To a Prostitute

O beast, O impure urn in which a nation’s sins are poured,
tonight my intent isn’t to subdue your hips,
or to unleash a weeping tornado in the cornfields of your hair
while I kiss you with my ennui-deadened lips.

What I seek to purchase from you is the heavy, dreamless sleep
that slips beneath the radar of remorse.
Such sleep’s your area of expertise, O liar whose nights are steeped
in mindlessness, more blank-brained than some corpses.

Gopher-toothed, vice has spoiled the freshness of my soul,
marking me for the same barren fate you call your own.
But whereas your granite breast contains a heart so hard

that crimes glance off it, leaving you unscarred,
I am forever haunted by the shadow of my pall.
I sleep with you because I’m scared to die in bed alone.


Stéphane Mallarmé

Stéphane Mallarmé was born in Paris in 1842. He was married and had one daughter. His most famous works are L'après-midi d'un faun (Afternoon of a Faun, 1876), a long poem that inspired Claude Débussy to compose one of his best known musical works, and Un coup de dés jamais n'abolira le hasard (A Throw of the Dice Will Never Abolish Chance, 1897). He died in Valvins in 1898.

Jenna Le

Jenna Le's first collection of poems, Six Rivers, is forthcoming from New York Quarterly Books in 2011. Her poems have appeared in Barrow Street, Margie, Post Road, Rhino, Salamander, and other journals. She was the winner of the 2011 Minnetonka Review Editor's Prize and a nominee for the 2011 PEN Emerging Writers Award.

English translation copyright (c) Jenna Le, 2011.