Jabès: Journal 2 – about body and death

Journal II * 

Dusk has the skin of an old man. Chiseled by the once-famous rays.

That uneasy position of star on fire and star of water.

Neither here nor there.

The sun has the attention of the sand.

Venus’s flytrap. She eats souls.

The plant turned shooting star surprises the man who is awake late.

Light of the great trees of hunger, with saw toothed leaves.

You cannot contemplate the celestial body.

You taught me to appreciate the velvet paths of a

countertruth for which you took vows.

Your actions took on significance as they carried

out the sentence pronounced by the titled voices of

an implacable justice vexed by certainty. Justice of

wise men and God, likewise Satan’s justice.

It was your lot to be lost in a world not made on

your scale. A world black and glistening like shot

silk where the individual is betrayed by the universe and man.

God’s contradictions are the contradictions of truth.

Wanting to be true you run the risk of never being so. Instants of truth: stake of absence.

Ah, until our death the lie will be the pink sandstone we dig with our angles and the straw on which we burn.

You cannot free salt from its thirst.

Here even the Prince loses his privilege.

Cut in two. Which is mine?

The two halves of a fruit are equally tasty.

Knowing disillusioned your steps. You prefer the other.

Blood in its veins: a melody of mirrors.

Assonance. An echo is a way station of our wanderings,

a chance of the hooked word.

Let every sound be the radiant summer of a step.

Words migrate like birds suddenly turned strangers in their sky, like men in their homes.

I have often asked myself from what horizons they came. Sensitive to the seasons they dream of sunny regions which need not be regions of harsh light. There are stars-like the kind of quartz called cat’s-eye-that are more beautiful than the star of noon for having contained their fire and been careful of their reflection. Their dream is always action.

Knots: eyes sleeping, growing. The tree becomes what it sees.

Water lights up the eyes.

O Yaël, tireless voyage across the lie of oceans, your belly and haunches are the moist shores of desire, your breasts two horizons

caught in the skin. You will founder, too sure of the stuff you are made of, too sure it will float.

I am heavy. Your body is under mine.

We are sinking, Yaël. After you I shall take my last deep breath. I shall keep all the warm air of earth and sky one moment longer in my lungs. One moment, Yaël: the time of the book.

I had given up this journal for the time being. I cannot claim I put it out of my mind.

I prowled around, unable to take up the pen. We were suddenly incompatible-an inexplicable situation like death fighting the memory of death.

This trip to Les Landes, facing the unleashed ocean, the wind and its constant impious onslaught on the world, has only made matters worse.

Spectral condors swelling the mad dreams of the sea, who can say which threat is more ominous, that of night or that of day? The stones did not breathe. Our eyes sunk deeper into our faces, so heavily did the salt-laden air and the dark stick to the skin.

Yaël, you were shut out from my journal. I watched you go about, leave and come back to the other or me, sometimes often to both of us. Your voice was neutral. Your manner unchanged. But the landscape had become so real that it alone could be heard, that it was visibly unique.

The whole universe flowed onto this shore, existed only for it and its austerity at the heart of silence.

The ocean gave us our daily quota of jewels. At low tide we went and took possession. It made us see the tracks of the lie in every shell which you pierced and strung on a thread with other shells, the lie whose history is that of the sea.

One day you put the string around your neck, and I retraced without you, but for both of us, the intimate, tangled path of our seasons of blood.

What is rebellion but the ripening of the lie? Excess eggs it on.

Foam that the ocean spills, froth in which it washes and grinds. So much blood no sooner formed than lost, but recovered in the breakers.

So much blood sacrificed to the exasperating riot of the water.

For hours on end I stared at the flood of our gestures cramped in their space as the most lavish spectacle of pain and horror unfolded, the worse for the terrified silence of the earth.

I was the ground and its restrained trembling, its wet face, its beaten look.

Yaël, life was there, right in front of us, with its possessive past and forecast future. Our bustling is vain where it is only the dizziness of bewildered wings.

Thus events move and sacrifice us to their own momentum. The hour bears witness to an intuition of our acts which it knows to keep on a leash.

Shall we be unprotected on the last voyage our prow carries us?

You will not hide your forehead in your arms folded around their flesh. Water does not shield a body covered with tears. Night is with us in the boat and shipwreck lies in wait.

Yaël, we shall be rain, broken by our defeats. Our mouths salty at the edge of the foggy abyss.

On the beach, your toe had dug up a dead fish. You said to me: “If you overcame your disgust and decided to eat it you would be poisoned.

So it is with truth.” And you added: “Nakedness is the first stage of death. Take me naked. Eternity will deliver me of my flesh.”

And yet, the fear of vanishing, the dread of being smoothed out—for

is form not the courage of curves?—misgivings as to reality which is a lack of reality, i. e., a passive lack, the kind which mopes in its lack—these anxieties, these fears you had to the point of panic and no doubt from the moment when you gave birth to an inert child, to a dumb hope for syllables covered with a bit of flesh.

Nobody can checkmate death.

For the first time, I questioned myself where you did not dare intervene. It was as if you were suddenly stricken with silence in order to isolate, within our tortured history, a question left unformulated

because the answer did not concern you.

I bet on myself, on my passion for life which I had transferred onto you in the love you had kindled.

I bet outside any possible surrender where you lord it waiting for a sign of stifled yearning which you alone could revive.

I bet crowded in an enclave of bleak light where dusk was a haven.

My foot caught in the trap of the moment. A scared visitor where

the fire will soon reach the grain elevators of night. Will I not go on?

From heel to forehead, I am a block of blue sky.

No sooner is a sentence composed than it is flooded.

Where the ocean groans, the book perishes by the book. Could it be that the word of truth has drowned? In that case, hero of the dive, your death would be that of the world.

The other has left us for a week in Spain. We shall wait for him here and go back to Paris with him, in his car.

From her bedroom, Yaël calmly watched him leave.

Yaël said: “Truth opens onto itself. We shall go into the void of truth like a blind demiurge.”

How long have I held a grudge against you for the vagueness you cultivated with subtle calculation? It left you without alliance in the

labyrinths of your hasty conclusions, as if our features no longer showed up in the light and we could be interchanged with impunity, forgetting ourselves and the world, as if the universe suddenly crumbled with the face to serve as posthumous preface to nothingness?

Death is glorious modeling clay for the artist. It will be admired or despised accordingly. Likewise the clay sculpture which, buried in the ground, prefigures man.

Likewise with us, Yaël, at the heart of creation. But if I kick or snort, your work, even though fastened to its pedestal, will smash on its shadow on the ground.

You are hostile towards me as you are towards all that you have not created.

You only accept what comes from yourself. You only take what your own hands offer.

You love the other, not for himself, but against me.

The water’s pain makes the wind groan.

Yaël could not bear the separation she had agreed to. I had the feeling she had let the other go off in her sleep without taking him from her dream. Or was it me who was asleep and dreaming?

Could he only talk about himself to her when she begged that he talk about her?

Porous world, blood oozes out everywhere. O seeds of the most solemn oath.

The agave stem is a feast of misfortune. And it revels in the end of day.

Beautiful gate to the secret of wounds.

Everything is in the book, and God is its lightness.

Giving to read means rising, lighter and lighter, up into the Totality.

It also means suppressing yourself where the word is read.

The sky empties the sky.

The sea swallows the sea.

The earth covers the earth.

Your body is ao empire periodically rebuilt. Your eyes take hold of mine, and I imagine.

Between me and me, Yaël cannot choose.

She tears into my two painted portraits.

The painter lied.

Yaël, who is this artist with a brush more gossipy than your need to plead not guilty each time you appear?

You applaud him where I lose my footing.

Unfeasible absence.

O windows of sleeping glass, sleep holds golden immensities.

And night agrees.

What love potion will give you hope for a short-winded dawn?

Greyness guards our shores.

Uneasy pregnancy of the globe. The days form a circle above the clouds in order to hand around the sun.

Here, flight means a sham upright position with raised arms.

Andriagas champ at the cloud-gate.

You live. You win.

Farewells share the fate of the gods.

Yesterday I got back to my room, my things, my books.

I sat down at my worktable and copied the pages brought back from Les Landes into my journal. Without dating them. What for?

Vacation. The time responsible for our wrinkles held in check by our dreams. No counting. No measuring. But watch out for the awakening. The hour does not abdicate.

Death is a long curtain between us, a hanging which blood cannot stain. It is evenly red, as red as a body torn open just before the end.

This idea I held of death was quickly borne in upon me.

Idea with a double edge. I kill and die, haunted by its serene mark.

The world does not answer to its name or, rather, shows its forgotten side. The sea is the reverse of the sea, and the earth has its earlier features, the miraculous roundness of the beginning.

I read the words of death. Eye that bears fruit, latent eye. The tree dwells on the past of the tree.

Let the world live by its vanquished violence. Let it prosper in its dark guts.

The milestone will always be of stone. But the wave, the shadow:

who could think of fixing them?

Leaving without leaving. Stubborn thirst.

Do not water the anchor. It leads the life of an intruder. The sea rusts and erodes its iron.

Fusion in death allows for the most absurd speculations on the future of the face and its gestation. Thus I resemble you, and together we are different from the separate creatures we were. A mixture of you and me-man or woman?-takes our place. I have your hair, and you find your nose as you look at mine. You have my mouth and my forehead whereas my neck has grown longer and thin to become yours.

When the light dims we grow pale with it. We keep our bodies, but no longer have any purpose.

Yaël and I, joined as we never were before, at the expense of our cheated individualities which love had bullied into choosing one another.

We went beyond what is natural. We opened an era of uncertainty whose eyes reduced to blindness will pay for it.

We shall take up the dream of roots.

A trench. We crawl, heads close to the ground. Thus creeping shadows sniff each sprout of the cautious plant and its hidden motives.

But higher Yaël, higher up, there is the abrogating emptiness within us.

O floodgates of time in its fullness.

From my chair I am watching a bird search through the bereaved morning for the kindness of the world.

Safe from reversals.

It is freezing in our hearts. Ice block. Ice block.

That evening, I listened to Yaël describing our vacation to her friends in our living room.

Exercises on the beach on getting up. Swimming till noon:

“Knocked about by the waves-they came as high as nine feet. We were put down and laughed at endlessly.”

After lunch, we would take the car to Biarritz, Saint-Jean-de-Luz, Ascain.

At Hossegor, “chistera·· parties. And that bullfight which made us go to Bayonne. A bullfight so popular because of one famous matador that even beforehand the fear and excitement spiraled off into unfathomable depths.

In the arena, the fight of death against death, its double representations, human and animal, opposed for an instant in the cruelest ballet this side of the grave.

In a circle, above, sickles of fanatic flames, screams cut off, burned: an audience of arsonists spreading fire with their eyes.

Moments of truth, of which memory keeps the image of weird wounds, as of a flag shredded by the winds and fire of a universe at stake.

Canvas of pain. Embroidery soon spattered with its rose windows of red spears and swords.

Banality of last days. Is there a new kind of chain for criminals’ eyes? Not a blindfold, but real irons to rivet the pupils to the bruised ground, to the rotten roots?

So the flower chaffs the flower, and the blade of grass the butterfly.

Every creature is allotted an acre of void to settle in.

In human terms, does this mean entering into the possession of a vital space? But the most fortunate will never come to own theirs.

The infinite is property of death.

We speak to others, to the enemies of personal statements, in order to open our words to their own plurality.

Agreement and refusal are the arches and turns of discourse.

Man has always died on the road.

A rule of life. Every law is consistent within itself. We want laws to be just so that we can unveil their spirit and submit to it of our own will.

Faith offers its face to the law.

Let this face be of granite, Yaël.

Mountains are the monstrous sight of screams stifled by the earth.


Edmond Jabès, The Book of Questions, Yaël, elya, Aely, Translated from the French by Rosmarie Waldrop, Middletown, Connecticut 1983, (Wesleyan University Press)


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