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TALES OF A SEVERED HEAD
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
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
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 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
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
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.]
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