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This issue of JACKET is a co-production with SALT magazine

from “She Says” by Vénus Khoury-Ghata

trans. Marilyn Hacker

For Pierre Brunel

There were too many women for too few seasons
some of them turned themselves into willows to sweep the rivers
A dead-end village
the inhabitants’ secrets were posted on swinging doors
the scent of wives handled in darkness impregnated the walls
No rain could erase it

The women existed through their fragrance
and the men had to search for them in the folds of sheets
in the stink of blood washed in copper pots

Monthly labor was the women’s lot
they scrubbed at roofs soiled by the moon’s excretions
and the menstrual blood of pubescent storks,
till they wore the roof-tiles down

It appears that the rainbow was born there
of the rain which came before Noah
a dry rain which dripped pebbles and small stones

And then everything was white
the grass children’s eyes the eyes of rabbits

She says
dig there where a shadow can stand upright
And she closes her door on the trees come to share her mourning

The sugary smell of honeysuckle floats over the street
and announces the coffin borne by just one man

The dead woman is as old as the bougainvillea at her window
The whinnying of a horse makes the shutter clatter

Grief as vast as the garden
as hermetic as the canary’s cage
On Sundays the gardener bears his ladder like a cross
his shears cut branches with the same movement
as they cut a lock of memory

On the windowpane
her tears are dyed red beneath the last sun

For Jean-Guy Pilon

The wind in the fig tree quiets down when she speaks
and speaks up when she’s silent
Once upon a time
she argued with an old man
quarreled with dogs
bartered with a knife grinder
The bed and the salt-shaker can attest to it
not the wardrobe
mute guardian of linens

She howls to frighten her own voice and make the water in pond shudder
chases hawks to see their red cries unleash a storm
dumps out a drawer to hear the knives and forks swear at each other

To run up to the road is only good for her shadow
the rains have erased the fields
and the planet turning on itself will bring her back to her point of departure

She knows the echo is no friend of hers
and the mountain hides another, older mountain
which wouldn’t greet a woman who talks to a tree till she’s out of breath

She only opens her door to the winds who liberate the dead pinned to her mirror to bury them higher up in a hole in the air

The cliff, she says, is crumbling like a poor man’s bread and it’s not those taciturn oaks which will save the landscape’s reputation

She also says that she only has to wait for the fifth season for her dead to come back to her honeyed tears on the apple-tree’s cheeks

They’ll straddle the fog
mount the dogs
soil the hallway
to express their disapproval

Questioning the calends complicates the route of the sun lodged in her chicken house since the hens began laying their eggs in the river

Curses on thresholds that don’t know how to gather footsteps she repeats till it intoxicates her
curses on hands that turn bread into grief
curses on water which becomes frost when you drink it

Her long cohabitation with the mountain taught her that birds migrate at night so they won’t know the road is long

Between her two windows is a mirror
in which in times of mist and absent landscape
she captures the debris of faces which she glues back together
taking into account the silvering’s sap

Ancient faces
she must look for their silhouettes in stelae
their voices in the plane-tree which knows the mirror from behind
and which isn’t done with watching their movements between the house that’s standing and
the toppled one
unable to clarify the ties that connect them
It holds its breath when it sees them step over the fields
penetrate the mirror backwards
push and shove each other there
arguing over the polished surface that’s holding a bit of their souls

A revenge taken on cradles
reunions so often deferred with their odor
strategy for occupying space with emptiness

for André Brincourt

Without the wisteria
the garden would have climbed over the fence to move in on the posh side of the road

The wisteria is its guardrail against drifting
its belt of happiness
its counselor in judging cats and ceding the canary’s cage to the most chaste of them

Without wisteria
there would be no more autumns
only winters with umbrellas which pass each other without exchanging the slightest raindrop

The wisteria flattens out when angels cross it in a gust of wind
a pot of jam under each wing
and on their shoulders the bread of grief

Drunken bread on the table
the salt of discord facing the hearth
everything is ready to welcome them
and the woman who doesn’t trust her lantern
has set the fireflies free

Shapes framed by two moons draw black arrows on the hedge

On their right flows the white cemetery
and the red cemetery flows on their left

They walk two by two
more or less Indian file
separately because they are only one
a single man muddled to death with his fire

“Climb on a lime-tree to go back home!” she cries out to him, pointing to the tree

On the dark landing of her dreams
there is that ploughshare which furrows the floor of her house going from the sink to the bed
where women and cats whelp to the great relief of the canary who announces births

The same ploughshare flakes away beneath the fig-tree since the man’s arms rusted

Scraping clean the dead man and his tools is beyond her forces
December is longer than the whole winter
and rain falling upon rain keeps her from bending over in her sleep

You there!
she calls out at mealtimes to the invisible silhouette
leaning over the furrow
because the dead do sometimes bend

The frost that year shattered both the indoors and the outdoors
The northerners couldn’t write down what time it was
the sun which served as their clock had lost its hoop

They spoke a white language when they ventured onto the rocks
named seven objects tolerated by fire
seven blunt tools
seven herbs to feed a dead man in the family

One hand held as a visor to their brows
they thought they could read a swallow
but it was only a frozen pebble and a rustling of feathers falling feet together

April didn’t help their daily fare
Since they’d pulled up all the devil’s grass
they ate an earth so cold their teeth became diaphanous

A hundred suns led by a thread didn’t outshine their faces caught in the ice
They wrongly accused the layout of the walls
but their misfortune came from an evil moon which spat in their mirror

Vénus Khoury-Ghata is a Lebanese poet and novelist, resident in France since 1973, author of a dozen collections of poems and as many novels. She received the Prix Mallarmé in 1987 for Monologue du mort, the Prix Apollinaire in 1980 for Les Ombres et leurs cris, and the Grand Prix de la Société des gens de lettres for Fables pour un peuple d’argile in 1992. Her Anthologie personelle, a selection of her previously published and new poems, was published in Paris by Actes Sud in 1997. Her most recent collection, Elle dit, was published by Editions Baland in 1999. Her work has been translated into Italian, Russian, Dutch, German and Arabic, and she was named a Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur in 2000. Her poems, in Marilyn Hacker’s translations, have appeared in the English-speaking world in Ambit, Banipal: a Journal of Modern Arab Literature, Field, Jacket, The Manhattan Review, Metre, Poetry, Shenandoah and Verse.

You can read Corinna Hasofferet’s interview with Vénus Khouri Gatha, in which she talks about her childhood and her early life, in Jacket 18.

Marilyn Hacker is the author of nine books, including Presentation Piece, which received the National Book Award in 1975, Winter Numbers, which received a Lambda Literary Award and the Lenore Marshall Award of The Nation magazine and the Academy of American Poets, both in 1995, and the verse novel, Love, Death and the Changing of the Seasons. Her Selected Poems was awarded the Poets’ Prize in 1996. Her most recent book, Squares and Courtyards, was published by W.W. Norton in 2000. A Long-Gone Sun, her translation of Claire Malroux’s Soleil de Jadis, was published by The Sheep Meadow Press in 2000. She was editor of The Kenyon Review from 1990-1994, and co-edited a special issue of Poetry on contemporary French poetry in 2000. She now lives in New York and Paris, and is director of the M.A. program in English literature and creative writing at the City College of New York.

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This issue of Jacket is a co-production with SALT magazine,
an international journal of poetry and poetics, edited by John Kinsella
PO Box 937, Great Wilbraham, Cambridge PDO, CB1 5JX United Kingdom

This material is copyright © Vénus Khoury-Ghata and Marilyn Hacker
and Jacket magazine and SALT magazine 2001
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