Women of the Plain
nuns with fat red
cheeks, fat calves, fat
bottoms go on Sundays to visit
the winemaker uncle and eat plum pies.
It's blue from the mountain peaks
down to the low hills' base. But all that's on
the mountain where we
plainsfolk sometimes see from a distance
a joyous window glitter in a moment's sunshine.
The plain is something else. Among the rushes,
among the reeds glide in a long black and
silver thread glide the dormant waters
the deep waters where sometimes a servant
girl drowns herself because she didn't marry the
miller's or the mayor's or the marshal's son,
glide the dormant waters beneath
the heat of equatorial July
and the stork on spread wings
soars over a half-league of fields
in vain, everything is dry.
The tree frogs are curled up
under the leaves. But the waters
glide deep and inhabited
by carp, pike, by
You who watch standing on the shore
and unweaponed see them pass
silently, see the buzzard circle,
and the baby rabbit, you who watch the black water
for what then do you hope?
Odile, pray for us, women of the plain
and especially for those who were once
daughters of a certain lineage, bringing as dowry
vineyards, hunting grounds, good rows
of hops, of beets, of tobacco,
good businesses—good cash registers
of good butcher shops, bakeries, jewelers' shops,
and now there are many pharmacists' wives,
tax-collectors' wives, wives of the district judges
and of the doctor who does his 100 kilometers
daily in two rounds of visits, pharmacists' wives,
notaries' wives, wives of the mill owner
and the miller and the wine exporter.
Odile, think of our long days
on the plain's horizon high
and visible from a long way off to the child
on a bicycle coming back from middle school, the pine tree
that moans on winter nights with a
human voice. Once a month
the seamstress comes for a day's work in the
big storeroom and one evening the child
had the start of a fever and that night
woke up moaning. Alas, we
saved him, alas we saved him for the
Siberian camps, the meat hooks
of Bavarian butchers, the bullets
in the Vietnamese jungle or the Kabyle mountains.
on Sunday we go out
for a stroll beyond the train station
in light-colored dresses, shoes whitened
with chalk, we'd meet
the pharmacist's wife.
On Palm Sunday, the day
of the tents, the kids, sent to the
Jewish baker, brought back stacks
of unleavened bread.
Alas day without yeast. Where has
our youth gone and the album where
we copied poems by
Lamartine (Alphonse de) of the so
beautiful name so French so
days without yeast. And in the deepest
dormant waters grows so slowly
but surely the tumor which in twenty years
The Last Night of the Pharmacist's Wife
The wind above the glaciers that rushed here from the desert
comes barely cooled to torment the tall pine tree's branches.
When everything is in labor, how can you sleep, how
can you die?
On the slow smooth waters, the flat boats,
the black boats are, like the soul,
almost permanently moored.
The year grows long before it brings back
the distracted daughter, the son loved from afar.
The children who laughed in her arms, on her breasts,
rarely write to the pharmacist's wife
even to ask for remedies.
Beauty is cheap, except
as a last appeal that will no longer be heard. O captive
between the seasons, the barrel of fresh cabbages
cut in the cellar in October's first frosts
when with the swallows all at once departed, you
wake in the first silence of late fall.
Odile, the plain is merciless. At night
frogs at a loss to reproduce complain.
The stork plunges its long lecherous beak down other chimneys.
The clock with heavy wooden shoes, the heart with its heavy steps
measure the night that barely drifts. How hard it is
to break loose from the moorings! How long it takes
for the water's traction to tear loose
the chain that for so long grasped the riverbank!
The heart in its heavy clogs paces the nocturnal prairies,
stands shifting its feet on the shore of the water,
which very soon it must cross.
Jean-Paul de Dadelsen
The Kenyon Review Spring 2012
Translation copyright © 2012 by Marilyn Hacker
All rights reserved.
Reproduced by Poetry Daily with permission