Jean-Claude Pirotte

Translations from The Lost Soul, by Robert Archambeau and Jean-Luc Garneau 

‘The universe, you see, is universal’

The universe, you see, is universal,
a bit like warm grey dishwater,
and world has long since gone world-wide—
you’d think it’s the end of the party.

The earth? Well, it’s terrestrial,
and less and less familiar all the time;
the oceans are oceanic
and what we pull out of them’s a lot like what we pour in.

Sailors in the warm grey seas
will soon be walking on water,
and the ownership class will watch the greasy seas
flood their last grey greasy spoons.

‘My shadow broke up with me’

My shadow broke up with me.
I gape after it as it flees down the road,
to its ruin, or mine—
I’ll hang myself from a lamppost,

in hopes it’ll come sheepishly back,
think things over, and take me down, saying
“I’ll never leave you again.”
But it’s only a policeman

who comes to help me down,
and he writes an angry ticket,
then hunts for my shadow
to throw in a jail cell—
the same cell where they put me.

‘One day I’ll have to sleep’

One day I’ll have to sleep,
and forget to wake up at all.
I’ll lay them out on my blanket,
all my childhood toys—

or, anyway, their facsimiles
unearthed at some junk shop—
a loose-boned skeleton,
a lead soldier, dreaming there,

a raccoon muzzle-mask,
and that old teddy bear who only spoke English,
these, then, and my mother, crying,
saying “it’s you who made me this way.”
Yes, one day I will fall asleep,
I, who never sleep.

‘Him, there—the other one. He says it: sleep among the stones

Him, there—the other one. He says it: sleep among the stones.
That’s all of us, our destiny,
even the ones lost out at sea (the sea
is an oyster, and grows the stone in its belly).

Poor folk suck a stone
for bread, when they have none,
and have none, ever—lucky ones
spit-roast lambs, or wolves.

When the earth trembles the banks
get smashed, the stock market collapses
under its veined marble ceilings—“veined”
meaning “bloody” and when it all comes down
it’s a party, and the main dish they eat
has gravy. It tastes like blood.


JEAN-CLAUDE PIROTTE, born in 1939, was a Francophone Belgian poet, novelist and artist.  He was a successful lawyer until 1975, when he was convicted of helping one of his clients escape from prison.  He then lived underground in France and Spain for several years, before resurfacing and gaining acclaim in the French-speaking world.  In 2012 he won the Goncourt Prize.  He died in 2014, the author of over fifty books.

ROBERT ARCHAMBEAU is a poet and critic whose books include the poetry collections Laureates and Heretics and The Kafka Sutra and the critical studies Laureates and Heretics and The Poet Resigns: Poetry in a Difficult World, among others.  He is professor of English at Lake Forest College.

JEAN-LUC GARNEAU is a Quebecois linguist living in Chicago.  In addition to studies in French linguistics, he is the author of the poetry and fiction collection Les rivière des morts.