[the tree remembers]; [here the contours]; [don’t change your name]; [and so mother]; [the space of a length of time]; & [here’s where the source of origins], translated from the French by Nancy Naomi Carlson

Translated from the French by Nancy Naomi Carlson


[the tree remembers]


the tree remembers
this legend

a grave
a cross
and a cloud of silence



l’arbre se souvient
de cette légende

une tombe
une croix
et un nuage de silence




[the space of a length of time]


the space of a length of time
fits on a tenuous thread

distant calls
are only echoes
of captive words 
words of the past
words effaced in caves



l’espace de la durée
se tient sur un fil ténu

les appels lointains
ne sont que les échos
des paroles prisonnières
celles d’autrefois
celles raturées dans les grottes


Alain Mabanckou is considered one of Francophone Africa’s most prolific contemporary writers. A novelist, essayist, and poet, Mabanckou was born in what is now called Congo-Brazzaville, and his work has garnered a multitude of awards, including the prestigious Grand Prix de Littérature from the Académie Française. Twice a finalist for the Man Booker International Prize, he lives in Los Angeles, where he teaches literature at the University of California—Los Angeles. When he isn’t teaching, he divides his time between France and traveling the globe. This selection of translated poems comes from As Long as Trees Take Root in the Earth and Other Poems, forthcoming from Seagull Books in fall 2021.