A Pound of Flesh, by Paul Éluard (1948)

I am a man in the emptiness
Deaf Blind Mute
On an immense pedestal of black silence

Nothing This oblivion without end
This perfection, a repeated zero…
Solitude, finalised

The day is clean of work, and the night is pure

Sometimes, I wear your sandals,
and I step towards you

Sometimes I put on your dress
and then: I have your breasts, your stomach

So, okay, I see myself under your mask
And I know myself


Translation Note:

There are several problems in translating these French body terms into English. Sein, the singular of breasts, also means what we mean when we say heart as the centre, and can also mean womb. Ventre, stomach, also means womb, and interior generally. So the combination of seins et ventre has this much richer sense of being centrally important to the bearer. I couldn’t just say ‘boobs’ or ‘tits’ both which in comparison, have no other meaning and seem isolate in the language. Breast comes slightly closer, in the sense of ‘I felt it in my breast’, though that is antiquated. Why has English isolated these terms? I could have used gut to relay this more central, gut-wrenching, sense, but I have your gut doesn’t seem as sensual as ventre, and the experience related here seems to be that. Stomach would have made sense, but in French estomac is a more medical term, and ventre escapes from that a bit to be more general. Really I wanted a term that meant the stomach on the outside as being part of the feminine body. I thought womb might have done it but that has other implications which would perhaps stray too far. Since stomach is more fleshy, like the surfaces here, I went with that.