“Sensuka”- A Poem by Alice Elm (English Version)

(In a post from a few months ago, I published a beautiful poem by the Montreal writer Alice Elm that was directly inspired by my on-going “Views of an Imaginary City” series. Now Alice has composed an English version of the the French original. I have amended a few words here and there, but the French-influenced sentence structure and word choice remain, lending what I find to be an additional air of exoticism to the text.)

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The sea.
The stillness of the sea taming Sensuka, at dawn, as the world meditates.
This presence that breathes me in for having acknowledged its shade.
By this only do I exist, captured by its essence.
Sounds cannot translate my dissolving as it smiles and touches my heart, the way I am lost at sea, at dawn, on the shore of Sensuka, as the world meditates.

The ssssnake.
You nicknamed its curves, rising as a cliff where the swimming ended, turning to abyss for the merchant ships. And its hypnotic pull.
Once, after dusk, overcome by its call, I gave my body to its illuminated fluidity.
Not wishing to trouble its secrets with endless waves, my heart complied and I remained suspended, a victim to the beauty of this world. There the dream ended.

-If it rises one way and falls the other, where is its heart?
-What if it were in its belly?
The belly. This invasive curve crushed by layers of civilization and centuries of neglect. Why fight time? Why believe in the docility of elements?
What if breathing were through its belly, yes.

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Was it a legend? Are not all legends secret treasure chests?
How many lighthouses rebuilt on temples have become sand, crushed stones under carved stones, on this overused invasive triangle of land?
The sea swallowed the milled temples; the rain wiped its contours, but still leaving intact the drowned city that did not then bear this sensuous name, Sensuka.
The great Alexandrian fire silenced its existence, and what name should one decipher upon ruined walls? What name was born by this exotic baïa, masked to seafarers by eruptions of rock?

My body propelled out of my mother’s womb by the drowned walls, her key to the relief of my weight, I guess. Was she hoping for a swimming champion?
To this day the story of my birth is mentioned to sooth the pain of children or their fear of darkness.
And I share in this lighthearted laughter, loving this tale of the failed great escape of a human tadpole rushing towards the sea, held back by a link to humanity.
The taste of salt will forever lull me.

Sensuka slapped about, standing amidst a tropical storm. Sensuka licked clean as a sweetened spoon.
Naked, we resisted its winds, debating on the origin, the saltiness, the dryness of rain, genially trapped in a desperate lab made of bits and pieces.
The liquid hand would deliver its ultimate blow, cracking open our paths, falling to wed the sea, renewing their pledge by covering her secret tattoos with a new layer of stolen dust.
Our city would have her sparkling moments then, as the wind was now dancing elsewhere.

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Do you remember our days?
Emerging from hours of numbing heat, from visits to princely realms drawn up by us to silence cravings, from our desperate shelter, we stopped first at the thermae for a bitter mineral cocktail.
Dressed in our unique costumes of mixed fabrics, of which the circus was our most generous purveyor, we went to the market stalls, renting out our arms, receiving as our payment the leftovers upon which we feasted.
Sated, we stepped into the first square, moving slowly towards the coolness of the fountain. Then, circling about its corners, we were entertained by our favorite performers or by new ones, by gifted musicians, comedians and their stunts.
We then circled the second square, where the poorest of the poor failed to seduce us or tease us into a rule-opposing anger, on which they themselves were drunk.

The sun was withdrawing when the sea would greet us, leaving specks of salt in folds of linen and velvet.

You shone. Amidst these passionately blushing walls and even later, when the warmth became tenderness and the bluish velvet of the sky was darkening over the hills, you shone.

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Whispering as we returned, we climbed our secret pathway of broken stairs, ruined walls, a forgotten stretch of warpath, a curve through which chunks of bricks protruded, and a dry brook.
The dogs knew our scent at this time of night.
A rat’s crossing was cause for laughter. We feared only fear, knowing that from hunger we would soon die. Freedom only we treasured.

I can still feel your laugh bouncing in my chest, in my head, under my breath and strangely in my thighs.
Outside, Sensuka is shaking in a northerly tantrum.
Sleepless, we are spectators to our brother shepherds’ tales of human madness.
Your laugh gains in thunder when the madness seems all yours.
We are sheltered against the freezing storm in this tiny warm palace, where sweet hay greets our dreams.

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Sensuka, hell!
A shadow within you, your strange broken laugh and the lightness of freedom is now a part I play alone. You hurt.
Any inquiry on this would end us.
What happened, how?
Being this constant witness to your life did not mean having access to your secrets. There must have been a forgotten root.

Then.
Then, the silenced, most guarded secret of the empire was revealed and offered to you.
The amnesia well.

An amnesia well? In a heartbeat my life ceases, never was. I am non-existent.

Blinded, I left you at the door.

And the moon guides my exile.
The moon illuminates your name that I spell out.
I am numbness; I am grief, senseless, restless until one last step and my fall to gravity.

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I do remember as I lie motionless.
I hear moving bodies, worried voices, prayers.
It seems I can no longer see.
An inner voice reveals my priestly state. I, a priest?
You are one old man giving away his flesh.
A panicked scream answers these words.

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All alike, a thousand days and many thousands more I see as a flowing curve through me until…until…a gift for my seventeenth birthday? You remembered, you did remember, thank you.

I spread my wings to emerge from these human remains.
My feathered body, lifting above stoney walls and gardens, identifies the thread of a previous flight, an opposing wind, the hum of cicadas, a taste of seaweed.
These guide me back to our castled resting place over which I hover.

Powerful now, I glide forever over our city’s past, loyally guarding and searching.Sensuka5

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