17 October 2019

Simon, a poem by Rethabile Masilo

We arrived after dark, the place already full,
and looked for spaces to pitch our tents;
then sat down and contemplated the stars,
pointing out those we knew by name that are
to children a familiar connect-the-dots
at the playground; we drew them completely
to how they appeared to our eyes, tracing lines
with our fingers in the air—before meeting
the man Jesus. I cannot recall whether
later we played shax, but the night was rife
and a fire flung sparks into the darkness above.
He was near, praying in the park somewhere:
one could tell, you could almost smell him.
And perhaps we played shax but who
can remember such a thing? No one
was going to escape the moment, taken from
scrolls and tablets with tombstone faces,
and brought before us like a sacrificial lamb.
He was kneeling near the silence of the grove
and we knew his sun was going to rise on Judea,
a kingdom spread from here to the sea, knew
prayer would stop when cries of pilgrims
came from afar as they realised what was
about to pass, and the time was right
for the carpenter to bring out his cross,
chiselled, smoothed over with a plane, oiled,
and women had mixed salt-water with herbs
for the bathing of feet. The black man Simon
was just setting off for the synagogue, biltong
and dried fruit in a pouch at his waist, along
a road where hordes lined the sides, waiting
with boards of shax folded under their arms.

Morabaraba / Shax

16 October 2019

El poéma de Janice, by Rethabile Masilo

Cuando llegas allí, los caballos del amanecer
ante ti, las ruedas furiosas de carretas tiradas,
cada distancia luchada con la sal del sudor,
el camino plano entre millas; tenso; sólo casco
y duro sonido de rueda sobre el aire,
es prueba de que esto no es sólo una pesadilla,
¿quién puede decir lo que hay que hacer por nuestra calma?
Te sientas como marfil esculpido entre colores de jade,
algo en el rostro que luces, colgado como una máscara
sobre muros de cuartos interiores, algo en el sonido
cuyo eco te nombra, la mañana que
ascendió desde el oro en ti, resoplos
hacia el mundo. ¿Cómo podemos decir quién es culpable?
A medio camino hacia el destino, el sol perdió toda esperanza,
y brilló hacia dentro sobre grandes cordilleras.
Un lento descenso al hogar. La certera muerte
de las primeras palabras dichas: ¡hágase la luz!
¿Qué sabemos de los significados
de las cosas que operan contra aquel tipo de luz?

Traducción de Arturo Fuentes

15 October 2019

A poem is a toddler, by Rethabile Masilo

on a bed, unable to do anything, let alone surpass or surprise.
You are the one who will make that probable—who wakes
in the middle of the night to shuffle around with the child
in your arms—who calms it, makes a certain kind of peace
occupy its head. And sometimes you turn babble
into meaning to benefit the world, then dress your poem
with matching socks and blouse, when you take it out;
or purposely clothe it in unmatched, clanging colours
to shock passers-by on the street, folks used to reading
only signs of rude sound bites. But how you enjoy that!

Then it gets sick and you have, in a pram at the park, a baby
bawling for you do not know what—still you persist
and identify its ailment, which you spray with something,
feed it cough syrup or, depending on the symptoms, sift
through a thousand remedies until you find the proper one
which you administer to the poem till it relaxes,
and opens its mouth to swallow your labour in a yawn.

13 October 2019

Demain, a poem by Aimé Césaire

Je suppose que le monde soit une forêt. Bon!
Il y a des baobabs, du chêne vif, des sapins noirs, du noyer blanc;
Je veux qu'ils poussent tous, bien fermes et drus, différents
de bois, de ports, de couleur,
mais pareillement pleins de sève et sans que l'un empiète
sur l'autre,
différents à leur base
mais oh!
que leurs têtes se rejoignent oui très haut dans l’éther
égal à ne former pour tous
qu’un seul toit
je dis l’unique toit tutélaire…

from "Et les chiens se taisaient", 1997


I take the world to be a forest. Right!
There are baobabs, lively oak, black fir, the hickory;
I want them all to grow, strong and dense, each different
by wood, aspect, colour,
but equally filled with sap and with none encroaching
on another,
different at their base
but oh!
may their heads meet yes high up in ether
equivalent to forming for all
just one roof
I say the only protective roof...

Translated from the original French by Rethabile Masilo

I encountered several difficulties in translating "Demain" from the original French into English, but the main one is perhaps the poet's use of the word toit, which means "roof". In French, toit (roof) sounds exactly like toi (you). They're both pronounced /twa/. And so

égal à ne former pour tous
qu’un seul toit
je dis l’unique toit tutélaire...

is at once

equivalent to forming for all
just one roof
I say the only protective roof...


equivalent to forming for all
just one you
I say the only protective you...

I have not been able to find a way around this, because the poet probably played on that ambiguity; therefore I opted for the literal roof meaning at the expense of the you meaning embodied by sound alone.

Aimé Césaire
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