Issue 7: Geoff Gilbert & Alex Houen, free translation from Zola and Girard
My romantic monkey*
The illusion is so grotesque it’s just
not war. Their frock coats filmed
with a fine powder that turned their arms
and shoulders pale. Now as they talked of working
men it’s a monkey that entertains desire,
the hero turning towards Poland, velvet
and fur. She wanted him to have soft pads
and a bonnet of fox, but it depends –
depends on the degree of meta-meat
expunged for the object possessed.
And that loss
in turn depends on some distance which separates
objects from the media’s Baron, whose legs
have swollen, a cyst for some time.
It’s to him that articles of clothing are borne
as a medal, touched and bendy – too much,
At which he blushes in spite of bravery,
advances again, tracing with tip of index
finger an acute angle of saliva over her throat.
He feels he’s triangling, sacrificing the world
on an altar of Self, while the real object,
leaning gently, elegant, fans out, bending
its rounded crown, resigning its palms
like a flying creature exhausted by its eternal
wandering blue on shelves of air. Always the infant
forgotten by the good fairies of baptism,
monkey slumped forward, monkey kissed
with irritated lips. It is negation of a kind,
a modern world, since another Hegel presented
openly, audaciously, under electric beams
of light, some lawn, some lace, all that flimsy
gauzy stuff melting into shoulders,
living pallid pinks.
This was only the apotheosis of mirages,
mirages of succession appearing as ‘truths’
supplanting those anterior to rival murder
of living memory, protecting future truths
by implacable censure.
The Expropriation Agent would never allow more
than two million five hundred thousand francs,
despite the Baron’s labours. He was expecting this failure:
metaphor no longer saucing flavour of the sacred
in desire but an immense hunger
for the sacred. It’s this hunger that transmutes
the poor; so she saw. They appeared
inflated by that superhuman effort, that enormous
flirtation, that same of name provoking endless
humiliation, a second bastardy drawn
from the bastard.
All the shame that had trudged along, momentary
desires, assignations paid in advance, went misty,
settled over a thick mud, ploughed thicker
by the morning’s desperate shuffling. We see
through his affected spontaneity;
we can smell the pea-soupers of social
and literary disease that have infected the man.
A signature plops like a sautéed ray
of sunshine in his anger’s brutality,
and he does his best to carry that signature off.
He had seen their shoulders push on
into darkness. No arabesque blood
on the carpet for this hate which adores,
this veneration which trains even in blood
and jaws, the paroxystic form of conflict
come to petrify all swelling desires.
How her poor head suffered! and just
at that moment she felt how false
the imagination that apes imperishable
gods. She wept for trees
because we see in them the desires
of our neighbours, even grinning caricatures
of our very own monkey. The law
of the psychological circle is a heart
which looks like a funnel, or better still:
‘I like men, because I like truffles’.
* This poem was written as a tango of free translations from Émile Zola’s La curée (1871-2) and René Girard’s Mensonge romantique et vérité romanesque (1961)
Geoff Gilbert teaches in the Department of Comparative Literature, American University in Paris, where he also directs the MA in Cultural Translation. He is the author of Before Modernism Was (Palgrave, 2004).
Alex Houen is co-editor of Blackbox Manifold, and has published poems in various journals, including PN Review, Horizon Review, Stride, past simple, Cleaves, and Great Works. His monograph, Powers of Possibility: Experimental American Writing since the 1960s will be published by Oxford University Press in December 2011.