Denis Emorine

Lettres à Saïda / Letters to Saïda

translated from the French by Brian Cole


Derrière nous
si grand le ciel
et toi
doucement accrochée à mon bras.
J’interroge tes yeux d’ambre
pour mieux dévider ma vie.

Un jour
tu repartiras et je ne saurai plus
où me réfugier
pour mieux vider ma vie.
Le temps nous aura enrobés d’oubli
même si je ne m’y résous pas.

Il ne faut pas hâter le pas
ni abolir la parole
trop tôt….

Je sais que mourir existe


Behind us
such a wide sky
and you
comfortably hanging on to my arm.
I interrogate your amber eyes
the better to unwind my life.

One day
you will leave and I shall not know
where to find refuge
where I can better empty out my life.
Time will have clothed us in oblivion
even if I do not make up my mind.

We should not speed our pace
nor abolish the word
too soon ...


La mort tourne lentement
dans ma tête
lorsque tu n’es pas là.

Je n’ai peut-être pas le droit
de me précipiter
dans tes bras
pour l’effacer d’un trait.

Elle a tellement de visages
et pourtant
J’ai l’impression
qu’elle ne connaît que moi.

Je la nomme aussi folie
tu le sais

Toutes ces années n’auront servi
à rien.
La folie est à la fenêtre
qui me fait signe.

J’erre à jamais
dans les corridors de
ma tête
une arme chargée
à la main.


Death revolves slowly
in my head
when you are not there.

Perhaps I do not have the right
to throw myself
into your arms
to delete it with one stroke.

It has so many faces
and yet
I have the impression
that it knows only me.

I also call it folly
you know.

All these years will have been
for naught.
Folly is at the window
and beckons me.

I wander for ever
in the corridors of
my head
a loaded weapon
in my hand.


Pourquoi dire
tout ce qui existe entre nous ?
Faut-il forcément que nos
pas coïncident ?

Souvent, il est inutile d’ emprunter
la voie la plus évidente.

J’ ai décidé de t’accompagner jusqu’à
ce que je ne le puisse plus.

Dans combien de temps
m’ effacerai-je de ta vie ?

Tu n’ aimeras pas cette question
sans doute
parce que la réponse
ne nous appartient pas.

Tu la connais pourtant.

oui là
tout près du cœur
qui aura cessé de battre.


Why should we tell
all that there is between us?
Is it absolutely necessary
that our steps coincide?

Often it is useless to take
the most obvious path.

I have decided to go with you
until I can no longer.

How long will it take me
to erase myself from your life?

You will not like this question
no doubt
because the answer
does not belong to us.

But you know it.
yes, there
right next to my heart
which will have stopped beating.


Un jour,
je remonterai le cours
de ma vie.

Sans toi
c’ est mieux ainsi.

Ce jour-là
j abandonnerai tout.
Il m’ en coûtera tu sais !

Je ne sais pas si j’aurai
le temps de prononcer
quelques mots tendres.

Tu seras loin
heureuse j’ en suis sûr.
Tu ne sentiras rien
je te le jure
à peine un souffle dans
tes cheveux
une poussière dans l’ oeil
que tu auras vite fait
d’ expulser.

Ce jour-là
je mourrai
sur la pointe des pieds

pour ne pas te déranger


One day
I shall retrace the course
of my life.

Without you
it is better so.

On that day
I shall abandon everything.
It will be difficult, you know!

I do not know if I shall have
the time to say
a few loving words.

You will be far away
and happy, I am sure.
You will feel nothing
I swear to you
scarcely a breath of wind
in your hair
a speck of dust in your eye
that you will have quickly

On that day
I shall die
on tiptoe

so as not to disturb you.


J’ose enfin effleurer ton nom.
J’ai réussi à l’ écrire.
Cinq lettres
que je tiens
dans la main.

J’ ai trop perdu de temps.
Pourquoi regarder sans cesse
derrière moi ?
Je ne voudrais pas vivre trop vite
ni heurter le temps
qui me

j’ose enfin effleurer ton visage
et garder ces cinq pétales
dans ma main
sans froisser ton nom.


I dare to mention your name.
I managed to write it.
Five letters
that I had
in my hand.

I have wasted too much time.
Why do I always keep looking
behind me?
I do not want to live too quickly
nor to jostle Time
that is
devouring me.

at last I dare stroke your face
and keep the five petals
in my hand
without offending your name.

Patrick Carrington

Threepenny Omelet

You arrive once a week in white.

I wait for you and the gas bill
in a hallway with a crazy key

and if it snows or dogs
have gnawed their leashes

and run free, I sit on cold tiles
imagining how this week's words

might dress up the bedpost
with a crooked hat

or ride my thighs like a railroad,
wanting to be the mutt

who chews through the straps
waking wraps on my wrists

to keep me from you. To think
you won't come because this

is the blizzard that stops
appointed rounds or you're

trapped in a parked car inside
a leather satchel. To think

if postal rates go up unannounced
I might lose you, that we

are that fragile. To think a stamp
could send me up the stairs

alone today to eat eggs covered
in pepper and my grimy dreams.

Janie Hofmann

The Sad Days of Laurel and Hardy

They were no understudies,
the big one in a little hat, a fine mess
and the skinny half-wit who cried.
Stage and silent
film birthed two harried gents
who sold mousetraps and hid from shrews.

Their women, shrewish
a hopeless study
in lack of gentility,
the biggest mess
Ollie and Stan silently
endured. Stan's crying.
A polished man, he cried,
was petted by his shrew
while Ollie prayed for silence,
got dishes busted over his head, a study
in bad marriages. The mess
at its worst, the gents

would clash with an ungenteel
keystone cop who would decry
their antics, bust them for messing
with the peace. Not shrewd
enough to study
the silence

of oppression, they were silent
and genteel. Stan spoke like the gentry,
Oliver insisted on Harvard study.
Stan never cried
wolf, Oliver shrewdly
faced the mess
when they were messed
over in talkie and silent
films. The old black and whites were shrewd,
grainy, ungentrified,
Chaplin knew they cried
the truth, but he is another study.

Once, the gents studied a menu, wanted apple pie,
messed up the kitchen, but the cook was a shrewd operator,
made them work it off unsilently until both cried.

David Thornbrugh

Monastery Mountain

The monastery on top of the mountain
is so remote no one has reached it
in three lifetimes. Nights,
we see candle light moving
from window to window.

Up there, say the villagers,
the monks live on prayer,
so close to God they comb his beard.
One blind monk
at the center of the hive
contains the Kosmos in his meditation,
keeps the stars alive.
In the flooded basements
of the village,
drowned donkeys turn
like compass needles,
twisting direction
out of darkness.

Come morning,
we will start climbing,
following the trail
of very long,
very gray

Bill Yake

Chorus from an Isla Mujeres Cemetery

- after Jack Kerouac’s Mexico City Blues

Even the unconscious have reputations,
words with histories

for objects with histories:

all histories have histories too.

The exact word

isn’t, isn’t, isn’t

precisely exact.

The correct latitude, longitude, rectitude becomes -
available? Attitude, altitude, platitude, shock.

Palms bob in the wind-setting sun. Shhh…Shhh…

Gabriel’s white and repeated on shrines -

his plaster immobile
long, mobile long wings fixing and fixing

to fly like some smart, upright fatherly bird.

Permits are required to rewire these shrines.

Reputations repeat, sing, rise and sink.


from the all the upright callused

and trellised, phalused and fallen

ones. Trailing dust, comet slush, glory,
debts, stories -
shadowed, mirrored, disguised and blatant.

Drawn on the white roadside walls: bright political rally dates.

Painted statues on the shrines inside: a hot pink Christ, a jet black Christ.

a jet pink Christ, a hot black Christ.

Charlie Burgess

winter solstice

she was at the copier
copying an image

she found the golden head of Apollo lying on the sidewalk
and was pleased

Sally Molini

Not my choice

I'm so riddled
with questions, my spine
feeling the cold,
tangibility only as good
as the body allows.
The mind never moves
on its own, something else
makes it carry and pose,
like the fainting spell
I had last night, the floor
hard to follow as the den's
lack of response fell away.
Coming to, I found the room
less substantial, my faith
shaken in solid ground,
as if such a thing exists.

Anne Cammon


to the sleep-wrought
with the inevitabilities
ushering forth:

Unseen clock towers
ring! Imaginary
robots on their way to work.

I am a robot, imaginary.

Dave DeFina

Dividend Divider

As laconic as his face after he arrived, the phone call that initiated everything
ended before I really understood anything.

“I’m coming over, unlock the front door,” then, silence—a silence that pursued
me long after I clicked off the phone, long after I clicked off any sense of agency
and long after every subsequent movement. Where I am now is where I sat then,
on my couch looking out into the street through sun suffused blinds.

He showed up in a navy blue jacket, gray vest and navy blue pants. Every
possible flaw in attire and demeanor seemed resolved long in advance. Take
his pants. They seemed to touch the uppermost curves of his irreproachably
polished shoes regardless of his position, sitting, standing, crossing his
legs and so on. The contours of his jacket corresponded to the contours of
his body, shoulder to shoulder, wrist to wrist, waist to waist. Not even an
errant thread around the holes in his buttons. No hair rebelling. No light
encroaching from my windows to alter the fragments of gray and blue in his
eyes that corresponded to his suit. The sun blazed at his back the whole
time, and yet his image stayed distinct, unmarred by the blur.

The phone call, in addition to establishing our relationship, also
prefigured the crazed impotence I felt succeeding all of my decisions. A
sort of regressive contemplation that left my present mind stale and without
any sense of action. What exactly motivated my action if not simply his
request over the phone? Not twenty seconds after opening the front door, I
returned to the couch without a firm memory of my own motivation. Obsession
clenched me entirely and every remembrance surfaced slightly more denatured.

Furthermore, what authenticity could anything claim after unlocking the
door? Contingents?

Five minutes after his call, still immersed in such consideration,
consideration that then resembled a spent matchstick, I heard footsteps
leading up the stairs to my apartment and a voice, reduced to a small tenor
behind my door—

“Let me in, open the door.” He brushed by me, pushing my body aside heading
to the couch. He wiped crumbs clear and threw a magazine to the ground
before sitting.

I didn’t feel anything towards him, or even about him, it was around him,
with him as part of the whole scheme that I felt a strange indecision
regarding everything. As if I could effectively trivialize every feeling
while still genuinely feeling it. His mien shone as natural as the slits of
light that penetrated my blinds and fell on the floor and
what I would have done, even in that early state of unknowing, to be a mote
of riled dust sinking back to the floor with the sun’s guidance. I quickly
viewed the time before he came to present somewhat of a baffling absence.
Confusion is the air between the dust, the invisible abettor. But he
refused either as his emblem. Neither could be his.

Only the one feeling remained—the obsession with trying to figure it out.

His first remark, after a lengthy silent appraisal of myself, the apartment
and his nails:

“In three seconds, you’ll change the television channel out of impulsive
awkwardness and on the new channel will be a knife commercial.”

I changed the channel and a woman with gaudy jewelry smiled back caressing a
large wooden block with black handled kitchen knives. I set the remote down
as if in reflexive rebellion, but my hand again reached for it when he said
“pick it up.”

Please, press me back down into the cracks of the floor and I will be a
happy piece of dust.

Again I found it impossible to extricate what happened from the possibility
of it not happening and every moment that occupied the silences between his
interjections immersed me in deeply aggravated re-creation of the act. When
did his demand begin in relation to when my hand moved? They couldn’t
possibly concur and yet I no longer believed in my movement. Plus, watching
tv before and during his conjecture [if it was conjecture] easily assigned
to his statement a degree of reliance upon the situation and the inherent
possibilities. Every such reductive thought felt as if it gained credence
and license under his watch. Even actions such as blinking, breathing,
slight twitches, felt as though he already possessed knowledge of their

In thought, I curled up into a long blue thread and entwined myself in his
suit, becoming a color, not a form. In thought, I became the sun-inflected
air that traversed his unmoving face, looking for contours as proof of
something. But I probably wouldn’t even find pores. The whole time I sat
thinking all of this he looked at me, arms crossed and eyes set. I noticed
the watch he had on had no arms and no numbers.

“These knives are guaranteed not to rust or becomes dull—I think we have
someone on the line, caller are you there?”

“Close the blinds.” He yawned and sat back. I closed the blinds, awash in
trying to remember each minute difference of each action. My jaw had set
itself toughly and it wrenched my temples. With the blinds closed, the only
light allocated fell across both his eyes like a visor. The apartment felt

Only a person of surgical temperament can clean dust. You have to be
patient with it, if to avoid merely sending it up into the air for another
round of settlement. You have to hate and love it, but more than not, love
to watch its removal turn the ground bright. Any single moment of hurried
insistence could ruin an afternoon’s worth of work. And what’s more, the
protracted interlude between sending it up and watching it fall. Staying
active will keep it from falling on you, but nothing will stop it from
falling somewhere.

“You should clean this place up. It’s embarrassing.” He held his watch up
to his ear, evidently testing it, before giving a dissatisfied look and
setting it down on the coffee table. “In three minutes, you will suddenly
think me escapable and will use the bathroom as a cover for further thought
regarding how to eliminate me. You will turn on the faucet to create the
illusion that you are doing something, as though it is possible to really
conceal your actions. A drop of water will splash out onto your pants and
while you try to rub it dry you will think about how some things only need
exposure to the air to disappear. You will be right. But, if you don’t
think you’re right, then you’re not.”

This statement interesting me with its complexity and exactness and I had to
wonder if, because of this complexity and advanced speculation, he had
simply predicted or tried to induce. His phone request bore the stamp of
automatic response, the channel prediction seemed inseparable from its
context, the suggestion to clean could affix itself to impression and the
remote remark is still marked with doubt as its concurrence and obviousness

Additionally, a different style of expression further complicated things.
Some statements contained simple prediction, some an imperative and some
combined the two subtly, even relying on predicting something that involved
me and could therefore be refused, if only to deny him. I decided to
further consider these things without him around—I decided on the bathroom.

“You’ll be right back.”

“I’ll be right back”

The cold toilet seat goaded me as I thought about the situation in its
fullest detail and potential for evasion. All of the things thus far
experienced could logically be explained and only aroused interest if I
attributed a singularity to them myself, or if I refused myself singularity.
Also, each experience occurred as a hearing individual. This seemed too
obvious for any use, yet, it would be impossible to determine if any of the
preceding would have happened had I not heard them.

Ok, this is something, I thought. He’s going to suspect something if I take
too long. This in mind, I hit the faucet for some cover. The steam from
the water floated out and a drop escaped the rim wetting my pants. Rubbing
it idly, the wet spot slowly evanesced into nothing. The air had retrieved
it, only the fibers of my pants could hold it and only silent eventuality
could retire it.

Perfect! If I couldn’t hear him, I couldn’t possibly adhere to anything he
said. However, in not hearing him, that doesn’t necessarily mean he
wouldn’t be talking or even trying to induce in other ways. He seemed
entirely reliant upon me to relate himself, so sitting still would render
him ineffectual. But again, I would still never know if he knew in advance
my actions. I decided to chance it. But how would I block my own hearing?
A knock on the door derailed my thinking and, not knowing what measure to
take, I stood still, as if to disappear, when a piece of paper slid under
the door.

Footsteps withdrew and turned to little taps as they left the apartment.
The paper slowly became limp under the weight of the settling steam as I
read its few short sentences.

“There are Q-tips in the drawer. Rip off the cotton and stuff it into your
ears. I am leaving now but I want you to write down everything that has
happened. Also, leave the front door open in case I want to return. Don’t
forget to clean the place.”

I threw the paper into the garbage and returned to the living room. The
knife commercial was still on. A grid of sunlight rested on the floor, my
door locked tight. The peep hole showed me no one.

“These knives won’t rust and are guaranteed to remain sharp.”

A tiny breeze lifted the blinds and as they slapped back against the window
frame, a little miasma of old dust glided upward. When I tried to grab it,
the wind from my hand blew the cloud away.