Vénus Khoury-Ghata Aug 30, 2008 20:30:56 GMT 2
Post by moira on Aug 30, 2008 20:30:56 GMT 2
Vénus Khoury-Ghata came to France as a young adult, from the bilingual community of Beirut where she had begun to establish herself as a writer. Prolific as a writer of fiction as well as poetry, she made a conscious choice of French as her language of expression: she could have written in Arabic, as does her novelist/journalist sister who remained in Beirut. She translates contemporary poetry from Arabic, and the Arabic language often seems to speak through her French, in the elaborate, pithy figurative language in which she delights, in the landscapes and seasons through which her poems’ protagonists (hers are poems, often sequences, with protagonists) move. Audré Lorde’s term “biomythography” is often applicable to Khoury-Ghata’s poetry, as she makes larger-than-life, sometimes tragic and often wryly humorous poem-narratives incorporating her family’s, her region’s and her country’s history. Though she has lived in Paris for over thirty years, the always-implied and often very specific landscape of her densely populated poems is always Lebanese, in fluid transformation from a fable-textured place of origin to the warscape of yesterday’s news.
Khoury-Ghata is the author of sixteen novels, most recently Sept pierres pour la femme adultère (Mercure de France 2007), and sixteen collections of poetry, including Quelle est la nuit parmi les nuits? (Mercure de France, 2004) and Les obscurcis (Mercure de France, 2008) Her work has been translated into Russian, Arabic, Italian and other languages. Available in English in Marilyn Hacker’s translation are Nettles ( 2008), A House at the Edge of Tears (2005), and She Says (2003), all published by the Graywolf Press, and Here There Was Once a Country (2001) from the Oberlin College Press Field Translation Series.
The first day after his death
she folded up her mirrors
put a slipcover on the spider web
then tied up the bed which was flapping its wings to take off.
The second day after his death
she filled up her pockets with wood chips
threw salt over the shoulder of her house
and went off with a tree under each arm.
The third day after his death
she swore at the pigeons lined up along her tears
bit into a grape which scattered its down in her throat
then called out till sunset to the man gone barefoot
into the summer pasture in the cloudy mountains.
The fourth day
a herd of buffalo barged into her bedroom
demanding the hunter who spoke their dialect
she shouldered her cry
shot off a round
which pierced the ceiling of her sleep.
The fifth day
shoe-soles of blood imprinted themselves on her doorstep
she followed them to that ditch where everything smells of boned hare.
The sixth day after his death
she painted her face with earth
attacked the peaceful shadows of passers-by
slit the throats of trees
their colorless blood evaporated when it touched her hands.
The seventh day
stringy men sprouted in her garden
she mistook them for poplars
bit the armpits of their branches
and lengthily vomited wood-chips.
The eighth day
the sea whinnied at her door
she washed her belly’s embankments
then called down to the river’s mouth
where men clashed together like pebbles.
The ninth day
she dried her tears on the roof between the basil and the budding fog
gazed at herself in stones
found cracks in her eyes like those in a church’s stained glass.
the tenth day
he surged up out of her palm
sat down on her fingernail
demanded her usual words to drink and the almond odor of her knees.
He swallowed them without pleasure
on his journey he’d lost the taste for tortured water.
Translated from the French by Marilyn Hacker
First appeared in HERE THERE WAS ONCE A COUNTRY
Oberlin College Press FIELD Translation Series, 2001
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