#WiTMonth Poetry: Amina Saïd’s ‘I Live Here in the Basement of the Gare de Lyon’

Poet Amina Saïd was born in Tunisia in 1953, to a Tunisian father and French mother. For Women in Translation Month, her “I live here in the basement of the Gare de Lyon,” translated by Marilyn Hacker, and twelve more:

She has lived in France since her late teens, and writes in French. She writes often of journeys, reinterpreting historical and mythological voyages, overlaying them with her own discoveries and encounters. She is the author of fifteen collections of poems in French, including Les Saisons d’Aden, Clairvoyante dans la ville des aveugles, and Dix-sept poèmes pour Cassandre. She has also published two collections of Tunisian folktales and translated Francisco Sionil José’s fiction from English into French.

Saïd’s honors include the Jean Malrieu Prize and the Charles Vildrac Prize. Australian composer Richard Mills incorporated her poetry into his work Songlines of the Heart’s Desire (2007).

The Present Tense of the World, a collection of Saïd’s poems translated and prefaced by Marilyn Hacker, was published by Black Widow Press in 2011. “I live here in the basement of the Gare de Lyon” appears with permission.

I live here in the basement of the Gare de Lyon

by Amina Saïd

translated by Marilyn Hacker

he says you’ll find me when you come back

and suddenly beneath the ash of neon lights

day was done before daybreak


your eyes stopped me he says

with a flame dying out in his own pupils

and dusk drowned itself suddenly

in the empty glass of his bottle


you speak several languages like me

he says you travel a lot

torture of the motionless traveler

and dawn died suddenly before dawn


I was born in Jerusalem… he smiles

I was born in Morocco, Salah, yes, homeless

you’ll find me here when you come back

and night was over before nightfall


thirty-two years I’ve been living in Paris

he says far from my mother’s prayers

darkness of failed departures

sun and sand churn in his memory


you come from somewhere else too he says

and the stones moan with absence

the earth stops turning

once yes once I also had a country


one can see in your eyes that you love life

he says… only a solitary smile

as a talisman for the soul

there are seven doors left to pass through


the seven doors passed and the thousand and one trials

perhaps we will be delivered

(if that makes any sense)

from the south of madness     the madness of the south


from The Present Tense of the World,

Black Widow Press, 2011


Twelve more poems by Saïd:

the seventh day of my birth” and seven more, tr. Hacker

from “Clairvoyant in the City of the Blind,” tr. Hacker

“Path of Light,” tr. Hacker

“The Mothers,”  tr. Hacker

“I Introduce Myself to the World,”  tr. Hacker