A collection of serial poems, Think of Lampedusa addresses the 2013 shipwreck that killed 366 Africans attempting to migrate secretly to Lampedusa, an Italian island in the Mediterranean Sea. The crossing from North Africa to this island and other Mediterranean way stations has become the most dangerous migrant route in the world. Interested in what is producing such epic displacement, Josué Guébo’s poems combine elements of history and mythology. Guébo considers the Mediterranean not only as a literal space but also as a space of expectation, anxiety, hope, and anguish for migrants. He meditates on the long history of narratives and bodies trafficked across the Mediterranean Sea. What did it—and what does it—connect and separate? Whose sea is it? Ultimately he is searching for what motivates a person to become part of what he calls a “seasonal suicide epidemic.” This translation of Guébo’s Songe à Lampedusa, winner of the Tchicaya U Tam’si Prize for African Poetry, is a searing work from a major African poet.
About the Author
Josué Guébo is an Ivorian poet and the author of seven poetry collections. He is a professor at the University of Félix Houphouët–Boigny of Cocody in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. He served as president of the Ivorian Writers’ Association from 2011 to 2016. Todd Fredson is a translator of Francophone West African literature and translated Guébo’s poetry collection My country, tonight.He is the author of the poetry collectionThe Crucifix-Blocks. John Keene is an associate professor and the chair of African American and African studies at Rutgers. He is the author of the poetry collection Seismosis and the novel Annotations.
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I will tell you for the last time my history, my wave I have dreamed of you as one dreams of an eye without an eyelid A story alive within these nights where I rest with my eyes peeled My hope tangled on these roadsides I dreamed about you like one dreams simply of a hand or of day Light Dreamed of morning where the day relies on the raft's flame a flame in agreement with all these hearts proceeding under venetian blinds that have faded with the discord Even what the blinds bar will wind its way into rays of accord Newly recomposed the day and the night sometimes the morning survive by just a flame but this dawn would be everything It broadcasts the celebratory evenings the nights in joy morning on its way I would confess to this dawn a hundred times the shaky lines of this decision the arabesque of my flight the field of my exhausted signs I am on the sea brushing against those that the noise of the waves consoles!
Sè ni mon-ni gougouli Sè non houn hoo
Sè ni mon-ni gougouli Sè non houn hoo
A song of frustrated love that conjures the will to dance even against these salvos of rejection Song of a wasted meeting there with flowers in hand And out in the Djiboua Woods like Stockholm syndrome nothing ever annoys nothing ever revolts not the whores sucking crucifixes nor those blind and gluttonous for their striptease Nothing irritates not even mosquito-y administrative attachés not even those bed-sore from falling asleep in the throne There in the Djiboua Woods far from the waves of my new home nothing could ever be so normal a dog smoking its joint a termite nest taking its tea a crab in fitted coat Nothing could ever be so normal and the seasons smoke their cigarettes and the blubbering stars and the flirtatious trees Nothing but an open-armed welcome for cyclones and thunderstorms hail thirst and hunger the bananas spawning offspring the kids sniffing glue the breath of those shepherds who want to fuck their flocks Even the amnesic storytellers are welcomed joyfully in a song of triumph A rattlesnake is not like a slide trombone any more than an ithy-
And the stopwatch would lob a sun higher than sundials can catch this immoderate line always open to the capturing of words The pollens of logic hatch the word of life from the wave that still puts seeds warm into the soil Again on this night like the previous at Lampedusa a nondescript heart would open its hands to the disposable people In the scramble and howl of outrage its hands would be overloaded Ten centuries of brotherhood These hands sing Esperanto with the solemn tone of a requiem But the hands are nothing more than desire led astray across shipping lanes That heart's hands have received a mission to carry mankind's dreams across the open sea and here distracted by seasickness have become immobile And along our coasts full of remorse these hands desire to fill their pits as if sails now hunting after imaginary pirates The hands are not mast or rudder To compensate the man lost they'd lead the way to the woman loved or serve as jacket to swaddle the relieved child The hands cradle the child Not having a pied-à-terre my drifting heart goes to them whose breath has stopped With abandon and no headwind stirrups for my feet I'd be adventurer wind and brother of the wind Adventurer My cloud of sheets is fastened by ropes that are also my aspirations Moorings slack against that pasty statue of boredom A life unveils itself like a halo across the expanse of this instant Always this thirst for what's ahead this hunger for what we've left Even our happiness makes itself an invisible barrier from second to second Turn the page in every sense so no letter is written no line lacks luster More than the words of sedition more than the edicts of the tribunes hunger harangues these crowds Hunger entertains with tales of mountains of marvels Harraga One who burns his papers Gamblers with memory scratch out adolescence redact childhood Days at half-mast The auto-da-fé
Excerpted from "Think of Lampedusa"
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Table of Contents
Introduction by John Keene Translator’s Note Think of Lampedusa Notes