cover image The Nomads, My Brothers, Go Out to Drink from the Big Dipper

The Nomads, My Brothers, Go Out to Drink from the Big Dipper

Abdourahman A. Waberi, trans. from the French by Nancy Naomi Carlson. Univ. of Chicago/Seagull, $21 (96p) ISBN 978-0-85742-238-5

Novelist Waberi, the best-known contemporary writer from the East African nation of Djibouti, evokes "an entire life in the echo of my tongue" in his first collection of poems. His terse sequences incorporate the region's recent troubles with civil wars and Islamic extremists ("the Somali bullet: bloom of a new genus/ that bans/ all transports of joy") along with ancient fable and history. The Koranic story of Bilal recurs as a myth of national origin; the poet asks us to "let nomadic words live," with "oral ancestors' shadow/ resisting harsh winters." Sometimes Waberi returns to the landscape: "my tree the aloe/ my flower the crack in the cactus/ my river none in my land." But his verse, in its trim stanzas and its thin lists, insists on its modernity too: "for miniature republic/ parsimonious poems." Carlson's translation sounds spare and clear, though not always distinctive: few readers will cherish the English for the style alone. More than a few, though, will be glad to find the unity of place and feeling, "native soil/ between fig trees and loose stones" where "the dog of my deepest self/ is there/ curled on the ground." (Apr.)