Translated by Simon Collings.
The blind man’s daughter.
I WAS IN the wrong that morning in giving alms to the daughter of the blind man: she is young, unkempt and beautiful, her feet bare beneath her black and dusty dress. The blind man is elderly, with a white beard; he wears a blue robe and his skull is wrapped in a turban; he supports himself with a long cane. His eyes, which once were blue, are discoloured, like the surface of dried up lagoons; but his daughter’s eyes are so full of speech and light they seem to add to her gaze what has disappeared from her father’s. Each morning she leads the blind man along the street of shops where the cafés are; on the terraces fat merchants smoke their hookahs. When I pass on my bike I no longer stop to give alms; she is too beautiful. But she sees me, and abandoning her father, advances towards me holding out her hand. I make a detour and continue on my way; she starts to run after me; I pedal faster; she runs more swiftly, hoisting her dress above her knees, and I hear her naked feet striking the ground behind me. She calls to me, her cry echoing in the street; I don’t know what she calls me, perhaps a name the shopkeepers would have known, and certainly the impassive hookah-smokers condemn me. She runs like a hunted gazelle: I will never be able to throw her off, she will follow me even into the desert. In the end I stop, pretending I have only just heard her, and give her a small coin. She is panting and I feel her hot breath on my face like the wind from a garden. The blind man will be waiting for her at the heart of the town; he does not know what’s become of her. Perhaps he believes I have carried her a long way off, is afraid that she will never return. And I wish eternally to ask forgiveness of that blind old man.
Of the Nile Born.
WHEN I CAME out of the Nile, the noon sun beating down, the sandy bank, bordered at some distance by derisory palm trees, appeared to me the immensity of Arabia.
I walked towards the spot where I thought I had left my clothes; it must have been somewhere here (but where?) on this burning expanse of sand which nothing distinguished, without a single landmark in its boundless serenity. My clothes were nowhere to be seen, the emptiness dazzled me, and I felt myself dissipating in a luminous absence. Straying, I followed the river downstream, then returned, my anxious gaze searching the golden shoreline. The dizziness with which my head spun arose perhaps from the weight of sun on my shoulders. In the intoxicating light, everything was imaginable: could a hot whirlwind crossing the desert have carried away my little heap of clothes and buried it in the sand or consumed it, while I was on the other bank? In this blazing splendour was it possible that my clothes had volatised; should I be looking for them in the sky, that devouring nothingness where my existence wandered, consumed like the nocturnal firmament?
Finally, I recovered my senses, though in fear: I was exiled in a foreign land, and condemned to nakedness: a solitude I had not known before.
When the dizziness wore off I came to the simple conclusion that my clothes had been stolen – though by magicians able to assume the shape of birds or snakes – and as I was inescapably naked on the enchanted sand, my discontent changed into a combative and proud joy: there was nothing for it but to quit this place and confront the virtuous and hostile world of the clothed.
I climbed the wide strand by a path of beaten earth, bordered to begin with by arrogant, plucked palms, and then by green trees, irregularly spaced, which coloured my body with the reflections of their fiery flames. Born of the river, coming out of the fire, and sharing their secret, I felt as though entering the world for the first time, not dispossessed, but on the contrary in full glory and resplendent, and I walked with the step of a god who wonders how men will receive him, and what veils they will throw over him.
At the approach to the village, where plague was said to be endemic, children, boys and girls, surged out of the dusty thickets, cacti and Barbary fig, and I experienced feelings of confusion which might have brought me to a sense of my indignity had I not quickly repressed them, for these miraculous children, accustomed to all marvels and ignorant of the laws of decency, were not in the least surprised by the arrival of such a stranger. Without mischievousness, they provided him with an escort, thereby making him all the more luminous. Curiosity provoked them sometimes into touching his back with the tip of a finger, as though wanting to establish his corporeality; and many even believed that, penniless as he appeared, he would distribute coins to them.
However, as soon as the first white-painted houses appeared, as though sensing it would have been dangerous to go further, they stopped and scattered amid the cacti and fig trees. I entered the village. A woman rooted to the spot by the pitcher she carried on her head raised the edge of her cloak to her eyes. A man buckling a packsaddle onto a donkey stopped but said nothing: the world is made of strange events. Then at the terrace of a café, an old man seated among other wise, robed men, got up slowly, came forward, and with deference placed his cloak around my shoulders. He conjured from somewhere, I don’t now remember how, a cup of coffee, then a carriage, to take me to the nearby town.
Placed like a proud nobleman in the light barouche filled with the warm shadows of the large blossoming trees, I arrived in the town by the royal avenue, wrapped in a magic cloak, a person from nowhere, and in my glorious contempt, I barely recognised, as I passed before it, the huge building – anyway in part prettily concealed by foliage – where I worked as an insignificant functionary, and where, at that moment, I should have been; was I one of those tall granite gods one sees lying stretched out at full length in abandoned palm plantations, so profoundly asleep and so heavy that it would be a perilous exercise to try to arouse them or raise them up? – They were more beautiful thus laid out on the earth for ever and ever. But I was awake, and seated in my light barouche, I returned to my house, intoxicated with eternity, knowing everything of the sun, of water, of the centuries, having passed through all the dizziness and empty ecstasies, and superior to prayer. The town belonged to me where before everything had merely seemed under my domination. However, I wore no badge of prestige on my head to magnify myself and to affirm my power, not even a silk turban; my hair, dried in disorder, attested to my being a reprobate, without clan and of a vile race. Some of those who saw me turned toward that man more to be scorned than a thief, who had allowed himself to be stripped of his dignity, and who had sprawled in a courtesan’s flowery barouche, wearing on his shoulders, like a beggar’s rags, the cloak of opprobrium.
WITH MY USUAL companion, I roamed at night at the foot of the perforated mountain. It’s a sheer cliff, monumental like the façade of a disfigured temple, a sudden break with the desert, which on that bank of the river is a high plateau. From top to bottom of that pitiable wall formless caverns open. In bygone times this was a vertiginous vertical cemetery, stuffed with gold, inhabited by hope and life, where the tombs, which believed themselves impregnable, were ranged above the void. The profaners passed; thieves and hyenas, and it is then, in a time very far from shadows, that death took possession of the place.
The moon lit up that grim monument of destruction, ochre during the day and savage like the fur of a fearsome and strong-scented beast, now almost without colour, except that the white light took on a sickly yellow hue running over the rocks like a sweat, like slowly moving grease which falls from the mouths and sexes of the dead; but below and not far away, the moon sharpened, with the purest tempering, the curved scimitar of the Nile resting near a shadowy sleeping warrior, bloodthirsty, a cutter off of heads.
We were searching, timid hunters that we were, the corpse-eater, the cowardly hyena which it was said haunted hereabouts, the fugitive who trembles before the living, animated decay, the foulness, the deformity, repugnant outcast among animals. We had heard a long howl issue from the shadows of a cave low down, of a sort of shameful and despairing ferocity, which terrifies the birds with a disgust more powerful than fear, to the point where, having heard it they renounce killing and will not eat for many nights. Then we observed, in the deep gloom, eyes not at all phosphorescent, reddish beacons tinged with blood, pierced with green lenses of decay. And as we threw stones, oily to the touch, the rocks contaminated by the nearby fur, the filthy thing suddenly emerged.
O taciturn moon of grease, eye of an hepatic without memory, you once shone on the despoilers, armed with picks, ropes, ladders, disinterring the daughters of men, the most tenderly cherished, the most sumptuously arrayed, robbing them of their jewels, and from the top of that rampart throwing the mummies to the beasts, lying Isis, that night without silver, cheese to hyena’s and jackals. The holes were empty. Nothing was left for our dream.
We climbed back down, and Asyut slept. My companion said: let’s go to Octon, the district where the prostitutes live. There are little houses there where, like sacred lights, the most beautiful women keep vigil, some with hot, ochre-coloured skin who are from here and others with cold black skin, daughters of Ethiopia. We entered into their secret rooms, which were no larger than the holes which had been tombs, enlivened by rich colours, where serving men and girls never ceased to parade, in profile, carrying fowls, fruit, huge flowers and perfumes.
Georges Limbour (1900-1970) became a member of the Surrealist Movement in Paris during the 1920s, but split from André Breton and other ‘mainstream’ Surrealists in the 1929-30 schism. Along with Desnos, Bataille and other dissidents, Limbour signed the Cadavre document, an anti-Breton manifesto. He was an active ‘pataphysician. The new translations here are from the French text appearing in Soleils bas, published by Gallimard, and appear here by permission.
Simon Collings lives in Oxford and has published poems, stories and critical essays in a range of journals including The Fortnightly Review, Stride, Journal of Poetics Research, Tears in the Fence, Ink Sweat and Tears, Lighthouse and PN Review. Out West, his first chapbook, was published by Albion Beatnik (2017), and a second chapbook, Stella Unframed, has just been released by The Red Ceilings Press.
Simon Collings would like to thank Stephanie Quairel for her advice on aspects of the translation.