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Poetry

Celebration of the Absent One

By Habib Tengour
Translated from French by Marilyn Hacker
In this ode to the late Assia Djebar, Habib Tengour remembers Algeria through her voice. 
Listen to Habib Tengour read "Celebration of the Absent One" in the original French.
 
 

For Eliane, Mireille, and Regina

                                  We dreamed of a phlegmatic life for you
of sleep and siestas
sweet things, an honorable luxury
a carpet of rich flowers at your feet
to put your fears to sleep 
—Malek Alloula, The Exercise of the Senses  

                                  Death’s dust has disrobed you even of your soul
—Pierre Jean Jouve, Matière céleste 

A

Algeria
whose whiteness flowed into lead
A black decade / years of blood
Rupture              Algeria, la Maison Blanche
Austere welcome of the patriarch in his tight-fitting borrowed
suit
who knew the rites of passage
the institution’s stringent checks
Arrivals and departures both distressing

S

Songbirds, the innocent larks at the border of Saint-Cloud
So many memories Eliane told me
Simple choices        solid ties
Impatience to know the city’s every corner
Thirsty beneath the blinking neon
But you always did your homework

S

Slip from the frame to shape the film
A new world opening in the red
Salutary progression where you speak and
Give voice to peasant women joyously
Telling their stories
A thirst to speak
You burst through the screen 

I

Impatient red desire      the dazzling meeting
Passage Camels
Impatient to live

A

All that black: no sooner liberated
Medina’s women excluded from the procession
Disinherited
Denial of the Messenger’s daughter 

Rue Eugène Vartan How vast the prison 

The world is not a film set 

D

Disillusion, pain, on the horizon’s eighty degrees
Disappearance of the French language 
Debacle, that will not let you rest until you
Drift where the word carries you 

J

Joyous days standing to sing the country
Algeria the Fortunate setting itself free
Erasure of all trace
Of ancient Caesarea the smell of the sea without armor
And mute absinthe 

E

Emerald at the foot of the lions’ mountain
Oran scoffs at the chiaroscuro of a gaze
To each his own shamelessness
Another Rimitti makes amends
The minotaur basks in the sun on the Cintra’s terrace 

B

Brawling and fantasia keep a memory alive
You transcribe its austere narrative
From rags of the massacre
Weave the story’s brightness 

A

Abdelkader roars on the Place d’Armes
The theater is open
White with all those dead calling us to order
The kingdom of shadows has no taste 

R

Rest     you too
Return in peace, O soul
The father’s house is a living language
Open to guests passing through 

 

“Célébration de l’absente” © Habib Tengour. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2019 by Marilyn Hacker. All rights reserved.

English French

For Eliane, Mireille, and Regina

                                  We dreamed of a phlegmatic life for you
of sleep and siestas
sweet things, an honorable luxury
a carpet of rich flowers at your feet
to put your fears to sleep 
—Malek Alloula, The Exercise of the Senses  

                                  Death’s dust has disrobed you even of your soul
—Pierre Jean Jouve, Matière céleste 

A

Algeria
whose whiteness flowed into lead
A black decade / years of blood
Rupture              Algeria, la Maison Blanche
Austere welcome of the patriarch in his tight-fitting borrowed
suit
who knew the rites of passage
the institution’s stringent checks
Arrivals and departures both distressing

S

Songbirds, the innocent larks at the border of Saint-Cloud
So many memories Eliane told me
Simple choices        solid ties
Impatience to know the city’s every corner
Thirsty beneath the blinking neon
But you always did your homework

S

Slip from the frame to shape the film
A new world opening in the red
Salutary progression where you speak and
Give voice to peasant women joyously
Telling their stories
A thirst to speak
You burst through the screen 

I

Impatient red desire      the dazzling meeting
Passage Camels
Impatient to live

A

All that black: no sooner liberated
Medina’s women excluded from the procession
Disinherited
Denial of the Messenger’s daughter 

Rue Eugène Vartan How vast the prison 

The world is not a film set 

D

Disillusion, pain, on the horizon’s eighty degrees
Disappearance of the French language 
Debacle, that will not let you rest until you
Drift where the word carries you 

J

Joyous days standing to sing the country
Algeria the Fortunate setting itself free
Erasure of all trace
Of ancient Caesarea the smell of the sea without armor
And mute absinthe 

E

Emerald at the foot of the lions’ mountain
Oran scoffs at the chiaroscuro of a gaze
To each his own shamelessness
Another Rimitti makes amends
The minotaur basks in the sun on the Cintra’s terrace 

B

Brawling and fantasia keep a memory alive
You transcribe its austere narrative
From rags of the massacre
Weave the story’s brightness 

A

Abdelkader roars on the Place d’Armes
The theater is open
White with all those dead calling us to order
The kingdom of shadows has no taste 

R

Rest     you too
Return in peace, O soul
The father’s house is a living language
Open to guests passing through 

 

“Célébration de l’absente” © Habib Tengour. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2019 by Marilyn Hacker. All rights reserved.

Célébration de l’absente

à Eliane, Mireille, et Regina 

« nous rêvions pour vous d’une vie flegmatique
de sommeil et de siestes
de choses douces et d’un luxe de bon aloi
de riches fleurages à vos pieds
pour endormir vos alarmes »
—Malek Alloula, L’exercice des sens

« La poussière de la mort t’a déshabillée même de l’âme »
— Pierre Jean Jouve, Matièrecéleste, « Hélène »

A

Blanc
blanc Algérie coulé dans plomb
Décennie noire / années de sang
Rupture                            Alger Maison Blanche
Accueil austère du patriarche serré dans son costume
d’emprunt
connaissant des rites de passage
fourches caudines de l’institution

Arrivées et départs désolent tout autant

 

S

Sifflent les alouettes naïves au seuil de Saint-Cloud
Que de souvenirs Eliane m’a raconté
Choix simples      solidité des attaches
Cette impatience à sillonner la ville
Soif sous le clin des néons
Sans faillir à tes devoirs

 

S

Sortir du cadre pour façonner le film
Monde nouveau s’ouvre dans le rouge
Cheminement salutaire alors tu parles et
Donnes voix à des paysannes qui jubilent
De raconter leur histoire
Soif de dire
Tu crèves l’écran

 

I

Rouge désir          la rencontre fulgurante
Passage Calmels
Cette impatience à vivre

 

A

Noir des femmes de Médine écartées de la procession
A peine libérées
Exhérédées
Refus de la fille de l’Envoyé

Rue Eugène Varlin Vaste est la prison

Le monde n’est pas décor de péplum

 

D

Douleurs et désillusions de l’horizon quatre-vingt
Disparition de la langue française 
Débâcle, elle n’a de cesse
Dériver où t’emporte le mot

 

J

Jours heureux où chanter le pays debout
L’Algérie heureuse se libérant
Effacement des traces
De l’antique Césarée une odeur de mer sans cuirasse
Et l’absinthe muette

 

E

Emeraude au pied de la montagne des lions
Oran nargue le clair obscur du regard
A chacun sa manière sans pudeur
Une autre Rimitti répare
Le minotaure lézarde à la terrasse du Cintra

 

B

Baroud et fantasia entretiennent une mémoire
Tu la transcris histoire dépouillée
Des oripeaux du massacre
Tisser l’éclat du récit

 

A

Abdelkader sur la Place d’Armes rugit
Le théâtre est ouvert
Blanc de tous ces morts qui nous rappellent à l’ordre
Le royaume des ombres n’a pas de goût

 

R

Repose     toi aussi
Retourne ô âme apaisée…
La maison du père est une langue vivante
Ouverte à l’hôte de passage

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Words Without Borders is the premier destination for a global literary conversation. Founded in 2003, WWB seeks to expand cultural understanding by giving readers unparalleled access to contemporary world literature in English translation while providing a vital platform for today’s international writers.
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