Five Poems by Aimé Césaire

BOMB 8 Winter 1983
008 Winter Spring 1985

Discover MFA Programs in Art and Writing

Keiko Bonk 02

Keiko Bonk, Jealousy II, 1983. Courtesy of Piezo Electric.

Emmett Till

your eyes were a sea conch in which the heady battle
of your fifteen year old blood sparkled.
Even young they never had any age,
or rather more than all the skyscrapers
five centuries of torturers
of witch burners weighed on them,
five centuries of cheap gin of big cigars
of fat bellies filled with slices of rancid bibles
a five century mouth bitter with dowager sins,
they were five centuries old EMMETT TILL,
five centuries is the ageless age of Cain’s stake.
            EMMETT TILL I say:
                 in the heart zero,
                 of blood not a drop,
and as for yours may it hide my Sun, may it mix with my bread:
—“Hey Chicago Boy
is it still true that you’re worth
as much as a white man?”
Spring, he believed in you. Even at the edge of night,
at the edge of the MISSISSIPPI rolling its bars, its barriers,
its tomb-like avalanches between the high banks of racial hatred.
In spring rushing its murmurs into the portholes of eyes.
In spring hound-calling the bovine panic in the savannas of the blood.
In spring slipping the gloves from its fine hands in a burst of shells and
   siliquae,
loosener of fear clots, dissolver of the clots of hatred
swollen with age and in the flow of blood streams carrying
the hazardous rubric of stalked beasts.
                 But They
they were invulnerable, sluggish as they were,
and mounted, massively, on bizarre immemorial billygoats
            —“CHICAGO BOY” …

All gone with the bleating of the racial wind
He listens in the blue bush of veins
to the steady singing of the blood bird,
he anticipates above the banks of sleep
Sun, the rise of your furtive step,
a vehement fish, in the astonishing blue field.

Then night remembered its arm
a vampire’s flabby flight suddenly hovering
and BIG MILLAM’S Colt 45
wrote the verdict and the state of the Union in rust letters on the living black
    wall:

20 years of zinc
15 years of copper
15 years of oil

            and the 180th year of these states
            but in the heart unfeeling clockwork
            what, nothing, zero
            of blood not a drop
            in the white heart’s tough antiseptic meat?

Keiko Bonk 01

Keiko Bonk, The Matinee, 1983. Courtesy of Piezo Electric.

Statue of Lafacadio Hearn

Undoubtedly it is absurd to hail this thrust in mid-ocean
still standing vertically amidst the clawings of the wind
whose heart triggers with each beat
a true liana delirium. Great sentence from a sensual eart
so stuttered on the mornes! “And who, who wants,” I heard
a voice with no sarcasm roar, “to partake
of the Soul of Man? Of the Spirit
of Combat? Of the Essence by virtue of which who falls falls
to stand again? Of the Leader Of Hearts? Of the Harrower
of Hell?” Then then my auger sight pressed on
and the vision laid its eggs relentlessly:

Ye clambered up the palm tree
Nanie-Rosette was eating on a boulder
the devil was flying about
anointed with snake grease
with the oil of departed souls
a god in the town was dancing wearing an ox head
auburn rums were flowing from throat to throat
in the ajoupas anise was being mixed with orgeat
at the crossroads tobacco-colored men
squatted at dice
and dispatched dreams along their fingers
in the shade in pockets long razors were sleeping

auburn rums were flowing from throat to throat
but no one no one made a formidable response
and offered his mucous membrane to the bites of wasps

O strange questioner
to you I hand my supernumerary jug
to the black verb memorizing
Me me me
as for you I knew your patience was created
from the command post of a corsair dismasted by the storm and licked by
orchids

… On the State of the Union

I imagine this message in Congress on the state of the Union:
situation tragic,

left underground only 75 years of iron
50 years of cobalt
but 55 years worth of sulfur and 20 of bauxite
in the heart what?
     Nothing, zero,
          mine without ore,
          cavern in which nothing prowls,
          of blood not a drop left.

From My Stud Farms

          Clouds, jump the tracks with a blowtorch! Rain violent girl unravel your shreds! Sea wound settle in with a hiss! All funnels and volcanoes adrift! Stampede mad gods! Blow your brains out! Let the fields be ripped apart by the trident and the pearl fishermen be catapulted to the very sky! A thought. What? The fire that is no longer squandered. What is possible tearing in its sumptuous chest everything slow in becoming.
     Night. What? The entire matter which weighs and exhausts itself to become space. The password. What? To pass the world through a sieve and the lack of solidarity in each subterfuge.
     Times of lightning, times of lightning, placid beasts, frenzied beasts, plodding beasts, at my call by nostrils and foamings you used to run out of the stables of the sky

            and there were marvelous multicolored
            prairies of every trot and every
shade of bay which grew for the desire of these fiery beasts
young and brushed by coco plums
under the tender skin of water forever dazzling

It is Myself, Terror, It is Myself

Stranded dried up dreams flush with the muzzles of rivers create
formidable piles of mute bones
the too swift hopes crawl scrupulously
like tamed snakes
one does not leave one never leaves
as for me I have halted, faithful, on the island
standing like Prester John slightly sideways to the sea
and sculptured at snout level by waves and bird droppings
things things it is to you that I give
my crazed violent face ripped open in the whirlpool’s depths
my face tender with fragile coves where lymphs are warming
it is myself terror it is myself
the brother of this volcano which certain without saying a word
ruminates an indefinable something that is sure
and passage as well for birds of the wind
which often stop to sleep for a season
it is thyself sweetness it is thyself
run through by the eternal sword
and the entire day advancing
branded with the red-hot iron of foundered things
and of recollected sun

Translated by Clayton Eshleman and Annette Smith.

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Originally published in

BOMB 8, Winter 1983

Edouard Roditi by Bradford Morrow, Taylor Meade, art by Elizabeth Murray, Ellen Phelan, Keith Sonnier, Mary Heilmann, Pat Steir, Malcolm Morley, and more.

Read the issue
008 Winter Spring 1985