“Light of the Fig”

September 25, 2019
translated by 
A fig tree as dusk, dramatically lit in purple from below
Photo: AndyM / Flickr

I imagine the crocuses also sometimes come down unexpectedly
                feverish, spreading
their long green leaves through the wrong season. So it’s
                October 7. We’re living
an Indian summer: hot and a little empty maybe but at least
                we’re living. Lots of people
laugh in the street. The primary examples of existence
                include:
someone says hi like he wanted to sleep with you but knows
                simply and sadly
that he won’t. Or it’s your own wild translation from
                the wet fringes
of his voice to a word less and less likely:
                hope. Nevertheless
we’re alive. Tyler Clementi, Seth Walsh, Asher Brown, and
                Billy Lucas
are dead, 18, 13, 13, 15. The only way to escape
                their enemies.
You, you were luckier in the end when
                you were 12
they chased you with their knives, they were such
                sensitive animals
they could smell what you didn’t even know. But you,
                you had paws
strong enough to dig out your tunnels and get away
                and now
you place sad stones, so completely hardened
                with sadness
along the alley of the absences. You’re there now in the dead
                space of their acts of love, you never
pray but once in a while you make promises:
                next time
I’ll make myself a part of it, I’ll be for & be thinking of you.
                Oh my god
in fact it’s already happened and putting the condom on him
                I knew I was becoming you.
He was called Nurettin. Light of the fig, it means. It’s so poetic
                immediately
a shower of gravelly violet light. We’re sitting
                between two
purple rhododendron bushes on a cold stone bench
                “Probably ‘bush’
and ‘buisson’ have the same origin” “Probably” although really I
                have no idea.
The clouds seem like they want to pull a sheet of metal-gray
                at all costs across the sky,
maybe it’s going to rain, the garden empties expectantly,
                but it didn’t rain
and we played out one ridiculous game
                of seduction.
The pinky finger in his language is called hummingbird because
                of its twig-like fragility.
And another one finally later we ended up in my bed “I
                don’t have much
experience” “No it doesn’t matter, experience is about
                sexual pleasure
inexperience is about immortality
,” it came out like that in
                pseudo-English
because immortality needs a global language. The strangest moment
                is when he stops rimming me to rinse his mouth
with rubbing alcohol. But ok. Of course one of the poets I dream
                of being
already objected to displays like these. This poet would prefer
                that my own night
speak my lines: some fruits have shells that are fuzzy
                and plush
and there you’d be received—but it’s useless with these dead
                almond trees. Or put another way:
“there is no empty time in people’s lives” (Arlette Farge). This,
                for example,
is a morning: incandescent like all the mornings on which it’s
                still possible
to get up and add some hours to the biography.
                Justin Aaberg,
Raymond Chase are dead. 15, 19. If it means anything, I willingly
                dedicate to you
the improbable temperatures of October 10. Oh look
                the next next day
rolling in for us, and with it childhood’s child crouched against
                the morning light.
On his face: anxiety, anticipation. But surely it’s
                not today
he’s going to meet the big dark unknown
                promised
by certain horoscopes. Surely not today, or ever. You,
                just now,
so far from that child, you’ve got Nurettin. Each time you
                make love
you bury yourself frantically into his chest
                as if he
could keep you from sinking any deeper into goodbye. But
                as soon as he leaves
the backlash: what’s left? Nothing, autumn, the leaves
                shrivel
dry and burning, then they flee into the void. Paid by the city,
                the gardeners
rake them pile them throw them into trucks
                and it’s over.
Probably no one asks them, say, would you rather
                be incinerated
or serve as fertilizer in the next world? And if we’re
                lucky enough to attend
the next showing of the young trees, the saddest part is that
                they’ll be
other leaves and we’ll have so few weeks to learn
                to recognize them
to know the name of each one. Speaking of names, in
                Beverly Hills 90210
Ian and Teddy’s love affairs seem to be going well, that’s
                just about how
we’re living, isn’t it? As far as possible from our
                disappointments, as close as possible
to the tally of days taking place, even if they’re filled with
                trash tv.
Oh it’s intoxicating the chase, the gull always in flight
                refusing
and refusing to come down and land on death.
                Actually
to be less specific: the chase is intoxicating period.
                 Otherwise
October 15 is a day of dingy foam, the fall having
                thrown itself
into the cold currents with its head down. This morning however
                there’s something
blinking a friendly message from Nurettin full of Turkishisms
                if that’s
how you say it and it reminds me of the auto-translated
                email from Cuba:
“Already I want to have you in me some arms so that you do
                to me all that
you finish saying to me, have much need of you.” It’s
                undeniable
that their faces are all the more splendid, flickering
                as they can
in language, undeniable that all you do is add the right amount
                of sentimental sun.
After which you watch them appear. Like exactly
                3 weeks ago
at the foot of Poseidon’s temple in white ruins at Sounion
                “the marble
from this region is less durable and corroded by the salt”
                said the guide
she wouldn’t stop talking about the sea-god, I wanted
                to interrupt
no god is only the god of some one thing, brush up
                on your polytheism,
they all work together to ensure their survival, and
                ours with it
but wisely I kept listening and it wasn’t
                completely useless either
problems with the gold mines and food supplies
                and the economy  
and Attic navigation in the classical age right up until she says
                you have
40 minutes of free time. Immediately someone’s sitting
                at the top of the cliff
someone who contained within him a young virgin priestess and
                who waited and who was hoping
in the end, 18 minutes left, that the silhouette of god would rise
                above the fishy sea
and it happened: from here, rocks and tawny earth, tourists
                and buses
both invisible and inaudible because of the wind, and the present
                emerged from the climate
& spread itself over things, which is to say that she and the one
                who contained her had
above all the impression that the world had struck them, gently,
                tenderly. Don’t worry
it murmured I only want to say that we’re alive.
                Cody Barker,
Zach Harrington are dead. 17, 19. You back then
                they made you lick
the tiled floor and beat you in the high school stairwells but
                it would’ve taken
a much more penetrating enemy to make you stop there with
                so little and so
quick. “How can I die, I who have never lived? I who have never
                roamed a moor to meet him!” (Balzac).
The strategy was to go down and breathe the communal and
                more rarely mortal sphere
of language beneath adolescent shelters of silence, to become
                the perfect pupil
of continuity, not brilliant but perfect and industrious. In fact
                if I could have
I would’ve taught you all: it’s not hard to add sentences
                and days
without losing anything along the way.
                One day it rains. One day it’s dry and cold.
Today there’s rain and a face above lambswool reading
                in the café
and that on the other hand is a mortal danger: suddenly
                the songs on the radio
all seem to have the same secret refrain: everything’s over or
                rather it’s terribly
about to end. Before, I would have had
                some stirring things to say
because all the windows started shaking with
                the emotion
of his departure, but I don’t have time for it now.
                Nurettin called to say
he’s on the way home from school. Of course, one of the poets I
                dream of being wouldn’t include
so much circumstance. The poet who would say that a smile
                alone will tell me
open my face to him and it will reveal, if I come down
                to live in constraint
where all the verbs have lost their singulars, the grand écriture
                understood by trees
and the society of animals. But the truth is that
                Nurettin had
“The Aging Population and the Retirement System”
                or something
like that and that he’s only going to help me cross
                the bridge of hours
and leave me gently on the other side of anguish. Is that
                where I’ve
arrived? October 22. Colder and colder, so cold that
                no more flies
beat themselves stupidly against the windows, what a shame,
                I like
the flies and all the insects that aren’t trapped by the desire
                 to say I
within the species. Imagine a world without
                the first person where everything
started with you, with them. Bumblebee honeybee dragonfly
                short-lived cricket
look the countries arise and it’s enough to flutter
                innocently
from one to the other. If I weren’t so tired I could invent
                for us
an electric lavender for automatic honey, greenhouses
                for butterflies, thickets
teeming with caterpillars, a burgeoning anonymous happiness.
                But I don’t even know
what time I went to bed last night. At Édouard Ropars’s party
                there were
people I hadn’t seen in forever—which means forever
                had time
to have passed—and also a beautiful bearded architect, that
                superfluous type of shepherd boy
and I thought, I could trust him with the construction
                of my tomb
and later: in such alleys of the species someone has died it’s not
                very
important but it’s not negligible either. Such coincidence this
                morning,
another surge of morning, another darling timid morning,
                I find
in my inbox the photo of a soldier who’s sweeping
                the alleys
of a military cemetery after a volcanic eruption. A friend
                has remembered
that more than anything I like putting the days in order, endlessly
                counting out the rhythm of things,
which is to say everything that needs to be evacuated immediately
                from death also I love
to sweep just to keep the territories of the fare-thee-well a little
                in the light. Poets
without borders, that’s the organization I’m in charge of,
                every day it issues
bulletins of survival. It’s October 25 and we’re alive.
                Brandon Bitner is dead.
14. There’s nothing much to add: maybe the color
                of the sky, maybe
the group of pigeons flying in the color of the sky, maybe the
                stale brioche
I had at 9:42 this morning. 5:38 this evening I just re-read
                Coleridge’s conversations
he talked to someone too, wanted to talk
                to someone
made up little characters in the form of pronouns and there
                you have it. “To thee, for whom
No sound is dissonant which tells of Life.” There’s still indeed
               
so much gossip to share
even if there’s no news of Ian and Teddy, almost like
                they’ve been
kicked off the show. The same show doubtless
                so interesting because
actors of 32 play high-schoolers of 17. Maybe out there in
                Beverly Hills
it’s a micro-climate of eternal stagnation, maybe some bizarre
                fold in time
that superposes the ages. Their modus vivendi. On the other hand
                for us,
as someone was saying last night at dinner, it’s as if
                it were raining
ceaselessly on stage and we dried ourselves off against each other.
                It’s our modus vivendi.
In any case, it’s a matter of carving some space in
                the moment
always emerging from new verbs. A strangely warm day
                happened
and when I re-read that last sentence I’m not quite sure
                I understand it
surely I wanted to say that I prefer verbs to nouns
                and now
probably sentences to verbs and even more the stubborn ivy
                that spreads
everywhere warmly wrapping the pillars and
                the windows
of the library where we read, filtered red autumn
                just at the moment
when the doors open. Oh beware fantasy.
                It’d be better to focus
on the documentaries of morning, when Nurettin turns
                over in bed
and lightning, his shoulders wide as seagull wings close back
                on the dawn
& me inside it. One of the poets you imitate mutely says that the
                broken torsos
of antique gods hide fortunes or predictions for the future, i.e.
                change your life.
But you think instead that Nurettin shelters
                all murmurs and all whisperings. This is a morning: astounding
by definition. It’s October 31 and feels like spring
                again
except the leaves have already broken into the dry zone
                of the end. A fly
lets itself be fooled and is buzzing, poor thing, tomorrow she’ll
                be dead again from cold,
exactly 17 years ago a young man named after a river lost
                his heart
at the exit of a club. 23. Overdose, heroin and cocaine.
                Not us.
We’ve lived up to now and now we’re going to get through
                one more winter
even if a certain number of our species surely won’t.
 

Translation from the French

Editorial note: From The Next Loves (Nightboat Books, 2019).

Stéphane Bouquet is the author of several collections of poems and a book of essays on poems, La Cité de paroles (2018). Bouquet is a recipient of a 2003 Prix de Rome and a 2007 Mission Stendhal Award.

Lindsay Turner is the author of Songs & Ballads (Prelude 2018) and the translator of several books of contemporary francophone poetry and philosophy, including work by Stéphane Bouquet, Souleymane Bachir Diagne, Anne Dufourmantelle, Frédéric Neyrat, and Ryoko Sekiguchi. She is an assistant professor in the Department of English and Literary Arts at the University of Denver. 

 

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