports, turned English under my
one-fingered touch. Teacup-and-Remington days.
It was a job like Australia: peace and cover,
a recourse for exiles, poets, decent spies,
for plotters who meant to rise from the dead with their circle.
I was getting over a patch of free-form living:
flat food round the midriff, long food up your sleeves—
castes in abeyance, we exchanged these stories.
My Chekhovian colleague who worked as if under surveillance
would tell me tales of real life in Peking and Shanghai
and swear at the genders subsumed in an equation.
The trade was uneasy about computers, back then:
if they could be taught not to render, say, out of sight
out of mind as invisible lunatic
they might supersede us—not
because they'd be better. More on principle.
Not that our researchers were unkindly folk:
one man on exchange from Akademgorod
told me about earth's crustal plates, their ponderous
inevitable motion, collisions that raised mountain chains,
the continents rode on these Marxian turtles, it seemed;
another had brought slow death to a billion rabbits,
a third man had bottled the essence of rain on dry ground.
They were translators, too, our scientists:
they were translating the universe into science,
believing that otherwise it had no meaning.
Leaving there, I kept my Larousse and my Leutseligkeit
and I heard that machine translation never happened:
language defeated it. We are a language species.
I gather this provoked a shift in science,
that having become a side, it then changed sides
and having collapsed, continued at full tempo.
Prince Obolensky succeeded me for a time
but he soon returned to Fiji to teach Hebrew.
In the midst of life, we are in employment:
seek, travel and print, seek-left-right-travel-and-bang
as the Chinese typewriter went which I saw working
when I was a translator in the Institute.