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Account of the Voyage

Récit du voyage
by Khal Torabully
Translated from French by
Nancy Naomi Carlson

The sea gravitates toward my signal lamp
by the tall mast of shadows and stars
and I was a man at history’s tribunal
when genesis had the jarring voice
of a Bengal tiger giving birth
and I was a man until torn apart
when recounting with steady words
the great journey erasing legends

But the sea was reopened, the sea
was broken by a rudder’s thrust
at a harbor’s entry without a country

But the waves drew the mermaids
toward the portholes, toward the single fault
in my ship’s vast mirror

Before the fire was lit
for the dead before dawn
dark-skinned corpses were poured onto decks
before their chance to flee the ports
before they headed north to flee the pores
But the sea in my soul is vast
and my ship’s only davit is broken
I was on the prowl on the prow, I was
above the sky and below flesh

At dawn a specter took offense
at the mysteries of mirrorless skin
and I said flesh was more than memory
syllable more than writing
and my absence itself a migration
through other bodies of coral flesh

So sad was my other self who reeled
before memories’ genesis:
what happened to things washed ashore
and the rush of a moon on the waves?

What happened to my schoolboy slate
and the silence of night on the quays?

Without roundabout routes, I was arabesque-man
and your journeys and seas and dhows
and your compasses, beacons and maps
your stars counted before Love?

The fetus in my trunk bled one night
before even decreeing death
but the sea presided over the candles
and always comes back
to the only origins of day—
never looking the same.



Original text: Torabully, Khal. “Récit du voyage” from Cale d’étoiles (Cargo Hold of Stars). Saint Denis, Reunion: Azalées Editions, 1992.

Khal Torabully, from Mauritius, writing in French and Mauritian Creole, is a prize-winning poet, essayist, film director, and semiologist who has authored some 25 books, and coined the term “coolitude,” much in the same way that Aimé Césaire developed the concept of negritude.
Nancy Naomi Carlson has authored ten titles (six translated). A recipient of two literature translation grants from the NEA, she was a finalist for both the “Best Translated Book Award” and the CLMP Firecracker Poetry Award. CARGO HOLD OF STARS: COOLITUDE, her translations of Khal Torabully, is forthcoming this year from Seagull Books. She was awarded the rank of Chevalier in the Order of the French Academic Palms. For more information, please visit