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Imagine africa volume 3, p.6

Imagine Africa, Volume 3, page 6

 

Imagine Africa, Volume 3
 


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  Bits of straw floated upwards from a nearby hut. They fluttered in the still air and then fell again. Two birds cut across the sky. A child cried. The mother stifled its weeping. Mafemane smiled. Maguiguane tried to raise his spear. He couldn’t. His hand felt leaden. Mputa remained, impassive, without moving. Mafemane smiled. The sun was sinking, crimson. Silence weighed upon them. Night was falling.

  From the end of the corridor a spear cut through the air and pierced Mafemane’s chest. Tall as he was, his body swayed backwards before returning to its initial position, while he fixed his eyes on the retreating Ualalapi.

  “Who is that?” Mafemane asked.

  “It’s Ualalapi,” the warriors nearest him replied.

  “Call him. He’s got to finish me off, as the laws require. Where’s he from?”

  “He’s Nguni.”

  “Ah!” He sighed, smiling. His body began to sag. As he bent forward, the spear buried itself more deeply in his blood-soaked chest. With some effort, he reverted to his initial position and coughed up a stream of blood. His knees sank to the ground a few seconds later. He buried his hands in the sand and remained kneeling for a few moments, waiting for Ualalapi, who approached, his head hung. The pain in his chest was such that he fell onto his back, looking up into the sky, where three stars appeared. Lacking the courage to look at him, Ualalapi walked over to Mafemane, knelt down, pulled the spear from his chest, and plunged it back into him again and again. Ualalapi’s face, torso and other parts of his body were spattered with the already dead Mafemane’s fresh blood. And as the blood ran down Ualalapi’s body, he closed his eyes tightly and buried his spear with still greater fury in Mafemane’s trunk, which was now riddled with wounds, torn and unrecognisable. Maguiguane and Mputa approached him.

  “That’s enough,” they said, “he’s already dead.”

  Ualalapi stopped his spear just a few centimeters from Mafemane’s chest, and got to his feet. He switched his spear to his left hand and started to run through the village screaming “no” in a strident, piercing, hitherto unheard voice. He vanished into the night-shrouded forest, his body crashing through the leaves and branches that his bloodshot eyes could no longer see. Minutes later, the weeping of a woman and a child joined his screams and the forest noises dragged along with them. And the same noise filled the sky and the earth for eleven days and nights, the same number in years ruled by Ngungunyane, the name that Mudungazi adopted when he took power as emperor of all the lands of Gaza.

  JEAN SÉNAC

  Translated from the French by KAI KRIENKE

  Upon his return to Algeria in 1962, shortly after the nation’s independence, poet-JEAN SÉNAC (1926–1973) famously declared in the “Citizens of Beauty” [Citoyens de beauté]: “And now will we sing love / For there is no Revolution without Love.” These lines were not only a declaration of love for the revolution but a call to merge body and politics in Algeria’s struggle for independence. His previously repressed homosexuality found a new voice within the emancipation of a people he often called “my people,” which he represented through the increasingly erotic “bodypoems” [corpoèmes] he began to write around 1966. Included here are translations of poems written between 1966 and 1970 that became available only posthumously. Sénac’s assassination in 1973 can be directly tied to his sexual politics in a nation that was upholding an increasingly conservative definition of its Arab and Muslim heritage.

  KAI KRIENKE is a translator, literary reviewer, and Assistant Professor at the Bard High School Early College program in Queens, New York. His work focuses primarily on Algerian poetry in French written during and after the war for independence. He was editor of the Lost & Found series V chapbook on Jean Sénac and is currently translating Sénac’s correspondence with Albert Camus.

  Sketch of a Total Body

  from Forebody

  1

  The day begins between your teeth, barely mumbled, window

  Upon the sea. Sun on your lips: the beach

  Where the poem sprawls.

  Here’s our summer. I’m only

  Transcribing the willowy drone of your body.

  (I’m thinking of those festivals on the barren hills of Bou Saada,

  Of those processions in the Spanish peninsulas.)

  But the day is dawning and I know

  That you are there alive

  In the curve of my syllables,

  The blind man’s bluff of my rhythms.

  Taking your hand is almost like tracing the poem.

  Taking your hand is like placing upon a carrying rocket

  The tools of our consciousness, the gems

  Of the zodiac, the fantastic colors freed

  By our passion–hallucinogenic health!

  (I don’t want LSD, I want

  Your smile upon the blue of Algiers!)

  Grabbing your laughter is like unfolding the phrases,

  Giving them to the wind, with a kiss

  Bringing them back to the north where in its blue swimsuit

  The poem is about to jump upon the dike.

  (In the euphoria of fried foods we nearly touch happiness with our lips

  —Nearly…)

  Did we ever know that imagination

  Is the insect that punctures the poem, our flesh, the horizon,

  A destructive chill without elytron?

  Did we ever know how much rubble and horror

  Penetrate the blue of the gods, the cloud of the sea?

  That the waste lingers at the bend of an image,

  Clogs the heart, and the street trembles like murky water,

  The voice silts in, the diamond is but a stylus.

  But you take the word again at its wound and you sing,

  You open the flame-proof forest upon our fires

  (lentisks by the sea).

  Nothing is frightening, I write.

  2

  Thrilling invention, Eros,

  When with a single stride you erase the beach,

  The swimmers turn around, amazed,

  Until you gush from the foam anew,

  Poetry, Total Body!

  November 29, 1966

  Esquisse d’un Corps Total

  de Avant-Corps

  1

  Le jour commence entre tes dents, à peine balbutié, fenêtre

  Sur la mer. Soleil sur tes lèvres : la plage

  Où le poème s’étend.

  Voici notre été. Je ne fais

  Que transcrire le bourdon gracile de ton corps.

  (Je pense à ces fêtes sur les collines arides de Bou Saâda,

  À ces processions dans les presqu’îles espagnoles.)

  Mais le jour commence et je sais

  Que là tu es vivante

  Dans le galbe de mes syllabes,

  Le colin-maillard de mes rythmes.

  Prendre ta main c’est presque tracer le poème.

  Prendre ta main c’est mettre sur leur fusée porteuse

  Les outils de notre conscience, les bijoux

  Du zodiaque, les couleurs fantastiques que libère

  Notre passion – santé de l’hallucinogène!

  (Je ne veux pas de LSD, je veux

  Ton rire sur le bleu d’Alger!)

  Prendre ton rire c’est déplier les phrases,

  Les donner au vent, d’un baiser

  Les ramener au nord où dans son maillot bleu

  Le poème s’apprête à sauter sur le digue.

  (Dans l’euphorie des fritures nous touchons presque des lèvres le bonheur

  —Presque…)

  Avons-nous jamais su que l’imagination

  Est l’insecte qui troue le poème, notre chair, l’horizon,

  Un froid destructeur sans élytre?

  Avons-nous jamais su combien de décombres et d’horreurs

  Entrent dans le bleu des dieux, dans le nuage de la mer?

  Que le gâchis s’éternise au détour d’une image,

  Bouche le cœur, et la rue tremble comme une eau trouble,
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  La voix s’envase, le diamant n’est plus qu’un stylet.

  Mais tu reprends le mot à sa plaie et tu chantes,

  Tu ouvres sur nos incendies la forêt

  Ignifuge (lentisques au bord de la mer).

  Plus rien n’est redoutable, j’écris.

  2

  Intervention frémissante, Eros,

  Lorsque d’une enjambée tu biffes la plage,

  Les baigneurs se retournent, émerveillés,

  Jusqu’à ce qu’à nouveau tu jaillisses de l’écume,

  Poésie, Corps Total !

  29 novembre 1966

  The Prince of Aquitaine

  from A-Bodypoem

  The battle until dawn

  1

  I have made my bed with words.

  And the orgasm itself a rocket of liquid words.

  (In the totality of the body

  The charred letter

  Of which we only know the secret curve

  —But toward what urge and with what arrow?)

  I have made a dwelling with my larva

  Between my sheets, and to the end of

  The sea (or maybe a tear?)

  With my frenetic hiccups

  I have made a word to name

  The pleasure and the negation

  (Upon your lyre my teeth battle the ode to the blood).

  I have made my night with your nail

  And under your fleece the owl (Sings

  Rebellious! Bring to writing

  Our uncontrollable saliva!)

  With the radiating heat of our surprise

  (Patiently exalted) – your Cry –

  I have made my bed and my poem

  (I bury my centuries in your mouth, I trace

  Upon your walls my fresco – your tumors

  Howl. I get

  Hard. I write

  Dizzily suspended

  From your nape. O

  Insurmountable presence! Lapidated

  Space!)

  2

  You bring back my rust upon your lips.

  I drink

  Toward the skylight – my kingdom

  Was inhabited by prince words.

  You bring back the blinding sword

  With a tear

  And the pedestal where long ago Antar tackled the fable.

  You bring back the blue of June

  And I ransack

  The verandas upon your lips

  I tear apart underwear I howl

  To childhood.

  O

  Upon your lips bring back

  My thistles and the pine

  Needle. Reassemble if you can

  This body that is going to the dogs.

  Give it if you can a password

  For this world.

  (Slug-words, sting-words!)

  If you can, last until dawn with me.

  3

  File this body

  Down to the rhyme.

  Write your crime with

  The Angel’s relic.

  Cross over

  To the other shore (where

  Fright

  Is but a syllable

  Taking refuge on your nape).

  This poor body also

  Wants its war of liberation!

  4

  Carry to the Inconsolable

  This bone

  That he chiseled with his blunders,

  This break where my name remains.

  (Which sun capsized your tongue?)

  Tell him that a cripple awaits him

  At the Door of Wandering Words

  (Or maybe an astrapia would abolish the Tower).

  5

  Phrases that should allow us

  Vast excursions from one nerve to the other, from one bone

  To the moon’s rock. Phrases

  That could only tie us to exile,

  To the perishable song, to the tool

  Of our chasms. Banal

  Seasons upon the most monstrous wound.

  Jetties to the star.

  Ra blues

  (To convey a “song of the spheres”)

  The four houses of the world

  Have opened for Ra

  With rants and trash Afou

  Pursues his blind path

  But Afou’s pain

  His tenacious lamentation are our pillar.

  Afou’s stick

  Is our stick

  Le Prince d’Aquitaine

  de A-Corpoème

  L’affrontement jusqu’à l’aube

  1

  J’ai fait mon lit avec mots.

  Et l’orgasme lui-même fusée de mots liquides.

  (Dans la totalité du corps

  La lettre calcinée

  Dont nous ne connaissons que la courbe secrète

  —Mais vers quelle butte ou quelle flèche ?)

  J’ai fait avec mes larves une hutte

  Entre mes draps, et tout au bout

  La mer (ou peut-être une larme ?)

  J’ai fait avec mes hoquets frénétiques

  Un verbe pour nommer

  La jouissance et la négation

  (Sur ta lyre mes dents affrontent au sang l’ode).

  J’ai fait ma nuit avec ton ongle

  Et sous ta toison le hibou (Chante

  Rebelle ! Apporte à l’écriture

  Notre salive incontrôlée !)

  Avec la chaleur irradiée de notre surprise

  (Patiemment exaltée) – ton Cri –

  J’ai fait mon lit et mon poème

  (J’enfouis mes siècles dans ta bouche, je trace

  Sur tes parois ma fresque – tes tumeurs Hurlent. Je

  Bande. J’é-

  Cris vertigineusement suspendu

  A ta nuque. O

  Présence

  Insurmontable ! Espace

  Lapidé !).

  2

  Tu ramènes ma rouille sur tes lèvres.

  Je bois

  Vers la lucarne – mon royaume

  Etait peuplé de prince mots.

  Tu ramènes le glaive aveuglant

  D’une larme

  Et le socle où jadis Antar osa la fable.

  Tu ramènes le bleu de Juin

  Et je saccage

  Sur tes lèvres ces vérandas

  Je déchire des slips je hurle

  A l’enfance.

  O

  Sur tes lèvres ramène

  Mes chardons et l’aiguille

  De pin. Si tu peux

  Rassemble ce corps qui fout le camp de toutes parts.

  Si tu peux donne-lui un mot

  De passe pour ce monde.

  (Mots-limaces, mots-dards !)

  Si tu peux, dure avec moi jusqu’à l’aube.

  3

  Lime ce corps

  Jusqu’à la rime.

  Ecris ton crime avec

  Le vestige d’Ange.

  Passe

  Sur l’autre rive (là

  Où l’effroi

  N’est sur ta nuque qu’une syllabe

  Réfugiée).

  Ce pauvre corps aussi

  Veut sa guerre de libération !

  4

  Porte à l’Inconsolé

  Cet os

  Qu’il a ciselé de ses gaffes,

  Cette brisure où dure son nom.

  (Quel soleil chavire ta langue ?)

  Dis-lui qu’un infirme l’attend

  A la porte de Mots Errants

  (Peut-être une astrapie abolirait la Tour).

  5

  Phrases qui devraient nous permettre

  De vastes randonnées d’un nerf à l’autre, d’un os

  Au roc de lune. Phrases

  Qui n’avez su que nous amarrer à l’exil,

  Au chant périssable, à l’outil

  De nos gouffres. Saisons

  Banales sur la plus monstrueuse plaie.

  Jetées à l’astre.

  Râ blues

  (Pour convoyer un « chant des sphères »)


  Les quatre maisons du monde

  Se sont ouvertes pour Râ

  Afou de râles et d’ordures

  Poursuit son aveugle parcours

  Mais la douleur d’Afou

  Sa tenace mélopée sont notre colonne.

  Le bâton d’Afou

  Est notre bâton

  The Fig Tree Laurels

  from derisions and Vertigo/holings

  Come, bitter love.

  Through the reeds

  Your pink esteem

  Is more than a respite.

  Maybe a snag, the entry

  To the Rip

  Beyond which everything becomes birth.

  ✣

  I climb onto your hips, Columbus, towards fantastic countries

  Rituals, dances, treasures, fantastically luminous and naked greet me.

  In you I rejoice, in you my austerity is a campfire.

  Stand up, Aztec column, furnace of joy, may

  The caravel sing! Battles of pens, radiant

  Gush, my whole body encloses you.

  Cosmonaut!

  The seagulls already circle around your bathing suit.

  Take it off! Here are the Indies! O

  My love!

  (But in me lies I don’t know which of Cortez’s apprehensions…)

  Conqueror I surrender to my conquest,

  Returned to barbaric gods,

  Dispossessed.

  And I simply become a geographer

  Towards that cataract where your innocence leads,

  The enraptured explorer of the river and the flora,

  Celebrating in this beverage I know not what funeral rite.

  ✣

  I suck you and you cry : “Give me joy!”

  As though I didn’t know from what abyss that oil came.

  ✣

  I thought I had only two arms, two legs, one sex,

  You make me find the milky dragon

  With a thousand limbs, the arabesques of my senses.

  Another word whose first utterance is a groan.

  Savage syllables and savage body.

  And having given me America you return to your temples.

  ✣

  You are my perpetual presence.

  You shouldn’t have given me access to pleasure.

  Memory, imagination – and my hand!

  You stay with me!

  (And there we redraw the course of rivers, the shape of trees, the sumptuous beasts.

 
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