by Samira Negrouche, translated from the Arabic by Marilyn Hacker

Man part animal part flower part metal part human
The Approximate Man, Tristan Tzara 

Above our heads                          a vertical shadow
a shadow that flaps above our heads
a clandestine whistling
on the arid plain                            above our overloaded

and while there’s that whistling   that whistling
as our buzzing skulls
a cement roof accommodates our moods
                        on the makeshift platform
                                 the constellation set adrift
in the fog of the senses

you have not abandoned the dusty wreckage
vertical shadows race                  at the dunes’ edge
your eyes bandaged behind concave ice
anti-UV protection                      not guaranteed 

a piano’s black keys
                                                    at the dunes’ edge
a scale that makes no sound 

you have not abandoned the dusty wreckage 

a vertical shadow
                                 planted on the arid plain
that you water with promises
the metallic organ that vibrates
                                                       at the edge of a lung
on the cement platform
where the musics clash
protection                                      not guaranteed
for a makeshift                                         totem                                        


in the rock garden
a mute man dances
we don’t know what funeral oration

they say a deaf man
sows steps of abundance
and solar circles

he was not born to hear
the world exploding

is there a place washed up
on a forgotten ridge
where the news wouldn’t arrive
where the news wouldn’t be implied
where the news wouldn’t be felt
is there a breech in time
that isn’t waiting
to fix our gaze
on suffocated screens

are there eyes in this world
ears in this world
that were born
to welcome
into their souls
and turn away
and not turn away? 


what I like about Jesus
are his faded feet
and those of his companions
— thirteen haloes —
on the abandoned icons
of the small Bulgarian Mount Athos
I’m not talking about the fig tree
— the fig tree Jesus illuminates—
nor of the cascade of rocks
— more like the Grand Canyon than Galilee—
Jesus’ delicately faded feet
made me think of the rock paintings
of Tassili
there is no foot as finely
traced on Hoggar’s boulders
they are long slender figures
exactly like the Christ
suspended fixed and dynamic at once
it’s a lightning bolt
an allusion stripped of logic
or so it seems
you find what you find
above all when it’s different from what you see
what I like about the astrophysicist
are his premonitions
when he says perhaps
when he says that statistics
have altered physics
fixed it in place
when he says that matter
isn’t matter
that time and space
are heresy
that we humans
take ourselves too seriously
thinking ourselves fragile
inventing ourselves powerful
that we invent landmarks
that we forget having invented them
that we must relinquish control
when he says perhaps
give your doubt back its soul 


It seems like
a cartoon
tchouri            comet          under surveillance
for the good of humanity   welcome life
matter              organic welcome
                        non-hallucinogenic mushrooms
                        that seems more serious
                        as far as cartoons are concerned
                                              and micro-tchouri
everything is in fact
a game of marbles
marbles of varied size
on a cloth of varied textures
on an infra-silent language
no protection guaranteed
from bubbles
                                           and scattered micro-lakes
around which chairs are overturned
that can be read as cuneiforms
depending on the branches

network of aquatic bubbles
a solid form
my bowl of water seemingly
the cradle
of a wireless


It seems unlikely to me
that a key-word
would open anything whatever
worth the bother
                          words don’t open anything
function paralyses words
I acknowledge               the statistic
all the software
by saturation 


a cuneiform language lies
in the branches
of a sacred wood
it holds no secret
that can be translated to sound
it is not the virtual transposition
of any narcissism
barely a dream
a geographical arrangement
of what we call life

there are trees in my head
around my bathtub
because the universe is much too large
far from my puddle of water


Marilyn Hacker

Marilyn Hacker is the author of seventeen poetry books as well as two written in collaboration with Deema K. Shehabi and with Karthika Naïr respectively. She has translated twenty-two books by French and Francophone poets including Samira Negrouche and Vénus Khoury-Ghata. She held the Edward Saïd Chair at the American University of Beirut in 2019-2020. She lives in Paris. Her most recent book is Calligraphies (W.W. Norton, 2023).


Samira Negrouche

Samira Negrouche was born in Algiers where she still lives. She is a poet and translator, who trained as a a doctor, but has privileged her poetry over the practice of medicine for several years. She has frequently worked with visual artists and musicians, including the violinist Marianne Piketty and the theorbist Bruno Helstroffer. Her books include A l’ombre de Grenade (2003), Le Jazz des oliviers (2010), Six arbres de fortune autour de ma baignoire (2017) and Quai 2/1 (2019) – which arose from collaboration with the aforementioned musicians. Poems of hers, in Marilyn Hacker’s translation, have appeared in journals including Banipal, Pleiades, Upstreet and PN Review; and in translation online on Words Without Borders and Arab Lit.

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