LOVE FOLIAGE GENITAL ROOT by Patrick Mac’Avoy, Trans. by Jacques Houis

Haven’t I admitted risked unpacked all of it 
my obsessed male vulgarity humbly
reeled off the sleeping intimate daydreams 
of glorious asses yours graceful as well
pulp filled mysterious curves
infinite delectation and contemplation
haven’t I embraced the soul of this body the body of this soul
adoration-thirst at the source of your raspberry vulva
handsome cunt of soft wool sweet wound of non-violence
night mouth of passion with sprays of shooting stars
solar orgasm amphoras of space without fear
oh in your bath of petals silk garlands
in your weakness your strength your devotion
for a moment of water of fire and totality
to become you a single instant solar
please a thousand times open your vulnerable body to me
well short of and way beyond the miserable suffering and boring mind body
marvelous body that dances comes travels and never lies
your skin of fine sand where the drawings of my palm disappear 
beneath the indefatigable waves skin that diffuses life orangey glow
my country of surviving forests
I’m awaiting your first rain your song your blood
bared wet crack orchid under the moss
fascinating wild immobile flame 
say will you offer me again and again
your gazelle and trout thighs
will you let me put on your sensitive slit
and the rough areola a spit of snow
a hot and pure flake and plunge my eyes
into your innocent eyes when my finger ringed with sky
plays with the bud of live coal
tomcat penis shellfish muscle
oh my tender barbarian you see I drool I wash
I lick I have neither pride nor dignity
I speak in your mouth I speak in your breast
how happy you make me to accept to welcome
my body and my raw words
fountain of insults the opposite of insults
O my accomplice against the solitudes 
I inhale your breath the drug I adore
I listen deep inside you to a flower language
your breathing rolls me over turns me around
how you know how to pull on my heart at the end of its stem
gather my preciously ugly balls
and against the lips of your pussy
offer the frail bird a drink of electric life
run your sap finer than any oil
I awaken to all consistencies
nuances of tenderness eternal candle
the light of which bathes us like landscapes
in the perfect rest on the back side of orgasm
first let my folly mold exult
in your contours the arch of your back and the majestic gift
of the docile rump volume of the world of all wealth
dazzling well-rounded buttocks vase of my ecstasies 
beloved bowls domes hills where I have built my house
with a view on the meadow of your back and the peninsula waist
and your face buried in its pout
under your hair puddle at twilight
yes let me nibble on the nape of your princess’s neck
my sally flushes out your essential cry
your original nature and unique timbre
your triumphal defeat unfurled like a wing
and like wings also your dancer’s legs
the nights of full moon your eternal youth
your freedom mine may you love
all who attract you and may they be 
gypsies and noble Touaregs yes without neglecting me
love without measure
yes anoint me with your elegant mudra
your deep mudra your delicious orders
clouds of butterflies
and your passivity ready unnamed super intense presence
my glans in turn lotus and mango
yes the absolute encounter
yes spill the sperm and the poem inside you
lover my title of nobility
and even during sleep the vibrations continue
a part of us makes love by telepathy
		yes open my chest like shutters
		and my weapon my storm stomach
		before nor after
		to the rainbow
		gaze
		yes     

Amour feuillage sexe racine

N’ai je pas tout avoué risqué déballé
ma vulgarité de mâle obsèdé humblement
débité les rêves intimes éveillés endormis
de culs glorieux le tien gracieux aussi
courbes mysterieuses pleines de pulpe
delectation et contemplation infinies
n’ai je pas embrassé l’âme de ce corps le corps de cette âme
adoration-soif à la source de ta vulve groseille
beau con de laine douce blessure de non violence
bouche de nuit de la passion aux gerbes d’étoiles filantes
orgasme solaire amphore de l’espace sans peur
oh dans ton bain de pétale guirlandes de soie
dans ta faiblesse ta force ta devotion
pour un moment d’eau de feu et de totalité
pour devenir toi un seul instant soleil
je t’en prie ouvre moi mille fois ton corps vulnerable
en deça au delà de l’esprit corps miserable
souffrant et fatiguant et chiant corps merveilleux
qui danse jouit voyage et ne ment jamais
ta peau de sable fin où s’effacent les dessins
de ma paume aux vagues inlassables peau
qui diffuse la vie lueur orange
mon pays de forêts rescapées
J’attends ta première pluie ton chant ton sang
a nu cramouille orchidée sous la mousse
fascinante sauvage flamme immobile
dis m’offriras-tu encore et encore
tes cuisses gazelles et truites
me laisseras-tu poser sur ta fente sensible
et l’aréole rugeuse un crachat de neige
un flocon chaud et pur et plonger mes yeux
dans tes yeux innocents quand mon doigt bagué de ciel
joue avec le bourgeon de braise vive
pénis de matou muscle de coquillage
oh ma tendre barbare tu vois je bave je lave
je lèche je n’ai ni orgueil ni dignité
je parle dans ta bouche je parle dans ta gorge 
comme tu me fais bonheur d’accepter d’acceuillir
mon corps et mes mots bruts
fontaine d’injures inversion de l’injure
O ma complice contre les solitudes
j’inhale ton haleine ma drogue adorée
j’écoute au fond de toi un langage de fleur
ton souffle me roule me retourne 
comme tu sais tirer mon coeur au bout de sa tige
receuillir mes couilles à la laideur précieuse
et contre les babines de ta chatte
offrir l’oiseau frêle à boire la vie éléctrique
couler ta sève plus fine qu’aucune huile
je m’éveille à toutes consistances
nuance de la tendresse chandelle éternelle
don’t la lumière nous baigne comme des paysages
dans le repos parfait à l’envers de l’orgasme
d’abord laisse ma folie pétrir exulter
de tes galbes ta cambrure et le don majestueux
de la croupe docile volume du monde de toutes richesses
fesses éblouissantes épanouies vase de mes extases
coupes dômes collines bien aimées 
avec vue sur la prairie de ton dos et la taille presqu’île
et ton visage enfoui avec sa moue
sous ta chevelure flaque de crepuscule
oui laisse moi mordiller ta nuque de princesse
ma sallie débusque ton cri essential
ta nature originale au timbre unique 
ta défaite triomphale déployée comme une aile
et comme ailes aussi tes jambes de danseuse
les soirs de pleine lune ta jeunesse éternelle
ta liberté la mienne puisses-tu aimer
tous ceux qui t’attirent et puissent-ils être
gitans at nobles Touaregs oui sans me délaisser
aimer sans mesure
oui sacre moi de ton mudra élégant
ton mudra profond tes ordres délicieux
nuées de papillons
et ta passivité à point innomé présence surintense
mon gland à son tour lotus et mangue
oui la rencontre absolue 
oui déverser en toi le sperme et le poème
amant mon titre de noblesse
et même pendant le sommeil les vibrations continuent
une part de nous fait l’amour par télépathie
		oui ovrir ma poitrine comme des volets
		et mon arme et mon ventre d’orage
		avant ni après
		à l’arc en ciel
		regard
		oui


Nala (Patrick MacAvoy) Bombay, 1983

MY BOHEMIA by Arthur Rimbaud, Trans. by Jacques Houis

I would leave, fists in my torn pockets;
My jacket too becoming ideal;
Leaving under the sky, Muse! and I would follow you;
Oh! la! la! what splendid loves did I not dream of!

My only trousers had a big hole.
- Dreaming Little Thumb, I would scatter as I went
Rhymes. My inn was at the Great Bear.
- My stars in the sky made a sweet swishing sound

And I would listen to them, sitting on the roadsides,
On those good September evenings when I would feel dew
Drops on my forehead, like a fortified wine;

When, rhyming in the midst of the fantastic shadows,
Like lyres, I pulled the elastics
of my wounded shoes, one foot close to my heart!

Ma Bohème

Je m’en allais, les poings dans mes poches crevées ;
Mon paletot aussi devenait idéal ;
J’allais sous le ciel, Muse ! et j’étais ton féal ;
Oh ! là ! là ! que d’amours splendides j’ai rêvées !

Mon unique culotte avait un large trou.
– Petit-Poucet rêveur, j’égrenais dans ma course
Des rimes. Mon auberge était à la Grande-Ourse.
– Mes étoiles au ciel avaient un doux frou-frou

Et je les écoutais, assis au bord des routes,
Ces bons soirs de septembre où je sentais des gouttes
De rosée à mon front, comme un vin de vigueur ;

Où, rimant au milieu des ombres fantastiques,
Comme des lyres, je tirais les élastiques
De mes souliers blessés, un pied près de mon coeur !

Cahier de Douai (1870)

Behind its apparently simple surface, Rimbaud’s sonnet Ma Bohème, hides ulterior meanings in plain sight- meanings that are helpful for the interpretation of explicitly enigmatic poems of his, such as the sonnet Voyelles. It seems as though all Rimbaud is packed into this sonnet, which manifests the Hierogamic marriage of Heaven and Earth, at the center of several other important Rimbaud poems. Another important feature of his poetry is also front and center, something I will call outside-ness for lack of a better term- the holes in his torn pockets, the “ideal” jacket, the big hole in his trousers, the Great Bear, or Big Dipper as inn, the leaving or going “under the sky.” There is a major fantasy here of going inside the outside or filling the hole, so to speak, of finding intimacy in exteriority. The fantasy is explicitly referred to as “splendid loves” that are dreamt of, as “fantastic shadows.” The objects of the fantasy are the Muse, the constellation, with its stars rustling their petticoats, a sound that carried erotic significance in the 19th Century. In French, the adjective “doux,” stronger than “sweet” in English, leaves little doubt as to the erotic charge of this sound. 
	
The allusion to Little Thumb, or Le Petit Poucet, a fairytale familiar to French readers, that features elements of Hansel and Gretel, Jack and the beanstalk and Puss in boots, tells the story of the youngest of seven brothers abandoned in the forest by their poverty-stricken parents, who manages to find his way back by leaving a trail of pebbles, and who eventually rescues his family from poverty by stealing an ogre’s money and seven league boots. These two occult (because buried in the story and because they relate to occult tradition) occurrences of the number seven help overdetermine the other two occult occurrences of the number in the text, the mention of September, which contains the French seven, and the Great Bear/Big Dipper, aka Septentrion, so named for the seven stars of the constellation pointing North. Now, the religious symbolism of the number seven cannot be underestimated. It represents not only the divine, but as the combination of three and four, heaven and earth, the encounter between the human and the divine, which figures mightily in Rimbaud’s Lettre du Voyant, where he calls on the poet to be Promethean, a “thief of fire.” But here, the relationship to the divine is truly a marriage, a physical union, as in the Hieros Gamos- divine sex ritually represented. Dew on the forehead in the first tercet, in a month named seven, amounts to an anointment by the divine, the dew also being compared to wine fortified by cocaine, as Vin Mariani was at the time. Dew was an important ingredient in alchemy as well, precisely because, like Mercury, it spoke of a transmission from Above to Below. Dom Pernety, in his Dictionnaire Mytho-Hermétique of 1758, states that many alchemists “consider the dew of the months of May and September the prime matter of the Hermetic work.”

The final tercet would seem to allude to Orpheus, famous for his lyre, an instrument invented by Mercury, that Orpheus perfected. The parallels between Rimbaud and Orpheus are too numerous to list here, but what better commentary on Rimbaud’s poetry in general, its Promethean ambition, its realization of the Hermetic “as above, so below” principle, than to be anointed by the divine precisely “when, rhyming amidst the fantastic shadows” and pulling his shoelaces “like lyres.” If transmuting the laces of “wounded shoes” into lyres isn’t a Hermetic operation worthy of alchemy’s mud into gold, what is? The “wounded shoes” could also allude to the wounded king or fisher king of Arthurian legend, keeper of the Holy Grail, an object reminiscent of the seven-league boots, Orpheus’s lyre, the Philosopher’s Stone, all with divine properties available to humans.
	
The sonnet ends on an interesting pun, and the organ associated with emotional authenticity, the heart, as though telling the reader: no irony here, this is real feeling. A flexible young man, a boy of sixteen really, is sitting by the side of the road, and in a semi-lotus like position, is tugging at his laces so hard that his foot is brought up, level to his chest, his right foot, for it to be next to his heart. But as much as his feet mattered to Rimbaud (“the man with soles of wind”) there is also another foot that relates to the heartfelt: the poetic foot, the poem’s heartbeat. French, unlike English, puts virtually the same stress on every syllable. So that, in French prosody, syllable and foot are virtually identical (I say virtually, because the last syllable of certain phrases may be stressed for rhythmic purposes) and poetic forms, like the Alexandrine, are known by the number of feet- so the term “foot” is more common in French poetry, even though there are a greater variety of feet in English, known by their specific names: Iamb, trochee, etc. 

PATRICK MAC’AVOY ON THE PRIX GONCOURT, 1970

Paris, Nov., 1970, the poet Patrick Mac’Avoy, in his mid 20’s, discusses what it means to be a candidate for one of the most important literary prizes in France, the Prix Goncourt, a few days before the award.

Patrick Mac’Avoy Interview

Trans. by Jacques Houis

Subtitles added by Christian Roberts

I: Patrick Mac’Avoy, you’ve already written two novels; you have another one coming out next Spring. Does the Prix Goncourt represent something that can eventually help you?

P: No, absolutely not! The Prix Goncourt, If I had it, I would think I’d written a very, very bad book! In any case, for me it represents something essentially commercial. It concerns, let’s say, the petty bourgeoisie.

I: Let’s suppose, the Prix Goncourt Jury changes, and some leave the tribe. What would you do with it? Would you use it anyway? Would you accept it?

P: No, I think I would refuse any reward whatsoever, as I would any punishment.

I: Don’t you think that the Prix Goncourt, assuring a certain financial security, you could then write what you wanted, much more freely?

P: It would make me write turkeys. Financial security doesn’t make you create good things, anyway. You need some. But this kind of glory, very artificial in the final analysis, is worthless to a writer. On the contrary, it can sink him, especially a young one.


Mac’Avoy, Patrick. “Le Prix Goncourt Pourquoi Pour Qui?” Ina.fr. Office national de radiodiffusion télévision française. Accessed April 26, 2021. https://www.ina.fr/video/CPF10005685/le-prix-goncourt-pourquoi-pour-qui-video.html.

Quelles sont les affres de l’écrivain à quelques jours de la remise du prix Goncourt et qu’est-ce qui peut changer dans la vie de ce dernier lorsqu’il est récompensé par un tel prix. Témoignages de deux postulants Michel TOURNIER et Patrick MC AVOY.Interview de Maurice GENEVOIX se remémorant le jour de son prix pour son roman “Raboliot” et sur les avantages et inconvénients d’un tel prix. Insert d’archives de Maurice Genevoix jeune. Roland DORGELES explique comment se passent les délibérations. Armand SALACROU raconte quelques anecdotes de vote et constate le peu de répercussion sur les oeuvres préalables de l’auteur.Georges CHARENSOL explique les raisons de la création du prix Renaudot en 1925.Deux libraires évoquent l’aspect flatteur d’avoir un prix Goncourt chez soi et le responsable de la librairie poétique Jean BRETON regrette que les journalistes ne s’intéressent pas autant aux prix de poésie. Jean-Louis BORY insiste sur l’aspect éphémère du prix et sur ses dangers. Paul COLIN, prix Goncourt 1950, interroger dans ses terres se souvient. Au lendemain du prix Goncourt, témoignage de Michel TOURNIER sur son livre “le Roi des Aulnes” et sur son amour de la photographie.

COMPASSION/KARUṆĀ by Christian Roberts

Gargling on the wreckage of a glass civil lie nation
Shiny ill flections of phrenic parcels
Pastel fangs to suck out the juice, the cream to find me now it’s gone
I’ve never been real except when I want to liquify
The ground into splashed hair flecks, the hammer on my desk for the jaw
Bone I hold up to my face filled with sockets of Hate
You better nail it somewhere or stay dead in the power reserve
Because it comes up in dreams in love in supermarkets in the shame of surviving
In the surge of your acid weight        brimming
Now what do you do with it after you’ve found it?
I can’t squint through the waves wrinkling across the witch’s face
In those folds of fire cracked sympathetic plates
When there’s no sympathy left in the tower
And the seven stars align in the Human hour
It’s yourself that you find if you could hold each hemisphere
And drill the spear through the diamond crusted surface
Snapping nerves like pencil tips
If only to pass through the hardest skin to feel the bit
Like the silver for blood we use for the hourglass drip
The only rules left are the ones made broken.
Click to enlarge:

Elephant

Elephant by Christian Roberts, 2016

THE RED WINDOWS by Patrick Mac’Avoy, Trans. by Jacques Houis

Click the title link below for the PDF of the poems:

The Red Windows

Les Fenêtres RougesPublished by Editions Saint-Germain-des Prés (Collection Blanche), 1983

A GOTHIC OPENING, 2 OBJECTS, 1 JOKE TOLD COMPLETELY IN MARBLE by Marty Watt

Okay, here we go:
A Gothic opening, 2 objects, 1 joke told completely in marble:
A Gothic opening might be:
At the end of each word stands a poet tonight
Boots and gloves and a hat connected
By a coat even longer than
The silence at the end of a sonnet
Its teeth are Stars
Extracted, this poet; the
Constellations are gynecological,
Penetrated by our gaze like
Tongues into bloody sockets…
How sharp are the howls of
What shapes of the wind
Could shred the marble
Curtains of its smile
Eyes like distant candles torn
From the steady drip of their roots
Hands melting, fingers lengthening
Like icicles in an x – ray of
A windowsill from which,
Clinging, each word dangles.
2 objects could be:
A toaster and a
A bicycle wheel.
A joke told completely in marble
could change each version of the poem – the joke, I mean;
not the marble – joke would always be told in marble. But
here, in this version,
it would go like this:
My face lengthens out behind me like
a shadow made of flesh cast by
sunsets of ever sadder events like:
A solid block of marble is suddenly chiseled
Into an ornate perfect recreation of a bar
Serving marble drinks with marble music playing
And lit by great shafts of marble light, A
Human bartender: flesh, bones, eyeballs, heartbeat,
Breathing all that human stuff
wears a completely marble costume:
Marble shirt, marble mask – even casts a
Marble shadow … SUDDENLY! Self Chiseling, Self
Sculpting Blocks of mechanized marble appear one
After the other like the footsteps of a…. prehistoric giant:
Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! white stone dust
covers everything – everyone starts looking like the ghost of
Michelangelo …. HORSES ! well, actually
One horse but in a sudden series of statues
That give the illusion of motion, of it walking into the bar.
A ‘marble’ bar.
We are all some distance from our words: some 3 feet,
some a couple of hundred yards, or miles, some people
like me have their words all towering behind them…. like:
the bartender formerly a mausoleum angel – you
can see where they shattered off the wings …
he stands right there behind his words which come
up to just above his waist, you know: like a bar:
and those words he’s standing behind say,
“Hey Horse, why is your head shaped exactly like
The Pieta by Michelangelo?” He says this
because we’re not in the Flesh & Blood world where
people use a chainsaw for a tongue and teeth
like a keyboard to carve what they mean out of carnage –
arranging the body parts and intestines to express things
all rotting and covered with maggots like: “Why the long face?”
In that world where music covers everything in flesh,
a long face means you’re sad and horses have
long faces in THAT world. In THIS world of marble,
when people are sad, their whole head, face etc.
becomes an exact replica of Michelangelo’s Pieta:
Marble hat, marble sunglasses, marble collar,
marble cigarette. And sure enough: there’s the
horse with its head shaped exactly like The Pieta…
Oh well, guess you had to – you know: “be there:”
staggering among the ruins… the pillars all in mid topple,
the fragments of moonlight, ANCIENT GREECE UP
ON ITS HIND LEGS JURASSIC IN SCALE BLINDINGLY
WHITE IN THE FOSSILIZING STARLIGHT… cathedrals
crashing on the shoreline great staircases
patrolling the horizon…. not a sound… the deathly silence
not one tooth rattling around in even one shaken skull: nothing….
then: wait a minute:
“its’ head shaped exactly like Michelangelo’s Pieta ?”
“its’ head shaped exactly like Michelangelo’s Pieta !”
because, you see, in 1482, the Duke of Milan Ludovico il Moro
had commissioned Michelangelo to sculpt a huge horse for him
but Michelangelo never completed it – which
made him and the Duke very sad…
then Laughter sent its’ corridors through the silence….
its’ cold empty hallways through the smooth white silence….
then Laughter sent its’ corridors
lacing through the silence….
and so, as if
Emily Dickinson had been a “Silent Film Poet”
flickering in the dark like the windows of the
All Night Crematorium and
Check Cashing Service….
Her gestures flashing like
a graveyard of lightbulbs at the center
of a moon, luminescent as
bones as fragile as neon
her skin aglow with embers and ash,
there you have it:
A Gothic opening remember:
“the poet at the end of each word
candles torn out by their dripping roots”
the 2 objects the “TOASTER” and the “BICYCLE WHEEL,”
The joke told completely in marble
with “the Marble horse – its
head shaped exactly like Michelangelo’s Pieta,”
and, what I think is a great last line:
“laughter sent its corridors lacing through the
silence.”

THE TALL FOUNTAINS by Anne Hébert, Trans. by Jacques Houis

Let’s not go into those deep woods
Because of the tall fountains
That sleep in the deep.
Let’s not wake the tall fountains
A false sleep keeps their salty lashes closed
No dream there invents
underwater blooms white and rare.
The surrounding days
And the long singing trees
Don’t plunge any image there.
The water of these dark woods
Is so pure and so uniquely fluid
And consecrated in this flowing spring
Marine vocation where I watch my reflection.
O tears inside of me
In the hollow of this grave space
Where the straight pillars of my old patience
Stand watch
To keep you
Eternal solitude solitude of the water.

Les Grandes Fontaines
N’allons pas en ces bois profonds
A cause des grandes fontaines
Qui dorment au fond.
N’éveillons pas les grandes fontaines
Un faux sommeil clôt leurs paupières salées
Aucun rêve n’y invente de floraisons
Sous-marines et blanches et rares.
Les jours alentour
Et les arbres longs et chantants
N’y plongent aucune image.
L’eau de ces bois sombres
Est si pure et si uniquement fluide
Et consacrée en cet écoulement de source
Vocation marine où je me mire.
O larmes à l’intérieur de moi
Au creux de cet espace grave
Où veillent les droits piliers
De ma patience ancienne
Pour vous garder
Solitude éternelle solitude de l’eau.

A MAN AND A WOMAN ABSOLUTELY WHITE by André Breton, Trans. by Jacques Houis

Deep under the parasol I see the marvelous prostitutes
Their dress a bit faded on the side of the streetlight color of the woods
With them they walk a big piece of wallpaper
Such as you cannot contemplate without a lump in your throat on the ancient floors of 
A house under demolition
Or a white marble seashell fallen from a fireplace
Or a net of those chains that behind them are blurred in the mirrors
The great instinct of combustion seizes the streets where they stand
Like grilled flowers
Eyes in the distance raising a wind of stone
While they sink immobile in the center of the whirlwind
To me nothing equals the meaning of their unimplemented thought
The freshness of the gutter in which their booties dip the shadow of their beak
The reality of these handfuls of mown hay into which they disappear
I see their breasts that are a point of sunlight in the dark night
The time they take to rise and fall is the only exact measure of life
I see their breasts that are stars on the waves
Their breasts in which forever weeps the invisible blue milk

Un homme et une femme absolument blancs 

Tout au fond de l’ombrelle je vois les prostituées merveilleuses
Leur robe un peu passée du côté du réverbère couleur des bois
Elles promènent avec elles un grand morceau de papier mural
Comme on ne peut en contempler sans serrement de cœur aux anciens étages d’une maison en démolition
Ou encore une coquille de marbre blanc tombée d’une cheminée
Ou encore un filet de ces chaînes qui derrière elles se brouillent dans les miroirs
Le grand instinct de la combustion s’empare des rues où elles se tiennent
Comme des fleurs grillées
Les yeux au loin soulevant un vent de pierre
Tandis qu’elles s’abîment immobiles au centre du tourbillon
Rien n’égale pour moi le sens de leur pensée inappliquée
La fraîcheur du ruisseau dans lequel leurs bottines trempent l’ombre de leur bec
La réalité de ces poignées de foin coupé dans lesquelles elles disparaissent
Je vois leurs seins qui mettent une pointe de soleil dans la nuit profonde
Et dont le temps de s’abaisser et de s’élever est la seule mesure exacte de la vie
Je vois leurs seins qui sont des étoiles sur des vagues
Leurs seins dans lesquels pleure à jamais l’invisible lait bleu

(1922?)

White Work and Blue Milk: Reading André Breton’s “Un homme et une femme absolument blancs” 

by Jacques Houis

The title may allude to the White Work (Albedo) in alchemy. The philosophical Mercury, 
represented by the Rebis, the alchemical androgyne: the purified reunification of the sexes, of fire and water, sun and moon, the offspring of Mercury and Venus’s adulterous 
liaison: the hermaphrodite, Hermes and Aphrodite.

Tout au fond de l’ombrelle je vois les prostituées merveilleuses

The poet as seer. The prostitutes shield themselves from the sun under parasols. Ombrelle= Ombre elle. The shadow is also shade in French, reflects coolness but has a dark connotation. That of prostitute? But these are marvelous prostitutes. The word “merveilleuses”, using the principles of the phonetic cabala, generates the poem- mères (mothers) and mer (sea), combined with veilleuses (feminine noun for one who stays up at night, one who watches over, and night-light)

Leur robe un peu passée du côté du réverbère couleur des bois

The prostitutes bring nature with them. A common theme in surrealism, the city as a natural environment. The streetlight is tree-like, “couleur des bois.” Its light has faded the prostitutes’ dresses, like a sun in the night.

Elles promènent avec elles…

Parisian prostitutes often walked dogs so they could say that was the reason they were out at night, a fragment of realism.

…un grand morceau de papier mural
Comme on ne peut en contempler sans serrement de cœur aux anciens étages d’une maison en démolition

The realism in surrealism again, with the image of wallpaper glimpsed on the walls of a building under demolition. You cannot contemplate it without emotion (serrement de coeur) or, applying the phonetic cabala, without a commitment to emotion (serment de coeur-oath of the heart). The syntax also yields a double reading. You will feel a lump in your throat if you contemplate it, but also you will not be able to contemplate it without a lump in your throat. And what does this “mural” depict? Something ancient, lost, demolished:

Ou encore une coquille de marbre blanc tombée d’une cheminée

Or a white marble seashell fallen from a fireplace. A scallop shell no doubt, the emblem of Venus Aphrodite, born of the sea foam, also the sign (coquille Saint Jacques) of the pilgrims who made their way from the medieval church Saint Jacques de la Boucherie (of which only the Tour Saint Jacques remains today) much restored and augmented in the 14th Century by Nicolas Flamel and his wife Perrine, with proceeds supposedly derived from Alchemy, to Santiago de Campostella in Spain, via Rocamadour, the site of chapels harboring “black virgins”, the medieval remnants of the cult of Aphrodite. Now, this pilgrimage is called the “camino Santiago” and “camino” in Spanish (way or path in English) amounts to “chemin” in French, and the word “cheminée” meaning both chimney and fireplace, is a homonym of “cheminer”, to walk along. As for “tombée”, une tombée, when a noun; it means fallen as an adjective and fall as a noun. In English, prostitutes are known as “fallen women.” The process at work here is one of “overdetermination”, a term coined by Freud and adopted by literary criticism, to describe the manner in which meaning emerges in the unconscious, by accretion of fragments (the unconscious not being able to generate statements, it “means” the way images do): the sign of Venus has fallen as the result of a certain itinerary. But what tells us Venus is truly involved, beyond the (probable) allusion to the scallop shell, and to white (sea foam) and marble? The next line does:

Ou encore un filet de ces chaînes qui derrière elles se brouillent dans les miroirs

This overdetermines the Venus meaning, confirms it, as it is an allusion to the net of chains her husband Vulcan-Hephaistos, the blacksmith, fashioned to imprison her and Mars, one of her lovers.  

Le grand instinct de la combustion s’empare des rues où elles se tiennent
Comme des fleurs grillées
Les yeux au loin soulevant un vent de pierre
Tandis qu’elles s’abîment immobiles au centre du tourbillon

The heat emanating from the fire of the male gaze envelops them, grills them, their own eyes in the distance raising a wind of stone (provoking a phallic response?) while the fallen women sink farther into the whirlwind…But:

Rien n’égale pour moi le sens de leur pensée inappliquée

To me nothing equals the meaning of their unimplemented thought. Shades of Rimbaud. An intertext confirming the status of the poet as seer, proclaimed in the first line, which derives from the teenage poet’s letter to Paul Demeny, known as the “Lettre du Voyant”:

“When woman’s infinite servitude is shattered, when she lives for herself and by herself, man, abominable up to now,- having given her her leave, she too will become a poet! Woman will discover the unknown! Will her worlds of ideas differ from ours?- She will find strange, unfathomable, repellent, delicious things; we will take them, we will understand them.”

La fraîcheur du ruisseau dans lequel leurs bottines trempent l’ombre de leur bec
La réalité de ces poignées de foin coupé dans lesquelles elles disparaissent

Nothing equals these things, for the narrator. The city is once more naturalized. Masculine heat and dryness give way to feminine cool (fraîcheur) and moistness (ruisseau, trempent.) The gutter, the Parisian “ruisseau” or stream, turns into something like a mountain stream, distinguished by how fresh it is, their booties (bottines) become bird-like, as they dip the shadow of their beak in the gutter-stream. The mention of the handfuls of mown hay in which the ankle boots (or the prostitutes themselves?) disappear, reminds us that the horse was still an important presence in 1920’s Paris, when the poem was written. The hay, of course, is another sign of the conversion of city into country, of artifice into nature, brought about by the prostitutes.

Je vois leurs seins qui mettent une pointe de soleil dans la nuit profonde
Et dont le temps de s’abaisser et de s’élever est la seule mesure exacte de la vie
Je vois leurs seins qui sont des étoiles sur des vagues
Leurs seins dans lesquels pleure à jamais l’invisible lait bleu

Mères veilleuses and mer veilleuses, according to the phonetic cabala. Their breasts are night lights because they are points of sunlight in the dark night. As stars on the waves they are night lights of the sea, but sailors also orient themselves at night according to their position. Their own up and down movement, corresponding to breath, is quite literally “the only exact measure of life.” The last line comes closest to the poem’s occult meaning, for it presents the prostitutes’ breasts, not as sexual objects but as maternal ones. Blue milk, which can seem like a typical surrealist invention, is actually a reference to a known property of human breast milk: a blue tint. Implicit in the poem is a yearning for the emancipation of the feminine, for the breaking of Vulcan’s chains, for the implementation of the “unimplemented” feminine, for both the integration of sexuality and motherhood (note that the prostitute’s milk is “invisible” and “forever weeps”) and the synthesis of male and female found in the Alchemical promise of “a man and a woman absolutely white.”

FIGURES OF SPACE: SUBJECT, BODY, PLACE by Paola Mieli, Trans. by Jacques Houis

Figures of Space: Subject, Body, Place

Figures of Space-Subject, Body, PlaceThe paintings of hands, Cueva de las Manos (Cave of Hands), Santa Cruz, Argentina, 9300 BP (about 7300 BC).
FIGURES OF SPACE explores the implications of Freud’s assertion that the “psyche is extended,” and gives a novel approach to the understanding of the subject’s relation to the world. In Mieli’s words, the subjective landscape is, given its origins, intrinsically libidinized. Topics range from humor, defined as the “making of space where there is none”, to angst, phobia and the uncanny, from sexual difference to hatred. Diverse examples are drawn from art, literature and cinema, including the works of Poe, Melville, Pontormo, Marina Abramovich, Otto Wagner, Charlie Chaplin and Philippe Petit.
Author Bio:
Paola Mieli is a psychoanalyst practicing in New York. A founding member and president of Après-Coup Psychoanalitic Association, she has written on psychoanalysis, psychoanalysis and culture, literature, art, and politics. Her essays have been published in the US, South America, and Europe.
Translated from the French by Jacques Houis.
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