You’ve grown weary of this ancient world

The Eiffel Tower shepherds her morning flock of bleating bridges

This Greek and Roman chant has grown a bore

Even the automobiles have that ancient air
Only religion remains spanking new religion
Abides simply as the hangars at Port-Aviation

O Christianity it’s only in Europe that you’re up-to-date
The most modern European is you Pius X
But your own shame trails you in windows and forbids you this morning
To enter a church and confess yourself
Leaflets and posters wheedle your eyes
The morning posts its poetry and if you want prose there’s the morning paper
There are five-sous installments which bulge with police tales
Lives of great men a thousand titles for sale

Today I passed a fetching street whose name I’ve forgotten
Chaste and clean she was the bugle of the sun
The managers the workers and the pretty shorthand-typists
Dance by her Monday to Saturday four times a day
Three times every morning the siren complains
A rabid clock snarls near noon
The walls and the plaques and the signs over shops
Their opinions inscriptions like parrots cry out
I like the grace of this industrial street
By la rue Aumont-Thiéville and l’avenue des Ternes

You live on this guileless street you’re no more than a child
Your mother decks you out in blue and white
You are pious and you and your best friend René Dalize
Love nothing more in life than calotte and lawn sleeves
At nine o’clock the blue gas lights dim you sneak out of the dorm
You pray together all night in your boarding school shrine
In the infinite awesome amethyst deep
Spins the eternal flamboyant glory of Christ
He is the lily that we cultivate
He is the russet-haired torch that the wind can’t put out
He is the melancholy mother’s wan and ruby son
He is the tree convoluted with all these earthly prayers
He is the gibbet’s double noose of eternity and honor
He is the six-branched star
He is god who dies each Friday and draws breath each Sunday
He is Christ who zooms higher than the aviators
He holds the all-time height record of the world

Pupil Christ’s eye
Ward of the twentieth century he’s got the right stuff
Like Jesus or the birds this century takes wing
Dark creatures of the depths lift their heads to see
They distain our imitation of Judea’s Simon Magus
They shriek that we pilots have stolen their skill
The angles lazy-eight ’round the divine Acrobat
Icarus Enoch the airplane buffet
Elius Apollinarus of Thyanus
They draw back for the porters of the Eucharist feast
The volitant preachers floating by with the host
The plane touches down without grounding its wings
The sky explodes with a million sparrows
Falcons and crows and owls swoop in
Africa’s ibis flamingos the celebrated Roc
Swinging Adam’s skull in his glassy claws
The eagle hovers on the skyline squalling the
Arrival from the States the little hummingbird
And the passengers from China the long and lissome pihis
Who have only one wing and must fly with their lovers
The virtuous dove calms the throng with his flutter
And escorts the lyre-bird and the eye-spangled peacock
Past the phoenix engrossed in his self-immolation
His task blinds the rest with hot fervent ashes
The Sirens take leave of their perilous straits
A terzetto lilting a beautiful fugue
Then eagle and phoenix and dove and pihis
All fraternize with the flying machine

You wander in Paris alone in the herd buses trundle and moo
The cramp of love splinters your voice
You imagine never being loved again
If it were only the old days you could enter a monastery
But you’re ashamed when you startle yourself saying a prayer
Your scornful laugh spatters your life’s gilded basin
Your life is a canvas in a sober museum
You can stroll in and see it up close if you please

You prowl Paris the women are soaked with blood
It was too terrible to bear it was beauty’s decline

Flame-eyes revealed me at Chartres
Sacred-Heart’s blood drenched me at Montmartre
I have sickened on this eucharist of saintly words
And the love that I suffer’s an indecent disease
You’re anguished when awake and you never sleep
Your obsessive image is the food of my faith

You’re on the Mediterranean shore
The lemon trees here flower all year long
You and your friends take a skiff out on the sea
There’s the joker from La Tourbie the kid from Menton one from Nice
With dread we discern octopi ranging the deep
The seaweed snares fish with the face of Our Savior

You are in the garden of an auberge near Prague
You feel tranquil and fresh there’s a rose on the the table
And rather than write your installment of prose
You watch the weevil that sleeps in the gut of the rose

You tremble at your portrait in the agate at Saint-Vit
You mourned your own life when you saw yourself there
You panic like Lazarus perceiving the day
In the Jewish quarter the hands on the clock move in reverse
As simply as you in your own life recede
Traveling to Hradchin in the evening
Listening at the taverns where they sing Czech songs

You’re in Marseille surrounded by watermelon

You’re in Coblence at the hôtel du Géant
You’re in Rome sitting under a loquat tree
You’re in Amsterdam with a girl you think is beautiful who is ugly
They’ve arranged for her to marry a student from Leeds
We paid for a Latinate room Cubicula locanda
I remember that I spent three days there and as many at Gouda

You’re in Paris in front of the magistrate
You’re put under arrest like a petty thug

You had melancholy and rapturous travels
Before glimpsing yourself through aging and lies
You suffered for love at twenty and thirty
I’ve lived like a fool and I’ve wasted my time
You can’t look at your hands and I’m aching to weep
For you for her I love for the terror of everything

You want to cry for these flocks of ragged immigrants
They believe in God they pray the women breastfeed their children
Their odor freights the hall of the Saint-Lazare station
They have faith in their star like the three Magi kings
They expect to make money in the Argentine
And return to their homeland in prosperity
One family bears a red bedspread like you carry your heart
That quilt is no more real than our dreams
Some of the immigrants settle down here for good
Rue des Rosiers or Rue des Écouffes in any kind of hovel
I’ve seen them often in the evening they go for the air in the streets
They budge as rarely as the pieces in an evening chess game
There are particularly the Jews the wives wear wigs
The women sit bloodless and anemic in the back of their shops

You’re standing at the counter of a shabby bar
You buy coffee for two sous and go to join the wretches

It’s night you’re in a fashionable restaurant

These women aren’t all bad they have their own troubles
But even the ugliest has caused a lover to suffer

She’s a Jersey policeman’s daughter

I haven’t had a chance to see her hard chapped hands

I feel a great sadness for the scars on her belly

I’m humiliating a luckless girl with a repulsive laugh my mouth

You’re alone morning creeps closer
Milk cans chink and tinkle in the milkman’s hands

The night is reborn as a beautiful métisse
She is Ferdinande the false or Lea anxious to please

Existence scalds you like this blistering eau-de-vie
You quaff your life like an apéritif

You straggle toward Auteuil you’ll walk home tonight
You’ll sleep with your talismans from Oceania and Guinea
They are Christs of a different incarnation and a different belief
They are the inferior Christs of a bewildered faith

Adieu Adieu

Sliced neck of sun


Guillaume Apollinaire

Guillaume Apollinaire was born in Italy to a Polish mother and an unknown father, and grew up speaking French, Italian, and Polish. As a young man in Paris, he was one of the central figures of the artistic group that included Andre Breton, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, Erik Satie, Marc Chagall, and Marcel Duchamp. An advocate for the burgeoning movement of Cubism, he is also believed to have coined the term “Surrealism” in 1917. In 1911 he was wrongly accused of having been involved in the theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre and was imprisoned for six days, an incident which is alluded to in “Zone.” Apollinaire is best known for his poetry collections Alcools (1913) and Calligrammes (1918), in which the poems are laid out pictorially into recognizable or evocative shapes, and for his play The Breasts of Tiresias (1917). Apollinaire was one of the founders of the literary journal Soirées de Paris and worked as a journalist and art critic for French newspapers. He was injured in World War I and died in 1918 in the Spanish flu epidemic, at the age of 38.

Pamela Erens

Pamela Erens’s third novel, Eleven Hours, will be published by Tin House Books in May 2016. Her second novel, The Virgins (Tin House, 2013), was a finalist for the John Gardner Fiction Book Award and was named a Best Book of 2013 by The New Yorker, The New Republic, Library Journal, and Salon. Erens’s debut novel, The Understory (Ironweed Press, 2007), was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing. Erens’s reviews and essays have appeared in a wide variety of literary, cultural, and mainstream publications, including The New York Times, Virginia Quarterly Review, Vogue, Los Angeles Review of Books, New England Review, The Millions, and Aeon.

English translation copyright (c) Pamela Erens, 2015.