Fins


The Siren is a beast, usually blonde
That chooses a corner for herself in a much-frequented sea
And spreads herself upon a great rock
On the lookout for hardy sailors
With intentions that are beyond nautical.

The siren yells like a polecat
Apparently, to reel in the men
But in reality, with the end of also proving
That she is not really a fish.

In spite of this inferiority complex
She never hesitates to make advances on fat, hairy captains
But the Siren is not vain
For following Monsieur Dufrenne
She knows that sailors face (inevitably) awful deaths.


By Boris Vian
translated, from the French, by Claudio Sansone


 
Claudio Sansone is a Foundation Scholar in English Studies at Trinity College Dublin. He has published a number of poems, academic articles, and a short story. He is currently the editor of Icarus (Ireland’s oldest creative writing publication) and the Trinity Journal of Literary Translation. He will be starting his PhD research in the U.S. in the coming academic year.

Boris Vian (1920-1959) was a French writer, engineer, and musician who was an extremely importance influence within the French jazz scene.
 

Desert Island


The children of today
When they are between fifteen and twenty
Are sad and quiet
Afraid of of vicious old men
They get bored in cafés
And nothing makes an effect on them
And when you speak softly to them
At first they are still afraid
And after, little by little they open up
And they dare reply to you
The young men they say
There are no jobs
We cannot accept
To work for our food
And then there will be war
And we are sick of waiting
The trees are green with tender eyes
The sun is out, and in fifty years
We will have skin so thick
That it will not be crossed again
And to what end, to what end
We will have become old or crippled
And will no longer gain from it
And the women
They will not love the men
A man can hurt them
Can buy them, leave them, can have his child with them
We must work, they are so pretty
We will sink ourselves
The unattractive women don’t have any problems
Or at least their problems are resolved
They think of other things: those that pass by
They are waiting for their bus
How would you live with
People that are interested in their bus
It doesn’t stand to reason
And so, brothers? Shall we go
Live on a desert island?
There is no desert island
But one can always hope
Without engaging one’s engagement
That we will build one
That, then, that makes it all easier
But the desert island takes on water
For after we are no longer making it
Just like for the three violent old men
The secret is lost to us.


By Boris Vian
translated, from the French, by Claudio Sansone


 
Claudio Sansone is a Foundation Scholar in English Studies at Trinity College Dublin. He has published a number of poems, academic articles, and a short story. He is currently the editor of Icarus (Ireland’s oldest creative writing publication) and the Trinity Journal of Literary Translation. He will be starting his PhD research in the U.S. in the coming academic year.

Boris Vian (1920-1959) was a French writer, engineer, and musician who was an extremely importance influence within the French jazz scene.
 

Plume at the Restaurant


Plume was having lunch at a restaurant, when the maître d’hotel approached, frowned at him and said in a low, mysterious voice, “What you have there on your plate is not on the menu.”

Plume excused himself at once.

–Ah, well—I was in a rush, and didn’t bother to consult the menu. I asked for a pork chop off the top of my head, thinking that perhaps you’d have one, or could find one nearby, but ready to ask for the next thing if no chop was to be had. The waiter didn’t seem to mind—he hurried off and, not long after, brought it here and voila

Naturally, I will pay what I must. It’s a nice little morsel, I won’t deny it. I will pay for it without a moment’s thought. Had I known, I would have gladly chosen some other kind of meat, or perhaps an egg…in any case, I’m not so hungry anymore. I’ll pay you right away.”

But the maître d’hotel didn’t budge. Plume found himself terribly uncomfortable. After a while he looked up and…hmm! It was the owner of the establishment who stood before him now.

Plume excused himself at once.

–I had no idea that pork chops were not on the menu. I didn’t look, because I’m very short-sighted, and I didn’t have my spectacles with me, and then reading always gives me an atrocious headache. I asked for the first thing that came to mind, not so much to state my preference as to invite other suggestions. The waiter was surely preoccupied and didn’t think twice about it; he brought me this, and rather distracted myself, I began to eat, and, well, in short…I’ll pay right now, since you’re here.

But the owner didn’t budge. Plume was making himself feel more and more nervous. As he held out a bill, he suddenly saw the sleeve of a uniform. It was a policeman standing before him now.

Plume excused himself at once.

–So, an old chap comes in here to rest for a bit, when all of the sudden he’s being hollered at…’And for Monsieur? What’ll it be?’ ‘Oh…a glass of beer,’ he says. ‘And then…?’ cries the waiter, in a huff; so, more to get rid of him than anything, ‘Alright, a pork chop!’ The chap has already forgotten about it by the time the chop arrives, but since it’s right there in front of him…

Listen, if you would be so kind as to settle this matter, I’d be very much obliged. This is for you.

And he handed him a note for one hundred francs. When the policeman had gone, Plume thought he was free; but now it was the Chief of Police who stood before him.

Plume excused himself at once.

–You see, a chap has a rendezvous with a friend who doesn’t show up, and he spends all morning looking for him. He knows that his friend crosses this street on his way home from work, so the chap comes in here, takes a table by the window, and since he might be there a while, he asks for a pork chop, just to have something in front of him. Not for one second does he consider eating it. But having it there, he begins to eat without thinking, without even realizing what he’s doing.

You must know that nothing in the world could compel this chap to go to a restaurant. He only ever ate lunch at home. This was a case of pure distraction, of the sort that might affect any restless man…a moment of thoughtlessness, nothing more.

But the Chief of Police had already telephoned the Chief of Security.

“Go on,” he told Plume, handing him the phone. “Explain yourself once and for all. It’s your only chance to be saved.”

Another policeman gave him a hard shove. “You’d better shape up now, hey?” And watching a bunch of firefighters rush in, the owner said, “Look, you! What a disaster for my establishment. A real catastrophe!” He pointed to the dining room, which all the customers had fled in haste.

Now Plume was surrounded by agents. “This is about to get ugly,” one said. “We’re warning you,” said another, “It’d be better to confess the truth. It’s not the first time we’ve dealt with your kind, and we’ll tell you something. When we get this far, it’s serious.

Meanwhile, another big, hulking security guard was leaning on Plume, saying, “Listen, I can’t do anything. It’s orders. If you don’t talk into the phone, I’ll bash your head in. You understand me? Say you understand me! If I don’t hear you say it, I’ll bash your head in.”


By Henri Michaux
translated, from the French, by Katherine Assef

 
Katie Assef holds a B.A. in French from Sarah Lawrence and is currently an M.F.A. candidate in Fiction from Brooklyn College. She lives in Berkeley, California, where she is working on a novel.

Henri Michaux, born in Belgium in 1899, is best known for his highly idiosyncratic verse and prose poetry (and was also an accomplished painter). Michaux wrote in French, took French citizenship in 1955, and died in 1984 in Paris.
 

Hiccup


And though I’ve tried swallowing seven gulps of water
three or four times every twenty-four hours
my childhood comes jolting back
in a hiccup
instinctively
like a criminal to the scene of the crime
disaster
tell me of disaster
tell me of it

My mother wanted a child with good table manners
Hands on the table
don’t cut the bread
break the bread
don’t waste the bread
the bread of God
the bread won by the sweat of your Father
the bread of breads
A bone you eat with slowly and carefully
a stomach must be sociable
and all sociable stomachs
politely burp
a fork is not a toothpick
picking your nose
in plain sight of everyone
is absolutely prohibited
and don’t forget to sit up straight
a high class nose
never grazes the plate
and this and then
And then in the name of the Father
of the Son
of the Holy Spirit
at the end of each meal
And then and then
and then disaster
tell me of disaster
tell me of it

My mother wanted a son at the head of the class
If your history lesson is not learned by heart
you will not go to mass
sunday
in your sunday clothes
this child will be the shame our family
this child will be our oh dear Lord
be quiet

Have I not always told you you must speak french
the french of France
the french of the french
the french french
Disaster
tell me of disaster
tell me of it

My mother wanted a son to belong to his mother
You forgot to say hello to the neighbor
your shoes are dirty again
and I find you in the street
on the field or the savannah
in the shade of the War Memorial
playing
prancing around with someoneorother
with someoneorother who was never even baptized

My mother wanted a son so do
so re
so mi
so fa
so sol
so la
so si
so do
re-mi-fa
sol-la-si
do

I see your skipping your vi-o-lin lesson
A banjo
you said a banjo
what do you mean
a banjo
No no sir
You know that in this house we tolerate
not ban
not jo
nor gi
nor tare
mulattos do not to that
so leave that to the blacks


By L.G. Damas
translated, from the French, by Courtenay Selden

 
Courtenay Selden recently graduated with a degree in French Literature from the University of Virginia. She is currently teaching in a first grade Spanish-English bilingual school in Houston, Texas. Léon Gontran Damas (1912-1978) was born in Cayenne, co-founded the review L’Étudiant Noir with writers Aimé Césaire and Léopold Sédar Senghor and is credited as one of the first leaders of the Négritude movement.

 

Creole Son of the Francophone World


Ours are the hills of the old marronnage
ours are the coves and the cobalt bluffs
the sovereign trees blooming
in the eye of the cyclone!

ours are the dark rum beaches
under the moonlight
companion stars facing the sea
warmly dazzling!
ours are the dancing evenings
offering one last glass
of punch to our dead!

ours is the frenzied carnival
the cock fights
the Catholic feasts
so intertwined with the Vaudou
free-spirited at the table and in bed!

ours is the soaring to seventh heaven
at the taste of sweet potato and manioc
of black beans and dion-dion rice,
of akra and little cod cakes,
of fish and plantains–
mischievous guards
of the paradise
of spicy dishes!

ours is the freedom to escape
the outrages of the past: the white-hard
times of hisses, spirt and endlessly shackled feet,
souls and hands
angels burning with lime
and bird pepper
on the wounds of long, long ago
and by the blood that runs even faster
than Somalia’s entire dark misfortune.

A history that is ours at least
sailing through the French-speaking world
a life-lost ocean for us
the sensuous jubilation of a drum
when we drink, eat and climax
to our gourmand and Creole imagination!


By René Depestre
translated, from the French, by Anita Sagástegui

 
Anita Sagástegui is currently pursuing her Masters in Art Education at the Academy of Art Univeristy in San Francisco. She also teaches visual arts, and has taught with the Center for the Art of Translation. René Depestre (1926-) is a Haitian poet. He lived in Cuba as an exile from the Duvalier regime for many years, and helped found the Casa de las Americas publishing house.