Three Poems by Khal Torabully / Translations by Nancy Naomi Carlson

[I cast anchor to keep a rendezvous]
I cast anchor to keep a rendezvous.
Give me back these statues that stand
at the counter of froth:
the grinding of hinges is glair
on the moorings of memories.
Like wet nurses lacking ovaries
at sweet cardamom counters,
the merchant of Venice was weighing men
for the great chromosome mishmash.
O sourti trader, what kind of basmati rice
did you hand me for fragrant cry?

Translator’s note: Sourti refers to a Muslim man from the port city of Surat in the Indian state of Gujarat.

J’ai jeté l’ancre pour rendez-vous.
Rendez-moi ces statues debout
au comptoir des écumes :
grincement de gonds est glaire
aux amarres des mémoires.
A l’instar de nourrices sans ovaires
au doux comptoir des cardamomes
le marchand de Venise pesait les hommes
pour le grand embrouillamini des chromosomes.
Ô négociant sourti quel riz Basmati
me donnas-tu  pour odorant cri ?

[Hang on to my cord]

Hang on to my cord 
drift in my ocean name
umbilical by measure
yourself a baptism of azure.
Hang on to an ocean sky,
my only lifeline after the rift:
o only boat
that adores me in my river mouth core.
By monsoon admission
my basin is barley millstone.
In my pure bread of mélange
my throat’s in a cargo hold of storms.

Tiens cordage mon cordon
dérive en mon nom d’océan
ombilical par mesure
toi-même baptême d’azur.
Tiens cordage eau du ciel
mon seul filin de la brisure :
ô seul bateau qui m’aime
en mon cœur d’embouchure.
Pour aveu de mousson
mon bassin est meule d’orge.
En mon pur pain d’un mélange
j’ai la gorge en cale d’orage.

[The only womb I could bring along]
The only womb I could bring along
if you even recall
was a stage curtain, white as a motri
(my receptacle of oracles, my coolie treasure).
The only womb I could caress
in the vast harbor of Port Louis,
(after a deluge of black graves),
a motri filled with dreams and rainy days.
The only womb you didn’t give me when I left,
the only womb you gave me of exile,
o I couldn’t bring it along and keep you alive.
Translator’s note: Motri comes from an Indian word that refers to a large bundle, usually of possessions and bedding.

La seule matrice que je pus transporter
pour autant que tu t’en souviennes
un rideau de scène un blanc motri
(mon réceptacle d’oracles, mon trésor coolie).
La seule matrice que je pus caresser
dans la grande rade de Port-Louis,
(après un déluge de tombes noires),
un motri rempli de rêves et de jours de pluie.
La seule matrice que tu ne me donnas pour partir,
la seule matrice que tu me donnas pour exil,
ô je ne pus la transporter sans te mourir.

Khal Torabully is a prize-winning writer from Mauritius—an African island nation located in the Indian Ocean, 1200 miles from the continent’s southeastern coast—writing in French and Mauritian Creole, whose work is almost completely unknown in the United States. Attached please find the following five translations from Cargo Hold of Star (Cale d’étoiles), to be published by Seagull Books in 2020: “[Hang on to my cord,]” “[I could walk across red holothurians],” “[I cast anchor to keep a rendezvous,]” “[The only womb I could bring along,]” and “[Malabar].”

Nancy Naomi Carlson  is a poet, essayist, film director, and semiologist who has authored some 25 books. Her translation of The Nomads, My Brothers, Go Out to Drink from the Big Dipper (Seagull Books, 2015), translations of Abdourahman Waberi, from Djibouti, was a finalist for the Best Translated Book Award. Her translations have appeared in such journals as AGNI, The American Poetry Review, Boulevard, Crazyhorse, The Iowa Review, Kenyon Review Online, Massachusetts Review, and The New England Review. My non-translated poems have appeared in The Georgia Review, Poetry, Prairie Schooner, and The Southern Review.


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