Two Francophone Poems

translated by Nancy Naomi Carlson

[draw your strength]

draw your strength from the lifeless leaf
break all bonds until you can tie your fate
to the baobab trunk
don’t hold within yourself any dream discounted
on the public square
don’t look at the will-o’-the-wisp
constantly climb back up the slope
even if steep
the voices arriving from the other hill
are only echoes


[let’s ask the stone]

let’s ask the stone where to find Truth
it will tell us it’s in this earthly world
and only here
it’s in this earthly world where wind stirs
oceans twist and turn
waterways split
it’s in this earthly world where dreams
straddle borders
pierce invisible walls

Translations from the French

Photo by Shevaun Williams

Alain Mabanckou, from Congo-Brazzaville, is considered one of francophone Africa’s most prolific contemporary writers. Twice a finalist for the Man Booker Prize, his work has garnered a multitude of awards, including the prestigious Grand Prix de la Littérature from the Académie Française. 

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.