From Monchoachi’s ‘Mistry
(Black and Blue Partition

translated by Patricia Hartland

re-flect, the no not

Bird feet in swamp water,

            stilt-topped, chase-in-chase,

            and behind lashes long


                        pearls basined in the gold half-calabash;

Butterflies resting in the rice paddy,

            shea flowers sun-setting, outspread;

Flocks emerge

                        innumerable and silken-skinned float ‘long the dsivoa banks:

Infinite sweet all-mirroring,

                        ah! to keep intact the grain of light!

                        ah! to cherish the shining thing!


And behind the bulrushes the shadows transpire,

                        Time and desire,

                                                suppose your mother and your father…

                        the two flaps opened for the march of the luminous,

                                    carnelian and malachite,

                                    carnelian and topaz,

                                    topaz and turquoise,

                                    two canal gates gaped wide,

                                    red crowns separated,

                                    affairs arranged,

                                    the god choir masta’ comes curved,

                        wellbless’d wellhung mercymight,

                        behind the bulrushes the vanities vanish:

                        Time and profusion,

                        (your filth, the shit in your head [!]

                        forgets the hours!)

Behind the bulrushes the lions thirst-quench,

                        fine honey and milk,

                        milk and mead,

                        and sprigs of spurges,

They do things (all kinds)

                        stand and lay,

                        lay and lay loose,

                        lay and sit,

                        go and come,

                        arrange water (and) air,

Do all kinds they do,

                        “polygamy is wealth-mark”


Shaved heads of the women Masaï,

                        jewels fine, bracelets of kawper heft,

                        garments of dried herbs, “knotted grasses,

                        and gold button sorts”;

Men, for their part go naked

                        here: mineral and vegetable, there: animal

                                                            “the triple-crowned pope.”

Behind the bulrushes, Reason falls,

                                    falls Time and quintessence,

                                    speeches fr’get th’ waat’r, fr’get dlo,

                                    knowledge cake’d in dry urth, with no water

With no offering, the waters run dry;

                        water offering in deep-thought tremble,

A water gift is a stunned gift


                                                                        and dream;

Behind the bulrushes, the beauty named Beauty has draped herself in excess,

                        (the god’s sanctuary is a potiche in mist-shroud)     

                                                eyes lined antimony blue,

                                                lips kola reddened

                                                body henna dusted.

Under the breeze, the ship is rigged,

                                                                        her prow,

                                                                        her stern,

                                                                        her two oarlocks,

                                                                        her masthead,

                                                                        her ribs,

                                                                        rudder and rudder support,

                                                                        crow’s nest,

                                                                        mooring line;

Behind the bulrushes, the swamp waters

                                                                        see unseeing, calm,


All that arrives does pass, does mist and dissipate

gives it NOTHING

            NO NOT

                        exists and is seen only in its own reflection:

                                                common dwelling,

                                                singular wisdom, singular will.





Rien, le reflet


Pattes d’oiseau dans l’eau des marais,

            longues échasses en chasse,

            et derrière longs cils, 


                        perles en fon coui d’or ;

Libellules au repos dans rizière,

            fleurs karité irradient couchant ;

Troupeaux émergent

                        innombrables au poil soyeux sur berge dsivoa :

Infinie douceur en quoi tout se mire,

                        ah ! préserver intact le grain de lumière !

                        ah ! garder précieuse la chose qui rutile !


Et derrière les joncs les ombres lâchent prise,

                        Temps et convoitise,  

                                                suppose your mother and your father…

                        les deux battant ouverts pour la marche du lumineux,

                                    cornaline et malachite,

                                    cornaline et topaze,

                                    topaze et turquoise,

                                    deux ventaux porte canal ouverts,

                                    couronnes rouges séparées,

                                    disposées affaires,

                                    le dieu mait’ chapelle vient courbé,

                        bienhéré bienmonté grémèci,

                        derrière les joncs les vanité s’évanouissent :

                        Temps et profusion,

                        (ta saleté, ce qui est dans ton crane !

                        oublie les heures !)

Derrière les joncs les lions se désaltèrent,

                                    miel fin et lait,

                                    lait et hydromel,

                                    et brin malonmen,

Y font des choses (toutes sortes)

                                    se lèvent et se couchent,

                                    se couchent et se soient,

                                    se couchent et s’assissent

                                    vont et viennent,

                                    disposent eau (et) air,

Font toutes sortes,

                                    « polygamie est marque richesse »


Têtes rasées des femmes Masai,

                                    riches parures, lourds bracelets tchouive,

                                    vêtements d’herbe sèche, « nœuds dans herbe,

                                    et sorte  boutons l’or » ;


Hommes, leur côté, vont nus :

                                    ici le minéral et le végétal, là l’animal,

                                                            « la triple couronne du pape ».


Derrière les joncs, Raison tombe,

                                                tombe Temps et quintessence,

                                                parole qui blié dleau

                                                savoir encayé en tè sec, sans eau,

Sans offrande, les eaux tarissent ;

                        offrande d’eau est dans contemplation frémissante,

Don d’eau est don saisissement

                                                                                    et rêve ;

Derrière les joncs, la belle surnommée « la Belle » s’est parée d’outrance,

                        (c’est la potiche embrumée qui est le sanctuaire du dieu)

                                                            yeux bordes bleu antimoine,

                                                            lèvres rougies kola,

                                                            corps saupoudre henné.


Sous la brise, la barge est gréée,

                                                            sa proue,                                

                                                            sa poupe,

                                                            ses deux tolets,

                                                            sa tète de mat,

                                                            ses membrures,

                                                            gouvernail et support gouvernail,

                                                            perches sondage,

                                                            amarre proue ;


Derrière les joncs, l’eau des marais

                                                            voit sans voir, impassible,

                                                            JEUX MARMOTS,

Tout ce qui arrive, passe, se brouille et se dissipe

Lui appartient  RIEN

                        n’existe et n’est visible que dans son reflet :

                                                demeure commune,

                                                unique savoir, unique vouloir. 



Monchoachi was born in 1946 on the island of Martinique. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Prix Carbet de la Caraïbe et du Tout-Monde and the Prix Max Jacob. In 2007 he founded the Lakouzémi project, an annual gathering of writers, dancers, performers, and activists—together they vivify history and generate meaningful, actioned community. 


Patricia Hartland writes poems and translates, and is a PhD student in Comparative Literature. Their translations of Monchoachi’s ‘MISTRY are forthcoming with The Operating System and Ugly Duckling Presser’s.