Saturday, September 03, 2011

In These Dark Woods

Anne Hébert

—Anne Hébert

Better not go to these deep woods
for great fountains
sleep in their depths.

Better not wake the great fountains
A false sleep closes their salty eyelids
No dream invents the blossoms
underwater white and rare.

The days around them
and the lean and chanting trees
sink no image into them.

Water in these dark woods
is so pure and uniquely fluid
and hallowed in this flowing source
a sea profession where I gaze.

O tears inside me
in the hollow of this grave space
where erect columns oversee
my old patience
keep intact
eternal solitude water solitude.


—Anne Hébert

Death, become a shewolf
A stone corpse on the burnt horizon

Dream tiny smoke from a village
a hundred houses smoking back to back

Swimmers, swim in a storyless night
smelling of seaweed and ocean

Your facial light
the life of a feature
love of a breath

Day begins again
Night crosses the line of waters
Dawn's outspread wings
dazzle the earth

Joy at arm's length
The poem on the summit of a high head
Crown of happiness.


—Anne Hébert

The needy were lined up by order of famine
The traitors were examined by order of anger
The masters were judged by order of clear conscience
The humbled were questioned by order of offence
The crucified were considered by order of wounds
In this extreme misery the dumb took the lead
A dumb populace massed on the barricades
Their desire for speech was so urgent
that the Word came to meet them through the streets
The load they put on it was so heavy
that the cry FIRE burst from its heart
as its speech.


—Anne Hébert

I am a skinny girl
And I have beautiful bones.

I treat them carefully
And with strange pity.

I polish them endlessly
Like old metals.

Jewels and flowers
Are out of season.

One day I'll grab my love
And make a silver reliquary of him.

I'll hang myself
In place of his absent heart.

Teeming space, who is this feverless guest
Suddenly inside you?

You walk,
You move.
Your every gesture
Decorates the death inside with terror.

I receive your trembling
Like a gift.

And sometimes
Paralyzed on your chest,

I half open
My liquid eyeballs

And weird and childlike dreams
Like green water.


—Anne Hébert

We got this idea
To plant our hands in the garden.

Branches of ten fingers
Saplings of bones
Cherished rock garden.

All day long
We waited for the red bird
And the fresh leaves
Of our polished nails.

No bird
Nor spring
Was trapped in the lair of our severed hands.

For just one flower
One small star of color
The swoop of calm wings

Just one pure note
Repeated three times

We'll need another season
And our hands must melt like water.


—Anne Hébert

It is an ancestral castle
With no tables or fire
With no dust or rug.

The perverse spell of this place
Is wholly in its shiny mirrors.

The only possible thing to do here
Is to look at oneself day and night.

Toss your image into the hard fountains
Your hardest image no shadow no color.

See, these mirrors are deep
Like closets
Some corpse always lives there under the silver
Immediately covers your image
And sticks to you like seaweed.

It adjusts to you, skinny and naked,
And simulates love in a slow bitter shiver.


Today's LittleNip: 

Tiger keeps a bit of fear to sharpen its claws.

—Stephen Dobyns



Today's poetry was translated from the French by Willis and Aliki Barnstone and A. Poulin, Jr. For more about the Canadian Anne Hébert (1916-2000), go toébert

Jane's Rose: One Small Star of Color
—Photo by Katy Brown, Davis