Translating Colette Peignot’s Laure – Peignot is a break-thru French Writer of “transgressive” fiction (who died all too young). Her life inspires me.
RESTARTING this weekend – since reading Brachet, hae now pulled out book and started rereading Colette. Can see already having done that, is going to make a pretty huge difference in ease of translation.
Checked means its been translated literally, thats all.
A young girl’s eyes pierce the night. checked.
In a long white chemise, illuminating, a corner wrapped in shadow, my noctabulant kneels half asleep mumbling before crucifix and Virgin. Pious images cover the walls, the kneeling sleeper readies herself for anything, glides off between imminent sheets. As a livery of phantoms also no less real takes full rights over me, the bedroom reconvenes its intransigence heavy with premature nightmare. checked.
There is a terror that arises between four walls like wind on the sea. A crone bent in two, menaces at me with her walking stick, a man rendered invisible by rings of fame his watchtower awaits at any instant, God “who sees all and knows all thoughts” gazes down severely. A curtain of white detaches from its window, planes across the darkness, closes in, carries me away, slowly I traverse its pane and mount the sky – checked.
A thousand glowing traces loom up from out of the abyss, dance in the round, wander away with the nightlight, have a go at me. Rainbow dust composes itself into arrays, colors slip from one to the next. Conic, circular, rectangular, ancient pyramids turn liquid and luminous, a forge of curvature and color, a prismatic sun. The sky is my tears. A prisoners cinema, jiggling in the round – the bed pitches under a sea-swell of dreams. checked.
During the days, for these nights, there spent a childhood sordid and anxious, haunted by the sin of being mortal, Friday’s saint and Wednesday’s ashes. Growing up under a crush of heavy sails mourning, a childhood stolen from itself. checked.
Doesn’t begin to cover it. How outlaw hands gripped the wheel of destiny : so much is lodged there, neonates vigorously strangled by cordon umbilical, still persist, “insist they live.” checked.
Listening, the night is full of their cries: long heart-rending cries interrupted by windows slamming closed, cries raucous and fluid muffled by a gag, dying between lips, calls strident, the names of men, of women thrown into empty eternity, avenging laughter falls from on high, in a cascade of contempt, complaints vague and diffused, from the wails of children to the voices of men. All these cries melee like falling leaves in autumn, mounting in a garden as would pink odor of dew, of humic compote and the cut of hay. checked.
It’s a well known garden in Paris where I am stashed. A man all pale, tilted over, a hand squeezing in the void, emerges from behind a group of charcoal-ists, he travels a few little steps on white stones, tilted, his hand crotched at the absent, then starts off again with a caution across the lawn – Another appears, his face enflamed with ruby lips, surprised at my refuge in the wall there, cached in behind a frightful mass of fuschia. It is full of ivy and soot, begonias dirty fingers, signs of hopscotch traced with chalk. The man makes an obscene gesture and approaches, but there are many well known detours. Another who is distraught, straddling a window, batting at the air like a windmill, foam coming out of his lips: “they robbed me the bastards,” one masters it. Now a woman, hands clutched under her chin, she runs from all, her body shapeless, flabby and clumsy. These passing visions snatched with a half smile just as soon paralyze, as above appears a pallid face who is trying to introduce himself between the bars of his cage, he tries at first face front and then at an angle, but in vain. Alas a white bony arm crosses and slowly hangs up against the evening like linen in the wind. checked.
A lying, smiling pack (parents and doctors) rotate around this pit of fools from the garden of my childhood. checked.
Poor insipid beings, grief that surrenders, rears up, pain that gets beaten, powerless, crushed, idiotic. Listening to it: a b c d I don’t no anymore how to speak, 1 2 3 4 don’t know anymore how to count.
Have you imported the village innocent or neighborhood crazy, are streets not full of consciousness sold out, backbones broken? Others doomed, near death, a better life run aground in fairs, in harbors, in squares, under bridges.
What misery, despair remains for those alive after coming off shipwrecks – astonished at finding themselves on friable edges alongside. Astonished meeting one to one, from man to man, as with brief looks, exchanging all purpose words, without any sense or depth of meaning. Those who return alone from far off, to hear themselves so speak. . . of rain or good weather. And it seems that the earth responds to the sound of voices harder under foot. Rivers flow greasy waters, carrying along a heavy stench. Above city bridges, above the countryside. And in the city and in the country, a moving sea of human glances.
Not one, that does not shelter a secret history. That does not call for a response, an explication. Regarding through purity undiluted their spotty net, backdrop of troubles. Algae and detritus. Humans strewn, with protruding looks, dark and cruddy-eyed, voiceless visions further elucidated, looks that know hate and scorn, looks loving and confident, looks that reveal one goal, one wish, looks that desire sail in blood. I glimpse all this through an insistence lost in colorless hunger, seeming to demand account of all impotence, all human defeat, other than its own.
I was not living life but death. Knew most of corpses rising right before my eyes – “as much as you turn away, to hide yourself, deny. . . you will attend to for the sake of your family.” Discussing it tenderly, kindly if not sardonically, else at image of Christ eternally humble, insane piece of work, as they held out to me their arms.
From west to east, countryside to countryside, city to city I marched between tombs. Soon the sun lost me, whether it was grassy or paved, I was floating, suspended between sky and earth, between the ceiling and floor. My sore eyes, toppled presenting to the world their stringy lobes, my hands hooked and mutilated carrying a senseless heritage. I rode the clouds with air of disheveled folly or friendly beggar. Feeling somewhat the monster, didn’t recognize anymore people I used to like. Finally, slowly I became as petrified in place as a perfect accessory of the decor.
For a longtime wandering around the city from place to place, from top to bottom. I came to know it well, that it is not only a city but an octopus. All streets parallel and oblique converging toward a liquid center, suckers clutching. Tentacles of the beast, each carrying houses on its own two sides: one of small panes, another of heavy curtains. It is there that I heard from the lips of Vérax, the good news about Notre Dame de Cléry, there that I saw the beautiful gaze of Violette injected in black ink, finally stars Justus and Bételguese, Vérax and La Chevelure, all girls whose names stars absorbed through magnetized doors set by powerful currents. Darkness instantly traversed by invisible rays a space revealed of their own reflection. Only the incandescent transparency of skeleton and shape of heart. Deaf triggers alternately animate flashes of breath and combustion of methane, halos of mercury, their bodies automatic. How they see each other go purple then green.
The time for attractions having passed, streets are dismissed by the same complicated regularity. Its face purified, regains its crown, believed reborn. (The trunk of man gone away to think in its own quarter.)
Day to day, people fill like sand then leave no trace of these expansions and convulsions, one can set a course on it as a beach by its sun.
At such a beach I discover the sky, an immense cloudless sky to lose oneself in as a kite. Faithfully to follow as my eyes could not to leave it, I ran without end to try and meet it. Breathless, I threw myself on the sand, sand so fine between fingers with a warm caress, that made me laugh.
The inevitable procession: women in black bring me back to the streets and now, of an icy air, towards a gothic villa whose windows reflect the house-trained sun. It is the first day of my life that I see the light.
Leaving behind the Memories, the avalanche and scaffolding of a stillborn life, the bronzes and plaster casts of all civilization and trusting myself to an angle blue as slate, I took a place in the beautiful sky in a flight of pigeons in the heart of the City. The heavy bird voyagers came flocking down not far from a place where, always devoured by the demon of curiosity, I melt into a crowd.
I saw they were holding a parade. The standards and flags of feeble boys and bony old men (cane in hand); the banners and faded finery of sweaty clergymen (armpits stinky and green), the holy scapulars and filthy rosary of young sisters, children of Mary trembling: “My father I have had bad thoughts.” All yammering, breadth rotten : we are espoused to France. Three greasy haired hunched over old men discovering between their rack of mustaches a hostful of rancid wafers.
There you are in your place under the flag, insane with holiness. Why not smile disillusioned or burst out laughing with amusement… But no I stay to spit at the blood of my ancestors, who all take after you. Will I soon enough not end rejecting this sinking burden? Yes, it is not so long, la Véronique was smiling at me in saintly line with Christ, the Virgin and crown wavering under the incense, large as nails fixed to the wall, trainees of blood, the Saintly Face crying oily tears under a single red lamp lighting the “chapel of Seven Sorrows.”
It was a retreat, an hour of meditation, I was seven years old, on my knees trembling. Forcing myself to invent sins, as mine seemed insufficient, sins little in relation with the gravity of my own, arms and legs broken, the severity of the texts, the invocations. So I invented… The priest welcomed me into an obscure room where I will horror and he will confess to me on his knees. They took me back to a cab. The house was far away : “between Saint and Safety” explained my mother to the coachman as I trembled through the long ride on upholstery of damp velour, dreading death at every turn, street streaming with rain, horseshoes slipping out of control.
I had to swallow the host also, shame in not knowing how to go about it, posing these questions. “Especially do not make him have to touch your teeth,” said my mother to me. What a frightful debate of language, the goodness of god ensalivated. It was so long and messed up that I began to doubt it was composed of…God. The idea would not let go, became impossible to think of anything else : I began sobbing. Seeing my emotion, the priest and parents congratulated themselves of my utmost piety. Would I say – could I confess the horror of what was happening? Was it not already a state of mortal sin? One speaks of fervors… For the first time the blissful smiles, superior airs of the grand appeared to me strange, doubtable. Meanwhile, I was so proud to be an only child of a first communion that would happen to, but like my mother wished, without any material rejoicing that would trouble the sanctity of the day.
And another time sanctity had lodged itself in the attic. A storage room full of trunks and old junk. Where the window was never opened, condemned by a heavy curtain, leaving only a filter of light thru stained glass. Would stay there for hours, escaping their tedium, plunged in a body lost to it. It happened one day that we had to move the clutter of objects to make a crossing to reach the window; it was the only place where one could see a captive dirigible that had fallen in the garden next door. One could see its nacelle at 20 meters coinciding between two walls, a half deflated orange envelope, striated heavy ropes, sprawled over the rooftops and branches of a tree. Finally I saw the pilot emerge from the diverse mass; his smallness to have fallen from heaven appeared to me a strange disappointment. An incomparable event, its puff of air in my punctured attic.
I was without friend. All were reproved by my mother as “too good” or “not pious enough.” Poor, little girl – only to find her scope innately, to seek out neighbors who might have lent a hand, to be at leave to play with other children on the street, to speak with tradesmen, to be acquainted with the stories of the neighborhood! But her situation would not permit it, instead we were locked in, by a distrust of all that were not Family, in complete ignorance of all in the world that could be gay, active, lively, vibrant, productive, same to say simply human. “To have relations” or “to receive” threw my mother into a state of solemn panic and forced our submission to its withering backlash. My brother alone would pull us through the malaise with his abandon, bursting into a whirlwind of crazy sacrilegious giggles, that we were forced to contain in living room or church.
The house had always the characteristic of being dreary and unchanging. The impossible arrival of a letter filled me with passion, a letter that would be very rare, written from Africa, America or China by some uncle faraway. Though one never appeared on the bronze decorated tray full of bills, announcements, L’Écho de Paris – still I awaited the mail every day for such a thick envelope, adorned with an extraordinary stamp, writing of something fantastic.
Despite domestics, mother was constantly preoccupied with household chores, preoccupied with anguish over the dust, mothballs and polish. Not a day went by without a new stain to absorb her, her countenance put out by things and people. She was called “to arrange” and was never finished. All the world became under her foot, its only active part being to contribute to the general bouleversement. Children and domestics, tight faced at the sight of each other, coming and going, mounting and descending, nothing was saved. Lonesome, the storage room remained unchanging, an atmosphere confined in stained light.
It was my refuge, there to the horse of an old moleskin trunk or crouched in a frame of chair bottoms, I retold myself tales without end mostly of those from before I was born, of a time where I inhabited the sky. Or else, contemplating with fervor sweet sallow Jesus and blond Joseph, images blue, rose-colored, golden, stars wrapped in silk, knotted with favors. Or else, would wash my doll and partake in the discovery of my own body, that one was ordered to ignore. The curiosity of a child, toward her belly, at the same moment where she learns God sees all and is following her into the storage room. Curiosity then terror. Life being made quickly to oscillate between these two poles: the one sacred and venerated as must be exhibited (my mother’s enlistments after communions), the other dirty, shameful that must never be named. How together more mysterious, more enthralling, more intense than a life dreary and unchanging. Thus was I to rock between the infamous and the sublime, over the course of many years, where true life would always be absent.
Laborers on their way to work after having proudly wiped the kids and hurried them, with a rude tenderness that did not mince words, “blow your nose, wipe your ass, good-for-nothing.” In front of them at least children could unbutton their panties without believing themselves in hell. With them would they share an air of goodness? Not like mine, holier than thou pretentious. “My poor girl?” Send them with a wallop running out onto the sidewalk.
Where I imagine fiery laundresses hands soaking in the Siene for hours “Are you good & done, you, with your piles, get off on the shit in these napkins? wouldn’t it be doodled by his eminence the boss?” and they burst out laughing that gets lost in the reeds.