(Paris: POL, 1996)

Jean Daive

translated by Rosmarie Waldrop

Summer on the Cyclades. The pears above the tables of the café are not yet yellow. They are heavy. They are. And I look out beyond the fields at what could be the Aegean. The island is calm. I am not reading. I am not counting. I breathe with open mouth. I remember.

He tells me he is shortly leaving for Israel. There is worry in his face. But his face is very gentle. We meet again and say goodbye.

A postcard sent from Jerusalem: Affectionately. Paul Celan.

A panorama of the City with its blue sky, its golden domes and his sacred stones.

On his return we meet again in Rue d’Ulm:

— I gave a talk which I wrote over there… You’d call it a vegetal talk… It’s very long… Look… I wrote all these lines and am the first to be astonished… Here, I give you this copy of the talk.

The day after Paul’s supposed disappearance, a friend stands under his apartment windows in Avenue Emile-Zola. He calls: “Paul, Paul.” Then, when there is no sign, he goes to the bedroom windows and starts singing the Israeli anthem.

After long years of struggling with the poem, and this includes the time of childhood and adolescence, I send the manuscript of Décimale blanche, finally finished or almost, to Paul Celan. A whole year goes by without a reaction. I get a note from André du Bouchet that he read my text in “Rue de Longchamp” and wants to publish it in the first number of the magazine L’Ephémère.

I do not reply. Some weeks later, a letter from Paul Celan: “I think I have been indiscreet. I beg your pardon. Give me a call.” I telephone. “Ah, it’s you,” and we meet.

The story continues: Décimale blanche appears in Number 2 of L’Ephémère. André du Bouchet proposes the publish the entire text with Mercure de France: “Your first book,” he says, and I say: “No.”

A few days later, near the paulownias of the Contrescarpe, Paul Celan admits that he understands my concern and my refusal:

— I heard you’ve said no… Jean Daive, sometimes one must transform a no into a yes. I am asking you. Think it over… Let’s eat some hot chestnuts. There is a stand not far from here.

We walk peeling the chestnuts... Smiles. Looks. The chestnuts burn our fingers. We blow on them.

Décimale blanche is finally published by Mercure de France.

Paul Celan continues a conversation:

— We talked the other day, you talked the other day about the spirit of place. It’s true, there is such a thing as the genius loci, isn’t there… For example, us: we have been divided, cut off, separated by an invisible, political barrier. That is, the most remote border goes back to the most remote border… As if the least visible one became in spite of all the most noticeable and marked it with a red-hot iron: one and the same language on both sides of the barrier. I was born in Czernowitz, you were born in Bonsecours-les-Valenciennes, as I like to say… And here we are. Note that I don’t say… here we are in a fine mess.

Where I come from? Who I am? Where I’m going? I won’t try to answer or, rather, I’ll try to answer along a parallel by telling bits of a story. I’ll talk about Paula — my mother — who is the feminine of Paul. Paula is the daughter of Jules, who is the son of Jules, and Paula’s father has a son Jules, my oncle and Paula’s brother. The first, or the oldest, Jules was a paver, that is he paved roads, and I can assure you, knowing the family, that he paved the hell of the North with delight, cruelty, and perfection. This particular hell still exists, around Thivencelle, Blanc-Misseron, Escaudin, since we are driving there and it is now “classified.” What does hell consist of? What is a paving stone, a series of paving stones on the surface of hell, become unnegotiable for humans? A first answer, because Paula refers back to Paul: the paver is the one who puts in place, who thinks of, hobbling. Another answer: the paving stone refers to the word, i. e. to stammering. Driving over paving stones you cannot talk but in stammers. I’ll continue my family history. The oldest Julien was a paver. The last but one — Paula’s father — was a contractor in roads and bridges: he had transformed the paving stone into an excessively prosperous business. I stress the word “excessively,” because it led to the end of the Jules: the last hanged himself with a clothesline in the attic of a hunting lodge. End of the road. I have often thought about the role of the road, I much observed, as a child, the uninterruptedness of the roads. I looked at the layers of materials and when I then looked at the surface I could not help seeing in my mind the hidden construction. I must write the word “incest.” Why? Because the roadwork transforms a negotiable surface into hell, and this totally paved hell becomes our natural road, and our always intellingent thinking hands us the necessary patience or will or crutch. Incest is in the paving stone. It is in the family (I observed it) and in the paving stone. Incest is. How? I am the one who has changed the paving stone into a die. The die is in the poem. The die is incest. I gamble for you. I don’t roll for you. Incest does. It precedes us: paving stone or die, Paul or Paula. Road and hell. Roads don’t arrive because incest or poems lend a helping hand. But I am superposing Paul and Paula as I live superposed, as I see superposed sentences and roads according to a mix of blood and geography: the articulations are identical, implacably. I again see the foreman, Désiré, build a road across open fields in the snow: paving stones, sand, sacks of cement, and unknown women in the snow, in the open fields, bringing the men wine, tobacco, bread, warm tarts. And later, the same road farther toward the height of summer under a scorching sun, and the same women dressed very lightly, with heavy breasts. The field is torn and the loves of a road across fields are torn and reborn farther off. Unknown women, neighbor women, neighbors of a road under construction, they all walk along the road. For them the way still goes through the fields, like making love in the fields. Looking at the paving and at the group of people I think, already as a child, that the poem varnishes a universal, amorous geography: a complicated pottery of sentence and road. Paul comes toward me: Paula without a. Paul on the way and a in the field. (The doubled vowel of Grammar.) Let’s find it.

— Your mother’s first name is Paula. How strange. You surely know that Paul is in paulownia. The tree of our walks. With you, in your company, the sentence breathes. The lungs breathe. As the tree breathes. Paula… And what does she do?

— She paves.

— She paves? And what does she pave?

— What would you, Paul Celan, do with a paving stone?

He smiles. We know we understand each other.

— I know what you are getting at. Nevertheless I’ll answer you as if I didn’t know. I’d throw or plant it, he replies.

— Paula neither throws nor plants…

— Are you so sure?

— Unh… what do you mean?

— Did Paula not throw you anything?

— Yes.

— And what did she throw?

— Yes, in fact, perhaps all the belated paving stones left in the family cellars… I got a lot of them.

— You see: the paving stone is thrown or planted. But what was the question?

— What does she pave?

— Yes, what does she pave, Paula?

— Paula paves roads. I mean, Paula pushes the family to pave roads. She does not pave. The family paves.

— And you?

— I don’t pave.

— You think you don’t.

— No, I don’t pave. I can even tell you that not only have I never paved, I have unpaved.

— What?

— The courtyard of our garden. Which provoked a huge scandal. I taught the family that what was paved, cemented, sealed and paved, could also be unpaved. It was on a Sunday during the interminable lunch. The quiet of the garden, the quiet children alerted the family who suddenly saw the havoc.

— The art of paving goes through the ages… Through texts and ages. The art of paving is also an art of the hand. What are in these days of non-communication the objects of the hand? Easy to enumerate: the pen, the pear, the paving stone… You see… I find words with P. But tell me your Sunday.

— Atrocious.

— Your family Sunday.

— Imagine a long table and the family, a perron, the garden, and two children grappling with the subtraction of stones: an impeccably paved surface and two children’s voices whispering: minus 13, minus 14, minus 15… the 57th alerted them.

— And then?

— You can imagine how offended they were. Their ethic was offended.

— But what was your problem? Why did you unpave?

— I wanted to unpave an idea because the idea that the first yards of the garden were paved, precisely those that led to the strawberries and the rows of peartrees with the gooseberries in between, was unbearable to me. So, one Sunday, I wanted to modify the access, make it…

— Yes, I understand… one day presence implies its absence. One day the stone in your hand. One day the stone in nothing.

— Mmmm… You are saying something else… Paul Celan…

— I am weighing all the possibilities of the paving stone.

— The only thing and the most real is family.

— Yes, the paving stone is no longer in the pool: it is in the families, star-spangled. Stones come to families because like the skies they have lost all their stars. And man comes to make up for it… Starry pavement…

Paul Celan murmurs “starry pavement” and asks:

— How can a paving stone multiply into hell, by this I mean into the handrail?

— The invisible...

— Into the invisible handrail.

— Being universal, a paving stone can multiply even into hell.

— Ah… yes.

— Because it is indivisible and incurable.

— Ah… yes… in-visible… in-divisible… in-curable… I’ll think about that… I’ll leave you now… Give me a call!

Seasons go by. A few. One day, Paul Celan tells me he has written to Heidegger.

— I’ve much read Heidegger. I’ve much annotated his books. I just wrote him. I don’t expect a reply.

— A few weeks later:

— I’m going to Germany. I’m going to meet Heidegger. I hope he’ll hear me.


— In Todtnauberg there is a fountain crowned with a starry die, and I thought about our conversation. Do you remember our starry pavement?

— Yes.

— Well, I saw it again at Heidegger’s, I met him in his forest full of paths that go nowhere.

— Paths that go nowhere…

— Paths that go nowhere… according to Heidegger… right…

— And children go everywhere…

— Without a path… like poets… they go everywhere… and like some other philosophers… like us… right… we go to the barracks of the camps, the cafeterias of hospitals… and we look at the wire that we don’t step over…

He smiles and goes on:

— I had illusions. I hoped to be able to convince Heidegger. I wanted him to talk to me. I wanted to forgive. I waited for this: that he find words to trigger my clemency. But he maintained his position. Germany is strange… another pavement… indivisible.

— And yet divided.

— The division is invisible… I deeply believe this… And this comes out in Heidegger’s work and maybe in his thought… an invisible division whose vocabulary escapes… Germany altogether. Of what is this division made? How to heal it? Prayer? Waiting?

Perplexed silence. He goes on:

— I’ve written a poem over there that I’ll show you. The occasion of the meeting was a poem that is vegetal, that is, neither open nor closed, having only language for opening and closure. It contains prayer, waiting.

— You say the division is invisible because it is everywhere.

— Yes, the division has made fissures in every meter, every individual down into his words.

After a long silence, he continues:

— The forests are very old. The forests are older than man. They have seen the gods die. And man is naked in a forest of dust, dry leaves and roads covered with leaves and dust.

A long silence, then he continues:

— Verse breathes all that and on all that. Man wants to conquer and conquest wants gold. I‘ve always thought the poem should cross out the world. You know engravers are supposed to cross out the plates once the edition is printed. Yes, the poem should cross out the world. The poem is a diagonal that crosses out the world just as syntax is the diagonal of the poem. Next time, I’ll bring you “Todtnauberg.”

Mild air. Gray-blue sky. The gray stone of the facades lights up the depth of the streets. We walk along the Seine. Paul Celan looks at Notre-Dame. An empty barge glides on the green water. He mumbles:

— An orphan.

During the whole walk, he seems determined to maintain silence between us. I see again very clearly Paul Celan’s gray shape under the snow. He crosses the Place du Palais Royale in the wind and whiteness. His body is suffering, heavy, powerful, and I add to this vision his will not to speak: the non-finite to the finite.

He keeps silent because there is a mumured conversation going on which he must be hearing. He maintains silence because there is speech unfolding that he must deal with for an opening or a closure. His silence is an electric switch.

We walk along the fence of the Luxembourg garden. The late afternoon is mild. It’s autumn. Paul Celan talks without fear, even jokingly.

— Don’t forget that a poem is always a letter to the father.

— Mmmm…

— I often think of Franz Kafka’s “Letter to the Father.”

— … which he did not send…

— At the request of his sister Ottla…

—… no: of his mother…

— A woman means woman… right…

— You mean…

— I mean she implores.

— And Franz Kafka hears the imploring?

— He doesn’t send the letter to the father or have it delivered to him, right…

— Who is the father in the “Letter to the Father”?

— God is present and the judgment of men and no doubt all the misery of the son…

— The son who paces the threshold of his father’s house, who measures how far the door opens… and anyway, what is a door that does not really open?

— Or a door that only seems to open and never really does! I know… I know that very well…

We are still walking along the fence of the Luxembourg. He starts over after a long silence:

— You were looking at the rakes, right…

— I am looking at the garden and the rakes.

— Rakes make me think of Charles Baudelaire…

— Yes: of Baudelaire and the autumn of ideas. It’s raining. The garden soil is hollowed out.

— The water hollows and the rakes arrive.

Prague in spring. We are looking for Franz Kafka in the streets he used to walk. I search in the faces of the crowd for his sister Ottla, for her eyes, and Greta has an expression of deep sweetness. Greta is calm, loving, lascivious in her brown wool suit with black checks.

She makes us visit the rooms of the National Museum. She explains in a strange, almost worrisome state a painting by Gustav Klimt: a garden with large red flowers and a meadow of which the Viennese painter keeps only a memory, she tells me. A tree and a woman with exuberant hair made of gold squares. She continues:

— A woman is waiting in the first garden, the one that is life because it comes before everything. The hair is solar, the grass is green, the flowers are red. This woman’s dream is everywhere, this woman’s waiting is everywhere. And yet nature does not wait. So a woman in the deepest solitude can say: I am very near you.

We walk toward our hotel. In the room, which is huge, I think of the hair of this woman who is waiting. Greta is at the dressing table looking at the mirror, once again upset by the strangeness of her face:

— How ugly I am, she sighs.

I think about Franz Kafka’s insomnia. He is alone at night, at a table. He writes. And L.’s face comes to me, who spends her nights of insomnia reading Franz Kafka.

Then I think how Greta one day said to me in despair:

— I know I should not, but I’m going to do it.

In the end, she did not.

At L.’s place, rue Saint-Maur, a Friday night:

— You’ll tuck me in? You’ll say goodnight? she asks.

— I’ll tuck you in. I’ll say goodnight…

— My body wants you. My vulva want you.

— I’ll tuck you in and go.

— Yes, tuck me in… I want to love you. I don’t want orgasm. Stay a little longer.

— I’m leaving. Go to sleep. Talk to your insomnia and put it to sleep.

— If I can’t sleep I’ll read Kafka. I’d like to go to Prague with you. Do you know Prague?

— Mmmm…

Rue Saint-Maur. L. in my arms, says:

— I can kill you.

— …

— I can kill you.

— …

— I’d like to kill you.

— …

— There would be no witnesses.

— …

— Nobody would know.

— …

— I am using a false identity. I could kill you.

— …

— I am sad. You make me sad. You don’t say anything. Talk to me… Answer or I’ll hit you!

— …

— I’m sad.

— …

— It’s true, I’m sad. I’m unhappy. I don’t sleep. Because of you I don’t sleep any more… I can’t fall asleep. I have to read Kafka all night and “The Hunger Artist” does not make me laugh at all…

— …

— And you don’t even know how to talk to women.

Autumn again. I push a door. I push a second door, I push a third door. At the end of this labyrinth I am in Alain Veinstein’s office. He is sitting at his desk, feverish, haggard. I ask if he needs anything. His hands seem to hold an invisible object. A shovel? A rake?

— Sometimes I dream I am dead and looking for my grave, he says.

Prague at night. Stone staircases. Ramps. In the Street of the Alchemists Greta looks like she has hallucinations. Her eyes pierce what she sees. I’m getting afraid.

We must separate the yes from the no (Paul Celan). We must separate the mattress from the box springs (Ed).

Prague in spring. In the hotel room. The curtains are drawn. It’s night. We are lying across the bed. In our clothes. I have my coat on. Greta her jacket and boots. She falls asleep or pretends to. Paul Celan’s letter is on the dressing table. It isn’t quite night yet.

I stare at the ceiling with its fake Venetian chandelier. A memory surfaces. I went to surprise Greta at home, in Vienna. At that time she was living with her mother in a development flat. The two women shared the same bedroom and slept in twin beds of lemonwood:

— Before going to sleep we read out loud Trakl, Celan, Kafka… One night, my mother said of Celan: “But this is the voice of a sister I hear there…”

— You are anxious, Paul Celan?

— No, upset rather than anxious. I go to Berlin to morrow…

— To Berlin?

— I take a plane for Berlin tomorrow. I’ll see the Wall, the Spree river, the hotel Eden. I’ll be thinking of you.

A few days later, Gisèle tells me:

— Paul caused a veritable scandal in Berlin. He abruptly left the table at an official dinner. Left the cultural attachés, guests, publishers stranded. He just got up and left.

People say of the sun that it’s bright, dimmed, new. Today it ‘s raining. It is an autumn of floods.

We are walking toward the Luxembourg. We are in Rue de Condé. Walking toward the fountain of Marie de Médicis:

— A great lover, Greta whispers in my ear.

I hold up the umbrella and take her arm. I tell her my definition of sister:

— A sister would still look for what has not really disappeared.

— A sister would wear mourning, she replies.

The basin of the Médicis fountain always seems strange, neglected with its mass of soaked leaves, and out of the way.

— This basin is like my face… You have to look at it for it to feel, live, love in spite of the acne which is my ordeal.

Rain. We walk. The trees and their foliage above us.

A golden sky stretches over the fall.

— Kafka does not measure in order to overcome logic, says Paul Celan. He measures in order to speak to the human being, unaware that the human being is finally only suffering. And the absurd idea to want to measure it, to want — no pun intended — to account for it… count it.

I still remember a remark of L.’s:

— I had gotten to a point in my life where all that was left to do with my days was to buy, buy anything with stolen checks.

My mother is elegant. Why? It’s a spring day. We walk in a dark alley that looks out at fields and vast meadows. My mother is pregnant with my sister. We enter a dank house with a dirt floor. An old toothless woman greets us. The two women turn aside, disappear. Why? I am waiting in a room. Under the door, daylight forms a phosphorescent streak. I feel uneasy. I am seven. I tell Paul Celan of my unease.

— At that time I was In Vienna, he replies, I was on my way toward Paris, toward the Contrescarpe.

— Yes… and my sister was not born.

My mother’s hand in mine against a background of yellowish light. A dark alley with ruts, unpaved. Distant fields covered with coal dust because we are in the middle of the mining basin. And ladies’ shoes in a landscape of nettles. All this does not make me uneasy. There is also a child there with a scooter, always the same, little Michel, a miner’s son. He tries to fly a kite. His attempts let a big red lozenge appear in the opaque sky.

— Hosanna, interrupts Paul Celan. And where is this happening? You told me you were born in the North, near the border, at Bonsecours.

— Yes… and the unease I am talking about is tied to a village where, on Thursdays of my first years of childhood, I visit Mirelle, my first love, who plays the cello and is the daughter of an incestuous union of a brother and sister, Jean and Jeanne. This takes place at Pâturages… in the mining basin.

— At Pâturages?…

— Yes… Will you permit me to tell you an anecdote which gets us away from the unease… and yet recenters it?

— I’m listening, Jean Daive.

— When I arrive in Paris, in bad shape and totally reduced to silence, I decide two things: to read all books and see all films. So I go to the Bibliothèque Nationale from 9 in the morning till 6 in the afternoon and then to the Cinemathèque in Rue d’Ulm from 6:30 PM till midnight. One day in Rue des Ecoles, I notice a poster saying: a classic of world cinema: Verts Pâturages, Green Pastures. My heart seemed to stop. I run there. And what do I see: people… black people wearing white angel wings and singing in paradise, in American… Their feet on a cloud… They are in heaven and… they dance…

— Ah! Ah! Ah! Jean Daive, stop, please, you make me laugh too hard… Green Pastures indeed… Ah! Ah!... Speaking of your black Pâturages.

I watch a tree floating in the sea off Santorini. Homer says, a tree dragged from the mountain top by a donkey is born to sail on the waters. Twice I got lost in the same forest. The beech trees appear and grow larger like smoke. They suffocate the lost child who, advancing and not advancing, becomes an unflinching dike and tears through the shadows.

— Your Médicis fountain, Paul Celan replies, whose mass I admire, juts out like a dike. I agree. Nevertheless it is like us — in perfusion.

The Médicis fountain by a black fence at the edge of an adjoining street: the rosyfingered Great Lover keeps watch, and I look at the Aegean in the fountain basin full of drenched leaves.

Paul Celan loves its size, its proportions, the mass of its plant vault, its goldfish.

L. once said to me: “I came like a guy. Now I’ll turn my back, smoke, snore. And it’s a great lover talking to you.”

Sleep asks me if I’m asleep, if I want anything. I reply that I’m no longer asleep and want nothing. — Listen! it commands. Do you want to arm your city and defend its walls? — But I have no city to defend. — I’m aware of that, but I know you count on the infinite. — That has nothing to do with defending walls that have not seen me being born. — It’s never too late: birth lies ahead. I want you to get up. I want you to run along these anthracite shores and fly your kite above the green pastures. Then your city will be crushed by a permanent atypical pain. — Who are you? — I’ll come back and tell you.

The Seine runs all the way to Charenton in front of the cement works, but it has two arms. I watch it flow away. I am on the fifth floor of a clinic where I wait to be cured. On the table three roses are opening, and the Seine flows through their radiance.

— Why were you at Pâturages? asks Paul Celan.

— The punishment that was Bonsecours was not enough for my parents. For themselves. They looked for even greater punishment at Pâturages, tried to create a kind of inexhaustible reservoir of mortifiaction. Why? To forget life.

— Ah. I think I understand… So that you would not forget it, you, Jean Daive.

— Can I tell you a story?

— Yes, I’m listening…

— One day a tired Michelangelo Antonioni stops his car on some godforsaken village square. He sees an empty café. He goes in. Sits down. A young woman, beautiful, unhappy, miserable, behind the bar. He smiles at her. They exchange first looks and first words. Antonioni asks her first name. She says: “Delitta — delitta from delict, crime, with an a because I’m a girl.” Embarrassment. And long silence. Antonioni is troubled. She comes to his aid. “My father loved my mother, but did not want a child. She begged him. Well then, our child will be called Delitta.”

— What a mark of horror and what bitterness against life… Yes… this story is terrible, murmurs Paul Celan.

Sleep bends over me and warns that it’ll disturb my sleep. — You sleep because you don’t have the guts to fight your own dividedness, says sleep. — I am divided? — You think you are indivisible and you are as divided as possible. Night has come, and according to you we must obey it. The reason is simple. Waking does not keep you in your self-inflicted punishments that you taste drop by drop like a refreshment. — I’ve heard that before, right? — Don’t abandon your city! Save it. Defend its walls. Protect it. — Why fight when it’s enough to set it on fire and burn it all? A city is not a woman. — Troy was. Think about it. Troy was the most beautiful. — And most destroyed. — Most burned in fact. — So? Woman or fire? — I’m leaving, I don’t want to wake you. — I think I’ve seen your jaw before. — I’ll be back.

Childhood again told near the Médicis fountain, childhood and its meadows black with coaldust, its steep, almost vertical alleys, and a whole village of crooked houses resting on pits and working levels that subside and sometimes collapse. We are still on the surface, sigh our neighbors Luther and Hortense. I am eating my soup in a large, bright room when the marbled cement floor opens before my eyes. I say: “Hello, fissure! And go toc! toc! toc! on the table with my spoon. The house is moving. The furniture trembling. The world growling. Two places at the table remain empty. My father is not there. My mother is not there. My sister was not born. A weight acts on the house and all the fissures divide it into infinitely small portions. I look at the gleaming vegetables in my soup while the destruction from the ground is preparing scientifically. One day everything will give way, and the house split apart, but the sky will remain above us, veiled by what lets a child with a scooter take wing: a kite flying high in the air.

The house, I can hear, is fruitful in shocks not of the heart: but the void. There is no certain truth except in the wake of untruth. I rely on the truest judgment of the real because my life is lived in the wake of the negative. The heart is hidden. And I don’t live there.

What remains hidden in the house? A menace can — strike — at any moment. But I have a refuge. One room has no purpose and is not really used. I have pushed a desk under the only window, which looks out on the street. The desk is an airplane that I pilot and make fly. I pass my days lying in it, in front of dials, dashbord, and already sophisticated mechanisms. I fly missions. I bomb cities. My plane is hit. I parachute. My plane burns. I am made prisoner. I go down the sky, down life upside down.

— Basically, sighs Paul Celan, what difference is there between your imaginary games in a paternal desk and the spade with which I dig in a work camp. The password, most often unconfessed, is: extermination, and the idea is always the same: the ones who give life order death. And our suvival, Jean Daive, we owe, just barely… to exposing our resistance. For us, it’s language and a different poetry. Come, let’s go back to the Contrescarpe and the paulownias that you love. Did you have a garden back home?

— Yes, there was a weeping ash, a privet hedge…

— Ah...

— Through which I crept to visit Luther and Hortense… my adpotive family.

The time spent inside the paternal desk is the time of stability. I no longer have to be terrified, waiting for the fissure to move toward me.

I’ve locked the doors, I lie on my back, I look at the dashbord, I calculate and program the trajectory of a catastrophy. The goals have to be reached across states of unbalance. A screened lamp is the moon: it lights the discontinuous transition in process, progress, that finally hits. What? No doubt an Empire whose distant Bang I hear!

— All this is absolutely biblical, says Paul Celan. And I wonder if we do not develop in front of a density, to use your own term… that is a projection of the Bible. Our most daily gestures, our simplest, most normal gestures are charged with our memory of the Bible without us really being aware of it. We come out of the Bible, we are the Bible. And is my spade not the manometer of all times?

In summer silence we walk up Rue des Carmes. We walk along a palissade: it fences in a wild garden and a house with walled up façade. Cries come from inside the walls. We meet a clochard. His feverishness makes us think he is joining the others. Paul Celan says:

— A clochard is a person who closes houses.

— But the houses are not born.

— Verse is our house.

— You think verse has been born.

— The house has been born, verse has been born.

— Verse has been born, or verse exists?

— Verse has been born: it is a birth, isn’t it… a perpetual birth..
you’d say.


UNDER THE DOME: WALKS WITH PAUL CELAN is an intimate testimony of the poet’s last, increasingly dark years before his suicide. The book tells of the friendship of the author with Paul Celan, their collaborations translating each other, their walks, their conversations, their tensions, their silences, and, discreetly, of Celan’s crises and final suicide in 1970.

Part memoir, part prose-poem, the book blurs the time of these encounters (1965 -1970) with the present of the author writing, 20 years later, on a Mediterranean island. He thinks and writes about Celan, about the women that led him to the poet, about other encounters that take place under the sign of Celan: Tarkovsky, Marcel Broodthaers.

Encounters, shared conversations, looks, dialogues, silence, angers, rebellion. Paris: the Luxembourg Garden, the Square of the Contrescarpe. And, finally, the questions: who are we, and how can we read the unreadable world.    –R. W.