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  • In Search of Suzanne Césaire's Garden
  • Suzanne
    Translated by R. H. Mitsch

Suzanne, my lady!" cries the sèbi1 player when he scores a six. "Sizan,2 my lady!" From my earliest years, I have heard these words my whole life, in our Martinican patois, until one fine day when those words took on a whole new meaning. "Suzanne, my lady!" That was what Aimé Césaire exclaimed with a smile, the day his longtime friend, the cordial Cordo, otherwise known as Félix Cordémy, introduced me to the great man. Césaire told me that not only my first name, but my very person and my literary temperament evoked for him that other Suzanne, his wife.

Today, Aimé Césaire has joined, like Suzanne, the Realm of Shadows, for improbable prosopopeia with his friend Senghor in the Elysian Fields that we evoked together, black-Greco-Latin accomplices, devotees of the Classics, at the time of the interview that Césaire granted me for the anthology Prosopopées urbaines (Urban Personifications), for, in his case, the City was Paris, the discovery of Paris, still quite youthful; the City with a capital C was truly Paris, because it was the place of his encounter with Senghor.

A few months apart, I lost my two fathers: my "true" father, Osman Dracius, and my poetic father, Césaire.

But these shades, to me are tutelaries, without taking umbrage, like impatiens lurking in the shade at the foot of trees at the edge of the tropical rainforest. Nevertheless, I want to stand tall, like the Césairean black, "debout les cheveux dans le vent" 'standing with my hair in the wind,' a woman standing like the arborescent ferns in the Cascade d'Absalon, on the tops of the balata tree, tracking its trace on the Track, the road where Césaire and his Suzanne, his wife, came to seek coolness, drawing out the source of an ascending, sensational "chlorophyllienne [End Page 155] création" 'chlorophyllous creation,' as I had achieved in Rue Monte au ciel. Didn't they notice, during these walks, that the Antillean is an "homme-plante" 'human-plant'? It is true that the Martinican is able to speak to you about the "germination de la mort" 'germination of death,' to evoke and invoke Mother Nature not only with respect to life, but also in a fecund, fertile relationship with death.

Always feminine, sometimes feminist, and there was no clash, adhering to a double marronnage-as a Martinican who writes and as a woman who writes-I set out to practice the Césairean exhortation "Marronner, il faut marronner!" which Césaire had earlier written to René Depestre to encourage him not to let himself be caught up by the Aragonian constraints of a strict metric. Alongside the bard of Negritude, who, since my first novel, L'autre qui danse, honored me by his appreciation of my writing,3 I permitted myself an impertinence that was not devoid of a certain pertinence: à propos of that other Suzanne-Césaire's beloved-I reproached the great poet for never having published what his wife had written, even if only at the publishing house Présence africaine where, rather, it existed-a play by Suzanne Césaire of which only the title remains: Youma, aurore de la liberté. The great man had no memory of it. I put the question to him frankly: What happened to the text of that play? Why wasn't it published? In a very small voice, the great man told me that at the time, it was very difficult, for a woman, to be published. It did me no good to speak to him about de Beauvoir, who had come, at the very same time, into that France of the beginning of the twentieth century, with the help and support of Sartre, certainly, with greater difficulty and much later than Sartre, perhaps, but even so, with success. . . . From all evidence, what was good for Simone was not good for Suzanne.

Couples are not all alike, all couples do not have the same pacts. Not all couples are safe from "contigencies."