Ouanessa Younsi

Translated from the French by Katelyn Cross

from Bird-Borrowings

My parents peeled my skin like a fig. I was, each day, a different fruit.

I carried on with this motion, peeling my color, my language, my name. At twenty I disappeared from my story, and three years later the story made my erasure official. We laughed and celebrated, a cake made of teeth and stingers.

I was a blank page. I wandered around a city sliced in rows like bread. Translucent falcons escorted me; I spoke to them in an imperceptible dialect.

Coming across a strange form, chickenpox-smeared, I recognized my skin.

And I was on my way, peeling my fear like an excuse.

In the courtyard, I dug a secret passage to Algiers. Tulips, bulbs, centipedes: stained glass I went through without shattering reality. Sometimes, under stress, my heart flowed through my mouth; I spit it out like an eraser. Suddenly a new heart began to grow, one made of ladybugs and poppies, and I resumed my work. I took drinks of the clouds and it was poison.

My body fell from me like a skirt too large. The shovel bothered me a little, but I persevered: I wanted to see the eye of the earth and my uncle in it.

My parents were worried about my condition. I fed on leeches and sermons. I was drilling, I was drilling, as if my future depended on it, and my future depended on it.

Holes in the ground, holes in the page: I needed a life, only one.

I tried to learn the language of my father. The words jumped from my lips like atomic rabbits. I tried to articulate my name. You pronounce it badly. I started again: you have to make the words obvious to your eyes.

This language is a memory. Child, my father screamed from my throat. I feared it, and I feared the white plates that broke the floor of my bedroom.

My voice was excised, but I did not know it.

I continued to talk like a fire.

Ouanessa Younsi is a poet, prose writer, and psychiatrist born in Quebec of Canadian and Algerian background. Younsi’s books of poetry and prose frequently focus on her experience as a French Canadian of mixed parentage and her work as a psychiatrist with the indigenous peoples of Canada.

Katelyn Cross is a doctoral student at the University of Connecticut. She translates from the French, and is currently specializing on Ouanessa Younsi’s works.

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