Thursday, September 22, 2011

Le Bateau Ivre 1

Rimbaud seems to be one of those super-translatable writers, a fact that I didn't understand until last night when, after reading Paul Schmidt's version of "The Drunken Boat" next to Wallace Fowlie's, I began to experience a strange, stereoscopic blurring. It was like I was trying to listen to two men tell me the story of a trip they'd taken. One of the men (Fowlie, who appeared before me in a pastel-blue vest), was bearded and dour and obsessed with telling me exactly what had happened; while the other (Schmidt, who was also wearing blue, but who looked like an older, somewhat-less-androgynous Stevie Nix with his ridiculous menagerie of scarves and bangles), was trying to entertain me. I listened to them both; but after a few minutes I realized that I wasn't really listening to either. The story itself faded into the background, transforming their flailings into a sort of dance, though one whose gestures served a purely decorative and abstract purpose. I watched it hypnotized - and then as I watched, I began to notice something moving behind these patterns: something coiled and mangy, like a sick zoo animal. The whiffs I caught of this strange beast were so pungent that I immediately focused on it exclusively, ignoring the dancing men despite the fact that they had redoubled their efforts in the face of my obvious boredom. Their arms whirled to the point that it became almost impossible  to see what they were hiding behind their backs. Or was it whom? At this point I couldn't be sure, though of course as soon as I realized that I couldn't be sure, I was. I was completely sure in fact, for I could see now that the flashes of snot covered-tunic I'd been glimpsing belonged to the man himself, or rather the Boy himself. I shoved the other two aside testily (a reader's work is never done!), and grabbed his arm. What happened, I asked him? His velveteen jacket had the disastrous heaviness that all fine fabric does when wet, but his candy-cane pantaloons were dry as bones. Holding my palms out, I could feel the heat radiating off them: an impossible heat, as if they'd just been taken out of his mother's machine. And now he was talking, too: automatically, like an athlete running an obstacle course that he's done so many times he dreams about it. I, I, I he said; but by this point, I wasn't listening to him anymore. I wasn't listening to any of them: I was sailing or floating, or anyway just sloshing side to side, like the inch of bug-juice and gasoline that floods every boat no matter how clean. And I was sailing too. I had cast off, or was cast off, to go looking for the poem I'd read. Did I think I would find it? Not really, no. Not at all, actually. But it didn't matter. I was gone like Cortez - almost exactly like him, in fact. Cortez, Cortez, I hummed, as the wind plucked vacantly at my rigging. As for my companions, I found out later that they'd been stapled to my masts like children's drawings on a refrigerator. What music they'd had was used up, and though they thought that they'd escape, they hadn't. It was a crying shame, really; at the same point it was my only hope - for in the pit of my heart, I knew that I knew something they didn't. I was safe, even in the storm's heart, for I had God's arms around me like a lifejacket of love. So I sailed on, pinned like Sebastian in my rigging - of happiness or sadness, I repeat, it didn't matter. I had everything I need, and I couldn't stop, so I didn't. Until suddenly, one blood-red morning, I did.

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