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from the January 2019 issue

Celebration of the Absent One

In this ode to the late Assia Djebar, Habib Tengour remembers Algeria through her voice. 


Listen to Habib Tengour read "Celebration of the Absent One" in the original French.

For Eliane, Mireille, and Regina

                                  We dreamed of a phlegmatic life for you
                                  of sleep and siestas
                                  sweet things, an honorable luxury
                                  a carpet of rich flowers at your feet
                                 
to put your fears to sleep 
                                           —Malek Alloula, The Exercise of the Senses  

                                  Death’s dust has disrobed you even of your soul
                                           —Pierre Jean Jouve, Matière céleste 


A

Algeria
      whose whiteness flowed into lead
A black decade / years of blood
Rupture              Algeria, la Maison Blanche 
Austere welcome of the patriarch in his tight-fitting borrowed
suit 
who knew the rites of passage
       the institution’s stringent checks
Arrivals and departures both distressing


S

Songbirds, the innocent larks at the border of Saint-Cloud
So many memories Eliane told me
Simple choices        solid ties
Impatience to know the city’s every corner
Thirsty beneath the blinking neon 
But you always did your homework


S

Slip from the frame to shape the film
A new world opening in the red 
Salutary progression where you speak and
Give voice to peasant women joyously
Telling their stories
A thirst to speak
You burst through the screen 


I

Impatient red desire      the dazzling meeting
                                 Passage Camels
Impatient to live


A

All that black: no sooner liberated
Medina’s women excluded from the procession
Disinherited 
Denial of the Messenger’s daughter 

Rue Eugène Vartan How vast the prison 

The world is not a film set 


D

Disillusion, pain, on the horizon’s eighty degrees
Disappearance of the French language 
Debacle, that will not let you rest until you
Drift where the word carries you 


J

Joyous days standing to sing the country
Algeria the Fortunate setting itself free 
Erasure of all trace
Of ancient Caesarea the smell of the sea without armor
And mute absinthe 


E

Emerald at the foot of the lions’ mountain
Oran scoffs at the chiaroscuro of a gaze
To each his own shamelessness 
Another Rimitti makes amends
The minotaur basks in the sun on the Cintra’s terrace 


B

Brawling and fantasia keep a memory alive
You transcribe its austere narrative
From rags of the massacre
Weave the story’s brightness 


A

Abdelkader roars on the Place d’Armes 
The theater is open 
White with all those dead calling us to order
The kingdom of shadows has no taste 


R

Rest     you too
Return in peace, O soul 
The father’s house is a living language
Open to guests passing through 

 

“Célébration de l’absente” © Habib Tengour. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2019 by Marilyn Hacker. All rights reserved.

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