Translated from the French by A. James Arnold and Clayton Eshleman
 

NOTE

 

          Until now, the five following poems from Césaire’s Solar Throat Slashed (1948) have never been seen in English. The reason is as simple as it is perplexing.  In 1948 Césaire was both a Communist Deputy from Martinique in the French legislature and a major contributor to the international Surrealist movement. Solar Throat Slashed was published by “K,” which in the same year also published a volume by Antonin Artaud. The previous year Césaire participated in the International Surrealist Exposition in Paris. He erased these associations with Surrealism when he reissued an expurgated edition of the book under the title Cadastre / Cadaster in 1961, eliminating 31 of the 72 poems, and editing 29, some severely, some slightly. Césaire’s French-language Oeuvres Complètes contained only a greatly reduced version of the volume, as did the 1983 UC Press edition of the collected poetry translated by Clayton Eshleman and Annette Smith. In short, one of Césaire’s greatest books has never appeared in English at anything close to its full measure. Political commitment was responsible for this erasure, which has obscured Césaire’s early poetics for a half-century.

         We have sought to restore in English the full force and vigor of these poems, as they struck the first generation of readers who were still getting their bearings after World War II. Solar Throat Slashed follows a catastrophic narrative that focuses on the solar deity. Césaire displaces Christianity, which he saw as the handmaiden of colonization, with the cataclysmic force of natural events, which he sees as cleansing the evils of a racist society. (“Lynch 1” seems to evoke something closer to scarfing than to the racist practice; its sexual connotations are found throughout the collection in bawdy evocations of the lower body.)

        We anticipate a thorough re-evaluation of Césaire’s poetry and its significance after the publication of Solar Throat Slashed by Wesleyan University Press in 2011.

—A. James Arnold

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE SUN’S KNIFE-STAB IN THE BACK OF THE SURPRISED CITIES

 

 

And I saw a first animal

it had a crocodile body equine feet a dog’s head but when I looked more closely in place of buboes were scars left at different times by storms on a body long subjected to obscure trials

its head I told you was that of the hairless dogs one sees prowling around the volcanoes in cities that men have not dared to rebuild and that the souls of the dead haunt for all eternity

and I saw a second animal

it was lying beneath a dragon tree from both sides of its musk-deer muzzle two pulp-enflamed rostra stood out like mustaches

I saw a third animal that was an earthworm but a strange will animated the beast with a long narrowness and it stretched out on the ground ceaselessly losing and growing new rings that one would never have thought it strong enough to bear and that pushed life back and forth among them very fast like an obscene password

 

Thus my word unfolded in a glade of pithy, velvet eyelids over which the fastest falling stars breast-fed their she-asses

 

the motley array exploded surrendered by the veins of a nocturnal giantess

oh the house built upon rock the woman ice cube of the bed the catastrophe lost like a needle in a bundle of hay

a rain of onyx and of broken seals fell upon a hillock whose name has never been uttered by any priest of any religion and whose effect can only be compared to a star’s whiplashes on a planet’s rump

on the left deserting the stars to arrange the vever of their numbers the clouds to anchor in no sea their reefs the black heart crouched in the heart of the storm

we built on tomorrow having pocketed the sun’s very violent knife-stab in the back of the surprised cities

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LYNCH 1

 

 

 

Why does spring grab me by the throat? what does it want of me? so what if it does not have enough spears and banners! I jeer at you spring for flaunting your blind eye and your bad breath. Your debauchery your corrupt kisses. Your peacock’s tail makes spirit tables turn with patches of jungle (fanfares of marching sap) but my liver is more acidic and my venefice stronger than your malefice. Lynch it’s 6 PM in the mud of the bayou it’s a black handkerchief fluttering atop a pirate ship mast it’s the strangulation point of a fingernail in the carmine of an interjection it’s the pampa it’s the queen’s ballet it’s the sagacity of science it’s the unforgettable coitus. O lynch salt mercury and antimony! Lynch is the blue smile of a dragon enemy of angels lynch is an orchid too lovely to bear fruit lynch is an entry into matter lynch is the hand of the wind bloodying a forest whose trees are galls brandishing in their hands the living flame of their castrated phalli, lynch is a hand sprinkled with the dust of precious stones, lynch is a release of hummingbirds, lynch is a lapse, lynch is a trumpet blast a broken gramophone record a cyclone’s tail dragged by the pink beaks of raptors. Lynch is a gorgeous chevelure that dread flings into my face lynch is a temple destroyed by roots and gripped by a virgin forest. O lynch loveable companion beautiful squirted eye huge mouth mute unless a jerking there spills the delirium of mucus weave well, lightning bolt, on your loom a continent exploding into islands an oracle contortedly slithering like a scolopendra a moon settling in the breech the sulfur peacock ascending in the succinct murderess-hole of my assassinated hearing.















PASSWORD

 

 

 

Zealand I fall in with your mood

Zealand that only gives me time to stow in the armoire of my throat all the words with which I had caught the days in the trap of a gutless calendar

Zealand at the bottom of the shipwreck

Zealand with ground all around piled high with carapaces

Zealand of the zinnia rose window

Zealand vibratory eyelash of innocence

Zealand whose eyes are a watch stopped at an illegible hour

Zealand tempest badly laced with black across the fire of the earth

Zealand password

Zealand Star of Bethlehem

Zealand antipodal concurrence

Zealand do not interrogate me

Zealand I no longer know my name

in the morning leaf roller of the first force of the first wreckage of the final dawn

our teeth shall bound from an earth up to the height of a cinnamon and clove sky

you shall open your eyelids that are a very beautiful fan

made of feathers reddened from watching my blood throb

a triumphant season of the rarest essential oils

this shall be your hair

swinging the nostalgia of long cassia in the puerile wind

















THE TORNADO

 

 

By the time that

the senator noticed that the tornado was sitting in his plate

on fat beet buttocks

with the sliced sausage of its thighs

lecherously crossed

the tornado was in the air foraging through Kansas City

By the time that

the minister spotted the tornado in the blue eye of the sheriff’s wife

it was outside displaying to everybody its huge face

stinking like ten thousand niggers crammed into a train

in the time that it took for the tornado to guffaw into a whore’s vagina

it performed over everything a nice laying-on-of-hands those beautiful white clerical hands

In the time that it took God to notice

that he had drunk one hundred glasses of executioner blood too many

the city was a brotherhood of white and black spots scattered in cadavers on the hide of a

horse felled at full gallop

In the time that it took for the tornado to write a detective novel the tornado wearing its

cowboy hat seized hold of it shouting HANDS UP in the loud empty voice that God

employs when speaking to chickens—and everything trembles and the tornado twisted

the steel and birds were falling thunderstruck from the sky

And the tornado having suffered the provinces of the memory rich debris of the executed

spat from a sky stored full of judgments everything trembled for a second time the twisted

steel was retwisted

And the tornado that had gobbled up like a flight of frogs its herd of roofs and chimneys noisily exhaled a thought the prophets had never known how to divine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TORTURE

 

 

All those whose hearts are an inkblot in a child’s copybook all those whose word is an embrace broken in a final effort of terrestrial gigantism

either manifesting on their hands a moon scored by the friction of glacial moraines or showing in their gait an evil serpent that by right of initiation crosses a zebra of circles and ellipses

All those who know how to show on imperial purple great blots of dark sperm accompanied by a diagram of their fall

all those whose fingers are an unprecedented sumptuousness of butterflies curved according to the earth’s axis

O all those whose gaze is a carousel of birds born of a superhuman balance of sponges and of fragments from a galaxy extinguished beneath a small railway station’s heel.

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