Henri Michaux Movements
translated from the French by Bernard Bador
and Clayton Eshleman

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This poem is taken from Henri Michaux’s book, Mouvements, published by NFR/Gallimard (under the collection, “Le Point du jour”) in Paris, 1951, with 64 drawings and Postface. Bernard Bador and I translated it together in 2010/11. I have been looking at Michaux’s drawings and reading his texts for decades. In 2005, I wrote a poem called “Michaux, 1956” (see The Grindstone of Rapport / A Clayton Eshleman Reader, Black Widow Press, 2008, pp. 207-209), my testament to the artist’s antic and teeming lines, verging on doodles but so possessed by figures emerging out of the void that they might as well be new forms of life, sprinting about in oceanic deeps, or like unidentifiable insects, boring into our dreams.
At that time, in the poem cited above I wrote: “There is in Michaux an emergent face/non-face always in formation. Call it ‘face-before-birth.’ Call it our thingness making faces. Call it tree bole or toadstool spirit, anima mundi snout, awash in ephemerality, anti-anatomical, the mask of absence, watercolor by a blind child, the half-disintegrated faces of souls in Hades pressing about the painter Ulysses-Michaux as, over his blood trench of ink, he converses with his hermaphroditic muse.” For readers interested in looking into Michaux’s art, I highly recommend Emergences / Resurgences, published as Drawing Papers #14, by The Drawing Center in New York City, with a text superbly translated by Richard Sieburth. [CE]

Against alveoli
against glue
against glue one another
against the soft one another

Flames of blackness
dagger mothers
battle roots shooting through the plain

Race that rolls
crawling that boils
unity that swarms
lump that dances

One defenestrated flies off
one torn apart from bottom to top
one torn apart throughout
one torn apart never again retied

Man buttressed
man bounding
man rushing down
man for the lightning operation
for the tempest operation
for the assegai operation
for the harpoon operation
for the shark operation
for the shatter operation

Man not according to the flesh
but by the void and evil and intestinal torches
and gusts and nervous discharges
and reversals
and returns
and rage
and quartering
and tangling
and taking off in sparks

Man not by the abdomen and gluteal plates or vertebrae
       but by his currents, his feebleness which straightens up under shock, his starts
man according to the moon and burning powder and the kermess in himself of the
       movement of others
and the squall and the rising wind and the never orderly chaos
Man all flags flapping, clapping in the wind whispering from his pulsions
man who thrashes a parrot
who has no articulations
who breeds nothing
crested man
tufted man, galvanizing his rags,
man with secret props, spreading far from his degrading life

Desire barking in the dark is the multiform form of this being
Impulses scissored
impulses radiating
impulses around the whole compass dial

In noise
in roaring, if one gave it a body!...
In the sounds of the balafon and in the ear-splitting drill
in throbbing adolescents who don’t yet know
what their breasts want which is as if they’re going to burst
in jolts, in rumblings, in outpourings
in blood tides in arteries suddenly switching direction
in thirst
in thirst above all
in thirst never quenched
if one gave it a body!...

Soul of the lasso
of seaweed
of the jack, of the grapnel and of the wave that swells
of the sparrow-hawk, of the gnu, of the sea-elephant
the triple soul
the eccentric soul
the energumen soul
soul of electrified larva coming to bite at the surface
soul of blows and of teeth grindings
soul always out of plumb toward a new straightening

The abstractness of all weight
of all languor
of all geometry
of all architecture
abstraction realized: SPEED!

Movements of quartering and of inner exasperation more than the movements of
movements of explosions, of refusal, of stretching every which way
of unhealthy attractions, of impossible desires
of the sating of flesh struck on the nape
headless movements
What good is a head when one is overwhelmed?
Movements of folding and coiling up on oneself while expecting better
movements of inner shields
movements of multiple spurts
residual movements
movements in place of other movements that one cannot display but which dwell on the
of dust
of stars
of erosion
of crumblings
of vain latencies…

Feast of stains, gamut of arms
one jumps into “nothing”
efforts turning
being alone, one is a crowd
What incalculable number is advancing
increasing itself, extending itself, extending itself!
Goodbye fatigue
goodbye economical biped at the bridge abutment station
the scabbard torn off, one is somebody else
any somebody else
no longer to pay tribute
a corolla opens, bottomless dive…

The stride henceforth has the length of hope
the leap has the length of thought
one has eight paws if one must run
one has ten arms if one must stand fast
one is deeply rooted, when its necessary to hold on
never beaten
always returning
the new revenant
while appeased the master of the keyboard feigns sleep!

stains to obnubilate
to reject
to unshelter
to destabilize
to be reborn
to scratch out
to make memory shut up
to restart

Crazy baton
boomerang ceaselessly returning
returning torrentially
through others
to take off again…

gestures of the ignored life
of the impulsive life
and happy to squander itself
of the jerky, spasmodic, erectile life
of perfunctory life, of life no matter how
of life
Gestures of defiance and of retort
and of escaping from bottlenecks

Gestures of excess
of excess
especially of excess

Gestures one feels, but which one cannot identify
(pre-gestures inside oneself, much grander than the visible and practical
       gesture to follow)

attacks that resemble dives
swims that resemble excavations
arms that resemble trunks

Joy of the motor life
that saps meditating on evil
one does not know to what kingdom belongs
the bewitching ovenful that leaps out
animal or human
immediate, without pausing
already off again
the next one already coming
as in thousands and thousands of vertiginous seconds
a slow day completes itself

Solitude practices scales
the desert, the arabesques
the multiplication
the indefinitely reiterated

signs not of a roof, of a tunic or of a palace
not of archives and of the dictionary of knowledge
but of torsion, of violence, of jostling
of kinetic envy

Signs of the rout, of pursuit and of transport
of thrusts antagonistic, aberrant, dissymetrical
signs non-critical, but deviating with the deviation and racing with the race
signs not for a zoology
but for the figure of unbridled demons
accompanists of our acts and contradictors of our reserve

Signs of ten thousand ways to be in balance in this moving world that laughs
       at adaptation
signs above all to snatch one’s being from the trap of others’ tongues
set to beat you, like a carefully adjusted roulette
which allows you only a few happy rolls
and ruin and defeat in the end
inscribed from the start
for you, for everyone

Signs not for a backward return
but to better “cross the line” each instant
signs not like one reconsiders
but like one pilots
or, as may occur in dense congestion
when an unconscious automaton, one feels as if piloted

Signs, not for being complete
but for being faithful to its transience
not for conjugating
but for regaining the gift of tongues
one’s own at least, for, if not oneself, who will utter it?

Direct writing finally for the unwindment
for the alleviation of forms
for the decongestion of images
of which the brain-public square in these times is especially glutted

Lacking aura, at least scatter its emanations.

English translation © Bernard Bador and Clayton Eshleman
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