The Form Of A City Changes Faster,
Alas, Than The Human Heart

Jacques Roubaud

In Spring

Approximate spring

(21 March + or - x days

(x variable — if x approaches 365 we say

" ain't no more seasons!"

or we say

" lousy spring!"))

approximate spring, I said

the trees

no longer dressed

only in sparrows


are coming back to the trees

or else the trees

are picking up leaves

they're turning green

for some time we saw them

hesitate, finger the air,

scrutinize the clouds

watch their neighbors out of the corner of an eye

then suddenly there they go

they take the plunge

approximate spring

(it's the ones with " caducous" leaves that go for it

the English call them deciduous

because of their decisiveness

" persistent leaved" evergreens with

nothing left to decide

pull a long face


from years of urban


on the trees

baby leaves shiver

little leaves feel their way, fragile, slowly

unfolding their buds

the breeze holds them tenderly on their stems

as saith the po-wet


the leaves go for it, proliferate


trees spread, mirror themselves in fountains



the blue of the sky

that's it

spring's here

so it happened

this year (nineteen hundred ninety-four)

in Paris

in the Tuileries

in the Luxembourg Gardens

in Park Montsouris

in the Square des Blancs-Manteaux

at the foot of Sacre-Coeur in the Square Saint-Pierre

I checked

and have no reason to think

it was otherwise


Boulevard Pereire

between Boulevard Pereire

north side

and Boulevard Pereire

south side


bulging with red

roses and pink

roses and

white roses

rain down petals wet

with the rain of a Pentecost Monday in June

if I were fifty years younger

they would come down tongues like as of

fire—I would understand all dialects

and would speak to the roses

red roses, pink roses, white roses

in the original tongue.

A Couple in Unison

Rue Rambuteau


at eleven

he and she

she and he

in unison

dip their heels in the gutter

that drains

the fish store slush



scrape them

against the sharp edge of the sidewalk

having tread some ripe shit

whatcha know

I say to myself

here's a couple in real unison


not the case — the one and the other

off on their separate shitty way

Autumn in Rue du Printemps

The foliage on Boulevard Pereire (looking south)

Is already turning



They should block off that resolute-

Ly drab street from Spring Street with

A big tick curtain and not draw it

Until spring.


You'd only catch an allergy

if you tried too hard to face

the Arc de Triomphe on the Place

de Coudenhove-Kalergi

We are alone, me and a cat

come to piss below the plaque

of this Austrian diplomat

(Advocate of European unity, founder of the Council of Europe 1894-1972)

November! For what retreat could we go pack!


When will the wind have taken all of you

Water washed your every image away

Emptied out fold by fold of my brain

The camphor reek of your death day

When will my tongue attacking you

Grown pallid, finish its attack

Your scape completely stripped

Of sky's blue and of dirt's black

When will ceasing cease, cease

From unceasing pressure, the press

Of your cold eye across my rods and cones

When will earth, the earth between

Bark and sap, assume the weight

Of your sedentary bones

Queneau in November

I see him walk along the Seine

Color of sky color of water

He's dreaming of a world well dreamed

Where numbers tend to give in better

To machinations of the poem

I can see how the leaves are fallen

In puddles of low fading light

Is it December? or November?

And as soon as the leaves have fallen

One takes one's notebook out for poems

Walking the bank along the Seine

It's evening now: the poor sunlight

Is getting weaker. He'd do better

To let his shadow take to water

Under the showers of November

Dreaming meanwhile the number dreamed

Shadows in fall soak up the water

Our pumps don't do it any better

Gummed up with all those dead leaves fallen

Into the gutters of November

The evening now directs its light

To the tablet reserved for poems

Where is inscribed the number dreamed

While walking here along the Seine

Here exigencies of the poem

Can be read in the clearest light

So must it all fall in the water

The whole scaffolding he has dreamed

For his octogrammic November?

Alas it could have been far better

In April. All along the Seine

The leaves of all the trees have fallen

Alas it would have been far better

In April rather than November

Shorter would have been the poem

Pleasant the banks along the Seine

In April. Month so often dreamed

So clear the sky, fountain of light

Up fly the leaves already fallen

Back to the trees down by the water

O puddles of so sad a light!

Nevertheless, the number dreamed

Four by four who could do better

So many images have fallen:

Oyez, ahoy, rudds of the Seine

Oy, good oysters of November

Night's negative ignites the water

Plenty material for a poem

Was it December or November

I see him walk along the Seine

Holding his page up to the light

Blackened with figures, damped with water

He walks upon leaves that have fallen

He's dreaming now of the world dreamed

Where words and numbers in the poem

Take to each other, blending better

I write here once more the word 'dreamed'

I write the words here: 'number,' 'water'

I ask myself: well why November?

Why on earth oyster, and why poem?

The leaves have all already fallen

Along the sad banks of the Seine

It's raining now. For trees that's better

Even and gradual the light.


Fall of a dream in some November

I've watered this pome in the Seine

The best I'm able, by my light.

translated by Keith & Rosmarie Waldrop


The book is forthcoming from Dalkey Archive Press in fall 2006