December 2009

Clayton Eshleman


An Aimé Césaire Portfolio, translated by A. James Arnold and Clayton Eshleman

These five poems are translations by A. James Arnold and Clayton Eshleman from the unexpurgated 1948 edition of Aimé Césaire's Soleil cou coupe (Solar Throat Slashed). In the late 1950s, as Césaire became more politically focused, he radically revised this book, eliminating 31 of the 72 poems, and editing (some severely, some slightly) another 29. In 1961, he published the revised text (of which only 12 poems were the same as appeared in 1948), along with a short collection, Corps perdu (Lost Body), as Cadastre, and for decades Cadastre has represented Solar Throat Slashed. Of the five poems presented here "The Law is Naked" and "Year IX" appeared in Cadastre in edited, or pruned, form. The other three poems were completely eliminated from Cadastre. Arnold and Eshleman believe that the 1948 Solar Throat Slashed is Cesaire's finest single collection of poetry. Wesleyan University Press will publish their cotranslation in 2011.

Readers interested in seeing what cuts were made in "The Law is Naked" and "Year IX" can check their forms in Cadastre as translated by Eshleman and Annette Smith in their edition of Aimé Césaire: The Collected Poetry (University of California Press, 1983). In that volume, "Year IX" is titled "New Year."


Easy prolongation of deglutition by the obscene trismegistic mouth of a brown-bellied marsh
sticky sundews of a happy muck listening in their lips what fraternal news their days are de rigueur in this world knotted by too much smoky breath masking the peppery verve of the storm

Lean lean on the abyss on vertigo
lean lean on nothingness
lean lean on the conflagration

but even in midair I rediscover a thousand sharpened knives
a thousand keys to lassos a thousand priestly crows

howl strike the rock and the earth I people it with fish
let flags loom over the factories
and sound your cohort sound your renewal in flames
sound your silver dais
sound your array and disarray
sound your lightning-rod spoons
sound your onyx clogs
sound your arachnoid horizon
sound your cassolettes
sound your little glasses twisted by disaster
sound your groanings
sound your grenade shrapnel
I bear along the meridians the deaf procession of opulent pilgrims made up of rabies-bitten forests
hyenas disdainfully sniff me I am not in the desert! the air pauses I hear the grating of poles on their axles the air drones I impotently attend the decivilization of my mind the air brings me the Zambezi
Bamboo stalks seem to be the multiple bones of an immense fish skeleton planted in some geological age in place of a totem by an extinct small tribe



From the lagoon rises an odor of blood and an army of flies peddling to women the            fraud of menopausal jewels
the crime staff has settled very comfortably into the passing of history whose epilepsy  has never been so great as today when each inscription is an adventure each letter of which explodes in packets of cartridges
a dusty affinity leads to weeks that are the outside railings of a guillotine before which the public accuser stands guard
in any case the body’s elevation and fall constantly warn of the stage reached by the ever difficult digestion of geologic avatars
we have nothing to do with the moles that swelled up the earth with insurrection’s seasonal thrust
we have nothing to do with the sun it’s a raped girl who no longer dares to return home in her place a counter-rain of sand and mud whose offensive above the cities imitates the undisciplined perfection of the troops of polarized light
be it as it may
despite the tonsillar antelopes who after a long race merge in the palm tree dawn that sheds tears under beloved necks and which the sagacious hand of constellations will never pursue

(no more than a superstition will broach the beautiful tree reserved for the axe of idolatrous hearts despite the blood that paints the executioner blocks and projects through its mask flower bouquets premature by a scalp)

north wind
and knives of the stars
let us exchange with convex satellites
the helpful little salute
that we exchange with the snow bunting solarized for us alone to the decry of fragile skylights from which the counter-poison with its barely loquacious heaven ordinarily casts
the train of sea rescuers
onto the tracks of this vail dispatched as I please
at the bottom of the mule marl of an unmarked catastrophe



holy God they insured the universe and everything weighs—everything—the plumb line of gravity having been installed at the easy bottom of solidity—the uranium deposits the garden statues the perverse loves the street that merely pretends to be fluid the stream don’t mention it whose trains heavier than my feet there is nothing up to and including the sun that hasn’t stopped its clouds forever fixed. Fix is moreover the command that ceaselessly resounds from one end to the other along the entire front of this strange army of despair. The world is fixed. Stone is fixed. The immense false movement is fixed and tell me about the ways of your little mad girl circumscribed by the world that circum- scribes a river where each couple is summoned to bathe twice and from where moreover the true cows of the debacle with its ranch of hooks and roots will never rush forth.
I am a stone covered by ruins. I am an island hooded like a falcon by guano. I am a pyramid planted by a dynasty vanished from all memory a herd of elephants a mosquito bite a small city aggrandized by crime unless it was the war in the Pacific or the Atlantic Charter. There are those who claim they can reconstruct a man from his smile. That’s why I am careful not to let my dental imprint be moulded in the putty of the air.
Face of man you will not budge
you are caught in the ferocious coordinates of my wrinkles.



Bays winged I walked on the rumbling heart of the excellent spring
from whom have I ever conned a woman
other than a long cry and under my tug of milk
other than an earth fleeing wounded and reptile between the forest’s teeth

clear overflowing from the gush
here I am
in the backwaters
and cooing your scrupulous doves
                                seated some dish for the birds

let all the woofs be knotted in vain
let all the prayer wheels turn to the left
let all the rivers hurl into the cities’ faces the hot and supple glove of a bundle of black mules and tresses

But peace female cries. So soft one might think it a pebble-dash invented for my fingers’ damaging excavation. Peace. All of you close the door against the dromedaries. There are no more milking machines for the morning that has yet to rise. I have blue hands which stop everything. My tongue is blue. Blue my gold and the blood arrogance of the damned who turn their heads toward me. If you knew. I have overturned all the stones all the pain all the prayers. Quickly! meteor in the comet’s wings. Meteor in the amethyst’s heart give me the password
meteor in the heart of the friable pelican
meteor returning every ten years to the scene of the crime
meteor Siberian pilgrim
all my pebbles are made of offense
No oil at all.
The law is naked.



             Out of their torments men carved a flower
             that they perched on the high plateaus of their faces
             hunger makes a canopy for them
             an image dissolves in their last tear
             they drank foam-rhythmed monsters
            to the point of ferocious horror
In those days
there was an
             on their hooves horses were rearing a bit of dream
             fat fiery clouds filled out like mushrooms
             all over the public squares
             there was a marvelous pestilence
             on the sidewalks the lesser streetlamps were rotating their lighthouse heads
             as for the anophelic future it was hissing in the gardens a scorching vapor
In those days
the word shower
and the word friable soil
the word dawn
and the word woodchips
conspired for the first time
             Forests were born in the Borinage
             and barges on the canals of the air
             and from the red saltpeter of those wounded on the pavement
             were born arums way beyond young girls
That was the year when the seeds of humankind chose within man the tender path of a new heart