Vénus Khoury-Ghata: ‘The Woman Who Wasn’t in the Photo’

We close Women in Translation Month (#WiTMonth) with a poem by Vénus Khoury-Ghata, born in Lebanon in 1937:

A translation of Khoury-Ghata’s The Last Days of Mandelstam (Englished by Teresa Lavender Fagan) is forthcoming from Seagull Books in October 2020. In it is Khoury-Ghata’s portrait of Mandelstam in his final days, when Khoury-Ghata was herself one year old and thousands of miles away.

Khoury-Ghata, pictured right, is a prolific and much-laureled poet. She said in a 2007 interview: “I am very disciplined. I wake up early every morning and begin work on my own novels and poems. Then I take care of my cats and others’ work.”

Here, an untitled poem reprinted here with permission, from the 2017 collection A Handful of Blue Earth.

By Vénus Khoury-Ghata

Translated by Marilyn Hacker

The woman who wasn’t in the photo taps her thigh

and the wind bends its neck for the collar and leash

curls up under the table next to the dog who becomes a wolf when night stripes the


the wolf, she says

is only a wolf by hearsay and gossip

he doesn’t trample the young grass

doesn’t mock widows in their dresses of grief

An angel before

and a beast behind

the wolf was a bell-ringer in the age of cathedrals

a pilgrim with hairy knees

who stole weathervanes

His disappearance from books leaves her inconsolable

From A Handful of Blue Earth, Pavilion Press Poetry (UK) 2017.


Lebanese poet and novelist, long-time Paris resident Vénus Khoury-Ghata is the author of twenty-two novels ,and nineteen collections of poems, most recently Demande à l’obscurité (2020) and Les Mots étaient des loups, a collection of selected poems in the Poésie Gallimard series (2016). Six collections of her poems and one novel are available in English in Marilyn Hacker’s translation, including A Handful of Blue Earth (Liverpool University Press, Pavilion Poetry Series 2017) and Where are the trees going?  (Northwestern University Press, 2014)). Recipient of the Académie Française prize in poetry in 2009, she was named an Officer of the Légion d’honneur the following year.

Marilyn Hacker is the author of fourteen books of poems, including A Stranger’s Mirror: New and Selected Poems, 1994–2014 (2015) and seventeen books of poetry translations from the French; among the most recent are A Handful of Blue Earth, by Vénus Khoury-Ghata (2017) and The Olive Trees’ Jazz, by Samira Negrouche.