By Claire Malroux

Translated by Marilyn Hacker

from Issue 13: Masks


 

I

Without knowing us the dog rushes to greet us
from the path at the morning’s most luscious moment when the sky
leans on the church’s slate roof

Imperiously she leads us to the enchanted spots
of her dog’s life

We must roll with her in the fields sniff the horse-droppings
shake ourselves off in the stream which erases time’s borders
like animal tracks

A bridge to our human joy so close
to her domain
and necessary to her happiness

as if a hint of eternity guided her by its smell
When we retrace our steps she’ll hurl herself on us again
with grand gestures of gratitude

Swallows have no such fraternities
Barely curious, the horses will have turned away to scratch themselves
and embrace, cheek to cheek

Echo of the group gathered on a rocky promontory by the ancestor’s eye
not so long ago at the heart of the grotto

II

At the grotto’s mouth she forgot the spring
the grass’s whispers the stridences the shiver and thunder
of the branches

shook off the sun’s weight to penetrate its silence

Now she is no more than an arm of shadow a snake’s sloughed skin
in the stone

Men have crawled into her body with torches
and flints

Europa Eurydice Persephone Beatrice

Their drawings destroy and beget themselves
horse’s belly, bison’s hump and mammoth’s chest
doe’s head in a crotch

One reads: the god is closest to me in my enemy
With my sharpened lump of clay I hold him in my power
I am embodied in him

Or: you who pass by here help me to escape the stone trap

Some unique artist has left a signature: human
slender, sexless, future pastor of the catacombs

Another is it the same the big-assed female carrying
her clitoris in front other like a Perigourdine her bag
when she goes to market on the village square
at the hour when the sun gnaws the last bones of snow

III

Alone in her grotto where nothing except a rarer air asks questions

The blanches up there grinding the dead on their way to a cloud-eden

Finer matter than dew on a rose, shadow on a wall, the shiver
of skin stretched over the chasm

For the hermit the days’ exhalations the leaves’ prodigality the greenness of rain

What is a day after so many days?

A stone (sometimes white), a marker placed graciously but without indulgence on the path
Oh mask the dusks, fire off huge bouquets of dawns

Let your afternoons play at rolling down the slopes
as yesterday you slid your days on the shaft of the abacus
back and forth, without counting them

Where today they are impaled one by one in slow torture


Claire Malroux was born September 3, 1935, in the small, rural town of Albi in southwestern France. The daughter of two elementary school teachers, Augustin and Paule Malroux, she grew up in both Albi and Paris. Malroux’s book-length lyric narrative poem "A Long-Gone Sun" recollects her childhood during World War II, including her father’s involvement with the French Resistance, which led in 1945 to his incarceration and death in the Nazi concentration camp Bergen-Belsen. Malroux is the author of seven collections of poetry in French.

Marilyn Hacker is an American poet, critic, and reviewer. Her books of poetry include Going Back to the River, Love, Death, and The Changing of the Seasons, and Presentation Piece, which won the National Book Award. Hacker is an important contemporary lesbian writer and activist. She often employs strict poetic forms in her poetry, as with Love, Death, and the Changing of the Seasons, which is a verse novel in sonnets. She is also recognized as a master of French forms, particularly the villanelle.

Original text: From Ni si lointain by Claire Malroux. Le Castor astral: Paris, 2004.

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