Poetry by Khal Torabully

[And if I chose a vessel]

And if I chose a vessel with strange accents of the sea, it’s because I want to be at home everywhere else, even in words most removed from my borrowed soul. The doors of the world have been knocked down for me by a current-of-blood, drift-of-flesh navigation.

Coolie, because my lost memory chooses its roots in my truths.

But I only seize this tongue in so far as it adopts me, to no longer be blocked from the word.

And, at the threshold of French, I vary the way I knock in a different way on vowels and consonants. First and foremost I love words, even more than my wounds.

And I speak my French tongue to point out my home port on the map of my discoveries. Marriage between my oceans and continents at last.

[In the thousand and one nights]

In the thousand and one nights
of a first voyage by sea
I rubbed my lamp of waves
on your passing isle.

The nomad likes to watch
the orchard, the traveler
likes to find his fruits again in the night.

Yet already I remember each golden scale
stuck to your hands–
woman is a seascape
her water sac is a first voyage
woman is a vessel
her blue flow is a tide of flesh
every woman is a map
(with only the route left to plan).

[With no ransom]

With no ransom to spread out the clouds
the first words tumbled
like pebbles on the dust
of the storm.
And my dove, lost in a lightning flash
anchored my dreams and ether keels.
Anjali said, the vessel is scuttle-prone
from our hurried departures–
a send-off with handkerchief raised
by a nail-eater
a sword-swallower
someone who walks on fire.

And my syllable is a still bridge
where the north takes over the south again
as far as the cardinal point of the bird.

Anjali, the only imagined vanishing act:
and at the mandolin’s sound
may your chest rise in a star’s fine reflection
to soothe the mothers of my crew.

[The horizon]

              for Gandhi

The horizon was a more delicate pink
than the first seashells’ exquisite skin.
And the sharpest of stars, by chance,
began to invent sea urchins on the sand.

[If the sea]

If the sea
were cut off from the sands,
I’d get it back.
If ocean foam
were faster than clouds,
I’d embrace it
on the sweet golden hooves
of the sun.
If the light were
or mantra,
I’d hoard it all.
The sea, Mahabharata!

[So sensitive were my first words]

So sensitive were my first words
that the creole patois burned
my fibers: I lent my throat to the mute cry
of sea men torn apart by the whip’s bite.


Khal Torabully

Khal Torabully (b. 1956) is a poet, essayist, film director, and semiologist who has authored some twenty-five books. Aimé Césaire, the great poet of negritude from Martinique, praised Torabully’s work for “containing all of my humanity.” Torabully’s migrant heritage permeates his work, whose main theme is the transformation of the unimaginable suffering of indentured laborers, carried in the same ships that had once transported slaves to Mauritian sugar cane fields, into a strong and resilient cultural identity and language. Torabully has taken the derogatory term “coolie,” and has re-visioned, re-imagined, and re-defined it to encompass the richness of transcultural exchanges (geographical, biological, and cultural) that enrich the world.

Nancy Naomi Carlson

Nancy Naomi Carlson has received grants from the NEA, the Maryland State Arts Council, and the Arts & Humanities Council of Montgomery County, and has authored three books of poetry and four translations, including Hammer with No Master, new translations of French poet René Char, which was a finalist for the 2017 CLMP Firecracker Poetry Award. Her translation of Abdourahman Waberi’s first collection of poems was a finalist for the BTBA. Carlson’s own poems have appeared in such journals as The Georgia Review, Poetry, and Prairie Schooner, and her translations have appeared in the American Poetry Review, Boulevard, FIELD, and the New England Review. Visit her website at www.nancynaomicarlson.com.

Cale d’étoiles. Copyright (c) Khal Torabully, 1992. English translation copyright (c) Nancy Naomi Carlson, 2017.