1It was Elsewhereit was yesterdaythe father's anger overturned the housewe would hide behind the dunes to shred his shoutingthe Mediterranean prowled around us like a dog circling a beggarthe mother called us until sunsetit should have been beautiful and it was merely sadgardens departed this life more slowly than menwe would eat our sorrow down to the last drop thenbelch it in splinters in the face of the coldthe sun's spirit kept the sun from warming usa sun that eventually ran dry from so much concentrationIt was elsewhereit was a very long time agotired of calling us the mother left the earth to enter the earthseen from above she looked like a pebbleseen from below she looked like a flaking pine-conesometimes she wept in sobs that made the foliage tremblelife, we cried out to her, is a straight line of noisesdeath an empty circleoutside there is winterthe death of a sparrow has blackened the snowBut nothing consoled herwho is the night among all nights? she asked the owlbut the owl doesn't thinkthe owl knowsWe would think about her every daythen once a weekthen once a yearIn the sole photo found between two bills her hairwas yellow sepiaThe dead age like paper2It could only have been elsewheremy father and the sun overturned the countrymen who came from the wounded side of the river knocked on our bordersI say men so as not to say locustsI say locusts so as not to say fetuses of strawtheir hands had the sourness of corntheir breath had the bitterness of cypress treesthey arrived at nightarrived every night of every monthdragging their houses on leashestheir children planted at the foot of their olive treesin her dark cupboard my mother counted their stepscounted the wing-casings of their rustling bodiesmy mother sympathizedtheir tongues thickened by the salt of the Dead Seatheir throats filled with the wind of Galileethey dug their trenches in our bedroomsstretched their rifles out in our bedssquatted our sidewalks for the length of a man's lifefor the length of shametheir torpor, once they were dead, did not follow themtheir torpor continued to doze facing our houses invaded by a nameless vegetarianas high as their mosquesas silent as our churches carved in the slopes of valleysVisible through the washing on our clotheslines, their country turns its back on themwe keep its cast-off noisessome leftover snow walking more quickly than men domore slowly than cemeteries
Excerpted from Borderlines by Vénus Khoury-Ghata.
English copyright © 2008 by Marilyn Hacker.
Published January 8th, 2008 by Graywolf Press in Nettles.
All rights reserved.
Reproduced by Poetry Daily with permission.
Vénus Khoury-Ghata is a Lebanese writer and the author of many books, including Nettles (Graywolf Press, 2008), A House at the Edge of Tears (Graywolf Press, 2005), and She Says (Graywolf Press, 2003). Her honors include the Grand Prix de la Société des gens de lettres for Fables pour un people d’argile, the Prix Apollinaire, and the Prix Mallarmé, and she was named a Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur in 2000. Her work has been translated into several languages. She lives in Paris.
Marilyn Hacker is the author of thirteen books of poems, including A Stranger’s Mirror (Norton, 2015), Names (Norton, 2010), and Desesperanto (Norton, 2003); an essay collection, Unauthorized Voices (Michigan, 2010); and fourteen collections of translations of French and Francophone poets including Emmanuel Moses, Marie Etienne, Venus Khoury-Ghata, Habib Tengour and Rachida Madani. She lives in Paris.
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