Imagine that you made a list
of everyone you ever knew
(pre-supposing that you could
remember all their names);
and picture crumpling in your fist
part of your work, a page or two
to use as kindling. Next, you would
consign the rest to flames.
What if you watched the fire grow,
observing, as your writing curled,
schoolmates, lovers, relatives
reduced to flakes of ash?
You would outstrip cruel time —too slow
to seize your memories of this world—
and witness every light that lives
extinguished in a flash.
What if included in your list
were everyone you’d ever met—
the man from Belgium on the train
obsessed with Charles de Gaulle,
the officer your puppy kissed,
the bridesmaid whose chignon got wet
as she ran tripping through the rain
(you tried to break her fall)
—with no attempt at sorting out
the pricks from those you loved the best,
and anyone you’ve cared about
lumped in with all the rest,
mixing with men of poison minds
the man of conscience in his cell.
Oblivion accepts all kinds.
Farewell. Farewell. Farewell.
The Barn Owl
The night is a large city fallen asleep
where the wind blows, having come from far away
to this bed for shelter. A midnight in June.
You sleep, I’m led along these infinite shores.
The wind shakes the hazelnut tree. There’s a call
that moves in closer and then draws back, you’d swear
it was a glimmer fleeing through the woods, or
one of the shades that circle, they say, in hell.
(This call in the summer night, so many things
I could say of it, and of your eyes…) It’s only
the barn owl, calling to us in the depths of
these suburban woods. And already our smell
is that of moist decay at dawn, already
under our skin still so full of warmth the bones
pierce while at the street corners stars fade away.
— translated from the French of Phillipe Jaccottet