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A Poetic Sequence from ‘Trás-os-Montes’.

By JOSÉ-FLORE TAPPY.

Translated from the French by John Taylor.

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The Hallway / Le Corridor

Dark, endless,
lampless
behind the windowpanes

the night

Yet even it
ends up famished
can be heard fidgeting
shrinking to better flee
suddenly escaping
over the roofs

Obscure, interminable,
sans lampe
derrière les vitres

la nuit

Pourtant même elle
finit par avoir faim,
on l’entend qui s’agite,
se rétracte pour mieux fuir,
soudain se sauve
par les toits

Up before dawn, you wash
the floor downstairs, valiant
at this chore, spilling out water
over the dirty stones,
making it slide, we’d like to sponge it up,
but you work so fast, erasing in haste
the marks left by footsteps,
the blackish traces

in the wind, all doors wide open,
the wetness will dry, in the wind that wipes
with its greasy
crumpled rag

Levée avant le jour,
tu laves le sol, en bas,
forte à la tâche ; l’eau,
tu la jettes sur la pierre sale,
la fais glisser, on voudrait l’éponger,
mais tu vas vite, effaces en hâte
les marques de pas,
les traces noirâtres

au vent, toutes portes ouvertes,
séchera l’humidité, au vent
qui passe sa serviette grasse,
froissée

On both sides already,
in the growing shadow you align
the empty vases; narrow, the hallway,
long like the night, an endless night
lit at the very end
by the tarnished glass
of the stars

Déjà des deux côtés,
dans la pénombre qui s’allonge,
tu alignes les vases vides ; étroit, le corridor,
long comme la nuit, une nuit sans fin,
éclairée tout au bout
par le verre dépoli
des étoiles

When concentrating she is unaware
of our calling out to her, doesn’t even raise
her head when we speak to her

Nothing can distract her
from her chores—
the tiles below the running water,
faucets to close and the eternal
business of the wind—
like a fireplace where nothing happens,
nothing except light,
and on the furniture
this fine coat of dust that glows
catches fire

Concentrée elle ignore
nos appels, ne lève même pas
la tête quand on s’adresse à elle

Rien ne pourrait
la distraire de ses besognes –
le carrelage sous l’eau courante,
les robinets à refermer et l’éternelle affaire
du vent –
comme un foyer où rien n’arrive,
rien sauf la lumière,
et cette fine couche de poussière
sur les meubles, qui s’éclaire
s’allume

Drowsy under the snow,
the cabbages, the leeks
await her at the back
of the vegetable patch, and those sacks
ill-closed by the cold

When she is away,
it is the house,
standing upright,
that watches out for her
with its stone eyes

but once she returns
and everything finds its place,
the stairs, the bench, the shed
approach each other in turn,
chairs and windows next to her
cuddle up against each other, take up
their habits once again

Assoupis sous la neige,
les choux, les poireaux
l’attendent
au fond du potager, et ces sacs
mal fermés par le froid

Quand elle s’éloigne,
c’est la maison,
dressée haut sur ses plots,
qui la guette
avec ses yeux de pierre

mais qu’elle revienne
et chaque chose retrouve sa place,
l’escalier, le banc, la remise
tour à tour se rapprochent,
chaises et fenêtres près d’elle
se serrent, reprennent
leurs habitudes

Between the rooms, the hallways
she comes, she goes,
seeking no explanation

It matters little to her that each of us,
famished and noisy,
sits down to eat in front of the television set,
she runs to the grocery
to fetch the missing milk,
the instant coffee,
the lemonade

the neighbors watch her,
whisper
when she goes away

every day
for decades
now

Entre les chambres, les couloirs,
elle va, elle vient,
sans chercher d’explication

Peu lui importe que chacun
de nous, affamé et bruyant,
s’attable devant le téléviseur allumé,
elle court à l’épicerie
chercher le lait qui manque,
le café soluble,
la limonade

les voisins la regardent
chuchotent
quand elle s’en va

chaque jour
depuis des décennies
déjà

But how can we find our bearings,
not stumble constantly
over the piled-up laundry
and the sacks every which way,
the courtyard is a big misshapen
mouth
into which surges the shouting

Mais nous, comment nous orienter,
ne pas trébucher constamment
sur le linge entassé
et les sacs en désordre
la cour est une grande bouche
difforme
où s’engouffrent les cris

Burned here and there
out of negligence
the oilcloth on the table smells of smoke

in the afternoon

while the light outdoors
slumbers
under vanilla-colored broom plants

Brûlée ici et là
par négligence
la nappe cirée sent la fumée

l’après-midi

tandis que la lumière
dehors somnole
sous les genêts couleur vanille

She has always known these places
with their noises, their worries,
a leaking water pipe, the laundry
to fold and the pungent
smell of the kitchen,
her hands even know how to calm
the invectives

for every hour its routine,
a gesture she alone
keeps alive

To recall this brings me peace
when I rinse the lettuce
under the fern of the water
before getting the meal ready
as usual

with her I silently shift
the knives and forks

Depuis toujours, elle les connaît,
ces lieux avec leurs bruits, leurs tracas,
une fuite dans les tuyaux, le linge
à plier et l’odeur âcre
de la cuisine,
même l’invective
ses mains savent la calmer

à chaque heure son habitude,
un geste qu’elle seule
perpétue

M’en souvenir m’apaise,
quand je lave les laitues
sous la fougère de l’eau
avant de préparer le repas
comme de coutume

avec elle je déplace
en silence les couverts

With a caring hand
she picks up the cold pipes,
the plates, the cups

Long we’d like to listen
to her sad slow hand
moving over the table,

sad, or simply shy,
through lack of understanding,
and this very fact
comforts us

peace has no face,
has four wooden feet
and customary gestures

D’une main soucieuse
elle ramasse les pipes froides,
les assiettes, les tasses

On voudrait l’entendre longtemps,
sa main triste et lente,
passer sur la table,

triste, ou seulement
retenue, faute de comprendre,
et cela même
nous réconforte

la paix n’a pas de visage,
elle a quatre pieds en bois
et des gestes coutumiers

—from Trás-os-Montes (Éditions La Dogana, 2018)
By José-Flore Tappy, translated from the French by John Taylor


José-Flore Tappy was born in Lausanne in 1954. Her first book, Errer mortelle (1983), won the Ramuz Prize and then she was awarded the Schiller Prize for Hangars (2006) and for her entire oeuvre. Trás-os-Montes (Éditions La Dogana, 2018), from which these poems have been chosen and translated, has just been awarded highest Swiss literary distinction, the Prix suisse de la littérature. The first six volumes of her poetry were translated by John Taylor and published in a bilingual edition at the Bitter Oleander Press: Sheds / Hangars: Collected Poems 1983-2013. This book was a finalist for the National Translation Award from the American Literary Translators Association in 2015.

John Taylor has translated numerous French-language poets into English, including Pierre Voélin, Catherine Colomb, Jacques Dupin, Pierre-Albert Jourdan, Pierre Chappuis, Louis Calaferte, and Georges Perros. The Fortnightly Review has published his translation of Philippe Jaccottet’s memoir, Truinas. His translations have been awarded grants and prizes from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Sonia Raiziss Charitable Foundation, and the Academy of American Poets. His most recent collections of poetry and poetic prose are The Dark Brightness (Xenos Books), Grassy Stairways (The MadHat Press), and Remembrance of Water and Twenty-Five Trees (Bitter Oleander Press). Born in Des Moines in 1952, Taylor has lived in France since 1977.

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