Jean Cocteau and poems from GRACE NOTES [Appogiatures] in Waxwing

“Alone,” one of four prose poems from my new translation of Jean Cocteau’s GRACE NOTES [Appogiatures] in the elegant journal WAXWING:

Jean Cocteau
Seul debout. Seul assis. Seul couché. Seul sur the gril. Seul écartelé par les chevaux de labour dont il ne voyait que les croupes. Seul pendu et son sperme devint mandragore. Seul dans la vitesse qui n’est pas, dans la minute qui n’est past, dans l’espace qui n’est pas, dans le temps qui n’est pas, dans l’éternité qui n’est pas, dans the rien qui ne l’est pas, dans le vide plein de boue. Seul dans un bloc de quartz ignoble, dans un iceberg en voyage. Seul avec la solitude qui n’en est pas une. Avec la lune qui fut sans être. Avec ses pas qui n’en sont pas. Avec ce tison qui se croûte et qui brûle au milieu et se croûte et brûle dans un songe qui n’est même pas un songe. Seul avec le sommeil du condamné à mort.

Translated by Mary-Sherman Willis
Alone standing. Alone sitting. Alone lying down. Alone on the grille. Alone drawn and quartered by workhorses, seeing only their rumps. Alone hanging, ejaculating a mandrake. Alone in the quickness that isn’t, in the minute that isn’t, in the space that isn’t, in time that isn’t, in eternity that isn’t, in the nothing that isn’t, in an emptiness full of mud. Alone in a corrupted chunk of quartz, in an iceberg floating by. Alone in solitude that isn’t. With a moon that was without being. With his footsteps that aren’t footsteps. With this ember that crusts over and burns at its center, and crusts and burns in a dream that isn’t even a dream. Alone in the sleep of the condemned to death.




In her review, “Journeys Into Foreign Terrain,” Barbara Goldberg writes,

“Willis, who teaches at George Washington University and received her MFA from Warren Wilson College, is at the peak of her craft. Hers is a big book, with big themes, resonating with allusions to the Bible and Greek tragedy.”



She’s let herself go, they’re saying,

as if her self were a balloon

loosed over the street, its string fraying,

or like milk in a hot room

turned to curds. As has her flesh—

and true, her back teeth are missing,

her lipstick’s less than fresh

on her worn mouth (& not from kissing),

her roots have grown out, & her scent’s

the musk of her own skin. This kind

of self-forgetfulness, of a self spent,

in a girl would be a sign

of self-harming rage. It’s another thing

in a woman her age who has only one fight,

it’s come down to that: to find

a self to hold on to, & use it use it use it.

in The Southern Poetry Review 52:1 Summer 2014