As Long as Trees Take Root in the Earth

A collage of two images by Alex Majoli, created by Daria Birang. Courtesy of Cherry Trees Gallery (Megève, France).
A collage of two images by Alex Majoli, created by Daria Birang. Courtesy of Cherry Trees Gallery (Megève, France).

To honor Mabanckou on the occasion of his visit to the University of Oklahoma, six graduate students from OU’s Department of Modern Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics—Alex Stewart, Christine Tomte, Fabrice Conte, Hannah Johnson, Hichame Naciri, and Rokiatou Soumaré—translated Mabanckou’s 2003 poem, “Tant que les arbres s’enracineront dans la terre.” The following stanzas conclude the poem.

As Long as Trees Take Root in the Earth

Here comes the reign of men draped in lies
a new Sisyphus mired in resentment
just like apocalyptic beetles
condemned to roll shit as far away as the next bank 

now we find that a wicked word marked by its harmful seed
grows on the innocence of our future

watch out by the light of dawn
for the fatal moment when masks will fall
and we will see colonies of hares
ears erected
false prophets summon Diop
who remains to be read 

false prophets summon Fanon
who remains to be read 

false prophets summon Césaire
who remains to be read

but here is the grand mountain
proud of her height

here is the mountain of the soul,
that silent caretaker of immensity 

here is the mountain that has remained silent for centuries
it only asks for a bit of blue sky
an always-green grass
morning dew
a herd grazing
birds of all species singing
let’s ask the stone where to find Truth
it will tell us that it is in this world
and here only
it is in this world where wind blows
where oceans twist and turn
where waterways split
it is in this world where a dream steps over borders
perforates invisible walls

since the dawn of time
mankind has thought of itself as the superior species
while all day long the tree laughs 

take from earth’s depth
the nectar of its wisdom
swing its branches to signal victory 

to remain human until the end
as long as trees take root in the earth

Translation from the French
By Rokiatou Soumaré


Photo by Shevaun Williams

A prolific francophone poet and novelist, Alain Mabanckou (www.alainmabanckou.com) has been called “the African Samuel Beckett” and “a novelist of exuberant originality” for his wordplay, philosophical bent, and sometimes sly and often absurd sense of humor. A French citizen born in the Republic of the Congo, Mabanckou currently lives in LA, where he teaches literature at UCLA. The author of six volumes of poetry and twelve novels, he is the winner of the Grand Prix de la Littérature 2012 and has received the Sub-Saharan African Literature Prize and the Prix Renaudot. In 2015 Mabanckou was a finalist for the Man Booker International Prize. His books in English include Blue White Red, African Psycho, Broken Glass, Black Bazaar, Tomorrow I Will Be Twenty, Letter to Jimmy, and The Lights of Pointe-Noire.