Poems

Postcards from the High Seas

Notes

Creole: Although Portuguese is the official language, Capeverdean Kriolu (Kriolo, Crioulo) is the everyday language in the Cape Verde islands. Kriolu evolved from Portuguese and African languages. As the islands were uninhabited when discovered by the Portuguese, Cape Verdeans do not have various tribal languages like mainland Africa. Most people in Cape Verde are of mixed race, also referred to as Creole.

Cape Verde's islands were probably never as green (verde) as their name suggests. The name refers to their position across the sea from the verdant butt of Senegal, Cap Vert. Even before the time of the Portuguese discovery in 1462 the islands were largely arid.

Lying as they do in the Sahel zone, they are exposed to dry winds from the Sahara for half the year. Between August and September the southwest wind can bring a monsoon, but as Cape Verde is just above the doldrums, where the southwest and northeast tradewinds meet, these rains are not guaranteed. Regular droughts occur when the rains don't come. Overgrazing, deforestation, and the colonizer's neglect, have left the islands even drier and islanders regularly suffered catastrophic famines until the middle of the twentieth century. The regular droughts have led many Cape Verdeans to work as sailors or to emigrate, temporarily or for good. The droughts and emigration are very much a part of everyone's lives.

I

'Crioula': 'Creole girl' is patronising, and 'Creole woman' is stuffy; both are wordy. We wanted to keep the familiarity of this opening address, so we stuck with 'Crioula', allowing the context to illuminate its meaning.

'how dark you are, how you are…': 'That', the staple of prose syntax, is inescapable in poems, but can provide a lifeless link - 'that you are engaged…' gives the reader information that sounds inconsequential. 'How dark you are…', with its suggestion of an exclamation, draws the reader into the song.

'the fresh water / you spill from tin cans': Fortes plays on the sibilance of 'sede' (thirst), doce (fresh), and 'balouça' (sloshes) to accentuate the sensuality of the image. We've settled for a crisper assonance with 'spill from tin cans'; the suggestion of sexual desire is nevertheless maintained in the fluid 'spill'.

II

'hardened abandonment': Fortes plays on the phonetic proximity of 'Aço' (steel) to 'ossos' (bones) in a passage that suggests a dreamlike state of enchantment. We've found an alternative density of sound in the a's, d's and schwas (the 'uh' sound in English) of 'hardened abandonment'.

'bursts on my palate': We've reworked the 'succulent mouth' of the literal, which made for cryptic English, attempting to preserve the sensual desire.

III

'were left': 'Remained' simply refers to the bones and skulls. 'Were left' contrasts the fate of the bones and skulls with the fate of the people who, like the speaker, are still alive. It thus focuses more intensely on the experience of loss.

'their blood calls / through telephone wires': We couldn't find a way of repeating the precision of 'the nostrils of the telephones' without introducing bathos. We transferred the 'nostrils' (or 'mouths' as we would say) of the telephones to the 'wires'. The call of the blood is less insistent, but more lonely and sad, in a form of limbo somewhere on the telephone exchange.

IV

'pestle and mortar': We've specified 'pestle' so that 'mortar' doesn't read as 'artillery'.

'immigrant Germany': We couldn't find a direct synonym of 'immigrated' and so applied 'immigrant' in a slightly alien collocation.

'the soup countries', i.e. the countries of Southern Europe.

V

'with light in the trees': 'Sun on the bushes' sounds like a vision of scrubland in English. The delicacy of 'with light in the trees' feels closer in mood to the vision of 'good-natured people' on a Sunday afternoon.

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