Grocery Store Translator
Dima reads the poem he is quoted in
I GIVE OUR CUSTOMERS AN EXCEPTIONAL EXPERIENCE WITHOUT JUDGING THEM
Dima speaks animated Russian with a shopper
who holds up the line, grateful
to hear her language.
When she’s gone, Dima wants to know
what I’m writing down.
Three years gone from calling myself a grocer
and the dairy box still knew me,
the register remembered
my code. Dima praises my speed,
asks again about the folded paper
now hiding in my pocket.
He’s got a second job as a translator,
or he’d be management-track.
Plot is information about our futures
we withhold from each other;
I let Dima—tasked with training me—
think I’m just a real quick study.
He beams at product familiarity
I’ve imported from nine-hundred miles away,
back when this was a job
I thought I’d leave behind forever.
Journaling, you’re not only recording your day,
but also your thoughts, Dima says, and
we both laugh when I slide
the paper back out of my pocket.
I like Dima: he stands straight
as a fresh baguette.
I offer what I’ve written down
in trade for translation of his animating exchange.
After our till’s counted, a quick cart run
to the basement parking garage
where Dima looks around, whispers
that he is not from Russia, exactly,
that he had been negotiating insults
on account of his accent; he wanted her to know
she wasn’t welcome back.
He whispers, I lean closer. I’m worried
someone will overhear
what he’s done
and take offense. She was wrong,
he says, about my accent.
[Dima, you work in a grocery store?]
Yes, I do.
[And you are also a translator?]
Yes, I do translate.
[What is— what is translation?]
Translation is bringing one language alive for somebody who doesn’t speak that language. So that means to a native language of that person who wants to translate something.
[And I believe you said something in the past about it being like two souls meeting?]
Yeah, they say— it’s actually a Polish proverb, that says, ‘By gaining another language, you gain another soul.’ So I think it’s like two souls meeting, basically.
[Is that your favorite proverb about translation?]
Well, that’s first one that comes to my mind.
[And you are also a voice-over artist?]
Well, yep. Voice-over talent they say.
[What’s the difference between an artist and a talent?]
I think artist you can make up things. Right? You’re free to interpret stuff that you know, nobody have to tell you how to do it. But voice-over you have to read a text that is given to you. So there is not a lot of— leeway doing your own art, but just giving your voice to someone else. Borrowing your voice, basically.
[In the grocery store do you feel more like artist or talent?]
In the grocery store it depends— where you have to work. With people or with the product. So you have to be— a bit talented to work with the people I think. To keep your job, you know— [Both laugh—] safe.