Endings
by Pierre Nepveu
(Translated by Donald Winkler)

0

It would require a great bed of silence. We would be alone with the shadows, the childhood rocks, the woods whose trees bathed in the last snows’ water, the beach dogs and the horses in the street. We would be wholly in the past, all memories conserved, each wakeful, coming through the winter’s night. Where might it be found, this great bed of silence?

*

Start over. Relearn. Draw off the black wine of anguish, wrest the great hullabaloo of knowledge from the ache of living and wanting. We are moving house, we are taking leave of the fossilized body to enter the whirlwind of alphabets, hundred-story lexicons, libraries that roll you under the earth in a great wind along hundred-kilometre tunnels. We’ve chosen to lose ourselves, we’ve thrown our hands down on the table, they move under their own power, they stir already on other wrists. There are the hands of a woman, the hands of a killer, hands that paint the twilit faces of the dead. We beautify the goddess Despair, her flesh is soft as fruit, we’ll sink our teeth into her at noon and wolf her down in light more bounteous than the world.

*

Living was a dead end. We had to move on into the life beyond, for lack of being, for want of air and fire. I fought for breath a moment on the fringe of a landscape that unsheathed its splendors and laid them out to deceive. Far off, planes dropped like grapes, but the December sun held true, bound to a streamer of sky whose deeps promised sorcery and woes. I left my body through the back door for vile lanes, dubious rooms, shady agencies livid at the very thought of our being fulfilled. For a long time we held to waiting and its prospects as to a guiding thread, a way to keep fate on a tight leash. But now there’s nothing more, we are outside for good, far gone for good, and what was known of the body has dwindled to an odd contemplation of all or nil. No more to want, no more to do, we smile robotic on the bank of the granular river holding to its hunger for running water. Boats, ashes of the dead, twenty-year-old drowned girls. It flows down towards the capes, islands finger-long, rocks caught by the light, their noble station blind to revolutions and lopped heads. Rough terrain, hard headlands, while the tepid sea moves in on cities and eases its way even now into the first houses, a lunar visitation, a clandestine, millennial tsunami that will undo future generations clutching their intelligent machines and steely organs.

*

Prose to crack fate’s padlock, to break free from towers of words that hold the head hostage and sustain the fiction that all the world’s fables are beholden to God and his Word. Prose to open the door and move on. The afternoon smells of fresh tar on a roof, men daub it onto great flat surfaces, watched over by a blue sky flush with unsated arctic desires. I’ve seen no birds, but broken branches over which an old man treads, dragging his feet and smiling at the December mildness. Prose to keep him alive and guide him to his last landscape on earth, beyond supplications, yawning fractures, biopsies that expose the worst. On the way back, the tar’s burner hisses like an ogre at the side of the road. The fuming, unctuous blackness flows into pails. I seek within reasons for being: the ring of a telephone, the state of fruits and vegetables, the dust that is a sign of the times and that arrives from the Sahel or the Gobi. I am transported, I am returned from all lands at once. Prose to stay put with.

*

The century no longer models itself on our images. It leaves us alone, to be viewed only on crystal screens when the light is strong. What is hidden within us exponentially grows.

*

Prose to churn out novels and to go and hurl them against the barrier of sound, leading the soul along paths where a palliated suffering takes the air. Written for a broken and bloated time, for a cool drink beneath trees on a hot day, for the hydrangea with its strangely heavy heart, for the cycle of mornings propitious to apparitions. A young girl in the underbrush bends to touch the damp soil with her hand. Streams of butterflies try to sense her presence, and one comes to sleep in her hair. Prose for the young girl to glow until night, like René Char’s lamp, and for the butterfly never to wake.

*

Prose to endow eternity with pinnacles, peaks, to render the infinite pitted and creased or subject to epidermal eruptions. I went back deep in time, smitten by fate and borne along by morbid passions. I stretched desire’s absence to the point of unspeakable cruelty. Women despised my icy heart, my arctic body, my walled off sanctuaries. Mountains of salt and sand in my maturity. I turn the page. I beg forgiveness.

*

Permutations of a better life: undone one by one, they come loose like a dressing gown’s cord or a compliant woman’s dark hair, long bound up, gleaming, a chignon in the five o’clock light. Permutations of hunger and thirst, to recount what becomes of small stones and jewels left behind on a table. We weighed them in our hands for months, tried skimming them on the river, but others appeared, abundant as always, conveyed by the sorrowful thieving night, big with fathomless landscapes and streams skirting pebbled beaches. In the afternoon I saw children in the water up to their knees, and their mother plucking from the sun melodious chords, a mother who sang, her breast ripe with light, and whose buttocks, firm and round, were the very paradigm of the afternoon, its secret plinth, a footing to summon desire and ever more throat-borne songs graced with children’s trills and the spray-infused tumult in the shallows. On the other side the forest was a realm all its own, and I dreamed of rooting joy in the scent of resin and the greedy leafage, and weeping there for a long time until night should fall.

*

Prose for the grand nuptials, for families joined together by the tall, comely pipe organs lowing long into the night, in harness with Bach and his German horses, retracing the soul’s transit and that of timeless passions. Prose for the little girl become a woman in a gale of lace, who, trembling, unhooks the garters of a long gone age by the river of love, while the bed itself disrobes. There are flies in the windowpane, and the sheets’ claylike soil folds and unfolds in a tectonic commotion roused by buried feelings and their genealogical legacy, even if father’s and mother’s bodies will know nothing of them.

*

Prose to endure, and to find in the dwelling place matter for life and for thought. The doors bang, the table piled with stones glows in the noon light. I am returned from mad wanderings, having found anguish at the root of the wind, at the top of the voice, at the sky’s height, and I sought healing in thoughts purer than clear water, simpler than a woman’s dress falling to her feet. The forest was rife with knives, the city received me with vacuous eloquence, soiled curtains at the windows, and rows of shelves emptied of their books.

*

Prose for the German horses and those who, noses to the wind, gaze from where the ocean is into the Lisbon countryside, while an old poet scans on his worktable words of fire, of flesh, of fuming herbs. I’ve never seen Lisbon, moro numa cidade fria, but in the chill city where I live, the frozen grass sometimes gleams in December, and poems arrive riding hell for leather, their sentences mad gallops, a lathered embrace—and there is nothing grander to enfold than the solstice ghosts, sprites born to the muted ardor of the first sun. Prose for the winter and the works of trees, teeming with projects like bodies erect, blood vessels and synapses in the vanquished blue which gives of itself and lays bare what longs to be written.

*

Anguish itself is now soundless, distress has lost its voice. And in this strange lull, speech seems so young, still awkward in its alphabet, splintered in its letters and liaisons, with sudden uninhabited immensities where language has not ventured, where to walk, go forward, and run, all pale at the approach of life. We had placed on the table ancient books, grammars of the heart, encyclopedias of youthful happiness. We paged through the light, we babbled in timbres from deep in our bones that the fear of nonbeing had peevishly unleashed, while sparing us the worst, too slow in issuing forth. Seated, around noon, I am full bore into graceless scales, which have the charm of an urge to fly, and that roll out taut harmonies of thought in prolonged pastoral unfoldings. Ninths weeping in the underbrush. Abatements of being while rubbing against bark, sighting rivers that take everything in but bleed themselves away in glints and reflections before ever reaching the sea. Prose to prop myself up on shore, wan, faltering, lost already before setting forth once more.

—From CNQ 100 (Fall 2017)

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