Follow Us

Follow on Twitter    Follow on Facebook    YouTube Channel    Vimeo Channel    Tumblr    SoundCloud Channel    iPhone App    iPhone App

Five Poems by Rachida Madani

[Rachida Madani at a Reading. Image from Author] [Rachida Madani at a Reading. Image from Author]


Rachida Madani

Translated by Marilyn Hacker


The First Tale


What city and what night

since it’s night in the city

when a woman and a train-station argue over

the same half of a man who is leaving?

He is young, handsome

he is leaving for a piece of white bread.

She is young, beautiful as a springtime


trying to flower for the last time

for her man who is leaving.

But the train arrives

but the branch breaks

but suddenly it’s raining in the station

in the midst of spring.

And the train emerges from all directions

It whistles and goes right through the woman

the whole length of her.

Where the woman bleeds, there will never be spring


in the night, in her head, under the pillow

trains pass filled with men

filled with mud

and they all go through her

the whole length of her.

How many winters will pass, how many snowfalls

before the first bleeding letter

before the first mouthful of white bread?




Perhaps it’s the same city

but a different solitude

another road of rain.

A child is walking down the empty street

he follows another child

who is following a dog

who follows another dog

who is following an odor of bread.

The closer he comes to the smell

the further away the whiff of bread seems


circles in the air

then suddenly climbs to perch

on the streetlight

like a moth

And the two little boys

and the two little dogs

at the bare foot of the streetlight

stay, open-mouthed

in a circle of light.

And it’s the same night

and it’s the same solitude

and it’s the same child

in the same street

in the same circle of streetlights.

Now on his cheek hunger

has deepened

the furrow traced by tears.

Now with his scrawny limbs

he drags a pauper’s toy:

a cardboard box

and in it a skinny little dog

and a patched-together childhood.


It makes a peculiar little noise

that patched-up childhood dragged

along the pavement.

But the child listens to the night

and dreams with all his hunger

that he has become a sailor

his carton a ship which floats

carrying away his childhood

which becomes a bird

in one wing-beat.




She has lost everything, even her tattoos

the woman who walks on the cliff.

She has sold her bracelets

sold her hair

sold her white breasts.

She has pawned her last tear

her last mouthful of bread.

She has talked to the neighbors

talked to the judge

talked to the wind.

She wanted her child that woman

who walks on the cliff.

She wanted him for herself

for herself alone

the child of her womb.

She wanted still to be rocking him

as all women do

gently, gently, singing

as she sang every night, to rock him

the child of her womb.

But men

but the wind push her out on the cliff.

She watches the ocean

she would like to hurl herself into the ocean

to drink up the ocean.

But suddenly all her tattoos

return to set themselves in place

and they all begin to speak at once.

All at once she finds

the green and blue legends

inscribed on her flesh.

Now she is standing facing the backwash

her eyes are dry

her mouth is a fold.

Now she leaves the cliff

and goes away…

Now she goes toward her own justice.




What a woman, what a departure!

She has named her fear

she has measured its feet

then she measured her own mouth

then rose up in one movement.

She goes through the glass city

goes from door to door

she speaks

and now nothing can stop her.


She speaks of all nights

and all women

she speaks of the sea

of waves which carry everything away

as if everything could be carried away

of waves which begin the sea again

there where the sea stopped.

She goes through the city

she walks with death

hand in hand

and her hand does not tremble…


She speaks all around your skull

and what a laugh would burst from her throat, that woman

if, at the wall’s base, Shahrayar arose!



Of how many castrated cities

is the woman born?

Of how many vampire-men

and demi-gods drunk on sand?

How many apples had

to tumble down from the sky?

The earth is so far from vast

that she always goes toward the same tree

is it always the woman who goes toward the tree?

I would be satisfied with a pomegranate

and I would never feel guilty

of being that apple which cuts

your throat

because I was not born from your lips

I was not born from your heart

or your skull

and had I known that you would stay

crooked for life

I would not have been born

from your rib either.

How many apples did it take

to make you tumble naked  from the sky

demi-god drunk on sand?


[Excerpted from Rachida Madani’s Tales of A Severed Head, translated from the French by Marilyn Hacker and published by Yale University Press in September 2012.] 

If you prefer, email your comments to




Apply for an ASI Internship now!


Political Economy Project

Issues a

Call for Letters of Interest


Jadaliyya Launches its

Political Economy




F O R    T H E    C L A S S R O O M 

Critical Readings in Political Economy: 1967


The 1967 Defeat and the Conditions of the Now: A Roundtable


E N G A G E M E N T