from Tales of a Severed Head

Rachida Madani

The Second Tale


Each poem is a skiff
headed for the other shore.
Here, the wind shakes its yellow head
                                                         of a pagan mourner
and men fall from the branches
like rotten fruit.
Here houses bend from all
                                          their windows
and crash into the street.
Here, the poets die in prison.
Here, a black car waits for him.
Here, he was taken elsewhere
where his fingers were cut off
where they blindfolded him
and fired into his mouth.
Here, just over there
they could not bury him.

I will rescue you from the cities
as I plucked you out of the desert
my rose dressed in winds and rains,
the two of us in the skiff
and my mad rebel slave's blood howling
howling till we reach the other shore.


The two of us in the skiff
and the ocean around us blue with spite
drowned women float up towards us
hanging from seaweed;
Their eyes are not hollower
their hands are not emptier
than the heart of a city . . .
No less deadly is the lighthouse
which guides us.
I will die of loving you too much, my rose
I will die from being simply a mother
but let that death happen
                                             on the other shore.


I rescue myself from the city
and I go where the water goes.
With what weight of tears borne
                                               in their chests
have how many women come
to refill your basin
                      sea of vanquished women?
Carry my skiff as far as you can,
for once you will be carrying something
                                                   besides flotsam.
Carry my skiff
my body is beautiful
my desire great
it bursts forth from you, skiff
                                                   escaped from what waters . . .
I is free
and I flow onto its banks,
I is free
wave already and fire already
I is free
and I swallow up your reefs
ocean of suicides.


And you
you the shadow of yourself
you who move forward like a horse
head on one side and body on the other,
who see one half of the sea
and don't stop searching for the other,
who put your eyes in your mouth
your mouth in a bottle
the bottle in the sea
and the whole sea in a cigarette.
You seated on a rock the whole sea
rolling in smoke
into your chest.
You become sea horse for an evening
                                                 for a night,
become sea horse so that there will be
                                                                  no more night
so that there will be no more mornings to
                                                                     ask yourself
on what rock to rest your head,
in what dust to place your feet
and no other mornings to ask yourself
"And today...?".
You on your rock
with no more grass to smoke
and crying for a lost ocean
and scraping a shard of seashell
                                          with your nails
to find a scrap of noise in it.
You suddenly become fragile again
a man again
become the pauper you used to be
with your memories of orphanages
with your stock of cigarette-butts
listen to what my mouth pronounces.

translated from the French by Marilyn Hacker

Read the original in French

Rachida Madani was born and lives in Tangiers, Morocco. Her education was bilingual in French and Arabic. Her advanced studies were in French literature. Her first collection of poetry, Femme je suis, was published in France in 1981 by "les inéditions Barbare." Her second collection, Contes d'un tête tranchée, was published in Morocco in 2001 by Les Editions Al-Forkane. A book comprising both of these, entitled Blessures au vent, was published in Paris by Les Editions de la Différence in 2006, along with Rachida's first novel, L'Histoire peut attendre. She is presently working on a new book of poems and a second novel, having in the interim made her début as a painter. Sections from Contes d'une tête tranchée, in Marilyn Hacker's translation, have appeared in various journals in the United States and Great Britain, including WordsWithoutBorders, Banipal, Magma and Callalloo. The book will be published in Yale University Press' Margellos Translation Series in 2012.

Marilyn Hacker is the author of twelve books of poems, including Names (Norton, 2010) and Desesperanto (Norton, 2003) and an essay collection, Unauthorized Voices (Michigan, 2010). Her translations from the French include Marie Etienne's King of a Hundred Horsemen (Farrar Strauss and Giroux, 2008) , which received the 2009 PEN Award for Poetry in Translation, and Amina Saïd's The Present Tense of the World (Black Widow Press, 2011). For her own work, she received the American PEN Voelcker Award for poetry in 2010 and the international Argana Prize for Poetry from the Beit as-Sh'ir/House of Poetry in Morocco in 2011. She is a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. She lives in Paris.