Translated from the French by Marilyn Hacker

Marilyn Hacker received the 2009 PEN Award for Poetry in Translation.


Preface by Marilyn Hacker

Marie Étienne has always composed poetry and prose alternately or simultaneously, seeing the genre barrier as arbitrary in many instances. In an extended essay in a recent issue of the journal Formes poétiques contemporaines, she examined the prose poem as genre, with its attractions and pitfalls, and scrutinized its uses by a variety of contemporaries. She resists the idea of a “collection” of poems, seeing in each book of her poetry as much unity as in a work of fiction, and concomitantly regards some of her fiction as approaching the long poem in prose. Indeed, “fiction” is as limiting a definition of her work in prose as “collection” might be of her carefully constructed poetic works. Some of these books could more properly be called extended memoir than novels: extended, that is, into an individual or familial past, but with an elaboration that has more to do with acknowledged imagination and linguistic invention than with documentary reconstruction.

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King of a Hundred Horsemen


In my childhood, I had learned how to run quickly
around tables.
The more I ran, the less often I was caught.
Punctual Santa Clauses came all the way to the tropics,
they brought me books that I would read, rewrite.
I cut the pages with my fingers holding them down the
middle, no need of any tools.
They called me dear sorrowful one.
I had learned very early what it cost to carry that. My
burdens, afterwards, only grew.
It was wartime, I didn’t get away from that, I didn’t get
over that.
We had gone far away, I got used to being elsewhere,
the unnamed.
So I insist: to write is to take a running start on untan-
gling the blanks.
There were two Barbarians, were ten, were a thousand,
you couldn’t see them but you heard them.
Little right-angled streets. Behind closed shutters, the
shadows of a party.
When I arrived in the garden, guests were turning the
spits, women seated in the midst of their dresses.
Everyone was eating handfuls of rice and fish from
enameled bowls.
Velvet, lamb suint.


I’ve traveled my whole life long in countries with
splendid names. I’ve entered into their legends as if I were
a king myself.
“Pero me gustan también las rosas.”

I’ve made my way up yellow rivers in patched-up boats,
climbed the thousand peaks and crossed the marshlands.
“Pero me gustan también las rosas.”

In those countries become my own, I have built roads
and houses, bridges, aqueducts and railroads, fed, cared
for and sometimes healed.
“Pero me gustan también las rosas.”

I have also brought the fire of our cannons and our
bombs, destroyed, killed, buried, for these countries were
not my own.
“Pero me gustan también las rosas.”

But at present I live at ease between the sea and the
mountains, I read books to understand the meaning of
each thing.
“Pero me gustan también las rosas.”


Conversation. Excitement.
And overblown promises.
One cries out. Fatigue.
The countryside, outdoors, magnificent.
One governs minimally. But at least decides what’s pos-
Every idea of death leads back to the lack of love. Every
death: to that one.
The effort to be in the world. The struggle.
To keep one’s eyes open when one’s eyelids are weighed
A nightmare.
Awakening and salvation.
The injustice of conversation.
Marvel of writing, taste for writing.
It’s others who are exhausting.
My necessary dose of solitude.


The more she spoke, the darker it became.
She plunged into the forest everywhere and she saw
the sea.
Busy holding on to my thoughts, I can’t think, nor can I
prevent the images.
— Oyster disgorger.
“They take them out of the sea and put them in basins,
so that they will be less natural.”
He had struck her.
She had remained alone in the company of her wound,
not wishing to die.
— A port being cleared of sand.
“As for the animals, there’s nothing to do but eat them.
The worst thing would be to throw them away.
“Stones, that’s different, when they’re taken out of the
earth or the sand, they lose their colors, there’s nothing to
do but throw them away.”
She knew the picture without ever having seen it.
The wounded man brought to the beach, seated in an
armchair, his back to the sea, to the spectator. Facing the
firing squad.
— His house was cleaned. Everything left intact.
Crossing of the skin.


Lawrence Ferlinghetti takes Lam for a walk.
He has placed his dog between them so that people
passing won’t bump into him.
Blind and white like the poet’s head.
— I hope, he says, moving his lips, damp and pink, and
tying up the dog, that this time I won’t forget about him
all night long.
Lam has a dream.
He is in a palace.
The walls are made of fabric and the apartments are
filling up with water.
While the women disappear, behind screens, the men
The partitions are soaked with sea-water.
Leaning out the window, he sees the harbor, similar
palaces, lit by the fading daylight.
— I think that I’m confusing things, that I’m in Venice,
in a dream about a painting.
Turned toward Seneca Lake, the Frenchwoman looks
— No fences here, and no hedges.
“Lacking limits, the gaze has nowhere to stop.”


The winds insist.
They are called constant winds. You observe.
From within rooms, from tents, or on the roads.
The winds move quickly.
Unlike us, the winds move quickly.
Either they turn or they dig.
But they continue to heat up, they rise.
They are always there, in our hair, on our faces.
You would like them to stop. You hang on so as not to
give in to them.
But they whistle.
You cannot not hear them. Be beyond.
Beyond them, beyond the sand.
The feeling is too strong. You might fall.
Make a stain.

Copyright © 2002 by Flammarion. Translation and preface copyright © 2008 by Marilyn Hacker. All rights reserved.