Jennifer Rathbun, poet and translator, is a Professor of Spanish and Chair of the Department of Modern Languages and Classics and Interim Chair of the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Ball State University in Indiana. She received her PhD at the University of Arizona specializing in Contemporary Latin American Literature. Rathbun is the translator of numerous poetry books by Hispanic authors such as Alberto Blanco and Minerva Margarita Villarreal, editor of two anthologies of poetry and author of the poetry collection El libro de traiciones / The Book of Betrayals (2021). Rathbun was awarded the 2021 Ambroggio Prize by the Academy of American Poets for her translation of Cardinal in My Window With a Mask on its Beak by Colombian author Carlos Aguasaco. She is a member of the American Literary Translators Association (ALTA) and is Associate Editor of Ashland Poetry Press.
The heart needs a masterclass, a maestro, a guide,
a true master of love or perhaps a master at love.
Someone, anyone, to teach us how music is played
beyond the measures on this page, indicate where
hearts should beat faster or slower or how to pull its
strings in the right sounding point in the right direction
even dangerously close to the edge of the bridge.
Fortissimo, vibrating yet solid with a long full stroke.
How and where to stand tall, raise scroll to the heavens,
lean slightly back and devote every emotion to that one
long dotted note at the end of a frantic run that leaves
everyone gasping for air.
A heart should learn to wail, to holler, to cry out in pain
in joy, in love or in despair but cry like the solo violin
projecting to the back of an empty performance hall.
If the teacher arrives, we’ll place our hearts in his hands
if he’ll simply show them how to beat.
I know I’m standing
at the precipice
I could step back
at any moment
save myself from the fall
from the pain when desire
crashes against reality
from the vertigo of its emotions
but yet the question remains
what if I fly
what if the wind carries me
and my heart learns to soar
Two Unlit Candles
Arrive to this temple with open arms
arrive crawling on bleeding knees
offering in hands
supplications fresh on lips
arrive from east to west like the sun
east to west as the moon
arrive to burn altar candles
arrive cleanse your soul
in blue baptismal fonts
arrive to receive sacrament
blessings an embrace
arrive love arrive
arrive to this temple your home
to profess your love for me
arrive love arrive
Like a black and white photograph
sold at a flea market
void of any sentiment
it may have once held
separated from narrative
love never existed