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  • Translator’s Note
  • Nancy Naomi Carlson (bio)

Abdourahman waberi’s poems, like his novels, stories, and essays, carry the important message of religious tolerance. Muslim by birth, Dr. Waberi, in Passage of Tears, documents the life of Walter Benjamin, the German Jewish essayist, translator, philosopher, and literary critic who committed suicide, in 1940, while trying to evade capture by the Nazis. In keeping with Dr. Waberi’s respect for other religions that preach tolerance, “Rosary for Timbuktu” is a prayer from the Roman Catholic tradition, consisting of six poems dedicated to the treasures of Timbuktu, which Islamic extremists began destroying in 2012.

Before translating the poem, I prepared a “sound map” of the complete original text (assonance and alliteration) to get a sense of the poem’s rich texture of sounds. French, by nature, tends to be very melodious, with repetitious vowels singing, even in everyday speech. My challenge was to maintain a close relationship to the literal meaning, while still honoring the music of the text. Many French vowel sounds do not exist in English (e.g., the nasal vowels, as well as the crispness of certain vowels), so I was pleased to replicate the repetition of vowel sounds and approximate the exact French sound i in the example below, taken from the first section of “Rosary for Timbuktu.”

dans le bruit et la germination du temps in the rustling and budding of time
je n’ai rien à moi—sauf la crainte de Dieu I have nothing that’s mine—except the fear of God
c’est Dieu qui pourvoit à la vie God is the one who provides for the life
qu’Il m’a donnée He gave me
jusqu’à mon heure ultime until the ultimate hour
où il ne fera point nuit when night will cease to be

I consulted frequently with Dr. Waberi as I translated this poem and others from The Nomads, My Brothers, Go Out to Drink from the Big Dipper. We spent many hours reviewing my questions and ensuring my attention to the music of his words and lines did not sacrifice his intended meaning. [End Page 143]

  • Tours de chapelet pour Tombouctou
  • Abdourahman Waberi (bio)

une petite amphore remplie d’eau pour les ablutions rituelles

dans le creux d’une vallée aride dans la joie du jour commençant

dans le bruit et la germination du temps je n’ai rien à moi—sauf la crainte de Dieu

c’est Dieu qui pourvoit à la vie qu’Il m’a donnée jusqu’à mon heure ultime où il ne fera point nuit


comme un papillon de nuit qui se jette avec joie sur la flamme

là où les étoiles brillent qu’en diagonale de nous


Allah Al-lah A----llah les deux syllabes répétées à l’envi un nom ouvreur de vies

Allah Al-lah [End Page 144] A----llah sortir la tête du sommeil est une corvée si l’âme ne quête pas la lumière et les guerres à l’intérieur de soi


Arif le connaissant la grandeur est sa cape l’immensité sa soif une graine de moutarde son orgueil


de Cheikna on a retenu la leçon il a dit abaisse-toi et tu ressembleras à la pleine lune dont les gens ne voient que le reflet dans l’eau

ne soit pas arrogant comme la fumée qui s’élève dans le ciel alors qu’elle n’est qu’un produit de la terre


le chien de mon for intérieur est là couché devant le chenil de la vie nu tel le nourrisson qui attend tout de nous [End Page 146]

Abdourahman Waberi

abdourahman waberi is a prize-winning writer from Djibouti whose work has been translated into a multitude of languages. His poem herein is from his poetry collection The Nomads, My Brothers, Go Out to Drink from the Big Dipper, translated by Nancy Naomi Carlson, forthcoming from Seagull Books this year. He is an assistant professor of Francophone literature at the George Washington University.

  • Rosary for Timbuktu
  • Abdourahman Waberi (bio)
    Translated by Nancy Naomi Carlson (bio)

a small amphora full of water for...


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