Rachel Leclerc

Translated by Susan Lemprière

In Your Flames

(A suite of selected poems)

I am writing to you from a house by the sea
where the spirit of a soldier from the Great War reigns
a place where you never crossed paths
with my weapons or shattered history
there are the untranslatable novels of Swedes and Finns
two cats sleeping on a book by Wittgenstein
and the breath of air against your image
like the final deprivation of your flesh

. . .

It’s three in the morning and the street lights loom
over the torrent rumbling like a valiant engine
but your shoulders wrap around the lead of the Earth
you sleep alone in the momentary lull

have we already succumbed to the temptation
to crucify ourselves to each other
like two enemy stakes of wood
two old people in a station at midnight?

we tightened the braces holding up the roof
but it was the same captivity inside and out
the same rusted old metal binding our flesh
then the new day rose up the windows of skyscrapers
like the unfinished embrace in our opening fists

. . .

You came yesterday with new precautions
we drank wine in the heart of silence
meditated in the studio of unfinished poems
while the city hummed outside our windows
and your hands made tender reparations

. . .

Using words from your bestiary
you will be the heedless chronicler
of our love and its imminent extinction

but if you do not feel the fear under passageways
if you do not hear the autumn digging tombs
look, see the fossils flowering in my hands
and the frozen ashes sleeping inside me

and yet I want imminent joy at my window
poems crossing the evening like banners
the simple austere heart of our two lives

. . .

A cold desert rose from the river this morning
like a perfect wish for the New Year
I fed the cats and went out walking
I saw us there in the succession of warehouses
flanked by shuttered diners and body shops
I saw each of us more austere on life’s path
more worthy than our union
that encased our love in its own light

tomorrow I will travel even further
toward the beating heart of crossroads
where every offence reunites our anger
and then abandoning myself to faith
I will gather up my life expelled from your memory
take up pail, fern and paper
and attend to tasks clear and material

These poems first appeared in the collection, Je ne vous attendais pas by Rachel Leclerc, published by Éditions du Noroît, 1998

Rachel Leclerc grew up in the Gaspé and now lives in Montréal. She has published seven books of poetry, for which she has received numerous awards, including the Prix Émile-Nelligan, the Prix Jovette-Bernier, the Prix Alain-Grandbois and First Prize in Radio-Canada’s Poetry Competition. She has also written five novels.
Susan Lemprière is a writer and translator who lives in St-Mathieu-de-Beloeil, Quebec. An earlier version of this poem was a finalist in the Malahat Review’s 2014 Les poésies francophones du Canada: A Translation Prize. She is currently working on translating Rachel’s collection Les vies frontalières (Borderlives).