I Would like to Pay for your Chips, by Cécile Coulon (2018, Le Castor Astral)

It began at that so particular time of the night
where the end of one day bumps up against the start of another;
I went out in the rain, I was hungry.
The storm unleashed its warm hail on the flapping shutters,
no one else was walking in the streets
which were slick and seeped down to the square at the bottom
where the fountain overflowed.
Normally bony dogs would be having a bath there
but now, no barking, no whistles.
The night, the rain, the heat.
I crossed the road. A guy waved from the other side:
two fingers and a mouth ajar to ask
if I had something to smoke, I threw up an open hand
flapping, like the shutters, to show him that no,
and I went on, face buried in my oversize hoody,
hair full of the smell of a day
that wasn’t quite done.
By the sign, a young girl in a pink skirt and a guy
with a haircut that recalled the best moments
of Agnés Varda, waited their turn to order a kebab
with extra cheese.
The girl looked at the mounted flat-screen
on the wall showing clips of american pop,
the guy threw and caught a plastic bottle behind him
turning it over skilfully.
After they’d paid, the owner said
“Sorry for the wait”
I’d only just arrived, so that made me smile;
“a box of chips, with ketchup
okay
you can wait
inside.”
So I waited, standing, leant against the fridge
in front of the empty salad trays.
It was then that a man, soaked to the bone, came in.
I pushed myself aside to let him pass:
his clothes gave off a smell of cement
and cheap alcohol, his hair cropped short, grey,
held water
like the surface of a field at four in the morning.
He ordered.
At the moment I went to pay for my chips, he fixed his eyes,
eyes rounder than the beak of a Flemish rose,
the weak mouth of those tired men who drink
a bit too much and who accept it,
he looked at me for a while,
and stammered:
“I don’t know what to say to you.”
At first I thought he was winding me up, but all the same,
his eyes, his eyes!
“How’s that?”
He took a great breath, as if each word
tore from him half of a lung:
“I don’t know what to say to you, Miss”
The guy behind the counter listened with one ear
filling the industrial chip trays.
“You don’t have to say anything to me”
I responded, shaking my jumper.
“I don’t know what to say to you because I know who you are.”
The rain left lightly shining grooves, falling
from his skull to the bottom of his nose.
I didn’t know what to say either:
midnight wasn’t far off, I’d come looking for what to expect til morning,
and this guy, perfectly drunk and sound of mind, seemed
about to cave in on himself.
“I know who you are, you write books.
How do you do it?”
“Well, however I can.”
He gave himself a tap on the knees, and then
in one go,
tears, sweat
of the rain which comes from the inside
something humid and sincere came over his look,
already drowning in solitude and the bizarre night.
He turned towards the guy
who folded
the orange trays
with the precision of a dental surgeon.
“I can tell you that I didn’t get soaked tonight for nothing, no way!”
At my back, the fridge hummed.
A light smile installed itself, naturally
between my dimples.
On the counter, my chips were ready, well packed.
I took out my coin
a two euro piece and the drowned man said to me:
“I would like to pay for your chips, if you don’t mind.”
I sighed and left my coin between him and me, then I offered my hand.
He shook it.
“Thanks, mister”
and I left, my bundle of chips on my wrist.
On the way back, the characteristic smell of chip fat
invaded my nostrils, my hair, my clothes.
I will probably never see that man again, or at least, not like that.
Since yesterday, I’ve wanted to write about him, because I wonder
which of us in a few months, in a few years, will be betrayed
by the image they have constructed
of the outside world?
Will it be for others to shake hands
at that hour of the night
for a box of lukewarm chips and an iceless cola?
I would like for poetry to be as natural to those
who surround me as the emotion
that sprang forth that night, before that square
with the improbable ease of moments that might not have been,
but that happened all the same, poorly thought out
overflowing with grace, and impossible words

Silence of the Gospel – after Paul Éluard (1926)

We sleep alongside red angels who show us the desert without microscopics and without soft, sad awakenings. We sleep. A wing breaks us, escape, we have wheels older than flown feathers, lost, to explore the graveyards of slowness, the only luxury.

*

The bottle which surrounds the cloth of our wounds gives in to the slightest want. Let us take hearts, brains, the muscles of anger, let’s take the invisible flowers of pale little girls and tied children. Let us take the hand of memory, let us close our souvenir eyes, a theory of trees liberated by thieves hits us and divides us, all the fragments are good. Who will reassemble them: terror, suffering or disgust?

*

Sleep, my brothers. This inexplicable chapter has become incomprehensible. Giants pass by, breathing terrible moans, giant’s moans, moans like the dawn wants to push through them, the dawn which can’t complain anymore, after all this time, my brothers, after all this time.

Victory at Guernica (after Paul Éluard)

I
Quiet world of rundown homes
Of night and fields

II
Good faces ready for fire faces ready for full speed
For refusing the night, for injuries, for impacts

III
Faces ready for anything
Here comes the void to fix you
Your death’s going to be an example

IV
The death overthrown heart

V
They’ve made you pay in bread
Sky earth water sleep
And the misery
Of your life

VI
They say want good intelligence
They ration the strong judge the mad
Make charity divide one penny
They salute dead bodies
They barrage themselves with niceties

VII
They persevere they exaggerate they are not of our world

VIII
Women children have the same treasure
Of spring-green leaves and pure milk
And of legacy
In their clear eyes

IX
Women children have the same treasure
In the eyes
Some men have defended it if they could

X
Women children have the same pink roses
In the eyes
Each one lets out its blood

XI
Fear and courage to live and to die
Death so difficult and so easy

XII
Those for whom this treasure was sung
Those for whom this treasure was gashed

XIII
Those whose despair
Enrages the desolate flames of hope
Let’s crack open together the last bud of the future

XIV
Outcasts the death the soil and the disgust
Of our enemies has the dull
Colour of our night
We will defeat it.

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

*

Continue reading

Anti-Plato by Yves Bonnefoy

Yves Bonnefoy was a poet who worked in the french language in the second half of the twentieth century. He died last year. Here is my translation of the short series called “Anti-Plato” first published in 1947.

Disclaimer: I am not yet fluent in french, I translate in order to learn. That said, if you notice what you might call a ridiculous error, feel free to offer your corrected translation for my perusal.

ANTI-PLATO

I

What it’s really about is this object: a horse’s head, bigger than usual. Encrusted with a whole city, roads and defenses run between its eyes, hugging the twisting, turning, lengthening muzzle. Someone knew how to build this town out of wood and cardboard, how it should be lit by a real moon, It’s really about this object: the spinning wax head of a woman all tousled up on top of a phonograph.

All things from here, the willow country, frock country, stone country, that is: the country where the water runs over willow and stone, the country of dirtied frock-coats. All this laughter wrapped in blood, I tell you, traffickers of the timeless, you symmetrical faces you, forgetful of the gaze, weighs heavier in our minds than any of these perfect ideas which know only how to slowly bleed out in our mouths.

II

The horrendous weapon, a shadow-horned axe carried over the stones,
Weapon of the pallor and scream when you turn, wounded in your festival dress,
an axe because it’s time for time to draw away on the nape of your neck,
O heavy, with all the weight of a country in your hands the weapon falls.

III

What sense to give to this: a man form of wax and colours the sham-copy of a woman, the shield-guard of all resemblances, the necessity of living, given to it by a clever game of lights this doubt on the edge of the movement, the movement which expresses the smile.

Then arming itself with a torch, abandoning the entire body to the caprice of the flames, aiding the deformation, the bursting of the flesh, projecting at once a thousand possible figures, lighting-up in the process a horde of monsters, feeling like a knife the cut and thrust of this funereal dialectic where the blood statue is born again and divides itself in the infatuation of the wax, of the colours?

IV

The blood country goes on under the frock in a perpetually black rush
When we speak, here begins the night-flesh and gets bogged down in sand, the wrong paths
And you, madame scholar, you dig for the light of the brightest lamps of the flock,
and end up tipping over backwards onto the threshold of death’s bland country.

V

Imprisoned in a room, in a noise, a person shuffles cards. On one: “Eternity, I despise you”, on another “Let this instant free me”

And on yet another, a third, they write “essential death”. So they walk on time’s rift, lit up by their wound.

VI

We are in precisely one country on the mouth of the earth,
You, with one burst of melt-water thanks to the foliage,
and this one which we call “me”, when the day dims
and the gates open and we speak of death.

VII

Nothing can tear him from this obsession with the black chamber. Perched on a cistern, he tries to still the face under the water’s surface: but as always the lip’s movement triumphs.

Dismasted face, distressed, sinking face, is it enough to just touch her teeth, will she then die? At the passage of my fingers she could smile, like sand collapsing under footsteps.

VIII

Imprisoned between two thieves with green scorched surfaces
And your stony head, open to the wind’s drapes and tapestries
I watch you enter into summer (like a funereal mantis into the canvas of black grass)
I hear you cry out from summer’s rear.

IX

Someone said: dig this piece of loose earth until your teeth meet a stone.

Sensible only to the modulations, to transitions, the quiverings of balance, to the presence already given away by its explosions from everywhere, they look for the coolness of invasive death, they easily overcome a youthless eternity, a perfection without burning.

Time boils around this rock. O, to have touched this stone: the lamps of the world turn, the hidden light moves on.