Three French Prose Poems

translated by Edward Gauvin

The Alarm

The television had announced the imminence of an attack. Would it be a bomb? Bacteria? A weapon previously unheard of?
     Everyone had long known their role. And so, there was no turmoil when sirens advised the people to head for shelter. They remained there for several weeks, after which those in charge attempted an excursion.
     When air, soil, and water tests yielded no alarming results, they decided to return to the surface.
     At first glance, nothing had changed.
     And yet everyone was convinced of a clean break with centuries past. It had happened; the dreaded moment could no longer happen ever again. The task was now to determine exactly what the apocalypse had entailed.
     An old man claimed to be rid of his aches and pains. A barren woman gave birth to twins. Yet other events made it seem an answer was at hand. But none came.
     Then someone spread word that in actuality, nothing had happened.
     His banishment was swift. History could not be allowed to come back into its own.



At any given moment, someone somewhere in the world is dying. Their throes snake into us. Into our bellies, our rib cages, our skulls.
     Several times a day, an agonized scream stops us in our tracks: in the street, the subway, at home.
     The scream of an old man in his hospital bed in New York, a woman in the Outback, a soldier in a ditch . . .
     Endlessly, the dying invade the living, bow them earthward, force them to share their end. No one escapes.
     One wonders: by what conduit do these kidnapped breaths come to drown us?



In every room of his apartment, screens are lit, day and night. He hasn’t set foot outside in some time now. The shutters are always closed, although sometimes a ray of sunlight falls on a TV screen, or he catches a glimpse of the moon through the kitchen dormer.
     It pains him to know that the characters filling his screens, real and fictional, represent a minuscule part of humanity.
     Not a single name subsists in his memory.
     At last the day comes when food is no longer delivered to his door. He’s been expecting it.
     He takes his time, polishes off the victuals in the fridge. Then goes for a stroll in the streets of the city.
     The dawn is a cool mauve.
     He enters a vast movie theater. Every last seat is occupied by a human being, absolutely still. Asleep, or dead?
     He doesn’t dare reach out.
     He’s forgotten how.

Translations from the French

Jean-Marie Le Sidaner (1947–92) was a French poet, essayist, and art critic who taught philosophy and was a frequent contributor to the avant-garde revue Encres Vives. In 1992 the Prix Roger Caillois was posthumously awarded to his body of work. Apocalypse Lessons, a slim volume of prose poems from which this selection derives, was among his final works.

The translator of more than 250 graphic novels, Edward Gauvin has won the John Dryden Translation prize and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Translation Award. He is a 2021 recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship.