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Three Poems by Georgette LeBlanc Translated by Jo-Anne Elder

neufs mots

les neufs mots de Pierrot sont comme des silences
ils avont un pouvoir sur moi qu’ej peux point expliquer

Pierrot me dit qu’ej pourrons jamais explorer ni la Chine
ni les États ni nulle part sans parler la langue du silence

Alma, tu sais, c’est point de notre faute si ej sons esclaves

c’est point la première fois que j’entends le mot
mais pour la première fois
me perce le cœur

ej l’avais jamais trop compris
mais pour la première fois
ej vois sa forme est ses ancêtres
pour la première fois comme par mystère
ej me demande si c’est peut-être point vrai


new words

Pierrot’s new words are like silences
they have power over me that I can’t explain

Pierrot tells me we will never be able to explore, China
the States or anywhere unless I speak the language of silence

Alma, you know, it's not our fault that we are *esclaves

it’s not the first time I hear that word
but for the first time
pierces my heart

I never really understood it
but for the first time
I can see its shape and its ancestors
for the first time in some strange way
I wonder if it isn’t true

*The word 'esclave', directly translated, would be "slave." I don't believe the "esclave" in my poem can be literally translated that way. The word is used, in this poem, to describe a person who has lost his or her dignity or sense of identity. I want to say pride. To describe someone who is struggling. Who cannot make his or her own way in the world. Who is at the mercy of someone else's perceived power. —Georgette LeBlanc


aux États

Mame braillait hier soir
elle avait de la misère à le cacher
les murs de notre logis sont trop maigres
pour cacher la misère
son frère va quitter pour les États
le premier de la famille à s’en aller loin de même
aux États
c’est une grande place avec beaucoup de monde
beaucoup de monde qui portont des beaux chapeaux
qui disont please and thank you
mon oncle va montrer à ctes Anglais-là
comment bâtir un logis comme il faut
pis ses poches allont se remplir de sucre et de butin rouge
dans le temps que ça va me prendre à passer
mon quatrième livre
pis ça, ça prendra point longtemps
chus déjà rendue à mon deuxième
pis j’ai point de misère à lire

mais Mame avait peur hier soir
une tempête sortait de son corps
ça sonnait quasiment pus comme elle

ej m’ai levée tôt à matin pour faire sûr
que c’était encore la même femme
elle était là
en train de chauffer le lait, faire le pain
dans le mitan de la chaleur comme d’accoutume
mais différente

des fois brailler c’est comme l’automne
ça scoue les arbres

ej voulais lui dire
que le printemps s’en vient


the States

Mom was crying last night
she had a hard time hiding it
our walls are too thin
to hide misery
her brother’s leaving for the States
the first in the family to leave, to go
so far away
the States
is a big place with lots of people
people who wear nice hats
who say please and thank you
my uncle is going to show them
how to build a house the way it should be done
he'll fill his pockets with sugar and red cloth
in the time it takes me to finish
my fourth book
and that won't take very long at all
I’m already on my second one
and I’m a good reader

but Mom was scared last night
a kind of thunder shook her body
her whole body changed

I woke up early this morning to check
to make sure she was still there
that she was still the same woman
she was there
warming the milk, making bread

in the kitchen like she always was
but she was somehow different

sometimes crying is like autumn
it shakes the leaves, the branches

I wanted to tell her
that spring is coming

retour de l’exil

les bots arrivont des États
et n’oncle Adolphe revient au pays
quand ce que les richesses d’un pays sont pus là
et que le monde a faim et que la terre est sec
les hommes et les femmes commençont à se regarder
comme des bêtes
et l’idée leur vient à la tête de se dévorer

parce que la ville est rinque faite pour la richesse
c’est un cœur qui bat aux veines d’argent
n’oncle Adolphe nous raconte ça sans embellissements

j’ai entendu le coeur de Boston mourir
ç’a point pris longtemps
comme si l’argent avait jamais été là
comme s’il y avait rien de vrai du tout

c’est ça la mort
elle nous appartient point


return from exile

the ships are back from the States
and so is Uncle Adolphe
when the wealth of a country is gone
when people are hungry and the land is dry
men and women start to look at each other
like animals, prey
and the idea of feeding on the other, flesh, takes over

because a city is built for wealth
its a heart that beats, veins, flows of money
Uncle Adolphe explains this, quietly

I heard the heart of Boston die
it didn’t take very long
as if money had never been there
as if nothing were true at all

that’s what death is
it doesn't belong to
any of us


*Editor's note: Georgette LeBlanc's poems "neufs mot," "aux États," and "retour de l'exil" were originally published in Alma (Éditions Perce-Neige, 2007). They are reprinted here and in our Autumn 2019 issue with permission, and with many thanks to Perce-Neige.


Georgette LeBlanc is the author of the poetic novels, Alma (winner of le Prix Félix Leclerc and le Prix littéraire Antonine Maillet-Acadie-Vie), Amédé (winner of the Prix Émile-Ollivier poetry award) and Prudent (GG 2014 poetry shortlist). She was awarded the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia Masterworks Award in 2010. She is Canada's 8th Parliamentary Poet Laureate. Georgette LeBlanc lives in Moncton, New Brunswick.

Jo-Anne Elder is a writer, translator, and community worker. She lives with Aboriginal artist Carlos Gomes and several of their 9 adult children in Fredericton. She holds a PhD in Comparative Canadian Literature from the Université de Sherbrooke and has taught and done research in Canadian literature, Acadian and Québécois literature, Gender and Women’s Studies, and Translation in three provinces. She has translated twenty-five literary works, three of which were shortlisted for the Governor General's prize: Tales from Dog Island (Françoise Enguehard), Beatitudes (Herménégilde Chiasson), and One (Serge-Patrice Thibodeau).


I appreciate the translation and being able to read Georgette's work in English. Very impressive.

Thanks Allan — we're glad to hear it! Look for more translations of Acadian and Francophone authors in the future! —Ian LeTourneau

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