Poetry at Sangam




(Translated from the French by Hoyt Rogers)

Another painter, one who finds it hard to understand what he should do with those last hours in the garden. The curse, the flight, the new ground, the embrace of Adam and Eve right on that ground in the night—yes, these things he grasps very well. And this is what he tries to paint.

But if he touches red, it is blood. Or black, it is a cry. If he wants to sketch a face, right away it becomes a head—and that head is immense, and stones are thrown at it from every side. If he tries to join the man and woman over there, his thought is like a giant bird that swoops down on them with beating wings and a probing beak. He wipes all this away.

I’m afraid, says Eve. Adam doesn’t answer. But he takes her by the wrist and holds it tight.

On and on, the painter places steep drop-offs before them, densely thicketed, with gravel that slips from under their feet. He forces them to keep climbing, naked though they are; he scratches their arms, flays their legs. I’m afraid, the young woman repeats. It’s true that this painting continually makes a huge voice thunder against their bodies, with echoes that spill from a vast range of slopes between sky and earth.

Could this painter be God?

Wind-tossed trees . . . swollen waters the two have to cross, plunged into the torrent at one point up to their waists . . . But here’s where the artist—since he is an artist, isn’t he?—relents a bit, because of the body he must now give to Eve. In fact, she has just emerged from the water, dripping wet. And the water is very seductive—it slides off her shoulders in the starlight, covers her breasts, glistens faintly on her hips. With all his colour, all his draughtsmanship, the painter devotes himself to that presence. Will he clothe this young woman? Yes, a little. It’s as if he were inventing beauty, before thrusting Eve and her companion even further into the night.

And so they move forward into that night, under gusts of wind that whirl without respite, though seemingly less harsh. We all know they must walk a long time, but soon the going will be easier, since they will have something like a path under their feet. Eve leads the way, even if she hesitates—everything is so dark, after all. In the nick of time, she dimly catches sight of thick branches that block their progress. The sky, still filled with stars a while ago, has retreated into its other world.

Even so, it is not cold.

And now she feels something very light on her shoulder, which the painter has left naked. A slight grazing, gently discreet. A leaf, fallen from a tree? She touches it with her finger. No, it’s water.

Water, why water? But the same impalpable thing has now alighted on her neck. And soon there’s another on the arm she had raised, and still another. What is this? asks Adam in turn. He has stopped. She touches his big hand, which is also somewhat wet. They start walking again.

Day breaks, little by little, and the world around them is white. It has snowed; the snow is everywhere under their feet, so each step makes a tiny sound, a kind of crunching against that sheet of white. The great snowfall covers the branches with its heft that weighs nothing.

It is as if he who was cursing them had been removed, into the sky far away, by this unknown friend. Her task achieved, now she comes to graze their bodies lightly with her fingers, which to them seem numberless.

Published with the kind permission of Seagull Books. ‘Leaving the Garden, in the Snow’: The Digamma (Hoyt Rogers trans.) © Seagull Books, 2014; Original from Le digamma by Yves Bonnefoy © Éditions Galilée, 2012; English Translation © Hoyt Rogers, 2014