lundi 20 octobre 2008

night, les vers

i wrote a version of this poem a year ago in paris and over this week have completed it. it's one of those rare poems that, no matter how long i rework it, i find myself dissatisfied. finally, i had to admit the reason: a long-standing grief.

when i was in college studying french and english, i discovered an amazing word in the french language, "vers". this beautiful word means both "lines of poetry" as well as "worms", and with this discovery wrote the most amazing poem in french that i have ever written, about a dead poet who cannot stop articulating "les vers", even as he lies beneath the earth and "les vers" pour from his mouth.

i was in a writing and conference at the time with jeanne bernard, the first french woman elected to the académie française for her teaching in an american university. madame bernard loved "les vers", and after we had worked on the poem for an hour, i returned in my youthful exuberance to give the newly penned poem to her as a gift but without keeping a copy for myself! this was in part, i believe, based on an old idea i held and practiced about writing: i would lie on my stomach in the backyard and pen poems into the dirt with my finger, one word upon the other, believing that all poetry, great and small, would eventually be distributed to the wind. i was probably right, but this hasn't helped the loss i've felt over that remarkable poem, my only recompense being that it was her to whom i had given it.

i've been trying to recreate it ever since without success. in paris, i decided that i would try my hand at a variation in english. while it is nowhere near the perfection of the first, i accept this poem for what it is, even as i must accept my earlier folly, and as the poem attempts to articulate, live with the eternal trials of a poet who longs for an earlier muse.

night of infinite hours

night sans sleep (again)
this no-dreaming pushes
away all the fight in me:

i opened iris bulb in lamp light
with blue and weepy eyes
i dug green shoots into
brown earth, lay erect

felt the cold smoothness
of les vers between my toes
lines of life, worms of death
that leave their trail of nutrients

i savored sweet and bitter loam
its tangy bronzed metals
burned lines into my entrails
i sucked in stinging rain

"Pluck, pluck"
the devil whispered then
and i on my belly tore at roots
like coarse and hanging threads

fragile and starved
and i was their cause
i'll pay any price
to assuage that sin

i'm not where i was
in the beginning

o i used to be much better when
les vers made felt their presence
i could find matter in the dark
and transcend any form

bridging bilingual
with infinite sibilants
like flowers strewn
on a beautified corpse

i was not afraid to die then
i dug in with horrific force
and made the earth
warm and pliant

la nuit me manque quand
huddled with thought
i swallowed red clay
then spit it out, blackened

o unearth my silent thought
break my bones
and shatter my heart
night comes, sans vers

naked and robbed
drenched, torn and cold
my blood no longer boils
with ancient song

a cold blank page
is all that is left
when the worms retreat
and the tongue grows deaf

and the earth opens up
and no flower can stay
when les vers retreat
it's forever day

8 commentaires:

enudelman a dit…

beautiful, Laura; a stellar poem, one I'll keep coming back to. I think you must have gotten total recall, finally! I very much appreciate the intro. Regards, Ed

Barbary Chaapel a dit…

Laura, this seems very beautiful and original to me. I hope you are pleased with this version.

Perhaps all French words are, indeed, beautiful when spoken aloud. This particular word startles with two meanings.

Kathryneo a dit…

It is a marvelous poem, Laura, and the explanation of its origin and birth here was fascinating to read, as well.

Moineau En France a dit…

thank you so much, my loyal friends. it was many, many nights of heartwrenching and heady work. xoxox ~lt

Pris a dit…

Isn't it always a struggle to set down what we mean? I think you did a wonderful job of doing just that.

Jan a dit…

Chere amie,
On ne peut jamais retourner
Nous continuons
Suivant le meme fleuve d'idees
meme en francais ou en anglais
And what you say
makes sense to me
et je respect ta poesie

Moineau En France a dit…

te voilà, jan, avec ta sagesse. je t'apprécie et je te remercie. xoxox

Maureen a dit…

I like the biblical idea of this - Genesis - creation coming out of the darkness, the void. Also, nature in a primitive form, moving blindly, trustingly, taking things in and leaving nutrients. (In this regard, I think it's interesting that you say you "were not afraid to die then," that you would need your bones to be broken - ego structure? preconceptions? out of the way, back to a more primitive form and back to darkness with its possibility. I like that first you feel the worm (cold smoothness) - I remember that feeling - and then you become it. I wonder about the "roots you tore at". So much here. I could read it many times. Thank you, Laura