On the Hilltop

translated by Todd Fredson

On the hilltop
A woman said to me
This fruit is called kam
I take the word as it comes
I write it in my memory
Like the three letters in the word vie*

The word gave me the key to the world
I learned to climb to the sky
Without drawing the shores
From which the sheep I imagine
Drown themselves in the sea

Since that time
I’ve been drawing ladders
A child’s game
To keep the world
At your fingertips
And I dream that I am a poet
But I don’t know

Translation from the French

Translator’s note: Vie means life, but kam is an untranslatable word, perhaps a sacred word, so adding a fourth letter to kam in order to match the four-letter translation of vie to “life” feels inappropriate. I leave it as I find it.

Tanella Boni is one of the most prominent figures in modern African literature. Boni’s 2004 novel Matins de couvre-feu received the Ahmadou Kourouma Prize. In 2009 she won the Antonio Viccaro International Poetry Prize. The poem here is from Là où il fait si clair en moi, winner of the 2018 Prix Théophile Gautier from the French Academy.

Todd Fredson is the author of two poetry collections as well as several translated collections. His translation of Ivorian poet Tanella Boni’s collection The Future Has an Appointment with the Dawn was a finalist for the 2019 Best Translated Book Award and the 2019 National Translation Award. His translation of Boni’s collection There where it’s so bright in me will be out in fall 2022.