Paul Colinet: Selected Prose Poems

Translated by Rochelle Ratner

First published by Clown War, 1975, copyright by Rochelle Ratner

The Nobleman of Bellegourd
The Elephant's Spectacles
Nat Pinkerton
The Candle
The Bell's Dress
The Clouds
Family Life
The Provinces
The Forbidden Hunt
Black Soap
The Winter Cuckoo
The Misfortune
The Sleeping Calf
The Absence of Color
Thin Man's Game
Retreating Zone
The Sign of Eternity
The Poppies
A Trapped Fawn
Ruler of Gold

From The Village Lamp
There Isn't Any Future
The Switchman
The Soldier
King Louis
The Druggist
The Next Room
The Green Sphere
Wheelchairs for Hunchbacks
Similar Cases
The Lobster
The Valise
The Subscriber

A village bell-tower was sleepy.

It wrapped itself in a little band of trees, counted to
three and fell asleep.

When it woke up, there were no more than a few trees,
with silver dew under their armpits.

A large burnt paper cross was branding its forehead.

The Nobleman of Bellgourd
The nobleman steps down from his carriage.

It's a district in the mountain valley.

The white shapes of old hands knit caps for thousands
of spice-boxes.

At the manor, the animals are dressed up.

The fox is in a tuxedo, a russet flame between his

The nobleman lights candlesticks and eats rabbit stew.

The Elephant's Spectacles
The dormouse was an ice-floe of the mammoth era.

The wind turned leaves in the washed linen.

They heard the sun approach and withdraw, with a solemn
step, like organ music.

At lunch, the decanter's cork shone under the acetylene
burner, naive as a pear.

After searching a long time, the children found a
hunter, lost, upside-down among branches.

Very far off, in the bends of old roads, some robbers
with a sack and a club cried: "Your money or your

He gently does his angelic work.

The school has four walls and its windows play

Daytime opens its laughing drawers: yellow battles,
slow cards, wise measures, sleeping gloves.

Then, evening glides on the blue and white icing, his
slate scribbled with animals and heads.

Bob's toy-box contains a target, nails from wooden
shoes, gelatin balls, a picture with a hunter in a
derby hat.

At night, Bob sleeps in a little puff-pastry boat.

After exhausting itself with white dust on the roads
and bilberries in the wood, great summer, disarrayed
and weak, is pulled in through the roof, through its
wicker hall shaped like a hoop-net. Now, it's
neglected: ant-eggs clog its nose and a sore beard
pushes them up to the slots of its eyes, a beard of
rotting branches that's called autumn.

Nat Pinkerton
The blue glasses, found in an elevated railroad car,
belong to the victim, Lady Morton.

But Nat and the coroner, misled to the black windows in
depots, re-enact the daily routines of her double.

The job hinges on a leaking cask, painted red, with
mysterious contents.

There's also a garret, a furnished hotel overrun with
nettles, padded doors, a secret platform.

All the action happens on Tuesday, poor day, stamping
on the rain's filings.

Guided by a jockey, Nat discovers the culprit in a
phoney pastor's osier suitcase.

He's a horrid dwarf, of Mongolian ancestry. The pastor
is his lieutenant.

The Candle
The soup with jonquils that's eaten at the fairies'
house, a dull little spoon gave me the recipe.

One evening it lured me under its raincoat. In the
dark, against its heart, a little light was living. A
weak little reddish flame, surrounded by a blue halo.

It's her -- I've understood it ever since -- she's who
hummed me the recipe.

Alas! My gasp was so strong that she died from it.

The Bell's Dress
She's morning's residence. She's as clear as she is
invisible, as tranquil as forgotten lands.

Her hair is golden, her smooth windows exchange

She appears in bold alluring colors, a pretty basket of
dew, protected by a long crystal rifle.

On the doorstep, a bush shakes off his medals.

The door is open, but the bush hesitates forever: he
doesn't see he's invited.

Gently, the house empties, she jingles her dress, her
heart rustles: the dazed bush doesn't understand.
It's a very complicated game.

From time to time, the glass rifle speaks all alone and
shatters some small thing.

What was it a question of? A hair's breath, in all.

A tree was catching fire, a pond was sulking, a dew
sprinkled maid-servant was lulled to sleep by currant

What was it a question of? A tiny line. Compact little
figure, naked Merisette.

The Clouds
When the dawn's heart begins to beat, the high little
clouds come down to breakfast in the trees.


Behind the masked clouds playing the big drum, real
clouds, still and caught in dreams, are hushed up.
They are the sky's memory.


Tired from wandering alone in the roadless sky, a dark
cloud has gone to die in the forest.

Thursday is always pleasant with frost and a naked girl
on the country's palm.

The merchant of clouds counts the precious stones of
the amazing house: an inviting lamp.

The girl in the forest, brief snow-maid dressed in
fire, in a leaving-coat.

The white trees are listless.

The house is a log, the merchant, Stout John, like the

Family Life
An uncle smokes a pipe, blows smoke, knows his target.

An abbot traces a lion, builds a cardboard cone.

The oldest child studies his shoulder joint.

A mother puts on her huge thimble, picks up a needle,

A neighbor brings in a display of horns that just lies
about, tells of his journey from Austria, drinks.

A table gloats in quarters.

A child lies in ambush in a house.

A house has a thousand windows.

Heavy weather throbs in a countryman's cloak.

The Provinces
We were hoping to spend Saturday in the parlor in
Arabian sacks.

It used to have a ladder under its arm and a trowel as

The clock rang carefully, with an odor of preserved

A piece of thread was loafing on an armchair: it was
the week's pay.

The Forbidden Hunt
I kill the third bird while watching myself in the

The first I had taken for a chair, one of those folding
chairs which sometimes flutter between the hooks of the

I heard the second's peck through the keyhole.

I found it squashed against the back of the glass, the
mender of faces. It was clear as oblivion.

The third was the breast of the mirror itself.

It was flapping a thousand blinding hands, a thousand
hands of fire.

I was forced to close my eyes. It died because of them.

Black Soap
Saturday always means a pail of open oysters and a
gaping plank, over there, in the corner of the wood
where Oger, the staircase-maker, lives.

His wife Octavia washes with the black soap and eats
the raw, chilled comb of a cock killed during the night
by an axe-stroke, on the bakery block.

His drunken son Oscar has a sore throat. He set up a
cutting table in the cabbage patch. He licks the
almanac. It smells bad.

The carpenter has bare fore-arms. He whistles between
his teeth.

He thinks about his brother the peddlar's tired horse.
He dreams of his daughter Odile, dead at fifteen, from

Heaven is pale, its cheek swollen, with waterpockets
under its eyes and a bandage on its calf.

In the evening, a preserved egg is eaten.

The Winter Cuckoo
A cuckoo, larger than the forest, digs a hole in the
still warm, ashen landscape.

The butt of a rifle spreads over the arrogant

A wisp of straw is placed as observer at the side of
the hole.

A guinea-hen's eye, detached from its body, serves as a

The eye reddens: the butt coagulates, the cuckoo's
feathers gather in a very furious four-fourths

The straw glitters a long time in the complicated
fistula of the sky's deserter.

Thus, in the morning twilight, the winter cuckoo is
sucked in by his surroundings.

The Misfortune
He followed, point by point, the instructions on the

Carefully, prudently, he folded the paper in quarters,
then in tens, then again in a thousand equal little

His work finished, he hid, for the night, under his

Even so, in the morning a woman he didn't know was
washing, shamelessly, in front of his mirror.

In the mist, a quiet finger had drawn the curly head of
a ram.

The paper, folded so many times, had disappeared.

The Sleeping Calf
In times of swollen cheeks, when the clay bugles roar,
the little railroads of gold coins run, in festoons,
around the country.

Oh beards of fire, oh streams rousing the thirst!

But, at the heart of the region, among the mold growing
under arms, milk-filled celebrities of the white wood
nourish the lumpy pillow of sleep which dents the young

The Absence of Color
The felled tree still has a tree house.

It also is left supporting this or that branch, with
its birds.

But the birds die off and the trestle reaches the top,
the home will still be a sign of what has no form, the
tree being, besides, overthrown.

Thin Man's Game
He takes a rather spacious meadow, with a sky to match.

He sits in the south or at the back, according to
whether his partner is tall or missing.

If he falls, it's water-eating.

If he leaps, it's dancing.

He wins when his partner goes off and doesn't return.

He loses when his partner sits down to the table while
taking his shoes off.

It's a draw when the players resemble the game.

It's also played in the thicket (with planks) or in the
mountains (with nets).

Two ladies climb the lower street.

One is dressed in black, the other in black, the third,

These ladies are charged with mounting the lower
street. The street is so low that it takes, thus, four
ladies to climb it.

After climbing the low street, the five ladies go down
it again.

To ruin the lower street seems to be the purpose of
these half-dozen stylish ladies.

Retreating Zone
I would feast on scoundrels and fall into step.

When the cage was parting from the bird, I was arriving
at my encounter.

When the kennel was eating the dog, I confused bodies
and belongings.

But, in broad daylight, I recovered my distance and
usually got ahead of myself.

The Sign of Eternity
We'd grown wiser. We might have become nosegays, on the
day's silver lattices.

When someone rapped on our door, we heard the noise in
our hearts.

We ran to open. There was never anyone.

It was always morning, mild, settled, clear, which
threw us the pearls in its eyes.

Because our visitors no longer had business at the

They sprung from our looks, from our furniture, in
their Sunday best, marvelous.

They always wore flowers in their buttonholes.

They were sparkling or invisible, actors of light or
musicians of shadows, to our liking.

The Poppies
Look out! This is not a bouquet: it's a huge concerto
for all the cocks.

Aroused from a daze, on the untouchable stone of dawn,
at noon it sets fire to the structure's main beam.

Then it climbs, unquenchable, spreads, flings itself
into the azure depths, down to the frenzy of the
bottom, down to the wheel's center where red is the
heart of blue.

Step-ladder, tiny pyramid for miserly hunchbacks, near-
sighted reckoner, the reseda, gathered in its cunning
little cabin, breaks up, clears itself of perfume.

This flower is the friend of silent eyes, of century-
old hands, of honest blades.

She grows near modest shale-like clusters -- these,
devout, dyed purple, or else those, burnt to brown
ribbons, daughters seen from a libertarian star.

When the limed soil turns toward the sexton, the weekly
herb heralds, at the bottom of some old fashioned desk,
some thin copy-book bound in boards of somber blue and
covered with beautifully written secrets.

When she's moved by a ridge of fired peat, the flower
forecasts for the initiated only such a display of
nymphomania, such nutritious folly, nauseating tropical

And when she becomes incrusted in the millennial
foundations of bits of shale, she's the prophetess of
the glass reed, the measly pot, the head schoolmaster,
the starched virgin, the pigeon-breeding spiritualist.

Her perfume is a secondary condition since its
disproportion to her stem and its continual layers make
it unexplainable.

A Trapped Fawn
A trapped fawn: I fix her up, I dress her, I help her
recover, I imprison her in a tower. I suckle her with
the moon, bits of riddles, wasted blows.

When it's windy, we travel on our mares of lace.

When it rains, we climb, in slow spirals, to tease the
nightingales with a stick.

When the doors, like women in fallen gowns, exchange
their passwords, we unfold in green, in grey, in jerks,
piece by piece, like the perforated music roll of a
player piano.

I call her Mamzelle Impossible. I stuff her with food.
I send her out to beg.

Standing up, weightless, Ponce has walls.

They're thin. They tremble. It's a forest.

These are princes washing themselves, unsettled
quarrels, or a lot of Chinese peddlers.

He makes his move. He spreads out. He's in Naples, in
cherries, in Dumas.

He forms his woman and he forms all: all forms.

Ruler of Gold
I've only known one emperor in my life. He called
himself Zenon and did odd jobs at my parents' house.
He worked only at night.

During the day, he hid. Sometimes we caught a glimpse
of him, under a disguise. I'll always remember the
orphic throne's silence and all I didn't see, behind
the delightful picture of kittens hanging on the wall.

He left us one October morning, a long time ago. We
found the remains of his crown in the pear tree. When
he left, he blocked up the low door of the garden.

I know nothing more to tell about this emperor. And if
I've written that his name was Zenon, it's out of
friendship for those who speak of gilded armor when
they return from the goat-herds.

From The Village Lamp

There Isn't Any Future
It's a February morning. The snow is famous.

He burns some coffee.

The teacher sketches the Ural Mountains.

The mother of the newspaper salesman cries a little,
without turning the light on. And he, in the attic,
pours kerosene on some papers. He's a free-thinker. His
sister is pious. She lost her hair one year from
typhoid fever. She's housekeeper at the Jolimont

The Switchman
On summer evenings, the king's daughter is liable to

The pebbles keep a sharp eye.

The switchman goes home to bed. His beard catches fire.
The puppeteer offers him smelling-salts.

It's clear again, with sulphur of bat, in the lower
room where the inn-keeper's straw mattress mildews.

The Soldier
The soldier is sad down to his last button, on his
special uniform for handling fire-arms.

The soldier, slightly stricken with ataxy, finally
manages to sit down on an isolated hillock. He sighs.
He drops a tear, from the bottom of his heart, into his
gun barrel.

King Louis
King Louis is deaf as a pot. King Louis is seated on
his rear, before his large window. He watches a
hunchback pass who carries a torn handtowel to the town

The Druggist
In Laetare, the druggist wakes a dead man with his

His wife puts her curlers in a pig's bladder.

The Next Room
When she's tired playing nicely with her adopted
cousins, Nijni's daughter gets up, lights a taper, very
proudly leaves her companions and goes into the next
room, to make ugly faces in front of her mirror.

The Green Sphere
My God, the garden and its jasmines has been pleated
until it's no larger than a happy little hand, playing
with the floral-patterns of the center bedroom, whereas
a dainty butterfly, with the end of his satin wings,
does his housework all by himself.

Wheelchairs for Hunchbacks
In a village worn down to its church steeple, the
mischievous wind rolls its acorns under the door of a
hermitage and tears the winter covering from a
vulnerable easychair, wandering after its face.

The chairs? White, of course. With pretty little
trombones. And cabbage-bows, to honor the party behind
the elephants, important gentlemen, courteous, carried
away with pleasure, and quick enough to leap the
railing, the servants before their most obliging eyes,
maids and their children.

The white house is all black. The black house is all
white. They dwell in the same fable. They naturally
look alike.

Their name is patience. They contemplate their
landscape. They open up in closing.

They are dressed separately. They live in each other.
They keep away from large stars. They never trade

Similar Cases
One would be tired, the other was also, but bodily. The
tired man was doing absolutely nothing. The other
seemed to act the same, though involved in various
tasks. The man who did nothing was married. The other
was also, with this slight difference, however, that he
remained strictly celibate. As a husband he lived
alone, in appropriate company. The other lived alone
too, but in a promiscuity of about three thousand make
believe people. They both belonged to the secret
society of similar cases.

The Lobster
The lobster is a bird on stilts, in the species of
nighthawks. He drinks cranially, is well developed, has
been pointed out by LinnĒ under the name of Forge
Roussel. Its body shows 4/5 generally animal. The
hindquarters are composed of a cluster of 17 metal
spools, on divergent axles. The lobster is the only
carnivorous bird that flies backwards.

His characteristic song, which resembles, but is
harsher than, the civet-cat's, is produced by a spur's
vibration in the cranial box, called the sub-machine-
gun. The lobster's calcified eye is used, in
shoemaking, to fasten half-boots.

The Valise
The valise is a female greyhound of the water-hen
family. Essentially transportable, she's distinguished
from the water-hen community by the fact that she
doesn't live on dry ground.

Her nest, or strap, is made with scraps of untanned
hide that the animal gathers with the help of its
transom, coming out of the very tough beak, usually
devoid of the feathers which end the spine. The
valise's nest is gigantic and has very particular
architecture. It's composed of a cupboard and a closet,
connected by a vestibule or macaroni.

The valise reproduces in the closet. In the cupboard,
after the egg-laying season, she breaks up her
youngsters according to height and looks after them
from the macaroni.

The valise's insatiable appetite makes her a very
dangerous animal. Her capture, however, is easy. Full,
she lets herself be lifted like a feather and can be
carried off without showing the least defensive
instinct. In Holland, the valise's skin is used for
wrapping cheeses.

The valise hasn't any cry, except for the diplomatic
valise, which is multi-lingual.

The Subscriber
He places the maid of his works in the sunlight. She is
born, like several others, in Cortil-Noirmont. This
locality must be considered as existing.

In the sunlight, the maid improves. During the
unfolding of the maid's improvement process, the author
of the works visits the grottoes of Cortil-Noirmont. As
opposed to the locality itself, the grottoes of Cortil-
Noirmont must be considered as non-existing.

Completely improved, the maid becomes a mark of honor
reuniting the author with his works. The meeting
doesn't take place in the grottoes of Cortil-Noirmont.
The meeting takes place under the same improving sun.

Paul Colinet (1898-1957) was a Belgian surrealist. Le Histoires de la Lamp (1942) and La Manivelle du Chateau (1954) were the only collections of his poetry published during his lifetime.

Rochelle Ratner (1948- ) is the author of A Birthday of Waters and False Trees, both published by New Rivers Press.

Other poetry books by Rochelle Ratner:

Zodiac Arrest, Ridgeway Press, 1995
Someday Songs, BkMk/University of Missouri Press, 1992
Practicing To Be A Woman: New & Selected Poems, Scarecrow, 1982
Hide & Seek, Ommation Press, l980
Sea Air In a Grave Ground Hog Turns Toward, 'Gull, 1980
Combing The Waves, Hanging Loose, 1980
Quarry, New Rivers Press, 1978
The Tightrope Walker, The Pennyworth Press, 1977
Pirate's Song, Jordan Davies Press, l976
The Mysteries, Ragnarok Press, 1976
False Trees, New Rivers Press, l973
A Birthday of Waters, New Rivers Press, l971

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