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

10 October 2019

I am sitting near a sun my heart is heavy with, by Rethabile Masilo

hoping that when the rooster comes off the rafters
of others, to face itself, like a child off a parent’s shoulders—
though I may not be alive to see it,
and there is a sacred glow along the lip of the horizon—
its head will go back into its mother’s womb.

Then the bear will shift in the woods, and black
and white will revert to being brown and beige.

It will be during the days of our children, a time
when the children of friends make the progeny of the children
of enemies, huddled in groups of salvaged souls.

The reasons to scalp are as many as Sitting Bulls
in tombs beneath ancestral lands, as many as black people
stabbed in the back with a bullet, as numerous
as the flames of open-mouthed Vietnamese fleeing
down a road. Loud as the noise of two nuclear booms.

The number of times a moon has sailed
over the lands of Kurds is incalculable and makes this
a fight to the finish, matched only by the total grains of sand
lying on beaches in Normandy.

Let this be a beef, of constructive engagement,
with policies on apartheid, fear garlanded with itself,
a mass grave of the number of times peoples
have been invaded, displaced, their numbers divided.
May the quotient of that suffering be your beef.

Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse

8 October 2019

Belief, a poem by Rethabile Masilo

Until we believe the world, we don't know truth,
we are without peace, nothing lights our faces,
we are devoted to bare standards, we have
a need to weep, deep inside.
If we could gather stars from the sky, charm them—
not into impossible forms—with our hands,
into a meaning which must know
why they blink at us in wonder—mould them
to understand what goes on in our heads,
build a generation of brightness out of them,
till we linger in the power of their eyes,
and we know what they think of our world.

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