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.