Amina Said was born in Tunisia. She lives in Paris, where she works as a journalist and translator. She has published eight volumes of poems, the latest of which is Gisements de Lumiere (La Difference). Since 1996 she has been engaged in translating the work of the Philippino novelist Franciso Sionil Jose.


I was born on the shores

of the sea of the setting sun
the deep green sea
the sea of the Philistines
that washed on Carthage
the white interior sea of the Arabs
whose horses swept along its banks

I grew up     algae     wave     fish
star with multiple branches
the first letter of the alphabet
etched on my brow

at seven I swam on black waters
along moon traced pathlight
up to the country of limits
I took lessons on mirages
intemporal scribe
dedicated to handwriting the centuries
with ink from the indigo sea

at nine in wonder I discovered a sunken city
surfacing I laid out my wings to dry on the dunes
I counted the stones before gathering them
I had two faces I lived in two worlds

at eleven I no longer spoke to anyone
yet a language was taking shape in my mouth
I was looking in silence for the secret of poetry
I was trying to define myself within the orders of clarity
under its white veil behind made-up eyelids
my city kept its mysteries
did not console itself for its lost beauty
the sea gate on longer open on the wide
neglecting our most beautiful legends
we lived our days and our nights seated
around a marble fountain gone dry

at sixteen I had the solemn smile
of one who dreams of breaking away
I had two faces I lived in two worlds
marvellously immobile
blind sphinxes peopled my sand gardens
firebirds flew across the sky
fissures of silence in the slow day's working
with death as an horizon the sea held us back
its medusa thighs undulating under our fingers

we lived our days and nights seated
around a marble fountain gone dry
the sea gate no longer opened on the wide
blind sphinxes peopled my sand gardens
when a palm tree was planted which soon caressed the clouds
I remained at its foot my eyes towards the sky
my grandmother reappeared
it is a sign she said you will leave us
she gave the usual commendations
poured on green water after my footsteps
have you come back she said
already I was at the other shore

at forty always inhabited by shadows
between past and future
I issue from my childhood and thus from nowhere else
I remember a night which was young
lived to the rhythm of the sea
there was much between the world and myself
so much space and yet so little
enchantment complicity
this was before the protracted agony of the planet
before the rent in the mask
I had two faces I lived in two worlds
facing the embrace of the blue horizon
I dreamt of undulations in the desert

I issue from my childhood and thus from nowhere else
which truth therefore remains to be discovered
other than each day's sun
other than the ebb of sand from my winged hand
the immense voice of the world
in the single weft
of an indulgent language which was given to me

I who keep coming who keep leaving
each threshold crossed
I advance toward my demise toward the first day
solitude thus scoops itself out
as one explores the bottom of an empty well
- for darkness only for darkness faced with oneself -
seeking the place where the reflection of light is found

praise for the one syllable sun
the archipelago of silence where I find my words
the voyage from threshold to threshold which is the real trip
praise to him who goes astray
he whose words are singular
praise for the world because everything exists
everywhere then in the poem and in it too

still between past and future
I wanted to discover who she had to be
now I am seeking who she was
I issue from my childhood and thus from nowhere else
midnight light      alphabet of nothingness
sea of the setting sun     white sea
west of your dreams     vast inner sea

(translated from the French by Frank Kazich and the poet)