From Canto I

In the third pinnace

(that of the women)

another custom prevails

Four among them have dived beneath the waterline

in order to patch up the hull

Others bail out the rising water with calabashes

Beneath a canopy a lovely lady

has her russet hair braided and finds distraction

in observing her lady friend’s massage

while three girls relentlessly try to catch fish

Apart from the rest is the one whose belly refuses seed

and who wished to offer her ordeal and her youth

to repay an old debt

in truth contracted by others long ago

Which is to say that despite the breaches and cracks

she hold back the swell this tertian pirogue

that strives and toils

There is laughter prayer rowing

There are wisecracks aplenty about men

and every kind of song:

even death is derided

and unabashedly

From Canto II

Sire recall the sandy esplanade

which had to be bargained for at the river mouth

to build and caulk out almadies

amass our provisions lodge our squads

Recall the crowd that gathered on the shore:

first came blacksmiths fishermen woodworkers

who all season long would work themselves sore

Then upstream there were trees taken down

to float their enormous trunks down

—but only those whose brown veins ripple

those whose purple sap tastes like seaweed and salt

and whose leaves like a sail embrace the wind

(For what is a tree pray tell whose green desire

for open seas does not storm the sky…)

Received upon arrival by the ax-masters

their hearts were hollowed out to beating drums

And the rough shape of each hull

was clamped in a vise and put to the flame

—the prows for their part were finish with an adze

Meanwhile ropemakers potters and weavers

toting their several talents had arrived

And coarse bark was stripped from baobabs

to make ropes and moorings of them

The seeds were taken from the shea trees

and from the kapoks their fine silk-cotton

to seal the slightest breach between the plans

Since some pitch was also needed

saps and oils were blended into jugs

Pigments of all kinds were ground

to paint above the quickwork prettily

and to trace withal signs and oaths

Cages and creels and fyke nets were made

anchors spare oars shifting boards

coffers duckboards plumes

and the gods only know what else

With all your help then let the scene be set

with a few formulas a refrain an epithet

till I’m back on my feet and catch my breath


Be on the look out for a book feature on this collection next week!

From THE NEVERENDING QUEST FOR THE OTHER SHORE: AN EPIC IN THREE CANTOS (La quête infinie de l’autre rive. Épopée en trois chants) by Sylvie Kandé, published by Wesleyan Univeristy Press. English translation Copyright © 2022 by Alexander Dickow.

Buy The Neverending Quest for the Other Shore: An Epic in Three Cantos: Amazon