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Abdourahman Waberi

Poems from Mon nom est aube


Translated by Nancy Naomi


ABDOURAHMAN WABERI is a prize-winning writer from Djibouti, a tiny country in the Horn of Africa about the size of Massachusetts, squeezed between Somalia, Ethiopia, and Eritrea. Muslim by birth, Waberi’s themes include living a simple life based on meditation and spirituality, the nomadic life, Arabic language and culture, religious tolerance as opposed to extremism, and Djibouti’s harsh climate and civil wars. In recognition for his commitment to the values of multiculturalism and linguistic, ethnic, and religious diversity, he was awarded the 2016 Words to Change Prize. His language is playful, but also sparse and simple, which mirrors the desert landscape of his native country. The underlying humanism pervading these texts is heartfelt and deep. Nancy Naomi received an NEA literature translation fellowship to translate Abdourahman Waberi’s first volume of poetry, Les Nomades, mes frères, vont boire à la grande ourse (The Nomads, My Brothers, Will Drink from the Big Dipper), Seagull Books, 2017; it was one of six finalists for the Best Translated Book Award (BTBA).

Nancy Naomi’s new translation of Abdourahman Waberi’s second collection of poems, Mon nom est aube (Naming the Dawn), is forthcoming from Seagull Books, distributed by University of Chicago Press, in spring 2018.



Pierres de Touche


en massant les hommes blessés
leurs corps souffrants
en les lavant soutenant
nourrissant habillant apaisant
j’ai appris à éprouver l’unité profonde de leur être
à faire brèche dans l’horloge humaine
la ligne de crête secouée d’émotions
en montagne on dit que le trajet le plus court
va d’un sommet à l’autre

le chemin du corps
je le parcours en fermant les yeux
et j’aborde
vertèbre après vertèbre
la fine pointe de leur âme
en foulant la terre sainte des os

il y a toujours un soupçon de raison dans leur folie
un brin d’enfance dans l’enclos de leurs cris
j’ai compris qu’on ne peut toucher
sans être touché
douleurs mais encore ceci : extase sur extase
je brûle aussi
là et là
—oui, là


Touchstones


massaging the wounded men
their bodies in dire distress
washing holding
feeding clothing calming
I came to discover the oneness of their being
to make a dent in the human clock
the crested line jolted by emotions
on a mountain range they say the shortest route
goes from one peak to the next

I trace the body’s trail
with my eyes closed
and reach
vertebra after vertebra
the delicate tip of their soul
as I tread on the holy land of bones

there’s always an ounce of sense in their delusions
a hint of youth within their screams
I’ve come to realize you cannot touch
without being touched
suffering all around but still this: rapture upon rapture
I too am ablaze
here and here—
yes, here


Jouvence


ce qui est vrai

éclos d’entre les frais bourgeons naissants
dès cet instant capable de souffle
comme la graine du palmier
la sève qui pousse une noce de transe
où il fait dimanche tous les jours

et le caillot dans l’aorte
le zéphyr sidéral
l’atome des origines onctueuses
l’élan vital qui bouscule tout sur son passage
dos au mur ouvrant la route indéniable
le chemin non tracé
au serpent vert qui avance seul
toujours plus loin de sa mue
au grand dam de l’astre solaire qui ne peut plus
la féconder sur le champ


Juvenescence


what is true

bloomed among new nascent buds
from this moment able to breathe
like the doum palm’s seed
the sap that drives an ecstatic rite
where it’s Sunday every day

the aorta’s clot
the slight sidereal wind
the atom’s unctuous birth
the élan vital that knocks over all in its path
cornered, it opens the way that can’t be denied
the unmapped trail
for the green snake that slithers ahead alone
further still from its molted skin
to the solar star’s great dismay
no longer poised to instantly imbue it with life


Noces


par le regard du Ciel qui vient tomber
au ras de l’humus
et par l’épaisseur d’un silence cheminant
le long du brûlant de l’ombre
le Livre saint est ce dialogue entre le Ciel et la Terre
en mode oraison
au tamis de la raison
solidement plantée en terre
dans la région du Coeur

sans injonctions ni commandements
autres que sa germination dans la récitation
tout le Livre dans la bouche
souffle et chorégraphie
mettant en orbite
le langage animé des abeilles


Wedding


through Heaven’s gaze that comes to fall
level with soil
and through a dense silence winding
the length of the smoldering shade
the Holy Book is where Heaven and Earth converse
in silent devotion
through reason’s sieve
firmly stuck in the earth
in the realm of the Heart

with no ban or command
other than seeding itself through repeated prayers
the complete Book contained in the mouth
choreographs, exhales
propels into orbit
the jazzed-up language of bees


Abeilles


les pétales éperdus du narcisse s’inclinent
en quête de leur reflet
la ronde diurne bascule
en quête de sa moitié
les yeux esseulés de Majnoun
balisent toutes les traces de Layla
le loup qui sommeille en moi
ne dort que d’un oeil


Bees


enraptured narcissus petals bend
in search of their own reflection
the diurnal round spins
in search of its other half
Majnun’s lonely eyes
trace all of Layla’s tracks
the wolf dozing in me
sleeps with only one eye


Translator’s note: Majnun and Layla were star-crossed lovers in a story written in eleventh century Arabia.

Nancy Naomi is a translator, poet, and instructor at the Bethesda Writer’s Center as well as the senior translation editor for Tupelo Quarterly. She holds a Master’s in French Language and Literature, as well as doctorates in Foreign Language Methodology and Counselor Education. Her translations have appeared in The American Poetry Review, Boulevard, FIELD, Harvard Review Online, The Iowa Review, Kenyon Review Online, and New England Review. Her non-translated work has appeared in The Georgia Review, Poetry, Prairie Schooner, and Shenandoah. Her poetry collection, Kings Highway, won the Washington Writers’ Publishing House competition, and Complications of the Heart won the Texas Review Press’ Robert Phillips Poetry Chapbook Prize. Her co-translation of The Dancing Other, a novel by Suzanne Dracius, will be published by Seagull Books in February 2018.


— posted February 2018
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