Ahmed Bouanani’s “The Shutters”: An Excerpt from the First English Language Translation

Ahmed Bouanani’s “The Shutters”: An Excerpt from the First English Language Translation

The following poem is excerpted from Moroccan writer and filmmaker Ahmed Bouanani‘s “The Shutters,” published by New Directions and translated from French into English — for the first time — by Emma Ramadan. The recent release of the collection coincides with the English language translation of Bouanani’s dizzying tale of confinement, “The Hospital.”

“Whether through films or through books,” writes Ramadan in her foreward to the translation, “Bouanani’s goal was always the same: to dive into his country’s suppressed past through the lens of the present moment.” Holding true to this statement, “The Shutters” is a captivating combination of prose poems and verse that builds into a haunting narrative of place and memory to bridge the oral and “official” histories of Bouanani’s homeland.

To celebrate the landmark publication, Ramadan will join Omar Berrada and Anna Della Subin at McNally Jackson on September 5 for a conversation about Bouanani’s works.

“Give Me Back My Storms”

So, one Friday, I decided to fly away from the house with the shutters.
Not like a swallow, as sooner or later swallows return to the telephone
wires, but like a cloud, one of those black December clouds,
elusive horse made of wind and fresh wool, recklessly stomping
minarets and terraces, and sometimes even the crowds.

I was not a cloud made of wind or wool, carried far to the south,
having lost my shoes and shirt above Casablanca. I believe it was
Grandmother Yamna’s fault. Unless.

No. It was definitely Grandmother Yamna’s breath that carried
me away.
Oh, it wasn’t her intention to send me so far: a little stroll
along a field of poppies on the border of the city. Except the wind
that Friday of December wasn’t in the mood to go easy on flimsy
bodies. Rapidly I became a black dot in the sky.

So, that Friday, without permission, a rebel armed with the future
(it’s dangerous, the future!), I took off with the speed of a galloping
horse, drunk on stars, unbridled. No time to say goodbye to my
childhood friends. I imagine them still there, intact, dreaming of
morning bicycle rides and chocolate bars. Sometimes I see them in
bands, barefoot or with their too-big shoes, jumping on carts,
imitating the Sioux in heat beneath the window of the little Algerian

I flew over other cities
other villages where other bands
were playing with their childhoods
and I actually cried

But I didn’t cry over the morning odors or the twilight games
when the woman revealed herself to our feverish eyes

I didn’t cry over the filmmaker’s madness
Tarzan lost in the Bahia in a jungle of enormous rats
plaguing the cresyl and the old garments.

I didn’t cry over the seven hills or the poppy field where the ogre
was shouting to the clouds: “Give me back my thunder! Give me
back my storms!” Or the nights of Ramadan when the whole city
would play the lottery while, between the stars, amidst widespread
indifference, the Messenger of light passed by…

No, really, I didn’t cry over all those things.

Like the man who crossed the Tarfaya desert
all the way to the submerged cities to witness the sacrifice of the
I returned to a city of bleeding sidewalks
Someone cried at the top of their lungs: “Get rid of the cadavers!”
Scarcely had we made the first one disappear when a second one
sprang up, more terrible than the first.

No, really, I didn’t cry
I was very young then
Didn’t they always used to say to me: “You are too young Sidi
Ahmed!” or else: “You have your whole life ahead of you!”
The time ahead of me lived in the melodies of old gramophones.
Our mornings were cold.
In front of the doorway to the Mohammadia School, the newspaper
spread before our eyes, we deciphered death
and death, unbeknownst to us,
our death
occurred several times…

when you are carried away in the wind unexpectedly
it is rare to find the way back again.
The door to childhood is barely,
barely visible at the horizon
it closes as soon as you have crossed the threshold.


Excerpt published with permission from New Directions Publishing.
Copyright © 1980, 1989 by Ahmed Bouanani
Copyright © 2018 by Touda Bouanani
Copyright © 2018 by Emma Ramadan

Top Image: Inside of the rescued archive of Ahmed Bouanani. Courtesy of Anna Della Subin