Four Poems from “I Give Thanks to the @” by Souad Labbize, translated from the French by Susanna Lang

silhouette, sylvaf

tctc_lettersThird Coast Translators Collective is an international community of literary translators. Our members share resources, mentor one another, workshop projects in progress, facilitate pathways to publication, and foster a sense of belonging and excitement about the profession. We seek to build relationships with other literary and cultural organizations in Chicago and to become a valuable point of reference for international literature. This is the first in an occasional series featuring translations by members of TCTC.

Translator’s note

Very committed to the cause of equality between genders, Algerian-born Souad Labbize writes in the name of all women who choose exile in order to affirm their independence. This sequence of poems from Je rends grâce à l’arobase (I Give Thanks to the @, Les Ecrits 9, 2017) is characteristic of the poet’s work, in that it weaves her ache for those exiled from Palestine with her longing for the beloved.

Grant me asylum
in the timbre of your voice

territory of exile
of the absent/present
invisible on the map
from the Negev to Sinai

fallen from the flag
will they have taken
the crescent with them

is it reasonable
for them to find refuge
in a harmonious chord

between the quarter tones
stream Bedouin shades
searching for their bodies

is it possible that Jafra*
is among them

I love keeping watch             
for the @ of your address                  
a nonchalant snail
coiled between your name
and your virtual home

I know he loves the sea
and drags his sadness
along a vanished pier
of an abandoned port
between Acre and Jaffa

does he dream of another destiny
an oud’s life
suited to his shell

while he recharges
he neglects his job
as an ethereal mailman

*Note: In Palestinian culture a Jafra is a woman from Akka, a symbol of Palestine.

Accorde-moi l’asile
dans le timbre de ta voix

territoire d’errance
des absents présents
invisibles sur la carte
du Néguev au Sinaï

tombés du drapeau
auraient-ils dans leur chute
emporté le croissant

est-il raisonnable                                           
qu’ils trouvent refuge
dans un accord mélodieux

entre les quarts de ton
affluent des ombres bédouines
à la recherche de leurs corps

est-il possible que Jafra
soit parmi elles

J’aime guetter
l’@ de ton adresse
escargot nonchalant
lové entre ton nom
et ta demeure virtuelle

je sais qu’il aime la mer
qu’il traîne sa mélancolie
sur un quai disparu
d’un port abandonné
entre Acre et Jaffa

rêve-t-il d’un autre destin
d’une vie de luth
qui sied à sa coquille

pendant qu’il se ressource
il oublie son travail
de facteur éphémère

You often visit
each city
where my heart opens
an embassy

The poem gorged with light
the one I haven’t started
mocks my weak will

leaning against the wall
it crosses its legs to wait
near the blackboard
filled with virtuous resolutions

I get ready to go out
it leads the way
with its flashlight

I cross a bridge
it ties my sneaker laces
forces me to admit
the city’s landmarks
are illuminated
by your stopover in my thoughts

I dreamed of you my love
it’s unusual for me to remember
unfinished dreams

a silhouette approached
its features becoming clearer
I begged the dream’s guardian
to allow you time
to arrive

Tu voyages souvent
dans chaque ville
mon cœur ouvre
une ambassade

Le poème gorgé de lumière
que je n’écris pas
se moque de mes velléités

il attend jambes croisées
adossé au mur
près de l’ardoise
des bonnes résolutions

je m’apprête à sortir
il me précède
avec sa lampe torche

je passe sur un pont
il noue ensemble
les lacets de mes baskets
m’oblige à constater
que les repères de la ville
s’illuminent de ton séjour
dans mes pensées

J’ai rêvé de toi mon aimée
c’est inhabituel de me souvenir
des rêves inachevés

une silhouette approchait
les traits se précisaient
j’ai prié le gardien du rêve
de te laisser le temps

If you are cold
in your house
far from my hands
come near the crackling flames
where your fears blaze

Only an acre  
of your voice
a melodic bar or two
that you could spare
for my exiled worksite
you see
I feel like building
a land of consolation
for the rest of us
specks of dust
disinherited by the light

Si tu as froid
dans ta maison
loin de mes mains
approche du bûcher
où crépitent tes doutes

Rien qu’une parcelle
de ta voix
un segment mélodique
que tu céderas
à mes chantiers d’exil
j’ai le goût de bâtir
un pays de consolation
peuplé de nous autres
poussière d’individus
déshérités de la lumière

I’ll climb to the top
of the firebreak
don’t come too quickly
give me time
to admire the vista
while I think of you

The baby amazed
by the play of her fingers
teaches me magic
I learn to contain
in the bowl of my hands
your voice
archipelago of volcanic islands

Yoked to the echoes
of your voice
the church bell on my block
strains to mimic
the sweet call
of a lost minaret

J’irai sur le sommet
du coupe-feu
ne viens pas trop vite
laisse-moi le temps
d’admirer le paysage
en pensant à toi

Le bébé émerveillé
par le jeu de ses doigts
m’initie à la magie
j’apprends à contenir
dans le bol de mes mains
ta voix archipel
d’îlots volcaniques

Attelé à la rémanence
de ta voix
le clocher de ma rue
s’exerce à imiter
le doux appel
d’un minaret disparu


Born in Algeria in 1965, Souad Labbize lived in Germany and Tunisia before moving to Toulouse, France. She has published a novel, J’aurais voulu être un escargot(Seguier 2011and several poetry collections, including Brouillons amoureux(Éditions des Lisières 2018)and most recently Je franchis les barbelés. (Éditions Bruno Doucey 2019). The Centre Méditerranéen de Littérature honored this last publication with the 2020 Prix de la Méditerranée de la Poési.

Susanna Lang’s translations of poetry by Yves Bonnefoy include Words in Stone, and she has published translations of poems and essays by Nohad Salameh, Souad Labbize, and Yves Bonnefoy in such journals as World Literature Today, New Directions Publishing, New Poetry in Translation, Transference, and The Literary Review. Her third collection of poems, Travel Notes from the River Styx, was published in 2017 by Terrapin Books. Her original poems have appeared in such publications as Little Star Journal, Prairie Schooner, december, American Life in Poetry,and The Slowdown. She lives and teaches in Chicago.