Two Poems by Ketty Nivyabandi

translated by Shook
Photo by Gwaga
Photo by Gwaga

Little Men 

Animals no longer speak
Drums refuse to beat
Tanganyika slowly retreats 
From her shores
Bloodied by the nightmare of men
Whose pettiness pierces
The deep slumber of the ancients.
Little men with the hunger of giants
They talk, they talk endlessly
In the name of simple folks
Whose names and afflictions they ignore
But who nonetheless
Stare at them with the disdain of countless curses
They erect statues of dust
In their homes aglow with shadow
And tracked with muddy footprints . . .
They talk, they talk endlessly
In the name of a people
Whom they mercilessly loot
It rains wounding, belittling words
From the mouths of their six-headed bellies,  

Cold and sterile words 
Who flay the flesh of a choking land
with their long, forked nails
Who savagely suck her withering breasts 
For a few blood-red drops of life 

Animals no longer spea
Drums refuse to beat
The sun mourns its glowing rays
Ever since strange men
Men of small ideas
Men of small actions
Men of small ambitions
Men empty of imagination
Hoisted each other on tiny shoulders
And from the crest of their wreckage
Blindfolded a small land
Shadowed by the tint of dusk that,
Once upon a time,
Dreamed of becoming great.

Emerald Dunes

From the depths of misty silences
The night’s last secrets are enfolded
Within the numb necks of old roosters
While the watchmen shamefully doze
Great women rise up,
Skies bend down at the sight
The four corners of the earth
But most of all, most of all
The burning sun who, having circled
The world every night
Dozes in their swollen breasts
There have been many others,
More famous, too
But never more elegant
One by one they rise
And unleash
A long velvety tongue 
That slowly unrolls
It’s not that they are the most beautiful
Sparkling like banana and eucalyptus
With these silver blades that tilt down
And drape over their breast each morning 
And these epics ascending from their meager huts
It’s only fair that they belong to me 
Flowing through the streams of my veins
Yesterday and tomorrow
Emerald dunes
Bleeding over the lines of my palms.


Translations from the French
By David Shook

Poet and essayist Ketty Nivyabandi was born in Belgium in 1978. She currently lives and works in her hometown, Bujumbura, Burundi. Her poetry, written mostly in French, has appeared online and in several anthologies. In 2012 Nivyabandi was selected to represent Burundi in the London Poetry Parnassus as part of the Summer Olympics. She is working on her first poetry collection.

Shook’s most recent book-length translations include Jorge Eduardo Eielson’s Room in Rome, a finalist for the PEN Award. Their forthcoming books include a new translation of Mario Bellatin’s Beauty Salon and a collection of Spanish-language poetry, Atlas estelar.