Nine Poems by Tanella Boni

Translated from the French by Todd Fredson.
This is part of our special feature, Beyond Eurafrica: Encounters in a Globalized World.

 

I dream the poem of a borderless sea
I dance a welcoming music in my skin
first ground for any home
while the hands of plenty the portly souls
weave their barbed wire
I don’t know if we live together
at a crossroad of equal distribution

here forget the alchemy of dreams
the sense of an essential mixture

 


 

Look at the hues and contours of this land o you that depart
the name of each pilgrim moving
into the hard valley of life
is no longer etched on the mountaintop

those who love to smash the stone
have always gathered at dawn
in the round-about of sorcerers
who dip their hands in the fire
because nobody refashions
the same principles a thousand times
without sacrificing the best of his soul
into a basket of provisional interests
handed around by those
who promise to hold the wind at bay

 


 

And the wind rises and time sculpts
a whirlwind that reveals that climbs
then descends the steps of the sand temple
as if the twelve labors of Hercules
once a point of fact
were just a bedtime story for people
after a hard day of hoping


 

But I owe you the whole story
from the first syllable of dawn
until the center of this violent spiral
that is calling to us

history had launched into its mad dash
and as with a child’s game
good and evil were schoolmates
playing hide and seek playing hopscotch
practicing with the words and weapons of the strong
in a peaceful barn yard
where laughter was discouraged

 


 

Yesterday was a black cat
today a white knight
then a black Mercedes
with that first stone Evil inaugurates

its underground kingdom
between the white and the black
only the soil where man hunts man
discharges the scent of the red carpet

 


There are thick heads
slumbering in the aisles of power
subscribing to an edition of history
that traces its circle
around the same umbilicus
as if no one
but the tenants of the Palace
could ever be born in the sun’s gaze

 


They told the tales of people
innocent in all ways
who at first light would be allowed
to prop the palm fronds over hope

here laziness assumes itself as the law
lounging in office hammocks
sprawled in waiting rooms
there where work once inspired the Law


 

My God deliver us from hyenas
from the tawny heads of these dream vandals
because education is not a trap
invented by pilgrims who arrive
to shatter the foundations
I’m sure now that it braids
the grandeur of the soul to the aureole of sincerity
the foundational coupling that unites us
around the source of Kindness


How do I tell you that the day
falls
in the scree of teardrop rain
because the writ issued
from the peaks of power
lacks terms of reconciliation

tomorrow the future has an appointment with the dawn
and I do not know what enfant terrible
startled by the aurora’s clarity
will take the chance to throw that first stone
across the moat that circumscribes power
Todd Fredson is the author of two books of poetry, Century Worm (New Issues Poetry & Prose, forthcoming 2018) and The Crucifix-Blocks (Tebot Bach, 2012). He is a translator of Francophone West African literature, including the poetry collections by Josué Guébo, Think of Lampedusa (University of Nebraska Press, 2017) and My country, tonight (Action Books, 2016). His translation of Tanella Boni’s poetry collection The future has an appointment with the dawn is forthcoming (University of Nebraska Press, African Poetry Book Series, 2018). Fredson received a 2018 NEA Translation Fellowship to complete this work. Fredson was a 2015-16 Fulbright Scholar in the Ivory Coast, where he’d also served in the Peace Corps from 2000 to 2002. He has an MFA from Arizona State University and a PhD in Creative Writing and Literature from the University of Southern California.

Tanella Boni is a poet, novelist, essayist, and philosopher. Born in Abidjan in the Ivory Coast, Boni did her advanced studies in Toulouse, France and at the University of Paris (Paris-IV, Sorbonne), returning to the Ivory Coast as a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cocody-Abidjan (now the University of Félix Houphouët-Boigny). She served as President of the Writers’ Association of Côte d’Ivoire from 1991 to 1997. Boni self-exiled to France when attention to her 2004 novel Matins de couvre-feu (Mornings after curfew) began to isolate her from others in the academic and literary communities of the Ivory Coast and to generate a sense of threat from the political party (the Ivorian Popular Front) in power. That novel received the Ahmadou Kourouma Prize in 2005. In 2009 she won the Antonio Viccaro International Poetry Prize. In 2013 Boni tentatively returned to Abidjan, splitting time between there and Paris. She is one of the most prominent figures in modern African literature.

Published on March 1, 2018.

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