Arts & Culture

POEMS: “Alive” plus Mr. Nobody

Alive At the hour when the world ceases to be you will be sitting under a plane-tree half unleafed on a lively, noisy avenue nothing around you will have really changed you will still be father, son and lover a … Read More

By / June 12, 2008

At the hour when the world ceases to be

you will be sitting under a plane-tree half unleafed

on a lively, noisy avenue

nothing around you will have really changed

you will still be father, son and lover

a dream will nag you like a bit of food lodged between two teeth

you will go on watching children, cyclists, dogs

asking yourself what love is

if you found it, lost it, or if it always escaped you

examining memories attentively

with an entomologist's precision, bent over an insect,

who now sees only reticular surfaces

forgetting the creature caught in a fog-drowned park

you will think of the fruits in season, of buying a new pair of shoes

of the page you read this morning in the bathtub

of the windowpanes next door lit up as if on fire

which you watched for a long time last night before going to bed

and of light's tenderness when you awoke

which seemed to stretch the sky

extend it to infinity

at the hour when the world ceases to be

you'll do sums, review hypotheses

formulated a thousand times

summon up the solutions

then you'll get up, distractedly push two or three leaves aside with your foot

you'll move away towards nothingness

your back turned on nothingness

so alive


The incarnations of Mister Nobody

I was with two women in the cemetery at Malines

poplars were rustling above our heads

the Flemish lion flapped against the gray sky

I was walking along the railroad tracks a pointer trotting beside me

as I whistled a ballad whose lyrics I'd forgotten

my father killed himself there one Christmas night

I would think of him each time I passed that way

but without grief or anger

I, Rosenvige, Dutch botanist,

planted fir trees in Greenland's inhospitable soil

after a few weeks, I went back to Holland

and soon caught up in other projects, other journeys

I forgot my trees given up to the far north's bitterness

in the interest of science

I woke in the middle of the night in a luxurious hotel room

drenched in silence and in burning solitude

at the counter of a bar in Hampstead

I wrote an elegy on beer-glass rings

which I mislaid the next day while taking a walk

when I thought I heard time's melodious racket

like my ancestors, I cultivated a vineyard

that gave an iris-scented wine with bluish highlights

I made miniature furniture for Petronella Oortman

boy running barefoot toward the horizon's call

I crossed a field and then some meadows

followed at a distance by a big black horse


Mister Nobody Joins the Broken Hearts' Club



One of them has kept his love intact

with its shimmerings and chasms

another gets rid of it the way he'd throw away a withered plant

sweeping away even the last crumbs of earth

scattered on the balcony

while the third one separates the object from its attributes

and keeps watching the chimney-pots

at dusk,

keeps drinking, at his kitchen table,

the black gritty wine of an unknown south

— and how should I behave,

Mister Nobody asks himself

having stopped at a café

where he had – he remembers now-

once desired and then broken things off

between two journeys

although crossings would probably be a more appropriate word under the


which example to follow

but he ought perhaps to choose them in turn

mix everything up or even innovate why not

or (on the other hand)take advantage of the occasion

to lay out his thoughts

try to decipher time's secret meaning

explore psychic space in all its dimensions

to recount (and understand)

genealogies and sequences

then he pockets his notebook again

notices that the waiters have piled up the chairs

that he is the last client of the night

that they are waiting impatiently for his departure

leaving just one ceiling lamp above his head alit

which shines on his glass his pen his hands with their bitten nails.


Mr. Nobody Speaks to his voice

Voice, you sprouted like a shrub

year after year :

I remember your first fragility,

touching frailty they'd do anything to protect

then the sudden, succeeding roughness

with a vigor no one would have thought you had.

Where was the foliage of your songs and cries?

You were naked then as those black skeletons lined up on winter roads

between snow-covered fields.

When you cradled infant ears and the exquisite ones of the beloved

bringing sleep to one and the other

it seemed you had reached your golden age

which, like the poets, you thought would never end.

But soon noises still unknown to you, pleas, moans, sighs

glided into you like hands into someone else's gloves.

As well as you could, you put up with them, you claimed them,

they became your attributes, your weapons,

and other women murmured that you were gentle

in the night after love's long commotion.

When the time comes where you tremble like a string

that has shot its arrow towards the target,

when you are chipped, crumbled, broken,

when you caw, croak pitifully,

console yourself, tell yourself that at the end of the cold, dark corridor

shines your immortal soul : silence.