Marilyn Hacker & Marie Etienne

From The Ebony Mare


It takes me a while to understand things

That night I find that I am drawn out of

My sleep by the voice of a child which seems

To be far away from my house

I ven-

Ture outside into the total darkness

Walk along the sea’s edge reach a slightly

Convex stairway

It winds and ascends

To an enormous plaza sort of roof

Of the world or a stage-set I like the

Doubtful verisimilitude of the scene



Doubtful verisimilitude of the scene

Where the lighting effects are austerely

Deployed by the technician on duty

The metallic air is heavy to breathe

Is it the gray of the stone slabs on the

Horizon that makes the houses seem small

Conceived by the same architect and built

By the same masons?

How would one dare

Enter to verify?

Verify what?

The doors are closed

It’s still necessary



The doors are closed

It’s still necessary

To locate the voice that’s always moving

And keeps calling out from every corner

Of the landscape and doesn’t answer when

I question it

If it’s a game it’s a

Cruel one

I choose immobility

Perhaps that way we’ll manage to connect

A clock has got to have a fixed center

While I am becoming a weighty stone

(One can die upright from credulity)



(One can die upright from credulity)

The landscape is different now because

Of something which I can’t identify


The automobile

Is parked in the street.

Its turquoise color

With bright scarlet stripes is garish– vulgar

Now the driver is climbing the staircase

Rapidly he heads without the slightest

Hesitation for one of the sources

Of the sound

The voice stops calling to me




Daybreak it’s time for bathing and grooming

Which all takes place outdoors on a wooden

Dock, closed off at the end by a curtain

Which the rare strollers, if they’re curious

If they have a taste for tropical scenes

Lift up as they pass by without dawdling

They’re frequent clients they’re from neighboring

Villages, you might be on the banks of

The Ganges

No modesty , what counts is

The ritual of purification


The ritual of purification

A man descends a ladder down to the

Lapping water he fills up a bucket

Mounts the ladder then flings at me from far

Off , in a grand gesture, the bucketful

Which glistens before it flows back down to

The ocean

The man comes and goes like this

Many times, wetting my body without

Approaching, as if it were too dirty

Too foreign or perhaps too inhuman


Too foreign or perhaps too inhuman

It comes to me too to consider it

From outside, spilled out on the wooden planks

Not deserving of much notice or love

A poor object not unlike a stable

Just good enough to shelter animals

Now comes the second phase of the washing

The man has drawn up a plan of his work

Unafraid to be rudimentary

He can from here on be punctilious



He can from here on be punctilious

In additional perfections under-

Taking to reach all of the hidden folds

And to do so drawing the eyelets from

The bodice, buttons’ mother-of-pearl


Now the curtain begins to billow it’s

Children who’ve spied on us for a while

In hiding all at once they’re no longer

Afraid they mock us while making gestures

Obscene ones they think everything’s over


Obscene ones they think everything’s over

Too ignorant they cannot imagine

New undertakings other pinnacles

As soon as we’re alone I ask myself

About my washer’s status: is he a

Slave? The employee of an enterprise?

We feel ourselves linked by a contract whose

Provisions we don’t know.

“How could someone

Sleep, Madam, who practices such a trade?”


MARIE Étienne

Translated by Marilyn Hacker