posted by Greg Baysans


Four Poems by Jacques Prévert

Attempt at a Description of a Supper of Various Heads in Paris, France continued, part 3, translated by Michael Benedikt:

   "You're thinking also that after all a thing like that doesn't happen too often and that one swallow doesn't make a spring or anything, you're logicking it out that an earthquake in New Guinea can't stop the grapes from growing in Provence, much less cheeses from aging or the earth itself from turning.

"But I wasn't asking you to logic; I was asking you to look, to listen, to accustom yourself, so as not to be surprised to hear your cue-ball brains breaking open when the elephants come around, looking to take back their ivory.

"Because this half-dead head of yours, the one you keep mostly buried under dead cardboard, these bleached brains behind their amusing pasteboard mask, this head with all its lines and wrinkles, with all its practiced grimaces -- some day with all your detachment you'll shake this head clean off its little connecting link, and as it goes tumbling off, rolling away in the sawdust, you won't even cry out, won't even cry out yes it's O.K.!; much less no.

"And if it isn't actually your very own, it will be one of your friends' heads, because you know the old tales well enough, with their shepherds and their dogs; no, as far as having a really good, solid head on your shoulders, you needn't be ones to worry....

"I'm still only kidding, of course, but after all, as people say, a flyspeck is enough to change the course of human history. A little guncotton instead of surgical cotton in the ear of an ailing King and couldn't the King himself just explode...the Queen rushes to his bedside, but there is no more bedside anymore: there is no palace anymore. All there is, is in ruins, and draped in mourning. The Queen feels her mind is going. To relax her a bit, a stranger with a nice smile gives her a cup of strong coffee. The Queen drinks it, the Queen dies from it, and the servants begin pasting labels on the children's luggage. The man with the nice smile returns, opens the largest trunk, shoves all the little princes inside, snaps the padlock on the trunk, checks the trunk at the baggage-room at the station and walks off, rubbing his hands.

"And when I speak, Monsieur le President, Mesdams, Messieurs, of 'the King, the Queen, and the little Princes,' you understand of course that it's only to disguise things a little, since you can't logically blame regicides who haven't a king around if they make use of their talents with respect to those in the immediate environs, can you?

"Particularly, that is, with respect to people who snicker at International World's Fairs because a black woman is carrying a black child on her back just the way they've been carrying in their white insides a pale-as-death white child for six or seven months.

"Or with respect to 30,000 reasonable people actually supposed to consist of both a body and a soul who marched to the rally on the Sixth of March in Brussels, military music leading them on, parading before the statue erected to the memory of the self-sacrificing Carrier-Pigeon Soldier and with respect to those who will march tomorrow in places with names like Brive-the-Dauntless, Rose-the-Rosy-Cheeked or Carpa-the-Jewess, before the monument 'to the innocent young sailor-teenager who died in the war as a representative symbol of....'"

But a coffeepot thrown from some distance by an indignant our-strength-is-in-might advocate lands on the head of the man who was telling a group of people how useful a sense of humor can sometimes be. He falls flat. The Soldier-Pigeon is revenged. The official cardboard-heads trample the head of the smiling man with a rain of kicks, and the young woman...I mean the one man...with a rain of kicks, and the young woman, I mean the one over there dipping the tip of her umbrella into the blood for a souvenir, bursts into a tiny tinkle of laughter. The music begins again.

The head of the man is all red now, like an overripe tomato, one eye dangles at the end of a single vein, but all over the demolished face, the remaining living eye -- the left one -- goes on beaming like a flashlight in the ruins.

"Transport him hence," says the President; and the man, who is outstretched on a stretcher with his face covered by a police-captain's raincoat, marches off horizontally out of the President's Residence, one man in front of him, another close behind.

"You have to have a good laugh now and then, don't you?" he mumbles to the sentry on duty at the door and the sentry watches him being carried away with the same stunned expression you sometimes see a good man adopt when faced with the presence of pure malignancy.

But now, penetrating the shutters before the plate-glass windows of the pharmacies, shines a bright star of hope and, like wise men who fail to recognize the baby Jesus when they see him, all the butcher-boys, itinerant bed-linen salesmen and other men of good will observe the star which tells them that the man they saw is inside, that the man isn't quite dead yet, that perhaps they are about to nurse him back to health back in there; and so everyone awaits his re-emergence, in the hope of doing him in once and for all.

They wait; and soon, on all fours because of the narrowness of the opening below the shutters, the chief magistrate creeps into the little shop, the druggist helps him to his feet and shows him the supposed dead man, head propped up on a baby-scale.

And the judge demands to know, and the druggist looks at the judge in return, wondering whether this isn't actually the very same joker who threw confetti on that General's coffin a little while ago and who, even earlier than that, planted the time bomb in Napoleon's path.

And then they chit-chat about this and that, about their children, and their various coughs and colds; day breaks, and the curtains are drawn back at the President's Residence.

Outside, it's spring, with animals, with flowers, and in the nearby park one can hear the sound of children's laughter; yes, it's spring all right, the needle goes crazy in the compass, the metal flange scampers about beneath the drill-press and the magnificent dolichocephalic once more falls on her ass on the chaise longue and plays the fool.

It's getting a little warmer now. It's Spring, with lovers like safety matches rubbing each other a little along their striking surfaces, with adolescent acne cases on the increase; and here we have the sultan's daughter and the mandrake-root reader, here we have pelicans, flowers out on every balcony; everywhere flourish tin watering-cans, the most beautiful season of the year is upon us.

The sun shines for all mankind, except of course for prisoners and miners, and also for

those who scale the fish

those who eat the spoiled meat

those who turn out hairpin after hairpin

those who blow the glass bottles that others will drink from

those who slice their bread with pocketknives

those who vacation at their workbenches or their desks

those who never quite know what to say

those who milk your cows yet who never drink their milk

those you won't find anesthetized at the dentist's

those who cough out their lungs in the subway

those who down in various holes turn out the pens with which others in the open air will write something to the effect that everything turns out for the best

those who have too much to even begin to put into words

those whose labors are never over

those who haven't labors

those who look for labors

those who water your horses

those who watch their own dogs dying

those whose daily bread is available on a more or less weekly schedule

those who go to church to keep warm in their winter

those whom Swiss Guards send outdoors to keep warm

those who simply rot

those who enjoy the luxury of eating

those who travel beneath your wheels

those who stare at the Seine flowing by

those whom you hire, to whom you express your deepest thanks, whom you are charitable toward, whom you deprive, whom you manipulate, whom you step on, whom you crush

those from whom even fingerprints are taken

those whom you order to break ranks at random and shoot down quite methodically

those who go on forced marches beneath the Arch of Triumph

those who don't know how to fall in with the custom of the country any place on earth

those who never ever see the sea

those who always smell of fresh linen because they weave the sheets you lie on

those without running water

those whose goal is eternally the blue horizon

those who scatter salt on the snow in all directions in order to collect a ridiculous salary

those whose life expectancy is a lot shorter than yours is

those who've never yet knelt down to pick up a dropped hairpin

those who die of boredom on a Sunday afternoon

because they see Monday morning coming

and also Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday and Friday

and Saturday too

and the next Sunday afternoon as well.

* * * * * * *

Continue for three more poems by Prévert


Poet X