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Three Poems from The Rest of the Voyage
Bernard Noël
translated from the French by Eléna Rivera


TGV air steams borders leafless branches a low sky
makes eyes believe that finally they see matter
what is the space between these open fingers
a steeple nails the view point of history
forest then green wheat a residue of sun
a handful of cows positioned like white stones
there’s a bridge an orchard a precocious lamp
day hesitates to let go of the world’s frame
it must hang already on that other side
an old sheet returned from too many passions
slowing down helps one discover gentians
a copse on an embankment dappled in red
two idiots in ties talk of added costs
of man’s interface before-seeing-must-see
horizon turn blue to give itself to night
a luminous punch puncturing the moment
the black vapor and play at divine splendor
there is there a kind of maddening beauty
and something at the end like a final gift
when life withdraws by leaving behind to dry
the pinch of nothing that gave it its savor



Naples tiny pasta in a lentil purée then
friarielli a local herb flavored
with a bitter liquid in which the spicy
contradicts the sweet of the word on the tongue
a city barely glimpsed is an aroma
of images where the steep gardens make faults
among the colored terracing of the streets
no other cited place stands similarly
it compresses time under the golden stone
the yellow and the red that colors its walls
history is here eternally present
all eyes stand facing you look at you make that
we always walk in the middle of the view

Who knows what the Chateau de l’Oeuf incubates
its walls protect the delicate shell that one
need only to break to ruin the city
the passerby dreams that this never seen egg
is the eye torn from the Cyclops and kept in
the deepest bottommost in a bath of tears
all the streets are paved with slabs of lava this
way everyone can trample the volcano
it’s acting dead this morning under a cloud
lest it suddenly opt not to play porte-ciel
a few palms that make one think of giraffes’ necks
drawing out curtsies at the core of the view
everywhere gestures make in air that which make
arabesques and tendrils in Baroque ceilings
and the waves on the surface of the ocean


Champdieu

the proportions at times prompt the sky to think
the garden therefore is in the open head
to look is to see the interior view
the long fold stirs according to the hidden
which comes to the edge of form a white shadow
the boxwood knows that better than us it builds
by ardor of the line springboards for the eye
the infinite sets itself thus within reach
the tree is always of life or of knowledge
from the moment where the sap of breath appears
it isn’t important to have a green thumb
but to be able to bring through the branches
this flowering of air that we call being


Bernard Noël is a poet, novelist, essayist, historian, and art critic. He received the Prix National de Poésie in 1992 and both the poet laureateship and the Grand Prix International Guillevic-Ville de Saint-Malo in 2005. He is the author of numerous books of including La Chute des temps and Extraits du corps, from Poésie/Gallimard; and Le Reste du voyage: Et Autres Poèmes, from Points/poésie Seuil.

Eléna Rivera is the recipient of a 2010 National Endowment of the Arts Fellowship, and the author of
Mistakes, Accidents and a Want of Liberty (Barque Press, 2006) and In Respect of Distance (Beard of Bees, 2007). Her translation of Isabelle Baladine Howald’s Secrets of the Breath is just out from Burning Deck Press, and other translations can be found in the Chicago Review, Tuesday: An Art Project, Circumference: Poetry in Translation, and Tarpaulin Sky. She was awarded the 2007 Witter Bynner Poetry Translator Residency at the Santa Fe Art Institute.