Souéloum Diagho trans. André Naffis-Sahely: Exile gnaws at me

Exile gnaws at me

Exile gnaws at me, the world’s negligence irks me.

So distant from my memories, my people fight, their eyes tanned by the sun, their gazes fixed on the desert encampments, the perfume of nostalgia weighs down my thoughts, pain desiccates my heart, like a flower you try to keep alive despite the lack of its mother’s sap. Worries have carved deep grooves into my brow, like the ripples the wind leaves on the sand-dunes. Miracles and equality lie far from our valleys, what remains is the hardest of ordeals, like traveling along cliff-edges, or enduring the suave bitterness that lingers in the mouth of an abandoned invalid. Hundreds of steps are left on the journey to where the demon first emerged, the demon who cast a shadow over nomadic life, like the darkness swallows the light of day. This journey isn’t over, brothers, anguish binds us, fear strips us naked, like dead leaves torn during a savage storm. Pain is my mantle, I dance in the flames that devour my dreams before they surge out of my soul. So many tears have been shed to water the plant that refuses to grow. I searched through endless universes for answers to questions put to me, yet nothing could soothe my sorrow or stifle the groans of my overwhelming journey, nothing except for promises written in air which lingered unsolved. The voices of boys and girls intertwined with the wind lost themselves in oblivion, words of praise blended with the perfume of warriors brandishing their swords is now nothing but a nightmare. Only a few fragments of poetic license remain to keep a few memories alive. Life is nothing but a mirage, my friends, nothing is absolute except for the face of the master who controls everything.


Souéloum Diagho is a contemporary poet from northern Mali.

André Naffis-Sahely is the author of The Promised Land: Poems from Itinerant Life (Penguin, 2017). His first poetry pamphlet, The Other Side of Nowhere, has just been published by Rough Trade Books. His translations include twenty titles of fiction, poetry and nonfiction, featuring works by Honoré de Balzac, Émile Zola, Abdellatif Laâbi, Tahar Ben Jelloun and Alessandro Spina. Several have been featured as ‘Books of the Year’ in The Guardian, Literary Hub and NPR.

Note: This poem is excerpted from The Heart of a Stranger: An Anthology of Exile Literature (Pushkin, 2019).

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