[In the white of my poems] / [Dans le blanc de mes poèmes]


[In the white of my poems]

In the white of my poems
I’m dying

Dressed by alphabet letters
I escort myself to the grave

The word I write
becomes another word

How its cry inscribes
the page

My teeth of wildcat

Each poem
is a mark of my claws

death approaches

But on the table
bread invites us
to exist

I consumed my father
and my mother
my lovers

One gesture per century
was enough
to devour them

My dead mother does not rest––
she walks in my body
she wrestles me
so like Jacob and his angel

I sing for her––
for all that passes by
as nothing more will

Through her kisses
my mother breathes me
into her abyss

She guards
my lost part

She whitens my words
and my hair

My guiding star never arrived––

While my dead mother’s comet

It annihilates me
and all around me

I draw myself up on the earth
with the tree

I see my death
among the trunks that fall
like brothers

And your body––
earth to live
to die

By my word you became
by my suffering

Let me comprehend
what I don’t understand––

at the river’s edge
death polishes me
with stones

The rain does not extinguish me

If it succeeds
to lay me on the soil
like a too-ripened field

I rise up again
savaged grass
along the roadside


[Dans le blanc de mes poèmes]

Dans le blanc de mes poèmes
je suis en train de mourir

Habillée par les lettres de l’alphabet
je m’escorte jusqu’à la tombe


Le mot que j’écris
devient un autre mot

Comment coucher son cri
sur la page

Mes dents de fauve

Chaque poème
est une marque de mes griffes


Le soir
la mort s’approche de nous

Mais sur la table
un pain nous invite
à exister

J’ai usé mon père
et ma mère
mes amants

Un geste par siècle
a suffi
pour les anéantir


Ma mère morte ne se repose pas––
elle marche dans mon corps
elle lutte avec moi
tel Jacob et son ange

Je chante pour elle––
pour tout ce qui passe
car rien ne passera plus


A travers ses baisers
ma mère m’aspire
dans son gouffre

Elle y garde
ma partie perdue

Elle blanchit mes mots
et mes cheveux


Mon astre n’est jamais arrivé––

Tandis que brille celui
de ma mère morte

Il m’anéantit
et tout autour de moi

Je me dresse sur la terre
avec l’arbre

Je vois ma mort
parmi les troncs qui tombent
comme des frères


Et ton corps––
terre pour vivre
pour mourir

Tu est devenu par ma parole
par ma souffrance


Que je comprenne
que je ne comprenne pas––

au bord du fleuve
la mort me polit
avec les pierres


La pluie ne m’éteint pas

Si elle réussit
à me coucher par terre
comme un champ trop mûr

je me relève
herbe ensauvagée
au bord du chemin

(Voice credit: Alain Borer)

Translator’s Statement

While the patient work of translation is very often a solitary endeavor, the practice itself depends on what Paul Ricoeur names linguistic hospitality: “the act of inhabiting the word of the Other paralleled by the act of receiving the word of the Other into one’s own home, one’s own dwelling.”

The idea of writing in a language other than the one in which one has lived her entire life took on new significance when I found myself in a new country, surrounded by words I did not know. The temporary inability to rely on the very capacity that typically connected me with others was confounding, and often isolating. With no language to tether me to another, I assumed a kind of invisibility. Pleasantries became stripped to a minimum for fear of malapropism, humiliation, or worse—of giving offence.

And yet, as I lost words, I gained language. Initially, it was the language of the body—eyes, hands, face—that opened (or closed) communication. Such careful attention the language of physicality requires! How I fell into my bed each night, exhausted! As I began to gain linguistic fluency, others took notice and addressed me. I began to speak, new words growing less strange on my tongue. Isolation began to melt, diminishment turning to freedom, embarrassment to laughter. Such does a giving up of words open us to new language, language anew.

The language of Anise Koltz was introduced to me by French writer Alain Borer, who suggested we meet. Born in Luxembourg, Koltz wrote for years in one language until she could no longer bear its words. Now 87, Koltz continues to write in the language we both discovered when we forfeited the words of the language we had always known.

The sequence here was found via research through the University of Southern California’s online library resources, appearing in a journal cited as Europe and dated April 1, 1995. While the layout replicates as closely as possible its original publication, the translation trades solid dots for asterisks, as English seemed to ask.

Anise Koltz is one of Luxembourg’s major contemporary authors. Born in 1928, Koltz began writing in German, but the death of her husband—he never fully recovered from the Nazi occupation—compelled her to work in French. Koltz is a recipient of several major awards, including the Prix Apollinaire and Prix de littératire francophone Jean Arp. Since 2007 Koltz has published seven new collections in French. That she continues to be celebrated well into her 80s speaks to the continuing urgency and relevance of her work.

Marci Vogel and Anise Koltz

Left-to-Right: Marci Vogel, Anise Koltz

Marci Vogel is the author of At the Border of Wilshire & Nobody, winner of the 2015 Howling Bird Press Poetry Prize. Her poetry, essays, and translations have been published in FIELD, Plume, Jacket2, The Critical Flame, and Drunken Boat. Currently a Provost’s fellow at USC, Vogel was awarded a 2014 Willis Barnstone Translation Prize. She has received invitations to share her work at the Conservatory of Flowers in San Francisco, L’école des beaux-arts in Tours, France, and the Université catholique de Louvain in Belgium.