- The Black Slave*
I would like to see once more The black slave, Slow and black;
The black slave Sliding into the night Without any support, Like a swimmer Between two waters.
The air, around her, Carried her without effort; She barely split the air, Without moving her breath Around her And without leaving a trace On the sand with grains of salt.
The air around her Barely torn Would withdraw right away With no deep wound.
Thus the water Does not keep a wake Of the smooth swimmer.
Therefore, what sea has swallowed her, That slave, slow and black? What sea, of water or air? Is it in my heart That she has dug herself, And that I have but to look for her?
From the bottom of an abstract abyss One could say That she helps me, loyal, submissive, and proud; And I think I hear The sad song of her silver chains.
Anne Hébert (1916–2000) was a French Canadian author and poet. She was a four-time recipient of the Governor General’s Award, Canada’s top literary honor.
* Translated from “L’Esclave noire” by Ana Valverde Osan. Originally published in Amerique Française 2.6 (1943): 41–42. [End Page 385]