Imagine africa volume 3, p.7
Imagine Africa, Volume 3, page 7
Under my fingers we are reborn in such perfect unity
That the column crumbles – and with a cry I touch death.)
Your lyre and your fleece,
Your teeth where I canoe,
Your thighs where the future is written in harrowing games.
The simulation of the tempest, the tempest, forgetting the tempest.
Hardly a word, idiot, to announce pleasure and death, thank you.
And your pupils returning to their planets
You leave me alone with my anxious joy – the impact of flying saucers.
(Returning to the laboratories.
Recomposing your lyre and your fleece.
The only palpable thing I have is writing.
Triumphant failure, bodypoem!)
Your saliva your sperm,
That body you have embellished with your traces,
Your sweat, my crazy zodiac,
Perishable legend, of that Tassili
Will only my words be left?
O my thousands of adolescents
I’ll be familiar with you, can I?
From Morgeat or from Tamadecht,
From Paris or from Barcelona.
From Bad-el-Oued or from Moscow
(And you my St. James’s pilgrims where Nerval inhales the
Darkness on your knees).
Being familiar with you because you are.
In the futile lightning of your teeth and thighs
No dragon of my delights
But the only dove and my only virtue.
(And you my vacationers, donors under tents
Of the first name of every wave,
Of the sun of each wound,
Maybe in the delirium of the Fig Tree
Another Beauty has begun its journey?)
But at least your leaves are not sharp,
And the adolescents on the beach wear bathing suits with your colors.
When the reeds shiver
Your pink mixes its
Insolence and modesty with our ink.
Under jeers and laws,
Assailed lamp and sun,
In poverty, projection, space,
Under your vigil,
Le Figuier, August 10–11, 1970
Lauriers du Figuier
A travers les roseaux
Ton estime rose
M’est plus qu’un répit.
Peut-être un accroc, l’accès
A la Déchirure
Au-delà de laquelle tout redevient naissance.
Je vais sur vos hanches, Colomb, vers de fabuleuses contrées.
Rites, danses, trésors, fantastiquement lumineux et nus m’acquiescent.
En toi je me réjouis, en toi mon ascèse est un feu de camp.
Erige-toi, colonne aztèque, fournaise de joie, que chante
La caravelle ! Batilles de plumes, jets
Radieux, tout mon corps sur toi se referme.
Sur ton slip déjà tournoient les mouettes.
Retire-le ! Voici les Indes ! O
Mon amour !
(Mais en moi demeure je ne sais quelle appréhension de Cortez…)
Conquérant me voici soumis par ma conquête,
Rendu aux dieux barbares,
Et je deviens tout simplement le géographe
Vers cette cataracte où ton innocence m’entraîne,
L’explorateur émerveillé du fleuve et de la flore,
Célébrant en cette libation je ne sais déjà quel rite funèbre.
Je te suce et tu cries : « Réjouis-moi ! »
Comme si je ne sais de quel abîme il fallait tirer ce pétrole.
Je croyais n’avoir que deux bras, deux jambes, un sexe,
Tu me fais retrouver le dragon lacté,
Aux mille membres, les arabesques de mes sens.
Une autre parole dont le gémissement est l’inflexion premiére.
Syllabes sauvages et corps sauvage.
Et m’ayant donné l’Amérique tu te retires dans tes temples.
Tu es la perpétuelle présence.
Il ne fallait pas me donner accès au plaisir.
Mémoire, imagination – et la main !
Avec moi tu restes !
(Et là nous refaisons le cours des fleuves, la
Forme des arbres, les bêtes
Sous mes doits nous renaissons dans une unité si parfaite
Que la colonne s’écroule – et d’un cri je touche à la mort.)
Ta lyre et ta toison,
Tes dents où je pirogue,
Tes cuisses où l’avenir s’écrit en jeux poignants.
La simulation de la tempête, la tempête, l’oubli de la tempête
Un mot à peine, idiot, pour annoncer plaisir et mort, merci.
Et tes pupilles qui regagnent leur planète.
Tu me laisses seul avec mon angoissante joie – l’impact des soucoupes volantes.
(Retourner aux laboratoires.
Recomposer ta lyre et ta toison.
Je n’ai d’écriture que palpable.
Corpoème, échec triomphant !)
Ta salive et ton sperme,
Ce corps que tu as embelli de tes traces,
Ta sueur, mon zodiaque fou,
Légende périssable, de ce Tassili
Ne restera-t-il que mes mots ?
O mes milliers d’adolescents
Je te tutoie veux-tu ?
De Morgeat ou de Tamadecht,
De Paris ou de Barcelone.
De Bab-el-Oued ou de Moscou
(Et vous mes pèlerins de Saint-Jacques où Nerval aspire
La ténèbres sur vos genoux).
Te tutoie car tu es.
Dans le futile éclair de tes dents et des cuisses
Non le dragon de mes délices
Mais l’unique colombe et ma seule vertu.
(Et vous mes estivants, donateurs sous les tentes
Du prénom de chaque vague,
Du soleil de chaque plaie,
Peut-être dans ces délires du
Figuier une Autre Beauté
s’est-elle mise en route ?)
Mais du moins tes feuilles ne sont pas coupantes.
Et les adolescents sur la plage portent des maillots à tes couleurs.
Quand les roseaux frémissent
Ton rose vient mêler à notre encre
Son insolence et sa pudeur.
Sous les quolibets et les lois,
Quinquet assailli et soleil,
Dans la pauvreté, la saillie, l’espace,
Sous ta vigie,
Le Figuier, 10-11 août 1970
Translated by SARA C. HANABURGH
Group Photo by the Riverside
EMMANUEL BOUNDZEKI DONGALA, born in 1941 in Congo-Brazaville, is an award-winning writer whose formal educational training in the Sciences led him to spend a good portion of his life working as a chemistry professor while he simultaneously directed the Théâtre de l’Éclair and was President of the National Association of Congolese Writers in Brazzaville. The civil war forced the writer/scientist and his family to seek refuge elsewhere. When France outright denied him asylum, he was welcomed by friends he had made in literary circles in the U.S., and in 1998 was invited to join the faculty at Bard College at Simon’s Rock, where he taught chemistry and French and Francophone literature. Dongala is best known for his child soldier narrative, Johnny Chien Méchant (2002), translated into Engl
SARA HANABURGH is a scholar of African literatures and cinemas, co-translator of Boubacar Boris Diop’s Kaveena and translator of Angèle Rawiri’s The Fury and Cries of Women. Her articles and translations have appeared in Nouvelles Études Francophones, The Dictionary of African Biography and Warscapes.
Group Photo By the Riverside (Photo de Groupe au bord du fleuve, Actes Sud, 2010) narrates the story of Méréana Rangi, an ordinary woman who is left penniless after divorcing from her power-hungry corrupt husband, Tito Rangi. She takes a job at a quarry breaking stones into gravel and despite herself, becomes the spokesperson for her entire cohort of fifteen women when they demand to be paid a fairer price for their labor. The passage excerpted here picks up from about halfway through the novel, as Méréana arrives for her meeting with the First Lady at the presidential residence to defend her group’s protest, in spite of rumors that those who have been summoned to penetrate the palace gates disappear forever into its torture chambers concealed in the basement.
IT IS EASIER to get into heaven than into the private apartments of the President of the Republic and the First Lady.
The first roadblock was at the tall gate that opened into the courtyard of the complex. The two soldiers guarding the roadblock asked where you were going and if you had a mission order or a summons. The driver explained. A call made to you-don’t-know-who confirmed that they were indeed waiting for you, just you, not the driver, he was asked to turn around. So you had to cover the last few meters on foot. As you watched the guards, you had the vivid recollection of the day Iyissou’s son had been arrested. He was coming back from a refugee camp when he was struck down, loaded into a truck and taken to an undisclosed destination. What if these soldiers had been part of the sinister commando that had raided the loading docks of the city’s river port that day?
You advanced toward the second roadblock, which was more sophisticated with a security office, armed soldiers, and two tanks with their canons pointed toward the avenue that led to the high wall surrounding the buildings and the entrance gate. You noticed the video cameras that were no doubt recording your every movement.
A woman soldier frisked you, patted you down to make sure you weren’t hiding a bomb in your panties. She confiscated your cell phone, your bag of madeleines, too, then waved you through. Apparently, you were no longer a danger to the Republic. Finally, you penetrated the inner walls of the President and First Lady’s private residence.
First, the space. Coming, as you did, from a working-class neighborhood where vital air occupied a mere few square meters and where several people shared a small room and sometimes the same bed, one could barely fathom having so much space for oneself alone. You admired the mown green lawn, the sprinkler spraying, its arms swiveling with each spurt of hydraulic pressure. Palm trees including several ravenalas, traveller’s palms, with fanned leaves marked precise paths around the grounds. Two magnificent peacocks strutted about on the lawn, one fanning its beautiful tail spotted with specks of bluish sheen. A little farther on, you could see deckchairs under umbrellas. And the pool, of course.
You were staring in amazement at this verdant paradise when a guard called out to you and signaled for you to follow him to the waiting room. You passed by a garage and counted one Aston Martin, two Japanese SUVs and an empty spot. A Rolls-Royce perhaps? You let your imagination run wild for a split second: you had never sat in a Rolls. Maybe, like the Minister, the First Lady would have you driven back in hers or in one of the luxury SUVs?
The guard escorted you into the sitting room and asked you to take a seat and wait your turn. You looked around. My God! You wondered if you could place your buttocks down on one of those luxurious leather armchairs or feel modestly content on one of the benches. You figured you’d opt for the luxury armchair since your buttocks were worth just as much as the country’s first lady’s, right? The seat felt soft, you placed your arms on the armrests and you settled comfortably into the chair. It truly was better than that armchair at the Ministry of Women and Disabled Persons with its springs that poked through the back of the chair and kept you from nestling in. But you were not the only one in the room. Three other well-dressed women were waiting too, two squeezed on the sofa, the other, younger and alone, sat stiffly on one of the benches. They all outright ignored you, perhaps they took you for a rival who’d come to beg for help from the woman the national radio called the “Mother of the Nation.” They continued to ostensibly watch the television or, rather, the televisions because there were five—two with giant screens—each tuned to a different channel. On the French-language channel, people were playing Questions for a Champion. One of the English channels was showing American Idol, the other, CNN, an American 24-hour news channel, streamed more advertisements than news, and then there was the Arabic channel Al-Jazeera. The last TV tuned to a local channel had just shown some traditional dances and was re-airing the speech the Head of State had given the previous evening.
Seated comfortably in your cushy chair, you looked up at the ceiling. Although you were no expert in architecture, you were sure that those delicately molded geometric structures must have cost a fortune; you wondered if the faux rustic columns standing in the four corners of the room were made of real marble. At the end of the room there was a bar and several bottles of wine and liquor lined up behind the counter. The space must also be used for receptions, you thought. Maybe, even, if you turned on the faucet you noticed over on the counter, champagne would flow instead of water because in those circles, it seemed to be the drink of choice. Your head began to spin. Never before had you seen such luxury, never would you have imagined that in this country all you had to do was go through a gate to find yourself on the other side of the mirror, in a world where poverty and misery did not exist and where one did not have to break stone in order to survive. A world where one likely didn’t die because how could death reach you when you lived in the middle of such insolent luxury?
After waiting several minutes, you were called ahead of the women who were there before you into an office or rather a living room and there you were finally face to face with Madam First Lady. You had only seen her through televised news programs when she made donations in the name of her organization, Childhood-Solidarity, which she described as non-governmental, even though everyone knew it received three quarters of its funding from State money. In the flesh, unlike the Minister, she was wearing African dress, which played to her advantage, a three-piece ensemble, the pagne and head wrap made from the same fabric. It made her look dignified as a leader’s wife should look and at the same time gave her a reassuring maternal look. A little toward the back was a woman with a notebook, probably her secretary. No doubt about it, you were impressed. Without getting up, she said:
“You are Méréana Rangi?”
You sat down, stiff, petrified almost. It was still difficult for you to realize that you were sitting there, face to face with the country’s first lady, in her residence. And yet, although the minister had warned you that the president’s wife was very upset with you, the few sentences she’d spoken up to that point did not ring of anger.
“You are young. You could be my daughter, you know. You look nothing like the fury you’ve been described as.”
“So, you’re rallying women against me?”
She struck you with those words suddenly without warning. You felt intimidated, you didn’t know how to react, or even what to say.
“Uh what? You know, I know everything.”
“I think there’s some misunderstanding, Madam First Lady, we’re not rallying anyone against you, we’re just women asking for a bette
“It seems you threw stones at the police. Is that reasonable?”
“We were under attack by gunfire.”
“One of you is in a coma?”
“It’s sad all of that. So you see where it leads when one does not follow the appropriate channels to make protests? You’ve heard of the NGO Childhood-Solidarity, haven’t you?”
“And do you know who runs it?”
“Yes. You do.”
“So then, why didn’t you come to see me to discuss your issues? Don’t you know that that NGO also deals with women’s issues?”
“Because…because…demanding a better price for one’s merchandise is not a women’s issue.”
“What bizarre reasoning. Are you a woman or not?”
“Yes, but not in this case.”
She looks at you oddly.
“Excuse me? Sometimes you’re a woman, sometimes you’re not?”
“Uh…no…I’m talking about women’s demands.”
You were definitely doing a poor job of explaining yourself because she clearly still didn’t understand and interrupted you, tactfully not suggesting that something was out of whack in your brain.
“Listen,” she went on, “there’s going to be a big women’s celebration in our country. It will not just be a first ladies’ event because as Mother of the Nation, I want all the women in our country to participate. There is no issue you could have that I cannot resolve.”
“Our bags of stones…”
“I know. You want to sell them for twenty thousand francs, you want someone to return to you the bags that were confiscated by the police because you refused to obey and attacked the policemen. I know all of that. All of that will be taken care of; but, as that may take some time, I’m going to ask you one thing: cease your protests immediately and any demonstrations while the matter is being resolved. I do not want any unrest or any perception of unrest hanging over the country while my guests are here. I know you are a reasonable young woman, and that you would not want this conference or this country to fall apart. Nor would you want the President to be shamed in front of the rest of the world.”
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