Translation: Poems by Mireille Gansel


Translated from the French by JOAN SELIGER SIDNEY

The poems appear below in both English and French


Translator’s note

I met Mireille Gansel virtually, through a mutual friend. All three of us have lost family because of the Holocaust. Besides her poetry books, Gansel translated all of Nelly Sach’s poems, as well as Sach’s correspondence with Paul Celan. She has won major awards for both her poetry and translations. Her Translation as Transhumance (The Feminist Press) has contributed significantly to the field of translation studies.

“post-script” is one of fifty-three prose poems in Gansel’s Maison D’Âme. It portrays refugees in flight as well as resettled, with love and wit. Her poems go beyond borders, where everyone and their language matters. The reader will note Gansel’s poetic lines extend across the page, often without punctuation. This has presented me with an ongoing challenge: as her translator, do I break her galloping rhythm by inserting punctuation, which might clarify meaning, or do I follow her lead and let the reader appreciate the poem as she wrote it?

While translating the entire book, again and again I was astounded by the depth and breadth of Gansel’s knowledge of peoples, lands, languages, histories, as well as nature. She taught me more about the world we live in than all my college courses. I look forward to finding and working with a publisher to bring Maison D’Âme/ House of the Soul to English-speaking readers.  

This prose poem is from Mireille Gansel’s Maison D’Âme, her award-winning fifth poetry book.

Joan Seliger Sidney



this morning while I was going to the docks looking for summer’s last flowers at the florist’s suddenly the look of this young boy with his mother her head scarf knotted like the Romani women who had offered us hospitality he and she hurrying both of them grasping black bags in a large trash can he’s dragging along an old half-open suitcase upholstered in checkered fabric—

the dignity of this look—





ce matin tandis que j’allais chercher des fleurs de fin d’été chez le fleuriste sur les quais soudain le regard de ce jeune garçon avec sa mère elle a un fichu noué comme les femmes tziganes qui nous avaient offert l’hospitalité lui et elle en hâte tous deux tâtent les sacs noirs dans une grande poubelle il traîne une vieille valise entr’ouverte en tissus à carreaux—la dignité de ce regard—




it was on returning from the flower market suddenly at the corner of the dock and the footbridge to île Saint-Louis under the high windows where the shadow of Jankélévitch and Edmond Fleg flits by this Balkan melody on his accordion time just enough time to exchange a few words about here and his country and when it’s too cold this burning coffee he clasps in both hands he says, he shares a cellar, and also, no, not a place for flowers, and he almost laughs, and takes up the Balkan melody again—  



c’était en revenant du marché aux fleurs soudain au coin du quai et de la passerelle de l’île Saint-Louis sous les hautes fenêtres où passe l’ombre de Jankélévich et d’Edmond Fleg cette mélodie des Balkans sur son accordéon le temps juste le temps en passant d’échanger des paroles sur ici et son pays et quand il fait trop froid ce café brûlant qu’il prend à deux mains il dit, il partage une cave, et aussi, non, pas un endroit pour des fleurs, et il rit presque, et reprend la mélodie des Balkans—



As a second-generation Holocaust survivor, Mireille Gansel’s poetry bears witness to personal loss and beyond. She has absorbed tastes of language and purpose from Paul Celan, Nelly Sachs, Imre Kertész, Reiner Kunze, To Huu, and many other European, Israeli, and Vietnamese poets, whom she has translated. At the same time that she welcomes the stranger to her house of the soul, poetry is her weapon, an urgency, with which to fight persecution and exile. 

Joan Seliger Sidney is the Writer-in-Residence at the University of Connecticut’s Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life. Her published books are Body of Diminishing Motion: Poems and a Memoir (CavanKerry), Bereft and Blessed (AntrimHouse), and The Way the Past Comes Back (The Kutenai Press). Her poems and essays were published in many literary journals and anthologies. Sidney recently completed her translation of Mireille Gansel’s Maison D’Âme. Four of these poems appeared in New Poems in Translation and were nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

Translation: Poems by Mireille Gansel

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