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from ‘Teint’.

 by ZOË SKOULDING.

for the Bièvre

La Bièvre représente aujourd’hui le plus parfait symbole de la misère féminine exploitée par une grande ville. […] Comme bien des filles de la campagne, la Bièvre est, dès son arrivée à Paris, tombée dans l’affût industriel des racoleurs ; spoliée de ses vêtements d’herbes et de ses parures d’arbres, elle a dû aussitôt se mettre à l’ouvrage et s’épuiser aux horribles tâches qu’on exigeait d’elle. Cernée par d’âpres négociants qui se la repassent, mais, d’un commun accord, l’emprisonnent à tour de rôle, le long de ses rives, elle est devenue mégissière, et, jours et nuits, elle lave l’ordure des peaux écorchées, macère les toisons épargnées et les cuirs bruts, subit les pinces de l’alun, les morsures de la chaux et des caustiques. Que de soirs, derrière les Gobelins, dans un pestilentiel fumet de vase, on la voit, seule, piétinant dans sa boue, au clair de lune, pleurant, hébétée de fatigue, sous l’arche minuscule d’un petit pont !

bievre-marvilleTHE BIÈVRE TODAY represents the most perfect symbol of feminine misery exploited by a large city. […] Like many country girls, the Bièvre fell prey, upon her arrival in Paris, to the industrial snares of touts; despoiled of her dresses of grass and adornments of trees, she had to set to work immediately and wear herself out with the terrible chores demanded of her. Surrounded by rough merchants who pass her daily, but, by common agreement, imprison her in turn the length of her banks, she has become a tannery worker, and, day and night, she washes the filth from stripped skins, soaks the spare fleeces and raw leather, suffers the grip of alum, the bite of lime and caustic. There you see her in the evenings behind Gobelins, in a foul-smelling sludge, alone, trampling in the mud, by moonlight, crying, dazed with fatigue, under the miniscule arch of a little bridge.

J.K. Huysmans, La Bièvre, 1914.

 

 

Not a river but its
________________shadow harmonics hidden
level in the glass note
__________________glissando between a
movement and a sound
___________________half in the performance
where I ran to you I
_________________ran as tainted water

while tarmac shines in rain
______________________the channels you don’t touch
well up on tomorrow’s
___________)_______tongue to flower there don’t
leave or was it this way
____________________that now I’ll run from you

 

 

 

 

Not a trace but the same
____________________line writing itself
over and over again
_________________it can’t wash away
the evidence that
____________+___gathers in the silt or
in the edges of a
______________map of the city’s growth rings

a habitat constitutes
__________________the physical structure
perceived by living things
______________________each living thing
also a habitat the human
_____________________becoming river

 

 

L’inhabitable : la mer dépotoir, les côtes hérissés de fer barbelé, la terre pelée, la terre charnier, les monceaux de carcasses, les fleuves bourbiers, les villes nauséabondes

The uninhabitable: sea as rubbish dump, coasts bristling with barbed wire, bare ground, mass burial ground, heaps of carcasses, boggy rivers, stinking towns

Georges Perec, Espèces d’espaces, 1974.

 

 

 

 

Not a beginning but
_________________backwash hidden upstream
industrial blood scrubbed
_____________________clean away chopped offal
the skins you didn’t see
___________________stitched up into polis
rinsed into leather boots
____________________for wars fought in footsteps

if blood hangs in sight lines
______________________reddening the mirrors
look away as water
________________swallows every story
the city’s vibrating
_______________skin behind it more skins

 

 

 

 

Not wormwood but stream of
_________________________piss so says Rabelais
six thousand and fourteen
_____________________dogs went howling after
the woman in crimson
__________________Panurge couldn’t charm so
his revenge a river
_______________of dog-desire maddened

by scent the dogs all came
______________________at once they pissed on her
they pissed at her door in
_____________________streams of bitter water
this territory marked her
____________________satin asking for it

 

Panurge n’eut achevé ce mot, que tous les chiens qui estoyent en l’ecclise accoururent a ceste dame pour l’odeur des drogues qu’il avoyt espandu sus elle ; petitz et grandz, gros et menuz, tous y venoyent tirans le membre, et la sentans, et pissans par tout sus elle ; c’estoyt la plus grande villanie du monde. […] Quand elle feut entree en sa maison, et fermé la porte apres elle, tous les chiens y acouroyent de demye lieue, qu’ilz y feirent ung ruisseau de leurs urines, auquel les cannes eussent bien nagé. Et c’est celuy ruisseau qui de present passe a Sainct Victor, auquel Guobelin tainct l’escarlatte, pour la vertu specificque de ces pisse chiens […].

Panurge had no sooner spoke this but all the dogs that were in the church came running to this lady with the smell of the drugs that he had strewed upon her, both small and great, big and little, all came, laying out their member, smelling to her, and pissing everywhere upon her – it was the greatest villlainy in the world. […] When she was entered into the house and had shut the door upon herself, all the dogs came running of half a league round, and did so well bepiss the gate of her house that there they made a stream with their urine wherein a duck might very well have swimmed, and it is this same current that now runs at St Victor, in which Gobelin dyeth scarlet, for the specifical virtue of these piss-dogs […].

François Rabelais, La vie de Gargantua et de Pantagruel, Livre II Chap. XXII, 1534, trans. Thomas Urquhart and Peter Anthony Motteux.

 

 

 

 

Not a torrent but furred
___________________mud silks through time stopped up
to flood a future where
___________________beavers have vanished with
only bièvre to bite
_______________its way into the tongue
castoreum musky
_______________your sillage at arm’s length

dog-river bares its teeth
_____________________at the devil’s dye-house
this quality of water
__________________mordant how do you like
my scarlet what will this
____________________will it never be clean

 

 

 

 

Not a river but its
_____________._nymph already complaining
late 1500s in
____________Baïf’s lament for injured
water where your goblins
_____________________where your poisons tint
inhuman dyers taint
________________the mixing of our waters

her own name blotted out
______________________by Gobelins she runs
in the glint of bare life
_______________.__are you even listening
the city doesn’t
_______________count what lies underneath

 

 

 

 

Not the source but the effluent
_________________________will rather the multitudinous
waves incarnadine
_________________making the green one
Gobelin scarlet
_______._____affluent in muddy commerce
all the insect blood of America
__________________________rinsed in the piss-poor river

runs as weft in this repeated
________________________gesture where evenness
is all that hangs
______________between hand and eye
a landscape opens on a wall
________________________the wool pulled over

 

 

 

 

Not a rill but run-off
_______________._guttering to a halt
or flood that stutters in its
_______________.______struggle with silence
you have to be so quick
_______________.______to catch the impossible
when money falters time
_______________._____sells out the cuts cut in

her wavelength takes you down
_______________.__________her flame red her curlicue
stepped in the bitmap weave
_______________.________that makes it seem natural
on the rue Berbier-du-Mets
_______________._______in steeped scarlet the slow loom

 

 

 

 

Not a stream but a laundry
____________________._where the washergirls are
wringing and beating and
____________________.thumping the linen
rain running down their necks
________________________to the arch of the back
no longer smelling of
_________________amber and benzoin says Huysmans

the air that chokes them is
____________________fecal bass notes overture
of soap to animalic
________________accord a memory
in the dry-down of moss
_______________._____earth harsh on the skin

 

 

 

 

Not a conscious movement
______________________but not without reason
he’s just forgotten why
____________________.he’s made the detour
through teasel and ragwort
______________________Rousseau botanizing
on the Bièvre avoiding
__________________a boy who knew his name

water streams out of its
____________________classification dodges
and weaves round old duties
________________________remembered by no-one
begin with pimpernel
__________________chervil borage groundsel

 

 

Nous n’avons guère de mouvement machinal dont nous ne pussions trouver la cause dans notre coeur, si nous savions bien l’y chercher.

We have hardly any mechanical movement whose cause is not to be found in the heart, if we are acquainted with the manner of seeking it.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, ‘Sixième promenade’, Les Rêveries du promeneur solitaire, 1782, trans. Charles E. Butterworth.

 

 

 

 

Not memory but moire
_________________._in the silkstream’s marbled
lines wet layers pressed on
_________________.____cloth shifted like ray trace
or a photograph of
______________._television before
it existed before
_____________the river changed to this

bee hanging in breeze sus-
_____________________pended water’s version
of itself held in a
______________breath doubling up as speech
behind Paris seething
__________________its lava of events

 

 

Le ruisseau de moire et de soie

The stream of moire and silk

Victor Hugo, ‘Bièvre’, 1831.

 

 


 

 

Not water now but ink
___________________the river’s leaking black
staining my hand in this
___________________blotting out of image
its refusal to be
_____________anything but body
touching its own absence
__________________.__blind in concrete channels

curved and folded a
________________skin tattooed with its own
mottled pulse a tremor
__________________sloughed off running in the
hollows all its water
________________pure evaporation

 

 

Est-ce de la boüe ou de l’eau ?
Est-ce de la suye ou de l’encre ?

Is it mud or water?
Is it sweat or ink?

Claude Lepetit, Rivière des Gobelins, 1668.


Zoë Skoulding‘s fourth and most recent collection of poetry is The Museum of Disappearing Sounds (Seren, 2013; £8.01 | $16.44). She is also the author of the monograph Contemporary Women’s Poetry and Urban Space: Experimental Cities (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013; £50.00 | $78.20), the translator of In Reality: Selected Poems by the francophone poet Jean Portante (Seren, 2013; £7.66 | $15.32), and a Senior Lecturer in the School of English at Bangor University, north Wales. Based on research into the Bièvre, a lost river in Paris, the poems published here are part of a sequence written during a 2014 residency at Les Récollets hosted jointly by the Institut Français and the Mairie de Paris. Further poems may be found at Blackbox Manifold.

Translations of quoted sources by Zoë Skoulding unless otherwise noted.

For a printable pdf of this work, click here.

One Comment

  1. eliza wrote:

    Didn’t poor Claude die in 1662?

    Tuesday, 19 May 2015 at 09:54 | Permalink

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