Friday, December 26, 2008


In February 1948, Henri Michaux’s wife, Marie-Louise, after surviving four years of the Nazi occupation and a fight with tuberculosis, died of complications from burns when her nightgown caught fire. The next year, Michaux published Poetry for Power, a short book of 3 “action poems” intended “to transform what is wrong, the enemy, the irritating situation, hostile surroundings into energy.” As he wrote in the Afterword:
There is a certain threshold beyond which, but not before, a thought-feeling counts, counts differently, counts genuinely and takes on power. It may even spread out in all directions …

—Henri Michaux, Afterword: Powers and Maledictions (trans. David Ball)
The poem he designed to heal “a person who was very dear to me” (she healed) seemed a good way to send out 2008 and brace for the new.

Opening the door inside you, I have entered
To act, I come
I am here
I support you
You are no longer abandoned
You are no longer in difficulty
Their strings untied, your difficulties fall
The nightmare that left you haggard is no more
I am shouldering you
With me you place
Your foot on the first step of the endless stairway
Which carries you
Which brings you up
Which fulfills you

I appease you
I am spreading out sheets of peace in you
I am soothing the child of your dream
Surge in fronds on the circle of images around the frightened woman
Surge on the snows of her paleness
Surge on her hearth… and the fire lights up again

Your thoughts of thrust are supported
Your thoughts of failure, weakened
My strength is in your body, slipped inside
..and your face, losing its wrinkles, is refreshed
Sickness no longer makes its way in you
Fever leaves you

The peace of vaults
The peace of flowering prairies
Peace comes back into you

In the name of the highest number, I am helping you
Like a smoking crater
All the heaviness rises off your overburdened shoulders
The wicked heads around you
Venomous observers of the miseries of the weak
Can see you no longer
Exist no longer

A crew of reinforcements
In mystery and a deep line
Like an undersea wake
Like a bass chant
I have come
This chant takes you
This chant raises you up
This chant is animated by many streams
This chant is fed by a calmed Niagra
This chant is entirely for you

No more pincers
No more dark shadows
No more fears
There is no more trace of them
There is no need to have them
Where pain was, is cotton
Where scattering was, is solder
Where infection was, is new blood
Where locks were is open sea
The carrying sea and the fullness of you
Intact, like an egg of ivory

I have bathed the face of your future.

—Henri Michaux, TO ACT, I COME, trans. David Ball

1 comment:

Nada said...

Thank you for this, Rodney. The poem truly is a beautiful and heartbreaking act of relevance. I don't remember now who it was that originally reminded us that the word "composition" also evokes the physical/emotional process of healing. (was it Gerald Burns? Gary, remind me...)

Totally not wanting to be irreverent, I do also want to say that her story is a kind of argument for either a)sleeping in the nude or b)choosing a nightgown (they make them now) in a flame-retardant fabric.

Anyway, seriously, and meaning no disrespect: beautiful.