The Great Tide


And so we’d set the date

for this night years ago

and nothing, not the sun, nor the rain,

not the storms of love, not even


that old bag of tears we drag along

all of us, with its shadow at our necks,

nothing could make us forget the day

and the hour of the great tide


as it rises in our rooms

and rolls over the bodies of dreamers

like a sheet, nothing, not even

the fear of being carried away alive


to the moment it all begins again.




The Pearl


Maybe you too, at the moment of your leaving,

won't have time to tie your shoes

grab your hat button your jacket

       — God only knows what the weather will be—


But if you remember the pearl rolling down

your father's cheek during his last moments

while into his ear you let fall clusters

     of words gathered one by one

hung on the tree of childhood, if that pearl of water

has not stopped flowing to flood your own shore

washing away your sorrow and every last care

        God grant that it may be that pearl


at the moment of your leaving that opens wide the door

La Grande Marée


Ainsi nous avions pris rendez-vous

pour cette nuit depuis des années

et rien, ni le soleil, ni la pluie,

ni les orages de l’amour, ni


ce vieux sac de larmes que l’on traîne

tous, avec son ombre dans la nuque,

rien n’a pu nous faire oublier le jour

et l’heure de la grande marée


qui monte dans les chambres

et roule sur le corps de rêveurs

comme un drap, rien, pas même

l’effroi d’être emportés vivants


au moment de tout recommencer.




La Perle


Peut-être que toi aussi au moment de partir

tu n’auras pas le temps de lacer tes chaussures

de prendre ton chapeau de boutonner ta veste

         — Dieu sait le temps qu’il fera —


Mais si tu te souviens de la perle roulant

sur la joue de ton père à son dernier moment

alors qu’à son oreille tu accrochais des grappes

        de mots cueillis un par un


sur l’arbre de l’enfance Si cette perle d’eau

n’a cessé de couler d’inonder ton rivage

te lavant du chagrin et du dernier souci

     Dieu fasse que ce soit elle


au moment de partir qui t’ouvre grand la porte

Translator's Note

Guy Goffette published “The Great Tide” and “The Pearl” in Pain perdu (2020), his seventeenth volume of poetry. To placate his importuning publisher during a fallow period of convalescence, Goffette rounded up unfinished poems from a lifetime of poem-making—"this one missing a foot, that one missing an ear.” He polished them and aptly titled the work Pain perdu, literally meaning ‘lost/stale bread’ but connoting bread reclaimed by soaking it in egg, then frying and slathering the slices with butter and sugar—what English speakers call French toast.

In this volume, dismay and wonder shade together in poems as diverse in form as they are in content. The material ranges over childhood, relationships, ecology, aging, dying, writer’s block, and the art of poem-making. Eloquent but never arcane, these poems are lyrical yet controlled expressions of life experience and provide a counterpoint to the fashion for abstract and cerebral poetry. “The Great Tide” and “The Pearl” are examples of the wise and sensitive poems collected in Pain perdu, written by a long-time seeker in the world of illusions. Guy Goffette died on March 28, 2024.

Goffette’s formidable powers of invention are everywhere evident. He uses multiple clauses, participles, and appositions to layer in complexity, but his grammar is flawless. His line breaks are dynamic, each line a lucid moment, sometimes leading precipitously to the edge of a cliff, but always the lines turn back into discovery.  I hold to C. K. Williams’s proposition that you don’t translate French poetry into “English” but into poetry. Pain perdu offers a translator unalloyed delight in discovering musical equivalences in English—in other words, poetry in another key.

Kathryn Kimball


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