Immigrants in Years 2070, 2081, and 2097 Must Furnish the Following Documents

Two poems by FISTON MWANZA MUJILA

Translated from the French by J. BRET MANEY

 

Translator’s Note

As xenophobic arguments about merit-based immigration and “migrant caravans” intensify in the US, and as desperate boatloads of refugees cross the Mediterranean, poetry of (im)migration and border-crossing plays a crucial role in bearing witness and resistance.

“Immigrants in Years 2070, 2081, and 2097 Must Furnish the Following Documents” is such a poem. Intensely original, harshly mocking, yet also darkly comic, the poem by Man Booker International Prize-longlisted Congolese novelist and poet Fiston Mwanza Mujila imagines the insidious bureaucracy and statistical obsessions of a future, broken immigration system. The first part of the poem borrows its violatory aesthetic from the intrusive language of immigration and asylum application forms. In the second part, the immigration-form aesthetic gives way to the anxieties and longings of migrants to leave, to escape. The poem’s purposeful unevenness and leaden atmosphere evoke a consular waiting room or long-term refugee camp, and the “we” of the poem becomes a rueful yet resistant immigrant voice.

The second poem I translate here, an untitled short lyric, complements “Immigrants” by speaking to the anomie of European exile. Formally quite different—made up of eight heavily enjambed lines totaling a mere fourteen words—the poem nonetheless offers an eloquent, if agonizing, statement about the longing for home. Participants in the world’s migratory human flows, the speakers of both poems testify to the increasing global circulation of human life, doing so with sympathy, resistant utterance, and unsettling humor.

 

Immigrants in Years 2070, 2081, and 2097 Must Furnish the Following Documents

certificate of death
sperm samples
fingerprints

date of birth
first name, last name, post-name,1 nicknames, aliases, sobriquets
spare first and last names just in case…

head circumference
marital status, house-broken status, bastard-status
age
length of brow ridge

jaw size
pubic hair
IQ
number of sexual encounters
race (required)

political beliefs
facial appearance
weight
sex
height
baptismal records

place of birth
number of lovers or common-law spouses
(describe them, if possible)
criminal record
complete family tree
– name of father
– mother
– uncles
– and aunts without omitting any ancestors

full address
bank account
past(s)
collective memory, in two volumes

long-term plans
short-term plans
driver’s license
certificate of good conduct and morals
religion
teeth
fingernails
facial hair
urine sample

bodily pleasures
one special question:
– do you like being kissed?

stool sample
brief curriculum vitae in support of succubi
they patronize
five of their faults
abstracts of two porno mags
(required)
hair
pelvic measurements for females
DVD of their nighttime activities
biometric passports
identity cards

proof of vaccination
against rabies
dysentery
tuberculosis
schistosomiasis

they must state truthfully
their proclivities:

lesbian
gay
straight
bi
used to be bi
anorgasmic
premature ejaculator

soothsayer
surgeon
hawker
engineer
easy to get off
architect
highwayman
magistrate
pedophile
hermaphrodite
rapist

smoker
non-smoker
former smoker
future smoker…

they must rate their degree of satisfaction
with their last sexual encounter
this question has seven possible answers:
excellent
very good
pretty good
ok
poor
dismal
do-over

women must describe their anatomy:
eggplant breasts
bouncy breasts
grapefruit breasts
big tomato breasts

they must submit to consulates and embassies:
2,467 passport photos
5,790 euros
a bag of salt
two goats
three bunches of bananas
a male white rhinoceros
a carton of aphrodisiacs

 

we spend our time talking
of a champagne
of a torrid night
of a TV segment on a Russo-Cape Verdean writer
who was naturalized as a Norwegian
then re-naturalized as a Chilean but wrote in
German while
at that very second the embassies
and consulates the world over are installing
a network codenamed Handcuffs Exponent 2/57/355/10
or Hands Up!
password: MigrationBlocked_Tension6

poor as they are
poor as we are
poor as we will be
poor as they will be…
we will spend
they will spend year upon year
going from one country, one continent, to the next
from one country to the next on the same continent, eighteen years and six months
Africa–Europe, round-trip, sixty-five years and six days
America–Europe, round-trip, sixty-five years and two weeks
America–Asia, round-trip, sixty-eight years, five days, and eight hours
Asia–Africa, round-trip, sixty-eight years and ten months
Africa–Antarctic Ocean, several years, several years…
as for the other routes, the talks continue…

our neighbor on the right
politically on the left
the socialist or visionary comrade
as we call him…
camps out in a six-room flat
with his two wives, his fifteen children
seventeen cousins
without forgetting
his sisters
nieces
aunts and sisters-in-law who are
married on Thursday and Monday afternoons
and who also have several children
said children being the cause
of a thousand and one paternity disputes but
who continue to squat in the flat of their—
sorry, the sociology of genealogy is not our forte—
son-in-law, father, uncle…

they rattle on about a cousin or nephew or
son-in-law or brother-in-law or ancestor abroad…
they’ve been fighting for five years to clear out of the country…
they should stick together
for example
vacate the premises before 2050

in addition to their dying by drowning
suicide
natural causes
abortions (botched)
they fill
they continue to perfectly fill the earth
twenty-seven babies a year
thirty-seven if the vintage is good

leaving is their obsession
if they don’t pull it off this afternoon
how will they manage tomorrow
how many bunches of bananas
how many goats
how many sheets with the degree of satisfaction of their last
or very first sexual encounters will it take?

 

Untitled

I die
each
day at the thought
of ending up
in
a
European
cemetery

 

Footnotes

[1] The postnom, or post-name, follows the family name in Congolese naming conventions. During the 1970s, when the Mobutu regime prohibited the use of foreign first names on government documents, ancestral post-names were introduced to identify citizens. Although the use of first names for official purposes was reinstated in 1997, many Congolese continue to use their post-names. For example, the poet Fiston Mwanza Mujila uses both his family name (Mwanza) and his post-name (Mujila) [Translator’s Note].

 

Born in 1981 in Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Fiston Mwanza Mujila is the author of the Man Booker International Prize-longlisted novel Tram 83 (2014), the poetry collections Craquelures (2011), Le Fleuve dans le ventre (2013), and Soleil privé de mazout (2016), and two plays published as Et les moustiques sont des fruits à pépins; Te voir dressé sur tes deux pattes ne fait que mettre de l’huile sur le feu (2015). A longtime resident of Austria, Mwanza Mujila has been the recipient of many African and European literary prizes, including, most recently, the Peter-Rosegger-Literaturpreis (Austria, 2018). The two poems translated here are drawn from Craquelures, published by L’Arbre à Paroles (Belgium) in 2011.

J. Bret Maney lives in New York City, where he is Assistant Professor of English at Lehman College. His translations of poetry by Fiston Mwanza Mujila have appeared in Exchanges; Poetry International; Asymptote, where they were named Runner-Up in the 2019 Close Approximations International Translation Contest; and the catalogue of the Museum Rietberg’s current exhibition, “Fiktion Kongo.” A past recipient of a PEN/Heim Translation Fund grant, Maney translates from the French and Spanish.

Immigrants in Years 2070, 2081, and 2097 Must Furnish the Following Documents

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