Three Poems

translated by Nancy Naomi Carlson
A turbulent wave, capped with foam, from above
Photo: Michael Olsen/Unsplash

[Carry my metaphor]

Carry my metaphor; I touched the sea
before waves deceived me.
Carry my dream; I saw it all
without opening eyes of salt.
Carry my soul; I met death
but never ever died again.
Carry my silence; none of these words
belong to you
and I meld Indian words
with language from Saint-Malo.
At my Mozambican prow
a mélange of peppered dreams 
is the aim of my human flesh.


[Like spume, each body]

Like spume, each body
wakes up on a wave.
One straw, two straws
four score sepoys
and for entrails
a coulis of blue men
paw through
stone-clotted fields.
We are molasses, we are bagasse
my African brother descended from slaves
our skin is the trace
like yours, of the same dark race.
One straw, two straws
fourscore sepoys
for full-face deduction
devalued by French tarot
man tied to the tides
by the spar made of coconut wood
a flaw falters
a seedless man 
destitute die-rolling race
hanged from pandanus trees,
in the name of the stunning sea

Translator’s note: “Sepoy” is an Indian soldier who served under colonial rule. 


[The sea eats its sons]

The sea eats its sons
and I will crunch stones 
and not cleave the maimed
nor believe the snail.
And the sea no longer runs dry
by man-made decree.
And the junction of waves
bathes the crosses
in nebulous lights.

In my great saga of blood
the sea is cruentation of seaweed.

Translations from the French

Khal Torabully, from Mauritius, is a prizewinning poet, essayist, film director, and semiologist. Author of some twenty-five books, he coined the term “coolitude” to give voice to indentured workers, imbuing the term with dignity and pride. Torabully’s linguistic acrobatics (wordplay and neologisms) serve to heighten the seriousness of his themes.

Nancy Naomi Carlson’s translation of Khal Torabully’s Cargo Hold of Stars: Coolitude (Seagull) won the 2022 Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize. Her second full-length poetry collection, as well as Delicates, her co-translation of Wendy Guerra, were noted in the New York Times. She serves as the translations editor for On the Seawall.