Poems

MOHAMMED KHAÏR-EDDINE Three Poems translation by Conor Bracken

Mohammed Khaïr-Eddine

Translator’s note: The three poems below come from Mohammed Khaïr-Eddine’s first collection of poems, Soleil Arachnide, published in 1969 during his exile in France. They are staunchly political in the way of many surrealist poems: through their protean vitality, their repudiation of the rational impulse’s desire to channel their force into interpretable shapes, they resist stasis and therefore exploitation at the hands of capitalists and tyrants. The tyrant in question, here, is Hassan II—his reign (1965-99) was known as “the years of lead”—as well as the persistent legacy of colonialism. France granted independence to Morocco in 1956, but culture and politics, per Khaïr-Eddine and his peers, lagged significantly behind. Colonialism, after all, was a total system of exploitation, a sustained campaign of abuse and dehumanization meant to divide the colonized from one another while pacifying them with the (unattainable) prospect of assimilation. Without significant reprogramming (which Hassan, as well as the bourgeois elite at the time, wasn’t particularly interested in), the culture would continue to lionize and aspire to the colonizer while denigrating anything local, traditional, or different. Khaïr-Eddine and his confreres worked hard against this. We can see this in Souffles, a magazine he and other poets, writers, artists, and theorists founded in order to articulate approaches to art, literature, and politics in the Maghreb radical enough to decolonize the cultural imagination. And we can see this in his poems, which strive to, as Abdellatif Laâbi put it, “disarticulate [the French] language, do violence to it,” to reinvigorate and electrify it. Otherwise, how could language, once a tool for division, be used to unite?

 

Sagho

the bloody morning sprinkled the legends born from dregs
from stars deflowered at full speed
and it lifts my blood like a mustang ringed by eagles

from the high plateau where your fingers fold the sumacs’ fire
to the steppe cracked open by the beaks of ernes
I beat the sky with the questions of my fists

milky morning salt of lilies and agrotis moths
the abyss rewards us with the belly of an antelope slaughtered
in the thunder’s millet

but not a word
not a word if not the flour of lyctus beetles by this masculine weather
and by sheaves the aphids of wind under catnip

too bad so lonely too bad I forge the public flag
of dawn I wipe my eyes with it before entering
the inextricably fair tradition of time

Sagho

le matin du sang a saupoudré les sagas nées des scories
d’étoiles déflorées à pleins tubes
et soulève mon sang comme un mustang roué d’aigles

du haut plateau où tes doigts plient l’incendie des sumacs
jusqu’à la steppe fracturée par le bec des pygargues
mes poings d’interrogation frappent le ciel

matin de lait sel d’agrotides et de lis
l’abime nous gratifie d’un ventre d’antilope abattue dans
le mil des tonnerres

mais nul mot
nul mot sinon la farine des lyctes par ce temps male
et par gerbes les pucerons du vent sous les cataires

tant pis si seul tant pis je falsifie l’enseigne publique
de l’aube je m’en frotte l’œil avant d’entrer dans la
coutume inextricablement claire du temps

© Editions Gallimard, Paris, 2009

Horoscope

the wheel of heaven kills so many eagles save you
blue blood
straying through this heart anointed with hyena’s brains
simple highways—from the mica leaks a fresh childhood
and skinks my fingers of old nopal
knotted stars and danger in my navels—
old nopal
miscrowned by my routeless dreams of false adulthood
the simoom won’t deign to smooth my hatred
because I talk of hypnagogic transmutations
because I brick thunder into the morning’s gray wall

cadavers—in the fields of basil where I guzzle
the dirty fluid solutions of geologic fears
the oubliette that prickles under my thumbnail
opens backwards

the wheel of heaven and the cheap virgins
by the fetid bars of the cage of my throat
by my voice turning marshy quietly shouldering
the story of a single pearlescent handle
by the sour milk of endless wandering

I will break you pygmy famines
with a rhythm in which the hands are silent
I will crush
sleeping-stiff-man-silos
you will vomit up our white teeth fouling
the onerous dishes with my blessed blood
of the meager noon out of which heaves my crowded tumulus

land under my tongue
land
like a peasant’s reason
silence sawing at the moon’s heads tumbling
into my serpentine caresses
and chewing on the black lips of the customs agent
spurted out by a half-bastard of a putrid skink
always friendly though
riffraff of every weather
of your rotting seaweed wraps
of your standards
of your sales on names which still keep
one pure crystal burst of the names
of these squats crowded with the twenty legs
of your humidity
land, exit like a wing

Europe fashions you an asthma of sand
and gutters
Europe
with its fatal rat tail
exits in order to hear winter’s final act
no miracle will subdue the wheel of heaven

Horoscope

la roue du ciel tue tant d’aigles hormis toi
sang bleu
qui erres dans ce cœur oint de cervelle d’hyène
voiries simples – du mica dérive une enfance fraiche
et scinques mes doigts de vieux nopal
en astre noué péril à mes nombrils
vieux nopal
mal couronné par mes rêves de faux adulte
sans chemin
le simoun ne daigne pas réviser ma haine
pour qui je parle de transmutations en transes
pour qui j’érige un tonnerre dans le mur gris du petit jour

cadavres – que parmi le basilic où je me gave
du cambouis des peurs géologiques
s’ouvre en volte-face
l’oubliette qui me démange sous l’ongle du pouce

la roue du ciel et les pucelles à bon marché
par les barreaux fétides de la cage de ma gorge
par ma voix se marécage endossant subrepticement
une histoire d’anse perlière
par le lait amer des pérégrinations

je vous crève famines de pygmées
dans un rythme où les mains se taisent
je vous écrabouille
hommes-sommeils-silos-roides
vous dégueulez nos dents blanches salissant
la vaisselle onéreuse de par mes sangs sacrés
du midi exigu d’où fuse mon tertre populeux

terre sous ma langue
terre
comme la logique du paysan
silence sciant les têtes de lunes tombant
dans mes caresses de serpent
et mords à même les lèvres noires du douanier
giclé d’un hors batard de seps corruptible
reste ami quand même
canaille de tout temps
de tes serrements d’algue vétuste
de tes normes
de tes soldes de nom ayant gardé
un éclat du pur cristal des noms
de ces bouges plein tes vingt jambes
de ton humidité
sors comme une aile

l’Europe te fabrique un asthme de sable
et de gouttières
l’Europe
avec sa queue de rat fatal
sors pour entendre le dernier acte de l’hiver
le miracle ne soudoie pas la roue du ciel

© Editions Gallimard, Paris, 2009

To Jean Dufoir

the atrocious sun of dreams
the sticky cadaver of moons and the desert
when the sea rocked by an intoxication of bitter algae
hyphenates the malleable heavens with your black
gazelle face
there under the boatman’s damp armpit
are more of them than birds on all the earth

the sepulchers have fallen into the chilly rivers

a weapon was needed: my dried-up tongue my blind tongue
spitting out the intrepid horses of the flight
of superstitions
and the rites
of a spring disemboweled
by our stiff feet
and here stretched out on my skin is
the slanted dog of aborted threats
heaven lowered
torpedoed raiding our faces
the soured fossils the uniforms
and this sickness on their gray pupils
viaduct
and
silence by the slithering of these numb pangs
but
what is a flower if not the death of tarantulas
I say this black and white or maybe violet fire
among the roofs rotted by distance
I say the airplane-housefly-strange on our viridian necks

and we were wondering if we hadn’t been drowned
centuries ago
I say this immanent order this suit of a stillborn eagle
I say nothing let’s move on past so few busted handles

the sepulchers have fallen into the chilly rivers

our march was a fine
and docile line
our arms clacked
against the mulish sky’s smooth back
and our half-developed eyes
on your faces bloomed among the brambles
when
rejected by the tornado
our bodies swollen with emotion formed
small puddles in the liberty

À Jean Dufoir

le soleil atroce des rêves
le cadavre gluant des lunes et du désert
quand la mer basculée par une intoxication d’algues amères
met un trait d’union entre le ciel flexible et ton visage
de gazelle noire
sont sous l’aisselle moite du passeur
plus nombreux que les oiseaux de toute la terre

les sépulcres sont tombés sur les froides rivières

il fallut une arme : ma langue sèche ma langue aveugle
recrachant les intrépides chevaux du vol des
superstitions
et du sacre
d’un printemps éventré
par nos pieds roides
et voici s’étendre à même ma peau
le chien oblique des menaces avortées
ciel bas
torpillé pillant nos faces
les fossiles aigris les uniformes
et cette maladie sur leurs prunelles grises
viaduc
et
silence par ces reptations d’affres engourdies
mais
qu’est-ce une fleur sinon la mort des tarentules
je dis ce feu blanc et noir ou violet
parmi les toits vétustes du lointain
je dis l’avion-mouche-étrange sur nos cous virides

et nous nous demandions si nous n’étions pas noyés depuis
des siècles
je dis cet ordre immanent ce costume d’aigle mort-né
je ne dis rien passons par si peu d’anses éclatées

les sépulcres sont tombés sur les froides rivières

notre marche était un filet
sans hargne
nos bras claquaient
sur le dos lisse du ciel mulet
et nos yeux prématurés
sur tes visages refleuris parmi les ronces
quand
rejetés par la tornade
nos corps émus firent des flaques dans la liberté

© Editions Gallimard, Paris, 2009

Conor Bracken is a poet and translator. His chapbook, Henry Kissinger, Mon Amour (Bull City Press, 2017), was the winner of the fifth annual Frost Place Chapbook competition, and his translation of Mohammed Khaïr-Eddine’s Scorpionic Sun will be published by CSU Poetry Center in September 2019. Poems and translations appear in BOMB, Colorado Review, The New Yorker, Ploughshares, Waxwing, and elsewhere. He is an assistant poetry editor at Four Way Review and on the English faculty at the University of Findlay.

Mohammed Khaïr-Eddine (1941-1995) was a Moroccan Amazigh writer and poet. His first book, Agadir, a novel based on his time working in the city of the same name after a devastating earthquake, was awarded the Enfants Terrible prize, founded by Jean Cocteau, and his subsequent work, including Soleil Arachnide, Ce Maroc!, Le Deterreur, and others earned him renown as the “Rimbaud of the Maghreb.” Before his exile in France, he co-founded Souffles, an avant-garde literary magazine committed to decolonizing the Maghreb; he also co-founded the Poésie Toute movement with Mostafa Nissabouri. Scorpionic Sun will be the first of his books translated into English.