of the sea

 

of the sea I know only reflections

the surface,

not the abysses

nor ocean vents nor sulfide volcanoes

the geography of sea caves

carpeted by

prawns

oceanic moles standing ready

for threats

nor the faults,

oceanic ridges or sharks

the swelling of waves

the pull of currents and winds

abyssal plains

that I measure in dream

my dreams are exploratory instruments

underwater gliders slipping under the surface

obsolete and dangerous bathyscaphes,

Alvins and chancy nautili

of the sea I know

only the tricks of thought

that take over forms

and play with their sex

the imitators of wrasse and moray eels

quivering eukaryotes

shivering columns, black smokers

swarming with life

improbable oasis without light

 

of the sea of the sea

I know only reflections

sparkling yachts

on the quays of Brest and on the Caribbean horizon

metal prows and taut rigging

putrefying algae that floats

crazy-lady hair under the floating docks at night

and your hand in my hand

 

of the sea of the sea

from the sea to the sea

from our black lungs improbable oases where

angels and fish assume their sex

of the sea I know only

Martian abysses where cadavers dive

seeking

the hand of an angel

I know only gilliatt

and the melancholic strength

of the imagined man to the hypnotic impotence

of the sea by the sea

gilliatt soaked gilliatt swallowed

 

under the territorial waters of the metropolis

20,000 sunken submarines lie

 

*

 

engineers and nonsense

 

today I will speak

of chasms, fiefdoms of fish

 

I don't believe in the moon, in fanciful stars

I believe in frivolous matter

in cartesian divers

 

I believe in submersibles, in automobiles

in the dust storms of the far west

 

in the grids of brest,

vestibules of light

 

in all hypnotic experiences

that make our brains a nest of nonsense

 

I believe in chasms, fiefdoms of fish

I believe in the messages of futile lies

 

in the grace of whirling dervishes,

in dance

 

I believe in the change from mud to clay

in the lucid miracles of the blackbird's song

 

in the scent of honeysuckle, always and again

 

the scent of honeysuckle,

in the unrehearsed sun

that plays on gypsy strings

 

I believe in endings, in death, in grief

in dreams of mad engineers

in flats more than sharps

 

I believe in the impermanence of souls

and in the rains of July

in the interlaced lasso of effort and desire

 

I believe in chasms, fiefdoms of fish

 

 

The Queen Mary

 

I read books that frighten and capsize me

 

my eyes raised to the Queen Mary

I am among the onlookers on the quay

stranger

to the dream of embarking

 

I don't write for the gulls

 

the ocean liner alone is

a technological dream; under the charm of the giant

I stay on the quay; its foghorns sound

and vie

with the wind

 

steady on my hips

I try to live without smoke

in my sternum, a tear

that topples me

in an insipid liquid

stunned by ammonia

I'll die asphyxiated

there where I erred

and bravely tried to live

the worlds to come

are no longer ours

and the secret lives of our children

grow, there, their brows and muzzles

their sicknesses accompany them

 

no joy is natural for me,

lurking under my bed

the orange joy resists

I flush it out, it growls low

joy claws and struggles

my brain is scattered

in my ocean liner-body

I breathe through the anus think through the pleura and

color through emptiness

I don't write for the gulls

My thoughts are ventriloquists

 

I will die of a tear of the pleura

breathing in water, air, insects

weeds and pollen,

on my lips a poem,

the prayer of a pagan

 

 

 



View Original Work ↓

de la mer

 

de la mer je ne connais que les images

la surface

ni les abysses

ni les cheminées ni les volcans sulfures

la géographie des cavernes

où se tapissent

les langoustines

taupes océaniques à l'affût

des menaces

ni les failles,

les grandes dorsales ni les squales

le gonflement des vagues

la poussée des courants et des vents

les plaines abyssales

que je mesure en songe

mes rêves sont les instruments exploratoires,

gliders glissant sous les surfaces

bathyscaphes obsolètes et périlleux,

alvins et nautiles aléatoires

de la mer je ne connais

que les ruses des pensées

qui usurpent les formes

et se jouent de leurs sexes

les imitateurs des labres et des murènes

les eucaryotes fourmillants

des colonnes frémissantes, fumeurs noirs

grouillant de vie,

improbables oasis sans lumières

 

de la mer de la mer

je ne connais que les images

les yachts scintillants

des quais de Brest et de l'horizon caraïbe

les proues de métal et les cordages tendus

les algues pourrissantes qui flottent

chevelures de folles sous les pontons de nuits

et ta main dans ma main

 

de la mer de la mer

de la mer à la mer

de nos poumons noirs oasis improbables

où anges et poissons usurpent leurs sexes

de la mer je ne connais que

les abysses martiens où les cadavres plongent

à la recherche

d'une main d'ange

je ne connais que gilliat

et la mélancholique force

de l'homme rêvé à l'impuissance hypnotique

de la mer de la mer

gilliatt absorbé gilliatt englouti

 

sous les eaux territoriales du métropole

20,000 sous-marines épaves gisent

 

 

ingénieurs et fariboles

 

aujourd'hui je vais prendre la parole

pour dire les gouffres, apanage des poissons

 

je ne crois pas à la lune aux astres chimériques

je crois en la matière frivole

aux ludions atomiques

 

je crois aux submersibles, aux automobiles

à la poussière roulante du far-west

 

aux quadrillages de brest,

vestibules de lumière

 

à toutes les expériences hypnotiques

qui font du cerveau un nid de fariboles

 

je crois aux gouffres, apanage des poissons

je crois aux messages des mensonges futiles

 

à la grâce des derviches-tourneurs

à la danse

 

je crois au passage à la boue à la glaise

aux miracles limpides du chant des merles

 

à l'odeur du chèvre-feuille toujours et encore

 

l'odeur du chèvre-feuille,

à l'impromptu du soleil

qui joue sur des cordes tziganes

 

je crois à la fin, à la mort, aux chagrins

aux rêves des ingénieurs fous

au bémol plus qu'au dièse

 

je crois à l'impermanence des âmes

et aux pluies de juillet

à l'entrelaçant lasso des efforts et des désirs

 

je crois aux gouffres, apanage des poissons

 

 

le Queen-Mary

 

je lis des livres qui m'effraient et me chavirent

 

les yeux levés sur le Queen Mary

je fais partie des badauds à quai

étrangère

au rêve de s'embarquer

 

je n'écris pas pour les mouettes

 

le paquebot à lui seul est un rêve

technologique; sous le charme du géant

je reste à quai; ses sirènes mugissent

et rivalisent

avec le vent

 

calée entre mes hanches

je tente de vivre sans fumée

au sternum, une déchirure

par laquelle je bascule

dans un liquide insipide

étourdie d'ammoniaque

je vais mourir asphyxiée

par là où j'ai pêché

et bravement tenté de vivre

les mondes à venir

ne sont déjà plus les nôtres

et les vies secrètes de nos enfants

y poussent leur front et leur mufle

leurs maladies les accompagnent

 

nulle joie ne m'est naturelle

tapie sous mon lit

la joie orange résiste

je la débusque elle feule

la joie griffe et se débat

mon cerveau s'éparpille

dans mon corps-paquebot

je respire par l'anus pense par la plèvre et

colorise par le vide

je n'écris pas pour les mouettes

j'ai la pensée ventriloque

 

je vais mourir d'une déchirure à la plèvre

aspirant les eaux, l'air, les insectes

les mauvaises herbes et le pollen,

à mes lèvres un poème

prière de païen

 

Translator Notes

Growing up in New England, I was not fully aware of my Quebecois, and originally Breton, heritage. I knew only that my grandparents spoke an archaic form of Quebecois whenever we grandkids were around, and that that language seemed far removed from the Parisian French I was learning at school. Still, it intrigued me enough to learn Old French in order to translate Old French poetry, beginning what's now an academic career as a medievalist. It's only been recently that I've learned of the Breton immigrants who made Quebec their home, including one of my ancestors, Pierre Hudon dit Beaulieu, a baker who settled at Rivière Ouelle, Quebec, with "douze arpents en culture" and "deux bêtes aux cornes," and who relished firing on heretics from Massachusetts.

The poetry of Anne Jullien is very much in touch with the landscape, climate, and traditions of Finistère, the Breton region of France that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean. It is a westward, seaward, looking culture, one traditionally, and still, very much connected to the sea, to its flora and fauna, and to the fishing and shipping industries which are a part of its lifeblood. The current motto of Finistère is "Tout commence en Finistère" [Everything begins at the End of the World], a lovely play on the name of the region: its geographical location, its Celtic roots, its wandering ways and immigrations. It also nicely expresses my own linguistic journey, a circle of sorts, back to the land, and the language, of my ancestors.

The poetry of Anne Jullien frequently makes quite sophisticated maritime and literary references that may not be easily understood by American audiences, and so a few explanations are in order. In "de la mer", 'Alvins' refer to Alvin, the first deep-sea submersible capable of carrying passengers. Owned and operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution since 1964, Alvin participated in the 1974 Project FAMOUS (French-American Mid-Ocean Undersea Study), which confirmed the presence of a sea-floor spreading along the mid-Atlantic Ridge. It will probably also help the reader to know that wrasses, and many species of moray eels, are hermaphroditic, that Black smokers are the hottest of hydrothermal vents, and that Gilliatt, a fisherman from the Isle of Guernsey, is the main character of Victor Hugo's Toilers of the Sea. In her "ingénieurs et fariboles", 'ludions' has a doubled meaning: they are simultaneously Etruscan dancers and the floats, or divers, used in physics experiments. The reference to Hanna and Wind Island, which we know as Fanoe Island, a Danish island in the North Sea near Esbjerg, is to the children's book by Hedvig Collin, Wind Island (New York: Viking, 1945) [L'Ile du Vent(Paris, Albin Michel. 1950)]. The reference to Queequeg is, of course, to the South Pacific islander and cannibal who serves as chief harpooner on the 'Pequod' in Herman Melville's Moby Dick. Blaise Cendars, who inspires the poem of the same name,was the pseudonym of the Swiss writer Frédéric Louis Sauer (d. 1961). He wrote that 'the sea continues to be a sea blue' in his 1924 poem, "Sillage," from his Du monde entier au coeur du monde and, following Cendrars' own travels, Jullien alludes to Trois-Rivières, a neighborhood of Saint Luce, on the south coast of Martinique, known for its rum; Capesterre-Belle-eau, in Guadeloupe, and as its name implies, known for its rivers and waterfalls; and to the waterfalls of Carbet and Acomat in Guadeloupe. She concludes the poem making reference to Javier Sicilia, the Mexican poet and activist whose son, Juan Francisco Sicilia Ortega, was found murdered with six others on March 28, 2011 in Temixco, Morelos, allegedly by drug gang members. The May 12, 2011 edition Courrier International reported that after reading a poem to his son, he told a crowd protesting the violence who had assembled at the central square of Cuernavaca on April 2, 2011: "The world is no longer worthy of poetry, this is my last poem. I can no longer write poetry, poetry exists no longer in me." It was at this event that he read "Estamos hasta la madre… (Carta abierta a los políticos y a los criminales)" [We've had it up to here {Open Letter to Politicians and Criminals}], published in the April 2, 2011 edition (n. 1796) of Proceso, the Mexican review for which he is still a contributor.


Michelle Bolduc

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