Thursday afternoon and the library is full of rumpled, damp old-timers in retreat from the soft, steady rain falling outside. The street is shiny and slick as the cars splash by. At the crosswalk by the coffee shop, a mother and her sober-eyed daughter stand squinting, then break for their car across the street, hands on their heads against the rain. Inside the coffee shop, a bald, portly man watches the rain, sips his coffee, and works intermittently on a crossword puzzle by his plate. A woman peddles her bicycle through the puddles, leaning forward, her dark hair shedding droplets of water.
The other day I found a collection of poems by William Matthews in a second-hand store in town. It include his translations of some prose poems by Jean Follain to which I felt an immediate, intuitive connection. Yesterday I wound up typing the whole series out, trying to get a sense of what makes them work for me. Here's the first one in the series:
On Easter Sunday the old man puts jewelry onto the wrists, ears, and neck of a long-haired woman. Already hitched to the black and yellow carriage, the glistening bay mare whinnies. A sailor sings by an engraving of the end of the world with Christ in the billowy heavens, the dead caught in their shrouds, leaving their graves. Time fills up with a future that may be fearsome. A child goes by on the road, wearing a motionless garter snake for a bracelet. How hot this long day beginning a century will be! Housebound, a deformed girl closes her blue eyes.
An old man. A horse. A sailor. A child on the road. A blue-eyed girl. There's something elemental and yet mysterious about the sequence. In this poem and others, Follain seems to be exploring the gap between what can be said, what can be enumerated, and what is necessarily elusive and must remain essentially mysterious. I thought I'd try a few of these. This is the first one.