from The North Face of Mount Juliau, Six

The Poem as Installation: Overyellow

Nicolas Pesquès

What color do we live in after the eyes?
when does it begin?

YELLOW opens a reading space to which we are attached:
seed, hill, painting compressed

thus fitting into new sentences

. . .

and if yellow is compressed, then YELLOW is something said
several verbs, several aspects sensed

owed to another resemblance, as if one more letter
had been added to the alphabet

yellow seen and YELLOW read.

Once YELLOW is pronounced, the poem becomes unthinkably real.
You see that you no longer know what you see. You see
that what you wanted in the forest of English broom cannot be taken in.

A cyst as injurious as it is magnificent.

Extracted, an embodied difference.

­­­Don't think I've left the mountain, nor encountered a miracle of language.
Yet what remains impossible is very much here; the pain seems to stretch
all the way to the expressible.

Undescribed, indescribable.
YELLOW somehow digitized, extremely blindingly thin.

. . .

yellow hindered by its splendor.

The color of love will be thwarted.
At the moment, it's called a collapse into certitude.

YELLOW on tomb
my body from somewhere else, my other bodies.

. . .

easily inciting a negation in the landscape:
tender animals, constrained trees,
black wind.

Overthrown, double-exposed—and at the same time, platform.
To believe that it's enough. That breathing is abolished, that the echo of the heels is binding

Yellow not denied and NOT-YELLOW accepted.
A convergence of circumstances. A vital minimum.

. . .

A minimum of silence.

decapitated law,
so poor, so little an image.

. . .

YELLOW-LAW right up against the eyes, air's awls, raising the hill, the watching body

a single sentence could, through infirmity, find its duration, take care of the pain.

Out there in the landscape, YELLOW is what's added, both trimming and giving breath, a margin in which the broom maneuvers.

It's lit up, like turbulence
by which what is already lost in the words and pictures
goes back and settles on the horizon.

. . .

YELLOW gives a powerful push. Powerful is evidence
for the eye, a lighthouse emitting night.

We think that, faced with a landscape, words can
supply a reproduction, but it's something else
entirely, and the resulting construction is oddly
so hard to live with, so much less Edenic than
its model.

. . .

I wish the sentence could be seen coming out of a wall,
carrying off its chasm, reading the woods.

translated from the French by Cole Swensen

Read the original in French

Read translator’s note

Nicolas Pesquès is the author of fifteen volumes of poetry and creative non-fiction; his last several books of poetry focus on a single mountain, Juliau, in the Ardèche region of south-central France. These are the opening pages of La face nord de Juliau, six. Two volumes of the series have been published in English translation: Physis (Free Verse Editions 2006) and Juliology (Counterpath Press, 2009). Pesquès has also written extensively on visual artists, including Gilles Aillaud, Aurelie Nemours, Jan Voss, Anne Deguelle, and Paul Wallach. He divides his time between the Ardèche and Paris.

Cole Swensen is the author of fourteen collections of poetry, most of them focused on a single issue or question—formal gardens, illuminated manuscripts, the manufacture of glass, etc. Her most recent book, Gravesend, looks at the cultural history of ghosts, and her current project, Landscapes On A Train, melds photography and text to engage landscape as a fluid medium. She divides her time between Paris and Providence RI, where she teaches in the Literary Arts Department at Brown University.

La face nord de Juliau is, on the one hand, a work about place—it is the attempt to construct, through writing, the possibility of place in the external world. It's an attempt based on the recognition that the "external world," too, is constructed of and through language, and so Pesquès's interrogation of the mountain that dominates his landscape is also an interrogation of language, how it brings us the world and how it simultaneously denies us access to it. But the series is also—one could even say, is only—about color, about the irrepressibility and the impact of the vivid. Slowly growing throughout the collection is a suggestion that color is a living thing in a way that nothing else alive is. And that color alone has the power to exhaust language, to mitigate its tyranny over our lives. In volume six, the color is yellow—the vivid yellow of the English broom that blooms outrageously, uproariously all over the mountainside every year in June. Pesquès here views that yellow as a work of installation art, a physical shout of YELLOW that fills the visual field with endlessly opening, infinitely detailed color. Language becomes a way, finally, to simply be able to look at it. And that looking becomes in turn a way to participate in it, to fuse for a split-second with its brilliant, blinding life.