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Strawberries & Other Poems— Timba Bema

Jun 11, 2023 | Poetry | 0 comments

TRANSLATED FROM THE FRENCH BY PATRICK WILLIAMSON

french poems

Image used for Representation

 

STRAWBERRIES

it’s 3am, the sky is torn by lightning, the clouds are pouring down, my old-fashioned pain is sharp, bleeding, and I’m having a hard time falling asleep, in this sordid motel room, furniture, faded walls, this city of passage designed for the stopover of truckers and the lost, in the middle of the desert, a town that you drive through at high speed and forget the name at the first level crossing, the colour of its sky, the dusty sadness of its all-too-human cacti, the plain style of its shacks along the main road, the heat that dries up tongues, slows down gestures, stretches facial features hidden behind the shadow of wide-brimmed hats , I was dumped there with my pain by a semi-trailer, pain even heavier than its load of cotton, 3 dollars 17 cents is the price of my humanity which is being erased with broad strokes of an eraser and will soon disappear on the horizon, swallowed by the breath of the desert, the empty and noisy belly, my head heavy as a millstone, my legs soft caramel melting on the asphalt, up to this room with its broken-down fan, the minibar that constantly releases gas as if to say plunge your hands into my refrigerated entrails, the light bulb sizzled, then went out, in the middle of the chiaroscuro a punnet of strawberries

in this city, indented somewhere in the desert, the storm can last 10 seconds or an eternity, you never know, you don’t try to pierce the mystery of the elements, alchemy is a Tohono song whose meaning has been lost between the shifting dunes, so we wait, seated on a rocking chair, we pick our nails black from insignificant labours, we keep our fingers busy terrified by tetany, we slug glasses of strong spirits down our throats, we forget ourselves in the lament of the wind, we sway in the zig-zag of the gusts, round droplets like fists batter my pain, sharp, bleeding, Jab – Cross, the head whirls, a wringer, Cross – Hook – Cross, shoulders slump, dislocated jaw, Jab – Cross – Hook, knees collapse, blood spurts, broken teeth, Uppercut – Hook – Cross, the body is thrown a few inches above the ground, Jab – Cross – Hook – Cross, it crashes on the black and white checked gerflex, the tongue hangs out, behind the glass in tears is it her, my pain, who cries curled up on herself? my hot breath draws her lips, I dip mine inside, they push me away, no, she doesn’t want appeasement, she doesn’t want love, my love, she suffers herself without knowing why and wants to see me suffer, gasp, crawling, holding my belly, vomiting in successive spurts the remains of life that swell and deflate my chest, I reach out, I tear off a strawberry, I bite into its tender flesh, its sweet blood drips from my mouth, I lick my lips again and again

the belly of the waters swells, swells, like the saliva in my mouth, the long-dried rivers overflow, carrying the decomposed or buried memories of centuries, I crunch the soft flesh of a strawberry and my pain like a panther hit by the poisoned arrow of a skilful marksman suspends its pounce on a heap of dead leaves, hindered by walls that the eye cannot see, the blood slowly trickles down my throat, the breath rises in my nostrils where it insists like a mad laugh, the barracks are nothing but memories, the main road is a legend that the survivors can hardly believe in, they who broke off the wait and left with the last semi-trailers, leaving their past and perhaps their future to those for whom prayer could still save them from the verdict of the waters, they had been swept away with their certainties, while I devoured strawberries, my pain whimpered in its agony, its terrifying eyes retreated behind heavy eyelids, its sharp claws curled with timidity, its shiny coat faded in the waves, the world had to disappear so that, with it, my pain would disappear, vivid, over-used, in the solitude of a motel room, somewhere in the desert, I slept for the first time since the birth of my pain, the bed, the mattress, the pillow were no longer those stones repeatedly shattering the dreams of lust, I slept floating among the dead, in this city whose ruins will be forgotten once the waters recede behind the dunes

the day rises grey on a nightmare scattered quickly like dew, I look at the ceiling haloed by humidity, I know that my pain is this dead beast whose smell comes from time to time to whip my nostrils, I am motionless, but alive, my legs are unburdened, my eyes are dry, it seems that chickadees sing on the head of sycamores, it’s time to get back on the road, one journey ends, another one surely begins, I hold out my hand, the punnet of strawberries is empty, it looks like I ate them all


LIKE GAME

you’ll still have to face the distraught look of that child who, seeing the guns raise their cold mouths to the blazing sun, smoothed the folds of his immature forehead and smiles like a flower opens its petals to the pollen desire of bees

dead

at the moment of leaving this world, you suddenly feel heavy, heavier than in the course of even days, then the miracle is that one feels light, lighter and lighter, a feather that sinks forever into an abyss, borne by the cushions of wind

you keep asking yourself: what kind of country is this that kills women and children like game?

dead

your father has just died, you don’t like this word – die – you prefer – leave – he left like this bird that landed on the bars of your window, you looked at him with your eyes distraught by pain, he unfolded the folds of his inky forehead and smiled at you

you said to him, to the bird – bon voyage, my darling daddy who I love so much – in the immaculate room you’d already blessed his departure, except that this time, leaning against the bars, eyes torn apart by the beating of the inky wings, you had the feeling that the whole universe was with you crying for the acidic pain of the tearing

who will cry for the child tied to his mother’s back, who will shed a tear for he who she called my dear little daddy, because he bore the name of her own father gone too soon into the meanderings of memory, illness or sorcery, we will never know, why his passage on this side of the light was as brief as the last waltz of monarchs

you keep asking yourself: what kind of country is this that kills women and children like game?

dead

she walked, her feet straight up done and burnt in the sea of sand, her son attached to her trunk by this loincloth of faded dreams, calm as a solitary star in the icy night of the Year, he, usually chirpy, a chatterbox, was already engulfed in the silence of the galaxies, even more terrifying than the blind-drunk hatred of the military, projectiles raining down on her stone body, flint body, a presence as real as the unreal, eyes in the expressionless eyes of this death which, with a steady hand, would separate her a second and perhaps the last time, from her darling daddy

you keep asking yourself: what kind of country is this that kills women and children like game?

dead

you accompanied your father to the door of no return, at the threshold of light he turned round, hair and eyebrows a tangled mess and smiled at you – who accompanied the child to the edges of being? – who held his hand through his mother’s soaked loincloth?

you pulled the sheet over your father’s inert body, which smelled of the almond milk you had anointed every inch of his skin with, of his dispersing soul, and you placed a kiss on the folds of his forehead, a voice from deep down crossed your dry throat in a choked sob – farewell, my darling daddy – who placed a kiss on the child’s unfolded forehead? – who, after the storm, the gales, covered him again with a white shroud?

you keep asking yourself: what kind of country is this that kills women and children like game?

dead

as she left this world, she didn’t close her eyes behind her blindfold, she didn’t flinch, didn’t break down in tears, she just remembered the child’s smile after eating, they said – baby smile – baby love life – she opened her back and let the child enter her belly

you keep asking yourself: what kind of country is this that kills women and children like game?


YUKIO-KHALIFA

I love love more than life
for without love, blood is unquenched

you see, handsome stranger, I imagine you to be beautiful because your soul is beautiful with the promise of exciting days, it’s been a year since my daughter’s father vanished into the mist, she was barely seven weeks old, he woke up one morning and told me while drinking his coffee that he regrets having dragged me into this, that family life was not for him and that he longed for a freedom that would be unshackled, so he closed the door and I accepted that he was leaving because I didn’t really have a choice, beautiful stranger, I accepted as one accepts death, tongue bitter, shoulders slumped, I silenced the voices of the woman in me, the woman that your words are awakening from these cold ashes

I love love more than life
for without love, blood is unquenched

you see, handsome stranger, a powerful and crystalline voice still among the sonorous echoes of meteor bodies, love, for love, is the most delicious of all the bestowals, I am in love with love because I cannot resist beauty, words, voice, hearts that tear at the blade of a virile dagger and spread like meat on the butcher’s table or chlorophyll palms at the feet of the diviner who will read in the conjunction of flesh and viscera the secrets still informed in the flat womb of the galaxies, open and closed by the beating wings of monarchs, butterflies in the belly, caresses, minor electroshocks, love, before love, love, before you, handsome stranger, the dance of the heart which dances in the fiery round, blood pulses the jazz with ebony teeth, the force of the trampled grass that dew lifts on its tired legs, the head capsizes on a cushion of cotton wool, the down bristles in icy breath, the heavenly prisoners escape to the daydream of colours that light up and sparkle like sad fir trees

I love love more than life
for without love, blood is unquenched

you see, handsome stranger, the lines buried, immersed, suspended between two puny posts in open country to welcome the majesty of eagles and buzzards, or along the railway that an eye scans in the haunting sweetness of questioning, texts and pretexts, voices and dreams, the lines are the relaxed terrain of chance, desire rolls the dice, the steady swell rejects on the deserted beach the spirits of the subterranean powers, honey or poison, flute or dagger, when one seizes one knows, and it is already too late to get rid, because the lines give, let go, reject, but do not swallow the spittle of their oceanic mouth, the lines theatre of divination, wall of lamentations and prayers, mirrors, conceptacle and receptacle of these words, your words, handsome stranger, which penetrated me in the tremor of the earthquake, in the fury of the storm, in the song of the wind, in the burning joy of the swallows, I loved your words for words before I heard your words, I loved your voice for the voice before I received it like a bucket of cold water at dawn between two dreams, I already wanted to feel your skin against my skin, to be body to body with your being, you said to me – every time I talk to you, I listen to Abdullah Ibrahim ‘s Yukio-Khalifa in the background

I love love more than life
for without love, blood is unquenched

you see, handsome stranger, the hour has passed by my watch, but I’m still waiting for you on the terrace of the café de l’opéra, the cars pass each other, look at each other, heat up, they look like ants excited by a providential corpse, it’s hot enough to snuggle against the torso of the one you love, to tear off his lips, to drink his saliva, his blood, his being, until you quench the millennial thirst, and you, handsome stranger, your shadow hovers around my pivotal desire without ever caressing it, your imagined body rolled by its assiduous muscles is not there, handsome stranger, will you come before the moon gives birth to fireflies? Will you come before the toads have finished serenading the deaf? do I have to wait for you again, answer, if you want, I’ve just put on my headphones, and on my mobile I’ve put on Abdullah Ibrahim’s Yukio-Khalifa, I’m under a spell, I’m already high, the waiting becomes sweet, you’re not there, I look up at the top of the square, a sheep in a balloon bleats, bleats

I love love more than life
for without love, blood is unquenched

you see, handsome stranger, the lines weave infinite networks, telegraphic networks, digital networks, optical networks where as in these intimate seas thousands of hard plastic bottles, soft, polyethylene terephthalate float and eventually blend together to form a continent, the continent of stranded desires, strangled voices, promises unfulfilled but renewed yet again, despite the obvious sign on the cloud’s brow, muscles abandoned, flesh weary of daring with tact and delicacy, between two sighs, two prayers, to spread humus on this handicapped body, crossed by microscopic flaws, shrapnel strewn the surface of what your distant voice, like a soothing balm on a living pain, declares the body of a mermaid , a dream body, promised to contemplation and embrace, source of delight and happy rout, I am ready, my handsome stranger, to order my body in the alignment of yours, tell me slave, I will be your slave in joy, humiliate me, I will collect my dried tears on the ground with the tips of my transient nails, tell me shadow, I will be in your shadow the shadow of your shadow

I love love more than life
for without love, blood is unquenched

you see, handsome stranger, there is, in the forest of my primary dreams, far from the steep roads of my body, a rectangular hut with clay walls and a thatched roof, a hut which is your home, your place, yours alone, which misses you at all hours of the day and night because you run around the world searching for your home, your place, where you will be expected and loved, desired and cherished, your home where your heady smell wafts in the morning air, the sheets invoke you in a silent litany, imagine your athletic body stretched out between arms, your breathing soft and deep, the warmth of your body warms my body and other things even more subtle than my body, so I reach out in the dark, I touch your face and suddenly anguish, desperation escapes through the barred window, I am alone, in your house that I built with my own hands and I am waiting for you, handsome stranger, I am waiting for you in your home while listening to Abdullah Ibrahim’s Yukio-Khalifa without you.


Also, read The Long Winding Tale – The Resounding Voice of Tilottama Majumdar’s Short Fictions translated from the Bengali by Suchetona Pal, and published in The Antonym:

The Long Winding Tale – The Resounding Voice of Tilottama Majumdar’s Short Fictions


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Timba Bema

Timba Bema

Timba Bema was born and raised in the Bali district of Douala, Cameroon. After reading Franz Kafka’s The Trial, he realised that his vocation was to write. His poetic quest is to bring out the meaning in the very heart of beauty. Initiator of the Revue des Citoyens des Lettres, his poem Les seins de l’amante published by Editions Stellamaris won the Grand Prix Littéraire d’Afrique Noire 2018.

 

Patrick Williamson

Patrick Williamson

Patrick Williamson is an English poet and translator. Most recent poetry collections: Traversi (English-Italian, Samuele Editore, 2018), Beneficato (SE, 2015), Gifted (Corrupt Press, 2014), Nel Santuario (SE, 2013; Menzione speciale della Giuria in the XV Concorso Guido Gozzano, 2014). Editor and translator of The Parley Tree, Poets from French-speaking Africa and the Arab World (Arc Publications, 2012) and translator notably of Max Alhau (France), Tahar Bekri (Tunisia), Gilles Cyr (Quebec), as well as Italian poets Guido Cupani and Erri de Luca. Recent translations in Transference, Metamorphoses, The Tupelo Quarterly, and poems in The Black Bough, The Fortnightly Review notably. Longstanding collaborator with artists’ book publisher Transignum, member of the editorial committee of La Traductière, and founding member of transnational literary agency Linguafranca.

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