Robert Desnos


There's a precise moment in time
When a man reaches the exact middle of his life.
A fraction of a second
A fleeting bit of time, quicker than a glance
Quicker than a fit of passion,
Quicker than light.
And a man is aware of this moment.

Long avenues with overhanging trees stretch out
Towards a tower where a lady sleeps
Whose beauty resists kisses, the seasons,
Like a star the wind, like a rock the waves.

A quivering boat sinks bawling.
A flag blows at the top of a tree.
A well-dressed woman with stockings fallen to her ankles
Appears on a street corner
Flushed, trembling,
Protecting with her hand an old-fashioned lamp which is smoking.

And in addition a drunken stevedore sings in the corner of a bridge
And in addition a mistress bites the lips of her lover
And in addition a rose petal falls on an empty bed
And in addition three clocks toll the same hour
At several minute intervals
And in addition a man passing in the street comes back
Because someone has called his name
But it is not he this woman is calling.
And in addition a public official in full dress
Cramped by his shirttail wedged
     between his pants and his underwear
Dedicates an orphanage
And in addition a wonderful tomato falls from a truck speeding
Through the empty streets and rolls into the gutter
To be swept away later
And in addition a fire breaks out on the seventh floor of a building
And in addition a man hears a long forgotten song
which he will forget again
And in addition many other things
Many other things a man sees at the precise moment of the middle of his life
Many other things happen for a long time
     in the briefest of brief instances on earth.
He ponders the mystery of that second, that fraction of a second,

But he says, "Let's get rid of dark thoughts"
And he gets rid of them.
And what could he say?
And what better could he do?

                                                         French; trans. William Kulik

Robert Desnos, French, trans. William Kulik, The Voice of Robert Desnos: Selected
Poems, Sheep Meadow Press, 2004.