back toJacket2

Tricolor Flag image This is Jacket 14 - July 2001   |   # 14  Contents   |   Homepage   |

This issue of JACKET is a co-production with SALT magazine

Franck André Jamme

Conches, banners, holy leaves

translated by Olivier Brossard and Lisa Lubasch

(We had adopted an ancient code, we made it ours. Although it came from afar, from the roof of the world, under which we now walked. It said only: the spirit is a horse, which binds you as much as it is bound, which leads you as much as it is led, which should always be held, very carefully — for without it, we can go nowhere. And so, these sketches from my travels.)

It is in the air itself. Two curses will be placed on the foreigner, which are actually two blessings. First, he will have to account for everything. Endlessly. Excessively. Then, nothing but presence. I want only to tell of the world as it is, as it comes to me, adding nothing to what I see. As little dust on the mirror as possible. (The horse is hit.)

In the eyes of men, a flame. Extinguished or burning. Absent or present. In moments of doubt, one wants the frail trees with whitish sleeves, the long rolled-over stones, or, as a sign of welcome, the salt collected in heavy silver cups — cups one scrubs and then ponders for their acrid smell. And yet for some, language keeps bringing things up. (The horse’s life is shared equally by despair and by what-is-to-come.)

The head of the monkey-god is blood-red, worn through with age. But through its openings travel birds, blue stones, black stones. The stone posts on the road are silent and the sky, almost white. A lark, this morning, by sheer force of forgetting, fell in the midst of flight. (The horse, misted over.)

At the end of its rope, the tawny ball, our demon and our guide, rolls one way or the other, flesh side or diamond side. Sometimes it merely swings back and forth. Sometimes it is as still as stone. (The horse doesn’t know much: he just accepts things.)

Under the lamp, the light is working. It traces circles of cobalt, black stains and spirals, gold needles. Then it frames everything in a white border. A little later, it makes instead a pearl-gray sky with a green ingot in the middle. This time, encased in crimson. (Nothing soothes the horse more than colors.)

A conference was held in the tree with twenty-one stumps; it ran so smoothly that once birds, insects and holy leaves had decided everything, the only things that remained to be honored were the presents people carried in big linen bags: bones, silence and butter. (The horse is puzzled.)

At dawn, upon reaching the foot of the mountain, you perceive its first color, black and ringed with a red the color of fire. Then the color becomes lighter, the mountain unfurls its endless streams of hair, becomes blue and then progressively fades into white. The mountain gives and yet it receives
nothing: it’s had so many children that some of them have no names. (The horse is small.)

What is hemp but a fairy-mother, it gives grace to the destitute. Early in life, the poor are stooped, their burden grows steadily. Then, with each step, they lose their strength, the weight of their baskets leaves scars on their brows. Smiles and kindness, the unbearable marks of their caste, are all that remain from their exile within their own country. (The horse will never understand.)

The apprentice is worried: “It is difficult to serve the master, all the more because he is far away and does not want to teach, because the dogs arrive to destroy the tower, and because it is rebuilt each time they destroy it. And nothing can change that. Neither the windows bordered by peacocks, fresh as they are, nor the blue beetles that illuminate the night and its roads, nor the goddess’s last hand, which is made of light.” (What matters most to the horse is faithfulness.)

Dark room in the village, on the trail of a child, a child who is pointing its finger, an abandoned place of prayer. Beneath the light, monstrous embers release their hatred into the fire, wheels of time devouring the world, extinguished words, burnt cries, I turn pale, my guide smiles. (The horse has trembled.)

At the end of the park, behind the temple, with its frieze of love scenes running along the wall, the lion is waiting. Besides the heat, the four days following death matter the most: these are what the lion lives and relives in bronze, fulfilling his role beneath the sky. (The horse pays his respects.)

This house has only one story, although its stairs are steep. On the landing, there is snow. The flowered tree, the harp with only one string, the taste of mango and of water, will all be reduced to mere souvenirs. What will we do then? The trick is to take action. (The horse is pulling himself together.)

The light is still working, says the black book whose letters and pictures were drawn with human blood, milk of copper. Where truth and its forked tongue can be seen, where machines and wars are revealed to be endless scales. Those who sneaked into the room now say that we are writing a dark and insidious book: and in saying so, they sink their teeth into the root of error. (The horse will fight.)

The old woman gathers herself together and prepares a small bundle: “One night, riding a silver mule, she left to pray near her favorite temple. There, in the dead of night, she had a dream: she saw herself being taken by the wind. In the morning, a thought that was no longer a thought landed on her shoulder.” (The horse also has a dream.)

A pebble is pulled out from under a dress and is offered in the dark. Engraved, polished and caressed, black with fear and joy, sun and moon, thunder and valley pressed into it, it protects from evil, the secret passes through it, and now it finds itself in my palm. (In its turn the horse will pass it on.)

The transparent desire that everything happen like lightning, the fear that legs will break, the idea of a certain perfection, even if it contains imperfections like a turquoise stone; depth, endless, the sky. (The horse, completely overwhelmed by anxiety.)

The text of the great stone has withstood rains and hailstorms, reeling suns. We can only attempt to decipher what is written beneath the figures of the protecting gods: at the top of the stone, one reads that life has two wings; a little bit further down, it says one’s brother must be burned for his betrayal; and lower still, the only answer that matters is one that knows nothing; at the bottom, near to ground, stone of words, healing stone. All the rest has faded away. (The horse will remember.)

Conches speak of the miracle as the circle listens, the legend still as pure as night: “Twelve butterflies that looked much like one another were born at the heart of the storm; in the same tree, struck down by lightning, there were also twelve cocoons. Whosoever follows one of them, whosoever is capable of following one butterfly during the time of its love, will bear the mark of awakening.” (The horse is ready.)

House of melted letters! Out the high door, brick-work and a grass lawn proudly display themselves. In the northern rooms, light falls in vertical lines, and men in nightcaps, with thin legs and trembling faces, are still carefully monitoring the blending of metals and stones, checking the quality of the iron. They fear nothing more than their own acts of refusal. (The horse is happy.)

I speak seldom of the shy trees, yielding opaque fruit, trees that will never outgrow man. In the mountain and here below, the main concern is breath. Just barely above that, wind. (The horse becomes luminous.)

To catch a glimpse of the snow leopard even once; to defy the living-dead; to know that time endures even as it passes into another time, to become lighter, as light as you can: such are your wishes. (It sometimes seems the horse has eaten flowers.)

Here dogs no longer bite; men live in an oblivion of forgetfulness. The air is so dry that nothing seems very far away. Flowers give rise to thin powders scattered by the wind, brief clouds in the sky, crimson, bright red, or blue. The house is poised on the edge of the sky. There, inside it, one is almost afraid to speak. (The horse is fascinated.)

White banners, framing the space around the women in the square, noble women, knitting together the seasons, wearing an apron of shadow, and in their pulled-up hair, a red braid of sun and blood, which has held their gaze, their relentless sincerity. (The horse is remembering.)

Why fear omens? They are our guardian angels. I’ve accounted for the dreams I’ve had; many things remain to be seen. The oracle has answered that things will be slow, rather brief, imbued with anger and the spirit of generosity. He’s added that to speak is the most common act in the world, for he possesses the ability to see. But he honors the sign he writes with his own hand, the one he’s turning over in his mind. (The horse likes taking risks.)

Language is a circle of light around the sun, it has a hood to protect its pleasure, the red coat of life, and a face of the same color, scarred by dark signs, with neither eyes nor mouth. And yet it tells us everything. (The horse is getting closer.)

The dog who tends souls is lost, prowling, far from his snows. He follows our wanderings. The passage from day to night will transpire with only the earth as witness; there, on a naked green hill of short grass, a marble button appears, changing its color each time it surfaces. With the arrival of summer, comes rain. (And the horse sets off once again.)

J A C K E T # 14   and   S A L T # 13   Contents page
Select other issues of the magazine from the | Jacket catalog | read about Jacket |
Other links: | top | homepage | bookstores | literary links | internet design |
Copyright Notice: Please respect the fact that this material is copyright. It is made available here without charge for personal use only. It may not be stored, displayed, published, reproduced, or used for any other purpose

This issue of Jacket is a co-production with SALT magazine,
an international journal of poetry and poetics, edited by John Kinsella
PO Box 937, Great Wilbraham, Cambridge PDO, CB1 5JX United Kingdom

This material is copyright © Franck André Jamme, Olivier Brossard and Lisa Lubasch, and Jacket magazine and SALT magazine 2001
The URL address of this page is