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Jennifer Rathbun

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


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