from Black and Blue Partition (‘Mistry 2)


from “Water”


The Great Word salutes the water

Through mud some among them already tread across
            others, underwater, passed archward
In each mouth a blue pearl,
            each a blue pearl between lips.
Horns of dark wood sounded,
            horns of ivory,
The Three talking drums,
            the antique séele among them,
            its stretched batrachian hide
Like a traitor heart, speeches rosy devastations
            Conjures first rhythms, hearing
            webbed thunderstorm hands.

And the toads chorusing
            as if the world’s day one:
            sovereigness water
            sovereigness water
Twelve fertile heifers, their calves
            Neck-deep in the river
Twelve stallions exit the sea
            forging up the river’s course, to the lake,
Glistening mirrors,
            innumerable eyes,
            there, within the One
            all moving
            all moved,
Shadows’ shimmer above the surge,
            shadows dance in curves of the flow
Grey-blue sky and
            green fieldscapes, somber
                                                beauty, peaceable
Skies float above waters
            in the water, the calao bird stretches,
And sky, reclined and rocking
            how they lean against each other,
Reeds lying on the water,
            delicate warbling,
The swell murmurs sensual in the gravepit,
            in the gravepit two hundred albinos,
In the gravepit slippery silure,
            and the Three Water goddesses dance in the depths,
Spades rummage in the haystacks,
smooth-skinned Beauties,
            of ample-body, plump-limbed
Calming the waters in pleasure’s vestibules,
            waters made to appease, to bring peace,
            to improve things,
Silent magnanimity fills the court with secret,
Open-mouthed sky,
            arm reaching,
Loins in red grasses,
            grind against vault,
Openings open,
The great word salutes the water,
            cleaves waves,
            separates the muddy waters,
            fastens swell to boundaries,
Leads to the place of portage:
            Now, the cry of joy.

Eternal Return

“Near-yet-invisible” spider,
            vines and incantations
            stitched with a soft voice, hands-behind-back,
            in spirals, stitched again with light.

Clear words walk before us,
            clear words are our ancestors,
                                    words are our children,
            they watch us from behind:
                                    our children are our ancestors.
The twist-horned Sacred Ram,
                                    male, sowing seed
            perennially repeating his births.
            Motherqueens waist-deep in dirt,
                                    new ritual fire,
new comers to the cowbell’s calls
            hearts and drum hides renewed,
            hammers and emblems renewed
copulation, watering holes flushed clean,
                        new ardent-eyed mask,
                        antelope-eyed mask
                        bejeweled with triangles black and red
                        painted in sorrel, in sacrificial blood
bala seeds and oil of sa,
                        with a splash of dawgblood and th’oil sesame,
                        perfumed with sorghum root.
Seeding then signs,
                        bordered backwoods, scoured plantations,
the drums return, ferried in palanquins
                        the bulls return to the pen;
cornwood feet
                        pressed g e n t l y
                        two by two into the earth,
                        g e n t l y, “watch your step,”
                        véyé ko’w
to incantate a safeguard for Orion’s trek, across the sea’s circumference,
                        and his return behind the cloud behind inverted Pleiades;
So, bodies and breaths refreshed,
                                    ben-lãnmè-sea-bath head shorn clean wi’ swift obsidian blade,
stale breaths rejected anus-wise,
                                                the four directions renewed,
                        Aspiring new emanations
                                                mouth open,
             of ritual traces restored,
                                                symbols of the creation restored.
Thus the women joyfully cry,
                                                paint their bodies red with padouk,
            all glistening, all lightsome, well-kempt
                                                scraped clean
            Thus shed, we crossover,
                        by dawn, the rain will have washed us of goat’s blood;
“And now we can marry,
now we can recite eulogies, applaud loudly,
now we can fulfill his vow”:
To cultivate millet, to cut ready grain, to fill the granaries with it.

from “Water (Return)”


Mother of the world

Old women at water’s edge
                        in the place that
                        in the place where
                                                it never runs dry.
They sing water stories
                        to those who know how to listen,
But who still knows how to listen to stories?
                        Who knows how to listen to water,
Oh who knows still how to listen?
                        Infinite stories
By the infinite marsh’s edge
                        Sacred Wanjina, mouthless,
                        Sãpola and Kpãkpali, those invisible twins,
                                    and sea turtles, and manatees.

            Thus they sing, immeasurably.
            They sing: “Where, the water? Olo! Where, the calabash water-full?
            Who holds the calabash water-full? Who will take the water, dleau?
            And who will give to who? Who thinks of taking dleau?
            To return to who? Who will return it to who in their turn?
            Whose water, whose dleau? And who will take it? And it returns to who?
            Claiming whose is whose?
            Just where will he go with this dleau? Olo!
            Just where does this water go?
            Where will he return, fall-reversed, with this dleau? Olo! Olo!
            Will Tigban take dleau and offer it to his father?
            And when his father takes dleau,
            Who will he pass it to?”

                                                                        That the path be clear.

translated from the French by Patricia Hartland