Cape Verde with Corsino Fortes

Corsino Fortes of Cape Verde

One of the finest islands with great music–think Cesaria Evora–beautiful deep blue waters, and good food; go national and get the cachupa–hard corn mixed with dry beans topped with two sausages and fried eggs. That’s what you can have for breakfast and/or lunch. An orange on the side. Some vegetables. And oh, the tuna is unbeatable. There are other interesting meals, don’t get me wrong, but I found the cachupa to be the most delicious and filling that you’d need another day before the urge to eat again arises. Very economical, don’t you think?

Now this next piece of info is strictly on the side; a whisper: (If you’re the drinking type, ask for a G&T). You’ll be surprised how huge the glass, bigger and rounder than your head, I promise, you’ll need both hands to raise it to your lips. They don’t measure by tots. They just bring the bottle of gin and pour into your large glass tudududududu and leave you agape. As for Grog–the popular sugar cane liquor–bad news. Steer clear… Anyway, stomach pleasures aside, the poetry is as sweet and mournful and celebratory as their morna.

My default is Corsino Fortes. He’s awesome and also available in most English translations. Could be the most translated. Born in Mindelo in 1933–my favorite Island–Fortes worked as a teacher, a lawyer, and Cape Verde’s ambassador to Portugal, and also lived in Angola where he was a judge.




The stones levitate in our dreams
The prophet’s balance! when
The earthquake of hope
                    an expanse of 4.033 km²
And the ears light up
                    in the corridors of fear
                    in the corridors of life
The thunder of our temples
And islands jump
                    Out of the ruins
Like oysters
                    Into the pearls
And rocks jump
The archipelago of the senses + the
Feline choreography of the plains
Lean & magical! of bones & symbols
And so virgin! of being movement
Like! the light of the uterus
                    That undresses them
If here! in the air
                    at the feet of the archipelago
The islands stop
                    to see the rocks pass
From the desert of stones to the giving up of poverty


Every evening, sunset crooks
             its thumb across the island
And from the sunset to the thumb
             there grows
             a path of dead stone
And this peninsula
                         Still drinks
All the blood of your wandering body
From a tenant farmer’s cup

But when your voice
            becomes a chord on the shore’s guitar
And the earth of the face and the face of the earth
             Extend the palm of the hand
From the seaward edge of the island
                           A palm made of bread
You will merge your final hunger
             with your first

From above there will come
The faces and prows of not-voyage
             So that herbal and mercury
Extract the crosses from your body

The screaming of mothers carries you
To the seventh corner
             where the island is shipwrecked
             where the island celebrates
Your daughter pain
The pain of a woman in childbirth

So that all parting is power in death
      all return a child’s learning to spell

No longer do we wait for the cycle
             Pulp from good fruit, fruit from good pulp
             The earth
                         breathes in
                                     your green speech

And there before your feet
                                              should be
                                                                a tree on a hill

And your hand
                         should sing
                                       a new moon in my heart

Go and plant
             in dead Amilcar’s mouth
This fistful of watercress
And spread from goal to goal
             a fresh phonetics
And with the commas of the street
         and syllables from door to door
You will sweep away before the night
The roads that go
            as far as the night-schools
For all departure means a growing alphabet
        for all return is a nation’s language

They await you
             the dogs and the piglets
             at Chota’s house
             grown thin from the warmth of the welcome

They await you
             the cups and semantics of taverns

They await you
             the beasts
             choking on applause and sugarcane

They await you
             faces that explode
             on the blood of ants
             new pastorals to cultivate

             when your body
                         of blood and lignite, on heat

             Over the harvest
Your pain
And your orgasm
             Who didn’t know
             Who doesn’t know
That all of parting is power in death
And all return is a child learning to spell

The Caesarean of Three Continents

the body was coin and the soul Kapital
Before the light
on the remembered sea
And the erosion of the face by stone and wind
We lived inside the summer of the earth
The seed that had no spring
We were the exclamation
Of the ‘di’ in distance

We gave
Legs to the hills and arms to the mountains
Gave a face and a meaning
To the dunes of the high seas
That breathe out
the thighs
the breasts
the sex of the Sahel

I remember you! In Africa your womb
Enquiring of yourself
about the isthmus + the
prow of our destiny
When poles, peninsulas and tidal waves
Tore and tore in the vortex of life! In the fracture of earth
The Caesarean of the three continents

We became navels of stone
Between the skin and bone of the seasons
We became island and island
beyond the wind
in the evasive archipelago

Thus it was pronounced
Before & after the 1st day + the
Erosion of the chronicle
In the mouth of the Written Stone

Letter from Bia d’Ideal

               The 19th of the month
               to windward of the souls that know me

Junzin! Even to the people San Vicente
Your name is Vario or T. Thio Thiofe
                  And I, Corsa de David, say
You’ve become a black black Greco-Latin man
                         But really – really

The waves
            already climb
                         the steps of your poem
And inside the guitar of the island
The roofs of Europe
                               break over our heads

Junzin! A long time now
Since you drank the waters
                       Of our thirst
It’s true — it’s true
Years upon years
                       plus five years more, then a day

That the sponge of our hearts has wet the rock
And a conch of milk holds a thread of blood
Oh the pain of a cheerful man!
                              silent pain
                              pain in repose
                              pain cast out
                                                     but pain always

The ache of the viola’s note
Ache of the seed in the earth
Ache of the volcanic heart
                                       but today

I will not say
             thank you
                          danke schön

When Djosa
             went out of the door
                          with his shoeshine box

Tanha died by the flag at the gate
With the apple hunger stuck in her mouth

Oh people of the Rua de Craca

             on fish-broth for 16 tostãos
You all gather to hear
             Patrada’s viola
                                     Antonzin’s guitar
Open in the blood of Tanha
             A silence made of many doors
You gather to see
             the ship’s mast
             the ship’s canvas

                           in Tanha’s eyes
                           Why! When Djosa

Opened in the city
             the sun’s open road

Tanha sowed the wind
             with the bitten apple in her mouth

Junzin! Three things
             are bound to my soul
Three rivers for nevermore
             first written on the hand
             then written in the mouth
             then in the blood
on the rock the sun breaks
             the egg of hunger
the wind grinds the stone
             with the flour’s white cry
the people and the people’s hand
             write the longhand sentence in the earth
And a long time ago
                          was already saying
Saint-John Perse notwithstanding
                  That it is not always true
“That the oar will break in the oarsman’s hand”

Greetings from Bibia

And all the people of the Rua da Crava



The last three poems literal translation was provided by Daniel Hahn, and the final translated versions by Sean O’Brien.

I would also like to read Cape Verdean poetry specifically from the current young generation of poets but it’s so hard to find English versions. If you know of any, please, kindly forward. In the mean time, here’s more poetry from Cape Verde.

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