Persephone 2014

Gwenaëlle Aubry

Artwork by Shay Xie

   it has nothing to do with you, it speaks a language which lacks the letters to spell you 
   it doesn’t belong to you, it’s a story everyone knows 
   it’s worse than death, it’s embalmed, heart and viscera long since thrown to the ghosts of dogs, orifices sutured, mouth nose anus hermetically sealed, a hollow, closed-up corpse swathed in paper, tons and tons of paper on this dried-out corpse and underneath no more flesh or breath or perfume, no more ambergris or musk or benzoin or incense 
   it’s so much bigger than you, it overflows you, it exceeds you, even with ladders, stilts and towers of Babel you won’t reach it,

   for no matter what you do, it does not say I, it does not say me 
   it has nothing to do with you, it doesn’t concern you, and yet one day 
   it saw you 
   it seized you, it clasped you, it snatched you 
   caught by the hair, facedown 
   from within 
   (when? You might say, since you didn’t leave that moment, since, to be quite precise, you aren’t over it
   it made you a great distance 
   carved out a cliff face, a lava smile  
   drew and quartered a shapeless body, vast and open, where all the others live, 
   shadowy, innumerable, unnamed 
   it came to name your desire to be matter 
   your pleasure, your anger 
   the formless tongue droned by dreams 
   and the dictum of a violent beauty 
   of course you searched for the exit 
   (in the end we grow tired of ancient worlds 
   uncut stones and clay) 
   you told other stories, declared a proper name and led your life 
   all your stories were drawn from this one, your life was following suit without much effort and in the keenest part of itself bore that other name 
   you were there, that’s where you were 
   wholly contained and perfectly encrypted 
   a profile lost, invisible 
   under the skein of lines 
   like in a child’s scribbles 
   a child’s game, yes, truly 
   a very elementary drawing 
   several dots to connect 
   and yet it’s all there 
   the men the books the cities 
   the escapes and steady embraces 
   the fits the jolts and the shock 
   (but the softness, no, not the softness, 
   no room for softness in all that) 
   the temples the suburbs the men 
   the lack, as well, 
   the lack lodges there quite easily 
   all that drives you and all that binds you 
   it’s all there, everything is arranged and moves among these few dots. 
   So there comes a day when you tell yourself it’s time 
   time to seize the one who seized you 
   time to understand why you live in a stopped moment 
   and why not always pleasure 
   and why still adolescence 
   —time to root out this poor secret (not small but poor, perhaps, yes) 
   this anonymous figure 
   this empty space that is 
   the truest place

0. Mythomania 
Every being says in a whisper: I belong to the one who
understood me.

—Michelet, La Sorcière
   I entered into the myth by way of a man, Persephone, he told me, I know her well, I’ll introduce you. I was eighteen, with the implacable solemnity of children I played the game, glued the mask to my features, strode into the scene he opened (immense dumpsters, dressing rooms). To enter into the myth, I passed through the mouth, the genitals, the head of a man. He knew her well, he gave me her portrait, a single, pupilless eye lost in a bare oval and, covering the other like a nebula then streaming from the open skull, vague spirals, fossilized patterns, anatomical sections practiced on strange organs and which sometimes fit together into a bestiary (monkey tiger little rodent bird of prey curved neck of a swan) or parted to admit faces, princess with an egg-shaped profile wearing a tiara of feathers, lunar child, flattened faces with hollow cheeks, charnel-house nose, mutable mouth, riven by a smile then sucked in by a scream. A few brief moments from a dream of Persephone. I preserved it faithful for years, years later I look at it, it’s rather kitschy, actually, might as well admit that, but drawn in charcoal directly from his brain, his survivor’s frenzy, his fear of and taste for predation, and through him clearly superimposed on the collective, obsessive, and barbaric dream to which he, like me, has given this name. 
   I entered into the myth as in times past one entered temples: by way of the spiral. I found the dour book (black leather binding yellowed paper Oxford University Press hint of embalming fluid) where a German scholar reproduces it, clumsy, tongue tip poking out of his beard, re-read this impossible book where once I’d tracked down the secret. And the secret, here it still appears, among the excavation reports, the philological analyses, under the beard (or not) of the German scholar who, in the office at the University of Manchester where he took refuge to escape persecution, suddenly falters, founders, writes that the spiral “seems agog to speak,” that “its silent appeal holds you like the eyes of an animal behind the bars of its cage,” then concludes, irrefutable, his proof: “it follows that he who enters this temple is passing through the vulva of the goddess.” 
   I entered into the myth at the same time as I entered into life. The myth was a remarkable machine, a gigantic bow that catapulted you out of childhood, far, so far from the hindrances of childhood, and doubtless far below as well, before the first words, the first bonds, the first narratives. The myth was the first story, the one that all others (and especially my own, which I’d forgotten) could only repeat. 
   The myth was a mighty machine for creating distance. It cast me a stray arrow into Sicily Turkey Greece one suspects, but not solely, it would create space then immediately absorb it, the vague terrain of Stalingrad, the forested region of Gagnoa, the gleaming tables of middle-class interiors and disreputable nightclubs, the clandestine chambers where one would finally be whole because given over to the body of another, the radically desolate suburban zones and the suspicious abundance of certain meadows, all that became integrated into its geography, was positioned according to its dimensions (flat, as a matter of fact, roughly binary). 
   The myth was a machine of war, subterranean and cunning, conducting a relentless campaign of sabotage. Because it was no longer legal tender in the world where you lived (where you still live), because it had lost all market value there, it threw it off balance. Piece by piece it would take it down, and in the end the world would tumble into it. 
   The myth was a marvelous circulatory machine. The myth would give structure to the mishmash, draw from the rubbish heaps, arrange ageless things, archaic debris (so heavy, so rusty), Tinguely’s super-sketchy handyman, the myth would strip unserviceable materials, the myth would recycle and then, in a resounding scrap metal clang, would set everything in motion, and suddenly the current would flow, everything would become lively and fluid, everything would communicate, everything would move. 
   The myth was a fabulous womb. By passing through it I entered into books, for years I did nothing but write it, that’s what I was doing, rewriting the myth, again and again telling this story that doesn’t belong to me and that everyone knows, manuscripts that plotted it were piling up, and when I wanted to recount others (my own included, which I wish to forget), they were all drawn from it. The myth was the atomic nucleus, so active, so unstable, endlessly radiating, which, passing through their matter, would pulverize the narratives, reduce them to their basic elements, earth water fire and air arranged by an archaic geometry. 
   In the end there was nothing left, no story, no subject, no more anecdotes or secrets, nothing but states of crisis, elemental events, the part that was communal, mute and illicit, the mark of a very old disaster. 

Ruin 1 (1989) 
   I am she, O mortals, whose name you dare not speak. My name is the one your teeth hold back during the day and your mouths scream at night. These syllables, whisper them softly: they brush past you in your dreams, they guide you on the path to your nightmares. The men who once loved me knew the power of names. They knew how to close the gate of their teeth, they knew how to distrust their ears. But you, gossipy mortals, airheads, no matter how much you talk, your nights still stir beneath the day’s din. 
   I am she, O mortals, whose name caresses your sleeping bodies in silence. I am the void upon which your arms close, the missing person from your insomniac nights. I am the gaping crack inside you in those moments, I am the hollow that envelops your life. I am the one who wails, those are my cries you hear on the wind. I am the breath born in seeds which dies with them. I am death and life, as well, the death that calls you, sleepy mortals, the life you dream of in the pit of your nights.

   I am she whose name you keep to yourself and whose face only half-appears. Never have I been able to gaze upon my whole self within a mirror. I am beautiful, they say, but on which side does my beauty lie? Whoever wishes to seize it must break me apart. They tried to represent me in times gone by: a double bust, two profiles side by side under a single skull. Who is this woman plastered against me? Am I me or the shadow bound to my steps?
   At any moment the earth can open beneath your feet. Walk straight ahead nonetheless, move forward with your head held high . . . do you see her? They shut her up in a display case because they feared her empty orbs and the ghastly hole of a gaze without pupils. You’re the one the glass protects. Let your eyes wander: you see your reflection mingled with that of the statue, your face half-dissolved, half-petrified. They put a woman under glass. Her lips are just barely parted, like a poorly healed scar, but her thighs are open. She rests her hands on her belly, to either side of her navel. This woman, is she me, is she my mother? My belly is only rounded like that of barren virgins. Wouldn’t I instead be the secret of those spread thighs? Never forget that if I fascinate you it’s because I myself have been awestruck.
   You and I carry on with this soundless walk through petrified forms. Like you, I am waiting for it to reveal my secret. One day before my eyes a stone came to life. On one of its sides a face began to take shape. It was pulling with all its might, nose crooked, mouth open in a grin, cheekbone bulging like the welt from a blow. The eye remained hollow, very wide, with neither pupil nor gleam. And I felt something inside me struggle to escape shapelessness. And something, too, which wants nothing more than to give in to it. Am I the face seeking to take shape or the darkness absorbing it? 
   Long ago (I now remember), long ago I was Kore: I was a young girl, I danced, I bore the name of the gleam that flickers in lovers’ eyes. I was Kore, I became Persephone, was crowned queen of the dead, mistress of Hades. 

   At this point even I don’t know where I want to take you. Men only know how to walk: they leave diving to the fish, slithering to the snake. Only the dead know how to stand still: let the earth be light for them if all they need is a handful! The earth caressed by the snake—why do you living persist in trampling it? Have you never dreamed that it is my own skin, sometimes my sky, that you offend so? Raise your head toward me and you will see the earth from the other side. Take your body with your soul, seize your flesh with your teeth—follow me. I know now you hear my name. 

1. Kore (Theory of the Young Girl) 
Everything will be good, my lovely one, everything will be good, 
we don’t want to hurt anything, force anything; 
everything will be very good. 

—Pierre Jean Jouve, Hecate, Trans. Lydia Davis
   You are eighteen years old, you believe yourself immortal (and you’re right since it’s still you saying I through me). You are eighteen and you leave, you run, you move on, leaving, you do that very well, it’s almost what you’re best at, when you were younger you left behind family dinners, classrooms, men who laid you on their beds or showed you your nudity in the mirror, you would jump up, you would slip through the doors without ever slamming them, and you would run, hurtle away, drunk with flight. Now, you leave nothing, nothing and no one (besides yourself, perhaps). You don’t flee, you press forward, you rush about, without knowing where. You are once again in a dark corridor, a narrow stall to contain your leaps, closed doors on either side (behind one of them is your mother), but at the end, at the very end, this whiteness, this whiteness flaring out, hypnotic, blinding. You go toward it, light or void, you don’t know, you can’t quite see, you can’t tell. 
   You know you must move quickly. Time counts even for immortals. You’re on the lookout, on the lookout for the inevitable, the fault line, the lightning bolt, the moment that will seize you by the hair and turn your head forever. You know it’s waiting for you, the moment when you slide, the precipice-moment, that it’s watching for you too, voracious, impatient. You don’t want to miss it. 
   You go out. You walk down the street. This is you, before all else, at eighteen: that girl going down the street who walks, sometimes runs, in great leaping bounds ruled by no rhythm, advances, does not fall (would like to fall). Men follow you, from their mouths fly words like thrown knives, their blades vibrate and slice the space between them and you, but you move quickly, they don’t hit you, they barely sketch your figure on the still air. No shadow attaches itself to your steps. 
   (It must also be said that it is an eternal April, cruel, imperious, and piquant, that no façades or crossroads ever stood out so crisply, as if the city, where you are continuing along, were just sculpted from a glacier, sharpened into acute angles that slice into you with every step. The world is beginning, as well, it is not yet tarnished, not yet dulled.) 
   You move quickly and straight ahead, legs bare, hair blown by the wholesome breeze. Only the men on the ground stop you, lying full-length or kneeling, marble statues cut off at the knees, eroded and filthy gods. They know your name, they hail you, young lady says one, dollface the second, and little sister the third: you stop. He is seated on the bank, river flowing at his feet, hoisted high on bundles of paper tied up with string, yellowed sheets smelling pungently of dog, and you can already guess—later on he will tell you—that they’re soaked in piss and recount his story. There he is enthroned on the eternal history of fallen gods, deposed fathers, and consecrates this theogony with piss. 
   You continue forward. You’re on the lookout for the encounter, another one, the real one, you hunt for signs of it, you decipher them even in the faces of passersby, street names, impassive statues. You also lift your gaze toward the birds in the milky sky, but their cries tear you up, and those magnetic clouds they sometimes form, when evening comes, in great rustlings of wings, those compact, erratic flocks, that suddenly burst from the foliage and wheel about, magnetized, frantic, screeching their panic. You are afraid of not knowing how to read it, of missing the promise contained within this cry. 

   So you go home. You, too, search frantically, gropingly, for books, films, records in accord with that promise, which tear you up just as much. You read impossible books, books for bedding down outside, for sleeping under bridges, and still others, which will become your sacred texts, which you know were born of this specific place you’re searching for though unable to name it, that they bear intact (black fire on white fire) the burn of it, and you tell yourself it would be enough to copy down those lines where it flares hottest, to reverse, perhaps, one or two letters, in order to find the absent one that encodes the secret. 
   Between grief and nothing you choose nothing, grief is stupid, it’s a compromise, should be all or nothing: you know it, too, and looking in the mirror you often pass your thumbnail over your lower lip. You want to live breathlessly, on the run raw-souled, you have the reserves and the momentum for it. You sing Ground Control to Major Tom (you are floating in a most peculiar way), you sing I don’t belong here (you run, run, run, run)
   (I could laugh at you peck you raw fling the mud of years into your face. I could. What could be easier. I know: your ignorance, your ridiculousness, your naïveté, your schoolgirl notebooks, your clumsy sentences. I could, sardonic, superior, ironclad, declare you mortal. You inspire no tenderness in me, it is not you whom I love, not you to whom I am loyal: it’s to everything that took you outside of yourself, to what seized you, to what abducted you, left you mute and gasping for breath, with no answer to Who am I?, no name to declare, because in that failure, for me, still, and forevermore, lies the key to Who goes there?
   In the shadows of your attic, you are also these five girls ensnared in a mess of blonde hair, records, lingerie, and paper flowers. You are the short one, who wears plastic bracelets to hide the scars on her wrist, you are the choragus, the transient queen of the ball shoved into the impeccably green grass of a soccer field then abandoned, you are all five together, barefoot in the garden under their white nightgowns, encircling the sick old elm tree with their arms. You are the five Lisbon sisters, The Virgin Suicides makes me think of you, and even (and also) in its soft focus, its slow motion, its sentimentality: because, young lady, you are commercial flesh, living currency, meat. You carry the world’s gold in your hair, on your so-white skin, between your closed thighs. You only have to go out into the street to gauge your reign, the power they grant you and whose attributes they briefly lend you (imperial purple, stardom, and jewels) to better dethrone you later, to reduce you to prey to be chased, enjoyed, or married. 
   The majority enjoy a young girl as they enjoy a glass of champagne, at one effervescent moment . . . This momentary enjoyment is a rape, and in a rape there is only imagined enjoyment
. Have you read Diary of a Seducer? That will be for later, when you are seeking to understand. But you already know you are a moment: you stand there, balanced on this point, arms tense, feet arched, high up and fragile. 
   You bear the name of the doll (you are Kore), effigy in wax, in plaster, malleable and brittle. You can still be seen in the display cases at museums, multiplied in terracotta figurines, in theories about naïve and imploring statuettes. Your name is also that of the little idol that floats in men’s eyes when desire drowns them. You know this. 

   You know this but you want none of it, or in any case not like that, not in miniature, not ready-made. You want to be a great lover, of course. But the story you’re looking for has not yet been told. Will you be a vestal virgin or a holy whore? From where you stand, dancing, and in very delicate balance, everything is open, everything is empty. No lines on your map nor wrinkles on your brow. All masks fit your face (do you already have a face?), all gestures your body, and the earth into which you sink your finger to taste it has countless flavors. You can still become a kouros, a young man with a subtle smile and smooth chest, stone or walnut, bitch or mare. You are this frame without a mirror which the world passes through whole, your name is neutral, your flesh virgin wax (those who penetrated it barely grazed you, you do not retain their mark). 
   Like your comrades, you participated in rites. 
   You followed Artemis into the swamplands, the sancta of boundaries. You played the she-bear in the forest. With the other girls, you sacrificed your braids and dolls to her, you said obscene words, looked at forbidden images. Like them, you hung from the branches of walnut trees, strange fruit with legs lacerated by brambles.
   You followed the boys into the vacant lot. It’s their secret, the place apart, the intercalary island they’ve carved out in the midst of the city. One of the two (his graffiti tag is Scipio) introduced you to it. There, you’re the only girl (it’s possible you take a certain pride in that). You follow him, you wear the same clothes as he does, you skin your wrists climbing the wall (you’ll wear bracelets to hide it). You sit on the battered sofa, you smoke whatever they (Scipio, Lokiss, the man-bear) pass to you, you listen to Sugarhill Gang, Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, you watch them paint their aerosol frescoes. They wear masks, they have the lean and nervous bodies of young wolves, they move quickly, so quickly, they paint as if on the attack, knees bent, upright in a flash, their stolen spray cans held at arm’s length, the wall is covered quickly, the background black or white, the letters appear, they reinvent their contours, twisting in wildstyle, inorganic angles, double S’s in a spiral, they take a step to the side, listening, there’s a siren in the distance and, just above the wall, the metallic din of the elevated railway, they resume, project feverish halos in spray paint, great rhythms of orange and purple, in the end they themselves are spattered with colors. At night, they go without you into the catacombs, along the rails of the RER, onto factory roofs. They graffiti the name they’ve invented for you onto the fences. 
   With them, the wolf-boys, the bear-girls, you take a walk on the wild side, you traverse the time apart. But you want to stay in this time, to settle in the intercalary zone. You know these rites have no other object than to bring you, docile, reconciled, to the city gates, to integrate you with the cohort of mother-wives, neck bent head shaved. You are seeking another rite, which remains to be established, a rite that breaks the circle, the cycle, you are seeking a rite of disintegration.  
   It’s always in the springtime. You followed a woman of motherly age, with a mother’s full face, as well, and her wide hips. You met her at the home of Elisa Breton, the one dreaming at the beginning of Arcanum 17, the one whose eye structure, surmounted by an imperceptible moon, was enough to persuade that eternal youth is not a myth. Both of them, Elisa, Liliana, know that you want to leave. They’re going to help you. A few weeks later, you, along with your friend S., are on the side of a highway in Macedonia. You’re waiting at the foot of a clear-cut mountain on which the name Tito is engraved in golden letters. Liliana told you that a car would stop and drive you to Skopje. You squint into the partly cloudy morning light blurring the asphalt into liquid waves. Cars slow down, men lower the windows to hail you (or maybe insult you) in an unknown language, open the car doors and invite you to get in. Noon comes, makes the golden letters sparkle in the harsh glare, overwhelms the fields of wheat. You stay standing out of fear they won’t see you, S.’s makeup, which every day, beneath her black curls, draws Betty Boop’s features onto her tanned skin, mouth very red and mascara thick, is sloughing off bit by bit. At last, someone calls you by your names, picks you up, you cross Skopje: a stark plane skirted by the river, very wide, metallic, immobile, and locked in edge to edge by the mountains and concrete towers. They drop you off in front of the old train station, underneath the clock stopped at the time of the earthquake. Liliana is waiting for you. She takes you out to eat cheese and olives, serves you a fermented barley drink that immediately makes your heads spin. In the streets as you follow her, you stumble a little. It’s a different city all of a sudden, narrow streets, ochre walls that absorb your shadows. After that, you don’t know anymore, everything dissolves into a sort of stupor, Liliana is studying ritual dances, she pulls you and S. along behind her, so there’s this hallway, scarves with which you must cover your heads and arms, then this room, on the right, thick carpets on the floor, narrow benches on all sides, nothing more, but on the walls, hung by the dozens—elaborate, finely worked like oklads or silver jewelry, glittering under the steady light of this eternal noon—blades, of all shapes and sizes, daggers, military sabers, knives, épées, straight, curved or twisted, sharpened according to a very precise geometry of pain, an exact science of penetration, angles resistance nerve bundles since they (the dervishes, Liliana whispers in your ears) drive them into their flesh at the height of trance. She follows the man. You (too young, not yet ready) are staying put. You stretch out on the benches. You fall asleep. Afterward, you recall roads, mountains, forests. It’s a house in Albania. They serve you overly sweet cakes and shut the leftovers up in a black wooden chest (bears prowl the night). Early in the morning they wake you, give you white clothing, very strong alcohol in miniature glasses, nauseating, and have you and S. sit on a balcony overlooking the wedding scene (garden, courtyard, clearing, you don’t know anymore, in any case it’s the only place where the trees loosen their grip, as far as the eye can see). Liliana is elsewhere, with the dancers. You stay there until nightfall (you think you remember). You have a role to play, you don’t know what, you’re witnesses, you don’t know what of. 
   I am looking at a Chris Killip photo: it depicts, off-center, a little blonde girl, long locks tousled, face of a lion cub, lips and eyelids strangely bulbous. She’s wearing a lycra jacket with the zipper pulled up to her chin, a dark knee-length skirt, white socks, old sandals, too light. All around her, a waste land, at once dune and dump, can lids, heaps of white ash, a disemboweled TV, bits of wood mixed with the dry grass, a rusty swing. In the background, divided by a rope strung between two poles and as if washed up there, a pile of coal, further on the sea, gray, slack, its foam white as the ash. The little girl tilts her head, serious, concentrating, almost scared. Her left arm is held up, palm taut as if to refuse, to rebuff, the right, opened out horizontally, very accurately traces what they call second position in classical dance. Around her, half leaning on her thighs, half on the ground, is a hoop. She has one foot outside, the other inside. Perhaps (no doubt) she made it turn about her hips, for no reason, for play, for the empty sea and the broken things. But her legs are arched, her whole body tense, her face so serious: she looks like she’s fighting with the circle of wood, as if seeking to get herself entirely inside or out, we don’t know. 
   That little girl with the hoop, say what you will, it’s still you. 
   You are still that child alone in the wasteland, whether the slopes of Etna girdled by your mother or Ireland’s mining country, 
   and who, serious, absent, graceful, plays, 
   plays for the empty sky and the waveless sea, invents a game encoded by no one, a formless rite, 
   stands at the edge, at the exact point when the cycle can be broken or sustained, still hesitates 
   (one foot out, one foot in, a gesture of refusal, another of acceptance), 
   and then, suddenly, dances backward.

Ruin 2 (1990) 
   I was playing in a meadow. With me: 
   Leucippe, Phaeno, Electra and Ianthe—Melite, Iache, Rhodeia and Callirhoe—Melobosis, Tyche, Ocyrhoe fresh as a flower—Chryseis, Ianeira, Acaste and Admete—Rhodope, Plouto and Calypso—Styx the seductive, Urania and Galaxaura—the Oceanids.
   They are called Bathukolpoi because their breasts are ample, hidden beneath the folds of their clothing, and because on seeing them you’d think you looked upon swirls of seawater carved by the wind. We were holding hands and dancing. We were spinning barefoot, fingers entwined, faster and faster. I was striking the dry ground, stamping down hard, and the others were following suit, docile, free-flowing. No music: our feet on the dry ground, our breathing, occasionally a brief cry a laugh, the shrillness of the cicadas, close by the groan of the sea, gray and slack under the noonday sun. We were spinning, spinning, feet sticking to the earth from the juices of crushed flowers, fingers entwined in a damp chain, heads flung back. Above us, very pale, erased by the light, the constellations, the animals tamed, drawn and quartered, shattered and, nailed up limb by limb along with them, the great malefactors, cast headlong from the night of the Earth into that of Heaven and who like us are spinning, spinning endlessly without escape, stirring round the circle, frozen with boredom. It was the dance of power and I was leading it, the choragus, like the others a world worker, a cycle weaver. Like the others, I was raw ore, foodstuff; that’s what they (gods men) expected of me: nourish the world instead of making holes in it. Become cold fire. Skip a pebble across the smooth sky. And, above all, do not disturb the pantomime. For it would have taken only a trifle (swerve false step dive) for the dance to change form—the triangle where our bellies lodge, the spiral that crinkles there—and honor them, the triangle the spiral, for no reason, for play, in a cult without words, a dazzling and futile rite. 
   Instead I was spinning, and the others with me, fingers sweating and bodies freezing, and with every revolution we could see the stars grow a little less pale, we could hear, behind the walls, before the sea, the city livening, squares markets passersby quickening pace, humming with life. The dead who walk the town needed us. With every revolution they regained color and heft, they advanced more quickly, they nearly had faces. But we, with every revolution, and even though it was going so quickly that our gowns, our hair, our features were melting into a single blurred wave, with every revolution we were losing a bit of shape, a bit of fire, we were going to become air, I could feel it, then water then earth, frozen dust thrown high into the cage of the sky or only good for sticking to the soles of your feet. Or else (but it’s the same) we were going to find ourselves on the streets, between the walls, lined up two by two between the arrow-slits, marching in step, in order, in our white bridal gowns, then heavy and slow with our pregnant bellies, nodding our docile shaved heads, saying yes 
   yes to everything, to the trapped stars and the march of the dead, to the useful rites and the hollow phrases, to the rumors, to the markets, to the rhythms and the laws, yes to the order, yes to the cycle, to all the cycles, the one that makes the great damned souls in the night sky turn like little rodents in their wheel, the one that changes the grain into grass, the grass into wheat, the wheat into shit, the one that folds and refolds the sea like an old sheet, the one that kills the fire in the earth, the one that makes the girls dance to better shackle them, the one that burdens then empties their bellies, the one that reigns over their blood. 
   I grit my teeth. I sank my nails into the liquid hands I was holding, shoved my feet firmly into the earth: I stopped it all. For one moment the dance wavered like a wind-blown flame, we could have fallen, collapsed on one another a house of cards queens of clubs, but it was still too soon, we stayed motionless for a moment in perfect silence, no more cries breaths or waves, and then, suddenly, I took the first step in a shattered dance.

translated from the French by Wendeline A. Hardenberg

Used by permission of Mercure de France.