Venus Khoury-Ghata

Country: France Lebanon
Language(s): French
[Once she had a book]

Once she had a book
whose lines furled east to west like Siberian trains
Black smoke erupted from its pages when sentences tangled,
some hurtling into each other,
some conjoined, a small group that decided
to reach the word end before dark

He was an indoor book
fearful of winds that could fill him with sadness, with ill-spoken words
He recognized the woman by her smell: cumin and ink

She laughed with him
slept with him
her finger tapping in the darkness of his alphabet, paused in the same delirious

A book in tatters walks down the village’s only street
the shoemaker adds a sole to the sentence that limps
the blacksmith offers a horseshoe to avert the evil eye
and the teacher teaches the first three letters

She had a second dream three nights before the great harvest: Her book sewn into the coffin waiting outside her door

Translated from French by Cheney Crow.


[He told stories the way you peel a fruit]

He told stories the way you peel a fruit
his tale unrolled in no time like an orange peel

Even his silences were recorded
The public scribe took them down in wobbly lines borrowed from the blind

The ears of his audience being all the same size
they sorted out the true from the false
hung the former from their ceiling alongside garlic braids
and threw the rest to dogs and beggars

Women who listened to him filled their jugs with his speech
and spilled it out in their beds wavering in the lamplight
certain that he’d speak for as long a time as they slept

Translated from French by Marilyn Hacker.