Scarlet fever. The provisions, a little crust of bread on the nightstand. At the tense limits of confidence, I hear steps—all too real—going up the stairs. Probably the steps of the friendly home nurse. And now in the doorframe the Ogre appears (thickset—nine feet tall—Renaissance costume with slashed sleeves—) In a spasm of anxiety I spring coldsweating from my bed. Door locked, out through the chimney— And the chimney shrinks as I climb I suffocate
– Translated from the French (Convalescence enfantine) by David Ball
DREAM OF DEATH
Awakened with a start in my childhood bedroom by… either the sound of a call or the sudden memory of… or…
The dead woman pushing a wheelbarrow is coming up to my second-floor window. She wheels it along the top of the fence walls with their many twists and turns. For a moment I can see taxis further away following the same path and driving over emptiness, and that seems to justify the strange route chosen by the limping dead woman and her wheelbarrow.
Suffocating with fear, I wake up my father. He comes into my dark bedroom. Its door suddenly opens; I cry out. In the half-open doorway I see the dead woman again, accompanied by a horse-trader or a plasterer. Impossible to turn on the light. I hear this thought said aloud: “It would be useful in case of danger,” which drives my fear to a peak.
In a toneless voice I question the dead woman:
“Where do you live now?”
“At the Hospital of the Hôtel de Ville—the old people’s home.”
“How were you able to come here?”
“Through the steam baths or the wash house.”
“Oh! It’s open all year?”
“No, only in winter.”
I get rid of the man and I’m trying to lock the door over a lumpy plaster space with workers lit by acetylene who laugh at my fright. The door changes shape while I’m looking and now I’m putting locks on a fence of extra-light beams. I think: for the horses. I turn around and see a vast shed full of horses and cart-drivers all eating together. A black calf walks toward me to play. I think: luckily harmless. Suddenly a furious black cow, still pregnant or a good milker, charges at me with amazing agility. With all my strength, I try to hold back the horns stretching out to disembowel me. Shouting, “Defend me!” The man answers, “That would be very expensive, but throw away your medal.” Now at that moment I can clearly see a medal hanging from a bracelet around my left wrist. But I know that medal is imaginary and consequently I cannot throw it away. In despair, I run off with huge, limp leaps.
– Translated from the French (Rêve de Mort) by David Ball
At the bottom of the green
Waters of death
The bubble swells
Where the golden dwarf sleeps
He will wake up
One day shouting fire
– Translated from the French (Poésie impure) by David Ball
THE FLAGELLANTS’ WEAPON
Tearer of tears and its stinging exquisite pleasure!
Slender silk scourge, scourge abuzz with energy, oh nerves,
a minor scale of the tickling caress
and its pink welts,
Rattan switch, blonde braid, lithe and dry
ruling red lines sudden in unexpected places,
Long tamer’s whip, lightning liana,
electrifying the nervy legs of the thoroughbred, convolvulus hug
clack of percussion caps,
Arrogant quirt slapping blooming cheeks
quirt bruising the overripe fruit of the flesh,
Strap, the terror of little pink behinds,
grandmaster of childish spankings, thanks to you more hyaline tears drop down
than red droplets
Rods with sexy names, handfuls of stinging nettles, dry branches, sizzling burns of the back and butt
Monastic disciplines, the meager rut of the ascetic tearing bony shoulders, prominent collarbones, the ecstatic spasm
Cat-o’-nine-tails, you adorable monster
Monster surging flayed alive from a horde of dreams,
you who lather up the fresh blood of cabin boys,
Nailed knout, iron claws, deep plower of tortured flesh,
Digger of viscera, a deadly symphony
The tearer of tears and its bloody exquisite pleasure!
– Translated from the French (Litanie: L’Arme des flagellants) by David Ball.
(All poems sourced from Oeuvres completes, vol. II, Paris, 1977.)
Roger GILBERT-LECOMTE (b. Reims 1907 – d. Paris 1943) founded the Surrealist review Le Grand Jeu in 1928 with the (then) Surrealist Roger Vailland, René Daumal and the painter Joseph Sima. He wanted psychic experiences—or experiments—including those induced by drugs, to be part of total revolution (Renversement – Retournement – Subversion totale: “Inside-out – Upside-down – Total subversion,” or alternatively “Overthrow – Reversal – Total subversion”.) Although deeply surrealist in spirit, he rejected all dogma, including official Surrealism; this led him into a bitter exchange of polemics with André Breton. Gilbert-Lecomte died in poverty at the age of 36 from a tetanus infection probably caused by a dirty needle he used to shoot morphine. His complete works were finally collected into two slim volumes in 1977 after a long struggle with the bourgeois Gilbert family (the poet had added “Lecomte”), who did not want them published.
David Ball’s poetry chapbooks include New Lulu (2011) and In Cities (2001); his poems have appeared in Action, Yes; Locus Solus, The World and many other journals. His translations include the prizewinning Darkness Moves: An Henri Michaux Anthology, poems by James Sacré, work by Tristan Tzara, Valéry Larbaud, Pablo Picasso and others. Recent translations: Jean Guéhenno, Diary of the Dark Years 1940-1944 and two amazing novels, Lola Lafon’s We Are the Birds of the Coming Storm and Laurent Mauvignier’s The Wound (both with Nicole Ball.)
 Wikipedia in English and the preface to Black Mirror, a translated collection of his poems, claim he was “excommunicated” from Surrealism by André Breton. No French source I could find goes this far. – DB.