restricted access The Pipe, and: Poor Pale Child
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The Pipe, and: Poor Pale Child
Translated by Stephen Berg (bio)

The Pipe

I found my pipe yesterday meditating all evening on my work lovely winter work

Cigarettes tossed away with childish summer joys into the past leaves blue with sun and muslin my hard pipe between my teeth again serious man dedicated to smoking a long long time motionless born to concentrate on his work

Who knew that when I took the first puff on the neglected thing I’d forget the big books I wanted to write

This friendly pipe hadn’t been used since my return to France

I lived London inside myself last year gentle fogs that smell like bittersweet ash seep through doors and windows stifle the brain

My tobacco smelled like leather furniture sprinkled with coal dust in a dark room where a skinny cat rolls around

Big fires the maid adding coal her arms warmed red clatter of coals spilling out of the sheet iron bucket into the iron scuttle each morning

With the postman’s solemn knock knock I came alive

Those sickly gray trees in the forsaken square outside my window had no power to touch me

The sea crossed frequently that winter freezing on the bridge of the steamer doused with spray black smoke [End Page 145]

There I was my poor confused lover dressed in traveling clothes beside me long dowdy dress the color of road dust cloak drenched matted on her shoulders straw hat no feather one stringy ribbon mangled by salt air the kind rich women throw away the minute they step off the boat the kind poor lovers retrim season after season

Around her neck she had rolled and knotted that repulsive handkerchief we humans wave when they say good-bye forever [End Page 146]

Poor Pale Child

Why do you yell so desperately that insolent shrill street song drowned by cats lords of the roofs it can’t penetrate the first floor shutters or the rich silk rosy drapes hanging behind them hidden from you

But you sing anyway continually tenacious self-confident like a little man who works for himself alone depending on nobody Do you have a father? you don’t even have an old woman to make you forget hunger by whipping you when you come home without one penny in your hand

You stand in the streets dressed in washed-out grown-up clothes too tall for your age much too thin for your age you sing for food relentlessly you avert your malicious eyes from the other children wrestling on the pavement

Your lament’s so high-pitched your bare head rising with your voice prays to fly off your narrow shoulders

Maybe it will one day little man after so much time yelling in the towns you’ll filch something crime’s easy your pinched fierce face have the courage to act out your wish

Nobody drops a penny in the basket your long hands dangle hopelessly in front of you the world will make you evil you’ll steal kill

Your head still floats away still wants to fly off as if it knew your ominous fate and now your song strips us to the bone

You will lose it to the skies when you pay for me for those worth less than me who quietly revel in your helplessness no doubt that’s your purpose in the world to starve steal kill we’ll see you in the papers [End Page 147]

Oh we call you poor little head with such pity because we need you so we can be ourselves too sick with happiness to drop the smallest coin into your sad basket [End Page 148]

Stéphane Mallarmé

Stéphane Mallarmé (18421898), author of Symbolism’s central masterwork, “The Afternoon of a Faun,” pursued throughout the entire length of his writing life a singular, self-created Ideal—that of a Pure Poetry. Lapidary, enigmatic, dense and yet somehow radiant, such a poetry held out the promise of a further humanity and an enduring tenderness. This tenderness is especially in evidence in his prose poems, each of which casts a glow...