To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Monday, May 4, 2015

Serge Pey: Three Poems in English from "Why I Crush Tomatoes"

Translated from French by Yasser Elhariry 

[My first memory of Serge Pey was in Paris, sometime in the early 1980s, when he woke us up in the apartment off Saint Germain that my wife & I were then borrowing.  Our son had arrived a few hours before, traveling with a couple of friends across Europe & walking halfway across Paris on the morning of a Metro strike.  The three of them were sacked out on the floor, across the room from us, but didn’t hear Serge’s heavy knocking on the door.  We did & when we opened up for him he moved in quickly, holding with both hands a large, hollow, brightly painted rain stick, filled with beans or pebbles, which when upended made a gentle swooshing sound like rain or falling water.  He told us he had come to serenade us – Aztec style – & walked out to the center of the rather large room, where the ritual began.  Those were still the years when nothing could surprise us, so we sat up on our bed & listened, somewhere between sleep & waking.  His performance, which we recognized as “his performance,” went on for 10 or 15 minutes, during which time one or other of the young men on our floor would open up his eyes from time to time & then fall back to sleep.  At one point too the live-in maid walked past him on her way into the kitchen but seemed to take no notice, & Serge, when his ritual work was over, embraced us both & left as peacefully & caringly as he had entered.
               I have seen & heard him many times since then & have come to recognize him as one of our most inventive & energized performers of a new & constantly evolving poetry.  In addition to his performances (often still with sticks and rain sticks) he is the author of nearly sixty volumes of written poetry & was the editor for many years of Émeute and Tribu as two principal magazines of the European & world avant-garde.  The title poem of his new work Why I Crush Tomatoes, translated into English by Yasser Elhariry, is a masterpiece of poetry & poetics, but its 758 numbered sections are too long to publish here.  The following three shorter poems will hopefully be enough to give a hint or taste of his ongoing sense & sensibility. (J.R.)] 


When I speak
of your poems
to an imbecile
it’s as
if I were pissing
against the wind
wanting the
to change direction

Imbeciles are
truly numerous
on earth
Surely more
than the poems
that you write

An imbecile doesn’t
wear a watch
but chooses
the hour
we speak of you

An imbecile
may divide your hope
by zero

An imbecile may
onions cry
when he speaks
of his suicide
while affirming
that we’re assassinating him

An imbecile
feigns ignoring
the truth by rigging
a photograph of

For an imbecile
a thousand examples
are pointless
and a single lie
proves all

An imbecile may say
that a monster
recruits thousands
of angels
for his army

An imbecile may
that this text
is no poem

When the toast
of a poet falls
the imbecile believes
the jam
changes sides
some where
in an other poem
or world

When the world falls
the imbecile knows

We Have A Flag 

We have a flag
that we see and a flag
that we do not see
We have flag
with no flag
of all flags
We have a flag
like a kerchief
to vomit our blood and our skin
We have a flag that couches
a skeleton
dismantled of its own bones
We have a flag that undresses
all flags
Our flag is a sandal
Our flag is a piece of foot
We have a flag
A piece of serge
We have a flag
We have a hand
We have a skin
We have a flag made
with an eye and a bird
We have a flag with no flag
We have a flag
that does not love flags
We have a flag on fire that
burns all flags
We have a piece of wood
We have a piece of skin
We have a flag with no flag
amidst a million flags
We have a flag with no flag
among a single flag
We have no flag
We have a flag with no flag
  in our own flag 

Time for Assassins 

When a poem
cannot even
save death
it’s time for assassins

Death is dead
We no longer find it
in the tombs
of the bistros

dedicate themselves to
it by dying twice
and confuse
this effort with

The café is dead
The table is dead
The bread is dead
The telefilm of the dead
applauds other
who run behind

We know it
the dead vote
for the dead

When death has had enough
of death
we must console it
by giving it sugar
like to a dog

We bark
By living
we only find
the dead who
no longer attend
us & that’s what we call

The tombs are
constructed by babies
in cement

Our only way of being
is killing
It’s time for
The unique virtue of
is that he knows that a
doesn’t stand up straight
when empty

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