Italicized Lines by Rimbaud

by Yves Jaques



(...a fragment of)


When the world is reduced to a single dark wood

for our four astonished eyes,

to a beach for two faithful children,

to a musical house for our clear sympathy,

I will find you.


That there will be nothing here below but one old man,

calm and beautiful,

surrounded by unimaginable luxury,

And I will kneel at your feet.


That I have understood all of your memories,

that I am she who knows how to bind you hand and foot,

I will strangle you.

* * *

When we are very strong, who pulls back?

Very happy, who cares for ridicule?

When we are very bad, what will they make of us?

Get yourself up, dance, laugh.

I could never throw Love out the window.


--Arthur Rimbaud (translation by Yves Jaques)


"When the world is reduced to a single dark wood," she says. And small animals make settle-sounds in the branches. The trees lean like grasses, snapping and swaying with the wind. A new moon for dreamless sleep. Orion puts an arrow in the notch.

A man and a woman. A forest. A tree. Orange survey flags hang from limbs. A fire-pit filled with burned Budweiser cans. The man spies the stump of a broken branch and seizes it, climbing to where the bark has been stripped by forgotten hands, rusted knives, an explosion of brown skin around each initial. And the plus sign. And the equal sign. And the word ‘luv.’

The woman stretches her arms about the tree and pulls. She is strong. It shifts and furls, its trunk shimmering in the night, its leaves crinkling like Mylar kites. The man perches on the limb, a comfortable, dirty monkey. A branch above, the apple hangs by its worn stem, pregnant and shining. He feels for his missing rib. Watching him, the woman touches herself with startled fingers.

The man says, "For our four astonished eyes," and tumbles towards the focus of his gaze. The trees murmur and convene, sweeping him to the forest floor. The man and the woman stare at each another.

"I see the mote in your eye," she says, "and the beam in my own."

He says, "I see a pillow to rest my head."

And he places his head on her flank, the air going out of him in a single rush. A lone animal brays as the small things gather in their nests. The tree shimmers, the apple shakes.

Hands in his thick hair, the woman says, "To a beach for two faithful children," and there is the sound of breakers kissing rocks, her feet handbreadth deep in the hissing sand. His head on her flank. The tree in the distance. A rusted tricycle, wheel deep in the water.

The woman leaves him then, pulled by the motion of the sea. Birds drop to wave tops. Sullen crabs scuttle at the sea’s kettle-edge. She at the edge of the kettle too, watching the low sun and its beams on the water. Tooting the tricycle horn she drops her belly to the water. She floats feet forward in the roily foam, the sea sucking at her like piglets at a sow.

The man is standing now, a fig in his mouth and cock in hand, pissing yellow tide-pools in the sand. He is drawing a picture, or writing a name. There is sand in his crack, in his beard, in his smile.

He yells over the crashing surf, "To a musical house for our clear sympathy."

The walls grasp sky; shaft of evening sun shines upon them. Stooping by the river’s edge, the man makes a careful selection, and skips a flat rock over the water. He counts its tracings one two three four, and it clatters onto the river-smooth stones at the far side. A sullen clank sounds. A tin can pockets the treasure. Bats sing and flap from the caves above as the man sits atop a boulder, beating his barrel chest. His fists are flushed. His nails are white. The rising bats turn and lose dimension, their wings gripping sky. The sun crouches in the clouds, casting shadows over a rising full moon. The man skips another rock.

Lifting driftwood, a stripped branch in each arm, the woman strikes a cave mouth pocked in the canyon wall. A note husks. And another, she now beating the hole in rhythm with the man’s eagerly skipping rocks. And the wind drops to coo through the canyon.

"I season you with salt," she says. "I lick it from your skin."

A stone powders in the man’s hand, the dust of it ambling through his fingers, streaming in the wind, blinding their eyes. He feels for his missing rib. The woman touches herself with startled fingers.

"There will be nothing here below but one old man, calm and beautiful, surrounded by unimaginable luxury," she says, fingers resting on her breast. A water moccasin winds down the water, gazing beyond to the course.

"I will find you," says the snake, and slips its busy little legs over the wet rocks. A lump towards its anus slips slowly forwards. The apple, its worn stem gnawed, tumbles from the moccasin’s mouth. The man and the woman are bronzed. They are smiling. Their teeth are straight. Laughing, the woman picks the apple up and brings it to her mouth; her teeth break its skin. She tears a piece away, and hands the fruit to the man. He notices her distended belly as he swallows a bite.

Dropping to the ground, fainting in the dust, the woman begins to miscarry; a clotted stream flows over the rocks. She shows a bloody stone to the man. He rubs his beard with his hand. The hum of a washing machine, and the splitting tap of the jackhammer can be distantly heard. The man takes the soaking stone. He shears his locks with it, and throws them in the river.

"I will kneel at your feet," he says. "I have understood all of your memories."

A plain opens out around them, Con-Agra corn stalks bending to the breeze. A Midwestern sun showers the flat land. The woman strips a husk, rubs silk from flesh. She hands the cob to the man. He begins to eat vacantly, as a cow its cud.

Wrapping her arms about his waist and kissing him perfunctorily she says, "I am the one who knows how to bind you hand and foot." The stalks part in the wind. A shiny, green and yellow John Deere tractor sits purring, its tires pressing the soil. The man climbs in. Staring grimly, he lights a cigarette, guns the throttle, and engages the engine. The tractor pulls away; cuts a swath through the nitrogen-laced field. Waving delicately, the woman strides through the rows of freshly felled corn to a neat clapboard farmhouse.

There is a picket fence. In the yard stands a barren crabapple tree. Initials are carved in its trunk. A rusted tricycle hunkers at its base. A dog brays at the back door, scratching to be let in. And the man stands with the dog, mouthing words through the window.

"I will strangle you," she sees him say.

And she opens the door to let them in, the dog bounding past her and up the stairs. The man’s hands come forward to form an imperfect circle about her neck.

"When we are very strong," he says, "who pulls back?" The woman grips his genitals in a farm-strong hand. Strokes him, says, "And very happy, who cares for ridicule? When we are very bad, what will they make of us?" He drops a hand to his side. She sees him feel again for the missing rib, and she reaches into her chest with startled fingers. A movement, and a rib gleams white and wet in her palm. She snaps it like a wishbone, and hands him half. He takes it slowly, like a sword-swallower, small shards of foamy bone on his lips.

The dog shuffles down the stairs.

"Get yourself up," it says, and the man and the woman see that the dog wears rouge over freshly shaven flanks.

"And dance," says the dog, and the man and the woman see the dog rise and sway on its back legs. The snake slithers through the open door, belly taut over vestigial legs.

It rises up saying, "Dress yourself up, and dance, and laugh." Dog and snake begin to waltz around the man and the woman. They are good dancers. The man’s other hand drops from the woman’s neck to her waist, and they begin to move in a clumsy imitation of animal grace.

Around the now rotted, dilapidated farmhouse the four of them dance, feet and tail crashing through worn floorboards, leaping from stud to stud. Saplings push through the fresh holes searching for sky, as scrabbling rodents and fluttering birds take to the growing branches. The dog pulls a broken bit of lipstick out of its ear and scrawls upon the yellowed walls, "I could never throw Love out the window."

And a new moon hangs invisible in the twilight. And a six-pack huddles in the fireplace. Orion drops his bow, and his quiver. And they dance.


Yves Jaques can be reached at