The Dedalus Press
These poems are taken from the bilingual collection Point / Erasing
(The Dedalus Press, 2003) by Jean Portante

Translated from the French by Anne-Marie Glasheen

the desire to stay opens like a zip
fastener the wound which yesterday evening I brought
home emptybut this morning you can tell me that

who are you to speak of knives to be put away or
of paths to be retraced emptyno don't answer straight
away emptyspeak to me first of the garden at the back of
the house and of the departure you buried there

has brought me here and I wanted to see
if by rising so high one really got
closer to deathempty anyhow that's what

my father told me when suitcase in
his hand he came down into my dream
since then each time he comes down
emptyemptyemptyemptyemptyempI climb up there

and when our paths cross we remain
silent like that time in the kitchen when
my mother was pouring ladles of silence
into our plates

out of their boxes emptyit's thanks to them that
I've come this far but they too
owe me somethingempty nothing

is missing from the faces I tack
to my bedroom wallemptyyour smile
doesn't suffer when in one hand I
hold the hammer and when in

the other lingers the following episodeemptyit takes place
near a well in the middle of the courtyard of a
medieval castleemptyit's been a while since
anyone drank thereemptyvisitors

these days have everything they need in
their plastic bottles - and it is said
that since the last drought the
neighbouring inhabitants dump their dead there

but it's not of this that I
wanted to speak to you
emptyemptyemptyemptyemptythis nail above
your head is neither a halo nor a

punishmentemptyit's scarcely the road
I travelled before pinning my life
to a distant white wall and it's from there
that I watch you and that you watch me and don't

we both have a hammer in
one hand and in the other the shared nails
of our story

eTHERE ARE DAYS when if the tides come in they
put words on things and say
for example thisempty what comes from the sea
is not a liquid memoryemptybut words

in a bottleemptywords that have
crossed all humidity like a dialogue
which as the dead know has travelled
from wall to fallemptyfrom silence to

what was said beforeemptyI look out to
sea and there in the sea air floats an
unbreathable blueemptyand not because the water
suddenly turned talkative but because of you

who when you come put so much sea in my
suitcaseemptydon't you ever grow tiredemptydidn't anyone
ever tell you that the salt water you hoard
is the key to your heavinessemptydidn't anyone ever tell you

that to watch the sea weighs more than the words which
from here weigh down your suitcaseemptyin the open sea is a
key that opens bottlesemptyand a hand too
not yours nor mine but ready for everything

eA HUGE OBLIVION unites the people who live in this
townemptyno one speaks to anyone save with clouds of black
smokeemptyin the early morning fire throwers ready themselves for a long day

emptyemptyemptyemptycolumns of words above
the rooftops indicate which houses should be spared

I lived in one during the last war
in the early morning we'd ready ourselves
for the words that were to be burnedemptythey were passed
by word of mouth and ended up on the pyre

to speak still signified surviving on one's own



Reprinted here by kind permission of the publisher The Dedalus Press

(c) Jean Portante, Anne-Marie Glasheen and The Dedalus Press, 2003.

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