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Sport 38: Winter 2010

Three Poems by Philippe Jaccottet

page 110

Three Poems by Philippe Jaccottet

Late summer insights

In the late August night
the eye of Taurus reddens
as if he wants to inseminate the earth.

He knows, soon or late, for him
it's the abattoir—no compliant cow grazing
in his corner of the sky.


Escaped from what furnace
these hornets?

When my thoughts burn
I know why.


Tonight an icy wind
whips the stars—
and yet I think too
they burn more fiercely.

Could there be
even for them
the impossible?

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Clouds sit like gods in majesty—
only towards nightfall
hemmed in purple.


alive as running water
gone as quickly as
a quick glance
a cool kiss.


All these creatures
seen or unseen
are to entice a voice
out of the Silence.


'This summer too many stars, great Sir,
too many friends struck down,
too many puzzles.

'I find myself more and more
out of joint with the times—
a madman lost among brambles.

'Explain yourself, great evasive Sir.'

His reply lines the woodland paths—
groundsel, hogweed, endive.

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Windblown fragments

Yes, yes, that's it
that's it she shouted
seeming to light up
with whatever it was
she looked in the face.


Remember this:
if the lightning can strike slowly
drawn out as it dies
irradiating the whole body—
that is what death will rob you of.

That is the other storm—
the one with the gentle bite.


New Year
isn't that my father at the front door
ringing the snow-covered bell?

The big house shines
full of presents and fine clothes.

By the French windows
where, filtered through leaves,
daylight usually enters

who is it comes to you in the winter night?


page 113

Today the skies
crackle with thunder.

In the ancient world
every storm
had its naked nymph
and its tranquil shepherd.

She would say
between two cries
between two crises of tears
'I've found a shelter of leaves
and a comrade sleeping.'

And he:
'Good news, before the world's end.
It's still the milk of the stars
that fills your breasts.'


The trunk, wrinkled, bruised
which time's ivy will certainly smother
at the touch of a rose puts out new leaf.

Sooner the rain than the ruin.
Or better: for every ruin, a river in flood.


Order to absent shepherds:

That they capture all escaped darlings
badly advised by the clouds,
that they unbind one by one the braids of the brooks,
that they graze sparingly the valley's rarest grasses,

page 114

and that they let the clatter of white stone be heard
in the hills where each tree twists itself into a lyre.


(Poet's tomb)

Don't be fooled,
these lines were not written by me
but, one day by a heron or a shower of rain,
another by an aspen.
A hint of love was enough
to set them alight.

Nobody home here—
no one—near or far.


In this night
in this moment of this night
I know that even if the gods
should burn the world
an ember would remain
to flare again in the unknown.

Not this thought nor the saying of it were mine.
They belonged to this winter night already gone.

page 115

Night notes

Back to the wall
worm-eaten, precarious
let me scatter nothing but words
over the rooftops
(even thatch weighs too heavy
if it keeps out the aviary of the night)—

words that will do
what the flowers do, in blues and reds,
in perfume.

No more labyrinths
even if there's a way out.

A corner post will do
and plenty of air—

the feet, the spirit, unbound
free to look and to touch—

thus to undermine
these below-stairs
griefs of the night.


The moon over the highway
was like a bowl of milk
for Toby's dog.


page 116

The child sits at the feet
of the very nice, very old lady
in the black and white dress of long ago—

in the workbasket
the thread of her life
yet to be unrolled,
and the scissors.


The ritual never changes.
The faces that turn to them
may change,
but at this or that place in the heavens
at the same season
the same candles burn.


I recall also a table at evening
and the beautiful eyes, meeting mine—
then averted.
For halo
these saints have only their hair
or the bees of our last sunset together
swarming behind.


There used to be
(in a room no longer ours)
a bed so dishevelled
you'd think the naked girl
in her impatience had wrecked it
as you might rip a shirt.

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Later will come tears
the kind that stain
once and for ever
the bedcover's coarse weave.


The nighthawk
is black Easter's spinning wheel.

For those of us remaining
the thread is short.