[For the first time…]

translated by Nancy Naomi Carlson
for the castaways of the Ker Anna




For the first time, we were naked.

Who taught us to fall from the tree?

What power had we wasted?

To which blood founding our fables?

How many frantic birds will flock

to the bulwark of our awkward lips?

How many dreams will be razed

when we are subdued by the storm?




Translator’s note: The Ker Anna was a French ship that sunk in 1804 off the coast of the island of Réunion, a French colony in the Indian Ocean to the southwest of Mauritius.

read the poem in its original language

Khal Torabully, prize-winning writer, film director, essayist, and semiologist from Mauritius, has given voice to the unimaginable suffering of millions of indentured laborers from the turn of the century. He coined the term “coolitude” in the way Césaire coined the term “negritude,” imbuing it with dignity. A collection of Torabully’s poetry, Cargo Hold of Stars: Coolitude , translated by Nancy Naomi Carlson, is forthcoming in January 2021.

Nancy Naomi Carlson, twice a recipient of a literature translation fellowship from the NEA, is a translator, poet, and essayist. An Infusion of Violets (2019) was named “New & Noteworthy” by the New York Times. www.nancynaomicarlson.com



read next: David Varno, “Minor Neil”


“[For the first time…]” appeared in TLR: Contents May Shift (Summer, 2020)