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  • Robert L. Giron

Issue 55 — Henry Hughes, John Taylor's translations of José-Flore Tappy's poetry

Henry Hughes

Photo by Paul Gentry


“He’s big, he’s mean, and he kills a lot of bad guys.

“No one cared that he was gay.”

—testimony from a Pentagon report

More than grunts,

we tongue Arabic and Farsi

in the dusty streets and shops. Watching, listening

carefully—very carefully—between

straight black abayas and embroidered white caps.

We’d rather talk them down, but we’ll shoot.

We know the soft and hard of man. Face in the tower,

bulge in the pants. Our M-16s and that nasty SAW

put the queer fear in their Sharia law.

Like Negroes marching on the old South,

we’re a nightmare bayonet up their hanging moons.

Don’t get fucking captured, I tell my men, and they don’t.

Snugging green belts across our tight abs,

we smarten our collars

and slip on those big blonde boots. Fit in? Come on,

we’re good at that. We had to be.

Give us the action

and we can all relax.

Copyright © 2012 by Henry Hughes.


Henry Hughes grew up on Long Island, New York and he has lived in Oregon since 2002. His poems have appeared in Antioch Review, Carolina Quarterly, Malahat Review, Shenandoah, Southern Humanities Review, Seattle Review and Poetry Northwest, and are represented in several anthologies including Long Journey: Contemporary Northwest Poets (Oregon State University Press). His first collection, Men Holding Eggs, received the 2004 Oregon Book Award; his second book, Moist Meridian, was chosen by Robert Pinsky as a finalist for the 2011 Oregon Book Award; and his third collection, Shutter Lines, was published in 2012. He is the editor of the anthology, The Art of Angling: Poems about Fishing (Knopf, 2011) and his commentary on new poetry appears regularly in Harvard Review.

John Taylor's translations of José-Flore Tappy's poetry

from Gravel by José-Flore Tappy


the torrent rises

rips through

the thick fog

crosses all of space

stretching out

towards the lost



Val Derbon

At dawn

a soaring buzzard


in the sunlight

raises its velvety wings

above a still warm sky

light and hesitating

your hands move

in front of my twilit face

your fingers slip

across my arm

like a timid trickle of water


In the distance

is it perhaps the wind

and its repetitive questions

or your steps

fading away?

I half


at the very end of your voice


Lying barefoot

in the close-cropped grass

we held the earth

that day

like a familiar arm


in order to slide

into the night


Whoever bends over

the sky

sees only heavy swells

and wind deserts

but up there

all dizziness is forgotten

from wave to wave

emptiness carries us

on its back

to the first


when the distances

calm down

near a riverbed


In the hungry night

to take your fingers

one by one into my mouth

beloved grapes

that I leave

on their bunch

for tomorrow

Translation Copyright © 2012 by John Taylor.


John Taylor has recently translated books by Jacques Dupin (Of Flies and Monkeys, Bitter Oleander Press), Philippe Jaccottet (And, Nonetheless, Chelsea), and Pierre-Albert Jourdan (The Straw Sandals, Chelsea). He is also the author of the three-volume essay collection, Paths to Contemporary French Literature (Transaction), and Into the Heart of European Poetry (Transaction). His most recent book is If Night Is Falling (Bitter Oleander Press), a collection of short prose. Born in Des Moines, Taylor has lived in France since 1977.

José-Flore Tappy

Gravier (extraits)


le torrent monte


l’épais brouillard

traverse tout l’espace


vers la lumière



Val Derbon

Au lever du jour

une buse avec le soleil


très haut

soulève ses ailes de velours

sur un ciel encore chaud

tes mains passent

devant mon visage sombre

hésitantes et légères

tes doigts glissent

sur mon bras

comme timide filet d’eau


Peut-être au loin

est-ce le vent

et ses répétitives questions

ou ton pas

qui s’éloigne ?

je m’éveille

à demi

tout au bout de ta voix


Couchés dans l’herbe rase

pieds nus

on a tenu la terre

ce jour-là

comme un bras familier

à l’aveugle

pour glisser

dans la nuit


Qui se penche

sur le ciel

ne verra que houle

et désert de vent

mais là-haut

tout vertige s’oublie

de vague en vague

le vide nous porte

sur son dos

jusqu’aux premières


quand les distances

se calment

près d’un lit de rivière


Dans la nuit qui a faim

prendre tes doigts

un à un dans ma bouche

raisins tant aimés

que je laisse

à leur grappe

pour demain

Copyright © by José-Flore Tappy from Hangars, Éditions Empreintes, 2006. Reprinted by permission.


José-Flore Tappy, Lausanne-born, is the author of five volumes of poetry, all of which are translated in this volume. She has won two prestigious Swiss literary awards: the Ramuz Prize for Errer mortelle and the Schiller Prize for Hangars and her entire oeuvre. Tappy has also written an essay about the artist Loul Schopfer. She has translated Spanish poetry and, with Marion Graf, the poems of Anna Akhmatova. She works as an editor and scholar at the Centre de Recherches sur les Lettres Romandes at the University of Lausanne. Her poetry in translations by John Taylor has appeared in the Antioch Review, International Literary Quarterly, Two Lines, Aysmptote, Rowboat, Thrush, The Bitter Oleander, and Carte Blanche.

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