Poet's Pick April 23
Arthur Rimbaud: "Nocturnal Supplication"
Selected by Alex Dimitrov
National Poetry Month 2012

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Alex Dimitrov's Poetry Month Pick, April 23, 2012

"Nocturnal Supplication"
by Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891)
Translated from the French by Paul Legault


I’m sitting on it, like an angel into the hands of a barber—
grooved tallboy in-hand, the throat in my neck tilted back,
at-the-ready, a one-hitter between my teeth,
and the air swollen with its impalpable wing.

Like hot dove-shit in a coop
these thousand dreams let off a heat, almost sweetly.
What loves in me smears its melancholic syrup
like a wet gold bled out from the wooden rupture.

Then, after carefully swallowing all my reveries,
I down another thirty or forty draughts of the stuff
and gather my powers towards their pungent release:

Gently as a tree-Lord in his cedar dominion,
I piss toward heaven, into its distant bronze nest,
or wherever the great heliotrope wants me to.

* Rimbaud in New York, by Alex Dimitrov

When I first moved to New York in the summer of 2007 I used to pretend Arthur Rimbaud was my boyfriend. I'd walk around the city thinking about David Wojnarowicz's series of photographs, Rimbaud in New York, write terrible Rimbaud imitations, and dream about him. He was, like New York, a kiss that's also a kick in the mouth. Or maybe a lover I knew just enough about to fixate on, the face that caught mine across the avenue, the story I always told myself about love. Do you know what I mean? Yes, it's something about lust and loneliness and obsession, but it's more than that. It's like that window of time that opens after first sleeping with someone, after first reading someone — any emotion can easily surface and arrest you. Bliss and obliteration stand next to each other like two strangers on a crowded downtown train. That's what reading Rimbaud is still like for me.

I asked my friend Paul Legault to translate the Rimbaud poem “Oraison du soir,” which translates to “Evening Prayer” in most translations, but is “Nocturnal Supplication” in his. It’s dirty and unapologetic, isn’t it? It's a poem I often read that summer in my hellishly small studio with its cockroach-infested sink and shared bathroom. It was my first apartment in the city. This was on St. Mark's Place, where I lived next to a crazy Irish guy and a trans sex worker. I’d listen to Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U” on repeat to try and drown out the Irish guy wailing to Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God).” The Rimbaud translation I was reading was Wyatt Mason's, and now I read Paul's as I'm trying to write this in my apartment, in 2012, on the corner of Allen and Houston, in a room above a bar that some nights has classic rock karaoke.

“What loves in me smears its melancholic syrup / like a wet gold bled out from the wooden rupture.” Rimbaud knows that the poet's true season is melancholy. Whether love has just begun or ended, or as the realization that death inches closer becomes more real and repetitive, melancholy touches everything. I find myself thinking about the same four or five things almost every day. And when I read Rimbaud, I find those things. That's why he's so immediately alive to me, that's why I trust him. There is our invention of salvation and no salvation — “I piss toward heaven, into its distant bronze nest,”. There is intimacy and never enough intimacy — “I’m sitting on it, like an angel into the hands of a barber—”. And of course, there are the things that make life bearable, sometimes — “I down another thirty or forty draughts of the stuff / and gather my powers...”

And what about the myth? Another thing I remember from that first summer in New York is that someone at a party on Orchard Street was wearing a shirt that read, “Become Your Myth.”  When I was in Paris two summers ago my friend Rachel took a photo of me next to a wall with red and blue Rimbaud graffiti. He wasn’t there but we touched. He is and isn't his myth. What we want to know about him, what we think we know, what the poems reveal and flirt with and never commit to. What we reveal and flirt with and never commit to. Cities. People. Party invitations. Yes, I'm still in love with that bad boy (sad boy?) poet I couldn't stop reading when I came to New York. But he's a different myth now. Who is the real Rimbaud? After meeting my then-boyfriend Alex, the one I was really dating when I wanted to date Rimbaud, the painter Ellsworth Kelly said to him, “you look mean, like Rimbaud.” I smiled when Alex told me that story. What I want to say is — authenticity is a myth. “I” is someone else. “I” looks into a mirror he doesn’t trust and puts on his red sunglasses. Who’s the heartbreaker now? Like Rimbaud, I’m not sure I belong in the heaven or hell I see around me. There's the need to invent more. More than what we’re given or promised. Something about lust and loneliness and obsession — but also ecstasy in displacement. After all, we have one go at this. That’s it.

Alex Dimitrov & Arthur Rimbaud

About Alex Dimitrov:
Alex Dimitrov’s first book of poems, Begging for It, is forthcoming from Four Way Books. He is the recipient of the 2011 Stanley Kunitz Prize for Younger Poets from The American Poetry Review, and is the founder of Wilde Boys, a queer poetry salon in New York City. His poems have appeared in Slate, The Kenyon Review, Yale Review, Tin House, and Boston Review. He works at the Academy of American Poets and frequently writes for Poets & Writers magazine.

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