The Sailors Without A Ship

Venus Khoury-Ghata

The sailors without a ship have strange hallucinations when the sea
    does its spring cleaning
The bare-armed fronds of gesticulating seaweed are defunct sweethearts
The taut swings between the continents are filled with seagulls and
    children's laughter

The cabin boys' distress is infinite when they think of the little girls'
    scraped knees
their sobs pierce the waves
and the sharks which bow before the waves don't wish them well
under their tight jackets they hide unfriendly fins
and the sailors who know it forget to put out their lanterns

The sailors without a ship link the fixed to the mobile
the opaque to the transparent
the horizon would have stretched its cord between two apple trees
    without their intervention
black water is their fifth element
the sick sweat of the earth
the watered blood of coalmines
their fixed abode when the continents smash their dishes

 

*

She doesn't sweep in front of her door any more
no longer argues with the wind which tousles her false pepper tree
she reads the rain in her disorder
learns that March stole December's ink
and two days from February's pencil-case

her lamp won't let itself sleep in winter when the books think that
    they're pillows
when fireflies make a pyre of their wings to warm up chilled things:
single beds
Dear John letters
and those dead women who imperturbably cross rooms with a rustling
    of fabric

 

*

The road which leads from the Compass to the Great Bear passed
    under our windows
children took it to go to school
passing by, their school smocks caught on a sleeping star
a cry rose up in the form of a spark
chilly B�r�nice dreamed of a quilt
and Betelgeuse the wanderer of an enclosed garden and a six-leafed
    clover

It was a time of honeysuckle and laziness
people walked in their sleep
schools followed the wind
the children were made of crepe paper

 

*

Surrounded by mountains
she waits at her window for the sea with its crowd of rowdy sailors
to help her beat down the fruit from the walnut tree that's grown taller than her ladder

A long time ago
she owned a house with its plot of ocean
a roof with its share of wind
there were seagulls instead of a dog

Her clothesline had no reason to envy the horizon

She assumed the intrusion of waves in her bedroom was an optical
    illusion
went to sleep as the water rose
their din contained the sorrowful silence of unmoored boats
become mute since their mouths filled with sand

 

*

She realized that the house was dead when the walls grazed on the
    hedge's shadow
in fact the house was not a house
but a succession of opacities and transparencies which transcribed the
    eagles' flight

the cemetery was not a cemetery either
but a place through which tears could pass
an escort for petitions the stones drank

Mourning made those who crossed it seem taller

The graves were laid out like dollhouses
to jump in feet together was part of the festivities
the visitors imitated the blackbird

the woman who followed the tree had green armpits
the hem of a branch taken down made her topple over
    the axe hidden under her skirt cut through water and fire not grief
    and the tree's bark slit like a raped girl's skirt hid another layer of
         bark

 

*

When everything was extinguished
so that shadows slipped from the walls and flattened themselves the
    length of the graves
there were those dead leaves that walked on the windowpanes
their veined palms turned towards the sleepers

the little girl who bores a hole in the night with her translucent finger
    mistakes them for dead bridal couples and throws handfuls of rice
    at them which fall on the other side of the rain which is knitting a
    warm suit for the impoverished garden

 

*

The fatherless children sweep the streets with their rage
They look for sailors with a wealth of bread-trees and centenarian
    oceans
Their feet trampling the river-mouths become transparent
Their minuscule toes serve as lighthouses for sinking ships
They throw earth on the earth before embarking erase everything not
    endowed with speech:
isolated houses
unmarked graves
dead-end streets
meticulous rains will erase the mountains they leave behind them
They go away on the same wave
their blood thickens as the sea ages

 

*

Her belief that death will emerge from her mirror
or from the palm of her hand
or even from the bark of the lime-tree she neglected to prune
she will lay siege to transfixed things:
chipped plates
cold teapot
sheet folded inside-out
her certainty that the parquet will cry out for her
that the shutters will gnash their teeth
that she will be buried in the mirror's silvering
without having comforted the lime-tree which will look elsewhere

(Translated from the French by Marilyn Hacker)

 

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