A Poem by Tene Youssouf Gueye

Continuing on my Mauritanian foray, here is a poem in my translation by Tene Youssouf Gueye, born in Kaédi, Mauritania in 1928 and who died in 1988 (for details see commentary below the poem).


Distant carillons  of the Great Copper Clock
veiled echoes of bugles and the song of crowds (choir of
great communal feasts, syncopated applause descending
into the depths along green abysses)
we climb back up the dreams to the blue height of stars
all the way to the sonorous circus tiers
resplendent in light.

Now we’re back in the front rows of the
grand circle in its heavy red drapes and bathed in
pink sunsets where slight whiffs of dead
roses float. The distinguished and smiling gladiators
are still there, on the look-out for wild animals and shadows, their
great wrestler torsos masked with fine silks.
The call rises in anguish, toward far meridians of
human treason: here we are at the hearings of grand
indictments on those contending on bronze high-warp carpets [and muddy sands;
we remain voiceless on the shores of other seas,
our gazes fixed on the horizons over there under the Tropics
and the spirit of the abysses.
The Hottentot tethered to his hills of the Transvaal (and my Texan
brother outsmarting his troubles at the threshold of nightclubs),
the Kakongo from Angola in his death-dealing maquis (and
my brother in Arizona soaked in Tequila), spatters an the other side [of the Kalahari,
(and my other brother at the forbidden threshold of his native [Palestine…)
And the prostrate crowd suddenly rises, scrutinizing
the faint light in the east where the silhouettes of mercenaries are [moving;
we sharpen our lances humid from easy dews,
lying in wait for shadows come down from the sky toward Bissau.
Our elite lancers charging far away citadels
behind the Great Gorilla, the Great Circus shuts up and watches
the distinguished gladiators descending into the arenas of this Night
so high and spattered with knowing stars.

We shiver in unison with the hours, toward those other
sea shores shaken by  thunderstorms heavy with the scents
of jungles and swamps: Smith and N’Komo, Salazar
and Roberto, Verwoerd and Luthuli, great puddles of night
in the clearings of Kivu, screech of conniving rockets
returning from monsoons of violence.

COMMENTARY: One of the major voices in modern francophone Mauritanian literature, Tene Youssouf Gueye is the author of several novels as well as volumes of poetry (among others, Les exilés du Goumel, 1968; A l’orée du Sahel, 1975; Sahéliennes, 1975 and Rella, 1985). He was President of the Mauritanian Writers Association and an important civil servant after the independence of his country, serving as Mauritania’s delegate to UNESCO. Politically active, he stood up with other Mauritanian intellectuals for the rights of Mauritanians of African descent who were being discriminated against. As early as 1986, a group of Afro-mauritanians were arrested for having written and distributed a document called the Manifesto of the Oppressed Negro-Mauritanians, a document that brought proof of racial discrimination, while asking for the opening of a dialogue with the powers that be. The government’s reaction will be a vendetta that will prove to be the darkest and bloodiest page in the country’s history. Ten Gueye was thrown — with many others — into prison by the dictatorship of Colonel  Maawiyya Ould Sid Ahmed Taya, and died in the infamous “Oualata mouroir” in 1988.

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