for Aimé Césaire

I feel like I look ridiculous
in their shoes
in their tuxedo
in their dickey
in their detachable collar
in their monocle
in their bowler
I feel like I look ridiculous
with my toes that aren’t made
to sweat from morning till night that undresses
with the swaddling that weakens my limbs
and takes from my body its loincloth beauty
I feel like I look ridiculous
with my factory chimney neck
with these headaches that stop
each time I greet someone
I feel like I look ridiculous
in their salons
in their manners
in their bowing and scraping
in their manifold need for simpering
I feel like I look ridiculous
with everything they say
until in the afternoon they serve you
a bit of hot water
and sickly cakes
I feel like I look ridiculous
with the theories they season
to the taste of their needs
of their passions
of their instincts open at night
in the shape of a doormat
I feel like I look ridiculous

an accomplice among them
a pimp among them
a slasher among them
my hands horribly red












Despite the Sarcasm of Some

Despite the sarcasm of some
despite the indulgence of others
and to the detriment of some
and to the great displeasure of others
may it please my soul
momentarily bared
to post on the walls and other parts of the city
to scream my head off from the city’s roofs
down with EVERYTHING
long live NOTHING
how will some
how will the others react with—
with all their sarcasm
with with all their indulgence













for Vashti and Mercer Cook

It’s no good—I gulp seven swallows of water
three to four times every twenty-four hours
but my childhood comes back
in a hiccup shaking my instinct
like the cop shakes the punk
speak to me of disaster
speak of it to me
My mother wanting a son with very good table manners
Hands on the table
bread is not cut
bread is broken
bread is not wasted
the bread of God
the bread of the sweat of your Father’s brow
bread of bread
A bone is eaten with moderation and discretion
a stomach must be social
and every social stomach
does without belching
a fork is not a toothpick
do not blow your nose
so that everyone can see
or hear
and also sit up straight
nose high up
do not mop your plate
And also and also
and also in the name of the Father
the Son
and the Holy Spirit
at the end of each meal
And also and also
and also disaster
speak to me of disaster
speak of it to me
My mother wanting a memorandum from a son

If your history lesson is not learned
you will not go to mass
in your Sunday clothes
This child will be the shame of our name
this child will be our name of God
Be quiet
Have I not told you that you must speak French
the French of France
the French of the Frenchman
the French French
speak to me of disaster
speak of it to me
My mother wanting a son
son of his mother
You did not greet the neighbor
your shoes dirty again
and if I catch you again in the street
in the grass or in the bush
in the shadow of the Monument to the Dead
romping with So-and-So
with So-and-So who was not baptized
speak to me of disaster
speak of it to me
My mother wanting a son very do
very re
very mi
very fa
very sol
very la
very ti
very do
I’ve heard that you are still not
practicing your vi-o-lin

A banjo
a banjo you say
what do you mean
a banjo
do you really mean
a banjo
No sir
you know that in this house we do not tolerate
neither ban
nor jo
nor gui
nor tar
the “mulattos” do not do that
leave it then for the “Negroes”









A brief description of our process:

We would each do a draft, and then meet to discuss the “sticky” points at length—how to translate unusual words or turns of phrase, the intentionally ungrammatical—being careful not to smooth out the rough patches in the original but to register them in English as an important feature, a bristliness that resists reduction, just as the poet himself speaks of being irreducible despite attempts to appropriate or assimilate him, and sometimes in spite of himself.








Molly Weigel‘s translation of Jorge Santiago Perednik’s Shock of the Lenders and Other Poems received the 2013 PEN Poetry in Translation Prize and her translation of Oliverio Girondo’s In the Moremarrow was shortlisted for the 2014 BTBA (both published by Action Books). She has published poems in Burning House Press, EOAGH!, and The Volta (They Will Sew the Blue Sail); translations in Burning House Press, West Branch, and Mantis; and critical essays in The Volta and Jacket 2, among others.

Erik Greb is a poet and translator whose poems have appeared in the French journal Vocatif. He studied philosophy and works as a journalist covering clinical research in neurologic disorders. He is an avid guitarist.