The Tartar from the Kremlin
Translated from French by Marilyn Hacker This particular Tartar doesn’t have four dromedaries for traveling That’s what he usually says Not without a touch of irony —it’s annoying to repeat yourself Justify your immobility Give all sorts of explanations No one asks for them Isn’t it the survival of some sort of atavism? Nomadism is an art a camel is indispensable ** The Tartars know something about it What they recount was classed as a world heritage But they’re not the only ones to have Made use of a scholarly poetry on the question And oases for thirst as the saying goes Property of the picturesque nomad The affirmation is categorical Scathing cutting all discussion short ** This particular Tartar doesn’t leave that is to say never leaves the enclosure of the Kremlin High walls pulled down now since June Trenches filled in gigantic peripheral highways Places for not-so-weekly markets Not very talented maybe a mask Strategy of representation Poison of urban phantasmagoria A character wrung out like a dishrag It’s not amusing Not dramatic either He daydreams in his garret of unveiling the mysteries of magnificent cities Illumination ** The briefest departure as soon as it’s imagined Which is rare turns out to be a Chinese puzzle He’s got to think about it at length very lengthily indeed To mope to dissect to gnaw away at it to howl at the crows In order to rouse himself How do you decide to leave? It’s complicated it requires loads of energy Contrary to preconceived ideas Or received ones That cast shadows on the wall behind the dump ** He’s constantly preparing detailed itineraries Drawn down to the millimeter With a Prussian staff officer’s precision For minutiae he has a compass in his eye Despite his genetic stain He works on it nonstop for weeks Suddenly just like that presto subito Realizes that he doesn’t have the means to do this or Another extravagant destination occurs to him And then what good is it all? Finished! Trashcan! What a pity ** Going down the road to bargain-hunt at the Villejuif fleamarket or have a look At the Canon at Gobelins that’s an expedition Adventure! A real one there where they shiver in bomb-craters The famous voyages of Sindbad the Sailor on the Indian Ocean or the Coral Sea, that he devours greedily in the Galland translation (especially the prints that he acquired under the counter) are no great thing. Ordinary Sunday strolls, rubbish, compared to the slightest displacement he’s obliged to make out of his village. That’s something serious! Like hearing the moans at dawn fifty leagues off, of Behemoths in heat Nothing to do with meaningless roadside rustlings ** It’s not that he’s cowardly like those Uighurs of the second Or even the third generation and after Those arrogant bastards don’t ever dare decamp from their seedy ghetto Where they terrorize old ladies on the staircase landing! Troublesome delinquents! Drug dealers! Part-time swindlers and pyromaniacs! And you, mate, you don’t like the Uighurs much No one can stand the Uighurs! It’s an open wound ** Not a loafer like those Merovingian kings Who, the new schoolbooks affirm, Would travel sluggishly supine in ox-carts Ambulant jellies obstructing the roadways The palace mayors fortunately they were around Put up with the job No, certainly not He wasn’t indecisive either Don’t trust appearances ** The Tartars obstinate enterprising people Who don’t give in easily Calloused hands agile minds in an era where Ploughs / feathers don’t mean a thing Defying maledictions all day long and daily Demoralized and downcast for ages Accursed crow so white and beautiful O God Turned swarthy for having disobeyed deliberately or Just mistaken a bag of lice for a bag of gold A regrettable incident it only happens to people like us Or we would have ended up like this But we ended up like this In the same satchel as the Uighurs ** But none of this concerns him His almost-official lodging on the outskirts of Bicêtre A small government flat as he’s a veteran Taught him While forgetting proverbs the steel of the tribe To temper his nomad ancestry To park his suitcases on the parquet A dream the soldier cherishes while marching Easier to say than to do but it’s done An unchanging existence doesn’t kill you really You taste things differently diminishing like soap ** To draw a line through his past —he’d like to write his memoirs One foot in the grave The hope of a conversation with himself Getting rid of his illusions Finding the words to say who he is It brings a kind of lightness No moodiness or extravagance He’d been able to attempt the impossible Win that great victory ** Into the closet with his bellicose instincts his morbid frenzy his unsatisfied sexual appetites his trashy primitive nostalgia to peacefully cultivate a sparse rocky patch of land (above all prefers pampering a tomato plant he brought back from Toulon with lettuces sorrel and wild thyme) won without cheating memorable Tarot reading they still talk about it today profusion of savory details witticisms you had to admire that card game at the Café de la Mairie ** This particular Tartar is unbeatable at cards Except for whist (not a game for Tartars) Which permits him to make ends meet Sometimes throw a party, a feast Where all the neighborhood enjoys his largesse Well-planned banquets, a sophisticated mise en scène Remembered for a certain decorum Generosity in the blood secular recommendations What he says so as not to be labeled a brainless spender And maybe he believes it Everyone’s there to receive the manna Celebrate the donor Shouting his slogan: I sow gold . . . We’re not likely to see such days again soon ** There’s always a glistening pigeon favorable circumstances Newly arrived in the neighborhood the bird lets himself be plucked without a fuss Satisfied, even The game takes place according to the rules A good-natured politeness Nothing to be said No regrets no unseemly protests Everyone sympathizes / calm / the sucker holds the spittoon while they tot up the score In such a situation you can lose with style Not lose face
Originally published in the January 2019 issue of Words Without Borders. © Habib Tengour. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2019 by Marilyn Hacker. All rights reserved.