posted by Greg Baysans


Four Poems by Jacques Prévert


Attempt at a Description of a Supper of Various Heads in Paris, France continued, part 2:

The man with the head made out of a truss and the man with the head completely formed from an abscess fling themselves forth, and the little thing is borne up, subjected to an autopsy, and disowned by her mother who -- discovering on the child's card listing dancing-partners certain doodles of an unspeakable obscenity -- wouldn't even dream for a single moment that the one who had amused himself that way was the family's dear old diplomat friend upon whom the father's job depends.

Concealing the paper in her dress, she stabs at her bosom with a stub of white chalk while giving out a loud shriek and her grief is painful to behold for all those who think that this is the genuine article, the actual grief of a mother just deprived of her child.

Delighted to be the center of attention, she lets herself go, she really lets them have it, she moans and she groans, singing out:

"Where oh where is my dear little daughter, oh where oh where can Barbara be/who threw grass to the rabbits, and rabbits to the cobras..."

But the President, whose first experience with a lost child this is certainly not, makes a certain practiced gesture with his hand, and the banquet goes on.

And those who had come to peddle coal and wheat peddle coal and wheat and also certain large green islands entirely surrounded by water; lush lands with pneumatic trees and metal pianos and exquisitely crafted so that your ears need not be assaulted by the outcries of the natives around the plantations when the good-natured fun-loving colonialists go for target-practice after dinner.

With one bird on his shoulder, another inside his pants so he can prepare the roast fowl while he waits, sits that oddest duck of all, at whose house later on the poets would go, talking of Michelangelo.

"This is really," one was saying to another, "I mean really quite a success." But then, in the glare of a spotlight, the Minister of Protocol is caught in flagrante delicto, eating a plate of chocolate ice-cream with a coffee-spoon.

"That there should be no special reason for chocolate ice-cream is insane when you stop to think about it," the Governor was saying, "it's unimaginable in fact -- after all, the dentist has his drills, the paper its proper scissors, and even red radishes, as opposed to white, have their appropriate radish-dish."

But suddenly everyone starts to tremble with fear, because a man wearing a man's head just entered, a man nobody there seems to have invited and who sets down atop the table, in a basket, the head of Louis the Sixteenth.

It's really the horror of horrors: its teeth, the old man and the doors all chatter with fear.

"We're done for, tey've done in a locksmith*," [*This king's hobby was fiddling with locks.-ed.] screamed the burghers of Calais in their shirts all gray as Cap Gris-Nez, as they slid away down the bannisters.

The overwhelming terror, the tumult, the feeling of despair, the straw that broke the camel's back, the state of siege and outside, in a full-dress uniform, with blackened hands beneath white gloves, the sentry who sees blood gushing forth from the gutters and a bug on his tunic realizes events have taken a turn for the worse and that now it's time to go, while the going's still good.

"I had intended," announces a smiling man, "to bring you the ashes of the royal family, who are rumored to be buried in the 'Caucasian Vault' somewhere beneath the rue Pigalle, but those crazy Cossacks who keep weeping and sighing over there, dancing the Kazatsky and buying each other drinks, keep quite a close watch over all the dead men they protect.

"Still, you can't have everything, I'm no Ruy Blas, nor am I Cagliostro, I'm no crystal ball, I'm no mess of coffee grounds. No, I'm not one to keep a collection of prophets' beards in cotton wadding. Certainly, I love an occasional laugh with a few friends, but I'm speaking here for the shut-ins, I monologue for the longshoremen, I broadcast for the magnificent idiots in the suburbs and it's only by accident that I'm paying this visit to your little world.

"First to say, 'Oh cut the crap!' is as good as dead. But you're all silent -- too bad, I was kidding all along.

"Yes, you have to have a little laughter in your life so if you want, I'll take you on a guided tour into the heart of town but of course I realize that you're a little afraid of traveling, you know what you know, which is to say that the Tower of Pisa is crooked and that vertigo overcomes a man when he leans over for a look yes that applies to you too over there on the terraces of those cafés.

"Still, you'd have a good time for yourself, just like the President when he goes down to inspect a mine, just like Rudolph down at the tavern when he sits around with the local cut-throat, just like it was when you were but a child and they took you to the Municipal Zoo for a look at the Great Anteater.

"You'd have been able to see beggars with no Skid Row, lepers without begging bowls and shirtless men stretched out along the benches, stretched out abbreviatedly, however, in view of the fact that it's illegal.

"You'd have seen men in flophouses making the sign of the cross in exchange for a bed and families with eight children in a 'one-room dwelling' and -- if you'd really behaved yourself, you'd have the opportunity and privilege of seeing this: the Father who arises with a case of the shakes, the Mother expiring with worry over the last of her babies, the surviving members of the family escaping on the run and taking a blood-covered road to escape the pain.

"You just must see -- believe me, it's a sight for sore eyes -- you just must behold the moment when the Good Shepherd leads his sheep to the slaughterhouse, the moment when the eldest son with a resigned sigh throws in his lot with the junkies, the moment when children bored to tears switch beds in their room, you just absolutely must see the man lying in his bed surrounded by its bars just as the alarm-clock is preparing itself to go off in his ear.

"Look at him now, listen to that snoring, he's dreaming, he's dreaming he's going on a long journey, dreaming that everything is going smoothly, that he has a reserved seat in a private compartment...but the hand on the clock collides with the light on the train and the awakened man soaks his head in a sinkful of cold water if it's winter -- or hot water, if it's summer.

"Look at him hurrying along, gulping down his morning coffee, entering the shop for work, except that he's still not awake, the alarm didn't ring loudly enough or the coffee wasn't strong enough, he's still dreaming, dreaming he's going on a long, long journey, dreaming that a comfy place on the train is waiting for him, except that he leans out a little too far and falls headfirst into a garden, then tumbles straight into a cemetary, awakes and sceams like a bloody animal, two fingers are missing, the machine tried to eat him alilve, but he wasn't hired to dream away the day was he and just the way you're thinking now -- he got what he deserved.

* * * * * * *



Poet X