traduced from André Breton and Philippe
Soupault’s Les Champs Magnétiques, with
help from Elizabeth Anglin
One day we found the remains of a building that
had been a snake-pit or a monument to snakes. We didn’t
cry. We didn’t care for the solar system.
The day we did cry the women who knew us offered
us their love. There was only death to thank for all the hugs
and food they gave us.
The reverse of everything was true then. No
one knew what to say. If only we had been there when it happened
we could have been spared.
In our dreams the trauma kept recurring. Sooner
or later we had to visit the factories of our failures. When
we would lose track of them they would track us down, and we’d
meet in the same place we’d started, under the Chinese
elms, and one of us would still be lost for good. We’d
have our picture taken many times so that one could be framed.
The photographer would give us things to smile at, which made
us forget how to. Our smiles were full of errors. We kept the
things to cry at to ourselves.
One day Little Dry Creek flooded, and we went
down. We were so happy to see it so high we followed it north
toward the city. We stopped to stain our crooked mouths with
resin. We found a cottonwood lodged and a way to unlodge it.
We got on. It ripped out fences and knocked down trees, and
all in silence we rode the battering ram. We turned around afraid
and laughed at the power we were riding on, our little dry creek
so full we couldn’t run back inside.
A man appeared to us and said he’d lost
his wife in the flood before. He said we shouldn’t be
doing what we were doing, and we don’t remember how we
could have had time to slow down and hear his lecture. There
wasn’t a neighbor whose warning would have made any difference.
We were thinking of the smooth sailing through the golf course
just ahead, no more alders tugging at us or strands of barbed
wire. We were in for banks as soft as fairway grass.
One of us got downstream of the trunk. None
of us could see the shallowness rising up to meet the floodedness
and the one leg first by a foot then the other by a knee took
the laugher downstream under. The trunk that pinned him in the
narrow channel took its time in passing over, and made less
noise than the milkman made at six a.m.
We’re drops of water, we’re animals
for life. We know about the dead stars. We see the valleys.
We keep our eyes on faces. We take pleasure. Our mouths are
drier than beaches the ocean doesn’t turn up on anymore.
Sometimes the wind hangs us on trees the sun cuts out. We laugh.
We try to sing. But the heart’s gone out of it. We wish
we could catch fever.
We wish the train stations hadn’t abandoned
us. The long corridors at least frightened us. Now there’s
no sitting room, only waiting room. That isn’t shelter.
We keep on suffocating, we keep on bringing to mind the shreds
of what we used to love. December suns, thin strips of land
our eyes could roll like rivers on, the way it was when we were
little. Now it’s just absurd animals and plants so common
their names don’t matter.
The cities we want to love some more are dead.
We’ll end up hating the sky and the dump-like land. That’s
what we see when we look around. But when the fire’s dead
in the grate, there’s always the stars. The stars never
used to people our dreams. They’re so tender now we’re
afraid to touch them.
When the geese take flight late in the afternoon
they do it quietly at first. Then their honking brings us out
of doors to get a good look at their veer formation. They pass
over the trash heaps and the golf course and the school that’s
never big enough. They skirt the redwing blackbirds and the
robins we shot with bb’s. They keep us standing with our
The one who knows how to give us that leaping
kind of joy lives pretty far from here. We want to ask her if
she’s forgotten our voices wrapped in fondness and our
other ornery gestures. We want to know if the hellish little
things torment her anymore. The other women where she lives
frighten her, they cry out so many times a day, “How far
do we go? How long till we get there?” We want her to
recite “The Rhodora” for us suddenly. We wish she
would open an orange and fill the room with her sweet voice.
Today again (when will this short life end?)
we’ll go to meet our friends, and our problem will be
the same. The air we filled our lungs with just yesterday
is unbreathable now. There’s nothing to do but look
straight ahead or not look at all. If we turn our heads
the man whose wallet we stole last might be gaining on us.
Can we really own up to it? That all voyages
are ended and only interruptions remain? We left the mountain
towns with bitter resentments and crimes on our hands.
Our minds are made up of books we think we have
to read. We’re sure we’ll love some of them, but
we fall asleep after ten pages. We won’t break out at
this rate. It’s always as if we’re on the verge
of being logical. We want one idea that won’t be a prospectus
but a career. On the other hand, our habits are hard to break.
When the blackout hits, the light switch is first thing we reach
What insult us and make us so sullen are commercials,
we’ve loved them so much. And now we must abandon them,
The whole earth wasn’t enough for us.
We needed bigger deserts, suburbs without cities, drier water,
cleaner dust. But others kept coming up with reasons why we
didn’t need these things.
We’re reaching the end of sacrifice. We
don’t know what to do with ourselves. Our skeletons show
through us like branches. We crack our necks and knuckles. It
makes us aware of those who are squeamish. We stopped using
chalkboards a long time ago, when we thought we’d seen
the other side of ignorance. Yesterday we slipped at the mall
in front of the dry goods store, the tenth one we passed. We
meant to stay until we saw how sad things can get, but we couldn’t,
there were so many pants.
We play the games of our hearts as we find them.
They’re toys we pitch up so high we shouldn’t be
surprised when they don’t come down. It’s the number
of times we pitch that’s astounding. It makes us suspicious
of our own intensity. We begin to think there might be something
to the talk of depth people are always trying to get us to believe
in. Sometimes they use expressions so fancy and practical we
can’t believe there might not be a time when they’d
come in handy.
Those who don’t even think of themselves
as adventurers also live in what we may still call the open
air. But they don’t let themselves get carried away with
their feverish imaginations. The night goes by nevertheless
and we wake up occupying ourselves.
We’re not sure where power’s located.
We’ve just begun to say that it is located. One thing
at a time (is that the best advice we can repeat?).
Our strength is something we’ve slowly
become conscious of, even though we used to attribute to ourselves
pretty easily the power to hurt those who liked us. They thought
they knew us and we thought we knew ourselves. Now, when their
disbelief in our existence begins to dissolve us, our disbelief
in theirs must be equal to the task.
We’re sick of the sound of bells and we’re
fed up with scaring ourselves. If we have to cut our throats
again with silence we won’t be able to repeat the statistics,
even though we know the page numbers.
We also know the kind of people who can’t
wait until it’s time for scarves and won’t strip
them off when they come inside. And yet we’ve seen priests
in their cars with their collars hanging down like bibs unhitched.
When the straw-colored after-dinner drinks stop
making fine enough evenings in our throats, we’ll turn
to pills. Don’t talk to us about the consent of the governed.
The time for remarks like that is passed. We rank with mouthwash
for endurance. The scale we used to use to measure with was
mis-calibrated in the first place. We’re tired of having
to repeat that fact.
What separates us from life is something not
unlike that tiny flame wavering under the asbestos in the suck-tube.
That’s how rooted we are in time and it isn’t very
satisfying. We disappear in whatever a trice is.
We hollowed a window out of our chest that opens
on our heart. The dragonflies and cicadas that would use it
can’t because it’s bronze. Those who can bear to
look can see the bloody pelts our sins are hooked to.
Everything’s going fine and everything’s
going badly. There’s nothing left to do but be open to
it all and tell ourselves we refuse to be dragged along by sorcerers
so miserable they use their cauldrons to boil the clouds. We’re
not hungry anymore.