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to Alioune Diop

and I saw this Byzantine tale
scribbled by the rains
on the strong shoulders of the mountain
in the playful writing of eucalyptus trees

so in truth
in the name of baobab and palm
from my Senegal heart and my Islands heart
I greeted the eucalyptus
with purity
from the scrupulous depths of my plant-matter heart

and the men
were gods in wind-blown tunics
with sticks before them
descending their Olympus which is the Blue Nile
and the women were queens
queens of polished ebony
leant by the honey of the night
and etched with ivory

    Queen of Sheba Queen of Sheba
    what does the bird of Simmorg-Anka say?

beautiful as your strange writing
that moves forward in mystery like a tree

laden with air plants
against the slate of the sky
   neither prince nor prince’s mouthpiece
      I present myself
my fifteen hides of a man
three elephants
ten lions

more terrible than the rust-red lions
of Harar tamed
for life anxieties and ghouls of the night
dreams twenty scars
and I saw obscure treacheries in the fog
charging me like a herd of buffalos

    Ehoo! Mother Ethiopia

neither prince nor prince’s mouthpiece
wound upon gash
but this mad face of the drowned man still clinging
to the ark

    Queen of Sheba Queen of Sheba
    will I be the Simmorg-Anka bird?

and the streets the souks the mules
the tedj-drinkers and ingera-eaters
from Entoto from Abba Dina
and further off
at the ocean root of my lungs when I cried out
islands crumbling

rocks and cysts slobbering sacking
nailed to the post
the islands who disbelieve me
when I speak

    Queen of the Morning Queen of Sheba
    where does the bird of Simmorg-Anka live?

And Ethiopia I was your jumble
aching with burnt incense and anger
in Saint-Giorgis
great brown frenzies of kisses scraped
the worn doorsteps of God and his brass door-locks
in Baata, Menelik slept
at his door we crossed black with blue
a Galla was my masked destiny
fierce and sweet as his spear

    Queen of the South Queen of Sheba
    here lies the bird of Simmorg-Anka!

Then from the siege-kraal of her distant throat
Miriam Makeba sang to the lion
an undulation washed through her shoulders
a lake of golden corn ruffled by harsh winds

    Queen oh! Belkis Makeda

and suddenly Africa spoke
for us it was Year Nine, Year New
Africa by custom
swept our doorsteps with a flaming brush
took the hunted night
and all the mutilated nights
of the bitter tide of tormented negroes
and tied them together
under the purple open sky pricked out with fires

She said: ‘the man with his gun still warm
died yesterday. Yesterday the endlessly greedy man
the most trampling trampler the most plundering plunderer
yesterday he died for good!’

... and Africa spoke in a sacred language
where the same word signified
rain-knife bull’s blood
nerve and tendon of the hidden god

thick lichen the release of birds

The original poem is published in Ferrements et Autres Poèmes © Editions du Seuil, 1976 and 1994

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About the translation:
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Aimé Césaire
Chris Beckett
Original language:
2013 Number 2 - Between Clay and Star

About the author

Aimé Césaire

Original poet

Aimé Césaire

Aimé Césaire was born June 25, 1913, in Basse-Pointe, a small town on the northeast coast of Martinique in the French Caribbea...

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Chris Beckett


Chris Beckett

Chris Beckett grew up in Ethiopia and his translations of contemporary Amharic poets such as Bewketu Seyoum and Zewdu Milikit...

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