Four Poems from She Says

by Vénus Khoury-Ghata

One day she says
I’ll build a house of stones and lamps
with my grave in the branches
held in the outstretched arms of a sycamore
Processions of rain will come to visit it
and the horizon tired of walking a tightrope over a puddle of ocean
will stretch out on its doorstep
I’ll hunt down the fog that steals flocks and forms
It moves in throngs like colorless wolves
slits the throats of streams
enters through every orifice
fills bodies and tree trunks with its padding
turns them into soundproof cylinders
leaves nothing but its echo for the blood

* * *

A man is not an island
The crumbs will grow into breadfruit trees said the maid shaking the tablecloth
    out over the garden
In her room with its gaping windows
the dying woman counted the hunter’s gunshots for the last time
she mistook the bits of bread falling on her footpath for petals
the robin’s call stopped on the air for a petition
The scarlet stain on her chest is her heart turned inside out
The sun’s seal is placed on the intersection of the branches
It will color the night red when the man empties his game-bag on the dark tiles
   of the kitchen
The dead woman will come downstairs to help him pluck the last quail
Words, she says, used to be wolves
they lined up on the mountain peaks to tell the moon about the difficulty of climbing the slope
the complacency of the flocks
and the chaotic movements of migrating clouds
They placed their anger at the moon’s feet when it turned the black book of night     went to sleep
         amid the ranting of the pages which spoke of a gold-leafed country     where sleep drops     into
         the wells with its load of turbaned stars
But wolves          don’t know the Orient

* * *

In those days       I know now       words declaimed the wind
besides pebbles there were moons but no lamps
the stars would emerge later from a brawl between two flintstones
I’ll tell you everything there were five pebbles
one for each continent
vast enough      to contain a child of a different color
So there were        five children but no houses
windows but no walls
wind but no streets
the first man wore a stone around his neck
He made an arrangement with the first tree
an oak if I remember correctly
the one who got there first could drink up the ocean
Language at that time was a straight line reserved for birds
the letter “i” was the deft of a female hummingbird
“h” a ladder with one rung necessary to replace a charred sun before nightfall
“o” a hole in the sole of the universe
Unlike the consonants with their rough garments
the vowels were naked
all the weaver’s art consisted of humoring them
in the evening they counted each other to make sure no one was missing
in the rocky countries men slept without dreaming


Translated from the French by Marilyn Hacker.

Marilyn Hacker is an award-winning poet who has published numerous collections. She lives in Paris, France, and New York where she is a professor of English and Creative Writing at City College.

Vénus Khoury-Ghata is a Lebanese poet and novelist who has been a resident of France since 1973. She is the author of a dozen collections of poems and as many novels, including Here There Was Once a Country, also translated by Marilyn Hacker, Vacarme pour une lune morte: roman, and Mortemaison: roman. Her work has been translated into Italian, Russian, Dutch, German, and Arabic.


These four poems are reprinted from She Says, published by Graywolf Press in June 2003.

French language
Summer 2003
The cover of BOMB 84